Deep Zone
by Kira


"Banks."

"S...Simon?"

"Sandburg?  What's wrong?"

"Can...can you come to the hospital?  Please?  It's Jim..."

"Is he hurt?  Are you okay?  What happened?"

"Oh god...he's alive but...Simon, please come."

"On my way.  Don't go anywhere."

**********

Simon stalked into Cascade General's emergency room, flashing his badge at the receptionist who was busy on the phone.

"I'm looking for Detective Jim Ellison and his partner Blair Sandburg.  I understand that they are here?"

The flustered woman looked at the badge while holding the phone on her shoulder and pointed towards a hallway as she continued to talk. "....your kid swallowed what?  Yes, sir.  It might be best to bring him in....No I don't think that the frog is still alive..."

Simon shook his head and decided he really didn't want to know.  Sandburg and Jim were his priorities right now.  Sandburg had sounded so...lost on the phone.  Actually more than lost, but Simon wasn't able to describe the emotion tinging Blair's voice.  The burly captain pushed open the fire door to the hallway.  It was surprisingly quiet in the ER.  Usually there was a controlled chaos.  But there was a subdued tension in the waiting room which opened into the hallway.  A family waited, huddled together for support, in the middle of the room.  And in the far corner, with his legs pulled up against his chest, hikers resting on the edge of the couch, arms around his knees, sat Blair.  His hair hung down, obscuring his face.

"Sandburg?  Blair?"

Simon felt his stomach lurch as Blair raised his head, looking at him with tear reddened eyes.  The soul-deep pain in those eyes touched off a wave of protectiveness as he moved to sit beside the young man.

"Simon." Blair's eyes were dull, but quickly became infused with a frantic light. "Simon!  You have to help me.  You have to help Jim.  They won't let me see him and they won't listen to me about his drug sensitivities.  You gotta do something, man."

Simon raised his hands in what he hoped was a calming gesture to calm the flood of worry emanating from Blair.

"Whoa there, Sandburg.  Calm down and start at the beginning.  Do some of those deep breathing exercises or something."  Typical.  Just when you needed someone to help you calm down a distraught police observer, you happen to be the only someone around.  He focused on the yong man next to him.  Blair had closed his eyes and was taking deep breaths in through his nose and letting them out slowly through his mouth.  His body rocked slightly back and forth.

"Blair, can you tell me what happened?"  And where Jim is? He wanted to add but didn't.

"He..he zoned big time... He stopped breathing and I... I called 911." Blair rubbed his hands between his knees, lowering his feet to the floor.  Simon sat awkwardly, wondering what to do.  Blair jerked his knees back up to chest, wrapping his arms around them and burrowing his face within them.  A shudder ran through him and Simon quickly decided what to do, reaching over and pulling the slighter man into his arms.

"Talk to me, Blair."

"I kept talking...but he didn't come out." Blair finally sniffled, wiping his nose on his sleeve.  "And then he just stopped breathing."

"What did he zone on?" Simon wondered what on earth Jim could have been possibly concentrating on to force him into such a deep zone. "It's been ages since he's zoned on anything.  I thought you had all that Sentinel Stuff under control."

Simon was totally unprepared for Blair's response to his innocent question.  The captain had heard and read of people turning green but this was the first time that he had ever actually witnessed someone do so. Blair's tan skin paled as he clamped a hand over his mouth and bolted from the chair, throwing off Simon's arms.  Simon quickly followed him down the hallway, pushing open the bathroom door that hadn't quite shut.

Simon was greeted by the sound of violent retching in one of the stalls as he entered the small room.  He pulled down some paper towels from the dispenser and damped one at the sink, before gently tapping at the stall door and crouching beside the heaving anthropologist.  He pulled the curly hair out of the way as Blair continued to dry heave into the porcelain bowl.  As the wracking spasms subsided, Simon handed Blair the damp towel.

"Here you go.  Let's get you cleaned up."

Blair made a few half-hearted swipes around his mouth and accepted the dry towels with a look of gratitude.

"Thanks, Simon.  Sorry about that."  He took a deep breath and rubbed a hand across his stomach.  Simon reached over, dumped the towels into the toilet and flushed it.

"So...you want to stay here while you tell me what's up?  Or do you want to move to slightly more comfortable quarters?"  Simon stood and offered his hand, which after brief pause, Blair took.

**********

Minutes later, fortified with two cups of weak -- but very hot -- coffee, Simon asked Blair once again what had happened.  Clutching the waxed paper cup in both hands, Blair avoided Simon's gaze, staring resolutely a the plumes of steam coming off his coffee.

"It was my fault."

"What the hell do you mean, it was your fault.  How could Jim zoning be your fault?  Just because you couldn't get him to snap out of it doesn't mean you're responsible." Simon barked, amazed that Blair could possible be feeling guilt for this.

"No, Simon. The zone.  The zone was my fault.  I caused it."

"What?!!"  Simon stared at the observer and immediately regretting yelling as Blair flinched at his harsh tone.  He continued in more subdued tone, trying to contain his worry for Jim.

"How?"

"We were doing a...a test...some research."  Blair's voice became embittered, a nasty laugh briefly manifesting itself. "Research, yeah what a joke.  I was doing a test.  I thought it would help to see if Jim could control his senses in a multi-sensory barrage, you know, the works: taste, smell, hearing, sight, touch. The test was designed to overstimulate everything to see if he would be able to work past all the sensory information.  But I didn't...I didn't realize what could happen." Blair reached out and clutched Simon's sleeve. "You gotta believe me Simon, I swear I didn't know!  I swear!"

Simon watched as the knuckles on the hand holding his sleeve turned white.  He patted the fingers.

"It'll be okay Blair.  It's okay."

"He just...sat there, staring ahead.  I talked and talked and nothing worked.  Nothing!  Then he stopped..."Blair took a shaky breath. "Some Guide I am huh?  Zoning my Sentinel to death."

Blair's face grew paler, if Simon thought that actually possible. The captain quickly pushed the slighter man's head down between his knees before he fainted.

"Blair...you are not to blame here. Okay?  We'll get through this.  Jim will be up and about in no time and will just bitch and complain a bit more about doing tests.  You're both strong enough to deal with this."

"I didn't mean to." Blair repeated.

"I know you didn't.  And more importantly, Jim knows."  Simon pulled Blair's face around to look at his eyes.  "So why don't we go and see what's going on?"

Blair nodded, they would get through this like they always did.  And maybe, just maybe, Jim could forgive him.  And then maybe he could forgive himself.

******

"Excuse me, Blair Sandburg?"  Simon looked up as a man dressed in medical scrubs approached them.

"I'm Captain Banks, this is Blair Sandburg.  Can you tell me anything about my detective?"

"I'm Doctor Downsfield.  I've been working on Detective Ellison for the last hour.   I'm happy to say that he is now breathing on his own.  But we are completely baffled as to what caused this episode.  He's not awake yet...." The doctor trailed off.  Blair sank into a nearby chair.  He knew that something was wrong, very wrong.

"What is it?  What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry to say this, but it looks like there might have been some brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.  All basic functions are okay, breathing, involuntary muscle responses. But he doesn't respond verbally or otherwise.  There is no response to sensory stimulus at all.  We're running some brain scans to see what's up.  We're by no means out of the woods and I would very much like to contact his immediate family to discuss the possibility of long term care should we keep Mr. Ellison in  a stable condition."

"Oh god." Blair placed his head between his knees, his breath coming in strained gasps, face pale.

"Long term care?  Aren't you jumping the gun a bit, doc?" Simon demanded, rubbing circles on Blair's back.

"Look, Captain.  I understand that you want to remain optimistic, but we really want to cover our bases, and its standard procedure to contact the family. Even if Mr. Sandburg does have the power to make medical decisions, Detective Ellison's family must be informed."

"Simon." Blair's voice was husky as he obviously struggle to remain calm.  "Call him.  You have to call him.  He has a right to know." Simon knew that it was hard for Blair to ask him to call William Ellison, but it also spoke the deep fear that gripped the grad student.  He nodded and Blair turned to at the doctor.  "Can I see Jim?"

"Sure.  We've moved him to  nice quiet room and we can give you limited access.  I can take you there now." "Simon, call him.  I'm gong to see Jim."  Simon shook his head as Blair stood to follow the doctor.

"All right, Sandburg.  You just take it easy."

*****

Blair entered the hospital room, taking deep calming breaths to center himself.  he took in Jim's still form, which was covered with a thin sheet.  The room was a bit cool, but Jim was always impervious to the cold.  The beep of the heart monitor was slightly comforting, reminding him that, yes, Jim was alive.  He was breathing again...on his own.  Blair pulled one of the two plastic chairs close to the bed and sat down.  He gently picked up Jim's limp hand, resisting the urge to clench it tightly.

"Hey, Jim.  It's me."  Blair was whispering, afraid to raise his voice on the off chance that the Jim could hear him and had the dials turned up.  "You're going to be fine.  I know it.  Nothing keeps us down, right man?"

Blair made circles on the palm of Jim's hand.  Tears welled in his eyes and began to drip slowly onto their joined hands.

"Jim, I'm sorry.  God...I'm sorry.  I didn't mean for this to happen.  I'm so sorry." The guilt continued its overwhelming march through his soul.  He had been the cause.  It was his stupid idea, his stupid test.  And look at what happened.  Jim had  harped on the fact that Blair was always getting hurt because of the detective.  Well now the tables had turned.  Only it wasn't some doped up perp, murderous kidnapper or vengeful convict.  Jim had only ever been the indirect cause of Blair's suffering on the job.  A fact which Blair continually reminded the protective Sentinel about.  But this...this was different.  No one else could even attempt to take the blame for this.  Blair had to shoulder the burden himself.  And at the moment he felt as strong as a newborn.

A litany of apologies streamed from Blair's lips as he bent over and laid his head in the crook of his arm.  He refused to release his hold on Jim's hand.

"Can you ever forgive me?"  Blair's hear constricted at the thought of losing Jim's trust.  What was a Sentinel without a Guide?...A Sentinel in danger.  Although, Blair lamented, he wasn't keeping his Sentinel out of danger, but rather was putting him directly in harms way through his stupid tests.  He berated himself for being so selfish. How could he just ignore his best friend's desire not to do any tests.  He should have listened.  He should have paid attention.  Who was he trying to kid anyway?  He was just flying by the seat of his pants with this whole Guide thing.  What did he have to help Jim anyway?  Some old text written by an explorer who never had to deal with criminals and modern technology and city life.

Tears streamed down Blair's face as he realized exactly how ill-prepared he was for his self-appointed task of being a Guide to the Sentinel.  The Sentinel remained unaware, eyes closed, breathing gently through slightly parted lips.  Unconscious....senseless.

*****

Simon waited as the phone rang.

"Ellison's residence."  It was a woman's voice.  What was her name again...oh yeah.

"Sally, this is Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department. Could I speak with Mr. Ellison, please?"

"Oh dear, I hope that Jimmy is alright."

"He's...hanging on at the moment.  Is Mr.  Ellison in?"

"Yes, I'll run and get him."  There was a click as the phone was placed down.  After a few minutes, William Ellison's voice came over the receiver.

"Hello? Captain Banks?"

"Yes, hello Mr. Ellison."

"This is about Jim, isn't it.  Is there something wrong? Is he all right?  What happened?"

"He's...alive.  I'm at Cascade General.  They have him stabilized...I can tell you more when you get here.   But the doctor was very adamant that I call and let you know that he's in serious condition.

"I'm on my way."

*****

Blair started as the door to Jim's room swung open suddenly.  He raised his face out from the bed, hastily wiping at his eyes. He had somehow managed to fall asleep all hunched over in that chair.  He remained seated but stretched to get the kinks out of his spine.

William Ellison loomed like a miniature Colossus over Jim's bed.  Jim's father wasn't an overly large man, but he managed to project his aura with such vehemence that he appeared much larger than he was.  A hand on Blair's shoulder drew his attention to Simon's presence behind him.

"What happened?" Mr. Ellison's voice was calm on the surface but tension roiled like undercurrents in an ocean. "The doctor couldn't tell me anything other than that he stopped breathing."

Piercing blue eyes stabbed Blair with their intensity.  Like father, like son.

"Tell me what happened."

As Blair explained what happened, the test, the zone, Mr. Elision sagged into the other chair and rubbed his face with his hand.  The older man looked haunted and Blair couldn't fathom why.

"You mean to tell me that you caused this."  The haunted look drained away to be replaced by a menacing fury.  Blair craned his neck to look at Simon, seeking reassurance, before turning back to Mr. Ellison.

"It was an accident, sir.  There was not way to..."

"An *accident*?"  Mr. Elision rose and pointed at his comatose son. "Look at him.  Look!  He's in a coma!  He might have brain damage according to the doctor.  And you call that an accident?!"

Blair flinched at each fact.

"Get out."  The two words were spoken with incredible restraint and calm as though he could be persuaded to obey through the completely reasonable tone of voice with which the command was given.

"But..." Blair wanted to explain but he was cut off.

"I said get out!  You are not to come anywhere near my son.  Is that Understood?  I will not have you using him like some lab rat to get data for your research.  GET OUT!"  Mr. Elision was shouting by the end of his tirade.  Blair swivelled in his seat to rally support from the captain.  There was sympathy in the dark eyes that looked down on him, but Simon cut deeply into his heart.

"Maybe you should go, Blair."

Betrayal.  Blair thought that at least Simon could understand how Jim needed him, but there was no support from that quarter.

"I'll be in the lobby.  I'll leave you alone, but I'm not leaving.  You can't make me.  I'm on the papers as Jim's next of kin."  It was a spiteful barb, and he knew it as soon as the sentence left his mouth.  But he would be damned before he left the care of his Sentinel in incompetent -- and through necessity -- ignorant hands..  He gathered his tattered dignity around him as best he could and left without meeting Mr. Ellison's gaze.

****

"Look, Doctor...what was your name again?...Dr. Downsfield?  I have better insurance and can afford to send him to a facility that is...no offense intended of course...where he can get the best treatment and help in the long term."  Mr. Ellison argued calmly.

"Be that as it may, Mr. Ellison, the name on the form is 'Blair Sandburg' and I can't release Jim into your care unless he signs the paperwork which he has refused to do.  I assure you we have excellent long term care facilities associated with our hospital and I'll be pleased to draw you up a list of specialists who would be appropriate to aid in Jim's treatment.  But ultimately, all decisions must be made through Mr. Sandburg.  I've dealt with these two before, and I assure you,  they only have each other's best interests at heart."  The doctor refused to grow impatient.

"I am his *father*."

"Yes, sir.  I know."  A study in calm.

"I demand that you release him to my care."

"I'm sorry, but I can't do that.  Why don't we sit down and talk with Blair when he gets back.  We can all talk together about what's best for Jim."

"*I* know what's best for my son!" Mr. Elision stabbed a finger towards the other man. "Now release him!"

"I can't do that."

"We'll see about that."  Leaving the threat lingering in the air, William stalked from the ICU office.  Leaving the hospital and leaving his son.

****

Blair sighed as the hot water poured over his back.  Muscles slowly loosened under the liquid barrage.  He would fix a quick supper and hurry back to Jim's side.  Then he could try to talk to Mr. Ellison about what they could do to help Jim.  He ran over the conversation he had had with Dr. Downsfield before coming home to the loft, thankful that for once, the doctor seemed amenable to the unorthodox situation that he found himself in.

//"Mr. Sandburg.  Why don't you go and get some rest, you are the only one who can control Jim's treatment.  Whether Mr. Ellison wants you there or not, you have authority over all medical decisions.  Although I must admit that it's odd to have a non-relative to have decisional authority while there are living familial relations.  Unless of course the surrogate is a spouse...." Dr. Downsfield trailed of, suddenly unsure.  Blair blushed, his face burning.

"Ah..no.  We're not...those type of partners.  Really.  Look.  Jim and his dad have been estranged for a long time.  When I became an observer and his unofficial partner, my place blew up and he lets me live at his place..."  Blair paused, pinching his nose between fore finger and thumb.  "Look, It's a long story, but the short version is that it seemed logical that we make each other responsible for medical treatment stuff.  Look.  Just take this, it's a list of all of the medications that Jim reacts to.  I'll run home and get quick shower and some supper.  If anything happens call me.  Here's my cell phone number."//

He rinsed the conditioner from his curls and rubbed himself dry with a towel, carefully folding it into thirds and having it drape meticulously on the bar that seldom saw his towels.  After drying his hair, he heated up a bowl of soup and dialed the phone.

"Hey, Mark.  Its Blair....Not bad, how 'bout you?....Well, actually I was wondering if you would mind doing me a favor.  Remember when you came down with mono and I covered your classes?  Well, I'm ready to call in the marker...."

Fifteen minutes later, fed, clean and having arranged his classes to be taught for the rest of the week, Blair snatched up his keys and left the comfort of the loft.  Time to wake up his Sentinel.

*****

Dr. Downsfield shook his head and humphed to himself.  The nurse, with a name tag proclaiming her name to be Joy,  crooked eyebrow in question.

"He's been in there for the last five hours and I don't think he's stopped talking once." Downfield signed the last form  of the day as he explained.

 Joy laughed at the incredulity in the doctor's voice."Oh that.  Blair could talk the ear off an elephant.  We send him home early whenever he ends up here just to get some peace and quiet.  He's a good boy.  Talkative, but good.  If anyone can help his friend, he can."  The stout nurse waved her hand to encompass the scene.  "The detective will be up and about before you know it."

"I hope so."  With that parting wish, the Dr. Downsfield made as though to go, when suddenly the nurse's station signal for Jim's room went off.  He quickly aborted his exit and rushed to the room, prepared for the worse. But he was greeted by the sight of Blair beaming.  The young man was exhausted but radiant.

"His eyes are open!  He's awake!"  The healing had begun.

******

Jim opened his eyes and blinked.  Tall trees surrounded him and trunks disappeared into the mist that hovered just below a green canopy of leaves.  A heavy layer of moss and leafy fronds covered the soil beneath him.  He was sitting cross-legged in front of a clear pool of water where small multicolored fish darted to and fro in schools, chasing one another.  A large panther lounged on a log to his left, studiously ignoring the man as it cleaned its paws.

*Oh shit. *

"Welcome Enquiri.  Welcome Sentinel."

Jim did a double take as Incacha appeared on the other side of the pool.  The shaman inclined his head in greeting and gracefully folded himself comfortably into the lotus position.

"Why am I here?"  Jim asked, confused about his presence in the jungle.

"You are on a journey."

"A journey?  Where?  Is this all because of Sandburg's stupid test?  I swear, when I get my hands..."
"This is a journey that you must travel."

"I don't understand."

"What do you fear?"

*Oh god, not again.*

"I fear...uh....losing all my hair?"

"Sentinel...the time for humour has passed." There was a pause.  "Although that is a valid fear, but one alas I cannot help you with.  Now.  What do you fear?"

"I fear losing control?"  There was a tinge of uncertainty in Jim's voice, as though he were about to fail a really important test.  A small voice in the back of his mind told him that it could very well be the case and did little to reassure him.

"Thus you begin your journey."  Incacha rose and Jim stretched out a hand to stop him.

"What?  Where are you going?"

"The journey does not involve me, Enquiri.  This is for you.  Do not ask me where you go.  That depends on you...and your guide."

With what could only be described as a mystical gesture, Incacha waved his hand and disappeared into the mists.

"Wait!" But it was too late.

//His eyes are open!!  He's awake!//  Jim looked about for Blair as the observer's voice resonated in the clearing.  A movement in the pond drew his attention.  The clear water slowly clouded and turned silver.  It was much like a mirror, but as Jim leaned closer, he saw, not his own reflection, but a image of himself lying on a bed, with Blair at his side.

*How can I go on a journey when I'm stuck here?*  He had a feeling he would find out.  He settled himself down; it looked like he wasn't going anywhere for a while.

*****

Blair leaned heavily on the sink, gathering his strength.  He looked in the mirror and grimaced.  His hair was in disarray, having been neglected for the past couple of days other than a couple of really quick showers.  Black circles ringed his eyes, shadowing them.  He was bone tired.  Exhausted and stretched beyond his means.  But he couldn't give up.  He couldn't abandon Jim, wouldn't abandon Jim.

He splashed some water on his face, grabbed a paper towel to dry off, and pasted a cheery grin on his face that just failed to reach his eyes.

As he walked down the now familiar halls of the hospital he rallied his strength.  This was the last time he'd traverse this stretch of tile.  This was THE day.  Jim was coming home.  After two weeks of keeping Jim under observation the doctors agreed that the best thing to do would be to let him go home to familiar surroundings.  They were willing to let Blair take his partner home earlier, but it had taken a couple of days to make the necessary arrangements.  Even now, Blair approached the cheerfully decorated room, laden with flowers and cards from friends at the PD, with an air of trepidation.

"All righty, Jim.  How's our patient today?"  There was no response of course.  He had gotten used to that.  One sided dialogue was becoming easier.  The nurses had already bathed and shaved Jim and he was sitting in the arm chair that was near the window overlooking the small park behind the hospital.

"Guess what, big guy?  You're coming home today, man.  About time huh?"  Jim simply sat there, looking straight ahead.  The doctor had told Blair that while his pupils were reacting to light he didn't react to visual stimulus at all.  He didn't jerk away when something was shoved toward him, or follow moving objects, anything.  But Blair was convinced that he was seeing things and insisted that when the detective was allowed to sit up that he be put in front of the window.  Besides, the sun was better for him than all that artificial light any day.

Blair crouched before the chair.

"We're getting out of here, Jim.  Just like I promised.  It'll be great."  He patted Jim's knee and stood up.  The dreaded device sat menacingly in the corner.  This was the one thing that Blair couldn't seem to accept.   It was the most obvious sign of Jim's difficulties.  To the unknowing observer, the Sentinel was quite well-looking, dressed in casual sweats.   If only he was the one who was keeping himself clean and shaven and dressed.  But this....this was an unmistakable declaration of infirmity.  Blair hated touching it and forced himself to walk over and grab its handles, wheeling it to Jim's side and bent down to lock the tires of the wheelchair in place.

"Lets get going, man.  The less time I have to spend here today, the better.  Besides, I think Linda, that crotchety nurse in peds has her eye on you.  Scary man, very scary."  Blair had spent hours learning to move Jim from the chair to the wheelchair in preparation for just this very day.  His smaller size had him worried about moving Jim's greater bulk but the physiotherapist working with Jim had shown him how being smaller could work to his advantage.  The Guide levered his Sentinel out of the armchair and with a smooth swivel managed to place him squarely in the padded seat.  He lifted Jim's feet into the footrest and unclipped the brakes.

"I think we're set.  I already put your bags in the van and Mary said she'd pack up all the cards and distribute the flowers among the other patients.  I thought you'd like that.  Ready?"  With that he bid adieu to the room that had become a home away from home and pushed his friend out the door.

It took quite a while for them to reach the entrance as the nurses and doctors came to say good by.  Blair's enthusiasm and charisma had drawn them all in the last two weeks and while they were glad that Jim was being discharged, they would miss the duo.  Dr. Downsfield met Blair at the entrance.

"Well, Blair.  This is it.  Remember, if you have any problems just phone or have me paged.  Any time, day or night."

"Thanks Mac.  This means a lot to me.  I know Jim will like being at the loft better than in that room."

"I think you're right.  Are you sure you're up to this?  This is going to be a major commitment."

"I know.  I just can't think of Jim being in a home...no matter how great it is.  I'll do everything in my power to keep him out of an institution."  Blair paused and then added with great passion as he placed a hand over his heart. "He *will* get better.  I know it.  Here."

"Best of luck.  And remember.  Call me."

Blair climbed into the van which he had leased after selling the Volvo to an appreciative collector who promised to sell it back at the same price should the opportunity come up.  The dark green van had  a special lift and room for a wheelchair and Blair hadn't even winced at the leasing cost.  This was for Jim.  And in some ways this was for himself.  To some degree this was his penance, one which he gladly would suffer.  What was one car compared to the ability to take Jim places like the park.

"Let's burn rubber, Jim.  I'll take that silence as approval."  There was a hint of a grin in the attempt at humour as Blair put the van into drive.  With a wave to Dr. Downsfield, he pulled out of the driveway and pointed the bumper in the direction of the loft.  "Home, James!"

******

Blair wheeled his friend out of the elevator.

"Home sweet home, Jim.  Guess what?  It's changed a bit since you've last been here.  We'll change it back when you get all better.  But you know what?  I don't think I'll totally mind being upstairs."  He grinned as he opened the door.  "The guys from the station wanted to throw you a welcome home party, but I thought it might be a bit rough on you, you know all the noise and stuff.  Anyway, they brought some food and stuff to tide us over.   Some of it is actually edible."

He gave Jim a push toward the little room downstairs.

"See here, Jim?  I got Simon to help me move the beds around.  Getting that monster down those stairs was a chore, I can tell you.  Simon almost dropped it on me twice."  Blair chuckled as he remembered the trial.  "Anyhow.   I wanted to get a hospital bed, you know, lease one?  But do you have any idea how much they cost?  I left most of my stuff down here.  You know, for ambiance."

He squeezed around the wheelchair and walked over to the bed.

"But look at these.  I got a friend in the Theater Department to make them."  He ran his hand lovingly over the rails that now adorned the side of the bed.  "I got him to sand them for hours.  They're so soft it's incredible.  I didn't want you to hurt yourself.  And I didn't bother with varnish  'cause I figured the smell would give you a headache, what with your nose and all.  And I have no idea how far your dials are up, man.  Err on the side of caution, my mother always said. No really, she did.  I know that she might not seem like she's really responsible, but with the important sutff, man...with the important stuff, she's  real careful.   So anyway, you have nice smooth guard rails, not bad, huh?"

The Sentinel didn't so much as twitch as he sat passively in the chair.

"How 'bout we get you settled?"  Blair neatly swivelled the wheelchair and pushed Jim back out into the living room.  Soon Jim was ensconced in a comfortable armchair that Blair had wheedled out of fellow TA who was moving into a smaller apartment and needed to unload some furniture.  A couple of 'puppy dog eyes' later and the chair was his.  The colour was a muted forest green, nothing too gaudy or flashy and it had a soft, worn, upholstery that would be gentle on Jim's skin.

"I figured that if I put it near the balcony you can look outside.  If you look at anything . . . " Blair trailed off uncertainly.  He was used to  one-sided conversations. Hell, half of the conversations he had with Jim were one sided. But at least he felt as if some of what he was saying was sinking in.  Now . . . with Jim.  It was like talking to a doll.  An inanimate doll that when you pulled the string would say "Mamma."  But at least it said something.  Jim was so quiet, so silent.

*I'd give anything for you to tell me to stop rambling,* Blair through wistfully as his partner sat staring out the balcony.

"Well, I guess that's it.  You're home."  Now what?  Blair honestly hadn't thought this far.  He had  switched the bedrooms, got the armchair, and had even convinced the would-be carpenter from the Theater company to widen the bathroom door and install handrails in the shower.  A bench for the bathtub had completed the improvements to the loft, but beyond the renovations, Blair hadn't thought about what he would actually 'do' with Jim now that he had him home.

There wasn't much point moping about and Blair looked at the stack of books on the dining room table.  On one of his short absences from the hospital he had checked out every single book that he had ever used in his Sentinel research as well as some others on autism.  He was bound and determined to find a way to help Jim recover from this.  And there was no time like the present.  The rest of the afternoon was spent in a companionable silence, Blair wading through journal articles, and Jim sitting motionless on the forest green chair.

*****

God, just shoot me now, Jim groaned to himself.   He had been watching the events of the past two weeks unfold with characteristic impatience.  It was the most bizarre feeling to be awake, yet feel no hunger, no thirst.  He did sleep.  Whenever the pool darkened over -- usually when both of the players in the unfolding drama below were asleep -- he found himself unable to remain awake.  When he awoke again, the silver pond revealed yet another day about to begin.

Jim had felt helpless before.  When Lash -- damn his soul -- had kidnaped Blair, he had felt utterly powerless. But he managed to pull off a small miracle with the duck crap.  When Blair was in the elevator, Jim had known utter hopelessness, but again managed to do something . . . something.  But this.  This was the ultimate in disempowerment. To be forced to watch as strangers washed him, clothed him, fed him and attended to his bodily functions was more than humbling.  At times he wished he was actually in his body. At least then he'd be unaware of it all.

"Sandburg, I swear.  When I get back in my body, I'm going to pound the concept of 'test' out of your mangy little head."  Jim fumed as he watched Blair settle himself at the table in the loft to read.  How on earth did the kid have time to do school work at a time like this, anyway?  Jim looked at his own slack features and winced.  Geez, did he really look that dopey when he was zoned.  Now that was embarrassing.

"INCACHA!!!" Jim shouted in frustration.

"Yes Sentinel?"  The enigmatic shaman appeared noiselessly beside the irate detective and Jim jumped involuntarily.

"This is pointless.  I have to sit here and watch while I drool?"  Jim pounded his fist against the moss in frustration.  "What can I do??"

"Patience Enquiri.  All will become clear.  But first you must realize that what you fear will in the end be your greatest asset.  Watch . . . observe.  You must see which was hidden to you.  But remember, patience, Guardian.  Wisdom cannot be bought at a drive-through.  It must be obtained through complicated requisition forms."

Jim began to nod and then did a double take.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? 'Drive-through?'  'Complicated requisition forms?'  What happened to  jungle stuff you always talked about when you took me on those spirit walks in Peru?"

Incacha had the good grace to be embarrassed.

"We all must change with the times.  As Sentinel of the Chopec, the ways of the jungle were the ways of the shaman.  The Sentinel of the Great City needs familiarity.  As your Guide says . . . radar up."  Incacha pointed to the pool, where Blair had risen from the table, moving over to Jim's side.  Jim shook his head.  If he were able to suffer a headache here, he was sure that he'd have a doozy.

"Riiiiight.  Let's just get on with this . . . this . . . whatever the hell this is."

******

"In we go."  Blair managed to cajole another bite from his partner, wiping an errant drop of apple sauce from Jim's chin.  The Sentinel had some basic skills down pat.  He could chew soft foods and sit unattended for periods of time.  The doctor had been quite blunt about the sort of aid that Blair would have to give his partner.  While being a good friend often meant going beyond the call of duty, there were some duties that were way, way, way, beyond the call.  So Blair had -- with his endless charm -- managed to convince a student nurse into providing part time care.  Blair had winced for his pocket book at the rate, but it was cheeper than any of the professional home-care workers that he had considered.  They had hammered out a schedule whereby she would come, help Jim with the bare necessities, while Blair was out teaching.

"So, Jim.  Are we ready for bed?  Stupid question I guess.  But the doctor said to make sure that you spent at least fifteen hours a day resting . . . in bed.  So how 'bout we get you settled?"  Blair took Jim through his nightly ablutions, brushing his teeth and getting the larger man into the soft pajamas.  They too were a new addition, but Blair had been concerned that Jim might get cold and be unable to control the temperature.

"Megan bought these, you know.  She said that the blue would go with your eyes."  Blair  informed him with a sly grin.  "She was really disappointed when I told her that you wouldn't be requiring her services as a babysitter at night.  That you were quite capable of lying still and doing nothing."

Blair's tried to be lighthearted, but his voice caught in his throat as he pulled up the covers and tucked them around the silent man.  Jim's eyes almost immediately closed and his chest rose and fell with the regularity of deep sleep.

"'Nite, Jim."  Blair turned of the light and flicked on the small night light.  It was a relic from the nightmare-filled days following the Lash 'incident' as Blair now referred to it.  The small light had granted him much comfort, and he hoped that it would do the same for his friend, even in the comatose state.

"Sleep tight."

*****

Blair finished grading the last paper and closed his eyes.  Finished.  The last essay sat on top of the pile, with nearly illegible comments scrawled on the cover.  His handwriting had taken a downward turn around the thirtieth paper, but he was frankly too tired to care.  Jim was sitting quietly in the armchair, this time staring at the television.  Blair had turned the chair around so that the recovering Sentinel could have a change of scenery from the balcony.  Jim appeared to be engrossed in the action movie that was playing, but Blair knew otherwise.  There was so little change, so little to celebrate.

Jim was still relying on the nurse for basic care.  Susan, the nurse, had been in to help that morning with the cleaning routine: bath, shave and taking Jim's vitals for the record.  She would return in the afternoon while Blair was teaching, but for the most part the two men were on their own.  Jim couldn't be left on his own, but Blair managed to cut back on his office hours and did most of his work at home.

There had been one heartening development the day before, but there was still such a long way to go, even with the developments of the previous day . . . .

//Blair put the bowl of  blended vegetable paste on the table in front of Jim and pulled his own chair up next to his friend.

"Ready for dinner, big guy?  I figured you might like a break from apple sauce and made up some mash from carrots turnips and potatoes.  The Doc said it would be good to have some honest to goodness substance in you to top off the hospital prepared stuff.  I figured anything has to be better than that tasteless goop, they call food.  I'm still convinced that they stole the stuff from NASA and the astronauts.  There's no salt or seasoning in my stuff. . . so you should be okay."  Blair made as though to literally start spoon feeding his friend when suddenly one  of the hands that lay limp on Jim's lap twitched.  Blair stared, astonished.  As if lifting a great weight, the hand rose trembling slightly and awkwardly clasped the spoon in a death grip.

"All right!  Way to go, Jim!"  He guided the hand to the bowl and then helped Jim bring it to his mouth.  After a few false starts, the detective was feeding himself.  One more step taken on the long road to recovery. //

But that success seemed rather small, compared to all of the things that the Sentinel couldn't yet do.  Like go to the bathroom by himself, walk, talk, and all those little things which Blair had completely taken for granted.  But tomorrow was another day.  And who knew what another day would bring.

Blair was brought out of his inner meanderings by the phone.

"Hello?"

"Sandburg, it's Simon."

"Oh hey, Simon.  How's it goin'?"

"Can you get some time away from the loft to come down to the station?"

"Uh . . . I guess.  When do you need me?"

"Now."  Simon's voice was filled with concern and Blair's heart began to beat faster.

"What's up, man?"

"Can you come?"  Blair's neck prickled at Simon's refusal to talk on the phone.

"I'll be there as soon as I can."

******

After calling Susan -- and offering to pay her double for asking to come over on such short notice -- Blair managed to get to the Department.  As he walked through the halls, numerous people stopped him and asked him about Jim.  As politely as possible he told them that yes, Jim was the same, no, he had no idea when the detective would be back at work, but thanks for asking.  His neck and shoulders were aching from tension as he entered the bullpen.  Rafe and Henri looked over but quickly immersed themselves in reports as Blair walked by.

Simon was watching for the observer and waved him into the office.  Blair almost backed out when he saw the one of the other two occupants of the room, but Simon's imposing bulk kept him in the room.

"Mr.  Ellison . . . "  Blair began in greeting, only to be interrupted by Simon.

"Sandburg, Mr. Ellison came here in the hopes of convincing you that he should take over Jim's care.  Mr. Franklin, here,"  Simon indicated the hawk-faced man seated in the other chair, "is Mr. Ellison's lawyer.  I don't believe you've met."

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Sandburg."  The lawyer held out his hand, which Blair reluctantly took.

"Call me Blair, please.  And I wish I could say the same thing, but I have a feeling that I'm not going to like what you all have to say."  Blair shot Simon a piercing look.  Mr. Franklin opened his briefcase and took out a sheaf of papers.

"Mr. Sandburg, my client is concerned that his son is not receiving the best care and is prepared to launch a petition to overturn your status as Jim Ellison's surrogate decision maker in medical matters.  We would however appreciate forgoing such unpleasantries and simply have you sign over authority to my client."  Blair stared blankly at the man, unwilling to accept what he just heard.  "We are prepared to make arrangements to grant you visiting rights, limited of course, but you would still be able to see Jim on a fairly regular basis.  Mr. Ellison, here, doesn't want to be unfair.  He has a very exclusive treatment facility willing to take Jim on as a patient, as soon as we finish with the paper work."

Blair held up his hands and began to breathe faster.

"Whoa.  Papers?  I'm not signing any papers.  How . . . how *dare* you?  What do you care about Jim?  Where have you been the last week since he came home to the loft?  Where were you when he was in the hospital, huh, man?  Shit."  Blair spun and walked over the window looking out over the city.

"Now you listen to me!"  William surged out of his seat and stalked toward Blair, who turned to meet him.  "I've had enough of the doctors, nurses and even Captain Banks, here, telling me that you know what's best for Jim.  You know what I see?  I see some science punk who schemed his way into my son's life and is now sponging off of his medical insurance.  When's the last time you paid rent, huh?  What exactly do you do for Jim?  What makes you such an *expert*?"

Blair's face flushed red and for a moment the room tilted and went fuzzy.  When things had righted themselves and his vision cleared, Mr. Ellison was bent over, clutching his face.  Blair watched with detachment as Simon rushed toward him.

"Sandburg!  What the hell are you doing?"  Blair looked up at him in confusion. His attention was drawn to a slight stinging in his right hand.  Small droplets of blood and a dull throb from his bruised knuckles clamored for his attention.

"God, dam . . . I tink he broke my dose!" Came the muffled shout from the elder Ellison.  Blair looked at the blood seeping down William's face, and walked out of the office. He got as far as the glass doors to the main hallway when an insistent hand on his arm spun him around.  Simon was holding tight to his arm as he pushed Blair against the doorway.

"You want to explain that . . . that outburst?"  Blair shook his head.  There was nothing to say.  There was no explanation.  He just didn't have the strength to defend himself, to Simon, to Mr. Ellison, to anyone.

"Look, Sandburg, you can't just assault someone in a police department and walk away."

"Well, that's too bad, *Captain.*  'Cause that's just what I'm going to do.  I have to get back to Jim.  I can't afford to pay Susan for an extra hour.   Tell you what, *sir*.  You have his lawyer contact my lawyer."

"You have a lawyer?"

"Well, it sure looks like I'm going to need one now, doesn't it," Blair said as he wormed out of Simon's grasp and walked to the elevator.  He looked back as he entered the lift. "Oh, and Simon?  Thank you so much for the support."

Blair knew it was harsh as the door closed on the scene, Simon standing pole-axed in the bullpen.  But at the moment, he didn't care.  He had one goal . . . to return to the man who needed him -- to the man he had come to need.

******

Jim sat and stared.  Blair had hit his father.  *Blair* had *hit* his *father*.

"What the hell does he think he's doing?"

"What do you think he is doing, Sentinel?"

Jim tried to still the pounding of his heart.  Incacha had returned and was sitting at his left, watching the events play out in the pool.

"He hit my father!"

"Yes."

"I can't believe he'd do that!"

"Do what?"

"Hit someone!  He's one of the most nonviolent people I know.  He doesn't go around hitting people."

"Why did he hit your father?

Jim closed his eyes.  These journeys of self discovery were always such a pain in the ass.  Why couldn't they be just journeys of discovery without the 'self' part.  Incacha could just tell him what he had to know and he'd be on his way.  But nooo, it had to be this long tedious process.

"He was upset."

"Why did he hit your father?"

"Because he...he didn't want to be seen as mooching off of me.  But that doesn't mean that he can just haul off and hit my dad."

"Oh.  I see.  Your Guide was wrong to be upset at the insinuation that he was not pulling his own weight."

"No!  Of course he was justified in being upset.  That's not the issue.  He punched someone, for crying out loud."

"And you, Great Sentinel of the Great City, have of course never lashed out in anger."  It wasn't a question but the sarcasm in Incacha's voice made Jim wince. Memories suddenly flashed in his head; visions of him grabbing Blair and pushing him up against the wall of the cluttered office.  And in his more recent memories he recalled grabbing Blair and shaking the slighter man when Incacha had died.  Jim wasn't prone to blushing but the shame that welled within him sent heat onto his face.

"Did anyone ever tell you that you play really dirty, my friend?"  Jim shook his head as he looked at Incacha for an answer -- not really expecting one.

"Sentinel."  Incacha's voice softened.  "Enquiri, you do not have your sense here, but that does not mean that you cannot see.  Do not simply observe what is revealed below...you must *see* what you observe."

Jim looked back at the pool.  It was late in the evening, and dusk threw muted shadows over the walls in the loft, the sunset bathed in a effervescent lavender haze.  Blair lay face down on the sofa, sprawled limply, his head pillowed on one of the cushions.  A book lay on the floor where it had fallen from Blair's grasp.  One of Blair's arms draped of the side of the sofa, his fingers brushing the floor; the other was tucked up under him with his hand loosely clenched in a fist under his chin.

"He's gotten pale," Jim observed as he took in the dark circles under the closed eyes.  Blair snuffled into the pillow and stirred slightly, murmuring in his sleep.  After a soft, sleepy snort, he settled back down in the deep sleep which had claimed him.

"He's been pushing himself too hard.  He shouldn't be forced to take care of me 24-7.  It's not fair!"  Jim once again found himself cursing the cosmic forces which had brought them both to this point.

"He cares for you very much," was all Incacha would say.

"He feels bloody guilty!  Why else would be hit my dad and refuse to put me in a home where I would be taken care of?  He'd save all that money...hell, he sold his *car* for crying out loud.  This is all one huge penance for him.  Penance for causing the damn zone.  Now that I'm out of it, he's feeling guilty that I'm damaged...that he's the one that damaged me."  Jim was yelling by the time he wrapped up his little speech.

"Sentinel, you still do not *see*.  You look, but you are still blind."  Incacha shook his head impatiently and stood, fading into the fine mists of the jungle.  The panther stretched on the log, baring its fangs in a yawn.  It's yellow eyes regarded him intently...accusingly.

"Oh come on....Not you too?"  The panther declined to answer -- no surprise there -- and curled up with its back to  the erstwhile Sentinel.  Jim wondered if he'd ever get the hang of these spiritual quest things. "Okay...time to figure out what I'm supposed to be seeing."

Jim turned back to the pool to begin his lesson -- whatever it was -- and to *see*.

*****

Blair fumbled with the alarm as its incessant buzzing rudely jerked him from his deep slumber.  He rubbed at his eyes with his knuckles, wincing as he forgot about the purple and yellow bruise on his hand.  After shaking off the momentary disorientation that he always felt when awakening in the dark after falling asleep in the afternoon.

*Six o'clock.  Time to feed Jim.*  Blair had attempted to keep things extremely regular.  Breakfast was at eight, after a bath and shaving.  Lunch was promptly at noon and dinner found it's way to the table at six.  The doctor said that regularity was important in the daily routine, so Blair carried the pocket-sized alarm with him.

His partner was currently sitting facing the balcony was -- as per usual -- oblivious, as Blair managed to get him iin to the wheelchair and to the table with an ease that spoke of great practice.  As Jim slowly fed himself the rice pudding, Blair sat across from him and chattered about the day.  He was getting very used to the sound of his voice, and hoped that his talking was at least getting through to some part of Jim.

"Remember how I said once that violence is never a solution?  I lied.  Sometimes you just have to let go.  Yes, it's hypocritical.  See, I hit your dad.  I might have even broken his nose.  I still can't believe it.  I mean, he was just shouting at me and then, like, *pow!* I had bruises on my hand.  I'm sorry, man.  I mean he's your dad and all, but..." Blair's apology was cut off by a knock at the door.

Simon stood beyond the threshold, holding a six pack.

"I come bearing gifts...and  a peace offering."

Blair motioned Simon in.

"When's the last time you had the evening off,  Sandburg?"

"Um.  Probably just before Jim can home.  Can I put those in the fridge?"  Simon handed over the beer and looked around at the loft.  Books were piled on the coffee table and were scattered around the sofa like leaves.  The kitchen was relatively free of clutter, the dishes in the sink were carefully stacked but had been there for some time.  Blair put the beer in the refrigerator and pulled off two from the plastic rings, tossing one to Simon and opening one for himself before sitting on the sofa.

"Hey Jim.  Lookin' good."  The detective continued to eat, oblivious to the visitor.  Simon redirected his attention.  "It's even more weird seeing him eat like that.  Almost wouldn't know he was..."

Simon didn't quite know how to continue so he didn't.

"Yeah, I know.  But its better than having to play 'airplane' with that hash the hospital supplies.  He's gradually working up to solid food.  It's progress."  Blair paused to collect his thought.  "Look, Simon, about this afternoon.  I'm really sorry about punching Jim's dad.  I don't know what happened."

"I do."

Blair stopped fidgeting with the beer bottle and stared.

"You do?"

"Yes, I do."

Blair's lips quirked in an almost smile.

"Would you care to enlighten me?"

"It's simple.  You cracked under the pressure.  When's the last time you had time to yourself, not teaching, not sitting with Jim, not researching?"

Blair closed his eyes and slouched against the arm rest, pulling one knee up to his chest.

"I honestly thought I could do it, you know?  I mean, my teaching schedule is flexible and I had Susan to help out in the mornings and mid afternoon.  I just..."

"Sandburg, even Jim wouldn't want you to beat yourself to death because you feel guilty about the whole damn thing.  What I want to know is why you rejected Mr. Ellison's offer out of hand.   Sounded like a pretty good idea to me, putting Jim in a place where he'd have twenty four hour care.  What's so wrong with that?"

Blair snapped open his eyes and surged off the couch to pace.  He kept his tone down in deference to Jim's presence but made it abundantly clear with his gestures what he couldn't express though the volume of his voice.

"What's wrong with that?  I'll tell you what's wrong, man.  Would they make sure that everything in the room was chemical free, that the sheets were washed without bleach and were made from natural materials?  Would they sit and talk with him even if he wasn't responding?  Would they take him out to the park to show him the colours of the leaves when they change?  Will they make sure that his food is organic and pesticide free?  Geez, Simon.  They wouldn't do any of that.  That's why I can't take him up on the offer."

"Blair, you can't let your guilt hurt you, too.  You've lost weight; you look like you haven't slept in days.  Jim wouldn't want this."

"Damn it, Simon.  Don't you realize that this isn't about the zone anymore?  Yeah, it was my fault.  Yeah, I feel bad about it.  But you know what?  That doesn't matter anymore, man.  I've been over that for a while now.  It's not about guilt.  If this whole mess had happened because some idiot did something to Jim that made him zone and I was at the University teaching...I'd still be doing this, Simon.  It's not about guilt.  It's about friendship.  And I wouldn't be the friend to Jim that I want to be if I let him be stuck in some home where the sheets are starched and the food is one hundred percent processed.  It ain't going to happen."

Simon sat back in the chair he had claimed and sighed.

"You're right.  And Blair, I'm sorry for not sticking up for you -- at the hospital and at the department.  You've done a lot for Jim, and I don't just mean with his senses.  Part of me just starts to wonder whether you really know what you're doing all of the time.  It's not that I don't trust you...but there is part of me that wonders."

Blair looked at Simon, appreciating the forthrightness and honesty.

"Well, Simon.  The only comfort I can give to you -- and to Jim's dad -- is that I'm the only expert on Sentinel's who isn't centuries old and buried six feet under.  I've studies Sentinels all my life.  Sure, I might be new in the Guide business, but I know Sentinels.  Sometimes I do fly by the seat of my pants.  I've always been straight up with Jim about that.  But no more so than any of the doctors and researchers out there who would have to figure out what was wrong with Jim if I put him in a home.  I'm doing the best I can with the resources I've got, and I'm the best for the job."  Blair looked over at Jim, a deep pain blossoming in his eyes.  "This time, I'm just not sure if it's going to be enough."

******

The night before, Blair had managed to send off Simon with the promise that he would get some sleep.  Now, sitting in his office in the few minutes that he had to himself, he felt almost human.    For now, the students were staying away, Susan was giving Jim his afternoon bath, and the pile of essays in front of him were completed.  All that was left was to record the marks.

If only the research he was doing about Jim's condition were going so well.  He had found a couple veiled references to major zone-outs, but nothing talked about Sentinels dying because of sensory barrages.   Mind you, it made sense that primitive conditions probably wouldn't allow for the situation resulting in such a zone.  Blair had always enjoyed a challenge, treading on new ground, but this time he wished the answer would just be written neatly in Burton's monograph.  He'd even take a footnote at this point.

"Hey Blair.  How's it going?"  Rosa, the department secretary, knocked on his open door bringing his attention up from the book before him.

"Rosa.  Please, please tell me you have that class list.  I will worship the ground you walk on and bring you coffee from that specialty store you love so much."  Blair placed his hand over his heart and gestured theatrically with the other.

"Well, you're lucky.  I managed to get it printed off, right before the whole computer crashed.  Today's your lucky day."  She waved the file with  a flourish and grinned.  "Now, grovel and beg."

"You are the goddess among goddesses." Blair's joking demeanor faded. "Hope the computer thing wasn't too much of a problem."

"No, just the typical problems with multitasking computers.  You open too many things and the whole thing freezes up."

"Oh, well.  At least the computer is okay.  You might have lost some files but the hard drive still works.  All you have to do is just reset . . . " Blair's voice trickled off.  Rosa ducked her head to look at his face which was lost in thought.

"Blair?  You okay?"

"Oh my god.  Oh my god.  Oh my god." Blair began walking the length of his office running his hands through his hair, giving him the appearance of a demented porcupine.  Rosa stepped back, as Blair paced the narrow confines of his room.  He could feel the wheels churning in his brain, synapses popping, energy churning through him.  But he felt unbalanced, unsettled.  He stopped, turned to Rosa, grabbed her face in his hand and kissed her soundlessly.  She was breathless and gasping when he let her go.

"Blair!  What . . . "

"You are a genius!  A virtual genius! No . . . not virtual, but rather completely real and grounded." Blair snatched up his book bag, keys and jacket.  "I have to mediate."

Rosa could only stare, touching her lips in amazement, as Blair left in a flurry of flannel and books.

*****

*What the hell is he thinking about?*  Jim was dying with curiosity.  He had watched with some embarrassment as his partner kissed Rosa -- who was extremely attractive by the way, Jim mused.  Then, still unenlightened as to Blair's  -- and had run out of building, almost sped home and now was sitting cross-legged in front of the coffee table.   Seven candles, their flames dancing in a breeze from the balcony, lit Blair's face with an unearthly glow -- despite the late afternoon sun.

"Wow."  Jim spun around.  There in the clearing was his Guide.

"Blair?"  The younger man's name escaped involuntarily and Blair turned away from his unabashed awe at the jungle to look at Jim.  Blue eyes met blue eyes and Blair's widened.

"Jim!"  Within seconds, he had an armful of Guide, as Blair wrapped his arms around Jim in a grateful hug.

"Easy there, Chief."  Jim patted Blair's back.  Blair pulled back reluctantly and almost tripped as a ghostly, grey form rubbed up against the back of his calves.  A canine mouth was pulled in a grin as the timbre wolf looked up at his human counterpart.  With what could only be construed as a look of playful glee, Blair's spirit guide loped over to the panther.  The panther turned a long-suffering gaze toward the two humans, as the wolf proceeded to make playful pounces at the cat's sleek tail.

"This is, like, so cool!"  Jim was seriously worried that Blair would give himself whiplash as he tried to look all around him at once, curls whipping around his neck.  "Have you been here the whole time?  What's that pool . . . hey it's like a mirror!  Do you see that wolf?  This is amazing!"

Jim placed his hands on Blair's shoulder's trying to calm the frenetic energy that was pulsing off his partner.

"Settle down, buddy.  Yes, I've been here the whole time, and yes the pool is kind of like a mirror.  And while it might be interesting for the first ten minutes, trust me; after four weeks, it definitely loses its charm."

"Four weeks?"

"Yeah.  Incacha decided I had to learn a lesson from all of this.  So I could watch everything . . . in the pool."  Blair leaned forward and peered at the image of himself in the loft.

"Very weird."

"You said it."

"Soo . . . why are we here?"

Jim sat down in the small indentation he had made in the moss over the past four weeks.

"I've been thinking about that.  And I think I finally have seen what I should have been seeing all along."  Blair quieted and sank  cross-legged across the pool from Jim. "You see, it didn't click until I saw you talking with Simon.  What he said made me see what was really happening.  You were pushing yourself way too much.    I thought it was out of guilt, but when you said all that stuff about doing it out of friendship, some things came a bit clearer."

"Clearer?" Blair was a bit confused.

"Yeah.  See, when I first got here, I was really angry.  At you."  Blair's face fell and he made as though to interrupt but Jim refused to allow him to get a word in edgewise.  "Let me finish . . . I blamed you for the zone, and I didn't realize that you were only doing the test to help me.  The whole dissertation thing has been looming over us, and I just totally lost that the test wasn't just another chapter. You wanted to help me do my job.  And I wasn't ready to trust you.  I see that know.  I really see that now."  Jim shot a glance toward the leafy canopy overhead to emphasis his point.  *Hear that you guys?. . . . I see it . . .  I truly see it.*

Blair's face had slowly transformed, from guilty and contrite, to a huge grin.  Jim couldn't help but grin back.

"Still friends?"  Blair's voice trembled with gladness and hint of uncertainly.

"All the way, Chief, all the way."

Suddenly Incacha appeared.  Blair's eyes widened impossibly further, and Incacha reclined his head in greeting.

"whoa."  Blair whispered.  His eyes lit up and Jim could tell that he was about to burst forth with an avalanche of questions, but Incacha turned to Jim.

"What did you fear, Enquiri?"  Jim puzzled at the use of the past tense.

"Trusting Blair to do what's best for me . . . believing that he's not just using me for his dissertation."

"What do you fear now?"

"That I won't be able to do what I have to do if I remain here much longer . . . protect the tribe."  Blair reached across the pool and gripped Jim's hand with his own.

"I'll help you, Jim."    He grinned again, squeezing the Sentinel's hand with a sure grip.  "In fact I know . . . "

Blair trailed off as his hand suddenly went through Jim's.  His face fell as realization that his time in the jungle had expired.  Jim looked on as his partner's form flickered and then began to fade.  The Guide managed a small wave with a rueful grin as he faded away.

Jim sat and leaned toward the pool, heartened by the short reunion, and eager to know what Blair had in mind.  The anger, the mistrust, the worry had disappeared, as surely as Blair had.  With a new sense of focus and the confidence that Blair would get him out of this, Jim sat and patiently waited for his Guide to bring him out of the woods.

*******

Blair jerked out of his trance, breathing heavily.  *Man, what a rush!  That was so cool!*  His musings were cut short however as he remembered why he had decided to meditate in the first place.  Scrambling to his feet he blew out the candles and went to look in on Jim.  The older man was laying on his back, covers pulled up over his chest, his arms stretched down by his sides.  Blair personally thought it looked uncomfortable, preferring himself to sprawl all over a bed or curl in a tight ball.  Blair looked up toward the ceiling.

"Nice to know you're there, Jim.  It doesn't feel like I'm doing this completely on my own now."  He grinned ruefully, wishing that the pool had two way speakers, and glanced at his watch.

"Well, it's too late to do anything today.  Time sure does fly when you're in the jungle, huh?"

Yawning, he decided to turn in early.  He'd need all his strength for the fight ahead.  And if he went to sleep now he'd get . . . wow, he'd get almost 10 hours.  That sounded good, so after wolfing down a sandwich and taking a quick shower to relax tense muscles, he turned off all the light and padded up the stairs to bed.

Dawn came all too early, but Blair forced himself from the comforting arms of sleep and shut the alarm off with an efficient swipe of his hand.  Time to get up, feed the Sentinel, and take on the world.

"Hey, you know what, Jim?  This has been an incredible learning experience.  I mean, I've learned so many things about you over the last couple of weeks.  Like how much you must have drooled when you were a kid!"  Blair laughed,  and shot a look upward as he wiped the breakfast oatmeal from Jim's chin.  "Just kidding, man.  Don't worry, I won't embarrass you.  You're just lucky that Susan charges too much that I can't afford to buy film for my camera!"

After shelling out the last of his savings to Susan in exchange for her staying the entire morning, Blair squared his shoulders and left the loft prepared for battle.

*****

"Why Mr. Sandburg, how nice to see you.  How is Jimmy doing?" Sally opened the screen door, wiping her flour dusted hand on a similarly sprinkled apron.

"Oh he's doing great, Sally.  And please, call me 'Blair'.  Is Mr. Ellison in?"

"Oh.  Yes."  Sally's normally welcoming face was etched with concern.  "I'm not sure that he will want to talk with you after . . . "

"Sally, I promise, I'll be good.  I need to speak with him . . . about Jim." He turned his 'puppy eyes' on the housekeeper and she didn't have a chance.  She moved aside and even hugged back when Blair squeezed her tightly in thanks.

Minutes later, Blair was tentatively sticking his head through the study door.  Mr. Ellison was sitting in a wingback chair.  His nose was swollen and bruised, but Blair was heartened that it wasn't bandaged or splinted.  Maybe it wasn't broken after all.

"Mr. Ellison.  I was hoping to speak with you."  Blair forged ahead, hoping to simply overwhelm the older man with his torrent of words.  "I am, like, so sorry about what happened at the police department.  I mean, I've never hit anyone before -- who wasn't trying to kill me, anyway.  It was just that things have been really stressful what with taking care of Jim and school and all, so when you just came out and basically said that I was to blame for putting Jim in the hospital and then said I was mooching off of him, well I guess I just snapped."

Mr. Ellison made as though to interrupt but Blair held up a hand.

"Please, just let me finish . . . You see, I know how to get Jim out of the zone.  It just came to me yesterday.  It's so simple!  But I need help.  I need to spend the next week setting up the whole thing, and I can't do that while taking care of Jim.  I've just spent my last dime on getting Susan --she's the nurse who's been taking care of Jim -- to look after him while I came to talk to you.  I know that it would have been cheaper to put Jim in a home.  Heck, his insurance would have covered that, but he wouldn't have gotten the type of care he needed.  Anyway, the point is I'm tapped out and need full time care for Jim.  I know that you want to put him in a home, but I think we could compromise if you would be willing to help.  If you could get him a full time care giver to come to the loft during the day when I'm gone, it would be a cinch.  I know that you must really hate me but I just want what's best for Jim, and I know that you do too."

"Mr. Sandburg . . . Blair.  Please, breathe."  There was a small smile playing around the older man's that reminded Blair of Jim's fond grin when the student went off on an amusing rant.  Like father, like son.  "I realize that Jim and I have been growing apart.  I hoped that when that horrible case was resolved that we could rebuild something, some sort of relationship again.  This . . . accident, for lack of a better word, seemed like a chance for me to make amends.  And well, frankly, you didn't exactly strike me as the type of person who is prepared to give up their life to take care of someone that they were observing."

Blair shifted and opened his mouth.

"No, let me have my say.  You see, I talked with Captain Banks, and he explained some things to me, like how you made many sacrifices to be with Jim.  I didn't want to see it.  I couldn't see it.  I think it's the first time someone actually hit me over my stupidity, though."

"Mr. Ellison, I can't tell you how sorry I am.  Really."  Blair's guilt welled up within him, tempered with a strong desire to connect with the one man who could help him save Jim from an eternity of jungle.

William held out his hand and Blair accepted without reservation, sealing the truce between them.

"Apology accepted.  Now . . . what can I do to help?"

"Well, here's the plan...."

*******

Blair awoke and rolled over to silence the alarm.

"Blair?  You up?  I made breakfast.  Do you want some?"

Urg.  Morning.  With a weary sigh Blair pushed himself out of bed, shrugged on his robe and padded down the stairs.  The heavenly aroma of coffee tantalized his nose and he closed his eyes, smiling as he soaked in the smell.   Opening his eyes, he turned to the young man in the kitchen.  For one moment while in bed he imagined that Jim had been the one puttering in the kitchen, turning the scrambled eggs in the pan.  Mike -- the professional care giver that William had found -- looked up and grinned as he buttered the toast.  Blair slipped into a chair at the table next to Jim, who sat mutely drinking orange juice from a straw --the latest development.

"Mike, you know you didn't have to do this.  You're not the butler you know."

"You came in so late last night I thought you'd appreciate being able to sleep in.  Besides, Jim's great company.  He lets me argue with him and never talks back."  He laughed as he spooned eggs onto two plates and set them down in front of the roommates.

"Thanks, man.  But you do realize, the more you help, the less time you're going to be gainfully employed."

Freshened by  a shower and grabbing the lunch that Mike had thoughtfully packed, Blair made his way to the university.  Simon had said that he would drop by to talk this morning and he wanted to get as much work done as possible. *How can I get him to stay after Jim is better?* Blair mused as the smell of salami on rye filled the car.

He wandered to his office and pushed the button on the answering machine.

//Hello, Mr. Sandburg.  This is Dr. Phillips from the psychology department.  I've managed to get approval for your project.  The lab will be free on Friday at four.  Please let me know if that's convenient.  Leave a message with my secretary if there's a problem//

"Yes!"  Blair pumped his fist in the air.

"Am I interrupting something?  What . . . did you do, win the lottery?"

"Simon!  What, the lottery?  Oh, no.  This is tons better than the lottery!  I'm going to be able to help Jim tomorrow."

"So are you finally going to tell me this miracle cure?"  Simon wandered over to the desk, picking at the diagrams and papers that scattered the table.

"Well, it all happened when Rosa . . . she's the secretary -- sorry, *administrative assistant* -- here . . . well, she had computer problems.  See, when you open too many programs on a computer, sometimes the computer freezes, you know, shuts down."

"Sandburg, I fail to see how a computer being a pain in the ass helped give you an idea as to how to help Jim."

"See, with all the research I've been doing, I've been operating under the assumption that when Jim woke up, he had actually come out of the zone."

Simon nodded his understanding, encouraging Blair to elaborate, making a rolling motion with his hand..

"But you see, what I didn't figure on, was that he is still in the zone.  He still has the dials set on high!"
"How is that possible?  He's not in pain or anything."

"But that's the point, he's frozen out.  He's cut himself off from his senses and just shut down.  But his consciousness is still there!  I spoke with him."

"Whoa.  Whoa.  You spoke with him?"

"Yeah!  There was a jungle, and a panther and this really cool wolf.  And Incacha!"

Simon waved his hands.

"Too much information.  I don't want to know.  All I care about is getting my star detective back on the job.  Just keep the mumbo jumbo stuff to a minimum."

"Right, Simon.  Okay, so I started thinking.  What do you do when you need to fix the computer after it freezes?"

He paused melodramatically, and Simon heaved a sigh.  Blair hurried on.

"You reboot it.  Turn it off and turn it on again.  That's what I'm going to do to Jim."  He ruffled around on his desk and pulled out a picture, handing it to Simon.  "*This* is a sensory deprivation tank."

"A what?"

"A sensory deprivation tank."

"I heard you the first time.  What exactly are you going to do?"

"I'm going to talk Jim out of his zone, but he needs to have everything shut off first.  He's still being bombarded by sensory data.  The only way to get him to break down the barrier is to feel safe about letting go of the control.  The only safe environment is this tank.  Which, I've managed to reserve for tomorrow afternoon!"

Blair was virtually bouncing with excitement, rocking back and forth on his heels.  Simon's face was skeptical but he handed the picture back, resigned to trusting in the only man who had a clue about bringing stubborn Sentinels to their senses.

******

Jim watched the pool, with no small amount of apprehension, as Blair and Simon together maneuvered his corporeal self into a waist high tank.  It was more or less a wooden box with a trap door on the top.  A small window on the cover allowed the occupant to maintain contact with the outside world.  Jim had watched as Blair had filled the tank with water -- it had better be warm -- and then dumped about a ton of salt into the mix.  Jim's father stood anxiously by as his son was lowered into the tank.

"Hey watch the head!" He barked at the figures below.  A snort from the wolf, which insisted on resting its head on his thigh, made him roll his eyes.   The panther had the good grace to pretend it wasn't paying any attention.

"No comments from the peanut gallery,"  he murmured, and the wolf simply stared at the man with dancing yellow eyes, tongue lolling.  He turned back to the unfolding drama below.

//Now Jim, everything is going to be fine . . . just trust me.//

"With everything, Blair.  With everything."  The fear that had plagued Jim about Blair's tests had finally been laid to rest, and the Sentinel was content to place his senses' well-being right where they belonged -- in his Guide's capable hands.

//Blair, are you sure this will work?//

//As sure as I am about anything, Simon.  Mr. Ellison, could you put those goggles on Jim while I set up the speakers and microphone.//

Jim felt his throat catch as his father gently pulled the tinted swimming goggles over his son's eyes.  The elderly man tenderly patted his son on the cheek.

//It's going to be okay, Jimmy.//

Jim didn't remember hearing that tone in his father's voice since he was seven and had contracted a particularly virulent flu.  His dad had sat up late into the night, reading to him, soothing him with cool wash clothes.  It was the last time Jim could remember his father *caring*.

The trap door was closed.

Jim felt the spirit world tilt, the pool darkened to black, and suddenly he was whisked away from the jungle.

*******

Blair fiddled with the tuner on the microphone and looked up at his audience, almost shaking with nervous energy.

"Well, I think we're ready.  I've set up the microphone so that I'll be able to bring Jim out of the zone once we get his senses shut off.  The goggles will keep the light from the window from disturbing him.  This should work."  He tried to sound confident.  He tried to sound as though this had been done by countless Guides before him, and that this was a time-honoured, foolproof procedure, guaranteed to bring reticent Sentinels back from the jungle.  Well, he's always enjoyed acting.  The truth was, if this didn't work, he was lost.  There were no other options, and this was the only possible way that the anthropologist could think of to solve the problem.  There was no room for error.  This had to work.

With bated breath he closed the top of the tank and peered through the small window.  Jim floated buoyantly on the salted water.  The salt allowed the Sentinel to float effortlessly in the watter, without the worry of him sinking due to lack of consciousness.  But Blair had worried about the effect of the salt on Jim's overly sensitized skin, and had managed to get his hand on a rather large tub of petroleum jelly.  He and Simon had liberally covered all of Jim's exposed skin with the grease, providing a layer of protection against the salty brine.  It would be hell to clean, but it was better than a full body rash.

"Now what?"  Simon stood with his arms crossed, clearly unhappy with the lack of activity.  Blair grinned inwardly.  The burly captain wouldn't be able to boss anyone around or yell  to get the job done this time.  Oh, no.  He was the head of this operation, and patience was the key.

"Now, we wait."  Blair went and got a book from his book bag, pulled up a lab stool, and perched himself cross-legged on the narrow seat.

"What are you doing?"  Simon's voice was filled with incredulity.

"Book, words, reading . . . you have heard of it?"

"But isn't there something that we have to do?"

"Yeah, relax."  Blair looked up from his book, his eyes round and innocent.  "Look.  This is going to take a while.  I want all of his senses to cut off.  So, take a seat, and do deep breathing or something."

Blair focused back on his book.  Internally he wasn't half as relaxed or nonchalant as he pretended to be.  But distracting himself with a book -- he looked at the title again to remind himself of the subject -- was the only way to keep from running worst-case scenarios through his brain.  So instead, he read.

******

Jim opened his eyes and for a moment panicked.  Utter blackness.  He couldn't move, couldn't hear, couldn't feel, and couldn't see.  He closed his eyes, opened them again, realizing that there wasn't any light whatsoever in this place, wherever that would be.

Peacefulness.  Tranquility.  It calmed his spirit and he took a deep breath.  Symbolic of course, who needs to breathe on the spirit plane.  Heck, if he could go four and a half weeks without eating, what's a breath here and there?

He floated on a sea of inky blackness, reflecting on the past couple of weeks.   He had to admit that he was sick and tired of his spirit being yanked about like a leaf blowing in the wind.  But this place was kinda nice.  Not that he'd like to live there, but there was something about release from the constant bombardment of his sense that touched his inner core.  Here, he could just feel, not sense, just feel.  Emotions flitted briefly through his heart.  Joy at the newfound trust in his partner.  Sadness, at the lost years between himself and his father.  Hope, that he could rebuild the bridges that could span the gaps that their differences had created.  Regret, that this whole thing had had to happen in the first place.  Elation, that he was finally going to be where he belonged, with his Guide, protecting the Tribe.  He cleansed his soul with the emotional catharsis, free to feel in the solitude of his own mind.

He gradually became aware of something pulling at the fringes of his consciousness.  He strained to pinpoint the source of the pull.  Faintly . . . wait . . . there it was.

"listen . . . voice . . . come . . . time."  A primal instinct took over as his spirit sought the source of the compelling voice.  He let himself be pulled, unresisting, toward the real world, filled with its pain and suffering, but most of all filled with his friends, his duty and his Guide.

******

"Jim, I want you to start to listen to my voice.  Just let the sound begin to register.  Your dials are turning down, you're able to process all the stuff that you normally sense.  Come on, just listen to my voice.  It's time to rejoin the real world.  The jungle is nice and all, but they don't have Wonderburger, man."

Blair continued to drone in a low voice, the lilt steady and calming.  He picked up the microphone and pulled it with him so that he could see through the window to gauge Jim's reaction.  At first there was nothing.  Stillness.  Clamping down a well of despair, Blair continued his chant, tuning out the worried glances of Simon and Mr. Ellison.   Having an audience during this Sentinel-Guide song and dance routine was just a bit nerve wracking, and thinking of them in underwear to calm his nerves really wasn't something that struck him as appropriate.

He kept his eyes riveted on the floating form in the tank, watching for a sign, any sign that the Sentinel was returning.  There was a soft swoosh as a hand twitched, sending ripples over the still water.  A knee jerked and then the hand was rising, touching the cover of the tank.

"chief?"   The voice was raspy with disuse and Blair could barely hear it.  But it was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.  With a joyful shout, he tossed aside the microphone and struggled with the latches of the hatch.

"Jim!  Hold on, man.  We'll get you out of there!"  He threw back the cover.  Simon and William rushed to help, shocked out of their inactivity by Blair's joyous cry.  Jim's hand went to his face, struggling to remove the opaque goggles.

Blair reached in and after carefully pulling the glasses away from Jim's face, slipped them off the older man's face.  He then supported Jim as he attempted to sit up.

"Whoa there, big guy.  Your muscles aren't up to a lot of movement.  You haven't exactly been running marathons lately."

Like a newly born foal, knees shaking, Jim stood up.  Blair and William provided support, while Simon helped Jim get first one leg and then the other over the tank's rim.  Soon they had the trembling man seated on the wheelchair, sipping a glass of water.

Blair's grin threatened to split his face in two. Jim was back.

"Hand me that towel, will ya?"  Simon wordlessly handed over the fluffy towel that they had --with great foresight -- liberated from the loft.  Blair rubbed the towel over Jim's shoulders and head, gently wiping away the petroleum jelly and salt water.

"chief?"

"Yeah?" The hands stilled their circling motion.

"next time . . . "

"Uh huh?"

"leave out the grease.  disgusting." The mournful eyes coupled with the look of utter disgust -- heralded by a wrinkled nose -- put Blair in mind of a hound dog with a terminal case of mange.  Pathetic, yet endearing.

"Whatever you want man, whatever you want."  At this point, if Jim has suggested that they eat at Wonderburger for the next ten years, Blair probably would have agreed.  Simon merely looked on with something akin to fatherly pride, as if Jim had been born again and Blair was the one deserving the credit.  William held back, trying to remain unobtrusive as Sentinel and Guide reaffirmed their bond -- yet champing at the bit to begin the journey of reconciliation that had begun.

*****

"Come on, man!  You haven't been walking for a month!  You can't just go on as if you're ready to run a marathon."

"It's not a marathon, Sandburg.  It's a hallway.  The hallway to the van.  And I've been carted about in that contraption for four weeks now.  I'm walking out of here if it's the last thing I do."

"But that's my point, Jim!  You've got to . . . "

"Sandburg!  I trust you beyond any rational reason.  You're my Guide and my friend."  Blair's stern expression melted into a look of affection at Jim's declaration.  "But I'm damn well going to walk out of here!  Simon!  Give me a hand here."

Blair's sputtering retort was cut off as the doors swung shut behind the shuffling detective, comfortably ensconced in sweats, and his captain.  William placed a comforting hand on Blair's shoulder.

"Jimmy's always been head strong.  Best to let him do as much as he can.  Give him some room.  But . . . you probably know that."

Blair worried at his lower lip with his teeth, a faraway look in his eyes.

"It's probably the boxers.  Wet boxers.  Note to self: always carry a spare pair of boxers."  William blinked at the younger man's remark.  Blair immediately perked up.

"Hey, maybe I could do a chapter on the proportionality of a Sentinel's bad temper to the dampness of his boxers!  I could do a section on chaffing!"  William shook his head in confusion, as Blair happily packed up his bag, muttering to himself about the possibilities of silk and cotton.

*******

Jim grinned to himself as Blair muttered to himself.

"stupid sentinels.  don't listen.  stubborn."  To Blair's annoyance, by the time Jim reached the van, the Sentinel was actually walking on his own, unassisted.  Simon had hovered by, ostensibly playing the mother hen, but had been largely unneeded.  He had bid the pair farewell and told Jim to report for duty in  a week.  William invited them for dinner the next day and left them alone to recoup.

Jim had to admit that coming back from his comatose state had been extremely unpleasant; no muscle control, feeling weaker than he had ever been in his life.  While in the jungle he hadn't felt much of anything, and he honestly expected to return to his body as though nothing had happened.  The first few minutes in the tank had disuaded him of that.  But as each minute -- even as each second -- passed, Jim could feel the strength returning to muscles, blood surging through capillaries, expanding the tough flesh, infusing them with oxygen.  It was exhilarating, and Jim was positive he had never felt quite so alive.

Blair on the other hand, much to Jim's concern, was fading fast.  His face was haggard, and his heart rate which Jim had automatically been monitoring was spiking.  Blair had insisted on driving the van, refusing to relinquish the keys.  His mutters had punctuated the drive home, and by the time they pulled into the parking lot at the loft, the young man barely had the energy to pull the key from the ignition.

"You okay, Chief?"

Blair smiled wanly.

"Yeah.  Just kind of . . . anticlimactic, I guess."

"Tell me about it."  Jim nodded in agreement.

They took the elevator, both too wrung out to attempt the stairs, and Jim sighed contentedly as the elevators gears whirred and clicked.  Home sweet home.
They entered the loft, tossed keys into the basket, hung jackets on hooks and stared at each other.  These seemingly normal acts, that they had performed every day when returning to the loft, took on added proportion.  Jim was home.  He was doing things under his own power and life could return to what counted as normal in Cascade.

"Oh shit."  Blair's distressed exclamation broke in on Jim's basking in the comfort of the loft.  He quirked his eyebrow in question.

"I'm sorry, Jim.  I totally forgot about the whole bedroom thing.  We didn't get the beds put back.  I'll call Simon and see if he can come over and then . . . "

"Don't worry about it.  One more night won't . . . "

Jim broke off as Blair's heart rate jumped.  He found himself beside his Guide, not quite remembering having moved.  He managed to catch his falling friend.  A quick survey of Blair's vitals, coupled with the growling and noises of the younger man's stomach, made it clear to Jim what was plaguing his partner -- exhaustion and an absentmindedness that often caused Blair to forget to eat.

"Here, buddy, let's get you something to drink and then get you to bed."  He manhandled Blair to the couch, and fetched a glass of orange juice.  Freshly squeezed by the look of it -- bless Mike's generous heart.  After convincing Blair that drinking the juice first and *then* sleeping, would be the best plan of action, Blair obliged by downing the juice, making a face at the pulp and then slowly toppling sideways.

The Sentinel groaned as he gathered the limp form in his arms.  The stairs looked impossibly high, and completely out of the question.

"jim...break your back."  The sleepy voice that came from the tousled head resting on his shoulder, elicited a grin.

"Don't worry buddy.  I'm not up to climbing Mount Everest just yet."

"Mmmm"  A soft sigh sent a faint breath of air against Jim's cheek.

"Go to sleep."

"'kay."

Jim laid his burden on his bed in the cramped room, awkwardly getting the rails down without disturbing his armful.  After settling the exhausted young man under the thick cover, and having pulled off the hiking boots, Jim pondered the possibility of getting up from where he was sitting on the edge of the bed.  Nope.  It wasn't going to happen.  He had spent the last four weeks apart from the world.  Yet right now, all he wanted to do was sleep.  His pillow called its siren song and after a cursory check on his bed fellow, he sank back and succumbed to the beckoning  sleep.

*****

Blair twitched his nose.  Something was teasing the edge of his scent of smell.  He cracked an eye to see Jim leaning over him with a cup of hot chocolate.

"Hmmmm.  That smells, like, so good, man."

"Marshmallows and real cream.  Thought you could use the boost."  Blair stretched and sat up, the covers pooling down around his waist, his hair in disarray.  He was momentarily confused.  He was in Jim's bed, but in his room.  Memory flooded back and he rubbed his eyes with one hand as he reached blindly for the mug with the other, trusting Jim to put it safely in his grasp.

"So, when exactly is the last time you ate?"

Blair cast his memory back.

"Um . . . lunch?"

"What day?"

"Jim, you know perfectly well that it was yesterday.  Mike makes an awesome sandwich, by the way."  Blair sipped his drink, closing his eyes as the creamy liquid coated his tongue.  Mmmm, marshmallows.  "What's with the twenty questions?  I happen to know that you are perfectly aware that I forgot to eat supper, breakfast and lunch.  And that I only had two hours sleep.  You probably watched the whole thing anyway."

"Well, I figured that getting you to admit all of that would make you realize that you have to take care of yourself.  You're not much good as a Guide if you're falling flat on your face."

Blair blushed and ducked his head in embarrassment.  *Damn.  I've done it again.  When the hell am I going to get this Guide thing right?*  A hand on his chin brought his eyes up to meet Jim's.

"I didn't mean that in a bad way, Chief.  I just worry about you when you push yourself too far."

"I just had to help.  I...I only wanted to help you with your senses you know.  I didn't think anything bad would happen.  Honest."  Jim carefully took the mug and, placing it on the table, pulled his friend into a crushing hug.

"Blair, you have done so much for me, and I don't tell you that enough.  I trust you.  Now you have to trust me."

Blair's voice was muffled as he spoke.

"You really trust me?"

"You're the only Guide around here that I know of.  Of course  I do."

"Lend me the truck tomorrow?"

"Not on your life."
 
 


Finis