Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Pet Fly, Paramount, and The SciFi Channel.
Much appreciation goes to Shallan for her initial beta work, and to Sheila Paulson and L.A. Carr for their editing... thank you!
Originally published in The Comfort Zone #1.
A companion piece to 'The Warmth of Home'.
Jim leaned forward, watching intently as the Jags drove into the paint, attempting to score the go ahead basket before the buzzer sounded to signify the end of the third quarter.
The hoop made, Jim threw his clenched fist into the air with an excited, "Yes!" before sheepishly remembering the man beside him. Glancing over at his partner with a ready apology on his lips, he gratefully realized that Blair had not been disturbed in the least by his sudden outburst. On the contrary, with glasses perched studiously on his nose and a red marking pen in his hand, the anthropologist seemed completely absorbed in the paper he held.
Jim's relieved smile faded to a frown as he took a closer look at the younger man. He was taken aback by the previously unnoticed dark circles that dramatically framed Blair's eyes and the lethargic movements that spoke of a tiredness that quickly approached exhaustion.
Upon reflection, Jim realized that Blair had not enjoyed more than two or three hours of sleep on any given night during the past week. Instead, a full schedule at Rainier and several late night stakeouts had served to keep him up until the wee hours of the morning.
His forehead furrowed in concern, Jim called, "Hey, Chief?" When there was no response, he repeated, "Chief?"
"Hmmm?" Blair said without looking up.
"You look tired. Why don't you call it a night and finish in the morning?"
A wide yawn belying his words, Blair answered, "Nah, I'm okay."
Letting out a snort of exasperation, Jim pursed his lips in contemplation, knowing that the weary, but diligently working man would undoubtedly soundly and completely reject a simple repetition of his suggestion. Thinking back to the time Blair had conspired to provide an exhausted Sentinel with much needed sleep, he decided to take a few pages from his friend's book. Rapidly devising his plan, mentally coined 'Operation: Bedtime,' a slightly devious smile teased at the corners of his mouth.
Jim rose to his feet and headed for the kitchen. He filled a coffee mug with water, placed it in the microwave, and set the timer. A search through Blair's collection of herbal teas brought to light a box labeled 'SleepyTime Tea.' He chuckled in recognition. This particular product's slogan had been oft repeated by a certain Guide to his stressed out Sentinel, and he flawlessly quoted, "Creates a lullaby of tender flavor to soothe your senses."
Jim froze, thinking for a moment the mumbled question had been directed toward him, but a quick check of the living room revealed Blair was still totally engrossed in his work. Reassured, he turned as the microwave let out a quiet ding. Removing the mug, he prepared the tea and headed back to the couch. "Here you go, Chief."
Blair looked up in surprise as the detective placed the mug of hot tea in front of him on the coffee table. "Oh, thanks, Jim."
"You're welcome," Jim responded, fully prepared to pretend he had chosen that particular brand solely by accident if called upon. He smiled as Blair picked up the mug, delightedly inhaling the fragrant aroma before taking one cautious sip and then another.
With an exhalation of satisfaction, Jim considered their surroundings next. Knowing the brightly-lit loft would not be conducive to sleep, he made his way around the room, turning off each lamp as he passed, finally leaving only the small couch-side lamp and the flickering television set to illuminate the room. Then, before returning to the couch, he paused by the television just long enough to lower the volume to a level that would be inaudible to all but Sentinel ears.
Unaware of Jim's covert actions, Blair continued to work steadily, only an occasional "hmmm" and "uh, huh" breaking his silence.
Jim settled back into his seat, and aside from intermittent side-glances at his partner, his gaze was fixed on the TV screen. When the game ended, he ignored the highlight-filled post-game show to review the next steps of his plan. After a few moments of consideration, he got to his feet, striding across the living area to turn off the television before making his way to the stereo. Seconds later, peaceful instrumental music filled the air.
As Jim moved back across the room, Blair finally looked up from his work. Taking in the darkened television screen, he asked, "Is the game over already?"
Jim smiled affectionately at the surprised expression on Blair's face. "Sandburg, it's almost midnight."
"It is?" Blair asked in amazement, darting a shocked look at the clock. He yawned, rubbing both hands over his face wearily. "Hey, if you're ready for bed, I can move into my room."
"No, that's okay," Jim reassured him, waving off the offer as Blair made a move to gather up the blue books and binders that were scattered across the coffee table.
Blair raised a doubtful eyebrow. "You sure?"
Jim nodded. "I thought I'd catch up on some paperwork of my own."
"Oh, okay." His attention immediately reclaimed by the exam he held, Blair scrawled one final comment on the bottom of the page. Closing the binder, he took a few more sips of tea before reaching for the next one.
After retrieving a stack of manila folders from the kitchen table, Jim returned to his seat. Propping the first file on his lap, he surreptitiously observed his friend out of the corner of his eye. Frequent yawns and increasingly drowsy blue eyes convinced him it was time to initiate the next step of his plan.
"Might as well get comfortable," Jim commented idly, tossing an extra pillow in Blair's direction.
"Oh, thanks, Jim." Automatically picking up the pillow, Blair stuffed it behind his back, adjusting his position to fully take advantage of the cozy support.
"Here, use this, too," Jim invited in an off-handed manner, unsuccessfully trying to suppress a smile as Blair absentmindedly accepted the multi-colored cover as well.
"Thanks, Jim," Blair mumbled.
Jim's smile became a grin when the young man slouched down in his seat, draping the afghan across his lap and resting his feet on the edge of the coffee table. Valiantly resisting the urge to push his partner's sock-clad feet off the furniture, he skimmed through his file for a few minutes before glancing over at Blair again.
The late hour, tea, warm afghan, comfortable pillow, and soft music had all combined to take their toll on the tired man. Eyes at half-mast, Blair's head was drooping slightly. The red pen, still held in Blair's grasp and poised over a thin binder, dropped unnoticed from his hand to land on the cushions beside him. In his other hand, the forgotten mug slowly tipped to one side, threatening to dump its contents.
Jim silently reached for the cup, his fingers tightening around it just in time to prevent a spill. Setting the mug on the coffee table, he turned to face his friend. Blair's eyes had closed completely and his breathing was slow and steady. "Chief?"
Blair shifted in his seat, moving his head slightly in the direction of Jim's voice, but didn't awaken.
Accenting his words with a gentle shake to Blair's shoulders, Jim said, "Hey, Chief? It's bedtime."
"Hmmm? Wha'?" Blair sleepily mumbled, his eyes slowly reopening.
Chuckling, Jim repeated, "Bedtime." He stood, extending a helping hand in invitation.
Blair yawned. "Can't. Got to finish."
"Not tonight, kiddo. You can't even keep your eyes open."
"Yes, I can," Blair insisted, blinking blearily in the lamplight.
"You can, huh?" Jim teased, watching as Blair's eyes drifted closed again.
"Uh, huh." Despite his words, Blair pulled the afghan closer, nestling into its warmth. The binder in his lap slid quietly to the floor, unnoticed.
Looking down at Blair, Jim shook his head in amusement. At that moment, his partner reminded him of a five-year-old child curled up with a favorite blanket. "Sandburg, go to bed before I carry you there."
With a sigh, Blair slowly nodded his reluctant acquiescence. "What about my stuff?" he asked through a wide yawn.
"It can wait until tomorrow. Come on, Chief." Jim reached down to grasp Blair by both hands and pulled him to his feet. Positioned close, he was ready when Blair almost stumbled with his first step, placing a steadying hand on Blair's arm.
Jim smiled, giving the tired young man a gentle pat on the shoulder. Directing Blair toward the downstairs bedroom, he made sure his friend was safely in bed before returning to the living room.
Switching off the stereo, Jim made a quick check of windows and doors before starting for his own room. One foot positioned on the bottom step, a soft murmur from Blair's room encouraged a brief detour and he peered around the ajar French doors.
Almost asleep, Blair sighed again in contentment as he snuggled down into his covers.
"Goodnight, Chief," Jim called softly. Answered by a muffled snore, Jim whispered, "Mission accomplished," and headed for bed.
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