Disclaimer: Don't own them, wish I did. :::sigh:::

Category: PWP, some smarm and h/c.

Rated PG-13.

Notes: Written in Jim's defense to the much-discussed Blair shower scene by Izzy on the SA list. This is the Jimbabe version. Ahem!


THANKS, CHIEF



Fidus Amicus






The key missed its mark for the fourth time and Jim Ellison cursed as he brushed a hand across his damp brow. He concentrated on the small bit of metal in his hand as he lined it up with the keyhole in the doorknob. His sight narrowed in, picking out the individual dust and dirt particles stuck to the key. No wonder it wouldn't go in covered with so much crud.

"No," he growled, then forced his recalcitrant vision back to normal. The lines in his brow deepened and finally the key slid into the lock and the door opened to the loft.

With a heartfelt sigh of relief, he tossed his keys into the basket and the thunderous avalanche of metal against metal against wicker made him wince. He pressed his hands to his ears and struggled to find the magic switch to turn his senses down. Geezus, where was it? The refrigerator's motor threatened to deafen him and the faucet's drops sounded like a rocker on a bass drum.

Breathing deeply and hearing each individual sac expand in his lungs, Jim finally tuned his hearing down to an acceptable level. Whatever the hell that meant, he thought tiredly. He paused to strip off his black leather jacket and hung it on the coat rack then wandered into the living room to settle on the couch. Removing his shoes seemed a monumental task, but finally the boots lay on the floor, one on its side, the other nestling close to its sole. Nowhere near the acceptable level of the Jim Ellison code of neatness, but he didn't give a damn. Not now, not tonight, when exhaustion hazed his mind and dizziness was the norm.

Jim tipped his head back against the cushion and his arms fell by his sides, palms up. He ached and exhaustion attacked his mind, threatening to destroy the wall of denial Jim had built with sheer determination. Ten straight eighteen-hour days and most of that time Jim had been on his own. His guide and roommate, Blair Sandburg, had had his own crazy schedule to adhere to with the end of the seminar. At first, Jim had been able to control his hypersenses, but in the last few days, Simon Banks had to pull him out of increasingly numerous zones. Simon had suggested he go home to get some rest, but between Jim's stubborn streak and Simon's own shorthandedness in the department, the days had remained long and arduous.

When was the last time he'd seen Sandburg? Jim tried to focus his wayward thoughts. Yesterday? No. Two nights ago? He'd only heard him come in after midnight, then Jim had left before Blair had risen the next morning. Three days ago? For five minutes, the two men had exchanged terse sentences, both of them edgy and tired.

How long ago had he and Blair actually talked? God, it felt like forever. Jim missed his roommate -- his ability to talk about everything and nothing, his unflagging enthusiasm, his uncanny sense in dealing with Jim's heightened senses -- senses that Jim didn't even understand. He missed the quiet moments while they drank beer and watched a Jags game, verbally dueling about the merits of this player or that shot or a referee's call.

Tonight Jim had actually gotten home at a decent time -- seven thirty in the evening. Was it his turn to cook? Hell, the whole schedule had been turned topsy turvy. It didn't matter. Cooking would relax him and maybe Blair would be home early enough to share the meal with him.

With that optimistic thought, Jim pressed himself up to stand. The loft blinked in and out of focus, darkened then lightened. He rubbed his brow and willed his world to return to normal. Finally, the dizziness receded and he wandered into the kitchen. There wasn't much in the refrigerator to work with since neither he nor Blair had had time to grocery shop lately. He managed to find the ingredients for an alfredo sauce, as well as mushrooms and tiny shrimp to add to it. Yeah, a seafood alfredo on angel hair pasta -- that would hit the spot.

His exhaustion seemed to dissipate as he moved comfortably around the kitchen, relaxing with the familiar task of cooking. The water had just started boiling when he heard the key in the door and his roommate entered. The comfortable scents of Blair -- flannel and herbal shampoo and his own unique scent -- surrounded Jim and he smiled unconsciously.

"Hey, Jim," Blair said, surprised. "You're home."

"So are you," Jim replied. "How's it going?"

Blair dropped his own keys in the basket and allowed his backpack to slip to the floor beside the table. Another violation of the Jim Ellison code of neatness, but the older man ignored it. He was too damn tired to back up his threats with action. As if he ever would....

The long-haired man flopped into a dining room chair as Jim reached into the fridge and pulled out two longnecks. He opened them and handed one to Blair, who accepted it with a smile that was quickly replaced by a grimace. "Professor Manning dropped by my office."

Jim detected the quickening of Blair's heartbeat. "Why?"

Blair raked his fingers through his unruly curls. "He said I've missed too many days this past semester. He wants the department to pull my TA job."

"Shit," Jim murmured, knowing it was a damned inadequate reply, but his mind was too full of mush to come up with another.

"It hasn't been finalized yet, and I have a few professors backing me," Blair said. "But now, instead of taking the next week off between semesters, I'm going to show up every day like a good little TA."

The cutting sarcasm in Sandburg's voice sliced through Jim. The long hours were taking their toll on Blair, too. Jim added the angel hair pasta to the boiling water and set the timer for three minutes. As he turned to join Blair at the table, the damning dizziness swept through him again. He threw out an arm to grab the nearest thing and his fingers closed around Blair's shoulder.

"Hey, you okay, man?" Blair asked in concern, his own hand coming to rest on Jim's.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Jim grumbled. "Just a little tired is all."

He quickly pulled away from Sandburg and moved into the nearest unoccupied chair to camouflage his weakness.

"You're really pale. Are you sure you're okay?" Blair pressed.

Though it was completely irrational, annoyance rose in Jim like an ugly blemish. "I said I was fine," he snapped back.

Blair leaned back, his features closed. It was the same expression he had every time Jim hurt his feelings. Hell, he didn't have the energy or the patience to deal with a sensitive Sandburg tonight.

"Look, I'm sorry, but I've been a little busy myself," Jim said.

Blair picked at the label on the beer bottle, his thumbnail scraping against the glass, beneath the paper. It sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard and Jim clasped the offending hand in his own. "Damn it, Sandburg, is it physically possible for you to sit still for just one minute?"

"You're sure a prick tonight," Blair shot back. "Geez, maybe I shoulda just stayed at my office."

Jim drew his hand back. Self-disgust surged through him. The first night in nearly two weeks they were together for an evening and Jim couldn't help but snipe at every little thing Blair said or did.

Jim scrubbed one palm across his face, feeling the whiskers against his skin. Had he shaved that morning? He couldn't remember.

The stove timer dinged, spiking Jim's heartbeat. He clambered to his feet without the usual grace he possessed and turned off the stove. Taking the pot's handle in his bare hand, he hissed in pain and released it.

Blair was beside him in a moment, taking his hand in his and examining the palm.

Jim jerked out of his grasp. "I'm all right."

Blair tentatively touched the handle, then closed his fingers around it. "It's not even hot, Jim."

"It was too." He knew he sounded like a petulant kid, but he couldn't stop the childish retort.

Using a potholder, Jim carried the pan to the sink and poured its contents into a colander. Despite himself, his senses had dialed themselves up and he could hear and smell Blair right behind him. He could feel the heat a moment before Blair's hand came to rest on his back.

"Your senses are going haywire, aren't they?" he asked softly.

"I'm fine," Jim repeated, keeping his gaze on the steam rising from the pasta.

"I'm sorry I haven't been able to be with you the last week or two," Blair continued as if Jim hadn't spoken.

Jim turned and bumped into Blair before the younger man could back away. "Geezus, Sandburg, don't you know the definition of personal space?"

"It's a sentinel and guide thing," Blair teased with a strained smile.

Then where the hell have you -- my guide -- been these last ten days?

"Whatever," Jim said with a weary sigh, drawing his palm across his face. "Supper's ready. Let's just dish up from the pans."

"Sure, whatever." Blair studied his friend and partner as Jim filled his bowl with pasta, then crossed to the stove to ladle white sauce over the angel hair. Jim moved with an uncharacteristic stiffness -- his steps measured and short, as if he were afraid of stumbling.

Blair prepared his own bowl and lowered himself to the chair at the end of the table. His knee bumped Jim's and the detective's glare nearly scalded him. Until Blair noticed the wide pupils and bloodshot whites of Jim's eyes. Concern for his sentinel washed through him and he took a long moment to really look at the older man. Jim's whiskers appeared darker than usual against his pale complexion and the deep creases in his forehead hinted at something more serious than a shorter-than-normal temper.

But the taut muscles in Jim's jaw didn't bode well for conversation. Especially when Jim Ellison was the topic of conversation.

Blair forced himself to eat and found he'd been hungrier than he realized. "This is great, Jim. Thanks."

The detective's granite expression eased and a slight smile lifted the corners of his lips. "Yeah, it is pretty good, isn't it?"

Blair mirrored his smile, glad to see some of the old Jim re-emerging. "When did you get home?"

"About seven thirty." Jim pushed his bowl away, most of the pasta and sauce left in it. "I thought you might like a home-cooked meal."

"You were so right, man," Blair said through his suddenly tight throat. Even as tired as he was, Jim had thought of him. "You have to go in to the station tomorrow?"

"The criminals don't take days off, Chief." Jim's smile faded and the hard blue glint returned to his eyes. "I suppose you'll be at the college."

The sharp words stung Blair. "My job's on the line."

Jim's jaw muscle flexed and unflexed, then he finally relented with a slow nod. "I know. I'm being an asshole tonight. Sorry."

Blair breathed a little easier. "Why should tonight be any different than usual?"

Jim's smile wasn't nearly as bright as normal and apprehension rose in Blair's throat once more.

The detective stood and began to clean up the kitchen. He ran water in the sink and added enough soap to clean the Goodyear blimp. Blair watched, his unease growing though uncertain why. Once he was done eating, Blair carried his empty bowl and silverware to the sink. Jim remained motionless, his spine ramrod straight.

"Hey, relax, Jim," Blair said. "You aren't on KP duty, you know."

No movement. No reply.

"Oh, shit," Blair muttered. He took hold of Jim's shoulders and turned him around to find his friend caught in the throes of a zone-out. A major one by the looks of it. "Come on, Jim. Come on back to me. Listen to my voice. Focus on my touch, my scent. C'mon, Jim, neither one of us is up to handling one of these right now."

After a few minutes of using his "guide" tone, Blair noticed Jim was returning. The older man's eyes focused, blinked, then re-focused on Blair. Confusion gave his face a vulnerable look that sliced through Blair like a hot knife through butter. Blair rested his palms on either side of Jim's cool cheeks. "You back with me, big guy?"

Jim nodded minutely. "I think so." He closed his eyes and rubbed his brow. "It was a bad one, wasn't it?"

Blair nodded, reluctantly drawing his touch away from the sentinel. "What set it off?"

"Don't know."

Blair frowned, recognizing a lie easily after three years of living with Jim. "Why don't you go sit down? I'll finish up in here."

"No. I'm all right. You're just as tired as I am. Why don't you go read one of those big boring books you carry around in your backpack?" Jim's smile eased the harshness of his words.

Though not mollified, Blair recognized the stubborn planes in his friend's face. If he argued, they'd only end up deliberately ignoring one another for the rest of the evening. And Blair didn't want to spend an evening alone in his room. "All right. I'll see if the Jags are on TV."

"Good idea, Chief. I'll be done in a few minutes."

Jim turned back to the sink and plunged his hands into the soapy water. Blair sighed and retreated to the living room. The remote wasn't in its usual place on the coffee table and Blair began to look for it.

The phone rang, interrupting his search. Blair picked up the cordless and punched a button. "Hello."

"Sandburg?"

"Hi Simon," Blair said, plopping himself on the overstuffed chair.

"Is Jim there?"

"Yeah. You wanna talk to him?" Blair slid his hand between the chair arm and cushion and his fingers wrapped around the remote.

A pause. "Actually I called to talk to you," Simon replied, clearly uncomfortable.

Fear trickled through Blair's veins and the remote and Jags game were forgotten. "What about?"

Simon sighed and even through the phone line, Blair could feel his frustration. "Did he tell you about the zones he's had the last few days?"

The fear jumped to dread as he turned his attention to the man who continued to clean up the kitchen. "He didn't mention it."

"I didn't think he would. Do you think you can come in with him tomorrow?"

Suddenly Jim's abrupt behavior made sense. A whole lot of sense. "I'm not sure."

"Sandburg... Blair," Simon began. "I don't understand this sentinel and guide thing, but I do understand that Jim needs you."

Blair didn't take his eyes off of Jim. Gods, the man would drive himself to a major zone-out before he would admit anything to his guide. Anger replaced alarm. If a pissed-off sentinel was a force to reckon with, wait until they saw one pissed-off guide. "I understand. I'll be with him tomorrow."

"Good." Simon sounded relieved. "Make sure he gets some sleep tonight."

"Don't worry. I'll take care of him."

"And Blair?"

"Yeah."

"You get some sleep, too. Sounds like you've been as overworked as your partner."

Warmth flared deep within Blair, dulling his righteous anger. "Thanks, Simon. I will. Bye."

Blair hung up the phone.

"Who was that?" Jim asked as he joined Blair in the living room.

"You didn't listen in?"

Jim squirmed beneath his direct gaze. "I've been listening to your privacy lectures, Chief."

"Bull. Your senses are so messed up, you don't have any control any more, do you?" Blair challenged.

Jim's pale cheeks flushed. "I can take care of myself, Sandburg. You just go on to Rainier tomorrow. You have to save your job."

"Why didn't you tell me about your zone-outs?"

Jim flinched as if struck. "You've been busy. Besides, I can't rely on you all the time."

"I am your guide, Jim. If you can't rely on me, who the hell can you rely on?"

"Who I always have -- myself!" Jim jumped to his feet, then staggered, listing to the right.

Blair sprang up and grabbed Jim's arm before the detective took a header on to the coffee table. "Whoa, take it easy, Jim."

"I'm okay, Sandburg."

"Can it, Ellison." Blair's sharp retort startled Jim. "First off, you need to strip and take a hot shower."

Jim leaned heavily on Blair, telling the younger man how exhausted his friend truly was. "You planning on taking advantage of me?"

The teasing lilt in Jim's voice surprised Blair and he smiled. "Don't worry. You're not my type."

Jim chuckled. "That's a relief."

Blair began to escort Jim toward the bathroom, and the older man pulled out of his arms. "I'm not an invalid, Sandburg."

Blair stopped in the hallway. "Fine, go ahead and fall flat on your face, see if I care," he retorted as Jim disappeared into the bathroom.

With a muttered curse, Blair walked back into the living room. He paused, straining to hear Jim, but only silence emanated from behind the closed door. He continued upstairs to his friend's bedroom, where he retrieved a clean pair of boxers and Jim's bathrobe. When he returned to the main floor, he heard the shower come on. Slipping into the unlocked bathroom, Blair set the underwear and robe on the toilet tank where Jim would find them.

Back in the living room, Blair retrieved the remote and flicked the TV on. He found the Jags game, but kept his hearing attuned to the bathroom, hoping Jim hadn't zoned in the shower. It wouldn't be the first time.

Suddenly he heard a loud thump and Blair's heart leapt into his throat. He dashed down the hall to the bathroom, but paused by the door. "Jim, you all right in there?"

No reply.

"Hey, Jim, you okay?" Blair's anxiety grew.

Still no answer.

He entered to find the shower curtain closed and the water still running. But the shadow behind the curtain had disappeared. Blair thrust the curtain back and his heart skipped a couple beats. Jim lay sprawled in the bathtub, blood from his forehead mixing with the water as it ran down the drain.

"Shitshitshitshit," Blair said, reaching in to shut the water off. He knelt on the floor and managed to maneuver Jim into a sitting position in the tub. Grabbing a towel, he pressed it against the gash on Jim's head that was already swelling.

Jim moved and his eyelids flickered.

"Hey, man, talk to me," Blair said, his voice husky with fear.

"I thought you weren't going to... take advantage of me," the detective muttered, his eyes closed.

Blair's laughter was filled with relief. "What can I say, you're irresistible."

"That's what the ladies say," Jim murmured, a half smile on his lips.

Blair's gaze flickered down to Jim's groin, then quickly shot back up to look at Jim's pale face. "I can see why," he muttered, a touch of envy in his tone. Then, totally embarrassed, he prayed his friend's hearing was still off-line.

Jim opened his eyes finally and groaned. "Who turned up the lights?"

"Dial it down," Blair said quietly, his guide instincts rising to the fore. "Get it back under control, Jim."

After a few moments, Jim was able to look around without squinting. "What happened?"

"You knocked yourself out," Blair replied. "Looks like you fell and hit your head."

Jim's fingers traveled to his forehead and came to rest on Blair's hand that held the towel against his injury. "I remember leaning over to shut off the water, then nothing." He shivered. "Help me outta here, Chief. I feel like an arctic raisin."

Chuckling, Blair assisted his less-than-steady partner to his feet. He removed the blood-stained towel and found the bleeding had slowed to a trickle. "I don't think you need stitches, but I have to clean it up."

Jim began to nod, then halted. "Stupid move, Ellison," he groused to himself.

Ignoring Jim's feeble protests, Blair dried him with a fresh towel then handed him his boxers. He held Jim's arm as the older man stepped into the underwear and tugged them up. Blair helped him into his bathrobe and waited while Jim tied the belt around his waist.

"God, I feel as weak as a baby," Jim grumbled.

Blair hooked an arm around Jim's waist while the older man draped an arm across Blair's shoulders. After getting the detective settled on the couch, Blair slipped away to retrieve the medical supplies he needed to treat Jim's injury. When he returned, Jim had laid his head back against the cushion. Blair knelt himself beside him and got to work.

Blair placed the third and final butterfly band-aid on the gash. "There, that should do it."

"Thanks, Chief," Jim said quietly.

Blair smiled. "You're welcome."

Jim had come a long way since the day Blair had given him the white noise earplugs and had to ask for a thank you.

They sat in silence, watching the Jags game though neither man was really watching it.

"You should've told me about your zone-outs," Blair said softly.

For a long moment, there was only the basketball commentator's voice.

"I know," Jim finally said. "But hell, Chief, you were so busy, and I thought I could handle it."

Blair shifted around until he was facing Jim, his arm resting along the back of the sofa. "When are you going to get it through that thick head of yours that I'm never too busy to be your guide... your friend. You expect too much of yourself, Jim."

"I only expect to do my job like everybody else."

Blair understood the terse words were spoken out of frustration. "Everybody else doesn't have sentinel senses. Nobody else has to deal with sensory spikes and the headaches afterward. But you also have to remember that I'm here for you, Jim. Whether it was genetic or predetermined or fate, I can help you with your senses and I'm more than willing to do that. You know that, buddy."

Jim turned his head to look at Blair. "Yeah, I know," he whispered.

"Then let me help you. Don't shut me out."

Jim took a deep uneven breath and sighed. "I've always had a problem asking for help, Blair."

The younger man snorted. "Tell me something I don't know."

"If that's the way you want it, Darwin." Jim paused, as if gathering his thoughts. "This past week where we didn't see each other, I felt like a part of me was missing."

Blair's mouth dropped open. That was the most heartfelt admission he'd ever heard from stoic Jim Ellison. "If it wasn't for all those tests and the end of the semester...."

"I understand." Pain and exhaustion creased Jim's forehead. "I'm just so tired right now."

Blair licked his dry lips. "Here, why don't you lie down on the couch and get some rest."

Blair stood, then helped the unresisting sentinel shift around until his long body was stretched out on the couch. Blair reached forward and drew the afghan down from the back of the couch to cover Jim with it. The student moved to the loveseat directly across from him to keep an eye on Jim.

"You don't have to watch me, Chief. I'll be okay," Jim slurred, his voice muffled by the pillow and blanket.

"I know, but I want to stay here. I'll be going in with you tomorrow, too."

Jim opened his eyes to look at him. "What about your TA job?"

Blair shrugged. "If I lose it, it won't be the end of the world." He met Jim's clear blue eyes. "But if I lost you, it would be."

Jim was silent for a long moment, but his blue eyes were filled with gratitude. "Thanks, Chief."

Blair nodded, his throat full and aching. He leaned forward and rested a hand on Jim's shoulder. "Get some sleep, partner. We got us some bad guys to catch tomorrow."

Jim snuggled down beneath the afghan and the younger man settled back to watch the rest of the Jags game. After a few minutes, Jim's even breathing told Blair his sentinel had fallen asleep for some much-deserved and much-needed rest.

As he studied the steady rise and fall of his partner's chest, Blair promised himself he wouldn't become so entrenched in academia again that he overlooked the most important person in his life -- Jim Ellison: detective, sentinel, and best friend.

Because, when all was said and done, wasn't it about friendship?

~finis~

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