Disclaimer: See home page.

Warnings (Actually, an ANTI-Warning): Please read first! This is not a DD (Domestic Discipline) story. I don't write those. Please read the entire story first before passing judgment. If you have any problems with any part of the story after reading it, then, by all means, write to me with your concerns. I look forward to any and all comments.

Author's Notes: Even though this is the eighth story I'm posting, it is actually the very first Sentinel story I ever wrote. It has been sitting, basically completed, on my hard drive for almost three years now. After its original beta reading, I started some additional work on it, but never finished. Then, while I was in the process of moving, it got put on a back burner where it has stayed until now. I have now pulled it out, dusted it off, worked on it a bit more and am now, finally, letting it see the light of day. I must thank Toni (TAE) for her beta job; she took a writer's first story and, despite its length, helped pull it all together. Anything that doesn't look right is probably what I did after she betaed it. Also thanks to Izzy (Ismaro) who recently pointed out a few flaws that I hope I've fixed to her satisfaction ;-) Just bare in mind while reading that this is really a newbie's first attempt at writing a TS story (beware of cliches and smarm <g>). While I hopefully made a few things a bit clearer and fixed a few writing errors, I essentially left the story intact.


Fear Factor
by
Linda3

celticpryde1@insightbb.com

 

As Detective Jim Ellison walked across the parking lot from his truck to the Anthropology building at Rainier University, he looked around at the manicured lawns, stately old buildings and the students and faculty quietly going about their business. He silently marveled at how different it was from the hectic, often dangerous world of police work. It was no wonder his partner liked being here so much. And, to be honest, he knew that this was where Blair Sandburg really belonged, in the halls of academia and learning, not on the streets risking his life getting shot at and worse. But somehow, as only Blair could, he managed to live in both worlds and act as if doing so was the most natural thing in the world.

The tall detective shook he head as he smiled to himself. There had definitely been some rough spots along the way as they both had to learn to adjust to each other and their way of doing things. But fortunately, despite their vastly different personalities, during the past three years of working so closely together they had slowly managed to progress from just researcher and subject, to cop and unofficial partner, to now having a friendship that was deeper and closer than most brothers. Even more important, they were also now permanently Sentinel and Guide, with a bond between them that transcended everything else in their lives.

He knew that Blair took his role as the Guide to mean that it was his responsibility to keep searching for new information and to try to teach him how to continually adapt to something that made him different from everyone else. He also knew that, as much as he hated them, the constant tests that Blair put him through weren't just research for his dissertation on Sentinels but to also help him to learn to live with and use his unique abilities. Even though he rarely ever said so, he really was grateful for all his friend and Guide had done and was still doing for him.

As Jim neared his friend's office he opened up his sense of hearing, more from habit than from actually expecting anything to be wrong. Around the police station Blair had become known somewhat as a 'trouble magnet'. Even though the police observer often expressed his dislike of the term, it did seem that if there was a psycho, bad guy or just a dangerous situation anywhere in the area, Blair somehow managed to find himself involved. Jim had learned long ago not to take any chances where his very resourceful, but still untrained, partner was concerned.

The office was quiet except for Blair's breathing—which sounded very deep and regular. Sure enough, when Jim opened the door there was his Guide, head on his desk, sound asleep. Jim wasn't surprised. For the past several weeks Blair had been running himself ragged. The semester had just ended, the busiest time of the year on campus. So for the previous few weeks Blair had had to prepare, administer and grade final exams for the classes he was teaching. Besides his own classes he had also agreed to take over teaching and giving and grading exams for two additional classes for Rick, a TA whose father had just recently had a major heart attack. Since Rick had covered for him last time he had been injured while working with Jim he could hardly refuse to return the favor. On top of all the extra class work, Blair also had to submit a detailed syllabus for each of the classes he would be teaching next semester. In addition to his school requirements, Blair had also tried to spend as much time as possible helping Jim with the Evans case. Normally during finals Blair all but stopped coming to the station. Jim understood that working as a fulltime Teaching Fellow, his increased school workload during this hectic time left him virtually no free time for anything else, with this semester's workload being even heavier due to Rick's classes. But this time it was different. This time there was Robert Evans.

Evans was a sadistic murderer who, with his two cousins, had left a trail of bodies across the country. They killed without mercy. Evans had sworn several times that he would not be taken alive and that he would take as many cops as possible with him when he went. They were now thought to be in the Cascade area, probably heading for Canada, and Jim had made it his personal crusade to bring them in before they could get out of the country. Concentrating and focusing intently for long periods of time meant that he needed Blair's help more than usual to keep his senses under control. And Blair never said 'no' when Jim needed help concerning his Sentinel abilities. So lately, if Blair wasn't at the University working, he was working with Jim. For the past few weeks his routine had become exhausting: starting early in the morning with a full day of both his and Rick's classes, office hours and faculty meetings then straight to the station to work with Jim, who didn't go in until late afternoon due to his night shift stakeout duty. Then after spending several hours helping with whatever pre-stakeout work the detective was doing that day, he was up most of the night at home catching up on his school paperwork. A few hours sleep, if he was lucky, then a quick shower in the morning and he was back at school to start all over again. Eating and any kind of meaningful sleep had become luxuries.

The last few days had been especially hard on the already over burdened grad student. He was facing his deadline to have all the final exams, both his and Rick's, graded then the grades entered and posted, as well as having his syllabuses turned in for review. At the same time it had been confirmed that Evans and his cousins were staying at the surveillance house but all three of them never seemed to be in it at the same time. Due to this new info the stakeouts had been intensified, and Jim's original surveillance partner had been re-assigned to work with another officer. Jim had insisted, then, that Blair now join him during his nightly stakeouts, claiming that he would be able to use his senses more freely and would be less likely to zone. He was not taking any chances that he might miss the opportunity of finding all three of the murderous cousins together. So, instead of indulging the usual cat naps that he took on all night stakeouts, Blair had tried to use this time to work, straining his eyes using the small, dim flashlight that Jim grudgingly allowed him to bring along.

Jim had become worried about his partner. There were dark circles under his eyes and he had obviously lost weight. His normally bright and excited eyes had become dull, while his usually bouncy step and expressive hands had become slow and his movements deliberate. Thank God most of it was over as of today.

Finals were over. Blair had come in today to post the last of his and Rick's classes grades, hand in his syllabuses and tie up a few loose ends until the new semester started. This time, thanks to the semester break and the University upgrading their computer system, Blair had two full weeks totally free from any school related responsibilities. As much as Jim wanted Blair's help fulltime, he was determined to see to it that his roommate also spent as much time as he needed catching up on lost sleep and eating on a regular basis. Starting now.

Rafe and Brown were taking over the night shift stakeout starting tonight so this would be the first night both men had had free together in weeks. Jim had been planning to take his overworked partner out to dinner. Now he wasn't sure if Blair would last through dinner. He looked down at his sleeping Guide. Oh well, take out and a quiet night at home sounds good too.

Jim walked over to Blair and shook his shoulder. "Come on, Chief, wake up. Time to go home."

No response. Jim shook him a little harder and raised his voice. "Hey, Sandburg! Wake up! Let's go!"

Finally the dark lashes started to flutter. Blair slowly raised his head, looking around with sleep filled eyes. "Wha--? Jim? Wha'timizit?"

Jim smiled. He wouldn't ever dare mention it out loud but Blair sometimes reminded him of a little boy when he first woke up. Maybe it was the tousled curly hair or the sleepy blue eyes or that he just looked even younger and more innocent than usual then. "Yeah, Chief, it's me. It's almost six thirty. No stakeout tonight, remember? Time for you to go home." For your first decent meal in at least a few days and a full night's sleep. God only knows what you've been eating lately, probably more junk food than you'd care to think about. He knew that Blair, unlike himself, really tried to eat healthy and usually only ate junk food as a last resort.

Jim reached down and hefted Blair's backpack. For once it wasn't filled with tests to be graded and books for class. He then picked up and held out Blair's lightweight windbreaker to him. Blair rubbed his eyes as he stood up. "I guess I dozed off for a minute."

"Yeah, just for a minute or two I'm sure, but I think your back would like it better if you slept in your bed instead of at your desk."

Looking around his desk, Blair picked up his glasses and put them in his shirt pocket. Taking his jacket from Jim he put it on, pulling the thick, dark hair out of the collar. He looked around again until Jim held up his backpack. "Got it, Chief. Let's go."

Jim waited while Blair shut and locked the office door. Still carrying the backpack, he kept one hand on Blair's back as he guided him out of the building to the truck. As he watched Blair climb into the passenger seat Jim was shocked at how pale and drawn he looked. You're going straight to bed after dinner and staying home all day tomorrow too. He climbed behind the wheel and was soon easing the truck into traffic.

"I thought we'd just pick up some decent take-out tonight and go home. What do you feel like, Chief? Pick a restaurant, your choice, my treat." Anything you want tonight, buddy, even some of that weird vegetarian stuff, just so you eat something.

Blair yawned and shook his head. "Sorry. Actually man, I'm too wiped to eat. I think I'll just head straight to bed tonight. Stop and get whatever you want." He leaned his head against the back of the seat and closed his eyes.

Jim looked at his gaunt partner. Another thought crossed his mind. "When was the last time you ate, Chief?"

C'mon Jim, don't start the Mother Hen routine now. I am so not in the mood for this tonight. Slight irritation crept into his voice. "I don't know, Jim. In case you haven't noticed I've been just a little busy for the past few weeks. Eating doesn't pay my bills, getting my University work done on time does." He gave a short laugh. "Priorities man. Eating has been pretty low on the list lately, way down there with sleeping."

Feeling somewhat guilty, knowing that Blair had been spending a lot more time than usual during finals with him, Jim glanced at his noticeably thinner partner, who was still leaning back with his eyes closed. It suddenly became even more important that he find out what and how much Blair had been eating lately. "So what exactly is the last thing you ate?"

God, Jim was like a bulldog with a bone when he wanted to find out something. Maybe if he answered him he'd just drop the whole subject, he certainly was tired of it already. Actually, I'm just tired. The overworked grad student had to think for a minute. "I don't know. I think, maybe, I may have tried to grab an apple or something for breakfast this morning or maybe it was yesterday morning. Who knows? All right? Can we just drop this now?"

Jim was stunned. Blair wasn't eating junk food; he wasn't eating at all. When was his partner ever going to learn to take care of himself? "So you think you may have tried to eat an apple early this morning? Or it might have been yesterday morning? And just how long has it been since you actually ate a real meal?" When Blair just shrugged Jim almost exploded. "That's it, Sandburg! You're eating dinner tonight even if I have to force feed it to you!" Even as he said it he knew that he would never actually try to force Blair to do anything. And his partner knew it too. He might be physically larger, stronger and better trained but they both knew that Jim would never lay a threatening hand on Blair or allow anyone else to either. Blair called Jim his 'Blessed Protector', and even through the title was usually said in jest, the role itself was something Jim took very seriously. Protecting his Guide, even from himself if need be, had become a top priority in the Sentinel's life.

"C'mon Jim," Blair answered, blatantly ignoring the threat, not even raising his head or opening his eyes, "I don't want to fight, especially about something like eating."

Hearing the tired strain in Blair's voice, Jim's own voice softened. "I don't want to fight either, Chief. But you've obviously barely been eating or sleeping for weeks now. I'm just worried about you. You really are looking kinda rough around the edges, you know."

He was rewarded with a closed-eye, wry grin. "Gee, thanks. Love you too, man. I promise, after I sleep tonight, I'll start eating better tomorrow. Okay?"

Any response was cut off when Jim's cell phone rang. He picked it up and hit the 'answer' button with one hand. "Ellison."

//Jim, it's Simon. Glad I found you. Sorry to do this on your first night off, but I need you back at the surveillance house. Now. Brown just called in. Evans and his cousins are finally all in the house together. This is our best chance to nail all of them at once. I'll meet you there.//

"Right sir, I'm on my way." Jim disconnected the phone and turned on the flashing lights attached to the truck's sun visor as he pushed on the accelerator. Less than a minute later they were headed in the direction of the surveillance location.

Jim glanced over at Blair, who was still leaning back with his eyes closed. He hadn't even asked about the phone call. That just proved that Blair obviously was in no shape for this, but there was no choice, he couldn't risk taking any delays. "Look Chief, Simon wants me at the stakeout house right now. This might finally be our chance. There's no time to drop you off so I have to bring you with me. When we get there you are not to leave this truck. Do you understand?"

"What do you mean 'not leave this truck'?" Blair turned his head and stared at Jim. "Of course I'm staying with you. That's my job, remember? Partners, Sentinel/Guide, watch your back."

"Not tonight."

"But Jim, if I'm not there—"

"No buts. You're about to keel over right now. If I had time I'd drop you off at the loft first. Look, for once, Chief, please, just do what I tell you."

Blair turned and looked out the passenger window. "Sure, Jim. Whatever you say."


Fortunately traffic was light, they were able to make it to the stakeout location in less than 10 minutes. After passing through the roadblock set up at the entrance to the older subdivision Jim parked the truck on the opposite side of the street so the driver's door was next to the curb. They were now on the same side of the street as the surveillance house but almost a block down from it. Blair watched through the window as the police operation was being set into motion. Most of the activity was focused on the tightly shuttered house under surveillance at the far end of the long dead-end street. Both uniformed and plain-clothed officers were scattered around the area. The uniformed officers were going to all the houses on the street, quietly evacuating the residents. Only a few families were still in the process of leaving their homes; most had already left. Obviously this was going to be big. No way could he let Jim do this on his own. Jim needed him with him, even if he was too stubborn to admit it.

Turning away from the activity outside the truck, Blair tried again. "Look Jim, I know I said that I'm a little tired right now but—" He stopped in mid sentence as Jim pulled out his handcuffs and held them up.

"I swear to God, Sandburg, I will handcuff you to the steering wheel right now, unless I am totally convinced that you will stay in this truck. Hell, I may just do it anyway."

Shit. Jim only used the handcuff threat when he was really serious about his staying in the truck. One look at Jim's face told him that he was not about to take 'no' for an answer. Time for some seriously fast talking because he was not letting Jim do this without him. Jim needed him out there; he would be way too vulnerable to zoning in this type of situation. "Jim, man, what are you talking about here? You know you need me out there. You know you're tired which makes you even more susceptible to zoning. You need me to watch your back. I'm your partner, no way am I letting you go out there by yourself..." His voice trailed off, his eyes growing wide as he watched Jim silently open one of the cuffs and start reaching for his wrist. Jim had never tried to actually cuff him before. Okay, time to regroup. Obviously Jim's protective instincts were on mega high right now. This was one of those times that the Sentinel part of Jim had to win, actually needed to win. Even though it went against every Guide instinct he had, Blair scooted back on the seat towards the door and raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. You win." This time. "Just at least promise me that you'll stay with Simon. I'll feel a little better if I know he's with you, since I obviously won't be." Still not happy with the outcome of the debate, Blair slid down in the seat, crossed his arms and stared straight ahead.

Jim sighed. He really hated resorting to threats, especially since they only worked, maybe, half the time anyway, but sometimes Blair just didn't seem know what was in his own best interest. Staying behind tonight definitely fell into that category. He just wasn't up to something like this right now. Blair would probably stew all night about being left behind. All night? Hell, he'd probably be hearing about this all week. He turned back towards his obviously upset partner. "Look, Chief, I know you hate being left out and I know that you feel that you should be with me, but I just don't think you're up to this tonight. Evans is serious bad news, I don't even want you this close to him. I won't be able to concentrate on him if I'm worried about you." He held up his hand to stop the protests he could already see forming. "I am well aware that under most circumstances you are perfectly capable of taking care of yourself, but face it, Chief, we both know that right now you are far from operating at your usual 110 percent. Besides, look around. I won't be by myself, I'll be totally surrounded by cops and Simon'll be there too. And I haven't zoned in ages anyway. I don't need you."

Jim regretted those last four words the instant they left his lips.

Blair shot straight up, turning sideways on the seat to face Jim, tired eyes wide open. He uncrossed his arms as his hands began to move a mile a minute trying to keep up with his words. His exhausted mind could only grasp one meaning from Jim's last sentence. "So that's what this is really all about, isn't it? You don't need me anymore. So when were you going to tell me? After all your paperwork was caught up? Forget it. I'll start packing as soon as I get ho-back to your loft. I'll bet you've even picked out your new partner already, haven't you? A 'real' cop, right? I can't believe—"

Jim reached out and grabbed the flying wrists. "Dammit Blair, stop it. Breathe already. I didn't mean that I don't need you anymore." Still holding Blair's wrists Jim looked directly into his partner's eyes. "Listen to me. I do need you, Chief. And you are my partner, no one else. I was just trying to say that I will be all right, by myself, tonight. Just for tonight. That's all. Got it?"

Jim looked closely at his distraught Guide. God, does he really believe that I still think that I don't need him? That I haven't finally realized that I can't do this without him? Now that Blair's brief adrenaline rush was fading, he could see the fatigue creeping back into the too pale face. He slowly lowered Blair's arms and released his wrists. "I hope you understand what I've been trying to say here. Why I want you to stay here this time."

Suddenly cocking his head, Jim listened for a minute. "Simon's looking for me. I have to go." Turning back to Blair he asked, "Are you okay? You'll be all right until I get back?"

Face flushing red at his sudden outburst, Blair lowered his head. He just nodded.

Jim climbed out of the truck, pausing beside the open door. Blair spoke while still looking down at his hands. "What?"

Jim hesitated. "You will be here when I get back, right?"

Blair nodded again then looked up at Jim. "I'll be here." Then he smiled slightly, "You may have to wake me up though."

Jim smiled back, relief evident on his face. "Nah, I'll probably let you sleep all the way home. But I'm not carrying your butt up to the loft." He closed the door and started up the street. He hadn't gone very far when he heard Blair's soft voice whispering to him, "Just please be extra careful tonight."


Jim walked up to Capt. Simon Banks, his immediate superior officer and good friend. Simon was the only person that he and Blair had told about Jim being a Sentinel. The taller, dark skinned man looked around when Jim reached him. "Where have you been? And where is Sandburg?"

"Right here. As for Sandburg, Blair's totally exhausted right now, semester finals and all." Not to mention all the extra hours spent helping me with this case. "I've been convincing him to wait in the truck until this is over."

Simon looked skeptical. He was well aware of the younger man's almost fanatical insistence at being with Jim whenever the detective had to use his Sentinel abilities, especially on the job. "Uh-huh. And what gentle means of persuasion did you end up using?"

Jim grinned sheepishly. "Well, I did take out my handcuffs and threaten to cuff him to the steering wheel."

"Did you actually cuff him?" Nothing short of that would stop Sandburg if he thought Jim needed him. Probably not even that.

"Well, no. He said he'd wait until I got back."

"No...? He said...?" Simon snorted. "I'll keep an eye out for him."

Jim's reply was cut short by Simon's radio. After a brief conversation with the person on the other end, Simon turned back to Jim. "All the houses on the street have been evacuated. No movement from inside Evans' house so it doesn't look like they suspect anything yet. Our people are moving into position all around the house. Hopefully Evans and his cousins will realize that they're totally surrounded, out manned and out gunned." He sighed. "Maybe they'll just surrender without a fight and we can all go home early."

Now it was Jim who looked skeptical. "I doubt it. Not after what he said about not being taken alive."

They walked over and took up their positions directly across the street from the hideout. Simon pulled Jim aside. He looked at his best detective with concern. "Are you sure you can do this without Sandburg? I mean when you go into those deep zone things or whatever he calls them, nobody can reach you except him. This is definitely not the place for something like that to happen."

"I'm just going to monitor the house. Nothing too difficult. I'll be fine."

Jim wouldn't admit it to Simon but a part of him wished that Blair was there. Somehow everything seemed easier when his Guide was with him. When Blair put his hand on his back Jim knew that his concentration got better, his senses seemed sharper. Even when they weren't physically touching, just his presence was enough to give him better control and more confidence in his abilities. Blair could always talk him through any problems he encountered, he always just seemed to know what to do. But his partner was safer where he was and he was determined he would stay there. Suddenly he was aware that Simon was talking to him.

"—tell how many people are in there? Can you tell where they are?"

Jim opened up his hearing, concentrating on the house. One, two, three heartbeats. "All three of them are still in there. Two are in the front of the house, one in the back. Their heart rates are close to normal so I agree, I don't think they suspect anything yet."

"Good."

Simon spoke into his radio, issuing last minute instructions. He looked around. When he was satisfied everyone was ready and in place he spoke into his radio again. "Listen up everybody. Everyone is to hold their position until told otherwise. And everyone is to hold their fire unless absolutely necessary. Any questions?" After a brief pause in which no one answered him, he spoke again. "All right, let's do it." Raising a bullhorn to his mouth he gave a quick glance at Jim, who nodded to let him know he had turned his hearing back down to normal.

"Robert Evans. This is the Cascade Police. The house is totally surrounded. There is no way out. Throw your weapons out the front door and come out, one at a time, with your hands in the air."

The odds of them actually obeying the orders were slim, but it was always worth a shot. He handed the bullhorn back to the officer who had given it to him and waited.

Less than two minutes later the first shots were fired from inside the house.


Blair sat in the truck trying to concentrate. Something had been nagging at the back of his mind almost since he and Jim had arrived, but he couldn't quite grasp it. Something important, something he was sure Jim should know about.

Come on Blair, think. That's what you're supposed to be so damn good at.

While Jim was out there facing God knows what, he was holed up here—holed up! Something clicked in Blair's brain. Holed up... hole... holes. Damn. The tunnels!

Suddenly Blair remembered what had been eluding him. A fellow TA who had lived in this area before had told him about the tunnel system. It seemed that this was a totally enclosed subdivision that had been built at the height of the Cold War, when people were seeing Communists everywhere. A 10-foot high stone wall with jagged rocks on top totally surrounded the neighborhood. The only entrance, located where the roadblock was now, originally had had two massive gates with a security guard verifying the identities of everyone who tried to enter. Part of the original construction was an underground tunnel system, connecting most of the house's basements together. The idea was that if and when the Red Menace attacked, the families could escape by going from house to house through the tunnels. Or they could hide in them when the Russians finally dropped The Bomb. It might seem a bit ridiculous now, but it was a popular selling point at the time. Supposedly, all of the tunnels had been permanently sealed shut years ago. In fact, most of the people living in the houses now probably never even heard of the underground system. But what if Robert Evans knew? What if he re-opened a tunnel? It would be the perfect hideout, a house with a built-in escape route totally hidden from the police.

It was just too much of a coincidence for Blair. He was partway up the street before he even realized he had gotten out of the truck.


Within seconds of the sound of the first shot, every police officer was flat on the ground, weapon drawn. No one moved while several more shots rang out.

Jim turned to Simon, lying beside him. "So much for giving up without a fight and going home early."

Simon craned his neck to look around the wheel of the car they were lying behind. "Ya think? Can you hear anything in there?"

Jim tried to focus on the house across the street. He was almost overwhelmed by the sound of a couple dozen pounding hearts. Plus the ricocheting echo of the bullets kept ringing in his ears. Without his Guide's help Jim couldn't filter out the unwanted sounds well enough to focus on his goal. Before he could answer Simon, another barrage of gunfire erupted from the house. Jim had to quickly dial down his hearing.

After the second volley of bullets ended Jim felt Simon shake his shoulder. "Let's work our way closer to the house. You may be able to detect something that we can use to our advantage." Jim nodded. He and Simon slowly began to edge their way across the street towards the now silent hideout. When they got as close as they dared, on the lawn next door, Jim opened up his hearing again, concentrating on the house. Being closer helped. Simon saw a confused look cross Jim's face.

"What's wrong? What do you hear?"

Jim cocked his head again, then slowly shook it. "Simon, there are only two people in the house now. The one in the back is gone."

Now Simon shook his head. "No way. That house is still totally surrounded. No way in hell anybody could have gotten out without being seen."

Jim shrugged his shoulders. "I'm telling you Simon, there are only two heartbeats in there now. Either one of them is dead or one of them got out."


Blair continued to slowly walk up the street. It was a lot longer than it looked from the truck, with the hideout being the last house on the block. Each time gunfire erupted he ducked between parked cars.

This is like so not fun. Although I don't know why I'm even worried about getting shot, Jim's gonna kill me anyway.

Blair looked around. There were cops behind him back at the roadblock, sealing off the subdivision, making sure no one could get in or out. In front of him, everyone was way up at the hideout. On top of that it was starting to get dark too. The streetlights weren't on yet and with all the houses on both sides of the street dark from having been evacuated it was almost creepy. There was nobody around where he was at all. Great, nobody to tell him where Jim was or to tell Jim that he was looking for him. He really didn't want to go up there. Partly because of all the shooting, but mostly because he did not want to face an angry Jim. He, as well as many a hardened criminal, had learned that an angry Jim was not someone you wanted to mess with. He could already see the clenched jaw and the glaring eyes that would be directed at him as soon as Jim caught sight of him. He was really too tired to have to deal with a pissed off Sentinel right now. There was still time to go back to the truck. But what if Evans escaped because he didn't go find Jim and tell him about the tunnels? Even worse, what if Evans killed some innocent person, when he could have stopped him? No, there really wasn't any choice, so Blair came out from between the cars and started walking up the sidewalk again.

As he was slowly passing by a well-kept lawn he caught a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning towards it he could just barely make out the shape of a large man standing beside some bushes next to the house. Didn't think there were any cops this far up. Then he realized that this wasn't a cop, this man was obviously trying not to be seen and there were only three people here who had any reason to hide. With a startled gasp he turned and started back down the street. Before he had taken more than a few steps two strong arms grabbed him from behind and pulled him off the sidewalk and into the shadows. Before he could cry out for help, one large hand grab his right wrist and twisted his arm painfully up behind his back, the other hand pressed a large serrated knife tight against his throat. Blair froze, sensing that the man behind him was much bigger and heavier than he was. A raspy voice spoke next to his ear. "Not one sound cop or you're dead where you stand. Understand?" When Blair slowly nodded the knife was eased slightly from his neck. "Well, well, well, what have we here? Looks like I caught me a little narc. Hey Little Narc, are you ready to be the first cop to go tonight?"

Oh man, this is not happening. Blair's eyes grew wide as he realized which one of the criminals had him. "Evans," he whispered.

"Very good, cop. Now I want ya ta slowly reach into your coat, pull out your gun and throw it away. Remember, Little Narc, real slow like."

Blair briefly considered telling Evans that he wasn't a cop, but quickly concluded that he might stay alive longer if Evans didn't think he was just another useless civilian. "I'm not carrying a gun."

"What? You workin' undercover or somethin'? Open your coat, real slow, like I told you before."

Using his left hand Blair slowly opened his thin windbreaker showing the larger man that he was not carrying a weapon. "See?"

"Yeah, okay. Now, Little Narc, you're gonna help me get through that roadblock down there. How many cops die here tonight will be totally up to you."

Blair was really starting to hate Evans's new nickname for him but mentioning it probably wouldn't be in his best interest right now. Glancing around he knew that there were cops at both ends of the street, but none in the immediate area. Okay, he thought to himself, Evans obviously isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but the one he's holding definitely is, so stall him until help arrives.

"So you found out about the tunnels, huh?"

Evans seemed surprised that Blair also knew about them. "Yeah. Guess the rest of you cops thought I'd be too dumb figure them out—didn't even have the other houses guarded. Just knocked out a small hole and walked right through into the next house and then out the back door. Just like my ol' cellmate Barney told me. So who's dumb now? Come on. Let's go."

Evans jerked Blair's wrist even higher and started to turn him away from the hideout towards the roadblock at the other end of the street. Blair grunted as his arm was lifted higher but he stopped walking, stalling for time. "So, if you're out here, where are your cousins?"

Evans laughed. It had a hollow, nasty ring to it. "Those dumb shits? I didn' even tell 'em. I figured they'd keep the cops busy while I got away. Worked too. 'Cept for you, nobody even bothered staying this far away from the house." His voice took on its previous hard edge again. "All right Narc, enough talk 'til we get to that roadblock. Move it. Now!" He gave Blair a push.

"I'm telling you, Jack, I heard voices coming from over here."

Blair and Evans both froze on the lawn as two uniform officers walked towards them on the sidewalk from the direction of the roadblock. Evans pushed the knife harder against Blair's throat and whispered close to his ear, "Don't move, don't even breathe loud."

He let go of Blair's wrist. By the time he was able to slowly lower his aching arm it was forcibly pinned against his side by Evans' forearm. Glancing down Blair saw that a very large and very ugly looking gun was now in the larger man's right hand. The left hand still had the knife to his throat. Evans leaned down and roughly whispered into Blair's ear again. "All right Little Narc, I want you to grab your right wrist with your left hand, and if I so much as feel you twitch like you're letting go, I'll slice you right open." Blair quickly grabbed his wrist and pulled it against his stomach. Evans pushed him forward into the line of sight of the two officers.

"That's far enough cops. One more step and one of ya ain't goin' home tonight."

Both officers stopped, open mouthed at the sight of Robert Evans holding a gun on them with one hand and a knife to Blair Sandburg's throat with the other.

"Okay," Evans growled, "I wasn't planin' on doin' it this way, but I want safe passage outta here. And Little Narc here is gonna guarantee that. You," he pointed the gun at the younger of the two officers, "go tell whoever's in charge here that I want a car. Have them leave it running in the street right here. No bugs or other surprises. Little Narc here will be goin' with me and if I suspect anything funny, well, let's just say he'll have a permanent second smile. Go! They got ten minutes or else Narc here gets real messy with or without the car."

Thomas Riley glanced at the now shaky looking Blair, then at his partner who quietly nodded his head. He started to run up the street towards the surveillance house.


Jim and Simon were still standing on the lawn of the house next door to the Evans' house when Patrolman Thomas Riley came running up to Simon, obviously out of breath. "Capt'n Banks. It's Evans. He's out. Down there." His panting was slowing down as he pointed down the street. "He has a gun. On my partner. And..." Riley looked at Jim, "and... he has Sandburg."

Jim felt an icy cold hand grip his intestines. For a moment he forgot how to breathe. He and Simon spoke at the same time.

"Riley, explain the situation!"

"What do you mean he has Sandburg?"

Riley looked from Jim back to Simon. Having finally gotten his breath back he spoke to the superior officer. "We're stationed at the roadblock. I was just walking around a bit, a little ways up from the roadblock, when I thought I heard voices. We, my partner Jack and I, were checking it out. Suddenly Evans steps out in front of us on the lawn. He already had a gun on us and was holding a knife to Sandburg's throat." Simon felt Jim tense. "There wasn't anything we could do. He sent me to tell you that if doesn't get a car in the next ten minutes, he's gonna kill Sandburg. He kept referring to Sandburg as a narc, like he thinks he's a cop or something."

The icy hand now gripped Jim's heart. Evans thought Blair was a cop and he had sworn to kill as many cops as possible. If he thought he was trapped he wouldn't think twice about starting with his Guide, and then would probably shoot Riley's partner and any other cop he could.

"Sir," Riley was speaking again. "He also said that when he gets the car he was taking Sandburg with him."

"Over my dead body and not even then." Jim's eyes were like two pieces of blue steel. They all knew that if Evans got away with Blair, the young observer was as good as dead.

Simon looked at his watch. "We have a few minutes left. We'll use Brown and Rafe's stakeout car; it's still here. Maybe we can use it to stall or distract him." He sent Riley off to report to Sgt. Turner and have him send some of the uniforms down to where Evans was holding Sandburg. As he started to issue orders over his radio, he saw Jim turn to leave. "Ellison, wait. I know you want to get to Sandburg, but I need you here for a few more minutes." Jim stopped, clenching his jaw in obvious irritation. Simon finished talking on the radio and turned back to Jim. "I'm having Taggart take over here. Jim, I need you to scan the house one more time."

Jim thought that was what he wanted. He listened. "They know that Evans is gone but not how he managed to get away. They're starting to panic, I guess without Evans they don't know what to do. I think that with a little pressure they'll cave in."

"Thanks Jim, I know that this waiting is hard."

Jim's jaw tensed again. Hard? If he hurts Blair before I get down there, I won't be responsible for what happens next.

After instructing Joel Taggart to keep the pressure on the two cousins, Simon and Jim hurried down the street, almost afraid of what they would find.


Jim hadn't realized just how big Evans really was. He towered over Blair, making him look even more vulnerable. All Jim could see was Evans and Blair, everything and everyone else seemed to disappear. Blair's eyes were wide open, fully aware of what Evans was capable of doing, he wasn't even pretending not to be afraid. To Jim it was the same look he had on his face when David Lash was pouring that drug down his throat. It took every ounce of restraint he had not to rush in and pull Blair away from the bastard. He had noted the large caliber handgun Evans was holding but his eyes were riveted on the serrated knife at his partner's throat. It was a large hunting knife, made to tear through tough animal hides, it would slice through Blair's neck with no effort at all.

Jim made sure he stood where Blair could see him. He wanted his partner to know that he was there. When their eyes met, Jim could see that part of the fear was replaced with relief and a look that could only be described as a total belief that Jim would get him out of this new situation he had gotten himself into. Jim was once again taken aback by the absolute faith and trust that Blair had in him. A trust he was not about to fail now.

Evans was not happy at the sudden appearance of several more cops. He started waving his gun back and forth. "Everybody just back up. Who the hell's in charge around here?"

Simon stepped forward. "I'm in charge. Anything you have to say, you say to me."

After briefly sizing up the dark man who answered, now fidgeting criminal made his first demand. "First off, tell all these damn cops to back off. Now!"

At Simon's motion, everyone backed up several steps. No one, except Blair, noticed that Jim had made his way behind the growing number police officers and was standing off to the side, partly hidden in the shadows.

Evans tried to ignore the bead of sweat rolling down the side of his face. He glanced around uneasily, trying to keep an eye on everyone. This was not how he had planned things. It was supposed to have been so easy. Get out through the tunnel, hide in another house until the cops all left and get clean away. He was just about to go back into the new house after checking everything out when this longhaired, punk cop showed up and ruined it. Now everything was going wrong. He only had one chance now. He had to prove to the cops that he meant business, that he was not somebody to screw around with. "Where the hell's my car? Did ya think I was bluffing about what I'd do to Little Narc here? Just to show y'all I'm serious..."

Evans dug the knife deeper into Blair's neck and slowly pulled it across the taunt skin. Everyone stared as a bright red line followed the path of the knife. Then blood was running down Blair's neck and onto his shirt.

Blair jerked back when he felt the knife points dig deeper into his neck, breaking the skin. OhGodohGodohGod. He felt the pain of each serrated point as it tore through the skin on its grisly path across his throat. JIIIMM! He could feel his own warm blood running down his neck. Points of light danced in front of his now tightly closed eyes. His heart, which was already beating too fast, now threatened to burst through his ribcage. He had to control his breathing, afraid that if he took a deep breath he would find himself choking on his own blood. Instead his breaths became short ragged gasps. Oh God, it hurts. It took every ounce of will power he had just to remain standing, not to give in to his buckling legs. He slowly opened his eyes desperately searching the now blurry looking crowd for the one face he knew could save him from this new nightmare. Jim! Please. Oh God, Jim, where are you? Please don't leave me now.

But Jim had already stepped deep into the shadows, hidden away from everyone else. Simon was also looking around for Jim, afraid that the overwrought detective would simply lunge at Evans and end up get himself shot in the process. When he finally spotted the detective, standing off by himself, Jim looked anything but overwrought. He was standing perfectly still, staring at Blair. His eyes were just starting to glaze over. While Evans was distracted, watching the crowd for their reaction to his little show of power, Simon slipped into the background, hoping to reach Jim before Evans noticed he had left.

God Dammit Ellison, not now.

Fortunately, everyone else was still staring at Blair. Shit. How does Sandburg do this? Simon grabbed Jim's arm and started to shake him, talking between clenched teeth. "Jim. Snap out of it. Not now. Blair needs you." At his partner's name Jim gasped, then his eyes started to focus again. "Oh God, Simon, did I—?"

"Yeah, but only for a few seconds. No one noticed." Then he remembered what he had zoned on—blood, Blair's blood, dripping down his neck, staining his shirt. "Blair!"

Jim's attention was now totally focused on his partner. Blair's face was completely drained of color; shaking uncontrollably, his vital signs were way too erratic. But it was his eyes that held the detective. Wide open, showing everything his Guide was feeling—terror, pain and a panic like desperation pleading for someone, for Jim, to help him. He turned back to Simon. "You better get back out front before Evans realizes you're gone." And I don't want anyone else around right now.

Simon looked back at Jim, he seemed to be all right now. He also knew that Jim was probably already planning ways to rescue Sandburg, plans that he'd be better off not knowing about beforehand. "All right. Just please; don't do anything that I can't explain away later. We'll get him away from Evans, I promise."

"Don't make promises you can't keep, Sir." Jim's face was a solid mask of resolve. "Besides, he's my partner. My Guide. I will do whatever I have to do to get him back." Alive.

Simon shook his head as he walked away. When Ellison got like that, there was no talking to him. And when it involved Sandburg, he was even worse. Besides, if anyone could do anything, it was Jim. At this point, as long as he didn't have to know about it ahead of time, he almost didn't care what Jim did to save the kid, just as long as it worked.


Now that he had seen the shocked reaction to his little demonstration, Evans was feeling much more confidant that his demands would be met. Just had to show the cops who was boss. He smiled to himself as he watched Simon walk through the crowd back up to front of the group. Probably losing his lunch in the bushes. "Okay Mr. I'm-In-Charge, I want my damn car. And I want it now. Little Narc and I want to go for a ride, don't we?" Evans looked down at his ticket out of there. "Oh, and Narc, try not to bleed all over the nice upholstery." He laughed at his own joke, suddenly finding himself highly amusing.

Keep laughing asshole, you won't be for long.

Jim was keeping himself well hidden as he maneuvered himself around the area, looking for the best place to take his shot. He was barely able to keep his seething rage under control. That filthy animal had hurt his Guide and Jim wanted nothing more than to kill him with his own bare hands. To wrap his hands around the bastard's throat until he crushed his larynx and felt the life leave his miserable body. But he knew that any kind of physical assault right now would risk even more harm coming to Blair and that was not going to happen. It was getting darker and with no light coming from the houses he knew his Sentinel sight would give him a definite advantage.

The one thing that pained Jim was that he knew that his partner was looking for him. Looking for him to give any kind of signal that everything would be all right, a little piece of hope that Blair desperately needed to cling to right now. Jim felt as though he was abandoning his best friend when he needed him most. It hurt. A lot. But unfortunately, if Blair could see him, so could Evans and he needed to be invisible right now. Evans didn't even seem to have noticed that he was gone and he wanted to use that to his advantage.

Hang in there Chief, this will all be over soon, I swear.

Blair tried to concentrate on slowing down his breathing. Tried to ignore the now bloody knife still poised at his neck. It was hard to think about anything except the searing pain blazing across the width of his throat. How deep was he cut? How long would it take him to bleed to death? At least he could still breathe. He tried to focus on taking slow, regular, shallow breaths. His legs still felt weak but somewhat steadier than a few minutes ago. Okay. Try to ignore the pain. But man, it hurts. Think about Jim. You know Jim's out there somewhere. You know he won't leave you. Jim and Simon will do whatever it takes to resolve this. Hopefully with you still alive. Concentrate on staying upright and breathing, Jim will take care of everything else. You can do this. But it still really, really hurt.

Jim could hear Simon giving the orders for the car to be brought down from the surveillance site. That was when he planned to make his move; all he needed was one split second when Evans' hold on Blair wouldn't be so tight. The car would provide that second.

Everyone watched as the unmarked car stopped in the middle of the street, directly in front of Evans and Blair, facing the roadblock at the open end of the street. Per Evans' instructions, all the windows were rolled down and Rafe popped the trunk before getting out. He closed the driver's door, went around and opened the passenger door. Leaving that door open he glanced over and gave Blair what he hoped was an encouraging look before walking over to join Banks and Henri. He slowly shook his head as he crossed the street, between the fear, pain and shock Sandburg didn't look like he could hold on much longer. So where the hell was Ellison?

Evans grinned. He was enjoying watching the stupid cops obey his orders for a change. He had already ordered all the cops to stay across the street, which was on the driver's side of the car, leaving just the two of them on the passenger side. He had also told them that if anyone was foolish enough to actually shoot him, he would jerk and the knife would, as he put it, "... this time cut all the way to the Narc's neck bone. Kill me, kill him." Simon had issued an order that all weapons were to remain holstered.

Jim watched as Evans pushed Blair towards the car. He had found the perfect vantage point, from which he had an unobstructed view of everything. Unbeknownst to each other, both men planned on using the growing darkness to their advantage. As he watched, Blair stumbled a little at being pushed, still not quite steady on his feet. Jim's hatred for the man responsible for his partner's pain flared anew.

Just a few more minutes Chief, then you'll be safe again, just a few more minutes.

Evans walked Blair to the back of the car, making sure that the Narc was between him and the cops at all times. Taking a quick look inside the trunk he told Blair to slowly reach out with one hand and close the lid. After looking in the passenger rear window then the front passenger door Evans was satisfied that there wasn't anybody hiding in the car. He told Blair to open the passenger door wider telling him, "Do exactly as your told, no more no less." He raised his voice. "The gun is now right in the Narc's ribs, the same jerk reaction applies to it as the knife. Besides, in the dark you're just as likely to hit him as me."

I don't think so.

Evans pushed Blair down then told him to slide across the passenger seat and get behind the steering wheel. He then quickly got into the passenger seat and closed the door. Yes! He was home free now. Stupid cops thought they could outsmart him. Ha. He showed them. He showed everybody. Keeping his eyes straight ahead he relaxed his grip on the gun as he started to tell the now doomed hippie cop to start driving.

A single gunshot shattered the night air, followed almost instantaneously by the sound of breaking glass. At the sound of the shot every officer immediately turned towards the direction the sound had come from. There in the dim light of a nearby street light they could just make out the unbelievable sight of Jim Ellison standing on the roof of the house one door down from where the car was sitting, still holding his weapon out in front of him with both hands.

Blair heard a strange sound coming from beside him. He looked at Evans and gasped. The large man had both of his hands around his own neck, blood gushing through his fingers. He was making a strange gurgling noise. Blair bolted from the car. When he was behind it he sank to his knees. His stomach tried to empty itself but since there was nothing solid to lose, he was reduced to a series of dry heaves. Every strained pull of his throat muscles made his neck hurt even worse but he couldn't help himself.

Simon took charge as most of the cops ran over to the car. After quickly sizing up the situation inside the car he radioed for both of the ambulances that had been standing by at the roadblock to come to their location. Incredibly, Evans was still alive and Sandburg was injured.

Everyone, it seemed, started talking at once. "No way. No one could make that shot." "From the roof!" "Too far." "Too dark." There was no mistaking the bullet hole in the windshield, right in front of Evans. One amazed officer summed it up for everyone. "Ellison fired one shot from the roof of the house next door with a handgun in the dark through the windshield and nailed Evans dead center in the throat."

As if on cue Jim walked up still holding his gun in one hand. His eyes burned through Evans like ice blue lasers. "Nobody fucks with my partner."

The Ellison Legend just grew. In the less than one day it would take the story make it through the entire PD, it would be generally agreed throughout the rank and file that even if Sandburg grew his hair to his ass and started wearing a dress, very few of them would dare rag on Ellison's partner again.

Leaving Evans for other policemen and paramedics to deal with, Jim holstered his weapon and went to be with his partner.


He found Blair sitting on the ground, leaning against the rear bumper. His legs were drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them, his forehead resting on his knees. Jim indicated for the two officers that were with him to leave, giving them a small nod and smile of thanks for looking after his partner until he could get there. He knelt on one knee in front of Blair. "You okay, Chief?"

Dark curls bounced slightly as he nodded his head, which remained on his knees. Jim knew that wasn't true. Besides the obvious knife wound, he had seen Blair heaving and could hear his heart pounding. The large detective reached out and gently put his hand on the smaller man's shoulder. He could feel the tremors running through him. Despite his own anger over what had happened Jim knew he had to keep his voice low and calm for Blair's sake.

"Blair, I need to check out your neck. Lift your head up for me."

Blair kept his head down as he shook it. "No. No more. I just want to leave." He lowered his voice, "Let's just go home Jim, please. Now."

Jim wanted nothing more at that moment than to be able to just take his distraught partner home, but he knew they couldn't leave yet. "I know you want to go, Chief. So do I. The sooner we finish up everything here, the sooner we can leave. That includes getting you checked out. So let me look, okay?"

Slowly Blair's head came off his knees. His eyes were beyond tired. Jim cringed inwardly, not wanting to upset his friend any more than he already was. It was a nasty looking cut, running across the middle of Blair's neck. Everything below it was covered in dried blood, including the collar and top part of his T-shirt. Jim lightly placed his fingertips on both sides of his partner's neck and honed his sight in on the cut. Since it was done with a serrated blade the edges were jagged, not smooth. Looking deeper Jim was relieved to see that it wasn't very deep, it probably wouldn't even need stitches. No under lying muscle had been damaged and since the bleeding had already stopped, no veins or arteries had been cut. Blair was breathing and talking without difficulty so his trachea hadn't been damaged. He breathed a small sigh of relief. It could have been much worse.

"Actually, Chief, it doesn't look too bad. Fortunately it's not very deep. It does have to be cleaned and disinfected though. I'd also say probably some butterfly bandages to keep the edges together while it heals." His eyes softened. "How does it feel?"

Blair considered lying, anything to be able to leave now, but he knew from experience that was no point in even trying to lie to Jim. "Hurts. But not as bad as before."

Jim took that as a good sign. Nothing upset the Sentinel more than seeing his Guide in pain. "Good. Then let's get you over to an ambulance so they can take care of it."

Blair looked up at Jim hopefully. "No hospital?" He really hated going to the hospital. By now he figured he was on a first name basis with almost the entire ER rotation at Cascade General.

Jim grinned at him. "Not this time. Unless the paramedics think you really need to go. At this point I don't think that the ER can do much more for you than they can."

He slowly helped Blair to his feet then grabbed him when he started to sway. Keeping one supporting arm firmly around Blair's shoulders, he carefully walked him over to the remaining ambulance, the other one having already left with Evans. Sitting in the back of the open ambulance while the EMT's were treating him, Blair realized that he knew a lot of the EMS crews in Cascade by name, too. He wondered at how much his life had changed in just a few short years. Simon soon joined them. He informed them that, as Jim had predicted, the cousins had soon given up without a fight. They were more than ready to spill everything they knew about Evans. He also told them that Evans was still alive and on his way to the hospital. Blair paled a bit when he heard about Evans being alive but didn't say anything.

As soon as the paramedics finished bandaging his neck and released him, with a list of instructions about how to care for his injury and the warning signs of infection, Blair told Jim and Simon everything, starting with when he remembered about the tunnels. When he finished Simon shook his head in amazement. "Tunnels. Who would ever have guessed that? I've never even heard of them. If you hadn't remembered that Sandburg, Evans probably would have gotten away. I'm going to need a full statement from you of course, but not tonight, you can come in tomorrow and give it."

Jim tried not to look as upset as he felt. And if you had just stayed in the truck, like you were supposed to, you wouldn't have gotten grabbed and hurt. Again. He looked at his pale partner. Blair was obviously fading fast. He had already been exhausted before this even began plus his thin jacket and short sleeved T-shirt weren't offering much protection now that the sun had gone down. "Hey, Chief, why don't you go ahead and wait in the truck? I shouldn't be much longer."

"Okay." Blair just wanted to be as far away from here as possible. The sooner the better. He nodded and started walking down the street towards the truck. He didn't want to be around a lot of other people right now.

Jim and Simon watched the small retreating figure. "Is he going to be all right?" Simon asked.

"Physically, yeah, fortunately the cut wasn't too deep. Emotionally and psychologically, I don't know. I know that Blair is strong and that he's bounced back from a lot of things already, but for someone like him to have some deranged criminal deliberately slit his throat just to make some damn point..." Jim's voice trailed off. "How can I tell him we can protect him when twice now he's been taken hostage while totally surround by police? The first time right in the police station itself. I'm just afraid that this might be the one that pushes him over the edge, the one that finally drives him away." Jim couldn't hide the worry in his voice.

Simon tried to reassure one half of his best team. "If Sandburg hasn't left by now, after all this time, after everything that's happened to him, I don't think he will over this."

God, Simon, you don't know how right I hope you are. "Yeah, maybe you're right. Let's wrap this up so I can get him get out of here."


Blair walked over to the truck. The roadblock at the entrance to the subdivision was gone, as were most of the officers that had been on the scene. Both ambulances had left. In fact, since everything had happened farther up the street there wasn't anybody around where he was right now. He was grateful for that, he really didn't feel like talking to anybody right now. Instead of getting in he walked over to the driver's side front fender and leaned over it. The truck was facing up the street, from where he stood, using the streetlights, he could almost see the yard where it all started.

Looking up towards the hideout he realized it was now too dark to actually see that far, since it was at the far end of the street. But he still knew that there would be yellow police tape across the door and possibly around the front yard. The tunnel Evans used would also be taped off and a team would thoroughly go over the entrance and exit to find out how Evans had gotten through them. Closer in, but still a ways up the street, a tow truck was starting to haul away the unmarked police car. It would be going to the large evidence lock up yard for a more through going over by forensics later. Evans' gun and knife would already be tagged in evidence bags. He knew if he looked, there would be spray-painted lines in the street where the four wheels of the car had been. Someone would have already calculated the exact distance from the roof where Jim had fired from to the windshield. Tomorrow there would be reports and statements to be made. As the victim (once again) he would make his statement to another officer. As Jim's partner he would help him type up his official report of the "incident."

Blair shook his head. Not too long ago he didn't know and didn't care anything about police work. Now he was well versed in police procedures and he had discovered that he really did find those procedures highly interesting. He now knew what was involved in securing a crime scene. He was even more familiar with the step-by-step process of gathering information and evidence during an investigation. Making sure that the chain of evidence was kept intact so that later some shifty lawyer wouldn't be able to get it thrown out of court. Some of it was actually kinda fun. Interviewing suspects, trying to see if they slip and reveal something, helping Jim use his senses to go over crime scenes (well, at least the less bloody ones), and of course, Jim's love of high-speed chases. Yes, a lot of it was tedious too. Doing background checks, making routine phone calls, going over mountains of paperwork looking for that one little piece of information that can make or break your case. But when it all worked and you actually arrested (okay, so when Jim actually arrested) the bad guy, it was like so cool.

He was so glad that now that he had finally found his Sentinel, he actually had a really interesting job. What if Jim had been, say, an accountant? Not very likely, of course, but what if? Could he actually stand to hang around all day and watch Jim crunch numbers? He pictured big Jim Ellison, the man who hated any kind of paperwork with a passion, sitting at a desk all day happily working on spreadsheets. The image was so ludicrous that, despite everything that had happened earlier, he actually chuckled out loud. No, even though it was sometimes dangerous, Jim's job, his every instinct in fact, was to protect the tribe. And since his job was to protect Jim, this is where he would be too. Blair sighed. That brief moment of levity had been nice but now the depression and knot in his stomach were back in force, plus he could feel his earlier exhaustion catching up with him again. He just wanted to get as far away from here as possible. Come on Jim, I really, really want to go home now.


Jim was just finishing talking to one of the few uniform officers still at the scene. When the officer left he looked over towards the truck to check on Blair. Even from halfway up the street he could still see him easily. He wasn't in the truck but leaning on the fender. What must be going through his mind right now? As he continued to watch Blair he couldn't believe what he thought he saw. Was Blair actually... laughing? Laughing! After what just happened? Didn't he have any idea how close he came to...?

Suddenly a cold fear gripped Jim as he himself suddenly, fully realized just how close he had come to actually losing his partner this time. The man had actually slashed Blair's throat. If his hand had slipped or if he had pushed the knife just a little deeper... Evans had also managed to get Blair into the car. If his own aim had been just a little off, if they had gotten away, Blair would be dead right now. Jim shuddered as a chill went down his spine. Then, just as suddenly, he found himself very angry. At Blair. If he had just stayed in the damn truck, did what he was told, for once, none of this would have happened. So what if Evans had escaped? He would have caught him eventually. For Blair to risk his life over a criminal such as Evans was so... so... stupid.

Jim just stood there. One second terrified over what he had almost lost, the next furious at that same person for allowing it to happen. He felt like he was caught in a whirlpool. Fear. Anger. Fear. Anger. Fear. Anger.

He decided that he had to tell Blair, now, that he was never, ever to do something like that again. If that meant yelling at him right in front of everybody still here, he would. He would do whatever it took to make Blair understand. As he started toward the truck there seemed to be a kind of haze surrounding it, making Blair look somewhat distorted. Now I know what they mean by 'seeing red'.


Blair watched as the larger detective approached. Man, he looks royally pissed off. Wonder what happened?

As Jim got nearer he called out, "Sandburg! I want to talk to you."

Sandburg? Not Chief or even Blair? Uh-oh. What did I do now?

As he got closer Blair noticed that something about Jim wasn't quite right, something about his eyes. They were so cold and angry looking. Without thinking about it he took a few steps backwards, until he was standing just past the driver's side window. He looked around, he was next to the sidewalk, hidden by the truck from the few officers still farther up the street. They probably couldn't see him in the dark anyway. What was he thinking? This was Jim and Jim would never hurt him. He looked up as Jim reached him. "Uh, hey Jim you said you wanted to talk to me? Can't it wait until later? I'm really tired and—"

Blair gasped as his upper arms were suddenly each gripped in a vise-like hold so tight he could almost feel his circulation being cut off.

"Jim, man, you're hurting me." Whenever Jim inadvertently hurt Blair, such as jumping on top of him when bullets were flying or when they were rough housing in the loft and Jim forgot how much stronger he was, that sentence would always make Jim immediately stop what he was doing. This time he didn't even flinch.

Oh shit. This is not good.

Blair could only stare at the larger, Ranger trained man who had such a tight hold on him. He knew that physically there was nothing he could do.

When Jim spoke his voice was as cold as his eyes. "I told you to stay in the truck. I made it very clear that you were not to leave it for any reason. You deliberately disobeyed me."

Disobeyed?

Suddenly Jim's grip tightened even more and he found himself being shaken. Hard. So hard Blair thought he actually could feel his teeth rattle. He could barely hear Jim's next words.

"What's wrong with you? Why don't you ever listen to me when I tell you to do something?"

"J-Jim. S-stop... it."

It was as if the detective hadn't even heard him.

"When I say something I mean it. You should know that by now."

"I-I do Jim, r-really, I do, b-but—"

"NO BUTS! You still don't get it do you? What do I have to do to make you understand? To make you listen?"

Blair's whole focus was suddenly reduced to the pain in his back and the back of his head as Jim suddenly picked him up by his upper arms and violently slammed him against the side of the truck. His vision was reduced to spots of light moving in front of him. He was only vaguely aware of Jim's voice.

"When I..."

"JIM!"

SLAM!

"Tell you..."

"Stop!"

SLAM!

"To do something..."

"H-hurting... me..."

Blair's world started to gray out as his head struck the unyielding steel of the truck for the third time. Then he felt himself being held still. His hazy vision began slowly returning as he became aware that Jim was only holding him by one arm now. His eyes widened in blurry horror when he saw the reason. Jim had one arm raised, his hand poised to backhand Blair across the face. Numb from shock and physically hurting too much to move, Blair now wished that he had passed out. Unable to watch what he couldn't stop, he closed his eyes and tensed, anticipating the blow that would shatter everything. It never came. Just at that moment he heard Simon calling Jim. It sounded so far away. Everything seemed to stop. When nothing happened Blair cautiously opened one eye, watching as Jim blinked rapidly a few times while lowering his hand and letting go of Blair's other arm. When he spoke he sounded more like himself again.

"I think you got the message. Let me go see what Simon wants and then we'll leave. Okay, Chief?" Jim then turned and walked away.

Blair stood watching him for a few seconds as he disappeared into the darkness. When he could no longer see his 'friend', he slowly slid down to the ground, his shaky legs unable to hold him up any longer, and leaned carefully back against the truck.

What the hell just happened?

His upper arms were throbbing, his back was already sore, he knew it would feel much worse tomorrow, but Oh God did his head hurt now. He had to put his aching head in his hands, it hurt too much to stay up by itself. He tried some deep breathing exercises to slow down his pounding heart and calm himself as best he could. After several breaths it seemed to be working. His heart rate was down and he could try to think again. Reaching up he very carefully touched the back of his head, amazingly no blood but a hell of a lump.

All right, just try to think logically about what just happened.

But there was no logic. Jim had just physically assaulted him. It was actually assault and battery. People go to jail for what he had just done. But why? Why had he done it? It all seemed to center around the fact that he had gotten out of the truck. Was that the last straw for Jim? Had he "disobeyed" him once too often? There was something strange about Jim, too. His eyes, even his voice seemed different, colder somehow. But when Simon called him, he seemed fine again. What if Simon hadn't called? How far would Jim have gone? What if it happened again and there wasn't anyone else around? Blair shuddered at the thought. Physical violence was something he tried to avoid whenever possible but he knew that he could usually take care of himself when he had to. But realistically, there was no way that, unarmed, he could ever stop Jim if he was determined to hurt him. Again. Because he had just hurt him already. Jim had deliberately hurt him. And Jim was going to hit him. Hit him. For a brief second he considered getting a gun, but as soon as he thought about it, he knew he could never use it. Especially against Jim. This whole thing was going to require a lot of processing to figure out, something his pounding head couldn't handle right now. Since Jim seemed fine now the only thing he could think of was to keep him from getting mad at him again for any reason. Anything might set him off. Considering how often Jim got pissed at him for every little thing, this was not going to be easy.

Blair slowly pulled himself up, leaning against the truck until the waves of dizziness passed. He then carefully, using the truck for support, walked around to the passenger side and got in, grateful he had forgotten to lock it when he had gotten out of it earlier. You can do this. You can do this.

A few minutes later Jim got in on the driver's side and started the truck. He turned around in a nearby driveway then drove through the subdivision entrance where the roadblock had been set up. "Simon says no hurry on your statement. We can go in late tomorrow."

I guess he expects an answer. "Uh, sure. Fine."

"You holding up okay, Chief? I know a lot's happened to you tonight..."

No shit, Jim.

"... but hopefully after a good night's sleep you can start putting all this behind you."

Say what! Blair couldn't believe what he'd just heard. Just put it all behind me? Yeah, right. And maybe you can sleep tonight. I probably have a concussion and will have to wake myself up every couple of hours to check myself for all the symptoms you taught me. You know, blurred or double vision, dizziness, severe headache (oops, already have that one), nausea. Did I miss any? So you go right ahead and get your good night's sleep, don't worry about me, I'll be just fine. Of course he couldn't say any of what he was really thinking out loud to Jim. Noncommittal was much safer right now. "Yeah. Maybe. I guess so. Right now I'm just way tired and I have a killer headache." He watched Jim for any reaction to his headache remark.

"Why don't you just take some aspirin or some of your herbal stuff when we get home and go right to bed. In fact, don't even worry about giving your statement tomorrow. Stay home, rest up. I'll tell Simon that you'll be in later to give it."

"Okay." He actually sounds concerned. And if I'm home alone tomorrow maybe I can find a way to make some kind of sense out of all this. Plus I won't have to worry about not pissing Jim off. But what if it takes longer than that to figure this out? What do I do until classes start again? That's two whole weeks of being around Jim almost 24/7. I can't even go to the University to do research. Jim knows all the computers are down for the upgrade and there's nothing else for me to do there. Even the library's closed. Maybe I can tell him—

Blair was so wrapped up in own thoughts that he was startled when he felt Jim gently shove his arm, just below where he had been grabbed.

"Hey, you awake in there? We're home."

"Oh. Sorry. Just thinking about... stuff."

Jim turned and watched his partner carefully. "Look Blair, I know this has been really rough. I know I don't say this very often but if you want to talk about anything, you know, about tonight, I'm here for you, okay?"

Once again Blair couldn't believe what he was hearing. Okaay... Do you want to talk about how it feels to have your throat slit by some psychotic criminal for no good reason? Or do you want to talk about how you just beat the shit out of me, how you were actually going to hit me and how now you're acting as if nothing happened? I personally don't care to discuss anything with you right now, thank you very much. Out loud he just said, "Umm, thanks Jim. I, uh, just want to go to bed right now."

"Sure, just so you know. Whenever you want to."

After a tense, strained ride up the elevator to the loft, Blair headed straight for the bathroom. He opened the medicine chest and took down the bottle of extra strength aspirin. Usually he hated taking any kind of chemicals, but this headache was too much for his natural, herbal remedies.

After taking the pills he looked at himself in the mirror. Seeing the bandage and blood, his blood, for the first time he had to admit he looked awful. He could still feel Evans' hands on him, the hot breath on his neck. Suddenly he had to have a shower, right now, despite how late it was. He had to get the feel of Evans off of him and wash away all that blood. Reaching up and carefully peeling the bandage off, it would just get ruined in the shower anyway, he gasped when he saw the angry looking, jagged red line running across his neck. His heart started pounding. Several evenly spaced butterfly bandages were holding the edges together. He reached up to touch the red line.

"You shouldn't touch it"

Blair jumped at Jim's voice coming from the bathroom doorway.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you. I heard you gasp and then heard your heart pounding. I just wanted to make sure you were all right. You need to keep the bandage on for a few days while the edges knit together."

Blair tried to calm himself down before Jim noticed how jumpy he was. "I-I need a shower. I figured it would just get ruined anyway."

"Yeah, it would. If you're careful most of the butterflies should stay on. After you're done I'll replace any that fall off and re-bandage your neck." Three years of living with Sandburg had taught Jim to always stay well stocked on basic medical supplies.

Blair felt trapped. No way to say no. Not without making Jim suspicious or even worse, mad. "Okay. I won't take too long. I, uh, don't want to keep you up or anything."

"Hey, Chief, take as long as you want. Are you sure you're all right?"

"Sure. Just tired. I'll call you when I'm ready, okay?"

"Okay." Jim went back to the sofa he'd been sitting on, watching TV.

Blair got a long sleeved sweatshirt, sweat pants and clean boxers from his room and brought them with him into the bathroom, leaving his jacket behind. He stripped and stepped into the tub. He had to calm down. Between Evans and Jim his nerves were on a razor's edge right now. After adjusting the water he sighed when it hit his back, the hot water almost like a gentle massage on his bruised skin. Looking down at his upper arms he could already see the circles of finger shaped bruises forming around them. And soon those fingers were going to be around his neck. Well, not around exactly, but close enough. But Jim had seemed like himself again ever since it happened. Was this just a one-time thing, maybe a reaction to the stress of the weeks it took to finally catch Evans? Or was it something more? Had he overlooked something about Sentinels and violence in his research? Jim had had lots of cases that had taken weeks to solve with just as much stress, but he never became violent before. At least never against him. Why was this time different? And even more important, now that it had happened, could it, would it, happen again? This was too much to think about tonight, he had all day tomorrow.

Blair quickly showered and washed his hair, being careful not to touch the large, very tender lump on the back of his head. He toweled off and got dressed, pulling his damp hair back to keep it out of the way. He looked around. Jim hated it when he left the bathroom a mess. He made sure that all of his dirty clothes and towels were in the hamper, put out clean towels for Jim to use in the morning and even used a dirty towel to wipe the floor and the edge the tub then put it back in the hamper. He hesitantly walked into the living room. Time to face Jim. His heart starting pounding at just the thought.

You can do this. This seemed to be his new mantra.

Jim was sitting on the couch, still watching TV. He looked tired. Should he bother him? Would he be upset about being disturbed?

"Uh Jim, I'm ready. Unless you're busy, I can wait or I can do it myself, it's all right. Never mind, I don't want to bother you, I'll go to bed and do it tomorrow. I'm sorry I made you wait up for nothing..." Dammit stop rambling.

Jim looked over at his partner, concern plainly visible on his face. Blair's heart was pounding and he looked like he was being led to own execution. Now he was rambling, something he usually only did when he was really nervous. 'Don't want to bother you'? Something was definitely wrong. Jim got up and walked over to Blair. "Chief, its no bother. You're never a bother, you know that, don't you?" Was he right earlier; was this one finally pushing Blair over the edge? He looks like he wants to bolt out the door right now.

Blair just turned and walked into the bathroom. Jim was acting so much like himself, if it weren't for the bruises and lump on his head, he could almost believe he had imagined the whole thing.

Jim followed him in and indicated he wanted Blair to sit on the closed toilet seat. He got the first aid supplies from under the sink. Seating himself on the edge of the tub he turned to Blair. They were just about eye level now. He wasn't prepared for what he saw in those blue eyes. Fear. But what was Blair so afraid of? Evans was in no shape to be a threat, in fact, according to Simon, he wasn't even expected to make it. He was safe at home now. Maybe handling his neck was making the memories too vivid. Jim tried to reassure his nervous partner.

"This shouldn't hurt at all. I know you're tired, I'll go as fast as I can so you can get to bed."

Blair just nodded. Bed. At just the mention of the word he felt what little energy he had left drain out of him; keeping his eyes open and his head up was now becoming a major effort. He was so tired, too tired, in fact, to feel anything any more. God, he just wanted to go to sleep, for the rest of his life. He barely felt Jim's fingers as they replaced the missing butterflies and re-covered his neck. Then the fingers of one of Jim's hands were on the back of his neck, under the ponytail, massaging the knotted muscles. That felt sooo good. He unconsciously closed his already half closed eyes and dropped his head forward to give the fingers more room. He felt himself being turned around on the seat until his back was towards Jim. Two strong thumbs started at the base of his skull, slowly massaging relaxing circles deep into the muscles. As they worked their way down the back of his neck, while the other fingers rubbed along the sides, Blair relaxed, feeling the tension melt away. When the thumbs reached the bottom of his neck they were joined by Jim's other fingers as strong hands started their massage across his shoulders. He felt so limp, he wondered how he would make it back to his room.

Suddenly Blair's eyes flew wide open as twin points of pain flared midway across both shoulders. Jim's thumbs had found the top bruise on each shoulder blade and had dug into it. Blair jumped up so fast he almost hit his arm on the sink. He turned around to see Jim sitting on the edge of the tub looking thoroughly confused.

"Uh, sorry Jim. Flashback I guess." He touched the bandage on his neck "Um, thanks. I'm going to bed now. Night."

Blair practically flew out of the bathroom and into his room, being sure to close the bedroom doors. Flashback? Oh Sandburg, that was so lame. But he didn't have time to think of anything else. He set his alarm for two hours, undid the ponytail and carefully got into bed, lying on his stomach. His back and his head couldn't take any weight right now. He thought about how he had just left Jim. Jim, as usual, was putting him first, taking care of him. Tired as he obviously was himself, Jim was giving him a massage, making him feel better. Just like always, as if nothing were wrong. But the bruises on his arms and back and the head injury were real. Painfully real. So which was the real Jim now? The one who just earlier today was upset because Blair wasn't eating right? The one who stayed with him during a major police operation just to reassure him that he was still needed when he jumped to conclusions again? The one who is always there for him, never lets him down, no matter how many times he screwed up? Or was it that Other Jim? That almost complete stranger he had encountered for the first time? A part of him was angry, furious even—how dare Jim even think that he could do something like this to him and then act as if everything were all right. Normal even. But even as angry as it made him, he still couldn't help it, that Other Jim that he saw earlier absolutely terrified him. He was so cold and calculated, acting with no feelings whatsoever. Hurting him as if it, as if he, meant nothing to Jim. Like he could do it again just as easily as he had done it tonight. Blair sighed. Just the thought of confronting Jim about this made his heart pound and his palms sweat. He would just have to be sure that he didn't do anything that might cause the Other Jim to reappear until he had a chance to try to figure it all out. But not tonight. Tomorrow. With that thought Blair fell into an uneasy sleep.

Jim sat in the bathroom trying to figure out what had just happened. Blair had been acting strange all evening, ever since they left the stakeout location. He attributed most of it to after shock. After all what that sadistic bastard had done to him had certainly been traumatic. But even taking that into consideration, something about Blair was still 'off'. He seemed, well, nervous to the point of being scared. But of what? Evans and his cousins were no longer a threat. There wasn't anyone else he needed to worry about. And what had just happened here? He could feel how tense Blair was so he had wanted to try to relax him before he went to bed. He was already half asleep while having the bandages put on so when Blair reacted favorably to have his neck rubbed, Jim decided to treat him to an Ellison massage. It was working too. He could feel Blair's muscles loosing up, in fact he was becoming so relaxed Jim was wondering if he was going to be able to walk back to his room. Then suddenly, WHAM. Blair jumps up like he'd been stuck with a red-hot poker. Flashback? Maybe, but it didn't seem likely though. So what could have caused that big of a reaction? What was wrong? Hopefully Blair would be ready to talk soon.

As Jim started to clean up the medical supplies he looked around expecting to see the usual Sandburg disaster after his roommate took a shower. The bathroom was spotless. He looked in the hamper, there were Blair's clothes from today and the dirty towels he had just used. Clean towels had already been put out. The water usually left on the edge of tub and the floor had been wiped up. Now Jim knew something was really wrong. On his best days all of Blair's things rarely made it into the hamper and he didn't seem to even know where the clean towels were kept. On a night when he had every reason for leaving a mess, he had meticulously cleaned up after himself. Jim was tempted to go ask Blair what was going on, but a quick monitoring of his roommate showed him to already be asleep. Jim hoped that a good night's sleep tonight and staying home tomorrow would be enough for Blair to start recovering from his obviously terrifying ordeal with Robert Evans. With that thought Jim turned out the lights in the loft and wearily headed upstairs for his own much-needed sleep.


Jim woke to the sound of Blair's alarm clock going off. Again. He looked at the clock on his nightstand. 8:30AM. Sandburg's alarm had been going off all night long and it was getting damned annoying. Even though his roommate always managed to catch it almost immediately, it still woke him up each time. Why the hell would he even have the damn thing going off all night? He was just about to get out of bed and find out for himself when the only logical explanation popped into his head. Nightmares. Blair almost always had bad nightmares after a traumatic experience and last night certainly qualified as that. Having your throat slit by a deranged criminal would give anybody nightmares. He must have been resetting his alarm all night to wake himself up so he wouldn't have a chance to have one. All thoughts of annoyance flowed out of Jim as he thought of Blair in his room, alone, trying to hold back the night terrors.

Blair woke to the sound of his alarm clock. Again. He looked at the clock on his nightstand. 8:30AM. He decided this would be his last check. After waking up every two hours to check himself for signs of a severe head injury, he was just as tired now as he was when he went to bed. He went through his mental checklist: double vision—no; blurry vision—well considering he had no sleep—good enough; severe headache—actually it was practically gone now, so—no; dizziness—no; nausea—no, thank goodness, another round of dry heaves was not how he wanted to start the day. Good, he now officially declared himself, almost unbelievably, concussion free and was ready to finally get some undisturbed sleep. Well, at least one good thing about waking up every few hours—no nightmares. But it was a rather drastic solution.

Since he was already awake Jim decided he might as well get up. Even if Blair was staying home, he still had to go to the station, even though Simon had told him he could come in late today. He automatically tuned into his roommate. Blair was awake, he was moving around a little, but still in bed. His heart rate and respirations seemed normal. Hopefully he was over whatever was bothering him last night.

Jim put on his robe and headed downstairs to the bathroom. He paused outside Blair's bedroom doors. He seemed to have settled back down and judging by his breathing, was almost asleep again. Probably the best thing for him right now. He was glad he had told Blair to stay home today. He knew Simon would understand. Jim quickly went through his morning routine and got dressed. As he stood in the kitchen waiting for the coffee to brew he wrote a note to Blair telling him what time he expected to be home and to call him if he needed anything. He almost underlined "anything" but that seemed a bit much. He made sure that the note was secure by the coffee maker, knowing that when his roommate woke up the first thing he wanted was caffeine. Finishing his coffee, he rinsed out the cup, turned off the coffee maker and headed for the door. As he quietly closed the door behind him, Jim hoped things would be better when he got home this evening.


The first thing Blair noticed when he woke up was how bright his room was. He looked at the clock. 12:41pm. He thought he'd be able to get more sleep than this. Must be nerves. He started to push himself up but fell back onto the bed with a loud groan. It felt like every muscle in his back was working against him. Maybe I'll just lie here for the rest of the day. Unfortunately a suddenly urgent matter told him that wasn't going to be an option either. Great. My back is saying we're not going anywhere and my bladder is saying it's gotta go now. He glanced down at his mutinous body. Can't you guys at least get in sync?

With a loud sigh Blair pushed himself up with his arms and slid sideways off the bed. Kneeling beside the bed he managed to use it to push himself upright. Only now his upper arm muscles were joining his back muscles in protesting being used. My body hates me.

He managed to get to the bathroom and take care of business without too much difficulty. Looking into the mirror he debated shaving. Nah, one of the advantages of staying home is not having to shave. Besides, the way his upper arms felt, trying to hold a sharp razor steady didn't seem like such a good idea right now. The one cut he already had was more than enough to deal with. With that thought the white strip on his neck caught his attention. Even though he had to sleep on his stomach, the bandage hadn't come off. Jim obviously had taped it on pretty securely. Of course he had, he's Jim, what else would you expect?

Think about that later.

It was just as well he wasn't going to the station today, even though he knew that what had happened with Evans and his current appearance would win him a lot of sympathy from the female officers and staff. This morning even that didn't make him feel any better.

Coffee. He needed coffee before he could think about anything. Stumbling into the kitchen, he made his way to the coffee maker. First thing he saw was Jim's note. Typical Jim. How could Jim keep acting so normal after what he had done? Blair's mind began pondering possible answers as he poured out Jim's cold pot of coffee and made his own first pot of the day. Maybe, somehow, Jim now thinks this is normal. That as a Sentinel he has some kind of 'right' to use physical force to keep his Guide in line. Or since he's Jim's responsibility when they ride together that he can do whatever he wants to in the name of keeping his observer safe. If either one was now the case he might as well start packing. He may be physically smaller than some men, but he was nobody's punching bag. Not any more. Not by anybody. He had sworn that he would never allow that to happen to him again.

Carrying his coffee mug, Blair walked over to the bigger couch and stood there, just looking at it. This could be interesting. Putting his mug on the coffee table, he turned with his back to the edge of the sofa. Using his arms as support he managed to slowly lower himself down keeping his aching back as straight as possible. I'm sure that looked graceful. Gingerly leaning forward he picked up his coffee, then carefully, mindful of his bruises, leaned back against the cushions. Just hope I don't have to get up in a hurry.

Taking a sip of his coffee Blair leaned his neck on the back of the couch, making sure that the back of his head was over the edge. He closed his eyes. Where did he leave off? Oh yeah, Jim thinking it was all right to hurt him. It certainly would explain his nonchalant, everything's fine attitude.

His first thought was to confront Jim. He had every right to demand to know why Jim had the nerve to think he could manhandle him like that. And then for Jim to apparently think that he should just accept that kind of abuse as normal. Guess again, Ellison. But even as he thought about confronting Jim, he kept seeing him as he was last night. Those cold, almost empty eyes, that flat, emotionless voice. He was like a totally different, totally unfeeling person. He was absolutely convinced that any kind of confrontation with that Jim could easily end up with him in the hospital. Or worse. Jim didn't stop until Simon called him. There wouldn't always be a Simon around. What if this was this some sort of Sentinel manifestation that he hadn't read about? Could this have been slowly building up in Jim all this time? What if Jim, himself, had no control over it? Where did that leave him? He suddenly realized that for the first time during their three years together, he was actually afraid of Jim Ellison.

But it didn't make any sense. Jim had never so much as raised an angry hand to him during the whole time they had known each other. Well, except for that very first day in his office, but that really didn't count. And okay, maybe on the train that night, but that was because of the SenQuil, right? If Jim ever had, even once, really threatened him he would have been long gone by now. So then why was this happening now, after all this time, after they had grown so close? No good answer sprang to mind. Besides, his inner monologue continued, it goes against everything a Sentinel is supposed to stand for. Everything he had read said that the Sentinel's base instinct is to protect not hurt. Not to mention it would go against a Sentinel's own best interests to hurt his Guide. He would have depended on the Guide to take care of him, watch him for zone outs and just watch his back in general. A Sentinel would instinctively tend be almost over protective of his Guide and until last night that certainly described Jim.

He leaned his head forward a little to take another sip of coffee. Owww. Okay, no sudden head moves. Between his head and his back he would have to move a little slower for a while and hope Jim didn't notice. Yeah, right.

And Jim—this is so opposite of everything that Jim is. Jim was the most decent, honest and moral person he had ever known. He had very definite ideas of right and wrong. To attack a smaller, unarmed person just wasn't in his character.

It sounded selfish but he just couldn't believe that Jim could attack him. Under any circumstances. Jim worried about him, took care of him when he was sick, came and got him in the rain when his car broke down, got up in the middle of the night to comfort him when he had nightmares. He remembered a couple of times when he ran out of money before his next stipend check was due, and even though he never mentioned it, somehow, each time, a couple of twenty dollar bills had mysteriously appeared in his wallet. Jim always said that he didn't know anything about it, saying he must have just forgotten that he had them. He also knew from experience that Jim would move heaven and earth to get to him when he was threatened or hurt. That was His Jim, not that other person he saw last night. Jim gave him a sense of security, of belonging, of home—something he had never had before. Something he never thought he wanted before, but now that he had it, he realized he would do almost anything to keep from losing it. And from losing Jim. His Jim.

What if this really was something that Jim couldn't control? Was everything between them gone now? Was the bond they shared irreparably broken? Three years down the drain, just like that? Three years of teaching Jim how to control and use his senses. Three years of hard work on his dissertation. Three years of building a level of friendship and trust with another person that he never would have believed could have existed before Jim. Could he really stand to lose the only truly close friend he had ever had, the person he couldn't love more if he had been his own brother?

NO! He couldn't stand the thought of leaving after just having spent the best three years of his life here, with Jim. A new thought suddenly struck him. Maybe he had done something to cause this sudden Other Jim to emerge. Maybe he wasn't a good enough Guide or friend or partner. Maybe Jim was just, unconsciously, finally reacting to his incompetence. Could it really be his fault? Thinking about it, it made sense. All the times he didn't have the answer to a problem with Jim's senses. Jim having to put up with him living here. And especially all the times Jim had to rescue him from his own rash actions. Like last night. Maybe last night was the last straw for Jim. Getting in trouble again because of his own stupidity. For not doing what Jim said, again. Well if that was the case, he would just have to make damn sure that these kinds of things didn't happen anymore. Probably also best not to do or say anything that would remind Jim about what had happened last night. It might make him remember whatever it was he had done this time that had made Jim so mad at him. Or worse, cause that Other Jim to come out again. So maybe all he had to do was to be perfect—the perfect Guide, the perfect partner, the perfect roommate and the perfect friend. While at the same time not let Jim find out that he was now scared to death to even be in the same room with him, scared that he might do something, anything, wrong again and possibly cause a repeat of last night. And hope that eventually everything would get back to the way it was before. Okay, you can do this.

Blair struggled off the couch. All right then, let's start with being the perfect roommate. That meant cleaning the loft before Jim got home. As usual that meant starting with all of his stuff cluttering up the place. He started with any clothes and shoes lying around. Then all of his books, notebooks and papers, even his laptop. All disappeared into his room. Looking around he noticed that a lot of his personal possessions had somehow found their way out of his room and were scattered around the loft. Hadn't Jim told him that his things were to stay in his room? Surprised he hasn't said anything. Let's see. Those statues, the mask on the wall that Jim thinks is so ugly, way too many candles and some other, he thought, interesting artifacts. How did so much of his stuff end up out here? He left out the few things he thought Jim had said he liked; everything else also went into his room. Then he dusted, vacuumed and Windexed the windows, including the balcony doors. He had barely begun when his back and upper arms really started to hurt, but he ignored it.

Moving into the kitchen he cleaned practically every surface in the room, including all the appliances on the counters. Filling a bucket with soapy water he mopped the floor. While the floor was drying he went into the bathroom and emptied the hamper. Looking around he decided that cleaning the bathroom could wait until tomorrow. Then going upstairs he striped Jim's bed and remade it with clean sheets. Putting all the dirty laundry in a basket he hauled it to the laundry room downstairs. When he returned to the loft he looked around. It looked clean to him, but then he didn't have Sentinel eyesight.

By now Blair's back was screaming for relief and his arms were literally aching. A headache had started behind his eyes a while ago. But it was almost time to start dinner. He went into the bathroom and took a few more extra strength aspirin, that would have to do for now. Returning to the kitchen he started pulling out the ingredients for lasagna, one of Jim's favorites. While it was cooking he finished and put away the laundry. By the time Blair heard Jim's key in the door the lasagna was done and the garlic bread was browning in the oven. He had his back to Jim as he tossed a salad in the kitchen.

"Mmmmm Chief, I could smell that all the way from outside. I hope you made plenty, I'm starving."

Blair released the breath he'd been holding since he had heard Jim outside the door. At least he seemed to be in a good mood. Now he only had to keep him that way.

"Uh, yeah, sure. Dinner should be ready in a few minutes."

Jim hung up his jacket and looked around the loft. "Wow. You've been busy. I don't remember the last time the place looked this clean." Actually it looked too clean, almost sterile. Then he noticed it. Virtually all of Blair's things were gone. Not one book or piece of paper was visible. All the candles were gone. Even the mask had been taken off the wall. Only one statue and a few other little things remained. Even the always-present laptop was missing. It was as if almost everything that said 'Blair' was now gone. In fact it almost looked like it did before he had moved in. Had Blair started packing his things? Was he thinking of moving out? Was Evans really the last straw for him? Jim tried to sound casual.

"Hey Chief, where's all your stuff? Your books and candles? That awful looking mask and all the other things?"

Blair kept his back to Jim. He took a deep breath. "Well, you keep saying that my stuff is always making a mess so I put almost everything in my room. Like you said I was supposed to. I'm going do all my work in my room too so you don't have to worry about there being any more books or papers lying around. I left out what I thought you said you liked, but I can get rid of those too." He turned and started out of the kitchen.

Jim was speechless for several seconds, then he put out his hand. "Blair, stop. You know this is your home too. You can put out anything you want. Hell, you can hang a pygmy from the ceiling if you want to." He looked to Blair for a reaction. No laugh, not even a smile. Not good.

"And I want you to do your paperwork out here, if for no other reason than the light's better. You'll strain your eyes trying to do all your work in your room. Besides, the table out here is bigger than your desk, more room to spread out." His voice became softer. "I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that having your things around bothered me. I thought they looked kinda nice. Okay?"

He also thought about how nice it was just to have Blair living in the loft. Whether they were doing something together like watching TV or playing cards or he was reading the paper while Blair was doing his endless school paperwork, just having Blair here made the loft a relaxing and peaceful place to be. Not even Carolyn made it feel so much like a home. It was finally a place he actually looked forward to coming back to every night. Having Blair's things around, besides giving the loft a more lived-in, 'homey' look and feel, also helped remind him that, even when his roommate wasn't there, he would be home soon. He looked over at said roommate.

Even though Blair's mouth answered, "Okay" his eyes told Jim that he hadn't changed his mind. If fact he wouldn't be surprised if the next time he looked, the rest of Blair's things would be gone, too. Something was definitely going on with Blair. But now was not the time to talk about what was wrong. Not yet.

Jim sniffed. "Better get the garlic bread, Chief, it's about to start burning. I'm going to change real quick before dinner."

As Jim headed upstairs he could hear Blair in the kitchen saving the bread. When he got to his room he looked at his bed. The sheets had been changed. My God, he must have done the laundry today too. He quickly changed into some comfortable sweats and joined Blair at the kitchen table.

Blair was putting the garlic bread on the table, he looked at Jim as the larger man slid into his seat. "Perfect timing."

Jim picked up his napkin. "Of course. You can call me anything but late for dinner." He looked at his roommate carefully. Was that just a hint of a smile on Blair's lips? Hard to tell. Maybe. Encouraged, Jim kept talking. "You really out did yourself today, Chief. Cleaning, laundry and dinner." He helped himself to a large piece of lasagna and a couple of pieces of bread. "I may have to talk to Rainier about giving you time off more often."

Blair was beginning to relax a little as Jim continued to kid around. Maybe tonight would be all right. He took a small bite of his salad. Even though he still hadn't really eaten anything for at least a few days, the knot in his stomach was making it hard to eat now. He looked up as Jim started talking again.

"Simon wanted to know if you feel up to coming in tomorrow to give your statement. You don't have to if you don't want to. The whole point of your staying home today was to rest, but it doesn't look like you did much of that." He looked at Blair carefully. "I hope you didn't overdo it today."

"No problem. I feel fine." Except for the slit throat, lump on my head, sore back and bruised arms.

"All right, if you say so. Simon also scheduled you to see the department shrink day after tomorrow." He held up his hand to stop the coming protest. "You know its regulations. Everyone having a traumatic incident has to be cleared before going back into the field. Even observers."

Blair sighed. "Okay. Besides I haven't met a shrink yet I can't handle." He pushed some food around on his plate.

Jim watched Blair pretend to eat but decided not to say anything. He wanted to keep it light tonight. His partner was obviously more upset about what had happened with Evans than he was letting on and he didn't want to add to Blair's distress. Especially not when Blair would have to relive the whole thing again tomorrow when he gave his statement. He decided to change the subject altogether. "Hey, there's a Jags game on tonight. They're playing the Atlanta Hawks. Should be a good game."

Blair nodded. "Sounds good, but my back hurts. I think right after dinner I'm going to soak in a hot tub for a while. I've got some bath oil that's supposed to do wonders for sore muscles. Just start without me."

Jim's eyes narrowed as he looked at Blair. "Your back hurts? What's wrong?" He started to get up. "Let me see."

Blair tensed as he waved Jim back down. So much for not saying or doing anything. "It's nothing. It's, um, just not used to me being this domestic all in one day. A nice hot soak and I'll be good as new. It's just a little sore. Really."

Jim sat back down. "All right. But if it keeps bothering you, you let me know."

"You bet." Actually I think you've helped my back quite enough already, but we're not even going to go there, are we?

The rest of the night went well. During dinner Jim told Blair about what had been going on at the station that day and Blair surprised himself by eating almost half of what little he had put on his plate. After soaking in the tub his back and arms did feel better. Jim made popcorn and they both watched the game, although Jim noticed that Blair was sitting farther down on the couch from him than usual. Jim went to bed that night grateful that things seemed to be getting somewhat back to normal. Blair went to bed grateful to have gotten through the first night without an incident.


Blair had been right about the female personnel at the station. Even though this was now Blair's fourth day back, it seemed to Jim that at least every ten feet they were still being stopped by at least one female who, at the sight of the bandage, still had to stop and fuss over him. He thought they'd never get back upstairs to Major Crime. He watched. While Blair handled each woman with his usual charm, it was obvious that his heart wasn't in it. Sandburg not milking this for all the female sympathy he could get? Again something just wasn't right with his partner.

He thought back to Blair's first day back when he gave his statement to another officer. They had used an empty interrogation room with Jim watching through the two-way mirror. Even though he was understandably nervous, Blair had given a calm, straightforward accounting of what had happened with Evans that night. Everything was going well until the end when the officer asked the usual questions about if there was anything else that had happened that night that he may have left out or had forgotten to mention. Outwardly Blair looked calm as he answered negatively but Jim noticed that his heart rate, breathing and temperature all spiked at once. If Blair had been a suspect under interrogation Jim would have said he was lying, big time.

Jim brought his thoughts back to the present. The woman was still tsking over Blair's injury. Enough already. He tugged on Blair's jacket sleeve. "Come on, Chief. Simon's gonna think we got lost coming back from lunch." He smiled at the woman. "Sorry to drag him away, but duty calls."

The woman, who had to be around fifty-five, if not older, smiled back at Jim. "Oh, I understand. I know how you need Blair there so that everything runs smoothly upstairs." It was everything Jim could do not to roll his eyes at her. He just smiled again and said, "That's right, we can't do anything without Blair's input. We're lost without him." He turned to his suddenly red faced and silent partner. "Say good-bye to the nice lady, Blair."

Blair mumbled something that sounded like "Bye, Shelly" as Jim put his hand on Blair's elbow and steered him towards the elevators. Once the doors closed he let out the laugh he'd been holding back. "Just what do you tell these women you do here, Chief? I bet Simon would be interested to know that it's really you that keeps Major Crime running, how did she put it? Smoothly."

Blair's shoes had suddenly become very fascinating to him. "I don't know where they get these ideas. Honest." He looked up pleadingly. "You can't tell Simon or anyone else. I'll never hear the end of it. Please, Jim."

Jim was enjoying watching Blair squirm, but in light of everything his partner been through recently he decided to let him off the hook early. "Okay, Chief. I won't tell anyone, for now. But you owe me one—a big one." He couldn't let him off scott free now could he?

"Owe you one huh? Okay, I guess. Thanks Jim—for not saying anything."

Just then the elevator dinged and the doors opened onto the sixth floor. Jim and Blair got out and walked through the double doors labeled Major Crime. They hung up their coats and went straight to Jim's desk, each sitting in their usual chair. Blair's appointment with the department psychiatrist had been pushed back to this afternoon. Since Blair couldn't ride with Jim until he'd been cleared, they had been using the downtime to catch up on Jim's never ending paperwork. Blair pulled out his glasses as they each took a file from Jim's 'In' box.

One of the constants in the Universe is that Jim will always be behind in his reports, Blair thought, but how much longer will I be around to help him? His mind wandered back to watching Jim interview a suspect on his first day back. Even through the two-way mirror the man's fear had been palatable. For the first time he had wondered if he was finally seeing the real Jim—the angry, intimidating man he watched browbeat the suspected criminal until he finally confessed. Was that man always just beneath Jim's usual stoic demeanor, just waiting to be released? And now that he had, what would it take for him to show up again? He was really feeling the physical and emotional strain from the past few days of constantly walking on eggshells around Jim. Of trying to keep everything "perfect". Trying to live with the never ending fear that if he did anything the least bit wrong it would cause that Other Jim, as he had come to think of the Jim from that night, to suddenly appear again. His stomach was in a constant knot, he could barely force himself to eat anything. He wasn't sleeping. Concentrating on anything else was getting difficult. He really wasn't sure how much longer he could keep it up. But it was either keep it up or leave. The first option was wrecking his nerves; the second would break his heart. Sighing without realizing it, he started writing.

At the sound of the sigh Jim looked up and over at his partner. Except for the bandage on his neck Blair looked perfectly normal. Hair pulled back, glasses on, doing his paperwork. Just like any other day. But he knew that something was definitely wrong with Blair. Something besides Evans. And now he was starting to think it might have something to do with him. He couldn't figure it out and Blair still wasn't talking. About anything, anymore.

Just then Jim's watch alarm sounded, it was time for Blair's appointment with the psychiatrist. That woman in the lobby must have taken up more of their time than he had realized. Blair was already looking at him, having heard the alarm. Jim tapped his watch. "Time for your appointment, Chief."

For just a few seconds Blair's eyes looked like he might argue about going. Then came that quick flash of fear that he'd been seeing a lot of lately, then a look of quiet resignation. The looks changed so fast it was doubtful anyone else would have noticed, but Jim could read his Guide's expressions like an open book. Blair stood up slowly and removed his glasses, putting them in his shirt pocket then, reaching up, he pulled out the elastic band, letting his thick, dark hair fall loose around his shoulders. "Okay, this shouldn't take long. Then I'll finish these reports."

Must be a female psychiatrist. "No hurry. I'll be here all afternoon anyway."

As Blair passed by him, Jim reached out and put his hand on his friend's arm, startled when Blair jumped. He immediately removed his hand. "Look, Chief, I just want to tell you that you don't have to just talk about Evans. I mean if anything else is on your mind you can, you know, talk about other things too." Since Blair wouldn't talk to him maybe he would at least open up with the psychiatrist about whatever it is that was obviously troubling him.

Blair looked at Jim, his expression guarded. "Uh, yeah. Okay. I'll still try not be gone too long. I know you want this done before we leave."

Jim's pent up frustrations finally got the better of him. Just what the hell was going on with Blair anyway? He slammed his hand down on his desk, causing everyone in the room to jump. "Screw the damn paperwork, Sandburg! I'm talking about you here. Doing what's best for you. What the hell's been wrong with you lately anyway? Ever since that night you've been—"

One look at his partner stopped Jim cold. Blair had become absolutely still, his face chalk white, making his now overly wide-open blue eyes stand out even more. His heart was threatening to beat right through his chest. There was no mistaking his expression now. Blair looked like he was on the verge of a major panic attack.

Jim immediately berated himself. Way to go, Ellison. You know he's already shaky. Now scare him to death right before he has to meet with the doctor. Standing up, fully contrite, he reached out his hand to Blair. "Chief. I—"

Everyone watched, surprised, as Blair took two steps backwards, away from Jim. Only those closest heard him whisper, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I-I gotta go."

Blair turned and all but ran from the bullpen.

Jim looked away from the door that his best friend had just bolted through. He saw that every eye in the room was on him. And every eye was accusing him of the betrayal he felt himself. How could he have just done that to Blair? Especially now? In self-defense he glared back at everyone until all those eyes returned to the work on their own desks. He turned and saw Simon standing in the doorway of his office, arms folded across his chest. It was the look of disapproval in his captain's eyes that took all the fight out of Jim. He looked down, unable to meet those eyes. Simon quietly stepped back into his office and closed the door. Jim slid into his chair, putting his elbows on the desk, resting his forehead in the heels of his hands. Everyone in the room heard the sigh that came up from deep within him.

Jim knew that he was right. Something was definitely wrong with Blair. His behavior for the past few days, ever since that night with Evans, was not normal. He had seen Blair through other traumatic experiences before. Too many to be honest. Lash, the elevator ride from hell, being overdosed with Golden, getting shot by Quinn just to name a few. But none of those had caused the changes in his partner that he was seeing now. He started to think back over some of the changes he had observed.

The first and most disturbing was that Blair was keeping a definite physical distance between them. Whereas before Blair usually tried to stay as close to him as possible right after something like this happened to him, he was now staying almost an arms length away when he could. He first noticed it that night on the couch during the Jags game, the first night after Evans. Also new was that Blair was not very talkative lately—strange enough in itself, but even stranger in that when he did talk it was usually only to agree with whatever he said. He had even agreed to WonderBurger for lunch two days in a row. This was a place that Blair swore even deep-fried their salads. No usual tirade about how artery clogging the food was, he just simply agreed to go. At the loft it was more of the same. Blair had made Jim's favorite foods for dinner every night for the past few nights, without even using any of his usual healthy alternative ingredients. Whatever TV show or video Jim wanted to watch was fine with Blair. As soon as he said he was going to bed, Blair stopped working on his laptop, even though he only worked in his room now and despite repeated assurances that the key tapping wouldn't disturb him. And now all of a sudden Blair had become the neat freak. He was constantly cleaning. Never so much as a dish in the sink. The bathroom was now spotless when Blair left it. None of his books or papers had left his room since that first day he had put his things away. In fact, since then the rest of Blair's things had disappeared too leaving the loft, in his opinion, even more barren looking, like it had been before Blair had added his personal touches throughout it. It was as if Blair had somehow lost his usually vibrant spark, like something had just sucked his usual zest for life right out of him.

Funny, Blair was now actually behaving the way he had always been saying he wanted him to, but he didn't like it, not at all. He remembered a saying he had heard somewhere, "Sometimes, when the gods want to punish you, they give you what you wish for." That certainly fit here. He got the perfect Blair he had wished for, but it sure felt as if one or both of them were being punished for something. Then it struck him. He wanted his Blair back—hyperactive, over talkative, stubborn as a mule sometimes but with that strong, bright, intelligent light in his eyes and that brilliant smile that could illuminate any room and melt any female heart within range. He hadn't seen that light or that smile for days now. He missed them. He missed Blair.

First thing he had to do was make things right with his partner for yelling at him. Pulling out the station phone book he quickly found the number to the staff psychiatrist's office. He got her secretary. "Yes, this is Detective Jim Ellison with Major Crime. I was wondering if you knew how much longer my partner, Blair Sandburg, is going to be with the doctor."

//I'm sorry, Detective, but Mr. Sandburg never showed up for his appointment. He didn't call to cancel either. I'm afraid this is going to have to be reported to his supervisor.//

Damn.

"I see." Jim thought quickly. "If there were extenuating circumstances would he be allowed to reschedule?" Like his partner acting like a complete jerk right before his appointment.

//I suppose so. That would, of course, have to be up to the doctor and Mr. Sandburg's supervisor.//

"Okay. Thank you."

Jim carefully hung up the phone. Of course he didn't keep the appointment. If Blair had shown up in the state of mind he was in when he left here, the doctor probably not only wouldn't have cleared him for duty now but more than likely would have pulled his observer credentials permanently. Blair probably thought it would be better to BS his way into a new appointment later than to definitely blow everything for sure how. Jim looked at this watch. Blair had been gone for almost an hour now. Where is he? He picked up the phone again and called the front desk on the first floor.

"Hey, Connors. Jim Ellison from upstairs. Has Sandburg been by there lately?"

//Hey Jim. Lose him again, did you? I swear you need a leash for that kid. But yeah, he came through here about an hour ago. He looked pretty upset about something so I didn't say anything to him. He went out the front door, haven't seen him since. Nothing wrong is there? I mean, should I have stopped him or something?//

"No, no. Just wondering if he left. Thanks, Mick."

//No problem.// Connors chuckled. //I sure hope he's worth the aggravation he's always causing you. Oops, other lines ringing. Gotta go.//

Jim hung up the phone again. He is Connors. More than all of you will ever know.

Jim looked around. Blair's backpack and jacket were both still here. That meant he was just wearing a T-shirt and a flannel shirt. He didn't remember Blair picking up his keys when they left this morning, since he would be with Jim all day, they wouldn't have been needed. That meant that Blair couldn't get into the loft or his office at the University. Blair also tended to keep his wallet in his backpack, not his pocket. That meant no money or I.D. And of course no backpack meant he didn't have his cell phone with him either. Jim listened to the thunder rolling around outside. It had been raining hard when they went to lunch and judging from the way people were dripping as they went past the bullpen, it hadn't stopped yet.

Even if Blair hadn't kept his doctor's appointment, why didn't he come back here? Maybe because you scared him so badly he didn't want to come back. He thought about his partner out there in the cold rain. Blair really hated being cold and especially cold and wet. He'd been gone for close to an hour and a half now. No jacket, no keys and no money. Where is he? Did he at least find a dry place to go? Would he finally think to come back here or at least call, or should he go looking for him?

Jim decided to wait there until at least six o'clock, his usual quitting time, to see if Blair called or came back. If not, he would head straight home and wait. He realized that other than the University, which was closed right now, he had no idea where to even begin looking for his friend.

Six o'clock came and went and still no word from Blair. Most of the other detectives had left as soon as their shift was over. The wind and rain had actually increased in intensity during the past few hours as the storm worsened and the temperature had been dropping steadily. According to the radio Henri kept on his desk, there was now sleet mixing with the rain and everyone was expecting an extra long commute home. Jim put on his coat and was getting Blair's jacket and backpack when Simon came out of his office.

"Still no word from Sandburg?"

Jim shook his head. "He's out there somewhere in this storm. No coat, no keys, no money and no cell phone. He's been out there all afternoon. I don't even have the faintest idea where to even start to look for him." He sighed. "What does that say about me as a partner and a friend? He knows all my favorite places; he's even been to most of them with me. But, other than the University which is closed right now, I've never gone with him to the places he likes to go to, except maybe a few special events—and he practically had to drag me to them." His voice dropped almost to a whisper. "I take him for granted don't I, Simon? I always just assume that he wants what I want. I just assume that he will always be there. Because he always is. Now I need to find him and I don't have a clue where to look. After three years, I really don't know what his outside interests are, don't even know who most his friends are because I never bothered to find out."

Simon looked at his crestfallen detective. He wasn't sure if Jim was really talking to him or to himself, Jim probably didn't know either. Either way he knew that his friend would soon be doing some serious self-reflecting on his relationship with Sandburg. But that wouldn't help the current situation. He put his hand on Jim's arm. "Look, Jim. Go home. He may even already be there, just waiting for you to let him in. I'll be here for a while yet; if he calls or comes in I'll bring him home. You need to be there in case he calls. I wouldn't worry too much about him. Sandburg may be a general pain in the ass but he is very resourceful. Don't forget too, he's been taking care of himself, on his own, for a long time now. Since way before he ever met either of us."

Jim was getting more upset by the second. Taking care of the Guide was his responsibility now. He knew he blew it the second he let Blair leave the bullpen, knowing what state of mind he was in, and then by not going after him afterwards. "I know, Simon. But you saw how Blair was when he left here. I guess you already know that he didn't keep his appointment with the psychiatrist. In that state of mind he could have walked in front of a bus or something. With no wallet or I.D. the hospital wouldn't know who to call." His voice was becoming more agitated with every sentence.

Simon knew he had to calm Jim down before he tried to drive home and especially before he confronted Sandburg. "Yes, I know about the doctor. We'll deal with that later. As for the rest, don't borrow trouble. He'll probably show up either here or at the loft. You need to get home so that you're there when he arrives or calls. And you need to be calm and in control. Your being all upset is only going to make matters worse once the kid finally does show up."

Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Simon was right, as usual. He needed to stay in control. It was his temper, his yelling at Blair that had started this whole mess to begin with.

"You're right, Simon. I'm fine now, thanks. It's just that something is bothering Blair. A lot. And he won't talk about it; in fact he won't talk to me about anything anymore. I'm just really worried about him and really getting frustrated that he won't let me help him." A small grin crossed his face. "Is this what being a parent is like all the time?"

Simon smiled at the thought of his own teenage son. "Sometimes. Trust me, they will drive you nuts. You know sometimes I've actually wondered who needs looking after more, Sandburg or Daryl. I know Sandburg's a grown man and, and don't you dare tell him I said this, obviously very intelligent and all that but there are times when I swear he is every bit as impulsive and reckless as any teenager. Speaking of his needing looking after—GO. At least when Sandburg does shows up, you're the one who'll have to look after him. I'll keep my office door open so I can hear your phone. Call me if you hear from him or I'll call you later anyway. And try not to worry, I'm sure he's fine."

With that Simon turned and walked back into his office, leaving the door partially open. Knowing he'd been dismissed, Jim picked up Blair's things and left the bullpen.


Blair slowly walked along the street, shoulders hunched over, his arms tightly crossed in front of him. He'd been walking around since the downtown library closed at 5 o'clock. It was now past six. Every inch of him was soaked to the skin and he was freezing, the now icy wind felt like it was cutting right through him. Of course he had been soaked when he finally got to the library too, but it had just been raining then. Sitting around in the dank basement research section with wet clothes and hair didn't exactly feel good either. But not too many people visited that section and at least he was out of the rain for a while. But now, since it was after five, almost everything around, except for a few restaurants, was closed. Not having any money on him, he couldn't even go nurse a cup of coffee somewhere. Man, he'd almost kill for some hot coffee right now—or some hot anything.

To distract himself from his physical misery, he turned his thoughts back to earlier that afternoon. He was on his way to see the psychiatrist when Jim suddenly grabbed him, saying something about talking to the shrink about other stuff too. For a second he thought Jim was talking about his assaulting him, but surely he didn't want him to mention that. Besides, all he wanted to do was to get the doctor visit over with so he could finish Jim's paperwork. Jim had said he wanted it finished today, since then Blair should have been cleared to ride with him again starting tomorrow. He couldn't remember exactly what he had said to Jim but it obviously was the wrong thing. Without any warning Jim suddenly got so mad at him he actually hit his desk. Good thing there were other people around or it probably would have been him again instead of the furniture. His fight or flight instinct kicked in and next thing he knew, he was out on the street, in the rain. Fortunately the main branch of the Cascade Public Library was only a few blocks from the station. The research section wasn't as good as the library at Rainier but he'd been there enough times that the librarians knew him and didn't run him out as some vagrant just trying to get out of the rain. Although it really was all he was trying to do this time.

Now what was he going to do? All the free public buildings were closed for the night. Blair looked around. Unknowingly he had passed through the downtown business district and was heading in the direction of the loft. He almost started to change directions but decided to keep going. Where else did he have to go? Even if he couldn't get into the loft itself, he could, hopefully, at least get into the building and out of this god-awful freezing rain, which, naturally with his usual luck, was now actually turning into sleet. And maybe, just maybe, if Jim wasn't still too mad at him he would at least let him in long enough to get some dry clothes. It was a long walk to the loft from here and it was getting even colder now that the sun had gone down. Blair hugged himself even tighter and kept walking.


Jim sat on the couch staring at nothing. He'd been right about Blair's keys, they were still in the basket by the door and his wallet was in the front pocket of the backpack. He looked at the clock on the VCR, it was almost ten o'clock. Blair's psychiatrist appointment had been for two o'clock, so he'd been gone for close to eight hours now. Where could he be? Why didn't he call? Several worst case scenarios kept running through his mind, all ending with Blair lying hurt, bleeding and alone somewhere. He had already called all the local hospitals; no one matching Blair's description had been brought in, so far. He'd left his name and phone number with each ER. Simon had called around 7:30; he was leaving for the night. He had told the few people on the night shift to call Jim immediately if Blair showed up or called and had left the same message with the station's front desk downstairs.

Jim jumped off the couch and started pacing around the furniture. This feeling of helplessness was driving him crazy. He eventually found himself at the bookcase, looking at the framed picture on the shelf. It had been taken on the day he had taught Blair how to fly fish and he had caught his first fish. Blair had been so excited, he didn't even mind when they had to release the fish afterwards. Simon had taken the picture of them. He closed his eyes, thinking back to that day. What had he called Blair? His little guppy? He had no idea where that had come from except that he had felt so good and so relaxed then that it just came out. Blair just laughed. Blair almost always seemed to be laughing or at least smiling. Except lately.

Looking once again at the two men in the picture he reached out with one finger and lightly touched his partner's image. Blair of course had a big smile on his face. And he was looking at Blair, how? With pride? Of course. In friendship? Absolutely. There was something else. Jim startled when it hit him. Love. There was love in his eyes as he was looking at Blair. Not an 'in love' kind of love but a deep, bonded, friendship kind of love. As he thought about it he realized that he did love Blair, probably had for some time now, he just never thought about it before. Not like he had loved Carolyn of course, but as his best friend, the person he felt closer to than anyone he could ever remember. Questions ran through his mind. Was this part of the Sentinel/Guide bond or was it just a natural extension of the friendship between Jim and Blair? Did Blair feel the same way towards him? Was this part of the reason he felt so over protective of Blair? Should he tell Blair? Was this something for the dissertation or was it something personal, just between them? He couldn't even remember ever really loving someone, besides maybe Carolyn, and even she complained that he kept himself closed off, even to her. He was never close to his father and that father had systematically destroyed any relationship he had with his younger brother. His mother had left when he was so young he barely remembered her. Bud? Bud was more of a mentor and he was killed just as they were growing close. Sure he had buddies in the Army and even now on the police force but he never actually loved any of them. No, now that he thought about it, he had never really allowed himself to just fully open his heart and love someone unconditionally, until now. And now that person was missing and he didn't know what to do about it.

Jim jumped when he realized he was hearing the building elevator moving. Because of the thunder he had dialed his hearing down and he had been so deep into his own thoughts he hadn't even heard anyone come into the building. It stopped on the third floor; he could hear footsteps moving very slowly down the hall. He had to take a deep breath before he could allow himself to listen to the heartbeat. It was Blair. But the heart rate was much slower than normal. He listened as Blair reached the door. Jim had already told himself that he wasn't going to do anything to scare or upset his partner when he returned. That included jumping on him at the door, so he had left it unlocked so Blair could let himself in. But Blair wasn't doing anything; he was just standing there. He couldn't stand it any longer; he rushed to the door and opened it.

Jim stared. Standing in front of him was one the most miserable looking creatures he had ever seen. Blair was soaked. More than soaked. His hair was plastered against his head and sides of his face. He was standing there, arms tightly crossed in front of him. Water wasn't dripping off of him; it was literally running off his hair and clothes. Some of the water had actually frozen into ice in his hair and on his shirt. His lips were blue, standing out against his pale, too white skin. His eyes were glazed over, teeth tightly clenched together. He was shaking so hard it was a wonder he was able to stand up.

"Blair!"

"I-I..." Blair's breathing came in short shuddering gasps. "C-c-old."

Jim took hold of one of Blair's arms and tried to pull him into the loft. "My God, Blair. Get in here."

Blair refused to allow himself to be pulled him in. Jim looked at him in confusion. "What's wrong, Chief? Are you hurt?"

"D-d-drip-ping."

"So?"

"F-f-floor."

He's worried about the floor?

Jim put his arm around Blair's shoulders, not caring how wet his own clothes were getting. "Don't worry about the floor, Chief, we can clean it up later. The only thing I'm worried about right now is getting you warm and dry. Come in, please?"

Blair barely nodded and allowed Jim to draw him into the loft. Blair's muscles were so tight they felt like they were made of wood. No, Jim thought, he feels like he's made of solid ice.

Keeping his arm around the shaking shoulders Jim slowly walked Blair to the bathroom. While Blair stood there shivering Jim tilted his head towards the shower. "Just barely lukewarm water to start, as you start to get used to it you can gradually make the water hotter, but go real slow, understand?"

Blair nodded. Jim reached up and started to unbutton the flannel shirt but Blair stopped him. "I-I... d-d-do... it."

Jim looked at him then dropped his arms. "Okay. I'm going to go get you some warm clothes to put on. Just leave your clothes on the floor; they're too wet to put in the hamper. And remember—very gradual with the water temperature. You could burn yourself and not even realize it. Stay in there as long as you need to, until you start to feel warm again."

"B-b-be... l-long... t-t-time."

Jim smiled. "Well then until the hot water runs out. Which ever comes first."

After Jim left Blair struggled out of his wet clothes, his numb fingers hampering the job. Once he finally managed to divest himself of them he, as carefully as he could with shaking fingers, removed the ruined bandage from his neck. Most of the wet butterflies came off with it. Everything would have been much easier with Jim's help but then he would have seen the still vivid bruises. He was in no shape to deal with that right now.

After turning on the shower and stepping into the tub Blair saw that Jim was right about the water. Even the lukewarm water felt like it was burning his ice-cold skin. If it had been as hot as he would have made it, he probably would have scalded himself. Doing as Jim had advised he gradually raised the water temperature until soon he was standing in a truly hot shower. He felt like he could stay in here forever. He had never been so cold in his life, and coming from someone who hated being cold as much as he did, that was saying something. He washed himself and his hair but still stayed under the hot water. Was it possible to just live in a shower? He got that answer when he noticed that the water temperature had dropped a little. Knowing how fast the water could turn cold he immediately turned off the shower, not risking getting one drop of even cool water on him. Opening the shower curtain he saw that his wet clothes were gone and lying on the toilet seat were a pair of his heaviest sweats, boxers and a pair of thick socks. He had never even heard Jim come in. He got out; the heat from the hot water was keeping the bathroom wonderfully warm. He dried himself off and put on his dry clothes. God, it felt so good to just be warm and dry again. He towel dried his hair until it was just damp. Keeping with his new routine he wiped up the water off the floor, put his towels in the hamper and put out clean towels. Now was not the time to piss Jim off, he might make him leave and just the thought of being back out in that ice storm again made him shiver.

Jim was just putting some of Blair's left over vegetable soup in a pot to heat up when he heard Blair padding down the hall towards the kitchen. He had been waiting until he heard the shower turn off before starting. He turned when he heard Blair enter the kitchen, giving him a quick once over. His skin was still too pale, but his lips were pink again and his eyes had lost that glazed look. His heart rate and breathing were also closer to his normal rates.

"How do you feel?"

Blair raised his eyebrows. "You tell me. Did I just pass my physical?"

Jim grinned. "You think you know me so well, Chief. Okay. Yes. You passed."

He walked over to Blair and raised his hand up, frowning to himself when Blair froze. Jim slowly reached up and felt the ends of Blair's hair, then put the back of his fingers on one pale cheek. "Your hair is still wet and your skin is still a bit too cool. I know you usually don't like to blow dry your hair but I think you need to make an exception tonight. You can't afford to have any part of you still wet. I'm heating you up some soup, you go dry your hair, it should be ready by the time you're done."

Jim went back to the stove and started stirring the contents of the pot. Blair just stood there watching him. "You're making me soup?"

"Well you actually made it, remember? I'm just heating some up. You need something hot inside you. It's not that big a deal."

"I thought... I mean... you were so... never mind." Just a few hours ago he was so mad at me he was hitting his desk. Now he's fixing me soup. Shaking his head, Blair turned and went towards his room. Less than a minute later came the sound of a blow dryer.

When he returned he saw that a bowl, napkin and spoon were at his place at the kitchen table. A glass of milk was there too. Jim pointed to his chair with his large spoon. "Sit. Hot vegetable soup coming right up."

He sat and Jim came over and spooned soup from the pot into his bowl. "I want you to try to eat all of that. You need to be warmed up from the inside too."

Blair took a sip of his milk thinking he wouldn't be able to eat anything, but after the first, wonderfully hot spoonful he didn't stop until the bowl was empty. Jim stood there watching him, looking pleased. "Want some more?"

Blair shook his head. "No thanks. I'm surprised I ate that." He stood up and started to pick up his bowl and spoon. Jim stopped him and took the dishes out his hands. Instead he placed a mug of hot chamomile tea in Blair's hands. "Go sit on the couch. I'll be right there."

Blair took his mug over to the larger couch and sat in the middle, pulling his feet up under him, sitting Indian style. He noticed that there was a good-sized fire going in the fireplace. It felt really good. His glasses were on the coffee table, Jim must have found them in his shirt pocket and brought them out. He took a sip of tea. Not bad. Jim was definitely being His Jim tonight. Taking care of him. But what about this afternoon? Was that the Other Jim coming back out or His Jim just having one of his usual temper tantrums? How was he supposed to know the difference? YAAWWN. He was starting to feel really tired.

Jim heard the yawn from the kitchen. He knew that Blair wasn't going to last much longer. If he wanted to find out what had happened he'd better talk to his roommate now. Actually it was good that Blair was tired—that meant that his defenses would be down and he was more likely to tell him the truth. Blair didn't lie to him, exactly, they both knew it was virtually impossible to lie to a Sentinel, but he could tap dance all around the truth like no one Jim had ever seen before. Except when he was really tired or sick. It was then that he seemed to forget how to dance and would actually say what he was really thinking or feeling.

Carrying his coffee mug, Jim went into the living room and sat on the coffee table directly in front of Blair. Putting his coffee down beside him, he looked at his sleepy Guide. Blair's eyes were open but he was not operating at a hundred percent. He leaned forward and put one hand on each of Blair's knees. No adverse reaction. So far so good. Sometimes tired was a good thing; at least he wasn't shrinking away from being touched.

"Blair, look at me."

Blair met Jim's eyes. Jim could see that he was tired but also nervous and anxious. Damn. Not quite as far gone as I'd hoped. But at least he doesn't look scared right now.

"Chief, we have to talk about what happened today."

Blair looked down, suddenly finding his mug of tea very interesting. He spoke softly. "I don't want to, Jim."

Jim knew he would have to tread very carefully. Don't push or demand. And under no circumstances get angry or upset. If he did any of those things Blair would clam up, withdraw into himself and he may never get the full story after that. He slowly crocked one finger under Blair's chin and gently lifted his friend's head until their eyes met again. He kept his voice even and almost as soft as Blair's had just been.

"I know you don't, Chief. But it's very important that it all come out now. I need to know, for me. And Simon has to have something to tell the psychiatrist to get you a new appointment. That is if you still want to be my partner." After the way I've been taking you for granted the past few years, I'm surprised you haven't left already.

The bigger detective slowly lowered his hand back to Blair's knee. Blair kept his head up, his eyes still on Jim's face, studying it intently. Apparently satisfied with what he saw there he answered, speaking as softly as before. "Of course I want to be your partner. Why would you think I wouldn't?"

Okay, Jim thought, time to bring out the heavy artillery. The one thing Blair can't resist. Guilt.

Still keeping his voice level and without any trace of anger or recrimination Jim answered. "Because you left the station without saying anything. You were gone for over eight hours with no contact. You left everyone in the bullpen, especially your partner and the captain, wondering and worrying about you. Those are not the kinds of things partners are supposed to do to each other."

Blair seemed to pull back away from Jim, into the back of the couch. Jim kept his hands on his Blair's knees, watching as he looked down again. When he spoke it was so soft that Jim had to turn up his hearing to catch it. "I'm sorry. It's just that you were so... were so..."

"Angry? At you?"

Blair's head jerked up, eyes wide open. He just nodded.

"I figured that was at least part of it. Blair, everything is all right now but it's important that you at least tell me what happened. Will you at least do that, for me?"

Blair hesitated for several seconds before answering. When he did, his voice was louder and stronger but his eyes were still wary. "Depends. Are you sure you're not angry any more? I mean for whatever you were mad about at the station and because I left like I did?" Cause no way, man, am I gonna risk saying the wrong thing here and provoking a return visit from the Other Jim. That little glimpse in the bullpen earlier was more than enough for me.

This time Jim dropped his eyes. His right thumb unconsciously began to rub Blair's knee. "No, Chief, I'm not mad at you at all. In fact I'm really sorry I yelled at you. I had no right to do that. You didn't do anything wrong, it was all my fault. Can you forgive me? Please."

He lifted his eyes back up and looked at his friend and partner. He is my partner and I want him to remain my partner, but only if it's what he wants.

Almost as if he were reading Jim's mind Blair answered. "Do you really still want me as your partner? Especially after what I did today? Do you really even want me to show up at the station anymore?" He felt like he was taking a big risk here, but he wanted to at least know how Jim felt about him as a partner.

Jim knew he had to reach Blair now before the newly surfaced guilt (maybe using that tactic wasn't such a good idea after all) and his own wild imagination made everything seem worse to his friend than it really was. If Blair thought that he had lost all of his hard won respect with the other detectives he might never be able to convince him to continue working with him. He held his Guide's gaze.

"Believe me, Chief, if you had seen the way everyone was looking at me after you left, there would be no doubt in your mind who they all thought was wrong. I'm the one who has to worry about facing them again, not you. I think somewhere along the line you picked up a whole new group of Blessed Protectors. In fact, remind me to stop and pick up some riot gear on our way back to the bullpen, I think I'm gonna need it." Jim watched Blair carefully. Most of the anxiety had left his eyes and he had physically relaxed a little. His eyelids were starting to droop a little too. Finally. Blair lifted his mug to his mouth watching over the rim, sipping the now lukewarm tea as Jim continued. "About being partners. It's like I told you before, Chief, you are my partner. You are the only person I want for a partner. I trust you more than anyone I've ever trusted before. Anyone. Besides..." Jim looked back and forth as if to make sure they were alone. He leaned closer to Blair and lowered his voice. "... don't tell anyone but... I think Simon kind of misses you when you're not around."

Blair almost spit out the sip of tea he had just taken. Jim snickered as he watched him desperately try to swallow the liquid still in his mouth. He finally managed to get it down.

"Jesus, Jim! Don't say something like that when I'm drinking! You almost got a faceful of tea."

Jim just sat back a little, grinning widely. Blair's reaction was even better than he hoped. This was the closest to his Blair he had seen in days. He was definitely more tired than scared now, like in the bathroom the other night. Before he suddenly ran out.

"Hey, pal, I just call it like I see it."

Blair lifted his eyebrows. "Yeah? Well if it had been anyone but you saying that, I'd say they needed to get their eyesight checked." He yawned again, covering his mouth with one hand and blinked a few times. "Guess I'm getting a little tired."

"Guess so." Jim looked at Blair carefully. He was finally calm, relaxed and more than a little tired. This was the perfect time to get him to open up about the events of today. "Hey Chief, think you can tell me about what happened now? I really need to know what you did and where you've been since you left the station this afternoon."

Blair's defenses were finally down. "Okay."

Jim let out a small sigh of relief. "Good. Start from just before you left the bullpen and tell me where you were, what you did. Take your time, there's no rush."

Blair closed his eyes for a few seconds then slowly opened them again and began talking. "Let's see. I was leaving for the doctor's office when you suddenly reached out and grabbed me. That kinda startled me."

I didn't grab him. I barely touched him.

"You said something about talking to the doctor about 'other stuff', but I knew you didn't really want me to talk about it and besides, I knew you wanted the paperwork done since I was supposed to ride with you tomorrow." Blair paused to take a sip of his tea, then made a face, it had gotten cold. Jim took the mug from him and put it beside his own now cold, forgotten coffee.

It? What 'it'? I see another discussion coming up tomorrow.

"I don't remember what I said but suddenly you got so mad, at me, that you hit your desk." Blair's eyes got a little wider at the memory, a trace of the anxiety returning. Jim quickly squeezed both of Blair's knees to get his attention. He kept his voice calm and steady. "Nobody's mad at you. Everything's all right. Just tell me what happened next."

At Jim's calm voice Blair relaxed again. "Okay. Anyway, I got so scared, man. I couldn't think. I just ran out of there. Next thing I knew I was outside, getting really wet and cold."

"Chief, are you telling me that you were so scared of me, of what I might do, that you just blindly ran out of the building to get away?"

He watched as Blair nodded. Oh yeah, we are definitely having another long talk tomorrow. "Then what did you do?"

"I walked to the library, it was only a couple of blocks away. The librarians know me there; I figured they wouldn't try kick me out. And they didn't. It was chilly in the basement, especially since I was already pretty wet by then, but at least it was out of the rain."

The library. Of course. Even I should have thought of that.

"I stayed there until they closed at five. By then all the public buildings were closing. I walked around the area for about another hour or so trying to find someplace I could get into. But the only places still open were things like restaurants and movie theaters, places you had to have money to go into, and I didn't have any. It was raining even harder by then and getting a lot colder too."

Blair started shivering again. Softly at first then harder. The temporary warmth of the hot shower and soup had worn off and the icy, wet cold that had chilled him to the bone was making itself known again. Jim stood up and reached behind Blair for the afghan on the back of the couch. He wrapped it snugly around his roommate, letting him grab the ends to keep it in place. He then sat back down directly in front of his friend again.

"Better?"

"Yeah. Thanks." YAWN. Blink. Blink.

Jim watched as Blair fought to stay awake. Maybe this was too much for now. "You're too tired for this right now, Chief. We can finish it tomorrow. You should be in bed."

Blair pulled the blanket even tighter around him and shook his head. "No. There's not too much more to tell. I can finish. Where was I? Oh yeah, everything was closing and I didn't have any money. I didn't know where to go or what to do."

"Mind if I ask you a question here, Chief? You were still only a few blocks from the station, why didn't you go back there? I waited for you until after six."

Blair's eyes grew wide again. "You did? Really? I thought you were probably still mad at me and, you know, didn't want me around."

Jim mentally shook his head. Not want him around. This discussion for tomorrow just keeps getting longer and longer. Any more to talk about and I'll have to call out from work tomorrow. Wouldn't Simon just love that?

"Anyway," Blair continued, "Without realizing it I had walked all the way through downtown and was heading out in the direction of the loft. I almost turned around to go in another direction..."

What? Why?

"... but realized that I really had no where else to go. I figured that maybe, if you weren't still too mad by the time I got here, you would at least let me in long enough to change clothes. If nothing else, I could at least stay in the building tonight and get out of the rain. So I walked here and you know the rest." Blair continued to look at Jim, his eyes slightly unfocused.

Maybe I would let him in just long enough to change clothes. Jim sighed. Let me just go ahead and call Simon now.

"You walked here from downtown in that freezing rain? No wonder you were almost frozen solid by the time you got here. Do you know how far that is?"

Blair shrugged his shoulders. "No, not exactly, but I can tell you it sure feels like a real long way when you're walking." Another big yawn escaped. This time his eyes only stayed half open. "Tired."

"I can see that. Why don't you go on to bed? I'll bring you in an extra blanket. But before you go, while you're still somewhat conscious I want you to understand something."

Blair looked at Jim as he tried to fully open his eyes. "What?"

Jim reached up and put his hands on Blair's shoulders, holding his friend's tired eyes with his own steady gaze. "If you ever find yourself stuck or stranded anywhere again, no matter what the weather is like, no matter what time it is, I want you to call me. If you don't have any money, call me collect. Understand?" Knowing how often Blair's car died on him it was important to Jim that Blair understand this. Just the thought of his Guide out alone on another night like this or stuck in a bad or deserted part of town set off all of his Blessed Protector alarms.

Blair slowly shook his head. "Uh-uh. Can't always. Already tried once. Station won't 'cept collect calls. Don't know 'bout cell phone. I'll find out though." His head starting dropping onto his chest.

Jim stared at his partner. "When did you—? Never mind." He stood up and moved away from the couch giving Blair room to get out. "Just go on to bed now. I'll bring you in the blanket."

"'Kay. Night." Blair uncrossed his legs and got off the couch, leaving the afghan, and slowly made his way towards his room. He paused and turned back into the living room. "Hey, Jim? Thanks for letting me in and the soup and tea and ev'ything." Then he continued into his room. He was already shivering again. He crawled into bed and curled himself into a tight ball. Pulling all the covers up to his chin he thought he'd never really feel warm again. He was asleep before his eyes fully closed.

Jim came down the stairs from his bedroom carrying something bulky enclosed in soft plastic. When he reached the couch he placed the object on it and unzipped the plastic. From inside it he pulled out a queen-sized, 100% goose down comforter. He shook it out a few times and looked at it. Someone had given it to him as a present a few years ago, but as hot natured as he was he had stuck it in the back of his closet and never thought about it again. Until tonight. Tonight he knew someone who would really be able to appreciate its warmth.

He carried the comforter into Blair's room. The light coming in through the bedroom doors was more than enough for him to see by. Walking over to the bed, he looked down at the sleeping figure. Even curled up under the covers Jim could still see the slight shivers. He carefully draped the comforter over his sleeping roommate, carefully tucking the top end around his shoulders. The queen-sized blanket hung over the sides and bottom of Blair's smaller bed. Jim tucked some of the excess material around Blair, effectively enveloping him in his own little down cocoon. A minute or so later he watched as Blair stretched out a little, as his body became aware of the new layer of warmth. Jim smiled as he watched as his friend unconsciously accepted his gift.

At what point had this person's health and happiness become the most important thing in his life? Blair's welfare now overrode everything else. The exact moment really didn't matter. What did matter was that each man had accepted the fact that he was bonded, perhaps for life, to the other. But now something was deeply troubling his Guide, to the point of testing the bond. Whatever it was, whatever was causing this growing rift between them, they had to resolve it if they were to continue onward as Sentinel and Guide, maybe even as friends. But that was for tomorrow. For tonight, at least, his best friend and Guide would be safe and secure under his protective watch, where he belonged. Armed with this knowledge the Sentinel was finally able to go on to bed and find sleep himself.


Jim bolted upright in his bed. Something had awakened him, but he didn't know what. He looked at the bedside clock. 1:17AM. Extending his hearing he scanned the loft. No unusual noises, no sound of any intruders. Automatically he tuned into his roommate. Blair's heartbeat was erratic, his breathing sounded labored, he could hear congestion in his lungs. Then came the sound that had woken him up. A low moan breathing out one word, "Hot."

Jim was down the stairs and kneeling beside Blair's bed in seconds. All the covers had been pushed or kicked off. Blair's eyes were still closed; sweat had plastered his hair to his head. He tossed restlessly, his right hand pulling at his sweatshirt repeating "hot" over and over. Jim placed one hand across Blair's forehead, the other over Blair's hand to stop the frantic pulling. God, he was burning up. His temperature felt like at least 103 or higher. First thing was to get that fever down. He reached over and pulled off Blair's socks. The head and feet were two main areas where the body released heat. He needed some cool water to try to lower Blair's body temperature. As he started to get up he by was stopped when he heard Blair whisper. His eyes were slowly opening.

"J-Jim?"

He immediately resumed his previous position by Blair's head. One comforting hand on his forehead, holding Blair's hand on his chest with the other.

"Yeah, Chief. I'm right here."

Blair looked down to where Jim's large hand was pinning his against his own body. He tensed and looked up at Jim with anxious, fever brightened eyes. "You... you my Jim?"

Jim paused as he puzzled over that last statement, trying to figure out what his friend meant by it. But it was obviously very important to Blair so he decided the best course of action was to just go along with it. He stroked Blair's head as he answered. "Yeah, Chief. I'm your Jim. You're sick right now and I'm going to take care of you, okay?" He hoped that was the right answer.

Apparently that was exactly the right answer. Blair visibly relaxed, releasing a small sigh of relief. "My Jim."

My Jim? One more thing to add to the discussion he was still planning to have with Blair later. Only now it was growing from a simple talk into a marathon session.

"Hey Chief, I'm going to go get some water to cool you off. I'll be right back." Blair's eyes were already closing again.

Jim went into the kitchen and filled a large bowl with cool water and added a few ice cubes. On the way back to Blair's room he stopped in the bathroom and picked up a bottle of isopropyl alcohol and a washcloth. Putting the bowl on Blair's nightstand he poured in a small amount of the alcohol and stirred it with the washcloth. Returning to the kitchen he filled a large glass with ice and water that also went on the nightstand with the bowl of water. He then turned his attention back to his roommate. Blair's eyes were half open and he was getting restless again.

"Jim? Jiiim!"

Jim wet the washcloth, knelt beside the bed and started gently wiping Blair's face. "I'm right here, Chief. I'm not going to leave. Just try to relax, this is going to make you feel better." He re-wet the cloth and wiped Blair's hands.

"Don'... feel good. Hot. Hard... t'breathe."

"I know, it'll be all right. First let's get these sweats off you. Then we'll get you sitting up more too, that'll make breathing easier. And I'll give you a nice cool sponge bath as we go, you'll feel better in no time." Going to the foot of the bed he reached over and grabbed the waistband of Blair's sweat pants and smoothly pulled the pants and boxers off in one swift motion. He'd have to worry about Blair's possible embarrassment later, the groin was a major cooling down area of an overheated body so this was no time for modesty. He grinned as he raised his eyebrows. Apparently not that Blair had anything to be modest about. His overheated roommate, though, didn't even seem to be aware of what Jim was doing. He got the washcloth from the bowl and, stopping to re-wet it a few times, wiped down the entire length of both of Blair's legs and feet.

"Okay, let's try to sit up." With little help from his partner Jim finally managed to get Blair into a sitting position. Keeping one arm across Blair's chest to hold him up, he used his other hand to pile up the numerous pillows behind him, so that when he did lay his limp friend back down he would be more sitting than lying. That would help with the congestion and ease his breathing. But first he needed to get that sweatshirt off and cool down his back and chest. "Chief, I'm gonna need you to sit up by yourself for a minute while I pull your shirt off. You ready?"

"Uh-huuhhh."

Jim slowly pulled his arm away from Blair's chest, almost surprised to see that he was able to stay sitting up by himself, even if he was leaning forward a bit. He sat on the edge of the bed, facing Blair so he could catch him if he toppled forward, then grabbed the bottom of the shirt and started pulling. Blair's arms automatically went up with the shirt so it came off rather easily. As soon as the shirt was off, leaving one arm across Blair's bare chest he knelt beside him and turned around to pick up the washcloth from the bowl. He felt his Guide's weight as he leaned against his arm, unable to hold himself up any longer, his hot head resting in the hollow space where Jim's shoulder joined his chest. Blair quickly fell back into a light sleep. Jim reached over and one handed squeezed out some of the excess water from the washcloth. Turning back to his patient his hand froze in mid air as he stared at Blair's back. It was covered with bruises. Mostly large bruises. Then he noticed the finger shaped bruises circling Blair's upper arms.

He shook his head to clear it and to keep from zoning on the sight of Blair's back. There was only one way to get injuries like that. Those came from someone, obviously bigger and stronger, grabbing Blair by the arms and slamming him against a wall or something and judging from the number and position of bruises, more than once. Looking at the marks he could tell they were at least a few days old. This had to be the reason for Blair's odd behavior. He'd been hiding this from him. But why? Unless Blair was protecting his attacker. Was it someone Blair knew? Someone they both knew? Or did the attacker threaten Blair if he told? Too many questions and only one person knew the answers. And that person had a raging fever right now. He quickly and carefully wiped down Blair's back and the back of his neck.

Jim slowly lowered Blair onto the pillows, into a semi-reclining position then sat on the edge of the bed again. He stared closely at the red line running across his friend's neck. All the butterflies were gone. Neither one of them had thought about replacing the bandages after Blair's shower. The exam showed that the cut was healing nicely; it could probably stay uncovered from now on. Re-wetting the cloth a few times he wiped off Blair's neck and shoulders then his arms, being extra careful around the bruises. After wiping down his chest and stomach, just as he was getting ready to re-wipe his face, Blair started waking up again. Jim watched as he became a bit restless then his eyes slowly blinked open. He was relieved to see that they weren't quite as muddled with fever as the first time but still not totally clear. He leaned forward and put his hand across his friend's forehead, partly as a comforting gesture and partly to gauge his current temperature. It had gone down, felt like around 100-101 now. Trouble with fevers is that they can go down and then can suddenly jump right back up again. He smiled at his groggy partner.

"Hey, Chief. How're you feeling?"

Blair felt like he had just run a marathon in the hot sun. "Hot. Tired. Thirs'y. Wha-what happ'nd?"

Jim moved to where he was beside Blair and helped him sit up straighter, then got the glass of water from the nightstand. Keeping one arm across Blair's shoulders, careful not to touch any bruises, he helped his partner with the glass. "Drink it slow. Not too much." After a few sips Jim took the glass away and slowly lowered him back onto the pillows. He reached across and pulled the sheet up over Blair, leaving his arms out. Sitting on the edge of the bed facing Blair once again, he absentmindedly picked up one of Blair's hand in both of his and began playing with the broad fingers.

"Seems your little walk in the rain caught up to you. You're running a bit of a fever."

Blair looked at Jim through sleep-lidded eyes. The detective was wearing his usual bedclothes, light cotton boxers and a T-shirt. Then he saw the bowl on the nightstand. "I-I... woke... you up?... Sorry." He was starting to lose the battle with sleep again. "You go... back t'bed. I... I'm... fine now." His eyes were slowly closing.

Jim felt this might his best chance for a while to ask Blair about his injuries, especially since he didn't think Blair would be able to try to hide the truth from him right now. No tap dancing tonight, he needed straight answers. "Chief, what happened to your back?"

Blair struggled to open his eyes. Jim saw that same look of fear that he'd been seeing for the past few days. He felt fingers grip his hand. "Hurt... hurt me."

Leaning down over Blair, Jim put his free hand back on his Guide's head, softly stroking his hair. He kept his voice low and calm. "Who did this Blair, who hurt you?"

Closing his eyes as he allowed sleep to finally claim him, Blair barely whispered, "Other... Other Jim."


Lying on the couch in the dark Jim adjusted the pillow under his head. He had brought a pillow and blanket from his room to the couch so he could keep a closer eye on Blair. He tried to process everything he had just discovered, while monitoring his roommate at the same time. Blair was sleeping right now, his fever still higher than normal.

He kept going over in his mind what little he knew. A few days ago someone named Jim had attacked and hurt Blair, right around the same time Evans had also caught and hurt him. No wonder he was acting so strange, being attacked twice and for some reason feeling that he had to hide one of the assaults. From him. There had to be a very good reason for that, but damned if he could think of one. What would justify his partner taking a beating and then not saying anything? Who was this Other Jim? A cop at the station? Some of the men there never had accepted Blair. Or someone from Rainier? He once again berated himself for not knowing more about Sandburg's life away from him and the police station. A jealous boyfriend maybe? Always a possibility with Blair. But none of those possibilities warranted Blair's silence or the lengths he went to hide the assault. No, there was something more to it, a lot more. The bottom line, though, was that someone had attacked Blair, his Guide, his friend. And as far as His Jim was concerned that Other Jim's life expectancy just got considerably shorter.

But what right did he have to even think about revenge? Some Blessed Protector he was. Wasn't a Sentinel's main duty to protect the Guide? Where was he when his Guide was being hurt? Thinking back he realized that about the only time he and his Guide had been apart during that time was when Blair was at the University. It must have happened there. What could have happened? An argument with someone that got out of hand? Maybe some big student jock who thought he could intimidate Blair into changing a grade. Like that would ever work. Or someone who thought Blair was flirting with the wrong girl? Some guy who thought Blair should be flirting with him? Even though Jim knew that Blair was straight, it wasn't unusual for him to attract attention from both sexes. Although he was always very polite in refusing any male advances, maybe one jerk took it personally. Or maybe he was just the victim of a random act of violence. Blair's penchant for being at the wrong place at the wrong time was legendary. Which all came back to why didn't he tell anyone what happened. In fact everything boiled down to two basic questions: who attacked Blair and why did he try to hide it?


Jim woke with a start. He hadn't even realized he had fallen asleep. Through the balcony windows he could see that it was still dark out. How long had he been sleeping? Turning up his hearing he listened to his roommate. Blair was a little restless, heart rate slightly faster than normal, but nothing dangerous. He got up and walked into the bathroom. After taking care of business he leaned on the sink with both hands and looked at himself in the mirror. Looking a little rough there, Jimbo. Can't handle these late nights like you used to. He thought about how many nights he had lost sleep over Blair. Being awakened by his roommate's nightmares, then staying with him afterwards. Taking care of him, like now, when he got sick. Waiting up for him when he knew Blair would be out late, pretending to be watching TV or a video, but actually not being able to relax until his partner returned safe and sound. He wondered if it would be worth getting a full nights sleep every night plus the added peace and quiet by not having Blair around so much. The answer was immediate. Not in this lifetime or the next.

Listening in to Blair, Jim could hear that his tossing had increased, his heart rate and breathing accelerated. He hurried into the kitchen retrieving the bowl of now clean water and a glass of water from the refrigerator and returned to Blair's room. Putting them on the nightstand he sat on the edge of the bed. He could feel the heat radiating from his roommate. His fever had gone up again. A fine sheen of sweat covered his body.

But even more important right now, Blair was also caught in the vicious grip of a nightmare. He crossed his arms in front of him in a protective gesture as he continued thrashing around. Softly then louder, "Stop! You're hurting me! NOOOOO! Jiiimmm!" Jim didn't know if Blair was asking his attacker to stop or if he was calling out to him for help. Either way it was time for him to wake up. He reached over and grabbed Blair's shoulders, gently shaking them. "Come on, Chief, wake up. It's only a dream. Everything's all right." The smaller man continued to fight off his attacker, continuing his frantic, desperate movements, lost in his own world. "NO! I'm sorry. Please don't. STOP IT!! No more!" Jim pulled him into a sitting position, shaking his friend's shoulders harder. "Blair! Listen to me! Wake. Up! C'mon, Chief. Now!" With the last word he gave Blair's shoulders a final hard shake.

Blair's eyes flew open but they weren't fully focused. He looked at Jim and jumped back, hitting the wall that ran alongside his bed. Staring wide-eyed at Jim he crouched down at the head of the bed staying next to the wall. Jim was at a loss as to what to do. Blair was awake but apparently at least partially still under the influence of his nightmare. It was obvious that he was afraid of someone and Jim wondered how he could reach him. Then he remembered their earlier conversation. It worked then, it might work now. He kept his voice very soft and low.

"Hey Chief, it's me. Your Jim. Remember? You're sick and I'm taking care of you."

He watched carefully as Blair blinked a few times then relaxed his shoulders a bit. "My Jim? Sick?" Then he tensed again and looked at Jim with wary eyes. "Where's—?"

Jim knew exactly who Blair was referring to—the infamous Other Jim. He must be who the nightmare was about. Raising his voice slightly Jim emphasized each word. "He's. Gone. Chief." Permanently if I ever get my hands on him.

"Gone?"

"Gone."

Blair sagged against the wall, closing his eyes, completely drained. But it was all right, His Jim was here now and the Other Jim was gone. He just nodded when he heard Jim ask him if was thirsty. He was hot, tired, he ached everywhere and his head hurt. "Feel awful," he whispered unaware that he had spoken out loud. He was dimly aware of Jim's hands on him, maneuvering him back to his original sitting up position on the bed. Then there was an arm across his upper back, fingers securely around his shoulder. The rim of a glass pressed against his lips. From somewhere beside him he could hear Jim's voice.

"Small, slow sips. Just like last time. You need to keep the water down."

Last time? What last time? He tried to lift his hands to the glass but they were just too heavy, he'd let Jim do it. After a few sips he felt the glass being taken away. His throat still hurt.

"More."

"That's enough for now. You have to take it slow, remember?"

But he was still thirsty. "More. Please."

The glass returned. A few more sips and it was gone again.

"That's all for now, Chief. Any more and you'll just throw it back up. You're already pretty dehydrated, it's important to keep as much water inside you as possible."

That was all right, his throat felt better now anyway. "'Kay."

He was then became aware that the arm across his back was gone and now there was one across his chest. When did that happen? Something cool and wet was sliding down his neck and over his back. It felt so good. He rested his head against the solid mass where the arm in front of him started; it was too heavy to hold up any more. Didn't he rest here before? Sleep was overtaking him again but it was all right, His Jim was taking care of him.

Jim felt Blair's full weight press against his arm, watched as the mass of curls leaned against his shoulder. A few seconds later the steady, rhythmic breathing told him that his partner was asleep again. He finished Blair's back but made no move to lower him back onto the bed. Blair had been keeping such a distance between them for days now; he hadn't realized just how much he missed not having any physical contact with his Guide. He let Blair continue to sleep against him for a few minutes, wishing he didn't have to be sick to allow it, then slowly placed him back on the pillows. His breathing seemed easier, the congestion less notable than before. He finished the sponge bath, ending it by folding the wet washcloth and laying it across Blair's hot forehead. After pulling the sheet back up over him again, Jim sat on the edge of the bed watching his friend sleep. Once he got the full story about what had happened they would work through whatever was troubling Blair. They had to. He just couldn't imagine his life without this utterly unique person in it. He slowly pulled the same hand out from under the sheet that he had held before and held it again between his two hands. Then, turning the strong, sturdy hand palm up, he gently curved back all the fingers except for the pinkie. He whispered softly to his sleeping partner. "Everyone thinks that I'm the strong, dominant one in our relationship, Chief, but actually, even though I don't often show it..." using his index finger he started at the base of the smallest finger, spiraling a path around it towards the tip, "... you have me right here. And there's nothing I can or want to do about it."


Blair woke up slowly, feeling somewhat disorientated. He could tell that he'd been sleeping for a long time, but he still felt tired. And weak. And achy. Oh God, I must be sick again. He sat up then quickly closed his eyes as the room started to spin around him. When he slowly opened them again everything stayed still. Carefully looking around he noticed the diffused lighting through the window, it was late afternoon. How long have I been in bed? Then he noticed his nude body and the new comforter on the bed. Uhh, looks like you're missing a few details here, Sandburg. At the same moment that he noticed his discarded clothes on the floor he also realized he had urgent business to attend to. By sitting on the floor he discovered he could get dressed without too much dizziness, except when he tried to lean forward to put on his socks so he left them off. Standing up and actually walking to the bathroom could prove a challenge however. Using the desk for support he managed to stand up, bracing his hands on the desktop and closing his eyes as another wave of dizziness washed over him. When the room finally righted itself again he started out, taking small steps. Leaning against one of the open doors of his room, he listened. The loft was silent. Jim must be at work. Then another thought struck him. Guess this is how it's gonna be from now on. Jim had never gone to work before when he'd been as sick as he obviously must have been earlier. Even though he always felt guilty when Jim missed work because of him, a small part deep inside also secretly cherished the idea of someone staying home to take care of him. It made him feel special and wanted, something he hadn't felt since he moved away from home. Well away from his mother anyway, he never really, actually had one place to call home, until now. And he sure as hell never felt wanted in most of the places they had lived. He smiled to himself, and it certainly was true that Jim did fuss over him far more than Naomi ever had. The smile faded. But apparently not any more. Feeling a curious sense of loss, Blair carefully made his way to the bathroom.

Leaving the bathroom Blair knew he should probably go straight back to bed. His legs were barely holding him up and he felt rather lightheaded. But he was so thirsty and his throat hurt, a cold glass of juice sounded just too good to pass up. Using the wall for support he slowly made his way to the kitchen. He almost made it to the refrigerator when he thought he heard the front door. Jim? After quickly turning his head towards the door he immediately knew that moving that fast had not been a good idea. The kitchen started to swim before his eyes. This time when the world started spinning around him, Blair knew that he wasn't going to be able to remain standing. The room started to get dark as he felt himself start to fall, he was unconscious before he even hit the floor.


Jim shifted the bags of groceries to his other hand as he got out of the truck. Blair may have preferred that they use the more environmentally friendly paper bags but at least the plastic ones had handles. Heading towards the building he scanned the loft until he heard the heartbeat he was listening for. It was slow and steady. Jim grinned to himself. Blair was still asleep, just as he thought he would be. He figured his roommate would be out for at least a couple more hours considering what a rough night he had, until his fever finally broke around ten this morning. Blair's temperature had spiked a third time before finally breaking, leaving his roommate totally exhausted. Jim knew that Blair had already been pretty run down from his grueling schedule of school and helping him for the past few weeks. He also knew that Blair hadn't been eating or sleeping much lately, even less since his encounter with Evans and that soon to be found Other Jim. All that topped off by his long walk in the freezing rain had left him vulnerable to whatever bug had finally gotten hold of him. After a long and restless night Blair had finally fallen into a deep, peaceful sleep. When it looked like Blair would definitely be out for a while Jim had decided to use the time run to the store. He wanted to make his partner a light supper when he woke up and to stock up on the weird juice concoctions he liked so much. He knew that Blair would be fairly dehydrated after his fever and the juices were all natural and full of vitamins, even if they looked and smelled funny to him.

As he opened the loft door Jim was aware that something was wrong. He could hear Blair's heartbeat but it wasn't coming from his room. A quick visual scan found his roommate lying face down on the kitchen floor. Leaving the groceries by the still open door, Jim was at Blair's side in a few long strides. He checked the prone figure for injuries.

"Blair? Chief? Can you hear me?"

No response.

Not finding any injuries, he carefully turned Blair over onto his back. Putting his hand across Blair's forehead he gauged his temperature while checking him out further. His skin was warm but not hot, the fever hadn't returned. He noted the still too pale skin color but his breathing was unlabored, heart rate a little slow but within normal limits. Jim concluded that his unpredictable partner had gotten out of bed for whatever reason and had made it to the kitchen before collapsing. He carefully gathered up that partner and carried him over to the couch. The pillow and blanket he had been using last night were still there. Laying Blair down, Jim adjusted the pillow under his head and pulled the blanket over him. He stood up and looked down at his smaller, suddenly almost fragile looking, responsibility. Then, shaking his head, he headed back to the door. After locking the door and securing the chain he picked up the grocery bags and walked into the kitchen.

As Jim was putting away the groceries he found himself becoming more and more annoyed at coming home to find his friend passed out on the kitchen floor. Annoyed with the whole situation concerning Blair. Annoyed with himself for leaving his sick Guide home alone. Annoyed with his partner for having gotten out of bed in his weakened condition. His growing annoyance coupled with a severe lack of sleep soon had the detective's all ready ragged nerves on edge and he soon found himself in a very foul mood. By then he was banging cabinet doors and muttering angrily to himself, unaware that he had an audience.

Blair was listening to Jim as he banged around the kitchen. He couldn't make out what the larger man was saying but he was sure it was concerning him. And he didn't sound happy. Probably something to do with coming home and finding him on the floor. He remembered getting dizzy and starting to black out. Jim had obviously put him on the couch. I bet Jim's sick and tired of me being such a nuisance. Subconsciously he curled himself up under the covers and burrowed down until only his eyes and the top of his head were visible, trying to make himself as small and unobtrusive as possible.

Jim left the kitchen and walked over to the couch. Seeing Blair awake and watching him, he stood over his roommate, folded his arms across his chest and glared. "Want to tell me the reason for the little stunt you pulled while I was gone?"

Blair's mouth felt like dry cotton and his throat was raw. He was still so thirsty. When he spoke his voice was hoarse. "Wha--" He swallowed and tried again. "What stunt?"

Jim's arms stayed folded, his expression never changed. "Getting out of bed alone. If you wanted something why didn't you wait until I got back?"

It really hurt to talk but something about Jim's attitude was starting scare Blair. He was afraid not to answer. "I-I had to go to the bathroom." His heart started to pound, unnoticed by the angry detective.

Jim's voice kept its hard edge, his eyes still pinned on the set of eyes just barely showing above the blanket. "Bathroom? You were in the kitchen when I found you. Face down. On the floor."

Blair tried to swallow again but his mouth was too dry. "I was really thirsty. I just wanted... some juice. I thought you were at work." He could barely croak out the words.

The raspy quality of Blair's voice finally registered with Jim. He had to be pretty dehydrated and probably awfully thirsty by now, since he obviously didn't get anything to drink earlier. He relented, just a little, since he still felt angry and frustrated. "What kind of juice do you want?"

Not wanting to upset to the obviously angry Jim any further, Blair tried to ignore his burning desire for something, anything to drink. "'s all right, I'm not thirsty anymore."

Jim's annoyance at his roommate flared again at the badly told lie. "Don't lie to me, Sandburg! Just tell me what kind of damn juice you want!"

Blair shut his eyes as he tried to shrink into the back cushions of the couch. A gnawing fear was growing in the pit of his stomach. Oh please God, no. Not now. When he opened his eyes again his voice was barely a whisper, "Any kind is fine."

He watched as Jim turned on his heel and headed back into the kitchen. A few minutes later, after more noise than was actually necessary, Jim returned with a full glass of juice. For a second Blair thought he was going to bang it onto the coffee table but Jim managed to set it down without spilling a drop. Standing up he looked back down at Blair, seemingly oblivious to his growing fear. "I'm going into the bathroom for a few minutes, when I come back I expect most, if not all, of that to be gone. Understand?" Blair just nodded, he didn't trust his voice enough to try to speak.

As Jim walked away Blair slowly sat up and lowered the blanket far enough to get his hands out. Reaching for the glass he realized that his hands were shaking so hard that even if he used both of them he would probably end up spilling most of the juice on the couch and floor. As badly as he wanted it, he absolutely could not risk making a mess right now. He also realized that there was another, even worse, risk here that he could not ignore. The way Jim was acting there was probably a very good chance that the Other Jim was going to appear again. As much as he had tried to be what Jim wanted for the past few days and not do anything to upset him, apparently his fainting was going to be enough to set him off again. It wasn't fair—he'd been sick, he couldn't help getting dizzy and passing out. Just how 'perfect' did Jim expect him to be? Obviously more than he was capable of being, no matter how hard he tried. He had to get out now, before Jim came back. He couldn't believe that he was actually going to try to sneak out past a Sentinel, especially in his current condition. But he didn't see as if he had any choice. There was no way he was going to be able to go through that again, mentally or physically. Pushing off the covers he slowly got to his feet. He swayed for a few seconds but remained upright. Okay, so far so good. Listening, he could hear water running in the bathroom sink. Now or never. Walking as quickly and quietly as he could, grateful he was in bare feet, he made it to the door, but just barely. As soon as he got there he could feel the dizziness returning, but he was determined not to give into it. He leaned his forehead against the door for support, using the fingertips of his left hand to hang on, willing his knees not to buckle. Raising up his right hand he blindly felt for the chain, his trembling fingers fumbling to get it off. Just before he would have managed to slip the chain through the metal slot he heard Jim's voice coming from somewhere behind him.

"Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"


Jim gave Blair his drink then headed towards the bathroom. He didn't know why he was so upset with Blair but knew he had to calm down before he said something they would both regret. Closing the door he put his hands on the edge of the sink and for the second time in less than a day stared at himself in the mirror. Yes, he looked tired and haggard, but however bad he was feeling Blair had to be feeling much worse. He had walked for hours in the freezing rain because YOU scared him out of the bullpen. Then he spends almost the entire night fighting a high fever only to wake up the next day weak, dehydrated and alone. He thought you had gone to work and left him on his own. Jim felt a shiver run through him. Coming home and finding Blair unconscious on the floor had scared him like few things ever had. Then on top of that was the almost overwhelming guilt of having left him alone to begin with. He looked back at himself in the mirror. What if he had had a relapse? What if he had hit his head when he fell? He must have been scared and confused when he woke up on the couch. Did you comfort him? Assure him that everything was all right? No. Instead you lit into him with both barrels. Turning your guilt on him and tried to make everything his fault. Jesus, all the poor kid wanted was something to drink. He's probably sitting out there right now wondering what the hell just happened. Pull yourself together, go out there and apologize. Of course Blair being Blair he'll probably forgive you, even if you don't deserve it. Jim turned on the faucet and started splashing cold water on his face, wanting to be sure he was in total control of himself before going out to face his, hopefully, forgiving friend. As he was drying his face he became aware of an out of place noise. It sounded like the chain on the front door.

As Jim walked out of the bathroom and into the living room he was stopped short by what he saw. Blair, dressed only in his sweats, bare footed, was leaning against the front door, trying to get the chain off. He looked like he could barely hold himself up. Before he could stop himself the words came out harsher than he had intended.

"Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"

Good going, Ellison. You come out to apologize and the first thing you do is yell at him again.

At the sound of Jim's voice Blair froze. Oh God Oh God. He slowly turned around and flattened himself against the door. Jim's face was unreadable. He couldn't tell if the bigger man was angry, shocked or surprised, maybe a combination of all three. Not knowing what else to do he just stood there, staring, as Jim slowly approach. His heart was pounding, it was hard to breathe and he didn't think he would be able to remain standing much longer. The knot in his stomach twisted as he realized that they were alone in the loft. How far would Jim go this time with no one to stop him? He hoped that whatever Jim did to him would be quick and not leave him so incapacitated that he wouldn't be able to leave later.

As Jim approached Blair he was shocked at what he saw. What little color there had been in his face had completely drained away. Even though his heart was beating way too fast, his breathing was too shallow and uneven. In his eyes was that same look of fear as before only magnified several times. Something was very definitely wrong here. He walked cautiously, his open hands out in front of him. Just he got near enough to be able to touch him, Blair squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head as if expecting to be struck. He spoke so softly Jim had to strain to hear.

"Don't. Please don't. I'm sorry."

Jim was surprised when he realized that those were almost exactly the same words Blair had used in his nightmare. But now he was saying them to him. "What, Chief? Don't do what? Tell me."

Not having felt the expected blow and hearing Jim talking to him, Blair partially opened his eyes then turned his head back towards Jim. His voice, though hoarse, was stronger than he actually felt. "Don't do this. Don't hurt me again. I'm sorry I passed out. I-I won't do it again, I promise." Because I'll be out of here by tomorrow. I can't do this anymore.

Jim watched Blair in confusion. Hurt him? Blair knows that I could never hurt him. And why is he apologizing for fainting? Then the extra word registered in his brain. Again. Blair said 'don't hurt me again.' The implication of what he was saying struck Jim like a blow to the stomach. Suddenly he was the one having a hard time breathing, even seeing.

"Oh my God. Blair, are you telling me that I'm the one who hurt you before? That I put those bruises on your back and arms?" Please say no. Say it was that Other Jim. Say it was anyone else. Please let me have misunderstood. He watched, stunned, as his partner, his Guide, his best friend nodded his head.

Now Blair was confused as he watched the obviously distraught Jim. Why was he acting as if he didn't already know all this? His eyes grew wide again as sudden understanding dawned in them. He doesn't remember! He doesn't remember doing it! He blocked the whole thing out. That's why he's been acting as if nothing happened—as far as he knew, nothing did. I know he's gonna ask. How do I tell him? What do I tell him? It was all too much right now. Blair closed his eyes and leaned his head back as dizziness finally overtook him. His knees buckled as he slid down the length of the door, ending up sitting against it, with his head in his hands. A low moan escaped without his even being aware of it.

Jim watched as Blair closed his eyes and slid down along the door. He was on one knee beside Blair almost before he hit the floor. The explanations he desperately needed would have to wait.

"Chief? What's wrong?"

"So... dizzy." Without realizing it, he reached out the nearest hand and anchored it on Jim's shoulder, still keeping his face buried in his other hand.

Jim looked up and saw the untouched glass of juice. Realizing that Blair was still suffering from dehydration and obviously pretty weak too, he turned back to his friend. "All right, Chief, we need to get you back to the couch and start getting some serious fluids into you. Think you can stand up?"

Blair gripped Jim's shoulder even tighter. Keeping his head down in his free hand he barely shook it. "No. Everything keeps... spinning around."

"Okay, not a problem."

Gently grabbing Blair's arms he placed them around his own neck. "Hold on." Sliding one arm under Blair's knees and the other across his back he once again lifted his partner up off the floor and carried him back to his original place on the couch, leaving him sitting up this time. Picking up the glass he went into the kitchen, poured the now warm juice down the drain and refilled it with cold juice. Coming back he held the glass in front of Blair.

"Two hands."

He kept hold of it until he was sure Blair had a good grip then let go. He stood and watched as Blair took a few big sips then emptied the glass without stopping. Not saying a word he took the empty glass back into the kitchen and refilled it. Handing it back to his partner he cautioned him, "Go slower this time. Just sip it. There's plenty more where that came from and the last thing you want to do now is to throw it all back up again." He was relieved when Blair nodded in agreement and proceeded to take a few smaller sips.

"Thanks."

Now that he finally had something cold and liquid down his throat it felt much better and his voice lost most of its hoarseness. He watched as Jim sat down on the far end of the smaller couch, obviously giving Blair the space he figured he needed right now.

Jim watched Blair closely as he continued to sip his drink. Much as he wanted to be closer to his partner, he was afraid to do anything that might frighten or upset him even more than he already was. His face wasn't quite as white as it was a few minutes ago, his breathing and heart rate were slowly returning to normal levels. Now that he had something to drink, his voice sounded better too. But it was Blair's eyes that concerned the detective. While they no longer had that almost terrified look in them of a few minutes ago, they were still wary as they watched him, as though his best friend still didn't trust him. He thought back to the look of absolute trust he had seen in his partner's eyes when Evans was holding him. Would he ever see that level of trust directed at him again? Whatever had happened, whatever he had done, must have occurred after that. He fought the urge to start hammering away with questions. Blair's welfare came first. Always.

"Chief? You feeling better? Still dizzy?"

Blair looked over at his partner. Jim looked miserable, barely able to look him in the eye. He tried to imagine what Jim was going through. What if he had just found out that he had hurt Jim and didn't even remember doing it? Just imagining it was painful. He also knew that because of Jim's physical size and training, the bigger man would be feeling even more guilty about what happened, knowing that his smaller, untrained partner would have had practically no way to defend himself. Apparently Jim wasn't going to push the issue. Good. Cause this was one of those rare times when he didn't want to talk about it. Not now. Not ever. But Jim would eventually want to know every little detail. A step-by-step account of exactly what happened. Hopefully he could put it off for at least a while longer.

"I'm all right now. Guess I just needed something to drink. Uh, maybe I'll just go back to bed now, you know, get some sleep." He put the now empty glass on the table and started to get up.

"Blair. Please."

The pleading in Jim's voice was something Blair had never heard before. The look in his eyes matched his voice. Blair sat back down. Reaching down he grabbed the blanket and pulled it securely around his chest, then settled into the corner of the couch. Picking up the pillow he hugged it in front of him. Closing his eyes he took a few deep, relaxing breaths while repeating his new manta, You can do this, to himself. When he felt ready he opened his eyes. You can do this. For Jim. He turned his eyes back to the man who was still the most important person in his life. Well, maybe after his Mom, but a damn close second. "What do you want to know?"

Jim's shoulders sagged slightly in relief. "Everything. I want to know, no, I need to know the truth, Chief. What happened? Did I really...? I-I can't even imagine myself... ever... not to you..." He turned his pleading eyes on Blair once more. "Tell me."

"I really don't know if I can do this, Jim. To tell you the truth man, I'm scared to even talk about it."

"Scared of what, Blair? Believe me, I'm the one who's scared here. Terrified in fact. Part of me wants to know what happened. And part of me is dreading any confirmation that I may have actually done the unthinkable, that I may have hurt you in any way. You know, don't you, that I don't remember anything? I have no idea what or when or where whatever I did actually happened. You've gotta help me out here, Chief. Please."

The look in Jim's eyes tore at Blair. It was obvious that he was really suffering over this. But would telling help him or just make him feel worse? Or would it do what he was really afraid of, make Jim remember whatever it was that he had done that had made Jim angry enough to attack him in the first place? Should he take that risk? As long as Jim didn't remember attacking him he wouldn't remember why he did it. It might be safer that way. He hugged the pillow tighter as indecision threatened to totally overwhelm him.

Jim could see the hesitation in Blair's eyes. Could hear his heart rate increase. Afraid that his roommate would shut himself down before they could even get started he decided to try a different, more indirect route. "Why didn't you tell somebody what happened... afterwards?"

That got an immediate and unexpected reaction from Blair. Some of the strain of the past several days finally began to show. He jerked his head up and stared at Jim with wide, incredulous eyes. He couldn't really be asking him this, could he? "And just who the hell was I supposed to talk to? You? Not hardly. Simon? Yeah right. I can just see that now, 'Hey Simon, Jim just beat the crap outta me, could you tell him not to do that anymore? I'd really appreciate it.' Or maybe I should have tracked down Naomi and cried to Mommy, 'Jim's hurting me, make him stop.' Face it Jim, there was nobody I could go to about this. Hell, I've been spending the last several days trying to figure out if this is some latent Sentinel thing that's just now making itself known or if you're just sick and tired of me hanging around and your true feelings were finally coming out. While at the same time trying not to do anything to piss you off and have you do it again."

One look at the combination of hurt and horror on Jim's face was enough to stop Blair's tirade. His ire died as quickly as it had begun. He was immediately appalled at what he had just said, at the anger in his voice when he said it. "Oh God Jim, I'm so sorry. I-I don't know what made me say all that. You don't need to be hearing all this right now." He dropped his eyes and lowered his voice. "I guess I'm just not handling all this very well. I'm sorry."

Jim looked at Blair's stricken face. He tried to imagine what it must have been like for him. To be physically assaulted by his larger partner, his Blessed Protector, and then have no one he felt he could turn to for help. To have to try to figure out what happened on his own. While at the same time still living and working with the very person who attacked him. God, no wonder Blair was so nervous and jumpy around him. He must have been scared to death ever since it happened. Scared of him. Wondering if it would happen again. No wonder he didn't want to talk about it. Okay, don't push him, just go slow. Let him tell it at his own pace.

"Don't apologize, Chief. You have nothing to be sorry about. As for not handling it, Jesus Blair, I don't know how you did it. Living here. Working with me every day. Knowing what I did to you." Jim looked down at this hands as though he had never seen them before, then looked back up at Blair. "I knew that something was wrong for the past several days but I just couldn't quite figure out what it was. Since it started around the same time that Evans... got you..." At the sound of the man's name Blair unconsciously put his hand on his neck. "... I thought that that was what was bothering you." He paused for a minute, "Can you at least tell me where and when?"

Blair looked at Jim for several long seconds, then answered him softly. "It happened a little while after you... took care of Evans."

Jim stared at his partner. "You mean it happened on the same night? You were hurt twice in one night?" The second time by me.

Blair nodded.

"Oh God, Chief." Jim felt like someone had plunged a knife into his gut and twisted it. He took a deep breath then hit his fist on his knee. "Why can't I remember? I hate not being able to remember anything."

"I wish I didn't." The words were barely breathed out loud. If Jim hadn't already been focused on Blair he might have missed them. He looked up at his friend. Blair was curled up in the far corner of the couch, under the blanket, arms wrapped around the pillow. He looked so sad and so alone that it took everything Jim had not to go over and put his arms around him. He's not even close to being ready for anything like that yet.

"I'm sorry, Chief. I know this isn't easy for you. I wish there was another way to do this, but you're the only one who knows what happened. Are you all right?"

Blair nodded, his voice just a little shaky as he answered, "Yeah. I guess so."

Jim watched him for a few seconds. When he was sure Blair was ready, he continued. "Okay then. How long after Evans? I don't understand, I mean Simon and the other cops were there the whole time. Wouldn't someone have seen or heard something?"

Blair shook his head. "Almost all of the cops were gone by then. It was after the paramedics treated my neck." Again he touched the cut running across his throat. Jim watched the unconscious motion then returned his eyes to his Guide's face. "I... I was waiting, for you, down by the truck. I was so ready to get out of there. The roadblock was gone. Simon and everybody else were still farther up the street. There wasn't anybody else around."

Jim could hear Blair's heart rate speed up; his breathing was becoming deeper and faster. This must be where and when it happened. He remembered seeing Blair leaning across the hood of the truck. Something tugged at his memory but he couldn't quite grasp it. "Go on." he urged quietly.

"I can't." Blair licked his now dry lips. "I'm afraid to tell you any more."

Jim was still confused. He could understand why talking about this would be painful and upsetting but why would Blair be afraid to talk to him about it? "Why, Chief? Why are you afraid?"

Blair looked at his bigger partner, his friend. In his face and eyes he saw concern, confusion and nervousness but no trace of anger. You've gone this far, you can't stop on him now. "Because... because when you attacked me..." he saw Jim flinch, "... you were so angry. It was that quiet, controlled kind of rage that's even scarier than the yelling, screaming kind. Even now I still don't know exactly what got you so mad. You were already angry when you walked up to me, so I never did find out exactly what I could have possibly done to get you that enraged. You seemed fine when I left you with Simon."

Blair looked down, using his index finger to draw imaginary designs on the pillow. His voice dropped. "You were so different. You but not you. It's hard to explain. I didn't know what to do. Nothing I said seemed to reach you. Even while you were... hurting me... you... didn't seem to care. It didn't bother you at all, I mean, what you were doing to me."

He took a deep breath and raised his voice closer to his normal level, but kept his head down. "Anyway, afterwards, I decided that the best thing to do would be, you know, since I didn't know why you had gotten so mad at me, would be not to do or say anything to remind you about what happened. I was afraid that if you thought about it again you might get angry all over again. I also decided to try not to do anything to get you mad or upset with me for any reason. You know, just to be safe. I was trying really hard to be, to act, the way you're always saying you want me to. You know, to be the perfect little Blair you and Simon keep saying you want me to be. Until tonight I thought I was doing all right." His voice dropped again. "I'm afraid that if I talk about, you might remember and... get mad again... now... and... and... you know..."

He slowly looked up at Jim. By now his voice was almost as hoarse as it had been earlier. He was also thirsty and his throat hurt again but he didn't dare move. How would Jim react to all this? Did he say too much? Why wasn't Jim saying anything? Did he just make him mad again anyway? Please God, just don't let him get angry.

Jim couldn't move or speak. What had he put Blair through? What was he still going through? Blair had just given him so much information he didn't know what to start processing first. But it did explain a lot of Blair's behavior for the past few days. He was right. Blair had spent the past several days being scared of him. Of him. Afraid that if he did anything the least bit wrong Jim would hurt him again. How could he have done that to him? To Blair. It hurt worse than if he had just found out that he had attacked his own brother. What could he have possibly done to his best friend to instill that much fear? He wanted to ask him but he had noticed that Blair's voice sounded almost as bad as it had before. He could see the fatigue lines around his eyes. It suddenly occurred to him that Blair was still just recovering from his feverish night and that he had just collapsed a short time ago. He should be in bed, not reliving what must have been a living nightmare for him. But they were so close. About the only thing they hadn't talked about yet was the actual attack itself. I don't want to know, but I have to know. What did I do my best friend, my Guide? Can I ever hope make it up to him? He got up and walked towards Blair. His heart ached when he saw his friend's eyes grow slighter wider with that same fear in them again, watched as Blair unconsciously shrank back into the couch, hugging the pillow even tighter against himself. Reaching down and picking up the empty glass he made it a point to speak softly, "It's all right, Blair, I'm just going to get you some more juice, okay?"

Blair had to swallow before he could answer. "Okay." His heart almost stopped when Jim first got up. He thought for sure he had pissed him off, telling him everything that he just had. When he came towards him, he thought it was all over. Then Jim said he was just going to get him some more juice. He released the breath he'd been holding in a small sigh of relief. He had told Jim almost everything now, so far no adverse reaction. But how would he handle hearing about the attack itself? In fact, Blair thought, how will I handle talking about it? Oh man, I really don't want to do this anymore.

Jim stood in the kitchen, looking into the glass of juice on the counter in front of him. He had been thinking about everything Blair had just told him, but now he found himself fascinated by the minute incandescent swirls of color in the juice. The rest of the world began to disappear as he stared at all the different glittery shades. They became his whole world. The colors moved slowly all around him. They were above him, below him and even seemed to go through him. He kept watching them because nothing else existed. Then, dimly, he became aware of a voice calling him. Not just 'a' voice but 'the' voice, the one he always had to follow when it called. He followed the sound back through the swirling colors until he suddenly felt air rush into his lungs. He gasped at the sudden sensation and found himself standing in the kitchen of the loft. There was a familiar warm pressure on his shoulder and he used it to anchor himself as he felt himself slowly coming back into focus. Hearing 'the voice' again he instinctively turned towards it. "That's it, Jim. Come on back. Follow my voice." He blinked a few times and found himself staring into the very worried looking face of his Guide. "Jim? You all right, man? Come on big guy, talk to me cause I am like seriously freakin' out here, ya know?"

"I'm fine."

He watched as Blair's whole body relaxed as he breathed a sigh of relief, he also noticed that the hand stayed on his shoulder. "Jim." He noted that Blair's voice was trembling, "Do you know that you were zoned for almost ten full minutes? You weren't breathing for like the last minute or so. I was like really getting scared there." Jim realized that more than Blair's voice was trembling. Picking up the glass he looked closely inside but the colors were gone now. He handed it to his gravelly voiced Guide. "Here. Drink."

Blair took the glass with both hands and looked inside it. Not seeing anything unusual he looked back at Jim, his eyes full of curiosity. "What did you see?" "Drink now. Talk later."

Blair looked back up at Jim. "You do know that you're talking just like Tonto don't you? New side effect of a deep zone out?"

When Jim lowered his eyebrows at his smaller partner in a mock glare Blair quickly raised the glass to his mouth and started to drink. Jim looked closely—was that just the smallest twinkle in his Guide's eyes? God I hope so, he really needs to laugh again. And I really need to hear him laugh again. It was then that he realized that even though Blair's hand was no longer on his shoulder, he hadn't left Jim's side since he came out of the zone out. It was the longest that Blair had stayed this close to him since this whole nightmare began. And he had actually cracked a joke about the side effect of the zone out. Apparently Blair, in full Guide mode, had overcome all the fear he was feeling earlier. He was so focused on his 'Sentinel' that he seemed to have completely forgotten that he was afraid of 'Jim'. If only he could keep him this way 24/7. Even as he thought it though, Jim shook his head. Even if the Guide wasn't afraid of the Sentinel, Blair was obviously still afraid of Jim. And that was totally unacceptable. The only way he could see them even starting to get past this, was to finish what they had started earlier.

"Hey, Jim?"

He looked down to see two concerned blue eyes looking up at him. "You're not zoning on me again, are you?"

"No, just thinking." He smiled to himself. Full Guide mode. No fear.

The concern turned into relief. "Good. By the way just what did you zone on? When you didn't come back I looked into the kitchen and you were just staring into that glass."

"Colors. I was thinking hard about what you had just told me and I just happened to glance into the glass. There were all these different colors moving around in the juice. I'd never noticed anything like that before. I couldn't stop looking at them. Now they're gone"

Blair's eyes grew wide with excitement. "Okay, so you were concentrating on something and then you saw colors." He turned to leave the kitchen. "This is something new! Don't move while I go get my notebook and tape—" He was stopped short when he walked into an immovable object, also known as Jim Ellison's arm, that was stretched across his chest. "Jiiim, what are you doing? This could be important. We have to get it all down now, while it's still fresh in your mind. Come on man, move the road block."

Instead of moving his arm, Jim slid it up Blair's arm until his fingers gripped his shoulder. Taking hold of Blair's other shoulder as well Jim turned his Guide until they were facing each other. "Blair, listen to me. I don't give a damn about seeing colors. Hell, I don't give a damn if I start seeing celestial visions. The only thing that is important right now is you. What happened to you earlier this week and what you've been going through ever since. Everything else is irrelevant."

Jim watched as the excitement died in Blair's eyes, replaced by a look of total disappointment. He could feel the shoulders slump under his hands. Blair's head dropped as his eyes turned down to look at the floor. A soft sigh of resignation floated up to him. Damn, he thought, I can't do this to him. Not now.

"Look, I'll make a deal with you. We finish this conversation first. Get everything out in the open, talk about it, deal with it. Then later, when we're done, I'll give you a blow by blow description of my zone out and you can even, God help me for saying this, run a few tests if you want to." He watched as Blair's head jerked up, eyes wide with surprise and anticipation. Yep, that was the magic word all right. "You know, Chief, it really makes me nervous how your eyes light up at just the mention of the word 'test'.

Blair took a deep breath as he took a step back, his hands already starting to fly around, trying to keep pace with his words. "No, Jim, it'll be good, really. Okay, first we have to find a quiet place. Here or maybe the lab would be better, fewer distractions. Next something for you to focus on, like you did the juice. You know like a white piece of paper. Don't worry, I'll think of something. Of course the hard part will be finding something for you to concentrate on deeply enough to actually trigger a zone out. We may have to work on that. And then—"

Blair stopped abruptly as Jim's two fingers covered his lips. "How on earth can you talk for so long without breathing?" Blair just lifted his eyebrows and shrugged. "Anyway, the deal was, Darwin, that we finish this conversation first before you get to play lab rat with me, remember?" As much as he was enjoying seeing some of 'his' Blair again, they still had a lot of ground left to cover tonight. He took Blair by the shoulders again, turned him towards the living room and gave him a slight push. "Couch."

With an exaggerated sigh Blair started walking, with Jim right behind him. "So how come you always get your way?"

"Because I'm older and wiser."

"Well," Jim heard Blair mutter under his breath, "you got it half right anyway."

Jim's hand came up automatically and without even thinking about it he cuffed Blair smartly on the back of his head. "Smartass."

He watched as Blair unexpectedly sank to his knees, propping himself up with his arms. "Very funny, Sandburg. But you're not getting out of it."

Blair didn't move. He couldn't move. One second he was fine, he and Jim were actually joking around, just like before, and the next second his head exploded with a blinding white pain. A roaring sound filled his ears. He found himself on the floor, gasping for air. The only things he was even remotely conscious of was the pain in his head and the roaring in his ears.

Jim looked down at his unmoving Guide. Then he became aware of the wildly pounding heart, the short panting gasps for air. He rushed around and knelt directly in front of Blair. Blair's eyes were wide open, wet with unshed tears of pain, staring unseeing at the floor. Beads of perspiration dotted across his forehead. Jim reached out and put his hands on his partner's upper arms, just below the shoulders.

"Blair! What's wrong?"

There was no answer except for the ragged panting.

Jim could feel the panic rising up in him. "Chief! Can you hear me? What happened?"

Slowly the original excruciating pain in his head began to lessen to a dull pounding, the roaring fading away. Blair became aware of the hands gripping his arms; he could hear Jim's frightened voice. He blinked a few times as his eyes began to focus again, but he still kept his head down, afraid of what any movement might bring. "J-Jim?"

Jim felt almost weak with relief at hearing Blair's voice. "I'm right here, Chief. What happened? Are you all right?"

Although his vision was returning and his heart rate was slowing down, Blair still couldn't quite catch his breath. "Head... hurts... bad."

Jim was lost. "I don't get it, Blair, I can't count how many times I've popped you on the head. This has never happened before. What happened? What did I do?"

Blair could hear the confusion and pain in Jim's voice. Carefully reaching out Blair grabbed both of Jim's upper arms for support. He slowly lifted his face to Jim's. "Different... this time... already hurt."

Jim's confusion turned to understanding then overwhelming guilt. He had already figured out that Blair's injuries were caused by someone, no not someone—him, grabbing Blair and slamming him into a wall or something. That type of attack could also cause the back of the victim's head to also slam against the same surface at the same time. And he had obviously done it to Blair more than once. And now he had just hit Blair, again, in the same place. He had to check and see how badly Blair was hurt. "Chief, I have to feel the back of your head. To see how bad it is."

Just the thought of that initial pain coming back caused Blair's heart rate to jump, his breathing neared hyperventilation. His eyes pleaded with Jim. "No... no... don't... touch it... please."

Jim almost relented, but it was too important that he find out the extent of the injury. "I promise, Chief, I'll be very, very careful. But I have to see how serious this is. Please?"

Seeing how important this was to Jim, Blair barely nodded his head then tightly closed his eyes in anticipation of more pain. Jim felt the grip on his upper arms tighten. He dreaded the thought of causing Blair any more pain but this had to be done. Raising his right hand he lightly put his fingertips on the back of Blair's head, starting near the top of his skull. He slowly and carefully moved them downwards. As he neared the center he could feel the heat from the injury. A second later he felt the outer edges of the bump. At the same instant his fingers touched it he heard a small gasp from Blair and felt him tense up, his grip tightened even more but he didn't move. With a tenderness few people would have believed could come from Jim Ellison, his sensitive fingers determined the length, width, depth and tenderness of the bump. He was relieved to find no breaks in the skin, no excessive bruising or swelling or any other signs of any serious problems. After assessing the damage he continued to examine downwards checking for any secondary injuries. Satisfied that there were no other injuries he put his hand back on Blair's shoulder.

"That wasn't too bad was it? Everything seems to be all right. Are you all right?"

Blair opened his eyes and tried to smile. "I think... I'll live. Help me up."

Tightening his grip on Blair's arms Jim slowly stood up, bringing Blair with him. When they were standing he looked closely at Blair, concerned when he swayed for a second, then closed his eyes. Before Jim could do anything Blair surprised him by taking a step forward and, still holding on to Jim's upper arms, laid his forehead on Jim's chest. A small "Whoa" came out of him.

Jim looked down. "Blair? What's the matter?"

"Nothing. Unexpected headrush. Just gimme a minute, I'll be fine."

"Where are your shoes?"

"Shoes? Why do I need—? Uh-uh. No way, man. No hospital. I told you I'm fine. See?" He tried to take a step back, but found his shoulders firmly pinned against Jim. "Uh, Jim?"

"You're not 'fine'. You could have had a concussion all week; God only knows what this just did to you. You should have been monitored for a while right after it first happened. Even you know how important that is. You need to be examined for any possible head injury."

"Jim." Realizing that he couldn't move away, Jim still had a firm grip on his shoulders, Blair put his cheek on Jim's chest. "I was monitored when it happened. I didn't have a concussion. And I am fine now. The headrush is gone, I feel a lot better already. It doesn't even hurt that much anymore."

"What do mean you were monitored? We came straight back here. You never went to the hospital and I couldn't have done it. How then?"

Blair sighed, indicating that this wasn't something he had meant to come out. "I did it. Myself. When I went to bed that night I set my alarm clock to keep going off every couple of hours. I would wake up and check myself for all the symptoms of a concussion or head injury. And yes I know what to look for, I should, you taught me. Anyway, I didn't have any signs of any kind of serious head injury. So let's just drop it, all right? I. Am. Fine."

Jim thought back to that night. Blair's alarm going off all night. Only he wasn't worried about nightmares, no, he was checking himself for signs of a head injury. That should have been his job. Taking care of Blair was his responsibility. Only this time he was the cause of Blair's injury, the reason for his having to monitor himself. How much more had Blair gone through because of him that he still didn't know about? He needed to make sure that Blair was all right now. "What about since then? How about now? Any nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, headaches? Be prepared because as of right now I am monitoring you. In fact... let me see your eyes."

"Trust me, they're still blue. Or are you suddenly trying to get romantic, cause I hate to break it to you big guy, but you are definitely not my type."

"You're real funny, Sandburg. Come on, Chief, look up." He carefully took a step back from Blair but never took his hands off of him. Blair looked up at him with an 'are you happy now?' expression on his face. Jim ignored the look and peered closely into Blair's eyes, looking for any cloudiness, unfocusing and especially unequal pupils. Until Blair crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue.

"SANDBURG!"

"Awww, come on Jim, you were looking waay too serious there. So, are they PEARL?"

"What?"

"You know PEARL. Pupils Equal And Reactive to Light. You're a former medic, you should know this stuff."

"I do. I was just surprised that you'd know something like that. Not exactly what they teach in anthropology courses."

"Nah. I learned it from Karen during a totally unnecessary ambulance trip that somebody insisted I take. She taught me all kinds of neat EMS stuff. Did you know that an ambulance is like a mini pre-hospital ER on wheels? You wouldn't believe all the equipment and supplies they can fit in them. And they have to fill out just as much paperwork on each patient as you, or should I say I, do on each perp. She was doing one of her reports during the trip, that's when she taught me some of the abbreviations they use. Like PEARL for checking pupil reactions. And you know, BP for blood pressure, VS for vital signs, O2 for oxygen, FX for fracture, LOC means loss of consciousness and lots more. There are even symbols that mean whole words or terms. I'll bet as a former medic you have all kinds of interesting conversations during your ambulance trips."

Again Jim was in awe at his partner's mind. It never stopped. Usually he was so busy fighting the EMTs it never occurred to him to actually hold a conversation, let alone learn their names. Leave it to Blair to turn an ambulance trip into a learning experience. He would just file the new information away until he needed some or all of it. Like just now. He sighed. Well obviously there was nothing wrong with Blair's head right now. It was almost impossible to believe that less than ten minutes ago he was on the floor in pain and now he was sticking his tongue out at him and giving him a lecture on the wonders of Emergency Medicine. But even Blair had to be reaching his limits by now. It was getting pretty dark outside, it had still been late afternoon when he had come home and found his partner on the kitchen floor. How long has Blair been up now? He must be exhausted, although he certainly wasn't acting tired. He also realized that Blair hadn't had anything to eat since that bowl of soup last night. It had to be getting close to 24 hours since then. Yeah Ellison, you're taking real good care of him aren't you? First scare the hell out of him then keep him up talking when he should be in bed and then don't even feed him the whole time. Haven't you done enough to him already tonight? Time to start acting like his Blessed Protector again. He desperately wanted answers to his questions, needed to find out exactly what had happened that night, but not at the expense of Blair's health. He had obviously hurt his Guide, some thing he already knew he would never forgive himself for, no way would he make Blair worse by allowing him to possibly suffer a relapse of his earlier illness.

"Okay, Chief, no hospital, for now. But if I see even one tiny symptom, you're going, no matter what. As for now, you need to be in bed. You've been up much too long. And you haven't eaten since last night. How's your head? Do you feel up to something quick to eat or do you want to go right back to bed now?"

"Bed? Bed? Are you kidding? I feel so wide-awake I'm practically wired. Strange, huh? I mean I know I should be dead on my feet, right? But I feel like something's changed, something's different somehow. I feel different. Don't look at me like that, it has nothing to do with the bump on the head." He stopped when he saw Jim's pained expression at the mention of his newest injury. He placed his hand on Jim's chest and looked up at him, lowering his voice. "Hey, it's all right, you didn't know. I know you wouldn't do something like that deliberately. I also know that you weren't yourself when you hurt me the first time." Suddenly his eyes grew wide. "That's it! That's what's different! It's not what I'm feeling but what I'm NOT feeling. And when it happened."

Blair was switching gears so fast Jim was having a hard time keeping up. But he was sure that somewhere in there he had heard him say he didn't blame him for what happened. "Slow down, Chief, you're losing me here. Are you saying it's what you're not feeling that's keeping you awake?"

"Exactly. I'm not feeling scared. Of you. I've spent the past few days practically afraid to breathe too loud around you. I was afraid that any little thing might set you off again. Even earlier tonight, just talking about it, I was afraid of how you would react. Until I saw that you had zoned. Then I wasn't scared at all. Nothing mattered except bringing you back. Even afterwards, even now, the fear is just... gone. Almost like it had never been there. It-it feels like this big weight's been lifted off of me. Like suddenly I can breathe easier. I feel... I feel, oh man, what's that expression? Giddy with relief. Yeah. Giddy. I guess that's why I've been acting a little silly. Am I making any sense to you at all?"

"Actually, Chief, I'd already noticed the same thing."

Blair's eyes widened again, "You did? Really? When?"

"Right after I came out of the zone out. I noticed that you were staying right beside me, not moving away like you had been. I also noticed that you weren't afraid of me anymore. I put it down to your being in full Guide mode, you know, being a Guide right then overrode being afraid."

Blair stared up at Jim then smiled, "Hey, you keep figuring out stuff like that on your own, you're not gonna need me around any more." Suddenly he found his face being tilted upwards, captured between two strong hands. A pair of intense blue eyes were staring into his. "Don't ever, ever say that, Blair. Not even kidding around."

"Okay, Jim, I'm sorry. Besides..." A small smile crept across Blair's face, "... I know my work here won't be done until... I get you out of those tacky white socks."

Jim couldn't help laughing as he let go of Blair's face. If white socks were what it took to keep his Guide by his side, then he would never buy anything but white again. "You're just full of it tonight, aren't you, Junior?"

Blair shrugged, suddenly a lot quieter. "For as long as this lasts."

Jim noticed the sudden change in Blair's demeanor. "What do you mean, Chief?"

"Well, right now I'm feeling pretty good. Better than I've felt for days now. Maybe it is some kind of residual after effect from guiding you out of that deep zone out or something like that. But I don't know how I'm going to feel tomorrow. I could wake up and be just as scared of you as I was yesterday. Well, no, probably not as scared. Talking about this and having it all finally out in the open changes everything. But this whole thing is not something I can just tell myself 'Get over it, Sandburg' and everything will be like it was before." Blair dropped his eyes and his voice. "I'm just so damn tired of being scared all the time."

Jim looked down at the suddenly subdued Blair. He lightly placed both hands on the tops of Blair's shoulders. "I don't want you to ever be afraid of me, Chief. A mad, annoyed, angry, pissed off even exasperated Blair I can deal with, but afraid? Of me? No way. I can't stand it. I don't know what to do, what to say to make you feel better. I feel so damn helpless. We are going to get through this, aren't we?" The same horrible, nagging thoughts he had before crossed his mind again. "I mean, are you going to... are you thinking about... leaving?"

Blair jerked his head up as he hastened to reassure his suddenly panicky Sentinel. Jim always seemed to jump to the worst possible conclusion about everything. "Yes, we are and no, I'm not. I don't know what will happen, if this will permanently affect our relationship or not. All I can really think about right now is tonight, what we're doing now to try to start working through this. We'll just have to deal with tomorrow tomorrow." A small sigh escaped. "Oh well, at least I don't have to pretend anymore that's nothings wrong—that's a big relief in itself." He reached up and grabbed one of Jim's wrists with both of his hands and started edging towards the couch. "Come on."

Jim allowed himself to be pulled. He had already decided to let Blair take the lead in whatever he wanted to do or talk about. "Now what?"

"We had a deal remember? To talk about everything that happened. We're not anywhere near finished yet. I need to do this now, tonight, while I still feel somewhat comfortable talking to you about it and before my body finally realizes that it should have been back in bed hours ago. And I especially need to get back under the blanket cause man, my feet are freezing." The subdued Blair was gone, replaced again by the 'new' cocky Guide.

Jim sat in the middle of the sofa and watched with amusement as Blair sat sideways on the cushion to his left, right beside him, facing him and crossed his feet up under his legs. That seemed to be his favorite way of sitting. He then began pulling the blanket over his legs and around his waist, carefully adjusting it just so. Once the blanket was arranged to his satisfaction, he picked up the pillow but instead of holding it in front of himself again, he laid it across his knees and rested his elbows and forearms on it. Jim found himself relaxing a bit more around the new 'old' Blair.

"How are you feeling? How's your head feel? Still hurt?"

"Jim, relax. I told you, I feel fine. Really."

Jim turned his head and looked closely at the man sitting beside him. He didn't see any indications of pain or dizziness. But he was still going to keep a close eye on him. "Why aren't you wearing any socks, Chief?" It was unusual for his cold natured roommate not to have on socks while in the loft.

Blair thought for a second. "Oh yeah, when I was getting dressed earlier, every time I leaned over to put them on I got dizzy so I just left them off. Which reminds me. I need to ask you about a few things before we get started."

"Such as?"

"Well, for starters, when I woke up I noticed a new comforter on the bed. It's not mine."

"It is now. I'd forgotten all about it until last night, I've had it in my closet for a while. It was a present from someone but I never use it. I figured you'd get more use out of it."

"Really? Cool. Thanks. The other thing is that I was... uh... naked when I woke up."

Jim smiled. "As the day you were born."

"Care to enlighten me? I can usually remember what happened when I wake up naked in bed."

Jim turned to Blair with a hurt look on his face. "You don't remember? Chief, I'm crushed."

"Jiiim!" Blair reached out and smacked the bigger man's arm. "Besides, I already told you, you're not my type."

Unable to hide his smile any longer Jim then proceeded to tell Blair about his long feverish night.

"Wow. Fever spiked three times huh? No wonder I still felt so tired when I got up. But... uh... Jim, not that I don't appreciate what you did for me, cause I do, really, I do, but did I like... have to be totally naked?"

"Yep." Jim held up his hand like he was taking an oath. "But I swear I didn't touch anything that wasn't medically necessary."

"What do you mean by 'medically necessary'?"

Jim crossed his arms and deliberately looked up and away from Blair. "And that is all I'm gonna say about it."

Blair scrunched his face into a pout. "Fine. Be that way. I'll just use my vivid imagination to fill in the blanks."

They looked at each other then burst out laughing at the same time. Jim thought to himself how good it was to finally hear his friend really laugh again.

"Damn." Blair took the pillow off his lap and started to unwrap the carefully arranged blanket.

"What's the matter?"

"My throat still hurts a bit. If we're going to talk for while, and believe me we are, I need something to drink."

Jim knew if Blair admitted it hurt 'a bit' then it must be pretty sore. "Stay wrapped up. I'll get you something. Last thing we need is for you to come down with pneumonia too." He got up and walked towards the kitchen.

"Well, actually, I still need to get up."

"Stay put. Whatever it is I'll get it."

"Can't help this time, big guy. Remember all that juice you made me drink earlier? It's coming back to haunt me."

From the kitchen Jim watched Blair untangle himself from the blanket and stand up. He breathed a small sigh of relief when Blair showed no signs of dizziness or 'headrush'. "As long as you're up, stop in your room and put on some socks." He grinned as he heard Blair muttering about having two mothers but he knew that the cold feet would be wearing socks when he returned.

When Blair returned to the couch, his feet now covered by the same warm socks Jim had put out for him earlier, he saw that, besides a glass of juice, there was also a sandwich sitting on the coffee table. Jim was leaning back in the same spot he had been sitting in previously, holding a bottle of beer. He quickly resettled himself as before, with the blanket and pillow, sitting sideways on the sofa so he was facing Jim's left side again. Twisting a bit he managed to reach over and pick up the plate holding the sandwich. Holding the plate at eye level with one hand, he lifted up the top slice of bread and looked inside. Lean turkey slices, with the organically grown lettuce and tomatoes and just a touch of honey mustard on all natural multi-grain bread. Cool. Trust Jim to know what I like.

"I trust that meets with your gourmet tastes?"

Blair had already taken a bite, he tried to talk as he chewed. "It's great Jim, thanks. I didn't even realize I was hungry until I saw it."

Jim shook his head as he watched Blair eat. As brilliant as Blair was, he often had no real concept of how to take care of himself. He had found out by accident that Blair actually had to set an alarm clock to remind himself to stop working late at night and go to bed. And he often ignored the alarm clock. Eating was something he did if he had time or if someone reminded him to. Overburdened and overworked were the norm for him. It was not unusual to come downstairs in the morning and find the exhausted grad student sound asleep at the kitchen table surrounded by papers, books and his laptop when he just couldn't stay awake during another late night. Yet he would wake up and put in another full day, splitting his time between the University and working with him. No wonder that the extra hectic weeks during finals had taken such a toll on him, his normal schedule would exhaust most of the Army Rangers he knew. Well if Blair Sandburg wouldn't look after himself, it would now be his job to do it for him. Jim grinned. If Blair thought that Blessed Protector mode was over protective, wait until he got a load of full blown Mother Hen mode, as Blair himself called it whenever he fussed over him. Regular meals and a full night's sleep were going to be the new norm rather than the exception, no matter how much Blair objected. At least I won't have to start tonight. Blair's plate was empty and his glass almost the same. Jim got up and took the plate and glass into the kitchen along with his empty beer bottle, returning with a full glass of juice, which he placed on the coffee table.

"Awww c'mon man, my eyeballs are gonna to be floating."

"Good. Then I'll know when you're not dehydrated any more."

Jim stood looking down at his Guide. Blair was sitting sideways on the sofa. Blanket wrapped completely around his lower torso, his partner really did hate being cold, pillow across his knees. He looked totally at ease. It seemed so long since he had looked so relaxed that Jim was almost reluctant to bring up what would surely be the most painful part of their discussion. But it had to be done if they were to fully get over what happened and be able to move on. Their whole future relationship depended on their working through this. And as Blair himself had said, tomorrow he may not be able to discuss it as easily and openly as he apparently could tonight. He decided to try something. When he sat back down it was even closer to Blair than before, his leg barely an inch from the pillow in Blair's lap. Definitely well inside Blair's personal space. Nothing. Blair didn't seem fazed at all by their close proximity. So far, so good, he thought, now, first things first. He turned slightly to his left so he was facing more towards his partner.

"How do you feel? Tired? Headache?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Not again. I feel fine Jim, really. Tell you what. You quit asking me every five minutes and if anything does change you'll be the first to know." Like you wouldn't know immediately anyway. "I mean it's not like you're not constantly monitoring me anyway, right? Bet you can even tell me my heart rate and respirations right now, can't you?" He looked expectantly at Jim.

"Eighty-two and eighteen and no more tests, Sneak."

Blair looked triumphant, then he was off on a tangent. "Yesss! I knew you could do it. I bet with a little practice you can do blood pressure too. Can you imagine a hospital where the doctors and nurses can take vital signs just by monitoring the patient? Now if they could just do something about needles. Those really suck, big time. Hey! Could you tell how high my temperature was just by touch? Next time I get sick we'll use a thermometer too, you know, to compare it with your sense of touch. Oh man, I just thought about a new way to test—"

"Blair!"

"What?"

"Breathe."

"Oh yeah. I'm good, like I was saying we can—"

Blair suddenly found one large hand wrapped around his mouth and another around the base of his skull.

"How did we get from 'How do you feel?' to all this? Never mind, why do I even bother asking? Listen, Chief, all of this is fine for another time but not now, okay?"

Blair could only nod his head. Jim slowly removed his hands, relieved when no more words came forth. He had been very careful not to touch the back of Blair's head or to hold him too tightly but now he was worried how Blair would react to his suddenly grabbing him. It seemed like his hands had acted before his brain could figure out what they were going to do. Blair's eyes had widened a bit when Jim's hands first wrapped themselves around his head, but other that he seemed fine. He looked up at the larger man with a faint hint of amusement in those eyes.

"You know a simple 'Shut up, Sandburg' probably would have worked just as well."

Jim raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"Okay, okay. I said 'probably'. Now what?"

I guess we need to just go on and finish this up. You sure you're up to this?"

"Yeah. I guess so. It's just that things are going so good with us right now I just kinda hate to break the mood, you know?" Blair sighed. "So why don't you tell me everything you remember from that night starting with after you suggested I go wait for you in the truck. Then I'll tell you what I remember."

Jim looked at Blair. He looked calm enough, in as much as Blair could look calm. His heart rate was barely elevated, breathing was normal enough. Reassured that his Guide was at least handling starting it all well enough Jim began his recollections of the night in question.

"Let me think for a minute."

Without realizing it he had placed his forearm on Blair's pillow. He didn't seem to be aware of it when Blair wrapped one hand around his wrist and was slowly moving the four fingers of his other hand up and down his arm, grounding him as he concentrated on his memory. Blair slipped into his Guide voice. "Just sit back, relax and let the memories come naturally. Don't try to force anything. You're back on the street, Evans is gone... It's just you, me and Simon. You suggested I go wait in the truck, I leave. Then what happened?" He kept rubbing Jim's arm.

Jim had his eyes closed, his head resting on the back of the couch. "Simon and I are standing around talking."

"What about?"

"Doesn't matter."

"Jim, anything could be important here. You can't leave anything out. What were you and Simon talking about?"

"You. I was afraid that this ordeal with Evans might be the incident that causes you to leave, to say that it's not worth it any more. Simon said that if you haven't left already, after everything that's happened to you, you probably wouldn't now." He paused. "I... I was hoping he was right."

Blair was surprised by the admission. Was Jim really afraid that he would leave? He always felt it would be Jim who would kick him out. No time for that now. But definitely a conversation for later. "It's all right, Jim. I'm right here. Feel my fingers moving on your arm? Just concentrate on my fingers. Good. All right, then what happened?"

"Um, Simon got called away farther up the street. One of the uniforms came up to me to ask about leaving someone at the hideout to keep the neighbors away. After he left I turned to check on you. You weren't in the truck; you were leaning across the hood, looking up the street. You looked like you were deep in thought. I wondered what must be going through your mind right then. Then you... then you..."

Blair could feel Jim's arm tense up under his hands. He slid his fingers from Jim's wrist over his hand into his palm, feeling Jim wrap his long fingers around his. His other set of fingers never stopped their constant motion up and down the taunt, muscled forearm. His tone was soft and calming. "It's okay, Jim. Relax. What did I do?"

"You-you laughed Chief. Oh my God. That man had just slit your throat and you were laughing. I-I couldn't believe it. Didn't you realize how close it really was this time? He actually cut you. He had actually gotten you into the car. If his hand had slipped, if my aim had been even a little off..."

Jim was squeezing Blair's fingers so hard it hurt but he didn't move anything except those same four fingers—up and down, up and down. Blair kept his voice was low and soothing. "But everything turned out all right. I'm fine. Go on now."

Lulled into a more relaxed state by his Guide's voice and fingers Jim was able to continue. "Suddenly everything got all mixed up... in my head. I was scared to death at how close I had come to losing you but at the same time I was also so angry with you for putting yourself in that situation. I'm not sure how long I stood there, going back and forth between terrified and furious, probably not as long as it seemed. Finally I decided that I had to make you understand that you were never, ever to do something like that again. I was prepared to give you the dressing down of your life. Right there in front of Simon and everyone." Jim swallowed hard. Without moving his head or opening his eyes he lowered his voice. "You do believe me don't you? That all I meant to do was yell at you?"

Blair wanted to reassure Jim but he also didn't want him to lose his concentration. "Yes," he barely whispered, "I believe you. What happened next?"

Relieved by Blair's answer Jim slightly loosened his grip on his Guide's fingers. "I... uh... started walking towards the truck, you were still standing there."

He became aware of Blair's increased heart rate and breathing, he knew this is when it must have happened. But Blair didn't try to pull his hand away and those soft fingers kept lightly stroking his arm. Continuing to monitor his partner, knowing he would stop if it seemed to be getting too much for Blair, he continued. "Everything seemed to get hazy, like the truck was in a fog. I think it even made you look different somehow. I remember walking towards the truck, then the next thing I remember—" Jim got a puzzled looked on his face, "—is Simon calling me. And I was already at the truck. Then I remember looking down at you. You looked upset, kinda shaky, but I just assumed it was because had I just yelled at you pretty hard. You know, now that I think about it, it didn't even seem strange at the time that I didn't even remember yelling. I just assumed that I had. Then I said something about us leaving after I talked to Simon. I met with Simon, that's when he told me we could come in late the next day. When I got back to the truck you were already in it and then we left." Jim paused. "You know, when I got back to the truck, after talking to Simon, I didn't even remember ever having been upset with you, I didn't even remember that I was supposed to have just chewed you out. It was as if none of that had ever happened. I can't explain it. This is the first time that I remember any of that part, the first time I've even thought about it since that night."

Jim turned his head to look at Blair. "I swear, Chief, that's everything I remember. All of it." He didn't want to ask the next question but he had to know. "Do you believe me? About everything? Do you really believe that I don't remember hurting you, that I still can't believe I ever could?" He kept a firm grip on Blair's hand as he waited, it almost felt as if his whole life now depended on Blair's answer.

Blair looked closely at Jim. There was that desperate look in the big man's eyes again that was totally out of character for him. Jim was never desperate, never out of control. He knew Jim was telling the truth. Giving Jim's hand a small, reassuring squeeze he answered softly. "I do believe you, Jim, I really do."

Jim's whole body relaxed as relief coursed through him. Blair believed him. Everything was going to be all right now. Then he heard Blair continue talking.

"Unfortunately, Jim, I also do remember all the parts that you don't. And I don't know how to get past that. What happened that night was probably the scariest thing that's ever happened to me. Not just because I got hurt, I've been hurt physically before." More times than you'll ever know about. "But because it was you doing it to me this time."

Blair took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Let me try to explain where I'm coming from here. You see, being smaller than the other kids all my life I've been picked on ever since I can remember. And since I was always the new kid in school it was practically inevitable. Bullies just seemed to gravitate towards me. It didn't stop at the elementary school level either. In high school and even into collage I was easy pickings for guys who wanted to show off how 'tough' and 'macho' they were. Between Naomi's lectures about non-violence and just being physically smaller than them anyway, fighting back usually wasn't a good option." For a few seconds Blair's eyes took on a rare hard glint, then they returned to their normal soft look. "Then you came along. When you first threw me up against the wall in my office I thought you were just like all those other bullies I had dealt with all my life. I was scared to death of you, you were by far the biggest bully I had ever encountered. But you were also a Sentinel, probably the only one I would ever find and I was so not about to let you get away. So I followed you out and the rest, as they say, is history." He paused. "Anyway, to make a long story even longer, you eventually became, at least in my mind, the protective big brother I'd always wished for when I was growing up. You know, the one who would keep the bullies and... the others... away. When I'm with you I feel safe, almost like nothing or nobody can hurt me. I trust you with everything about me and I can count how many people I really trust on one hand and will probably have fingers left over."

Jim felt a bit overwhelmed by Blair's declarations. Not knowing what to say he stayed quiet and let Blair continue.

"No matter how furiously we'd fight, no matter how angry you would get at me I never once felt like I had to be afraid of you physically. And believe me, I am well aware of the fact that you could wipe the floor with me without even breaking a sweat. Don't get me wrong," Blair gave him a small grin, "there were definitely times when my life flashed before my eyes or I was mentally wondering who would come to the funeral, but I never really felt like I was in any real danger. It wasn't just a Sentinel protect the Guide thing, I always thought of it more like a Jim wouldn't hurt Blair thing."

Blair was getting hoarse again from talking for so long. Keeping his arm on Blair's pillow and his fingers wrapped around Blair's, Jim leaned forward and picked up the glass from the coffee table with his free hand and handed it to his partner. Even though he had already stopped rubbing Jim's arm, Blair's fingers left it for the first time as he took the glass.

"Thanks."

As Jim watched Blair drink, he thought about what he had just said. 'The protective big brother he had always wished for.' Yeah, that did partly describe how he felt towards Blair, a big brother looking out for a smaller, younger brother. Of course his feelings towards Blair were much stronger than just a protective big brother. He knew he would literally die for Blair if necessary. But it did give him a warm feeling inside to think that Blair thought of him as the brother he never had. Speaking of protecting, who were these 'others' Blair had just mentioned? He talked about the bullies at school but he also said 'bullies and the others'. Just how much had Blair gone through before they met that he never mentioned? Over the past few years Blair had managed to pry practically his whole life story out of him, but he realized that Blair had actually managed to reveal very little about his own life. Would he ever tell him? He was startled out of his musings when he realized Blair was trying to hand him back the glass.

"Hey, Jim, you still awake? I didn't put you to sleep with all that did I?"

Jim smiled. "Far from it, Chief." He took the now half empty glass and put it back on the table.

Blair looked down to where Jim still had a strong grip on his hand. "You going to give me my hand back any time soon?"

Jim fixed him with a steady gaze. "Nope. Is that going to be a problem?"

"Not for me. At least not right now." Blair tilted his head towards the glass. "Might be later though."

"We'll worry about that when the time comes." Jim was surprised at himself with how reluctant he was to lose any physical contact with his Guide right now.

Blair sighed. "Okay, where was I?"

"You don't have to do this, Chief, if you really don't want to." Much as Jim needed to know exactly what had happened, it bothered him to think how painful and upsetting this was going to be for Blair. He hated the thought of him having to relive the whole incident again.

"Yes I do, Jim, for both of us." Blair settled himself into his blanket. His fingers returned to Jim's arm, this time the middle finger tracing indiscriminate patterns all over the large forearm. He looked up at Jim. "As I was saying, you are the ultimate definition of Blessed Protector. At least when it came to me. That's why it was so devastating when you turned on me. It was as if the world as I knew it had just shifted off it's axis. That was worse than the physical pain. Physical pain goes away. The emotional pain, feeling like I had lost you somehow, that for some reason you were letting me know that you really didn't want me around anymore, that was the worst part. Do you have any idea how much I hate feeling scared of you?" He dropped his head but not before Jim could see that his eyes had become wet. "I want that sense of security back. I want my best friend back. I just want everything to be like it was before."

Jim hated the thought that Blair would think, even for one minute, that he wasn't wanted. He lightly squeezed Blair's hand, causing him to look up. The sadness in those dark blue eyes tore at his heart. "You won't lose me, Chief. And I want you to always remember that no matter what happens, no matter what I ever say or do, I don't want you to leave. Not unless you decide it's what you want to do. And even then you still may have to try to get by me in order to get out. I just want you to know that I am going to do whatever it takes to make things right again. I don't know what that is yet, but I'll do it."

A small smile graced Blair's mouth. This was His Jim "Take charge. Fix Whatever's Wrong" Ellison. God love him. If Jim was waiting for him to make the first move to leave, well he had a loong wait ahead of him. Guess we're both in this for the long haul. Feeling better, Blair knew he had to keep going. It seemed even more important now to try to set things right between them.

"Thanks Jim. I-I guess I just needed to hear you say that. Right now the only way I know to start to make things right again is to just keep going. I guess I'm ready now to tell you what I remember." Blair closed his eyes, took a few deep, cleansing breaths, letting them out slowly. He had been over this so many times in his mind since then that he knew every detail as if it had just happened yesterday.

Jim immediately started monitoring his Guide. He again told himself that if at anytime it seemed to be getting too much for Blair, he would stop it right then.

Blair opened his eyes. "Okay. You suggested that I go wait in the truck, which seemed like a good idea to me so I walked over to it. I didn't feel like sitting in it. I guess maybe there were the last few drops of adrenaline still floating around in my system or something. Anyway, I ended up leaning across the hood. Looking around I realized how much I had learned about police procedures during the past few years and how much I actually like police work." He looked directly at Jim. "But no, I am not going through the academy and I am still not cutting my hair." They both smiled at Blair's repeating his comments from the first case they had ever worked on together, the day the Switchman's bomb almost ended their partnership before it even got started. "Anyway, then I started thinking about how glad I was that now that I had finally found a Sentinel, that you had such an interesting job. I wondered what it would be like if you were say, an accountant."

Jim raised his skeptical eyebrow again. "An accountant, Chief?"

"Yeah, that was pretty much what I thought too. I pictured you sitting at a desk being happy doing spreadsheets all day. Pretty silly looking picture isn't it? That's when I laughed. Well, it wasn't really even a laugh, more like an out loud smile. I guess you just happened to pick that exact moment to be looking at me. Cause believe me, the moment only lasted a few seconds. Then I went back to being tired and depressed again. I really wanted to get out of there more than anything right then. Then I saw you walking up towards me, you looked so pissed off."

Jim could hear Blair's heart rate increasing.

"You yelled out 'Sandburg! I want to talk to you!' I knew when you used 'Sandburg' that I was in trouble. Even before you got up to me I could tell something was wrong, was different about you. It was your eyes man, they weren't 'you'. I was already getting scared and I didn't even know why. I backed up a couple of steps, until I tried to tell myself that this was you, and you would never hurt me. You were getting closer."

Blair suddenly had to get off the couch. Now. He needed some space. He tried to pull his hand free from Jim's. Jim, thinking Blair just needed reassurance gripped it tighter. Suddenly Blair was slapping at his hand and pulling harder. "Let go, Jim! Let Go NOW!" Surprised at the near panic in his partner's voice Jim opened his fingers. Blair snatched his hand away as if he had been burned. In almost one move Blair pushed the pillow and blanket aside and bolted off the couch. He stood a few feet away, his left hand splayed against his chest, his right hand softly rubbing over the sore fingers. "Sorry 'bout that man, but I just had to get up, you know?"

Suddenly Jim understood. They had been just physically too close for Blair to be comfortable talking about what he had done to him. This had to be especially hard for Blair. When he had been telling his version, his Guide had been right there with him, supporting and encouraging. Now it was Blair's turn to tell his obviously much more traumatic story and there was nobody there for him. He was totally on his own. The person he was talking to was the very person who had hurt him in the first place. Once again Blair was unfairly getting the short end of the stick. He would do anything he could to make this as easy on his friend as possible. He looked up at his trembling roommate. "Tell me what I can do to make this easier for you. What do you need from me?"

Blair looked down at the bigger man sitting just a few short feet away. "Just don't get off the couch, okay? No matter what happens, you stay there. Promise?"

Jim knew that Blair needed a safety zone and a promise of security. "I promise Chief, no matter what happens, until you say so." He could see Blair physically relax a bit. He wasn't surprised to see him start pacing around the room, constant motion was a natural state of being for his partner but now nervous energy would fuel that motion even more.

Blair ran his fingers through his hair as he continued pacing. The words starting pouring out. "Umm... you-you came up to me and I said something like 'you want to talk to me?' and then I started to ask if this could wait until later because I was really tired but before I could even finish you suddenly grabbed my upper arms really tight, I mean so tight it hurt." He unconsciously gripped his own arms and started rubbing over the exact same place on each arm where Jim had grabbed him. "When I told you that you were hurting me there was no reaction from you at all. Oh man, that was so not like you. I knew for sure then that something was definitely wrong. That's when I really started to panic. Then you starting talking, and your voice was different, just like your eyes, umm... cold with no feeling in them."

Blair's pace increased, his eyes were slightly glazed as he focused inward, not really seeing where he was any longer. Jim watched his partner carefully as he quickly paced throughout the loft still holding his arms, but he didn't move, he could easily hear Blair no matter where he went.

"You said that you had told me to stay in the truck. That you had made it very clear that I wasn't to leave it for any reason. You said that I had deliberately disobeyed you. I wondered about your using that word, you know, 'disobeyed' but I didn't say anything. Then you said that when you say something you mean it and that I should know that by now. And I said that I did, but—then you interrupted me again, saying... saying... oh God, then you said..."

Blair stopped suddenly, his arms tightly wrapped around himself. He was standing by the coffee table in front of Jim, staring out into the dark balcony but not actually seeing it. Jim could hear Blair's heart pounding, he realized that this was it. He almost started to stop Blair, worried about the skyrocketing heart rate and the suddenly increased breathing, but he knew that Blair had to finish, had to finally say it out loud, as much for himself as for him. So he just listened as Blair repeated what he had tried to say a minute ago.

"I said, 'I do Jim but—' then you yelled, 'No Buts' and you said..." Quiet tears started falling down the smaller man's face, totally unnoticed by him. "You said 'You still don't get it do you? What do I have to do to make you understand? To make you listen?' Then all of a sudden you were shaking me. Hard. So hard I couldn't think, I could hardly catch my breath. Then you—you picked me up by my arms and slammed me into the side of the truck, I remember my head and back hitting it really hard. You said, real calm like, 'When I...' and I screamed 'Jim!' and then you slammed me again saying 'Tell you' and I yelled 'Stop' and then you did it a third time saying 'To do something' and I said that you were hurting me. I had almost passed out by then from my head hitting each time. And then you just stopped. When I could think again I could tell you were only holding me by one arm. I risked opening one eye, I wished I hadn't..." Blair paused but Jim didn't dare say anything, didn't dare breathe too loudly. "I... you-you had your other hand up in the air. You were going to hit me, backhand me, across the face." His voice dropped to almost a whisper. "I knew once you did that it would be all over between us. I just stood there waiting for it to happen, I couldn't move." His voice returned to its previous level. "Just then I-I kind of heard Simon calling you and you stopped and then you... you just suddenly became 'you' again. You dropped your arm. When you talked you sounded, I don't know, 'normal'. You said you thought that I got the message and that after you talked to Simon we would leave. You even called me 'Chief'. Then you just walked away."

Neither man spoke or moved for several minutes. Jim felt numb. He had wanted to know, but now that he did he almost wished that he didn't. First he had interrupted Blair at least twice, wouldn't listen to anything he was trying to say. Then he shook him like a rag doll. And then... and then... Three times. Three times he had hurt Blair, his best friend, the one person he cared about more than anyone he had ever known. Slammed him up against his own truck. But even that apparently wasn't enough. He had raised his hand to Blair. In anger. He was going to deliberately hit Blair across the face. Blair. Who had thrown himself under a garbage truck to save him when they were both still total strangers to each other. Who with unwavering loyalty had stayed beside him countless time, no matter how bad the situation became, without any thoughts about himself, simply because he thought Jim needed him. And why had he hurt his friend? Because Blair had dared to 'disobey' him? He suddenly felt nauseous. But he had promised Blair he wouldn't get off the couch until he said, so even if he threw up right here, no force on Earth could make him move from where he was. He became aware that Blair was moving again.

Blair slowly walked over to the smaller sofa and sat in the far corner. Pulling his knees up to his chest he wrapped his arms around his legs. He was shivering but he couldn't tell if it was from being cold or emotional after shock. The tears had stopped but he could still feel the wet tracks on his face. He had thought that because of the way he had been feeling earlier, he wouldn't have any problem telling Jim what had happened. He thought wrong. He felt like a wrung out dishrag. Trouble was, there was still more to tell. Keep it together, Blair, just a little while longer. Then you can go to your room and have a nice, quiet, little breakdown. Then he noticed Jim moving around. Was he going to break his promise and get up? Relief and gratitude came over him when Jim just balled up the blanket he had been using and silently tossed it over to him. Of course not, Jim never broke a promise. But then he would have sworn that Jim would never hurt him either. But that wasn't really Jim.

Oh yeah? Then who was it?

That's what this is all about isn't it? To try to figure out what happened.

Right, or are you really just trying to find an excuse to defend why your precious Sentinel would suddenly just turn on you?

Blair shook his head, trying to still the sudden voices arguing inside it. Taking the blanket he wrapped himself up in it. He chanced a look over at Jim. If he thought that Jim had looked bad when he first found out that he had hurt Blair, that was nothing compared to how he looked now. Blair thought he could actually see the guilt, self-loathing and depression settling in on his usually stoic partner. He had to do something to help him.

"Hey, Jim? Are you all right? We can stop now if you want."

Jim looked at Blair with dread in his eyes. "Oh God, Blair. You mean there's more?"

It was obvious that Jim couldn't handle any more right now. Besides the rest was minor, just a little about what happened after Jim went to talk to Simon. They could always do that later. At least the hardest part was over. Hard as that had been for him to tell and for Jim to hear, at least now it was all out in the open. No more secrets. That was enough for now. Besides, he was suddenly feeling really tired. Totally drained actually. Like someone had just flipped a switch. All that earlier energy was gone. Now he found that he could barely keep his eyes open. "No, Jim. No more. Are you okay?"

Jim breathed a silent sigh of relief. At least it was a small measure of relief to learn that there was nothing else. He didn't think he could handle it if he found out that he had done anything else to Blair. He looked over at his friend. Wrapped up in the blanket, sitting sideways in the corner of the other sofa, he looked so small and almost helpless. But that's where people were wrong about Blair. While he may be a bit smaller in stature, still had an aura of innocence about him and would probably always wear all his emotions on his face, he knew that Blair possessed an incredible inner strength that would put most Army Rangers, Covert Ops operatives and cops he knew to shame. In one night he had had his throat slit by a crazed criminal and had then been attacked by his own best friend and partner. But he had been determined that no one would know about the second attack so, except for himself, he doubted if anyone had suspected anything or even noticed the well hidden but heavy toll both events had taken on Blair. How many so-called big, macho men would be able to pull that off? He knew he would never cease to be amazed by his partner. And now, after just going through what obviously had been an emotionally gut wrenching experience, Blair was asking how he was doing. Once again a Guide to the end. Looking closely he noticed the dark circles under Blair's half closed eyes. Exhaustion was now evident both on his face and by the way his body was leaning sideways against the back of the couch. Now that he had finally said what they had been leading up to all night, his mind had finally released his body. And it was very evident now that both his body and his mind were totally spent.

"Hey, Chief?"

"Hmmm? Yeah, Jim?"

"Can I get up now?"

"Oh man, Jim, I'm sorry. Sure."

"Good." Getting up Jim walked directly over to Blair. The lack of reaction by Blair to suddenly have him so close just reinforced to Jim just how physically and emotionally exhausted the younger man must be. After taking off the blanket wrapped around him, he gently raised Blair up and off of the couch, slowly pulling him close into a heartfelt but not too tight embrace. Blair kept his arms down at his sides but laid his cheek on Jim's chest and closed his eyes. Jim tightened his hold just slightly and looked down at Blair's face, partly hidden by his long hair. Not knowing when Blair would feel comfortable enough around him to be this close again, he was hoping his actions would convey to his friend what his voice couldn't. Right now mere words alone couldn't possibly express what he was feeling inside. All he could do was lower his head and whisper, "I'm sorry, Blair. I'm so sorry." It took the over tired grad student a few minutes to realize that something was going on. He slowly opened his eyes.

"Jim? You all right?"

Reluctantly Jim raised his head and took a step back, keeping a careful hold on his partner's upper arms. Am I all right? "Just making sure you're all right." Trying to see if we're all right. He aimed a small smile down at his groggy friend. "It's bedtime now, Chief." He turned Blair towards the bathroom. "Go do whatever you need to do, then go to bed."

Blair turned back towards Jim and raised heavily lidded eyes to meet his. "No, Jim, we still need to talk." There was so much more to say. He wasn't sure if he could even hold a coherent conversation right now, but if Jim wanted to talk he would force himself to stay awake.

"I know, Chief, and we will, I promise. Just not tonight. Or should I say this morning?" Glancing at his watch before getting off the couch he had realized that they had been up virtually all night.

"Oh man. Do you have to go to work? I shouldn't have kept you up so long. I'm sorry."

"Don't be, we both needed this. Simon already knows I'm going in late tomorrow, I mean today. But I do need to get some sleep." Telling Blair that he needed sleep was probably the only way to get him to go to bed right now. "Now go, or do you want me to tuck you in, too?"

Blair raised his hands in surrender. "Okay. Okay. I'm going, I'm going."

Jim watched Blair head into the bathroom. He started turning out the lights in the loft. A few minutes later he heard the toilet flush and water running. A minute later Blair came out and started towards his room. Even in the dim light he could see that his partner was even more pale and drawn than he had been when he first picked him up at the University, the day all this had started. He had never even gotten the chance to recover from the grueling weeks during finals when everything else happened.

"Hey, Chief."

Blair stopped and turned towards Jim. "Yeah?"

"Tomorrow I don't want you to do anything except sleep, eat and veg out in front of the TV, you hear me? Nothing else."

Blair thought for a minute. "Veg is good. I can do veg." He paused. "Are you sure everything is all right here? I mean, I feel like we've stopped talking just when we really need to start."

"Everything is fine for now. We'll talk more later, when we're both more awake. Everything will keep until then. Right now we both need sleep." You need sleep Chief; you're dead on your feet. I don't know how you managed to stay awake this long.

"Okay. 'Night, Jim"

"G'night, Chief."

Jim watched Blair go into his room, then heard him getting into bed. Satisfied that his partner was settled in for the night he finished securing the loft, hit the bathroom himself then headed for the stairs. Acting on a sudden impulse he turned and quietly entered his partner's room. Silently walking over to the bed, for the second time in 24 hours, he watched his roommate sleep. He would never tell Blair, but he enjoyed watching him sleep. He looked so calm and peaceful and blessedly still. Blair was lying on his side facing towards the room, his "new" comforter pulled up to his chin. He was already in deep sleep. Jim smiled softly as he reached down and carefully pushed a few loose strands of hair off his face. There was obviously a lot about this Sentinel stuff that he still didn't understand, but the one thing he did know was that when he had been most desperate for answers, the only person able to provide them had been this longhaired, neo hippie witch doctor punk. And he thanked God every day for that. Everything was going to be all right now. It would take time and a lot of open, honest, heart to heart conversations, but it would be all right. With a sense of peace he hadn't felt for days Jim went upstairs to bed.


Jim moved around the kitchen mindlessly making breakfast. His real concentration was on replaying over and over again the various conversations from last night. Conversations that started after that horrible, heart stopping moment when he realized that it had been him, his hands, that had attacked and hurt his best friend. An attack that Blair had amazingly managed to keep hidden from him and everyone else for several days. Every time he thought about what Blair must have been going through, living and working with him every day during that time, his heart ached all over again.

He pictured for the hundredth, no, thousandth time, his Guide standing in the living room, arms wrapped around himself, tears trailing down his face as he told him in almost excruciating detail what had happened that night, what he had done. He knew that Blair hadn't been crying because of the physical pain he had inflicted on him, although just thinking about it twisted his own stomach muscles into knots. No, Blair cried because to him, when that happened, the bond between them had been severely damaged, possibly broken. Because, even though it had taken almost three years, Blair had finally allowed himself, probably for the first time, to fully and openly trust another person and that person had then betrayed that trust. He knew, even before Blair had told him, that his partner had a really hard time with trusting people. He figured it was due to the nomadic lifestyle Blair led while growing up. He and his mother never stayed with any person or in any place for very long. Each new boyfriend for Naomi became a new 'uncle' for Blair and he had already lost count of how many different 'uncles' his friend had already mentioned. Blair had obviously learned at a young age not to become attached to anyone or any place since they would soon be gone. He had held onto that conviction throughout his childhood.

Starting college at sixteen, he was constantly changing dorms and roommates. When he wasn't in school he was off on a new expedition somewhere. Permanence, whether with people or places, just never was a part of his life. Even when the warehouse blew up Blair mourned the loss of his few personal possessions more than losing his home. Then he moved in with him. Jim smiled, remembering watching as slowly, tentatively Blair began to allow himself to believe that he could actually stay in one place for more than a few months, that it was all right to actually allow himself to think of one place as 'home'. He knew it hadn't been an easy transition for the usually wandering free spirit. It had taken him over a year to finally unpack all of his few boxes. Another year after that before he finally emptied the well stocked duffel bag he kept stashed on the floor of his closet. Even now, after three years, he knew that Blair kept an 'emergency' hundred dollar bill tucked away in his wallet, supposedly in case his car broke down or a sudden hot date, but it also provided a safety net in case he had to leave in a hurry.

It was also during this same time that he watched as Blair gradually began to believe that their friendship was for keeps, too. Apparently he had never lived anywhere long enough to develop a really close friendship with anyone. He actually had to learn what having a close friend meant. To understand that he wouldn't be alone, with no one but himself to depend on, as he had been his whole life. To realize that that there was someone he could call on when he needed help and to lean on when he was troubled. He had waited patiently as Blair slowly began to believe that he could put his faith and trust in someone else and it would be safe there. He felt honored that it had been through him that Blair had finally come to understand what true friendship really meant—at least that's what Blair had told him once. Nothing anyone had ever said to him had meant more than that simple heartfelt statement.

Jim lost his smile when he recalled that early in their relationship how uncomfortable Blair became whenever he or any of the other cops at the station got too close or actually touched him. His heart rate would jump and he would almost hold his breath until whoever it was moved away. Gradually, as their bond grew stronger, he lost his fear of his touching him, to the point that now when he was upset or nervous Blair would actively try to stay closer to him. And he wasn't nearly as jumpy around the other detectives in the bullpen as he had been. But even now he sometimes still flinched if Simon or someone else touched him unexpectedly. He often wondered what had happened to his friend that caused this fear of physical contact. It made him realize again just how much he still didn't know about his partner, but he also realized how much that partner had grown as he had gradually changed his ideas about home and friendship since they had first met.

He still clearly remembered the day that Blair had turned down a prestigious expedition to Borneo for the sake of their friendship. A simple clinking of beer bottles had sealed their partnership and declared the loft 'their' home. To him that was the day that the bond that had been developing became permanently forged between them. It had only strengthened over time until now he knew that Blair trusted him implicitly and he couldn't picture his life without his enthusiastic, energetic friend in it.

But what would happen now? Could Blair get past his sense of having his trust in Jim violated? Get past his new found fear? Or would this just reinforce what Blair had always believed before—don't get close to anyone and don't allow yourself to trust anyone else again? He couldn't stand it if he had destroyed Blair's ability to trust anyone ever again. What would this do to their friendship, to their Sentinel/Guide bond? If Blair no longer felt safe with him, would he eventually leave? He needed Blair, much more than his Guide needed him. More than that, he simply, selfishly, wanted Blair Sandburg in his life.

Hearing a noise Jim turned to find the object of his thoughts standing in the kitchen, looking more asleep than awake.

"Hey, Chief. Did I wake you? I didn't realize I was making that much noise. Sorry."

Blair rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "No. I had to get up anyway. Man, I am never drinking that much of anything in one night again."

Jim watched him walk off towards the bathroom. How would he be today? Still scared of him or as relaxed and open as he had been last night? Probably somewhere in between. He got another plate from the cabinet. As long as Blair was up he might as well join him for breakfast. This would serve two purposes. First he could see how his partner was doing this morning and he would know that at least Blair would eat breakfast today. He had been serious when he had decided that if Blair wouldn't take care of himself then he would do it for him. And as far as he was concerned, his roommate had gotten way too thin lately. He filled his own plate and sat at the kitchen table. A few minutes later Blair shuffled back in looking somewhat more alert, water still clinging to his eyelashes.

Jim tilted his head towards the stove. "I put a plate out for you. Long as you're up how about keeping me company for breakfast? Then you can go back to bed." He still looks exhausted.

He looked up at Blair. Blair was studying him carefully. He's trying to gauge my reaction to last night. He's still not sure about me. Making it a point to keep his face and voice neutral Jim turned back to own plate. "I might be a little late tonight. I've got to catch up on some overdue paperwork and lay the ground work for a bust we're working on."

That got his partner's attention. For the first time in days Blair looked genuinely interested in something. "A bust? Really? When? How big? Good thing I'm still free from school for a little while longer. Maybe I should go in with you today. You know, so I'll know what's going on when it goes down."

Jim smiled to himself. This was the Sandburg that he'd been missing. Not that there was a snowball's chance in hell that he'd let Blair go with them, he wasn't up to that yet. But fortunately there were a few days yet before he had to face that little argument. It was just so good to see Blair enthusiastic about something again, not counting last night's promise of tests. "It's nothing really big. We're actually just hoping to use these guys to nab bigger fish later. According to my source the buy won't even be happening for at least a few more days. Go grab some breakfast, I'll fill you in while we eat."

"Okay, but I want all the details man. I need to start figuring out what senses you're most likely to have to use. We haven't done something like this in a while."

And we're not doing it this time. Oh boy, telling him he's not going is not going to be fun.

He heard Blair move into the kitchen, then the sound of scrambled eggs being scooped from the frying pan onto the plate. He added a few slices of bacon and some toast. Good, a decent sized breakfast. Just as Blair was turning away from the stove his socked foot slipped on the smooth floor. He instinctively grabbed the counter with one hand leaving his full plate unbalanced in the other. It fell from his hand and landed on the floor with a resounding crash. Jim immediately turned towards the sound.

"What the—" The words died in his throat when he saw Blair standing still as a statue, staring wide-eyed at the mess on the floor. He was whispering "Oh shit" over and over. When he heard Jim he looked up at him, fear and dread filling his expressive eyes.

Jim knew that how he reacted to this could possibly determine the entire future of their relationship. He got up slowly and carefully and walked into the kitchen, watching as Blair backed up until he was in the corner by the refrigerator. His arms wrapped around himself protectively as he whispered, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do it. I'm sorry."

Jim's first impulse was to grab Blair by the shoulders and shake him. It was just a stupid plate. Stop over-reacting. Stop being so damn scared. Make some kind of smart remark and then clean it up. That's what 'Blair' would do. His second thought was to wrap his arms around him and tell him it was all right. Neither one seemed the right thing to do. Instead he casually opened the door under the sink and pulled out a whiskbroom and dustpan. Keeping a running monologue he quickly swept up all traces of the dropped breakfast. "Don't worry about it Chief, it was just a plate. If you didn't want to eat my cooking you could have just said so. You didn't have to be so dramatic. Although the eggs did come out pretty good this time, even if I do say so myself. I'll let you be the judge."

He could feel Blair watching his every move. When he finished cleaning up the mess he went over to the cabinet and removed another plate. Standing in front of Blair, he it out, expectantly. Indicating the stove with his head he said, "Better get some more, Chief, while it's still warm." He stood there until Blair hesitantly unwrapped his arms and took the plate with both hands. When he was satisfied that Blair had a good grip Jim gave his partner a small smile then went back to his own chair. Deliberately not watching, he listened carefully. Blair's pounding heart was slowing back to it's normal rhythm, his breathing evening out. The shoeless footsteps were soft as he slowly walked back to the stove. The low scrape of the spoon from the frying pan to plate. Only one spoonful this time. One slice of bacon. No toast. Jim sighed silently. At least he had gotten some food. The tricky part would be making sure he actually ate it.

As Blair slid into his chair he gave Jim a small sheepish grin. "Guess I kinda over-reacted a little, huh? I mean this..." he lifted a small part of his plate off the table "... isn't even the 'good' china."

Jim felt himself relax. The mere fact that Blair knew he had over-reacted and then even joked about it eased his mind considerably. "It's going to take time, Chief. For both of us. We'll take it one day at a time. One hour, one minute at a time when we have to. I'm willing to do whatever it takes, wait for as long as it takes, until things are right between us again." He felt his earlier emotions rising up again. "I know I can't say 'I'm sorry' enough times to make up for what I did, for what I've put you through, but if you ever think of anything, anything I can do that will make this the least bit easier for you just tell me, please." Jim looked down at his plate, his voice low with emotion. He just couldn't get over his biggest fear. "I just don't want you to leave, Blair."

Blair could hear, almost feel the sincerity in Jim's voice. He realized that Jim was as afraid of his leaving as he was, no he admonished himself as he had been, afraid of Jim attacking him again.

"Jim." He waited until Jim looked up and met his eyes. "Jim, I'm not leaving. I mean it. I made that decision the night it happened. You're still my Sentinel; I'm still your Guide. Even more important you're still my best friend. I know that I'm not nearly over this yet, but I will be eventually. I guess because of last night I actually do feel better today than I did yesterday and tomorrow should be even better. I still don't know yet if this had anything to do with your senses, but I intend to find out. And as you should well know by now, I can never let go of a problem or a mystery until it's solved. You're the same way, detective. That's why we work so well together as partners. We're both too stubborn to let go of a case until it's solved. Speaking of which, you were going to tell me about this upcoming bust you're working on."

Jim relaxed even more. Blair had said the very things he needed to hear. He wasn't leaving. He still considered him his friend. He was beginning to feel better around him. As long as he could hang on to that knowledge, he could easily do whatever would be necessary to restore his partner's faith and trust in him. And Blair had just all but said that they were still partners. All he really wanted right now was for Blair to stop being afraid of him. The very thought of it hurt. But the incident in the kitchen showed him that, even though Blair was obviously trying, at the first sign of a problem Blair's first instinct towards him was still fear. He was going to have to be very careful around his friend for a while, until his fears finally faded away.

"Hey! Earth to Ellison!"

Jim jerked his head up, jolted out of his musings.

"You going to tell me about the bust or what?"

Jim smiled. "Sure thing, partner."

The rest of breakfast passed uneventfully. Jim told Blair about the pending bust. It wouldn't be much, but he still did not intend to allow Blair to become involved. The plate incident earlier had just reinforced his belief that Blair just wasn't really ready for serious field duty yet. Besides, he hadn't been cleared yet anyway. Another thing he had to talk to Simon about today. Even if he was cleared before it went down, Blair wasn't going. It was too soon after Evans and everything else that had happened that night for Blair to go out on another bust. Even a small scale one like this one. He'd cross that bridge when he got to it. He was encouraged that Blair had actually eaten all his breakfast. Once he got over the initial fright, Blair had managed to pull himself together pretty quickly. Definitely a good sign that he was starting to get better. But his partner was still healing, physically as well as emotionally. Jim looked back into the kitchen as he took his jacket off the hook by the door and started putting it on.

"Don't forget, Chief."

Blair turned his head as he put the last of the breakfast dishes in the sink. "Forget what?"

"That is the last bit of work you are to do today. Today you are to do absolutely nothing except eat, sleep and maybe watch some TV. No laptop, no books, no physical or mental labor of any kind today. Got it?"

Blair smiled. "Oh yeah. This is my 'veg out' day isn't it?" A large yawn escaped. "Actually that sounds pretty good right now. I'll probably be back in bed before you're out of your parking space. Say, you were up all night too, how come you're not as tired as I am?"

Maybe because I've had more than a couple hours of sleep in the past few weeks. I haven't been attacked twice. I haven't been under the emotional strain you've been under. But mostly because I haven't been watching out for you as well as I should have. " Cause I'm bigger and stronger. Just remember that, Junior, anytime you get the urge to do something more strenuous than clicking the remote today. And don't think I won't know, either. Human crime lab, remember? Seriously, Chief, go back to bed now. Later take a long hot bath, meditate, drink lots of herbal tea—whatever will help you to totally relax. Right now your body and your brain both need to rest. And don't forget to eat today too. I mean it, Sandburg. I still owe you dinner. You pick the place, my treat tonight—if you behave yourself today. Deal?"

Blair looked over at his friend, startled at the real concern he heard there. "You know, Jim, as wiped out as I feel right now, that sounds like the perfect day. Now you get to work so I can go back to sleep. Go. Go." He made shooing motions with his hands.

Shaking his head Jim turned and almost reluctantly went out the door. He knew his partner. After sleeping he would get bored and restless. He knew that Blair wouldn't leave the loft; they both knew Jim would worry if he couldn't reach him here. That made him wonder just what kind of mischief a bored Blair would find to get into until he got home. The way Blair's mind worked, anything was possible. He sighed. This was going to be a long day.


Blair sat on the balcony, sipping his tea, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun. After Jim had left he had slept for a few more hours. He then indulged in a nice long shower, reveling in the fact that the water had stayed hot from beginning to end. Dressed in jeans, three layers of shirts, with the usual flannel on top, and warm socks, he was having lunch outside. He decided to take advantage of the relatively warm afternoon temperature, knowing first hand how quickly it dropped once the sun started setting. Walking home the other night in that freak ice storm only reinforced to him how much he really hated being cold and especially cold and wet. By the time he had gotten to the loft he was frozen, colder than he had ever been in his life and scared to death that Jim wouldn't let him in. Of course Jim had let him in, had practically pulled him in when he hesitated. Then he put him in a hot shower, brought him dry clothes, made a fire in the fireplace, fussed over his wet hair, fixed him hot soup, put a blanket around him when he started shivering and covered him with his own down comforter when he was in bed. Jim showed him once again, without actually saying anything, how much the big, tough, ex-Ranger turned cop really cared about the smaller, often troublesome anthropologist.

But could things really go back to the way they were before? Or in the back of his mind would he always worry about something like what had happened happening again?

He had finally come to believe that Jim would always be there for him, physically and emotionally. What would happen to their relationship now? Would he ever be able to totally trust Jim again? The thought of losing that special bond they shared hurt far worse than the physical pain he had endured. His relationship with Jim had become the central focus in his life. Sure he loved his Mom more than anyone, and always would, but his connection to Jim was so clear and so strong that the thought of it not being there was almost physically painful. Jim had to be feeling the effects of his emotionally pulling away too.

Poor Jim. Blair put down his mug and stared out over the bay as if the answers to his questions were somewhere in the dark water just waiting for him to discover them. Jim must have been so confused during the past several days. Usually after a traumatic incident he knew that he tended to be almost 'clingy' towards Jim. He wanted to stay physically closer to him than usual, needing that sense of safety and protection the bigger man gave him. For his part, Jim would usually touch him a little more during this recovery time. Nothing unusually overt—a casual arm around his shoulders, a hand on his back or arm, Jim's quiet way of just letting him know that he was there. But this time he hadn't been able to get even close to Jim without starting to shake. He was surprised by how much he missed even the normal, everyday physical contact between them. Surprised because while growing up most of Naomi's boyfriends rarely touched him—unless they were smacking him around, constantly telling him how worthless he was, how he was only tolerated because of Naomi. When he was younger he could never figure out why so many of the men his mother picked had felt that way towards him, later he just didn't care anymore. The abuse was something he had always managed to hide from his mother and did not intended to ever let Jim find out about.

It had almost slipped out when he was telling Jim about the bullies at school, fortunately Jim didn't seem to notice. After years of physical abuse from the big bullies at school and the even bigger boyfriends at 'home', he had developed almost a phobia about being touched by other men, especially larger men. He had since vowed that he would never allow himself to be hurt or used like that again. He knew he was getting better but unexpected touches still made him nervous.

But somehow with Jim it was different. Granted it had taken a while, but now he actually liked it when Jim touched him. And to his own surprise he actually became comfortable touching Jim. Maybe it had something to do with their Sentinel/Guide connection. Or maybe it was just something friends did. Almost everything he had learned about friendship and being comfortable around other men, he had learned from Jim. Jim would do, what seemed to him, unbelievable things too. Like hold his hand when he was hurt even when there were other people around. He didn't seem the least bit embarrassed about it. And Jim did something that, except for his Mom, he couldn't remember anybody else ever doing. Even the boyfriends that didn't hit him never did this. Jim hugged him. He would actually put his arms around him and hug him. Not all the time of course, just whenever Jim felt he needed one. That had taken some getting used to. He vaguely remembered Jim holding him last night, that brief feeling of being safe and cared for after reliving what had happened. He definitely remembered the first time. It was just after Jim had gotten him out of Lash's dentist chair. Between the emotional stress and the drug that Lash had forced down his throat, he had definitely started to freak out. He knew he was losing control, but he couldn't stop himself. Jim didn't say a word; he just pulled him close and put his arms around him. After getting over the initial shock and not knowing what else to do he had just grabbed on to the back of Jim's jacket and held on as if his life depended on it. Jim didn't let go until he had finally stopped shaking. After that Jim had stayed with him, sometimes putting his arm around him, even with all the other cops around, until the ambulance arrived. Then, later, Jim had done something that had really shocked him. That night he couldn't sleep, so Jim stayed up all night with him. Kept him company so he wouldn't be alone. Actually sat up with him while he lay on the couch until he finally did fall asleep. He was sure that knowing that Jim was right there with him all night was the only reason he didn't have nightmares that night. No one, except his Mom, had ever cared that much about his welfare before. That was when he first really realized what a special person Jim Ellison, the man not the Sentinel, truly was.

But this time, instead of turning to Jim for support he had distanced himself as far from his friend as he could. All the old fears about being touched had surfaced again. Jim had probably been hurt, not knowing why his friend was staying away at a time when he usually needed him the most. But was he really ready to let Jim touch him again? Except for last night, and none of that really counted, he had barely let Jim near him since he ran out of the bathroom that night. Probably should explain to him what that was all about, too. Even believing that Jim didn't intend to hurt him again, could he still be around him without seeing the Other Jim? What about the next time Jim got angry or upset about something? Could he handle being in the same room or even alone in the loft with him? Or would he instinctively react as he had in the bullpen? Just dropping that plate this morning had almost sent him into a panic attack. Thank God Jim had stayed calm and acted like it was no big deal. Seeing Jim's reaction had kept him from totally losing it. But, even with that panicked reaction, he knew that his fear of Jim was not as strong as it had been before. He just had to work on toning down his own reactions to things, to Jim. Well, if Jim could keep himself under control during all this then so could he. It was all out in the open now, things were actually getting better between them, it was time to put it all behind him and move forward. Jim needed a partner he could depend on, not a total head case. Besides, now that Jim knew what he had done, he would make sure that it never happened again. Wouldn't he? Could he? Stop it, don't even go there. He needed to start acting more like Jim's partner and Guide again, not like someone who's afraid of his own shadow. Good plan. Now as they say in the commercials, 'Just do it'.

Blair decided it was time to go back inside. His tea had gotten cold and his sandwich was no longer appealing. At least he could tell Jim that he did make himself lunch today. As long as he didn't ask if he actually ate all of it. Back in the kitchen he threw away the rest of the sandwich and put the kettle on to make more tea. Waiting for the water to boil he looked around. He needed something to do to kill time until Jim got home. After going virtually non-stop for the past few weeks suddenly doing nothing was making him edgy. He couldn't help feeling like he should at least be doing something. When the water boiled he made a fresh cup of tea and carried it into the living room. Plopping down on the couch he picked up the TV remote. I haven't watched daytime TV in ages. Wonder what's even on now. He starting clicking. Soap. Soap, good god is she still on there? Soap. Talk show. Game show. Talk show. Old sitcom. Older sitcom. Infomercial. Cartoon. Infomercial. Infomercial. What won't they sell on TV now? Cartoon. Cartoon. Infomercial. Give me a break here. Home decorating show. At least it was different. He started to click again but paused with his thumb over the button. The Martha Stewart wannabe was talking about how it was the little touches that made a house a home. Blair smiled. He now knew what he could do to pass some time. Clicking off the TV he got up and went into his room.


Jim sniffed again as he put the key in the loft door, noting that there were none of the dinner smells that had been greeting him all week. Of course now that he knew the reason why Blair had made dinner for him every night, he was actually relieved not to be smelling anything cooking, glad that Blair wasn't still trying to keep up the pretense of being 'perfect'. Besides, he had promised his partner dinner out tonight.

As he stepped into the loft he saw said partner sitting on the couch watching TV. When he was inside Blair looked up at him with apprehension in his eyes. Uh-oh. Now what? How much trouble could he have gotten into without leaving the loft? Forget that, this is Blair we're talking about here. He looked around. The loft looked slightly different somehow, but it also looked 'right' somehow too. Then he saw them. Almost like a reversal of what he had done earlier, Blair had put some of his things back out. A few candles on the coffee table. Some small artifacts on the bookcase. A couple research books and, best of all, his roommate's laptop were on the dining room table again. More than anything else that laptop symbolized Blair to him. It was practically an extension of the grad student himself. Now that it was back where it belonged, it meant that his roommate was starting to feel more comfortable and at ease again. Awww no, not the mask. All this was well and good of course but with all his other things still put away, why did Blair have to put that god-awful mask back on the wall? Jeez, that thing was hideous. As he looked around Jim was aware that Blair was watching him, trying to gauge his reaction both to his things being back out and to the fact that Jim had told him not to do anything physical today. Except for maybe rehanging the mask, it wasn't even worth worrying about.

"Looks good in here, Chief. Almost back to normal." But not until you bring everything else back out too. He could see the relief in Blair's eyes. "But really," he continued, "did you have to put Butt Ugly back up?" He used his favorite nickname for the anthropologist's favorite mask. He smiled as Blair, instead of rushing to take down the offending item, automatically launched into his usual long defense and explanation of the importance of this particular mask. Blair was definitely feeling better. He let him ramble on for a few minutes just because he sounded so much like 'Blair' again.

"Okay, enough lecture. I'm hungry. Where do you want to eat?"

Blair looked up from the couch where he had just finished tying his sneakers. "How about that new international restaurant downtown? I've heard good things about it around campus and it should have food we can both eat."

"Sounds good." He tossed Blair's jacket to him. "Let's go."

The restaurant was easy to find and they both were impressed with the large variety of food. Soon both men had ordered. Jim looked around as he nibbled on a breadstick. "I like this place Chief. If the food's half decent we'll have to start coming here more often."

"What? We both agree on a restaurant? There's a rarity."

Jim looked directly at Blair who was eating his third dinner roll. "Speaking of food..."

Uh-oh.

"... what all did you eat today?"

Blair tried to look Jim in the eye. Man, he is like obsessed with my eating habits lately. "I made a sandwich for lunch. And tea. I, uh, even had lunch on the balcony." He was having a hard time maintaining eye contact.

Jim kept his eyes pinned on his obviously uneasy dinner companion. "I didn't ask you what you made, I asked you what you ate."

"I ate it... most of it... some of it..." Blair dropped his eyes, "... a few bites... kind of..."

Mother Hen mode was coming out in full force. "Dammit it, Blair!" Jim looked around, leaned forward and lowered his voice. "You have got to start eating. Didn't we just have this same conversation a few days ago? Weren't you paying any attention then?" Jim had watched as Blair jumped when he yelled, saw his eyes dart unconsciously towards the exit. He made a conscious effort to soften his tone of voice. "Sorry, Chief, I didn't mean to yell. But you can hardly afford to miss any meals. If you made a sandwich why the hell didn't you at least eat it?"

Blair raised his eyes hopefully. "Uh, I was saving my appetite for dinner?"

Sighing loudly Jim pointed his largely forgotten breadstick at Blair. "Then I sure hope you're really hungry cause we're not leaving here until you eat everything on your plate."

Blair grinned. "Oooo, Gee, Dad, do I get ice cream afterwards?"

Shaking his head at his incorrigible friend, Jim was spared answering when their dinners arrived just at that moment. Soon both men were busy eating. Jim gestured towards his plate with his fork. "This is pretty good, Chief. How's yours?" He was encouraged that Blair had indeed seemed to have brought his appetite. His partner seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his dinner.

"Id goo."

Jim laughed. "What?"

Blair swallowed and tried again. "I said it's good. You know, sometimes I think you deliberately wait until my mouth is full to ask me something."

Jim feigned a look of total innocence. "Would I do that?"

Now Blair put on an exaggerated look of shock. "You? Never! What was I thinking?"

Jim smiled. Slowly the 'old' Blair was coming back.

"Good. Just remember that next time it happens." He turned his attention back to his own plate. "Oh, I meant to tell you, I talked to Simon today about getting you cleared to ride with me again." He surreptitiously watched for his partner's reaction. The only expressions he could read on Blair's face were concern and confusion.

"Um Jim, doesn't the psychiatrist have to clear me, not Simon? Didn't I pretty much already blow that by not showing up the other day?" Now regret was plainly visible. So much for being allowed to officially accompany Jim on the bust in a few days.

"Not totally. Simon got you another appointment for tomorrow. I'm not exactly sure what he told her, something about mitigating circumstances. I think he implied that you were involved in some type of in-house police activity. I really wouldn't plan on missing this appointment if you ever plan on seeing Simon again in your lifetime."

Real shock was now Blair's only expression. "Simon lied for me? To another member of the police department?" He shook his head. "Uh-uh. Either there are pods in the basement of the police station or I'm in the Twilight Zone."

"Chief, you live in the Twilight Zone. But Simon really didn't lie. You were doing my paperwork. He just made it sound like something came up suddenly and you couldn't keep the appointment. Just sort of misdirected the truth a little. Something you should easily be able to relate to. Anyway, you have a new appointment at one o'clock tomorrow afternoon. You can come in with me in the morning; surprisingly enough I think I may have some more paperwork you can help me catch up on. We'll have a late lunch afterwards."

A sinking feeling of dread came over Blair. "Jim! He didn't tell her that I, you know, freaked out in the bullpen or anything like that did he? Oh God, even if he didn't, I can't face the other guys after what I did. I can't go back there." He went from dread to despair. Pushing his plate away he discovered his newfound appetite was suddenly gone, replaced by a giant lump in his stomach. He couldn't face going back to the station so he couldn't keep the doctor's appointment so he wouldn't be cleared so he wouldn't ever be able to ride with Jim again. How did things get so bad so fast?

Jim watched Blair's deepening depression. When he saw him push his plate away he knew it was time for some serious damage control. He had really thought that this was going to be good news. Everything had been going so well this evening, up until now. Blair had started putting his things back out in the loft. Definitely a good sign. He had also been pleased to see how quickly Blair had recovered from being startled when he yelled. Sure he had jumped, that was a natural reaction. But even though he had immediately glanced towards the door, there was no other adverse response. He had remained calm with no outward sign of anxiety. He was already doing better than he had just this morning. Now this. He could see that all of Blair's previous insecurities about not fitting in, not being accepted at the station were coming to the surface again.

"Blair."

Blair slowly looked up, expecting to see disappointment in Jim's eyes. Disappointment in him again. But there was no disappointment, only concern.

"Chief, do you remember the conversation we had the other night? When you walked home in the rain, right before you got sick?

"Um, I was pretty tired by the end of it, but yeah, I remember."

Jim was relieved. If Blair didn't remember it would be harder to convince him that he meant what he was about to say. "Good. Then you remember that even back then I told you that no one at the station blamed you for leaving like you did. Believe me when I tell you again that they all, and I mean everyone, including Simon, consider me the bad guy. If you could have seen the evil looks I got after you left, you know, the 'how could you do that to him' type of thing. In fact, I think if looks could kill you'd be talking to a dead man right now. Not only that, everybody was asking about you today. Wanting to know if you were feeling better and when you were coming back. Trust me Sandburg, you have no reason to worry about facing them." Jim watched Blair's face carefully. Come on Chief, listen to me. You know I don't lie to you.

Blair looked hopeful but not totally convinced. "C'mon man. Like most of them don't still think that I'm just some kind of long-haired hippie wuss or something." He hesitated then looked directly at Jim. "Do you?"

Jim looked back at his young friend. If I ever find out who is responsible for making this man doubt himself so much I will fucking kill them. He knew he had to answer before Blair took his silence as an affirmative answer. He also knew how much was riding on his answer. He just prayed it got it right.

"Blair, never in the three years that I have known you have I ever thought you were a wuss or a coward or any of those other negative things you tend to think about yourself. I have seen you, a totally untrained civilian, go into some incredibly dangerous situations and do some amazingly brave things armed with nothing more than brains and determination. I threw you up against a wall and you came right back after me. You talked Kincaid's pilot into landing that helicopter using nothing but a flare gun and fast-talking. I heard how you stood up to Lash even though you had no way of knowing that anybody even knew where you were. It was you that kept everybody calm in that elevator and figured out to get rid of the bomb. You have an overwhelming fear of heights but you jumped out of an airplane and jumped over a pretty high waterfall, both times for no other reason than you thought your friend needed your help."

He paused to take a sip of water. Blair's eyes were riveted on him.

"And that's just a few examples of the things you've done. You've been beaten up, knocked out, drugged and shot and yet, unbelievably, you're still here. Let's not forget too, that you don't even get paid for doing any of this. That on top of all this you have an entire other full time job that you somehow also manage to keep on top of as well."

He wondered if he was saying too much, Blair tended to get uncomfortable if he was the center of attention for too long. But since he seemed to have his partner's undivided attention, he decided to go for broke.

"You also have the courage to stick to your convictions. How many people have told you to give up on your study of Sentinels? All these years and you never once gave in and I, for one, am very grateful you didn't." Jim tapped his chest with his middle finger. "That kind of courage comes from in here. It can't be taught at a Boot Camp or a Police Academy. Either you have it or you don't. God, Chief, believe me, when I, or anyone at the station who knows you, thinks of you, wuss or coward is the LAST thing we think of. Sure you get teased sometimes; it just goes with the cop mentality territory. But trust me, you do have the respect of everyone there, especially mine, and you have it for one reason and one reason only—you've earned it. Partner."

Blair sat absolutely still for almost three full minutes; Jim was sure it must be some kind of record. He lost count of how many different expressions crossed his partner's face during that amount of time. It was the longest few minutes he could remember. When Blair finally looked up his face was still unreadable, as if Blair himself still wasn't sure exactly how to take what he had just heard. But he had made a decision.

"Where..." His voice faltered. He cleared his throat, swallowed and started again, his voice soft but sure. "Where do you want to go for lunch tomorrow?"

Jim silently released the breath he had been he holding. He knew not to make a big deal about Blair's decision. If he wanted to talk about it later he would let him know. So he just shrugged his shoulders slightly. "I don't know. We'll think of somewhere tomorrow, but I promise—no WonderBurger." That brought a quick smile to Blair's lips, a hint of which remained as he pulled his plate back towards him, picked up his fork and started to finish his dinner. He looked to Jim like a kid who had learned a really cool secret and was keeping it to himself.

Just as they were finishing the waitress returned and handed them each a dessert menu. She smiled at the two friends. "Would either of you care for dessert?" Blair starting laughing behind his menu as Jim, with barely a glance at his partner, answered. "Yes, we would. What kinds of ice cream do you have?"

Jim and Blair stood outside the restaurant. It was definitely colder now than when they had first entered. Jim watched as Blair pulled his jacket tighter around him. "I hate how cold it still gets at night. Is it ever going to just stay warm all day?" When a shiver ran down Blair's body Jim automatically put his arm around his chilly friend's shoulders. It was the first time he had really tried to touch Blair in days. He worried about his rash action when he felt Blair tense but a few seconds later he felt him relax. He almost smiled when Blair took a small half sidestep closer towards him. He kept his arm around his Guide as they starting walking towards the truck.

"Hey, don't forget, Chief, the ice cream was your idea."

"Yeah, but I still can't believe you ate two bowls."

When he shivered again Jim lightly rubbed his upper arm. He probably shouldn't be out in this cold night air yet. "Yeah, but I'm a big boy, I can handle two. And what about you, Mr. I Only Eat Healthy? Mocha Almond Fudge? Explain to me again exactly what part of that is good for you?"

"Well... you know... sometimes you just gotta go for it. And besides, ice cream has milk and milk has calcium and almonds are nuts and nuts have protein and calcium and protein are both good for you. So there."

"Uh-huh. Yeah. Right. Just keep telling yourself that, Junior, maybe eventually you'll convince somebody else too."

The sorely missed sound of joined laughter echoed across the parking lot.


3 Days Later

Jim Ellison was one very pissed off detective. This was supposed to have been a simple, easy, by the numbers operation. The information came from a reliable source. Nothing complicated, a simple small time drug deal that hopefully would lead them to the bigger players.

Except that everything that could have gone wrong had gone wrong. The information was all wrong—first there were more people involved in the deal than they had been told; second, the criminals were much more heavily armed than they thought. Then the buy started sooner than they had expected so their backup was still on the way when everything actually went down. Only Jim's enhanced senses had alerted him to their true situation soon after he, Brown and Rafe had entered the warehouse, enabling him to change their plan of attack at the last minute. If they had stuck to the original plan there was little doubt that all three of them would have been killed. As it was, they were barely able to hold off the drug dealers until the backup finally arrived and even then it was a long, drawn out gun battle.

The end result was one perp dead, two wounded and one officer slightly wounded. As lead detective Jim was facing days of paperwork and a Board of Inquiry. No, Jim Ellison was definitely not happy. One look at his face was enough to make anyone in his path immediately move, in a hurry to be any place else.

Jim reached into his jacket pocket for his cell phone. It wasn't there. "Dammit, where is it?" he grumbled to himself. Oh yeah, he left it in the truck with Blair. Jim looked across the wide parking lot that inclined up to where he had parked the truck. Almost unbelievably Blair was actually still standing beside the truck. He had known when they arrived that his partner still wasn't over having just been sick plus everything else he had been through in the past week, that he was in no shape to be able to help Jim with his senses or anything else. But he had insisted on coming, saying now that he had been cleared to ride with him again there was no way he was staying behind. No amount of arguing could change his mind. When Blair finally threatened to show up on his own, he reluctantly settled for telling his obstinate partner that he'd damn well better stay put this time or else he would personally pull his observer credentials. With his mind still going over the disastrous bust and the phone call to Simon he really did not want to make, Jim started walking towards the truck. He didn't see how this day could get much worse. He called out to Blair, wanting to tell him to meet him with the cell phone. One look at Blair however and Jim realized that his day had just gotten a whole lot worse.


Blair sat in the truck as he watched Jim, Brown and Rafe carefully approach the warehouse. Jim had assured him that this would be an easy bust. Their information said that this was a minor drug buy, a few small time players, no big deal. Besides they would have plenty of backup, several squad cars were already enroute. Jim had even given him his cell phone to hold in case Simon tried to call. He had smiled at Blair when he gave it to him saying, "Wouldn't want to ruin the surprise party." So Blair sat in the truck. He didn't like staying behind again, no, not one little bit, but he had promised Jim he would stay put this time. Especially after what had happened last time, getting caught by Evans and then Jim. At the memory of that horrendous night an involuntary shiver ran down his spine, he absolutely had no intention of tempting the gods again. Besides, even if he wouldn't admit it to Jim, he really was tired and still recovering from the events of the last week.

Suddenly Blair sat straight up. Jim was cocking his head, a sign that he was concentrating on his hearing. Oh God, thought Blair, don't zone. A few heart stopping minutes later he saw Jim signaling to Brown and Rafe. "No!" Blair cried out loud as he saw the detectives enter the building, "It's too early, the backup isn't here yet!" Soon after that he heard gunfire. Lots of gunfire. Blair was almost beside himself as he jumped out of the truck and slammed the door shut. It took every ounce of restraint he had not to run down to the warehouse. Instead he grabbed the side view mirror bracket and just stared, almost willing himself to able to see what was happening inside the building—what was happening to Jim. Just then several squad cars pulled up unloading uniformed officers. Blair could just barely hear their radios echoing orders as some men surrounded the warehouse and others entered. Something must have gone wrong.

Next came what sounded like World War III being fought inside the old building. He squeezed his eyes shut. Please please please let Jim be all right, and Rafe and Brown and all the cops—but especially Jim, please God please. Several long minutes later, as suddenly as the gunfire had started, it stopped. The silence was deafening. Blair opened his eyes and held his breath as people began emerging from the now silent warehouse. He first saw uniformed officers, some leading men in handcuffs to the waiting squad cars. One young officer with his right hand wrapped around his left upper arm was taken to a waiting ambulance. Then he saw Brown followed by Rafe. Both looked shaken up but all right. But where was... "Jim." Blair breathed the name out loud as he let out the breath he'd been holding. Jim walked out and handed over a handcuffed man to two uniformed officers. Blair looked him over carefully. He was walking all right, no blood anywhere, no sign of pain on his face. Blair sighed, He's okay. He laid his head on the cool metal arm of the mirror. "Thank You," he whispered. He looked back up and watched as Jim walked around giving a few orders, organizing the scene. People jumped and moved away when he came by. Blair could tell that Jim was tense, in full "cop in charge" mode.

Suddenly Jim turned and started walking towards him. Blair watched him hoping maybe they could leave now. Despite what he had insisted to Jim earlier, he really wasn't feeling all that great and was definitely ready to leave. The small, hopeful smile died on his lips when he saw Jim's face as he approached—dark and very upset. Why is Jim mad at me? A knot of fear started in Blair's stomach. No, he wouldn't... He couldn't... Blair stared as 6'1, 190 pounds of angry Ellison kept getting closer. The fear started to grow into panic. NO! I didn't do anything wrong this time. I stayed with the truck. Blair started to shake. This can't be happening again! It can't. Trailing his left hand along the side of the truck, Blair started to slowly walk backwards, his eyes never leaving Jim's face. Maybe... maybe... Just then Jim yelled "Sandburg!" At that word all reason left Blair as sheer terror replaced panic. Only one thought filled his mind—GET AWAY! NOW!


Jim watched Blair as he approached the truck. What's he doing? he thought as he watched Blair start to walk backwards. He was surprised when Blair jumped when he called his name. Something wasn't right. He opened up his senses, concentrating on his partner. Sight showed him Blair's chalk white face, eyes wide open, pupils dilated. Beads of sweat crossed his forehead. He was shaking so hard his teeth were almost chattering. But it was the look of sheer panic and fear that held Jim's attention. Hearing told him that Blair's heart was almost pounding out of his chest; it's rhythm much too fast. His breathing was reaching hyperventilation, with shallow rapid breaths. Then he heard the whispering, "No no no, not again not again..."

Oh Shit. Realization of what was happening hit Jim. Based on what Blair had told him, this was almost exactly what it had been like the last time. He knew Blair's first instinct this time would be to run. He starting jogging towards the truck, afraid that a full out run would only panic Blair even more. Trying to keep his voice calm he called out, "Blair, Chief, it's me, Jim. It's all right. Just stay where you are." Damn. Why'd he park the truck so far away, and uphill too? Easy, because you thought Blair would be safer farther back.

Blair reached the end of the truck and stopped, his fingers still on the tailgate. He knew that once he let go of the truck he would truly be on his own. Numerous thoughts were swirling around in his mind, but uppermost was the idea that Jim wanted to hurt him again. He had to stop him the only way he could, by getting away. Now. He thought for a moment that he heard his name, but it sounded so far away it barely registered. He quickly looked around, which way to go? There it was, the parking lot exit. He let go of the truck, his lifeline to Jim, his safe world, everything he thought he knew, turned and started for the exit. It was his only way out of this nightmare. Only this was worse than any nightmare he could ever imagine—his friend, his Blessed Protector, His Jim wanted to hurt him again and there wasn't any way Blair could stop him. So he ran.

Jim saw Blair stop at the back of the truck and for a moment he hoped that Blair had heard him; that he would actually stay. Then he saw the wild, panicked look in his friend's eyes and knew that Blair was only looking for the way out, the best way to run—away from him. His heart skipped a beat when he thought of how the fear in Blair's eyes, the blind determination to get away, was all aimed at him.

As soon as Jim saw Blair's hand leave the truck as he turned to run, he increased his own speed. He had two advantages—Blair had to start uphill from a dead stop, Jim's momentum was already moving him forward and he had longer legs. He quickly passed the truck. A few long strides later he caught up to Blair. He grabbed Blair by the shoulder, stopping them both in mid-step. Turning Blair around so that he now faced him, Jim put one hand on top of each of the thin shoulders.

"Blair," he tried to keep his face and voice as unthreatening as possible while catching his breath, "Chief... it's all right. Calm down. Nobody's going to hurt you."

Blair's reaction was instantaneous. His eyes got even wider, showing naked terror. He began to fight to get out of Jim's grasp. Jim had no choice but to grab his upper arms to maintain his hold on him. That seemed to set the terrified younger man off completely. Blair twisted, turned and pushed against Jim in his frantic efforts to get away. He began to scream as he fought to break Jim's tight grip, "NOOOOO. Let GO of me! LET GO! Not AGAIN! LET GO! LEMME GO! Get AWAY from me!" He still had only one thought as he tried anything to pull free from Jim. He had to get away. Right Now!

Jim wasn't sure what to do. He had never seen Blair so out of control. He started slowly walking backwards, away from the exit, half dragging the still struggling Blair with him. He stopped beside the rear wheel of the truck. Blair stared at the truck for a few seconds and then started fighting and screaming harder than ever, eyes wide, in an absolute, hysterical panic to break free. "Nonononono!" Jim knew that there was no way to get through to his terrified Guide right now; it was all he could do to keep his hold on him. Blair was fighting him with everything he had. He knew that holding Blair like this, by the upper arms, was exactly how he had been holding him that night. He knew that this was only adding to Blair's panic, but given Blair's current state of mind, letting go was not an option. So he just held on to his partner, trying not to hurt him, or let Blair hurt himself. Pleading with his best friend to believe that he wasn't going to hurt him... again. He could feel Blair's desperation as he fought to break his hold, listening to the continuing anguished cries to be let go, not to be hurt again.

Finally Blair's struggles and cries slowed, then finally stopped, too winded to continue, trying to catch his breath. Jim looked down at his friend. Tears were streaming down Blair's face. He looked scared, confused and alone all at the same time. Slowly looking up at Jim and between gasps for air he asked in a broken voice, "Why Jim... why do you... want to... hurt me... again? What did... I do?" Jim felt his heart break into a million tiny pieces. Each piece had Blair's name on it.

Without even thinking about it he pulled his hurting friend to him. With Blair's forearms and palms flat against his chest, Jim wrapped his arms around his Guide, not so tight that Blair was pinned against him, but tight enough so that he couldn't get away. He leaned his head forward until his mouth was level with Blair's ear. Speaking softly, he said whatever he thought might help his friend, a continuous stream of comforting words. "Shhh Blair. It's all right. You're safe now. Just try to calm down. Nobody's going to hurt you. Everything's all right now..." Despite the reassuring words, as soon as he got over the initial shock of being trapped in Jim's arms, Blair's panic rose again. He tried to push against Jim, once again twisting and turning. He even tried to duck under Jim's arms, not screaming any longer but now pleading with Jim to let him go. "Please Jim. Please just let me go. I'm sorry. I'll leave. I'll go away. Just don't do this again. Please Jim." Jim carefully countered every move, sometimes holding Blair a little tighter, always letting up afterwards. He never stopped his soft voiced litany of assurances.

Already tired from his earlier attempts to get free, Blair's efforts soon slowed down again then stopped when exhaustion forced him to be still except for his heaving chest. Sensing that the fight had finally gone out of his exhausted partner, Jim, keeping one arm securely around Blair's shoulders, used his other hand to slowly rub Blair's back, mindful of the still healing bruises, trying to help him calm down. "It's all right, Chief, it's all right. Try to calm down now. Take deep breaths. Nobody's going to hurt you, I promise."

Suddenly Jim heard Simon's voice. He had been so focused on Blair, he had forgotten about everything else. Someone else must have contacted him.

"Jim? I'm not sure what you've got going on over there, but I'll take care of things at this end. You just do whatever you have to and fill me in later."

Jim put both arms around Blair again as he turned his head in the direction the voice came from. He saw Simon, at the now almost deserted crime scene, standing a short distance away from the others, pretending to be talking into his radio. He nodded to let Simon know he heard him.

"Just come into the station tomorrow to start the paperwork. You can explain everything then. And Jim, whatever's going on up there, take care of Sandburg."

Jim nodded again and watched Simon walk back over to the few remaining officers still there. Fortunately everyone there was concentrating on the crime scene and not what was happening in a distant parking lot. Simon had only noticed them because he was looking for Jim. Not for the first time Jim was grateful that Simon Banks was his superior officer instead of some of the other captains at the station. He turned his full attention back to his partner, gently rubbing his back again as he had been earlier. After several seconds Blair slowly lowered his head until his forehead was lightly resting on Jim's sweater, between his hands. Jim breathed a sigh of relief. Keeping his head next to Blair's he asked, "Are you okay, Chief? How do you feel?"

Blair was shaking and still had to answer between breaths. "Better... still... scared."

Jim held him a little tighter, putting his check on top of his friend's head. "Oh God, Blair. I am so sorry. For this, for last time, for everything." He could feel Blair's heartbeat and breathing slowing down but he was still trembling.

"Jim?" Blair's voice was slightly muffled against Jim's sweater.

"Yeah, Chief?"

Blair paused. "Are... are you okay?"

Jim knew what Blair was really asking: Are you still mad? Should I be worried? But most important, Am I safe?

Jim lifted his cheek from Blair's head; he loosened his arms slightly as he looked down at his friend, his pale face still hidden against his sweater.

"Chief."

No answer

Softly, "Blair, look at me, please."

Slowly Blair's head came off Jim's chest, though he left his hands where they were. He leaned back against Jim's loosened arms and raised his face to look at him. For several seconds frightened dark blue eyes looked into concerned light blue eyes. Then Jim spoke, still softly but sincerely, "Blair believe me when I say that I am okay. You are okay. But even more important we are okay. We have to be. I told you, I can't stand the thought of you being afraid of me. I don't want you to have to ever go through something like this again or even just think that I might ever hurt you again. You're the most important person in my life and I swear all I've ever wanted to do was to keep you safe. And... it may sound selfish but I... I also can't do this Sentinel stuff without you. I need you. I need you as my friend, but also, without you there will be no more Sentinel."

He put his right index finger over Blair's lips to stop the protest he saw forming there. "No. Let me finish, this is something that needs to be said. I was actually going to tell you all this tonight anyway, after dinner, but I think you really need to hear it now."

Convinced that Blair wouldn't interrupt, that he had his full attention, Jim moved his hand from Blair's mouth and cupped the left side of his Guide's face. "Ever since I found out what happened... what I did..." Jim took a deep breath to ease the sudden tightness in his chest, "... I've been thinking about it, constantly. I think I know what happened. I hope I can explain to you why it happened and convince you that it will never happen again."

Jim paused briefly, gathering his thoughts before continuing. He thought he'd have a little more time to go over all this before actually talking to Blair. But after what had just happened it obviously couldn't wait any longer. Blair needed to know now that he was safe.

"First off, you see, I realized a long time ago that when it comes to this Sentinel partnership you're the one with all the power, the one in charge. I may actually have the enhanced senses but that's all I have. You did all the research, have all the knowledge. You had to teach me what to do, how to live with them. You're still coming up with new tests to see what I can or can't do. Chief, you found out which laundry detergent to use so my clothes don't irritate my skin, what foods I can't eat, what medicines I can and can't take—you handle all those countless day to day things I never would have even thought about. When my senses spike out of control or I zone, you're the one who brings me back—I automatically respond to your voice. When I get frustrated and can't concentrate, your hand on my back or arm instantly calms me down, allows me to focus. It's all instinctual; I don't even have to think about it. I've given almost total control of my life over to you, because you're the one, the only person I trust with it. I've become so dependent on you that it scares me to death to think what might happen if you weren't here with me."

Blair was afraid to move or even breathe. Jim had never talked this much before on such a personal level. He didn't want to do anything that might cause him to stop. Jim, for his part, felt he couldn't stop now if he wanted to. At this point he would do anything to make Blair feel safe with him again. To make sure that he knew that what had happened would never happen again. If that included revealing his innermost feelings, then he would do it. He had to make Blair understand why he had reacted as he had that night, what could have caused him to lose control enough to do the unthinkable, to actually hurt the most important person in his life. So he started talking again.

"Besides Blair Sandburg, Guide, there is another equally, if not more important Blair Sandburg in my life." A small smile played at the bigger man's lips.

"I never met anyone like you, Chief. You blew into my life and turned it upside down. Before long you had 'Hardass Ellison' jumping through hoops—and liking it. I still can't believe some of the tests I do, just for you. Since I've met you I've gone to new places, met new people, done things I never would have considered before, even if I didn't always go willingly. You've made me realize that I wasn't a loner before—what I was, was lonely. You came in and without even trying you've opened up my life, my heart, my soul."

Unconsciously had he started to softly rub his thumb across Blair's cheek. "I woke up one day and discovered that my whole life revolved around a hyperactive, long haired, totally undisciplined grad student—and that I would gladly go to Hell and back to make sure it stayed that way. You're not only my Guide Blair, you're my partner, my best friend and I think of you as more of a brother than I do my own blood brother. Even if I were to lose my senses forever tomorrow, I would still want you permanently in my life. I can't imagine what it would be like if you weren't here, both as my Guide and as my friend."

Blair was still as a statue. He was stunned by what he was hearing. Jim had just volunteered more personal feelings in the past few minutes than he had been able to pry out of him in the past three years. And they were about him. If he weren't so damn tired right now he knew he'd be able to think of an appropriate response, say what Jim needed him to say. But right now it was getting harder to think. It was easier to just listen and Blair was sure that Jim wasn't finished yet. And so, for one of the few times in his life, Blair Sandburg didn't know what to say.

Jim looked down at his unusually quiet friend with concern. Not surprisingly, considering the weeks, especially the past week, that Blair had just been through, he had been showing definite signs of almost total exhaustion when Jim had picked him up earlier today. That was one reason he had insisted that his partner stay with the truck. It was now hours later, not to mention the draining physical as well as emotional experience Blair had just gone through. The adrenaline spike that had kept him going earlier had to be all but gone by now. Jim knew that Blair was going to crash, and it was going to be hard and it was going to be soon. He wanted to finish what he started, to make Blair understand why he didn't have to be afraid of him any more. But Blair's health was more important than what he wanted. It was starting to get dark and the temperature was dropping again. He knew how much Blair hated being cold, his thin windbreaker was fine during the day but it wasn't going to be of much use soon.

"Are you tired, Chief? It's getting cold, you want to get in the truck?"

"No" Blair whispered, "Keep going"

Neither man had moved. Blair still had his forearms and palms on Jim's chest. Jim still had one arm around Blair's shoulders, supporting part of his weight as he leaned back, his other hand still alongside Blair's face.

"All right. But you let me know if it starts getting to be too much for you. As soon as you start feeling tired or cold you tell me, okay?"

Already too late for the tired part, Jim. But he was not about to move until Jim finished what he had to tell him. He just nodded, so Jim continued.

"The reason I told you everything I just did is so that you'll have a better understanding of my state of mind on that night. As you know it had already been a grueling couple of weeks trying to catch Evans. He was one of the sickest bastards I'd ever seen. I put everything I had into going after him. I was totally wiped out by then, mentally and physically. That night was finally our chance to catch them all. I knew you were even more tired than I was plus I didn't want you anywhere near him. But when the opportunity came I didn't have a choice, there was no time to do anything but go straight to the stake-out. Maybe, if I hadn't been so tired, if I had been thinking a little more clearly when Simon called, I would have dropped you off right there and given you money for a cab. But I didn't, I took you with me."

Blair knew that if his own mind were working a little more clearly right now he could give Jim at least ten reasons why he should have been there anyway, but right now he could barely think of one. He was getting so tired. Don't think about it; just listen to Jim.

"I knew when we got there I didn't want you anywhere near the house, that you really shouldn't be there at all. That's why I was so insistent that you stay in the truck."

Blair remembered the handcuff threat.

"We thought we had the house totally surrounded—no way anyone could get out of there without our seeing him. It never occurred to anyone that there could have been a tunnel. When I heard Riley say that Evans was out and that he had you and then I saw that knife at your throat..." Jim closed his eyes for a few seconds as he remembered first seeing Evans holding Blair. He opened them again as he continued. "Everything else seemed to disappear; all I saw was you and him. I remembered hearing him say that he wouldn't be taken alive and that he was taking as many cops with him as he could. When he cut you..." Jim stopped talking as his hand dropped from Blair's face, his thumb lightly tracing over the still visible red line running across Blair's neck. His eyes focused inward as he recalled the sight of Evans pulling that large knife across his terrified Guide's throat. He remained that way until he heard his name being softly called. "Jim?" He refocused his eyes to see Blair looking up at him. He put his hand back alongside Blair's face. "I'm here. I was just remembering, not zoning. But at the time I actually did start to zone on the blood... your blood. Simon saw what was happening and got me back before anyone else noticed."

Blair's eyes grew wide at this new information but he said nothing.

"After Evans was... neutralized and you were safe, it happened."

Jim closed his eyes again, searching for the right words to describe what was going on in his mind at that time. He opened them and looked directly into Blair's eyes, desperate to make his friend understand.

"It was pretty much like I told you the other night, but I remember more of how I felt at the time, one reason why I reacted like I did.

Now was the time to be totally honest with his partner.

"Blair, I... I remembered something else from that night. It concerns something I'd almost been able to forget about until now. It happened during my Ranger days." Pain filled, light blue eyes closed briefly then opened again. "We had a new Lieutenant assigned to our squad. Lt. David Wynfield. We called him Buzz because he was a real wiz with any type of communications equipment, just like you are with computers. Thanks to him we were always the first to know all the latest buzz happening on base. He had just graduated from OCS, Officer's School, and had already been accepted for Ranger training. He was assigned to us until the next class started." Jim smiled. "You, uh, remind me a lot of him. Dark hair, blue eyes, young, excited, couldn't wait to graduate from Ranger school and get started on his career." The smile died away. "Anyway, we were given a fairly routine reconnaissance mission and since our regular company Communications expert couldn't go, Buzz was given his slot. A chance to get a little experience under his belt according to our C.O. I didn't like it but it wasn't up to me. So we get to the mission site, camouflage the truck and the squad starts to deploy. I told Buzz to stay with the communications equipment in the truck and monitor everything that was happening." Blair watched as Jim's eyes became distant as the old memories surfaced again. "It was supposed to be a quick In and Out but we ended up going longer than we had planned. To this day I still don't know why but Buzz apparently decided to come after us. We found him about 20 feet from the truck; his throat slashed. We just had time to get him and ourselves into the truck and get out of there. Buzz was still alive when we found him but he didn't make it back to the base." Jim removed his hand from Blair's face and scrubbed over his own face with it. After quickly wiping it across his suspiciously bright eyes he returned it to it's original position. "I always felt that somehow it was all my fault. That maybe I didn't stress hard enough to him that his job was to stay behind with the truck. They never even saw the truck, if he had just stayed put he would have been safe. That letter to his mother was probably the hardest one I've ever had to write." Jim's gaze was intense as he focused on his partner. "The only thing that would ever be harder would be telling Naomi that something happened to you."

"Anyway, that night with Evans, while everything was being wrapped up, you were standing beside the truck, waiting for me. Then it looked... it looked like you laughed. Like you thought that what had just happened to you was nothing. I just couldn't believe it. Suddenly two overwhelming emotions came over me at once: the first was a horrifying fear at how close I came to losing you, my Guide, the person I am so totally dependent on, my lifeline to sanity; and to losing my best friend, the person who means more to me than my own life. Then I felt intense anger, at you, because it was all so unnecessary. You had deliberately put yourself in that dangerous situation by getting out of the truck, where you were safe. By deliberately doing exactly what I had told you not to do. Then I wasn't seeing you but Buzz. It was like you were both you and him at the same time. And I wanted to tell him to get back in the truck, that something awful would happen if he didn't. The fear and anger, for both of you, kept going round and round in my head, it was like, I don't how to describe it... the fear kept egging on the anger until it built into a rage. I think if I hadn't been so totally wiped out by then I would have been able to control it. The last thing I still remember is thinking that I had to make you both understand that what you did was wrong and to make sure that you, Blair, never put yourself in that type of situation again."

Jim was getting winded; he rarely talked for this long at one time. He also regretted making Blair relive that whole night again. But he couldn't stop, especially not at this point. If he didn't finish, if he couldn't convince Blair that he was safe with him, especially after what had just happened earlier... Jim started where he had left off.

"Like I told you, I only meant that as giving you the longest, loudest chewing out you've ever received in your life. Nothing more. But it was the last thought I had before my conscious mind, I don't know, disappeared or shut down or whatever you want to call it. The next thing I remember, we were by the truck and I heard Simon calling me. I didn't even remember seeing Buzz or feeling that angry. I swear, Chief, I still don't remember anything after starting towards the truck. If I had been even the least bit aware of what was happening I would have done anything, anything, Blair, to stop myself."

Jim looked at Blair hopefully for any sign that his partner believed what he was saying. But Blair's usually overly expressive face had an almost neutral look on it.

Oh God, maybe he really doesn't believe me. Maybe he just said that he did before because he was scared not to. Maybe he thinks I'm trying to make up excuses for what I did.

Even Blair's eyes, usually bright and exuberant held no clue to what the anthropologist was thinking. The longer Blair remained silent the more Jim started fretting. Was this a sign that Blair didn't believe him, hated him or was it just exhaustion finally catching up with him? Watching Blair being awake and conscious but so still and quiet was unnerving. Yell, scream, tell me to go to hell, anything but this silent treatment. Out loud he said, "Blair, I know I've been talking for a long time and I don't know how well I'm explaining myself, but please say something. Tell me you at least hear what I'm saying."

Just when he thought he couldn't stand the silence any longer Blair finally spoke.

"So that probably explains why you said I 'disobeyed' you. Because Buzz disobeyed your order to stay with the truck." Dark blue eyes grew wide as a new thought struck Blair. "Ohmigod, Jim. I'll bet that on some subconscious level you weren't just talking to me, you were finally getting a chance to yell at Buzz for not following orders. And for getting himself killed because of it. All those years of repressed guilt finally had an outlet. The similar characteristics between me and Buzz and then especially the uncanny similarities between the two incidents were probably just enough to trigger your buried memories. Your conscious mind knew the difference but at that moment your subconscious sort of took over and it... it merged me and Buzz together." Blair looked sad again. "But afterward, you probably couldn't deal with what you had just done. You had hurt me and blamed a young soldier under your command for his own death. So you did what you do best—repressed the whole thing, blocked it out as if it never happened." An unspoken 'so where does that leave me?' hung in the air.

Everything Blair had just said made perfect sense. Guilt. He was undefeated champion of unresolved guilt. He had spent years trying to forget about Lt. David "Buzz" Wynfield. Had finally pushed the young man so far back into the darker recesses of his mind that he had finally almost disappeared. But some memories obviously refuse to stay forgotten. Those are the ones that finally surface when you least expect them. Blair was right, of course, it had to be the, as he put it, uncanny similarities between him and Buzz and what had happened to both of them. And both had been hurt on his watch. That was the similarity that was hardest to accept. He had left both of them alone and that had led to a soldier leaving him physically and a partner leaving him emotionally. But with Blair he had another chance. A rare chance to fix what went wrong. He didn't intend to blow this God-given opportunity. Blair would undoubtedly want to talk about this new discovery until he had managed to examine it, analyze it and dissect it from every possible angle. And he would let him, he owed him at least that much, but not tonight. Tonight he had something much more important to discuss with his partner and Guide.

A sudden wind whipping through his sweater made Jim aware that it was getting colder. He could feel Blair shivering under his arm even if Blair himself didn't seem to be aware of it. Blair not aware of the cold? Just how tired was he? "I think you're right about all this, Chief, but let's finish this up at home. You're freezing even if you don't seem to know it. After the other night I don't want you to get chilled."

"No."

"Blair—"

"No. I know there's more, besides this thing with Buzz, which we will talk about by the way. I want to hear everything else. Now."

God, he could be so stubborn. Jim knew it was either finish up quickly or watch Blair succumb to hypothermia; it was obvious he wasn't budging until he had the full story. Jim reached down and gently pulled Blair's hands off his sweater. They were so cold.

"Jeez, Chief, your hands are like ice."

Before Blair could react, Jim raised his friend's hands to his mouth and blew a hot breath on each one. Then he enclosed both of Blair's hands between his and started rubbing. Blair watched Jim rub his hands for several seconds, then looked up at the older man with a small smile at this spontaneous act of friendship.

Jim smiled back, relieved at Blair's reaction. "One of these days, Chief, you'll remember to keep your gloves in your jacket pocket. I can't follow you around all day keeping your hands warm."

Watching Blair's reaction to this small act, Jim realized that part of his partner's earlier stoicism had been a defense mechanism that Blair had put up when he had started talking about the events of that night. His Guide was more than willing to talk about his Sentinel's repressed memories but not about what had happened to him. Remembering what Evans and he had both done to him on the same night had to be painful. Blair was still keeping all of his personal feelings bottled up inside, just as he had been doing all week, as well as probably watching Jim for any signs of a recurrence. Jim felt a stab of pain when he thought of how his Guide and best friend was still afraid of him. Okay, Jim thought, this ends here and now. He stopped rubbing Blair's hands but kept his hands around the slightly smaller pair.

"Blair," he said, "Listen to me, this is very important."

Blair turned his face up to meet Jim's. There was still a trace of anxiety in those blue eyes. Jim took a deep breath and slowly released it. "Blair, I know what I did to you that night scared the hell out of you, every time I think about it, it scares the hell out of me, too. I want you to know that I've seen to it that that will never happen again."

Blair's eyes grew wide. "You had Simon revoke my observer status? You're kicking me out? Getting rid of me?"

It was Jim's turn to look startled. "No, Chief, no. God, no. Why would you ever think that? I've already told you, I can't do this without you. The problem is with me, not you. And I've come up with the solution."

Blair was watching Jim intensely.

"I've thought a lot about this. I really don't think that all the conditions that caused this to occur in the first place will ever happen again but I'm not willing to take any chances with your safety. So I've done something I haven't done since my Covert Ops days."

Blair's head jerked back as he stared at his partner. Jim rarely ever talked about his days in Ops. Getting him to even mention Covert Ops was almost unheard of. He had made it very clear that he did not want to talk about anything having to do with that part of his life.

Jim smiled at Blair's reaction. "I know that this subject is usually off limits for discussion, but this is one time I'm willing to make an exception. Only for you, Chief." He turned serious again. "As you know, in Ops we often had to do things to complete a mission that were, let's just say, unpleasant. Things that people usually didn't do to each other." For a few seconds he tensed and his eyes turned hard at the thought of some the "unpleasant" memories. He felt Blair try to pull his hands free, heard the increased heart rate. He immediately relaxed and held Blair's hands tighter. "No, Chief, it's all right. I'm sorry. Please let me finish. When I'm done you'll understand what all this is about, what I've been trying to tell you. Why you don't have to be afraid..." Jim's voice dropped to a whisper, "... of me." He raised his voice back to its normal level. "When I'm done, if you still want to go, I won't try to stop you."

Blair looked at Jim for several seconds, then nodded, "Okay."

"In Ops, in order to be able to do what was necessary, we were taught a technique called 'self programming', kind of like self hypnosis. We would pre-program ourselves to do what was required at the proper time. At a pre-determined trigger the programming would kick in, overriding everything else, any type of hesitation, and allowed us to do what we had to do. Believe me, it works. I've used that technique now and have pre-programmed myself. Now, if I ever feel myself reaching anywhere near that same level of anger, as soon as I feel myself even start to lose control, I will automatically, immediately switch into full-blown Blessed Protector mode. All that energy will then be focused solely on keeping you safe." Jim chuckled. "And God help anybody who even looks crossways at you - they'll find themselves with one fully engaged, Ranger trained Sentinel in their face."

Jim paused, then continued. "Don't get me wrong here, Chief. I'm not saying that I'm never going to get mad or yell at you again. Hell, everyone knows that my temper is part of my charm. But I can tell you right here, right now, that I WILL NOT ever lose control like that again. No matter what. Not when it comes to you."

The Sentinel looked down at his Guide. He released Blair's hands; he had promised that he wouldn't try to stop him.

"Do you understand what I'm saying, Chief? You never have to worry about what happened ever happening again. I came too close to losing you twice in one day, once due to a madman with a knife and once because of my own actions. Neither is acceptable. The second reason I have already taken care of, the first just means that you are my first priority from now on. Your health and safety come first. The way it should be. The Sentinel protecting the Guide, the cop protecting the observer, Jim protecting Blair."

Both men stood silently. This time Jim was the one almost afraid to breathe. Was it enough? Could I have said or done more? Is he still scared or does he feel safe with me again? What happens if he doesn't?

It was Blair's decision now.

Blair lowered his head, not saying anything while he thought deeply and carefully about everything Jim had just told him. It was a tense few minutes later when he finally, slowly raised his eyes back up to meet Jim's. When he spoke, it was barely above a whisper.

"Everything's really all right now?"

"Everything is really all right."

"Promise?"

"I promise."

"Swear?"

"I swear."

Blair nodded solemnly.

"So, are we okay now, Chief?"

"Yeah, we're okay now."

Jim grinned. "Promise?"

Blair grinned back. "I promise."

Bigger grin. "Swear?"

Bigger grin back. "I swear."

Jim held out his hand for a handshake. Blair's hand had barely grasped the bigger hand when he felt himself being pulled forward and wrapped in a giant bear hug. Hesitating for only a split second he threw his arms around his friend and squeezed as hard as he could. He could hear his Sentinel's strong heartbeat beneath his ear. Could feel the strong arms that held him tight, promising safety and security. A sigh passed through his lips as he allowed himself to fully relax for the first time in what seemed like ages. Everything was finally going to be all right.


Sentinel and Guide stood unmoving for several minutes, each quietly reveling in the rekindled bond and closeness between them again. Then it seemed as though all the demons and suppressed emotions from the last few weeks had been just waiting for Blair to finally let his guard down. Seemingly out of nowhere, he felt everything begin to catch up to him at once: the overloaded finals weeks, the horror of what had happened with Evans, the heartbreaking attack by his Blessed Protector, those nerve wracking days tiptoeing around Jim, that miserable night in the rain, getting sick, the long night Jim found out what happened, sweating out the drug bust, the sheer terror when he thought Jim was going to attack him again and finally the utter relief when he knew he was safe again. It was just way too much in too short a time on top of total exhaustion. Jim heard the change in his Guide's heartbeat, heard the first soft sob, felt the tremors start in his friend's shoulders. He knew what was coming. It was the beginning of the crash he had been expecting. He heard a whispered "Dammit" then something unintelligible. Still holding on tight he leaned his head closer to the dark curls. "What'd you say, Chief?"

"I said I'm not gonna cry." Fingers balled into fists. He'd been able to hold everything together for so long now by sheer willpower alone. He was not going to lose it now, especially in front of Jim. Even as he said it tears were starting to spill from his eyes.

Jim looked down at the head lying on his chest. Blair was the most generous, giving person he had ever met. This man wouldn't, couldn't hurt anyone. It wasn't fair that he was the one that always seemed to get hurt physically and emotionally. Whatever Blair needed right now, for as long as he needed it, Jim would give to him. "It's okay, Chief. It's just your body's way of releasing all the tension and stress you've been under. Blair, you've been through more in the past few days than most people will ever go through, plus the added strain of the past few weeks. You've been on an emotional roller coaster the whole time. It's all over now. You don't have to hold it all together any more. There's no one here but us. Just let it all out."

Blair's response was so soft Jim had to strain to hear it. "You don't cry."

So that was it. Even after all this time Blair was still afraid to appear weak in front of him. Jim thought back to the conversation in the restaurant the other night. Blair asking if he thought he was a wuss. Afraid that he had lost the respect of the other detectives in the bullpen because of how he had reacted to Jim's yelling at him. Even after all his assurances that evening apparently anything could still bring out Blair's insecurities. Somebody, or more than likely several somebodies, had obviously done such a number on his partner's self esteem while he was growing up that, even now, he still wasn't able to overcome it. Jim fought down a sudden flash of anger at these unknown jackasses and concentrated on his friend. If Blair needed constant reassurances about his worth as a person and especially his importance to him, until he finally believed it, then he would get it—in spades.

"Chief, don't you know that one of the things I've always admired about you is your ability to be so open and to be able to show your emotions so easily? I was taught by my father since early childhood to repress my feelings; I wasn't supposed to show anything. Then the military just reinforced that even more. I... I couldn't even cry when Buzz died. I was expected to be an example for the rest of my men. Naomi, however, actually encouraged you to always be free and open with whatever you were feeling at the moment. I've always envied you for that. And I don't ever want you to change any of that because of me. That's part of who you are, what makes you so special. When you're happy or excited about something it makes me feel good too, especially when you share those feelings with me. But, and I want you to always remember this, at the same time, when you're troubled or hurting, that is when I especially want you to come to me and share those feelings too. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want 'us' to be the place we can both come to, to share anything with the other without any fear of humiliation or rejection. A safe harbor that's always accessible, in good weather and bad. I only wish you could have come to me about all of this." He held Blair even tighter, the back of his fingers softly stroking the dark curly hair along the side of his friend's head as he put his mouth next to Blair's ear and whispered, "But you're safe now. I've got you and I won't let go, I promise."

With those soft words Blair's resolve shattered. He pulled his arms from around Jim and brought both hands up to grab fistfuls of the front of the larger man's sweater. Jim recognized this gesture as Blair's reaction to being emotionally upset. It was as if he were subconsciously trying to get as much of himself as possible inside Jim's embrace, while also holding on to him for support. Jim accommodated him by wrapping both arms around him, holding him securely.

Blair buried his face is the comforting safety of Jim's chest. He let the feeling of security in those strong arms surround him. Everything he'd been repressing came pouring out in a torrent of tears. Terror, fear, anger and relief were all finally released as Blair's whole body shook with the effort. Jim could feel the wetness soak through his sweater, through his T-shirt, to his skin. He just wrapped his large arms fully around Blair's smaller frame enveloping his friend in a protective cocoon. He would stay here, standing watch over his Guide, all night, hell he'd stand here all week, if that's what Blair needed. He reached up and lightly stroked the back of Blair's head, mindful of his injury, wishing he could take some of his pain away since he knew he was responsible for most of it. Instead he just held him close, letting him know that he wasn't alone anymore. Would never be alone again.

Slowly, eventually the sobs were reduced to a few sniffles; the heaving shoulders became a slight trembling. Blair turned his head and rested his cheek on Jim's wet sweater, his hands still keeping their grip. He was totally spent, his body limp. Only his hold on Jim and Jim's arms supporting him kept him from sliding to the ground. Jim leaned back against the truck, taking most of Blair's weight on top of him, keeping his arms around him. He monitored his partner's heartbeat and breathing listening as both slowed down. Jim waited calmly, content just to be close to his Guide again as Blair struggled to compose himself.

Blair continued to rest his head on Jim's chest, keeping a two handed hold on his sweater. "I-I think I ruined your sweater."

Jim grinned. "No problem. Sweaters are easy to replace. Best friends and Guides are a little harder to come by."

"I can't believe you did that."

Jim tensed. Was Blair still worried about the attack? "Did what, Chief?" he asked nervously.

"Used your Covert Ops training. I know you hate even thinking about that stuff. It must have been hard dredging up all those memories. You should have told me what you were doing. I could have helped you. You could have zoned."

Jim relaxed and shook his head. Once a Guide always a Guide, even now. "It wasn't hard. Besides, that's one part of my life I don't want you exposed to."

Blair just nodded against the sweater. Neither man spoke for several more minutes.

"Hey, Chief, it's really getting cold and dark. You ready to go home?"

No answer.

"Blair?"

Nothing.

Jim looked down. Even though Blair was still holding on tight to Jim's sweater, his eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open. A quick check showed his breathing was becoming deep and regular. Jim smiled. Blair had finally hit the wall. His body and mind could simply go no further. Jim hated to move him but it was getting colder and this was not a good neighborhood to be in after dark.

Jim pushed himself away from the truck with one hand, keeping one strong arm securely wrapped around Blair. He managed to maneuver them the few steps to the passenger door and open it. He propped Blair up against the truck, carefully removed his sweater from the firm fingers still gripping it and stepped back. Almost immediately the smaller man lunged back at Jim, wrapped his arms around the bigger man's waist and settled his head back on the large chest.

"No." he murmured, "Warm. Stay."

Jim looked down at his semi-conscious friend and sighed. "You're not going to make this easy are you, Chief?" In one move he scooped up his partner and placed him in the truck. Before Blair could react, the seatbelt was fastened.

"Stay there." Yeah, and how often has that worked?

Jim hurried into the driver's seat and started the engine. He looked over at his partner. Without Jim's body heat Blair was starting to shiver, even with his arms wrapped around himself. His head was against the back of the seat, eyes closed. The steady and regular heartbeat and deep breathing told the Sentinel that his Guide was almost asleep again. Jim chuckled to himself. When Blair hit the wall, he really hit it—not even the cold could keep him awake for long.

"Give the engine a minute to warm up and I'll crank up the heat."

"... uh-huh"

Jim smiled again. Thank God the loft had an elevator. He didn't even want to think about trying to go up three flights of stairs half carrying a groggy Guide.

As he eased the truck from the parking lot into traffic, Jim was surprised to think of how much had happened since he and Blair first pulled in there. Had it really only been a few hours ago? It seemed like at least a couple of days. His main concern now was to get Blair home and into bed. He knew that his partner would probably be out for at least a good 15 hours once he actually got to sleep. He wished that when Blair woke up this whole mess would be behind them, that last awful week could finally be forgotten. But Jim knew it wasn't totally over yet. Yes, Blair now understood, finally believed, at least intellectually, that he would never hurt him again. But Jim also knew that, at least for a while, every time he got angry or upset Blair would tense and there would be that flash of fear in his eyes again. He would try to hide it immediately and would probably feel guilty afterward, but he would see it and it would hurt every time. Because he was the one who put that fear in his friend's eyes. This was something that only time could heal. Time and patience on his part, and he vowed he would give Blair as much of both as he needed.

Jim was so engrossed in his thoughts that he was almost surprised to realize that they had arrived at the loft. He pulled in next to Blair's Volvo and turned off the engine. Getting out, he circled the truck and opened the passenger door. Blair just sat there, his eyes barely open. As Jim unfastened the seatbelt he said, "Okay, Chief, I'm gonna need a little cooperation here."

"... nnnkay." Blair didn't move.

Shaking his head Jim slid Blair out of the truck, supporting him as he closed and locked the truck door. He put Blair's left arm around his neck and carefully gripped his wrist. Then he put his free arm around his partner's waist and started moving them towards the building. Once inside he slowly walked them both into the elevator, using the index finger of the hand around Blair to push the button. He breathed a sigh of relief as the cantankerous old elevator started to move. "Almost home, Chief. Just stay awake for a few more minutes." Blair laid his head on Jim's chest.

The loft door was a little trickier. Jim had kept his keys in the hand he put around Blair's waist. He managed to unlock the door and turn the knob, using his foot to push the door open. Once he and Blair were inside, he kicked the door shut behind them.

"All right, Chief, time for bed," he said, as he started towards Blair's room.

"No." Blair stopped. "Couch."

"Blair, look at you. You're exhausted; you can barely even stand up. You need to be in bed."

"No. Please." He almost whispered, "I-I just don't want... to be... all alone right now."

Jim walked Blair over to the larger couch, carefully sitting him down in the middle. Blair's head fell back against the back of the couch, his arms hung limp beside him.

"Thanks, man."

"I'll be right back. Don't move."

Don't think that will a problem right now.

Jim went into Blair's room. He arranged the pillows and pulled back the covers. He then went into the bathroom, that business finished he went upstairs to his bed and grabbed two pillows. Coming back down he tossed the pillows on the sofa beside an unmoving Blair as he went into the kitchen, picking up the cordless phone as he went. He pulled a beer out of the fridge.

"Hey, Chief, you want some tea or anything?"

Blair didn't answer for so long that Jim thought he didn't hear him. He was about to ask again when a strained voice answered. "Too. Tired."

Jim brought the beer and phone out, placing them on the coffee table. He walked around the loft, locking the door and turning out the lights. Walking over to Blair he helped him out of his jacket, ignoring his own House Rules by tossing it onto the nearby chair. Kneeling down he untied and removed Blair's sneakers. He then sat down at the end of the couch, putting the beer, phone and TV remote within easy reach on the end table beside him. One pillow from upstairs went onto the floor beside him, the other onto his lap. Jim turned slightly and put his hands on Blair's shoulders, slowly lowering and pulling him towards himself. He guided his Guide's head onto the pillow. Reaching across Blair he grabbed his legs by the jeans and pulled them onto the couch. Blair immediately turned onto his side, facing Jim, and slowly closed his eyes as he curled himself into a ball. Jim reached up and took the afghan from the back of the couch and wrapped it around Blair. He felt Blair relax a little as he burrowed his head deeper into the pillow. A very sleepy sounding voice floated up to him.

"Jiiim."

"Shhhh, don't talk. Just relax and go to sleep."

"No. Want to say..."

"Say what, Chief?" He knew Blair wouldn't allow himself to sleep if something was on his mind. And Blair needed to sleep; he couldn't even open his eyes while he talked.

"Just want to say thanks... for everything tonight and... wondering if... um... did you—did you really mean everything you said tonight? I mean... it's, you know, okay if you just said most of that stuff cause I was upset 'n all. I understand." But I really hope you meant at least some of it.

God, those insecurities again. Someday he was going to find out the reasons behind them, but not now. "Yes, Chief, I really meant every word I said and then some."

"Hmmmmm..." Blair smiled slightly at Jim words. He wanted to sleep but now he couldn't stop thinking about what Jim had said earlier, about them being a safe harbor for each other. The analogy worked. They had just survived the worst storm in their relationship since becoming Sentinel and Guide by helping each other. Now they were safe, together, the bond between them almost as strong and secure as ever. He felt himself start to peacefully drift as Jim's voice washed over him.

"Glad to see you smiling, Chief, but right now you need to just shut down that amazing mind of yours and let yourself sleep. I'll be right here with you."

"... 'kay. G'night Jim."

"Good night, Chief." Jim smiled and shook his head as he slowly rubbed Blair's back from outside the afghan. He felt his tired friend finally relax, his head getting heavier on the pillow resting on Jim's thigh. Blair's last thoughts were that this has got to be the best place on Earth to be right now. He finally had his very own permanent safe harbor. Feeling more content and secure than he could remember feeling for a very long time, he released a sigh and totally gave himself over to sleep.

The sound of the sigh and the total relaxation of Blair's body told Jim that the exhausted grad student was finally getting the sleep he so desperately needed.

Jim reached for his beer and took a long drink. He turned on the TV, clicking channels until he found an interesting looking nature show, making sure to keep the volume well below Blair's level of hearing, though he doubted if anything could wake him up right now. After switching the remote for his beer, Jim put the other pillow behind his head and settled back to watch the show—all about jungle cats. Jim grinned as he watched. After watching for a while he turned his senses on Blair. Assured that his partner was in the deepest level of sleep he put down his beer, picked up the phone and dialed.

//Banks.//

Glancing down at Blair, Jim automatically lowered his voice when he answered, "Simon. It's Jim."

//Bout damn time. Are you two all right? What the hell was going on out there today? And why are you talking so low? I can barely hear you.//

"Blair's sleeping on the couch." Simon didn't have to know he was actually sleeping in his lap. "I don't want to wake him. He's really wiped out. Listen, Simon, I really appreciate what you did today—and I promise I'll explain everything tomorrow."

Unconsciously Simon lowered his own voice. //All right. Don't worry about coming in early or anything. Just come in whenever and start the paperwork for now. We'll deal with the rest of it later. Are you sure everything is all right? It looked pretty intense up there. Is Sandburg okay?//

Jim looked down at his sleeping roommate. It had been too long since he looked so relaxed and peaceful. He brushed some lose strands away from Blair's face.

"Yeah, Simon, everything is fine now. Right now what Blair mainly needs a good, long sleep. I'll tell him you were worried about him."

//Don't you dare, Detective. He's enough trouble as it is. Besides, I'll deny every word and you'll ride a desk 'til you both get blisters on your butts. I'll see you tomorrow.//

"Okay Simon, have it your way. Bye."

Jim disconnected the phone and leaned back. His original plan had been to let Blair stay here until he was deep enough asleep that Jim could put him to bed without waking him. Now that there was no hurry about getting to the station in the morning, maybe they could both sleep here tonight. He knew that his leg would be stiff in the morning and his neck and back would probably be sore from sleeping sitting up but right now he wanted, no needed, the physical contact with his Guide. That physical assurance that Blair was safe and unharmed. He looked down again at the sleeping form and gently stroked the soft, dark hair.

He found himself whispering to his sleeping partner, "You've had a hell of a day, Chief. Shit, you've had a hell of a week. I hope you know that I would take back all of it if I could. When I think that my hands could ever hurt you, to see fear in your eyes when you look at me... it still tears me up inside. I plan on spending the rest of my life keeping you safe. I know that I can't always be there, I know that some things are beyond our control, but that won't keep me from trying. We'll get through this Blair, we belong together. I told you—I can't do this without you and... and... I love you, Chief."

There was no way Blair could have heard him, he was in deep REM sleep. But at that moment his hand came out from under the afghan and wrapped around the top of Jim's leg, under the pillow. Jim felt his leg getting warmer under Blair's hand, the warmth seemed to spread until his whole body had a warm glow.

Jim clicked off the TV and dropped the remote onto the coffee table. He heeled off his shoes then carefully, so not to disturb Blair, slowly raised his legs, one at a time, onto the coffee table, crossed his ankles and settled back into the sofa cushions. He checked on Blair. His Guide's profile stood out against the blue pillowcase. Dark lashes fell on light skin, while dark curls splayed across his face and pillow. As usual when he slept his mouth was slightly open, Jim could hear the deep even breathing. The hand was still on his leg. Jim adjusted his own pillow and settled in. He placed his arm protectively across Blair's shoulders. As he got comfortable, he focused in on the most soothing sound he knew—his friend's strong, steady heartbeat. He knew that whatever life threw at them, they would face it the same way they would stay tonight—together.

~ End ~


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Page last updated 8/15/03.