Disclaimer/Warnings/Etc.: Not mine, not beta'd (but definitely proofread), nothing *but* spoilers for Sentinel Too. This is my attempt at a Comfort!fic, and shouldn't be taken as anything more serious than that. It's written because Laura challenged and Gaea asked, and is dedicated with love to all my fellow Tribe members. Some bad language, lots of angst and other stuff we read fanfic for.

// indicate Jim's dreamtime; \\ indicate Blair's dreamtime
 
 

Interlude
by Katie


This can't be happening. No. This can't be happening. The mantra repeated itself in Jim Ellison's mind, desperately denying the evidence his eyes were presenting. He's not dead. I can still feel him; how could he be dead if I can still feel him?

That warmth, the hint of laughter, the promise of understanding--those things were Blair. Jim didn't have them in him naturally.  They'd only come with the presence of his friend, and the fact that he could still feel them told him Blair couldn't be dead.

Someone was holding him away from his partner, someone else tried to distract him from the terrible sight. Impatiently, he shrugged them off and knelt beside Blair again. He looks so fragile. God, he's gonna gripe for hours about the tangles in his hair if he doesn't get it combed out before it dries. C'mon, Blair, it's okay, I'm here now, open your eyes. I know you're not dead. You know that. You just gotta show everyone else now, okay?

With hands that had never been so gentle, Jim brushed a wet curl away from Blair's pale face, grimacing slightly as he felt his partner's icy skin. Blair hated to be cold. Jim slid his hand under Blair's shoulders and carefully gathered him close, the voices and hands that tried to stop him going completely unacknowledged. They didn't exist. Nothing existed but the limp body in his arms, the scent of herbal shampoo and aftershave mixed with stale water and that wrong scent--the smell of the other sentinel--that had been haunting him for so long, the rough silk of wet hair against his cheek and on the back of his hand, the silken feel of Blair's forehead against Jim's lips.

Never in his life had Jim so much wanted to zone, but he couldn't. Every sense was locked on his partner, anchoring him firmly to the present, insisting that what his heart said wasn't true was. Blair wasn't breathing, no pulse washed through his body--he was dead.

No.

Jim had pushed him away, said he didn't want him as a partner, threw him out of his home. Now he was dead.

No.

Jim had shot him--seen the beautiful, innocent wild creature and released the arrow without a second thought, piercing his chest and feeling nothing but vague satisfaction for a job well done.

NO.

//The anguished scream of the jaguar echoed through the jungle as Jim reeled from the sudden onslaught of colorscentsoundheat that just as abruptly disappeared. He stared in horror at the bow in his hands, then threw it to the ground and rubbed shaking hands on his pants as if he could remove the taint so easily. He was afraid to look, but he had to know .. .

The wolf sprawled gracelessly on the ground, his beautiful coat marred by the blood and the arrow sticking out of it. He whined faintly and shifted his head as if he wanted to bite at the agony piercing him, but he didn't have the strength even to lift his muzzle from the ground. With a breath that was like a sob, Jim started forward, but a warning growl halted him before he'd even taken a step.

The black jaguar glided forward through the undergrowth, his blue eyes shifting restlessly between Jim and the wolf. The hair on his neck was bristled in warning, and he hissed sharply at Jim before padding over to the wolf. The two animals, who by rights should have been natural enemies, eyed each other carefully. The wolf's eyes were dim with pain, but somehow he managed to raise his muzzle slightly and whimper. The big cat stopped in front of him, his nose a breath away as he sniffed the wolf's face, then growled at the arrow in his side.

With a warning glance at Jim, the jaguar nudged the wolf's shoulder, the rumble in his throat deepening when the wolf whimpered again. The cat nudged more insistently. The wolf moaned, but somehow pushed himself up and onto his feet. Moving very slowly and keeping one eye on Jim the whole time, the jaguar moved beside the wolf, allowing the smaller animal to lean on him as they made their painful progress into the underbrush.

"No." Jim couldn't let them disappear. Hastily skirting the pool of blood in the center of the clearing, he ran after them, certain that if he lost sight of them, he'd never find them again.//

\\The wolf moved slowly, every step another agony in an eternity of pain. Only the strong, warm presence at his side, constantly rumbling soft encouragement, gave him the strength to continue. He didn't understand where they were going or why he couldn't simply lie on the ground until blessed darkness claimed him, but the one at his side wanted him to walk, and so he walked.

Sometime, somewhere, they reached the Place where they were intended to go. The wolf stopped, the hair on his neck rising as he felt the power of the Place, and whimpered fretfully as the one at his side tried to urge him on. He was tired, the fear that had gripped him when the pain entered his side had grown at the sight of this Place, and he wanted nothing but to find a safe dark place where he could rest. However, the one beside him growled insistently, and he moved forward again into the Place.

A Man who didn't smell like man stood in the center of the Place. He looked solemnly into the wolf's eyes, then reached out a hand to touch the wolf's head. Suddenly the world elongated and turned inside out, and the young man cried out in pain as he dropped to the ground and curled around the pain in his side, his face hidden by curls. The Man knelt and placed his hand on the young man's head again, speaking softly.

"It is good that you came, my friend. You have much to do here."

The young man moaned, but forced his eyes open to meet the Man's. "Why. . ."

"The time for your questions is not now, child. You must do what you came to do."

It was a place of truth, and the young man heard it in the Man's words. He nodded painfully and, with a gasp that sounded like a sob, rolled himself to his knees, and then with terrible slowness, to his feet. He met the Man's eyes bravely, holding down the fear that throbbed in time with his wound. He could feel the jaguar's warm body pressed against his legs, helping him to stay on his feet, and he was grateful for its comforting presence.

"I'm ready," he whispered, which was truth because only truth could exist here, but was still the most difficult thing he'd ever said.

The Man looked at him for a long moment, then asked gently, "What are you afraid of?"

The young man blinked, the darkness on the edges of his vision and the shudders of pain and cold only contributing to his confusion. He was afraid of so many things. "Afraid of?"

The Man gazed at him steadily, and because he could only speak truthfully, the answer that lay in the core of him came to him and he found the courage to say it. "I'm afraid of being alone. Of losing everyone I love. Of losing their love for me. Of failing them."

The Man nodded. "Then you must face your fear."

The young man staggered, suddenly bereft of the comforting weight that was supporting him. He stared around himself, realizing that he had somehow come to be inside the stone walls of an ancient temple. His side throbbed mercilessly; he clutched at it in a futile effort to stop some of the pain as he turned slowly, trying to figure out what he should be doing. The temple was massive, an empty room lined with huge stone columns on all sides, decorated with carvings of symbols that were almost familiar. The only door lay at the far end from where the young man stood, and as he looked toward it, he saw the vast, empty space he would have to cross in order to reach the outside. It was a terrible distance, one that in his present condition, he couldn't manage alone.

Complete, devastating despair crashed into him, sending him to his knees with a low cry of pain. He would never get free, never be able to make it back to the haven he vaguely knew was waiting for him. He didn't have the strength to do it alone.\\

//Jim moved almost at a run, his progress slowed by the gelatin-resistance of the dreamscape. He was just barely able to keep his quarry in sight.  Only stubborn panic kept him moving forward against the despair, grief, and guilt that tore at his heart. He'd almost destroyed the most precious creature in this wilderness.  He didn't deserve the chance to make it right, but he followed with the hope that he might be given that chance anyway.

His senses weren't working. He could see, smell, hear no better than an ordinary man, and his frantic mind screamed at the irony--that now, when his senses would be a blessing rather than a curse, they had failed him. His only chance was to follow the blood spoor and the brief glimpses of the cat and wolf he would catch from time to time. His heart died with every new drop of blood, knowing as he did the suffering it represented, but he was grateful for anything that kept him on track. He would search forever, if he had to, but he didn't think the wolf had that long.

Finally, he came to the edge of a clearing. He could clearly see the temple that had been in his visions in Peru. The shaman he had talked to there was standing at its base, and in front of him was a sight that ripped through Jim's heart and left it open and bleeding: Blair, swaying weakly but on his feet, the arrow sticking out of his blood-coated side. Jim lurched forward, intent on reaching his partner, but something held him back from entering the clearing. He growled and struggled against it, but it didn't give. Suddenly, Blair vanished from the scene in front of him, and at the same instant he plunged through the barrier, bellowing his frustration and rage.

He stalked toward the shaman, his mind narrowed down to one focus--to find Blair. He'd do whatever necessary to find him, even if it meant ripping the shaman into his component parts.

"Where is he?" he growled in a voice so raw with grief that he didn't even recognize it. "Where's Blair?"

The shaman looked at him solemnly, undaunted by his anger. "You do not belong here. This is not your time."

"Like hell I don't belong here. Blair's here. Where is he?"

"The young one has his own road to journey on. You must return to your own place."

White-hot rage was building behind his teeth, but he forced himself to speak calmly. "Blair is my friend, my partner. He's hurt, damn it. I need to find him. Now."

The shaman looked at him with an expression that was decidedly wry. "Your partner? Perhaps you have a lesson to learn as well. Perhaps the young one's journey will be a learning time for you both."

"I don't need any lessons. I know what I need to know. Blair's mine--my friend, my partner, my brother, and he needs me. Where is he?" Jim gritted the last out through clenched teeth, the knowledge that Blair was alone, that he could be somewhere bleeding to death right now, thinking Jim had rejected him, tearing at Jim until it was all he could do not to grab the shaman by the throat and shake him.

A growl from above broke through the tense silence that surrounded the two men. The jaguar lay on one of the stone outcroppings of the temple, his tail lashing furiously. With a shake of his head, he yowled impatiently. Listening to the cat's scream, Jim heard an echo, a familiar voice that touched his soul with an aching mixture of pain and joy, "You know where to find me."//

\\The young man, who had lost even the memory of his name in the burning agony that filled his body, had lurched to his feet and staggered a few painful steps forward only to fall again, moaning at the shot of fire that exploded up his side. He rested his face against the cool stone, wondering why he even bothered to try to reach the outside. The haven was too far away, and even in this place of truth, he didn't know if he would be welcome there. Was there any point in suffering more, torturing his body to reach a place that might not receive him?

With a sob, he curled in on himself, trying to ease the pain but without hope that it would ever end.\\

//"You know where to find me."

It was true. The feeling, the joy and warmth that was Blair, was in Jim, calling to him, and he knew where Blair was. An inarticulate sound caught in his throat, a cry that was equally relief and frantic fear, and he dove past the shaman and into the temple.

The vast, cold room echoed emptily. At the far end, a figure huddled against the wall. At this distance, Jim couldn't tell if the young man was alive or dead, and dread held him captive for a long moment before he was able to break free and run toward his friend. He dropped to his knees in front of Blair, reaching out a hand almost to touch, but not quite daring.

"Sandburg," he started to say, but this was a place where the heart spoke true, and it came out as "Blair. It's okay now, I'm here. Let me see how badly you're hurt, all right?"

Glazed blue eyes opened to meet his, and after a pause, there was a hoarse whisper. "Jim?"

"Yeah, I'm here. Can I see where you're hurt?" Jim asked gently, still not daring to touch him without permission. He didn't feel like he had the right anymore. "I need you to straighten out your legs, okay? Let me see your side."

Obediently, Blair lowered one leg, his movements slow and tentative. He blinked, reaching up to push his hair out of his face with a blood-streaked hand. "Jim? Why is it so cold? I thought jungles were supposed to be hot."

Jim swallowed hard against the fear that was threatening to choke him, then answered in his calmest voice, "You're probably just a little shocky. That's not exactly a scratch, you know." He hissed as he got his first look at the wound; the arrow had pierced Blair's side and was firmly embedded, and blood poured liberally out of the ragged edges where the wound had torn. "I'm going to have to get the arrow out in order to bandage this, and it's going to hurt." He paused, looking down into the pale face that was more familiar and infinitely more precious than his own, and all but whispered, "God, Blair, I'm so sorry."

Blair leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. "Just pull it."

Jim wanted to close his own eyes, to deny the evidence of his betrayal, but that would only double his crime. "I didn't . . . I wasn't thinking straight, Blair. I don't know what was going on, all I could think of was trying to protect what was mine, and somehow you were . . . when you were around, this feeling I had, like there was danger nearby, it just kept getting worse."

He watched his friend's face.  Blair was listening, he could tell, and it was the best distraction he was going to be able to provide.

"Whatever it was that Alex had--her scent or whatever that was making me crazy, it was like you were covered in it. Every time you came near me, it was like there was this threat that I had to deal with," he took the arrow in one hand and braced the other against Blair's shoulder, "and it didn't help that I kept having these dreams that you were in danger," Blair's fingers clenched against the floor as if he wanted to dig them in, "so all I could think was that I had to get away from you. I wasn't thinking, I wasn't even feeling," he tugged gently, trying to judge the strength he'd need to remove the arrow, and Blair's face drained completely of color, "'cause if I had been, I never would have pushed you away. It's not just that I need you to help with this sentinel thing.  I need you to help me be me."

Taking a deep breath, he yanked; the arrow burst out as Blair made a low, agonized sound that was worse than a scream. "I'm sorry, Blair. I don't ever want to hurt you, and it seems like that's all I've done recently." Blair opened his eyes, blinking back tears of pain, to watch him steadily, and Jim forced himself to meet that clear gaze and not look away, no matter how ashamed he was. He had one more thing to say, the most important, most vital thing of all--and because this was a place of truth, it was easier than all the rest. "I love you, Blair."

The moment elongated, dreamtime spinning it out as the two men looked into each other's souls and found themselves there. Blair nodded slowly, ending the moment, then gasped as the arrow dissolved and the wound in his side faded to a bright scar.//

\\Blair allowed Jim to pull him to his feet, leaning against the older man as a wave of dizziness hit him. He felt Jim's arm come around his shoulders, a warm, comforting, safe weight. For a long minute, Jim held him, his warm breath brushing against Blair's temple and his hand rubbing Blair's back soothingly. Blair clung to his friend, digging his fingers into Jim's shirt as he heard the echo of his friend's words. I love you.

Jim shifted his grip slightly, not letting go, but pulling back enough that he could see Blair's face. "We need to get back."

Blair nodded, turning to look at the distant door. The same despairing fear he'd felt before hit him in the gut, and he tightened his grip on Jim's shirt almost desperately. It was so far away, and a journey he knew instinctively that he was intended to make on his own. The idea terrified him; not because of the distance, but because he knew that his own soul--and most likely Jim's--depended on him making the journey successfully. As long as Jim was there, as long as he knew Jim cared, he could battle the fear, but he knew he couldn’t make it alone.

The part of him that was all anthropologist, even in this situation, knew that the journey to the temple door was purely symbolic, a soul journey rather than a physical one. In fact, if it had been happening to anyone else, he would have been interested in the manifestations of cultural icons such as the temple and the journey towards the light . . . god, he was definitely losing it. Icons, when he was about to face the most arduous trial of his life.

"Blair?" Jim's voice cut through his thoughts. "Is something wrong?"

Blair looked up into concerned blue eyes, and, unable to hide behind his usual obfuscations, answered honestly, "I'm afraid."

Jim's hand tightened on his shoulder. "Of what? I'm not going to let anything happen to you." He paused, his voice growing rough. "Never again, Blair, I promise."

"The Man outside--he said I had something to do here. Something I have to do alone." He realized that he was leaning more closely into Jim's side, but the older man didn't seem to mind. "I'm just not sure I can."

"Hey." Jim turned his chin with one finger so that they were eye to eye. "You're not going anywhere alone, hear? We're partners, we do this together."

Partners. Blair felt that settle into his heart and spread its warmth throughout his body. "I think that's against the rules, Jim."

Something cold, dangerous, and almost feral shone in Jim's eyes for a brief second. "Fuck the rules. Together or not at all, Blair."

"I can live with that." Blair took a deep breath. "You ready?"

It seemed like such a simple thing, to take a step toward the door, but it was as much a step of faith as anything. Blair was almost expecting something. The Man had said he had something to do, and Blair had a feeling he hadn't done it yet. He wasn't prepared for the scorching pain that shot through him with the first step, though. He didn't have any breath left to cry out, but he felt Jim catch him as he crumpled to the ground.

"Blair? Chief, what's wrong?"

The pain had abated some, but the heat was still there, burning through him as if he were at the center of a fire. He gasped, trying to answer, to explain, but he couldn't form the words.

"Damn it, Chief, what's going on here? Blair?"

A test. It was a test; he knew that without knowing how he knew. He had to keep going, to prove that he had the strength to survive this ordeal.

"Jim. Gotta keep going." Blair struggled to get his feet back under him and felt Jim helping him, pulling him up and supporting him when he couldn’t stand by himself. "Can't stop."

The next step and the next brought on new waves of agony, and it took all of Blair's courage to keep going in the face of the scorching heat. Jim's presence beside him was all that kept him walking, because the pain wasn't nearly as bad as the knowledge that Jim wouldn't leave him and would be trapped here if Blair gave up.

Another step, and the pain and heat vanished as if they'd never been. Blair staggered again from the sheer relief of it, letting Jim take his weight for a second as he got his breath back.

"What was that?" Jim's voice was tight with the strain of a threat he couldn't defeat. "Is your side hurting you again?"

Blair shook his head. "I think that was the thing I'm here for, man. Part of it, anyway. A test, you know, like some sort of trial I have to go through to get out of here."

"Like you haven't been through enough?" Jim growled. "Who the hell came up with this idea, anyway? Let's just get out of here."

"You of all people should know it doesn't work that way," Blair said gently, "and I think you could say I came up with this idea. These tests--most cultures that believe in spirit quests believe that the quests are specific to the person experiencing them. The Man said that I had to face my fears; my own mind is probably coming up with ways to throw them at me so that I have to face them or . . ."

"Or what?" Jim demanded, but didn't wait for the answer. "How much more of this do you have to go through?"

"Until I've faced my fears, I guess. I don't know, man, it's not like I've done this before." Blair took a deep breath. "Let's go."

The next step plunged him into darkness, and he felt an incredible, crippling fear take his breath away. He grabbed for Jim and clung to his arm, grateful for that support and the hand that hadn't left his shoulder since the journey had begun. If only it wasn't so dark, so that he could have seen his goal and seen that Jim was beside him . . . He'd never much liked the dark and the way total darkness seemed to leech the oxygen out of the air. The hand on his shoulder was steady, though, and he knew that the door was in front of him somewhere. All he had to do was hold it together and keep walking. As much as he trusted Jim to help him through this, Jim trusted him not to fail, and he had no intention of letting Jim down.

"Breathe, Chief, deep breaths, remember?"

Obediently, he forced air in and back out, feeling as if each breath was a fist pounding into his chest. He took another step, and another and another, not letting any thought into his mind except that he had to reach the other side, and then the darkness was gone. He didn't even realize he was shaking uncontrollably until Jim wrapped both arms around him and pulled him against his chest.

"Easy, buddy, easy. You made it; you did good. We're almost there, okay? Not much further."

Blair leaned his head tiredly against Jim's shoulder. "Promise?"

Jim's chuckle sounded strained. "Promise. We'll be out of here in no time, and then we're gonna get you several rounds of therapy. I had no idea you had so many monsters hiding in your closet."

"Me? I'm not the one who keeps having dreams about big kitty cats." Blair straightened. "Okay, I'm ready."

He'd faced pain and fear; how much worse could the next thing be? Surely, it would be over soon . . .

He was plunged into freezing cold water. It filled his mouth and nose and pressed against him so that he couldn't move forward. What nearly broke him, though, was the sudden absence of Jim's touch and voice. He'd made it this far because he knew Jim was with him.  Now, without that comforting presence, he wasn't sure he could keep going. He couldn't even call out because of the water, and he had lost all sense of which direction he should be moving in.

Alone. He was completely, terrifyingly alone, drowning, without even the hope that Jim might be able to rescue him, because there was no way Jim could reach him in time--somehow they'd been separated and Jim was so far away . . .

With nothing left but despair and panic, Blair lunged forward. Either the door--and Jim--were ahead, or they weren't, and if they weren't, nothing else mattered anyway. He slammed into a wall of resistance stronger than any he'd encountered up till now, but then faintly through his struggle he heard a voice calling, "Come on, Chief. Come on."\\

Ever so carefully, Jim pressed his lips to his partner's forehead. "Come on, Chief. Come on. I can't do this without you, buddy."

Around them, a crowd had begun to gather, and voices were raised as the detectives from Major Crimes tried to maintain some privacy for their fallen men, and some of the university students began to realize who the body at the center of the crisis belonged to. Jim didn't hear them, or hear Simon talking to him in a calm, soothing voice. None of that mattered anyway. The only person that did matter was in his arms, at the center of his attention, cradled against his heart so that, if Blair's heart had been beating as well, Jim would have felt it pumping in time with his own.

"Blair?" Jim asked--begged, really--his voice barely even a whisper against the younger man's skin. "Sandburg, I need you here. I can't do this without you. Don't leave me, please, buddy, don't leave me."

And there was . . . something. So faint Jim wasn't even sure at first that he heard it, but it was there. One simple, incredible, blessed contraction of Blair's heart, and then another and another, then a harsh, rattling gasp for air. Jim couldn't move, couldn’t speak, could only kneel there and listen to the sounds of life and feel his own shattered heart begin to mend. Then, quietly so he wouldn't break whatever spell had blessed him, he said, "Simon? He's breathing."

There was an instant of silence, then Simon dropped down beside them and put out a hand to check Blair's pulse. "Oh my God. Oh, thank God."

The big captain sounded almost near tears as he yelled for the EMTs. That seemed incongruous to Jim. Sandburg was alive.  Shouldn't the time for tears have been when he was dead? Simon was probably just upset, what with all the excitement lately. Jim himself had never been calmer as he knelt, gently rocking his partner and whispering meaningless reassurances.


The ER routine went by in a blur.  Jim managed, mostly by way of not hearing the doctors and nurses who spoke to him, to remain in physical contact with his partner at all times, either with a hand on his hair or on his arm or leg. It wasn't just for his own comfort that he did it.  He had a feeling that Blair, even unconscious, needed the contact as much as he did, and he didn't intend to let his partner down.

Finally Blair was moved to a private room.  The doctor couldn't find anything wrong, and told Jim that, provided Blair woke up soon and showed no signs of brain damage, he should have no trouble recovering fully. The only real question was what damage, if any, oxygen deprivation had done, and that could only be assessed when he woke up. Jim was content to wait, however, taking the time as he was sitting by Sandburg's bed to appreciate what he had almost lost.

He'd pulled a chair over by the bed and sat in it, one had outstretched to clasp Blair's. The younger man's skin was still cool, although his temperature had been steadily rising since his heart had started again. His long curls had finally dried out into a knotted mass that Jim had tucked tenderly behind his ears so that it wouldn't disturb his rest. The color was slowly coming back into his face, making him look more like he was just enjoying an afternoon nap than like he'd been clinically dead only a few hours before. He still had the stale water smell, now mixed with various chemical smells from the hospital, but underneath all of that was the familiar scent that was uniquely Blair, that Jim would have known anywhere.

Jim sighed as he watched Blair sleep. He couldn't believe how careless he'd gotten lately, allowing petty concerns to come before the truly important issues. It seemed like every time he turned around lately, he and Sandburg had been fighting over issues that, on the superficial level, he still wasn't sure he was wrong about. What he'd completely disregarded, though, was the deeper issue, the only truly important one--their friendship. Nothing, not his privacy or Blair's dissertation or the law or anything else in the world was more important than that.

Now, all he could do was thank whatever powers might control the universe that he was going to have a chance to make things right. In a few days, when Blair was stronger and Jim could stop listening to his heartbeat long enough to concentrate, they'd have to talk all this out, but for now, it was enough to know that they'd have that chance--or it would be, if Blair would just wake up for a minute or two so that Jim could be certain he was okay.

Finally, an eternity later, Jim's vigil was rewarded. Blair stirred slightly, moaning softly as his eyes fluttered open briefly, and then drifted shut again.

"Sandburg? It's okay, Chief, come on and wake up, all right?" Jim coaxed gently, moving to sit on the edge of the bed and patting Blair's cheek with his fingertips. "Open your eyes, buddy."

Cautiously, Blair blinked his eyes open again, the expression in them a heart-wrenching combination of confusion, pain, and fear. "Jim?" he whispered hoarsely, and then more urgently, "Jim?"

"Hush, I'm right here. Everything's okay now. Do you remember what happened?" Jim rested his hand soothingly on Blair's chest, feeling the suddenly thundering heartbeat.

"Alex?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. Alex. We'll talk about it later, all right? Why don't you get some more sleep? I'll be right here."

Blair shook his head weakly, his eyes fixed almost desperately on Jim's. "No. Jim . . ."

His voice, rough as it was, was starting to rise anxiously. Jim could feel his heart rate climbing alarmingly and thought for a second about calling the doctor. He was more likely to be able to calm his partner down than a stranger could, though. He took his hand off Blair's chest and slid it under his back, pulling him up so that he was resting against Jim's chest. Blair's arms came around his back to knot in his shirt.  Jim could feel him pressing his face into Jim's shoulder. The position felt hauntingly familiar. For an instant, Jim flashed on the ancient temple from his vision in Peru, but then his attention focused exclusively back on his partner. He started rubbing soothing circles on Blair's back, listening with satisfaction as his heart rate and breathing slowed back to normal.

"It's okay, Chief. Nothing to worry about now. We'll deal with it all later, so just concentrate on this for right now: I'm here and you're here and nothing's going to hurt either of us, all right?" Jim kept up the steady stream of comfort that Blair seemed to need, grateful beyond anything he ever would have thought possible that he was able to have this moment.

He could feel the muscles in Sandburg's body begin to melt. Blair shifted against him as if trying to burrow closer, and murmured in a tone somewhere between a complaint and a plea for reassurance, "Don't leave me alone."

"Never," Jim breathed, his throat closing around the word, but Blair heard, and it was enough.  Within a few moments, he had drifted back to sleep. Jim didn't let go, however; instead, he shifted them both so that he could sit comfortably and leaned back to enjoy the knowledge that Blair was alive and safe and going to stay that way for a long time to come, if he had any say in the matter at all. There were still problems to solve and criminals to catch, but for now he and Blair were being granted a brief interlude of peace to rest and heal before they dove back into the fray.

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