"Cold. Can't breathe."
It was still dark outside as Ellison rolled over to glance at the clock. It was a little after 1am, which meant Sandburg had been asleep for nearly six hours. That was probably the longest period of uninterrupted sleep either of them had had in a week. The mumbled words floated up from the room below.
"Legs feel funny. Mus'n' sleep."
Reaching out his senses he found that Blair's heartbeat and temperature were relatively normal, so it was more likely that he was talking in his sleep rather than calling for his Sentinel. Jim sat up in bed, extended his hearing and waited.
"No, s'dark. Can sleep when s'dark."
Jim got up quickly, pulled on his robe and padded downstairs. As he entered Blair's room he confirmed that the young man was still asleep; one arm flopped off the side of the bed and the other draped over his face. Ellison gently lifted the hanging arm and popped it back under the blanket; the pale skin was chilled to the touch and he detected slight shivers in the recuperating body. He reached down a third blanket from the shelf, draped it over the top of the bed and tucked it right up underneath Blair's chin. Finding a pair of thick woolen socks in the side drawer he lifted the blankets and pulled the garments onto the icy feet underneath. He berated himself for not remembering the items earlier, recalling the importance of monitoring the temperature of the insensitive limbs until feeling returned.
"Don' like cold. Gotta keep shou'in'. Not loud 'nough."
Perched on the edge of the bed, Jim tenderly ran his hand down Blair's stubbled chin and across his forehead, trying to smooth away the lines of consternation as the sleepily muttered words continued. He slowly eased the second arm into the warm protection of the blankets, and lightly brushed away wayward strands of hair from the worried face. In all likelihood it was the colder ambient temperature causing his subconscious to relive events. He didn't want to wake him, but he didn't want Blair running a gamut of unpleasant memories on his own. His friend had had nearly four days trapped and alone in his car, uncertain as to his survival. After four years he knew the man well enough to know that he would have made spent the majority of that time analyzing the lead-up, the conversations with Sid Graham, his pointless exclusion from the University and his future.
Blair would have made decisions.
Who was he fooling?
Blair had made his decisions before the accident happened - that was why he had still been driving east.
"Don't know where 'tis. Tried Jim."
He stayed his hand movements and watched the frown lines increase.
"Tried Jim, couldn'. Can't. Sorry."
There were several moments of quiet broken only by intermittent suppressed pained moans. Blair's last words slowly sunk in, and Jim resumed his ministrations, scolding himself for having negative thoughts against Blair when he was fighting to recover. Sandburg didn't need judging, he needed support. Jim would find his own support network at the department. In the meantime he had to be strong for his friend, to encourage him back to full health.
"Can' sleep 'til dark. Book ticket for Scandinavia."
"Book ticket f'r Scandinavia."
Jim released a small laugh; Sandburg's line of thought had always been erratic and often difficult to follow, but he must be flying through a miasma of thoughts. Personally he couldn't link the last two ideas that had been spoken, but for Blair there would be something logical there.
He had missed their banter, and he had missed Blair - if nothing else, he had come to realize that fact, in the time between the academic's disappearance and the harrowing moments when Jim saw him in the mangled remains of his car.
Ellison stopped and swallowed away the bitter taste in his mouth. The relief at knowing that his friend was at least alive during those traumatic moments had been countered by his wish for him to remain unconscious during the extrication and the lengthy journey to fully equipped medical attention. Blair must never know that his dire predicament had meant that a caring, professional man named Nathan Harrison had nearly placed an impossible decision in the hands of James Ellison. Amputation was a word Jim never wanted to hear again in his life. There had been soul-breaking times when he wondered whether or not he would ever have his friend back within the four walls of the loft, where Jim, at least, felt he belonged.
This had been Blair's home. It had been the permanence that had been missing in his life, and although the two of them had had some rough patches, it was still Blair's home. Naomi was still absent in spite of being contacted by Jim and Simon, both during the desperate search, and the time in South Dakota. She had cited that Blair was clearly in capable hands and perhaps he had enough to deal with without her adding to his stress. She knew he would need time to forgive her, and she would arrive when Blair himself invited her, as then she would know that they were 'hearing' one another.
Another insignificant word to Ellison's ears, but the shivering was lessening so perhaps the dream thought process was altering. He reached his hand under the blankets and felt the warmer skin of Blair's arms.
Mark? New name to him. Ellison adjusted the blankets again and was relieved to see Blair's face softening as the dreams changed course. Slowly, the mumbles became more and more indistinct and were eventually replaced with the occasional snore.
Jim remained where he was until he was convinced Blair was comfortable. He was not only glad his Guide was home, but also glad that he could share some of the burden of his recovery.
He crept from the room, leaving the door ajar, and climbed back up the stairs to his room. Slipping off his robe he climbed into bed, keeping his hearing dialed up for any change.
Just as his eyes closed he heard: "Must ask Jim what kind of flowers she likes now."
He smiled, and slept.
Jim was already pulling breakfast ingredients from the refrigerator when he heard Blair's movements in the bedroom. The detective intentionally dropped a saucepan, letting it bang to the floor, so the younger man would know his friend was near should he need him. If he was to give some independence back to Blair, Jim had to wait until summoned.
He identified the sounds of bedding being thrown back, and Blair swinging himself around in the bed. The wheelchair brake was released and reset, and a dull thud of Sandburg heaving himself into it. Jim was surprised at the sound of a fist smacking flesh, followed by the griped curses. The sounds repeated and on the final expletive he understood: Blair was trying to elicit a response from his lower body.
Ellison set two glasses of apple juice on the table. He was in the process of removing the second chair when Blair emerged from his room.
"Morning, Chief." He tried to sound cheerful but the sight of Blair's pale face and the dark rings under his eyes pulled at him.
"Hi Jim." Sandburg's eyes rested firmly on the chair Ellison was moving. Another reminder that his legs still weren't responding to him. The word 'temporary' was already becoming meaningless to him, and he didn't want another physical therapist using the words 'mind over matter'. His legs weren't listening to him this morning, just like they weren't yesterday morning or the seven mornings before.
How was he meant to have optimism when the doctors had said anything from one day to a few weeks? That had been a week ago. The longer he stayed like this, the longer the road to recovery. 'It is extremely improbable that this will be a permanent condition'. Those had been the neurologist's words. That penultimate word was a complete contradiction of his mantra and it stuck in his mind.
He hated that kitchen chair. It was taunting him. He should be able to sit in that chair at the table, eat his breakfast and walk away.
Blair was fed up with his own negative attitude and was annoyed with himself. Jim had welcomed him back into his home for however long his roommate chose to remain and it was time he showed some gratitude.
He offered a weak smile. "Going to use the bathroom." He turned the chair around and squawked a further profanity as he whacked his elbow on the doorframe. Not a good start to his new positive outlook. Gritting his teeth, Blair pushed himself into the bathroom, left the door unlocked, but took with him the determination to perform his morning duties unaccompanied.
Jim waited. The muted sounds catalogued Blair's actions, and he surreptitiously listened in, as insurance, while he cooked up some eggs.
It took a further twenty minutes before his triumphant Guide wheeled back out. His eyes sparkled at his conquest, throwing a genuine smile at the older man. No words were spoken; Jim merely shared the sentiment with his own smile.
"Yeah, I'm starving."
Jim brought over the plates and Blair dug in eagerly. It was a relief for both of them to have a positive emotion for once, and it was the most animated he had seen Sandburg in quite a while.
"So, starts at 9am, right?"
"Uh-huh." Blair continued to scoff the food and slurp at the juice. "She starts off with testing reflexes, then we start the routines. Should be done by 12 today."
"Okay, I'll be there."
"Thanks. I have to make sure I do the follow-ups this evening though." He paused and looked up. "Jim, would you... that is, um." For once he hoped that he would be interrupted. He didn't like asking too many favors. "The exercises ideally need a second person and I was wondering if, um..."
"No problem, Chief. Whatever you need."
Now that wasn't so hard, they reflected individually. Blair needed, Blair asked, Jim returned.
"You finished?" Ellison caught up the plates and stacked them in the sink, noting the time. "Anything you need to take?"
"Meds, gloves, that sheet of paper over there," he pointed to a record sheet on the side. "Some, er, stuff out of the bathroom."
"Mind if I get all that?" Ellison showed Blair the watch face. The latter blushed, but nodded. "Just for today; you can get your own stuff tomorrow."
Within five minutes, Blair was wrestling with his jacket, his sneakers on and tied, his backpack nestling in his lap.
As Ellison opened the front door, he noticed Blair's pulse rate soar, his breathing shallow and beads of perspiration break out across his forehead.
"Just give me a minute."
The trembling fingers and locked jaw told Ellison all he needed, as he firmly shut the door.
"Can't do it, Jim," he admitted, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth. Ellison knelt in front of the wheelchair and put a comforting hand over Blair's. "Last time I left here, I had no intention of coming back."
Jim had never prided himself on being a patient man, but he had amazed himself over the past week. They had some time. He would wait.
"I was a disgrace to Rainier, and a laughing stock, but in everything that had happened I felt safe here. Even when, you know, Lash was here, I felt safe to come back afterwards. I've never known why. When I left, I accepted that I'd given that up - maybe I was being stupid." He gazed forlornly at the closed green door.
"No." Jim reached into his pocket. "You weren't." He fumbled with something for a few moments. "You had a lot on your mind, and we were all so wrapped up in everything that had happened that none of us realized what anyone else was really thinking." He pressed something into Blair's hand as he spoke.
Sandburg looked down at the shiny object.
"You can do what you like with that, and you can take my returning it to you however you like."
Blair clasped the key tightly in his palm.
"And this," Ellison continued as he fetched over a bulkier item from the counter, "Is Simon's old cell phone. Yours didn't survive the damp, so he said you could use this. A lot of the numbers you might want are already programmed in."
The caring of his friends brought a glow to his face. It took Sentinel hearing to catch the humble, "Thank you."
Jim gave him another few minutes before suggesting they leave.
Blair wheeled himself to the elevator. while Jim locked up. The call button was within his reach but the numbered interior buttons required him to stretch. Newly restored muscles disagreed with the movement, but he ignored them. A thought occurred to him.
"Man, am I gonna be screwed next time this thing breaks down."
Ellison smirked. "Won't need the chair much longer anyway, will you?"
Sandburg stared into the detective's face. There was an emotion in Jim's eyes that Blair knew he currently lacked - hope.
At midday, Jim parked in the visitor's area off the west wing. On the rear seat sat something he had been considering for a few days, but was nervous as to Blair's reaction. Talking it over with Connor was one thing, but she didn't know Sandburg nearly as well as he did, and presently it was hard to gauge his responses. He prayed he hadn't been too presumptuous.
The heavy cloud of the morning had transitioned into frequent downpours, but Blair had asked to meet him outside rather than Jim coming to find him in the first floor facility. This was the first day of their new routine, and he tapped his fingers nervously on the steering wheel. Perhaps today would be the day Blair felt a twinge in his left knee, or an itch on his right thigh. Perhaps tomorrow, Blair would be taking his first tentative steps.
At 12:25 pm a weary Sandburg rolled down the ramp towards the parking lot, his bag slung over his shoulder and the leather gloves on his hands protecting his palms. He spotted the blue and white truck and hurried over, the rain matting his hair to his scalp.
Ellison had jumped out and had the passenger door open. "To save us both from getting soaked, do you mind if...?"
"Jim, just put me in that damn truck before I swim home."
Ellison grinned at the bedraggled demand, and eased the younger man into the vehicle. He pushed the wheelchair around to the driver's side, folded it down and stowed it behind his seat. Shaking away the excess water from his own head, he dove back into the truck and slammed the door.
"Damn, that's wet."
Blair chortled at the detective, as the rivulets of water ran down his own cheeks, and he blew a few drops off the end of his nose. The rain thundered against the roof and windshield, and steadily turned into hale.
"I'm not driving in this, Chief. We'll wait it out, if that's okay?"
"Fine by me."
Ellison eyed his friend. He seemed much chirpier than this morning, but his face betrayed how tired he must be.
"How did it go?"
"Oh, the usual. Lots of exercises, lots of upper body use, lots of toning exercises for the lower body. Legs didn't feel any of it." The bright spark seemed to fade a little. Blair rested his head against the window and Jim judged this a 'now or never' moment.
"I've got something for you, Chief."
Blair lifted his head and looked across inquisitively. He watched Jim reach onto the back seat and bring forward a reasonably sized box.
"I haven't bought this, it's on loan." He placed the box on Sandburg's lap.
Curious fingers opened the flaps, tipped back the lid and removed the top layer of packaging.
"Jim, I... I don't know what to say." Carefully, Blair lifted out the laptop computer and balanced it on top of the box. "But..."
"It's on loan." Both men knew that negated any arguments over money, feelings of guilt, and the idea of permanence. "You can surf, type. Whatever."
No questions had been asked about the fate of his previous machine, but Jim was a smart man - he would have worked it out. For the second time that day, Blair felt himself blush. "Thanks, Jim."
Sunday dawned bright; and the rain clouds from Saturday had cleared. Jim and Blair exacted the same morning routine, although the latter was quieter and more subdued.
"Want to go anywhere on the way back this afternoon?" Jim enquired, watching Blair push the eggs listlessly around the plate.
"I'll be tired, Jim," Blair sighed, dropping his fork on his plate and pushing the dish away. "You saw how I was yesterday and I need to do the exercises again today."
Jim conceded. Blair had been exhausted when they got home and even after an hour's nap on the couch, he was too drained to keep his eyes open for more than ten minutes while using the laptop. Ellison had had to rouse him both for dinner and his evening round of exercises, before the lengthy process of getting Blair bathed and in bed. Jim had installed a sturdy rail next to the toilet, allowing Blair to retrieve a modicum of decency and toilet himself more easily; nevertheless he was still dependent on Jim for maneuvering in and out of the tub.
"How about tomorrow, maybe?" Jim offered. "Are you finishing at the same time?"
"Counseling." Blair's answer was short as he downed his yogurt drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He kept his head down and averted his eyes, releasing the brake and wheeling himself into his room.
"You've got ten minutes, Chief," Jim called after the disappearing figure. He had to bite his tongue no matter what he felt like saying. This was hard on Blair, and he didn't need a mother hen forcing him to eat and dragging him out to places he didn't want to go to. The uneaten eggs were scraped into the waste disposal and the dishes washed.
By 1pm, Blair was safely ensconced on the couch with the afghan pulled over his legs. He wore his spare pair of glasses, his other ones destroyed in the accident. The laptop was precariously balanced on his knees and he was typing furiously.
Jim didn't ask what he was doing; Blair would share if he chose to. He grabbed two beers from the refrigerator, popped the lids and handed one to Sandburg.
Ellison switched on the television, channel-hopped, and settled down to watch an afternoon game.
It was approaching their former, usual routine.
He tuned out the clicking of the keys and barely noticed when it stopped. He caught the computer before it slid off Blair's lap, where his Guide had given in to his exhaustion and was fast asleep. It would be a breach of trust to read the screen, but the work would need to be saved.
Jim rested the machine on his own knees to see what file name Blair had given it, and save accordingly. He didn't know whether to feel despair or relief when he realized that Blair had been updating his curriculum vitae and writing application letters. He was relieved because it showed Blair's forward planning, but the despair came when he perceived that none of the addresses were on this side of the continent.
He had been patient. He had respected Blair's feelings. He had deferred their conversation about how they each fitted into each other's lives. He had struggled against making decisions without consulting the younger man. However it seemed that Sandburg had already gone ahead and made his decisions.
It would have been nice if he could have at least told Ellison what those decisions were.
The last of his patience vanished.
As soon as Sandburg was awake they were going to talk.
Jim sat, unmoving, in his yellow chair and watched Blair sleep. He had long since finished his beer but did not fetch a second. The laptop was on the table; powered down with the work saved.
He didn't want to wake Blair in spite of his anger, as the rational part of his mind knew that the younger man needed the rest in order to recuperate properly. It should have given Jim an opportunity to calm himself down but instead, his rage simmered.
Over an hour later, the bleary eyelids flickered open and Blair greeted Jim with a small smile. "Hey."
The frosty glare he received in response made Blair sit up smartly.
Blair pushed the rug off from his legs and pulled himself back against the cushions. "What have I done this time?" He didn't know why he felt he was to blame for Jim's mood, but it was clear from the icy atmosphere that Ellison was mad at him for something.
Blair followed Jim's stare to the table, where the innocent, closed laptop lay.
So Jim had been prying and coming to conclusions without asking for clarification. Although if Blair stopped to consider, the letters were fairly self-explanatory. Did Jim seriously expect him to sit here on his ass for the rest of his life and not try and make something of the ruins of his career?
Remembering the postponed discussion from Valley General in South Dakota, and Jim's refusal to talk, Blair once again felt an uncontrollable surge of anger pulsing through him.
"I asked you a question, Jim." He made direct eye contact. "What have I done wrong this time?"
Jim was either in a zone or counting to ten.
The rush of blood to his face, reaching all the way to the tips of his ears gave Sandburg his answer.
"YOU!" Ellison bellowed, slamming himself to his feet. "You run away like some pathetic child who can't cope with his miserable life; you come back here and without bothering to discuss anything with anyone, you've already made your decision to up and leave again."
Ordinarily Blair would have felt intimidated and not a little afraid of the six-foot towering presence of his out-of-control Sentinel. This time, however, something within him didn't care for his own physical well-being and just wanted to fight. And wanted to fight hard.
"So I'm wrong for wanting to make something of my life, am I?" He began, pushing himself further up the couch. "I'm wrong for giving up my dissertation and everything I had ever aimed for in my life. You're forgetting that, at no time, did I give anyone permission to publish my research. If I was so self-conceited I would have taken one of Sid Graham's cash offers and run." He stretched out towards the enraged Ellison. "A million dollars he offered me, Jim. I turned down a million dollars." He pushed the older man in the chest. "Think what I could have done with a million dollars."
Jim smacked away the reaching hand, gritting his teeth in a supreme effort not to pick up the anthropologist and shake him.
"You agreed to my helping you..."
"In exchange for my letting you use your research towards your thesis, remember?" The words were spat out with venom. "And what about the one week offer to stay here that turned into several years."
"Fine, I'll go then, shall I?" Blair shifted across to the end of the couch and floundered a hand in the direction of his chair. "I seem to recall it was your dumb idea to drag me back to Cascade anyway. I never wanted to come back here."
"Where exactly do you think you're going to go, Sandburg?"
"I'll find somewhere." He grabbed the arms and drew the wheelchair forwards; setting the brake he swung himself into it. "I'm sorry I've taken up so much of your time."
"Running away again, are you?" Incensed as he was, Ellison couldn't believe the words coming out of his mouth. He couldn't stop himself. It was all there, spilling out of him: all the anguish he had felt when he realized his friend had gone, and knowing that there was something wrong; all that hurt when he thought he was witnessing Blair's final breaths, on more than one occasion; the pain he had felt for his friend when the tear tracked down his face, while uttering the words 'I can't feel my legs'; the nervousness he saw the young man exhibit when he was being returned to Cascade, the city where he had been rejected and been embarrassed by his peers.
Now he was standing by while Blair attempted to exit his life once more.
"Yeah, I'm running away." Sandburg had yanked on his sneakers and was panting. He scooped up his bag from the nearby chair and slung it in his lap. "It's what I'm good at. In fact," he swung around. "It seems to be the only thing I'm good at."
Something inside Ellison screamed at him to put a stop to this. This was all completely childish.
For God's sake, they were grown adults and they were yelling at each other like squabbling eight year olds.
Sandburg was tugging at his jacket, which was hooked up on the coat rack; the tugs becoming more frantic as each attempt was unsuccessful. Ellison stood there watching, fixed to the spot and unable to move.
"Fuck it." The jacket was ignored and Blair wheeled himself to the door. Twisting the handle, he had the door open a fraction when the detective remembered how to function and thumped his palm against the wood, shutting it again.
"No, you're not going." Jim stopped himself and lowered his voice considerably. "What I meant was, no, please stay."
Blair looked up at his flushed face. He paused for a moment and then shook his head.
"Let me go, Jim."
Blair's hand remained on the handle. Jim's hand remained on the door.
Slowly, one of the hands dropped.
Jim sat nursing a beer. He may have been in the Army and he may have had to deal with tense situations as a police officer, but he hated confrontations. Especially with those people close to his heart.
Wasn't that one of the reasons he and Carolyn had divorced?
He did not have the patience for affairs of the heart.
He should not have blown up at Sandburg that way. The kid had enough on his plate without having to deal with hostility at home, and he hadn't even had his first counseling session. Jim had been warned that Blair would be going through emotional upheavals and would need the kid glove treatment, and he'd tried. How many times had he stopped himself from saying something biting, in the last couple of days?
Sandburg should have been sharing information with him.
Ellison suddenly realized that he was a hypocrite.
Blair was back on the couch, idly playing with the cushion.
"If we're doing honesty, there are some things I have to share with you."
"Oh?" Blair found the cushion immensely interesting.
"Quid pro quo."
Both men were feeling edgy, and knew that this was the most uncertain territory either had been on with the other. It had taken Jim a solid ten minutes of coaxing to persuade Blair to stay in the apartment and just give themselves some time to calm down and sort everything out.
"I mean honesty here, Chief."
Sandburg bit his lip. He didn't even know how he was feeling himself, never mind discussing it with someone. Even if that someone was Jim.
"Um, yeah. Yeah. Honesty."
"The meeting I had on Friday when I couldn't pick you up. It was with Chief Warren. They've reopened a number of my previous cases that I worked with you, purely as a formality, because enough defense attorneys have decided that Sentinel abilities should not be accepted as sufficient cause for indictment." Jim picked off the label from his beer bottle.
"Man, I'm sorry." Blair was genuine in his sentiment. "What does Simon say?"
"He's livid, but not totally surprised."
"I didn't realize, Jim, I'm sorry." Blair looked downhearted, which made Ellison feel guilty all over again. Sympathy or compassion were not the reasons he had told him this.
"It's alright. We'll get through this, it was bound to happen."
"Yeah, I s'pose."
"Quid pro quo, Chief."
Blair fidgeted. What could he safely confess without revealing any inner thoughts that he wanted to tackle on his own?
"I want my life back." That was fairly generic, if obvious. "And I'm getting frustrated that I still can't feel my legs."
"That's understandable." Ouch, that sounded patronizing.
"And I hate having to wear those damn incontinency pads and knowing that you can tell every time I have to... have to... you know."
"Chief, I don't..."
"You probably do, you're just being kind."
The silence between them grew. Neither confession held a solution that could be attained by either person.
"Quid pro quo, Jim."
"I..." Now this would add hassle to Blair's life. On the other hand, it may just bring the diversion that was needed. "I miss having you as my Guide," why couldn't he tell him he had also missed having his friend there? "And everything that's happened has meant I don't have full control over my senses."
Sandburg was troubled. Why had it not occurred to him that something like this could transpire?
"I was out at a crime scene on Candor Street on Thursday, with Rafe, and I was holding a piece of material from evidence; he said I zoned."
"He knows about the zones?" Blair was incredulous.
"So it seems. He and Brown worked out the Sentinel thing a few months back, and Connor filled them in. It's fine with them." Jim slurped the last of his beer. "Anyway, he got me out of the zone eventually."
"He did? How?"
"He kicked me."
Was that a smile?
"About earlier," Jim began, knowing that they had merely swept that incident aside.
"I'm sorry for not sharing with you, man." Blair responded, still playing with the cushion. "The applications and letters are just an idea, just some options. I had to do something to prove to myself that there's life beyond physical therapy and not being at Rainier."
"I'm sorry I went off at you that way, too." Jim placed the bottle on the table and stood. "Will you let me know if I can help with any of them?"
There was that offer again, the one where Blair knew Jim was only trying to help, but where Sandburg would feel beholden if he accepted, no matter how freely the assistance was offered.
"Sure, Jim. Thanks."
"We haven't sorted everything though, have we?"
Why did Jim pick the wrong times to be insightful?
"Look, Chief. I know it's your life, I respect that - even if I do interfere sometimes - but I want you to know that you do have friends here. You've got one standing in front of you right now."
"I know." Blair smiled up at him. "That means a lot. Thank you."
Monday saw the two of them running the same morning schedule. Ellison dropped Sandburg off at the hospital, on his way to another day with the Chief, justifying his previous case evidence. Blair had finally confided that he was nervous about his impending first counseling session, because there were certain issues he had no wish to discuss with a complete stranger. Their view would be biased against the truth, as the counselor could not be told that the existence of Sentinels had not been fabricated, and therefore Blair's press conference would be viewed with a different slant.
Ellison had offered numerous reassurances that the counselor was not there to judge, but this did little to appease his unsettled guide.
Jim's meeting again overran in the afternoon, so Blair was met by Megan. His behavior hinted at the Sandburg she had come to know and love, and it wasn't until later on in the evening when Jim returned, that Blair was able to offload some of the worries he had had during the day.
Ellison thought they must be making progress if they were able to share their concerns. Nevertheless, he was perturbed when Sandburg rejected the idea of take-out and opted for some cereal before turning in for an early night. The seeming lack of physical progress was taking more of a toll on the younger man than Ellison had perceived.
Tuesday dawned on Blair's lowest point. He had barely slept, wanting to snuggle down further into the blankets and fighting against his obstinate limbs. Each time he had tried to turn he had lost his temper against his own body, and, the one time Jim had called to him in the night, Blair snapped at him to leave him alone. By 8 am on the Tuesday, there was still no sign of movement from the room, so Ellison risked the predictable bad mood he would face and went into the lion's den.
Bedcovers strewn everywhere, Blair was huddled in the corner with his fists against his eyes.
"We're going to be late."
"Your P.T. session starts at 9 am."
"What's the point?"
There were no tears, merely a lost soul wondering why he should continue to try. It was the closest Blair had come to giving up, and Ellison was refusing to let him.
"If you say the word 'temporary', I'm going to throw something at you," Blair threatened. "I almost wish I could end this."
It was the first time he had put a voice to his most extreme thought.
Jim prayed Sandburg was only venting frustration, but vowed to stem any further intimations along those lines.
There was no pacifying; no consoling; no cajoling; no pity; no sympathy. Blair was grateful, he wanted none of those.
He wanted the right to feel like shit.
He stubbornly remained on the bed for over thirty minutes until he was ready to accept Jim's help in getting ready.
His mood was no better in the truck, nor was he feeling any brighter when Jim brought him back to the loft later in the afternoon. Ellison was supposed to have been working a case with Brown, but figured that Blair's problems would only be exacerbated by being collected by someone else again, and having to put on a cheerful face.
Conversation was non-existent for the journey beyond the civil greetings in the parking lot.
A meal out was refused outright; Blair had no desire to leave the loft unless it was to go to his P.T. sessions. Take-out was dismissed once again and Blair reached the not-coping stage as evening arrived, apologizing and heading towards his room.
By nightfall, Sandburg was in slightly better spirits, and ready to forgive Jim for intruding on his ill humor by inviting over Jack Kelso. Ellison had welcomed the wheelchair bound; former CIA agent into his home then excused himself and left.
Who better to appreciate some of the physical aspects of Blair's situation?
The two men talked over trivialities before Kelso had quit pussyfooting around and made Blair talk to him straight. He had not reprimanded, but stated that the doctors were not purely spouting redundant phrases like 'mind over matter' for their own health. Sandburg had to remain optimistic because his was not a permanent condition. A week or two in a chair was not the end of the world.
As for the academia problems, Kelso had some contacts in Universities further south, could he offer some suggestions? They discussed suing Rainier over wrongful dismissal and Blair decided against taking action. His contract was due for renewal in the Fall, anyway, and he could not, with hand on heart, say that he had devoted enough time to his students or his studies. If he had been working on an alternative title for a thesis, then where was the research to support his findings? Kelso had nodded conspiratorially when the subject arose; he had suspected Jim's sentinel abilities for some time, but valued and respected his friends. They agreed to meet again the following week and, in the interim, both men would read through Blair's research notes and decide which could be used for an alternative area of study. Why not the Closed Society Environment, which he had been using to obfuscate towards others for so long?
Jim could sense the feeling of quiet optimism when he returned, and was jubilant when he drove Kelso home. It had been a rough day, but perhaps someone had finally changed the light bulb at the end of the tunnel.
A more confident Blair emerged from his bedroom the following morning. Nearly two weeks since he had been found in the South Dakota valley, he had awoken with a new determination. "It might not last," he mused, "but let's see how far this day takes me."
His morning routine had quickened over the preceding few days and it allowed Sentinel and Guide time to sit and eat breakfast at a slower pace.
Glasses perched on the end of his nose; Sandburg looked much more like his former self. He had a ream of papers stacked next to his plate and was dividing his time equally between flicking through and scanning the occasional sheet, and gulping down his food. He was sick of eating softened food, and the high fiber diet - and for the first time in his life he almost longer for a Wonderburger. Not that he'd share that particular thought with his friend, or the smug riposts would last for days.
Blair hadn't noticed the mug of tea that Ellison had set down next to him until he turned to grab another bite of food.
His right hand reached over to pick up his glass of juice and caught the handle of the mug on the way.
It was only a glancing knock but within moments the steaming contents were splattered across the table, coursing down Blair's legs and puddling towards the floor.
Ellison had turned on hearing the cup fall against the table surface, and caught up a dishcloth to clear away the mess.
What neither of them considered until the words were out of Blair's mouth, was the implication of: "Shit, man, that's hot."
Ellison had whisked Blair into the bathroom to get him out of his sweatpants and away from the scalding liquid. He damped a washcloth and sponged off the heated skin.
None of his ministrations affected the anthropologist's euphoria, and Jim's actions were accompanied by a babbling of Sandburgian proportions. The kid didn't even seem to notice when Ellison had finished and was adding socks and sneakers to his attire.
The fluid didn't seem to have distressed the skin too greatly but Ellison wasn't taking any chances and had fresh moist strips of towel under the legs of the clean clothes. He was resolved to getting Blair to the hospital as quickly as possible to be checked out, and for the barrage of tests, which were mandatory with the return of feeling.
"I'd been hoping for something like a tingling in my toes, you know?" Blair had enthused as Jim slammed the driver's door shut. "I think hot tea is a little extreme, don't you?"
At Sandburg's request, Jim had stayed for the first few hours but had been obliged to leave on work-related business by mid-morning. Waiting for hours in the neurology department was not Blair's idea of a good day, but he was so relieved that his week from hell would be ending on a positive note.
The week of performing seemingly endless motion exercises could now take on a new form: that of enabling him to walk again. He had appreciated the necessity of the routines from the start, knowing that without, his muscles and joints would become less flexible and lead to spasticity. Not to mention thrombosis in dormant limbs.
Blair admitted that there had been too many times when he doubted his state to be spontaneously reversible as suggested. He had further questions now as to the nature of the hyper-reflexia he was now experiencing, with his reflexes over-responding, and how long he should expect that to continue. There was something called clonus that had been mentioned, something to do with muscles contracting and relaxing. He had so many questions.
More than anything though, he realized he had an urgent need to use a bathroom.
Later that afternoon, Blair had attended his most rigorous therapy session yet - his intention was to be able to use a walker around the loft by the end of the week. He was reassured that both the hyper-reflexia and clonus conditions were mild, not unexpected, and would pass. He was also armed with an order for Baclofen, to counteract any pain caused by possible muscle spasms.
"Wonderful," he sighed, scooting off down towards the pharmacy. "More muscle spasms."
A short phone call to Major Crimes and a cheery gossip with Rafe told Blair that Ellison had been called to a location with Taggert and wouldn't be back until later. Did he want a ride home?
Blair considered the offer but declined. He could grab a cab, maybe pick something up for dinner and try to cook a meal as a way of thanking Jim for his tolerance and kindness. Rafe agreed to let the detective know Sandburg would be waiting for him at home, demanded to know when the next card game would be, and finished the call.
Jim pulled into Prospect and listened for his Guide's heartbeat. There it was, racing, the gasps of panted breath equally as out of place. Concerned, he killed the engine and fled into the building.
The wheelchair was in the entrance area at the foot of the stairs - near a sign on the elevator door, which read 'Out of Order'.
"Shit, Sandburg. What the hell...?"
Ellison sprinted up the stairs and rounded the final bend, approaching the fire door at the top. There, filthy, sweating, and quite clearly exhausted, was his unstoppable friend. His bag was slung around his shoulders, and his undershirt was covered in dusty prints where Blair must have been wiping off his hands.
"Oh, hey Jim." The grin was typical.
"Sandburg, what...?" Words failed him.
"The elevator was out and I wanted to get the dinner started before you got back."
Jim collapsed against the wall of the stairwell and laughed until his sides hurt. Only Sandburg would have bodily hauled himself up three flights of stairs, shopping crammed into his book bag, without phoning anyone for alternative ideas.
"The first flight was the hardest until I got a rhythm going." Blair narrated as he landed squarely on the final step. "But I did it." He pushed back against the spring-loaded door. "Jim?" The door squeaked open. "Be a good friend and go fetch the chair would you?"
Ellison's chuckled laughter echoed around the walls as he fled downwards to honor his friend's wish.
Blair's buoyant mood continued into the Thursday and he worked himself into near collapse to try and get himself back on his feet. Jim's truck brought home an additional piece of equipment as Blair was allowed a walker for use within the loft, only. Use outside to be extended as the therapy team saw fit.
Sandburg collected the mail while Jim brought in the walker. Blair noticed an envelope from the hospital and quickly stuffed it into his bag for reading in the safety of his room, later. His heart sank as he suspected the contents, but hoped that the check received from his car insurance yesterday would cover their demands. He had to resume the mask of happiness and cheerfulness or Jim would notice something was wrong.
Blair waited until Ellison went out to meet an informant in the evening, before opening his mail.
All vestige of enjoyment fled from him when he read the letter and enclosed invoices. Unbeknown to Jim, Sandburg had visited the finance office earlier in the week to try and verify how much of his treatment and aftercare would be picked up by the State. He had also made some furtive calls to ascertain where he stood financially. He was surprised that the insurance adjustor had issued a check so quickly for his car, but it would only begin to offset the amount owed on these pages.
The outlook was bleak.
Blair gazed hopelessly at the life changing papers in his hands, and then over at the walker. After everything he had been through, why could he not have a few days where everything fell back into the right place?
Now he had the feeling back in his legs, what could he manage without adding to the staggering invoice he held in his trembling hand? Further medication, should it be needed, which he doubted, would still be covered. Yesterday's tests were all covered. The S&R team work in South Dakota was to be picked up by State. He didn't understand what measure of bureaucracy meant that his physical therapy and counseling sessions were not. Why were they only prepared to cover a proportion of the costs incurred out-of-state?
Add that onto the colossal student debts he owed, Blair was in trouble.
He couldn't tell Jim. He still had an iota of pride left, and that small part in him that had enough fight remaining could not bring himself to go running to someone else. As he had said to Jim before, Blair had gotten himself into this mess, and it would be Blair who got himself out of it.
He was still debating his choices when Ellison returned home.
Sandburg filed the envelopes and letters from the hospital and his car insurance into his backpack. He knew what he had to do.
"Jim, can you help me do another round of exercises, please?" He asked, after enquiring about the meeting with the informant. "The hospital says it's important to increase the number of home sessions now." It was a complete lie, but Ellison didn't know that. It was the only way Blair could think of perpetuating an even bigger lie he was about to create.
Blair settled himself in the wheelchair and Jim balanced his backpack on his lap. "You'll call me if you finish early, right?"
The weary sigh was suppressed and Blair fixed a smile on his face. "Yes Jim, I will." He had to maintain the cheery facade. "Just go and find some bad guys to chase. I won't have my cell switched on unless I need to call, so don't worry about me."
Ellison sensed an underlying unease but chose not to press it; instead he nodded and patted Blair's shoulder. "I think you call this my Blessed Protector mode!" With a half grin he walked towards the driver's door. "Damn," he muttered as he turned back. "You need some money to get yourself some lunch?"
Sandburg's heart sank. He wanted this even less than the attention Ellison continually foisted upon him. "Uh..." But that was as far as he got before finding a bill shoved into his hand.
"Remind me to get some groceries on the way home so I can sort you out a proper lunch for tomorrow."
"Jim, I'm not a kid. I don't need..." His words stilled as Jim climbed back into the truck and pulled away. "I don't need pampering," he continued to no one, staring bleakly down at the money in his hand. "I don't need charity, I don't need someone giving me hand outs, I don't need watching twenty-four/seven, I don't need... I don't need this." The money was loathsome to him, signaling yet another indication of his reliance on others. Jim had given him the bill in all sincerity and had meant it as a gesture of friendship and was only concerned for his well-being. But it was not the first time Jim had paid for something or thrust money into his hands.
Sandburg opened his backpack and added the note to the envelope in there.
He had spent the past twelve hours remembering every incidence of financial generosity from his friend, and felt a stab of guilt at each of them. He also recalled how Jim had offered to intervene with the insurance situation last week. It couldn't continue.
He had a few tasks to accomplish today and the first was in the building behind him. Entering the hospital wing he ignored the sign for the physical therapy area and wheeled himself towards the elevators and the administrative offices. The insurance check for his car sat in his backpack along with his checkbook for his bank account, and he could now pay those funds towards the monies he owed the hospital. An hour later he had a receipt for the transfer and the check he had handed them, and some sheets detailing the amount still outstanding. He had emptied his bank account, and he was still faced with a frightening figure. The cold clamp of dread pulled against his stomach when he knew that he had no other way of paying it off.
The bank clerk had all but laughed at him on Tuesday when he had spoken to them on the phone about the possibility of a loan. "I'm sorry, Mr Sandburg, but you have no collateral, student loans, a poor credit history, no employment and if we're realistic in light of current events, it may be some time before you are in a position to make any substantial repayments." The words had come back and torn around his mind all of the previous evening, and he had lied to Jim and told him to put it down to an exhausting P.T. session.
He glanced up at the hall clock; it was just after 10am. He had hours to go until Jim picked him up. That gave him plenty of time to get himself to the library, find the contacts he needed, surf the internet for the right information without Jim looking over his shoulder, and rattle off a few well-placed e-mails. It was only eleven blocks away and he had his gloves to stop his palms from getting too sore with the exertion. He needed to time how long it took to get there so he could be back in the right place for when Jim arrived.
Folding away the hospital invoice, he reflected that at least the total wouldn't move any higher and wheeled himself back towards the elevators.
"Come on, Chief, just one more step."
Ellison had seen Blair fighting to stand on the Thursday evening, but now, twenty-four hours later he was showing the grimmest determination to achieve his goal. There were leg supports clamped around his knees to prevent the joints giving way unexpectedly, but nonetheless Sandburg's upper body was taking the brunt of the weight.
"They must be proud of you at the hospital." Jim glowed with happiness for his friend. "How many steps did you manage there today?"
"Um, most was about five," Blair lied. His excursion to the library had been fruitful, scouting out details of various schools and colleges. He had called Kelso and used some of his contact information to send out speculative emails to prospective Universities via his online email account. If he could find somewhere prepared to accept him in the Fall, it would alleviate the Student Loan pressure, leaving him with the hospital account only. He had already considered that with the amount of time he had spent with Jim and at the PD, then he could find the same amount of time at a new University and run a second job, or even do some tutoring. His thesis would take him years longer, but he could still, one day, become Dr Sandburg, PhD.
If he was to be accepted somewhere in the Fall, he had to be able to walk. Not that somewhere wouldn't take someone with a disability, but he would never afford the adaptations required if he still needed to accommodate physical difficulties.
"'Kay, Chief, you're doing great. Want to rest?"
For the next two hours, Blair talked Ellison through all the exercises the teams had performed with him the previous morning. Jim didn't need to know that he had not attended today, or that he didn't intend to do so again, although perhaps he could attend one session the following week to check on his progress. Would they let him do that? Even though he had discharged himself that morning.
Lying on the floor, he pictured the invoice in his mind's eye, and pushed against the gentle force of Ellison's hands, dogged determination to be walking as soon as possible.