Nature's Breakdowns

by Francesca

Disclaimers: Nothing's mine but the words; everything else belongs to Pet Fly. No infringement is intended, and I'm not makin' a dime. (Who needs money when you've got love?) (Well, okay, but I'm still not making any money!) Please go away if you're under 18!

Summary: Enough with the summaries already! I hate this part. OK, Jim can't sleep and Blair fixes it and then Jim can't fix the truck and Blair fixes it and then Jim hunts down a missing girl and then Blair freaks out and Jim can't fix that either. Yeah, it's a downer, kids, but there's always next time.

Warnings: None. Maybe language. I've got a fairly foul mouth, sorry.

Notes: OK, it's been a while, so let me just say that this is part twelve (good god almighty) in something called the Nature Series, and if you haven't read parts one through eleven (Culture, Surprises, Fireworks, Visions, Sacrifices, Training, Trials, Celebrations, Reversals, Relations and Visitations sheesh!) then Breakdowns probably isn't going to make much sense, being that it's set in a very particular sort of universe where Jim can heal people and Blair can push people and has visions and has become a cop...(yeah, well, it all made sense at the time, OK, so bear with me here and read the stuff, it's at my page, listed above.) Thanks to Miriam and Paulette for betaing this.

Feedback requested, as always. I'd be particularly interested to hear people's reactions to this, actually. Hope you like it.

It didn't seem to matter that it was Saturday. Or that he'd worked late the night before. Or every night that week. It didn't seem to matter one jot to the subconscious of James Joseph Ellison, who knew, even before he pushed up the eyemask he slept in, that it was way too early. Eyemask up around his forehead, he turned to the clock.



He sighed and lay back among his pillows, glancing across the bed at his partner, who was happily unconscious, chest rising and falling in the slow, deep rhythms of sleep. Jim tried to stay still, stay calm, stay relaxed — because the worst of it was that Blair would know if he were irritated, would know that he was so damn tired that he could hardly think straight, would know how damn angry he was that his body wouldn't let him rest, that the damn senses made falling back to sleep a near-impossibility. Blair Sandburg would get a goddamned bulletin to that effect, a person to person call, a Sentinel to Guide telegram, even in the deepest depths of sleep — JIM IRRITATED STOP. JIM TIRED STOP. JIM ANGRY STOP. WAKE UP AND GUIDE STOP — and Blair would wake up. Which was dammed unfair to Blair, dammed unfair because Blair had pulled the same late nights all week. And Blair, at least, could sleep if he were just left alone to do it — it was like he had a switch: ON was on, really on, very on, but there was also an OFF position, and when Blair was off he was off and he slept hard and deeply, beautifully — god, he was so beautiful...

Jim grimaced because he could hear Blair's heartbeat speeding up, could hear Blair Sandburg speeding out of sleep, and it was just so dammed unfair to know this would happen and not to be able to stop it. Don't think of a pink elephant: "Don't be tired and angry because you'll wake Blair" — but he couldn't not be, he couldn't not see that pink elephant —

And Blair opened his eyes and squinted at Jim through the darkness, and Jim looked back at him sorrowfully, eyes dark with a regret which Blair's night vision was not acute enough to see. But he could see in Blair's sleepy eyes that Blair was registering the regret anyway, as he had registered the irritation and the exhaustion and the anger and the fact that Jim thought he was beautiful, and Blair just lay there quietly looking at him through the darkness, just blinking, and Jim knew that his Guide was thinking, and he wondered what he was thinking.

Finally Blair took a deep breath and said, "Hmm!" and he seemed to have reached some sort of conclusion. He heaved himself up and flopped over onto Jim, lying between Jim's legs, his face hovering over Jim's chest. They looked at each other again briefly and had a clear but wordless conversation — ("I wanna try something." "Okay.") — and then Blair settled himself down on Jim, and Jim felt his lover's weight pressing into him, and the weight felt good. Blair lay his cheek against Jim's chest, and Jim sighed and reached out to caress his lover's head, to twine his fingers in the long, dark, night-tangled hair. And then Blair shifted slightly, getting comfortable for the long haul — and then his mouth gently sought out and closed over Jim's right nipple.

And, surprisingly, thought Jim, it wasn't foreplay. He knew instantly that it wasn't foreplay — it was wonderful, but it wasn't...sexual... except it... was, of course... just not... it wasn't...

Blair began to suckle him gently, lazily, and his mouth was warm and his lips were soft and they were the only...they were the center... and he could lose... warm....

wet.... mouth.... safe... zone... zone... Blair...  sending...     zoning...


warmsoftwet....... warmsoftwet......     warmsoftwet...... warmsoftwet......     warmsoftwet......     "Jim," whispered Blair. warmsoftwet......     "Jim?" warmsoftwet...  warmsoft...  warmsoft...  warm...     "Jim, are you with me?" asked Blair softly, squeezing his arm, and Jim opened his eyes and the room was bright now, so bright, and he squinted as he opened his eyes.

"Yes," Jim replied.

"Good," said Blair, and he lay his head back down against Jim's chest. "How do you feel?"

"Good," answered Jim, looking at the clock.



"Rested?" inquired Blair.

"Yes. Thank you," Jim added. His hand was still wrapped in Blair's hair and he gave Blair's head an affectionate rub.

"Mmmm, nice," said Blair appreciatively, nestling his face in Jim's chest. "You can have first shower if you want."

"I'm not worthy," replied Jim, smiling. "You go first."

"You'd better mean it," said Blair, pulling back and sitting up with a grunt, "because I am not feeling noble enough to insist."

"Don't worry: I mean it. Oh, and hey, will you give me a hand with the truck later?" Jim asked.

"Sure," Blair replied, shoving his tangled hair away from his face. "Okay." He moved to slide off the bed, was stopped by Jim's hand on his arm.


"Yeah?" asked Blair, turning to him expectantly.

Jim pulled his arm, yanked him closer — bent forward, kissed him. And that wasn't foreplay either, that was simply: Good morning, Blair. I love you.

"No. No. No, not like that. No, that's pointless — Jim!" yelled Blair Sandburg, finally losing his temper. "Just stop it. Give me the wrench. Give it to me!" He snatched the wrench out of his partner's hand, bent over the truck's engine. "Look, the goddamn bolt is stripped, okay? You can turn it all you like — it's not going anywhere!"

Jim Ellison, red-faced with frustration, slammed his hand down: hard.

"Look, go take a walk," said Blair. "Go get ice cream or something. Calm yourself the fuck down. Let me have a crack at it."

"What are you going to do? The goddamn bolt is stripped!" yelled Jim.

"All right, so fucking think about it, okay?" yelled Blair, dragging an arm across his sweaty forehead. "If you can't get the bolt out, make the new battery tray accommodate the bolt so that it lies flush."

"But that's — that's not right," retorted Jim.

"Who cares for right? There's no right with a used car. Trust me on this — right is running — it's running, it's right. Come out of the box, Jim! Lateral thinking, okay?"

"I'm going to take a walk," said Jim, tugging his work gloves off. "Here, take these — you'll hurt your hands."

"Thanks," said Blair, snatching the gloves up. "Bring back ice cream. And, like, a soda or something."

"All right, all right," Jim said, irritably, walking off down Prospect.

When he returned he saw Blair bent intently over the engine, and his ears picked up a stream of softly muttered profanities in several languages.

"Well?" Jim asked, leaning against the side of the truck.

"HAH!" yelled Blair, raising his head. "HAH fuckin' HAH! Look at that! Hey, you're eating my ice cream!"

"It started to melt," said Jim "Wipe your hands," he added, extending the half-eaten cone and a can of Coke.

Blair wiped his hands off on his T-shirt, took the cone. "Take a look," he said. "I drilled a hole in the new plate — now it fits over the damm bolt, and we can put the battery back in. Brilliant, no?"

Jim inspected the work, nodded. "It's still not right, though," he said.

"You know, just don't say that while there are blunt instruments around, okay?" retorted Blair. "It's fine — it'll work."

"The master of making do," Jim noted sarcastically, watching Blair eat the rest of the ice cream.

"Yeah, well, joke all you want, but I paid four hundred bucks for the Corvair, and it's run for six years."

"Mostly," said Jim, smirking, and then he twisted his head, hearing the phone ring softly.

"What?" asked Blair.

"Phone," said Jim. "Yours."

Blair popped the end of the cone into his mouth, opened the door to the truck, pulled out his jacket, pulled the phone out of his pocket. "Blair Sandburg," he mumbled, chewing. "Hi. Uh-huh. Uh-huh," he said, meeting Jim's eyes. "Okay, hold on a minute. Jim? Megan. She and Sarah want to know if we want to have dinner tonight." He looked at his partner and waited patiently, knowing that Jim's first reaction to anything was to say 'no', giving him time to get past that first reaction.

Jim looked down at the engine, thinking. He ran his fingers over the new battery plate, over the hole Sandburg had drilled, and then finally raised his head.

"Yeah, okay. Sure," he said.

"Great. Yeah, fine," said Blair into the phone. "What time? Yeah, eight's okay. Where? No, I'm just off Chinese right now, can we do something else? Oooh, yeah — yeah, I'd like that — wait, hold on. Jim? Ethiopian?"

Jim stared at him, rolled his eyes.

"Oh, come on — you'll like it — it's just like a Big Mac, except everything's separate, and sort of in a stew. You'll like it, I swear." Jim wasn't protesting, so Blair took that as a yes. "Yeah, okay," he said into the phone. "Where is it? Uh-huh. Yeah, yeah, I know where that is. It must be new, I haven't heard of it. Yeah, no, sounds great. Eight o'clock, then." He hung up, pushed the antenna down, then raised it as the phone immediately rang again. "Yeah, what?" he said. "Oh — sorry, Simon," Blair said, looking over at his partner. "Yeah, he's here. No, he's not carrying it. Yeah, sure." He walked over, extended the phone to Jim. "Simon."

"Hi, what's up?" said Jim. "Uh-huh. Yeah. Okay, yeah. No, it's okay. We'll meet you there," he said and hung up.

"What?" asked Blair.

"Abandoned car over by the park. Looks like a kidnapping."

Blair sighed, then blinked as he looked at the truck. "Uh, Jim..."

"I'll just lock the battery in the truck — we'll have to take your car."

"And I'm kinda filthy here," said Blair, looking down at his oil stained t-shirt and jeans.

"No time," said Jim. "The trail's still hot. Grab your badge and your gun and let's go." Blair shot him a sharp look, but then complied, grabbing his holster from the cab of the truck and sliding into it before putting on his leather jacket. "All right, I'm ready," he said, and the two men headed down the street toward Blair's Corvair.

"Watch, now, it doesn't start," said Jim, sliding into the passenger seat.

"It'll start, no fear," said Blair, turning the key. HEY HEY MOMMA, SAY THE WAY YOU MOVE — GONNA MAKE YOU SWEAT, GONNA MAKE YOU GROOVE — Blair quickly switched the tape player off, cutting Robert Plant off mid-moan. "Sorry," he muttered, revving the engine.

Blair shifted into drive and pulled away. Jim directed him across town and eventually they pulled up behind an abandoned Saturn.

The Saturn's driver's side door was ajar and Captain Simon Banks and two uniformed officers were standing next to it, talking to a nervous middle-aged couple.

Spotting Ellison and Sandburg, Banks gently detached himself from the group and headed over to them.

"Parents," he said, nodding back toward the couple, who were gesticulating wildly at the two uniforms. "The car belongs to their daughter, Kimberly Weston — she's nineteen. The uniforms spotted it half an hour ago — the driver's side door was open, as you see it."

"Keys?" asked Jim.

"In the ignition. There's a note on the seat," said Banks, turning back to the vehicle. Ellison and Sandburg followed him, and Banks grabbed the plastic-bagged note from the front seat and extended it to Jim.

"A hundred thousand dollars," murmured Jim, skimming it. "Rich parents?"

"Not rich — what you might call very well off," said Simon wryly. "Father's an investment banker. Anyway, it looks as though she pulled over or was pulled over and then taken from the car."

"Mmmm," said Jim, noncommittally and he bent to peer into the front seat — then jerked away, senses reeling.

Immediately Sandburg's hand was on his arm. "Jim?" he asked softly, tightening his grip on Jim's bicep, knowing that the sound of his voice, the pressure of his touch, would keep Jim from zoning. "What is it?"

"Smells," muttered Jim, raising his sleeve to his nose. "Intense. Disgusting."

"Okay, separate them out, focus on them, figure out what you're smelling," murmured Blair, and Jim lowered his arm, closed his eyes, and breathed in gently — concentrating, focusing. Then he wrinkled his nose again, and looked at his partner.

"Marijuana," he said quietly to Blair. "And...bubblegum, I think. Something really sickening — sweet — mega artificial cherry sort of flavor." He looked up suddenly, senses on full alert, and started off in the distance. "Not another car," he said to Blair abstractly. "They walked," he said, and began moving off down the street with long strides.

"Jim!" yelled Banks as Ellison took off, and Blair turned around, jogging backwards to keep up, and gave Banks a thumbs up signal before whirling around and running after Jim.

Jim stopped a block and a half later, at one of the many entrances to Cascade Central Park, and he was still making a face — and Blair knew that he was still locked in on the distasteful smell. Jim strode to a trash basket and peered in, Sentinel sight quickly spotting the bright red sticky chewed-up gum attached to the side of the can. As Blair reached his side, Jim wheeled, entered the park — then stopped short at a hot-dog cart. He simply stared at the surprised vendor for a few moments, then turned and veered down one of the paths, heading deeper into the park, Blair running along behind.

Jim stopped once, at a wooden park bench, frowned, breathed deeply, and Blair stood quietly, not wanting to disrupt the hunt. Blair scanned the area around the bench, trying to see what Jim was sensing — and as Jim took off again, Blair wondered if it were the wadded up napkin, or the crushed cigarette butt, or the chewed and cracked popsicle stick, or the empty coffee cup, or all of them, or something else entirely, that had attracted the Sentinel's attention.

Jim continued to pick a path through the park, toward the other side. He emerged at the Franklin Street entrance and stopped suddenly, turning his head to scan the area. Blair put on an extra burst of speed and caught up to him, put a hand on Jim's arm, because the traffic on Franklin Street was heavy and Jim, as engrossed as he was, was liable to step right out into it, and heaven knows, tribal Sentinels had never had to deal with the vagaries of Cascade cabdrivers.

But Jim didn't step into traffic then — he turned left, and walked a block, and then turned toward the street and Blair seized his arm and pulled him, steered him, across the street quickly, gesticulating wildly at the drivers to let them through. And then they were through, and Jim resolutely headed up a sidestreet, moving on instinct — until halfway up the block he stopped.

Jim closed his eyes and listened — and then he looked up at a second floor apartment window across the street — and his eyes narrowed — and then he was moving! a blur! and he grabbed Blair by both arms and threw him down behind a parked car and fell on top of him — and Blair was conscious of Jim's fingers digging into his arms and the air rushing through his hair as he went over and then the jolt! of the hard concrete on his ass, then scraping his back, and the sudden weird perspective change — (a movie, this) — the street, the slanted door of the car, the sky — and he heard the crash! as the first bullet shattered the car's windshield — and then he moved and rolled and found himself huddled, ducking, behind the black rubber of the car's rear tire, wincing as the bullets banged into the other side of the car's chassis.

Jim had pulled his gun out in a fluid motion and crouched closer to the front of the car, pressed against the front tire — and he aimed his gun at the second floor window and returned fire —

/and he could hear the frantic conversation within, the girl screaming, "No! Stop! Don't! Are you crazy!" and the boy, the boy at the window, shrieking, "Shut up shut up shut up!"/

— and Jim blinked, and looked over at Blair, and Blair hadn't pulled his gun; he had wrapped his arms around himself, and was leaning, head down, against the rear tire, and Jim frowned —

/and then the girl screamed, "Stop it!" and the boy yelled, "We have to see it through! We have to go through with this!"/

— and Jim launched himself across the street, toward the apartment door, and as he reached it he knew suddenly that the Guide was following, that the Guide was behind him, because he hadn't told the Guide to stay put — dammit! — and he tore up the steps and turned down the corridor and kicked the apartment door open with one graceful blow.

The two teens turned and stared at him, the thin girl — Kimberly Weston, he supposed — still reeking of her mega cherry flavored gum, and the big, wild-eyed, goatee-bearded boy — presumably her boyfriend. And the girl, he noted, had the gun in her hands, but she was holding it away from the boy — and suddenly the Guide was in front of him, had pushed in front of him, and was crossing the room and Jim braced himself for The Voice and the Guide said, mesmerizingly, "Just put the gun down and relax."

The two teens stopped and looked blankly at Blair Sandburg. The girl bent down and put the gun on the floor, but the boy just stared at Blair — and then lightening quick he rushed at the Guide, grabbing him viciously, seizing his shoulders, and shoved him backwards, smashing his head hard against the wall. Jim winced as he heard the soft thud, felt the shock of pain, and he shuddered with rage and stepped forward instinctively to protect his Guide —

— but then, unexpectedly, the Guide reacted, launching himself away from the wall and hurling himself furiously at the boy, knocking him to the floor at Jim's feet. The boy struggled with Sandburg for a moment but Sandburg was like a man possessed, and he was yelling something over and over and Jim just stood there for a moment, blinking, because his nerves were still registering the fact of Blair's injury and his instincts were screaming "Protect the Guide!" but his eyes were telling him a different story — Sandburg was straddling the kid now and pummeling him and the girl had backed against a wall and was screaming and the kid had given up under the assault and was trying to protect his face with his hands —

— and Jim realized, suddenly, that Special Officer Blair Sandburg, Cascade P.D.'s very first non-violent conflict resolution facilitator, was currently beating the shit out of a perp in front of his very eyes —

— and he strode forward and grabbed Sandburg just as Sandburg landed a punch which broke the kid's nose with a sickening-sounding crunch. Jim locked his arms under Blair's armpits and yanked him backwards, off the kid, who was screaming, blood streaming down his face. Blair struggled energetically in his grip and Jim dragged him across the room, and Blair was staring at the boy and cursing, "Fuck you! Just fuck you! Fuck you!" Jim grabbed his partner's arms and spun him around and said, "Sandburg!" but it was as if Blair didn't even see him. His eyes were locked on the kid, who was sobbing on the floor, holding his face, trying to stem the blood, and Blair was still talking directly to him. "Stupid fucking bastard!" Blair spat, struggling within Jim's grip. "You stupid, stupid fucking — "

"Sandburg!" said Jim forcefully, shaking him. "Sandburg, look at me! Sandburg! Blair!" and Blair was sucking in air, shaking with rage, and he finally turned his head to look at Jim and his eyes were wild.

"Fucking stupid bastard's on drugs!" Blair yelled at him. "I can't push him — I can't push him, Jim! — what the fuck is the matter with this country, anyway?! — why the fuck don't we have gun control — " and Blair began to struggle again, forcing Jim to tighten his hold on Blair's arms. " — What the hell's with all these guns? — why does every teenage druggie shit have a gun — and I can't push — his fucking brain's — all fucking confused! — and — "

"Blair," said Jim, trying to hold Blair steady with his eyes.

"I can't — can't push the stupid bastard, Jim! He won't let me — he won't — can't push — "

"Blair," said Jim, squeezing his partner's arms tightly, trying to get through.

"Can't — won't let me — " sputtered Blair.

"Blair," Jim repeated, and Blair blinked and was suddenly still and wide-eyed, chest heaving as he sucked for air.

"Blair," said Jim again.

"I — I — my head hurts," Blair stuttered, and Jim frowned because he heard the gentle slam of car doors outside and knew that their backup had arrived.

"Blair, listen to me," Jim said softly. "Let me handle everything. Just keep it together — can you keep it together?" and Blair just looked at him blankly. "Just keep it together — keep it together for me, okay? Just for a few minutes."

Blair took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay," he said, and Jim let go of him, and Blair's hands immediately flew upwards — he rubbed his face, pushed his hair away from his forehead. "Together," he murmured, taking a few tentative steps backward. "Okay. No problem. I'm okay."

"Okay," whispered Jim. "Just don't say anything. Just let me — " and then he turned his head and saw the three uniformed officers at the door, guns drawn, with Simon Banks immediately behind them.

"Jim!" called Simon, and Sandburg twitched and then turned away from the door, presenting the arriving police only with a view of his back.

"Your perps," said Jim, nodding his head toward the two teens.

"What happened?" Simon asked, neutrally surveying the boy's bloody face as the uniforms pulled him to his feet, handcuffed him, read him his rights.

"He attacked Sandburg," replied Jim, knowing what his captain would assume — knowing what anyone who knew him would assume. And it was all right, wasn't it, because he would have — he would have attacked the kid himself if Sandburg hadn't, well, gone so surprisingly and uncharacteristically ballistic.

"You okay, Sandburg?" asked Simon, frowning, and Blair turned around at the sound of his name.

"Yeah," said Blair, and his eyes darted nervously to Jim's face. Jim nodded at him almost imperceptibly. "Headache," added Blair. "He hit me... in the head."

"You should go to the hospital," said Simon concernedly. "Check for concussion."

"That's not necessary, Simon," said Jim, quietly.

They were interrupted by the noisy arrival of the Westons, who had appeared on the scene just in time to see their daughter being put into handcuffs. "How could you do this?" they screeched at her. "Who is that boy? Dear God, where did you get a gun! What's happened to you?"

Jim tuned it all out — leave it to the social workers to figure out why the girl would pull such a stunt. He noticed that Sandburg was also resolutely ignoring the scene.

"I'd like to go home now," said Blair tightly.

Simon Banks seemed taken aback by this. "Okay," he replied. "Okay, Blair, sure."

Blair swallowed hard, seemed to be struggling for control of himself. "I'm sorry, Simon. I've just got this...headache."

"No, it's fine," said Banks. "Good work. Both of you," he added, and Blair nodded at him and then moved toward the door.

"Are you sure he's okay?" Simon asked Jim quietly.

"No," answered Jim, honestly, and then they turned to follow Sandburg out of the building.

Sandburg was standing on the street, hugging himself anxiously. "We'll get a ride back to your car," Jim said to him.

"I'll take you," said Banks, coming up behind them.

Blair was quiet on the short ride to the car, quiet as they transferred themselves back into the Corvair, quiet as Jim pulled the car away from the park, toward home.

"I don't want to go home," Blair said suddenly.

Jim twisted his head to look at him. "What?" he asked. "But you just said — "

"I don't want to go home," repeated Blair, eyes locked on the road in front of them.

Jim opened his mouth, closed it. Blew out a breath. "Blair," he said gently, "you should probably lie down for a while."

"Let's go to a motel," said Blair, and Jim turned to him and stared.

"I don't want to go home, Jim," said Blair firmly. "Home is...real," he explained. "I'm not ready to be real yet."

Jim didn't know what to say to this. He found himself surprisingly bothered by Blair's refusal to go home; somehow it felt like a rejection. Even though he and Blair had been living together for almost four years, Jim still thought of the loft as his home, and it still excited him deeply that Blair Sandburg lived there, lived with him there — that the shadowy dream lover had arrived and taken residence in his home and in his life, had somehow penetrated all his borders and barriers, had simply, miraculously, walked through the walls. To not want to go home meant —

"No," said Blair, touching Jim's arm with his hand.

Dammit! thought Jim, suddenly irritated by his Guide's ability to read his every emotional turn.

"Sorry," Blair apologized, having instantly read the irritation as well. "But it's not like that, Jim," Blair insisted. "I just don't want to go home because I want to be better than I am right now at home. Where it's real, you know? Right now I feel, well, small and petty and angry and scared and selfish," Blair said, spitting out each word, "and I don't want that in my real life, I don't want to be like that at home: I want to be better than that at home, you know? I want to go somewhere else, somewhere I can just make a mess and leave it there."

And this explanation made Jim smile ruefully. He was always careful not to track dirt into the loft; how very like Blair to not want to make an emotional mess. He nodded to himself: he could understand that, sort of.

"And I need you right now, man," said Blair in a low, frightened voice. "I need my Sentinel," and Jim felt something grab his insides, and he covered Blair's hand with his own and put his foot down on the accelerator.

Jim drove the Corvair out of Cascade, and then followed the highway signs to an old motel on a small, isolated strip. The motel, ten rooms. A gas station. A twenty-four hour convenience store. One traffic light. And that was all that the eye could see, in either direction.

Jim pulled the car into the parking lot and surveyed the motel, leaving the engine running.

"It's dilapidated," he said, eying it critically.

"It's perfect," said Blair. "Please, Jim," and Jim shivered, hearing the thrum of panic in his Guide's voice and he thought: Yes. Anything. Whatever he wants. Yes. and switched the engine off.

"Wait here, okay?" he said to Blair gently, and Blair nodded nervously, hugging himself.

Jim got out of the Corvair and strode across the parking lot to the motel office; he pushed the door open and heard the gentle sound of tinkling bells. A heavy-set woman behind a linoleum-topped counter looked up at the sound, not bothering to put on a smile. Jim approached the counter and said to her, "I'd like a room, please."

Ridiculous! thought Jim, as he filled out and signed the pre-printed forms the woman gave to him. But it was what Blair wanted, and he'd do whatever Blair wanted. If Blair wanted a room Jim would rent him the space.

Ridiculous! he thought, pulling forty dollars out of his wallet. Ridiculous! he thought, as the woman slid the key across the counter. Ridiculous! he thought, as he took the key in his hand and turned toward the door, and suddenly he let himself feel afraid, let the fear bubble up through the facade of brave-faced ridicule.

Because Blair felt — what had he said? small and petty and angry and scared and selfish — and that was not the Blair he knew, that meant the world had been knocked off its axis, meant that the compass needle was spinning erratically and there was no way to know north from south. And maybe this wasn't ridiculous at all, Jim thought as the bells tinkled again and he walked back across the parking lot to the Corvair, back to Blair.

He held up the key as he slid back into the car and pulled the door closed. Blair took it from his hand and he could see the gratitude in Blair's eyes. Jim pulled the car into the parking slip outside of Room 10 — the room at the end of the strip — and Blair was out of the car before he had finished turning the engine off.

He locked the car and then followed Blair Sandburg into Room 10, and was hit immediately by the smell of motel-room mustiness. He shut the door behind him, locked it, affixed the chain.

He turned around and saw that Blair was sitting at the foot of the bed in the dim room, still wearing his jacket, and Jim could read exhaustion and dejection in his slumped posture. He adjusted his eyes to take in the rust-colored bedspread, the heavy, lined matching curtains covering the windows, the worn green rug...and then blinked as he noticed that Blair Sandburg had his gun in his hands.

"Blair..." he said nervously, stepping forward.

Blair looked up at him, then looked down at his gun, then looked up at him again and what he said was totally unexpected.

"Golden fire people," Blair said.

"What?" Jim hissed.

Blair raised his gun, aimed it across the room. "Golden fire people," he repeated, and Jim froze, his eyes automatically following Blair's line of sight, and seeing nothing. That worried him, and he tensed, not knowing what was happening but preparing for anything. But Blair just sighed after a moment and lowered the gun again. Jim wanted to rip it out of his hands, but didn't. This was Blair's own gun, after all; Blair was a cop now, and you just didn't take a man's gun. But then Blair turned the gun around and carefully offered it to Jim, butt first.

"You said it wouldn't work," Blair said, accusingly. Jim took the gun gently from his partner's hands and put it down on top of the motel bureau. He reached behind his back to remove his own gun, meaning to set it down beside Blair's, when Blair suddenly clapped his hands, hard, three times, and the gun slipped from Jim's fingers and clattered onto the bureau.

"You didn't think I remembered," Blair said softly, behind him.

Jim didn't know what to say; he turned but there was no trace of rebuke in his Guide's face, just a sadness that left Jim feeling helpless.

"I need you to help me deal with this," said Blair raggedly. "The golden fire people. They come after you. They're burned. They kill you bit by bit." Blair shuddered. "You can get them but they get you back. They take a piece of you each time. When you look into the void the void stares back, Jim." Blair raised his head to look at Jim and there was fear in his eyes.

"Jim, I need you, man," Blair said desperately, and Jim sat down on the bed next to him and pulled his Guide close, folding him into his arms. He could feel the tension in Sandburg's body through the thick leather of his jacket, and he clutched tighter, trying to reassure Blair with his physical presence. Blair slid an arm around his neck and buried his face in Jim's shoulder, just hanging on.

Jim wanted to help, felt he was drowning in confusion. "I don't understand," he said softly. "Help me understand."

"The unpushable," said Blair fearfully, and Jim could hear Blair's heart pounding. "The evil...the stupid...the confused. The lost. I didn't know before — I mean, I couldn't tell before...and there are so many of them. So very many..."

"The fire people?" Jim asked quietly.

"Yeah," said Blair, nervously. "I saw before but I didn't see — I knew, but I didn't know — I didn't know what it meant, who they were...and they take a piece of you each time, each time a piece..." and Blair was trembling now, clutching Jim tightly. "And I don't want to know...don't want to...god, uyaripaychiy, Sentinelmi — uyaripaykuna — horqoychiykay. Uyaripay, allichu. Manan yanchanichu, nishy sichipaway..."

Jim held his Guide closer, held him tighter, not sure who was comforting who, now, because Blair was babbling in two languages, and Jim didn't understand what he meant in either of them, and he didn't know what to do. Protect me, Blair was saying, Spare me, and Jim wanted to, god! he wanted to, but he didn't know how, he didn't know from what. It wasn't making sense, Blair wasn't making sense, and that was perhaps the most frightening thing of all.

"How do you do it?" Blair asked suddenly. "How do you do it? It doesn't seem to bother you." He laughed suddenly, except Jim found the sound terrifying. "Hell, I used to be a social constructivist," he said, and Jim could feel Blair's smile against his shoulder. "Until Nature came and popped me one."

Jim suddenly gave up hoping that this was all going to make sense, suddenly stopped thinking that he would figure out what to say, and decided instead to help as he could help, in the only ways he knew how. He let go of Blair and then took his head between his hands, threading his fingers through the dark hair, feeling for the bump on the back of his head.

Blair was staring intently at his face, eyes wide and incredibly blue. "I'd do it again, Jim," he pleaded. "It's not that I wouldn't do it again. I'll do what I have to. I'm on the team — I am, I swear I am."

Jim worked his hands deep into Blair's hair and covered the bruised area with the sensitive pads of his fingers.

"But it's your job — it has to be your job — somehow you can handle it," Blair rushed on. "I'll push the others out of the way, out of your way. Because that's what I do, that's what I do for you. But you have to do the rest, because you can, because you can handle it. You just handle it. You just do. You don't even know that you're doing it. You don't even know," said Blair desperately, and Jim closed his eyes and leaned in to place a gentle kiss on the side of his Guide's mouth.

"I love you," said Blair tightly. "I love you. I love you so much," and Jim grabbed at Sandburg's jacket and peeled it off him, reached for his shirt and pulled it off roughly, and then his jeans, and stripping his Guide was like reliving the day backwards, through the layered smells of blood and motor oil and ice cream. "You just handle it," murmured Blair, and Jim gently lowered him to the bed, lay him on his back, and hovered over his body, unbuttoning his own shirt with one hand.

Jim felt Blair's hands run over his shoulders and back, and there was desperation even in his fingers. "Uyaripay," hissed Blair. "Horquoychi," but Jim still didn't know what to protect his Guide from, and so he just tried to soothe him, murmuring, "Llapanay... songollay..." and other endearments against the soft skin of Blair's cheek.

And then Blair said, strangely, "Tell me how you live with evil" — and Jim blinked hard and twitched nervously and stopped Blair's mouth quickly with a kiss.

Blair clutched at him, caressed him, and need was pouring off his Guide, but it felt unfamiliar somehow. Not...not sexual — but Blair's hands were exhorting him to passion, and Blair parted his lips and let Jim invade his mouth, and Jim grasped Blair's hair, Blair's shoulders, Blair's biceps, and ran greedy hands over the skin of Blair's neck and chest and hips, and Blair's mouth was so warm and so giving and so open to him —

— that he was profoundly shocked when his hand slid down over Blair's groin, and the soft, lax genitals frightened him, and he cupped them protectively, feeling that if he couldn't even rely on Blair's libido...well then there was something deeply, deeply wrong with the universe. He pulled Blair tight against his chest, nearly crushing him, but feeling that his Guide needed this. He moved his mouth to suckle gently at the pulse point beneath Blair's ear, even less sure now, as he sought out the Guide's heartbeat, about whom he was comforting.

But Blair finally seemed to relax under his lips, in his arms; his breathing becoming more even, more regular, and Jim thought he might sleep. He himself wouldn't sleep — he would protect Blair, guard Blair, all night long if necessary, and he wished he could do more for him. But Blair seemed to think about things that normal people didn't — evil, for crying out loud? What kind of an answer he could he give to that? He couldn't even get the battery into the truck properly, and Blair wanted him to explain the nature of good and evil in the universe.

I mean, he thought, kissing Blair's cheek softly, you just did what you needed to do — you just did what was necessary, and there was really no two ways about it. If you woke up the next morning you had probably done pretty good. If you woke up with Blair Sandburg next to you, you had probably done really good. And that was pretty much that.

Though maybe evil was just like the truck, really: maybe most things were. And Sandburg had taught him all about that. You tried to fix it, you did your best, you made do with what you had and didn't worry about whether or not it was perfect. Or whether or not you were. And he wasn't sure how to tell this to Blair, and so he finally fell back, as he always did, on Blair's own words, whispering rather inexplicably into his ear, "Right is running. If it's running, it's right." Which wasn't nearly enough, but it was all that he had to give, and the fact that it was all he had to give bothered him more than he could say.

The End