TWO WAY STREET
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AUTHOR'S WEBSITE: http://brothersinarms.tvheaven.com
DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Paramount and Petfly. This fanfic was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.
Set around Season Three.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story is for my good friend, Bev, who asked if I'd try to write her a fic for her birthday. When I pressed her for details, she asked for a story where Jim loses it and hurts Blair badly without meaning to, hence much angst and remorse for Jim, lots of owies for Blair and comfort from Jim. We're a sad lot, aren't we? (g) Anyway, this is what Bev's request inspired.
I hope you like it, Bev -- and all together now: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEV!!! Especially from me, Downunder.
WARNING: There's some darkness in this. It mentions the rape and death of a child, though the rape is not described.
"Sorry, Jim, no can do," Blair said into the phone. "I've got students queued outside my office. I swear the line is a mile long. I told you this morning I'm not free until tomorrow afternoon."
"It's just a couple of interviews, Sandburg. Won't take more than an hour," Jim replied.
Blair smiled a little at the wheedling tone in Jim's voice, then steeled himself to refuse once more. If he had his way, he'd much rather be out with Jim interviewing the witnesses to a spate of drive-by shootings. The excitement of police work seemed more alluring to him than a day spent listening to a procession of students whining about their grades. He had a job to do, however and when it came down to it, Blair had to admit he loved teaching, even when those he taught were less than grateful for the knowledge he passed on.
"Fine," Jim replied tersely when Blair didn't immediately answer. "I just thought you'd want to be in on this. You've covered most of the investigation with me."
Blair, his temper frayed from his long week, reacted with uncharacteristic anger. "I do have a paying job, you know, Jim. It's the one that pays my rent," he said, his voice tight.
"Can't pay that well, Chief," Jim cut in. "You still owe me back rent from two weeks ago."
Blair sputtered with indignation. "I said I was sorry about the car needing new tires. You said the tires were more important than the rent," he reminded Jim.
"Yes, I did," Jim replied equably, but Blair thought he could still hear a faint tinge of sarcasm in his tone. "I also said it was time you sat down and worked out a budget so you're not constantly running short of cash. I could give you some tips "
"I manage just fine," Blair muttered, not willing to admit Jim was right. He'd never bothered with budgeting. Whenever something came up that he needed, he simply paid for it, then when the money ran out, his debts languished and built up until the cash flowed again. More often than not, Blair knew, his rent was what waited. "Anyway," he continued, "If you want me to earn some money and catch up the rent, I'm not available until the day after tomorrow."
"Fine. I'll see you tonight, if you're planning on coming home."
Blair's gaze strayed to the list of student appointments on his desk, then flickered up to the clock on the wall. He suppressed a sigh. It was going to be a long day. "I might be late," he answered. "Go ahead and eat without me."
"Whatever," Jim replied, and Blair could definitely now hear the impatience in the other man's voice. Jim paused a moment, then went on. "I just wanted to test out this heartbeat thing. The witnesses I'm interviewing are pretty tight-mouthed, determined as hell to serve their own justice. I thought I'd try that thing we've been talking about, see if I can pick up who might be lying, maybe lean on them a little harder. We don't need another gang war on the streets, Chief."
Blair's thoughts focused instantly on Jim's abilities, the earlier curt words forgotten. "Well," he began slowly. "You need to listen to their heartbeat as soon as you talk to them, try to get a baseline reading. Watch their pupils too, see if they dilate, or look to the left when they're answering. It's a tough one, but a rise in body temperature's a fair indicator, perspiring "
"I got it, I got it, Chief," Jim interrupted.
"What if you focus too hard and zone?" Blair asked doubtfully, already trying to think of a way he could postpone his office hours to the following day. He knew there was no way; he had an exam to proctor at nine AM.
"I won't zone," Jim said, then seeming to realize Blair would interject, pushed on hurriedly, "I'll take Joel with me. He can give me a nudge if I drift off."
"Sure, okay." A sudden thought occurred to Blair. "Jim, this is just interviews, right? Nothing dangerous?"
"Missing your adrenaline hit, Sandburg?" Jim asked.
Blair saw red. "Well, thanks, Jim. I show concern for your safety and you come up with that kind of shit, like I'm some little kid waiting to watch you turn on the lights and siren!"
"I've got to go," Blair said curtly. "Don't wait up." Slamming down the phone, he pushed back his chair, groaning as a timid knock sounded at the door. "Just a minute," he called out impatiently.
He rubbed at the bridge of his nose, then unhooked his glasses and tossed them carelessly onto the desk. 'That went well,' he thought tiredly. He knew he was at fault here. Not that he should jump up and run whenever Jim called for him, but he knew that Jim really did understand that his ride-along sometimes had to come a regretful second to his studies and teaching. He was exhausted and pissy, and he knew Jim deserved an apology for his outburst. Picking up his glasses, he scanned the list for the next student. He'd work through the session as quickly as possible, get home as early as he could and do just that. Apologize.
As it turned out, Jim didn't arrive home until the early morning. Blair got the abbreviated version of what had gone down from a pale, exhausted Jim over a hurried breakfast of toast and coffee the following morning.
Driving home after dropping Joel back at the PD, Jim had spotted a man exiting an abandoned apartment building. The man seemed wary, constantly looking back the way he had come, and Jim's suspicions were aroused. Too far away to see much with normal sight, Jim dialed up his vision and recognized the man as a known pedophile, Maurice Knelling. Extending his hearing into the building that had the man's attention, Jim heard a faint whimper of distress.
He pushed the accelerator to the floor and parked directly out front of the worn-down brownstone building. Climbing out of the vehicle, Jim saw that Knelling had spotted him as well, and picked up speed, disappearing around the corner. Torn between Knelling and the faltering heartbeat he could now hear on the first floor, Jim made his decision and hurried through the crumbling doorway.
He raced upstairs, pulling his weapon from his holster as he ran. Focusing again, he pinpointed the heartbeat in the end apartment. He kicked open the door, and stopped in shock when he saw a tiny, black girl huddled on the floor, partially covered with an old, foul-smelling blanket. Crossing the room, he swept away the covers and lifted the child's head, worriedly noting that her heart had just stopped. Brushing a gentle hand over her in a quest to ascertain injuries, he found a thin cord knotted tightly around the child's neck. Wasting no time, he managed to get the rope untied and commenced CPR. In between breaths, he fumbled for his cell phone and called for help. It was already too late, he knew. The ligature around her throat had crushed the child's fragile hyoid bone; she died in Jim's arms.
Blair pushed away his breakfast plate; his appetite gone as Jim recounted his horrific story. "I'm sorry," he said, his mouth dry. "I should have made the time to come with you."
Jim took a sip of coffee, waving away Blair's guilt with his free hand. "Nothing you could have done, Chief. Nothing anyone could do."
Blair shook his head, then stood and picked up his plate and cup, carrying them into the kitchen. "If I'd been with you, I could have looked after the little girl, you could have gone after Knelling. At least you could have caught the bastard."
"We'll get him." Jim stood and made his way over to add his dishes to Blair's. "You got time to do the dishes? I'm running late."
"So am I " Blair began. "But you go. What you have to do is more important."
Jim patted his shoulder. "Just leave 'em, Chief. We'll get them tonight. No point either of us being late." He paused for a moment. "About yesterday, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to sound like your work wasn't important. I know you give your time at the station for free, and I can't expect you to drop everything whenever I call."
Blair followed his partner to the front door. "It should be me apologizing, Jim. It's been a tough week, but it was no excuse for me to go off at you like that."
Jim smiled and handed Blair his keys. "Apology accepted provided you do the dishes tonight."
Blair pretended to think about it, then grinned and nodded. "So, you know where to find Knelling?"
Jim shrugged. "We know where he hangs out, who his friends are. We'll get him."
Pulling a face at the sign proclaiming the elevator was out again, Blair sidestepped around his partner and led the way to the stairs. "Good luck. Be careful, and as of tomorrow, I promise, I'm all yours."
"Sorry, Sandburg," Jim's voice echoed down the stairwell behind Blair. "You are *so* not my type."
The jovial tone of the morning's conversation dissipated the moment Jim arrived home that evening. Blair settled down at the computer to put the finishing touches to an article he hoped to have published in an anthropological journal. He jumped; hitting several wrong keys as the front door opened with a crash and Jim stormed through the doorway, his face like thunder. Tossing his truck keys at the basket on the cupboard, he appeared not to notice when they hit the edge and dropped to the floor.
Blair stood and made his way into the kitchen. "Bad day, huh? I hope you're hungry. Spaghetti marinara and I'll put the garlic bread in now."
"I need a shower," Jim ground out, not even looking at Blair as he crossed the room and disappeared into the bathroom. The door slammed, the faucet squeaked, and apart from the sound of cascading water, silence descended on the loft.
It had been a long, lousy week, Blair thought morosely. His patience and time stretched thin by exams, stressed-out students and teachers; he now had the added burden of guilt. Perhaps, he thought glumly, if he'd found the time to go with Jim, the present situation would not be as bad as it was. Cupping his chin in his hand, he watched Jim from the corner of his eye, pretending at the same time to finalize the article on his laptop.
Jim was seated on the couch, aimlessly channel surfing, but his stiff posture showed he was anything but relaxed. Finally, the detective threw the remote onto the coffee table and leaned back, closing his eyes. "We found Knelling," he said, his voice sounding raspy and strained.
Blair saved his work and turned off the computer, then spun around to face his partner. "That's great, Jim!"
"Don't celebrate," Jim replied tiredly. "He had an alibi. Airtight, apparently."
"But you saw him there," Blair said incredulously. "Surely, when it comes down to it, a cop's word against that of a known pedophile seen leaving the building where a child was raped and murdered "
Jim sat forward, pinning Blair with an icy glare. "Let me spell it out for you, Chief. I saw him, but I only recognized him with my sight enhanced."
"Shit! Jim, I'm sorry. That totally sucks, man. Maybe there's some evidence to tie him to the scene "
Jim shook his head. "Forensics swept the place clean, then I went over it myself. Nothing, not even a fucking hair. The child was raped with a blunt object so there's not even any DNA."
"What happens now is that son of a bitch walks." Jim stared into space for a moment, then stood and strode to the door. "No," he said decisively. "That's not going to happen." Bending down, he picked his keys up off the floor and reached for his jacket. "I'll be back later."
Blair stood and crossed over to him, dread settling in the pit of his stomach. "What are you going to do?"
Jim opened the door and stepped into the hallway before he spoke. "I'm going down to the station to swear out a statement."
Blair reached out and snagged his partner's sleeve. "Jim! Are you nuts? If you do that, you're going to have to admit to your senses. You can't do that!"
Jim pulled his arm roughly from Sandburg's grasp. "I don't have any choice, Chief. If this son of a bitch walks, who's to say he won't do it again to some other kid?"
Blair tried again, following Jim down the hallway to the stairs. "There's got to be some other way, Jim. Come on, man, you can't be serious."
Jim rounded on him, eyes blazing. "Serious? What's serious, Sandburg, is that little girl dying in my arms after being kidnapped, raped, terrorized beyond belief and strangled."
Blair angled around in front, as Jim turned back to the stairs. Placing a hand on Jim's chest, he halted the detective's forward movement. "Just think about it for a minute," he pleaded. "Come back inside, and we'll do some brainstorming. There's got to be another way "
Jim leaned into Blair's face, breathing heavily. "Don't you think I've tried to think of another way, Sandburg? There isn't one. Now, get out of my way."
He thumped his hand against Blair's chest, accentuating his words, and Sandburg took a reflexive step back. His eyes widened in shock as his foot encountered only air. He felt himself falling backwards, his flailing hands reaching desperately for something to halt his momentum, and felt his fingertips brush Jim's.
"Blair!" Jim's voice battered at him then an agonizing blow to his head drove all coherent thought from his mind. He somersaulted downward, smashing into steps and walls on his haphazard fall to the next landing. Hitting the bottom last step with a resounding thump, his body flipped once more, smacking his head into the landing, and he sprawled in an ungainly heap, arms and legs akimbo, like a puppet with its strings cut.
Jim stood for a moment, frozen in shock as he stared down at Blair's seemingly lifeless body. Then he spurred himself into action and hurried down the stairs to crouch by his silent friend. His hands fluttered briefly over Blair, unsure where to touch, before he forced himself to calm. Panicking now could very well cost his friend his life. Automatically going through the first aid steps in his mind, Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket and called for an ambulance. That done, Jim leaned over his partner and began a sensory exam.
Taking a deep breath, he concentrated on increasing his sense of touch, and ranged his other senses out to catalogue Blair's vital signs. Sandburg appeared to be solidly unconscious; loud commands for him to open his eyes or make a sound yielded no result. A thin trickle of blood seeped slowly from one nostril, and Jim's heart lurched, knowing the bleeding might indicate a severe head injury.
Extending his hands, fighting to stop them from shaking, he gently felt as much of Blair's skull as he could without shifting him. He could feel no depressions in the flat bones that might indicate a fracture, though the heat of bruising was apparent in a couple of areas. He shifted his hands slowly downward, tracing across collarbones, then down arms, relieved to find thus far only a swelling wrist, but no break in the bone beneath. Blair's abdomen felt soft, his ribs whole, and his pelvis stable.
Jim's hopes of minor injuries sank when he reached Blair's right leg, and saw the unnatural angle at which it lay. Fractured femur, Jim thought grimly, feeling the large swelling on Blair's thigh. He trailed his sensitive hands down over the bone, swallowing back nausea when he discerned the fracture beneath his fingers.
A hoarse scream of agony from Blair startled him and he shifted back quickly, moving his hands to Blair's shoulders as the young man regained consciousness and thrashed wildly.
"Easy, Chief, easy," Jim soothed. He had to forcibly restrain Blair from reaching for his injured leg, and attempting to curl forward around the pain. Jim was still not sure if Sandburg had suffered any neck or spinal injuries and he tried to keep the disoriented young man still with a firm hold and soothing words. "Blair? Can you hear me?" Not waiting for a response, Jim continued. "You've had a fall, Chief. Your leg's broken. There's an ambulance on the way."
Bleary blue eyes finally cracked open, gazing vacantly upward before focusing on Jim. "Ji Jim? Wha h'ppened?"
Jim clenched his jaw and struggled to force his words out without a quaver in his voice as the horrifying incident played over in his mind's eye. "You fell," he husked out. "I just need you to stay still." His sensitive hearing picked up the sound of approaching sirens. "Ambulance is almost here. Can you tell me where you hurt?"
Blair stared at him for a moment as though processing the question before replying softly. "Head " His back arched suddenly at the same moment as Jim felt a spasm shudder through the damaged muscles of his leg and another cry of pain was torn from his throat.
"Oh God, Blair, I'm sorry." Jim attempted to splint the broken leg with his hands, and watched with mounting concern as Blair's eyes rolled up in his head and he relaxed into unconsciousness.
Jim slumped backward onto his butt and reached for Blair's hand, shifting his fingers until he could feel the rapid but steady pulse of his guide's heartbeat beneath his touch.
The voice pulled him back from an almost-zone and he blinked slowly, bringing into focus the young paramedic standing on the stairs below.
"I'll need you to back up the stairs a little so we can get to the victim."
Victim. The word echoed accusingly in Jim's head and he felt nausea surge once more. Swallowing dryly - determined not to gag, he nodded and pulled his stiff body upright, then retreated up a couple of steps. He watched mostly in silence while the paramedics took vitals, inserted an IV and splinted Blair's mangled leg. He identified himself then answered the medic's questions in a shocked monotone. He followed them to the ambulance, pausing at the door and giving the paramedic a pleading look.
The young man studied him for a moment, then nodded. "That's fine, Detective. You can ride in with us."
Jim felt his knees sag in relief at the response and climbed quickly inside. He settled himself onto the bench seat, keeping out of the paramedic's way while a second set of vitals were taken and relayed to the hospital, then he reached out, finding Blair's cool hand, unconsciously stroking soft circles of comfort over it.
The ride to the hospital went unnoticed to Jim, his entire attention and senses focused on his unconscious guide. He followed the gurney to the trauma room, stopping obediently in the doorway when a stern-looking nurse stepped in front of him, halting his progress into the room. He remained there, his gaze fixed on Blair, as the young man was shifted to the exam table and stripped of his clothes. Sighing as though realizing this was as much cooperation as she would get from the detective, the nurse turned away and hurried back to join the team at Blair's bedside.
With his hearing acutely attuned to Blair, Jim started forward when he heard a soft moan of pain. He ignored the flurry of activity about him, and forced himself to watch as Blair's arms were speared with IV lines, a catheter inserted and sticky pads attached to his chest. Reaching out, he touched Blair's hand lightly. "You're gonna be okay, Chief," Jim whispered, his voice sounding hoarse to his own ears, and added silently when the lump in his throat threatened to choke him, 'I'm so sorry.'
He allowed the nurse to hustle him from the room when Blair was readied for surgery, going first to the desk to fill out the myriad of necessary forms, then wandering in a daze to the waiting area. The room was full; each face there mirrored his own helplessness and grief.
Turning away, Jim stumbled to the men's room and threw up violently. He tore off a sheet of paper towel and wet it under the faucet, then wiped it over his face. It served to ease some of the numbness he felt, but he still felt as lousy as ever, and he welcomed the feeling as just punishment for what he'd done. Resting his hands on the sides of the washbasin, Jim hung his head. He'd attacked Blair, pushed him down those damn stairs, just because the kid cared about him. Fuck, he'd be lucky if Blair ever wanted to see him again. He washed his hands and exited the men's room, making his way outside to use his cell phone. Waiting anxiously for Simon, he walked back to the waiting room, worried that he might miss an update on Blair's condition.
A hand touched his shoulder and Jim looked up blearily. Time seemed to have faded away from him. He had no idea how long he'd been sitting here, staring blankly at the dingy gray linoleum at his feet.
Simon's dark face came closer, the broad brow creased into a frown. "What the hell happened, Jim? Where's Sandburg? How "
Jim held a hand up wearily to halt the flow of questions. He scrubbed a hand over his face. "He's in surgery having the fracture set. Doc hasn't been out yet."
Simon lowered himself into the chair at Jim's side. "What happened?" he asked again. "You said he fell down the stairs at the loft?"
Jim nodded. "We were arguing I was pissed about Knelling getting off, and I said I was going back in to make another statement. Tell them " He looked around quickly; no one in the room seemed to be listening, too intent on their own concerns, but he lowered his voice anyway, out of habit. " Tell them about how I was able to recognize Knelling at the scene." Simon's eyes widened at that admission, but he merely nodded, encouraging Jim to continue. "Blair freaked," Jim said. "He was in front of me, at the stairs. I swear, Simon, I didn't realize didn't think. I pushed him, tried to get him out of my face. I was so angry "
"You assaulted him?" Simon's tone was incredulous.
"No!" Jim objected hotly. He sighed and shrugged. "I don't really know. I was so pissed off, and he wouldn't shut up about how I couldn't tell anyone about my senses. I can't remember. It happened so fast. I keep trying to replay it in my head but all I see is Blair falling. The next thing I knew he was laying at the bottom of the stairs."
"Christ," Simon said feelingly.
Time seemed to leech away once more, yet the hours dragged as the two men waited on news of Sandburg. Jim paced the length of the waiting room, ignoring the glare from a man in the room as the detective tripped over his unnoticed legs. Frustrated, he slumped back down in the ugly orange plastic chair and rested his head in his hands.
A headache pounded mercilessly against his temples; the overpowering smells and sounds of the hospital combining with his worry to make his stomach churn. He fumbled with the mental dials, trying to dampen the onslaught of input, but he couldn't concentrate. He resigned himself to his failure, acknowledging silently that if he hadn't injured his guide, he wouldn't be having the problem in the first place. Just as he thought his stomach was about to rebel once more, a tall, middle-aged man dressed in green scrubs approached them. Jim stood and met the doctor halfway.
Jim nodded and reached out to shake the doctor's offered hand, then introduced Simon.
"I'm Doctor Carter, the orthopedic surgeon who operated on Mr. Sandburg's leg."
Jim nodded, his impatience flaring as the doctor looked down at the notes in his hand and leafed through them. "How is he?"
The doctor looked a little startled, then smiled. "He's going to be fine. He's going to need some therapy before he regains full use of his leg once he's out of traction, and he lost a substantial amount of blood from a small tear in the femoral artery, but he's lucky you were there with him and able to summon immediate help."
Jim felt a wave of lightheadedness wash over him. 'If I hadn't been with him, he wouldn't be here at all.' "Can we see him?" he asked through tightly clenched teeth.
"He'll be in recovery for a few hours, but he'll be transferred to the orthopedic ward once he's stable." The doctor looked back down at the notes. "Room 304. If you ask the nurse on the desk up there, she'll let you know when you can see him."
"What about his head?" Jim asked suddenly, remembering the trickle of blood from Blair's nose.
"He has a severe concussion, not unusual with a fall of that type."
Again, Jim felt a rush of nausea that made his legs go weak and he struggled to hear the rest of the doctor's words through the rushing in his ears.
" no fracture," Doctor Carter said. "We'll keep an eye on it, in case he develops any swelling or intracranial bleeding. I think that's unlikely though." He snapped the folder shut and gave them another smile. "Apart from that, he's a fit, healthy young man. I think he'll recover nicely over time. If you'll excuse me, I have another case waiting in surgery for me." Again he shook hands with both men, then took his leave.
Jim felt a supporting hand under his elbow. "For God's sake, Jim, let's sit you down before you fall down. You look like hell," Simon grumped, but Jim could hear the concern lacing the words.
"I want to find out when I can see him," Jim protested.
"You heard the doc. He's going to be in recovery for a couple of hours yet. Why don't we get some coffee, then we'll head upstairs and find out how he's doing."
The insistent tug on Jim's arm gave him no room for refusal, and he allowed the captain to lead him back to the waiting room.
Three long hours later, Jim was firmly entrenched by Sandburg's side, one hand lightly grasping Blair's, taking heart in the feel of Blair's skin beneath his touch, and the steady slow thrum of Blair's heartbeat in his ears. Simon had returned to the PD, extracting a promise from Jim that the detective would phone if there was any change in the anthropologist's condition.
Blair's face was as white as the sheet on which he lay; his hair a snarled, wild halo about his head. His skin felt dry and a little too hot to Jim's sensitive touch, but the nurse had assured him it was a normal after-effect of the anesthetic. Jim's gaze raked down over Blair's bare torso, peppered with bruises where he'd impacted the stairs and wall on his way down. His right leg was supported above the bed, tethered to a complicated-looking contraption of pulleys and weights. Jim stared at the heavy bandage covering Blair's thigh, knowing it hid a deep incision, allowing the guilt to eat a further chunk from his soul.
The whisper-soft moan grabbed Jim's attention immediately and he stood and leaned over the bed, stroking a hand down Sandburg's stubble-roughened cheek. "Hey, there, Chief. You waking up?"
Bleary blue eyes fluttered open, gazed dully around the room, then closed again. Just as Jim lowered himself back into the chair, they opened again and focused on him. Jim tried a smile. It came out strained and felt more like a grimace, but it was the best he could manage, even though his relief soared.
"Jim?" Blair's voice sounded hoarse and lost. One hand strayed up to touch a bump on his forehead and he winced. "What ?"
Jim picked up a cup of ice chips and spooned a couple into Blair's mouth, waiting until the anthropologist had sucked them down carefully before speaking. "Do you remember what happened, Chief?"
Blair began to shake his head, then paused a moment before nodding. His gaze slid away to the wall. "Sorry," he whispered.
"Sorry? What for?" Jim reached out and grasped Blair's hand, enfolding it in his own.
"For pissing you off. I had no right "
Jim stood up, then resituated himself carefully on the edge of the bed. "You had every right," he said firmly. "And you were right. I don't know what I was thinking. I was tired, stressed over that child's death and not being able to pin it on Knelling, but I shouldn't have taken it out on you. God, Blair, I'm sorry. I don't know if you can ever forgive me I don't think I can ever forgive myself for pushing you "
Blair's brow furrowed. "You you pushed me?"
"I didn't mean to," Jim said hurriedly. "I just wanted to leave, and you wouldn't shut up "
"You pushed me?" Blair said again. He shook his head. "No, I fell. I don't remember "
Jim could hear the monitor echoing the speeding up of Blair's heart. He slid off the bed as a nurse entered the room and injected something into Blair's IV port. "Don't worry about it now," he said as Blair's eyes began to close. "Just get well."
Jim spent the rest of the day at Blair's side, but the doctor had insisted over Jim's vociferous protests that Blair be allowed some uninterrupted rest in order to begin recovering. Jim had stolen a longing gaze at the closed door of his partner's room, then paused a moment at the entrance to the waiting room, debating whether to hole up in there for the night. He felt exhausted beyond belief, fatigue dragging at him and causing him to dither over his choices. A nurse interrupted his musings.
"There's a phone call at the desk for you, Detective."
Jim followed her back and picked up the receiver. "Ellison."
//Jim, it's Simon. How's Sandburg?//
"He's sleeping, Simon. He woke up for a little while, but they gave him something for the pain, and he went out again. The doctor won't let me see him again until tomorrow." He knew that had come out sounding whiny, but he couldn't seem to hold his frustration back.
//For the best,// Simon replied. //Sandburg needs his rest, and so do you.// He paused for a moment, then continued. //We got Knelling, Jim. Caught him red-handed.//
//Seems he got pretty confident when we couldn't pin the last murder on him. He grabbed a kid from outside her house. Thing was, the mother was at the front door at the time and got the license plate. A black and white spotted his car at an apartment building a couple of miles away. Caught him in the act.//
"The kid?" Jim asked, his heart beginning to race.
//Fine. Knelling hadn't had a chance to anything to her.// Simon sounded exuberant. //Go home, Jim. Get some rest and now that this thing with Knelling is over, I'll give you the day off tomorrow to spend with your partner.//
Jim smiled for the first time in what seemed a very long time. "Yes, sir. Thanks."
Walking toward the exit, he cast another glance at the waiting room. The chairs in there looked downright uncomfortable anyway.
He hadn't slept after all. The loft had seemed too quiet without Sandburg's incessant chatter. Every time Jim managed to drift off, he was assaulted by dreams of his hand smacking Blair's chest, of watching Blair's body tumble head over heels down the stairs, and the innocent face of a little girl who he couldn't bring back from the dead.
Scrubbing a hand over his face, Jim climbed out of bed just as dawn broke and hurried into the bathroom to shower and shave. He decided to forego his morning coffee until he had reached the hospital and checked in on his partner.
"Good morning," Jim greeted the nurse on duty. He vaguely recalled her from the day before. "I'm here to see Blair Sandburg."
The nurse glanced at her watch, her brow knitting with a frown. "You're a little early, Detective. The patients haven't even had breakfast yet." She stared up at him, then nodded. "It's fine though. He's been a little restless this morning, probably just an aftereffect of the concussion and the pain meds. Go on in. I'm sure he'll be pleased to see you."
Jim nodded his thanks and crossed the hallway. The room was in partial darkness when he opened the door and the sentinel automatically dialed up his sight to better see his partner. The scene in front of him had him hurrying to Blair's bedside, his heart pounding a panicked tattoo in his chest.
"Blair? What's wrong?" Jim stroked back the sweat-matted hair from Blair's forehead, then reached for a weakly flailing hand.
Sandburg's eyes were clenched tightly shut as he shifted fretfully, attempting to throw the covers from his shivering body. He moaned and clutched at his chest, his head thrashing back and forth on the pillow. Jim leaned closer so his mouth was near Blair's ear. "Blair? Wake up. Can you tell me what's wrong?"
"Jim?" Blair's eyes snapped open and he clenched his hand tightly around Jim's. "What's happening? Where " His gaze roamed the room. "Where'm I?"
"You're in the hospital, Chief. Remember?" As Blair seemed to relax, Jim seated himself beside the bed. "You fell, broke your leg." Carefully he touched the top of Blair's thigh. "Are you in pain?"
Blair shook his head, then nodded. "It's gone," he whispered mournfully.
"What's gone, buddy?" Jim asked.
"My home," Blair replied. He frowned. "Is that why I'm here?"
Jim shook his head, his concern mounting at Blair's obvious disorientation. "You fell at the loft at my place."
"Oh. 'Kay." His eyes shuttered close and he drifted back into a troubled sleep.
Jim watched Blair for a moment longer as the young man moved around in the bed, groaning when the action brought pain. He stood, intending to go and find the doctor when Blair coughed a little, then gagged, his eyes opening again. "Easy, Chief," Jim soothed. He saw a cup of water on the beside table and pressed it against Blair's lips, encouraging him to take a sip, but Sandburg did not seem to want it, pushing the tumbler away irritably.
"Don't," he muttered. "Want Jim "
"I'm here, Sandburg. Right here, see?" Jim cupped Blair's chin in his hand and angled his head toward him, but Blair's eyes seemed to stare right through him. The vacant look in Blair's eyes coupled by the rising heat of his skin had the detective pressing the call button frantically.
The door burst open and a doctor and nurse hurried in. The doctor strode to the bedside and gave Blair's monitors an appraising look. "What's the problem?" he asked.
Jim shrugged helplessly. "I'm not sure. He seems to have a fever and he's really disoriented."
The doctor pulled a small torch from his pocket, and gripped Blair's chin. Sandburg's movements became frantic then, his fists lashing out. The doctor ducked away from a blow to his chest. "Nurse, get some restraints," he ordered.
"No!" Jim stepped forward. "Please don't restrain him. He'll calm down for me."
The doctor stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "See what you can do."
Jim moved quickly back to Blair's side and tried to capture his partner's attention. Placing his hands on Blair's shoulders, he called to him in a commanding tone. "Blair! Come on. Settle down, Chief, so the doctor can look at you. All right?"
Blair stopped struggling and stared back at Jim, but the detective's hopes sank when he saw the same blank look there as before. At least Sandburg had stopped struggling and the doctor was able to complete his exam.
"Well?" Jim asked as the doctor - Jim noticed now that his nametag read, Doctor Benson - moved away from the bed and began to scribble notes on Blair's chart.
"I'm not sure yet," Doctor Benson said. "It might be an intracranial bleed from his head injury. I'm going to get a CT scan and ask a neurosurgeon to take a look at him. We'll do another series of skull X-rays too, to ensure we didn't miss a hairline fracture."
Jim swallowed convulsively at the doctor's words. "How how bad?" His gaze stole back to Blair who now lay with his eyes closed, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he panted through clenched teeth.
"Won't know till we look at the scan. I'll go arrange that now."
"Can I stay with him?" Jim asked.
"Until they take him downstairs, of course," Doctor Benson said kindly. "Buzz the nurse if there's any problem."
Jim nodded and walked back to the bed. Lowering himself into the chair once more, he reached tentatively for Blair's hand, not wanting to startle the younger man from his restless slumber, but Blair lay unmoving, seemingly unaware of the terrified man beside him.
Jim took advantage of the CT scan to quickly phone Simon and apprise him of his partner's worsening condition. Simon mentioned Blair's mother, Naomi, and Jim racked his brains, trying to think where she might be this week.
"I'm not sure, Simon," he finally said. "I think she's on a retreat somewhere. I can't think straight at the moment." He sighed. "It'll come to me. I'll call around once I know what's happening." He hesitated for a moment before speaking again. "Can you come? I don't think I want to be alone right now."
"I'm on my way," Simon said instantly. "You hang in there."
Relieved, Jim hung up the phone and headed back to Blair's empty room. Collapsing heavily into the chair at the bedside, he rested his head in his hands, his thoughts whirling chaotically through his mind. *Fuck!* What the hell had he done?
Blair was wheeled back into the room just as Simon arrived. The younger man was still restless, his rambling more incoherent than before.
Simon placed his coat over the back of Jim's chair and stood looking down at the younger man, his face creased into a frown. "Any news yet, Jim?"
Jim shook his head and moved to the other side of the bed, stroking a quieting hand over Blair's brow. "I guess the doctor will be here soon to tell us what they discovered." He raised stricken eyes to the captain. "What did I do, Simon?"
"It was an accident, Jim," Simon said firmly. "You know that, I know that, and Sandburg," he took in a quavering breath, "if I know Sandburg as well as I think I do - and that statement alone scares the heck out of me - Sandburg is gonna kick your butt into next week, if you don't quit blaming yourself."
"What if he dies?" Jim whispered. "I don't think I could deal with that. We've grown so close over the past few years; Sandburg said to me once that this sentinel thing, his guiding me and staying on when he had every right to get the hell out, was all about friendship, but it's more than that." He shook his head. "I don't know if I can explain it."
Simon suddenly looked uncomfortable. "You're not saying that you and Sandburg " One hand gestured helplessly in the air, and Jim couldn't repress a faint smile despite the dire situation.
"No, I'm not saying that, sir. Just that there's a bond there. I don't know that I could go on, knowing I'd been responsible."
"He's not going to die," Simon stated. He laid his hand on the top of Blair's head as the young man began to move restlessly once more, his breathing becoming strident and labored. "Where the hell is that doctor?"
Blair suddenly lurched upward in the bed, his hands reaching to clutch at his chest, the weights on the traction device swinging wildly with the agitated movement. "Jim?" His voice was high-pitched and panicked.
Jim leaned over to press the call button and reached for Blair's hands, wrapping his own, larger ones around them. "It's all right, Chief. I'm here."
Blair's eyes, wide with fear, turned toward him, and as frightened as he was, Jim felt a flicker of relief at the recognition he saw there. "Can't brea " Blair managed to scrape out. He was visibly struggling to move air now, his nostrils flaring and his chest muscles retracting as he fought to breathe.
"Shit!" Simon was running for the door, yelling for a doctor while Jim quickly pulled the oxygen mask from the nozzle above the bed. Adjusting the small regulator, he fitted the mask over Blair's face, then shifted around to sit behind his partner, resting Blair's upper body against his own in the hope of improving his air intake.
One of Blair's hands clamped over his own, the young man's head angling back to look at him. "Dying," he rasped. "Gonna die."
"No!" Jim admonished him. He watched in horror as Blair's body arched up abruptly and his eyes rolled back before he went completely limp in Jim's arms.
A sudden commotion exploded into the room and Jim was pulled upright, forcing him to relinquish his hold on Blair. Shouting, he fought to get back to his partner's side, only to find Simon in his way, his gaze stern and unrelenting, though his eyes shone with unshed tears.
"Let's wait outside, Jim. Let them help him."
Jim's shoulders slumped and he allowed the captain to lead him from the room. Crossing to the other side of the hallway, the detective felt his legs give out and he slid slowly down the wall. Simon crouched beside him, one big hand coming to rest on his shoulder.
"You all right," the captain asked. "You need a doctor?"
Jim shook his head. Pulling his knees up, he rested his head upon them, closed out the intrusive world and listened for a sign of life from Blair.
The door to Blair's room opened and Jim was up on his feet in a flash, his concern mounting at the worried look on the doctor's face. Doctor Benson waylaid Jim's obvious first question with a wave of his hand.
"I'm not sure yet what the problem is, Mr. Ellison. All I can tell you is that Mr. Sandburg's condition is critical and we've had to place him on a ventilator to assist his breathing."
"Why don't you know what's wrong with him," Jim said angrily. "He broke his leg, for God's sake and suddenly he can't breathe!"
"Jim!" Simon interjected sternly, locking a hand around the impatient detective's arm. "Let the doctor finish." He turned to Benson. "I'm sorry, Sandburg is Jim's partner, and a good friend to us both. We're worried, that's all."
The doctor nodded in understanding. "It's come as a shock to us all. We need to run some more tests before we can be sure, but we may be looking at a fat embolus, that's traveled from Blair femur fracture to his lung. It's a rare condition, but occurs most frequently in young men with long bone fractures. If you'll excuse me, I need to set up those tests. The sooner we treat this, the better."
"Can I see him?" Jim asked, his heart sinking when Benson shook his head.
"There'll be a lot happening over the next hour or so. Wait in the waiting room, please. I'll let you know more as soon as I can." He looked down at the notes in his hand. "His case notes mention his mother. She should be contacted. If we need to insert a Greenfield filter, we'll need her consent."
"I have Blair's power of attorney," Jim said. "I'll definitely contact his mother, but if you need permission to do anything, just tell me where to sign."
"It may not come to that," the doctor replied. "If indeed it is an embolus, we'll try to break it up with aspirin and steroids. The surgery is a last resort."
Jim nodded. "Just keep us updated, please."
"I'll do that. Now, if you'll excuse me?"
The two men watched the doctor go, then walked slowly back to the waiting room. As Jim slumped once more into a chair, Simon pulled his cell phone from his pocket. "I need to check in with the office. I'll let the others know what's going on. Then you try to get hold of Naomi."
"We've only had to use this medical permission thing once or twice," Jim began, "when he was shot by Quinn and after he was dosed with Golden. Blair decided on it after Lash almost got him. He told me then, he never wanted Naomi to be the one to be called to the morgue to identify his body. I never thought I'd be signing a medical release because of something I did to him."
Simon hunkered down in front of him. "You have got to get past that. You're no good to Blair if you're riddled with guilt. He's gonna need you to lean on."
Jim stared at the captain. "I don't know if I can be trusted not to let him fall."
Simon groaned, patted his detective on the shoulder, then stood and walked to the exit.
The sentinel hadn't even been aware of others joining him and Simon in the waiting room until a large hand squeezed his shoulder. He looked up into the kindly brown eyes of Joel Taggert. "Hey, Joel," he greeted the other man, but his voice sounded devoid of life to his own ears. He looked around to see Henri and Rafe seated on the other side of the room, talking quietly to Simon. "I didn't hear you come in." He tried to stifle a yawn.
"You look beat, man," Joel replied sympathetically. "If you want to catch some rest, we can hold the fort for a while."
Jim shook his head adamantly, then stood and made his way across to the others. "I'm fine, Joel. I'll sleep when I know Blair's going to be all right."
"Naomi?" Simon asked as Jim approached.
Jim shrugged. "She's in New Mexico. I left a message at the retreat. The group was out hiking. I'm sure she'll be on her way here as soon as she hears the news. Hey, H, Rafe. Thanks for coming down, guys."
Henri smiled sadly at him. "Hairboy's a good friend. Just try and keep us away."
Jim slapped the big detective's shoulder and went back to his seat. Snippets of conversation washed over him, but he felt too exhausted to take it all in. Henri was regaling Rafe and Simon with a story about taking Blair out on a run to a strip club and how the younger man's eyes had just about popped out of his head when confronted with well-built young ladies wearing nothing but a smile. The others laughed uproariously, but the sound rankled Jim and he surged to his feet.
"This isn't a wake, you know," he shouted. "Blair isn't dead! He's not going to die."
The other men fell silent immediately. Henri took a step forward. "We know that, man. Hairboy's tougher than that."
"I know H," Jim apologized tiredly. "I'm sorry." He turned away, but spun back when he heard someone call his name. Doctor Benson hurried toward him, a smile lighting his face.
"Good news, Detective. It appears the drugs are doing the job. Blair's breathing is becoming less constricted and we're tapering off his sedation. If you'd like to go see him, you can."
Despite his overwhelming relief, Jim felt inexplicably stricken with panic. He gave Simon a quick look, shaking his head when the captain grinned and gave him a gentle push toward Blair's room.
"Jim? What's wrong?" Simon's face creased into a puzzled frown. "Go see your partner."
Jim swallowed convulsively. "He's not awake yet, right?" he asked the doctor.
"Not yet, at least not fully. We've removed the ventilator, but it'll be several hours before he fully turns the corner," the doctor said. "You can sit with him though. It might help him to know someone he cares about is nearby."
The words were Jim's undoing. "I need to get some air," he gasped. "Simon, please, go stay with him, just till I get back. I just need to walk for a bit, clear my head."
Simon nodded obligingly, but his eyes showed his worry. "Sure, Jim. I'll sit with Blair till you get back."
Jim nodded his thanks and hurried from the hospital on shaky legs. His shambling walk became a run and he pounded along the pavement with no destination in mind, no idea of his whereabouts, his mind looking inwards, hearing only Blair's voice in his head, condemning him for lashing out at the one man he'd come to trust with his very life. The man who had put his faith in his sentinel and friend implicitly to protect him from all ill.
Caught up in his tumultuous thoughts, he had no idea that he'd run onto the roadway, and did not hear the roar of an engine as a car turned the corner and bore down upon him. Headlights blinded him and he threw up a hand to shield his eyes. The vehicle hit him head-on. Pain smashed into him as his body was tossed upwards like a sheaf of wheat on the wind, then slammed down onto the blacktop, sending him toppling into instant oblivion.
Glaring light burned into sensitive retinas, sending a shard of agony through his head, and Jim groaned, turning away from the harsh intrusion. A firm hand gripped his chin, forcing him to remain still before the light returned.
"Hold still, Detective. You've been in an accident."
Jim attempted to do as he was told, gripping the sheets with his hands until the tormenting light moved away. He swallowed dryly, then cautiously opened his eyes. A blurred face swam into view, and Jim blinked slowly till his vision cleared. A headache pounded incessantly and his entire body felt bruised and raw. "What happened?" he husked out.
A young man in a white coat stepped over to the bed. "You were hit by a car, Detective. You don't remember?"
Jim scrubbed a hand over his face, feeling the rough scrape of scabs against his fingertips. "Kinda," he admitted. "I was running. Oh God!" He pushed up in the bed, closing his eyes as dizziness assailed him, making his stomach churn. "Blair!"
"Easy, Detective." The doctor pushed him back to rest against the pillow. "You were unconscious for some time. We'll need to admit you overnight. Keep an eye on you."
Jim sat up, more carefully this time, then swung his legs over the side of the bed, ignoring the doctor's admonishment. "Can I use the bathroom to wash up?"
The doctor sighed and nodded, motioning to a door on the other side of the room. "Just go slowly. You won't be too steady on your feet for a while yet."
"I'll be fine." Determinedly, Jim placed his feet on the floor and limped into the bathroom, ruthlessly pushing away the nausea that surged. He stood for a moment, gripping the hand-basin, then turned on the faucet and cupped the refreshing cool water in his hands, sluicing over his bruised face. Looking into the mirror as he reached for a towel, Jim winced at his reflection. One cheek was blackened and scraped, the bruise bleeding down into his jaw-line. The eye on the same side was swollen almost shut, but it was the mournful eyes that stared back at him that scared Jim the most. Drying his face, he shook his head. "You sorry looking son of a bitch. Sandburg is gonna have your ass for this."
There was one other thing Sandburg was going to ream him out for, and that was not being there when his Guide finally woke up. Taking a final look in the mirror, Jim firmed his resolve. It was time to face the music, and face up to the damage his temper had wrought. He knew Blair would grant him the absolution he needed, but Jim knew their partnership was doomed if they couldn't move past this. In time perhaps, the vivid memories would fade a little, but he knew his guilt would weigh forever on his soul. He straightened his spine, wincing a little at a twinge in his back, and turned, pushing open the bathroom door. "Where are my clothes? There's something I need to do."
"Detective Ellison," the young intern said in a reasoning tone. "You've just been hit by a car. I think it's wise you remain here for a few hours at least, let us keep an eye on you."
"I'm not leaving the hospital," Jim assured him. "There's someone a couple of floors up I need to see." He gave the nurse what he hoped was his most engaging smile, tasting blood as the cut in his lip opened up.
She waited until the doctor gave her an exasperated shrug of the shoulders before crossing to the examination table and pulling Jim's dirty clothes from the tray beneath. "This won't be much use," she said, holding up Jim's torn and bloodstained shirt. "Let me see if I can rustle up some scrubs for you. Better than a drafty gown."
Ten minutes later; dressed at least presentably and feeling about a hundred years old, but with his heart growing lighter with each step, Jim limped down the corridor to the elevator.
The expression on Simon's face changed from relief to surprise, then concern when Jim hobbled into Blair's room. "Jesus, Jim, what the hell happened to you?"
Jim managed a small smile, but his gaze was focused solely on the occupant of the bed, who turned his head and blinked drowsily at him. "Ran into a car," Jim replied absently. He waved away the captain's helping hand and crossed quickly to Blair's side. "I'm fine. How about you, Chief? How you doing?"
Blair lifted a shaky hand and waved it to and fro, indicating a so-so gesture.
"The doctor doesn't want him talking too much just yet," Simon explained. "His throat's pretty irritated from the tube."
Blair raised his hand again, making a sign of writing, and Simon grabbed a pen and notepad from the locker. "He's been asking for you since he woke up an hour ago. Where the heck were you? I've been looking everywhere. I phoned the station was about ready to put out an APB."
Jim shrugged, watching as Blair scribbled something on the paper and handed it to him. "Like I said, I needed some air. Got a little carried away, wasn't paying attention." He read the note and smiled, tousling Blair's curly head gently. "I'm fine, Chief. We need to talk. You feel up to listening to me ramble for a few minutes?" At Blair's nod, Jim turned to Simon. "Could you give us a few minutes, sir?"
"Sure. Don't tire him out. The doctor said he's going to need a lot of rest."
"I won't. Thanks for looking after him for me."
Jim waited until Simon closed the door before lowering the bed-rail and seating himself on the edge of the bed. Gravely, he studied Blair's face, drinking in the sight of his friend alive and free from pain.
"I'm sorry, Chief," he began, pressing a finger to Blair's lips when the young man tried to speak. "No, let me say this and then you can say whatever you want. I'm sorry for what I did to you, not just pushing you away, but for doing what I always do and getting so fired up, I wasn't prepared to give you the chance to help me out. I only hope you can forgive me."
"Told you before," Blair whispered; his voice hoarse and barely there, "there's nothing to forgive. If I'd gone with you that day "
"Don't try to take the blame for this one, Chief. It has nothing to do with Knelling. This is about me not trusting the person who knows more about these senses of mine than I do myself. If I'd stopped for just a minute, maybe we would have found a way to nail Knelling, and you sure as hell wouldn't be laying in this hospital bed."
"You know I don't need your apology, Jim," Blair said. "The thing is, can you forgive yourself?"
"Maybe," Jim replied softly. "In time."
"We can't go back and undo this," Blair continued around a yawn. "All we can do is go forward, try to put it behind us."
"I know." Jim slid off the bed, pulling the bedclothes up to Blair's chin, smiling when his partner lost the fight against his fatigue and succumbed to sleep.
"Stay." The request puffed from Blair's lips.
"Not going anywhere, Chief."
The next several weeks dragged for both men while Blair struggled to regain his strength enough to begin physical therapy and Jim coped at work without his guide at his side. He suffered several painful sensory spikes and a few minor zone-outs, but the sentinel suspected his nagging guilt and the loss of Blair's steadying guidance were equally to blame. Though he was honest with Blair during their daily rundowns on each other's progress, Jim tried to downplay the sensory incidents. The look of overwhelming frustration on Blair's face; knowing the young man wanted nothing more than to return to his customary place at Jim's side was enough to make Jim's heart clench with renewed pain.
Paradoxically, now that Blair was finally back on his feet, in a manner of speaking and ready to begin walking again, the anthropologist appeared to be uncharacteristically unenthusiastic about this important next step. Jim and Simon had both attempted to draw the man out, to get him to talk about what was bothering him, but he stubbornly insisted he was simply too tired, too weak or any of several other blatant obfuscations. Jim could read his partner like a book though. Blair was scared. Today was D-Day, Doctor Carter had told Jim. If they didn't get Sandburg up and moving soon, he risked not only irreversible atrophy of his leg muscles, but also further embolus episodes. Jim wasn't prepared to take that chance with either Blair's life or his mobility. It was time to play hardball.
Blair was seated in his wheelchair in the therapy room when Jim arrived. The young man glared defiantly at David, his physical therapist. "I told you, I have a headache, and if I stand up, I'm gonna puke all over your shoes," Blair said.
He did indeed look unwell, Jim thought; his face was a pasty-white that emphasized the dark shadows beneath his eyes.
"Well, I can get a nurse up here to give you something for your headache," David replied reasonably. "We can wait a half-hour; I'll work with another patient for a bit, then we'll give it another shot."
Blair was already shaking his head halfway through David's spiel. "Tomorrow, all right, Dave? I'm really tired."
"Hey, Chief. Dave, how's it going?" Jim crossed the large room to stand beside the therapist.
"Not so good," Dave replied, shaking Jim's hand. "Your partner here is not cooperating."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Why am I not surprised." He ignored Blair's glare. "Look, Dave, I need to talk to Sandburg about something. You think you can give us a few minutes?"
Dave looked relieved. "No problem. I do have other patients," he said, looking pointedly at Blair.
Jim waited until the therapist had left the room before squatting down in front of his partner. "What's going on, Chief? I know you're scared, but "
"I'm not scared," Blair interrupted harshly. "I'm just tired. I haven't been sleeping worth shit. There are doctors and nurses coming and going all night, people crying and moaning " He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I've got a headache, that's all."
"So do what Dave suggested and get the nurse to give you something for it. We've got to get you up and moving, partner. I need you back at work with me."
Blair smiled shyly at that, a slight blush of color reddening his cheeks, but then he frowned. "Tomorrow, okay, Jim?"
Jim steeled himself against the pleading look on Blair's face. "I thought you said you'd forgiven me for this."
Blair looked bewildered. "What? I have "
"You said we can't go back," Jim interrupted. "We have to get past this. How the hell can I do that if I'm looking down at you in a damned wheelchair for the rest of your life? Is that how you're gonna punish me for what I did?" Standing, his heart pounding, sweat breaking out on his brow, he spun on his heel and strode to the door. Something soft, damp and smelling distinctly of Sandburg hit him in the back of the neck then dropped to the floor. Jim turned and gave it a cursory glance. Blair's towel.
"You son of a bitch," Blair spat out. "That's a low blow, man." He levered himself up from the wheelchair, his entire body trembling with the effort. "Not everything is about you."
Jim made it back to his partner's side in a couple of steps. He reached out and grasped Blair's shoulders. "Then don't do it for me," he said. "Do it for you. Don't let this put your life on hold for any longer than it has to." He shifted his hands, clasping Blair's, squeezing them before placing them on the horizontal bars and moving around to stand between the bars, directly in front of his partner.
Blair studied his feet. "I'm scared I'll fall," he whispered. "I dream of falling."
Jim touched his fingers to Blair's chin, tilting the other man's head up, then touched his other hand to his own face. "Right here, Sandburg. I'll be here every step of the way. I won't let you fall."
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