(See Page 1 for Disclaimer, Warning, and Author's Notes)


Fear Factor (Page 2 of 2)

Linda3

celticpryde1@insightbb.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Chief? What's wrong?"

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

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

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

"Okay, not a problem."

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

"Two hands."

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

"Thanks."

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

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

"Chief? You feeling better? Still dizzy?"

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

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

"Blair. Please."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blair nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm fine."

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

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

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

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

"Hey, Jim?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Because I'm older and wiser."

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

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

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

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

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

"Blair! What's wrong?"

There was no answer except for the ragged panting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Where are your shoes?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"SANDBURG!"

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

"What?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Such as?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What's the matter?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I trust that meets with your gourmet tastes?"

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

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

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

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

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

"How do you feel? Tired? Headache?"

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

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

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

"Blair!"

"What?"

"Breathe."

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

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

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

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

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

Jim raised a skeptical eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

"Let me think for a minute."

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

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

"What about?"

"Doesn't matter."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Thanks."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blair sighed. "Okay, where was I?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim could hear Blair's heart rate increasing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah? Then who was it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hey, Chief?"

"Hmmm? Yeah, Jim?"

"Can I get up now?"

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

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

"Jim? You all right?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hey, Chief."

Blair stopped and turned towards Jim. "Yeah?"

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

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

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

"Okay. 'Night, Jim"

"G'night, Chief."

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hey! Earth to Ellison!"

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

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

Jim smiled. "Sure thing, partner."

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

"Don't forget, Chief."

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh-oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Id goo."

Jim laughed. "What?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Blair."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And that's just a few examples of the things you've done. You've been beaten up, knocked out, drugged and shot and yet, unbelievably, you're still here. Let's not forget too, that you don't even get paid for doing any of this. That on top of all this you have an entire other full time job that you somehow also manage to keep on top of as well."

He wondered if he was saying too much, Blair tended to get uncomfortable if he was the center of attention for too long. But since he seemed to have his partner's undivided attention, he decided to go for broke.

"You also have the courage to stick to your convictions. How many people have told you to give up on your study of Sentinels? All these years and you never once gave in and I, for one, am very grateful you didn't." Jim tapped his chest with his middle finger. "That kind of courage comes from in here. It can't be taught at a Boot Camp or a Police Academy. Either you have it or you don't. God, Chief, believe me, when I, or anyone at the station who knows you, thinks of you, wuss or coward is the LAST thing we think of. Sure you get teased sometimes; it just goes with the cop mentality territory. But trust me, you do have the respect of everyone there, especially mine, and you have it for one reason and one reason only—you've earned it. Partner."

Blair sat absolutely still for almost three full minutes; Jim was sure it must be some kind of record. He lost count of how many different expressions crossed his partner's face during that amount of time. It was the longest few minutes he could remember. When Blair finally looked up his face was still unreadable, as if Blair himself still wasn't sure exactly how to take what he had just heard. But he had made a decision.

"Where..." His voice faltered. He cleared his throat, swallowed and started again, his voice soft but sure. "Where do you want to go for lunch tomorrow?"

Jim silently released the breath he had been he holding. He knew not to make a big deal about Blair's decision. If he wanted to talk about it later he would let him know. So he just shrugged his shoulders slightly. "I don't know. We'll think of somewhere tomorrow, but I promise—no WonderBurger." That brought a quick smile to Blair's lips, a hint of which remained as he pulled his plate back towards him, picked up his fork and started to finish his dinner. He looked to Jim like a kid who had learned a really cool secret and was keeping it to himself.

Just as they were finishing the waitress returned and handed them each a dessert menu. She smiled at the two friends. "Would either of you care for dessert?" Blair starting laughing behind his menu as Jim, with barely a glance at his partner, answered. "Yes, we would. What kinds of ice cream do you have?"

Jim and Blair stood outside the restaurant. It was definitely colder now than when they had first entered. Jim watched as Blair pulled his jacket tighter around him. "I hate how cold it still gets at night. Is it ever going to just stay warm all day?" When a shiver ran down Blair's body Jim automatically put his arm around his chilly friend's shoulders. It was the first time he had really tried to touch Blair in days. He worried about his rash action when he felt Blair tense but a few seconds later he felt him relax. He almost smiled when Blair took a small half sidestep closer towards him. He kept his arm around his Guide as they starting walking towards the truck.

"Hey, don't forget, Chief, the ice cream was your idea."

"Yeah, but I still can't believe you ate two bowls."

When he shivered again Jim lightly rubbed his upper arm. He probably shouldn't be out in this cold night air yet. "Yeah, but I'm a big boy, I can handle two. And what about you, Mr. I Only Eat Healthy? Mocha Almond Fudge? Explain to me again exactly what part of that is good for you?"

"Well... you know... sometimes you just gotta go for it. And besides, ice cream has milk and milk has calcium and almonds are nuts and nuts have protein and calcium and protein are both good for you. So there."

"Uh-huh. Yeah. Right. Just keep telling yourself that, Junior, maybe eventually you'll convince somebody else too."

The sorely missed sound of joined laughter echoed across the parking lot.


3 Days Later

Jim Ellison was one very pissed off detective. This was supposed to have been a simple, easy, by the numbers operation. The information came from a reliable source. Nothing complicated, a simple small time drug deal that hopefully would lead them to the bigger players.

Except that everything that could have gone wrong had gone wrong. The information was all wrong—first there were more people involved in the deal than they had been told; second, the criminals were much more heavily armed than they thought. Then the buy started sooner than they had expected so their backup was still on the way when everything actually went down. Only Jim's enhanced senses had alerted him to their true situation soon after he, Brown and Rafe had entered the warehouse, enabling him to change their plan of attack at the last minute. If they had stuck to the original plan there was little doubt that all three of them would have been killed. As it was, they were barely able to hold off the drug dealers until the backup finally arrived and even then it was a long, drawn out gun battle.

The end result was one perp dead, two wounded and one officer slightly wounded. As lead detective Jim was facing days of paperwork and a Board of Inquiry. No, Jim Ellison was definitely not happy. One look at his face was enough to make anyone in his path immediately move, in a hurry to be any place else.

Jim reached into his jacket pocket for his cell phone. It wasn't there. "Dammit, where is it?" he grumbled to himself. Oh yeah, he left it in the truck with Blair. Jim looked across the wide parking lot that inclined up to where he had parked the truck. Almost unbelievably Blair was actually still standing beside the truck. He had known when they arrived that his partner still wasn't over having just been sick plus everything else he had been through in the past week, that he was in no shape to be able to help Jim with his senses or anything else. But he had insisted on coming, saying now that he had been cleared to ride with him again there was no way he was staying behind. No amount of arguing could change his mind. When Blair finally threatened to show up on his own, he reluctantly settled for telling his obstinate partner that he'd damn well better stay put this time or else he would personally pull his observer credentials. With his mind still going over the disastrous bust and the phone call to Simon he really did not want to make, Jim started walking towards the truck. He didn't see how this day could get much worse. He called out to Blair, wanting to tell him to meet him with the cell phone. One look at Blair however and Jim realized that his day had just gotten a whole lot worse.


Blair sat in the truck as he watched Jim, Brown and Rafe carefully approach the warehouse. Jim had assured him that this would be an easy bust. Their information said that this was a minor drug buy, a few small time players, no big deal. Besides they would have plenty of backup, several squad cars were already enroute. Jim had even given him his cell phone to hold in case Simon tried to call. He had smiled at Blair when he gave it to him saying, "Wouldn't want to ruin the surprise party." So Blair sat in the truck. He didn't like staying behind again, no, not one little bit, but he had promised Jim he would stay put this time. Especially after what had happened last time, getting caught by Evans and then Jim. At the memory of that horrendous night an involuntary shiver ran down his spine, he absolutely had no intention of tempting the gods again. Besides, even if he wouldn't admit it to Jim, he really was tired and still recovering from the events of the last week.

Suddenly Blair sat straight up. Jim was cocking his head, a sign that he was concentrating on his hearing. Oh God, thought Blair, don't zone. A few heart stopping minutes later he saw Jim signaling to Brown and Rafe. "No!" Blair cried out loud as he saw the detectives enter the building, "It's too early, the backup isn't here yet!" Soon after that he heard gunfire. Lots of gunfire. Blair was almost beside himself as he jumped out of the truck and slammed the door shut. It took every ounce of restraint he had not to run down to the warehouse. Instead he grabbed the side view mirror bracket and just stared, almost willing himself to able to see what was happening inside the building—what was happening to Jim. Just then several squad cars pulled up unloading uniformed officers. Blair could just barely hear their radios echoing orders as some men surrounded the warehouse and others entered. Something must have gone wrong.

Next came what sounded like World War III being fought inside the old building. He squeezed his eyes shut. Please please please let Jim be all right, and Rafe and Brown and all the cops—but especially Jim, please God please. Several long minutes later, as suddenly as the gunfire had started, it stopped. The silence was deafening. Blair opened his eyes and held his breath as people began emerging from the now silent warehouse. He first saw uniformed officers, some leading men in handcuffs to the waiting squad cars. One young officer with his right hand wrapped around his left upper arm was taken to a waiting ambulance. Then he saw Brown followed by Rafe. Both looked shaken up but all right. But where was... "Jim." Blair breathed the name out loud as he let out the breath he'd been holding. Jim walked out and handed over a handcuffed man to two uniformed officers. Blair looked him over carefully. He was walking all right, no blood anywhere, no sign of pain on his face. Blair sighed, He's okay. He laid his head on the cool metal arm of the mirror. "Thank You," he whispered. He looked back up and watched as Jim walked around giving a few orders, organizing the scene. People jumped and moved away when he came by. Blair could tell that Jim was tense, in full "cop in charge" mode.

Suddenly Jim turned and started walking towards him. Blair watched him hoping maybe they could leave now. Despite what he had insisted to Jim earlier, he really wasn't feeling all that great and was definitely ready to leave. The small, hopeful smile died on his lips when he saw Jim's face as he approached—dark and very upset. Why is Jim mad at me? A knot of fear started in Blair's stomach. No, he wouldn't... He couldn't... Blair stared as 6'1, 190 pounds of angry Ellison kept getting closer. The fear started to grow into panic. NO! I didn't do anything wrong this time. I stayed with the truck. Blair started to shake. This can't be happening again! It can't. Trailing his left hand along the side of the truck, Blair started to slowly walk backwards, his eyes never leaving Jim's face. Maybe... maybe... Just then Jim yelled "Sandburg!" At that word all reason left Blair as sheer terror replaced panic. Only one thought filled his mind—GET AWAY! NOW!


Jim watched Blair as he approached the truck. What's he doing? he thought as he watched Blair start to walk backwards. He was surprised when Blair jumped when he called his name. Something wasn't right. He opened up his senses, concentrating on his partner. Sight showed him Blair's chalk white face, eyes wide open, pupils dilated. Beads of sweat crossed his forehead. He was shaking so hard his teeth were almost chattering. But it was the look of sheer panic and fear that held Jim's attention. Hearing told him that Blair's heart was almost pounding out of his chest; it's rhythm much too fast. His breathing was reaching hyperventilation, with shallow rapid breaths. Then he heard the whispering, "No no no, not again not again..."

Oh Shit. Realization of what was happening hit Jim. Based on what Blair had told him, this was almost exactly what it had been like the last time. He knew Blair's first instinct this time would be to run. He starting jogging towards the truck, afraid that a full out run would only panic Blair even more. Trying to keep his voice calm he called out, "Blair, Chief, it's me, Jim. It's all right. Just stay where you are." Damn. Why'd he park the truck so far away, and uphill too? Easy, because you thought Blair would be safer farther back.

Blair reached the end of the truck and stopped, his fingers still on the tailgate. He knew that once he let go of the truck he would truly be on his own. Numerous thoughts were swirling around in his mind, but uppermost was the idea that Jim wanted to hurt him again. He had to stop him the only way he could, by getting away. Now. He thought for a moment that he heard his name, but it sounded so far away it barely registered. He quickly looked around, which way to go? There it was, the parking lot exit. He let go of the truck, his lifeline to Jim, his safe world, everything he thought he knew, turned and started for the exit. It was his only way out of this nightmare. Only this was worse than any nightmare he could ever imagine—his friend, his Blessed Protector, His Jim wanted to hurt him again and there wasn't any way Blair could stop him. So he ran.

Jim saw Blair stop at the back of the truck and for a moment he hoped that Blair had heard him; that he would actually stay. Then he saw the wild, panicked look in his friend's eyes and knew that Blair was only looking for the way out, the best way to run—away from him. His heart skipped a beat when he thought of how the fear in Blair's eyes, the blind determination to get away, was all aimed at him.

As soon as Jim saw Blair's hand leave the truck as he turned to run, he increased his own speed. He had two advantages—Blair had to start uphill from a dead stop, Jim's momentum was already moving him forward and he had longer legs. He quickly passed the truck. A few long strides later he caught up to Blair. He grabbed Blair by the shoulder, stopping them both in mid-step. Turning Blair around so that he now faced him, Jim put one hand on top of each of the thin shoulders.

"Blair," he tried to keep his face and voice as unthreatening as possible while catching his breath, "Chief... it's all right. Calm down. Nobody's going to hurt you."

Blair's reaction was instantaneous. His eyes got even wider, showing naked terror. He began to fight to get out of Jim's grasp. Jim had no choice but to grab his upper arms to maintain his hold on him. That seemed to set the terrified younger man off completely. Blair twisted, turned and pushed against Jim in his frantic efforts to get away. He began to scream as he fought to break Jim's tight grip, "NOOOOO. Let GO of me! LET GO! Not AGAIN! LET GO! LEMME GO! Get AWAY from me!" He still had only one thought as he tried anything to pull free from Jim. He had to get away. Right Now!

Jim wasn't sure what to do. He had never seen Blair so out of control. He started slowly walking backwards, away from the exit, half dragging the still struggling Blair with him. He stopped beside the rear wheel of the truck. Blair stared at the truck for a few seconds and then started fighting and screaming harder than ever, eyes wide, in an absolute, hysterical panic to break free. "Nonononono!" Jim knew that there was no way to get through to his terrified Guide right now; it was all he could do to keep his hold on him. Blair was fighting him with everything he had. He knew that holding Blair like this, by the upper arms, was exactly how he had been holding him that night. He knew that this was only adding to Blair's panic, but given Blair's current state of mind, letting go was not an option. So he just held on to his partner, trying not to hurt him, or let Blair hurt himself. Pleading with his best friend to believe that he wasn't going to hurt him... again. He could feel Blair's desperation as he fought to break his hold, listening to the continuing anguished cries to be let go, not to be hurt again.

Finally Blair's struggles and cries slowed, then finally stopped, too winded to continue, trying to catch his breath. Jim looked down at his friend. Tears were streaming down Blair's face. He looked scared, confused and alone all at the same time. Slowly looking up at Jim and between gasps for air he asked in a broken voice, "Why Jim... why do you... want to... hurt me... again? What did... I do?" Jim felt his heart break into a million tiny pieces. Each piece had Blair's name on it.

Without even thinking about it he pulled his hurting friend to him. With Blair's forearms and palms flat against his chest, Jim wrapped his arms around his Guide, not so tight that Blair was pinned against him, but tight enough so that he couldn't get away. He leaned his head forward until his mouth was level with Blair's ear. Speaking softly, he said whatever he thought might help his friend, a continuous stream of comforting words. "Shhh Blair. It's all right. You're safe now. Just try to calm down. Nobody's going to hurt you. Everything's all right now..." Despite the reassuring words, as soon as he got over the initial shock of being trapped in Jim's arms, Blair's panic rose again. He tried to push against Jim, once again twisting and turning. He even tried to duck under Jim's arms, not screaming any longer but now pleading with Jim to let him go. "Please Jim. Please just let me go. I'm sorry. I'll leave. I'll go away. Just don't do this again. Please Jim." Jim carefully countered every move, sometimes holding Blair a little tighter, always letting up afterwards. He never stopped his soft voiced litany of assurances.

Already tired from his earlier attempts to get free, Blair's efforts soon slowed down again then stopped when exhaustion forced him to be still except for his heaving chest. Sensing that the fight had finally gone out of his exhausted partner, Jim, keeping one arm securely around Blair's shoulders, used his other hand to slowly rub Blair's back, mindful of the still healing bruises, trying to help him calm down. "It's all right, Chief, it's all right. Try to calm down now. Take deep breaths. Nobody's going to hurt you, I promise."

Suddenly Jim heard Simon's voice. He had been so focused on Blair, he had forgotten about everything else. Someone else must have contacted him.

"Jim? I'm not sure what you've got going on over there, but I'll take care of things at this end. You just do whatever you have to and fill me in later."

Jim put both arms around Blair again as he turned his head in the direction the voice came from. He saw Simon, at the now almost deserted crime scene, standing a short distance away from the others, pretending to be talking into his radio. He nodded to let Simon know he heard him.

"Just come into the station tomorrow to start the paperwork. You can explain everything then. And Jim, whatever's going on up there, take care of Sandburg."

Jim nodded again and watched Simon walk back over to the few remaining officers still there. Fortunately everyone there was concentrating on the crime scene and not what was happening in a distant parking lot. Simon had only noticed them because he was looking for Jim. Not for the first time Jim was grateful that Simon Banks was his superior officer instead of some of the other captains at the station. He turned his full attention back to his partner, gently rubbing his back again as he had been earlier. After several seconds Blair slowly lowered his head until his forehead was lightly resting on Jim's sweater, between his hands. Jim breathed a sigh of relief. Keeping his head next to Blair's he asked, "Are you okay, Chief? How do you feel?"

Blair was shaking and still had to answer between breaths. "Better... still... scared."

Jim held him a little tighter, putting his check on top of his friend's head. "Oh God, Blair. I am so sorry. For this, for last time, for everything." He could feel Blair's heartbeat and breathing slowing down but he was still trembling.

"Jim?" Blair's voice was slightly muffled against Jim's sweater.

"Yeah, Chief?"

Blair paused. "Are... are you okay?"

Jim knew what Blair was really asking: Are you still mad? Should I be worried? But most important, Am I safe?

Jim lifted his cheek from Blair's head; he loosened his arms slightly as he looked down at his friend, his pale face still hidden against his sweater.

"Chief."

No answer

Softly, "Blair, look at me, please."

Slowly Blair's head came off Jim's chest, though he left his hands where they were. He leaned back against Jim's loosened arms and raised his face to look at him. For several seconds frightened dark blue eyes looked into concerned light blue eyes. Then Jim spoke, still softly but sincerely, "Blair believe me when I say that I am okay. You are okay. But even more important we are okay. We have to be. I told you, I can't stand the thought of you being afraid of me. I don't want you to have to ever go through something like this again or even just think that I might ever hurt you again. You're the most important person in my life and I swear all I've ever wanted to do was to keep you safe. And... it may sound selfish but I... I also can't do this Sentinel stuff without you. I need you. I need you as my friend, but also, without you there will be no more Sentinel."

He put his right index finger over Blair's lips to stop the protest he saw forming there. "No. Let me finish, this is something that needs to be said. I was actually going to tell you all this tonight anyway, after dinner, but I think you really need to hear it now."

Convinced that Blair wouldn't interrupt, that he had his full attention, Jim moved his hand from Blair's mouth and cupped the left side of his Guide's face. "Ever since I found out what happened... what I did..." Jim took a deep breath to ease the sudden tightness in his chest, "... I've been thinking about it, constantly. I think I know what happened. I hope I can explain to you why it happened and convince you that it will never happen again."

Jim paused briefly, gathering his thoughts before continuing. He thought he'd have a little more time to go over all this before actually talking to Blair. But after what had just happened it obviously couldn't wait any longer. Blair needed to know now that he was safe.

"First off, you see, I realized a long time ago that when it comes to this Sentinel partnership you're the one with all the power, the one in charge. I may actually have the enhanced senses but that's all I have. You did all the research, have all the knowledge. You had to teach me what to do, how to live with them. You're still coming up with new tests to see what I can or can't do. Chief, you found out which laundry detergent to use so my clothes don't irritate my skin, what foods I can't eat, what medicines I can and can't take—you handle all those countless day to day things I never would have even thought about. When my senses spike out of control or I zone, you're the one who brings me back—I automatically respond to your voice. When I get frustrated and can't concentrate, your hand on my back or arm instantly calms me down, allows me to focus. It's all instinctual; I don't even have to think about it. I've given almost total control of my life over to you, because you're the one, the only person I trust with it. I've become so dependent on you that it scares me to death to think what might happen if you weren't here with me."

Blair was afraid to move or even breathe. Jim had never talked this much before on such a personal level. He didn't want to do anything that might cause him to stop. Jim, for his part, felt he couldn't stop now if he wanted to. At this point he would do anything to make Blair feel safe with him again. To make sure that he knew that what had happened would never happen again. If that included revealing his innermost feelings, then he would do it. He had to make Blair understand why he had reacted as he had that night, what could have caused him to lose control enough to do the unthinkable, to actually hurt the most important person in his life. So he started talking again.

"Besides Blair Sandburg, Guide, there is another equally, if not more important Blair Sandburg in my life." A small smile played at the bigger man's lips.

"I never met anyone like you, Chief. You blew into my life and turned it upside down. Before long you had 'Hardass Ellison' jumping through hoops—and liking it. I still can't believe some of the tests I do, just for you. Since I've met you I've gone to new places, met new people, done things I never would have considered before, even if I didn't always go willingly. You've made me realize that I wasn't a loner before—what I was, was lonely. You came in and without even trying you've opened up my life, my heart, my soul."

Unconsciously had he started to softly rub his thumb across Blair's cheek. "I woke up one day and discovered that my whole life revolved around a hyperactive, long haired, totally undisciplined grad student—and that I would gladly go to Hell and back to make sure it stayed that way. You're not only my Guide Blair, you're my partner, my best friend and I think of you as more of a brother than I do my own blood brother. Even if I were to lose my senses forever tomorrow, I would still want you permanently in my life. I can't imagine what it would be like if you weren't here, both as my Guide and as my friend."

Blair was still as a statue. He was stunned by what he was hearing. Jim had just volunteered more personal feelings in the past few minutes than he had been able to pry out of him in the past three years. And they were about him. If he weren't so damn tired right now he knew he'd be able to think of an appropriate response, say what Jim needed him to say. But right now it was getting harder to think. It was easier to just listen and Blair was sure that Jim wasn't finished yet. And so, for one of the few times in his life, Blair Sandburg didn't know what to say.

Jim looked down at his unusually quiet friend with concern. Not surprisingly, considering the weeks, especially the past week, that Blair had just been through, he had been showing definite signs of almost total exhaustion when Jim had picked him up earlier today. That was one reason he had insisted that his partner stay with the truck. It was now hours later, not to mention the draining physical as well as emotional experience Blair had just gone through. The adrenaline spike that had kept him going earlier had to be all but gone by now. Jim knew that Blair was going to crash, and it was going to be hard and it was going to be soon. He wanted to finish what he started, to make Blair understand why he didn't have to be afraid of him any more. But Blair's health was more important than what he wanted. It was starting to get dark and the temperature was dropping again. He knew how much Blair hated being cold, his thin windbreaker was fine during the day but it wasn't going to be of much use soon.

"Are you tired, Chief? It's getting cold, you want to get in the truck?"

"No" Blair whispered, "Keep going"

Neither man had moved. Blair still had his forearms and palms on Jim's chest. Jim still had one arm around Blair's shoulders, supporting part of his weight as he leaned back, his other hand still alongside Blair's face.

"All right. But you let me know if it starts getting to be too much for you. As soon as you start feeling tired or cold you tell me, okay?"

Already too late for the tired part, Jim. But he was not about to move until Jim finished what he had to tell him. He just nodded, so Jim continued.

"The reason I told you everything I just did is so that you'll have a better understanding of my state of mind on that night. As you know it had already been a grueling couple of weeks trying to catch Evans. He was one of the sickest bastards I'd ever seen. I put everything I had into going after him. I was totally wiped out by then, mentally and physically. That night was finally our chance to catch them all. I knew you were even more tired than I was plus I didn't want you anywhere near him. But when the opportunity came I didn't have a choice, there was no time to do anything but go straight to the stake-out. Maybe, if I hadn't been so tired, if I had been thinking a little more clearly when Simon called, I would have dropped you off right there and given you money for a cab. But I didn't, I took you with me."

Blair knew that if his own mind were working a little more clearly right now he could give Jim at least ten reasons why he should have been there anyway, but right now he could barely think of one. He was getting so tired. Don't think about it; just listen to Jim.

"I knew when we got there I didn't want you anywhere near the house, that you really shouldn't be there at all. That's why I was so insistent that you stay in the truck."

Blair remembered the handcuff threat.

"We thought we had the house totally surrounded—no way anyone could get out of there without our seeing him. It never occurred to anyone that there could have been a tunnel. When I heard Riley say that Evans was out and that he had you and then I saw that knife at your throat..." Jim closed his eyes for a few seconds as he remembered first seeing Evans holding Blair. He opened them again as he continued. "Everything else seemed to disappear; all I saw was you and him. I remembered hearing him say that he wouldn't be taken alive and that he was taking as many cops with him as he could. When he cut you..." Jim stopped talking as his hand dropped from Blair's face, his thumb lightly tracing over the still visible red line running across Blair's neck. His eyes focused inward as he recalled the sight of Evans pulling that large knife across his terrified Guide's throat. He remained that way until he heard his name being softly called. "Jim?" He refocused his eyes to see Blair looking up at him. He put his hand back alongside Blair's face. "I'm here. I was just remembering, not zoning. But at the time I actually did start to zone on the blood... your blood. Simon saw what was happening and got me back before anyone else noticed."

Blair's eyes grew wide at this new information but he said nothing.

"After Evans was... neutralized and you were safe, it happened."

Jim closed his eyes again, searching for the right words to describe what was going on in his mind at that time. He opened them and looked directly into Blair's eyes, desperate to make his friend understand.

"It was pretty much like I told you the other night, but I remember more of how I felt at the time, one reason why I reacted like I did.

Now was the time to be totally honest with his partner.

"Blair, I... I remembered something else from that night. It concerns something I'd almost been able to forget about until now. It happened during my Ranger days." Pain filled, light blue eyes closed briefly then opened again. "We had a new Lieutenant assigned to our squad. Lt. David Wynfield. We called him Buzz because he was a real wiz with any type of communications equipment, just like you are with computers. Thanks to him we were always the first to know all the latest buzz happening on base. He had just graduated from OCS, Officer's School, and had already been accepted for Ranger training. He was assigned to us until the next class started." Jim smiled. "You, uh, remind me a lot of him. Dark hair, blue eyes, young, excited, couldn't wait to graduate from Ranger school and get started on his career." The smile died away. "Anyway, we were given a fairly routine reconnaissance mission and since our regular company Communications expert couldn't go, Buzz was given his slot. A chance to get a little experience under his belt according to our C.O. I didn't like it but it wasn't up to me. So we get to the mission site, camouflage the truck and the squad starts to deploy. I told Buzz to stay with the communications equipment in the truck and monitor everything that was happening." Blair watched as Jim's eyes became distant as the old memories surfaced again. "It was supposed to be a quick In and Out but we ended up going longer than we had planned. To this day I still don't know why but Buzz apparently decided to come after us. We found him about 20 feet from the truck; his throat slashed. We just had time to get him and ourselves into the truck and get out of there. Buzz was still alive when we found him but he didn't make it back to the base." Jim removed his hand from Blair's face and scrubbed over his own face with it. After quickly wiping it across his suspiciously bright eyes he returned it to it's original position. "I always felt that somehow it was all my fault. That maybe I didn't stress hard enough to him that his job was to stay behind with the truck. They never even saw the truck, if he had just stayed put he would have been safe. That letter to his mother was probably the hardest one I've ever had to write." Jim's gaze was intense as he focused on his partner. "The only thing that would ever be harder would be telling Naomi that something happened to you."

"Anyway, that night with Evans, while everything was being wrapped up, you were standing beside the truck, waiting for me. Then it looked... it looked like you laughed. Like you thought that what had just happened to you was nothing. I just couldn't believe it. Suddenly two overwhelming emotions came over me at once: the first was a horrifying fear at how close I came to losing you, my Guide, the person I am so totally dependent on, my lifeline to sanity; and to losing my best friend, the person who means more to me than my own life. Then I felt intense anger, at you, because it was all so unnecessary. You had deliberately put yourself in that dangerous situation by getting out of the truck, where you were safe. By deliberately doing exactly what I had told you not to do. Then I wasn't seeing you but Buzz. It was like you were both you and him at the same time. And I wanted to tell him to get back in the truck, that something awful would happen if he didn't. The fear and anger, for both of you, kept going round and round in my head, it was like, I don't how to describe it... the fear kept egging on the anger until it built into a rage. I think if I hadn't been so totally wiped out by then I would have been able to control it. The last thing I still remember is thinking that I had to make you both understand that what you did was wrong and to make sure that you, Blair, never put yourself in that type of situation again."

Jim was getting winded; he rarely talked for this long at one time. He also regretted making Blair relive that whole night again. But he couldn't stop, especially not at this point. If he didn't finish, if he couldn't convince Blair that he was safe with him, especially after what had just happened earlier... Jim started where he had left off.

"Like I told you, I only meant that as giving you the longest, loudest chewing out you've ever received in your life. Nothing more. But it was the last thought I had before my conscious mind, I don't know, disappeared or shut down or whatever you want to call it. The next thing I remember, we were by the truck and I heard Simon calling me. I didn't even remember seeing Buzz or feeling that angry. I swear, Chief, I still don't remember anything after starting towards the truck. If I had been even the least bit aware of what was happening I would have done anything, anything, Blair, to stop myself."

Jim looked at Blair hopefully for any sign that his partner believed what he was saying. But Blair's usually overly expressive face had an almost neutral look on it.

Oh God, maybe he really doesn't believe me. Maybe he just said that he did before because he was scared not to. Maybe he thinks I'm trying to make up excuses for what I did.

Even Blair's eyes, usually bright and exuberant held no clue to what the anthropologist was thinking. The longer Blair remained silent the more Jim started fretting. Was this a sign that Blair didn't believe him, hated him or was it just exhaustion finally catching up with him? Watching Blair being awake and conscious but so still and quiet was unnerving. Yell, scream, tell me to go to hell, anything but this silent treatment. Out loud he said, "Blair, I know I've been talking for a long time and I don't know how well I'm explaining myself, but please say something. Tell me you at least hear what I'm saying."

Just when he thought he couldn't stand the silence any longer Blair finally spoke.

"So that probably explains why you said I 'disobeyed' you. Because Buzz disobeyed your order to stay with the truck." Dark blue eyes grew wide as a new thought struck Blair. "Ohmigod, Jim. I'll bet that on some subconscious level you weren't just talking to me, you were finally getting a chance to yell at Buzz for not following orders. And for getting himself killed because of it. All those years of repressed guilt finally had an outlet. The similar characteristics between me and Buzz and then especially the uncanny similarities between the two incidents were probably just enough to trigger your buried memories. Your conscious mind knew the difference but at that moment your subconscious sort of took over and it... it merged me and Buzz together." Blair looked sad again. "But afterward, you probably couldn't deal with what you had just done. You had hurt me and blamed a young soldier under your command for his own death. So you did what you do best—repressed the whole thing, blocked it out as if it never happened." An unspoken 'so where does that leave me?' hung in the air.

Everything Blair had just said made perfect sense. Guilt. He was undefeated champion of unresolved guilt. He had spent years trying to forget about Lt. David "Buzz" Wynfield. Had finally pushed the young man so far back into the darker recesses of his mind that he had finally almost disappeared. But some memories obviously refuse to stay forgotten. Those are the ones that finally surface when you least expect them. Blair was right, of course, it had to be the, as he put it, uncanny similarities between him and Buzz and what had happened to both of them. And both had been hurt on his watch. That was the similarity that was hardest to accept. He had left both of them alone and that had led to a soldier leaving him physically and a partner leaving him emotionally. But with Blair he had another chance. A rare chance to fix what went wrong. He didn't intend to blow this God-given opportunity. Blair would undoubtedly want to talk about this new discovery until he had managed to examine it, analyze it and dissect it from every possible angle. And he would let him, he owed him at least that much, but not tonight. Tonight he had something much more important to discuss with his partner and Guide.

A sudden wind whipping through his sweater made Jim aware that it was getting colder. He could feel Blair shivering under his arm even if Blair himself didn't seem to be aware of it. Blair not aware of the cold? Just how tired was he? "I think you're right about all this, Chief, but let's finish this up at home. You're freezing even if you don't seem to know it. After the other night I don't want you to get chilled."

"No."

"Blair—"

"No. I know there's more, besides this thing with Buzz, which we will talk about by the way. I want to hear everything else. Now."

God, he could be so stubborn. Jim knew it was either finish up quickly or watch Blair succumb to hypothermia; it was obvious he wasn't budging until he had the full story. Jim reached down and gently pulled Blair's hands off his sweater. They were so cold.

"Jeez, Chief, your hands are like ice."

Before Blair could react, Jim raised his friend's hands to his mouth and blew a hot breath on each one. Then he enclosed both of Blair's hands between his and started rubbing. Blair watched Jim rub his hands for several seconds, then looked up at the older man with a small smile at this spontaneous act of friendship.

Jim smiled back, relieved at Blair's reaction. "One of these days, Chief, you'll remember to keep your gloves in your jacket pocket. I can't follow you around all day keeping your hands warm."

Watching Blair's reaction to this small act, Jim realized that part of his partner's earlier stoicism had been a defense mechanism that Blair had put up when he had started talking about the events of that night. His Guide was more than willing to talk about his Sentinel's repressed memories but not about what had happened to him. Remembering what Evans and he had both done to him on the same night had to be painful. Blair was still keeping all of his personal feelings bottled up inside, just as he had been doing all week, as well as probably watching Jim for any signs of a recurrence. Jim felt a stab of pain when he thought of how his Guide and best friend was still afraid of him. Okay, Jim thought, this ends here and now. He stopped rubbing Blair's hands but kept his hands around the slightly smaller pair.

"Blair," he said, "Listen to me, this is very important."

Blair turned his face up to meet Jim's. There was still a trace of anxiety in those blue eyes. Jim took a deep breath and slowly released it. "Blair, I know what I did to you that night scared the hell out of you, every time I think about it, it scares the hell out of me, too. I want you to know that I've seen to it that that will never happen again."

Blair's eyes grew wide. "You had Simon revoke my observer status? You're kicking me out? Getting rid of me?"

It was Jim's turn to look startled. "No, Chief, no. God, no. Why would you ever think that? I've already told you, I can't do this without you. The problem is with me, not you. And I've come up with the solution."

Blair was watching Jim intensely.

"I've thought a lot about this. I really don't think that all the conditions that caused this to occur in the first place will ever happen again but I'm not willing to take any chances with your safety. So I've done something I haven't done since my Covert Ops days."

Blair's head jerked back as he stared at his partner. Jim rarely ever talked about his days in Ops. Getting him to even mention Covert Ops was almost unheard of. He had made it very clear that he did not want to talk about anything having to do with that part of his life.

Jim smiled at Blair's reaction. "I know that this subject is usually off limits for discussion, but this is one time I'm willing to make an exception. Only for you, Chief." He turned serious again. "As you know, in Ops we often had to do things to complete a mission that were, let's just say, unpleasant. Things that people usually didn't do to each other." For a few seconds he tensed and his eyes turned hard at the thought of some the "unpleasant" memories. He felt Blair try to pull his hands free, heard the increased heart rate. He immediately relaxed and held Blair's hands tighter. "No, Chief, it's all right. I'm sorry. Please let me finish. When I'm done you'll understand what all this is about, what I've been trying to tell you. Why you don't have to be afraid..." Jim's voice dropped to a whisper, "... of me." He raised his voice back to its normal level. "When I'm done, if you still want to go, I won't try to stop you."

Blair looked at Jim for several seconds, then nodded, "Okay."

"In Ops, in order to be able to do what was necessary, we were taught a technique called 'self programming', kind of like self hypnosis. We would pre-program ourselves to do what was required at the proper time. At a pre-determined trigger the programming would kick in, overriding everything else, any type of hesitation, and allowed us to do what we had to do. Believe me, it works. I've used that technique now and have pre-programmed myself. Now, if I ever feel myself reaching anywhere near that same level of anger, as soon as I feel myself even start to lose control, I will automatically, immediately switch into full-blown Blessed Protector mode. All that energy will then be focused solely on keeping you safe." Jim chuckled. "And God help anybody who even looks crossways at you - they'll find themselves with one fully engaged, Ranger trained Sentinel in their face."

Jim paused, then continued. "Don't get me wrong here, Chief. I'm not saying that I'm never going to get mad or yell at you again. Hell, everyone knows that my temper is part of my charm. But I can tell you right here, right now, that I WILL NOT ever lose control like that again. No matter what. Not when it comes to you."

The Sentinel looked down at his Guide. He released Blair's hands; he had promised that he wouldn't try to stop him.

"Do you understand what I'm saying, Chief? You never have to worry about what happened ever happening again. I came too close to losing you twice in one day, once due to a madman with a knife and once because of my own actions. Neither is acceptable. The second reason I have already taken care of, the first just means that you are my first priority from now on. Your health and safety come first. The way it should be. The Sentinel protecting the Guide, the cop protecting the observer, Jim protecting Blair."

Both men stood silently. This time Jim was the one almost afraid to breathe. Was it enough? Could I have said or done more? Is he still scared or does he feel safe with me again? What happens if he doesn't?

It was Blair's decision now.

Blair lowered his head, not saying anything while he thought deeply and carefully about everything Jim had just told him. It was a tense few minutes later when he finally, slowly raised his eyes back up to meet Jim's. When he spoke, it was barely above a whisper.

"Everything's really all right now?"

"Everything is really all right."

"Promise?"

"I promise."

"Swear?"

"I swear."

Blair nodded solemnly.

"So, are we okay now, Chief?"

"Yeah, we're okay now."

Jim grinned. "Promise?"

Blair grinned back. "I promise."

Bigger grin. "Swear?"

Bigger grin back. "I swear."

Jim held out his hand for a handshake. Blair's hand had barely grasped the bigger hand when he felt himself being pulled forward and wrapped in a giant bear hug. Hesitating for only a split second he threw his arms around his friend and squeezed as hard as he could. He could hear his Sentinel's strong heartbeat beneath his ear. Could feel the strong arms that held him tight, promising safety and security. A sigh passed through his lips as he allowed himself to fully relax for the first time in what seemed like ages. Everything was finally going to be all right.


Sentinel and Guide stood unmoving for several minutes, each quietly reveling in the rekindled bond and closeness between them again. Then it seemed as though all the demons and suppressed emotions from the last few weeks had been just waiting for Blair to finally let his guard down. Seemingly out of nowhere, he felt everything begin to catch up to him at once: the overloaded finals weeks, the horror of what had happened with Evans, the heartbreaking attack by his Blessed Protector, those nerve wracking days tiptoeing around Jim, that miserable night in the rain, getting sick, the long night Jim found out what happened, sweating out the drug bust, the sheer terror when he thought Jim was going to attack him again and finally the utter relief when he knew he was safe again. It was just way too much in too short a time on top of total exhaustion. Jim heard the change in his Guide's heartbeat, heard the first soft sob, felt the tremors start in his friend's shoulders. He knew what was coming. It was the beginning of the crash he had been expecting. He heard a whispered "Dammit" then something unintelligible. Still holding on tight he leaned his head closer to the dark curls. "What'd you say, Chief?"

"I said I'm not gonna cry." Fingers balled into fists. He'd been able to hold everything together for so long now by sheer willpower alone. He was not going to lose it now, especially in front of Jim. Even as he said it tears were starting to spill from his eyes.

Jim looked down at the head lying on his chest. Blair was the most generous, giving person he had ever met. This man wouldn't, couldn't hurt anyone. It wasn't fair that he was the one that always seemed to get hurt physically and emotionally. Whatever Blair needed right now, for as long as he needed it, Jim would give to him. "It's okay, Chief. It's just your body's way of releasing all the tension and stress you've been under. Blair, you've been through more in the past few days than most people will ever go through, plus the added strain of the past few weeks. You've been on an emotional roller coaster the whole time. It's all over now. You don't have to hold it all together any more. There's no one here but us. Just let it all out."

Blair's response was so soft Jim had to strain to hear it. "You don't cry."

So that was it. Even after all this time Blair was still afraid to appear weak in front of him. Jim thought back to the conversation in the restaurant the other night. Blair asking if he thought he was a wuss. Afraid that he had lost the respect of the other detectives in the bullpen because of how he had reacted to Jim's yelling at him. Even after all his assurances that evening apparently anything could still bring out Blair's insecurities. Somebody, or more than likely several somebodies, had obviously done such a number on his partner's self esteem while he was growing up that, even now, he still wasn't able to overcome it. Jim fought down a sudden flash of anger at these unknown jackasses and concentrated on his friend. If Blair needed constant reassurances about his worth as a person and especially his importance to him, until he finally believed it, then he would get it—in spades.

"Chief, don't you know that one of the things I've always admired about you is your ability to be so open and to be able to show your emotions so easily? I was taught by my father since early childhood to repress my feelings; I wasn't supposed to show anything. Then the military just reinforced that even more. I... I couldn't even cry when Buzz died. I was expected to be an example for the rest of my men. Naomi, however, actually encouraged you to always be free and open with whatever you were feeling at the moment. I've always envied you for that. And I don't ever want you to change any of that because of me. That's part of who you are, what makes you so special. When you're happy or excited about something it makes me feel good too, especially when you share those feelings with me. But, and I want you to always remember this, at the same time, when you're troubled or hurting, that is when I especially want you to come to me and share those feelings too. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want 'us' to be the place we can both come to, to share anything with the other without any fear of humiliation or rejection. A safe harbor that's always accessible, in good weather and bad. I only wish you could have come to me about all of this." He held Blair even tighter, the back of his fingers softly stroking the dark curly hair along the side of his friend's head as he put his mouth next to Blair's ear and whispered, "But you're safe now. I've got you and I won't let go, I promise."

With those soft words Blair's resolve shattered. He pulled his arms from around Jim and brought both hands up to grab fistfuls of the front of the larger man's sweater. Jim recognized this gesture as Blair's reaction to being emotionally upset. It was as if he were subconsciously trying to get as much of himself as possible inside Jim's embrace, while also holding on to him for support. Jim accommodated him by wrapping both arms around him, holding him securely.

Blair buried his face is the comforting safety of Jim's chest. He let the feeling of security in those strong arms surround him. Everything he'd been repressing came pouring out in a torrent of tears. Terror, fear, anger and relief were all finally released as Blair's whole body shook with the effort. Jim could feel the wetness soak through his sweater, through his T-shirt, to his skin. He just wrapped his large arms fully around Blair's smaller frame enveloping his friend in a protective cocoon. He would stay here, standing watch over his Guide, all night, hell he'd stand here all week, if that's what Blair needed. He reached up and lightly stroked the back of Blair's head, mindful of his injury, wishing he could take some of his pain away since he knew he was responsible for most of it. Instead he just held him close, letting him know that he wasn't alone anymore. Would never be alone again.

Slowly, eventually the sobs were reduced to a few sniffles; the heaving shoulders became a slight trembling. Blair turned his head and rested his cheek on Jim's wet sweater, his hands still keeping their grip. He was totally spent, his body limp. Only his hold on Jim and Jim's arms supporting him kept him from sliding to the ground. Jim leaned back against the truck, taking most of Blair's weight on top of him, keeping his arms around him. He monitored his partner's heartbeat and breathing listening as both slowed down. Jim waited calmly, content just to be close to his Guide again as Blair struggled to compose himself.

Blair continued to rest his head on Jim's chest, keeping a two handed hold on his sweater. "I-I think I ruined your sweater."

Jim grinned. "No problem. Sweaters are easy to replace. Best friends and Guides are a little harder to come by."

"I can't believe you did that."

Jim tensed. Was Blair still worried about the attack? "Did what, Chief?" he asked nervously.

"Used your Covert Ops training. I know you hate even thinking about that stuff. It must have been hard dredging up all those memories. You should have told me what you were doing. I could have helped you. You could have zoned."

Jim relaxed and shook his head. Once a Guide always a Guide, even now. "It wasn't hard. Besides, that's one part of my life I don't want you exposed to."

Blair just nodded against the sweater. Neither man spoke for several more minutes.

"Hey, Chief, it's really getting cold and dark. You ready to go home?"

No answer.

"Blair?"

Nothing.

Jim looked down. Even though Blair was still holding on tight to Jim's sweater, his eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open. A quick check showed his breathing was becoming deep and regular. Jim smiled. Blair had finally hit the wall. His body and mind could simply go no further. Jim hated to move him but it was getting colder and this was not a good neighborhood to be in after dark.

Jim pushed himself away from the truck with one hand, keeping one strong arm securely wrapped around Blair. He managed to maneuver them the few steps to the passenger door and open it. He propped Blair up against the truck, carefully removed his sweater from the firm fingers still gripping it and stepped back. Almost immediately the smaller man lunged back at Jim, wrapped his arms around the bigger man's waist and settled his head back on the large chest.

"No." he murmured, "Warm. Stay."

Jim looked down at his semi-conscious friend and sighed. "You're not going to make this easy are you, Chief?" In one move he scooped up his partner and placed him in the truck. Before Blair could react, the seatbelt was fastened.

"Stay there." Yeah, and how often has that worked?

Jim hurried into the driver's seat and started the engine. He looked over at his partner. Without Jim's body heat Blair was starting to shiver, even with his arms wrapped around himself. His head was against the back of the seat, eyes closed. The steady and regular heartbeat and deep breathing told the Sentinel that his Guide was almost asleep again. Jim chuckled to himself. When Blair hit the wall, he really hit it—not even the cold could keep him awake for long.

"Give the engine a minute to warm up and I'll crank up the heat."

"... uh-huh"

Jim smiled again. Thank God the loft had an elevator. He didn't even want to think about trying to go up three flights of stairs half carrying a groggy Guide.

As he eased the truck from the parking lot into traffic, Jim was surprised to think of how much had happened since he and Blair first pulled in there. Had it really only been a few hours ago? It seemed like at least a couple of days. His main concern now was to get Blair home and into bed. He knew that his partner would probably be out for at least a good 15 hours once he actually got to sleep. He wished that when Blair woke up this whole mess would be behind them, that last awful week could finally be forgotten. But Jim knew it wasn't totally over yet. Yes, Blair now understood, finally believed, at least intellectually, that he would never hurt him again. But Jim also knew that, at least for a while, every time he got angry or upset Blair would tense and there would be that flash of fear in his eyes again. He would try to hide it immediately and would probably feel guilty afterward, but he would see it and it would hurt every time. Because he was the one who put that fear in his friend's eyes. This was something that only time could heal. Time and patience on his part, and he vowed he would give Blair as much of both as he needed.

Jim was so engrossed in his thoughts that he was almost surprised to realize that they had arrived at the loft. He pulled in next to Blair's Volvo and turned off the engine. Getting out, he circled the truck and opened the passenger door. Blair just sat there, his eyes barely open. As Jim unfastened the seatbelt he said, "Okay, Chief, I'm gonna need a little cooperation here."

"... nnnkay." Blair didn't move.

Shaking his head Jim slid Blair out of the truck, supporting him as he closed and locked the truck door. He put Blair's left arm around his neck and carefully gripped his wrist. Then he put his free arm around his partner's waist and started moving them towards the building. Once inside he slowly walked them both into the elevator, using the index finger of the hand around Blair to push the button. He breathed a sigh of relief as the cantankerous old elevator started to move. "Almost home, Chief. Just stay awake for a few more minutes." Blair laid his head on Jim's chest.

The loft door was a little trickier. Jim had kept his keys in the hand he put around Blair's waist. He managed to unlock the door and turn the knob, using his foot to push the door open. Once he and Blair were inside, he kicked the door shut behind them.

"All right, Chief, time for bed," he said, as he started towards Blair's room.

"No." Blair stopped. "Couch."

"Blair, look at you. You're exhausted; you can barely even stand up. You need to be in bed."

"No. Please." He almost whispered, "I-I just don't want... to be... all alone right now."

Jim walked Blair over to the larger couch, carefully sitting him down in the middle. Blair's head fell back against the back of the couch, his arms hung limp beside him.

"Thanks, man."

"I'll be right back. Don't move."

Don't think that will a problem right now.

Jim went into Blair's room. He arranged the pillows and pulled back the covers. He then went into the bathroom, that business finished he went upstairs to his bed and grabbed two pillows. Coming back down he tossed the pillows on the sofa beside an unmoving Blair as he went into the kitchen, picking up the cordless phone as he went. He pulled a beer out of the fridge.

"Hey, Chief, you want some tea or anything?"

Blair didn't answer for so long that Jim thought he didn't hear him. He was about to ask again when a strained voice answered. "Too. Tired."

Jim brought the beer and phone out, placing them on the coffee table. He walked around the loft, locking the door and turning out the lights. Walking over to Blair he helped him out of his jacket, ignoring his own House Rules by tossing it onto the nearby chair. Kneeling down he untied and removed Blair's sneakers. He then sat down at the end of the couch, putting the beer, phone and TV remote within easy reach on the end table beside him. One pillow from upstairs went onto the floor beside him, the other onto his lap. Jim turned slightly and put his hands on Blair's shoulders, slowly lowering and pulling him towards himself. He guided his Guide's head onto the pillow. Reaching across Blair he grabbed his legs by the jeans and pulled them onto the couch. Blair immediately turned onto his side, facing Jim, and slowly closed his eyes as he curled himself into a ball. Jim reached up and took the afghan from the back of the couch and wrapped it around Blair. He felt Blair relax a little as he burrowed his head deeper into the pillow. A very sleepy sounding voice floated up to him.

"Jiiim."

"Shhhh, don't talk. Just relax and go to sleep."

"No. Want to say..."

"Say what, Chief?" He knew Blair wouldn't allow himself to sleep if something was on his mind. And Blair needed to sleep; he couldn't even open his eyes while he talked.

"Just want to say thanks... for everything tonight and... wondering if... um... did you—did you really mean everything you said tonight? I mean... it's, you know, okay if you just said most of that stuff cause I was upset 'n all. I understand." But I really hope you meant at least some of it.

God, those insecurities again. Someday he was going to find out the reasons behind them, but not now. "Yes, Chief, I really meant every word I said and then some."

"Hmmmmm..." Blair smiled slightly at Jim words. He wanted to sleep but now he couldn't stop thinking about what Jim had said earlier, about them being a safe harbor for each other. The analogy worked. They had just survived the worst storm in their relationship since becoming Sentinel and Guide by helping each other. Now they were safe, together, the bond between them almost as strong and secure as ever. He felt himself start to peacefully drift as Jim's voice washed over him.

"Glad to see you smiling, Chief, but right now you need to just shut down that amazing mind of yours and let yourself sleep. I'll be right here with you."

"... 'kay. G'night Jim."

"Good night, Chief." Jim smiled and shook his head as he slowly rubbed Blair's back from outside the afghan. He felt his tired friend finally relax, his head getting heavier on the pillow resting on Jim's thigh. Blair's last thoughts were that this has got to be the best place on Earth to be right now. He finally had his very own permanent safe harbor. Feeling more content and secure than he could remember feeling for a very long time, he released a sigh and totally gave himself over to sleep.

The sound of the sigh and the total relaxation of Blair's body told Jim that the exhausted grad student was finally getting the sleep he so desperately needed.

Jim reached for his beer and took a long drink. He turned on the TV, clicking channels until he found an interesting looking nature show, making sure to keep the volume well below Blair's level of hearing, though he doubted if anything could wake him up right now. After switching the remote for his beer, Jim put the other pillow behind his head and settled back to watch the show—all about jungle cats. Jim grinned as he watched. After watching for a while he turned his senses on Blair. Assured that his partner was in the deepest level of sleep he put down his beer, picked up the phone and dialed.

//Banks.//

Glancing down at Blair, Jim automatically lowered his voice when he answered, "Simon. It's Jim."

//Bout damn time. Are you two all right? What the hell was going on out there today? And why are you talking so low? I can barely hear you.//

"Blair's sleeping on the couch." Simon didn't have to know he was actually sleeping in his lap. "I don't want to wake him. He's really wiped out. Listen, Simon, I really appreciate what you did today—and I promise I'll explain everything tomorrow."

Unconsciously Simon lowered his own voice. //All right. Don't worry about coming in early or anything. Just come in whenever and start the paperwork for now. We'll deal with the rest of it later. Are you sure everything is all right? It looked pretty intense up there. Is Sandburg okay?//

Jim looked down at his sleeping roommate. It had been too long since he looked so relaxed and peaceful. He brushed some lose strands away from Blair's face.

"Yeah, Simon, everything is fine now. Right now what Blair mainly needs a good, long sleep. I'll tell him you were worried about him."

//Don't you dare, Detective. He's enough trouble as it is. Besides, I'll deny every word and you'll ride a desk 'til you both get blisters on your butts. I'll see you tomorrow.//

"Okay Simon, have it your way. Bye."

Jim disconnected the phone and leaned back. His original plan had been to let Blair stay here until he was deep enough asleep that Jim could put him to bed without waking him. Now that there was no hurry about getting to the station in the morning, maybe they could both sleep here tonight. He knew that his leg would be stiff in the morning and his neck and back would probably be sore from sleeping sitting up but right now he wanted, no needed, the physical contact with his Guide. That physical assurance that Blair was safe and unharmed. He looked down again at the sleeping form and gently stroked the soft, dark hair.

He found himself whispering to his sleeping partner, "You've had a hell of a day, Chief. Shit, you've had a hell of a week. I hope you know that I would take back all of it if I could. When I think that my hands could ever hurt you, to see fear in your eyes when you look at me... it still tears me up inside. I plan on spending the rest of my life keeping you safe. I know that I can't always be there, I know that some things are beyond our control, but that won't keep me from trying. We'll get through this Blair, we belong together. I told you—I can't do this without you and... and... I love you, Chief."

There was no way Blair could have heard him, he was in deep REM sleep. But at that moment his hand came out from under the afghan and wrapped around the top of Jim's leg, under the pillow. Jim felt his leg getting warmer under Blair's hand, the warmth seemed to spread until his whole body had a warm glow.

Jim clicked off the TV and dropped the remote onto the coffee table. He heeled off his shoes then carefully, so not to disturb Blair, slowly raised his legs, one at a time, onto the coffee table, crossed his ankles and settled back into the sofa cushions. He checked on Blair. His Guide's profile stood out against the blue pillowcase. Dark lashes fell on light skin, while dark curls splayed across his face and pillow. As usual when he slept his mouth was slightly open, Jim could hear the deep even breathing. The hand was still on his leg. Jim adjusted his own pillow and settled in. He placed his arm protectively across Blair's shoulders. As he got comfortable, he focused in on the most soothing sound he knew—his friend's strong, steady heartbeat. He knew that whatever life threw at them, they would face it the same way they would stay tonight—together.

~ End ~


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Page last updated 8/15/03.