Out of the Night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole...
He shivered, feeling a drop of sweat snake down the back of his neck and disappear beneath his collar.
"You okay, Chief?"
He opened his eyes, glancing over at the man in the neighboring airplane seat, his head pounding with a dull pain.
"Yeah," he muttered, surprised by the raspiness of his voice.
Deciding against further comment, he turned away from Jim and shifted his weight against the wall, resting his head in the crook between the window and the seat. He focused on his breathing, willing away the heavy pain that tore through his chest each time he inhaled. He knew he was sick, and he knew it was bad. He just hadn't expected it to happen so fast. Now that they were up in the plane, there was nothing anybody could do to help him.
Clouds passed slowly beneath the plane, and he gazed down at them. Maybe I really did die, and this is a glimpse of heaven. His eyelids drifted closed, and his breathing shifted into a slow, shallow rhythm.
"You don't look so good," Jim commented, his voice low.
"Mnnn... Fine," he groaned, the tug of sleep slurring his words.
"You're hot." A cool hand pressed against his forehead. "Damn. You're burning up, Sandburg. I knew you were getting sick. We should have postponed the flight."
No I'm not hot. I'm cold, he replied silently, shivering again as if to illustrate the point.
"What's going on?" a gruff voice asked.
"He's sick, Simon. His temp must be at least a hundred and four."
"What? What's wrong with Sandy?" Megan inquired.
"Three more hours 'til we land in Cascade," Jim said. "Damnit, he never should have come."
"He insisted," the Australian said defensively. "He'd already bought the ticket when I found out. He was quite hurt that you left without him."
"He's in no shape to be traveling, much less traipsing around the jungle."
"He did pretty good," Simon said. "He seemed okay."
"It's catching up with him. I'm pretty sure he's fighting a bout of pneumonia. His breathing doesn't sound so good."
"Oh, so now you're concerned?"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean, Connor?"
The bickering was really grating on his nerves. All he wanted to do was sleep. "Shut up," Blair mumbled. "You're giving me a headache."
Another hand pressed against his head. "Damn, Jim, you're right. He's got one hell of a fever," Simon said.
Simon removed his hand, and another quickly took its place. "Oh, bloody hell! Poor Sandy. We've got to get him some medical attention."
"Thanks for the recommendation," Jim snapped.
Blair batted the hand away and curled against the wall. "You can all just keep your paws to yourselves. I'm tired and I'd like to get some sleep," he grumbled.
Someone else spoke, but the words sounded muffled. Then silence descended upon him, pushing him into a deep, thick slumber.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade...
The wall and seat were moving, jarring him to consciousness. He felt a hand on his shoulder, shaking him, and an urgent voice intruded upon the silence.
"Blair? Wake up. Come on Sandburg. Wake --"
"Go'way," he mumbled, wincing as a stab of pain shot through his chest.
A second hand gripped his other shoulder, shifting him away from the wall and straightening him in the seat. He felt his face tilting upward, apparently of its own volition. A moment later, something cool and wet pressed against his lips, and he opened his mouth automatically, welcoming the soothing water as it slid down his throat. He swallowed reflexively, soon gulping the liquid greedily. One of the mouthfuls went down his esophagus wrong, and the once-refreshing water turned suddenly vicious. He choked, struggled, and his chest tightened, his lungs burning.
"Blair. Blair! Take it easy, buddy. You're okay."
"I'll get a towel," a woman said.
Blair opened his eyes. Blue. It was the first thing he saw. Light blue eyes.
"You're okay, Chief." Jim spoke slowly, and Blair's field of vision seemed to pull back, taking in the man's face, the creased brow and tight lips shifting into focus.
He blinked. "Jim?"
The Sentinel nodded. "Yeah, Chief." One hand came up to feel his forehead. "Don't worry, we'll be landing soon."
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, trying to ease the pressure on his chest. The air resisted his lungs' efforts, feeling as thick as molasses, and each breath took a monumental effort. His lungs burned in protest with each painful inhalation.
"Can't breath," he wheezed. "Hurts." Just like before...
"I know. Just hang in there, Sandburg. The airport's about forty minutes away."
"It's not fair."
Jim's brow furrowed quizzically. "What's that, Chief?"
Blair shifted his head to the side, his eyes tracking the wispy clouds flying lazily past the window. "A person should only have to die once in a lifetime."
Apparently, his comment pissed off Jim, because all of a sudden the Sentinel was out of his seat, yelling something about finding a doctor and wanting the pilot to land.
"Jim," he mouthed, trying to make the sound, but his tight lungs couldn't seem to spare the oxygen to form even that simple word.
Suddenly he couldn't breathe at all. He was sure his lungs were still pumping, because he could feel the pain that accompanied each expansion, but despite the movement of air in and out of his chest, that suffocatingly tight feeling of not being able to breath overcame him.
Panic gripped him, squeezing his chest impossibly tighter. Jim was standing, still yelling, oblivious. Someone help... He reached out, a strained wheezing accompanying the flow of air in and out of his chest. His hand found Jim's sleeve, and he clutched it, his fingers wrapping around the soft material with as much strength as they could muster.
Jim stopped yelling, turning around to look at Blair, his face almost as white as the clouds drifting past the window. The larger man leaned down, and Blair released his hold only long enough to grab Jim's arm, his fingers wrapping around the Sentinel's forearm with strength born of panic.
He struggled to talk, but he couldn't breath, couldn't form the words. All he could do was wheeze painfully.
Jim looked at the hand wrapped around his forearm, a fog of horror clouding his blue eyes. He blinked, tearing his gaze away from the deathgrip to meet Blair's terrified eyes. "Oh hell. God, Sandburg." In one swift motion, Jim scooped Blair out of the seat and laid him down in the aisle. "Hang on, Chief."
Blair struggled, hard spasms jerking his legs as he fought against the suffocating pressure in his chest. He couldn't breath, and his body reacted, his back arching as his lungs worked to pull in air. Simon and Megan's concerned faces drifted into his field of view, but darkness encroached on the edges of his vision.
It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll...
Once again, Jim found himself giving his friend mouth-to-mouth, but this time he knew the actions were virtually futile. His sentinel ears told him there was an infection raging in Sandburg's lungs, preventing the uptake of oxygen. Still, he tried, hoping some of the life-saving gas was working its way into his partner's system.
"We're landing," a woman's voice announced, and he looked up briefly to see a blond stewardess with black mascara streaks running down her cheeks. "We've been flying at top speed since your friend went into distress, and the airport's only a minute or two away."
Two minutes too long. He continued forcing air into Blair's lungs, barely aware of Megan and Simon's presence behind him and the anxious stares of the other passengers.
A minute and a half later, the plane landed with a hard jerk, but Jim never stopped his life-saving efforts. Come on, Blair. Don't do this. This can't happen. This isn't supposed to happen, Goddamnit! Could he tap into the spirit world a second time to save Blair's life? He didn't know. He didn't feel the connection to the spirit animals that he'd felt at the fountain. One chance. God, I got him back and now I'm losing him again. This isn't supposed to happen. He should have been resting, going for check-ups at the hospital, not traipsing through the jungle. Goddamnit, what was I thinking letting him come along? Fuck, I blew it. I blew it! One chance, I got him back, and I screwed it up.
"Let us through!"
Jim looked up to see two blue-clad paramedics running toward him, each carrying a large orange case in one hand.
I thank whatever Gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
"Viral Pneumonia, probably caused by the Influenza virus," the grey-haired doctor informed the three officers.
Jim shook his head. "It came on so fast. He was a little sick the night before we left, but he didn't seem that bad. He--"
"Normally, the virus would never have progressed that quickly, but the recent trauma to his body damaged his lungs, making them exceptionally susceptible to infection. To top it off, his immune system was depressed. Dying tends to be very hard on the body. He was in no condition to be hiking around in the wilderness. I'm guessing that once the adrenaline wore off from the activities you described, it depressed his system even more, allowing the virus to replicate in the injured lung tissue virtually unimpeded."
"He's going to be okay, though, right?" Jim asked.
The doctor sighed, sinking into one of the vacant chairs of the waiting room. "I'm optimistic, but, because this is a virus, antibiotics won't work on the pathogen. We are, however, giving him antibiotics to combat the secondary infection we've discovered, and we've drained his lungs and put him on a respirator. We've also put him on drugs to boost his immune system. Right now, we've got him in a tent. His lymphocyte count is almost normal now, so that's a good thing. The best we can do is monitor him, keep him hydrated and on the respirator, and hope that his body wins the battle against the virus."
"Odds, Doctor?" Simon asked.
"Hard to say. I'd give him a seventy-five-percent chance of pulling through." He took a slow, deep breath. "If he does, I want you --" he looked at Ellison, "-- as his roommate to make sure he gets plenty of rest. He may feel like he can be up running around, but I don't want to see him back here with another infection. He has a good chance of surviving this one, but a third one would probably prove too much on his already battered system. Understand?"
Jim nodded, his jaw muscles tight. "Yes, Doctor. Can I see him?"
The older man shook his head. "No. Not right now. He's in ICU, and he's completely out. He won't know you're there."
Jim rose from his seat. "I'd like to see him anyway."
Again the doctor shook his head. "I'm sorry, Detective. Come back in the morning."
"If his condition deteriorates, I'll give you a call."
"Look, Doctor," Megan spoke up, pushing herself to her feet. All three men looked at her. "Surely, you recognize the importance of human contact in a patient's recovery? I know Sandy. He'll do better if Jim's there talking to him, even if he is out of it. If his situation is as serious as you say, surely you won't deny him that advantage, no matter how slight."
Jim and Simon both raised their eyebrows, and, after a brief pause, the doctor sighed. "Okay. I suppose it can't do any harm. Follow me, Detective. I'll show you to his room."
Jim nodded, offering a small smile of gratitude to Megan, then took off after the Doctor.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloodly, but unbowed.
"Well, Chief, I gotta tell you, I'm not liking this encore," Jim said, keeping his voice low, his words almost drowned out by the soft woosh of the respirator and the steady beeping of the EKG.
"I didn't see this one coming, Sandburg. I mean, what are the odds of you having two near-death experiences in the same month? But this is real-life, isn't it? Stupid things like this happen. I should have left you in that hotel room instead of yanking you off the bed. God, kid, what were you thinking? Why do you keep doing it? Just out of the hospital and you're getting shot at and kidnapped. Sleeping outside by a campfire couldn't have been good for you either, now that I think about it, even if it was too damn hot down there. That's another thing. The heat. The sweat. Jesus, why the hell didn't I think?" He sighed. "Because I wasn't thinking, was I? I was too focused on Alex, and you looked good. You looked okay. I think you even felt okay. Didn't you? Maybe a bit tired, but you were doing pretty good out there."
He fell silent, letting his eyes drift over the still figure on the bed, watching the gentle rise and fall of Blair's chest and listening to the accompanying whisper of the respirator.
"Okay, okay. I give, Chief. You wanted to talk back there in the church, didn't you? I could tell that you did, but I really wasn't ready to go over it. I figured you were alive, and that was good enough. I sure as hell didn't want to dredge up that memory... No, not that one. That's one I can do without. But, I tell you what, Chief, you wake up this time, and I'll talk all you want. Right after I kick your ass for following me and Simon. You just can't stand to be left out of things, can you?" A slight smile touched his lips. "You're like one of those terriers, kid. The kind that takes a bite of something ten times its size and holds on out of sheer tenacity. You're a real piece of work, Chief. Have I told you that lately? And, yes, I mean that in a good way."
He paused to take a breath. "You know, Sandburg, if this is a cry for attention, it worked. You can wake up now... No? You're damn stubborn, you know that. You're gonna make me sweat this one, aren't you? Fine. I can take it. I'll stay right here until you decide to grace me with your presence. If you don't wake up soon, I'll commandeer a portable radio and start playing Santana. Got that? I don't bluff, Chief, remember that."
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
His chest hurt. Oh man, this sucks. The words were his first conscious thought. Hesitantly, he let his eyelids drift upward. White. He blinked, realizing his was staring at a white ceiling. Immediately, the faint scent of antiseptic and other chemicals tickled his nose, and he released an almost-silent groan.
He rolled his head to the side, seeing Jim grinning foolishly at him.
"I hate hospitals," he rasped.
Jim's smile grew wider. "Then stop ending up in them."
The smile faltered. "Seriously, Chief, this time you're taking it easy. Doc says you've gotta rest for the next two weeks, and take it easy for the next month."
Blair swallowed, managing a slow nod. "My throat hurts."
"They had you on a respirator, but they took it out yesterday. Want some water?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah."
A cup appeared in front of him, complete with a straw that was set gently against his lips. He managed two small sips, then let his head sink back against the pillow. "Thanks."
Jim set the cup on the side table. "You're welcome."
"You got pneumonia," Jim answered, "and a touch of bronchitis."
"That's what happens when you swallow a lungful of fountain water, remain dead for almost five minutes, then check out of the hospital and go traipsing around the jungle."
"Thanks, Jim, but I was actually hoping for some sympathy, here."
The Sentinel grinned, patting Blair's arm. "Wait til Megan shows up. She's ready to fawn all over you, Sandy."
Blair managed a tired smile. "You're funny, man. Just don't start singing songs from Grease, 'kay?"
"You're safe there, Chief. I don't sing unless it's under duress."
Blair tried to chuckle, but it came out more like a gasp. His smile faded, though, and his eyes grew serious. "So how are you?"
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Me? I'm fine."
"That was some trip," Blair commented. "Any... uh... side effects? Weirdness?"
Jim shrugged. "Just you. Weird all around. I thought we agreed early on, Chief, you're only allowed to give me one near-heart-attack per year."
"I don't remember that rule."
"Oh. Well, then it's a new one -- effective immediately."
"You're a riot, man, but you're evading my question."
Jim's smile faltered, and he sighed. "Okay, Chief. To answer your question: No weirdness. Everything's fine with me, but I'm ready to play in the pool with you."
Blair's brow creased. "Huh? Do they got me doped up or did you just say something that makes no sense whatsoever."
The edges of Jim's mouth twitched upward. "Our last hospital scene, remember?"
"Oh. Yeah. Man, I was only snorkeling. You went scuba diving."
Jim sighed. "Tell me about it. I'm still processing."
"No, you're resting."
A flicker of emotion crossed Blair's face, and he struggled to sit up.
"Whoa! What do you think you're doing, Sandburg?"
"Get the doctor. I'm leaving."
"What?" Jim pushed Blair back against the mattress.
The younger man floundered for the call button, then found it hanging off the side of the mattress. Quickly, he snatched it up and pressed the call button.
"You're not going anywhere, Sandburg."
Blair released a strained, slightly wheezy sigh. "Look, Jim, I've recently come to the conclusion that life is too precious to waste any significant percentage of it in a hospital."
"And it's so precious that you shouldn't be risking it by checking out too soon."
"Come on, man," Blair argued, obviously running out of breath from the conversation. "All they're going to do is pump fluids and drugs in me and make me rest. I can do that at home, and I will... I promise."
The door opened and a young nurse with dark hair and fair skin walked in. "Mr. Sandburg, it's good to see you awake."
Blair smiled. "Thanks. I'll be checking out now."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "Uh... You're not ready to be released, yet. The doctor--"
"Is there a court order keeping me here?" Blair asked politely.
"Uh, no --"
"Good. Glad to know I'm still deemed competent," he said, obviously making an effort to keep his breathing steady. "So, then, I'm leaving. Just give me whatever prescriptions I'm sure you're going to give me, and I'll be leaving."
"Blair --" Jim protested.
"Jim," Blair warned. "I don't want to hear it. You can either help me, or hassle me, but the hospital is really starting to give me the willies and I'd like to leave."
Jim seemed ready to put up further protest, but he took one look at Blair's determined face and sighed in surrender. "Damnit, Sandburg, you're one stubborn, pain-in-the-ass, thick-skulled --"
"I love you, too, Jim. Now shut up and help me find my clothes... Please."
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
Causa Mortis = in contemplation of approaching
A common term used in Law
Poem snippets from Invictus.