Indelible
by Kira


As Jim pulled up outside the loft, he noted the conspicuous presence of Blair's Volvo in its parking spot. For the first time in about three weeks, the grad student had managed to beat the detective home from work. In his constant juggling of police work and school the harried young man had been burning the candle at both ends -- and even in the middle -- sometimes working at his office late into the night, only to show up at the police department bright and early for the start of Jim's day. That he was actually home in time for dinner led the detective to deduce that the exams had finally been graded and if lucky, Blair would have some time to recharge.

"You're going to sleep tonight, Chief. If I have to cuff you to the bed to make sure you do." Jim punched the button on the elevator as he simultaneously juggled the case files he had brought home to work on. So much for detective work being a nine-to-five job. Now it'll be Sandburg's chance to rag on me about bringing work home, Jim mused to himself.

The detective tunelessly whistled under his breath as the elevator stopped, and he stepped out onto the third floor. Even before reaching the door, he latched onto Blair's heartbeat. Slow and steady. He must be asleep. Prepared for a struggle to handle both keys and files, Jim was partly thankful, but mostly annoyed when the door swung easily open at his touch. He'd told Blair to keep the door locked, even while home. Shaking his head at his partner's naive assumption that the world *wasn't* out to get him, Jim nudged the door shut with a foot and temporarily set the files on the table by the door. He tossed the unneeded keys into the basket and turned to put his jacket on its hook.

And froze at the sight that met his gaze. The drawers and cupboard in the kitchen, the storage closet and the small tables in the living room were open, with their contents spread haphazardly across the floors. One of the corner lamps by the door was lying on its side, the porcelain stand smashed, and two of the dining room chairs were capsized. His hand went for his gun, even as his senses stretched out to scan the loft. There was still only the one heartbeat. Police procedure warred with concern for his sleeping partner, and Jim hastily made note of the lack of distinct scent above and beyond the lingering odor of cigarette smoke. Blair's rather low key reaction to the break-in had Jim a bit puzzled. *How on earth did he manage to sleep after coming in on this? And why didn't he call me?*, were the first thoughts that crossed Jim's mind, followed closely by, *what if Blair was here during the robbery?*

Jim's heart skipped a few beats in a staccato counterpoint to the steady thud of the pulse that now consumed his hearing, as a coppery smell teased at his nostrils. Blood. Sentinel vison zoomed in and focused on a small number of crimson drops that marred the rug by the couch.. Scanning the floor Jim followed the trail to the bathroom.

As though in a daze, Jim pushed open the bathroom door, and froze for a fraction of a second before rushing to his partner's side. Blair was slumped bonelessly against the side of the tub, one hand pressing a towel against a red stain on his shirt.

"Oh, my god! Blair!" Jim pulled unresisting fingers away from the towel and cautiously looked beneath the stained cotton. There was a long but shallow gash scoring his partner's left side, just under the bottom rib. It was seeping blood at an alarming rate and Jim quickly replaced the towel and pressed it firmly against the wound. Blair moaned, the first sound that he had made, and tried to shift away.

"Take it easy, Chief. We've got to get the bleeding stopped. Hold on." With his free hand, Jim gently pushed the canopy of hair in front of Blair's face behind an ear and tilted his head up to geta better look at his injuries. The Sentinel sucked in a sharp breath at the battered visage that was revealed. Bruises were liberally scattered across the pale skin and a split lip had already swollen to twice its normal size. Blair's right eye was completely swollen shut, having turned a truly ghastly combination of deep blue and purple. A lump which sluggishly oozed blood had Jim worried about the possibility of a concussion. Blood trickled from the corner of his Guide's mouth as well as from a puffy nose, caking his skin in a parody of tribal markings.

"...jim..." It was barely a sigh, merely a word piggybacking on a soft exhalation.

"I'm here, buddy. Just take it easy." Dark lashes fluttered as Blair's left eye opened slowly. Where vitality normally shone was a dulled window to Blair's pain.

"...jim....hurts..." Slowly awareness was returning to the lax face, and with awareness, pain.

"Blair, I'm here. I'm going to go and call an ambulance. My cell phone is out in the living room. I need you to hold the towel here." He placed Blair's bloody hand back on the towel. "I've got to get the phone."

"...can do that..."

"Good. I'll be back before you know it."

When he returned, cell phone in hand after making the call, Blair had straightened up slightly and was peering about. Jim dampened a washcloth and began to clean up the blood on his friend's face.

"How you feeling, Chief?"

Blair looked up dazedly.

"...can't bleed on the couch..."

Even with Sentinel hearing it was hard to decipher Blair's words as the young man tried to speak around his split lip. Jim paused in his ministrations at the odd statement.

"What do you mean?"

"Was in the living room and...." Blair trailed off and held up his hand. Jim hastened to keep pressure on the wound as Blair continued to whisper. "Blood. Couldn't bleed on the couch."

Blair continued to stare at his hand in what Jim could only describe as morbid fascination, and then looked up.

"Jim?"

"Yeah, buddy?"

"Why am I bleeding, Jim?"

He sounded utterly lost and alone, much like Stephen did when asking his older brother why dad couldn't be home for Christmas or why their mother didn't want to be with them. Jim's worry about a concussion increased.

"You've just got a bit of a cut there."

"Bleeding's bad. Can't bleed on couch."

Jim furrowed his brow, trying to figure out why Blair was so fixated on the damn couch. Blair shifted and his good eye widened with pain, a sharp gasp escaping his battered lips.

"Hurts to breathe." Blair's hand came up to clutch at Jim's arm. "Jim, help me. Please. "

"I'm here. Just relax." Jim carefully pushed the shirt up, making sure the towel remained in place, to assess what was causing the pain. He winced at the collage of bruises that discolored Blair's entire left side. With a Sentinel touch, he skimmed over the skin, careful not to put additional pressure on the damaged flesh. At least two ribs were cracked if not broken, and the deep bruises were in a distinctive shoe pattern. Jim swallowed his rage at the thought of someone kicking his Guide.

"Take shallow breaths, Blair. You hear me? Shallow breaths. You've got some broken ribs and you might hurt yourself more if you strain yourself or move. Just wait for the paramedics."

"...'kay..." There was a pause filled with the soft panting of a Guide in pain, and the low rumble of a Sentinel in full Blessed Protector Mode.

"...jim...?" Blair rested his head against Jim's shoulder, leaning into the detective, who shifted to support the injured man against his chest.

"What is it, Chief? You shouldn't be talking...save your breath."

"did i bleed on the couch?"

"Nope, not a drop." And even if he had, Jim would get the stain out before Blair got back from the hospital. And if he couldn't, he'd get it professionally cleaned -- but for some reason he'd be damned before Blair would have any reason to think that he had bled on the couch.

"...took my wallet..."

"We'll get it back. But I'll call your credit card company later, just to make sure."

"...took my pennies..."

Jim was momentarily confused but then he remembered the jar that Blair religiously put his loose change into. Every couple of months he would empty the jar and treat himself -- and more often than not, Jim as well -- to something special that his normal budget wouldn't allow. The coins were a mixture of denominations, but Blair referred to the jar as his penny jar.

"It's just a few pennies, Chief. Don't worry about them." A few pennies indeed. Small price to pay. Jim was more than aware of how much he could have lost as a result of the break-in. Finally, footsteps sounded in the hall and someone called out for him.

"Anybody here?"

"We're in here!" Jim shouted back. Chaos ensued as Jim reluctantly released his partner into the capable hands of the paramedics.

********

"Well, detective, you've got one lucky partner there."

Jim breathed a sigh of relief. "So he's going to be okay?"

"He'll be fine. Sore, but fine."

"Can he come home?"

"Well, we'd like to keep him in overnight, just to keep an eye on the concussion. It's not that serious, but he was rather confused and we don't want to take any chances. He has some deep bruising on his front and back. Some ribs are cracked, but they'll heal on their own. Just encourage him to breath deeply. It'll hurt, but it's for the best. He might pass some blood in his urine, as his kidneys were bruised, but unless it gets really heavy he'll be fine. I'll go and fill out the prescription for the painkillers and Janine, here, can take you to his room. I figured you wouldn't leave, so there's already a chair waiting."

Jim grinned at the predictability of their hospital visits. Dr. Veli was so used to the partner's insistence on remaining bedside that she didn't even make an issue out of it. Jim thanked her and followed the nurse -- and a very cute one at that, who smiled appreciatively towards the detective -- to Blair's room.

"Here you go detective."

"Thank you, Janine." Jim might not have the suavity that Blair did when it came to nurses, but now, knowing that his partner was in the clear, he allowed himself to smile warmly at the pretty brunette.

Blair was ensconced in the hospital bed, with the head slightly tilted to help his breathing. A bandage covered the nasty lump and his hair was rucked back into an elastic to keep it out of the way, which emphasized the dark discoloration that marred his face. A blue eye squinted at the detective.

"Jiiiimmmm!" Jim grinned at the sight of the dopey grin that threatened to reopen the split lip. It looked like the drugs had kicked in with full force.

"Hey there. Feeling pretty good, huh?"

"No pain, man. No pain. So no gain, right? That can't be good. Maybe I should call the nurse. Tell her to take away the drugs." Blair made a half-hearted attempt to pick up the buzzer but Jim gently pulled it away.

"No, Chief. Trust me. You really don't want to be feeling anything right now."

"I'm not feeling much of anything." Blair's eyelids drooped as the meds continued to work their pharmaceutical magic. Jim settled himself in the chair, ready to sit through the night. Tomorrow they'd get straight on what happened.

*******

Jim snapped out of the doze, as Blair began to moan.

"...no...stop....take it...." One of Blair's hands rose as though to protect his face. Jim leaned forward and grabbed the hand in both of his.

"Blair, wake up." He stroked the hand gently, coaxing his friend awake. With a jerk and a gasp, Blair surfaced from sleep.

"Jim!"

"I'm here."

"They....they kept hitting me." Blair shivered and clutched the thin blanket closer to his chest.

"How many?"

"Three." Jim could hear the frantic beating of Blair's heart as the young man tried to calm down. "There were three. They didn't want anything, Jim. It was just something for them to do. They didn't take the TV, they didn't take my laptop. They took my wallet with a crummy twenty dollar bill and some overdrawn credit cards and a jar of coins. They did it for FUN! Like they didn't have anything better to do than to start whaling on me. I gave them my wallet, I told them where the computer was. They just kept hitting me...like it was all a game!" Blair's voice rose with incredulity and Jim could see him wince as he strained his ribs.

The Sentinel shifted over to the edge of the bed and Blair instinctively moved into the shelter of the larger man's arms, seeking a haven from the memories.

"We'll get them. I'll get a forensic artist to come over to the loft tomorrow. Do you think you can remember what they looked like?" He could feel Blair nod his head in affirmation. "Good. Then all you have to do is get all healed up."

The tense body in his arms was gradually relaxing as the calm words and the comforting touch banished -- if only temporarily -- the fear from Blair's mind.

"Blair?" Jim could sense Blair was on the edge of sleep, but he just had to know. "Why were you so concerned about the couch?"

Blair closed his eyes, his head nodding off against Jim's chest.

"Remember when Incacha died? The blood got in the couch and you couldn't get it out and you couldn't forget. So you went and got a new couch."

"What does that have to do with today?"

"I dunno. I was kind of confused and I remember sitting there thinking, there's no way I wanted you to have to buy a new couch on my account. So that meant I had to stop bleeding everywhere." Blair's voice began to blur, his words running together. "Wanted you to be able to forget."

He trailed off and Jim could hear his heart settle into the steady rhythm of sleep.

"Never. I can never forget." Jim whispered.


Finis