ENOUGH
By Xasphie

TITLE: Enough
AUTHOR: Xasphie
E-MAIL: xasphie1@aol.com
CATEGORY: Angst, H/C
RATING: PG-13 for language, etc. They swear a lot in this one!
DISCLAIMERS: All the usual: not mine, never were, never will be, no money, etc.
SUMMARY: Jim's fishing trip doesn't bring all that everyone had hoped.
STATUS: Complete

FEEDBACK: Yes please, I'd love some. But no flames, thanks. Winter's nearly over…

Originally posted to the SA List February 2005

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AUTHOR'S NOTE:
There isn't enough gratitude to thank Fluterbev and Lyn for keeping up my morale when I felt like hitting delete; for their continual encouragement, kind words and beta-ing. Thank you. Also to Annie who read it through when I wasn't sure, and gave me such heart-warming feedback.

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Enough

"Yo, Blair, where's my party invite?" The voice jarred through his head and bounced off the walls of the refectory.

"Jim gets back later tonight, no party." Blair didn't even look up.

"You mean you've had that cool loft to yourself, and no party?" Middleton was a nice enough graduate, but Blair sometimes lacked the patience to deal with him when he was on a roll with his grading. Now was one of those times. He sighed, dropped the pen in the center of the term paper he had wanted to complete, brushed the loose strand of hair from his face, and stared up at the grinning plain of acne.

"No party, Grant." He hadn't even touched the coffee, which now bore a revolting skin on the top, and had formed a thick brown line around the edge of the paper cup. "But if you want to help me grade these," he wearily indicated the large mound of opened copies, "you're always welcome."

"You're no fun, anymore, Sandburg." Middleton wasn't impressed. "I used to love your house parties at the warehouse. This Ellison guy is a bad influence on you." Without waiting for a response, he sauntered off, probably in search of more 'fun-loving' cronies.

"Yeah, maybe," Blair admitted, sinking back into the atrocious answers he was forced to read. Either his students were getting stupider, or his teaching abilities had backslid. He hoped it wasn't the latter.

An hour later, he gave up and downed the cold brew regardless. He needed the caffeine. Jim would be back later and the apartment needed an Ellison-style clean. With the all-nighters Blair had been pulling to get the grades in, he hadn't had time, and he was too tired to suffer being chewed out for any mold growing in the plughole. Loading the Volvo, he stopped by the deli on the way back to Prospect, and figured that a plethora of Jim's favorite nibble foods might offset any complaints about standards.

It had been different, not having Jim around in his own home for three days. Blair hadn't been involved in the resolution of the Mandel murders, but it was common knowledge that Jim had found the final victim during the arrest. No one, least of all Ellison, had expected it to be a small child. Despite being a seasoned veteran of difficult situations, the discovery had come as an understandably traumatic blow. A few days after the wrap-up, it had been Sandburg's suggestion that Jim go fishing for an extended weekend, to try and come to terms with the whole incident, and he had been granted extra leave with Simon's blessing. The half-amused conversation as he left, had involved Jim claiming that perhaps he was going off to be like Naomi, and 'find himself'.

Blair sniggered at the memory, but frowned when he recalled the pain in Jim's furrowed brow. As Jim had reminded him though, he had gotten over the death of his unit in Peru; had gotten over the death of police colleagues in the line of duty; had gotten over the death of other murder victims; and he could get over this. Just a little time, patience and fishing.

That had been five days ago. Blair had worked solidly in the interim, but would be glad to see Jim again. Although their friendship was predominantly give-and-take, he was missing the sandwiches subtly placed under his nose when he was too absorbed in his work; or the way his glasses would mysteriously be removed from his head, his laptop switched off, and the blanket lain around his shoulders, each time he fell asleep while studying. On the other hand, the nagging would return along with its proud owner.

Blair hoped that the trip had offered the restorative cure that Ellison needed. He also hoped that he was going to return with a few fresh salmon for the skillet.

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"Chief, you would have loved this place," Jim enthused as he reached for his fifth chicken satay stick. "The log cabins were so secluded, and it was easily thirty miles from the nearest major route. I swear I caught myself about to zone on numerous occasions. I could hear every birdcall individually, and I was getting close to being able to identify wild flowers in the neighboring fields. The smells, aw, Chief, you'd have gone insane. It was the weirdest smelling air I've ever breathed. There was something rich, but with the strangest underlying sourness which must have come from the slurry at the bottom of the lakes. It was like hot and sour soup, y'know, that confusing mixture of contrasts."

Blair couldn't help smiling. This was an effervescent Jim he had rarely seen. The fact that he was talking faster than he usually managed, was evidence that the break away must have been the tonic required. Sandburg was relieved.

"I've left enough hot water for you," he commented, when Jim finally began to show signs of wilting. "I'll clear these, you go take a shower. Want me to empty the truck?"

"Nah, it can wait until morning. I've got two salmon sitting in the cool box that need to go in the freezer, though. Could you bring those up?" Jim spared a moment to share a grin with his friend and roommate. "Thanks, Chief." As Blair rinsed off the dishes in the sink, Ellison stopped before entering the bathroom, and let the homely scene flood his senses. He turned to Blair and answered the question that had been hanging unspoken in the air. "I needed that break, but I'm good now. I'm okay."

The friends stood, reassured, before clearing and showering took precedence.

Closing the bathroom door behind him, Jim stripped and reached for the shower controls. It felt good to come home, he reflected, as he listened to Blair's diatribe over the pathetic idiocy of some of his students. The Mandel case had been tough, and was something that he had struggled to overcome, but time in the great outdoors, breathing fresh air, taking in beautiful far-reaching views, sleeping in the heart of Mother Nature - it had all had the calming effect he had craved. Nevertheless, he reminded himself once more, it was still good to be home.

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The smell of fish was fine when he was down at the dockside, Jim ranted internally, wishing he had some menthol to preserve his nasal hairs. He could swear that Sandburg must have left the fish on the side, after all, as there was no way a 6lb salmon could stink that badly if it was in the freezer compartment. He glared up at the shadowed ceiling, catching the fast moving clock numbers in his peripheral vision. Why did time always rush past when you were trying to sleep and knew that you had to be up at a certain time? 'Damn it, Sandburg,' Jim fumed. 'All I asked you to do was get the icebox out of the truck, and get the two wrapped salmon into the freezer. Was it really that hard?' The tired detective thrashed his feet around in the muddled sheets, his anger growing exponentially as he fought for elusive sleep. It was after 1am already; he had only managed a few hours of sleep before that smell had woken him.

He had reached the point of irate, before he stomped his feet onto the floor and clomped down the stairs. Perhaps it was irrational to be so angry over something so trivial, but it had been a long drive back from such a tranquil setting, and he didn't particularly wish to return to the mundane hopelessness of catching bad guys. Strapping his robe around his waist, Jim strode into the kitchen, hoping that his noisy descent had woken Blair, and was surprised not to find the offending fish on the counter after all. Nor were they in the refrigerator. Abashed, he crept back to his room after he confirmed that the two lengthy freshwater creatures were solidifying in the freezer compartment after all. He knew that his senses were sometimes off when he was tired; maybe that's what had happened here.

Jim stuffed the comforter up to his nose and tried to block out the invading scent. However, instead of sleeping, he spent the next hour idly wondering if he should get back in his truck and drive to the other side of the Cascade Mountains for some air. There were days when he hated and resented his senses, and his frustration manifested itself into a punched pillow before he got up, threw on some sweatpants, grabbed up the obnoxious items, launched them into the icebox and walked them down to the truck.

He might have been fraught with fatigue, but his logical reasoning was still lurking. Slamming the box down on the sidewalk, he charged back up to 307, snatched up a second set of car keys, and stored the ice-filled container safely in the trunk of Blair's car. If he couldn't cope with the smell now, he was even less likely to be able to handle it in the morning.

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"Uh, Jim?" Blair called, a little bemused. "Where are the fish?"

Ellison was plodding down the stairs, scowling at the itch on his arm that wouldn't abate. "Huh? Oh, the fish. They're, um…" He blushed. Okay, so on second consideration, his nighttime actions hadn't been that rational. "In your car."

"My… my…?" Blair stared at him, mouth agape. "Oh gee, thanks, Jim. Let my car reek, why don't you?" He caught up his keys, and soon returned with the heavy blue box. The tightly wrapped items were still solid, slushing in the accompanying ice-turned-water. He replaced one in the freezer, and plated the other one in the refrigerator for defrosting. He was thankful that he still had a few minutes before leaving for Rainier. He would leave discussing what had happened until he caught up with Jim in the early afternoon.

Ellison mutely observed Blair's movements, reviewing his night ventures, embarrassment overriding any plausible excuse he could find. What had he been thinking? All he had wanted was some sleep.

Now it would be nice if that stupid itch would stop. The one that seemed to be spreading to his shoulder.

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Ellison was fast losing his temper as he scowled at the offending sheet of paper. If it wasn't that damn itch across his shoulders, it was the imbeciles who called themselves detectives. Had they forgotten that he hadn't been here since last Wednesday, and wasn't psychic? How was he supposed to know what the fuck was going on, if no one was going to tell him? That pile of reports sitting in front of him would continue to mean nothing, without an update from someone. And did Rafe have to eat that damn pastry so loudly? Noisy asshole.

"Fuck this!" Jim snarled, shoving himself away from the desk and slamming his palms down.

"Jim?" Brown made the mistake of questioning.

"Nothing," Jim snapped in return. "Just tell Sandburg, if he ever turns up, that I got sick of waiting." He rammed home the drawer in his desk, and stormed out of the bullpen, leaving a stunned silence in his wake.

Unperturbed, Brown put the incident down to unreconciled fallout from the Mandel case, and laughed it off to those around him. "Time of the month, I expect," he shrugged, airily. It was received with reserved hints of laughter, as they all turned back to work.

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"Christ," Ellison gasped into the mirror, endeavoring to dial down his sense of smell from the recently cleaned men's toilets. "What's happening to me?" He rested his forehead against the misting glass, and closed his eyes, wishing for a few moments of ease from the itching and the newly arrived headache. Still not at peace, he slapped off the light switch, and found a little more solace in the dark. Skin pushed back against the cool of the mirror, he could feel the slow burning of the cleaning chemicals stinging his sensitive eyes. Why weren't those damn dials working? He hadn't been this tetchy while he was away, had he? He had felt himself to be in more control than this.

Damn, he was tired.

That was all it was. Maybe he could explain to Simon that he hadn't slept well last night, and that he was having difficulty keeping his temper in check. He might get to go home and sleep this off. It wasn't fair on anyone to see feral Ellison on the loose, or to have to deal with the consequences. Much as he wanted to seek Sandburg's advice over his senses, the kid was going through enough with the term papers. He didn't need this. Jim had seen the ungraded pile, propping up the wall by the loft door that morning.

Sleep. That was the answer.

Ellison yawned widely, and let himself slide to the floor, blocking the door should anyone wish to enter. Bowing his head onto bent knees, he felt himself slipping into a semi-conscious state almost immediately.

Feeling the door being forced open, it took too much effort to yank his head back up, and haul himself to his feet. Home. Now.

The weary detective ignored the stares that met him as he wound his way back into the bullpen. Talking to anyone would be a bad move, unless they wanted to have their head bitten off. He almost fell into Simon's office and landed in a nearby chair, his face ashen.

The captain hastily finished his phone conversation, and pressed the intercom to get Taggert into the room. "Joel," Simon greeted, as the former bomb squad officer joined them. "I think Jim's had enough for today. Could you drive him home, please?" Ellison nodded his thanks of understanding, and accepted Taggert's outstretched arm. How had he become so tired, so damned quickly? He could barely stand.

Simon had quietly ignored the sniping coming from this detective's corner of the world. He might have felt ready to come back to work today, but his subconscious was probably crying for a little more time for adjustment. The man looked wasted. Banks had already heard about the total of three hours of sleep, and wasn't surprised that he was now sending Ellison home. The work could wait until tomorrow. Jim's health and welfare were far more important than the signing off of some reports.

He watched Taggert lead the detective from the seventh floor, and reached for the receiver again, this time punching in the number for Blair's cell phone.

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Sandburg raised his key to the lock and let the barrels click in place as softly as possible. If Ellison was as irritable as Simon had suggested, he did not want to trigger the ire onto himself. Much as he loved Jim as a friend, his five foot eight inches in height was no comparison to Jim's towering stature, and an out of control sentinel was an intimidating concept.

Blair kicked off his sneakers, and followed the sounds of regulated breathing up the stairs, stopping to pull down the blinds along the way.

Jim's trousers had been flung carelessly on the floor, and his jacket was slung over the dresser. This was strongly out of character for him, Blair noted, and picked up the clothing, to fold it neatly away. The sleeping man still wore his t-shirt, and had the eye mask securely in place. Blair leaned over and quietly flicked on the mains for the bedside white noise generator, the shushing of indiscriminate sound emanating softly from the speakers. Last night, he had been so sure that Jim was doing okay.

It could be that he was, but just needed more sleep.

An open vial of his lavender essential oil sat next to a sealed bottle of eucalyptus, both only a few feet from Jim's head. Blair remembered the salmon's late night excursion to his car, and wondered precisely how far out of line Jim's senses were. He had mentioned near-zones while away, but if he had experienced many full zones, would he have necessarily been aware? Was the tumult of the city overwhelming his controls after the sanctuary of the lakeside retreat?

The student sat on the edge of the bed, silently watching Jim sleep.

After an hour, Blair returned downstairs and reached for one of the texts from his backpack. At least if he wasn't at the PD this afternoon, he could better prepare tomorrow's lecture. Comparing the rise of Peruvian civilizations with the parallel evolving of the Egyptian culture was one of his favorites, but dates sporadically slipped from his memory, and it never hurt to refresh. Grading had become mind numbing, and he needed something more intellectually stimulating.

Glancing at his watch, Blair was debating whether or not he could switch on the television, when he heard fretful mutterings from the large bedroom. He rose and stood at the foot of the stairs, stretching his own hearing as far as he could. The words were indistinct, but the emotion seemed quite bitter. Concerned, Blair padded up the flight of steps and resumed his place on the edge of the bed. Jim was starting to twist violently, in the throes of an intense dream, and for safety, his friend quickly removed all objects from the bedside table. The detective tossed and turned, the sounds he made never more than disjointed syllables of noise. This continued for a number of minutes, before Blair uselessly tried pacifying him with soothing tones, ducking, and trying to grab one of Jim's hands as it flailed past him.

The sight was beginning to unnerve him. Even the worst of his own nightmares had never brought physical reactions like this.

His restful manner proved futile, and Blair gave that up as a bad effort. He tried louder calls for Jim to wake up, demanding his attention, and fighting against the unruly limbs that lashed out towards him. Every attempt at waking the sleeping man proved equally ineffective. Patience running thin, but refusing to let panic set in, he grabbed Jim's left wrist, and dug in his finger nails, determined to win one way or another.

"Just damn well wake up, Jim." He gritted his teeth on the force being exerted against him. "Wake…" Dig. "Up." That would leave fingernail marks in the already reddened and sore forearm.

Even so, there was still no sign of Ellison awakening. Blair's own defensive gestures grew in their ferocity, knowing that this whole scenario was so unusual, but not knowing any other way of getting through to the unaware sentinel.

Jim's vocalizations increased in volume, as the thrashing grew more vicious. Arms and legs hit out in all directions, and Blair fought to stay upright on the edge of the bed, while avoiding the violent actions. Caught unexpectedly, one sudden swing connected with the side of Blair's face, sending him flying. He fell backwards, one hand lessening his impact with the floor, the other pressing against the sting of the punch. It had hit so close to his eye that it made his eyes water, and he bit his lip hard to stop any outcry. Damn that hurt. Much as he wanted to stumble downstairs and grab an icepack, Jim was still striking out and set to cause himself an injury.

Ignoring the throb in his left cheek, Blair reached down to the floor and switched off the white noise generator. He leaned over Jim and snatched off the eye mask, ducking to avoid another swipe. He whisked away the pillow from under Jim's head, and used his full body weight to lay it against Jim's chest and push down against the unwielding arms. If calling to the thrashing man was fruitless, perhaps physical intervention was needed. Without the eye mask Jim would be more susceptible to the light, and should come around quicker. His thought about their size difference ran through his mind again, as he pressed a knee into Jim's thigh. He hoped this would work. His arms didn't have much strength left in them.

Persistently shouting out Jim's name, and trying to make himself heard over the incoherent ramblings, Blair finally felt a weakening in the errant limbs under him.

Whatever had caused this inexplicable outburst must be fading.

Another few minutes and he eased up the pressure on Jim's chest, watching the arms settle back against the sheets. He slowly stood, and looked down at the sweat-covered body below him, thankful that it seemed to be over. What in hell had provoked all that?

The breathing evened out, and Blair vented his own sigh of relief. He hadn't realized how high his shoulders had risen in tension, and he cricked his neck for some respite.

Should he wake Jim?

He battled the thought, before leaving Jim to sleep. He wasn't sure how to immediately explain the injury to his face.

Blair straightened the room, replaced the items on the bedside table, and climbed back down the stairs to find some ice for his tender cheek. It would be easy enough to say he tripped on the steps on his way home. Jim need never know. He had enough to worry about.

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The small graze just below his left eye highlighted the level of impact. He didn't realize Jim had managed to break the skin; the bruising and swelling were considerable enough. He hoped the lump wouldn't increase any more. Mind you, the step excuse could work regardless, but he would just have to handle the teasing. 'Tripped over your ego, Sandbank?' The voices from the past still taunted him - and that step had had a lot to answer for during his childhood.

Blair finished dabbing at the trickle of blood and waited for it to stop, pressing the icepack against his face in between checks. His past practice at obfuscation would come in handy, and he was confident that he could lie about this to Jim, or at least blame his raised heart rate on his embarrassment.

The sentinel didn't stir again until Blair was preparing dinner. The salmon hadn't fully defrosted and would be delayed until the following evening, so Jim awoke to the smell of frying garlic and chilies as his roommate threw together a pasta dish. "You cooking the entire bulb?" Ellison inquired, joining him in the kitchen. It was meant as a friendly jibe, but even Jim could hear the scorn in his own voice. "Thanks for cooking dinner," he offered instead.

"That's okay, you sleep well?" Blair kept his head lowered, deferring future comments.

"Weird dreams." Ellison prodded the pan's contents with the spoon. "Chief, I'm not in the mood for chilies, and that garlic's way too strong, it's making me nauseous." He dropped the utensil back on the side. "I'll make myself something else." Where had this ungrateful streak come from? Yeah, he often forgot to thank Blair for his gestures, and was given to taking him for granted - the white noise generator earplugs being the prime example - but this was overt rudeness. Jim glowered at his own poor attitude and took himself into the bathroom to freshen up. He yawned, and wondered if Blair would object to him having a few bites of yesterday's snacks then going straight back to bed.

Hell, why should he mind? Wasn't his apartment.

"Stop it!" he commanded his own psyche, as he washed his hands. This was beyond normal Ellison-grouch. This was something else.

It wasn't until he was ready to sit at the kitchen table, that he finally noticed Blair's face.

"Tripped on the step. Stupid really." Blair laughed it off, in response to Jim's question. "Packed quite a punch!"

"I'll say. When did it happen?" Jim reached out and tilted Blair's cheek toward the light. That bruising didn't look as angular as a step, and he had noticed the increased heart rate and respiration, but he could let the matter slide, if that's what Blair wanted.

"On the way out of Hargrove. Simon's fault," he embellished. "Just finished on the phone to him, telling me that Joel had brought you home, and I missed my footing." Blair turned down the heat under the pan. "Sure you don't want any of this?"

"No, my sense of smell is…" Yes, he wanted to tell Sandburg, but didn't relish the thought of a barrage of tests, or an hour-long attempt at explanation as his reward. Deep breath. "Most of my senses seem to be too intense and I can't find the dials."

Blair removed the pan and studied Jim's pale face. "Still tired?"

"Yeah." He ran a hand across his yawning mouth. "Look, Chief, I'm gonna turn in. I know, I know." He held up a hand. "I just got up, but I'm wiped. That fresh air must have been better for me than I thought!"

"You want me to try and help you get relaxed? Want some music on? Some incense? Meditation?" Blair had to fake the enthusiasm to cover his alarm. "Wanna talk about what might be causing this spike?"

"Chief, I'm tired." That patronizing tone was there again. "Just eat your dinner, and I'll see you in the morning. 'Kay?"

Feeling dismissed outright, Blair nodded. He wasn't that hungry himself. It was still early enough that he could go out; Max was having a -

But what if Jim had another occurrence of this afternoon's problem. Blair's hyperactive imagination ran through a set of scenarios, placing Jim at the bottom of the stairs with his neck broken, or bleeding to death when he struck out and slit an artery. He knew he was over-reacting, but considering the force of Jim's moves earlier, it wasn't so far out of the equation.

"Hey, Chief." Speak of the devil.

"Yeah?"

"Did you change laundry detergent this weekend? This t-shirt's giving me hell. It feels like you put itching powder in it."

"Yeah, it's a new brand called Poison Ivy," Blair muttered, walking towards the voice in the upper bedroom. "No, Jim. I got the same eco soft blend we've been using all year. I'd give you warning if I changed it."

"Dial failure?" Jim's head appeared at the railing overhead.

"If all your senses are out of sync, it stands to reason that your skin will be oversensitive. You want the other sheets?"

"Too tired." Conversation over.

If he hadn't witnessed Jim's frighteningly aggressive outburst in sleep, this current attitude would have pissed Blair off. As it was, his worry made his brain ruminate over different ideas. Lack of sleep had never previously brought about such an adverse reaction; nor had time away from either his Guide, or from Cascade.

Perhaps they should catalogue all food and drink Jim had consumed while away, then factor in all external elements if the first list drew a blank.

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Although exhausted, Blair forced himself to stay awake until the early hours. He justified it by pulling the last term papers in front of him, and inputting the results into his laptop. In reality he was waiting for Jim to stir. He wasn't sure if he was hoping for it, in order to determine what might be causing it, or dreading it. Blair fingered the inflamed skin over his cheekbone, and then continued typing.

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He accepted Jim's offer of a ride on Wednesday morning. The night had passed peacefully, but both men were fractious. "All I'm saying," Jim was spouting, still scratching away at his arm, "is that if Henderson runs for Governor again, then the Democrats will be playing with fire."

Blair was usually interested in politics, but the news item seemed to have incensed his friend into a loud discussion. He watched his roommate rubbing away at the reddening patch on his arm, and bent forwards to stop him. "You're making it worse, Jim." The force used to smack away his arm was unreasonable, and Blair's hand hit the back of the seat with the momentum, causing him to yelp in surprise.

Jim yanked a hard right into a nearby street, ignoring the subsequent blare of horns behind him. He slammed on the brakes, anger pulsing through his limbs, and killed the engine. "Damn," he vented, counting to ten. "I'm sorry, Chief. I'm sorry." He scrubbed his hands over his face and sighed. "I don't know what's going on with me. I've been snapping at everyone."

"You've been through a lot, Jim," Blair countered, offering his best Guide's placating voice, and trying not to submit to the urge to crawl out of the vehicle. "No one's expecting you to be all fluffy after what happened last week."

"Fluffy?" A smile crinkled the edge of Ellison's lips. "Did you just say, 'fluffy'?" He knew Simon would recommend the departmental psychologist after the trauma of finding little Emily's body, but he was a big boy, and preferred to handle his emotions himself. Unfortunately, he was becoming increasingly aware how stressed he must be, to display such aggressive behavior. "How long are you at Rainier today?" He did not like asking for help.

"I only have a few office hours, and I need to post these grades. Want me to come over to the PD?" Jim nodded. "Sure, man, no problem. Be with you at lunchtime. You can buy me a Wonderburger!"

"Now you're just teasing!" The sudden surge of anger bypassed, Jim switched on the ignition, and the journey resumed. Blair chewed nervously on his lip, and made a mental note to check the product label on the laundry detergent after all. It could easily explain both the rash on Jim's arms, and the irritability.

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Blair's stomach was gurgling with the anticipation of food by the time he exited the elevator just after midday. His heart sank as he heard the loud protestations from his vocal sentinel. "Are you sure you didn't piss in this coffee, Brown? You've already had your laugh with the donuts this morning. I don't need this." So the temper hadn't abated, after all.

"I told you, Ellison, I didn't touch your fucking donut," H was defending, ready to confront. "And I haven't touched your coffee, either. Get your own damn drink next time."

"Hey guys," Blair cut in, braving the situation. He threw out his most disarming grin, and willed away some of the tension in the atmosphere.

"Shit, Blair, what happened to your face?" Joel had been avoiding the standoff, but came forward now to greet the new arrival. He'd sat through the rising friction between the two detectives, and was glad that Sandburg was here.

"Tripped at the University, it's nothing." Blair waved him off, and moved towards Jim's desk. "Up for lunch, still?"

"Yeah." Jim stood to leave. "Anything to get a decent coffee that someone hasn't fucked with." The growled words were uncalled for, and Ellison was lucky that Taggert placed a restraining hand on Brown's chest, as he walked back to his own desk. Blair guided Jim out, throwing an apologetic glance over his shoulder. H's face was like thunder, but he tried to convey his thanks in a forced smile.

The elevator doors slid closed, and, knowing that Ellison was out of earshot, Brown turned to the former bomb squad captain. "You believe that crap about falling at the University?"

Taggert shook his head, suggesting that Brown drop the subject matter. Nevertheless, witnessing Jim's savage temper over the last two days, created doubts in his own mind.

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"If we drop by the loft, can you give me a hand to unload the truck?" Jim asked, glad that Blair hadn't brought up his poor behavior at the PD. He felt guilty at his uncontrolled sniping, and was grateful that Simon hadn't already raked his ass over the coals because of it. He would apologize to H when he went back after lunch. He hadn't eaten since yesterday lunchtime, and everyone knew hunger made him grouchy. And he was so damn tired, and that damn headache was still there.

He'd bought a donut from the trolley when it came round, but when he bit into it, it tasted like it had been fried in castor oil. He'd automatically blamed Brown, who had been laughing at a joke by one of the other officers, and the hostility had grown during the morning.

Blair was still surprised that Jim's fishing equipment had been allowed to stay in the truck so long. The fusty, dank smell of wet was strong even for his normal senses, so he couldn't understand how a frozen salmon could beat such an obvious stench. Looking across at his friend, he saw that he was still rubbing his arms, and the rash was an angry red. "Do you want to try an antihistamine?" Blair offered, pointing at the raw skin. "It might help." He had expected a flash of irritation, and was relieved to be rewarded with a reluctant nod.

"It's across my back and shoulders, too," Jim admitted. "This is a different shirt from yesterday, one that's been on the shelf for a few weeks."

Blair opened the discussion on examining food consumed since the previous Wednesday, and found himself scrabbling for paper and pen as Jim agreed, and began listing everything. "Apart from home-cooked food at the Dow Tavern, I can't see anything here that you haven't eaten before," Blair observed, scanning the contents.

"I've already considered that," Jim said, pulling into a space on Prospect. "I don't understand why I'm so tired and so damn miserable. And even the thought of food is making me nauseous."

"What about…?"

"It's more than Emily, Chief." Jim faced his friend, and winced in sympathy at the rich bruising on Blair's cheek. "I don't know if she triggered something more, that perhaps I've been repressing. But I felt good when I came back on Monday. This has all happened in the last," he checked his watch, "thirty-six hours."

In a bid to change the topic once they were on Prospect and unpacking the truck, Blair recounted the bewildering tutor session he had given on Friday, trying to get a freshman to offer a fundamental observation on why they were studying cultural anthropology. "He's only taking this for credit," he groused, hoiking out the final box. "Man, what have you got in this? It stinks!"

"Does it?" Jim seemed taken aback. "It's only my waders and waterproofs."

"Can we air them on the roof?" Blair pleaded, not wanting to share an apartment with the fetid odor. How could Jim not smell it? If he was so susceptible to subtle scents, how could he be immune to this? "You sure you didn't try fishing in a volcano. It reeks of rotten eggs."

Puzzled, he finished unloading the truck and followed Jim inside. It didn't take the two of them long to swill out the containers, rinse off the waders and leave them on the balcony to air, although it took another ten minutes for Blair to shower after he accidentally poured one of the buckets over himself.

That finished, the Wonderburger promise would be upheld, despite the protestations of their arteries.

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When Jim fell asleep at his desk later that afternoon, it had been Blair that had driven them both home.

Simon had suggested seeking a medical opinion if matters worsened, because the detective was becoming a liability. The comment had been met with a sour grimace, but thankfully, Jim's subconscious wouldn't let him argue with his superior.

As on Tuesday, Jim fell up the stairs and barely removed his outer layers before crashing onto the bed. Blair came up five minutes later and drew the sheets up over him. He would give him a few hours, but then wake him up for a decent meal. He was looking forward to preparing the salmon, and knew that this was one aroma that would attract the neighborhood cats. He smirked at an impish thought of appealing to Jim's inner jaguar.

Decent sleep and a decent meal. That's what Jim needed, Blair surmised. That's what he needed himself, he scolded, tallying his own sleep hours on one hand. Checking on Jim one last time, Sandburg wandered to the sofa and stretched out. He'd allow himself until 6pm.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim didn't gripe once over dinner, which was a pleasant surprise. If anything he complimented the coriander and lime dressing, and asked for seconds. Conversation was a little stilted, as neither of them was fully awake. Jim offered a description of one of his lengthy walks through the forests, into open fields, and down to a sheltered brook. Blair tried to give a blow-by-blow account of Sunday afternoon's game, but he had been too focused on his grading to catch everything, so it caused more confusion than clarification. He gave up in the end, when he felt Jim's wrath emerging from displeasure. There would be a repeat the next evening, Blair mused, why didn't Jim just watch that?

Dishes cleared, they both turned in early, both complaining that they must have eaten too much, which would explain the bloated feeling they had in their stomachs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair had been having quite a lurid dream about one of the teaching fellows, and he was disorientated when he woke without Julia by his side. What had woken him? He turned over, snuggled down and tried to recapture the elusive dream, when the thud above had him out of bed and up the stairs.

Jim was still fast asleep but fighting to stand, the sheets a jumble of cotton around his waist and legs. The eye mask was nearly throttling the poor man, but uncoordinated hands failed to release the elastic. His diminished height against him, Blair evaded flinging arms to wrench away the danger, struggling to pull it back over Jim's head and out of harm's way. His trepidation rose when the sleeper tried to walk towards the top of the stairs, and it took concerted force to shove Jim away from the precipice. The drop to the floor considerable; with no cushioning below. Arms reached out and the incoherent syllabic babble began. It didn't sound like he was in pain. It sounded like a soliloquy in a foreign tongue. Determined not to panic, Blair took a deep breath. Should he try to wake him again?

Sandburg knew that rousing sleepwalkers was considered a bad idea, but if Jim was insisting on going down the stairs, there was no way the smaller man could catch him, should he fall.

Jim's obstinate legs refused to bend, and he stubbornly remained standing, the mumbling a continual stream of gibberish. "Goddammit, Jim, go back to bed!" Blair tried both pushing and pulling, but it was pointless. He was tired, had two difficult classes in the morning, and would much rather be catching up on his much-needed shut-eye. This was the second time this had happened and Jim must be aware that something wasn't right - so why in hell hadn't he said anything? Or was it typical Ellison machismo, refusing to acknowledge a weakness?

As the sounds grew louder, so did the range of Jim's abandoned movements and the extent of Blair's frustration.

Ellison was a strong man, who could easily floor most assailants; Blair was aware of this as he ducked yet another swinging arm. He was rapidly losing patience and was growing more aggravated with each failed effort to get his friend back into bed and away from the top of the stairs. In a final determined effort, he launched himself at the older man, using momentum to carry the pair of them onto the soft mattress.

Although his plan was successful and Jim was now on the bed, the babbled nonsense, and the wild arm and leg movements had only increased. Concentrating too hard on keeping the upper part of Jim's body down, the victor didn't foresee the torturous kick that powerfully connected with his mid-section, and launched him bodily across the room.

The backward motion flung Blair onto the floor, and he lay, winded, cradling his stomach, unable to catch his breath. His muscles screamed at the unprovoked abuse, and his gasps for air made black spots dance in front of his eyes. He couldn't move, he couldn't swallow, he couldn't breathe. All Blair could feel as he lay on the floor was the pulsating agony of the clenched muscles and their refusal to function. It took several minutes before his chokes for air transformed into soft sobs of pain. He clutched uselessly at the t-shirt over his abdomen, not wanting to touch the battered flesh underneath. "Oh god," he cried, snatching in frantic lungfuls of air. "Oh god."

He still couldn't move, even though he wanted to roll away from the hurt. He could hear Jim continuing to thrash uncontrollably in his bed, and attempting to get up once more. Blair knew he had to help him, to calm him, and to wake him before he fell headlong down the stairs. 'Get up,' his mind urged, ignoring the physical restriction. 'Get up.'

"I can't." Blair convulsed, praying for the ache to subside. "Oh god help me, I can't." He watched Jim's hand strike out and send the clock crashing to the floor, and heard the man twist on the mattress as his feet touched the ground. "Not again, Jim. Not just yet." He was torn between anger and pain, at the sight of the still-sleeping Jim trying to stand. Blair bent double at another wave of cramp in his gut, as the protesting muscles pounded him. He had to get up. Anything could happen to Jim while he lay here.

Slowly, and in unrelenting distress, Blair finally managed to claw his body around to the edge of the bed, and brought his knees up underneath him. Taking as deep a breath as his restricted lungs would allow, he leaned forward and switched off the white noise generators once more.

"Jim," he panted, fighting the urge to pass out from lack of oxygen in his pain-filled body. "Jim, it's Blair. I need you to hear my voice, and wake up." The next flailing arm connected with Sandburg's left temple, and a renewed burst of heat spiked into his head.

Suddenly angered by the fresh assault, Blair couldn't help his spontaneous backlash as he smacked away the offending arm. "Enough, already," he growled, slamming into Jim's body and throwing him against the mattress. "You've hurt me…" He grabbed Ellison by the shoulders, the intense pain in his abdomen whipping away his breath. "Enough."

Energized by his irritation, and annoyed that the Sentinel was still refusing to waken, he shook Jim violently, and watched in horror as Jim's head slammed into the metal railing by the pillow. The dull, sickening thud as his skull struck forced a gasp from Blair. Mindless of the searing pain ripping through his intestines, Blair stretched forward, perspiration dripping onto the crumpled sheet. "Oh Jim," he managed, instantly calmed. "I'm sorry." He ran trembling fingers through the cropped hair, searching for sign of significant injury, and found a modicum of relief when he drew a blank.

He had to wake Jim to determine if it were sleep or unconsciousness that now possessed the detective, but the pervading hopelessness about whether the violence would continue, split his mind. But what if Jim were seriously injured? What then?

Swallowing the bile surging in his throat, he gently shook Ellison's shoulder. He had to waken the man.

And say what?

Another light shake and an answering moan, and Blair's head sagged in relief.

"Chief?" Ellison was slow to rouse, but that was understandable. While Jim revived, Blair took a steeling breath and schooled a concerned, but painless expression on his face. The guilt Jim would feel should he find out he had harmed Blair, would be too much to bear, for either of them. It had been an accident.

"You were having a bad dream, Jim," Sandburg said, moving to sit on the edge of the mattress. "You were thrashing around a lot."

"I was… ouch." Ellison had blearily raised his head, but immediately ran an exploratory hand over the throbbing in the back of his skull. "What the hell happened?"

"I think you hit your head." Keep it simple, Blair chanted internally. We can work this out in the morning.

"Oh, right." Realizing that the eye mask was missing, Jim screwed up his eyes at the pale face of his roommate. "You been here long?"

"Nah." Blair attempted a small laugh, and nearly coughed at the encroaching pain in his ribs. "Just long enough to stop you from strangling yourself with your eye mask."

That explained that.

"What happened to your face?" Ellison gestured to the fresh graze and bruising down Blair's temple, and spotted the minimal bruising on his own hand, trying to compare the patterns. "Damn, Chief, I didn't hit you, did I?" Jim was upright in seconds, twisting Blair's damaged face towards him.

Yes, you did, you jerk. Blair immediately felt guilty at his uncharitable thoughts. Jim had been asleep after all. Think, Sandburg, think. Quickly. "No, that was the doorframe on my way up here." Doorframe was nearly as good as a step. "You killed your clock though." He indicated the shattered remains on the floor, and was relieved when Jim's exhausted mind accepted the apparently unlinked reasons. "What were you dreaming about?" Please let the dream have been about something that would explain this whole sordid situation.

Jim settled his pillows behind him and drew up his legs. He ran a hand back over the small bump on the back of his head, and scrubbed his fingers through his hair. "I can't remember, Chief." He yawned, and frowned in thought. "It was something about the loft, but…" He shook his head, glaring at the sheets for inspiration. "I can't remember. I'm sorry."

"That's okay," Blair consoled, wrestling the need to double over with the thudding of his burning insides, and praying that his thudding heartrate would be ignored. What would Jim say if Blair told him about the damage he had just caused? "Why didn't you tell me how off your senses are?"

"They're not too bad," Jim countered, pulling the pillow down lower.

"Liar," Blair muttered, covering it back over with: "So why have you been so obnoxious to everyone? Including me?"

Jim opened his mouth to protest, but knew Sandburg had a valid point.

"Can we discuss this in the morning?" Blair gritted his teeth against Ellison's own deviation, but thought longingly of his bed.

"Think you can go back to sleep?" He didn't dare try standing with Jim in such close proximity and so alert.

"Yeah." The sigh was a positive indication.

"I'll stay here until you're asleep." It was a poor excuse, but necessary. "No more nightmares." Or you're on your own, he added silently.

"Not going to tuck me in, Chief?" The mischievous question was lost in another yawn, and Blair was grateful when Ellison quickly sunk into sleep. His own patience was exhausted, along with the rest of him.

Now all he had to do was make it back down the stairs to his room, without disturbing Jim.

It was a long, ponderous journey, each step jarring his midriff and reminding him of the network of muscles and tendons protecting his vital organs. The kick had caught him primarily under his ribs, but it had been a broadsided impact, that had extended across his stomach region. He had some muscle-relaxants somewhere that he could down if he couldn't sleep.

Mentally counting the number of tablets left, he knew that he would need some to fool Jim into thinking he was healthy, when the morning came around. On the ground floor, Blair stumbled his way back to his room, eyes watering from the cramps in his abdomen. If the injury had been caused any other way, he would be able to share the pain with his friend, and accept the nurturing that he yearned for at this stage.

Thankfully, the small box of Soma was within arm's reach of his bed. They were a residue of a hospital visit a few months back, when one of Cyrus' goons had thought it easier to beat up Ellison's partner than to simply resist arrest. Blair didn't hold much with Western medicine, but there were the occasional times when it had its benefits. He popped a single dose into his mouth, and scrunched up his face when it stuck in his throat. No way was he planning to walk into the kitchen to swig down some accompanying water. He felt nauseous enough without the added movements, let alone the pain it would cause.

Blair gingerly swung his legs onto the futon and couldn't prevent the agonized groan that fell from his lips. Flopping onto his side, he curled up around his tender mid-section, and stifled the whimpers that would have invaded Jim's dreams. The lancing pain from his skull pounded mercilessly through his whole body, making the pillow pick up the rhythmic pace. He should have used icepacks, but it was easier to remain as still as possible and hope that the Soma would offer some relief.

It was only - Blair checked the clock - 3am. He had another 3 or 4 hours before he needed to give one of his many Oscar-winning performances. Another pill when he awoke, and out of the loft before Jim. Easy. Make some excuse about not being able to meet him at the station. Easy. If necessary, stay over at a friend's tonight. Ea... No, he couldn't do that. Not until they found out the root of Jim's attacks.

Worrying over his friend's unknown dilemma, Blair breathed as shallowly as he could to alleviate the muscle movement in his abdomen. They could narrow down Jim's symptoms in the morning.

Sometime after they had discussed what the hell was going on.

God, he hurt.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I'll call you later," Blair promised, as he exited the loft in a hurry.

Jim held aloft the unserved omelet he had been about to transfer to a plate, and blanched at the speedy departure. The bottle of Betadine still sat on the side, unused by Blair for the cut on his temple. What was so urgent that he had had to leave so quickly? Ellison shrugged, and served himself a double portion of eggs, standing up to eat while he scanned the daily broadsheet. He glanced at the minor abrasion on his own hand and squinted hard to analyze the shape of the markings. They certainly didn't look like they had been caused by a bedside clock, but the evidence seemed irrefutable.

Sandburg wouldn't lie to him, anyway. Would he? Jim munched away on the drying toast, picked at the leftover salmon, and considered the king of obfuscation. Blair didn't lie, exactly, but he wasn't always one hundred percent handy with the truth.

An irrational swell of anger heaved into Jim's chest, and he pounded his fist on the counter. He didn't need lying shits like Sandburg in his life. So what if he had left early? It meant Jim had some peace and quiet in his own home for once. He never got that any more, not since the messy, verbose, longhaired hippy had barged into his life. It was only meant to have been for a week. Perhaps he had been right to kick him out when Alex Barnes had been here. He didn't need anyone cluttering his space.

How much of the stuff around the loft was extraneous? He didn't want items on the wall. He didn't want ornaments or artifacts in here. This was his home and no one else's.

Why didn't Sandburg just pay his way in life, find his own place to live, and fuck off and leave him alone?

Staggered by his own wrath, he stalled.

Where the hell had that come from, Ellison demanded of himself, immediately regretting his thoughts, and then being instantly overtaken by irrational fury.

Irate, he stormed to the balcony and wrenched open the door.

"What the fuck is wrong with me?" he screamed at the wind. "What am I trying to do?" He didn't mean any of the selfish thoughts that had trawled through his head. He liked Blair sharing the loft with him. Sure it meant some compromise, but how much had Sandburg sacrificed in return? How many people would tolerate Ellison's pissy and petulant attitude on a good day? Jim leaned against the railing in front of him, clenching and unclenching his fists. The anger rose and fell inside of him like an erratic tide at full moon.

Could he please stop this pitiful invective and start being more civil to those around him?

He ran his hand idly over the receding bump on his skull. That cut on Sandburg's temple could be explained by a doorframe, but if Ellison had been so uncontrolled that he had smacked his own head into something solid, what proof was there that Blair hadn't met his fist along the way?

He would have to confront him, and ask. They had a stakeout this evening on the factory store on Wellington. There was plenty of opportunity to talk then.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair stared down at the fluid fast disappearing down the urinal. He was still holding his abdomen with his left arm, reaching around to clutch at the excruciating pain erupting in his side. His left elbow jammed in lower as the stabbing wave of pain extended, and he didn't know which part of him hurt more. He zipped up, and tried to push to the back of his mind that the fluid he had discharged had been pink.

He didn't have any more lectures, and office hours were over. He'd already eaten by picking at the salmon he'd thrown into a Tupperware box that morning. He could sink onto the couch in his room and stay there. Answerphone on, cell phone switched off. Notice on the door to say he was absent.

Peace and quiet.

And painkillers.

The piercing spasm rocketed through his right flank and Blair's knees tried to give out underneath him, wanting to send him to the floor of the men's room. He was so proud that he'd lasted until now. He had opened the first class into a Q&A session amongst the students, and the second, he had provoked into a debate over topical issues on modern excavation techniques. Both had meant he could sit, unobtrusively, and lean against the wall. The less he spoke the better.

He had felt like shit all morning, and waved away all concerns about the new head injury. "Walked into the doorframe," he had maintained. The Soma had helped to a certain extent, but its effects were either short-lived, or his movements were aggravating whatever harm had befallen him.

Now, he was propped up against the cold tile, waiting for the ride of pain to subside. He only needed to get down the corridor and into his office. If he could get there within the next five minutes, he would avoid the lunch rush. His breathing came in short, sharp gasps, just like it had done ten hours before. The imprint on his side was obvious, and he couldn't answer why he didn't want Jim to know. It had been an accident, and accidents happen. Established fact.

Blair considered hauling himself to the on-campus clinic, but feared the sorts of questions they might ask. If he labeled it as an incident with a perp, then the medical file would instantly get relayed and appear on Simon's desk as evidence. If he visited the local hospital, his credentials would flag up on the computer and somehow, he just knew, Jim would find out.

According to the website he had checked earlier, bruised kidneys were often self-limiting injuries. Which meant, to Blair's non-medically trained mind, that he simply had to ride out the symptoms and everything would be fine. He had read that damage to the kidney could also cause leakage of blood from the kidney. That would explain the discoloration just now. Everything would be fine.

He just needed to hide this from Jim, although for the life of him he couldn't figure out why. Was it a guilt thing? Did he not want to be mothered? He was used to dealing with injuries himself, and didn't need anyone's help. Besides, the last thing he needed was a guilt-ridden Sentinel hovering over him.

Staggering against the wall, Blair eventually righted himself and clasped the sink edge for support. He cautiously lifted his shirt to inspect the marks in the mirror. That morning, the shape of the impact mark had been clearly defined, and the hints of purple surrounding the area had given credence to the discomfort Blair felt. Now, hitching his shirt higher, he was startled by the excess of bruising extending from his abdomen all the way around his right flank.

The movement of raising his arms elicited a moan, and he lowered them as gently as possible, setting his left arm back into its customary position across his stomach.

His office. Wasn't far. Shouldn't take too long. There were aspirin in the drawer somewhere. No. Aspirin might not be such a great idea with a bruised kidney. But he needed something for this pounding headache.

"C'mon, Blair, you can make it. It's not far." Sandburg inched open the toilet door, checking the area. "You can make it." He started up a mantra, convincing himself he could reach his haven, and expended a sigh when he finally locked his office door, with him on the inside, and eased himself down onto the waiting couch.

A few hours of sleep would be a blessed relief. He would call Jim when he woke up and make up some excuse about counseling a student. Jim would believe anything if it was worded properly, and the receiver held far enough away that he couldn't detect a rapid heartrate.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Jim, I am sick of this ill-tempered attitude of yours," Simon growled, out-staring the stubborn man in front of him. "You've chewed out damn near every person in this department since Tuesday, and it's got to stop." He watched in disbelief as Ellison ignored him, and instead gazed out into the bullpen. "Are you listening to me, detective?" The raised voice commanded the attention of most, but was falling on deaf ears. "JIM?"

The barked shout provoked a response, and Ellison spun around. "Sir?"

Had he been zoning?

"Did you hear anything I said?" Banks snarled, not appreciating Jim's ignorant approach. "There's something going on with you, and I don't believe it's connected to the Mandel case." He remained standing as Jim sauntered towards the office door. "Where the hell do you think you're going, Ellison?"

"Sorry, sir. Did you say something?"

Jim swung back and stared intently at his Captain. He hadn't even noticed which room he was in; he hadn't heard anything; and it had felt almost like tunnel vision. Damn, Simon's face looked scary. Who had ticked him off this time? Perhaps the Commissioner had been on the phone again, demanding -

"Sit." The order was spat out, and Jim dropped into the indicated chair.

"Simon?"

The gold-framed glasses were rammed further up Simon's nose, and the snort of impatience covered the ten second count Banks gave himself to muster some calm. "You've been in here for some time, and I've been reprimanding you for your piss-poor attitude." He squared his shoulders. "Are you telling me that you didn't hear any of it?"

Either Ellison was either a damn fine actor, or he was genuinely confused. "I'm sorry, Simon, I don't know what to say."

"You didn't hear any of it." The statement was delivered in a monotone, accepting the truth. "Don't tell me, it's a Sentinel thing."

Jim nervously twitched his fingers, not wishing to make eye contact. First his senses were over-reacting. Then, according to Sandburg, he'd been having physically interactive nightmares; snapping at everyone for days, for no reason; and now, his senses were so badly out of line, that he had either been zoning in Simon's office on no one particular sense, or they had intermittently shut down altogether.

It was a frightening catalogue of events when considered as a whole.

"I think there's something wrong, sir," Jim uttered softly, still looking down at his long fingers and digging them into his thighs. "If I look back on what's been happening since I got back on Monday, there's something clearly wrong." The introspection was interrupted by a sustained yawn. "And, " he added needlessly, "I'm so damn tired. No matter how much I sleep, I'm still tired."

Simon examined his friend and had to admit that he did look rough around the edges. "Anything to do with the bottle of Tylenol I've been watching you knock back since yesterday morning? I thought you couldn't take - "

"Just a headache," Jim ruefully admitted, fingering the shrinking lump on the back of his skull, then scratching the ever-present itch across his shoulders. "My senses are off, and I can't control my anger at all."

"Sandbur …?"

"Blair's been trying to get me to talk so we can try and work out what's wrong, but all I've done is criticize or shout." There was something not quite right about the way his roommate had left that morning. Was it something he had said? Something he had forgotten?

Banks waited out the silence, waiting to see if Ellison had anything further to offer.

"I don't know what I need to do, sir." The plaintive sentence left the Captain with little option.

"Jim." He exhaled sharply. "I don't have much choice. Until this is resolved, I need -"

His detective pre-empted his request and had already unholstered his gun, removed the bullets, and lain the weapon on the desk. The unclipped badge followed.

"When I can trust myself again, I'll get back to you." The resignation sounded rancorous initially but was quickly disguised into reluctance. "Until then, I'm a liability." Scratching his arm so hard the blood began to seep, Ellison rose and stood in front of his Captain. "I understand." The weariness was evident in his gait, as Jim left the office. Perhaps all he needed was a little more time away and a lot more sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Sir, I have Ken Langworthy from WDFW on line two for you. He's been asking if there is a Detective James Ellison under your command." Rhonda cradled the phone on her shoulder, as she kept her finger on the mute switch.

"Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife after Ellison?" Brown couldn't help but sound incredulous, as he wolfed the last of his cream donut. "What did he do, kidnap an elk?"

Simon ambled over to his secretary's desk and hitched up a leg to perch on the edge. "Okay." He nodded to the flashing console.

"This is Captain Simon Banks," he cleared his throat, trying to sound more officious. "How can I help you?"

The hints of laughter slowly disappeared from the observers as they watched Simon's expression fade to one of concern. "Yes, that's right. He did. Got back Monday, returned to work Tuesday." He beckoned for a pen and pad of paper, tearing the lid off the pen with his mouth and spitting it out of the way. "I don't know; I haven't been to his apartment." He hastily scribbled a command in bold letters and held the pad aloft to the waiting men. The words were clear. 'Find Ellison'. "Now you come to mention it, yes, I have noticed -" He broke off to turn to the clueless audience, then underlined the command once again, and mouth the word 'Now'. His face brooked no arguments. "Excuse me, Mr. Langworthy, would you mind if I transferred this call to my office. Yes, we'll give you the fax number, certainly. Any information you have will be vitally important."

Banks temporarily handed the call back to Rhonda, and turned to his waiting staff. "Which part of 'Find Ellison', wasn't in the English language?" he demanded viciously, heading towards his office. "When you find him," he added over his shoulder, almost angry that the people were still in the vicinity. "Get him to a hospital, and call me."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It didn't seem natural to hear an APB out on one of their own, but Rafe and Brown careened along the highway, trying to outbid the evening rush hour traffic to get to 852 Prospect. Brown launched the brown sedan onto the slip road, and hurtled down Main, siren and lights blazing. Rafe was clinging onto the side, and completing a call on his cell.

"Rhonda says there's no answer from either of their cells, and the machine's kicking in at the loft. Simon's also said that if Ellison's in respiratory distress, we are to break all known traffic laws to get him to Cascade General."

Brown's smile was grim as he threw the car into a stiff right hand turn, and slammed his hand against the horn to remove the idiots in front of him. "When don't I break the traffic laws?"

"Jeez, H, try not to kill us on the way." Rafe pleaded as he smacked himself in the face with his cell phone, and held on tighter for the final turn.

"Only Jim could go away on a fishing trip, and find the one place that gets intentionally contaminated with a concentrated pesticide." The squealing of brakes accompanied their arrival at the loft, and the vehicle was barely at a standstill before Rafe was out and running inside the building, yelling their location into his phone as he went. Their hopes were raised at the sight of the blue truck parked out the front, but they weren't leaving anything to chance.

The ride up in the elevator lasted too long, and both men sprinted down the short stretch of hallway, thumping their fists on the loft door, and attracting the attention of one of the neighbors.

Desperation overrode them as the door remained closed, and Brown was just placing his shoulder against the solid barrier when Rafe held up a staying hand. Pulling his partner away, he pressed his ear against the door and listened carefully.

"What?" Brown whispered, annoyed at being interrupted when their mission was so urgent. It took a moment before he realized what Rafe was doing. A pissy Ellison may have handed in his service weapon, but had anyone checked the location of the back-up piece? If there was something medically wrong with him caused by a reaction to the chemical, who was to say his temper wasn't now completely out of control, and he was sitting on the other side of the door, gun in readiness?

"Okay, you kick, I'll clear." Shoving the curious neighbor out of the way with a thrust of his gold shield, and copious apologies, Rafe crouched down as Brown raised his foot. One well-aimed kick and the catch blew, the bigger man instantly dropping as his partner scoured the room.

'Ransacked' was the only word to describe the havoc facing them. Not one item of furniture was upright or in its usual position. The items on the metal bookshelf had been launched across the room; the window blinds had been shredded and hung in lengths on the floor; the remains of wall hangings lay in a crumpled heap, threads everywhere, cohesion lost. Each of the cupboard doors hung open, several of them off their hinges, and splinters scattering the surfaces. The refrigerator door stood half open and the meticulously arranged contents were sprayed over the surrounding area.

Their jaws slack with surprise, the two men gazed around at the devastation. The window into Blair's room was smashed, the wooden cross frame swinging, ready to fall with the last of the shattered glass. And there was a trail of blood leading away towards the balcony.

"What the fuck…?" The door to the outside was banging gently against the battered frame; the demolished handle wrenched away from its home. Rafe inched cautiously over to the balcony, revolver raised in anticipation.

The unexpected sight that greeted him, caused him to reholster his gun immediately and softly call his partner, handing over the phone as he did so. "I think we need that ambulance, H."

Ellison sat hunched in the corner of the balcony, his right hand cradled in his left, his knees pulled up firmly under his chin. His mussed hair and ripped clothes mirrored the state of the loft, and the steady dripping of blood from the lacerated hand was matched by the tears cascading down the broken man's face.

As Rafe drew nearer he could hear Jim whispering to himself in half sentences, and strained to make out some of the words. "Not here, couldn't hear... hurt head, hurt me..." The stuttered sounds were more of a bizarre cataloguing of the afternoon's events. "…light broke me… broke light…" Jim's shivering was noticeable, despite the warmth of the evening; his adrenalin levels sapped and his body craving attention. The younger detective removed his jacket and gingerly eased it around his friend, not wanting to disturb the bloody mess of the damaged hand.

Rubbing Jim's shoulder, trying to soothe the shaking, he sought to find the right words. "It's okay, Jim, help's on its way." Thank God Simon had demanded that they get here so fast; he had never seen Ellison in this state before. And he never wanted to again. Still running his hand down the shivering arm, he noticed Jim cringe away from the touch and pulled away, worried. He idly wondered where Hairboy had gotten to; it was nearly 6pm and he was usually home by now. "H has called for an ambulance," he glanced over his shoulder, and waited for the agreeing nod behind him as Brown completed the call, "and they're going to come and help you. You've been in contact with some pretty nasty stuff, and they're going to help you get through this." He didn't know what to say. It didn't seem as though Ellison could hear him. The eyes were half-closed, tears continuing to stream down the flushed face, left hand opening and closing around his slashed right, pulsing the blood into an increasing puddle.

" … tired… h'dache…"

"Yeah, we know," Rafe placated, his heart sinking at the current state of his stalwart colleague. He knelt in front of Jim and gently lifted the bleeding hand away from its cradle and into his own, carefully wrapping it with his handkerchief, and raising it up to try and reduce the flow. Ellison didn't even wince at the pain it must have caused, but started again with the incoherent monologue.

" … sick… " He eventually managed, bringing Rafe's attention back to his words. Jim tried valiantly to make eye contact but the effort of keeping his head up was too much, and he slumped back down.

"That's why the paramedics are on their way, so they can get you the help you need." An antsy Detective Brown looked out across the city, wondering when the team would arrive. He had never seen Ellison in this state, and it unnerved him. How had he gone from being pissy and angering those around him, to destroying his home better than any thief could have done, to this, this emotional wreck? "Jim, I'm going to call Simon and let him know that we've found you, okay?" It was a poor excuse, but he needed a quick respite. "You hang in there." His throat tightened. "Bri's got ya, okay, man?"

Rafe moved closer in to the suffering man, and tried once more to offer physical contact to help him warm up.

In a last ditch effort, Jim raised his weary head and hoarsely whispered, "s'ck," before vomiting violently.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Brown and Rafe had stood back bemused, as a team bearing medical emergency boxes and wearing blue Hazmat suits had arrived to treat the injured man. The four new arrivals dealt with the matter swiftly and efficiently, assessing the situation and evacuating the area within a few minutes. Downstairs, the detectives had been encouraged into a second vehicle while the oxygen-masked Ellison was stretchered into the awaiting ambulance. The men in the rear of the van explained their actions and what might, to the detectives, seem like overkill. At their destination of Cascade General, the two healthy officers were asked to strip down to their underwear as a precautionary measure, as they had both been inside the apartment. More so for Rafe, who had been in the firing line when Ellison had become so unwell.

"Don't look so fine now, do ya?" Brown had mocked him in an attempt to lighten the mood, as the two struggled into hospital scrubs. They had watched as the team had sponged off Ellison's skin, and rinsed his hair before admitting him into the hospital, oxygen mask in place and IV running.

Once the decontamination processes were complete, the hazmat masks were removed, and the nurses took over.

The detectives took one final look at Ellison being rolled onto a fresh gurney before they were ushered into the main waiting area. "He's going to be fine." The nurse's words sounded confident, but it did little to appease them.

Simon was waiting for them in the over-lit room, one of the fluorescent tubes buzzing and flickering. Despite his concern, Banks couldn't hide the smug grin when he watched Rafe waddling in wearing green scrubs and plastic overshoes on his feet, a scowl marring his face.

"How is he?" Banks toyed with the unlit cigar in his hand as the three men sat, and fidgeted in the clutches of the unforgiving plastic chairs.

"He's trashed his place, and then threw up over Brian." Short, but honest. Brown was still caught in the shock of seeing Ellison so unhinged. "What the fuck happened, Simon? And where's Hairboy? You should the damage he's done, sir. If Jim was that violent with his apartment... I don't like to say it, sir, but I'm still questioning how Sandburg got those bruises on his face. Door frames aren't that shape."

Banks sighed, and pulled out the faxed copy from his breast pocket. "This is the information the WDFW sent over. Apparently, the EPA still don't classify metam sodium as a hazardous chemical, in spite of debilitating side effects, but the problem they have here," he straightened the sheet and showed then where he had highlighted the pertinent date, "isn't so much that a pesticide ended up in the stream Jim was fishing in on Monday." He pointed to one of the later entries. "A form of it was intentionally dumped there in concentrated amounts." Rafe reached over, grabbed the sheet and scanned it for himself.

"If this was on Monday, why's it taken them until Thursday to tell anyone?" he demanded, derision underpinning his voice.

"Your guess is as good as mine, son." Damn, he could really use that cigar lit and in his mouth. Better still, that delicious taste hurtling down into his lungs; anything to calm him right now. "It wasn't noticed until Tuesday, and then it didn't occur to the owners of the land that the folk who paid to fish in their lake, were some of the same folk who were trawling the river." Don't suppose the hospital would let him break the rules for once? He'd love to smoke away his anxiety. "So they only alerted the locals initially, and didn't come to us until they gave their records to WDFW who traced it back through…"

"Ellison registering his firearm at the place where he was staying," Brown finished off his Captain's sentence. Incompetence mystified and irritated him. If the chemical was this toxic, why had it taken them nearly three days? "It says here that symptoms include headaches, chest pains, rashes, dizziness and vomiting." He shot a wry look at his partner who was staring distastefully at his temporary clothing. "Think he had that last part down to an art form, don't you?" He perused the sheet further, and then looked up. "So where is Sandburg?"

"Joel's trying the University. Blair's still not picking up his phone, and his cell's switched off."

"Simon, you don't think...?" Fuck. How was Rafe meant to vocalize the demon thought at the back of his head? Brown obviously thought the same way by his words moments before. "I mean…" He stopped. The idea was too malicious.

"If Jim were able to trash his own place, do I think he could have beaten the shit outta Blair first?" There, that put it out in the open. It was clearly the same thing they had all been internalizing.

Nobody answered.

More importantly, and more worryingly, nobody defended Jim.

After a pause, Brown ventured a new line of thinking, trying to wean them off the sadistic idea of Ellison damaging their departmental observer. "We know he's got the rash." Henri had witnessed where the streaked marks on Jim's arms from t-shirt sleeve to wrist, had been raw from his continual scratching. They had both seen how that rash was spread right across his chest and back when the patient had been unceremoniously stripped, before being dressed in a surgical gown. "He's also had the headache and the vomiting, so it's been playing havoc with his system." He shuddered at the sensory recall. "The sheet from the WDFW doesn't mention anything about violence or ill temper." He eased forward in his chair and pursed his lips, knowing that he was stretching himself out on a limb here, but he had noticed things in the past, he had overheard conversations, and discussed them with his partner. He knew he couldn't be wrong on this. "Simon, has Jim reacted this way because he's a Sentinel?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Some instinct told Joel that Blair was in his office, even though the door was locked and the lights were off. He couldn't see movement, and he couldn't make out too much through the frosted glass. Taggert was glad he had grabbed one of the janitors on his way into Hargrove Hall, as he didn't feel like smashing through the panel to gain entrance.

"Yeah, I got t'key," grumbled the elderly man, wanting to get back to sloshing his gray bucket down the emptying corridors. The sooner he finished, the sooner he could get home. "Don't see t'point meself. He want you in, he don't lock door."

Joel was a patient man, but the slow actions of palsied fingers fumbling for the correct key bothered him to the point where he snatched the set away, and got the door open himself.

It had hurt him badly enough to hear that Jim was on his way to the hospital with both a gaping slice to his hand, and symptoms of pesticide poisoning, but it hadn't occurred to him to find Blair for any reason other than getting him checked over at the hospital, just in case.

As he walked into the room, the smell of illness rose to his nostrils, like the cloying of a sickly perfume. Curled into a tight ball on the small couch, lay a wheezing and barely conscious Sandburg. Dark hair fanning across his face obscured his features from Taggert's view, but he knew the kid was in serious trouble. The pallid and sweaty skin glistened in the light spilling in from the hallway, where the janitor was turning away the gathering crowd of inquisitive passers-by.

Joel sat on the side of the couch trying not to gag, and keyed in 911, delicately easing one of the sick-covered strands from the edge of Blair's mouth. He didn't try to remove the clenched fists that Blair held embedded in his distended abdomen. Where the shirt had come adrift, he could see the dark outline of heavy bruising and he ran a hand tenderly over the young man's head. A faint whimper was his only response. "Oh son," he murmured, tilting the pale head over so Blair wouldn't choke. "What the hell has happened to you?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim couldn't remember the last time he had felt this lousy. The fact that he had vomited all over Rafe didn't seem to have been enough for the nursing staff, and he clutched the bowl tighter in his arms as another wave of ipecacuanha-induced queasiness overtook him. Something inside of him wondered at the temporary dressing on his right hand, while another part questioned precisely what might be running through that IV needle in the other hand. Whatever it was, it was making the world a very strange place.

A reassuring hand on his back and a cold, damp cloth against his forehead offered a moment of comfort, but the clenching in his stomach brought forth yet another rebelling of his system. What Jim couldn't understand was why they were intentionally making him vomit. He couldn't remember too much of what had happened that afternoon; he remembered trying to turn the window down because it was too bright. No, that didn't make much sense. Yes, that was right, the window had been too bright so he'd tried to turn it down, and when that didn't work, he'd drawn the blinds to stop it. But that hadn't worked either. He'd looked everywhere for the switch, and in the end...

Something at the back of his mind told him to look at his right hand.

He ignored the suggestion and held the bowl nearer to his mouth, the room swimming sickeningly around him.

"Mr. Ellison?" Go away, I'm busy throwing up. "Mr. Ellison?" Fuck off, I feel like shit, and I don't know who you are. Leave me alone.

The bowl disappeared but he wasn't sure how. Had he thrown it?

"No! Leave him!" The command that filtered through to his confused mind sounded forceful. Hands that had gripped his wrists like iron fell away, and he felt himself being eased back onto the nest of pillows. "Detective Ellison?" Where had that bowl gone? He needed that bowl. "My name is Cathy Wall. I'm a doctor." Yeah? He could use a doctor. He felt crap. Now, where was that bowl, he wanted to be sick again. "I need you to open your eyes and look at me."

Open his eyes. Uh-huh.

No.

No, thanks.

Where had that bowl gone?

"Detective Ellison, I need you to look at me, please." What? Can't a guy be sick in peace? Give me back the bowl. "No, I said leave him!" That forceful tone was back again. It seemed related to that vice on either of his arms. "Detective Ellison, unless I can get a response from you, then the orderlies will have to restrain you the next time you lash out. Would you please open your eyes and look at me?"

It was either the military training, or some deep-seated subconscious understanding of his predicament that forced Jim to open his eyes and stare groggily at the blonde figure in front of him. The white lab coat, and hanging stethoscope were a dead give away. Even if she hadn't have been there, the sterile wall and the excess of buzzing machines and medical peripheries would have told him clearly enough regardless. He was in a hospital.

Again.

He didn't want to be here. He had a headache the size of Kansas; his stomach was still giving him hell; the itching across his shoulders felt as bad as it had that morning, and lying against these scratchy pillows was not helping. He had to get out of here.

The grips returned once more, and the world started to shift sideways. All he was trying to do was get up because there was something he had to do. But he couldn't think what it was. Something he had to do that involved not being here.

That word came floating towards his psyche once more, and his eyelids fluttered downwards. Why was the doctor talking about restrain? Weren't doctors supposed to help? He needed a doctor. He hadn't been feeling well since he got back from… got back from…. Where the hell had he been? Oh yeah - fishing trip. That's right. He had escaped because Emma… no, not Emma. Emily. That's right. He had been too late and Emily had been killed. He had found her. He had escaped from… from… Wherever. And he had gone to… to… Wherever. He'd come home and he and Blair had…. Blair. It was something about how Blair had been moving that morning. That was it. He had to go and find Sandburg. Something wasn't right with Sandburg. But that window had been shining too brightly and he….

"Chief?" His mouth was full of cotton wool, and the residue from his sickness coated his tongue and teeth. It was enough to make him want to retch. Again. He was reasonably sure his spoken word had been intelligible, but it didn't explain the expression on this woman's face as he wrenched his eyes back open. He tried again, but this time the word got stuck in his throat. There was a sort of empty feeling where his thought processes should be, and the last ounce of rationale in his brain noticed that this woman was administering something else into the IV line. Trying to question one final time, his unconscious mind decided that Haldol, metam sodium and exhaustion were too strong a combination to fight. And closed down.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"My colleagues are still with Mr. Sandburg, administering much the same procedures as we have done with Detective Ellison." Doctor Wall's manner showed that she was clearly concealing something from the waiting men. "As we understand it from evidence at the scene, both patients consumed fish caught in the contaminated water, so we induced vomiting in Detective Ellison to ensure that all ingested substances that may have been residual were removed. We are waiting for the results of the blood work, CBC and tox screenings to determine the baseline, and establish where we move from here. To be honest, in cases such as this, our best course of action is to monitor, re-hydrate and re-screen. His airways seem to be clear, although we are keeping an O2 mask on him temporarily, in case of complications."

The severe-featured doctor gazed analytically at the officers. Two of them were still dressed in scrubs, one looking shell-shocked, while one of the other men looked as though he desperately needed that cigar in his pocket. "I would say that, on the whole, we have been extremely lucky." Those seemed to be the magic words to lower the tensed sets of shoulders. "However, what concerns me is that I have never previously seen a physically violent reaction to chemicals as these, such as Detective Ellison is exhibiting."

Simon blanched at the words. He knew about the loft, they all did. Had something occurred here at the hospital, also? Based on Taggert's narration and their own view of the, by then unconscious, Sandburg, it was becoming terribly clear to all of them, that in order for the grad student to have received such injuries, someone must have assaulted him. It had to have been Ellison. How else did the kid get into such a state? Why else would he have borne the injuries without seeking medical help? It wasn't like Sandburg to take crap off anyone, so why would he have wanted to cover for Jim? Especially if he was so badly hurt?

"Doctor," Simon began slowly, trying to get his own thinking straight, "would the poisoning have affected reasonable logic?" Perhaps he should have taken a time out for that cigar after all.

"In terms of not fully understanding what that person was doing?" She understood him to be referring to the sedated Ellison. "It is possible, I suppose. This kind of pesticide also affects the nervous system and physiological changes aren't out of the equation. It still doesn't necessarily explain Detective Ellison's reactions."

Simon was too distracted to initially appreciate her misinterpretation of his question. It slowly dawned on him that the physical violence Jim exhibited could be explained away by the overreaction of his Sentinel abilities, but revealing that would be a breach of Jim's trust. Doctor Wall hadn't indicated that the physical manifestation was a medical issue, but usually the medical staff here were more amenable in their manner.

"Simon?" It was Joel, tired, washed-out, and still disturbed by finding his young friend in such a terrible condition. "Simon, it won't hurt. Which is more important: a secret or his life?"

If the doctor hadn't suspected anything surreptitious before, she certainly did now. "Gentlemen." The firm commanding voice that Jim had been hearing was at the forefront. "If there is something else about Detective Ellison's condition that I need to know about, now would be a good time to tell me. The EPA, Toxicology Departments and Medical Dictionaries can only go a certain distance. Psychic premonitions were not in my doctorate."

The four men began to feel like schoolboys hauled into the Principal's Office. If it hadn't have been for the gravity of the situation, Rafe could have almost enjoyed watching his Captain squirm with indecision. Brown nudged the older man with his elbow and hissed in his ear, "You can always tell the schmuck that it was one of us."

Still unsure how his men had discovered a secret that he, Sandburg and Ellison had been trying desperately hard to keep, Banks slowly stood and faced the discerning doctor. "Is there somewhere where we can talk privately and confidentially?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Tommy Juno!" Rafe announced, using the edge of the bed sheet to polish the end of his change of footwear.

"Yeah?" Taggert was uncomfortable in the hospital chair he had been delegated, and thought that at least one of the pair would have shifted to make way for his older frame. He didn't want to be in the room, but Simon had called on his patience and humanity to be there when Ellison awoke. "That's right," he recalled, searching through his memory. "The case was thrown out of court when he claimed he could see him clearly in the distance. Never occurred to me."

"Didn't to either of us, until we were piecing together one or two other events." Brown was much more at ease now he was back in a pair of jeans. It hadn't taken either of the men long to get home, shower and change, but neither of them had been prepared to leave until they knew the two patients were out of danger. "We got the title of Sentinel from that thing Ellison had in his drawer once." He thought back to that opening chapter with Hairboy as the author. "Saw they were hiding something between them, and everyone got so distracted looking for that damn alligator, that I don't think they saw my partner-in-crime grab it for a quick look." He looked down at the sleeping Sentinel, and eyed the heavily bandaged right hand. Ellison was lucky they hadn't had to transfuse him after the flood of red over the balcony. "You?"

"Something Brackett said as he came around after Jim slugged him." Taggert smirked half-heartedly, wishing he were with Sandburg instead. Jim wasn't on a respirator and struggling for life. "Made everything make sense. Seems Connor's known almost from the start."

"Yeah," Rafe sighed, starting on cleaning his fingernails. "Woman's intuition. Just like that damn doctor out there." He nodded towards the closed door and made a face. "Can't get anything past them. And man, do I try."

"Try what?" The groggy voice was barely audible, but it brought all three men to attention. It was the first response Ellison had given in the five hours since being sedated. Pale, shaky and confused, Jim gradually roused himself, and tried to pull himself up the bed to stop the irritation on his skin. A few moments later, he aborted the idea when he found himself to be too exhausted and weakened by whatever was in that IV line. "Wha' y'doin' here?" Talking was difficult but it seemed an important question.

"Hey, Thumper," Brown said, turning his chair around towards the bed. "How you feeling?" Now the man was awake, he wasn't sure whether he felt animosity or sympathy. After all, the shivering wreck they had found earlier that evening had not been a well man. Either way, Blair was still unconscious in the room down the hallway.

Jim tried to lick his dry lips, and failed. The O2 mask was no longer in place, but the cracked lips were testament to the procedures he had endured. Had he been more alert, he might have been surprised that none of his colleagues offered him water to sip. "Wha' doin'?" he attempted again.

"Waiting for you to come round, so we can all go home and get a decent night's sleep," Rafe offered, airily. He bit back a comment about wanting to arrest him for assault. This was still their friend. Wasn't he? Even the doctor had conceded that heightened senses could have caused an extreme reaction, especially considering the large areas of infected rash on his arms and back, the contact with the water, and the ingestion of the infected food. Ellison would never intentionally hurt Hairboy, would he?

Past events ran through Rafe's mind as he questioned the defense. He remembered how Ellison had made the kid effectively homeless when Alex Barnes was on the scene, and Rafe had certainly caught one or two sniped comments about what had transpired in Peru. But then, look at how gutted the detective had been over the Golden incident, when he thought that his own back-up weapon might have brought about Sandburg's death. Speaking of which, a man who would intentionally injure his partner would not have been so utterly destroyed when he thought the kid had drowned.

However, the evidence was overwhelming. Intentional or not, Sandburg still lay in a bed, with a tube helping him to breathe.

No one spoke. The three visitors were lost in the battle of emotions that spun around their heads.

Jim thought they were merely deferring to the fact that his eyes were shut, and keeping quiet in case he was trying to sleep.

It didn't occur to him that there might be another reason.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, a small worry of concern was niggling for his attention. It had something to do with how someone had been walking.

It could wait.

He didn't feel too good, and there was a very painful throbbing in his right hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It had taken some fast-talking by Banks to try and ensure that Ellison hadn't been forcibly restrained after his thrashing around caused so much concern among the attending staff. He had to admit that it was possibly against his better judgment in light of Blair's injuries, but his long-standing friendship with Jim asked that they at least gave him the benefit of the doubt.

He hadn't seen the annihilated loft, but accepted the descriptions. He had witnessed Ellison's attitude for himself, and had sent the man home for that very reason. But the man had admitted that he couldn't hold himself responsible for his actions, and had, in fact, referred to himself as a 'liability'. All it would have taken was Blair to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Simon watched the slow rise and fall of Blair's chest; kept in strict time by the respirator. The chart hanging at the end of the bed was filled with numbers related to fluid flowing into and out of the abused body, heart rate, and levels of contaminant in the blood. The already maltreated stomach muscles would later object to the use of the pump that had been employed to clear his system. Unlike Jim, when Blair had been brought in, he was out cold, and although his eyes had opened one or two times in the trauma room, they were unable to elicit a coherent response. When his breathing became compromised shortly afterwards, he had been intubated immediately, and would remain so until consciousness returned.

Banks would sit here and wait until it did.

Taggert had desperately needed to see for himself that Blair was still alive and making some, albeit not much progress. Banks had relented as soon as visiting permission was given, and let Joel sit with the frail young man. With visitors limited to one, Simon soon persuaded the other Captain to stay with the older patient, but only by confessing that he needed time to school his own thoughts over the situation. He was tired, and without fresh evidence or a victim's statement, it would certainly appear that Ellison was responsible for the kidney damage that Blair had sustained.

He would happily pray to whichever god was listening that, although serious in itself, the kidneys were merely bruised and nothing more life threatening.

The attending physician's words still rang in his ears, as the screening process was explained and how the numbers on that chart were so vital. The state of the bruising indicated that the injury had been inflicted within the previous twelve hours, which could either absolve Jim or indict him. Students and staff at Rainier had reported seeing Blair before lunch, but no one had seen him afterwards. Had Ellison attacked him that morning, and he had somehow hidden it from his classes? They said that he'd been quiet, but he sometimes was, when he was tired. Was it possible that he had gone back to the loft, late morning, got in the way of the Ellison onslaught, and found his way back to his own office?

Why not? Where else would the anthropologist have turned?

Simon felt a pang of guilt that in spite of the years of building up their friendship; the fishing trips; the basketball games - Blair still hadn't felt himself able to turn to him in his time of need.

That hurt more than watching the machine-forced rhythmic inhalations and exhalations.

Blair's skin was still pallid and sweaty, the IV providing him with the essential fluids to re-hydrate him. The white sheets and blue gown only highlighted the paleness of his skin, and accentuated the purple bruising on his left temple. Doctor Kamcha had asked what physical and mental condition Blair had been in before succumbing to the chemical effects of the metam sodium variant. The knife of guilt had dug in deeper, when he realized that he couldn't answer the question. Sure, he'd seen the kid a few times in the final days of the Mandel case, and he had seen him in the bullpen at least once this week. But he hadn't stopped to speak to him, beyond work-related small talk. He hadn't asked how he was, or how he was progressing with his dissertation, or how his classes were, or how the new course on phonics was going - or was it Phoenicians? The alarming thought did cross his mind that if he had been treating Sandburg this way, was it so ludicrous to consider that Jim had been too?

Which brought him swiftly around to the 'would Jim hurt Blair?' argument.

The same argument that his colleagues were deliberating.

'Stuck record, Banks,' he admonished. 'Move on.'

The nursing staff's intensive visits became more sporadic over the course of the night. Simon assured himself that this was a good sign, but couldn't help jerking awake at every entrance they made. Perhaps it was vigils such as this one that had contributed towards the collapse of his marriage. Joan never seemed to understand why it was so necessary for him to be there when one of his men awoke, and why he would never delegate the position.

He knew that Taggert would be keeping the same vigil in room 215, but he doubted that Brown and Rafe would currently have the same tolerance level. Banks allowed himself another smug grin at the thought of Ellison puking all over those designer Italian loafers. Why Brian couldn't wear sneakers, boots or hardwearing shoes like everyone else, was beyond him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rafe had indeed left for the night, but as the clock worked its way around to 4am, Brown was still staring at the intermittently conscious Ellison. Taggert was doing his typical bullfrog impression in the corner and snoring away.

As the night nurse visited for yet another sample of blood, Jim roused long enough to notice his friend. He grimaced at the pain shooting through his right hand, but dismissed the offer of further medication. Something was clouding his mind, and although he hated feeling this disorientated, it was the calmest he had felt since just after arriving home from that trip. He needed to discuss the problems with his senses with Blair; the kid would know what to do. Who cared if he was making it up as he went along; the majority of it made sense and seemed to work. Anyway, saved him the hassle of working it out for himself.

Damn, he internalized, wishing he hadn't turned down the offer of pain relief after all. I'm still attacking him in my head.

Brown was looking at him quizzically, clearly waiting to determine if Jim was intending to stay with him this time, or drift off again.

"Hey." There that should answer his question.

"Hi." H still had an indeterminate expression but Jim didn't have the energy to play games.

"Wh't happen'd?" The half-pound of cotton wool was still clogging up his mouth, and the disgusting taste of whatever had been through and out of his system sat congealing in his taste buds. If anything, this was the fullest he had been in control of his senses since that initial catalyst stakeout during the Switchman investigations. His hearing was normal; his eyesight blurry, but he guessed that was understandable; his olfactory nerves were being tolerant of the antiseptic smells around him; his sense of taste was apparently as normal as it was going to get until someone helped him to swill out his mouth. "Wh't happened?" he asked again, expending a little more energy to try and make his words clearer.

There was a steely silence.

Finally, H drew in a long breath and quietly offered an outline of the situation. "You went fishing at the weekend, except while you were there, some asshole dumped pesticide into the eco system, for no particularly good reason that we know of yet, but it's thought to be either revenge or malicious intent. It took a few days to manifest itself fully, but you had symptoms such as headache, nausea, rash…"

There was something unnerving about the calm, stoic manner that Brown was using towards him, and the dictionary-format version of events, but Jim was struggling to follow the words. "Wha'?" He blinked a few times to try and stop H from appearing so blurry, but it only rattled his continuing headache. He raised his hand to try and rub his temple but caught the IV line on the railing of the bed. It was the fact that H didn't move to help him untangle the tubing that brought him to fuller alertness. Damn these drugs, there was something problematic here and he couldn't even string a sentence together. "Damn." The expletive lacked strength but the intention was there. Reaching over with his right hand only brought a murderous pain straight through his hand and up his arm. The white gauze covered his entire hand, from fingertip to wrist, and was substantial in its padding. He gaped at it, confused and scared. What freaked Jim the most, was that he couldn't remember hurting himself.

In fact, he couldn't remember anything beyond Simon's office. He'd been in Simon's office handing over his weapon and badge, knowing that he needed to find Sandburg and have a long discussion about how to handle his senses. That itching on his arm…

Blearily, Jim looked down at the grated skin on his upper arms - that had been a rash the last time he had checked. When had he shredded the skin like that?

Brown was still staring at him, as though he wasn't sure of himself. Brown was one of the most self-assured people Jim knew, and this was unnatural.

It took a few misguided attempts to free himself before Ellison gave up, and tried one of Sandburg's beseeching expressions when the words refused to leave his mouth. He needed more practice because Brown still hadn't moved.

What had they been talking about? Oh yeah. Something about going fishing.

The younger detective tried a three-word explanation, as the longer version wasn't being understood. "You were poisoned."

The words deviated on their way through, but they gradually hit home. Ellison's face told him as much.

"H'w?" The guy was never this quiet.

"You made it worse by eating the fish, from what we know."

Stupid, unfocused voices made a simple equation of 2 plus 2 make something else entirely.

"F'd pois'n'ng?" Ellison was fast losing the battle to stay awake. He wanted something to help stop the agonizing burning in his right hand, or the tearing of his skin on his shoulders and back. That headache was trying to push out his left eyeball, and still that other half-pound of cotton wool that wasn't in his mouth was cluttering up his head. He craved a sip of water. This was a hospital, there had to be some. "W't'r?" The mumbled word fell apart as it left his throat, and Brown once more found himself facing the sleeping form of his colleague.

He gritted his teeth, set his jaw, and wished that Ellison wasn't quite so ill.

Because he'd love to punch his lights out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(continued in Part 2)

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