Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

Holding On

The Sentinel, Too, Part 2, Missing Scenes

by Arianna

For PatK
In response to your Moonridge 2007 request
to know Blair's reasons for following Jim to Mexico
Thanks, Pat, for your generous donation

********************

Oh, God, he doesn't want to take that trip with me …

Silence fell between them.

Jim refused to meet his eyes and just stood there, looking uncomfortable, like he wished he was someplace else.

The ache in Blair's chest deepened and his gaze dropped. But, hadn't that joke about the rent meant they were okay? Weren't they? And… after what happened, he'd hoped … he'd thought … hadn't it meant something? That they'd shared the same vision? That something astonishing and wondrous and even miraculous had happened when Jim had called him back, had saved him? Hell, had come looking for him in the first place after what Jim had said the evening before?

Maybe not. Apparently not. Jim had just been doing what he always did. Taking care of business. He'd probably only been at Rainier to look for Alex and, and then had done what he could. Had done what he would have for any victim. Nothing personal. Had just done his best to save a life.

But Jim had done more than save him - Jim had brought him back from the dead. Blair knew that, knew that their shared vision had to mean something, something powerful and breathtaking. He'd been dead, murdered, but Jim had brought him back from the abyss. Had come after him, after his soul. Chased him down and … and brought him back.

Jim had done something so amazing that Blair could hardly wrap his head around it.

But … but it wasn't personal, was it? Didn't really change anything between them. Didn't mean … didn't mean Jim still cared about him or wanted him back home. Didn't mean Jim wanted him back in his life.

Blair felt a catch in his chest, a hitch in his breathing. His throat constricted. No. No, dammit. He wasn't going to cry, though he felt bereft and lost and ... fragile, like he was about to shatter into little pieces. His hands fisted in the sheets, a silent battle to hold onto something, to not be swept away on the waves of regret and desolation. His eyes burned, but he blinked hard and sniffed. Jim … Jim had given him his life back and sure didn't owe him anything more.

The silence grew and expanded like a new wall between them, heavy and thick.

Blair drew a shuddering, shallow breath, all he could manage with a chest so tight, so full of pain. His ribs felt battered and bruised, and his throat was raw … probably from having been screaming so hard under water, screaming out in fury and futility when she'd held him under and he couldn't, couldn't breathe at all. He closed his eyes and stiffened against the memory, all the horrible memories of the past hours and days. Swallowing carefully, trying not to wince, he flicked a glance at Jim, wondering why he was still there, still gripping the railing of his bed so hard his knuckles were bone-white.

Blair's heart clenched at his friend's so evident distress.

Jim looked awful. His downcast eyes were red-rimmed and the pallor of his face made him seem haggard and old. Blair thought he looked like a man who didn't want to be there and was just about desperate to go, but didn't know how to leave.

"'S'okay," Blair offered, wanting to give Jim a way out, and wishing he didn't sound so hoarse, so … weak. "I … it was a stupid thing to say. I'm sorry. You, you gave me my life back today. I don't know how I can ever thank you enough for that."

Jim gave a short, sharp shake of his head. "Don't," he said, sounding strangled, his gaze still averted. "You don't … no thanks are necessary."

Blair bit his lip and didn't know what else to say. Seemed he was right. Jim would have … would have done what he did for anyone who'd been hurt, murdered. All those things Jim had said before, that it was all over between them. Nothing had changed, had it? Struggling to contain his emotions, determined not to cry, not in front of Jim anyway, feeling so empty and just so exhausted by everything, Blair couldn't bear to look at Jim any longer. Turning his face away, picking anxiously at the sheet that covered him, he swallowed the massive lump in his throat and whispered, "You don't have to stay. I … I know you're busy and, and you need to get going. I'm okay. Don't, don't worry about m-me."

He fully expected Jim to leave and was startled when, instead, Jim's hand covered his restless fingers, stilling them, the touch gentle. But he couldn't seem to move, couldn't look up, didn't know what Jim wanted from him, if anything. Was afraid he was going to fall apart. So he lay very still and just stared at Jim's hand.

"Ah, Chief," Jim sighed.

Blair pressed his lips together to keep them from quivering. God, he was a wreck here. Was it 'cause he'd died and been resurrected? Was that why his emotions were all over the map and he couldn't seem to get a grip? Why he felt so broken? When Jim's other hand came to rest on his head, Blair closed his eyes and tried not to tremble like some little kid that ached to be told everything was going to be okay but who was so afraid nothing would ever be okay again.

Jim's hands disappeared, leaving him feeling cold, and he was sure Jim was going to leave then, but he couldn't look. All he could do was lie there with his face turned away and stay very still, so he didn't crumble, didn't lose it.

But he heard the railing on the side of the bed squeak as it was lowered, and then Jim's hands were on his shoulders, one slipping around to the back of his neck. Lifting him and drawing him into a hug, holding him, holding him so tight. Tears dampened his eyelashes, but he wouldn't let them fall. Only, only he couldn't seem to stop shaking.

"Shh, shh, you're not okay yet, but you will be," Jim murmured into his damp hair. "I'm sorry, Blair. I'm so damned sorry she hurt you. That … that I wasn't there. Didn't have you with me."

"Not your f-fault," Blair managed to stammer. "I screwed up, man. Really b-badly. I didn't m-mean to. I … I didn't know what she was, that she was so, so evil. I d-didn't know … and, and I thought, I thought …."

"Shh, I know. I know," Jim soothed, rocking him a little, rubbing his back. "I screwed up, too, buddy."

Blair dared to entwine his fingers in Jim's shirt, to hold on, to just hold on. "'m sorry, 'm such a b-basket c-case," he stuttered, embarrassed and miserable. "I j-just c-can't s-stop sh-shaking."

"It's okay. Just shock," Jim reassured him and then with a touch of bleak humor, his tone dry, he teased, "You've had a rough day."

Surprised into a chuckle, Blair nodded against Jim's chest. "Yeah," he agreed hoarsely. "Rough day. Rough week."

Jim's grip tightened and Blair heard his friend sigh heavily. "Where've you been staying?" Jim asked, sounding tired, so very tired.

"At the Skyrise Motel, just off campus," he replied diffidently, wondering why Jim had asked, afraid to hope. He didn't dare hope. Didn't have the right. "'s not bad. Clean."

"I'll have your stuff moved back into the loft," Jim said then. "I'd do it myself, but I want to see if she left any clues behind."

Blair started to push away, only Jim wasn't letting him go. "You don't have to do that - move my stuff back in. I know … I know you don't really want me around anymore," he forced himself to say, his voice low, close to breaking, but he would not, simply would not, lay some kind of guilt trip on Jim, or take advantage of him. What happened, what Alex did to him wasn't Jim's fault.

"Shut up, Sandburg," Jim gusted, giving him a little shake. "How about we make a deal that we'll both stop acting like idiots, okay?"

Again Blair nodded, the motion tight and jerky as he strove to damp down his emotions. "Yeah, okay, sounds good," he agreed and this time, when he drew back, Jim eased him down against the support of his pillows. He swiped a hand over his face and took a careful breath so he wouldn't collapse in a coughing fit. "Th-thanks," he said, finally daring to look up at his friend. "I'd really like to go home."

A small, sad smile played over Jim's lips as he reached out to lay his palm on Blair's brow. "I know, Chief. And you will, soon - but not yet. You're not going anywhere, not for a few days. You need to rest, okay? Let them take care of you. The doctor's worried about your lungs - about you maybe getting an infection." He drew the sheet up and tucked it in around Blair's shoulders. "So you behave and do what they tell you."

Blair swallowed back his protest that he didn't want to stay in the damned hospital. He really did feel like shit; weak as a kitten, beaten and battered, and so tired he could barely move. And, God, his chest hurt. But he pushed back the sheet to free a hand. Clasping Jim's arm to keep him from leaving, he asked with urgent fear, "You think she might still be around? Geez, man, be careful. Or do you just think that she might've left some clues behind? Where? I know she didn't leave anything in my office. She didn't touch anything."

"Not while you were there," Jim muttered, looking away and frowning. "Maybe after … or maybe there's something in what's left of her apartment. Some clue about where she might have gone. What she's up to. What she plans to do with those canisters."

"I should go with you," Blair insisted and started to push himself up, but Jim laid a hand on his shoulder, keeping him down.

"No, you need to stay in the bed," Jim told him, his tone brooking no argument. "Sandburg, you were … you …" But his voice caught and his gaze dropped. "You need to just rest. Don't worry, I'll take Simon or Megan with me, to help me stay focused."

Blair searched Jim's eyes and, seeing the shadows there, the way the lines around Jim's eyes and mouth deepened at the mention of what had happened, he gave up his protest. Reluctant to push his luck, still scarcely able to believe that he was being allowed back into the loft, he sagged against the support of the bed. "Okay," he sighed. "You're right. They can, they can both help you as much as I could."

"Maybe not as well," Jim countered, "but good enough for what I need to do." He hesitated and then asked uncertainly, "So, we okay here?"

"Yeah, man, we're good," Blair assured him, hoping it was true. He ventured a smile and felt shy as he said, his voice low and still shaky, "Are you kidding? You brought me back from the … the other side, man. I'd say we're a little more than good, you know? Thanks, Jim. Thanks for not giving up on me."

Anguish flitted briefly over Jim's face and shadowed his eyes. Again, he gave a sharp shake of his head, and his jaw tightened as he swallowed convulsively. Taking a breath, he lifted a hand to cup Blair's cheek and his thumb gently stroked Blair's skin as he seemed to struggle to find words. Finally, he swallowed again, and his voice was hoarse as he rasped, "I'm just real glad you came back, Chief. Real glad."

As if embarrassed, he patted Blair's cheek and abruptly took a step back, his gaze darting around the room. "I have to go. Have to try to figure out where she went." Once more, his gaze lit upon Blair, and he urged one last time, "You … you rest and do what the staff here tell you."

"I will," Blair assured him. "Let me know if you find anything, okay?"

Jim nodded, squeezed his shoulder, and then turned to stride out of the room. He disappeared into the hall without a backward glance.

"Be careful," Blair whispered, afraid for him, knowing Jim could still hear him. "She might still be out there, somewhere."

Feeling chilled, he crossed his arms over his aching chest. Jim was giving him another chance. Their friendship wasn't over … he could go home again!

Unbidden, the memories of the last day and night cascaded into his mind. Jim telling him he needed a partner he could trust. Telling him it was over. Once again, he was flooded with overwhelming grief and loss and regret and sorrow and … and such a sense of futile helplessness … and even anger, that Jim could cut him loose like that, be so cold. And still, he'd held a ghost of hope that, maybe, Jim would relent, when he wasn't so angry, would, would still … but then Alex was there, pointing the gun at him, forcing him out of the office. The blinding pain when she'd clubbed him over the head and falling, falling into the water. Alex holding him down. Struggling, struggling so desperately, not wanting to die like that - not wanting to die at all! Terror and choking and knowing he was dying. Hating it, fighting, wanting so badly to have another chance … another chance to make things right. Cold, so cold, his chest heaving for breath but there was no air, and then … feeling confused and lost. So lost. He felt adrift, insubstantial, kinda like floating, not wanting to let go, having no way to stay … but then he saw the light and wasn't able to resist moving toward it, all the while knowing with such wretched grief that he was dead and it was over and there wouldn't be any more chances.

Only … he'd heard Jim calling him and he'd turned, confused … confused and very scared that Alex had killed him, too.

And then it was just a whirl, a maelstrom of motion and emotion. The black jaguar and the wolf, running, running toward one another, faster and faster, and then leaping … and the blinding, blinding flash of light and such a sensation of immense power, like an enormous shock wave shuddering through him, pulling him back … choking and gasping for breath ….

Blair started to shake, and he pressed a fist to his mouth to hold back the sob that was building in his chest. It wasn't over. Was not over. He had another chance. Relief filled him, his mind, his body, ballooned in his chest, making it hard, so hard to breathe. The sob broke loose and he curled onto his side, trembling with relief, with gratitude, and with the immensity of what Jim had done, the miracle Jim had wrought. Tears blinded him and he pressed his eyes closed, but they leaked out onto his cheeks. He couldn't hold back the tidal wave of emotion, couldn't … couldn't … covering his face with his hands, gasping for breath, he wept with sorrow for what he'd done, and with joyous, boundless relief that Jim seemed to have forgiven him.

"You can trust me, Jim. I won't let you down," he stammered brokenly between hiccupping gasps. "I promise, I promise, Jim. I won't ever let you down again."

********************

Blair started awake, not having remembered falling asleep, and looked around in confusion, and then hastily closed his eyes against the queasy dizziness of finding himself moving along a corridor.

"It's okay, Mr. Sandburg," the male attendant said. "Sorry we woke you. We're just taking you to your room."

Blair lifted a hand to shade his eyes. "'s'okay," he mumbled, again trying to get his bearings. "What time izzit?"

"A little past eleven in the morning. The doc in Emerg decided you were stable enough to be admitted."

Frowning, Blair tried to remember when it had been that Jim had left him, but he had no idea what time that had been or how many minutes or hours might have passed since. Everything felt kinda surreal. He shivered and felt a flare of anxiety but, when his chest tightened and his breathing started to catch, he forced himself to relax. Jim'd be okay. He said he'd take Simon or Megan. Alex wouldn't be able to sneak up on him. And she was probably gone, anyway. Right? Jim'd be back soon, to tell him what was going on, to let him know if Alex had left any kind of trail. Yeah, yeah. Jim would be back soon.

In what seemed only seconds, though he suspected he was drifting more than a bit, he was wheeled into a room, shifted off the gurney, and tucked into bed. Though it was only a semi-private, he was relieved to see that the other side of the room looked entirely unoccupied. With a low moan against the persistent aching of his body, he rolled onto his side and succumbed again to sleep.

********************

The next time Blair woke, the light in the room was muted and dim, as if it was getting dark outside. Feeling dazed and disoriented, he stared straight ahead, trying to order his thoughts.

And then he heard Megan muttering irritably and he frowned as, struggling to make out the words, his gaze slowly tracked toward the sound of her voice. She was standing with her back to the room, staring out the window. "Stupid, stubborn, headstrong, incredibly arrogant, damned men! This is my case, too, boyos. I don't much appreciate being left behind and if you think I'm going to put up with being shunted aside and patted on the head and given nursemaid duty, you are bloody well mistaken!"

"Megs?" he mumbled, wincing as he lifted a hand to push his hair out of his eyes. "What's wrong? Where's Jim?"

She whirled around and hastened to the bed. "Oh, Sandy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you." Reaching for the pitcher on the bedside table, she poured a glass. "Here. Are you thirsty? Can I get you anything?"

He eyed the water and, though he was thirsty, he couldn't quite bring himself to want to swallow any more of the stuff, at least not just yet. Shaking his head, he waved the glass away. "No, 'm fine. What were you growling about?"

Avoiding his gaze, she set the glass down. "You sure you're feeling okay? I mean - you gave us quite a scare. I'm still … well, I'm still not sure what to think about what happened this morning." When she did finally look at him, her eyes were wide with uneasy wonder. "I've never seen anything like what …"

"Yeah, I can imagine," he drawled when her voice dropped off. God, his voice sounded thin and reedy.

She grabbed his hand and squeezed. Dipped to quickly kiss his cheek. "But I'm glad of it, Sandy. Really, really glad."

He smiled crookedly, but then remembered what she had been muttering. "What did you mean that you don't appreciate being left behind?" He looked around the room, a bad feeling growing in his gut. "And where the hell is Jim?"

"He's with Simon," she replied, her gaze again skipping away.

"Megan, I'm too tired to play games. Would you just spit it out, already," he complained, increasingly certain that something not good was going on.

"Oh, bollocks," she cursed. "Jim didn't want me to tell you."

His vague sense of apprehension erupted into full-blown certainty that this was bad, very bad. Pushing himself up onto his elbow, he unconsciously drew a deep breath to bellow a demand that she tell him, but the breath snagged and started a coughing fit that ripped like fire through his chest. Collapsing back on the bed, he moaned and, frantically trying to quell the coughing and alleviate the tearing pain by holding his breath, he braced his chest with his arms and curled over on his side.

"Bloody hell!" Megan exclaimed. He felt her arm go around his shoulders and her other hand pressed on his chest to help brace his ribs. "God, I'm sorry," she blathered. "Breathe, Sandy. For God's sake, would you just breathe!"

For what seemed forever, he fought back the coughing jag, making little choking sounds in his throat as he continued to hold his breath. Finally, his chest eased and he, very tentatively, sipped at the air with shallow, very shallow pants. Gradually, he dared relax, and sagged back on the bed. Looking up her, his eyes narrowed in warning. "Tell … me," he panted, his voice a raw whisper that in no way lessened the force of his demand. "Where … is … he?"

Standing back, she threw up her hands. "Mexico," she admitted with a grimace.

"WHAT!" he gasped, and then had to fight off another bout of coughing. "Damn it," he moaned when he got his breath back. Mexico? Oh, shit. Alex's paintings. Her visions. The temple.

"He and Simon took off this afternoon," she was saying. "I don't quite understand it, but Jim said something about visions when he touched some of the stuff in her apartment. I guess … well, I guess he got psychic flashes, right? And, he, well, he just knew that's where she'd gone."

"Psychic flashes," he echoed, and nodded slowly. It was as good an explanation as any. Better than admitting that he thought Jim was tapping into whatever vision stream that Alex had been experiencing, both of them somehow being drawn back to the ancient Temple of the Sentinels. "Where in Mexico?"

"Some little place called Sierra Verde," she supplied. "Oh, don't worry, Sandy. Simon is with him and I've got a flight out first thing in the morning."

"Going with you," he rasped and, once again, he struggled to push himself upright.

"Oh, no you don't," she argued, but she was gentle as she pushed him back down. "Jim would skin me alive if I let you do something so stupid. You're in no condition to go anywhere, mate."

Lacking the energy to fight about it, needing to save his breath, he stared at her, and something in his face must've conveyed his determination. "Oh, don't," she begged. "You can't. Sandy, please. Jim'll be fine. We won't let anything happen to him, I promise. But you can't go. Look at you. You can hardly breathe."

He swallowed cautiously. "I'm going," he said, speaking slowly and carefully between breaths. "You can either help me, or I'll get there on my own."

For a moment, he thought she was going to fight him, but then her shoulders slumped and she nodded. "Okay, okay. Why should you be any less stubborn or pigheaded or … fine." Her jaw tightened. "But you have to stay here tonight. Get as much rest as you can. I'll … I'll bring some clothes in for you in the morning and we can go to the airport from here."

He studied her, wondering if she meant it or if it was just a way of putting him off, of sneaking away without him. "Promise?"

She nodded. "Cross my heart," she muttered with a resigned shake of her head. Reaching out, she stroked his brow. "Tell me that this isn't going to kill you. I'd … I'd never forgive myself if … if …."

"I'll be fine," he sighed, wishing he didn't sound - or feel - so fragile and pathetic. "Thanks, Megs. I owe you one."

Regarding him with no little asperity, she complained, "Oh, brilliant. Like that will make a damned bit of difference when Ellison takes my head off. You're as crazy as he is, you know that?" Sighing, she gave him a thin-lipped smile. "Rest, get some more sleep. God knows when you'll have a chance to get any rest once we get there." She dipped down to kiss his brow and then turned toward the door. "I'll be back at five AM. Maybe you'll come to your senses overnight and realize what madness it is for you to even think of going anywhere." Still muttering, she disappeared into the hall.

Staring up at the ceiling, Blair knew she was right. He was in no condition to leave the hospital, let alone fly all the way to Mexico. It was crazy but, well, he didn't have any choice. He had to go.

Why? Why do you have to go? the rational voice in his mind challenged. Jim took off without you, without even telling you he was going. Just took off. He obviously doesn't want you along on this little junket.

"He's just … worried about me," Blair murmured stubbornly. "He doesn't want me anywhere near Alex."

And he's probably right on both counts, the voice argued. You'll just slow them down. It's not like he needs you. He's the one who kicked you out, remember?

"And brought me back to life. And is letting me move back home again." Blair closed his eyes and rubbed his fingers against his temple. The low-grade headache he'd had since he'd regained consciousness on the grass that morning was cranking up. He couldn't explain it, not in any rational way, even to himself, but every instinct he possessed was screaming at him that he had to go after Jim, had to be with him.

Doing his best to calm down, he struggled to understand those instincts and what his subconscious mind was trying to tell him. Simply stumbling off to Mexico wasn't good enough. He had to have some ideas about what to do once he got there.

And then it hit him.

There was something very strange, very worrying, that Jim was also getting visions of the Temple … and visions of Alex, enough to be certain of where to find her. Whatever was going on, the whole spirit side of the sentinel thing was taking over, and Blair wondered if it was because of what Jim had done that morning, opening himself up with no barriers and no defenses, to call on their spirit animals to get him back. Jim … Jim usually rejected visions. Actively resisted them. He certainly didn't rush off to follow them. He just didn't. He didn't know how to interpret the visions or have any way of knowing what they might really mean or what dangers there might be. Hell, Jim didn't even know there was a Temple of the Sentinels. They'd never talked about it; let alone what the myths about the place were or what academics speculated about its purpose historically, those who even credited it might once have existed at all. And when Blair thought about how weird Jim had been acting a few days before, going on nothing but instinct, stripping down the loft and isolating himself from everything and everyone, he shuddered. Jim wasn't prepared for this. God, he was flying blind into who knew what.

Shoving trembling fingers through his hair, Blair had to admit that he didn't know a whole lot more. But at least he had some theories and, at a minimum, he'd probably be able to read any hieroglyphics or interpret whatever symbols they found there. That had to be better than nothing, right?

When he thought about Alex, he crossed his arms tightly and had to fight the atavistic fear that curdled in his gut. Jim thought he was only there because of Alex, just trying to track her down and get those canisters back before she killed millions of innocent people. The visions were a wild card. They could confuse him, distract him at the worst possible moment, leaving him vulnerable to attack. And Jim was already over the edge emotionally, had been for nearly a week now - which meant his senses were probably going wonky on him. Sure, Simon was with him and would do his best, but no way was Simon prepared for all this, for everything that could happen … or go wrong. And Megan? Blair shook his head. She didn't have a clue what any of it was really about. She thought Jim was just an ordinary, garden-variety psychic. Shit, he had to go. He didn't have a choice, regardless of how awful he felt physically. Nobody else understood Jim's senses the way he did, or could help Jim manage them when they were acting up.

But, more than that … he wanted to go; even needed to go.

Jim had given him life. There was no greater gift than that.

And Jim, Jim had forgiven him. After what Blair had done, the breach of fundamental trust he'd made, that was nearly as miraculous.

There was no way he was going to just lie here, knowing that Jim was facing untold and unknown dangers to stop another sentinel whose senses Blair had helped hone. God, what had he done? She was … deadly and utterly ruthless, and he'd helped her, dammit. Helped her gain control that she could now use against Jim.

No, there was no way he could possibly stay, no matter how hard it would be or what the risks to his health might be, not when so much of this was his fault, his responsibility. He was going. That's all there was to it.

He wouldn't let Jim down again. He just wouldn't.

He couldn't.

Not ever again.

********************

Too wired to really sleep, his body too weak to stay awake, he drifted in and out of a restless doze all night long. When the first gray light of the predawn began to filter in through the window, he sighed with exhaustion. His chest still felt like elephants had been dancing on him, and his throat was still so raw he could hardly swallow without wincing. His head ached with a dull, relentless throb. Rolling his eyes, he wondered if he could sit up on his own, let alone stand.

Well, no time like the present to find out.

Carefully, using the side rail on the bed, he pulled himself up and just held himself unmoving until the dizziness and sudden nausea abated. Licking his dry lips, he edged around until he was sitting on the side of the bed away from the railing. Okay, so far so good. He was sitting up.

Looking down at the floor, he decided he could wait until Megan got there before he tried standing.

Not long after, he heard her carrying on a running conversation with a nurse as they came down the hall toward his room. A moment later, they both swept in - and the nurse did not seem happy to hear that he planned to leave.

"Mr. Sandburg, the doctor ordered complete bed rest for you for at least another day. You are in no shape to leave the hospital!" the very earnest nurse hastened to explain to him.

He nodded and held out his hand for the small bag Megan was carrying. "I understand," he replied, and winced at the pathetic sound of his voice. Clearing his throat, trying to sound like he wasn't a death's door, he went on, "But I am leaving. Please get the form for me to sign out AMA. We don't have much time. We've got a plane to catch."

"A plane!" she exclaimed, and eyed him as if she thought he should be in restraints.

"I know what I'm doing," he insisted. "And I'm fine. Please. Just get me the form … and, uh, maybe a wheelchair to help me get down to the lobby."

She sighed heavily and shook her head, but she turned to go. "I'll be back in a few minutes," she said, obviously against her better judgment.

"Thank you." He pulled clothing from the bag, and then noticed that Megan had another, larger carryall over her shoulder. When he quirked a brow and nodded toward it, she explained, "Enough gear for the two of us for at least a few days."

"Good, thanks," he sighed as he pulled off the hospital gown, leaving it bunched around his hips, and drew on a t-shirt and a short-sleeved cotton shirt. He picked up the boxers and looked at the floor, and then at her. "I'm sorry, I think I need some help. I, uh, I'm not sure I can stand without falling over. I'm not even sure I can bend enough to get the rest of my clothes on by myself."

"Oh, Sandy, this is such a bad idea."

"Please?" he implored.

She shook her head but moved to stand in front of him. Taking the boxers, she slipped them over his feet and drew them up and over his knees. "Might as well do it all at once," she muttered as she put on his socks before grabbing the jeans and working them up his lower legs. "Okay," she said. "Lean on me and slide off the bed."

He steadied himself with a grip on her shoulder with one hand - and held the loose gown in front of him, with the other. She snorted at his entirely pathetic attempt at modesty, and tugged up his clothing. Then she steadied him while he settled the boxers and jeans around his hips.

Just that modest effort left his head spinning, but he wasn't about to admit it. "Can you help me over to the bathroom?"

"Why not?" she chuckled, having given in to the inevitability of his company on the journey.

"Guess you ended up playing nursemaid, after all, huh?" he teased with a wobbly grin just before he ducked behind the security of the closed door.

But when he came out a few minutes later, she clipped him lightly on the head. "Don't be mocking me, boyo. Not when you won't get far without me," she grinned.

"Good point," he agreed, more than a little breathless.

When the nurse returned with the wheelchair, he sank down gratefully and Megan knelt to put on his shoes. Wordlessly, the nurse handed him a clipboard, with the form attached, and a pen. He signed and thanked her. She gave him a disapproving look, but took charge of the wheelchair, pushing him out of the room, while Megan strode ahead to get the elevator.

********************

When they got to the airport, Megan commandeered a porter and got him to get a wheelchair. "Thanks," Blair mumbled, embarrassed but too shaky to argue the point as she pushed him inside and took charge of getting them checked in for the flight.

Once they were through security, she stopped at a fast-food restaurant.

"I'm not all that hungry," he protested.

"You're white as a ghost, shaking like a leaf, and you're going to eat something before you keel right over," she told him, brooking no further nonsense.

"Okay," he acquiesced, thinking she probably had a point. "And coffee. A very large coffee," he called as she got into the line.

Fifteen minutes later, after swallowing several bites of tasteless scrambled eggs, half a blueberry muffin and most of the coffee in the large, disposable cup, he felt a bit more human.

But the coffee didn't help him stay awake on the first flight, to Los Angeles.

Or on the second leg of their journey, to Mexico City.

However, by the time they landed in Sierra Verde, he was relieved to find that he actually felt quite a bit better. Oh, his chest still ached and felt congested, but the headache was gone. And he was strong enough to stand and walk on his own two feet. Okay, slowly and maybe with a bit of a shuffle, but he was walking.

Megan kept eyeing him uncertainly, but she refrained from making any discouraging comments, for which he was grateful.

When they got to the hotel, Megan flashed her badge, waved at Blair and baldly lied about him being Ellison's kid brother, who was sick and needed to lie down right away. The clerk looked him over and seemed to think Megan had made a good case. Without any argument, he handed her a key to Jim's room.

He made it upstairs to the room under his own steam, but only just. Panting shallowly, he manfully resisted the urge to draw in deep breaths - no way could he afford to start coughing his lungs up. She guided him into the room and straight to the bed.

"Lie down," she ordered.

"I'm fine," he insisted … but he crawled onto the bed all the same and sprawled across its width.

"Yeah, sure you are," she grunted. Dropping her bag in a corner, she moved to stand over him, and then sighed. Sitting down beside him, she reached to feel his forehead. "Well, at least you're not running a fever," she murmured.

"He's going to kill us," Blair said in a sepulcher tone. And started to giggle. He couldn't help it. He'd made it and he was where he needed to be and Jim would show up any time now. God, as bad as he felt, he felt pretty damned good.

Megan shook her head. "Yep, kill us dead," she replied with equally stentorian gloom. "But that's okay," she quipped. "The man'll just revive us again, right?" She snorted in laughter and, giggling harder, Blair braced his chest.

"'S'not funny," he gasped.

"I know," she agreed, but couldn't stop laughing.

Just then, the door burst open and Jim was pointing his weapon at them.

Well, at least it helped them both stop laughing, Blair thought as he pushed himself up, hands in the air, and studied Jim with wide-eyed assessment.

All too obviously, Jim hadn't known who was in his room. Hadn't heard the voices. Hadn't caught their scent. And he looked strung-out, tension rigid in every line of his body and in his stony expression. He was in bad shape.

Nodding to himself, completely unfazed by Jim's impatient disgust to see them both, Blair was very glad he'd come. Jim had given him another chance and he was going to hold on to what they had, their friendship and partnership, with all his strength, and all his will, and with every beat of his heart. And he'd do everything - everything - in his power to help Jim in any way that he could. He was definitely, without doubt, where he needed to be.

When Jim grabbed his arm and hauled him off the bed to go find Simon, he knew Jim knew it, too. And, in his gruff way, Jim was making it abundantly clear that he was damned glad to have Blair with him and didn't intend to let Blair out of his sight.

Relief sang through Blair's body, carrying a wealth of endorphins, and the pain in his chest receded. He could finally breathe without gasping and without fear of coughing out a lung. It was crazy, and God knew what they were really up against or how bad things would get but, at that moment, as Jim pulled him along, Blair laughed and couldn't remember when he'd last felt so … so at peace with the world or just so …

… so simply, completely and euphorically, just plain happy!

Finis

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