Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of Pet Fly, UPN, Paramount and The SciFi Channel. The story is my own. I earn no money doing this.

Summary: Friendly groups of bystander stevedores are not always to be trusted.

Story Codes: drama, angst, h/c

Spoilers: Definitely.

Warnings: Some coarse language.

Author's notes: Thanks to my beta Hellesgift and dedicated as always to BFOM.

Drowning Sorrows

By DCStreets

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"Jim? Jim, man, you've got to give me a sign here. Come on, big guy, just let me know you hear me..."

The voice seemed to be coming from a very great distance, and Jim Ellison found himself torn between the comfort of the soft darkness surrounding him and some built-in need to respond to those low tones at any cost. He chose darkness momentarily, extending his senses tentatively to see if there was anything outside the darkness worth the leaving of it.

Touch...cold, humid, hard surface beneath him, rough-pain...! He shied quickly away from touch, turning the dial down automatically to subdue the sledgehammer in his brain.

Sight...partial darkness. Lush and rich as charcoal velvet, and he almost lost himself in that darkness, falling in to the downy softness of it before abruptly pulling himself back and adjusting the dial accordingly.

Taste...salt. Salt in the air, with an oily residue of hydrocarbons...gasoline and diesel. He was not tempted at all to lose himself in that sense and dialed down with an internal shudder of distaste.

Hearing...water slapping against rock close-by. Industrial noises, somewhere in the opposite direction. Then those deep, inviting tones again. "Jim. Oh god, Jim. Please, please wake up, okay? I need to know you're not...I need to know you're okay, right? So just wake up. Just something...just one noise or movement. 'Cause I can't hear your heartbeat, you know? That's not my gig, and I don't know if I'm up to any higher flights of shamanism here, so I need you to let me know. Come on, Jim. Please, god, please..." There was an edge of desperation to the voice that Jim hadn't noticed before, and he cautiously stretched out his hearing to determine more. In the direction of the voice, he began to pick up the disturbing sounds of strained breathing and, beyond that, a fast, frantic heartbeat. Then quiet, desperate sounds of exertion, with accompanying moans of...pain?

With that he opened all his senses to their normal range, and as he did, Jim was shocked with a sudden scent of blood. And fear, and sounds of pain...

"Chief?"

"Oh thank god." The response was almost a sob. "It's okay, Jim. You're probably having trouble with your senses, so let's just go through-"

"No, they're fine. Even with them I can't see much, though...where are we?"

"Bad news, big guy. I don't know if you remember the bad guys we were chasing?"

"The Miller gang."

"Yeah. Well, following them onto the docks was perhaps not our brightest move as Cascade's hotshot detecting team. Got to remember in the future that friendly groups of bystander stevedores are not always to be trusted."

"I'll have it tattooed on your forehead, Sandburg."

"Yeah, yeah. Listen, Jim, all manly banter aside, I'd feel a lot better if you'd show me some signs of physical as well as mental health. Can you move at all?"

"Listen to the kid," Jim grumbled sarcastically. "Ten seconds out of unconsciousness, and he wants entertainment as well." But he pulled himself up into a seated position, and then finally turned his eyes towards the direction of his guide's voice.

"Shit!" It was such an appropriate comment that Blair actually laughed a bit in response, but it was a forlorn attempt at humor. Jim quickly took in the bruises and blood, even as he was shaking off his own unsteadiness to pull himself across the u neven metal floor to the corner where Blair was lying.

"Damn, kid. Why didn't you say something...they did a number on you, didn't they?"

"Nothing I can't hand...yeah, okay, they did. But it was a great number, had rhythm even if I couldn't dance to it, man."

If Blair wanted to fight off an emotional reaction, who was Jim to deny him that defense? He smiled gently in response and then brusquely asked for details as he made a quick tactile inventory of his partner's injuries.

"Okay, so I've seen the bad news." Black eye, split lip... "Give me the good news now." Bruised ribs, bloody knuckles--good going kid, got some of your own back...

"Nothing but worse news, big guy. They locked us in here, and I don't know if my call for backup went through."...voice shaking slightly with stress, hands clenched tightly on his shoulders - a welcome pain, that...

"Then we'll just have to make our way out and-" Jim stopped as a low grinding noise became audible, and a subtle vibration was felt through the floors of their prison. Blair's eyes grew impossibly large as he stared in renewed terror at Jim.

"Forgot to mention one more thing. They locked us in a cargo container, and it seems to be moving."

"Moving?"

"I guess...fuck!...off the dock! Grab hold of something!" Blair reached behind him and anchored his right hand firmly to something near his feet. Jim had only a second to look around uselessly for a handhold before he felt an arm tighten around his waist, and he was pulled tight to Blair's chest.

"What the...?" and then the world turned upside down, they were falling, the room was falling, and Jim's only point of reference was the solid torso pressed against his back and the harsh breathing in his ear. For a long, slow-motion moment, the only thing keeping the big cop from falling thirty or more feet to the opposite side of the crate was Blair's hold on him. But Jim was distracted from his own danger by the sound of a muted snap, an agonized gasp, and the intensified smell of blood. Before Jim could make an attempt to lessen the weight on his friend's arms, there was a sudden impact that sent the two of them slamming back into the wall behind them. Jim winced at the sound of Blair's ribs compressing as the wind was knocked out of him.

"Blair! You okay, Chief?" Jim's frantic attempt to examine the man behind him was momentarily stymied by the white-knuckled grip that still held him immobile. Then, with a groan, Blair loosened his hold, and Jim was able to roll off of him and onto what had been a wall but was now beneath them.

"Oh Jesus, Chief. Why didn't you tell me?" Jim's voice caught as he put a curiously tender hand up to press against Blair's shock-white face. His eyes, however, did not leave the cause of his despairing question-Blair's ankles were chained to each other, on either side of a riveted mooring-point in the wall of the container. The fastening clamps on either end of the short length of chain were closed so tightly around the young man's ankles that they had cut into the skin even before holding the weight of two grown men. Now they were a bloody mess, and Jim's sensitive fingers could feel a displaced break in the right ankle. Even the slight pressure needed to determine that much prompted a convulsive tightening in Blair's already rigid body. Jim looked up again in time to see blue eyes roll up and close, then Blair sagged into his arms.

Ellison held the slack form in his arms for a long, exquisitely painful moment. In his life, he could remember a handful of times with perfect clarity. He wondered absently if it meant something about his personality that they were all painful. He could recall every sound, sight and texture of his father's abruptly brutal announcement that his mother had left them. The instant his chopper first hit the jungle canopy and the deathly, panicked stillness of his men before the final impact would stay with him till he died. More recently, his moments of horror seemed to involve Blair with depressing consistency. The torment of holding his friend in a blinding golden haze and feeling the precious heartbeat slow as breathing stopped... The infinite agony of that heartbeat stilled and a pale, cold face between his hands... Jim wondered with distracted dread whether this moment would join the parade of pain that visited him so clearly in his nightmares.

Then a quiet groan recalled him to his responsibilities. "Hey, Chief, just hold still, okay?" He put a comforting hand alongside the injured man's face as he finalized his check, confirming to himself that the injury was serious and not going to improve until the shackle-like cuffs were off. He cursed himself for not thinking to try what he was about to do while Blair was still unconscious. "Sandburg, I'm going to test these cuffs. I'll try not to hurt you, but it won't be fun."

Blair gave a heartbreaking attempt at a smile before locking his fist securely around a handful of Jim's shirt. "Go ahead, man."

The next minutes were painful for both of them. Jim eventually gave up in the face of a titanium alloy that all his sentinel skills could not breach. It was a relief to give up; Blair's muffled groans had hurt him worse than the strong links, the obvious sounds of pain cutting deeper into his heart than the metal into his hands.

"Okay, Chief. That's it. No more. I'm so sorry...shh...it's okay." He gathered Blair once more into his arms and tried to soothe the convulsive shudders that were wracking his partner's body. There was a brief moment of shared comfort before the horror of what his senses were telling him finally got Jim's attention.

The material of Blair's flannel shirt and jeans was wet all along his back.

Jim raised anguished eyes to meet Blair's resigned gaze. "Sorry, big guy. We seem to have sprung a leak." A weak grin accompanied the statement, but Jim could see the grief behind the façade.

"Shit." It was so quiet as to be almost a prayer. "Blair, we've got to get you loose. The water's already come up a few inches-" He stopped as Blair put a hand up to gently cup the side of his neck. Jim could feel the faint tremors in the cold fingers, and he had to force himself away from the temptation of losing himself in the faint but steady pulse he could hear in Blair's wrist, the feel of blood rushing behind the fingerprints. Unfortunately, a wider focus with his senses brought home the fact that their prison was sinking rapidly to the ocean floor. Jim could sense the declining light levels; pretty soon he would be blind even with his vision completely dialed up. He could tell that the water running into their prison from the door thirty feet overhead was coming in more quickly now. Before he could draw the despairingly obvious conclusion, Blair's voice centered him.

"Jim. It's okay. Listen. I can't...I'm not a fox in a trap, and I don't think either one of us is up to gnawing off my foot...shh, shh, it's all right...listen."

As if Jim could ever NOT listen when Blair used those tones.

"You can't get to the door right now, since that wall has become our temporary ceiling. But you'll float up...shh...you will, and you'll get the door open. You'll go up to the dock, and you'll have to be careful because you don't want to run into any of Miller's thugs, but you'll find bolt cutters, and you'll come back for me. No...shhh...listen. I know this. You've trusted me before, so trust me now. You'll come back for me, and I'll be here...nowhere else I could be, right?...and you'll bring me back. Once you get me out of the water, you'll bring me back. You've done it before-"

This time Blair couldn't quiet his sentinel as a low, agonized groan ripped through the larger man Jim's arms tightened around him, and Blair welcomed the contact, despite the pain it brought. "I know man, god I know. I hate myself for even asking this of you. But it's our only chance."

Jim pulled himself out of mindless agony to respond to this idiocy. "MY chance, dammit. Not for you. God, Blair, don't ask me to-"

"No, Jim, that's just it. It's OUR chance. If we both dr...if you stay here with me, I don't have a chance. But if you can get up there and find a way to get me out, then we've got a chance. This isn't some big martyr scene, I promise. And the odds are good, even without the whole panther-morphing-into-wolf spirit-guide advantage you've got going, man. Because this water is COLD..." a strangled chuckle, "trust me on that, big guy, and that'll help because it'll slow everything down and preserve brain function until you can get back. I'll just hang out here in slow-mo until you come get me."

"Oh FUCK Chief!" Jim's grip on Blair's arms was so tight that he could feel the muscles compressing up against the bone. "I'm supposed to leave you down here...this is not the fucking ABYSS, Darwin! I can't just leave you to die here and blithely expect you to start up again once I get you out. Do you know the odds-" his question broke off abruptly as his chest and throat tightened with despairing tears. He knew the odds. And they were nothing like in the movies, nothing like TV. Once the heart stopped, the odds were completely against getting it going again. CPR was not nearly as effective as a thousand actors a year would make you think. He came back to the discussion to hear Blair's soothing voice meandering around the topic at hand.

"...and I'm no Mary Mastrontonio, although I kind of have the hair, right man? Come on back, Jim. I need you here--"

"I'm here. And if you need me here, why the hell are you trying to make me leave?" Jim knew that was foolish, and he was relieved when Blair smiled at him softly and ignored it.

Blair's whole serene, shamanic approach to tearing his partner's heart out was starting to really piss Jim off. It would be so much easier to stay, to hold Blair's still-warm body as the water rose over them both, rather than face coming back to a still, cold corpse. It was all very well and good for Sandburg to be calm-all objections aside, he was the martyr. And that's the easier role, damn it. He turned almost angrily to explain that...and saw, in the brief moment before Blair pushed it down, the deep terror in those dark blue eyes.

"Christ, Chief." This time it was a whisper. The last of the light was fading beyond sentinel limits, and Jim suddenly realized with sickening remorse that Blair had been blind from the beginning. Lying there, in the dark, in pain, waiting to drown...waiting to drown AGAIN...and trying to make the whole situation seem possible and even optimistic to his panicked sentinel. Jim pressed his face softly into his guide's neck and let the tears fall for a few selfish seconds. Remarkably, it seemed to help; Blair tightened his grip on Jim's jacket, and his shaking calmed.

"I will wait for you." The near-silent words were more forceful than a prayer. "I swear, Jim, if there's any way, I'll wait for you. However long, okay? So no stupid reactions if this doesn't work...it will, okay, but if...I'll wait however long, so don't do anything stupid--"

"Shh, Chief. I'll come. You'll wait. That's enough." Jim let himself luxuriate for an endless moment in the feel of Blair's strong arms holding him as they had when this horror first started, keeping Jim safe, stopping his fall.

Then the feel of water rising inexorably up his body forced him to pull back. "How about standing up for me, Chief. I know it'll hurt, but can we figure out a way to prop you up here?"

His answer at first was a shuddering sigh, and then Blair's bright mask was once again firmly in place. "Sure thing, big guy. Might as well postpone the inevitable, huh?"

The painful moments that followed were made more horrific by the increasingly rapid rise of icy water around their legs. Blair was beginning to shake from the cold, and Jim was glad for the complete darkness, as it kept him from seeing the hauntingly familiar blue-tinged features of his guide. He would not think of that other time. Blair would be fine; this would all be over soon, and if they wouldn't exactly be laughing about it later, they would at least have lived through it.

Live through this, Blair, please.

He pulled the smaller man to him, hoping to keep him warmer. The police academy had left him leaner and more muscled-great for police-work, but Jim found himself wishing that the kid had a little more insulation. His shaking felt like convulsions, but thankfully the steady rattling of his shackles didn't seem to signal any increased pain. In fact, as the numbing water rose, he seemed to be in less pain. Jim trailed sensitive fingers over Blair's face, finding what felt like a slightly drowsy smile on the familiar features. "Getting c-cold s'posed to be part of d-deal here, man," Blair chattered against his fingertips, "but I'll take c-comf't in spirit s'offered."

As Blair's head came to rest on his partner's shoulder, Jim continued to trail his fingers across face, neck, shoulders-memorizing this moment purposefully, forcing it into his gallery of perfect memories.

The water was almost to Jim's shoulders now, and he was single-mindedly avoiding thoughts of his next step when Blair lifted his head.

"Thanks, Jim. For everything." Cold lips found Jim's cheek, then his lips, in a chaste caress that was worse than a farewell; it was a benediction. A third-last-kiss was interrupted by the cold intrusion of water as it covered Blair's face.

Jim didn't waste time on thought. A quick gulp of air, and he was under the water, finding his way through Blair's floating curls to force open, and breathe into, lips sealed tight against the sea. A kiss with purpose, and Jim tried not to think about the fact that he had to push up off the bottom for his second breath. He avoided using Blair's hand as a lever to pull himself down, remembering with painful clarity the results of tension on those bleeding ankles. The third and fourth breaths were easy, and Jim indulged himself with another impression of his partner, the soft warmth of the inside of his lips compared to the cold water and his chilled face. By the fifth breath, it was taking a few moments to float to the surface of the air pocket, and Jim had to turn and kick to get back down to Blair. This time, as he felt for the face amidst the floating strands of hair, he could feel Blair shaking his head violently.

"No, Jim..." was breathed into his mouth before he could force this new breath upon the submerged man, but Jim claimed Blair's lips with purposeful determination. He had lost count of their shared breaths by this time but, as it happened, didn't need to count any higher.

On his next dive down, feeling slightly light-headed from the cold and the regimented breathing pattern, he was surprised by a muffled clanging from Blair's bonds. This time, Sandburg was struggling. When he reached for his partner, he found Blair's body rigid with tension. As Blair held him off by force, Jim felt the thrashing body tense. His arms were caught in two vice-like grips as Blair convulsed against him before shuddering to deathly stillness, hanging limp in the water.

Damn him. Damn him! He could have kept Blair breathing much longer-why did he have to force the issue? Jim could feel his lungs begin to protest as he clung to his trapped partner. It seemed like a betrayal to leave him there, but that was what Blair had wanted, after all. Jim tried not to think about the desperation that forced Blair to act. He knew that it had been a wise decision, one worthy of his highly intelligent partner. If Blair was to have a chance, they could neither one of them afford to have Jim exhausted by the effort to keep him breathing a few moments longer. But as his lungs began to hurt with the effort of holding his breath, Jim tried desperately not to imagine how it must have felt for Blair. How much worse the pain must have been when the inevitable gasp of seawater had seared his lungs.

Then his ever-impressive survival instinct kicked in, and Jim flailed his way to the surface. There were still at least five feet of air left between the interior water surface and the door of the crate, by Jim's estimation. He couldn't reach the door yet, but he could tell that the water was rising even faster now. Soon he would be at the door, forcing it open, swimming to the surface, leaving …god, leaving Blair behind. Dante could not have invented a better hell for James Ellison.

He could hear Blair's heart; it wasn't a fantasy or wishful thinking. The heart can keep beating for a while after breathing stops, and Blair's heart was still beating out a rapidly slowing cadence. Through the other sounds in the water, the sounds of their prison settling, Jim could hear Blair's heartbeat like a warm reassurance. As if, even now, his guide was trying to comfort him.

He forced himself out of the water again with a strong kick and felt the rough metal of the door just graze his fingertips. The next kick, with help from the rising water, brought him more firmly into contact, and he began to feel for the outlines of the door. He had been unconscious when he was thrown in their prison, so he didn't know how the door opened. But a rapid inspection convinced him that, by bracing his feet against another mooring ring similar to the one Blair was -god, no-bracing himself, he could slide the door open. Doing so would instantly eliminate his rapidly shrinking air pocket, of course, but he couldn't afford to wait, with Blair's heart sounding ever slower, faltering in his ears.

So push the door open. Get out. Leaving-

"No!" Jim's angry growl echoed in the metal chamber. Breathing deeply three times to maximize oxygen in his blood, Jim took a last deep breath and pushed off the door back down through the water to Blair.

He wrapped his hands in the tails of his shirt, grabbed hold of the shackles and began to pull. The shirt kept his hands from tearing too badly, and besides, the water down there was full of blood anyway. Jim yanked at the chains fiercely, as a blinding truth insinuated itself into his brain.

Titanium-alloy chains cannot be broken by a man's hands, no matter how desperate the man.

But…

The sun does not rise in the west…

Jim's muscles bunched tight as he increased force.

…and the Sentinel does not leave the Guide.

His muscles were screaming as the lactic acid built up. His lungs cried out for oxygen, and Jim felt none of it.

Because, most importantly, Jim Ellison does not FUCKING leave Blair Sandburg!

Not for any reason. Not to die. Not again.

…so it was just as well that the rivets connecting the mooring-ring to the freight-car gave in to rust and intense stress, because otherwise James Ellison would have found a way to break unbreakable chains.

Wasting no more effort on the chains still attached to Blair's ankles, Jim kicked off the bottom and quickly dragged the limp body of his best friend back to their temporary air supply. He had to press his face up into the last six inches of air, gasping from exertion and adrenaline, replenishing his oxygen supplies, before forcing the door open, a matter of seconds, and swimming rapidly to the ocean-surface, holding Blair under one arm.

Reaching the surface, gasping for breath again, Jim had only two thoughts: get to the dock, get Blair breathing again. His heartbeat was slowing, faltering now. It sounded less like a rhythm, more like a futile attempt, and Jim knew he had only seconds before his initial prophecy became hideous reality. Pulling Blair the few strokes necessary to reach the dock's retaining wall, Jim instantly located a barnacle encrusted ladder rising from the water. He maneuvered himself under Blair as he began to climb, and he felt with increasing fear the almost imperceptible pulse in the ventral artery compressing against his shoulder. Seconds later they were on solid ground, Jim distractedly noting the fact that Blair's lungs had emptied a little as he hung head down.

The dock was remarkably free of stevedores, friendly or otherwise, but Jim wasted only a split second looking for enemies as he lay his burden gently on the oil-slicked tarmac. Pulling Blair's hair away from his face, Jim began mouth-to-mouth breathing.

He didn't think about the last time he had felt these lips, when Blair had blessed him and breathed his breath. He didn't think about the now-cold lips under his, the sodden resistance to his exhalations from lungs full of seawater. He focused on breathing. Forcing air, forcing life into his partner. Absently, he noted the sound of footsteps behind him, and he was ready to turn and kill the intruder with the briefest possible interruption to his efforts when he recognized the scent of cigars and the sound of Simon's voice.

"Oh Jesus, Jim." A strong hand passed under Jim's chest to rest lightly on the side of the cold throat. "Oh Jesus. H, call an ambulance!"

Another figure dropped to its knees on the other side of Blair's body. "Jim, want me to take over?"

Ellison didn't bother to answer, just continued his quick, steady breaths. He could feel it was having an effect, although it must have looked fairly hopeless to the two men crouched beside the partners. Blair's heartbeat was speeding up, getting stronger, and Jim could feel a slight attempt at breathing when he pulled away. Another breath and Jim knew it was time to give Blair a chance to keep his promise. He could feel the beginnings of choking coughs as he gently rolled Blair onto his side, just in time for Blair to begin hacking up water.

Jim could vaguely hear the reactions of the men surrounding him, the slaps to the back and broken, ecstatic curses. But none of that mattered. Only the body in his arms, convulsing in the hard process of coming back to life, meant anything to Jim. He knelt like a pieta, holding his partner.

"The ambulance is on its way, Jim." Simon put a comforting hand on his detective's shoulder; it seemed like the only warmth in Jim's world was centered on his shoulder and in his arms. Ellison couldn't bring himself to pull his eyes from his partner, even to acknowledge their captain's words, but Banks understood, merely gripping his shoulder tighter.

The desperate coughing had died down, but the wheezing gasps that followed would have sounded good only to someone who knew the previous silence. Jim didn't have to extend his senses to hear the water still lingering in Blair's lungs. He pulled Blair closer to him; now cold was not their ally, and Blair needed warmth. As if in answer to that thought, Simon wrapped the blanket that H had retrieved from his car around Jim's shoulders, covering the two of them as much as possible. Jim kept the blanket over his torso while arranging it more carefully over Blair-Blair needed Jim's body-heat. There was still no sign of consciousness from the limp form, but Jim didn't really expect one. Now that he could hear the ambulance in the distance, it was time to obsess about future horrors. Was the water cold enough or was Blair possibly brain-damaged? And his lungs-god-

"The doctors said he'd always be at risk for pneumonia. After this…Simon, it's just starting. He's almost guaranteed-"

"Stop that." The deep voice behind him cut in peremptorily. "I don't know what happened here. But Blair's alive. It's going to be okay. The ambulance is on its way-"

"About a half-mile away."

Simon gripped his shoulder again though not as a warning, since by now his gift was no secret to the close-knit circle around him. "Okay, so it'll be here soon. You just focus on getting him warm and keeping him breathing. Sandburg's your partner, he'll do the rest. He's not going to let you down."

Jim wanted to react with anger. Blair had fucking DROWNED for him, where the hell did Banks get off suggesting-

But actually his response was agreement. Blair wouldn't let him down. He had promised to wait, and he had kept the promise admirably. He had promised it would be okay…so Jim had to trust his partner.

I trust you Blair. Be okay.
********************
If a depressing number of Jim's perfect, haunting memories centered around Blair, an almost equally depressing number of memories involved Blair in this setting. The ICU of Cascade General was quieter now, with the almost-holy stillness of the early morning hours. Ten hours before, it had been a maelstrom of agonizing intensity for a desperately worried sentinel. Blair had been pulled from his grasp as soon as he stepped out of the ambulance-during the ride to the hospital the paramedics had let him cling to his unconscious partner, but that ended at the hospital doors.

Simon had been a rock, as usual. Steering Jim into the waiting room, he had arranged with the other detectives for clothes to be fetched, food to be ordered, a shower arranged. Three hours into their vigil he had arranged what to Jim seemed almost miraculous. A sturdy young nurse had come into the waiting room and addressed him.

"Captain Banks, Detective Sandburg is stable. The doctor will give you all the details, but he's working with another emergency that just came in, so until then…you requested that his partner be allowed to see him?"

Jim tensed beneath Simon's calming hand. "Yes, ma'am. Nurse Ingram said it might be possible..."

The young woman smiled slightly. "Yes, she arranged it. Your detective can sit with him as long as he wants. I haven't been here too long, but the other nurses seemed to definitely think your request had merit." Simon found himself returning her smile, torn between reluctant humor at that wry statement and concern for the man who sat, uncomprehending, at his side.

"Jim? Come on, Detective, you can see him now." Banks firmed his voice, hoping to get through the wall of misery that had separated Jim from the rest of them for the past hours. He winced slightly as blood-shot eyes suddenly met his.

"I can…? Simon, thank you…" his voice broke, and he stumbled slightly as he stood.

Prompted by her natural calling to comfort, the nurse addressed the man who looked so eager to get past her.

"Detective? He's going to be okay. The ankle was easy to set, and none of the abrasions were too deep. Plus, the cold and the salt-water actually helped. He's got some bruised ribs from the beating, but nothing else broken. We've got him on antibiotics in an attempt to hold off pneumonia…it's a small chance, but they might work. You have to face that he's probably going to be worse before he gets better, what with the damage from the salt water to his lungs, on top of the damage from the previous drowning. But he's in good shape; he's breathing well again for the moment-he's going to be fine."

She glanced over at Banks, who was viewing her with even more favor now. "The doctor's supposed to get to say that, but you looked like you could use it now. And the doctor won't be able to tell you much more…so try to look surprised when he does tell you, okay?" She didn't wait for a response, merely turned and led the two men to her patient's room.

Now Jim sat, purposefully tuning out the various monitors in favor of the life-signs and sounds available to his heightened senses. Blair's hands were still cold, despite Jim's gentle chafing. But the sentinel could feel his guide's steady pulse, and that went a long way to calming the raging guilt and anxiety within him. He brought the chilled fingers up to his lips and kissed those broken knuckles.

He was so absorbed in the feel of Blair's skin against his that he almost missed the slight tightening of the slack hand. A second, firmer grip could not be ignored. Jim looked up just in time to see Blair's eyes flutter once, then open.

"Jim..."

"Blair, it's okay. You're okay. You're in the hospital, but the nurse says you're going to be fine."

"You okay?"

Typical. "Yeah, I'm okay Chief. Paramedics looked me over on the way here…I wouldn't even have to be here, but I liked your room so I thought I'd stay."

Blair smiled gently, ignored the last statement, and zeroed in on the contradiction between Jim's recital of the nurse's prognosis and the guilt and fear in his partner's eyes. "Stop worrying."

"Chief, it's okay, just you rest, I'll be here when you wake up-"

Blair's fingers, showing only a minor tremor of exhaustion, touched his lips gently, halting the flow. "Stop worrying." Blair let his hand fall to Jim's wrist and pulled it towards himself. "You're thinking about infection and pneumonia and second-time odds, so just stop it. I'm okay. I'm not going to get sick. We'll be out of here in a day or two."

"Blair-"

"Shhh. Will you never listen to me?" He grinned. "I'm telling you this as your friggin' Shaman, okay? I'm fine. Now come here." He scooted sideways on the narrow bed until there was just enough room for Jim to join him.

Jim looked like a diabetic chocoholic being offered a dove bar. "I'm not sure that's a good idea, Blair. The nurse-"

"Jim. Bed. Now." Blair refused to use the guide-voice unless necessary, so Jim realized, even as he reacted involuntarily to the voice, that it must be necessary. The second he was pressed up against Blair's warmth, he understood why.

They sighed in unison and then laughed at it together. Then Blair turned slightly towards him, so that he could drape an arm across Jim's waist. "Thanks, Jim. For saving me again, I mean."

"No. Thank you." Blair had saved him twice; down in the water and just now.

Jim felt Blair smile against his throat. "Can we agree it's mutual?"

He tilted Blair's face up a second to make eye-contact, then pulled him gently into his shoulder. Without conscious effort, Jim felt another perfect memory take lodging in his mind and heart. "Yeah, Chief. It's mutual."

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