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Disclaimer: Not mine.  No money.  Don't sue.  They're still Pet Fly's, but thankfully they no longer have anything to do with up of n.  I'm just borrowing them for a brief time.  The story however, is all mine.

 

Archive: yes please.  GL and CT.  Ronnee’ll send an official announcement when she gets it posted.

9

 

Thanks to:

 

Becky–for reminding me Carolyn is a good guy and should get to come out and play more often. Not to mention the fact that there are unresolved issues there that are kind of fun to explore.  No she doesn’t make an actual appearance, but there is some definite communicating going on here.

 

Ronnee–for offering to loan and then graciously letting me borrow AJ for a moment.  Or at least the idea of her; she doesn’t make an actual appearance.  And for helping me figure out how to get Blair out of the house.  Thanks dear!  How was I to know she wanted to be part of the family... <g

 

All the writers and readers who believe that OFC, heck OC, are a good thing.

 

Claire, Wnne, Ronnee, Angie, TAE, Cindy, Rona, and countless others–for being supportive and telling me to ‘go for it’ when I asked if this was a good idea.  And then encouraging me to finish when I had second thoughts.

 

A big thanks to my betas Claire, Ronnee, TAE, and Wnnepooh.  Thanks ladies, your input made this a better story and helped me get out of some jams I’d written myself into.  Any mistakes that remain are mine and mine alone.  What can I say, I can be rather stubborn about some things....  Okay, just about everything.... <g

 

Warnings:

 

Slight references to Cypher (sort of.  Is there anyone who doesn’t know about the Blessed Protector thing by now?), The Debt, Sentinel Too, parts 1 and 2, a previous story of mine that hasn’t been finished yet entitled Out of Darkness into Light (I’ll get there eventually, but it keeps getting pushed to the back burner so be patient with me.  Encouragement helps though... <grin>). There are slight references to Blair being a cop, but nothing overt.

 

This is one of three stories.  All told in first person from different points of view.  While each stands on its own, they do build upon one and other.  Together they form a triptych of sorts, but in an act of defiance (me defiant?  No way!) I wanted them all to be separate.  Individual snapshots that stand on their own, but mean more when displayed together.  This said, I recommend you read all three of them.


And the biggest warning/ disclaimer of all....  There’s an OFC here.  You are forewarned.

 

Feedback, both positive and constructive, welcome.  Flames will be shared with numerous people for our edification and enjoyment before being used to light a large bonfire on the Asylum lawn.

 

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If Only, Forever: Jim

 

by

 

Toni Rae

 

I reach over her body and grab the large teddy bear nestled at her feet.  Gently I extricate myself from her embrace, lifting her head from my chest and replacing my body with the bear.  As she snuggles into the new, softer pillow I kneel in front of the couch and place my hand on her forehead to reassure her, helping her to go back to sleep.

 

I lightly ruffle her hair, and that of the bear, as she settles back into slumber.

 

Silently I stand.  Pausing a moment I watch her sleep, noticing the gentle rise and fall of her chest, the soft sounds of her breathing.  Suddenly the emotions I have for this woman hit me and I stagger backwards slightly.  The trust she’s shown me envelops me, grounds me. 

 

Still that small knot of fear lodged in my heart remains.  Everything about this feels so right. Almost too right. 

 

I only hope that the wealth of my emotions compensates for her complete faith in me.

 

The needs of my Guide war with my desire to stay here on the couch with her.  But as always, his pain spurs me to action.

 

He and I need to work some things out, but then so do she and I.  But right now it’s his turn.

 

I move silently to stand behind Sandburg.  Using one of those Covert Ops skills that comes in handy occasionally.  My hand comes to rest on his shoulder.  I can tell by the slight tensing of his muscles in surprise that he never even heard me move.  He turns slightly to face me.  As he opens his mouth to brush off my question, I raise a single eyebrow.  No obfuscations will be tolerated this evening.  There’s something wrong.  He’s been moping around the loft for weeks. Every time I ask, he makes up a new excuse.  And if his silence and lack of enthusiasm weren’t signal enough, that part of me connected to him reverberates with emotion.  It’s gone on for too long.  It’s time to talk about whatever’s bugging him.

 

“Hey.  You okay?”  My voice, barely a whisper of sound, breaks his concentration.  He certainly didn’t hear me move. 


“I envy you man.”  His own voice is soft in deference to her, but he knows I will hear him.  He gestures towards the couch and Kathleen, indicating at least a part of his newfound restlessness.

 

Somehow that’s not the turn I thought this conversation was going to take.  Apparently my hand on his shoulder startled him more than I thought.  Well, okay then.  I make the mental adjustments needed to deal with this turn of events, as I sit in the chair next to him.  The look on his face tells me he misses the warmth of my hand on his shoulder so I allow my hand to come to rest upon his forearm.  Which also serves to still the rapid gestures of his arms and the motions of his hands against the laptop. 

 

All of my actions take place in silence.  I am still collecting my thoughts.  Deciding how I’m going to deal with the turn our lives have taken.  The new addition to our family.  That and I really don’t know what to say.  I glimpsed the naked look of longing on his face before he realized I was there.  I know how he feels.  I’ve been in his shoes. 

 

“She finished the puzzle.”  He finally continues.  I can tell by the look on his face that he thinks I’m going to laugh.  Laughter is the furthest thing from my mind and I realize we’ve moved into the Sandburg zone and I have no idea what were talking about.  Puzzles?  Where did that come from?  I thought we were talking about girls.  I mentally groan at the flippancy of my mental response.  Blair’s trying to have a serious conversation and I’m trying to read the road map, and taking lots of detours along the way.  Why do our serious conversations always seem to begin this way?

 

“She’s the last piece of your soul.”

 

Somehow this explanation doesn’t help much.  But a light begins to glimmer in the dark reaches of my mind.  The picture on the road map is coming into focus.  I smile and the glimmer of light becomes an inferno.  I’ve got it now.  But then I put it in quite different terms.  Kathleen filled the emptiness I kept locked away behind heavily fortified doors.  You don’t survive Covert Ops without learning how to build doors.  And let me tell you, I build really good ones.  An army couldn’t get past my defenses.  Which is somewhat ironic seeing as how a punk kid and a chemistry professor blew past them without a second glance.  Yeah, there were still a few left when she got here.  She opened a few that Blair couldn’t touch, didn’t even know existed.  But there are others.  Ones that will stay closed and locked forever.  Those pieces of my past that don’t deserve to be shared.  Don’t deserve to be remembered.  Guess that means I’d better work on my intimidating face, wouldn’t want anyone to find those last doors.  Funny, that face worked on Carolyn.  Or maybe she was just easier to scare away. 

 

“Yeah.  But if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have a soul to complete.”

 


I am surprised even as the words leave my mouth.  I hadn’t even realized they were there to be said.  As the meaning behind them becomes clearer I acknowledge the truth of the statement. Before Blair, I was a shell of a person.  I existed, if it can even be called that, behind those doors. I let no one in, and never let myself out.  He rescued me and I didn’t even know I needed to be rescued.  How’s that for sappy?  This is what I get for reading those novels Kathleen keeps leaving on the coffee table.  How such an intelligent woman can enjoy such drivel is beyond me. However, I will admit there are some rather interesting things in a few of them that I’d like to try someday.  If we ever get that far.  Right now she’s still skittish.  She needs time and love and support.  All three of which I’m willing to give.  Forever, if necessary.

 

The thoughts continue to whirl around in my head.  Many of them too elusive for words, but the feelings transcend time.  Blair gave me the time and support and love to air out a few of those too long locked closets.  He helped me recover the Jim Ellison long buried, hidden from the world.

 

“You saved my sanity, and my life, more than once.  You breezed into my life and opened the box where I kept my heart and soul.  Then you started putting the pieces together like you knew what the picture was supposed to look like.”  I can’t resist.  Sandburg set the puzzle course on this trip and I follow it.  Both willingly and blindly.  If he wants to talk about puzzles, we’ll talk about puzzles.  Besides, it throws him off.  Puzzles are things of happy childhoods, cold winter evenings with the family clustered around the small card table dug out just for the occasion.  He doesn’t think I know about puzzles.  The symbolism inherent in them. 

 

“I could say the same thing to you.  Before all this I never even knew what I was missing.  You gave me a home and made me part of your family.  Thank you.”

 

He interrupts before I travel too far down the puzzle path.  Little does he know there are good memories down that way.  Summers at my grandparents house.  The nightly ritual of putting just a few pieces in.  My grandfather’s love for the art of finding just the right piece to complete the picture.  Yeah, I know about puzzles.  And he’s right.  I managed to find the last few pieces. Managed to fill a lot of the holes in my life.

 

“You’re welcome.  But you’re my family and together we made this a home.  Before you moved in, this was merely the place I ate and slept.” 

 

We are both silent, contemplating the turn our lives have taken.  Knowing that our paths were meant to cross and we were meant to be here at this time.

 

“I just want what you have.”  He breaks the silence that has grown between us, bringing us back to the original question.

 

“Chief...”

 

He holds up a hand, halting the words I can feel forming on my lips.

 

“I know.  It’s just seeing the two of you like that, it just kind of hit me all of a sudden.  Holiday blues I guess.”

 

“Sandburg, it’s May.”

 

“So?  You know I never do things at the logical time.  You should know that by now.”


Not going to work this time Sandburg.  We’re going to get to the bottom of what’s been bugging you.  My words reflected my determination.  “You’ve been moping around here for weeks.  It’s not like you.  Whatever’s going on, we’ll work through it.  But you have to talk to me.”

 

I could see the various answers he considered and discarded flash through his eyes.  A matching look of determination on his face tells me he’d rather avoid this conversation for as long as he possibly can.  Too bad he has a determined Blessed Protector and Sentinel for a roommate and best friend.  I learned torture and interrogation techniques from the best of them.  That was the class right after building doors. 

 

Finally he realizes I can sit here all night and that I’m going to win.

 

“You’ve got it all.  A great woman who loves you.  The perfect job.  Friends.  And here I am trying to figure out what my life’s all about.”  I hear the note of self-deprecation that creeps into his voice.

 

Feeling sorry for yourself?  That’s really not like you Blair.  You’re the most adaptable person I’ve ever met.  There are very few times I’ve seen you uncomfortable.  You should know by now that life is not always that easy.  As Douglas Adams once said, ‘there is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.’  I wonder what’d he’d say if I told him the answer was 42....

 

But I know that’s not what he needs to hear.  He needs reassurance of his place in my life.  The knowledge that Kathleen has not taken his place, cannot replace him in my life.  So, always one to accommodate a friend, I give him the answer he’s seeking.

 

“I also have the little brother I’ve always wanted – not to mention the one I’ve always had.  A Guide.  And let’s not forget I have an in with the Shaman to the Great City.  As for you...”  I trail off, attempting to properly phrase the words in my heart.  He was always the one good with words, not me.  Why does he think I make him write all the reports?  I let the words flow from my heart, hoping they are the correct ones.

 

“You are exactly where you belong.  I know that it doesn’t seem like it sometimes but I couldn’t survive this roller coaster ride without you.  I said it before, you are the best partner I’ve ever had.  And that was before you became an actual cop.  Your love of learning and life did not end with that press conference.”  Even as the words come out of my mouth I realize the truth of the statement, the rightness of the words.  The significance of the time of year.  Last year at this time we were dealing with the fallout of Naomi’s careless actions.  I didn’t handle the situation well.  I admit that to myself now.  And my not handling the situation well, profoundly hurt my best friend.  Guess we’re having revelations from others besides Sandburg this evening.

 

“I’m sorry.”  The words spill involuntarily from my lips.  I know that I have spoken the words many times, but I still long for forgiveness.  The depth of my betrayal a year ago stabs through my heart and I realize we are still nursing residual wounds from the experience.


“It’s not your fault.”  Blair’s words once again penetrate my consciousness.  Every time I apologize he forgives me.  Maybe him forgiving me isn’t the problem.  Maybe I need to forgive myself. 

 

“I know.”  A new answer.  Usually I brush him off with something along the lines of ‘I should have handled it better.’  This time my words are followed by a lightening of my spirit - a slight healing of the wounds.  Perhaps that was the forgiveness that I needed.  My own.  Not his.  His I’ve had for a very long time, I realize that now.

 

He really is where he belongs.  And I finally admit to myself that I couldn’t live without him.  I might survive, but it would be a marginal existence at best.  He holds my world together. Provides a margin of sanity in a chaotic world.  Kathleen provides a reprieve from the chaos, a port in the storm, but Blair holds me together until I can get there.  Me, who never needed anyone, now has a whole handful of people he can’t live without.  As long as we’re taking stock, the rest of the members of Major Crime help keep the wildness at bay, too.  Everyone is essential in a unique way.  I smile at the imagery in my imagination, as relief from the burden of last year travels through my body and soul. 

 

“Thanks.  That helped.”  He smiles. 

 

I can only guess the smile is due to the expression on my face.  It certainly can’t be something I said.  My next words reflect my confusion, “What helped?”

 

“Your forgiving yourself.”

 

Just when I thought I’d figured out what the road map for this trip looks like, he throws another curve ball my way.  Maybe I should give him lessons in sticking with one metaphor for an entire conversation.  “You lost me there, Chief.  And how do you know that I forgave myself?”

 

“I felt it.  It seems the joining of our spirit guides did more than revive me.”

 

‘Houston we have liftoff.’  At least it wasn’t ‘Houston we have a problem.’  Boy I seem to be one for quotes this evening.  Must be all that time I spend with academics and ex-academics. Does one ever actually become an ex-academic?  Not that I’m going to mention it to either one of them.  They have too much hold over me already, I don’t need to give them anymore ammunition.

 

I was beginning to wonder how long it was going to take him to recognize the significance of our shared vision at the fountain.  Somehow he always seems to be leading me when it comes to this Sentinel stuff.  It’s nice to have finally figured out something before he did.  “It took you this long to figure that out, Darwin?”

 

“Huh?”

 


Finally.  The kid is at a loss for words.  If I’d known this was the response I’d get to that particular issue I would have brought it up months ago.  Wonder what else I’ve figured out that could engender the same response....?

 

“I actually noticed it when we were in Sierra Verde.”  I take pity on him and answer the question I know he’s dying to ask but can’t find the words.  You know, he looks kind of silly like this. His mouth gaping open like a fish.  Kind of like a guppy awaiting a hook.

 

“And it took you this long to admit it?!”

 

Yep.  We’ve gone from stunned silence to outrage.  Sometimes his emotions are so predictable.

 

“You weren’t ready to deal with it.”  That’s the killer sentence.  There he was pressing me to share with him what was going on and I blew him off.  Now to tell him I knew the whole time we were connected by more than friendship, that’s the part that’s going to set him off.  But how can I explain?  I knew, or rather I felt, that he wasn’t ready to deal with our shared vision.  He may have claimed to want to talk about it, but deep inside his soul I could feel the cold fear the subject brought on.  I’d already hurt him enough, I wasn’t going to tear his soul out again just because he thought we should talk about something.  I’ve had a whole lot longer to get used to the idea of spirit guides and visions.  For all his professed worldliness, sometimes the kid is still a kid.

 

“What?”

 

“Blair, you were caught up in trying to find Alex.  Then you were trying to figure out what was going on with me.  Neither situation was very conducive to telling you that your soul had become part of mine.  Then after we came back to Cascade it sort of went away.  I chalked it up to us being in close proximity to the Temple of the Sentinels and didn’t think much more about it.”  I pause, taking a deep breath.  Time for true confession time.  But then we’ve been doing that since he walked in the door four and a half years ago.

 

“Then there was the press conference.  Part of the reason I took that so badly was because of the pain you were causing yourself.  However, it didn’t seem like the time to mention it.  Eventually I just decided that it was something you needed to discover on your own.  I could tell you that you did the right thing and that you were in the right place until I was blue in the face.  But if you didn’t believe it yourself it wasn’t going to do any good.”

 

I only hope he can hear past my words to the underlying meaning.  That he stops long enough to see the truth of our friendship, the conviction in my words.

 

“I really am doing what I’m supposed to be doing.  Aren’t I?”  I can hear a note of wonder in his tone. 

 

“Yeah, you are.” 

 

Finally.  I thought he’d never figure that one out.  I’ve been waiting for him to see this for a year and a half.  Granted I knew in his soul he was happy, but it’s always nice when the heart and head agree on these things.


“I’m ready to settle down.”  He blurts out.  “You know, a wife, two point five kids, a dog.”

 

Ah, the real issue comes to light.  Wonder what happened to the house in the suburbs? 

 

“What no house in the suburbs?”  I follow my words with a raised eyebrow.  Yep.  Nice expression Sandburg.  Bet you thought you were going to get away with that one.  You forget who you’re dealing with here.  Remember, I learned interrogation from the best of them. Friendship, that I learned from you.  And all in all, I think that lesson was far more important.

 

“Nah.  The suburbs are boring.  I’d much rather live in the city.  I know this nice little loft on Prospect.”

 

Now how did I know you were going to say that?  Mind reading was not part of the Sentinel/ Guide bargain.

 

“Don’t you think things are going to get a little crowded around here with the addition of your newfound family?”  I try to joke, but a band has formed around my heart.  I’m not ready for someone else to leave.  Too many people have left already.  It’s been going on for far too long. But then in some ways it’s to be expected.  Just about the time I achieve some stability in my life, something changes.  Someone leaves, I move on.  I know the routine.

 

“Well there is that issue.”  I hear the attempt at lightness in his tone.  Somehow I’m not convinced.

 

“So what is the problem here?”  My voice gains a note of ice.  I’m ready for him to begin saying his final goodbyes.

 

“Watching you and Kathleen together.  It makes me long for that other person I need to fill my soul.  I really do want what you’ve got.”

 

Okay, that’s not the response I expected.  Somehow he always manages to surprise me.  Just when I think I know what he’s thinking he goes and does something like this.  I really gotta teach that kid how to read road maps.  Or maybe I’m the one that needs to learn to read maps.  I sure didn’t see this detour anywhere. 

 

“It doesn’t happen overnight.”  I attempt to reassure him.  After all I’ve been there.  You don’t get to be almost forty years old without going through periods of longing.  I never believed I would find someone to spend the rest of my life with at this point.  Especially when you add in Sentinel weirdness.  Just about the time I’d accepted that I would be alone for the rest of my life I met Kathleen.  Granted, it wasn’t under the best of circumstances, but then maybe it was.  The threat to her life made me realize how important she was to me.  To the rest of my life.  Now all I have to do is figure out a way to tell her.

 

“I know that.  It just feels like it’s time.”

 


“Sandburg, you sound like a woman with a biological clock.”  The biological clock, or genetic imperative strikes again.  Wonder if I should mention the disastrous results of my biological clock...?

 

“Men have biological clocks too.  There have been studies.”

 

“Not now professor.”  I interrupt him before Professor Sandburg takes over.  You would have thought that persona would have died with the dreams of a doctorate.  But no, I have the Professor for a partner.  In a way I’m glad.  I would have missed these little lectures of his.  “I understand.  Why do you think I married Carolyn?”  Guess I decided I was going to tell him. Funny how I don’t ever seem to make any of these decisions any longer.

 

“Um.”

 

Wow.  Twice in one night I’ve had Blair speechless.  Must be a new record.  I’ll have to tell Simon.  Hold it over his head for a while.  Doesn’t happen very often you know.  I can tell by the look on his face he’s not sure what to do with this new information.

 

“You married Carolyn because you wanted a wife, two point five kids, a dog, and a house in the suburbs?”

 

“Not exactly.  I married Carolyn because it was time for me to settle down and start working on the future of the Ellison dynasty.  The house in the suburbs was never part of the plan.”  Ellison breeding never dies. 

 

“Um.  Didn’t you think her career might get in the way of those two point five kids?”

 

“I had to start somewhere Sandburg.  A wife seemed the logical place.  And the kid part, we never quite got that far.”  We’re back to the kid issue again.  Carolyn and I never did a very good job talking about this issue.  Actually if I’m perfectly honest with myself here, this is one of those issues I’ve never been very good at talking about.  I’ve always wanted to be a father, but how do you explain that to someone who’s met mine?  I’m not exactly the poster boy for normal father-son relationships.  Hell, I don’t even qualify for the well adjusted category.  Women get one whiff of my home-life as a kid and they decide that children are a bad idea.  After all, like father like son right? 

 

Maybe it’s a Sentinel thing.  Protect the tribe.  That would explain Alex.  The desire to create a new Sentinel to watch over the tribe.  Wonder what Blair would think of that idea?

 

“Um, Jim....  Kathleen’s got a career too.”

 

That’s right.  Twist the knife a little. 

 


“I know.”  I try to pretend that it doesn’t matter.  That being a father isn’t one of my goals in life. That I’ve accepted that I will never hold my children after they are born.  That I will never play Barbies with my daughter, or trucks with my son.  That it doesn’t matter that I tend to gravitate to women with careers and goals of their own.  And those goals don’t include becoming Mother of the Year.  Yeah, I’m accepting.  Trust Blair to find another one of those locked doors.  I really need to work on my back off face, at the rate he’s going I’m not going to have any defenses left. 

 

“Have you asked her?” 

 

Well now, that’s a novel idea.  Wonder why I didn’t think of it.  I can just see it now.  ‘Kathleen, I’ve always wanted to be a father, and it seems I have some genetic predisposition to do so.  You interested?  I realize you’re going to have to give up everything you’ve worked so hard for, but what’d you say?’  I’m sure that one would go over well. 

 

“No.  It really doesn’t matter.  Even if she doesn’t want to have kids, I still love her.  I’m not going to give up on her because of some stupid genetic predisposition.”

 

“Oh man.”

 

“That pretty much sums it up.”

 

“What are you going to do?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Nothing as in, ‘I’m not going to ask her about having children’ nothing.  Or nothing as in, ‘I’m not going to pursue this relationship’ nothing.”  His hand comes to rest atop mine in a small gesture of support. 

 

“Nothing as in, ‘I’m not going to ask her about having children.’  I don’t think that I could let her go at this point.  And I’m too afraid of her answer to ask.”  I can’t make her chose between me and her career.  I tried that once with Carolyn.  I won’t go there a second time.  I’ll be content to have her in my life.  Maybe Blair will have those two point five kids of his and I’ll get to be Uncle Jim.  That’d be something.  I only hope none of them turn into Guides.  Without Sentinel’s they’d be kind of lost.  I shrug off my maudlin thoughts.  I’m not the issue here.  Sandburg is. And I’m not going to let him forget it.

 

“Now, what about you?”

 

“I’ll be okay.”

 

“You know, if our being here bothers you that much Kathleen and I can start spending more time at her house.”

 

“No way, man.  This is your home.  You have the right to spend time with whomever you wish. Maybe I should start looking for a place of my own.”

 


We’re back to him leaving.  How’d that happen?  I thought I was going to turn this conversation in another direction.  Well, there’s only one answer to that one and I make sure my tone of voice reflects my strong feelings on the subject, “Absolutely not.”  Yeah, someday things are going to have to change.  But not yet.  Not until we get this thing worked out.  Not until we find a couple of people willing to put up with our close friendship.  Not until everyone is comfortable.

 

“Uh, Jim.  Don’t you think that things are going to get a bit crowded around here with the addition of your newfound family?  You, me, a jaguar, a wolf, Kathleen, come on man, there isn’t room for all of us.  Especially considering how much space that spirit guide of yours takes up.  Did you know he kicked me off the couch the other night?”

 

I sigh inwardly in relief.  We’re going to drop the subject for now.  Good.  I’m not ready to tell him that the loft next door has been refurbished.  That I’m thinking of installing a connecting door between the two of them.  That no matter what, I’m not actually letting him move out.  I take his change of subject almost as a drowning man reaches for a life preserver.  Granted, spirit guides aren’t necessarily the safest of topics either....

 

“He just wanted to be petted.”

 

“Have you ever tried to cuddle with a 300 pound wild animal?”  He asks incredulously, hands waving wildly.  His abrupt motion dislodges my hand still gently resting atop his arm. 

 

I acknowledge his movements with a slight smile and nod of my head.  A tact agreement to postpone this new facet of our conversation, as well as recognition of comfort given and received.  All exchanged in the space of a heartbeat.

 

“Actually, yeah.  The last time that wolf of yours decided to watch a hockey game with me.  He made sure he sat right in front of the tv, too.”

 

“That’s because you won’t let him sit on the couch.”

 

Who is he kidding?  Let that fur ball sit on the couch?  I don’t think so.  At least he listens, which is often more than I can say about his mortal companion.  “He minds much better than you do, too.  And far better than that monkey of your’s ever did.”

 

“A Barbary ape, Jim.  He was a Barbary ape.”

 

“Whatever he was, he was messy.  He broke twelve house rules before he even made it through the door the first time.”  I smile.  “At least the wolf seems to understand the way things work around here.”  The smile becomes a grin, that’s right Sandburg.  Play right into my hands.  I love a good discussion about the house rules.

 

“And how exactly do things work around here....”

 

“You’d know if you’d ever sit down and actually read the house rules.”  Gotcha.


“I’ve read the house rules.”

 

“Yeah, right.  If you’ve read them then how come wet towels never make it into the hamper in the bathroom and there’s something growing in the back corner of the bookcase?”

 

It’s too bad he’s never actually read them all the way through.  Then he’d know.  The last one makes everything null and void in the case of Guides and spirit animals.  Can’t control the animals anyway and Guides are notoriously difficult when it comes to things like following the rules.  Maybe I should tell him?  Nah.  Let him wonder.  Maybe one day the curiosity will get to him and he’ll read them all the way through.  Until then, it’ll be my little secret, well mine and the animals anyway.  They, of course, will keep it to themselves until the time is right.  I love having well trained spirit guides.

 

“If you knew there was something growing in the bookcase why didn’t you throw it away before it started to breed?”

 

“I did.  I just wanted to see what your response would be.”

 

“Ellison!”

 

I bring a finger to my lips, the classic shush pose, reminding us both of the sleeping woman on the couch.  Okay, so I’ve been keeping an eye on her the whole time, but he doesn’t need to know that.  Let him think my whole attention has been focused on him and I’m just now remembering our guest.  Don’t think I’m going to mention that both animals have been snuggling at her feet either. 

 

“You know you’re going to have to talk to her.  She might surprise you.”  He begins the shutdown procedure on his laptop.  An implicit clue the conversation is over and it’s time for bed.  Either that, or that we’ve both had enough emotional catharsis for the evening and the rest can wait until another time.  Either way, I’m not completely delighted at the return to the subject of children.

 

“I know.”  I try to keep a cautiously optimistic attitude about the whole issue.  But I know that my eyes and tone of voice betray me.  Granted it’s probably only evident to him.

 

“Give her a chance man.  What’s the worst thing she could say?  No.  Then at least you’d know where you stand.  If you don’t ask her, you don’t ever give her the chance to say yes.  The answer’s already no.” 

 

Yep.  I was right.  He heard that bleak note in my voice.  But his words help me maintain at least a modicum of optimism.  She might say yes...  “Thanks Chief.”  I squeeze his shoulder gently, acknowledging his words and my acceptance of them, before allowing my hand to rest on his collarbone.

 

“Welcome.  It’s all part of the service.” 


Why does he have to ruin a perfectly good moment with sarcasm?  Well, at least he’s predictable. But then so am I.  I reach up and cuff him on the back of the head a smile lingering on my face. 

 

“Hey!”

 

He glances back down at his laptop to see if he can turn it off.  Carefully he closes up the computer before reaching down to grab his backpack from the floor.  In typical Sandburg fashion he stuffs the computer into the backpack.  Maybe one of these days he’ll learn that stuffing things into his backpack is not a good system of organization.

 

“I’m spending the day with AJ.  She got a couple boxes from Uncle Zel for a new exhibit at the museum.  I told her I’d help her unpack them.”

 

Okay, that explains the early bedtime.  “Good.  Bring her over for dinner when you are done.”

 

“You think Rafe is going to let me kidnap her for dinner after I’ve spent all day with her?  Come on, man.  I think love’s addled your brain.  Those two don’t spend more than four or five hours apart on the weekdays.  They’re even worse on weekends.”

 

“So bring him too.  Kathleen and I will cook.  I’ll even call Simon, H., and Megan.”

 

“Kathleen cooks?”

 

Gotcha again Chief.  Bet you were wondering about all my nights at her house.  “Much better than Carolyn ever did.”

 

“Cool.  Want us to stop and pick up a couple bottles of wine on the way home?”

 

“Nah.  I’m sure we’ll have to go pick up a few things for dinner anyway.  We’ll just stop then.”

 

Suddenly he lets out a yawn.

 

I can tell by the look of exhaustion that’s developed over the last few hours that our conversation took a lot out of him.  “It’s getting late.  Why don’t you head off to bed.  I’m sure AJ’s going to want to get an early start in the morning.  I’ll go wake up Kathleen and take her home.” 

 

“It’s okay.  She can stay.” 

 

I hear the note of authority in his voice, almost like a dad telling his kid it’s okay to stay up and watch tv for another hour.  Little does he know...  He stands and grabs his backpack off the table. As he passes me he allows a hand to rest on my shoulder, offering reassurance, comfort, and support with the simple gesture.  Whether the gesture is more for him or me, I’m not sure.

 

“Thanks, man.”

 


“You’re welcome.” 

 

His eyes come up to meet mine briefly.  The ghosts gone from their depths.  Vanquished, at least for the moment.  I suspect, however, they will be back.  But at least now he knows he doesn’t have to deal with them alone.  Now, if some of mine were only so easy to get rid of.  And let’s not even talk about Kathleen’s.  Between the three of us we could go into business.  Ghosts ‘R Us.  I hope that Blair finds a nice well-adjusted woman to settle down with.  Any more ghosts around here and we’re going to have to move into the loft next door out of necessity.

 

“All part of the service.  Not to mention the Blessed Protector agreement.”

 

He drops his backpack under the coatrack and heads towards the bathroom.

 

“Night, Blair.”  I get in just before he shuts the door.

 

“Night, man.”  He whispers back, Sentinel soft.

 

Now all I have to do is figure out what I’m going to say to Kathleen.  Right, that’s going to be a piece of cake.  But I think I’ll wait.  Plan it for some evening after dinner.  Set the mood with dinner and candlelight.  Women are suckers for candlelight.  It always worked on Carolyn at least.

 

For now, I think I’ll just wake her up and send her to bed.  Or take her home.  I’m never quite sure if she’s going to decide to stay or not.  Granted I’d enjoy her staying much more if I got to share the bed with her.  Being the gentleman that I am I can’t make her sleep on the couch. That’s my spot.  Actually my spot is with her, but she’s not ready for that yet.  So I take the couch.  Much easier to keep an eye on things from there anyway.  Instead she gets a rather large jaguar.  He even shares when she’s up there.  Me on the other hand, he tries to kick out of bed at the first opportunity.  Must be her perfume.

 

I stand and walk back toward the couch.  I don’t even have to look down to know that she’s still asleep.  I sit on the coffee-table and rest a hand on her shoulder.  The wolf at her feet snorts at me, pointing out my blatant violation of the house rules.

 

“You should talk,” I whisper back.  Geez, he should know better than to sleep on the couch.

 

“Kathleen.  Katy.  Kit,” I continue to whisper, as I reach up to run a finger lightly down her cheek. I’ve learned the hard way that she doesn’t like to be startled from sleep.  Residual memories I suppose.  Not that I blame her.  If I were her, I’d have residual memories too.  I wonder how her closets and locks are?  Maybe I should give her a few lessons in repressing memories.  But I suspect that might backfire in the end.  Not everyone can repress things for years and years without reaching a breaking point.  I wonder how long I would have lasted if Blair hadn’t breezed into my life.  I suspect that I might have been found at the end of a long pier someday, my backup weapon in my hand.  I’m realistic about these things.  Or even the less drastic method, killed by an escaping suspect, or even friendly fire.  Learning how to die was another of those useful lessons I learned in the Army. 


She stirs slightly at the sound of my voice.  But instead of waking up, she snuggles deeper into the teddy bear.  This calls for drastic measures.

 

I lean over and gently place my lips to hers.  The reaction is almost instantaneous.  Her eyes fly open as her hands clench painfully in my hair. 

 

A low growl comes from the end of the couch, whether directed at me or her I’m not sure.  I half suspect it was directed at me, the animals have gotten very protective of her.  I send a brief but effective glare their direction, silencing their protests at my actions.  I didn’t intend to scare her like that.  Beside, they should know I would never hurt her.  But then that’s what I would have said about Blair before I sent him off to die.  My words no longer carry the bitterness and malice they used to, I notice almost subconsciously.  Looks like our conversation really did release the bonds of that particular burden. 

 

“Shh...  It’s just me.  No one’s going to hurt you.  It’s okay.  Shh.”  My entire attention returns to the problem at hand as I attempt to calm her and remove her hand from my hair at the same time. I don’t have much left, I can’t stand to lose any to a scared woman with claws.  Guess that wasn’t a good way to wake her either.  I’m going to start just setting an alarm clock next to her head.

 

Slowly, her grip loosens as awareness returns to her eyes.  After awareness comes apologies and then shame at her actions.  All in less time than it takes to relate them.

 

I pull her into my arms.  Allowing her to rest her head against my chest, while keeping her from withdrawing into herself.  “Shh.  It’s okay.  Nothing to be afraid of.  You didn’t do anything wrong.  It’s okay.”  My words trail off into nonsensical phrases, as I try to reassure her that there’s nothing to be afraid of.  Nothing to be ashamed of.  But I know her emotions, and where they’re coming from all too well.  There’s still a lot of healing to be done.  I can only hope she allows me to help.  Like I told Blair, I’m not ready to let her go.

 

“So, are you spending the night or am I taking you home?”  I try to lighten the mood somewhat, at the same time convincing her that things are okay.  That I still want her to be here.

 

She pulls away from my chest slightly, the wary look on her face a sure sign she expected a far different response.  Once again I curse the bastard that put the fear into her beautiful whiskey brown eyes.  If he weren’t already dead I’d kill him myself.  But in some ways I’m glad I’m not the one responsible for the late professor’s demise.  That might be more baggage than she and I could work through.  Nothing like being responsible for killing the man who ruined her life to ruin a relationship. 

 

“Spending the night.” 

 


I can hear the hesitation in her voice, see the question in her eyes.  I watch as her fear of being alone, combined with the need for reassurance, wage a brief war with her fear of staying here. I’m not sure what I’ve done to cause her fear, her unwillingness to trust me, but I have to figure out a way to get past her barriers.  Maybe Sandburg can give me lessons.  She seems comfortable with him.  But then she’s not dating him either.  Got it in one, Ellison.  She’d probably trust you too, if she knew you didn’t have designs on her body.

 

I run my finger down her cheek.  “Okay.  Go wash your face and brush your teeth.  I’ll go make sure the sheets on my bed are clean.”

 

Her eyes widen at my words. 

 

Damn.  I mentally curse my ineptitude.  Way to go Ellison.  Trying to convince her you aren’t going to force yourself on her and what do you do?  Make a tactless comment about the sheets on your bed.

 

“It’s okay.”

 

Her soft words stop my mental tirade. 

 

“I can sleep down here.  I just don’t think I could face going back to my house.  Too many open spaces for me to think in.”

 

Open spaces to think in?  What’s that supposed to mean?  Instead of voicing my confusion I opt to become the voice of reason.  “You can sleep upstairs.  I’ll sleep down here.” 

 

My raised eyebrow forestalls any further comment she might make.

 

“Thank you.”

 

Ah, she’s learning.  I rarely say anything I don’t mean.  She used to question every kindness I showed her.  Another remnant of her former life.  Funny, Blair used to be like that too.  He questioned everything.  He also tried to second guess my motivations for things.  He must have given her lessons, she figured me out way faster than he did.  Or maybe it was the circumstances, attempted rape and murder tend to bring people together.  Course, Blair knows that too.  It just took him a little longer to get himself kidnaped and almost killed.  He waited several weeks.  She did it on our third date.

 

I lean forward and touch my lips to hers.  A kiss of compassion, not passion.  “Now, go brush your teeth.”

 

“But I didn’t bring my toothbrush.”

 

“That’s okay.  There’s an extra one sitting on the counter in the bathroom.”  Complete with a whole basket of women things.  But I’ll let the rest be a surprise.  Besides, I don’t think I can actually admit I went shopping for things like scented shower gel and perfume oil.  I only hope I correctly identified the combination of scents that are uniquely Kathleen.  “I’ll bring you something more comfortable to sleep in.”

 


I kiss her again, not wanting to hear her words of gratitude again.  Standing up, I help her to her feet and send her towards the bathroom while I head for the stairs.

 

Reaching my bedroom I make a Sentinel examination of the room.  Fresh sheets.  Reasonably clean.  Yeah, it’ll pass inspection.  Moving to the bureau I pull out a worn t-shirt and a pair of old flannel boxers.  While I’d much rather give her the racy little white nightgown I picked up at the same time I picked up the basket, I know she wouldn’t take that gesture very well.  Oh hell, she’d probably walk out the door, never to be seen again if I did that.  Ruefully I tuck the slip of silk and lace back into the drawer.  I just have to believe she’ll get to wear it one day.

 

Tromping back down the stairs I knock softly on the bathroom door.  Without receiving a response, I open it slightly, just enough to place the shorts and t-shirt on the edge of the sink.

 

That chore taken care of, I make my way through the loft – turning off lights, checking the locks on the doors, reassuring myself that my family is secure for the night.

 

When Kathleen doesn’t emerge from the bathroom, I make my way upstair and change into my own sleep wear – a comfortable t-shirt and a pair of sweats fit the bill this evening.

 

I sit down on the stairs leading up to the bedroom to wait.

 

“Took you long enough.”  I immediately blurt out upon her emergence from the bathroom.  Immediately, I regret my hasty words.  Way to go Ellison, try to scare her again.

 

“Waiting for me, were you?”  Her response takes me by surprise. 

 

After the evening we’d had, I hadn’t expected her glib response.  A large smile graces my face at her words.  This is what was fun about us.  Even through her initial hesitation, she’d always been able to stand up to me.  Hold her own.

 

That’s part of what I love about her.

 

“Well now, would it do any good if I were?”  I drawl back in the exaggerated Texas accent I’d perfected all those years ago.  The banter feels good.

 

“Don’t know.  Depends on what you’re looking for.”

 

If it is possible to sashay in a large bathroom and pajamas, that’s what she did.  Right up the stairs and into my bedroom.  Though I know it wasn’t her intent, I take a moment to grasp firmly a hold of my suddenly raging hormones.  Down boy.  Didn’t we already go through this once this evening?  She’s not ready for this yet.

 


My body firmly under control – at least I hope it is – I move to follow her up the stairs.  Though I know I don’t get to stay, I have to make sure she’s settled and tucked in for the night.  Sandburg would call it my blessed protector instincts.  And I’d probably have to say he’s right.  Though I’ll never actually admit it.

 

“You know, this would be far more fun if I got to stay up here with you...”  My words proceed me up the last couple of stairs.  The first part of our usual repartee.  Somehow it’d become almost a joke between the two of us.  I’d tell her how much I’d like to stay, and she’d kick me out.  The words varied from weekend to weekend, but the intent stayed the same  The ritual was comfortable, familiar.  And as much a part of the relationship we’d built as she and me.

 

Much to my surprise, I find her facing the wall when my head clears the final stairs.

 

Damn.

 

This was not part of the usual evening’s entertainment.

 

“Katy.  I’m sorry.”  The words pass easily from my lips, for more easily than in the past.  One more thing to thank Blair for.

 

“For what?”  She spins to face me.  A smile gracing her lovely face.  For a moment my breath catches in my chest.

 

God she’s beautiful.

 

Not that she would ever admit it, mind you.  That’s okay.  I think that’s one tidbit of information I’ll keep to myself.  Wouldn’t want to have to fight of her grad students for her.

 

“Uh.”  Seeing the questioning look on her face, I stammer out, as I try to remember the question.

 

“Everything okay?”  She senses my hesitation.

 

“Fine.  Off to bed with you now.”  I cover my suddenly overpowering emotions with the familiar.  The act of putting her robe at the foot of the bed, so it is within easy reach.  Pulling back the covers so she can get into bed.  The sight of her in my boxers and t-shirt makes my breath catch again.

 

I cover my actions with the movement of blankets.  Making sure she’s tucked in securely for the night.

 

Her hand reaches out to grasp mine.  I watch as a multitude of emotions cross her face.

 


When I sense she’s passed the moment of indecision, I lean over to gently kiss her goodnight.

 

What started out as a chaste kiss of love, quickly turns to one of flaming intensity.

 

And she easily meets me head on.

 

“Goodnight, dear heart.”  I finish securing the covers around her body, unable to deal with the erotic images of her currently traveling through my head..

 

“Goodnight, sweet prince.”

 

Her words are soft as I make my way out of the room, turning off the lights in my wake.

 

Not needing any additional light, the moonlight wafting through the open curtains plenty for a sentinel’s needs, go back downstairs and get comfortable on the couch.

 

When my movement stops, and I have rearranged the couch cushions and blankets to my satisfaction, I send out the smallest tendrils of my hearing to assess the well-being of the other two members of my family.  Finding both heartbeats steady, I sink gratefully into sleep.

 

The light goes off and he makes his way back down the stairs.  I hear the gentle sounds of weight being added to the couch.  Blankets being adjusted and draped around his body.

 

When he has settled down for the evening.  I too can rest and sleep once again claims me.

 

My eyes spring open.  Slowly I extend my senses throughout the loft, trying to find the source of my sudden return to consciousness.

 

The first stop on my silent surveillance is the small room under the stairs.  The gentle sound of my Guide breathing, his heartbeat slow in sleep, reassures me that whatever danger I might encounter is no threat to his well-being.  Breathing a short sigh of relief I continue my catlike journey, or maybe that should be jaguar-like, I grin to myself.  The kitchen and the rest of the living room resound with nighttime silence. 

 

Before I can send my senses upward, a soft cry pierces the air.  Like a shot I run up the stairs, my brain not even registering my instinctive actions until I am halfway to my destination.  As my head clears the railing I see Kathleen, caught in the throws of a nightmare, tossing and turning on the bed.  I cannot help but stop to admire the way her shirt, stretched tight across her chest by her flailing arms, has risen above the waistband of her boxers giving me a tantalizing glimpse of skin.  As she cries out again, I quickly override my baser instincts. 

 

Gently I kneel next to the bed.  After her earlier display I know better than to try to sit on the bed. At least until she wakes up. 

 


“Kit, sweetheart.  Wake up.  You’re having a nightmare.”  I softly whisper.  Why is this always so much easier with Blair.  All I have to do with him is touch his shoulder and he wakes up.  I can tell, she’s going to be much more difficult.  I watch as my hand reaches out to touch her, mentally I call it back, not knowing where its command to move originated in the first place. 

 

For a moment I stop, lamenting the circumstances that keep her locked away behind tightly closed doors.  My touch makes her recoil at times like these, though she often seeks solace in my arms in the cold light of day.  But at night, when the nightmares haunt her, forcing her to relive the horrifying events of her past, when she really needs someone to lean on, she pushes me away. Rejects my offers of strength.  I’m not sure how I am going to be able to help her if she won’t let me get close.

 

“No!”  The soft cry, this one more distinct, brings me back to the present. 

 

“Kit.”  I try again to rouse her with my voice, knowing somehow I will be unsuccessful.

 

Gently I skim a hand just above her body – never actually making contact with her skin.  I learned my lesson the last time, I know better than to actually touch her at this point.  Her reaction to the gentle movement of air above her is instantaneous.  The restless tossing slows, as do her soft cries.

 

Well, what do you know?  It worked.

 

Deciding to press my luck, I try again.

 

Eliciting the same response.

 

It seems I finally found the way to reach her.

 

Hot Damn.

 

Combining the sound of my voice with the motion of my hand – once I get over my jubilation, that is – I try to bring her back to wakefulness.

 

Gradually I let my hand drift downwards – making sure the motion doesn’t reawaken the slumbering nightmare – until it rests softly on her should.  Unconsciously I turn the skimming into rubbing.

 

Thankfully without the same disastrous consequences as the last time.

 

“Jim?”  She finally opens her eyes blearily.  I breathe a small sight of relief, thankful my efforts worked.

 

“Sweetheart.”  I try to make my voice as non-threatening as possible, realizing she is still caught in the after effects of sleep.

 


“What’s wrong?”  Her voice carries with it heavy traces of sleep.

 

“You tell me.”  I continue the gentle motion of my hand against her shoulder.  Resolutely I turn my mind from entertaining thoughts of the softness of her skin, or the soft sent of vanilla released from her skin. 

 

“You were having a nightmare.”  Her eyes widen in recognition.  “I didn’t know how to wake you.”  I continue, unable to stop the confession.  Tonight seems to be the night for baring my soul.

 

“What?  Why?  Oh.”  She turns her eyes down towards the pillow, no longer willing to meet mine.

 

Suddenly, the expression on her face changes.

 

“Katy?”  I ask, hesitantly, not sure of the reason for the suddenly wary look in her down-turned eyes.  “What’s wrong?”

 

“David.”  The single spoke word is soft, but it carries with it volumes – at least to a sentinel.  I can hear despair, terror, loss, and sadness in the gentle tones.

 

She turns away.  Busying herself with rearranging the pillows behind her, she leans against the rail.  I take her motion as a signal, she’s not going back to sleep anytime soon.

 

My knees use this moment to protest their own treatment.  The slight ache reminds me of my age.  Relieving them from their misery, I move up to sit on the bed next to her.  My hands resting protectively next to her thighs.

 

“I was dreaming about David again.”  She begins as soon as she is settled, and has turned to face me again.

 

I reach a hand towards her face, stopping in mid-air.  “This is my fault.”  I cannot keep the remorse, the guilt I feel at causing this, out of my voice.  And I’m sure she recognizes it.

 

She grabs my hand, bringing it the rest of the way to her face.  My hand now resting against her cheekbone, she turns slightly and places a kiss against the palm of my hand.  “No.  David did this.  You had nothing to do with it.”

 

“But what I said, earlier.”  I persist, knowing that somehow this has to be my fault.  Not ready to let go of the guilt.  Why should I?  I’ve been guilty of one thing or another all my life.  My dad drilled that lesson into us early.

 

Funny, of all the things he tried to teach us boys, that’s the one thing that stands out in my mind.  While other boys have memories of little league and pee-wee football, I have guilt.  Way to go dad.

 


Her next words bring me out of the stupor thoughts of my dad caused.  “Made me feel loved.  Wanted.”  Her voice is soft, as if she is unsure of the reception of her words.

 

“But this?”  My free arm indicated the sleep tossed bedding and sweat-soaked pillow.  I’m not ready to give up quite yet.

 

“Was nothing more than a nightmare.”

 

“That I caused.”

 

“Jim, you are not responsible for everything that happens.  You can’t do everything.  Be everywhere.  It is just not possible.”  Her hands move to my face.  Offering comfort, and something else.  Something vague and undefinable.  But not unwelcome.

 

“But I should be able to protect the people I love.”  There I said it.  I hold my breath waiting for her response.  I really didn’t mean to blurt it out like this, but somehow, the dark makes it so much easier.  The gentle moonlight seeping in through the skylight.  It’s not candles and flowers, but somehow it seems to feel right.

 

“You have.  And you will continue to do so.”  Her thumb begins to rub gently against my jaw.  “You saved me.”

 

“ But I can’t seem to save you from the nightmares.”  My voice breaks slightly, at that admission.  Somehow I could sooth the nightmares Blair developed after all our horrific cases, but I can’t relieve the nightmares of the other most important person to me.

 

“Don’t you see?” 

 

I shake my head slightly, trying to banish the thoughts eating at my soul.

 

“You have.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I wasn’t dreaming about what he did to me.  I was dreaming he killed you.”  Involuntarily I notice her heart begin to race.  Her eyes leave mine, moving instead to her hands, now worrying the comforter.  “That final meeting, when you came to rescue me.  He shot you.  I couldn’t handle it if you died.”

 

I put my hands over hers, stopping their nervous motion.  At the same time, allowing me the time to digest her words.

 

“That’s not what happened.  It’s okay.  I’m right here.  He’s dead.  I’m not.”  My words almost run together as I finally understand her fear.

 


Understand her.

 

The small flicker of light that I’d been holding carefully protected in my heart turns into a flaming inferno.

 

Sandburg was right after all.

 

She does love me.

 

“Kathleen.”  I pause.  This is really not the way I wanted to do this.  Aw, hell.  “I love you.”

 

“I love you too, James Joseph Ellison.”  She answers immediately, her eyes shining with love.

 

Despite the look on her face, I have to ask, “You do?”

 

“Yeah, I do.”  She is suddenly radiant – luminous.

 

I lean down and pull her into my arms, my lips easily finding hers.

 

Several long minutes later, we both have to come up for air.  Somewhere along the way, I’ve shifted position and am now lying full length next to her.

 

Guess I won’t be needing the extra bedding on the couch any longer.

 

Raising myself on my elbows, I look down into her eyes.  “You know I’ll do anything for you.”

 

“I know.”  Her eyes take on a slight sheen.  “And you know, I’ll be here for you.  No matter what.”

 

“I know.”  I kiss her gently, carefully restraining myself.  “So, how do you feel about children?”

 

“What did you have in mind?”  Her tone becomes teasing.

 

The gentle sound of laughter slowly turns into soft sighs.

 

Unnoticed, the animals at the foot of the bed turn away, leaving their humans to their privacy.  Knowing, everything has finally worked itself out.

 

Finis