The frenetic activity was fast becoming a blur around him. The air around him was steadily growing chillier and the flurry of movement nearby was distracting:Ellison was struggling to focus on the one heartbeat and the one soul he desperately wanted to keep within his grasp. Tugging in his memory was the blessed telephone call he had received from Simon less than one hour before, with the immortal words:"He's been found. "A ranger had been following up a report on unusual movements of one of the protected and observed packs of wolves; he had been tracing their tracks when he noticed ripped shrubbery significant of a large mass descending into the valley at great velocity. Following the trail, the wrecked green Volvo was discovered nestled amongst the torn remnants of forest growth. A well-placed series of calls beginning with Search and Rescue finally ended with an indebted Major Crimes Captain from Cascade PD contacting his most highly regarded officer.
Ellison had turned tail and demanded transportation to the site, managing to arrive with one of the MedEvac helicopters shipping out from the nearby emergency hospital. Not prone to nervousness he had been humming with anxiety and unable to converse with anyone onboard. He had been cajoled into offering advice on allergies and past medical history, but beyond that had been silent. The flight had taken him back over land he had previously scoured and yet it looked alien to him as they flew into the night.
Arriving in a hastily created clearing, Jim knew he had to take a back seat while the experts charged towards their patient, but it took every ounce of restraint not to run forwards. The sight of the mutilated wreckage had brought two very different emotions tearing through the man - utter relief and abject despair. His heart had rammed itself firmly into his throat and he was having difficulty in breathing. The world was suddenly lurching at a most peculiar angle and the oxygen had thinned. One of the EMTs had noticed his distress and forced him to kneel, telling him that his friend didn't need Ellison adding to the problems right now. More importantly, his friend needed him to be strong, supportive and in the car next to him. Extraction of the casualty was impossible until the car-cutting equipment arrived. Was Ellison up to it?
Fifteen minutes had passed. Floodlights had been erected to illuminate the working area, bathing everything in a surreal halo. Jim had spent most of that time crammed into the smashed remains of the passenger side of the car. He had watched uselessly while the medical crew wrapped a cervical collar around Sandburg's neck and attempted to rig a backboard to restrict further movement; a high-flow trauma mask had been placed over his face, allowing the warm flow of oxygen to replenish his ravaged body's wasted supply; a large bore cannulae was erected with fluids wide open in an effort to re-hydrate; blankets were tucked around the small, barely-alive figure. All Ellison could manage was to grasp his Guide's cold, seemingly lifeless paw in his own hands and stare forlornly at the closed eyes.
He had overheard the Ranger relating Blair's condition when found, and his own heart faltered when he heard the words 'unresponsive' and 'stopped breathing at one point'. For the nine hundred seconds since he slid into the passenger seat, Ellison had been murmuring words of comfort to his friend, asking him as gently as he could if he could find the strength to wake up, and let Jim apologize to him if he had caused him any hurt.
The gaunt, gray, stubble-covered face had shown no signs of awareness and the SAR team had not hidden their concern over his vital signs. One of them nodded to Ellison and indicated an area away from the car. Reluctantly Jim got out of the vehicle and joined the older man. "Hi, er, James Ellison?"
"Jim. My name's Nathan Harrison, I'm the senior member of this crew." Ellison scrubbed his hand through his hair, shivering slightly with the evening temperature. He didn't think Blair had time for pleasantries to be exchanged. "I, er, need to ask you some pertinent questions. It's important we have the answers before we can proceed."
"Um, yeah, sure, whatever. "His face was scrunched in the agony of despair. Why weren't they pulling Blair out of the car and flying him to the hospital? With a smack of remembrance the words 'car-cutting tools' flew back to haunt him. He turned to face the medic. "Okay. Yes. How can I help?"
"What's your relationship with Mr Sandburg?"
"Blair? He's my partner." And Guide. And room mate. And best friend. And sanity. And I'm not going to get sappy and admit that I don't know how to function without him.
The quirked eyebrow from Harrison had Ellison rushing to clarify his comment. "I'm an officer at Cascade PD - he's my partner there."
"Okay. Um, Jim." Harrison's tone changed to reflect the levity of his next questions. "Who holds medical power of attorney should the circumstance arise?"
Jim did not think his heart could have sunk any lower. The ripping feeling of nothingness flooded his senses and threatened to send them into overdrive. "Er, I do. "He almost stuttered the next words. He never thought the situation would ever arise where he would have to utter them. "A while back he made a, um, a... a living will... no extraneous measures, to pro... to prolong..."
"I get the picture, son. "Harrison cut him off, but rested a comforting hand on the man's arm. "Jim, we need to talk."
Ellison heaved a sigh, squared his shoulders and continued. "What are you asking?"
"We don't know what damage there is to Blair's lower extremities, and until the equipment arrives and we start to cut away the frame we aren't going to know. We haven't found signs of him bleeding out, but his blood pressure is worryingly low, his body temperature is hypothermic, he's cyanosed..." Jim stopped him, confused. "It means his lips and general coloring is blue, from lack of heat, movement and circulation. His breathing is weak and he's generally unresponsive."
"Which all leads to your question..." Jim's voice was low, and Nathan only just caught what he said.
"We may need to make a decision shortly. If he remains in the vehicle much longer then we are likely to lose him, but the only way to remove him from the vehicle any quicker would be..."
"No." Ellison snapped his attention back at once. "No, no and no. "He moved away from Harrison despite the restraining arm.
"It has to be considered, Jim." The Sentinel chose to ignore the words and headed back to his place in the car, next to his friend.
The burliest of the flight crew had succeeded in wrenching off the driver's door, allowing easier access to the patient. On the passenger side, Ellison had resumed his place and taken up Blair's right hand in his. Cataloguing his friend's symptoms, he had to acknowledge the truth of the remarks he had heard - however acknowledging was different from accepting.
He brushed aside a strand of the errant curls that was caught up in the mask, and found Blair's forehead cold and clammy to the touch. "Just wake up and shout at me, Chief. "Sandburg was never this immobile, not even in sleep. The nights were innumerable where Ellison had been disturbed by the thrashing around in the downstairs bedroom, when his hearing had failed to tune out the sound. "Is there nothing else you can do?" He hadn't meant for his voice to sound so desperate, but the EMT understood.
"We've got him as stable as we can, but until he's removed we can't make any progress. His GCS..."
"GCS. Glasgow Coma Scale. It's split into 3 parts assessing eye, verbal and motor response. 3 is the worst, 15 is you or me. At the moment his GCS is about 6. "The numbers and letters still meant little to the detective as he watched the needle of the cannulae being adjusted. The rush of activity intensified outside with the noisy, and not unwelcome arrival of a fire truck, crashing through the undergrowth along the seldom-used track.
Ellison had focused his hearing so intently on Blair's weak and somewhat erratic heartbeat that he hadn't noticed the larger vehicle's approach. Two men jumped down from the truck and retrieved an assortment of equipment from one of the rear hatches: Jim raised his eyes enough to recognize basic extrication equipment in the form of glass saws, hydraulic cutters, hydraulic spreaders and high pressure lift bags.
"Rescue Captain Mike Chavez. "The gruff voice didn't register as the latest arrival approached and started to acknowledge the accident scene. "My boys will look over the vehicle for themselves first, then we'll begin cutting. "Ellison nodded mutely not raising his gaze from his partner's lax features. "It shouldn't be more than a few moments before we begin."
Chavez was crouched down by the driver's door, having replaced Harrison. Ellison didn't feel the hand placed on his shoulder. "We're going to get your friend out. Are you hurt?"
"Ah, no." It took Ellison a while to jar his senses back into some semblance of order and make eye contact with Chavez. He had to concentrate and stop zoning out. Or was this simply phasing out and daydreaming, a standard human condition? He should discuss that with Sandburg. He looked down at the white face of his friend, heard the slow gasped breaths, felt the weak pulse. "I wasn't with him when this happened."
"How long has he been here?" Chavez was asking for safety reasons as well as curiosity. Ellison could have told him that he could not smell spilt fuel, only the oil leak from the transmission seal - but at this stage he had no objections to leaving this analysis to the professionals; he no longer trusted his senses, and certainly not in such a critical situation. Ellison's olfactory sense also identified the stale smell corroborating the stain on Blair's trousers, and felt sick at the humiliation the man must have felt.
Chavez cleared his throat as a reiteration of the question.
"I don't know. I don't know how long he's been here." Lost eyes looked up fixedly. "Could be as long as four days."
"Okay. We have work to do." Chavez pulled back momentarily to confer with one of his crew and receive a thick sheet. "Mr Ellison? Jim? Nathan here needs to do some last minute checks on your friend, and then we have to cover him with this," he held up the durable material, "So when we start to disassemble the car no fragments can harm him." Chavez glanced at the immobile form of Sandburg and bit his lip. He had seen healthier looking casualties who hadn't survived.
Harrison resumed his place, checking oxygen levels, the cannulae, adjusting the blood pressure monitor and his patient's status. All the time he maintained a banter with Sandburg, informing him of each of his actions: "This mask doesn't look so comfortable, Blair; I'm going to adjust the strap a little but you need to keep breathing steadily, just as you are. Good. That's good, son. I'm moving the pressure monitor around so I can rest it on the floor - it's down here by your left leg for a moment. I'll move it again when I next come and check on you. I'm giving the saline/glucose drip bag to your friend here who I'm guessing is too pig-headed to get out of the way right now." Jim caught the grin and managed to respond. "We have to make a lot of strange noises and cause the car to move, but you're safe. That's all you need to know." Ellison couldn't be sure which of the two of them he was reassuring, Sandburg or himself. "I'm going to place this sheet over the pair of you right now, son, Jim's staying right here with you. He's going to call me if you need me, but we're going to have you out of here as soon as we can."
Harrison's hands ceased their rapid volley of careful movements and reached for the hand that held Blair's.
With no comment, he smiled at Ellison and pressed his hand in support.
A further eruption of movement and he was gone, the solid sheet in its protective place, the surrounding world lost in the darkness of their confined space.
Jim was nervous. Blair was unconscious next to him and unaware of events, but Ellison had dialed his hearing up and could visualize everything, down to the puff of vented air as the hydraulic cutters were engaged. Something brought him back and he sensed that Blair's vitals were changing.
Overcoming his initial reaction, he focused on the breathing, which was still ragged and uneven, but the resps had increased slightly. He didn't need the heart rate monitor to hear the elevated pulse. Dialing up his vision he studied his friend. "Chief?" The face was still pasty and lifeless, the cold hand still limp in his own. "Chief? You in there?" He knew that no pain medication or sedating drugs had been administered, and would not be until potential head injury status had been established, and Sandburg had regained consciousness. Whilst praying to any listening deities for his Guide to revive, he was also asking that that moment could wait until the firefighters had finished the extrication.
Lashes flickered, pulse soared, respiration increased and Jim caught the first hint of blue in Sandburg's eyes. In the shadowy cover of the protective sheet, the eyes failed to focus and showed no recognition.
"Chief?" Ellison vigorously rubbed the hand and arm of his friend, even more aware of the chill in his limbs. "Sandburg, it's Jim. I'm here. Can you hear me?" His soft tone brought no reaction. The blue eyes were half-open but unfixed, the head held centrally by the firm collar. A strangled cry fought to emerge through the constraints of the trauma mask and was the only sign of willful response to anything, before Sandburg once again, lost the battle with consciousness.
Outside, the firefighters had removed the windshield, were completing the de-energizing of the vehicle and were proceeding to use the hydraulic cutters on the body of the car.
Ellison sat, clutching a half-empty intravenous bag in one hand, and the hand of his dying friend in the other.
The firefighters were happy with their progress and liaised smoothly with the medical team to ensure a swift extraction. As the bulk of the metal exterior was lifted away, Chavez kept darting back to closely monitor his patient's vital signs. He was quietly optimistic to hear of the albeit brief excursion into the land of the waking and felt for the crucifix he wore around his neck, when the interior panels were finally removed, releasing Sandburg from his prison.
Ellison moved to stand away to one side, any closer presence a hindrance. His sight and hearing offered little comfort as the teams worked to release Major Crimes' future recruit. The twisted interior was sectioned into manageable parts; each being lifted away, slowly revealing the trapped limbs. Chavez kept a firm grip on his unconscious patient's shoulders during the extrication process, knowing that sudden freedom could result in muscle spasms causing further damage to unknown injuries.
To Jim, Blair looked almost like a small child, swamped by the padding and restraints and surrounded by the bulky figures of his rescuers. His heart bled to think of the loneliness his friend must have felt, trapped in the car for such a long time, and not knowing whether or not he would be rescued.
If something were to happen now and Blair mistakenly thought that no one cared enough?
Jim clenched and unclenched his fists, shaking with impatience to get Blair out of there and into the waiting helicopter.
After an agonizingly careful process, his friend was eased clear in full strap down mode, a melee of tubes and wires emanating from the weakened form. Ellison lurched forwards as the pulse again became elevated and Blair indicated a second return to consciousness. He was still a few yards from his side when the low, whispered, moan of pain emanated from Sandburg. Chavez kept Ellison away as he set to comforting his patient, informing him of their movements and adjusting various monitors. Now the young man was clear of the wreckage, it was imperative they mobilized him to the nearest trauma room.
The trapped legs had appeared unharmed on an initial inspection, save for some expected bruising, but the low blood pressure was causing concern, as was the lack of spontaneous movement of his extremities.
Blair was secured into the emergency helicopter, Chavez jumping in next to him. He gestured towards Ellison, gave the all clear to the pilot and within minutes they were fast-tracking towards Sioux Falls.
Ellison had thought Blair would remain unconscious during the flight, but Chavez signaled to him moments into the trip. The blue eyes were flickering open once more and the panic in them was obvious. Despite the tight confines of the cabin, Jim managed to lean over his friend so he could see his face, clutching the hypothermic fingers tightly in his own cold hand. Frightened blue eyes gazed up but showed no signs of recognition; the whirr of the blades and the incessant drone of the engine could not hide the tormented cry that followed.
"Oh God, Mike, can't you give him something?" Ellison turned on the medic, his question muffled through the headset.
"Not until any head injury has been ruled out." Chavez retook the BP measurement and frowned. "It's more than likely a muscular response from being locked in the same position for so long. He'll be given analgesics at the hospital if his tests are clear."
Ellison turned back to his weak friend, not lessening his grip. He leaned up and wiped a drop of perspiration from Sandburg's face, desperate to do more to help. He took in the stubble, the blue-tinged lips, the line of worry across the pale forehead, and allowed his senses to record the labored breathing. "It's okay, Chief. I'm here. I'm staying with you."
He swallowed the lump that came unbidden into his throat. "I don't know why you didn't feel you could talk to me, but I'm here now. Whatever you want to say, all you have to do is wake up and we can talk. I'll listen. I can listen sometimes, Chief. I'll listen to you. I promise."
The words were lost in the whine of the engines, but Ellison didn't care. He was where he should have been several days ago; he was by his friend's side when he needed him. He remained stretched over Sandburg's head long after the unrecognizing blue eyes closed themselves to the world once more, and Blair returned to the void of unconsciousness.
The walls were pressing in on him, the white was becoming oppressive. Tiled walls floor to ceiling. Tiled floors; inhospitable and unwelcoming. The chlorine smell was choking him and overriding his other senses. The plastic chairs offered little comfort, and his back was reminding him of the length of time he had sat there, waiting.
Waiting for news. Waiting to be told that Blair would be fine. Waiting to hear that his Guide would be up and charging around within the week and offering him hell in retribution. Simon had hauled himself over from Cascade and sat with him for several hours while the doctors monitored Sandburg's deteriorating condition. Connor had arrived and brought coffee and sandwiches, force-feeding him during the long, early morning hours. She and Simon had left an hour before to find a local motel and freshen up. Jim Ellison was waiting.
His eyes were closed as the walls continued to bear down on him, pushing him in on himself, not allowing him space to breathe. He was fighting for oxygen - in much the same way Blair had done on the helicopter as his lungs slowly lost the battle against dehydration and hypothermia. He was fighting to draw in any gasps of air, struggling to remain upright as the room persisted in its crushing movements.
In the back of his mind he could hear the plaintiff wail of an injured wolf, and the inimitable howl of a distraught wild cat. The bay of the wolf shrieked into a high monotone and was drowned in a clamor of footsteps.
The footsteps grew louder and overtook the solo pitched note; voices crying commands. Shouts, calls, orders, instructions.
Ellison knew that the wolf was lost.
He knew the next set of footsteps were for him.
He knew the next voice he would hear would signify the end for the Sentinel.
He was not disappointed.
"Mr Ellison? You came in with Mr Sandburg? I'm afraid I have some bad news." The voice was lifeless. "Unfortunately owing to extensive internal injuries and complications due to exposure and hypothermia, I am sorry to tell you that in spite repeated efforts at resuscitation, Blair Sandburg never regained consciousness. He died a few minutes ago."
"Jim? JIM." Connor's urgings went unnoticed. "Jim, for God's sake, wake up."
"What the fuck?" Ellison snatched his arm away, and overbalanced as he became fully aware. "Shit. Sandburg." He was up and out of his seat before Megan could stop him, and she ran to catch up with him as he strode towards the emergency room. "Jim, you have to come and sit back down. They're going to come and find you when they have some news."
"But they already..." Jim stopped and frantically looked around as if seeing the hallway for the first time. "I thought they 12.0pt;..." He scrubbed his hands over his face in an effort to think more clearly. "I heard someone... oh, God."
Megan grabbed his arm and hauled over to a nearby seat as his legs crumpled. She had never seen Ellison so distraught, not even earlier on the plane when she herself had believed their search to be over. He looked like a man who had already experienced the worst. "You were asleep, Jim." She wrapped an arm across his shoulders. "You were having a bad dream; that's why I woke you up."
He sat with his face obscured by his hands, not wanting to look up in case the footsteps and voice of his nightmare came to fruition. "I could have sworn... "
"Hey," Megan hiccoughed, trying desperately to suppress her own emotions. "They always say 'no news is good news', right?"
"We found him, Jim," she continued. "We can work everything out when he's back home, safe and sound in the loft, with a glass of algae juice fresh from the pond." She shook him gently, letting him sink into the embrace she offered.
"Mr Ellison?" Jim's head snapped up, his eyes wild with trepidation. It had been over three hours since the helicopter had landed on the roof of Valley General. From his own training as a medic, he now recalled the extreme dangers of both dehydration and hypothermia; the cyanosed lips, feet, hands and ears all indications that the body was preserving energy and heat by moving blood from the extremities to keep the major organs working. The warm fluids had been an initial boost to the system but if it had been four days, then who knew what irreversible damage had been caused. More significantly, the low blood pressure was grounds for greater concern; not to mention the lack of reflexes below the waist and the failure to regain consciousness. "Mr Ellison? You came in with Mr Sandburg."
Connor glanced sharply at Jim as he squawked an acknowledgement. The color had drained from his face and he was finding it difficult to stand. "If you you're... " Connor caught his arm once more and forced him to sit. Jim was never lacking in self-control to this extent - he was always so self-assured and able to deal with a situation. "What's the news?" she finished for him, equally as anxious to know.
"We have him comfortable at the moment." The matching relieved sighs interrupted the scrub-covered figure. "As you are aware, we have had three main concerns; his body temperature, lack of fluids and the low blood pressure." The two detectives listened in silence as the doctor explained how Sandburg's core body temperature had been far from the upper nineties mark when he had arrived; the supplying of warm humidified oxygen; the warm IV-fluids for both heating and hydrating levels; the fortunate lack of frostbite; the positive outlook from the CAT scan, the MRI and the x-rays. "Although there appears to be some spinal trauma and tissue discoloration, there is no evidence of fracture, and the skull area appears clear. We are however, closely monitoring the activity of both his kidneys and his blood pressure. We should know more within the next few hours."
"Yes, you can see him." The doctor allowed himself a rare smile. "He's hooked up to an assortment of machines which may come as a shock when you see him; but your friend's still in there, and could use your support."
The lank figure disappeared back in the direction of the Emergency Room, leaving Ellison and Connor to exchange grim looks. "It could have been a lot worse, Jim," Megan countered, helping him to his feet. "C'mon, let's get you in to see Sandy."
In a daze, Ellison allowed himself to be led to the observation room adjacent to the main section of the Trauma Room. The doctor had not lied in his warning; there were tubes and wires everywhere, only some of which Jim knew either the name or purpose. Next to the head of the bed were several monitors the most important of which, Jim guessed, was the one indicating blood pressure and heart rate. It wasn't the first time he had sat with his partner in a hospital room, either conscious or unconscious. However it was the first time he had done so when one of them doubted the validity of their friendship.
He scraped up a stool and perched on the edge, leaning over the bed to carefully place Sandburg's right hand in his own. "I'm here, Chief. Just like I said I would be." The eyelids remained closed, the trauma mask providing warm air, and the plethora of tubes offering much needed fluids and medication. The cervical collar had been removed and a corona of errant curls splayed across the pillow. Connor stayed outside while Ellison watched the monitors, his own senses seeking to add their own set of results to the mechanized ones.
It had been nearly a week since he last had a conversation with Sandburg, and the words of that ridiculous dialogue had haunted him since. There was no way the anthropologist had effectively run away because Jim had told him that his colored sweaters objected to being washed on a sixty degree cycle. That was ludicrous. That had been in the morning, just before he offered to take the boxes over to Rainier. The boxes it turned out Blair had 'donated'. No, that was out of the question. Of course, he had done nothing but review those few days looking for more and more clues. He was a detective, for crying out loud, it was his job to piece together puzzles and find solutions. There was far more to it than just one simple idea; perhaps Blair's outward comments and laughing off of the media attention had wrangled far deeper than anyone had imagined. Perhaps his other "friends" had shown their true colors and denied him their trust. Trust was such an implicit part of his young friend's life and maybe forcing himself to act against his professional work had cut too deep. Maybe his friendship and feeling of protection towards Ellison had destroyed more than anyone gave him credit for.
In the quiet of the room, broken by the steady bleeping of the various monitors Ellison sat holding the hand of his closest friend, unaware that whereas seclusion had enhanced his own Sentinel abilities, the confused and incoherent mind of a sick and weakening Blair Sandburg had closeted off the idea that someone named Jim Ellison cared for him.
Megan only made her presence felt twice during the following hour; once to bring coffee and the second time to inform his colleague that their Captain had pulled an inordinate number of strings and should be with them in a few hours.
"How's he doing?" she asked, as she crept into the room. "I saw the doctors come in several times."
"The monitors are linked to one of the stations; they're surprised that he isn't waking up." Ellison still sat with one hand firmly gripped around Blair's. "They haven't given him any sedatives or pain medication, and can't see any reason why he should still be out."
"He'll come round when he's ready, Jim. Perhaps he thinks it's Sunday and should be sleeping in!" A small chuckle from both eased some of the tension.
She left; Ellison raising his hearing dial back up to check Sandburg's heart rate. It was still over 100, something the last nurse had referred to a sinus tachy, but the blood pressure was still low. It had been suggested that it was related to the soft tissue trauma on his back, and the idea that if something had been causing pressure to build for long enough, then the vessels in his lower extremities could have become dilated causing the pressure to drop. Either way, Blair was still not awake and his vital signs were not where they should be.
Ellison watched the monitors as they announced the continued, valued life of his friend. The pulse rate jumped to over 150 at one point causing a sudden influx of staff, but it seemed to settle of its own volition.
Jim sat and waited. He comforted with all the reassuring words he could muster, convincing both himself and any conscious part of Blair's mind, that everything was going to be just fine, and all Sandburg had to do was awaken and yell at him, then they could deal with whatever had caused the man to leave Cascade.
When the agitated pulse rate jumped closer to 200 the room filled once again. This time the numbers didn't settle and Ellison watched in horror as the previous shape on the heart monitor morphed into the distorted M-shape of ventricular tachycardia, VT. In simple terms, he recalled from his training, the continuous rapid heartbeat prevented the ventricles from filling properly and effective pumping stopped. The shape quickly fashioned itself into the randomly disorganized pattern of ventricular fibrillation, followed by the solo pitched alarm, and the wail of the wolf - signifying the conclusion of Ellison's nightmare.
In front of his eyes, Ellison saw a swathe of medical personnel shout frantic instructions, calls, shouts and beckons. As he was ushered out of the room Jim didn't need Sentinel hearing to understand the numbers being shouted were for the voltage on the chest paddles.
The wait was interminable.
Megan was speechless as she stood by the window watching the medical teams work on Blair. She clasped Ellison's shaking arm as he strained out his senses to capture every move they made.
He listened to the whine as the paddles were charged; he heard the soft slush of connection against Sandburg's chest; he caught the click of the discharge and sensed the electrical current coursing through the body; he winced as the figure slammed back against the surface; he listened for the heartbeat to restart.
He sensed every ounce of pressure, as Blair's trachea was forced open to intubate him, accompanied by the renewed whine of charging electricity.
Ellison jumped with the discharge, and Connor couldn't prevent the renewed flow of tears that streamed down her face as the heart rate monitor refused to acknowledge life.
Further drugs were administered and the paddles applied for a third time.
The seconds after the doctor eased away his hands felt like a lifetime to the two observers. With bated breath they prayed for movement from the obstinate pattern on the machine; a movement indicating the continued existence of Blair Sandburg.
Two seconds became three.
Three became four.
The line threatened towards straightness as four seconds became five.
As the energy charge was being cranked higher for a fourth and final time, Ellison nearly collapsed with relief as he gauged the faintest of thumps. The monitor also recognized the change but it wasn't until he heard the blessed words "sinus rhythm" that he turned to Megan and sobbed into her shoulder.
"Mr Ellison? Mr Ellison?" Jim had been set to follow Sandburg down to the ICU when he was called back by a small nurse in a white uniform. "I'm sorry, sir, but I do need you to fill out the relevant paperwork while your friend is being cared for. You understand, it's standard procedure." He was faintly amused by her apologetic stance towards a more than familiar process.
"Yeah, sure. No problem." It was embarrassingly second nature to be able to rattle off Sandburg's insurance details; how many scrapes and incidents had their been during their bizarre friendship? He scribbled down the address at Prospect, date of birth, the policy number with Blue Cross and the usual round of details required on the forms.
Job accomplished he took the elevator to the second floor where the nursing staff were adjusting tubes and wires, efficiently transitioning their newest patient from the Trauma Room to the single room in their Unit. He listened distractedly as he was updated on Blair's condition, and how the intubation tube would remain in place until he at least regained consciousness, but more likely until the morning. Yes, he could sit with him, but in around twenty minutes' time when they had finished making him 'comfortable' and he had been cleaned up.
Jim was too intent on the figure lying in the bed.
Connor pulled him away to a reception area. "Let them do their work, Jim." Her voice was still thick with emotion, more than aware of how close they had come to losing Sandy yet again. 'Blair' and 'dying' in the same sentence was fast becoming an old idea she would much sooner live without.
Ellison allowed himself to be force-fed a vile cup of reconstituted soup from a machine and wondered just when his hands had started shaking. He was suddenly quite weary and just wanted to sleep. It had been a frantic couple of days full of far too many troughs of emotion. He dropped his head back against the wall, closed his eyes and allowed his tiredness to wash over him.
Jim moved into the room and pulled up a chair, resuming his traditional place next to his friend. Sandburg's hands were much warmer now, surely a good sign. The blue tinge around his usually red lips seemed to be dissipating, but his face and skin were still much paler than normal. The stubble-growth had been shaved off, and Blair now looked even more young and helpless, the tube taped off to one side.
Ellison didn't realize how long he had slept when he felt a hand on his shoulder. The crick in his neck was painful as he raised his head to see Banks's concerned face. "Hey."
"Hey yourself." Simon grabbed a second chair. "How's he doing?"
"Uh, it's been a long night Simon. Connor tell you?"
"Yeah, she told me." Banks removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I swear my hair's going to turn gray before too much longer."
Ellison kneaded the protesting muscles in the back of his neck as he and his companion observed the motionless form of their friend. Except for the steady rhythm of the rise and fall of his chest there was no movement from the bed. "What time is it anyway?"
Banks checked his watch. "A little after 5am."
"Must be some impressive strings you pulled to get a lift out here." The lines of weariness were etched on his forehead, and he was fighting to stay awake.
"Some favors that were owed to me. And," Banks stretched his arms up in the air; "I got a pretty good deal when I sold my soul."
"Right " Jim was glad of an opportunity to smile; there hadn't been many of those in the past week. "Let me know who the buyer is so I can do my own deal some day!"
They fell back into silence, Ellison not letting loose his hold on the slender-fingered hand of the patient.
An hour later Simon and Megan left to find somewhere to freshen up and to book the three of them into a nearby motel. Jim had nodded off once more and was oblivious to the regular checks made by the nursing staff. One of the younger girls had even seen to raise his head from the railing and wedge a pillow gently underneath him.
The intensified heart rate registered on the monitor and the increased bleeping alerted the dozing detective. He was immediately on his feet, pressing the call button, and talking softly to the waking man. The pulse crept higher as Sandburg showed evidence of panic.
Jim stepped to one side as one of the staff he had seen earlier entered the room. "I'm Dr Landau, Mr Ellison." Hand shakes over, the doctor moved to the head of the bed, penlight in hand, and checked pupil responses.
"Mr Sandburg?" The light was pocketed and monitors studied. "Blair? You're in a hospital. Can you wake up for us now please?"
There was definitely some form of response as the vital signs altered.
"Blair? Come on. Your friend Jim has been sitting here patiently waiting for you to wake up." Landau turned. "Talk to him, he can probably hear you."
"Chief?" Ellison was nervous. He had been in similar situations before, but something felt wrong this time. Perhaps it was all the uncertainty surrounding the events leading up to the car accident. "I'm here Chief. No need to worry about anything. It's safe to wake up now."
Slowly lashes fluttered open and scared blue eyes peered out. They stared up, unfocused, opening wider as panic set in. "You have a tube in your mouth to help you breathe," Landau assured. "Don't fight it." The pulse dropped a little as a measure of comprehension settled. "You had a slight accident and were brought here. You've been asleep since then."
The cerulean eyes lacked full awareness and looked emptily at the sea of faces. They passed over Jim's face and showed no sign of recognition. With the exception of a faint squeeze of his hand, Ellison wouldn't have said Blair knew anything at all.
As slowly as they opened, the eyes flickered shut once more and the vital signs evened out as true sleep took over.
Satisfied with the patient's latest statistics, the nursing staff carried out a few further necessary tests and adjustments to the equipment before leaving Ellison to rest his pillowed head back against the railing and fall back asleep himself.
A few hours later Jim was standing at the other side of the room, arms folded and back pressed against the wall. Doctor Fenstein, the consulting physician in ICU was talking Blair through the process of having the tube removed from his throat. The patient was flanked on the other side by a short, stocky nurse who was propping up his shoulders and supporting his head.
"On the count of three?" As the countdown finished, the tube was eased from Sandburg's raw throat and was followed by a feeble spluttering. He endeavored to reach up his hand to rub his neck but lacked the strength, and was grateful for the straw placed against his lips by the doctor so he could sip some of the cool water offered. The nurse gently rested him back down against the pillows, but noted the wince as she did so.
"You will find residual discomfort as your muscles readjust over the next few days," Fenstein began to explain. "The same sort of pain as if you had been exercising too much the day before. You may also find that some of your limbs don't respond in quite the way you would expect for a while. There isn't any permanent damage that we can find, and you should consider yourself incredibly lucky."
"Wha " Blair was surprised to find his voice was a mere croaked whisper, but the doctor leant in to hear his question. "What happened?"
"You had a road accident. From what we could ascertain the tire blew on your car and you were sent over the edge of the highway. The emergency services found you last night. Can you remember on which day you had the accident?"
Blair opened and closed his mouth a few times in an attempt to answer the question, but the confusion was evident and the doctor rescued him. "It's Thursday morning now, you slept for most of last night."
"Why the tube?" The croak was barely audible and Blair tried to clear his throat.
"You got pretty cold while you were out there, and your blood pressure was a little too low. There were one or two minor hiccups when you were brought in and it was easier for you to have help with your breathing while your body recovered." He ignored Ellison's suppressed choke and raised eyebrows as he carried on. "We'll keep you hooked up to the monitors for a few more days to ensure that everything's working the way it should, and we'll keep you dosed with some low impact painkillers and muscle relaxants to ease any problems. Your throat will feel better soon."
"Was..." Blair closed his eyes in a battle to be heard. He accepted further water from the nurse before trying again. "Was shouting. No one came."
"They came." Fenstein smiled. Who knew how long his patient had been trapped in the car, desperate for someone to hear him. "Okay, Mr Sandburg. I'm going to leave you now. Your friend Jim has been here all night and I'm sure he wants his turn to talk to you."
Blair's brow creased again as he stared up at the doctor. "Who?"
"Jim. Ellison. He's standing right over there." The doctor grinned, thinking Sandburg was still not fully awake. Blair looked across at the tall figure: the receding hairline; the mussed look; the white t-shirt under the dark blue sweater; the completely unfamiliar face.
"He's probably still in shock," Simon suggested. He and Ellison were down in the cafeteria, consuming some much required coffee and toast. "What did the doctor say?"
"Something similar. They're running one or two tests," Jim interrupted himself and found it almost amusing that for once it was Sandburg who was being subjected to tests and not himself. "But it's more than likely a mixture of all the events." He swirled the weak fluid around in the bottom of the mug. "They still haven't discussed the lack of reflexes in his legs, and that's one of the tests they wanted to add while we're down here."
"Jim, I called his car insurance company this morning." Banks crunched down on the last piece of toast. "They're prepared to recover the car but it's a write-off. They're not prepared to cover the MedEvac costs that they state will be covered by his medical insurance. We need to make sure the paperwork's in order for that."
"Done," Ellison assured him. "Sometime last night after he... um, after he was brought in."
The coffee was revolting but he went back for seconds out of necessity. He had another hour to kill before he was allowed back upstairs.
"Hi." Connor wore her brightest smile as she slid into the ICU room.
Blair didn't reply in words but offered her a return smile. He still felt groggy and had not enjoyed the barrage of tests and questions he had been put through. He couldn't recall much of the accident or the four days in the intervening period; he could remember feelings of hopelessness and despair, but facts were elusive. The medical staff had mentioned about potential muscular problems, and he knew they had catheterized him for convenience. He didn't understand that part; he'd been in hospital before and they hadn't found that need before. Something niggled at the back of his mind, but he couldn't figure out what it was. He also objected to the naso-gastric tube preventing his stomach from having to digest anything.
Connor perched on the edge of his bed but quickly stood up at Sandburg's grimace. "Oh God, I'm sorry Sandy. I guess thet hurt?"
"S'okay." The voice was still hoarse and very quiet. Connor brought a chair around and settled herself.
"Is it okay if I hold your hand, to prove you're really here?"
Blair attempted a shrug and regretted it as the pain spiked through the protesting muscles. He really didn't want this person in the room with him. He had an idea that she was meant to be a friend but the fog in his head wouldn't clear and he merely wanted to go back to sleep. He was uncomfortable, and couldn't fidget to move into a better position. The needle in the back of his left hand was stinging but the call button was just out of reach of his right hand. He supposed he could ask this person "Arial Narrow"; color:black; what was her name?
"I... I..." He couldn't do it. It was too confusing. He needed sleep but there was something the matter with sleeping during the day that he couldn't pinpoint.
Megan became alarmed at the frightened look in her friend's eyes, as though he was tousling with something he feared. The heart rate monitor had also shot from 74 to 136. "Sandy? What's wrong?" She caught up his hand in her own, avoiding the needle entry point, and ran her hand up and down his arm in a comforting gesture. "I'm here. It's over." He stared wildly around the room, unable to focus. "You're tired, why don't you go to sleep - I'll be here when you wake up if you like? Jim should be back this evening..."
"Just sleep, Sandy. Everything will make much more sense later." She brushed her hand across his forehead and ran a light finger down his cheek. She was glad Simon had persuaded Jim away to get some proper sleep and a shower at the motel where they'd registered; Sandburg's failure to recognize him had cut deeper than he admitted. "Go to sleep. You don't have to battle this."
Lulled, Blair allowed his eyes to close, feeling some sense of security in being told that he had permission to sleep.
The sun had sunk below the horizon when Ellison stepped back into Blair's room. The pale face seemed more relaxed in slumber than it had earlier, the lips were finally back to their natural rich color, and the stubble was re-emerging. The senior nurse had spent ten minutes updating him: the blood pressure was near enough normal; the heart rate was currently stable; his blood tests were clear; and he was sleeping comfortably. Ellison was not to concern himself with the apparent memory blanks - a medley of the drugs they had infused into his system, a certain element of shock, tiredness, and the events of the previous night would have all contributed. "Treat him as you would usually, and he'll be fine."
Jim resumed his customary position in the chair to the side of the bed. He propped his elbows on the edge and templed his fingers in front of his nose. "I'm going to say something to you now so I can practice for when you're awake," he intoned, taking a deep breath. "I'm wondering if you've blocked me out because you felt you couldn't talk to me, and I need you to know that you're wrong. I'm thick headed and often unable to see the obvious... I'm male, Chief, whaddya expect?" He scrubbed a hand through his hair before putting his fingers back against his nose. "I'm guessing that you feel bad because you've given up your dissertation, your future at the University, and you might believe that no one respects or trusts you either in the field of anthropology, or at the PD or amongst your friends. I'm not gonna lie to you, Chief. I have no idea how they truly feel outside of the University Faculty, apart from the fact that some of the people I spoke to asking whether or not they'd seen you or how to contact you, were concerned. And regardless of everyone else - I need you. I care about you. I want you back in Cascade. We can work this out. If you let me help you, we can tackle this together."
Jim finished and stared blankly at his fingers, aware that the light had faded from the room.
He really couldn't think what else to say.
Did it sound like the right thing to tell his Guide?
He dialed up his sense of sight and looked across at the bed. He kept his hearing down; trusting in the electronic readouts. The numbers were vastly improved on the previous night and he thanked whichever deities that might have been watching over him.
"J'm?" A faint whisper.
"Hey buddy." Jim grasped the seeking fingers of Blair's right hand.
"Th'nk you." The feeble squeeze was enough for Ellison to realize that his heartfelt words had been heard on their first attempt.
They could get through this.
Later that night the nursing staff had encouraged Blair's three friends to leave the hospital; visiting hours were quite definitely over, he was out of danger and they all needed a decent amount of rest. The Unit would be open to visitors at 9:30 am the following morning. Nurse Taryn had had a twinkle in her eye as she uttered the words, and the trio understood that she had the interests of all of them at heart.
Simon had even splashed out and bought them all dinner; Connor had offered to photograph the event and have it framed for posterity on the MCU notice board.
She and Simon needed to return to Cascade in the morning, but Ellison was on leave and could stay for several more weeks in necessary. His caseload would be assumed by his colleagues and he was instructed to ensure that Blair remained his number one priority, and to bring him home as soon as possible.
The next morning Ellison breezed into Sandburg's room expecting to find him a little cheerier than the previous day. He was laying flat in the bed, the pillow having been removed, and the pained expression on his face tugged at Jim's heart.
He didn't bother with a greeting but went straight over and leaned so that Blair could see his face.
Blair bit his lip and didn't trust himself to speak for the moment. Ellison took his right hand in his own and pressed lightly, waiting for the words to come.
"Do you want some water?"
Blair blinked a few times and Jim reached for the ever-present cup, easing the straw down to the right level. A few sips later and the cup was replaced.
Blair's first words caught in his throat and it took him a few moments to compose himself.
"They've taken the pillow because my back was hurting too much. They wanted to raise the pain meds but I didn't want that." Ellison knew there was more and kept still while Blair built up the courage to continue. "They said there isn't any long term injury but they waited until this morning to tell me that the catheter and naso-gastric tube are because of the reflexes and muscle responses from the waist down."
A large lump appeared in Ellison's throat as an uncontrolled tear slid from underneath Blair's lashes.
"Jim?" For the first time in many weeks Ellison's Guide made eye contact with him, the blue orbs crying the emotions his mouth couldn't speak. With his voice still no more than a whisper he said: "Jim. I can't feel my legs."