Spoilers for "Cypher" (missing scene...two, actually).
Acknowledgment -- "Hand" by Jars of Clay (no, it's not a song fic; I use the lyrics for their poetic properties)
Thanks (as always) to my beta, Kathleen, whose unfailing patience never ceases to amaze me. And a group hug to Angie, Kim, Becky, and Robyn....you know why.

This is for Robyn, who needed something warm and fuzzy to help alleviate the Bad Rotation Blues, and for my sister Cat, who holds my hand across the distance.


Iris Wilde

Fear is keeping time with the beating of my heart.
I'm doin' way too much thinkin'
And it's tearing me apart.
And I...I feel you reach for me.


"Sounds like you've had a hell of a night."

Blair mumbled something appropriately affirmative. He really didn't feel like talking right now, or having anyone talk to him. He wanted to go home and crawl into bed. He wanted to pull the covers over his head, to burrow down into a self-made cocoon of soft flannel sheets and layers of blankets. He wanted to sleep, and tomorrow he wanted to wake up and discover that it had all been a dream. A particularly nasty dream, but a dream just the same.

I can be you!

He choked on his next breath, earning a concerned touch from the doctor. Drawing a drop of strength from some nearly dry inner well, Blair waved the doctor off and took another breath, straightening up a bit as he did so. He was sore and stiff, his head hurt, and wave after wave of nausea washed over him, but he masked his discomfort behind good posture and what he hoped was a convincing--if somewhat shaky--smile.

The doctor frowned momentarily, then returned the smile. "Okay, we're done here. Just take it easy tomorrow, get some rest, and don't push it."

Blair nodded and reached for his shirt. "Sure thing. Thanks." He made a show of examining the shirt until the doctor had disappeared around the curtain. Once he was alone, he wadded the shirt up and buried his face in it.

He wasn't sure if "a hell of a night" was an apt description of the past few hours. After all, hell was, depending upon one's belief, a place of fire and brimstone or utter nothingness. It was torment, or it was void. It was eternal existence, or it was nonexistence. This night had been neither.

Yet it had been both.

I can be you!

God, he couldn't get Lash's voice out of his head. It seemed to occupy every thought, every cell, every atom of his being. It was still so real to him: the sound of his voice, his soulless eyes, the smell--

He yanked the shirt away from his face, nearly unseating himself from the gurney in the process. The smell. It was on his shirt. The stench of decay and waste that had permeated the air in Lash's hideout had followed him here, stalking him. The specter of the dead madman was intent on choking the life from him, drowning him in a vaporous pond of insanity and death and rot. He felt the shirt slip from his nerveless fingers, but the loss of the tangible did nothing to free his mind from its spiraling descent. Lash surrounded him.

I can be you!


Blair jumped, startled by the softly spoken word, yet his consciousness grasped it like a lifeline. A feathery touch to his arm provided the final tug, drawing him back over the precipice. He lifted his head to gaze into the blue eyes of his savior.

"You okay, Chief?"

A question. One that required a response. Blair felt his lips part, but no sound issued forth. His voice was lost somewhere between his muddled brain and his churning stomach. His lips drifted back together and he simply nodded.

The hand on his arm tightened knowingly. "Bet you're feeling a bit out of it, huh? Well, let me give you a hand." The man before him knelt to retrieve the shirt. Blair watched with detached amusement as the shirt was studied, turned inside out, and snapped into shape. Then, before Blair could protest, it was plopped over his head. Fingers encircled his wrist and began to push his right arm through a sleeve.

Blair found his voice.

"Um, Jim?"


"I think I can take it from here."

Jim lowered Blair's arm but did not release it. "You sure?"

"Pretty sure."

Blair felt a moment's loss as Jim pulled back, but he directed his attention to the task at hand--namely making sure that he put each of his arms into its corresponding sleeve. He knew Jim was watching him, monitoring him--the air sang with sentinel senses--so any sign of confusion on his part would be detected. And he really, really wanted to finish dressing himself ...on his own.

Once his hands popped through at the end of his sleeves, he sighed with triumphant relief. True, the hands seemed unsteady, but no more so than the rest of his body. He was fine, and he glanced up at Jim and smiled just to prove it.

Jim patted his arm as he bent to retrieve Blair's black leather jacket from a nearby chair. He snatched it up, shook it out, then held it up and open, expectant. Resigned, Blair slid from the gurney and allowed Jim to help him into the coat, swaying a bit but managing to remain upright under his own power. Jim stepped around him and pulled the lapels of the coat closer together. He spared Blair the embarrassment of buttoning the coat up as well, and for that Blair was grateful.

Jim's hands moved from the coat lapels to Blair's shoulders, gripping them just long enough for Blair to receive their silent message. Then he was gently turned and Jim ushered him toward the exit. "Let's get you home."


From lost and not found, to run and not hide,
My hand inside your hand.
Losing my grip, falling so far,
My hand inside your hand.


Blair roused himself from a waking doze as he and Jim emerged from the elevator. God, he was tired. His control on all levels was tenuous, and he recognized the symptoms of physical and mental exhaustion. He wanted to be somewhere peaceful and safe when he collapsed.

Almost there. Just a few short feet and he'd be home. A few additional feet and he could drop onto his bed and give in to the siren call of sleep. Not much further--

He froze.

The loft's door was ajar, and a few splinters of wood littered the floor. It all came rushing back to him, image after image pounding against his brain. Blair put out his hand, seeking purchase as the muscles in his legs began to liquefy.

The shadow. The door. The fight. The pain. The darkness.

The terror.

His hand brushed against something and he grasped it. It was warm against his icy flesh, and its solid strength countered the violent trembling that coursed through his body. Within seconds the panic passed. As he regained his emotional footing, he became aware of Jim's voice, calm and matter-of-fact, at his side.

"--ome Depot tomorrow and get what we need to fix it. Not much we can do about it tonight, though, so I'll just put a chair or something against it."

Blair nodded absently. Jim released his hand and motioned for him to remain where he was. Blair watched him as he approached the door, paused to listen, then continued through it.

"Simon placed a unit out front to keep an eye on things."

Blair followed Jim, his eyes fixed on his friend's back. "Worried about looters?"

Jim chuckled. "Nah, reporters. Don Hass is chomping at the bit."

"Let him chomp." Blair's foot kicked something in his path and glanced down. He saw a magazine...and then another...pieces of mail...the table... His gaze moved from one object to the next, playing an odd variation of Connect-the-Dots. Scattered about was the evidence of his desperate fight against a serial killer, and in the face of such destruction, one truth was glaringly apparent.

He had lost.

Jim emitted a low whistle. "What a mess. Funny, I didn't really notice the first time." He continued speaking, but the swirling in Blair's brain made comprehension impossible.

The first time? Blair wandered further into the living room area. How could Jim not have noticed this? Bits and pieces of their lives were scattered about, and he hadn't noticed? How could he not notice? The television had been knocked from its roost and lay on its screen. A table was overturned, as was one of the sofas. Cushions and pillows littered the floor. One of the shades had been ripped from its wall brackets. The paper lantern was partially crushed. The wooden box--


Blair dropped to his knees beside the box. It was one of the few decorative things he possessed of which Jim approved, and Blair had placed it on the coffee table soon after he moved into the loft. It wasn't an ancient artifact, nor did it have any true monetary value. It had been a gift from a little girl he'd befriended while studying contemporary Appalachian cultures. Black walnut wasn't common where she'd lived, but somehow she'd managed to acquire it, and with her father's tools and guidance, she'd created a trinket box for him. She'd taken special pride in pointing out its hinged curved lid, but Blair's favorite feature was carved into the bottom of the box: sarah b. No, no real monetary value.

Yet it was priceless.

He picked up the box and held it in his trembling hands. The lid lay a few inches away, its twisted, broken hinge barely attached. He didn't know how long he'd been sitting there, just staring at it, before he realized that another's hands had been placed upon his own.

"Hey, Chief."

"It's broken," Blair announced, just in case Jim hadn't noticed that, either.

"It can be fixed."

The gently spoken words commanded attention. Blair looked up into Jim's eyes and saw his own value reflected in their depths. "Yeah?"

"There's nothing here that can't be mended."

The meaning veiled within those words and the sincerity with which they were spoken were almost too much to bear. Blair squeezed his eyes shut against the tears threatening to flood them. Of course Jim hadn't noticed the devastation earlier. He'd been worried about something else.

Something priceless.

Blair took a deep breath and nodded. "Yeah," he whispered.

Jim took the box from Blair's hands and placed it on the coffee table. He rose to his feet then reached down to offer his hand. Blair clasped it between both of his and allowed Jim to pull him to his feet and steady him.

"You should hit the sack," Jim suggested. "We've got reports to fill out in the morning."

"What about you?" Blair knew the reply before it was uttered. Now that Jim had noticed the mess, it would only mean one thing.

"I think I'm going to straighten things up a bit." He turned toward the fallen television.

"Want some help?"

"Nope, you need to get some rest. Besides I can handle it." Jim frowned at the television. "I think."

Blair smiled; sleep could wait a moment longer. "Here...let me give you a hand."


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