Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Smarm and Song/Poetry stories

This started out a "sorta" round robin with various people writing different parts and then combining everything together as a whole under a bracketing story. Because of RL and other such annoying things <g>, it's taken awhile to finish this, but here it is finally. Many thanks to Eagle Eye as this whole thing was her idea originally. Happy reading. And remember -- we don't do death stories. For timing's sake, this is post-S2. For description's sake, this is an introspective h/c story wrapped around tidbits in the lives of Jim and Blair. Smarm and deep thoughts abound. Oh, and after-the-fact Blair-owies... (See end notes for who wrote what.)

Song lyrics are from Diamond Rio's song, You're Gone. No copyright infringement intended.

Minor spoilers for Blind Man's Bluff.

You're Gone
by Becky, EagleEye, Robyn, Sorcha, and Suzie
February 1999

~~~~~~~~~~~
...And the bad news is, you're gone...
~~~~~~~~~~~

<<beep>>

<<beep>>

With his eyes closed, a multitude of noise whirled up to surround him, defining his entire world which had narrowed down like tunnel vision to just the small room. The wheezing of the respirator breathing life into his partner. The beeping of the EKG, monitoring the heartbeat no one could hear. The constant drip of IVs, pouring fluids into a badly damaged and dehydrated body. The smells of the chemicals, those for normal everyday cleaning and the ones helping to keep the other half of his soul alive.

They all fought to overwhelm him. But the silence...the silence was the worst. The silence was deafening. The absence of the musical voice he'd so come to depend on. The voice he clung to for his sanity, that could chatter the day away stopping only to draw breath, sometimes seeming to forget to do even that.

With a long tired sigh, Jim Ellison opened his eyes and shifted again in the hard plastic chair, trying to get comfortable and failing since the seat seemed by design to promote discomfort. Giving up on getting any sleep, he chose instead to scoot his chair closer to the bed and lean forward, recapturing the slender hand he'd released just moments ago. The night nurse had tried to get him to leave, to go home and get some real rest, but Jim had simply shaken his head, saying he could sleep just as well in the chair. He'd done it before. He'd do it again.

I can't leave Blair alone here. He dragged a hand over his face. Though it seems I won't be sleeping right now. I'll survive.

In the dimly-lit darkness, Jim stared at his partner's face, just watching, looking beyond the wires and tubes and machines, seeing the paleness of Blair's features, the dark circles under his eyes. Finding Blair after a week's absence -- a kidnapping -- had almost been a fluke. An idle conversation overheard by Megan when she'd shared an elevator with a few cops from Missing Persons. Something about young men disappearing from the suburbs. All those taken had longish curly hair. Not being one to pass up any lead, however slim, that could help them find Blair, Megan had quickly begun asking questions, followed by a little research on her own before going to Jim and Simon with what she knew. Fifteen minutes later, she, Jim, Simon, and half of Major Crimes were on their way to the outskirts of town.

I have to remember to thank Conner again. If she hadn't bothered to ask about the disappearances...if she hadn't been there...if we had even found him an hour later... Jim shook his head, shoving those thoughts away. But she had been there. And they had found him. Blair would be all right. He has to be.

I need him to be.

Still grasping Blair's limp hand in his, Jim leaned forward, resting his head on the railing. You can't leave, Chief. I need you here. I'm not whole without you...

~~~~~~~~~~~
I said hello I think I'm broken
And though I was only jokin'
It took me by surprise when you agreed
~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim stopped in front of Blair's mostly closed office door, hearing the younger man talking on the phone to someone. Another professor, he gathered after a moment. Ah, yes. He smiled. The artifacts he mentioned this morning. The ones he's been trying to get loaned to the University for the next quarter. Blair's voice rose a little in pitch, subdued excitement echoing in his tone. Sounds like he's nearly got them convinced. Good for him.

Not wanting to disrupt his partner's train of thought, Jim leaned against the wall next to the door, resting for a moment. The hallways were quiet, only the voices of a few students lingering between classes drifting past him. Idly, he watched the dust motes spin and dance downward in the light rays shining from the high windows above him. He noted the new paint on the door across the hall, remembering the long scratch that had decorated it rather obviously for the past several months. Above the paint glistened a new nameplate with a name embossed on it he didn't recognize -- Professor G. Rille. Who...? Oh, wait, didn't Blair tell me that Professor Harwood was retiring? This must be the new guy.

The door opened and a woman stepped out. A tall, dark brunette woman, dressed elegantly in pants and a long sleeve silk blouse. Jim straightened as she turned, eyes widening just a hair. Correction -- Professor Rille is a woman. A very attractive woman. Strange how Sandburg forgot to mention that. Pulling the door closed with one hand, Professor Rille caught Jim watching her and smiled at him, her dark eyes polite but friendly.

Jim smiled back, nodding once, but didn't say anything. Instead he contented himself with watching her walk down the hallway, disappearing through the doors that led to the parking lot outside.

Shaking himself once, the detective relaxed against the wall again, a small smile on his face. I'll have to ask Blair about her. He chuckled softly under his breath. And you accuse Sandburg of being hot on the trail of any and all women around him. Glancing back down the hall briefly, Jim pursed his lips. Still...

Focusing his hearing into the office, he could still hear Blair talking, his voice indicating success and gratefulness. Figuring he still had a little wait left to him, Jim shifted his shoulders against the wall, changing positions slightly. With the movement, his eyes caught on the paper nameplate on the door under the real room designation -- "Artifact Room." Scrawled in black ink across the smallish, rectangular piece of paper, torn at one edge, were two words handwritten in big, block letters.

BLAIR SANDBURG.

Just a name. A name that over three years earlier hadn't meant anything to him beyond someone that could find a solution to his problem. Someone who could find a way to give him control over his rebelling senses. Someone who could tell him how to turn them off, how to make them just go away.

Someone to fix whatever was broken inside him.

His lips tipped up into a smile again, a wider one, a different one.

Broken. Yeah, a good term. That's what I was. And he did fix me. But not in a way I expected. I don't think it was anything even he expected.

Reaching out with two fingers, he touched the paper, running sensitive fingerpads over the letters, feeling the indentations in the paper, the imperfections of the grain. He traced each letter of the name inscribed on the paper, the ink flowing under his fingers in a rough pattern of starts and stops.

Just a name. But a name that represented a person, the person, who helped him find the right path. Not only in the realm of his special senses. Though Blair did certainly excel in that area quite well. With Blair by his side, Jim had found control, had found balance, had found the "fix" he needed. Not by getting rid of his abilities, but by embracing them, learning about them. Learning to use them. Learning to be patient with himself as he discovered new things about them. Learning how to become a true Sentinel.

Jim laid his fingers on the door, still staring at the paper nameplate, still smiling, still thinking of his partner and friend.

You've also helped me find myself again, Chief. You always tell me that I gave you a home, something you've not truly had before. You tell me that the life you have now is nothing you ever dreamed of but it's all you ever want. Or at least most of what you want.

He ran his fingers over the paper again, the crinkling barely noticeable, even to his ears. But, Chief, you gave me all you had. You showed me that I truly was broken. Broken in a way I didn't want to accept and didn't, couldn't, understand. You helped me see the truth. And in doing so, you gave back to me more than I think I can ever give to you. You gave me yourself. You gave me friendship. You gave me love.

You gave me all I will ever need.

Shaking himself back to the present, Jim heard Blair hang up the phone with a gentle click. Two seconds of silence followed, then a whoop reverberated through the room.

"YES!!"

Jim laughed as he heard Blair dancing around his desk inside, his shoes tapping on the wood floor, as he chanted "yes, yes, yes" a few more times. Then he stopped and scrambled for the phone again.

"Oh, man, I gotta call Jim."

Before Blair could pick up the phone, Jim tapped a knuckle on the door and carefully pushed it open. "Hey, Chief. No need to call. I'm right here."

Wide smile lightening up his face, blue eyes sparkling with excitement behind his wire frame glasses, Blair looked up and nearly bounced across the room to stand in front of Jim. He threw both arms around the taller man and hugged him hard, surprising Jim with the strength of the embrace as it squeezed the air out of his lungs. Jim returned the hug in full measure, the joy in Blair's soul and laughter spilling over into him.

"I did it, Jim! I did it! Isn't this great!?!"

Jim patted Blair's back, releasing him slightly to look down into the face of his dearest and closest friend, a grin lighting up his own features in response. Some days it still surprised him how much a part of his life Blair had become. How easily he could be excited by something he didn't even understand just because the young man currently encircled within his arms would smile and laugh and rejoice and celebrate.

And other days, he didn't question it at all, just let that joy fill all the broken parts in his soul and overflow.

"Yeah, it's great, Chief! I never had a doubt you'd find a way to get those artifacts here. If you're done here, we can go celebrate. My treat."

Blair threw him another grin, blinking incredulously up at him. "Your treat? All right!" Stepping away from Jim, he grabbed his backpack from the floor near his desk and started shoving books inside. "Never let it be said that Blair Sandburg turns down free food." He paused, one hand stuffing papers into his backpack, and looked suspiciously over at Jim. "You better not be thinking about going to WonderBurger, Jim."

Jim shook his head, laughing, waving a hand in the air. "No, not WonderBurger."

"Good." He zipped up the backpack with a flourish and pulled it onto one shoulder before snatching up his jacket and heading toward the door. "Cause I think I feel like a good pita sandwich. Something ridiculously healthy. And then I want something really, really unhealthy." He passed Jim, ducking under the detective's arm where he held the door open. "Maybe a triple fudge sundee or something. Something sinful, you know."

Jim laughed again and stepped out to follow Blair, letting the door close behind him. He checked the knob to make sure it was locked, then raised his hand to trace his fingers across the paper nameplate once more. I wonder if the administration would allow a real nameplate. Nothing really fancy, just something ... nicer. I might have to ask...

With a quick nod, he turned and strode after his partner, leaving academia behind for the moment to just be friends and nothing else.

~~~~~~~~~~~

<<beep>>

<<beep>>

Though he'd planned to talk to the chair of Blair's department about the nameplate business months ago, the detective just hadn't found the time to do so. Jim lifted his head from the railing to look at Blair's face As soon as this is over, buddy, I'll corner Dr. Berkshire and talk to him. I know he doesn't know you very well yet, but he has to have heard how good you are with students, how good a teacher you are, how dedicated.

A moment later, Jim had to smile to himself, rather weakly, but still evident. He swallowed and whispered, "Are you even ready for a real nameplate, Chief? Permanence and all that. I wouldn't want to cramp your style or anything. Your energy is ... infectious, I guess you could say." He reached out with his other hand and touched Blair's forehead lightly with a few fingers, avoiding with care the nasty bruises and abrasions decorating his guide's face. His eyes slid downward of their own accord, almost seeing through the layers of hospital blankets to the heavy bandages that lay beneath. The sharp scent of medicines touched him again and he quickly dialed down his senses before he was pulled in. The night nurse thought he'd been asleep last time he'd zoned. Fortunately for him, she'd come in and touched his shoulder, startling him into awareness quite soon after he'd realized what was happening.

Stay here, Ellison. Blair doesn't need you floating out there in gray space or anything. He needs you with him.

He looked down at Blair's hand, stroking his thumb over the skin. "Watching you move through life at Sandburgian pace is entertaining ... and quite educational." Returning his gaze to Blair's face, he finished quietly. "Sometimes it seems you go so fast though, faster than I know how to, faster than I want to."

He slid his fingers along the cool skin of Blair's forehead, gently stroking back the few rebellious curls that seemed determined to tangle themselves with Jim's fingers and the wires and tubing. "Maybe ... maybe the nameplate is for me. Maybe I need something that says you're not gonna go too fast and leave me behind..."

~~~~~~~~~~~
I was tryin' to be clever
For the life of me I never
Would have guessed how far the simple truth would lead
~~~~~~~~~~~

"It'll just take me a few minutes, Jim, then we can go, I promise."

"Uh-huh." Jim attempted, rather vainly, to keep the smile away from his face. "And just how many times have I heard that statement before, hm, Sandburg?" He crossed his arms, staring down into the pleading eyes of the younger man.

Blair frowned a little, opened his mouth to respond, then subsided into a chuckle. "Okay, okay, you've heard it a lot. And it's never quite true. But it'll be different this time. Really."

Jim laughed and unfolded his arms, reaching out to tap at Blair's cheek lightly. "Heard that one, too, Chief. And I didn't believe it then any more than I believe it now. This is a bookstore, Sandburg." He gestured at the large pane glass window next to them, displaying all sorts of books, from children's to histories to fiction. "And I know what you're like in a bookstore." He took his partner by the shoulders and turned him around to face the doors, nudging him slightly. "So, come on, let's get in there and get this over with. What did you say you're looking for again? If you walk slowly, maybe I can help find it. I'm not gonna go chasing you all over this huge place."

Hesitating only a moment, Blair reached for the door handle and pulled open the door. He looked back at Jim, a rather pleased grin pulling at his lips. "Actually, I'm not looking for anything in particular. I just wanted to look for a little bit." He dashed inside before Jim could make a move toward him.

Shaking his head, Jim followed after a moment, muttering to himself. "One of these days, Sandburg, one of these days." He called out to his friend's retreating back, just loud enough for the younger man to hear him. "Twenty minutes, Chief, then I'm dragging you out of here."

Blair waved a lazy hand at him in acknowledgment before disappearing into the shelves and into the world of words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters. A world of magic and rhyme and mystery and knowledge. A world Jim knew Blair could easily lose himself in.

And has on occasion.

Chuckling softly, Jim headed to the front corner of the large bookstore, where he could settle down with some fresh coffee and the latest evening paper, maybe even a magazine or two. Although he would never admit it to Blair, he actually enjoyed these little bookstore outings that he found himself doing every now and then. A nice relaxing way to spend a few minutes of the evening before heading back home. He could read his newspaper in peace and Blair could peruse a few dozen books before picking out a handful to bring home and read at his leisure.

You are so domesticated, Ellison, it isn't even funny. He paused, thinking that statement over, amending it. Well, it is. But it isn't at the same time.

Jim rolled his eyes and stepped into the line to get his coffee, deciding to put aside such heavy thoughts and concentrate on relaxing for a bit.

Twenty-five minutes later, when Blair hadn't shown up yet -- surprise, surprise -- Jim laid the newspaper aside, gathered up the latest NEWS magazine he decided to purchase and went in search of his missing and 'Oh, Jim, I'm sorry, I just lost track of time' partner. Knowing first-hand that Blair could be quite methodical in the way he roamed through a bookstore, Jim paused a moment, considering where exactly his book-loving friend would be.

He's probably past all the history, biography, and culture sections. I think he's got all the current releases that have any type of information about sentinels in them anyway. He scanned the aisle headings as he walked slowly through them. That would leave mostly the fiction and classic literature sections. His eyes landed on one last divider just as he passed it. And poetry.

A book display at the end of the poetry aisle snagged his attention. He stopped, staring first at the simple one-word book title, then at the book cover itself.

Friendship.

Two stylized hands clasping across of world of differences.

Hearing his partner's voice just a few aisles over, talking a mile a minute about some book, Jim decided Blair wasn't going anywhere. He reached for the poetry book, picking it up and opening it, the spine creaking with newness. Inside, he found page after page of poems, all describing friendship and love, some very syrupy, others more romantic than anything else, some rhyming, others not. Shaking his head, he moved to close the book and put it away. Poetry had never been a big thing with him, even if he did read the occasional philosophy book.

But then his eyes caught on a short, two-stanza poem and he whispered the first line just under his breath, a cold wind blowing through his soul. "If you should go before me, dear, walk slowly."

Though he could see the verses were written more for a romantic couple, he still felt the lines spoke to him. He had often wondered what would happen if one of them -- Blair, his heart whispered at him -- died before the other one. How would the survivor ... survive? How would he survive if he lost his partner, his friend?

And when did my life become so dependent on his?

Swallowing hard, he lifted his head a little and deliberately searched out Blair's voice again, hearing his laughter over the aisles separating them. The rich tones full of life and joy. That little catch just before he caught his breath. The deep inhalation followed by a last few chuckles interspersed with words as he finished a few final thoughts on the topic he was discussing.

He looked back down at the book in his hand, his eyes absently reading and scanning the following lines, ending with "Walk slowly, dear, and often look behind you; And pause to hear if someone calls your name." He smoothed two fingers over the page, staring at the words for long moments before quietly closing the book and replacing it on the shelf, his face and eyes thoughtful and curious.

Three years ago, he didn't know the man named Blair Sandburg. And now...now his life sometimes seemed to revolve around him. Three years ago, he couldn't leave that dingy little University pseudo-office fast enough. And now I want to make sure Blair walks slow enough that I can keep up with him.

Two seconds later, a familiar face popped around the corner of aisle. "Hey, Jim, here you are. I was wondering when you were gonna come looking for me. I'm so sorry -- I just lost track of time." He stopped at Jim's side, juggling a stack of books in his arms, looking at the selections surrounding them. "Poetry? Since when do you read poetry, Jim?" Finally noticing the pensive look on the big man's face, Blair shifted the books onto one arm and laid his free hand on Jim's nearest arm. "Are you okay?"

Jim smiled down at him, some of the deep thoughts chased away -- for awhile -- by the simple concern shown him by Blair. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just ... thinking."

Blair's hand tightened, frown lines appearing on his forehead. "You're sure."

Jim reached over and patted Blair's hand. "Yeah, I'm sure." He gestured to the books. "Do you need some help with those?"

Blinking once in confusion at the sudden change of topic, Blair nodded after a moment, steadying the books carefully. "Um, yeah, if you wouldn't mind."

Taking several books from the top of the stack, Jim asked, "You are done, right, Chief?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm done. All set to go for at least a few weeks." A slight bounce in his step, he headed off toward the register.

Jim watched him for a moment, then followed him, saying quietly, "Walk slowly, Chief. I don't want to lose you."

To his surprise, Blair paused and turned back to him for a moment, eyes bright. "You won't lose me, Jim. And I'll never walk so fast you couldn't find me. You should know that." He waved ahead of him, just beyond the shelves. "I just want to get a good place in line before it gets too long so we can get out of here and get home."

And then he disappeared around the corner. Jim smiled, understanding lighting his eyes, wondering if Blair would ever realize what he'd just said to Jim, what he'd just promised.

Probably not, but it's a promise I know he'll keep anyway. It's a promise we'll both keep.

~~~~~~~~~~~

<<beep>>

<<beep>>

Jim stared at Blair's lax features, eyes drifting upwards to read the monitors, knowing from too many hospital stays -- whether him, his partner, his captain, other friends -- what most of the squiggles meant. A lot of what he saw wasn't very encouraging. Most of the readings hadn't changed much from the time Blair had been checked into the hospital that morning. He glanced down at his watch -- 2:32 a.m. Correction: yesterday morning now.

It seemed like so long ago he'd stormed into the large ranch style house on the outskirts of town, gun out, badge displayed prominently on his belt, kevlar vest strapped over his black t-shirt. The rest of the SWAT team had followed him, securing the "bad guys", as his partner would probably have called them, very quickly. Then Jim, backed by Simon and Megan, had followed his instincts -- and his senses -- heading up the tall staircase, taking the steps two at a time. In the rooms on the second and third levels of the large, overly ornate house, they had found the kidnap victims.

Alive. Scared. Hurt. In need of both medical care and counseling. But alive. And most of them had been conscious.

Blair hadn't been among them.

Frantic with worry and not-a-little fear, Jim had pressed harder, nearly tearing apart the house in his need to find his partner. Simon had headed back down to question the two main suspects in the kidnapping ring, telling Jim and Megan to keep searching. He knew if I'd questioned them, they'd come away with more than just a few bruises and I still wouldn't have been any closer to finding you, Chief. He let his hand drift down Blair's cheek, running a gentle thumb over a fist-sized bruise marring the skin before bringing both his hands together to hold Blair's hand in his.

He gently rubbed a thumb over Blair's hand, whispering into the stillness of the room. "C'mon, Chief, wake up and tell me everything's okay, make me feel better about all this..."

~~~~~~~~~~~
You knew all my lines
You knew all my tricks
You knew how to heal that pain no medicine can fix
~~~~~~~~~~~

Arms folded across his chest, Jim stood watching the rain rush in rivulets down the glass of the balcony doors. It seemed fitting that the weather should be so gloomy and cheerless, considering his mood. The events of the day kept spinning around in Jim's head, leading to painful thoughts and a tightness around his heart.

The teenage boy had been shot dead right in front of his mother, Jim arriving in time to hear the tortured woman's cries. She was all alone now -- no family, no close friends, no one. Being a detective, Jim could usually stay detached and not let emotions factor into his job, but this time he had been affected. He had started to imagine what it would be like if something similar were to happen to him. If...

The sound of Blair's car pulling into the parking lot interrupted Jim's thoughts. He felt strangely relieved upon hearing the sound, and realized that he had been waiting for his friend to come home. Not moving from his position by the window, Jim listened as Blair came up the stairs and into the loft.

"Hey, Jim," Sandburg greeted as he closed the door. When Jim didn't turn, Blair asked, "What's up?"

"Nothing," Jim replied, shaking his head slightly. He never could do it, no matter how much he needed too. He never could just open up on his own. He depended on Blair to force it out of him, and Jim knew that he could count on the young man to do that this time too.

There was a stretch of silence as Blair hung up his wet jacket, mulling over his sentinel's behavior. Shoes and jacket discarded, Sandburg walked across the loft to stand beside Jim. He looked up at the stoic face for a moment, then at the rain outside, and back up at his friend.

Jim was aware of all of Blair's movements, yet he couldn't bring himself to look at him. His eyes remained fixed on the rain drops, following the patterns they made as they hit the glass. He sensed when Blair was about to speak again.

"Come on, Jim. What is it? Is it about that boy and his mother?" When Jim stiffened slightly with surprise, Blair explained, "I heard about it when I stopped by the station on the way home."

Jim glanced at Sandburg briefly, then turned his eyes away again. "It wasn't so much the boy as it was the mother."

"What do you mean?"

Ellison moved over to the couch where he sat down, resting his elbows on his knees and rubbing his face in his hands. He heard and felt when Blair came over and sat beside him on the arm of the couch. After a pause, Jim continued. "That boy was all that she had in the world. Now she's all alone. It just got me thinking about..." He couldn't finish and trailed off.

"About what?" Blair prodded gently.

Jim sighed and fixed his eyes on a spot away from his partner. "About what it would be like if I lost you. I just don't think I could handle that. I don't think I'd be able to go on." He could tell that Blair hadn't been expecting this. "You've become so..." Jim found himself struggling to find the right words but before he found them, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"I know, man. It's the same with you for me." Blair paused for a second. "You don't need to worry though. You're not going to lose me."

"That's not something you can promise," Jim pointed out.

"No, no it's not," Blair agreed. "But I can promise you one thing."

"What's that?"

"I sure don't plan on leaving you."

Jim smiled briefly, his face growing solemn again after a moment. "Chief, have I ever told you that you're a good friend?"

"No," Blair replied, a smile creeping into his voice. "But I already knew that."

"Smartass." Jim rolled his eyes, but he was grinning.

"Yep, that's me."

Laughing, Jim reached up and tousled Blair's hair, feeling an immeasurable amount of gratitude toward whichever universal power had brought Blair Sandburg into his life.

~~~~~~~~~~~

<<beep>>

<<beep>>

Carefully laying Blair's hand on the bed, Jim stood and stretched. I really, really hate these hospital chairs -- I swear they are the most uncomfortable chairs ever made. He glanced over the readings of the monitors, adding their data to what his senses tell him. He leaned down over Blair, pressing one hand on his forehead, pitching his voice to a private whisper.

"I'll be back in a minute, buddy. Don't go anywhere without me."

Quietly padding across the room, Jim entered the bathroom, taking a short break to care of a few necessities, keeping one ear tuned to his partner. As he washed his hands, he used a spare towel to wipe his face, feeling a little better. He stared at his tired reflection in the mirror, remembering the times he'd done this before -- stayed at his partner's bedside till he woke, only taking a few breaks here and there, barely eating or drinking anything. Always, when he used the restroom, he would pause to look at himself in the mirror, taking stock he supposed, feeling grateful that his partner would be okay, wondering if this time would be the last time he would be able to do this, wondering if the next time they wouldn't be so lucky.

Every time.

Well, except once. That time when he'd taken the break he hadn't been able to see himself to ask those questions...

~~~~~~~~~~~
And I bless the day I met you
And I thank God that he let you stay beside me for a moment that lives on
And the good news is I'm better for the time we spent together
And the bad news is, you're gone
~~~~~~~~~~~

Disoriented, feeling absurdly lost in the small room, Jim patted wet hands around the sink. Where are those damn towels? His shaking fingers finally closed around a rough cotton weave and he yanked the hand towel toward him, scraping the water off his hands, then pressing the towel against his face and his blind, Golden-dazzled eyes. Random flashes of oranges and yellows flared behind his closed eyelids, mocking his efforts to make the connection Blair had wanted him to, had urged him to.

He dropped the towel to the floor, not caring where he landed, moving his hands to grip the sink edge, bending over it. If only I'd pushed a little harder, Chief, maybe...maybe I could've found a way to prevent this. I don't know. He lifted his head, staring with blank eyes toward the mirror he knew was mounted just above the sink. "Are you listening, Ellison? Your damn stubbornness to do this your way instead of his made this happen."

I tried. I did.

"But you didn't try hard enough, did you? And now Sandburg...Blair, your friend, your guide is out there with wires and tubes and God knows what else attached to him. Machines are keeping him alive. And the doctors don't know what's gonna happen when he comes to." He paused to swallow down a surge of fear. "If he comes to."

Jim felt his knees buckling beneath, threatening to drop him to the ground and he locked his legs in place, not wanting to end up on the floor. Just pull it together, Ellison. This is not what you need to do now. You need to be in control.

Closing his eyes out of habit, he took a deep breath, then let it out again. In and out. In and out. Just like Blair had taught him early on in their partnership. He just needed to focus. Keep calm. Stay in control. One thing at a time. Blair was alive; his heart was beating; he was breathing, even if it was with the help of a respirator. Right now that was the important thing. The doctors had very high hopes that Blair would wake from the drug-induced coma. Once they reached that step, Jim would worry about the rest.

Listening to echoes of the small room bouncing off the walls, Jim found the door and the knob easily, pulling open the door and stepping back into private ICU room. The whoosh of the respirator met his ears, overriding the beating of Blair's heart that only Jim could hear. He walked carefully around the corner and approached the edge of the bed, feeling with a hand for the chair the nurse had brought in for him just an hour ago when they'd settled Blair in the bed for the night. Moving the magazine he'd found on the bedside table when his hands needed something to do, he sat down again, reaching out with one hand to touch the cool skin of his partner's nearest arm.

"I'm right here, Chief. You just rest and..." And what? Get better? Wake up? Have sweet dreams? Ignore those Golden fire people you mentioned? Shaking his head, he tightened his fingers on Blair's arm, stroking his thumb along the skin. "Just rest, Blair. We'll worry about everything else later."

Sitting back in the chair, he settled in for the night, content to stay next to his partner, knowing they were safe for the moment. A guard stood at the entrance to the ICU unit, watching the door to Blair's room. Simon had all of Major Crimes on the alert -- those responsible would be caught.

But for the moment, Jim just sat, listening to his partner breathe, staring at the walls he couldn't see and the magazine he couldn't read, trying to rebuild fragile connections between his eyes and his head -- and between his soul and Blair's.

~~~~~~~~~~~

<<beep>>

<<beep>>

"Detective Ellison?"

The quiet voice jerked Jim back to the present, tearing him away from those painful memories filled mostly with Golden light. He opened the bathroom door and stepped back into the room, spotting one of the night nurses next to Blair's bedside.

She looked up when he appeared. "Oh, there you are." Holding out a coffee mug, she smiled. "I thought perhaps you would like some coffee. We just made a fresh batch."

Jim walked to her side and took the mug, nodding. "Yes, I would. Thank you." She nodded once and patted his arm before leaving the room quietly.

Deciding to remain standing for a bit, Jim sipped at the hot liquid cautiously, finding that it tasted surprisingly good. Keeping one eye on Blair, he paced slowly around the room, absently scanning the cards lined up on the small table on the opposite wall. Word had spread very quickly through both the PD and the university that Blair had been found. Cards had started arriving, all hand-delivered, almost before Blair had been settled into his room. Jim had gladly taken them, promising that he would read every single one to his partner.

His eyes lit upon a cream-colored, very professional looking card in the midst of the display. Picking it up, he read the penned inscription inside again, smiling a little as he did so. There was nothing personal written inside, like so many of the other cards from friends at the PD and students at the university, but still Jim smiled.

A signature, very precise in its lettering, flowed underneath the standard 'get well' message -- Dr. Berkshire, the new head of anthropology. And here you weren't even sure the man liked you, Chief. Jim had to chuckle a little as he remembered one of Blair's more ... amusing ... interactions with the man...

~~~~~~~~~~~
Lookin' back it's still surprisin'
I was sinking you were rising
With a look you caught me in mid-air
~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim sat on the living room sofa and glanced toward the french doors of the downstairs partitioned bedroom, the setting sun sending its last rays through the balcony's glass panes next to him. The detective felt particularly exhausted, more drained than usual at the end of this day. It wasn't a particular incident that had produced the feeling -- more like a lot of little things added together. The case load was building up, the old ones had no new leads, the bureaucracy and red tape had proven especially thick. And Blair had been at the University all day. I can't wait for Blair to get home, thought Jim.

Odd.

A mere three years ago, the thought of wanting someone else to "come home" to the loft would have been the most foreign, farthest thing from Jim Ellison's independent, solitary mind. Not that he had been dissatisfied with his life at that time. On the contrary. His career was going well, he caught criminals and solved cases with the expertise of a veteran, he had a captain who understood his need to work alone, he had a civil relationship with his ex, he had no one to worry about, no one to bother him or get in his way.

Jim gulped as the profoundness of the revelation struck him.

That's just it. I had no one.

Back then, he'd been too blind to comprehend the enormous paucity of relationships in his personal and professional life. He'd become a terrifyingly adept master at keeping everyone at a distance -- his father, his brother, his co-workers, his captain, his ex-wife. He'd honed the barriers to his heart so sharply that most people didn't bother trying to get in, and those who did got burned quickly and knew better to than to make a second attempt. And he liked it that way. He'd rationalized the whole thing away subconsciously, attributing it to worthy characteristics of independence and self-reliance.

Yes, Jim had thought his life was completely in order back then, just the way he liked it, with the walls to his heart built so high even he couldn't see over them well enough to know he was really dying inside.

Until Blair came along.

Blair Sandburg was the one whose star had truly been rising -- a successful graduate student, full life as a teacher and researcher, an academic with a depth of intelligence and understanding of people that went far beyond Jim's comprehension. Somehow he hadn't been fazed by Jim's walls, but proceeded to blow right through them, showing the older man just who he was inside, and then lovingly, unquestioningly accepting him for who he was, gently healing the broken pieces inside of Jim while giving of himself fully and completely.

Blair had saved him from growing into a lonely, isolated man.

Blair had saved him from dying.

Blair always knew what he needed.

Jim checked his watch again. 6:00 p.m. Any moment now, Blair would be home. As if on cue, Jim heard the familiar rhythm of footsteps in the hall, the front door rattling and swinging open. The familiar face popping in the door, the wonderful, warm smile that lit up the whole apartment.

"Hey, Jim!" bubbled the young man as he set down his backpack on the kitchen counter and hung up his jacket by the door. "Look what I brought you, man. Much as I had to sacrifice, I got these major vibes while I was driving home and the Volvo just steered itself over to the corner of Bryce and Prospect. I know you want this."

Blair held up a white paper bag, a grease spot forming on the side he held toward Jim. "One Wonderburger deluxe, a large fries, and a Coke. Know anybody who would want such an unhealthy meal? Certainly not me."

Jim laughed sheepishly and motioned for Blair to come over to the couch. "Guilty party over here," he said. "But what are you gonna eat, Chief?"

"You know that new health food restaurant they built next door to your grease palace? I got this new avocado-goat cheese-alfalfa sprout-black olive sandwich."

"Disgustingly convenient if you ask me," Jim said, trying to sound suspicious, but his eyes twinkled as he looked sideways at his partner who plopped down beside him on the couch. He already felt energized by Blair's presence, and the smell of fast food wasn't hurting any, either.

"Yeah," Blair grinned. He took a bite of the sandwich and chewed, but before he had totally swallowed it all, the anthropologist started talking again. "You wanna hear disgustingly IN-convenient? This afternoon I got really hungry around 3 p.m. because I didn't have time to stop for lunch -- see, I had this last-minute crisis to trouble-shoot for one of my advisees -- anyway, the vending machine was the only thing I had time to go to. I had this awful craving for peanut m&m's, and I figure peanuts are a good source of energy, not to mention the chocolate, so I get out a couple quarters and go to the vending machine. There's one bag of peanut m&m's left in the window. Bingo! So I shove the money in. The machine makes this awful grinding and cranking noise, and the wire rack holding the candy quivers like this." Blair made a quivering motion with both hands.

Wiping his fingers on the napkin placed over one leg, Jim chugged down a few swallows of Coke, trying not to laugh and drink at the same time. Listening to his partner describe his trials and pitfalls with a vending machine while eating was a dangerous thing, but he thought he could manage it. Blair went on, stopping only long enough to snatch a french fry from Jim's box and inhale another bite of his sandwich.

"It was like the last shudder before death, you know? I watched the bag fall, but at the last second, the corner caught on the wire rack! I groaned and uttered a few Peruvian epithets, but that didn't do anything of course, so I had to resort to brute force. I figured everyone's in class or away, and the hall was pretty deserted, so I reach up and grab the top edge of the machine and tilt it over, then let it drop back. It made this "thud" noise but the bag was still stuck. So the next time I tried letting it go a little harder. This time it went THUD. But still no candy. I'd paid for that bag and I was gonna get it if it killed me. Call me irrational, but low blood sugar can do that to you, Jim. That machine was probably getting revenge for the death of its family member, you know, the one I killed during the Kincaid fiasco a few years back. Anyway, I decided to rock it back and forth -- thud-THUD! thud-THUD! I did that about ten times, and finally the bag fell. I yelled "YES!" and retrieved my bag of candy."

Blair took another bite, then continued his story. "Then I turned around, only to look up at this brown houndstooth jacket and brown slacks, and then I looked farther up and saw a red bow-tie, and then I looked up even more and saw these wire-rimmed glasses and two eyes looking down at me. And the guy was very bald and frowning at me. It was Dr. Berkshire, the new head of anthro. He looked over his glasses with this really displeased look and said in a very British accent, "Young man, is it really necessary to continue your Yanomamo rock music in the hallway during my study time?!?" So I just smiled and said "Hi, Dr. Berkshire, sorry about the racket, but a guy's gotta eat. Bye!"

Jim laughed, grinning at the image of his partner arguing with the vending machine and then having to explain it away to his new department head. His eyes twinkled and he reached over to lightly pat Blair on the cheek. "Wish I coulda been there, Chief. Then I could've agreed with Dr. Berkshire."

"Jim! Whose side are you on, anyway?" Blair exclaimed in a mock-injured tone, swatting away Jim's hand, but he laughed. "So how was your day?"

Jim smiled and reached over to give his partner a pat on the leg. "It just got a lot better, Chief."

~~~~~~~~~~~

<<beep>>

<<beep>>

Setting the empty coffee cup aside, Jim gave up on his restless pacing and resettled himself in the chair next to Blair's bed. He glanced at his watch -- 4:05 a.m. Just over an hour and a half had passed while he sat there, waiting for Blair to wake up, listening to the machines hum and beep, watching his partner's chest rise and fall in a slow unnatural cadence.

Jim swallowed hard, his eyes tracing the bruises on Blair's face, the abrasions on his hands and arms, the bandages covering the long shallow cut in one shoulder. His partner had been conscious when they'd found him, but had quickly slipped out of it once Jim had found him. And he'd remained that way, barely stirring on the trip to the hospital or when the doctors had examined him. While it was a bit concerning, the doctors had seemed pretty calm about it. Jim wasn't. Patience had never been a strong suit with him -- not where his partner was involved.

Moving his chair just a bit closer, he took Blair's hand in his again, entwining their fingers together, feeling the younger man's pulse beat against his fingers, seeing it beat in the vein on Blair's temple. At his lowest point during the week before, he'd started to wonder if he would ever find his partner. He'd just vanished without a trace. Jim remembered vaguely waving a hand from the couch to Blair's announcement he was taking the trash out to the curbside dumpster.

He hadn't come back. And no one had seen or heard a thing.

The abduction of his partner, seemingly unrelated to any case they were working on, had sent Jim into a tailspin. No reason. No suspects. No leads. No ... nothing.

You disappeared, Chief, just disappeared. You could've died in that room and I never would've known, not until your body showed up, if it did at all. Taking a shaky breath, he ran a hand over his eyes, squeezing the bridge of his nose. He's alive, Ellison, try to remember that. He's here...

~~~~~~~~~~~
Now I know God has his reasons
But sometimes it's hard to see them
When I awake and find that you're not there
~~~~~~~~~~~

Where are you, Chief?

Standing at the large window in Simon's office, Jim let his red-rimmed eyes flicker across the landscape of buildings and streets. It had been a week since Blair's disappearance and nothing had turned up. Jim was beginning to despair of ever finding his guide. Behind him he heard Simon pause to shut the door, then step behind his desk, probably to get them both some coffee.

A few moments later, the captain said quietly, "Jim, sit down, why don't you."

"I'm fine, sir." Jim shook his head, remaining standing at the window, staring intently out at the bright late morning sky.

"Jim...sit. You're exhausted, I can tell. Going blind by staring at the sun won't help you or Blair." A pause, then, "Sit. Now. Before you fall over. I do not want to explain to Sandburg why you have a concussion when we find him."

Simon hadn't lost faith, still believed they were going to find Blair, alive and whole. There were moments in the past week that Simon's faith had been all that had kept Jim going. With a sigh, Jim turned toward the desk and slumped down into the chair just in front of it, automatically reaching out a hand to accept the cup of coffee Simon had ready for him.

"How much sleep are you getting, Jim?"

"Some. Enough." He stared into the black liquid, feeling himself getting drawn into the dark swirls and the steam as it curled up into the air, teasing him with the richness of the blend...

"Jim!" A hand gripped his shoulder, fingers tightening to the point of pain, shaking him. "Jim!"

Blinking, he looked up and found Simon standing right in front of him, worry painted across his dark features. Jim took a deep breath, reining in his wild senses. "Sorry. I'm here now."

Simon sat back against the desk, arms crossed over his chest, looking somewhat unconvinced. "You know, Jim, I am sorely tempted to send you home and tell you to sleep. But," he held up a hand, anticipating Jim's protest, "I won't. I know you. You wouldn't sleep. You'd head out by yourself to look for Sandburg -- and probably zone out while driving and end up getting yourself killed. No, I want you here in the station where I can keep an eye on you."

Jim took a swallow of his coffee. "Keep an eye on me? You make me sound like some kid who needs a parent, Simon."

The captain snorted, reaching behind him to retrieve his coffee. "Sometimes you do. But in this case, I'm just protecting myself. You think I want Sandburg laying into me if you get hurt when he's gone? He's almost as bad as you are."

A bare echo of a smile flickered on Jim's face for a moment before he stared back into the mug he held in his hands. "This waiting...not knowing..."

Simon touched his shoulder again, more gently this time, in quiet understanding of Jim's unspoken words. "I know."

They sat in silence for a few moments, each lost in their own thoughts, when a loud knock on Simon's door interrupted them. Before Simon could say anything, Megan shoved the door open, a piece of paper in her hand, an excited look in her eyes that could mean only one thing. Her eyes slid from Simon's to Jim's, and Jim stiffened in his chair, shooting to his feet, taking a step toward her.

"Tell me."

She said shortly, "I think I know where he is."

~~~~~~~~~~~

<<beep>>

<<beep>>

Jim barely remembered the next few minutes after that, operating on instinct and past memory, walking in the direction Simon shoved in, putting on the kevlar vest, checking his gun in the holster at his back. It wasn't until he was seated in Simon's car, the lights flashing as they tore down the streets heading for the outside of town, that the sentinel came back to himself ... came back to my senses, in a way, I guess.

Lifting his other hand, he touched Blair's forehead again, feeling a bit constrained when all he could touch of his partner was his hand and parts of his head. Too much bruising and bandages and tubing and wires everywhere else. I want to hug him, hold him, know he's gonna be okay. Jim shook his head, smiling a little again. "Who needs security blankets or teddy bears -- I've got one Blair Sandburg for my talisman against the dark. I bet you didn't know I knew that word 'talisman', did you, Chief? Guess maybe I do pick up on some of those anthropological terms you throw at me."

He slid his hand down Blair's face, going over tape holding the respirator in place, sweeping away the limp curls as they caught on his fingers. "We're gonna have to see about getting one of those pretty nurses in here after you wake up, maybe give you a sponge bath." He tapped Blair's nose gently. Continuing downwards, his hand came to rest on Blair's chest, or rather two of his fingers did, finding a relatively bare spot not taken up by the multitude of wires monitoring his partner's condition.

<<thump-thump>>

<<thump-thump>>

The familiar beat calmed him, settled him, reassured him. His hand drifted back down Blair's arm, fingers gently stroking, letting his unconscious partner know he wasn't alone. He closed his eyes, resting his forehead against the railing, the knowledge that Blair would be fine finally taking hold somewhere deep inside...

~~~~~~~~~~~
You found hope in hopeless
You made crazy sane
You became the missing link that helped me break my chains
~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim sat on the sofa in the living room watching the Jags game on TV. It had just gone into halftime, and he glanced up at the darkened balcony windows to see his roommate's image reflected back at him.

Blair sat at the dining table working on a paper for school. He'd been hard at it since after dinner.

Jim's eyes focused on the slightly blurred image of his partner ... his Guide ... his best friend. Without realizing it, Jim's mind drifted back to when they'd met. A smile curled the corners of his lips up. I had nearly lost hope. I thought I was going crazy. The doctors thought I was going crazy!

Blair shifted in his chair at the table and sighed heavily, but didn't look up from his task.

He was so nervous that day, Jim thought back. I remember hearing his heart beating fast as he rambled off something to me. He stood and walked to the kitchen and quietly put the kettle on to boil. Leaning back against the counter, Jim went back to observing Blair. You thought I'd believe you were doctor. You didn't even know the name on the ID tag! he chuckled softly at the remembered scene at the hospital.

Jim took down two mugs from the cupboard and the tin of Blair's favorite evening tea. When the water came to a boil he poured it over the teabags he'd placed in each mug and strolled out to the table.

Blair looked up when Jim set the mug down where he would notice it. "Thanks, Jim," he smiled as he leaned back in the chair with a sigh with the mug in hand.

"How's the paper going, Chief?" Jim asked, sitting in the chair next to the young man.

"Fine ... I'm almost done." Blair sipped the hot liquid and breathed in the steam with its slightly sweet aroma. "I'm going to type it up tomorrow so I can turn it in on Monday. Then I'll be free the rest of that week to be with you at the station."

"So what's this paper about?"

"I have to explain why this tribe ..."

Blair's voice trailed away as Jim found himself drifting again into his own thoughts. When did it happen? How did you worm your way into my life when no one else could?

Blair saw the far away look in Jim's eyes. "You okay, big guy?"

Jim blinked himself back to the moment and smiled at his Guide, "I'm fine, Chief." He patted Blair on the arm, "Couldn't be better. You going to be much longer? The second half of the game is going to start in a minute."

"What's the score?" Blair asked with a grin.

"We're ahead 55 to 49," Jim replied.

"Cool! Gimme five minutes and I'm there," Blair said, still grinning as he leaned forward again and picked up his pen.

Jim stood and went back to the sofa with his mug. The game hadn't started yet, so he let his eyes drift up to the reflection in the window again, watching as the younger man worked. You made me sane again. You gave me hope.

Blair plopped down next to the Detective, "What'd I miss?"

Jim was startled out of his revere. How long has the game been back on?

Blair gave Jim a worried look. "What's wrong, Jim?"

"Nothing, Chief."

"Bullshit, man! You were zoned!" Blair said with a hint of anger.

Jim smiled patiently, "Really ... nothing is wrong. Everything is just fine."

"Then what did you zone on?"

The answer came quietly, after a moment of hesitation. "You."

Blair's eyebrows shot up and his eyes widened. "Me?'

Jim blushed at his admission, looking away from him, shrugging a little. "Yeah, I was thinking about when we first met."

"Oh?"

"Yeah." He stared the remote, running a finger over the black cover. After a moment, he looked back up at Blair. "And how you've become such a part of my life."

Blair's expression softened.

Jim shifted slightly to face his Guide, the game momentarily forgotten. "I didn't realize it before, but there was a ... a void ... an emptiness. One that nothing seemed to fill ... until now." He touched Blair's nearest leg for a second, smiling affectionately, then drew back his hand and returned his attention to the game without another word. He glanced at the balcony windows again, catching Blair's reflection as he sat motionless, staring up at him in silence.

And what does that silence mean...?

Then, slowly, Jim saw the large, pleased and embarrassed smile spread across Blair's face as he turned to watch the game. A hand rested on Jim's arm for a moment, the silent gesture saying more than words ever could. And in the next moment, life went on as Blair joined in cheering a three-pointer made by their team.

~~~~~~~~~~~

<<beep>>

<<beep>>

"You know what, Chief? You missed, well, we both missed, the last two Jags games. I don't even know who they played. Or even if they won." He lifted his head, shifting, trying to find a better way to be comfortable with the railing in the way. Realizing that it wasn't going to be possible, he hesitated, then with a hurried glance out the window, he lowered the railing quietly.

Pulling his chair closer to the edge of the bed, Jim readjusted his grip, holding Blair's cool hand in both of his warmer ones, running his fingers over Blair's knuckles. Leaning forward, he rested his chin on his arm, looking at his partner's bruised face over the respirator tubing. Yesterday at this time, he'd been laying in bed awake, arms under his head, staring at the ceiling, wondering where his partner was -- and how he was doing -- and how long it would be before they found him and brought him home again.

When they finally had found Blair just a few hours later... Jim shuddered at the memory of seeing his unresponsive partner curled into a ball on the bed in the darkened room -- a room he'd nearly missed, hidden behind a false panel at the end of the hallway. For a terrifying moment, he hadn't been able to hear ... anything...

~~~~~~~~~~~
And I bless the day I met you
And I thank God that he let you stay beside me for a moment that lives on
And the good news is I'm better for the time we spent together
And the bad news is, you're gone
~~~~~~~~~~~

Door collapsing inward with a few good solid kicks, Jim stumbled into the hidden room, eyes automatically dilating further in the darkness, only to wince when the flashlight held by Megan, entering behind him, danced along the walls of the small room. Jim's eyes found the huddled but familiar figure at the same moment that Megan's flashlight did.

"Oh, my..." Megan gasped.

Jim swallowed, reaching out with his senses even as he approached the cramped bed in the corner. That shirt -- he was wearing that when he disappeared. Clicking on the safety and laying his gun on the floor, he seated himself on the edge of the bed. He reached out toward a shoulder, but then paused, his hand hovering in the air. His senses weren't telling him anything. Oh, please, no, no, he can't be...

Megan's soft voice intruded. "Jim? How...?"

He lowered his hand, then brought up his other to gently turn Blair -- yes, it was Blair -- on his back, fearing what he'd see. But then, abruptly, his senses fed him almost more information than he wanted. He flinched slightly, but welcomed what he heard. Heartbeat. Breathing. Uneven. Ragged. The smell of pain and sickness hanging all around them.

But he was alive.

Carefully reaching out, he cradled Blair's head with one hand, beginning a visual inspection of the damage done to his guide's body. To Megan, he whispered, "He's alive. But only just barely. Get those medics up here now!"

Megan whirled and ran out the door, her voice calling out as she went. "Medics! We need you at the end of the hall immediately! Bring a few more torches -- we need light. Captain Banks! We found Sandy!"

Jim tuned out the shouts and sets of footsteps pounding their way toward him down the long hallway. He focused on Blair, leaning down, holding his guide's face in his hands, stroking away the tangled curls. "Chief? Blair? Can you hear me? It's me; it's Jim."

A low moan of pain mingled with harsh panting breaths answered him, but the eyes remained tightly closed.

"C'mon, Chief, I know you're in there somewhere. You're okay now." He smoothed his thumbs under Blair's eyes, avoiding the swollen cut under the right eye. "You're safe. I've got you." I'm here, Chief. We found you.

Eyelids flickered slowly upward, and Jim mustered up an encouraging smile on his face as Blair's pain-filled, dull blue eyes stared at him in non-recognition for a moment. "Hey, Blair." He leaned in a little closer, knowing Blair was probably having a hard time seeing at the moment. "It's Jim."

"Ji-im...?" His voice rasped with roughness and disuse.

Jim stroked a thumb along Blair's cheek. "Yeah, Chief, it's Jim. You're gonna be okay."

Blair's unsteady, unfocused eyes slowly closed again, a whisper of breath parting his lips. "Ji..."

Glaring lights and loud voices overtook Jim in the next moment and he found himself pushed away from his unconscious partner, shoved aside by anxious medics. He leaned against the wall, watching, mouth hanging open, eyes glued to his partner as they hurriedly checked him over for transport, then carefully started loading him on the wheeled gurney.

Simon appeared at his side, Megan behind him. They waited, all three watching as the medics hurried out with the gurney, calling out medical jargon to each other as they raced down the hallway. When the room was clear, Jim said distantly, still sounding in shock that they'd actually found Blair, "I need to get to the hospital. I need to be there."

The captain and Megan exchanged a quick look. Simon took Jim's arm, pushing him toward the door. "C'mon, Jim, let's go. Missing Persons can handle the rest. Conner, you with us?"

"Right behind you, Captain."

~~~~~~~~~~~

<<beep>>

<<beep>>

It had been Blair's police observer ID, Jim found out when Simon called the station for a report, that had been the partial reason for the unusual, as compared to the other victims, treatment and accommodations. Someone, after snatching Blair, had realized they'd taken a cop's partner and then hadn't known what to do with him, other than rough him up and toss him into the locked room. That and the fact that Blair fought them every step of the way and had tried to escape twice, nearly succeeding the second time.

That same ID, found on the floor of Blair's "cell", now rested on Jim's desk, cleaned and repaired, ready for Blair when he was able to return to work. Another sign of Simon's faith in the two men.

Now if Blair would only wake...

His thoughts came to an abrupt halt when his ears registered a change in Blair's heartbeat, just a small one, but noticeable to his sensitive hearing. He jerked his head upward, leaning in toward Blair, moving one of his hands to touch Blair's forehead.

"Chief?"

For a moment, nothing happened, then Blair shifted on the bed a little, eyes moving beneath pale eyelids, heartbeat rising.

Jim clamped down on his emotions, keeping his voice calm. "Blair? You're in the hospital. You're okay." He didn't know how much his partner remembered, if he remembered being found. "You're safe."

Slowly, Blair's eyelids rose, revealing weary and disoriented dark blue eyes. A moment later, his hand twitched in Jim's, curling his fingers around the older man's. He shifted on the bed again, his other hand moving upwards toward his mouth. Jim grabbed his hand and pulled it gently down. "It's okay, Blair. Just relax."

Voice and sound lost to him, Blair stared up at Jim with wide soulful eyes, blinking a few times. Jim smiled and closed his hands more firmly around Blair's, thrilling to the response in Blair's hands as he returned the warm clasp.

A tap at the door was all the warning they got before a doctor entered the room, talking quietly. "Mr. Sandburg, I see you're awake." He pulled a penlight from his pocket as he approached the bed. Blair's hands tightened spasmodically on Jim's when Jim tried to pull his hands away.

"Sh, sh, it's okay, I'm not going anywhere," Jim assured him with a quick 'don't you dare ask me to leave' look at the doctor. Settling back into his chair, Jim kept his grip on Blair's hand, rubbing his thumb over Blair's knuckles to calm him as the doctor gave him a quick exam and then proceeded to extubate him.

Finally finished, the doctor exited the room, leaving the two men alone again. Jim pulled his chair forward again, unwrapping one hand to reach up and carefully rub some of the tape away from Blair's face. "I'll have to get a washcloth or something." Blair, tired eyes held wide open, nodded in agreement but neither man moved.

"Blair..."

"Jim..."

The detective chuckled softly. "You first."

"Thank you."

Jim shook his head, leaning forward to whisper softly. "No, thank you."

Blair blinked in confusion, puzzled at Jim's words and tone. He tried to say something, but coughed instead, throat too dry to continue.

Turning to the side, releasing Blair for a few moments, Jim poured some water in a cup and dropped a straw inside. Then, he carefully sat on the edge of the bed and slipped one hand behind Blair's head, tenderly supporting his friend as he sucked down a few greedy sips of water before he tired. "Don't analyze it, Chief, just accept it for what it is. We'll talk more later. When you're feeling better. Okay?" He set the cup aside, lowering Blair's head back to the pillow, leaving his hand between Blair's head and the pillow, his fingers rubbing gently on his scalp.

Blair smiled at him. "Okay." His heavy eyelids started to close on him.

Jim leaned down, touching Blair's forehead with his. "Sleep well, Chief." Blair's hand along the opposite side of the bed came up to touch Jim's arm softly with two fingers before falling back to the mattress. Pushing himself back up again, Jim paused to brush a kiss along Blair's cheek, smiling at his guide's faint sound of thanks. Moments later, Blair was heavily asleep, this time a natural, healing sleep.

Remaining at the edge of the bed, Jim watched Blair sleep for a long time, then finally, slowly, removed his hand from behind Blair's head. He laid his hand on his friend's cheek for a moment, then pulled away to sit down in the chair again, taking Blair's hand in his again, holding it, feeling Blair's fingers twitch slightly in his sleep, curling inward. Breathing out, feeling the last of his tensions and worry disappear, the sentinel settled his head on one arm on the edge of the bed, answering the siren call of sleep, joining his guide in her gentle arms for the safe, restful journey into peace.

~ The End ~

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

End note #1: For those of you who want to know who wrote what.... As mentioned at the top, Eagle Eye came up with the original idea of writing a story around this particular song and wrote part of the very first scene. Sorcha wrote the scene following the "heal the pain that medicine can't fix" line. Robyn wrote the scene that included the "vending machine" incident. Suzie wrote the scene following the "missing link" verse. And Becky wrote the rest with input from her cohorts-in-writing. <g>

End note #2: The poem mentioned in the second "outtake" scene is real -- Walk Slowly by Adelaide Love. Full poem can be found on this page or this page if you like illustrated Beauty & the Beast poetry (which is where I know the poem from).