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



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."


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."


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..."



"Tell you..."



"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.//


"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.


"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?"




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.


"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.


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?"


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.



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.


"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?"

Continue on to the Conclusion...

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Page last updated 8/15/03.