Published: Blended Spirits 1 (2002), available from: "hometown.aol.com/beth123b/allgen.html
K Hanna Korossy (Anna Kelly)
Blair was cold and tired.
Of course, he reminded himself, he was usually a little chilly and, with his schedule, skating on the edge of exhaustion. Maybe this was nothing unusual. Wasn't Jim always teasing him about having an out-of-whack thermostat and a metabolism that ran full speed until it suddenly crashed?
But... that didn't seem to be it this time. Blair was used to burning the candle at both ends, and a few places in the middle, too, and he didn't usually feel like this. Not sitting in his sun-warmed car, shivering in the mild fall weather and bone-weary. It was hard to pretend that was normal.
You are not sick, he told himself sternly as he dragged himself out of the Volvo and headed for his office. Maybe if he repeated it enough times, it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am not sick. No way am I sick. He didn't have the time for it, not with the first round of exams coming up in his classes and one of his own papers due. Not to mention the half-dozen cases he'd been juggling with Jim, and that was just because there was a lull in criminal activity at the moment. Knowing their track record, some serial nutcase would start hitting Cascade soon and they'd have a whole new crisis to worry about.
Blair hefted his unusually heavy bookbag onto his shoulders, trying to remember what he'd packed into it that made it feel like it was full of bricks. It was probably age catching up to him. He was getting old for a grad student, despite his early start, and in the past three years he'd had to cram being a part-time cop into his already full life as a student and teacher. Not that he'd take any of it back, not even after his untimely death and still-fuzzy return. But sometimes he wondered just what exactly he was doing, playing cop and guide to a Sentinel when his whole life until then had focused on academe. It had almost been easier when he'd been alone, not having to take another's schedules or needs into account, able to bury himself in the library for a week at a time when he needed to, not having to worry about checking in or being there for someone else. Sometimes, at times like this when he felt wiped out and pulled in too many directions, he almost looked at those 'bachelor days' fondly. Sometimes...
With a sigh and a weary cough, Blair shifted the bookbag higher and trudged up the steps of Hargrove.
If anything, the heated halls of Rainier and the hot cups of tea Blair had managed to snag in between classes just seemed to accentuate how lousy he was beginning to feel. He seemed colder than ever, clasping his arms to his sides to keep from actively shivering, and his throat ached and scratched, making him cough. Only a bottle of water, sipped liberally during lecture and refilled between classes, got him through the three periods that morning, two of his own and one he'd agreed to take for a friend who was out with the flu. Which he did not have. Blair refused to believe that.
Still, by the time office hours rolled around, with no students waiting for him at his office door, Blair's thoughts began to turn longingly toward the loft and the plush living room couch. For all the times he'd played hooky to help Jim, surely taking an afternoon off for himself wasn't such a crime.
A minute of waffling decided it. Scrawling a note with his apologies and instructions to call him with questions, Blair taped the paper to his office door and left for home.
He got two blocks before remembering with a groan that he'd promised to drop by the station when he was done to help Jim with some phone calls.
Well, he was still ahead of the game, right? He'd left Rainier nearly two hours earlier than he'd originally expected to. An hour or two at the station and he'd still be home and taking it easy by mid-afternoon. That wasn't too bad.
Hunched against the cold, Blair turned toward downtown Cascade.
If Jim Ellison was surprised to see him that early, he didn't show it. The detective was pulling on his coat as Blair straggled in, and waved him over to the desk.
"Simon and I have to go to this meeting at the Chief's. It'll probably take a couple of hours, then you and I can go talk to a few people before end of shift. You wanna join us for lunch at the end of the meeting? Simon's treat." He grinned the last.
Blair's heart sank. So much for an early day, and he'd be at the station by himself, too. "Uh, no thanks, Jim. I'll catch you when you get back." He dropped his backpack to the floor and shoved it unceremoniously under Jim's desk, trying not to look as dispirited as he felt.
Something had caught Ellison's eye, and he was studying Blair a little more closely. "You sure? Everything okay?" He reached out seemingly without intention of doing so, his hand nearly on Blair's forehead before the younger man realized what he was going to do and pulled away with a jerk. The last thing he needed was Jim's sympathy because of a little temperature.
"Everything's cool, I just don't feel like going out."
The puzzled look didn't quite leave Jim's eyes, but he finally shrugged. "Suit yourself. The files that need follow-ups are in the in-box, if you want to start there. I'll see you later."
"Yeah, see you," Blair mumbled after the already retreating back. He plopped down into Jim's chair, suddenly overwhelmed by the pile of paperwork. Was this really what he'd signed on for? As if he didn't have enough paperwork of his own. Instead of helping the Sentinel hone and use his abilities, too often Blair ended up stuck at the station doing the drudge work. Sometimes he felt like Secretary to the Sentinel instead of Guide.
Well, at least he could sit down, and Jim's chair was moderately comfortable. He'd have to talk a lot, though, so Blair collected his mug and made himself some more tea before returning to Jim's desk and wading into the workload. After all, the sooner he was done, the sooner he could go home, right? Right.
Blair grimly dug into the work.
Actually, it wasn't so bad. A lot of policework was filling out reports and talking to people, two things Jim didn't much enjoy but Blair didn't mind. Some of it was even interesting sometimes. If he hadn't been feeling this side of miserable, the work might have even been a nice break.
But by the time the last file was cleared away, either into the out-box or into one of the piles for Jim to pursue, there was still no sign of the detective, a hellacious headache putting in an appearance instead. Blair had taken to rubbing his forehead to try to ease the pressure that threatened to shut down every last coherent thought, but it was taking more and more effort and his fingers already felt like they were going to drill straight through his skull.
Joel Taggert's voice brought his head up, a little slowly, and Blair blinked at the captain looming over the desk. "Hey, Joel," he said in vague greeting.
But Taggert was frowning at him. "You feeling okay, Blair? You look kinda washed out."
He shrugged with shoulders that protested the movement. "Just a headache." And throat and muscle ache, and chills that wouldn't go away even though he hadn't even taken off his jacket in the warm room.
"Yeah, well, you've been at this an awful long time already. Why don't you go home? I don't think it would hurt Jim to have to do some of his own work for once." It was offered with a gentle smile.
Blair smiled back, touched at the man's concern. Of all the cops he'd managed to first win over and then even get to know in the department, Joel had become one of his truest friends. "I think you're right," he said, then stood slowly so his head wouldn't fall off. "Would you tell Jim I went home when he gets back?" Blair buttoned his coat with what felt like slow motion, looking around in the nebulous certainty he was forgetting something.
"Sure, kid." Joel still looked worried and Blair gave up his search. Well, it wasn't like anything he left behind wouldn't be safe in a police station. Blair pulled himself to his feet and headed for the bullpen door, patting Joel once on the arm as he passed the older man.
Finally, home. The relief made him lightheaded.
The drive was a blur. It had taken him ridiculously long to find the Volvo in the garage, and on the road, Blair blinked owlishly at the lights and intersections before crossing each. The signals didn't seem to make sense without concentration and he had to focus to remember which foot pedal was which. Man, he definitely should have gone to bed earlier the night before. Sleep deprivation was not a pretty thing.
By the time he reached Prospect, his head was beginning to nod and it took all his effort just to drive straight and stay awake. Luckily, there were no lights those last few blocks, and it was with drunken intensity that Blair looked for, found, and parked in a spot before the loft.
He glanced sleepily around the car. He had forgotten something, hadn't he? But he couldn't figure out what it was. Maybe after a nap it would come to him. Blair got out of the car, struggling to push the heavy door shut behind him, and trekked across the street and up the stairs to his door.
Bed sounded wonderful, but one look at the couch and Blair couldn't conceive of going farther. Even pulling the afghan off its back was too much trouble. With a grateful sigh and a hoarse cough, he sank into the cushions and curled up on his side. It was still cold, even with sunlight streaming into the loft and onto the couch where he lay, and Blair pulled his coat more closely around him. Maybe he should have had something warm to drink before lying down... but that didn't matter for long as he fell over the edge into sleep.
Sleep wouldn't leave him alone.
No, he finally decided, it wasn't sleep, it was whatever it was that was getting in the way of sleep. Blair turned peevishly away from the jerks and pulls that threatened to wake him up completely.
"Easy, Chief, I'm just trying to get you more comfortable."
Comfortable -- he just wanted to be unconscious. But sleep was becoming increasingly hard to hold on to, both the insistent tugs and the hot ache in his head and body demanding his attention. Blair groaned as a particularly nasty throb started behind one eye.
"Just take it easy. I bet your head's killing you."
It was Jim, Jim was there, along with his real gift for understatement. Blair unplastered one eyelid to stare petulantly at the detective.
The corner of Ellison's mouth turned up. "I think you've got the flu, Junior -- it's going around. You should've told me you were sick. If Joel hadn't of--"
Blair shut his eyes again, too tired for a conversation.
A pat on his stomach, as gentle as the hands that had manhandled him out of his jacket and now moved down to work on his shoes. "That's it, just rest, Chief." Even the teasing had left the words, only a warm... affection? remaining.
Blair scrunched up his face to think about that. Jim, affectionate? He had to be sicker than he thought.
He heard his shoes hit the floor, and just as the increase of chill began to register, a blanket was pulled over him, then another and a third. They felt heavy, almost entrapping, until the warmth began to soak in and Blair uncurled cautiously beneath the pile.
He expected his toes to bump the end of the couch, but they stretched with room to spare. Another confusing turn, and the grad student opened his eyes enough to give the matter a cursory glance, only to find that it wasn't the couch he was lying on, but his own bed.
When and how had that happened?
It seemed too much trouble to figure it out. Blair turned into his wonderfully cool pillow and began to doze again.
"Not so fast, Chief." The warning preceded a hand sliding under his heavy head and lifting it just enough that the room only tipped and whirled a little around him. Blair swallowed hard, then had to swallow again as two pills were pressed into his hand and guided to his mouth. That followed a long drink of water with, he thought, Jim holding both his head and the glass up.
The cold water was gone too fast, but at least he was allowed to lie flat again after. Oh, man, he felt rotten. Blair was starting to get the sneaky suspicion he was maybe sick, after all. How many times had Jim tucked him into bed before?
Well, besides after staying up half the night to finish a project. And after some particularly nasty nightmares following different crises -- kidnappings, threats, druggings...
Okay, maybe it wasn't a fair question.
Jim was still puttering around him, slipping another fresh pillow under his head, which made the tickle in his throat recede a little bit, and shoving his hair back as it threatened to suffocate him. This was still Jim, right? Or maybe Naomi had come, and Blair's thoughts drifted into memories of his mom taking care of him when he was little and sick. Those years had lasted far too short a time...
Someone continued to tug at him, further down, and Blair frowned. Taking his jeans off? Geez, how embarrassing was that, no matter who it was, but it was over before Blair could protest. Time seemed to be skipping around on him, losing minutes here and there. At least he had to admit he was more comfortable as he burrowed into the pile of blankets.
"You want some soup? I've got chicken noodle warmed up in the kitchen."
Definitely Jim's voice, still sounding tolerant. Blair couldn't imagine why -- nursing was so not Ellison's thing. He didn't seem to think much of any weakness, and what was a sick roommate but a weak nuisance? Then again, he thought his senses were a weakness, too, and didn't he know he was the strongest person Blair had ever met?
"Sandburg? Soup?" Jim prompted, giving his shoulder a slight squeeze that would have felt good if all Blair's muscles didn't feel like they'd been worked over.
"Just wanna sleep," Blair mumbled, trying to get comfortable on the pillow. If only his head didn't hurt so much.
The mattress shifted as Jim stood and left, then another time-hop and Blair could feel the air churn as the detective came back into the room. Next thing he knew, a rough-skinned palm brushed his hair off his forehead and replaced it with a cold and wet washcloth. His head pounded worse for a few seconds at the sudden chill, then the ache dulled. Oh, that was heaven. Maybe he'd live, after all.
"Thanks, Jim," he murmured, already beginning to drift in the pressing fatigue and the delicious absence of pain. He hadn't realized how bad it had been until it was gone. Thank God for roommates...
If there was a response, he wasn't awake to hear it.
Time really went to pot after that.
Night and day seemed to have lost their boundaries, the room equally darkened and quiet every time Blair woke. Exhaustion seemed to have replaced hunger, and the only way Blair would have even registered the passage of time was that every once in a while his full bladder demanded attention, even in his feverish disconnection.
Jim always seemed to hear his restless shifting then and would appear to lead him by the elbow, and once with an arm around the waist when Blair's feet seemed to determine to trip themselves, to the bathroom to take care of the necessities. It might have been embarrassing except that it was all Ellison's fault -- if he hadn't there forcing juice and soup into Blair at every turn, it wouldn't have been such a frequent need, right?
But Jim was there, coaxing him to drink or to take more pills than Blair even wanted to think about, changing his pillows or the washcloth that showed up to soak away his headache each time it worsened. And when even that much didn't make sense, and the confusing situation panicked him, what he did understand was Jim sitting next to him, one hand on Blair's arm or shoulder. The unusually soft tones of the detective's voice reminded the grad student of the way he talked to Jim when Ellison was overwhelmed. Maybe Guides weren't the only ones who had voices that seem pitched just right for their Sentinels? There was probably a study in there somewhere...
If only his head didn't hurt so badly.
Blair tossed listlessly, pushing at the blankets as he was suddenly too warm. Some of their weight was abruptly lifted, and that magical washcloth returned, quenching his feverish thoughts. Okay, so the bed threatened to spin out from underneath him, but that wasn't so bad.
A large, warm grip settled on his shoulder, and then another on his other shoulder. Before he could react, Jim's fingers were gently digging into his abused muscles in a light massage.
He had to bite his lip from moaning at the flaring ache, but the ache slowly broke up and was rubbed away by expert hands. Maybe Jim's sensitive fingers could feel where to knead... or maybe he was just good... or...
Thinking was too much effort. Blair just let his head loll with the rocking motion, the world paradoxically steadying around him. Jim was there -- how much safer could he be than with a cop? A sentinel cop. His Sentinel.
"You're gonna be okay, Chief. Go to sleep."
Feeling safe enough to let everything go, Blair drifted off again.
The road to recovery was almost worse than being outright sick.
Time had finally sorted itself out into days and nights, Blair no longer feeling the irresistible need to sleep through both. The fever had broken during the most recent night, leaving him drenched with sweat, his head feeling better... and Blair one hundred percent wrung out. Jim had had to help him change into dry, clean clothes, and then had sat with him until he'd fallen into deep, more peaceful sleep, which had taken all of about five seconds.
And there he was now, in the middle of the day, lying in bed and still feeling close kin to a cooked noodle, with Jim telling him it was two days after the last day he remembered. Flipping through his mental schedule, the thought had made him groan. Two days -- that was three missed classes and even an exam, while the thought of crossing the room still left him wiped. Not good at all.
"It's not the end of the world, Chief," Jim said calmly. "Everyone gets sick sometime, and you were totally out of it -- there was no way you could have been there."
That doesn't excuse a person from responsibilities, Jim, Blair glowered silently, unappeased.
"Besides," the detective continued, pulling a stack of paper out from behind his back. "I talked to that grad student friend of yours -- Marlene? -- she said you'd been covering a few lectures for her and she was happy to return the favor, and to proctor your exam."
Blair had stared up at Jim in jaw-dropping speechlessness. The detective had called the school before at Sandburg's behest, usually when the grad student was laid up in the hospital because of their latest escapade, to ask them to find cover for Blair's classes, but Jim had never taken such a proactive approach and made all the arrangements himself. Not to mention...
"How'd you know about the exam?" Blair rasped, eyeing Jim with suspicion.
Ellison made a face at him. "Well, besides the fact that you've mentioned it several times in the past week and then explained the questions in detail while you had a fever, it was lying out in plain sight on your desk."
Oh. Abashed, he reached out for the pile of tests.
"Uh-uh," Jim pulled them away. "Not 'til tomorrow. When you can sit up without looking like you're about to keel over, then you can get back to light work, Professor."
His glare only earned him a wry grin, and Jim tucked the papers under his arm.
"Oh, by the way, you left this at the office."
Blair's eyes widened at the sight of his backpack. He'd known he'd forgotten something, but how could he have forgotten that?
Jim chuckled. "That's how I knew you were really sick, Chief. The day you leave your backpack behind is the day I start worrying." He grew serious. "Next time you're not feeling well, tell me, okay? I need to know." And with the pack also in hand, he walked out of the room, calling over his shoulder, "Tea, toast, and soup coming up in fifteen."
Blair dropped back into the pillow, relinquishing the sullen look without an audience to see it. Need to know. Not should know, or even want to know, but need. The word unexpectedly warmed him, but... when had that happened?
Then again, wasn't he the one always telling Jim he needed to know if something was bothering the Sentinel? And that had stopped being an academic need a long time ago, too.
Blair yawned, stretching comfortably. Truth be told, he was still sleepy, and grading papers was about the last thing he wanted to think about. He felt worn out but good. It was hard to be mad at someone who'd been taking care of you for the last few days. Who needed to know if you were okay or not.
Few days?, his mind quickly prompted. Try the last few years. Jim kept an official eye on him on the job, trying to make sure that Sandburg didn't get in over his head even though he often did. That was part of being a cop. But he also kept an eye on him after a crisis to make sure he was dealing with it all right. That was more than just partnership on the job. In the loft, he kept the cupboards stocked even when it was Blair's turn and the grad student was short on cash, also letting the minimal rent slide as needed, and making sure Blair was okay when he got sick. That was a good roommate. But he also called to check on him and then waited up when Blair was running unexpectedly late, kept him quiet company when things were tough, and made sure he ate and slept enough when life sped up. Not that Blair didn't return the favor in his own ways, but that was still a lot more than just being a roommate.
His eyes drooped, the mid-afternoon sun that Jim had finally let into the room comfortably warming him and making him sleepy. There were fresh sheets on the bed and only one blanket now, the most comfortable. Another nap was starting to sound good, maybe after some food. For the first time, he felt a little hungry, and Jim's soft putterings in the kitchen were making his stomach rumble.
There hadn't been anyone to fix him food or medicine the last time.
Blair frowned, trying to pin down that sudden memory. He'd been, what, early twenties? Working on his masters and living on his own in a tiny little studio apartment near the school, even that stretching his meager budget while he'd juggled teaching and tutoring and studies. If ever there had been a bad time to get sick, that was it.
But he had. A visit to the med center on campus had given him the helpful information that he had a fever and was probably coming down with the flu, as if that much hadn't been painfully obvious by then. Blair had walked the several blocks to his home in a chilly daze, praying he'd make it, then promptly buried himself in his bed for the next several days. It had been, in fact, much the same as now.
Except there had been no one there to guide him to the bathroom, a trip he'd once even crawled because the dizziness was so bad. No one had made him take painkillers, and the way his skull had threatened to crack open had driven him to silent tears several times. He'd been sure then that he'd die, and from what he figured out later on, he'd been near it, skirting on the edge of serious dehydration when the only water he had was a handful or two each time he made it to the bathroom. And of course, there had been no one to cover him up when he'd been cold, or tell him everything was going to be okay when he wasn't at all sure about that, or even just to sit with him and keep him company. Naomi had been God-knows-where, and by the time it had occurred to Blair to ask someone for help, he'd nearly been back on his feet. Besides, it wasn't something you asked someone easily. Instead, he'd suffered in lonely privacy, afraid the whole time that things would get worse and nobody would know until it was too late. In all, the ordeal had lasted nearly ten days, no doubt lengthened by his lack of care, and was one of the most miserable experiences of his life.
And now... now he had to call in when he was running late. There were house rules to follow, and some things he just couldn't do late at night with a sentinel asleep upstairs. He had to eat even when he didn't have time, wash dishes and cook and shop for two, and couldn't even bring a date home without making sure they'd have the place to themselves. It was almost like living with Naomi again, except Naomi had been a lot looser than Jim was.
Jim appeared in the doorway again, a tray in his hands. Blair feebly pushed himself up, giving Ellison only a grimace when the detective put the tray down and helped him sit up more comfortably, then set the tray in his lap. On it sat pea soup in a mug for easy drinking, two pieces of plain toast with garlic to rub on them the way Blair liked, and another steaming mug, this one of tea. It looked like a feast to Blair.
"Okay? You want anything else?" Jim asked as the anthropologist surveyed the offerings.
"No -- looks great," Blair shook his head. "Thanks."
"Yeah, yeah, just don't get used to breakfast in bed, Darwin. You just caught me on a good day." Jim straightened, rubbing his hands dry on the incongruous kitchen apron he wore.
Seemed like there were more and more of those 'good days' in their lives, Blair couldn't help but think. He smiled up at the detective, his eyes serious. "No, I mean, for, uh, everything." A vague wave to the bed, his pajamas. "Thanks."
Three years ago, it would have been an awkward moment. Now, Ellison just mussed his hair with a grin and left the room, only to return a moment later to pull up a chair and dig into a bowl of soup of his own.
Three years ago, Blair might have been uncomfortable with, or even suffocated by, that constant presence. Even now, he had his moments, the errant what-ifs and longings for space and complete independence. But there was some hole in him that was filled by having someone to come home to, to discuss the day with, to look after him when he was sick, and to rely on him as needed in turn, some kind of peace he hadn't gotten even from Naomi with all her unpredictability. Far from being a chore, it actually felt... good.
And from the look of contentment on Jim's face, Blair wasn't alone in that.
With a tired sigh of satisfaction, he hungrily dug into his soup.
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