EVOLUTION OF FRIENDSHIP
This is an AU epilogue to the episodes "Night Train" and Rogue" and part 6 of the "Evolution Of Friendship" series. (Well, duh! <g>) It can be read as a stand-alone though it may be helpful to read the others as well. (But you don't have to if you don't wanna! If you do, they're over at BiA). As this is kind of AU, I'm sorta playing hard and fast with canon here but I've kept it as close to canon as possible. Thank you to Lyn for the beta and the constant encouragement that keeps me doing this. Also to everyone at SA who has sustained me over the past few difficult months by their friendship. I'd also like to thank everyone who voted for this series in the Burton Awards. It didn't win, but it had some very stiff competition and just to be nominated at all was an absolute thrill. Congratulations to Fluterbev for her wonderful winning series, which I loved. Thanks as always to Dawn for setting up this list and for giving me a reason and the encouragement to write this stuff.
The muse says please send feedback. It floats her boat.
Do not archive, please.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Don't know who they belong to nowadays. But if they were mine, I'd treat them really nice. No money made, no copyright infringement intended. No actual Jim's or Blair's were hurt in the writing of this fanfic.
Evolution Of Friendship part 6
"You don't sound much better," Jim remarked as he tossed his keys into the basket next to the door and hung up his jacket. He'd heard Blair coughing as he'd left the elevator and now he turned a Sentinel eye on his guide, who was slouching on the couch, the remote for the TV held in a lax hand.
"I'm okay," Blair replied, but he didn't sound his usual sure self.
Jim's Sentinel senses picked up the slight rasping in his partner's chest, the heat rising off Blair's body that bespoke a fever and the dark circles around his eyes giving testament to the fact that he hadn't slept much, if at all, in the past few days and nights.
"You could try some of that godawful stuff you tried to make me drink when I had a cold," Ellison suggested as he moved into the kitchen and put the kettle on for tea.
"You're joking, right?" Blair asked in a husky voice as he followed his partner and stood on the other side of the kitchen counter. "I wouldn't drink that crap if you paid me. And before you mention it, yes, I know I told you it would help. But, I swear, I read about it in a journal and even though I hadn't tried it myself, I knew nobody had actually died from it, so I figured it was worth a try, you know?" He shot Jim a disarming grin. "I have taken, however, Echinacea and nictaby root. Echinacea only really works if you take it when the symptoms first hit, or even better, before they do, and the nictaby hasn't done a thing. So, I'm sticking with herb teas and orange juice for now. You know, it's your fault I'm sick," he finished, fixing Jim with an accusing glare that was somewhat diminished in severity by the wateriness of his eyes.
"My fault?" Jim asked in mock-indignation. "How do you figure that, Einstein?" He opened the cupboard above his head as he was speaking and surveyed the long line of tea packets. Shrugging, he selected one that had lemon in its name, figuring it had to be good for colds.
"Remember when you sneezed on me just before we went to catch that train? I told you then, germs have a life of their own," Blair said, his tone made sure by some logic known only to himself.
"Sandburg, that was weeks ago," Jim reminded him as he put teabags in two mugs and poured in hot water.
"Ah, like I said then, they have a life of their own," Blair replied. "See, you think it was too long ago to have an effect but that's how they get you. They burrow under your skin, waiting for a moment of lowered resistance then " he flicked his fingers into Jim's startled face, "Bingo! Just like that. And next thing you know you've caught the cold."
Jim leaned across the counter and placed a hand on Blair's forehead. "You've got a fever," he announced. "You're delirious. I really think you should go to the doctor."
"Nah, I'm fine. I keep telling you. It's just a "
"Cold," Jim chimed in. "Here," he pushed a mug of tea across the bench into Blair's hand. "Drink your tea. Why don't you have a shower while I order in some Chinese, then you can have an early night."
Blair began to protest. "Jim, it's just a cold "
"Yeah, I know that, Chief, but we've had a heavy couple of months and I know for a fact that business with Brackett threw both of us for a loop, especially so soon after the Lash case. I just think you need to have a few early nights, you know, eat some of that healthy shit you're always telling me is so good for me and get over the cold, okay?" Jim sipped his own tea and subtly sent his senses on a Sentinel to Guide recce. Blair's temperature was a little high, his pulse rate was slightly elevated and there was that disturbing rattle in his chest.
"Okay," Blair said as he finished his tea. "I am kinda tired. Thanks, man."
"What for?" Jim asked.
"For caring enough to boss me around," Blair replied, tossing a grin over his shoulder as he headed for the bathroom.
Jim found the takeout menu for the restaurant they always used and called in the order, grinning as he caught himself emphasising no MSG. It wasn't something he'd ever worried about before Sandburg moved in. Obviously, the kid was subliminally getting his message about healthier eating across without Jim even noticing it.
By the time the tea was made and steeping in mugs on the counter, Blair had finished showering and now sat at the table, his eyes still fever-bright and his cheeks flushed.
Jim put a mug of tea down in front of him and then sat down across the table with his own. "You really don't look good, Chief. Maybe you should take a couple of days off," he remarked.
"I'm okay. I keep telling you, it's just a cold. You didn't take time off when you had it. As I recall, you caught a train with a couple of killers on board and spent half the night hanging underneath it. Not to mention getting knocked unconscious as well," Blair observed. He sipped at his tea and winced a little as the hot liquid went down his obviously sore throat.
"That was different. That's my job. I couldn't have just told Simon I couldn't go because I had a sniffle, Sandburg."
"Well, I have a job too. Two jobs, in fact. I can't get anyone else to cover for me again. It's too close to the time I had to have off after Lash." Blair's voice broke a little and he coughed harshly, almost knocking his tea over as he spluttered. Some of the liquid spilled over the top of the cup. "Sorry," he husked, jumping up to grab a rag and clean up the spill. He tossed the dishcloth back into the sink and sat back down. "I also need to be with you. I know Simon's learning a little about your senses as we go but I really don't think he'd be able to pull you out of a zone just yet. Anyway, that's my job, too. I'm your guide. That's what Brackett called me and I guess it's as good a description as any, wouldn't you think?"
Jim nodded absently then jumped up as he heard a knock on the door. He grabbed his wallet and opened the door, taking the takeout containers and paying the boy, adding a healthy tip. Carrying them over to the counter, he found plates and began serving up their meal. He was glad to have something else to do, something that would forestall talking about Blair working with him for a while. He'd made a decision that he knew Blair wasn't going to like and he still needed to find the right words to tell him. A Sandburg with a full stomach was more likely to at least be amenable to listening to what he had to say, though Jim had doubts that Blair would be swayed by his arguments.
"So what's on for tomorrow?" Blair asked, his voice sounding a little better after the meal, though Jim had noticed he hadn't really eaten much. Instead he'd pushed the food around his plate, a time-honored method Jim remembered using himself as a kid when he didn't want to eat the vegetables Sally had served up.
"Not a lot," Jim replied. "As a matter of fact nothing you really need to be with me for. Why don't you just concentrate on catching up on stuff at school? Then when something big does happen, you'll be free and clear to give me a hand." He stood and collected up the dinner dishes, stacking them in the sink.
"I'm pretty much caught up at the moment so I might as well just come with you," Blair said.
"Oh. Well, in that case, why don't you stay here and rest up? Really get over this cold," Jim suggested as he began to rinse the dishes.
"What's going on, Jim?" Blair asked, moving up to stand next to his partner. He grabbed a dishtowel and waited for Jim to start washing the dishes.
"Nothing," Jim said in what he hoped what a casual tone. "I just told you that. That's why I said you don't need to come down to the station for a while." He concentrated on pouring the exact amount of detergent into the sink and adding hot water.
Blair's hand snaked out and grabbed Jim's arm, stilling his movements. "What's going on?" he asked.
"Just leave it, Chief, okay? You're sick and I want you to get some rest and I don't need you at the moment so just do what I said, all right?" Jim threw down the sponge he'd picked up and walked out of the kitchen. He stood staring out at the rain that was beginning to rattle the doors to the balcony.
"Jim?" Blair had moved up to stand next to him again. "Is there something wrong down at the PD? Is Simon giving you a hard time about having me there?"
"Christ, Sandburg, give it a rest, will you?" Jim turned and grabbed Blair by the shoulders, aware his fingers must be causing bruises but unable to care. "I just I just want a break from having you around all the time, okay? That honest enough for you? Let it go for a while. Stay home, do some studying Hell, think up some more goddamn tests for me to perform and get over this cold. I'll let you know when I want you to come back to riding along with me, okay?"
Blair pulled out of Jim's grasp so forcefully, he almost toppled over. His eyes burning with anger, he glared into Jim's face. "Yeah, I got it, Ellison," he spat. "What's the matter? Your cop buddies making fun of you about having your little hippie tagalong riding with you?" He put up a hand as Jim made to interrupt. "Don't bother, Jim. I can read the signs. Screw you, man! You don't want me around? Well, that's easy fixed. All you had to do was say so." With that, he spun around, stopping short for a moment and raising a shaky hand to his head. "Shit," he muttered. "Head spin."
Jim put out a hand to grab his elbow and Blair dodged away. "Just leave it, man. I can find my own way out." He ran across the room and pulled open the front door, not bothering with his keys or coat. Seconds later, as Jim stood flat-footed in shock, he could hear Blair's footsteps pounding down the stairs.
"Oh man," Jim whispered. How the hell had he screwed this up so monumentally? He'd never intended for Blair to think he didn't want him around. He just needed time to think about everything that had happened in the past few months. He'd been badly shaken by Blair almost dying at the hands of Lash. He'd wondered then if he was right to allow Blair to ride with him, and be put at risk that way. Then Lee Brackett had called Sandburg his Guide and suddenly Jim had wondered if perhaps he'd had it wrong all along. Maybe, he and Blair weren't just in this together till he got a handle on his senses. Maybe they were meant to be together for a hell of a lot longer than that and he just wasn't sure he could handle that. He knew he'd told Blair that was what he wanted the night he'd found him in the park, the night he'd asked Blair to stay on at the loft. But that was before it looked like becoming a reality. He'd never been too successful at long-term relationships in the past but if Blair really was his Guide then this was one relationship he couldn't afford to screw up. He shook his head ruefully. Looked like he'd managed to do that already.
Growling at his obtuseness under his breath, he grabbed Blair's keys and both their coats then let himself out of the apartment and set off on the trail of his runaway Guide.
Blair had run a full block and ended up at the corner, doubled over and out of breath before he realized that he'd probably just done something monumentally stupid. He was already soaked to the skin and beginning to alternately tremble with cold and sweat with the heat of fever and he had taken off without his jacket or his keys. He moved around the corner into the alleyway and slumped down onto the ground, dropping his head forward onto his knees. Maybe if he went back now and begged forgiveness, blamed everything on being delirious from the fever, Jim would let him back in. *Yeah, right, * he thought. "Wait a minute, Sandburg," he whispered to himself. "What the hell are you thinking? Jim started this, not you. You gotta hang tough here." He nodded firmly to himself and almost keeled over sideways. He pushed himself back upright and then to his feet. No way was he crawling back to the mighty Sentinel. All Blair had done, all he'd ever done ever since they met, was try to help the guy and this was the thanks he got. Guess the great Jim Ellison wasn't real happy about having a Guide. It was okay when Blair was just his tagalong but now that it looked like there was more to it than that, Ellison wanted to call it quits. Fine, Blair could do quits. He heard footsteps heading down the street toward him and peeked around the corner. Damn, it was Jim. Blair ducked back into his hiding place then poked his head out to see if he'd seen what he thought he had. "Oh man," he muttered, stifling a cough.
Jim was striding down the sidewalk, as drenched through as Blair was. Under his arm he carried his jacket, obviously having forgotten to actually put it on when he'd taken off after Blair. But what really made Blair feel like a shit was the fact that under his other arm he was carrying Blair's jacket and Blair could make out his own keyring dangling from the fingers of Jim's left hand. Shaking his head, then wishing he hadn't as he bounced off the dank alley wall, he took a step out around the corner and waited for Jim to reach him.
*Christ, * Ellison thought as he surveyed his partner from head to toe. *He looks like a drowned rat. * "Here," he held out Blair's jacket, giving his friend a hand at getting it on. "You forgot to take a coat."
Blair nodded and coughed and Jim winced at the harsh sound of it. "Thanks," Blair said in a subdued voice.
"So," Jim said, "Going anywhere in particular? I could come with you. I haven't got any plans now." He maneuvered them both back into the relative shelter of the alley and waited.
"You should put yours on too," Blair said, motioning to Jim's own jacket still clutched in his right hand.
"Oh, yeah." Jim shrugged it on and waited.
"What do you mean 'now'?" Blair asked, as he dug around in his pocket for a tissue. He found one and blew his nose loudly.
"Well, I did have a sick guide to take care of, but he took off on me, so I figured if you want some company "
"Why'd he take off, do you know?" Blair asked, his eyes fixed determinedly on the ground.
"I think I scared him off," Jim began, then shook his head. "No, that's not it. *I* was scared and I let him think I was gonna cut him loose." He put out a hand and lifted Blair's chin gently. "I'm sorry, Chief. Can we at least go home and talk about this?"
Blair looked into the Sentinel's eyes, his gaze steady. Finally, he huffed a sigh and nodded. "I don't really have much else to do," he said. He grinned and Jim smiled back.
"Let's go," Jim said, ushering Blair ahead of him back toward home and warmth.
By the time they reached the lobby, Blair was shivering in earnest and Jim was feeling chilled to the bone as well. He reached around Blair and pushed the button for the elevator, feeling the warmth of fever rising from his partner's body as he did so.
Blair moved stiffly into the elevator when it came, propping himself up against the wall.
"How you doing, Chief?' Jim asked, standing close. Blair looked about to collapse in a heap and Jim planned not to let that happen.
Blair shrugged then grabbed flat handed for the wall as his knees gave way. Jim's arm was around his waist in a flash, hauling him up and keeping him that way till the elevator bumped to a halt on their floor.
Jim kept his arm around Blair's waist as they made their wobbly way to the loft, Jim pulling the keys from Sandburg's shaking hands which were obviously not up to the task of unlocking the door.
Once inside, Blair stood unmoving as if now that they'd made it this far, he was unable to process what he was supposed to do next.
Jim removed his own jacket and hung it up then set to work divesting his guide of his. As Jim moved round to stand in front of him to begin undoing his shirt buttons, Blair looked up. "Sorry," he mumbled, "Can't think straight." He coughed then doubled over and clutched at his ribs as the coughing set off a spasm that he seemed unable to quell.
"Whoa, easy, Chief!" Jim held him up till the spasm passed then moved them both over to the bathroom. "First things first. Let's get both of us dried off and get you warmed up and into some dry clothes. Then, you're going to take some medication and drink something. When you're feeling better, we're gonna have that talk. But not until you can talk back to me without choking yourself to death. Okay?"
Blair gave a ghost of the grin Jim was accustomed to. "Pretty bossy for a Sentinel with a new Guide, aren't you?" he asked, wincing as his throat protested speaking.
"You said you liked it when I bossed you," Jim rejoined, arching a lascivious eyebrow.
"Oh man, you are so not even close to being my type, Jim." Shaking his head, Blair allowed himself to be helped into the bathroom and submitted himself to his Sentinel's care taking.
Blair shuffled from the bathroom, freshly dressed in warm sweats with a towel covering his still damp curls. Jim shepherded him over to the couch and made him sit down. Then he moved behind the couch, removed the towel and began drying Blair's hair.
"Um, you don't have to do this, you know, Jim. I've been drying my own hair since I was a kid," Blair remarked around a yawn. Still, he had to admit that it felt good and he didn't protest anymore when Jim ignored him and kept going. By the time his hair was dried to Sentinel-satisfaction, Blair was a boneless mass, his body moving back and forth, side to side with the movements of Jim's hands.
Jim took the towel to the bathroom and tossed it into the hamper, returning with Blair's comb. "You up to untangling that mat on your head or do you want me to do it for you?" he asked.
Blair gave a minute's thought to letting Jim do it but then shook himself awake and grabbed the comb. "I can manage," he replied, setting to with as much energy as he could muster. His intermittent pauses for sneezing, sniffling and coughing made the task take longer than normal and eventually Blair gave up and decided he'd just condition it twice in the morning instead. Leaning back against the cushions, he watched Jim pottering about in the kitchen, making tea.
"Are you hungry?" Jim asked.
Blair shook his head. "We just ate not long ago, remember?"
"Right," Jim looked embarrassed. "I forgot." He picked up the mugs of tea and placed them on the table in front of the couch. Reaching into the pocket of his sweats he pulled out a bottle of Tylenol and shook two tablets from it. Handing them to Blair, he returned to the kitchen for a glass of water and brought it back. Then he sat on the coffee table and watched while Blair swallowed the pills.
"Thanks," Blair said, setting the glass down and picking up the tea. It was hot and he could smell the lemon and honey. "Smells good," he commented, unsure of how to begin the conversation Jim had promised they'd be having. He cleared his throat several times. Finally when Jim still hadn't said anything, he decided to get the ball rolling himself. "What happened tonight, Jim?"
Jim stood up and paced to the end of the couch then came back and sat down again. he leaned forward, his arms resting along his thighs, hands clasped loosely together. "I was going to tell you not to ride with me anymore," he said hesitantly.
Blair nodded. "Figured that out," he said, sipping the tea and relishing the hot liquid sliding down his raw throat. "Why? Have I been letting you down? I thought you said I did everything right with Lash "
"You did, Blair. It had nothing to do with you doing anything wrong," Jim said firmly. He scrubbed a hand through his hair and cleared his throat. "Look, let me try to explain, all right? Then you can yell or whatever. Just don't do the running out thing again, okay? At least till you're over this cold and the weather's better." He smiled and Blair was reminded of why he would do anything for this man.
"Don't think I'll be yelling for a while, man," Blair quipped, his voice still sounding rusty, but smiling back. "Not going to run out on you either. I was just pissed, you know? Sorry."
"Hey." Jim reached out and patted Blair's knee gently. "No more apologies from either of us, okay? Let's just try to work it out."
"Okay." Blair sat back, mug in hand and prepared himself to listen, really listen this time to what had his Sentinel scared.
"I'd accepted that I needed you to help me make this Sentinel stuff work. I wanted you to stay as my friend and as my partner for as long as you wanted to," Jim began. He looked across at Blair, who nodded but didn't say anything so Jim continued. "I've always been lousy at relationships, friendships. I tend to push people away if they become too important to me, hoping, I suppose, that way it won't hurt as much because I'm the one who's pushed them away. They haven't left me."
"Like your mom and Carolyn did," Blair whispered.
Jim nodded. "Though to be fair, I did my fair share of pushing Carolyn away too."
"But a lot of that was because of the stuff that had happened in Peru, wasn't it?" Blair asked.
"Probably. Still didn't make it right, the way I shut her out. Anyway, when you and I first partnered up, I thought it was different, you know? I mean, you were getting as much out of this as I was and eventually, somewhere down the line, I'd have a handle on the senses and you'd have your thesis written and we'd just sort of naturally go our separate ways " He put up a hand as Blair began to interrupt. "Wait a minute, Chief. I thought we'd still be buddies, you know, just that I wouldn't actually need you like I do now. Then all this stuff happened with Lash. And on the train, when the guard said there'd been gunfire Jesus! Then when Brackett took both of us and threatened you. You know all I could think of was that you shouldn't be risking your life like this. I'm trained for this sort of crap. You're not. I also had to admit that I don't want anything like that to happen to you-"
"Hey, me neither, Jim," Blair blurted out.
Jim nodded. "So, I thought maybe it would only be fair for me to tell you we could still work on the Sentinel stuff but we'd do it out of work hours-"
"Jim, I told you. You need me as your back up. A Sentinel always had someone to watch his back-" Blair jumped in, ignoring Jim's upheld hand this time.
"I know," Jim said quickly. "I get that but I still thought we could do it that way. If we did enough off-duty, then I could handle being on the job without you."
"Brackett called me your guide," Blair said softly.
"Yeah. He was right. I remember Incacha telling me something about that. That he was my guide in Peru but I would find my true guide when I went home."
"You never told me that."
Jim shrugged. "I only remembered it tonight when I was coming to find you. I told you I can't remember a lot of my time in Peru. Sometimes a word or something triggers a memory but half the time the memories don't really make much sense."
"Did it bother you? That Brackett said I was your guide?" Blair asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer. He sipped at his now cold tea, grimacing at the taste.
Jim stood up and reached for the cup. "I can make some more," he offered.
"Not yet, Jim. I'm feeling better, really. Sit down, please. I really want to sort this out tonight."
Jim studied his friend. Blair did look better. He gingerly extended his sense of touch, relieved to find his guide's temperature was down almost to normal. His voice was still slightly husky but sounded better for the tea and he hadn't coughed or sneezed for at least ten minutes. "Okay." He sat down again, cradling Blair's cup absently in his hands.
"I want you to be safe, Chief. I feel responsible for you. Let's face it, you'd never have been in any danger from the Lashes or the Bracketts of this world if you hadn't been tagging after me, helping me out. But I also know I can't do this without you. Hell, I tried to do this alone before I met you and I nearly went nuts. So, I'd be lying if I said I think we could do this Sentinel stuff purely on our downtime. Realistically, I know we can't. I need you with me on the job, to keep me focused, to pull me back if I push too hard and to keep teaching me how to get a handle on it all." Jim glanced down quickly then back up, spearing Blair with a gaze of pure honesty. "I have to admit I also hoped that we could get a handle on it real quick and I could manage on my own." He patted Blair's knee. "Hey, I figured we'd stay buddies, you know. I'd call you up if anything happened I couldn't handle but you'd be out of the line of fire. Then Brackett comes along and says you're my guide and today I remembered what Incacha said about that. I know that it means we're both in this for the long haul, and I gotta tell you, Chief, long relationships aren't my strong suit."
"So you thought you could piss me off enough to get me to leave of my own volition, then you wouldn't have to feel bad about it?" Blair asked.
"Maybe. I don't know, Chief," Jim said slowly, his voice more unsure than Blair had ever heard it. "Can't you see? I feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place here? I need you to be safe but I also need you with me and this stuff about you being my guide makes me feel as if maybe neither you nor I have much say in it."
"What? Like maybe it's pre-ordained or something?" Blair asked.
Jim sighed. He could see the spark Blair always got when he thought he'd discovered something new about the Sentinel thing lighting his partner's eyes. "Yeah, I guess. So, what do we do about it?" he asked.
"Nothing," Blair replied. "We go on the way we have been. I mean if it's pre-ordained that I'm supposed to be your guide then we're doing exactly what we're supposed to do. If it's not then we're still working on your control of your senses and you've still got me for a back up. Right?" He glared at Jim when the Sentinel didn't respond straightaway. Reaching out, he grasped Jim's shoulder firmly. "Right?" he asked again.
"I guess. I just don't want you to get hurt " Jim began.
"Yeah, well, that's what you're there for, big guy. You saved me from Lash and hell, you saved the whole city from Brackett. I trust you and believe me, there is nowhere I'd rather be than at your back."
Jim nodded. "Thanks," he said gruffly. "So, we good here?"
Blair grinned at him. "We're good," he said. Then he sneezed, big time. "Oh man," he snuffled, hunting his pockets in vain for a tissue.
Jim spun around and grabbed a handful of tissues from the box on the counter and turned back, holding them out to Blair. "Now you're going to go to bed and if you still have that cold in the morning, you're taking the day off. Aah!" he said, grabbing Blair's arm as the young man tried to interject. "Blessed Protector says so. You got that?" He gave Blair's arm a little shake as he pulled him upright, then turned his friend around and aimed him at his bedroom.
"Got it," Blair agreed, allowing himself to be pushed along. He stopped at the doorway to his room and turned around, surprising the Sentinel with a quick hug. "Jim, I'm proud to be your guide, you know. Pre-ordained or not."
Jim hugged him back then released him and held his friend, his *guide* away from him, looking deeply into his eyes. "No prouder than I am to have you, Chief," he said. Then he spun Blair back around and whacked him across the backside. "Bed!" he ordered.
Blair laughed softly and went.