Disclaimer: Once again they don't belong to me. They belong to Pet Fly, UP and Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended and absolutely no money has changed hands.

Summary: A missing scene from "The Debt" What would have happened if Jim left Blair standing outside the warehouse?

Rating: General

Word Count: 14,759

Author's notes: My thanks, as usual, to StarWatcher for her expert beta. Sections of dialogue in this story have also been sourced from Becky's transcripts.

Feedback: Feedback is always appreciated - jessriley80@yahoo.com.au


Jess Riley

Jim Ellison glanced briefly at his map before pulling off the quiet side street and maneuvering his truck into an empty parking space just outside an old, dilapidated warehouse. "Well this is the right address," he muttered, stuffing a crumpled piece of paper back into his jacket. Peering out the windshield into the grey, dull night he surveyed the place briefly. Surely Sandburg can't live here. This place is a dump. Shrugging, he opened the truck door and drew himself from the cab. With a double check of the locks, the detective went in search of the front door.

"Hello." A voice crackled from a rundown speaker that was hanging precariously from its mounting.

"Yeah Sandburg, it's Ellison."

"Hey, Jim, great. Hang on a sec, man and I'll let you in." A moment later, the door, stuck on its hinges, was yanked opened with some force. "Welcome to my humble abode," Blair greeted expansively, a welcoming smiled plastered across his face.

"I'm not sure if 'humble' is exactly the right word, Chief. 'Decrepit' comes to mind, though." Ellison pushed past Sandburg and took in the state of the kid's accommodation. He trailed his finger along the grimy bookcase by the front door. "So I gather you don't own a duster?"

Ignoring Ellison's comment, Blair put his shoulder against the door and pushed it closed. "Hey, great, you brought the video camera," he said, bouncing once and reaching to take it from Jim's hand.

The detective took a step back and pulled the camera away from the enthusiastic grad student. He wiggled his finger at Sandburg. "Ah-ah-ah, not so fast Junior. First the rules, then the camera."

"Rules! You've got to be kidding, man. I'm not twelve. I've been responsible for more expensive equipment than this. There was this one time when I..."

"Sandburg," Jim interrupted


"You want the camera?"

"Well, yes... but..."

"You want the camera, you listen to the rules," Jim said, fixing Blair with what had become known around the station as the patented 'Ellison glare'. However, his authority was severely undermined by the look of fondness that twinkled from his eyes.

"Now, rule number one," Jim began, holding up a finger in front of Blair's face. "You do not, under any circumstance, let anyone else borrow this camera. And by that, I mean 'no one'. Rule number two," he continued, wiggling two fingers at Blair, "You do not, under any circumstance, let this camera out of your sight in a public place. And rule number three," he insisted, lifting the third finger and thrusting all of them forward into Blair's personal space, "This camera is not, under absolutely any circumstance, to be used to film any bedroom situations with any of your acquaintances... female or otherwise."

Blair burst into laughter at Jim's last rule. "Oh come on man, that's not fair. I've already sent the whips and chains out to be cleaned, and the invitations to the orgy were in the mail weeks ago. The farmyard animals have been booked, including the chickens, and everyone's coming... Saturday night is gonna be pumping, Jim," Blair said, with an exaggerated thrust of his pelvis.

"I mean it, Darwin," Ellison replied, trying hard not to let a smile ruin his run. "You let anything happen to this camera and Carolyn will have my balls in a sling."

"Sounds interesting. Painful maybe, but interesting nonetheless," Sandburg quipped. "Hey, maybe Carolyn would like to join the party?"

Ellison rolled his eyes. "You wouldn't stand a chance, Junior. You'd be mincemeat in less than ten seconds." He turned his attention back to the camera. "Now, back to the reason that I made this little sojourn to your neck of the woods - the camera. I'm completely serious, Sandburg. You break it or lose it, and you replace it ... understand?"

Blair snapped to attention and placed his hand over his heart. "I'll guard it with my life. Trust me, man."

Reluctantly Jim handed over the camera. "Why am I not reassured?" he muttered. "Hey, who's your friend?" he asked, noticing for the first time the ape sitting on the sofa.

"Larry, Jim, Jim, Larry."

"He a relative of yours, Chief?"

"Ha, ha, very funny, man. Larry's my research project. I'm doing a paper on the long term effects of concentrated television violence on primates."

"Sandburg, how many chimps do you know that watch TV?"

"Larry's not a chimp, Jim." Blair covered the little creature's ears. "He's a Barbary ape, and it's a proven fact that the behavioural patterns of a Barbary ape are remarkably similar to that of a human being."

"Maybe in your family tree, Darwin," Jim smirked.

Suddenly, Ellison's attention was drawn to the kitchen and he spun around. "What the hell was that?" It took only a few seconds before the sound of a snapping trap answered his question. "Don't tell me you got mice?"

Sandburg shook his head. "Oh no, no, no. Mice are like small and cute, but these... these are big, hairy things." An automatic shudder ran through his body. "Big teeth, sharp too."

"Chief, that's disgusting. How the hell can you live like this?" Ellison kicked the trap with his foot to see if the rodent was still alive.

"Where else am I gonna find ten thousand square feet for eight-fifty per month? It's not like I'm loaded here, man."

"Why do you need ten thousand square feet in the first place?" Jim asked as he settled down on the sofa. Eyeing the animal with reserve, he reached over and took a handful of popcorn from the bowl which sat on the ape's lap. "You gotta be kidding me," he exclaimed as Larry glared at him and removed the bowl from his reach. He shook his head in disbelief and decided that beer would hit the spot right about now. "So I don't suppose you can afford to buy beer on that budget?" he asked, still eyeballing Larry.

"Sure I can, if I don't eat!" Blair plopped heavily down beside Ellison. "They're in the fridge."

"Good then, I'll take one."

"That's great Jim... they're in the fridge." Sandburg leaned over Ellison's lap and snatched his own handful of popcorn.

"Some host." Jim pushed Blair's torso away from his knee, and got to his feet. "Manners not a high priority on mom's list I gather?" he asked, walking into the kitchen. Once again, his attention was suddenly drawn to another noise. "Hey, turn that down," he ordered sharply.

"Why?" Blair reached for the remote. "What is it?"

"I thought I heard gunfire."

"It's just the TV, man."

"Get down." Jim was on the move before the words had a chance to completely leave his mouth. He threw himself over the back of the couch, taking Blair and Larry with him. Instinctively he covered Sandburg's body with his own as an almighty explosion ripped through the warehouse and the wall came tumbling down.

"Oh, man, what happened?" Blair coughed as the last of the dust and debris settled.

More alert, Jim took in the scene. "Sandburg, I think your apartment just blew up." He struggled to his feet. "Shit, what a mess."

"Blew up?" With one hand pressing hard against the thumping pain that was ripping though his forehead, Blair reached the other out to Jim, who took a hold and dragged him up. "Shit is right," he drew out, as the devastation became a reality.

The explosion itself had caused extensive damage to only a small section of Sandburg's apartment, but the water damage from the fire department's efforts to extinguish the flames had taken care of the rest. As Blair plucked through what little remained of his personal possessions, his eye caught the pieces of the shattered video camera. "Oh man, I am so dead." He picked up the casing and watched with dread as the camera's insides disintegrated in his fingers. It might not have been his fault that the expensive piece of equipment had been destroyed, but that didn't change the fact that Jim had entrusted him with it. Ellison had been under no obligation to coerce Carolyn into letting him borrow it. While it may have been wistful thinking on his part, he held onto the hope that the act had suggested that a real friendship was developing between them. He wouldn't chance destroying that budding friendship; he would replace the camera and Jim's trust would remain.

Letting it slip from his fingers, he wearily went about the task of packing up the little he could salvage and began loading his car.

"Is this all your stuff?" Jim dumped a half-filled cardboard box in the back of Blair's car.

"Yeah, most of it. I'll have to come back tomorrow and see if there's anything else worth taking." Blair's arms hung dejectedly by his side. "Man, this just the worst, where am I gonna stay?"

Ellison shrugged. "I dunno know. A hotel, hostel or something. Surely you've got some friends or family you can stay with?"

"That's fine for me Jim, but what about Larry?"

"Put him in a kennel, or take him back to the university."

"Jim my paper's due next Friday." A glimmer of hope sparkled in Sandburg's eyes. "Hey maybe I can bunk with you. It will only be for a couple of days... just enough time to find something else."

"No, Chief, not a good idea." Ellison backed away. "I'm really a kinda private person, Sandburg. You know, like my own space. And besides, I don't have the room. Only one bedroom upstairs, remember." He leaned forward quickly and gave Blair's cheek a light pat. "I'm mean, you're cute and all, but not that cute."

Sandburg was desperate; he couldn't back down. "I can camp out on the sofa, man. I promise you won't even know I'm there. And Larry... well he's really well house-trained. He's actually got more manners than most of my friends."

"Sorry Sandburg... no pets, building rules." Ellison did his best to ignore the Blair's dejected face. "Look kid, I'd love to help. I really would, but I just can't see it working. Surely you've got some friends you can stay with. There must be an old girlfriend floating around out there who can take you in for a while."

Blair finally noticed the expression on Jim's face and read exactly what it was trying to tell him. If he wanted you around Sandburg, he would have offered. Where did you get the notion in the first place that he ever wanted or needed you as a friend? All he needs is your help with his senses and all you need him for is for your dissertation. That's the only relationship that exists between you. Face it. He's not interested in anything else. This time Blair backed away. "Hey, it's cool Jim, I understand. I'll make some calls. I'm sure I'll find somewhere to crash. It's not a problem man... really."

Jim tapped the door of his truck, feeling slightly guilty. "Good," he said, trying to reassure himself that Sandburg was not his responsibility. "Hey, look, I'll call you tomorrow at the university, see how you made out."

"Yeah, thanks, man. I'll talk to you tomorrow." Blair turned away and busied himself with settling Larry. Despite his words, the look of despair and disappointment didn't leave his face.

As Ellison drove away he glanced in the rearview mirror and was almost tempted to go back as he watched the kid's dejected figure standing by car, trying to coax a skittish ape into its cage. He's not your responsibility Ellison, he reminded himself. Hell, you hardly even know the kid... it's not like he's family or some long lost friend. He's a big boy and has plenty of friends. He'll be fine.

"He'll be fine," Ellison assured himself out loud and forced himself to keep on driving.

"Hey Larry, it's okay," Blair cooed, trying to settle the excited ape. He reached out to stroke the monkey's fur. "It's okay fella, no one's gonna hurt you." Not thinking, he grabbed the monkey by the arm in order to put back in its cage. Larry panicked and, in a moment of self-preservation and survival, sank his teeth into Blair's wrist. The bite was ferocious and deep as Larry's incisors pierced flesh and hit bone.

"Larry!" Blair shrieked. He automatically tried to pull his arm free from the attack, but his sudden action only caused Larry to panic more and bite down harder. The Barbary's ape's bottom teeth were now dangerously close to the veins in his wrist.

As quickly and unexpectedly as the attack had begun, it ended. Stunned and frightened, Larry unlocked his jaws and scampered for the safety of his cage.

Finally free, Blair clutched his arm to his chest. The pain was intense, but there was nothing he could do except to wait it out. "God, this sucks," he hissed, through gritted teeth. "This is really so not my night."

Dropping the remaining boxes on the floor of his office, Blair glanced over at Larry, who appeared to be sleeping blissfully in the cage on his desk. Sinking wearily into the old leather sofa that rested against the far wall of his office, he gingerly removed the makeshift bandage from his wrist. He carefully examined the puncture wounds, which were throbbing painfully in time with his pulse. They were deep and messy, but at least they'd stopped bleeding. He made a trip to the restroom down the hall, and washed the bites with soap, and water as hot as he could stand it. "Not much else I can do about it tonight," he mumbled, turning his attention back to the sleeping animal. "I'll go by the clinic in the morning, right after I drop you off at the behavioural sciences wing." This time he glared. "You know, Kong, a little attitude adjustment, and a lesson in appreciation wouldn't go astray."

The little ape slept on and Blair closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the sofa, hoping that sleep might alleviate the pain in his wrist ... and the one in his heart.

With no television to watch and an empty stomach rumbling, Larry set about making sure his keeper knew of his predicament.

Blair was drawn slowly out of a fitful sleep. "Hey, Larry," he murmured. Still feeling decidedly off kilter, he flopped his feet to the floor and drew himself shakily upward. Approaching the desk, he held no grudge, and poked his finger into the cage to scratch the little animal's head. "Just give me a minute and I'll rustle you up some breakfast," he said.

Larry grabbed at his finger and appeared to look at him with pitiful eyes. "It's okay Larry. I know you didn't mean it." With one last pat, Blair withdrew his hand and sank down onto his office chair. "Man I feel sick." In an effort to try and keep the nausea at bay, he lay his head down on the desk.

Now void of attention and still with an empty stomach, Larry let out a high-pitched shriek.

"Okay, okay." Blair lifted his head and drew in a few deep breaths. He picked up the phone and punched in the number for the behavioural sciences lab. "Hey, Carly," he said as the line connected. "Would it be alright if I swung by and dropped Larry off?"

There was a smile in the voice of the young woman on the other end of the line. "He's not giving you a hard time, is he Blair?" she asked. "I told you four days with Larry would seem like a lifetime."

"He's been fine, Carly," Blair assured her. "I've just had to rearrange my schedule and I need to put my research project on hold for a couple of days."

With Larry's fate back in the hands of behavioural sciences, Blair glanced down at his day-planner. "This is not going to be a good week," he muttered. He'd completely forgotten about his early tutorial and it was one he couldn't afford to miss. Rummaging in the top drawer of his desk he pulled out a breakfast bar and pushed it through the wire caging. "Come on, Larry," he said, gingerly getting to his feet. "Just enough time to drop you off and grab a quick shower." Delving back into his drawer, he pulled out a bottle of Tylenol and dry-swallowed two tablets. Guess the clinic will have to wait till this afternoon. Pushing the thought to the back of his mind, he shouldered the duffel bag that contained the only clothes that had been worth salvaging and lifted the cage off his desk. Wincing at the effort, he instinctively held his injured limb protectively against his body. "Okay, Larry, let's get you home." He pulled the door open with his foot. "At least you have one."

"Mr. Sandburg, I'm going to prescribe both oral and topical antibiotics. I'm also going to make a referral for an x-ray. It's important that we find out the extent of the muscle and bone damage. Once we've established this, then we can best decide on the most appropriate course of action to take. Animal bites are not to be taken lightly, especially those of a primate. Infection can spread very rapidly if not taken care of right away." Securing the bandage around Blair's injured wrist, the doctor continued with his instructions. "I'm going to give you a tetanus shot and something for the pain. Do you have someone who can pick you up?"

Blair baulked immediately. "Hey Doc, a painkiller's not necessary. I honestly don't feel all that bad," he lied. His pale features and careful movements badly contradicted his last statement. "Just give me the tetanus shot and prescription, and I'll drop by the hospital later today for the x-rays."

Blair's thoughts quickly turned toward his other pressing problem. Not that I'll have much money left after I pay for the camera.

The phone range late in the afternoon, waking Blair with a start. He lifted his head from the desk and reached groggily for the receiver. "Hey Chief, it's Ellison. Sorry it's so late; I meant to call you earlier in the day, but things have been hectic." His voice sounded light, offhand. "Did you manage to find somewhere to stay?"

"Yeah man, got it covered." Blair quickly changed the subject. "Have you found the guys who blew up my place yet?"

"Not yet, but we've got some pretty strong leads. At this point it definitely looks gang-related." An inkling of guilt crept into Ellison's voice. "Hey, I was wondering if you felt like grabbing a bite tonight? My treat."

Blair's answer came well-rehearsed and without a moment's hesitation. "Sounds great man, but I can't tonight. I've sorta got other plans." Like lying down and trying to keep my stomach contents in one place, he thought, ruefully. "How about some other time, though?"

"Hot date, Romeo?"

"Yeah, something like that." Blair unconsciously palmed away the sweat from his forehead.

"You okay Chief? You sound kinda funny."

"Me ... yeah I'm fine Jim. All's good." Feeling like he'd just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Blair became anxious to end their conversation. "Look, man, I'm really pushed for time and have gotta go. I'll catch you tomorrow, okay?"

"Hey, hang on, Chief; you got a number or something where I can call you, just in case I need to talk to you?"

"Just call my office, Jim. I'll be pretty tied up here for the next few days."

As Jim hung up the phone he couldn't rid himself of the gnawing feeling that something wasn't quite right. Letting the kid stay with you for one week wouldn't have killed you Ellison, the little voice inside his head insisted. Sometimes you can be such a thoughtless bastard. The kid did save your life. What's one week in return?

"Damn it," he hissed out loud. "Can't you just give it a rest?"

"Jimmy?" Carolyn gently touched Jim's shoulder. "Are you okay?

"Oh... hey, Carolyn," he mumbled, feeling slightly ridiculous. "Sorry, I didn't see you."

"Obviously not," she replied. "You seemed a million miles away. Anything I can do to help?"

Ellison shook his head. "No ... no, thanks, it's nothing. I've just got a lot on my mind." He settled back in his chair. "Did you need to see me about something?"

"Actually I was wondering if Blair was up here?"

"No, and why would he be?" Jim's eyes narrowed. Carolyn could be a pit bull when she wanted to be, and since he'd already run Blair over the coals about the camera, there was no need for the kid to suffer twice. "What do you want Sandburg for anyway?"

"I wanted to give him this." She handed him an envelope. "But since he's not here I may as well leave it with you. You'll probably see him before I do."

Jim took the offered envelope. "What is it?"

"It's a receipt for the money he gave me to replace the video camera."

"When did he give you this?"

"About an hour and a half ago, I guess," she shrugged. "I was tied up and didn't have a chance to talk to him. He just apologised to my assistant and left the money."

"Strange," Jim muttered, fingering the envelope. "Why he didn't come up to see me? Surely he can't be pissed off that I didn't offer him a place to stay? As Jim's thoughts transformed to guilt, he did want he did best and turned his blame on someone else. "Carolyn, why did you take the money from him? I'm sure you could have wangled it on to the department's insurance policy. After all, the camera was damaged at a crime scene," he stated tersely.

"I suppose I could have," she replied shortly. "But he's the one who insisted I take the money, and quite frankly, I don't have the time to waste filling out a million insurance forms." She pushed herself away from Jim's desk. "If you were so concerned, why didn't you tell him you would organise the insurance? After all you were the one who borrowed the camera in the first place."

With a clap of her heels, she snapped around and left the bullpen with a huff.

This is exactly the reason why it's not worth getting involved with people, Jim thought, angrily. You end up with nothing but grief.

"How much?" Blair exclaimed when he was told the cost of the antibiotics. "You've got to be kidding. It would be cheaper just to cut the hand off."

The girl behind the counter scanned the items again just to make sure. "I'm sorry sir, that's the price."

After handing over most of his savings to Carolyn, he had enough to pay for the damaged library books, but precious little would be left. Mentally evaluating his priorities, he had decided that replacing the books was definitely very high on the list. Rainer's resident librarian was on a par with Attila the Hun. Absolutely no flouting of the library rules would be tolerated, and not even a bit of boyish charm seemed to work on the old dragon. If he were ever going to borrow another book again, he would need to replace the damaged ones post haste. With his remaining funds dwindling fast, he simply couldn't afford to buy both prescriptions.

"I guess I'll just take the topical ointment for the time being," he said, handing over a fifty-dollar bill to the girl. Receiving twenty-five dollars in change, he had just enough left in his budget to purchase a few meagre herbs from the health food store. Probably work better than putting all those chemicals into my body anyway, he convinced himself.

With packages secured somewhat precariously under his arm, Blair shakily unlocked the door to his office. Dropping the bag on his desk, he sank down into his chair and placed his head, once again, on the desk. Not only was his wrist throbbing unmercifully, but his head felt like it was going to implode. He didn't want to think about how he was going to unwrap the bandage from his injured hand. Hell, he couldn't even face the thought of a cup of herbal tea, let alone be confronted with a bloody wound. All he wanted to do was lie down and sleep. Gingerly he shook out a couple of more Tylenol from the bottle still on his desk and swallowed them with a swig of tepid water. Even though he didn't really have the time, he could see that a stretch on the sofa was in his immediate future. He couldn't function in class the way he was feeling right now, anyway. As his cheek hit the cool leather arm of the sofa, his thoughts drifted toward Jim. Maybe I should give him a call. The thought drifted away as randomly as it had struck. Nah, I shouldn't bother him. He made it pretty clear, that he didn't want to get involved. Blair's eyes drifted shut. Yep... sleep is definitely the best option. Hell, sleep is my only option.

Ellison pulled into the parking space next to Sandburg's Volvo. "Well, surprise, surprise," he muttered. "Even after a hot date the kid's still at work bright and early." Snatching a bag of doughnuts from the passenger seat, he pulled himself from the cab. "Sandburg, if I were a betting man I would have given odds that you would have still been shacked up with last night's date, nursing one king-sized hangover." But I guess you can't be a teaching fellow without learning some work ethics, he mused as he walked toward Hargrove Hall.

"Hey Sandburg, hope you like doughnuts 'cause that's what's for breakfast." When his announcement didn't elicit a response, the detective did away with etiquette and pushed open the door. "I know you're in here kid. Sentinel, remember?" Spotting a dishevelled and somewhat crumpled-looking Sandburg sound asleep on the sofa, his opinion of Blair's work ethics quickly deteriorated. "I take it all back," he muttered, placing the doughnuts on the desk. "Come on Chief, rise and shine." He slapped Blair's leg. "Maybe you shouldn't party so hard on a school night, Junior." Leaning down he grabbed Blair by the arm, intent on changing the grad student's position from prone to upright.

Pain shot intensely from the tip of Blair's fingers all the way to his shoulder. Now awake, he doubled over in agony, and clutched his arm to his chest. He frantically rocked back and forth, trying desperately to draw in breath.

Jim shot back, stunned by the reaction. "Jesus, Sandburg, what's wrong?" he demanded. "I hardly touched you."

Unable to answer, Blair pushed his head back onto the cushions and squeezed his eyes tightly closed as tears of pain, which he could no longer contain, rolled down his cheeks.

For the first time since entering the office, Jim took notice of Blair. Real notice. Putting the kid's sentinel advice into practical use, he focussed intently. Blair's heartbeat was pounding at an extraordinary rate per minute, but more worrying was the odour of infection that inundated his sense of smell. "Chief, what happened?" he asked. Crouching down he reached out and tentatively rubbed Sandburg's knees, astutely aware that that kid was having a hard time getting his breathing under control "That's it... just breathe through it. Nice and easy, Chief, big steady breaths," he coaxed, his hands never once breaking contact with Blair's knees.

As Blair's breathing finally evened out, Ellison studied Sandburg more closely. Whatever was wrong, the kid definitely was in a bad way. A complexion that was normally tanned and healthy was now pale and sweaty and, for whatever reason, Blair was obviously in a great deal of pain. Placing the back of his hand against Blair's forehead he swore when the heat radiating from the young man's skin penetrated his sensitive fingers. "Shit, how do I turn them off?" he muttered angrily. The kid feels feel hotter than Hades, but how the hell am I suppose to know what's right when these damn senses are out of whack? Gagging a little as the fetid smell of infection once again permeated his nostrils, he immediately took short, shallow breaths in order to quell the assault on his sense of smell. Finally managing to pull himself together, he focussed his attention on the arm that was clutched tightly to the Sandburg's chest and was shocked when he saw the condition of Blair's fingers.

"Chief, what's wrong with your hand?" He removed his hand from Blair's forehead and carefully tried to disengage Blair's arm from his chest.

"No Jim, don't.... don't touch it, man." Blair's eyes squeezed shut again. "God, it hurts."

"I know kid," Jim sympathised. "But your fingers are turning purple. I need to loosen the bandage. If we don't get some circulation going you could be picking them up off the floor." Managing to extract Blair's hand from his chest, he cradled it gently in his palm. "What happened?" he asked.

Ellison's annoying and persistent little voice was back. The kid was in a god damn explosion you idiot. You never once asked if he'd been hurt.

Blair swallowed hard. "It was Larry." He paled even further. "I gotta lay down Jim. I don't feel so good."

"Take it easy, Junior." Springing into action, Jim supported Blair's back until he was laying flat on the sofa. Worried that the kid might actually be going into shock, Ellison elevated Blair's feet and covered him with his jacket. "How did Larry do this, Chief?" he asked, turning his attention back to Blair's arm.

"He got scared and bit me." Blair pinched the bridge of his nose in a vain attempt to block out some of the pain. "It was an accident. He was just scared."

Jim squeezed Blair's shoulder lightly. "Chief, I'm gonna have to unwrap the bandage and take a look at the damage." He eased the injured limb out from under his jacket. "You ready?"

"No," Blair responded through clenched teeth. "But I guess a 'no' isn't gonna stop you."

"Nope," Ellison agreed. As carefully as he could he unwrapped the bandage and lifted away the gauze that was coving the wound.

"Blair, this is badly infected." He turned the hand slightly and examined the angry looking puncture wounds that were freely oozing yellow pus. Without hesitation, he lifted his jacket and placed his hands behind Blair's back. "Come on kid, you're going to the hospital."

"No, Jim, no." Blair suddenly became very alert. "No hospitals. I've already seen a doctor and I've got some antibiotic cream. Just put some on and wrap it back up. It'll be fine in a few days."

"Sandburg, have you even looked at this?" Jim asked in disbelief. "Your hand is swollen to the size of a melon, your fingers are purple and there's more pus here than on a teenager's face." He pulled Blair up. "Not to mention the fact that your temperature is rising every minute. Antibiotic cream is not gonna work, Chief. Didn't the doctor give you something stronger?"

"Yeah he did; I just haven't had time to get it filled yet." Blair slumped to one side. "And how do you know my temperature's rising?" His brain began ticking over. "Hey there's a thermometer in the bottom drawer. Grab it will you, I wanna see if you can accurately gauge a person's body temperature by using your senses."

Ellison was stunned. "You are unbelievable, Sandburg. You're about one step away from becoming Captain Hook and you wanna play 'take the sentinel's temperature'!" He latched hold of Blair's elbow. "Stash the science crap, Chief, because like it or not, you are going to the hospital." He tugged on Blair's arm. "Now do you think you can stand, or do I have to throw your sorry ass over my shoulder?"

Knowing he was beaten, Blair shrugged off Jim's hand. "I can walk," he muttered, struggling to his feet.

On the way out the door, Blair turned back. "Hey, grab that wastepaper basket will you Jim? Don't want to embarrass myself by leaving a technicolour yawn all the way down the hallway."

With Blair safely in the truck, and without incident, Jim placed the wastebasket on his lap. "Remember, Sandburg ... I love this truck."

Blair shrugged him off again. "Yeah, yeah, I know. You don't have to worry. I wouldn't do anything to ruin your pride and joy. After all, a man without possessions is nothing, right Jim?"

"Damn straight, Chief. He who has the best toys wins." Jim slammed the door shut and jogged around to the driver's side.

"Well, I guess I've lost, then," Blair said quietly, as Ellison pulled away from the curb.

"Detective Ellison? I'm Doctor McNally. You're here with Mr. Sandburg I understand?"

Jim shook the doctor's offered hand. "Yeah. How is he? Is the infection as bad as it looked?"

"From my initial examination, I'd have to say yes, but we won't really know until we get him up to x-ray. I suspect that he has an abscess on the bone. If that's the case the wound will need to be lanced, and the abscess drained. I'd like to get him started on an antibiotic drip and give him something for the pain, but he seems adamant that he is not staying. Since he hasn't listed any details of friends or family that I could call, I was hoping that perhaps you knew him well enough to persuade him otherwise."

Jim immediately shouldered past the doctor. "You're right on the money there, Doc," he said, already heading off down the hall in search of the errant anthropologist. The noise and commotion of his surroundings seemed to automatically filter out as he homed in on Blair. Finding Sandburg in a busy hospital turned out to be a lot easier than he'd ever imagined.

Kittens and puppies had always pulled at his heartstrings, and now, apparently, so did down-on-their-luck anthropologists. He'd been resigned to giving Sandburg a piece of his mind, but somehow that had changed. Almost unconsciously, he was determined to do everything he could to help. "Hey Chief," he said gently, as he approached the bed. "Heard you've been giving the doctor some grief. What's going on?"

"I can't stay." Blair's eyes were downcast, as was the tone of his reply.

"Why not, Junior? Nurses not pretty enough for you?"

"It's not funny, man."

Jim wasn't sure whether the cause of Blair's emotional state was from pain or distress. But he did know was that the kid was hurting, and felt an unexpected but overwhelming instinct to protect and take care of him. He wasn't entirely comfortable with the feeling, but he couldn't seem to ignore it.

Taking a seat next to Blair, Jim nudged his shoulder. "You gonna spill?"

"I don't have enough money for this," Blair answered openly and honestly. "I've only got a couple of bucks left, and that has to last me until the end of next week."

"Sandburg, I can lend you some money until you get paid." Ellison got to his feet and faced Blair. "In the meantime, your insurance should cover the hospital bill."

"No, it won't. I've only got basic coverage; it's not gonna take care of all of it. Besides, I still gotta replace all of my stuff and find somewhere to live."

"Can't you ask whoever you're staying with if you can stay a bit longer?" Jim enquired.

Since honestly seemed to be the theme of the day, Blair decided to keep running with it. "I would if I'd found somewhere to stay. At the moment I'm living out of my office." Shifting forward Blair planted two feet on the ground and adjusted the hospital gown to cover himself as best he could. He'd already bared his soul to Ellison, no need to go baring his naked butt to the guy as well. "You haven't seen my clothes anywhere around have you?"

Jim laid a hand on Blair's shoulder to halt his movement. "Chief, look, I understand your predicament, but I think you need to set some priorities here, and the most important one you need to concentrate on is getting this infection cleared up." A look of uncertainty still lingered on Sandburg's face, so Jim tried again. "I'm serious. Blair. If this infection gets any worse, you could actually lose your hand. You need to be admitted and let the doctors do their job."

"It's a moot point, Jim, because it's a job I can't afford."

"You can if you let me take care of the bill."

"No." Sandburg shook his head and pushed himself away from Jim with an unsteady gait. "I won't accept charity."

"I never said it would be charity, Chief. Once you're up and around and more or less on your feet, then we can work out some kind of payment schedule." Kittens and puppies, Jim thought as he turned his own pleading eyes on Blair. "Please Chief, let me help you out." And let me help put this right.

Blair glanced down at his hand and realised he really didn't have a choice. "Alright," he agreed, reluctantly. "I'll have the procedure, but I am not staying overnight."

"Detective Ellison." Doctor McNally had been hovering in the hall, listening to the conversation. "May I see you outside for a moment?"

"He's agreed," Jim said, pulling the door half shut behind him.

"So I heard, but I also heard that he's not staying the night. You know I can't release him right after surgery, don't you? An overnight stay is a certainty, and even if the infection is not as bad as I suspect it is, I would still be hesitant about releasing him tomorrow."

Jim ran his hand though his short-cropped hair, searching for an answer. Getting Sandburg agreeing to surgery had taken some finesse, getting him to stay overnight would be a task, but a doable one. Stretching out his stay for another day, however, was really pushing the envelope. "Look, Doc, I realise he won't be going anywhere tonight, but the trick is convincing him of that. Let's just take this one step at a time. Right now, he's agreed to treatment. When he's out of surgery, I'll have another talk with him and hopefully that, combined with the drugs he'll be on, will keep him put for the night."

"And then?"

"Well, if you're asking me to try and convince him to stay longer than that, I'd say your chances are the same as shovelling shit against the tide." Ellison held up his hand, halting the doctor's next words. "Look, Doc, if worse comes to worst and he insists on leaving tomorrow, then I'll make sure he comes home with me. I've had some basic medical training, and if he's dead set against staying, maybe he would be better off - and heal a hell of a lot quicker - at home."

While Doctor McNally was adamant that he wouldn't sign Blair out unless he was fit enough to leave, he couldn't stop his patient from signing himself out. "We'll wait until tomorrow," he finally agreed.

Jim watched as the orderlies wheeled Blair out of the examination room and toward the elevator. His internal voice was back with a vengeance. One act of kindness would have prevented all of this, it said. Just one simple act of kindness.

Speaking quietly with the nurse outside the OR, Jim was relieved by the news that the procedure had gone well. It would still be a couple of hours before Blair was settled in a room, so Jim took the opportunity to grab some diner. With one quick glance toward the closed OR doors, he suddenly realised that he'd been monitoring Sandburg's progress since he'd been wheeled into surgery. It hadn't been a conscious effort, he was certain of that. It was just a situation where he couldn't seem to adjust his senses down to a normal level. They were fixed on Blair and that's where they stayed.

Stabbing at the elevator button Ellison thought about how intense their relationship had become in such a short time ... and even more strangely, how it didn't seem to faze him.

"Hey, Jim." Blair smiled weakly as Ellison approached the bed.

"Hey, Chief, how you feeling?" Jim studied Sandburg carefully. His arm was heavily swathed in bandages and elevated on several pillows. An IV drip was delivering antibiotics into the other. "I spoke to the doctor and he was pleased with how things went."

"Yeah I know." Blair lifted his head from the pillow. "You don't happen to know where they put my clothes do you? I still can't find them."

Time to shoot from the hip, Ellison thought. "Sandburg, you're not going anywhere," he stated firmly. "You're attached to that IV for a reason, you know."

Blair was just as unyielding. "Jim, I told you before I was admitted. I can not afford to stay here."

"And I told you that I would take care of it."

"And I'm telling you that I can't let you do any more than you've already offered." Blair's thoughts travelled back to night before and how reluctant Jim had been to get involved. "This is not your responsibility and I will not take any more money from you," he stated, resolutely.

Sensing that their conversation was about to turn into an argument, Jim bit his tongue and decided to back off a little. "Blair, look, I'll make a deal with you. You stay put for the night and I'll talk to the doctor and see if there's any chance of springing you first thing tomorrow. It's only one night, and you gotta admit that it'll be a lot more comfortable than the sofa in your office." He put on his best persuasive face. "So what do you say, Chief, one night?"

Even though he wasn't prepared to admit it, Blair was inwardly relived that Jim was so insistent that he stay the night. Even if he managed to get out of bed, and get himself dressed, he highly doubted that he'd have the energy to take himself out of the hospital doors. He nodded slightly. "All right, but just one night and the minute my paycheck hits the bank, I'm paying you back, in full."

A small smile graced Ellison's face and he patted Blair's leg. "You get some rest and I'll be back in the morning."

"To spring me," Blair added.

"We'll see," Ellison muttered, as he headed for the door. "And, Sandburg, no flirting with the nurses. I do not want to be dragged back here in the middle of the night to investigate an harassment allegation."

Blair waved the detective away. "Don't worry man; even if I wanted to, I doubt that I could rise to the occasion."

"Get some sleep, Romeo." Jim smiled fondly as he left the room. I think I just adopted a handful.

Before leaving the hospital, and in light of their most recent conversation, Jim tracked down Blair's doctor. It looked as if one night was all they were going to get out of Blair, but he felt confident that he could provide the care that Sandburg needed at home. Blair would be on some pretty potent antibiotics for the next week and this, combined with the painkillers, would hopefully keep him pretty docile. Right now though, the first job on the list was to pick up Blair's belongings from the university and take them home. Transforming the room under the stairs into a fit state to be occupied wouldn't be too much of a challenge. All that was needed was to take a few boxes down to the basement, throw a clean set of sheets on the old futon, give the room a bit of spit and polish and the place would be fit for a king. Well, fit for an underpaid grad student, anyway, he mused.

As promised, Jim returned to the hospital mid morning to pick up Sandburg and, also as promised, Blair was ready to hit the road. He'd managed to find his clothes and was sitting fully-dressed on the edge of the bed when Jim walked into the room. His injured arm was still heavily bandaged, but now was also supported by a sling.

"Hey man, I was getting worried. Thought you might have forgotten me. What's in the bag?"

"I brought you some clean clothes, Junior, but I can see you've already found the dirty ones."

"Hey, they're not that dirty," Blair gave a quick sniff to his armpit "Okay, so maybe I'll change when I get to the U." He eased himself off the bed. "I've spoken to the doc, got my pills and my escape papers, and I am so ready to leave." He picked up the bag Jim had tossed onto the bed. "If you can just drop me off at my office, I'd really appreciate it Jim. Got lots of stuff to catch up on. Papers to grade, evaluations to write. No rest for the wicked."

Jim knew that Blair's little display of hyperactivity was a ploy to convince him that he was well enough to leave. But the pain lines around the kid's eyes and the lack of colour in his cheeks told a different story. "There's been a slight change of plans, Sandburg." Ellison reached out and plucked the bag from Blair's hand.

"Oh, hey that's cool. If you need to head back to work or something, I can just grab a cab. Don't know how I'm gonna pay for it, but I suppose I'll figure something out.

"There's no problem with the lift, but there is a problem with the living arrangements."

"What?" Blair expression dropped. "Please tell me you didn't tell anyone at the University that I was staying in my office?"

"Don't worry, Chief, I didn't spill any of your dirty little secrets. I did however, inform them that you would be taking the rest of the week off."

"Jim, I can't afford to do that!" Blair exclaimed. "I'm already far enough behind as it is."

Ellison crossed his arms across his chest and tried not to focus on Blair's eyes. Sandburg certainly had a knack for expressing his innermost feelings without saying a word, and he couldn't afford to let himself get reeled in. Refusing to meet Blair's pleading gaze, he shifted into a tone of voice he'd learned from a variety of top sergeants and began his spiel. "The conditions of your early release from this fine institution, Mr. Sandburg are as follows. Firstly you've been instructed to stay with someone who is capable of cleaning your wound and changing your dressing." Jim remained steadfast against Blair's disbelieving gaze. "That person, as it so happens would be me. Secondly you are to stay with someone who is capable of making sure that you take your medication. That would be me, again. And finally, you are to stay with someone who is capable of making make sure that you keep your butt in bed for more than one day. Once again, that person would be me. So to cut a long story short, Chief, it looks like you're stuck with me."

"I don't need a babysitter, Jim." The sadness and defeat in Blair's voice had Jim immediately moderating his attitude.

"I know you don't, Chief." Reaching out, he squeezed Blair's shoulder. "But you do need a friend on your side, for a couple of days at least." He patted Blair's arm. "So what do you say, Champ, feel like letting me be that friend?" Ellison wiggled his eyebrows. "I make a mean spaghetti sauce."

Not feeling well enough to argue, or emotionally strong enough to keep the fašade going, Blair finally relented. "Just for few days," he said quietly. "And as soon as they're up, I'll be outta your hair. I promise."

The ride home was quiet and, though Blair was trying hard not to show it, Jim could tell that it was taking its toll. He wasn't surprised when Blair refused 'one for the road', having already learned that the kid avoided pills whenever possible, nor was he surprised when the hospital staff bought Sandburg's story about feeling fine. It didn't take sentinel senses to see that he wasn't, but it did take someone with a knack for reading his body language. And I can read you like a book, kid, he mused. As soon as they arrived at the loft there would be no argument; without question, Sandburg would be taking his pain medication.

With one hand on the door handle and the other on Blair's shoulder, Jim steered his guest through the front door. "Come on Chief, time to lie down. The bedroom's this way."

Blair forced a smile to his face in an effort to cover his pain. "Thought you said I wasn't cute enough to share a bedroom with."

"You're not, that's why I cleaned out the room under the stairs." He gently pushed Blair toward the room. "It's more like a large cupboard actually, but it'll do until you're on your feet."

"Jim, you didn't have to go to that much bother, man. I coulda slept on the couch; after all, it'll only be for a few nights."

"No feet on the couch Chief; rule number six, I believe."

Blair raised his eyebrows. "You have rules? You live by yourself and you have house rules." He shook his head. "Man, that's seriously sad."

"Bed, Junior," Jim said, ignoring Blair's comment and steering him toward the futon. "Need some help?"

"What?" Blair was suddenly unsure of what Jim had just said. His head was now pounding and, in the space of a few seconds, his concentration level had plummeted rapidly into the minus figures. But whatever Jim had said, he was sure it was important, so a nod seemed the safest path to take.

With jacket and shoes deftly removed, Jim tapped Blair's belt. "Time to loose the duds, Chief." His hands paused on the top of Blair's jeans as he asked the critical question. "You're not free-balling, are you, Junior?" Receiving a puzzled, somewhat quizzical look, Jim continued, "You know, going commando, letting it all hang loose." Blair just stared at him with a moronic, blank face. "Giving Mr. Happy a day out, Chief."

This time Blair frowned, but still couldn't seem to link Jim's words together with any meaning. Ellison sighed. "Looks like I'm just gonna have to play dangerously." He undid the buttons on Blair's jeans and yanked them down, surprised by what met him. "Do I even want to know why you're wearing Lion King boxers?" he asked.

Bed and painkillers. It didn't seem like a tall order, but since Blair's brain appeared to have taken a flying leap out the window, the task was a little harder than Jim had envisioned. "Did you swallow?" he asked, trying to ascertain whether or the not the pills had ended up where they should have. A noise that sounded suspiciously like a giggle came out of Sandburg's mouth and had Ellison rolling his eyes. "I'm so not gonna go there, Sandburg," he said, pushing Blair down, flat onto the futon.

Before Blair's eyes drifted completely shut, Jim tapped his cheek "Chief, I gotta go down the station for a few hours. Think you'll be okay by yourself?" He was reluctant to leave Blair home alone, but when he'd left the PD, Simon had had one of his rants in full session, which meant he better get his butt back to work. "Sandburg try and concentrate here for a minute will you?" This time he gave Blair's cheek a firmer pat. "Will you be okay by yourself?"

A brief moment of lucidity returned and Blair answered tiredly, "Sure man, I'll be fine. Take your time; like I said, I don't need a baby sitter." With his mammoth sentence completed he immediately closed his eyes and returned to the fog.

Why am I having a hard time believing that, Junior? Jim thought. His reluctance surfaced again, but he pushed it down, justifying to himself that Blair was a grown man and, after all, he'd only be gone for a couple of hours.

Tucking the covers in securely, Ellison got to his feet. "Sweet dreams, Chief," he whispered.

Ellison's interrogation of his prime suspect, Antoine Hollins, had not gone exactly as planned. To make matters worse, the guy had now turned up dead. Earl Gaines, the cop who he was working the case with, wasn't exactly seeing things his way - on several levels. So the once seemingly straightforward, gang-related drug case, had all of a sudden become a little more complicated.

Still feeling a level of frustration about the way the case was turning out, Ellison pushed through his front door and dumped a bag of groceries on the countertop. He was about to head toward the stairs to check on Sandburg, but the sounds coming from the bathroom left little doubt that the grad student was no longer in bed.

Ellison knocked lightly on the bathroom door. "Sandburg, you okay in there? Under normal circumstances, if a guy were puking his guts out in his bathroom, he would leave him to it. In his world there were some things that were best done in private; puking was one of them. But as strong as this thought was in the forefront of his mind, it dissipated quickly. Blair's unforeseen arrival in his life had him examining a whole new set of feelings - feelings that were somewhat foreign to him. A few days ago the kid had been just an acquaintance, someone who was helping him get a hold on his senses. Their relationship had been purely symbiotic. He'd gained Blair's specialist help, and the grad student had gained a study subject. But somehow, in the short space of time in which they'd known each other, Blair had grown on him. Sandburg seemed to possess a talent for being annoyingly likable and, if he were to be honest with himself, he really did like the kid.

"Chief," Ellison poked his head into the bathroom and immediately felt a pang of guilt and concern. Blair was sitting on the cold tiles with his cheek resting on the toilet seat. Not concerned in the least about invading Blair's privacy, Jim moved into the room and crouched down. "Hey Chief, not going so good?" He placed his hand on Blair's forehead only to find the kid's skin cold and clammy. Judging by the sound of his breathing, Blair was also evidently struggling to keep the nausea at bay. Plucking a washcloth from the side of the tub, Jim ran it under the faucet. Squeezing it out, he placed it on the back of Blair's neck and lifted Sandburg's face off the seat. "How long you been like this, Chief?" he asked, flushing the toilet.

"Awhile," Blair panted, but he made no attempt to lift his head from the palm of Jim's hand. "God I feel sick ... don't think I've ever felt this bad."

Jim lifted the washcloth from Blair's neck and began to sponge his face. His earlier thoughts of leaving Blair 'to it' were now a distant memory. "You know, Chief," he said lightly, "this reminds me of the time I was in Japan for some R 'n' R. Some of the guys and I decided to drink our way through the sights of Tokyo. Boy did I get wasted. Rode the porcelain bus for two days before I started to feel human again. To this very day I still can't stomach rice wine."

Blair swallowed hard, but he knew it was just futile attempt to avoid the inevitable. "At least you had a good time getting to this state," he said. "This just plain sucks." As if on cue, Blair turned his head to vomit weakly into the toilet.

"I know it does, Chief." Jim repositioned himself so he was now directly behind Blair. He wrapped one arm around Sandburg's chest and used his free hand to rub long soothing strokes up the length of his back. "I know it does."

As the clock ticked over, Jim stayed by Blair's side and, on the stroke of four, Sandburg finally felt well enough to make the trip back to bed. After being able to keep down some medication and half a glass of flat 7-Up, he eventually drifted off for what would hopefully be a night of deep, healing sleep.

And, despite his own efforts to rest, the Sentinel remained on guard.

He was hot... too hot, but he couldn't seem to come to any conclusion as to why. He wanted to leave and let the cold night air wash over his body, but every time he opened his eyes the room did a 360-degree spin. He was desperate for a drink, a drop of cool water to parch his dry, swollen throat, but he couldn't seem to move. His body was not letting go of the pain and just when he was sure he had reached his limit, a soothing cloth cooled his burning forehead. A large hand, rough hand, gently cradled his head and he was lifted up from the pillow. Pills were placed in his mouth and a cup raised to his lips. He took a sip and was encouraged to swallow. The pills slid smoothly down his gullet and were immediately followed by more of the precious cool liquid he had been yearning for.

Then it was gone. The cup was removed, but the hands remained. They gently lifted him higher and he found himself resting upright, but not sure against what. His shirt was peeled from his damp torso, and the bliss had returned. The cloth trailed across his back, taking him back to his oasis. A voice was added to the ministrations. It was deep and throaty, but somehow soft and reassuring.

The voice that finally lulled him back into the depths of sleep.

The voice was back, but this time it was persistent and relentless. "Sandburg, time to wake up." It roused him from his slumber, uncompromising in its task.

"Mmm." His words were thick and heavy, but it was all he could manage.

The covers lifted and his body was now being shaken. "Come on Sandburg. I need to change these bandages."

The cold light of day hit and with it came realisation. "Jim?"

"Yep, who else where you expecting?" Ellison palmed his forehead. "You had me a little worried last night, Chief. Your temperature was all over the place. How you feeling this morning?"

"Good," Blair answered, without really taking stock of how he felt. "What time is it?"

"Morning time."

"Morning? What happened to the rest of yesterday and last night?" His brain may have still been behind the eight ball, but at least his mouth seemed to be working again.

"You slept through them." Ellison placed Blair's injured hand in his lap and cut away the bandage. "You hungry?"

"Yeah, a little, I guess." He winced automatically. "This is gonna hurt, isn't it?"

"Not if you lay still and stop wiggling."

Blair's bladder suddenly became an urgent issue. "Sorry man, it's just that nature calls and she's singing loudly."

"Well cross your legs and hold it in, Junior, otherwise I'll have to get you a cork." With a smirk on his face, Jim unwrapped the bandage and lifted the gauze. Satisfied with what he saw, he gently cleaned the puncture wounds and redressed Blair's wrist. "Your free, Chief," he finally said.

While the want may have been urgent, the will to get him there wasn't quite so determined. He faltered slightly and listed momentarily to the side, before Jim hooked his elbow and steered him back on course.

"What do you want for breakfast?" Ellison asked, leading Blair into the bathroom. He cautiously let go, and stood close by, just in case Blair decided to hit to the deck. "How about some eggs?"

"Toast will be fine Jim," Blair answered with a blissful sigh that came only from the release of a full bladder.

"Good, toast and eggs it is then." It took Jim a few minutes to realise that he was still standing in the bathroom and effectively watching Sandburg take a leak, but if Blair felt any embarrassment over it, he certainly wasn't letting on. Finished, Sandburg casually flushed the toilet and moved to over to the sink. "Jim, would it be all right if I took a shower? I'm feeling pretty ripe."

Must be it's a bohemian thing, thought Jim, ungraciously. The kid's probably spent half his life wandering around the woods, peeing in the bushes for the whole world to see.

"Jim?" Blair asked again. "Shower ... would it be okay?"

"Oh, yeah, shower, sure Chief. Let me grab you a towel and something to protect the bandage. Are you sure you can manage with that arm?" he called out. "Maybe a bath would be a better idea."

Although pale and still a little shaky, Blair felt one hundred percent better than he had yesterday. "A shower will be fine, " he called back. "I'll make it quick." Sandburg caught the towel as Ellison tossed it his direction. "You think you could just help me get my shirt off?" Grabbing at the hem, Blair suddenly became aware that it wasn't, in fact even his shirt. "Hey this isn't mine!"

"Boy you're quick," Jim quipped. "It's mine." Smacking Sandburg's hand away, he pulled the shirt up and over Blair's head, but stopped to take care as he manoeuvred it over the injury. "Your shirt, well ... basically it stunk, Sandburg." He flashed a smile and patted Blair's arm. "Breakfast will be ready in ten," he said, turning to leave the room.

Breakfast was cooked and just about ready to be served up when a cry of pain had Jim dropping the pan onto the countertop. He pushed through the bathroom door, without a second thought. "Sandburg, what's wrong?" he demanded.

"I slipped getting out of the shower and hit my arm." Blair sat down heavily on the toilet seat lid. "Shit, that hurt," he said through gritted teeth.

"Slipped or took a nosedive?" Jim asked, focusing intently on the bandaged arm.

"Is it bleeding?"

"I can't smell any blood Chief, so I don't think you've torn the stitches. Maybe I should take a look just to be on the safe side."

Blair pulled his arm away. "If you can't smell blood then it should be fine."

"So I'm a bloodhound now," Jim deadpanned.

"No, it's just that I trust your senses and there's no reason to go poking and prodding when Rover says everything's good."

"You'll keep," Jim warned, giving Sandburg a light swipe across the top of his head. He coaxed Blair to stand, not at all fooled by mask the kid had in place.

His mask however had long since gone. It had been left outside the warehouse the night he abandoned a friend. I promise I'm gonna make it up to you, Chief.

And it was a promise that the sentinel intended to keep.

"Hope you like your eggs well done?" Jim pushed Blair down on the sofa and handed him a full plate.

"Isn't there a rule against this?"

"Against what?"

"Against eating on the couch."

"There is, rule number forty-eight if you must know."

"Number forty-eight! How many rules exactly do you have?"

"Do you really want to know?"


"Good, now swallow these." Jim placed two tablets in Blair's hand.

Holding up his finger before the complaint began, Jim gave Blair 'the look'.

"You know Jim, you really gotta work on that, man. As far as looks go, that one is letting you down, big time."

"What'd ya mean I've gotta work on it?" Ellison snapped. "I'll have you know, Sandburg, that this look has had even career criminals hiding behind their mother's skirts for protection."

Blair looked up and studied Jim's face. "Nah, sorry. Not doing anything for me." He stuffed a fork full of eggs into him mouth. "But if you want, I could help you go back to basics. We could go down to the park and try it out on some preschoolers. I'm sure you'd get a little squeak or two outta them. Or pensioners," Blair suggested, taking another mouthful. "They're always good for a little 'look-induced' cardiac arrest."

Pulling himself to his full height, Jim towered over Blair, who, by his quiet chuckling, was taking obvious pleasure at his own wit. Leaning down so he was mere inches away from the grad student's ear, he spoke softly. "You do realise that I was in covert ops, don't you Chief?" His voice became low and his whisper menacing. If the kid was well enough for smart-mouthing, he was definitely well enough for a little teasing.

"Yeah, so?" Blair continued eating and smiling, totally oblivious to the threat in Jim's voice.

"Oh nothing, it's just that I thought you might like to know what I'm capable of doing with these." He brought his fingers up so they were in Blair's direct line of vision.

"Um, gee, let me guess. Pick your nose, or scratch your ass maybe." This time Blair's voice broke into a quick, short laugh.

Ellison leaned in closer. "I was thinking more along the lines of maiming, permanent disablement or even death if the situation is called for."

"Death?" Blair look up and finally caught the look in Jim's eye.

"That's right, death. But you know what, Chief? That's not the worst thing they can do."

Feeling a little uneasy at Jim's close proximity, Blair tried to move backward, pressing himself further into the sofa cushions. "It's not?" he said. "Do I want to know what is?" he asked cautiously, suddenly very aware of the fact that he didn't really know Jim all that well.

"Tickling." A wicked smiled creased Ellison's face and his dusted his fingers over Blair's ribs.

"Tickling!" Caution grew at the implication and suddenly death seemed like a whole better option. "Oh man, you wouldn't." He held up his arm. "I'm injured, remember?" He squirmed to get away from Jim's touch. "Really, really injured."

"What's the matter, Chief, not ticklish are you?" Ellison applied a little more pressure to his fingers.

"No... not at all actually," Blair blurted a little too quickly. "It's just that I've got a plate full of food and a glass of juice." He quickly retrieved the glass from the side table next to the couch. "And there's gotta be a rule against tickling while eating."

Jim playfully tapped Blair on the forehead. "Swallow," he said, 'and this time without the commentary."

"Commentary ...what commentary?"

"That's exactly what I intend to find out, Junior." He was sure that Blair had no idea about the statement he made mention of last night, but when the kid was back on his feet he intended to milk it for all it was worth.

"Man, you know I don't know why I feel so shaky." The juice sloshed dangerously from side to side as Blair lifted it to his lips.

Ellison became serious. "Probably because you haven't eaten since yesterday morning." He reached out to steady Blair's hand. "Your blood sugar's got to be low, but after a couple of good meals and some rest, I'll sure you'll bouncing off the walls again."

"Yeah I guess." Blair handed the glass back to Jim. "Hey, how's the case going? Found the gang that blew up my place yet?"

Digging into his own breakfast, Jim filled Blair in on all the blanks, including the pending gang war between the Deuces and the Three-Fifty-Sevens.

"You know, Jim, a couple of years ago I did an extensive study on tribal warriors who share remarkably similar behavioural patterns to American street gangs. Maybe I should ride along with you today. My study could help shed some light on the case."

"That's a very generous offer Chief, but I don't think you're in any condition to hit the streets just yet. Besides a comment like that could get you into a lot of trouble."

"Jim this has nothing to do with race, man. This is about dominance and submission of subgroups. As a matter of fact, a colleague of mine predicted the outcome of a key U.S. Senate vote last year based on this same model. It's simple, really, once you think about it. In all male-dominated, power-based subgroups, antagonistic action by one group is usually met with equal to or greater antagonistic action by another."

"Meaning what Chief?"

"Meaning that now the Deuces think that the Three-Fifty-Sevens killed Antoine, they're going to have to retaliate. Their code of honour will demand it. So escalation is inevitable."

"Unless I can prove to one group that the other group is innocent."

"That's exactly what you have to do Jim."

"I think you just might be on to something, Junior." Jim grabbed the phone and bounded up the stairs to his bedroom.

"You're welcome," Blair called out.

Jim ignored Sandburg and waited to be patched through to the bullpen. "Hey Joel, it's Jim. How's the leg? Hey since you're stuck on desk duty I was wondering if you could do me a favour?"

The case was going from bad to worse. The bullets retrieved from the drug lab next to Blair's place had been matched to two weapons that had disappeared from the evidence lockup - during the same time that Earl Gaines and two other officers had signed into the lockup cage. To make matters worse, a search of Gaines' apartment had turned up a stash of drugs, as well as one of the weapons that had been used in the drug lab hit. "All just a bit too convenient," Jim muttered as he keyed opened the front door.

Greeted by laughter as he entered the apartment, he walked over to the sofa and turned his attention to the television show that had the two men engrossed. "You've got to be joking. Don't tell me you watch this rubbish, Chief."

"It's not rubbish," Blair answered without once diverting his eyes from the screen. "Daytime talk shows are a very important anthropological tool."

"So what's your excuse Joel? Last time I looked you weren't an anthropologist."

"Well, you told me to keep an eye on the kid and that's exactly what I'm doing. Besides, I haven't laughed this much in ages."

Ellison gave up and made his way into the kitchen. "You want something to eat?"

"Nah, we've already had lunch. We left you some, though." Blair moved to get off the sofa. "I'll heat it up for you if you like."

"Stay," Jim ordered. "I think I'm quite capable of using the microwave.

Joel joined Jim in the kitchen. "You want me to stay and keep an eye on the kid for the rest of the day?"

"No, thanks anyway Joel. I can't do much more until we find Gaines."

"Gaines has gone missing?"

"Into hiding more like it. We found drugs and weapons in his apartment today."

"So he's been involved right from the start?"

"No, I think he's being set up."

"Set up? By who?"

"That I haven't quite figured out yet, but I'm working on it." Jim reached into the fridge and pulled out a plate of leftover pizza. Stuffing a cold piece straight into his mouth, he placed the remaining slices into microwave and punched in one minute thirty.

Ignoring the look of disgust on Joel's face, he continued munching. "Hey, thanks for keeping an eye on Sandburg today. After yesterday's little episode I didn't feel right about leaving him alone." Blair's laughter shot out, bringing a small smile to Jim's face. "He looks like he's on the mend."

"Don't let looks deceive you," Joel replied, discreetly. "He's laughing now only because I made him take another painkiller. A couple of hours ago he wasn't so cheery." Joel shook his head. "I didn't actually realise how stubborn he was. I practically had to threaten him before he agreed to swallow the pill."

"Threaten him? How?" Jim asked, fighting down an irrational surge of protection that ran through him.

"I told him I would call you."

"Oh, right." Jim relaxed. "I bet that had him trembling," he said, popping open the microwave door. "As unreal as it may sound Joel, Sandburg is definitely not afraid of me."

"I know he's not afraid of you Jim, but he does look up to you. Believe it or not, the kid's very intimidated about your opinion of him."


"For a detective, Ellison, I'm amazed at your lack of observational skills when it comes to Sandburg. Even a rookie would pick up on the fact that the kid is trying desperately to get you to like him."

Jim lowered his voice. "I do like him, Joel, and I don't think I've done anything to give him the impression that I don't. Well I did throw him up against a wall," Ellison added, offhandedly. "But I'm sure he's forgiven me for that!"

"You threw Sandburg into a wall?" Joel held up his hand. "Forget it, I don't want to know."

"So what makes you think he's trying to seek my approval?" Jim asked curiously.

"I just get the feeling that from various bits and pieces he's told me today, that he's always had a hard time fitting in and being accepted. I think he may be a little low on self-esteem."

"Oh I don't know, Joel. He seems pretty confident to me. Don't you think you may be over-analysing the kid?"

"Yeah, maybe, but I still get the impression that he covers up a lot. Hey, I wonder if that's why he became an anthropologist?"

"How do you mean?"

"Well think about it, Jim. Being an anthropologist gives him the perfect cover. He can interact with a variety of people and cultures without getting involved. It would be unethical for him to become mixed up with his study subjects, so this puts him in the perfect situation. This way he gets the opportunity to interact in other people's lives, but he also has the perfect out if things become too intense. Take his dissertation for example. While he's studying 'The Thin Blue Line', and 'us'," Joel said, emphasizing the phrase with his fingers, "he gets to become involved in our lives without becoming too involved. It's a shame, really; he's really starting to grow on me and it would be nice to think that he would consider us as friends, not just as subjects."

Joel's last statement gave Jim a rude wake-up call. How would a friendship between the two of them affect Blair's dissertation? It was a point he hadn't really considered, but he was sure that eventually they would both have to ponder the question. Especially if their relationship did develop into friendship.

"I guess I better hit the road if my services are no longer required." Joel grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. "Hey, Blair, you take care of yourself and don't give Jim a hard time," he said as he headed for the door.

"Bye Joel, and thanks for lunch man; it was just what the doctor ordered."

With work over for the day, Jim grabbed a beer and the pizza from the microwave and joined Blair on the sofa. Drawing up his legs to make room for the detective, Blair felt a little guilty at taking over Jim's living room. "Hey Jim, I think I'll be okay to head back to the U tomorrow. I'll ask around and see if there are any free dorms that I might be able to bunk in until I find something more permanent."

"Is my company that bad, Chief?"

"No man, of course it's not ...it's just that I don't want to be in the way. I realise you like your own space and believe me, Jim, it won't take long before I start getting on your nerves."

"The only thing that gets on my nerves, Sandburg, is you insisting on leaving when you're still not one hundred percent, and the fact that you're talking when I'm trying to watch the news." Ellison took a long swig of beer. "So my suggestion is that you lay there and be quiet, like a good little boy."

"Hey Jim, I've just had a thought." Sandburg turned a little so he could see Jim more clearly. "We really should run a few tests and see how strong your ability to focus out unwanted noise really is. It should be possible to train your senses to latch on to one particular sound. Why don't I organise..."

"I'm sorry to have to say this Chief," Jim announced, grabbing hold of Blair's sock-clad foot. "But it looks like I'm gonna have to put my covert ops training into use."

Blair immediately pulled his foot away. "I'll be quiet, I promise," he squeaked.

The quiet continued and Jim monitored Blair out of the corner of his eye. The pain meds were finally doing their job and, as the minutes ticked by, Blair sank lower and lower down onto the cushions, until he was nearly lying flat. Shaking out a blanket that had fallen to the floor, Jim draped it over Blair, content to sit and watch the news in relative peace. As Blair's sleep deepened, he stretched out further and Jim didn't bat an eye when his feet ended up on his lap. It was only when he went to retrieve another beer that Ellison realised that he had been gently trailing his thumb across Blair's ankles. Somewhat dumbfounded by his actions, he turned his attention on Blair. "What the hell is going on between us, kid?" he asked. "And what the hell are you doing to me?"

Blair didn't wake or budge an inch ... and neither did Ellison.

"Absolutely not Sandburg," Jim shouted. "There is no way I'm gonna let you do it. You've only been out of hospital for a few days and now you want to go running around playing cop? I told Earl Gaines I'd keep his grandmother safe - ME - not you!"

"Jim she's an old lady. You said yourself that Earl is worried about her. She needs someone to look after her and let's face it, I've got more chances of getting through the front door than a cop. Come on Jim, you know I'm right. All I've gotta do is go up a couple of flights of stairs and convince her to come with me. You'll be right outside in the truck, man. What could possibly go wrong?"

Jim knew Blair was right. There was no way he was going to get through the front door without causing a riot. "Alright, alright," he relented, throwing his hands in the air in frustration. "You go up to her apartment and get her to leave with you. Nothing else, Chief, understand?"

"Nothing else, Jim, I promise."

Jim watched intently as Blair approached the front steps of the old building. "Why do I feel like I'm throwing a lamb to the slaughter?" he mumbled as he tried to concentrate his hearing on the conversation Blair was having with several of the gang members.

After a few tense moments, Sandburg managed to wheedle his way into the building and was knocking on the front door to Gaines' grandmother's apartment. "Ms. Lacroix. I need to talk to you about your grandson, Earl Gaines."

"You the police?" The old lady cracked open the door, just an inch.

"No, no, I'm just a friend. Look we really need to get you out of here."

She pulled the door open a little wider. "This is my home; I ain't leaving it," she said, stubbornly.

"Ma'am, you are not listening to me. You're in danger."

"Of what? Those children with their loud music and guns? They don't worry me none."

"Ma'am, do you mind if I use your phone?" Blair asked in the hope that she'd at least let him in.

"Help yourself," she said, somewhat foolishly opening the door and indicating for Blair to enter.

"What happened to your hand son?" she asked as she blindly reached out to take hold of his arm.

"It's a long story, ma'am." Blair punched in Jim's number "Yeah, Jim, hi, it's me. We've got a little problem here, man. She won't leave."

"What do you mean she won't leave?"

"It's her home, man and she's not leaving."

Ellison rubbed his hand across his face in frustration. "Alright. Get back down here and I'll work something else out."

"Ah Jim, I can't leave her alone." Blair's voice sped up. "Hey look, I gotta go. I'll call you later."

"Sandburg!" Jim shouted down a disconnected phone line. "You are so very, very dead."

"I'm gonna kill him." Ellison was still ranting as he slammed through the hospital doors. "As soon as I get his ass safely out of that apartment, I'm gonna kill him." He pulled out his badge and shoved it in the face of the stunned orderly. "I'm Detective Ellison. What's happened here and where the hell is the uniform that's meant to be on duty?"

"He went to the morgue with the body," the orderly stammered, shying away from the large detective.

"What body and what are you talking about?" Jim's rising temper was interrupted by his cell. "Ellison!" he barked into the mouthpiece.

"Ellison... it's Earl."

"Where the hell have you been Gaines?"

"I've been a little busy."

"Busy! Busy doing what? Shooting Jason Garvey, maybe?"

"Look man, just meet me, I can explain it all."

"Simon, come on in." Jim swung open the door to the loft, waiting for what he knew was coming.

"Have you lost your mind, Ellison?" He'd been right; Banks was on the offensive the moment he saw Gaines. "You're harbouring a fugitive."

"Simon would you just listen to me for a moment? Gaines is being framed."

"Framed - framed by who?"

"By Williams."

"You mean Lieutenant Williams, as in Lieutenant Williams, head of the anti-gang unit? Lieutenant Williams, as in your boss?" he asked, looking directly at Gaines.

"Yes," both detectives chorused.

Simon sank down onto the kitchen chair. "All right, I'm listening - but you better talk fast because I'm quickly running out of patience. And where is Sandburg?" he asked, expecting to see Blair and his injured arm shacked up on the sofa. "I thought he was staying with you."

"That's another story Simon. A very long, and right at the moment, a very irritating story."

It took awhile, but Jim filled Banks in on Williams' plan of playing the gangs against each other in order to abscond with the drugs and sell them to an interstate buyer.

Simon was listening, but until he had evidence to support it, he wasn't entirely buying it.

"Hey, man, where have you been?" Blair watched with satisfaction as Earl hugged his grandmother. In order to gain the evidence Simon wanted, Ellison and Gaines had concocted a setup of their own and had successfully taken Williams down. The remaining gang members were now being rounded up and loaded into the patrol cars, as they spoke.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?"

"What do you mean? I've been right here. Just where you told me to stay."

"I seem to remember telling you to get back down to the truck, Chief," Jim replied, ominously draping his arm around Blair's shoulder.

"Um, phone must have disconnected before I heard that, I guess." Blair smiled nervously. "Truly."

Jim swivelled Blair around to face him head on. "Just don't let it happen again, Chief. I can't do my job properly if I'm distracted because I'm too busy worrying about you."

"Sorry, Jim." Blair averted his gaze. "I didn't think you'd be worried.

"And why would you think that?"

Blair did what he did best when people got too close, and changed the subject. "Hey, I guess you managed to clear him," he said, looking over at Gaines.

"Yeah, turns out that Lieutenant Williams was a dirty cop. He'd stolen half a million dollars worth of ice and had an out-of-state buyer already lined up."

"You mean Williams blew up the drug lab and shot the gang members as a diversion to draw the attention away from himself?" Blair moved to sit down on the front step of the old tenement building. "And when Gaines started messing with his plans, framing him was the next best option," he guessed.

"That's right, Sandburg." Simon moved to join in on the conversation. "Starting a gang war between the Deuces and the Three-Fifty-Sevens was all part of the plan." He raked his eyes over Blair. "And what are you doing here by the way?" he asked, suddenly realising he had no idea why the young man was at the scene.

"It's a long story, Captain," Blair replied, unconsciously rubbing his aching arm.

"I would like you all to stay to supper." Ms. Lacroix pulled her grandson close. "After all, it's the least I can do after what you've done for my Earl."

"Well gentlemen." Simon's tone gained both Jim and Blair's full attention. "It seem to me that you both appear to be full of it... long stories that is," he added sarcastically. "I'm sure they are going to prove very entertaining and I'd love to hear them, but right now I have more pressing matters to attend to." He rubbed his stomach. "Like a home-cooked meal, for starters." His face suddenly lost all traces of sarcasm. "But tomorrow I expect a full report on my desk, including those stories I know I'm just going to love. Do I make myself clear, Jim?"

"Perfectly Sir."

"Good. Now will the two of you be joining us for super?"

"I think I'm going to get Sandburg home, Sir. He seems to be wilting fast." Jim cast a worried eye over Blair, who was now leaning awkwardly against the bricks that lined the side of the stairwell. He placed a discreet hand on Blair's forehead. "Time to hit the road, Junior, you're started to dwindle."

"What, no supper?" Blair asked as Jim pulled him up.

"No supper, Chief. It's time for all good little anthropologists to go home and have a nap." Ellison bundled Blair toward the truck. "I'll see you tomorrow, Simon," he said.

Simon just waved them both away, without a second glance.

With Blair seated on the passender side, Ellison slammed the door and rounded the truck. "Hey good news Chief," Jim said as he hopped into the cab and gunned the engine. "I spoke to the building management and it turns out that I'm allowed to have a pet after all."

"Oh hey, that's great man. You thinking of getting a dog?" Blair sighed, tiredly.

"Actually, I was thinking of getting an anthropologist."

Blair looked over at Jim in astonishment. "You know, I've heard they can be a lot of trouble, man. Messy, noisy and really hard to train. Are you sure that it's a good idea?"

"I'm always up for a good challenge, Sandburg." He tapped Blair on the thigh. "So what do you say partner, ready to go home?"

Blair's smile was brilliant. "Sounds like a plan Jim, definitely sounds like a plan."

The End

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