Main fanfic page

Going Home

by the lady of shalott

"No! He's alive!" Jim wrenched himself free of Simon's restraining arms and flung himself down beside Blair, gathering up the cold, cold body into his arms. "He's alive," he repeated, putting the limp form back down and starting CPR again. "Come on, buddy, breathe for me," he said softly, leaning over once again. His world narrowed down to a single point, the heart beneath his hands, the lips beneath his mouth, the lungs that desperately needed air.

It couldn't end this way, not with those angry words still hanging between them. Tears blinded his eyes, left salt trails across his skin as they dripped off his face, splashing down onto the wet fabric beneath his hands. The hands on his shoulders, the urgent words being spoken to him—all those sensations faded away, tossed aside as unimportant. Only this mattered, the steady rhythm of life passing from his body to Blair's.

A strange sort of calm gradually came over him as he kept working. "It's time to come back, Chief," he said firmly. "I know it's tough, I know it hurts, but it's time to come back." He pumped down once more, twice, again. The heart moved under the pressure of his hands, blood rushing in and out as he worked.

He could almost see the vital fluid racing through the chambers, the essence of Blair's life. The rushing sound drew him in, his senses recklessly following the lure, the promise of life, beyond the limits he'd set for himself.

It was hard to comprehend what he was hearing, a confusion of sound suddenly enveloping his senses. Darkness fell over his sight, and he floundered without direction in a suddenly expanded world. The only constant was the tidal sound, like waves lapping at some distant shore.

He strained again, trying to make sense of what he was hearing as the red tides carried him along, racing past the starving hollows of the waterlogged lungs.

Then he understood, resolving the cloud of noise into the sound of sloshing liquid. Desperate, he pulled Blair up into his arms, squeezing down until the limp body convulsed, water spilling from the blue-tinged lips. On the third clench, Blair's body shook even when his grip had relaxed, a feeble cough jolting through the abused lungs.

"Yes! Oh god, please, yes," Jim sobbed with relief, curling himself protectively around the body in his arms, pressing his lips over Blair's again to feed more air into the starving lungs. The faint throb of Blair's heart sounded like thunder in his ears, each pulse gaining in strength.

Hands pulled at him then, trying to take the body from his arms. He struggled unreasoningly, refusing to surrender Blair. "Jim! Jim, come on, they have to give him oxygen. Dammit Jim, let us help him!" Even that commanding voice couldn't break through his self-imposed isolation until his head was suddenly pulled back and a hard slap administered.

His cheek stinging, Jim jolted slightly, staring at Simon with panic-wide eyes. "Let. Him. Go," Simon ordered forcefully, carefully prying at Jim's clenched fingers. "Let the paramedics help him. Come on, Jim, you did it. You brought him back. Now let's keep him here."

The last words loosened his grip at last. Gentle hands stroked his shoulders comfortingly as the paramedics carefully lifted Blair from his arms and onto a stretcher, oxygen mask already being settled over his face. Jim kept his eyes locked onto the chest, measuring the rise and fall of Blair's breathing in millimeters.

Henri and Simon had to help Jim to his feet, then to hold him upright. His legs wobbly, spots floating in front of his eyes as he struggled to catch his breath, Jim still managed to stagger forward when the paramedics began loading the stretcher into the ambulance.

One look at the set of his jaw, and one of the paramedics hastily vacated his spot in the back of the ambulance. Without a word, Jim climbed in and settled next to the stretcher, wrapping both of his hands around the cold limp one hanging off the edge.

He vaguely tracked Simon's voice giving the driver instructions, then Megan and Henri volunteering to follow the trail of Alex Barnes. Some small fragment of his mind resented that, labelling the other Sentinel as his lawful prey, but there was no room for that distraction with the fragile life still here to be protected. He looked down at the hand in his grasp—the strong, slender fingers that could trace mysteries in the air, soothe raging pain from his forehead—now half-curled up, cold and stiff.

He didn't notice that he was shaking until the tremors passing through his body started to rattle the equipment around him. An effort of will quieted his body, but the horror remained, twisting around and around in circles of what-ifs and might-have-beens. If he had come sooner... if he had come later... if he'd never pushed Blair away... if he'd pushed him away from the beginning. The litany of possibilities seemed nothing more than a list of mistakes piled upon mistakes, all of them his.

The rumble of the engines came, then they were moving, the paramedic next to him reaching out a hand to steady the stretcher. Jim took hold of the other end to do the same, still keeping one hand wrapped around Blair's as they moved on. The sirens drove most obstacles from their path, but impatience stirred in Jim at every brief pause as the morning traffic shifted to get out of their path. Finally they were stopping, the doors swinging wide to let the EMTs lift the stretcher out. Jim reluctantly let go of Blair's hand and hurriedly climbed down to follow the gurney with its limp burden.

Simon's hand on his elbow startled him, but he barely spared his captain a glance before pulling away and heading after Blair, only to be stopped by a doctor as they came to the hallway. He would have simply bowled the man over in his single-minded drive to stay with his partner if Simon hadn't bodily held him back to look at the man.

"I'm sorry, gentlemen, I need to ask you to wait here," the doctor said, his voice a little uncertain as Jim turned a furious glare on him. "Mr. Sandburg's condition is going to be very delicate, and we need to protect him from any possible infections."

"I'm staying with him," Jim said flatly, tugging ineffectually to pull free from Simon's grip.

"Jim, they need to take care of him," Simon coaxed gently, keeping his hands tight on the detective's arms. "Come on, let's go get a cup of coffee, then they'll have some news for us on how he's doing."

For all the good the words did, Simon might as well have saved his breath, as Jim simply strained to see where the gurney with Blair's body was being rolled, his whole body starting to tense as he tried to follow. Simon looked at the doctor a little helplessly. "Doctor, they're partners," he explained quietly. "Is there any way you can let him sit in? He'll stay quiet."

The doctor looked askance at Jim as if questioning Simon's promise. "There's a high risk of infection..." he protested weakly.

"So give him some scrubs, and he'll wash up," Simon said sharply. "He was giving Sandburg CPR ten minutes ago—any germs the kid was going to pick up from him, he's already got."

The doctor seemed likely to hesitate longer, when a nurse joined them, her dark eyes sympathetic as they met Simon's. "Doctor, they need you in the OR." She turned to Simon and Jim, putting a hand on Jim's arm. "You can see him as soon as you wash up here," she said gently, aiming Jim at a washroom. Simon nodded his thanks and all but hauled Jim inside while the nurse guided the distracted physician away.

She was waiting for them as they came out, attired in the traditional aquamarine hospital gowns. "Thanks, Amy," Simon said quietly. "I owe you *another* one."

Amy smiled back at the captain. "My pleasure," she said. "I hope Blair's going to be all right."

"He's going to be fine," Jim said absently, responding only to that remark. "Where is he?" He turned his head from side to side, almost like a scenting hound.

Giving a sideways glance to Jim, Amy directed them down to one of the operating rooms. Simon led Jim into the room, where a team was working over Blair. The detective made an abortive attempt to go to Blair's side, but submitted to Simon's restraint and settled on a stool to watch the proceedings with hard eyes.

Several hours later, the doctors were evidently satisfied with Blair's condition and gave instructions for him to be shifted to a private room. Making their way up to the sixth floor, Jim haunted the orderlies, never letting the gurney carrying Blair get out of arm's reach until they reached the room and the young man was carefully transferred to the bed, tubes and monitors reattached and adjusted. Then the bustle of nurses and doctors swept out of the room, finally leaving them alone with the quiet hissing of oxygen and the fluttering beeps of the heart monitor. Jim slowly pulled a chair up to Blair's bedside and settled down to wait, his eyes fixed on the ash-pale face.

Simon rested a hand on Jim's shoulder. "Hang in there," he said softly. "He's going to make it."

Jim shrugged a little under the touch, knowing that Simon meant to give him comfort, but unable to take comfort from anything until the young man lying in front of them awoke.

A soft tapping at the door called Simon's attention away. Seeing Megan's anxious face through the glass, he gave Jim's shoulder one last pat and slipped out of the room to join her.


"He's going to make it," Simon interrupted, answering the unfinished question.

"Thank goodness. I'm afraid that's about it for the good news, though," Megan said tiredly, running a hand through her disheveled hair.

"No trace of her?" Simon sighed at Megan's nod. "Great. So we've got a psychotic Sen... uh, murderer out there with two canisters of nerve gas."

"Maybe Sandy can help us figure out where she might have gone to ground," Megan suggested. "He spent some time with her, didn't he? I can't think why she'd have wanted to kill him other than that he'd be able to lead us to her somehow."

Simon shook his head. "Sandburg's not going to be in any shape to help us for a while," he said somberly. "We can't wait for him to wake up to start tracking down this woman."

Megan nodded. "Brown went back to the station to start looking into her previous records. Maybe we can track down some of her former associates."

"All right. Get on it, and keep me informed." Simon looked back at the closed door into Blair's room. "This is going to be your case, Conner. I don't think Jim's going to be in shape to help out any sooner than Sandburg."

"We'll find her, Simon," Megan said firmly.

The two of them stood there for a moment, peering into the small room through the glass. One man lay still on the bed, the other sat just as unmoving beside him, their mutual silence enclosing them away from the rest of the world.

* * *

The sound was what finally got to him, the incessant beep-beep-beeping monotone ringing in his ears like a mindlessly chirping bird. He cracked open his eyes, muzzily confused by the amount of effort that required. The distinctly unpleasant taste of his own mouth hit him after that, and he grimaced, trying to work up enough spit to swallow with.

A warm hand suddenly reached out and touched his arm. He stared down at it curiously, studying the knuckles, the dark hair sprinkled across the back. Then he craned his head up a little and saw Jim watching him with shadowed eyes.

"Oh man. I'm in the hospital," Blair croaked weakly, letting his head flop back onto the pillows with a resigned sigh.

Jim tugged his chair just a little closer, reaching out for Blair's hand instinctively. Looking away, Blair didn't try to pull his hand free, but let it just lie limply in Jim's grasp. The detective stared down at the unresponsive hand, then finally cleared his throat. Rustily, he managed to ask, "Do you remember what happened?"

Blair didn't look at him. "Alex came after me... Did she shoot me?"

"No... she dumped you in a fountain outside the anthro building," Jim said, feeling a shiver of rage go through him. "You nearly drowned."

Blair puzzled at that. Alex had held a gun on him... how had he ended up in the fountain? Then memory started to crawl back inside his head. He'd leaned his chair back and flipped on the stereo—the sudden burst of sound had distracted her long enough for him to run past her, out of the building. He'd been running towards the fountain—that was all he could remember. He reached one hand back and found a lump at the base of his skull. "She must have hit me from behind with something," he muttered. "Then left me floating in the fountain, figuring that would finish me off quickly enough." He dropped his hand and closed his eyes.

"We got there just in time," Jim said a little desperately, knowing something was wrong, not sure what to do. "You weren't breathing, but we managed to get your lungs pumped out."

"Yeah," came the flat answer. "I guess you saved my life again. Thanks."

"'Thanks'?" Jim stared at his partner, Blair's lashes dark on his still-pale cheeks. A queasy sensation rocked through him. "Jesus, you don't need to thank me, Chief. If you hadn't made it..."

Blair did pull his hand loose then. "If I hadn't made it, you'd be wallowing in more guilt than you are now."

Fighting the urge to grab Blair's hand back, Jim just sat there, his lips parted on words that couldn't seem to find their way out of his mouth. "I'm not... I didn't..."

"Have the doctors said when I can check out?" Blair interrupted.

"No... they... I'll get one of them..." Grateful for the reprieve, for something to *do*, Jim reached for the call button. The nurse who peeked in immediately summoned Blair's doctor.

Jim stood silently in the corner while the doctor examined Blair and listened to his lungs, then pronounced him well on the road to recovery, although he would have to remain in the hospital for several days more. When the man had left, Blair sighed and tried to reach the telephone. Jim hastily got it and handed it to Blair.

"Hi—can I speak to the manager? ... Hi, this is Blair Sandburg, I'm in room 5D... yes, well, that's why I'm calling... I got assaulted, and I'm in the hospital... yeah, I'm going to be okay, but I have to stay here for a few days... anyway, all my stuff is still in the room... oh, thanks, that's great. I really appreciate it." After a few more pleasantries, he hung up the phone and lifted it back onto the bedstand.

Sitting back down in the chair by the bed, Jim tentatively suggested, "I could get your stuff... put it back in the loft?"

"You mean until the next time you feel like kicking me out?" The bitterness in Blair's voice was so strange for him that it took Jim a moment to recognize it for what it was.

"Chief... I..."

"Look, man, I'm feeling kind of wasted right now. I'd kind of like to get some sleep."

"Um, sure... you need to rest..." His voice trailing off, Jim stared blankly down at his hands.

"Alone," Blair added.

Looking at his partner's set face, the normally brilliant eyes shut tight, Jim suddenly found it hard to breathe. He sat, trembling, for long moments before he finally pushed himself out of the chair and stumbled to the door. His hand clenched on the doorknob, he waited for a last-minute reprieve, just a single word to call him back, to tell him he could stay. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw only the pale, implacable face, closed to him. Blair's name trembled on his lips, ghosted free on a faint breath... but there was no change.

Blindly, he pushed open the door and walked out, feeling as if he'd just hacked off a limb and left it behind. The soft click as the door closed behind him was the final crash of the gavel to his ears, the start of an exile from the only true home he'd ever known. His legs gave out, dumping him into a rickety chair by the doorway, and he buried his face in his hands.

* * *

Simon found him there a hour or so later, still crumpled, and nearly skidded running down the hall to get to his side. "What happened? Is he..."

"He's fine," Jim whispered brokenly, not looking up. "He's fine."

Simon stared down at him. "So what are you doing out here?" he asked suspiciously.

"He asked me to leave." The flat, desolate tone said everything the words left out.

Wishing for a cigar, Simon rubbed a hand over his face. "He asleep?" he asked wearily, wondering how much more damage his friends could possibly do to each other.

Jim raised his head momentarily to listen, then shook his head slightly. "He's awake." He returned to his contemplation of the floor.

Simon patted him on the shoulder and stepped into the hospital room. Blair looked up from a ragged magazine and brightened slightly at the sight of the captain. "How are you feeling, Sandburg?" Simon sat down in the chair that Jim had left vacant.

Shrugging, Blair rasped out, "About as well as I can expect. The food here sucks, though." His attempt at a cheerful smile looked ghastly in the pallor of his face.

"Yeah, well, hopefully we'll have you out of here pretty soon." Simon hesitated before continuing.

"It's ok, Simon," Blair said quietly. "I'm up to answering questions. I assume you haven't caught Alex yet?"

"You assume right," Simon agreed, anger shading his voice. "But we're still working on it. Did she say anything to you, give you any hints where she might head to?"

Blair closed his eyes and lay back against the pillows with a sigh. "No... but that doesn't mean I can't help." He opened his eyes and sat back up. "I think her decisions are being driven by her Sentinel instincts. I've just got to analyze all the things she's done so far and try to figure out what her next natural move would be."

"You concentrate on getting well first," Simon warned him. "Speaking of which, I want you in a safehouse as soon as you get out of here. I don't want her getting another crack at you."

"You and me both," Blair said fervently.

"Good. I'll have Jim and Conner there—"

"Simon..." Blair interrupted. "Maybe you could make that Joel along with Conner?"

A few choice curse words came to Simon's mind. "All right, Sandburg. What the hell did Jim do this time?"

Blair was silent for a long time, and his voice when he finally responded was quiet and sad. "I just can't deal with him right now, Simon. Can we leave it at that?"

"No, we can't," Simon said grimly. "He's been tearing himself apart since the minute we found you, and right now he doesn't look any better than he did when you didn't have a pulse. And you don't give a damn about that?"

Blair raised his head, sudden anger flaring in his eyes. "Maybe I give as much of a damn as he did while he was tearing *me* apart over the last week," he bit out.

"Now, come on, Sandburg. I think you had something to do with why Jim was pissed off this time around," Simon pointed out.

"I'm not saying I didn't do anything wrong, Simon. I made a mistake, and it turned out to be a really big one—but it was an honest mistake. I wasn't out to hurt Jim or Alex or anyone else, I was just trying to do good research." Blair gestured almost wildly as he spoke, narrowly avoiding getting his arm tangled in the oxygen tubes around his neck. "And Jim didn't just yell this time, okay? He pretty much told me to get out of his life."

Simon sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "Blair, you've got to know that Jim didn't really mean that."

"Didn't he?" Blair said quietly, subsiding. "Yeah, so now he's feeling guilty because I got hurt by Alex, so he's sorry." He looked up, his eyes angry and sad all at once. "Guilt's a hell of a bad foundation for any kind of relationship."

"And you really think that's the only reason Jim regrets that argument?" Simon asked incredulously.

"No, I don't, Simon. What I'm saying is that Jim's going to be sorry and do his best to patch things up and be friends, for as long as he feels guilty. And then what happens the next time I screw up?" Blair slumped back against the pillows, two hectic spots of red high on his cheeks. "I—I can't deal with this—it crossed the line for me, Simon." He was panting now, the breath wheezing audibly from his lungs. "And waking up to find Jim all penitent because I almost died was really *not* the way I felt like having it resolved, okay?" A monitor by the bed started beeping quietly.

Moments later, a nurse hurried in and started checking the readings. "Blair, you're getting way too agitated," she gently warned. "Come on, lie back—you need to get some more sleep. I'm sorry, you'll need to leave," she told Simon.

Reluctantly, Simon rose, reaching down to pat Blair's faintly trembling hand. "Hang in there, Sandburg," he said quietly. "Just get better. Things... things will work out." He glanced back at the door briefly before slipping out.

Jim was no longer in the chair outside, but instinct led Simon to the nearby men's room. The choked gasps coming from the far stall were audible the moment he opened the door, permeating the room along with the faint sour tang of vomit in the air. Simon tapped on the locked stall door and spoke with as much gentleness in his tone as he could manage. "Jim? Come on, let me take you home. You need to get some rest."

A few harsh breaths, then a curt response, "I'm fine, Simon. Just leave me alone."

"Not a chance." Simon waited. When Jim didn't show any evidence of intending to emerge, he added, "Jim, the kid was nearly killed this morning. He's doped to the gills, he's shaky, and he's hurt. Give him a few days, he'll be feeling more like himself, and he'll come around."

"Come around? Why would he come around? He's right. What the hell has he gotten out of our partnership besides me riding his back all the time?" A faint noise came from the stall that might have been a sob or simply a deep breath. "I threw him out of the loft. I fucking threw him out of the loft. How could I do that to him? Oh God, if you'd seen his face... he looked... and then... those things I said to him... 'A partner I can trust'—Jesus. He's the one who needs a partner he can trust."

Simon rubbed a hand over his face in mingled distress and disgust. "All right, Jim, get out of the damn stall. Someone else is going to come in here any minute, and I feel like I'm talking to Daryl."

Jim staggered out a moment later, giving Simon a look of mute reproach, and headed over to the sinks. He held onto the porcelain and avoided looking into the mirror as he rinsed out his mouth several times. Simon watched him silently, then took his arm and insistently led him out of the washroom.

The captain didn't try to break through Jim's despondant silence again until they were sitting in his car, on the way to the station. Halfway there, Simon pulled over to the side and turned in his seat to look at his best detective, whose stony face currently rivalled the pavement for expressiveness. "All right, Ellison, I want you to listen to me, and I want you to listen good." The faint jump of a muscle along the jawline was the only indication that Jim had heard. "You've been out of control the last few days, and all the things you did to Sandburg came right out of that, along with the idiotic way you acted in the bullpen the other day and your even more idiotic stunt going after Barnes last night."

"And that's supposed to make it OK?" Jim shot Simon a cold look before returning to his contemplation of the windshield.

"It doesn't make it OK—it *explains* it. I've got no idea just why you were acting like this, but I wouldn't be surprised if Sandburg had all the answers—he usually does when it comes to you acting weird," Simon noted dryly. "Only problem is, Sandburg's a human being, and right now he's in no shape to be analyzing your behavior. He's just *feeling* right now, Jim—not thinking. And what he wants is for you to have gone down on your knees to him and begged him to forgive you, before anything happened to get you set off on this little guilt trip of yours."

"In case you hadn't noticed," Jim bit out, "being a Sentinel doesn't include the ability to go back in time."

"Jim, Sandburg knows that as well as I do—when he's thinking. Give him a few days to cool off, and he'll realize that you just hadn't had enough time to come down from the ceiling before our friend Ms. Barnes made her move." Simon eyed Jim. "Now, you've got two choices. One, you can keep mooning around the kid, convincing him that you really are just feeling guilty. Two, you can come into the station and start working on finding Barnes while Sandburg 'lets it go'. So, which direction should I drive?"

Jim looked at Simon then, his blood firing automatically at the prospect of tracking down the enemy who'd struck at Blair. "The station," he said tightly, feeling eager and alive for the first moment since he'd seen Blair's limp form afloat in the university fountain. "I'm going to find that bitch if it's the last thing I do."

* * *

Blair stared at the ceiling of his room. God, he missed Jim. He closed his eyes, wondering bleakly if he'd be able to go through with this. The agony of Jim's reaction hadn't escaped him, and he hated himself for causing Jim that kind of pain... or did he? Blair winced as a nasty little voice pointed out that maybe it was a little nice to get a little bit of his own back, and was he *really* hating it all that much?

He buried his face in the pillow and let a tiny whimper escape. Yes, Blair, you are being a grade-A asshole, he told himself. Jim's probably been going nuts waiting for you to wake up, then you do and the first thing you do is slap him in the face. Way to go.

But he hadn't lied to Simon. Except by omission, he corrected himself miserably. He really couldn't deal with Jim right now, that much was true. But he hadn't exactly spilled all the reasons why. He turned on his side and curled up, wrapping an arm around his stomach. He hurt everywhere, a low persistent ache that made him feel shaky inside, and it was just too much *effort* to try to keep back the tears that were welling in his eyes, no matter how stupid it made him feel to be lying here crying like a child.

It was just too much. He'd been handling things okay for a while now, but somehow the physical pain had turned into the last straw on the heavy load of pain he'd been carrying, and the whole thing had just slid off his shoulders. The last year had just been bad in general, except for Jim. Losing Janet, losing Roy... and three colleagues from the University to top it off. It was like losing pieces of himself, and he'd felt so off-balance by all the death surrounding him. Meditation had helped, and so had working with Jim on the cases—it felt as though he was doing something, making some good come of the pain. But it hadn't made the pain go away.

Only Jim had done that. Even though he knew the older man didn't love him, not the way he still occasionally dreamed about, the warmth and deep friendship that Jim gave him were still like manna in the desert of his yearning hunger for the man. Jim had been stability, family, *home*, when the rest of his life had felt unpleasantly like shifting sand beneath his feet.

And then out of nowhere, Jim had just taken off on him, on that "vacation". He'd let it slide after Jim's reassurances, but underneath he'd felt something slip just a little more out-of-kilter. It had been an unpleasant sort of preparation for the whole fucked-up fight over his dissertation. But nothing could have prepared him for the shock of being thrown out of the loft. He'd spent that night alternating panic attacks and nightmares, and only the application of a cold shower and lots of hot coffee had let him make it through the first day with a semblance of normality. He'd been mostly numb through the fight at the station, for which he supposed he should be grateful. Only afterwards, when he'd been sitting in his office, doing absolutely nothing, had the full impact of Jim's words hit him.

Alex had just been the perfect conclusion to the sequence of events. Blair choked down a hysterical laugh as he thought to himself that he'd ruined a nice little tragedy by living. It would have made a really pathetic story—poor starving student is thrown out onto the streets, cast out by his best friend, whom the audience knows he secretly loves, and is murdered by the forces of evil in the midst of his depression... he did laugh out loud then, muffling the shrill noise in the pillows. Not much of a story after all. Too ridiculous.

It was just too much. He'd scared himself in those moments with Alex. He'd faced death with something closer to resignation than regret, and he'd been afraid of the pain more than anything. It had been a revelatory moment, hovering close to fatalistic acceptance, and he'd suddenly known that he had to make a choice to live. Or to die. When he'd reached out and flipped on the stereo, it had been a decision.

He *was* going to live. He was going to live, and he was going to get this pain, this burden, off his back. Even if it meant refusing Jim's offered reconciliation. He knew there were ways to do that gently, not the harsh way he'd pushed Jim aside earlier, and he hoped that when he felt better he'd be able to do that. But for right now... he just knew that he couldn't let Jim back in. Couldn't let himself slip back into that once-comfortable place at Jim's side. Because he knew with cold, frightening certainty that the next time, he wouldn't survive being thrown out of it.

But God, he missed Jim so much. Blair turned his face into the pillow and silently wept himself to sleep.

* * *

Jim hesitated on the doorstep, his hands clenched to prevent them from trembling. Three weeks had gone by with no luck in tracking down the rogue Sentinel. Then the word had come last night from Megan that Blair had some kind of idea about how to find the woman, and now here he was, on the stoop of the safehouse where his ex-partner was staying, and he was scared to death. He'd managed somehow over the last few weeks, constantly repeating Simon's reassurances to himself, half-convincing himself that Blair would be ready to accept him again soon. But now, about to face Blair again, all those reassurances were fading fast, and he didn't know what he'd do if Blair pushed him away again.

He closed his eyes briefly, then forced himself into motion, up the stairs and to the front door. Megan opened it at his knock, and he mustered up a nod of greeting for her. She nodded back. "He's in the dining room," she said without preamble.

He walked through the small kitchen and found Blair sitting at a large dining room table, surrounded by papers. Blair looked up at him, unsmiling, but said quietly, "Hey man. Grab a seat and I'll show you what I've got."

Feeling his way cautiously among the potential landmines of the conversation, Jim perched on the chair next to Blair's and looked over the books lying in front of him. He tentatively reached out to one glossy photograph, fingertips stroking the image of a moss-encrusted ruin. "What is this?" he asked softly, bewildered by the sense of familiarity he got from the scene.

"The temple of the Sentinels," Blair answered, watching him. "It's a recent archaeological discovery, in the jungle of Mexico." He added, "I think Alex is going there."

Jim couldn't pull his eyes away from the picture. "Why?" he asked.

"She was having dreams about it—even visions, like yours of the jungle. Most of her paintings have the same imagery as the carvings on the temple." Blair shook his head. "I should have thought of it before."

"But how does she know about this place?" Jim asked, puzzled.

"I told her about it," Blair said quietly, his voice even, although his hand tightened on the arm of the chair involuntarily. "When I recognized the carvings from some of her artwork."

Jim felt unreasoning rage constrict his throat at the words, at the idea that Blair had once again *helped* her, helped that... He shuddered and pushed down the anger, swallowing hard. "And you really think she'll go there? Directly there? I mean, why wouldn't she just take a vacation there sometime when she's free?" His voice was unintentionally sharp as he spoke, and he bit the inside of his cheek hard to tone it down.

Blair took a deep breath and released it slowly, grateful that Jim hadn't reacted even more violently. "I told you, she's having visions of it. I think she's going to be compelled to go there, and not to take her time about it. And even if she's sold the nerve gas by then, once we've got her, we can find out where she sold the stuff."

Jim nodded. "It's as good a lead as any we have left," he said. "I'll need more details on the location—I'm going to go down there."

Blair hesitated and finally said, "I should go with you. She's going to be vulnerable because of her senses, and I can help you take advantage of that."

"I hate to break it to you, Chief, but she didn't seem too vulnerable because of them the last time we tangled," Jim snapped without thinking.

Blair shifted uncomfortably. "Trust me, she will be now."

"Why don't you just tell me how you know this, okay?" Jim struggled to keep his voice even, fighting down the surging anger that wanted to dominate him whenever he thought about Blair and Alex together, working together, Blair helping her to evade him...

Blair's voice interrupted his spiraling thoughts. "Because she killed me."

"What!?" Jim jerked in his seat at the phrasing.

"Well, she *tried*, but remember, she doesn't know it didn't work," Blair said. "And she was relying on me—on the things I taught her, and the memory of my voice—to deal with her sensory spikes, to help her keep things under control," he explained. "So now, whenever she starts suffering from the sensory spikes, she's going to turn mentally to those things—but they're going to come with the baggage of the memory of killing me. And that's going to make it nearly impossible for her to rely on my work with her for help." He shrugged simply.

Somehow that made Jim feel immensely better, just knowing that Alex couldn't use Blair anymore—that he couldn't help her anymore. "Good," he said with dark satisfaction. Then he thought of Blair's condition. "But you're just out of the hospital—"

"I've been out for three weeks, Jim," Blair said sharply. "I'm fine, and you're going to need me along."

Jim swallowed then, and stammered out, "I, I want you along... if you're up to it." Blair remained silent in response, and he struggled on, "Blair, I just... I'm sorry about everything that happened, that week. I was... I went kind of nuts, and I didn't know why. I was just... hitting out at everything. I know I treated you like shit, and I can't tell you how sorry I am."

Blair was quiet for another moment. "Jim, I understand what was going on. And I'm sorry about the way I treated you back at the hospital." He paused, and Jim watched his throat move convulsively as he swallowed. "Alex is a threat because of me—because I helped her get her senses under control. And I want to set that right. But once that's done... I'm not interested in patching things back together and pretending they were never broken, Jim."

Jim just sat there, feeling as though his guts had just been yanked out. He wanted to grab Blair, wanted to shake him and yell at him, wanted to get on his knees and beg for forgiveness... but he did nothing. After a few moments, during which Blair studiously kept his eyes on the documents, he got himself under control. "I understand," he lied. "I don't blame you. I'm sorry." He turned his attention to the documents and tried to ignore the queasy emptiness in his gut.

Blair stared at the pages and kept his eyes open wide, blinking carefully to keep the tears from spilling over. So that was that. Jim didn't even sound too upset. He told himself he should be glad for that, be glad that Jim wasn't hurting. He bit the inside of his cheek painfully, struggling with pain and anger. He *wanted* Jim to hurt, dammit. He wanted to hit Jim, to yell at him, wanted to take back his words and beg Jim to take him back... but instead he stared at the maps and pretended he wasn't dying a little inside.

* * *

Jim pressed his forehead against the cool, moss-covered stone, feeling oddly light-headed and relaxed. The rivulets of blood streaming over his arms and legs were mildly annoying, but not enough to make him move from the slab. His hearing stayed with the fading heartbeat on the far side of the platform, every stuttering pulse clear as a crash of thunder, until the last one thudded heavily and only silence was left. He sighed and closed his eyes. It was over. She was gone.

And that meant Blair was gone, too.

The gun was heavy and warm in his hand, the faint tang of acrid smoke still coiling out of the barrel. He pulled himself up to a sitting position and held it cradled in his palms, staring down at it contemplatively. There were two bullets left in the clip. More than enough. He lifted it slowly.

"Don't you fucking dare, you son of a bitch!"

He jerked his head up and met Blair's furious, blazing glare, his hand dropping the gun into his lap without conscious decision on his part. He winced away from the palpable rage in Blair's body as the younger man limped over to him and snatched the gun away from him and dumped out the clip before tucking the firearm into his pants. Drooping hopelessly, he didn't resist as Blair checked him over for injuries, closing his eyes and trying to remember the taste of the clever fingers running over his skin, storing the memories away against the long fast ahead of him. He barely restrained a whimper when Blair stepped back.

"Come on," Blair said, voice harsh with adrenaline and anger. But the hands were gentle as they helped him up and draped his arm over Blair's shoulders. Feeling like a sleepwalker, Jim matched Blair's steps as they gradually climbed down the small ziggurat to their little camp, then sank down in a small heap on his sleeping roll.

Blair moved silently around the camp, collecting first aid equipment, then sat beside him and started cleaning off the cuts and scrapes with alcohol. The stings hurt, but Jim stoically endured the pain without a sound until Blair was finished and had covered the open wounds with bandages and gauze pads.

"So what the fuck was going through your head up there?" Blair demanded softly, the words heavy with anger.

"What do you want me to say?" Jim said tiredly. "It seemed like a good idea at the time?" In fact, he silently added, it still seemed like a good idea. Certainly better than going on, miserable and alone. The slap took him by surprise, cracking across his face like lightning and rocking him back on his ass. He stared at Blair in open-mouthed shock, only now registering the tears streaking through the dirt on his partner's face, the faint tremor in the clenched hands.

"A good idea. Dying seemed like a good idea," Blair repeated. Unable to contain himself, he sprang up from the ground and paced the small circle of their campsite. "You bastard. You utter fucking bastard. You just want to give up, is that it?" He whirled and advanced on Jim, who was staring up at him almost blankly, face still livid with the print of his hand. "You don't get to give up!" he shouted, dropping to his knees and shaking Jim by the shoulders, forgetting about the other man's injuries. "I didn't give up, and you don't get to either!"

Jim exploded into motion suddenly, shoving Blair away hard and sending the smaller man sprawling. "Shut the fuck up," he snarled. "You didn't give up, Sandburg? What exactly does taking off mean—are you taking some kind of vacation, is that it?"

"I didn't give up living!" Blair screamed back at him, struggling up to his knees. "I didn't just lie down and die, much less blow myself away! Not that you didn't do everything except put the gun in my hands," he added viciously.

"What?!" Jim panted.

"I *wanted* to die, you asshole! Do you understand? I sat there, and she was pointing the fucking gun at me, and I *didn't care*!" Wiping tears away with a furious swipe of his hand, Blair gulped hard. "You threw me out of your life like I was a piece of garbage. What if she hadn't come after me? What were you going to do? How long was I supposed to sit around and feel like shit? Two days? The rest of my life? You didn't seem to have any problem dealing without me then," he added bitterly.

Jim stood helplessly, hands opening and closing in desperation. "I... Blair, I just..."

"You just *what*?" Blair faced him down. "You were angry, is that it? Confused? Your feelings were hurt? Well, let me clue you in on something, pal. Whatever I did to you, I didn't do it on purpose. I didn't sit around thinking to myself, 'hey, how can I fuck Jim over today?'" The anger slowly leached away from his eyes, leaving them bewildered and hurt. "But you did every single thing you possibly could to hurt me. I mean, if I had made a top ten list of 'things Jim could do to hurt me', the only item you'd have missed was beating the shit out of me, and that would have been number ten." He swallowed and asked more quietly, "What did you expect me to do? Come back for more? Just because you said 'sorry'?"

"You didn't say anything," Jim whispered. "Blair, I didn't mean, I never wanted to hurt you, I swear to you. I just wanted... I wanted to keep you safe."

"You wanted to keep me safe? By throwing me out? Pushing me away? Is that the best line of bullshit you could come up with?" Blair turned away miserably, rubbing his forehead.

"I just didn't know what to do. I saw... I killed the wolf. I killed you," he blurted desperately, his words falling all over themselves.

"What?" Blair asked blankly.

Jim took a deep breath and tried to explain, "I had another of those... dreams. The visions of the jungle. I was hunting this wolf. I... I shot it, and it died... and it turned into you. It turned into you," he repeated, shuddering with the horror of the memory. "I thought... I thought I was going nuts. I thought I was going to get you killed." He gulped down a sob. "And I almost did."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Blair demanded. "Why the fuck didn't you *talk* to me about this?"

"And tell you what?" Jim shouted back. "That I hunted you down and *killed* you?"

"It's a *dream*!" Blair smacked his forehead. "Jim, your visions, they aren't direct! They're symbolic. Your dreaming about killing me doesn't mean you wanted to kill me, okay? It was a warning. And it wasn't a warning about my death, either," he said, suddenly, absolutely sure of himself. "When you killed the panther, before, that represented destroying your senses. You rejected them. And that's what you did with me," he finished softly. "You killed our connection, Jim. Not me."

The clearing was silent for long minutes while they both caught their breath, absorbing each other's words. They stood on opposite sides of the camp, looking at each other over the dead remains of the campfire.

"The panther gave me a second chance, when I rejected my senses," Jim said thickly, finally breaking the silence. "Will you?"

Blair stared at the ground. "I don't know," he said finally. "Jim... you... I love you, you're... you're more important to me than anyone alive. And it nearly killed me when you threw me out. I can't go through that again, Jim. I really can't."

"Blair, I swear—"

"Don't!" Blair interrupted. "Don't promise something like that, okay? You can't, not after... what happened. Look, Jim, it's not just this last week. Things came to a head because of Alex, but I think she just speeded up the timetable, man. We were headed for the rocks before then, and I don't know why, and I don't know how to fix it." He lowered himself to his sleeping bag, wearily pushing his matted hair out of his face.

Jim sank down next to him, staring at the ground. "I didn't think anything was wrong," he said.

"Yes, you did," Blair contradicted. "Maybe not consciously, but you've been pushing me away for a while now." He picked up a stick and idly scratched at the soft loam. "I didn't think anything was wrong before you started doing that either. I don't think I've been doing anything different, but you've... I don't know. It's like you stopped wanting to be around me... stopped trusting me."

Jim struggled to find something to say. "That's not... it's not... Blair, I do want you around," he said helplessly. "I... I don't know what the hell I'm going to do with myself if you leave."

"Are you still planning to shoot yourself?" Blair asked tightly, without looking up at him.

"No," Jim said miserably, knowing that Blair was asking for a promise and unable to refuse it to him. There was no other possible answer. He wouldn't blackmail Blair into staying.

"Good," Blair said, and fell silent, still drawing meaningless pictures in the dirt.

They sat quietly together while dusk fell and the rustling sounds of the night began to surround them. Blair finally stirred and pulled off his shoes, getting ready for bed. Taking his cue from the other man, Jim followed suit, climbing into his sleeping bag. Blair didn't speak again until they were both settled in for the night.

"I'll think about staying," he said quietly. "But I can't do it if we don't figure out what's wrong and fix it. Otherwise, it'll just make things worse for both of us in the long run, Jim."

Jim swallowed and stared at Blair's grimy, pain-tightened face. "Thanks," he whispered finally. "If there's any way..." he let his voice trail off, and saw Blair nod slightly before turning over and settling in to sleep.

He stared up at the tangled fronds and vines, and the faint glitter of stars beyond, trying to find some way out of the equally tangled mess his life had suddenly become. He didn't know whether to be elated at the new thread of hope Blair had offered him, or to despair. Looking over the last few months, he knew what Blair was talking about, could see the way he'd slowly grown ever more tense and prickly. He'd directed it into his work for a while, but it had long since begun spilling over—onto his partner.

But he didn't know why. He'd been happier the last few years than he could remember being for a long time, not since the first few months with Carolyn, before things had soured and their home had turned into a battlefield. He dug little furrows in the dirt, wondering tensely whether it was just him. Was he just incapable of living with someone? He couldn't think of anything he'd change about their life together—so why was he ripping it apart?

He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, wishing bleakly that Blair would somehow find the answers.

* * *

Jim opened his eyes to find himself alone at the base of the pyramid. He stared around, frantically searching for Blair, before a sudden compulsion drove him to climb the stepped sides of the temple. There he found Blair lying nude in the center of the roof, silent and unmoving, awash in blue light. He hurried to Blair's side, checking him over anxiously and finding no injuries—but the young man didn't stir, and Jim couldn't lift him from the stone.

He looked around desperately. "What do I do?" he shouted. No answer came from the jungle, and he bent over the comatose body in near-panic. He lay his head on the furred chest, taking some comfort from the feel of soft skin beneath his cheek, the steady if slow pumping of the heartbeat. The jungle air was steamy and warm, but Blair felt so cold... Why wouldn't he wake up? "What do I need to do? I'll do anything," he said softly, pleading with the air.

No answer came. He sat up and stripped off his shirt and pants, easing the clothing beneath Blair's body to get a layer between him and the cold stone, then covered Blair with his entire body, rubbing his hands over the stiff arms and legs. Blair's heartbeat vibrated through him, the scent of the slowly warming body a reassuring caress to his senses, and he relaxed a little, resting his head on Blair's chest, the soft curls of dark hair tickling his cheek.

It felt oddly familiar, lying like this, wrapped around Blair. He shifted uncomfortably, wincing away from the murky trickle through his mind, the unwelcome herald of memories he'd pushed away, hidden inside his own mind. His breath came quicker as the indistinct images tried to come clear. He closed his eyes and tried to get closer to Blair. He didn't want to remember—didn't want to see what was submerged there, rising too-swiftly towards the surface.

Blair's body grew a little colder beneath him as he tried to push back the onslaught of memory, and a sudden fear curled in his gut. What if this was the barrier? What if some ugly memory was twisting him from inside, turning him against Blair? He shuddered in distress, pressing his face into Blair's side, inhaling lungfuls of that comforting scent. But the scent was fading with the warmth of Blair's body, and the fear of losing Blair was worse than any other fear, worse than he could imagine any memory being. "I'll try," he whispered desperately.

A growl startled him. He sat up to find the wolf standing there at Blair's head, grey fur unmarred, staring at him. He swallowed in the face of those uncannily blue eyes. "I'll do it," he promised. "Whatever it takes."

The wolf leaped at him without warning, knocking him flat to the ground with a jarring thump.

* * *

Jim jerked awake, heart pounding in his chest, and looked around wildly. "Chief?" On the other side of the campsite, Blair stirred and turned over, looking at him with sleep-heavy eyes.

"Yeah? Are you okay?" Blair's voice was drowsy and low, husky with night.

"I had a dream," Jim said reluctantly, fighting the traitorous instincts that told him to pull everything in, lock it away.

Blair sat up, rubbing a hand over his face. He grabbed a canteen and swallowed some water. "Tell me about it," he invited quietly.

"You were... you were up on the temple roof," Jim began haltingly. He slowly described the details of the dream, and finished, "You're right—there's something wrong. It's me. Something I'm... repressing. Again," he added tightly, staring down at his hands.

Blair stared across the clearing at Jim's form, blurred and indistinct in the dark, and felt the tight bands that had been clenched around his chest loosen. He struggled out of the bedroll and clambered over to Jim's side, reaching out to grip the tense, bunched shoulders, his dry eyes burning. He didn't know what to say. How many ways had Jim been hurt, damaged so badly that his only defense was to pretend the pain wasn't there? "I'm sorry," he managed, stroking the rigid back, trying to let his hands say what his voice couldn't. "We'll work it out. Whatever it is, we'll figure it out, and we'll get through it."

Jim covered one of the gentle, stroking hands with his own, leaning gratefully into Blair's support. "I... I need to... do that thing—the way we've done it before."

Blair nodded. "To recover the memories. I'll help you through it. In the morning?"

"No," Jim said softly. "I might not have the guts for it in the morning. Now."

Blair silently urged him to lie down, and Jim let the hands ease him to the bedding. "Just relax," Blair said, reaching forward to stroke his fingers over Jim's temples. "Relax..."

Under Blair's soft-voiced instructions, Jim found himself gradually sliding into a dreamy haze. He breathed in deeply and Blair's scent glowed through his senses, the curious familiarity of the sensation once again teasing at him, working the memories free. Images... Blair's body, oddly indistinct, in his arms... the touch of soft, full lips... the shattering awareness of desire... and he flung himself upwards, away from Blair's hands, and caught himself against a tree, gasping for air as if he'd just run a race.

"Jim?" Blair rose and came towards him tentatively, hands reaching out to offer comfort.

Jim edged away from Blair, pressing his forehead against the smooth bark. A soft keening sound, hard-edged, crawled out of his throat and turned into a gulping, self-mocking laugh. Well. Now he knew why he'd repressed it.

"Jim!" Blair was there, hands... strong, sensual hands... touching him, stroking him. Numbly, Jim let Blair guide him back to the sleeping bag. "Come on, man, you've got to tell me," Blair said softly, kneading his shoulders urgently. "Whatever it is, it'll be okay. I promise."

"It's you," Jim said in blank despair. "It's you."

Blair froze for a moment, the hand on Jim's shoulder trembling faintly. He slowly let go and moved away, settling down into a cross-legged seat. "What about me?" he asked finally. "Something I did...?"

"No," Jim said. "No."

"Jim, whatever it is, you've... you've got to tell me," Blair said, forcing the words out even though he wasn't at all sure that he wanted to know. "I can't do anything about it if I don't know—"

"You can't do anything about it if you *do* know!" Jim yelled, suddenly, desperately angry, at himself, at Blair, at the universe for doing this to them.

"Oh for—come on, Jim!" Blair yelled back, taking refuge in anger himself. "What is it? My voice?!? Am I too *short*, is that it? What the fuck is wrong that you're so sure I can't change?!"

"Sandburg, you don't... I..." Jim struggled to speak.

"Just TELL me already!"

"I want you," Jim said flatly, surprised at how quickly the words were said, how easy it was to just let them out and let them break his life into pieces.

"What?" Blair said. He stared at Jim in uncomprehending confusion. "You want me," he repeated, then really heard the words. "You *want* me?!?"

Jim poked at the scratched-up dirt and didn't answer, his jaw clamped shut.

"Oh. Oh." Blair fought with his first impulse, which was to leap on Jim and start trying to suck his lungs out. "Jim... Jim, why is this a problem? I mean, are you upset because you don't want to be with me? Or because you don't want to deal with the.. the hassles of us being together? Or, or because... because you don't think *I* want *you*?"

Jim slowly lifted his head and stared at Blair.

They both moved at the same moment, half-falling across the space that separated them to get their hands on each other. Blair tried to unbutton Jim's shirt at the same time Jim tried to pull Blair's tee over his head, then they impatiently broke apart and got their own clothes off before clumsily reaching for each other again. They managed to wind up partly on the sleeping bag, Blair's hand protectively cupping Jim's head from hitting the ground. Then Blair leaned down and took Jim's mouth, covetously exploring every inch of the warm, moist cavern, greedy for the muffled moans he could feel Jim making.

Thunder rolled softly overhead, but neither of them made a move for the protection of the tarp, too engrossed in each other to care. Jim cupped Blair's ass, settling the slimmer body between his legs, and Blair made an appreciative sound of pleasure and rubbed his cock against Jim's taut abdomen. They coiled around each other as a warm rain started pattering down, fingers slick on wet skin as their limbs tangled together.

Jim rolled them over, not caring that they landed on the muddy ground as he bent over Blair's throat to ravage the skin with eager, predatory kisses that left flushed marks against the pale skin. Blair moaned fiercely, his hands digging into Jim's shoulders as he arched up, hooking one leg over Jim's hip. Jim's knee slipped under the weight, dumping him heavily on top of Blair, who wrapped his legs tightly around the muscled thighs to hold Jim down when the other man would have heaved himself off.

"God, Sandburg, I'm going to go crazy," Jim groaned as his cock rubbed against Blair's, hardness against hardness, softness to match softness. He tugged Blair on top of him, rolling over onto his back, his hands sliding through the cool mud coating Blair's skin, trying to get a grip. Blair laughed softly, joyfully, and nuzzled Jim's throat, biting lightly at his chin while one free hand slid down his body, heading straight for his groin, and Jim lifted his hips in wild eagerness for Blair's hands to be on him. Blair's hand closed on his cock, pumping slowly, and Jim moaned his approval.

Jim reared up, catching at Blair's head and pulling him in close, devouring his mouth fiercely. "Jim," Blair panted, breaking free to push Jim back down and latch onto one of the peaked nipples, his fingers stroking the defined pectorals acquisitively. He suddenly grinned and grabbed a handful of mud, dumping it on Jim's chest.

"Hey!" Jim tried to sit up, prevented only when Blair ruthlessly kissed him breathless. He fell back into the mud with a gasp as Blair deliberately started trailing his fingers through the mud, drawing patterns all over Jim's skin and moving out of the way to let the pounding rain wash them away. Jim moaned softly as the fingerpainting spread down his chest, over his abdomen, catching his lip between his teeth as Blair's mud-slick fingers teased around his shaft.

Blair watched Jim's reactions with hungry eyes, his own cock throbbing, so aroused it was an effort to breathe. He reached for more of the warm mud, cupped Jim's balls in his hand, and poured the handful over Jim's stiffly erect shaft, licking his lips as Jim thrashed beneath him. "Love you," he whispered softly, and hearing those words, Jim came in his hands, the velvety shaft pulsing gently under his fingers.

Blair reached down and pumped his own cock only a couple of times before he came as well, his come pulsing out over Jim's cock and mingling with the other man's semen. He all but toppled forward into Jim's welcoming arms, sated and exhilarated all at once, panting happily as he leaned against the muscled support of that chest.

"Love you too," Jim murmured, stroking Blair's back, contented to just lie still. That lasted only until the mud on his skin started itching. "Uh, Sandburg..."

"Mmm?" Blair said, drowsily.

"I need to get this mud off. Now." Jim nudged Blair insistently, trying to get him up.

Blair grumbled and got up, then looked down at Jim and started laughing. "Oh man. You're a mess."

Jim stood, mud and semen dripping off his chest and down his legs, and stared at his mud-covered hands a little helplessly. He glared at Blair, then started grinning himself as he took in the long hair clogged with mud and twigs, and the black coating of dirt on Blair's arms and legs. "You don't look any better, Chief," he said, chuckling.

They tore large leaves from a hapless fern and scrubbed off under the continuing downpour, then surveyed their camp. "Well," Blair said after a moment, looking at the soaked sleeping bags, soaked clothing, soaked backpacks, "at least it's not cold."

They collected the gear and retreated into the mostly-dry shelter of the temple. A fallen tree lying through the middle of the sanctuary had been sheltered from the rain by the stones, and they managed to get a fire going with the help of some lighter fluid. With clothing and sleeping bags spread over tumbled blocks to dry, they settled down side by side with cups of coffee.

The rain stopped and the sky outside gradually lightened, sending pale shadows leaning over the floor. Jim watched the minute twitches as the blades of grass poking up from between the broken stones gradually angled themselves towards the sunlight, letting the stillness fill his senses. Blair leaned easily against him, sipping coffee in silent contemplation.

Oddly, it was Jim who broke the silence. "Now what?" he asked.

Blair looked at him, startled by the sound of his voice. "Hm? Oh." He looked into the cup. "Well... I guess we wait for our stuff to dry, then take the canisters and go home," he said quietly.

"Home?" Jim said hopefully.

"Home," Blair said.

~ The End ~