This story is a work of fan fiction. The Sentinel belongs to Paramount, Pet Fly, and any other Powers that Be. I do not claim the characters, setting, or concept, but the story is mine (all mine--ha, ha, ha). No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit was made beyond the enjoyment of the writing. Since this is virtually the only profit I get from my job as well, there's no point in suing.

Rated: PG-ish for minor language Warnings: Not beta'd, but proofread. (Author's note: Minor revisions 1/99)

by Katie

Jim Ellison strode purposefully through the crowds in the airport terminal, his own duffel and Blairís backpack thrown over one shoulder. He didnít look back or acknowledge in any way the hurrying, limping figure behind him.

No matter how tightly he clenched his jaw, though, or how many innocent bystanders he impaled with cold blue eyes, he couldnít ignore the soft, slightly irregular gasps of strained breath that indicated his partner was having trouble keeping up. He didnít turn or say anything, but almost against his will, he did slow down, and one of the steel-band muscles in his jaw eased a fraction.

Up ahead, an exit sign pointed the way out. Jim headed wordlessly toward them and held them open for Blair, still without looking at his partner.

Ducking his head as he went underneath the arm Jim was using to hold open the door, Blair muttered a soft, distant "Thank you" that had no life in it whatsoever.

Jim didnít answer, in part because he had made the mistake of inhaling just as Blair walked passed. The odd mixture of scents, of herbal shampoo, toothpaste, the supposedly unscented, environmentally safe detergent Blair insisted on mixed with hospital antiseptic, iodine, and blood, made his jaw and throat clench so tight that he almost couldn't breath.

Once outside in the gloomy, rain-darkened evening, Jim lowered the two bags to the ground and said tersely, "Watch our stuff. I'll go find a cab."

Without waiting for an answer, he walked off. Locating a cab took a while, what with the rain and the number of people whose flights had been canceled due to the weather. Finally, though, an intimidating glare aimed at a skittish businessman earned him a cab, and a generous tip secured him the possession of it while he returned for Blair.

As he was approaching Blair, he took his first good look at him in a long while, and almost winced. Rain tended to plaster Blair's hair to his head and make him look pitiful even at the best of times. Add to that a scraped and bruised left cheek, a bandage over that same eye, a cast on his left arm and his right one hugged protectively around his ribcage, plus a pain-and-medication-glazed expression, and the only word to describe him was miserable. Jim bit back several things that he wanted to say, most of them not nice at all, and grabbed the bags, trusting Blair to follow him.

Blair Sandburg stood silently dripping in the hotel lobby, listening through a fog of pain and painkillers as the clerk explained, again, that there were no rooms to be found in the city. Just his luck they'd gotten there when one hotel was undergoing remodelling, another was recovering from a fire that had destroyed a good half of it, the airport was shut down, and everything else was taken up by a medical convention.

"We have a whole floor free, actually, but the heating unit is out, and it's too cold in the rooms without at least some heat."

Jim sighed impatiently, a sound Blair had grown rather accustomed to lately.  "Can you call around, see if anyone has any vacancies? I don't want to drag my partner back out into the rain unless I know there's a point to it."

I didn't know you still cared, Blair thought sarcastically, or at least, intended to. It was hard keeping track of his thoughts now that the pain meds had worn off just enough that he hurt rather terribly, but still couldn't connect two thoughts together with any hope of coherence.

All he really wanted was a place to sit down. A bed would be nice, but at this point he'd take a folding chair and a nice, dry corner out of the wind. His entire left side ached so badly that he was pretty sure he'd be throwing up soon. The only thing preventing him was the suspicion that that might just be the proverbial straw that broke Jim's tolerance completely.

He wasn't exactly Detective Ellison's favorite person right at the moment. While Jim wasn't on his Christmas list either, he really didn't want to do anything that might cause Jim to get so disgusted that the detective would abandon him in a hotel in some city that Blair probably would have known the name of if he could remember much more than his own name and Jim's right at the moment.

Oh, god. Suddenly, the weirdest feeling, like all the blood in his head was rushing to his feet at warp speed, came over Blair. The room did a shivering spin and roll that, under other circumstances, might have been interesting.

"Jim." The almost subvocal gasp jerked Jim's mind abruptly from listening to the clerk's fruitless attempts to find them somewhere to stay. He turned, catching sight of Blair's ghost-white face, the minute trembling in his limbs, and then grabbed him quickly as he swayed. "Easy, Chief." For a second, his voice was gentle, his anger forgotten. "Hold on, you can lie down in a minute, okay?"

Moving so that he was standing next to his partner and supporting most of Blair's weight, Jim turned his attention back to the clerk. "The rooms without heat--any chance we could have one of those and some extra blankets? My partner needs to get off his feet." The clerk's eyes softened as she looked at the bedraggled figure leaning on Jim.

"I'll see what I can do. Why don't you let him sit over on the couch while I check you in?"

Jim did the paperwork as quickly as possible, keeping an eye on Blair the entire time. The young anthropologist sat on the couch, eyes closed as if he could block out the entire experience by such a simple expedient. Jim felt a flash of pity, but then remembered why they were there in the first place and felt his anger crash back in full force. It was Sandburg's own fault that he was in this predicament. Jim didn't intend to waste the energy feeling sorry for him.

Paperwork finished, Jim shouldered the bags and got Blair moving again toward the elevator, saying nothing as Blair once again leaned on him. Damn kid wouldn't even let me help him button his shirt this morning, and now he expects me to carry him around? After what he's done, I ought to make him take the stairs. Without thinking, Jim moved his hand from Blair's arm to his back, anchoring him more securely against Jim's side. The last thing the kid needed was to fall down and add to his already spectacular collection of bruises.

The room, as promised, was cold--roughly the same temperature as a meat locker. Jim moved quickly to get Blair out of his wet clothes, since Blair didn't seem to have the ability or inclination to do it himself. The anthropologist simply stood or sat passively as Jim directed, letting Jim undress him and towel him down with an equanimity he never would have shown if he'd been feeling even partially well.

Jim dressed him in the jeans he'd been wearing when he was hit by the car--not exactly clean, but in one piece, which was certainly more than could be said about the shirt he'd had on. More importantly, they were dry.  So was Jim's extra shirt, which wasn't any cleaner than Blair's jeans but at least wasn't sopping and could slide on easily over Blair's cast and bandages.

Finally, after toweling the worst of the dampness out of Blair's hair, Jim tucked him into bed, lying him on his side with his arm propped up on most of the pillows and the covers and extra blankets that a bellhop had brought up tucked in around him.

"Okay, Sandburg, get some sleep. I'll be in the shower. If you need me, just yell."

Blair didn't respond, just lay there with his eyes half open, staring at nothing, as he had been through the entire undressing procedure. Misery and anger dulled his usually brilliant gaze, and Jim found himself missing the bright spark of intelligence he'd come to take for granted. Jim reminded himself firmly that it was Sandburg's own fault that he--and Jim--were stuck in a freezing hotel room in the middle of the worst weather Washington State had had in several years.

With a sigh, Jim went into the bathroom, turning the shower on full blast before undressing and stepping gratefully into the hot spray. He let the water pound away at the tension in his neck and shoulders. This was really what Blair needed, but between his lightheadedness and the cast, Jim hadn't wanted to risk it.

Damn him, anyway. Where does he get off thinking he can just pick and choose what laws to obey? And where in hell does he get off thinking he can use his job as observer, the job I got him, that I'm responsible for, to get information to help him break the law?

It had seemed like such a simple case, just a little prisoner transport that should have only taken a day or so at most, what with the flights to and from Chicago. Jim had told Simon he was almost looking forward to it as a break from the car theft ring investigation they'd been working on for nearly a month.

Simon had made some sort of joke about the last couple of times Jim and Blair had tried to transport prisoners, but Jim had been sure nothing could go wrong this time. What were the odds that his third prisoner transport in a row could go sour?

How was he to know that the prisoner in question, Nathan Halger, convicted of several bombings that luckily had never killed anyone, would be an old friend of Naomi's from her protest days? Or that Halger would convince Blair that he'd done the bombings as a continued protest of the companies' labor policies in third world countries?

Hell, maybe he had actually planned them as a protest. What did it matter? It wasn't any more legal, or safe, to blow something up because you didn't like the government than it was to do it because you like the kaboom sound. Not that that mattered to Blair. He'd taken Halger at his word, and had distracted Jim and the Chicago cop who'd had custody of Halger long enough for Halger to slip his cuffs and take off.

In the resulting chase, Jim, who--damn it, should have been paying more attention to his partner's whereabouts--had dashed out into a busy street, narrowly avoided running into a car, which swerved and, naturally, hit Blair. Needless to say, Halger had escaped, and Jim . . . Jim had no idea what to do about the situation.

He didnít think Sandoval, the Chicago detective, had realized what Blair was doing. In fact, Jim hadn't even figured it out until he was thinking back over the series of events as he sat in the emergency waiting room. Technically, Jim didn't ever have to tell anyone, not even Simon, that Blair was responsible for Halger's escape.

In a way, that made the whole situation worse. Not only had Blair betrayed him, but now Jim was thinking about betraying himself, his beliefs and ethics, to protect his partner.

The hot water ran out before Jim had anything settled in his mind. He had no idea what he'd tell Simon, or even if he'd be able to work with Blair anymore, although the idea of not having Blair around almost made him physically ill. Whatever good the water's massage had done was rapidly disappearing as he geared himself to go back into the bedroom where his partner was--hopefully--asleep.

Blair lay very still, because moving hurt his arm, and his ribs, and his back, and pretty much every other part of his body that he could presently feel. The physical discomfort was almost negligible, however, when compared to the gaping, aching hole that used to be his soul. He wished he still had the energy to be angry.

Anger had sustained him pretty much from the time he'd awakened in the hospital to Jim's cold fury up until they'd arrived at the airport. The knowledge that he'd done the right thing, setting Nathan free, had allowed him to withstand Jim's disapproval and anger for much longer than he normally could.

He'd tried to make Jim understand. He'd talked to the older man almost constantly from the time he realized who the prisoner was until the point where he decided to take matters into his own hands. Nathan had simply been exercising his right to object to practices that he felt were morally unacceptable, and had always been scrupulously careful to pick targets that both were related to his cause--such as the warehouse of a government-supported company that used sweatshops--and posed no possibility of casualties. He'd never slipped up, either. Not a single person had been hurt in the thirty years Nathan had been letting his feelings be known.

Blair understood perfectly well the reason for laws against destruction of property, and could even understand why some people thought that Nathan's method of protest was wrong. He just couldn't stand to see someone imprisoned for, most likely, the rest of his life--Nathan wasn't exactly young or healthy anymore--simply for fighting for something he believed in. Naomi had taught him to respect the protesters of the '60's.  More than one of his favorite "aunts" and "uncles" had been wanted at one time or another for actions related to the protest movements.  Blair just couldn't, in his heart, see what they did as wrong. Certainly it was not bad enough to be worth losing their lives over.

No matter how he assured himself that he was right, however, he couldnít lose this terrible, soul-deep ache that was brought on by Jim's anger and disapproval. Somehow, knowing that his Sentinel was furious with him was worse than being run over by five cars at once. The knowledge left a strange, frightening feeling of disconnectedness in its wake, like Blair had lost whatever was anchoring his soul to his body.

He hugged the pillows that were propping his arm up to his chest, hoping that the pressure and resulting pain would be enough to distract him from his thoughts. He welcomed the shivering, numbing cold that was creeping into his bones. If he were cold enough, maybe he wouldn't be able to feel.

Jim climbed into his bed, steadfastly ignoring the shivering figure in the next bed. Blair already had every blanket in the room piled on him. Jim had only left himself a sheet and one of the pillows. Jim had given Blair the last pain pill earlier in the day, expecting to be in Cascade early enough to fill the prescription before Blair went to sleep. There was really nothing Jim could do for his partner, and with his patience worn thin, it was most likely best that he not even try.

His resolution lasted about ten minutes. In the end, it wasn't Blair's shivering, or the soft, pain-filled gasps for breath. It was his own weakness. His own need to be sure Blair was okay, a nagging, irritating protectiveness that was keeping him awake because he knew his partner was suffering.

He told himself it was the cold as he slid under the covers behind Blair. He spooned himself around his partner, aiming for maximum body contact to provide maximum heat. Blair stiffened, realizing somewhat sluggishly that something odd was happening.

Jim said wryly, "Relax, Sandburg. I'm just trying to help you get warm. Go to sleep."

As Blair went limp--whether from his reassurance or from exhaustion, Jim wasn't even going to try to guess--Jim pulled him closer and began to relax himself. One hand circled Blair's chest to rest on his breastbone, just below the heart.

Blair's trembling and ragged breathing slowly eased as he slipped into sleep, and Jim felt himself relaxing as well. Yes. Things were okay, at least for now. Tomorrow was soon enough to deal with the problems that faced them. Jim inhaled the comforting scent of Blair's hair, his eyes drifting closed without any suggestion from his brain. He could sleep now.

Blair felt Jim cradle him close, one hand resting on his chest, just below his heart. Strange, how that hand had the power to fill the emptiness inside him, to make the disconnected feeling disappear. Strange how it made him feel warm, and sleepy, and safe again . . . strange . . . .