Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Drama

Summary: The past isn't always left behind. A BMB aftermath story. Spoilers for Blind Man's Bluff; brief mentions of other episodes (Light My Fire, Survival, The Girl Next Door) to anchor the scenes. Also takes into account the wake-up scene in my previous BMB story, Waking Memories.

Author's note: I let the h/c muse have her way, so this probably isn't quite typical of most of my writing. ~grin~
Beta'ed by Iris Wilde. Thank you!

Etchings
by Becky
July 2000

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...what deep wounds ever closed without a scar...?
~Byron~
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~post-Blind Man's Bluff~

"Last stop; everybody out." Jim turned the key in the Expedition, cutting the engine after parking in the police garage. A pleased smile played on his lips. He was quite happy that he'd been cleared to drive again -- even with a little residual golden haze at the edges of his vision. Glancing across the cab of the truck, he noticed that Blair hadn't moved from his seat and hadn't even bothered to undo his seatbelt. He tapped the younger man on the arm. "Chief?"

Blair jumped a little under his fingers, then shifted his gaze from the dashboard to Jim's face. Blinking several times, he looked around him. "Huh? Oh, we're here." He fumbled with the seatbelt release, muttering under his breath as it stuck. "Sorry about that. I was thinking about next week's lesson plans. We're gonna be studying about the tribes of..."

Only half-listening to Blair's patter about anthropology lesson plans, Jim narrowed his eyes and studied his partner more closely. The last week or so had been rough on them. Blair had only been released from the hospital two days earlier. This morning he'd proclaimed he'd had enough of sitting around the loft and decided to go in with Jim to the station. Blair had added in a half-joking tone that he'd wanted to make sure Jim didn't crash on the way there.

Blair had reassured him several times that he was fine, if a little tired.

To Jim's eyes, however, Blair didn't seem fine. He seemed...preoccupied. Worried maybe. And nervous if the slight shaking in his hands said anything.

"Jim?"

Refocusing on the present, Jim shook the heavy thoughts from his mind and found Blair watching him curiously from his side of the truck. With one hand, he was ready to open the door while the other gripped the strap of his ever-present backpack.

"You okay?"

Jim forced a smile onto his face and nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay." He paused, then added in a softer tone, "Are you?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Jim, I'm fine. Would you please stop asking me?" He pushed open the door and hopped out of the truck. "C'mon, we've got better things to do than sit in the garage all morning."

The door slammed shut with a reverberating bang, leaving Jim alone in the truck cab. He stared at his partner through the windshield as he shifted nervously from foot to foot and fiddled with his backpack. Jim shook his head, saying quietly, "Like avoiding the fact that you're scared stiff about making your first appearance at the station since shooting up at the garage, Chief?"

He and Blair really hadn't discussed what happened while Blair had been dosed with Golden. In the hospital, right after Blair had woken up, Jim had assured Blair that nothing was his fault and that everyone was okay. But since then they'd skirted around the topic, just touching on it when they had to.

Grumbling about his stubborn and irreplaceable partner, Jim exited the truck and joined Blair as they headed toward the elevator. Halfway there, Blair's steps slowed to a halt and Jim heard him catch his breath. Stopping, Jim turned and waited, watching Blair glance about the garage, eyes skittering over the officers scattered among the vehicles.

A few shattered headlights glittered back at him, jagged edges covered over with colored tape. When his eyes reached the gas pumps, he paused, forehead furrowing as he took in the technician installing a new hose. The old one laid on the floor, heavy tape wrapped around one section in a temporary fix. His eyes widened just a bit and his fingers tightened around the strap of his backpack.

Jim could almost see the fuzzy memory returning and stepped quickly to Blair's side, resting one hand lightly on his back. Blair spoke up before he could.

"I did that, didn't I? With your gun. I did that." He scrubbed his free hand over his face and covered his mouth. "I could've blown us all up!"

Sliding his hand up to grip Blair's shoulder, Jim stepped around Blair to face him and tilted his head to better meet his friend's eyes. Keeping his voice low but firm he said, "But you didn't. You--"

Blair shook his head and stepped away from Jim's touch, delayed panic and shame creeping into his voice. "But I could have!" His voice rose to a shout and the last word echoed between the concrete walls of the garage.

Jim caught the sideways looks from the others in the garage and didn't have to guess what they were thinking. Determined not to make a big scene out of this, he followed Blair, reaching out to grasp his shoulders. "Blair...come on. It's over now. It--"

Again Blair jerked away from Jim's touch but he kept his voice to a quiet whisper. "Jim, don't patronize me. I--" He snapped his mouth shut and drew in a deep breath. His voice shook when he spoke. "I can't do this. I nearly killed you."

Carefully closing in on his distraught partner, Jim finally got hold of Blair's shoulders. The muscles under his hands tightened but he didn't pull away. Jim rubbed his thumbs along Blair's collarbone and met his eyes firmly. "Sandburg, don't. Don't start this now. We've been through this. It wasn't your fault."

"But--"

"No buts." Jim released one shoulder to hold up his hand, palm out to ward off Blair's protests, then replaced it. "It wasn't your fault. It was the drug. Nothing else." Blair didn't respond but just looked away. Jim sighed and went on. "Look, I know right now you're feeling a bit, uh..."

"...stupid? 'Cause that's what I feel like right now."

Jim shook his head. "Exposed."

"Oh." Blair blinked and looked up at him again. Jim could feel his hand fiddling with the backpack strap just inches below his own hand.

Concentrating on getting past just that moment, Jim finished in a soft voice. "This isn't the best time to get into this, but just believe me when I say that no one blames you, Chief. Not me. Not Simon. Not Major Crimes. That pizza was meant for all of us. You're just the lucky one who got to it first."

"Yeah, lucky me," Blair said dryly. The tension slowly left his body, though his thumb continued to rub the strap of his backpack.

Jim ducked his head a little. "You gonna be okay here?"

Blair took a breath and straightened, meeting Jim's eyes solidly. "Yeah, I'll be okay. Thanks."

"No problem." Jim released Blair and jerked a thumb back towards the elevator. "What say we get upstairs before Simon starts yelling for us."

"After you." Blair fell into step easily next to his partner as they crossed the garage, then waited as Jim punched the "up" button. As the elevator arrived and they stepped inside, Blair pursed his lips and said quite seriously, "Just one more thing, Jim."

Jim eyed him and pushed the button for the seventh floor. "And what would that be?"

"From now on, I am making you my personal food taster. I'm not eating anything that you haven't tried first."

A smile twitched into existence on Jim's face. "Does that mean you'll be cleaning out the fridge tonight? Maybe get rid of those questionable items hiding behind the eggs?"

"Um...maybe I need to clarify that statement..." He and Jim dissolved into quiet laughter as the elevator doors closed.

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...thoughts that breathe and words that burn...
~Gray~
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~post-Light My Fire~

"Sandburg."

One hand resting on the keyboard as the other turned over his page of notes, Blair looked up as Simon walked towards him from his office across the bullpen. "Hey, Simon." He waggled a hand in the air, then leaned back in the chair -- Jim's chair -- to stretch abused back muscles. "What's up?"

"I could ask you the same thing." Simon stopped in front of Jim's desk and folded his arms over his chest. "Why are you here? And where's Ellison?"

Blair chuckled. "Nice to see you too, Captain." He laughed again as Simon rolled his eyes. "Jim took the morning off, per your suggestion, to go surfing with Debra, then out to lunch I think."

Simon nodded approvingly. "Good. Nice to know someone listens to me. What about you?"

"Me?" Patting the pile of papers filled with his handwriting, Blair continued, "I'm typing up my notes on the case. Jim wanted to get everything done and out of the way as soon as possible. And since I'm teaching all day tomorrow and the next day, I figured now would be good." He gestured at the mostly empty bullpen -- overlapping lunchtime breaks had struck again.

"This case...Matson...Reeves." Simon sighed in regret, then shook his head. "Jim's got it right. It's over, but it's not gonna make it any easier."

"No." Blair shook his head and glanced back at his notes, smoothing a few creases over with his fingers. "I thought for a few minutes there that Jim was gonna join that list." He closed his eyes in a rush of memory. "And then he and Debra walked out of the flames in those suits...man..." His eyes popped open and he looked up quickly at Simon, then refocused on the paper under his hands. "It was weird. For a few seconds...well, I thought I was seeing things."

A furrow appeared in Simon's forehead and he shifted to sit on the edge of Jim's desk. Sensing that Blair was trying to tell him something important, he pressed gently. "What do you mean?"

Slowly, Blair answered Simon's query. "I thought I was having a flashback." Eyes downcast, he didn't catch Simon's startled look or indrawn breath. "I mean, the flames, the heat. I was alone. I didn't think anyone could've survived the explosions inside the warehouse." He moved forward, resting his face in his hands and leaning on the desk. His voice was muffled, but Simon could still make out what he was saying. "I thought...I thought Jim was dead. And then I see these two...people come tromping outside in those suits which frankly...well, human didn't come to mind at first."

Simon stretched a hand across the desk and laid it softly on Blair's nearest shoulder. "Jim's fine, Sandburg. And so are you. You do realize that, don't you?"

Blair drew in a deep breath, then let it go in a rush as he nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I know that."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. It's just, you know, well, I think I'm still...processing." Blair flashed a quick, albeit slightly unsteady, grin at the captain before refocusing on the papers, shuffling and straightening them.

Patting the younger man's shoulder, Simon slid off the desk to his feet. "Okay. You process; I'm going to lunch." He headed towards the main doors, already pondering what to order. Sandburg's voice drifted after him and it took him a second to realize it wasn't a goodbye that followed him from the bullpen.

"...way too hot...flames...hot...bad...need something...ashes..."

Sudden drawers rattling in and out accompanied the mumbled words and Simon froze in the doorway, slowly turning in place to watch Blair searching through Jim's desk. Blair's hands shook noticeably as he shoved things aside in a reckless abandon that would have Jim reorganizing for a week. An uneasy feeling clenched Simon's stomach as the realization of what was happening settled over him. Behind him, he heard the elevator doors part, and the familiar voices of Rafe and Brown wafted towards him. Their joking came to a halt as they joined him at the doorway.

Following his gaze to Jim's desk, Brown spoke up first. "What's up with Sandburg, Captain?"

"Nothing good." Simon strode back towards Jim's desk, aware of the trailing footsteps of the two detectives behind him. At first, Blair didn't acknowledge him as he stopped in front of him. Simon opened his mouth to say something, but the younger man abruptly stood up.

Blair dragged both hands through his long hair, roughly yanking out the ponytail holder. "I can't find it. Can't...I need. Where is it?" His eyes shifted upwards, meeting Simon's momentarily before sliding away. His voice grew more broken with each word. "I can't..."

Simon took a slow careful step around the desk, one hand reaching out to Blair. "What are you trying to find, Blair?"

"Jim's gun. Have to...use it...ashes...touching me..." Blair jerked to one side abruptly, banging into the chair and sending it rolling away. He swallowed hard and held his hands out in front of him, warding away unseen figures. "Have to...send them back..."

Brown's eyes widened and a whispered curse slid from between his lips. Rafe just watched with wide eyes, not understanding exactly what was going on, but realizing it wasn't good.

Simon moved closer to Blair and touched his arm. "It's okay, Blair. You're safe." Blair jerked away, then stilled as the captain continued speaking a soft tone. "Blair! They can't...they can't hurt you. Not here." In a quick whisper to the side, he rattled off some quick instructions. "Brown, find Ellison. He's supposed to be at lunch with Debra Reeves. Get him here ASAP!"

Brown and Rafe moved away, heading for their desks. Simon kept his attention on Blair, closing his fingers around Blair's arm. "Come on, Blair, it's okay. Come into my office."

Blair shook his head violently but didn't pull away from Simon even as he bounced nervously in place. "No...not...not safe."

"It's safe, Blair. Trust me." He tugged him away from behind the desk, making a mental note to ask Jim just what had happened to his backup gun.

The younger man's eyes met his for several long seconds as a brief bit of awareness returned to his gaze. Confusion and a little fear filled his voice. "Simon? What...?" Just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished again, chased away by the returning memories of Golden light and living ashes.

Through gentle persistence and continued reassurance, Simon managed to herd Blair into the privacy of his office just moments before the rest of the lunch crowd returned. He directed the disoriented younger man into a chair, then quickly closed the shades. Brown caught his attention just as he finished and gave him a thumbs-up. Simon blew out his breath in relief -- he'd found Jim.

Not ten minutes later a hurried knock on Simon's door preceded Jim's entrance into the office. Simon, sitting in the chair next to Blair, lifted his hand from Blair's back to wave Jim forward. "He's sorta drifting at the moment, but I didn't think I should leave him alone." Blair's arms were folded and resting on the table and his head was cradled on them. The low murmur of his voice was barely noticeable in the quiet room.

Jim pushed the door closed and hurried to Blair's side, crouching next to the chair. He laid his hand on Blair's back, rubbing it gently. "What happened?"

Simon answered quietly. "We were talking about the case and the last warehouse fire. He told me about watching you and Debra coming out the fire in those suits and said something about how he'd first thought it was a flashback. But he seemed fine to me. I started to head out to go to lunch when I heard him searching through your drawers." He paused, then finished as Jim met his eyes. "For your backup gun."

Jim closed his eyes a moment in silent thankfulness for his busy schedule. "I took it home a few days ago to clean it and haven't had the chance to do anything with it yet." Shaking his head, he focused on Blair, moving his hand up to pull the loose hair away from Blair's covered face. "Chief? You with me?"

Simon asked quietly, "Has he had any flashbacks before?"

"Not that I know of, but--"

"J-j-jim?" Blair slowly raised his head, squinting in Jim's direction. "Wha--?"

Jim smiled softly and touched Blair's face, examining his features and his eyes and finding only residual confusion and tiredness. "Hey there, buddy. How're you feeling?"

Blair rubbed his forehead. "Like I have cotton stuffed in my head. What happened? When did you get here?" He pushed himself up all the way, sitting back in the chair. "And why am I in Simon's office?" Turning, he realized Simon sat next to him. "Oh, uh, hi, Simon."

Standing up, Jim dragged a chair around to sit at the end of the table and rested one hand on Blair's leg. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"Uh...I was working on my report. And talking to Simon. Then..." He pursed his lips. "Simon left to go...to go to lunch...and...and...it gets sorta fuzzy at the point. I was looking for something, I think."

Jim and Simon exchanged a quick look before Jim cleared his throat and said, "You had a flashback, Blair."

Blair's eyes widened and he caught his breath. "A flash-- Oh." He swallowed, fragments of memory filling his gaze. "Oh. Um...yeah."

Simon touched Blair's shoulder. "It's okay, Sandburg. The doctor said this might happen. And before you ask, no one else knows. Brown called Jim and I got you in here before the lunching herd returned." He tightened his grip on Blair's shoulder, shaking him a little to get his full attention. "Are you gonna be okay?"

The younger man nodded hesitantly. "Uh, yeah. I'll be fine." He blew out a breath. "Man...I guess I just wasn't expecting to freeze up like that."

Jim asked, "Have you had any other flashbacks?"

Blair chewed on his lower lip, then blurted out, "No, not really. A few little moments of thinking I see something bright gold flashing by, but nothing...nothing like that." He hurriedly continued before Jim could do more than look upset. "Trust me, Jim, I would've told you if it'd been anything worth noting."

Relenting, Jim sighed. "All right." He pointed a stern finger at Blair. "But I expect you to tell me if this ever happens again. Or anything like it. Flashbacks aren't just simple little things, okay?"

"Okay, okay." Blair held up his hands in surrender, then placed both hands on the table, pushing himself to his feet. "Now then...whoa..." He wobbled and swiftly found himself clutching Jim's arms as his partner stood up and grabbed him.

"Easy, easy." Jim steadied him, meeting Simon's concerned gaze over Blair's bowed head. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Just a little woozy, I guess." He straightened up slowly, but didn't release his grip on Jim's arms.

"Flashbacks will do that to you." Simon edged around the two men and headed for the door. "Look, why don't you two head home, Jim. Stick Sandburg to bed for a couple hours. It's been quiet today."

Jim asked, "You sure, Captain?" Receiving a firm nod, Jim shifted Blair towards the door. "Very good. C'mon, Sandburg, you heard the man."

Blair made a face as he walked, supported by Jim's hand under one elbow. "You make it sound like I need a nap or something. Geez, I am an adult, you know."

Simon pulled open the door and ushered them out, commenting quietly. "Could've fooled me."

"Hey!"

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...fain would I climb but that I fear to fall...
~Raleigh~
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~post-Survival~

"Stay in the truck, Sandburg." Jim's hand came down to cover the seatbelt release a moment before Blair's hand got there.

Blair gaped at him. "Stay in the truck?! What are you talking about?" He gestured towards the windshield. "We're in the police garage, Jim, not some bad part of town. What could possibly happen?"

Jim shook his finger at Blair. "Don't even ask such a thing. Just stay here, all right? I just need to fill up the tank and then we can go." He opened the car door and slid out, raising his voice a little. "I don't want to spend another 15 minutes hunting you down afterwards. Besides, you're still supposed to be resting that leg." The door slammed shut a moment later.

Muttering under his breath, Blair sat for all of thirty seconds before he undid the seatbelt and opened his door anyway, hopping down from the Expedition. From the other side of the big vehicle, he heard Jim's voice. "Sandburg! What did I just say?"

Blair grinned and walked -- hobbling here and there -- around the front of the truck to find Jim glaring at him as he pumped gas into the truck. "I just need to stretch a little, Jim. I'm not going anywhere."

"You'd better not," Jim growled, then returned his attention to the finicky garage pumps that always wanted to stop before the tank was full. "C'mon..."

Seeing that Jim was busy with his nearly daily argument with the gas pumps, Blair turned his attention to the rest of the garage, watching idly as police vehicles made their way in and out of the entrance. Officers talked amongst themselves, some of them leading unhappy suspects into the building.

A sudden screech of tires, a shout of "Look out!", and the report of a single shot filled the air. Adrenaline spiked and Blair dropped to the ground out of instinct, covering his head with his arms. Glancing back a little, he could Jim's shoes and one hand where he crouched next to the Expedition's front driver's side tire. Gun in hand, Jim edged forward and peered around the vehicle, his eyes immediately connecting with Blair's. They exchanged a quick "you okay?" look, then Jim refocused on the rest of the garage.

The distant scuffling echoed, followed by the sounds of fists hitting flesh, then a groan as the loser's body hit the pavement. Another voice called out, "All clear!" as two officers hauled a newly restrained suspect from behind a police vehicle. The large man hung limply between them, uncaring as they dragged him inside the precinct.

Seeing that it was safe again, Blair tried to push himself up but only managed to get partway up before his still sore leg protested mightily. A soft groan slipped from between his lips before he could stop it which immediately got the attention of his partner. Jim set his gun on the hood of the Expedition and hurried to Blair's side, carefully helping him to his feet.

"Are you okay? Your leg...?" Jim started to reach for Blair's leg, but Blair swatted his hand away.

"It's fine, Jim. Just sore." Blair rubbed his thigh cautiously and concentrated on breathing past the ache. "I just wasn't expecting to take any dives to the pavement so soon."

The gas pump clicked loudly behind Jim, and Blair chuckled as the detective growled and hurried back to struggle with getting the tank full. Hobbling closer to the truck, Blair sat gingerly on the front bumper, one hand still rubbing his thigh where Rooker had shot him. Except for the minor muscle aches, it was pretty much okay again. Although at the moment it hurt more than he'd let on to Jim. The sudden movement just wasn't a good thing right then. Sighing, he leaned back further, then jumped a little as he caught sight of Jim's gun resting on the hood just inches from his head.

Blair stared at it, blinking, wondering why Jim had left it there. His pain-fogged, adrenaline-hyped reality shifted slightly to the left and Blair watched with mild detachment as his hand reached over and picked up the gun. It felt different from the revolver he'd held months earlier. Heavier. Sturdier. Bigger. He curled his fingers around the grip more firmly, testing the feel as he ran the fingers of his other hand over the barrel. This gun would be easier to defend with, easier to use. It was Jim's gun. It could protect them.

"Sandburg? What're you doing?"

Startled, Blair shot to his feet and took a few steps back from the truck. The gun weighted down his hand and he brought his other hand over to help hold it. Frowning in confusion, he looked at his hands. Jim's gun. Why did he have Jim's gun?

Jim spoke up again, his voice soft. "Chief? You okay?" He stretched his hand towards Blair. "I'm gonna need that back, okay?"

"I..." Words failed him and Blair hesitated. He shook his head, but didn't release the gun.

"Talk to me, Blair. What's wrong?" Jim edged closer, his hand reaching for the gun. A quick look at the rest of the garage told him that no one had yet taken notice of their little drama. He hoped to keep it that way. "Blair? C'mon. It's okay. Just let me have my gun back."

Blair blinked rapidly and shifted on his feet, wincing as his weight rested on his right leg. "Jim? My leg...it hurts."

Jim moved closer, coming within inches of Blair's hands. "I know, buddy. Let me help you."

"I can't..." Blair's hands tightened on the gun, then relaxed. He squeezed his eyes shut as his hands started to droop.

Plucking the gun away with one hand, Jim wrapped his other arm around Blair's shoulders, hauling him close to take the weight from Blair's sore leg. "I've got you."

Blair struggled in his grasp for several moments, then his knees buckled and he grabbed onto Jim's jacket for support. Together, they hobbled to the passenger side of the Expedition. A voice called over to them as they reached it. "Hey, Ellison. Everything okay?"

"Yeah," Jim shouted back as he leaned Blair against the side of the truck. "Just some residual pain from being shot during the Quinn case. We're okay." He holstered his gun, then rested one hand on the side of Blair's neck. "Chief?"

"Jim?" Blair squinted at him, then blinked as awareness shifted back to normal. "Oh, man...I had your gun, didn't I?"

"Yeah, but everything's okay." Jim rubbed his thumb along Blair's collarbone. "How're you doing? Anything I should know about?"

Blair straightened up a little, wincing as the muscles in his leg pulled a bit. "No golden colors or walking ashes, if that's what you're referring to." He patted Jim's arm. "I'm a little dizzy, but okay. The...flashback never really got started. I think..." Pausing, he pursed his lips in thought. "I think you stopped it."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "I did?"

"Yeah." Blair nodded. "Pretty cool."

Neither said anything for a few quiet moments, then Jim pulled away, allowing Blair to push away from the truck. "Maybe I should take you home."

"No, you are not taking me home, Jim. Simon is expecting both of us to show up, not just you."

"But your leg--"

Blair raised a hand. "Uh-uh. You let me worry about my leg. It's already feeling better." He hesitated, then said, "And wouldn't you feel better if I were with you if that thwarted flashback decides to make a reappearance? I, uh, I know I would."

Jim scowled. "Sandburg, you play dirty, you know that?" He stomped away, heading around to the other side of the truck.

Chuckling, Blair opened the passenger door and pulled himself inside. "I learned from the best." Jim climbed in a moment later and only grunted as he started up the truck. "Besides, it's not like we're chasing bad guys. We're meeting Simon at the racetrack. It'll be fine."

"You know you've just cursed us, don't you..."

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...the eternal landscape of the past...
~Tennyson~
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~post-The Girl Next Door~

Blair groaned as he rolled over in bed. Rubbing one hand across his eyes, he managed to pry them open long enough to glare at the red LED numbers on the little bedside clock: 7:31 a.m. Struggling to get his sluggish mind to function, he shoved himself upwards to sit on the edge of the bed. What day was it? And did he have any classes to attend? To teach? And why wasn't his brain working?

His eyes shuttered closed again and Blair felt himself falling as sleep tried to take over. Snapping his eyes open, he forced himself to his feet and tottered out the open doors of his room. He yawned and stumbled into the kitchen, aiming for the coffeemaker. Halfway there, he paused, frowning to himself. Why was Jim sleeping on the couch?

Blair turned and walked to the couch, looking down at Jim's slumped body, thinking how uncomfortable Jim had to be in that position. Dressed in a robe sloppily tossed over his boxers, Jim rested in the corner of the couch, his head listing to one side. Blair reached down and touched Jim's shoulder, shaking him. "Jim. Wake up. Jim."

With a snuffle, Jim woke, jerking upright and looking around. "Blair?"

"Right here, Jim." He leaned against the couch back. "What're you doing out here? I know you went to bed last night."

Jim rubbed a hand over his face and squinted at his watch. "It's morning? Man..." He paused to yawn. "I thought it'd never get here." He stretched his arms over his head, but stayed seated on the couch. Then, giving Blair a considering look, he asked, "How're you this morning?"

Blair raised his eyebrows. "Me? Uh, I'm fine. Shouldn't I be?"

"You don't remember," Jim stated. "I guess that's a good thing, all things considered." He stood and wandered into the kitchen, retying his robe belt as he did. Blair followed him after a few seconds of surprise.

"Jim...don't do that. What happened last night?"

As he refilled the coffeemaker and started it up, Jim explained quietly. "You were having some nightmares, only I think they were sorta more like flashbacks, complete with sleepwalking."

Blair blinked a few times. "I was? They were?"

"Yeah. I woke up when you got up around 2 and came into the kitchen. You were banging around in the drawers looking for something." Jim opened a cupboard and got down two mugs. "I came down to see what was up. You weren't...well, you weren't really there. You were mumbling about drugs and ashes." He leaned against the counter, watching Blair lean back against the opposite one. "I got you calmed down and put you back to bed. But you didn't stay there long -- got up again in a half-hour. After the third time, I gave up and stayed down here."

"Oh, man, Jim, I'm so sorry." Blair wiped his face. "I don't remember any of this."

Jim shoved away from the counter and stepped over to Blair, resting his hands on Blair's shoulders. "It's probably better that you don't. Whatever you were seeing, it didn't sound pleasant."

Blair slumped a little and closed his eyes. "I keep thinking I'm past this. I mean...Golden was months ago. Shouldn't the flashbacks stop or go away or something?"

Shaking his head, Jim replied, "I don't know, Chief. The doctor said they might appear years in the future. It just depends on something clicking to set them off."

"Yeah, well, what clicked this time? Just the general danger I was in yesterday with Iris and her merry little band of drug smugglers?" He gestured angrily with one hand.

Jim shrugged. "Again, I don't know. Maybe. It also could've been the drugs themselves."

Under his hands, Blair stiffened and looked quickly up at Jim. "What do you mean? I didn't--"

"I know you didn't, Chief. I just meant the association with them." He rubbed Blair's shoulders and said quietly, "You told me Iris made you tape the bags to yourself."

Blair nodded reluctantly. "Yeah, she did. Maybe...maybe you're right."

Jim remained silent, then added in an upbeat tone. "On the bright side, remember a couple months back, you mentioned how I stopped the flashback when I touched you?"

"Yeah?" Blair perked up a little.

"Well, I think you were right." Jim smiled. "Every time I steered you back to bed last night, the flashback faded and you were able to go back to sleep fairly quickly. Probably why you don't remember much."

Blair grinned and relief shone in his eyes. "Pretty cool."

Jim chuckled. "Yeah, pretty cool." A huge yawn overtook him as the coffeemaker beeped. He released Blair and turned to pour himself a cup, but found Blair pushing past him.

"You go and sit down. I'll get this."

Acting oddly complacent after his night of very little sleep, Jim just nodded and stumbled back to the couch, plopping down on the cushions with a muffled grunt. He fumbled for the remote control and turned the morning news on low. His eyes slid to half-mast as he watched and listened, not really registering anything beyond the colored images and soft drone of voices. Behind him, Blair watched to make sure Jim was settled, then set about preparing their coffee, humming under his breath. A minute or so later, a hot mug of coffee in each hand, he detoured around the kitchen island to bring the coffee to Jim.

"So...um, do you think the flashbacks will ever go away, Jim?" Blair sat down next to him and handed Jim one of the mugs.

Jim sipped at the hot liquid, then rested the mug between two hands above his leg. "I wish I could say, Chief. If they do, they do. If they don't, we'll deal with them. Just like we always do. Okay?" He took another sip and glanced at Blair over the rim of the mug.

Blair stared for another long moment into his own coffee, then took a breath and met Jim's eyes with a small smile. "Okay."

"Okay." Jim answered the smile with one of his own. He set his coffee aside on the table, deciding it was a little too hot just yet. Then he slouched down further into the couch and let his body rest. His eyes slid shut with a weary sigh. "Go ahead and take the shower first. I'm just gonna sit here a little bit and rest my..." His voice faded away as he slipped easily into sleep.

Blair chuckled fondly and stood from the couch. He set his mug down and carefully guided Jim into a reclining position on the couch, simultaneously amused and a little concerned that the bigger man didn't wake as he shifted his body around. Snatching the afghan from the other couch, Blair draped it over Jim's form, then sat on the coffee table a moment to watch Jim sleep.

He whispered, "Yeah. Okay. You sleep, Jim." Blair adjusted the top of the afghan slightly, touching Jim's shoulder and smiling. "I'll keep watch." Turning off the television, he gathered up both coffee mugs and walked back into the kitchen, leaving his sentinel to his much-deserved rest.

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...best friend, my well-spring in the wilderness...
~George Eliot~
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- The End -