Previously published in: Sentry Duty 10 (Agent With Style, 2007).


BRIGHT LIGHTS, LOUD CITY



K Hanna Korossy






"Jim, you sure everything's okay?"

He wouldn't have asked except it was the fourth time Jim had bumped him as he fidgeted in the seat, seemingly unable to find a comfortable position. Granted, the narrow airplane seats weren't exactly built for comfort, especially not for a big guy like Jim Ellison, but this kind of restlessness was more typical of Blair than solid, sit-like-a-statue-through-twelve-hours-of-surveillance Ellison.

Then again, not a lot had been typical those last few days. Come to think of it, when had it ever with the two of them?

"I'm fine," Jim answered, momentarily settling as he had each previous time Blair had asked about him.

Sandburg might have found that a little more reassuring if not for the fact that Jim's answer was tight and sharp, not even remotely close to sounding fine. Something was bothering the guy, that was clear, but he didn't feel like sharing. What a surprise.

"Sandburg?" came the quiet query from the row behind them, and Blair watched Jim's eyes flick that way, then tune Simon out. Blair shook his head and turned in his seat, able to see half the captain's face from that angle. Simon looked as worn as Blair felt, brow gathered in a frown of concern that hadn't quite gone yet even though they were a thousand miles from Peru now. Nearly losing your son a couple of times did that to you, even though Daryl was tucked safely against Simon here, sleeping as tranquilly as Jim was tense. Blair could only see the crown of the teen's head, but his utterly trusting slump against his dad still brought a smile to Blair's face. Whatever they'd gone through that past week down in Peru had been worth it for that sight alone.

But back to Simon's question. "We're okay. Jim's just having a little trouble settling down here. Right, Jim?"

A mutter from the Sentinel Blair couldn't make sense of. With a facial shrug, Blair turned back to Banks. "How's Daryl?"

A smile curled the older man's lips, lifting a lot of the fatigue from his face. "Sleeping like a log. I'm thinking about taking a picture to embarrass him with later."

Blair huffed a laugh, but the witty response was jostled out of his head by another jab from Jim's elbow. Sandburg's grin turned into a grimace. "Would you-- Jim, what's going on?" He dropped his voice. "Is it your senses? The air pressure bothering them?"

Although, the restlessness had started back at the airport, in soft flinches and a rising mental wall Blair could practically touch. Jim's senses had returned hard and fast in the Peruvian jungle, and the ex-Ranger had all but gone native again during their efforts to rescue Simon and Daryl. Blair understood that, even understood Jim's disappearing then for the next few days to spend some time with the Chopek while the Bankses and Blair had rested up in a hotel in the city. After that, it was only natural there'd be some difficulty transitioning back into society, but it seemed to be getting worse instead of better as time and distance increased.

"No." The curt answer was all he got from Jim, maybe because Ellison seemed so distracted. His eyes were sweeping the cabin like a tribal watchman doing his duty, sitting as far forward as the seatbelt would allow, his body coiled with the alert tension that had saved all of them from the drug producers in the jungle. On an airplane, though, headed for Cascade, it was a little unsettling.

Okay, well, Sentinel of the city and Sentinel of the Chopek weren't so far apart: same mindset, different skills. They just had to tone down Jim's alert readiness to fit the reduced hazards of modern life. Blair leaned closer. "Jim, try to think about this like a cop, not a Sentinel, okay? The bad guys are in jail now--" or dead, he could have added, but didn't, "--and the case is closed. Time to stand down, relax a little bit. Everything's fine now." He heard Simon shift forward to listen to them.

"I'm okay, Sandburg." It was gritted out through clenched teeth, but Blair immediately brightened, relieved more than he could have said. After all, half the time Jim talked to him it was with a clenched jaw.

"Hey, coherence, that's great. Really great." Jim snapped around to glare at him, and Blair raised both hands. "Okay, okay, I'll shut up. I'm just glad you're okay, man." Jim was obviously struggling with a little overload, but they could handle that. Heck, they had been handling that for almost a year now. That, and Ellison's denial whenever anything was wrong. Blair was an expert on that part.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the seatbelt sign has just been turned on..."

Blair glanced at his watch; finally, they would be landing soon. That was bound to help, too. Air pressure changes could drive even a person with normal senses nuts, let alone someone hypersensitive. The city would also help bring things back to normal, reasserting its claim on Jim's territorial instincts after the confusion of the return to the jungle. Maybe Jim was in control, but he still wasn't dropping warrior mode. Blair had some idea from experience -- most of it gained in the last year -- how exhausting it was after a while to maintain a muscle-bunching level of high alert.

"Only a few more minutes, Jim -- we're almost home," he said softly. "Just hang in there."

A noncommittal grunt. He'd take it. Blair sat back to count minutes until landing.

The intercom crackled to life to announce approach to the airport, and Jim canted his head, listening. Blair found himself wondering again what the Sentinel had experienced in the jungle, both after his plane had gone down in Peru years before and in this past week, that had brought dormant senses back to life each time. Was it the different sights and sounds and smells, making different demands on his senses? Or something else less tangible -- the ease of the panther in its element, maybe? There was so much they still didn't know about the whole Sentinel thing. Jim probably had no idea how often Blair was making it up as he went. Even now, he was just guessing at what had set Ellison off, but it could have been anything: fading adrenaline, the vibration of the engine, even the guy across the aisle who reeked of cigar smoke. Blair was counting on their return to Cascade to set things right because it was all he had right now.

His ears started to pop as the plane spiraled downward, and Blair saw Jim wincing. He gave him a sympathetic glance. "Listen, Jim, we're almost home, okay? Back in Cascade, so you have to start turning things down a little." Jim absently rubbed at the side of his head, and Blair cracked a bare smile. "Yeah, I bet your ears feel strange. But you need to try to shut it off, get out of fight-or-flight mode. You can relax now -- the danger's gone."

For a moment, Jim seemed to be listening to him, the restless gaze stilled and body frozen. And then, as the intercom began to drone again, his eyes narrowed and he uttered a low growl.

Wow. From meaningful speech to animal snarls in about five minutes. Blair swallowed, palms suddenly itching. No worries there, right? So Jim was starting to lose it; how bad could an out-of-control Sentinel be on a plane full of people?

Oh, geez.

"Sandburg?" Banks sounded a little worried, too, and he hadn't seen half of what Blair had.

"We've gotta get him off the plane, Simon. All these people, the air pressure changes, the noise -- it's gotta be a big adjustment after the rainforest."

The captain shifted. "Jim, we're gonna be landing in a few minutes. Take it easy, okay? That's an order."

Blair watched, a little wounded, as Jim responded instinctively to the voice of command, sliding back fractionally in his seat, prying his fingers off the armrests. "I'm fine," he managed to say, like he was gnawing off each word to spit it out.

But at least they were back to words, albeit the same ones he'd been saying for the last half-hour, like some automated recording. Marginally reassuring at best.

"Yeah, I can see that." Banks muttered something about missing cigars, refocused on Blair. "Can't you make him do one of those exercises you're always talking about, get rid of some of that tension?"

Yeah, sure, Blair the Miracle Worker to the rescue. "Not in a few minutes." He paused as the pilot's voice overlaid his, announcing their descent into Cascade, and waited out the weather report and good wishes before continuing. "Besides, I don't think he's listening to me right now."

Jim certainly didn't seem to care they were talking about him like he wasn't there. And maybe he wasn't, Blair mused. His hearing was probably acute at the moment, but that meant he was hearing a lot of other conversations, along with engine noises, the ventilation system, every other shuffle and cough around them, maybe even the slide of air as the plane cut through the atmosphere. His attention would be fragmented, his brain probably going into overload sorting out all the sensory input. Once Jim got away from the deluge, Blair could help him refocus, get it all under control again.

Maybe. No one ever listened to that caveat, but guiding didn't come with guarantees. Then again, his options were pretty limited just then.

The plane jumped a little as it dipped downward, and Jim gripped the armrests anew with blanched fingers. If Blair didn't know better, he'd have thought Ellison was a nervous flier, but it wasn't fear that bled his knuckles white. His face was also stretched thin over his bones, stark and almost otherworldly. Sentinel of the Great City, Blair thought with a moment of awe. Some welcome back he was getting. Well, at least it could have been worse. Maybe the warrior was out of place here and needed to give way soon to Jim the cop, but it was also in control, focused, and a lot preferable to a ragged Sentinel on the verge of losing control.

Yeah, sure, things were just swell.

The plane bumped to the ground, then taxied into place, and seatbelt lights flicked off. People began to stand, gathering bags. Blair could barely hear Simon behind him talking softly to Daryl, just pulled his and Jim's carry-ons out from under the seats by touch alone, his eyes glued to Jim. The Sentinel was unsettled by the new activity around them, face creasing as he tried to sort out any possible dangers.

"Jim," Blair whispered, caught the prick of the ears as they heard him. "We're gonna get off now. I'm gonna touch you -- don't freak out on me, okay?" An earlier automatic pat of reassurance had nearly sent Jim flying out of his seat.

He touched, fingers brushing Jim's jacket sleeve, then latching on. Ellison stared at him, a flash of bewilderment in his glare, then turned away again to watch the flow of passing people. Well, that was progress, too, right? Blair gave him a tug, a silent invitation to move out and join the exodus.

Ellison moved out into the aisle with the checked grace of a caged panther, inviting more than one second glance from fellow passengers. It was left to Blair to apologize as Jim forged ahead, intent now on his goal to leave the plane.

Simon and Daryl trailed behind them, but Sandburg left it to them to keep up. He was having enough trouble matching Jim's pace, Ellison stalking out into the terminal like a man on a mission.

"Jim..."

The Sentinel actually turned that piercing gaze on Blair at that, which would have been good except for the total lack of familiarity in the blue eyes. Not so good. Exasperation, anger, affection, humor: Blair was used to seeing any or all of that when Jim looked at him, but this overwhelmed distraction, like he couldn't concentrate enough to place who Blair was, that was new.

Or maybe not. The deja vu took a moment to place, but Blair winced when he did. The day they met, Jim coming to his office looking for answers. He'd been at the end of his rope, preoccupied with worry about what was happening to him, not really seeing Blair up until the moment he'd thrown the younger man against a wall and threatened him. This was that look, abstracted, overwhelmed. And they'd both been nearly run over by a truck then.

No worries at all.

"Jim?" Blair said it quietly, calmly, everything he wasn't feeling just then. "What's going on?" Simon started to say something behind them, and Blair put up a hand to stop him without looking.

Jim's eyes met his, darted away. The panther was starting to look cornered. And things were slipping from bad to critical with alarming speed.

Blair absently shoved his pack higher onto his shoulder to free his hands. "Jim, what's wrong?"

"I... I need..."

Where there was fierce determination before, there was only rising confusion and agitation now. Blair's stomach twisted; he thought getting out of the plane would help, but instead it seemed to have just made things worse. "What, Jim?" he asked gently. He kept using the man's name on purpose; Ellison seemed to need as much grounding as possible. Blair's fingers slipped from the sleeve to a stiff hand, and was surprised how cold Jim's skin was. "Tell me what's going on." Blair was slipping into his Guide voice. If anything could reach Jim, that could.

"Help."

It looked like it almost hurt him to say it, and Blair's frantic denial of the situation spinning out of control burst like a balloon that had soared too high. His free hand came up to grip an arm that was like iron, feeling nearly as desperate as the blue eyes inches from his own.

Jim flinched. "You have to... stop me..." He shook his head like he was trying to clear it. "Last time..."

Last time?

Oh, Lord, last time.

Even as his heart hammered in his chest, Blair felt himself slip into the unnatural calm of crisis mode. It had all come together; Jim needed him now, and Blair finally got it, finally knew what to do. All he had trouble with now was the how.

Blair spun around. "Simon, I need to get him out of here now. Some place quiet and dark." He was already glancing around the busy airport, feeling Jim's rising tension like an electrical current through them both.

To his credit, the captain didn't hesitate or question. Grasping Daryl's arm in one hand, he grabbed Jim's with the other. "This way," he nodded.

At what, Blair wasn't sure, but in this at least he was willing to cede control. Besides, his attention was needed elsewhere. Jim was starting to shake, sweat beading his forehead and lip as he fought for control. He didn't resist Simon or Blair as they dragged him along, his eyes turned inward to the struggle inside.

"You gonna tell me what's going on here, Sandburg?" Simon spit out as they went.

"I'm stupid, that's what. It's like last time -- I should've known this might happen." He thought he saw Simon's objective in front of them, a door with no markings twenty feet and closing.

"What?!" Banks asked, exasperated.

"Sentinel culture shock," was all Blair had time for, and then they'd reached the door. Simon reached for the doorknob...

Locked.

Jim groaned, starting to fold.

Blair spun around, frantic, looking for another option, whipping back when Simon muttered, "Wait a second." The captain was fiddling with the door... jimmying it. Then the lock clicked and Simon yanked it open, to Daryl's delighted exclamation.

Blair took in none of it, just shoved Jim inside ahead of him.

He had a moment to pick out a few shapes in the dim closet: a sink, some mops and brooms lined up against the right wall, a turned-over bucket on the floor. Then Blair pulled the door shut behind them, blanketing them in near total darkness. It was by feel and visual memory that he maneuvered Jim over to the bucket and dropped him down on it.

The Sentinel's breathing was harsh and loud in the sudden quiet. It conveniently hid Blair's nervous gasping.

He slid the bags off to the floor and crouched in front of Jim, tracing by touch a trembling knee, fisted hands, arms that seemed carved from rock. Those were what he latched on to, grounding them both in the darkness of the closet.

"You can open your eyes now, Jim," Blair said softly, knowing without seeing that they would be screwed shut. "You're safe here in the dark. It's quiet--"

"...No."

The word was so wrenched, it pained Blair to hear it. "Yes," he soothed. "I know you can still hear the outside, but you can tune that out. Just focus on the quiet and the dark in here."

His one hand slid down to Jim's wrist, settling on the clammy skin so he could feel the man's pulse. It was pounding like a runaway machine. Blair grimaced. If he couldn't pull Jim back soon, he'd have to resort to a strong sensory input to overcome the rest, and pain was the most surefire one he could think of, but the last thing he wanted to do was hurt his Sentinel more. Blair pushed on.

"It's all just fading into the background -- it doesn't matter. All that matters is my voice, just focus on my voice."

Jim groaned again, curling forward, trapping Blair's hand against him. "Chief..."

He smiled into the dark, happy for Jim's recognition. Maybe Simon's voice commanded obedience, but Blair's reached something even more instinctive. "I'm here, Jim. We're gonna get through this, just try to relax, turn it all down."

The pulse beneath his fingers struggled to slow, but the panting was heading into hyper-ventilation. The chilled sweat on Jim's skin also worried him; Ellison was closer to shock than even Blair had realized.

"Breathe slower -- long, deep breaths." He picked up one of Jim's fists, forced it open to rest the palm against his own chest. "Follow my breathing: slow, deep." He took a few exemplar breaths.

The frantic respiration began to slow. The pulse stuttered, steadied into a slower cadence.

"That's good, Jim." Blair nodded approvingly into the dark. Jim wasn't the only one who monitored his partner by more than just sight. "Now, tell me what you hear."

He could hear the convulsive swallow, and waited patiently. "Words." It was a slurred whisper. "Anger -- fear. Cars. Alarm. Too--"

"--much, I know. It's okay. Just pick the sounds out one at a time, identify them, then set them aside and forget about them." His leg muscles were cramping and Blair plopped down the remaining few inches to sit on the floor. It was unfinished concrete that seeped cold through his jeans, but he didn't much care just then. "Put them in the background. Can you do that?"

A grunt of effort. Muscles flexed under his hands.

"That's it," Blair said warmly. "Keep going, but take 'em one at a time. Everything but the sound of my voice."

The pause stretched over minutes. Then a rough, "Okay."

"That's good, Jim. Now tell me what you smell."

A cough. "Chemical -- ammonia. Soap. You."

That made him smile again. Blair's own heart rate was beginning to slow as his Sentinel calmed and the crisis faded. "You know those smells, right? Identify them, then tune them out -- they don't matter."

Another cough. Jim's skin wasn't so cold anymore.

They went through each sense, sorting the inputs, discarding them. He knew Jim was only telling him a fraction of what he was sensing, the sheer volume he had to be sorting through evident in his strained voice and body language, but the flood slowly seemed to be dying down as Blair coached him through each sense. Only occasional tremors shook Ellison now, aftershocks instead of active struggle.

The closet door suddenly swung open, flooding the little room with piercing light and sound.

Even as Jim cringed away, Blair erupted onto his feet. He couldn't see who the intruder was, but it didn't matter. He just barked angrily, "Get out of here!"

"But--" The man hesitated in the doorway.

Blair curled a hand protectively around Jim's shoulder. "Simon!" he bellowed.

Another silhouette, taller, appeared next to the first. "Sorry, Sandburg," came the familiar voice, and then, more sharply, "Sir, I need to talk to you over here." Banks wrestled the first figure away.

The quiet and dark returned.

Blair dropped onto his knees, craning as if he could see into his Sentinel's face. "Jim?"

"'M okay, Chief, just... surprised me." He slowly straightened from his hunch.

Judging by his voice, Blair could imagine what he looked like, too: face drawn with exhaustion, pale with effort. A sensitive person could get a piercing headache from one loud noise or flash of powerful light. A Sentinel multiplied that a few hundredfold, and Blair wondered how Jim had even been able to stay on his feet for so long. He didn't often have to worry about Jim's strength, but every man had his limits, and they'd been dangerously close to Jim's this time.

Blair knelt next to the bucket again, making out the barest outline of his friend in the tiny sifting of light from underneath the door. He stared at where Jim's eyes would be, knowing the Sentinel would see him even in that dimness. "This happened the last time you came back from Peru, didn't it?" he asked quietly.

Even when he'd asked for the sake of his research, Jim had been tightlipped about those first few weeks following his return to the States after the plane crash and the months with the Chopek. He'd mentioned a debriefing, and Blair knew somewhere in there his senses had gone dormant to protect him, but it probably hadn't been immediately upon his arrival back. All Blair had were those omissions, and the haunted look in Jim's eyes in the magazine pictures of his return home, to base his private theories on. But he'd had a notion, and Blair was kicking himself for not thinking of it sooner.

Jim sighed, scrubbed a hand through his hair; Blair could hear the movement. "Yeah. But that time, nobody knew what was happening, including me."

"How did you..." Blair winced. He wasn't sure how to ask. "I mean, what--"

"I went crazy," Jim said tonelessly. "I couldn't stand to be around anyone or anything. I almost stabbed a lieutenant for talking too loud. They finally put me somewhere -- I guess it was a mental ward, from what I could hear."

Blair swallowed, appalled. It made sense, and yet he'd never thought...

He could feel the current as Jim shook his head. "It wasn't for very long, maybe a week. One day I woke up and everything was back to normal. They figured it was just delayed PTSD, sent me to a shrink a couple of times, and let me out."

Stop me. Jim hadn't been worried about his own sanity; he'd been afraid he'd hurt someone. Blair suddenly felt shaky, and it wasn't from realizing how close he'd come to being that someone. His grip tightened on Jim's wrist.

Ellison lifted his head. "You sure you want to hear this, Chief? I didn't wanna lay all this on you, but after today..."

"No, I'm..." He coughed away the frog that had set up housekeeping in his throat. "I didn't realize..."

"How unstable I was?" Jim asked too darn painfully lightly.

"I was thinking 'strong.'"

Jim shifted, sounding awkward. "Sandburg..."

"No sap, Jim, I promise. But you went from the jungle to the bright lights and big city without any preparation or warning -- that's like going from 0 to 60 in about a millisecond. Your senses never had a chance to shift gears. They could have burned out, or..."

Jim wasn't dumb. "...gotten stuck on high and driven me permanently crazy."

Blair the researcher was shoved unceremoniously out of the way by Blair the friend. "But you're stronger than that," he insisted.

"Who's sitting in the dark in a janitor's closet?" Jim asked wryly.

"We are." He molded a hand around Jim's knee. "You got through it last time, too, but this time you've got a Guide to help."

"Yeah, I think I prefer a janitor's closet to a padded room."

His voice was thick with fatigue. The effort at control had taken a lot out of him, and Jim was still fighting; it would be a while before the background city noises really faded into the background. Blair's mouth tightened and he stood on stiff legs, patting Jim's shoulder as he rose. They'd gotten as far as they would now -- it was time to go home. Blair had to fumble for the doorknob. "Close your eyes," he said, and opened the door a crack.

Simon's face appeared in the wedge of light, with the man's patented combination of annoyance and concern. "What's going on, Sandburg? Is Jim okay?"

"He's getting there. Look, Simon, would you do me a favor? I need a ball cap, a pair of sunglasses, and some earplugs."

Simon made a face. "Where am I--?" He sighed. "Never mind. Anything else?" It was only partly sarcastic.

Blair considered asking for some water and Tylenol, but Jim didn't need taste to contend with, too. He wouldn't die of dehydration or a headache before they got him home and Sandburg put his exhausted Sentinel to bed. "No, that's it."

"Fine. I'll leave Daryl here to make sure nobody walks in on you."

"Thanks, Simon," Blair said earnestly, and caught the captain's hesitation as he was about to turn away. "He's gonna be okay, the switch from the jungle just overwhelmed him a little." And had driven him crazy, the last time. No big deal.

Banks nodded and turned to say a few words to Daryl. The teen glanced up at Blair, returned his smile, and crossed his arms. He would probably enjoy acting as bouncer and bodyguard.

"I think we've created a monster," Blair muttered as he turned back, shut the door.

"What?" Jim sounded like he'd been startled from a doze.

"Nothing." Blair shook his head, bent down in front of his friend again. "Simon's gonna bring some stuff to cut down the light and the noise, but it's not gonna be easy until we get you home and get the white noise generator going and the blinds down. You ready for this?"

He could hear Jim straighten. "I'm not planning on spending the rest of my life in the closet, Sandburg."

His mouth twitched at that. "Oh, yeah?"

Jim growled at him. "That's not what I meant and you know it."

"Hey, man, to each his own, right?"

"Sandburg..."


The levity hadn't lasted. Even looking like a Hollywood star trying to travel incognito, Jim had staggered when Blair swung the closet door open, battered by the renewed onslaught of sensory input. It had taken Simon on one side of him and Blair on the other to get him through customs, out the door to a cab, and finally home. Blair hurriedly made the rounds, sensory-proofing the loft as much as possible, before jogging back upstairs to see if it had helped.

Jim wasn't fetal anymore, at least, but the lines of strain on his face still went deep. He barely seemed to notice when Blair pressed a couple of tablets into his hand and guided them to his mouth, then coaxed some water into him to wash it down. He pulled Jim's shoes off, tossing them on the floor, and covered him with the spare blanket before standing and watching his Sentinel uncertainly, wanting to help more and not knowing how. Even a cold compress would probably shock his senses more than it would soothe them.

"Jim?" he finally whispered.

"I'll be fine, Sandburg -- get some sleep." The pillow muffled Ellison's voice and his eyes didn't open.

"You're sure?" Blair asked uncertainly.

"I'm sure." Firm.

And still he hesitated. Mental ward -- the very thought made him flinch. If only he'd met Jim a few years before... But Jim had survived, and Blair had been there for him this time. It was something.

He started to step away, and gasped as his wrist was unexpectedly grabbed. Blair looked back.

One eye was watching him with startling clarity. "Thanks, Chief."

Blair's heart slowly climbed out of his throat, for the first time, really, since that morning. He resisted the urge to shrug off the thanks, to downplay his fear and what they'd just gone through. But there was no minimizing that. "You're welcome," he said simply instead.

His arm was shaken a little, then Jim let him go and heavily pulled his arm back under the blanket. In seconds, he was already dozing.

A minute later, Blair finally trudged downstairs, and walking past their bags without a glance, headed straight into his room. With Jim taken care of, he was just starting to realize how tired he was, too. Nothing like jumping out of planes, being tied up and threatened, then escaping, only to find an even greater fear waiting back home, to wear a guy out. Even with those few days of recuperation in Lima, Blair still felt like he could and would sleep through the next twenty-four hours.

He started undressing with sluggish movements, pulling off his jacket and shirt and throwing them on the desk, followed by his jeans. They slid off into a heap on the floor and he wouldn't have cared except that they took some papers with them. With a sigh, he leaned over to pick them up.

Forms, for the Stoddard expedition. Wow. He'd almost forgotten. Blair sat down and stared at them, trying to remember his excitement at being asked to participate. He could learn so much from Eli. It would be a great move for his career. Fascinating. Fun. A no-brainer, right?

So why was he sitting there even thinking about it?

Yeah, if anything, that afternoon had been stark proof Jim wasn't ready to be a Guide-less Sentinel. Maybe Sentinels were never meant to go it alone, no matter how well they learned to control their senses. But at any rate, Jim still needed him right now.

But that wasn't why Blair was ignoring his soft bed, either.

The forms creased as his grip tightened. He'd been worried on the airplane, terrified in the airport, and most of that hadn't been for himself or the innocents around them in case Jim lost it. It had come from the same place the relief welled from in the closet, a place Blair hadn't even known he'd had within him. And it wasn't about need or fear or any of what had brought them together in the first place, but about what had kept them together since.

Friendship.

The decision had been made long before that evening, and Blair dropped the forms into the trashcan with only a twinge of regret. He crawled into bed sighing with pleasure. Forget twenty-four hours -- he was gonna sleep for at least two days, or at least until Jim started banging away in the kitchen, fixing the greasy feast he called breakfast.

And Blair made a face as he rolled over and drifted off. Darn it, Jim had to be corrupting him, because it actually sounded good.

The End


Back to The Loft