It started out innocently enough. Laughter bubbled in the air during a gloriously warm day as the guys splashed in the bay for a game of water polo. Simon and Blair played against Jim and Daryl, and the Captain's team was winning by a narrow margin. Blair, it turned out, was a whiz at water polo, quick and agile, with an impressive aim. Jim and Daryl were holding their own, but Daryl was new to the game, and no match for Jim's superior strength and speed.
Jim was determined to win. He hadn't failed to notice the self-satisfied glint in Blair's eyes during the kid's last victory, and the Sentinel was determined to wipe that smug grin right off his partner's face. Suddenly, the ball sailed through the air, slamming into the water with a resounding splash and spraying a harsh stream of water into Jim's face.
"Aha!" Blair exclaimed. "Face it, Jim, you're just getting a little old. Nothing to be ashamed about, big guy, it happens to everyone. Some just sooner than others."
Simon chuckled, slapping Blair on the shoulder. "Way to go, Sandburg! You know, if you had told me you were this good in the beginning, I wouldn't have grumbled about you being on my team."
Blair grinned, flashing a look at the Captain. "Yeah, well, I should have stuck with Jim, but he was just being a little too smug."
Jim raised his eyebrows, smiling. Okay, so maybe he had sounded a bit smug when he said he'd show the kid "how it's done," but how the hell was he supposed to know that Blair had spent a summer at Lake Sommerville... with his cousin, the Tri-State Water Polo champion?
"Okay, Jim, send the ball back," Simon prodded. "Quit stalling."
"Yeah... Unless you're getting tired, Jim!" Blair teased, an amused glint in his eyes. "Need a rest?"
Jim grinned. Enough was enough. "Okay, smart-ass, you asked for it," he growled, diving into the water toward Blair. In a flash, he was underneath the grad student, projecting upward like a rocket.
Blair released an alarmed yelp as Jim swung him over his shoulders, then spun around. "Who's old, Chief?" he asked.
"Look in the mirror, man!" Blair retorted.
"Wrong answer, Sandburg." Jim dropped Blair back into the water, and the young man promptly took off, half-scampering and half-swimming away from the Sentinel as peels of laughter erupted from his chest. "Think you're faster than me, huh?" Jim laughed, taking off after him.
Jim caught up to Blair in seconds, but a piece of seaweed wrapped around the older man's foot, and he lost his balance, causing him to lunge forward and tackle Blair a bit harder than he'd intended. The two men slammed into the water, sending an impressive spray into the air, and Jim's elbow hit something solid.
Blair flailed wildly beneath the water, struggling against Jim's weight and the vine of seaweed now entangled around his legs. It took only a second for Jim to gain his balance, reach into the water, and yank his partner back up, but he knew the moment that Blair broke the surface that something was very wrong.
Blair's eyes were wide, his face pale, and his heartbeat frantic. He emerged gasping and coughing, flinging his arms in obvious panic as he made a mad dash for the shore. He nearly rammed right over Simon in his haste for the land, but the Captain moved out of the way quickly, casting only a brief, concerned glance at Jim before following on the young man's heels.
"Blair!" Jim took off in pursuit, heavy realization slamming into him.
Damnit. I'm sorry, Chief. God, I'm so sorry. What had he been thinking? It had only been seven months since Blair had drowned in Rainier's fountain, and even though the young man had shown no signs of water phobia, that still gave Jim no excuse to rough house with him in the bay. He was so stupid, pushing him under like that, even though he hadn't really meant to. Not that hard, anyway.
Blair lurched onto dry land, staggering in a near-crawl further inland. Jim rushed past Daryl and Simon, overtaking the Captain quickly in his haste to get to his partner. Blair crashed to the sand, promptly throwing up a mouthful of water. He laid there, heaving and gasping, tears streaming down his face from the sting of saltwater.
"I'm sorry, Blair." He dropped next to his friend, acting on instinct as he wrapped his arms around Blair and held him close. "You're okay. I'm so sorry, Chief. I wasn't thinking. I'm so, so sorry." Gently, he rocked Blair back and forth, listening to the tortured sounds as the young man's sobs mixed with gasps for air.
He glanced back at Simon and Daryl, flashing a grateful look at the Captain for hanging back and giving him much-needed space. Daryl looked confused, but Simon kept a restraining hand on his son's arm, talking in his ear as he explained what was happening.
Jim continued to rock his partner gently, muttering a soothing litany of words. Gradually, Blair's breathing became more stable, and his sobs died, but he hung limply in Jim's arms, still cradled against the Sentinel's chest.
"Jim, I'm s-sorry --" Blair stammered, his panic yielding to tremors, the aftermath of his adrenaline rush.
"Shhh. No, it's okay," Jim consoled. "It's my fault. I'm an idiot, Chief. I wasn't thinking."
The two men remained that way for several minutes, until Blair's heartbeat returned to normal and his trembling subsided. Finally, Blair pulled back to look up at Jim, his eyes wide and somber.
"It wasn't your fault, Jim," he whispered. "It was just an accident."
Jim smiled, but his eyes held a damp apology. He raised one hand to Blair's cheek, a gesture of brotherly affection that conveyed a depth of tenderness rarely seen in the normally stoic detective. "Forgive me, Blair?"
Blair held Jim's gaze for several seconds before he spoke. "There's nothing to forgive, Jim." He managed a small smile. "End of discussion. Okay?"
Jim hesitated a moment, searching Blair's eyes and performing a
final sensory scan of the young man's breathing and heart rate to satisfy himself that his
partner really was okay. Finally, he nodded, offering a tiny smile in return. "Yeah.
End of discussion. Thanks, Chief."