Disclaimer: Jim and Blair belong to Pet Fly, UPN, and Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended, and I have certainly not received money for this story. It's strictly for fun.

Rated for a couple of bad words

Series Time: I'm thinking late 2nd season. Tiny spoiler for Blind
Man's Bluff (and for a line of dialogue in Light My Fire).

Summary: Late, late at night, Blair has a lot on his mind...

WOLF'S HOUR

By Izhilzha

The tea bag bobs on the surface, spreading dark tendrils into hot water. Heat sears my hands through the gray earthenware and steams invisible fragrance into my face, but can't reach the cold heaviness at the back of my throat. I sigh. Tea's not going to help. It's a comfort ritual, especially for late at night, but this time it's just reminding me.

I take the handful of liquid warmth with me into the living room anyway, shuffling quietly past the island, towards the couch and the flicker of a Sentinel-safe triple-wick candle—the only light I want right now. Another comfort ritual. Oh well. I tuck myself onto the couch in a half-lotus, stocking feet tucked in for warmth, elbows braced on knees.

The laptop is still open on the coffee table next to the candle. There hasn't even been enough time for the screen-saver to start up, and the email glares at me from the dimmed greenish screen. It draws my unwilling eyes from the flame, and I wonder irrelevantly what Jim could see in one of these flat-screens…just a bunch of stupid pixels, or a rainbow of colors from the monitor, or…?

Get a grip, Blair. That email isn't going to just throw itself into the abyss of existence because you're good at distracting yourself.

It looks professional enough, though every rule of scholastic etiquette I've learned would frown on using an email for this kind of letter. A bunch of ones and zeros puzzled together into a transient image, a steady greenish glow of light in the darkened loft. Not what I'd expected to come home to.

One hand leaves the hot stone of my cup, rubbing sandy eyes, raking back into mussed curls. You've dealt with this before, Blair, it's nothing new, forget about it. Drink that wonderful tea, get warm right to your toes, then go to bed. Sleep.

Yeah. Right.

The candle flickers wildly, and it takes a few moments before I realize that my own sigh has almost put it out. Okay, the pity party is over. I just need to calm down before I try sleeping.

Focus on the flame. Level breaths sway it easily, gently. It is calm. I am calm. Focus. The bright tongue, white but cored with yellow and orange, sways like fire dancers I watched on a trip to the Fiji Islands once. Beautiful, supple, shimmering. Not that color, though, not burning white hot.

Shit. I squeeze my eyes shut, rubbing hard across the lids, trying to scrub the flaming afterimage from my memories, my thoughts. Damn, I thought I had a handle on this Golden thing. It's been weeks now.

I do have a handle on it. What I don't have a handle on is why this crummy journal even bothered to send me an email, if they thought the article was such crap. It's been, what, at least five years since I got a rejection letter that abrupt. Five years! God, there is just no point in writing inventively anymore. This journal used to kill for cutting-edge research by grad students. They've published my stuff before. Three times.

Three flames flicker, merging. This is not helping. I set down the full, still-warm cup and push reluctantly off the couch. A stapled sheaf of paper is underneath the laptop. I pull it out, turning the hard copy over to read the title. And this article is better most of the stuff they run, by miles. Well, yards, at least. I did my research, documented every last half-reference. There are NO flaws in the format or grammar or organization. I even had Dr. Thom look it over for me. Haven't done that since I got my M.A.

I flip the paper open to the first page of text, but my stomach clenches in protest. I toss it back onto the coffee table and walk quickly towards the balcony doors, one hand trying to rub out the angry tension in my neck. A headache is all I need on top of this day.

The glass is cool against my forehead. So close to it, I block the reflected candle flame and can see out into the city. That fog's rolled in again, muffling the lights of Cascade to amber will-o-the-wisps struggling against smothering darkness.

Maybe it's just the title. Maybe that was it. Not too many people write about the place society makes for those with heightened senses, so they liked those articles, but maybe Protective Counsels: Unofficial Lines of Command in Police Work was just too damn routine for their journal's daring reputation.

Or maybe I'm slipping. Maybe I've spent so much time with the Cascade Keystones that I'm forgetting how to do what I've always been able to do best.

Impatient with that thought, and with the competing fog my breath has laid over the pristine glass, I shove the doors open and push out into the damp air. It swirls around me, close, dank, icy. With a start I realize I've left the doors open. Jim'll kill me if that draft floods the loft.

I turn to close the doors, furious at having to temper myself to his needs. They're slick with damp, a nice excuse to give a little shove and let them slam. I stand there, waiting for Jim's groan or sleepy question, daring him to be bothered by the noise, wanting to wake him, startle him, annoy him. Get something revealing to put in my real dissertation about temper tantrums.

Oh.

I told Jim I'd be staying up tonight. Early, before we got home, before that stupid email. He'll have his white-noise generator on.

I turn and kick viciously at the railing. Faint, hollow ringing falls dead in the fog, but leaves my toes sore and cramping. Defiantly I stand there, hands tucked under my armpits, breathing in mist, breathing out more mist, feeling curls grow heavy and drip coldly down the back of my shirt.

Come on, it's not that bad. It's just a rejected article. No one cares. This happens a lot. I'll just send it out to another journal. They'll publish it, and that will be that.

Unless they don't want it either.

I breathe deeply, in and out. In and out. Not nearly as satisfactory as kicking the railing, so I do that again. And again. Damn Jim, sleeping up there like a baby. If I have to be up, you'd think he could be too. Balance the universe out a little for once.

Jim, I wish you'd wake up. I'm all alone out here in the dark, damp night. 3am, the hour of the wolf. If I could hear one sort-of-friendly, non-Sandburg voice, maybe I'd deal with it better.

You're right upstairs, and I miss you, man.

I turn from the street to the doors, craning my neck to see the candle flicker through the glass, and toy with the idea. He'd think I was a nut, waking him up at this hour for—well, for no good reason. I just wanted to hear your voice, man. I almost laugh at the image that conjures up.

No. He might understand that I need someone. No way would he understand why.

I open the door slowly, quietly. A gust of heavenly warm air greets me, a blessing after my vigil outdoors. The laptop has switched to screen-saver, and I simply fold down the screen and leave it there. The mug of tea, now sadly cold, goes in the sink, as tempted as I am to leave it out. The paper I pick up and weigh for several moments.

Then I squat and blow out the candle's triple flame with one breath.

Upstairs, I hear Jim turn over, but he doesn't wake. I make my slow way across the darkened loft to my own room, paper in hand. Outside the door I pause one last time, but everything is quiet.

With another sigh, I toss the paper into the trashcan near my door.

The clock reads 3:17 am. Cold inside and out, I head for my blankets, but it's going to be a long wait for sleep. Long and lonely.