Laying on Hands

(Part Two)

Hours later, Blair unlocked the door to the loft and went inside. It took a moment to realize that Jim was in the living room, making Blair start when he registered the presence. Jim sat on the sofa in the gathering dusk, beer in hand, his eyes glittering, making it clear this wasn't his first drink of the evening.

"Hey, Jim," Blair said, hanging up his coat on a convenient peg, tossing his keys into the basket.

Jim took another swallow of his beer, didn't answer.

"Okay," Blair said, sighing heavily. "So did you have a good day? Enjoy your workout?"

Jim fixed him with that slightly mocking look of his, jaw clenched, his silence an aggressive force.

"Yeah, right. Never mind. You're obviously not in the mood for small talk. That's fine, man. Neither am I, really."

He went to the kitchen, considered a beer, but felt that at least one of them should keep a clear head. He poured himself a glass of juice instead and joined Jim on the sofa. When he sat down, Jim's whole body tensed.

"Look, man, I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry I went to the revival behind your back. I'm sorry about what I said yesterday. I don't want to fight with you anymore. Okay?"

But Jim didn't respond. He kept his eyes straight ahead, staring a hole in the wall, continuing to down his beer.

"Hey, man, I'm trying to apologize here. Could you at least look at me while I'm talking to you?"

Jim turned in his seat, crossing his arms angrily over his chest, staring back at Blair with eyes as hard and opaque as blue ice. "This better, Chief?"

"Could you just try to meet me half way? I really want to make this better," Blair said softly.

"Do me a favor, huh? Spare me the effort."

"I don't understand what's eating you, man. So I have no idea how to make it up to you. But I really, really want to. There's something I need to talk to you about. Something I need to tell you."

Jim's mouth twisted, into something like a smile, only uglier than that, his face filled with sarcasm and disgust. "I don't want to hear your confession, Sandburg. If you need to unburden yourself, get a rabbi. Or a minister, better yet. You'd probably like that, huh, Chief?" Jim said, with a hard little laugh.

But his expression said that he didn't find it the least bit amusing.

"Man, I have no idea what that's supposed to mean."

Jim's face lit with anger, propelling him to his feet. He stalked over to the terrace doors and turned back to glare at Blair. "You don't know. You don't know. That's just great, Chief."

"You could tell me."

Jim turned away, squaring his back against his partner, staring out over the city. "No. I just need it left alone. Could you go to your room or something. I really need to not have you around right now."

That pissed Blair off, and he leaped up from the couch, drawing closer. "That's just perfect, man. I'm trying to work this out with you, make amends. And you want to send me off to my room, like I'm a kid who's being punished. No way, man. I'm staying. And we're gonna deal with this."

Jim whirled around, and Blair could feel the jagged energy coming off him, not the usual irritation Jim sometimes had with him, but sheer, blind, uncontrollable rage. And despite himself, Blair took a step back. "I'm warning you," Jim hissed. "GO AWAY before I do something..."

Blair blinked, his eyes wide with shock, and he took another step back. "Fine, man. You want to see the back of me? Fine. Maybe later I can get a few minutes of your precious time to talk about something that's important to me. You know, when you're not quite so busy getting wasted and being a prick. Unless you want to see the back of me permanently. Then you just let me know, huh? I'll be out of your hair for good, man."

Blair stomped off to his room, slamming the door behind him. And locking it. That made him feel sick at heart. When Jim had included a lock on the doors, Blair had been touched that he would think of it, that he would care about his privacy. But he'd never used it before. There had never been a reason. He'd never wanted or needed to keep Jim out.

He collapsed onto his bed, his entire body trembling. This was so not the way he'd envisioned this conversation going. After several hours of driving and then walking in the park, he had finally been struck by something Walter had said, that when he was lost and confused he'd followed his heart back to the place where he'd felt the most alive, been the most comfortable, where he'd had the strongest sense of who he was. Blair had realized that for him that place was with Jim. Maybe if he came clean with his partner, told him how terrified he'd been that the injury was going to leave him permanently disabled, how he was still struggling even though the wound was healed, maybe that would be a beginning, a step toward figuring out what the problem was. Maybe Jim could help him find what was missing.

Now, in a fit of anger, he had gone and offered to move out, the last thing he wanted to do. But Jim had actually made him feel threatened, something he never would have thought possible. That had pissed him off more than anything else could have. He so did not appreciate having his whole world turned upside down with his Blessed Protector suddenly acting like an unhinged bully.

Blair curled up into a tight ball, holding one of his thick tomes, a recent anthropology journal, against his chest. He had no intention of reading it. He just needed something to hang on to. The nagging grief and fear were really bad now, and his only ambition was simply to ride it out, to survive.

"FUCK!!!!" The screamed epithet and the sound of glass shattering against a wall jolted Blair out of his misery, off the bed and into the living room.

He found Jim standing in the middle of the room, the shards of a beer bottle littering the floor. ""What the hell is up with you, man?" Blair demanded.

Jim strode over to him. "So help me, Sandburg, if I come home one day and find you and your stuff cleared out of here, I will track you down. And kick your sorry ass, when I find it."

Blair set his jaw, a wave of stubbornness coming over him, his anger reignited. "Don't worry, Ellison. I've changed my mind. I'm not going to give you the satisfaction of getting rid of me that easily. You want me out of here, you're gonna have to throw me out. And believe me, I have no intention of going quietly. So be ready for one hell of a fight."

Jim's eyes glittered. "It'd be a really good idea if you went back to your room now."

"I'm sure that would make things easier for you, Jim. But no. I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is up with you."

Jim laughed, that hard, humorless laugh again, giving Blair the creeps. "Don't you think I ought to be the one asking you that, Chief? Aren't you the one with news to share?"

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Blair asked, completely in the dark, exasperated beyond belief.

"Where were you today?"

Blair sighed. "Just out, man. Driving. Walking. I had a lot of things on my mind. I needed to do some thinking."

Jim's features darkened. "Oh, is that what they're calling it these days?"

"And just what the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

Jim moved even closer and stared him in the eye. "It means I can smell him on you," he said, his voice low and dangerous.

"Who? Walter? Shit, Jim. Yeah, I know I said I wouldn't see him again but I really needed..." Blair trailed off, running a hand nervously through his hair, not sure what to do next. He knew that Jim had serious issues around trust, and obviously he was feeling betrayed.

Shit! I never expected he'd have a reaction like this, or I never would have gone back there.

"Are you fucking him?" Jim asked in an ominous voice.


"You heard me. Are you fucking him, Chief? Huh? Are you? Tell me." Jim grabbed him by the shoulders, as if trying to shake the answer out of him.

"What are you talking about...oh man, get off me!" he said, jerking himself out of Jim's grasp, wondering if Jim was really that drunk or if he'd actually gone insane. "You are way out of line here. And I am so not discussing this with you."

"Like hell you're not! What's wrong, Sandburg? You didn't think I'd realized? You didn't think my senses would have told me? Well, they did. I'm perfectly well aware that you'll sleep with anything that's got a pulse. And I've put up with it until now. I've put up with your coming home with their smells all over you, every time you go out on one of your little dates. Do you know how sick I am of having you come home stinking of strangers, women, men, whoever will fuck you or let you fuck them. But no more. You hear me, Sandburg? I'm not putting up with it this time."

He's calling me a whore. My partner. My best friend. The person who's supposed to...shit! The gaping, agonizing feeling in his chest grew even worse, just like in the dream. It suddenly struck him that they would never be having this conversation if he only slept with women. The picture was becoming clear, about what they were really fighting about, and then he lost whatever last hold he had on his own temper, his face turning completely red.

"What's the matter, Ellison? Afraid other people will find out you've had a fairy living under your roof for the last three years? What? Worried about what your buddies down at the station must be thinking? Scared of being a faggot by association?"

Jim took another step toward him, a look on his face Blair had never seen before, at least never aimed in his direction. And he felt something break inside him. Too late, he realized it was his heart, with all its fondest desires. He watched Jim fight for control of himself, jaw twitching, every muscle in his body straining with the monumental effort it took to rein himself back in. Jim had really wanted to hit him. Jim had wanted to hurt him. Jim had been ready to beat the shit out of him, just because he slept with men. Oh, God! He'd always told himself that he never went into the particulars of his love life with Jim just because there was no point in it. So he sometimes slept with women and sometimes with men? So? Now he recognized the cold fear at the bottom of that decision for what it had always been, the terror that Jim would not understand or approve, that Jim would hate him for what he was. And now it had happened. Oh, God. Jim hated him.

"Just answer me one question, Chief. Why him?"

Blair could hear the disgust in Jim's voice, and he shrank even further inside himself. No matter what he'd seen in life, he had never thought God cruel until this moment, as he finally found the one thing, the one person, who could populate the terrible emptiness inside him, his heart's one true desire, only to lose it, lose Jim, forever.

Jim was still standing near him, too near in fact, not just violating his personal space, but obliterating the very concept out of existence. Jim's voice was low and gravelly and filled with barely controlled rage, right next to his ear, sending cold shivers up and down his spine. "So was the fucking part of the healing? Was that why it was so amazing when he touched you? Was it, Chief? Was it therapeutic?"

The despair and the rage were both too great, and something snapped in Blair. "I am NOT fucking Walter," he screamed in Jim's face, not caring about Sentinel hearing. "Got it? Not everything is about my dick, man. And if I were fucking him, if I were fucking every man, woman and farm animal in the state of Washington, that would be so none of your business. Why the hell would you care anyway? It's not like you want it."

The minute the words left him he clamped a hand over his mouth, but it was too late. They were already out there, in the room, in the world, in Jim's ears, damning him even more. He waited for the fireworks or his own funeral, whichever would come. He did not have to wait long. Jim took hold of the front of his shirt, slamming him back against the wall. Of course, Blair should have known. Jim really needs to work on developing new ways to vent his frustration. And what is it with him and the wall anyway?

Jim pinned him with his body, using his hips and thighs to keep him in place, to prevent him from wriggling away despite his best efforts. A part of Blair found it arousing to have Jim's body pressed against his. At the same time, he despised himself for getting turned on when Jim hated him precisely because he had these feelings for men. Jim took his jaw firmly in one hand, turning his face straight on, holding him still, making Blair look him in the eye.

"How the hell would you know what I want, Sandburg? When did you ever, once, give me the time of day that way?"

Blair blinked, then frowned. The words didn't compute. He strained all his prodigious mental faculties to make sense of it, but he couldn't quite wrap his brain around it. Was Jim saying? Did he mean? But...

"Oh, hell!" Jim cursed, an intense look of frustration and impatience crossing his face.

Since Blair was so obviously not getting it, Jim explained in the way that always worked best for him, with action, through touch. He held Blair's jaw and chin firmly in place and kissed him. Blair had been kissed many, many times in his life, but he'd never had his mouth taken before. And that's exactly what Jim did, forcing his lips and teeth open, pursuing what he wanted, a little ruthlessly perhaps, plundering, ravishing, staking his claim, intent on exorcising every last trace of those who had been there before him.

It was the desperation in Jim that made him bruise Blair's mouth with kiss after kiss, only pulling away each time to let Blair breathe, to gasp for air himself, returning for more and more and still more. Each press of Jim's lips, move of his mouth, touch and caress of his tongue was an explanation, and he needed to make sure Blair understood it all. See? This is what I want...what I've always wanted...what I've needed so badly...and you're the only one who could ever make me feel this way, make me want you until I ache, until I think I'm going to die from it...and the thought of your doing this with another man makes me sick with envy and rage and grief...because you belong to me and I so much want to belong to you...and this feeling I have for you is strong and stark and even a little primitive, but I promise you, love, it has absolutely nothing to do with hatred.

By the end of Jim's rather long, entirely wordless explanation, Blair was trembling and on the verge of tears and a little dizzy from lack of oxygen. The tension in Jim's hold lessened, and his hands moved on Blair's arms, lightly, caressing.

"I want to be the only one who touches you," Jim finally managed to say.

Blair felt his arms go around Jim's neck of their own volition, his fingers twining in the spiky dark hair at the nape of his love's neck, his body moving against Jim's, almost as if it had a will of its own. "Yes, Jim. Yes. Touch me. Please."

Blair would have been hard pressed to describe the sound that came out of his partner at getting his permission. Growl hardly covered it. It was a sound as dark and thick and dangerous as the jungle, a timeless sound that had been invented about the same time the world was, a sound that came from so deep inside him that Blair could only lick his lips in anticipation. Oh, yeah!

Jim grabbed Blair's arm and dragged him up the steps, pushing him down on the bed, quick hands stripping away Blair's clothes and his own in the blink of an eye. Blair expected Jim to join him, but he didn't. He stood quietly at the foot of the bed, watching him, using his Sentinel senses on him. It was the single most thrilling, the most erotic sensation of his life. It felt like a caress, the way Jim's eyes moved over him, mapping him, learning him, moving over the length of his body, taking in the dip and rise of muscles, the thick down of hair, lingering lovingly on his swollen cock, the irrefutable evidence of his intense desire.

Blair moaned softly in the back of his throat and writhed on the bed, as if Jim were actually touching him. That made his Sentinel smile, and he could tell Jim was opening his hearing, to take in more of his sounds, the staccato rhythm of his excited pulse, the windy intake of his breath, along with more obscure sounds that Blair probably wasn't even aware of himself. Jim was committing all of them to memory, looking as if it were the most transporting music he'd ever heard. Blair could smell his own arousal, and he wondered what it smelled like to Jim's sensitive nose. Apparently Jim had the same thought, because Blair could see his nostrils flare, could see his Sentinel breathing him in, growling deep inside his chest, becoming even more aroused. Seems like I smell pretty good to him. As if in answer, Jim licked his lips, lushly, extravagantly, piggy backing smell with taste, constructing what Blair would taste like, savoring the earthy sweet delight that was his Guide.

That left only touch, and Blair was desperate for it, unable to stand one more minute without his Sentinel's skin against his own. He stretched sensually, offering himself up, begging with his eyes.

Jim finally made his move, joining his love on the big bed, laying his hands on Blair. For one brief, shining moment, it was as if Blair were the one with enhanced senses. He swore he could feel every sworl and ridge of Jim's fingers on him, every molecule where Jim's flesh touched his own. The universe was reduced to a pair of strong, tender hands, stroking and caressing and worshipping him, and it was a universe ruled by perfection. He could never have asked for anything more. A gentle, restorative heat spread through him, completing him, at long last, the true healing touch.

If the kiss earlier had nearly melted Blair's circuitry, it was nothing compared to being loved with everything Jim had, his hands and mouth, fingers and tongue, his cock, his whole body, using his Sentinel senses to map him like an undiscovered country, uncovering his treasures, learning all the secret, pleasurable places that drove him wild with need.

Blair had never seen his Sentinel so passionate, so devout, so alive with fervor. It was as if Jim had finally found something he could believe in, his own holy sacrament, a uniquely satisfying way of offering praise. He set about expressing his devotion with the single-minded determination of a medieval knight on Crusade, the heat of his warrior's heart in service to the pure desires of the spirit. Only his hallowed ground was Blair Sandburg, and he was an erotic pilgrim. He knelt over Blair in breathless admiration, worshipping at the sacred altar stretched out before him, the sweet, sensual shrine that was his heart's every desire. Each touch was an act of reverence, each brush of his lips an expression of piety, each nip and lick and stroke of fingertips and tongue a form of veneration. Jim made love to Blair as if it were a sacred rite, prayerfully, paying homage to his love's beautiful body, communing with him in spirit, celebrating a liturgy of love and sensuality, need and homecoming, revelling in the long-awaited consummation of all his brightest dreams.

Jim had always been at his most eloquent when he communicated through touch, and he used that skill to send his love all the long buried messages of his heart. I've waited such a long time for this. I've wanted you from the first moment I saw you. He explained, as he moved his hands through Blair's luxurious long hair, that he had always loved, always longed to touch. There's never been anyone else. Not like this. No one but you. He declared, as he traced Blair's collarbone and shoulders, the bridge of his nose, the line of his jaw, wondering how even a man's bones could be so beautiful. I'd die if I couldn't make love to you. I want this so badly I don't feel quite human. He admitted, as he stroked Blair's trembling belly, loving the way the skin grew humid and feverish beneath his touch. I love you. He confessed, as he tenderly fondled Blair's balls, kissed and licked and sucked his sweet cock, letting the taste that was all Blair explode across his tongue, delighting in the strong earthy scent of his love's pleasure.

Blair was not content to let Jim be the only celebrant. He met his lover's every touch, flirtation, kiss, stroke, bite, thrust with one of his own. He had learned so much from his healing, and he put that understanding into action. It was true that the skin got hungry for touch. His was. And Jim's skin, well, Jim's skin was truly ravenous, if the low moaning in the back of his Sentinel's throat was any indication. Blair trailed his fingers down his love's chest, pressing kisses to his neck, teasing and fingering his nipples, kissing and licking and sucking them, until Jim was writhing beneath him.See how powerful it is? He asked his lover, holding Jim's hips down, caressing them, urging his thighs apart, lightly stroking the insides of them, exulting in the low moan that escaped from Jim's throat. Isn't it divine? Blair touched the opening to Jim's body, lightly, reverently, making sure it was welcome, flirting and circling and teasing with his thumb, finally pressing in a finger, gently, giving Jim time to adjust before beginning to move his hands in concert with one another, finger fucking his lover in the same rhythm that he stroked his cock. Do you believe now, Jim? Can you see it? Can you feel it? Can you sense it? The magnificence. The awe. The wonder. And Jim could. He could see it all, feel it all, sense it all, the enormous, star-splintering rapture that ruled the cosmos. He bowed down before it, gave himself up to it, worshipped, prayed, consecrated himself in its name.

Yes, Jim Ellison had gotten religion.

And the whole time they loved each other, the most amazing climatic transformation was taking place in Blair's soul. The gladness he felt when Jim touched him was like a gentle rain, coming to that parched, stubborn place at the center of him, soaking deep into the soil. Jim's passion was like the sun warming Blair's heart, which had always been alive with potential, just waiting for the right encouragement. His love's breath was the light wind that scattered the seeds, and in the warmth and safety of Jim's arms, the seeds took root, unlocked their secrets, found a home. Under Jim's tender, pale blue gaze, so like the benevolent sky, tender shoots began pushing their way up, unfurling, a light dusting of succulent green as far as the eye could see. Jim's loving ministrations nourished the new growth, and soon that place at the center of Blair's soul was thick and lush, at last the showplace it was always meant to be.

Afterwards, they lay in each other's arms, sweat slicked and winded, sated and more than a little sticky. Blair rested with his head on Jim's chest, listening to his Sentinel's strong heart beating, the most lovely sound he'd ever heard. His Sentinel. The most beautiful words he could imagine. He could feel Jim's fingers in his hair, playing idly with his curls. A deeply satisfied smile, perhaps even a bit smug, curved Blair's lips, and a sensual languor unfolded in him, making his arms and legs feel pleasantly heavy, ready to fall asleep in his love's arms. Perfect bliss.

"Uh, Chief," Jim said, clearing his throat.

Blair's eyes flew open wide. That voice didn't hold the same relaxed contentment he felt. Now that he was fully conscious, he could feel the tension in the arms that held him. Oh, shit! Please don't let him regret this. Please God. Please.

He propped himself up on one elbow, so he could look down into Jim's face. He gently stroked his lover's smooth, strong chest with his other hand. "What's wrong, big guy?"

"Did you...I mean, was it...I just wanted to know if it was okay?" Jim asked, blushing slightly, looking both expectant and afraid, more like a little kid than Blair could ever have imagined.

Blair smiled broadly and kissed his love sweetly on the lips. "It was much, much more than okay."

Jim looked relieved, his face lighting up, a smile coming into his beautiful blue eyes. "I'm glad. I just...I never..."

Blair felt his own eyes grow wide. Jim had never been with a man before. Well, that made sense given what he knew of Jim's background, but it certainly had not prevented him from giving one hell of a blow job. I guess Jim's just a natural.

Blair pressed a kiss to his lover's chest. "It's funny," he told his love. "I've been struggling lately. Searching for what I need. Not knowing exactly what that was, or not being willing to admit it to myself. I just didn't understand. It's what Walter's been trying to tell me. I kept going back to the church looking for something to fill this place inside me, but it was right here all along. What I want. What I need. Within my reach the whole time."

"I think I love you," Jim said, very softly, his eyes downturned, refusing to meet Blair's.

Blair smiled, stroking Jim's jaw with his thumb. "Well, I know I love you."

Jim frowned. "It's not what I was expecting. Not what I was brought up to believe is right. You don't know how long I've been fighting these feelings. And then when I thought you were with Walter...I lost it. I'm sorry. I said things...well, you know I didn't mean it, right?"

"I know. It's okay," Blair said soothingly.

"No matter what my old man preached at me, this does feel right. I just know I'm the one who's supposed to touch you."

Blair nodded, his face lighting up with understanding. "And I'm the one who's supposed to touch you. That's my soul's desire."

"I do love you, Blair," Jim said.

Blair smiled with joy and kissed his love on the cheek, before nestling back into his arms, ready now that they had committed themselves to one another to sleep the contented sleep of the well-loved.


Sunday morning dawned a thousand times more brightly than the day before. Blair had never been so grateful in his life for a weekend off, and he and Jim put it to good use, snuggling in bed a long while before heading off to the shower.

The hot water streamed over them, and Blair leaned heavily against the tiled wall, letting it support his weight. He closed his eyes against the strong sensations assailing him, but somehow that only intensified them, not a bad thing in this case. Even without looking, he could still see it, as if the image were burned onto his retinas. It was a picture he would carry with him forever, a secret prize to take out and pour over in his dreams, the stuff of steamy fantasies for years to come, the way Jim knelt in front of him, going down on him, his head bobbing as he took Blair deep into his throat, pleasuring him so well. Jim's hands held his hips in place, kneading them in time to the deft movements of his mouth, and it was only those strong hands that prevented him from falling as his release coursed through him, making him weak in the knees, liquefying his bones.

Jim stayed on his knees, tenderly washing away the rest of the cum, caressing Blair's legs. He paid particular attention to the knee that had been wounded, kissing and stroking it with his hands, as if his loving kindness could take away the last vestiges of scar tissue that remained. Blair finally managed to get his breathing under control, and when he looked down at Jim, he saw tears in his partner's eyes.

"It wasn't getting better," Jim said in a shaky voice.

Blair shook his head. "No, it wasn't."

"I was so afraid they were going to take you away from me."

Blair stroked his head. "Who? The department?"

Jim nodded.

"But that would only have been at work. You would still have had me around here. And even if we hadn't become lovers, we'd always have been friends. Right?"

Jim couldn't quite meet Blair's eyes. "I just wasn't sure if...I mean, I know you said, but..." he stuttered. "I thought it was about the dissertation. If there was no dissertation, then..."

"What? Then I'd just pick up and leave like the last three years never happened? Like you're not the most important person in my life?"

"I didn't know that then."

Blair smiled. "Who else is my family and my best friend and my Blessed Protector all rolled into one?"

"But I didn't protect you this time, and you got hurt, really badly. And you weren't healing. Then you started spending all that time with Walter. He was the one you turned to for help. I never even knew until then, until it looked like it was too late. And I was really just so..."

Scared. Blair mentally finished the sentence for him, since he knew it would be too difficult for Jim to admit himself. He could hardly blame him. His own fear, that Jim only kept him around to help with the Sentinel stuff, had been so buried and oblique that his body had been forced to act out his distress to get his attention. He pulled Jim to his feet and stroked his shoulders and arms comfortingly. "We really need to start having faith in one another."

Jim nodded, and Blair smiled at him. "Let me wash you."

Blair lathered his hands with soap and moved them over Jim's body, in slow, tantalizing circles. Jim watched him with eyes half-closed in pleasure, staying surprisingly still and docile, letting Blair do with him as he pleased. What pleased Blair was to explore every inch of his lover's body, soapy fingers ranging over hips and thighs, exploring the backs of knees and the bones of the ankles, pressing into the hollows under Jim's arms, tracing his balls, before fisting his cock. He turned Jim around so his hands could skate over the shoulder blades, dance over the lower back, his fingers finally traveling gently between Jim's cheeks, where Jim had wanted them all along, at least if his response last night had been any indication.

Blair moved his soapy fingers deeper, rubbing back and forth inside the crease, stroking and circling the opening to Jim's body, teasing and flirting and washing as he went. He felt Jim suck in his breath as he slowly and gently pushed in one finger, stroking inside Jim's body, using the soap and water and his finger to cleanse Jim's most intimate, private place. When Jim was used to the feeling, he pressed in a second lathered finger to wash him more thoroughly, but this time he felt Jim tense, the muscles clamping down hard.

He laid his head against Jim's back and murmured soft, low sounds of reassurance. He could hear Jim's heart racing wildly and the quick, shallow intake of his breath. "Do you want me to stop?" he asked, removing his hand from Jim's bottom, circling both his arms around his lover's waist, hugging him tightly.

Jim gasped at the loss of the fingers in his ass and shook his head. "No! It's just...I never expected that would feel else has ever touched me there."

Blair couldn't see Jim's face, but he could make out the blush that reached all the way to the back of his love's neck. He smiled against Jim's shoulder blades. "And I hope no one else ever will."

Jim turned to look at him over his shoulder, holding his eyes with the tender earnestness of his expression. "No. Only yours. Forever."

Blair moved around to face him and kissed him tenderly on the lips. "Thank you, love. I'm yours too."

"Chief? I'd like...would you?...I want you to love me, you know, that way," Jim said, staring down at his own feet, blushing furiously.

Blair's eyes went wide, and his heart skipped a beat. He could almost swear he'd just heard Jim ask him to...

"Please?" Jim begged, his voice soft and pliant.

It was as if there was a direct connection between Blair's hearing and his cock. Jim Ellison wanted him, wanted Blair inside him, making love to him. He wanted Blair to take him. But then a second thought, from his brain this time, made him hesitate.

He caressed Jim's chest. "There's no rush, Jim. This is all so new for you. I don't want to push anything on you that you're not ready for.

Let's take our time. Eventually, we'll love each other in every way possible, but for the time being, why don't we take it slow? Make sure everything feels right first."

Jim shook his head. "I'm cautious about a lot of things, but I don't want to be cautious about this. You're not pushing me into anything. I want this, and I want it now," Jim declared and then blushed once more, embarrassed by his own urgency. "The way you touched me last night and just felt so...I liked it. I really, really liked it. Almost too much."

Blair smiled. "That's how love is supposed to be. Too good to believe."

"I want more," Jim said, very simply.

Blair started to protest again, but Jim pressed his fingers very gently to his lips to stop him. "Have you ever needed something really badly, for a long time, but you didn't even realize it, until somehow you got luckier than you ever deserved to be and just kind of stumbled on the answer? Do you know what I mean? Does that make any sense?"

Blair couldn't help reaching for Jim to hug him and whispered in his ear, "Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. In fact, I've had some personal experience with that recently. And believe me, it makes all the sense in the world."

"Let me give myself to you, Blair. It's what I want. It feels so right. And it's important to me."

Blair was too choked up to do anything more than nod. Jim put a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you," he said and leaned in to kiss his partner.

Blair turned off the water, and they got out of the shower, toweled off. Jim took Blair's hand and led him out of the bathroom.

"I just have to get something," Blair told him, squeezing his hand. "I'll meet you up there."

Jim nodded and headed upstairs. Blair retrieved condoms and a tube of lube from his bedroom and hurried to join Jim. The sight that greeted him at the top of the steps literally took his breath away. Jim lay stretched out on the big bed, gloriously naked, already aroused, the late morning light from the window making his smooth skin look as if it were illuminated from within. I'm more nervous than he is. Blair realized. He really is okay with this. At least if his body language is any indication... Jim lay casually sprawled, one arm crooked beneath his head, a lazy, sensual smile curving his lips, a passionate heat lighting his blue eyes, an expression in them that was both sure and ready.

"I love you," he told Blair and spread his legs wide, rubbing his hands lightly along the tops of his thighs, beckoning Blair to him, offering himself up to Blair's sight and touch and loving.

Blair could feel his pulse spike in his own chest, and he swallowed hard. It was enough to make his head spin. He felt overwhelmed by the sight of his love's beautiful body spread out for his enjoyment, the strong, supple muscles gleaming in the sunlight, the long legs parted for him, his Jim so open and relaxed and eager for his loving.

Blair recognized this sacred responsibility for what it was. He wanted more than anything to be worthy of Jim's trust. He wanted to make Jim's first experience sweet and tender, loving and ultimately pleasurable. To do that, he couldn't rush, wouldn't rush. He joined his love on the bed, knelt between his legs, stroked and teased, coaxed and luxuriated, worshipped and caressed, all in his own sweet time. He couldn't help smiling as he watched his love responding to him—writhing and bucking, twisting and leaning into his hands. He lavished special attention on Jim's cock and balls, used both his hands and his mouth, sucked and fondled until Jim was coming in a frenzy, screaming out his name, the most beautiful music he'd ever heard.

After Jim came to himself and caught his breath, Blair gently urged him over onto his side.

Jim shook his head. "No. Like this."

Blair caressed Jim's belly, which trembled at his touch, and drew on him with one light finger. "It's easier your first time on your side. I don't want to hurt you."

Jim held his gaze. "You won't. I have faith in you," he said confidently. "And I want to watch you while you take me. I don't know, Chief. It seems like I've been looking away from things, important things, for too long now. I don't want to do that anymore. I want to see in your face how it feels for you to be inside me. And I want you to see in mine how good it is to have you love me."

In that moment Blair hardly recognized Jim. He had known for a while now that Jim had changed since they'd first met, but this...well, this was beyond his wildest imaginings. The closed off, control freak of a Sentinel was nowhere in evidence. This was a totally different side of Jim, one rarely seen, a Jim who was tender and yielding and hungry for intimacy.

Blair caressed the insides of Jim's thighs and pressed a single, reverent kiss to the entrance of his body. With well-lubed fingers, he prepared his lover, opening and stretching him, moving his fingers deep inside to send white hot flashes of ecstasy through him.

Jim lay still, watching him, making an occasional moaning sound in the back of his throat, screaming loud enough to wake the dead when Blair found his prostate, but not tensing as Blair would have expected, not trying to hold anything back. He'd never seen Jim so open and receptive. Blair was pretty sure Jim had never been such a passive recipient of anything in his entire life, certainly never during lovemaking. Jim was breaking new ground, journeying into an entirely unexplored part of his soul, and he was doing it with Blair, offering himself up, making a gift of his body, his love, his faith. It was the most valuable, the most precious gift Blair had ever received. It moved him beyond words that Jim Ellison would choose to be this vulnerable and trusting with him.

"Take me, Blair. Do it now," Jim said between clenched teeth.

And Blair did, staking his own claim, accepting the precious offering, merging their bodies, as they had already joined their hearts and their lives. It was exquisitely, unbelievably, impossibly good to be inside Jim, to be making love to him, and Blair needed to know that it was just as pleasurable for Jim. He watched his lover's face carefully, seeing wide-eyed surprise followed quickly by a flash of pain, and he waited, with more patience than he would have thought possible, not moving until the desire came back into Jim's eyes, determined not to hurt or rush him.

Jim's urgency soon returned, and he moved his hips, tentatively at first, locking his legs around Blair's waist, bringing him further into his body. Blair caressed Jim's hips, his thighs, his belly, bending forward to kiss his lips tenderly. It nearly overwhelmed him to see his strong, proud Sentinel lying back so trustingly, a look of intense concentration and eagerness on his face as he met Blair's thrusts, loving him back. Blair could feel the ecstasy begin to overtake him, and he quickened the rhythm, moving voluptuously inside Jim, stroking his cock in time, finally sending them both into sweet oblivion.

It felt like a loss to Blair, leaving Jim's body, and he held tightly to his love afterwards, seeking a different kind of closeness. Jim's strong arms closed around him. He ran his fingers through Blair's hair and rubbed circles on his back. He sighed his satisfaction, as if he'd just enjoyed the most delicious meal on earth.

Blair couldn't believe how ridiculous it was, how silly he felt. Jim was the one who'd just lost his virginity, but he was the one crying.

Jim pulled him closer and petted him tenderly. "What is it, Chief?"

Blair closed his eyes and buried his face in Jim's chest. "You trusted me."

Even with his eyes closed, he could feel Jim's smile. "Always."

When they finally found the energy to get out of bed again, Blair set about having the intimate, cozy morning with Jim that he'd missed so much the day before. They made breakfast together, waffles and bacon, and devoured it with relish, finding that every sensual appetite had been awakened, including gluttony. Afterwards, they stretched out on the sofa together, in each others arms, settling in for a day of reading the paper, watching the Jags game and whatever else came to mind.

There was nothing especially out of the ordinary about it, and Blair had never felt a more complete sense of bliss. It amazed him that the best things in life were also the simplest. The way you gained intimate knowledge of someone when you held them close, learning their pulse, the cadence of their respiration, the dull rumblings that bespoke the unseen but crucial processes of life, the intimacies of scent, the intricacies of texture. Or how the strength and quality of sunlight flooding through the windows changed as the day unfolded. Or how the silence of your own home had a richness of character, an easy familiarity that embraced and soothed you, unlike the jagged silences of foreign places that spoke only of absence.

Blair marveled that the building blocks of such perfect happiness had always been part of his everyday life, but only now could he assemble them into this portrait of exquisite contentment. That's why love truly was the greatest gift of all, because it not only gave you its own joy, but also unlocked your soul to all the beauty and majesty you had missed along the way. It recast your life in brighter colors, conferred a poignancy on all the quiet moments, gave each experience, no matter how pedestrian, a height and depth and breadth it had never reached before.

It reminded you that life was good, and that this had been the plan all along. It opened your eyes to the truth, that love and pleasure really were forms of worship.

These were Blair's thoughts as he rested in his lover's arms, communing outside of words with the man who was his Sentinel and best friend, partner, family, fondest desire—certain that all was right with the world.

Until Jim's cell phone rang.

"Oh damn!" Blair cursed.

And if he thought he was upset, he'd never seen such a combination of dread, disappointment and anger on Jim's face. "Do they have no clue what the term 'day off' means?" his lover growled, before answering the call in his most severe voice. "Ellison!"

Blair watched Jim closely as his expression turned to one of concern, trying to figure out what was going on from Jim's side of the conversation, wishing not for the first time that he, too, had Sentinel hearing.

Jim snapped the cell phone closed. "Chief, I'm afraid I've got bad news. There's a hostage situation at Mt. Hebron. The church was packed for the last day of the revival, and the guy won't let any of them go. He's got a gun, and he's threatening to kill Reverend Harker."

Blair gasped and then turned deadly pale. "Oh my God. No, Jim. We can't let that happen."

"Try to calm down. I'm sure the Tactical Assault Squad has everything under control."

Blair flew off the couch and began pacing. "The TAS? They're all a bunch of gun happy cowboys and you know it. We have to do something. Don't you see? We owe him. I owe him. Without his help, I never would have found you, found us. Please, Jim!"

Jim watched him a moment, considering, and then nodded. "Go get dressed. We'll go down to the scene and see what we can do."

Blair flew into his arms, kissing him. "Thanks, man. Really. Thanks."

"Nobody owes Reverend Harker more than I do. Starting with an apology for acting like such a prick."

"I'm really worried."

"I know. But we'll do everything we can, okay?"

Blair nodded, trying to find confidence that their best would be good enough. They both threw on clothes and headed out the door.

"It's a good thing the knee's better, so I can at least keep up with you on this one. I know it was getting frustrating," Blair said.

Jim stopped in the doorway, taking Blair by the shoulders, looking him straight in the eye, the most ferocious expression Blair had ever seen on his face. "I was never frustrated with you, Blair. I was terrified...because you weren't healing and I couldn't help you. It was sheer, fucking hell watching you limp every time you walked, seeing you in pain, knowing it was because I didn't protect you the way I should have. And I thank God you're better. I thank God. Me. Jim Ellison. But if your knee hadn't healed, then I would have walked at your pace for the rest of our lives, whatever it took to be by your side, because that's the only place I ever want to be. You got that, Chief?"

Blair stared into his lover's face with wide eyes. "Yeah. I got it, Jim. I just don't know what to..."

"Just kiss me," Jim demanded.

Blair smiled and kissed his partner's lips. "Let's go save Walter," Blair said as he pulled back, the urgency returning.

Jim nodded, and they hurried out to the truck.


It looked like some kind of military maneuver, patrol cars everywhere, the TAS guys outfitted in black kevlar, armed to the teeth, grim and determined, waiting for word from the hostage negotiator, ready to move in at a moment's notice. Blair couldn't help panicking, even though he knew he should have faith in the TAS officers. After all, they were highly trained professionals. But his intuition told him that something really awful would happen if the situation didn't end peacefully.

"Hang in there, huh, Chief?" Jim said, a hand on his shoulder, clearly aware of Blair's jumpy pulse.

"Sorry, man. I'm just kind of worried here, you know?"

"I know." The look on Jim's face clearly said that he'd like to do more to comfort his lover than just pat his arm, but didn't dare with half the CPD looking on.

"I'll be fine. Let's just find out what's going on."

"There's Simon. We can get the story from him."

"Right behind you, big guy."

Simon had taken up a position near the front, with Captain Fitzgerald of the Tactical Assault Squad and another officer, talking on a cell phone, whom Blair presumed must be the hostage negotiator.

"Simon!" Jim said. "What's the status?"

"Jim, I didn't expect you to come down here."

Jim looked at Blair and then back at Simon. "It's our case, sir. We ought to be in on this."

Simon arched an eyebrow at them, certain there was more to it than that. There always was when it came to Ellison and Sandburg. But it was the middle of a crisis, and he didn't have the time or the inclination to find out what it was. "We've got over five hundred people in there. Standing room only. And a lone gunman with a single semi-automatic pistol, as far as we can tell."

"What's he after?" Jim asked.

"Revenge, unfortunately. It appears to be personal between him and the reverend. He's threatening to kill the minister if he doesn't confess to being responsible for the death of the man's wife."

Blair shook his head vehemently. "No way, man. I know Walter. There's no way he's responsible for anyone's death."

"Sandburg, I'm not even going to ask how you know this man so well, when he was the prime suspect in a homicide until very recently."

"So it was the gunman?" Jim asked.

"It appears so. He's been pretty incoherent on the phone, but from what Jensen, the negotiator, can piece together the guy came looking for the minister at the church, saw the Randolph boy at the altar. With the kid's back turned to him, the guy mistook him for Harker, went into a rage and picked up the closest thing at hand, which just happened to be an extremely heavy silver candlestick. Again, unfortunately."

"Simon," Blair said, stepping forward. "You can't let the TAS storm the place. Walter's the most persuasive guy on the planet. We just have to give him enough time to talk the guy out of it."

"Sandburg, I want to see this end without bloodshed as much as anyone else, but we can't leave five hundred innocent people in there with a guy who's not operating with a full deck. And besides, it's not my call alone. Fitzgerald is getting itchy."

"But Simon, you know those guys and their penchant for shooting..."

Jim held up a hand. "Chief? May I? Simon, Sandburg is right. If the TAS goes in, there will be shooting. Let us try first."

Simon sighed heavily and gave them both that exasperated look of his. "All right. But I can't promise how long I can give you."

"Great!" Blair said. "So what are we going to do, Jim?"

"We need to find a way in," he said and turned to Simon. "Have we got a map of the building?"

"Yeah. Gozalez, let's get those blueprints over here."

Jim took the plans and quickly scanned them.

"According to this, there's a separate entrance from the outside that leads to the organ loft."

"Reverend Cleveland told me it's closed for renovation," Blair told them. "They have an old time pipe organ that needs one of its metal pipes replaced."

Jim looked thoughtfully at the map. "It's just one guy, and he's hardly a professional. I can get up there without him realizing it and monitor the situation with my senses. If it gets out of hand, I can take out the perp with a clean shot."

Blair bounced enthusiastically, something he hadn't done in a quite a while. "That could definitely work, Simon. You just have to give us a chance."

"Us, Chief? I don't think so. It's way too dangerous for me to take you in there with me."

Blair set his jaw, showing Jim that he, too, could be stubborn. "You need me, big guy. If you're going to focus on the shot, you need me there to keep you from zoning."

"No way. Do you know what it would do to me if..."

"That's enough," Simon said sternly. "I hate to say this, but Sandburg's right here, Jim. If you're going to do this, you'll need to take him along. I can't risk anything happening to you or those people in there if you wig out with your senses."

"But sir..."

"That's the way it's going to be, detective. Either you go in with Sandburg, or we let the TAS take care of it."

Blair took hold of Jim's sleeve. "Please, Jim..."

Jim looked back and forth from Blair's puppy dog eyes to Simon's

uncompromising expression, terribly torn.

"Fine. But you wear a vest," Jim finally said, his voice deadly serious.

"Just as long as you do."

Jim scowled at him, but put on the kevlar just the same.

Captain Fitzgerald joined them, looking none too happy. "Ellison. Captain Banks clued me in on your plan. You stay in constant communication. If there's any commotion, we're coming in. You got it?"

"Got it, Captain," Jim answered, in his chilliest voice.

"I'm not even going to comment on sending in a civilian."

"Captain Banks cleared it," Jim said.

Fitzgerald shook his head. "What kind of operation are you guys running over in Major Crimes?"

"One that gave us the best arrest record in the city last year," Jim said, answering the challenge, putting his hand on Blair's back to guide him over to the entrance to the organ loft.

"You ready to do this, Chief?" Jim asked, leaning in close so only Blair could hear him.

"Yeah, big guy. As ready as I'll ever be."

"You don't have to, you know."

"Yes, I do. And we both know it."

Jim watched him thoughtfully and then just nodded. Officers had already managed to unlock the door, and Jim and Blair slipped in, as quietly as possible, making their way deliberately and silently up the narrow, curving set of stairs.

The organ loft was a tiny space, just large enough for the organist really. Jim took up a position in which he could see down into the sanctuary, but go unnoticed by the gunman. Blair kneeled beside him, squeezed tightly against the wall.

Witnessing the change in the church's atmosphere pained Blair. It seemed difficult to believe it was the same place where he'd had such a profound, life affirming experience. Soft sounds of distress floated up from the sanctuary, and the electric pulse in the air this time was terror, not anticipation. The gunman held Walter from behind, his arm around the minister's neck, holding him in place, the gun aimed at his head. He kept yelling at the people in the congregation to be quiet, not to move, or he'd shoot.

"Okay, Jim, can you filter out the other people's vital signs and focus on the guy with the gun?"

Jim closed his eyes for a moment and listened. The gunman was ranting on and on about how the minister hadn't helped his wife, and he tracked that voice, using it to zero in on the heartbeat attached to it.

"I got it," he whispered to Blair. "The pulse is elevated, like you'd expect, but it's not off the chart. He's breathing fast, but not hyperventilating. He seems to still have something of a grip on himself."

"Great, Jim. That's just great. Okay, can you focus on smell? What does that tell you?"

"Agitated...anxious...afraid... angry, but it's holding steady. I don't think he's on the verge of doing anything crazy. At least not yet."

"Well, that's good news at least. What can you see from the muscle tension?"

"He's holding onto the gun like it's his last hope, but the trigger finger is loose. Right now, he's not thinking too seriously about pulling it. Of course, that could change at any minute."

"Okay, I'm going to call Simon and tell him all that. Work on getting a lock on the guy, just in case things deteriorate."

"Gotcha, Chief."

Blair pulled out the phone, called Simon and updated him on the current situation.

"Keep this line open, Sandburg. I want to know everything right as it goes down."

"Will do, Simon."

For the next twenty minutes, the two of them stayed crouched there, Jim keeping his senses trained on the hostage taker, keyed in to notice even the most minute physiological change, gun trained to take him out if necessary, before he could harm Reverend Harker or anyone in the congregation. Blair kept his attention on Jim, ready to snap him out of a zone at the first sign of one, both of them listening as the gunman raged on and Walter tried to reason with him.

"I brought my wife to you. I begged you to help her, and you didn't. You bastard. You let her die. It's all your fault, and now you're gonna pay."

"I'm willing to face the consequences, Roy, but these people have done nothing. They're completely innocent. I know you don't want to hurt them. Why not let them go?"

"No! They're my witnesses. I need them to hear you confess what you did. Then I can finally end it. But first I want everyone here to know you for the hypocrite you are."

"Roy, I really am so sorry about your wife. I feel your loss. Let me try and help you through your pain."

"Like you helped Martha? You want to put me in the grave, too? Is that it, Reverend?"

"I did the best I could for Martha," Walter said gently. "I promise you. But no amount of healing work can take away the fact that people do die, Roy. It's part of God's plan, just like living is."

"Well, now you're gonna die," the man snarled. "That's my plan."

"Do you remember whose idea it was to come to me in the first place, Roy? It was yours, wasn't it? Not Martha's."

Roy's face turned red with fury. "She wanted to come! She wanted a cure. She was just afraid of getting her hopes up and having them all dashed again. She'd already been through so much."

"Is that really true? Are you sure it wasn't more than that?"

"What are you saying? That she wanted to die? Don't you dare try to lay blame on her, you bastard, when you're the one who killed her."

Blair watched Jim tense, his finger tightening on the trigger, reacting to Roy's agitation. Blair related the turn of events to Simon as quietly as possible.

"No, Roy, the last thing I would ever do is blame Martha for anything. She did absolutely nothing wrong, and even though she wanted nothing more than to live, cancer ate away her strength and took away her joy in living. By the time she got to me, she knew her death was inevitable, and she was tired of fighting, as anyone would be. She just wanted it to be over."

"She was sick. You should have helped her anyway. You should have done something. She was in no state of mind to be making those kinds of decisions for herself. But you did nothing. You just let her give up."

"Our lives are our own, Roy. They belong to us like nothing else does. There's not a force of will, not any kind of magic, in this whole great big universe that can make somebody live when they don't want to. By the time Martha came to me, she'd already seen it, the Glory waiting for her, and there just wasn't any turning back from that."

Tears slid down Roy's cheeks. His finger lightened on the trigger, his hold on the gun slackened. Blair could feel Jim relax beside him. "How could she do that? How could she leave me? She was all I had, all I ever wanted. Why wasn't I enough to make her want to stay?"

Walter's face shone with compassion. "Spirits wear out, Roy, just like bodies do. There's only so much suffering any poor soul can withstand. And Martha, God bless her heart, had more than her fair share of it. Her decision was not about leaving you. She loved you very much. The light of that love practically glowed off her for anyone to see. But she recognized that it was her time, and she accepted it. And you've got to accept it too, for your own sake and for Martha's. She'll not rest easy until you let her go."

Roy hesitated a long moment, deciding, and then lowered the gun, his shoulders shaking. "I miss her so much."

Walter moved forward, easing the gun out of his hand, putting his arms around the distraught man to comfort him. "I know you do. And I promise you there's no such thing as the end. You'll be with Martha again."

Jim and Blair both ran down the stairs and through the door that led into the sanctuary, Blair talking to Simon the whole time, giving him the good news. The people in the pews began to get to their feet, milling about, still stunned, confused about what they should do next, although a few people had started for the exits.

As they neared the front of the church, Blair caught Jim's arm. "Please, can we give them a moment?" After a slight hesitation, Jim nodded.

Jim and Blair, along with the rest of the congregation, watched in silence and solemnity as Walter held the sobbing man, letting him finally cry out his grief. The preacher softly hummed an old gospel song, one that had comforted generations of mourners.

There's a land that is fairer than day.
And by faith we can see it afar.
For the Father waits over the way,
to prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.
In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.

Then the most amazing thing happened...the people stopped leaving the church. They returned to their pews, joined hands with loved ones and began singing along with the reverend, very softly at first, only a few tentative voices here and there, soon joined by more, which grew stronger, swelled out across the aisles, until the air was full and alive with the resonance of that bittersweet old hymn.

We shall sing on that beautiful shore,
the melodious songs of the blessed;
And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
not a sigh for the blessing of rest.

In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.
In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.

The TAS officers stormed through the doors, their automatic weapons drawn, and even they stopped short, trying to get the perp in their sights, just in case, but finding it difficult with the minister so close to him. The whole situation confused them completely, unlike anything they'd ever seen before. They kept their weapons drawn, but didn't move to the altar, waiting, out of respect, until the song was over.

To our bountiful Father above,
we will offer our tribute of praise,
for the glorious gift of His love
and the blessings that hallow our days.

In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.
In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.

Finally Roy pulled back, brushing away the last of the tears. "I'm real sorry about what I did. I'm so ashamed for hurting that boy," he said, hanging his head.

Walter nodded. "I know you are. You've got to hold on to your faith now to get through this. I'll come to the station with you and make sure you get a good lawyer."

Roy kept his eyes glued to the floor. "I don't deserve that."

Walter put his hand on the man's back. "The Lord said that in as much as you have done it unto these the least of my brethren so you have done it unto me. Everybody deserves help. That's what that means."

Roy shook his head. "I don't have that kind of faith, Reverend. Never did. I believe in what I can touch and feel. And without my Martha..."

Before anyone could react, Roy reached for the gun again, which Reverend Harker had laid on the podium. The desperate man aimed it at his own temple this time, intending to kill himself. But the minister lunged at him, grabbing his wrist, turning the gun away from his head just in time.

There was a loud, sharp crack as the gun went off, and the crowd screamed and fell to their knees en masse. Jim's only thought was for Blair. He was right to worry, since the bullet was headed directly for his Guide, on a trajectory that would hit him in the head or the face, the kevlar vest no protection. It was the warehouse all over again, only this time Jim was there to protect his partner. He pushed Blair to the ground, as the bullet whizzed harmlessly overhead, embedding itself in a nearby wall. As Blair lay on the floor with Jim's sheltering body over him, he felt something click into place, the cosmos fall into alignment, the final step of the miracle completed. It was as if the moment of the blast had been relived, righted, healed. The natural order of the universe had been restored. The Sentinel had protected. The Guide was safe and sound and whole in his Watchman's arms.

Walter managed to get the gun away from Roy again, and they were soon surrounded by a black sea of TAS officers, ordering Roy to the ground, slapping on the cuffs, dragging him away.

Jim helped Blair up and ran his hands over his partner's shoulders and arms, trying to reasure himself that Blair was still in one piece.

"I'm okay, big guy."

"Thank God, Blair. Look, I'm sorry. I have to..."

"I understand."

"I wish I didn't..."

"I know."

"I'll make it as quick as I can."

"I'm going to stay with Walter. He's had one hell of a rough day. I think he could probably use a friend about now."

"I'll be back as soon as I can."

"I'll be waiting."

That made Jim smile, much to Blair's delight. He watched his partner hurry down the aisle, to finish wrapping up the case.

Walter sat slumped on the step leading up to the altar, and Blair sat down beside him. They were both quiet, Blair following Walter's lead, sensing his need to process what had just happened before speaking about it. CPD officers quickly and efficiently cleared the congregation from the church. It was the most organized post-hostage scene Blair could ever have imagined, the hushed stillness of the church somehow keeping everyone calm and orderly.

"Are you okay, Blair?" Walter finally asked, his voice soft and shaky. "My God, I hate to think what almost happened to you."

Blair put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm fine, man. Luckily, I have Jim looking out for me. But how are you doing? You okay?"

"I guess so. I mean, I'm still in one piece, and nobody else got hurt. I suppose that's cause to be thankful."

"Absolutely. You know you really amaze me, man. People say I have the gift of persuasion. But you, you really know how to reach people. That guy, Roy, he really heard you. That's the only reason it ended the way it did."

"But I didn't see it, Blair. I never had any idea. Oh, I mean I knew he was very close to his wife, that he took her death hard. But I sure didn't know he blamed me for it."

"How could you have known? It was an irrational reaction borne out of grief. There's no predicting that kind of thing."

Walter smiled at him sadly. "But I usually have a pretty good sense of what people are feeling. If only I'd realized three months ago when Martha died, that poor boy would never have been killed. That makes me responsible for his death in a way."

"When you got into that barroom fight, was it anyone else's fault?"

"Course not."

"Then how is this any different? Roy could have made any of a hundred other choices. He didn't. He let the emptiness rule him, the way you used to. If there was no one else who could have cured your emptiness but you, and no one to fix it for me but me, why would you have been able to do that for Roy?"

Walter smiled at him tiredly. "You know, Blair, you may be too good a listener."

Blair patted his back. "What can I say? I never forget anything. But you know what's really awful, man? Someone died, and I feel terrible about that. But what I really feel is a shame is that this is how the revival ended. I mean, there was just such a great feeling in the air, and now it's gone."

Walter shook his head. "There's nothing to feel bad about in that. It is the most amazing, miraculous change that happens. I'm just so glad you felt it, Blair. And trust me, it's not gone. No matter what happened here today. It went home with all the people who came to heal and witness and pray and celebrate. It's been transplanted into their everyday lives. It's a part of them now."

"So what are you going to do now that it's over?"

"I've got another congregation waiting for me, down in Portland. But first, I need to go to the station. Try to help Roy the best I can. Make sure he'll be all right to face all that's coming down the road."

"Oh," Blair said, unable to keep the disappointment out of his voice. Of course, he'd always known that Walter would move on. That's just what he did. But still, he couldn't help feeling the loss.

Walter put a hand on his arm and said gently, "I'll miss you too, Blair. But when I accepted this path in life, I knew it would make me a vagabond. I have to go where I'm needed. There are always more people who need helping."

Blair nodded, understanding, but still sad. Jim approached, clearing his throat to let them know he was there, so he wouldn't overhear or interrupt anything. Blair had to smile. He could tell by the look of concentration on Jim's face that he was doing everything in his power not to eavesdrop on their conversation.

"Reverend Harker, we've taken Mr. Madison down to central booking. It'll take about an hour to process him through the system, but you can talk to him after that. I left word for the uniforms to let you in to see him. I just had a feeling you'd want to."

Walter nodded. "Yes, detective, I sure do. I appreciate your arranging it for me."

"No problem. And I just wanted to say..."

Walter held up a hand. "That's not necessary, Detective Ellison."

"Yes, it is," Jim insisted. "When I'm wrong, I say it. I was wrong about you. And...well, thanks, you know, for what you did for Blair. And good luck, you know, with it all."

Jim held out his hand, and the minister shook it. "Thanks, Jim. And helping Blair, well, if all my work was that easy, I'd have it made. He did the hard part all by himself. I just kind of pointed him in a direction."

"Well, thanks," Jim said, shifting a little uncomfortably. "Um, Blair, I guess I'll just..." He pointed toward the back of the church.

"I'll be there in a minute, big guy."

Jim nodded and headed for the vestibule just outside the sanctuary to wait for him

"Well, Walter, I guess it's good-bye," Blair said.

Walter nodded. "I'm real glad to have known you, Blair. You take good care of yourself. And your partner too."

Blair hugged his friend. "Count on it, man. And you take care of yourself."

"You know, Blair, the new growth in your soul looks good on you. I'm glad to see you finally got your heart's desire."

Blair blushed down to his toes, but couldn't keep the happiness from shining through. "Um...thanks, man."

"And I see a path's been cut into the heart of the jungle," he said, nodding his head in Jim's direction. "That's very good."

"Walter, I can't tell you how much I appreciate..."

But the preacher held up his hand, unwilling to accept Blair's thanks. "That's the secret to healing, Blair. No magic involved, just the

strategic application of energy. To speed up what would have happened anyway."

Blair nodded, his face lighting up, understanding at last. He smiled, bidding his friend good-bye. He would never forget this man, who was the catalyst that had brought him the best blessing he ever could have hoped for.

Blair walked back up the aisle, to where Jim was waiting for him. He couldn't help smiling at that. Jim was waiting for him. There was no better feeling in the world than that.

He joined his partner by the door. Jim told him, "Megan's going to take care of booking him. Simon said we could head off, since we weren't supposed to be working today anyway."

Blair nodded.

"You okay, Chief?" Jim asked, looking him over, concern written all over his face.

He smiled at his partner to reassure him. "Never better."

And it was true, so very true.

Jim looked relieved and put a hand on his back, guiding him out the door, down the stairs, to the truck. They both got in and headed home, realizing they had witnessed miracles, understanding that their love was the greatest blessing of all.



Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

"There is none to uphold your cause..." Jeremiah 30:13
"Health and soundness are better..." and "There is no wealth better..."
Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach (Sir.) 30:15 and 16 (Apocryphal)
"My grief is beyond healing..." Jeremiah 8:18
"He lifts up the soul and gives light..." Sir. 34:17 (Apocryphal)
"Take delight in the Lord..." Psalms 37:4


Blest Be The Tie That Binds, lyrics by John Fawcett, 1782.
Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow (Doxology), lyrics by Thomas Ken, 1674.
In The Sweet By and By, lyrics by Sanford Fillmore Bennett, 1868.

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