New Arrivals
Author-Sherrylou and Author-LindaS

Run -- Don't Walk
by Sherrylou and LindaS

Summary: A hostage situation goes horribly wrong, leaving Jim and Blair to cope with the aftermath.

Authors' Notes: One day on the SA List, my listmom, Dawn, asked for someone (anyone!) to write her a story, and listsib, Wolfshy, was clamoring for Blair owies, so I thought, "why not!quot; At the same time, I also decided to answer the "broken cry" and "sickening thud" challenge. And, thus, a story was born.

This story would have never seen the light of day without the help of my inspiring sister, Linda, and the encouragement and honesty from my beta reader, CJ (Alberte). CJ really made me look at what I was writing, and it was a real eye-opening experience. She was just marvelous! You also have her to thank for Part 2. She told me to continue on with the story, that there was more to write, and she was right! I also need to thank my other wonderful beta reader, Lorri (Nickerbits). She always seems to catch those annoying little mistakes.

Oh -- the medical stuff -- I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV. Nah!!! Not really, just always wanted to say that. Please ignore all medical inaccuracies.

Disclaimer: Not mine and never will be.

Part 1: After the Fall

Making his way past the police barriers and weaving through the maze of assorted police and emergency vehicles, Jim searched the scene for his commanding officer. He had been surprised when the call came through requesting his presence and figured something big was happening. Passing a few patrolmen, he nodded a greeting as he continued his hunt. A call of, "Over here, Jim," caught his attention, and he hurried over to his captain, anxious to find out the particulars.

"What ya got, Captain?" Ellison asked as he joined his superior kneeling behind a parked police cruiser.

"Davidson's holed up in a second floor apartment -- third window from the left -- Jim," Simon paused, dreading the next words he had to tell his friend. "He has a hostage. He's got Sandburg."

"Sandburg?! But how? He was --" Jim broke off his own disjointed words as he tried to understand Simon's revelation. No! Blair's not supposed to be here. He was picking up lunch and heading back to the station. He rose from his crouched position, trying to get a better view, but there were no signs of either Davidson or his partner near the opened window.

"I don't know all the details. Sandburg was first on the scene. Offered himself in exchange for the hostages -- two children. I do know this," the captain gripped the detective's arm, pulling him back down behind the car. "Davidson's on something. Higher than a kite."

"Look, let me try and talk to him." "I don't know. We've got a hostage negotiator on the way."

"Who? Clark? Spinelli?"

"Spinelli," the captain answered and immediately saw the scowl blooming across Ellison's face. "I know you two haven't had a pleasant history together but, before you say anything, Jim, remember that he's good -- really good at what he does."

"Well, he's not here right now. Come on, Captain. Give me a shot. Let me talk to him. I'm sure Sandburg's been trying the same approach. The kid's good at that. Even if Davidson is whacked out on drugs, he still might listen to reason."

Simon nodded his approval. "Okay. But -- only until Spinelli gets here. Captain Parsons has been moving the S.W.A.T. team into position. If needed, they'll be ready to back you up. Be careful, Jim."

"Look, you know you really don't want to hurt anyone. You let the kids go. Why not give yourself up?" Looking into Davidson's glazed eyes, Blair hung his head and sighed. The tall, strung-out man with straggly blonde hair appeared unmoved by Sandburg's plea.

This is getting me nowhere. I might as well be spouting gibberish. Running a hand through his short curls, the young detective drew in a deep breath as he thought about what course of action he could try next. With trepidation, he watched the crazed man. Observing the man's perfuse perspiration and shaky breathing, it was the slight trembling of the hands -- especially the one holding the gun -- that caused him the most worry.

How do I get into these situations? Is it my karma? Did I offend some minor deity in my past life? Blair rambled on silently to himself, pondering on how he stumbled into this mix-up. Lunch! I was just picking up a couple of sandwiches. Who knew that grabbing a pastrami on rye and a turkey on whole wheat -- hold the mayo, please -- could be so dangerous?

As Davidson paced nervously back and forth across the room, Blair began to talk under his breath. "Oh, man. If you're out there, Jim, you should know that this guy is wound tighter than a top and he's ready to spin out of control. I don't know how heavily armed he is; all I see is the .45 he's holding. You know, it would really be great to hear your voice right about now -- knowing that you're --"

"Shut up! Just shut up!!!" Davidson turned and screamed at his hostage. He reached out and grabbed a handful of the short curls and jerked Blair's head back, shoving the gun under his chin. "Don't you think I know what you're doing? I see your lips moving. You're talking to them. You're one of them!"

"Th-them? Who?" Blair choked out, as the gun was pressed harder, digging deeper into the soft, fleshy spot. The hammering of his heart belied the cool exterior he tried to maintain.

"Don't you see them? They're all around." Keeping a tight hold on Sandburg's hair, Davidson jerked the gun away, waving it from side to side. "They're in the ceiling -- and the floor -- and-and out there -- and --" A shout from outside halted the man's ranting.

"Hey, Davidson!" Ellison called, carefully watching the window for any movement. Relief swept through him when he saw Blair positioned in front of the window, unharmed for the moment. Behind him stood Davidson, pale and sweaty, one hand fisted tightly in the collar of Blair's jacket while the other held a gun planted firmly against his hostage's temple. Jim spotted the corners of his partner's mouth turning up slightly as their eyes met, and saw those same eyes, previously wide with fear, now warming with hopeful expectation and trust.

"What do ya want?" A loud, strained voice shouted from the second floor window.

Jim focused his sight, zooming in just past his partner's shoulder. Catching his first clear look at Blair's captor, he shuddered at the unrestrained madness that radiated from Davidson's eyes. "Let Sandburg go. Come on out peacefully and nobody will get hurt."

"You want him?" Davidson screamed back at the cop. "Well, here, you can have him!" His attention turned back to his captive. Jim watched as Davidson brushed his lips against Blair's ear and, extending his hearing, heard the low, breathy voice whisper, "Them. Are you ready to join them?"

He saw Blair tremble, unable to answer Davidson's question, as the young detective's eyes grew even wider in fear. Before Jim could attempt once more to reason with the deranged man, Davidson swiftly released his hold on Blair and, moving a hand behind his hostage, pushed.

Blair had relaxed, once he saw that his partner was on the scene. They'd often been in tight spots in past cases but each time had somehow managed to get out of their tough situations intact. However, now, with Davidson literally breathing down his neck, he wasn't quite so sure. He didn't know who the "Them" were that Davidson was referring to in his drug-induced haze, but he had no desire to "join them." Just the tone of those puzzling words sent icy shivers down his spine.

He was surprised when he felt the pressure of the gun against his head relax and the other hand let loose his collar, moving to the back of his shoulder. With no time to realize what was happening, he suddenly felt himself propelled through the opening.

Shocked, the young detective stretched out his arms, reaching, grasping, flailing through the air, but failed to grab onto anything solid. His stomach rolled with waves of nausea at the strange sensation of freefalling and his heart thumped a rapid, staccato rhythm as fear overwhelmed his entire body. Oh, god. This isn't happening. It's just a nightmare. Jim! Jim! Wake me up, man. Pleeeaase!!!

Abject horror clenched Jim's heart as he watched the demented man shove his partner out of the window. "No -- don't! Bla--" The broken cry froze on his lips, cut off by the sight of his partner toppling over the second floor windowsill.

With eyes wide in disbelief, Ellison mutely witnessed Blair plunging the two stories and then landing on the hard pavement with a sickening thud. The sound of breaking bones, bruising flesh, and popping capillaries accosted the detective's sensitive ears.

Jim paid little heed to the echoing sound of a fired rifle and a cry of "All clear." He was focused on only one goal -- getting to his partner as fast as humanly possible. The bustling noises of his comrades and the crime scene faded into the background as he knelt down beside Blair. Gently, he reached out with one hand and, as he touched his partner's back, a soft moan bathed his senses with a reassurance that Blair was still alive.

"B-blair? Oh, god, buddy. Don't move. Just lie still," the older detective urged softly as he began to assess his partner's condition. Shaken by the seriousness of Sandburg's injuries, Jim snapped out loudly, "Medic! We need a medic over here. Now!!"

He swallowed back the fear he felt as he watched Blair's mouth move convulsively, lips struggling to form words. "Shhh. Don't try talking, Chief. You're going to be all right."

Jim spoke softly to his friend, continuing a litany of comforting words, though, in his mind, those words rang hollow. Would Blair really be all right? What sort of damage had been caused by the two-story fall? No! No disparaging thoughts. He wasn't going to think that way. Blair had to be all right. He would be all right! The sound of movement to his left caught his attention and, turning his head, he saw the paramedics approaching. Turning his focus back to his injured partner, Jim bent his head down low, close to Blair's ear, and whispered, "It's going to be okay, Blair. Help's here now."

Every breath felt like tiny daggers shredding his insides -- fiery, burning pain accompanied each pull of air. "... j-jim... i-i-i..." Those few faint words were all that Blair could manage. He wanted to tell his partner so much. That he treasured their friendship and all the experiences, both good and bad, that they had shared. That he was grateful that Jim had allowed him to become a part of the older man's life and to study his life's dream, namely his Sentinel, who he had discovered oh-so-long ago when one macho-Neanderthal threw a neo-hippie student up against said student's office wall. And, that he had finally found his home, not within the city of Cascade or the walls of the loft, but within one man -- his brother, his Sentinel.

Razor-like spasms attacked his body and left him gasping and struggling to breathe. Blair closed his eyes, blocking out the gravel by his face, the chaotic scene around him, the whole world, if needed, anything that would get the pain down to a tolerable level. The excruciating agony remained, and he squeezed his eyelids tighter. Small sputtering breaths puffed from his lips as he once again tried to speak. Jim. Jim. Oh, god. It hurts. It hurts so much. Opening his eyes, a few burgeoning tears blurred his vision and then escaped, traveling slowly down his reddened, skin-torn cheeks.

Blair had felt pain in his lifetime -- broken bones, gunshot wounds, cuts, scrapes, concussions, along with the occasional broken heart -- but none could compare to what he was now feeling. This was agonizing, bone-crunching, furnace-burning pain. As gentle fingers touched him, the careful handling only added more unbearable anguish to the already well-stoked fire, and not a single nerve ending escaped the searing assault. The tormenting contact continued and, as Blair felt the cervical collar being fastened around his neck, he welcomed the darkness -- those blessed shadowy arms that spun him into the caressing void of oblivion.

Shuffling a few papers aside, Dr. Benjamin Carter removed his glasses and peered across his desk at the two gentlemen seated before him. The first man, a tall, Afro-American, exuded a commanding presence and had a subtle look of concern etched on his face. The other one, nearly as tall, his rigid bearing crumpling under the anxiety for his friend, leaned forward in his chair, eyes firmly fixed on the doctor.

"Jim. I wish we were meeting under better circumstances."

"Me, too." Jim agreed and then, sitting back in his seat, gestured to the man beside him. "Dr. Carter, this is Captain Simon Banks. He's my superior and also a close friend -- mine and Blair's."

The doctor nodded a greeting. He was quite familiar with both Detectives Ellison and Sandburg. Over the years, he had treated one or the other for various illnesses and injuries, and he was sure that he had met the tall captain earlier on at least one of those occasions.

"Blair made it through surgery fine," Dr. Carter began, quickly reassuring both men. "The internal bleeding has been controlled and his other injuries treated. The femur in his right leg was broken in three places, so he'll need more surgery for his leg, which will be scheduled for later this week. Dr. Owen Jessup, the orthopedic surgeon, will be attaching pins to hold the bone in place so that it'll heal properly. This injury will probably be Blair's biggest hurdle out of all his other injuries. The initial immobility, then the extensive therapy after the splint is off, will challenge even the most easy-going person. But, in time, I do expect Blair to make a full recovery."

Jim visibly relaxed in his chair at hearing Dr. Carter's words, causing the physician to smile while at the same time wonder if the detective really understood the severity of Blair's injuries. "Listen to me, Jim. I know that you're feeling relieved right now." The doctor paused, his expression becoming solemn as he felt a need to issue a warning. "However, be well aware that I'm serious about Blair's recovery being a difficult challenge. He's had injuries before, some serious, but don't expect him to bounce right back from this accident. It's going to take some time." He stared pointedly at the detective, hoping he got his point across. "Are there any other questions?"

Having listened closely to the doctor's prognosis, Simon asked, "What length of time are we talking about -- for his recovery?"

"Well, Captain, if you're referring to Blair returning to work, I'd say he'd be back at light desk duty in about two months, and then, seeing how his therapy progresses, probably another month before he's cleared for active duty. But, that will be with a lot of hard work and determination on his part."

"T-that long?" Stunned, Ellison sat back in his chair. "Three months out in the field without my partner," he mumbled to no one in particular.

Not too surprised, Dr. Carter watched as Jim slumped back in his seat, reading the deflated man's body language as one who didn't quite expect that answer. It looked like the realization of the seriousness of Blair's injuries was just beginning to sink in for one Major Crime detective.

Moaning, Blair blinked several times, trying to clear his bleary eyes, then slowly turned his head toward a strange, crackling noise. There, sitting on a vinyl stuffed chair, was the origin of the sound -- his partner, with clothes rumpled and face lined with exhaustion.

Jim shifted in his seat, causing the chair to crackle once again with his movement, and leaned toward Blair. "Hey, Chief. Glad to see you're awake." Relief sparkled in his tired eyes and a bright smile broke across his face.

"... jim?... what... happened?"

"You're in the hospital, been here for two days. But, you're going to be just fine."

"... ummm..." Blair uttered a tiny grunt of pain as he shifted his body. Okay, Jim, if you say so, however, I don't feel too fine right now. Even though he realized that he was probably on some heavy duty painkillers, nagging aches and sharp twinges were making themselves known all over his body. Why? He still didn't know what had happened for him to end up here. Feeling the drugs winning the battle against his wakefulness, he allowed himself to drift off, his eyes slowly closing, still wondering what event caused him to land in the hospital.

Suddenly, visions of Davidson, the two-story fall and then the horrific moments of lying on the hard pavement flashed through his mind and his eyes popped open. There were memories of agonizing pain, the struggle for every breath, and the terrifying thoughts that he was going to die. Oh, god. He wondered how bad he was hurt. Was he still in one piece? Looking down to his left hand, he carefully wiggled his fingers. Pleased to see them working, he moved on to his right. Once again, wiggling fingers greeted him. Slowly raising his right hand, he gingerly moved it to his midsection and lightly skirted his fingers across his abdomen, feeling the heavy bandage. Wincing from the light pressure of his hand, he turned questioning eyes toward his partner.

"You were bleeding internally. They had to operate." Jim gently lifted Blair's right hand and positioned it back on the bed, taking the opportunity to hold onto it a little longer than necessary. "Don't move around too much. They got you wired with all sorts of gizmos."

Blair gave his partner a weak smile. It was then that he noticed one leg wasn't moving. Slowly, his sight traveled down to see his right leg immobilized. "... leg?"

"It's broken. You're going to have surgery on it tomorrow. But don't worry. The doc will fix you up as good as new and you'll be back to double-booking your dates in no time."

Barely acknowledging the information, once again his eyelids drooped. No longer fighting against the pull of sleep's beckoning grasp, his questions now answered, Blair groggily muttered, "... night... im," before nodding off.

"That's it, Chief," Jim encouraged softly, warm affection coloring his voice. "You just rest now."

One Month Later:

"Hey, Davidson!" Ellison called, carefully watching the window for any movement. Relief swept through him when he saw Blair positioned in front of the window, unharmed for the moment.

"What do ya want?" A loud, strained voice shouted from the second floor window.

Jim focused his sight, zooming in just past his partner's shoulder. Catching his first peek at Blair's captor, he shuddered at the unrestrained madness that radiated from Davidson's eyes. "Let Sandburg go. Come on out peacefully and nobody will get hurt."

"You want him?" Davidson screamed back at the cop. "Well, here, you can have him!"

Abject horror clenched Jim's heart as he watched the demented man shove Blair out of the window. "No -- don't! Bla--" The broken cry froze on his lips, cut off by the sight of his partner toppling over the second floor windowsill.

With eyes wide in disbelief, Ellison mutely witnessed Blair plunging the two stories and then landing on the hard pavement with a sickening thud. The sound of breaking bones, bruising flesh, and popping capillaries accosted the detective's sensitive ears.

Jim paid little heed to the echoing sound of a fired rifle and a cry of "All clear." He was focused on only one goal -- getting to his partner as fast as humanly possible. The bustling noises of his comrades and the crime scene faded into the background as he knelt down beside Blair. Gently, he reached out with one hand and touched his partner. The sight of Blair's unblinking eyes, the unnatural position of his neck, only confirmed what his sentinel hearing already had told him. No longer needing to be careful, Jim gathered his partner into his arms.

"Oh, god... no... no!!!" Jim moaned as he rocked the broken body of his friend, his tears falling freely.

"Oh, god... no!" Jim sat up in bed, momentarily confused. Taking a deep breath, he wiped the beaded moisture from his face. Even as the dream faded, he could still clearly hear Davidson shouting, "You want him? Well, here, you can have him!"

Jim lay back, wondering what went wrong that day. Was it his fault? Perhaps he should have waited for the hostage negotiator or let the S.W.A.T. team deal with the situation. He grunted as one hand went up to massage his aching forehead. Fighting back the headache that usually followed this particular nightmare was starting to become a daily occurrence. Jim rolled over in bed and glanced at the clock.

"Shit!" he exclaimed as he realized that he had overslept. Grabbing his clothes, Jim prepared himself to face his partner. It was getting harder and harder to maintain a cheery attitude, especially after one of these disturbing dreams. But who was he to complain -- he wasn't the one tossed from the second floor of a building. No -- he was just the one who caused it.

Blair lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Never before had he felt so helpless. Can't even get out of bed to take a piss. He turned his head and looked at the molded leg splint propped up in the corner. Damn thing. Between that and the walker, I make an eighty-year old man look spry. He hated the splint. It was awkward and confining and the wool sock was hot and itchy and -- well -- he could just go on and on complaining. It was certainly getting harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, sure. Jim did his part in trying to keep his spirits up -- a little too good. Blair was sick of all the kindness and consideration and would just, for once, like to hear Jim yell at him for leaving towels on the bathroom floor or his dirty dishes in the sink.

Hearing movement from above, he stopped his rumination on the frustrations of his life and waited none too patiently for his roommate to appear so that he could start his day.

"Sorry, Chief," Jim apologized as he hurriedly entered the room. "I guess I overslept."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Get the damn thing on." The acid tone in his words even startled himself. Oops! Where did that come from? It was getting easier and easier to snap at his partner. Come on, Jim. Let me have it. You can do it. Let it rip! I know you're just itching for a fight.

Shaking his head, a look of pure exasperation crossed Jim's face. The older man walked over to the dresser and pulled a clean leg sock out of the top drawer.

Disappointed, Blair was quiet as Jim tugged the sock up and then placed his leg into the full-length, molded splint. As soon as the Velcro straps were fastened, he swung himself around on the bed and reached for his walker. Slapping Jim's hands away when his roommate attempted to help, Blair added a mumbled, "I can do it myself," as he hoisted himself up. Jim dropped his hands and took a deep breath, then gestured toward the door, barely keeping a civil tone in his quiet words. "Be my guest."

Now upright, Blair started his slow progression to the bathroom, carefully maneuvering around everyday household objects that had now become obstacles. Irritated with the fact that Jim was keeping a close watch on him and following right behind, he turned back to say something and accidentally bumped into the bathroom's doorjamb, losing his balance momentarily.

The words, "Get off my back," choked in his throat as he watched Jim's face pale.

"Shit!" Blair muttered angrily as he righted himself. He didn't know if he was more annoyed with his friend or himself. Turning the walker sideways, he sidled through the opening.

"You okay there, Chief?"

"I'm fine, Jim." Blair answered sharply.

"I'll just go start breakfast. Be ready in about fifteen."

"Yeah, you just do that. Knock yourself out."

Stuck using the walker instead of crutches because of his other injuries and the better stability the equipment offered, Blair looked forward to the day he could throw the splint along with the walker right out with the morning garbage. Of course, then he'd have the odd-looking, claw-footed cane to contend with. He looked longingly at the shower, knowing that he'd have to wait until tonight. Relegated to a stool and a handheld shower attachment, getting clean had become a joint production -- Jim being the other half of that production -- which took more time than their morning routine allowed. The young man snorted. And privacy! All he could think about was thank goodness he wasn't bashful.

Finishing his morning ritual, Blair purposely dropped the wet washrag and hand towel onto the floor, along with his dirty tee shirt. A self-satisfied smile crossed his face. There. Get your dander up over that, Jim.

Moving into the kitchen, Jim grabbed the eggs from the refrigerator. With one ear tuned into his roommate's movements in the bathroom, he got a bowl down from the cabinet and began cracking several eggs into the dish. Damn! With Blair's apparent dark mood, he could already see in which direction this day was headed -- and it wasn't good. Not wanting to add to the already tense atmosphere, it had taken a monumental effort on his part not to snap at Blair.

He added some milk and seasonings and began whisking the eggs. He knew that it was important not to let the cold words his partner had said hurt, but, as each day went by, it was getting more difficult to ignore the harsh phrases directed at him. He paused in his stirring, seeing that the eggs had received more than their fair share of beating. Turning the gas on under the skillet, he poured the frothy mixture into the pan and began scrambling. Dr. Carter had warned him about the emotional peaks and valleys Blair would experience. Apparently, this was going to be a valley -- no make that a deep chasm -- kind of day. Some climbing gear would really come in handy right about now.

"I just don't know, Simon. He seems to be going out of his way to make me mad -- like he's doing it on purpose."

"Perhaps, he is." Simon poured two cups of coffee and handed one to his detective.

"What?" Jim asked incredulously. Taking the proffered cup, he sat down.

Sitting down at his desk, Banks carefully thought out his words before speaking to his friend -- a friend who, even though he could see the numbers on a license plate three blocks away, couldn't see what was so obviously plain in front of his face. "Jim, you have been overly accommodating ever since Sandburg has been released from the hospital. You know, that can get old fast."

"What are you saying? He wants me to yell at him -- he wants me to get after him to pick up his stuff? I mean, my god, Simon, after all he's been through -- it's a struggle just for him to get dressed each morning -- and you're saying to treat him like one of the guys."

"Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying. Blair wants you to treat him like you normally do. Be there for him, helping him when he needs it, but also give the kid some space. Allow him to do things on his own without you there holding his hand every five seconds. And, if he messes up, he expects you to tell him -- not clean up after him."

"So -- uh -- you're telling me that my intentions have been a little smothering at times."

"You've got it in one." The captain gestured toward the detective with his mug before taking a sip of the hot, dark liquid. "Your weekly counseling session is now over. Go on now and get out of here. Go -- do some detecting work," Banks growled good-humoredly.

"I'm going, I'm going," Jim laughed. "And, Simon."

"Yeah, Jim."


The captain smiled as one-half of his best team left his office. It had been a long and difficult month at work for everyone without Sandburg by Ellison's side. Jim's moodiness set the climate in the bullpen, often leaving his fellow workers either avoiding the detective or treading very carefully around him. Simon's best decision had been taking Jim off of paperwork and assigning Megan to accompany him out into the field. He was relieved that she was filling the spot somewhat adequately. He had no idea how much Jim was holding back on his senses, but, so far, there had been only one instance of Jim zoning. The inspector had handled that situation, if not in the same manner as Blair would, at least in accomplishing the same results.

Leaning back in his chair, Simon enjoyed the last few sips of his coffee and the momentary peacefulness of his office. Another month to go and then Sandburg would be on desk duty. He sighed heavily. It was going to be a long four weeks -- especially for Jim.

Rising from his chair, the captain glanced through the blinds at his detective. A frown appeared on his face when he saw that the light mood Ellison had been in when he'd left the office had quickly dissipated. He followed Jim's eyes, which had focused on an empty desk. Blair's desk. Slowly, Banks watched as the detective turned his attention back to a stack of paperwork. Taking in the weary slant of the man's shoulders, Simon understood all too well the burden his friend carried -- the responsibility one feels for his partner, whether right or wrong.

When will you learn to let it go, Jim? Banks chuckled, recalling the catchphrase as Sandburg's. The amusement was short-lived as he watched Jim scrub a hand across his tired eyes. The normally bright, sapphire orbs were dull, punctuated with gray shadows underneath. Any concerns the captain had over Jim's senses were pushed to the back of his thoughts. He doubted right now whether Jim could emotionally last the next four weeks. Perhaps... perhaps there was something he could do.

With the remote in his hand, Blair clicked through the channels. "Seen that. Seen that. Been there. Ate that." He paused on the Cartoon Network. "Beep. Beep," came the cry of a familiar bird. He watched the roadrunner scurry away and then the unwitting coyote plummet off the cliff. "Don't need that," he said, his stomach roiling slightly at the sight, and clicked off the TV.

Picking up a magazine, he flipped through a few pages. Uninterested, he tossed the periodical aside and reached for the science fiction book he was reading. Hearing the knocking at the door, Blair shifted on the couch, trying to find a more comfortable position to read, and chose to ignore the continuous rapping. Whoever it was would go away -- he hoped. He wasn't up for company, his leg ached and he was uncomfortable and sweaty. His evening shower was still too many hours away and -- and he just wanted to be left alone.

The knocking stopped, and Blair settled back with his book, picking up where he'd left off. He had only gotten through one page when the prospect of being by himself vanished with the sound of a key wiggling in the door's lock.

Having heard no response to his knock, the captain let himself into the loft, expecting to find the kid asleep. Instead, viewing the expanse of the apartment, he found the normally clean loft in disarray and Blair reclining on the sofa, wide-awake, book in hand.

"Sandburg, didn't you hear me knock?" Simon asked, slightly agitated by the lack of acknowledgement.

"Yeah," Blair replied flatly, not looking at his visitor, and continued to read his book. "I just thought you'd go away if I didn't answer. Obviously, it didn't work."

Simon was surprised by the surly tone in Blair's voice. So, this is what Jim's putting up with. The captain didn't let Blair's words deter him as he proceeded with his agenda. "Whether you like it or not, there are a few matters I need to discuss with you."

Blair set the book aside but refused to meet the captain's gaze, instead taking the opportunity to stare at his immobilized leg. "Well, I don't like it -- but go ahead. It's not like I can go anywhere." Sandburg emphasized his statement by tapping on his molded splint. Simon paused. Perhaps, he was going about it the wrong way. Changing tactics, he softened his voice. "Blair, what I want to discuss with you concerns Jim."

The young man's head shot up. His eyes riveted to Simon's. "Jim! Did something happen? Is... is..."

The captain could see the worry in Blair's eyes as the young detective let his words drop off. He had to refrain from smiling. Aha, so apparently I used the magic word. "No, Jim's fine, as least physically so far, but..."

When Simon left the loft, he was certain that some of his talk had hit home with Blair -- at least maybe enough so that Jim could get by the next four weeks. With a tinge of satisfaction, he looked back at the building, directing his gaze toward the third floor, and pulled out a cigar. Ah, yes. My work is done here. Pleased with himself, he chomped down on the stogie and strutted across the street to his parked car.

Tearing into the parking garage, Jim chased the perp through the parked cars on the first level and then up the concrete ramp to the second level. The detective's pursuit stopped abruptly as he saw his quarry run to the edge of the parking section. Trapped, with no place left to run, the perp turned and faced his pursuer. Not much of a choice, Jim mused. Nothing but thin air or my waiting arms. Approaching cautiously, aiming his weapon at the offender, he shouted, "Freeze! Cascade PD!"

Getting his first good look at the criminal he was chasing; Ellison realized that the perp was only a kid, probably no more than sixteen. He watched patiently as the young boy glanced nervously around as if looking for another way out. Come on, kid, give it up. You've got nowhere to go. Let's end this now. Thinking the kid was about to surrender, the detective was horrified instead when the boy turned and stepped up onto the short wall, lifting one leg over the railing. "Stop," Jim ordered in a softer voice. He lowered his gun as he saw the fear and desperation on the young man's face. Only a kid. So young. So damned young.

"No... no... stay back." Shaky hands held onto the railing as the frightened lad lifted his other leg over. Looking back at the detective, he pushed off from the railing, his body sailing through the air.

"No -- don't!" Jim reached the railing in time to see the young man fall.

Oh, god. This can't be happening again. Ellison closed his eyes and, when he opened them, there was Blair freefalling from the second floor window. He watched frozen, as his friend struck the hard pavement again and again -- the scene replaying itself over and over as if trapped in a loop. Each time Blair's body hit the ground, the scene would slow down until finally it was playing in slow motion. With his sentinel sight, Jim could easily see each individual drop of blood being flung from the body, dancing morbidly through the air. Each time, the sounds would intensify; the bones crunching so loudly that finally the Sentinel withdrew within himself, shutting off all his senses. There he stood, cocooned in nothingness, safe for the moment from all guilt-fed pain.

"Ellison!" Megan cried as she watched the detective chase after the perp, both of them disappearing from her sight. She sprinted into the parking garage and carefully surveyed her surroundings. That's right, Ellison. Once again take off on your own. Hearing the echoing sounds of footsteps clattering above her, the inspector hurried to the second level. Might have known. Up. Why do they always head up? Bugger! Definitely wore the wrong pair of shoes today.

Connor followed the direction the pursuing detective had taken. Reaching the second level, she drew her piece and cautiously moved around the parked cars. As she neared the far side of the garage, she saw a lone figure, unmoving, standing near the railing. "Jim?"

Shit! Had he zoned again? "Ellison!" Megan hissed. There was no response. Carefully, she made her way to the motionless man and glanced over the railing. Her eyes widened and she was unable to stifle a sharp gasp as the crumpled form of their perp lying on the street below came into view. The awkward position of the body left no doubt about the boy's condition. Quickly stowing away her gun, the inspector rested her hand on Jim's shoulder and began a litany of words, urging the detective to come back from wherever the bloody hell he was. Exhausted after ten minutes, she fell to her backup plan.

Jim was comfortable in his little void, but someone or something was interrupting his peaceful world. In the background, there was a soft buzzing of words, annoying, like a mosquito. He wished he could swat at it and make it go away. His wish was soon granted when the buzzing stopped -- for a moment -- and then suddenly was replaced by a more pain-inflicting noise. A shrill whistle finally pierced the safe harbor Jim had wrapped himself in. Moaning, he reached up to cover his ears until the sound stopped. Slowly blinking his eyes, he was surprised to see Connor at his side.

"W-what... what happened?" he mumbled, temporarily confused.

"Take it easy, Ellison. You had a nice little zone going there for awhile."

"How long?"

"About ten minutes. I hate to rush you, but backup just arrived. We need to get down there," Megan said, jerking her head toward the street below.

Jim's eyes followed the nod of her head and he peered over the railing, taking in the sight of the broken body and the squad car now parked outside the garage. Oh, no. His body sagged with the realization of what had happened. He remembered now. Still shaking off the aftereffects of the zone, he grasped the railing with both hands and closed his eyes. A gentle hand touched his back.

"You okay?"

"Yeah." What else could he say? For now, he took his residual feelings of guilt, disappointment and regret and tightly wrapped them up, shoving them off into a far corner of his psyche. Straightening up, he followed the inspector back down to the ground level of the parking garage.

They exited out of the structure and passed by the gathering crowd. Seeing that the two uniformed officers had taken the initiative to move back the gawking onlookers and were now busy cordoning off the scene, they walked over to the young boy's body.

Sticking close to Connor, Ellison watched as another car pulled up. Recognizing the plainclothes man getting out of the car as Frank Spinelli, he faltered in his tracks. "Aren't you a little off your beaten path, Spinelli?"

Shutting the car's door, Frank shoved his hands in his pants pockets and strolled casually over to the two. "Was nearby when the call came in," the portly man offered as he gazed down at the body. "So, Ellison, is this getting to be a habit with you?"

The detective blanched at the accusation, then both fists tightened and arms trembled with a vengeful rage. A restraining hand reached out, accompanied by a soothing voice.

"He's a jackass, Jim," Megan whispered softly, grasping tightly onto the detective's arm. "Ignore him." The taut muscle beneath her hand quivered, then relaxed.

Jim nodded. He could ignore him. Connor was right -- Spinelli was a jerk. But, could he ignore the words?

It was late... and because it was late, Jim hesitated to enter the loft. He knew that there was still the matter of Blair's shower and all the rigmarole that came with preparing him for bed. However, with the mood his roommate had been in that morning, he wasn't too anxious to face him.

Shifting the take-out bag, Jim dug into his slacks for his keys. He was tired and his ears were still ringing -- abused by Megan's method of pulling him out of a zone. He wasn't sure how she came up with the idea of a dog whistle. It was the second time she'd used it this week and, as painful as it had been, it had done the trick. Of course, if he hadn't been so tired, perhaps he wouldn't have zoned. No, that wasn't true -- it wasn't sheer exhaustion alone that had caused it -- but what the perp had done. It was the image of the young man propelling himself off the parking structure, plummeting to the street below and then lying so still -- so deadly still. The event -- so similar -- had stunned him, paralyzing him until all he could see was his own partner falling.

Steeling himself, he opened the door and was surprised that he didn't see Blair in his usual place on the couch and that the loft, while not clean, had at least some semblance of order. With ears still too tender to use, he placed the take-out on the kitchen counter before searching for his partner. He was surprised to find Blair in his room, stretched out on his bed, reading a book. It didn't take sentinel vision to see the damp curls of Blair's hair glistening in the lamplight.

The awkwardness of the moment hung heavy between the two men. Breaking the silence, Blair spoke first. "I -- uh -- figured you were going to be late, so I went ahead and washed my hair in the kitchen sink. I also kind of sponged myself down, so we can forego the shower tonight. If that's alright?"

Jim was momentarily taken aback. "Yeah -- uh -- okay -- I guess that's fine, Chief. I brought home some Chinese, if you're hungry?"

"Nah, I already ate. I just want to go to bed."

Jim bent over to remove the splint, wondering if he should say something -- anything to break the uneasiness he felt. They were both being too polite, carefully skirting around the main problem and discussing the niceties like two strangers. Any such consideration of whether to try to have an open discussion with Blair flew quickly from his thoughts when he had some difficulty removing the confining device.

"Ow! Damn it, Jim! Can't you be more careful?" Blair snapped.

"Sorry, Chief," he mumbled, his eyes averted.

"Jim..." The voice, although softened from its previous anger, still held a note of frustration.

The older man set the splint in the corner. "I guess I'll be heading to bed, also." He left the room without turning around.

Forgetting about the take-out, Jim decided to take a quick shower before retiring to his room. First, though, in order to use the shower, he had to remove the special chair that was for Blair's use. He cringed as he set the stool aside -- just another memento of that dark day. Damn! Bad things happen to good people, he thought. Hadn't he read that on a bumper sticker somewhere? Or maybe that was just one of the many platitudes he'd heard over the past few weeks from people offering their sympathy and support. Yeah, bad things did happen, and it happened to good people, but why did it have to happen to Blair? Adjusting the flow of the water, he stepped into the shower and allowed the spray to cleanse away the frustrating emotions of his day.

"You want him?" Davidson screamed. "Well, here, you can have him!" Those words washed over him with each pulse of the water. Leaning forward until his head rested against the water-slicked tiles, he relaxed as the steamy liquid cascaded down his back, relieving the outward tension he felt and soothing his tight muscles. However, the force of the spray could not remove the guilt he was feeling. "I wanted you, Blair," he whispered in a choked breath. "I wanted you... but not like this."

"Ow! Ow, ow, ow!" Blair jerked in his bed and quickly sat up, grabbing for his thigh. "Damn it," he hissed through his teeth as he massaged the cramping muscle. Nope! Not going to get Jim out of bed this time. Going to work it out myself.

Recognizing the fact that his partner had been going out of his way to make things easier and certainly hadn't signed on for playing nursemaid for one broken-down Guide, Blair continued to work his upper thigh. His fingers kneaded the tight muscle, but it was like a rock and wasn't loosening up. Shit! Just great. Once more I prove how dependent I am. Resigned to the fact that an extra pair of hands were needed, he called softly to his roommate, and then as the muscle spasmed, he called again loudly. "Jim!"

Jim stood waiting outside the French doors, having been awakened by Blair's first cries of pain. Without hesitation, he'd made his way down from his bedroom, but then paused at the doorway, unsure of whether to invade his roommate's privacy. He recalled Simon's earlier words about giving Blair some space, but -- damn it! -- hearing the harsh breathing and choked-back moans coming from behind those doors made that suggestion hard to follow.

Unable to stand by any longer and not do something, as he turned the doorknob, he was relieved to hear his name called. Shoving his concerns aside and forcing a casual look on his face that he didn't feel, Jim pushed the door open.

The sound of the opening door caused Blair to look up from his ministration. Hands still massaging the rock-hard flesh, his eyes tracked Jim's movements into the room.

"You okay there, Chief?" Jim asked.

"Yeah -- uh -- no -- uh -- stupid leg cramp," Blair gritted out between his teeth, relieved at his roommate's appearance.

"Here, sit back and let me work on it." Jim sat down on the bed and began to knead the taut muscle. Knowing fingers firmly worked up and down Blair's upper thigh, easing the painful cramping.

"Oh -- yesssss -- that's good. Right there." The younger man relaxed and uttered a small sigh of relief as the knot in the contracted muscle lessened. Still painfully tight, at least his leg no longer felt like a piece of granite.

"You know, a few days ago you would have tried to tough it out and not call me down to help."

"You're right, but I wouldn't have had to -- you would have been here before the first "ow" left my lips. Anyway, a few days ago, there was a stranger living in this apartment."

"Make it two strangers." Jim raised his eyes from his work and met Blair's. Both men smiled

Shaking his head in fond exasperation, the young roommate chuckled softly. "We really are quite a pair." A pair of jackasses, he finished silently. Thank goodness they were finally clearing the air!

"Blair, I'm sorry about how I've been acting lately. You know, Simon kind of led me to an interesting revelation today. Said, perhaps, that I need to let you do more things on your own -- that I was being a little overprotective. What do you think?"

"Well, maybe just a little." Blair grinned, thinking Simon sure had made the rounds today. "Nothing's wrong with caring, Jim. I mean, man, it's really nice. It's just that you sort of took it to the extreme -- Blessed Protector overdrive. I -- uh -- wasn't exactly easy to live with, either."

"No fooling, Chief." The older man's fingers continued to smoothly work the contracted muscle, stroking it gently as it loosened under the nimble manipulation. "Well, things are going to change around here," he stated in mock seriousness, "and, just because this leg isn't quite up to par, I still expect you to pull your weight. No more free rides for you, Mister, especially considering the condition you left the bathroom in this morning."

Blair ducked his head, hiding the sheepish look that crossed his face.

"There's something else," Jim continued, becoming somber again. "It's just that I keep playing the whole Davidson scenario over and over again in my mind."

"You're not responsible," Blair quickly jumped in, realizing where his partner was headed with this thought. "Lose the guilt."

"But if I hadn't called Davidson over to the window --"

"He might have done something equally as horrible -- like shoot me in the head first and then throw me out the window. The guy was nuts, for Pete's sake. Hey," he kept going, trying to lighten the mood, "at least you got me out of his dastardly clutches."

"That's not funny." Jim's finger lightly traced the scar on his roommate's leg. One of the few reminders of what his partner had been through.

"No, it's not. But you need to ease up and stop eating yourself up over something you had no control of. Davidson did this to me -- not you. It may not have turned out the way you'd planned, but I'm alive and I'm getting better and stronger everyday. Soon this leg will be healed and I'll be up and running and you won't be able to keep up with me, old man."

Jim raised an eyebrow at the "old" remark. "Careful there, Chief."

Blair laughed and lightly tapped his friend on the arm. "So -- are we okay here?"

"Yeah." Jim rose from the bed and pulled up the covers. "We're fine," he said softly, letting one hand linger on Blair's shoulder, before giving it a friendly pat. "Now go back to sleep. I'll see you in the morning." He left the room, quietly closing the French doors behind him.

With a contented sigh, Blair settled back, fluffing his pillow and adjusting the covers the way he liked them. He hadn't considered how his accident had affected Jim. His partner had been hurting right along with him -- not physically, but emotionally. And I didn't help any with my childish behavior! Yep. It's about time I realize that the world doesn't revolve around me. Reminding himself to pull off his blinders and pay closer attention to his Sentinel, he scrunched his pillow one more time and then closed his eyes. Things were getting better. Comforted by the nighttime sounds of the loft, he felt himself drifting off. Mmmmm. I guess the old adage, 'Time heals all wounds,' really is true after all.

Part 2: Rising to the Occasion

The "Welcome Back" banner and a round of applause greeted Blair as he and his partner entered the bullpen.

"Looks like they've missed you around here, Chief," Jim remarked as he lightly patted Blair on the shoulder and then urged him forward into the waiting throng.

With the walker and splint having been discarded two weeks earlier, the young detective moved forward, his awkward gait assisted with a metal cane. "Oh, man -- uh -- this is really great, guys. Thank you."

"Great to have you back, Sandburg." Rafe reached out and softly tapped the much-missed man on the arm.

"Well, if it isn't Chester," Brown remarked glibly as Blair hobbled by. "'Bout time you dragged that sorry butt of yours back to work."

"Gee, I missed you, too, H," Blair shot back. So happy to be back, he could barely keep the grin off his face. "So -- uh -- Chester? I guess that makes you Marshall Dillon."

"Nah. I'll save that honor for Ellison. Kitty was a redhead, you know." Brown winked knowingly at Sandburg, familiar with Jim's penchant for women of a certain hair color. "I figure I'm more like Will Kane from High Noon -- Gary Cooper. The tall, silent type, not willing to back down, facing the enemy without the aid of the townsfolk, standing for truth, justice --"

"And the American Way!" Rafe chimed in.

The walls of the bullpen echoed with cheerful laughter, as the friendly bantering and greetings continued. Blair was touched by all the hugs, pats on the back and shaking of hands. It made all the hard work with his physical therapist worth it, just to be back among his co-workers.

A tall, commanding figure broke through the small gathering, intent on imparting his own personal welcome. "Enough, gentlemen and ladies. This is a working office," Banks announced with feigned importance. "Sandburg, you'll find your desk in the same location." The captain gestured toward the aforementioned piece of furniture. "Welcome back."

Blair moved off, then paused, staring at the ungodly amount of files decorating his desk. "Um... I guess you've been saving up the paperwork for my return."

More laughter erupted. Jerking his thumb toward the young detective, Banks chuckled, "The kid catches on fast." As the captain headed back to his office, he called out, "Connor, Ellison, I need to see both of you in my office."

Watching Connor and his partner depart, Blair felt a momentary twinge of envy. It should be him, not Megan, accompanying Jim into the captain's office. Sighing, he put that thought aside as he reached for the first folder.

"Jim, close the door, please."

The detective closed the door to the captain's office and then quickly took a seat facing his superior. Connor, already sitting, watched expectantly as Banks folded his hands and leaned forward on his desk.

"How's the Marelli case coming along?" Simon asked, getting directly down to business.

"Slow, not much progress," Jim responded honestly.

"Well, I'm getting a lot of heat from the higher ups. See what you can do about getting some results. I don't care if you have to stake out the man's bedroom, he's been running free in this city long enough."

"Do you know his preference, Captain?" Megan inquired. Innocent as her question seemed, her eyes twinkled with a hint of playful mischief and her lips turned up slightly at the corners of her mouth.

"What?" Simon questioned, genuinely confused.

Jim sank down in his chair, his hand going to his forehead. Oh, no. I don't believe you, Connor.

Struggling to keep the widening smile off her face, the inspector continued, "Well, if he prefers the ladies, then, I guess, staking out the bedroom would be up to me. However, if his taste runs more to the masculine side, Jim would be the man for the job, so to speak."

Caught off guard by her cheekiness, Simon floundered briefly, mouth wide open, before finally finding his voice. "Get out of here, both of you," he growled in exasperation. "No. Wait. Jim. Stay for a moment."

Taking advantage of her dismissal, Megan hastily exited the office while the going was good. Jim, who had risen, sat back down, curious about Simon's directive to stay.

The captain watched the young inspector leave and then turned to face his remaining detective. "How are things really going?"

"I told you, Sir, everything's fine. There's been no zone-outs for a week now and with Sandburg here today, I'm feeling good -- really good."

"Your senses?"

"Crisp today. I think his presence in the bullpen is like a -- what am I looking for -- a soothing balm. I don't know. I can't explain it. It's just knowing that he's back at work -- that eventually we'll be partnered again -- that feeling -- that connection, I guess, is what I hope will continue to carry over, even when I'm out in the field with Connor."

"Well, just make sure to keep Sandburg abreast of any problems. He may not be out there with you, but the kid's a quick thinker and I suspect can come up with some interesting solutions for any situation that might pop up."

"Will do." Rising, Jim asked, "Is that all, Sir?"

"Yes. Get out there and get some work done." Banks straightened a few papers, and then made a final request as the detective reached the door. "And, Jim, see if you can keep that substitute partner of yours in line."

Having been unable to personally speak to Blair when he'd first arrived, as Megan emerged from the captain's office, she detoured over to Sandburg's desk. Perching herself on the corner, she offered a soft greeting. "Hey there, Sandy." The inspector glanced down at the open folder on his desk and tapped her finger on the report. "You're going to need the Jefferson file to complete the paperwork on that case."

Closing the folder, Sandburg sat back, looked up at the pretty inspector sitting on the edge of his desk and smiled. "Thanks. So, Megan, I heard you came up with some pretty creative ways of dealing with Jim."

Connor blushed. "Creative isn't exactly the word Ellison would use."

"Well, they worked. The hand buzzer wasn't too bad, but we need to come up with something better than a dog whistle. Jim told me his ears were ringing for hours afterwards."

"As the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures," Megan chuckled and then paused in her thoughts. When she spoke next, it was with genuine fondness. "You know, it really is good to have you back. Though he would never say it, that partner of yours missed you terribly."

"It's good to be back and, don't forget, you're responsible for keeping said partner in one piece until I'm cleared for active duty."

"Duly noted," Connor snapped out brightly and saluted. Hopping off the desk, she continued over to her workstation.

Early evening light filtered through the large windows onto the floor space that had been cleared in the living area of the loft. An exercise mat covered the area where the two men were working out. On the days that Blair didn't have a PT session, Jim would run his partner through the set of exercises.

Nearing the end of the day's work out, the older man egged on his partner with words of encouragement, trying to keep his tired friend motivated. "That's it. You're doing great, Chief. Just five more reps," Jim said as he held the sole of his roommate's foot and maneuvered the leg through the final exercise.

Blair was making excellent progress and the young man could tell that Jim was pleased with the results. He was way ahead of schedule in increased strength, flexibility, and range of motion.

Gritting his teeth, already worn out from the intensive exercises, Blair didn't know who ran him through his paces harder, Mike Peretti, his physical therapist, or his roommate. They were both slave drivers and didn't let him slide one little bit, often pushing him past his endurance for that extra effort. "Come on. You can do it, Sandburg." Blair could hear Mike's voice in his head right now. "Just one more. Show me what you're made of." That one more always turned out to be at least another five. He decided that Peretti, a big, burly man with a friendly smile, but tough in the PT sessions, would probably edge out Jim in the tenacity department. It was his way or no way, as Mike so aptly put it to Blair on a number of occasions.

What am I made of? I think my leg is made of silly putty right now and the rest of me is slowly turning into mush, he reflected as he pushed back the damp curls off his forehead. Man, he was wiped! Done in! Dog-tired! A hot shower and supper were his main objectives at this point. Thank goodness he was finally finished.

"Okay, five more, and then we're done."

Five more!!! Nope! Finito. It's over. Definitely not opened for discussion. "Go to hell, Ellison," the exhausted man gasped out, though the twinkle in his eyes removed any sting the words might have caused.

"I will, right after you do another five."

"You are so full of --"

"Ah, ah, ah. Just remember who's holding whose foot." He wiggled his fingers threateningly.

"No way. You wouldn't!"

Jim nodded.

The wiggling fingers came closer to his arch, and Blair gulped. Tickling was not high on his list as a participatory activity, especially if he was the ticklee and not the tickler. Staring at the unyielding man who held a firm grip on his foot, he became resigned to his fate.

"There you go," Jim encouraged, happy that Blair was now cooperating.

Blair pushed against the resistance of Jim's hand, and then, in a spur of the moment retaliation, pushed a little harder, sending his roommate flying backwards and landing soundly on his bottom. The younger man laughed convulsively at seeing his partner's body sprawled across the floor.

Jim grinned and pushed himself up. Sitting with an amused expression on his face, he waited as Blair's laughter slowly diminished. "Oh, man," Sandburg choked out between the chuckles. "I am so sorry. I didn't mean --"

"Yes, you did, Chief," Ellison interrupted, failing in his attempt to wipe away the grin and replace it with a sterner look. "And, just for that little stunt, I expect another five reps and you can make dinner."

Groaning at the announcement of additional reps, Blair accepted his punishment good-naturedly and began the exercise. The sooner he got them over with, the sooner he could hit the shower and then start dinner. As he finished the routine, he wondered what was lurking in the refrigerator that might be suitable to eat.

The next couple of weeks went well and things were almost back to normal. With his leg's returning strength, the cane was the only outward reminder of his accident. Each day Blair was finding it easier to forego the use of his metal crutch for brief periods of time and, by next week, Mike had promised that he could lose the cane completely. That would certainly be a day to celebrate -- the day he would finally be able to get back into the field with his partner.

His attention shifted back to that partner, and Blair chuckled as Jim delivered the finish to the story of his latest apprehension.

"Honestly, Chief, the man thought he could get away in the carwash. Imagine his surprise when he attempted to drive out in his now squeaky clean Impala only to find his escape blocked by four patrol cars."

"Oh, Sandy. You should've been there," Megan added, clearly enjoying the rehash of their collar.

Jim picked up his cup, draining the last bit of coffee. "Going to the break room. Want another cup of coffee?"

"Sure, Jim." The grin on Blair's face faded slightly at hearing Megan's words. Yeah, I should have been there. I'm Jim's partner -- not you. Instead, I'm stuck behind this stupid desk. Frustrated, he ignored the woman standing by his desk and angrily began pounding away on his keyboard, the keys taking the brunt of his resentful emotions.

Watching Blair's abusive typing, Connor's brow furrowed. "Everything okay?" she asked innocently.

The ringing of the phone interrupted any comments Sandburg might have made to the inspector. Taking a calming breath, Blair picked up the phone. "Sandburg here... what... oh, great! I'll be right down." He glanced up at Megan and, with a voice more brusque than he liked, said, "Tell Jim I went down to Records."

"Sure thing, Sandy." Surprised by the gruff tone, she turned her head away from the young detective, hiding the hurt in her eyes.

Giving no thought to the cane leaning against the desk, Sandburg rose and headed out toward the elevator.

After several minutes passed, impatient, Blair moved toward the stairwell's door. He knew that he should wait for the elevator, but it seemed to be suspended forever between the first and second floor. Plus, he wanted to make good his escape before Jim returned from the break room. He realized that he'd been unfair to Megan -- it certainly wasn't her fault that he was bound to a desk and she was partnered with Jim -- and he knew that Jim would immediately pick up on his obvious moodiness. He didn't wear the green-eyed monster well. Better to cool off with a trip to Records than to explain to one exasperated Sentinel why his Guide all of sudden decided to go territorial on him.

Weighing the pros and cons of the stairs or the elevator, the stairs won out. Having made up his mind, he began his trek down to the third floor.

As he reached the landing of the fourth floor stairs, Blair failed to notice a puddle of spilled liquid on the floor. Without warning, his left foot slid on the wet spot and shot out from under him. To keep from falling backwards, he tightened his grasp on the railing, pulling his body forward. Overcompensating, his hand twisted free from the banister. Horrified, he found himself falling down the stairs, unable to stop the forward momentum.

Blair's eyes were wide in terror. He was no longer in the stairwell, but flying out of a second story window. The gray gravel of the street came rushing toward his face and he knew with certainty that nothing would save him this time. Crying out for his partner, the name, "Jim," barely left his lips as he connected with the hard surface. Pain exploded in his head, white flashes of bright light sparked before his eyes, and then a gray shroud blanketed him in a velvety layer of darkness.

Jim returned carrying two cups of coffee. He had stayed longer than he'd expected in the break room, having found a captive audience in Brown and Rafe for his carwash story. Puzzled by the empty seat where his partner should have been, he looked around the room.

"Connor, where's Sandburg?"

"Oh, Sandy? He went down to Records. Said he'd be right back."

Setting the cups of coffee down, Jim noticed Blair's cane. The detective shook his head. The kid would take any opportunity not to use it, even though Peretti had warned his partner about overtaxing his leg. Maybe he should go after him. No, Blair would just claim that he was being overprotective again. He had promised that he would back off. Jim sat down at his desk and busied himself with a report while anxiously waiting for the return of his partner.


The panic-filled cry reached Jim's ears as the coffee touched his lips. Dropping the mug, Ellison made a mad dash out of the bullpen, never hearing the shattering noise of the cup as it hit the floor or the puzzled questions uttered by his comrades.

Rounding the fourth floor landing, his flight down the stairs stopped abruptly. There lay Blair in nearly the same position as when Davidson had tossed him out the window. Stumbling the last few steps, the detective fell to his knees as he reached his partner's side.


A sharp gasp from above momentarily drew Jim's attention away from his partner. Spying Connor leaning over the banister, Jim managed to spit out, "Call 911." Hearing the retreating clicking of Megan's heels, the detective turned his focus back to the injured man.

A firm, but gentle, hand on his shoulder startled the waiting man. Surprised to be caught off-guard, worried blue eyes looked up to see Blair's doctor standing by his chair.

"Jim, come walk with me. Let's talk for a minute."

"Blair's all right, isn't he?"

Dr. Carter smiled down at the anxious man, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Relax. Blair's going to be just fine."

Hearing the doctor's pronouncement, Jim took a deep, cleansing breath, releasing all the tension that had been mounting since Blair's accident. With both hands, he rubbed his tired eyes, scrubbing away the last bit of weariness from his face. Relieved with the knowledge that his friend had not been gravely injured once again, the detective rose and followed the physician down a side corridor.

Finding a quiet spot away from the controlled chaos of the ER waiting room, Dr. Carter proceeded to detail the young detective's injuries. "He's quite fortunate, you know. Aside from the mild concussion, he escaped with only a few minor bumps and bruises. As a precautionary measure, we took x-rays of his leg, and I'm pleased to say that the bone has healed very nicely."

"So, he's still on schedule, I mean with his rehabilitation. This isn't going to delay the progress he's made?"

"You might want to talk it over with Mike Peretti. That's Blair's physical therapist, right?" The doctor paused as Jim nodded in agreement. "I don't see why, after a few days of rest, that Blair can't continue on schedule. He's nearing the end of his sessions anyway."

Happy to hear the good report, Jim asked, "Can I take him home?"

"You'll find your partner down in cubicle three. You've been this route before. Keep an eye on him for the next twenty-four hours, ibuprofen for the aches and pain. You should know that Blair was quite shaken by this incident. A day or two at home, more so to collect himself, and he'll be fine."

Now dressed and sitting up on the examination table, Blair tightly clutched his new best friend for the next few days. The cool metal felt reassuring in his hands. He was only too happy to accept a loaner from the hospital since his cane had been left back at the office. The throbbing headache didn't come close to the churning in his stomach and the painful memory of the fall. Those thoughts, unwanted as they were, flooded his mind and caused him to break out into a cold sweat.

Get a grip on yourself, or at least on this cane, he joked silently. However, this unfounded fear to him was anything but funny. The arrival of his partner interrupted his unsettling reflection. Blair could see the look of shock on Jim's face as his partner scrutinized his appearance. Whoa! Man, am I that scary looking?

Maneuvering the wheelchair into the curtained area, Jim entered the cubicle and then stopped suddenly, surprised at how small and lost his roommate appeared to be. There sat Blair, hunched on the table, with a haunted look clouding the usually sparkling eyes. Quickly scanning his friend's ragged exterior, Jim noted the too pale face dotted with a thin sheen of perspiration and the trembling hands nervously stroking the metal cane.

God, Chief, haven't you've been through enough already?

He moved forward with the wheelchair and parked it alongside the examination table. Forcing a smile on his face, he asked, "Ready to split this joint?"

"Uh -- yeah. Guess so." Blair answered softly, averting his eyes from his friend's watchful gaze.

"Easy there, Chief," Jim said as he moved to help his partner.

With a hand from the older detective, the injured man slid off the table gingerly and moved into the waiting wheelchair, angling the newly valued cane across his lap.

"All set?" Ellison asked from behind the wheelchair, resting a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder.

Warmed by the touch, Blair looked up and offered him a small smile. "Yeah. Yeah, I am. Let's go home."

Blair re-opened the folder and then closed it again, looking around the bullpen. Hmmm. The Perkins file. I think I saw that over on Brown's desk. He rose from his seat and glanced down at his cane, which had fallen between his desk and the waste bin.

"Oh, what the hell." With the mishap of a week ago nearly forgotten, Blair figured a short tour around the bullpen without his metal crutch wouldn't hurt. It's about time, at least according to Jim and Mike, that I learn to walk on my own. In his heart, he knew that they were right; it was just a matter of communicating that information to his head. Closing his eyes, he took a cleansing breath and recited a silent mantra. I can do this... I can do this. Reinforced, Blair rose from his desk, leaving the cane where it lay as he got up in search of the file.

He hadn't gone more than a few steps when he faltered and grabbed onto a nearby filing cabinet for support. His breath quickened and tiny beads of sweat dotted his forehead. Clammy palms grasped the cool, slick metal as he struggled to regain his balance.

"You okay?" Megan asked. She quickly retrieved Blair's cane, handing it to him, and remained by his side until he got his balance.

"Uh -- yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." He looked around the bullpen, relieved that his little uncoordinated escapade had gone mostly unnoticed. "Do me a favor. Don't mention this to Jim, you know how he tends to worry." Somewhat shaken, Blair gripped the cane firmly, now feeling more secured with that piece of metal in his hand, and returned to his desk, the file forgotten for the moment.

"Sure, Sandy," she agreed, concerned eyes following the young man as he got settled back into his seat.

Blair swiped a trembling hand across his forehead. What'd just happened? So, he stumbled. No big deal, right? Then why did his little slip feel like he'd just plunged into the Grand Canyon? His foot nudged at something, distracting him from his thoughts, and he looked down to see his cane resting against the side drawer of his desk. Finding it further away than he liked, he reached for the cane and pulled it closer to his chair.

"Uh... Jim?"

The detective glanced up from the magazine he was reading and set it aside on the small table next to him. There stood Blair's physical therapist in the doorway.

"Could I see you for a few minutes in my office?"

"Sure, Mike." Ellison rose and followed the brawny, dark-haired man down the hallway.

Once settled before Mike's desk, Jim glanced at the empty chair next to him. Puzzled by the absence of his friend, he asked, "So, where's Blair?"

"I treated him to a long soak in the whirlpool." Mike smiled and then his face grew serious.

Jim tensed, sensing the change in the man's demeanor, and straightened up in his seat. He wasn't getting a good feeling about this unexpected meeting.

"I wanted to talk to you about Blair's discharge from physical therapy," Peretti began.

"That's great," Jim replied hesitantly. "Isn't it?"

"Well, yes and no. This is Blair's latest report and discharge summary." The man handed the paper to Jim. "As you can see, his range of motion is back to 90%. His extension and flexion have vastly improved. However, I do have some concern over the strength of the leg. While it's not bad, I would have expected it to be nearly back to normal by now. I have concerns that Blair has come to rely too heavily on the cane."

Jim nodded in agreement. He had noticed it also, especially since the fall down the stairs. Instead of gradually discontinuing the use of the cane, Blair had become attached to it, using it almost as an additional appendage. "So, what does it mean?"

"It means that he needs to lose the cane in order to obtain full strength in the leg and to improve his gait. It means that even though I'm discharging him, Blair will still be on desk duty."

Ellison was not happy with that last remark and had to refrain himself from swearing. He had hoped to have his partner back to active duty, if not by this week, at least by next. "What can I do? I'm open to any ideas."

Jim watched the physical therapist mull over the question, as if searching for the right answer, before finally saying, "I'm really not sure, Jim. Keep doing the exercises and try to reduce Blair's dependency on the cane -- and --" Mike paused and took a deep breath, and then offered a final suggestion. "-- and perhaps you might want to consider counseling."

Frowning, Jim stared at the paper. Counseling would not look good on Blair's record. Sure, Sandburg had to go through mandatory sessions after the accident, but now? After the fact?

How was he going to help his partner? He already knew that Blair was itching to return to active duty -- that his Guide wanted to be back by his side. He saw that Blair couldn't hide the longing in his eyes or the jealousy there, either. Each time Megan went with him on a case, he could almost hear his Guide whispering, "It should be me... it should be me." If that wasn't enough of a motivation, then what was? Jim stared again at the paper in his hand. He was at a loss. He didn't know what he was going to do.

Another late night, the wearied detective thought as he dragged himself into the loft. Tossing his keys into the basket and hanging up his jacket, Jim smiled at seeing his roommate sprawled across the couch, snoring lightly.

"Rise and shine, Sandburg." Jim playfully tapped his slumbering partner's shoulder.

Blair sat up groggily, rubbing a hand across his face. "Huh? Oh, hey, Jim. Did you just get in? What time is it?"

"Three A.M., time for bed."

The younger man yawned and stretched. "Man, you must be bushed. I know I am."

"Yeah, right, Chief. You must be plum tuckered out with all this lounging around," Jim chuckled.

"Hey, man. I was waiting up for you -- well -- at least up to an hour ago. Was doing some research on the Marelli case." Blair pointed to the laptop sitting on the coffee table. "There's some information for you."

"Well, I can read it in the morning." Jim saved the information and closed the laptop. Heading over to the stairs, he called back, "Right now I'm heading for bed, which is where you should be, too."

"All right. I'm going." Blair rose and sleepily stumbled halfway across the room before he froze.

Picking up the sudden increase in Blair's heart rate, Jim paused on the stairs. "Chief? Sandburg, you okay?"

Blair's panic-tinged voice filled the Sentinel's ears. "My cane. Jim, I need my cane."

A moment passed where Jim actually thought about making Blair get his own cane. That blasted piece of metal had caused more than one argument this past week. However, he thought better of it as he saw the state his partner was in. Forcing the issue before hadn't worked, and he really didn't think it would work now, especially this late at night. Reluctantly, he retrieved the cane forgotten by the couch and handed it to the unnerved man. He could see the relief immediately cross his roommate's face as a trembling hand grasped onto the metal crutch. "Blair --"

"I'm fine," Sandburg cut him off abruptly. "Go to bed, Jim." Effectively ending the conversation by turning his back on his friend, he headed to his room.

Jim, perplexed and frustrated by Blair's continual refusal to give up the cane, watched his roommate enter the small room and close the door with a decisive 'snick'. Don't shut me out, Chief. Please, don't shut me out.

"Sandburg, stay in the truck."


"I said stay in the truck. You're still on desk duty -- remember?"

Blair angrily kicked the cane next to his leg before looking up to see Jim disappearing across the street into the warehouse.

"Stay in the truck... stay in the truck," Sandburg fumed. "Gee, Jim, if you can hear me, I thought I was through with staying in the truck when I'd finished the academy."

Sighing, he leaned his head against the side window. His cane had become his albatross. As much as Blair wanted to blame it, in actuality, he was the one holding himself back. According to his doctors and physical therapist, he could have been off desk duty a few weeks ago except for his reliance on the cane. Hell, he wouldn't even be in the truck now if they hadn't been on their way into work when Jim received a call from one of his snitches. Some guy named Roberts with some hot info on the Marelli matter. Jim was chomping at the bit to get a good solid lead against that man.

Blair stared out the window at the path Jim had taken to the warehouse. This section of the waterfront had been abandoned for years. The piers and docks in this area, which once had serviced the shipping industry, lay silent. There had been talk of revitalizing the district, adding some sort of waterfront attraction like an aquarium, but nothing came from the discourse due to budget cuts. So, the place remained virtually deserted. A chill passed through Blair as he realized how cut off Jim was if he needed any help. The informant couldn't have chosen a worse location.

The ringing of a cell phone cut through Blair's musing. Retrieving the device from his backpack, the young detective barely got out "hello" before he was interrupted.

"Sandburg, where the hell are you?"

"And a good morning to you, too, Captain."

"Don't give me any crap. You were supposed to be in here an hour ago. I need that statistic report for my eleven o'clock meeting. The report you were to have on my desk this morning!"

Blair grimaced at the captain's sharp tone. "Sir, the report is finished. All I have to do is print it out."

"So, Sandburg, when can I expect to see your face this morning?"

"Soon. Jim received a call on our way into work concerning the Marelli case. He's meeting right now with one of his informants down in the waterfront district near Pier 3. As soon as he's done, we'll be right in."

No sooner than those words were out of his mouth, when the sound of gunfire erupted from the warehouse Jim had entered.

"Simon, send backup. Shots fired. Corner of Front and Clancy Streets." Blair hit the 'end' button and pocketed the phone as he climbed out of the truck's cab. A feeling of dread swept over him as he realized that he hadn't been there for Jim as his backup. Oh, god, what if he'd zoned? What if it was a trap? What if he's... He stumbled the first few steps across the street, but the combination of fear and adrenaline fueled him. His lopsided gait picked up rhythm and soon his stride was lengthening. The albatross was no longer around Blair's neck as the forgotten cane remained in the truck.

"Sandburg! Sandburg! Answer me, damn it!" Banks shouted into the phone. Realizing that the line was disconnected, he quickly placed a call into dispatch for backup and then, grabbing his coat, strode through Major Crimes, shouting along the way.

"Taggart, you're in charge. Brown, Rafe and Connor -- you're with me." There was only a brief hesitation before the three detectives grabbed their jackets and followed their captain out of the bullpen.

Jim entered the warehouse cautiously. Having extended his hearing, he was aware of two heartbeats, one faster than the other. The inside of the warehouse was empty, except for some litter and debris probably left over from the previous tenants. He quickly spied his informant, Roberts, near the back wall of the building, standing next to another dark-haired man. Jim hesitated as his eyes locked onto Roberts. The man nervously licked his lips and then waved at the detective.

"It's okay, Ellison. Come on over."

Jim thought that it was far from okay. Roberts had always been a loner. He approached the two men on guard.

"So, what do you have?"

Roberts moved in front of his companion and flashed the cop a knowing smile. Rubbing his fingers together, he remarked, "You know nothing is free."

The detective drew out a few bills and then a few more. Roberts, satisfied with the amount, snatched the money, tucking it into his shirt's pocket. "Actually, Sam here's the one with the information." No sooner had Roberts stepped aside from the dark-haired man, than the man fired his gun.

Catching only a momentary glimpse of the weapon before it discharged, Jim dropped to the floor, but not soon enough. His head exploded in pain. First there was blinding light, and then there was darkness.

The man called Sam walked over to the body. "Come on and help me dispose of this matter."

Roberts crossed over and bent down, touching the fallen detective. "Oh, shit! He's not dead!"

The other man sneered. "He will be soon enough." Removing Jim's cuffs, he fastened the detective's wrists behind his back. "Here, help me with him. We're going to see if pigs -- well, this pig in particular -- can swim."

The two men took hold of the detective under each arm and proceeded to drag him out the back door.

Ellison knew one thing -- his head hurt. When he'd first tried to open his eyes, he couldn't focus and quickly squeezed them shut. Now, trying again, all he could see were wooden planks, a few feet from his face. He could feel his feet being dragged across the wood, the tip of his shoes thumping as they crossed each board. The thumping seemed to coincide with the unbearable pounding in his head.

Talking and laughter filtered through his muddled brain, but he couldn't make out the words. And then, suddenly, his world rotated. He was lifted and sent flying. The sky spun and tumbled, and then he was plunged into a cold, wet darkness. So cold, that the shock of it took his breath away. The water swirled and tiny bubbles danced around him. Confused as to what was up or down, Jim's eyes latched onto one small bubble and tracked it as it escaped to the surface. He kicked hard with his feet several times before finally breaking through to the surface, gasping greedily for air.

With his hands cuffed behind his back and the weight of his clothes dragging him down, the detective found it hard to stay afloat. Then there was the coldness clutching at him. It seeped into his body, robbing his strength. Fighting a losing battle to stay conscious, the injured man thought of only one thing. Blair! That was the name upon his lips before slipping beneath the water's surface.

Entering the warehouse with gun ready, Blair surveyed the empty building. There was no one there; an opened back door was the only clue as to which way his partner might have gone. Hearing a car's engine start, he sprinted across the large room and out the door onto the loading dock in time to see a black sedan disappearing around the corner.

"Shit!" Blair wanted to kick something, anything. His hand brushed against a sticky substance on the doorjamb. Blood -- that he was sure of. Was Jim hurt? Was he in the car or was he hiding here or, worse yet, was he... Blair let go of that thought as he scanned the area, looking for a place where someone could hide -- a dumpster, a large cardboard box, barrels, crates. He looked out toward the dock, there were some barrels, but nothing else. Beyond the dock, a movement in the water caught his eyes. What was it? Some object bobbing up and down. It couldn't be!

"Jim!" Blair shouted as relief swept through him. Fear quickly followed when he realized that his partner was struggling in the water.

Jumping off the platform, he reached the end of the pier in time to see his friend go under. The sirens he heard in the background would be too late. He stripped off his jacket, pulled off his shoes and then plunged into the water.

Treading water, he searched for any signs of his friend.

"Jim!" Blair cried out. "Don't do this to me, man!"

Ignoring the chilly wetness soaking his clothes, he dove beneath the surface. He could see nothing in the murky darkness. Oh, Jim! Oh, god, no! Frantically, he swam down, arms stretched out, reaching, searching. Just when he thought that he could stay down no longer, just when his lungs were screaming for oxygen, his hand touched something solid. Latching onto his friend, he pulled him back to the surface.

As he swam back toward the pier, Blair could hear cars pulling up and his name shouted.

"Here! Simon, we're over here!"

Strong arms lifted the two men out of the water. Someone shouted for Rafe to call an ambulance. Someone else draped a coat on the soggy junior detective's shoulders along with a supporting arm. Blair turned his head to see whose arm it was, and there was Megan with a concerned, motherly look on her face.

"It'll be okay, Sandy." But her voice didn't seem to convey the same confidence as the words.

Turning back around, Blair saw that someone had already removed the cuffs off of Jim. Both Simon and Henri were working on the motionless detective. His face was so pale, and his lips showed a light dusting of blue. Glancing around at the stricken looks on his comrades' faces, a feeling of deja vu swept through him. Was this what it was like back at the fountain? He turned his focus back to his partner.

"Ellison -- don't do this to me!" Simon shouted before forcing another breath past the detective's cold, still lips.

Breathe, Jim, please breathe, became Blair's silent mantra. Just breathe. His eyes met Megan's, and he could see the tears in her eyes.

Rafe returned with blankets, replacing the coat on Blair's shoulders with one.

"Th-th-thanks," Blair said gratefully through chattering teeth. His knees went weak and he felt a pair of arms catch him and help him into a sitting position on the wooden pier. Though he was only a few feet away from where the two men continued their efforts to save his friend, he felt more like several miles away from the events taking place, viewing the scene before him as if through a long, narrow tunnel. His ears picked up the voices of his friends, garbled and muted. Continuing to watch the resuscitation attempt, his eyes never left the face of his best friend.

"Nine-two-three-four-five," Brown called out as he counted the compressions.

Simon checked the pulse, shook his head negatively and administered another breath.


Simon gave one more breath, and then moved around Henri as the detective shifted to take the captain's place at Ellison's head.

"S-s-simon, don't stop! Oh, god, no. Please do something," Blair pleaded, not realizing what was happening and that the men were only switching positions. All he could see at the moment was that no one was giving his partner the much-needed air. "No -- no!"

Blair scooted over to Jim and reached out, shaking his friend's shoulder, oblivious to the other two men's attempts to continue CPR. "Jim, don't do this to me. Come on now. It's not ending here!" Kneeling beside his unresponsive partner, he placed his mouth over Jim's and puffed in a small breath of air. Please, please breathe. His lips tingled at the contact. It felt almost like a small jolt of electricity.

The older detective's body jerked. A cough, soon followed by a wheezing gasp, escaped his lips. Simon and Henri quickly turned the gagging man, as the coughing continued to bring up water from his abused lungs.

A moment later, Blair was rewarded when Jim opened his eyes briefly and gave him a small, weak smile.

Blair picked up the object and placed it into the box sitting on the coffee table. Slowly, he folded down the lid and taped it closed.

"Sandburg, what are you doing?"

The young man jumped, not expecting to hear his roommate's voice behind him. "Jim, what are you doing out of bed?"

Ellison walked stiffly around the couch, absently rubbing his chest beneath his robe as he sat down. "I'm fine. Just a little bruised and battered."

"Funny. That's not quite what the doctor told me. Bed rest -- remember the term -- bed rest?"

"Chief, I can rest down here just as easy as in my bed." Jim paused and then turned his attention back to the box. "So, you didn't answer my question."

Blair placed his hands briefly on the box, his eyes closed. "You could say that I'm removing the albatross, slaying the dragon, or just cleaning the monster from my closet."


Sandburg smiled nervously. "I'm packing up my cane. Going to send it to a small reservation in Arizona that Naomi and I visited about fifteen years ago. The medical clinic there is always in need of medical supplies. Though, I'd have to say if I weren't so environmentally conscious, I would fling that thing into the ocean or off some high mountaintop. And, if it were made of wood, I'd probably build a pyre and burn the sucker. Get rid of all the negativity. You know, all the bad karma."

"Sandburg..." Jim paused, unsure as to whether he should even broach the topic. "You do know that the cane is not to blame."

The young man turned and flashed his partner a grin. "Yeah, I know. But it would feel so good to take my frustration out on it." His face then turned serious. "I never want to feel like that again -- to need something so much. I felt so chained down, so trapped."

Ellison looked away and bit his bottom lip. "And, don't you feel that way with me?"

"What?" Sandburg was a bit confused as to the direction of the conversation.


With a heavy sigh, Blair spoke, his voice full of conviction. "No. Never, Jim. I chose to be here, to be with you. I'm satisfied with my life."

"But, if I wasn't in the picture, you could have had so much more, Chief. You would have your Ph.D., teaching -- not chained to some --"

"Stop it right there. I never considered myself chained to you. While I know that you need me, Jim, and not just for all the sentinel stuff, I need you, too. It goes both ways. Not like this cane that obviously doesn't care if I use it or not. And, about my life. True, it would have been different if I'd never met you, but who's to say that it would have been better? There's nothing I would change -- nothing! Well, perhaps I could have done with a few less injuries and maybe without Alex, but other than that, there's nothing. You may think that this relationship is all about you, Jim, but don't you realize how much you've given me? Hey, we're friends -- more than friends, right?"

"Right," Jim agreed heartily. Damn! Did he feel moisture at the corner of his eyes? These last few months had been an emotional roller coaster. He was ready for something a little less intense, like a merry-go-round. No, those go up and down. Perhaps he could just sit on a bench and watch for a while.

Rising from the couch, Blair picked up the box off the coffee table. "I'll put this away and start lunch. And, you," he said with a firmer tone. "You rest."

Jim stretched out his legs and watched Blair move around the loft. Yes, perhaps he'd find a bench and rest. Though he doubted it. He figured that life, at least life with Blair, was meant to be a wild ride. He grinned at the thought.

"What's so funny, Jim?"

"Nothing -- I mean -- well, I'm just glad that you're part of my life and --" Ellison's voice dropped a tone lower. "And, I wouldn't change anything, either, Chief."

"Thanks." Blair blushed. "Uh, is chicken soup okay with you?"

"Fine." Jim relaxed his body and closed his eyes, finding himself drifting on the verge of sleep. Yep. Everything was just fine.