Disclaimer: We don't own any of these guys. Rysher, Pet Fly, UPN and a bunch of other people who make a lot more money than we do get to claim them. Please don't pick on us, it's all in good fun.

Attention: This is an ALTERNATE UNIVERSE. In reality, or as close to reality as Zen&nancy can get, Jim would never act this way. We love Jim!!!

That said, this story takes place in it's own time period. Zen&nancy no longer feel the need to comply to TPTB's time lines. They left Blair dead (he's not dead-he's just damp!) and gave us a crappy final season of Highlander. This is our little world and here we have the power, so NONE of that stuff ever happened. Denial, denial, denial!

Story title and lyrics borrowed without permission from Bob Marley (r.i.p.)

Mucho thanks to SCM for always being there, and to MoonPuppy who is crazy enough to be resident beta at the House Of Slack, and to all of you wonderful people who have written us, we're still in shock that people like this stuff.


Three Little Birds

Part 19

By Zen&nancy


*Two Weeks Later*

Jim sat at his dining room table, a paperback held open with his left hand, the other moving from sandwich to beer mechanically while he read. He finished the chapter and folded the corner of the page over to mark his place. His eyes wandered slowly over his new living space.

It was finally starting to feel like home. After two weeks of intensive construction and cleaning and moving, it felt good to look around and see all of his things in their proper place.

He and Duncan had rented a truck and made the drive back to Cascade last week to get his furniture. Blair had wanted to come, but he wasn't able to get the time off at the University. It had worked out well, though. Blair was able to conduct the first of his 'separation tests', and he and Duncan had some time to get to know each other, and talk about their unusual situation. MacLeod had actually helped him work through a few things. About halfway back to Cascade he'd turned to Duncan and asked him "What the hell am I doing?" It was as if he'd suddenly realized that he was about to completely uproot his entire life.

So they'd talked about it, and it had helped. Losing his career was the hardest part; he still wasn't really dealing with the idea that he wasn't a cop anymore. Simon hadn't made it easy. He wouldn't take Jim's resignation letter, no matter what he said to convince Simon that he'd thought about it. He'd given him an extended leave of absence instead. Six weeks to figure out if he was making a horrible mistake. It was far more than he deserved, but Simon insisted, and he did appreciate it. Even if deep down inside he knew that as long as Seacouver was where his Guide wanted to be, he didn't have any choice. It made it easier to walk away, to do it slowly.

Duncan talked to him about it, asking questions and making him think it through, but withholding his opinion until Jim asked. When he did, what Duncan had to say surprised him. He'd said "You can either see all the things you're giving up and leaving behind you, or you can try to see the things ahead of you. I'm not saying it's easy to just pick up and start a new life, but you have to think that you're lucky to have the chance at all, don't you?" He'd smiled at Jim, and it got a little easier to see it that way.

He hadn't zoned, or had any problems with his senses at all over the two days they were gone. It had been wonderful to come back to Blair and tell him that, and see the look of pride and relief on his Guide's face.

Jim agreed with Duncan, the only way to handle this was to take it one day at a time, and deal with the problems as they arose. So far at least, it was going smoother than any of them had expected. Blair got home from his day at the University about three, and then they would spend the afternoon together working on his senses. Blair had a theory and a test for everything. Everything except how to deal with the almost violent attraction he felt for his Guide.

He was still zoning every time Blair touched him. If anything, the need for Blair's physical presence seemed to be growing stronger. Blair had been so concerned about leaving him home alone tonight. He practically had to have Duncan drag him out of his apartment earlier. They'd gone to see a play at the University and wouldn't be back until after midnight.

Jim thought again about what Duncan had said. He was lucky. He was lucky that Blair was even willing to talk to him, after everything that'd happened. He was lucky to be alive. Blair could have just walked away, and decided to be done with him. Instead, he'd dragged him down here and insisted that there would be a way to make it work, until there was one. Duncan MacLeod had had a lot to do with that. He'd accepted Jim as a part of his life, given him a place to live, and offered him his friendship. He did it in ways that were easy to refuse, never putting any pressure on Jim to talk about himself or his relationship with Blair.

Instead, they went running every morning, and worked out together in the dojo in the afternoon before Blair got home. Duncan was a well educated, interesting person, and really, about the farthest thing from the highbrow, academic snob Jim had taken him for. He had a strong sense of honor and responsibility, and a good sense of humor, too.

He'd certainly laughed more in the past two weeks than he had in the four months he'd been alone. He'd actually found himself in the middle of a water fight in their kitchen last night. Sometimes Blair and Duncan's silliness was contagious, and sometimes it felt like a knife through his heart.

Watching Duncan and Blair together was so complicated. In a lot of ways, it made it easier to deal with the physical attraction he felt for his Guide. They were so totally relaxed with each other. They were affectionate with each other, but it wasn't anything like what Jim had expected. Nothing between them was forced or false. He'd expected to see the relationship as two very clear-cut roles, but it wasn't like that at all. The balance between Duncan and Blair was constantly shifting.

They were so completely comfortable with each other that he never felt embarrassed by their affection. Jealous, yes, insanely jealous sometimes, but not embarrassed, which surprised him. Until he had seen Duncan and Blair together, he hadn't been able to face his feelings for Blair realistically. Now he knew exactly what he wanted, and it was tearing him apart. He wanted Blair to look at him the way he looked at Duncan. He wanted to be able to touch Blair again, casually, the way he used to. He wanted to sleep with Blair curled up against him, the way he'd seen him the first morning he'd woken up in MacLeod loft.

Now, if he put his hand on his Guide's arm, he would be seized with a need so strong it would knock the wind out of him. The compulsion to pull Blair against him, wrap his arms around him and not let go for anything, would feel more like something he needed to live than simple desire.

It was driving him crazy, it was making him sick. Hearing Blair tell him calmly over and over again that it was a natural instinct, that they had no control over it, and that it was part of their Sentinel/Guide relationship didn't help at all. The days were good, but the nights were hell. When he was sleeping on Duncan's couch, falling asleep to Blair's heartbeat had become habit again. Actually, his ears had done it all by themselves, reaching for the familiar rhythm as soon as he closed his eyes. When his apartment was finished and he moved downstairs, he'd tried to stop, not wanting to invade Blair's privacy.

Every night, it was a losing battle. He would get into bed, turn out the light, and lie down, telling himself that he could sleep without it, that Blair was right upstairs, safe in Duncan's bed. It never worked. He would lie awake for hours, his fists clenched, curled up in the middle of his bed, trying not to think about Duncan and Blair spooned together in bed two floors above him. Eventually, he would lose control of his resolve, and his ears would reach out hungrily for the sound of Blair's heartbeat. Usually by that time it was late enough that Blair would be sleeping soundly, but last night he'd heard more than he'd meant to. When he'd first connected with the familiar sound, his Guide's heartbeat had been rapid, his breath coming in long gasps. He felt like a fool, now, for not realizing immediately, but then the only thing he'd thought of was Blair in danger, or pain. He'd focussed his hearing intently, and almost zoned on his Guide's soft groans of pleasure. He'd turned the dial back guiltily, ashamed of the way his body had responded instantly to the sound of Blair's moans.

It was a miserable, sick, empty feeling, this need. He didn't know how much longer he would be able to stand it, but what choice did he have? He couldn't hate Duncan, he just couldn't, the man had done too much to help him. He'd helped Blair save his life. Now that he knew how they'd met, he understood Duncan's protectiveness of Blair, and it didn't make him as angry. Sometimes it was hard, not to let instinct take over, but watching them together, he knew that Duncan loved him, and that he could never take Blair away from him.

Jim identified the sound of Duncan's car door's slamming, and Blair's laughter. He followed them with his hearing into the building, glad to know they were home safely. Apparently, it had been a really bad play, and this silliness had started in the third act.

"Man, we were really pushing it tonight, we work with those people."

"I can't help it, Caro, your mischief is catching."

"Man, I can't believe you stuck your tongue out at that woman!" Blair laughed out loud.

"Will you boys please made an effort to conduct yourselves like gentleman," Duncan mimicked, affecting a high pitched, snooty voice.

Jim smiled, shaking his head. He knew he should stop now, pull away and make himself go to sleep, but he couldn't. This was what amazed him, what had made it so much easier to stay. He would never have imagined that Duncan MacLeod could be such a goof ball. The first time he'd seen Blair and Duncan burst into their Marx Brothers act he thought he was going to drop dead from shock. On the outside, Duncan seemed so serious and matter of fact, sometimes even arrogant, but around Blair he was someone else.

That, exactly, was what he wanted, what Blair gave Duncan. He knew that he could have had it, once, and that was the worst part of it. Knowing that it had been within his reach for years, but he'd been too afraid to see it, to take what Blair was offering.

"Man, I'm really worried about Jim, Duncan. He's still zoning on me every time I touch him, and I'm not getting anywhere trying to find a way around it. Tell me again it's gonna be okay?"

"It's going to be okay, kiddo."

They were in the elevator. Jim had almost managed to pull away, but when he heard his name he tuned in again instinctively. Poor Blair, the kid worried about him too damn much. He was going to have to learn how to get a handle on this, before his Guide worried himself to death.

Jim rolled over onto his back with one arm flung over his face, listening to the elevator's noisy gears, and their footsteps in the loft above him.

"I'm sorry I made you go to that thing, Blair, you were right, it really was awful."

"That's okay, I got to go out with you."

"Yeah, we haven't been doing much of that lately, have we? Tell you what, kiddo, tomorrow night, anywhere you want to go, you pick, and we'll do it."

"Cool. Let's take Jim to Joe's bar."

"Hmm, okay, I guess we can do that."

"Is that not a good idea?"

Jim frowned, wondering what his Guide meant by that.

"No, don't worry about it, it'll be fine. Come here, gorgeous..."

Jim listened to the sounds of Blair's light footsteps, and then the rustle of clothes falling to the floor and Blair's whispered 'I love you.'

Jim's mind formed the picture of Blair standing naked before him, blue eyes shining. He groaned, rolling over to push his face into the pillow. It hurt so much, the loneliness felt like it was going to swallow him whole and leave nothing behind. Jim berated himself fiercely for invading their privacy, but in spite of his guilty conscious he couldn't bring himself to sever the connection with his Guide. His cock was achingly hard, begging for attention. Jim's hand slipped down between his legs, as he allowed his Guide's excited whisper to fill his mind.

"Mm, yeah, like that. That feels so good. You're wonderful. I love you. Oh, oh yeah, nice. Your mouth... Ah, Duncan. Duncan."

Jim knew what they were doing, and although his brain thought that he should be disgusted, his body was anything but. He imagined what it would be like, to have Blair's cock in his mouth, to know what he felt like, to feel him come and to taste it on his tongue. His hand's movement changed from light stroking to hard, closed fisted thrusts, squeezing rhythmically to the soft moans that filled his ears.

For just a second it seemed that Blair was there with him, that his whispered encouragements were for him, and then he exploded, coming so hard that it was almost painful. He shoved his face into the pillow, groaning Blair's name. When it was finally over, he was overcome by guilt and self loathing. What he'd done was wrong, very wrong, a total violation of his Guide's right to privacy, not to mention Duncan's. Even with twenty feet of concrete and steel between them, he couldn't leave Blair alone. Jim sighed miserably, pulling the covers up over his head. He tried to sleep, but it was another long, lonely hour before he finally drifted off, Blair's soft moans still reverberating in his ears.


Duncan woke up as he did almost every morning, one arm wrapped around Blair and a curl in his mouth. He spit it out, reaching across Blair to turn off the alarm clock. Blair rolled over underneath him, nuzzling his neck.

"Morning."

"Morning. I love you." Blair attempted to burrow into Duncan's chest.

"Do you want to get up?"

"Hell no. It's Saturday. Have a good run." The last was a mumble into the pillow.

"Okay, I'll wake you up when we get back," Duncan kissed the back of his neck, rolling over him and out of bed. Blair grunted, wriggling under his weight.

Duncan showered and shaved, his head full of pleasant memories of the night before. It had been good to be alone with Blair, and they'd had fun, in spite of the play. He didn't begrudge Blair the time he spent with Jim, in fact he genuinely enjoyed his company. He did worry that Blair was going to overly stress himself though, trying to stretch himself between them.

Duncan went back to his dresser to pull on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, smiling at the ball of Blair under the covers. He pulled his hair back into a ponytail and put on his running shoes. Taking the stairs down to the third floor, he rapped once on Jim's door, "Morning," Duncan called, knowing Jim would hear him through the door.

"Yeah, gimme a minute."

Duncan waited, and a moment later Jim opened the door in his robe, stepping back to let Duncan in. "Sorry, I'll be ready in a minute," Jim mumbled, going straight to the bathroom.

"No problem." Duncan wandered around Jim's apartment, picking up the paperback Jim had left on the coffee table last night. It was the latest Tom Clancy novel. Duncan flipped it over to read the reviews on the back cover.

Jim came out of the bathroom before he was finished, dressed in sweat pants and a Cascade PD t-shirt. "Morning. Sorry, I overslept a little."

Duncan's smile was easy going, "No problem, it's Saturday. Ready to go? It looks nice out there, no rain for a change."

"Yeah, let's go." Jim grabbed his keys from the hook next to the door.

Duncan started to follow him out of the apartment, and then he really looked at Jim, and realized he looked like hell. "Hey, are you awake? We can have a cup of coffee first if you need it, no hurry."

Jim rubbed his eyes, shaking his head, "No, no coffee. I'm okay."

Duncan had been around Jim Ellison long enough to know that if Jim told you he was okay, he probably wasn't. "Rough night?"

Jim averted his eyes, giving Duncan a noncommittal grunt for an answer.

"We gonna run?"

"Yeah, sure, let's go." Duncan followed Jim out the door, frowning at his back. He didn't know what was wrong, but he had a good idea. Blair might very well be right, maybe the attraction between them was a matter of chemistry, but the fact that it was also emotional, at least for Jim, was painfully obvious. Duncan thought of the soul nourishing, life affirming sex he'd had with Blair last night, and felt a twinge of guilt.

Jim didn't say much of anything on the ride to the park, but that wasn't unusual. From the first morning, by unspoken mutual agreement, the trip to the park had been mostly silent. They would run three miles, and then walk another, and by the time they got back to the car they were both awake and ready for conversation.

Duncan drove, sneaking concerned glances at his running partner every block or so.

"What, MacLeod?"

Jim's tone of voice didn't encourage questions, but Duncan had learned that the Sentinel's bark was worse than his bite. He was rarely as pissed off as he sounded.

"I'm sorry?" Duncan gave him an innocuous smile.

"You pick that trick up from Sandburg? You're staring at me. You keep giving me that, 'I'm going to figure out what to say to make him talk' look."

Duncan laughed, shaking his head, "Okay, Detective Ellison. What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Great. So, you're going for that brick wall impersonation?"

"MacLeod, hassling me is Sandburg's job, you're just supposed to get my ass back in shape." Jim's grin took the edge from his words.

"Okay, have it your way. Extra mile it is."

"Deal."

They were silent for a few minutes, and then Jim laughed sharply, "You must be getting used to me, MacLeod. Either that or Sandburg talks too much."

"I'm getting used to you." Duncan's voice was deceptively casual, "You haven't asked me how the play was." He watched the muscle flicker in Jim's jaw, it was all the confirmation he needed.

"How was the play?"

"Horrible. Utterly awful, one of the worst avant-garde student productions I have ever sat through, but we had fun."

"Good."

Duncan winced inwardly, wishing there was something he could do. There wasn't, if Jim didn't want to talk about it, he wasn't going to talk about it. It didn't matter, he'd pretty much figured it out anyway. Duncan wondered how often Jim used his Sentinel abilities, and if he had listened to them before. He realized that he was more concerned about what that would do to Jim, to have to hear them, than the invasion of his privacy.

They ran the four miles together, each totally absorbed in his own thoughts. When they passed the marker for the last time and dropped to a walk, Jim spoke first.

"I'm sorry, I'm a little rough around the edges this morning, Mac. I really do appreciate you running with me."

"Don't worry about it. We all have our off mornings."

Duncan realized that he really did want to let Jim off the hook. Jim was in a very difficult situation. It wasn't that it didn't bother him or make him feel strange to think about Jim listening to him make love to Blair, it did. However, he was just as concerned about what it was doing to Jim. It had to take a hell of a lot of courage and emotional strength to do what Jim was doing. He knew that Jim loved Blair, it was in his eyes every time he looked at him. There were times where Duncan could see how hard it was for Jim just to be near Blair. He thought about what that must be like. He'd experienced unrequited love, but this seemed even worse, and different somehow.

Although it looked like it was killing him slowly, Jim hadn't made any sort of attempt to take Blair away from him. He respected their relationship and never tried to come between them. He was an honorable man, and he was trying to make up for the mistakes he'd made.

Duncan knew that Jim was miserably unhappy with the situation, but he gave him a lot of credit for swallowing his pride and working hard to make the best of it.

"Good run," Jim grinned at him, still breathing hard.

"What do you want to do for breakfast? Should we wake Blair up and drag him out?"

"Nah, let him sleep in. Tell you what, let's stop at the deli and get some bagels and I'll make eggs at my place."

"Sounds great."


They took the elevator upstairs, arms full of groceries. Duncan had bought lox for Blair, and Jim picked up a few things he needed, as well as eggs and omelet materials. Jim seemed to be in a better state of mind after the physical exertion. Duncan wondered how Blair was going to find a solution to this particular problem. He knew Blair thought that the attraction between Sentinel and Guide was natural, just a way to keep them bonded together. When he was at Blair's apartment he had read some of Blair's notes that had said almost the same thing. He was so deep in his thoughts that the elevators familiar jerk startled him. He followed Jim down the hall to his door, wishing for some answers.

Jim unlocked his door, going to the kitchen with his bags and setting them on the counter. Duncan put the gallon of milk he was carrying into the refrigerator, depositing his bag next to Jim's.

"So, I'll run upstairs, shower and wake Blair."

"He's awake," Jim's head was cocked to the right, listening.

"He is?"

"Yeah, he's brushing his teeth. Bet he's been awake for all of five minutes."

Duncan laughed, nodding in agreement. "Okay, I'll shower and we'll come down."

"Sounds good, see you soon."

Duncan left Jim putting away the groceries and making coffee, and took the stairs two flights up to the loft. Blair was just coming out of the bathroom when he opened the door.

"Morning." His lover's sleepy mumble confirmed Jim's estimate.

"Just get up?"

"Mmm."

"Want breakfast? Jim's making us omelets."

"Yeah, sounds good. Do I get coffee here or there?"

Duncan smiled, going over to kiss his forehead. "Why don't you just go downstairs, I think Jim's making coffee for you. I'm going to shower, I'll meet you down there."

" 'Kay, I love you." Blair grabbed Duncan's ass as he walked past him towards the bathroom, making him jump. His lover chuckled, shaking his head at Blair's playfulness.

Blair headed down to Jim's in search of the promised coffee. He felt like he was still floating from last night. What he and Duncan had together was so incredible. It still left him in a state of happy wonderment, the way Duncan loved him. He was the most intuitive lover he'd ever known. Somehow Duncan always knew exactly what Blair needed.

He knocked at the door at the end of the hall and Jim yelled to come in. He closed the door behind him, leaving it unlocked for Duncan.

"Morning Chief. You look like you could use some coffee." Jim smiled at the sight of a sleepy Blair shuffling towards him. Then it hit him. Blair smelled like sex, like sex and sweat and Duncan. Jim swallowed hard, biting down on the inside of his cheek. The instinct never went away, it only got more intense. The urge to grab Blair and cover up the invader's scent on his body with his own was so strong he knew if he took one step towards Blair he would never be able to stop himself from doing it.

"Oh yeah." Blair smiled at him, coming over to the counter to reach past him into the cabinet for a coffee cup. "Thanks, man, you're the best."

It ran through him like an electrical current, the need to touch Blair so intense that every muscle in his body tensed. Jim closed his eyes, afraid to see Blair so close to him. Then his Guide's arm brushed against his bare skin, just above his elbow, and Jim panicked. Just as he knew it would, the accidental touch felt like a knife dragging across his skin. Real, physical pain shot through his arm, and then the sickening, empty, hungry feeling swallowed him up and he was falling...

"Jim, it's okay, come on now, listen, come back to me, big guy. Listen to my heartbeat, just follow it back..."

"Yeah, okay." Jim's voice was rough with embarrassment and frustration. He was angry with himself, as he always was, for not being able to prevent himself from zoning on Blair's touch. It upset his Guide so much. Jim knew that Blair would feel guilty now, and would be even more careful not to come too close to him. It hurt so much, that they couldn't touch anymore without it sending him into la la land.

"I'm sorry," Blair mumbled, his eyes on the floor. He took a careful step away from Jim. Remembering that he had a coffee cup in his hand, Blair shuffled to the pot on the opposite counter. "Oh man, I'm so sorry, Jim. That was totally stupid of me, I didn't think. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, don't worry about it, I'm fine. It's okay." Jim tried to give his Guide a reassuring smile, but he could tell from the look on Blair's face that he'd failed.

Just then, the door swung open and Duncan strolled in, looking fresh and clean and relaxed. He came over to join them in the kitchen, leaning down to kiss Blair good morning. Just before he kissed him he felt his lover tense, and pulled back, looking between them.

"What did I miss?" Duncan asked softly, concern in his voice.

"Nothing."

"He zoned on me again."

Jim and Blair spoke in unison, both sounding extremely upset.

"That's not good," Duncan commented gently, getting himself a cup of coffee.

"No, it's not. Jim, man, I swear, I am going to find a way to handle this. There's got to be an answer, and I'm gonna find it if it kills me."

Duncan frowned into his coffee cup, thinking that with as much time as he'd spent researching and worrying over the situation, if there was a solution beyond the obvious one Blair would have found it by now.

"Relax, Chief, it's okay, I know you will." Jim wanted to relieve some of the stress he saw in Blair's eyes. He changed the subject abruptly, "So, good news, the agent I went with says they think they have somebody that's ready to make a serious offer on the loft in Cascade. It looks like it might go through this month."

"That's great, Jim. What are you going to do with the money?" Duncan asked curiously.

Jim laughed, "Pay you back."

Duncan smiled, not at all surprised that Jim wasn't going to let him pay for the remodeling of his living space. "That'll leave quite a bit left. Have you thought about it?"

Jim nodded, going to the refrigerator, "Yeah, 'til it gave me a headache. Then I decided to put it in the bank and wait a while." He took out eggs and cheese and milk and lox, setting everything down on the counter.

Blair had gone into the living room to sit on the couch. He drank his coffee, wondering if things were ever going to be okay again between them. It was so hard, not to just go to Jim and press himself against him, wrap his arms around his Sentinel and refuse to let go. There had to be a way to get past these zones.

Ever since Jim had come back to Seacouver with them, he'd been fighting the attraction between them, trying to control it. He felt like he had to be strong for both Jim and Duncan, he had to be the one who maintained the balance. It was getting so hard, though. The attraction to his Sentinel wasn't something he'd ever really been able to control. The tension between them was like a strong magnetic pull, the closer he got to Jim the more he needed to touch him.

Blair's rational mind kept telling him that there had to be a solution. To have Jim zone every time they touched was intolerable. Watching Jim suffer because of him was tearing him apart inside, and the attraction between them was getting harder and harder to ignore. The heat that suffused his body every time he got too close to Jim took all his willpower to deny. He knew it must be ten times harder for Jim, whose Sentinel abilities made him feel everything more intensely.

It broke his heart the way Jim would jerk away from him if he got too close. Blair thought that it was very likely Jim was suffering from the long term affects of separation from his Guide. Maybe he just needed to 'reset' his awareness of him. Or maybe what he really needed was just a mega dose of physical, non sexual contact. If only he could just keep touching him, even after he zoned, then maybe Jim would come out of it on his own and everything would be okay. Or maybe there was just no way to get around the attraction between them, now that they had acknowledged it. These thoughts had been circling around in his head for so long that none of it sounded like it made sense anymore. He knew he'd lost all his perspective, but there was nothing he could do about it, the feelings were too strong.

Thinking about what he was putting Jim through made him even more determined to find a solution. The Guide instincts that he was aware of, but had only marginal control over, made it so hard to see the problem objectively. The more Blair thought about it, the more he worried that he'd made a terrible mistake. What he was asking of Jim was more than he could stand to see him go through. The guilt he felt over Jim's zone outs made him despair of ever finding an answer. Was it incredibly selfish, what he was putting his partner through? Maybe it was, but to hurt Duncan would be just as painful... Blair sighed in frustration, telling himself that he'd been unrealistic. There were no solutions, one way or the other, he was going to hurt one of them, and he loved them both.

Objectivity had been a challenge with Jim from the start. After only a few weeks it had become a total impossibility, something his conscious reminded him of when he was lying in bed at night, worrying about his dissertation. Blair realized that he didn't have to try to remain objective anymore, this wasn't about his dissertation, or even his work as an anthropologist. It made him feel better, but it also reminded him of how serious his responsibility was. Jim was here because of him, because he didn't have any choice. It was his heartbeat that Jim could hear when he lost control of his senses and zoned, it was his scent and his voice that he identified.

Since the night he'd felt fear race down his spine and he'd known that Jim was about to die, he'd forced himself to re-examine his feelings and his responsibilities to Jim. He was Jim's Guide, and that was a lifetime commitment. He couldn't just walk away, it had almost killed his Sentinel, but trying to live like this felt like he was killing him slowly. Jim's voice pulled him out of his thoughts.

"You awake yet, Chief? It's breakfast."

"Yeah, I could use another cup of coffee, though."

Duncan smiled at Blair, he was taking plates from Jim at the stove and bringing them over to the table. Jim had made them each an enormous, fluffy omelet. Blair's was filled with lox, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms, Jim and Duncan's contained ham, cheese and green peppers. Jim came to the table carrying a stack of bagels on one plate and sausage links on another. Duncan went back to the kitchen for the coffee pot, bringing it back with him to fill Blair's cup.

"Thanks, man." Blair flashed a smile at his lover, sitting down at his place at he table. "This isn't an omelet, Jim, it's a work of art. Oh man, who got me lox?" Blair looked between them, trying to figure out who to thank.

"Duncan did. You think I'd bring that smell into my kitchen of my own free will?" Jim teased, relieved to see Blair smile.

"It was really cool of you to make it for me, Jim, you're awesome." Blair picked up his fork, diving into his omelet with glee.

Jim and Duncan were passing the bagels and links back and forth. Blair watched them each put four sausage links onto their plates, shaking his head in mock disgust, "You guys might as well just inject the cholesterol directly into your arteries."

Jim started to chuckle, and then out of the corner of his eye he caught the mischievous, conspiratorial grin Duncan was giving Blair. His Guide threw Duncan a very familiar, stern frown in return. It was the one he always got when he'd let something slip about his senses. Then Sandburg would come up with one of those really creative explanations, like, "He eats a lot of carrots."

Jim focused his hearing on Blair's heartbeat, it was fast, but not at the panic level. Over the years he'd learned to gauge Blair's mood by his heat rate, and he easily recognized the flash of anxiety. Why was Blair giving Duncan that look?

Duncan was spreading cream cheese on a bagel, "I was thinking... Christmas is only a few weeks away." He smiled up at his lover questioningly "Hanukkah?"

"I don't know, I lost my menorah in the move. I'm not much into the religious thing, but we can decorate and stuff if you want. Me and Jim always got a tree."

Duncan turned to Jim, "What do you think? We should get a tree and some decorations for the dojo. Want to help me?"

Jim nodded enthusiastically, "Yeah, sure, I'd love to."

"Jim's really into Christmas." Blair told him, stuffing the last bite of his bagel into his mouth.

"Really?" Duncan was surprised, it wasn't something he would expect from Jim Ellison. "Are you religious, Jim?"

Blair cracked up, remembering the brothers at the monastery making Jim say grace.

"Nope, not at all, I just like Christmas." Jim answered him cheerfully.

"Okay, great, we'll go all out then. I was thinking about having a Christmas party for the kids in the neighborhood downstairs, maybe the Sunday before Christmas. Would you be willing to help out organizing it, Blair?"

Blair grinned at him across the table, "Oh yeah, I'd love to! That's a great idea Duncan. You are so cool." Blair smiled at his lover adoringly.

"You should go into politics, Mac, it'd make it easier to be the patron Saint of Seacouver that way."

Duncan laughed, not willing to argue. "Come on, Jim, it's just a party. It'll be fun. Want to play Santa?"

"Hell no, last time I did that I got peed on. You can forget it."

Blair nearly fell out of his seat laughing.

"Laugh it up, Sandburg. The only reason he's not trying to talk you into a red suit is nobody'd believe it. They'd all think you're an elf with a Santa complex."

"Ah, come on, Jim, you make an awesome Santa..."

"No way, Sandburg. Never again."

Duncan laughed, "Why do I have the feeling he's talked you into this before?"

"He looked great, all the kids loved him."

"No, Sandburg. Give it up, it's not gonna work."

Duncan settled the argument, "Fine. I'll be Santa. Jim can do the decorations. You have to promise to help me shop for the presents for the kids, too. Blair, you're in charge of food and games, Spence can help you. He's the one that got me back into the holiday thing. He just goes crazy over Christmas. Last year he was stringing up lights all over the dojo at two in the morning."

"I like Spencer, he's a good kid. Even if he does smoke pot."

"Does he? How do you know?" Duncan asked Jim seriously.

"I can smell it on his jacket. I don't think he gets high at work or anything, though. He never seems stoned." Jim looked like he regretted saying anything about it.

Blair jumped in, "Geez, Duncan, it's just pot."

Duncan shrugged, "Well, as long as he's not messed up at work I guess I don't care. I never would have taken him for a drug user, though. He's such a health nut about what he eats. He can't be too heavily into it, he teaches three, sometimes four classes a day."

Jim shrugged, dismissing the subject. He'd gotten to know Spencer fairly well over the last week, and liked him. It was good to not have to feel like he couldn't be friendly with the guy, just because he was a cop and Spence smoked. They spent quite a bit of time together. He'd been down to the dojo every day to work out, and Duncan had talked him into teaching a new class he'd just formed, an advanced hand-to-hand combat course that incorporated martial arts with western military combat training. He was enjoying the three day-a-week class immensely. Most of the young men who had signed up for the course had either just come out of the military or were getting ready to go in, and it felt good to help them get ready.

"You have a class today, Jim?" Blair pushed his empty plate away, reaching for his coffee.

"Yeah, this afternoon, from two to three thirty. Why?"

Blair looked at him hesitantly, "I was, uh, hoping we could try to work on this touch sensitivity thing..."

Blair watched the wall go up behind Jim's eyes. He imagined it to be made of brick, one for each day of the four months they'd been apart. The muscle in Jim's jaw flickered, his whole body visibly tensing.

"What do you want to do, Blair, see how many times I'm gonna zone out in a row?" His voice was sharp with rebellion and hidden pain.

"No, man, I just though we could work on it, I don't know..." Blair felt his face getting hot, and dropped his eyes to his empty plate.

"Don't go getting all test happy on me, Sandburg. You don't have a paper to write as an excuse anymore." Jim's feigned annoyance to cover the embarrassment and the anger.

"Look, Jim, we can't just blow this off, man, we gotta deal with it..."

"Forget it, Chief!" Jim interrupted coldly, getting up from the table and taking his plate into the kitchen.

"Okay, great, I'll just forget about it, no problem," Blair muttered sarcastically, under his breath. Jim didn't give any sign he'd heard him, but of course he did.

"We have to go grocery shopping today, anyway, don't we, Caro?" Duncan caught Blair's hand across the table, squeezing it consolingly.

"Yeah, and do laundry. I was really lazy this week, I've got a laundry monster next to the bed."

"I wasn't going to mention it, I thought maybe you were just in denial," Duncan teased, trying to make him smile.

It worked, Blair was smiling as he got up to take their plates into the kitchen. Duncan followed him with his eyes, until he saw Jim standing at the sink with his back to them. Even from where he was sitting at the table, Duncan could see the tense set of his shoulders. His hands were clenched into fists at his sides, the muscles of his forearms bulging.

He winced inwardly, wishing that his relationship with Blair didn't cause Jim so much pain. Blair had noticed, too, he was standing uncertainly behind Jim, their plates in one hand. This looked like a good time to leave them alone, maybe Blair would be able to force Jim to talk.

"I'm going to go upstairs and make a list for the store. Thanks for breakfast, Jim, I'll see you later." Duncan caught Blair's eye as his stood up to go, nodding at him in encouragement. Blair lifted a hand to wave at him, managing to express both his thanks and his apprehension over Jim with his eyes.

"Jim?"

"What?" Jim tried to keep the anger from his voice. He didn't want to take it out on Blair, it wasn't his fault. He knew he'd failed when Blair took a step back, one hand reaching out to the counter top behind him.

"I'm sorry, Jim. We don't have to do anything. I was just hoping that maybe if we kept working on it, we could sort of desensitize you, you know? Maybe it's just that you've been separated from me and..."

Jim spun around, his hands coming down harder than he meant them to on his Guide's shoulders. "It's not 'just' anything!" He pulled Blair roughly against him, letting Blair feel what it did to his body to have any part of him touch his Guide.

"Jim! I'm sorry. Please!" Jim realized that Blair was genuinely afraid, and let go of his shoulders abruptly, pushing him away.

Blair took a step back, but he held his ground. Jim had just touched him without zoning. Of course, he'd done it in anger, and he'd been the initiator, he'd expected it, but still, it was a small victory.

"I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't mean to." Jim stood with his palms spread in front of him, clear blue eyes searching his Guide's helplessly.

"It's okay. It is, really. You just touched me, and you didn't zone. That's good."

"No, it's not. I lost control, and I scared you. I never want to do that again, Blair."

Blair came to stand directly in front of him, just an inch away, but not touching, "I know that. It's okay."

Blair was looking up at him, with the old look of absolute trust on his face. Jim's hand came up slowly, he hesitated for a second before he let his palm cover the center of his Guide's chest, feeling the palpitation of his heart against his hand. Blair stood still, looking up at him with a heartbreaking mix of desire and resistance in his eyes.

Blair stood frozen under Jim's touch. They weren't touching anywhere else, but he felt as if there was a force field between them, holding them together. He felt as if he couldn't move if he tried, and that scared him. He didn't want to betray Duncan's trust. He told himself so over and over again, hoping it would stop him from doing anything wrong. The space between them was charged with energy, he could feel it on his skin. He imagined what this must feel like for Jim, and tried to talk, "Jim..." he tried to caution the Sentinel, but no words came.

Jim realized the position he was putting Blair in, and was overcome with guilt. This was exactly what he'd sworn to himself he would not do. He couldn't betray Duncan's trust. He pulled his hand back, forcing himself to take a few steps away from his Guide. He went back to the table, sitting down heavily and dropping his head into his hands.

"I'm sorry, Blair. I'm not trying to make this any harder on you, Chief. I don't want to screw this up again, I really don't, I just couldn't help it..." Jim took a deep breath, letting it out carefully. "I think you should go upstairs and help Duncan get that list done."

"No Jim, I don't want to walk out on you, here." Blair's voice was quiet, but he was looking Jim straight in the eyes. "We can find a solution, I'm just not sure what that is yet."

"Yeah, I know, but not now, okay? I have to teach class in an hour and I don't want to go down there with my head all mixed up."

"This is really hard on you, I know. I'm sorry Jim, I hate letting you down like this, man. I'm going to figure this out, I swear I will." Blair looked so defeated, Jim couldn't stand it.

"Please, Blair, don't be so hard on yourself. You've done more for me than anyone ever has. I mean it, you go out on a limb for me and never give it a second thought. I've never had a better friend. I don't want to lose you because of this." Jim's hand moved back and forth in the space between them, indicating what he didn't have words for. He looked tired.

"You too, Jim. You gave me the first real home I've ever had. Okay, I'll let it drop, for now. But I'm not giving up, I will figure this whole thing out, I mean it." Blair looked so determined that Jim believed him.

"Thanks, Chief. I'll see you later."

"Yeah, come upstairs after you finish with your class, we want to take you to a great blues bar. A friend of Duncan's owns it, he's a cool guy."

"Sounds good, Chief," Jim actually felt a little better, "I'll be up after I shower and change."

Blair left Jim, feeling ten different ways about what had just happened, and how they had dealt with it. He felt like they'd made progress, but at what cost? Now he was wondering how Duncan would deal with it.

He climbed the stairs slowly, not quite ready to face his lover. He had to tell him what had happened, he'd promised to be totally honest with Duncan, and he was going to keep his word, no matter what. He was nervous though, what had just happened between him and Jim had been intensely personal, and also intensely sexual. Even though Jim had only put his hand on his chest, Blair had felt that touch in every part of his body. He could still feel it, a lingering awareness of Jim, and the energy between them. It wasn't something he really wanted to talk about, even with Duncan, but it wasn't fair not to. If the three of them were going to keep building this trust between them, it was going to require total honesty.

Blair stopped at the top of the stairs, trying to get his head together before he opened the door. Relax, Blair told himself angrily. Duncan isn't going to blame you. No, but he should, his conscience answered. A minute ago, standing in Jim's kitchen, he had wanted to get as close to Jim as he possibly could, in a very sexual way, and now it felt like a horrible betrayal of Duncan's trust. Blair realized he was making himself sick agonizing over it, when he knew he was going to tell Duncan anyway. The only thing to do was to go in and spill his guts.

Blair took a deep breath, and opened the door. Duncan was in the kitchen, leaning on the island writing out the grocery list. He looked up, his smile of greeting quickly turning to concern. "Are you okay, kiddo?"

"Uh, yeah. Duncan, can we, um, wait a little while to go shopping?"

"Yeah, sure, Caro. What happened?" Duncan put down the pen, coming around the counter to meet Blair halfway. Blair walked into Duncan's arms, his forehead falling forward onto his shoulder, but his arms stayed limp at his sides.

"I'm losing what's left of my sanity."

"Tell me?" Duncan's voice was tender, his hands coming up to knead his lover's tense shoulders.

"Yeah, sit with me."

Duncan followed Blair to the couch, sitting down beside him and reaching for his hand. The anxiety in Blair's eyes made him want to pull his lover into his arms, but something in Blair's body language told him not to. Duncan waited, and finally Blair took a deep breath, his eyes moving nervously around the room as he spoke.

"Um, remember when you told me to be completely honest with you about what's going on with me and Jim?"

"Yes?" Duncan's thumb stroked the back of Blair's hand gently.

"I wanna do that... I'm just not sure how to explain what just happened. I mean, nothing happened, but something happened."

"Okay, just relax. Take it slow. You can tell me anything, Blair, you know that."

Blair sighed, "Yeah, I do. Okay, um, when you left, I tried to get Jim to do some tests with me, and I pushed a little too hard..."

"What kind of test?" Duncan interrupted softly, wanting to be sure he got the whole story out of his distressed lover.

"Uh, well, I wanted to test this theory I had on the touch thing. He keeps zoning on me, every time I touch him, and, I mean, I know what it's about, I feel it, too. I thought maybe if I didn't pull him back, just let him come out of it on his own, you know sometimes he will... Anyway, I just pushed too hard, and he kinda snapped on me."

"He hurt you?" Anger and surprise flashed in Duncan's dark eyes.

"No, he didn't hurt me, he just freaked me out a little."

"What happened, Caro?"

Blair took a deep breath, trying to remember, he exhaled slowly, squeezing Duncan's hand. "He just grabbed my shoulders, that's all, but it scared me, and then he kinda realized it and let go of me. He apologized up and down, he said he never wanted to scare me again. But then..." Blair hesitated, looking into his lover's warm eyes and biting his lower lip.

"It's okay, just tell me, you'll feel better." Duncan squeezed his hand, then pulled it onto his thigh to hold with his other hand.

"Well, I got all excited, 'cause I realized that he'd just touched me without zoning. I mean, yeah, it was him touching me, not me touching him, but it's still a kinda breakthrough... So um, then he touched me again. He just put his hand on my chest, like this," Blair put his palm flat in the center of Duncan's chest, leaving it there when he continued speaking, his voice more hesitant. "It was just... really intense."

"Did he zone?" Duncan tried to be patient, waiting for Blair to explain what had upset him.

"No."

"Then why are you all wound up about this? What's bothering you about it? It sounds like progress to me." Duncan's voice was gentle but clearly confused.

"Um, I didn't mention that the sexual tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I couldn't help it, Duncan. I can't even explain what it felt like... Like a magnet. Like I couldn't pull away if I tried. I feel so guilty. I mean, nothing happened, but not because I didn't want it to. Jim was the one who backed off. He apologized, a lot, and I felt really bad. I'm supposed to be in control of this situation, man, and I almost fucked everything up."

"Shh, relax, Blair. It's okay, really. You didn't do anything wrong, and I'm not upset, all right? You're expecting an awful lot of yourself here. How can you control the situation when you're so emotionally involved?"

"I don't know, but I have to." Blair answered miserably.

"Why Caro?" Duncan questioned him gently, his free hand coming up to wrap around Blair's shoulders. Blair sighed heavily, leaning against him.

"Because if I don't we're going screw up, big time."

"You're afraid that you're going to do something that you'll regret? Or that Jim will?"

"I'm afraid that one of us is gonna lose it, and that can't happen, man. Duncan, do you have any idea how guilty I'd feel if something happened between Jim and I?"

Duncan pulled Blair into his arms. Wrapping one arm around the narrow waist to hold him close, his other hand moved from Blair's shoulder to comb slowly through his thick hair. Duncan thought about it for a long time. Blair was quiet, his forehead resting on Duncan's shoulder. He'd balled himself up in Duncan's embrace, curling up as much as he could against the broad chest.

Duncan's hand moved soothingly through the curls, working through the tangles his fingers found absentmindedly. He hated to see Blair so upset, he felt like a ball of misery in his arms. Duncan knew Jim wasn't in any better shape. He realized that they were doing this to themselves for his sake and it felt wrong.

Duncan knew that he didn't fully understand the link between Jim and Blair, but the fact that it existed was undeniable. He realized that he really wanted Blair to be able to help Jim. He was the only one that could, but Blair's relationship with him was standing in the way of that.

He'd decided from the start of all this that he wouldn't come between the Sentinel and his Guide. He'd told Blair that short of Jim becoming violent, he wouldn't interfere with Blair's relationship with Jim. He was interfering though, his love for Blair was the reason that they were both resisting these instincts between them.

Duncan thought about that for a long time. If intimacy was a part of the Sentinel/Guide bond, how long could they deny it, now that they'd acknowledged the physical aspects of the relationship? If this was inevitable, he didn't want to have to watch Blair put himself through hell trying to avoid it, and he didn't want to be the reason for Jim's suffering, either.

The longer he thought about it, the less sense it made. Monogamy had always been important to him, but Duncan wasn't even sure this was about fidelity.

"You're quiet," Blair commented gently, not moving at all in Duncan's arms.

"Tell me something, honestly?" Duncan's fingers continued to stroke Blair's curls.

"What?"

"I know you love him. Are you in love with him?"

Blair stirred, uncurling a little to look up at Duncan. "I was, six months ago, but no, I'm not anymore. I feel like a jerk saying it. It's hard... It's so complicated, the dynamics between us have flipped around so many times over the past three weeks. So much has changed between us." Blair looked up at him beseechingly, "I'm in love with you. What's going on with me and Jim is very different. I'm not even sure I understand it well enough to try to explain it. He's still my best friend, first, I know that. Me being his Guide is separate, but connected to that. There's so much more..." Blair took a deep breath, trying to organize his thoughts, "Okay, let me try to find the words for this... Um, okay, the physical part, that is pure instinct, man, it really is... but the wanting it is emotional. I really do think that this is a necessary part of the Guide thing, but honestly, Duncan, it scares me to death."

"Why?"

Duncan didn't try to hold him when Blair sprang out of his arms and began to pace in front of him. "I just keep screwing him up. Every time I think I can help him I mess him up worse. I made him give up him whole entire life, just to have me as his Guide. I'm supposed to be the one who has the answers here, and I'm scared shitless." Blair's pacing grew to cover the length of the loft. Hands and hair flying, he continued his tirade.

"For two weeks, we've been making each other crazy. He's miserable. I'm miserable. You can't be all that happy, and I feel guilty as shit. I keep fucking it up. I feel like it's all going to explode any minute!" Blair had come to a standstill, hands in his hair. His breath was ragged, his voice constricted.

"I don't know what to do, Duncan, I feel like I'm walking a tightrope here, except he's the one that's gonna fall. I feel like no matter what I do, I'm going to betray somebody." Blair's hands wiped angrily at the cold tears on his cheeks.

"Come here, Caro, please? I think I know how to make this better, but we have to talk about it." Duncan's dark eyes were calm and serious.

Blair inhaled deeply, dragging his hands across his face one more time. He came to Duncan, reaching to grasp the offered hand.

"I want you to listen to me, and think about this with me. This is how I feel. I love you, I love everything that you are. I love the part of you that is his Guide, too. I know that the connection between you and Jim is real, I can see it. I watched you save his life. He needs you. I promised that I wouldn't interfere between you and him, unless it was to protect you. But the way things are, my love for you is interfering with your role as his Guide, and it doesn't have to."

Duncan's hands came up to cup his lover's face, he leaned forward to brush his lips softly across Blair's. "I love you. I don't want to make you deny what you are to him. I can accept it."

"Duncan... Are you saying what I think you're saying?" Blair looked up at the man he adored in a state of total shock.

"I'm saying that I can't be this selfish. I don't want it to change what we have together, and I hope it doesn't, but I don't want you to resist it because you love me. I want you to do what's right between you and Jim, whatever that may be."

Blair shook his head, unable to look at Duncan, "I don't know what to say... I feel horrible. I can't ask you to do that... It's not fair."

"No, Blair, listen to me. I can't watch you put yourself through this, that's the point. I don't want you to be unhappy. We can handle this," Duncan reached for Blair's hands, interlacing their fingers, "I love you. I'm not going to love you any less if you sleep with him, Blair, and I'm not going to be angry."

Blair was crying, he couldn't help it. What Duncan was saying was overwhelming, it pushed him right over the emotional edge he'd been teetering on ever since Jim had touched him. Using the strength of Duncan's hands to pull himself forward, Blair fell into Duncan's chest, his arms coming up to wrap tightly around his neck. "I love you," Blair sobbed against Duncan's thick hair.

"Shh, it's okay, I know you do. Everything's going to be all right."

Blair took a shaky breath, laughing a little. "I guess I have to believe you. You just keep telling me that, and you've been right up until now." He pulled back a little to meet his lover's eyes, "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I am."

Blair dropped his head back to Duncan's shoulder, "Can my life get any weirder? I love you so much..."

Duncan hugged him close, relieved when he felt Blair begin to relax in his arms. "I love you, too."

Blair spoke against Duncan's chest, to embarrassed to look up at him, "You really think that I should, just, like, let it happen?"

"If that's what you think is the right thing to do. Just let yourself be his Guide, and don't worry about us, we're not going to love each other any less, are we?"

Blair shook his mop of curls against Duncan's solid chest, "I couldn't."

"Then don't worry, Caro. We can handle this, I know we can."


End Part 19

Part 20


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