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The door to the loft opened slowly.  James Ellison attempted to walk normally, back straight, but it was simply too painful.  His roommate, Blair Sandburg, followed silently behind, ready to offer a shoulder should Jim need it.  When he saw Jim hunch forward slightly as he dropped the keys in the basket, he moved forward and slid an arm around Jimís waist.  Jimís right arm went around Blairís shoulders and he let himself lean heavily on his friend.  Stubborness would only earn him more pain.

"Where to, man?" Blair asked quietly.

"Bathroom.  I want a hot shower."

"Can you stand up that long or would you rather have a bath?  A soak would help those sore muscles more."

Jim groaned.  "Chief, I think if I sit down, Iím not gettiní back up in the next hundred years."

Blair chuckled.  "Sure you will, Jim.  Címon, let me run you a bath.  While you soak, Iíll fix us something to eat."

Jim sighed, knowing he was defeated.  "OK, Chief, whatever you say."

Blair helped Jim into the bathroom, leaving him leaning against the wall.  Blair ran the tub full of very warm water, wanting to soothe, not scald.  He added some bath crystals scented of balsam to help Jim relax, then turned to his friend after turning the water off.  "You need some help getting your shirt off?"

Jim nodded.  "Yeah, I think I do." Jim was too tired and hurt too much to keep up his usual stoic facade.  It wouldn't work on Blair anyway.

Carefully, Blair helped Jim get the shirt and shoes off, with much moaning and groaning and bit-off curses, then Jim shooed him out, saying he could take care of the rest on his own.  Grinning, Blair left.

Forty-five minutes later, Blair knocked on the bathroom door, telling Jim dinner was ready.  "You need any help getting up, big guy?"

"No, I donít need any help!" Jim snapped grumpily.

Blair didnít take offense.  He was just happy Jim was only stiff and sore, and not hospitalized or worse.  He shivered as he remembered watching Jim, attempting to handcuff a robbery suspect heíd chased onto the roof of the store heíd robbed, fall over the side with the suspect when the man began to struggle.  Blair had screamed his denial and run to the edge of the roof, not wanting to look down and see his sentinel, his friend, lying dead on the sidewalk below.

Instead, he saw Jim struggling to his feet after landing on a large pile of cardboard boxes.  Only that and the fact heíd only fallen two stories had saved Jimís life.  The suspect wasnít as lucky, heíd broken a leg and several ribs in the fall.

Blair held out Jimís robe when the door opened.  Heíd warmed it first.  Jimís face melted as he took the garment, feeling the heat, and he sighed as he slipped it on, turning back to hang his towel over the shower rod.  He smiled at Blair.  "Thanks, Chief."

"No problem, man.  Hey, I didnít think youíd want anything heavy, so I just whipped up a little stir-fry."

"Yeah, youíre right."  Jim sniffed.  "Smellís good, Chief."

A few minutes later, as they sat at the table eating, Blair looked at Jim and said, a little hesitantly, "Um, yíknow, I used to give Naomi massages all the time.  She hurt her back on a job once and she had trouble sleeping for a long time, her back would tie up in knots.  I can give you a massage if you like, help you sleep."

"You donít have to do that, Iíll be fine."

"I know, Jim, but I wouldnít have offered if I didnít want to do it.  Címon, man, I know youíre still hurting.  We can work on the dials while I do it, get you comfortable enough to sleep."

"Turning this into a test, Sandburg?" Jim smiled as he spoke, taking the sting out of the words.

Blair shook his head.  "No, but I will readily admit to ulterior motives.  You are such a *grouch* when you donít get enough sleep.  So, think of this as self-preservation.  I donít want to listen to you bitch and moan tomorrow."

"OK, all right, I surrender," Jim laughed, raising his hands.  He groaned as he sat back in his chair.  "Ohhhhh, maaaaan," he moaned as he tried to stretch.  "Blair, right now, a massage sounds like a little piece of heaven."

"OK.  Why donít you go on upstairs, Iíll go get a couple of towels and this great liniment, youíll love it, I promise."

"No weird concoctions, Chief."

"No, man, I promise.  It smells a little bit minty, but thatís all.  Wait, youíll see."

"OK."  Jim stood, hesitating as he looked at the table.

"Leave it, Iíll take care of it after I take care of you."  Jim nodded and headed upstairs.

A few minutes later, Blair arrived with towels to lay out over the bed to keep the oil off the sheets, just in case.  He had Jim lie down on his stomach, and knelt beside him on the bed.  He handed Jim the bottle with the oil, letting him smell it.

"Smells good.  Just like you said, a little minty.  And something elseÖ"  Jim sniffed again.

"A friend of mine in South Carolina makes it.  Itís made from lobelia, which relaxes smooth muscles, like back muscles, peppermint, which relieves pain, and comfrey, which soothes bruises.  And I gotta say, Jim, your back is really looking colorful.  I donít want to hurt you."

Jim handed the oil back and settled his head on his arms.  "You wonít, Chief.  Go ahead."

Blair hesitated, biting his lip, then nodded.  "OK, but if it hurts, you tell me.  No fair turning the dials all the way down."

"I promise, Sandburg."

Blair poured a little of the oil into his hand and set it aside, then rubbed his hands together, warming the oil.  He lightly touched Jimís back, at the top of his shoulders, and began a gentle massage.

For almost an hour, Blair massaged Jimís back, shoulders to hip, just a light massage, working the oil in so that it could start healing those bruises and relaxing the muscles, soothing away the pain so Jim could sleep.  He let his touches get lighter and lighter and finally lifted his hands from Jimís back, glancing at his friendís face.  Smiling, he nodded to himself.  Jim looked to be sound asleep, and Blair hoped he stayed that way all night.  Picking up the hand towel heíd brought for himself, he wiped his hands and then eased from the bed.

At the top of the stairs, he stopped and turned back as he heard his name spoken, more a breath than a word.  "BlairÖ."

Blair found Jimís eyes barely open.  "Yeah, Jim?" he asked quietly.

"Thanks."  Jim hugged his pillow, eyes closing again, sighing as he settled down to sleep.

Blair grinned.  "Youíre welcome.  Anytime," he whispered.  He headed downstairs, quietly cleaned up the table and kitchen, then headed to bed himself.  As he turned out the light and lay down, he swore to always be there when Jim needed him, no matter what.  And in his dreams that night, a big silver wolf played happily with an enormous black panther.  No one had ever explained they were supposed to be enemies.  They only cared that they had found happiness together, as friends and brothers, and would always be there to take care of each other.