I don't have any right to these guys. Petfly does.
My deepest gratitude to my betas, Sussanne, and Kimberly. Also many thanks to alyjude for her fine writing that inspired me to write this.
Warnings: Very mild slash, h/c, angst

Aftermath

by

Callista Echo

Oh yeah, that last shot managed to squash the little voices that had been living in the dark part of his brain and seemed to be there only to taunt and tease. He let the bottle roll out of his hand. It landed on the floor with a satisfying thud. He surveyed the blankness of his mind. It was dark and it was bleak but at least it was quiet and that was a wonderful thing to him right now.

How did it come to pass that Blair Sandburg, blessed with a tongue an Irishman would envy, blessed with a curious brain and 29 years of filling it, now embraced the vast sweep of emptiness that lay before him? The alternative, too many accusations jabbing at him had slowly been driving him insane. Not metaphorically. Clinically. Certifiably.

********************

The waking nightmare had started after Alex, after the fountain, after Sierra Verde, after his world had spun off its axis. Peru had been a shock, hell, it had shattered his world, seeing Jim kissing Alex. Alex, the woman who had tried to kill him.

Alex, the terrorist, and Jim, his friend, the best friend he'd ever had, about to have sex on the beach. Nice payback for attempted murder. It became clear that Jim was caught in the powerful web of genetic imperatives when they reached the pools

. Watching Jim as Alex was carried away, Blair saw the twisted look of pain and loss on Jim's usually stoic face. Had Jim had looked at him in at that moment, he would have seen the same twisted look on Blair's. But Jim didn't look at Blair at that point, as his attention was focused exclusively on the still form of Alex.

Numbly Blair followed Simon and Jim back to the hotel, packed, and boarded the airplane. It was in the middle of the flight that his coughing, weak and ever present, turned into something malevolent. His lungs, battered from his drowning, and struggling with the thin, humid air, failed him. He fought to breathe. The terror he'd felt as he struggled to stay alive in the water flooded back. His arms flailed and Jim held him tight to his chest. He could hear Simon shouting for help and Jim's voice pleading with him to calm down and take shallow breaths. The airline attendant placed an oxygen mask over his face and cool, pure air penetrated his lungs.

The next thing he was aware of was Jim's voice, and although being unconscious had not lost its allure, he felt compelled to try and connect with that it. Opening his eyes seemed to be an impossible task. He gave up and just listened. Jim's words floated around him without meaning. They wove a spell of safety and comfort. He was speaking to Simon and Simon would occasionally rumble a response.

Eventually the meanings of the words started to bond to the sound of the words and Blair heard Jim say, "Look, he can't come home with me. That won't work. Simon, you have to take him for me. Can you do that?"

And Simon seemed to be saying yes because then he heard Jim say, "Maybe later we'll be able to get past this. Maybe the betrayal will fade. Hell, I don't know. Forgiveness?..." And at that point Blair slid away and spiraled back to the heavy dark.

A week later Simon wheeled him to the door and Blair left the sanctuary of white walls, bad food and constant interruptions and re-entered the real world. The wonderful world of recovery. Jim had been at the hospital when he'd woken up. He'd made some jokes, lame even for him. He'd hovered, the way Naomi never had, but whenever Blair had tried to talk to him, he'd needed to get some coffee or do some paperwork. When Blair realized Jim had stopped making eye contact, his heart froze. He looked at Jim, wondering clinically if the anomaly of his frozen heart had registered, but apparently not. The cold he felt in his heart began to spread to the rest of his body and he started to shiver. He longed for the warmth of Jim's touch on his forehead, his arm, his heart, but Jim just reached over and put the call light on, saying, "Better get a nurse in here to check for a fever."

Simon announced Blair would be coming home with him. Blair wanted to protest and beg to be allowed to go home, but one look at Jim's stony countenance and he had shoved the words aside. He accepted it.

Two weeks later and Blair was feeling physically stronger every day. He still found breathing difficult at times and the dark shadows under his eyes never seemed to lighten up but there was no doubt the worst had passed.

Jim came by after work each night. He brought Blair clothes and mail and books. The three of them would watch the Jags and drink beer. Simon and Jim would mull over the occasional stubborn case and look to Blair for his input. The fact that Blair was at Simon's and not at home was never discussed.

This time away from Blair was slowly killing Jim. He would rush to the apartment, hungry to see Blair, to be reassured that Blair was whole and breathing. As soon as he walked in the door and saw Blair at the table, laptop open, he would slow his headlong dash and casually ask how Blair was feeling. He was grateful that Blair didn't possess heightened senses or the casual facade would have done him no good. As it was, Blair would look and smile in that sad/sweet way that marked the post-fountain Blair and Jim's heart would plummet. He doesn't forgive me. He can't forgive me.

**********************

Blair dropped his clothes on the floor and slid between the sheets of Daryl's bed. He wondered how soon Simon would expect him to find his own place. He didn't have much money and the time off from the University was hurting him, big time. The last thing he wanted was to look pathetic and incapable of looking out for himself. He could do the car thing, the office thing for a while.

He hadn't had to live on the edge for a few years but...Who was he kidding, he'd been on the edge and over the edge hundreds of times in the last 3 years. Yeah, but he'd always had Jim. Always known Jim was there for him. He'd had a home with Jim. But that was gone, thanks to his stupidity in not being straight with Jim the minute Alex had walked into his life. He should have realized no good could come of another Sentinel being in the same city. What had he been thinking trying to help Alex with her senses? A guide could not serve two Sentinels. No wonder Jim had felt betrayed. Blair's heart sank when he thought of all the people who had hurt Jim, abandoned him. And now he was numbered among them.

But it wasn't all over yet. He still had his credentials. He was still an observer. Still Jim's guide. Maybe time would undo some of the knots they were in. The bond was strong. Jim showed up every night, didn't he? That had to mean something. Blair closed his eyes, willing the dark dreams away, and fell asleep.

*************************************************

"Jim, the kid's ready to be back. The doctor's have given him the go-ahead. There is no reason to say no to his coming back." Simon's impatience with Jim's sidelined status was showing.

Simon shook his head. Ellison had that jaw clenched, eyes narrowed look that screamed, I don't think so.

***********************************************

Blair walked the final distance to Simon's office with his head down, determined. He was going to have his observer's badge back in his hands. He was going to have his purpose back, his reason to be by Jim's side.

He paused at door, about to knock. He could hear Jim's speaking, he was saying "He can go back to Rainier. The kid has classes to teach, papers to write. That's where he belongs. Not here with me."

Blair stilled his breathing and put his hand to his heart in a stupid effort to walk away undetected. He turned from the door and blindly made his way to the elevators. Once there, he sagged against the wall. So much for Jim needing him enough to let him come back.

***********************************************

"Not here with me. I'm a menace to his well being, Simon. It's too soon for him to be chasing after me, covering my back." Jim found the idea of having Blair back at his side exhilarating and unnerving. He was chafing at the paperwork and routine inquiries but the thought of Blair facing down maniacs and psychos as so often happened, terrified him.

"Jim, the department needs you out on the streets, not behind a desk. And you need Blair to be on the streets. So accept it. It's an order." Simon looked down at the paperwork on his desk, effectively dismissing him.

Jim left the office. He wasn't going to do this. He wasn't going to put Blair's life on the line so he could function. How often was the kid going to have to open his veins and give his life's blood for him? Not. Any. More. Simon wasn't going to help and Blair seemed to have no self-protective instincts whatsoever. How was he going to stop him from coming after him? From being his guide? No one seemed to be willing to listen to reason. His very reasonable reasons why Blair could not come back.

Jim saw Blair entering the bullpen. He was headed for Simon's office. Jim knew what he had to do. But man, this was going to hurt. As Blair entered the office, Jim went in search of a way to get Blair clear.

"Look, Connor, you have to understand. This is for Blair's good, for his safety. This will give him his life back. The life he should never've left. Students looking for his help, not criminals looking to maim and kill him." Jim clutched Megan's arm, willing her to understand and agree.

Megan looked down at Jim's hand on her arm. There was no denying the desperation in Jim's voice. Still..."I don't know, Jim. Sandy seems pretty happy chasing the bad guys."
In the last few weeks Megan had seen Jim go from fury to fear with pit stops in between for guilt and anguish. I f she could ease his mind she would, but what he was asking...it didn't feel quite right.

"He thinks he has to, he thinks I can't manage without him. Blair would never walk away from someone who needs him."

Jim ran his hand through his hair. He looked like he hadn't been sleeping much. Connor understood the weight of responsibility that Jim was feeling, that Jim was rejecting. She wished she had the words to make him see this differently but the Jim Ellison in front of her was possessed with an idea and not about to be dissuaded.

Jim continued his plea. "Blair's trapped. He's fucking trapped, feeling responsible for the guy who abandoned him and almost got him killed. Did get him killed. Nobody should have to play that out. It's not right."

**********************************************

Blair punched the button that would get him out of here. He moved slowly, feeling curiously full and empty at the same time. Cold terror filled him. There was no way back. He was going to be shut out and he no longer had the key to open the only door he ever wanted to go through. The emptiness of a life without Jim stretched before him. NO! Jim needed him. He zoned without him. Simon would never jeopardize Jim's safety or anyone else's by putting him on active duty without Blair. Simon would insist that Blair be Jim's backup. Maybe if he Simon forced them together he'd be able to find a way to gain Jim's forgiveness. Blair reversed direction, heading back toward Simon and his ticket back.

A few minutes later Blair clutched his observer's badge to his chest. He had it back. That was step one.

Step two. He went in search of Jim. He wasn't going to take no for an answer. He saw that Jim was talking to Megan. He watched as Jim tilted his head in that familiar gesture. He saw the tight, far away look come into Jim's eyes. What could he be zoning on here in the department? Blair sped his step but then saw Megan reach over and touch Jim's arm. She leaned in and murmured something. Another familiar gesture, this one he recognized as his own. He watched as Jim started and shook himself. Megan's touch had brought Jim out of a zone.

Megan's touch had brought Jim out of a zone. Ohmygod, Megan's touch....Blair changed his course, once again heading for the elevators.

**************************************************

Simon didn't have a clue. Sandburg had taken his observer's badge and headed out, happier than Simon had seen him since this mess started. And then when he got home he found the kid had just taken off. He came home to find Daryl's room empty. Good. Blair and Jim had talked. Things would finally get back on track. Except when he went into the kitchen, there on the table was the badge and a note thanking him for the care and the bed but he was going now. That was all. He was going now. No indication of where he was going.

Simon called Jim. "What did you say to him, Ellison?"

"What? Who?"

"You know who, don't play coy, Ellison."

"Simon, I didn't even talk to him today. I saw him leave your office and then I saw him head to the elevators. What does he say I said?" Jim held his breath. He wondered if Blair would talk to Simon. It would be better if he did.

"He hasn't said anything to me, Jim. He packed up and left. His observer's pass is on my table. I called the University but no one's seen him there."

Jim could hear the anxiety in Simon's voice. That was natural. He'd been responsible for Blair for the last few weeks and he had become attached and used to having Blair around. It was so damn easy to get used to having Blair around. Jim looked around the loft. The order and sparseness that had once soothed him and comforted him with its predictability now left him feeling cold and lost. On the couch was a new blanket. It was black with a red stripe and ridiculously soft. Ridiculously expensive, but when Jim had walked by it and felt it, he'd had to have it. It was the only thing that seemed to warm him in the vast space that was once a home.

"Simon, I'm sure he'll be fine. He's probably staying with friends and getting organized to go back to teaching. I don't know what made him change his mind, but believe me, it's for the best. He needs to get his life back." Jim sat down on the couch and pulled the blanket over him, fingering the texture of soft, black cloth.

"Have you really looked at Sandburg lately? He is not doing fine being pushed away. Today, when he got his credentials back, he actually looked like himself."

"Simon, this is for the best. Once Sandburg gets into the swing of the academic life again, he'll be good as new. He'll finish the dissertation and become a professor, he'll write papers and give keynote addresses. He'll go on expeditions. Hell, he'll get married and have lots of curly headed babies. He'll be safe and he'll be happy." Jim smiled, very pleased with the picture he'd just painted, even if he didn't fit in there anywhere.

"And what about you, Jim? What kind of life are you going to have while Sandburg's changing diapers? You know what it was like before he came into your life. Remember that?"

Oh he remembered all right. There was the fear and the confusion, as well as the pain of sensory overload and the indignity of zoning, of being helpless. And he remembered his life. The struggle to keep his mind from shattering each day and the relief of getting home. The loft, his sanctuary. The clean of it, the quiet of it. The safety of it. It had been his haven. He looked around. Now without Blair it was just floor and ceiling, walls and windows.

"Simon, I'm going to be just fine. Blair has taught me a hell of a lot. I haven't zoned in months, I have the tools to handle this now."

"If you hear from Blair, call me. I want to know where he is and I want to personally see that he is all right. You got that, Jim?"

"I got it Simon, but I don't really think Blair is going to be seeking me out. He's getting on with his life."

"You don't think he'd call to say good-bye, at least? Or to get the rest of his stuff?"

"Simon, as soon as I hear from Blair, I'll call you."

*******************************************

What Blair was doing was getting on with getting plastered. The dingy motel room seemed to be alternately larger and smaller. There was a pain growing in his head and it was threatening to make a break for it. Blair put both hands on his head and squeezed. He wanted to go back to ten minutes ago when he'd been feeling no pain. He wanted to go back four weeks when his life made sense.

What he didn't want to do was go back to a time when he didn't know Jim, hadn't been a part of Jim's life. And yet that's where he had landed. He dragged himself into the bathroom and leaned on the sink. He looked at himself in the mirror. The face he saw was the same. He was not the same. No longer was he the teacher, the guide, the friend. He looked in his kit, frantic to find what he needed. He found his razor. It would have to do. He grabbed a clump of hair close to his head and hacked away. He took another and another. When he was done, he blinked. This face was different. Without the curls softening his features, the darkness he felt within was apparent.

*********************************************

Jim was starting to wonder just what friend Blair was staying with. It had been three days with no word from Sandburg. It wasn't like Blair to sulk. Jim had known seeing Connor playing the part of guide would shake the kid up. He'd hoped it would shake some sense in him and he'd take his life back. But repeated phone calls to the University had elicited the same response. Blair Sandburg was still out on medical leave and no one knew where he could be reached.

For the first time since he'd concocted his plan, Jim wondered if he was doing the right thing. He just didn't see any alternative. Being with Sandburg on a daily basis, knowing how badly he had failed him as his protector, his partner and his friend, would be unbearable. Sandburg deserved the kind of life he'd sketched out for Simon and it didn't seem likely to happen as long as Jim was in his life.

Three days without Blair. When he had made his plan, he knew he would have a difficult time. He was barely making it through the day even when he knew he would be able to see Blair at the end of it. Now when there was no hope of seeing Blair at all, he had to use a lifetime of learned discipline just to get up and get to the station. Once there he turned his dials down low and did his best imitation of a pre-Blair Jim.

He knew there was talk. They could see he was off. His only hope was hiding the worst of it so they couldn't see just how off he was. If he could get through a month, two would be better, he'd be all right. Nothing would touch him then.

*************************

Blair threw his knapsack in the backseat of the car. Two days in a motel had just about wiped him out. He wasn't sure why he had indulged himself that way. He just knew he hadn't been ready to sleep and get drunk in the car, and his office was out of the question.

He'd gone there on Monday, thinking he'd crash on the couch. Even before he got close to the fountain and Hargrove, he was gasping and feeling a weight on his chest that hadn't been there for at least a week. He'd stopped, thinking he could get on top of it. When he started forward, the shortness of breath had intensified, along with a sense of panic burning through his nerve endings. He leaned against a tree, keeping it between himself and the pool of water, willing the feelings to ease up, to fall into proportion. It was just a fountain. He'd lived. She was gone. Jim was gone. His life with Jim was over. God, he'd fucked up! The most important thing ever and he'd so fucked up! He slid down the tree and hugged his knees, letting his jeans absorb the tears.

***************************

"Where's Ellison?" Banks could be heard all the way in records. Even with his hearing dialed down, the sound sent a nail of pain through his head. Jim extradited himself from Della's tender file search and followed Simon's auditory vibrations back to his office.

"Simon, you looking for me?"

"Yeah. You might not care but Sandburg hasn't reported for his first day back at teaching. With that kid's talent for trouble, I put out an APB out for him."

Shit. Jim sat down hard. He'd figured away from him, Blair would be fine. He had to be fine. Simon was right though. Blair did possess an unnatural affinity for disaster. Why wasn't he back in school? This was bad. This was very bad. It wasn't like Blair to let down anybody-least of all his students. If he could be there, he would be. There wasn't anywhere else for Blair to go. Jim had made sure of that.

"Has there been any word?" Jim asked, knowing Simon would have told him.

"Nothing, yet."

Okay, Ellison, think. "I'll go and check the campus, starting with-"

"It's been done. Rafe was down there yesterday. No one has seen him since the fountain."

"I'll put in some calls and find-"

"Brown's been tracking Naomi since Tuesday. No word yet."

"I'll call the bank..."

"Connor. He took it all out, all 185.45$."

"That's all he had?"

"You'd know better than me. Did he have a secret stash somewhere?"

"He was always short. Damn, why didn't I think about the fact he hadn't been making any money for a month?"

No. No, this wasn't happening. Everyone's instincts were wrong. Blair had found a woman and was in the first stages of love. He was at her apartment. They were drinking tea and reading the newspaper out loud to each other. She loved tribal rhythms and took long baths. Blair was lighting smelly candles and chattering on about the pygmies. She found him fascinating. Blair was happy and safe.

Jim shook his head, knowing that if that were true, Blair would have been at school teaching his classes. Something was wrong. Where to begin? Anywhere. All the longing for Blair that he had so ruthlessly been trying to suppress came flooding back, flashing through the parched plains of his heart and soul.

********************************

Blair scanned the storefronts. He saw the place Jamal had told him about two doors down. He saw the line up of men. There weren't too many yet. It was just past six and the sun was weak in the sky. Blair joined the end of the line.

The tall man in front of him turned and said, "First time?"

"Yeah." He extended his hand. " Blair Sandburg."

" Dipsy Monk."

"Nice to meet you."

"Likewise." Dipsy looked closely at the fellow traveler. He was new to the streets. He'd have to keep an eye on this one. This boy didn't belong here. Nope. He dressed the part, and he even kind of smelled the part. But those eyes were much too clear and wide. And his voice was soft. He was educated. Dark unruly hair, clothes that were too big for his small frame, dark smudges under his eyes; all spoke of hard times. Not really a kid, with the shadows that seemed to haunt him, but nothing like the men who waited in line with them either. A mutant, Dipsy thought, and they generally didn't last long.

"How fast does the line go?" Blair peered around Dipsy, trying to check out the progress. He shivered in the early morning damp.

"Depends on the day. It being a Thursday generally means a crowd. But you got a good place here. You'll get in. You eat yet?" The kid looked like a hard wind could do him damage.

"Uh, no, kinda rushed out of the house this morning."

"Yeah. I did me some rushing this morning myself." Dipsy searched his pocket, pulling out a granola bar. "You want this? The day can get kinda long if you ain't prepared." He lifted his lunch box to illustrate.

Blair hesitated for only a second. "Thanks. I didn't think ahead." He pulled his jacket tighter. The line was moving slowly and in just a few minutes they'd be inside.

"Name?"

"Blair Sandburg."

"Skills?"

" Research, , teaching , typing..." The hands had stopped writing. Blair looked at the woman taking information. She peered at him over the rims of her glasses.

"Uh, I guess those aren't the kind of skills you're looking for here. I can..."

"Can you shovel?" She asked. Hadn't had anyone come in yet who couldn't shovel.

"Yeah, I can shovel."

"Good. There's a job for you at Arrow Fertilizing. Pays nine bucks an hour. You'll get your money at the end of the day. Whadya say?"

"Sure. That sounds fine."

She wrote out the job ticket. "You'll be transported in truck three. It's out front."

Blair looked for Dipsy and found him by the coffee machine.

"Hey Blair, man, over here. Get yourself some warm brew."

"Thanks, man, I could use the kick." Blair accepted the paper cup gratefully and inhaled the heated caffeine.

"Where are you working, Blair?"

"I'm going to Arrow Fertilizing. Not sure exactly what I'll be doing there but I think it has something to do with shoveling."

Dipsy rumbled a laugh. "Oh, yeah. You're gonna be sore tonight, little buddy.

Blair straightened his back and stifled a groan. He still had three hours to go and he wasn't sure he would make it. His hands were blistered and his back was killing him. He'd spent some of the last of his money on a sandwich and water but any good that had done him was long gone. He'd lost his sense of smell after the second hour. For that he was deeply grateful. He had to make it. He really needed the money. He pushed himself into that part of his mind that served him when finals and papers were due. He knew how to keep going long after there was any real will to keep going. He could do this.

***********

Dipsy frowned. The kid was dead on his feet. His hair was matted with sweat. He carried his jacket, the day having warmed considerably. Without the padding of the coat, Dipsy could see just how thin he was. He was walking away from the truck with the vacancy of exhaustion.

"Hey, Blair!"

Blair lifted his head. "Yeah?" He looked around vaguely. A day with fertilizer seemed to have affected his ability to focus. His throat felt coated with the stuff. He searched for Dipsy, finally spotting him across the street, waving to him.

"Blair! C'mon man, get the lead out. You need a place to stay?"

Blair looked at Dipsy, his black face dusty from his long day. "You sure, man?" Blair croaked. His throat was killing him.

"Yeah, you come with me. You need a hot bath and a place to crash." Blair followed after Dipsy, astonished at the offer.

Dipsy had made Blair take the first bath and when Blair came out he'd handed him a bowl of stew. Blair was half asleep by the third mouthful. He settled into the couch. It was only 7:00 but he knew he would have no trouble sleeping. He pulled the blanket a little closer to his chin and closed his eyes. Please, no dreams tonight.

At 6 a.m. they were back in line. Blair looked at the man who could put Naomi to shame. Dipsy was reading Dear Abby to the guy in front of them. The older man had made oatmeal this morning and packed him a lunch. He'd even found an old pair of work gloves for him. Blair flexed his hands and regretted it. They were battered and blistered and the thought of trying to hold a shovel for eight hours made him cringe.

"Name?"

"Blair Sandburg."

"Oh. You back for more?" She couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice.

"What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment." If only that were true. If only this was his sentence and when he'd served his time, he could go home. The weight of his exile seemed to press in.

"Up for more shoveling?"

Blair's first impulse was to say no. But instead, "Yeah. Sure."

********************

Simon handed Jim the motel bill. "He stayed at this dump for two nights. It cost him $97 of his $187. He can't have gone far on that."

Jim looked at the address on the bill. "What was Blair thinking, staying in a place like this? He could get killed for his socks around that neighborhood."

"He was thinking cheap."

No money, no Rainier, no police department, no Naomi....there was only the car to track down. By now it should have been found. The implications of that had been eating away at him since the APB went out. Where would Blair go? Had he left Cascade? Had he left Washington? How far could he get on $90?

************************************

Blair shielded his eyes against the setting sun and looked for Dipsy. All the trucks had arrived but Blair had yet to spot his new friend. 'What's really worrying you? Dipsy's safety or your comfort? This is no time to switch dependencies.' Dipsy probably figured out what a dead loss he was and headed out. Blair patted his pocket. He had 130$ and a car parked in Cynthia's shed. He started walking. He felt like someone had poured wet cement in his clothes. The weighted sensation made his progress slow. He scrubbed at his eyes. The blurring that had begun yesterday was back. He weaved a little as he walked along Mercer. Every once in a while his eyes would close and he'd just keep walking, not caring if he smacked into something. Eventually he did. Smack into something. Someone. Someone large.

Blair opened his eyes and looked up at a small mountain of a man. The mountain spoke. "Watch where you're going, punk."

"Yeah, sorry, man. I will." Blair started to move around the man mountain when he/it swung his arm out and causally hit Blair on the side of his head with his open hand. Blair felt the impact of the hand and then the impact of the wall on the back of his head. And then he stopped feeling.

Blair lifted his head off the concrete. That was his first mistake. He could see the world had decided to speed up. The visual chaos of legs whirling by and sidewalks undulating was matched by the chaos in his stomach, as it lurched and emptied itself. Blair pushed harder to get up. No way was he staying down now. He groaned and tentatively felt the back of his head. He could feel blood and it was trickling down his neck. He leaned against the wall that had assaulted him and slowly straightened to a standing position. There. Progress. He waited for the dizziness to fade. It had gotten dark and the breeze that had been pleasant had turned into a wind with a bitter bite to it. He pushed himself away from the wall and resumed his journey. He just had to catch the bus at 42nd. Get off at Hailey. Walk the seven blocks to Cynthia's. Totally doable.

"Hey. You. Wake-up."

Blair felt a hand shaking his shoulder. "Ah, c'mon Jim, just 10 more minutes?"

"C'mon. Get up! I don't have all night to play alarm clock.. And the name's Mike, not Jim. You're at the end of the line and I'm pulling into the garage."

Blair looked around, confused. 'Where? How?' His head hurt and his hands hurt and he didn't like waking up in the dark with Mike telling him to get a move on.

"I tried to wake you and find out where you were headed but you were so far zonked I couldn't get a rise out of you. Looked like you could use a warm, safe place for your nap, so I left you."

"Oh. Yeah. Well, thanks. I'll let you get going. Um, where are we? What time is it?" Blair couldn't make out any landmarks through the darkened windows.

"You're at Cedar and West 77th. And it's three in the morning." Blair groaned. He was way on the other side of town.

"Any other buses running by here this time of night?"

"Nope. Next one will be in two hours."

That figured. Blair pulled himself off the seat and held tight for a moment. Man, his head hurt so bad he thought he'd be sick again. Mike grabbed him by the arm and yanked him loose from his moorings.

"Just be glad I didn't call the cops. Most drivers won't tolerate a drunk on their bus." Mike propelled Blair down the stairs and off the bus.

Blair watched as he resumed his seat and drove the oasis of light down the black street. After the bus turned the corner, silence and dark surrounded Blair.

He wrapped his coat around him tighter and pulled out the work gloves. It was dicey getting them over the ruptured blisters and scrapped knuckles. He hissed at the sensation of leather over tender skin. He pulled his collar up and tucked his chin down and started walking. Rainier was about three miles east of here. At least it was a destination. He'd walked only a few blocks when he realized he wasn't going to make it. What he wanted to do was simply lie down on the sidewalk but that would get him arrested and that would bring his pathetic state to Jim's attention and that he really couldn't bear. He veered off the path and headed for a strand of trees. A small rest and then he'd continue on.

*************************************

Waking up with a start, Jim realized he'd dozed off in the truck again. He rubbed his eyes and quickly scanned the street. Then he checked with his hearing. Damn. Not here. How long had he slept? Blair could have come through here. He was parked at Lexington and Grand. He'd started picking a different sleazy corner to stakeout each night in the hopes a familiar heartbeat would make itself known. 'Get a grip, Ellison. This is as random as you can get.' Yeah, but it beat going back to the loft. Even the illusion of a plan was better than no plan at all. It was 3 a.m. The streets were quiet. The likelihood of anyone strolling by now was low, let alone Blair. He put the car in drive. He really needed a shower and a shave. He could bear the loft for that long.

He dragged himself up the last flight of stairs. He'd extended his hearing four blocks away, hoping. He'd known then and he knew now, the loft was devoid of Blair energy. He opened the door and dropped the keys, walking a straight path to the bathroom. He stripped down and entered the shower before he'd regulated the temp, letting the cold water hit him square. Where the hell was Sandburg? Was he clean? Was he warm? Unlikely. He was never warm. You'd think a guy who was into health food would be better able to withstand the cold. As the water warmed up, Jim dropped his head, letting the heat penetrate.

Jim finished the shower and kicked his clothes in the corner. He lathered his face and pulled out his razor He noticed his hand was shaking. He grabbed it with his other hand to still the tremors. Okay, that could wait until he had some coffee. He left the bathroom in Sandburg mode. As he stepped into the living room, he stopped. He scanned the empty walls, listened to the faint echo the refrigerator hum made and studied the cold moonlight on the floor. He was close to zoning. He shut down, grabbed the black blanket and went into Blair's room. There was nothing there. Not even his scent remained after all this time. Jim lay down on the floor and pulled the blanket around him. He slept.

Jim slowly came awake on the cold, hard floor. He half-heartedly reached out but couldn't find the sounds he needed to hear. He dragged himself up the stairs and rummaged through the drawers, tossing on the first things that fell under his hands. In the kitchen, he studied the coffee maker but decided he didn't want to take the time to make any. He left the loft, ready to resume his prowl.

************************************

Blair woke up, his face pressed into the dirt. There was a gangly young man leaning over him, saying, "Hey, mister, you all right?"

He pushed against the ground and sat up.

"Umm...yeah, I..." Blair couldn't seem to focus and think.

"You need a ride to the hospital?" The earnest young face asked.

"No, but...could you give me a lift to-" Where? "To Oakland and Shepard?"

"Sure, man, no problem."

"What are you doing out so early?" Blair asked as he slowly got to his feet. The cold from the ground had seeped into his bones, co-existing with aching muscles. He wobbled for a moment and the kid put out a hand to steady him.

"Paper route. I'm finished and headed back downtown, so you're on the way."

"Great." They walked to the beat up Chevy, filled with papers and plastic bags.

"I'm Blair."

"Eddie." He scooped up a stack of papers and dumped them in the backseat

"You get mugged or something?" Eddie asked as he wrinkled his nose. Blair opened his window a little more.

"Not mugged, but something."

The short answer seemed to satisfy Eddie's curiosity. Blair gratefully relaxed against the back of the seat, watching Cascade slowly come awake.

*************************************

The blue truck made its deliberate way across town, towards the neighborhoods that prosperity had forgotten. Jim tracked the trickle of people head toward to bus stops and office buildings. He saw a coffee shop on the corner, parked his truck and got out. As he started across the street he caught a whiff of something familiar. Blair? Not Blair? He looked around but didn't see him. He extended his sense of smell.

Blair saw Jim hesitate in the street, his head cocked. Damn. Could Jim have spotted him? Smelled him? That would teach him. Jim hadn't moved. 'Oh, God. Jim's zoned.'

Blair ran into the street just as a car sped up to make the yellow light. He spun Jim out of the way and they both went down hard, Blair on top of Jim. Cars had screeched to a halt and people started to come forward. Blair could tell Jim was unhurt and coming out of the zone. He pushed off and started running, not looking back. Almost immediately he felt a fierce stitch in his side. He couldn't outrun Jim on his best day, and today wasn't his best, but damn if he was going let Jim see him like this and have all his judgments confirmed.

Jim came back to awareness in time to see a barely recognizable Blair looking down at him. Looking at him with concern and fear. And then Blair was gone and three people surrounded him, trying to be helpful. He tried to gently push them aside but they seemed to think he really, really needed help.

"Excuse me. Excuse me. Can I get up? Thank you!" and Jim was on his feet, after Blair. Blair had a head start but the smell was so strong, Jim had no trouble at all tracking on him.

Blair rounded a corner and knew he wasn't going to get away, when a car stopped next to him and Dipsy opened the door. "C'mon kid, get in."

Blair jumped in and Dipsy peeled out. Looking back, there was no sign of Jim. Good. He wouldn't have seen the license plates.

"What kind of trouble you in, kid? You wanted for something?"

Blair stifled a laugh at that idea. "No, I'm not wanted for anything. I just had a run in with a guy and I don't think he was too happy with me."

Dipsy studied Blair out of the corner of his eye. "Where'd you get to on Friday? And where you been? You look like shit, Blair."

"Yeah, I bet. I feel like shit, so there's no cognitive dissonance there."

"What's that in English?"

"I am one with my state."

"That's still not English, but I get your drift. Come on. I'll take you home and we'll get the stink off you."

Jim skidded to a halt. Damn, the smell faded right here. He extended his hearing but although he heard many heartbeats, he could not catch Blair's. He must have had his car here. Jim flipped open his phone and called Simon.

"Banks"

"Simon, I just saw Sandburg."

"Where?" "At Oakland and Shepard. Call it in. I think he's in his car."

"Is he all right?"

"I don't know how all right he is. He was all right enough to run away from me."

"At least he's alive and not stashed somewhere." Simon's voice revealed both relief and anger. "Why hasn't Sandburg called? He has to know I'd be worried about him."

"I don't know Simon. I only got a glimpse of him. "Jim replayed that quick moment of opening his eyes and seeing Sandburg on top of him. Feeling the solid weight of Blair, alive and breathing on top of him. If only he'd grabbed him, held on. Blair was dirty with a scrape on the side of his face and a bruise underlying that. He'd cut his hair. It was still a riotous mess of curls, but ragged. He'd looked wrung out, like he hadn't been sleeping. And the way he smelled...he'd turned down his sense of smell immediately but it lingered in his own clothing.

What god-awful mess had Blair fallen into? Wait. If he could identify that smell maybe he could track where Blair had been. And find where Blair was now.

"I've got an idea, Simon. I'm going to talk to the chemistry professor at Rainier."

"Chemistry professor? Why? Does he know Sandburg?"

"No. I don't know. I'll call you when I know anything."

*****************

Dipsy watched the kid sleep. He'd just barely gotten a half a sandwich into him after the shower before Dipsy had seen sleep pressing in. He shuffled Blair onto the couch and swore he heard a snore before Blair's head hit the pillow. That had been eighteen hours ago and Dipsy was starting to get worried. He crouched down and put two fingers on the kid's delicate wrist. He counted...his pulse was slow, but hell, he was sleeping. Who was the guy the kid been running from? He'd seen the man after him. The way he ran utterly focused. as if after prey, was a sight to behold. He cringed when he contemplated what a man like that could do to a sweet guy like Blair.

Dipsy wondered about the nature of the trouble Blair was in. Something big had come along and knocked the underpinnings out from under the kid's life. There was just no way a boy like Blair, with his big innocent eyes, his soft hands, and the way he still looked around like the world had treasures in it, ended up on the day job line otherwise.

He went out to the phone and started making calls.

*****************************8

Blair felt the water cutting off all hope of air and the hand that held him down without mercy. He kicked out and woke when he hit the edge of the coffee table and then the floor. He lay on his stomach dazed, his heart pounding. He put his hand up to the pain in his head and it came away red. He pushed himself up and leaned against the couch, taking in his surroundings. Dipsy's place. He must be gone, I made enough noise to wake the dead.

Blair got up, tottering as the edges of his vision narrowed. He made himself move forward and into the bathroom. After relieving himself, he checked the gash on his head. Messy and it hurt, but standard. He'd live. He cleaned it and thought about looking for a Band-Aid but he didn't want to rummage around in Dipsy's cabinets. He looked for a clock and saw that it was one. It was dark. One in the morning? He'd been sleeping since yesterday morning. No wonder he was so hungry. He wondered what Dipsy life was like outside of work and rescue. No telling when he would be back.

Blair figured Dipsy wouldn't mind if he ate something. He looked around and found the bread and peanut butter. As he made his sandwich, he thought through the last few days. He shouldn't have run from Jim. He was probably just surprised to see him, smack on top of him after a zone. It's not like Jim wanted him in his life.

He wondered how Megan was doing as Jim's guide. The thought that Jim was depending on someone else to watch his back hurt. He should be happy that Jim had help and wasn't dependent on the person who had betrayed him. He was happy for Jim but the sense of loss swamped him and he couldn't stop the tears. He had an overwhelming need to see Jim and make sure he was all right.

Why was he feeling so concerned? Because Jim had zoned? Where the hell had Megan been, anyway? Blair focused on the way Jim had looked. His face had been almost gaunt and he hadn't shaved. His hair had grown longer since the fountain and Sierra Verde and it had gave Jim a disheveled appearance, quite out of keeping with his normal buttoned down persona. Something was very wrong.

He sat back on the couch and pulled the pillow to him. He had to get a grip. He'd been so caught in the maelstrom of loss and despair that he had given no thought of where to go from here. The University seemed to be out. Couldn't teach if you couldn't make yourself enter the building. And in any case he would need to find another topic for his dissertation. So what could he do? He sure didn't want to shovel fertilizer for a living. He was a good teacher. High School? He knew computers. Business? He understood research. Library? All the answers in his head depressed him.

He'd had two lives, the one at Rainier and the one as police observer and now both were lost to him. He was shocked to realize it was the loss of being Jim's partner and his work with the police that caused him the greater pain. He'd spent twelve years becoming an anthropologist. It had been his passion, his dream. How could that have changed in two short years?

As he hugged the pillow tightly to his thin body he was hit with the recognition that he could not walk away from Jim Ellison. But he didn't want to torture Jim with his presence either. He wanted to reassure himself that Megan was up to the task of grounding Jim and keeping him safe. He leaned his head back and started to think with his good and useful brain.

When Dipsy came home he found Blair fast asleep. sitting up. He gently eased him to a horizontal position and covered him with the blanket. There was an APB out on the kid but as far as he could tell he wasn't suspected of any crime. Tomorrow they would sort through the trouble.

****************************************

Jim was in the loft at the time of the zone but it still sent a jolt of shame and alarm that he could lose himself without warning. He didn't want to live like this. These two years with Blair had shown him a way of life he had never experienced before. The integration of his senses was like a balm to his soul.

Already without Sandburg here to ground him, he was fractured.

With Sandburg in his life it was if the sun had broken through years of dense cloud and fog. It was Blair bubbling with unsuppressed excitement about life, knowledge, awareness that had tugged and prodded at Jim's barriers. Blair who had attached and held on, usually for dear life, rather than let Jim face anything alone.

And now he faced the bleak expanse of his life, the life he'd known before Blair. His senses so erratic he had no faith in them. He wondered if this was just a post-Alex reaction. The compulsion to mate had been irresistible. The feeling of souls bonding, of completion, had been like a siren song. When they had failed to mate, and Alex entered the pools...he'd felt relief. He had shook his head at that. It was like the Sentinel wanted her but Jim Ellison sure as hell didn't. And yet, he'd had a vision, not a real vision...no, he'd seen what it might feel like if he did find his other half and it made him long for that. Maybe that's why the life he had now without Blair, seemed so brutally empty. Doubly empty. He wanted to go out knowing Blair had begun to create his new life. But what does the kid do? Blast him. He runs away. He blows his career. He looks like hell. No way could Jim check out while Blair was managing his life this poorly.

******************************

Blair studied the want ads from the paper Dipsy had brought home. He was looking for a particular job. Damn, it wasn't there. "Dipsy? I need to get some things from my car. I am going job hunting and I need to look my best."

Dipsy looked up from the sports section. "You got a plastic surgeon tucked in the trunk? Cause you are looking rough around the edges there, my man."

Blair touched the bandage over the gash on his head that Dipsy had put in place. He ran a hand over the stubble that covered his face and felt the bruises that were only partially hidden. It would be the Day Job line for him for awhile. He and Dipsy spent the rest of the afternoon companionably reading the New York Times.

"How'd you get the name Dipsy anyway?" Blair suddenly wondered.

"You don't think that's my given Christian name, Ba-lair?

"Is it?"

"Are you nuts? Who would give a baby the name Dipsy?

"So we're back to my original question. How'd you get that name?"

Well. My daddy was quite the dancer. He taught dance in the '30's in Harlem. I had two brothers and he taught us all the moves. Danny and Delroy were tappers. I loved the Jitter. It may not seem like it to you now but my daddy always said I had an abundance of energy. I loved the Swing. And nobody but nobody could dip better than me." Dipsy swung an imaginary partner around and demonstrated his technique.

Blair watched his new friend and could see the power and grace. "I always wanted to know how to dance but other than some tribal moves I never learned anything."

"Tribal, eh? I could get into tribal." Dipsy shook his hips in his version of a primitive dance.

"That's Hawaiian, Dipsy, not tribal. Although, come to think of it the Hula was a traditional dance with tribal significance, so I guess you could get into tribal. Hey, can I ask a personal question?"

"You can ask, Blair."

"What is your given Christian name?"

"Now that is a mighty personal question, junior. We'd have to know each other a lot longer than three days before I'd give up that kind of information."

Dipsy gave Blair a look that would have done Jim Ellison proud.

Blair's laugh died off as he realized Dipsy was serious.

"Didn't mean to pry, man."

"Yeah, well I want to ask you a personal question. How'd a guy like you end up like this?"

Blair looked at Dipsy in dismay. He didn't want Dipsy to know how very much he couldn't be trusted. And he couldn't tell Dipsy about Jim and Alex.... "I made a mistake. A really, really, bad mistake. And this is sort of my...penance."

"What in the world could you-" Blair put up his hand to stop Dipsy.

"I can't give you that kind of information."

Monday morning dawned gray, the air heavy with moisture. It would rain today. Blair was glad he'd followed through on his trip to the car. He now had his warmest sweater, along with clean underwear and socks. Once again he took on the fertilizer plant. It would take longer than he planned to give it to achieve the seniority to move up to unloading lumber with Dipsy.

His hands had scabbed over and he was starting to get calluses. His whole body still ached from the two days the week before but he'd slept and had breakfast and felt ready to put in a day's work. By two o'clock he knew something was seriously wrong. His throat was sore and he could feel it closing up. For the last hour, his breathing had become more and more labored. His eyes burned with the harsh chemicals that made up the fertilizer.

He staggered to the office. The woman at the front desk took one look at him and said, "You need to get some fresh air." What she wanted to say was, "I'll call an ambulance," but she was on strict orders to underplay any health complaints. Blair nodded, too confused to think what the appropriate action was and went outside. There was a fine mist in the air and the cool tang of the air cleared his head a bit. He couldn't go back in there. He walked along Dunham road. Up ahead he would be able to catch a city bus back to the recruitment center and wait for Dipsy there.

***********************

Jim was on the third fertilizer plant. He went to the loading dock and showed the foreman Blair's picture. "You seen this man?" Jim asked, looking around at the set-up.

The foreman looked at the photo and nodded his head. "You a cop? Is this guy in some kind of trouble?"

Jim shook his head. "Yeah, I'm a cop but no, he hasn't committed a crime. I just want to talk to him."

"Oh, yeah, well he got assigned to building number fourteen over there." The foreman pointed and Jim reached his sight toward the far building. There was no sign of Blair.

"Thanks, I'll go find him."

Jim approached the building, his hopes fading. He couldn't hear or see Blair, anywhere. He snagged the first man he came across who told him Blair hadn't looked so good and had left early.

"What was wrong with him? How long ago did he leave?"

"He was having trouble breathing. This place can have that effect on some people. He left 'bout half hour ago."

"Did you see which way he went?"

"Nope, but Sally at the front desk might know."

************

Blair sat in the back of the bus and pulled his jacket closer around him. He was cold and wet from the rain. Ducking his head down inside his sweater he tried to breathe warm air but that made his lungs work too hard and he stopped. How had misery come to be such company?

He thought about the way he had lived his life before Jim. Friendships that ended when semesters came to a close, romances that never worked themselves up past affection, so commitment free, he didn't even have a goldfish. And then came Jim.

How did he ever think he could handle that kind of responsibility? Helping the most repressed man he'd ever met to become conscious and aware, and at a hypersensitive level. Keeping a guy like that grounded and safe, while keeping his own feelings contained. Because if Jim Ellison had ever suspected some of the things Blair felt, the things he thought about, Jim would have had Blair's boxes packed up and moved out faster than he had with Alex.

So maybe this was for the best. He couldn't have kept it hidden for much longer; he lived with a guy who could detect pheromones. There were no baggy clothes or long cold showers that could mask that piece of information from Jim.

Blair looked out the window. Damn, he'd missed the stop. He thought about where he was going. He knew Dipsy would never turn him away but jeez, he'd just met the guy. There was a limit to what someone should be asked to do. He felt a certain alarm at the way he was feeling. He put his hand to his forehead. He didn't need a Sentinel's abilities to realize he was running a fever. His sore throat that had eased over the weekend was back with evil intent. He'd begun coughing again. If he went to back, Dipsy would be stuck playing nursemaid to a virtual stranger and he might make Blair go to the doctor...no money, no insurance, not an option.

He moved to the front of the bus. "Hey does the line end at Hailey?" He asked the driver as he tried to get his bearings.

"Yeah, Hailey's in two streets, it's the last stop."

"Thanks."

Blair got out at Hailey and began the trek toward Cynthia's house. She had gone out on an expedition to Mexico for the semester but had made it clear Blair was welcome to winter his car in her shed. The rain was still coming down but Blair had lost interest in being dry. He just wished he could be still, every step jarred his head and body, sending shafts of pain through him. He squinted through the rain and could see the end of the road. He stopped as a coughing fit hit, leaving him doubled over. Just a little further, he was almost there.

*************************

Jim drove up and down the street looking for any sign of Blair. Which way would he have gone? Damn, the kid wasn't feeling well, he shouldn't have been able to get far. Eventually he went back to the plant. He hunted down the foreman. "Tell me about Blair Sandburg."

"Who?"

"The man in the picture that I showed you." Jim's impatience was showing.

"Oh, yeah, that guy. Well, he's worked here three days. Hasn't caused any trouble. Been working in building fourteen, mostly by himself."

"What was wrong with him when he left here?"

"I don't know, didn't see him leave. He should have come to me before he took off like that. I won't be having him back here to work, I can tell you that."

"Who did see Sandburg before he left?"

"I don't know, check at the front desk."

Jim did and found a young woman deep into her Sassy magazine.

"Miss?" She looked up.

" Did you see Blair Sandburg leave?"

"Who?"

Jim got the photo out. It showed Blair at The Fourth of July picnic, his hair blowing loose in the breeze, a wide smile on his face.

She peered at it, taking a moment to place the face that didn't quite match the photo. "Oh, yeah, him. He left."

"Yes, I know." Jim bit back the urge to scream his questions and instead asked, " How did he seem when he left? Did he seem alright?"

She seemed to give it some thought. "He said he didn't feel well. He didn't look so hot." She paused. She thought about the slight raggedy figure she remembered. "Course even before today he didn't look so hot."

"Let's talk about today. What was wrong with him today?" Jim's anxiety was starting to make his senses wobble.

"He didn't actually say, but he was sweating and he wasn't walking too straight." She looked at the big buff guy standing in front of her. He didn't look so good either, his fist was holding the photo so hard he was crumpling it. He didn't seem to have heard what she said. She shouted, "I said he was sweating and he wasn't walking too straight." He seemed to have heard that so she lowered her voice and added, "To tell you the truth, the guy shoulda been going to the hospital. I've seen those symptoms before. But he just headed out on his own steam, so I guess he's okay."

"Did he say where he was going?"

"Nah, he wasn't talking much." She watched as Jim rubbed his hands over his face. She wondered what the scruffy kid had done to this one to make him so anxious to find him.

"Where would his job application be?" Maybe Sandburg had left an address.

"Oh, he didn't get hired here. He came in the truck with the day hires. From Jolsom's, you know? On 44th Street by Lincoln."

"Thanks for the info. And if he comes back, do me a favor and don't tell him I was looking for him."

"Sure, whatever you say."

" You the man, and my, my, my, what a hunk a man." Jim heard her mutter under her breath when she thought he was too far away to hear.

**********************************

Blair stripped out of his wet clothes and pulled out his exercise sweats that were still in the car. He was shaking so hard from the cold he could barely unbutton his shirt. Once in dry clothes he got in the front seat and turned on the car. The shed was lacking one whole side and did little to dispel the cold. He cranked the heat up and wished he thought more like Jim and had equipped the car with emergency blankets and supplies. Heat slowly filled the damp interior and Blair tried to still the shivering wracking his body. As the car warmed, he moved to the backseat and laid down, curling up on his side. 'It's just the flu, you can ride this out.'

***********************************

44th and Lincoln. He knew that place. It was about two miles from here. The place looked deserted when he got there and Jim was afraid no one stayed behind during the day. As he entered the building he saw a woman at the intake desk. He got out his photo and approached her.

"I'm looking for the man in this photo. Do you recognize him? His name is Blair Sandburg. I believe he's gotten some work through you."

She looked up at man towering over her and then down at the photo. She looked back at the man.

She had seen a lot hard men come through those doors but this one had the look of someone who could eat most of them for breakfast. And here he was looking for that kid, the one Dipsy had taken a liking to.

"You a cop?" She wasn't going to hand the kid over if she could help it.

Jim dug out his badge and flipped it open. "Detective James Ellison," she carefully read.

"Hmumph. What'd he do, free the animals at the zoo?"

"No, ma'am. I just need to talk to him."

She looked through her papers. "Well, he's not here, as you can see. He took on a job at Arrow Fertilizer. He should be back at 5:30 on the truck." She looked up to see Jim shaking his head.

" I was just there. He left early. He wasn't feeling well. I'm hoping you have an address for him."

"That's not part of our application process, Detective."

"Is there anyone here who might have talked to him? Who might know something about his whereabouts?"

"Ain't nobody here atall, right now."

"All right. Thanks for your help." Jim picked up the picture of Blair. She was surprised to see the hand holding the photo was shaking..

"You're worried about him." It wasn't a question.

Jim looked at the woman. "Yeah, I'm worried. You don't know Sandburg. If there's trouble within a 100-mile radius it will find him. And he hasn't been well, and I'm sure he's not getting enough sleep. To top it off, he cut off his hair. His hair!” Jim leaned his hands on the desk. “Do you have any idea what that means?" At the end of his speech, Jim sank down into the chair in front of her desk and buried his head in his hands. "I don't know what to do."

Emma shook her head. She could tell that that was probably the first time in his life he had said those words. Who would have thought it. The bigger they were, the harder they fell. She decided to believe him.

"Blair did seem to hit it off with Dipsy Monk. You could talk to him when he gets in. He might know something." She hoped this guy wasn't the best actor she'd ever seen. The men who worked the day jobs were rough and used to trouble. That Sandburg had stuck out like a sore thumb. At first she had wondered if he was doing research or some other slumming activity. But she'd seen the look in his big blues and it spoke of a world of pain. She sure didn't want to bring the heat down on him.

Jim was grateful to have any connection to Sandburg at this point. "I'll be back." He wanted to check in with the hospitals and see if Blair had the good sense to take himself in. Unlikely.

At 5:30 Jim was back, armed with a description of Monk. He had run the guy and been surprised when nothing came back. He waited and watched as the men disembarked from the trucks. There was a lot of yelling and joking going on between the different groups of men. It all stopped when they spotted Jim. Each man read cop in Ellison's authoritative stance. They gave him a wide berth and scattered to the street. Jim spotted the only man who could be Dipsy. He was as tall as Jim with a patina of age and grace that gave him an unexpected dignity. Jim walked diagonally and cut him off before he could duck into his car.

"Hey, wait up. I just want to ask you some questions."

Dipsy paused, his hand on the door handle. He recognized Blair's pursuer. Up close he looked just as deadly. "What you want, man? I ain done nothin'." Dipsy slowed his speech and drawled out his vowels. Never hurt to let the man underestimate you.

"I'm looking for this man." Jim offered the photo of Blair, tracking on the man's heartbeat as he did

"Who would be looking?"

"Jim Ellison, I'm a friend of his."

Dipsy gave him a look that spoke of his disbelief but he answered him. "Well, yeah, I seen him. He was here, looking for work. I 'spect Emma inside could tell you more about him."

Dipsy's rapid heartbeat belied his causal response. Jim wished he'd thought to bring a photo with the both of them in it. This guy was afraid. He knew more about Blair than he was letting on. Jim's first impulse was to smash him against the car and shake some information out of the guy. The only thing that stopped him was the fact the guy seemed clean. He held himself in check. How would Sandburg approach a guy like this?

"Look, Blair is my partner. In fact, he's my roommate." (Okay, was my partner, was my roommate.)

"So why's he on the streets if he's your friend and roommate?" Monk's skepticism was plain.

"I did something that Blair couldn't forgive and I don't know..... Everything just fell apart."

Monk looked at the man questioning him. The man looked sincere and he seemed genuinely worried. But he'd seen the fear in Blair's face after being chased by this guy and he wasn't giving him up that easily. "If Blair wanted to be in touch with you, I'm sure he would be. You haven't changed your phone number have you?"

"I have to talk to him, make sure he's okay. He left the fertilizer plant not feeling well. I don't know where he's staying, if he has money. The guy is a Ph.D. candidate, for Christ's sake. He has no business shoveling fertilizer!"

"He wasn't feeling well?" What was this guy trying to pull? The kid didn't have much stamina and he'd been fighting a cold but he was all right. Ellison was playing him.

Jim saw that Dipsy wasn't buying it. "No. Look. If everything was fine, he would have come back on the truck. He'd be here. Do you have any idea where Blair might be staying?"

Dipsy breathed a little easier. Guy didn't know Blair had been staying with him. He could answer with utter truthfulness that he had no idea where Blair was right now. "Nope, don't have a clue where Blair could be right now."

Jim gave him the stare that had grown men peeing in their pants. Dipsy stayed the course. Damn it! His hopes of finding Blair before nightfall were dimming.

"If you hear from Blair, if you see him, tell him...." What the hell could he say that would bring Blair back to him? You lost the right to bring him back, Ellison. Maybe so. Maybe he was being a manipulative son of a bitch but he needed to see Blair. He needed to assure himself that Blair was okay. Then if...no, when, Blair walked away, at least he could hold on and follow through with his plan.

"Tell Blair I need him. Tell him to call me. Tell him I said please." Jim If Dipsy gave Sandburg the message, he would call.

Dipsy watched the cop walk away. He shook his head, he didn't know what to think. One thing he did know, a guy like that was never a friend to a guy like Blair. Uh, uh. Just didn't happen.

**********************

Blair woke, his back in spasms. He gritted his teeth at the pain and tried to straighten his body. How long had he been asleep? His throat was so raw he thought it must be bleeding. He could taste metallic slime running down his throat. He wished he had some water. And, he was desperate enough to add, some aspirin. At least he was warm. Very warm, although the car had stopped running.

He managed to move onto his back and the muscles were slowly unclenching. He took a deep breath. Big mistake, as a coughing fit hit him, leaving him limp, and sending his back muscles into another round of spasms. He tried panting and after awhile the spasms faded. He needed to get some water, some supplies, be like Jim, be prepared, think ahead, know what to do next....He could hear Jim in his head, "Sit up, you'll breathe easier." So Blair sat up." He could breathe easier. He thought about his next move, but before he wasted any energy he heard, "Don't bother Sandburg, there's a reason the engine's not running. Out of gas." And Blair sat back, acknowledging the truth in those words. "All you can do now is sleep. Close your eyes. That's it." And Blair did, a small smile on his face.

**********************************

Dipsy hung up the pay phone. Ellison had been telling the truth. Blair was his partner. Had been his partner. If that was the truth then maybe there was more truth in what he said. Maybe he was worried. Maybe he did need the kid. Maybe Blair was sick. Dipsy chewed on his thumb. He didn't want to guess wrong and bring down more trouble on Blair. He'd give the kid a few more hours and if he didn't show up....what. What could he do? He didn't know where Blair would hole up.

Jim had found and talked to three bus drivers who had routes near the plant. The third had remembered Blair because of the smell. Blair had ridden to the end of the line. He'd gotten off at Hailey. Jim tried to remember just what was around there. It was at the edge of town and sparsely residential. Maybe Blair knew somebody out there. Somebody he could stay with and who would see that Sandburg was taken care of. Jim wanted to tell himself that that's just what was going on. The driver said he'd assumed Blair was a druggie, what with the smell, the clothes, the glassy look in his eyes and the way he walked as he headed down Hailey.

After an hour of cruising up and down streets, Jim stopped the car. This wasn't working. He headed back towards the center of town. Dipsy lived in a dilapidated building that might have been charming at one time. Jim took the steps to the 4th floor two steps at a time. He could hear a heartbeat in the apartment and he knocked softly, hoping he conveyed a friendly presence

"What the hell do you want now, Ellison?" Dipsy hated the idea that this cop had tracked him to his own home.

"Sorry to disturb you but I'm hoping you can help." Dipsy could tell it took a mountain of control for Ellison to spit those words out, all nice and polite. Revealed a lot about how much he needed Dipsy. He looked at the detective and had to admit the guy looked worried.

Man, he hated this part. Every instinct shouted Don't trust this guy. But he hadn't been lying about Blair being his partner and the kid was missing....

"I got a lead on Blair. A bus driver let him off at the end of the line on Hailey. I've been all over that neighborhood but I have no way to know where he might be. Do you know if he knew anyone there?"

At that information, Dipsy knew where Blair was.. Ah, hell. They'd find Blair and make sure he was all right and if there was trouble, well, he'd find a way to fix it.

"Oh, man, yeah. I took Blair to that neighborhood on Sunday to get some stuff from his car. He has it in some friend's shed."

"Can you show me?"

Dipsy was already hunting for his jacket and keys. "Yeah, let's go."

Dipsy directed Jim past the open field to the beaten down shed. Jim had recognized Blair's heartbeat three blocks away. It was rapid and weak. As they got closer he tuned into Blair's raspy breathing. He slammed the truck in park and ran to the shed. He slowed as he approached the car. He didn't want to scare Blair....

He opened the car door. Blair was sprawled in the back seat. Jim reached in and cupped his face. "Chief? Can you hear me, Blair? Open your eyes, buddy." Jim pried one eyelid open and then the other. His pupils were equal and reactive. Jim lightly tapped his face, crooning all the while, "C'mon Blair, wake up, wake up." Jim could feel the fever that permeated the unconscious man.

Jim felt a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it and Dipsy's voice, urgent in his ear. "Give me your cell phone. Jim, do you hear me? I need your cell phone. We gotta call an ambulance." Jim pulled the phone out and without taking his eyes off Blair handed it back to Dipsy.

He pushed the sweaty, matted hair away from Blair's pale face. "Dipsy! Go to the truck and get the red box in the back, the blanket and I think I have a bottle of water in the cab." Blair's lips were cracked and he his skin was dry. With a fever like this he should have been sweating. The kid was badly dehydrated. Jim could see the struggle each breath was for Blair. He pulled Blair out from the back seat and propped him against his chest. Blair's breathing immediately eased a bit.

Jim slowly poured some water in Blair's mouth. A small amount went in and Jim could hear Blair swallow. He waited and tried again. This time Blair's swallowing was immediately followed by a coughing. Jim could feel each rib as Blair's lungs bucked and contorted with the strain of coughing and breathing.

"Ah, Jim..."Dipsy looked at him with alarm. "This is bad. There's blood on his lips." Dipsy gently wiped it away.

"Oh God, no." Had he punctured a lung? Jim twisted Blair's body so he lay in his arms and Jim could see his face. He quickly ran his hands up and down his bodies, searching for tell tale signs of internal bleeding or broken ribs. He couldn't feel any.

In the distance he heard the first faint sounds of the ambulance. He held Blair closer to his chest and ran his hands up and down his arms, trying to tell Blair he wasn't alone anymore. He tilted Blair's head back and looked at him, taking in the short tangle of dark curls and the hollowed cheeks covered with dark stubble. He placed his hand along Blair's throat and took comfort in the steady warmth of the pulse beneath his sensitive fingers. He could hear the ambulance pull up and knew Blair would soon be pulled away from him. He bent his head to Blair's forehead and murmured, "It'll be all right Chief, you're going to be in good hands."

The paramedic dropped down next to Jim, "What have we got here?"

"I don't know exactly, some kind of respiratory infection, dehydration, fever...We found him in his car."

"Okay. Lay him down and we'll get his vitals. Can you move back, sir and let my partner in?"

Jim backed away and joined Dipsy. They watched as the paramedics inserted an IV and got Blair loaded into the ambulance.

"C'mon, we'll meet them at the hospital."

*************************************

They got to the hospital in time to see Blair wheeled into the emergency room. Dipsy immediately found a chair and sank down into it. He took a deep heaving breath. He was never getting in a vehicle that Jim Ellison was driving again. Never.

Jim sat down next to him. His normal MO had him hovering and demanding explanations. He felt he no longer had the right to be the one by Blair's side. He took out the phone and called Simon.
"Simon, I found Blair. We're at the hospital." Jim listened. "I don't know anything yet."

Pause.

"I found him in his car in a shed."

"Yes, I'm staying but I'm not sure he will want to see me when he comes around. He needs you to be here, Simon."

Dipsy listened to this conversation and shook his head. Ellison risked his life, Dipsy's life, and the lives of innocent bystanders to get the hospital in warp speed and now he was saying he wasn't even going in to see Blair?

Once again he had to wonder if this guy really knew the kid. He had only known Blair for four days and he knew Blair wouldn't hold a grudge, wouldn't turn his back on anybody.

Jim hung up with Simon and Dipsy turned to him. "Tell me what happened between you and Blair."

Jim looked over at Dipsy and glared. "No."

"That bad, huh? You steal his girl?"
"No."

"Steal from him?”

"Say something bad about his mama?"
Jim's lips twitched at that. "No."

"I'm stymied here, Jim. It's written all over you how much you care about Blair. I can't think of anything you could have done that that boy wouldn't forgive."

"You wouldn't understand." Jim leaned over, trying to shut out Dipsy and his damn questions.

"I asked Blair how he ended up at Jolsom's. Said he'd made a terrible mistake and this was justice. What the hell did he mean by that?"

"He said WHAT?!" Jim straightened from his slump and looked ready to hit Dipsy.

"Whoa there, big fella. I'm just repeating what Blair told me." Dipsy spread his hands.

"And when I tried to get him to explain, he did an Ellison on me."

Jim glared at Dipsy.

"Yeah, well after meeting you, I knew where Blair got that look from."

"You're telling me Blair thinks he's done something wrong. And because he's done something wrong he's on the streets, he's not teaching, he's not working on his Ph.D. and he's shoveling fertilizer?"

"Well just how do you think he got here, Jim buddy?"

Jim put his head in his hands. "No, no, no. Tell me he hasn't been thinking he's at fault here."

The implications of that were staggering. It meant Blair thought he had been right to kick him out of the loft. It meant Blair thought it was he who had done the unforgivable when it was Jim who couldn't be forgiven. It meant...a sound escaped Jim Ellison. A sound not heard from his mouth since his mother had left.

Simon had tried to tell him. He had been just so sure.... He knew he wouldn't have been able to forgive...how could Blair? No...no one could get kicked out of their home of three years, left to fend off a psycho sentinel alone, nearly die, well, actually die...follow the person responsible for all this pain to Mexico and see that person hot to make love to your murderer...no. You don't forgive that, not even easy going Blair forgives that. And what the hell did Blair think he was guilty of? Not telling him about Alex? Trying to help Alex? That was chickenfeed in the guilt department. He thought Jim would hold that against him after everything they had gone through? After everything Jim had done? What kind of idiot thinks like that?

Dipsy watched the anguish sweep across Jim's face He stared sightlessly, mumbling, "No, no, that can't be, no, what an idiot..."

Soon the rocking and the mumbling stopped and Jim simply stared straight ahead.

"Jim? Ellison? Hey! JIM!" Dipsy wondered just what he was witnessing. The guy had gone catatonic on him. Shit. What the hell was happening here? "Oh, nurse? Somebody? Can I get some help here?"

*****************

"You have to take me to him, Simon. Everything you've tried has failed and he's been zoned for close to four hours." Blair had been relaying suggestions for the last hour, but nothing was working.

"Sandburg, they just got you resting comfortably. I wheel you out of here and those nurses will have my head." Even as Simon said this, he was pulling the IV out and helping Blair sit up.

"Four hours is way too long. We don't know what could happen and I don't want to find out. At some point, a hotshot doctor will decide to start trying drugs on him. Just get me there and I'll worry about the nurses."

Blair was trying to stand as Simon was pulling the wheelchair into position. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he knew he'd made a bad move. Simon must have seen him teetering because he pushed the chair in as he reached over and got his hands under Blair's arms. Blair felt himself turned and gently lowered into the chair. Simon pulled the blanket off the bed and tucked it around Blair.

The trip to Jim's room wasn't far, but by the time they made it, Blair was sitting at a tilt. "Are they following your orders and leaving him alone?"

"So far."

Jim's was alone in his room, hooked to several monitors. Simon pushed Blair in close to the bed and Blair leaned over to take one of Jim's hands. "Jim? Come on buddy, time to come back. Listen to the sound of my voice and follow it all the way back." There was no sign that Jim heard Blair and Blair rubbed Jim's big hand, willing warmth and connection. He continued to talk, his voice barely audible to Simon, even at first and, as the hour wore on Blair's voice wore down, until it was just a faint whisper in the room.

Blair had his head on Jim's bed, too weary to sit upright and he recognized that he was mumbling nonsense. "Follow the yellow brick road, Jim, come on, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the yellow brick road... we're off to see the wizard, the wonderful... wizard of oz." Blair sang off key, his voice so harsh and broken, Blair wondered if Jim could recognize it. As the song came to an end, Blair's strength ebbed and he stopped talking. He knew Simon would want to take him back. He didn't want to go. But there was no voice left with which to call to Jim. He gripped Jim's hand and squeezed, hard enough to hurt, wanting any kind of reaction.

He got one. Jim's eyes opened and he looked down at his hand, which hurt like hell, and to Blair, who was lying there with his eyes closed, his hand locked around his in a death grip.

"Blair?"

"Thank God." Simon's voice came from behind Blair.

Blair's head shot up. He looked at Jim and tried to say something, but even Jim's ears couldn't make out any words. The effort seemed to be the last energy Blair had left, because his eyes rolled back and he fainted. Simon grabbed him before he could fall out of the chair.

"Simon? What's Blair doing here? He shouldn't be out of bed. Get a doctor in here, now."

Simon pushed the call button, and knelt beside Blair. "You were out of it for seven and a half hours. We tried everything, Jim. Blair insisted on coming here."

"Since when do you listen to Sandburg?" Jim's eyes never left Blair's face. He could hear the nurse looking in and her exclamation. The commotion resulted in Blair being loaded onto a gurney and taken away. Even after Blair was gone, Jim's eyes stayed fixed on the last place he'd been.

"The kid's going to be fine, Jim. I'll go check on him right now."

Jim didn't acknowledge those words as he sat up. The nurse was trying to take his blood pressure and kept making noises about the doctor needing to check him out

"I'm fine. See, don't I look fine? It was just exhaustion."

"I've never seen exhaustion look like that." The nurse said, exasperated by Jim's continued progress toward leaving the room.

"Yeah, I realize I have odd reactions, but really, as you can see, I'm fine."

It took a certain amount of talk and paperwork but eventually Jim was free of medical attention.

****************

Jim paced exactly ten steps, stopped, turned around and paced ten more. Simon leaned against the wall in the hallway and just watched. He'd tried to get Jim to knock it off but Jim ignored him and continued the pacing, reminding Simon of the caged cats at the zoo.
"Jim, he's just worn out. He's making a good recovery. The dialysis cleared the worst of that crap that was in his system and the pneumonia is responding to the antibiotics. Don't worry."

Ellison didn't even look at Simon. He focused on the counting. He liked the way it filled his mind and kept other thoughts at bay. Like the fact that the minute Blair regained consciousness after being so sick, he had rushed to Jim's side to take care of him. Damn it, he'd lost count there. Jim looked up and glared at Banks. "You made me lose count."

Simon threw up his hands. The sooner the medical personnel got done with Blair and let Jim back in the better.

********************************

Blair shifted as they readjusted the oxygen. He hated being tethered like this. He watched as the nurses took his blood pressure and fluffed his pillow. He was patience personified as they checked his temp. He was in no hurry for them to leave. When Jim had come out of his zone, he'd looked at Blair with puzzlement, as if he never expected to see Blair again.

He could hear Jim pacing back and forth and he was in no hurry to be officially shut out of Jim's life. It was coming though and he couldn't stop it.

The speech about friendship and loyalty. The words that would map out what Blair should have done and condemned him for what he had done. Blair knew this, hell, he'd lived with this for weeks but he so did not to hear the words. He didn't know how he could live in his brain if he had Jim's voice in there, telling him how badly he had fucked up...what a disaster he was as a friend and as a guide.

But there was no getting out of this. He was too weak to make a run for it and Jim had blocked off the only avenue of retreat anyway. He could feign unconsciousness...ah, hell. Time to get it over with. Time to put the nails in the coffin. The last brick in the wall.

He watched as the care people filed out. He watched as Jim filed in. Blair studied his face. He would miss that face. It was a strong, beautiful face. He studied it, trying to commit its many facets to memory. His mind drifted as he tried to remember if he had enough photos. He had that one at the Christmas party and those two from Jim's birthday. They would have to do.

********************************

. Finally, Jim as allowed to enter. The kid looked pale and Jim could hear how fast his heart was beating. There was the scent of fear in the air, surprising Jim. He came forward, placing his hand on Blair's chest.

"Easy there, Chief. Everything'll be alright."

At those words, Blair's eyes locked onto Jim's, focusing for the first time. Blair put his hand on top of Jim's and pressed it to his heart.

Looking down at the hand that Blair had placed over his, Jim felt the way Blair's skin had roughened, the edges of calluses that were new, the strength in that hand that was old.
He realized that there was more he feared than Blair never forgiving him. There was the way Blair anchored his life. Scary that. He shouldn't need someone to perform that function. Hadn't needed one before.

Jim shook his head. Fighting it hadn't changed anything, only brought home the hollowness of life without Blair. "Sandburg, do you think you can forgive me?'

There. He'd said it, asked it, risked it and now he waited, waited to hear if Blair would come back, try again, start over. "Forgive you?" Blair sounded baffled. "Forgive you for what?"

Jim's head snapped up. Blair couldn't really be that dense.

"Throwing you out of the loft, leaving you to Alex's mercies, leaving you again in the hospital to go chasing after her...jeez, what else? For talking Connor into pretending she could pull me out of a zone, for not asking this question at the hospital...."

Blair's mouth hung open as he listened to Jim.

"Wait, hold up there. What do you mean, making Megan pretend she could pull you out?" Blair's voice was tinged with hysteria. "You mean she can't? You mean you've been without a guide all this time?"

Jim had the sense to look sheepish. "Yeah, well, I got it in my head that you would never forgive me, but I knew you'd feel obligated to stick with me as long as I needed someone to ground me and I couldn't do that to you, Chief. I mean, I just couldn't keep making you give up everything for the good of the fucking sentinel crap and I thought if you saw Connor you'd...and you did...." Jim's voice trailed off and he looked up to see how Blair was taking his speech.

Not too well. His eyes were shut as if in pain.
"Blair? Should I leave now?" Jim gestured to the door. He looked at the open door and thought about what it would take to walk down that hallway and away from Blair. He would do it, if Blair asked. 'But please, please, don't ask, Chief.' Before he could make a move, Blair grabbed at his sleeve and pulled him in close.

"No, you shouldn't leave." Blair stopped there, clearly trying to process the unexpected information.

"Let me get this straight," Blair began slowly. "You're not mad at me?"

Jim shook his head.

"You forgive me?" Blair asked tentatively.

"I was angry that you withheld information from me, Sandburg. And...there was something about her being close that caused me to react...hell, it doesn't even make sense to me."

James ran his hands through his hair, wishing he had the words to fix this, to explain his actions so they made sense. He didn't look at Blair, afraid that if he wouldn't be able to finish.

"Once Alex was out of Cascade, my head seemed to clear. I could think. But none of it made sense, except that you died and I set that in motion."

Jim looked at Blair finally. He didn't seem angry.

"I get why you kept us apart, Chief, but next time, talk to me."

Blair nodded his head, "Next time? There's never gonna be a next time, Jim. I learned my lesson. One sentinel, one guide." 

Blair sat back, still holding tightly to Jim's arm. He looked unfocused once again and Jim wondered if he was so worn out that he would drift right off. Suddenly Blair snapped back into alertness.

"This sucks!"

"What?" There were such a variety of choices, Jim had no idea what sucked.

"This, man. All this time I've been thinking you hate me and that I was the biggest fuck up on the face of the earth and I end up on the street and you...you..." Blair came to a stuttering halt. Jim waited. He had the courage to hear this out.

"And you're not mad at me?"

Jim was sick of words. Blair understood how words could work. Jim understood the nature and value of action. He sat down on the bed and pulled Blair into his arms.

Blair froze, surprised. Jim pulled away from Blair and looked at him. "Blair, you okay, are you hurting?"

The last thing Blair was feeling right now was pain. Not physical pain anyway. There was the pain of being this close to Jim, of being allowed back into Jim's life, and hiding the pieces that didn't fit. Blair lifted his hand to Jim's face, compelled, despite the fear, to connect. He was surprised when felt Jim's hand on his cheek. He opened his eyes, eyes he hadn't realized he'd closed, and saw Jim's blue ones gazing at him in shock.

"Uh, Jim, man, I just—I wanted to—you see...." Blair knew he didn't sound coherent, but he couldn't quite form the lie that would explain the touch and he was faced with telling the truth. Which he so did not want to do. He'd just gotten forgiven. He had a home with Jim again. The truth would set him way free, freer than he ever wanted to be.

Jim was looking down at his lap, at the unmistakable evidence of Blair's arousal. "Chief, is there something you want to tell me?" Blair blushed.
Busted.
His shoulders slumped. That motion seemed to trigger something and he started to cough. The coughing grew in intensity. Jim put one arm in front of Blair and leaned him forward and rubbed circles on his back, trying to calm the harsh coughs.

Jim could feel Blair panicking, the coughing cutting into his air supply. "Take it easy, Chief, you've got enough air." Jim kept up a stream of encouraging talk as Blair's coughing slowly came to an end. When he was done, Blair slumped against Jim's chest, panting and spent.

Jim brushed his hand across Blair's forehead. The moment for teasing was past. He held Blair's body close to his and knew if he didn't say something, he might never have the right to this again. And he wanted this again, and again and again. Blair's body, next to his.

"Blair, about before, I just wanted you to know, I was glad about it because you see—" and here Jim could feel his face heating up, but he plunged on, "it makes it a lot easier to tell you about—" Jim stopped again and took Blair's hand and put it on his hard cock.

Blair's eyes widened and then registered delight as he took in the meaning of what Jim was trying to say. "Oh man, you mean?" And Jim nodded, glad to go back to a non-verbal form of communication.

"Whoa! I thought, I never thought, that you would, or I could,,," Jim stopped this bout of babbling by leaning in and kissing Blair, something he realized he'd wanted to do for a long time. Blair's lips felt as good as they looked, which was very good indeed, and Jim took his time with the kiss, trying to expand the non-verbal conversation, savoring the warmth, the softness, the Blairness of the mouth he had been granted access to. He could feel Blair pressing against him, trying to get closer and the need to have his hands on a naked Blair nearly undid all his control.

Jim put his hand under Blair's gown, thankful, and this was a first, for the nature of hospital gowns. He felt Blair's chest, the hair he almost never got to see, the nipples that went stiff with his attention, and that exploration brought a gasp from Blair and shifted him even closer to Jim. Jim stopped what he was doing and put his hands on Blair's head, deepening the kiss, trying for possession that way when what he really wanted was possession in a whole other way. He could hear Blair breathing, rough and ragged, this time with excitement instead of distress. Blair's hands were around him, kneading his shoulders, coming up and framing his face. "Oh, God Jim, fuck..." Blair moaned, clearly indicating that he was using fuck as a verb and not as an exclamation.

"Oh yeah, babe, fuck..." and Jim used his tongue to illustrate. Jim suddenly stopped, pulling back. Blair looked at him in forlorn confusion, his lips swollen, and his eyes unfocused.

"What?" Jim could feel Blair trembling, his hands were tugging at Jim's head, trying to bring Jim's mouth back to his.

"Simon."

Blair groaned, leaned his head against Jim's and sighed. Slowly Jim lowered Blair back against the pillows. He pulled his gown down and the blanket up and rested his hand on Blair's forehead.

"Soon. I'll get you home and then..."

 Simon's visit was interminable. He'd been in the room for ten minutes and seemed to be in no hurry to leave. Jim was contemplating Captaincide when Dipsy stuck his head in the door and asked, "Mind if I join the party?"

Blair and Jim swung their attention to the man in the doorway. Blair's eyes lit up with surprise and delight at seeing Dipsy. "Dipsy, man , it's good to see you? How'd you know I was here?"

"Ellison didn't tell you about our little adventure?"

"No." Blair looked at Jim.

"Dipsy's the whole reason I found you, Sandburg."

"Kid, I don't know how you made it to your last birthday riding with Mario here. He took ten years off my life getting to the hospital." Dipsy shook his head and came around to Blair's side. "You look like hell, Blair and I never saw a prettier sight in my life."

"Ahem."

"Dipsy, this is Captain Simon Banks. Captain, Dipsy Monk."

"I know, I recognize him."

Blair looked alarmed. Oh God, Dipsy was a wanted criminal and now he was screwed because of him.

"There must be some mistake, Captain..."

"Oh, there's no mistake, is there Dipsy?"

Blair looked at Dipsy, expecting to see fear. Instead, Dipsy had a broad smile on his face.

"I saw you perform at the Ballroom Invitational with Lucinda McVeil at the Skylight Theater, back in...1985, 86? You are poetry in motion and it's an honor to meet you."

Simon held out his hand and Dipsy came forward and shook it..

"Pleasure's all mine, Captain. I'm glad to see Blair is back where he so obviously belongs." Dipsy moved away from the bed. "You can close your mouth now, Blair. Keep in touch. Jim, Captain Banks, take care of the kid." Dipsy bowed and winked at Blair, taking his exit cue. Simon hurried after him saying, "I need to get an autograph."

Jim looked at the astonishment on Blair's face and laughed. "Chief, I think the saying, 'Wherever you go, there you are,' was written with you in mind."

"No, I think that's wherever you go, there I am." Blair's eyes gleamed with a wicked light.

Jim put his hand back on Blair's chest and leaned in. "I think I want us to go home, whadya say?"

"I am so there, man."

"Right now you are so here, but I'll go see what I can do." Jim leaned over Blair and swept his lips across each of Blair's eyelids. "Rest. I'll be right back."

**********************

Getting Blair home was accomplished a day later, when Blair's lungs had cleared sufficiently and his fever stayed down. Opening the door, Jim steered Blair to the couch. Blair putting up no resistance. The trip home had left him shaky and weaker than he'd like to admit. He settled against the cushions and Jim pulled the afghan down, except it wasn't the afghan. It was the new blanket, the one Jim had bought to keep himself warm when Blair was gone. Jim watched as Blair touched it, his hands running across it, clearly savoring the texture. It was dense, thick and yet pliable, spreading it's warmth as if electrified.

"You went shopping?" Blair had the blanket up to his chin, his hands still caressing the soft blackness.

"No,Chief, it followed me home."

Jim found himself smiling, it felt so good to see Blair on the couch, to see him warm under the black blanket. Blair's eyes were slowly closing and Jim stood there, watching him in the cold light of a winter's afternoon, as he fell asleep. Jim was warmed by the sight of beautiful Blair sleeping, his mouth slightly open, small snoring noises escaping him.

Yup, it seemed like it was going to be an unusually warm winter here at 852 Prospect.

                                

The End

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