Wasted Time by Lyn

Wasted Time - Lyn

"Hey, Chief, what time will you be home?" Jim asked as he exited Simon's office.

Blair looked up from packing his bag. He was heading over to the university after spending the morning with Jim at the station. They'd finalized the reports on their last case and Blair was beginning to feel a little under the weather. He hoped he hadn't caught Jim's cold. He thought a moment. "Around five, I guess. Something you need me to pick up?"

"Nope, just wondered. I, um, I need to talk to you though." Jim busied himself tidying the papers on his desk and Blair was sure there was a faint blush of red coloring the detective's cheeks.

"You still sick?" he asked.

Jim looked up. "What? No, I'm fine. I'll cook. Lasagna okay?"

"Sure, sounds great. I haven't done something wrong, have I? I mean..." He stole a nervous glance at the closed door to Simon's office. He'd been riding with Jim for just over a year now, but he still didn't think the captain was too impressed with him, regardless of how much help he was to Jim. "I haven't pissed off Simon again, have I?"

Jim snorted. "You always piss off Simon, Chief," he replied with a chuckle. "It's a gift. But no, everything's fine there. I just... you've been living at the apartment for what, close on a year now, and there's some things we - I need to discuss with you."

"Oh." Blair swallowed nervously. Here it comes. He knew it had been too good to last. Jim wanted him out. Blair knew he'd promised to only stay a week but when that was up and Jim hadn't said anything, he'd assumed... Admit it, Sandburg, he told himself harshly. It's been really nice to know you had somewhere to go home to every night, and some one to go home to. Living together had brought them closer, at least on Blair's part and despite the occasional disagreement over some of Jim's more draconian house rules, they'd settled into a comfortable, pleasant routine. Now it was going to end. He hoped Jim would at least give him a week or two to find somewhere he could afford.

Blair glanced at the clock on the wall and cursed, his worried thoughts pushed to the back of his mind to be dealt with later. "Shit! I'm gonna be late." Grabbing up his backpack, he swung it over his shoulder and headed out the door at a run. "I'll see you later, man."

~o0o~

Blair drove around for an hour after leaving the university. He knew Jim would be annoyed with him after he'd promised to be home early but he couldn't help wanting to delay the moment when Jim finally asked him to leave. He'd still be working with Jim, he knew that. They'd barely scratched the surface of Jim's abilities and Blair's dissertation was still just a stack of notes and research, but he didn't want to leave, and he had to admit to himself that it wasn't just the permanence of a home that he'd miss. He'd miss Jim. The friendship and banter, coming home to a meal on the table or a night watching a game or discussing one of Jim's latest cases, or Blair's latest girlfriend.

Thing was, he hadn't really dated anyone on a long term basis since he'd moved in with Jim and that bothered him - a lot. If he didn't know better, he thought he might be developing more than just a friendship with Jim, and he had wondered, when Jim's frequent touches: a squeeze of Blair's shoulder, a gentle patting of his cheeks, or tousling of his hair, had lingered a moment, whether Jim had begun to feel the same way. He'd dismissed it just as quickly. Jim was straight. Blair had dated a few guys, as far as he was concerned, good sex with anyone was great, the gender didn't matter, though for the past several years, he'd preferred the softness of a woman's body to the harder planes of a man's. But he wasn't in love with Jim. They were just really good friends. He groaned. Right, Sandburg, he admitted finally to himself. You might be able to obfuscate with the best of them but you can't lie to yourself.

He loved Jim, wanted Jim, needed Jim, in so many more ways than just as a friend or partner. Not going to happen, he told himself firmly. Even if Jim wanted what Blair did, there was no way. There was too much at stake, for both of them, to risk it.

There had already been whispered rumors at the station and the university that Jim and Blair had more than just a working partnership, and Blair had suffered the occasional derogatory remark and not so subtle shove or tripping up from a couple of the more macho cops. It wouldn't do now to give substance to those rumors. Blair had heard stories of back-up not arriving in time for cops who were thought of as rogue or who were known to be gay. There was no way he was going to risk Jim's life or career by admitting to his true feelings for Jim, and if Simon found out... Blair had heard enough to know that the force frowned upon personal relationships between partners. It was reasonable, he supposed but he couldn't risk losing his ride-along with Jim now. That sounded selfish but it had less to do with his dissertation than it had with the overwhelming need he felt to be with Jim, to be his back-up, to protect him as much as he could. That's what a guide was for, after all.

He quietly opened the door to the apartment, his mind already having decided that perhaps if he just stayed out of Jim's way, did everything Jim wanted and didn't complain about the many house rules, that Jim would just let things lie. That thought was shot down when he entered the loft and saw the table set for two, with Jim's good china. At least I'll get a good meal before he kicks me out, Blair thought as he hung up his jacket and dropped his backpack on the floor. He quickly bent to pick up the latter, intending to put it in his room then decided it was a moot point. If he was going to be asked to leave, it wasn't going to help by starting to obey Jim's rules now.

"Hey, Chief," Jim greeted him from the kitchen as he put the finishing touches to a green salad, "you're late. I hope the lasagna isn't too dried out."

"Sorry," Blair replied, adding an obfuscation, "I got caught up with a couple of students at the U. You should have started without me."

"And ruin the ambience?" Jim smiled and shook his head. "Nah. Why don't you go wash up while I serve it?"

"Sure." Blair headed toward the bathroom, then stopped and turned, his heart hammering in his chest. "Jim, what did you want to talk about?"

Again Jim's face turned a faint shade of pink and he dropped his eyes to study the lettuce in the salad bowl. "Actually, it's nothing that can't wait. It was just... well, like I said, you've been here a while now and I thought we should discuss a few things," he said again. He waved a hand in the air. "It doesn't matter. Go wash up before dinner gets cold."

~o0o~

It was probably delicious; Jim's lasagnas always were, but to Blair, it tasted like warm cardboard. He got through half of the meal before the lump in his throat caused him to almost choke and he pushed away his plate with a sigh.

"Not hungry?" Jim asked, still making inroads into his own meal.

"Not really," Blair said. "I think I caught your cold. Can't really taste much of anything."

"Take something for it then," Jim admonished gently, "and I don't mean that niktabi root either. There's a nasty flu going around; I don't want to risk you catching that. You haven't been at the station much the last week or so as it is."

Blair's temper flared. "Sorry," he retorted hotly, "but I do have a paying job, you know, Jim!"

"I know," Jim responded, sounding puzzled and a little hurt. "I just don't want you getting sick."

Blair let out a sigh. "Sorry, I'm just tired." And scared. He stood and carried the dishes into the kitchen. "You cooked, I'll wash."

Jim stood and joined him, standing a little too close for Blair's comfort. His erection flared at the warm proximity of his partner, and Blair stifled a groan when Jim placed a hand on Blair's arm, leaning in a little as he handed Blair the lasagna pan.

Later they sat in companionable silence in the living room, nursing glasses of wine and staring into the fire. Blair's stomach was tied up in knots and he thought if Jim didn't say something soon to pronounce his sentence or let him off the hook, he was going to throw up.

Jim rolled his glass in his hands again then looked up at Blair. "Well, Chief, you've been here ten months and uh -"

"I'm moving out." What the -? Blair was sure he hadn't thought the words but they had come unbidden anyway, and he was suddenly glad. He couldn't bear to hear those words from Jim, asking him to leave. It was far better that he spoke them himself.

Jim's eyes widened, his mouth dropping open. "What? Why?"

Blair sagged, defeated. "You told me I could stay for a week and I've been here ten months. I've put it off long enough. You deserve your space back, and it's time I left."

"I don't want you to go."

Blair looked at Jim, confusion and longing warring with resolve in his mind. Don't be stupid, Blair, he admonished himself. You know it's better this way. "I thought that was what this was about," he finally said, waving a hand toward the kitchen.

Jim shook his head. "I don't want you to go." He stood and moved to sit beside Blair on the couch. "Fact is, I like having you here." He groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Fact is, I love having you here." He reached out and placed his wine glass on the coffee table then took Blair's hand in his, squeezing it gently before laying them both on Blair's lap, their fingers still linked. "I have feelings for you, Blair. Deep feelings."

Blair's breath caught in his throat. Hope burst forth only to be quashed just as quickly. It wouldn't work, he knew that. It would only put Jim in danger and risk his job. It was tough enough keeping the sentinel thing a secret without adding this to it. Jim was talking again, rambling actually, his words falling rapid-fire from his lips. "I've thought a few times lately that you... Well, I just wondered if you felt the same way about me?"

"Yes!" Blair stopped, mortified. "No! I mean, no! It's nothing personal, Jim, really. I mean you're a great guy and good-looking to boot, and it's not as though I haven't been with a few guys before, so it's not that. I'm not homophobic or anything -"

"Blair, breathe," Jim chastised him softly. He disentangled their fingers and stood, walking into the kitchen, stopping at the counter with his back turned to Blair. After a moment, he turned. "It's okay," he said. "I'm sorry if I've embarrassed you or made you uncomfortable. I guess the wine loosened my tongue. I promise you I won't mention it again. I'd hoped -"

Blair stood then, waving away Jim's abject apology with a shaky hand. "No, it's fine, man. I mean I'm honored that you... you feel like that about me and you've been great, Jim, letting me move in here, helping me out with cash and a loan for clothes and books." He looked away and stared at the wall, unable to give voice to the lie while he gazed into Jim's beautiful blue eyes. "I just don't feel that way about you. I'm sorry." He waved a hand toward his bedroom. "I should go. Start sorting my stuff."

"Don't," Jim whispered almost too softly for Blair to hear.

"What?"

"Don't go." Jim's cheeks were tinged a deep red. "I want you to stay. That is, if you feel comfortable about it."

Blair nodded. "I don't want to leave. Truth is, I don't exactly have anywhere lined up," he admitted sheepishly.

Jim stared at him. "You said -"

Blair shrugged. "I figured when you said we needed to talk, that you were going to give me my marching orders. I pre-empted it. I didn't want to hear you say that."

Jim nodded, looking relieved. "Miscommunication by both of us. I'm sorry, Chief, and I never should have said - I don't know what I was thinking -"

"It's cool, Jim. Like I said, it's a compliment." He waved again toward his room. "I have some class notes to go over, so..."

Jim nodded. "I'll finish cleaning up. You go ahead. Good night, Sandburg."

"Night, Jim." Walking as casually as he could, Blair entered his bedroom and pulled the door closed then threw himself onto his bed. He muffled his words with a pillow as he gave vent to his muddled emotions. "Shit! Shit! Shit!" Now what? He'd had Jim just where he wanted him, ready, willing and able to climb into bed with him and he'd lost it all with just a few words. "No. I did the right thing." Rolling onto his back, Blair stared up at the ceiling and firmed his resolve. He was doing this for Jim, which was all that mattered.

~o0o~

The drive to the station the following morning was as silent as breakfast had been. Jim had retreated behind the morning newspaper and had not come out until they were ready to leave. Finally seated in the truck, Blair could stand the silence no longer.

"Jim?" His partner glanced over at him but did not speak. "I was wondering..." Blair took a deep breath then blew it out. "Do you know any other gay cops?"

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Well, I don't belong to a secret club or anything like that."

Blair's face heated with embarrassment and he turned his head to stare out the window. "I'm sorry," Blair said. "I just wondered... well, I figured that the brass wouldn't take kindly to cops being out, you know. Same mind set as the military." Shit! He groaned internally when he saw the impatient grimace on Jim's face reflected in the glass. "I know you were military as well. I didn't mean..." He clenched his hands into fists and pressed them into his thighs. "I just meant -"

"The PD isn't known for its tolerance to gays, Sandburg, you're right," Jim conceded. "The gay cops I know aren't out."

"I didn't know you were gay," Blair said quietly. "I mean you date a lot of women. I haven't seen you with a guy."

"Ditto, Chief."

Blair felt his shoulders sag in relief at the familiar nickname. He shrugged, relaxing a little. "I've dated a few guys. I just haven't met anyone lately I've been attracted to." Except you, his traitorous mind supplied and suddenly he felt his nervousness rise again. "Sorry," he repeated.

"Look, Chief, if this about last night, I told you to forget it. It was stupid of me to bring it up. I'm bi, okay? You want to add that to your diss? Now if you don't mind I'd rather forget about it." Leaning forward, Jim turned on the radio with a decisive flick of his wrist.

Abashed and suitably chastened, more than ever wishing he could take back the words he'd spoken the night before, Blair sat back and closed his eyes, shutting out the view of Jim's stern face.

~o0o~

On arriving at the station, they were called out almost immediately to a jewelry store robbery. This was the fourth in as many days and store owners were starting to complain vociferously at the cops' inability to make an arrest.

Walking into the store, gazing around at the wreckage of smashed store cases, shards of glass intermingling with silver, gold and expensive jewels, Blair wondered if even Jim would be able to pick anything up.

He stood at Jim's side as the sentinel crouched down beside a large partly broken display case lid. "Where do you want to start?" he asked.

"Sight," Jim replied shortly.

Oh, boy. Blair sighed inwardly. This is going to be fun. "Okay," he said, his tone automatically lowering to its guide register. It wasn't something he'd been aware of doing until Jim mentioned it to him one night, telling him it seemed to be just the right timbre to keep him focused. Blair had been pretty pleased with that idea and it gave him food for thought. Maybe the Guide response was ingrained. He hadn't had time to actually do any research on it yet but he'd filed the information away for further study. "There's a lot of extraneous stuff that your eyes might be drawn to. Don't try too hard."

Jim merely nodded. "Fingerprint, a little blood," he said after a few moment's concentration then abruptly went silent.

Blair frowned. "Jim?" No response. "Shit." He leaned down, resting his hands on his knees and studied Jim's face. Blank. Jim's eyes stared ahead emptily, his chest barely rising and falling as he breathed. "Jim!" Blair whispered urgently, taking a quick glance around, hoping no one else had noticed. "Come on, man! Snap out of it!"

Nothing.

Hesitantly, Blair lowered his hand until it hovered over Jim's shoulder. Come on, he admonished himself. This is Jim. What do you think he's gonna do, jump your bones? I wish, the devil on his shoulder supplied. Blair shook off his foolish thoughts and clasped Jim's shoulder firmly. "Jim? Come on back, man. Follow my voice."

Almost immediately, Jim shuddered and pulled in a gasping breath. He looked up at Blair, frowning. "Sorry. Haven't done that in a while."

"You okay?" Blair asked, easily picking up on the small lines of tension on Jim's forehead. "Headache?"

"Yeah, a little." Jim stood, allowing Blair's hand to drop from his shoulder. "I'm fine." He gazed around the store. "Let's see what else we can pick up." He called over a Forensics officer and directed him to the fingerprint then turned his attention to the rest of the store.

An hour later, they were done. Blair asked Jim to drop him off at the University, saying he'd catch a bus home later in the day. Nothing more was said about the earlier conversation and Blair wasn't sure whether to be relieved or not.

~o0o~

"You going out?" Jim paused his chopping of vegetables for a stir-fry when Blair came out of his room wearing his best jeans and the white shirt and vest he'd had on the first day he and Jim had met. His hair was tied back, two earrings glinting in one ear. Jim took a deep breath. Blair looked and smelled wonderful.

Blair nodded and gave his vest a final dusting off. "Date with Christine."

Jim schooled the disappointment from his face. "I thought that was over."

Blair walked over to the kitchen counter and grabbed a piece of carrot, popping it into his mouth. "What can I say?" He shrugged. "My natural charm won her over." His cheeks reddened, apparently realizing it wasn't what Jim wanted to hear.

Jim rushed on. "Have a good time. When will you be home?"

"If I'm lucky, not till morning." He swallowed. "I'll, uh - see you later."

Jim nodded, waving with the knife. "Later." He waited until the door closed before tossing the knife onto the chopping board and cursing. He should never have said anything about his feelings for Blair. Now they were acting like strangers and he was pretty sure his revelation to Blair would be his undoing. He hadn't missed the newspaper on the couch, opened to the apartment rental page, two or three ads already circled in red.

~o0o~

Christine looked understandably surprised when she opened the door. "Blair? What are you doing here?"

Blair pasted on a smile that felt strained. "Thought I'd surprise you. Take you out for dinner and a movie."

"Why?"

"Why? Can't a guy do something nice for a friend now and then?" He moved past her into the apartment when she stepped back. "We didn't exactly part on the best of terms..."

Chris eyed him thoughtfully. "Well, I was going to heat up a TV dinner, but... Dinner sounds too tempting to pass up."

"Great!" Blair smiled again and sat down on the couch. "Don't take too long. I made a reservation for eight at Luigi's."

Chris's eyes widened and she gave a whistle. "Luigi's? Now that's a major guilt trip."

Blair merely shrugged and sat back.

~o0o~

Christine leaned up in the bed, pulling the sheet over her shoulders to ward off the night chill and regarded Blair thoughtfully. "Penny for them," she said, stroking a finger across Blair's brow.

It took a moment for her words to register. Finally Blair turned his head and looked at her. "What? Oh, it's nothing."

"Don't give me that. You've been preoccupied all night." She paused a moment then sat up, pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms around them. "There's someone else, isn't there?"

"No!" Blair responded automatically, then he sighed. He'd really screwed this up. He sat up, mirroring Chris's actions then leaned over and kissed her cheek. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come."

Chris pulled away from him. "You used me!" she accused him angrily. "Trying to make her jealous?"

"No!" Blair shook his head. "I don't know how to explain it. Someone told me they have deep feelings for me but I can't - That is, we can't -"

"It's Jim, isn't it?" Blair rested his forehead on his knees and nodded. "Then why come here? I've always known you were bi, Blair but what were you trying to prove by coming here and seducing me?" She shook her head then slid out of bed, gathering up her robe and wrapping it around her. "On second thoughts, I don't want to know. I'm going to take a shower. I'd like you to be gone when I come out."

Blair looked up at her, regret clear on his face. "Chris, I'm sorry. I didn't do this to hurt you or Jim. I really thought that we could give our relationship another shot."

"You only get one shot, Blair, and you screwed it up the last time. Just leave, please." She walked to the door then turned and gave him a tremulous smile. "I thought one time we had a chance at something good, you and me. I should have known the first time I saw you with Jim. It was obvious even then. I wish you well. Don't call me, okay?"

Blair watched her leave, feeling ashamed. Whether it had been his intention or not, he had used Christine. He'd only wanted companionship, some gentle loving, which he could not share with Jim, and that in itself, was a betrayal to Christine. Disgusted with himself, he dressed quickly and left the apartment.

~o0o~

Waking in his own bed the following morning, Blair groaned when he realized he'd slept in. He was surprised that Jim hadn't woken him. As he made his way into the kitchen for a much-needed cup of coffee, he found a note from his partner propped up against the coffee pot.

I heard you come in late last night, Chief, and knew you had no classes this morning. Just routine at the PD. I'll see you tonight.

Jim

With a sigh, Blair got ready to head into the station.

~o0o~

Jim wasn't at his desk when Blair arrived. In fact, the bullpen looked rather deserted. Simon appeared from his office the moment Blair sat down at Jim's desk. He beckoned to Sandburg, his face troubled. "Can I see you for a minute, Blair?"

Blair?

Blair stood on shaking legs and walked over to the captain. "Jim?" he asked, his voice scarcely above a whisper.

Simon merely sighed and nodded. Placing a hand on Blair's shoulder, he squeezed gently then turned the anthropologist around. "Let's go to the hospital," he said. "I'll fill you in on the way."

Blair moved like an automaton at Simon's side. "How bad?" he asked.

"I don't have all the details yet," Simon began. He closed his eyes for a moment as if in silent prayer. "Pretty bad, Blair. Jim was shot in the chest."

~o0o~

Henri Brown stood the moment they walked into the hospital waiting area. He looked as bad as Blair felt.

Simon took control, directing Blair to a chair and pushing him to sit. He couldn't, his body was too wound tight with worry and fear. Simon sighed when Blair shook off Simon's hands and turned to Henri. "What happened, Brown?"

Henri glanced quickly at Blair, his eyes telegraphing sorrow and despair. "I don't really know, Captain." He took a shaky breath. "We got a call from one of Jim's snitches that the jewelry thieves were about to attempt to fence some of the jewels from the last robbery. Jim... Jim just wasn't himself. He seemed distracted. I don't know how he missed the gun. The guy was right in front of him and you know Jim. He has eyes like a hawk. I'd gone into the alley after the driver of the getaway vehicle. I heard the shot and when I - Jim was lying on the sidewalk." He fell into detective mode. "I apprehended the suspect and called for back up." He looked at Blair. "I'm sorry, Blair."

Blair shook his head. "Not your fault, H. I should have been there." If I hadn't been trying to prove to myself that I'm not in love with Jim by sleeping with Christine, I would have been. He'd been telling himself over the past few days that denying his feelings for Jim was protecting him. Instead, it had backfired. He knew the Major Crime team had an unspoken agreement that if Blair was unable to ride with Jim, they'd do it for him, but they didn't know about Jim's senses, couldn't act as Jim's guide. If anyone had failed Jim, it was Blair.

"What do the doctors say?" Simon asked, breaking into his thoughts.

"They took him straight into surgery. It's only been a half-hour. I haven't heard anything yet."

"Sit down, Brown, before you fall down," Simon said gently. He looked at Blair. "You too, Sandburg. We might have a long wait."

"I'm fine," Blair said though his knees threatened to buckle beneath him. He crossed to the other side of the room where he could see the door that led to the trauma rooms and beyond. Leaning against the wall for much needed support, he waited and prayed.

~o0o~

Four hours later, a tired looking doctor dressed in scrubs appeared, pulling a cap from his balding head. "Family for James Ellison?"

Blair straightened, his fatigue immediately gone. "That's me," he said then faltered, knowing it wasn't true.

"I'm Captain Banks," Simon said, walking over and extending a hand to the doctor. "This is Detective Brown and Blair Sandburg, Jim's... partner."

"How is he?" Blair asked anxiously. "Is he going to be okay?"

The doctor smiled. "It's a little early to say for sure but I think he'll be fine. The bullet lodged close to his spine and while there was some diffuse swelling in the area, there didn't appear to be any damage to the cord itself. There was a tear in his lung. That's been repaired and a chest tube's been inserted. He's on a ventilator at least overnight to allow him to rest and give his body a chance to begin healing."

The room suddenly spun and Blair's knees finally gave out. Dimly he was aware of an arm wrapping around his waist and he felt himself moving, then being lowered onto a chair. A large hand pushed his head between his knees. "I'm okay," he protested.

"Just rest a minute, Sandburg," Simon ordered. Then, apparently to the doctor, "He and Jim are close. It's been a hell of a shock."

"I can get one of the ER doctors to take a look at him," the doctor offered.

Blair shook his head, then wished he hadn't as the room took on the appearance of a tilt-a-whirl. He swallowed back nausea. "I'm fine. When can I see Jim?"

"In an hour or so. He'll be in the ICU at least overnight. That's on the second floor of the east wing."

"Thank you." Blair stood, grimly forcing his weakness back. He still felt shaky but knowing Jim was going to be all right renewed his strength.

The doctor wished them well and left. Henri placed his hand on Blair's shoulder. "I need to get back to the station and write this up. Tell Jim when he wakes up that we're rooting for him, okay?"

"I will. Thanks, H for looking out for Jim."

"Didn't do a very good job of it, did I?" Henri replied glumly.

"Not your fault, H," Blair replied firmly. Mine.

~o0o~

An hour and a half later, they were finally shown into Jim's cubicle. Blair walked hesitantly to the bedside, afraid of what he would see. Jim was deathly pale, his face partly obscured by the breathing tube assisting his lungs, his powerful body similarly hidden by a multitude of tubes and wires, but a reassuring steady blip came from the heart monitor beside the bed. Blair sank into the chair placed at the bedside, his gaze locked on Jim's pale face.

"I need to phone the office, make sure everything's okay there," Simon said. "I won't be long."

Blair was so absorbed in his partner, it took a moment for Simon's words to sink in then he nodded. "Okay." A thought came to him. "I need to speak to Jim's doctor - about his sensitivities."

"I'll see what I can find out," Simon assured him.

Left alone, Blair tentatively reached out and took Jim's hand in his. He ran his thumb over Jim's knuckles, taking comfort from the warmth of his partner's hand. "I'm sorry," he whispered. Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to Jim's hand in a soft kiss. Then he spoke the words he knew Jim could not hear. "I love you."

~o0o~

By eight that evening, Blair had managed to talk with Jim's primary care physician and explain about Jim's strong reactions to analgesia and sedation. Doctor Wood examined Jim once more, pronounced himself pleased with Jim's progress and ordered Blair to go home.

Blair protested vociferously. "I have to be here for him. If he wakes up -"

The doctor shook his head. "He's sedated and I've taken into account your suggestions regarding that. Considering you have no medical training, Mr. Sandburg, I've given you a great deal of leeway in Detective Ellison's care -"

"But -"

The doctor held up a hand, cutting off Blair's attempted argument. "This is not just for Detective Ellison's wellbeing. There are other patients here equally as ill, or worse. Your presence throughout the night would be disturbing to them as well as difficult for the staff who treat them."

"I'll just sit in this chair," Blair promised. "How much trouble can I be just sitting here?"

"Blair..." Simon said warningly.

Blair threw the captain a look of despair. "Simon, help me out here. When I got overdosed with the Golden, Jim stayed with me all night -"

"I'm sorry, Sandburg," Simon said apologetically. "It's the doctor's call."

Doctor Wood shook his head and Blair knew he'd lost the fight. "Come back in the morning," he said. "If there's any change overnight, I'll call you. Jim's got a long recovery ahead of him. You're going to need your strength if you're going to be there for him."

Blair finally acquiesced grudgingly. Leaning over Jim's prone body, he stroked a hand down Jim's cheek. "I'll be back," he whispered. "Soon as I can."

Simon drove him back to the loft where Blair wandered through the empty apartment, unable to sit and listen to the deafening silence. He found Jim's note still propped up by the coffee pot and folded it carefully before placing it in his pocket. Eventually, needing something positive to do, he climbed the stairs to Jim's room and packed an overnight bag of toiletries and a change of clothes for Jim. That done, he sat on the bed, then lay back and closed his eyes. It took a long time, but he finally slept, clutching Jim's pillow to him, dreaming it was Jim he embraced.

~o0o~

Doctor Wood was standing outside Jim's room, talking in a hushed tone to a second doctor when Blair arrived the next morning. He gave Blair a worried look when the anthropologist greeted him.

"How's Jim?" Blair asked, not liking the frown on the doctor's face.

"We've taken him off the ventilator already. He's breathing well, though of course he's still in some pain. There's been a minor complication."

"What?"

"He has no sensation or movement in his legs. I'm hoping it's temporary. As I explained, we saw no damage to the cord -"

"Why's he paralyzed then? Why didn't you call me?" Blair exploded.

"He only woke up a short time ago, Mr. Sandburg. There was some swelling in the area when we removed the bullet. It may be causing pressure on the cord that would explain the paralysis. If that's the case, it should settle within a few days. In the meantime, there's medication we can administer to hasten that along."

"And if it doesn't go away?" Blair knew the answer already and wasn't sure he wanted it voiced aloud.

"Let's not borrow trouble," Doctor Wood said. "We'll give it a few days."

"Can I see him?"

"Of course. I'm sure he could use a friendly face right now."

Blair nodded then moved past the doctor and opened the door. Jim's head turned toward him when he entered the room but there was no welcoming smile. He looked exhausted and pale.

"Hey, the doctor told me you were awake." Blair pasted what he hoped was a reassuring smile on his face and stepped up to the bed.

"Did he tell you?" Jim asked. His voice sounded hoarse, probably from the ventilator tube, Blair surmised.

"He said it's probably temporary," Blair reassured him. "In a couple of days, you'll be chasing the nurses all over the hospital."

"Maybe," Jim said. "What if it's not? What if I never walk again? What will I do then? Can't go back to work in a wheelchair."

Blair repeated the doctor's advice. "Let's not borrow trouble, Jim. It's too soon yet -"

"Easy for you to say," Jim grumbled.

Blair felt his cheeks burn. "I'm sorry," he whispered. His hand had strayed of its own accord to Jim's and he stroked gently over the back of Jim's knuckles. "I should have been there. From what Henri said, it sounds like you zoned and -"

"I didn't zone. I was thinking... about us. About what you said. Didn't have my mind on the job." He looked at Blair, his face hopeful. "Can you forget it? We can just go back to being friends. I'll never mention it again. It was stupid of me to even think that you and I could have anything more."

Blair shook his head. His heart began an almost painful pounding in his chest. "Can't go back, and I don't want you to take it back."

"So, you're going to leave. I saw the rental ads you'd circled in the newspaper."

Blair smiled. A feeling of relief washed over him. "Try to make me. You're stuck with me for good. I love you."

"Since when?"

Blair shrugged. "Since who knows? I didn't want to think about it, deal with it. I was worried about the rumors, about what might happen to you if it got out at the PD that we were lovers."

"So what changed your mind?" Jim asked.

Blair could feel Jim's eyes boring into him and he kept his gaze on the hypnotic stroking of his fingers. "I just couldn't deny it to myself any longer. I hurt Christine and I lied to you. I do care about you, Jim. More than care." He looked up then, answering Jim's steady gaze with a resolute one of his own.

Jim made an impatient gesture with his hand, pulling it away from Blair's touch. "Why tell me now that you love me?"

Blair sat down in the chair. "When you got shot... When I realized I could lose you, I decided life's too short for regrets. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life wishing I'd told you how much you mean to me."

"So you're saying this because you feel guilty or because you feel sorry for me?"

"No!" Blair leaned forward and grabbed Jim's hand, squeezing it gently. "I'm saying it now because it's the truth. I love you, Jim."

Surprisingly there was no immediate reply from Jim. He stared at their linked hands for a moment then closed his eyes. "I'm tired."

"That's it?" Blair was astounded. "I admit the one thing you tell me you've been wanting to hear and that's all you can say?"

"I've got a lot on my mind right now. I just want to forget about it all for a while. Okay?"

Blair bit back his disappointment. "Yeah. Okay. You get some rest. We'll talk when you wake up."

"Go to the university," Jim said. He sounded half asleep already. "You've got classes."

"I called and told them I wouldn't be in for a few days, till you're back on your feet." Blair realized his faux pas too late. "Sorry," he muttered.

Jim appeared to have missed his words. "Then go home. Come back tonight."

"Jim -"

"Not now, Sandburg. Okay?"

Blair stared at Jim in shock for a moment then sighed. "Sure, Jim. I'll see you later today." He stood and headed for the door, turning back for just a moment to see Jim staring at the ceiling, a single tear trickling down his cheek. He fought the urge to go back, take Jim into his arms and tell him everything would be all right. He wasn't entirely sure they would be.

~o0o~

Jim was moved into a regular room the following day. His wound was healing well and the chest tube was removed two days after surgery. The paralysis remained and by the fourth day with no sign of feeling or movement returning, Jim's mood deteriorated rapidly.

He complained about the food, about the nurses waking him up, about the catheter - well, Blair could empathize with him about that - about his physical therapy, about the scent of the flowers clogging up his nasal passages, about pretty much everything. Today though, his ire had been reserved exclusively for Blair. It seemed Blair could do nothing right. Jim wanted orange juice. Why had Blair brought apple juice? He knew Jim didn't like it. The magazines Blair had bought from the hospital shop with the last of his cash were boring. He'd already read Field and Stream and Blair knew he'd never been interested in National Geographic. Blair had actually bought that for himself but he wasn't about to get into an argument over it.

Blair wasn't feeling too well. The cold he'd thought he was coming down with hadn't been waylaid by the vitamins he'd taken and his exhaustion from burning the candle at both ends, trying to keep up with school and study and still spend as much time as he could with Jim, was taking its toll.

His headache flared to new heights when Jim glanced at the reports he'd asked Blair to bring in - "Might as well get some paperwork done, better than watching the drivel that passes for daytime TV." - and tossed it onto the rollaway table. "Did you even listen to what I said?" he shouted.

"What now?" Blair could feel the tentative grip he had on his temper beginning to give way.

"I asked you to bring in the Robinson case file and you brought in the Richards case file."

Blair glanced at the folder cover and grimaced. "Sorry. I was in a rush and you said it was on your desk. It was the only one there so I thought -"

"The problem is you didn't think!" Jim said; his voice was almost too low to hear but the anger was more than evident. "What's the use of asking you to do anything for me if you can't get something as simple as this right?"

The gloves were off. Blair glared at his irate partner, his righteous fury banked to new heights. "Then maybe you'd better find yourself a new partner because obviously I can't be trusted to get anything right."

The nerve in Jim's jaw twitched madly. "Maybe I should."

"Maybe I should just get right out of your life completely. Would that make you feel better?"

"Do what you like, Sandburg. I don't need you hanging around because you feel sorry for me."

That was the final straw. Blair turned and marched to the door, opening it and going through it without a backward glance. He paused on the other side, expecting Jim to call him back but when the silence stretched to minutes, he gave up and left, his entire body shaking from the aftermath of their rage.

~o0o~

He came to a halt outside the hospital entrance, suddenly unsure what to do. Sinking down onto a bench just outside the doors, he lowered his aching head and rested it in his hands. It wasn't Jim's fault, he knew. The stress of his injuries coupled with not knowing if he'd ever walk again would be enough to send the most easygoing person into a tailspin.

If anything, Blair should have remained calm in the face of Jim's anger, regardless how much the words had hurt, because he knew deep down that Jim didn't mean any of it.

Did he?

Just a few days before he'd confessed his love for Blair, had begged him not to leave even when Blair had denied him and lied about his own feelings.

He had to go back and talk to Jim, Blair decided. Make him understand that he did love him, had always loved him and ensure Jim knew that no matter how bad things got, Blair would always be there for him.

"Sandburg?"

He looked up at the sound of Simon's familiar voice and gave the captain a wan smile in the hope it would erase the worried frown on Simon's face. "Hey, Simon."

"Is everything all right? How's Jim?"

"He's fine, considering..." Blair began then he sighed. "No, he's not. My fault. He's really stressed out over the paralysis and kinda blew up at me. Instead of understanding how he's feeling, I yelled back. I know he didn't mean it."

Simon sat down beside him. "I'm sure he didn't. What are you going to do?"

"Go back, talk to him. Let him know I'll be here for him every step..." He grimaced at his poor choice of words, "all the way."

"I'm not sure that's going to work," Simon said.

Blair frowned. "Why not? He's just scared, Simon. You know Jim, he's not going to admit to anyone, including me, that he's afraid."

Simon stared out across the parking lot. "I think he's afraid of losing you more than he is of losing the use of his legs."

"He's not going to lose me -" Blair stopped, Simon's words suddenly sinking in. "What do you mean? Has Jim... said something to you?"

Simon turned to look at him. "He didn't need to. Jim and I go back a long way. We've been good friends, close friends for a long time. I know he cares for you, Blair. More than cares for you. That much was obvious when Lash took you. Even after he got you back, I could see it was tearing at him, the thought of what could have happened if he hadn't got there in time, and the way he blamed himself for Lash getting to you in the first place. After the Golden... He loves you, is in love with you." Blair looked deeply into Simon's dark eyes but saw no censure there, only concern. "Jim's scared that being paralyzed will mean he'll be a burden to you."

Blair shook his head. "It won't matter. I won't let it be a problem. I - I love him too, Simon. It just took me a while to be brave enough to say it. I was worried about his job, how people at the station would react if it got out. I was scared it would mean an end to our partnership."

Simon leaned forward and rested his arms on his thighs, staring ahead. "You've helped him out an awful lot with the sentinel stuff, Sandburg. Personally, I don't know how you manage to fit it all in and stay standing -"

"We had an agreement, Jim and I," Blair cut in, then added softly, "It wasn't long before I realized it was more than about my dissertation or even about Jim's senses. I told Jim after we came back from rescuing you and Daryl in Peru, that it was about friendship. I think even then I knew that it was about love."

"Jim feels he's a burden on you already because of his senses. We're all aware of how you drop everything, even if it's to your own detriment, to back Jim up, to guide him. How do you think he'll feel if he has to add paralysis to that?"

"What are you saying?" Blair asked, though he was pretty sure he knew where Simon was going with this.

Simon shook his head. "You're the anthropologist, Sandburg, the observer. Think about it. If Jim feels he's going to weigh you down with another disability, and don't forget, to a degree, that's still what Jim considers his senses to be, what would be the best way to get you to back off, to walk away from it all?"

Blair's eyes widened as he took in Simon's words. "That sneaky -"

Simon stood and waved away Blair's words before fishing in his pocket for a cigar. "Don't tell me, Sandburg, tell Jim. I'm going to have a smoke before I go see him. You heading home now - or what?"

"Not before I tell that partner of mine exactly how things are going to go down from here on," Blair said determinedly. He grabbed his backpack from the seat and strode to the entrance, turning back to say, "Simon, thank you. You're a good friend - to us both."

Simon blew out a puff of fragrant smoke. "De nada, Sandburg."

~o0o~

"Okay!" Blair pushed open the door to Jim's room so hard, it slammed against the wall with a resounding thump. Both he and Jim jumped, and Jim turned his head toward Blair, a startled expression on his face. Blair plowed ahead before his courage deserted him. "Here's what's going to happen." He walked over to the bedside and stood, arms crossed over his chest, bouncing slightly on his toes. "You are going to get over this fit of pissy attitude you've got going and channel it into something useful, like getting better. I am going to be on your ass every step of the way, whether your mobility comes back or not. I'm not leaving, not now, not ever, so just get over it already."

Jim's mouth opened and shut a few times, reminding Blair of a startled goldfish, then he cleared his throat. "Sandburg. Blair, I'm sorry. I love you."

Blair shook his head defiantly. "Don't even try to weasel your way out of it, Jim. It took me too long to admit to myself and to you that I love you, and I'm not going to waste any more time..." He blinked slowly, his brain finally catching up with his ears. "What did you say?"

Jim smiled. "I said I'm sorry. I love you. I don't want you to leave. Ever."

Blair slumped in relief. "Oh, well, that's good. I knew you'd see it my way eventually. Oh!" The room suddenly did a slow roll and he felt one wrist gripped firmly and then he was dragged forward to sag against the bed. "Headspin. I'm okay," he muttered.

"Sure you are," Jim agreed. "Come here." He pulled Blair toward him and Blair found he couldn't offer any resistance. Jim used his arms to shift himself sideways in the bed and pulled Blair down beside him, his butt not quite hanging off the edge.

"Don't want to hurt you," Blair protested, shifting slightly back and almost toppling off the mattress.

"I'm fine. Here." Jim coaxed Blair's head down to rest against his stomach, ensuring no pressure was placed on Jim's wound. His hand carded gently through Blair's curls, the caress hypnotic and soothing. "Rest."

"Jus' for a minute," Blair whispered.

~o0o~

"Blair? Hey, Chief. You want to move a little bit?" The words eventually insinuated themselves into Blair's consciousness and he sighed and yawned, finally opening leaden eyelids. He saw only an expanse of white and shifted his head back to look up, eventually finding Jim's grinning face staring back at him. "Wha'?" he asked groggily.

"I need you to move a little, Chief. I've got pins and needles in my legs and you're laying on my bladder."

"Oh, okay, sorry." Blair shifted up and lay his head on the pillow, slowly drifting back to sleep. Suddenly Jim's words registered. He shot up in the bed. "Pins and needles? You mean, you can feel your legs?"

Jim gave him a delighted smile. "Yeah. Well, sort of." He looked down at his legs and gave an experimental tug, grinning when his legs moved beneath the covers. "Movement's coming back too."

"Jim, that's - that's..." Blair trailed off and instead leaned over and pressed a gentle chaste kiss to Jim's lips.

"Now that's amazing," Jim whispered as Blair backed off. He grasped Blair's shoulders, pulling him back toward him and took the other man's lips firmly, pushing insistently with his tongue until Blair's mouth opened and let him in. Their tongues dueled lazily, getting to know each other, their hands wrapped around each other, stroking up and down in a gentle matching rhythm. Finally both men pulled back simultaneously to take in much needed air.

Blair smiled at Jim and reached up to ghost one hand down the side of Jim's face. "No more wasted time, okay?"

Jim sealed his promise with another kiss.

The end.

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Author's Acknowledgements: For Patt, who feeds my muse on a regular basis. Thanks, mate. And to Kat and NAT for their great beta work.