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Thanks to Annie for the plotbunny and beta.
"Jim, I have a cold and it's not even a bad one."
"I said no, Sandburg. You head down here sniffing and sneezing and coughing your germs over everyone, Simon will have a fit."
"But I'm bored."
"So find something to do, clean your room."
"Did that - aaachooo - already."
"Well, go read a book. What about that new one you bought that you kept complaining you never got time to read."
"Found the time, read it."
"Look, Sandburg, just do something. I gotta go."
"Maybe I'll head down to that new health store, get some stuff for my cold."
"Okay - wait, no. Stay indoors. With the way you get bronchitis every time you catch a cold lately, I don't want you getting a chill. I'll get whatever you need when I come home."
"Aww, come on, Jim, it's only a couple of blocks away -"
"No! I mean it, Chief. I'll be home in a half hour."
"Did you know you only call me Blair when you're pissed with me?"
"I'm not pissed with you. I just don't want you getting sicker."
"It's just a cold."
"Hanging up now. Goodbye, mom."
"Kid giving you a hard time, Jim?" Simon asked as Jim hung up the phone on a snickering Sandburg.
"He's not a kid, sir," Jim began then sighed. "Although the way he acts sometimes, you'd think he was fifteen. For someone who's so picky about eating the right food and taking care of himself, he can be damn stubborn about his health."
"It *is* just a cold, right?"
"So far, but last time he had 'just a cold', he ended up with bronchitis and on antibiotics for two weeks. Since the drowning, he gets more than his share of colds and they always seem to turn into something worse."
"Ah, the joys of parenthood," Simon chuckled.
Jim bit back a retort when he saw the amusement on Simon's face. He probably was overprotective of Blair these days but since Blair had drowned, he couldn't seem to help himself, partly because it seemed to be hardwired into his Sentinel genes, according to Sandburg, and partly due to guilt. He changed the subject before he could go down that oft-traveled road again. "You want to take a look at the Larsen report with me?"
"Sure," Simon agreed. "My office. I've just brewed a fresh pot of coffee."
Blair put down the book he'd been attempting to read and reached hurriedly for a tissue as he sneezed several times in a row.
Truth was, despite his protests to the contrary to Jim, he was feeling pretty awful. His chest ached, his throat felt like sandpaper, he had a ferocious headache and his nose was sore and no doubt red to boot from the constant dripping from his congested sinuses. He figured he looked about as bad as he felt. As so often happened since the day Alex had pushed him into the fountain, his mild cold was developing into something more serious if the tightness and rattling in his lungs was anything to go by.
If he could just go to the health store and buy some elder, peppermint and yarrow to steep into a tea, add some nutmeg for taste and honey to soothe his throat, he knew he'd start feeling a whole lot better. Maybe some echinacea too.
Well, there was certainly nothing stopping him. His car was downstairs and though it was chilly out, there had been no rain so far. Besides, it was only a couple of blocks away. If he waited until Jim got home, chances were his Blessed Overprotector would take one look at him and hustle him off to the ER.
Decision made, Blair stood and grabbed his heaviest jacket, wrapped a scarf around his neck and pulled a wool cap onto his head. His fingerless gloves completed the ensemble and he headed downstairs to his car.
Today of all days! The car engine whined uselessly a couple of times then sputtered once and gave up the ghost. Blair bit back a curse and gave into the coughing fit that would not be ignored. Finally, eyes watering, throat burning, he got it under control and took a slow breath.
Well, he had legs, didn't he? And it really wasn't that far to the store. He'd be there and back, sitting in front of a nice warm fire, looking at least fifty percent better by the time Jim got home. And Jim couldn't really say anything about him disobeying his orders once the deed was done, could he?
Probably, but he was downstairs now, he might as well just do it.
"No answer?" Simon noted when Jim hung up the phone with a muttered expletive.
Jim rubbed a hand over his face. "No."
"Maybe he's asleep," Simon suggested.
"And maybe he's out in this." Jim waved a hand toward the rain-lashed windows. "In fact, knowing Sandburg, I'd bet on it." He stood and turned toward the door of Simon's office.
"You want to wait out the storm here?" Simon asked. "With the wind and rain, you'll be lucky to be able to see where you're going."
Jim tapped at an eye and Simon shrugged. "Still it could get dicey out there."
"I'll be fine and anyway, I'm looking forward to kicking Sandburg's butt if I find out he's been out in this."
The storm had come out of nowhere. Blair had left the store and was headed back to the apartment when rain torrented from the sky, almost blinding him. A head-on wind buffeted at his body and by the time he had struggled against it for just a few yards, he was exhausted and chilled to the bone.
He thought of turning back and taking shelter in the store but the owner had been closing up when Blair had arrived and had probably already left. Soaking wet and freezing, his chest burning from the effort of fighting against the wind, Blair turned into the alley just ahead and plastered himself against the wall. There was sparse shelter from the storm by the overhang of the roof of the building but he was still pelted by icy drops of water and gusts of wind.
He could already hear Jim's 'I told you so' reverberating in his head, drowning out the howling of the wind.
Jim knew the apartment was empty by the time he got halfway up the stairs. The drive home had been slow going, punctuated by stopping to assist a motorist who'd broken down and Jim had already phoned Blair several times more, again with no answer, before he made it home.
He didn't bother going the rest of the way upstairs but turned back and hurried to his truck. Which way was the health store? It was a new business and Blair had mentioned it a few nights before. Jim wracked his brains, trying to recall the conversation. As he often did when Blair went into one of his rambling monologues, Jim had switched off about halfway through.
Taking a gamble, Jim swung the truck out of the parking lot and turned right. Blair had said it wasn't far away so he could always go back the other way if he was unsuccessful in finding him.
He found the store quickly enough but was disappointed to see it was already closed up. Jim turned the truck and headed slowly back toward the loft, keeping his eyes and ears open for any sign of Blair.
He almost missed him in the downpour streaming down the windows. Only sentinel sight was able to discern that the dark shadow plastered up against the wall of the alley was a person.
Parking the truck up in the mouth of the alley, Jim hurried to Blair's side. Blair stared at him mutely but there seemed to be a small spark of comprehension in the dull gaze. Jim wasted no time ascertaining Blair's condition. It was obvious he was bordering on hypothermia and the bronchitis that had plagued him since the drowning was clearly back, judging by the wheeze emanating from his lungs. Jim half-carried Blair around to the passenger side of the truck, hoisted the frozen body inside and headed for home.
By the time they reached the front door of the apartment, Blair's small reserves of energy seemed spent and he listed drunkenly against Jim's side, leaving Jim feeling almost as wet and chilled as his partner.
He led Blair into the bathroom, efficiently stripped off his clothes and, keeping one hand on Blair's arm to steady him, turned on the shower with the other. He kept it tepid to start then slowly increased the heat as Blair's waxy-looking skin began to pink up.
Blair still hadn't said a word but as the warmth began to register, he gave a sigh and turned to Jim. "Th-thanks, m-man."
Jim shook his head. "I swear, Sandburg -"
"N-not now, o-okay?" Blair protested, his voice croaking. "L-let me e-enjoy this be-before the ex-execution."
Jim grunted. He let go of Blair's arm, watching for a few seconds to ensure the other man wouldn't take a header in the tub, then went into Blair's room for sweats and thick socks.
By the time he returned, Blair was out of the shower, sitting on the toilet seat, wrapped in a towel. Miserable blue eyes tinged with red looked up at Jim from beneath still dripping hair. With a long-suffering sigh, Jim grabbed another towel from the cupboard and wrapped it turban-style around Blair's soaking locks.
"Sorry," Blair croaked. "Stupid of me."
"No argument from me, Chief."
Jim saw a small smile curve Blair's mouth at the use of his nickname but at Jim's stern glance, he quickly schooled his expression back into one of abject misery. "You gonna take me out and shoot me now?"
"Don't tempt me," Jim warned. "Of all the lame-brained -"
"I didn't know there was a storm coming!"
"If you'd stayed at home, you would have known when I phoned you."
"Well, yeah, but -"
Jim held up a hand, halting what he knew would be another rambling litany of excuses before Blair could wind up. "No buts." He waited while Blair dressed then opened the bathroom door and pointed toward Blair's room. "Bed now."
"I got some -"
"I'll make your tea and bring it in. And if you're no better tomorrow, you're seeing a doctor." Jim made sure there was no room for argument.
Blair gave a shaky salute. "Yes, sir."
"I mean it." Jim forced his anger away with effort, finally getting to what was really bothering him. "Every time you've gotten sick lately, you have trouble recovering. Ever since -"
"It wasn't your fault, Jim," Blair said softly. He looked up at his partner. "No more yours than mine." He smiled then. "Those Blessed Protector instincts are hard-wired, man, but don't take more than your fair share of the blame. I was stupid to go out today. I got the message loud and clear. Thank you for coming to the rescue - again."
"It's what partners do, right?" Jim said. He felt a little discomfited by this sharing of feelings but warmed by it too. "Get into bed. I'll bring you your tea."
Jim looked up from the basketball game he'd been immersed in when Blair's door opened and a slightly healthier looking Sandburg emerged, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Where do you think you're going?" he asked.
Blair stared at him for a moment as though digesting the query. "I still gotta pee, you know."
"Okay, then go back to bed. Doctor's orders."
"Bed rest for two more days," Blair grumbled. "I know. I was there."
Jim merely shrugged and turned his attention back to the game. An antsy, grumpy Sandburg meant the kid was on the mend.
"You know what's good for colds?" Blair asked.
"Bronchitis, Chief. You have bronchitis," Jim countered.
"Same diff." Blair shrugged then went on. "Chicken soup. Not the canned stuff. Too many preservatives. Real, home-made chicken soup, with tiny bits of tender chicken, noodles " Blair's voice took on a dreamy quality.
"Well, that's a pity because we don't have any home-made chicken soup. Just the canned variety."
"The market on the corner sells this delicious home-made chicken -"
"No!" Jim interrupted. "I have a day off at last, the storm has passed, there's a game on. I was about to pop the top on the first of a few beers "
Blair shrugged. "I didn't mean for you to go out and get it, Jim. I was just mentioning that there's this market -"
Jim gave up as he suspected Blair knew he would. He turned off the TV and stood, pulling his truck keys from his pocket.
"You don't have to," Blair said in rehearsed protest.
"If I want to watch the game without feeling guilty, I do," Jim said. He headed for the front door. "Go back to bed after you pee. I'll be back in ten." He turned and wagged a finger at his roommate. "No changing the TV to the Discovery Channel while I'm gone."
"I could rest just as easy out here on the couch and watch the game with you," Blair suggested. "I'm bored."
Oh, for Pete's sake!
"Fine." Jim's nose wrinkled as he fought off a sneeze. Too late. "Aaah-choo!"
"Maybe get some chicken soup for yourself," Blair added, padding over and holding a tissue out to Jim. "I'll brew the tea while you're gone."