WORDS UNSPOKEN

BY: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@gmail.com

DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of others. This fanfic has been written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is a June themefic for Linda3. Happy birthday, Linda and sentinelangst.

Blair Sandburg winced, as the front door to the apartment was shoved open and Jim Ellison stormed in, slamming it closed behind him.

"Easy on the hinges, man. We just got it fixed after the last crazy broke it down."

Jim fixed him with a steely glare and removed his jacket then tossed it haphazardly at the coat hooks before stomping toward the bathroom. The jacket lay on the floor where it had fallen.

Blair frowned. Something was definitely up. He put his notebook aside and wandered over to the bathroom door, only to have it slam in his face. "Okay." Blair wheeled around and surveyed the loft contemplatively. "Dinner? I didn't think it was my turn but I'm nothing if not adaptable."

As the shower faucet squeaked on behind the door, Blair headed out to the kitchen to survey the contents of the pantry. He had a frozen spaghetti sauce simmering in a pan and was chopping up some vegetables for a salad when Jim emerged from the bathroom, steam billowing out behind him.

"Hope that smoke's not coming out your ears," Blair joked as he reached for a tomato.

"Very funny." Jim grimaced at him and Blair concentrated on not chopping off his finger.

"Okay. Bad day, obviously. Um, I've got spaghetti and salad and I could make up a stick of garlic bread if you're really hungry."

Jim took a step toward the kitchen then seemed to think better of it and turned to climb the stairs to his bedroom. "Actually, Chief, I'm starving," he threw over his shoulder, "but I don't have time to eat. I've got to go back to the precinct."

"Are you pulling another all-nighter?" Blair shook his head angrily. "That is so unfair, Jim. That's got to be the third this week. Can't someone else run these stakeouts for a night?" He pulled the salad forks from the drawer and began to toss the vegetables. "Besides, I was hoping you could swing a night off tonight. It's…"

"Some of us actually have to work for a living, Sandburg."

Blair dropped the forks in surprise and stared up at the loft bedroom. Jim was nowhere to be seen but he could hear drawers being opened and closed noisily.

"What's that supposed to mean?" He put the salad in the refrigerator and checked the sauce before walking out to stand at the foot of the stairs. "Are you saying teaching isn't a real job?"

Jim appeared at the top and made his way, buttoning up his shirt as he went. "I'm saying I would love to stop and have something besides a cold hamburger and stale thermos coffee…" He held up a hand as Blair opened his mouth. "And I could have because we had Santo cornered tonight."

"So you got him?"

Jim made his way to the door and bent down to grab his jacket. He turned, fixing icy blue eyes on his partner. "That would be a no, Chief." The endearment came out mangled between clenched jaws. "I zoned and lost him. While Henri was trying to bring me out of my zone-out, Santo stabbed our informant to death and took off. I lost him."

"Shit, Jim. I'm sorry, man."

"Yeah? Tell that to Lenny."

Blair took a step back at the ugly words. "I don't know what all this has to do with me."

"You said you thought you could make it to the station today. You haven't been able to get there all week."

"I explained that to you. I owed Mike Bailey a few favors for taking my classes after I had the overdose." Blair felt his throat tighten and he turned his attention to the wall as unexpected tears stung his eyes. Even after a month, the very thought of Golden and fire people, guns and Jim blind made him shudder. The memory of waking, terrified, unable to speak past the breathing tube lodged in his throat, Jim's sightless eyes staring at him as the detective attempted to calm him, was still as vivid today as it had been when it happened.

"… thought you could be trusted." Jim's words drew him back from the edge of his nightmare. "I told you my senses have been a little shaky the last couple of days. You said you thought it was because I was tired and you promised to come down and work with me."

Blair held up an angry finger. "I said maybe I could get there, Jim. I didn't promise. I finished the class and then Mike caught up with me and asked if I wanted to go …" He broke off quickly. Now was not the time to tell Jim he'd gone out for a few beers. "I figured if you really needed me there, you would have said something."

"It was a little hard to make myself heard over the bar noise."

Busted.

"I don't know how to make you understand that police work is a little more important than drinks with the boys, Sandburg. You want to be there for all the exciting stuff, but I need you to come in, help with the paperwork, you're suddenly busy."

Blair's patience had run out. He leaned in so that he was almost nose to nose with Ellison. "If it was only to do your paperwork for you, what the fuck are you so pissed off about? Next time, I'll get a note from my mother!" At the mention of Naomi's name, Blair pulled away suddenly and strode toward his bedroom. Jim's last words sent him reeling into a maelstrom of guilt.

"If you'd been at the station with me, instead of out drinking with your buddies, you would have been there when Lenny's call came in. You would have been out at the docks with me and maybe, just maybe I wouldn't have zoned."

Silence hung like a shroud, then the front door slammed and Jim was gone.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair moped around the apartment for an hour, his cheer-up dinner forgotten. Jim was right, he thought morosely. If he'd gone to the PD like he'd said he would, there was every chance that Lenny might still be alive.

After class, in a melancholy moment, he'd told Mike that his best friend and his mother had forgotten his birthday. Mike insisted on buying him a drink. Suddenly remembering as they got to the pub that he'd promised to meet Jim, Blair excused himself and phoned the PD.

Jim was short on words and sounded angry but hung up quickly before Blair could offer to go down there, saying another call had come in. Blair had dithered for a while, debating whether to just go to the station anyway but then several other teaching associates had come in and he'd gotten caught up in their goodwill. It was his birthday, after all and nobody else seemed to care.

Now Blair paced and mulled over the consequences of his decision. Maybe Blair was losing sight of the important parts of the partnership. He needed Jim's cooperation to complete his dissertation but he hadn't really given much thought to what Jim was getting out of it in return. He helped Jim with his senses, to be sure but was that enough? Had he become so fixed on his own needs that he'd forgotten about Jim's? And in the grand scheme of things, a man's murder far outweighed any favors he might owe his teaching colleagues and especially birthday drinks.

Blair slumped onto the couch in despair, racking his brains for a way to set things right between himself and Jim. A faint burnt odor pulled him from his dark thoughts and he hurried out to the kitchen to pull the spaghetti sauce from the stove and scrape it into the disposal. Burning Jim's apartment down would only add to his woes.

The phone rang as he put away the scoured pot and he rushed into the living room, drying his hands quickly on his jeans, hopeful that it would be Jim. "Blair Sandburg."

There was a slight pause on the other end of the line before someone spoke in a rough whisper. "Let me speak to Ellison."

"He's not here right now. Can I take a message?"

"Who are you?" The voice sounded suspicious.

"I'm his partner," Blair replied, crossing his fingers behind his back. It was sort of true, and hopefully still would be, once he'd made things right.

"Oh, right. Little guy. I seen you around."

Blair grimaced at the 'little guy' comment. "You have a message?"

"Yeah. Tell him that Santo's been spotted hanging around a warehouse near the docks, but the word is he's got a ticket out of here in the next hour."

"Okay." Blair scrambled for a pen and paper. "Which warehouse. You got an address?"

"It's an abandoned furniture place. Melkins, out on Standford."

"All right. I got it. Hey, what's your name so I can tell Jim who called it in?"

"Tell him to hurry," the caller said, ignoring Blair's question. "He's got an hour tops."

Blair hung up the receiver then reached out to dial Jim's cell phone. He cursed as his gaze wandered to kitchen counter and he spotted Jim's phone there. In the heat of the argument and his haste to leave, Jim had forgotten it.

He quickly dialed the precinct, and groaned when Harve Reynolds, a smart-mouthed detective who seemed to have taken an instant dislike to Blair and had no qualms about showing it, answered the phone.

"Well, well, if it's not the little Professor," Reynolds said now, his voice thick with sarcasm. "You having some more of those hallucinations, Sandburg? What is it this week? Dancing elephants?" He guffawed at his own tasteless joke.

"Not now, Harve, all right?" Blair ground out. "Just put Jim on the phone."

"He's not here. Don't know where he went."

"Damn. Leave a message on his desk, will you? Tell him I got a tip-off from one of his snitches about Santo. There's an abandoned furniture warehouse on Standfield called Melkins. Better yet, put me through to Captain Banks."

"Banks is out too," Reynolds answered, sounding supremely disinterested. "You poking your nose into police business again, Professor? Last time you did that, the police garage ended up with bullet holes."

"Just give Jim the message, Harve, okay?" Blair sighed. He slammed down the phone and pushed Reynold's hurtful words aside.

The guilt he felt over his actions while under the influence of Golden was still raw. The comments and hostile stares from Reynolds and some of his fellow cops were the reason Blair had tapered off his visits to the precinct to work with Jim.

Jim's earlier words about Lenny still being alive if he hadn't zoned came back to him. Making a decision that he hoped he wouldn't regret, Blair grabbed his jacket and car keys and headed out the front door. "Just get there soon, Jim."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim shifted stiffly in the passenger seat of Simon's car and tried to stifle a yawn. "Thanks for the meal, Simon. I appreciate it."

"No problem," Simon replied. "I'm sorry I had to call you back in, especially tonight."

"Yeah." Jim stared out at the darkened streets as they headed back to the precinct. "I'm sorry about the zoning, sir. Damn it!" He thumped a fist hard on the dashboard. "If I hadn't dialed up all my senses, I could have tracked Santo easily through those alleys."

"Don't be too rough on yourself, Jim. You're still new to this sentinel thing. When Sandburg's with you, it never seems to be a problem."

"That's because he seems to be able to process it all before I do it. You've seen him. He just about walks me through it. I don't know how he does it. He says this is all just as new to him yet he seems to have this sense of knowing what I should be looking for, what I should be focusing on. If I go too far, just a word from him or a touch on my arm seems to pull me back. That's why he should have been there tonight."

Simon pulled into the underground parking garage and turned off the ignition before he replied. "The kid's been doing it tough for the last few weeks. You told me that yourself. Getting here when he can to help you and trying to play catch-up with his dissertation and teaching since he had time off due to the Golden."

He got out of the car and the two men made their way to the elevator. Snapping his fingers, Simon looked at Jim. "That reminds me. I've got some paperwork he needs to update for his ride-along status. God knows how long I can pull the wool over the brass' eyes about Sandburg overstaying the standard time but I'll do what I can as long as you think you need him here."

"At least until I can get a handle on the zoning and he has enough data for his diss, though Sandburg seems to have lost interest of late." Jim punched the elevator button angrily. "If he'd come in today, Santo might be in custody now."

"Actually I'm surprised you agreed to come out for a meal, being that it's Sandburg's birthday. Thought you'd have something planned." Simon stopped short at the shocked look on Jim's face. "You forgot, didn't you?"

Jim shook his head, nodded then groaned as he scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I blew the kid off. Told him he was irresponsible because he didn't show up today to help me with my paperwork. I didn't give him a chance to explain."

Simon snorted as he exited the car. "You're going to have some major sucking-up to do. Why don't you give him a call now? It's not that late."

Jim looked at his watch. "I'll be heading home in an hour. I'll talk to him then. Um...you busy tomorrow night? Maybe you could come over for a steak. I'll see if I can make it up to the kid."

Simon shrugged. "Sure, why not. I'll talk to you later. Drop the report on my desk before you go home, okay."

Jim lowered himself into his chair and stared at the blank computer screen. As his gaze strayed to the phone, he guiltily recalled his angry words to Blair earlier. Simon was right. Blair had been trying to overcompensate for weeks now both at school and at the precinct. Jim suspected Blair's hesitation in coming to the station was partly due to the guilt and shame he felt at shooting up the parking garage while overdosed on Golden.

He had reassured Blair that he was not to blame for the incident but even Jim had noticed unfriendly glares and muttered comments about civilians from some of the officers. One in particular was the detective wandering out of the bullpen now, his fingers trying vainly to button a too-small jacket over his ample paunch.

"I'm out of here," Harve Reynolds said. Halfway out the door, he turned back to Jim. "Oh, Ellison, too bad about Santo today." He smiled faintly. "Oh, your little roomie phoned."

"Sandburg? Did he leave a message?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah." Reynolds looked as though he was thinking hard. "Something about a snitch and a warehouse on Standfield."

Jim stood, his heart suddenly beating double-time. "Which one? Did he say why?"

"What do I look like, your secretary? I put one of those sticky things on your PC screen with the address." He squinted at Jim's computer then shrugged. "Guess it fell off. Mellins, Meltons, furniture place."

Jim squatted and dialed his sight up, finally spotting the small yellow square in his wastepaper bin. He frowned; there was no way it could have fallen from the screen into the wastebasket. But it was something to worry about later. "How long ago did he call?"

"A half-hour, maybe longer." Reynolds shrugged.

"Why didn't you call me?"

"You didn't answer your message."

Jim patted his pocket and cursed as he realized he'd left his cell phone at home. He reached for the phone as Reynolds left then scanned the message from Blair quickly. Straightening, he grabbed his jacket and hurried into Simon's office. Minutes later, they were accelerating out of the garage with Brown and Rafe in tow and a slew of back up vehicles on the way.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair pulled his car to a halt at the curb just up from the old furniture warehouse. He kept the motor running as he attempted to peer through the windscreen into the fast-gathering darkness beyond. This part of town was deserted at this time of night, though Blair knew the area well. The remains of his own derelict warehouse-apartment were only a few streets away.

He sighed. It was no good, he could see nothing from here but he was nervous about driving any closer and attracting attention to himself. Looking in the rear-vision mirror, he couldn't see Jim or any one else approaching and hoped that Reynolds had remembered to pass on the message. Not for the first time, he wished he had enough cash to buy a cell phone.

Finally making up his mind, Blair turned off the ignition and climbed out of the car. Locking the door, he gripped the flashlight in his pocket tightly and made his way quickly up the street.

As he approached the partly opened door of the warehouse, Blair could hear voices. Though faint, he could detect a tone of anger and fighting his nervousness, he stepped into the darkened interior. He froze as a floorboard creaked beneath his foot and the voices paused, then started up again, this time sounding closer.

Panicked, Blair turned, peering through the blackness to find the doorway but then it was too late and he stepped toward the wall as footsteps neared his location. Reaching out a hand, Blair's fingers found the corner of the wall and he slipped around it, pressing himself up against the wall as two shadowy figures swept by him.

The men had stopped at the exit now, and Blair could just make out their shapes as he carefully poked his head out to take a look.

"I told you, Bennett, with Lenny out the way, I'm home-free, man," Santo said.

Bennett shook his head. "I still don't like it. I still think you should head straight up to Canada, get the hell out of Dodge, man."

"Not without the money. That little scum double-crossed me. He ripped off the profit from the last sale then called Ellison on me but before I cut him he told me the cash was here. All I gotta do is find it."

Bennett stepped through the door of the warehouse and surveyed the darkened street. In the distance, the faint sound of sirens could be heard. "Cops could be on their way right now."

"As far as they know I'm long gone," Santo countered. "Now you want a piece of the action or not?"

Bennett paused a moment then sighed and nodded. "Half an hour, man. We ain't found it by then, I'm out of here."

Blair sucked in a startled breath and ducked back around the corner as the two men turned and headed back toward his hiding place. Looking around frantically, he could just make out a pile of old packing crates on the far side of the warehouse. Praying there were no hidden obstacles in his path, Blair stepped out of the shadows and made a dash for the other side.

"Hey! Who's there?"

Blair's heart climbed into his mouth and stayed there at the shout from behind him. Spinning, he saw Santo come into sight, his hand reaching into his jacket pocket as he yelled. Behind him, a shorter, fat man already had his weapon up.

A sudden crack of splintering timber beneath his feet had Blair glancing down in fright, as the floor seemed to suddenly disappear. He plunged downward so rapidly he only had a glimpse of the other men's startled faces as they approached at a run. The impact knocked him unconscious before he could react to the flare of agony that sheared violently up both arms.

0~0~0~0~0

Benny Santo stepped gingerly over to the jagged edge of the hole in the floor and shone a flashlight down onto the crumpled figure below. Long curly hair partially obscured the man's face. He lay on his side, his fall having been broken by a pile of cardboard boxes, one arm flung wide and blood dribbling down his forehead. He did not move.

"Who do you suppose he is? A cop?" Bennett said at his shoulder.

"Nah, probably just a tramp looking for a place to sleep." He shone his flashlight past the unconscious man and further into the basement. "Over there, that's the bag wedged into the wall frame." He looked up, startled as the sudden shrill of sirens filled the air.

"Shit!" Bennett looked around wildly then headed back toward the door at a shambling run. "I'm out of here."

Santo paused for a split-second, then, cursing, followed Bennett out to the car.

0~0~0~0~0

Simon grabbed hold of the dashboard with a white-knuckled grip as Jim's car slid around the corner, through the broken down gate of the disused furniture warehouse and straight into the path of a Ford sedan coming the opposite way. He had a brief glimpse of a white, frightened face behind the wheel before the driver swerved violently and smashed into the fence.

Jim was out of the car and barreling straight for the Ford's passenger door almost before they had stopped. As backup arrived and swarmed over the car and its occupants, Jim pulled Benny Santo roughly out of the vehicle and threw him against the hood. "You're under arrest, Santo for the murder of Lenny Wiggins."

Turning the man around and pushing back face-first onto the hood, Jim cuffed him then patted him down, removing a wicked looking switchblade from one pocket and a flashlight from the other. Hauling him upright with one strong arm, Jim pushed the prisoner toward one of the uniforms with a terse order to take him away then headed back to Simon.

"If it's all right with you, sir, I'd like to head home. Let Sandburg know we got Santo."

Simon nodded and grinned. "Sure thing, Jim. You can drop me back at the station on your way. Looks like I've got a full night ahead of me."

Driving out of the warehouse lot, Jim turned back the way they'd come, setting a more leisurely pace this time. As he made the turn onto 12th Street, something familiar caught his eye and he slowed and did a double-take before slamming on the brakes and turning, heading back toward the warehouse.

"Jesus, Jim! Warn me before you do that, will you. What the hell's wrong?"

Jim pointed back to 12th Street. "Sandburg's car is parked on 12th. I've got a feeling he went to the warehouse."

"Well, where is he? Why didn't he meet us?" Simon's eyes grew wide with realization. "Oh shit, you don't think…"

"I hope not, sir. I hope not."

This time both men were out of the car rapidly, leaving the motor still running. Jim raced toward Santo, dragging him out of the patrol car that a uniformed officer was just pushing him into.

Grabbing the cuffed man by the scruff of his neck, Jim gathered him in close and dragged him up so they were mere inches apart. "Where's Sandburg?' he ground out, the nerve in his jaw twitching madly. Getting no answer, he shook Santo like a terrier would a rat. "Where the fuck is my partner?"

Santo's face was bright red and sweating but he held his ground. "Don't know who you're talking about, Ellison," he squeezed out past the constriction on his throat.

Jim stared at him for a moment, his dialed up hearing picking up Santo's rapid but regular heartbeat…and on the fringe, another, faint and slow and familiar.

"Shit!" Throwing Santo to the ground, Jim spun on his heel and sprinted for the warehouse, dialing up his sight as he went to compensate for the darkness. Behind him, he could hear Simon shouting for a flashlight and telling Henri to call the paramedics.

Stepping into the vast interior, Jim paused a moment to get his bearings and cast out his sensory net. He sneezed violently as decades of accumulated wood dust drifted up his nose then hesitantly sent his hearing out again, finding and locking onto Blair's heartbeat.

Moving further into the warehouse, Jim could see an area where the floor had collapsed and his heart sank as he realized that Blair's heartbeat was coming from below. "Sandburg! Can you hear me?"

There was no reply though Jim had not really expected one. Blair's slow heart rate indicated sleep or unconsciousness. Quickly Jim stepped up to the edge of the hole and looked down. Blair lay directly below him about 12 feet down. He'd landed on a pile of empty boxes, some of which had collapsed on impact. He'd slid partly off the boxes to lie tilted upside down, his head hanging over the edge, one arm obviously broken judging by the angle at which it lay.

"Oh, God."

Jim didn't bother to look up at Simon's whispered exclamation. He quickly dialed down his sight as the captain played his flashlight beam over the awful scene below them. Footsteps echoed from behind and Simon shouted a warning, telling everyone to stay back.

"The floor's caved in over here. We don't want to collapse any more of it." He turned his attention back to the silent sentinel. "Jim, is he…can you tell…"

As if on cue, Blair groaned and shifted slightly, his movement causing him to slide further off the boxes until his head was just touching the floor below.

"Sandburg! Stay still. Don't move. I'm coming down to get you."

Blair moaned softly but it was uncertain whether he'd heard or comprehended Jim's words. Jim looked around the room, trying to find something that would get him down to the basement. A uniformed officer called from the doorway.

"Detective, there's a door outside that I think leads into the basement. It's locked but we're working on breaking it down."

Jim stood and made his way outside to where a group of men were putting their weight into a door on the far side of the warehouse. "Take it easy," he cautioned them. "If the floor above is that rotten, we could bring it down on top of him."

A concerted shove had the door swinging inwards and Jim pushed past the men to get to Blair's side. He blinked rapidly against the dust that showered him from above, coating his face and hair. Kneeling at Blair's side, he wrapped his arms around Blair's upper body and supported his lolling head against his chest.

"Can you hold him steady, detective while I get a collar on him?" One of the paramedics approached carrying two cases of equipment.

"He's got a broken arm too."

"All right. We'll deal with that once we've got him immobilized."

Jim nodded, unable to speak as he concentrated on listening to Blair's heartbeat. He could feel the slow pounding of Blair's heart beneath his fingers and Blair cried out as the muscles in his arm spasmed. A second paramedic crouched beside Jim and wrapped a cervical collar around Blair's neck then the three men shifted Blair to the floor, taking care to support his neck and back.

Laying him flat, Jim moved to kneel at Blair's head, allowing the paramedics access to the injured man. Slowly Blair's eyelids fluttered then finally opened. His gaze wandered uncomprehendingly and then he arched his back, crying out as a paramedic gently shifted his right arm.

"Sorry, sir. Can you tell us where else you're hurt?" the paramedic asked as he checked Blair's pulse and BP.

It took a moment before Blair answered, then his eyes squeezed shut and he bit down hard on his bottom lip, causing a tiny drop of blood to well up. "Arms. Both arms. Head."

Jim pushed the matted hair away from Blair's forehead, noting the gash on his temple. It looked deep but at least had stopped bleeding. Blair's face and upper body were peppered with bruises and Jim saw now that both arms were broken; the left in at least two places.

He waited, whispering assurances to the barely conscious young man as Blair's vitals were taken and his arms splinted before he was loaded onto a gurney and rushed out to the waiting ambulance. A terse shake of the paramedic's head told Jim he was not welcome in the ambulance and he numbly allowed Simon to steer him to the passenger side of his car.

By the time they arrived at the hospital, Blair had already been taken into a trauma room and Jim and Simon found their way to the waiting room, loaded up with the necessary admission and consent forms.

Simon lowered himself into an uncomfortable looking plastic chair next to Jim then shook his head at the fierce expression of concentration on Jim's face. "You're listening, aren't you? I don't know if that's a good idea. If you zone, I'm not sure I'd know how to pull you out of it like Sandburg does."

At the grim, determined look from his detective, Simon sighed. "At least tell me what's going on. If you're talking, I'll know you're not zoned."

"He's answering their questions but he sounds dazed. Both his arms are broken." Jim closed his eyes briefly. "He's in pain but they don't want to give him anything until they're sure he doesn't have a serious head injury."

He stood suddenly and Simon followed him as he strode to the door of the trauma room, ready to intervene if needed. He knew the bond between Jim and Blair was a strong one, much more than between any two partners he'd ever seen. Reaching out, he placed a restraining hand on Jim's arm. "We should wait…"

Jim shook off the hand. "They're taking him up to surgery to set his arms. I need to talk to him first."

As he spoke, the door opened and a tall blond-haired man stepped out of the room. He stopped abruptly, obviously surprised at being accosted by two large, well-built men. "Can I help you?"

Jim indicated the room with a tilt of his chin. "You have my partner in there. I need to see him. I'm Detective Ellison."

"I wasn't aware he was a police officer," the doctor said.

"He's not." Simon extended his hand. "I'm Captain Simon Banks, Cascade PD. Blair is a civilian observer. Can you tell us how he's doing?"

The frown deepened on the doctor's face as Jim attempted to look past him into the room. Finally he stepped aside and waved Jim in. "We're taking him up to set the fractures in his arms. You can sit with him until the orderlies come to get him. Captain, if you'll come with me, I'll apprise you of Mr. Sandburg's condition."

Jim needed no further invitation, pushing past the doctor with a terse nod and making his way quickly to Blair's side. Simon could just make out huge blue eyes, one swollen almost shut set in a pale face that turned toward the door before it swung shut.

0~0~0~0~0

"Hey there, Chief. Hell of a way to spend a birthday, huh?"

Blair's wan face creased into a hesitant smile and Jim winced as it exaggerated the lines of pain and exhaustion already etched there. "You remembered?" The smile faltered then and Blair turned his gaze to the sheet covering his bruised body. "I'm sorry, Jim. I only wanted to help."

"You did help. We got Santo and his accomplice, Bennett and the money that Lenny had skimmed from Santo's last drug sale. When we found it, you were practically pointing to it."

Jim grabbed a chair and dragged it over to Blair's gurney then sat down. "I'm the one who should apologize. You've been really working your butt off for me lately as well as trying to keep things on track at school. Then I reamed you out because someone took you out to celebrate your birthday."

Jim rubbed Blair's shoulder affectionately as he spoke. "What happened to Lenny wasn't your fault, Sandburg. It wasn't even really mine though I'm going to promise to find time to do these tests you keep bugging me about. If I hadn't zoned so damned easily, Lenny might still be alive but Lenny was trying to play both sides, Chief. He took a gamble and lost. There's no one to blame but himself and Santo. Okay?" Blair nodded but he didn't look up. "What did the doctor say?" That question raised a half-smile though it was punctuated by a soft moan of pain.

"You were listening," Blair said through clenched teeth. "I know you were."

"Guilty as charged." Jim stood and brushed a hand soothingly along Blair's frowning brow. "You want me to get the doctor? You're hurting."

Blair shook his head miserably. "Just a spasm in my arm. They can't give me anything yet."

Jim looked up as the door opened and two orderlies came into the room and began transferring Blair's IV and other equipment to the portable gurney. "Chief?" Jim waited until Blair opened his eyes and looked at him. "I'm going to be waiting right outside until you come back, all right?"

"You mean what you said? About the tests?"

Jim grinned. Even in pain, Sandburg latched onto the word. "Promise. When you're feeling better."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim steered a somewhat wobbly Blair into the apartment and led him over to the couch. He'd been released into Jim's care after spending the night in hospital having the broken bones in both arms set and the gash on his head sutured. Apart from that, he sported an assortment of angry-looking bruises, a king-sized headache and a sizable dose of misery.

He sat when Jim pushed him down, nodding glumly in gratitude when Jim placed two pillows on his lap to rest his fiberglass casts on. "I'll be back in a minute, Chief, then I'll put some soup on, okay?"

Another nod and Jim went upstairs to his bedroom. He pulled the gift he'd bought for Blair that morning from under the bed and held it behind his back before going back down to the living room. Blair still sat, looking stiff and uncomfortable but he stirred when Jim approached.

"How am I gonna write up my notes?" he asked plaintively. "I'll be lucky if they don't kick me out on my ass for this. More time off."

"Simon spoke to the Dean," Jim assured him. "He explained your injuries were sustained while you were assisting the police in apprehending a wanted felon and the Dean reassured Simon your position is safe. You can still go back to teach and if you tape your notes, I'll type them for you at night until the casts come off."

Blair looked at him doubtfully. "I don't know if I have that long, Jim. I mean, I've seen you type, man." A smile slowly began to form on his face. "Thank you. That would be good and I guess for any of the non-sentinel stuff, I can ask Lucy in Records. She owes me a couple of favors."

Jim pulled the small gift-wrapped box from behind his back and placed it on Blair's lap then took a seat beside him. "This is for you. Happy birthday, Chief. I'm sorry your day got off to a rough start."

"Jim, you didn't have to do this."

"I know. Why don't you open it anyway?"

Blair managed to get the tips of his fingers curled around the edge of the package then looked at Jim, his eyebrows raised. "Would you mind doing the honors?"

Jim took the package and slid a finger beneath the tape then folded back the paper to reveal a box containing a small cell phone.

"Oh, Jim. This is way too much," Blair breathed but his smile grew even wider.

"Just don't forget to charge the battery," Jim said gruffly. Both men looked up at the tap on the door. "That'll be the others," Jim announced, crossing to the front door.

"Others? Jim, what…"

Before he could get the rest of the question out, Jim had the door open and Simon and Daryl walked in closely followed by Henri, Rafe, Rhonda and big Joel Taggart bringing up the rear.

"Hey, Hairboy!" Henri grinned over Simon's shoulder as Rhonda pushed forward and deposited a kiss on Blair's cheek then wiped at the lipstick mark with her fingers.

"Happy birthday," she cooed, then deposited a small gaily-wrapped package onto his lap.

In a matter of minutes, the dumbstruck anthropologist was weighed down with several gifts. As Jim and Rhonda beat a retreat to the kitchen to pull the previously organized food and drinks from the refrigerator, Simon pulled rank and insisted that Blair open his gift first.

"I'll need some help, Simon," Blair said, holding up his bright blue casts and trying to keep everything from sliding off his lap.

"No problem, Sandburg." Simon beamed and proudly stripped away the elegant wrapping paper to reveal a small box with a picture of a cell phone on the front.

Blair chuckled as Henri groaned and elbowed Rafe. "I told you we should have checked what everyone was getting him first."

The comment had everyone dissolving into hoots of laughter and the noise was so loud that only Jim's enhanced hearing picked up the knock at the door. He walked quickly over and opened the door, ushering the person inside then calling Blair to get his attention. "This is an extra birthday gift I thought you might like. Sorry I couldn't gift wrap it."

Blair's mouth dropped open as Jim stood aside revealing his birthday surprise. "Happy birthday, baby." Naomi Sandburg was a vision of fresh-faced loveliness in a ruffled white blouse and a flowing multi-colored peasant skirt.

She made her way quickly to her son's side and enveloped him in her arms, gushing over him as Blair blushed and the others teased good-naturedly. Jim stood back and watched the festive goings-on for a moment before walking into the kitchen. A moment later, Blair broke away from the happy group and joined him.

"Jim, I don't know what to say," he began. "So I won't say anything." Stepping forward, he wrapped his broken arms around Jim's waist as best he could and pulled his partner into a hug.

Jim reached up one hand and tousled Blair's curls affectionately. "That says it all, Sandburg, and you're welcome."

FIN

June 16th, 2002

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