Time in the Bottle by Lyn

Time in a Bottle - Lyn

Blair stood at the balcony doors and stared out at the darkening sky. It was a good night to be inside, warm and dry. Rain spattered the glass, tapping gently and rhythmically. He shivered suddenly as the sight of the raindrops brought back unwanted, too-recent memories. The fountain and Alex. In his mind's eye, he could see Alex's cold, impassive face as she fisted her hand in his hair and pushed him under. He shook his head to banish the sight and took a deep breath. Man, wasn't this ever going to end?

"You okay, Chief?" Broad hands gripped his shoulders and he started then leaned back unashamedly into the welcome support of Jim's chest.

"Yeah." Blair cleared his throat and tried again. "Yeah. It's getting worse out there." He turned and stepped away, heading for the kitchen. "I'm going to have a beer. You want one?"

Jim glanced at his watch and shook his head. "Nah. It's getting late. I'm going to bed."

"Okay." Blair opened the refrigerator door and pulled a bottle from the shelf.

"Hey, Chief?"

Blair looked up at Jim, who was halfway up the stairs to his room. "Don't burn the midnight oil tonight. You need your rest."

Blair smiled and twisted the cap off the bottle. "I won't, man. Good night."

"Night. It's good to be home, isn't it?"

Blair glanced toward the rain-lashed balcony windows, the sudden chill shuddering through him again. He nodded. "Yeah, it is."

~o0o~

"No! Please!"

The sudden choked-off cry from Blair's bedroom had Jim awake in moments. With a heavy sigh, he climbed from the warmth of his bed and pulled on his robe, then padded to the top of the stairs. He stood a moment, listening to Blair's ragged breathing and disjointed muttering, wondering if he should go down or not.

Truth was, he'd had his own share of nightmares since Blair's drowning. It seemed the two of them were caught up in a never-ending cycle of dreams and visions that left both exhausted and hollow-eyed by morning. Blair uncharacteristically never wanted to discuss his nightmares, his cheeks flushing at the memory of his pleas and sobs, but Jim was growing more concerned as the nightmares worsened and he found it more difficult to rouse Blair from whatever horrific images were invading his subconscious.

A shouted "No!" had Jim heading down the stairs at a run. He strode into Blair's room and turned on the light. Blair lay twisted in the bed sheets, thrashing violently, both hands flailing at some unseen enemy. Crossing to the bedside, Jim captured both of Blair's hands in his and shook the other man gently. "Sandburg? Come on, wake up."

Blair fought harder and succeeded in pulling one arm free from Jim's grip. Jim reared back as a fist flew toward his head, but still caught a stinging blow on his cheek. He leaned forward, blinking rapidly to clear his watering eyes, and grasped Blair by the shoulders, pulling him up to rest against him. "Chief? Wake up. You're all right. Wake up."

Blair's struggles slowly began to die down and as the younger man relaxed against him, sobbing quietly, Jim unconsciously began to rock, the gentle motion serving to soothe them both. "You're safe," he whispered again.

"Oh God," Blair mumbled, his voice muffled against Jim's chest.

"You okay now?" Jim pulled back, slightly embarrassed by his actions. Blair nodded, then stiffened, pulling away from him and attempting to twist himself off the bed.

"Easy, Sandburg." Jim reached out to grab him again, then stopped. Blair's eyes were wide, his face sweat-streaked and chalky white. As he managed to stagger to his feet, he placed one hand over his mouth, then ran for the doorway.

"Shit!" Jim heard the churning of Blair's stomach and got up to follow the other man into the bathroom, but as he made it to the door, it was slammed shut in his face. As the overpowering stench of vomit hit his nostrils, Jim rapidly wrenched down his sense of smell. Gagging a little himself, he kept his hearing up in case Blair needed his help.

After several long moments, the toilet was flushed and the faucet over the hand basin was turned on. Water ran for a few minutes, then the door opened. Blair looked like roadkill. His eyes were red-rimmed and swollen, his face only marginally less pale than a few minutes before, his hair a tangled mess, a few strands plastered to his face. He tottered out, brushing past Jim and headed for the kitchen.

Jim followed him, his nose wrinkling at the sour taint of vomit and alcohol that clung to the other man. "Christ, Chief. You drink the place dry last night?"

Blair started to shake his head, then groaned and clutched his skull with one hand. "Not exactly," he answered, his voice hoarse. "Only had a couple of beers."

"Smells more like a case," Jim replied. He leaned against the post and watched Blair pour orange juice into a glass, then place two ibuprofen pills on his tongue. Taking a swig of liquid, he pulled a face as he swallowed the tablets. Jim's forehead creased with concern. Usually it was damn near impossible to get Blair to take any kind of pharmacy medicine. "You want to tell me what that was about?" he asked.

Blair shrugged, grimaced, then very carefully shook his head. "Same old, same old," he said. He finished the juice and rinsed the glass before placing it on the sink. "What time is it?"

"Almost six."

"Damn. You want coffee?" He turned back to the kitchen and filled the pot.

Jim sighed. "Why not. I'm going to take a shower. May as well head into work early and get some paperwork done. You gonna be in today?"

Blair thought a moment, then shook his head. "Sorry, man. Full schedule. Look, if you need me, call and I'll see what I can do."

Jim waved away the comment. "It'll be fine. Nothing much happening." He stopped at the bathroom door and looked back at Blair. "You thought about talking to someone about your nightmares?"

Blair didn't look up from where he stood measuring coffee into the pot. "Heck of a story to tell a shrink, isn't it? A woman with heightened senses drowned me in the Rainier University fountain, and then my partner, who is also a Sentinel, brought me back to life, following the advice of a Chopec shaman who's been dead for a couple of years." He held up a finger. "Oh, yeah, and he used our animal spirit guides to do it." He rolled his eyes and finally looked at Jim. "What about you? You've been having nightmares, too. I've heard you."

Jim felt a flush of embarrassment. It didn't sit well with him to know that Blair had heard him crying out in the night like a child. "Mine aren't as bad as yours. I wake up myself and I don't throw up because of them."

"Hey, first time it's happened, man," Blair protested, sounding annoyed. "Probably the leftover Chinese I ate for dinner."

"Maybe. You want to scramble some eggs for breakfast?" The immediate green tinge to Blair's face gave Jim the answer and he shook his head. "Toast and coffee'll be fine."

~o0o~

"You're in early, Detective."

Jim looked up from the report he was working on and gave Simon a weary nod. "Early start to the day, Captain. Figured I might as well make use of it."

Simon perched himself on the edge of Jim's desk. "Sandburg still having nightmares? You convinced him yet to see someone?" Jim shook his head and the captain sighed. "I know I can't exactly order him to see a therapist, but if he doesn't get over this soon, I might have to reconsider his observer's pass." He held up a hand when Jim opened his mouth to protest. "I know you still need him with you, Jim, but the way he's looking and acting lately, I'm not prepared to risk anyone else on the job. I'd do it to you or any of my men if I thought they weren't up to it and Sandburg's been around long enough now for me to consider him a part of the team, and if you tell him that part, I'll have you back walking a beat." He tried to suppress a smile, but wasn't entirely successful. "Damn it, Jim, he's my friend, too and I'm worried. Are you sure it's just the drowning?"

"No, I'm not." Jim scrubbed his hands over his face and leaned back in his chair. "That bitch drowned him, then I started sympathizing with her. Christ, Simon, he saw me on the beach, kissing her!"

"Haven't you two talked about all of that?"

"Yeah, but as much as he says it was instinct, I get the feeling he doesn't totally believe himself."

"You two are close. It's understandable he'd feel betrayed after everything he went through."

"I get the feeling it's more than betrayal, Simon, but I just can't put my finger on it and he won't talk."

Simon gave Jim a wry smile. "Sounds like someone else I know. Maybe you've been living together too long. He's picking up some of your bad habits."

"And some of his own," Jim muttered.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing." Jim stretched, then sat up straight. "I'll talk to him again, Simon. This report's almost done. I'll bring it in shortly."

"Okay." Giving Jim a concerned look, Simon stood and headed for his office.

~o0o~

One a.m. Jim closed his book and thumbed the remote off. He was about to head up to bed when he heard the elevator doors creak open and then Blair's familiar tread, a little slow and unsteady, approached the front door.

Jim waited. The key scratched over the wood, then finally slipped into the lock and the door was pushed open. Blair crept inside, halting abruptly when he realized the lights were on and Jim was standing in the middle of the living room.

"Jim!" he said, a wide smile upturning his mouth. "I fou...thought you'd be in bed, man."

"Just about to," Jim replied. "You're home kinda late, aren't you, Chief?"

Blair frowned. "What, I need a note now?" he asked somewhat belligerently.

"No," Jim answered equably. "I just thought we agreed we'd call if either of us were going to be late."

Blair shrugged, got out of his jacket with some difficulty and attempted to hang it up. He watched as it fell to the floor then shrugged and headed for the kitchen. Jim rolled his eyes, and strode over to the coat hooks, picked up the jacket and hung it back on the hook. His nose wrinkled at the heavy odor of booze that emanated from Blair's clothes.

"I ran into Ben Hartman," Blair continued as he opened the fridge. "You remember him, don't you?" A small frown creased his forehead as he paused, then waved the thought away as though it didn't matter. "Anyway," he said as he bent and stuck his head into the fridge interior, "he got the grant he's been slaving over for months and wanted me to go celebrate. Yes!" He broke off and triumphantly pulled a beer from the fridge. "I was hoping there was one left."

Jim glared at Blair, the other man's over-bright, not quite focused gaze telling a worrying story. "I tried your cell phone," he said between gritted teeth.

Blair concentrated on twisting the cap off the bottle with more than a little difficulty. "Musta had it turned off." He tossed the cap onto the sink and put the bottle to his lips.

"Don't you think you've had enough to drink for one night, Sandburg?"

Blair's eyes flashed fire. "You my father now?"

Jim shook his head. "No, I can tell-and smell-that you've already drunk plenty, though. I just think -"

"Fine!" Blair slammed the bottle onto the counter so violently, froth burst forth from within. Ignoring the mess, he stormed from the kitchen and strode to his room, once almost bouncing off the wall on his way. The door to his room slammed with a resounding thud that had Jim wincing, then the lock snicked into place.

"Fuck!" Jim muttered feelingly. He walked out to the kitchen and cleaned up the mess before heading to bed. Pausing at the foot of the stairs, he glanced at Blair's closed door. "You're in some serious shit here, Chief."

~o0o~

The muttered whimpering that built to a crescendo from Blair's room did not wake Jim. He hadn't been able to sleep, anyway, lying awake instead, worrying over Blair's uncharacteristic behavior. Rushing down the stairs, he grabbed the knob and turned it, almost wrenching his shoulder in the process. "Shit!" He'd forgotten it was locked. He hammered at the door. "Sandburg! Are you okay?" A gasp came from within then there was just the sound of Blair's strained, raspy breathing and his pounding heartbeat.

"Blair?" Jim tried again. "Open the damn door!" He took a step back, preparatory to ramming his shoulder against the wood, and it opened suddenly, nearly sending him to the floor.

Blair looked awful. His eyes were red-rimmed and tear tracks were still evident on his stubbled cheeks. His face was too pale and his hair stood up in all directions as though he'd touched a light socket. He reached a slightly trembling hand out to Jim, to steady him. "Sorry," he croaked.

Jim nodded. "You all right now?"

"Yeah." Blair took a deep breath. "Jim, I'm sorry about earlier. I was being a prick."

"You want to talk about it?" Jim asked. "About what's going on with you?"

Blair looked away and studied the wall. "That's a first, isn't it?" he replied, a faint note of sarcasm creeping back into his voice. "Usually I'm the one trying to get you to open up."

"Damn it, Sandburg! This is important," Jim shouted. He forced his anger down, tried to rein in his impatience. "The nightmares, the drinking. It's not like you, and you can't back me up if you're out on your feet or half-stoned."

Blair glared at him then. "So it's back to you again, is it?" he asked, his voice edged with steel. "Is everything that happens about you, Jim? I get fucking drowned and it's about you and... and her."

Jim's mouth fell open. "I don't know what you're trying to say here, Chief. You think when you drowned, I was thinking about how it was going to affect me?"

Blair shrugged. "I wouldn't know, would I? You didn't want to talk about it when I did, from the time I first tried to tell you about her."

"I thought we'd sorted all this out," Jim muttered. "Are you saying that's what's causing your nightmares, causing you to drink yourself stupid every night?"

"I'm saying..." Blair's voice rose over Jim's, then abruptly he stopped and sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair, his forehead creasing into a frown. "I don't know what I'm saying. It's late, Jim. I'm wiped and I'm not feeling too sharp right now." He gave Jim a small, sad smile, then reached out and touched his hand. "I'm sorry," he said again. "For everything. We'll talk in the morning, I promise."

Jim squeezed Blair's cold hand, hoping the warmth and strength of his own grip would seep through. "Okay." He pulled away, then stopped and looked back. "If you won't talk to me, find someone you can talk to," he said. "Simon's asking questions. He's noticed how you look, how you've been biting the head off anyone who says a word to you. He's worried, too, and if he thinks you can't cut it, he'll pull your pass, you know that."

He waited. Finally, Blair nodded.

"I don't want that," Jim said, his voice a hoarse whisper. He swallowed the quaver that threatened to come out. "Not because I need you with me, but because I want you with me. I didn't bring you back just so you could kill yourself."

He watched as Blair walked back into his room and quietly closed the door. This time though, the lock was not engaged.

~o0o~

Their planned discussion was aborted when Jim was called out to a crime scene early the following morning. Extending his hearing into Blair's room, Jim realized his partner was still asleep, and decided to leave him in bed, but as he pulled his jacket from the hook by the front door, Blair came ambling out of his room. If anything, he looked even worse than he had the night before.

His hair, normally carefully combed and shining with health, was lack-luster and disheveled, framing a pale, haggard-looking face, darkened with beard stubble. Blair's eyes were swollen and bloodshot and the lines of pain on his forehead told Jim the man was in a world of hurt.

"Gotta go," Jim said hurriedly as he pulled his keys from his pocket. "We got another murder."

Blair's eyes widened and he nodded, flinching a little as the action obviously worsened his hangover headache. "Give me a minute," he said, his voice sounding scratchy and rough. "I'll go with you. No classes today."

Jim shook his head. "No way, Sandburg. You stay here and get yourself straightened out. I don't want to be answering Simon's questions when he sees you in that state."

Blair's chin jutted stubbornly. "I wasn't that drunk," he began. "At least, I'm not now-"

Jim gripped the door handle and turned it. "Stay here," he said firmly, steeling himself against the disappointment in Blair's face.

"What if you need me?" Blair asked quietly.

"I won't. I'll call later. If you're feeling up to it, you can meet me at the station after lunch." Glancing at his watch, not wanting to see the hurt in Blair's eyes, Jim cursed and hurried out of the apartment.

~o0o~

Blair stared silently at the closed door for several minutes before turning and shuffling into the bathroom. "Fuck!" he swore as he turned on the faucet then stripped, before getting under the hot spray from the shower.

It wasn't Jim's fault, he knew. What kind of a partner was he if he couldn't be relied upon to back up Jim when he needed it?

As was always the case since the fountain, since Alex, he caught his breath as he ducked his head under the water and began to shampoo his hair. He forced himself to stay there, his hands fisted in his hair, his legs locked tight with tension as the water ran over his face and took his breath away. He really was a basketcase. When the heck had his life become so out of control, his emotions so raw that he trembled at the sight of raindrops on the glass, of water on his face?

He was truly frightened by the way his life seemed to be spiraling out of control. The drinking had begun innocently enough. Just a couple of beers to relax him, and hopefully stop the nightmares that tore him from sleep night after night. Only now, he knew the alcohol seemed to be making the terror-filled dreams worse, yet perversely he couldn't seem to stop. Each drink he downed was followed by the promise that it would be his last one, that he didn't need the crutch, that it was time to stop, but he couldn't seem to do it-and now he was letting Jim down.

He needed help, that much was obvious, but admitting to that would mean admitting to all the other fears hidden just below the surface. They were the real reason for his continued drinking, and there was absolutely no way he could risk Jim finding out what he really feared. If he did that, he might as well pack his bags right now.

Blair stepped from the shower and picked up his razor. As he shaved, he stared at the hollow-eyed stranger in the mirror. "Time to suck it up, Sandburg," he admonished himself. "Time to get back to being the partner Jim needs and deserves, instead of wimping out every time you have to walk past that damn fountain."

By the time he finished his ablutions, he felt no better than when he'd begun. He puttered around the apartment for an hour or so, his head still too muzzy to concentrate on schoolwork, but his thoughts kept going back to the words Jim had spoken that morning.

"You might need me," Blair had said.

"I won't," Jim had replied.

After being kicked out of the loft, attacked by Alex, seeing Jim embrace his would-be murderer on the beach in Sierra Verde, the words cut like a knife. Jim didn't need him, and Blair couldn't admit to needing Jim. He was so fucked up.

Walking into the kitchen, he paused by the cabinets, then slowly, with one shaking hand, pulled open one of the cupboard doors. Extracting the bottle, he sat it on the counter and stared at it. Just one. Just one to steady his nerves, to make his life feel right again. Just one to take away the pain.

"No!" Picking up the bottle, Blair threw it against the wall where it shattered spectacularly, showering him with liquid and tiny shards of glass. Leaving the mess where it was, he stormed into the living room and picked up his keys before running from the apartment.

~o0o~

Blair was halfway down Prospect before he realized he had no idea where he was headed. Stopping at the traffic lights, he thought it over. Jim hadn't wanted him at the crime scene with him, but maybe Blair could get back in his good books by heading to the station and starting in on some of his partner's paperwork.

His mind made up, he put the car in gear as the light turned green. The gearshift jammed and he cursed, glancing down to try to ease the stick into place. A horn blared loudly and he looked up in time to see a black sedan cutting across his path. Frantically he planted his foot on the accelerator, but nothing happened. The other car bore down on him, its rear end fishtailing wildly as the tires fought to get a grip on the slick road.

Blair threw his hands up in front of his face as the vehicle hit him side-on with a huge explosion of sound. He was tossed sideways, his head colliding against the window with a sickening thud. He felt a moment of acute agony flare in his head, then there was nothing.

~o0o~

Jim made his way into the bullpen, brushing one hand through his hair to wipe away the rain. They'd been lucky; the downpour had begun just seconds after Jim had completed his sensory scan of the murder scene. A few minutes sooner and any evidence would have been lost. He'd managed to pick up a couple of minor clues overlooked by Forensics and now they had some positive leads to the serial killer they'd been tracking for two months. Jim smiled to himself. Sandburg would be proud, he'd been able to piggyback sight and smell in order to find the murder weapon hidden in a drain.

The thought of Blair made the smile fade. Since Blair's drowning, he'd felt even closer to his partner, that moment of loss had been almost too much to bear and he never wanted to experience it again. Blair was like a brother to him, closer than a brother. They shared a bond now, Blair's visions of the jungle and the panther and wolf, mirroring Jim's own experiences, confirming what Incacha had foretold before his death. To see Blair, a once-vibrant man, now a shadow of his former self, his sharp mind dulled by alcohol and too little sleep, bowed by his experience of death, made Jim ache with sorrow. To lose Blair now....

"Jim!"

He shook himself at Simon's summons. He'd talk to Blair again tonight, see if he could change his mind about talking to a therapist, and until he did, Jim could use a little blackmail of his own. He'd keep his distance, ground Blair from working cases with him until he got himself straightened out. "What is it, Captain?" he asked, pulling his thoughts to the matter at hand.

Simon stepped out of his office, his expression troubled. "Hospital called. Sandburg's had some kind of accident." At the panicked look on Jim's face, he held up a hand. "He's all right, Jim. Just a little banged up, but there's some kind of problem. The treating physician wants to talk to you." He paused for a moment, pulling a cigar from his pocket and rolling it between his fingers. "I didn't know you were Blair's emergency contact."

"Makes sense, doesn't it?" Jim replied, his mind whirling chaotically with the news, champing at the bit to get on his way. "We share an apartment and we're partners at work. Besides Naomi's rarely around. Is it okay if I...?"

He indicated the door and Simon nodded, waving him on. "Go. Let me know how the kid is."

"Will do."

~o0o~

Jim hurried into the emergency department and headed straight to the nurses' desk. "I'm here to see Blair Sandburg," he said when the nurse seated there looked up at him.

"Detective Ellison." A doctor standing at the opposite side of the desk turned and walked around to him, his hand extended. "I'm Doctor Carr, Mr. Sandburg's doctor."

"How is he?"

The doctor grasped Jim's arm and led him into the almost deserted waiting room. "He'll be fine. His car was hit side-on by another vehicle which lost control at the traffic lights. Apparently Mr. Sandburg's gearshift jammed and he was unable to get out of the way."

Jim shook his head. "That damn classic of his. What are his injuries?"

"He hit his head on the window. He's got a nasty bruise coming up, but it looks worse than it is. A mild concussion, some severe bruising to his ribcage and a twisted knee. He was lucky. He'll be pretty sore for a few days, but with some rest, he'll be fine. Which brings me to another problem."

"Which is?"

The doctor studied the bell of his stethoscope for a moment, then looked Jim squarely in the eyes. "Mr. Sandburg is obviously in serious discomfort and I'd like to give him something for the pain, but when he was brought in, he smelled of alcohol. Quite strongly. I asked him if he'd been drinking and he said no, but his appearance is at odds with that. When I suggested a blood test to rule out the presence of alcohol, he closed up, merely said he wasn't in pain. Does Mr. Sandburg have a drinking problem, Detective?"

"No!" Jim began, then sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "Honestly, Doc, I don't know. He's been dealing with some pretty stressful stuff lately -"

"I'm aware of his drowning," the doctor cut in. "Has he seen a therapist?"

"I'm trying to convince him to see someone. Look, I've been a little concerned about his drinking over the past week or so, but if Sandburg says he wasn't drinking this morning, then he wasn't."

"I'd be happier if he'd let us run a blood screen," Doctor Carr replied. "Just to be on the safe side."

"I'll talk to him," Jim agreed. "Are you keeping him here?"

"Not necessary. As I said, he'll be sore for a few days, but he's free to go."

~o0o~

Blair was lying on his back on the examination table when Jim entered the trauma room. His eyes were open and he was staring dully at the ceiling. At Jim's entrance, he turned his head and Jim winced at the large blue-black bruise that covered the side of his forehead and cheek.

"Ouch!" Jim remarked with a small smile of sympathy. "How's the other guy look?"

"Walked away without a scratch," Blair replied softly. He struggled to sit up, holding an arm tightly across his ribs as he did so.

Jim hurried forward, placing an arm around his partner's back. "Here, let me help."

"Thanks." Blair hunched over for a few moments, his breath coming in short, pain-filled hitches. "How's my car look?"

"Haven't seen it yet. I'll get you home and find out." Jim kept his arm where it was, feeling small shivers assailing Blair's body, and the heat of other, more minor bruising. He rubbed Blair's shoulder gently, hoping to instill some comfort. "Doc said he'd like to give you something for the pain -"

"I wasn't drinking, Jim," Blair broke in.

"If you say you weren't, I believe you, but the doctor said you smelled pretty bad..."

"I threw the bottle at the wall-it broke," Blair muttered.

"So, why don't you let the doc run a blood screen and give you something for pain before we leave?"

"I'm fine. It doesn't hurt much." The tense set of Blair's body, and the pallor of his face belied that statement.

Jim sighed. "Come on, Sandburg. You've been riding with me long enough to know a blood test after an accident is routine. Why don't you -"

"Fine!" Blair snapped. He lay back, closed his eyes and held out an arm. "Get the doctor. I want to go home."

~o0o~

The blood test was negative as Blair had said, but once the results were in, he still refused anything for pain.

"Damn it, Sandburg, stop trying to be a hero!" Jim snapped in exasperation.

"I'm not!" Blair shot back, an equal amount of venom in his voice. "I don't need anything."

Following his limping partner out to the truck, Jim surreptitiously took the written prescription for painkillers from the doctor and stuffed it in his pocket. He'd get it filled later in the day.

The ride home was silent with Blair hunched into the passenger seat, seemingly as far away from Jim as he could get. He stared out the window, looking hollow-eyed, his features tight with pain. He drifted off to sleep just before Jim turned into a parking space in front of the apartment building, and though he'd only been asleep a few minutes, it took several gentle nudges from Jim to wake him.

"Looks like we're going to have time to have that talk after all," Jim said as he opened the front door and followed Blair into the apartment. He recoiled at the overpowering stench of alcohol, glanced into the kitchen, seeing the broken bottle, and the spilled alcohol on the floor.

"Dial it down, man," Blair said, sounding exhausted. "I'll clean it up right away."

"I'll get it. You shouldn't be moving around too much - and we should talk."

"About what?"

"About what happened this morning." Jim waved a hand at the shattered bottle. "About what's going on with you."

"Why is it all of a sudden you want to talk? You didn't want to talk at the hospital, after the fountain!"

Jim's eyes were icy, his jaw twitching madly. "I changed my mind."

"Why now?"

Jim opened his mouth, then closed it. Finally, he said, "Because I'm scared...for you... for us." Blair's eyes widened at the words, his breath hitching a little, and encouraged, Jim continued. "You're my best friend."

"Not now, man, all right?" Blair replied tiredly. "I just want to lie down."

Jim lowered his voice, but injected as much of a plea into it as he could. "Blair, please. Let me help you. I don't want to watch you destroying yourself anymore. Or is that what this is? My punishment for Alex?"

"No!" Blair shouted. "Fuck, Jim! I drowned, man, and if having a few drinks makes me forget that for a little while, what's the problem?"

"Except you're not forgetting," Jim interjected. "The nightmares have been getting worse since you started drinking. Now you listen to me, Chief. You either get your act together or you'll be spending the rest of your time at the U or behind my desk, doing paperwork. No more ride-alongs."

"You're kidding!" Blair's eyes were wide. "Who's gonna back you up? What if you zone?"

"I'll take my chances," Jim said stonily. "So what's it gonna be?"

"Fine." Blair walked into the kitchen and, bending gingerly, began to clean up the broken bottle.

Crossing quickly to his side, Jim laid a hand on Blair's shoulder. "I said, leave that. I'll do it later. Why don't you go get some rest?"

Blair reached up a hand and laid it over Jim's. "Thanks. Jim... I'll go see someone, I promise."

Jim smiled, relief softening his stance. "Good. If you want to talk - anytime, just say so."

"Okay." Blair stood and turned to face Jim, then, impulsively, lifted his head and kissed Jim gently on the mouth. It was a chaste kiss, just the merest touch of lips and Blair saw it all happening in slow motion as though he were standing outside his body, and he wondered suddenly if he had a worse concussion than the doctor had diagnosed.

Jim flinched and took a step back, his eyes like saucers as he wiped at his mouth. "Sandburg? What the fuck...?"

"I'm sorry, Jim." Blair was mortified by his loss of control. "I didn't mean - I mean I did mean - but not right now. Truth is I've been wanting to do that forever, but wanting it and doing it are two totally different things and I didn't mean -"

"You want to explain that?" Jim looked deadly serious and a little flushed.

Blair sighed. The cat was out of the bag now, no use trying to put it back. "I'm in love with you, Jim," he said simply.

"I love you, too, Chief. It's just that I don't tend to go around kissing my best friend."

"Damn it, Jim, are you really that dense?" Blair shouted. Now that the truth was out, he couldn't seem to stop the rush of words that spewed forth and condemned him with each utterance that passed his lips. "I'm in love with you. I want to kiss you, touch you - make love to you."

"I think you need to go lie down," Jim said, his voice barely there.

"Jim -"

But Jim had already turned away, heading for the broom closet. Blair walked past him on his way to his room. He paused, one hand lifting to touch Jim's ramrod straight back, then he dropped it to his side, the gesture of apology aborted. He'd gone too far and he knew with a heavy certainty that he'd just destroyed the only friendship that had ever meant anything to him.

~o0o~

Blair lay on his bed, and stared into the darkness, listening to the faint noises as Jim cleaned up his mess and then tidied up the rest of the apartment. He heard Jim make a phone call to Simon, but his voice was low and Blair couldn't pick up what he said. Great, he thought to himself, Simon's not going to want you anywhere near Major Crimes after this.

Rolling awkwardly onto his side, trying not to moan at the pain that sheared through his head and ribs, Blair closed his eyes and feigned sleep. It was time to let go, he decided, because there was no way Jim could reciprocate the love that Blair felt, and he seriously doubted if he even had a home any longer. How could he stay here now, knowing that Jim knew his innermost thoughts and desires, thought him a pervert, thought him a slut?

~o0o~

Blair had debated staying in his room until Jim left for work, but he could hear Jim hovering just outside his door, shuffling from foot to foot as though undecided what to do. "It's okay," he called finally to his silent partner. "You can come in."

He didn't look up when Jim opened the door, concentrating instead on gathering up notes and books and stuffing them haphazardly into his backpack.

"Breakfast is ready," Jim said, sounding more than a little nervous.

"Thanks but I'm already late." He pushed past Jim, but stopped when the detective grabbed his arm. "Look, Jim, if it's about yesterday, I'm sorry, all right? Must have gotten a worse bang on the head than I realized."

Jim shook his head and gripped Blair's arm harder. "Don't you think you should stay home today?"

"Gee, Jim, I'd love to, but I've got a class full of students that kind of insist I show up."

"Can't someone else -"

"After the drowning and Mexico, and Brad Ventriss, I've used up all my favors."

"Oh." The grip on Blair's arm loosened. "You need a ride?"

"I'll take the bus."

"Blair...."

"Don't!" Blair wrenched his arm free. "I'm not a kid. I can catch a bus."

"Fine." The steel in Jim's voice had Blair flinching. He needed to get out of here before his composure shattered. Jim's own voice softened. "Just take it easy, all right and if you need anything, just call."

"Sure."

"About last night..." Jim's words trailed off and Blair realized suddenly what his actions the night before had done. The man beside him was a stranger. The Jim Ellison he knew - and loved - was forceful, to the point, abrupt, surly... wonderful. "It's just... I didn't know you were into men."

I'm not, Blair thought. I'm just into you. His cheeks flamed as though he had spoken aloud. "I've been with a few guys," he said instead.

Jim nodded. "Yeah, me, too."

"Then why...?"

"I just - I just hadn't had those feelings for you. I mean, like I said, I love you and I've wondered what it would be like if you and I.... But I just figured seeing how close we are, working together, living together...."

"That old brothers in arms thing, huh?" Blair shrugged. "Hey, no biggie, man. Look, I've got to go."

"Yeah. See you tonight?"

No. "Sure, your turn to cook dinner, isn't it?" Limping across to the front door, feeling his injuries protest the strain, Blair almost gave in and accepted Jim's offer of a ride, then decided against it. Right now, he needed to put as much space between Jim and himself as he could. He went to pick up his keys, then remembering his car, checked his pocket for change. He glanced back. Jim stood in the doorway of Blair's room -the spare room, Blair told himself firmly - and from the look on his face, Blair was certain Jim knew he wouldn't be coming home.

~o0o~

One week later:

Jim had called the university, just checking, he said, to make sure Blair was okay. Blair assured him everything was fine, he just needed a few days to think things over. According to Jim, that was a good idea, but all Blair wanted was for Jim to come striding into his office, grab him up in a bear hug and drag him back to the loft.

Finding somewhere to stay for at least a few weeks had been easy enough. A friend of Naomi's was out of town and offered Blair the use of his apartment, ironically, not far from Jim. His car was still in the shop and destined to stay there for some time, and he regretted now waiving the car rental availability when he got his insurance in order to pay the lower premiums. But his lack of a car was the furthest thing from Blair's mind. By opening his mouth and telling Jim his deepest secrets, Blair had lost any chance of remaining at Jim's side as his Guide. And each day, he fixated on that, jumping every time the phone rang, certain that it would be a call from Simon to say that Jim had zoned or worse.

Blair knew, though, that Jim didn't want him at his side as lover, friend or Guide. Even when Jim did call, he never asked Blair to come back, never asked for his help. It was a punishment Blair had brought upon himself and Blair let it eat at him, let it gnaw at his conscience, taking refuge once more in a bottle in order to forget the pain, if just for a while.

But enough was enough. Blair was suffering, not only emotionally, but physically, as the booze took its toll on his body. Stomach cramps assailed him, and he found it difficult to keep anything solid in his stomach for longer than a few hours. He was losing weight dramatically and it was starting to be noticeable.

Tonight, after puking up dinner, becoming alarmed at the flecks of blood he could see in the emesis, he'd made a decision. If he was strong enough to move out of Jim's life, Blair thought, he should be strong enough for this, too. Despite everything that had gone on between them, he'd promised Jim he'd do this, but now, standing here, watching total strangers enter the small community hall, all Blair wanted to do was turn tail and run.

A pretty girl came from within and was about to close the door, but stopped and eyed him thoughtfully. "Can't make up your mind?"

When Blair shook his head, she walked over and held out her hand. "I'm Patsy. The first step's the hardest; after that it gets easier each time."

"Blair." Blair returned her handshake. "You're here for...for the meeting?"

Patsy nodded. "We come in all shapes and sizes, Blair. Do you want to come in? I won't force you."

"Yes, yes, I do."

~o0o~

"Would anyone else like to share with us tonight?" the speaker asked.

Blair shrank back in his seat, certain all eyes were upon him. There was a gentle pat to his hand and Patsy smiled at him and nodded. Standing up on trembling legs, Blair took a deep breath, winced when his battered ribs reminded him they weren't fully healed and lifted his head. "My name is Blair and - and I'm an alcoholic."

~o0o~

Blair saw Jim's truck the moment he exited the hall. He debated dashing back inside and leaving via the back entrance then admonished himself for being childish. There could, after all, be an important reason for Jim to want to see him, though how the Sentinel had known he'd be here was something to ponder.

Jim! His senses, perhaps. Talking himself into Guide overdrive, Blair hurried across to the truck. Jim smiled when he saw him and Blair felt a lump form in his throat. How he'd missed seeing that smile.

"Jim! What are you doing here?" Blair started and then found he couldn't stop. "Is there something wrong? Your senses? Simon?"

Jim waved a nonchalant hand. "Settle down, Chief. Everything's fine."

"Then why...?"

Jim shrugged. "Want a ride? I know your car's still in the shop."

Suddenly suspicious, eyes narrowed, Blair shook his head. "No. Thanks, anyway."

"Okay," Jim said easily. "Mind if I walk with you?"

Blair closed his eyes briefly, summoning his patience. "You're a tenacious bastard sometimes." Jim merely grinned wider. "Fine, I'd love a ride." Climbing into the cab, he made sure he stayed as close to the door as possible and turned his head to stare out the window so Jim couldn't see how nervous he was. Idiot, he chided silently. He's a Sentinel. He can hear your heart pounding, your stomach churning.

Eventually, though, his curiosity would not be curtailed. "How did you know where I was?" He watched Jim's reflection in the window as his partner - ex-partner - replied.

"I'm not the only tenacious bastard in this partnership, Chief. I knew you wouldn't let all of this beat you, and once you were away from me... from worrying about your feelings for me and what you think I must think of you, I knew you'd find a way to beat it. Address?"

"What?" At the seemingly unrelated question, Blair turned to stare quizzically at Jim. "Oh," he said when his brain finally caught up, "201 Green Street."

"Great, we're headed in the same direction."

They made small talk for the rest of the drive, Blair catching up on news of his friends from Major Crime, Jim asking about Blair's studies and teaching.

"Have your senses been okay?" Blair asked as Jim pulled into a parking space in front of his apartment building.

"Yeah, you know, okay." Jim waited for Blair to lead the way inside to the elevator. "I, um, zoned this morning... just for a few minutes," he added quickly when Blair's mouth dropped open.

"How?"

"I piggybacked sight and sound just like you taught me, but I went a little too far, just couldn't seem to pull back."

"I should have been there," Blair muttered, then stopped short. He entered the elevator and pushed the button for the second floor.

"I wish you still were," Jim said softly.

Blair's throat closed up and he couldn't reply.

"So," Jim continued. "Your first AA meeting? How'd it go?"

The bell dinged and the car deposited them on the second floor, allowing Blair to lead the way to his front door while regaining his composure. "It's early days yet," he replied.

Jim smiled again, that damn gentle, beautiful smile that warmed Blair's heart and set a fire burning in his groin. He tried not to groan. "You've taken the first step," Jim said. "That's great."

Blair pushed the door open and stepped inside, turning when Jim stayed in the hall. "You want some coffee?" he asked. "In return for the ride."

"Sure, thanks." Jim stepped in and gazed around the spacious apartment. "Nice place."

"Yeah. Old boyfriend of Naomi's."

Jim laughed and rolled his eyes. "Why am I not surprised?" He cleared his throat and became suddenly serious. "Blair, about first steps. You've taken your first one and now it's time for me to take mine."

"I don't..." Fear clutched at Blair's insides. Oh God, he's leaving Cascade!

"You know that old saying, you can't miss what you don't have?"

Numb, Blair nodded.

"Well, it's bull, Chief. Utter crap." Jim took a step closer to Blair. "You miss it even more. I can't do it without you."

"The Sentinel thing?"

"Live." Jim's voice cracked on the word. "I can't live without you." His voice wavered and he lifted a hand, resting it on Blair's cheek, his thumb stroking gently.

This close, Blair saw, really saw behind Jim's nonchalance and cocky grin. Jim's face was pale, dark circles framed his red-rimmed eyes, and he looked as though he hadn't shaved for a day or two. Blair reached up his own hand, enclosing Jim's, stilling the maddening, yearned-for movement of Jim's thumb. "What's going on here, Jim?" he asked.

"I love you, Blair. I think I've been in love with you for a long time."

"Why did you push me away then?"

Jim dropped his hand and turned, striding over to stand facing the fireplace. "I was afraid - for you. There's always been talk at the station... about you and me, about the cozy thing we must have happening. Some of it was pretty ugly. I just didn't think I'd be able to protect you. I didn't protect you from Alex. And I have to admit I as worried about it coming out. My sexuality's always been a pretty closely guarded secret." He turned back to Blair and smiled. "There's something about being a cop and being bi that people don't take to."

Blair crossed to stand in front of Jim, his hand going to Jim's arm, stroking gently, needing to touch, to reconnect. "What made you change your mind?" he asked.

Jim turned to face him. "Because I couldn't live with what my pushing you away was doing to you, but mostly because I realized that this isn't about me... or you. It's about us and it's something we should be dealing with together, not apart."

Blair closed his eyes, trying to calm his racing heart. Jim's hand was back, cupping his cheek, the stroking of his thumb sending fire through him, fueling his desire. "If you're just saying this -"

"Let me prove it."

And suddenly there wasn't any air as Jim's lips found Blair's. Jim's tongue lapped at Blair's mouth, pushing gently, demanding entrance. Blair gave in and went with it, the taste of Jim intoxicating and not enough. He groaned, pressed closer, his hands fisting in the sleeves of Jim's shirt, and felt Jim's arms go around him, one hand gently cupping his head, the other stroking down his back to ghost over his buttocks.

Blair pulled away, gasping for air, then laid his head on Jim's chest, hearing Jim's heart matching his own galloping rate, his chest heaving. He looked up into those beautiful blue eyes and saw his own love for Jim mirrored there. He smiled, feeling the weight of the past weeks lifting from his soul. "What's step two?"

~o0o~

Jim's naked body blanketed Blair's, sweat glistening on his broad chest as he knelt between Blair's splayed legs. He leaned forward and took Blair's mouth again and this time there was no gentle caress, the urgency of his need undeniable. Blair's mouth opened under Jim's, his own desire evident and giving proof of all the passion and love that he'd kept hidden for so long.

Jim dragged his lips from Blair's, hearing a soft moan of protest as he did so. He leaned forward again, giving one lingering kiss to Blair's full mouth, then trailed his lips and fingers down his lover's body. His thumbs caressed Blair's nipples until they peaked beneath his touch, then he dropped soft kisses on each one in turn.

Blair pushed up against him, his erection sliding against Jim's, eliciting gasps from them both. Their cocks were slick with pre-come and they angled their bodies awkwardly at first, in the way of all new lovers, until they were able to thrust against each other.

Jim pushed down, rubbing his cock against Blair's, hearing his own voice whispering Blair's name against his lover's lips, over and over.

From lips to groin, they were joined together, rocking, languidly at first, then harder and faster as they urged each other to completion, declaring their love to each other as they came, seconds apart, their seed intermingling on their bodies.

In the aftermath, they lay, still rocking, gently now, neither wanting to separate from the other, the bond between Sentinel and Guide, friends and lovers, now stronger than ever.

The End.

Thank the author! Back to index!

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to my sister, Annie as always for the beta and for sharing my addiction - finally. And to Peter for the art.