The Sequel of Obligation

by Akilah

Disclaimer: Pet Fly and Bilsen and DeMeo owns The Sentinel, Chris Carter and 1013 Productions owns The X-Files, but considering how shabbily both production companies treated Blair and Alex, I don't believe they've a right to complain. I made no profits from this endeavor; in fact, I lost money, since I'm not reimbursed for my cable modem bill and the constantly running electric meter outside.

Author's Notes: It's funny, what tickles a muse. I got to thinking how 'Existence' originally aired almost two years to the day after 'The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg', and it kinda snowballed from there. My thanks to Josan- although she doesn't know it, she also inspired this. I'd also like to acknowledge MadByrd's work. Her characterization of Alex as 'Sentinel of Earth' really struck a chord with me, and I have shamelessly borrowed the phrase. I am fully aware the ending is a bit 'out there', but if you can't please yourself with your own fic you're wasting your time.

Warnings and Spoilers: This story contains descriptions of m/m sex. Stop now if this is a problem for you, or you're too young to vote or join the armed services. Many, many spoilers for both shows, assumes that the reader is familiar with the events of SenToo pts 1&2, TSbyBS, Tunguska/Terma, and Existence, at the very least but also touches on many other eps in both shows (too many to name, actually).

More Warnings: Blair has sex with somebody besides Jim. Alex has sex with somebody besides Mulder or Skinner. Equal opportunity pissing off here. It's not that I don't love J/B and M/K (and Sk/K, for that matter), but sometimes canon events just piss me off. Yay, fanfic!

And your trivia for the day: According to Dr. Paul Goldschmidt's 'Dictionary of Period Russian Names', the Russian surname 'Krajik' dates back to the early 11th century, is a variation of the surname Krasik and means 'beautiful'. What could suit our Rat more? By the way, Alexander means 'helper and defender of man'. Go figure!

'Friendship is not always the sequel of obligation'. -Samuel Johnson

Special Consultant Blair Sandburg peered into his empty coffee cup, sighed wearily, and set it down on the counter of the small Olympia diner where he'd stopped in for a late lunch. He'd gotten up far too early, flying in from Cascade for an appearance in federal court on a Vice case he'd helped solve; one of those rare instances where he'd actually been called upon to consult to another department within the Cascade PD. After the trip and three tedious hours of testimony, he should have been hungry, but he had no appetite.

Even his coffee didn't feel like it wanted to settle too well, but he'd thought he needed something before going to the airport and arranging a flight back to Cascade. Maybe he'd just get a room and stay over until tomorrow. No one was really expecting him tonight, since he might still be recalled to the witness stand, although that was unlikely.

And he was just so tired, had been for days now.

He finally understood, though, that it was less physical than emotional fatigue. Memories. His awareness of the passage of time, no longer subliminally hidden from himself. He knew the human mind subconsciously recorded the anniversaries of significant events, until that remembrance was dragged kicking and screaming into conscious recollection... and hadn't he awakened this morning knowing precisely why he'd been feeling so dragged out and depressed?

It had been two years.

Two years since he'd committed suttee with his own life, a self-immolation fueled by an agonizing blend of fear, grief, guilt, and love.

Jim had given him so much. A home, friendship, and the privilege of observing and expanding Jim's abilities... his lifelong dream. He'd owed Jim, so he'd declared himself an academic fraud in front of the entire world. He hadn't regretted it at the time- at the time he'd believed it was all he could do. The least he could do, to save Jim from the fallout of being publicly exposed as a sentinel.

It had worked, mostly.

Jim had gotten his life back, they'd moved on, and the world had turned.

Blair had accepted Simon's offer with a few modifications, gone to the police academy, and had taken his place at Jim's side as Jim's official partner, although as a consultant and not a detective. There were too many roadblocks to him becoming an add-water-voila!-instant-detective, like the regulations that called for mandatory time on patrol and the eternal resentment of every uniformed officer on the force. As a mere consultant, he'd actually begun to find some acceptance within the Cascade PD as a whole. The Major Crime unit had been firmly behind him from the beginning, for which Blair was thankful, and thanks to a few judicious explanations from Jim and Simon, the chief of police and the commissioner also endorsed his presence.

He'd even cut his hair, which he still wore short, although he could have let it grow back out once his probationary period was over. It just didn't feel like him anymore, though, and once the convenience factor sunk in, he'd elected to keep it shorn. It became something else to make his life a little easier, and in the last two years, Blair had learned to seize on those things.

Did he regret it all now, two years after the fact? A year and seven months after earning his credentials?

Maybe he did regret having moved out of the loft. He'd made the change primarily for Jim's sake- his attempt to quiet some of the constant rumors that circulated about his and Jim's relationship.

Painful rumors, because it hurt Blair to realize they were never going to be true.

So once he'd begun drawing a regular paycheck, he'd moved into a one-bedroom efficiency a few blocks from Jim's loft. If Blair was honest with himself, and he usually was, he'd also admit to being motivated by a need to have a place that was really his, a place that couldn't be taken away.

A place he couldn't be kicked out of.

Jim hadn't been visibly sorry to see him go, but then, Jim was so seldom visibly anything where he was concerned, unless, of course, Jim was angry about something.

Blair shook his head and sighed again, drawing the waitress to him. She filled his cup silently before he could wave her off, and left him staring into an oily black sludge he was convinced he couldn't stomach.

No. He truly had no regrets about doing what he'd done- what he'd had to do. What he did regret was the continuing effects of the last few years on his friendship with Jim. It now seemed to Blair that they'd never really recovered from what had happened with Alex Barnes. Jim had never gotten over it. Never really gotten over Blair's death.

That had been the true betrayal; the one Jim couldn't forgive and wouldn't forget. Blair had died and left him, and nothing had ever been the same since, despite Jim's spirit walk and the merge that had brought Blair back.

Jim had refused him shortly after that.

//I don't know if I'm ready to take that trip with you.//

What Blair hadn't fully realized then was how pervasive that refusal would become. What had initially been Jim's refusal to join him in exploring the mysterious spiritual connection between them had mutated over the years, until even discussing Jim's sentinel abilities was chiefly off limits. No testing, no pushing the envelope, no visions, no spirit guides... Jim had what he'd said he wanted. He was a good cop living a simple life, who used his enhanced senses but in no way relied on them, or on Blair.

And Blair was tired. Tired of wishing for things to be like they used to be, tired of trying to make things right. Tired of being the understanding one, tired of what it cost him to keep their lives on an even keel, tired of the knowledge that whatever he did, it wouldn't be enough. Would never be enough.

Tired of hopelessly, helplessly loving Jim in the face of Jim's careful, casual friendship.

Most of all, he was tired of being lonely, so very, very lonely.

Blair levered himself up to his feet, fished a few ones out of his wallet and tossed them on the table, suddenly needing more than anything to be outside. It was actually a pretty day. Spring was in the air, the temperature was just over 60, and for once, it wasn't raining, so after Blair left the diner he started walking, unconsciously heading towards water.

He eventually found himself wandering around Capitol Lake Park, about as aimless an activity as any he'd ever done. There was something nice about being completely anonymous. Olympia was a city full of people who didn't know his face, his name, or his history. It was all rather freeing, and as he ambled around listening to birds sing and watching the bright strike of sunlight off water, he felt weight leave his shoulders that he hadn't been completely aware of carrying.

It occurred to Blair that he hadn't had any time off since before he'd entered the police academy, and dealing with everything that had gone down just prior to that couldn't exactly be called a vacation. Strange as it was to contemplate, he now had paid vacation time accrued. Over a week's worth, in fact. He could afford to spend a week in Olympia, being anonymous, particularly if he found somewhere really cheap to stay while he was doing it.

He didn't think Simon would mind- he and Jim only had a couple of open cases and Jim could easily handle those himself. Hadn't Jim handled all his cases by himself before Blair came along? And Jim didn't need him. Hadn't zoned in years, had his senses firmly under control, and he could probably use the time to himself as much as Blair could.

Blair ignored the flutter in his gut that warned him Jim might like life without Sandburg too well. If that's what happened, then so be it. At least he'd know once and for all. And if Jim decided he no longer needed a partner; well that would be okay. Blair would be free to go somewhere else, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

For a while, Blair allowed himself to daydream about relocating to a new place, making a fresh start, putting Cascade behind him with all his memories. His Spanish was excellent and he could speak a smattering of a half a dozen other languages, which would add to his employment prospects. He was sure Simon would give him a decent reference.

He was good at what he did, despite the vague title he'd been given and the even vaguer job description. He'd essentially settled into doing much the same thing he'd done pre-academy, still nominally a civilian. When he wasn't working directly with Jim, he was serving as researcher, investigator, profiler, gofer, and Major Crime mascot. Aside from now being qualified to carry a firearm and the fact that he was now getting paid for his time, the only real difference was he also assisted other departments when a case was found to be sufficiently weird, esoteric, or needful of mass quantities of research.

It still surprised Blair that he liked 'the job' as much as he did. As an academy graduate, he could be a cop anywhere. Couldn't he? Maybe the fraud thing would no longer be an issue. It had been two years, and the public's memory was short.

Blair idly debated prospective locations. Maybe somewhere warm. South Florida? South Florida would be far away from Cascade, Washington. An entire continent away.

Right now, that sounded ideal.

He found a vacant park bench and sat down, fished his cell phone out of his coat pocket, and dialed.

'Here it comes', Simon Banks said to himself, watching from his office while Jim Ellison spoke into the phone then ended the call. For the briefest instant, Simon saw a lost expression flash across Jim's face, then Jim ordered his expression, squared his shoulders, and pushed aside whatever reaction he was having to that call.

Blair Sandburg's call. Damn it all. Simon sighed as Jim slowly stood and started moving towards him. The hell of it was, he couldn't blame Sandburg. On the surface, there was nothing wrong with the situation... or wouldn't have been, if it involved any other team in his unit. So what if Sandburg wanted a few days off- the man hadn't had any time off in two years, if not longer. That is, if you discounted time off for injuries. Everybody was entitled to a vacation, and since Sandburg had to be in Olympia for court anyway, and he was subject to recall like any other witness, why shouldn't he take the opportunity for some downtime?

Except this wasn't any other team of detectives, or rather, detective and consultant. This was Ellison and Sandburg, who were ordinarily joined at the hip, or so it sometimes appeared to Simon. Although there seemed to be something out of sync between the two men, something Simon couldn't quite put his finger on, something that had been missing for a while.

Even though he'd approved Sandburg's request, Simon couldn't help but worry. Had he just set in motion the failure of an already strained relationship? Blair had mentioned the significance of today's date when asking Simon for some vacation time. Simon was willing to bet Blair hadn't reminded Jim.

Jim tapped perfunctorily on the open office door, and Simon waved him inside without speaking, not surprised when Jim closed the door behind him. Jim plunked himself down onto a chair, exhibiting none of his usual grace of motion, and Simon stifled another sigh. Nothing about this was going to be easy, but then, it never had been. Not when it came to Ellison.

Jim stared at him for a moment, almost as if sentinel senses had suddenly extended into mindreading.

"Sandburg said he called you first," Jim eventually said, jaw tight, and Simon bit back a snort at the less than subtle resentment in that statement.

"Amazing, isn't it, that Sandburg would clear his vacation request with me, his boss," he commented dryly, amused when a faint flush crept over Ellison's cheeks.

"I- I didn't mean it like that, Simon. Sorry," Jim muttered, one long-fingered hand rubbing at his temples. "I just- He didn't say anything to me about wanting time off."

"It sounded like a spur of the moment decision, Jim." Simon leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers, remembering a time when it had been Jim who'd suddenly needed to get away; Jim who had taken off on him and Sandburg. He had to wonder if Jim even saw what was going on here and debated whether or not to issue his friend a reality check.

"Jim, maybe you need to give the kid a break. Did he happen to mention the significance of today's date?"

"The date? It's May- Oh. Shit."

"May oh shit just about sums it up."

Jim gave Simon a half-hearted glare before turning to stare out the window.

"I never asked him to do what he did, Simon."

"That doesn't mean you don't owe him, Jim, and if he needs to take a few personal days you shouldn't give him a hard time about it."

"Is that what you think? That I owe Sandburg?"

Now Jim was pissed, and Simon shook his head. They'd somehow managed to avoid talking about this for two years. Seeing how touchy Jim still was about the subject, Simon thought regretfully that two years had plainly not been long enough.

"Doesn't matter what I think. Sandburg obviously needs time to- what does he call it, process. How did he sound to you?"

Jim looked back at Simon, who winced internally at the pain that was visible in those blue eyes.

"Distant. He sounded... distant," Jim said lowly, and Simon suddenly realized that Jim had cashed that reality check about ten minutes ago.

Midnight found Blair slouching in a booth at the back of a cramped jazz club, listening to soft music being played live by a trio of grizzled old men who bobbed heads and tapped toes along with their small audience.

Unexpectedly at ease, he relaxed with his slowly warming beer, sighing with the rare pleasure of being under no obligation. He could sit here as long as he wanted and do absolutely nothing else, be absolutely nothing else.

Even his ever-constant heartache felt soothed, and he wondered why he had waited so long to get away from his life in Cascade. He should have seen months ago that this was what he needed; a tiny fragment of freedom. No oppressive responsibilities and hopeless yearnings, no missed opportunities and lost dreams. No being cop, partner, friend, wannabe shaman, guide, son or fraud.

Just a guy having a beer while listening to some tunes.

The music trailed away and the sax player mumbled something into the mike about taking a short break. Blair wondered idly if he wanted to stay for the next set, decided he did, and got himself a fresh beer from the bar. After all, he wasn't driving. He was still tired, but it was a normal 'I could use some sleep' tired and not the crushing depressive fatigue that had been weighting his days and fouling his nights.

In fact, he was relatively content just being here, and it had been so long since he'd felt even this close to happy he wasn't quite ready to let it go. He'd enjoyed his afternoon. Judicious thrift store shopping followed by an hour in a laundromat had gained him enough jeans, tees, and flannel shirts for a few days, and he'd secured a cheap motel room not far from where he was now. He'd even treated himself to a rare early evening nap. His plans tomorrow included visiting the Yashiro Japanese Garden and the Olympia Farmer's Market, two totally touristy things to do.

He was looking forward to it.

Blair stayed at the bar for the next set, and didn't think anything of it when someone sat beside him; a tall, lean, older man with kind blue eyes, silvered hair, and a surprisingly sensual mouth. Blair gave a quick grin hello that the other man promptly echoed, and they listened companionably until the trio's next break.

"'Music is essentially useless, as life is: but both lend utility to their conditions'," the man offered quietly, his eyes bright even in the dimly lit room. Blair recognized the quotation and found himself smiling. Education had to be good for something, he supposed, even if it was merely bar conversation.

"Santayana. How about this one? 'The man that hath no music in himself is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; let no such man be trusted'."

"Ah, Shakespeare," the man smiled back, holding out one hand. "My name is Jeremiah Smith."

"Blair Sandburg."

They shook hands with great ceremony, swapped a few more literary quotes, and followed that by listening comfortably to the jazz trio's last set.

Something about Jeremiah Smith pinged Blair's radar, something he couldn't quite define. It wasn't that he thought the older man was coming on to him, precisely, although there seemed to be an interest in him that wasn't entirely casual. Whatever it was, it didn't feel threatening... and Blair had become an unwilling expert in threat assessment, honed by years of detecting interest in him that wasn't in his own best interests, or Jim's, for that matter.

He shrugged aside his wary curiosity and let himself enjoy the company, aware of a faint regret as closing time approached, the music wound down, and the bartender began to chivvy everyone out. He and Jeremiah were the last patrons to head towards the exit, both loitering as they discussed Santayana's position in the debate on epistemological foundationalism. Their conversation was unexpectedly interrupted when a man leaped out of the rear storeroom, gun in hand.

Blair couldn't even manage to feel startled, let alone frightened. In fact, if he felt anything at all, it was amused resignation as he took in the guy's twitchy, shabbily dressed appearance. Doper, apparently. Just his luck. Of course, Blair himself was unarmed, and he didn't know whether to be relieved or sorry.

"Jeremiah, I probably should have warned you. I'm a magnet for this kind of shit," he whispered under his breath as he smoothly pushed Smith behind him. The gunman finally noticed them, then, and waved his weapon in Blair's direction.

"Down on the floor, or I'll blow you away!"

"Yadda yadda," Blair muttered, rolling his eyes as he sat on the floor, still carefully keeping his body between the gunman and Smith. The bartender, who looked as philosophical about being robbed as Blair felt, readily emptied the cash register, setting the bills on top of the bar and well within the gunman's reach.

Like always, it went to shit instantaneously. There was a sudden loud noise outside; something later determined to have been an automobile backfiring. The would-be robber, strung-out and jumpy, yelled an incoherent curse and started firing. The handgun roared as the bartender ducked safely to shelter behind the heavy wooden bar. Bullets flew, glass shattered, and Blair Sandburg laughed out loud as he felt himself get hit, welcoming the searing agony in his chest like an old familiar friend.

From an ever-increasing distance, he was aware that Jeremiah Smith was holding him, saying something, but all he knew was a boundless relief.

At last. At last, it was going to be fixed. No more borrowed time, no more living solely due to Jim's mistaken retrieval of his soul, no more hanging on for hopeless dreams and wishes. What had been put wrong was finally going to be set right, and he'd be free. At last.

He was still laughing as everything went dark.

Of course, Blair found himself standing in the jungle, blue-tinted and dim. He'd been there only once before, when Alex Barnes had drowned him, but he recognized it right away. This time instead of being the wolf, he was himself, but not himself as he was today. He looked as he had five years ago, hair long and loose, wearing the open-necked white shirt and blue vest he'd worn that very first day, when Jim Ellison had come to his office in Hargrove Hall and shoved him up against the wall.

The day he'd saved Jim's life and started teaching his sentinel. A lifetime ago, now. Literally.

He peered along a path through the lush vegetation, somehow not at all surprised to see the wolf waiting there, barring his passage, with Incacha beside it.

"I hope you don't intend to stop me," he said, and Incacha held his hands open.

"I intend to offer you a choice," Incacha replied. Blair shook his head wearily, accepting that he could understand the Chopec shaman in death, where there had been a language barrier between them in life.

"Been there done that, man, and I failed big time. I failed Jim, failed you, and worst of all, I failed myself."

"And I failed you. My duty as Enqueri's first teacher was to make his path clear to him. It would seem I did not teach him well enough."

Blair scrubbed his hands through his hair as he considered Incacha's words, the gesture reminding him that he sometimes missed his long hair in the material world.

"You aren't responsible for Jim's choices," he eventually said, meaning it, and wishing this conversation was over. How long was he going to have to stand around here and argue for his right to die?

As if reading his mind, the wolf glared at him, then morphed into human form. It looked like him, if he had waist-length hair and went around dressed, painted, and adorned like Incacha. An altogether formidable sight, particularly given the way Spirit-Blair continued to glare at him.

Blair heaved an exasperated sigh and glared back.

"What? I know! I'm not responsible for Jim's choices either. Do you think that helps? He doesn't want me! He doesn't need me! I don't- there's no reason to stay."

"There is a reason," Incacha demurred gently, drawing Blair's attention to the crumpled form of a man lying face down, his nude body well off the path. Blair couldn't tell much about him, other than he appeared fairly young, bore more than a few scars but no visible injuries, had dark, almost black hair worn short, and skin that was pearl-pale in the blue light.

"This is Pachakotiq, a warrior, who has recently come to his sentinel abilities. He is in need of guidance, requiring a teacher and shaman."

"And you're telling me because-" Blair made a 'come-along' motion with one hand, ignoring the mingled fear and excitement that sprang up inside him at the shaman's words.

"Pachakotiq needs you."

Blair shook his head. Nope, not again. He wasn't going there.

"Pachakotiq was one of the original Inca kings, the 9th one, if I remember correctly," he said, deliberately stalling.

"It is the literal translation of his name that applies," Incacha informed him steadily. Blair ran through his hard learned but chiefly unused Quechua, and frowned.

"The world to return, the universe transform?"

"Even so. I tell you, Hoayna Qapaq, there is a threat from beyond Tahoantisoyo, and Pachakotiq is key to the survival of us all."

"What can I do against a threat from beyond the Four Corners of the World? What about Enqueri? Even if I survive being shot, and even if I wanted to, I couldn't guide another sentinel. Jim would never accept it," Blair argued, focusing on the biggest flaw he saw in Incacha's suggestion and ignoring the name the Chopec shaman gave him. He was not a 'young person of power', no matter what Incacha said.

Blair did wonder why Incacha spoke with relative clarity, instead of cloaking his messages in riddles and obscure metaphors.

"Would he rather accept your death?" Spirit-Blair snarled irritably, sounding very much like his animal self. "Make a choice, Hoayna Qapaq. You have a duty. Are your hurt feelings about Jim Ellison more important than the fate of the world?"

"Why are you calling me-"

"You have power you do not know, young shaman. Listen to your spirit guide, and hear what we tell you. There is a danger. Pachakotiq is needed. You are also needed. Make a choice."

Blair looked at Incacha and smiled a tiny smile. Was there ever any choice, really? He was needed, Incacha said. He'd always needed to be needed. It was one of the things he missed most about his relationship with Jim, because Jim so clearly had no further need of him. If he was going to be given a chance to make a difference, do something important, how could he pass that up? Even if it meant he had to teach another sentinel, he couldn't possibly refuse, no matter how much the notion bothered him.

"A shaman is always a shaman, if he chooses to be?" He paraphrased wryly.

"A shaman is a shaman. So you have always been," Incacha answered, obviously seeing Blair's decision written on his face, and just as obviously relieved.

"What about Jim?" Blair had to ask, even as he turned towards spirit-Blair and held open his arms, waiting. Spirit-Blair morphed back into the wolf, which gathered itself to leap.

"I will speak with Enqueri. He will understand," Incacha swore solemnly, then the wolf was leaping into Blair's chest in a blinding flash of white light, and the jungle disappeared.

An alley. He was lying in an alley, there were sirens wailing in the near distance, and Jeremiah Smith was leaning over him, thin face pale and tired.

"What happened?" Blair asked, as opposed to 'where am I' because where he was seemed less important than why. He had an idea that something major had taken place, although the details were spotty. His chest was aching, he vaguely remembered seeing Incacha, and he had the feeling he had some job to do, but he wasn't sure what. He wasn't sure about anything, as a matter of fact. "Jeremiah?"

"You were shot, Blair."

Blair looked down at his bare chest, where a livid red scar was visible just over his heart, fading even as he stared at it. Major weirdness.

Oh, yeah. He remembered, now. Jazz club. Armed robbery in progress. Gunfire. Pain. Relief at the prospect of his own death.

Fade to black.

Funny, he was actually pretty happy to be alive. Surprise, surprise.

"Um, okay. So, why am I not dead? And what happened to my shirt?" He asked Jeremiah as the man helped him slowly sit upright. Jeremiah's hands were a strong sure warmth against his skin, and Blair couldn't restrain a low hum of pleasure when Jeremiah gave his upper arms a gentle squeeze. How long had it been since he'd been touched? Far too long, if a near stranger's hands felt this good.

"I'm afraid your shirt was ruined, Blair," Jeremiah said, pointing to a blood-soaked rag a few feet away. "As for your not being dead... well... I healed you."

"Why?" Blair asked curiously. Leaving himself in a plain white tee shirt, Jeremiah removed the dark sweater he was wearing and eased it over Blair's head, pulling it into place with a careful series of tugs and jerks. Blair tried not to stare at the rusty stains on his hands.

"It's what I do. It's what I am," Jeremiah amended, and Blair's radar pinged harder than ever. Fragments of his vision began to come back to him. A threat from beyond the world. There is a danger. Added to his second resurrection from certain death... A hard chill crawled up Blair's spine while his subconscious filtered clues, intuited possibilities, and seized on the kind of conclusion that used to make Jim tease him about living in the Sandburg Zone.

"You aren't human, are you." The words fell uncensored out of Blair's mouth, something he thought he'd trained himself out of over the last few years.

"No. Of course, these days many humans aren't entirely human, either," Jeremiah commented with a sweet smile, draping his own trench coat over Blair's shoulders.

Blair's chill passed as Jeremiah settled beside him. They took nearly identical positions, knees drawn up and supported by their loosely crossed arms. For a while they sat in silence, listening to the sirens winding down a few blocks away. The crime scene, Blair eventually realized, rather amused by his own distinct lack of shock. Although maybe he was in shock. That might explain a lot, actually.

As an officer of the law, of sorts, who happened to be a material witness, he should be upset about leaving the scene of a crime. Still, considering his near death, his experience on the spirit plane, and the presence of a self-confessed ET, the robbery seemed like the least of his problems. He wasn't too sure, however, that he was thinking clearly. He felt almost anesthetized, somehow distanced from his circumstances.

"The bartender?"

"He wasn't hurt," Jeremiah returned equably. "However, he won't be able to identify us. I must avoid official scrutiny."

"Hmm. That must be a convenient skill."

"Like many others, it's dangerous in the wrong hands."

Blair nodded.

"The perp?"

"Will have been found unconscious at the scene by now, after collapsing due to symptoms of withdrawal. He will awaken with no memory of what happened."

"Why are you here?" Blair asked next.

"Are you asking why aliens are walking among you, or why I am here personally?"

"I think I'll start with you personally, Jeremiah, if you don't mind."

"Not at all. I was looking for you."

Now Blair was surprised, and curious, and excited, and maybe even a little afraid; his emotions fully engaged in a way he couldn't recall feeling for too long... and recognizing that did shock him.

He'd been dead inside, and hadn't known.

"Go on."

"As a friend of mine once put it, there is a war raging in the heavens, a war of which very few people on earth are aware. Among those few, the majority could be described as collaborators, seeking a way to ensure their own survival following the planned colonization of this planet. There is rebellion among the colonists, as well as a small number of humans who fight a resistance effort. Some fight openly and some in secret, while pretending to be collaborators. Over the last few years, the rebellion has gained ground, largely due to the efforts of a handful of unacknowledged soldiers. One of these soldiers, a man I will call Sasha, was killed several days ago. Because of his importance to the resistance, my colleagues and I were asked to heal him."

"And you could do this even after his death?"

"There are things that have happened to my friend Sasha that made it possible, yes. He was once forced to be a host for a rather parasitic form of extraterrestrial life. The experience affected his body to the cellular level, which helped make his revival possible."

Jeremiah sighed. It was a peculiarly human sound, Blair thought, not unaware of the sorrow in the healer's eyes. He shoved aside the fifty or so questions he had concerning colonization- invasion -and people being possessed by aliens, and struggled to approach what he'd been told in a linear, if not logical, fashion.

"What does any of this have to do with me?" He was starting to have his suspicions- suspicions Jeremiah confirmed with his next words.

"We don't know why, or when it happened, but Sasha now has hyperactive senses," the healer explained gently, and left it at that.

Blair was silent for a long minute, reviewing the vision he'd had right after his shooting. He could now remember everything that Incacha and his spirit guide had told him. The names weren't important. Whether warrior or soldier, Pachakotiq or Sasha, he was apparently meant to be Blair's new sentinel.

Jim or no Jim.

"And you came to me because-" Blair started to say, but he was hit with such a strong sense of deja vu that he choked midway and ended up laughing out loud, truly amused.

Maybe it shouldn't be so simple to take Jeremiah at his word... but how much of a stretch was it to go from believing in sentinels, his own resurrection from death, and being advised by a dead Chopec Indian shaman to accepting alien healers and the potential invasion of earth? He was here, he was alive when he should be dead. How much more proof did he need?

"I don't think I understand your sense of humor, Blair, but that doesn't matter. We came to you because we were informed that you are the best person to understand what is wrong with Sasha."

"The first thing you need to understand is, it's not an abnormality or a defect. It's not something that's wrong with him. He probably had a genetic predisposition toward having hyperactive senses, and for whatever reason they've suddenly come online," Blair corrected automatically.

Jeremiah gave Blair a smile that could only be described as satisfied, then got to his feet, turning to help Blair up in one smooth surge of motion. Blair stood with equal ease, startled to find he felt fine, if a bit tired. No longer sore at all, not like he'd expected.

"You'll help Sasha?"

"I'll try," Blair agreed. He suspected he should probably be asking Jeremiah how the aliens had gotten his name, not to mention his current location, but he doubted it really mattered. Thanks to the press coverage two years ago, a simple web search would have supplied his name in connection with enhanced senses. And he had to assume that a bunch of motivated, technologically advanced aliens could find just about anyone they looked for.

"My work, my friends- are we leaving now?" Blair had to ask, all the while thinking 'be careful what you wish for'. Hadn't he just been imagining a life away from Cascade? He hated the thought of just running out on his commitment to the police department, not after what it had taken to get him hired there. He needed to give Simon some kind of notice, instead of simply disappearing. And how could he leave Jim without at least saying goodbye?

"I'm not here to kidnap you from your life. Sasha wouldn't thank me if I did, because he knows what it's like to lose everything. We assume it will take some time for Sasha to learn to control his senses. The choice of where that happens is yours. Wherever that is, you'll be protected, so you don't need to worry about your friends and family."

Family, huh. Blair shook his head as he realized he hadn't given a second thought to Naomi. Not surprising, perhaps, since they hadn't spoken once in the last two years. He didn't even know where she was. She never said in her infrequent e-mails. He assumed she was still off somewhere processing his decision to work for the police, along with her own culpability in making that happen.

"You can go home," Jeremiah supplied delicately when Blair said nothing.

"You're not suggesting I take Sasha to Cascade!" He burst out, startled. God, how could he even think of doing that? There was still a question of how Jim would react, although Incacha had as much as said he would handle Jim.

Boy, he'd like to be a spirit-fly on the wall for that conversation.

"Jeremiah, I work with the police. If I take Sasha to Cascade, they could investigate him." Blair knew how very likely that was, given the paranoia and suspicion his association with a new sentinel was apt to cause... and that was just Simon, Joel, H, and Rafe. Jim's senses had long since become an open secret among the inner circle of Major Crime, and his own role in that secret, while poorly understood, was tacitly accepted by his coworkers.

"Blair, even if they run Sasha's prints through the NCIC they will find nothing. The rebellion is very thorough. We've had to learn to be. If you wish to return to Cascade, do so. Otherwise, Sasha will arrange a safe house somewhere," Jeremiah replied, diverting Blair with his effortless use of law enforcement terminology. Very thorough, indeed, Blair thought, and nodded.

He started to walk, Jeremiah falling into step beside him. As they exited the alley, he wasn't surprised to find they were fairly near his motel. The street was quiet, with only an occasional passing car, and Blair was once again visited with that odd feeling of companionship. It gave him the courage to ask another vital question.

"And my partner, Jim? Is he going to be recruited into your war?"

"No, and it's our war, my friend, now that you know." Jeremiah put out one hand and stopped Blair, his expression very intent. "Your other sentinel is not a target in Cascade... unless, of course, mass colonization begins, in which case we are all targets."

Shaken by the enormity of what Jeremiah said, Blair grabbed him by one arm and swung him around, holding on tight.

"I don't- I thought- I was afraid-"

"And you are right to fear, but we have little use for a sentinel as tied to his territory as James Ellison appears to be. Sasha will not share that limitation."

"'Sentinel of earth'," Blair whispered, calming as he remembered Incacha's words.

"That's been our hope since we discovered Sasha's hyperactive senses and read your dissertation."

Blair blinked at that little revelation. He took a deep breath, then another, centering himself in a way that had become second nature over the last several years... only this time, he didn't have to suppress a ton of painful emotions with the effort. All he had to do was control his excitement enough to be able to think.

"What advantage do you think Sasha's hyperactive senses will give you?" It occurred to Blair to ask.

Jeremiah pursed his lips, and Blair marveled again at this seamless mimicry of human behavior. He had the impression Jeremiah was carefully monitoring what to say. Blair's radar pinged again in subtle warning.

"There are several types of extraterrestrials involved. Sasha will fill you in on the various races, but one form is capable of taking human appearance and altering it at will. The resistance calls them shapeshifters. The average human can't identify them by appearance. Their blood is the only thing that marks them as alien, but that blood is toxic to humans. Exposure can cause blindness, pain and death. Some of the shapeshifters are on the side of the rebellion." Jeremiah paused for a moment, then went on speaking, his tone reluctant. "The ones who are not, we refer to as supersoldiers. Sasha can usually identify this type of extraterrestrial, but it takes time. Among other things, I hope- we hope, that when he learns to control his enhanced senses he'll be able to instantly identify them. It could mean the difference between success and failure."

"You aren't used to explaining yourself like this, are you," Blair intuited, staring deeply into Jeremiah's luminous eyes and wondering if he'd be able to read truth in them. It hadn't escaped Blair's notice that Jeremiah hadn't specified which type of extraterrestrial he was, although given what he'd already said, Blair could make a good guess.

Those eyes were regarding him resignedly.

"It is unusual, but in your case, Blair, I can't afford not to explain myself. You can still turn your back and walk away from all this. If you choose to take Sasha as your student, I'll do whatever it takes to make it possible for you."

"Yeah, right. Let my boss know, would you," Blair said sarcastically, snickering at the thought of telling Simon he was leaving the Cascade PD in order to fight an alien invasion.

"We can do that," Jeremiah returned mildly, apparently undeterred by Blair's attitude. "Are you ready to meet Sasha?" Jeremiah asked next, to Blair's complete distraction from the alien's previous words.

"Tonight? Now?"

"Why not?"

Blair shrugged, and followed Jeremiah Smith into yet another alley, this one right behind his motel.

Why not, indeed?

Why wasn't he dead?

Or more precisely, why wasn't he still dead? He could still see his death in his memory. He could see it too clearly, in fact, because something extremely weird had happened when Skinner fired on him that last time. He'd actually known the bullet was coming at his head. He'd seen it with some kind of supernatural clarity, spinning, shining... and he'd estimated the trajectory in that split second of time and knew he was a dead man. Knew it was going to give him a bloody third eye, right in the center of his forehead.

And it had. He remembered feeling it, then feeling nothing... and now he felt cold.

Was hell cold, after all? Maybe his hell was. And he was blind, as well, and he hurt. His head ached horribly, feeling very much like it still had a big hole in it, or needed one.

But the cold was the worst, he decided dimly. He knew pain- pain was a well worn, accustomed companion, which didn't get much worse than having an arm hacked off while wide awake. Been there, done that, burned his short-sleeved tee shirts. He'd even been snowblinded once, so the flashes of white light and nothingness were neither new nor strange.

But this level of cold...

So cold that every nerve ending flared and stung individually; a tactile agony that stole his breath along with what remained of his sanity. A constantly working, analytical, untouchable part of his brain pointed out to him that the ambient air temperature wasn't really that cold. Not as cold as, say, a Siberian gulag, a North Dakota missile silo, or the Canadian wilderness in winter.

Certainly not as cold as a D.C. parking garage, or the expression on Fox Mulder's face as Walter Skinner executed him.

The memory of his death filled his mind, and the possibility that he might not be dead was all he could grasp for the longest time.

Some imponderable time later, he heard voices. Instinct moved him further into shadows that he could feel on his skin. It occurred to him that he couldn't distinguish words, just noise. All of it noise. Still, one voice struck him passing familiar, and he tilted his head blindly and strained to listen. In the next moment, he recognized the voice belonged to Jeremiah Smith.

He wanted to scream, but that was something he didn't do. Not since Tunguska.

Of course, the fucking rebel aliens had healed him. Damn, damn, damn, why couldn't they have just left him dead?

'Because they owed you, and they still need you alive', his survivor's brain reminded grimly, prompting him to concentrate on what Smith was saying. He could pick out fragments now, in English. Must mean they hadn't dumped him off in Russia somewhere, which was a relief. He didn't have a lot of friends left there.

Smith was addressing someone as a shaman. "Blair Sandburg". Smith knew a Jewish shaman? Wait. That name... he remembered having heard that name but not the context. What was it? Great, now Smith was telling this Sandburg character that he was the only one who could help "Sasha" and oh, yeah, that was him wasn't it? How the hell did Smith ever find out about that nickname? Didn't matter, 'Sasha' was as good a name as any. "Not much time", Smith was saying, and that was certainly true enough, none of them had much time... and the owner of the other voice was protesting, telling Smith to wait, then cursing when Smith obviously didn't.

He could sympathize. Underneath all that kindly paternalistic benevolence, Smith was a hell of a manipulator... almost as good as he was.

Odd, though, there was something soothing about Sandburg's voice. A loud exclamation took him by surprise, and he flinched back, covering his ears.

Soothing, hell, that fucking hurt!

Seconds later he could smell fear rising off Smith's latest patsy. He knew the scent of fear- knew it very well. There was a time when he'd savored that smell and worked hard to provoke it... but here and now, it was wrong and he didn't like it.

He didn't see how he was in any position to inspire fear. Maybe, though, he could use it in his favor.

Maybe he could get this joker to finish the job Skinner had started.

"Hurts. Kill me if you have to, but make it stop," he found himself asking in a tone just short of begging. He wouldn't beg. That was something else he didn't do.

There was a huge silence, and he wished his vision would clear. He would like to have seen the face of the man to whom he'd just offered his life.

He heard whispered words then, and an apology; not to him, but to someone named Jim... and memory teased at him once again, old Spender ranting about a press conference and something called sentinels.

It wouldn't come clear in his mind. That was two years ago, he could recall that much, but so many things had been happening during that time. Mulder had lost his fucking marbles and ended up in a locked psychiatric ward. He himself had had to lean on Skinner with the nanos, trying to keep that fence-sitter's compromised ass in line, all the while attempting to prevent the Smoker's efforts to cut pieces out of Mulder's brain, and then there was all the crap with Kritschgau and collecting the alien ship fragments.

If he hadn't whacked that slut Fowley and gotten that key to Scully so she could save Mulder's ass- so he could save Mulder's ass again, however indirectly, how differently might things have turned out? The shit had snowballed, setting the events into motion that had ended in his death.

Still, he did remember that this guy Sandburg had managed to piss off Smokey somehow.

Sasha, who in his previous life had become a little too well known in certain circles as the assassin Alex Krycek, smiled despite the cold fire that sang through his every nerve. Apparently, he was going to get to associate with a better class of people. This coming back from the dead thing might not be so bad, after all.

And it was at this point that Blair Sandburg touched him for the very first time, and Alex discovered that 'not so bad' might turn out to be pretty damned bizarre, instead.

"Resist or serve, fight or die," a voice said inside his head, and this time, when Alex opened his eyes, he could see... only he didn't quite believe his eyes. He was on his knees, in the middle of a jungle that he'd actually seen in glimpses once, while in the silo. He'd put those visions down to being dehydrated, feverish, and scared out of his mind; first, that he'd die there, and then, that he wouldn't die soon enough. To this day, he had no idea how he'd gotten out, but he suspected the rebels had been involved with that, too.

After the oilien had gone he'd been alone, but he wasn't alone now. Beside him, one hand on his shoulder, was a man he didn't know; a man with shoulder length curly brown hair, huge blue eyes, and the kind of lush mouth that made Alex hungry for a bite of it. Or from it. He wasn't picky.

He'd always had a weakness for men with full, fuckable mouths.

Tearing his gaze off the temptation beside him, he felt his own eyes go wide as he realized that they weren't the only two participants in this weird hallucination. A slender half-naked Indian man, whose red face paint did nothing to conceal rather sweet features, stood a few feet away, flanked by a wolf and what Alex recognized as a Siberian tiger.

A very large Siberian tiger.

"Oookay. Maybe I am dead. Fucking strange afterlife."

The man next to him actually snickered.

"Welcome to the jungle, Sasha. And you're not dead."

Alex recognized the voice. So, Mister Exquisite Lips was Blair Sandburg, he of the mellow, once again soothing voice.

Things were looking up.

"Dead would be easier to believe," he said, deliberately shading his tone with wry disbelief.

"There are times when I think dead would be easier, period, but you have to play the hand you're dealt," Sandburg informed him with a shrug that managed to convey an equivalent ironic humor.

"And which card are you, beautiful?"

Blair had to forcibly keep his jaw from dropping at the blatant flirtation in the new sentinel's husky voice... forgetting, for a breathless moment, all about wars, aliens, Jim, and spirit guides. Also forgotten was Incacha's waiting presence, until the shaman startled them both with his amused laugh.

"There are rewards in duty, are there not, Hoayna Qapaq?" Incacha asked slyly, and Blair felt himself blush, their being on the spiritual plane notwithstanding. Then the Chopec turned a serene gaze on the man at Blair's side.

"Welcome, Pachakotiq. I am Incacha, and this place is where our spirits come to speak."

Blair watched curiously to see how this was going to be accepted. He remembered too well how Jim had fought- still fought against the mystical side of the sentinel experience, how every foray into the unknown had begun under duress and ended up tasting like ashes.

Sasha, who was gracefully rising to his feet, didn't exactly inspire Blair's confidence that he would be any more open. Sasha carried himself like the warrior both Incacha and Jeremiah had called him, and while Blair knew that a person's representation on the spirit plane didn't translate identically to their actual physical appearance, he was willing to bet Sasha's wasn't far off. Here, Sasha wore a black leather jacket, black tee, and a pair of blue jeans that clung suggestively to long, well-muscled legs. He was tall, as tall as Jim, with surprisingly wide shoulders and what Blair had to admit was a world-class ass, high and round and tight. His face was set and cautious, eyes shuttered. The only thing hinting at a hidden wildness in Sasha was the way his shining dark hair brushed his collar and spilled over his forehead, practically calling out for a gentle hand to smooth it back.

And oh, shit, where did that thought come from?

Blair was taken by surprise when Sasha lowered his head in Incacha's direction in what was obviously intended as a gesture of respect.

"Resist or serve, fight or die. I've lived by the words."

"Wanuymi aswan allin qonqorchaki kausaytaqa," the Chopec said with an almost grim smile. The Quechua saying easily translated in Blair's mind, and he repeated it in a low voice.

"'It is better to die while standing than live on your knees'."

Alex nodded. The words neatly summarized his own feelings about the extraterrestrial threat, and he wasn't thrown by the way the message was presented. He assumed it was some kind of telepathic message, conformed into a manner his mind could comprehend. He might not be sure what the wolf and the tiger were supposed to represent, but he understood the need to be polite when dealing with nonhuman life.

The tiger chose that moment to chuff loudly, and Incacha's smile broadened to a full out, amused grin.

"We will meet again, Pachakotiq. Until that time, pay attention to what you are taught. Hoayna Qapaq, be well with your student."

Blair smiled back at the shaman, prepared for the swift transition that followed as he and Sasha passed from the spirit plane back into the material world. He found himself on his knees in the alley, holding Sasha's naked body, watching Sasha blink at him blearily.

Blair, who had initially cursed Jeremiah Smith for leaving Sasha naked and alone in a dark alley, had to revise his opinion of the alien healer's actions. Better here, in the dark that wouldn't damage sentinel eyes. Better naked, so Sasha had no clothes on until Blair was present to provide grounding and solace through tactile sensory spikes. Better alone, so there was no distraction from the initial imprinting process... and Blair, in his heart, knew this was the way it was supposed to be, had always been, between watchman and watcher, sentinel and guide.

The way it should have been with Jim, had they not been so bound by the conventions of the twentieth century, if Blair hadn't initially approached the whole thing from a purely academic point of view, and if Jim hadn't been so damaged by his past.

The latter concept presented itself fully formed, and Blair took a deep breath as a weight rolled off his shoulders, understanding for the first time that the problems in his and Jim's relationship hadn't solely been his doing. It wasn't due to some deficiency in him. It wasn't all his fault, and it wasn't Jim's either. It was just the way things were, the men they had been and the points in their lives when they had met.

Blair let that knowledge settle inside himself as he stroked Sasha's smooth skin and began to murmur softly, already teaching automatically, knowing he was where he was needed and almost giddy with sudden joy.

If he'd been on his feet, he would have bounced.

"I'm Blair, Sasha. Blair Sandburg. I'm here to help you. I know everything hurts right now. We can fix that. We will fix that."

"My eyes- I can't see. I don't know-"

"It's okay, I know. Concentrate on me, Sasha. The way I smell, the way I feel. Don't worry about your sight yet, let's fix hearing and touch first. I want you to listen to me. Listen to my voice. Let it sink into you, sink through you. Focus on it. Just take some deep breaths, relax, and let all the sounds flow into your ears. That's right. Deep breaths. Good. Keep your eyes closed, and try to identify all the different sounds you hear. Identify them and filter them out. Once you've identified them, ignore them. Hear my breathing? My heart beat? That's your baseline. That's all you need to listen to right now, that and my voice. Don't worry about anything else. I've got you, and I'm not going to let anybody hurt you."

Bozhe moy, he could hear a heartbeat, an astonished Alex realized. He could actually hear Blair Sandburg's heart beating. He internalized that constant rhythm as he'd been ordered, taken aback to find he could now disregard the other noises as he catalogued them one by one... the constant buzz of nearby electrical fields, the clangs, bangs, honks, sirens, occasional barking dog, rare shouts, and the raucous roar of engines, both at ground level and in the sky.

"How am I hearing all this?"

The bewildered question made Blair's gut clench as the present swirled into memories that still hurt. This time, he had the chance to break this news compassionately, with the kindness and respect he now knew he'd failed to show Jim under similar circumstances.

"Your senses have become enhanced, stronger than average. Do you know what happened to you?" He asked without ceasing his careful grounding touches, learning the silk of Sasha's hair and the fine curve of the skull it sheltered.

"I died," Sasha said harshly. "I'm assuming Smith told you that, and told you he brought me back."

"Yeah, he did... after he brought me back. Gunshot wound to the chest," Blair explained a bit ruefully.

"What? What's wrong with my eyes? I want to see you," Alex demanded, alarmed by this for no reason he could name. "Who shot you? Not Smith-"

"No, no. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a specialty of mine. And there's nothing wrong with your eyes. Your senses are spiking. Since your... uh... resurrection, your senses have become hypersensitive. That's why you're having problems with your sight and your hearing. Let me explain what's going on first, then we'll get your vision under control."

Alex grimaced, but he couldn't deny an instinctive need to trust this man who was speaking so gently, draining away the cold and the pain he felt with every gentle brush of those warm, warm hands. Each touch seemed to restore normal sensation, first his shoulders, then his head, his neck and upper back, his arm-

Wait. His arms. God!

Alex sucked in a shuddering gasp, abruptly aware that he felt Blair's touch on a left forearm that hadn't existed in over four and a half years. Was it possible? Had Jeremiah Smith and the rebel healers actually restored his arm?

He struggled for a moment, fighting to see, needing to see, and his companion calmed him, cupping his face in two strong hands. Alex reached up and gripped one wrist with his right hand, but couldn't seem to duplicate that action with his left, even though he could feel the weight of an arm that had been so long gone; feel the bend of an elbow and the rough pavement under a hand. He could feel it!

"What do you need, Sasha? Tell me what you need."

Alex was unable to resist answering, unable to shut out the sound of that voice, or that heartbeat that had come so near to being stilled. It already felt like part of him, which might have scared the piss out of him if he hadn't had something more urgent on his mind.

"I have to see. My arm? My left arm? Is it- is it really there?"

Not sure why it was so pivotal, but understanding very clearly that it was, Blair put Sasha's hands together, holding them both in his own secure grip. Sasha gasped again, and this time held his breath; like a little kid, Blair thought amusedly.

"It's really there, Sasha, I promise. Listen to me. Breathe out," Blair instructed evenly, waiting while Sasha exhaled an almost sobbing breath. "Deep breaths, now. In... out. Again, slowly. Now, since your senses have become enhanced, your eyes are perceiving a wider range of information than you're used to, which means your brain is working overtime to interpret that data and make it comprehensible. It's just like your hearing, you have to learn to filter the input. You can do this, Sasha, you're made to do this. It's part of your genetic code, a gift that's been handed down from your ancestors, and there's nothing alien about it," Blair added, wondering if Sasha thought this was something else the aliens had done to him.

As a matter of fact, Alex had been wondering that very thing, in between his panic at being unable to see and his joy at having his hand and arm back. He closed his eyes again and took a couple more of those deep breaths that Blair seemed so inordinately fond of having him take, catching the scent of the man holding his hands- his hands, as in both of them.

He ducked his head to hide a relieved grin, diverting himself with what he could smell. Sweat, tangy and sharp, but not in a bad way. He enjoyed the clean smell of an honest man's sweat- always had, actually. Beer. He could use one himself, maybe five or six of them... Musk, masculine and pure. Nice. A few other things he couldn't quite label. Pretzels? Peanuts? Something salty that said 'bar food'. An herby-flowery scent that was probably shampoo, he guessed. Beyond all that, he could smell what must be Jeremiah Smith's recent presence along with a lot of equally familiar cruddy big-city-alley stuff that he really didn't care to identify, so he dismissed it in favor of Blair's scent.

And caught another odor. Metallic. Unmistakable. Distinctive. It made Alex feel uneasy.

"I smell blood. Are you hurt?"

"It's dried from earlier. Stuck to me, I guess," Blair said with an audible grimace. "I'm sorry, Sasha. It must reek. I should have-"

"What choice did you have?" Alex interrupted impatiently, smelling and hearing guilt as easily as everything else. He didn't have time for guilt, he never had, and none of this was Blair Sandburg's fault. Alex knew very well where the blame should be assigned, and thought Blair should know, too. "I'm sure Smith didn't give you one. I wouldn't bet that he didn't have you shot just to make some kind of point. Tell me what I have to do to get my fucking eyesight to work."

Blair froze for a moment as he tried to determine how best to respond to Sasha's tone, and had something of an epiphany.

He didn't have to make nice. He didn't have to play beta dog. He didn't have to let Sasha steamroll him, like he'd done too many times with Jim. He'd been so afraid of being kicked out of his sentinel's life again that for two years he'd choked back his natural impulses and essentially submitted his will to whatever Jim wanted. What Jim said, went. Blair had hidden everything while hiding the love and physical attraction he felt for Jim. Looking back, Blair doubted he'd allowed Jim to see a genuine reaction from him since the diss blew up in their faces and he'd gone through the police academy.

Shit. Talk about co-dependency.

The wonder was that he and Jim were still friends at all, given the facade that he'd been wearing. Ironic, he supposed, since he'd always accused Jim of suppressing his feelings.

Now, here he was, this wasn't Jim, and he realized that he didn't have to hide anything from Sasha; not bad moods, not curiosity, not his frequently irreverent humor, his knowledge, nor his inclination towards sarcastic reactions and smart-ass remarks.

Too cool.

"Are you always such a fucking asshole, Sasha?"

Despite the poor light in the alley, he could see Sasha's lips twitch, then curl into an amused smirk. It was an expression that seemed right at home on Sasha's face.

"Sometimes I'm worse," Sasha admitted, and both men found themselves snickering.

"We should get along just fine, then," Blair said, a little stunned when that smirk became a full, beautiful smile.


He cleared his throat, grateful that Sasha hadn't been able to see him sitting there with his mouth open, and never thought about the new sentinel cataloging his reaction by the jump in his heartrate or the change in his scent... both of which Alex had subconsciously noted, logged, and filed away for future reference.

"Okay, Sasha" Blair began, voice a bit husky. "You need to find a mental image, something that represents turning something down, like a dimmer switch, or a volume control. Something you can visualize without a lot of work."

Alex was no stranger to the concept of visualization. It was a tool he'd used many times, particularly before a demanding assignment, such as parachuting one-armed into snow-packed surroundings to retrieve old Spender from the Canadian boondocks.

He thought about it for a minute, and could easily picture the screen on his palm pilot, complete to the bar graph that represented the activity of the nanocytes in Walter Skinner's bloodstream. He then shook his head, and decided to imagine something different. That was an operation that had become a burden on his conscience, and he didn't want to be reminded of it every time he had to use this visualization technique. He wondered briefly how Skinner was doing, and how naive the Assistant Director must be to think that the threat of the nanos ended with his death.

Using the nanocytes on Skinner had never been his choice.

Shrugging off that morbid recollection, Alex tilted his chin.

"It's the digital age, Blair. I can do it by the numbers."

"That'll work," Blair replied quietly, aware that Sasha had used his name for the first time. What surprised him was how good it sounded in that low, faintly breathy voice. It was like his plain old one-syllable name suddenly developed a little slope towards the end.

God, he had to get a grip. What was he thinking? He couldn't possibly be developing an attachment towards this man, not this soon, not when his heart still longed for Jim... and yet he couldn't deny a definite attraction when he looked at Sasha, just like he couldn't deny a real feeling of 'possibility'. Anticipation. Hope. Expectancy. All things that had been seriously missing in his life lately.

Blair smiled, and he would have been surprised to learn how easily Alex heard that smile in his voice.

"I'm going to assume your visual input is right up there at ten. I want you to place yourself in control of that input, and turn it down. Decrease the numbers, slowly. You have to be able to picture it in your mind, see it, feel it, believe it. Watch the numbers as they fall. Take it down, nine, eight, seven, turn down the input, you're in control. I'm thinking that around four you should be able to see me pretty clearly," Blair instructed and waited, watching while Sasha's gaze reflected an expression of disciplined resolve; watching when those eyes focused and clung to his face.

"Oh, yeah," Alex whispered, not at all surprised to find Blair's features familiar from that weird vision. He'd been right. That mouth was totally fuckable. "You are beautiful. So who are the Indian guy, the wolf, and the tiger supposed to be? And what happened to your hair?"

Blair Sandburg burst out laughing, and Alex Krycek realized he could become extremely fond of witnessing that bright humor.

Extremely fond.


Electing to put off any further revelations until they were in a more secure location, Blair eventually managed to get Sasha to his feet. He was more than ready to get them out of the damned alley. Sasha's balance was off, and Blair wasn't sure if it was residual left over from the sensory spikes or if it had something to do with Sasha's left arm; something Sasha frequently stared at with an expression that Blair could only describe as wonder. After covering Sasha with Jeremiah Smith's trench coat, Blair steered them around corners until they finally ended up in his motel room. Blair had seldom been so glad to see a door shut behind him, immensely relieved that he hadn't managed to lose his key card or his wallet in all the confusion.

He warned Sasha about the room light before he switched it on, but Sasha seemed to adapt effortlessly. Blair hated himself for making the inevitable comparisons, but he couldn't help noticing what a difference it apparently made to have a sentinel willing and able to embrace his senses, versus one who didn't want them and had fought against having them. Thinking that way made him feel disloyal, so he tried to push aside all thoughts of Jim.

"It's not the Ritz," he said to Sasha apologetically, regretting now that he'd left the bed unmade following his brief nap earlier in the evening. Sasha merely rolled his eyes... eyes that in the light proved to be not brown, as Blair had originally assumed, but a remarkable deep green.

Blair was just relieved they weren't blue, and didn't care to examine that reaction too closely.

Alex, for his part, was simply pleased to be indoors. Outdoor nudity had its place, which wasn't in the middle of whatever city they were in- oh, Olympia, Washington, according to the placard on the back of the motel room door. Nice of the rebels to drop him so far from DC. Olympia probably wasn't the best place to be walking around in just a trench coat, though. He might have gone unnoticed in New York City, even if it made him feel like some kind of perv... of course, that might not be too far from the truth, but he didn't like to advertise it, he thought with a silent laugh.

Grateful for a soft surface, he shed Smith's coat and pitched it onto the floor then sat, comfortably naked, on the side of the bed, from where he wryly inspected his host.

"It has a roof, a bed, and, I assume, hot and cold running water. In some parts of the world, those are luxuries. It'll do for now," Alex assured, allowing his gaze to linger on the rather drawn face of the man before him. "Go take a shower, Blair. I have a thousand questions that you need to be awake to answer."

Blair shot him an irritable glare and Alex couldn't prevent a smirk.

"Don't expect to get your own way all the time, Sasha," Blair warned evenly, amused despite the aggravation he felt at being ordered about. Sasha merely waved him towards the bathroom. Rolling his own eyes, Blair grabbed a clean pair of boxers and gave in. He did need a shower, badly.

It wasn't until Blair was standing under the steamy spray, watching rust-colored water wash into the drain, that he started to shake. Knees suddenly weak, body trembling, he leaned face-first into the tile and tried not to sob as reaction hit him hard. He'd almost died- or died again, he wasn't really sure- and for the first time in over five years of close calls and NDE's, Jim wasn't with him. He was alone, and he'd hoped so much to never be alone again. Worse yet, while Incacha hadn't precisely put it that way, Jim was no longer his sentinel... and as tense as things frequently were between them, and even knowing that Jim had never considered himself Blair's anyway, Blair couldn't help but mourn. It had been his dream to be with Jim for the rest of his natural life, but the bond was broken now. The subliminal connection that Jim had denied was suddenly gone; severed, Blair supposed, at the moment he'd agreed on the spirit plane to teach Sasha.

He wondered if Jim would even notice a difference.

He'd wrapped one arm around himself and crammed his other hand against his mouth to stifle his cries when Sasha climbed into the shower with him. Sasha pulled his hand away from his mouth and pulled him into a strong embrace, holding him close. Completely undone by shock, grief, and the huge crash that comes at the end of an adrenaline rush, Blair leaned his head on Sasha's warm chest and wept.

"Shh, Blair. Let it out," Alex found himself murmuring, glad he had enough control over his new left arm that he could shelter Blair's shivering form. Thanks to his newly enhanced hearing, he could make out the near silent words interspersed with Blair's sobs. Alex rather doubted Blair was even aware he was speaking.

"Jim, Jim. Gonna miss you, man, so sorry. All alone now."

Alex offered his own reassurances, distressed by Blair's unhappiness. He tried to figure out why it made him feel so bad, and consequently, never noticed his English lapse until after the words escaped.

"Ti ne odna, ya zdes. Vsyo harasho."

You're not alone. I'm here. Everything's all right. Blair heard the words and understood them. Like he'd once told Micki Kamerev, he knew a little bit about the Slavic languages, and thanks to time spent with her, his Russian had improved, even though he was by no means fluent. He understood far more than he could speak. Maybe Sasha's efforts to console him should have made him feel childish and immature, if not resentful, but what Blair felt instead was... comforted.

He caught his breath and calmed, allowing Sasha to support him for a few more minutes, then lifted his chin and essayed a smile. Five years ago, he might have enthused over the fact that he'd been heard from the other room by a sentinel so new to his abilities, but he was older now, and too weary to do anything but express his appreciation.

"Thank you, Sasha."

Alex looked down into those drenched blue eyes, spotted that gallant little grin, and had to smile back, even while he was wondering what the hell was happening to him.

From the moment he'd become aware of Blair Sandburg's presence, something had altered his entire worldview. He'd often been called cold and unfeeling, the rat bastard who looked after number one at any cost. He didn't care, much, because he'd always known the fight against colonization was more important than anything- anyone else, and he firmly believed that the ends justified the means. The only exception to this policy had been Fox Mulder. Alex had seen qualities in Mulder that he'd lost in himself- that pure belief in truth and justice, for one.

Alex knew there was no truth, only whatever slant you were currently allowed to perceive. And justice? Justice was a blind joke. In spite of that, or because of it, he'd somehow fooled around and developed... affection... for Fox Mulder, which by extension spread to keeping the people around Mulder alive, like Walter Skinner and Dana Scully. Alex was more than happy to label his emotions for Mulder as lust and hero worship. Nothing serious, not for Aleksandr Krajik, or so he'd promised himself.

In the end, nothing had mattered. Alex had fucked Mulder- and Skinner too, actually- and fucked them over, and vice versa. More than once. Not even the knowledge that Skinner shot him in cold blood rattled him. It was, after all, what he'd wanted at the time, being more than ready to quit the game for good.

Now here he was, newly revived by Smith and company, with some bizarre sensory condition that apparently only Blair Sandburg could explain. He had a left arm again, he'd had a telepathic vision of some sort, and strangest of all, he was feeling things he hadn't felt since his teens. Things like compassion and empathy and a wish to protect the man he was with... and the simple need to be near that man.

The need to be where Blair Sandburg was.

God, what was wrong with him? He couldn't even manage to work up much genuine worry about the situation, not when he looked into those beautiful, sad eyes.

He was so fucked. And since that particular state of being was far from unusual for him, Alex elected to simply roll with the flow. He picked up the soap, a relatively unscented brand, he noticed, and proceeded to bathe his showermate... deliberately keeping his touch nonsexual, but determined, nevertheless, to learn every inch of this man.

"What are you doing?" Blair squeaked, then blushed, which earned him another one of those fabulous smiles.

"I'm washing you before the hot water runs out," Sasha explained like it should have been self-evident, which on reflection, Blair figured it was. He stood motionless and allowed the new sentinel to explore, helpless to keep from giggling when Sasha discovered his ticklish areas; holding his breath when skin that was even more sensitive was delicately handled. Sasha's actions were plainly not intended to arouse, but Blair could definitely feel himself heading that way, so he wrestled the soap from the taller man and returned the favor.

It was while he was lathering Sasha's upper back that he noticed the difference in Sasha's arms. The right was tanned and muscular, with the occasional old scar, particularly around the wrist. Blair cringed inside, recognizing the evidence of restraints. Sasha's left arm, however, while perfectly formed and flawless, was pale and less defined in muscle mass from the biceps down. He washed it carefully, waiting until Sasha turned to look at him before asking.

"Sasha, what happened to your left arm?"

Alex, whose incipient arousal immediately flagged, moved under the spray to rinse then stepped out of the shower, handing Blair a towel when he followed suit. Drying himself briskly at first, Alex quickly determined his skin was too sensitive for the motel towel, and he cautiously patted the water off before responding. The rough terry cloth still felt like sandpaper.

"It was cut off in '96," he said brusquely, then regretted it when Blair's face surrendered what little color it had gained.

"You mean-"

"Smith apparently replaced it." Alex watched openly while Blair dried himself then slipped into his clean boxers. Seemed a shame to cover that lovely ass, not to mention the enticing length that dangled so temptingly in front, he thought. "Do you want to know how I lost it?"

"Only if you want to tell me," Blair said, and meant it. He wondered if that intent scrutiny was meant to distract him from asking about something that was obviously painful. The evening had been traumatic enough without adding sex to it, however.

"It's not a pretty story," Alex warned, wondering why he was half tempted to relate it anyway. He wrapped his towel around his waist and stalked out into the other room, realizing with aggravation that he had nothing at all to wear except for Smith's damned trench coat.

The headache he'd had earlier throbbed back to life with a vengeance, and Alex pinched the bridge of his nose in an effort to drive it away, startled when Blair put a hand at the nape of his neck and rubbed. The pain eased dramatically in response to Blair's touch. Ordinarily, he'd be suspicious about that, but there were too many other things to analyze. He was aware of missing that hand the moment it was removed, but Blair had only moved aside to take a pair of sweatpants out of a battered duffel, handing them to him silently.

"Thanks," he managed, pulling them on, a bit surprised to find the sweatpants fit, and even more surprised by the emblem over his left hip. "Cascade PD?"

"I work for them," Blair informed him, and Alex flopped back onto the bed with a muttered "Ne pizdi! Ebat kopat! You're a cop?"

"I'm a consultant to the department, actually. What's the matter, don't I look like a cop?" Blair asked sarcastically, insulted that Sasha was so floored by the idea.

"Oh, hell, that's not it," Sasha said, startling Blair when he added, "It's just that I- Look, you don't know- Let's just say I generally try to avoid the police."

Sasha shifted around on the bed until he was leaning against the headboard, and taking that as an invitation, Blair climbed in next to him, shoving his cold feet under the blanket that was bunched up at the foot of the bed. Sasha gazed at him intently, and Blair had the notion that those fledgling sentinel senses were fully engaged.

"I don't understand how you can be near me like this- trust me like you do. You don't know me. I could-"

"Yeah, yeah, snap my neck with your bare hands, kill me sixteen ways with just a paperclip, et cetera, et cetera," Blair said with well-played boredom, then ruined the effect when he started to giggle. Sasha gaped at him, which made him laugh harder, then Sasha began to laugh, too. They ended up leaning shoulder to shoulder against one another as their mutual amusement gradually passed, although Sasha set them up for another round of breathless chuckles when he said, "You should have told me you were a masochist."

"I'm not, you know," Blair announced once they'd fallen quiet. "It's true, I don't know what you've done in your past, but I do know who you are now. You're a sentinel, Sasha. A man with five enhanced senses, a tribal guardian, a watchman, a protector. That's who you are." And you're also the man who heard me crying in the shower and came in to comfort me, Blair could have added, but didn't, not wanting to embarrass Sasha or himself.

"I don't have a tribe, Blair." Alex regarded the notion wistfully, rather drawn to the sheer romanticism in it. He was Russian by blood, after all, with an inherent love of high drama, self-sacrifice, and superstition.

"According to Incacha, the whole world is your tribe. I know that's what Jeremiah hopes for."

"Incacha. The Indian from the telepathic message. You see this guy often?"

Blair felt his eyebrows go up.

"When he's needed. He was a shaman of the Chopec tribe of Peru. He's dead now. I guess you could say he's a spiritual advisor. I would have called it a vision, and not a telepathic message," he added.

"What's the difference?" Sasha asked with a shrug and scooted down in the bed until he was horizontal, something Blair observed with a faint grin. It seemed they were going to sleep together with no discussion first. Blair didn't know whether to be offended or relieved. Given his current level of fatigue, he chose the latter. There was still a lot to talk about, but to paraphrase Scarlet O'Hara, tomorrow was another day.

Blair slid down next to Sasha, who matter-of-factly draped one long arm over his waist once he'd adjusted the blanket to cover their legs.

"What's your role in this sentinel thing?" Sasha asked, his breath a warm puff of air on Blair's ear. It made Blair shiver.

"Every sentinel needs a partner, someone to help him learn control of his senses and watch his back, make sure he doesn't zone out- that is, become so focused on the input coming in to one sense that he gets lost in it. That's what I do. I'm a teacher. Some say a guide."

Blair's explanation was smooth, but Alex could hear an echo of pain in that quiet voice. With compassion that few who knew him would have believed him capable of showing, he let Blair's explanation pass without comment and stifled an ostentatious yawn.

"Priyatnyh snov," Blair whispered. Alex was surprised, then amused. His teacher was a man of many talents, apparently, and he was looking forward to learning them all... but not tonight.

"Sweet dreams to you too, solnyshko moy," Alex whispered back, certain he wasn't going to have a problem with his usual dark nightmares... not with this source of light beside him.

And an astonished Blair, who recognized the sentiment behind being called 'my sun', didn't think his dreams were going to be a problem, either, and gratefully closed his eyes.

Jim sat down at his desk and started checking files, trying to work out what he'd need to do for the day. He wished he could have stayed home, or better yet, gone to Olympia with Blair, because he was too tired to burn through a lot of shoe leather today. He'd slept poorly, which was something he'd actually grown accustomed to doing since Blair had moved out of the loft, and he wished for the thousandth time that he had talked Blair out of getting his own place.

He wished he had at least tried, but it had been easier to let Blair leave than to confess that Jim wanted so badly for him to stay. Jim still wasn't ready to take that trip, nor was he about to admit how much he needed Blair near, not even to himself.

With the knowledge that Blair wasn't merely ten minutes away but several hours, instead, Jim's rest last night had been even worse than usual. He'd awakened with a sense of what his partner would have termed 'free-floating anxiety', his mind occasionally ambushed by snatches of dreams that he couldn't clearly recall except for a lingering feeling of dread.

No surprise, then, that he jumped when his phone rang.


"Jim, you'd better come in here," Simon said in his ear, and he hung up the phone without answering in favor of going straight into Simon's office, his heart in his throat.

Simon held up a videotape with one latex-gloved hand and pointed Jim towards the padded envelope in which it had apparently arrived. The envelope was marked 'confidential' and addressed to them both. Jim gave Simon a worried frown as Simon switched on the TV and loaded the tape into the VCR.

"It came in the interoffice mail. There's a note with it," Simon explained, waiting while Jim put on his own gloves and fished out the piece of folded paper.

Jim read the note out loud.

"'Captain Banks and Detective Ellison. Blair Sandburg's services as shaman and sentinel guide are desperately needed. Please be assured that Mister Sandburg is being neither coerced nor extorted into assisting.'"

The note was unsigned.

"There aren't any prints on the note," Jim said, setting it aside. He gave the TV a terse nod. Simon took him at his word and pushed the 'on' button with his own grim stare.

The recording began in an alley that was presumably in Olympia, but could have been anywhere in any city in America. Jim watched intently as the view zoomed in on the nude figure of a shivering man, huddled in on himself in the shadows between a brick wall and a dumpster. The lighting was odd but the scene was clear, and the sound quality of the tape was equally good. Jim could hear every breath that moved in and out of the man's throat.

Jim and Simon watched apprehensively, and what happened next sent concern surging through them both. The view panned out to reveal two men coming down the alley, at such an angle that they would be unable to see the first man. Jim sucked in a shocked gasp as he realized one of the two men was Blair Sandburg. The unknown man with him was tall and lean, with gray hair and a gentle face. He held Blair's elbow in a firm grip, stopping their progress. Blair's expression was worried, but unafraid, as he met the other man's eyes.

"Are you ready, shaman?" The man asked warmly, and as Jim and Simon watched, Blair sighed heavily, scrubbing his free hand over his short curls.

"If you think I'm a shaman, you've got the wrong guy, Jeremiah."

"I don't believe that," the man replied, ignoring Blair's words in favor of briefly touching Blair's face. "Blair Sandburg, you are the only one who can help Sasha. There's not much time."

"But where- how long-" Blair started to say, and ended up talking to the other man's back. "Jeremiah, wait!" he said, but the man simply vanished. Jim and Simon exchanged a startled glance, then turned their attention back to the TV.

"Damn it to hell," Blair muttered before proceeding cautiously around the dumpster. "Oh, God!" He exclaimed loudly as he caught sight of the man in the shadows, who covered his ears and cowered back from the sound.

It was a reaction that both Jim and Simon recognized all too well, and Jim bit back a curse at the familiar symptoms of a sensory spike. Even on the screen, Blair's face paled visibly.

"Oh, no. Damn you, Jeremiah. Why leave him this way? I don't know if I can go through with this," Blair whispered brokenly, hugging himself and inching backwards. The man against the wall responded to Blair's voice and pulled his hands down slightly, his head lifting a bit. There was no clear view of his features, however, not even to sentinel sight, and Jim felt his teeth grinding in frustration.

"Hurts. Kill me if you have to, but make it stop," gravelly words ground out of the darkness. Jim's eyes locked on Blair, where every thought was apparent on that expressive face. Jim could literally see Blair's mind working, sifting over the alternatives, knowing that simply calling 911 would end with the man in the alley being hospitalized, sedated, then committed to some institution.

Just like Alex Barnes was. Just like Jim himself might have been, if not for meeting a certain neo-hippie witchdoctor punk over five years ago.

And Jim knew, as well as he knew his own name, that Blair Sandburg could never let that happen.

"The kid looks like he's about to pass out," Simon said softly, his own gaze fixed on the screen. "I'm not misreading this, am I, Jim? That's another sentinel, isn't it."

"You're not misreading it, Simon," Jim managed. He held his breath while he watched Blair, who clenched his hands in his hair, looked up at the sky and whispered "I really am so sorry, Jim" in the kind of tone that notified a murder victim's family of the crime. Jim felt his guts dip and roll as Blair moved to kneel beside the other sentinel, and the picture went black just as Blair reached out to touch one bare shoulder.

"Shit," Simon whispered, setting his glasses on his desk and rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "Maybe he wasn't coerced but he was damn sure set up."

But Jim didn't answer, too busy flashing on the dream he'd had in the night- a warning he'd repressed so thoroughly that upon waking he'd forgotten it altogether, until he'd seen Blair's hand move towards the other man... visions, his surroundings lush and blue as he effortlessly raced along a narrow path after his animal spirit. There was an odd sense of inevitability as he arrived at the familiar stone temple, where Incacha waited with formidable patience. Jim's spirit guide left his feline form behind and once again became a man, a reflection of Jim standing beside Incacha. Jim had the brief impression of their united front before Incacha spoke.

"Enqueri. What do you fear?"

Until Incacha asked, Jim hadn't even been aware that he was afraid, but he felt it now, a subliminal hum of unease that rumbled along his spine. He took a moment to focus on it, looking for the source, finding it in the absence of sound. No jungle noises, no birds, no breeze, and no bugs. No base rhythms of life at all, and the loudest silence was the absence of Blair's heartbeat.

"I fear... being alone," he admitted reluctantly, and his spirit guide gave him a sorrowful, disappointed look.

"Was it not your choice to deny your shaman?" Incacha asked, his tone stern and as unforgiving as Jim had ever heard it.

"What? I didn't deny Blair! We see each other every day-"

Incacha merely lifted one hand, and Jim fell silent before the bleak acceptance in those dark eyes.

"You were warned, Enqueri, that to journey forward would require your soul. The time is at hand."

"I don't understand," Jim protested, and Incacha pointed his attention off to the side.

Jim gasped as he saw Blair's wolf, head down and cautiously sniffing at what looked like the biggest tiger Jim had ever seen, despite its being curled in on itself and shaking violently. The wolf whined, nudged the tiger, then stared back at Jim with such sadness in its familiar blue eyes that Jim felt his throat tighten. The wolf then exchanged a speaking glance with Jim's own spirit guide, before turning back toward the tiger, eventually licking at its massive head.

The tiger slowly staggered to its feet, wide green eyes fixed solely on the wolf. Its sheer size alarmed Jim as it dwarfed the smaller animal, although the tiger made no overtly threatening moves. Moments later it crept off into the underbrush, and the wolf lingered long enough to give a mournful howl before it followed, vanishing into the jungle on the tiger's heels.

Jim's eyes closed on his own spirit guide's answering yowl, and when he looked again, the jaguar was pacing anxiously at Incacha's feet. The Chopec shaman looked at Jim seriously.

"Your responsibility as sentinel to the Great City remains, but your shaman has other responsibilities now, and can no longer wait for you to decide yourself ready for this journey. The stars turn, and what might have been a duty shared now belongs to one. It may yet be that you will find your way back to one another. I cannot say. What is clear to me is this, Enqueri. The son of my heart must now guide the sentinel of earth, and you must not interfere, or all is lost."

"'The sentinel of earth'? Incacha-"

But Incacha was gone, and the jaguar roared with furious anguish as it leaped into Jim's chest, knocking him back...

A deep sense of loss cut at Jim's heart. During his lifetime, he'd learned to repress so many painful things, and this had been no different. He'd successfully buried the memory of his dream/vision in the basement of his mind, closed the door, and then gone back to sleep, so that once he was conscious he could pretend nothing had happened.

Now that he added his recollection of that vision with the startling contents of the videotape and the note, he had to recognize the truth. A new sentinel needed Blair, and if Jim had embraced his and Blair's spiritual bond, they might have taught this new sentinel together. If he'd accepted that Blair really had inherited Incacha's legacy- if he'd acknowledged Blair's need for him and taken that trip through the mysterious, instead of punishing Blair for dying.

If he'd opened up instead of closing off. If he'd believed. God, he was so fucking ashamed of himself, and that was the least of what he was feeling.

"Jim! Damn it, don't you do this zoning thing! JIM!"

He realized he'd slid to his knees on the floor only when he looked up into Simon's anxious brown eyes. He allowed Simon to help him into a chair, then waved him off, taking what felt like the first deep breath he'd had in forever.

"I- I'm not zoning. I'm okay, Simon."

"Really?" Simon asked as he moved to lean against his desk, his tone so patently disbelieving it was close to pure sarcasm. "I don't think I am. Let's go."

"Go where?" For a moment, Jim was totally at sea, forgetting that Simon hadn't heard Incacha's words as well.

"To Olympia, of course! We'll go down there and get Sandburg-"

"No. No, we won't."

"What do you mean, 'we won't'! We have to! We have to get him away from-"

"NO!" Jim shouted, surging up from his chair to slam his palms down on Simon's desk. "You don't understand, Simon! This is- this is one of those Sentinel things you keep saying you don't want to know."

Simon grabbed the front of his shirt in one large fist, jerked him upright, and gave him a hard shake. Before Jim could even consider reacting, however, Simon's next words shocked him into immobility.

"And you don't understand, Ellison, if you think I'm going to stand back and watch that boy die again, damn it!"

Jim visibly flinched. Simon muttered a curse under his breath before releasing Jim back into his chair. Jim drew in a shaky breath, and then another, suddenly right there in his mind, seeing Blair lying dead beside that damned fountain... seeing the wolf running towards him and their meeting in that brilliant flash of white light, merging soul-deep.

He had denied Blair afterwards, out of fright, guilt, anger, inertia, whatever. He could see it all too clearly, now, how he'd shut Sandburg down and protected himself at all costs.

"I fucked it up," he found himself whispering to Simon, who regarded him with suspiciously bright eyes. "Something happened that day at the fountain, you know that. Blair and I... after he came back I didn't follow through like I was supposed to. There was all that shit with Alex in Sierra Verde, then when we got back I kept distance between us... I let him believe I didn't need him as my teacher, my shaman. I told him when the diss blew up in our faces that I could do it myself, and I've been telling him that every day for the last two years, whether I said it out loud or not."

Simon picked up the note and tapped it against his thigh.

"And now out of left field, someone's offered him a sentinel who does need him, and you're sitting here telling me you're willing to let this happen? Let him go? I can't believe that, Jim. I'll never believe that."

"We let ourselves forget he's the only living expert in the world on sentinels, Simon, and it wouldn't be difficult for somebody to look past that damned press conference and see that for themselves. And the truth is, it's- it's not up to me. I've been told not to interfere."

Setting the note down, Simon rubbed at his eyes. Jim wondered if he was going to ask 'told by whom?' and hoped he wouldn't. 'A dead Peruvian shaman' probably wasn't the kind of answer that would reassure Simon of Jim's sanity.

Not that he was too sure of it, right now. But he did know that he couldn't disobey Incacha, or fight the directives he received in his jaguar dreams. The last time he'd ignored a warning, Blair had ended up dead. He wasn't going to let that happen again, even if his every instinct screamed in protest.

"Look, Simon, call Blair. He would never run out on you or the department, no matter what happens between him and me. In fact-"

Jim pulled out his own cell phone and hit the speed dial. Maybe he couldn't fix what had led up to this, but he could damn well make sure things didn't get any more fucked up than they already were.

Blair answered on the third ring.


"Blair. It's Jim. Are you all right?"

There was a momentary silence, through which Jim heard Blair's heart rate jump into the triple digits, then Blair gave a funny little snort.

"I'm fine, but there's something you need to know."

"I already know about the other sentinel. I had a vision."

Jim's abrupt pronouncement was followed by an even longer silence before Blair cleared his throat and spoke, his voice strained.

"Guess it's a good thing I've already moved out of the loft, huh."

"I'll never see that as a good thing, and I'm sorry I ever let you believe that I did. I'm your friend, Chief. I'm here if you need me. That's all I wanted to say," Jim said roughly.

"I- uh, thanks, Jim. I'm okay, really. Queen to queen's level three, man," Blair added, his tone unexpectedly gentle, and despite the circumstances, Jim had to smile. That phrase was a joke between them, stemming from a lazy Sunday spent watching classic Trek. Blair had insisted that he and Jim needed a similar code to reassure each other that neither was being coerced. "Here you go again with the secret passwords," Jim had replied, and they'd both laughed, remembering Derek Wilson and the incident with the cold medicine on the train.

"When are you coming back? Simon's worried."

"Oh, Simon's worried. I'll probably be back Friday, so Sasha can have a couple of days to get used to Cascade before I go back to work on Monday," Blair replied matter-of-factly, and probably no one but a sentinel would have heard the apprehension in his voice.

"You- you're going to let me meet him, right?" Jim asked quietly, ignoring Simon's obvious surprise at his question. He was too relieved to hear that Blair did plan to come back to Cascade. "You don't think there's going to be a problem like-"

"Like with Alex?" Blair took a calming breath that Jim could easily hear. "No, I don't, for a number of reasons," such as the fact that Blair seriously doubted straight Jim would feel the overwhelming physical pull towards Sasha that he'd felt for Alex Barnes. Then, too, Sasha was meant to be a force for good, like Jim himself, and even had Incacha's seal of approval, so to speak.

None of that really addressed Jim's issues, though, and Blair nerved himself for an honest answer.

"If you start having a problem, let me know. Sasha and I will leave Cascade. At some point, we're going to have to go to Sierra Verde anyway, but he's got things to learn before then. As for you meeting, that's up to you and him. I'm not getting in the middle this time."

There was a thread of old grief in Blair's tone, but before Jim could say anything, he heard another voice in the background, husky and low, asking gently if Blair was all right. He wanted to damn the man to the pits of hell for being with his shaman, while at the same time, he was grateful to learn that Blair's new sentinel was capable of hearing Blair's pain and responding to it.

It was more than he had done for Blair, Jim realized grimly. He couldn't recall handling Blair with anything approaching compassion until after the Lash incident, well after they'd met. Sure, he'd given Blair a place to stay after the warehouse explosion, but he'd behaved as if that whole thing was something Blair brought down on his own head. Jim saw now that he actually hadn't given Blair much credit for feeling deep emotions, assuming for a long time that the younger man was superficial, shallow and a flake. Then again, Blair hadn't done much to contradict that initial impression... and that certainly wasn't the impression Blair gave these days.

And was that Blair's fault, or his?

"Call me if you need any help. Otherwise I'll see you Friday," he said shortly, cutting off Blair's murmured over-the-shoulder reassurances to the other man as well as his own train of thought.

"Yeah, Jim, thanks." Blair sounded surprised, and it made Jim's chest ache. "Tell Simon not to worry, okay?"

"I will, Sandburg. Bye."

Jim cut the call and looked up at his friend, and Simon Banks wondered how light blue eyes could possibly look so dull.

"He says to tell you not to worry."

"Yeah. Right. That's happening," Simon remarked automatically, and decided, not for the first time, that he'd spent entirely too much time around Blair Sandburg.

He just hoped he'd get to spend more.

Blair put down his phone and stared at the floor, a bit startled when a warm, long-fingered hand came to rest on his arm. He turned towards Sasha and wanted to smile at the concern in those arresting malachite eyes.

Funny, how the sentinels he'd met all embodied so much physical beauty. Sasha was exceptionally easy to look at, so graceful and sleek with his sable dark hair and perfect bow lips he made Blair's mouth go dry.

Sleeping next to Sasha's warm body had been a pure luxury for Blair, even when their sleep had been interrupted; once when Sasha's skin became oversensitive and another time when his hearing had gotten a little out of control. Blair had easily helped Sasha resolve the problem, and they'd quickly gone back to sleep. When he'd awakened in Sasha's close embrace, Blair had felt both protected and cherished, something he still hadn't fully processed.

When morning came, he and Sasha had drowsed together for a while, neither in any apparent hurry to start the day. Blair eventually dressed and went out for hotcakes and sausage from a nearby McDonald's. It wasn't gourmet fare, but hunger ruled. For whatever reason, Sasha didn't seem to have a problem controlling his sense of taste, something Sasha casually attributed to past episodes of near starvation. They discussed going to Cascade; Sasha assuring Blair he didn't care where they went as long as it wasn't Washington DC, to which Blair had responded with an exaggerated shudder and a "not likely, man."

Blair explained a bit about his duties at the Cascade police department, and sketchily described his coworkers, including Jim, but didn't specifically name Jim as the sentinel with whom he'd previously worked. He also filled Sasha in on the basic facts surrounding his failed academic career, knowing that Sasha would hear it from somebody once they were in Cascade. He'd minimized the motives behind his press conference, but he suspected Sasha understood, all the same.

He didn't mention Naomi.

Alex told Blair about being the American born child of Russian immigrant parents. Parents who were leading their own twisted double lives as high level Consortium scientists; on the surface working with the collaborators, but in reality deep cover agents of the Russian resistance, which had been, and in many respects, still was further advanced than its American counterpart.

He spoke of things he had never mentioned to anybody- the things he'd once hoped to tell Fox Mulder before it all went to hell. How he'd been raised to be secretly loyal to the resistance, indoctrinated in the importance of the ultimate goals... which included breaking the stranglehold the Consortium held on negotiations with the aliens as much as deterring the invasion itself. He told Blair how he'd been recruited into working with the collaborators during college, then eventually sent on to Quantico to infiltrate the FBI. Blair had looked shocked.

Alex didn't mention the brother he'd lost to the Syndicate's child-hostage program. There were details of the Consortium's methods he hoped Blair would never have to know.

Blair had kept his numerous questions to himself, out of respect for the pain in those stormy green eyes, and had steered the conversation on to other subjects. By the time they were finished eating, they'd begun idly discussing what to do with their day.

That no-pressure, indolent, 'vacation' feeling had persisted until Blair's cell phone had rung ten minutes ago.

Now it felt like he'd been thrown headfirst back into the real world. He still couldn't wrap his mind around what Jim had said. 'I'm your friend, Chief. I'm here if you need me'. The words were a little hard to believe, given past actions.

He wanted to believe, though.

"You sure you're all right?" Alex asked, having clearly heard the tension in Blair's voice. Blair hadn't been too forthcoming about how Alex would affect his life in Cascade, but Alex knew he was worried about it. Alex was, after all, a master at divining intel from rather sparse sources. He also knew the man with whom Blair had been speaking was Blair's former sentinel, Jim, he of the shower tears. Alex was rather mystified by his own determination to ensure that Blair Sandburg would have no further reason to weep. "Can I help?"

Blair smiled, shaking his head. How sick was he that he was already addicted to that midnight voice? It hadn't even been twenty-four hours yet since he'd helped Sasha out of that alley. Aside from dealing with Sasha's obvious discomfort during sensory spikes, Blair hadn't felt this much pure enjoyment in years. Even those episodes had been unexpectedly fulfilling. While grounding the unpracticed sentinel to his newly enhanced senses, Blair had rediscovered something his own spirit had lost. His soul fed on touching and soothing Sasha.

Then, too, Sasha was such a relief to Blair. There was no careful preservation of the balance of power, no necessary maintenance of Jim's need for control, no constant walking on eggshells trying to avoid making Jim angry, no sublimating his own desires and reactions. He could just be Blair Sandburg, and it was so freeing. Sasha listened without judgement and accepted what he said, as well as accepting Blair himself. Sasha also seemed interested in Blair physically, and where was the harm?

It wasn't like Blair was uninterested... and as much as Blair needed to be needed, he wanted to be wanted, too. At one time, he'd theorized that there was supposed to be a physical component to the bond between sentinel and guide; a theory he'd believed was shot down in flames by Jim's obvious lack of any physical attraction to him.

Maybe he hadn't been wrong. Maybe he'd just been with the wrong sentinel.

"You've already helped. Would you believe I'm having fun?" Blair dared to tease, rewarded with a smile that lightened those beautiful eyes to jade.

"You are a masochist," Sasha teased him back, and Blair laughed quietly, delightedly.

"That's just a nasty rumor."

"Will you let me do something for you, then? Something for both of us, really," Sasha asked, his tone somewhat tentative. Blair nodded, curiosity caught.

"What did you have in mind?"

Alex waved a hand around at their surroundings, typical motel drab, all too visible in the strong light of day. The room was clean but the furnishings were quite worn. The double bed was rather saggy in the middle, as Alex's back had learned to its sorrow, and the sole window looked out onto a parking lot and a busy street.

And aside from all that, it was indefensible, with only the one exit.

"I'd like to upgrade our surroundings. Call me selfish, but I'd be more comfortable somewhere else. I've spent far too much time in rooms just like this one, and I can afford better."

"Sasha, not to contradict you, but I found you naked in an alley. Where'd you hide the wallet, man?" Blair asked, and Alex snickered.

"Wouldn't you like to know? Phone, please?"

Blair handed over his cell phone and watched, amused and amazed while Sasha placed half a dozen calls, punching buttons and reciting strings of numbers from memory. His husky voice was terse and businesslike as arrangements were made for money to be transferred from a Swiss account to the Bank of Washington in the name of Sasha Christopher.

"So that's your last name?" Blair wondered once between calls, and saw an unrepentant grin cross Sasha's face.

"It is now. Or rather, it will be when the appropriate ID is delivered."

A few hours later, Blair was still wondering why the unapologetic illegality in Sasha's answer didn't bother him when the cab his mysterious companion summoned let them out at the Lighthouse Inn, one of the nicer resort hotels in Olympia, right on Puget Sound. They were cheerfully greeted and shown to the upper floor of the small inn, where they were installed in a huge suite, complete with immaculate hardwood floors, fireplace and jacuzzi. Blair trailed Sasha as they looked around the beautifully appointed rooms, trying not to gawk, wishing he'd worn his court suit instead of his second-hand flannel and jeans.

Inside one bedroom were a suitcase and an assortment of new clothes for Alex, who shooed Blair out into the sitting area so he could change. He was cynically aware that the staff here had already labeled him as some kind of rich eccentric, since he'd shown up dressed in Blair's tee and sweatpants with Smith's trench coat over that. To top that off, he'd been barefoot, with virtually no luggage between the two of them aside from Blair's backpack, laptop case, and garment bag. Then add a pretty- and pretty young-looking -young man in tow, since any one who saw Blair would assume he was in his early twenties.

Alex knew exactly how that looked, but he didn't care what the staff believed as long as he got what he wanted from them. He did hope they wouldn't offend Blair. He would not be pleased if they did.

The suite itself was satisfactory- there were windows all around, plus an exterior deck, which meant several potential escape routes, and although they were only three short stories up, they were no longer on the ground floor, which meant Alex already felt safer.

Particularly given the addition of the 9mm semi-automatic he now wore secured in an ankle holster, a stash of enough cash to take him and Blair wherever they wanted to go, and two sets of ID's for each of them, including credit cards... which wouldn't prevent Alex from having extras made, in names known only to himself and Blair, as soon as possible.

What Samuel Johnson said was true, Alex mused. 'Bring money, and nothing is denied'. It had been exceedingly simple to arrange lodging, weaponry, clothing, and soon-to-be-delivered transportation, all paid in electronic transactions. The resistance allowed him untraceable access to Syndicate coffers, much of which had been known only to men who were now dead. Blood money, perhaps, but Alex rather thought he'd earned every penny.

Blair waited for Sasha to emerge, wondering if barefoot men in trench coats checked in here every day. One might think so, no more notice than they'd seemed to take of Sasha... who finally emerged clad in a form-fitting pair of jeans, a white cashmere sweater, and of all things, a pair of sheepskin lined leather moccasins that looked suspiciously like house slippers.

Alex shrugged at Blair's look of surprise.

"They're comfortable."

"I'm sure they are," Blair replied a bit weakly, trying not to worry about what Sasha was spending, because those weren't bargain basement clothes the other man was wearing. Not to mention the fact that upper deck suites at the Lighthouse Inn went for $350 a night. He just happened to know, from having researched his own place to stay.

Alex noticed the way Blair was trying to avoid staring at either him or their surroundings. He reached out and caught one of Blair's hands in both of his, holding on firmly, at some level still ecstatic to have two hands of his own again.

"I've been well paid for my work. A lot of it involved sneaking around in the shadows and dealing with the scum of the earth. I've been given a second chance... well, actually, it's probably my sixth or seventh... and I'm tired of living with the rats. Is this going to bother you?"

"I'm afraid I'll like it too much, Sasha. I could get spoiled," Blair tried to make it sound funny, but he wasn't entirely joking. It was an effort Alex saw through immediately.

"You can take a little spoiling. We deserve it, for what we've already been through, and for what's still to come. Just how much did Smith explain to you?" Alex asked, still not clear on how detailed Blair's knowledge was, despite their earlier conversation.

"That we're at war, but almost nobody knows it. That you've been fighting with the resistance against colonization. That there's more than one kind of alien involved. That you'd been possessed once by a parasitic alien. That you died, but they brought you back because they need you," Blair said, and Alex marveled at the lack of disbelief in his words.

"You don't have a problem with any of that?" Alex asked wryly.

"Incacha, the Indian you saw in the vision, confirmed there was a threat from beyond this world. Both he and Jeremiah said you were a warrior, a soldier. Incacha also told me you were needed. Jeremiah thinks your enhanced senses could be the difference between success and failure."

Well okay then, Alex thought, and bit back a semi-hysterical giggle. He'd never expected to meet someone who was more open to extreme possibilities than Fox Mulder, yet here he was.

Here they were.

"Smith called you a shaman," he remembered suddenly.

"You heard that?" Blair asked, and Sasha tapped one ear. "I- I don't like to use that term. Traditionally, that's a position I would have trained for from a very early age, but I kind of ended up with it by default."

"I don't believe that," Alex frowned, sensing something about Blair Sandburg that defied reasonable explanation; something that suggested an intense inner strength. Alex Krycek knew power, and while he couldn't quite pin down the source, he perceived it quietly radiating from the man at his side. An iron will with a receptive, compassionate heart. Contradictory qualities, perhaps, but almost tangible in Alex's opinion.

Whatever it was, it sang to him, soothing his own bruised spirit.

"If being a sentinel is genetic, is it genetic for the shaman who guides the sentinel?" He wondered curiously.

"I used to think that." Blair's voice was strained and low.

"What happened to change your mind?"

"My- my sentinel denied our bond, and stopped needing me."

Intolerable, Alex decided, moving deep inside Blair's personal space. Not only that Blair should claim any other sentinel besides him, but primarily because Blair should never sound so... shattered. He lifted both hands to Blair's face, tipping Blair's head back gently, and forced Blair to meet his eyes.

"You say I'm a sentinel. That means I am your sentinel now, and I have only begun to discover how much I need you, solnyshko moy." My sun. My light. My center. "Mine."

Sasha stood near enough for Blair to catch his scent, unique and musky and warm. Blair couldn't restrain a delicate shiver, reacting almost helplessly to Sasha's proximity. This was what had been missing with Jim, what he'd longed for, what was needed to complete the circuit between sentinel and shaman. Nothing in Blair could deny any of it, even while part of his heart still wailed for Jim. He'd had to learn to accept long ago, however, that Jim, who apparently couldn't see himself as anything but strictly heterosexual, was never going to take their relationship beyond a platonic level.

Sasha, it seemed, had no such restrictions. Blair could feel the heavy weight of Sasha's erection pressing into his lower belly, just above his own rising need.

And there was another part of Blair's heart, a lonely, hungry part, which was glad, so glad.

"You- yours? You think I'm- You want me?" He stuttered, then blushed, cursing himself. That wasn't what he'd intended to say; he must sound like an insecure dweeb. "Don't answer that."

"I will answer that. Of course, I want you. I think you're fucking gorgeous," Alex replied honestly, surveying Blair's upturned face. Moving his hands slowly, carefully, Alex traced the mobile brows with his thumbs, caressed the sharp arch of Blair's cheekbones and palmed that wonderfully masculine jawline, enjoying the prickling shadow of Blair's beard. "You have the bluest eyes I've ever seen," he added, and promptly fell into them, zoning hard.

"Ah, Sash," Blair murmured, laughing under his breath. "Your first zone, and it's on my eyes. What a compliment... and the funny thing is, I think I could zone on your eyes." He reached up and covered Sasha's eyes with his hands, exhaling gently over Sasha's nose and mouth. "Come on back, sentinel. Show me the life in those beautiful eyes. You need to be here with me. I need you here. Your shaman needs you," he added in a whisper, almost willing to claim that title now.

Blair felt as much as saw Sasha's awareness return, attuned to the tiny tremor that ran through the other man's body. He was a little taken aback that it had been so easy, and was even more surprised when Sasha leaned into his hands and scented him, then smiled.

"That was that thing you were talking about, a zone-out, right?" Alex asked, loosely clasping his fingers around Blair's wrists. He drew Blair's hands off his eyes, but left them cupping his face. "Tell me, how should I have avoided that?"

"You- you have to split your focus, so all your attention isn't on one sense," Blair said rather hoarsely, aware of the silky hair under his fingertips and the warmth of that fine-grained skin.

"Oh, is that all?" Moving with painstaking care, as if he were worried about frightening Blair, Sasha slid his hands up Blair's arms, then down Blair's back until his palms rested just over the swell of Blair's hips, fingertips tracing the line of Blair's spine. "I can do that."

The promise was husked out over Blair's face, carried on Sasha's sweet breath, and Blair gasped involuntarily as arousal feathered along his nerves.

"You weren't scared by the zone? Angry at not having control?" Blair inquired with some difficulty, trying to force his brain to take note of Sasha's responses, as opposed to his own.

"Blair, 'not having control' is when you're trapped into being a host for an alien. This-" Alex waved one hand in a dismissing gesture, then placed it firmly on Blair's ass. "I'd rather have you. If you want me."

"Oh, God."

"I hope that's a yes."

"God, yes," Blair managed breathlessly, and Alex heard all the invitation he needed.

At last, a taste of that exquisite, fuckable mouth... hot, moist, and flavored from their breakfast, as well as an extravagant sweetness that Alex identified as pure Blair. He palmed one firm ass cheek and buried his other hand in Blair's hair, trying desperately not to zone on those wonderful lips as they parted to willingly receive his hungry tongue.

Exploring greedily, expecting at any moment to be banished from this remarkable Eden, Alex groaned helplessly when Blair's arms went around his neck and clutched him closer. Blair's answering moan flowed along skin and nerve and sank bone deep, making Alex curse his too-snug jeans for trapping his aching cock, then Blair's tongue was in his mouth and Alex was fighting not to whimper as he was licked, sucked, and savored. The sensations went straight to his groin, and for the first time since his adolescence, Alex was in real danger of coming fully clothed.

Just from kissing. Unfuckingbelievable.

Blair was drowning again, and it was nothing like the first time. Then he'd been so scared and cold, so cold, frozen by Alex Barnes' emotionless blue eyes and quite certain that whatever happened to him at her hands was something he deserved.

This, though... he couldn't imagine what he could have ever done that was good enough to merit the way Sasha was making him feel. It was like being slowly submerged in pleasure, relentless as the tides. He was vaguely aware that Sasha's hand had tightened on his ass, pulling him hard against Sasha's lower body, and he wondered why he wasn't afraid. She had kissed him, with her mocking remorse bitter as quinine, just before she struck him with her gun and shoved him into the fountain, one fist tangled in his hair to hold his head underwater. Now another hand cradled the back of his head... another kiss, this one like melting honey. Another sentinel, and his cock filled as it never had for her ... thickening, straining for matching contact.

Blair moaned into Sasha's mouth and fought to get closer, vaguely aware that Sasha was moving them- moving him. They landed on the pristine ecru sofa with him straddled across Sasha's lap, their mouths managing to cling together throughout.

The kiss itself changed with their positions, mutating from sensual and getting-to-know-you into wet, nasty and fuck-me-raw. Too much, and at the same time not enough, until Blair was arching into Sasha's body, rubbing their erections together. Despite layers of cloth, the sensation was mindbending. Blair couldn't begin to hold back a keening whimper that Sasha swallowed whole.

Hadn't he been drowning? Now he was burning up. Burning, then he felt himself pushed back, Sasha's hands firm on his shoulders, Sasha staring at him with eyes that were wide and startled, almost frightened.


"That's not- I don't- Christ, Blair, you don't even know who I am!" Alex burst out, his heart seizing in his chest as he looked at the beautiful man in his lap. Blair's expression was open and unguarded, eyes revealing a goodness so intrinsic that Alex felt like the worst kind of defiler. Those eyes shone with innocent faith, honest and pure, as if Blair had no fear of what Alex might do, no fear of what Alex was... and no one had looked at Alex that way since his brother was sold into Consortium slavery. So long ago, he had no frame of reference for dealing with it now, because there was nothing brotherly about what he felt for Blair Sandburg.

"I already told you. I do know who you are, but if you want to tell me who you were, go ahead. It's not going to make any difference."

So gentle, that voice, that Alex's own strangled in his throat. He opened his mouth and couldn't speak, swallowed, then tried again. The words husked out painfully raw.

"I've lived lies for the last ten years. I can't- I won't do that any more. Not to you, and not to me. I've killed, deceived, whored and stolen-"

Blair put his fingers over Sasha's mouth, anxious to stop this anguished recital of sins. He understood far too well how it felt to believe one's self totally unworthy of anything good, even if his own list of regrets were nowhere near the same magnitude as Sasha's. As recently as two years ago he might have been horrified by the things to which Sasha was confessing, but Blair wasn't that naive idealist any more. He knew the costs of duty and the necessity for expedient solutions.

"What you did- did you do it for yourself? For your own gain? For your own pleasure?"

"No!" Alex protested, and it was mostly true.

"Then you don't owe me explanations, Sasha."

"Let me tell you this much, at least. Sasha isn't my name. It's a nickname. My name- my real name is Aleksandr Krajik." It was a name Alex hadn't used outside his own head in more years than he could recall, and it felt good in his mouth, something that the bastardized version- Alex Krycek -never had.

Of course, Sasha gave it the Russian pronunciation, and it took Blair a moment to recognize what he'd been told.

Aleksandr. Alexander. Alex. Was this karmic balance, or what? Sometimes his life was just too weird to believe, and he startled them both with a sudden burst of semi-hysterical laughter.

"Your- your name is Aleksandr? Alex?"

"Alex Krycek is the name I used as a spy, assassin, and FBI agent," Alex confirmed in a near whisper, wondering what in the hell Blair found so funny even while a little voice in the back of his mind screamed at him for revealing so much. He ignored it, having already acknowledged to himself that he trusted Blair Sandburg... an emotion that somehow managed to underscore all the noise and confusion of recent events and within his own heart. "I'll understand if you have a problem with that. With me. That's why I wanted you to know before- before this goes too far," he added in a rough whisper.

Blair looked at the man under his hands, a world of emotion betrayed in those clear green eyes. This complex, caring, sensual, beautiful man was so open to Blair in ways that Alex Barnes had never been, honest in ways that not even Jim had completely managed.

Blair wasn't deluding himself about what he'd been told. This man had done terrible things, but they were things he wasn't trying to hide. He also offered truths, accepting Blair as an intellectual, spiritual, and emotional equal... which was something Blair now realized that he'd desperately missed. There couldn't be a bigger difference between Alex Krycek and Alex Barnes, names notwithstanding.

And how could he possibly deny what he and Sasha both wanted?

"I've told lies too, Sasha. I've done things I'm not proud of. I've deceived the people closest to me, caused people to get hurt. I want something I don't have to lie about. Something with you."

Blair waited just long enough to see the surprise flare in Sasha's eyes before he leaned in for another kiss; making it as hot and needy as he felt. By the time he lifted his head, Sasha was blinking at him dazedly, and Blair gave himself a mental pat on the back.

"Aleksandr, take me to bed. Ti mne nuzhen."

"Da, solnyshko moy. I need you, too."

The full light of the afternoon sun shone through the windows as they stood beside the bed and undressed each other; slowly, reverently, almost ritualistically... fingertips lingering to trace each bared inch, gently sharing where and how much. It came so much more easily than either had anticipated. It felt natural to be tender, considerate, and giving. For Blair, who'd limited himself to women for the last five years (and very little of that for the last three), and for Alex, who'd specialized in rough fuck and run assignations that offered little but superficial physical relief, touching- being touched -was a precious gift to be savored and enjoyed.

Fully aroused and aching, Alex dropped to his knees and pressed his face into Blair's belly, smiling as Blair's ready erection poked him insistently. He nuzzled the unexpectedly soft hairs that arrowed an eye-catching line from Blair's navel to his groin, delighting in the sensations that rippled through his own skin. Blair's hands went to Alex's head, but only to stroke through his hair, a gesture that felt to Alex like a benediction. So different from the ways he'd been treated by previous partners. He breathed in deeply, imprinting the sweet musky smell of pure Blair, committing to memory the scents of arousal and need.

He'd seen the tactical advantages to having enhanced senses since Blair had found him in that alley and explained what was going on, but he was only now beginning to see they had an equal potential for pleasure, as well.

Curious, he tasted, humming his approval as he swiped his tongue over the plump head of Blair's cock. Blair moaned long and low as Alex savored the intimate flavor of the fluid beading up from the slit, a sound that slid into Alex's ears and traveled straight to his balls.

"Beautiful," Blair whispered, his hands cradling Alex's jaw and tilting his face up. "The way your spirit shines in your eyes, how could I not want you?"

Moved by the words, Alex ran his hands along Blair's strong legs and let himself catalogue all the information his senses were feeding him, pure instinct telling him when to switch focus from touch to sight to sound to smell... until the urge to taste again grew overwhelming, and he captured Blair's cock in his mouth, swallowing it deep.

"Oh, fuck," Blair groaned as moist heat closed around his sensitive flesh, fighting with himself not to thrust, not to take, not to come already. It had been so damned long there was no way he was going to last-

And Blair found himself letting out an embarrassing little whimper as that wonderful pressure vanished, leaving his erection to bob free in the cool air. Forcing his eyes open, he looked at Sasha, who was smiling up at him, pretty mouth wet and swollen and such a gorgeous contrast to those impossibly green eyes.

"Can we?" Sasha asked to Blair's momentary confusion, that smile becoming oddly tender. "Will you fuck me?"

Blair dropped to his knees, mirroring Sasha's position. He was surprised that Sasha would ask him to top. He certainly wasn't averse to the idea, but he just wanted to make sure it was what Sasha really wanted, and not offered as some kind of favor.

Unbidden, his mind flashed on an angry Jim. "I let you stay at my place. I get you a job at the department." No, he didn't want any damned favors, sexual or otherwise. The idea made his heart hurt.

Alex looked into that doubtful, faintly wary gaze, heard the pounding heart beat, and knew he'd stepped on a nerve, although he wasn't sure how. He had no idea how experienced Blair was with gay sex- he only knew how much experience he had, and most of that was meaningless, sordid, and rough enough to skirt the limits of consensual.

He wanted badly to put a better memory there, and he knew without question that Blair Sandburg was the man to give him one.

Alex licked his lips and laid a gentle kiss on Blair's warm mouth, then spoke the truth from his heart.

"I was trained to use sex like any other weapon, and I've given my body cheaply. I've never been touched the way you touch me, like I matter, like I'm special-"

"You are special, and not because of your senses, Sasha. I-"

"I know, solnyshko moy. You make my soul believe it every time you speak to me. I want you inside me so my body can feel it, too."

"God." Blair closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath. "Yes," he said simply, leaning in for a kiss that nearly stole Alex's mind.

"Soon?" Alex said as their lips parted, aware he was almost whining. Blair gave him a full, beautiful smile and stood, tugging Alex to his feet.

"Now," Blair said, pushing Alex backwards onto the bed. "We need stuff-"

"We don't need condoms. Smith healed us both, which means we're perfectly healthy."

"But we still need lube."

"We don't. I don't."

"I will not hurt you, Aleksandr," and that voice flatly forbade any further debate. Alex was wracking his brain for something to use when Blair settled between his legs, a wicked grin flirting around those lush lips.


"Ne volnuysya, ya vsyo sdelayu," he said in his charming, less than perfect Russian, his hands smoothing over Alex's hips. And Alex, weak with the feeling of Blair's hot hands on his skin, was perfectly willing to stop worrying and let Blair do everything.

"Dover'sya mne," Blair added quietly, meeting his eyes.

"I do, you know," Alex confessed, shivering as those hands moved up his chest and lingered on his nipples. "I do trust you, Blair," he repeated, wondering if Blair could have any idea that he'd never said those words to a living soul.

Blair, who'd experienced five years of Ellison-sized trust issues, understood more than his lover could have imagined.

"That's good, because I will not hurt you, Aleksandr," he said again, his tone this time making the words a vow. "There's so much I want to do," he added, just before following his hands with his mouth.

Blair couldn't imagine that Sasha's satiny skin would taste any better if he had the enhanced senses. He lingered and wandered, licked and sucked and soothed, learning the salt pure taste of Sasha's sweat as it freshened; marveling at the sweet little noises Sasha made as he explored. Having a lover who so obviously and vocally appreciated his efforts was like a miracle to Blair, blowing his fear that Sasha was just doing him a favor out of the water.

If anything, Sasha made Blair feel like he was doing Sasha a favor. And speaking of blowing...

He paused long enough to take a hot, wet, nasty kiss from those pretty bowed lips, then scooted down Sasha's body, measuring the impressive length of Sasha's drooling cock with his tongue. Intent as he was on this happy task, he still spared time for a grin when Sasha babbled something that sounded vaguely Russian, but it was a bit too garbled for Blair to understand. It didn't matter. Sasha's tone told him everything he wanted to know.

He spread Sasha's legs apart even further, idly thinking how good it was to make love to a man again. He'd missed it, missed feeling hard planes of resilient muscle, missed the way big, strong hands felt on his own skin, missed the smell and the taste of aroused male.

Restricting himself to women had been one more thing he'd initially done for Jim's sake. First, he hadn't been sure how Jim would react to learning Blair was bisexual. By the time he realized Jim wasn't a homophobe, he hadn't wanted Jim to be leery about Blair's motives for being with him. Then, too, Jim had endured enough shit from family and co-workers about Blair without Blair's actual indulgence in a gay relationship to add fuel to the fire. As time had gone by, Blair hadn't wanted any man but Jim... and after Alex Barnes had killed him, he hadn't been too interested in sex, period. Shit, the closest he'd come to a physical relationship of any kind was pretending to be Megan Connor's lover during the Bentley/Shannon case.

He'd started to think his libido was gone for good. How cool was it that he'd been wrong? Of course, he'd have to be dead- still -not to respond to Sasha, whose ass was a work of art, in Blair's opinion.

He slid his hands under that perfect ass and kneaded it, adoring the flex of muscles under smooth, taut skin, which had the added benefit of driving Sasha's cock down his throat; something accompanied by more inspired Russian curses. Blair was grateful for the distraction, rather desperately wishing he could dial back his own sense of touch.

Pulling off of Sasha's cock, Blair shoved a pillow under Sasha's butt, then maneuvered himself into the position he wanted, groaning when his own cock rubbed against the bed. He nuzzled and lapped at the delicate skin covering Sasha's tightly drawn scrotum, well aware of how close Sasha was to orgasm. Tracing Sasha's raphe, that fine seam that divided left from right, Blair let it lead him along the perineum to where Sasha smelled of soap and of his most essential self... and as he licked across the fluttering furl at Sasha's core, he heard Sasha come apart.

Alex screamed, knew he was screaming, and just did not care; quite a departure for a man accustomed to taking his satisfaction in near silence. He was helpless against a surge of pleasure so intense he vaguely feared for his sanity. Sounds felt warm and tasted green as life and smelled like a symphonic crescendo... and the only thing that anchored him to this earth was the beautiful white light of Blair's hands, smoothing over his belly then working between his legs. Aware, in a distant, dreamy sort of way, that Blair was stretching him, using his own come as lube, Alex floated on top of a sea of pure sensory bliss. Another time it might have troubled him, to be so out of it, but he was entirely conscious of Blair- Blair's touch sending sweet little streamers of warmth all over his body. He could almost feel Blair inside his head, in fact, tasting his issue, praising his flavor, his hot center, his very existence... Blair's words like honey on Alex's tongue, feeding his soul.

Then Blair was pushing inside him, and the world turned blue.

Alex stood on a footpath in the jungle, facing the tiger, which transformed before his eyes into a mirror image of himself, equally naked and unafraid. He couldn't see Blair, yet he knew Blair was with him; waiting, watching over him, a constant warmth in his mind.

It occurred to Alex that he should have pressed Blair for an explanation about the tiger.

"Tell me this isn't going to happen every time we fuck," he said to himself, and watched his own lips twitch with amusement.

"Only this first time, Pachakotiq, and only this time because you must make your choice."

"My choice?"

"You can go back the way you came and be an ordinary man, or you can go forward, but to do so will require your life and your soul. Are you prepared to make such a journey?"

"I didn't know I had a choice," Alex said quietly, searching his own eyes and finding nothing but painful, patient honesty.

"A sentinel will always be a sentinel as long as he chooses to be. What is your choice, Pachakotiq?"

"I have already given my life, and my soul belongs to my shaman, now," Alex replied, having no real idea where the words came from, but certain they were true. His other self smiled at him approvingly, arms opening in invitation.

"Come, then, Pachakotiq, and run into your future."

Alex stepped into his own embrace, feeling a rush of energy curl up his spine that expanded outward, blinding him for a moment. When he could see, he realized with well-suspended shock that he was the tiger now, all coiled muscle and liquid grace as he padded along the trail.

Every sense was hyper-aware, focused, and sure, so he wasn't even surprised when the blue-eyed wolf appeared on the path several meters in front of him. Blair's wolf, powerful and strong, and somehow larger than it had been when Alex had seen it before.

"My future. My choice," he said mentally, suddenly understanding everything that was being shown to him. Blair's spirit wolf gave him a welcoming, lupine grin, and Alex ran.

They met in a flash of explosive, ecstatic sensation, a shattering of heat and light and joy that fused their souls together and sent them hurtling out of the spirit plane and back into their bodies, where they shuddered out the final aftershocks of a climax so violently exquisite that they were both sobbing as they clung together.

Several minutes later, Blair raised his head and looked Alex in the eye, and Alex knew without being told- although he didn't exactly know how he knew -that Blair was waiting to be rejected. Waiting to be denied.

As if he could do that, as if he could even consider that, with Blair still more than half-hard and buried deep in his ass... right where Blair belonged, as far as Alex was concerned.

A dozen flowery reassurances came to mind, but they all sounded so much better in Russian than in English, and Alex wanted there to be no misunderstanding. He took Blair's head in his hands, absently noticing that they shook, and thumbed the tears away.

"Your sentinel, spirit bound. Always," he promised roughly, his throat unexpectedly scratchy. The relief on Blair's face was so plain Alex felt like he'd been stabbed, and he resolved then and there that Blair Sandburg would never have cause to doubt his importance in Alex's life.

"Yours," he said again, whispering this time, watching a tentative smile grow. Blair ratcheted himself up on one elbow and laid his free hand over Alex's heart, a glow in those brilliant blue eyes that outshone the sunlight.

"Your shaman, spirit bound. Always," Blair said just as hoarsely, and Alex had to smile, filled with the most amazing, unlikely happiness.

They lay there regarding each other with rather dopey grins for a moment, then Alex rocked his hips up and watched his shaman's eyes become dark and heavy-lidded.

"I want you in me next time," Blair murmured as Alex pulled their mouths together.

"Next time," Alex agreed, licking at those luscious lips. "We're not done with this time, yet."

And they weren't.

"Home sweet home," a travel weary Blair said tiredly, opening the door and allowing Sasha to precede him into his small fourth-floor apartment.

He'd learned over the course of their days together that going in first to scope out the room was a 'Sasha' thing more than a 'sentinel' thing. Blair had the feeling that Sasha would have done it no matter who he was with; all part of Sasha's preference for rapid threat assessment. Blair had been a bit exasperated to discover that Sasha's protective instincts were even more ingrained than Jim's. He hadn't thought it possible. Still, he had a constant empathic awareness of Sasha's need to protect him, which mitigated whatever aggravation Blair might have otherwise felt.

They'd had fun doing tourist things while Blair taught almost constant lessons in sensory control. Never apart for more than an hour at a time, the two of them toured the Yashiro Japanese Garden and the Olympia Farmers' Market. Both places had offered good opportunities for Sasha to practice fine-tuning his senses.

They'd even gone to the movies- Blair's idea, so Sasha could practice adjusting to the shifting levels of light and sound, not to mention the smells. One evening they went to a gay-friendly nightclub, not merely so Sasha could test himself against the sensory bombardment but also just so they could dance- something they'd discovered that they both loved to do.

They'd learned that when they were apart, they each knew without fail where the other was; something that soothed and comforted them both. It was surprisingly easy to fall into a sort of routine. Days and evenings were spent on refining sensory control, while the nights, and usually the mornings, were spent on each other. The bond between them hummed with pleasure, seemingly stronger with every shared moment.

Sasha welcomed Blair's teachings with fascination and enjoyment, which made for a marked acceleration in the speed of Sasha's progress. Again and again Blair had to remind himself not to compare Sasha to Jim, but he couldn't help but wish that Jim had accepted his own senses with the same ease as Sasha.

It had occurred to Blair that while Jim was in the jungle with Incacha, Jim must have felt that same freedom to use his senses, only to find himself doubly inhibited by his traumatic return to civilization, his own natural bent towards repression, and the necessity of hiding his enhanced senses from everybody around him.

Blair tried not to resent having only rarely seen glimpses of that Jim, the one who embraced his sentinel abilities in harmony with his environment. He sometimes felt he'd missed out on a lot of things where Jim was concerned... particularly when he considered the depth of the bond between him and Sasha. But Blair had to admit, the joyful hours spent in Sasha's arms went a long way towards relieving his residual grief over his relationship with Jim. He and Sasha took the time to get comfortable with each other outside of sex and senses, discussing everything from politics and current events to favorite foods to ridiculous topics such as whether or not the Flash really could outrun Superman. Interestingly, they had similar opinions on a number of subjects, yet when they disagreed it was easily shrugged off or laughed away. In fact, Blair couldn't remember a time when he'd laughed so much. Even the tedious drive back to Cascade had been entertaining.

He'd also accepted that Sasha went nowhere unarmed, being insistent on constant preparedness. After hearing some of Sasha's history, that was a sentiment Blair could get behind.

Sasha finished his inspection of Blair's apartment and relaxed, so Blair crossed the floor to pitch his stuff onto the bed. Sasha followed him and set his own suitcase on the floor, looking around at the furnishings now.

"I like it," Alex said truthfully, amused by the tribal masks on the wall. True, the place was compact, consisting only of a living/kitchen area, a single bedroom with a window that opened onto a convenient fire escape, and an adjacent bath. The rooms themselves were adequate in size, however, the decor was bright and cozy, and it all smelled agreeably of his shaman.

"You're easily pleased."

Blair sounded like he believed Alex was merely being polite. Alex wanted to laugh at the very idea. He slipped off his jacket, pitched it over the back of a chair, and stalked towards his unconvinced prey. He didn't stop until he had Blair backed up against the end of the sofa.

"Actually, I'm not... easily pleased, that is... but you please me," he husked out over Blair's face, raised his hands to Blair's chest, and shoved. Off balance, Blair fell backwards onto the sofa, and Alex was quick to straddle that lithe warm body. He loved the way Blair felt between his thighs, under his hands, on his tongue... and with the thought, leaned in for a long, lush kiss. "I'm very pleased," Alex added as he lifted his head, especially loving that dazed expression on Blair's face.

In his heart, Alex knew he was very close to being in love with Blair Sandburg, as frightening as that was to admit, because he didn't really understand how it happened. It wasn't merely sex, and that alone made it unlike any of his previous relationships. Alex was certain that it wasn't simply a sentinel thing, either. Surely, there was no genetic imperative that said he needed to make Blair happy. Keep Blair safe, yes, he could see that. But this marrow-deep need to distract Blair from the implications of being back in Cascade, watch him laugh, share his joy- that was completely beyond Alex's comprehension.

Unless it was love.

Blair couldn't think of a thing to say, and not just because his brain cells had melted thanks to Sasha's hot mouth. He couldn't explain to Sasha how seldom he seemed to please anybody in his life- doing that would make him sound self-pitying, even though it was honestly how Blair felt, a conviction upheld by a lifetime of evidence. Being told that he pleased Sasha meant more than he could adequately explain, especially since he knew Sasha was telling him the truth. He could see it in the depths of those malachite eyes, feel it in the connection between them. He wondered if Sasha had any idea how much those eyes revealed, because he could also see traces of the same fear and self-doubt he felt in himself, instantly shuttered in the geisha sweep of thick black lashes.

In the end, he took Sasha's head in his hands and drew their mouths together, wanting another kiss; something Sasha readily gave him.

They clung together for long minutes, indulging in their physical reaction to each other, and neither saw a reason to point out that it was less foreplay than simple reassurance.

Several hours later saw them sated, showered, fed- courtesy of delivered Chinese- and comfortably ensconced on the sofa, watching an NBA playoff game on TV and bickering over the referee's calls.

Excluding the mind-blowing sex, which Blair had to admit was one hell of a big ass exclusion, it was just like a hundred evenings he'd spent with Jim. Sasha, however, had freely confessed how much of a novelty it was for him. Blair had noticed days ago that Sasha luxuriated in normalcy, soaking it up like a dry sponge in water. After thinking about that, Blair realized the very qualities that Sasha had fought to preserve for the rest of humanity were things he'd never had time for in his own life. Blair found he quite liked the idea of introducing Sasha to the idea of domestic bliss.

Blair saw Sasha's head lift and turn towards the door, as well as Sasha's automatic reach for the 9mm he'd shoved under the sofa cushion. That smooth reaction might have bothered Blair a few days ago. Now he saw it for what it was; his warrior sentinel, ready to protect him.

Without skipping a beat, he asked.

"Wait. Do you know who it is?"

Alex shook his head, then tilted it sideways, sniffing.

"Two men, human. They just stepped out of the elevator and they're heading this way. I smell gun oil and tobacco, but not cigarettes. It's sweeter than that, like cigars," he reported.

Blair sighed.

"I know who it is. Don't worry."

"But you're worried," Alex pointed out, tucking his weapon into his jeans at his lower back. He was still tempted to keep it drawn.

Blair spared him a grin.

"Not for our lives, man. Relax."

He went to the door and pulled it open just as Simon raised his hand to knock. Jim stood about a half step back with a sheepish expression on his face, and Blair knew he'd been eavesdropping.

"Sandburg! Don't tell me you're developing super-hearing!" Simon griped cheerfully, pushing his way past Blair and pulling up short as he caught sight of the man standing watch beside the sofa... and Simon was in no doubt that he was being very carefully watched, indeed. "So you're the new sentinel, huh," he concluded bluntly, aware of Sandburg groaning behind him.

"Yeah, Simon, and you're just a model of tact and subtlety," Blair said dryly, waving Jim inside.

Jim and Blair stared at each other for a moment, and Jim felt an odd blend of gladness and regret as he inspected his friend. He didn't quite know what he had expected to find, but Blair looked... fine. Healthy. Relaxed. Happy, even, eyes bright and clear.

A lingering scent in the air revealed part of the reason for Blair's unusual glow, and a shocked little pang rocked Jim even while he forced a smile.

"You look okay," he half whispered, keeping part of his attention on the standoff a few feet away. Simon had crossed his arms and turned his best glare on an apparently impervious Sasha, who echoed Simon's pose, deliberately, Jim assumed.

It was almost funny.

"I am okay, Jim. You? No threat to your territorial imperative?"

To Blair's credit, the question was asked without sarcasm. Jim shook his head in answer, a little surprised to find it was true. He'd felt no crawling unease, no hostility, no urge to hunt, no need to isolate himself. It was as if Sasha was just another guy- well, no. Jim couldn't go that far, not when this was the guy Blair was sleeping with.

Blair was sleeping with a guy. No. Blair was having sex with a guy.

Jim blinked and stared at the floor, turning the idea over in his mind. How could he have lived with Blair for as long as he did and not known that Blair was bisexual? Why didn't Blair ever tell him? Blair had known this guy what, four days? Was this a sentinel thing? Had he and Blair been meant to-

"I didn't think there would be this time," Blair commented quietly, distracting Jim into glancing back up at him. Blair tipped his head towards Simon and Sasha, then gave Jim the kind of smile Jim hadn't seen from him in three years, not since their pre-Alex Barnes days; that full-force high wattage Sandburg grin, all teeth and gums and 'ain't life grand' joy. As he turned away from Jim and walked over to stand between Simon and Sasha, his step bounced.

Jim hadn't realized how much he'd missed seeing that.

"So, Simon, Jim, this is my sentinel, Sasha Christopher. Sasha, these are my friends. The big guy with the glasses and the evil frown is my boss, Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department, and this is Detective Jim Ellison, my partner at work."

Blair's voice was cheerful, and Jim wondered if Simon had seen the minute relaxation in Sasha Christopher's shoulders at Blair's open declaration. 'My sentinel'. 'My partner at work'. The implications hadn't exactly been lost on him, or the fact that nobody had offered to shake hands.

He allowed himself a few moments to inspect the man, barely listening while Simon said something about being glad Sandburg hadn't forgotten who was boss. Sasha Christopher was tall, muscular, long-limbed; those were all givens, Jim recognized instinctively. Dark hair, intensely green eyes, and a face that was surprisingly pretty- but that was immaterial. What interested Jim was the way Christopher held himself balanced lightly on the balls of his feet, ready to react in whatever fashion the tactical situation demanded. Jim was equally capable of isolating the smell of gun oil, and knowing how Blair kept his service weapon locked away in the top of his closet when he was off duty, Jim was certain the man was carrying.

"Covert ops?" He asked smoothly, recognizing Christopher's demeanor. Christopher regarded him with a perfectly expressionless face, then visibly noticed Blair's exasperated eye roll and graced Jim with a faint smirk.

"You know how it is. If I told you-"

"You'd have to kill me. Yeah, I know. Which branch of the service?"

Blair ducked his head, snickering. Christopher's smirk widened to an actual smile and both Jim and Simon watched with some astonishment as he reached out and goosed Blair in the ribs, provoking actual giggles.

"Do I tell, solnyshko moy?" Alex asked Blair in Russian, trying hard to stifle his own amusement at the thought of informing these pragmatic men of the law just what 'service' he worked for. He was rewarded when Blair choked on a strangled laugh.

Blair caught Sasha's hand and held it, casually sliding into his place at Sasha's side before poking his own fingers in Sasha's ribs, not gently.

"Durachny svoloch," Blair said sweetly, and Alex burst out laughing, more from that gentle voice calling him an idiotic bastard than from those tickling fingers. Completely assured of both Blair's good humor and his own place in Blair's life, and not giving a damn what anyone else thought, Alex dropped a quick kiss on Blair's mouth.

"Talk to your friends. I'll hear if you need me," he whispered in Blair's ear, never doubting that Ellison overheard, then nodded at them politely and left the room.

Blair's eyes were on Simon and Jim as they watched Sasha's exit. He was certain they'd noticed Sasha was armed, and he couldn't help but wonder how they were reacting to that kiss. While he and Sasha had agreed that they were sick of secrets, they hadn't exactly discussed being out. Still, it was something Blair suddenly realized he didn't have a problem with.

What reason was there, really, to hide the full extent of their relationship? Particularly when Blair was well aware that Jim would have already sniffed it out, quite literally.

Simon gave him a long look, and Blair, feeling liberated by the knowledge that his future was no longer dependent on Simon's good graces or the Cascade Police Department- or Jim, for that matter- merely offered Simon a sunny smile. To his surprise, Simon smiled back, holding his gaze.

"You look happy, Sandburg. Just tell me he's not some kind of Russian spy."

"Well, he's not spying for Russia, if that's what you mean," Blair said wryly, and it didn't take sentinel ears to hear the low chuckle that came from the bedroom. "I kinda thought you'd be more shocked about the gay thing, Simon."

"Not to impugn your masculinity, kid, but I assumed you swung both ways the day I met you," Simon bantered back, not bothering to add that he used to suspect Sandburg and Ellison were lovers. Now he wished they had been. He wished Sandburg had a reason to stay, because whether anyone was going to openly admit it or not, he knew Sandburg's days in Cascade were numbered.

Simon wondered what Ellison thought about everything, and spared a glance at his detective, who was staring at Blair with unreadable eyes.

"Listen, Sandburg, I'll see you Monday morning. Don't be late," Simon said quietly, knowing both men had some things to sort out. Blair gave him a nod.

"We're gonna have to talk, Simon." The words were a warning that Simon Banks understood too well.

"Monday, Blair. Jim." He let himself out of Blair's apartment and wished, not for the first time, that he had sentinel hearing himself.

"You want a beer?" Blair asked politely as the door closed behind Simon's departure.

"No. Can we- can we take a walk? I'd like to talk to you privately."

Huh. Well, alert the media, Blair said to himself, immediately ashamed of the bitterness that thought betrayed.

"Sure, Jim. Just a minute."

Blair vanished into the bedroom, and Jim listened in, his sense of hearing expanding ahead of his sense of it being wrong to eavesdrop.


"I heard, Blair. I'll be fine. He'll protect you?"

Jim thought at first that it was an odd question, then wondered a bit angrily just what kind of enemies Christopher had, then the worried concern behind the words struck him. Hard. Four days or five years; time didn't matter. Sasha Christopher had a sentinel's full-blown need to protect his shaman, and he'd apparently surrendered to that need a lot faster and easier than Jim had in either Blair's or Incacha's case.

"With my life," he whispered just as he heard Blair respond.

"Jim will protect me. Don't zone while I'm gone," Blair said, his tone teasing. There was a sound Jim recognized as a kiss, and a leisurely one at that, then Blair came out and motioned Jim towards the door. Jim deliberately ignored the flush on Blair's cheeks and his reddened lips, keeping his eyes to himself as they took the elevator down to the ground floor and walked outside.

Full dark, and the night air was moist with spring. Jim felt breezes play over his skin, and wondered just what in the hell he was going to say to his friend. They'd gone a block before a subject occurred to him.

"How good is he? His senses, I mean," he added hastily, but it was too late. Blair was staring at him with startled amusement in those deep blue eyes. Jim shook his head and started to speak, but Blair held up a hand to forestall him, mercifully overlooking Jim's gaffe.

"We haven't done formal testing, but observationally speaking, he's good. We're still working on filtering his visual input. His long distance sight is excellent, but he doesn't have the control yet that you have in managing the entire spectrum. It's coming along. Taste, smell and touch seem to be comparable to yours. Hearing is his superior sense. From what he's told me it's always been somewhat enhanced, even before his other senses came online... and he's quite capable of hearing us from here." Blair gave him a wry little smile. "I don't talk about him behind his back, Jim."

"I know, Sandburg," Jim said seriously, very aware of where that tiny dig was directed. In return, Blair looked at him curiously.

"You're taking this awfully well."

"Uncharacteristically well, you mean," Jim replied with some bitterness. "You don't have to worry about me, Blair. Incacha made it very clear that I fucked us up."

"No, Jim. If I've learned anything over the last few days, I've learned that we fucked us up. I pushed when I shouldn't have and gave up when I should have pushed. None of this is your fault alone. Sasha and I-" Blair glanced over his shoulder towards his apartment building, and the softening expression in his eyes cut through Jim's heart like a knife. "We get to be equals. I don't hold my knowledge over his head like I did with you-"

"Blair, that's not-"

"And he doesn't treat me like some punk hippie kid that he has to tolerate," Blair went on relentlessly despite Jim's interruption, turning his gaze back on Jim. "I don't regret any of it, Jim, because it led me to where I am now... and I like where I am now."

He smiled up at Jim and held open his arms.

"Still friends?"

"Always," Jim whispered as he stepped into that warm embrace, filling his senses with everything he'd gained, and lost. Blair gave him a little squeeze then pulled away, heading back towards his new life.

Jim waited until Blair had gone too far to hear him before he spoke.

"Take care of him."

"I will. I will cherish him, lean on him and protect him... as much as he'll let me. I'll keep him happy," Sasha Christopher promised for Jim's ears alone, and the sentinel of Cascade nodded.

"See that you do," Jim said, then turned and walked away.

Five years later found sentinel and guide in the last place either had expected or ever wanted to be- Washington D.C., where Blair Sandburg and Aleksandr Krajik testified in open hearings before House and Senate committees, on their contributions towards destroying the Consortium and averting the alien colonization of Earth... and not incidentally, clearing their own reputations as well as the reputations of Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Walter Skinner, and the Lone Gunmen, who'd turned out to be about as dead as Alex himself, largely thanks to Alex and Blair's influence with the rebel aliens.

In an unprecedented move, the hearings were simulcast before the U.N. General Assembly, so the whole world watched as Blair provided copies of the meticulous documentation he'd kept all along; mission logs, targets and disposition, identities of known collaborators, and an extensive study on the ontology, hierarchal structure, and socio-physiological vulnerabilities of the colonists themselves. Alex presented corroborating evidence from the Russian Resistance and the formulae for the black oil vaccine, as well as data he'd collected on the Syndicate itself; some of which he'd forwarded to Mulder, Scully, and Skinner over the years.

Their exhaustive tracing of the shadow government had been undeniable, and undeniably sensational, as Alex and Blair stepped out of every closet there was in the interests of full disclosure.

Neither tendered any apologies for the more questionable choices they'd been forced to make; Alex's list somewhat longer than Blair's. Each was bluntly honest about what the world had been facing and the lengths to which they'd gone in order to prevent it. Both men were calm, collected, unshakeable in their testimonies, more than a little photogenic, and instantly hailed as heroes by the public at large, which was fascinated by the concept of sentinel and guide, warriors who were soul-bonded lovers and mates.

By the time they were finished, so were a few world governments as well as half of the people in D.C., and they'd been given blanket immunity from criminal prosecution for any laws broken 'in the pursuit of planetary defense'.

They'd also been offered- and respectfully declined -nominations for Presidential Medals of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medals, and Gold Star Medals from the Russian Federation for their efforts. This was a development that Blair and Sasha were snickering about when there was a knock at their hotel suite door.

"Oh, great. What now?" Blair grumbled as he grabbed his own weapon off of the coffee table and drew down on the door, naked as the day he was born. He was grateful that he and Sasha had at least managed one uninterrupted round of play. Their time together had been all too frequently disturbed during and since the hearings, by the press as well as aides to this or that politician, not to mention interviews with various law enforcement personnel. They'd stopped answering the phone when they'd moved to the penthouse suite, and hotel security was supposed to be limiting access to their floor, but neither of them counted on anything besides each other for protection anyway.

"Who knows," Alex groused as he yanked on his jeans, then retrieved his automatic, watching the door while Blair shimmied into his own faded denims. "It's nobody I recognize smelling since my senses came online."

"At least that lets out most of the remaining bad guys," Blair teased his lover with a grin. In moves that had become second nature, he and Sasha flanked the door cautiously just as a second knock sounded.

Alex nodded at Blair, who called out "who is it" in a low voice.

"Open the door, Krycek!"

"Fucking hell, Mulder," Alex mouthed at Blair, who narrowed his eyes and waved Alex back a few paces.

"Oh, I've been looking forward to this," Blair said in an odd tone, sliding his gun into the waistband of his jeans after setting the safety. He opened the door and waved his lover's erstwhile partner inside, inwardly rolling his eyes as the man strode past him like he didn't exist. It figured that Mulder would be as tall as Alex, with spiky brown hair, flashing hazel eyes and a lower lip that just wouldn't quit, Blair thought resignedly.

Nose was kind of big, though... which just made for a better target.

"So you're Mulder," Blair said, drawing the man's attention. He waited just long enough to make sure nobody was behind the former agent before he balled up his fist and punched. Standing over the now prone figure, Blair shook his hand out with a grimace. "You deserved that, you son of a bitch, and don't think for a minute that you're going to lay a finger on Aleksandr."

"Shit, I'm not even armed," Mulder groaned and peered up. Krycek was fighting not to laugh while Sandburg, whom Mulder recognized from the news reports, was virtually looming over him. Mulder pinched his bleeding nostrils shut with a sigh and tried to think of something neutral to say. Both Krycek and Sandburg suddenly glanced towards the open door, where a big, blue-eyed man that Mulder didn't recognize was standing and grinning at Sandburg.

"Chief, I see you have things under control, as usual," the man said. To Mulder's surprise, Sandburg stepped over him and gave the newcomer a big hug that was cheerfully returned.

"Jim! I didn't know you were in town!"

"Had to check on my buddy, didn't I? Hi, Sasha, looking good. Need me to take out the trash?" The man asked as he came in and closed the door.

"No thanks, Jim. You might say he's unfinished business, and I guess I should talk to him." Alex gave Mulder his hand and pulled until Mulder was standing, at which point Blair moved to stand between them, eyes remarkably cold as they fixed on Mulder's.

"Jim and I will be in the kitchenette making coffee, and we will be listening."

Despite Sandburg's stature, the loose length of that curly russet hair, and the silvery glint of a nipple ring, Mulder acknowledged that the man was somebody to take seriously. He fanned one hand open to indicate he understood he'd been warned, and watched Sandburg stalk over to the other side of the suite, followed by 'Jim', whoever the hell that was. Krycek shoved a wad of tissue into his hand which he patiently held to his nose as his gaze traveled from shaman guide to sentinel.

Both men looked elemental, almost otherworldly, Mulder thought, each tanned and obviously fit, all lean ready muscle and dangerously pretty features. He'd seen them on TV, but that had done nothing to lessen the impact of their sheer physical presence, or the way they seemed to complement each other like parts of a whole. Krycek also wore his hair long, longer than Mulder would have ever imagined, braided into a silky plait that trailed down Krycek's bare back as if asking for someone to tug it. He wondered momentarily if the long hair had some significance to them, but couldn't figure out a way to ask such a personal question.

"I guess I did deserve that punch," Mulder finally admitted to Krycek's shrug. Krycek ghosted his fingertips over Mulder's nose, a move that startled Mulder into freezing, then Krycek gave him a familiar smirk.

"It isn't broken. Blair must have pulled his punch a little."

They stood there, staring at each other, while Mulder thought about everything to which Krycek had confessed during his testimony on the Hill. The things Krycek had done and what he and Sandburg had gone through, literally saving the planet... even helping save Scully and Mulder himself along the way. It had been Krycek who'd covered their escape from New Mexico after the collaborators destroyed the Anasazi ruins, Mulder now knew. Krycek, with Sandburg, who had monitored William's safety until Scully could get him back. Krycek, who was instrumental in feeding them the information they'd needed to stay one step ahead of the Syndicate. Krycek and Sandburg, who'd found the Gunmen a genuinely safe safehouse after their 'deaths', and Krycek, who'd neutralized the nanos in Skinner's blood, once the man who'd actually controlled that project was dead.

Krycek, who'd gotten Mulder's murder conviction overturned, with the proof that it had all been a Consortium-fueled set-up.

"I- I'd heard about your arm from Smith. I'm- I'm glad, Alex, and I'm sorry about your brother. I wish- I didn't know you- I am sorry."

Krycek's eyes narrowed in disbelief, and Mulder gave a little grimace. He still hadn't managed to say what he came here to say, something Alex apparently divined.

"Mulder, why are you here?" Alex asked, his gaze briefly flickering over Sandburg.

"I came to say thanks."

"I killed Bill Mulder."

"And now the whole world knows why, just like they know what he did to my sister, and that he wasn't my biological father. I still owe you, Alex."

"You don't owe me a damned thing, Mulder."

"You're wrong," Mulder said, took Alex's hand, and shook it almost ritualistically, determined to do and say what he wished he'd done and said well over ten years ago.

"Agent Krycek, pleased to meet you."

Jim was happily basking in Sandburg's presence as his senses centered on their favorite touchstone. His hearing still automatically sought out the sound of Blair's heartbeat, his eyes delighted in seeing Blair's face, and he breathed in Blair's scent unashamedly.

Blair grinned at him, as if fully aware of what he was doing, and Jim offered a sheepish little grin in return.

The lingering mingled aroma of Sasha's and Blair's passion for each other no longer troubled Jim. He'd learned during the years of surreptitious visits, untraceable phone calls and encrypted emails to be happy for his friends and proud of their successes. Blair's and Jim's own relationship, once strained to the point of collapse, had over time re-strengthened and settled into a mutually supportive, essential friendship. The process hadn't been easy, but Jim was determined not to lose Blair completely.

There wasn't much that could stand against a determined Jim Ellison.

Still, the turning point had come four years ago, when Blair had had a vision of more new sentinels being drawn to Cascade. He'd called Jim with the news, and a wary Jim, with Simon's steadfast assistance, had soon found himself in the unenviable position of teaching a number of untried young adults as they sought to gain control of their runaway senses.

Jim had developed a whole new understanding of Blair's position, to say the least, gradually adapting Blair's lessons to him in ways that could help the young sentinels, until their own guides appeared... and without fail, those guides did eventually appear. To Jim, the entire phenomenon was nothing short of miraculous, given that there was no discomfort for him, nor any feeling of 'territorial imperative'. He and Blair had been forced to conclude that that response had been due to Alex Barnes herself, not the fact that she'd had enhanced senses.

It was a conclusion that had unexpectedly healed something sore in both men's hearts, cementing their mended friendship.

The only major stumbling block had occurred when Blair and Sasha had explained to Jim precisely what they were working towards. Had Jim not had his own senses to confirm the truth of what they were telling him, he would have had them both arrested and committed to Conover. It was still a near thing, until Blair and Sasha had arranged to have Jeremiah Smith come to Cascade for a little demonstration.

That had been an eye-opener, to say the least, for Jim as well as the new sentinels and guides. Once everybody understood what the world was up against, the fledgling pairs had been directed by Sasha and Blair to various parts of the globe, where most had settled and still kept watch over their assigned tribes. They'd proven invaluable in surveillance and evidence gathering, even while kept out of the actual combat zones.

And there had been combat, of the guerilla resistance type. Blair's and Sasha's testimonies had been very clear on that. Consortium labs bombed into nonexistence, rebel bases defended, colonists' strongholds infiltrated and destroyed, collaborators executed, rebel sympathizers and other members of the resistance rescued and retrieved. A shadow war fought by a handful of shadow warriors... and now it was over.

"What are you going to do now?" Jim asked, still amused every time he thought about Simon's reaction to the revelations of the televised hearings. His captain's discovery of the truth had involved a lot of yelling, mass quantities of alcohol, and Simon's drunken admission of shock that Blair's balls were that big. Jim rather thought he'd keep the details of that little scene to himself. He'd always believed, especially after hearing Blair taunt David Lash, that Blair had solid brass ones.

"We're not sure what we're going to do, except that it's going to involve somewhere warm where nobody cares who we are," Blair commented wryly.

"I think you'd have to leave the planet to find a place like that," Jim said wryly, his smile widening when Blair blushed.

"Yeah, well. Fame is fleeting, you know."

"Yeah, I do know."

"Have you gotten hassled since I've been... newsworthy again?" Blair asked with a slight frown.

"Not much. Wendy Hawthorne-"

"Oh, shit, she's still in Cascade?"

"You know it. She tried to talk Simon and me into a 'we knew him when' interview. Don Haas tried the same thing. Simon and I took a lot of pleasure in telling them both to fuck off. Chief," Jim hesitated, and touched Blair's arm gently. "Everybody at the station is really proud of you. Simon, Henri, Rafe, and Joel are practically insufferable, and I- I'm honored to call you my friend. I watched your testimony on CNN, and I know what you had to do couldn't have been easy. That's why I'm here. Not just to make sure you're all right- I knew you would be. You've always been the strongest person I know -but because I have a suggestion for you and Sasha."

"I'm listening," Blair said, his tone rather surprised. Jim didn't blame him. That was probably one of the longer speeches he'd ever made to Blair.

"The Chopec want you to come to Peru. Ajllasca, the shaman, sent word. They know you and Sasha need downtime in a place where no one can find you. I hope you'll allow me to guide you there, and stand sentinel for you both. A month or two, or six, I don't care. However long you need."

Blair closed his eyes and took a deep breath, visibly affected. Jim felt, more than saw, Sasha's quick scan of Blair's status. He didn't blame Blair's sentinel- he'd heard Blair's heart speed up, too.

"That sounds... perfect," Blair said, his words echoed by Sasha's subvocal agreement.

"After you've both rested up, and some of the uproar has died down, there's something else to consider," Jim began hesitantly, eyes locked on Blair's. "I kept a copy of your dissertation, and no one can deny the existence of sentinels now. I want you to come back to Cascade and get your doctorate, Blair. Rainier won't be a problem. Edwards is gone and the new chancellor came by the station personally to ask me to pass along a message. They want you, Chief."

"They want to take advantage of my publicity, you mean." Blair noted in a snide tone, but Jim could see he was shaken.

"Maybe they do, but that doesn't change the facts. You deserve that doctorate, Blair. You've earned it a hundred times over, and I want you to have it. Please, just say you'll think about it."

Blair looked at him for a long minute, peering directly into his soul, or so it seemed to Jim. Maybe it was a shaman thing. Certainly Incacha had frequently inspected him with that same intent stare, as if sentinel senses suddenly switched places and laid bare Jim's heart.

"This is important to you, isn't it," Blair said gently, and Jim merely nodded. He didn't have the words to explain just how important the idea had become to him. After that guy from Rainier had stopped by, he'd started thinking about it, and the more significance it had started to take in his mind.

For a long time, Jim had seen the dissertation as the end of them. Blair would get his doctorate and leave. Well, the stars had turned, as Incacha would say. Blair had left Jim anyway, although Jim had already accepted that he'd left Blair emotionally long before Blair left him physically... and it had had nothing to do with the dissertation itself, but more with Jim's fear of being abandoned.

Now, there was another chance for Blair to receive his doctorate based on the dissertation he'd completed at Jim's side, and Jim's feelings about that subject had changed dramatically. If he'd learned one thing over the last five years, he'd learned that Blair would always be his friend, if not his shaman guide. Jim would always be some part of Blair's future. Helping Blair get that doctorate was only fair; not in the sense of righting a wrong, because they were past that, but more along the way of restoring a balance and coming full circle.

Beyond even that, it represented an accomplishment that had been instrumental in making Blair the person he was now. Jim was hugely proud of that person, and proud of his own contributions towards Blair's field of knowledge... which was something he hadn't been able to admit to himself until fairly recently.

He met that deep blue gaze fearlessly until it was Blair's turn to nod.

"I'll think about it," Blair said, even while Jim heard Sasha whisper for his hearing alone. "He'll be there."

"Thanks," Jim said to them both.

"You looked magnificent onstage," Alex murmured into Blair's ear as he caressed his lover's cock with the ornate satin sash that signified he was now fucking Doctor Sandburg, whose ass was currently spooned tightly against Alex's groin.

"Mmm. Glad," Blair mumbled, aware of very little else besides the slow, thorough glide of Sasha's possession, inside and out. "So good, love."

"You sure you want this thing to get stained?"

"Oooh, yeah, please stain it."

It was almost a whine, and Alex had to hide a grin. Blair really had looked amazing at the graduation, pacing across the stage like he'd owned it, with his earrings in and his long hair loose, partially braided, beaded and adorned Chopec style. Alex had worn his own hair unbound in honor of the occasion, and pretended not to hear the sighs and whispers when he and Blair had met up after the ceremony. There'd been very little negative reaction, astonishingly enough, even when Alex had swept Blair into a congratulatory kiss.

Apparently when gay men saved the world it went a long way towards curbing rampant homophobia, he thought with a silent snicker, fully aware of how blatantly androgynous he and Blair appeared to strangers. It was something they loved to play at, often choosing to wear gender neutral clothing like the Oriental-style black silk tunics and slacks they'd worn today.

Alex had only let his own hair grow in order to convince Blair to stop cutting his. Now it was part of who they were... and so convenient, he mused, wrapping it around his free hand and yanking Blair's head around for a sucking wet kiss. He knew he wasn't going to be able to distract himself much longer. Blair wouldn't let him.

"Party was nice, huh," Alex commented as he released Blair's mouth, tormenting his trembling lover. It was just so much fun.

"Fucking sadist, you lowered your tactile sensitivity, didn't you?"

"Hmm, a coherent sentence. I must be doing something wrong," was Alex's considered reply as he teased Blair with a series of shallow strokes.

"God, no, Aleksandr, you're ri- right. Everything's right. You feel so good, so hard and hot and big. Love you, love fucking you, love having you buried deep in my ass. Please, love, make me yours, take me harder..."


Whatever control Alex had was abruptly gone, driven away by Blair's words, carried along that husky bedroom voice. Touch went off the scale as he drove into his lover's slick core and brought them both to noisy, shattering orgasms.

"Fuck you, Blair, you always do that to me," Alex griped several minutes later, when he could talk.

"Don't mess with the guide, O sentinel of earth," Blair intoned, which resulted in a tickling match far too fierce for two tired, sated men to sustain for very long.

Following a half-hearted effort at wiping themselves dry, Blair settled against Alex in the position in which they most often fell asleep; Alex on his back with Blair's head on his shoulder, and Blair essentially sprawled over him. Somewhere along the line it had become second nature for them to grab a hold of each other's hair. Alex thought, not for the first time, that it was a good thing neither of them was particularly tender-headed.

"It was a nice party, wasn't it," Blair said quietly, his breath a warm puff across Alex's skin. "I didn't expect so many people from the PD to show up."

"You're still one of them as far as they're concerned."

"That's what Simon said. He asked me if I wanted to come back."

"I heard." Alex rubbed a fingertip around the shell of Blair's ear, grinning when his lover shivered. "I also heard what the president of the university said to you."

Blair sighed.

"Director of Sentinel Studies, Associate Dean of Anthropology. Ten years ago I would have been thrilled."

"You're not interested?" Alex asked idly. Blair shifted to look him in the eyes, and the bond between them was almost audibly humming.

"We needed this year, living a semi-normal life, having a routine and a stable home... but it's not what we're meant for. The doctorate- it's something I earned and I do deserve it, but I did it for Jim as much as myself. You and I need to be out there." Blair gave a languid wave of his hand. "In the field, checking on the younger sentinels and guides, looking for new ones, training them-"

"Keeping watch," Alex finished for him, and Blair nodded, an unexpectedly grim look on his face as he answered.

"Earth won't be caught flat-footed next time."

Alex wished they weren't certain there would be a next time, but the truth was, earth was not free of aliens and never would be. Decades of Consortium meddling had left a significant portion of the world's population affected somehow; either chipped, carrying strands of alien DNA, or as outright hybrids. Then, there were a relatively small number of rebel aliens who'd needed asylum, having no where else to go once the colonists were driven off... which was a detail neither he nor Blair had revealed during the hearings.

The foreseeable future needed watchers, for sure. It always would.

Blair watched his sentinel sleep. For many years, they'd watched over each other's sleep because it was the only way to stay alive. Now, he did it so he could see that beautiful face at rest. It was a rest that Sasha didn't manage if Blair wasn't close, and Sasha had never been afraid to let Blair know how much Sasha needed him.

He remembered when he'd realized he was in love with Sasha. They'd left Cascade, spent a week in Sierra Verde consolidating their bond at the Temple of the Sentinels, and had then gone on to actively involve themselves with the resistance.

In one of their first missions, they'd led a raid on a Consortium-run lab and discovered, to their horror, that it was a birthing facility for human/alien hybrids. A few of the babies- too few -appeared human, or close enough to it, locked up in a little room, whimpering in their cribs like an abandoned litter of puppies. There'd been another room, though, holding tanks of failures that looked like extras from a Sigourney Weaver movie. Not viable outside their plexiglass wombs, but still moving, doomed to linger indefinitely as a source of genetic material for still more experimentation.

They'd both known there was only one thing to do, and Sasha had done it, insisting Blair and the team take the human looking infants out while he set the explosives himself. Set the detonators himself.

And it was Sasha who insisted on being responsible; being the one who pushed the button that blew that chamber of nightmares to bits... but it was Blair who comforted Sasha later that night when Sasha couldn't sleep. Blair, who held Sasha when Sasha shook with pain. Blair, who cried for Sasha when Sasha could not cry, neither for himself nor those lost little manufactured creatures.

In the dark hours after Sasha finally fell asleep, Blair had examined his own heart to determine if he was strong enough to live with what this war was requiring of him. What he found was more than the bond between sentinel and shaman guide. What he found was the same thing that had kept him at Jim Ellison's side, after Lash, after the rig, after Dawson Quinn and Wade Rooker and a dozen other close calls.

After his own death at the hands of Alex Barnes.

He loved, and he was in love, but this time he was loved. He needed, and he was needed in turn. Wherever Sasha was, that was home to him, and he was more than strong enough to protect and defend what was his. Had he doubted that their cause was just, he had only to remember the consequences of the Consortium's agenda and the frozen expression on Sasha's face as that lab had exploded into smoking rubble.

He still remembered, and he would never forget.

Sasha had confessed his love for Blair a few days after Blair's own epiphany. Blair had been injured- yet another gunshot wound -and had awakened to Jeremiah Smith's almost frantic efforts to arouse Sasha from a deep zone. Only half healed from the bullet in his shoulder, Blair had ordered Smith to leave them alone so he could call his sentinel out of the zone.

Sasha had come around literally sobbing his name. It was the only time Blair had ever seen Sasha actually cry, which was just as well, because the man had fallen apart in his arms. Thinking at first that it was delayed reaction from the lab bombing, Blair had been startled when Sasha first begged Blair not to leave him, then explained that he was in love with Blair, and couldn't survive without him. Moved by Sasha's simple words, Blair joyfully admitted the truth in his own heart, and not a day had gone by since that Sasha didn't make Blair feel like the focal point of his life.

Love had given them both a feeling of security that even the worst of the fighting couldn't take away. Always at pains to be honest with each other, they'd taken it further yet, sharing the details of their pasts as well as their hopes for the future, until they knew each other body and soul. Each one came first in the other's life, which was a something neither had ever known, not even where their parents were concerned.

Parents. Blair smoothed Sasha's hair where it fell across the pillow and let out a tiny sigh.

Sasha's were long dead, of course, victims of the conspiracy. Blair wasn't sorry that he'd never meet them. They'd raised Sasha to be a tool of the Consortium, all to further the aims of the Resistance. That their plan had worked didn't lessen Blair's resentment towards their ruthlessness.

As for Naomi, she'd sent him a message through Jim to say she was in Nepal and wouldn't be at the graduation, but that she'd be praying for him to pursue his salvation with diligence, as the Buddha directed. He hadn't been surprised. She disapproved of Sasha's influence over his life, blaming Sasha for turning him into- what had she called it -a guerilla thug who promoted genocide, no better than the Nazis.

Granted, that had hurt. Naomi thought they should have made peace with the aliens and welcomed them to earth, and she refused to understand why that wasn't an option.

"You aren't sleeping, solnyshko moy. What's wrong?"

"Just thinking we should go to Australia first. I've got a friend in New South Wales who would love to meet you, and it will give us a chance to check on Jeremiah and the others."

Sasha said nothing, merely cuddling him closer. That silent sense of acceptance was all Blair needed in order to count his blessings and relax.

Aleksandr Krajik was, and always would be, at the top of that list.

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