Blair Sandburg leaned wearily against the metal doorjamb. Unable to bring himself to actually leave the room, he stood in the open doorway, the cold metal strip of the frame pressed as tightly against the middle of his back as he could get it, giving an oasis of coolness to his seemingly overheated body.
He let his head fall back and closed his eyes, the subdued sounds of the hospital corridor washing over him as he listened trying to quiet the thoughts that skipped feverishly though his mind. Why did all hospitals sound the same? The hushed voices of the people in the halls. The muted sounds of TVs coming from the closer open doors as the occupants tried to lose themselves in something besides the problems that put them there.
A sound nearer him brought his eyelids up a fraction and he stared though the slit disguised by his eyelashes at a young woman dressed in white who exited the room next door. Why white? It couldnt possibly be a practical color. Was it the illusion of cleanliness or maybe of sterility?
A wire mesh basket slung over the womans arm clinked quietly as the tubes of blood shed drawn bumped against one another in rhythm to her movements. She smiled uncertainly in his direction as she checked her clipboard before disappearing into the room across the hall. The door made a little *snick* of noise as it closed and even that sounded muffled. The almost silent approach of someone behind him had him stiffening before he recognized the step and watched as the orderly passed carrying an armload of clean towels, the soles of his regulation white shoes making a rubber sighing sound as he walked.
Taking a deep breath of antiseptic hospital air, Sandburg straightened and stepped back into the darkened room closing the door silently behind him. The only light was the street lamps outside in the parking lot. He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and stood with his shoulders hunched watching the man on the bed near the windows breathe. Just breathe. The steady rise and fall of the well-muscled chest did more to ease his frazzled nerves than all the Valium in the hospital would have done. The startling white bandage covering the mans left shoulder seemed to almost glow in the dimness, drawing attention to itself.
Another bad guy. Another bullet. Thankfully this had been a minor wound, a clean pass of a .22 caliber bullet cutting a groove though the fleshy part of the cops upper arm. But hed taken a slide into a grimy back alley in his pursuit of the perp and had wound up in a puddle of some kind of slimy black goo before finally catching his assailant. Hed come leading the man out of the near pitch black alley swearing more at the stinking mess fouling his clothing than at the man whod caused it.
Sandburg had stood, silently shaking, at the mouth of the alley, watching as Ellison put his prisoner in the back of a waiting squad car before turning back to him.
You okay, Sandburg? Ellison had inquired as he dug around behind the truck seat for the shop towel he kept there. He wiped ineffectively at the mess for several minutes before noticing his partner hadnt moved. Chief?
Yeah, Sandburg had replied, mentally shaking himself as he moved back toward the passenger side of the truck. Yeah, Im fine. Good catch there, Jim. You maybe think next time you could stay out of the pigsty? Im going to need a shower just from riding in the same vehicle with you. He climbed into the truck cab.
If its bothering you that badly, Sandburg, you can always walk back to the station, Ellison offered dryly, glaring at the young man in the truck. Geeze, what the hell is this mess? He rubbed the small towel up over his shoulder, wincing when it hit the wound. Ahh, hell, he said in disgust.
What is it?
The bastard nicked me, Ellison said mildly as he studied the wound in interest. Well add assault on a police officer to his other . his voice trailed off as he swayed on his feet.
Jim! Sandburg had scrambled frantically across the seat to exit out the drivers side and grab his partner, totally unmindful of the sticky mess hed been teasing his partner about.
Im okay, Im okay, Ellison insisted, trying to wave the younger man off.
Yeah, right, Sandburg said in disbelief. Theres no telling whats in this crap youve got all over you. Besides the possibility it could infect that wound, we also dont know how itll affect your senses. Weve got to get you to the hospital.
For Gods sake, Sandburg, but his tirade was cut off as he swayed again and grabbed for the truck to steady himself. Okay, he admitted grudgingly, maybe youre right. He allowed his partner to lead him around the truck and help him up into the seat.
The doctor in the emergency room had insisted on admitting the cop until the slimy goo, referred to as an unknown substance in hospital terms, could be analyzed. Ellison had refused to undress and put the hospital gown on, scowling at the nurse when shed suggested it. But hed consented to lying down on the bed and had fallen asleep while they were waiting for the lab reports. Hed slept though the doctors appearance and subsequent report that the goo was nothing harmful and that his patient could go home as soon as he awoke. Rather than rouse his partner, Sandburg had opted to let him sleep and was patiently waiting for him to wake in his own time.
Sandburg turned, crossing to the wall of windows. It was almost dawn. Already a faint pink could be seen decorating the bottom fringes of the clouds hovering along the horizon. A new day. *Another* day. Another promise. He pressed his forehead against the cool of the darkened glass, trying to still the quakes shaking his soul before they manifested themselves in a physical way, racking his body with uncontrollable trembling as he remembered. Another day. Another threat. Past. And theyd survived it. Shit, he whispered, the sudden fear flooding though him, leaving his knees weak and his heart racing. How many more times could they do this? How many times could they tempt fate before she extracted her due?
The sudden restless movement of the man in the bed behind him brought him around with a quiet gasp. He took a long, deep breath, in through his nose feeling his chest expand to its maximum before letting the air out silently through his open mouth. Keeping his eyes on his partner, he fought desperately to get his heart rate back down. He knew how much the Sentinel monitored him, even when the man himself wasnt aware he was doing it. Doing so grounded Ellison, allowing him to use his senses beyond what he could do on his own. But it also made Sandburg more aware of his own bodily reactions, forcing him to control things hed never given a second thought to before.
Another deep breath and he could feel the tension draining from his body, his heart slowing to its normal rhythm as he watched his friends restlessness slide back into a shallow sleep. It wouldnt be much longer though, the cop had already stirred a couple of times and Sandburg was surprised hed slept as long as he had, not that he didnt need it. Not that they didnt *both* need it.
He leaned back against the window ledge, the sharp edge of the marble biting into his ass as he stared. Several minutes passed as he watched his partner, no concrete thought in his head, just a conscious relief that he could again do this. Just watch. And be thankful that he could. Again.
Maybe because he really wasnt thinking, it took awhile for him to realize what was happening, the response his just watching was causing. It wasnt until he reached down to adjust himself that he froze, holding his breath against the sudden knowledge. He swung away, toward the windows again, pressing his hard cock into the cold marble of the windowsill.
Dear God, he whispered. Not now. He stared into the transparent image staring back at him from the windowpane, almost not recognizing his own face, clearly reading the desire in the dark pools of his eyes. He shut his eyes, squeezing them tight as if that could somehow deny what hed seen. Calm, he breathed to himself. Be calm. And he fought for benign thoughts to combat his emotions and bring his heart rate back down.
Hes alive, he whispered. Hes alive. And his breath caught around the tight feeling in his chest because it had been this knowledge that had caused the reaction. So he stilled his features and reopened his eyes, daring the mirror man to show his lust again. He lifted his eyes to his partner. Hed take the friendship of this man, since that was all that was offered, and be glad of it. Hed do his damnedest to help and to protect him in whatever manner he could. Hed just have to continue hiding his own feelings. Fate be damned, he thought.
It had taken him a long time to realize just exactly how much he was willing to give up for the welfare of Jim Ellison. It didnt matter the cost. What mattered was keeping him alive and functioning. The cop, because he made a difference. The Sentinel, *his* Sentinel, for the good of all. And his friend, because it was necessary.
And he wouldnt even whisper the word he wanted to add to that list so desperately, not even within the confines of his own mind. He breathed deeply, feeling the rush this thought brought with it, the quickening of his heart rate, this time not fear induced so his partner slept through it, unaware. Secretly he enjoyed the warm feeling, this secret.
He shrugged philosophically; it was a good thing his partner was still asleep. Explaining a hard on to an injured cop, even if he was your partner, wasnt something he wanted to try. Besides, having the knowledge in his own head was a little different than having it out there. Spoken aloud, it had the possibility of making his feelings seem somehow less than they were.
In the glass reflection he studied the sleeping man, wishing he had his friends ability to bring the image closer, to study it more intimately, from the strong jaw to the delicate eyelids that he knew covered intense blue eyes that could look into your very soul.
As he stared, Sandburg found himself examining his own emotions, these feelings that had grown from casual friendship to something so strong he wasnt sure how to deal with it. He wasnt a stranger to the idea of gay relationships. Naomi had taught him very early to look past the surface, but beyond a normal curiosity hed never felt the pull of attraction for another man, certainly had never felt a sexual attraction for someone of the same sex. Not when there was so much to choose from in the opposite sex. And it was a sexual attraction he felt for this man. It hadnt started out that way, but the friendship had grown until he couldnt imagine his life without Jim Ellison in it. And not just as a casual friend.
It had only been a few months back, late one night when he couldnt lure sleep that he found his mind drifting in that direction as he idly played with himself. His response, the response of his body, had surprised him. The orgasm that had ripped through him that night had left him weak and shaking. Hed come with the image of his roommates face in his mind. His male roommate. Did this make him bisexual? Gay? Was there even a difference?
Hed shrugged it off at first, even when he found himself calling his friends image to mind the next night with the same earth shaking results. It wasnt until hed come home late a week or so later and had to park down the block from his usual parking spot that he found himself questioning his feelings. In the shadows of the huge old oak tree at the end of the parking lot hed sat, not having the energy required to climb out. Trying to release the frustrations of his day, hed seen Ellison exit the building with his date. Theyd stood talking for a few minutes in the warm Cascade evening and Sandburg had watched, not wanting to intrude. A taxi had rounded the corner momentarily blinding him with its headlights and when he could see again, Ellison had opened the rear door and the couple was standing in the dim glow. Standing close, the womans head was tilted to stare up at the taller man and he could see the moment it turned intimate, her face lifted a fraction and the cop had brushed his lips against hers. Then it had changed to something *more*. Ellisons hands had come up to cup the sides of her head, his thumbs caressing the gentle curve of the womans ear as he lowered his head again and his lips had brushed hers a second time. Once, twice, before settling and Sandburg had found himself breathless just from watching, the sides of his face burning in the same places Ellisons hands touched his date. The desire that exploded within him left him weak, his knees shaking. Less than a heartbeat later it was followed by a jealousy searing through his soul, leaving a shuddering husk with the severity of its power.
In the bed behind him, Ellison shifted again; a frown momentarily creasing his forehead as his nostrils flared slightly and he turned his head toward his Guide. Sandburg brought his thoughts back to the present. Even asleep you instinctively search me out, he whispered to himself and closed his eyes against the unexpected pain this thought brought.
He didnt see as Ellisons chin lifted again, his nostrils quivering before flaring wide as he inhaled deeply and opened his eyes, immediately focusing on his partner. His sentinel senses along with his military training, then years as a cop had him processing information before he was fully awake and he knew the smell of arousal, the heat of the flush that raced with the blood through his friends body. But when he eagerly opened his eyes, he read the stiffness of that body and the pain on the face reflected so clearly in the window and reached a decision even as he was carefully schooling his features back into his normal cop mask.
Its normal, Chief, he said, his voice sounding husky from sleep. And he watched as his friends eyes flew open in panic, the pounding of his heart almost painful to his ears it was so loud.
Wha..what? Sandburg stammered, his head coming up.
Ellison shrugged as he wet his lips; a frown briefly crossing his face with the discomfort the movement brought his shoulder. Its normal, he repeated. Its just your bodys way of saying its still alive after a brush with death. Its reaffirming that *youre* still alive. Its just relief. A normal bodily reaction.
Sandburg turned then, crossing to stand by his friends bedside and somehow wasnt surprised when Ellison shifted a little and turned his face slightly away, his eyes showing the pain he wouldnt allow on his face. The younger man rested his hands on the cold stainless steel of the bed railing. He knew, convinced suddenly, without knowing why. It wasnt physical pain the Sentinel was hiding. Erections are normal after a brush with death, he said softly.
Ellison nodded, his eyes closing wearily. Yeah. Dont sweat it.
You sure, Jim? Sandburg breathed, then watched as his friends head turned just a fraction further away and a small frown crinkled the corners of his eyes as he nodded again. The younger man wet his lips, nerves sending adrenaline rushing through his system. So its normal that my chest constricts and its hard to breathe and my guts tighten up when I watch you sleep, just because its you? he asked. And an erection is normal when I see you walk down the hall at work? Or when Im sitting at the table looking at you when youre watching TV? He watched as his partner froze, his features masking whatever thoughts were going on behind his closed eyelids and Sandburg prayed he wasnt wrong.
Sandburg heard his heart pounding in the blood-rush in his ears and he had trouble getting his breath as he struggled to continue. Are they normal when Im laying in bed at night and the only way I can get off is with a picture of you in my mind? His hands tightened around the bed railing, gripping it so hard it rattled under the force. You need to tell me this kind of stuff, Jim. Cause I gotta tell you, man. From where Im standing it doesnt really look like just relief that Im still alive.
Ellisons eyes opened and he took a slow deep breath. His eyes turned first, his head following and he stared at the man above him. So whats it look like to you, Chief? he asked in a low voice.
And it was Blair Sandburgs time to freeze. No emotion showed on his partners face and he could read no hint of explanation as he stared into the blue eyes regarding him so intently.
Time halted then and it was as if he was standing on the edge of a precipice and he knew if he leaned over to look there would be no bottom in sight and he didnt even know if he had a parachute. He felt no apprehension though, no anxiety, or fear. Only a feeling of awe as he looked. In his mind he lifted his foot and took one unhesitating step. Love, he whispered. It looks like love.
And the illusion was gone and he was slammed back into the present to find Ellisons cool eyes watching him for a long moment before his eyelids closed. Sandburg couldnt help the feeling of panic that swept through him when his partner didnt respond. He dropped his eyes then, unable to keep looking and found himself staring at the polished surface of the railing beneath his hands. It was shiny, the small spot of light reflected in its surface from the rising sun catching his eye and holding it and he felt lost, like he was spiraling into the tiny bit of light and wondered if this was what the beginning of a zone felt like for the Sentinel. He felt hot. And cold. All at the same time.
He took a deep breath, forcing his hands off the bed rail and stepped back, feeling like he was backing away from a lifeline. He was calm, irrationally so he knew, but was conscious enough to be thankful for it. The panic and anguish would come later. He felt lightheaded, as if he were falling, numb and wondered if he was still breathing; if his heart was still beating. So I dont have a parachute, he thought, and knew there wasnt a safety net either.
A fine tremor shivered through the man on the bed as he lay unmoving and Ellisons voice reached through his fog of false serenity. Are you sure, Blair?
And he gasped. Because it hurt. He could feel his heart pound inside his chest and it hurt. And he opened his eyes when he hadnt even been aware hed closed them and found the same pain, the same apprehension in his partners eyes. Im more sure of this then I am of breathing, he said simply and he had no trouble getting the words out this time.
Ellisons eyes closed again and he swallowed hard and when he reopened them seconds later the light that shined from their depths had nothing to do with the sun rising over his partners shoulder. Welcome home, Blair, he said softly and it wasnt sleep this time that made his voice husky.
Jim? he breathed.
A tender smile lit the cops face and he reached over the bars toward his partner.
Sandburg stepped back to the bed, hitting the release that dropped the bed railing and taking his friends hand all in the same movement. Ellison swung his feet over the edge of the bed. Rising to a sitting position, he pulled his partner into position between his legs. Sandburg came, feeling slightly stunned. Seconds before hed been floundering, tumbling in a free fall away from everything he valued. Now he found he didnt need a parachute or a safety net. He had wings. Jim?
Ive been waiting for you, Chief. There was no mistaking the words or the look of desire in the Sentinels eyes.
Sandburg shook his head, not quite believing the sudden turn of events. He dropped his eyes to the long fingered hand that held tightly to his. Had he slipped totally around the bend? Was he dreaming and waiting to wake up. It couldnt be this easy. He shook his head again. Jim, youre not gay.
The cop grinned. Never have been, no. He ducked his head slightly to look into his partners face. Neither are you. Remember?
Never have been, no, the younger man repeated his partners words without realizing it. And he felt his pulse quicken with assurance. Sooo, he began with a silly grin, still not meeting his partners eyes, this is just a you and me thing then.
Thats the plan, Stan, Ellison said firmly.
Sandburgs head jerked up. Oh, no. Stan can get his own man. Youre mine.
And the desire was replaced with a sudden rush of something more basic in the cops eyes, a hunger. God, Blair, Ellison breathed and had to close his eyes for a moment to get his equilibrium back.
Sandburg took a deep breath to clear his own head. How much do you know about this guy/guy thing? he asked curiously.
The cop grinned, letting his emotions slip into something more publicly manageable. Not much, he admitted. But Ive always been good at following instructions.
The grad student snorted, Yeah, right. Only when it suits you.
Well, I gotta tell you, Chief. This suits me, the taller man said softly.
There was a soft knock on the door and both men looked up, Sandburg stepping slightly away as the door opened slowly. The nurse stuck her head around the door and smiled when she saw her charge sitting up. She came into the room. So youre all ready to go whenever you want, Detective Ellison. Im glad we didnt have to keep you.
Not half as glad as I am, Ellison smiled at her. Youll have papers for me to sign?
The nurse shook her head. Your partner has already signed everything that needs to be signed. She turned back toward the door. Ill just get a wheelchair.
Ellison grabbed the OR shirt from the foot of the bed that hed been given earlier and pulled it over his head, Sandburg helping pull it up over his wounded shoulder. You feel okay, Jim? Arm not bothering you or anything?
I feel fine, Chief. I just want to go home. He slipped his arm around the shoulders of his partner and dropped his head until his nose was just brushing his friends hair. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the scent of the man beside. Then he closed his eyes and lowered his head, pushing his nose through the soft hair until he reached the unexposed skin behind Sandburgs ear. Almost hesitantly the tip of his tongue slipped out and barely brushed the hidden area. Instantly his taste buds burst as the flavor of his guide raced through his system and he groaned softly with the sensation. God, you dont know how long Ive wanted to do that, he said in a low voice as he exhaled. The desire that had abated slightly when the nurse was in the room was back.
Damn, Sandburg breathed. The shiver that ran though him awakened a hunger that left him weak.
My thoughts exactly, Chief.
Theyd barely cleared the room when the nurse appeared from a nearby doorway pushing a wheelchair. Detective Ellison, she scolded. You know hospital rules state that patients being discharged
I know, Ellison interrupted, but I figure if Im well enough to check out of the hospital, I can walk to the door.
Mr. Sandburg, the nurse pleaded.
Sandburg shrugged with a grin as he was led away toward the elevators. Sorry, hes bigger than me. Ive learned not to argue with him.
This brought a snort of laughter from his partner. Riight, he agreed in disbelief with a lifted eyebrow. Not in this lifetime, Ellison added under his breath.
The grad student turned to look back as they paused for the elevator. Dont worry, Ill look out for him, he assured her.
The nurse shook her head and pushed the wheelchair back into the storage room.
Why should this be any different, Chief? Youve always looked after me, the Sentinel said under his breath.
Sandburgs heart raced and a jolt of fear shot through him. Jim?
The elevator pinged and Ellison led his partner inside without ever looking up. Blair? he questioned, hearing the rapid heartbeat.
Are you sure, Jim? He couldnt keep the apprehension from his face.
The words of assurance slipped easily from his mouth as Ellison gave his words back to him. Im more sure of this than I am of breathing.
Sandburg looked up then, to find his partner staring down at him with a tenderness in his face hed never seen before. In one short breath the younger man realized he had it all, the entire world wrapped up in one extraordinary package; the cop, the Sentinel, *his* Sentinel, his friend and, for the first time he let himself whisper the word. My love.