Heat
by Kira


This has the honour of being my first ever story, posted to the Sentinel Angst list as my dues, I think in August 1998. Seems like just yesterday...


"And it's a blistering day here in Cascade. Temperatures are expected to soar into the low forties but with the humidity, it'll feel like a record 120 degrees. Its going to be a killer. Keep the sunscreen on and don't change that dial. It's thirty-four degrees and rising at the top of the hour and we're moving into the top ten hits here on JCIH, 97.2 on the FM dial. But first, a word from our sponsors

Blair was in bliss. It was warm. He stood on the balcony and revelled in the feel of sun on bare skin. Shedding his clothes like a snake changing its skin, he had forgone the layers of flannel and rejoiced in the simplicity of the tank top and shorts that he rarely took out of the bottom drawer in his dresser.

Jim had already gone to the station to deal with the 'situation' that had unfolded the night before. Blair shook his head as he remembered the rage on Jim's face as he pummelled the perp who had snatched the purse of an elderly lady. The guide had required two other officers to pull Jim off the hapless criminal, who then complained to the press, who had talked to the chief of police, who in turn, had talked to Simon, who had shouted at Jim -- who was now facing the music and Simon's wrath. Blair had begged off, not really wanting to get involved in a confrontation. Moreover, Jim had been in the wrong, and Blair didn't want to look like he was abandoning his Sentinel by siding with Simon, regardless of how out of control said Sentinel had been.

For now, he would enjoy the unseasonable heat, quite a change from the perpetual cool dampness, and would attempt to avoid thinking about what sort of penance Jim would have to perform. Ah yes, warm and fuzzy was his world. At least until Jim got home.

****

'....and if you ever do something as harebrained and stupid as this again *Detective* Ellison you will find yourself doing worse things than handing out parking tickets. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?"

Jim had the grace to look properly chastised.

"Yes sir."

Simon glared at Jim as he chomped on his cigar. Toning his voice down from the roar that carried beyond the office walls he urged Jim into a seat.

"Jim, as your captain I'm very disappointed in your behaviour. We can all consider ourselves lucky that the perp has a rap sheet a mile long and is willing to forgo charges in exchange for a deal and an apology. Assigning you traffic duty is letting you off light."

"I'm sorry sir. I don't know what came over me." Jim responded, sitting still while staring at his hands

"Yeah, I know. As your friend, Jim, it's worrying when this sort of thing happens out of the blue. You need to talk with someone." Simon sighed. "Talk to Sandburg. If this is a Sentinel thing, I want to know. And you can consider this an order if you have to. Remember, Dr. McKenzie's door is always open if you need to talk to someone other than Sandburg. For now, you go on duty in half an hour. Try not to assault any innocent vehicles."

He knew that Simon was concerned. The fact that the captain had suggested the department's psychologist was indicitive of that. But the attempt at humour cracked the wall that Jim had erected. His captain couldn't be that upset anymore if he was joking. If he was joking. Glancing back as he moved into the bullpen, he caught the twinkle in Simon's eye and his Sentinel ears caught the rumble of laughter as the captain turned to more mundane paper work.

"Jim Ellison, traffic cop. That's definitely blackmail material. Ha!"

Jim was glad someone was getting a kick out of his temporary demotion. He wasn't looking forward to it. The thought of walking about like a glorified meter maid in this heat rankled. The walk through the bullpen felt like a gauntlet but his friends had the mercy to pretend that the defrocked detective wasn't about to do the lowly work assigned to him. Rafe and Brown grinned somewhat sheepishly, having unavoidably heard Simon's rant.

"It'll be okay Jim. We won't hold it against you. Although some Polaroids would be great blackmail material."

*What was it with these guys and blackmail?* Jim wondered silently as he grinned back. The grin wasn't even that forced. It could have been much worse. He couldn't explain how he suddenly found himself on the giving end of a really thorough beating. There had been a grey haze surrounding the whole incident that he couldn't explain. Police brutality, suspension, all flashed through his mind. Oh yeah, it could have been much worse. But still . . . traffic cop? Now all he had to do was call Sandburg and break the news that he would be on traffic detail for a week. That meant that the grad student could finally focus on university work he had been complaining about for the last few days. *I won't need him following me around looking at parking meters, that's for sure. Really, what could happen?*

****

At about ten o'clock, Blair had reluctantly replaced his shorts with a pair of lightweight pants as he prepared to meet with his thesis committee. *Can't look like a slacker Sandburg, you've already been pushing back deadlines. They don't need to think you are more of a flake than they already do.* The button down shirt was already sticking to his back with the humidity.

The phone rang and he scooped it up as he packed his book bag with notebooks.

"Hello?"

"Blair, its Jim."

"Hey Jim. How'd it go with Simon?" Blair asked.

"Uh . . . well, I've been demotedtotrafficcopforaweek."

Blair halted his packing and allowed his synapses to catch up. He stared at the phone uncertain whether to laugh and risk future bodily harm or to offer sympathy.

"Jim . . . um . . . did you say *traffic cop*?" He opted for innocent disbelief.

"Yes Sandburg. Traffic cop. Which, fortunately for you, means your presence won't be needed at the department for the next week. Enjoy the holiday."

The phone clicked as the irate Sentinel hung up on his guide. Blair looked at the receiver feeling a mite rejected at Jim's sarcastic outburst. *Maybe he's getting tired of having me around.* He dismissed the uncharitable thought and allowed himself to burst out laughing at the thought of Jim dressed like a metre maid. *Now that would be blackmail material.* He shoved the manila envelope with the chapter draft of his thesis into his book bag, grabbed his keys, and a pile of books and file folders, and went to meet with his advisor.

He left the building, slipping on his sunglasses while searching for the key to the Volvo on his key ring. He was so absorbed in juggling his book bag and armload of reading material that he didn't even hear the man behind him until an arm slipped around his neck pulling him up against a tall body behind him. He dropped his books and scrabbled at the grip around his neck, preparing to yell when another hand, holding a damp cloth, pressed against his mouth and nose. Refusing to breathe, Blair struggled to break the tenacious hold but to no avail, dislodging his glasses. His lungs burned, and he strained not to breathe, but the instinct was too strong and a sweet cloying smell invaded his nose and lungs. His vision blurred and his last thought as he slipped into darkness struck him as funny. *Boy is my advisor going to be pissed . . . *

****

Jim stared for the hundredth time at the red flag reading "expired" on what had to be the hundredth parking meter. He flipped the slip of paper over the carbon sheet and meticulously began writing down the license plate, date and time. All in all, the work wasn't too bad, unless you had to factor in the uniform. It wasn't terrible as uniforms went, with its crisp white shirt and black slacks with yellow stripes down both pant legs. But it was hot, and the hat that accompanied the uniform, while blocking the sun, was no help in keeping him cool, despite the promise of special ventilation. The webbing on the top of the hat was supposed to help block the sun, but with this extreme heat, it was a lost battle.

Jim felt ridiculous. Not that he minded wearing a uniform, even a traffic cop uniform. The army had broken him into that habit of wearing whatever the circumstances required. But people were giving him some very weird looks. He looked out of place, being relatively young and extremely fit. *I mean really, most traffic cops I know have a gut a hippo would be proud of or are looking for something to do after retirement from the force for crying out loud.* Jim mused as a woman looked -- no, *leered* at him -- as he wrote the ticket. *Must be the uniform*

He slipped the ticket under the windshield wipers and moved on up the street.

****

Blair was quite willing to admit that he did not know many things about life and the universe. He didn't know how to calculate complex quadratic equations. He didn't know exactly how many people had televisions in Cascade. He didn't know the secret of life. He *really* didn't understand women. And at the moment he didn't know where he was. But there were some things that he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt.

He was very hot.

He was in a dark tiny space.

He couldn't move or talk because of the ropes and the very efficient gag.

He felt really, really, really, sick.

He was in some deep trouble.

He tried to sit up but smacked his head sharply against the top of whatever he was in. Feeling his way around, as best he could with his hands bound behind his back, he encountered something familiar. It was made of hard rubber with grooves, and was big and rounded. *A spare tire. I'm in a trunk of a car.* His attention was caught by voices speaking beside the car.

"Look Duke, I'm not sure this is such a great idea. I mean, what if we're caught? This could go really bad."

Blair strained to hear the conversation transpiring by the car.

"John, I told you this is the only way that we'll get Sean out of jail. Ellison will fold when we tell him that we got the kid. Besides, we'll let him go when we get Sean. Once we get Sean, we'll tell him Ellison where to find him. What could go wrong?"

*Famous last words.* Blair wanted to shout. He was really getting tired of criminals using him to get to Jim. It was getting pretty ridiculous in fact.

"Okay then, here's the plan. You take the car, go to the parking lot and leave it there. No one will think to find him there so they'll need us to tell them where he is. We'll meet at the bar to make the phone call. Make sure that you don't get seen by no cops. I don't think that the car's been reported stolen yet but don't take any chances."

*Wonderful. Locked in the trunk of a stolen car, about to be used as a bargaining chip. Yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of 'Blair Sandburg: Whipping Boy of Cascade'* Blair tried to work some spit into the desert that was his mouth but realized how futile the gesture would be. This was no amateur's gag, consisting of a rag casually tied across the mouth. This was the roll-up-a piece-of cloth-and-stick-in-mouth-with-another-to keep-it-in-place type gag. Blair considered himself to be an expert on gags. He should be, he had enough experience. He'd been gagged by the best. *No sirree, no sound was getting out of this mouth. Hey, did it just get really hot in here? No, it was always this hot. Boy is Jim going to be mad. Maybe he'll be glad I won't be around to bug him. What if Jim doesn't want to make a deal? What would happen to me? Would Jim even want me back? * Blair's mind wandered off, dreaming up scenarios of a rescue, some successful, others not. His attention was vaguely captured by the sound of a motor turning over and a rocking motion as the car was driven to the mentioned parking lot. He tried to keep track of the direction of the turns but his churning stomach and stabbing headache soon distracted him from his task and he fell into a doze.

****

John Phillips, ex-con, and presently a kidnapper, drove the blue Buick into the parking lot at the sprawling Cascade Mall. He circled the lot, looking for a place to park in the crowded strip. After circling numerous times, he finally pulled into the first available spot, anxious to get to the bar to soothe his nerves. He wanted to get his younger brother out of jail, but he wasn't sure that kidnapping the kid to get to Ellison was the best way to go about doing it. Trouble was, he couldn't think of another way. So long as the no one got hurt, he'd go along with Duke. After all, family was everything and as the older brother, Duke was always looking out for them. Locking the door, he went to find a taxi to take him to the bar to meet up with his brother.

They met at Ringer's, a dingy bar near the wharf that catered to the 'underworld' of Cascade. It was at the payphone by the men's room that they placed their call

"Cascade Police Department. How may I help you?"

"Yeah, get me Ellison"

"One moment please while I put you through"

****

In the parking lot, the afternoon sun beat down upon the trunk of the car-turned-prison, heating the trunk like an oven. Blair jerked out of his doze and wished he could have remained blissfully unaware of his predicament. His body felt like it was burning up, and his throat was like sandpaper. He tried swallowing around the gag and only succeeded in accentuating his thirst.

*Hmmm . . . I wonder if this is what it's like in a kiln, or a pressure cooker* Blair mused idly, vainly trying to ignore the stifling heat. *Cooker . . . It's my turn to cook tonight . . . I better go grocery shopping before Jim gets back . . . Jim? Hey Jim? You out there? How 'bout putting in some Blessed Protector overtime?*

With a Herculean effort Blair wrestled his rambling thoughts into order, resisting the delirium that threatened to overcome him. He felt lightheaded but couldn't breathe deeply enough through his nose to dispel the dizziness. Despite his efforts he felt panic run through him in waves. *I am . . . relaxed. I am . . . relaxed. Oh who am I kidding?* His mantra simply didn't work and he sank back into blessed oblivion, succumbing to the heat.

****

Jim surveyed the parking lot in front of him. Once he finished this lot he could go home, take a cold shower and drink copious amounts of beer. Monotony and impatience drove Jim to ruthlessly quash any traffic lawlessness he encountered. *Woe betide that poor soul who parked outside the lines, infringing on the parking space next to it* Jim mused, waxing poetic in a moment of heat induced insanity. Giving himself a shake, he zeroed in on a car resting on an area clearly designated for the disabled. With his sentinel vision he could see the absence of a zoning sticker indicating the owner of the car was disabled. With an evil grin, always wanting to exact punishment on those taking advantage of such reserved spots, Jim unhooked his radio and called in to dispatch.

"Ellison here, could you get Mike out to the Cascade Mall parking lot for a towing job? I've got a car parked in a disabled zone without a permit. It's a blue Buick, license plate GH3465."

"Roger that. He'll be right there."

Jim continued his prowl of the parking lot, checking the meters and dutifully slapping tickets on windshields. As he worked, he kept an eye on the car, hoping to catch the owner returning to the vehicle. But before that could happen, Mike pulled up in the department tow truck. The mechanic had towed many a car from police sites that Jim had been involved with and the two had become good friends, exchanging jokes. Mike was always ready to show Jim pictures of the wife and kids, teasing Jim about his perpetual bachelorhood.

"Hey Mike, it's over there." He pointed out the car.

"Got it." He put the truck into gear and stuck his head back out of the window. "So . . . having fun yet?"

"Oh yeah Mike, as much fun as my divorce. See you around." With a wave Mike drove over to the car and began setting up the rig. Jim continued to patrol the lot and by the time Mike was driving away with the car, Jim was tearing off the last ticket and placing it with an air of reverence on the car before him. *Finished.*

He started back to his truck, loosening his collar and removing his cap when the cell phone rang. *That better not be Sandburg calling to say he won't be cooking dinner!*

"Yeah, Ellison."

"Jim . . . it's Simon. Get back to the station."

"Now sir? You're joking. I just got off duty," Jim said in disbelief.

"Jim. Just get down here." There was a pause. "It's about Blair."

A chill ran down Jim's spine despite the heat.

"I'm on my way."

****

The bullpen was hushed with an air of nervous anticipation. Rafe and Brown sat at their desks searching through piles of case files, darting glances between the door and Simon's office. Jim could smell the anxiety as he pushed open the door.

"What's going on?" He demanded before the door even closed behind him. Rafe shot Brown a look.

"Uh Jim, maybe you should go talk to Simon," He suggested quietly. As if answering a call, Simon appeared at his doorway and motioned Jim to join him.

"Jim. Take a seat."

"What's going on Simon. Where's Blair? What's wrong?" Jim refused to sit, pacing the small confines of the office.

"We got a call about fifteen minutes ago. Sean Phillip's two brother took Blair. They'll tell us where he is if we let Sean go. We've got a trace on the call. It originated from a bar called Ringers." Simon rubbed the bridge of his nose, face tense. " We've got units on the way. Hopefully Blair will be okay. They said he wouldn't be hurt as long as we let Phillips go. We're anticipating a potential hostage situation. They're expecting us there. Let's go."

"Who's the negotiator?" Jim asked as they jogged to the elevator. He knew that his chances of getting his guide back unharmed depended on the right hostage negotiator being on the job.

"Fitzgibbon. He's the best." Jim nodded absently, his mind spinning with fear for his partner as they waited for the elevator to arrive. He wouldn't let anything happen to Blair . . . anything.

****

Mike drove up to the impound lot and carefully manoeuvred his rig past the gates, nodding to the guard. He backed the car into a free spot. He let the winch down and unhooked the car with a thump. The guard meandered over to chat.

"How 'bout this heat, Mike? Haven't had a heat wave like this since I don't know when."

"Yeah, I promised my kids I'd take them to the beach. Not sure that it's such a good idea in this heat though. I really don't want to deal with sunburnt kids with nothing better to do than complain." The affection in his voice belied his words.

"Tell me about it. Do we need a forensic team to go over this one?" The guard asked.

"No, just leave it until the owner decided to pay up. Remind me not to double park with Ellison on the job." The guard laughed and gave Mike the paper work to complete the impounding of the car. With a parting wave, the mechanic went off to file the paper work and punch out for the day. The guard retreated to his tiny hut where a small fan provided some relief from the heat. And in the middle of the asphalt-covered impound yard, baking in the sun, the blue Buick, licence plate GH3465, sat with its precious unknown cargo.

****

An undercover police officer had entered Ringers to determine if the situation would deteriorate into a hostage negotiation. Once he saw that the consultant was nowhere to be seen he gave the go-ahead via a microphone and the swat team, headed by Ellison moved in. The two brothers didn't stand a chance. Surrounded and unarmed they gave themselves up into the hands of an irate Ellison. Back at the station, the interrogation was going less than successfully.

"Listen, just let us and our brother go, and we'll tell you where he is." Duke insisted as Simon and Jim loomed over the two brothers in the interrogation room. For the last two hours the brothers had resisted all attempts to discern where they were keeping Blair. Jim was getting frantic. Thoughts of Blair, alone, afraid, possibly hurt, were slowly feeding the fear and anger that were growing inside of Jim. Simon realized that his detective was about to blow a gasket and pulled Jim out of the room.

"Jim. Don't make me have to suspend you this time. I can't have you beating the answer out of him."

"What are we supposed to do Simon? They got us in a corner. We can't let Sean go. They won't tell us where Blair is. Meanwhile my partner could be out there dying! So tell me, what are we supposed to do?" Jim shouted in frustration. Simon rested a hand on his shoulder.

"Look Jim, we're all worried about the kid. But we have to do this within the book, not outside of it. Got that?"

Jim nodded and slumped against the wall, rubbing his eyes. He idly extended his hearing to the interrogation room and held up a hand to keep Simon from continuing.

/Look Duke, I told you this wasn't going to work. Now we're in jail too. If they find out about the stolen car we're in deep shit. Maybe we can make a deal./

/Shut up. We have the ace in our hand, man. They can't do anything to us as long as they don't know where their *consultant* is. So chill. No one will think to look for him where you left him. You did make sure that the car was locked right?/

/Yeah I did./

"Simon, they have him in a car somewhere."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes damn it, I'm sure. I heard them talking." Jim replied. Simon looked skeptical.

"That really doesn't help much Jim."

"It's a stolen car. We need a list of cars that were stolen in the last couple of days." Jim reached for this slim straw, needing to do something to find his guide.

****

Jim threw the file down in front of him. His eyes were crossing, staring at the pile of stolen cars reported in the last three days.

*This isn't going to help. I've spent an hour looking at these and there's nothing that can help. Nothing.* A feeling of helplessness washed over the Sentinel. *God. I need Blair. He'd know what to do. He always could find a loophole. I. Need. Blair.* But Blair wasn't there and Jim knew instinctively that he was running out of time. His senses were starting to spike and without the reassuring voice of his guide, his head pounded and the heat was unbearable against his skin. He rested his elbows on the desk and rubbed his face, trying to alleviate the tension building behind his eyes.

"Hey Jim, you wanted reports of stolen cars? This one just came in." Rafe placed a file on his desk. He paused before going to his desk. "He'll be okay Jim. He always manages to get out of these fixes. You'll see."

Jim just nodded his appreciation for the small comfort. *He wouldn't be in these fixes without me. God. What where we thinking . . . allowing a civilian to get involved in police work.* As he continued to berate himself for his partner's predicament, he automatically scanned the report in front of him. A Buick, stolen from a country club, with the description of the perpetrator. Jim froze. The description fit Duke Phillips. His gaze flicked to the licence plate and his breath caught in his chest. *Oh my god.*

Papers scattered across the floor as he left the room in a dead run, shouting for Rafe to follow.

****

The guard at the impound lot stared in confusion as what seemed to be the entire contingent of detectives from Major Crimes stormed the yard. Jim made a beeline for the blue car that rested so innocently in its place. His fingers scrabbled frantically, but ineffectually at the trunk.

"GET ME A CROWBAR!" He roared at the guard, who was staring at the detective in bewilderment.

"Look, you can't just break into a car that being impounded for --" The guard's voice broke off as Jim's hand wrapped themselves around the shorter man's collar, cutting of his air.

"Get. Me. A. Crowbar." Jim hissed.

"Let him go, Jim." Simon managed to pry Jim's hands away, pushing him back towards the car as he turned towards the guard. "Get a crowbar. Now."

The guard nodded, straightening his uniform as he went into the garage. When he returned, crowbar in hadn, Jim grabbed it, rapidly levering open the trunk. Silence fell for an instant as the contents of the trunk were revealed.

Blair lay curled within the trunk, his hands bound behind him, gagged and unconscious.

"Someone call the paramedics!" Simon shouted as Jim gingerly lifted his partner from his prison. Jim cringed at the heat radiating from the limp body he cradled to his chest, untying his hands and gently pulling the gag from his mouth. He opened his hearing and struggled not to zone on the sound of his guide's weak heartbeat. Blair simply lay there, panting weakly, unresponsive to Jim's tender touches and soft murmuring. His skin was dry and burning with fever that scorched Jim's sensitive fingers as he stroked his face.

"It's okay Blair. It's okay. You're going to be fine." *You've got to be fine.*

The paramedics moved in and Jim reluctantly gave up his guide into the hands of the EMT. Helpless to do anything but watch, Jim hovered as the paramedics started an IV, took vitals, and loaded Blair into the back of the ambulance. The paramedic waved him back from getting into the ambulance.

"Sorry, no room." With that the doors were closed and the ambulance sped away.

"Come on Jim. I'll drive." Simon pulled Jim's arm and led him toward the parking garage.

****

The emergency at Cascade General was surprisingly quiet when Jim and Simon pushed open the doors, waving their badges at the desk attendant.

"We're here for Blair Sandburg. He was just brought in."

"Oh, yes. He's in trauma room three, but you can't go in there. Please take a seat in the waiting room and I'll direct the attending physician to talk to you when she's ready."

Simon led a reluctant Jim to sit in the unyielding chair.

"This is all my fault Simon. This . . . "

"Jim, you can't shoulder the blame for this. That lies squarely on the shoulders of the punks who locked him in the trunk in the first place." Simon interrupted, determined not to let his number one detective take the burden of guilt for his partner's trauma.

"Simon, I'm not talking just about this. I'm talking about the whole thing. This whole Sentinel thing has gotten way out of hand. Blair's been shot, kidnapped, beaten up, held hostage . . . drowned." Jim whispered the last word. "And it's all because we let him tag along with me. We are responsible for this . . . and for every other injury that he's gotten. How much more does he have to endure? Huh Simon? How much more? Do you realize I saw that car in the parking lot? I ordered the car to be towed. It sat down there in the damn PD lot for hours."

Jim slumped in his chair and covered his face with his hands. "I think it's enough, Simon. If he hasn't had enough, I have."

"What are you saying Jim?"

"I'm taking the advice you gave me when Lash started this whole mess with people hurting Blair. I'm cutting him loose."

Simon stared at him in disbelief, stood and walked down the hall to process what Jim had just told him before reaming the stubborn detective out. Jim was left alone with his traitorous thoughts.

*Cutting him loose. God, Blair. Please forgive me, but I can't . . . I can't see you die again. You'll have time for your studies, you'll be a regular graduate student and . . . and I'll be losing the brother I always wanted, the closest friend I've ever had, and my Guide.* Jim extended his hearing, trying to locate the grounding beat of his guide's heart. Lacking any control, with Simon oblivious to his state, Jim zoned on the tick tock of the clock on the waiting room wall.

"...JIM! JIM! Can you hear me??"

Jim jerked back to awareness as Simon shook his shoulder. He shook his head and took a deep breath as he came out of the zone.

"Huh? Yeah Simon, I hear you," Jim reassured his captain. "How long was I out?"

"About an hour. I didn't realize you'd zoned until about half an hour ago and I couldn't get you to respond." Simon looked over his shoulder. "The receptionist said that doctor will be here in a couple of minutes, they're taking Blair up to the Intensive Care Unit."

"Intensive Care? I thought he was just over heated. What's going on?"

"Calm down, Jim. The doctor will explain everything."

Sure enough, a woman in a white lab coat over OR scrubs, carrying a patient chart, made a beeline toward the two men. Jim pegged her at mid forties and she settled a pair of glasses onto her nose as she approached.

"Gentlemen? I understand you are here with Blair Sandburg, yes?"

"Yes. I'm Captain Simon Banks, and this is Detective Jim Ellison, his partner. What can you tell us. How is Sandburg?"

"Well, prognosis isn't great, but before you panic, he is stable. From what I gather he was locked in a trunk under full exposure of the sun. As a result he is suffering from prolonged heat exposure which has developed into a very serious case of heat stroke."

"Heat stroke? But that's not serious is it?" Simon asked. Jim shook his head, casting his thoughts back to his days in the army. He knew all too well the dangers of dehydration and prolonged exposure to the sun.

"Heat stroke can be deadly, Simon." Jim said quietly, preparing for the worst. "You said he was stable, doctor?"

"Yes. We're giving him fluids and we managed to get his fever down. However," She paused, and sighed. "There remains the possibility of organ damage, particularly his kidneys. The fever went unchecked for too long. As I said, he is stable, but until we complete some tests, we won't know for sure how severe the damage is. We'll be playing the waiting game for the next day or so. You know the drill, Detective; a ten minute visit every hour.

She smiled wryly. "The nursing staff informed me that no one on our security staff would take the job of removing you if we insisted on the family only policy. You two have quite the reputation around here."

"Blair is my family," Jim responded. Nodding, she waved over a nurse.

"Jenny, will you take Detective Ellison to see his partner, Blair Sandburg? He's in ICU." She patted Jim on the arm and disappeared back into the depths of the emergency room. The nurse indicated that the two men should follow her.

***

Simon had gone home hours ago. It was his week with Darryl and Jim refused to allow him to disappoint his son. Besides, he had to have some time by himself. Well, by himself with Blair, even if Blair wouldn't be talking back. Jim sat by the bed, holding onto Blair's hand like a lifeline. He needed to connect with his guide. The thought of separation at this point sent his pulse into a panic.

"You know Blair, I didn't think that it was going to hurt this much. The time with Alex, well that was just a mess. But I didn't rationalize it you know? That was pure instinct. I mean, the senses were up and running but I didn't know why I did what I did . . . why I hurt you when I pushed you away. Even if was to ultimately protect you. That dream was prophetic, but like so much in my life, I repressed it." Jim stroked the hand that lay limply in his.

"But this time Blair. I know. I don't only know why, but I'm intentionally doing it. I want to do it. I want to push you away. I . . . I can't let you get hurt anymore. I'm not omnipotent -- bet you didn't think I knew that word, huh sport?. I know that I can't save you from everything. I mean, you could be in a car accident, or be the victim in a drive by shooting . . . completely random, happenstance things that the best of us have no control over.

But my work . . . that's where I do have control. I mean, really buddy, what were we thinking? You're a graduate student for crying out loud. You're supposed to go to class, go to lectures, grade papers, hang out with intellectual crowds, go to concerts . . . be safe. I can't let you get hurt because of my work. That's wrong and irresponsible on my part. I just want to you know that it's not because I don't want you around. I still want you to stay at the loft if you want. Not just because of the Sentinel stuff. Like you said, its about friendship...and friends don't let friends get hurt in the name of a dissertation. You've sacrificed too much, and I've only taken. It stops now, Blair. When you get better . . . and you will get better . . . you'll see. You can do all of the things that you've had to put on hold. Get on with your career, your life. Don't just ride beside me on the roller coaster. Eventually it's going to come to a stop, Blair, and you have to get off and walk away."

"Always . . . got . . . back . . . on."

Jim started as if hit on the head. The whisper was Sentinel soft. A slight tightening of the hand he held reaffirmed his hearing.

"Blair? Can you hear me?" Jim bent over the prone form, scanning Blair's face for signs of recognition.

"Yeah . . . hear . . . you."

"You just rest buddy, okay? Don't try to talk. I'm calling the nurse."

"Wait . . . Jim . . . don't . . . blame." Jim silenced him, pressing a finger against his lips.

"Blair, wait until you're stronger. We'll talk. I promise."

". . . promise . . . "

"I promise."

". . . 'kay . . . "

****

Blair had been released from the hospital after a three-day stay, which was three days too long for patient, roommate of said patient, and just about the entire nursing staff at the hospital. With no irreparable damage from his injuries he was more than ready to leave. After successfully wheedling his way out of the hospital, Blair intended to jump back into his role as guide, student, police observer, and general caretaker of a disgruntled erstwhile traffic cop. But Jim soon disabused him of that notion.

The Sentinel, taking advantage of his genetic . . . well . . . advantage, had listened to the doctor as prescribed complete bed rest for a couple of days, advice he knew that Blair would ignore without coercion on his part. Upon arriving home, Blair found the loft converted into a convalescent's dream. His futon had been moved into the living room which was cordoned off with sheets strung across ropes to give some privacy, but had the advantage of being completely movable so that they could be pulled back, should Blair want to watch TV from the comfort of his bed, or just want to talk with his roommate while the latter made dinner in the kitchen.

Blair was touched at the effort that Jim had made. His room was tiny enough that he got slightly claustrophobic if he had to stay in there for more than a couple of hours. The openness of the loft was more than appealing and he actually felt that staying in bed for the week might not be the chore that it usually was. Jim went out of his way to be accommodating, taking time off work to care for his guide. Unfortunately for Blair, Jim interpreted the doctor's 'couple of days' as 'a whole week', forbidding his guide to budge from the living room for any other reason than a trip to the bathroom. Blair indulged his Blessed Protector's whims, knowing that it would be easier than trying to sneak into the kitchen to make his own tea. At the end of the week however, the solicitous nature of his mothering had started to grate on Blair's nerves.

"Jim."

"Yeah? Do you need something? The remote? The phone? Something to eat? Drink?"

"I need you to stop hovering and come sit down for a sec." Blair pointed to the sofa, pushed askew to make room for the bed. "Take a seat."

Jim reluctantly sank onto the couch, dreading what he had been putting off for the week. He knew that Blair wouldn't accept what he had planned at the hospital without a fight. He wouldn't leave his Sentinel to fend for himself. He had too great a sense of responsibility.

"So . . . what do you want to talk about?"

Blair blew air between his lips and pushed back his hair in frustration.

"What do I want to talk about? I want to talk about your inordinately large sense of guilt, your presumptuousness in saying that I shouldn't be working with you, and your overblown image of what a Blessed Protector is supposed to do."

"Gee Sandburg, don't pull your punches or anything."

"No Jim. I'm not going to pull my punches. I'm really disappointed in you."

Jim looked up, startled. That wasn't exactly what he was expecting.

"I'm disappointed that you think I can't make decisions about my own future. I'm not being forced to work with you, man. I'm doing it because I want to, because I need to. But needing to doesn't mean that I'm being forced to. It's a choice that I made. I'm a grad student, sure, but overall I'm more than that. I'm a Guide, Jim. I'm your Guide. You didn't chain me to you like a prisoner. I choose to go down that path with you. If anything, I forced you. You didn't want the senses. You didn't want a...neo hippie witch punk doctor sticking around You didn't want me in your home. I mean, really Jim, who forced who?"

Jim winced as his hastily spoken words came back, not for the first time, to haunt him. *I'll always regret that.*

"So, Jim, you want me to go? Too bad. That's right. Too bad. Because I have choice, man, free will. I choose which fork I go down and you can't force me to choose the path that you want me to take." Blair wound down his speech and sank back onto his pillow.

"Blair . . . I never meant for you to think that I didn't want you around. I know that I wasn't the most . . . receptive . . . to having a partner."

"Jim. I don't need an apology. I heard what you said in the hospital. I know how you feel. You're . . . you're like the brother I never had, too." Blair focussed his attention on a corner of his blanket at he picked at a loose thread. His voice became smaller as he continued "I didn't have a real source of stability growing up. Naomi was great, but I wouldn't exactly call her the most reliable person in the world. Not to say I wasn't loved or anything. But having a home was a luxury that I just never had -- until now. And I'm not ready to give it up. If that means putting myself in danger, protecting someone who means the most to me and protecting that sense of security, then so be it."

Jim felt a catch in his throat. He didn't trust himself to respond.

"So no more talk about me not being your partner, okay? We go forward together. Sentinel and Guide, as friends. That's means neither of us makes unilateral decisions about the future of this partnership. Got that?"

Jim felt a grin split his face. *I get to keep my guide.*

"Got it."

"So no more freaking out if something happens to me while we're working or if some psycho decides that I've got a target on my back."

"What . . . no more Blessed Protector?" Jim's laugh was slightly strained. Blair could feel the tension that was underlying the humour.

"Jim, you'll always be my Blessed Protector. That goes without saying. What I don't need is someone who won't let me go to the bathroom for fear of my falling into the urinal. Do whatever you need to do to keep me safe, but don't suffocate me when there's nothing to protect me from . . . least of all from you. I don't need to be kept safe from you."

"I'll make a deal with you. No more blessed protector overkill on my part and . . . " Jim paused dramatically.

"And what Jim?"

"And you agree to actually abide by those house rules you so wilfully ignore." He stood, leaving Blair gaping in amazement at the incongruous remark, expecting some demand about always staying in the truck. Happy to get in the last word - for once - Jim snatched up the remote aand went upstairs to organize his sock drawer.

"Jim? Hey Jim, you serious? I mean, come on!. Jim . . . give me back the remote. Jim? Jiiiiimmm!"


Finis