Breathe

By Hawk

EMAIL: Hawk

Pairing: J/B

Rating: FRAO

Warnings: established relationship, slash

Summary: Inattention leads to Blair's downfall…

A/N: This fic came to me after watching a very close friend go through this …

<><><> <><><>

"You're with me, Jim."

Jim Ellison looked up as his Captain, Simon Banks, blew past him, shrugging into his suit coat as he went. He watched as Simon strode into the open elevator, slapping one meaty paw against the door as it threatened to close.

"Come on, Ellison. We don't have all day!"

Sighing, Jim got to his feet and followed Simon into the elevator, slipping into his leather jacket as the doors closed. "You going to fill me in?"

"What?" Simon sounded distracted.

"Where's the fire, Simon?"

"Huh?" Simon turned his eyes to stare at Jim. "You're making no sense, Jim. You okay?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "I'm fine, Simon."

"Good to know." The elevator doors opened and Simon stepped out quickly. "Come on then."

"Right behind you," Jim muttered as he followed Simon to his car.

The ride passed in near silence, broken only by Simon's continual muttering about traffic and needing to hurry. Jim shook his head as he tried to tune out his captain's mutterings even as he watched Simon's grip tighten on the steering wheel in frustration. All attempts at getting Simon to tell him what was going on - or even where they were going, fell on deaf ears and it was really beginning to get on his nerves. And then he felt the car slow and looked up as they turned into the parking lot of Cascade General's emergency department.

Jim sat up straighter, his body automatically pumping adrenalin through his system. "Simon? Why are we at the ED?" He looked around, expecting to see more black and whites, but found none. "Is this a major crimes case?" He gulped as he looked over at Simon, to find him staring straight ahead out the windshield. "Is it Blair?" he whispered, extending his hearing inside, trying to pick out his guide's heartbeat.

"Jim? Jim!"

He felt a hand shaking him and blinked his eyes, turning to face a clearly distraught Simon. "What…?"

"You zoned." Simon ran his hands over his face and Jim noted that they were shaking. "He's not here - yet."

"Yet?" Jim screamed. "Yet?" He grabbed Simon. "Where is he?" Jim growled.

"On his way." Simon turned to get out of the car only to be pulled back by Jim.

"Talk to me. Where's Blair? What's happened?"

Simon sighed and nodded, pulling his door closed once again and settling back against the seat. "We got a 911 call from the loft. Once she had taken care of things, Sarina immediately routed the call up to me." He took a deep breath. "It was Blair - at least I think it was. He was barely audible. All he said was 'can't breathe' and then there was silence. An ambulance was dispatched and I grabbed you. I figured it was better if we came directly here instead of going to the loft."

Jim took a ragged breath as he glanced around. Spying an ambulance pulling into the bay in front of the ED, he quickly got out of the car. He stepped up to the ambulance as the doors opened. An EMT climbed out at the same time as the ambulance bay doors opened and two ECTs ran out. They quickly pulled the gurney from the ambulance and ran inside, but not before Jim got a glimpse of a pale white face. Blair's eyes were closed, his face all but obscured by the oxygen mask that covered his nose and mouth. A faint film of condensation covered the interior of the mask, telling Jim that Blair was still breathing, albeit slowly.

And then Blair was gone, swallowed up by the hustle of the emergency department, leaving Jim standing alone on the tarmac outside the building. A hand on his arm jolted him out of his near zone as his senses tried to follow his partner inside.

"Come on, Jim. Let's go in - see what we can find out."

Jim let Simon propel him into the bustling ED, the vision of Blair's pale face still lingering in front of his eyes. How could his partner, his lover, have gotten this bad without him realizing it?

Jim paced the length of the ED waiting room, mentally berating himself for not being more aware of the one person who completed him. Blair's lungs had been fragile ever since he'd drowned in that fountain and the onset of a summer cold should have sent warning flags up in Jim's mind - but he'd been too preoccupied with work, going out on stake-outs four nights this weeks alone - to notice that the summer cold had progressed into something more. In his defense, Blair had also been burning the candle at both ends, teaching two summer sessions and pulling all-nighters to get papers graded before the end of the term.

Jim sighed. **Not an excuse. I should have known Blair was getting worse. I should have been home with him, not sitting in some dank alley, waiting for a drug bust to go down.**

Suddenly, Simon stood and put his hand out to stop Jim's progress across the room. "Jim, this isn't your fault." At Jim's incredulous stare, he continued, "I know you and I can see you're beating yourself up over this. Blair is an adult. He should have seen how sick he was getting and gone to a doctor."

Jim pulled away from him, fury shining in the depths of his eyes. Teeth gritted in anger, he ground out, "I'm the Sentinel, Simon. I should have seen this coming. Blair never thinks he'll get as sick as he does. God! It's only been a few months since…" He took a deep breath to calm himself, unable to give voice to the horror that he'd felt upon finding Blair face down in that fountain. "I should have insisted on him going to a doctor as soon as I noticed he wasn't feeling well - but no, I got caught up in work and let him get sicker and sicker while I didn't even take notice. So, yes, Simon - this is my fault - any way you want to slice it."

A sigh was his only answer as Jim pulled away from the older man and approached the nurses' station. "Any word…?" he began.

The nurse behind the desk looked up with a sigh. "No, Detective - not yet," she said as she looked away.

Jim nearly growled with frustration as he pushed away from the desk to being his pacing again.

He'd waited as long as he could, fretting - worrying - until he thought he'd go crazy from the strain of it all. Just as he was turning toward the closed doors leading into the maze of rooms that made up the Emergency Department, those same doors opened, and a young man in a white lab coat walked through.

Jim hesitated momentarily, willing this man to be looking for him.

"Detective Ellison?" the young man asked to the room, peering around at the faces that looked up as he'd walked in, only to see them look away again. And then he startled slightly as Jim walked up to him.

"I'm Detective Ellison."

The young man nodded. "I'm Doctor Miller."

Jim frowned slightly. He was so young!

Dr. Miller smiled. "Yes, I look young. And, yes, I really am a physician."

Jim blushed. "Sorry."

The young doctor sighed. "It isn't as if I don't get that twenty times every day, Detective. But let's talk about Mr. Sandburg, shall we?"

Jim nodded.

"Mr. Sandburg was brought here in severe respiratory distress. Once in the ED, we began treating him with inhalants. After two such treatments he crashed and we had to sedate and then intubate him." As Jim opened his mouth, Dr. Miller held up a hand. "Let me finish, Detective, and then you may ask your questions, okay?" At Jim's brusque nod, he continued, "Mr. Sandburg is being moved to ICU as we speak. I'm not going to sugar-coat this. Your friend is very ill. In addition to being generally run-down, he has contracted pneumonia. With his recent history, the pneumonia is the last thing he needs. I only hope we've caught it in time."

Jim cleared his throat, trying to dislodge the lump that had formed as the doctor threw his harsh words at him. "What do you mean - caught it in time?" he asked softly.

Dr. Miller looked up at him and sighed. "I fear your partner may be septic, Detective Ellison, and in his run-down condition, that could prove fatal."

Jim stared at him, stunned beyond words.

Simon stepped forward, having listened to the young physician's proclamation and having seen Jim's reaction to it. He placed his hand on Jim's arm. "Thank you, doctor. Jim, I think we need to head upstairs. Blair's going to need to see you when he wakes up."

"Mr. Sandburg will be kept sedated for a few days at least. You two should go home - get some rest."

At Jim's stricken look, Simon tsked. Turning to the young doctor, he said, "You don't know this pair, Doctor. Jim won't rest until he sees that Blair is okay. We're going to check in upstairs. Thank you." And then he led Jim past the physician and down the hall.

Once in the elevator, Jim looked over at Simon. "Thanks, Simon."

"For what?" The older man smiled gently.

Jim smiled. "For rescuing that doctor from my fists."

Simon grinned. "Yeah - I thought it prudent to step in when I did." He sighed. "Look, Jim, it wasn't his fault. He doesn't know you and Blair - although how it could happen that there is an ER doc working here that isn't familiar with you two, I have no idea."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Still, he was rude."

Simon nodded.

"Trying to send me home…"

Simon nodded again.

"I…" Jim looked at Simon, who continued to nod, and smiled. "Okay, Simon, I get it. I'll shut up now." The elevator doors opened. "Let's go see Blair."

<><><>

Jim buzzed the intercom in the waiting room of the ICU and waited impatiently for someone to answer.

"Yes?" the tinny voice asked.

"Detective Ellison to see Blair Sandburg."

"Yes, Detective Ellison. Mr. Sandburg just recently arrived. Please have a seat and I will buzz you in when we have him settled."

"Thank you."

To his credit, Jim did sit - for all of twenty seconds or so, before getting up to pace the perimeter of the small waiting room. Simon merely sat back and let him pace, knowing from prior experience that there would be no placating the man until he was allowed to see Blair.

About fifteen minutes later, the door to the ICU buzzed and a young nurse poked her head out. "Detective Ellison?"

Jim stopped paced and turned to look at her. A smile blossomed on his face briefly. "Patricia."

The young nurse smiled and nodded. "I wasn't sure you'd remember me, detective."

"How could I forget?" Jim stepped up to her, his size dwarfing the petite blond. "Can I see Blair now?"

She nodded and stepped back, holding the door open for him. Jim stepped through the door and then followed her, instinctively reaching out with his senses to find his guide.

ICU rooms were really cubicles, with three walls and a curtain that could be pulled across the open side that faced the nurses' station. The curtain to Blair's room was currently open and Jim could see into it as they walked past the nurses' station.

"Here we are, three fourteen," Patricia announced cheerfully.

The room was crowded with various pieces of medical equipment, none more disturbing to Jim than the ventilator that squatted beside the bed, hissing as it forced oxygen deep into Blair's damaged lungs. His eyes roamed over the myriad of equipment briefly, assessing and then dismissing them all, before coming to rest on the face of his partner.

"God - Blair!" he breathed softly as he stepped forward and reached for the limp hand lying on the white sheet.

Jim jumped when a hand landed softly on his arm. "I'll leave you two alone," Patricia said softly. "Talk to him - let him know you're here." At Jim's distracted nod, she backed away, leaving the dazed man staring down at the frail figure on the bed.

And then Jim did what he'd been so desperate to do for the past few hours as he waited for word of Blair's condition. He closed his eyes and opened his other senses to his partner, cataloguing each and every inch of him - imprinting him. He then opened his eyes and took note of every tube and where it hooked into every machine that hummed and beeped at the edge of Blair's bed, from the central line in his neck, to the IV in his left hand, to the oxygen meter clamped lightly to his right index finger, to the wire leads stuck to his freshly shaved chest, sending signals to the heart monitor beeping softly overhead.

When he was finished cataloguing machines and tubing, he let his eyes roam over Blair's too-still body, coming to rest, finally, on his face. He was pale - too pale - his long dark curls fanned out across the stark white of the pillowcase. His eyelashes lay against his face in soft, black smudges. The thick band that cross Blair's lower face pressed tightly against his skin, holding the ventilator tubing in place and encircling his head, fastening somewhere out of Jim's sight. Jim's fingers itched to loosen that band from where it bit into Blair's skin, but he knew it really wasn't too tight - that it wasn't really digging into Blair's sensitive skin, but merely holding his life-giving oxygen tubing in place snugly.

Jim let his fingers rest against the pale skin of the back of Blair's right hand and marveled that, on first glance, it seemed that was the only part of Blair that was free of medical devices of any sort.

"My heart," he whispered. "How could I have failed you so completely?"

Blair's eyes moved restlessly behind his closed lids, startling Jim out of his reverie. He looked around quickly, spying Patricia at the nurses' desk. She looked up and smiled at him. "Is everything okay, Jim?" she asked, even though the output from Blair's monitors was right in front of her. When Jim didn't answer, she got up and headed his way.

Jim shifted his eyes back to the bed as the nurse came back into the cubicle. The feel of Patricia's hand on his arm startled him and he flinched.

"Sorry, Jim."

He merely shrugged, not trusting his voice, and stepped out of her way as she bent over the bed to check on Blair. She signed into the computer terminal that rested against one wall and pulled up Blair's chart. After logging his vitals into the device she signed off the computer and turned to Jim.

"Are you going to stay for a bit?"

He nodded. "If - if it's okay. Thanks."

She smiled and nodded. "We always bend the rules a little for you two. God knows, your presence always seems to help him."

Jim shrugged and gestured toward the bed. "He seems - restless," he offered, monitoring Blair with his senses.

Patricia frowned and turned back to the bed. "He should be quite out of it, detective. Let me just take a look." She placed her fingers at the pulse point on Blair's wrist as her eyes scanned his face. Turning back to Jim, she sighed. "How do you do it? You always seem to know more than the machines are telling us. His pulse is a little rapid and he is experiencing rapid eye movements. You stay here with him, and I'll notify his physician."

Jim nodded, not taking his eyes off Blair.

When Patricia returned a few minutes later, Jim had pulled a chair up to Blair's bedside and was cradling Blair's right hand in his, rubbing his thumb over the back of the limp hand in abstract patterns.

She spoke softly as she entered the room and began to inject a syringe into the central line located on the side of Blair's neck. "I contacted Blair's physician, Jim, and he ordered an increased dosage of Fentanyl - a sedative. He wants to keep Blair heavily sedated for the next forty-eight hours to give his body time to begin healing. We sent a sputum culture to the lab upon admission but don't expect any definitive sensitivities to be back for at least that long. Right now, Dr. Jameson is treating Blair with broad-spectrum antibiotics until those culture results come back. It's his best chance of eradicating this infection."

Jim nodded at her words. "Thank you, Patricia - for explaining things to me."

She smiled at him as she turned to leave the room. "You're his health proxy, Jim. That affords you some privilege, especially when Blair can't speak for himself." As she exited the room, she said, "Don't stay too long, Jim. You need your rest, too. Blair will need you when he wakes."

Jim nodded, having no intention of leaving his lover's side unless forced to.

Sometime later, Patricia sent Simon home, telling him that Jim had settled in for what looked like the duration. Simon stretched and told her to have Jim call when he needed - or wanted - a ride home.

<><><>

Jim awoke stiff and sore after having spent the night dozing in the hard plastic chair next to Blair's bed. As he stretched he groaned softly, his muscles pulling painfully. Someone behind him cleared their throat and he turned quickly to see a nurse walking into Blair's cubicle.

"Good morning, detective."

Jim nodded, coming to his feet. "Sarah. Good morning." Sarah had relieved Patricia at seven o'clock the evening before, both nurses working twelve hour shifts. Sarah was now getting ready to go off shift. "Is Patricia working again today?" he asked, yawning into his hand.

Sarah nodded. "Yes, detective, she is. And there is fresh coffee in the break room, if you'd like some, sir."

Jim grinned. "I'd love some." He hesitated, looking toward where Blair lay.

"I'll be a few minutes, getting his morning vitals."

Jim nodded, understanding that she wouldn't leave Blair alone. "I'll be right back then, Sarah."

She smiled as Jim walked out of the room. "You are a very lucky man, Mr. Sandburg. Detective Ellison loves you very much." She continued to talk to Blair as she took his vitals and emptied the catheter bag hanging on the side of the bed, only stopping when she began to log her notes into his electronic record. Her back was still turned when Jim came back into the room, sipping a steaming cup of coffee.

A respiratory therapist was bent over the bedside, suctioning Blair's mouth and throat.

"Mmm, smells good. What did I tell you, detective?" Sarah asked, grinning, as she turned around.

Jim smiled over the rim of the cup. "You were right, Sarah. It's very good coffee - and call me Jim - please."

"Jim it is. This is Tony. He's Blair's respiratory therapist." She indicated the man working with Blair. "You'll see him around periodically today." At Jim's nod, she continued, "Well, you have a good day. I'll see you tonight."

Jim glanced at the clock on the wall. "Time for shift-change then?"

Sarah nodded. "Sure is. It's been a long night - I'll be glad to see my bed today."

Jim sighed and looked to where Blair lay. "Yeah - have a good day, Sarah."

She put her hand on his arm. "You should go home - change, shower, get some rest. Blair will be okay."

Jim shook his head. "I won't leave him alone," he said softly as he waited for the respiratory therapist to finish so he could take his place at Blair's side once again.

Soon he was ensconced in the chair beside Blair's bed once again, holding his lover's hand.

That was where Simon found him a few hours later. "You look like shit, Jim."

Jim looked up. "Gee, thanks, Simon."

Simon gestured toward the bed. "How's he doing?"

Jim sighed, rubbing his hands over his face. "The same. They have him sedated."

Simon nodded. "Look - Jim. Why don't you go home - eat - shower - change - sleep. I'll stay here with the kid."

Jim felt like his chest was constricting as he looked from Blair to Simon and back again. Simon's hand on his shoulder made him jump.

"I'll sit with him. He won't be alone." Simon held out a set of keys. "Your truck is still at the station, Jim. Take my car - go home. I'll be here when you get back."

Jim nodded. "Thanks, Simon."

Simon took a seat when Jim vacated the chair beside the bed and, as Jim turned to walk out of the room, he spoke again, "And I expect you to get at least a couple of hours of sleep, detective."

Jim stopped - then nodded. "Yes, Captain."

<><><>

Surprisingly, Jim was able to fall asleep for a few hours and, when he awoke he quickly showered and headed back to the hospital. Simon was sitting in the chair beside Blair's bed, head thrown back, snoring lightly. Jim smiled down at him before patting him gently on the shoulder.

Simon looked up at him groggily. "Hey Jim," he said, rubbing his hands over his face and then stretching. "What time is it?"

"Two o'clock. Sorry it took me so long."

Simon waved his comments off and stood, cracking his back. "Not a problem, Jim. Did you get any sleep?"

"Yes, I did - thanks."

"Any time."

"Any change?" Jim asked as he stepped over to the bed and picked up Blair's hand.

"None."

Jim nodded.

"Look - Jim - I'm going to get going. Call me if you need anything, okay?"

"Right."

As Simon left, Jim took his customary seat once again, stroking the back of Blair's hand gently. It seemed like only moments later that someone touched him on the shoulder and he lifted his head to see Patricia smiling down at him.

"Did you get any sleep, Jim?"

"Yeah."

She smiled as she tended to Blair. "So did you actually sleep, and get a shower, and a real meal?"

He nodded. "Yeah."

"Well, good - you needed it." The nurse finished tending to Blair and took a deep breath. "Jim, I'm going to call Blair's physician."

Jim looked at her quickly, panic showing on his face. "Is something wrong with Blair?" He struggled to his feet, grimacing as his legs protested the movement after so many hours spent sitting in the hard plastic chair at Blair's bedside.

"Oh, Jim, I'm sorry! No - nothing is wrong with Blair," she soothed. "I'm calling him because Blair is doing so well. He wanted to be kept appraised of his condition. I think he'll start to wean Blair off the sedation tonight."

"Oh," Jim said softly, sitting heavily again. His heart was racing from the rush of adrenalin and his hands shook as he pressed them to his face.

The hand on his shoulder startled him and he jumped, his face flaming in embarrassment.

"Jim, go home and get some sleep. Blair will need you in the morning."

Jim stubbornly shook his head. "No. I promised him."

Patricia smiled softly. "What did you promise?"

Jim blushed again. "That I wouldn't leave him alone. He hates hospitals and gets frightened when he wakes up alone."

"But he's sedated, Jim. He won't wake up tonight."

Jim shook his head. "Doesn't matter. Besides, I can sleep right here. I've done it before."

The nurse just sighed. "I'm going out to make that call, Jim. I'll let you know what the doctor says."

"Thanks."

As he waited for Patricia to return, Jim stretched, and then yawned expansively. He was tired. There was no denying that, but he wasn't going to break his promise to Blair. Besides, he could just pull his chair closer to the bed and lay his head on the side… and he'd be fine.

"Detective?"

The hand on his shoulder made him jump and he realized he must have fallen asleep with his head on the edge of Blair's hospital bed. He stretched, grimacing against the pull of too stiff muscles, and looked around.

"What is it?" he asked quickly. "What's wrong?"

Sarah smiled. "Nothing is wrong. I just thought you'd like to be a little more comfortable."

Jim shook his head. "No - not leaving," he protested, wondering what time it was and how long he'd been dozing.

"I know, Jim. That's why I've brought you a little present."

Jim turned and grinned. Sarah's little present was a reclining chair. "Will it fit?" he asked softly.

"We'll make it fit. Come on - help me out here."

With a quick smile, Jim picked up the hard plastic chair, moving it out of the way so they could wheel the recliner into the room. After a few minutes of positioning, they got him settled, close enough that he could reach out and hold onto Blair's hand.

"Thanks," he whispered as she covered him with a light blanket.

"Like I said - you won't be of any use if you're exhausted. Now get some sleep."

<><><>

A twitch of the fingers held loosely in his hand, coupled with a hitch in the steady hissing of the ventilator, brought Jim out of a deep sleep. Even before he registered the fact that he had actually fallen asleep, he was on his feet, bending over the bed.

"Jim! Jim, he's okay."

Jim looked up to see Sarah standing on the other side of the bed. "How - how long?"

"How long did you sleep?" At Jim's nod, she continued. "About six hours."

"Six hours?" He was shocked that he could have dropped his guard for that amount of time.

"Relax, you needed the rest."

Jim looked at her quickly when he recognized the humor lacing her voice. "Yeah - I guess I did." He took a quick breath. "So, how's he doing?"

"He had a good night and, for the past half hour, he's been showing signs of wanting to breathe on his own."

"The hitch in the sounds from the vent?"

Sarah smiled. "Yeah - that and stronger vitals. He should be coming around soon and that's when you're going to be very vital."

"How so?"

Sarah grinned. "Think about it, Jim. Was Blair conscious when he was brought in?"

Jim shook his head. "No," he said, frowning. Suddenly he brightened. "And when he comes to he's going to be disoriented."

"Yes - and you'll be here to help keep him calm."

Jim frowned again. "Can't you just take him off the ventilator before he wakes up?"

The nurse sighed. "While that would probably make Blair calmer, it is not our standard procedure - and he may not be ready to be taken completely off the vent."

Jim nodded his understanding even as he steeled himself for Blair's reaction upon waking. As Jim waited, he kept his attention on his partner until something caught his eye. Looking up, Jim gasped softly.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Sarah looked up briefly before looking back down toward her task. After tightening the restraint around Blair's left wrist, just above his IV, she set his hand down again, patting it gently. "Blair needs to be restrained now, Jim. He doesn't come out of anesthetic well - and we don't want him to hurt himself." She walked around the bed until she was standing beside Jim. "May I?" she asked.

He looked down to where he held Blair's hand before turning confused eyes back up to her. "I - look, Blair doesn't like to be restrained." He blushed furiously when he realized his how that sounded. "He's been - kidnapped too many times. It really freaks him out."

Sarah nodded. "I know, Jim. It's in his chart." She took Blair's hand from Jim's grasp and fastened the soft restraint around the wrist. "That's why you're here. It will be your job to keep him calm." She placed Blair's hand back in his and he blinked down at it, barely resisting the urge to tug lightly to test its range of motion. "Jim? Are you okay?"

Jim licked his lips and nodded. "I'm okay." He sighed softly as he traced circles on the back of the limp hand he held and wondered, not for the first time since this whole ordeal began, just how he was going to get through this - and bring Blair through unscathed as well.

<><><>

The sounds from the machines surrounding Blair's bed hammered against Jim's mind and he struggled to maintain his calm. A soft squeeze on his fingers made him look down again. Seeing Blair's eyelids begin to flutter he called out, reaching over to press the call button for the nurse as well.

Patricia bustled into the room, greeting Jim as she walked in and telling him that a call was being placed to Blair's physician. He nodded, not taking his eyes off his partner as the nurse got to work, efficiently taking Blair's vitals and checking the readings on the various machine clustered around the bed.

By the time Blair's physician got there, Patricia had updated Blair's electronic medical record and had paged the respiratory therapist. Dr. Jameson and Tony, the respiratory therapist assigned to Blair's case, arrived in the ICU at nearly the same time.

After greeting Jim, Dr. Jameson busied himself at the computer terminal, studying Blair's chart, and talking with Patricia about his patient's condition.

Tony went immediately to Blair's bedside, saying hello to Jim and then double-checking all readings and settings on the ventilator and O2 sat monitor clipped to Blair's finger. He nodded upon finding everything to his liking and then turned to Dr. Jameson.

"Doctor? Mr. Sandburg's readings are strong this morning. His O2 sat is steady at 92%. If, once he is awake and alert, you want to extubate, just page me."

Dr. Jameson looked up briefly and nodded. "Right. Thanks, Tony."

As the minutes ticked by, Blair slowly roused toward wakefulness. As this happened Blair became more and more restless and pulled against Jim's fingers as he held onto Blair's hand, hoping that his presence would distract his lover from the fact that his hands were restrained.

Finally the moment came when Blair opened his eyes. Jim saw the momentary panic in Blair's eyes before he leaned over, putting himself in Blair's line of sight.

"Shh, Chief. It's okay. You're in the hospital," Jim soothed.

The look of panic didn't decrease and Jim turned, looking for help. Dr. Jameson stepped up to the bed and leaned over Blair, drawing the young man's eyes away from Jim and to him. "Mr. Sandburg, good to see you awake." The doctor was all business, diverting Blair's attention enough that Jim felt him relax slightly. "You're in the ICU. Seems that you have pneumonia and went into respiratory distress two days ago."

At that pronouncement, Blair looked from the physician to Jim, seeming to take in his partner's disheveled appearance, before looking back to the doctor.

Jim could sense that he wanted to speak and, when he realized he couldn't, Blair started to panic again.

Dr. Jameson saw when Blair began to struggle, fighting against the ventilator. "Blair? Look at me." He waited until Blair's blue eyes tracked to his before continuing. "When you arrived in the emergency department, you were in severe respiratory distress. You were placed on a respirator and have been sedated for the past two days. Do you understand?"

When Blair nodded, the doctor smiled down at him.

"Good, now I want to keep you on the respirator for another couple of hours to make sure your lungs are strong enough for you to breathe on your own before we take you off the vent."

Blair nodded again, and then Jim watched his eyes open wide as he pulled against the restraints around his wrists. Jim could hear Blair's heart rate begin to escalate and he knew that his lover was beginning to panic.

"Blair, honey - look at me," Jim entreated softly. He waited until Blair's frightened eyes met his before giving his mate a small smile. "It's okay, love. I'm here - keeping you safe." He felt Blair tug against his restraints again and nodded down at his lover. "That's okay, too. They have restrained your hands because you're known to have a tendency to wake up a bit agitated - and it's hospital policy." He smiled softly. "Maybe if you stay calm we can talk them into taking the restraints off - okay?"

Blair frowned and then rolled his eyes, making Jim chuckle as he realized Blair's frustration.

"Okay then - maybe I can talk them into taking the restraints off." He bent low as he rolled Blair's hand over and then pressed his lips to Blair's palm.

Blair blinked up at him, tears filling his eyes. Jim swallowed heavily, hating to see Blair hurting and upset. He ran his thumbs gently over Blair's cheeks, capturing the tears as they slid from Blair's eyes.

"It's okay, Blair - really it is. I'm right here." Blair squeezed his fingers. "And I'm not leaving."

The two hours crawled by for Jim. Blair, on the other hand, took the opportunity to nap, or, rather, a nap crept up on him. Jim watched Blair as he slept, holding onto his hand in case he woke again. The doctor was adamant about following the hospital procedures to the letter and wouldn't release Blair's wrist restraints, since he was deemed a risk due to past behavior and Jim didn't want him to panic when he woke in restraints.

At the one hour mark Tony returned. "Hi, Jim. I see he's sleeping again," he said as he walked around Blair's bed.

Jim nodded. "Yeah," he breathed. "He seems - exhausted."

Tony smiled. "That's completely normal. Being on a vent isn't easy on the patient. And, now that Blair is awake and healing, his body wants to take over for the vent and is fighting it." He turned back to the vent, adjusting settings as he spoke. "Right now, I'm adjusting Balir's oxygen settings. We like to hyperoxygenate the patient before we extubate. Then, if his lungs take a while to pick up the pace, his oxygen level won't fall too low."

"So it's an insurance policy of sorts," Jim interjected softly.

Tony smiled. "Yeah - an insurance policy." He nodded and then, turned to go. "I'll see you in about forty-five minutes. I want to explain some things to Blair before we extubate him."

Jim nodded absentmindedly as he turned back to Blair once again.

<><><>

Blair woke about forty minutes later, struggling lightly against the restraints before blinking open his eyes to stare up at his Sentinel. Jim could feel his heart clench as he looked into Blair's eyes. He knew that Blair couldn't stand the restraints, and Jim was powerless to release his hands.

Trying to distract his lover, he smiled tremulously down at him. "It's going to be okay."

Blair shook his head slowly and pulled against the restraints again.

Jim stilled his hands with his, wrapping his long fingers around Blair's wrists and holding snugly. "Please Blair. I know this is hard for you, but you need to hang in there for me." He looked up at the clock on the wall. "Tony will be back in just a couple of minutes and then you're going to get that tube out of your throat - okay?"

Blair nodded and looked up at the clock before looking into Jim's eyes once again.

Jim smiled. "That's right. Keep looking at me - only me. Once that tube is gone, they'll have no reason to keep you restrained." Jim stared into Blair's eyes and could swear he saw the trepidation there ease a little.

Right on schedule, Tony walked into the room, his cheerful voice making Blair glance up at him quickly before looking back to Jim.

"Hey Blair," Tony said as he stepped up to the bed. "My name's Tony. I'm a respiratory therapist and I'll be assisting Dr. Jameson when he extubates you. If you don't mind, I want to get the preliminaries out of the way and explain what's going to happen to you - okay?"

Blair nodded.

Tony smiled. "Great. The first thing I'm going to do is take this strap off," he said as he reached behind Blair's head and unfastened the strap holding the intubation tube in place. Tony was careful and gentle as he removed the strap and looked into Blair's mouth and throat, explaining everything to Blair as he worked. "Okay Blair, I need you to cough for me."

Blair frowned.

"Coughing will tell me how strong your lungs are. I'm going to fasten this incentive spirometer to the vent tube and then, when I say, I want you to concentrate and cough for me as hard as you can." He fastened the device to the tubing and then looked into Blair's eyes. "Go for it, Blair. Cough."

Blair's eyes shut and there was a pause before he coughed, forcing air into the spirometer.

Tony grinned as he unfastened the spirometer from the vent tubing. Blair blinked up at him. "Sixty-five. That's very good. I think you're definitely ready to be taken off the vent. Now lay back and let me look into your throat again."

Blair settled back and let Tony tilt his chin up as he opened his mouth. Tony then shined a small penlight into Blair's mouth and throat.

"Looking good," Tony announced just as Dr. Jameson walked in.

"Good to hear," the doctor commented as he approached the bed. Looking down at Blair, he smiled. "Are you ready to have that tube removed?"

Blair nodded, looking to Jim.

Jim smiled and squeezed his hand. "I'm right here, babe. Not going anyplace."

Blair blinked and looked back at the doctor.

Dr. Jameson notified Patricia that they were about to begin and she immediately entered the room, bringing with her, the intubation tray in case of respiratory failure. The head of Blair's bed was raised until he was reclining at about a forty-five degree angle. Once he was set, Tony leaned over the bed again.

"Ready, Blair?" At Blair's nod, he smiled. "Okay then, first I'm going to suction your throat." He took the proffered tubing from Patricia, nodding to her in thanks, before threading it down Blair's throat alongside the endotracheal tube. Once he was finished, he removed the suction and reached for another piece of tubing. "Now, I'm going to thread this catheter down the endotracheal tubing." Talking as he worked, he continued, "Once this thing is seated, I'm going to deflate the cuff around the tubing. And there we are: deflating the cuff."

Dr. Jameson nodded. "Good work, Tony. Now, let's get rid of this tube, shall we?" He pulled gloves on and leaned forward, grasping the tubing in his hands. "I need you to take a deep breath, Blair, and, when I say, I want you to cough. Ready?"

At Blair's nod he smiled.

"Okay then, Tony? Vacuum? Thanks. Blair? Big breath and then cough - go."

And with those words Blair took a deep breath. Just as he reached his peak inhalation, Dr. Jameson pulled on the tubing, removing it from Blair's throat even as he began to cough.

Blair curled up on the bed as he coughed. To Jim, it looked as if he couldn't catch his breath and Jim looked to Blair's physician for help.

Dr. Jameson didn't seem to be worried. He reached out a hand and Tony put an oxygen mask in it, which the doctor then placed over Blair's nose and mouth, stretching the elastic band up and over Blair's head and securing the mask to fit snugly against his face.

"Relax, Blair. That's it - breathe deeply." The doctor talked softly to Blair and Jim could see him start to calm as he breathed deeply. "Tony?"

The respiratory therapist looked up. "Oxygen levels are set, doc, as is humidity."

The doctor nodded. "Good. I'd like an ABG in thirty minutes if his O2 sat looks to be falling."

Tony nodded. "Sure thing." He smiled down at Blair. "I'll be back in a few minutes to check on you, Blair."

Blair nodded to him as another cough wracked his frame. Jim tightened his grip on Blair's hand, lending his partner his strength until he stopped coughing again.

Dr. Jameson had been talking quietly with Patricia and he now turned back to the bed. "You're going very well, Blair. I'm going to step out for a while but I'll be back in to check on you. Patricia is going to stay with you in case anything goes wrong - which, at this point, I highly doubt anything will. Tony will be in and out also, checking on your oxygen status. All you need to do now is stay quiet - no talking above a whisper, and that only rarely - and rest. Okay?"

Blair nodded and mouthed, "Thank you," even as his eyes began to close.

Dr. Jameson smiled at Jim. "It is very normal for the patient to be tired after this procedure, detective. He is doing very well."

"Thank you," Jim said softly as he held onto Blair's limp hand.

As the doctor walked out of the door, Patricia walked up to the bed and began releasing the restraints around Blair's wrists. She smiled up at Jim when she realized he was watching her. "I think it's safe to take these off now, don't you?"

He nodded. "Yes," he breathed as he thought about how unhappy those restraints had made Blair. He would be very happy to wake up without them.

The next hour passed in a blur for Jim as he stretched his senses out to monitor Blair's every breath. He was sitting in the chair next to Blair's bed once again, barely noticing as Patricia worked around the bed or when Tony came in to check on Blair. It wasn't until he felt the fingers clasped in his hand clench around his own fingers that he looked up and found himself staring into two bright blue eyes.

"Are you okay, Jim?" Blair whispered, Sentinel soft.

Jim nodded. "I'm fine - now."

"Sorry."

Jim bent his head and kissed Blair's fingers. "I'm sorry Blair - for not paying attention to you - for not noticing how sick you were."

Blair put his fingers against Jim's lips. "Shh, not your fault." His eyes closed again as he succumbed to sleep once again.

Jim sighed and leaned his head against the bed.

<><><>

Blair slept a good portion of the day away as Jim watched over him. He was surprised to see how late it was when Sarah poked her head into Blair's room.

"Past seven already?" he asked even as he looked up to glance at the clock.

"Eight fifteen, Jim," she answered softly. "How's he doing?"

He smiled, knowing she'd probably been in at least a couple of times since he'd dozed off. "Seems to be doing well."

She smiled. "He is doing quite well, Jim. And, since you agree with me, I want you to go home and get some real sleep tonight."

"What? No - I need to be here."

Sarah smiled. "Jim, he's sleeping. He's stable. Go home."

Jim looked down at Blair and then back up to the nurse's smiling face. Knowing he'd been tricked, he sighed. "Okay - but call me if anything happens."

"I will. Now shoo!" She smiled as Jim bent down and kissed Blair gently on the forehead. "Good night, detective," she said as he turned and walked from the room.

<><><>

Jim woke just as the sun was rising, his senses automatically reaching out for his guide. A frown crossed his face as he remembered where Blair was and he rolled over onto his side, pulling his mate's pillow tight against his body and pressing his face into it, inhaling his Guide's scent deep into his lungs. Once his senses had settled, he pushed up off the bed and got ready for his day.

It was a much more rested Jim Ellison that walked into Cascade General Hospital that morning. He grabbed a cup of coffee in the lobby's coffee shop before heading upstairs. Once he got to the ICU waiting room, he wasted no time in ringing the buzzer.

"Yes? May I help you?"

"This is Jim Ellison - to see Blair Sandburg." There was a pause and Jim fidgeted as he looked from the intercom panel on the wall to the locked ICU doors and back again. "Hello? Is there a problem?" he asked after a couple of minutes.

The voice came back through the intercom. "Sorry, Detective. Someone will be with you in just a moment."

Now Jim was worried. He hadn't had to wait in the waiting room since the first day. Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, he glanced at his watch. It was six thirty - not yet shift change. So what was taking so long? Just as he closed his eyes to extend his hearing in search of Blair, the door opened. He opened his eyes, expecting to see Sarah. However, it was Dr. Jameson standing in the doorway, his hair tousled and wearing a pair of blue jeans and a polo shirt.

"What's happened?" Jim blurted out as he felt his world tilt.

Dr. Jameson stepped forward quickly and led the distraught man to a chair. "Sit, detective."

"I need to know what happened," Jim said as soon as he could catch his breath.

Dr. Jameson took a deep breath. "Blair is back on the ventilator. He was doing well until around three o'clock this morning. At that point, I received a call that he was having slight difficulty breathing. I upped his oxygen intake at that point and asked to be called again in an hour." Jim opened his mouth to say something and the doctor held up his hand. "Let me finish and then you can ask all the questions you want - okay?" At Jim's nod, he continued, "At four o'clock, Blair's nurse called to say that he was still having trouble breathing. I ordered a respiratory care consult and headed in. By the time I arrived, the RT had given Blair two breathing treatments and he seemed to be breathing a little easier. I went over his chart and then, as I was talking with Robert, the RT, Blair began to cough. I was told by his nurse that he'd been having some periods of coughing throughout the night. It soon became apparent that this attack was bad. Blair couldn't catch his breath and was beginning to show signs of cyanosis. His oxygen saturation was in the toilet and he passed out. We immediately intubated him and administered a new round of IV antibiotics as well as sedatives." He took a deep breath and ran his hands through his already mussed hair. "And here we are."

Jim was trembling as he struggled for control. His guide was in there - and he needed him - and yet here he was, sitting on his ass in the waiting room. He licked his lips. "Why wasn't I called?" His voice was hoarse and he cleared his throat.

"When all this began, we didn't think it necessary - and Blair asked us not to disturb you. After we intubated him, Sarah tried calling but got a service interruption message. She was in the process of calling again when you arrived."

Jim nodded. "Can I see him?" he asked softly.

Dr. Jameson got to his feet. "Of course you can see him. Come with me."

The physician walked over to the doors, activating the intercom and introducing himself before being buzzed through. Jim followed close on his heels.

When Jim walked through the doorway into Blair's room the sight he was met with staggered him. If possible, Blair looked even smaller in the hospital bed than he had that morning. His hair was fanned out across the pillow and Jim could see where the strap holding the ventilator tube in Blair's mouth wrapped around his head, indenting the skin on his face. There were dark circles under his eyes that looked like bruises against the pale white of his skin. Those expressive eyes were closed and Jim remembered that Dr. Jameson had told him they had sedated his partner again. Jim sighed softly as he stepped up to the side of the bed, moving around Tony, who was adjusting the settings on the ventilator. He took Blair's hand in his and noted that he was restrained again.

"Are - are the restraints necessary - since he's sedated?" Jim inquired softly.

Dr. Jameson's voice came from just over his shoulder and made Jim flinch. "Yes, I'm afraid so. Blair was fighting for every breath when we sedated him. I expect him to be fighting when he wakes next."

Jim nodded, not trusting his voice. He leaned on the side rail and, still holding onto Blair's hand, carded the fingers of his free hand through Blair's tangled curls. **I love you, Chief. Don't leave me.**

Heart monitor, ventilator, IVs, oxygen saturation meter… Jim catalogued each and every one. He knew every sound in the room and could sort through them quickly to find his Guide's heartbeat. If he listened carefully, he could hear the rattle in Blair's lungs even over the hissing sounds of the oxygen being forced into them.

Blair was on a multitude of medications, keeping his nurse busy as she monitored him and hung different bags of drugs on a precise schedule. Jim barely registered her presence until she touched him, resting her hand on his shoulder and speaking to him softly.

"Jim?"

Her voice penetrated his mind and he stood, easing the ache out of his back from being bent over Blair's bed for god only knew how long. He bit back a groan as his muscles protested his movement and he took one hand off of Blair long enough to rub at his protesting back. Blinking slowly in his daze, he looked up.

Patricia smiled at him but Jim thought it looked a little sad - or maybe that was just his imagination. "Are you okay?" she asked before continuing. "Can I get you anything?"

He knew she was trying to be nice - trying to make him feel better - but he wasn't up to small talk so he just shook his head and turned back to the man lying so still on the hospital bed.

"At least sit down, Jim. You're pretty big to have to pick up off the floor." She pulled the hard plastic chair up to the side of the bed and guided him into it.

Jim heard her leave the room but he couldn't be bothered to care. Everything he was - everything he needed was in front of him and he was going to make sure that Blair was going to be all right.

<><><>

The hours passed slowly, time plodding along on a never-ending path, and Jim lost track of the time as he sat in the ICU, listening to his lover breathe. Each time the respirator forced oxygen into his lungs and each time Blair expelled that oxygen, Jim listened, monitoring the sounds for any changes. He was nearly zoned on the sounds and probably would have if not for the fact that he was using tactile sense to ground himself.

Every so often someone would come and ask him if they could get him anything - or tell him they thought he should get some rest - but Jim shrugged them off as he would any annoying pest, ignoring them until they left him alone. He was pretty sure there had been at least one shift change, maybe more, but he really didn't care. As long as he was with his guide, keeping him safe, then everything else faded.

Jim was, therefore, surprised when one of those pests wouldn't just go away after his grunted answer to the inevitable question of 'can I get you anything?". He growled low in his throat as the question was repeated, this time by a much lower voice.

"Jim!"

This time he turned toward the voice, blinking to focus his eyes. His eyes fell on a belt buckle and a pair of dark pants. Sighing, Jim looked up. Standing in the doorway was his boss, Simon Banks. He turned away, looking down at Blair again.

"You didn't come to work yesterday."

He frowned, sure that there was something wrong with that statement. And then it hit him. "Yesterday?" His voice was hoarse and his throat scratchy.

"Yeah," Simon answered softly as he stepped into the room. "The nurses tell me you've been here since early yesterday - just sitting here beside Blair's bed."

Jim didn't answer.

"Jim!"

"What?" he growled. "What do you want from me?"

Simon sighed. "I called here - looking for you when you didn't come in. I'm sorry about - what happened." When he didn't get any response from Jim, Simon stepped up beside the bed. "So, how is he?"

Jim snorted. "How does he look?"

Simon nodded. "Sorry. I guess that was a stupid question." Simon hesitated.

Jim sensed that Simon was there for a reason and he shifted in his chair, wincing as his muscles protested, finally looking up at the larger man. "So - why are you here?"

"Can't I just come to check on you - on Blair?"

Jim looked at him. "No."

Simon smiled. "No? Okay then. Blair's doctor asked me to talk to you. You need to leave - to get some rest."

Jim turned away. "No," he said softly. "Blair needs me here."

Simon put his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Blair needs you healthy. You've been sitting here for thirty-six hours. Let me spell you for a few hours. Go home - get some sleep and I'll sit with Blair."

Jim shook his head. "I can't," he whispered. "I can't leave him."

"Jim, you don't have a choice. Either you go home and get some rest or Dr. Jameson is sedating you and admitting you for observation. Your choice."

Jim looked up at Simon and blinked slowly. From the set of the big man's shoulders and the grim line of his mouth Jim deduced that he was most likely telling the truth. He turned back to the bad and put his lips to Blair's hand, stifling a sob. **Get a grip, Ellison.**

He stood, hanging onto the bed rail as his legs protested the movement after so many idle hours. Simon reached out to steady him, but Jim waved him away. Simon backed up, letting Jim walk past him.

"Take care of him, Simon."

"I will, Jim."

Jim took a step toward the doorway and was stopped by Simon's voice. "And Jim? Do not come back here before seven a.m. Do I make myself clear?"

Not turning around, Jim nodded curtly. "Yes, sir."

<><><>

Jim hadn't thought he would be able to sleep, but once he'd gotten home and taken a shower it was all he could do to drag himself up the stairs and drop into the bed. Wrapping his arms around Blair's pillow he buried his face in his Guide's scent and fell into a deep sleep.

Morning came quickly to the Sentinel. A soft rosy glow was just beginning to tinge the sky when his eyes opened and he pushed himself from the mattress. Scrubbing his hands over his face to wipe the sleep from his system, he grabbed his clothes for the day and headed downstairs.

Jim finished his morning ablutions quickly as his coffee was brewing. Once he was dressed, he filled his travel mug with the steaming brew. As he headed toward the door he glanced at the wall clock. It was five thirty. He sighed. Simon would kill him - or worse, would have him admitted - if he got to the hospital before seven o'clock.

Setting his travel mug down on the kitchen counter with a loud thud, Jim growled low in his throat.

"Damn it!"

**An hour and a half. What am I going to do for an hour and a half?**

Just then, his stomach rumbled and he grimaced. He vaguely remembered eating - two days ago. Okay, breakfast would take up a little time.

Jim rummaged around in the refrigerator for a few minutes before giving up and pulling out a loaf of bread. He threw a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster and leaned against the counter as he waited for it. Once it had popped, he grabbed the toast and his coffee and went out onto the balcony.

Sitting in a chair on the balcony, he put his feet up on the railing and nibbled at his dry toast as he watched the city lighten as the sun rose into the sky. Soon he began to hear sounds of a waking city and looked down at his watch. It was six o'clock.

Jim watched the city wake from his perch, counting the minutes until he could go to his Guide. As much as Jim wanted to, he couldn't make himself pick up the phone and call the hospital to find out how Blair was doing. If there were any bad news - well, he would just have to hold onto the hope that Blair was getting better. If not, he didn't know what he'd do.

He left the loft at six forty, figuring it would take at least fifteen minutes to get to the hospital and another few to get upstairs, and, if he knew Simon, there was no way for him to get into ICU before seven o'clock. Patience wasn't something he was comfortable with, but he knew better than to buck his boss on this one.

6:59am - Jim pushed the button for the elevator. The doors opened almost immediately as the hospital was quiet at this early hour. When the doors opened again, it was all he could do not to run down the hall and force his way into the ICU. Instead, he took a deep breath and forced himself to a brisk walk.

7:03am - Jim pressed the intercom button and was buzzed into the ICU. The nurses at the desk smiled as he walked past and into Blair's room. Simon stood when he entered.

"So - you kept your word," the big man rumbled as he stood and stretched.

"Didn't have much choice, did I?"

Simon looked at him. "Get some sleep?"

Jim nodded.

"A meal?"

Jim hesitated, then nodded. "A little, sir."

Simon smiled. "Fair enough."

Jim cleared his throat. "So - so how's he doing, Simon?"

"Why don't you ask his nurse? They tell me he is getting stronger but I really don't know."

Jim nodded and watched as Simon turned to leave. "Simon?"

The big man turned back. "What is it, Jim?"

"Thanks."

Simon grinned. "You're welcome. Take care of him."

Jim nodded and stepped up to the side of the bed, taking Blair's lax hand in his and reaching out with his senses to check his partner.

<><><>

The day passed much like the last one and Jim found himself dozing at Blair's bedside as he held onto his lover's hand and listened to the sounds of the machinery surrounding his bed. The staff left him pretty much alone, only asking after his comfort a couple of times and making him promise to let them know if he needed anything. The recliner was wheeled into the room that evening and Jim looked up at the gift-bearer with a tired smile.

"Thanks, Sarah. I thought you'd be off tonight," he said with a yawn.

She smiled. "It's my last night, Jim. Then I have four glorious days - and nights - off. I can't wait!"

Jim chuckled softly. "I bet."

Jim helped Sarah position the recliner beside Blair's bed and then accepted the proffered blanket with a wry grin. "Thanks," he said.

"You're welcome, Jim. Get some rest. Blair's doing fine - and I think Dr. Jameson is planning to try to extubate him in the morning."

Jim nodded and crawled into the chair, covering up with the blanket before reaching out for Blair's hand. He closed his eyes and fell into a light doze almost immediately.

Sarah finished logging Blair's vitals and adjusting his IV lines and then turned to see Jim asleep in the recliner. With a smile she left the room, dimming the lights as she went.

<><><>

"Patricia?" Jim rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he looked around Blair's room.

The nurse smiled over at Jim. "Yes?"

"I thought today was your day off."

Patricia continued to check Blair's vitals, recording her findings in his EMR. "Was being the operative word." She glanced at Jim and smiled again. "There was a call-out and they asked me to work - so I said yes, if I got to keep my assignments - so here I am."

"Ah, now I get it." Jim crawled from the recliner and stretched.

"Go get yourself a cup of coffee, Jim. Blair is starting to wake and I'm sure you want to be ready for that."

"Right," he said, looking down at Blair for a moment before walking out of the room.

<><><>

Jim walked back into Blair's room again in about five minutes. As he entered he noticed that there was a new respiratory therapist checking the settings on the ventilator. At his questioning look, Patricia smiled.

"Apparently we've had another call-out. Tony is sick, too. This is Rob."

Jim nodded at the respiratory therapist before stepping up to the side of Blair's bed. "Are we ready to do this then?"

A hand on his arm made him jump.

"It's okay, Jim. We're almost ready. Blair is almost awake and Dr. Jameson is on his way."

Just then Blair blinked awake, his eyes heavy. Jim squeezed Blair's hand gently, drawing his attention to him. "Hi, Sleepyhead. You back with me?"

Blair blinked up at Jim, twisting his free hand in the restraint.

"It's okay, Blair. The restraints will come off as soon as we get rid of the vent again."

Blair nodded up at Jim, who smiled. Jim leaned forward and placed a light kiss on Blair's forehead. "I love you," he whispered. Blair squeezed his hand.

Just then Dr. Jameson entered the room. "Good morning," he said in greeting as he approached the bed. "Blair - I see you're awake. Ready to get rid of this contraption then?" He smiled as Blair nodded. "And are you willing to promise me you'll behave and not have to be put on the vent again?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

Blair rolled his eyes at the joke and Dr. Jameson laughed.

"Let's get rolling then, shall we?"

The extubation went smoothly and soon Blair was vent free once again. Rob placed the oxygen mask over Blair's mouth and nose and then checked the oxygen settings once more before leaving the room, promising to check on Blair again in thirty minutes.

Blair squeezed Jim's hand and the older man lifted his head. "Penny for your thoughts," Blair whispered.

Jim smiled sadly. "Not worth a penny, Chief."

Blair smiled. "They are to me."

Jim shook his head and looked down at the bed.

After a minute Blair reached out and put his finger under Jim's chin, tilting the other man's head up until he was looking into Blair's eyes once again. "Don't hide from me - please."

Jim snorted. "Like you'd let that happen," he groused good-naturedly. "It's just… Damn it, Blair! I could have lost you - and I would never be able to handle that."

Blair smiled. "You aren't getting rid of me that easily, Ellison." He lifted the oxygen mask from his face. "Kiss me."

Jim stood and, leaning over the bed, kissed Blair gently before replacing the oxygen mask. "I love you, Blair," he said softly as he sat back down and took Blair's hand in his own. When he looked up again, Blair was sleeping.

<><><>

Blair was moved to a private room on the medical floor the next day - and Jim went back to work. Walking into the bullpen, Jim was reminded again of just how much Blair was liked by everyone in Major Crimes as he was bombarded with people asking him how Blair was doing.

"People!"

The loud voice from behind them had everyone cringing. Simon stepped from his office and scowled at the gathered people.

"Don't you have work to do? I'm sure I'm paying you for something."

The group dispersed and Jim looked to Simon, who winked and headed back into his office. Jim grinned and then dropped into his chair with a heartfelt sigh. Picking up a file, he opened it and began to work on his report. As long as nothing else came in, he should be able to get a little of the backlog cleared up.

His luck only lasted about two hours and then he was called in to Captain Banks' office. "What can I do for you, Captain?"

Simon looked up at him. "Have a seat, detective." He waited until Jim took a seat and then continued. "We have a body."

"Isn't that Homicide's problem, sir?"

Simon grinned around the cigar clamped in his teeth. He licked the end as he pulled it from his mouth again. "Well, it should be - but they've asked for help."

"Okay," Jim said slowly, wondering where the conversation was heading.

"Think you can help me out here, Jim - since Blair is in the hospital, that is." He cleared his throat. "Aw, hell. Can you do this without Blair?"

Jim smiled and nodded. "Sure thing, Simon - but maybe you should come with me on this one. At least you know how to help me focus."

Simon nodded and stood. "Let's do it."

The crime scene was in an abandoned warehouse by the water. Jim frowned as they pulled up in front of the building. It looked like the entire Homicide division was milling around in front of the building.

"Who's working this?" he asked.

Simon shook his head. "Let's find out."

They got out of the car and headed toward the building. One of the officers broke away from the group and approached them.

"Parker, what have you got?" Simon asked as he looked around.

Lt. Cole Parker sighed and shook his head. "Damned if I know, Simon. It's - it's bad."

For a member of Homicide to classify the crime scene as 'bad', it had to be horrible. Simon nodded and looked around at the milling officers.

"Anyone inside?" he asked.

Parker shook his head. "No."

"That bad, huh?"

Parker nodded and looked over at his people. "Yeah - it's bad. One of the worst I've ever seen." He looked at Jim. "I've heard things, detective."

"Like?" Jim growled. Simon's hand on his arm had him backing down quickly, struggling to reign in his quick flash of temper.

"Like the fact that you are very good at analyzing a crime scene, detective. And that you seem to be able to find a needle in a haystack." He ran a shaking hand through his short hair. "I'm afraid that's exactly what we need on this one."

Simon looked at Jim who just nodded and began making his way toward the warehouse with Simon following close behind. The other officers parted before them, moving out of their way almost automatically and looking away from the pair who were moving toward the warehouse.

Jim gagged and nearly fell to his knees almost as soon as he walked through the door and into the dim interior of the warehouse. The air was close - like the warehouse had been shut up for quite some time. Other than that, Simon couldn't smell anything - bad. But it was obvious that Jim could.

"Dial it down, Jim," he said softly as he put his hand on Jim's lower back.

Jim nodded and straightened up as he looked around the large open space. Simon was close on his heels as he walked deeper into the building, following a scent only he could smell. It wasn't until they had gotten to the top of the stairs that Simon wrinkled his nose. It was an almost sweet cloying scent that was hovering just out of his ability to identify it.

"What is that?" he asked softly.

Jim swallowed heavily. "Blood - lots of blood - and other things."

"Other things? Do I even want to know?"

Jim shook his head and kept walking.

<><><>

Blair opened his arms when Jim walked into his hospital room. Simon had called him and filled him in on what had happened. The horror of the day was written plainly on his lover's face and Blair barely held in his sob as the older man stared at him from the doorway.

"Don't even think about leaving, Ellison," Blair said softly.

"I - I'm dirty," Jim whispered.

Blair smiled sadly. "No you're not, love. You aren't dirty, Jim. Come to me."

A soft sob escaped Jim's lips as he took a hesitant step into the room, stopping again just inside the door.

"Don't make me get up and come to get you, Jim," Blair threatened. He coughed harshly and then laid his head down on his pillow again. "Please," he rasped.

Jim stumbled across the room, coming to a stop beside Blair's hospital bed. He looked down at his lover, automatically cataloguing his condition.

"Sit."

Jim nodded and pulled a chair up to Blair's bedside. Sitting heavily he bent forward and reached for Blair's unencumbered hand that was lying on his stomach. Jim clasped that hand in his own and then laid his head down, capturing the hand under his cheek and resting his head on Blair's midsection.

Blair felt moisture on his hand and realized Jim was crying. He reached over with his free hand and gently carded his fingers through Jim's hair, letting the other man vent his grief. Blair knew a little of what had transpired in the warehouse - but just what Simon could tell him - and the Captain had quickly run out of descriptive words, vainly searching for adjectives to describe the horrors to the young observer. In the end, the stoic Captain had sobbed once into the phone and said, "It was bad, Sandburg - really bad. Jim's going to need help on this one." And then he had hung up, leaving the young man staring at the phone in his hand.

As he ran his fingers through Jim's hair, Blair thought about what Simon had told him. Apparently, they had walked in on the aftermath of a kidnapping that had escalated into a double homicide. The kidnapper had grabbed a young couple, held them captive in the warehouse and then tortured them to death, seemingly for the hell of it. The police who stormed the warehouse were acting on a trespassing complaint. What they had walked into was a blood bath. The young man and woman were strapped to tables and had been gutted. Their lifeless bodies were facing each other, as if drawing strength from the other.

Jim had determined that the pair were probably alive when cut open - an autopsy would confirm his findings. The blood had pooled under the tables as it dripped from the sides of the narrow tables. Once Jim had been able to adjust his senses to the horrors of the room, he was able to discern very slight patterns on the floor that led out a concealed back door and into a previously unnoticed part of the building.

After notifying the cops outside and asking for back-up, Simon and Jim had followed the nearly nonexistent trail out into a narrow corridor. From there they found their suspect, in a room just behind the one in which the victims were found. He was hiding behind a stack of crates in what could only be described as his 'nest'. It was obvious to the two men that he had been living there for a while.

The suspect put up a fight and, as he tried to make a break for it, he was killed. His death, however, wouldn't put an end to the incident because there were too many unanswered questions. Was this the first time he had done something like this? Or was it possible that there were other bodies out there - other victims of this madman. Now they would never know.

Blair looked up as the door to his room eased open. He smiled as an RN entered his room and put his finger to his lips at her questioning look. Once she had nodded and smiled in return, he relaxed, confident that she wouldn't awaken his slumbering Sentinel.

<><><>

Jim rubbed his face against the blanket under his chin, inhaling the scent of his guide deep into his lungs. He growled softly and blinked open his eyes, realizing as he woke more fully, that he wasn't in his bed, but was, instead, actually sitting in a chair. He breathed in again, smelling the unmistakable scent of his guide. It was then he remembered. Blair was in the hospital - and he had gone to him after the debacle in the warehouse. He must have fallen asleep.

Pushing himself up on his hands, Jim looked up and saw that Blair was slumbering peacefully. He stifled a groan as his back muscles protested the movement by sending shards of pain shooting up his spine. Struggling to his feet, he let out a soft satisfied sigh as he stretched the kinks from his body and looked around the room.

Sunlight was just beginning to seep in around the edges of the drawn curtains and he realized he had slept the night through snuggled in his guide's arms. In fact, if he wanted to look closely at how he felt this morning, he'd have to admit last night was probably the best night's sleep he had since Blair had been admitted to the hospital - and just what did that say about the Sentinel - Guide bond?

Jim shrugged and turned back to look at his guide. He knew exactly what the Sentinel - Guide bond was. It was the love he felt for this man. It was the ache he felt in his heart when they were apart. It was the balance his guide gave to every aspect of his life.

Work that day was easier for Jim - and harder. Blair was still in the hospital but recovering. What made it difficult was having to write up his report on the murders from the previous day. Each word on the paper brought the horror to vivid light again in his mind and he couldn't shake the images. By the end of the day he was exhausted.

By the time his day was done, he was operating on auto-pilot. His feet knew the way to Blair's hospital room, but it was all he could do to put one foot in front of the other to actually get there. When he pushed open Blair's door, he was startled to see that Blair wasn't in his bed.

Just then Blair shuffled out of the bathroom, pushing his IV pole in front of him and holding his Johnny coat closed at his rear. Jim grinned and Blair scowled at him.

"No smart ass remarks, man," Blair groused as he sat on the edge of his bed.

Jim noticed that Blair was breathing heavily from the short trip to the bathroom. "You supposed to be out of bed, Chief?" he asked softly.

Blair smiled up at him. "Yes, my worried sentinel. In fact, Nancy helped me get to the bathroom. She was going to come back to help me back to the bed but I guess I beat her to it."

Just then Blair's nurse bustled into the room. She frowned at Blair. "Tell me you didn't walk back here by yourself." She looked at Jim who just shrugged. "Blair?" she asked, turning to face him again.

Blair blushed and shrugged. "I was finished. Besides, I can walk across the room all by myself without falling over."

Nancy smiled. "I'm sure you can, but if you fall on my watch, it's my butt on the line - and I do not want to even think about all the paperwork involved in a patient fall." She helped Blair lay back in the bed and pulled his covers up. "Next time, get help - okay?"

Blair nodded. "Sorry," he mumbled.

Nancy took Blair's vital signs, admonished him not to get out of bed alone, and then left the two men alone. Jim pulled a chair up to the side of Blair's bed and sat. Blair watched him, frowning at the dark circles under his mate's eyes and the haunted look in his eyes.

Jim yawned expansively. "Sorry - it's not the company," he quipped with a grin.

Blair barely resisted the urge to stick his tongue out. "Very funny, man." He yawned and stretched. The yawn turned into a deep cough that brought tears to his eyes. By the time he was finished he was gasping for breath. "Damn, that's not fun."

"Are you okay?" Jim asked nervously.

Blair lay back with a small sigh. "Just tired, Jim. I'm so damned tired."

Jim smiled.

"Would you mind…?" Blair began.

"Mind what?" Jim leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

"I hate to say it, but all I want is to get some sleep, man." Blair yawned again. "Sorry."

Jim smiled. "Don't be sorry. I could use some sleep myself." He stood and looked around the room. "You sure you don't need anything?"

"Just a kiss…"

Jim bent down and kissed Blair gently on the lips, followed by a light kiss on his brow, before standing upright.

"Good night, Jim," Blair said softly. "Get some sleep - okay?"

<><><>

The next few days passed quickly. Blair got stronger every day. Simon assigned Megan to work with Jim as his temporary partner, being sure to tell both parties that the arrangement was only going to last until Blair could return to the precinct. Megan grumbled something about babysitting a crazy man and Jim growled something about working alone and both stormed off to sulk. Simon grinned and went back into his office, mumbling something about everything being back to normal.

<><><>

Jim picked Blair up from the hospital on a Friday - nearly two weeks after he'd been admitted. The young anthropologist still felt weak and he had a persistent cough that sometimes made him gasp for breath - and he was ecstatic about being 'sprung', as he put it. He graciously allowed Pam, his nurse, to push him out to Jim's truck and chuckled at the sight of Jim trying to cart all his accumulated gifts and flowers as well as the overnight bag Jim had packed with his toiletries and clothes.

Blair waited until Jim brought the truck around and then let his lover help him get settled inside. He leaned his head back against the headrest and sighed.

"You okay, Chief?" Jim asked as he got into the truck and pulled his door closed.

Blair smiled and rolled his head to look at Jim. "I'm fine, Jim - just tired." He reached out and grasped Jim's hand. "Let's go home."

Jim grinned and started the truck. The trip was made in a comfortable silence and, by the time Jim pulled up in front of 852 Prospect Street, Blair was mostly asleep. Jim roused him long enough to get him to his feet and into the building.

"Please let the elevator be working," Jim whispered as he pushed the call button.

The elevator was working and the pair shuffled inside. Blair leaned against Jim, letting Jim support him with an arm wrapped around his shoulders. When they finally reached the third floor, Blair let Jim lead him into the loft and over to the sofa.

"Have a seat, Chief," Jim said as he arranged the pillows against one end of the couch.

Blair sat and then swung his feet up on the couch, leaning back against the mound of pillows.

Jim bent down and placed a light kiss on his brow. "I'll be right back. I'm just going to get your things from the truck."

"Don't worry - I'm not going anywhere," Blair quipped with a grin.

Jim was back in a matter of minutes, closing the door with a soft thud and setting the flowers on the table and the bag on the steps leading up to their bedroom. He then walked back into the living room and saw that Blair had fallen asleep. Pulling a light blanket off the back of the couch, he laid it gently over his mate's sleeping form.

Jim had taken care of Blair's things and started dinner when Blair roused a couple of hours later.

"Mmm, smells good," Blair said as he sat up and stretched. "Soup?"

Jim smiled. "So who's the sentinel in this relationship?" Jim quipped. "I thought you might like a light dinner tonight."

Blair nodded and stood up, reaching out to steady himself as the room spun. He opened his eyes to see Jim standing in front of him.

"You okay?" Jim asked softly.

Blair nodded. "Yeah - just got up too fast, I guess."

"And you're up - why?"

"Bathroom, man. Get out of my way," Blair teased. "And, yes, I can go to the bathroom by myself."

Jim stepped back, holding up his hands in mock surrender. "Whatever you say, Chief."

Jim had Blair's medication ready when he got back to the living room and Blair rolled his eyes as he took the pills and popped them into his mouth. "You're going to be insufferable, aren't you?"

Jim nodded. "You can count on it. I can't bear the thought of going through what we've been through the last two weeks again, Blair. You will take your medication and rest - and give yourself time to recover."

Blair stepped into Jim's embrace. "It wasn't exactly fun for me either, Jim."

The rest of the day was spent quietly, watching old movies on TV. Around 8:30 pm Jim noticed Blair was beginning to nod off. "Come on, Chief. Why don't we head up to bed?"

Blair blinked up at him blearily and shook his head. "Just because I'm wimping out here doesn't mean you can't stay up and enjoy the rest of the evening, Jim."

Jim smiled as he got to his feet, pulling Blair up to stand beside him. "Are you kidding, Chief? I'm exhausted. I haven't slept well since you've been in the hospital."

It didn't take the men long to get ready for bed. Blair sighed softly as he slid between the cool sheets.

"You okay?" Jim asked as he spooned up behind his lover.

"Yeah," Blair said softly as he ran his fingers over Jim's arm where it was wrapped around his waist.

Jim kissed Blair's hair and snuggled closer, inhaling Blair's scent. A low rumble sounded deep in his chest.

"Jim?"

"What is it, Blair?"

Blair turned in Jim's arms until he was facing his mate. "I - make love to me, Jim. I need you."

Jim swallowed heavily. "Blair - I don't think that's a great idea. You're still not…"

Blair put his fingers over Jim's lips, silencing him. "I'm not talking about swinging from the rafters here, man. I just - need to feel you - inside me." He looked into Jim's eyes. "Please."

Jim pressed his lips against Blair's, chastely at first. Blair's lips opened under his and Jim felt Blair's tongue tap against his lips before he opened to Blair's quest. The kiss was slow and easy and Jim groaned as Blair's taste exploded on his tongue.

Jim pulled Blair against his body, his hand slipping inside Blair's boxers. Blair sighed into his mouth and pulled away. He slipped his boxers off, tossed them to the floor and then raised an eyebrow. Grinning, Jim slipped his boxers off then opened the small drawer in the night stand and pulled out the lube.

Blair rolled onto his side and sighed as Jim teased his ass with a slick finger. As the one hand opened him, the other wrapped around his torso. Blair groaned and arched against Jim.

"In me now - please, Jim," Blair begged softly.

Jim wiped his hand on his boxers and then pulled Blair tight to his body and slipping his cock into Blair slowly. When he was flush against Blair, he stilled, holding Blair still with one hand pressed against his lover's stomach.

Blair clenched his ass and Jim moaned as the sheath rippled around his cock. "Move, Jim. Love me."

Jim moved slowly, pulling almost all the way out before slowly sliding back in. He moved his hand from Blair's stomach to his cock, milking it slowly - gently.

"I need - more," Blair breathed raggedly. He drew in a deep breath, stifling the cough that threatened.

Jim felt the aborted cough and sped up his thrusts, angling his hips to brush across Blair's prostate with each pass. Blair's ass rippled around his cock as he reached his climax, his seed spurting across Jim's fingers. Jim thrust a few more times, slowing his thrusts as he came deep in his lover's channel. He wiped his hand on his boxers and then tossed them off the bed before beginning to slip his cock from Blair's body.

"No," Blair clenched around Jim's cock.

"Shh, what is it?" Jim asked quickly.

"Stay - with me - in me," Blair whispered. "Need to feel you."

Jim smiled and snuggled close to Blair. He reached down and pulled the sheet up over their bodies before molding his body around that of his lover. Blair coughed and Jim soothed him, rubbing his hand over Blair's chest gently. He placed a light kiss on the back of Blair's neck.

"Sleep," he said softly.

Blair sighed once and slipped into slumber as he entwined his fingers with Jim's. The sentinel stayed awake for long minutes after - listening to his guide's heart as it beat under his hand, smelling his warm scent and leaning forward to taste a small spot behind his guide's ear. Finally he slipped into slumber, content in the knowledge that his guide was home and safe in his arms.

END