The Gorge
by Kira


Jim had paid a lot to install the new seatbelts. Blair was impressed at Jim's recognition of his less-than-stellar driving skills. Their propensity for reckless driving made having seatbelts a good idea. And the statistics show that your chances of surviving a crash with a seatbelt were much greater than when not wearing one.

*Well bully for statistics,* Blair mused as he dangled from his in the overturned truck. He struggled to extricate himself from the now strangling hold of the vinyl strip that was seriously threatening to reduce his chances of having children. And those were statistics that Blair was taking no chances with.

The buckle unlocked and Blair yelped as he fell unceremoniously onto the ceiling of the cab. The truck rested on its roof, having flipped over at least twice on its trip down the steep bank of the gorge. Blair had lost count of exactly how many times after his forehead had connected with the dashboard. He gingerly fingered the tender lump above his right eyebrow and winced.

With a heartfelt sigh, Blair began to catalogue his injuries. His right shoulder felt . . . wrong. A nagging pain in his belly warned him that something was wrong and his left knee was definitely twisted. But these were quickly pushed aside by adrenaline as he realized that Jim was not in the driver's side. Twilight made seeing with any clarity difficult without Sentinel vision, but the gaping space where the driver's door used to be was quite obvious even to Blair's eye.

*Oh god. Jim.*

Blair realized that water was slowly filling the cab's erstwhile roof. They had been chasing a carjacker through the undeveloped industrial region of Cascade and a patch of black ice had caught the Sentinel unaware. The resulting tailspin sent the truck through a guardrail and down the sharp gradient into a shallow creek.

Blair struggled to his knees, shivering as his water soaked jeans and left sleeve began chilling his skin. The passenger's door was buckled and twisted beyond any hope of opening so he crawled over to the driver's side, pushing aside the empty, dangling remains of Jim's seatbelt. He got to his feet and stumbled out of the creek, looking around for his partner.

"JIM? JIM? You okay, Jim?" Blair called, his voice raspy with repressed pain. Trying to ignore the protests of his body, he began to survey the surrounding valley. As he searched for Jim, Blair briefly considered trying to climb the slope in the vain hope of flagging down a car, but he realized that even with two good legs, he'd never make it.

"JIM?" Silence answered his call and the echo that sounded in the gorge cast a shadow of aloneness over Blair. His shivers became more pronounced and he began to rub his hands up and down his arms, trying to create heat. Any heat. *Cold and wet. Cold and wet. Why always cold and wet?* His gaze was drawn down the creek and his heart skipped a beat. A shadowy lump broke up the moon's reflection on the surface of the creek. A human-shaped lump that wasn't moving.

With impressive speed for a man with a bum leg, Blair limped to his partner's side and frantically dragged the unconscious man from the creek. *Oh god. How long was he facedown? Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgod.*

"Breathe Jim. Come on!" he grated as he checked for a pulse. A weak throb met his questing fingers and the blinding panic subsided slightly. Only to return when he realized the Sentinel wasn't breathing. Blair tilted Jim's head back and stuck a finger into his mouth to make sure the airway was clear. After pinching Jim's nose closed, Blair sealed his lips over Jim and began to breathe for his Sentinel.

"Come on. Come on." It was like a mantra. He continued to push air into Jim's lungs, pausing after each breath to see if Jim's chest was moving. Just as Blair's sight was getting spotty and he felt like he was hyperventilating, Jim choked once and began to spit up water. Blair eased the large man onto his side, hoping that there wasn't any serious damage that he was making worse.

"Jim? Can you hear me? Just hold on, okay?" Blair muttered, more to himself than his partner, as he tried to think of what he should do. "We'll be okay. Everything will be fine. Geez you're cold, Jim."

Blair shivered himself and he knew that his first priority had to be getting them warm.

"Go salvage what you can out of the truck, stupid," he admonished himself out loud. With a reassuring pat on the unconscious Sentinel's shoulder and quick whisper of "I'll be right back. Hold on, okay?" Blair went to the truck to see what was usable. Sloshing back into the creek, he peered into the cab. His cell phone bobbed gently in three pieces on a layer of water, useless. He managed to save a flashlight in the glove compartment from a wet fate, but its bulb was smashed and was as much use as the phone. Anything else that was loose in the cab had floated out and was probably emptying into the ocean by now. The bed of the truck and the cab formed a triangle, with a small space between the ground and the sides where Blair managed to squeeze through.

He murmured a quick prayer to whatever deity happened to be watching as he opened the air tight container that Jim insisted on having in the back to protect things when it rained. With a heartfelt prayer he pulled out the tightly wrapped sleeping bag. Jim had insisted on buying it for those long stakeouts where Blair often fell asleep. Pulling all nighters and working full days, juggling school and observing Jim, generally caught up with him during those long nights on stakeout. Jim said it made sense to have the bag so that Blair could nap more comfortably without draining the battery with the heater. Blair had been touched and now he was giving thanks for Jim's mother-henning.

He hurried back to his partner, limping and trying to keep the sleeping bag out of the water. Blair touched Jim's forehead and frowned. The detective's temperature had fallen even further.

"Come on Jim. Please wake up. Fight! Wake up!" Blair shook him slightly, rubbing his hands up and down the Sentinel's arms. But Jim was silent and still. The worried Guide ripped off a piece of his shirt and patted gently at the oozing gash on Jim's forehead, wondering what to do. *Okay. Jim's unconscious. He could have internal injuries. He's cold . . . I'm cold. And I only have one sleeping bag.*

"I hope you're happy, Jim. Just don't take advantage of me. I want my virtue intact, thank-you-very-much," Blair informed the senseless Sentinel.

He unzipped the bag and spread it out on a more or less dry patch of land. Then, lacking the efficiency of a nurse but making up for it with careful concern, Blair stripped his partner to his boxers and rolled him gently onto the makeshift bed. He skinned out of his own damp clothes, curled up at Jim's side, pulled the comatose man's head onto his shoulder and awkwardly zipped up the bag. He was barely able to close the zipper, but after some cursing and pulling the two were cocooned within the dry bag.

Jim remained stubbornly unconscious and Blair couldn't hold back his worry. Questions ran through his mind in a torrent. How hard had Jim hit his head? Were there unseen injuries? Did he make it worse by moving him? When would people start looking for them?

"Anytime you feel like waking up, man, is fine by me. Just don't kill me before asking how we ended up together in a sleeping bag, okay?" Blair paused in his monologue.

"Just don't leave me alone, okay? I don't think I could handle it. I mean it, Jim. You've got to fight. All my life, people have left me alone. Until you. You're my best friend and best friends don't leave. It's in the contract. Bet you didn't know that, huh?"

His shivering was slowly diminishing as his body heat warmed the insulation in the bag,creating a small cavern of warmth around their bodies. To get more comfortable he wrapped an arm around Jim's waist and hugged his partner gently. It granted Blair comfort, even if the gesture didn't do much to generate heat.

"please wake up jim. i don't know what to do." The whispered plea went unheard by his Blessed Protector, as the care and protection normally assigned to the Sentinel was placed onto the uncertain shoulders of the Guide. Blair dozed lightly, jerking awake at the sounds of the night: the creek, the wind. The night wore on and Blair's worry was growing, at the lack of any response from Jim.

*If this is what you go through every time I get hurt then I promise - if you wake up, I'll be more careful. I promise. But you've got to wake up, Jim.*

Blair was jerked out of a doze as Jim began to thrash within the confines of the bag. *Oh god. He's convulsing!*

Jim bucked and shook and in the process elbowed Blair in his already tender stomach, sending sharp stabbing pains through his right side. Jim's other elbow managed to catch Blair in the groin and a errant hand that worked its way out of the sleeping bag, caught the side of Blair's head. Even unconscious the Sentinel had perfect aim as he struck the sensitive bump that already graces Blair's temple.

Ears ringing, wanting desperately to double over, but hampered by the confining quarters of the sleeping bag, Blair tried to sooth his distressed Sentinel.

"Jim, can you hear me? It's going to be okay. Can you hear me? How 'bout I just keep talking just in case. ust imagine yourself on a beach. Yeah, I know it's cliched, but work with me here. A beach, somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, it's warm, there are like hordes of beautiful women. Good food...did I mention warm?" Blair managed to work a hand out of the bag and stroked Jim's face, the other hand rubbing circles on the broad back. Blair continued to murmur gently into Jim's ear. The spasming muscles slowly calmed until Jim rested limp against his Guide.

"chief?" Blair started, as the soft moan reached his ears. The arm that was resting at his side twitched and a hand patted at his hip.

"Hey, man. How ya feel?"

Blue eyes squinted, blinking dazedly as they surveyed the scene before them.

"what....where...." Jim trailed off as he realized exactly how close he was to his partner. Blair grinned impishly as his nose almost brushed Jim's.

"Hey, Jim. I'll have you know I never say 'no' on the first date?" Blair managed to keep his laughter contained, though he almost allowed slightly hysterical giggles to escape.

"better.. have... splanation...latr."

"Sure Jim. Right now, you just rest while I figure out what I'm going to do." He gingerly maneuvered them so that he was able to unzip the bag, slip out and seal Jim back within his cocoon of warmth. Now that Jim was generating his own body heat Blair felt a bit more secure. He shivered as he pulled on his still damp jeans and his coat, the night air biting at his fingers and face. His fingers fumbled as he tried to tie his hikers and he clumsily knotted the laces. He hunkered down beside the prone detective and propped Jim's head up with a pair of rolled up pants. Jim made as though to sit up, but Blair easily kept him down with a hand to the shoulder.

"whr...goin'?"

"I'm just going to walk a ways down the creek to see if there's a way up the bank. I'll be back in a few minutes, okay? Don't move, you might have internal injuries. Stay in the sleeping bag." Blair mimicked Jim's stay-in-the-truck voice. A weak laugh was followed by a hacking cough that shook Jim's frame.

"cm bck."

"I will."

"prmise"

"Promise."

Jim closed his eyes, unable to maintain any control in his dazed state, content for the moment to trust his Guide. Blair tucked the sleeping bag around Jim's chin and with what he hoped was a reassuring pat, stood up.

Blair picked his way along the creek, favouring his knee and trying to avoid stepping in overly deep water. The sides of the ravine loomed steeply on either side, and when Blair looked up all he could see was a sliver of star dotted sky.

"Hey Jim, just in case you're listening in. The next time you're compelled to catch a car thief, how 'bout you let me drive. God knows I've been easier on cars. Why is it that you don't trust me with the truck anyhow? It's not like you treat her like fine china or anything. I'm starting to think you don't appreciate a classic when you have one."

Blair was beginning to think that he'd end up at the ocean before there would be a place for him to climb out of the ravine. Not wanting to go too far from Jim, he studied the steep banks on either side of him, racking his brain for a way to get out.

He let loose with a long sigh, rubbing his stomach which continued to ache and rotated his shoulder to see if it would loosen up with the exercise. *This is pointless. Maybe Simon will send someone looking for us.* Blair tried to remember if he had called for backup or if Jim had radioed their position. *I guess I hit my head harder than I thought.* Taking one last look up the ravine before starting back towards Jim, he winced as his knee protested the uneven ground.

Blair started as a twig snapped behind him.

"Don't move." A raspy voice and a metallic click that Blair would recognize anywhere froze him in his place. The cold barrel of a gun came to rest against the back of his neck.

"See, Dave? I told you that the guys that were chasing me went over the edge. There were two of them. The hippie here must have a partner around here somewhere. Their truck's gotta be around here somewhere." A hand grabbed Blair's wrist in a vise like grip and wrenched it behind his back, up towards his shoulder blades. A beam of light blinded him and he squinted, trying to see his captors.

"What a fuck up, Mac. I can't believe you risked our whole operation for a stupid car. You realize that if you had been caught we wouldn't ever have seen the light of day again? I'm tired of cleaning up your problems." The man holding Blair gave the observer a slight shake and Blair tried to stifle a moan.

Blair felt as though he had been dropped into a movie and someone had forgotten to give him the script. *Who the hell are these guys?* It was obvious to Blair that the carjacker had returned, but why the thief would do so was beyond him.

"You realize that we have to kill them. If the cops i.d. you, we'd all go down."

"Another body? I don't know if that's a great idea. The odds are they won't find Johnson, but the more bodies the greater the chance that we'll be found out. This is getting too complicated. Johnson, I could understand 'cause he backstabbed us, but cops?"

"You want to go down in history as the guy who got busted for the biggest drug production lab in the US? Do you? I have no intention of giving up one hundred million dollars for two cops."

After wondering to himself why he could never be involved in a normal investigation, Blair decided that it was time he put in a few choice words.

"Man, you so do not want to do that. Cop killers, they always get caught." At the sharp twist on his arm, Blair began to panic. Obviously the carjacker had returned to take care of possible witnesses. *Keep them away from Jim. Protect the Sentinel.*

"Well, we'll just have to make sure that no one ever finds your body" He brought his gun up, running it slowly across Blair's cheek and down to his jaw line. A hand grabbed a fistful of curls, yanking Blair's head back as the gun came to rest under his chin. Dave pressed the barrel painfully against his chin and cocked the gun.

"Say your prayers."

Blair closed his eyes, wondering how he'd get out of this. They popped open in a moment of inspiration.

"Listen man, you kill me and you're screwed. My partner's gone to get help, he left about two hours ago. He'll be back and when I'm missing, he'll know something's wrong. You so don't want to kill me." Blair resisted the urge to continue babbling. He swallowed painfully, meeting the stony eyes of the man gripping the gun.

"He's got a point," Mac muttered to his partner. Dave slowly eased the pressure on Blair's chin.

"So now what? Do we got ourselves a hostage or what. What do we do?"

"Let's take him back to the lab and keep him there until things calm down and we figure out what to do. Let's go." Dave pulled his gun away and Mac tightened his grip on Blair's wrist. Mac's breath was hot on Blair's neck as he bent close to the shorter man's ear.

"You try anything and I'll break your arm. Then I'll get my partner to shoot you in the knee. Got it?"

Blair nodded, nervous sweat trailing an icy path down the middle of his back. He swallowed nervously. As long as he kept them away from Jim there was a chance that he'd get out of this alive.

*****

Jim floated in a warm haze. He laughed inwardly as he listened to Blair bitch and complain about his driving skills.

*gotta remember to let him drive sometimes.* Jim drifted pleasantly, dialing down pain as it occurred. Sometimes being a Sentinel was a real bonus. The sleeping bag surrounded him and he wondered about the compromising position that he had awoken to. More fodder for the rumour mill. With a weak grin, Jim burrowed further into the flannel lining of the sleeping bag. *So tired...wait for Blair....wait...* Jim slowly succumbed to exhaustion

Opening his eyes, the Sentinel winced as his vision spiked. He wondered how long he had been out. His head pounded and he found himself wishing for the sound of his Guide's voice. The sound of his Guide's voice... It wasn't there. His Blessed Protector instincts fired up and he dialed his hearing up as far as he could, tuning past the sounds of the creek, the wind in the bushes, the chirp of crickets; scanning like a radar for the heartbeat that he knew as well as his own.

//let's take him back to the lab...figure out..//

//try anything...break...shoot you....//

There were voices. Voices talking to his Guide, whose heartbeat was pounding.

*Guide in trouble.* With clumsy fingers Jim struggled to open the sleeping bag. He cursed as the teeth of the zip stuck and then yielded to his insistent pressure. He sat up, clutching his stomach as nausea swept over him. He struggled to hold on to his composure.

*I will not... be sick, I will not... be sick.* He chanted to himself, following the pattern Blair had used in the doctor's office. His body wasn't listening however and he lurched to his knees, retching violently. His stomach spasmed painfully as all that came up was foul tasting bile. *Pull yourself together. Your Guide needs you. *

He managed to stumble to his feet, gasping as the rocky ground bit into the soles of his feet. As his senses spiralled out of control, he could feel every pebble, every grain of dirt like a thousand pins on the bottoms of his feet. He stepped onto the sleeping bag and sank down onto his knees, sighing at the respite. He stretched out his arm to snag his shoes which were haphazardly thrown on top of his clothes.

*God, he even undresses people sloppily.* Jim paused a second at the mental image of Blair undressing him, shuddered, and proceeded to slowly pull on his shirt, pants and coat, followed by socks and shoes...all damp. He staggered to his feet, threatening his stomach with an algae shake if it dared rebel on him again. He managed to take five steps before his vision swam. *Oh no...*

The Sentinel's eyes rolled back in his head and he crumpled slowly into a heap.

*****

"Damn it, I don't care if the rest of the units are tied up...I've got a missing detective and missing civilian observer. I want every available unit, wake up some uniforms....Yes, we'll pay overtime....No, I don't care. Just do it. NOW." Captain Simon Banks slammed down the phone. It had been four hours since Jim had radioed in their location. His detective had managed to blurt out something about a carjacker and request that back up be standing by before signing off. That was the last he had heard from them. Simon had waited for the request for back up and failing to hear from them again had sent out Rafe and Brown to locate the missing duo. They had returned, empty-handed. His captain sense had started tingling, so he had sent out the call for reinforcements to widen the search.

"Captain, we've got them!"

Simon jerked his head up as Rafe burst through the door.

"Where?"

"At the industrial park. Jim's been taken to Cascade General."

"The hospital?" Simon grabbed his coat and herded Rafe out of the office. "Let's go."

The sun was beginning to rise as the Major Crimes Department, consisting of Simon, Rafe and Brown descended upon the hapless admitting nurse at Cascade General Hospital.

"Gentlemen, let me guess. You're here for our most recent acquisition, Detective Ellison?" She smiled reassuringly. "He's in room three. Perhaps you can help the doctor convince him that he really should stay in bed."

"Rafe, Brown. Find Sandburg. He's probably around here somewhere if he's not with Jim." Simon stalked off to see to Jim. He reached the door to room three in time to hear the end of the doctor's tirade.

"....concussion. You can't expect to get up as if nothing happened. You *can* expect to have bouts of nausea and blurred vision and a whopping headache. Please, lay back down."

"No. I have to go. You don't understand."

"Understand what, Jim?" Simon boomed as he walked in. He winced as he got his first glimpse of the injured detective. Bruises covered almost every part of the man's skin that were visible and Simon was sure that they extended well beneath the hospital gown.

"Simon, you have to let me go out and look for him. He's all alone. They might kill him. We have to go."

"Captain Banks, nice to see you again. Could you please convince the detective that he's not superman and needs to rest?" The doctor shot Simon a piercing glance along with the request. "He's clearly not lucid. He keeps talking about hearing voices."

*Shit. Where's Sandburg when you need him? He's the obfuscator.* Simon tried to sort out the barrage of information.

"First things first. Where's Sandburg, Jim? I want to know what happened and you don't seem up to it. I thought he'd be here."

"Simon, they got him. He was hurt too and I heard...."

"Whoa there, Jim. Who has him?" Jim wiped a hand over his face, trying to order his thoughts.

"The carjacker. He came back and caught Blair. They were going to kill him but he convinced them to take him hostage instead." Jim pinched his nose with thumb and forefinger. Suddenly his eyes widened. "Simon, I recognize the jacker! He was a drug dealer I arrested a couple of weeks ago!"

"God, could this get any more complicated?" Simon asked the ceiling.

****

There were times Blair wished that he had never received that fax from his friend, informing him of a honest to goodness Sentinel. Like when he wanted to flush the toilet after ten, when he *really* wanted to ask a girl to stay the night, and when he wanted to play music so loud his ear drums ached for days afterwards. This was definitely one of those times. If he had never met James Ellison, cop and Sentinel, he would be cozily sitting in his warehouse...well okay he's be somewhere else, but he'd be preparing a lecture, or writing a paper, or reading a journal article. Anything but lying on his side on a really cold cement floor, his wrists tightly tied behind him, a dirty rag shoved down his throat and one ankle chained to pipe along the wall.

The two men had frog-marched him to a small path that allowed them to escape the depths of the gorge with relative ease. Blair's knee had almost given out, but he had persevered, not wanting to give the men any more excuse to deal with him permanently. Blair had huddled miserably in the back of the van as they drove further into the industrial area, eventually stopping at a warehouse that was not unlike Blair's old residence.

Dave and Mac were cut from two different molds, but both looked dangerous. Blair had gotten his first good look at the pair when they arrived at what Blair surmised was an impressive drug lab. Mac was the body builder type, taller than even Jim by about four inches, with bulging muscles everywhere that made Blair's own muscles ache with sympathy. What the man had in muscles though he lacked in brains....and hair, apparently preferring a bare skull, skinhead style. There was no way that Blair would ever beat the man in a hand-to-hand fight. He'd be squashed like a bug. A really small, insignificant bug.

Dave, on the other hand, was about as tall as Jim, with long stringy hair and the face of a weasel. A weasel with really big teeth. As the self proclaimed leader, he had taken every opportunity on the drive over to demonstrate his leadership, poking Blair with his gun, showing him a very large hunting knife and telling him what he wanted to do with it, along with throwing a couple of assorted punches and halfhearted kicks to Blair's already abused body.

When they arrived at their destination, Blair had been dumped into a room the size of a storage closet, trussed, shackled and gagged. In the hours that passed, Blair began to feel the effects of his injuries. His worry for Jim had kept him from really feeling much of anything. But the adrenaline rush was slowly losing its anesthetizing effect.

Blair moaned into the gag as his belly cramped. He was pretty sure that something was seriously wrong in there and if this lasted much longer, Dave and Mac wouldn't have to worry about killing him themselves. His fingers were numb, feeling like thick fleshy sausages, as the bulky ropes cut off his circulation. He had been slipping in and out of a doze, relinquishing his hold on consciousness whenever the pain became to much, which was starting to be more often than not.

*Don't lose it. Not now. You've gotta get outta here. Think.* Blair knew that the odds of Jim finding him were slim. The pressure was on him to get himself out of this. He would have laughed if he could have. *That's rich. You're tied up like a...a...a whatever and you think you can get out? Go ahead Houdini, give it a shot.*

*Oh yeah? Just watch me!* Blair shook his head. It was bad enough to talk to yourself, but when you started answering back, then you had to worry. But he had a point. If he had any chance of making it out of this alive, he had to get free. It was as simple...or as complicated, depending on your view... as that.

****

"Gentlemen, I really must object. Detective Ellison is in need of bed rest and ought to remain here overnight."

"Doc, as much as I'd like to, that's not an option. My partner's out there somewhere and he needs me. So go get the discharge papers, or whatever waivers you want me to sign and let me out of here." Jim turned pleading eyes to his boss. "Come on, Simon. Back me on this."

"You heard the man, Doctor. Lets get this over with."

Twenty minutes later, Jim had changed into fresh clothing that Rafe had picked up from the loft and was champing at the bit. He paced the sidewalk as Simon brought the car around to the entrance of the hospital.

"So Jim, where do we start?" Simon asked while waiting to pull out into traffic.

"The ravine where we crashed. There's got to be some clue there somewhere. I heard them say something about a lab. They said they were going to bring him back to a lab."

Simon turned right, in the direction of the industrial park.

"Jim, this whole thing is bizarre. Why would a carjacker, even if he was a drug dealer you busted before, come back to the scene of an accident that would keep you from following him? It just doesn't make sense."

"I've been thinking about that too. What if he thought we were chasing him for something else? He said he was bringing Blair to a drug lab, so maybe he thought that we were trying to bust him on drug charges. Who knows? All I know is that there was another man, someone else who wasn't with him during the chase. So he went and met this guy and then they decide to return to the accident and 'take care' of us. And Blair convinced them not to kill him somehow."

"Sandburg could talk his way out of anything. What I want to know is how we're supposed to find him."

"We'll find him Simon. I'm just worried about what shape he'll be in when we do. He must have been hurt in the crash and God knows what those two have done with him." The two men fell silent at that revelation and the car rushed towards the scene of the accident, its two occupants wrapped up in their worries about a partner, a guide, an observer and above all, a close friend.

*****

After a few half-hearted attempts at sitting up, Blair finally pulled himself up and managed to remain upright, blinking owlishly in the dim light. The small window set high in the wall he was resting against allowed a few weak sunbeams in through the layers of grime that covered the glass. He tried to blink sweat out of his eyes and blew at some strands of hair that had pulled loose from the elastic band. They refused to budge, tickling his nose infuriatingly. He shifted from one hip to the other, trying to ease the strain on his side and what he was guessing were a couple of broken ribs. Closing his eyes, Blair tried to resist the urge to sink into the deep abyss of unconsciousness. He swallowed painfully around the gag and shifted again. His eyes popped wide open. He shifted again.

*No way. They couldn't be -that- stupid. *

But they had been. When shifting, Blair had felt the Swiss army knife residing in his back pocket. He sent up a silent thanks to any listening deity for dumb criminals around the world and another for his mother's insistence that yoga was the way to eternal bodily agility. Painfully stretching his already abused right shoulder, he managed to ruck up his shirt and wriggle two of his fingers into his left pocket. His fingertips brushed the handle of the knife and he groaned. He'd need a few more centimeters. He took a deep breath, exhaled and stretched to the limit, straining his shoulder unbearably. With a sob, he managed to cajole the knife out of the pocket. It fell to the floor with a mute 'click'. Blair collapsed against the wall as the penknife gained its liberty and offered Blair the chance to do the same.

*****

*It's like having a dog,* Simon mused. He had fond memories of times when, as a kid, he had gone with his father on hunting trips with his dad's friends. Simon had always loved the hound dogs. They would cavort around, jumping and licking and then they'd be on the scent, working, focused. Jim was just like those dogs at times, like now. He was currently tracing Blair's scent up the ravine from the wreck of the truck, hoping to find a clue as to where the kidnappers could have taken the young observer. Just like those dogs. Well, except for the jumping and licking part.

"He was stopped here, Simon. I can smell the gun oil." Jim pointed to the place in front of him and then scanned further up the ravine. "They went that way. There's a path up ahead."

As the two men climbed up the slope, Simon marveled at Jim's tenacity. *Like a bull dog with a bone,* Simon thought, amused at yet another dog-like characteristic. Maybe the panther was the wrong spirit guide.

The truck wreck had sent shivers down Simon's spine. The windshield had been smashed, creating web like pattern radiating out from where Jim's head had apparently smacked into the glass. *Thank god he's hard headed in more than just one way.*

Sure it had been bad, but it could have been worse. Much worse. But it was still bad enough that he knew Jim should not be out in the early dawn, hiking about in gorges and scaling steep banks. He almost said as much to Jim, but the look of despair on the Sentinel's face made him pause.

"They drove off from here towards the inner part of the park. There are a couple of tracks going off in that direction, but there's no oil trail, no gas trail, nothing." Jim's shoulders slumped in defeat as he stared in the direction the kidnappers had gone, seeing Sentinel-knew-what. "I can't find him, Simon. He protected me and I can't do the same for him."

Simon placed a comforting hand on Jim's shoulder, an action reminiscent of Blair's familiar gestures when guiding his charge.

"Jim, we aren't going to give up. Let's go back to the department and do some brainstorming with Rafe and Brown about how to find him. I'll start a search while we figure out a strategy to find Sandburg. Okay?" The haggard looking man didn't resist as Simon slowly guided him back towards where they had left Simon's car, further up the road.

By the time they arrived back at the department, Rafe and Henri had commandeered a conference room. A map of the industrial park was pinned to one wall, another wall held pictures of the drug dealer-would-be-carjacker. Other photos graced the wall around the mug shot. Rhonda gave a small smile as the two weary men walked through the door.

"Here, you two look like you could use some coffee." She pressed two steaming cups into their hands and pushed them towards a small tray of fruit and muffins. "Keep up your energy, guys."

Simon surveyed the small group in the room, consisting of himself, Jim, Rafe, Brown, and Taggert. All sported wrinkled clothes, tired eyes and open concern for their favorite -- although they'd deny it if pressed -- observer.

"Okay gentlemen. These are the facts. Jim and Sandburg were pursuing a carjacker and took a spill. The best we can figure, the carjacker came back because he was worried about being discovered." Simon sat back and motioned for Rafe to begin.

"Henri and I did some digging. Turns out the drug dealer is none other than Mac Strawson. Petty thief, big time drug maker and dealer. Jim said that there was at least one other person, so we pulled up any related files, people he might contact and so on. The family portraits we have up on the wall are possible suspects." Rafe pointed at the collection of pictures.

"Good. What about a location? Knowing who did it won't help us unless we can pin down where they're hiding."

Taggert jumped in.

"I started the search when you called it in. We've got ten units looking for any activity. A robbery across town is limiting the number of cars, but I called in a couple of off duty people who are going by foot."

Jim rubbed his hand over his face. The caffeine in the coffee was waking him up a bit, but only seemed to be making his heart go faster and his head pound even more.

"Can we get records on the buildings? See if there's a connection between any of our friends on the wall and a lease or a deed?"

"It's on its way," Brown replied. "He'll be okay, Jim. We'll find him."

Jim simply looked at the younger man with bleary, world-weary eyes.

"Yeah Brown. That's what everyone keeps telling me."

The coffee had gotten cold and no one cared. Rafe and Jim were shifting through each mortgage on each property within the industrial park. Simon and Henri were calling in all of the favours from snitches that they could find. It was getting late and every minute that Blair was missing was a minute that diminished his chances of ever being found. Alive, that is.

"Captain! We've got reports of an explosion and shots fired in the industrial park. One of the warehouses!"

The relatively quiet bullpen erupted into chaos as jackets were snatched and guns were checked as the detectives ran on mass towards the elevator.

*****

Clutching his aching ribs, Blair struggled to his feet. After spending what seemed like an eternity sawing away at the ropes until they had finally given way, Blair massaged his wrists wincing at the pain that heralded returning circulation. The resulting pins and needles competed with his headache, throbbing stomach and broken ribs for attention.

He finally took stock of the room that was his prison, having been preoccupied with his bonds. The window was too small for even him to get through, so that was out. Empty shelves offered little hope. There was a small cardboard box, which revealed some containers of caustic cleaners, a pair of cleaning gloves, one shriveled sponge, a roll of moldy paper towels, an empty package of cigarettes and a box of matches. Leftover janitorial junk. Nothing that could possibly help. He couldn't see a lock on the door.

*But that's a moot point,* he reminded himself about the metal cuff on his right ankle. It wasn't overly tight, but there was no way he could get his foot through it. It was padlocked, and Mac had the key. The three-foot chain was attached with another padlock to a section of pipe that ran along the wall at the floorboard. Not good. The anger, frustration and worry that had been building up within him spilled out. Blair swore and kicked violently at the pipe, forgetting his injured knee and regretting it instantly. He hopped on his right leg waiting for the sharp pain to subside.

And then stared in amazement as the pipe detached in a two-foot segment that rolled slowly to rest against Blair's foot. Blair stood looking at the offensive piece of metal, simply staring. Wondering what sort of cosmic payment he'd be doing for this luck in the future.

*Don't look a gift pipe in the drain* His mind giggled at him. He picked up of the pipe and slid the chain along it, only to have the chain stick at the soldered joint. There was a similar joint at the other end. There was no way to slide the chain off.

*Okay, you're not chained to the wall, but you have to lug this pipe around with you. You can do that. Simple.* The chain clanked loudly as he hefted the pipe in his hands. *You'll never sneak out with that noise.*

Blair looked back to the cardboard box. He looked at the chain. A plan began to form.

****

When the detectives arrived at the scene, pandemonium reigned. Thick black smoke was pouring from the windows on the west side of the warehouse. Twelve units had responded to the call and were placed strategically in a semicircle with the focal point a large steel door. A fire truck with a complement of fire fighters stood by, waiting for the go ahead. Simon grabbed an officer and took charge.

"Give me a report."

"We've got at least one man inside with a hostage. He's armed and has taken some pot shots at us. He said he'll kill the hostage if we don't pull back. The negotiator is on the way, ETA ten minutes."

"We don't have that time," Jim interrupted, extending his hearing past the crowd and the roar of the fire.

//ought...kill you now....//

//man...don't....please//

There was the sound of a struggle.

//don't...shoot you man...//

There was a shot. Unprepared, with his hearing dialed up, Jim was caught unawares and the retort sent a stabbing pain through his eardrums, sowing the seeds of a headache. As a group, the officers and detectives had taken cover at the shot and crouched waiting, unsure of what would happen next. The steel door slowly creaked upon and a figure came to stand at the door, a gun in his left hand. Jim extended his vision to see past the silhouetting effect of the internal fire, made out the features of the man standing in the door and promptly fainted.

Simon never would be clear on what exactly happened in the next few minutes. He was standing beside Jim and managed to catch him as the man slowly crumpled. While he was preoccupied with his armful of Sentinel, the other officers swarmed the figure in the door, tackling him and forcing him to his stomach, cuffing his wrists behind him.

By time Simon was able to pass off his burden to the paramedics, the warehouse was secure. Simon strode decisively through the throng of officers at the entrance to the warehouse, using his imposing size to muscle past the milling crowd of officers. He pushed past the Rafe and stood staring at the scene in the warehouse. In the far corner to his right, a smouldering van, the source of the smoke, was being hosed down with a thick layer of foam by the firefighters. To his left, a tall lanky man lay on the floor, unmoving. Simon heard cursing and finally located the source as he looked up, squinting in the smoky light. A big man hung by his belt about four meters from the floor. Simon almost laughed at the comical sight. But then the data began to process. *Sandburg. Where was Sandburg?*

Then it clicked. He swore and like a bull charging a toreador he single-mindedly ran back outside, heedlessly shoving people out of his way. The crowd parted like the Red Sea. In a circle of cops knelt a bedraggled Sandburg, in a torn T-shirt, a vacant look in his eyes and his hair straggling out of the elastic band. The young observer was simply staring at some point in front of him, focused on something that only he could see.

"You idiots! That's the victim! Get those cuffs of him!" Not waiting for the officers to respond he flung himself onto his knees beside Blair who didn't respond to his presence. He grabbed a set of proffered keys and gently unlocked the cuffs, tossing them aside, wondering how on earth such a mistake was made. He himself had just assumed that Blair had still been inside. He pulled the younger man's arms from behind him, gentling the motion as the movement elicited a soft moan. Simon cupped Blair's face in a large hand and pulled the younger man's head around to look at him as he guided the battered body into a more comfortable position. Blair's eyes slowly focused on the captain's face.

"Simon?" The observer's voice was raspy and Simon winced with sympathetic pain.

"Its okay, son. You'll be fine. You're safe."

"I shot him, Simon. I shot Dave. Is he okay?" Simon's heart clenched. Blair had always been adamant in his refusal to carry a weapon. And while both Jim and Simon had been worried that the young observer would not be able to defend himself, they were glad that his refusal to carry a gun meant that they probably would never have to deal with the trauma of Blair having to shoot someone. But now it had come to pass.

"It'll be okay. You didn't do anything wrong. Just relax." Blair stared blankly at Simon for a moment before grabbing frantically at the big man's coat sleeve.

"Jim! You've gotta go get Jim. He's in the sleeping bag. He's hurt!" Simon patted the hand on his arm.

"Shhh. He's okay. He's just over there at the other ambulance getting treated. He didn't want to stop before you were safe." Blair began to tremble, shivering with pain, cold and exhaustion. Simon carefully enfolded Blair in his arms, hugging him gently to chest, where he could feel the fever burning on Blair's skin. Blair sank gratefully into the embrace, seeking the shelter and comfort that he had needed since the truck had meet its demise.

A paramedic approached, ready to treat the injured parties.

"Captain, we've sent Ellison to the hospital, for exhaustion and some aggravation of his earlier injuries. He'll be okay. We've also sent the gunshot victim to Cascade General. All that's left is for Mr. Sandburg to let us see what's wrong."

Simon began to encourage Blair to lie down on the stretcher that the paramedics produced, but the traumatized young man simply burrowed his face into the front of Simon's coat and trembled.

"Listen, he's been beaten up and has been through a real shock. Just give him a little time." Simon stroked the matted curls and rubbed Blair's back, as he adopted the mannerisms that carried Darryl through various nightmares and traumas of childhood. It actually wasn't that difficult to fall back into the parental role, lacking any better way to deal with the situation.

Rafe and Brown anxiously approached the pair.

"Captain, what the hell happened here?"

"I'll be damned if I know Rafe, I'll be damned if I know." Simon rocked the shaking man in his arms. *And we won't know until Blair can tell us*

*****

Blair tried the handle on the door. He knew that if this luck continued he'd be definitely paying for it in another life when the knob turned and the door opened beneath his touch. Of course, it makes sense that doors to janitor closets really aren't meant to keep supplies from getting *out* of rooms, but rather to keep people from getting *in*. He hefted the pipe in his right hand, getting a feel for its weight. The links on the chain were stuffed with the molding paper towels in a rather sorry, yet effective, attempt to muffle the noise.

He peeked through the crack he opened in the door and took in the warehouse. On the far side of the warehouse Blair could make out a slender form. Given the hair and the lankiness of the figure, Blair surmised that it was Dave who was busy tinkering with some bottles at table covered with plastic bags. The bags were filled with a white powder, containing what Blair could only surmise was drugs. The dealer's back was turned to the end of the warehouse housing the janitor's closet as well as the part of building relegated to vehicle storage. Near the closet, Mac stood with his head under the hood of the van, singing loudly to the music which was playing loudly from the van's radio.

Blair took a deep breath. He'd only have one chance at this. He hefted his 'silenced' pipe and opened the door. His heart thumped in his breast as he tried to keep an eye on both Dave (hoping beyond hope that he was completely engrossed in weighing drugs) and Mac (praying that the music would mask his footsteps and that the oil hadn't been changed in a long while). Blair sidled awkwardly along the wall, gripping the pipe so hard his knuckles were a bloodless white.

"Wild thing! Da da da da. You make my heart sing!" Mac belted out, very off key and out of synch with the radio.

"Don't quit your day job...." Blair warned under his breath as he pulled his arm back and swung with all his strength, knowing that he couldn't let the man make a sound. The pipe connected with a nasty *thwack* and the big man crumpled soundlessly over the interior of the van's engine. Blair glanced frantically back towards Dave, sure that the man would be holding the gun on him, ready to shoot.

Oblivious, the other kidnapper continued his work.

*Keys.* In a moment of inspiration, Blair remembered that Mac was the one who had locked the cuffs. With one last look to Dave, he pulled the heavier man off the engine and around to the side of van hidden from Dave's view should he turn around. Blair patted down the Mac's pants, feeling in his pockets. With a stifled cry he pulled a ring with about ten keys. Cursing his clumsy fingers, still numb from the bonds, the student managed to find the one that released the cuff from his ankle with a soft click. He bit his lip as he saw the ravaged flesh from where the cuff had gouged his ankle and the flecks of rust he could see on the unlocked cuff did nothing to assuage his fear.

"Mac! I like this song, crank the radio, man!" Blair peeked from behind the van to see that Dave hadn't actually turned around when making his request and reached through the passenger window to turn up the radio. Granted a bit of a reprieve, Blair crouched and took a couple of deep breaths which he immediately regretted as his ribs protested.

He know that he'd have to restrain Mac somehow, so that he would be free to deal with Dave without the worry of having the larger man wake up and interfering. *Think Sandburg. You've got to get him out of the way.* He looked about for ropes but came up empty. The length of chain wasn't long enough but the cuffs could be useful. Blair quickly cuffed Mac's hands behind his back. *Hmm. The van. Hey, I could ride right out of here!* A quick glance at the engine dissuaded him of that. Mac had been in the process of *really* cleaning it, and apparently that meant dismantling it in the process. The van was useless. He cast his eyes upward and the ceiling caught his eye.

The warehouse had been designed by the crooks, or by previous owners, in such a way that large freight could be moved from one end of the building to the other by means of hooks connected to pulley system that ran on tracks along the rafters. One chain and hook dangled tantalizingly nearby and Blair realized that he had one way of immobilizing Mac that would really get him out of the way. Dragging the chain by the hook, the oiled pulleys making a little bit of noise, but nothing that could be heard over the strains of a electric guitar solo from some band which probably spent a lot of time breaking things and screaming.

*Bad enough he's a megalomaniacal drug dealer, he's got to have bad taste in music too,* Blair mused idly as he clipped the hook through Mac's belt and flicked the switch which controlled the winch. Mac was soon dangling six meters above the floor, looking none to comfortable.

*Okay, one down, one to go. What now. Dave's the one with the gun which means making a run for it might end pretty badly. Unless....* Blair dug in his pocket for the book of matches. *A distraction. That's what I need. A distraction. A freakin' big distraction. And hey, what's one more car? We've already trashed one today, eh, Jim?* The urge to giggle uncontrollably was getting stronger as he gathered oil soaked rags into a pile.

Blair bent down to push the rags under the van and almost keeled over as a wave of nausea passed through him. He slumped against the side of the van. He wiped his forehead, leaving a smear of oil above his left eyebrow. *God, why is it so hot in here? My warehouse was never this hot.* A shiver up went up and down his spine, his muscles clenching painfully. The tremors which he had hoped were just a symptom of last night's cold air were back. *I should be cold if I'm shivering. Why am I so hot?* Sitting against the van he tried to gather his scattering thoughts. He rubbed the back of his hands across his eyes. *What was I doing. Oh yeah. A fire. Gotta build a fire, warm Jim up....no. Jim's not here. Dave. Distraction.* It was getting harder and harder to think as the fever ravaging his abused body rose.

Holding the book of matches in his hand he pulled off a match and tried, with trembling fingers, to pull it across the rough strip on the back of the paper booklet. The match gave in to the pressure and bent, the thin cardboard offering little resistance. Blair cursed. *Gotta get a fire.* Persistently, Blair tore match after match off the small booklet and all of them were either too damp to light or simply bent uselessly. Tears of frustration began to track down his face as his hope died with each broken and twisted match. Until the third to last match flared into a small point of yellow light.

With a sob, Blair cupped the precious flame behind his hand to protect it from any drafts. Waiting until more of the matchstick had caught on fire, he stretched out and held the flame against the rags under the van. The oil caught fire and flared a bright blue. A small voice in Blair's head was screaming at him to run. With a quick glance around the van to make sure Dave was still occupied, Blair darted back to the janitor's closet. He kept the door open a crack and watched with bated breath as the conflagration under the van grew, smoke beginning to spill from under the machine.

"Mac, what's that...?"

Dave's question was cut off at as the flames reached the gas tank. The van's gas tank exploded in a shower of hot metal parts. The power of the explosion knocked Dave off his feet back into the table. The table overturned, the bags of drugs spilling and bursting onto the floor. The door of the closet was blown in, sending Blair careening into the back wall, his head smacking into the concrete. As the stars cleared from his vision, he acted on instinct, surging to his feet in a rush of adrenaline.

He barreled out of the room, barely able to keep his balance as his vision blurred. Dave was pushing himself up off the overturned table and the van was on fire, thick black smoke starting to fill the warehouse. Making a beeline for the warehouse door, Blair had a hand on the handle, ready to push it open, when he was yanked backward by a sudden grip on the collar of his T-shirt.

"You little shit. Where the hell is Mac. What did you do to our van?" Dave punctuated each question with a rough shake. He followed Blair's dazed look up at the ceiling, and his jaw dropped at the sight of his friend dangling from a hook, swaying gently in the aftershock of the explosion. The drug dealer looked back down at his captive, glanced over at the mess of drugs that covered the floor like a fine sprinkling of flour. Blair felt the hand holding him clench, drawing the neck of the T-shirt tight against his throat. The rage in the taller man's eyes was almost tangible. Blair tried ineffectually to shrink away as Dave lowered his head, speaking in a furious hiss.

"No stay of execution this time. I've had enough. I've lost millions of dollars thanks to you, and I'm going to take each dollar out of your hide."

In desperation Blair lunged and sank his teeth deep into the arm that was waving the gun. Dave shouted in pain and surprise, cuffing Blair soundly with his hand. Blair reeled as he found himself suddenly freed from Dave's grasp. He could feel a trickle of blood on his stinging cheek where the skin had split. Both men tried to regain their balance, Dave clutching his arm, Blair rubbing his throat where the shirt had dug in.

It took a few seconds before Blair realized that Dave wasn't shooting him and furthermore, Dave wasn't even holding a gun anymore. Dave realized the same thing as he met Blair's eyes. They looked at where the weapon lay on the ground and simultaneously dove toward it. Powered by fear and adrenaline, Blair reached it first, grabbed it in both hands and pointed it towards the crook.

"D..d...don't even think about it, man." Blair rasped, as Dave tensed as though to rush him. Dave slowly raised his hands.

"All right. I'm not moving . . . see?" Dave eyes were riveted on the gun that Blair was clenching in a death grip, arms outstretched as though to keep the gun as far away as possible without relinquishing his hold. Minute tremors traveled up Blair's arms as he panted heavily, relief flooding through him at the sound of distant sirens, which filtered past the roar of the fire. Dave looked nervously at the door and then back to Blair, his arms still raised.

"Look, kid. Why don't we just go our separate ways? No harm, no foul," Dave began in a reasonable voice. "I'll go quietly out of the back before the cops get here. You can have Mac. He was nothing but trouble anyway. There's money in the case by the table. Take it. Just let me go out the door."

Blair looked at the man in disbelief. *For cryin' out loud. He says he'll kill me and now he wants to just forget it?*

Taking Blair's lack of response for agreement, Dave slowly began edging towards the back door. Blair squeezed off a round towards the ceiling. The shot echoing and making Dave jump.

"I said, don't move!"

"Oh yeah? What would you do? Shoot me? You don't have the guts. " Dave changed tactics, moving towards the shaking observer. "Go ahead tough guy. You ever shoot a man? See his brains fly everywhere? Feel the blood on your face?"

"Stop it. Just stop it." Blair's grip tightened as he tried to keep his arms steady.

"I have. I've killed a man. I ought to have killed you. Maybe I'll just have to kill you now."

"Stop it, man. Don't move. Please, I don't want to hurt you."

"Yeah, sure. Bring it on big man."

"I don't want to shoot you."

"I'm not going to give you a choice."

Blair watched with a curious feeling of detachment as Dave made his move. The taller man surged toward him, almost appearing to move in slow motion. Blair aimed the gun, arms rock steady as he squeezed the trigger. As he watched Dave fall to the ground, the sound of the gun's discharge didn't even register, nor did the recoil of the gun. The disembodied feeling only intensified as Blair lowered his arms, released his right hand's grip from the gun as he moved towards the door. He pushed it open, barely registering the flashing red and blue lights that assaulted his vision. He knew that people were shouting at him.

*Jim? Where are you Jim? Simon? Is Jim okay?* Blair wanted to talk, but his brain just wouldn't form the sentences. Suddenly hands were forcing him to the ground. He was surrounded by people shouting. He felt the gun wrenched from his left hand, his arms twisted behind his back and a cool metal circlet attached to one wrist and then the other. Panic set in momentarily as he was hauled to rest on his knees, a firm hand on his neck ensuring his submission. *No. Not again. Let me go. Jim. Please help me.* His eyes refused to focus and he was lost in a haze of disjointed memories of handcuffs and pain.

Then suddenly the press of bodies and voices was gone. The circlets were removed and large but gentle hands were guiding his arms in front of him, relieving the strain on his ribs. As his muscles protested, he couldn't help but whimper in pain. A hand cupped his jaw and when he tried really hard he managed to see the fuzzy face of . . .

"Simon?"

"Its okay, son. You'll be fine. You're safe."

"I shot him, Simon. I shot Dave. Is he okay?" Blair tried to order his thoughts, the memory of the shooting the gun burned into his memory.

"It'll be okay. You didn't do anything wrong. Just relax." Blair suddenly realized that he didn't see Jim. *What if no one had gone to help Jim?* Rallying to tell Simon this, Blair grabbed the captain's coat to get his attention.

"Jim! You've gotta go get Jim. He's in the sleeping bag. He's hurt!" Blair began to panic. He couldn't relax until he knew that Jim was safe. That it hadn't all been in vain.

"Shhh. He's okay. He's just over there at the other ambulance getting treated. He didn't want to stop before you were safe." With a quaking breath, Blair gave himself over the warmth that Simon's bulk provided. The cold permeated his bones and two warm arms came around him, pulling him close. Part of him snidely remarked that Simon would be giving him hell for this when everything toned down. But for now, Blair was content to drowsily float on the cloud of concern that he could almost touch. *Jim was safe.* Suddenly the comforting warmth was gone as the hands pushed him gently downward. In a sudden panic Blair burrowed back towards the warmth Simon had provided.

He was vaguely aware of Simon rocking him, much like Naomi used to when he had nightmares as a child. Then he succumbed to the darkness that was encroaching in his sight. Giving up the fight to keep awake. *Jim is safe.* Blackness enveloped him and he slumped bonelessly into Simon's arms

*****

Simon stood on guard over Jim's bed, wondering how a simple carjacking could have possibly disintegrated into the mess that he was left so clean up. Major drug dealers arrested, one wounded. Two men in hospital recovering from a car crash, exhaustion and a kidnapping. Seven million dollars worth of cocaine destroyed. What a day. A twitch of Jim's hand drew Simon's eye. Two bleary blue eyes peered up at him.

"Hey, Jim. How do you feel?" Simon spoke quietly, unsure as to how high Jim's dials were set.

"Simon, please tell me that there are elephants running about Cascade which just happened to sit on me while I wasn't looking."

"Sorry, Jim. Can't do that. Although you'd probably prefer that to the news that your insurance premiums are going to be sky-high."

"My truck?"

"Totaled."

"Damn."

"You said it."

There was a pause. Jim's eyes suddenly widened as memory slowly returned.

"Blair! Where's Blair?" The injured Sentinel struggled to sit up as he registered the absence of his guide.

Simon easily restrained his detective with a beefy hand on the man's shoulder. Jim's strength was at a low, and he was unable to resist the gentle pressure that kept him still.

"Take it easy, Jim. Blair's okay. He had some internal bleeding. But he's out of surgery and he's doing fine. They'll be bringing him in here after they release him from the recovery room. Relax."

Jim closed his eyes, sinking back on the bed. Simon knew that both Jim and Blair would fret until they were able to reassure themselves that the other was okay. For now Jim would have to be content with his captain's assurances. There was a knock at the door and a pretty nurse poked her head in.

"Ready to receive a roommate?" She grinned as Jim perked up. Simon saw the Sentinel tilt his head and realized that Jim was already checking up on his partner. A controlled chaos ensued, as Blair was wheeled into the room by the nurse with doctor and technicians in tow, and settled in the bed next to Jim's. Simon helped Jim sit up, cranking the bed to an upright position, so that he could look at his friend.

Blair was pale and still. Bruises marred the skin at his cheek and temple as well as his arms, which lay limp on top of the thin sheet. His shoulder was immobilized by a large bandage, and his wrists were carefully covered, hiding the painful scrapes left by the handcuffs.

"I'm Dr. MacDonald. Are you Captain Banks?" The doctor looked at the tall man for confirmation. She pushed her glasses up on her nose before scribbling madly on the report in her hand. Without even waiting for a response she barreled along.

"Of course you are. And that would make our other patient, Detective Ellison, hmmm?" She snatched up Jim's chart and glanced quickly over it.

"Looks okay here. Just some exhaustion brought on by exertion, which compounded the concussion. After being checked out of the hospital against medical advice. Hmmmm. Well, well."

"Is he going to be okay?" Simon almost snorted at the subdued sound of Jim's normally demanding question.

"Oh, yes. He'll be fine. We managed to stop the internal bleeding and replaced the blood that he lost. How he managed to keep going we'll never know. His shoulder was dislocated but popped itself back in nicely so we just don't want it moving about for a while to give the tendons a chance to recover. His knee is twisted, but nothing that won't be healed with some physical therapy and crutches. There was the worry of infection on his ankle but we cleaned it out and it doesn't look as bad as we initially thought. So, some TLC and some rest, and I do mean rest, and he'll be fine."

With a smile, Dr. MacDonald finished and patted Jim's hand.

"As for you, detective, you had better be a good example to your partner. We know all about you two. If you want Blair to get better than you have to set a precedence. Got it?"

Jim blushed as he realized how well they were both known in the hospital for their lack of cooperation in medical matters.

"Yes, ma'am." Simon didn't even attempt to hide his wide grin. Jim Ellison, Sentinel to the Great City, Cop of Year and ex-covert operative, cowed by this no-nonsense lady. Simon followed the doctor into the hallway.

"I'd like an update on the shotgun victim that was brought in with Sandburg. He's under arrest and I'd like to put him under guard."

"Oh, yes, the other trauma. Why don't you come with me and we'll sort that out?" She started off, not waiting for Simon to follow. Simon gave a quick wave to Jim, who barely acknowledged the gesture, before striding after the feisty physician.

******

Jim sat by Blair's bed, having forgone lying in his own for sitting in a plastic chair with Blair's hand in his own. The last hour had passed slowly as he waited for signs of awareness from his friend. But his patience was rewarded. His Sentinel ears picked up the signs of Blair's awakening long before the long lashes parted to reveal tired eyes. Jim leaned over, resting his elbow on the side of the bed and propping his head on his hand.

"Hey, Chief. You're going to be fine. Just a few bruises. What a pair, huh?" Blair pulled his hand from Jim's and reached up to stroke Jim's forehead near the scrape that was still vivid. Jim recaptured the hand and brought it back down to the bed.

"Don't worry about me. Just a bump, and *I* spent all night in a sleeping bag dreaming of pretty women on beaches. You on the other hand, you have to take on drug dealers and make the biggest drug bust in Cascade history." Jim grinned. He noticed Blair trying to lick his lips and offered him a few ice chips from the glass of water on the bedside table.

"gotta...let...me...drive." That elicited a laugh from Jim.

"Sure, buddy. You just get healed up." Jim was pretty sure that Blair was so drugged at the moment that he wouldn't remember any of this conversation. But Blair was slowly awakening, his eyes losing the haziness of drugs. His voice was stronger and clearer as he clutched Jim's hand tightly.

"Jim. I shot...I shot Dave. Is he okay? He wouldn't stop coming. I told him to stay away!"

"Calm down, buddy. I heard everything. Simon's gone to find out what happened to him. No matter what though, it was self-defense. You were hurt, confused and were protecting yourself."

Jim got up from the chair and carefully maneuvered himself so that he was sitting comfortably against the backboard and able to gently pull Blair against his chest.

"It'll be okay. No matter what."

The Sentinel continued to cradle his guide, prepared to protect him, against the threat of investigation of the shooting and against the inner threat of all-consuming guilt.

*****

Blair slowly awoke, wishing his mouth didn't feel like the Sahara, and that his head didn't feel like the bass drum in a marching band. A whimper made its way past his parched lips as he moved his leg, and a stabbing pain went from his ankle right up to his knee. Oddly enough though, he felt comfortably warm. He had been in the hospital numerous times and one distinct memory that plagued him about those experiences was that he always woke up cold. Moreover, his back was a nice toasty temperature which was at odds with the normal feeling that the moon-the-world hospital gown normally elicited.

Confused, Blair pulled his head off the similarly warm large pillow and realized that it wasn't a pillow at all. Jim sat on the edge of the bed against the headboard, cradling Blair in his arms. Blair looked up towards Jim's face and realized that Jim's lack of response wasn't because the bigger man was sleeping. The Sentinel's eyes were open and vacantly staring at the wall, mouth slightly open. He had zoned. Blair wasn't quite sure what his partner had zoned on or for how long and he winced as he tried to extricate himself from Jim's firm grasp.

"Jim? Yo, Jim. You wanna let go, man?" There was no effect. Footsteps at the door had Blair craning his neck to see who was entering the room.

"Sandburg, you're awake!" Simon looked incredibly happy, yet at the same time slightly uncomfortable about that. Weary lines creased the captain's face and his eyes were bloodshot behind his glasses. Blair flashed back to memories of those same eyes peering down at him in almost fatherly concern along with comforting arms that rocked him. Shaking himself back to the present, Blair decided repression was perhaps the wisest strategy. He'd tease Simon about his parental streak when the memories of pain were further away.

"Oh, hey, Simon. Mind giving me hand here? Jim zoned on something." Blair tried to twist in Jim's arms. Simon held a hand over what Blair could only describe as a smirk at the sight of the smaller man enveloped by Jim's bulky form. The captain stepped over to the bed and pulled at Jim's arms gently to no avail. Blair reached up awkwardly as best he could and patted Jim's face and whispered to him with Simon looking on.

With a jerk, Jim snapped out of the zone, his arms automatically tightening around Blair in reflex. At Blair's hiss of pain he immediately let go, helping his charge to lie down on the bed.

"Sorry Chief. You okay?" Blair smiled through the pain at Jim's concern.

"Oh yeah. Just need a new pair of lungs." At Jim's crestfallen face, the younger man put a hand out to touch the detective's arm. "Just kidding, Jim. How 'bout you? What were you zoned on?"

Blair watched as a flush traveled up Jim's neck to his face.

"um..it...itwasyourheartbeat." It took Blair a minute to sort out the rushed sentence.

"My heart?"

"Yeah. It was...calming. I needed to...connect." Jim struggled to describe the need to have tangible evidence that his partner was okay. There was an awkward silence as Blair processed the unusual admission that Jim *needed* him and as Jim pondered his acceptance of his dependence on Blair. Simon simply rocked on his heels, humming loudly. Ignorance was bliss. Blair broke the silence.

"Simon, Jim said that you were checking up on Dave. Is he okay?"

"Oh yes, our intrepid drug dealers. That's one good thing that happened to day. Sandburg..." Simon paused dramatically. "You shot Dave in the foot."

Blair blinked. Jim stared.

"In the foot? I shot him...in the foot?" Blair's voice was filled with a combination of relief and incredulity.

"Yes. In the foot."

Jim burst out laughing, and Simon broke into a broad grin. The worry that had plagued Blair about killing Dave dissipated, to be replaced with a profound sense of gratitude. Payback would be a doozy in his next life, but for now he wouldn't complain. Jim stood and began to stretch but realized he was only clad in the hospital gown and quickly retreated to the safety of his own bed on the other side of the room.

"Now you two just rest and recover. And Jim, rest means staying in bed. I have to go do paper work to clear up the aftermath of the latest installment of 'The Adventures of The Sentinel and the Anthropologist'. You kids play nice." With that parting shot, Simon departed with a wave.

Blair looked at Jim as Simon left. There were so many questions he wanted to ask. What had happened during those long hours he spent in the janitorial closet anyway?

"Sooooo...just how did they find you, Jim?"

"Patrol did actually. Simon mobilized the troops, and one of the units found me passed out next to the sleeping bag." Jim paused and looked as though a memory was surfacing.

"Chief? Just what was what you were saying about saying 'no' on a first date?"

Blair turned beet red. He had been hoping that Jim had conveniently forgotten that particular conversation, what with the concussion and the stress and all.

"Um. Well. I...I didn't want you to feel....um. You see....I was...."

"Diffusing a potentially volatile situation?" Jim offered helpfully, his innocent exterior betrayed by the glint of humor in his eyes.

"Exactly!" Blair conceded with a wide grin. Jim looked over at Blair, taking in the smile, his own faltering a bit.

"You know chief, you really took a chance in telling them that I wasn't gone. I heard some of the stuff you said, and..." Blair interrupted before Jim could continue his lecture.

"I had to keep them away from you, man. I knew that if anyone could find me that you could."

Jim fell into a contemplative silence. *If anyone could find him, I could.* But the fact was, he couldn't. He couldn't find Blair when his partner had needed him the most. His senses, his covert ops training, everything he had at his disposal weren't enough. He had still been unable to find Blair. It had all been a fluke.

"Jim?" Blair looked at his friend in worry.

"Just thinking, Chief."

"Yeah, well you can just stop it. That's my job. Besides, you'll just hurt yourself."

"Ha ha." The two men sat in their respective beds, reliving the previous night, realizing how close they had both come to losing one another. Blair was close to sleep, drowsing on a combination of drugs and exhaustion, when Jim spoke.

"Blair?"

"Hmmm?"

"Thanks."

"Right back at you, big guy."

******

Four days later, Jim was released from the hospital, but he remained by Blair's side still holding on to some of his guilt. Blair dozed between their card games while Jim watched the Jags on TV. It was late in the afternoon when Simon made his appearance.

"Jim. Could I talk to you outside for a minute?"

"Sure." Jim checked Blair's vitals. Once he was convinced that the sick student was still deeply asleep, followed Simon into the hall. "What's up, sir?"

Simon looked discomfited. Immediately the Blessed Protector in Jim reared its head.

"What is it, Simon? Tell me."

"It's Dave. He's dead." Jim stared at Simon as though he were speaking a foreign language.

"Dead?" The exclamation sounded loudly through the hall, drawing the attention of technicians and nurses. Jim ducked his head. "What do you mean dead?"

"He died last night."

"How? Blair shot him in the foot. You don't die from getting shot in the foot."

"Jim, he didn't die from the gun shot. He died from an infection."

"The bullet wound got infected?"

"Not quite."

"Simon!" Jim's frustration was becoming evident. "Would you just spill it?"

"The infections spread from...from a bite. A human bite."

Jim looked back through the door where Blair lay sleeping the sleep of the innocent.

"Are you telling me, sir, that Blair bit Dave, then shot him in the foot and that Dave died because of the bite."

Simon nodded. Jim stood still, his arms limp at his sides. He had no idea what to say, to Simon, and more importantly, to Blair. *I mean what do you say? 'Sorry Chief. You didn't kill him with the gun, but you bit him and he died.' Somehow I don't think that will go over very well.*

"So, you want to tell him? The doctor is going to come down to tell you more. I thought it might help. " Simon clearly unwilling to break the news himself.

"Yeah. I'll tell him."

*****

Blair looked at Jim. He looked at the doctor. He looked back at Jim.

"Excuse me. I'd just like to get this straight. I bit Dave. I shot Dave. The bullet wound healed. The bite got infected, the infection got into the bone, spread to his brain, and now he's dead."

The doctor nodded.

"Yes, in a nutshell." The doctor's pager went off and with an apologetic smile she left. Blair covered his face with his hands, rubbing at his eyes. Jim stood awkwardly by the bed, unsure of what to do. As he realized that Blair's shoulders were heaving and shaking, he quickly sat down and pulled the quaking figure into his arms, stroking the hair in what he hoped was a comforting gesture.

"It's okay, Blair. You aren't to blame." There was a snuffling sound near his armpit.

"Jim, you can let go," came Blair's shaking muffled voice. When he released his partner, he was startled to realize that Blair hadn't broken down. He was *laughing*, trying to contain the guffaws that were threatening his incision.

"I'm...I'm sorry..." Blair panted with the effort of controlling his laughter, grasping his aching ribs. "That's...that's just....so....funny. I mean. I shouldn't laugh....but...I mean...really...the irony."

Jim wasn't sure how to react, but a small smile stole over his face. Then he allowed himself to join his partner in laughter, the best medicine.

******

One week later, Blair and Jim stood by as the blue and white mangled remains were hoisted from the gorge. Twisted metal, scratched paint only began to describe the wreck.

"She's dead, Jim." Blair intoned mournfully. They watched as the truck was lowered onto a flat bed for transport.

"It won't be the same without her."

"You know, Jim. With my Volvo in the garage and out of commission for the next few weeks, and Sweetheart gone to the great garage in the sky, you do realize that we're going to have to use public transportation until you can get another mortgage on the loft for a down payment on yet another truck. Two words, Jim. Metro bus."

"Don't swear at me, Chief. Besides, the insurance covers jackings. But the paperwork will take a while to process. Actually I was thinking something along the lines of a nice hot pink Yugo. Whadda ya think? It's a nice classic. It's really good on gas too. I seem to recall environmentalists were really keen on it. Should be right up your alley, huh?"

"Jim. Bite me."

"No thanks, Chief, I'll leave the biting up to you."

Blair rolled his eyes as they walked back to the rental Volkswagen Beetle, the only car available on the lot, which waited for them by the road. Off to fight crime for another day.


Finis