New Arrivals
Author-Sherrylou and Author-LindaS
Titles

Just Hanging Around
Part Two
by Sherrylou and LindaS

See notes and disclaimer on part one.

"Could I...could I have a drink?" Blair glanced over at the couch where Candy was mindlessly watching TV, some shop-at-home program. She had been up for a few hours now, coming downstairs to watch 'Regis and Kathylee' before switching to the home shopping channel. She had mainly ignored him, munching on leftover pizza.

Fortunately, the rest of the loft was still silent. Asleep. They were dead to the world. *Dead, dead dead. Oh god, why couldn't they be dead. Jim, where are you? Why isn't this nightmare over?*

A sob nearly escaped his throat as he shifted his weight on his good leg. His head throbbed and he was so thirsty. When was the last time he ate? Lunch yesterday? Jim would be having lunch soon. Some dried up meat covered in gravy and some fruit punch. Licking his lips, he tried again, louder.

"Candy... a drink?"

"Poor baby. You thirsty?" Candy strolled over to an opened bottle of beer. Picking it up, she carried the bottle back to Blair and then lifted it to his lips.

The warm, bitter liquid burned his throat and he gasped and sputtered. Choking, the excess dribbled down his chin and onto his chest. Candy giggled at the sight, then ran a long, manicured fingernail through the dampened chest hairs. Moving in closer, Candy dripped more beer onto Blair's chest, gently rubbing the moist curls. Blair moaned as Candy's hand touched a particular sore spot on his ribs.

"I really like men with hairy chests," she whispered, breathing heavily into Blair's ear. "I'm sorry that Bobby hurt you. We could have had fun together."

Her touch hitting another sore spot brought forth another groan. Candy's hand smoothly slipped inside his jeans. "A lot of fun," she murmured before removing her hand and strolling back to the couch.

"Ooooh, Diamonique!" Blair heard Candy squealed at the TV set as he lost the struggled to keep the rising nausea at bay. The warm beer tasted worst coming up. Hanging as he was, it was hard to keep his head forward and not choke on the vomit. Some of it dribbled down his chest clinging to the hair where moments ago Candy's hands had been caressing. Blair tried to spit the remaining bile from his mouth; his thirst now ten times worse.

The ringing of the phone startled him. *Damn it, it better not be Jim. No, no, no! No more calls.* Blair felt his eyes tearing up. *If it's Jim... if it's Jim, it means he's not home, he's not on his way.*

A voice from above yelled, "Shut the fucking thing up," and then a pillow was hurled toward the ringing object just as the answering machine picked up.

//Sandburg... I guess you're not home yet. I hope you're having a good time.//

"Oh, Jim, jim jim. I'm not," Blair whispered, and hung his head hopelessly.

A long pause and then Jim's voice spoke again hesitantly. //Uh, Chief...Blair, please call me as soon as you get this message. Don't even bother to call the room. Call my cell phone...and I'll pick up, okay? I... uh... I guess I'll hear from you later.//

"No, no, no, don't hang up, Jim. Jim, I need you. Don't hang up! Damn it, Jim. Just come home. I'm dying here. Jim... JIM... JIM!"

Blair was still screaming when a hand smacked him across the face. Staggering, his balance shifted onto his injured leg. The sudden sharp pain riddled his body, leaving him gasping for breath, but feeling unable to draw in enough oxygen. Spots danced before his eyes, swirling... merging together... and then as the darkness claimed him, his thoughts turned to death... death... theirs or his, or both, he didn't care.

~~~~~

"Sandburg... I guess you're not home yet. I hope you're having a good time." Damn it, this game of phone tag was getting old...especially since he was the only player. Jim was running out of what to say without sounding like an overprotecting grandma.

Swiping a frustrated hand across his face, he continued, "Uh, Chief... Blair, please call me as soon as you get this message. Don't even bother to call the room. Call my cell phone... and I'll pick up, okay? I... uh... I guess I'll hear from you later." Jim flipped shut his phone and walked over to the table where Simon and Pam sat finishing their lunches. Sitting down next to Pam, he pulled a piece of apple pie closer to himself and picked up his fork.

"Sandburg answered?" Simon asked.

"No. I left another message and told him to call me on the cell." He stabbed at the pie, then took a bite

"Jim, you two must be really close," Pam observed.

"You don't know the half of it," Jim heard Simon muttered under his breath. He gave the captain a little nudge with his foot, which earned him a glare in return. He'd been surprised when he showed up for lunch and found both his captain and Pam sitting together, chatting away.

"I've been working with Blair for several years now...and I admit we're close... we work well together. It's this out of contact thing that bothers me."

"You don't have to explain to me, Jim." Pam rested her hand on top of his. It was soft...warm. "I understand how it is with partners."

Jim set his fork down and rested that hand on top of hers, then turned his bottom hand and cradled hers between his, giving it a little squeeze. He smiled. She was just so damned pretty, it nearly made his heart melt. Ignoring Simon's exasperated, "Excuse me, I need to be going," Jim focused on Pam as he asked, "What session are you attending this afternoon?"

"Well, I heard there's a pretty active one in room 435."

"435, eh? I don't quite remember that one on the list."

She leaned in closer, her perfume dizzyingly delicious. "It's a new one... taught by me... and it has an opening for just one lucky attendee."

"Lucky me." His smile widened, and he truly did feel lucky.

She grinned back. "Yeah, lucky you."

~~~~~

Bobby walked over to the door and looked into the basket, one of the few items untouched by last night's ball game. Fingering the keys, he pulled out two sets of keys and asked, "So, what do these belong to?" He jingled them in Blair's direction. "I see you're awake over there, Sleeping Beauty."

Blinking several times, Blair looked through blurry eyes at the kid who had started all this suffering.

When there was no response, Bobby shrugged and went back to examining the keys. "Hmmm, this one is to a Ford and the other's to a Volvo."

Blair hung his head. Why he cared, he didn't know, he should have been beyond caring, but he did. *Please... please... please. Not the truck. Don't take Jim's truck.*

"You hear that, Kevin. We got ourselves some wheels." He flipped the keys back and forth from hand to hand. "Eeny meeny miney mo!" Closing his hand over one set of keys, he opened that hand and called out, "We got a winner! Let's go for a ride." He tossed the keys to Kevin.

"Fuck... a Volvo. Real classy, man," Kevin complained, but got up anyway and grabbed his jacket. "You coming, Suzie and Candy?"

The girls quickly got their jackets. At the door, Candy paused and looked back at Blair. "What about him?"

Bobby snorted. "He's not going anywhere. We can come back tonight or tomorrow... finish things off." Walking over to the stereo, he picked up a CD. "What's the hell is this... Arap? No, that's not right. Arapy... Arapaho...?" Giving up on the title, he inserted it, then cranked up the volume. "Whatever. Enjoy the music"

Candy nodded dumbly, apparently not catching on to Bobby's words. However, Blair didn't need a diagram to understand what the words meant... finish things off. The door shut, and he heard the group departing down the hallway toward the elevator.

Reality came crashing down on him. They left...they actually left. No more frenzied sex cries. No more destruction... no more... no more torture. He gasped a little sob, his throat swollen and sore, and squeaked, "h... help." It was no more than a pathetic little pant that could barely be heard in the apartment, let alone above the music.

He tried to work up some saliva, but there was no moisture, only dry, cracked lips and a thick scorched throat. Blair had never felt so alone... so dejected. He felt like crying; he wanted to cry, to sob... to... to rant against the world...the unfairness of life... however, his eyes burned, gritty and dry. There were no tears left to cry.

~~~~~

Jim smiled to himself as he straightened his tie. Freshly showed and shaved, he was ready for a night out with Pam. The afternoon private session couldn't have gone better. Jim chuckled at the memory of Pam's soft skin. He also loved the way her silken tresses slipped through his fingertips...and then there were her green eyes. Yep, tonight was going to be special. Tucking his wallet into his inside jacket pocket, Jim glanced over at the phone. He still couldn't believe that Sandburg hadn't called. Of course, if Blair was as lucky as he was, maybe there was a reason...maybe he was just tied up... tied up with Sharon. Picking up the phone, Jim thought it wouldn't hurt to check one more time.

Frustrated when the answering machine picked up, Jim tried to keep his voice light, "Hey, Chief, where have you been? Turn down that crazy jungle music of yours that you're probably listening to and pick up the phone." He waited. *Come on, Sandburg,* he silently urged, then sighed at the lack of response.

"Still not home yet, huh? Remember, Sandburg. I warned you -- no wild parties. The loft better be as sparkling as I left it. Funny thing is... this seminar hasn't turned out so bad. I met someone. We're going out for dinner and drinks tonight."

*Oh, hell, what could it hurt.* So as an afterthought, he added, "One more thing -- I -- er.... Well, let's just say I've missed you. I'm ready for some Sandburgian chatter. When I get home you'll have to let me know how your 'Sentinel-free' weekend went. And I can tell you about my weekend." He paused. Nothing like holding a conversation with an answering machine. "I'll try to call later, but you know, Chief, the phone works in both directions so give me a call or I just might have to send Joel over there to check up on you."

As he hung up the phone, Jim chuckled. Send Joel over... Sandburg would just love that.

~~~~~

Not aware that he had drifted off until the ringing of the phone aroused him, Blair noted the early evening sun casting long shadows throughout the apartment. As the answering machine picked up the call, first hope and then disappointment filled Blair as he listened to the message.

//Hey, Chief. Where have you been?// Jim's voice floated from the machine. Blair noted a touch of concern in his roommate's question.

*Oh, no place special, just hanging around.* Blair stared up at his swollen and bloody wrists. The handcuffs had cut deeply into the tender skin. He had lost the feeling in his fingers hours ago and the numbness now extended down to his arms. His legs were wobbly, knees unable to lock in place, and his shoulders ached at the strain of supporting his battered body.

//Turn down that crazy jungle music of yours that you're probably listening to and pick up the phone....// Empty air followed.

*Would love to Jim, but I'm a little tied up -- er -- handcuffed at the moment. Gee, I must not be hurting too bad if I can still joke around. Nah, it must be all those endorphins floating around in my brain. I feel so bad that I feel good. Whoa! If that isn't paradoxical!* The Native American music continued to play, repeating the same song over and over again. Strains of the Arapaho ghost-dance song drifted through the loft and Blair realized how appropriate the chant was as he translated the words. *Father have pity on me. I am crying for thirst. All is gone -- I have nothing to eat.*

Finding futility in his effort, Blair's struggles had long since ceased and a sense of hopelessness invaded his soul. *Pity on me? -- Yeah, man. I could use some help right about now.* He heard Jim take a big sigh before continuing the message.

//Still not home yet, huh? Remember, Sandburg. I warned you -- no wild parties. The loft better be as sparkling as I left it.//

*Too late. Tweedledee and his friend, Tweedledum, already threw one hell of a bash. Drank all the beer, trashed the loft, invited their girlfriends over.*

Blair emitted a weak chuckled as he envisioned his roommate's face upon arriving home and finding the loft looking like a scene from 'Animal House.' His chuckle soon turned into a moan as pain flared through the muscles in his bruised face. There was an aching heaviness in his chest and each breath Blair took sent a stabbing pain slicing through his ribs. *Man, not feeling too good now.*

//Funny thing is... this seminar hasn't turned out so bad. I met someone. We're going out for dinner and drinks tonight.//

*Drink? Man, I'd love a drink right about now. A tall, cool glass of refreshing water. Heck! Forget bottled -- I'd settled for the faucet.* Blair tried to wet his cracked lips with his tongue. Trying to swallow, he winced at the soreness of his throat -- a residual effect caused by his parched mouth and attempts at calling for help.

//One more thing -- I -- er....//

Blair noted awkwardness in Jim's voice as the man struggled to complete his thoughts.

//Well, let's just say I've missed you. I'm ready for some Sandburgian chatter. When I get home you'll have to let me know how your 'Sentinel-free' weekend went. And I can tell you about my weekend.// Another pause, then Jim's voice continued. //I'll try to call later but you know, Chief, the phone works in both directions so give me a call or I just might have to send Joel over there to check up on you.// A click ended the message.

A sob caught in his throat. *Oh, man. I've missed you too, Jim. Go ahead and send Joel over here, or better yet just get your ass home.* Even with the loud distractions of the CD player, a silent emptiness filled the Guide's heart at the loss of his Sentinel's voice. *Please hurry home, Jim. Please.*

Blair mouthed his last thoughts; the 'please' clinging to his lips as he let the pain of his body encompass him, and accepted the darkness it brought.

~~~~~

"Wooooohoo!" Bobby screamed as he narrowly squeezed the Volvo between two tractor-trailers. Flashing a finger out the window in response to the truck's horn, the highflying man accelerated, pulling ahead of the traffic. *Who said drugs and alcohol don't mix?* Bobby grinned, feeling better than he had in the past many months. *Life is soooo good,* he thought, now that he had money to burn and a car to drive and two more days to enjoy a great apartment.

"Come on, baby. Show me what you got," Bobby chanted as he pounded his hands on the dashboard before grabbing the steering wheel. "Hey, Kev, hand me another bottle."

Kevin picked up a bottle of beer out of the six-pack and twisting off the cap he handed it to the driver. "Hey, it's getting late, why don't we go pick up the girls?" he whined. "I'm sure they're done shopping. Anyway, this car sucks. Some classic...I bet it can't go over 90."

"Wanna bet?" Bobby chugged the remaining beer before tossing the bottle in the back. Pressing down the gas pedal, he whooped again as the needle on the speedometer passed 90 and continued to climb higher.

"You lose, Kevin." The driver chuckled at his friend, taking his eyes off the road. His laughter caught in his throat as he looked at his friend's fear-filled face. Shifting his vision back to the road, Bobby saw his destiny through the windshield, the headlights highlighting the descent as the car left the highway.

"Aw shit," was the last thing he uttered in his brief lifetime.

~~~~~

Simon knocked on the door of room 435. After checking at the restaurant, it didn't take a detective to figure out where the man was. Quelling the feeling in the pit of his stomach, he knocked again, wondering how he would find the words to tell Jim.

Miss Browne discreetly opened the door. Her hair tussled about, framing her face, and her hand clutched closed her robe. She flashed him a surprised smile. "Captain, what can I do for you?"

"I'm really sorry to disturb you, Miss Browne, but I was wondering if Jim Ellison was here?" Simon paused before continuing, "There's been an accident."

Simon watched as the door swung open and there stood his detective clad only in his slacks.

"What accident, Simon?" Jim face took on a worried frown. "Is.... is Blair alright?"

"I'm sorry, Jim. I don't know. Rafe just contacted me to say the county sheriff's office called to report that the Volvo was in an accident and that there were two fatalities. They're still in the process of extracting the victims from the vehicle and then the bodies will be transported to the county morgue. Rafe and Brown are on their way up there to see if they can identify the bodies."

Jim sagged against the doorway. "I knew something was wrong," he murmured.

Simon placed a hand on the man's shoulder. "Don't go borrowing trouble until we know what happened."

Jim looked devastated, but he nodded in agreement. Turning to Pam, he spoke, "I'm... I'm really sorry I have to leave you like this. I'll... I'll call you." Jim brushed a soft kiss across her cheek before turning to go.

The captain accepted the rest of Jim's clothes from Miss Browne, his eyes silently conveying his gratitude to the woman. Somehow, during their conversation, she had left the two men to retrieve the articles of clothing.

As Simon escorted Jim down the hallway, he turned back in time to see the door to room 435 closing and two understanding green eyes, understanding in only the way another officer of the law could comprehend, meet his before the door clicked shut.

~~~~~

"Rhonda, has Rafe or Brown called in yet?" Simon shouted as he entered the bullpen. He wasn't surprised to see that his secretary was still there even though the lateness of the night indicated she had stayed well past quitting time or had come back into the office. In fact, several of his detectives were still here, waiting to hear the news, good or bad. A tiny shake of his secretary's head indicated that there was no information yet. "Then get the sheriff's office on the line for me."

Simon entered his office. Behind him trailed Jim. As Simon busied himself making a fresh pot of coffee, he indicated to the detective to take a seat.

The whole trip back from the conference was a blur. From packing and checking out of the hotel, to catching the last evening flight out of Portland, to the ride back to the Cascade PD. All the way back, Jim made attempts to contact Blair at school and at the loft but there was no response. Friends of Blair that he called couldn't remember seeing him and no one seemed to know Sharon or her phone number or her last name. Simon watched the man become silently stilted once he realized that there would be no quick answers to all of his questions...all of his fears.

The buzzing of the phone interrupted his thought as Rhonda's voice announced: //Sheriff Montgomery is on line 2//

Picking up the phone with a "Captain Banks, here," Simon listened to the sheriff's report.

//Captain Banks, your two men have arrived and are currently down in the morgue waiting for the bodies to be brought in. I'm sorry I have no further information. The last update I received was that the bodies were in transport and should arrive soon. I'll have your men call as soon as they're through down there.//

Not the news he'd hoped for. The old adage, no news is good news, floated through his mind, and he agreed that it was good news. Because he didn't want to think about the possible outcome... not Blair... dead... at least there was still hope. Keeping his professional tone, Simon replied, "I appreciate your assistance, Sheriff. Thank you."

With the call finished, Simon sat down in his chair and poured himself a cup of coffee. "No news yet. I guess there's nothing to do now but wait, Jim. We should know something shortly."

Jim just grunted in agreement.

Ten minutes later, the phone's ringing broke the silence.

"Captain Banks, here," the man answered in his most authoritative voice. A smile broke through on his face as he heard Rafe state, "It's not him. Neither of the bodies are Blair."

Simon looked over at Jim and knew he didn't have to say anything. The relief on Jim's face told him that the detective had used his skills to listen in on the conversation.

"That's good. Get what information you can on the deceased and get back here A.S.A.P." The captain hung up the phone and watched as Jim's face crumbled with the realization that Blair was still missing.

The reprieve Rafe offered had been short-lived, Simon thought. If Sandburg wasn't in the car, then where was he? "I'll have Rhonda call around to the area hospitals." And the morgue, though the words went unspoken. No use in upsetting Jim unnecessarily. "Any ideas where to look for him?"

"I don't know. I mean... he could be anywhere. If he was carjacked, he could be in an alley somewhere. Or he could be tied up. He could even be at --"

"The loft!" both men spoke at the same time.

~~~~~

"You know, Jim, It's possible that Sandburg is safe at home and he doesn't even know that his car has been stolen," the captain offered as a possible explanation as they trotted up the stairs.

"Then why hasn't he called? How many messages have I left?"

"He could still be over at Sheila's"

"That's Sharon, and I don't think so. I can hear music coming from the loft."

As they reached the top floor, Simon could now hear the blaring music. "You know, the noise level is so loud, I'm surprised the neighbors aren't beating down the door complaining."

"Most are away for the weekend," Jim responded. Pausing at the door, both men drew their guns.

"Is he in there, Jim?"

"He's in there, and he's alone."

Simon snorted in relief. It would be funny if they burst into one of Blair's trysts with Sheila or Sherry, or whatever her name was, with guns drawn. "Put the gun away," he ordered.

Doing so, Jim unlocked the door and entered the loft cautiously as Simon followed behind. Suddenly, the detective froze in place. "What the...." Simon's words dropped off as his eyes scanned the utter destruction of the loft and then rested on the person handcuffed to the stairs' risers.

"Oh, my god, Sandburg," the captain gasped, a hand flying up to his mouth, stifling further exclamations. Pulling out his cell phone to call for help, Simon silently uttered a prayer for the tortured police observer.

~~~~~

Jim didn't need his sentinel sight to see that it was his roommate, unconscious and badly injured, hanging limply like a broken doll. As he approached Blair, he didn't know where to begin... where to touch without causing pain or aggravating an injury? "God... oh, god, Simon. How could anyone...."

He turned to look at the man beside him, and saw that the captain's eyes held utter anguish and realized that his owns eyes were probably just as horror-struck. Shock couldn't cover how he felt. Horrified... sickened at someone's inhumanity.

Assessing Blair, Jim had a hard time tearing his eyes away from the thickened arms, grossly swollen and streaked with dried blood, with the cuffs embedded in open, raw wounds. Continuing downward, he reached out, lightly skimming over the bruised face, feeling the cracked ribs. Then there was Blair's right knee, so puffed-up inside the jeans that it looked like a stuffed sausage.

"I'll get the cuffs, you support him, Jim."

"Okay. Hold on a moment."

His hand hovered momentarily in front of Blair's face; then as his hand lightly brushed the bruised cheek, heavy-lidded eyes cracked open and he heard a mumbled word among the ragged breaths. "... dreamin'...."

"No, Blair, you're not dreaming."

"... jim... home?"

"Yeah, buddy, I'm home. Stay with me now." Jim moved in, wrapping both arms carefully around his partner, feeling the broken ribs and the heat of the bruising. "Just lean on me... easy there... easy." Blair's head lolled onto Jim's shoulder as Jim held him up.

"... no... too close... stink...."

His eyes blurred, and Jim blinked them several time, feeling them tear at those words, and suddenly it became hard to swallow. *Oh, Blair.* He could clearly smell the stench surrounding Blair, from the beer and vomit coating his chest to the urine-stained jeans. "Hey, what's a little pong between friends? Anyway, Chief, I got that dial turned down."

Blair just let out a little huff of air that sounded almost like a chuckle. Jim nodded toward his captain. "Okay, Simon, unlock the cuffs. Start with the right one first."

He watched as Simon carefully unlocked the first cuff, then gently laid the freed arm onto Jim's shoulder. It felt like dead weight... lifeless... like a wooden branch just resting there. In a matter of seconds, the other arm was released.

Hearing a soft moan, Jim cursed the fact that Blair was still conscious. "Almost there, buddy. Help will be here soon. Ready for a trip down?"

Not expecting an answer, he was surprised when Blair answered, "... trip... shoulda... shoulda gone with you...."

*Yeah, you should have,* Jim silently agreed. Cupping his hand around Blair's head, he carefully supported the neck. His other arm held the brunt of the body's weight, and then slowly... so smoothly and tenderly, he lowered Blair to the floor, following along until he was kneeling beside his injured roommate.

"... water...." came a panted request, and Jim forced back the urge to comply to the heart-wrenching plea.

"No can do, Chief. I don't know how bad you're injured." Hearing the approaching help arriving, he looked up at the captain. "Simon, can you get the door? The paramedics are here."

"Sure thing," But instead of immediately going, Simon knelt down, placing a hand on Blair's arm, his deep voice cracking as he said, "Blair... hang in there, son." Getting up, the captain then left to let the medics in.

It was a flurry of activity that had Jim's head spinning as Blair was assessed, readied, then rushed out the door on the way to the hospital. An organized chaos that settled to a stark calm as only he and Simon remained. He stood there, motionless, eyes surveying the evidence of what had taken place.

Then a warm hand fell upon his shoulder, giving a gentle squeeze, as Simon said, "Come on, Jim. We'll follow the ambulance."

~~~~~

Just the humming of the fluorescent lights broke the silence of the hospital room as Jim sat by Blair's bedside, his hand lightly resting on top of his friend's hand. Watching as his partner slept peacefully, aided by drugs to ward off the pain, he pondered Blair's attack and the events that led up to it. When Blair was a little more coherent, he would have to get the full story.

The sound of the door opening disturbed the detective's thoughts, and Jim looked up to see Simon quietly entering, then pausing at the foot of the bed.

"How is he?" the captain asked in a hushed voice.

A soft moan escaped Blair's lips. Jim released the still hand and placed his palm on his partner's forehead, fingers soothing away the tiny lines of pain. As the injured man fell back into a healing sleep, Ellison turned his attention to his captain. "Besides all the cuts, bumps, and bruises, he has three cracked ribs and a fractured kneecap. "

Overwhelming anger surged through him, his enraged thoughts directed at the perpetrators who had caused these senseless injuries to his Guide. *If they weren't dead already, I'd show them how it'd feel having their bodies used for batting practice.*

Not wanting to transfer his raging emotions to his sleeping friend, Jim closed his eyes, willing the harsh feelings away. "It's the knee that's going to lay him up for awhile," he finished in a tight, strained voice.

"How are you doing?" Banks inquired, looking directly at his detective.

"Guilty doesn't cover it, Simon. We were gone, enjoying ourselves while Sandburg was undergoing unimaginable tortures and then left alone -- suffering. The wait had to be hell -- pure hell. Knowing that no one was aware of the situation and, at the same time, worrying if those hoodlums would return to finish what they had started."

The captain retrieved another chair from across the room and sat down beside his friend. "Thought you should know, we identified the guys who ransacked your loft and attacked Sandburg. Two strung-out junkies joyriding in Blair's Volvo -- with a not very pretty ending."

"Shame about the Volvo," Jim remarked, knowing how fond Blair was of the car.

"Don't tell the kid about it just yet."

"Don't tell me what, Simon?" Blair groggily asked, his pain-filled voice thick and low from his drugged-induced sleep.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you it's not polite to listen in on other people's conversation?" the captain questioned, his _expression belying the irritation in his words.

"Yeah, and don't go changing the subject," Blair grunted as he attempted to sit up. Jim could see him fighting the drugs in his system. The eyes drooped with a desire for much-needed rest, but he wore a dogged _expression, unwilling to let Simon's statement slip by.

"Easy there, Chief." Jim pushed the button to raise the head of the bed and carefully adjusted his friend's pillows.

Blair, in his new position, glared back at the police captain, and Jim had to bite back a chuckle as the young man put as much determined indignation in his voice as his weakened state would allow. "So -- don't tell me what? What is it that you don't want me to know?"

Simon looked down at the floor, as if figuring out the best way to break the news, before returning his gaze to the insistent police observer. He cleared his throat, hesitating a moment, and then asked, "How do you feel about compact cars?"

"What? My... my car."

"Relax, Chief... easy. A car can be replaced... but you." Jim almost choked on the last two words, his emotions still running high... remembering the vision of Blair, bloodied and near death. "You can't," he finished.

~~~~

Epilogue:

Blair clicked off the television and threw down the remote in disgust. It was bad enough to be indoors, but to be tied to the couch with nothing to do. The cast, from his ankle to the thigh weighed heavy on his leg just as his gloomy mood weighed heavy on his mind. The reminders of his nightmarish experience were all around him.

No matter how hard Jim had cleaned, fixed, or painted the loft, the destruction was as clear in his mind as the day it happened... from the scuff marks on the floor, to the small dent on the bookcase, to the nicks in the wall. Worst yet was the staircase where he hung for most of the time. The metal steps mocked him; their indestructibility was proof of his fragility.

He didn't know what to expect when he first came home from the hospital, but this wasn't it. He thought he would be happy, relieved. But his thoughts kept wandering back, back to Bobby and his friends. Too bad about the accident, not that he didn't care about the car, but that the ending had been too swift for the likes of his tormentors.

Picking up his cold cup of coffee, Blair offered up a toast. "Bobby... may your soul rot in hell." The remaining sip was as bitter on his tongue as his spoken words.

The opening of the loft door startled Blair out of his dark thought and fear replaced them... for a moment, just a moment. Blair's heart rate sped up. The door was locked, wasn't it? And then Jim's voice cut through Blair's distress.

"You okay there, Chief?"

"Yeah," Blair answered untruthfully. "So what brings you home?"

"Just thought we could have lunch together. I stopped by that Thai place you like so much and picked up your favorites," Jim said as he set the bags down on the coffee table and went to grab some dishes.

"What about the rule of no eating on the couch?" Blair questioned as he watched Jim prepare his plate and place it before him. Jim had been way too nice to him since the incident and it only served to darken his mood.

"I figured we could relax the rules." Jim smiled. " Dig in, Chief."

"Yeah, why not. A little Thai sauce can't be any worse than what was already on the couch," Blair muttered, noticing the small wince Jim made at the remark. He knew his friend had the sofas professionally cleaned before he came home from the hospital... as if that could remove the stains of what had happened.

Carelessly, he let a few noodles slip from his plate. Before going back to eat, Blair watched with an air of indifference as they skimmed off the cushion and dropped onto the floor. Nor did he offer an apology as his friend cleaned up the mess.

"So, how's the case going?"

"What case are you referring to, Chief?"

Blair slammed his plate on the table. "You know damn well what case I'm referring to." Blair glared at the man sitting on the edge of the coffee table. "Any luck locating Candy and her girlfriend?" If Blair couldn't see Bobby and Kevin punished, the least he could do was make certain that the two girls paid for their participation.

"Well, we don't have much to go on. For all we know, they could be out of the state by now."

"Go on!" Blair sputtered. "I gave you a description of both girls, and if you need any more information, just ask Officers Anderson and Peters. They both got an eyeful."

"Well, truthfully, Chief, as much as I would like it to be, this case doesn't have top priority. The primary perpetrators have been taken care of, so to speak. The D.A. figured the girls' roles not as important, and that they would only be prosecuted on lesser charges."

"Fine... just fine," Blair shouted angrily. Reaching for his crutches, he knocked the table, sending dishes flying. "I can see how much I matter."

Struggling to get his balance, he glared at his friend, as Jim made a move to support him. "No, get away... I don't need your help." Moving toward his room, Blair stopped and turned around. "I don't need your help now... but where were you when I did, huh?"

Blair didn't wait for an answer to his cheap shot as he entered his room and slammed the doors.

Lowering himself onto the futon, Blair struggled to keep the tears at bay. He knew he was being unfair to Jim. He knew he was playing on Jim's feelings of guilt. He knew he was being unreasonable, but so what. He was mad... so damn mad all the time and there was no one except Jim to take his frustrations out on. Maybe he shouldn't have wished Bobby dead.

~~~~

Jim stared at the closed doors. Blair was right. Where was he? He was off having a good time... a very good time while Blair was being tortured. That thought had preyed on his mind since returning from the conference. Maybe it wasn't rational, but it didn't stop him from feeling guilty. He should have known something was wrong... shouldn't he?

Picking up the dishes, Jim then cleaned up the spilled food from the floor and tabletop. He didn't know how to help Blair. While the doctors could fix the cuts and bruises and the broken bone, they couldn't fix Blair's soul. Blair hadn't been the same since. He'd been angry and lashing out at everyone. Jim supposed he hadn't helped the matter by being overly accommodating. He should have just put his foot down, but Blair had been through so much.

Jim finished rinsing off the dishes and set them aside to dry. Wringing out the dishrag, he decided he couldn't put it off any longer. Taking a deep breath, like Daniel entering the lions' den, Jim prepared to enter Blair's room.

~~~~

Blair was miserable. He couldn't understand his feelings... it was like they were all over the place. But it was the anger in particular that bothered him. The feeling for some kind of revenge... some kind of vigilante justice.

He tried meditation... but without success. He didn't know what he needed. He felt like he was on the brink... a precipice... ready to tumble off... to fall. God! He ran a hand through his hair; maybe he needed some help... some professional help.

A knock at the door broke him from his sullen mood.

"Go away," Blair replied, the anger still there... simmering. Propped up on the futon with his injured leg supported by a pillow, he just wanted to be alone. Here was his sanctuary... someplace safe. He rubbed at one wrist, the healing skin sore and itchy, and hoped that Jim got the message.

"Chief... Blair... we need to talk."

Yeah, like talking was going to fix everything. "Jim, you can't help. Just... just go away."

"No can do. I'm coming in."

The door opened, and Blair watched as Jim hesitantly entered the room and then pulled the desk's chair up to the bed. Turning it around, he sat down on the chair backwards and leaned with crossed arms onto its back.

Blair went back to picking at the bandage on his wrist, deliberately ignoring Jim.

"Look... this attitude isn't accomplishing a thing except driving a wedge between us."

Blair made a move to get up. He didn't want to talk... he didn't want to lose the anger. If he did, he was sure he'd break into a thousand pieces... shattered like half their belongings.

"Stay." The request was soft and heartfelt... and it almost broke Blair's resolve.

Blair looked at Jim, then flippantly replied, "Stay? And if I don't... what'cha going to do... handcuff me? Been there... done that."

"You're directing the anger at the wrong person." Jim got up and pushed the chair aside. "Be right back, Chief."

Now Blair was curious... wondering what was going on. At least Jim was out of the room, but he said he'd be back... back for what?

~~~~~

Jim trotted upstairs and pulled a cardboard box out from under his bed. Staring at the broken items he had gathered while cleaning up the loft, Jim had wondered at the time why he was saving them. Perhaps he'd figured that Blair might want to see them.

He gave the box a shake and stared at the pieces. He needed to do something. Blair was like a pressure cooker ready to explode. There had to be someway to let him blow off steam and possibly these items could help do that. Unsure if he was doing the right thing, he took the box down to Blair's room.

The puzzled look on Blair's face when Jim entered the room encouraged him to continued with his mission. The broken belongings and the crushed mementoes were nothing compared to his friend. These possessions couldn't be saved, but Blair could.

Jim moved the chair back to the desk and sat instead on the edge of the bed, placing the box next to Blair.

"Remember this?" Jim asked as he picked up a small brown piece of clay, once a figurine, now only made up of one arm and two feet. "You told me that you picked this up while staying with the Zuni tribe. You said that it was a totem, that it brought good luck."

Jim watched as Blair took the broken charm and turned it over, staring at what was left.

"The chief gave it to me," Blair spoke softly, almost tearfully. "I was only sixteen. He... he thought that I could use some good luck."

Jim had to restrain himself as he watched Blair clenched the broken piece, afraid that Blair would draw blood. He waited patiently.

"I... I guess it didn't work so well, huh, Jim?"

Jim remained silent, letting his friend speak. Soundlessly he encouraged Blair, *Come on, Chief, let it all out. Don't hold it in any longer.*

"Of course not... it's nothing more that a piece of clay. I mean... it doesn't matter that I carried it around with me. You know I had it with me when I went to Tibet and... and... when I visited the Hopi Indians in Arizona. It doesn't mean anything, Jim... right? Right? It's nothing... nothing, just a stupid... stupid meaningless object," Blair bitterly stated.

Jim watched as the anger grew on Blair's face. He wasn't surprised one bit when Blair hurled the figure across the room, making a resounding smack on the wall.

"And this...." Blair reached into the box and grabbed a piece from an African Mask. "Do you know where this came from?" Jim made no response. "I guess it doesn't matter, does it, Jim?" Blair spat out as he hurled the object across the room.

"And this... this was part of one of your trophies... wasn't it? Wasn't it?" Blair shouted.

Jim couldn't help noticing the loud thud it made when it struck the far wall. And then in quick succession, Blair began to pick up each item in the box and hurl them as hard and fast as he could, yelling at each one. Until he finally picked up the whole box and with one loud scream, threw it so that the few remaining items scattered across the floor.

"It doesn't matter... it doesn't... they took it all, Jim... they took it all." Blair sobbed, his arms flailing, searching for something to grab or strike.

Jim was at his side in a flash... arms reaching out to gather Blair close. Letting his friend physically release his frustration, his anger, his sorrow, until Blair finally sagged against him.

Holding him closer, Jim whispered, "It does matter, Chief... it does. But they didn't take anything... not anything important... you're still here, you're here... and that's what matters."

Slowly, Blair sat back, snuffling. He wiped his sleeve across his eyes, drying the tears. "So." He gave a half-chuckle. "You don't think me a self-serving, spineless goober?"

Staring into Blair's red-rimmed eyes, Jim thought about possible responses. He could give a flippant reply, make a joke out of it, but instead decided to let his heart do the speaking. "Chief, you're one of the strongest, most resourceful men I know. What you went through -- the experience -- was horrible. But you didn't give up... you hung in there. And I don't mean that as a pun."

Blair gave a slight smile, his eyes a little brighter. "Yeah, I guess I did hang in there." He gestured toward the items littering the floor. "Uh, sorry, I kinda lost it."

Jim smiled back. "No problem, Chief."

And he meant it. The earlier oppressive atmosphere in the room felt lighter. And it felt damn good. Tomorrow there would be time to talk with Blair about getting some help. Simon had given him the number of a good psychiatrist, one that specialized in cases like Blair's. But for now, he'd enjoy the peace of the moment.

"No problem at all," Jim reiterated. "I managed to save some of the lunch... you still hungry?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah, I'm hungry. I think I could eat now, Jim."

Jim offered Blair a hand and hauled him off the bed. Steadying him, Jim relished the closeness and gave Blair's shoulder a quick squeeze before handing him the crutches.

"Good... 'cause I think there's plenty of your Yaam Makhua Yao Poo left over.

"Eggplant salad... I could go for some of that," Blair readily agreed and then asked longingly, "and a beer, a nice cold beer."

Jim chuckled and gave a quick pat to his friend's shoulder. "Not on the meds you're taking, Chief."

"Come on, Jim... just a sip."

Jim just smiled and shook his head. Opening the French doors, together they walked out of the room as the banter continued. God, it was good to hear Blair laugh again. "Just remember, watch it with the dishes. There's not too many left."

"Aw, Jim, you wanted a new set anyway."

"I'll new set you." Jim reached over and ruffled Blair's hair.

Blair laughed, then scrunched up his face, trying to feign indignation. "Hey, I'm the invalid here. Watch the hair, man." Unable to keep a straight face, Blair grinned, the happiness lighting his eyes.

Jim laughed. Yeah, he thought as he headed into the kitchen to warm up Blair's food, given time, Blair was going to be okay... they both were.

THE END