Rated PG-13. Not Beta-Read

'Til Death

"Nobody move! I'll do it! I swear!" Frank Battle pressed the gun upward under Sandburg's chin, causing the young man to wince.

Sandburg held his body rock-steady, afraid that the slightest movement would cause the guy's finger to twitch, thereby sending a bullet into his brain.... NOT a pleasant a concept. Battle held Blair's arms tight behind the anthropologist's back, one hand clutching his wrists painfully.

"PUT IT DOWN!" Ellison bellowed.

Blair kept his eyes focused on the Sentinel, but Jim's attention was fixed on the gunman. Ellison stood only a few feet away, his gun poised and aimed to take the man down. Blair closed his eyes briefly. How do I always manage to end up in these situations?

"Back off, Ellison!" Battle's hand tightened around Blair's wrists, and the gun pressed deeper into the bottom of his chin.

Battle began moving backward, pulling Blair with him. Sandburg knew exactly where the man was heading, and he hoped Jim found a way to resolve the situation before Battle reached his destination. The car rested only twenty feet away, and if Battle managed to drag him into the vehicle, Blair knew his chances of surviving would plummet.

Unfortunately, Battle did reach the car, and Blair found himself being pushed into the passenger's seat. Battle kept the barrel of the gun pointed steadily at Blair's head and told him to move behind the wheel. Silently, Blair complied, sliding into the driver's seat. Battle hopped into the passenger's seat and slammed the door closed, pressing the gun against Blair's temple.

"Drive," Battle commanded.

The keys were already in the ignition, and Blair started the engine. The late-model sedan started smoothly, and Sandburg shifted the car into Drive and pressed the accelerator. He cast a glance at Jim in the rearview mirror as he sped off, watching the Detective scurry into the blue and white truck as the rest of the officers bolted into pursuit.

Jim pressed the accelerator harder, keeping his hearing focused on the blue sedan in front. He gripped the steering wheel tightly, his knuckles white. How the hell had things gone so wrong so fast? One minute Battle was hunched over a police cruiser in the process of being handcuffed, and the next minute he had the officer's gun in one hand and Sandburg in the other.

The sedan took a hard right, and Jim turned the wheel sharply. The truck slid, but the tires caught and kept the vehicle on course. Three police cruisers followed close behind, their sirens wailing angrily.

Jim found himself having difficulty keeping up with the smaller and more maneuverable car. Damnit, the kid was one hell of a driver. Jim listened intently as Battle 'motivated' Sandburg to drive faster and faster, and the Sentinel felt hot anger flare in his chest as he took another sharp turn in pursuit.

"Move it, kid. I swear, if they catch up, I'll put a bullet in your head. You got that? I go down, I'm takin' you with me... then your partner. Now PUSH THIS FUCKER!"

Sandburg's shaky voice answered. "I'm going as fast as I can!"

"Don't fuck with me!"

"Just calm down, man. You see my foot's all the way down. Just calm down. You pull that trigger and we both die."

Jim followed the car to the edge of the city limits, feeling a growing sense of dread fill his gut. The chase was lasting way too long, and Sandburg's situation became more dire with each passing second.

The line of police cruisers followed the two cars onto the mountain road, speeding much too fast around the dizzying curves. Jim knew Blair's fear of heights had to be kicking in as the car careened closer and closer to the edge of the cliff with each turn.

And then it happened... so fast Jim barely had time to think. The sedan's front tire blew, and Jim felt a spike of pain shoot into his brain as the sound of the explosion pierced the air. Then his heart skipped a beat and dropped to his stomach when he heard the single gunshot.

Dear God, no...

The car spun out of control and flew over the side of the cliff.

Sandburg tried to keep the car under control, but the tires couldn't grab the dirt road and the car's rear swung to the right. The motion jarred Battle, and the gun fired. Blair felt the bullet whiz past his temple, leaving a streak of pain, and driver's side window exploded outward. Blair's head spun, and he didn't even notice when the car's momentum carried it over the edge. His stomach rose into his throat as he and the car sailed in free fall toward the raging river below.

"NO!" Jim leapt from the truck, his ears ringing and his head throbbing from the aftereffects of the sonic assault. He stumbled toward the edge just as the cruisers skidded to a halt next to the truck.

His body felt numb, and he fell forward, peering over the side of cliff. He saw the trunk of the car sink into the raging torrent below, and his eyes focused on the red tail light just visible above the surface of the water... and that small red piece of broken plastic became his entire world...

Cold. It was his world. It surrounded him, filled him. It pushed its way down his throat and into his lungs, stealing his breath and driving icy knives into his chest. All the pain and coldness ended abruptly, however, when the raging wetness hurled his body into something hard and immovable. He found peace in the darkness.

Men and women scoured the countryside, searching the surrounding terrain on foot while others dragged the river. Two hours later, the blue sedan was pulled from the river, but it was empty inside. The consensus was that the currents had carried the bodies down river, and the head of the search and rescue team speculated that, in the two elapsed hours, the bodies had probably been dragged five or six miles downstream.

Jim pushed the pain in his skull to the background, trying to get a handle on his whirling senses. He knew he had zoned earlier, and, fortunately, someone had pulled him away from the edge of the cliff, jarring him from his zone-out in the process. He didn't know how long he had stayed in that nether-world, but he paid that little mind. Sandburg needed him... needed to be found. He was counting on the Sentinel. Jim knew it. He wouldn't let his partner down... if only he could focus. Focus. The lights from the chopper shot like lightning into his brain, and each slam of a car door added a burst of fire to his headache.

He pushed that aside... tried, anyway.... and extended his hearing, listening for that one heartbeat among the dozen surrounding him. Each attempt met with failure. The beating of the hearts around him threw off his concentration, their sounds pressed in on him, beating into his skull with the ferocity of a sledgehammer.

And each failure added fuel to the rising fear in his chest, until, finally, the emotion threatened to overwhelm him. He sank to his knees, focusing every bit of energy into extending his hearing. The world around him faded, going black, until only sound remained. Sandburg was alive. He had to be... and Jim vowed to find him.

Danger! It was the first thought to enter his mind as he fought his way to consciousness. There was danger nearby. He had to move... had to get away. He lifted his head, and the pain and cold returned with a vengeance. He groaned, dropping his head back onto the soft, wet earth.

Move! His eyes shot open. There was danger behind him. A man with a gun.... No, two men with guns. They'd shot at him and Jim... Jim? He furrowed his brow. A face flashed in his mind -- stern and chiseled. Jim? The name seemed familiar... safe.

He had fallen over the edge of a cliff... hadn't he? The men had shot at him, and Jim had pushed him over the side, into the water. It had been Jim, right? That was his name, he was sure of it. It felt right, sounded right. He mouthed the word silently. Jim. Some small voice in the back of his brain urged him to call out. If he could just call out, Jim would hear. But where was Jim? Had he drowned? Oh god, no... no he couldn't drown. Jim was strong, right? The strong one.

Move it! The familiar voice echoed in his head, and he thought it belonged to the man in his head... Jim. They were after him, and he had to move. He couldn't let Jim down.

He rolled over onto his stomach, pushing his body away from the muddy soil. Sharp pain shot through his body, and the world around him spun wildly. He released a groan of pain, but managed to push himself to his feet. Through a fog of pain and disorientation, he stumbled through the soggy brush, intent not on any specific destination, but on moving away from the danger he was sure existed behind him.

He had to keep up with Jim... Or was Jim dead? For that matter, who was Jim? He couldn't think. His head hurt, robbing him of the capacity for reasoned thought. Instead, the primal side of his brain took over, warning him over and over again of danger... urging him forward. He forced his legs to move, and staggered over the uneven terrain. Up ahead, he saw a road. Roads were good, weren't they? He could find help on the road. Help. Jim.

A soft roar reached his ears, rapidly growing louder. The waning sun cast a hazy light over the countryside, and through the dimness he saw a large vehicle with bright headlights approaching from his right. Instinct took over, and he crouched behind a brush, waiting for the old hay truck to come closer. He stiffened, and as the truck passed, he reached out and grabbed the bar along the side. Then, with a strength he never even realized he possessed, he swung himself into the flatbed, landing with a hard thud between two piles of hay. Pain shot through his body, sending him instantly into oblivion.

Battle's body was found five miles downstream from the sight of the crash, but there was no sign of Sandburg... or his body. No one said it around him, but the detective knew what everyone was thinking. There was no way anybody could have survived that crash. The operation wasn't a rescue effort, it was a recovery effort, and the approaching darkness forced the Captain of the team to call off the search. Darkness would make the search both dangerous and futile. It would be nearly impossible to do recovery work in the thick night, especially since they were so far away from city lights. The darkness, coupled with the treacherous terrain, also made extended rescue efforts dangerous for the workers.

So, the search was postponed. A dead body, after all, would keep until morning. As the team dissipated, several men urged Jim to go home. The Sentinel refused, answering each suggestion with a clenched jaw and an icy stare. They could leave, his eyes said, but he would stay. He would stay until he found Sandburg... or his body.

He came awake slowly, vaguely aware of the gentle rocking motion affecting his body. He opened his eyes, and a myriad sparkles of light filled his vision. He blinked, gazing up into the star-filled sky. The lights seemed to pulse and shift, and a few streaked across the sky.

One of the falling stars dropped toward him, flying through the night like an angry fireball. It landed on the haystack next to him, but, amazingly, the hay didn't catch on fire. The small flame shifted and stretched, taking on an almost human form. Thin fingers emerged from the flame's body, stretching outward... reaching toward him.

He stood on the hood of the car, the gun clutched in his hand. They were all around him.... the golden fire people. He pulled the trigger, but his fire only seemed to make them stronger. God, they were everywhere. They were evil... He had to send them back. He had to save everybody.

Then a voice came to him... soothing his fears... telling him what to do. He trusted that voice. Jim... It was Jim. His savior. His anchor. Jim always knew what to do. Jim always came for him... always.

The humanoid flame seemed to dance in front of him, and one of its wispy hands caressed his cheek. He screamed, scurrying backward frantically. The floor lurched, then suddenly wasn't there anymore. He fell a short distance to the speeding ground, releasing a yelp of pain as he rolled chaotically off the side of the road and into a ditch.

"He WHAT?!"

The young officer seemed to shrink back in the face of Captain Banks' rage. "Uh... he wouldn't leave, Sir. He's still out there searching for Sandburg," the officer stammered.

Simon threw his cigar on the ground and stormed to his car. Damnit! There was no way he was going to let Ellison stay there by himself. His chest tightened at the thought of Jim out there alone... looking for Sandburg's body. God help them all if he found it.

Jim sniffed the air, but the familiar scent of herbal shampoo didn't reach his nostrils. He tilted his head, listening, but there was no human heartbeat other than his own. His hands clenched into fists, and he pushed onward, ignoring the cold seeping through his clothes. Sandburg hated the cold. With a set of his jaw, he hurried his steps.

Sometime later, a voice stopped him.


He spun around, surprised to see Simon hurrying toward him, obviously out of breath.

"Captain," Ellison greeted coolly, his voice flat.

Simon skidded to a halt in front of him. "Jim, damnit, what are you doing?"

Jim's eyes blazed fire. "Looking for Sandburg."

Simon closed his eyes briefly. "Jim, it's wet and cold out here." He glanced up at the sky. "And it's going to rain. Sandburg's..." His voice caught, and he lowered his head. Sandburg's dead, he'd almost said, but he knew doing so would have been a mistake.

"I'm not leaving until I find him," Jim said.

Simon studied Ellison for several long seconds. Finally, he sighed and nodded. "Okay then. We'll search together." The kid had, after all, risked his life on two separate occasions to search for him, so it was the least Simon could do for the young man now. Dead or alive, Sandburg deserved better than to be left alone in the cold, dark countryside.

Sunlight teased his eyelids, urging them open. Almost of their own volition, his eyelids lifted, letting in the soft morning sunshine. He took a deep breath, and erupted into a violent coughing fit. His chest felt tight, and the air seemed to move like molasses in and out of his aching lungs.

Finally, his coughing died down, and he pushed himself off the damp ground. He realized that he was soaked completely through, and it was then that he became aware of the violent shivers wracking his body. JIM. That name again. He staggered onto the road, pushing the thought of the mystery man out of his mind. He knew Jim was a friend, but other than that he had no clue as to the nature of the man's identity.

He walked down the road, fighting the tremors that threatened to overwhelm him. He didn't know how long he walked, but eventually, the image of Jim infiltrated his consciousness once again.

"I'm Detective James Ellison with the Cascade PD."

He frowned. The police? Jim was a cop? He had an image of himself standing next to the detective as the man flashed a badge. Was he a detective himself? Panic clutched his chest when he finally became conscious of the fact that he couldn't remember his own name. He closed his eyes. God, he could remember the name of a friend, but not his own.

The sound of an engine jarred his thoughts back to his current situation... even though he wasn't exactly sure what his current situation was.  A worn pick-up truck pulled up alongside him, and Blair's heart nearly leapt into his throat. Danger! The men with the guns... oh god, he'd forgotten.

"You okay, son? You need some help?"

Blair gazed wide-eyed at the older man in the truck.

"You need a doc, son?"

Blair swallowed, finally finding his voice. "Do you know where Cascade is?" he croaked.

The man looked at him skeptically, then nodded. "Five miles away, son."

"I need to find the Cascade Police," he said.

The man eyed him critically. "You sure as hell look like you do," he said. "Hop in."

He stood frozen in place for several seconds, then, finally, reached out and opened the car door. He didn't think this man was one of the men after him... and least, he hoped not. He slid into the seat and closed the door, wincing as the jarring motion sent a bolt of pain into his side and down his spine.

"What the hell happened to you, son?"

Blair stared at the man.

"You're hurt."

"I am?" I am. I hurt.

The man frowned, then pulled the truck back onto the road. "Don't you worry, son, I'll get you to the police. They'll help you."

He closed his eyes. Help me. Jim will help me.

Jim sat at his desk, staring at the report in front of him... the report of Sandburg's abduction. He swallowed, clamping down on his emotions. He and Simon had stayed all night and most of the next day, but they hadn't found Sandburg. Jim finally had to admit to himself that his partner was most likely dead. The thought left him with a hollow ache in his chest. I should feel something, he thought. I should know if he's dead.

Taggert passed his desk, stopping momentarily.


Ellison looked up.

"I...." The larger man faltered, glancing down at the floor. "I'm sorry about Sandburg," he said.

Jim simply nodded, returning his attention to the report in front of him. Minutes passed before another voice interrupted him. Ellison looked up into the concerned face of his Captain.

"Go home, Jim."

To what, he thought, almost saying the words. Instead, he simply shook his head.

Simon reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You're exhausted, Jim. There's nothing you need to do here right now. Just go home. That's an order."

Jim lowered his eyes, unable to meet Simon's gaze. He couldn't let the man see his weakness. "I can't," he whispered.

"Here we are, son," the driver said.

Blair gazed out the window at the humble building. It should look familiar, shouldn't it? It didn't look at all familiar, though.

"This is the Cascade Police Department?"

"Yeah, son. I'll help you out."

He shook his head. "No. Thank you, no."

The man opened his door. "You need help, son. I brought you this far."

"No!" He didn't mean to yell, but for some reason he couldn't quiet rationalize, he didn't want the man touching him. He didn't think the man meant to harm him... the stranger had driven him all this way, hadn't he? Still, he didn't want anybody near him. He didn't know who was friend and who was foe... except for Jim. Jim was a friend.

The man looked startled, but closed the door without getting out. "Okay, son, whatever you want. Just get help, okay?"

He nodded. "Thanks," he rasped, his voice softer.

He opened his door and slid out of the truck, walking through the front doors of the police station. His legs carried him into the elevator, and he hesitated momentarily, gazing at the buttons. Seven. The Seventh floor. He didn't know how he knew, but he did. He pressed the button and leaned against the wall as the doors closed. He had gotten several strange looks on his way in, but he assumed his rough appearance was the cause of the stares.

The elevator lurched upward, and his stomach nearly revolted. He had nothing to throw up, and was grateful for that small reprieve. His head pounded, and he closed his eyes, taking several deep breaths. He regretted his action when he fell into another painful coughing fit.

The bullpen buzzed softly with activity, but Jim and Simon seemed oblivious to their surroundings.

The Captain held out his keys. "Here, Jim, take these. Go to my place and get some rest."

Suddenly, the buzzing ceased, and that caught Simon's attention. He raised his head, wanting to see what had caused the sudden cessation of noise...

And dropped his keys when he saw a battered and bloody Sandburg standing in the doorway to the bullpen.

"My God...."

Jim's head snapped up, and he gasped when his eyes fell on Blair. For several seconds, nobody moved... nobody breathed. All eyes were focused on the young man in the doorway. It was Jim who finally broke the shocked stillness when he rose from his desk.

"Chief?" An indecipherable emotion gripped Jim's chest, stealing his breath.

Blair shifted his gaze toward the sound, and his eyes locked with Jim's. For a moment, he looked confused, then his eyes began to water gently. "You're Jim, right?" His voice was soft, probably barely audible to normal ears.

Jim stood, stunned. He just couldn't believe it... Couldn't believe that the man in front of him wasn't an apparition.... but... but the question he'd asked. Jim let his eyes wander over Blair's injuries, noting the dried blood on the side of the young man's head and the assortment of bruises on his face and neck... bruises that disappeared beneath his damp shirt collar.

He doesn't remember, Jim realized, and that epiphany caused a new kind of fear to rise within him. He noticed that Blair was shaking visibly, and it was then that Jim cursed himself. He sprung into action, maneuvering around the desk toward Blair. That movement seemed to jar the rest of the detectives out of their stupor, and they converged on the young man like a swarm.

Blair stumbled backward, his face pale and his eyes wide. "No... please..."

His single plea stopped everyone in their tracks... everyone except Jim. The Sentinel reached his terrified partner in four easy strides, then stopped, resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to reach out and pull Sandburg toward him.

"Blair, it's okay," he said, his voice soft.

Blair stared up at him, his back against the wall. "Jim?"

The Sentinel nodded. "Yeah, buddy. You remember?"

Blair shook his head. "No.. not much." His voice quivered. "What's my name? Blair? Or Chief? What happened to me?"

This time Jim did reach out, placing a gentle hand on Blair's shoulder. He was relieved when the younger man didn't shrink back. But, God, he's cold! "Your name is Blair Sandburg," he said, his voice soft. "You were in an accident. You've been missing two days."

Blair creased his brow. "Two days?" He somehow thought it had been only one day since he'd awoken on the cold, mushy ground.

Jim nodded. Blair opened his mouth to say something else, but was overcome by another coughing fit. He bent over as the pain sliced through his lungs. He would have toppled forward, but found himself being gently lowered to the floor by strong arms. Blair heard a booming voice shout for an ambulance as he descended into unconsciousness.

The waiting room was filled with cops. Rafe, Brown, Taggert, Simon, Jim, and a few guys from Homicide filled most of the chairs in the cramped room. Even a few students and staff from the University had received the news and insisted on showing up to offer their support. No one could believe that Blair Sandburg had survived both the crash and the currents.

A green-clad doctor entered the room, and everyone rose to their feet. Jim stepped to the front of the crowd, greeting the doctor.

"Detective Ellison?"

Jim nodded. "How is he?"

The Doctor frowned. "Well, there was some cerebral swelling as a result of the concussion, and that's probably the cause of his disorientation and amnesia. We relieved the pressure by draining some of the fluid, but he's still unconscious, so we won't know if his memory has returned until he wakes up. We performed a PET and a CAT scan, and there's no sign of brain damage, so I expect him to make a full recovery."

Jim released a sigh, his shoulders sagging with relief.

"In addition to the head trauma, he has a broken rib and pneumonia. He was also hypothermic, and he has a touch of frostbite on his right foot. His hypothermia could also be responsible for his confusion. We've cleared the fluid from his lungs and put him on antibiotics, but he's going to need a lot of rest for the next couple of weeks."

Jim nodded.

"He came in here dehydrated, and his blood glucose levels were quite low. We've taken care of that, so, when he wakes up, he should feel a lot better."

"Thank you, Doctor," Jim said. "Can I see him?"

The Doctor nodded. "Only one visitor right now," he said. "I do have one question, though."

"What is it?"

"I was told the young man traveled quite a distance from the site of the crash to the police station, and he walked right into the station. Is that true?"

Jim nodded. "Yes, though we don't know how he got back to Cascade."

The Doctor shook his head. "Remarkable. I wouldn't have expected a man in his condition to even be able to make it to his feet." He smiled. "He's obviously a strong young man. He'll pull through just fine."

Jim managed a small smile, and he heard the relieved murmurings of the people behind him.

"Come on, Detective," the Doctor said. "I'll show you to his room."

A soft murmur pulled the Sentinel from his sleep. He straightened in the stiff chair, immediately alert. His eyes fell on the pale face of his partner in the hospital bed. Sandburg's head was bandaged. A small and relatively inconspicuous portion of his scalp had been shaved prior to the operation. Jim knew the kid wasn't going to be happy about that. Blair now laid beneath a mountain of blankets, hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor.


Sandburg released a low moan, and his brow furrowed. Jim placed a hand on Blair's elbow and leaned forward.

"Hey Chief, open your eyes for me. Okay?"

"Jim?" The single syllable came out low and hoarse, but Blair's eyes remained closed.

Jim's heart did a flip-flop in his chest at the sound of that one world. He hoped desperately that Blair's memory had returned. Jim's hand moved to Blair's shoulder, and he gave the young man an encouraging squeeze.

"Yeah, Chief, it's me."

Blair's eyelids fluttered open, revealing blue eyes clouded with pain, confusion, and fatigue. "Wha' happ'ned?"

"You were in an accident, but you're okay now. You're in a hospital."

Blair's forehead creased, and, in the next instant, his eyes widened and the beeping of the heart monitor skyrocketed. Sandburg tried to sit up, his face panicked, but he sank back into the mattress with a pained gasp.

"Easy, easy, buddy," Jim urged, placing a firm hand on Blair's chest. "Don't try to move. You've got a broken--"

"The car," Blair rasped, closing his eyes. "The cliff. We went over... Battle...."

"He's dead," Jim informed him, then his voice caught and he turned his head away. "God, Blair, we thought you were dead, too. We searched all night and most of the next day, but there was no sign of you." He wanted to apologize, but couldn't find the words. Blair had been alive and hurting, and Jim had abandoned the search too soon... leaving his friend out there alone in the cold.

"Sorry," Blair mumbled, his voice heavy with sleep.

Jim's throat constricted. Sorry? What on earth did the kid have to be sorry for? Then he realized that the tone in his voice might have sounded angry or accusatory to the confused young man, and he silently berated himself. Even if Blair wasn't coherent enough to understand the words, he'd no doubt pick up on the their tone.

"No, no, Blair. I'm sorry. I'm the one who left you out there," he said, but his apology fell on deaf ears.

Blair had already fallen asleep.


Ellison stiffened, opening his eyes. Simon and Taggert stood in the room, a foot away from Blair's bed. Jim stretched his back, working the kinks out, and suppressed a yawn.

"How is he?" Taggert asked, casting an anxious glance at the sleeping young man.

"As well as can be expected," Jim replied. "He's in an out -- sometimes coherent, sometimes not."

"His memory?" Simon asked.

Jim nodded tiredly. "He seems to know who I am, who he is, and the general details of what happened to him."

Taggert sighed. "That's a relief."

Simon shook his head. "The kid's something," he said. "I can't believe he survived that crash, then found his way back to the station."

Jim clenched his jaw, turning his eyes onto the still figure of his partner.

"Has he told you how he got back?" Taggert asked.

Jim shook his head. "I haven't asked. He's never awake for very long, and I don't want to unload a lot of questions on him."

"S'okay," Sandburg muttered.

The three men gave the anthropologist their full attention, and Jim placed his hand on Blair's arm. "Hey buddy."

Blair's eyelids lifted, and his blue eyes seemed clearer... more lucid. Jim smiled brilliantly, and his whole body relaxed.

"You look awful, Jim," Blair whispered.

Simon and Taggert chuckled, and Blair shifted his gaze to look at the two men. "Hey guys."

"How are you feeling, Sandburg?" Simon asked, taking a step forward.

"You doing okay?" Taggert chimed in.

Blair managed a slow nod. "Okay." His eyelids fluttered. "Jus' tired."

Jim patted Blair's arm. "Then go back to sleep, Sandburg," he said, his voice light.

Blair complied without further comment.

Twenty-Four hours later...

Jim guided Blair into the loft, his arm wrapped firmly around the young man's shoulders. He steered Blair over to the couch and settled him onto the cushions.

"You okay?" the Sentinel asked.

Pale and worn-looking, Blair nodded. "Yeah." He sounded slightly out of breath.

"I'll get you some water," Jim said, walking into the kitchen.

He opened the refrigerator, but did not reach inside. Instead, he turned and gazed at Blair seated on the couch, his back facing the detective. Jim managed a slow, shaky breath before turning his attention back to the contents of the refrigerator. A part of him still couldn't believe Blair was back with him. Somehow, they'd both been given another chance, and Jim vowed to make that chance count. He closed his eyes briefly against the dark thoughts that intruded upon his consciousness... thoughts of what his life would be like without Blair Sandburg. A hand clamped around his heart when he realized he couldn't even begin to imagine existence without his Guide and best friend. Somehow, Blair Sandburg had made him dependent on their friendship. A few years ago, he might have resented such a thing. Now, however, he relished it.

He pulled himself away from those thoughts and filled a glass with water. Walking back to the couch, he handed the drink to Blair.

"Thanks," Blair said, offering a small smile as he took the glass.

Jim frowned and took a seat on the armchair. Blair had uttered nothing but single words all the way home.

"How are you feeling?" Jim asked.

Blair nodded, taking a sip of the water. "Okay."

Jim's frown deepened, and he lowered his gaze to the floor. There was only one reason he could think of as being the cause of Blair's reservations, and Jim clenched his jaw, his eyes hooded.

"I'm sorry, Blair."

"What?" Blair sounded confused.

Jim forced himself to look up at Sandburg. "I left you out there. I should have never given up... not until I found you; but, I did. I don't blame you for..." His voice trailed off, and he returned his gaze to the floor.

"What are you talking about, Jim? You searched all through the night and most of the next day. You said it yourself. There was no sign of me, and no reason for you to think I was alive," Blair reassured him.

"I still should have stayed."

Blair managed a small sigh. "Jim, you're human, you know. You can only keep going for so long. When you went home, there were still others out there looking. It's not your fault. Geez, Jim, really, none of this was your fault."

"Battle should have never gotten that gun. I should have been more alert... kept you farther away."

"Jim, look at me."

Reluctantly, the Sentinel raised his eyes and met Blair's gaze. "I'm okay," Blair said, pronouncing each syllable distinctly. "What makes you think I blame you for anything?"

Jim swallowed. "You've barely said two words to me since checking out of the hospital."

Blair's eyes went wide with disbelief, and he released a small chuckle, then winced. Jim leaned forward, concerned.

"You okay?"

Blair nodded quickly. "Yeah, man, I'm fine," he said, smiling and shaking his head. "Jim, the only reason I haven't said much is because they have me so pumped full of drugs that I can barely keep my eyes open."

Jim was stunned. He leaned back in the chair, a slow smile forming on his lips. God, he was stupid. He'd been so focused on his own guilt that he'd been finding accusation where it didn't exist. The thought that Blair's silence might be a result of the pain killers never even crossed his mind.

Jim gave into a small chuckle. "That's it?"

Blair nodded, his smile firmly entrenched. "Yeah, Jim, that's it. I swear. Once these things wear off, you won't be able to shut me up."

Jim laughed. "Well, until then, let's get you in bed."

Blair smile faded, but his eyes retained their mirth. He shook his head, leaning back into the cushions. "Can I just stay here for a bit?"

Jim nodded. "Sure, Chief. Anything you want."

Blair closed his eyes. The cup in his hand tilted precariously, and Jim reached out to grab it, setting it safely on the coffee table.

"Thanks," Blair mumbled.

Jim rose to his feet and grabbed the afghan off the back of the couch. Gently, he draped it over his sleeping partner and sank back into the chair. He sat there in silence, watching Blair sleep, until he himself succumbed to slumber.

Well, I had a scene in my mind and had to construct a story around it. Now, it's back to the books for me!