Visions of a hot shower and warm bed danced in his head, but those dreams were shattered when he met Jim Ellison barreling down the stairs on his way out of the building.
"Chief! I just tried to reach you. Is your cell phone off?" Blair leaned against the wall in the stairwell and opened his mouth, intending to tell his Blessed Protector what a rotten day he'd had and how crappy he was feeling, but Ellison continued talking, too impatient to wait for Blair's answer. "I need you on a stake out, kid. Can I count on you?"
A weary sigh lifted his shoulders, but did nothing for his spirit. Blair forced a grin that was a dim reflection of his usual radiant smile, and nodded his head. "Sure, Jim."
Nodding his head curtly in satisfaction, Jim continued down the stairs, knowing his Guide and trusty sidekick would follow.
The two men made their way to Jim's truck and pulled away, heading for the waterfront. In his clipped, military tone, Jim explained the situation to his partner: they had a lead on a drug dealer that Major Crimes had been searching for weeks. The criminal, Terry Yates, seemed to be able to stay just ahead of them, outguessing the detectives at every turn. Finally, tonight they had a hot tip and Jim was determined to succeed in capturing the wanted felon. He was so focused on the case, he neglected to tune in to the man next to him in the truck, so he was oblivious to Blair's discomfort and hovering illness. Jim Ellison was in full cop mode; everything else was secondary.
Three hours later, around two in the morning, the stakeout and a high-speed chase culminated in the criminal's capture. But it also found Yates, Jim, and Blair treading water in the bone-chilling ocean off the waterfront. Terry had tried an unorthodox method of escape, and naturally, Ellison had followed him into the water. Ever loyal to his Sentinel, Blair was close behind. The men were pulled out, drenched and tired by the unfortunate ordeal. Terry was handcuffed and whisked away in a patrol car. Jim and Blair stood dripping side by side, listening to Simon grant permission to wait until morning to come into the station and fill out their reports. Thankfully, the two waterlogged men escaped the biting wind to the shelter of Jim's truck. Once in the warmth of the cab, Jim finally took the time to notice his friend's shivering body and pallid face.
"You all right there, Chief?"
Trying to deflect the older man's attention with a grin, Blair nodded past the shivering and drew his arms tighter around his torso.
"We'll be home soon. Then you can have the first shower." Jim wondered at his unusual display of generosity, but put it down to the way his friend affected him. Blair always brought out the protective instinct in the Sentinel, and if that meant giving up something as simple as the first shower, so be it. He knew Blair had put in a full day at the university. He had seen weariness pulling at the young man's frame as he trudged up the stairs, but his partner had been willing to push aside his fatigue at Jim's request for help.
Arriving at the loft, Jim turned off the truck, then reached over to grab some of Blair's stuff. The teaching fellow had not had time to place his things in their apartment before leaving, and had dragged everything to the truck to accompany Jim. The two book- and backpack-laden men entered the building and finally stepped into the loft.
Blair had known he was in trouble an hour ago, the minute he hit the water. The liquid cold had slapped him in the face and stolen his breath at first touch, but he hadn't even stopped to question the wisdom of following Jim off the pier. After all, he was the detective's backup, so backup he would!
Now that the adrenaline rush had worn off, and reality was settling in, he felt the hot touch of fever cross his brow. Mumbling a "later, man" somewhere in the vicinity of his roommate, he made a beeline for his room, stopping just long enough to dump his books before turning and heading for the bathroom. Closing the door, he turned the hot water on as high as it would go, reveling in the decadent display of steam that rose from the tub. Adjusting the temperature, Blair quickly stripped and climbed over the tub's edge to step into the warm spray. Liquid pleasure poured over his head and streamed down his back, wiping cold's chilly shroud from his skin. Pausing for a moment before starting the routine of washing body and hair, Blair enjoyed the blessed feel of spreading warmth. Finally, mindful of the older man waiting his own turn to thaw, Blair hurriedly soaped up and rinsed off.
Practically asleep on his feet, he exited the bathroom and collapsed bonelessly on his bed, too tired to pull up the blanket that lay bunched at its foot.
A few minutes later, Jim looked in on his friend and smiled. Walking over to the bed he pulled the blanket out from under the kid's legs, then draped it over the sleeping figure. Affection moved him to reach out and smooth a curl from Blair's face. He frowned when the heat of Blair's fever finally registered on his senses. Placing his cool palm on Blair's brow, Jim judged the fever to be about 101. Concerned but not alarmed, he narrowed his hearing to focus on the younger man's breathing. Finding it sluggish but not impaired, Jim decided to hurry and take his own shower before attending more to his sick friend. He quickly went into the bathroom and let his body fall into the routine of bathing, while his mind stayed on Blair.
Afterwards, revived and thawed by the warmth of the bathroom, Jim returned to Blair's side. His roommate had curled up on his side, turning his face toward the door in his sleep. One fist was tucked snugly under his chin, while the other arm lay pillowed under his head. Jim checked his friend's forehead and cursed quietly under his breath when he realized the fever had risen. Blair's cheeks were flushed pink, and his breathing sounded labored and raspy.
With a flash of insight, Jim realized Blair's illness could not be attributed totally to tonight's impromptu swim. His partner had been sick when he'd arrived home tonight, but Jim had been too engrossed in the case to notice.
"Aw kid, why didn't you say something?" Jim whispered, then cringed when his inner voice answered: 'He probably didn't want to disappoint his Blessed Protector. And you're the Sentinel,' the little voice charged on. 'Why didn't you notice something?'
Blair groaned softly in his sleep, almost as if he were trying to argue with Jim's self-berating thoughts, and the older man reached out to soothe his Guide. He sat on the floor next to the bed, and placed a hand on Blair's forehead, to monitor his friend's condition. When it became clear that the fever was still rising, Jim left the young man's side for a moment to gather a pan filled with cool water and a washcloth. Another idea crossed his mind, and he returned to the bathroom to retrieve a couple of Tylenol and a cup of water. Back at Blair's side, he roused the young man enough to take the pills and swallow a mouthful of water. Blair slumped back onto his pillow and Jim thought he had fallen back to sleep until two fever-bright eyes opened to look at him.
"It's all right, Blair. Go back to sleep."
As if those were the very words he was waiting for, Blair closed his eyes and was instantly asleep. Awed by the trust displayed in his friend's simple obedience, Jim sat quietly for a moment, just studying his Guide's face.
What had he done to deserve such trust? Blair's confidence in Jim went beyond simple friendship. Although their friendship had begun because of a mutual need, the link between them had been tempered and forged through trials of fire, strengthened by each new experience. Unaware, at first, of the bond that joined them, they had accepted each other's differences and worked around them. Now, imagining how life would be, one without the other, was unthinkable. Jim felt sometimes that Blair gave back twice what he was given. Even though the young man was kept busy with teaching at the university and constantly gathering data for his research, he always found time when Jim needed him, like tonight. Jim wondered sometimes how Blair managed to appear so energized after putting in a full day at the university, then staying up most of the night with Jim on a stakeout. It was more than dedication, and more complicated than just a simple friendship. He had given himself totally to the Sentinel, body and soul.
Blair's head turned on his pillow, and the deep breath he took ended in a cough. The raw, scratchy sound shook Jim from his speculation, and he turned his attention back to his friend.
He drew the bed covers down to the young man's waist, and gently pulled Blair's T-shirt off. Blair was only semiconscious, and seemed to be unaware of Jim's ministrations. He lay quietly while Jim squeezed the water out of the rag and placed the cool cloth on his face. Jim wiped the rag down his friend's throat and chest, leaving a soothing trail in its wake. He continued wiping the cloth across Blair's skin until the younger man settled into a deeper sleep, then he pulled the covers back up to Blair's chin and sat back to watch the younger man. The stillness calmed Jim, and he unwittingly fell asleep, arms crossed, leaning against the bed.
Water surrounded him, swirling dark and cold. Blair looked around in confusion, trying to remember why he was there. A shape wavered near him, and Blair turned toward it, fear causing his heart to jump. The form rippled, caught in the current of the undertow, then drew a little closer, and he recognized Jim. Unable to call out to his friend, Blair worked his arms, trying to move closer. With a flash of terror, he realized the older man was caught in the strong flow of the water surrounding them, and was being pulled away. He opened his mouth to scream, but the choking ocean rushed in. Acting on instinct, his body pushed up, fighting for air. The instant his head broke the surface, he tried to scream for help. Horror filled him when he realized he was in the middle of the ocean, no land or help in sight. No! He couldn't lose Jim! He dove back beneath the surface determined to save his friend, or die trying. Where was everyone? Why wouldn't someone help him?
Ragged breathing and a racing heartbeat woke Jim up. Caught in a nightmare brought on by the fever, Blair lay tensed on the bed, his fingers curled tightly in the covers. Jim leaned over the distraught man and placed his hands on Blair's shoulder.
"Blair, Blair, wake up, buddy." Jim kept his voice quiet but firm, not wanting to startle the younger man.
"No!" Blair's voice was hoarse and curiously deep. His body arched with his effort to break free of the dream. "Help him! Somebody please help him . . . Jim!" The name was screamed, and Jim pulled Blair up, shaking his fever-ravaged partner.
Blair's eyes opened wide, and the harsh panting caught in his throat before starting up again, slower.
"Jim?" Tentatively, as if unable to trust his eyes, Blair reached up and placed a shaky hand to the Sentinel's face. "Oh god, Jim. I thought I lost you." Blair's voice broke and his blue eyes turned limpid with tears.
Jim pulled his friend in and wrapped strong arms around him. Quiet sobs shook the slight frame, and Jim began to rock gently back and forth. "Sshh, it's just a dream. I'm not going anywhere." He continued whispering reassurances to his friend, and the tears eventually stopped. Jim felt the body in his arms melt, and knew Blair had fallen back to sleep, but he cradled the slumbering figure a little longer, glad to offer shelter to his Guide.
Finally, reluctantly, he bent down to lay Blair carefully back onto the bed. After covering Blair snugly with warm blankets, he settled back on the floor, consumed with the responsibility of watching over his Guide.
Late the next morning, Jim got up and went into the kitchen. He called Simon at the station and explained the situation, offering to come in later that afternoon, after Blair woke, and if Jim felt more confident about leaving the younger man alone. Simon granted his permission, knowing it was purely for show, knowing the sentinel would not be moved from his Guide's side as long as there was a need.
As he hung up the phone, Jim heard Blair beginning to stir, shifting restlessly on the bed. He returned to the small bedroom and resumed his position on the floor, waiting patiently as Blair worked his way through the stages toward wakefulness. Finally, Blair opened his eyes. Jim was pleased to note they no longer held the feverish glaze of illness. His friend's head lolled over weakly to look at him.
"How're you feeling, Chief?" Jim asked quietly.
Blair looked at him, eyes wide, touched with confusion. "Tired." His voice had grown even rougher. A laugh tickled Blair's throat, and he opened his mouth to let it scratch its way out. "Sounds funny, coming from someone who just woke up, huh?"
Jim shook his head, a corner of his mouth turning up in a half grin. "No, not when that person's been through the kind of work out you've just been through."
Blair's confused look melted into curiosity. "What happened, Jim? I remember something about a stake out, and being down on the waterfront, but things get kind of fuzzy after that." One hand escaped from under the covers to slide through tangled curls.
Jim patted Blair's bare shoulder. "It'll come back to you, Sandburg. You were sick with a high fever most of the night, but you seem to be all right now. Why don't you try to get some more rest, buddy. I'll fill you in when you're more alert."
Blair nodded, his faith in his Sentinel overcoming his confusion with his mental fog. Infinitely weary, he succumbed to the call of sleep. Heavy lids shuttered over tired eyes.
Jim listened as Blair's breathing evened out, and he put a hand on the side of the bed to push himself up. Slender fingers wrapped themselves around his wrist, and Jim looked down in surprise to see Blair's eyes open, watching him. Blue eyes so different from his own stared out at him, showing nothing but gratitude.
"I'm not sure what all happened last night, Jim" Blair whispered. Delicate eyebrows drew together for a brief second, then smoothed out as their owner came to a conclusion. "I just wanted to say thanks, man . . . for everything." Satisfied that a need had been met, Blair's eyes closed and his grip around Jim's wrist loosened. The young man drifted into a peaceful sleep.
Jim smiled down affectionately at the younger man. Rising to his feet, he gathered the bowl and washcloth and turned to leave. At the door, Jim turned back to gaze at his Guide.
"I've only given back half of what you've given me, Blair," he whispered, then he quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.