Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of Pet Fly, UPN, Paramount and The SciFi Channel. No money has been made from the writing of this story.

Summary: Like wading through deep waters.

Story Codes: Drama, angst, h/c

Spoilers: Yes.

Warnings: Coarse language.

Author's notes: Originally posted to the Angst list as thanks for feedback. The moral in that? If you like what I do, feed me back and you'll get more.

Agony

By DCStreets

********************
"Okay, Blair! I'll see you tonight! Toodles!"

The high, excited voice trailed off into giggles as the scantily clad young woman skipped away, hair bouncing like a shampoo advertisement. Blair Sandburg--recent grad student, current fraud--stood watching her go. A voice from behind him interrupted what appeared to be ambivalent thoughts.

"Nice bod, I'll grant you. But you'll have to do something to keep her quiet--that laugh alone would drive me insane." The comment was made in a humorous tone, but Rafe looked at his friend in puzzlement. "Not exactly your type, is she?"

"Hell, she's female, right? Seems to have a pulse. Sounds good enough for Hairboy!"

Blair looked coolly at the laughing detectives. "Funny, guys. No, she's not my usual type."

"Chief, not that I have anything to say about who you date--"

"Yeah, like he doesn't run a background check on all of them...and with good reason!" H's comment was only barely audible, but judging by the grin he shot at Jim, he intended for it to be heard.

"Not that I have anything to say," Jim repeated firmly, "but is she even old enough to drive? I mean, there's a difference between a good time and jailbait, and I hope by now you know the difference."

A travesty of a grin attempted to lighten Blair's expression. "Nah, man. She's legal to drink, even. But she might have trouble renting a car..."

"Remind me to keep you away from any cradles we pass. Jim, I could use your help with this interrogation." If Rafe had been trying to end the session of teasing, his attempt failed. His partner was still smirking at their victim.

"What do you see in her--other than the obvious, I mean? Slumming, Sandburg? I thought you were an intellect-snob."

"Yeah." Blair's harsh voice cut through their combined laughter like an iced blade. "Yeah, I do actually go for women with brains. And compassion. And SOME shared interests with me. Her heart is as empty as her head, and her interest in me is completely superficial--I doubt it will survive my forthcoming haircut."

Suddenly worried, Jim took a step towards his partner, only to be held off by the young man's bitter laugh.

"But she wants to go dancing. Says it'll be fun. I'm not sure I'll recognize fun right now, but I thought I'd give it a try." Blair turned sharply on his heel, only to be stopped by a firm grip on his shoulder.

"Chief, what the hell...?"

Responding to Jim's inarticulate pain, Blair slowly turned back to face them. His lips were compressed in a sharp line, as if to hold back something that could not be unsaid. The despairing bitterness in his gaze hit them harder than any angry shout.

"Yeah, she's all that I don't want and more, guys. But you know what? She doesn't read the papers, and she doesn't watch the news." His mouth tightened momentarily into a cynical grimace. "Right now that sounds pretty good to me."

The uncomfortable silence that greeted his statement seemed to bring him back to at least a facsimile of his usual self. He gave a resigned sigh, then smiled wryly. "Don't worry about it, guys. It's just that, considering what she could know about me...right now, ignorance is bliss." He reached up and patted Jim's hand where it still rested on his shoulder, then pulled away. The three cops stood frozen as Blair walked quickly out of sight.

"Damn. Jim, I didn't know--"

"Hair--I mean, Sandburg never mentioned--" The partners spoke together, but broke off at the sight of Jim's face.

"Jim, you okay?"

"Jeez, man, sit down."

Jim waved them off. He wasn't in shock. It shouldn't have been a shock. He knew all of this. He just didn't know if he could fix it.
********************
"Detective Ellison, Major Crimes."

"Jim. Jim, you got a second?"

"Chief. Look, I'm sorry--"

"No, don't. I'm sorry. I should get a grip on the old self-pity, man. I never meant to lay that stuff on you guys."

"Blair, if that's what you're feeling--"

"Look, no...I mean, yeah, I'm feeling down and confused and poor-me right now. If you'll remember, I felt that way around exam-time every year you've known me. I'm a moody little bastard--literally, right?--and I was just indulging in the slump."

"Chief--"

"But that's not real, Jim. I am looking forward to working with you, and I did the only thing I could have lived with, let alone you. We've talked this out before, but I should emphasize it again because I was jerk enough to throw my bad mood in your face today--"

"Chief!"

"Um...what?"

"Can I maybe squeeze in a word?"

"Oh. Yeah, sorry."

"Enough with sorry. Look, I know moods. I'm the king of moods, right?"

"Lord High Emperor..."

"Very funny, Junior. So don't worry about it. I'm just sorry this is affecting you the way it is."

"Jim, look--"

"Damn it, was I finished?"

"Sorr--no."

"Okay. Blair, this is going to be tough...we never kidded ourselves about that, did we? But we'll get through it."

"Together, right?"

"Right, Chief. So now I just have to work on my guilt over the fact that you're doomed to go out with a good-looking and seemingly enthusiastic young woman..."

"Oh, man. Can you believe what a jerk I was about her? No, she's okay. Really. She's coming over in--shit--a few minutes, and then we're going to head over to the club. What time do you expect to be home from work?"

"Soon. Dammit, Sandburg, keep your business out of the loft!"

"Yeah, yeah, right. I hear the bark but don't fear the bite..."

"Live in fear, kid."

"Right, man. Shit...that's the door. Jim, could you maybe apologize for me to Rafe and Henri? They didn't need to be caught in the fallout."

"They'll deal with it."

"Hey, come on in. One sec, okay?" "Jim, I gotta get going. We cool?"

"Yeah, Chief. Have a good time--if you think you'll recognize it."

"Oh, very funny, man. I think it just walked in the door. Thanks, Jim. Bye."

"Later, Sandburg. Be--" click "safe."
********************
"So Hairboy's okay?"

"Yeah. This is stressful, and god knows he handles stress better than I do, but it's still tough."

Rafe's quiet voice broke in. "But does he really...I mean, is this what he wants?"

"It's not what either of us planned on, and it's not a perfect solution...but he's okay. We're okay."

The doubt in Jim's voice was almost unnoticeable. Rafe and Henri exchanged a glance.

"Okay, man. You know him best." H didn't mean for the statement to seem like an attack, but Jim winced nevertheless. "Just...well, tell him we're cool. The last thing he needs is something else to worry about. You about wrapped up on the Donnella case, Bri?"

"Let me just hand it over to the Captain."

"Wait." Detective Brown stood and took the report from his partner. "Banks has just been talking with the Mayor. Let me handle this."

Ellison grinned. "Looking after your partner, H?"

"That's what we do." He walked towards the lion's den, leaving his partner behind with Ellison.

Watching him go, Rafe spoke with a sudden seriousness that raised the hairs on the back of Jim's neck. "You know, Blair's got that part down. I don't think he'll be any less of a partner to you once it's official. He'll be okay." But no matter how certain he tried to seem, the last sentence still seemed questioning. He shrugged slightly then moved back to his desk.

Silently rebuking himself for a career-choice that left him surrounded by perceptive people Jim began gathering the files he intended to take home for his evening's reading.
********************
"Dammit." Jim was more than halfway to the loft when he remembered that he had left the Becker file sitting on his chair. He hated the thought of going back to get it, especially now that he was only minutes away from home, but he really needed to go over his facts before court next week. He had just resigned himself to returning to the station and was pulling over to negotiate a turn when his cellphone startled him out of his recriminations.

Unwilling to dig in his gym-bag while also operating the lethal weapon otherwise known as his truck, he slowed to a stop at the side of the road before searching out the phone.

"Ellison."

"Is this--is this Blair's roommate?" The high, scared voice sounded familiar.

"Yeah, this is Jim. What--"

"Oh my god. Please. You've gotta come home. He's--god, no!" Jim heard a crash in the background, and his grip on the phone tightened until the plastic hurt his palm. "Oh god, oh god, please you have to come here right away. He's--" a shriek forced Jim to pull away from the phone, but he quickly brought it up to his ear once again.

"Miss! What's wrong with Blair?"

"He's--no, don't!--ohgod ohgod--he's having some sort of bad trip. I don't know--please, please hurry! Oh god--"

But Jim had tuned her out and was now listening in horror to the gasping moans he could hear in the room behind her.

"Fire. Flames. Burning ashes--come to get--BACK! GET BACK!" There was another crash, echoed by a shrill shriek from the woman. "Burned, think they're burned, oh god stay AWAY. STAY AWAY! Jim, help! Get away, get away from him!" The crash this time was preceded by a gasped moan of pain from a throat roughened by screams. Jim felt himself falling helplessly into the despair in his partner's voice, and he was actually grateful to the patently useless woman when her terrified whimpering interrupted the incipient zone.

He wrenched the truck back onto the road, yelling into the phone as he narrowly avoided another vehicle. "Miss! Are you in danger?" He hated to think it, but duty required that he protect a civilian, even from his partner.

"I don't--oh, please, baby, it's okay, don't freak, it doesn't have to be--" her attempted comfort, presumably aimed at Blair, was interrupted by yet another combination of crash and shriek. Any exasperation Jim might have felt, however, was washed away by the waves of agony he could hear --hell, he could sense--coming from his partner.

"I'll be there in less than a minute. Hold on!" Jim put the phone down on the seat beside him in order to devote both hands to his driving. His hearing, however, was resolutely tuned to the tinny sounds coming from the device. Blair's moans of pain and terrified shouts provided a horrific accompaniment to Jim's approach to the loft. The truck's tires screamed as he braked to a painful stop in front of the building, and the smell of burned rubber hit him like a long fall into water as he sprinted toward the building. Taking the stairs two at a time, he could now hear both Blair and the woman without needing the phone.

"Get away, get away! Gotta find it, gotta find--protect--Jim, help! Oh god--it hurts. Burning --hurts--please dear god. Get--STAY AWAY!"

'Find it'? Jim gave sudden fervent thanks that he didn't keep a gun in the loft. He could hear Blair tossing the contents of the bookshelves in the living-room and, closer to the door, the panicked sobs of the young woman.

He had only a second after opening the door to observe the destruction, before he was the recipient of a whirlwind armful of sobbing female.

"Okay, it's okay now. Are you hurt?" A small struggle ensued as he tried to push her away to check for injuries and she tried to burrow her face through his sternum. When he was finally able to hold her at arms' length, he quickly scanned her mascara-streaked face for any sign of bruising or blood. Although she was still shaking in his arms, she seemed to be uninjured, and Jim diverted most of his attention towards Blair while maintaining a comforting hold on her shoulders.

Blair's rampage had calmed when Jim entered the loft; he was now crouched in the corner of the room with a chair pulled down as a partial barricade between himself and the door. Jim could still hear the heart-rending litany of terror and pain that had tortured him since he first received the woman's distress call. The strong, self-confident man he relied on as partner, back-up, conscience, and friend was gone, replaced by a trembling wreck, moaning in agony.

"Miss..." Jim realized with an irrational flash of disbelief that he didn't even know the name of the woman shaking in his reluctant embrace. Now didn't seem the time for introductions, however, not with his best friend terrified and possibly injured. "Miss, can you tell me what happened?"

The woman was once again speaking directly into his chest, but thanks to Jim's heightened senses, his only source of confusion was her broken delivery.

"He--we were having a drink before going out--he wanted tea, but he got me a beer--and we were just talking--he was so stressed, you know--like, he was all trying to be happy and cover it, but I could tell--you know when you can, like, tell that someone's unhappy, even though they're all joking and stuff?--right, so I was like, we're gonna be dancing, we're gonna be having fun, but he needs to loosen up a little, you know? He's kind of down, and you don't need to be going clubbing when you're in a bad mood--and I don't have to hang with someone if they're gonna be in a bad mood--but I didn't know it would affect him like this."

Jim had partially tuned out her rambling discourse, but he now focused in with laser intensity.

"What?" He tried to keep his voice calm despite his sudden horrified suspicion.

"Huh?"

"You didn't know what would affect him?" Despite his efforts, some tinge of menace must have been evident. It broke through the woman's hysteria, and she stared up at him in dawning nervousness.

"I mean, I've never seen ANYONE react like this."

Jim tightened his grip on her arms. "What are you talking about?"

"He's like, gone CRAZY, and I only gave him one. GOD! Stop it! Let go!"

Jim loosened his hold only enough to stop her cries of pain from interrupting his interrogation. "You gave him...?"

She twisted ineffectually in his grasp. "Chill, man! It's only ecstasy. In his tea--"

Her instinctive complaint at Jim's renewed harsh grip was silenced by the deadly threat in his eyes. Although she might not be up to Blair's intellectual standards, she had enough sense to shut up.

Jim forced himself to take three deep breaths. His subsequent attempt to recall Blair's calming voice was stymied by the reality of that voice, still moaning at the onslaught of unimaginable terrors. But when Guidance failed, James Ellison had both military and police training to call on. Ellison's inner-Ranger was calmly ordering him to kill the bitch, but a more recent calling to serve and protect stayed his hand.

"Get out."

The woman looked at him in disbelief, wide eyes growing angry behind smeared makeup.

"What right do you--"

"Get out! Before I hurt you."

The policeman once again battled with the Ranger; law and order still had the upper hand, but only barely. The calm, quiet menace in his voice finally got through. With one last sob, the woman pulled away from his punishing grip and dashed out the door.

Jim was finally free to turn his attention to the one person who mattered. Inarticulate exclamations and laments still emanated from behind the rough barricade that Blair had erected between himself and the horrors of reality. Picking his way across the broken and torn objects that littered the floor, Jim cautiously approached.

"Chief? I think I've got an idea of what's going on right now. Your...friend gave you a dose of ecstasy, and I think it's triggered a Golden flashback. Is it okay if I come over and check you out?"

Blair's moans increased in volume. "No. No! Stay away. God--hurts--please stop--no, stop! Burning, burning me up!!! Flames--help--Help Jim. Jim...?"

"Blair? You with me here, Chief? Even a little?" Receiving no response, Jim began to gently remove the chair from over Blair's huddled figure. "Okay, Blair, I'm just going to take a look here, make sure you're okay. Everything's okay, it's going to be fine--"

"Sorry. Sorry. Oh god, Jim, so sorry." Blair began mumbling a heartbreaking stream of apologies.

"No, Chief, it's okay. Nothing here is your fault, okay? Just let me check you out, see if you've hurt yourself."

"Haven't. Haven't hurt--not myself. Hurt--hurt--worse! Hurt. Jim, sorry so sorry, no forgiveness..." Blair's eyes met Jim's for the first time. Swimming with tears, they held his gaze for a long moment. A measure of sanity seemed to return, and Blair lifted one shaking hand to pat clumsily at Jim's face.

"Worse man. Hurts worse than anything. Hell is hotter than fire, man. Thirty silver pieces...three million…just Brutus and Judas and me makes three..."

Distracted for a moment trying to interpret Blair's latest comments, Jim was taken by surprise when Blair dived past him towards the balcony doors. Shit! Jim was a half second too late to stop him easily, but anything was better than letting Blair crash through the plate-glass.

He tried to remind himself of that even as he winced at the sound of Blair's body hitting the hardwood floor with both their weights combined; his flying tackle owed more to high school football than police-work. Frighteningly, it didn't even seem to slow Blair down. As Jim was wrestling him into a more secure hold, Blair was still dragging himself inexorably toward the windows; Jim stopped him only after he had managed one weak blow to the glass.

They lay in a sick parody of an embrace, Blair moaning again at the onslaught of images that tortured him. Once again lured towards oblivion by the terrible aching tones, Jim turned down his hearing in favor of the salty tang of sweat and the feel of minute tremors running through the overheated body in his arms. Slowly Blair's struggles eased, and Jim felt safe enough to pull them into a seated position against the wall.

"Shh. Shh, Blair. It's okay. We'll make it okay, Chief, just hold on." Jim kept up a stream of inanities, hoping that his arms around Blair would be more eloquent than his speech. To ward off memories that he had studiously repressed, he reminded himself that Blair was still breathing, that his heartbeat was too fast but not stuttering and failing as it had in a former golden haze.

The thought of that time, surrounded by friends who, had he not been able to talk his partner down, could have been far more dangerous than enemies, made Jim desperately glad that this nightmare was taking place in the loft. They could beat this, just the two of them.

Blair had calmed in his arms. Pulling away slightly, Jim cupped his chin and turned his head until their eyes met. "You with me, Chief?"

"You have to let me go." Blair's whisper raked at his hearing.

"Can't do that Chief. It's okay, let's just sit here for a while."

"No, Jim, it's no good. Please let me go." The earnest plea seemed to take hold of Jim's heart and squeeze. He hoped that this was still the flashback speaking. Blair couldn't be asking...they were partners, dammit!

"No. I'm not letting you go."

"You have to. You have to let me go, let me go to--Jim! Let go! Let go of him!"

The sudden switch caught Jim by surprise, and his grip loosened slightly. Before he could improve his hold, Blair became a whirlwind in his arms. Kicking, biting, screaming, the writhing figure in his arms was so alien to his peace-loving partner that for a second he forgot himself and twisted around to slam the perp against the wall. He stopped himself with a gasp and stepped back from Blair completely.

"Oh god, Chief. I'm sorry." Blair's eyes were wide with terror, and Jim was torn between staying back so as not to threaten him and moving in to comfort. He settled for standing, irresolute, for a long moment. Then the agony in Blair's rigid stance drew him in again.

"Blair, it's okay--" and then it most definitely wasn't okay, as Blair howled in anger, "Leave him alone, leave him alone! Don't you hurt him!" The delicate balance of Jim's fear and confusion gave Blair's demons just long enough to strike out and make contact.

Jim went down hard, the pain in his jaw incapacitating him for a split second. A split second too long, as first his elbow and then the back of his head hit the floor. He could hear Blair moaning again, somewhere above him in the spangled darkness, and he forced himself to cling to the voice as a safety-line to consciousness. If he checked out now, they were both in deep shit.

He was losing his grip, the voice was moving away--but then hands pulled him back towards shore. Cold, shaking hands, cupping his face, holding him above the dark surface of oblivion.

"Jim? Oh, god, man. Come on, Jim. Hold on. Oh god. I'm so sorry. So sorry, Jim. So fucking sorry, sorry man. Not sorry, not the word--pathetic--I'm pathetic. Can't believe...hurt you again, Jim. Can't do anything right--"

And Jim wished he had the strength to protest, because Blair was doing this right...his hands were Jim's only tie now to reality, the voice fading in and out, but the firm, capable hands holding him, helping him like always.

He felt the hands begin to lift his head, then freeze. "Oh god. Can't move you. Don't know--don't know what they did to you..." The voice trailed off uncertainly, but Jim was unable to escape it when it began again. "Lying again, man...god, lying to myself for weeks...not them, they didn't do anything to you...all me, man. I did it. I'm the one who hurt you. Can't believe..."

Jim felt a warmth against his shoulder, and the scent of Blair's shampoo was suddenly strong in its proximity. Two quiet, wracking sobs shook Blair, and then he lifted his head again.

"Don't worry, Jim. 'sokay. Not gonna let them--no, wrong!--not--" another sob "not gonna let me hurt you anymore, Jim. So sorry. Phone, phone...call...I'm going to call Simon now, man." And the trembling attempt at reassurance was terribly undermined by the shaking of the deep voice.

The voice…even as Jim felt hands reaching beneath his coat, searching for the cellphone, he could feel himself regaining the strength to respond to that voice. The darkness was receding again, leaving a splitting headache. But Blair sounded calmer now. Thank god. They would get through this together. Jim was grateful that he had left the phone in the truck--they had made it through this without a witness, now was no time to bring Simon or--god forbid--emergency services into the mix.

The still-shaking hands removed something, and Jim opened his eyes to watch in muzzy bemusement as Blair staggered upright and moved towards the kitchen.

"Blair?"

"Oh man. Oh man! Thank god. Are you okay, Jim?"

"Yeah--" Jim tried to suppress a moan as he pushed himself upright, leaning exhaustedly against the wall. "Yeah, I think so. What are you doing?"

"Gonna call...gonna call someone to help you, Jim. Maybe Simon?"

"No. Don't. It's okay; I'm okay now. Didn't even black out, just kind of floated for a second or so, there. Blair, are you okay?"

He swallowed, then smiled shakily at Jim. "Yeah, man. I know what to do...maybe I could call Megan?"

Damn, they were still dealing with the flashback, how could he have forgotten that? "I don't know, Chief...why do you want to talk to Connor?"

"I just..." he trailed off, glancing around in confusion, then began to back slowly toward his room. "I think she could be really good...I mean, Simon's too busy, really, but she could be your partner, she's a good shot, man, and she could learn more about the Sen--shit, shit! Can't talk about that, Jim, sorry. My bad--keep your mouth shut, dammit!"

Jim felt an uneasy crawling sensation move up his spine as Blair cursed himself.

"You can tell her what to do...you have to tell her, Jim, because she might not figure it out. Took me forever, right? Figure out what I had to do. Because I thought it was the fire-people, man, I thought they were the threat--" He took another shaky step backwards.

"Blair--"

"--but they aren't, man...they're not them, they're me. I'm the fire people, Jim. I'm the threat. But I'm still your partner, and I know how to deal with a threat. Not calling for back-up this time, man. You've got to call her, tell her how to do this right, better than I did. But I'll take care of the first step for you, Jim. You love me too much to do it yourself, even though you have to see it now. We both know, now, don't we? We know where this is headed. And I'm the only one who can stop it. I know, Jim."

And before Jim's disbelieving eyes, Blair pulled his hand from behind his back to reveal the gun he had taken from Jim's holster.

"Oh Jesus..." Jim had faced down enemies, armed and deadly, with not half the heart-stopping terror he felt at the sight of his own gun in his partner's shaking hands. "Blair, don't--" God--what? Don't do this? Don't do this to yourself, to me, to us?

Don't make me see this. Don't destroy me in some mistaken effort to save me.

"No, man, it's okay!" And unbelievably, Blair was smiling. Tears were streaming down his face now, but his eyes were bright and clear. "It's okay, Jim, I know what I'm doing. I tried before to fix it, but I was too chicken-shit scared, you know? I only went halfway. But this has never been something we could do in half-measures. All the way, man. Sink or swim."

Or drown. Oh please dear god. "Blair, please!" And this time, somehow, his terror seemed to break through the Golden haze that surrounded his partner.

"Jim, don't! It's okay--I can fix it! Like we all learned in kindergarten, right? Clean up your messes." A disjunction of horror and familiarity as Blair flashed a bright, wise grin...and raised his hand...

...and Jim almost zoned on the horror of the gun moving, shakily, to a position underneath Blair's chin. Blair's finger was trembling on the trigger, and Jim could hear his heartrate slowing, calming, as he approached the end.

"Blair, please dear god!"

Blair smiled at him again, softly, lovingly. "Close your eyes, Jim. You don't want to watch this." Oh god, the tendon in his hand tightening, the finger on the trigger--

"No."

Time seemed to hold its breath.

"Jim, really man, you don't want to watch this. I mean, Sentinel-senses and all...oh, shit...or hear it. Okay, man, I'm just going to go into my room, okay? When Megan gets here, you can tell her to call for clean-up, okay?"

"No."

"What?" Amazingly, Blair looked nothing more than mildly exasperated. "Look, I'm doing the best I can here, Jim. You could try cooperating a little bit."

A 'thank you' would be nice. God.

"No. I'm not shutting my eyes or letting you leave. I've closed my eyes to this for too long."

"Um…Okay, way to get cryptic on me here. It's not a big deal, man, just hang out in here with your hearing on three or so for a few minutes, then call Megan. Or maybe Simon. Yeah, maybe he's better, at least for the messy stuff."

Jim felt ill. "No."

Now a peevish tone crept in to Blair's voice. "Man, you have always been difficult, you know? I finally figure it out, and you aren't going to listen to me?"

"No, not like this."

"What? What, man, you don't trust me? You want to watch? You want fucking proof or something, man? Okay, okay that's fine. That's fine. If that's the way you want it, fine. I'm trying to consider your fucking sensibilities here, man, but if you want front-row seats, you got 'em. Just keep a couple of senses open, because otherwise you might zone." The gun was once again pressed firmly under his chin.

And unbelievably, as Jim watched his partner through the wavering, liquid vision of anguished tears, he felt himself begin to laugh. Helplessly. Choking on laughter, on tears, helpless in the face of his horror and uselessness. Hopeless, confronted by his failure, yet again, to save Blair. Save himself.

He was laughing uproariously, hysterically, tears streaming salty into his mouth, chest heaving with sobs, laughter, nausea, and he was bent over, gasping, unable to catch his breath. Holding himself together with the hands that had been too weak to hold his partner. Waiting for the sound of the end of everything.

"Jim? Jesus, Jim, what's wrong?" And then strong hands were on him, strong arms reaching around him to hold him up, shelter him from his horror. "Jim, it's okay, it's okay man. Come on, Jim, sit back. It's okay. Shhh. What's wrong, huh?"

A warm embrace, enfolding him, protecting him, Blair's voice rumbling against his back. Now would be the time to act, to turn, take the gun, something. But Jim still couldn't breathe, couldn't pull himself from this last embrace, just luxuriated in this final moment of warmth. Sinking slowly into a soft half-zone as Blair rocked him like a child.

What felt like hours but was probably only minutes later, Jim surfaced again, safe in his partner's arms. Blair's tear-stained face was white with shock, and his hands were shaking where they held him--correction, where his left hand held Jim and his right hand held Jim's gun. Calmly, slowly, like wading through deep waters, Jim moved his hand and gently took the gun. Blair's eyes darted towards Jim's hand, then flashed upwards in horror.

"Jim--what? What are you...?"

Carefully engaging the safety, Jim disabled the threat before sliding the gun away from them.

"Jim, what the hell?" Blair's trembling fingers came up to tenderly smudge at the tears on Jim's face. "What the hell, man? I...I was waiting for...she...oh god, the fire...I..."

Jim couldn't stifle a quick wince as Blair's wandering fingers came in contact with the bump on the back of his head.

"Jim, did I...? Oh god, I didn't hurt...didn't hurt you, did I? Did I? I couldn't..."

"No, Chief. No, I promise. You didn't hurt me." Seeing no easing of the fear in Blair's gaze, Jim forced himself to continue. "Never have, either. Past time for me to figure that out."

"Jim, I don't understand."

"That's okay, because I do. Finally. Almost too late."

Blair shook his head in confusion.

"I don't know if I can fix it, Chief, but I can try. We can try--together we can fix it, right?"

Laughing shakily, Blair ran his sleeve swiftly across his eyes. "I have no idea what you're talking about, man...just have a bad impression that I've supremely fucked up...but I can't argue with that, Jim. If it's fixable, man, we're the ones to do it." Nervously, his eyes darted over to the corner of the kitchen where Jim's gun now rested. "Jim, you want to tell me what's going on, here?"

Jim shook his head resolutely and pulled Blair back into a wordless embrace.

"Um, okay man. But you know, I'd kind of like to know..."

"I just had my eyes opened."

"Um..."

"And this problem, which we made together, we're going to fix together."

Blair was finally silent, resting his head back against Jim's shoulder.

"Later. Now we're going to call Dr. Friedman and get some advice on flashbacks."

"Oh shit...did I...?"

"And then we're going to call Simon and get a couple of days off--"

"But you've got the Becker trial--"

"And then we're going to fix this."

"Oh." Blair took a slow, deep breath. "You mean, you'll tell me what we have to fix, and then we'll fix it?"

"Yeah. You told me a lot tonight, I can at least return the favor."

"Oh man. Jim--if I was telling you stuff tonight--that wasn't me, Jim, that was...whatever this was. You can't listen to any of that."

"Then you'll tell me again, straight this time. We've got to work this out, Chief. I don't want you to sacrifice for me again. Not again, Chief, okay?" The tremor in Jim's voice caused Blair to tighten his hold. Jim found himself caught in a cross between a hug and a vice-grip, and it felt wonderful.

"It's not a sacrifice, man--I can't believe we have to go through all this again! I told you--"

"Later, Chief. Remember? Friedman, Simon, then fix-it."

"Oh. Okay. Together?"

"Together."

"Um, do you want me to get the phone?"

"Not yet, okay? Just...just stay."

"Yeah. Yeah, that's good. Stay like this for a while, then Doc, then Cap, then Fix."

"Mmm."

"Okay, man."
********************
"But after that, Chief, I'm going to put out an APB on that idiot woman who caused all of this."

"Oh shit, man, how is this--"

"She slipped you some ecstasy in your tea. Told you that herbal shit you drink could be dangerous."

"Damn. Damn, man, I can't believe she'd do something like that."

"Rafe and Brown can probably pick her up at that club...where was it you were going?"

"Jim, I don't know if that's the best--"

"It's either that or have you neutered, kid. Background checks just aren't getting the job done. How an otherwise normal guy can have such problems with women..."

"Aw, Jim--you think I'm normal?"

"Well--"

"That's sweet."

Jim tightened his grip on his partner till he heard a muffled "Uncle!", then relaxed back into the warm hug.

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