Author's Notes: This is my Moonridge Auction story 2006, the first time I took part at all. The photographs inside all are from my recent vacation where I walked in the boys' footsteps a bit...

Thank you's:

Lisa, for contributing the beautiful art. It's making this story special. And, of course, for all the encouragement; it's due to you that I managed to write it within a reasonable period of time.

'Gravity' was beta'd by Xasphie, who did a great job as usual.

Lyn, for giving my slash musings a home as well. I really do feel at home @ BiA.

Hope, the auction winner - you blew me away with what you were willing to spend! This is for you:

 

 

Gravity

By Demeter

EMAIL: Demeter

 

It was always a bad idea to take second chances for granted, and the truth had never been more obvious to Jim Ellison.

Standing here outside in the hallway, he had his senses mostly turned down, the possibility of a zone-out a vague, comforting thought. No. Whenever he turned to the white wall across from him, the images etched into his memory came alive again as if on a screen.

It was something he could not turn down, could not escape from.

At first, everybody had thought that Blair seemed to have coped fairly well with this latest ordeal. He wasn't seriously injured, coherent, if a bit shaken, but he certainly had the right to be. Acting normal around the doctors, Simon and Connor, who had been the first to see him in the hospital.

In an attempt to push the recent images just a bit further away, Jim recalled...

***

"It's over, Jim! We've found him."

The relief was practically pouring from the captain's voice, and Jim allowed himself a smile. They had been damn lucky. It made the ongoing argument he'd had with Simon over the past few days seem very irrelevant in comparison. Jim had been sure as to who'd been responsible for Blair's abduction; the man had even been taunting him in his face.

But they couldn't tie him to anything, and there were other traces. It didn't matter now.

"How is he?"

"Seems okay. Jim, we will have to talk about you practically stalking Parker--"

"I'm aware of that."

"But not today. Right now, I want you to get your ass over here and see your partner."

"Aye, aye, sir," he'd said with a grin, hitting the accelerator. Jim had been staking out Parker's residence for the better part of the last twenty-four hours, and he should have been exhausted, but he thought he'd never felt more clear-headed and awake than in that moment. Everything seemed to be falling into place finally.

An idle wish, as he knew now.

***

Blair had screamed with utter, uncontrollable panic, the moment Jim had entered the hospital room. "No! Get out of here! Get way from me!"

"What is it?" Jim had tried, not immediately understanding the emphasis. Not wanting to. "Should I get a doctor?"

Shaking hard, eyes wild, Blair had scrambled out of the bed, ripping his IV line out in the process, and retreated to a corner of the room, where he collapsed, hiding his face in his hands.

"Please," he'd cried. "Get away from me. No more."

Even if Jim had wanted to cater to his friend's wish, which he didn't, couldn't really, it would have been impossible. He just stood there, staring in confusion and bewilderment at the nightmare scene unfolding in front of him. Because it was finally sinking in that Blair was scared of him.

"But, why..."

He never really got an answer, as a doctor came hastening into the room, demanding to know what was going on here. Jim couldn't help her much, still in shock as he was.

The doctor slowly walked over to Blair and crouched beside him. "Mr. Sandburg," she said softly. "Can you get up? I need you back in that bed."

He had looked up then, in his gaze a disturbing mixture of hate and fear. "Get him out of here first," he whispered. "Please."

The look on the woman's face was unmistakable. All of a sudden, Jim had the distinct impression that the walls of the room were closing in on him. He fled, almost running into someone in the process.

"Jim!"

At the sound of Naomi Sandburg's voice, Jim felt like having a breakdown himself.

***

Naomi was vaguely aware of the tears on her face as she sat beside her son's bed, softly stroking his face as the sedative was about to take over. There was a lot that Blair's friends would have to explain to her eventually, but now was not the moment for it.

Now was the moment to be grateful she had not lost what was most precious in her life - everything else could wait, even though she found it hard, impossible, to understand what had just happened.

They hadn't even planned to fill her in - but when she had been talking on the phone to Captain Banks for the third time, demanding to know why she couldn't reach either Blair or Jim, he'd given in. Made her wonder how much else they had kept from her before...

But anyway. She'd dropped everything back in Guatemala and taken the next available flight to get here. Banks had said that Blair was alright, just a bit upset still, but having witnessed what she had of the scene a few minutes ago, Naomi figured that could have been a lie, too.

She'd find out, one way or another.

Squeezing Blair's hand, even though he wasn't aware, she allowed herself, for the first time since Captain Banks had told her the terrible truth, to let go of the fear that had held her in a tight grip for days.

And cried harder, but it felt kind of good.

***

"Mom! What are you doing here?"

The slight irritation in his voice could have unnerved a mother, Naomi thought, adding to her suspicion that she didn't know half of the things that were going on in Cascade - and still, she couldn't keep herself from smiling. Blair seemed very much his old self, something she hadn't dared to hope for after the first conversation with Jim this morning.

"Visiting you, silly." She bent down to kiss him on the cheek. "Bringing good news, too. Dr. Tate says you can go home tomorrow. Isn't that great?"

"Sure."

Naomi knew him better than that, though - she hadn't missed the sudden tension in his posture, that his expression had become guarded. "I thought you were happy about that. Jim says you hate being at the hospital - well, Sweetie, who doesn't?" Here we go. At the mentioning of Jim's name, he'd flinched.

Banks had told her that Blair didn't remember much of the last few days, not enough to make a statement that would help them find the kidnappers, at least. He'd also hinted at how Jim had been almost obsessed with bringing down a certain man whom he believed to be the perp.

"You know, Jim is very concerned about what happened yesterday. He'd like to talk to you."

"I don't want to talk to him," Blair said immediately, suddenly looking very young - and afraid.

Naomi found that disconcerting. There was no doubt that a life at Jim Ellison's side held an alarming number of opportunities for exposure to trauma, and she emphatically resented that. Still, she had been resigned to the fact that all intervention and protest had been hopeless - too strong was the bond that bound these two men together, intense and incredibly fascinating. It had been out of her hands before she even learned about it. Nothing could come between them.

Or so she'd thought. "But why?"

He turned away from her then - scared, embarrassed, confused? "I can't. Please understand."

"Of course," Naomi said, even though she didn't understand a thing.

***

The invitation came as perfect timing. She hadn't seen Anna Mueller for eight years, but they had kept in touch with emails and the occasional card at Christmas and on birthdays. At the age of nineteen, Naomi had been active in an international peace activist group which regularly organized travels to foreign countries, for networking, evaluating and improving their work.

They stayed with the families of the members, always learning a bit of the other country's language and culture beside the mere work in the process. Naomi had seen Italy and France that way, and in the summer of '68, she'd traveled to Germany to meet with the local group in Hamburg, where Anna had been living at that time.

Naomi and Anna had become friends instantly, and even though they seldom met later, the memories of those exciting days were still something they easily recalled. Naomi had just left a disappointing relationship behind her, only to realize, during her first week in Hamburg, that she was pregnant.

Anna, who was single-handedly raising a one-year-old daughter, had been a great help then - and it looked like she'd be just that once again. She had recently moved to a small island in the North Sea, bought a little hotel with a restaurant there, and seemed very much at ease with her life.

A beautiful place by the sea seemed a good place to heal, Naomi thought. She called Anna the same evening - disregarding the fact she'd probably woken her friend from a deep sleep - and told her 'yes'.

***

At night, Jim dreamed about Parker's smug grin.

"I know you're behind this. If you've hurt him, I'll personally make you pay for it." Jim's threats hadn't had much of an impact though, because Parker knew damn well his hands were tied.

"What do you want to do about it?"

The bastard had practically admitted it, but there was just no evidence, nothing but a Sentinel's gut feeling - a Sentinel who was missing his Guide. Parker had an alibi. However, he'd also promised that he'd get back at everyone who'd been responsible for those six years he'd spent in jail, and that he'd hit them where it hurt.

Jim had been the investigator and a prime witness in the case.

Judge Calvin's eighteen-year-old daughter had died in a tragic car accident two months ago. That was the official version, at least. But then Blair hadn't returned from a morning run, and Jim never had a doubt that Parker was executing the plan he'd been harboring for all the time in jail.

He could never prove it.

Now Blair was back, but he refused to talk to Jim, to come back home to the loft, and his heartbeat rose in bizarre, inexplicable fear whenever Jim got close. The pain this caused was almost a physical one. Here, alone in his apartment, Jim could admit the truth; that he needed the proximity like a junkie needed another fix, to make sure everything would be okay, to tranquil the Sentinel within, and maybe that wasn't even all.

***

"I'm going away for a while. And I'm taking Blair with me."

Naomi refrained herself from a wry smile, noticing how everybody else in the room, Captain Banks, Inspector Connor, and of course, Jim, were already mentally forming their respective protests.

"Don't you all look so shocked. I'm aware that his home and friends are here, that you'd do everything possible to help him, but I really think it's my turn now. And it will be good for Blair to get away from the city, not forever, just for a while. In order to--" Process, she'd almost said, but that wasn't really the kind of vocabulary you used with these folk "To come to terms with whatever it was that happened. Maybe remember a little more in a safe environment, and heal."

"Sounds like a good idea," Megan Connor said cautiously, and Jim threw her a glare. "Sandy's putting up a brave front, but it must have been really horrible--"

Naomi wondered if the inspector knew more than she did, and how that could be, but Connor seemed honest and empathetic, so she didn't prod.

"Naomi, if you just give me one more chance..."

Jim seemed truly desperate. Naomi could sympathize, but that was one wish she couldn't fulfill. Blair had been too quiet for her comfort; apathetic and rather depressed - that's why she thought the trip would do some good - but whenever she'd tried to approach the subject of his relationship with Jim, he'd become agitated.

Just why had he suddenly become afraid of the man he'd called his best friend - loved, even, if Naomi's intuition was to be believed? She couldn't explain it. Jim couldn't explain it, either.

"Please," he said again. "If you must go, I won't hold you back, but I need to see Blair."

She felt uncomfortable with him practically begging her. "Jim, I'm so sorry. I can't do that to him. I'm sure we'll find out what it's all about in the end, but until then - I'm asking you to stay away from him."

He flinched at those words, but was still meeting her gaze steadily. "You'll leave me an address, at least?"

Naomi took a deep breath, saddened by the misery he was going through, and not even trying to hide it. Said one hell of a lot about a man as proud and reserved about his feelings as he was.

"Of course. Phone number, and my cell, too. *I* feel better if we can keep in touch."

He got up then to embrace her for a moment, and she said quietly, "It will all be good," as if it was in her power to make sure it would be. She'd do her share at least.

Jim nodded. "If you need me, call."

There was no doubt about it. He would get on the next plane if necessary.

***

It was true, Blair had always hated hospitals, but that fact seemed nothing like a faraway memory now. Truth be said, he would have gladly stayed a little while longer. Life outside was too difficult, and too complicated at the moment.

The only home he had to go to was the apartment he shared with Jim Ellison, and just the thought of going back there, being in the same room with that man, made this powerful, all- fear rise within him, choking him. He didn't care if it wasn't very rational; it was how he felt.

The origin of it? Maybe it had to do with the part of him that seemed absent most of the time, the part that held the memory of what had really happened to him. Blair had gotten glimpses only - in how he felt like having panic attack whenever somebody closed the door of the room, or a nurse had forgotten that he needed some light to sleep.

Here, at the hospital, he could manage. It was never totally dark and silent in a place like this.

Going back to the loft that would be locked at night, in his closed room was an image that could make him break into a cold sweat in a second. He'd cursed, he'd been ashamed, but that didn't stop the tears - and Blair was all caught up between trying to do what he could to protect himself, and acting normal around everyone else.

Simon and Megan, Naomi, too - they had all tried to convince him that he should at least talk to Jim, and maybe Blair was about to lose his mind anyway, because all those memories of the life they'd shared, the friendship, were there, but more like he'd seen it in a movie, as if it had happened to someone else.

The only emotional relation he could feel was dread.

Naomi had promised a little trip, some time to get away and find himself again. In fact, Blair didn't really want to leave this hospital bed, but he guessed there wasn't any better offer for him at the moment.

***

"Germany? Are you crazy?"

When Naomi had cheerfully announced that they'd be going on a trip together, Blair had thought, maybe - some nice Californian beach. Or one of her friends' places in Canada. Not some twelve hour flight and a ferry ride to some Godforsaken island in the North Sea. It already sounded like it'd be cold there.

Not to mention the fact that he had no intention of taking such a long journey at the moment. Closed rooms scared him. Blair supposed he wouldn't be caring much for flying.

"You'll like it. Anna sent me some pictures in the mail, you'll see, it's beautiful. And it isn't that cold either. It's summer there, too, you know."

He scowled at her. "Yes, I know. Why don't you go alone? She's your friend."

"She's also looking forward to meet you. Trip is all booked, and our bags are packed, so stop that pouting. Didn't work when you were twelve, either, remember?"

"Oh, right." Unwillingly, he had to smile. "I didn't want to leave that girl behind - what was her name, Carla? - but we had a great time in Costa Rica."

She wanted to say something about how they'd have a great time again, but all of a sudden, he turned a troubled gaze on her that let the light-hearted words die in her throat. Naomi wasn't accustomed to that kind of uncertainty in her normally confident and optimistic son, and it was even more heart-wrenching than Jim Ellison's grief.

"Mom," he said. "I'm so fucking scared."

She simply wrapped her arms around him, holding on tight. There were no words to say.

***

Anna had been waiting for them at the airport in Bremen and they'd driven to the ferry in her car. Naomi had been worried about the long flight as well, but it turned out that Blair was still rather exhausted - to her relief, he slept a great deal of the time.

She, for one, was able to relax more and more, the further they'd gotten away from Cascade, and now, setting foot onto another continent once more. It felt like freedom, and she was sure Blair would get there, too, eventually.

Anna was just like Naomi remembered her. At the age of fifty-two, there were a few more gray streaks in her dark, shoulder-length hair she'd never bothered to dye in the first place. The laugh was the same, as was that sparkle in her eyes Naomi remembered from way back. She'd always been the one to organize, while Naomi came up with visions of how to do things. They'd been a great team.

After they'd embraced, Anna took a step backwards and looked at Blair appreciatively. "Hello, Blair," she said. "I don't think you remember me; I saw you last when you were no more than two years old. Looks like you turned out okay, but then again, with that Mom, it doesn't surprise me."

He smiled at her politely. "Mrs. Mueller. Thank you for the invitation."

Naomi noticed easily that his heart wasn't in it, and she guessed that Anna noticed it, too.

"You're welcome," she said anyway. "Now, Naomi, why don't you two go and reserve us some seats on the deck, and I get coffee for all of us?"

A moment later, she came back to sit beside Naomi on one of the benches on the upper deck of the ferry, while Blair had chosen to stay at the railing, clutching his paper cup with the steaming coffee in both hands, staring out at the sea with something between apprehension and determination.

She couldn't hold back the sigh that escaped her at the sight. Cascade, Sentinels and all related problems seemed so very far away at the moment, but were they really?

"What's going on?" Anna asked gently.

Right. Naomi couldn't have expected her not to mention it; the woman wasn't deaf and blind, after all. "What do you mean?" she asked back, stalling.

"Come on now. I know we haven't seen each other for some time, but I know you. Something's bugging you, and that's the reason why you didn't choose to turn down the invitation this time."

"I'm sorry, Anna. You're right - and I shouldn't have used you for escape. It just seemed--" Naomi shrugged helplessly. "Seemed like a good idea," she said with a rueful smile.

"It certainly is, and I'm glad to see you both."

Naomi took another look at Blair who still stood unmoving in the same place, his hair wafting in the stiff breeze. He hadn't been right, the sun was actually shining, but out here at sea, it wasn't very warm.

"You have no idea. Blair was abducted. He wasn't hurt badly, thank God, but he isn't coping all that well. Suddenly became afraid of his roommate, can't sleep in a room when the door is closed... And I really shouldn't tell you all this."

Anna laid a comforting hand on her arm, even though her own gaze was concerned "I won't say a word about it. But that's terrible. Did the police arrest the perpetrators?"

Naomi shook her head. "Didn't even know who it was. I'm sure though they'll get them eventually. Blair's roommate is a police detective, too."

"Yes, I remember you mentioned that before, and it didn't go over so well with you initially."

"Well, no."

"I'm sure they'll do their job. In the meantime, I just want to make sure you'll have a great time here. You did the right thing, Naomi."

That's what she hoped.

***

"I don't care if the creep has an alibi! Then he paid someone else to do it!" Jim shouted.

At Simon's glare, he sat back down in his chair, shaking his head. "Calvin's daughter didn't die in an accident; we simply couldn't prove it. And he's also done this to Blair. I know it."

"I do trust your instincts," Sheila Irwin said dryly, "But we need a little more than that. Parker is still considering a lawsuit, and I must say it wasn't too clever to draw his attention to you."

"But it was all in his plan, don't you see that?"

Jim thought it would have been even less clever to admit he was still unobtrusively, very carefully keeping tabs on Parker. There had been other people involved in Parker's trial six and a half years ago, and he was convinced there'd be another crime.

Megan and Simon had voted for an accidental kidnapping, but those kinds of criminals usually didn't use techniques to systematically break a victim. What else could have happened?

"We're not stupid," Megan answered, sounding unnerved. "What do you think we're here for?"

"Excuse me?"

Sheila leaned forward, smiling at him. "I agree with your theory, Detective. We just need to coordinate our proceedings, so he doesn't get tipped off. You feel like playing a little charade?"

***

The first thing he'd noticed when they'd arrived was how silent it seemed. Juist was one of the smaller of the East Frisian Islands, less than half a mile wide and little more than ten miles long; the tourist season hadn't begun yet, and Anna explained that there weren't many guests at the hotel at the moment. In the summer, it would be packed like any other tourist destination in the world.

Blair shared an amused look with Naomi when Anna talked to a guy waiting near the harbor with a horse carriage, who was picking up their luggage. Her host had caught the by-play, and she smiled. "Well, this is the usual means of transportation - no cars on this island."

It was a myriad of impressions, the tiny one or two-story houses with their picket fences, the cries of seagulls, the dunes - they met a few people on the way, some of them greeting Anna. He supposed that in a place as small as this, most residents knew each other. There were no more than 1,800.

Strange how the sky seemed to be closer than normal, when in relation to Cascade's skyscrapers. It all seemed like a different universe. Once upon a time, Blair had thought of himself as fairly curious, always in search of new adventures - at the moment, he was only glad to be far away. This island seemed an okay place to hide from all the conflicts that waited in Cascade.

A hand touched his shoulder, and he jumped. Hell, when would that ever end?

"We're there," Anna told him. "Why don't you check in, and come down in half an hour or so for a welcome drink?"

"Yeah, sure," Naomi chimed in. "After that, we'll go down to the beach."

Blair didn't say anything, but he had no intention of doing that. All he wanted was a bed to crawl into.

***

He'd finally managed to convince a disappointed Naomi that he didn't want to leave the room tonight. Sitting alone by the window, he'd powered up the laptop, trying to sort out the shambles of his life, in the background the continuous cries of seagulls, and the panoramic view of the tide moving in.

The Sentinel dissertation. Blair wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to get back to that. If he even wanted to. No, that was a lie. It had always been his greatest dream, and for a while, he'd lived it, but it didn't seem very real now. Hell, he couldn't even distinctly remember what happened when Jim had come to visit him at the hospital, or the other time he'd tried.

All he'd known was the sheer terror he knew to be illogical, but that didn't make it any less real. Blair never wanted to feel that way again. However, it was also the only thread he had to the time his mind had protectively blacked out. As long as he hadn't sorted that out, there was no possibility to simply go back and claim his old life.

***

Naomi had taken a walk on the beach, already feeling very at home here. Anna Mueller's house wasn't just a hotel, she also had groups renting her seminar rooms for shamanic training, meditation, Reiki and the like.

It bothered her that Blair had wanted to stay at the hotel, but then again, it was only the first day. Taking a look at her cell phone, she found one missed call, the number a familiar one. She'd call Jim back later.

First of all, Naomi knocked on the door of Blair's room, entering quietly.

"Ah, Sweetie. I thought you'd left that damn thing at home. You're supposed to rest, remember?" she said to her sleeping son.

As she carefully closed the laptop's lid, he was startled out of his sleep by the soft sound. A split-second, the fear showed on his face, then he had his composure back. The red-rimmed eyes told a tale of their own, though.

"Mom. Did you have a nice walk?"

"Yeah, it's beautiful. And tomorrow you'll come with me," Naomi said firmly.

"Maybe," he said without much enthusiasm.

"No 'maybe'. I didn't drag you halfway across the world so you could hide away in a hotel room. We'll see about that. Goodnight."

She waited for a moment longer, but retreated quietly from the room when he didn't say anything.

***

No matter how hard he'd tried, he couldn't shake the feeling of heavy, cold chains restraining him. And the hands that had touched him, sweaty with anticipation... making him sick.

A soft voice was slowly lifting the veil of the nightmare scenario: "He's gone, Chief. Lash is gone. You're safe."

There were no chains, just the warm embrace of the arms sheltering him. It was what he desperately needed, and he wasn't ashamed of it any. The hand that stroked the hair from his face was dry and cool, healing in a way. He could lean into the caress, let go without the fear of falling - and then there was the soft kiss they'd never talked about again.

Blair bolted upright in his bed, his heat beating fast. For a moment, the task of establishing his actual surroundings overlaid the comforting images he'd relived in the dream.

The door. Oh damn it. He couldn't leave the door open in a hotel room, right? Get a grip! Deep breaths, in... and out. Once again, slowly, in and out, in - nope, wasn't working. Blair got up to walk to the door, turning the key with a shaking hand. This island didn't seem a place where criminality was high, anyway. He'd take the risk.

The salt lamp was spreading a soft light in the room, and slowly, Blair managed to calm down a little, his thoughts wandering back to the dream. He wasn't sure if he'd really felt all that in the actual situation, still too wound up from his experiences with the serial killer, but taking a look at it now, something didn't seem to fit.

Touches, caresses - it seemed more than the mere attempt of being there for a friend who'd been through something horrible, and he'd surely soaked it up. Would do it all over again, only now there was a barrier in his mind he couldn't seem to overcome.

No doubt he was going crazy.

***

Jim allowed himself a smug, satisfied grin, as he passed Timothy Parker on his way out of the courtroom. Parker had his hands cuffed behind his back after it had been proven that he'd personally attempted to murder Elaine Winter's life-mate. Elaine had been in the jury that spoke the final word in Parker's prior imprisonment. Believing that Jim had gotten reprimanded for his earlier behavior during the investigation, he'd gotten careless - just as they'd all hoped. In the end, apprehending Parker had almost been too easy.

Megan was waiting for him at the exit; she, too, had that obvious relief about her. "I bet you'll be asking Simon for a few days off now, am I right?"

He shrugged, the smile gone from his face. It wasn't that easy. He'd talked to Naomi on the phone, and she'd sounded a bit too subdued for his liking. It meant that nothing much had changed.

Only within, the feeling had flared, like a hunger, a longing he couldn't deny any longer. Jim knew there wasn't much of an alternative - he'd been a cop, doing his job well, but there was no way he could keep on being a Sentinel without his Guide by his side. And maybe he was kidding himself - he really missed his friend, but he couldn't forget what had happened the last time they met.

"Blair doesn't want to see me." If it had been just that - Jim wasn't so sure that he wouldn't have simply ignored it, in order to get across the things that needed to be said, but this was different. Blair couldn't stand to be in the same room with him for whatever reason.

"And you're giving up so easily?"

"I'm not giving up," he said, irritated.

She wasn't fazed by the harsh tone. "You're *craving* his presence," she said. "So do what's really sensible, before you lose him for good."

The mere possibility was terrifying, and of course, she was right. But where did that leave him?

***

That awful day which should have been one to celebrate - Jim had stolen into the room after Naomi had left to be brought up to date by Simon and Megan.

He'd sat down for a moment, listening to the heartbeat of his friend who lay very still in his drugged sleep. "Forgive me," he'd whispered, "but I can't do this." Couldn't stay away from him to save his life. Jim had waited for a few moments longer, checking Blair's vitals to at least make sure he was physically okay, and stroked his cheek before he got up and pulled the door close behind him, no one there to see him wiping the tears from his face.

***

"I'm not sure if that's a good idea," Naomi said hesitantly. "Maybe you should wait for a few days."

His relief about how she hadn't refused his wish totally was almost palpable. When would he ever start to trust her? "Jim, I know that it would be better for both of you to clear things up. That must be done sometime soon, but he needs a little more time."

"And what if we wait too long - and there's nothing left to salvage?"

At those words, Naomi felt a completely inappropriate twang of jealousy, wondering if *anybody* in the world had ever needed her so much that a life without her had practically become unthinkable. Probably not, but then again, she supposed many people never had that experience. And it made her proud and happy to know that Blair was such a person.

"Three days," she said finally. "I'll see what I can do."

"Are you going to tell him?"

"I don't know."

There was a pause, then Jim said, "Whatever you think is best. I'll see you on Saturday."

***

In another time - or was it another life? - Blair would have thoroughly enjoyed this trip, the unfamiliar surroundings; familiar in a way because of the obvious spirit of this place. Everybody tried hard, like Naomi who was always badgering him about going for walks, enthusing about how peaceful and clean it was on the car-free island.

Blair preferred to stay inside with a book. It was comfortable, and it felt relatively safe.

Except for the dreams of hands holding him down, of pain, and a door falling shut, like a death sentence.

Anna provided him with lots of books, on local history and myths, but also, from her private library, on shamanic healing and Mayan astrology. He'd looked at the title, 'Jaguar Wisdom', and a feeling of longing had come over him, but it was quickly chased away by the more familiar reaction, heart starting to race and his throat going tight, all those illogical things that had become part of his reality. Her choice of literature sometimes made him wonder how much Naomi had told her about what had been going down in Cascade, but their host never tried to strike up a conversation as to that subject, for which Blair was really grateful.

One day, when, or if he remembered, it would probably be a good idea to talk things through. Until then, what Blair needed most was a safe place to keep at least the remaining pieces of his self together.

***

"You really want to go? It might be that nothing has changed, and he still doesn't want to see you. What are you going to do then?"

Simon's questions were probably legit, but Jim had dismissed them already a thousand times in his own mind. He couldn't *not* go; Connor had been right all along. He had to make that attempt, and if it failed, he could probably return and keep on being a cop, but that was all. He'd never be a Sentinel, ever again.

"I hope that it won't come to that. Sooner or later, we will find out what really happened."

"You were right about Parker wanting to get back at the people who caught him." Simon looked worried. "But he still hasn't said a word as to Blair's abduction. What the hell did they do to him?"

Jim did have some ideas about that, but he wasn't sure if Simon really wanted to hear them. "I don't know, Simon, there's a lot of things that still don't fit. They set him free for some reason - why? There must have been a plan behind all this, and I still don't get it."

It hadn't been anything spectacular. After having fallen off the face of the earth for eight days, Blair had suddenly turned up again, wandering around in the shopping mall aimlessly, not knowing how he got there in the first place. At one point, he'd simply collapsed, and the owner of a small jewelry store had called an ambulance. End of story - not.

"In any case, Parker's behind bars now, and his minion has confirmed he commissioned the hit on Calvin's daughter. It's time you and Sandburg get things right again... but don't you dare running away together - we still need you both here."

Jim had to grin at the images conjured by these words. "We'd send you a postcard in any case, sir."

Simon tried a glare, but then he shook his head with a smile. "Good luck, Jim."

***

The sun broke though the clouds, like flaming arrows pointing into the sea, which seemed faraway at the moment, but it would be coming back in only a few hours. Nowhere else in the world, Blair had read somewhere before, was the tide as strong as in this area. When the water receded, you could walk quite far into the mudflats - however, you needed an experienced Guide, or you'd totally get lost and very probably drowned. The last thought made him shiver, whereas the mention of a Guide put a smile on his face. Seemed like the lingo followed him everywhere.

Anna had promised to ask a friend of hers who took those tours through the mudflats.

Blair had refused at first, but she simply said he could think about it.

This morning though, Naomi had come rushing into his room before breakfast, and she wouldn't take no for an answer. "You *must* come with me," she said, and Blair realized all of a sudden how much younger she looked than back in Cascade, all excited, a faint blush on her cheeks. "We've been here for days, and you haven't been down to the beach. Are you even aware that we are about 5000 miles from the US?"

He'd grumbled something in the hope she'd disappear, but no such luck.

"I'll meet you in the breakfast room in twenty minutes. I'd say ten, but you really need to dry your hair, or you'll catch a cold."

"Mom," he'd protested, but had to smile at her insistence. "Alright then, but now get out of here."

"Good, but I'll check in ten to see if you've left this bed."

When she had left, Blair pulled the sheet higher around him, not fighting the despair that washed over him once again at the realization. If the idea of a simple walk was that intense, exciting on the verge of frightening, how far had things come? He had to start somewhere. But whatever direction he took, that black shadow was always with him, trying to draw him back in like the tide drew back the sea.

He had to get up now, take a shower, get down into the breakfast room - keep on smiling, so Naomi wouldn't realize what was going on.

***

He'd always loved to be by the ocean, or any kind of beach, and breathing in the salty air, Blair had to admit that he should have done this sooner, because, for the first time since he'd woken up at Cascade General, he felt something loosening, like a tight band that had encased his ribcage and was now widening, enabling him to take a deep breath.

The gratitude at this was so profound he felt tears well up in his eyes.

Naomi looked at him with a gentle smile. "It'll all be okay. I know it," she said.

They took off their shoes to walk in the sun-warmed sand, both of them silent for a while.

A few feet ahead there was a mother with a young child who just barely seemed able to walk. The uneven ground made it difficult, and the girl stumbled and fell, but dragged herself up again, throwing her mother a proud glance.

He'd get up again, too. He always had in the past.

***

Well, maybe he'd even make that tour through the mudflats with Anna's friend. Blair had indeed realized that spending lots of time near the sea had a kind of healing effect; he'd be tired in the evening, and sleep better. Dreams, if they occurred, brought back those good and cozy images, and as long as he kept the little lamp on, and the door ajar, he mostly had good nights.

The black shadow was receding, bit by bit.

The name of this place - Juist Töwerland, which meant something like 'Land of Charm' as Anna had told him - seemed truly appropriate.

Now there was only one thing missing, but Blair wasn't so sure if he'd ever get that back.

***

Naomi had thought about this long and hard. She had observed what she hoped to be some kind of breakthrough - and she fervently hoped that the reunion with Jim Ellison would be another.

But what if she was wrong, and the small victories would all be undone? She shook her head to herself. No. The people who had been behind this were about to destroy two lives. And that couldn't happen.

Jim might have his faults, and if he felt cornered, he could come across arrogant and cold, she knew all that. But she didn't doubt for a second that he loved Blair, and he had saved her son's life probably more often than she'd been informed about. They needed to be together. It was the only way.

And still, a small voice was nagging her that she could be about to make a big mistake.

***

That morning, the one which seemed ages ago now, should have been a moment for honesty. It was some kind of anniversary, three years since that 'one week, and I'm out of your hair' had passed. Enough time to finally buy a hint. Jim had for a long time resented the idea of really accepting the gift he'd possessed, cringed at that term, even. So he had groused about tests, about damp towels on the floor, and long dark hairs clogging the drain.

It was all connected, and it had taken him that long, and a near-death situation, to come to that conclusion - and really see the changes for what they were. Being a Sentinel held lots of likable aspects beside the more practical to identify perps who were lying, or smell and see things that the forensics had overlooked at the scene of a crime.

Being a Sentinel also enabled him to identify that single heartbeat anchoring him, and as long he had that safety, he could also live a life that was much more intense than he'd ever dreamed of, than anybody could ever imagine.

Get this, Chief, I haven't told you half of it, he thought, as he was setting the table in the kitchen. But that would end now, no more secrets. However, he'd have to go slow. Better not start with how good a shirt felt on his skin when Blair had borrowed it before, even though it had been washed and dried, but to Jim it was still like--

No, definitely not a thing to start with. But after all this time, he couldn't imagine Blair leaving, and that's what it was all about, wasn't it, Alex and every other time he'd lashed out before thinking, all borne out of the fear Blair could leave first.

Fear-based responses. No one knew him better than that, but this morning, Jim had wanted to tell Blair that he didn't mind. Not at all.

***

Of course, it hadn't turned out that way. The flight across the Atlantic Ocean was too long to escape from the thoughts about what he could, or should have done differently. Eight days of hell, in which he'd discovered that Parker had been released from prison two months ago, and then learned of the accident Judge Calvin's daughter had had.

But all wasn't lost yet.

He'd bargained his Guide back from the hands of death, and whatever demon - or trauma - stood between them at the moment, there had to be a chance to overcome it.

***

"Mom, why are you looking at your watch all the time?" Blair asked irritably, and Naomi breathed deeply, forcing herself to smile.

"Nothing, sweetie. I'm just excited; Anna said she'd invite Ole for dinner, and he'd tell us all about that tour. We could go tomorrow." It wasn't really the thought of Ole Petersen that brought her blood pressure up, but Naomi figured that Blair would be really mad with her if she told him the truth now. Things had improved. Blair even took the time for walks on his own, and when they'd meet at the little café near the beach, the 'Sturmklause', in the afternoon, he seemed calm, no longer jumping at the slightest sounds.

However, he still kept the door to his room ajar at night, and the salt lamp was always on.

"That would be nice. You know, I've been so preoccupied with South America in the past few years, I'd have never thought about coming here. But you were right. It's beautiful - and it *is* warmer than I'd imagined."

She chuckled. "Right. Admit that there are some things that your old mother knows better than her gifted son."

"Crap, you're not old. Do you think I haven't noticed the looks the guy over there by the window is giving you? And he's not the first."

"Can't get anything past you, now, can I?"

They bantered back and forth for a while longer, and this time, Naomi didn't look at her watch, but at the old-fashioned clock on the far wall out of Blair's sight. Three hours - then she'd know more. They all would.

***

Tonight, dinner was served in Anna's private living room while her daughter Laura, together with Anna's small staff, took care of the other guests.

Mr. Petersen was a nice guy in his late forties, though even his German sounded funny, not at all like Anna's. His English was really hard to understand, but they managed after a while, and - no surprise there - he seemed to be really taken with Naomi. Soon, they were laughing together about this or that, and Blair shared an amused look with Anna.

Well, why not? Naomi certainly deserved a little flirt, and Ole Petersen with his clear blue eyes and sandy blonde hair wasn't such a bad choice.

The door bell rang, and strangely, everybody seemed to flinch.

At least it wasn't just me this time. What is going on?

Naomi seemed tense suddenly, avoiding his gaze, while Anna got up to answer. Footsteps echoed in the hallway, voices, and Blair asked himself with growing dread why he suddenly had the urge to run away, fast, and right now.

"We have another guest," Anna said, stepping aside to let him in. "Ole, this is Blair's friend, Jim Ellison."

The black shadow descended over him, escape impossible.

***

The first time Blair had reacted this peculiarly, Jim had been caught totally off guard, shocked into immobility. But not now. He'd hoped it would be different this time, had hoped it from the moment he'd bought his ticket in Cascade up until arriving at this island with its unpronounceable name, but obviously, that wasn't the case.

Anna Mueller and the other man just seemed stunned at the scenery, Naomi was saying 'I'm so sorry' over and over again, leaving it unclear what she meant, but all that was simply background noise. Jim's attention was solely focused on Blair who sat huddled by the oaken sideboard, holding his hands up in front of his face as if to ward off an attack.

"Blair! Listen to me!"

He stepped closer, Blair drawing back a little more, shaking all over. "No! Please get away from me!"

"Listen to me," Jim tried again. "Everything's going to be okay. You are safe here. Nobody's going to hurt you."

"Hurts. Oh God, help me!"

"Jim, please. It was all a mistake, you shouldn't have come. Please leave us alone."

He ignored Naomi's pleas as he crouched down beside Blair who was now covering his ears with his hands, rocking back and forth. "Go away, go away," he chanted, tears streaking his face.

That's one thing that won't happen, Chief.

Jim reached out carefully to touch Blair's shoulder, but the rocking and the pleadings didn't stop. "Tell me what got you so scared. I want to help you. You know I can," he said with more confidence than he felt at that moment.

It was with the same confidence that he reached out to pull Blair close to him, practically feeling everybody in the room hold their breath.

"It's not me you are afraid of, right, Chief? It's not me."

The fight lasted only for a few moments, then Blair went still in his arms, not resisting any longer, practically melting into the embrace. And then he collapsed.

"It's okay. I've got you."

Distantly, Jim heard Anna calling a doctor, and he didn't protest, feeling totally exhausted from more than the long journey. However, he knew that something had changed profoundly now. They would be okay, and listening to Blair's heartbeat and breathing, he found nothing to be worried about, not anymore.

***

Upon opening his eyes, Blair was grateful to be lying down, because the vertigo was so strong he felt like the bed was shaking. Bed? Blinking in confusion, he tried to make sense of his surroundings.

Definitely not the loft. At the sound of a voice talking to him, he jumped.

"Good evening, Mr. Sandburg," the man said, smiling. "I'm Dr. Schreiber. Frau Mueller called me, but it seems that your friend has already established the diagnosis, said your vitals were okay, and he was right about that."

Say what?

After a quick examination of his patient, the doctor went on explaining that counting in the jetlag and recovery from a stressful experience were an obvious explanation for his breakdown, and that he should continue to rest. It took Blair a while to sort all the impressions, the doctor's faint accent and what he'd actually said --

Right. He and Naomi had gone on a vacation to Germany, to visit her friend. And - Jim was here? Impossible.

Still somewhat confused, he shook the doctor's hand, not wanting to tell him about the vertigo. Better not give him a reason - Blair had no intention of getting acquainted with the local hospital, no thanks.

***

"Hey, Chief. Welcome back among the living."

Jim's expression was an interesting study between relief, hope, and worry.

It wasn't until then that Blair realized it was actually true - Jim was really here, and even better, he didn't freak any longer at the mere sight of his friend. Didn't know why he'd ever reacted that way, to be honest, and he felt his own face heat with shame. Oh man. He didn't remember half of it, but those must have been pretty embarrassing scenes.

"Jim." No fear, but for a split-second, the vertigo increased, and he held his head with both hands.

Jim was beside him in an instant. "What is it? Should I get Dr. Schreiber back? He's still in the hallway with Anna, I could--"

"No, it's okay. Man, I feel..." He couldn't even put it in words. Just that everything still seemed very unreal. As if it had been just a few minutes ago that they'd been back at the loft, and he'd gone for his run while Jim prepared breakfast. Everyday routine.

Something had happened in between that had made Naomi consider it necessary to put an ocean between the two of them and Cascade.

"Thanks for coming," he finally said, and that was at least honest.

***

Naomi couldn't really stay mad at Jim any longer, watching how he had scooped up Blair and carried him to his room, handling him with such care she could only stare in awe.

He'd seemed totally oblivious when he stroked back a strand of hair from Blair's face, but Naomi learned that she'd been wrong when Jim turned to her, his expression defiant - he'd heard the increase of her heartbeat.

Seemed like the questions never ended - even if this one had been on her mind for a long time already.

***

"I wish I could help you out here, but I'm sorry. I still don't remember more. I've behaved like an idiot all the time, and I don't even know why!"

Jim was much calmer about it all, though, as he sat beside Blair on the bed. He even lacked the tension that Blair had come to associate with him most of the time, and that Jim only let go of in very private moments.

"There's sense somewhere in this, but I didn't come here to get your statement."

"Then why did you come? I mean, I'm glad you did, but, you must have been... pretty unnerved." To put it mildly.

"I knew there had to be something I could do."

Searching Jim's gaze, Blair was for a moment reminded of those dreams he'd had about the hours and days after Lash - just why would this come back now, he wondered, feeling himself blush, as he was, once again, aware of the question that had always accompanied him, but he'd never dared to ask.

He wasn't any braver now. Instead, he chose to change the subject, "It seems so grotesque now; I don't even have any idea where that fear came from - but it was there. So strong I managed to ignore everything we already had together - and that's still freaking me out."

"I can imagine, Chief," Jim said carefully. Most likely, it had been freaking him out, too...

"...But I don't want to think about it. Listen, I don't want to do any explaining now, so how about we just sneak away and get you some dinner?"

"Sounds like an idea."

***

The Italian restaurant had a few tables outside on a terrace that was framed by colorful lights. It had been a warm day, the night mild, so they chose a seat near the door. It was a relief, Jim thought, that they just could sit down and have a beer together as if nothing had happened.

But he couldn't fool himself, a lot had changed, and he supposed that Naomi had gotten a pretty deep insight today. Jim didn't see the point in clamping down on his feelings until he could make himself belief they didn't exist, any longer. All the things he'd wanted to say the morning when Parker had commissioned Blair's abduction, they still needed to be said, but he wasn't sure if this was the right moment.

Blair gazed into his beer as if searching for an answer to questions of his own there. "I've made an utter and complete fool of myself."

"No, that's not true."

"It is, and we both know it. But I still have no idea why. Damn it!" he said with obvious frustration. "No matter how hard I try, I can't even reach it. It's not fair. I can't begin to let go of all this shit if I don't even know what they've done to me!"

Seemed like changing the subject wasn't that easy to do anyway. And how could they, when it was all connected.

"You need time. More than you want to give yourself now." The moment Jim laid his hand over Blair's, he just knew he would give himself away, but it didn't matter anymore. He'd spent years of running from this moment, and it had still caught up with him. He wasn't scared anymore, because nothing could have triggered his fear-based responses more than the past few weeks had. The separation, first violently and abruptly, then by more of a psychological barrier - they had overcome all that. Time to face the truth.

"Jim," Blair said, somewhere in between hope and stunned surprise. But he made no move in drawing back his hand, his eyes wide, shining in the light of candle the waitress had lit for them. It would have been easy to zone on that blue...

Until he continued, "If you zone on me now, I promise you I will do something ill-considered. Man. I don't know what to say. This is... I... you never gave me any reason to believe that you, well, maybe that's not entirely true, but--"

"For a man who doesn't know what to say, you sure find lots of words, Chief."

Blair laughed to himself. "Come on, Jim, don't be a jerk now. This is important."

"Yeah, it is. You know, our friendship is important to me, but it isn't why I flew halfway around the world to see you."

Jim had lowered his voice some, and Blair leaned slightly forward, as if wanting to catch every word. "Yes?"

"It's because I couldn't stand to be apart from you any longer."

***

They had parted later that night, though, both of them retreating to their separate rooms. In front of the door to Blair's room, they had said goodnight, and then they had kissed.

The walk back to the hotel had mostly been made in silence, holding hands like teenagers, and all the words unsaid, now and in the past time, were coming across too clearly. It was a different start than it would have been if nothing had ever happened on that morning run, but it was a start alright.

And even without the latest disaster that had left its impact on both their lives, Blair realized that he hadn't been quick on the uptake, should have done so long ago when he'd rather have spent an evening home with Jim than go out on a date, or at the latest, when it had hurt so bad to know Jim felt betrayed by him. Alex, and everything that had come after that - and so many, many little things.

Looking back, it was clear that they could have made this happen a long time ago.

But who cared, when it was happening right now?

***

He couldn't sleep, no way, not with the new knowledge of how it had felt, Jim's tongue gently parting his lips, with such tenderness. Then, kissing him back, until the lack of air had made them slightly dizzy, and they had to laugh at this first attempt, a little clumsy, as if they'd never done it before - but, boy, it had been good.

In his mind, Blair replayed the scene over and over again like you'd repeat your favorite scene of your favorite movie, his own imagination making it impossible to rest - smiling so hard it almost hurt, but in a good way. For the first time since he and Naomi had come here, he found the thought of his mother sleeping just next door a little inconvenient.

But hey, it's Naomi we're talking about. She'd be cool about it, right?

When another fifteen minutes had passed, and he still couldn't sleep despite being exhausted, Blair finally gave in to the idea playing in his head. Maybe this was all a bit rushed, or maybe it wasn't, because they had been waiting and wanting for so long - and here they'd been given a second chance, why not take it?

Switching off the salt lamp, he left his room and stole across the corridor, where he knocked once.

***

Jim woke with the first rays of sun shining through the window, wondering about some things. First of all, where was he anyway? Why was he still so tired despite having gotten to bed at a reasonable time, and why wasn't he alone...?

Okay.

Germany, jetlag - and Blair Sandburg.

Who'd said he couldn't sleep, but it had taken about two minutes for his breathing to turn all calm and regular in deep sleep, once he'd settled into Jim's arms. "Sorry for being such a spoilsport," he'd whispered, "but I will make it worth your while the next time, I promise."

Jim had no reason to doubt him. And if he was honest, he was just a tiny bit relieved, still a little nervous now that there was no going back. There was no denying though; he had lots of things on his mind, those fantasies that had always seemed a step away from a hallucination, but were on the verge of coming true now. Fortunately, they had time.

To try them all out and then some...

And yes, he could get used to waking up like this.

***

"There might be a chance you'll never remember."

They'd chosen to stay behind, preferring to have some time to themselves while Anna accompanied Naomi and Ole on the tour through the mudflats. Ole had said they could do it again any time, and so they'd retreated to the beach once again, having a picnic, watching the few strollers, and the ships in the distance.

"I know," Blair said with a sigh. "I was somehow hoping that I'd make it here - different surroundings, more rest - but it didn't work. I feel so... I don't know, ashamed. About what I did, and said."

"It wasn't your fault. You're not scared of me now, are you?"

"What do you think?"

Blair turned his head so they could kiss, and he could immediately feel the dark thoughts melting away, there was no turning back, and that fear wouldn't come to haunt him again. No more.

If it was what brought them here, it had all been worth it.

Moments passed, and there was nothing but the warm sand under their feet, the salty air around them and the sky above - and the truth they'd finally stopped ignoring.

Yesterday, he'd been so very tired, happy to just sleep beside Jim, even with the door closed. Today, however, he was more aware of his own want, his craving for Jim's touch, and his body's reaction to it. Given the fact that they were on a public beach, it had to stop right here, but he saw his own feelings reflected in Jim's gaze, knowing that he couldn't hide anything from him. Not the hopes he'd secretly harbored, not the arousal that was now surging through his body, making his face heat up.

Jim drew him closer, laying his hand over his belly, just above the waistband of his jeans.

"You're not going to fall asleep on me tonight?" he asked in a breathy whisper, sending pleasant shivers down Blair's spine.

"You bet I'm not," he answered, his voice equally rough.

After all the confusion of the past time, Blair could hardly believe this could be real - too good to be true, being here, on another continent, with Jim who was in love with him, finally.

"I've been wanting you for so long." There was a trace of surprise in his voice, at the fact he'd actually spoken it out loud.

That truth had been there all along, buried by a bizarre reaction that had somehow been instilled in him during his abduction.

The thought rapidly dimmed the excitement at this enormous step they'd taken - and Blair just couldn't help it, he shuddered with a cold that wasn't here, but another hint of what his mind couldn't reach yet. "I'm sorry," he said, hating to kill the mood, but Jim seemed to read his thoughts exactly.

"There's time," he said. "We'll figure it all out."

***

When they met up, this time at Baumann's Café, Naomi felt gratitude and even a little pride that she'd never given up her optimistic belief that things would turn out well in the end.

Taking a good look at her son, she had to smile at the changes - his aura looked different, brighter, even though the process certainly wasn't completed yet. As always, she found Jim much harder to read, but he seemed more relaxed, too.

However, there were many questions still left unanswered. When Blair excused himself, Naomi took her chance.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm really happy about how everything turned out, but I still don't understand what happened. Do you?"

Jim didn't seem any surprised by the question. "I wish I did. We've finally arrested the man who was behind the abduction, but on different charges. He hasn't said a word about what happened to Blair."

"But you have an idea about it," Naomi concluded, steeling herself. After all, this was Jim Ellison she was talking to, the man with elements of his past classified, and with a seemingly paranoid fear that the wrong people could find out about his abilities. Well, maybe not so paranoid, after all.

He shrugged. "About the dynamics, how those creeps put irrational ideas into a victim's head? Yes. Why they did it? I've been wondering about it every day. I've interrogated Parker for hours, with no result."

Naomi felt close to tears all of a sudden. "So the only thing we know is that it had to be really bad, right?"

"Don't worry, Naomi. The man we've arrested will stand trial for murder, and he's going down. Blair is doing great, given what he must have been through. And from now on--"

He didn't get to finish the sentence, because Blair was returning to the table. When he slipped into the booth next to Jim, their hands touched briefly, seemingly coincidentally, and they shared a private smile.

However, Naomi had understood perfectly.

"-- I won't let him out of my sight."

She felt very much comforted by that thought.

***

Later that day, Petersen had invited them on a boat tour to another of the East Frisian islands, Borkum, but only Naomi took him up on his offer.

Jim had thought that the reason why he and Blair didn't want to join in had to have been too obvious to everybody, but honestly, he didn't care. That moment on the beach, before tendrils of the past had reached out and caught up with them -- let's say the idea of committing indecent acts in public wasn't too far away.

So when they retreated to Blair's room eventually, they'd hardly closed the door behind them before they started kissing and touching recklessly.

"Don't you ever wonder? I mean why this is happening now?" He just had to ask.

Blair looked at him bemusedly. "To be honest, I'm glad it is, finally. I admit I must have acted real mad for some time, but I sure see it clearly now. Do you have any idea how much time I've spent in the bathroom, fantasizing and obsessing--"

Jim had to grin at that. "I know about every minute, as a matter of fact. I just didn't know I was playing a lead role in that movie, or I would have..."

Screw words. He had other ideas about how to proceed, now that they'd gotten over this barrier at least. In an unhurried, predatory fashion, he moved forward, aware of the increase in Blair's heartbeat, rising in anticipation and excitement. No fear.

Very slowly, Jim started to unbutton Blair's shirt, licking and tasting the skin he revealed.

The broken moan above him was all the information he needed - he had to be doing something right. Swirling his tongue around Blair's nipples, which brought more appreciating sounds, but he didn't linger long.

When he dove his tongue right into Blair's belly button, the scent of arousal grew stronger, intoxicating to the senses Jim had opened as wide as he could.

"Jim, I can't... oh... please..."

Understanding what he meant to say, Jim drew his hand along the inside of a shaking thigh, and got up.

"You're right. This works better horizontally."

***

Blair had held himself together quite well after David Lash had drugged, kidnapped, and almost killed him; everybody had said that. Only Jim knew his secret, the way he had broken down after half a dozens attempts to sleep and almost twice as many nightmares about Lash's mad eyes boring into his, trying to penetrate his soul in order to take it over.

Then there was the fact that they had spent the night at a motel, because Blair couldn't bring himself to walk over the threshold of their apartment into the living room that still showed the traces of him fighting for his life.

Okay, so he'd already learned that Jim Ellison wasn't the cold bastard some people pictured him to be - Blair had been living at the loft for some weeks now, and his roommate had never mentioned that they'd agreed on only one week initially.

What happened that night though, was so much of a surprise that it already helped a little in distracting him from the fearful memories.

Jim had brought him some tea from a nearby fast food restaurant, had offered to talk if he wanted to, they'd even shared a bottle of wine - and when all that didn't help, he sat with Blair, holding him. It was kind of embarrassing, really, and feeling strangely right at the same time.

No one had held him after a nightmare since he'd been a child, and that had been okay, but he'd almost died a slow, painful death, aware through every minute of it today, and that was so much worse than the danger they'd shared before.

He'd probably cried - that was something Blair didn't want to think about too hard - but Jim hadn't been put off; he'd simply stayed, saying it again that Blair had done everything right, that it would be okay.

And Blair remembered very clearly the warm hand cupping the side of his face, Jim's lips touching against his so softly he'd ask himself afterwards if it hadn't been just a dream. It was a chaste kiss; and if he'd been a bit more swift, Blair would have certainly done more than stay very still and just feel it, happy and bewildered at the same time.

They had never talked about it, but it had stayed at the back of his mind all the time, nurturing hope and longing for the moment when the sequel to that curious story would be written.

***

So maybe it seemed rushed, but in reality, there was no rush taking into consideration the fact that this had happened years ago. Through all the trials and tribulations they had arrived here anyway, and it was understood that the time of the waiting and wondering was finally over.

And maybe, it hadn't been such a bad thing, because the strength of their relationship certainly made it easier to overcome the ghost of awkwardness as they set to explore each other's bodies for the first time.

"Touch me. Oh God, please." He'd never heard that particular tone in Jim's voice, of course not, and Blair felt exhilarated, knowing he was the one responsible, as he slid his hands, tingling with want, over Jim's chest, thumbs rubbing over already tight nipples.

"Like that?" Blair didn't wait for an answer. Finally, he was granted more liberties over this magnificent body that he'd ever dreamed of, and he was determined to enjoy every minute of it - to give Jim something a Sentinel would become addicted to.

And just maybe he was feeling a bit of a megalomaniac, given the fact he didn't have much experience when it came to men - like, actually nothing but the images his fantasy had conjured up - but he hadn't been Jim's Guide for more than three years for nothing.

He stroked his fingertips along the length of Jim's penis, knowing he was giving an exquisite torture - not very surprised when Jim's hand closed around his, directing him unmistakably to the matter at hand.

Leaning in for another kiss, Blair was happy to let Jim guide his hand, learning and memorizing what brought the most pleasure, knowledge meant for lots of further use.

***

They had briefly touched the subject of safety as well, during that long afternoon with the last rays of sun creeping into the room, casting a soft play of shadows over their sated bodies.

For now.

Between the two of them, they came up with a couple of condoms and a bottle of aloe lotion; the moment a little awkward still even though they'd thoroughly enjoyed bringing each other to orgasm just a while ago.

"I mean, it was... great. We don't ever have to go there if you don't want to, or--"

"Ah, man. That would be like getting a present and not unpacking it."

Jim had to chuckle at the comparison, feeling incredibly light with the certainty that there was literally nothing between them anymore. Alex, Parker, or the lesser trials - they were in the past now.

"So, who's going to be the present and who's the un-packer first?" Already, his body was tingling in anticipation with Blair's eyes traveling it up and down.

"You know, you've got the hands every present would dream about getting unpacked by, so... how about you go first and tell me all about how it feels...?" He leaned close to whisper into Jim's ear, "and then, my love, I'm going to fuck you senseless."

Jim couldn't help it; he burst out into laughter. "My, I didn't know you were such a romantic."

Blair smiled, too, but his eyes were serious, as he said, "You don't know what it's like to make love to me, either. Don't you want to find out?"

***

Naomi had spent wonderful hours with Ole, and even though it was clear she would not settle down on this little island to spend the rest of her life with him, she was thoroughly enjoying this little flirt, and she could tell that he was, too.

She had to admit she was quite okay with the fact that Jim and Blair had chosen to stay behind, but now she was eager to tell them about the trip, and the visit to the old lighthouse. Very romantic; Naomi supposed that they would like to go there, too. At least, after they'd gotten over finally having admitted their love for each other.

Smiling broadly at that thought, she opened the door that connected her room with Blair's, stopping cold at the sight.

"Oops, sorry," was on the tip of her tongue, but she simply closed her mouth again, making a step backwards, and very gently drew the door closed behind her again.

"Oh my God," she said to herself, her face heating up, but she had to grin in delight anyway. That did not look like the two of them had dealt with difficult subjects this afternoon... and wasn't that good news?

Naomi looked down at the bottle of wine in her hand, shaking her head. They wouldn't care much for it at the moment, so she'd go and see if Anna wanted to share it with her. They had a lot to talk about anyway; Anna had said that next week, a few of the old group were coming to visit, and they were thinking about starting over again.

As she locked the door behind her, walking down the stairs to Anna's private rooms, it was still on her mind like an afterimage - the two men, her son and his lover, moving together in an explicit fashion as the sheet was slipping from their naked bodies, uncaring about anything but the passion they shared.

Well, it must have been good. And, she admitted to herself, she would have probably hit on Jim again, earlier, if she hadn't known that Blair was so very crazy about the man.

"Oh my God," Naomi said again, thinking that she really needed that glass of wine now.

***

Jim had, of course, heard the opening and closing of the door, Naomi's quiet words to herself, the brief rise of her heartbeat - but he could easily tell that she wasn't really upset, and it was all background noise anyway.

Further away, the sound of waves lapping against the sand, the tide moving back in; its rhythm oddly similar to his own as he was moving inside of Blair's body. It wasn't like this spectacle of nature was distracting Jim any, on the contrary, it seemed to enhance every sensation, a pleasure so great it bordered on pain.

And it was nothing but incredible, after a short moment of worry, when the same body who had, pliant and eagerly, accepted the gentle invasion of his fingers, suddenly tensed up. That moment had passed, though, giving way to nothing but rapture.

Blair had his eyes closed, the soft moan spilling from his lips almost too much for Jim who instinctively grabbed his hips harder, striving to bring their bodies even closer together.

"Hey," he said lightly, stroking away a strand of hair from Blair's face with a shaky hand. "Look at me."

Blair did, his eyes wide and dark with desire. "Feels so good," he whispered, his voice strained with the effort of holding back, making it last.

His hands were traveling up and down Jim's back restlessly, legs wrapped around his body, pulling him closer inside. With all the boundaries so wide open, it seemed like they were sharing one mind, wanting, needing the same thing.

The rising of the moon, the pull of gravity, the rage of the sea rushing back into the land--

'Good' was the understatement of the year, Jim thought, because nothing had ever felt like this, or at least, if it had, then he couldn't remember.

"I love you," he said easily, and how could he have ever thought this would be hard to do?

He framed Blair's face with both hands, kissing him deeply. Greedily taking in every sensation, like Blair shaking with need in his arms, his soft cries when a certain movement was particularly good, the muscle gripping Jim's cock tightly. "I love you so much."

He couldn't put off his orgasm any more than the sea could stay back. Wanting Blair to be with him all the way, he reached between their bodies to gently grasp his lover's erection. Blair gasped, a wordless whimper escaping him.

"It's okay. Now." And he'd been right; with Blair's climax flooding his senses, all Jim could do was to give in to his own body's demands.

Pleasure rose, cresting and washing over them as the highest point of the tide was reached - and passed.

***

"We haven't seen each other in years! As long as you are here, there's of course time, come on."

Naomi hadn't missed that Laura, Anna's daughter, had frowned at her mother's words, but nevertheless, the two of them sat down in the living room after Anna had gotten two glasses out of the cabinet.

"You're looking sinfully young," Anna remarked as she opened the bottle. "You and Ole are getting along well, aren't you?"

"Well, yeah," Naomi admitted. "But that's not what gave me red ears." Taking the glass from Anna, she drank deeply. "Whoa. My son is having sex."

Her friend regarded her with obvious amusement. "For quite some time, I suppose."

"With a man."

"So what? I never pegged you for that kind of parent who'd have a problem with that. That, too, isn't likely to be something that started just yesterday, is it?"

"Well..." Naomi coughed as the urge to giggle was a little too strong. "Kind of."

It took another moment for Anna to understand. She, too, had a hard time staying serious then. "I see. You mean like, right now? And you didn't know and walked in--"

"Give me another glass, will you?"

A little later, having calmed down, Naomi clarified, "Of course I don't have a problem with it. Hell, they've been in love with each other for so long you'd want to shake them and ask them when they were finally going to buy a clue. I'm okay. Just..."

"Mortified? Well, I can relate to that, to imagine your kid having sex of any kind is somehow... traumatic," Anna said with a mock shudder.

"No matter how long they've been adults. Okay then, we don't want to strain the subject. It's good to see how things have worked out though - that's the magic of the island I told you about, Töwerland, remember? So tell me a little more about you and Ole. Nothing to get red ears yet?"

***

Life didn't get any better, Jim was sure of that, as he lazily ran his fingers through Blair's curls who was, even asleep, muttering something indecipherable in comment.

'Not the hair, man', Jim guessed from experience, grinning to himself - some things just never changed.

Maybe there was really a time in everybody's life when, having done the right thing at the right time, everything else would come easily. He couldn't understand now why he'd ever hesitated coming here - part of him had known he'd find a way to get through to Blair, always would. Such was the nature of their relationship, and it certainly went both ways.

So much for the big picture.

Hopefully, it would be that easy when they got back in Cascade. There was a lot to consider with their new relationship, about the future of their partnership, about finding closure about what had been done to Blair during his abduction.

At the moment though, Jim was nothing if not confident.

***

They'd gone down into the hotel's restaurant for dinner, where Laura Mueller took their orders.

"Is it just my imagination, or did she stare at me?" Blair asked, perplexed by the looks she had given him.

"She's just jealous."

"Of you or me?"

"You, of course." Then, Jim had noticed his unease. "What's the matter, Chief?" he asked calmly, the earlier joking forgotten.

"I don't know." Blair shook his head at his own antics; they'd just had such a wonderful time together, and he didn't want to spoil it, but he just couldn't help it. At the moment, Blair felt like clinging to Jim and never let go again, irrationally scared that all they'd shared would crumble and dissolve before his eyes.

That again.

Scared.

"I'm so sorry. I don't know what's up with me - but it has nothing to do with us, believe me. I've wanted that. Much more than you could ever imagine."

"Oh, I think I can imagine." Jim smiled, but Blair could tell he wasn't completely placated yet.

"You're not feeling so good? Should we take dinner upstairs?"

"No. Alright, I'll stop acting weird, like, this moment, okay? Talking about our -- um, earlier activities..." He felt the tension dissipate with the smile spreading on his face. "I'm curious. You ever done this before?"

"You have lots of trust in me, asking after the fact," Jim remarked amusedly. "Well, the answer is no. Except for a few encounters with a guy back in school, but not--"

"Wait a minute? In school, you said?"

"Well, yeah."

"Tell me." Blair was quite sure that Jim would see through him, and still, when he used exactly that tone, and that expression Jim disrespectfully called the 'puppy dog eyes', the big guy couldn't resist him to save his life. Of course, he had only ever used it in non-sexual situations, like this, before. The possibilities had become endless all of a sudden...

"Nothing much to tell. We were both playing football, both had girlfriends who were cheerleaders, all the boring stuff."

"Uh-huh."

"So one weekend, they went camping together, and we spent some time at my Dad's, smuggling beer into the house, getting smashed, and -- okay, I'm sure you get the picture."

"No, I don't get the picture. With your Dad in the house?"

"Yes, but I doubt he knew we were even there. It was kind of... exciting. You know, the danger of being found out. I mean," he hastened to clarify, "We didn't really do much. Shared a six-pack, and then it somehow happened. A few kisses, and a hasty hand-job. There's your story, Chief."

"Wow." Blair supposed that life with Jim Ellison would never be boring, the Sentinel business aside. There was a lot to learn still. "How long did it last?"

"You kidding me? We barely managed to look at each other the next day."

Well, that was more than he'd anticipated, to be honest. Alone the concept of a young, very young Jim making out with a male lover in his father's house, was... unexpected.

"At least for a while," Jim continued. "In the end, it lasted six months - we went to different colleges then. But before you ask, we never really got that deep into the dynamics of gay sex."

Right. "What's his name?" Blair asked, abruptly aware that he felt jealousy for the guy Jim had kissed, what, twenty years ago? Oh man.

"Mark. Dad recently told me that he's become a stockbroker, married with three kids. No reason to worry."

On the table, Blair took Jim's hand into his. "I'm not worried. I know you're madly in love with me, isn't that right?"

"You got it," Jim said, and it was exactly that moment when Laura brought their wine. Her mood didn't seem to have improved any, but neither of them really cared.

***

About an hour later, Naomi came walking through the door that separated the hotel from the Muellers' private rooms, hesitating for a moment, until Jim waved her over. He had to admit, part of him was curious as to how she'd react.

"Hello, boys," she said with a brilliant smile. "Mind if I join you for a few minutes?"

"Of course not, Mom, don't be silly. Have a glass of wine with us."

"No, thanks. Anna and I just had some."

"So, did you have a nice day?"

"Did you?"

There was no scorn in her voice, just gentle teasing, and Jim watched, amused at the interaction between mother and son. The unbidden thought came to his mind, how would his own father have reacted, then - now? Whatever. He might have had his disagreements with Naomi, still had, in some matters, but one thing he could have never denied was that she truly loved Blair. There was nothing to worry about.

"Ah, come on, sweetie. I'm so happy for you both! Took you awfully long to get there, but better late than never."

She was honest, and Blair finally seemed to relax. "Well, Mom... thanks."

"You deserve it. Both of you," she said earnestly, and it wasn't until then that Jim remembered something he still needed to ask Blair, hadn't wanted to before, because he didn't want anything to distract them from what had been most important.

There'd be another chance.

***

"I'd thought you wouldn't notice. *I* can't see them anymore."

"I couldn't not notice."

The doctors at Cascade General couldn't find any evidence for drugs in Blair's bloodstream, except for a mild sedative, but there were more traces of needles. Many more of them. The disturbing thing was, they occurred in places that indicated they should have been hidden - like under fingernails.

And more, there were more than a dozen tiny cuts all over his body that had already healed to everyone's eyes but Jim's. More mystery to the riddle he couldn't seem to solve.

"I don't think I'll ever remember, you know? That's why I'd rather try to forget it ever happened. I live now. And I'm happy."

He leaned close for a lazy, sensual kiss, and Jim relented, knowing he would not be able to forget about it. The distraction from the subject was welcome, and for the next few moments, he simply luxuriated in the feel of their embrace, Blair's naked skin against his; and he sure welcomed a bit more of this gravity.

***

Naomi and Anna were all occupied the next morning with old members of the former group having arrived already; and they were sitting together when Jim and Blair finally made it to breakfast, sharing knowing grins with each other.

They hadn't been in a hurry to get out of the shower they'd shared.

Naomi jumped up to introduce them. She seemed all excited, and Blair was fairly sure he knew the cause: She was ready to move on. He knew before she said, "Can you believe this? Those guys are in deep, starting projects all over the world again! And they..."

"Asked you to take part?"

"Well, yeah." Her next words were whispered to Jim with a wink. "A bunch of aging hippies trying to save the world once again, huh? Honestly, I think this work is needed more than ever. I'm thinking about joining a few of them to Jerusalem in a couple of days. Blair, sweetie, do you remember Daniel Ortega?"

The man in his mid-fifties, dark hair and blues eyes, didn't look very familiar. He smiled at Blair friendly. "It's been a while," he said.

There was a distant memory in Blair's mind, but he couldn't quite grasp it, not wanting to admit it. "Sure," he said, extending his hand. "How're you doing?"

"Great. I didn't know I'd meet Naomi here, what a pleasant surprise."

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I think Ole's waiting for us already," Jim reminded them. They had finally agreed to do that tour to Borkum to see the lighthouse Naomi had been enthusing about, among other things.

That, and he was unwilling to share Blair with all of these people longer than absolutely necessary.

***

"I must admit I'm still a bit freaked by this amnesia thing and what led to it, but look what came out of in the end. Naomi getting hooked up with old friends again. I've haven't seen her getting that excited in a while. And then -- us."

"Yeah, us. A good idea of fate there, wasn't it?"

Blair threw him a quizzical glance as if he couldn't quite believe those words coming from Jim, but he accepted it with a knowing smile. "I think so."

Wrapping his arms around him from behind, Jim allowed himself to drift a little, which was surprisingly easy to do, just feeling the warmth of the sun despite of the wind, stronger out here at sea, and listening to the sound of the waves - the scent of Blair's freshly-washed hair and the beat of his heart a pleasant addition to the mix.

Petersen was steering the boat quietly, apparently understanding that the two of them didn't care much for small talk. Jim thought that he really liked the man; he wasn't much of a talker, but discreet and sincere.

Strange detours that had finally brought them here, together, in another country, another continent. It felt like a dream - for the first time like one Jim would be happy never to wake from again. He'd never understood it when people said something like this - try having a nightmare with enhanced senses, and we'll talk again.

It was very true right now.

The sparkle of sun rays on the water gave an even more surreal ambience to the scene, and maybe that was why he'd had such a hard time with open water, because there, the contours of reality seemed to soften - it wasn't much of a problem here, though, because Jim could easily see people strolling on the beaches of other islands. And he wouldn't ever fear open water again, anyway, with Blair by his side.

"Zoning a little?" Blair asked quietly.

"No," Jim said. "You know, as much as I hate to admit this; I probably used zones for escaping a great deal. Right now, there's nowhere I'd rather be." After a small pause, he whispered, "except for maybe..."

He didn't need to use actual words; the suggestion was enough between them.

***

After the tour, and dinner in a pizzeria, they sat down on a bench close to the old lighthouse.

"Look. There's one of the guys from Naomi's group, Florian Bergmann. What's he doing here?... Hello, earth to Jim, are you still in there?"

Jim finally made the effort to take a look, "oh, yeah, that's him." Well, the sight of Blair all enthralled with the ice-cream cone had been distracting, and, no surprise there, the man next to him saw through him.

"You are so wicked," he said, laughing. "Come to think of it, I don't want to know. Well..." His voice was dark and low on the next words. "Do I, Jim?"

"Meeting someone." Taking an abrupt non-sequitur in thought and subject did not dissolve all of the sweet tension, but when Jim saw who Bergmann was seeing, he was a bit puzzled himself. "That's Laura, Anna's daughter. I wonder if they're meeting secretly."

Blair had finished his ice-cream, and was licking his fingers, the little devil. "None of our business, really. I must admit, I could do without any mysteries for a while, but..."

It was as if the temperature dropped a few degrees, the wind getting a little colder, like it was whenever they touched on this subject. They'd have to leave the 'Land of Charm' eventually, get back into their real, everyday lives.

"What will happen once we're back in Cascade?" Blair's voice was tinged with uncertainty now, and Jim found himself scrabbling for words of assurance, which was not so easy to do, since he'd been asking himself the same questions. And the closer they came to this moment, the harder it was to give answers.

About how to introduce the changes to their environment, professionally and socially, and the still open questions about an unsolved crime.

"Lots of this, I hope." He leaned forward to kiss Blair on the lips very gently. "And this, maybe." The next kiss was a bit more demanding, and Jim was glad to know he was on the right track, getting a smile as reward.

It was enough for the moment.

***

Blair had taken up running once they'd returned from Sierra Verde - and didn't have that an ironic touch? Running from something, or towards something, but with all that had happened, the former seemed to be the more valid explanation.

Still, a daily routine was helpful to distract himself from the movie that seemed to have taken over the inner theater, the one he'd always scolded himself about, but couldn't stop regardless.

And Jim?

Jim was just being nice, doing his best placating his own guilty conscience, doing his part to pick up the pieces of their friendship. Not that they'd done badly. But every time Blair tried to take a real close look at what had gone down, the hurt washing over him like drowning him all over again, should have been a clue, if the jealousy wasn't.

And every morning, before returning into everyday life and a feigned indifference, Blair was for some time aware of the fact that he'd been falling in love with Jim - and that there probably had been a chance once upon a time, but he'd missed the moment to take it.

***

It all happened so fast then. He'd had most of his run behind him, stopping at a red light, trying to catch his breath. Left and before him, the traffic flowed, behind him a park.

At the sound of screeching tires, Blair spun around, an instinctual reaction, even though he didn't think it had anything to do with him. There was a van, with its door open, half on the sidewalk, and he knew the instant he looked into the men's faces that they meant danger.

Seeing no weapons, he simply turned and ran, hoping that somebody would come to help. His heart hammering in survival mode, he was aware of the footsteps getting closer behind him. What the hell did they want from him? Neither of them had looked familiar, but the set-up was quite clear - and Blair had no intention of being a willing prey.

He chose the route straight through the park, hoping that early strollers or people walking their dogs would make those guys take off, but no such luck.

Can't let this happen, no, not again! Didn't matter if they were tied to Ventriss somehow, or if there was any other reason, but he had to get away, any way he could.

All those good intentions were shot to hell when he reached the end of the park, where a few stairs led down to a path around a pond. Somehow, one of his shoelaces had loosened, and stumbling over it, Blair took a header down the eight or ten steps, knowing as he fell that he wouldn't get away from them now.

And that was worse than the pain that followed.

"No!"

***

"No!"

"It's me! Come on, wake up. You're okay."

Finally, Blair stopped struggling, opening haunted eyes to him, his heartbeat still fast with fear, but he was orientating himself again.

Jim wanted to give him the necessary patience, but he also knew the images of the dream would probably vanish again if he waited too long. And there was hardly any doubt on his mind what this dream had been all about. "You remember anything?" he asked very quietly.

Blair sighed. "Not much. I think they chased me... and I stumbled and fell. No one was around. Sorry about the drama," he said with a half laugh, but he was still trembling, his voice awash with more despair than humor. "I don't know what I really felt, but this was bad."

"The memory comes back now that it's safe," Jim assumed.

"I've been waiting for this to happen, I wanted to get this over with finally - and now that it does happen... I'm scared. Man, I hate being such a wuss."

"You're not, and you know it." But he felt there was nothing he could say at the moment that would really make Blair believe him. "Okay, then, you're a wuss. I love you anyway."

Next to him, Blair was silent, and Jim was okay with that, taking in the sounds of his now calmer heartbeat and breathing, comforting him. It was all he'd have asked for, but then the words came,

"I love you, too."

***

The sound of the phone ringing seemed so utterly out of place here that Jim needed a moment longer than he usually would have to wake up and answer it, a sense of trepidation already creeping up inside of him - or did it have to do with Blair's nightmare?

"Ellison?"

"Jim, you're lucky. I was just about to send a search party. What the hell were you thinking by taking off and then not calling once?"

"Simon. Sorry about that. I meant to call, but..."

He felt the smile spread on his face as his gaze fell on Blair who was just about to wake up, judging from his heartbeat. But... The truth was, Jim hadn't thought much about his life in Cascade in the past few days.

"I was kind of occupied, as you can imagine. There's good news, though. Blair is better now."

"Well, yeah," the man in question whispered, snuggling up close to him. When Blair dropped a soft kiss on his neck, only to start suckling on his earlobe an instant later, Jim had to put some distance between them in order to still be able to concentrate on the call.

"Um, sorry, Simon. As I said... Whatever. I guess we'll be back in a few days."

"That what I'm calling about --" Simon interrupted himself to ask, "Wait a minute, I did wake you, didn't I? What is Sandburg doing there, giggling, at this time of night?"

There was a moment of silence while the captain obviously figured it out, and Jim tried to figure out what to tell him.

"Come to think of it, I don't want to know. Tell the kid I'm glad he's alright - hell, I've been expecting something like this. Nevertheless, it's not why I'm calling. Jim -- Parker was murdered in his cell last night."

Barely a beat later, Jim returned, "Can't say I'm feeling terribly sorry." Still, that feeling of trepidation was growing, and Blair seemed to have intuitively noticed something, because he looked worried as well.

"Neither am I, but his lawyer says Parker was willing to make a statement about Blair's abduction. Somebody wanted to prevent him from doing that."

"Shit," Jim said emphatically, for the lack of something better. "That means there was someone behind him."

"Right. We're taking care of it, but there's a trace leading to a guy called Max Berne. There's in international warrant out on him, and he was last seen in Germany. We've already contacted the BKA, and since you're conveniently spending your vacation in the country..."

"Tell me what you've got."

***

Jim had talked to Megan, too, since she was in charge of the investigation, and she ended the conversation with, "Sorry to cut your vacation short, but I'm glad you finally got it. Give Sandy a kiss for me, will you?"

And he had, one, and then more.

Tomorrow, he'd fly to Frankfurt to meet Kommissar Weiss from the BKA who had been hunting for Max Berne for more than two years -- Berne, who seemed to have made more than one deal with Parker.

But tonight was theirs.

***

"I hate it that you have to go," Blair said shortly after he'd hung up the phone, and Jim was happy about it, because it was the opening he'd hoped for.

"Well, yeah. It'll be only for a day or two, but -- how about you give me something to remember?"

Blair was all for that idea, and so they spent the next moments kissing, whispering to each other their respective ideas about what would qualify - even thought it had been pretty clear all along. "How do you want it?" he asked finally.

"How do you want me?" Jim asked back, smiling at the tiny gasp he got in reaction. Falling in love all over again.

"Turn over." Blair's voice was low and soothing on the two words, but irresistible. Thoughts of the early flight and the new, disconcerting direction the Parker case had taken, evaporated into nothing, as Jim obliged, his body feeling feverishly hot, even more so in the places Blair touched him.

Starting with a gentle massage, he kissed his way down Jim's spine, and it was more than once that Jim had to fight the urge to touch himself and just get it over with, but he didn't, knowing it would be worth being patient, as hard as that was.

Along with the anticipation, of 'it' happening finally, there was a bit of -- not apprehension, but close to that, and he wondered where that was coming from, when he'd truly craved this moment. But was it such a surprise, really? He'd never been that good communicating what he needed in a relationship, surely not during those first clumsy attempts with Mark, the guy now married with three children.

Here, with Blair who understood him like no other person could ever do, he could at least try to say it once, "You know, I -- it's not so easy for me..."

"For once, give up responsibility, not being the one in charge? That's okay. You can leave it up to me for now."

And Jim found that he could, then, surprisingly easily. Even through the first moments, when the breaching of his body seemed not only unfamiliar, but also uncomfortable, the warm touch and the amiable voice who'd guided him through the strange land of being a Sentinel, proved to have the same effect once more.

"Dial it down a little," Blair whispered, a slight quiver now there in his voice, and Jim knew exactly how he had to feel, trembling with the effort to keep still. It was okay; they were safe with each other in more than one way.

"Well, up is more like it." They both had to chuckle at this, and then Blair made a tiny move, going deeper, and it was all Jim needed to give up the last bit of control to him.

"Yes. Do it."

"You feel so good. I don't think I've ever -- Jim... oh..."

"I get you, Chief. Why the hell did we ever wait all these years?"

It was the last bit of verbal communication before his mind focused all on his body's straining for the inevitable climax, dials all going up as high as he dared to let them go, and then a bit farther.

Unafraid.

Blair running his hand over his genitals, gently squeezing was all the signal Jim needed; the pleasure heightened even more by the fact that the condom presented no barrier to his senses.

A gift indeed.

***

Jim had left after breakfast, and Naomi had packed her bags as well, saying goodbye.

It was probably silly, but Blair found it unsettling to say goodbye twice in one day, especially to those who had literally given him his life back. Naomi taking off to Jerusalem, Jim meeting with the BKA guy in Frankfurt...

"Be careful." That, he had already said this morning.

"Always, sweetie. Say hello to Jim for me. And - I've got to say it again, I'm so glad you finally did take that step. A blind man could see you belong together."

It was good to hear that, making him smile. Even blush a little, as images of last night were dancing on his mind, but it didn't chase away the dark cloud at the horizon of Blair's own imagination.

He just wasn't used to being alone anymore.

Probably not such a bad thing anyway.

***

Jim had time for lunch after arriving at Frankfurt; he hoped he wouldn't have to spend the night, but there was probably no alternative, since he'd hardly make it back to catch the last ferry back to Juist. However, Anna had told him there would be flights from Norddeich, too, and he had still some hope to catch one of them at least.

The BKA guy turned out to be a girl, even though she most likely would have resented that description. Kommissarin Irene Weiss wasn't forty yet, long red hair she wore in a French roll, and she had that no-nonsense attitude about her that made Jim hope this whole affair could be over soon.

"Welcome to 'Mainhattan', Detective Ellison," she greeted him with barely accented English.

He wondered for an instant, but remembered he'd heard that saying somewhere already.

"Thanks. The skyscrapers and the river - Main, it is, right?"

She smiled. "Right. Sorry, but we just can't resist that. So here's a coffee, let's get to work. I'm more than curious for everything you could tell me about Berne's contacts in the US."

For the rest of the afternoon, Jim and Irene exchanged every bit of information on the two men they had been chasing without knowing there had been a connection before.

The charges on Parker had been for murder, and would have been kidnapping if they had been able to prove it, but as far as Jim could tell, he hadn't been involved in any terrorist acts. Berne, however, was wanted in relation with a group who had planned attacks with biohazard material all over Europe. Fortunately most of them had been apprehended in time; but Berne had escaped.

"He's very reclusive, doesn't trust many, that's why he could escape all the time. If Parker had hooked up with him for whatever reason, that's bad news for your city."

"I'm afraid you're right."

"Berne uses people, then he discards them, but whatever he does, it's a part of the puzzle. My guess is that your partner's abduction was meant as a distraction. Question is, what else was going on while you were looking for him?"

Jim had to admit he liked her quick way of thinking, even though he didn't like a bit what she was implying - however, he'd had the same thoughts as well, along with the bad feeling that whatever those men had conjured up together, it was probably still going to happen. In Cascade maybe.

He had to go back.

Furthermore, as hard as that would be, he'd leave Blair safely where he was at the moment, until this mess was cleared up. He'd always hated risking Blair's life for any reason, but there were no excuses, no possibility any more.

"We've already faxed this photo to your boss. He told me to let you take a look. Said you had particularly sharp eyes."

Weiss shrugged, indicating that she and the BKA had already gone to great lengths cooperating with a local detective from a US police department.

"We're very grateful for all the information," he said.

"As long as it helps us get closer to Berne, no one minds, believe me." Irene handed him the photo, and he took it from her, starting at the sight.

She'd noticed. "You know him?"

"Berne, no. But this guy. His name is Florian Bergmann."

She nodded solemnly. "Bergmann, right. Unfortunately, we never had anything more on him than this picture, and he claimed he met Berne in that peace activist's group, but never knew who he really was. Berne seemed to have hidden in that group under a different name."

"Wait a minute, you don't mean... don't you think it's too much of a coincidence that I saw Bergmann just yesterday, on the island where I was on vacation?"

"Bergmann was on the island?" Now she was looking at him in alarm. "No coincidence, if you ask me."

"Will you excuse me for a moment? I need to make a phone call."

***

Blair had always hated somebody calling him on the cell when he was on vacation, but there was definitely something to be said about caller ID.

"Hi there," he said, trying to sound sexy, though silly was probably more like it. Who cared? "I hope you miss me already."

"Believe me, Chief, I do." Jim's voice came across so clearly as if he were just around the corner, and now it was Blair who was overcome with longing all of a sudden. Not that it was much of a surprise anyway. He couldn't wait for the chance of a repeat of last night -- and the night before...

"Will you be back tomorrow?"

"At the latest. Listen, this case is taking more strange turns - it looks like Bergmann could be involved. Did he leave with Naomi?"

"I think so, with Ortega and a woman named Kessler. Do you think he's... dangerous?"

"He met with Berne half a year ago. So you're sure he's not on the island anymore?"

Blair took a moment to process this new information, inwardly cursing. Jim seemed relieved that Bergmann had left, for obvious reasons, but it didn't make him feel any better that the man was on his way to Jerusalem with Naomi.

In the meantime, Jim had apparently come to the same conclusion. "I don't think she's in danger. Bergmann was questioned in connection with Berne, but nothing stuck. If he's involved, my guess is that he'll be trying to lay low for a while."

"And what is it you aren't telling me?"

"Nothing, really. It's just bizarre; I wish I could figure out what's going on. And, yeah," his voice turning softer, "I miss you. Hate to sleep without you tonight. I'll see if I can get a flight back."

"You do that. You still love me?"

"Give me a few hours, and I'll show you how much. For now, I'm afraid I've got to go back to Irene."

"Irene?"

"Well, yeah, tall, red hair - she's quite a sight... not that I really care. I can't wait to come back to you."

After he'd disconnected the line, Blair was still smiling, all the way on his walk along the beach back to the hotel.

***

Irene had been nice enough to make a few quick phone calls, and now a cab driver brought Jim back to the airport. There was still a chance for him to catch a flight to Juist from Norddeich later on.

The urgency he felt to get back to Blair real soon was only partly because of the new turn their relationship had taken, and his own impatience - there were just too many coincidences surrounding the peace activists, and Berne's association with Parker.

Just maybe there was a chance, when all of this was cleared up, that they'd have a chance to find out what had happened to Blair in the first place - and move on from there.

As he was leaning back in his seat, the thoughts about the future made Jim smile, but they didn't entirely chase away the uneasiness he felt.

***

Returning from his walk, Blair found the hotel rather quiet, and it seemed darker to him than before - but that had to be his imagination. He, for one, could have lived without this unexpected turn, had rather resigned to the fact he'd never know about those few days he didn't remember.

No need to wallow in the past, when the future had suddenly become so much more promising that he'd ever dared to hope.

He still marveled at the thought that of all possible moments, he and Jim had taken that step now, after the worst tribulations in their relationship, Alex, and everything that came thereafter. Then again, maybe it just proved the truth of the old saying - you only really valued what was good in your life when you were about to lose it. Well, whatever.

If he was very lucky, Jim would be back tonight.

Maybe they had wasted a lot of time indeed, so for the rest of their lives, virtually every minute counted.

***

Jim hadn't called again, and with regret, Blair mused that he'd have to spend the night alone, after all. He decided to have dinner at the restaurant and see if Anna had the time to join him. The way things were, he and Jim would be leaving pretty soon, and he wanted to thank her for her hospitality.

Down in the lobby, he was surprised to find it empty, no one behind the counter.

"Anna?" Ringing the little bell on the counter brought no result either. Taking a look around, Blair finally saw it.

"Oh my God." Hastily, he stepped behind the counter, crouching down beside the unconscious body of their host. At last he hoped that she was merely unconscious. To Blair's relief, she moved then, a small sound of pain escaping her.

Anna's eyes opened, widening in fear all of a sudden, but her attempt at warning him came too late.

The sharp pain at the base of his skull was the last thing Blair knew before he lost consciousness.

***

Just a few moments ago, Jim had had a distinct idea of how to spend the rest of the evening. Call Simon briefly and talk about the details he'd learned, have dinner, a shower and then drag his tired body into bed with Blair next to him - but he immediately knew that those plans were jinxed when he arrived at the hotel later that night, and saw all the commotion in the lobby.

There was Anna, looking a bit shaky with the bruise on her temple, her daughter and Dr. Schreiber beside her.

Some other hotel guests had been filing into the room, and there was local police.

The urgency was back again - Jim jogged up the stairs to their room, knocking on the door to Blair's room, the one they'd shared recently. Nothing. A quick scan told him that the room was empty.

He hurried back down, not caring that he was interrupting the interview. "Anna! What the hell happened here?"

She looked at him solicitously. "Jim! Thank God you're back."

The police officer who was taking Anna's statement, a young woman with her hair bound in a long, blond braid, gave Jim a glare, but he couldn't have cared less. "Do you know where Blair is?"

"I already tried to call Naomi, but I couldn't reach her... there was someone searching for something behind the counter, and when I called him upon it, he just knocked me out. Blair found me, and... God, Jim, I'm so sorry. I think that man took him. I don't know, I was feeling kind of woozy, but then Laura was there, and we called the police."

"It's not your fault." Jim took her hand, squeezing it, trying hard to push aside his own feelings of failure. He should have known, yes, but there was nothing he could do about it now.

"I'm sorry for interrupting," he told the blond-haired officer, introducing himself. "The man who's been taken is my partner. This might be in relation to an ongoing investigation."

Jim already hated to be dependant like this, on other people's work in another country with a language he understood fairly well, but wasn't really fluent enough with to join in on the investigation. He would make sure though that they kept him in the loop; hopefully Irene could help him with that. She'd given him her card and even written her home number on it.

Maybe he should call her this moment.

At least, the officer who had answered Anna's call seemed cooperative.

Hell, there were no more ferries going to the shore tonight, and there were no cars allowed on this island. Any private boats or planes would be suspicious, so how far could the guy have gone anyway?

They'd be okay in the end. Whatever they - Berne, Bergmann? - had wanted Blair for, they weren't planning to kill him, otherwise they would have done it at the hotel.

He had to hold on to that thought. Still, Jim had to admit that love made you more vulnerable than anything else. And if he had been honest before, it had always been about that.

***

The blindfold was taken away, but not the gag, so Blair's chances to react in any way to what was happening to him were still way limited.

Awakening in a windowless room, a couple of masked men standing around the bed, conferring quietly, Blair made no attempt to try kidding himself - he was scared. No way anybody could have that much of bad luck; this attack perfectly timed with the new information from Cascade that Parker had been teaming up with a wanted terrorist, and one of Naomi's peace friends being involved.

Blair was still worried about her, but at the moment, his own predicament weighed just as heavy. If he was right, the same guys, or at least they had the same man behind them as the ones who took him in the park - had, before, let him go, but somehow considered him important enough to follow him half-way around the world.

For some reason, that thought made him angry. Why did it have to happen now, when he had a whole different future before himself? It just wasn't fair. Was a little peace really too much to ask for?

Blair made another attempt to make himself be known behind the gag, but the man didn't seem to pay any attention, until one gloved hand reached out and slapped him hard.

He felt dizzy for a moment, but then the gag was ripped out, and heard them file out of the room one by one, then a door was firmly shut.

At the sound, he started shaking, unable to stop the automatic reaction. It was much too close to -- it was there, just at the back of his mind, but like so many times before, Blair failed to reach it.

When he dared to move his head, the sight wasn't any more reassuring either.

One of the men had remained in the room, weighing what looked like a hammer in his hands.

Blair wasn't sure if it was just his imagination, or was the man actually smiling behind the mask?

"Hey," he said, his heart pounding uncomfortably to the point of pain, "You don't have to do this, whatever you're up to. Didn't see anything, won't remember anyone. I promise. Just let me out of here."

"Sorry, Blair, can't do that."

He started at the familiarity of the voice, but as the man stepped nearer, apprehension took over, making him unable to place it.

"No. Please don't kill me."

The words were out of his mouth before he could even think about them, and damn it, what was a little begging if it helped? Let the jerk get off on his power, Blair didn't care any at this moment - all he wanted was to come out of this alive. The stakes had become much higher since when he'd been mouthing off to David Lash.

Go home, be with Jim; grow old with him, that's all I want. Just not die in this stupid way.

His plea elicited only a dry laugh from the kidnapper. "Not just yet. However, I'm afraid we need to make sure you'll be immobile for a while."

It was useless. The restraints didn't give any, no matter how hard Blair tried to yank at them, disbelief warring with horror, as the man raised the hammer--

-- to bring it down on Blair's left ankle.

His body jerking from the painful assault, he cried out, but met with no mercy from his captor.

"Sorry, but this has to be done."

With the pain already clouding his mind, Blair still couldn't solve the riddle of that voice, not that it would have been any help, as the hammer came down again, right side this time, and the sickening crunch of bone breaking was the last thing he heard before he passed out from the violent pain.

***

No restraints anymore. Was the door even locked?

A chance to get away! It was only his mind going there, though. There was blood on both pant legs, his ankles still throbbing mercilessly, having already started to swell. The pain made his eyes water every time Blair tried to move his body a fraction, but he also knew his chances wouldn't get any better with time, so he had to try.

It seemed like an eternity, but he did manage to set his feet on the floor, not caring anymore if the tears were streaming down his face. He had to reach that door.

The moment Blair put weight on his injured feet though; he collapsed immediately.

The door was opened again, and the same man who had so casually broken his ankles before, stepped in. "I just knew you couldn't help it. Hard to walk with broken ankles, isn't it? Very effective means if you want to keep someone particularly stubborn in one place."

He removed his mask, and then Blair knew why his voice had sounded so familiar all along:

It belonged to Daniel Ortega.

***

Jim was just about to go truly crazy. Irene had apologized, but she had been contacted by the FBI regarding Berne, which meant the local law enforcement personnel was out of the loop - which went for both Juist, and Cascade.

Not that he'd care any; it seemed that the time window between the attack on Anna, and the local police starting to act, had been rather small; chances were that Blair had not left the island with his kidnappers, and damn it, if necessary, he'd search every single house - not that it would take that long anyway.

But, of course, nothing was official, because Irene and her American counterpart who'd arrived in the morning with a BKA's helicopter, were in charge.

Not that Jim really planned on sitting around waiting for them.

***

"What's going on?" His voice was hardly above a whisper, because it even hurt to speak. Blair was determined not to pass out again, though. Whatever it would be worth in the end, he wanted answers. "It wasn't Bergmann who was Berne's contact in the group, right? It was you?"

Ortega grinned, prodding his pain-stricken body with a booted foot, sending waves of agony crashing over him. "You figured it all out, so why're you asking?"

"What happened back in Cascade? It was never really about me, was it? Just a diversion."

Crouching down beside him, Ortega ran a hand along his cheek, the gesture almost a caress, making Blair's blood run cold. "You are so clever, Blair," he mocked. "Your mother was always bragging about that, and I must admit she was right. Too bad. But now, no one can stop us anymore. Not you, not Mr. Detective-of-the-Year Ellison. Cascade will remember this day for a long time to come."

Blair tried to shrink away from the touch, his terror just growing with the man's words. "What are you talking about?"

Ortega laid a casual hand on his leg, where the blood had soaked into the denim. Then he simply pressed down.

The scream sounded horrific, but Blair didn't give a damn, couldn't do anything to stop it either. His body rebelling, he was violently sick, the thought of getting answers drifting further away.

Cascade will remember this day, kept flickering on his mind like a dreadful warning.

***

At some point, the ringing of a cell phone interrupted all conversation. Laura excused herself, blushing. Jim wondered why her heart rate was going through the roof at that moment, and his hearing unabashedly followed her out of the room.

Her heartbeat stayed fast as she picked up. "I can't talk at the moment. No! The police are here, yes, the American detective, too."

All the more a reason to listen in. Why would the caller be interested in him? Jim suddenly remembered the evening when Blair claimed that Laura's daughter was looking strangely at him - the day they'd made love for the first time.

But he couldn't let himself be distracted now.

"Max, I'm telling you it's not a good moment to come here now!"

Max. Damn it. It was certainly no coincidence that they'd seen her meeting Florian Bergmann on the island Borkum, and the background seemed much more severe than the two of them secretly being lovers.

So they needed to check out Laura, and fast. Jim was determined to tell this to Irene who had arrived a minute ago, and Officer Schuette who was bringing her up to date at the moment, but none of that happened.

Honing in on Laura's voice, it was too late when he realized that he was slipping into a zone.

***

"Don't be such a wuss, Chief."

Even though it couldn't be, unthinkable, it was Jim's voice. So it had to be Jim's hands, too, that held him down, administered the injections, the small cuts.

"We know you listened in on us. Just tell us what you heard, and the pain will stop."

Oh God...

Even though his mind couldn't bear to remember, his body did. Cringing in overwhelming fear at the sound of that voice, the closeness of those hands that gave him no rest.

"I don't know anything!"

"Don't you think it's getting a little boring?"

The needle slid under his fingernail once more. "No, no, no," he chanted, but couldn't stop the effect of the powerful drug, the convulsions of his body.

"You can stop it any time," said Jim --

Only this time, the pieces of the puzzle fell together. It wasn't Jim, of course, Blair knew now, as he woke up drenched in sweat, his heart racing. They had been messing with his mind so bad that a part of him had gone for their charade.

Whatever it was that Parker and his goons had given him back in Cascade, it couldn't be found in his bloodstream by the time he showed up again, but then again, the poisonous effect was already working perfectly.

Of course, Blair had never had any information to compromise the terrorists' agenda, and maybe they had known all along.

They had used that time to set up their plans, which were now supposed to be put to action. If only he knew what they were!

Stop kidding yourself here - this time, you're not going to make it out alive.

The thought brought incredible sadness that, for a moment, was even stronger than the omnipresent pain. There were so many things he'd thought he and Jim would share, places to go, a first camping trip as lovers - it just wouldn't happen.

No, he wasn't ready to face that reality.

But what could he do, when he wasn't even able to fucking move?

Well, what about the cell phone lying there on the armchair, just a few feet away?

***

"Thank God!" Anna breathed.

Jim didn't need to ask any of the occupants of the room; he'd gotten those looks a time or two before. He promised to himself that if anybody asked if he had a history of epilepsy in the family, he'd punch them. Without a hint of guilty conscience.

"Jim, I really think the police got it covered, they will find Blair." Anna's heart rate belied her confident words. "You don't look so good, you really should lie down for a moment and--"

"I'm fine," he interrupted her sharply. "Where's Laura?"

Anna looked at him confusedly. "Laura? Why?"

"Where is she?"

"I'm not sure, she got a call just a few minutes ago, said she had to meet a friend, and that it was important. Do you think something's wrong?"

"Are Irene and Officer Schuette still here?"

"No, they went to assist in the search, up at Ole's tourists' office, but--"

Jim was out of the room before she'd even finished the sentence. He could apologize later.

***

Thank God for the emergency function on a cell phone... Blair was sure he'd once known what was the German equivalent to 911, but with his mind so focused on the pain, he couldn't come up with the correct numbers - to save his life, literally.

The woman on the other side of the line seemed a bit confused when she heard him speak English, but understood quickly that it wasn't a joke. "I don't know where I am, but I think I'm still on the island. Please trace this call. I'll keep the line open as long as possible. Please."

"Just stay calm," she said. "We'll be coming to get you."

He hesitated a moment, wondering if she would be taking this seriously, but then again, he couldn't disconnect the line to call Jim and warn him about the Cascade agenda; as much as he craved to hear Jim's voice. Even the thought seemed to have some analgesic effect itself - but if the locals didn't trace the call, he'd be lost.

By the time, Ortega entered the room again, Laura Mueller in tow, Blair had given the emergency operator all the information he possibly could.

***

"I'm kind of glad Ortega didn't join us," Florian said as they ate dinner after the symposium.

Naomi didn't quite understand, as there were many things she didn't understand about Bergmann. Five calls on her cell phone that she had missed, and then the two SMS she'd gotten from Blair, warning her to stay away from this man, that he could be dangerous.

She supposed that having dinner with so many people around couldn't be that dangerous, and maybe she could even help in finding out something that would help Jim and Blair. It wouldn't be the first time, right?

"Why? I always thought he was quite okay. Even financed some of the projects over the years."

"Oh, he's nice on the surface. Still, I once spent hours being interviewed by the FBI because of a statement he had made. I didn't find out until years later, but obviously some guy I'd talked to about sponsoring, had ties to terrorist groups. I didn't know."

"Of course you didn't."

"Well, Daniel had a different opinion there, claimed I knew who the man really was. To be honest, I came back to Germany only when I heard he'd be there. I wanted to find out why he did it."

"But you didn't," she assumed, still wondering why he was telling her all this.

"No, I didn't. Whatever; it's water under the bridge now. I'm just glad to be here with a few of our old friends still hanging around. Aside from the cause, it's going to be fun, right?"

Naomi smiled at him, raising her glass. "To true causes," she said.

***

It had been a shock to see unmistakable proof that Laura was involved in this mess too - but at least they just meant to check if he'd moved any. Ortega's eyes were darting around suspiciously - looking for your cell, buddy?

"What are you thinking?" Blair had asked sarcastically. "You said it yourself, it's not so easy to move like this."

He'd pushed the phone under the bed, as far as it would go, hoping there had been enough time. Fortunately, another voice had called for them, the infamous Max Berne, Blair supposed.

"Daniel, Laura! Come on, the gates have just opened at the Cascade Zoo. Countdown's begun!"

Ortega's features contorted into a brutal mask as he became aware that Blair had heard the words, too. "Goodnight, Blair," he said cruelly, before his fist came down, but there had been something else Berne had said before the lights went out.

***

"Mr. Sandburg! Wake up!"

He'd heard that voice before...

But he didn't want to wake up. The sweet oblivion had at least been a temporary respite from the pain - but the voice kept on urging, until Blair struggled to open his eyes.

At the sight, he couldn't suppress a groan. Was everybody on this island involved?

"Mr. Petersen," he said matter-of-factly, expecting more violence even though his body screamed at the prospect. No more.

"Come on. We need to get out of here," Petersen told him instead.

No shit. He would have laughed about the self-evidence of his statement, if he hadn't been so damn close to break down altogether.

***

Juist had probably never before swarmed with BKA personnel. Then again, there had certainly never been an internationally wanted terrorist sought on the island.

Seeing Irene at work, Jim had to admit that she was doing it well, coordination perfect. After all, she'd been waiting for a long time to catch Berne.

She'd told him she'd inform him, and that he should do his part. As much as he hated it not to be part of the operation, she did have a point here, because he had to call Simon right now. Not that he couldn't do much from here, but at least he'd have to warn the captain, so subsequently, precautions could be taken.

Simon put him through to Megan immediately.

"Where the hell am I going to start? It could mean a bomb, just about anywhere. And it could mean something totally different."

"I know, I know. Can you think of anything unusual that's happened lately?"

"Not much when you and Sandy aren't around," she said dryly. "Wait a minute, there was something. A break-in at the Cascade Zoo. They got the cash-register, a few hundred dollars, set free some of the smaller animals. It caused quite a commotion, because today's a big family event there. Shit, Jim, you don't think..."

"Maybe it's the place, or maybe it's yet another diversion. With those guys, you never know. In any case, you should do something about the zoo."

"Will do, Jim. And you go find Sandy, okay?"

"You bet I will," he promised.

***

"There's no point. I can't walk."

"Okay then. Just relax and try to be still."

When the older man hefted him up, Blair bit down on his lower lip hard, in order not to cry out again. Only an instant later he tasted blood.

Not that it mattered any, if Petersen managed to get him out of here. His head pounding relentlessly in addition to the other pain, it was hard to hold any thought, but Blair knew there was something he had to remember. The gates of the Cascade Zoo... And there had been something else Berne had said before Ortega had knocked him out, but it was gone.

Damn it, it was important -

By now though, it hurt to think. He'd done all he possibly could, hadn't he?

***

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Maybe it was really just the pain making him delusional, but Petersen hadn't brought him any farther than two houses away from Berne's place.

"You just relax," Petersen told Blair. "It will all be over in less than half an hour, and those guys won't even know what hit them, since they're all hooked to the internet, watching the web-cam video from the zoo. Why don't I find you something in the meantime to make the pain bearable?"

It sounded wonderful in theory, but could he really trust the older man? Blair wasn't too sure about that, especially when Petersen now picked up his cell. When the call was answered, he simply said, "Irene? I've got the witness."

Without any further explanation, he went into another room to find the promised painkillers, and Blair noticed for the first time that Petersen's English was now without any accent.

***

"I said I'd inform you!"

Irene Weiss was not amused to see Jim again in front of the little tourist office. Petersen wasn't there at the moment, but a group of plain-clothed law enforcement personnel had gathered around the Kommissarin. "You know as well as I do that you can't take part in this operation."

"Berne is going to wreak havoc in my city," Jim returned calmly, even though he didn't feel that way. "I think I'm entitled to take part." It wasn't even the obligation to protect Cascade best as he could - which was there - but the need to find Blair. He wouldn't let anybody stand in his way.

Irene looked at him for a moment, then sighed. "Okay, I know what you're up to, but believe me, your partner is safe, relatively. It'll stay that way, and you'll have him back soon if we can apprehend Berne without any interference. You get me?"

"Where is he?" Jim had made a step towards her, but she wasn't intimidated.

"I mean it, Jim. I've got a job to do, and I will call you when it's done."

"But you can't--"

Her face softened a bit as she said, "I'm really sorry. My contact got him out, but they can't get too far from the location right now, so let me get Berne and his accomplices. Then you can go and see Blair."

"So what if they expect you? Believe me, I can help you. If they've rigged the door, I can smell it."

She looked at him incredulously.

"I won't endanger your operation. I want Berne just as much as you do, because I want to keep whatever he's planning from happening. Please."

Ironically, Jim thought that Blair had to have felt like this every time he begged himself a place in an undercover operation. It felt most strange to be on the other side of such a bargain.

"Alright," said Irene.

***

"No, I can't!" Blair said desperately. He really wanted that reprieve from the pain, but damn it, he couldn't afford it now, he had to remember! There was something Berne had said to Ortega about the planned attack at the zoo, something about the place from which it would start.

The harder he tried though, the more was pain clouding his mind, and the temptation to accept that glass Petersen was offering him grew stronger by the minute.

"I'm sure they're evacuating the zoo right now," Petersen said from where he stood by the window, peering through the blinds. "It'll all be over soon."

"Yes, but--"

"You need to rest. Ortega really did a number on you - and it could take a while yet until we're able to get you to a hospital, so please, drink this now, okay?"

There was a soft click, the sound of the door being opened, and Peterson quickly picked up his gun. He put his finger to his lips.

Blair just closed his eyes, trying to summon all his willpower to make the intruder go away. No more complications, please. His ankles were on fire with the pain, and they were still only two houses away from the terrorists.

There was an image -- together with those words...

When he opened his eyes again, Blair truly believed himself to be hallucinating.

The man in the doorway was Jim.

***

"My God, what happened to you?" Jim explained, feeling himself pale with worry - as well as anger at the ones who'd done this.

Blair was talking at the same time, "It's in the Polar bears' enclosure. That's what Ortega said. You've got to call Megan!"

"Don't worry, babe, I will."

Indeed, making the call was the first thing Jim did, even with all those conflicting emotions warring inside of him - giving Petersen a piece of his mind, for example, because he hadn't taken Blair to a hospital yet. As he softly stroked the sweaty hair away from Blair's forehead, doing a thorough scan with his senses, he dialed Megan's cell again.

"Connor, I know where you have to send the team now. It's the Polar bears' enclosure." She was silent for a moment. "Everything okay over there?"

"Yes. We've been evacuating. Thanks, Jim." Her voice still sounded strained. The danger wouldn't be completely eliminated before the bomb had been disabled. "What about Sandy?"

"He'll be okay. I'll tell you more later."

"All right. Keep your fingers crossed."

"Good luck," Jim said, before disconnecting the line.

The same moment, Blair had fallen unconscious, but Jim kept the gentle contact, needing it himself.

"Who's done this?" he asked, not caring if his voice sounded more like the angry growl of a - well, panther.

"Ortega," Petersen told him. "It's amazing how he made it just long enough to tell you -- he refused pain medication until he remembered that last bit."

Jim was surprised he could muster a smile even though his mind was flooded with rage at the man who'd hurt Blair like this. "Yeah, he's a tough guy," he said. "Your boss and the others have gotten those jerks. We can get him to a hospital now."

Petersen stared at him incredulously. "How can you...?"

Jim ignored him as he bent down to place a soft kiss on Blair's lips.

"It'll be alright," he promised to both of them.

***

Berne, Ortega, the man who had kidnapped Blair from Anna's hotel, and Laura Mueller were brought to different squad cars as they were waiting for the ambulance.

The small sadistic smile curling up Ortega's lips at the sight was a little too much. Jim got up and stepped into the man's personal space. "You will pay for this," he vowed.

Irene's gaze was clearly warning him, but then she seemed to decide otherwise and turned away, speaking to her men. "I think the detective will have some questions for Mr. Ortega, too," she said.

Meanwhile, Ortega wasn't intimidated, staring at Jim, unblinking. "So what are you going to do now? Your beautiful zoo will already be in shambles, infested with biohazardous material. We've made our point. That's all we ever wanted to achieve, while the CPD was running around like headless chickens, searching for their observer. You lost."

That moment, Jim's cell phone rang.

"We've done it," Megan said, her voice on the verge of breaking. "Damn well, we've done it. They found the virus before the bomb blew up."

Jim took a long look at Ortega's smirking face, and then he punched him. Hard. His hand hurt, but it was a rather good feeling.

"Good job, Connor," he told his colleague over the phone. "I never had any doubts, though."

She chuckled. "Good to hear that. I've had enough of them."

***

"You can go home. He's in good hands, believe me."

It was probably true, but the nurse's words weren't enough for Jim who'd spent hours in the hospital here in Norddeich where the helicopter had flown them, and just a few too short moments here in the room with Blair after he'd been brought out of the ER.

"I'm sure he is," he said, stalling. "I'd don't know where to go anyway; we have our hotel room over on Juist." They'd have to carry him out of the room in order to move him. Jim felt exhausted - and he just couldn't imagine *not* being here.

She thought about it for a moment. "I'll talk to the doctor. There won't be any flight or ferry to Juist at this time, so we can probably make an exception."

It was a good thing that the doctor agreed, because there was no way Jim would have left this room tonight.

***

In the morning, after a moment of slight disorientation, Jim was surprised to find Anna Mueller in the hospital room.

"I hope you don't mind," she said, smiling though she sounded like being on the verge of tears. "I brought you some fresh clothes. I didn't know how soon you wanted or could leave."

"Thank you, Anna. I think we have to stay for a while, but as soon as Blair can handle the flight, we need to go back to Cascade."

She took a deep breath. "I'm so sorry. You won't have the best memories of our island. The BKA has been in my house until this morning; and I guess I should be glad that they believe me I didn't have any idea. Laura - I still can't believe it."

Jim was feeling honest sympathy for her, but he didn't think he could help her much, his mind too laden with his own feelings of guilt. When Simon had called, Jim hadn't even considered for a moment that Blair could be still in danger from the terrorists. Which he should have.

And then what? The voice of reason argued. You had a job to do, and there was no alternative.

Only that the Sentinel didn't care about the voice of reason.

"It's not you fault," Jim said, knowing at the same time she wouldn't listen to those words any more than he had in the past, even when they were true.

"You don't have kids, do you?" she asked, her eyes bright.

It was too early for this conversation, Jim reflected. "Well, no, but I know Naomi would say the same. She thinks highly of you, and I hope you trust her judgement."

Anna forced another smile. "Thanks. I didn't want to bother you here. I'm just really confused right now. Check with the doctor how long you'll have to stay, and then simply tell me, I'll arrange everything for you. And just maybe you'll consider coming back one day."

"I'm sure we will." And that wasn't even just to console her. He wouldn't let the continuation of the trauma overshadow the dream they'd shared.

***

"No, Mom, you don't need to come. I'll be okay, and we'll be leaving for Cascade in a few days anyway. Yes, I'm sure Ole would like to see you again, but don't drop everything over there on behalf of me. Honestly."

Blair's attempt to obtain help from his lover only got him an amused smile from Jim. Rolling his eyes, he went back to the conversation, emphasizing again, "I'm fine."

"I hear you," Naomi said with a sigh. "Well, maybe I'll come back later; Anna is still feeling pretty bad. I would, too, in her place. All right, sweetie, I'm sure Jim will take good care of you. I love you."

"I love you too, Mom. Bye. And what are you grinning at?" he asked Jim after hanging up.

"Nothing," Jim hastened to assure him. He had just emerged from the bathroom, wearing nothing but his boxers as he crawled under the covers beside Blair, spooning up behind him carefully. "Just following my mother-in-law's orders. Taking care of you."

"Yeah, right." There was a tiny bit of frustration Blair hadn't managed to keep out of his voice even though he thoroughly enjoyed being here, safe, with Jim holding him close. Now that the danger was over though, he was seriously asking himself how he could have walked into the trap once again. And why always me? "This is not how I imagined welcoming you back."

"I know." Jim was still idly playing with his hair - had to be quite a sensual experience, Blair thought with a smile, but he couldn't chase the dark thoughts away entirely. Too much was still left to uncover, about his earlier abduction, the connection to Berne, and what it all had to do with the attempted strike at the Cascade Zoo.

Back then, when Parker's men had taken him, he had heard Jim's voice. How could that have been possible? Blair was sure glad that the danger could have been averted for the people in Cascade, but his own riddle wasn't solved yet.

"It's not fair," he said. "There'll be lots of juristic back and forth because of Berne's extradition, and in the end, it could take months until we find out what his answers to my questions are - if he has any."

"If he, or Ortega, have any, we will get to hear them," Jim said confidently. "But not now. Let's just try and get some sleep, okay?"

Another thing that bothered Blair, was that he was so very tired almost all of the time, even though he knew that the medication was the cause - usually, you'd spend the first weeks in a new relationship, this exciting period, differently. Especially in this new relationship.

But how could he resist now, as Jim was slowly stroking a finger down his arm, wrapping his arms around Blair securely --

Well. "Okay," he said. "But I've got to warn you, you keep this up, and I'll want to go to bed at ten p.m. each night when we're back home."

Jim chuckled at that. "Fine with me, Chief. We've got to tell Simon, no more night shifts."

***

"I-- I can't breathe! Help me!" The words didn't come out, a choking sound all he could manage, and already, there were black spots dancing in front of his eyes.

Holding him in place, no escape possible, those hands were merciless. So was the voice.

"Stop fighting, Chief. The sooner you behave, the sooner it will be over for you."

Jim's voice again.

***

One moment, Jim had been lazily listening to the tide, his senses perfectly anchored by the heartbeat of his lover sleeping soundly beside him. It was the first small measure of peace he'd been granted in a while, and he surely cherished it. There was still the remaining guilt, and the wish to have done more to Ortega in payback for the pain he'd caused Blair - at the moment, however, he felt at ease.

At least, until he felt, before the first words came, their terror unmistakable, that Blair was slipping into a nightmare; from the sounds of it, about suffocating.

Where he'd repeatedly considered his senses a curse, Jim had come to admit that they were a blessing indeed more often than not. Especially in a situation like this, when he didn't need to turn on the light in order to see Blair's frantic expression.

He was awake now, but his heart was still beating rapidly.

"Hey. What was that about?"

"Not so sure. Maybe this is just me losing my mind after all."

"Nonsense. You're certainly entitled to nightmares. So - was it about Ortega? Something that happened at the house?"

"No." Blair finally gave in, and his hesitation had to do with knowing that his next words would hit Jim like a gut punch.

"I don't know how, and man, this is crazy, but-- you were in it."

After a long, uncomfortable pause, there was only one thing Jim could say, "Why?"

Now he was the one who felt like being choked, and sounded like it, too.

But Blair didn't seem to have any more answers; he simply leaned over for a gentle kiss. "I'm sorry. I've had those -- I don't know, flashes, at the house, too. I have no idea how they did it, but it has something to do with the strange way I behaved around you after you found me - the first time."

"Tell me about them." Blair was silent for a moment, and Jim insisted. "Please."

"I heard your voice there, wherever it was that they took me. They had me blindfolded, and I think -- it could have been some tape or something. Together with the drugs, that really messed me up."

There was not the merest doubt in his voice that there could have been any other explanation, and Jim breathed a sigh of relief, even though the facts remained disturbing.

"I've got to talk to Megan, and Irene, too. There must be some way to clear this up."

"I wish I hadn't told you this."

"It's good you did. We will find out how they did it."

Blair gave him a long, thoughtful look; so full of tenderness it could actually make the sting of doubt vanish some. "Yeah. But for now, strangely, I think I'm not so tired anymore..."

With regard to his condition, there wasn't much they could do beside kisses and touches, but it was all the more better to take a look at the future than to remain stuck in a doubtful past. Jim was more than okay with it.

***

The next day was a little cloudy but still warm. Anna had organized a wheelchair so they could spend some time of their last day on Juist outside, without Blair having to use the crutches all the time; he was still wobbly enough on them, and there would be lots of opportunity for applying them in Cascade.

With all the ugliness that had happened, the beauty and charm of this little island seemed like a completely different world. And it was that memory he'd take with him - Blair was determined about that - not that cold, damp cellar room where Ortega had intended to kill him after blowing Cascade to hell.

This island was also the place where Jim had followed him, disregarding all the barriers that had still been standing between them at that time - the place they had first made love.

Yeah, there was something special about it.

Taking in Jim's answering smile, Blair wondered if mind-reading was some side effects to Sentinel senses, too, because Jim seemed to do it pretty well.

***

"I guess I won't have to worry about business in a while," Anna said. Her smile was sad, but she seemed resolute. "I thought about giving it up more than once, but hell, I'm booked out for many months to come!"

"You can't give up now. It was Laura who made the mistake, and she's still young, she'll come around in time," Blair told her with conviction.

"Listen to this old man, talking from the wisdom of age," Jim quipped, and his words had the desired effect; Anna laughed.

"Thank you, you two. Whatever happened, it was bad enough, but it could have been a lot worse; it's good you've been here. And I hope Laura will come around and see what she's done. I also still hope you'll consider coming back someday. You should know you'll always be welcome."

***

Upon their arrival in Cascade, events and jetlag hit them both hard, and in the end, they'd spent almost a whole day in bed.

Definitely something they'd do again sometime, but for different reasons.

Jim had settled with Simon that they'd be coming back to work after the weekend, and Monday morning came way too soon.

"Work?" Blair had yawned. "I'm barely aware we're back in the US, and Cascade. I wonder if I'll manage to stay awake for a day...?"

"We'll stay for long enough to try Simon's new coffee, and find out what they've got so far on Berne and those other jerks. You'll be fine." There was a lot more they'd have to do, some things Jim wasn't looking forward to, because it meant ripping open some nearly healed wounds over and over again - but then again, they'd handle it, that much he was sure of. And he couldn't help but smile when thinking about how easily they'd made the transition into this new relationship, back here at home.

They were still taking it easy, but when the cuddling led to the only natural reaction, Blair had only smiled and said, "Well I'd be worried if I didn't make you feel that way. After all, we're still in our honeymoon."

And then he had touched Jim in a way that made the Sentinel want to come forward and prefer to stay at home to give in to those very archaic impulses.

***

"Hell, can you guys ever go on a vacation without raising hell?" Simon grinned good-naturedly as he got up from behind his desk. "Welcome back, boys!"

There was a split-second of silence as all the occupants in the room were very aware of the changes that had taken place since they'd last talked in person, a moment that could have easily become uncomfortable.

"Sandburg, sit down, for Christ's sake. Connor will be here in a few minutes, updating you on all details of the Berne case. But first, gentlemen - I want a detailed report of your vacation."

Jim and Blair smiled at each other, then Blair said, "Um, sir... I'm not sure if--"

"And I'm sure you'll know where to draw the line," Simon said warningly, but the humor sparkled in his eyes.

***

"Jim! Sandy!"

Megan looked tired, but seemed genuinely happy to see them. With a broad smile, she asked, "So, is there going a commitment ceremony?"

"Too much information, Connor," Simon Banks sighed. "Here, have a coffee. And before you get into all too private subjects, why don't you tell them all we have on those creeps?"

Listening to Megan's report, Jim realized that he and Blair had not been the only ones who'd undergone changes. She had stayed in the zoo until the last minute, when the explosives had been found - it could have gone terribly wrong until then.

"So it was in the Polar Bear's enclosure, just as you said. We've been damn lucky. If that bomb had blown up, it would have been a catastrophe. We've had estimations of how many people would have been affected - the thought alone is horrible." She shuddered. "There were lots of children at the zoo that day. We evacuated immediately, sure, but that would have made only so much of a difference."

"You did a great job," Jim said.

"Not that you were here to be able to judge it, but it's true," Simon confirmed. "So, about Berne and Parker..."

Jim could feel Blair tense beside him, and he thought there was no way that he could just reach out and take his hand to offer comfort - and then he just did it. Neither Simon nor Megan seemed to care as she continued with the report.

"Of course, we're still waiting to get our hands on Berne ourselves, but here's a bit of what we could determine. Seems like Berne had several side projects going on - one of them was trying out methods on how to extract information from hostages. Parker had several contacts at the university, and he thought for some reason that Sandy had learned something about the Cascade operation."

So far, definitely not good.

"That part I understand," Jim returned, "But you all know what happened after they set Blair free for the first time. What about that, and why did they do it in the first place?"

A hard question to ask, but everybody on the room, including Blair, knew it would have made more sense for the terrorists to kill him right away, after performing the torture.

"Now there's a twist." Megan's gaze was troubled. "They were experimenting with some voice software where you can copy a person's frequency and fake a recording. It all sounds like sci-fi, but if we find the stuff those guys were talking about, I can understand why Sandy was scared of you. We found transcripts of those sessions."

"Well." Blair's voice was surprisingly stable when he talked, but his fingers clutched Jim's hand tightly. "At least we now have an idea where it came from."

"Yes. The German authorities are currently dealing with Berne, trying to make him give up the hideaway. We've got some Feds active here, and we're in constant contact with Frankfurt. We will get to the bottom of this."

***

"By the way, did I tell you that I've been given carte blanche by the doc today? I can now do whatever I please. Whatever."

"About ten times," Jim remarked amusedly from where he stood by the door. He walked over to where Blair sat on the bed, his feet on the ground, legs slightly parted, his posture nothing if not inviting.

Jim came to stand right in front of him with the intention of kissing him, but obviously, Blair had other plans, as he reached out and grabbed the belt of Jim's jeans, pulling. The action was so unexpected Jim almost toppled over, but he gained his balance at the last moment. "Whoa. What's up?"

"In a moment, hopefully - you." Blair smiled that way that always seemed to make him melt from the inside, and as his fingers slowly traveled up and down Jim's crotch; Jim didn't attempt to hide anything.

"You want to be kind and do something here?"

"You bet." Blair pulled down the zipper, then jeans and briefs together, cautiously freeing Jim's erection and taking him into his hand. While Jim felt strangely naked, he was also sure that he'd hardly ever been this excited. Sure, they had had to be almost celibate for a while - he only hoped this wouldn't be over too soon.

"You know, Jim, I've had some gay friends, and one of them was pretty open-minded, and he never hesitated in answering all my nosy questions." His fingers were warm, and gentle, and never still. Jim groaned, barely managing to keep his knees from buckling.

"Your point, Chief?"

"Getting there." Blair smiled in a way Jim could only call devilish. "He told me that some guys who want to try and experiment never go all the way, but almost everyone of them has given a blow job - you know - like some kind of initiation. I never admitted it to him, but that made me curious as hell. Jim, you're going to tell me if I'm not doing this right?"

"Don't you... worry." As Blair leaned forward, putting his gay friend's advice into action, his knees went weak again, but after a moment, Jim felt steady enough to just let go and enjoy the attention. Surely Blair wasn't too experienced in this department, but there was something to be said about enthusiasm - and his Guide sure had lots of that.

He reached out to gently stroke his fingers through Blair's hair, the additional sensual information making this experience perfect.

After another moment though, Blair drew back, getting up from where he sat. "This is great," he whispered, "but I want you to come inside of me. Is that okay with you?"

Lost for words, Jim kissed him deeply, the taste of himself on Blair's lips thrilling. "Very okay."

***

"You really want to go again so soon?" Florian asked disappointedly.

"I have to." Naomi gave him a genuine smile, hoping he'd be consoled. Of course, he'd finally turned out not to be the dangerous villain everybody had considered him to be, and now even the FBI had learned they'd fallen for the trap Ortega and Berne had set.

She was thoroughly enjoying the work with the peace activists, but Naomi really thought that private matters were more important now. Anna had always been there for her when she really needed help - it was time to pay back the favor.

Anna had sounded terrible over the phone, and Naomi was determined to try and do all she could do to help her. And yes, she wasn't averse to seeing Petersen again, not only to spend time with him, but also to thank him for his part in saving Blair from the terrorists.

***

There was something sweetly and reassuringly predictable about Jim. He'd fold his clothes before coming to bed. After they'd made love, he'd dispose of the condom; bring a warm washcloth from the bathroom, and all of this when Blair was still barely conscious, still trembling from the pleasure they'd just shared.

"I love you, but I swear you're going to kill me someday," he whispered, smiling.

Jim chuckled at that. "Right. Gotta go easier on those old bones next time."

"Don't you dare."

"Just kidding, Chief."

Not all of this day had been that easy - Max Berne had finally given up the hideaway of the technology they'd used in combination with hardly traceable drugs in order to make Blair believe it had been Jim who was administering the injections, and the cuts all over his body.

Hearing his own voice making all those cold, mocking comments had made Jim pale, even though some technicians had explained how with a small sample, every voice could be duplicated - of course, if you listened closely, you'd still be able to tell the difference - but not when drugged, scared, and your life was being threatened.

This night, they had needed all the confirmation of their love they could get, and it was a good thing they'd taken this step already--

"I'm sorry," Blair said, truly feeling that way. "I fell for their shit too easily." He hated how, right from the beginning, this subject always put a damper on the wonder of what had evolved between them.

"It's not like you could have done anything about that."

"Well, no. I think it'll take a while until we can put this behind us, but we will, right, Jim? We will."

"I'm sure."

There was no need for any more words.

***

One year later, Juist Island, Germany

They could have taken a flight to Juist, but they had decided to spend the night in a small cozy hotel in Norddeich that Anna had recommended to them, and take a ferry the following day.

Life in Cascade had been hectic as usual in the past year, so when they managed to talk Simon into giving them a ten-day vacation, Jim and Blair hadn't hesitated; agreeing that they'd take their time on the way to their chosen destination.

Upon their arrival on the island, the sun was finally breaking through the clouds, like a welcome.

This time, they were both sure; there would be only good memories.

***

"I'm so glad you came. Please be my guest for dinner. Ole will be there, too."

The trauma of finding her daughter being involved with a wanted terrorist had surely left its traces, but Anna was a tough woman. She'd pull through, with the help of her friends, and the counselor she'd been seeing.

Laura was of course now serving time in a women's prison, and, given her involvement and knowledge of the planned attack and Blair's kidnapping, would be for a while longer. While Jim had lots of sympathy for her mother who was now trying to put back together the pieces of her life, for Laura, he could find none.

At her age, she'd known what she was getting herself into.

"We'd love to," Blair said for both of them after embracing his mother's friend. "I'd like to see him again, too. I think the last time I was mostly so out of it, I think I never really thanked him."

"He'll be glad to see you, too," Anna assured. "But for now..." She winked. "I guess I'll leave you alone for a while, okay?"

Jim wondered if she'd just read his thoughts.

***

"Watch it, you're getting the bed all sticky."

"Yeah, so?"

Jim shook his head at Blair who was lounging on the bed, gloriously naked, and helping himself to the bowl of fruit Anna had left for them as a welcome, cherishing the sweet, juicy grapes. Blair smiled at him innocently. "After all that recent exertion I think I can use some vitamins. And as for making the bed sticky..."

"Don't say it," Jim warned, but he had to smile, too. This sight right in front of him was too... enjoyable... tempting... "Hey, leave me some of those grapes, too. I can *smell* how good they taste."

"Come and get 'em, why don't you?"

It was part training, part natural ability that had taught Jim to move in on a target quickly, and almost silently. Blair never knew what was hitting him until he found himself pinned to the bed, arms above his head. Taken by surprise, sure, but definitely enjoying himself.

Especially since they were now really about to make a mess, with those grapes, sweet, and squashed...

"Good idea," Jim commented, shutting Blair up with a deep, demanding kiss before he could try and analyze his reaction in terms of Sentinel behavior. There would be way enough time for an analysis later.

Tasting Blair, and the sweetness of the grapes made him want to experience that taste all over his lover's body; one look into Blair's eyes told Jim he had the go-ahead, and then all he could do was to willingly and completely lose himself in the sensual experience.

Uncaring for the moment about all childhood doctrines that you don't play with food - and all thoughts that it would be more than obvious to the room-maid what they had done...

***

"The last time I couldn't even walk when we had to go back. If we keep this up, I think I'm going to be in nearly the same condition."

"Well, that was not in the plan, Chief."

Jim was once again shaking his head at him, but he did it with so much tenderness in his gaze that Blair decided he'd be forgiven.

And when Jim simply stepped forward, wrapping his arms around Blair, he just held on, basking in the moment of the two of them here, together, warmed by the last rays of sun, the sea swirling around their ankles.

A perfect moment in time, not to be taken for granted.

Gravity would always be that to him.

***

Epilogue

There was another surprise waiting for them during the dinner at Anna's.

"Well, I think Ole has brought another guest," said their host, her eyes sparkling with mischief. "I hope you don't mind?"

"Of course not, but... Mom!" Blair said, puzzled.

"Hi, sweetie!" Naomi beamed at them. "And Jim. You're looking great. My son is good for you, isn't he?"

"I never said otherwise," Jim said with just a trace of self-consciousness, knowing Blair noticed it with some amusement. "It's great to see you, but how come..."

"I meant to spend time with Anna, help her out some - and guess what, I found there were other reasons, too. Hell, I've been here for nearly a year already. Must be the age."

"I didn't hear that," Ole Petersen said, but he smiled. "Hello. Naomi told me you're having some kind of anniversary... after all that trouble a year ago, I didn't want to miss the opportunity for something to celebrate. I think we have one, too."

As they gathered around the table, Jim couldn't help thinking that second chances were something worth hoping for.

As long as you didn't take them for granted.

The End

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