"You okay, babe?" Nick murmured, rocking Greg slightly.

"Better. Not so messy inside anymore. I was so mad and I wasn't really aware of it, you know? Felt like a geyser when it finally blows."

"Released the pressure did it?"


"I can call Cyn… ask her to help some more with the healin' and figurin' out."

"Greg hesitated, but eventually nodded against Nick's chest. "Okay. Let's get you settled on the couch. There. Hang on, yeah? I'll be right back."

Nick slowly moved in Jim's direction, his eyes still on Greg. Jim's lips and jaw both tightened a little as the other approached.

"Time for that talk?"

"After I make a phone call." Nick confirmed. "Listen, Sandburg, would you…"

"Sure, of course." Blair acceded, moving to join Greg. The other pair moved farther into the kitchen. Once Cynthia had been summoned, Nick turned an intense, almost hostile expression on Jim.

"Start talkin'."

"It might be easier if you go first."

"Excuse me?"

"Who told you Greg needed you… that you had to protect him?"

Nick's harsh angry glare swiftly gave way to a look of troubled confusion.

"I don't know. I heard a voice… thought I saw…"

"Saw what?"

Nick grunted and waved vaguely.

"It was just a dream."

Jim chuckled wryly.

"Dreams are *never* just dreams. Not for us, anyway."

"Us? Who's us?"

"Patience. Tell me about it?"

"I was still layin' on Greg's bed, but it was out in the middle of the desert. An' I know I took my boots off before I went to sleep, but they were back on when I came to. This voice came outta nowhere. Scared me at first. When I kept talkin', tryin' to work out some logical explanation… the voice got cheesed off at me and ordered me to turn around. There was this… this building behind me…"

"A temple? A ziggurat maybe?"

"No. No, man, it was this little adobe house. I walked over and stepped inside… we went back and forth for a couple minutes over who the voice was and who *I* am…"

"What did it say?"

"I can't remember now. Like I said, it was a dream."

"I told you…"

"Yeah, yeah, never *just*."

"Close your eyes and breathe slow. The words will come back to you, I swear."

Nick reluctantly complied.

"Yeah, okay. It… it said I'm a Protector and a Guardian. I could tell those were capitalized, you know, like when somebody wants you to know a certain word they just said is really important? Then sh… the voice told me I'm the Sentinel of a great city, whatever that means. I got blinded by this flash of light… when I could see again there was this… this phoenix in front of me. Sh.. it said the phoenix was me, that it represented my heart and my spirit. I got some spiel about leaping tall buildings in a single bound or some such nonsense, then it said Greg needed me and I had to go back."

Jim grinned a bit.

"You keep wanting to say she. It felt or sounded female?"

"I don't know. Felt like it, I guess. The voice was mid-range. Couldn't tell either way. Maybe the way it talked to me at first just reminded me of my aunties an' my grandma."

"If it feels right to say 'she', it is right."

"Fine, *she* told me I had to get back. I could hear she was scared a little, so I ran to the bed an' I lay back down. Next thing I know I'm wakin' up in the bedroom, panicked that somethin' happened to Greg. I came out here to find him, hidin', all upset… The rest you know."

"Hmmmph. It does kinda make sense it'd be different for other areas and people. Blair needs to research that…" Jim mused, his gaze turned away from Nick. Until, that is, the Texan regained his attention with demanding words.

"Hey, I held up my end a'the bargain. Time for you to hold up yours."

"You're right, sorry. I got a little distracted. The short version is that Sentinels, you and me, we have upgraded senses. Sometimes just one, sometimes all five. Greg and Blair are Guides. They teach us, show us how to deal with and control what we're able to do. Mostly… Blair keeps me sane. If I hadn't met him, I would've eaten my gun years ago."

"Hang on… upgraded? You mean… wait, the keyboard? I really was…"

"… hearing it, even though the 'phones were plugged in? Yeah, I think you were."

"And the guard dog thing whenever anybody even *looks* like they're about to get in Greg's face?"

"SOP. More proof that he really is meant to be your Guide. Not to mention that you've loved him since the moment you saw him. Right?"

Nick frowned an, again, waved off the notion. "Oh? Head first, no barrel, no paddle, remember? I recognize my own tribe, my man."

Nick thought back to the conversation he and Ellison had had not long after Blair and Jim had first arrived at the apartment.

"Yeah. Okay, so I have loved him that long."

"It's part of the whole thing. Guides are also our soul-mates. Literally, we're matched souls. When we meet… we know right there and then. Something in both people pushes them to reach out and connect. From the beginning they touch and stand close without being uncomfortable, their thought processes start to line up and mesh…"

Nick glanced at Jim quickly.

"You sayin' you an' the kid…"

"We can both be pig-headed, so it took a long time to accept that we were going there… but yeah, now we're lovers and I wouldn't change anything."

Nick suddenly looked deeply sad.

"Not gonna happen for us."

"It will, trust me. I realize it could take years for him to be ready to even talk about it, but as long as you stick with him and give him support and love… he'll make it. You both will."

"He's so brittle right now. One more hit, one more ounce of stress, he could end up in a million pieces. How am I supposed to tell him about all this… craziness?"

"He won't think it is. It's born in him to accept it. He's been waiting to hear this; he just doesn't know it yet. Make a start. You'll see."

"Yeah, well… not yet. After his session."

"The phone call. Not massage, obviously. Acupuncture might do him a lot of good, though…"

"Different kinda therapy. I've been through a lot myself… come through some pretty hairy stuff. When this happened to Greg, I asked the lady I talk to if she'd help him."

"That's really great. Just be careful who you let in on the Sentinel thing. Only tell people you trust, who you know will understand and keep their mouths shut. If the wrong person hears…"

Nick's mind was abruptly filled with images of his superiors and their media-hound tendencies and he shuddered visibly.

"Sheer hell on earth."

"Afraid so." Jim agreed as the expected gentle knock on the door finally materialized. Nick swiftly collected Greg and led him to his corner where Jim could watch over him just in case the visitor was someone other than Cynthia. When Nick opened the door, however, he released a drawn-out sigh and relaxed into his therapist's fervent hug.

"This has to stop, Nick. Greg needs peace, not a constant stream of foreign invaders."

"Hey, tell that to the stupid government and the SOB who keeps sendin' 'em to our door."

"Believe me, I'm already working on that." She assured him, peering around him toward the kitchen where Jim was following Greg back out into the larger space. "Who's this?"

"You want the easy answer or the long, convoluted one?"

"You know me, I'll take convoluted every time."

"After you see to Greggo, yeah? He really needs you."

"I can see that. You just promise me no convenient memory loss, okay? I have to know what's going on around him in order to help."