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Summary: An epilogue dealing with Jim's decision to go on vacation by himself with no warning and what the consequences could be. Spoilers for Crossroads.

Robyn said this episode needed closure; I agreed. So here you go. Angst, smarm, some emotional h/c, all the good stuff.

To Hurt and To Heal
epilogue for Crossroads
by Becky
April 1998

Jazz music filtered quietly from the car speakers, rolling gently over the two passengers of the vehicle. The engine hummed along as an undertone to the music, creating a protective barrier between them and the outside world. The driver tapped his long dark fingers silently on the wheel in time with the familiar and soothing beat. His passenger, long curly hair falling in waves over his face, probably would have commented on this, if he had been awake. But sleep had overtaken him an half-hour earlier and he hadn't stirred since.

Just as well. He's exhausted and still looks sick. He needs all the rest he can get.

Simon again glanced over at Blair, restraining the urge to reach over to check the younger man's temperature. He's not your son, Banks. He's a grown man, even if he does have Daryl's energy. He's a graduate student, a teacher, and Ellison's partner. And he's quite able to take care of himself. He refocused his attention on the road, still empty and quiet.

A moment later his dark eyes shifted of their own accord back to Blair. When he realized what he doing, Simon shook his head at himself, then stared at the road as he negotiated a wide turn. You are such a softy, Banks. The kid has you wrapped around his finger just like he has Ellison. He remembered earlier when Blair had come out of that tent, still looking a little woozy, Jim following him, still dressed in the protective bright blue suit. Before Simon had given much thought to what he was doing , he'd found himself laying a hand on Blair's forehead, feeling for a fever, like he'd always done with Daryl when he'd gotten sick. And he'd left his hand there for several moments as Blair had talked. What had surprised him even more was that Blair hadn't protested or even said anything -- then or later -- about Simon's instinctively paternal gesture.

Probably too out of it to care or really even notice, come to think of it.

Blair shifted in the seat a little, curling his arms more tightly around his torso. Simon glanced at him, wishing he could see Blair's face, but when he'd fallen asleep, he'd turned his body toward the window, facing outward. Between that and the loose hair, well, Simon couldn't see a thing. But as he watched, he saw Blair shiver and pull his arms to himself more tightly. Damn, he's still cold.

Gently, so as to not wake Blair, Simon slowed the car to a stop. Then he reached behind him and snatched up his heavy parka that was laying across the back seats of the car. He'd taken the coat off before they'd started driving back to Cascade, not liking the extra heat when he was in the car. Carefully, he draped the coat over Blair's frame, tucking it around his shoulders. In his sleep, Blair grabbed onto the coat, pulling it closer to him.

A mumbled phrase floated over to Simon's ears, something he could barely hear. "Thanks, Jim."

Simon opened his mouth to say something in response, but changed his mind and simply patted Blair on the shoulder. If it helped Blair to sleep, then he could let him think he was Jim. No harm done. After inching the heat in the car up just a little more, he checked the mirrors, then slowly brought the car back out onto the road, letting the speedometer climb back up to normal speeds again.

Several minutes later as the captain was lost in thought about the disastrous day, Blair moved next to him, shifting around in his sleep. Uncurling his limbs, Blair laid flat against the slightly reclined seat, his face turning inward again. With a quick glance, Simon determined that the younger man looked and acted warmer and showed no signs of waking any time soon. Seeing the parka starting to slide down Blair's body with the movement, Simon reached over with one hand and pulled it back up, deftly tucking it over Blair's shoulders one-handed.

After pulling away, he felt a sudden warmth and protectiveness stealing through him. Simon smiled to himself, wondering if Jim felt the same way when Blair was so trusting with him.

His smile faded a bit. Jim.

Remembering again what happened when they'd first arrived and found Jim in that old inn, Simon flinched. He had a feeling that Jim and Blair had some things they needed to talk about when the detective decided to come back from his fishing trip. Hell, I think Jim and I have a few things to talk about. What was I thinking? The man made it very clear he needed time away and by himself. I can understand that. I should've listened to Sandburg. Found our own place to fish at the beginning instead of bugging Jim.

He rubbed a hand over his forehead. Considering what Sandburg said earlier about moving out and the wall of silence that he'd erected before falling asleep now, I'd say he's pretty upset. And Jim, for once, is oblivious to it. I think that has me worried more than anything else.

Simon glanced over at Blair as he shifted and murmured quietly in his sleep, a small frown appearing on his face. The captain stretched out a hand and rested it on Blair's shoulder, squeezing it softly. After several long moments, during which Simon wondered if Blair was waking up, the younger man finally relaxed again, sighing out quietly.

Withdrawing his hand slowly, Simon concentrated again on the road, listening to the jazz music, letting it soothe his nerves. He hoped everything worked out all right, that Jim would be willing to talk to both of them when he came back.

And if he isn't willing, well, I'll make him willing.

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

"Hey, Sandburg, wake up. You're home."

Home? What? Who? Blair fought to free himself from his sleep-fuzzed state. What's going on? He forced his eyes to open, squinting blearily at the blurred dark figure next to him. He blinked a few times, then swallowed before finally croaking out, "Huh?"

The figure chuckled and Blair identified that deep chuckle as belonging to his captain, or rather Jim's captain, but his by default as well. A hand touched his shoulder, shaking it. "We're at the loft, Sandburg. You want to go inside or spent the rest of the evening in my car?"

Vision finally clearing, Blair raised a hand from beneath the coat in his lap to brush the hair away from his eyes. Coat? Huh? He looked down, smoothing a hand over the softness, recognizing the dark grey and white patterns. Why do I have Simon's coat?

Simon read his mind. "You dozed off while we were driving back. You looked cold, so . . ." He trailed off and shrugged.

Blair smiled slightly, nodding as he carefully pulled the warm coat away from him and handed it to Simon. "Oh. Thanks, Simon."

Simon tossed it in the back seat, then gestured toward the loft building. "You're welcome. So, you want to go in or not?"

"Oh. Yeah. Let me, uh, let me get my stuff and I'll get out of your hair."

A few minutes later, Blair's bags and fishing gear on the floor of the loft apartment, Simon paused at the doorway before leaving. "You gonna be okay here by yourself, Sandburg?"

From his position where he was sitting on the arm of the couch, Blair nodded. "Yeah, I'll be fine. A week without Jim in the loft, who knows what I'll be able to get done." He grinned tiredly, hoping his eyes showed some spark of life in them. Come on, Simon, go home already before I crash. Or do something else equally embarrassing.

Simon laughed. "Just don't get too used to it. He is coming back."

Blair forced the smile to stay on his face. "Yeah, I know. I'll make sure everything's back in order, cleaned, and sorted before he gets back." Wouldn't want to make Jim really want me to leave. Simon narrowed his eyes and Blair tensed, wondering if he'd accidentally spoken that last part aloud -- not too big of a leap considering I'm still a little foggy about reality -- or if Simon was just naturally suspicious.

After a long pause, Simon finally spoke. "Look, Sandburg, Blair, I'm sorry about the way this all turned out. It was not what I had hoped would happen."

Blair shrugged. "S'okay, Simon. Not your fault the bad guys decided to follow us from Cascade. Or that I got sick."

Simon shook his head, a small frown on his face. "That's not what I . . . ." He paused, then sighed, "Never mind. Just get some rest, kid. You still look a little ragged around the edges."

Blair nodded. "Will do, Captain." Simon left, pulling the loft door shut quietly behind him. Blair didn't move for several moments, then let himself fall backwards onto the couch cushions with a muffled grunt. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, then shoved his hands up to push his hair away from his face.

Ragged around the edges. Oh, yeah, I'm ragged all right. Jim decides to go off by himself for a week without me. Not that I don't understand his need to be alone. I do understand. At least I try to. But he didn't even have the decency to tell me until he was ready to go. He just takes off, no explanation, no nothing. Just 'see you next Wednesday'.

Blair shook his head and draped an arm over his eyes. "Geez, get a grip, Sandburg. He's just your partner, just your friend, just the guy you gave up most of your academic life and career for. It's not that big of a deal." He sighed, chuckling ruefully. "Yeah, right."

He'd been on edge ever since Jim had informed him and Simon about his little week-long trip. He was worried. Considering everything that had happened in the last several weeks, Blair figured he had a right to be. So when he and Simon left to follow Jim, he'd told himself that the real reason he was going was because he wanted to be sure Jim was really okay and not because he wanted to fish. But at the same time, he'd been nervous, worried what Jim might say or do whey they found him. And so he'd let Simon convince him into going over his own better judgment.

Which I should've listened to instead and stayed in Cascade and out of Jim's way. Then I wouldn't have mentioned moving out or gotten involved with a bunch of nasty, gun-toting, water-poisoning, money-hungry goons or gotten sick. I'd be sitting here in pleasant ignorance and wouldn't have known anything was even wrong until Jim got back and told me the whole story. It wasn't like he really needed me there anyway. All I did was get sick!

Blair swung his legs off the couch and sat up, dropping his head into his hands. Well, that was productive. Sighing he lifted his head and stared across the room for long silent minutes. Finally he stood up and shuffled wearily off to the bathroom.

"Shower, then maybe I'll think about eating." He paused a moment and yawned largely. "Or not. Bed sounds better actually." His bags and gear piled on the floor caught his eyes and he hesitated, then shook his head. "Tomorrow. It's not like Jim's coming home any time soon anyway, so why should I care?"

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

A week later.

Jim took the last of the stairs quickly, his bag over one shoulder, his fishing gear in the other. He hadn't felt this rejuvenated in years. Probably not since a certain anthropology graduate student burst onto the scene and rearranged his life. Not that he would want it any different, but Jim had always been somewhat of a solitary person and needed the time and space to find his center again. Now I sound like Sandburg. Find my center. He shrugged, chuckling. I guess it's the probably the right term, even if it does sound a little new age-ish. Whatever.

Fishing the key to the loft out of his pocket, he unlocked the door and stepped inside. It was late, but not too late. Blair most likely would still be up, but Jim didn't want to take any chances that his Guide would be asleep. He didn't want to unnecessarily wake him. The kid doesn't get enough sleep as it is.

The first thing he noticed when he stepped into the apartment was that it was clean. Really clean. He frowned and glanced around. Something's not right. It seems almost . . . wrong somehow. He dropped his bags and shut the door, turning toward Blair's room. There was a warm light spilling from the slightly open doors and he could just pick up the sound of turning pages and the scratch of pen on paper over the beat of a barely-heard CD on Blair's small player.

But there was no call welcoming him home or recognition that anyone was there aside of him. Jim frowned and turned up his hearing cautiously. There. Blair's heartbeat. He'd picked up on it subconsciously as soon as he'd entered the apartment. And thinking about it now, Jim realized that it had sped up a little. Sandburg does know I'm here. What's going on?

Striding toward the small bedroom, he glanced around the front room, trying to find out what was wrong. He jerked to a abrupt halt several feet from the door when the answer came to him. It was clean, cleaner than normal because Blair had removed quite a number of the small cultural knick-knacks that had crept out of his room and found their way onto the bare shelves and counters. There were no papers piled on the coffee table or kitchen table. No open textbooks on the floors or couches or next to the stove. No clothing tossed over the back of a chair or unmatched shoes lying in the pathway. The books on the shelves were stacked neatly and orderly, the titles all facing the same way. No dirty dishes were in the sink waiting to be cleaned . .. or scoured as sometimes happened. There was no scent of unidentifiable food hanging in the air. No smells to make the Sentinel's nose wrinkle. The shoes were all placed properly at the door, jackets hung separately and carefully on the hooks.

Everything was in its proper place, just like I always tell him I want it to be. And it was so . . . sterile. Jim swallowed hard. Like it was before. Before Sandburg moved in.

He finished taking those few steps to Blair's bedroom and pushed open the door quietly. Blair was seated cross-legged on his bed, glasses on his nose, a pencil behind one ear, papers on the bed in front of him. He looked up at Jim's entrance, eyes calm and surprisingly shuttered.

"Oh, hey, Jim, you're back. Did you have a nice time?" Without waiting for an answer, he looked back down at his papers, moving to mark something with a red pen.

Jim blinked, not sure what to do or say. There was a covered box in one corner, labeled 'souvenirs/artifacts to be stored', a huge pile of papers on the desk, and a two stacks of thick books on the floor underneath the desk. Finally he managed to choke out, "Uh, yeah, yeah, I did, thanks. Chief, what's . . ."

Blair interrupted him, eyes still on the papers. "Good. Glad you enjoyed yourself. You'll have to tell me about it sometime." He scribbled something on the top paper and moved it aside to rest on the top of another stack, then started in on the next one, still not looking up.

Jim blinked again, starting to get a little perturbed. "Look, Chief, I know you're upset about all this, but I did tell you I wanted some time alone."

Blair finally looked up, staring at him from behind those glasses, his face calm, his eyes giving away nothing. "Upset? No, no, I'm not upset. I'm just busy right now. That's all." He focused at the papers again, checking something.

Jim narrowed his eyes, not believing any of it. He leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed. "Sandburg, you want to tell me what's going on here? Or are we gonna have to play twenty questions?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Jim. You just got back and I'm just sitting here grading papers. I haven't had time to do anything wrong."

"No, that's because you did it all when I was gone. Why'd you clean out the living room? Why do you have a box in your room filled with all those artifacts you explained to me so meticulously on why they had to be displayed? Why are there more books in here than there are on the bookshelves in the living room? I thought we had decided the shelves were half yours. And why is there a newspaper sticking on from underneath your bed that has 'for rent' ads on it?"

Jim's voice has risen with every question and he had moved away from the doorjamb to stalk toward the bed. He now loomed over the smaller man.

Blair looked up at him calmly, then removed his glasses and set them carefully aside on the bedside table before responding. "Because you all but told me that I'm in your face too much, Jim. I'm just trying to be accommodating to you. I'm your partner and your Guide, Jim, and I just want to make sure that you're comfortable. And if that means packing up my stuff to get it out of sight or finding somewhere else to live, well, then that's what I'll do."

Jim's mouth fell open and he stared down at Blair for a long time, all his anger vanishing from the weight of Blair's words. His legs felt weak, as if they were going to give out on him at any time. He swallowed, then said, "Chief, I don't want you to leave. You're not just my partner and my Guide, you're my friend. How could you think I would want you to leave?" He reached down and placed a hand on Blair's shoulder.

Blair's calm visage finally cracked, his eyes glittering with dark pain as he leapt from the bed, roughly shoving Jim away, emphasizing each statement by poking Jim in the chest. "Because you didn't want me with you on that little trip of yours. Because you didn't trust me enough to tell me about it until two minutes before you vanished. Because I would've understood if you had told me you needed some time alone. Because I would've been happy with that and probably even convinced Simon to leave you alone. Because when we did find you, you all but told Simon that all I do is to test your senses all the time, which is not true." Blair paused to take a breath, then started up again, his voice rising with each word. "Because you don't talk to me. Because you keep all your problems locked inside that thick head of yours when I want to help you. Because you didn't even bother to ask if I was okay or how I was feeling before Simon and I left to come back to Cascade. Because I hurt and I don't think you really care anymore!"

The silence that followed the last word was nearly as deafening as the shout Blair had used to say it. The two men stared at each other for a long time. Jim was stunned at the anger rolling off his Guide. He whispered, "Blair, I didn't . . . I didn't realize you . . . I didn't mean . . . I'm sorry."

Blair turned away, pulling his arms around himself. "Yeah, whatever. Like that's going to fix everything. Something goes wrong, you apologize, and it's supposed to be all better. I'm not some little kid, Jim, that will be happy with a band-aid."

"No, no, you're not. But I don't know what else to do. I am sorry. I wasn't thinking properly. I just needed to get away. The city, the crime, the bad guys, everything, it was all getting to me."

"And me, Jim? Was I getting to you too? Do I really bug you that much?" He turned slightly and caught Jim hesitating. "Be honest with me, Jim. It's the least you can do. You can only make things worse by lying to me."

Reluctantly, Jim nodded. "Okay, I'll be honest. Yes, you too. But so was Simon, Brown, Rafe, Joel, all the other guys. It's not anything you did. I just needed time away, alone. I never meant to hurt you by that. I'm . . . sorry, Blair, really, I am." He took a hesitant step forward, reaching out a hand to rest on Blair's shoulder, wary of being rebuffed again. When Blair didn't shove him aside, Jim squeezed that thin shoulder, but the younger man refused to look at him. "Chief? Blair? Come on, buddy, talk to me. Tell me what I can do to fix this. I don't want you to leave. I don't want you gone. I want, no, I need you to stay. You're my partner, you're my Guide, and you're my friend." He swallowed hard, then let his voice drop to a softness he rarely used. "And you're my brother. I love you. You know that."

Blair shifted under Jim's hand, turning to look up at him, staring up at him intently. Jim could almost feel him seeing into his soul, reading it, finding the truth of his words. He sighed out, relaxing, the stress lines in his face disappearing, and the shutters behind his eyes dropping, letting Jim see Blair's soul reflected in them. Blair leaned into him, winding his arms around Jim's waist. Jim drew him close for a gentle, warm, tight hug, reaffirming their Sentinel-Guide bond, as well as the bond that drew them together as friends and brothers.

Closing his eyes, Jim whispered into Blair's hair, "I am sorry, Blair."

A muffled voice rose from where Blair had his face pressed to Jim's chest. "I know, Jim. You're forgiven."

"Then you won't leave?"

"I won't leave. But we do need to talk some of this out if we're gonna keep it from happening again."

"We will. This weekend. After we get all your stuff put back out where it belongs in the front room. Okay?"

Blair pulled away enough to look up at Jim. "Are you sure? I don't . . ."

Jim interrupted with a grin. "I'm sure."

"Oh, okay, well, I can do it all tomorrow. I don't want to bother you with it."

"No, I want to help you. Maybe you can tell me some of those stories again. I've probably forgotten most of them. And some of them were actually quite interesting, if you talk in simple enough words that I can understand what you're saying."

Blair laughed, his eyes lighting up, making Jim laugh with him, just for the sheer joy of seeing his friend smile again. He drew him close for another quick, hard hug, feeling that part of his heart that had frozen when he had walked into the small bedroom thaw out and become whole again. So concentrated was he on his inner feeling of joy and peace, he almost missed the soft words whispered into his jacket. But only almost.

"Love you, too, Jim."

Jim pressed his cheek against the soft curls of Blair's head. And he smiled.

- The End -