BY Annie


Email: Annie

(In "Blind Man's Bluff," Blair tells Simon that the little bag of Golden they were given was lost in the crowd. However, Jim had actually put the bag with whatever powder it still contained into his jacket pocket.)


"Oh, this is great," Blair muttered to himself as he glanced in the rearview mirror. The Highway Patrol car behind him flashed its lights and he heard the siren wail as he pulled off onto the shoulder of the road. He'd looked down at his speedometer as soon as he'd noticed the police car and was sure he hadn't been speeding, but this was, after all, a part of the state he wasn't familiar with. He tried to visualize what the last speed sign had read, but he honestly couldn't remember. His eyes felt gritty with tiredness and he'd been planning on stopping at the next roadside diner he came to for coffee and a break.

Blair wound down the window, as he waited for the police officer to approach him. The night air was cold on his face, making him glad he'd grabbed a jacket off the hook as when he'd left the loft early that morning. He'd almost turned around and gone back when he'd realized he'd snagged one of Jim's in his haste, but then decided Jim wouldn't mind too much. It wasn't as though this was the only one Ellison owned, and although it was a little large on Blair's smaller frame, and he'd had to roll up the sleeves a little, the leather seemed to keep the chill out better than his own plaid wool coat did. He'd call Jim when he got to Vancouver and explain. It was no big deal.

"Keep your hands where I can see them," the cop said, as he approached the car.

"Look, I'm sorry. Was I speeding?" Blair asked, trying to work out how he was going to pay the fine. He'd used the last of his cash to make his car roadworthy for the trip and to pay for a motel room for the two-day conference he was attending in Canada.

"Step out of the car, please, keeping your hands where I can see them," the cop ordered, opening the door.

Blair shrugged, then did as he was told. It was a bit like overkill just for a speeding offence, but he had nothing to hide. He gasped in shock as he felt his shoulder grabbed and then he was pushed up against the side of the car. "Hey, take it easy, man. Just tell me what I did wrong."

"Shut up, hippie!" the officer growled, pushing his leg between Blair's, shoving them apart. He patted Blair down, then turned the observer around and pushed him up against the car once more.

"Will you just listen to me for a minute?" Blair said as firmly as he could. He had no idea what this guy's problem was, but it seemed to be more than a simple speeding ticket. The cop was as tall as Jim, but looked to outweigh him by at least 20 pounds. "You haven't even told me what the problem is..." Blair grunted as a fist drove into his stomach, leaving him doubled over and gasping for breath. "Hey..." he began as he straightened up, then stopped and winced in pain as his hair was grabbed and twisted cruelly.

"I told you to shut up. You want to know what the problem is? You've got a busted tail light," the cop said, dragging Blair by his hair to the back of the car. Blair blinked in shock as the man pulled out his nightstick and smashed it into the taillight of the car.

"What the hell did you do that for? Look, I don't know what your problem is..." Blair managed to stutter out.

"I don't have a problem, hippie. You do. But I can make the problem go away for...oh, let's see now... A hundred bucks ought to do it. You got a hundred bucks for me, kid? See, it's easy, everyone wins. I go home a little bit richer and you get to go on your way, with no hard feelings," the cop said, his face inches from Blair's.

Blair glanced down at the nametag on the man's uniform. "Sheriff Stanford, is it? Let me ask you something-are you nuts? Look, I'm an observer with the Cascade PD. My name is Blair Sandburg. You can call Captain Banks or Detective Ellison with Major Crimes and they'll vouch for me," he said, his hand beginning to search through his pockets for his ID.

"You're a cop?" Stanford asked, leering. "You don't look like any cop I've seen around here."

"No," Blair replied slowly, "I'm not a cop. I just work with the cops in Cascade. Now, you better call my boss or my partner and explain all this, because if you don't, I will."

A sudden blow across the face sent him reeling into the trunk of the car, and he slipped down to his knees, waiting for the ground to stop tilting before pulling himself up. He kept one hand on the car and felt his cheek with the other. There was a small laceration from where he'd hit a jagged corner of the broken taillight when he fell and blood was trickling slowly down his face.

"Take everything out of your pockets and put them on the roof of the car," Stanford ordered grimly.

Blair sighed and began to empty the pockets of the jacket he was wearing. There wasn't much there, not surprising seeing as how it was, after all, Jim's and Blair couldn't recall the last time his partner had worn it. He found his wallet there and in a small gesture of triumph, deliberately laid it on the roof of the car open, so his observer's ID could be clearly seen, the neck chain he kept it on wrapped several times around the wallet itself. His Swiss Army knife was next from the same pocket. Digging into the other one, his fingers encountered a small bag of some sort. Curious, he pulled it out, then dropped it from nerveless fingers as he realized what it was. Oh, man! How the hell had that got in there?

Blair felt sweat beading his forehead as Stanford bent and picked up the small plastic bag and held it in front of the flashlight he pulled from his belt, illuminating the small quantity of golden powder that still clung to the inside of the bag.

"Well, what have we got here? Drugs? Answer me, boy," Stanford spat out.

Blair was silent with shock. He had no idea the bag was there. He thought Jim had dropped it the night he'd been blinded by Golden. Jim had been so out of it and Blair so panic-stricken that they'd assumed they'd lost it at the raceway. They'd even told the captain that. Jim had flicked most of the sample all over his fingers, then accidentally rubbed it into his eyes. By the time the case was over, Blair was in the hospital in a coma, fighting for his life, after he'd been drugged deliberately by the dealers as payback. With all the anxiety surrounding his over-dose, not to mention Blair shooting up the police garage with Jim's gun just before he collapsed, and then his fight back to health, neither he nor Jim had thought any more about what had happened to the little bag.

"Turn around and put your hands on the car," Stanford said.

"I can explain," Blair finally managed to say.

Stanford immediately pulled his gun and stepped back, aiming it at Blair's head. "Do as I say or I'll shoot you where you stand. We don't like drug dealers round here, boy. Looks like I'll be getting a commendation instead of that hundred dollars, don't it? Guess there won't be much use you complaining to no one about what happened tonight. Who you think they're gonna believe? Me or a drug-running scumbag like you."

Blair turned and did as he'd been told. His arms were pulled roughly behind him and handcuffs snapped around his wrists. Then he was herded over to the police car and shoved roughly into the back seat. Shit, Jim was going to kill him for this, for sure, if this gung-ho bribe-taking cop didn't do it first.


* * *


"Jim, you heard from Sandburg yet?" Simon asked as he met up with Ellison at the elevator.

"Not yet, sir. I guess he decided to drive for as long as possible before stopping for a break. I'm sure he would have called by now if there'd been any problems," Jim replied easily, ushering the captain ahead of him into the elevator when it came.

"He has got his cell phone, hasn't he? I mean, not that there should be any trouble he can get into at a conference on... What the heck did he go up there for, again?" Banks asked.

"A conference on the impact of rain forest degradation on the indigenous peoples of South America," Jim recited, pleased he'd remembered what Blair had told him about it. "Blair's giving a talk based on some of the stuff he learned from Kimberly Ash, that botanist we met in Peru."

"Oh, yeah, the girl who swung a mean mallet, right?" Simon laughed and swatted Jim on the shoulder as they walked to their respective cars.

"I'm sure Blair will be fine, Simon, but he knows how to contact me if he needs me. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were worried about him." Jim shot the captain a quick smile.

"Me? Nah... Well, yeah. I mean, that kid must have a target painted on his back or something, Jim. I've never known anybody with more talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But not a word to Sandburg, you hear me?" Banks shook an admonishing finger at the detective as he climbed into his car.

"My lips are sealed." Jim grinned back. He jumped into the truck and headed for the loft and a peaceful night alone.


* * *


Within an hour of being home, that peaceful quiet was getting to Jim. He hadn't really spent any time at the loft on his own since Blair had moved in, except the nights Blair had been recovering in the hospital from being drugged with Golden, that is, and most of those nights Jim had been at the hospital with his partner. Once the case was wrapped up and Blair was beginning to come around, the nursing staff had given in and simply put a cot in the room for Jim to sleep on. It was obviously easier than trying to shove him out the door every night.

Jim reheated some stew Blair had made the night before he left, then sat down to watch television. After an hour of that, he decided to bite the bullet and call Blair, after all. He decided he'd rather listen to the jokes Sandburg was sure to toss at him about his Blessed Protector hyperdrive syndrome than sit around the loft and listen to the silence. Experimentally, he dialed up his hearing, wincing as a cacophony of noises assaulted his eardrums. He quickly pushed the dial back down before he had a sensory spike or zoned. The one noise he wanted to hear was nowhere to be found, anyway. Blair would be back in a few days but the Sentinel felt an overwhelming need to hear his voice right now. Giving in to his instinct, he moved to the telephone and punched the speed dial for Blair's cell phone.


* * *


Stanford picked up the cell phone after the fourth or fifth ring. "Who's this?" he barked, keeping his eyes on the road ahead as he held the phone up to his ear.

Blair could hear the voice on the other end and silently rejoiced. It was Jim. Maybe now he'd be able to get out of this mess. He strained his hearing to make out what Jim was saying, wishing not for the first time, that he had Jim's senses. Fortunately, the reception was excellent and despite the noise of the car, Blair was able to decipher what his Sentinel was saying.

"This is Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade PD. I'm calling my partner, Blair Sandburg. Who the hell are you?"

"This is Sheriff Stanford, in Snake River, Washington. Mr. Sandburg is in my custody and I'm transporting him back to the county jail. If you want any more information, Detective, I suggest you call there in an hour or so, once your partner has been booked."

"What the hell is going on? Did you hear what I said? Blair Sandburg is my partner. He's a member of the Cascade PD. What is he being charged with?" Jim asked, stunned.

"Drug dealing," Stanford replied succinctly. He felt no need to give any more information. These big city cops thought they could come in and ride roughshod over cases in his jurisdiction and it wasn't gonna happen on his watch. The fact that Sandburg worked for the Cascade PD didn't mean a thing. He wouldn't be the first cop to be dirty.

"Drug dealing? Are you nuts? Let me talk to Sandburg," Jim demanded.

"Sorry, Detective, no can do. Like I said, call the county jail in an hour or so. He'll be there. Either that or wait 'til he calls you. He'll get his phone call like everybody else." Stanford cut the connection. Then he turned his head to sneer at his prisoner in the back seat of the car. "Your big city buddies won't get you out of this one, hippie. You're going down."

"Shit! Watch out!" Blair screamed as the police cruiser veered into the opposite lane and he saw headlights bearing down on them.

Stanford turned back to the road and desperately tried to steer back into his own lane. But the other car was traveling too fast and it clipped the driver's door as they passed each other, causing the police car to gyrate off the side of the road in a tailspin.

Blair could hear the squealing of brakes and smell the burned rubber they left in their wake. He doubled himself over as much as he could, feeling the pull on his shoulders from his cuffed hands as he did so, then glanced up fearfully, just in time to see a huge tree impact the front of the car. The sudden deceleration sent him headfirst into the cage separating the front and back seats, then pushed him back. The car fishtailed madly and Blair was thrown with it. He saw the window coming up to collide with his head just moments too late. Then he hit and sparks flew in front of his eyes. He tried desperately to cling to consciousness against the rising tide of darkness intent on stealing his sight, but he couldn't hold the blackness back and he slumped nervelessly against the door, unconscious.


* * *


"I don't care how you do it, Simon. Just find a way to get me there," Jim growled. "You heard what that guy said. Blair will be locked up in some small-town holding cell by the time we get there and I don't plan on him being there long."

"All right, Jim, calm down. I'm as pissed about this as you are. Just settle down 'til Rhonda gets back to us on flights and we'll be on our way. In the meantime-sit!" Banks pointed at the chair in front of his desk and sighed as Ellison slumped down into it.

"We?" Jim asked, cocking an eyebrow.

"Hell, yes. You don't think I want to leave Sandburg cooling his heels up there any more than you do, do you? Jesus, Jim, he's one of my men, too, with or without the Sentinel stuff. And he's a friend. You'll probably need someone with my rank to cut through the red tape there, anyway." Banks grabbed the phone as it rang. "That's great, Rhonda. Thanks." Hanging up the phone, he looked at Jim. "Can you be ready in an hour? We've got a plane to catch."

Jim was already on his feet and heading for the door. "I'll pick up what I need from home and meet you at the airport."

Simon nodded, standing to grab his own jacket. "I'll be there."


* * *


His head hurt. That was the first conscious thought he had. His eyes were open and he wondered vaguely how long he'd been awake, absently staring at the scene in front of him without taking any of it in. His vision was blurred and he had to blink several times before he could make out any details.

When he finally could, he realized he was in a car. There was a tree in the front seat. Well, part of a tree, at any rate. It looked like it had come through the windshield, which was shattered. There was someone in the front seat, too, slumped over the steering wheel, the back of his dark blue jacket stained with blood. There was also a tree limb protruding from the man's back.

Blair's stomach churned and he looked away. He took deep gasping breaths even though pain stabbed at him as he did so, trying to keep the nausea at bay. But it was no use and he leaned to the side and retched miserably, emptying his stomach of everything it held.

He knew his arms were restrained behind his back and tried desperately to understand why. He could remember nothing, now that he thought about it. Not the accident, nor the reason for him being here in the back of what was obviously a police car, or even something as simple as his own name. All he knew clearly was that he wanted out of the car, wanted to get away from the stench of the dead man's blood and his own vomit. So he wriggled and twisted, groaning at the pain his actions caused, until finally, miraculously, his hands were in front of him.

Pushing down the rising tide of bile that threatened to erupt from his mouth, he leaned over the front seat and pulled the cop back enough to reach his trouser pocket. The first pocket he searched brought the handcuff key to light and he eventually managed to contort his arms enough to get it into the lock of the cuffs and free himself.

The minute that was done, he slammed his hand down on the door handle and almost fell from the car in his haste to get away. He landed on his knees and stayed there for long moments with his head bent down, willing away the dizziness and the darkness that threatened to carry him away.

When he felt certain he could stand without collapsing, he moved into the cover of the trees at the roadside and sat, trying to keep himself awake long enough to work out what had happened.

Resting brought no real answers to his mind, apart from fleeting flashes of scenes that drifted through his head, never lasting long enough for him to get a firm grip on them. It was only then that he realized that not only had he no memory of what had caused the accident, he had no memory of who he was or why he'd been in the back of a police car. Well, apart from the rather obvious fact that he was in trouble with the police. That seemed somehow alien to him. He couldn't remember anything about himself, but he knew innately that he was a decent person. Yet, he'd been handcuffed, so the only answer possible was that he was a criminal. Momentarily, he thought of turning himself in, but the vague flashes of memory he did have were of someone calling him a drug smuggler and saying that bad things happened to drug smugglers in this part of the country. The brief glimpse into the recent past caused his heart to race and at the same time he heard a siren headed his way. More from instinct than anything else, he pushed himself to his feet and headed into denser cover, getting as far from the road as he could before the police car, if that's what it was, stopped.

He watched as two cops climbed from the car and ran to check on the driver of the wrecked car. One of them opened the rear door and leaned in, then straightened back up with something hanging from his hand. Shit! The handcuffs. In his flight to get away, he'd left them on the floor of the car.

Suddenly afraid, he hunkered down deeper into cover, feeling his ribs twinge with the abrupt movement. His head still thumped painfully, the incessant drumming keeping pace with his heartbeat, and nausea roiled in his gut. Unable to keep the sickness at bay, he turned his head to one side and retched, keeping the heaves as silent as possible, only a small amount of watery bile seeping through his lips. Pain tore through him as he gagged and he bit down hard on his lip when he finished, trying to stop himself from crying out. He could feel new blood in his mouth and trickling down his chin and he swiped at it with his hand, then wiped his hand on the grass.

The cops were calling for help over the radio and he used the cover of their voices to edge himself back out of his hiding place, squirming on his belly until he was far enough away that he felt safe to stand up. Then he turned and trudged away from the road, heading further into the forest, hoping against hope he could find somewhere safe to rest and think.


* * *


Jim paced up and down in front of the Snake River Sheriff's Department desk. He and Simon had been waiting to find out where Blair had been taken for over twenty minutes, and with each second that passed, he was getting more and more pissed. He'd extended his hearing several times to try to find out something, anything, but all he'd heard was the usual hodge-podge of sounds and conversation heard in any police department in the US. He turned quickly as two men rushed through the glass doors into the office.

The men, Snake River deputies, Jim was able to see now, stopped and gave him a quick once over, then obviously deciding he was of no interest to them, moved behind the desk where one of them picked up a phone.

Jim listened in, hoping he'd hear something that would tell him where the hell his partner was.

"Mayor Davis, this is Deputy Thomas. I'm just calling to let you know that we just got back from the scene of the accident and Sheriff Stanford is dead. The coroner's there now and we've called in a forensic team from the city to help us with this."

At the mention of the name Stanford, both Simon and Jim had moved to the desk as one, where they waited impatiently for the deputy to finish his call.

As soon as he hung up the phone, Jim pounced. "Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade PD. This is my captain, Simon Banks. Did you say Sheriff Stanford is dead?"

"Don't see what it's got to do with you, but, yeah, that's what I said," the deputy responded tersely.

"I spoke to him a while ago, maybe just before the accident happened. He told me he had my partner, Blair Sandburg, in the car with him. Was Sandburg at the scene?" Jim held his breath, waiting for the answer.

"Nope, nobody else there except Stanford. We did find a pair of handcuffs on the back seat, though, and some blood on the back passenger window and some vomit on the floor. What'd your partner do?" Thomas asked.

"Nothing," Banks jumped in, giving Jim a look that clearly said, Let me do the talking now. He went on before Jim could interrupt. "We think there was some sort of misunderstanding. Blair Sandburg is one of my men. He's not a cop, but he is an observer with Major Crime at Cascade PD. I will personally vouch for him."

"Then why did he take off?" Thomas asked, doubt all over his face. "Why didn't he just wait for help to come?"

"You don't know that he did just take off," Jim said heatedly. "You've just said he was probably hurt. He may have been confused and wandered away from the scene. Do you know what Stanford arrested him for?"

"No idea," Thomas replied. "Dave didn't call it in before the accident. That's not all that unusual with Dave Stanford, though. He didn't always do things by the book. Look, Captain, suppose I take your word for your observer being a stand-up guy. I mean, we don't know for sure that Dave even arrested him. Hell, maybe he was just giving him a ride." Thomas looked around. They were alone in the room, the other deputy having gone into the room behind him where he was talking on another phone.

"Listen, Stanford wasn't too popular with any of us honest cops round here. Let's just say he gave us a bad name and we don't need the publicity tarring the rest of us with the same brush. I'm his second-in-command, and besides the fact that his death makes me the new sheriff, at least 'til the next election, I ain't gonna miss the bastard one bit. From what I could see at the scene, it was an accident, pure and simple."

Jim looked at the man, stunned by the outpouring of information they'd just been given. "What do you want us to do? Just leave Sandburg out there injured, maybe dying...!"

Thomas held up a hand. "No way! I told you, we're not all like Stanford. I say we let it be known that Sandburg was offered a ride by the good sheriff and when the accident happened, he wandered away from the scene due to shock or something. We'll get a search party set up to find him and when we do, you get to take him home. Maybe then Snake River will get back to normal."

"Simon?" Jim asked, looking at his captain.

"Let's get the search party organized," Banks replied. "How about you and I go out to the scene now, Jim? Maybe your instincts about Blair will pick up something."

"Good idea, sir. Thanks, Deputy... I mean, Sheriff. We'll liaise with the search and rescue people when they get there, if we haven't found Blair by then." Jim took off out the doors in a headlong rush, not waiting for a response from Thomas. If they were going to find Blair, they needed more equipment than what they'd brought with them.

On the sidewalk, he looked up and down the street and spotted a hardware store on the next block. He took off for it at a run, with Banks at his heels.


* * *


Blair knew he was tiring. He needed to find somewhere safe to rest. He was thirsty and hungry and his head throbbed relentlessly. Every step he took reminded him of his bruised ribs.

He looked up at the overcast sky. Soon it would be dark and he needed to be somewhere other than out in the open when that happened. He'd had no time to think since he'd run from the scene of the accident. Everything had been done purely on instinct and adrenaline had kept him moving, but now his body was betraying him, trying to tell him to stop. His legs were heavy and he stumbled again and again as he walked.

Stopping to rest once more, he looked around, trying to find anywhere that he could hide in safety. There was a huge tree a few hundred feet away. It looked as if the bottom of it was hollowed out in some way, leaving a space much like a small cave. It would do for now.

Sighing with relief, he moved forward again, his tired eyes missing the rock in his path. His feet flew out from under him as he slipped on it and he fell to the side, his arms automatically going out to save him. There was some sort of depression where he fell, causing him to land awkwardly, his right arm twisting beneath his weight. He heard the snap of bone and electric pain shot up his arm into his shoulder. Hitting the wet ground hard, he screamed, curling up into himself, pulling his injured arm up against his chest.

He had no idea how long he lay there, rocking slightly back and forth as tears of pain trickled down his cheeks. Eventually, he was able to roll to his knees, keeping his arm cradled against his body, and from there, to his feet. He stood, swaying back and forth for long moments, then gritted his teeth and finally made it to the shelter of the hollowed-out tree.

Falling to his knees, he saw that there was enough room for his small frame within the trunk and he bent his head and crawled inside. A pain-filled sigh escaped him as he managed to bring his knees up to his middle to try to block out some of the cold. He flopped over onto his side and let himself pass out.

Dreams came and went as he slept. Strange visions of times that seemed somehow familiar. He saw himself in all of them, and someone else. One man was there every time.

He was pushing this man under a truck of some sort, then the scene morphed into another and the same man was tapping his cheeks and smiling at him. The man's laughter echoed in his head and Blair remembered it. He thought if he could just hold on to the memories a little longer, he'd recall everything.

But he was so cold, then he was hot, and through it all he felt the throbbing of his head and grating pain in his arm every time he moved without thinking. He slept again, wanting this to be the dream and the dream reality.

He was in a chair, chained to it, his mouth gagged, his mind blurred. Suddenly someone was there, talking to him reassuringly, reaching out to cup his cheek. He fell from the chair and strong arms gathered him into an embrace, bringing a sense of safety. He wrapped his trembling arms around the broad back and whispered his savior's name. "Jim...."

Jolting awake again, Blair hissed at the agony awareness brought. His mouth was dry and he knew he was dehydrated, knew he needed to find water soon. But he was in too much pain and his legs wouldn't obey him, so he lay on the ground and shivered until his eyelids grew too heavy and he fell asleep again. But in the moments before unconsciousness claimed him, he suddenly realized he remembered everything.


* * *


When he woke again, the memories were still there, but now they were clearer. His name was Blair Sandburg and he was a grad student and TA at Rainier University. He also worked with the Cascade PD, partnered with Detective Jim Ellison, who was a Sentinel, a man with five heightened senses. He also recalled the fact that Jim was his best friend and that he always came to rescue Blair in the nick of time. Jim would find him again, Blair knew, but all the same, he thought it would be as well to give the Sentinel a little help. So he began a whispered mantra in the hope that Jim was within hearing range and would pick up his voice.

"Jim, please find me. I want to go home," he whispered over and over, even after dehydration began to steal his voice. His throat was beginning to feel like he'd swallowed sand-paper, but he kept going, knowing he'd only stop when Jim found him or when his voice disappeared completely. He had to. He knew without doubt that Jim would never give up on him and Blair planned to let Jim know that his faith was equal to the Sentinel's.


* * *


Jim had returned from the hardware store with flashlights, space blankets, bottled water, a first aid kit and energy bars. He and Simon went back to the truck and drove out to the accident site.

The police car was still there, though Stanford's body had been removed. Jim opened the back door and leaned inside, then moved back quickly as his heightened sense of smell took in the scent of blood and vomit. Taking a deep cleansing breath of fresh air, he returned to the interior of the car and carefully inhaled again, casting aside the coppery tang and sour stench. Blair had been here. Jim could smell the faint herbal scent of his shampoo. He retreated again and looked around, extending his sight. Almost immediately, he saw the broken branches and the footprints that would be obscured to anyone else.

"This way, sir," he said, as he headed in the direction he felt sure his Guide had taken.


* * *


Simon kept up as best he could in the wake of the Sentinel's determined trailing of his Guide. Jim had some time ago slipped into an automatic tracking routine, his mind bent solely to the task at hand, not even looking back when Simon stumbled as he tried to keep up.

Jim stopped near a small copse of bushes and long grass several hundred yards from the road. Crouching, he put out one hand and moved it just above the ground. "He was hiding," he said, standing up. "Why would he hide, Simon? Why not stay with the car and wait for help?"

Simon shrugged. "You heard what that deputy said about Stanford, Jim. Maybe the kid thought he'd get the same treatment from the other cops here. You sure this is where he was?"

The Sentinel nodded, his eyes bleak as he continued to stare at the ground. "He threw up again here, and there's blood on the grass. I can see the depression where he was lying." He turned abruptly and headed off at a trot, following clues only he could see.

Simon sighed and followed doggedly along behind Ellison, knowing that they'd find Sandburg. His main concern was whether Sandburg would be alive or dead when they did.

Jim stopped next to a large boulder. He crouched down to the base, feeling around it with his fingertips. Standing again, he held his hand up to his face and sniffed at the blood that coated it. "He fell here," he said simply. Then he seemed to focus his sight on something ahead, something Simon couldn't see. "This way," he said, taking off at a run.

Simon headed out behind him, his breath already labored. Ellison seemed tireless and it was as much as Banks could do to keep up.


* * *


"Oh, my God," Jim heard Simon whisper as he came to a halt against Ellison's back. Jim blinked against the sudden unexpected sting of tears. Then the big man dropped to his knees next to the body curled inside the trunk of the dead tree. He put two fingers gently against the pulse point in Blair's neck, sighing with relief as he felt the steady thrumming beneath his fingertips.

Blair groaned and tried to roll to his back, but was brought up short by Ellison's knees.

"Give me a hand to get him out of here, Simon, but go slow. I don't want to cause him any more pain or exacerbate any injuries he might have, but I can't check him out properly while he's in there. Take it easy, Chief," Jim said, rubbing his hand gently over Blair's head.

Between the two of them, they were able to extricate Sandburg from the base of the tree, placing him on his back on the ground a few yards away. Simon set up the lantern flashlight they'd bought so that its light shone onto Blair's face.

Sandburg groaned again as the light hit his eyes, one arm coming up shakily to shield them. He blinked a few times, then opened his eyes slowly, only to snap them shut again in obvious discomfort. Simon quickly reached out and redirected the light toward the injured man's chest.

"Hey, Chief, take it slow, okay?" Jim said soothingly. "I'm just gonna check you out here, all right?" He waited a heartbeat until Blair gave a tiny nod, then began ghosting his hands over his partner's body, beginning at his head.

"Jim?" Blair's voice was husky and the single word caused the dry skin on his lips to crack, a small droplet of blood appearing on his mouth. He licked his lips futilely with his dry, coated tongue.

Simon pulled a bottle of water from his pack, wetting Blair's lips with a small amount, then allowing him to take a few sips.

"Just a little for now, Blair," he rumbled. "Don't want you getting sick."

"Simon?" Blair looked up at the big captain crouched at his side and his mouth tilted in a semblance of a smile. "Glad to see you," he whispered.

"I'm glad to see you, too, kid," Banks replied, swallowing a lump in his throat. He put the space blanket over Blair's shivering body, leaving it loose enough for Jim to continue his examination.

Jim found a large lump on Blair's temple that was already badly bruised. His partner's pupils were dilated but equal, and Jim heaved a sigh of relief at the thought that he was probably just badly concussed. He continued the examination, motioning Simon to direct the light for him as he moved down to Blair's right arm.

Blair jolted almost upright as Jim's fingers touched his wrist. "Oh, God," he moaned, his other hand reaching out and snagging the front of Jim's jacket.

"I'm sorry, Chief," Jim said, chagrined at causing his friend any additional pain. He wrapped an arm around Blair's shoulders and eased him gently back to the ground.

Blair's face was chalky white now and beads of perspiration dotted his forehead and upper lip. His eyes were closed again and he looked as if he'd fainted.

"Blair? You with me, buddy?"

There was no answer and Jim decided it would be as well to splint the obviously broken wrist while Sandburg was still unconscious. "Simon, there should be an elasticized bandage in the kit. Can you get it out and wrap his arm? I'll try to get the bones in the proper alignment." Jim winced as he felt the broken bones grating under his sensitized fingers, but working with Simon, he soon had Blair's arm immobilized. None too soon, Jim realized, as Blair showed signs of coming to again.

"Easy, Blair. You just took a little nap for a minute there," Simon said reassuringly as Blair opened his eyes and gazed around, looking disoriented.

"Shit, he's got a couple of cracked ribs, too, Simon. I don't think we're gonna be able to get him out of here by ourselves. One of us is going to have to go for help," Jim said decisively.

"Jim? That you?" Blair asked weakly. "When'd you get here?"

"Been here for a while, partner. How you doing?" Jim replied, a smile lighting his face. He stroked a gentle hand across Blair's forehead and was rewarded with a barely-there grin.

"Okay," Blair responded muzzily, his eyes drooping again. "Arm hurts. And my head. Oh, man..." Blair tried to twist to one side as his face paled even further. Jim quickly realized what was wrong and turned his partner onto his side, rubbing his back as Blair brought up the water he'd just drank and then dry-heaved over and over.

"Sorry," Blair whispered once the spasms had passed. He closed his eyes again, fine lines of pain already evident on his face.

"It's okay, Blair," Simon said quietly, patting the young man's shoulder. He looked up at the Sentinel. "I think I should go back to the car and radio for help, Jim. Blair needs you here. You're the trained medic and I'm getting worried about that head injury. I'll be back in about an hour with help."

Jim nodded, then turned his attention back to his partner and his job of keeping him awake until help came.

As Simon jogged away, he could hear Jim beginning to talk, focusing Blair's attention on his words and away from the pain of his injuries.


* * *


Jim jerked awake as he felt a large hand come down gently on his shoulder. Momentarily confused, he raised startled eyes and looked around the room, regaining his bearings.

Blair lay sleeping peacefully in a bed next to him, the accoutrements of the hospital in their usual places around him. The blinds at the window were drawn, but Jim could see a faint outline of early morning light around their edges. It had been almost midnight when they'd arrived at the hospital the night before and close to 3 a.m. when Blair had been settled into this room after receiving treatment for his injuries in the ER downstairs.

"How's he doing, Jim?" rumbled the warm voice of his captain from behind him.

Jim motioned with his head that they should talk outside and made it to his feet, waiting a moment for the tingling of pins and needles in his legs to dissipate. Then, with one last caress to Blair's forehead, he followed Banks out into the corridor, leaving the door slightly ajar. He knew he'd hear if Blair woke, but instinctively he needed to be able to still see him as well. He knew it was a reaction to all those hours when he couldn't see his Guide, had even despaired of ever seeing him again. He didn't question the need, simply gave into it, allowing it to soothe him as he'd soothed Blair with his presence in the woods the night before when Simon had gone for help.

"Doc says they'll keep him here a couple of days, make sure he's rested up for the trip home. He's got a severe concussion, needed ten stitches in his head. His arm's fractured in two places, but they were clean breaks so they were able to reduce it without surgery. He's got bruising to his chest as well as a couple of cracked ribs, abrasions on his wrists from the cuffs. He was dehydrated and hypothermic when he got here, but his temperature's back to normal and they've topped up his fluids." Jim stopped the long recitation, then added, "He's pretty messed up, sir, but nothing that won't heal with time and rest." He raised an eyebrow at the captain's exhaled sigh of relief.

"What?" Banks asked defensively. "I was worried about him, too, you know. He might be your Guide, Jim, but you don't have a corner on the market of being Blair's friend."

"No, I know that, Simon. He does tend to have that effect on people, doesn't he?" Jim said, smiling as he watched his sleeping friend. Moments later, his hearing picked up an acceleration in Blair's heartbeat and he saw the slow movements that signaled he was waking up. "I'd better get back in there, sir. I don't want him to wake up alone."

Banks nodded. "Well, what the hell are you standing around out here, talking to me for? I'm gonna go tie up the loose ends with the Sheriff's Department. I just want to make sure that nothing's gonna turn up to bite Blair on the ass somewhere down the road. Make sure he understands none of this was his fault, Jim, all right? Damn kid does guilt even better than you do." Grinning, he walked away down the hallway.

"That he does," Jim agreed, as he re-entered Blair's room. Letting down the closet siderail, he perched carefully on the bed, taking Blair's hand in his.

"Hey, buddy, you waking up?" Jim spoke quietly, knowing that Blair would probably have a headache from the concussion he'd sustained. He watched as Blair's eyes slid open, then almost immediately blinked shut. Realizing the problem, Jim turned off the overhead light, then took up his place next to his partner again.

This time, when the blue eyes opened, they stayed that way, coherence gradually replacing the disorientation.

"Jim?" Blair's voice sounded rusty, as if from disuse, and Jim reached over and picked up a cup filled with ice chips. He spooned a couple out and held them to Blair's parched lips, watching as his partner sucked them avidly.

"Better?" Jim asked.

Blair nodded, then winced, obviously regretting the movement. "How am I?" he asked, a slight grin tilting his lips.

"You're gonna be fine, Chief. Bit sore for a while, but okay. You've got a broken arm as well as a concussion and a couple of cracked ribs, not to mention lots of bruises. You really did a number on yourself this time, buddy. Do you remember what happened?"

The reaction was not what Jim had expected. Blair surged up in the bed, groaning as pain flared anew from his still unhealed injuries. "I didn't do anything wrong! I don't know why he arrested me, Jim. I swear, I didn't do anything!"

"Hey, hey, take it easy, Chief!" Jim grasped Blair's shoulders firmly and pushed him back down to rest against the pillows, then he found the bed control and used it to move Blair to a semi-reclining position. As soon as he was sure Blair was comfortable again, he took up his former position, taking Blair's hand in his once.

"We know you didn't do anything wrong, Blair. Apparently, the sheriff had set himself up in a nice little scam, pulling over unsuspecting drivers and then telling them to pay bribe money if they didn't want to be arrested. Obviously, you didn't fall into line, so he was going to take you in. Then the accident happened and--"

"I'm sorry, Jim. I should have stayed there, but I couldn't remember what had happened. I had handcuffs on and I got them off and there was this dead cop in the car and I just took off. I should have stayed, but he was dead and I couldn't remember if I was a bad guy or not and he had a tree sticking out of him...a fucking tree, Jim. There was so much blood and I got the cuffs off and I got out and I hid. I couldn't remember anything, couldn't remember who I was. I'm sorry, I couldn't remember you, either. I was so scared and...cold... I was so cold...."

"It's over, Chief, settle down." Jim became concerned as Blair pushed himself up into a sitting position, biting down on his lip against the pain the movement brought. His chest was heaving and the heart monitor attached to him registered his rising pulse rate. His partner was having a panic attack, Jim knew, so the Sentinel did the first thing that came into his head to quell it. Leaning forward, he grasped Blair's shoulders and pulled him into his chest.

He held one hand against Blair's head, cupping it within his palm, while the other stroked soothing circles over the panicked man's back. He could feel Blair's body straining for breath, great gasps drawing his ribs in and out in what had to be painful breaths.

"Shhh," he whispered, never stopping the soothing motions. "It's okay, Chief. It's over. You're safe. I'm here. You're safe." He kept up the recitation until he felt Blair's breathing return to a more normal rate, his heart slowing from the galloping rate to its usual regular pace. "This is a normal reaction, Blair. You've had a rough time. You just need to let it all out now, that's all. You'll be fine, buddy, just fine."

With that, Blair gave a small sob, then Jim felt the wet warmth of tears begin to soak his shirt. He clasped Blair closer to him, keeping up the comforting circles and rocking back and forth gently. "That's it, Chief. Get it all out."

Eventually the crying stopped and Blair's breathing slowed. Jim knew Blair had fallen asleep, so he cautiously laid him back down on the pillows. Grabbing a tissue from the box on the bedside table, he dried the dampness from under his friend's eyes. Then he pulled the blankets up to Blair's chest, tucking them under the sleeping man's arms so they wouldn't catch on the new plaster cast or the IV in the other hand. That done, he moved back to the chair at the bedside and took up his vigil once again.

Blair slept peacefully, only an occasional shuddering breath revealing the emotional overload he had so recently undergone.

Jim reached out and took his Guide's hand in his. "Rest, Chief. I'll be right here when you wake up again."

Then the Sentinel leaned forward, rested his head on one bent arm on the bed and closed his eyes, allowing the reassuring beat of his Guide's heart to lull him to sleep.

The End