Written: 2001

Published: Sentry Duty 7 (2003)


FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION



K. Hanna Korossy






"It's bad, guys."

Joel's sober warning snapped Blair's head up from his intent study of the sidewalk. He'd already been dragging his feet over coming to the scene of what sounded like a multiple homicide, but this sounded worse than he'd thought. And Taggert's caution was meant for him -- Jim never seemed much fazed by gory crime scenes. Indeed, the Sentinel hadn't even paused, continuing to head for the cordoned-off house.

Which meant that was where Blair was going, too. Swallowing, he said a quick, "Thanks, Joel," before hurrying after his partner's tall form.

"Bad" turned out to be a major understatement.

The murders had been discovered by a co-worker who had come to inquire when the father hadn't shown up for work or answered the phone. The front door had been unlocked, but the co-worker hadn't needed to go very far inside to know something was wrong. The blood started just inside the door.

Blair took a deep breath at the sight. Smears and handprints in dark red decorated the wall beside the door and led like a gruesome trail into the house. It reminded the grad student of pictures of the Manson murder scene, except there was no pattern to these stains, no messages; it was as if a madman had just decided to celebrate his hideous deeds by painting in his victims' blood. Down the hall the sickening graffiti went, trailing upstairs -- Blair tried not to think about how much blood that meant from how many people.

Jim had only given the wall a clinical glance. "Guy left some good prints," he noted distractedly, not even really to Blair, then forged on, following the trail upstairs, into the first bedroom.

Into hell.

The husband had known what was happening. The wife was still in their bed, her throat cut so deeply, she was almost decapitated. But the husband was sprawled on the floor as if caught in mid-flight, the pool of red around him so thick, it hadn't even dried yet.

Blair closed his eyes and turned away. Even so, he'd seen too much already, things done to a human body he hadn't even imagined before. Being physically ill from the scene carved into his mind would have been the easiest reaction.

He could hear Jim squat next to the body, the detective's voice coming from lower down now as he made some observations to the M.E. The neutral tone of Ellison's voice as he discussed the obscenities done to the victim, to a human being, nearly made Blair as sick as the scene itself. Cops had to be detached, he knew that, but had a person's life came down to that, the privacy of their home violated, their horrible death dissected in casual terms? It was an appalling and unexpectedly saddening thought.

The relief was profound when they were done in that room and could leave, but the blood trail continued along the upstairs hallway, and Jim went on, following it. Blair steeled himself and did the same.

The children's room was next.

He couldn't even tell if they were boys or girls or one of each. All that was clear was they'd been awake when they'd been butchered, the twisted little bodies sprawled beside their beds, lifeless eyes still wide with terror. They'd probably heard their parents being killed, and the thought, even more so than the red-soaked room, made the bile rise in Blair's throat. He covered his mouth, not wanting to breathe, trying to keep his stomach from heaving in earnest now.

Jim seemed to notice him for the first time, probably catching the spike in his heartbeat and his irregular respirations. Frank, blue eyes, as calm as if they were at the station instead of... there, turned to him.

"Chief, why don't you wait for me outside?" Ellison asked.

He shouldn't go, he knew that. The whole reason he was there was to help Jim, especially in a scene of sensory chaos like this one. He should stay... but Jim seemed all too fine, anyway, and one more glance around the room had Blair was bolting out the door.

He didn't stop until he reached the front porch, where he sagged to the stairs, panting. His stomach was still turned on its side and the smell lingered in his nostrils and clung to his clothes, nearly making him gag, but Blair breathed in the fresh air almost desperately, trying to purge it. The memory wouldn't go so easily. The parents had been bad enough, but the kids... Neither of them looked older than six or seven.

"Blair, you okay?" That was Joel, hovering in front of him with a worried frown. The bomb captain almost seemed more in tune with him than Jim did sometimes.

Blair managed a skeletal smile, one he doubted was very reassuring. "Uh, not really. You weren't kidding about it being bad in there."

A sad glance at the house. "Yeah... only good thing about these kinds of cases is that they're psychopaths -- they're crazy and they don't care if they get caught or not, so they leave lots of clues. We might get the guy just off the handprints."

Blair agitatedly shoved some of his hair behind his ears. "Yeah, well, that won't help this family too much, will it?"

This time a sad smile, directed at him. "That's not our job, Blair. We can't predict when people are going to snap, we just try to keep them from doing it again." As Sandburg gave another hard swallow, Joel reached down to pat Blair's knee. "Don't worry about it, you had a normal reaction. Even veterans have a hard time with a scene like that one, especially with kids."

Yeah, everyone except Jim, Blair thought, his bitterness finding a new target. If his own reaction was normal, what did that make the detective's? The most response he'd ever seen from Ellison at a homicide scene was a grimace, and even that was usually because of how complicated the crime would be to solve, not from any sort of discomfort with what had happened there.

Blair didn't like the direction his thoughts were taking, but once on it he couldn't let it go. He had known from the first Jim wasn't an emotional person, not nearly as comfortable expressing himself as Blair, but then, he was both ex-military and a cop, not exactly a member of the bleeding hearts society. It had just never quite sunk in before exactly how little empathy there was in the man. The Sentinel couldn't even summon a reaction for butchered children. Maybe he didn't care for his tribe nearly as much as Blair had given him credit for.

Joel had gone off to talk with the uniforms protecting the scene, and Blair sat in hunched misery on the steps until he heard footsteps behind him. A hand gave his shoulder a pat. "You okay, Chief?"

"No," he muttered at the ground.

"Yeah, this was an ugly one. But we're done here. What do you say we go get lunch and forget about it for a while?"

He gazed incredulously up at Jim Ellison, at the man's unruffled expression and expectant half-smile. And he felt sick again.

Blair stumbled to his feet. "I've gotta get back to school -- Joel offered to give me a ride." That wasn't true, but he was certain Taggert would take him if asked. He began to turn away.

But the hand hadn't left his shoulder yet, and Jim's expression grew more serious as he studied his Guide. "Something else wrong, Sandburg?"

He almost laughed. Jim didn't even see it -- this was probably all just in a day's work to the detective. Man, what a fool he'd been -- why hadn't Blair seen it before? It seemed so obvious suddenly. To think he'd been living with that machine all those months... "No, I think a murdered family with two kids is enough, don't you?" And he pulled himself free to go join Joel.

Blair could feel Jim's puzzled frown on his back the whole distance, but the detective didn't come after him. Nor had Sandburg expected him to.


He dreaded returning to the loft that evening.

There was no choice, really -- he could sack out at his office, but without word to Jim, he knew Ellison would come looking for him when he didn't come home. The Sentinel did seem very protective when it came to his Guide. Or maybe that was pure survival instinct, protecting that which he needed. All of Blair's past assumptions about the Sentinel, about their relationship, suddenly seemed uncertain, offering disturbing alternate explanations he didn't like but couldn't deny.

He'd spent the afternoon in his office, going through them all.

There was still no question in his mind the ancient texts had been right about the role of the Sentinel. They were the watchmen of the tribe, responsible for the safety of its members. It had made sense that Ellison would have gravitated toward policework as an unconscious fulfillment of that role.

But what if it didn't extend beyond that? Acting and feeling were two different things: Jim could do his best to protect his tribe through some biological imperative without having any sort of emotional connection to it. Blair had always assumed that part, that Jim cared about his work and the people he served, that he felt for them deep down in some part he couldn't often show. And there were times when Blair had been certain he'd seen outrage or sorrow flash through the detective's dark eyes.

But what if he'd just been seeing what he'd wanted to see?

Ellison had mourned Danny Choi, his "little brother," Blair had witnessed that. But that was a personal connection. Even the bad guys felt pain when someone they cared about was hurt...

He winced. Had he just grouped Jim with the monsters they tracked? He hadn't meant to go that far, and yet... It was hard to forget the man's eyes in the murdered children's bedroom, lacking even a shadow of the anguish and fury and horror that Blair had felt. What kind of a man could react that way to that scene? And how could Blair have considered him a friend?

He didn't find any answers. Waiting as long as he feasibly could, Blair finally packed his bookbag and wearily went home.

Home. Home was people, not a place. There was an irony in that thought he didn't want to examine too closely just then.

Delicious food smells were the first thing he noticed as he came in the door, followed by Jim over on the couch, folding a newspaper and rising as if he'd been waiting for Blair to come home. With the kitchen table set for two, that seemed to be a safe bet.

Ellison gave him an unusually cautious grin. "Chief. I was starting to think you were pulling an all-nighter."

"No." It was all the elaboration Blair gave as he crossed the kitchen to stow his stuff just inside his room. Clearly, there would be no escape to that sanctuary just yet.

If Jim noticed his terseness, he gave no sign. "Dinner's ready. I've got some pot roast in the oven and potatoes on the stove."

Blair pushed some hair out of his face, annoyed at himself for the nervous habit. "I'm not really hungry, Jim," he said quietly.

Ellison had crossed to the stove and had been checking the pot on it, but now he looked up, eyes narrowing. "Okay, then you want to tell me what's going on? I feel like I missed a chapter here somewhere." He propped his hands on the kitchen island, watching Blair expectantly.

Sandburg shook his head, feeling his face flush with emotion. "I'm the one who's been missing something. All this time I thought we were out there to help people, to make things better. It just dawned on me today that this is all just a job to you -- get in, solve the case, get out. Did you even know the names of those kids today, Jim?" He gave Ellison a half-defiant, half-nervous glance.

"What would that matter?" Jim's voice had cooled considerably. "They're dead, Sandburg -- the most I can do for them now is find their murderer before he kills again."

But Blair's jaw firmed and he shook his head a second time, more sharply now. "No, that's not all we can do for them. We can treat them with dignity, like human beings instead of crime scenes. And we can remember their names, their lives instead of just their deaths."

Ellison's expression had gone flat, but his eyes burned. "You think they care now? They're dead, Chief. We treat them with all the respect we can, but they are crime scenes, and I bet you those people would want us to do whatever was necessary to catch the animal who did this to them. We get any more involved than that and we risk compromising the case, Sandburg, you know that. You start missing things if you get emotionally involved, and you screw yourself up. Pretty soon you can't even do the job at all, and then who's going to take over? Some in-touch-with-his-feelings police observer?"

That stung. Blair jerked back, staring at his Sentinel, his friend, with disbelief at what he'd just heard. Until then, he'd entertained some private notion Ellison had cared some for him, at least. But it seemed he'd been wrong on all counts.

He had to get out of there.

Wheeling around, he strode furiously away from the detective, heading into his room.

"Justin Galen, age 5, and Jessica Galen, usually called Jessie, age 7," came Jim's quiet voice behind him.

Blair froze just in front of the doorway to his room. So, those two little bodies had had names. And Jim had known them. Did it make a difference?

Not enough, not now. Without a look back, he went into his room and shut the door.


Sitting in Jim Ellison's truck the next day, Blair had no idea why he was there.

The morning had been tense and awkward, neither of them mentioning the argument the evening before. They hadn't needed to; it was still there in the air around them. Jim treated him with the not-inconsiderable cordiality he would have offered any stranger, and Blair managed basic courtesy in return. After all, it wasn't really like Ellison had done anything wrong, was it? It was hardly his fault if he wasn't everything Blair had assumed and expected him to be. If anyone was to blame, it was Blair and he knew it.

But it didn't keep him from feeling as hurt and angry as if he'd been betrayed.

So why was he going in to the station with Jim? Another question he didn't have an answer for. Maybe it was sheer habit, or maybe it was just easier to do than to think. Jim had asked him in an even tone if he wanted to come, equally accepting of a yes or no answer, but a no would have required some explanation and Blair didn't have one to give. Which was why he was sitting there in the heavy silence of the truck, wishing he were anywhere but there.

The police radio had crackled on in the background, but Blair was snapped out of his thoughts as Jim reached for the mike and responded briefly to some call. He flipped the lights and siren on in the same economical motion. Blair couldn't help a questioning look, and Jim answered it even as he sped up and made the next turn.

"Two-eleven just went down, one fleeing suspect. Sounds like we're the closest unit."

Blair just nodded, hanging on as the truck took another steep turn.

They saw the guy from a block away, torn t-shirt flapping as he pounded along the sidewalk, a paper bag in his hand, face red with exertion. Blair could tell the moment the guy saw them because he peeled off to his left, into the alley between two buildings.

Jim squealed the pickup to the curb, bailing out a second later. His "Stay here!" was almost lost as he dove into the alley after the fleeing felon.

So what else was new? Blair slid a fraction farther down into the seat, crossing his arms in front of him. At least he didn't have to call for backup this time; otherwise it was like every other stop and arrest they'd made since he'd been riding with Jim. Sometimes he had to wonder how useful he even was to the detective. Except for studying crime scenes, which he already hated to do, and tagging along on harmless interviews, Blair usually sat out the rest of Jim's active police work. And paperwork definitely didn't count.

His door suddenly jerked open, startling Blair. And bringing him eye-to-eye with a very large, very angry-looking bald man in black.

Looks like a reject from the WWF, was all Sandburg had time to inanely think before meaty hands reached in and bodily pulled him from the truck, plucking him right out of his seatbelt.

"Hey, man, I don't know what you're thinking, but you've got--"

He didn't have time to finish the sentence, or even to prepare himself before one large and solid fist plowed into his side, instantly cutting off his words and breath. Blair's sight exploded into color as he doubled over in a rush of expelled air and fantastic pain.

"You go after my partner, I go after you," was all the growled explanation he dimly heard before another sledgehammer blow sank into his other side, just below his ribs.

One more, and Blair knew he was going to lose his breakfast. Forget that -- he was going to lose his lungs, seemingly no space left in his chest. Like a fish out of water, he gaped for air that wasn't there, his chest contracted and his stomach on fire.

He barely saw the fourth blow coming, this one aimed at his face. An instinctive jerk away succeeded in landing the blow on his cheek and jawbone instead of his nose, but that was small comfort when it felt like his face was caving in, the pain obliterating his sight, his bearings, even greying his consciousness as his head snapped back. He was beginning to choke, the combination of lack of air and his abused body's heaves overwhelming. The last light of reason fizzled into sheer panic and Blair struck out blindly with arms and legs to try to stop the onslaught.

His body was awash with agony and felt broken, useless. When the hands that held him suddenly let go, he immediately collapsed to the hard ground, too weak and hurting to do any more than lie there on his side, retching.

Blair couldn't see or hear anything that wasn't chaos, or feel anything but the flow of pain through him, one wave immediately following the next. His stomach was empty, but still his insides contracted brutally, and his lungs burned with a whole different fire.

Hands returned to manhandle him, and with a garbled groan, he tried to push them away. Enough -- he'd had enough, couldn't they see that?

But they pulled him up so he was more-or-less sitting, slumped against something with a lot more give to it than the sidewalk. Warmth was spread over his middle and an iron arm supported his ribs, another hand gently tipping his head back. And, amazingly, straightened like that he was able to pull in some air, a little bit more with each gasp.

The jumble of colors and sounds began to fade.

"Blair? Come on, buddy. It's over now -- just keep breathing."

Jim, it was Jim, and oh, God, he'd never been as glad to hear that voice since when Lash held him captive. He'd felt just about as helpless then, too.

"Come on, Sandburg, breathe. You can do it, I've got you."

And he did, so securely that Blair could just concentrate on taking in oxygen. But with the air came the creeping return of awareness. His face was being wiped, probably of blood and vomit, and a dizzy rush of shame swept through him along with the hurt. But the reminder also spasmed his stomach again, and Blair found himself trying to hunch over as his body heaved once more.

"Take it easy, take it easy. Relax, Chief." The voice was warm with encouragement.

The arm high up on his chest slid down to his abdomen, rubbing it lightly to ease the cramp, while Jim's other hand against his jaw and face kept him from toppling over. The intimacy might have been embarrassing if Blair hadn't been so preoccupied with keeping his stomach in its place.

"That better?"

He thought he nodded. It was better. His whole stomach felt like it had been stretched and wadded up like silly putty, his muscles still throbbing angrily in protest, and his jaw made his head ring with pain, every movement piercing through his brain. But he was no longer on the verge of turning himself inside out, or slamming into unconsciousness with the intensity of his hurting. He merely felt miserable instead of like he was dying, if that could be called better.

Jim was solid and unmoving behind him, only a hand moving to explore how badly Blair was hurt. Finally seeming satisfied, he then simply sat and waited until Blair's breathing steadied and slowed and he no longer felt the urge to curl up on himself with a whimper. With a sigh on the verge of a moan, Blair finally sagged, pulling a little away from the detective.

"That's good, Chief." He could hear the relieved approval in the older man's voice. "I don't think you need an ambulance, but let's get you off the sidewalk. We're gonna move you to the truck. Just hang on to me and let me do the work, okay?"

That was about all he could do, tightening his hold on Jim's jacket as the world swayed around him and his head seemed to double in size from the movement. But the next minute he was sitting in the wonderfully soft and warm interior of the truck. Another pause and something worn and leathery was propped under his wobbly head to support it. His partner's jacket.

"You rest, buddy -- let me take care of this and then we'll get out of here."

His eyes were shut, but he nodded with the faith Jim was watching him as intensely as he always did when he was worried. The truck door was carefully shut, but it still jarred his aching head and Blair winced. Being half-unconscious had its advantages: now he was hurting and aware enough to be miserable in spirit as well as body. Blair had no idea who the guy even was who had attacked him, or why, but the whole week was starting to look like a wash. A big falling-out with Jim followed by having the tar beaten out of him was just not fair.

A falling-out over the insensitivity of the detective who had just come to Blair's rescue. Who'd held him protectively, cleaned him up, soothed him until he recovered himself a little, had taken care of him with a gentleness Blair hadn't even experienced before from Naomi. Still being clinical and detached, doing what was needed for the observer he was entrusted with? Somehow Blair couldn't believe that. He hadn't seen the detective's face, but he knew what he'd felt.

Through half-open eyes, he vaguely watched as a black-and-white drove up in front of them, and then Jim appeared from one side, roughly pushing two handcuffed men in front of him. Blair recognized the torn shirt of one, and his heart sped up again as the second one, bald and hulking, turned to glare at him. He had a blackening eye now and a bloody nose and lip, but his gaze was still menacing.

Jim also glanced over sharply, and Blair realized the Sentinel was picking up on his distress. With a dark look, Ellison wasted no time shoving the bald suspect into the back of the squad car without much concern for gentleness. The other suspect, the one Jim had been chasing, followed. Apparently there had been two of them from the start, and one hadn't taken kindly to his partner being harassed.

The same could be said for Jim Ellison.

The stormy look disappeared as soon as the black-and-white pulled away and he turned back to look at his partner in the truck. Blair's sight had finally cleared, enough that even from that distance he could see the concern on Jim's face. For him.

The detective circled to the driver's side of the car and got in smoothly, barely bouncing the truck. He was still studying Blair, and Sandburg finally turned his head enough to give the detective a wan smile. "I'm okay."

"You look like you've gone five with Ali."

"Five, with Ali? Yeah, right. Maybe half-a-round." He snorted a laugh, wincing as it pulled on stomach muscles that didn't like being pulled on.

"You'll live," Jim decided, still careful as he closed his door. "Actually, you did pretty good -- managed to knee the guy where it hurt. I just got there in time to mop up."

Blair raised an eyebrow at the unexpected news, then flinched as even that hurt.

Ellison's amusement disappeared. "Maybe we should get you to the hospital. Anything feel broken, unusually painful, any trouble seeing?"

"I feel broken," Blair muttered, but at Jim's frown, answered meekly, "No, I'm okay. Nothing a new body won't cure."

"How about some aspirin and a long nap, followed by Ellison's famous barbeque while watching a game? Jags are playing tonight."

"Sounds good." Blair shifted, trying to get comfortable. "Aren't you supposed to be working or something, though?"

"I'll go in for a few hours while you're resting." A shrug. "The department owes me a bunch of time off and Simon knows it." He started the car and headed slowly back the way they'd come.

Time off, for this? Already Blair felt vaguely human, not really comfortable moving, but if he sat completely still, only a slow ache in his jaw and abdomen was still there to remind him what had happened. All the nursemaiding was probably unnecessary, but then again, five minutes before, he'd been lying helpless on the ground, puking his guts out. Jim had a right to be worried.

And he was. The knowledge crept over Blair like a soft blanket, familiar and new at once. He'd had so many friends, but none of them the kind who would worry if he didn't show up or who would tuck him in if he was feeling lousy or take time off to look after him because he'd stupidly gotten himself roughed up. The realization there really was someone like that had first stolen over him after Jim had rescued him from Lash. He'd put Blair to bed that night, and... coddled him through the next morning when the aftereffects of Lash's drugs and mind games had set in, hard. Gentle and matter-of-fact, all at once. And yet Blair had seen the Sentinel's eyes as he'd stared at Lash's body that night when they removed it, the stone cold look in them, as if he didn't feel a thing.

Maybe it wasn't the eyes Blair should have been looking at in the first place.

A turn slid him into the door and the observer tried unsuccessfully to stifle a gasp. Jim immediately looked over, then reached one-handedly to adjust his jacket so it was now a wadded pillow against the door. "Why don't you lean on the door until we get home? It'll help you rest and keep you from banging into it."

It sounded like a good idea and Blair obeyed, one eye on the detective. Jim was still frowning in that way that meant he was concerned, although the worry had faded from his eyes. In fact, to any stranger he would have looked completely disinterested, even as his withdrawing hand gave Blair's good cheek a light pat...

...And suddenly Blair was remembering another scene, an accidental drowning of a little girl who hadn't been much older than Jessie Galen. They'd just pulled her body from the pool and were waiting to take her to the morgue when Jim arrived to look the scene and the victim over first. The detective had, taking his time while he scrawled notes for the report. And then Blair had seen him straighten one of the wet braids and gently pull the bag over the little girl's face before sending the stretcher on. The next minute, he was going over the facts with the first responding uniform, glancing several times at the wailing mother who sat to one side, all without a flicker of emotion.

At least, that Sandburg had been privvy to.

They were already pulling up in front of the loft. Jim went around to get him, but Blair was feeling steady enough to climb out on his own and walk, albeit hunched and gingerly, into the building by himself. Jim paused only long enough to lock up the truck, then followed right behind him, ready in case he faltered. When he did stumble as the elevator began to move, a hand was immediately under his elbow, and he gave the detective a slight smile Ellison didn't return.

He'd rarely been so happy to see the loft. Heading toward the couch, Blair sighed but didn't argue when firm hands took hold of his shoulders and redirected his route toward his room. With one sweep of the arm, the detective cleared his bed, and Blair couldn't muster much distress at the books that toppled off. He'd collect them later; now he just wanted to sit. It was with a grateful sigh he finally eased himself down onto the mattress.

He was ready to fall over all the way, but Jim went out of the room and quickly returned with supplies that made Blair wince. Maybe he'd skipped the hospital, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to get treated.

"So, who was that guy, anyway?" he asked with a yawn, trying to distract himself from what was to come.

His chin was very carefully tilted, as if Jim were looking for where to start. "Lookout man for the hold-up guy I was chasing. I don't think he liked that I was going after his buddy."

"I got that impression, too," Blair answered dryly. He realized he was partly holding his breath and consciously tried to relax as he smelled the antiseptic's approach. It wasn't working. "Looked like he went a few more rounds with you," he said tightly.

"Resisting arrest," was Jim's succinct reply. And he started in.

Blair began to thaw by degrees as Jim worked. With his eyes closed, Blair had to remind himself it was the Sentinel's hands that were doing the tending. His touch was unexpectedly mild while lightly cleaning and bandaging a cut, then settling an ice pack on the worst knotted bruise on his side and on his swollen cheek and jaw, coaxing him to swallow some pills, and finally easing him down flat while he was more thoroughly checked out. His feet were first, his sneakers hitting the ground with muffled thumps, gradually working upward. His head came last, gentle fingers moving through his hair to check for welts. The motions were soothing enough to nearly lull him to sleep.

His desk chair creaked as Jim straightened, apparently satisfied Sandburg was in one piece. Blair opened one eye to lazily look at him.

"So, Dr. Ellison, vat is your diagnosis?" His best German accent sounded terrible in his hoarse voice.

The corner of Jim's mouth quirked as he stood, gathering supplies. "You're definitely staying among the living, Sandburg. You're just not going to enjoy very much for a few days."

"Great," he muttered. "Well, that ought to be good for some sympathy at least, right?"

The other side of Ellison's mouth curved up. "I'm sure all your lady friends will appreciate the wounded hero bit."

It wasn't a bad idea, though that actually hadn't been who Blair had been thinking about. He suddenly sobered. Just how much more sympathy did he need from the detective to know the man cared whether he was okay or not? It wasn't Jim's way to get all misty-eyed and effusive, but what he had said, what he'd done, the gentleness of his hands had spoken loudly for his true feelings. Just as they had at the crime scene the day before.

Jim really did what he had to, shelving emotions as necessary in order to survive and be able to do the job, but he also did everything he could for the victims in the only way he could: finding the killer and allowing the victims to rest in piece. Maybe that was just the only way he was able to show how he felt. Who was Blair Sandburg to judge another person's true depths?

Especially when he had such ample, caring proof of the depths of that one particular detective. If Blair had ever doubted Jim could get upset, remembering the detective that morning on the sidewalk was answer enough, and his thoughts the day before were enough to make him blush now at the reminder.

"Jim, man, I'm sorry about what I said yesterday," he suddenly offered.

The older man's grin disappeared, his gaze growing hooded. "I know the scene got you upset. But I do the best I can, Chief -- just because I don't get all touchy-feely about it doesn't mean I wouldn't give anything to bring those kids back."

"I know, I know that, I just..." He turned on his side with a wince, then realized that wouldn't work and returned to lying flat on his back, shaking off Jim's reach to help him. "I don't know how you do it."

Ellison gave a one-shouldered shrug. "You just do what you have to. Somebody has to."

It sounded so simple. It wouldn't have been to Blair, but maybe it was to Jim. He'd come from a whole lifetime of doing what was needed, because it was needed, like some human-garbage collector. And accusations from his partner over doing what he had to didn't help. Blair nodded, a little abashed.

"And, as I recall, I said a couple of things, myself." There was almost chagrin in the detective's tone, all the apology Blair would get, or needed.

He almost smiled. "Well, next time I say something that dumb, just knock me over the head, huh?"

Jim's own smile did return at that, a little more mischievous now. And unquestionably fond. "Nah, then I'd have to patch you up again." He headed for the door. "Why don't you get some sleep, Chief? I'll be back in a few hours."

He would patch him up again, Blair knew that. Jim hid his true feelings well -- he'd probably had a lot of practice at it -- but there were some he couldn't hide, not if Blair bothered to look. He'd just almost forgotten to there for a while. And what a loss that would have been.

He wasn't really sleepy, but he was tired and his head hurt, and the bed was way too soft to ignore. With new respect and the contentment of one who knew he was looked after, Blair gave a soft sigh and went to sleep.

The End


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