NEEDING TO FORGET

By

Annie

EMAIL: Annie

 

Jim Ellison pushed open the door of room 6 on the fourth floor of the Seattle General Hospital and froze as he looked at the young man in the bed.

The kid seemed to be terrified, his eyes wide, the pupils dilated. His face was pale beneath the white bandage that covered half his forehead and Jim's Sentinel hearing could pick up the galloping beats of a heart fueled by fear. There was a dark bruise on his cheek and Jim frowned as he picked out the mark of a knuckle amongst the discoloration. His lips were split and sore-looking, dried blood embedded in the tiny cracks. The hands that were clamped around the bedrails were bruised, the knuckles scabbed over and Sentinel sight could see a boot heel mark on the back of the young man's right hand.

"Hey," Jim said quietly. "Sorry if I startled you. My name's Jim Ellison. Is it okay if I come in and talk to you for a while?"

The young man pulled his white-knuckled fingers free of the bed railings and nodded jerkily. "You're a cop," he stated. "You want to talk to me about the accident."

Jim nodded as he limped into the room, his cane held in his right hand and sat down in the chair next to the bed. He clasped his hands tightly in his lap, lacing the fingers together. "Yeah, I'm a detective from Cascade."

"What's wrong with your leg?" Sandburg asked, indicating the cane that Jim had leaned up against the bedside table.

For a moment, Jim flirted with telling the truth but then decided to borrow one of Blair's tricks and obfuscate. "Old war wound," he replied with a quick smile. "It acts up now and then."

Blair gazed at him, a suspicious look in his eyes. "I thought cops had to be fit," he said.

Jim shrugged. "I'm fit enough. Anyway, like I was saying I'm a cop and I'm from Cascade, Washington. You know where that is?" He got a quick negative shake of the head to that question and went on. "I just told you my name. How about you tell me yours, Chief?"

The curly head straightened from its intent gaze on the blankets at that and the large blue eyes stared into Ellison's intently. "My name's Blair Sandburg, so they tell me," he replied, nodding toward the door of the room. "I don't know if that's who I am or not. I have amnesia. I'm sure the doctor told you that."

Jim smiled at the challenge in the set jaw. "Yeah, they told me that. Thought I'd just test you out a little. You want to tell me if you remember anything at all about the accident or where you're from?"

Blair slumped back onto the pillows, the fingers of one hand wrapped around the railings once more. He sighed impatiently then rolled his head so he was looking at the detective again. "That's the problem with amnesia," he said slowly, as if trying to explain quantum physics to a particularly slow two-year-old. "You don't remember stuff. It's the nature of the beast."

Jim swallowed hard at the sadness in his friend's eyes. "Okay," he said, once he could speak without choking on his emotions. "How about I tell you what *I* know."

"Sure," the young man replied almost casually. "I already know about the accident though. The doctor told me."

"That's good. I can tell you about yourself, if you think you're up to listening to me for a while," Jim said gently.

"You know me? Or - or - am I a con or something?" Blair's voice stuttered out and Jim shook his head quickly.

"No, you're not a con. You work with me."

"I'm a cop?" Blair's fingers wandered up to touch the ends of his shoulder-length curls and he cast a skeptical look at Ellison.

"No. But you've worked with me at the PD as a civilian observer for around four years," Jim explained. "Look, why don't I start at the beginning? Tell you how we met and how we ended up working together?"

Blair shrugged. "Well, they won't let me leave yet so I guess I'm not going anywhere for a while."

He lay back against the pillows and looked expectantly at the detective.

"It's kind of a long story, Chief," Jim said.

"I'm not getting any younger, Detective," Blair replied with a just-get-it-over-with look in his eyes.

"Um, you usually call me Jim," Ellison said with a quick grin.

"And you call me Chief? What is that? Some kind of nickname because I've got long hair?" Blair asked inquisitively.

"I've got a whole slew of nicknames for you. That's just one of them and it's got nothing to do with your hair." Jim settled back in the chair and made himself comfortable. "Shall I start?"

Blair nodded, his eyes definitely curious now. "Go ahead. Tell me all about Blair Sandburg."

"Okay." Jim took a breath and ran through his opening lines in his head. He'd already decided not to tell Blair about the Sentinel stuff right off. It was too much at the heart of why Blair was lying in a hospital bed miles from home, unable to even remember his own name. "Keep it simple," the psychiatrist in charge of Blair's case had told him and if that's what it took to break through Blair's mental barriers then that's what Jim would do. He'd hurt Blair enough in the past few days. He was determined not to hurt him again.

"Detect - Jim?" Sandburg said hesitantly. "You okay?"

Jim nodded quickly. "Yeah, fine, Chief, just thinking. Sorry. Okay, you're a grad student at Rainier University in Cascade and you've been working on your PhD in anthropology." He cast a quick look at Blair to see if there was any sign of recognition on the young man's face but Blair simply shrugged in acceptance of his words and waited for him to continue. "Um, your thesis is about the role of closed societies in modern America," Jim went on, wishing fervently that he had Blair's gift of the gab. "You were using the police force as a model."

"Makes sense I'd be riding along with a cop then, I guess," Blair commented, a small smile crossing his face for the first time. "So what do I do when I'm working with you? Investigate crimes? What department do you work with?"

"Major Crime," Jim replied, finding himself unconsciously looking once more for that small glimmer of recognition he wanted to find in Sandburg's eyes. When Blair just looked back at him blankly, he continued.

"We first worked on a case involving a serial bomber who called herself 'The Switchman'."

Blair's eyebrows rose. "Herself?"

"Yeah. Ah, she thought I'd been responsible for getting her dad killed in Peru and she sorta targeted me."

"Peru?" Blair asked. He wrinkled his forehead.

"You remembering something?" Jim asked, leaning forward in his chair.

"Maybe. I don't know." Blair sighed defeatedly. "I get these half-formed images, you know. But it's like trying to grab smoke, man. I reach out to pull them back and they're gone. Tell me more."

"The first day we worked together, I made you climb a tree to get some evidence from a bird's nest."

Blair shook his head. "No way, man. I'm scared of heights."

Jim leaned forward again, his hand gripping the bedrail. "How do you know that?"

Blair closed his eyes for a moment then opened them and looked at Jim, frustration evident in the blue depths. "I don't know how I know. I just do." He banged his hand impatiently on the mattress and winced with the pain of it. "I guess it's instinctive memory or something. The psychiatrist talked to me about that. I mean, how did I know to speak English when I came to? How do I know what a bathroom is or a spoon or a fork or a fucking pen but I don't remember anything about who the hell I am?" He pushed himself up from the pillows with the last words, thumping his fist over and over into the mattress.

"Hey, hey, take it easy, Chief." Jim stood and let down the bedrail and sat on the edge of the bed. Slowly, he reached out and placed one hand over Blair's angry fist, gentling it within his grasp. He pushed Blair's hair back from where it had fallen over his face, tucking the loose strands behind his ear. "We'll get there, buddy," he said calmly, as if there was all the time in the world to find the answers.

Blair looked up at him, his eyelashes damp.

Jim patted the hand held under his own reassuringly. "We'll get there," he repeated.

Then he pushed Blair back till he was resting against the pillows again. "There's something else you did that day," he said. "You saved my life. That was just the first time you did."

Blair's eyes widened at that. "Yeah?"

Jim moved his hand in small soothing movements over Blair's, hearing the young man's heart rate settling down again into a slow restful rhythm.

Blair yawned, his eyelids drooping to half-mast. "A garbage truck," he murmured.

Jim swallowed hard and patted Blair's hand as he watched him fall asleep. "Yeah," he whispered. "We'll get there, partner."

~oOo~

By the evening of the second day, Jim was no longer feeling as confident as he had been.

Blair had remembered tiny fragments of his life before ending up in the hospital, but they seemed to come to him mostly when he was half-asleep and when he woke up, the memories were piecemeal with no real cohesiveness to them.

Jim sat with him again till he fell asleep and then headed back to the motel room he was staying in, not far from the hospital. There, he showered, and picked at his room-service dinner then called Simon Banks, updating the Captain on Blair's condition.

Banks sounded concerned for Jim as much as for Blair and wanted to come to Seattle to give Jim some support. But Banks was still recovering from his bullet wound, had only been out of the hospital a couple of days and finally Jim managed to dissuade him by promising to call every night and report on how Blair was doing.

They talked for a while about what was happening in Cascade, Jim relieved to learn that Connor was on the mend too.

Then Jim hung up the phone and fell back on the bed, convinced he was too wired to sleep and woke up, surprised by the alarm six hours later.

He hurriedly dressed then grabbed a coffee and some bagels to go from a small coffee shop on the way to the hospital. He bought cinnamon for himself and onion for Blair, hoping the familiar taste might jolt something loose.

He rode the elevator up to the floor where Blair's room was located, smiling in greeting at a nurse sitting at the desk.

She stood up and called him over. "Detective, you might need to wait a few minutes before going in to see Blair. Dr Fraiser's with him and apparently Blair's a little upset and-"

"What happened?" Jim interrupted. Turning away from her, he focused his hearing toward Blair's room. The sounds he picked up had him hobbling down the corridor and through the closed doors as fast as he could go.

Blair was sitting on the edge of the bed, one hand cupped in the other, blood dripping onto the blanket. His head was raised and his jaw was set in that stubborn expression Jim knew so well.

"I'm leaving," he said as Jim entered.

"What the hell is going on?" Jim asked as he walked towards the bed.

Blair put his uninjured hand out as if to hold him at bay. "Stay away from me," he almost shouted. "There's nothing wrong with me. I'm leaving. If there's nothing wrong with me, I don't need to be in the hospital."

Jim kept moving toward him, not stopping till his legs hit the side of the bed. Reaching out, he took Blair's injured hand in his and looked down, seeing the shattered remains of a glass on the floor at his feet. "Tell me what's going on, Chief," he said gently.

He turned and grabbed a washcloth from the rail on the side of the bedside table and wrapped Blair's hand firmly, pressing down to staunch the bleeding.

"I was just explaining to Mr. Sandburg that his amnesia, while quite real, wasn't caused by his physical injuries but is probably a result of PTSD," the tall, dark haired doctor said calmly. "Mr. Sandburg was holding a glass in his hand at the time and in his distress, he crushed the glass and cut himself-"

"I'm not fucking crazy!" Blair yelled forcibly.

"Of course not," Dr Fraiser said reassuringly. "If you'd just let us give you a mild sedative to help calm you-"

Blair jerked away from Jim's grasp at the words and pushed himself off the bed. Keeping a wary eye on the doctor and nurses, he back-pedaled until he was standing with his back pressed up against the wall. Obviously realizing he could go no further, he shook his head agitatedly. "No, no way, man. You drug me and I wake up chained inside a straitjacket in a padded room!"

"Blair, come on, knock it off," Jim said forcibly. "That's not gonna happen. Look, come back and sit on the bed and let someone take a look at your hand-"

"You can't force me to stay here," Blair replied. "I can sign myself out AMA."

"Yeah, you can," Jim agreed. "But let's get that hand taken care of first and then if you still want to leave, I'll get you out, okay?"

Blair shot a suspicious glance at him. "You sure?"

Jim nodded, hoping his face conveyed the sincerity he was feeling. "I'm positive, Blair. I'll sign you out and I'll take you home, if that's what you want."

Blair stared at him for a long moment then shuffled back over to the bed and sat down. "Okay," he said. "I trust you."

That simple statement almost brought Ellison undone and he could feel tears burning at his eyes as he turned to the doctor. "Can we get his hand cleaned and dressed? Then bring me whatever papers you need me to sign."

"Detective Ellison, I really don't think you understand-"

"I understand enough," Jim replied quietly, one hand rubbing gently at Blair's nape. "He wants out. That's enough for me. I can keep an eye on him. There's no medical reason he needs to be here, is there?"

The doctor motioned Jim over to the door as the nurses approached Blair and began to examine his wound.

"Detective, amnesia of this kind occurs because someone has had a huge emotional shock. In Blair's case, it was exacerbated by the physical trauma he suffered. His concussion has cleared up and he's mostly just suffering from deep bruising. There were no fractured ribs or bones. But you need to understand that when he remembers what happened to put him into this state, there's a good chance he'll fall apart completely. His mind has buried those memories for a reason, Detective."

"Then, I'll just have to make sure I'm there to pick up the pieces, won't I?" Jim replied surely. "Look, Doc, I appreciate what you're saying but Blair and I have been through a lot together over the past few years. I know you said I should take things slowly and I will, if he'll let me. But I honestly believe that the only way Blair's going to recover his memory is if I start being honest with him and show him he can trust me. It's something I owe him and something I've given him far too little of."

A nurse pushed between them, murmuring about getting a dressing tray and Jim stepped back, looking over at Blair.

His partner was reclining against the pillows again, his eyes focused expectantly on Jim.

Jim smiled and gave him a thumbs-up. "It'll be fine, Chief. Half an hour tops and we'll be on our way."

Blair nodded and smiled back as he closed his eyes wearily.

~oOo~

Jim looked over from the driver's seat of his truck as Blair stirred against the window and opened his eyes slowly.

The young man yawned as he looked through the glass at their surroundings. "This doesn't look like Cascade," he said, turning to face Jim.

Jim's eyes must have given away his sudden hope, for Blair quickly shook his head. "No, I don't actually remember what Cascade looks like but I'm pretty sure this is a camping area, not a city."

Jim tried not to telegraph his disappointment as obviously as he had his hope. "That's because it is a camping spot, Einstein," he replied with a grin.

"First Chief, now Einstein. Just how many nicknames do you have for me anyway?" Blair asked with an answering smile. "Do you ever call me Blair?"

"Only when I'm worried about you," Jim said softly. "Which is too damned often for my liking. You, me and Simon came here to do some fishing a couple of years ago."

"Simon, that's your captain, right? Funny how I can remember stuff you told me in the past few days but not stuff that happened before that," Blair said.

Jim reached out and tousled the young man's hair gently. "You will," he said assuredly.

"So," Blair went on. "Did we actually catch any fish?"

"You did," Jim replied. "As a matter of fact," he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his wallet, opening it to show the photo he kept there.

Blair took the wallet from his hand and removed the photo so he could see it better. He looked at himself standing next to Jim. They both wore huge grins and Blair had a respectable sized fish held in a net.

"Strictly catch and release," he murmured. He looked up at Jim, his eyes wide. "You made me let it go."

Jim swallowed down the lump in his throat as he took the photo from Blair's nerveless fingers and replaced it. He nodded, unable to speak right then. He put the wallet in his pocket then turned away and swiped at his suddenly burning eyes. He turned back to his partner and patted him on the knee. "How about we set up camp?" he suggested, finally finding his voice. "Well, I'll set it up. You can play overseer."

Blair nodded. "Sounds good."

~oOo~

Blair was visibly flagging by the time Jim had the tent he'd hired set up. He grabbed the sleeping bags he always kept in the bed of the truck and unrolled them inside the tent then pulled out the coolers that he'd filled with food and drinks from the store after leaving the hospital.

There was a gas-operated barbecue in the middle of the campsite and Jim decided steaks would be the dinner of choice for tonight. It was late afternoon now, too late to go fishing, and anyway Blair looked as if he'd fall over at the first strong breeze. He walked over to where Blair sat on a rock next to the tent, his eyes focused on the ground at his feet and hunkered down in front of him.

"Why don't you take a nap while I organize dinner?" he suggested.

Blair raised weary eyes to his and nodded agreement, accepting Jim's helping hand to pull him to his feet.

He stumbled into the tent with Jim following close behind and flopped down with a sigh onto the sleeping bag, curling onto his side and closing his eyes. "No poachers this time," he murmured as he drifted off to sleep.

Jim shook his head then bent and covered his friend's shoulders with the top of the sleeping bag. "Not this time, buddy. Just you and me."

An hour or so later, Jim was firing up the grill when Blair wandered out of the tent. He still looked tired but Jim was pleased to see some color in his face.

"Hey, you look a lot better," Jim called out. "Um, I'm cooking steak and potatoes but I just remembered your split lips. You gonna be able to eat this?"

Blair looked over at him and smiled then walked across and sniffed appreciatively at the aroma of the cooking meat. " Oh yeah, I'll manage. Man, that smells good. I was so sick of hospital food."

Jim chuckled as he flipped the steaks and potatoes expertly. "Yeah, you've never been a big fan of anything to do with hospitals. After I got you away from Lash, it was as much as Simon and I could do to get you to go to the hospital just to get checked out. Simon finally threatened to bring the doctor to you if you wouldn't go."

Blair gasped and Jim looked up, turning down the heat on the grill as he did so. Blair's face had paled a little.

"You okay, buddy?" Jim asked. "You remembering something about that?"

"I'm not sure. It's almost like a dream or a nightmare," Blair replied, tucking a strand of loose hair behind his ear with slightly shaky fingers. "Candles, and things hanging from the ceiling. It was dark except for the candles. I couldn't move."

"You were drugged with Chloral Hydrate," Jim said grimly. He reached out and grasped Blair's shoulder, trying to instil comfort and security. "I know it's not the most pleasant memory to recall but it is a good sign that you have."

Blair nodded. "I know. And you found me in time, right? So there's no reason for me to be frightened by it anyway. I mean I'm here now, so you obviously found me in time. You can tell me about it over dinner," he said, indicating the now smoking grill.

"Shit!" Jim turned the heat down more and flipped the meat and potatoes again. "I think these are done," he said with a smile. "Wanna grab the plates for me?"

Blair turned away and picked up the plates from the rock Jim had left them sitting on. He held them as Jim served up their meal. "I am starving," he said.

"Let's eat, Chief," Jim said, sitting down next to Blair on the neighboring rock.

Jim wasn't sure how to tell Blair about the Lash case without introducing his heightened senses into the story. After all, they'd played a major part in helping him to find Blair in time. He smiled a little ruefully at that now, remembering how many times he'd just wanted them gone.

"So, Jim," Blair said around a mouthful of food. "Fill me in on this Lash thing."

Jim swallowed his own food hastily and almost choked. He grabbed for his bottle of water and swigged at it. "You mind if we finish eating first, buddy?" he asked. "It's a long story."

"Sure, that's okay," Blair replied equably.

He resumed eating but Jim didn't miss the furtive glances Blair threw his way from time to time.

By the time they finished eating and Jim had collected their dishes and washed them, using water he'd collected from the river and heated on the grill, Blair was almost vibrating with impatience.

Finally, Jim decided that making him wait was doing more harm than good and he dried his hands and settled himself back on the rock next to Blair.

"Look, Chief, I think it's probably best if I go back to the beginning and explain exactly how we met and why. see if that rings any bells and then we can go from there. But, I don't want you to push too hard. You used to get me to do this relaxation thing when I needed to remember something so I'm going to do that for you." Jim looked into Blair's eyes. "Okay?" he asked. He waited till Blair nodded his agreement then went on. "All right, I want you to close your eyes and take in a deep breath, then let the breath back out through your mouth slowly, and imagine any tension you feel going with it."

Blair followed the instructions and Jim was pleased to see the young man's body relaxing, as his hearing noted the slower beat of his heart.

"Good, that's good, Chief," he said, keeping his tone calm and unpressured. "Just keep breathing like that, slow and easy while I talk to you. I don't want you to reach for anything. Just let your mind bring it to you. If you remember something or want to ask a question, just lift your hand up and I'll stop speaking."

"Feel like I'm in school, asking to go to the bathroom," Blair said, an easy smile quirking his lips.

Jim laughed. "Sorry, Junior, but if you tell me I remind you of your first grade teacher that you had a crush on, I'll dunk you in that nice cold river over there."

"Uh-uh." Blair shook his head. "Mrs. Martin looked nothing like you, man. For one thing she actually had a full head of hair."

Jim thwapped him on the head gently. "Back to work, Sandburg. Close your eyes and breathe in and out like I told you. I'm gonna tell you a story."

Blair nodded and Jim began.

"I was having problems with my senses. Everything seemed too much or sometimes they would flicker in and out. It had been happening for a few days while I was working a case involving a serial bomber called The Switchman. I finally badgered Simon into giving me some time off to see some doctors. I went to the hospital and they ran some tests and that's where we met for the first time."

Blair raised his hand and Jim stopped.

"I'm not a medical doctor?" he asked.

"No," Jim replied, a smile lighting his face. "Someone you knew had faxed my records over to you because my symptoms matched the study you were doing-"

"Amy," Blair murmured.

"Amy," Jim affirmed. "Anyway, she sent you my records and you came to the hospital and managed to hijack my doctor's coat, complete with his nametag, and got into my room. You told me I didn't need tests, I needed information. I blew you off, picked up on the fact that you didn't now how to pronounce the name on the tag but you had an explanation for that-"

"Gaelic," Blair said, nodding, his eyes still closed.

"Yeah." Jim leaned across and patted Blair's knee encouragingly. "It's coming back, Chief. Stay with me. You gave me your card and the next day I went out to see you at your office at the University."

Blair's eyes opened wide and Jim stopped, almost afraid to breathe in case he broke Blair's concentration.

"You're a Sentinel," Blair said, excitedly.

Jim nodded, hope desperately rising to fill his heart. "Did you… Do you remember any more?"

"I remember being interested in Sentinels from when I was a kid. I think I remember you coming to see me. Or parts of it anyway. You pushed me against the wall." His voice was steady.

"Yeah, I did. You called me a genetic throwback to a pre-civilized breed of man-"

"Wow! Nice manners," Blair commented dryly.

"Yours or mine?"

"Both," they chorused together and laughed.

"You should probably get some rest, Chief. You've had a pretty long day. Unless you think you can recall more…" Jim's voice trailed off as he fought not to allow himself to push his guide.

Blair shook his head. "Not really. I mean, I do recall more stuff but it's jumbled. Images and words. I don't know if it's right or in order or what." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I think you're right. I am tired. Maybe I'll dream some memories." He quirked a crooked grin at the Sentinel.

"Hopefully if you do, you'll remember them in the morning. Go to bed, buddy. I'll straighten up out here before I hit the sack myself."

Blair stood and headed for the tent. "Night, Jim. Thanks for bringing me here and trying to help."

"No problem, buddy. You'd do the same for me."

Blair turned at the entrance to the tent. "I would?" he asked.

"Yeah, you would, Blair. You've been there for me more times than I can count. Sleep well."

Jim sat for a long while after Blair had gone to bed, staring into the deep waters of the river. He cast his mind back over the past four years, each memory bittersweet.

Blair walking into the hospital room where Jim had been waiting on the results of his tests. Jim smiled at that memory. Blair had looked like a kid playing dress-ups, the white coat too large and his sneakers trailing the laces.

Jim had been more annoyed than amused at the time. His nerves had already been riding a knife-edge over the Sarris case and the lack of control he seemed to have over his senses.

The next day, more out of desperation than anything else, he'd gone to the university and met Blair again. At first, Jim had been dismissive of Sandburg's theories about what was wrong with him. However, when he'd left Blair's office and zoned on, of all things, a red frisbee in flight and then been saved from being crushed by a garbage truck, he'd begun to look at Blair in a whole new light.

Sure, there'd been times when the kid had gotten under his skin. The playing of loud tribal drums in an attempt to cure his cold, and the plates of food Jim had found under the couch, left till they looked like some weird form of experiment in penicillin production, came to mind when he thought about that. Blair had, though, also proven his mettle as a friend and as his guide and Jim cringed at how many times he, himself, had failed at being Blair Sandburg's best friend.

The worst, he'd thought had been the debacle with the rogue Sentinel, Alex Barnes, when Jim had kicked Blair out of his home and left him vulnerable to being almost killed - no, he amended, to being killed. There was no doubt at all that Blair was dead when they'd pulled his cold, still body from the waters of Rainier Fountain. If it hadn't been for Incacha and the merge…

Jim turned and looked in the direction of the tent, shivering in the cool night air. He'd promised himself when they'd come back from Mexico and Blair had forgiven him and moved back into the loft that he'd never take their friendship for granted again. But he had, only months later. He'd once again accused the best friend he'd ever had, the one man he could trust totally with his life, of betraying his trust.

Bile rose to touch the back of his throat with its acidic tang as he remembered the words he'd hurled at Blair in anger when he'd found out Blair's diss had been sent to a publisher.

And then seeing the press conference on television - Blair branding himself a fraud so Jim could retain his life, his anonymity.

He and Simon had thought they could make it all go away by tossing Blair that badge. And Blair had seemed happy about it at first. But then, as the time drew closer for him to go to the Academy, each day a little more of what made Blair Sandburg who he was seemed to dissipate, until, by the last day Jim saw him, he was barely communicating, not eating, not sleeping.

Jim rose to his feet and checked that the barbecue was extinguished then made his way quietly into the tent.

Blair was asleep on his back, his hair splayed across the pillow. He looked better than he had in the hospital, the bandage on his head was gone, the only reminder of his head injury now, the five sutures spidering through the gash in his forehead. He was moving less stiffly too, as the bruising that he'd suffered in the accident decreased.

Jim walked over and knelt beside his friend, extending one hand to brush gently across the younger man's forehead.

Blair mumbled under his breath and turned onto his side, facing Jim.

"Go to sleep, Chief. You're going to be just fine," Jim whispered. Then he went to his own sleeping bag and undressed quickly before crawling tiredly inside. He allowed himself to center his senses on Blair and after focusing on his heartbeat, was asleep in minutes.

~oOo~

Blair grinned cheerfully at Jim as he began to wade into the cold water of the river.

"Try not to get your hand wet, Chief," Jim called across the burbling of the water.

"It's wrapped in plastic," Blair reminded him, waggling it aloft to prove his point.

"Yeah, well, it can still get we- Shit!" Jim lunged for his partner as he saw Blair misstep on a rock and begin to do a slow cartwheel towards the water.

Blair's arms windmilled frantically as he tried to regain his balance and Jim reached frantically and fruitlessly to grab a wrist, a hand, any part of Blair's body he could to prevent the fall.

Blair landed headfirst in the water with a splash that soaked Jim and then struggled to regain his footing on the slippery sand beneath. He finally managed to get a hand beneath him, just as Jim reached him, and pushed himself up so he was sitting, the water lapping around his waist.

Jim stopped where he was and looked his partner over.

Blair was drenched to the skin, his hair hanging in rat's tails around his pallid face. His eyes were wide with shock and Jim realized suddenly, his lips were trembling. Dialing his hearing up rapidly, he picked up the staccato beat of Blair's heart and the gasping breaths that issued from his lungs.

"Blair? Hey, it's okay, Chief. Let me help you up."

Jim took a step toward his guide, then watched, stunned to immobility, as Blair rolled to his hands and knees and pushed himself upright then began to back away from the Sentinel, a look of horror on his face.

"Blair?"

Blair's hands came up in a warding off gesture and he continued to back away.

Jim saw the rocks Blair was moving towards and finally found himself able to move. He lunged at Blair and grabbed him by the waist, wrapping both arms firmly around his friend.

Blair exploded into action, his arms and legs flailing in all directions as he fought to free himself. "No! No!" he screamed. "Not again! Let me go! I won't let you kill me again!"

"Blair, for God's sake, calm down!" Jim struggled to move his arms up so he could encompass Blair's limbs more securely. Finally, realizing that he was getting nowhere, that Blair was unlikely to calm down and that, at the rate they were going, they were both going to take a dip in the drink, Jim took the simple expedient of kicking Blair's legs gently out from under him and when Blair folded against him, he simply bent and grabbed him by the knees and lifted, tossing him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Then, with Blair's fists pummeling his back all the way, he turned and carried him back to shore and dumped him gently down, taking care to hold the whaling arms above his friend's head and firmly to the ground.

He knelt on all fours above Blair's writhing body and waited for the young man to exhaust himself. It wouldn't take long, he knew. Blair was still weak from the injuries he'd received in the accident and the few days enforced bedrest at the hospital. The whole time Blair struggled against him, Jim crooned softly to him, entreating him to calm down, promising nobody would hurt him, and that Jim was with him and would stay with him.

Finally, the fighting stopped and Blair opened reddened, swollen eyes and glared into Jim's face. "You can let me up," he said flatly, his voice raspy from the exertion he'd put it through. "I remember everything."

Jim released his grip on Blair's hands and helped him sit up, trying not to wince as Blair scuttled backwards away from him, until he was sitting with his back against a rock and his knees pulled up in front of him.

"What do you remember, Chief?" he asked gently.

"Don't call me that!" Blair shouted. "You called me that when we were friends, when you trusted me. My name's Blair. Call me that or Sandburg but don't call me… " His chin wrinkled and he bit down hard on his lip.

"Okay, Blair," Jim agreed, his voice still soft. "Tell me what you remember, please."

"Everything," Blair said simply and Jim thought his heart would break at the sheer anguish in that one word. "You pushed me away because you thought I'd betrayed your trust, and Alex Barnes drowned me. You brought me back to life and promised you'd never mistrust me again. But you did." He jerked his chin up and looked accusingly into Jim's eyes. "And I lost my life again. Only this time when you tried to give it back to me, it didn't work because you couldn't take away the pain and the shame of what I had to do to protect you."

Jim dropped his head to his chest, unable to bear seeing the anguish in Blair's eyes. "You're right," he said simply. "All of it." Finally he looked up. "I'm sorry. I know that doesn't fix anything but I do want you to know that. I am so very sorry, Blair."

Blair's eyes stared back into his. Suddenly they filled with tears again and Blair bent his head to his upraised knees, sobs tearing out of him. "I would have never done anything to betray you, man, not deliberately."

"I know," Jim murmured. "Blair, please, can I come over there? Can I sit next to you?"

Blair's curly head nodded once and Jim wasted no time taking him at his word. In moments he was seated at Blair's side. He reached out, hesitantly, and pulled Blair against him, one hand rubbing up and down his partner's shaking back. "Sorry, Ch - Blair, I'm so sorry."

After many minutes, Blair pushed himself away and wiped his hand over his eyes. "I'm sorry too," he said. "I shouldn't have blamed just you. I was stupid. I should have passworded the files. God, you'd think I would have learned my lesson about leaving sensitive stuff like that around unprotected after Brackett." He shook his head and looked into Jim's face. "I just lost it after I left the press conference," he said. "I was packing stuff into my car and two guys, students of mine, came up and asked me if what I'd said was true. Had I really falsified my thesis? I said yes, and then a couple of Brad Ventriss's buddies were there and I guess they overheard and next thing I knew I was on the ground and they were kicking me and screaming that I was a hypocrite-"

Jim gave Blair's shoulder a squeeze, encouraging him to go on. "So, I went to the hospital to find out how Simon and Megan were and then, once I knew they were going to be okay, I left. I was gonna go back to the loft and pack and leave you a note but I just couldn't bring myself to go back there so I just drove and drove. I must have been almost to Seattle when the accident happened. The police said it looked like I swerved to avoid hitting something, a deer maybe, and lost control and hit a tree."

Jim pulled Blair closer. "You didn't do anything wrong, Blair. I should have known you wouldn't have released your diss without talking to me. I panicked, I guess. I just couldn't see how I was going to continue my work, hell, even my life, if people thought I was some sort of freaking superhero. But I shouldn't have blamed you."

Blair shivered and Jim stood and pulled him to his feet. "Let's get back to the tent and get you warmed up, buddy. I'll redress your hand for you too."

Blair allowed himself to be pulled up to stand at Jim's side.

"Bl-Chief?"

Blair looked up at him and smiled gently and Jim's heart gave a lurch at the forgiveness he hoped he saw in his eyes.

"Where do you want to go?" Jim asked hesitantly, wanting to trust Blair's honesty but fearful of the answer.

"I want to go home to Cascade," Blair replied, his voice sounding more sure than Jim had heard it over the past week.

Jim nodded. "I can't promise I won't screw up again, Chief, but I want you to come home, to the loft. We'll find something for you to do at the PD, if that's what you want. Simon had an idea for offering you a job as a civilian consultant, using your background in anthropology and all the work you've already done as my partner."

"I don't know," Blair said. "I mean, where did I get off following you around the past three years, pretending I was a cop?"

Jim grinned. "This self-deprecation doesn't suit you, you know? You may have been just an observer but you're the best cop I've ever met, you've been a great friend and you've pulled me through some pretty weird stuff."

Blair shrugged and looked up at him. "Thanks," he murmured. "I'll think it over, all right?"

"Will you come back to the loft, Blair?" Jim asked.

Blair hesitated for only a moment. "Yeah, I still feel like it's my home too."

"It is. It always will be, for as long as you want it to be," Jim assured him.

Blair nodded. "Let's go then." He began walking toward the campsite then stopped and turned as Jim called his name.

"Are we okay, Chief?" Jim asked, walking up to place an arm around his Guide's shoulders.

"Not quite yet, Jim," Blair replied, the love shining from his eyes as he looked up at the Sentinel taking any sting from the words. "But, I think we're going to be."

The End