Nick looked around the door and walked in. He looked around for the twosome he was here to see. No one, so he sat on the bed to wait. When neither of them had reappeared in fifteen minutes, he went looking. He started with the nurses station and she pointed the way out to the lounge area, smiling at him. Nick walked slowly out there, not knowing what to expect. He never expected Jim to be sitting at Blair's feet, head on his Blair's knees, rubbing his legs gently and talking quietly.
He cleared his throat as he sat down. "You look better."
Blair smiled, a trace of the man he had been when he had joined coming back out. "Thanks. They've got me eating *tons* of food, even when I don't want to."
"I told him I was going to force him if he didn't," Jim said. He looked up and smiled slightly. "How's things at the house?"
"Oh, same old same old. It's like the force, nothing ever changes."
Jim and Blair both laughed, and Nick handed over the folder he had been instructed to give them. Jim handed it up to Blair, going back to rubbing the younger man's legs. Until Blair hit him on the top of the head with it, then he sat up to look over it. He grabbed a pen off the candy striper that was constantly trying to hit on Blair and signed it, handing it and the pen over to his mate.
Blair smiled as he signed the forms, handing everything back to their owners.
Nick looked the contract over before closing the folder, tapping it on his leg. "Can I bring you anything when I come back?"
Blair looked down at his mate and smiled. "Clothes. I get to go home tomorrow or the next day."
Jim smiled. "Something warm and fussy that makes him look less attractive to the women if you could."
Nick laughed. "Is there such a thing?" Jim shook his head as Blair rolled his eyes. "Oh, and Alex is back again, so don't worry about the noise. She covers it up really well."
"Noise?" Blair asked.
Nick gave him a 'look' then glanced at Jim.
"No, we're not that sort of partners," Blair said. "He's straight."
"And you're not?" Jim asked.
"Not always," Blair said. "I'm an 'it depends on the person' kind of guy." He shrugged and looked up at Nick. "You don't have to worry about the noise. I don't snore."
"No, you snuffle."
"Snuffle," Jim said. "Like a dog getting a scent. That not quite sniffing sound." He looked up at his partner. "Snuffling."
Blair shook his head and looked at his co-worker. "You see what I put up with?"
Nick smiled. "Yeah, and now I know why you do it." He waved and walked back down the hall, heading back to the castle.
"So, you now have a six-month contract with the Luna Foundation with an option to lengthen it. Now what?"
"Now we talk?" Jim guessed.
"Now we talk," Blair confirmed.
Jim looked around at the things Simon had packed for him. All of his favorite clothes and mementoes were here, along with some books and a few gifts that were sent by the people in Major Crimes. He sat on his bed and looked at all the things that others thought mattered to him and wondered if they knew that none of it did.
Blair knocked on the door and walked in. "Unpacked?" Jim nodded. "Supper in a few minutes."
Jim stood up, making a grab for his over-shirt.
"It's not formal. Wear your t."
Jim dropped it, following the advice of his guide, something he had promised himself to do more of. They walked down the hall and down the stairs, joining the three other members of the house in the dining room. Jim held Blair's chair steady while he sat then took his own, unfolding his napkin and dropping it into his lap.
"Sweet potatoes?" Derek asked, holding out the bowl.
Jim took some for himself and dished some out for his Guide, setting the tone for the rest of the meal. Jim served them both, taking care of the younger man in the strange environment.
Desert was it though. Jim didn't like the pie, so he didn't dish any out for Blair. When the younger man reached for the plate, Jim gave him a funny look.
Blair got up and left the table, going back to his room.
Jim looked around then at the floor before following him. He stopped the younger man on the stairs, making him sit beside him. "I'm sorry?" Jim clearly guessed.
"Yeah, it was a pretty sorry sight." Blair moved some of his hair off his cheek. "Why did you dish out everything for me?"
Jim closed his eyes. "Don't know, felt right."
Blair nodded. "So then it wasn't a means to make me feel like a little kid that couldn't do anything for myself?"
Jim opened his eyes so he could grab Blair's shoulders. "No, nothing like that. I just had the urge to do that, to serve you." He shivered. "It was like another instinctual response to being someplace not home."
"This is home," Blair said. "For me at least."
Jim looked down, staring at his feet. "I don't know what it is for me yet."
Blair got up, heading to his room, and leaving Jim just sitting there, trying to figure it out.
Derek walked by the stairs, seeing Jim still sitting there almost an hour after supper had been finished. "Would you like to talk?" he asked quietly, sitting next to the younger man.
Jim nodded but he didn't move. "He got upset because he thinks I was trying to show that he couldn't do it for himself."
"Instead of a reaction to want to serve him?"
Jim looked up in surprise. "How did you know?"
"I've been doing a lot of studying since Blair agreed to join, learning all I could about both your abilities and the responsibilities that would come with having a Guide. In a few it was mentioned that in strange environments, a Sentinel would serve the Guide his food to make sure he wasn't harmed by it." The older man shrugged. "It's not a well-studied area, but the action leans more toward the protective instinct that you have towards him."
Jim nodded. "Can you explain that to him?"
Derek nodded, patting his shoulder before getting up and heading up the stairs. He knocked on Blair's door, entering when he heard a noise. "It was a protective instinct, you know," he said.
Blair nodded. "Yeah, I guess it must have been." He turned the page on his Anthro journal. "Doesn't mean it wasn't insulting; you aren't going to poison me." He looked up briefly. "The man can fight it."
"Not when he's been weakened by your separation," Derek reminded him.
Blair tossed the magazine. "Yeah, I guess so." He rolled over. "Damn," he shouted. "Why can't this just all go smoothly?"
Derek smiled. "When has it ever?" He left the room, closing the door gently.
Blair looked around his room, a clear symbol of everything he had ever wanted. Everything he had ever dreamed of was in this house and he couldn't take advantage of most of it because one little part of it wouldn't go along and stay. He rolled over onto his stomach, covering his head with a pillow.
Jim looked at the camera monitor in front of him and sighed. Blair was out walking around the gardens, looking like he had to learn every little detail and make memories so he could leave and not forget.
He knew the heart of his problem: this was a Blair environment, not a Jim one and not a Jim/Blair one like the younger man had made the station in Cascade. He wasn't comfortable here and might never be. He could investigate as many things as he wanted to here, but none of it was something that interested him. He had never been interested in the paranormal or the like, so why was he here? He looked back down at the monitor, noticing all the weight Blair was still missing.
Nick rolled his chair closer to Jim's. "Still trying to figure it out?" Jim nodded. "The secret to happiness is doing something that makes you happy." He went back to his own work.
Jim just kept looking at the monitor, letting that common piece of advice sink in and take hold. When he found something to say, he voiced it in the quiet room. "What about when it makes someone else unhappy?"
Nick shook his head. "Why doesn't being here make you happy? You have a good job that's mildly interesting. You have Blair and everything else you might ever need. What else do you want?"
Jim sat back and thought about it. "But the work doesn't really get me. I like to investigate, but I'm lost in this paranormal crap."
Nick started to laugh. "Do you know what I did the first fifty times I ran into a ghost?" Jim shook his head. "I shot at it. Actually through it. That fifty-first time, Alex pushed my hand down and asked me if I *really* thought it would do any good."
Jim smiled slightly. "Yeah, that sounds like something I might do. I don't deal well with the nonphysical. My Spirit Guide was ignored for almost two years and I still cringe when I see it coming."
"You have one?" Jim nodded. "What animal?"
"Jaguar. Big, black, and cryptic." He shook his head. "Blair's is a wolf, one he doesn't see often, but the first time he did he danced around for days because he said it was a validation of his Shaman status."
Nick nodded. "Yeah, he told us that story." He went back to his work, leaving Jim to continue to watch over Blair.
Blair walked into the control room, humming a jazz tune he had just heard on the radio. He logged onto the computer, opening his current case file to work on, promptly getting lost in the intricate details of missing jewelry and kidnapping.
Derek walked in a few hours later, watching as Blair drew diagrams with the stylus to figure out what had happened. He almost had it, he only had to connect two of the events to prove the theory he held. He watched the younger man find the right combination, the computer spilling out the result to his cheer. "I see you found it," he said, sitting down next to him. "Where did it go for those four days?"
"Nowhere. It was in the same place, just not the same plane. The spirit took it, hiding it in it's essence to absorb some of the power the gems contained; he thought he needed it to pass on."
Derek nodded. "That sounds reasonable. Did he?" Blair shook his head. "Where did he go?"
"He used the jewelry to escape, transferring some of his essence in place of the power he siphoned off to be carried out. He did or will join it later." He looked over at the locked case. "I would suggest we move them soon." He pointed over at the three pins and the pendant locked under the safety glass, the jewelry that he had been studying. "It's not safe to have him here, especially in here, if he can suck energy."
Derek rolled his chair over, opening the case to pull the slight pieces of decoration out. "I'll have them sent to the mainland storage area. There shouldn't be anything in there that it would be able to hurt." He got up, walking out of the room, taking the potentially harmful decorations with him.
Blair leaned back in his chair with a huge grin on his face. He had solved his first real case, all by himself no less, and he was proud. Now if only he had someone to tell. That thought threatened his happiness, but he shook it off so he could move onto the next task.
Jim knocked on the office door before going in. He sat down in front of Derek, waiting for him to acknowledge him.
"This works better if you say something," the older man prompted.
Jim shook his head. "I was taught to wait until I was recognized." He uncrossed then recrossed his ankles. "Is there some reason why everyone keeps hinting that Sandburg and I should be lovers?"
Derek nodded, still not looking up. "It's the most common outcome of the relationship between a Sentinel and his Guide." He looked up. "Does that thought bother you?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah, it does. I'm not like that." He shifted so he could look out the window. "That's not something I even considered."
Derek put down his drafting pencil. "Neither did Nick until he found himself staring at me one night over dinner. Then he had to face the love he felt for me and get over his incorrect training." He leaned back some. "I could ask him to give you the books he read if you'd like."
Jim shook his head. "I don't want that," he said quietly. "I lose something of myself in any relationship I've ever been in." He shrugged. "I just needed to know."
"I hope this won't make you leave him again."
"No, it's not going to. Everyone we worked with in Cascade thought we were together too but they learned to get over it."
"And if Blair doesn't?"
"He'll have to. I can't do that." Jim stood, leaving the office to go back to his meditational stroll through the garden.
"I'd like to find whomever did that to you and beat them," he said quietly. "No one deserves to be suppressed like that." He shook his head, picking up his pencil to get down the map of the catacombs he would be visiting next week with Alex.
Blair bounced out into the garden, looking for Jim. He found the older man sitting on a bench, looking at the roses. "Hey," he said, sliding down next to him.
"Do you remember the first exercise we did together?" Blair nodded. "You took me to the market and made me smell the roses through everything else." He looked down at his former partner. "You look happy."
"I solved my first case all by myself." He smiled, at peace with the world around him. "Why the trip down memory lane?"
"I was just thinking."
"About what we used to have." He took the younger man's hand. "Why did we lose it? Why couldn't I see what was needed and let you go sooner?"
Blair looked shocked as he pulled his hand back. "You're leaving again?" He stood up, not waiting for an answer. "Of course you're leaving again, why would you stay? You've been happy here now for almost three months, why not leave again." He threw up his arms, walking back inside, still talking to himself.
Jim watched with sadness as it started all over again. "But I can't stay," he told the flowers.
Nick Boyle knocked on Blair's door, trying again to wake him up for the evening meal. "Blair," he called.
Jim walked down the hall. "He's still asleep." He opened the door, going in. "Chief?"
"He doesn't live here anymore," the younger man said, rolling away from him. "I'll be down soon Nick," he said loudly.
"Okay, I'll tell Derek to save you some of the breaded stuff."
Blair sighed, rolling off the bed to get up. "What do you want this time? To give me more bad news?" He didn't look at Jim as he pulled back on his shirts. "Not enough of that this afternoon?"
Jim turned the younger man around by the shoulders. "That wasn't what I meant. Well, it was but it wasn't. I can't leave you but I'm not happy here." He looked around. "I'm always walking around afraid to run into something and break it. The work's not for me, I don't understand any of it. This is a *Blair* place, not a place I'm comfortable in." He released his tight hold on the shoulders. "But I will be around. I know I can't leave you totally, go back to Cascade again. I'm going to try to get on with the department here."
Blair bit his lip, nodding. "That's nice. So, I'm expected to drop everything here to come work with you again?"
"No, not even. I don't think I could ask for you to get access like you did at home. I'll call when I need your help and everything but you won't be riding along."
Blair brushed past him. "And if they won't take you because of your disciplinary record? We both know it's not that great."
"I want to work someplace where there's few homicides, someplace where I'm dealing with the same type of case every day."
"Robbery?" Blair asked, shocked. "You taxed your senses more on those cases than you did anything besides homicides." He shook out his hair before pulling it back in a sloppy ponytail. "Any other choices?"
"Sex crimes." Jim looked down at the floor. "I'd be good there and most departments have to beg detectives to work in that area."
"That might work. What if they put you in the community relations thing they just started with the gay community for hate crimes and the like?"
Jim shrugged. "I can do that just as well. That wouldn't bother me. Well, it might bother me but I can do it." He looked up. "You approve?"
"Doesn't matter if I do." He walked out of the room going down the stairs to the large formal table. "Hey," he said, sliding into his seat. "Pass the breaded stuff?" Derek did but looked at him funny. "What?"
"You look tired and worn out now but you were so happy earlier. What happened?" He rested his arms on the table, waiting for an answer.
Jim sat in his seat. "I told him the truth. I can't work here and be happy but I can't really leave again either. I've decided to apply to the city's force." He picked up a roll. "We'll still have contact, I can get a place close to the other side of the docks. I'll be doing stuff that makes me feel useful and so will he." He dished up the rest of his food. "I'm sorry, Derek, I gave it a try but it's just not for me."
Derek nodded wisely. "At least you'll be around for him." He looked down at his plate. "We can talk about this some other time. We usually refuse to discuss work at the table." He looked at his husband. "How's the 'Stang?"
Nick grinned. "Purring again. All she needed was a thorough cleaning and some new oil." He took the hint, turning to Alex. "So, what's new in your life?"
"Oh, nothing much. Nice guy I met on the plane, but he was headed for Hong Kong on an art buying trip. No major events that would cause alarm." She looked at Blair. "And I hear someone solved his first case today and it was the jewelry one." She smiled. "Good job. I looked at it for months and didn't get the energy stuff." Derek cleared his throat. "Sorry," but she just grinned at their boss, not really sorry at all.
After supper, Derek pulled Jim and Blair into his office. He sat them down in front of him, trying once again to help them work it out. "I have a few connections in the department. I could get you an interview if you wanted," he offered. "We'd use you as a liaison when we needed access to information for a case."
Jim nodded. "That sound reasonable. I was expecting something like this anyway." He turned to face his former partner. "I'm sorry, Chief, I really am. I tried it your way but I can't do it." The younger man waved a hand in the air, not saying anything. He put his hand out to touch Blair, but the part he was moving toward was removed from his range. "Okay, fine. What do you want?"
"How about really trying?" Blair sat up straight. "All you ever do is sit in there and watch me. You haven't touched a case, you haven't tried to see what I was working on, nothing. It's like you're determined all ready to fail."
Jim spread out his arms. "I'm sorry, but I can't. I did try. I tried to help you with that ghost child case but I never got a handle on what was going on. I'm not built to handle this stuff!" He got up, standing over his friend. "Did you ever once think about what this was doing to me?"
"To you?" Blair was shocked. "It was *my* life and *my* reputation that was almost ruined. And did I let it stop me? No. I found someplace else where I could keep part of myself strong and keep going. You never wanted me to get my doctorate or to publish. I knew that a long time ago so I was working on an alternate dissertation but it never happened. Every time I'd sit down to work on it, something of *yours* would come up and I'd have to go do stuff I wasn't any good at and pretend to like it."
"So, now *I'm* supposed to do that?" He shook his head. "I'm not that good at lying." He walked out of the room, not even listening to the effects his words had.
Blair stared out the window. "Maybe he should leave," he said quietly. He looked at Derek. "I'm sorry, we shouldn't have done that in front of you."
"It's not uncommon for people as close as yourselves to fight about these things." He leaned forward some, small smile. "Nick and I do it all the time."
Blair nodded. "Yeah, you two are kinda from different places, huh." He leaned back, getting comfortable. "So, boss, what's my next case?"
"Aren't you going to finish it with him?" He waved at the door.
"It is," Blair said with finality. "For good this time. I'll train his next Guide 'cause I'm not riding that roller coaster again." He tapped his leg. "What next?"
"You have a choice: go finish the fight with Jim and make up, making him see your side of this, or you can go back to the way you were." He tapped the book he had been studying. "How long do you think it'll be before it happens again?"
"The first time he gets shot?" Blair guessed. He shook his head. "It's not my concern. I'm not the Guide anymore. He's rejected my part in his life."
"You can't just turn it off or divorce him." Blair shrugged. "I mean it, you have to work it out. I won't attend your funerals over this matter." He got up, leaving his colleague in his office. "Think about it, Blair."
Blair looked out at the floodlights shining over the garden. "I have," he said quietly. "I just have to convince the shithead to let me go." He got up, going up to his room. He looked around at all the things he considered important and noticed that it didn't hurt that much anymore when Jim wasn't on the list. Maybe the painful part of their breakup was over now.
He laid down, more than ready for another nap. He pulled the fleece throw up over his chest, letting himself fall down into it's warm and comforting embrace.
Unfortunately, he woke up in the jungle. Again. For the third time in as many days. "Oh, yeah, this sucks," he told himself. "I'm not doing this anymore," he yelled.
Not-Jim stepped out of the brush behind him. "You must. You are the Guide."
Blair turned slowly, looking at him. "Not anymore. He doesn't want to be with me and I'm not following him back onto the force." He crossed his arms. "I'm sorry it's not going according to your plans, but we can't live together anymore."
"Yet you do."
"Only until he finds a space of his own." He shrugged. "Not my fault he wouldn't stay beside me."
"Yet, he still is."
"No, he's inhabiting the same house, not the same thing at all. He's made it very clear that he won't stay with me. I can't Guide him from across the bay."
"You are the Guide."
"And he's the Sentinel but that doesn't seem to matter. He's about blown his chance to stay beside me."
"Go to him."
"I can't do that again. That's all I've ever done is go to him. It's almost killed me too many times. I can't and won't do it again. He has a place here, whenever he's ready to accept the truth." He turned, starting to walk away, but the growth twined around his ankles. "We're done. It's over."
"Nothing is ever over, it is only put off until the next cycle." The Not-Jim disappeared but the jungle didn't.
"Oh, no. I'm not staying." He tried to pinch himself, but nothing happened. "I'm not the Guide," he shouted, the painful sound echoing around through the trees.
Jim looked down at the sleeping form. Blair had left his door open, wanting so bad to retreat into sleep again. He pulled another blanket up over the slender body, not wanting him to get cold during the night. Then he left, closing the door behind him.
The next morning, he knocked before entering, not wanting to let Blair sleep through another meal. The younger man didn't move, didn't show a sign of hearing him or waking anytime soon. Jim walked back over to the bed, kneeling down beside it, his proximity enough usually to wake Blair. When nothing happened, he touched the shoulder nearest him gently, not wanting him to be startled. He blinked at the irritated feeling his eyes suddenly got.
The next thing he saw was Blair in the jungle, behind a wall of growth. "This isn't right." He thought about a knife, but none appeared. "Not a dream either." He listened to the odd sound flowing around him.
//Not the Guide, not the Guide, not the Guide, not the...// The echoes beat his body from all sides. "No, he doesn't want to be the Guide." The wall built up a little more. "If he doesn't want it then I can't do anything to make him stay." Again, the wall got higher, the vines getting thicker and more interwoven.
//Not the Guide, not the Guide, not the Guide...//
"It's not my fault he doesn't want to be the Guide," he told the air.
The Not-Blair walked out, shaking his head. "Yes, it is. He is right to think that you do not want him to be the Guide." He sat down on the vines, not even producing a dent in the growth. "He will stay with us until the next one comes. Maybe that Sentinel will be worthy of him."
Jim looked down at the vines creeping around his feet. "I tried. I tried to explain it to him, why I couldn't be where he was. He didn't listen."
"It is not his job to listen, but to explain. It is your job to listen." The Not-Blair shrugged. "This is not his problem. He gave his life for you and you do not return it."
"How can I? There's not some rogue Guide running around out there that's going to drown me in a fountain."
"He gave his life more than that one time. That time, it was not his to give, but ours. We gave it back but now you waste it." He curled his feet up under him. "This is now your turn to give."
Jim awoke with a scream, bringing Nick and Alex up to him. "Oh, God, why us?" He laid his head down on the warm body. "The Spirit Guides have him. They won't let him come back."
Alex looked alarmed. "When did he slip under?" When Jim didn't answer her, she tapped him on the back of the head. "When did he go under?"
"Right after our fight, he came up to take a nap. He was asleep when I came up at ten. The vines are walling him in."
Derek kneeled down beside Jim. "What did they say?"
"That it was my turn to give up my life for him."
Nick sucked in a breath, but Derek looked at him. "That doesn't mean what you think it does, James. He gave his life in many ways to you."
"I know," came the quiet reply. "But I can't do that."
"You have to or else he won't come back. Ever." He stood up, nodding at Alex to monitor him while he and Nick pulled the Sentinel downstairs. By the time they'd gotten to the office, Derek was more than tired of the mournful man he was dragging along. "Sit!" he ordered.
Jim did as he was told, looking up. "What?"
"You still don't get it, do you?" Nick asked. "He gave his life up for you, almost gave up everything that meant anything to him to be by your side." Jim still looked confused.
"How many times has he followed you where no sane person would?" Derek asked. "Or can't you count that high?" He pulled a chair over so he could face the younger man. "How many times did he put on a vest and go out with you?"
"He never wore one, I always wanted him to stay in the truck," Jim said quietly. "He should never have been in the line of fire."
"Yet he was," Nick pointed out. "Daily because he couldn't leave your side because you needed him." He sat on the floor, making Jim look at him. "He gave his life to you in so many ways. He took care of you, gave up on ever having his own *real* life. He gave up on having a family, not able to leave your side because you needed him. He gave up everything he had ever held dear to be by your side even when he wasn't wanted."
"He gave his life, literally, for you, taking on that other Sentinel so she would leave you alone," Derek said. Jim got a very pained look on his face. "Why else would he have done it?"
"Because I was wrong when I pushed him away, it made him vulnerable. That was my fault, not his."
"That may be but he shares part of the blame, taking her on as he did."
"He was trying to help her, not betray me."
"So what have you given recently?" Nick asked.
"My whole life," Jim said. "All my friends, my calling, my city. My brother, who doesn't know I left. Everything, even possibly my freedom if his diss is found out." He shook his head. "I've given everything I can."
"What about your career?" Derek asked. "Surely you've not given up that. Or your emotions. Or your real feelings for him. Or even your thoughts most of the time." He shook his head. "Blair's given up his whole life, he almost lost it on numerous occasions to be by your side. Why didn't you tell him how much it meant?"
"Because I'm not good at that. He's the talker, I'm a touch person. Nothing I could ever say would express that, but I thought he knew." He buried his face in his hands. "This is my fault and I don't know how to fix it."
Derek sighed, slapping the younger man across the back of his head. "You fix it by either letting him go in peace or by giving your life to him. Those are the only two choices." He got up, nodding at his husband to come with him, Jim needed time alone to figure it out.
Nick headed back up the stairs while his husband gathered the monitoring equipment. He made sure Blair's body was ready to accept the monitor pads, shaving off little sections of the chest hair. Derek handed him each one, letting him place it where it was needed.
Soon enough, Blair's condition was plainly visible to all in the room. He was basically asleep, but not dreaming and not narcoleptic. He wouldn't wake until Jim fixed this situation somehow. Even if it was the simplest thing in the world to do.
Derek walked back down to his office but Jim had retreated to the garden to think. He could just barely see the younger man's body off to the side of his window. He would leave him out there for a while longer, he had a decision to make and so did the Precept.
Jim walked back into Blair's room, kneeling down beside the bed again. He touched the same spot on his Guide's shoulder, but nothing happened. He sighed, sitting down beside the bed so he could watch the monitors to see what was going on. He turned up his hearing, letting the heartbeat that had been this soothing music for years do it's job again. But after a few minutes of not even that working, he got frustrated. "I'm trying," he said quietly. "You're not cooperating."
Derek shook his head from the door. "Still don't get it?"
"I'm trying to go back under, join our Spirit Guides, but I can't go."
"You're trying too hard," the older man said, closing the door to give them privacy.
Jim consciously relaxed every muscle in his body, willing himself to that peaceful state he needed to be in. Still nothing, he couldn't relax enough to hit the right note to join Blair. He closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the slack hand, wishing it would stroke over his hair one more time. Pretty soon, he was where he wanted to be.
"Have you come to free the Guide?" Not-Blair asked. Not-Jim wouldn't look at him.
"I want to try."
"No, you may not try," the Not-Jim said.
"Okay, then I'll do."
"No, you may not do," the Not-Blair said. "Neither is the right answer."
"Then I need another hint. I'm willing to not go back to protecting the people and stay by his side but I can't do that if I can't tell him that."
Not-Jim laughed. "That is not the answer either. You cannot deny what you are to save him." He turned back into the panther, sitting there watching with bright blue eyes.
Jim sat on the step of the temple, facing the cat. "Then what do I do? How do I give my life to him?"
"You must do it, but not do it," Not-Blair said. "You are his as he is yours, but neither of you are the other's."
Jim snorted. "That's even worse than what he tells me."
"But he is right. You know all that you need to, even if you refuse to admit it to yourself."
"This is the love thing, right?"
"Love is an emotion, not a life."
"But life springs out of love."
"As it goes around, yes, but that is not all there is to it." Not-Blair changed back and both animals ran off into the heavy growth.
"I swear it's getting worse each time I come," Jim said. He turned up his hearing, listening for the unique sound of Blair. But there was no Blair. "Where is he?"
"He is where you are," floated out of a nearby tree.
"Oh, yeah, this makes sense." He looked up at the sky. "Blair?"
Derek shook him, bringing him back. "I don't think that's the answer," the Dutchman said. "You have to tell him, not go visit his spirit." He left the room, leaving the tray of lunch he had brought in.
Jim touched the cup of fruit gently, eyes closed as he savored the sensations of the wet, sticky juice and fleshy pulp on his fingers. "Blair," he whispered. "I'm sorry I can't do for you what you did for me. If you need me to stay to come back, I will." The heart monitor's beep sped up for a second then dropped back down. "Do you need a full commitment? Something in writing?" he asked, turning to look at his guide. "Do I need to cut our hands to share blood with you? You gotta wake up and tell me what I'm doing here, we both know this isn't my area." He looked at the monitors, but it was telling him the same thing his hearing was, Blair's heart was slowing down farther. "Don't leave," he said, brushing a limp curl off the pale forehead. "I won't leave if you won't. I'll even talk about personal stuff if you'd come back, Chief." The heart rate slowed some more. "Blair, please, don't go. I want you to be my guide. Your guiding me has been all that's kept me alive." A fragment of his earlier conversation with the couple down the hall came back to him. "Blair, take my life, use it like I did yours." He joined their hands, using his thumb to rub over the tiny hairs on the cool flesh. "You feel dead and this is my fault," he said, "I should be in the bed instead of you. This is all my screw-up." The younger man's heart rate went back up. "Blair, if I could change places with you, I would. I'd live behind that vine wall if it'd make you happy. I'll even give up on being a cop if it helps, whatever you need, buddy." He saw a flutter of eyelashes and decided this must be what talking him out of a zone was like. "Blair, come back, buddy, I need you here. I'll do anything to have you here. All you gotta do is tell me and I'll listen this time, I swear."
Blair opened his eyes, looking at the worried, lighter blue ones looking down at him. "What happened?"
"We insulted the spirit guides so they locked you away," Jim told him, brushing some of the hair back behind Blair's ear. "Whatever you need to make you complete is what I'll give."
"Jim, go away," Blair whispered. "I'm not plunging you into unhappiness just to make myself happy." He pulled his hand back, then sat himself up farther against the headboard. "It's really clear you can't be happy here and I won't be happy if you're not happy. I'll train your next Guide and everything, but we're done."
Jim shook his head. "We're not done, Chief. I don't quit anything. I'll give it another shot, okay? I'll even work harder at getting into the whole ghost hunting thing." He gave a hopeful smile. "Deal?"
"No," Blair said, shaking his head. "That's going to make you miserable which will make me feel bad. I can't take feeling bad so you're going to go do what you need to do to be happy." He grabbed a piece of fruit from the tray on the sidetable. He nibbled it while he thought. "There's got to be a middle ground somewhere, man, we can't do this together and I'm not leaving."
"Then I have to stay."
"That's not what they meant," Derek sighed from the doorway. "They didn't mean you had to make yourself miserable, but to find a compromise that worked for the both of you." He looked at Blair. "How are you feeling? Any residual problems?"
"Not a thing, thanks, Derek. I know how hard it is to tell him anything and I know you tried."
"Nick and I both," Derek said with a small smile. "He still doesn't seem to get the meaning of the word 'life' though. He thinks it's only physical." He left them alone, closing and locking the door. "Talk," he called through the thick wood. "I'll monitor you with the camera, the sound will be off."
Jim shook his head, laying it on the bedspread. "I'm lost. He's right."
"Jim, life doesn't always mean a physical thing. Sometimes it's a metaphysical thing and sometimes it's just a concept." Blair pulled the monitor pads off, got out of the bed, and padded toward the bathroom. "I'll be back in a minute." He closed and locked the door behind himself, leaning against it and closing his eyes. "He won't get it," he muttered, going to do what he had to to alleviate his swollen bladder.
Jim thought about what he had been told, blinking in confusion. "Life doesn't mean life? That's that philosophy crap." He snorted. "Only Sandburg can make life complicated and an idea." He got up, sitting on the bed, inhaling the strong scents that the sheets were impregnated with. "But, if he has an idea, I need to know. Chief," he called. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Blair called back. "Just peachy." From the bathroom, the sound of flushing and running water came, then the Guide walked back out. "Figured it out yet?"
"No," Jim said, nearly sulking. "You've got to de-philosophize it for me. I don't understand the metaphysical meaning of life."
"Jim, sit and think on it, it'll come." Blair walked over to the door, pulling his new lock gun out of his jacket and using it on his door. He walked out into the arms of Nick, who grinned at him. "What? I'm hungry and listening to him think isn't what I want to do while I eat."
"Nope," Nick said, pushing him back into the bedroom and taking the lock gun from him. "Knew giving you this was dangerous," he said with a smirk as he closed the door and relocked it. He turned to find his husband behind him, smiling at him and holding up the lock gun. "Gave it to Blair last week."
Derek shook his head, stealing a kiss. "You and your toys."
"Yeah, but you usually like my toys," Nick whispered, leaning in for another kiss. Derek swatted his butt and they parted, heading for their room. They locked themselves in, not wanting to be disturbed.
Blair shook his head, backing away from the door. "Six years and they still love each other," he told his sentinel. "It's amazing in this day and age." He turned to find Jim on his knees beside the bed, head resting on it, arms covering his head. "Problems?"
"Headache," Jim groaned.
"Sorry, I'll keep the deep thoughts to myself for a while." He sat in his chair, watching the older man think. "Still don't get it?"
"No." Jim sat up, looking at his guide. "If I'm not supposed to give up my life for you by giving up my career then what am I supposed to be giving up for you?"
"Life is more than a career, more than the physical rhythms that make you live. Life is everything that you do and have." Blair leaned his head back. "When monks go into their religions, they give up their lives to their beliefs. Everything that marked who they were is taken from them. You have to decide what part of that life that you're going to give up." He stood up, heading over to the door. "I'm actually hungry and they lock us in."
Jim stood up, coming over to stand behind him. "I could get it open if you have something to pick it with." Blair walked over to his closet, pulling a small box out and handing it over. Jim grinned at the knitting needles, looking up at his Guide. "Knitting?"
"I had to do something during semester breaks in my undergrad years."
Jim nodded, his smile falling away. "Point." He knelt before the door, upping his sight so he could pick the lock. After a few minutes, he had the door open, holding it so that Blair could walk through first. They headed down to the kitchen without meeting anybody, sitting down at the bar in front of the night butler. "Can we have a snack?" he asked the older man.
"Of course," the butler said, handing over the plate he had been filling. "I was going to bring this up to you in a few moments." He smiled at Blair. "What would you like to eat?"
"Something gooey and messy. I need it to be sloppy."
"Ah," the butler said, walking over to the freezer to pull out a bag. "How about french toast sticks? With the syrup you liked so much the other morning and rhubarb sauce?"
"Yeah," Blair said with a small smile. "That'd be great, Tom, thanks." He rubbed his hands together as the older man thawed the french toast sticks, craning his neck to watch. "I never knew that they fixed those in bags."
"Yes, they do, it's for the harried mothers who have to work so that their children don't feel slighted." Tom sat the plate down in front of Blair, setting two bowls of sauce in front of him also. "There, let me get you some milk to go with that." He looked at Jim. "Detective, you need to eat also," he reminded gently.
Jim looked down at his mostly full plate and picked up a homemade potato chip to eat. "Sorry, just thinking."
"Think later," Blair suggested. "Eat now and make your life decisions on a full stomach, it works for me." He smiled at the butler as a glass of milk landed in front of him. "Thanks, Tom, you're a sweetie."
"Of course I am, Blair, just please tell Doctor Rayne that, I could use a raise."
"Will do." Blair dipped one of the sticks into the rhubarb sauce then into the syrup, ignoring Jim's expression as he ate it. "S'good. We need more bags of those. That way I don't bother you so much."
Tom laughed. "It's no bother to feed you, Blair, it's not like you're Nick, who eats some of the most sickening things. Oyster omelets? Really."
Jim snorted. "They were good."
"Sorry, I like my slimy things in a meal when I've planned to have slimy things," Blair said lightly, eating another stick.
Jim went back to his own snack, thinking hard about what Blair had told him.
Derek looked up as Jim walked into his office, silently waving at a chair when the detective hesitated. "What can I do for you this morning?" he asked gently. "I assume you and Blair have talked."
"I need another chance, something to sink my teeth into here." Jim looked over the older man's shoulder and out the window. "I really don't get the paranormal stuff but I did say I'd give it a real try this time."
Derek smiled, leaning back, blocking Jim's view of the window. "I'm not sure we have anything like that. Some of the current investigations do revolve around only slightly paranormal events. On some of them, that part of the investigation is separated out." He looked at his desk and picked up a folder. "This is one of Nick's, one that he just solved actually." He tossed it over. "As you can see, it had little investigation into the paranormal. He had to figure out what was keeping the spirit here, which meant digging into her life."
"Same as I would a homicide," Jim said, flipping through it. "So I could still do that side?"
"Yes, of course you could. You would have to deal with the paranormal on occasion, as we all do, but most of what we do has nothing to do with tea leaves or Ouija boards." He smiled at the shocked look. "It was very obvious."
Jim hung his head. "I'm sorry, Doctor Rayne."
"Derek. I didn't mean to give off the attitude I did. I just felt like ... like I was lost. Like there was nothing here that I could do."
"Like you were the wife that was working beside the husband without knowing what she was doing?" he suggested with a small smile.
"Exactly," Jim said, handing back the folder. "That's exactly the way I felt. And I'm not, I'm not Blair's wife and I'm not ..."
"Really working?" Derek suggested. "In your element?" He leaned forward. "Jim, you could have a place here if you'd only let go of your preconceptions about the work and actually try it. I know that you're set in your ways, I've heard Blair talk about trying to get you to change types of fish to eat." That got a small smile. "You see, Nick was much like you, only his father used to work in the organization. In this very house."
"Yeah, and that almost made me run screaming from here," Nick said as he walked in. He handed over an envelope. "I did payroll. Blair's gone shopping for something he said he needed." He looked down at Jim. "Finally getting it?"
"Nick, this is a big adjustment for Jim. He's never been exposed to this life, not like some children who used to haunt the house when he was allowed to come over."
Nick grinned. "But I was cute. And that ghost really liked me."
"As did I, you were an adorable child, but Jim's never even experienced anything paranormal."
"Except for his Spirt Guide, and the whole Sentinel thing," Nick pointed out. "It's the same thing, only on a different scale because it's not so personal."
"True, most hauntings don't get up close and personal the way a Spirt Guide would."
Nick sat on the edge of the desk, looking at Jim. "Come help me with my present case and we'll see whether or not you can deal. I'm not going to coddle you the way Blair would, or be the slave driver Derek can become. Just a nice, gentle, drill instructor of a teacher."
Jim nodded, standing up. "Please."
"Goot," Derek said, standing up also. "Go do that. Did you cut my paycheck also?"
"Both of ours are sitting up in the plate on the dresser," Nick said as he led Jim out of the room. "I'll make the deposit later." He led Jim into the Control Room, sitting him down in front of a computer. "Okay, I'm working on another haunting. Her particulars are on that screen," he said, pointing to one next to the one Jim was sitting at. "I need you to tell me why she's stuck here. What unresolved issues could she have."
"So I have to find the holes?"
Nick nodded. "That sounds like a good place to start. Find the holes that could make her long to fix them." He patted the firm shoulder. "I'm going to go to town to deposit our checks. Alex is upstairs in bed with the flu. If you need help, she's the soft and nice type." He patted Jim's shoulder again and left the room. "I want a listing when I get back."
"Yes, sir," Jim said absently, scooting over to read what they had on the victim.