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Warnings: Shockingly enough, it's got the vague trimmings of a Plot (tm). It's also got an OFC (no m/f, though). And some pretty unrealistic sex. But hey, that's why this is called fan fiction. :)

by the lady of shalott

"And this is Detective Jim Ellison." Simon's voice broke Jim's already-iffy concentration on the tedious pile of paperwork in front of him. He looked up at his Captain, then at the tall, dark-haired woman standing next to him. "Jim, meet the newest member of Major Crimes -- Detective Angela Coster."

Jim rose politely, holding out a hand. "Welcome aboard," he said, smiling by rote. His jaw muscles felt oddly tense as the new detective grasped his hand in a cool grip that was callused enough to indicate plenty of time spent on the firing range.

"A pleasure," Angela replied, the words flat. Her smile suddenly acquired a pasted-on quality as their eyes met.

Simon looked from one detective to the other with a slightly puzzled expression on his face. "Have you two met before?" he asked a little sharply.

"No," Jim answered for both of them, releasing her hand abruptly, fighting the urge to wipe his palm against his pants.

"Hey, sorry I'm late, man," Blair breezed over to the desk, casually depositing his backpack on the floor. He directed a curious glance over at Angela before holding out his hand. "Hi, Blair Sandburg," he smiled.

Simon's confusion increased as Angela suddenly beamed at the young observer. "Detective Angela Coster," she said warmly, shaking Blair's hand with no evidence of the antipathy she'd shown towards Jim and with a great deal more enthusiasm than the friendly but reserved attitude she'd had towards the rest of her introductions. "I've just joined the division."

Jim hadn't missed the change in tone, either, and wasn't happy about it. He stiffened as a soft, soft snarl teased the edges of his hearing. He could feel the heat of the lithe body as it padded back and forth behind him -- and he knew without questioning his own certainty that the panther's growls were directed at the woman currently smiling at his partner.

"Cool," Blair enthused, unable to see the gathering storm in Jim's expression. "I'm a consultant with the department -- Jim's partner." He turned towards Jim, only then registering the hostile gaze locked onto Angela. "Uhm, and, I'm kind of late, so I bet there's work piled up for me, right, big guy?" He floundered a little, withdrawing his hand from the woman's grasp and reaching instinctively towards the tension-bunched muscles in Jim's upper arm.

"Yeah, Chief. Why don't you get started loading that stuff into the computer." He reached out and caught Blair's shoulder to guide him to the seat.

Simon didn't miss the way Jim moved forward, forcing Blair to squeeze behind him to get towards the computer, putting his body between Sandburg and Coster. Nor did the captain miss the way Angela took a half-step forward towards Blair as he moved away from her. "Coster, let me introduce you to Rafe and Brown," he said, gesturing towards the partners, wanting to get her away from Jim until he could find out what was going on.

Blair waited until the two had moved away, then tugged on Jim's sleeve. "So what was going on there, big guy? She your long-lost mortal enemy or something?"

"Never saw her before in my life," Jim answered shortly, staring at the paperwork in front of him with a scowl. The panther was gone, but he wasn't about to ignore the warning it had brought. He just wasn't sure what to do about it.

"Uh huh."

Jim looked up at the dubious tone. "Look, Chief, she just... rubbed me the wrong way, OK?"

"What, did she say something?"

"Nah, just... I don't know. It's just... it's nothing, OK? I'm sure she's perfectly nice once you get to know her." He reached out and squeezed Blair's shoulder companionably. "I'll deal with it."

Blair studied the twitching muscle at Jim's jawline. "Mmm."

Blair hit the 'return' key with a flourish. "Finally! Whew. Jim, you owe me big time for this," he muttered aloud to his absent partner. "Like I don't have enough paperwork to do without taking your share." He rolled his head around, reaching up to massage his neck. He sat for a few moments, just enjoying the leisure, then promptly got bored and bent down to dig in his knapsack for the research journal he'd picked up the other day.

A hand touched his shoulder. "Not enough work to do?"

Looking up, Blair grinned at Angela. "I've always got work to do. Just nothing really interesting at the moment."

"What about your partner?"

Blair couldn't conceal all of his frown at the little hint of distaste in her voice as she mentioned Jim. He still hadn't figured out why Jim disliked Angela so much, but he had to admit that the instant dislike was mutual, even if the two of them were both doing a fairly good job of hiding it. "Jim's got to sit in court for the next few days, he's giving testimony in a case."

"And god forbid a lowly observer should be given anything to do on his own?" Angela smiled.

"Yeah, well, Simon's really got this 'you're not a cop' thing going, y'know?" He shrugged good-naturedly.

"You know, I was about to head out to a crime scene on Fourth Avenue and Walker Drive -- call came in last night of screams, and the officers who checked out the place found a body on the scene. It looks like some kind of a ritual killing, so they tossed it over to Major Crimes. Care to join me?"

Blair blinked in surprise. "Uh... I..."

"I could use the help -- even if it's only to keep me from getting lost on the way there."

"Sure, I guess..." Blair floundered a little, unable to think of a reason not to go, but feeling oddly as if he were betraying Jim.

The crime scene was more than a little gory. After a single, horrified glance at the bloody wreck that had once been a young woman, Blair wound up sitting on the back porch stairs of the dark house, head between his knees, trying to breathe through his mouth. The queasiness had hit him worse than usual. After a few minutes, Angela came over and offered him a glass of water. He sipped at it slowly while she rubbed his back comfortingly.

"Sorry about that," she apologized. "I wouldn't have minded some warning before seeing that mess myself. Ugh." She shivered. "Wouldn't you rather go out front, though?"

"Why?" Blair asked tiredly, pressing a hand to his temples, where a pounding headache was beginning.

"Isn't the smell bothering you? It's practically stifling."


"The blood."

Blair sniffed experimentally and caught a whiff of the thick, sickly-sweet odor. "Ugh. You had to bring it to my attention," he said. "But it's not too bad. I can handle it for now. Might as well do something useful as long as I'm paying the price for it anyway."

"Well, if you're sure... forensics said that she was killed downstairs, in the basement. They've left the scene alone down there, other than removing the body for the autopsy, until we finish looking it over. Very 'weird' paraphenalia down there, they said."

"Weird is my middle name," Blair joked, struggling to his feet. "Lead on."

The chill air of the basement wasn't the only cause of the shivers that ran over Blair's spine as he looked over the murder scene. On the floor, the remnants of a complex chalk design could be seen through the smeared blood. A steel blade gleamed at them in a vicious smile from the tabletop, only a short distance away from the stark, clinical outline of tape that marked where the body had lain. Coster picked her way around the dried smears and gingerly lifted the blade with a gloved hand. She focused on the silvery surface, beckoning Blair over.

"There's more than one kind of blood on this, and on the floor. One kind is a lot darker than the other," she said, indicating a barely-there striation between two shades of red on the blade. "Looks like the first kind was allowed to dry, then the second kind was spilled on top, or else they'd have run together more."

Blair stared at the floor, but quickly gave up trying to make out the faint distinctions, rubbing his temples. "Might be some kind of animal blood?"

"I'll have forensics check it out... any of this stuff on the floor make any sense to you?"

"Yeah -- it's a pentacle. In a lot of summoning spells, the person casting the spell would use one of them for protection. I don't recognize the runes off-hand, but if you can get me a photo, I should be able to get them identified at the U." Blair hopped over some of the lines and joined Angela, eyeing the blade in her hands. "And I bet you anything that that's a sorcerer's sword -- an athame. Well, I think that's how you pronounce it, anyway."

"Mmm..." Angela's voice drifted off, her gaze fixed on the floor with a rigid scowl.

"Hey, you OK?"

"Huh? Oh... oh, yeah. Just trying to figure out what would motivate someone to do all this."

"Well, as a guess, I'd say this looks like some kind of summoning spell."

"Paging Satan?" she said dryly.

"Something like that."

"All right. Let's get out of here. I'll have forensics get you that photo. Meanwhile, I'll try and get this blade identified, once they've tested the blood on it. It looks pretty new, maybe it was bought recently." Angela carefully wrapped the sword in plastic before they headed out.


"Wha?" Blair lifted bleary eyes to Jim's face and blinked at him in puzzlement, wondering why his partner had woken him up.

Jim's mouth twitched at the owlish look on his partner's face. "Had a nice nap?" He patted Blair's face gently, rubbing a thumb along a slightly stubble-roughened cheek.

Blair looked around and only then realized that he'd been sleeping face-down on Jim's desk in the bullpen. "Oh, man," he groaned, rubbing at the paper-clip-shaped indentation on his forehead. "How long have I been asleep?"

"Don't ask me, Chief. I just got here." Jim yanked off the tie he'd worn to court as he dropped into his chair. "How could you sleep in this racket?"

Blair leaned back, rubbing his face. "Just tired, I guess."

With a pat to Blair's leg, Jim logged into his e-mail account. "Tired from what? All you've had to do the last couple of days is sit around here and drink coffee."

"More like espresso, and if I drank any more, I should probably just switch to injecting it straight into my veins. Damn. My head is killing me."

Startled by the uncharacteristic complaint, Jim turned away from the computer. He took Blair's face between his hands and looked hard at his partner, tallying up the fatigue with the dark circles beneath the eyes and the pale cast to the skin. He didn't like the conclusion. "Are you OK? You look like crap."

"Fine," Blair said. "Just got this headache that won't quit."

"Blair!" Angela called out as she came into the bullpen, heading over to them. She gave Jim a cool nod before handing Sandburg a set of large photographs. "Think these are good enough for you to get an ID on them?"

Blair blinked his eyes a few times, trying to get some moisture into them, then peered at the shots. "Yeah, these should be fine. I'll check with some people at the U on it and get back to you tomorrow."

Jim looked on, eyes narrowing as he observed Angela's hand lingering on Blair's a little too long as she handed off the photos. "You mind filling me in here, Chief?"

"Ah, I'm just, uh, helping out with the Richardson case." Blair glanced a little nervously at Angela.

"Wait a second. The Richardson murder? The one where there was enough blood at the crime scene to paint the damn house it was committed in? And you dragged him to that?" Anger churned in Jim's stomach as he turned on Coster, coming up out of his seat and planting his fists on the top of the desk.

"Dragged him?" Angela leaned forward as well, frowning.

Blair looked uneasily around the bullpen as the two squared off, swallowing as he realized that the rest of the staff wasn't missing the little display going on. Speaking in a soft undertone, he gripped Jim's arm tightly enough to draw his attention. "Jim, it was a ritual murder scene. She thought I might have some insights to offer." He dropped his voice even lower, pitched it for Jim's ears. "I am supposed to be a consultant to the department, you know, I might as well act like one once in a while."

Puzzled by the remark, Angela looked at Blair, momentarily diverted.

Jim shot a brief glance at Blair, then returned to glaring at Coster. "You've got enough to worry about without piling another murder-one investigation on. No wonder you've got a headache." He leaned closer to the other detective and said coldly, "Coster, if you can't handle your caseload, you request a partner. You don't take advantage of Sandburg."

"Jim, come on, man, she wasn't taking advantage of me--" Blair tried to head off the explosion he could see brewing, looking around the room again with something approaching desperation. His eyes widened hopefully as he caught sight of Simon, and he promptly bounced up and down a few times to draw the captain's attention.

Simon frowned as he took in the little scene at Ellison's desk. He came over just as Angela drew breath to fire back, clapping one hand firmly on each detective's shoulder. "Glad to see you two getting along so well," he said. It was obvious to him that simply ignoring the tension between the two wasn't going to work any longer. "Jim, now that you've finished up the testimony, I'd like you and Sandburg to assist Coster with this murder case. The press is having a field day, and the sooner this thing is solved, the better."

Angela and Jim both started to protest as one, only to meet a raised hand. "I don't want to hear it, from either of you. Sandburg, try to keep these two from killing each other."

"How am I supposed to do that?" Blair said, spreading his hands, only to be ignored as Simon stalked away to his office. "Oh great." He dropped into his chair and glared at the other two.

The next day found the three of them sitting at a cafe table, Jim and Angela gripping their mugs tightly on opposite sides of the table. Blair flopped back in his seat between them, half-closing his eyes and considering whether to cave in and take some painkillers. He rubbed his forehead and promised himself a nice hot bath as soon as he got home. "OK. Something's been bothering me here."


"Besides the fact that this is a horrible murder and we're stuck." Blair gave Angela a slightly exasperated look before continuing. "What I mean is, there are a lot of things about this that don't make sense."

"Blair, some psychopath murdered Tamara Richardson because he wanted to talk to Satan. Of course it doesn't make sense!" Coster said.

He waved his arms negatively, leaning forward. "Look, from a police perspective, this is your textbook definition of 'Satanic ritual', right? Pentacle, runes, athame, goat's blood, human sacrifice. But there are a lot of elements that don't make sense from the point of view of the person carrying out the spell."

"What do you mean?" Some of the tension left Jim's body as he focused his attention on Blair.

"Okay, first of all -- the athame. From what I've learned from some friends up at the U, the athame is very personal. It's supposed to store energy from rituals, too. But what we have here is a practically brand-new sword, which is left at the scene after one whopper of a ritual.

"Then we've got the pentacle. Used to protect the sorceror in a summoning, right? Well, when a pentacle gets smeared the way that one was, it becomes useless. Loses all power.

"Also, I had the runes translated, and they don't really make sense. They're just random runes. Hell, some of them weren't even real -- they were taken from Tolkein, for crying out loud.

"And the goat's blood was dried by the time the victim was being killed. But it takes more than an hour for it to dry, right? If this person were really doing a summoning ritual, they'd be spilling the goat's blood at the same time as the real blood." Blair leaned forward. "I don't think this was a real Satanic ritual or summoning spell at all."

"You mean someone faked it," Jim said.

"To distract us from the real motives for the crime." Angela nodded slowly. "Makes sense. I think I should start asking our victim's family a few more hard questions."

Blair sighed with relief and buried his nose in his mug.

"Blair, would you like to come do the interviews with me?"

"No, he would not," Jim interjected sharply. "He's practically falling over." He pushed his chair back with a loud scrape. "Come on, Chief, I'm taking you home."

Angela shot to her feet, eyes angry. "You know, Ellison, he's not a five-year-old, and he doesn't need a mommy. I asked Blair, not you."

"Coster, I don't know what your problem is, but Sandburg's my partner, not yours, and he's got enough work of his own without you trying to haul him around to help you do yours."

"The word there is partner. Not child. I think Blair can decide for himself what he's capable of doing." She turned and looked at Blair. "For that matter, Blair, if you want somewhere to stay other than with this Neanderthal, I've got a nice spare room at my place."

Head still pounding, Blair simply ignored both of them until he realized that Jim's hands had clenched into fists. When his partner took a threatening step towards Angela after she issued the invitation, he forced himself up. Grabbing Jim's arm, he tugged hard. "Chill, big guy," he muttered. "Look, Angela, I really am kind of tired. Jim's just looking out for me, okay? Thanks for the offer, but no thanks."

Angela acted as if she hadn't heard him, her own body stiff with anger as she faced off over the table with Jim. Only when Blair yanked harder on Jim's arm and broke the visual contact between the two of them did she react. "Fine," she responded sharply. She remained standing as Blair practically dragged Jim away towards the parking lot.

When the two of them emerged from the cafe, Jim reversed their roles, hauling Blair along to the truck and putting him into the front seat. Blair stared at him in brief confusion when Jim actually reached around and fastened his seat belt for him before heading around to the driver's seat.

Blair drooped listlessly in the passenger seat as Jim drove home, anger tight along the detective's jawline. Jim turned sharply into his parking spot, then climbed out of the truck and was halfway to the door of the building before he realized that Blair hadn't even moved. "What the hell...?" He yanked open the passenger-side door and stared at the limp, sleeping body. "Come on, Chief, I'm not carrying you up to the loft."

However, when Blair failed to respond to a mild shaking except for a sleepy murmur, that's exactly what Jim ended up doing. Laying his partner down on his bed, Jim muttered soft curses as he dragged off Blair's shoes and jacket before covering him up with a blanket. He glared down at the sleeping form, until Blair sighed a little and snuggled into the pillows. His gaze softened, and he felt the tension slowly melting away in the comfort of being at home, Blair's heartbeat and breathing a steady rhythm in his ears to assure him of his Guide's safety. He gently pulled up a second blanket and tucked it in, then lowered himself to sit on the edge of the bed.

For the rest of the night, he simply sat there, watching Blair sleep, one hand automatically stroking the soft curls spilled across the pillow, half-drowsing himself, yet alert for any signs of the danger his instincts told him lurked nearby.

Jim angrily paced the width of Simon's office, eyes peering through the blinds at the half-slumped figure at his desk with compulsive regularity. "Look, Simon, I want her to stay away from Sandburg. I don't know what the hell is going on, but there is something seriously wrong, and whatever it is, it started when she showed up and started after him."

"Jim, will you just listen to yourself? You make her sound like some kind of vampire. She's a hell of a detective, she's got a brilliant track record, and she's doing a great job here so far. So she likes the kid. I'd have thought that you'd be happy about that! Instead you're acting like you're jealous or something."

"All I know is that every time he spends more than fifteen minutes in her presence, Sandburg looks like he's run a marathon and been starving for days. Simon, he could barely get out of bed three hours late this morning, and he went to sleep hours earlier than he usually does! His energy level is so low it's like he's had a brown-out." Jim leaned forward on the desk, glaring at his captain. "He's been having horrible headaches--"

"So there you go!" Simon stabbed a finger at him. "He's got a bad headache. It's making him tired. Simple as that. That's not Coster's fault, Jim!"

"The hell it isn't! Blair doesn't get headaches like this."

"All right, Jim, that's enough." Simon pushed his chair back and heaved an irritated sigh. "I know you and Coster don't like each other. I haven't even tried to guess why. As long as the two of you keep it professional at work, how you feel about each other personally is your own business. But this is crossing the line. I'm not going to tell her to leave Sandburg alone, and I want you to drop it. Is that clear?"

Jim stared out at the bullpen, zooming in on Blair's pad, which was covered with wavery doodles instead of the usual meticulous notes he took when reading a journal. The muscles along his jaw rippled.

"I said, IS THAT CLEAR, Detective?" Simon all but bellowed it at him.

"Yes, sir," Jim snapped. He charged out of the office without another word, leaving an exasperated Simon to go for his fourth cup of coffee that morning.

Leaning back against the truck, Blair watched dully as Angela came jogging back to the scene, absently nibbling on a lock of his hair. Fighting the lethargy that gripped him, he tried to resolve the nagging sensation that had been building up over the course of the investigation, the sense that he was missing something important.

Jim looked up from the suspect he'd just finished Mirandaizing. "The other guy got away?" he asked Coster.

Angela bent forward, hands braced above her knees as she caught her breath. "No," she panted. "Knocked him out in the sewers and left him cuffed to a drain. You call for backup?"

Jim nodded. "Looks like this case is wrapped up." He didn't bother concealing the satisfaction in his tone. He'd be more than happy to have the whole thing over with. He glanced up when Angela didn't respond for a while, noticing that her eyes were dilated and focused on the pebbled surface of the driveway under the prone suspect. "Coster?"

"Hm? Oh, right. Yeah." She shook her head, straightening up. Simon's car pulled up to the curb along with a couple of black-and-whites, and both of the detectives were shortly relieved of having to deal with the suspects any further. While Jim briefed Simon, Coster walked over to Blair and patted his arm. "You okay?"

Blair flinched away from the touch as a wave of dizziness hit him, raising his hands defensively. A few paces away, Jim whirled away from a shocked Simon in the middle of a sentence and charged to his partner's side, literally pushing Blair behind him as he confronted Angela. "You stay the hell away from him, Coster!"

"Ellison, I don't know what your fucking problem is, but you need to get a grip! I don't know how Sandburg has put up with your psycho behavior up until now, but I'm damn well not going to just stand around and watch you push him around for whatever twisted little reasons are spinning around in your brain!" Practically spitting the words, Angela tensed up, slipping into a slight crouch.

"Hold on a second--" Simon unsuccessfully tried to interrupt as Jim blazed right back.

"I'll tell you what my problem is, Coster. YOU. I don't know what the fuck you're doing or why, but I do know that something's wrong with Blair and it wasn't happening before you showed up and started clinging to him. And I'm not going to sit around and watch him collapse just because I don't have a rational explanation for it."

"Ellison, Coster, that is ENOUGH!" Simon shouted loud enough that the uniformed officers on the scene looked over in surprise. Lowering his voice, Simon hissed at both of them, "I don't know what the hell is going on with either of you, but you are BOTH going to take the next few days off to cool down and get over it. Now get the hell out of here. Separately!"

"What about Blair?" Angela demanded.

Simon literally had to put a hand on Jim's chest to stop the detective from lunging forward at her. He met the furious blue eyes with a shocked glare from his own before turning to Coster. "Sandburg's got those days off too, and he's going to do whatever he damn well wants to with them. I assume that's going to involve going home and sleeping off the stress of having to deal with both of you taking the plunge into the deep end simultaneously."

"You're going to let him," Angela pointed at Jim, "take Blair--" She stopped as Simon raised a warning finger.

"Coster, you are this close to suspension. Ellison is one of the best cops in this department, and Blair's been living with him for a couple of years now. Sandburg's going to be just fine with him. And if you hassle either of them over the next few days, you won't be close to suspension anymore, you'll be there. I hope that's clear?"

Breathing hard, eyes stabbing at Jim with something approaching hatred, Angela shortly said, "Perfectly. Sir." Turning away, she headed for her car and drove away, tires squealing briefly against the pavement.

"Thanks, Simon," Jim started, only to be brought up short.

"Don't thank me, Ellison. You're just as close to suspension as she is. Where the hell do you get off accusing her of doing something 'with no rational explanation' to Sandburg?"

"Simon, just look at him!" Jim gestured at Blair, who really did look like death warmed over at the moment, slumped quietly against the cab of Jim's truck. "Tell me there's nothing wrong with him." At the perplexed frown that crossed over the captain's face, Jim pressed the point home. "Simon, you think I get my rocks off hassling the new detective on the block or something? Dammit, you know I'm not like that." He spread his hands wide. "You ever think there's a reason I don't like her? I don't know, maybe it's my senses, maybe they let me pick up something... weird from her, that other people can't sense..."

Shaking his head, Simon raised both hands to halt the flood. "Ellison, I don't want to hear it right now. You mind finishing your explanation of what went down here?"

Hands on hips, Jim shook his head stiffly and launched into a clipped recitation. "Sandburg got the idea that the whole ritual was a setup to divert attention from the real motive. Coster did some snooping and found out that the victim just came into a chunk of money, which her charming cousins here inherited when she was killed. We took photos of them to a few occult supply stores and got a positive ID on one of them buying the murder weapon. When we came here to take them in, they panicked and tried to make a break for it. We took them down. End of story."

Simon raised an eyebrow at the cold monotone but didn't speak until Jim had finished. "All right. Good work, from all of you. Now, why don't you take Sandburg home and put the kid to bed. We'll finish up here and get these two slimeballs booked."


"And don't let me see you down at the station for a few days. And when you do show up, I expect you to be acting civilized."

"Yes, sir," Jim said. The sarcasm earned him a sharp glare from Simon, which he shrugged off as he collected Blair and tucked his nearly-comatose partner into the passenger seat. He cupped Blair's chin in one hand and gently tilted his head back. "You with me, Sandburg?" he asked quietly.

"Mrmm. Not really," Blair answered tiredly. "Sorry."

"Not your fault. Just hang in there, Chief. I'm not sure what's going on, but I'm not going to let anything happen to you." Blair gave him a drowsy smile and dropped back off into the light doze he'd been in almost constantly for the last couple of days. Jim stared at the sleep-softened features for a little while longer before closing the door.

Blair flung the heavy text across his room. Since it fell into a heap of discarded clothing, it failed to provide him with any kind of satisfying thud. It did, however, bring Jim into the room.

"You OK?" Jim came in and perched on the bed, unthinkingly reaching out to stroke Blair's cheek.

A small shiver tingled through Sandburg, and he let his head lean against the strong hand for a moment. "Yeah. I just... I know I'm missing something here."

"Just try and get some rest. I'm not going to let her get anywhere near you."

Blair shifted uneasily as Jim's eyes glittered with obvious anger, barely held in check. "Jim," he tried, "maybe she really doesn't have anything to do with this. I mean, what could she be doing?"

"That's for you to figure out, Darwin." Jim idly tugged on a stray curl that had escaped the tie pulling Blair's hair back. "But trust me, she's the cause. I could just kick myself for letting it get to this point. I knew she was trouble the minute she showed up. Should've paid more attention to my instincts."

"I don't get it. What makes you so sure about this?"

Jim sighed and edged a little further onto the bed. "I saw the panther again."

"You what? And you didn't tell me?" Blair groaned and flopped back, covering his face with a pillow. His muffled voice floated out, "If I wasn't this wiped out, I'd throw a fit."

Jim chuckled softly and rubbed Blair's stomach. "I'll consider myself yelled-at, Chief."

Blair moved the pillow away. "Okay, spill the rest of it."

"Not much more to say." Jim shrugged. "Actually, I didn't see it -- I heard it. It growled about the same time she started drooling all over you."

Blair closed his eyes. "Let me guess. It didn't occur to you to do any meditation exercises to communicate with it."

"Meditation exercises? Come on, Sandburg. It's not like anything was really wrong up until this started happening with you."

"Oh, nothing wrong, except that you're freaking out over a person you just met," Blair said. "I mean, you're definitely one for spot judgements, but you don't take it to this extreme."

"Why do I have the feeling I'm being insulted here?"

Blair stuck out his tongue in lieu of arguing any further. "Look, Jim, why don't you try that meditation tape we used the last time your senses went off-line? Bring it down here, and I'll try and guide you through it." He twisted in bed, trying to prop himself up with pillows.

Jim leaned over and put a restraining hand on his arm. "We'll do it when you're feeling better, Chief. You put a lot of energy into getting me into those trances or whatever they are."

"Well... I guess..." Blair's voice trailed off, his jaw suddenly gone slack with surprise.

Missing the startled expression, Jim continued, "You're safe for now, and if Coster tries to get at you, I'll stop her cold."

Shaken out of his distraction, Blair stared at him. "Define stopping her cold, here," he said warily.

"You don't need to worry about it," Jim reassured him. "Come on, try and get some sleep."

Really concerned now, Blair bit his lip, thinking quickly. "I have an idea -- why don't you take the tape, go up to the roof, and try meditating up there. Maybe you don't need me along to help you do it -- you communicated with the panther in a dream that time in Peru, and I wasn't helping you there."

Jim frowned. "All right, Chief, if it'll make you happy." He pointed a stern finger at Blair. "But you stay put. The loft is secure, but if Coster shows up, you just yell and try and get away from her. Understand?"

"Yeah, yeah, I understand. I get it," Blair muttered.

He lay on the bed, mind racing, until he heard the door close behind Jim as the other man went up to the roof. Sitting up, he grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled a hasty note, then pulled on a few nearby clothes and quietly crept out of the apartment.

The music surrounded him with a wall of sound, driving away the harsh clatter of modern life, leading him into the quiet, blue depths of the jungle. He stood alone in a clearing. Turning around in a circle, he searched as far as his eyes could see, but found no sign of the sleek panther who was his spirit guide.

"Hello?" he called ineffectually. Only the quiet noises of the forest answered him. His face drawn into a frown, he set off into the undergrowth, picking his direction at random. Somehow, no matter which way he went, the vines and tangle grew thicker and more forbidding. Soon he was being forced to tear himself a path before he could go forward.

A solid mass of ferns and vines suddenly reared up before him. Obeying some inner instinct, he tore at the greenery, brushing away the dirt that clung to roots and crawlers. Slowly, he uncovered cool, moss-stained granite, laying bare the shrine he'd come to twice before. Sweat dripped off his body as he worked, joined later by spots of blood where jagged stone and wicked thorns had torn the flesh of his hands and arms. The labor seemed endless, but finally the whole structure was uncovered.

He fell back a few paces, looking around in helpless confusion when the panther still failed to appear. "Where are you?" he shouted in frustration. "What do you want me to do?"

A soft rustle came from behind him, and a familiar figure emerged from the undergrowth.

"Incacha..." Jim tentatively reached out towards the Chopec shaman.

"Enqueri." The broad smile was the same, but the shaman waved away Jim's hands. "I am not your Guide any longer, Enqueri. I never truly was."

"Can you help me? I don't know where my guide is."

"Your guide is being taken from you."

Jim drew a sharp breath in sudden understanding. "Blair. He's my guide. And Angela's trying to hurt him."

"Not hurt him, Enqueri. Take him."

"Take him? But why would-- oh." He paused, eyes narrowing. "I understand. But what do I do? How do I stop her?"

"You and your guide have not completed your bond. You have made the committment, but not the sacrifice. And until you do, he cannot be offered the choice."

"What sacrifice? What do I have to give?"

"You know what you have to give."

Jim was silent, then, "My life and my soul."


"How do I... give that?"

"You are asking the wrong question, Enqueri," Incacha gently chided.

"Who do I..." Jim paused as a smile broke out over the shaman's face. "Who. Blair?" When the nod came, he spread his hands. "But he already has them. He has for a long time."

"You must make the sacrifice," Incacha repeated, his form shivering and melting away into blue shadows.

"Incacha? Incacha!" Jim whirled around, but he was alone again in front of the altar. He stared at the mottled grey of the stones, trying to understand what he had to do. And then he knew.

Climbing up onto the shrine, he lay down on the slab and closed his eyes.

. . .

The trance broke, leaving him alone on the rooftop with suddenly annoying music in his ears. He pulled the headphones off, rising to his feet and taking a deep breath. He paced the length of the roof, arms wrapped around himself, occasionally glancing at the door leading back down. He knew what he had to do, but he was honest enough with himself to privately admit that it scared the hell out of him.

"It's not going to get any easier," he said out loud, then headed for the door, automatically listening for Blair's heartbeat. When he realized it was missing, he exploded into movement, pelting down the stairs to the loft.

"Sandburg, what are you doing here?"

"I figured out what's going on," Blair weakly explained, his dark-circled eyes intent. "Simon, please, you've got to help me." He leaned against the doorframe, breathing audibly.

Simon frowned, then reached out and helped the young man over the threshold, shutting the door behind him. "All right, Sandburg. Start talking." He observed with growing alarm as the young man half-staggered over to the couch and sank down. "Should you see a doctor?"

"Nah, there's nothing physically wrong with me. That Western medicine could deal with, anyway." Blair waved off the suggestion. "Simon, Jim and Angela are both going to be in serious trouble if we can't get this worked out."

"They're already both in serious trouble," Simon frowned, but raised his hands defensively as Blair gave him a frustrated expression. "All right, all right, I'm listening."

"I finally got it. All these things Angela was picking up at the crime scenes, the occasional spacing out, all of it... I should have figured it out before, but I guess I just thought it was so unlikely I never really considered it. But it's the only thing that fits."

"Sandburg, will you get to the point already?"

"Angela is a Sentinel. Not as powerful as Jim, but still a Sentinel."

Simon lifted his eyes briefly to the ceiling before asking in a resigned tone, "And you're sure about this."

"Yes, I'm sure."

"Another Sentinel. Wonderful. Just what I need." Simon sat down in a recliner and rubbed his forehead. "I guess you're the expert on this, so I'll take your word for it. So how is this related to the fact that she and Jim want to kill each other? City too small for more than one Sentinel?"

"It's not the space, Simon. Sentinels don't 'bond' to a place. It's people they care about. Their 'tribe', so to speak."

"I can buy that... So, what, I need to have Coster transferred to another department? I was thinking of doing that anyway..."

"Well, unfortunately, I don't think that's going to be enough," Blair said. "If Angela had never met me and Jim didn't have to have close contact with her, things would probably have been okay, but at this point..."

"Hang on a second, you're losing me here. What exactly does your meeting Angela have to do with the problems between the two of them?"

Blair shifted on his chair. "All right, now, just hear me out here, okay?"

Simon's expression was pained as he waved a hand. "Sure, fine, go ahead."

"I'm not just studying Jim. I'm his partner -- his Guide. Now, I was assuming from the get-go that being a Guide was pretty much like being any other partner. Not genetic or anything, just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Well, I was totally wrong."

"You're admitting you were wrong about something to do with the Sentinel thing? Stop the presses."

"Ha ha. Simon, you didn't know me before I started working with Jim. But anyone who did would tell you that I've changed so much it's like night and day. I used to be really hyperactive--"

"You're hyperactive now, Sandburg! Well, not at the moment--"

"Nothing like I used to be. I was bouncing off the walls 24 hours a day. I used to sleep maybe two, three hours a night, take a couple of fifteen-minute catnaps during the day, that's it. I'd have panic attacks or manic episodes every few months over nothing much. It wasn't due to some kind of trauma or mental illness -- I just had so much energy it just... didn't have anywhere to go, and it would just have to explode out once in a while."

"And you didn't see fit to mention these attacks when you started working with a cop?!?"

Waving his arms to put a stop to Simon's outraged tirade before it got moving, Blair interrupted with as much intensity as he could manage. "Simon, will you listen to me? All of that has stopped. Totally. I haven't had even a mild panic attack since the day I met Jim. Since I moved in with him, I sleep about six hours a night. It's like... I've suddenly gotten centered, and my energy's got somewhere to go. If I thought about it at all, I always thought it was just that doing the police work, the adrenaline rush I got from it, was helping me stay grounded. But that's not it, because there have been weeks when things were slow and we did nothing but paperwork, and I was still the same way.

"I should have realized it before, but I was so busy studying Jim and his Sentinel abilities that I never thought about studying myself. But it's the only explanation that makes sense for what's been going on with me, and what's going on now with Jim and Angela."

"What is this explanation, Sandburg?"

"The Guide isn't just a random partner. It's a genetic thing to be a Guide as well. And when a Guide and a Sentinel pair up, the Guide provides the Sentinel the energy he needs to control and process all his sensory information." Blair said triumphantly. "That's where my energy's been going." He panted a little, out of breath.

Simon digested this and decided he needed a cigar. After a few satisfying puffs, he sat back down. "All right. Let's just say for the moment that I accept this mumbo-jumbo explanation. I see how it explains where your energy's gone, but how does that explain what's going on with Jim and Angela?"

"Don't you see? Angela is a Sentinel -- without a Guide. She doesn't have anyone helping her control her abilities. And she instinctively wants one. So when she met one -- namely, me -- she started trying to get me to pair up with her. That's why she liked me so much, why she kept asking me to do things with her. Just the way that Jim bent over backwards to get me working with him back when we first met. And whenever I did spend time with her, she'd be pulling energy from me to use her abilities. Not intentionally, you understand -- it's just automatic."

Reluctant comprehension dawned on Simon's face. "And Jim could tell she was trying to take you away from him."

"Exactly! I can't be the Guide to two Sentinels, it takes too much energy. I can only work with one, and just like Angela wants a Guide, Jim doesn't want to lose his Guide. Angela's a threat to our partnership, and therefore to him, in a very real way. That's why he didn't like her from the moment he met her, and why he's been trying to keep me away from her. They both have this instinctive dislike of each other and an instinctive attitude of affection and protectiveness towards me, so they're rationalizing their dislike of each other internally by deciding that the other is a threat to me."

"Damn. This is too crazy to make this much sense." Leaning back, Simon pulled off his glasses, rubbing a big hand over his eyes. "All right. So, now what?"

"I don't know." His explanation apparently accepted, Blair seemed to almost deflate, sagging back into the couch. "The obvious answer is find Angela a Guide of her own, but I have no clue how to track one down. I just... I need to do something to keep her from pulling at me, and I've got to stop Jim from killing her or something crazy. I'm just so tired."

A pounding came on the door.

"You just sit tight, Sandburg." Simon opened the door to find a slightly frantic-looking Jim on the other side.

"Where's Blair? I have to talk to him."

"Just hold on a minute," Simon ordered sharply. "From what he tells me, Sandburg's condition is as much your fault as Angela's, Ellison, and I'm not letting either of you hurt him anymore in this little tug-of-war you've got going."

"Simon, if you think I'd hurt Blair, you're out of your mind." Jim shoved past and hurried into the living room, sinking to his knees next to Blair, who reached out and gripped Jim's arm.

"Jim... please. I figured things out, explained it all to Simon..."

"Look, Chief, I think I figured it out too. She's a Sentinel, isn't she? And she wants you as her Guide, right?" Blair's eyes widened as he nodded. Jim took the small hand in his own, stroked it gently with his own fingers. "Do you want to go with her?" he asked quietly.

With a splutter, Blair sat up straight. "What? How can you even ask me that, man! I don't believe you even--"

Jim cut him off with a hand over his mouth. "I had to ask, Chief. Simon's right, we have been fighting a tug-of-war over you, and it's got to stop. And it's your decision how it ends. If you want to Guide her, I'll get out of the picture--"

Now it was Blair's turn to cut Jim off, the same way. "No way, big guy. You're stuck with me."

"Blair... it's not that simple... you have to know..." Jim floundered a little, darting an embarrassed glance over at Simon before continuing in quieter tones. "Blair, the... the meditation worked. The bond... there's a Sentinel-Guide bond. It's been building up between us, but we've never... completed it. That's why Angela's been able to interfere."

Blair's eyes were excited and bright with comprehension. "Man, that is amazing! You got all this out of the trance state? Wow. So what do we have to do to complete it?"

Jim turned even redder and glanced back at Simon pointedly. "Um, Simon, would you mind...?"

Simon folded his arms over his chest and smiled. "Yes. I'd mind. I'm not leaving him alone with either one of you for now."

Jim looked at him helplessly until Blair patted his arm. "You can whisper it to me, big guy."

Jim swallowed hard and leaned forward to breathe into Blair's ear.

Simon observed narrowly as Blair went from curious to startled to embarrassed and blushing in moments. *I don't want to know. I really don't want to know,* he determined.

Jim stood and walked a short distance away from Blair, looking out the window with a carefully blank expression on his face, marred only by the twitching of his jaw muscle. "So, you see, I understand if you want to go with her instead. I know you've never... I mean, I haven't either, but..."


Jim turned. "Let's go back to the loft," Blair said softly, eyes calm and bright.

Simon felt guilty for speaking and interrupting the silent communion going on between the two, but he couldn't simply let it go. "Sandburg, are you sure about this?"

"Yes." The word was said to Jim, not to Simon, and it illuminated the Sentinel's face like a light switch. Jim carefully bent down and helped Blair up, encouraging the young man to lean against him.

Simon watched them leave together without another word, then sighed. "My life was interesting enough without all of this," he said aloud.

Jim hesitated at the base of the stairs, unsure how to proceed. Blair, still leaning on him, nudged him with a grin. "Definitely upstairs. That is such the make-out bed."

Chuckling despite his blush, Jim helped Blair up to the loft, settling him down on the bed and taking his shoes off. "Make-out bed?" he said in amusement. "Sandburg, tell me you haven't been bringing coeds up here?"

"Are you kidding? I value my life, man." Blair flopped back and luxuriated in the softness of the feather bed, smiling up at Jim as the other man leaned over him, stroking his hair. He reached up tentatively and tugged at the top button of Jim's shirt, pulling it loose. Jim's lips parted, breath coming more quickly. "How about helping me out, here, big guy?"

"Right," Jim said huskily, standing up to shed his button-down and jeans. He hesitated over his undershirt, finally pulling it off in one quick motion. He found himself looking down at the ground, anywhere but at the shining eyes he could feel roaming over his chest. His nipples hardened under the warmth of that gaze as he nervously gripped the waistband of his boxers and slid them down.

Blair licked suddenly-dry lips as he stared at the sculpted planes of Jim's nude body. "I am definitely getting the good end of this deal," he joked softly, grinning as Jim was startled into looking up and blushing furiously.

"Not even close, Chief," Jim shook his head, half-sitting on the bed, one knee drawn up as he looked down into Blair's face. He cautiously reached out and helped Blair sit up, pushing the plaid shirt off his shoulders and tossing it to the side. Encouraged by a smile, he slid his hands under Blair's T-shirt, nearly gasping out loud as he felt warm, lightly-furred skin under his palms while he lifted the shirt over Blair's head.

Blair reached up and cupped Jim's face between his hands, leaned forward and started placing soft kisses along the chiseled jawline while hands, strong but trembling, unbuttoned his jeans and slid them over his hips, coaxing him up for a moment. Then they eased his boxers off, and he felt the heat of a hard, muscled thigh pressed against his.

Jim's breath caught in his throat, almost a sob, as Blair's mouth finally captured his, tongue dipping inside like an envoy bearing gifts of rich flavors. Careful not to dislodge him, Jim lowered himself to the bed, lying back and pulling Blair gently over onto him. He panted with urgency as Blair straddled him, the young man's cock already full and warm against his belly as the soft mouth devoured his, then traveled onto his throat. His fingers skimmed over Blair's back, tracing the vertebrae, finding every faintest scar and imperfection in the skin, unsure how best to move on to other sensory delights.

Licking gently over Jim's collarbone, Blair felt somehow energized, more awake and alive than he had been for weeks now. Imagination helped where instinct failed, leading him to the firm nipples, showing him how to drag cries of pleasure from the hard body quivering underneath his own. He'd never felt so completely in control, the sensation a heady one, as Jim shook and bucked against him, head falling back to expose his throat. The hands on his back were needy, desperate, stroking their plea for love, for help, all over him.

Blair nudged one knee between Jim's legs, pushed them apart so he could climb between them. Jim willingly complied, groaning his breath away as Blair slid over his body, cocks brushing together as he eased down. He breathed softly on the skin of Jim's inner thighs, alternately nibbling and sucking on the tender flesh, capturing the salty sheen glistening on the skin as he traveled down one leg then up the other. Nuzzling at Jim's balls elicted a moan, pressing the soft patch behind them with his tongue-tip won him a loud cry, the thigh muscles around his head clenching and unclenching rapidly.

"Please... Blair..." Hunger roughened Jim's voice.

Blair's answering grin was downright wicked as he took in the closed eyes, hands clenched in the sheets, the tense muscles of the abdomen bunched like rocks. He lay a gentling hand over the carved ridges, rubbing in a circle, murmuring soft words of reassurance. "It's ok... Just relax and breathe. I'm here. It's ok." Slowly, tension eased out of Jim's rigid frame under the caressing hands. Blair moved his hands to Jim's thighs, massaging them even as he lifted them up, eased them further apart, giving himself access to the tender, intimate flesh.

"Everything you want. Everything you need," Blair promised, pressing kisses to either side of his cock, running his tongue down the creases of Jim's legs. His hands curled over Jim's hips, gripped the hard buttocks firmly, fingers curling into the crease between them.

"Yes... yes. God!" Jim shouted as his body was plundered, Blair's tongue sliding over his balls, pressing hard over the perineum, teasing right up to the edge of his anus. He involuntarily jerked at the touch, hips trying to shift further upwards to open himself even more. He was rewarded as Blair shifted, arms sliding under his knees, warm lips traveling over his groin. He didn't know what to hope for, what touch to desire most. But when Blair pressed a hot, wet tongue inside him, any confusion dissolved, along with his entire skeletal system. His legs weakened, hanging limp over Blair's shoulders, as every twitch of the limber tongue commanded his complete attention. He moaned unhappily, unable to articulate his distress, when the slick heat withdrew.

Panting heavily, Blair coaxed Jim into rolling over, running his hands up to the broad shoulders and back down over the hills and valleys of the smooth back, sliding them off to either side to gently ease the hips up towards him, keeping the thighs apart. "Shh, lover, just relax," he soothed as Jim writhed slightly on the sheets, trying to edge back towards him. He scooted back and lowered himself to the sheets again, then plunged his tongue back into the tight bud without warning. Jim cried out wordlessly, almost lunging away from his mouth in reaction, only to push himself back with even more enthusiasm as the initial shock passed.

Struggling to control the pulsations that threatened to convulse his body, Jim buried his face in the pillows and literally screamed his pleasure into the muffling softness, tears burning his eyelids. It was a momentary relief when Blair withdrew from him again, letting him catch his breath for just a moment, letting the aching need build up again until the craving for more of that perfect touch was once again at its height. A faintly sweet fragrance suddenly came to his attention, then a cool, slick finger was rubbing against the entrance to his body, the firm, unyielding pressure satisfying that craving in a wholly different way. As Blair pushed into him, Jim let a sobbing breath break loose, spreading his legs apart even further.

His own breath coming in harsh near-sobs, Blair watched in fascination as his finger sank into Jim's body, embraced in the unbelievably tight passage. "So perfect, lover," he whispered, moving the finger in a circular pattern against the soft walls of the passage. "God, you're so hot. Can't believe I'm inside you. I want to be all the way in you, babe. Want to sink into you so deep you'll never get me out." He bent over, nibbled on Jim's shoulders, then moved down his back, sucking on each ridged vertebrae, revelling in the wordless, eager sounds Jim made in response.

Whatever he'd expected to feel, it hadn't been this. Reaching forward, Jim clutched onto the railing, muscles straining into etched relief as he pulled his body taut, offering himself up willingly as a second, then a third, finger probed and entered him. The simple concept of being possessed was as stimulating as the delicate but insistent pressure of those fingers inside him. As they slowly began to pump in and out of his body, a familiar blue haze slowly began to creep over his vision, pulling him in.

Blair wanted to ask for permission, wanted to offer Jim the chance to stop this, but driven on by an instinctive, building pressure, he couldn't pause long enough. Vision blurring, he couldn't even see his own body as he slicked himself thoroughly, reduced to sensation and instinct as he moved forward, withdrew his fingers, and slowly began to sink his cock deep into the entrance to Jim's body. He thought he cried out as he melted into Jim, but he couldn't hear his own voice anymore, drowning in a wash of indigo that blotted out the rest of the world.

. . .

Blair opened his eyes. Whispering shadows crept and eeled on the edges of his sight, hiding amidst a midnight tangle of ferns, vines, and vanishingly high trees. He was alone, and he felt strange... things looked different, as if he were looking at them from a lower level. The jungle appeared impenetrable, but he knew with a strange certainty that he had to move onwards. He tentatively stepped forward, felt muscles he didn't know he had ripple under his skin. He sniffed the air, caught a trace of a familiar scent. Galvanized by the allure of that memory, he leaped forward into the underbrush with no more hesitation, moving with sinuous speed.

It seemed like hours had passed, or maybe only minutes, when he broke through a heavy curtain of vines and found himself standing before a ruined altar. Jim lay still on the moss-overgrown slab, chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm. Blair easily climbed up the cracked and broken stairs, then jerked himself up, laying forearms on the edge of the slab so he could look down at the sleeping Sentinel. Obeying instinct once again, he bent his head and nudged the prone body, licking at Jim's cheek just a little.

Jim opened his eyes and found himself gazing up into the endlessly blue eyes of his panther guide. The sleek black form backed away, dropping back down to four feet, and leaped down from the shrine. Jim slowly sat up, looking down towards the spirit guide, who blinked at him and paced to the edge of the clearing, waiting there in obvious impatience.

Climbing down, Jim started following the panther, who gradually picked up speed as they moved through the jungle, until the forest melted away and left them both standing at the edge of a high cliff, its base shrouded in fog. Jim looked around, recognizing the place, then turned to face the panther. "I'm ready," he said firmly.

A shudder passed through Blair, and he closed his eyes briefly, feeling his body melt and shift upwards. When he opened his eyes, he was standing, human again, in front of Jim. Shaking himself as though waking from a dream, Blair stepped forward and reached out for Jim's hand. Hands clasped, they walked to the very edge, looking down into the swirling mists below.

Finally, Jim spoke. "Blair, you have to know. I've been here before. I was told that this... being a Sentinel... would require my life and my soul." He looked over at his Guide, who met his eyes with a warm smile of certainty.

"I know," Blair said quietly. He took a deep, cleansing breath. "I'm ready, too." Jim squeezed his hand. No more words were necessary.

They jumped.

. . .

Blair came back to the sensation of blissful warmth, a quiet murmuring in his ears, and a slow, wonderful sexual glow pulsing through him. Blinking away fuzziness, he found that he was lying on top of Jim, head pillowed in the hollow between his shoulder blades, snuggled into the curve of his back. He stirred a little, felt a hot flash of pleasure go through him at the same time as Jim moaned softly and arched up. "Oh, man," Blair gasped, realizing he was still buried to the hilt in Jim's ass.

"Baby... please... Please!" Jim's voice was hoarse, breaking. "Oh, yeah!" He braced himself again as Blair started to move against him, easing out a little, then sliding back in with maddening gentleness. "Harder! Come on, harder! God, I need-- Yes!" He flung his head back with a shout as Blair slammed into him. His senses catalogued every vein, every ridge of the iron-hard shaft deep inside him, each tiny throb of Blair's heartbeat pounding like drums against his interior walls. Two more hard, pounding strokes, and he was coming, his cock pulsing hotly in Blair's grip. He heard Blair's moan as he involuntarily squeezed down, then nearly came again when his elevated sense of touch was flooded with heat as Blair exploded deep inside him.

This time, their collapse left them conscious, but limp and sprawled over the bed, both panting in a desperate attempt to regain their breath. After a few endless minutes, Blair rubbed Jim's hip in warning, then slowly eased out of him. He flopped over onto his back, letting his head sink into the pillows next to Jim. A muscled arm slid around his waist, pulling him into a loose embrace. Blair snuggled back into Jim's arms.

"My Guide," Jim murmured drowsily, the statement both possessive and appreciative.

"My Sentinel," Blair whispered back, turning his head momentarily to nuzzle Jim's shoulder.

Entwined together, they let sleep take over, assured that whatever lay ahead for them, they would meet it together.

/ finis /