Dark, Silent Night
Part 3

Jim walked into the loft, followed closely by Simon. Stuffing his keys in his pants pocket, he paused a moment in the living room and looked the place over. God, he felt like he hadn't been home in months when, in reality, it had only been a few days. Automatically, his eyes drifted to the closed French doors of Sandburg's room. A week ago, Sandburg had been on the other side of those doors engaged in university work, the soft beat of his "jungle music" drifting into the living room.

Reading. Listening to music. Those were pleasures Blair might never know again.

Damn. He jerked away from the couch and headed quickly up the stairs to his room, muttering to Simon that he could help himself in the kitchen. He's going to be fine. It'll take some time, just like the Doc said, but he'll get over this. He'll see again and he'll hear again. Goddamnit, he'll feel safe again if I have to... if I have to...

What? What could he do to make Blair feel safe? To make him stop beating himself up over what happened to the boy? And neither he nor the doctor still knew for certain whether Blair's condition was psychologically induced. It really was just an educated guess. The possibility remained that some physical damage had been done either to Blair's eyes and ears or his brain that he might never recover from.

And if Blair's condition was the result of psychological trauma, what exactly was causing it? Was it the the past three years of shit that caused him to crawl into this shell, or was it something else? Seeing Tommy get raped? Having the child die in his arms?

What am I supposed to do here? This should have never happened. I was sleeping happily away while he was being kidnapped. Damnit! I should not have fallen asleep. I should have waited up for him, then I would've known the moment he was overdue. I could have gone out looking for him, and I might have caught Balentine on or near the scene.

Angrily, he flung open the closet door and grabbed his dark blue duffel bag from the floor. Throwing it on the bed, he moved over to the bureau and began rifling through the drawers.

And what if Blair's condition has more to do with the hell he's gone through over the past three years? How am I supposed to erase that? And, if so, when did it become too much? Maybe when Alex got to him. When I LET Alex get to him. Maybe that's what did it. He never did really deal with dying, so maybe this is the result. Balentine was just the last straw, that's all.

He snatched two shirts out of the middle drawer and threw them into his duffel bag. What kind of a friend am I? He helps me with just about everything, but what do I do for him? Yell at him. Make him feel in the way half the time.

Jerking back to the bureau, he pulled open the bottom drawer and grabbed a pair of jeans and sweats, rolling them in a ball and stuffing them angrily into the bag. It was then that his knees gave out and he found himself sitting on the edge of the mattress, feeling suddenly old and very, very tired.

Oh Lord, I'm a selfish, selfish bastard.

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

I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.

Blair lay in bed, knowing Joel was somewhere in the room. Probably just to his right sitting in a chair. Maybe watching TV. Maybe flipping through a magazine. Maybe just watching.

He tried his best to look asleep. A shiver crawled down his spine, and he could almost feel the man's eyes on him. What must I look like all burned and bandaged? The mummy from hell.

His skin itched, and he wanted desperately to scratch, but he knew he probably shouldn't. It was maddening too, the only sensation he could feel. Consuming his existence.

It was damn quiet. Too much of nothing and nothing to do but think...

Where was I? Oh yeah, Emily Dickinson.

And when they all were seated,
A service like a drum
Kept beating, beating, till I thought
My mind was going numb.

My mind is going numb. I wish my body would, too. God, I itch. All over. Must be from the burns. How bad are they? Do I look gross? Hey, Joel, do I look like one of those deformed low-budget zombies with the crinkled faces? Guess it doesn't matter now. At least I can't see my own reflection. He almost laughed at that thought, but caught himself. Didn't want Joel thinking he was one step away from the loony bin. So where was I? Oh yeah...

And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead, again.
Then space began to toll

As all the heavens were a bell,
And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race,
Wrecked, solitary, here.

He felt a warmth swell in his chest and tears sting his eyes. He went perfectly still, holding his breath and clenching his eyes, hoping the tears wouldn't overflow onto his cheeks and catch Joel's attention. The last thing he wanted to do right now was break down in front the former bomb squad captain. God knows, I must be a pitiful enough sight as it is. Don't need to add "blubbering idiot" to that description... Screw it! Just finish the damn poem. If you can remember it, that is, or is your brain as screwed up as the rest of you? The next stanza is... Damn, I can't remember. Hell,  just pick something and go with it...

To wander now is my abode;
To rest,--to rest would be
A privilege of hurricane
To memory and me.

Shit, shit, shit! Why'd I have to go and think of this poem? The tears welled rigid beneath the cover of his eyes, pressing for escape. He swallowed and squeezed his lids together until his eyes hurt, still tender from their injuries. A rough-textured hand grasped his own, and he nearly jumped out of his skin, yanking his hand away before he could stop himself, almost seeing the hurt on the gentle captain's face.

Sorry, Joel. Sorry...

God, right now he just wanted to be alone so he could bawl his eyes out in peace.

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

When Jim opened his eyes, the room was much dimmer than it should have been. Huh? Where...? Sitting up, he realized he was in his bedroom, sprawled on the bed, his legs hanging over the edge. His duffel bag lay on the floor next to the top of the staircase, looking as though it had been fully packed.

What time is it? He glanced over at the clock on the night stand and immediately shot to his feet. He was going to kill Simon. Snatching his duffel bag, he trotted quickly down the stairs to see the captain perched on the sofa in front of the TV.

"Simon, damnit, why'd you let me sleep so long?"

Simon looked over at Jim and grabbed the remote, flipping off the television. "Because you needed it." He rose from the couch and strolled over to Jim, taking the duffel bag and setting it next to the sofa.

"Now, I made you some soup and a sandwich." He pointed to the kitchen table. "You sit your ass down and I'll heat up the soup."

Jim barely glanced at the kitchen. "Thanks, Simon," he moved toward the door, stooping to pick up the duffel bag, "but I really should be getting back to the hospital."

He never reached the duffel bag. A hand wrapped around his arm and pulled him roughly over to the table, nearly knocking him off his feet.

"Sit." Simon pressed down on Jim's shoulders and forced him into the seat. "That's an order. Your butt isn't leaving that chair until you've gotten something in your stomach, and then you're going to take a shower because, believe me, you need one."

He wanted to feel angry at being manhandled and bossed around, but he was just too damn tired... and hungry. He sniffed the air, finally noticing the aroma of food, and his stomach growled in anticipation. Is that bean with bacon soup?

Simon smirked and walked over to the microwave, punching in forty seconds. "I left it in here for you." With a quick grin, he hit the start button.

The microwave flared to life, and Jim could see the bowl of soup through the glass spinning slowly on the rotating plate. Moving over to the refrigerator, Simon withdrew a Saran-wrapped sandwich and one of Sandburg's water bottles and set them on the table in front of Jim.

With a small smile, Jim looked skeptically at the bottle of water. "You know, Simon, coffee would be better."

"Nope. You don't need anymore of that crap in your system, not if you want to get a decent night's sleep. Doc said water or juice."

Jim's head snapped up. "The doctor?"

Simon nodded. "Yes, the doctor. He and I talked about you, and if that bothers you, tough. You're exhausted, dehydrated, and you haven't had a decent meal in days. Truth is, he was about to slip you a mickey and put you on an IV, but he didn't want to deal with the crap that would come down once you woke up."

Jim was shocked. He wasn't that bad. Sure, a little tired. Hell, who wouldn't be after spending three days straight at the hospital, but he didn't need people hovering over him. He was more than capable of taking care of himself.

The microwave dinged and Simon grabbed a couple of oven mitts to grab the steaming bowl of soup. Carefully, he set the bowl on the table and snatched a spoon for Jim.

"Now eat, Ellison. Every bit or I'll force it all down your throat. Understood?"

Jim threw an angry look at the captain, but quickly lowered his gaze to the soup when he saw the hard, dark glare thrown back at him from his superior. Unwrapping his sandwich, he took a bite, surprised at just how good it tasted. Turkey? We had turkey in the fridge? Hell, he hadn't opened the refrigerator in three days. There was probably mold growing on something in there.

"Thanks, sir," he mumbled grudgingly, swallowing.

Simon smiled. "Well, well... will wonders never cease? James Ellison just said 'thank you.' The press will be all over this."

Jim glanced sheepishly up at the captain, a smile tugging at his lips, but he resisted its pull. "Smartass," he muttered, then dropped his gaze back to his food.

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

The moment Jim walked into the hospital room, he knew Blair had been crying. The young man looked asleep now, but even with the burns and ointment around his eyes, Jim could tell they were puffy from shed tears. Also, the tip of Blair's nose was red, another dead give-away that the kid had been crying.

"What happened, Joel?" He walked up to the bed and set the duffel bag on the floor. Simon followed and leaned against the door in quiet observation.

Joel shrugged. "I don't know. He was quiet the whole time. Didn't say a word. I thought he was asleep until I heard him make a little sound. I looked up, and he was obviously trying not to cry. I did what you said, Jim. I thought he might still be asleep and having a nightmare so I touched his hand, but he pulled away and turned his head. He hasn't made another sound since. I don't even know if he's awake now."

"He's waking up." Jim had his head cocked, listening to Blair's slightly elevated heart rate. He turned his attention back to the stout captain and offered an appreciative smile. "Thanks. I appreciate your staying with him for so long."

That was the signal to leave, and both captains picked up on it.

"No problem." Joel rose from the chair, glancing uncertainly at Blair. "If you can, let him know that it's okay. I think he was a bit embarrassed by it."

Jim nodded. "I'll try, Joel. Goodnight."

"Goodnight." Joel followed Simon into the hall, closing the door behind him.

Jim studied the silent figure on the bed, his eyes once again drifting over the dressings and bandages that covered Blair's arms and portions of his face. He wasn't quite sure what Blair needed at the moment, but he thought he should at least let the kid know he was there. Gently, he covered the still hand on the bed with his own, feeling the automatic flinch. He kept the contact until Blair recognized his touch and relaxed. Still, the younger man withdrew his hand, his heartbeat rising a notch.

"Come on, Chief, don't do this," he whispered, reaching out again. This time, at least, Blair didn't withdraw from his touch, but he gave no sign that he felt it, either.

Finally, after several long seconds, Blair's sentinel-soft voice broke the silence. "Jim?"

He tapped once. Yes.

"Are they still here?" Blair asked, almost too soft for even sentinel ears.

Jim tapped twice. No, Chief. It's just you and me, now.

Blair sighed, his heart rate returning to normal. Jim opened Blair's hand and traced a brief message: U OK? He traced the question mark slower than the others since he and Blair hadn't even talked about punctuation. He wanted his message to be clear -- not a statement that Blair was going to be okay, but a question.

Blair pulled his hand away, his head turned toward the far wall. "Can you leave me alone for a little bit?"

Jim pursed his lips, taking a step away from the bed. Okay, maybe it was time to give Blair some space. He glanced back at the door and the thought occurred to him that he could tell the young man he was leaving and just take up residence in the chair a few feet away. How would Blair know the difference?

It was a tempting thought because part of him didn't want to leave his partner alone, but a touch of shame colored his cheeks at the idea of playing such a dirty trick on Blair. Especially now, since the kid needed someone he could trust absolutely.

Decision made, he tapped once on Blair's hand and made a silent retreat out of the room.

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

Jim used his time to head down to the hospital gift shop in search of something to read, and maybe pick up something else for Sandburg. He'd packed a few things after waking up that he hoped would stimulate Blair's remaining three senses. He'd found some suitable items for scent and touch, but there hadn't been much by way of food at the loft.

Browsing the rows of magazines, Jim located the current issue of Field and Stream and snatched it eagerly. He browsed through the pages as he drifted over to the book section. One page showed an ad for an electronic fishing game. Jim furrowed his brow, reading the description. He almost laughed. The gadget was shaped like a fishing rod but it had a small LCD screen on top -- a type of "Game Boy" for fishing. He shook his head. What was the point of pretending to be out catching fish? Fishing was not, by and large, an exciting activity. That was the point of fishing -- to relax. Hours and hours of waiting punctuated by brief adrenaline bursts when one caught a bite. Who on earth would pay -- he peered again at the ad -- $75 for a cheesy virtual fishing experience?

He tucked the magazine under his arm and scanned the rows of paperback books. His eyes stopped on one called The Chosen and he pulled it off the shelf. Interesting title. Reading the description on the back about two Jewish boys who form a friendship amidst cultural differences, he thought it sounded intellectual enough for Sandburg. In fact, with the Jewish and friendship angles, Blair might really like it. Jim could spend a few hours each day reading it to him to combat some of the incessant boredom the kid must be feeling.

He was halfway to the cashier before he remembered that Blair was deaf as well as blind, and his knuckles went white as his grip tightened on the book. Shit. Doing a one-eighty, he stalked back to the shelf and returned the novel, pushing it into its slot, then turned around abruptly to head back to the cashier. He tossed the magazine on the counter and withdrew his wallet, ignoring the smile the young lady behind the register flashed at him. Slapping his money on the counter, he snatched up the magazine and got the hell out of the gift shop, ignoring the woman as she called him back to collect his change.

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

Jim returned to the room less than an hour later, spending the remaining time walking the hospital grounds and picking up a couple of things from the deli across the street. He'd chosen food items he thought would be easy on Blair's stomach but that tasted interesting enough to be enjoyable: humus, strawberry-banana yogurt, and a special treat -- Rocky Road ice cream. Granted, Blair wasn't much of an ice cream eater, but he did like the stuff. He just indulged in it sparingly. Jim figured the chocolate-nut-marshmallow treat would be a welcomed change from the dreary hospital food.

He extended his hearing just before he reached the room, realizing immediately from Blair's slowed heartbeat and steady, shallow breathing that he was asleep. Glancing down at the cup of ice cream held in his hand and the two bags clutched in his other, he pondered eating the melting dessert himself, but quickly dismissed the notion. Blair had been doing nothing but sleeping lately, so it wasn't like he needed any more. What he really needed was stimulation, or else he'd burrow deeper into his black, silent world and end up spiraling into full-blown depression.

Nudging open the door with his wrist and foot, he walked inside and set the items on the small side table. He looked down at Blair, a twinge springing in his chest when he saw the dried tear tracks on the portions of the younger man's cheeks that weren't covered by patches.

He covered Blair's hand with his own, giving a gentle tap which provoked a small moan out of the young man. Blair's eyelids fluttered open, then blinked several times. Jim watched as a flash of panic crossed Blair's face, then disappeared with a small gasp when his memory returned.

Blair lifted his head a fraction. "Jim? That you?"

Jim tapped once, then slid his fingers over the younger man's palm and traced the word 'eat.'

"Food?" Blair seemed to perk up. "You brought me food? Real food, right? Not hospital food."

Jim tapped once and reached for the ice cream, since that was the only item melting away on a deadline. He grabbed the pink spoon provided by the shop and scooped up a small amount of the dessert. Gently, so as not to startle his friend, he touched the spoon to his friend's lips, letting him feel the cold of the ice cream. Then he slowly slid the utensil into the younger man's mouth, tilting the spoon slightly to let the ice cream slide onto Blair's tongue.

An immediate smile graced Sandburg's lips, and he savored the taste a moment before swallowing. "Chocolate ice cream? Oh man, I think it's been ages since I've had that. It tastes fantastic. Thanks, Jim."

Jim gave Blair's hand a small squeeze in reply and scooped another portion of the ice cream onto the spoon, but Blair's voice stopped him.

"You can hand it to me." He reached out with his unbandaged hand. "Granted, I only have one good hand at the moment, but if you raise the bed I can prop it on my leg and brace the cup with my other hand. No need for you to spoon feed me here, man." He flashed a slightly embarrassed smile, and Jim placed the cup into Blair's waiting hand.

Reaching for the bed controls, Jim lifted the mattress to a comfortable forty-five degree angle, watching as Blair balanced the cup on his legs and used his good hand to work the spoon. He was a bit awkward at first as he tried scooping the ice cream onto the spoon, but he soon became familiar enough with the spatial relationships to scoop just enough ice cream and bring it to his mouth, then back again, using smooth, fluid movements.

Jim watched in silence, his eyes tracking the spoon like a cat tracking a mouse. After a while, he shifted his gaze to Blair's face, studying the younger man's expression as he accomplished that small task. It wasn't an expression of victory or even frustration, just intense concentration.

Are you really doing this to yourself, Chief, or is there something the doctors have missed? Although he hated the implications, Jim hoped desperately for the former because, if Blair's condition was a result of physical trauma, he could likely remain blind and deaf for the rest of his life. That thought scared Jim most of all because he needed Blair as a Guide for his senses. He hated himself for the selfish thoughts, but if his partner didn't get better, Jim would be left dealing with his Sentinel abilities all alone.

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

The next morning arrived with Blair's discharge papers and a stack of instructions and literature two inches high. Granted, much of the thicker pieces were actual articles about blindness and deafness, as well as first-hand accounts by former patients of what it was like to lose a vital sense as an adult. Jim didn't know if he'd get through all the information, and quite frankly, he hoped he wouldn't need to. At the moment, he was clinging to the hope that once he got Blair back home, the kid would start on his road to recovery and soon break through his psychological barrier.

He had tried last night to use some of the things he'd brought to stimulate Blair's remaining senses, but after eating, the young man had gone straight to sleep. He slept a lot lately -- so much, in fact, that it was beginning to worry Jim. He'd spoken to Dr. Gardner about it and she had told him not too worry too much initially. Blair was still healing, but if he didn't show more activity in a week then there might be some cause for concern.

His first official "therapy" appointment with Dr. Gardner was in six days, giving him enough time to get on the road to recovery. She'd wanted to see him earlier, but Blair hadn't been too interested in going back to the hospital so soon after being released. Apparently, he'd had enough of the place.

The psychiatrist had also given Jim the name and phone number of a few organizations for the deaf and blind, and she'd suggested that he get someone to work with Blair at home on developing a communication system and learning how to navigate in the loft. He had all the numbers tucked away but still hoped he wouldn't need them. Maybe if Sandburg wasn't so busy becoming "independent" as a deaf-blind person he might be more pushed into gaining his vision and hearing back. Jim knew being dependent on another person would be hard for the young man, and that, probably more than anything, would be motivation for Blair to get past his psychological barrier.

Of course, it would help if Blair knew the theory on why he was still without his senses, but he and the doctor just hadn't figured out how to explain it to him yet. Sure, tracing 'blind, deaf, psychological' on his palm was manageable, if a bit lengthy, but that wasn't a good enough explanation and would probably only serve to upset and frighten the young man. Jim could only imagine what he would feel like if he was without two of his most important senses and some shrink was trying to convince him it was "all in his head" -- especially after the explosion. Who in Blair's position wouldn't believe that the explosion was the cause of his condition? Even Jim was having his doubts about the doctor's diagnosis, but since it provided him with desperately-needed hope that Blair would recover, he found himself clinging to it like a drowning man clings to a floating buoy.

The ride to the loft was made in silence -- of course. He parked the truck in front of the building and slapped the handicapped permit on the dashboard. It was something the doctor had given him so that he could find parking close to buildings. Blair had been given a cane since he still couldn't walk too well on his leg, and without his vision, crutches were out of the question. The doctor had recommended a wheelchair, but the young man had refused vehemently. Probably doesn't want to feel any more helpless. So, in the meantime, Blair relied on Jim to guide him and used the cane to take the pressure off his injured leg.

Because Blair's injured hand was opposite his injured foot, using the cane was difficult, but he managed. He kept the cane in his good hand, on the same side as his bad leg, and hobbled along with Jim's hand wrapped around his other arm. They moved at a snail's pace toward the elevator, with Jim scanning ahead for obstacles on the path that might trip up the young man. He kicked a beer can and a child's toy car out of the way before making it to the elevator.

The lift deposited them on the third floor, and Jim steered Blair to their apartment door. Sandburg moved awkwardly, and it was obvious that his leg was hurting him. There was also a hesitant air about him, as though he didn't quite trust Jim to keep him from banging into something. Jim frowned at that, wondering if he was just reading something into Blair's movements that wasn't there. Or maybe he thinks I might zone and end up ramming him into a wall... or a garbage truck.

Damn, okay, so that could conceivably happen, Jim had to admit. He would have to watch himself carefully and remember not to overuse his senses while guiding Blair, although the temptation was to extend his senses to make sure the path ahead was clear for his friend. It was all a part of his pact with himself to make Sandburg feel safer than he had in a long time, so that, hopefully, he would leave the dark, silent cocoon within which he'd unconsciously retreated.

Fishing his keys out of his jacket pocket, Jim opened the loft door and steered Blair over to the couch. "You're doing great, buddy," he said, remembering even as the words left his mouth that Blair couldn't hear. He kept forgetting that fact, for some reason, usually during little moments here and there. He never forgot that Sandburg was blind, though. He supposed it was his own need to communicate with the younger man that led him to these momentary lapses.

Blair sank onto the cushions, a low, pained sigh escaping his lips as he propped his cane against the arm of the couch. Jim gave the younger man's shoulder a brief squeeze and then headed into the kitchen to make his partner the first home-made meal he'd had in days.

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

A scream ripped through the air, and Blair jerked awake, his heart pounding frantically. What? Huh? Where was he? The scream slammed into him, assaulting his ears and making him wince. He whipped his head toward the source and gasped when he saw Balentine lying naked on top of Tommy. Oh God. Oh God. It was a dream. It was all a dream. Tommy hadn't died, and Jim hadn't found him. He wasn't blind or deaf and, oh God, he could hear and see everything. He didn't want this. He couldn't listen to this.

I'm not seeing this. I'm not hearing this. I'm not seeing this, oh God, I'm not hearing this.

He heard footsteps pounding, and it was like time skipped a track because, in the next moment, Balentine was running toward him, a mixture of rage and desire in his dark eyes. He made a brief attempt to kick out with his good leg, but Balentine was too fast, on top of him like a sack of bricks. Blair bucked hard against the mattress and realized that his hands were free. Not wasting a moment, he lashed out -- pounding, hitting, screaming, twisting -- anger and fear giving him more strength than he thought he had.

A bright, hot pain shot through his leg, stealing his breath and sucking the fight out of him. He gasped, his chest tight, and the room went dark and silent as though the place had been suddenly enveloped by a black void. He stiffened, rigid as a board with his heart drumming in his chest, suddenly unsure of what was a dream and what was reality. Where was he? Whose arms were wrapped around his, pinning him to the mattress? Whose breath was it that brushed hard against his cheek?

Blair swallowed, forcing his body to relax, though the silent blackness scared the hell out of him, leaving him feeling helpless and exposed. The arms holding him also relaxed, and the pressure pushing him into the bed eased up, though he could still feel the warm body against his own. A shiver ran through him, and he felt his throat rumble with what must have been an escape of the revulsion he was trying so hard to suppress.

The pressure eased some more, and a hand grabbed his, pulling it upward and pressing his palm against something soft and warm. A face. His fingers brushed over the lips and nose, sliding upward to the short, thin hair. Jim.

Oh God. He sagged against the mattress, suddenly trembling, feeling like he'd just run a marathon.

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

Jim had woken from a restless sleep when he'd first heard the strangled cries from his roommate below. Trotting down the steps, he rushed into the lower bedroom, seeing Blair thrashing beneath the covers and getting tangled in the sheets. At first he couldn't make out the distressed mumblings of the younger man, but as he stood and listened, parts of them became crystal clear.

"I'm not seeing this, oh God, I'm not hearing this."

Jim staggered back as though he'd been slapped, the epiphany hitting him so hard he thought his legs would give out. Instead, he forced them to carry him forward to the bed, his mind whirling. Dr. Gardner had been right, at least partially, but Blair wasn't blind and deaf because he was scared. Blair wasn't hiding from the world, he was hiding from what had happened. He had seen too much and heard too much, and some part of his psyche had chosen this method to protect itself from that with which it simply couldn't cope.

His simple mantra spoke volumes. He saw him rape the boy.

Jim had strongly suspected as much when Blair had broken down back at the hospital, but now he knew with a doubt. The coroner's report on the boy had shown considerable rectal tearing and bruising, all only a few hours old, which put the onset of the trauma during the time in which Blair had been missing. What Jim hadn't known, what'd he'd hoped against, was whether Blair had actually witnessed the rape itself rather than just the physical abuse. Not that witnessing the physical abuse wouldn't have been bad enough, but watching a grown man rape a child... Jim closed his eyes. Now he knew for sure, and those mumbled words spoke volumes about what that experience had done to Blair, a man who had one of the most empathetic souls Jim had ever encountered.

Most child molesters preferred privacy, but that son of a bitch Balentine had worked with an audience.

Moving forward, Jim grabbed Blair's flailing arms, pushing them down on the mattress. A leg came up to kick at him, but he twisted out of the way, losing his balance in the process and falling forward onto the young man. Blair threw his head back and released a deep, angry scream, bucking wildly beneath Jim's weight. Quickly, Jim shifted so that he wasn't crushing Blair and struggled to subdue the younger man, finally securing his arms in a firm hold.

"Easy, buddy," he said, before realizing his voice would have no effect on the deaf man. Instead, all he could do was hold on and keep Blair from hurting himself while the nightmare ran its course.

Moments later, Blair's struggles ceased abruptly, and he stiffened, his muscles frozen and his heart pounding wildly. Jim wasn't sure if Blair was completely awake, but he eased his grip tentatively, ready to spring into action should Blair go wild again. A low, soft groan, almost a whimper, escaped the smaller man's throat, and Jim shifted completely off of Blair to sit on the edge of the mattress.

Taking Blair's hand tenderly in his own, he did the only thing he could think of to shake Blair out of the remnants of the nightmare and convince him he was safely home. He brought Blair's hand up to his head and let the fingers trace the contours of his face. They brushed over his lips and nose, then slid up to the top of his head, ruffling through his cropped hair. It was then that Jim saw the change in Blair as the younger man realized where he was and collapsed against the bed, panting like he'd just gone one-on-one with Mohammed Ali.

"Jim?" came the familiar whisper.

Jim tapped once on Blair's arm. Then he traced a slow message on Blair's palm. A plea: TELL ME.

"Tell me what you were dreaming, Blair," he whispered. Let me help you through this.

The tremors afflicting the younger man increased so suddenly that Jim pulled back, wishing he hadn't asked, but when Blair reached out for him, Jim lunged forward, taking Blair's hand once again in a firm hold. He waited until the tremors died down, knowing that Blair was trying to get himself under enough to talk.

When Blair finally did speak, his voice was whisper soft and distorted with unshed tears. "I... I... It was like I was right there again, Jim. I thought I had dreamed all this and that I'd just woken up back there. Balentine was in the room with me and Tommy. He... He..." Blair inhaled a deep, shuddering breath, tensing. "Jim, he raped that little boy. I couldn't do anything but lay there and listen to him scream. I tried, I really did. I was handcuffed to the bed, but I tried. I screamed... " His voice cracked, but he continued on. "I screamed at him to stop, but he wasn't listening. God, Jim, I... How am I going to forget that? It's burned into my brain, man. It hurts and it won't let go and... and I feel like I'm losing it, here."

Jim tightened his grip, raising one hand to stroke the sweat-dampened curls matted against the back of the younger man's head, saying with touch what he couldn't with words.

"I wish I could wipe it out." Blair's voice broke, the tears escaping. "God, I wish I could just forget it all, even though I know Tommy deserves better than that. I just don't want this inside me, Jim."

Damn. Jim closed his eyes, wishing Blair could hear so that he could say something -- anything -- to the younger man. Instead, all Jim could do was sit there until Blair's shakes subsided and he drifted into a deep, exhausted sleep.

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

Blair awoke some time later to the familiar darkness, his heart spiking briefly until he remembered he was back in the loft. He hated waking up and not immediately knowing where he was, but so far that terrifying disorientation had struck every time he drifted out of sleep and emerged into stifling blackness. He had no idea what time it was or how long he'd slept, but his bladder ached, and he knew he needed to get to the bathroom soon.

He also felt incredibly grubby, and his hair was oily from going days without a wash. He wondered if he could take a bath, or if doing so would violate medical orders. He still had no idea how bad his burns were, but they couldn't be too bad because he hadn't been in the hospital all that long. Well, it had seemed like forever, but Jim had assured him he'd only spent four days there.

Using his good hand, he pushed himself into a sitting position and eased his legs over the side of the bed, mindful of his stiff, injured leg. Groping for the bureau he knew was next to the bed, his fingers finally contacted the cool wood and he used the dresser as a support while he pushed himself to his feet. He knew his cane was next to the head of the bed, propped against the wall between the mattress and the bureau.

He left the cane where it was, deciding to try to make it to the bathroom on his own, and for that, he needed both of his hands to feel ahead for any obstacles. Knowing the loft's layout like the back of his hand helped, and he started his slow journey toward the door, trying to remember if he'd left his room a mess. Taking small, uneven steps as he favored his injured leg, he made it all the way to the door without bumping into any stray objects on the floor.

Grabbing onto the doorjamb, he hung there for a few seconds, wondering what time it was and if Jim was asleep in his room or awake somewhere in the living room or kitchen. He didn't want to wake the Sentinel, but he really needed to pee. He could try to move quietly, but since he couldn't hear himself, he'd have to rely on his movements and hope he was keeping the noise to a minimum. Still, he knew he'd probably end up waking Jim if the man was asleep. There was very little Blair could do in the loft that Jim wouldn't hear, awake or asleep.

He nearly jumped when a hand touched his shoulder. Guess that answers the question.

"Hey, Jim." He managed a casual smile. "What time is it?"

The hand grabbed his, and fingers traced '8 am' on his palm.

Blair used his bandaged hand with the broken thumb to gesture toward the hall. "I'm going to go to the bathroom. Did the Doc say whether I could take a bath or a shower? I feel pretty gross here. I probably don't smell too good either, huh?" He punctuated the statement with a small smile, wishing he could see the other man's face to gauge his reaction.

He felt a gentle bat on his cheek, then one tap on his arm.

"Well, that's good. Guess I have to take off all these bandages, then. This should be interesting."

Jim's arm slid over his shoulders and steered him toward the hall. He opened his mouth to protest, embarrassed at needing Jim to help him with such a private thing, but really, who was he kidding? There was no way he'd even be able to aim true for the bowl, much less unwrap all his bandages and bathe himself with a bad leg and a burned, broken hand.

A hand touched his chest, and he stopped, groping out blindly, his hand contacting something smooth and cool. He felt along the edges until he recognized the structure as the bathroom sink. Okay, so he and Jim had made it to the bathroom. That was the first step. Now all he had to do was unwrap himself, empty his bladder, get into the tub and... hell, maybe he should just forget the bath and devote his energy instead toward relieving himself without pissing all over the walls and floor.

An unexpected chuckle erupted from him at that thought and the resulting look on Jim's face when Mr. Neurotic discovered the mess. He felt a light pat on his shoulder and knew Jim was probably wondering what was so funny all of a sudden. Wish I could tell you, buddy, but this is one thing you're just going to have to keep wondering about.

Jim tightened his grip on Blair's shoulder and nudged him to the left a fraction. Reaching down, Blair felt the toilet seat and lifted it, doing his best to position himself in front of the basin.

"Okay, Jim, thanks. I think I can handle this part on my own." Okay, here goes nothing. He was relieved when he felt the weight lift from his shoulder and he hoped that Jim was turning the other way. Okay, so modesty wasn't usually something he worried about, but right now it was all he really had.

He let go and hoped his aim was true, concluding his business fast. He had no idea if he'd hit the mark and he knew Jim would never tell him if he'd missed. So, he decided to ask in as casual a voice as he could muster.

"So, Jim, you can look now. Just tell me if that was a three point shot." He looked over his shoulder, not actually looking, but flashing Jim a grin and hoping the Sentinel was smiling in return. He felt one tap on his arm and experienced a moment of victory. Nice shot for a guy who can't see. Then again, maybe Jim was just humoring him.

Then he felt a hint of embarrassment. Yeah, big accomplishment. You can use the potty all by yourself. Mom would be SO proud. God, he really was a pathetic figure, wasn't he?

The hand returned to his shoulder and Blair flinched, closing the front of his boxers quickly, suddenly flashing on Balentine standing behind him, his arms wrapped around Blair's waist, his hand reaching forward...

Blair shivered and pushed the memory to the back of his mind. Balentine was in jail, where hopefully he'd get what he deserved. Jim's hands gripped Blair's arms, turning him slowly around. Then the hands grabbed the front of Blair's T-shirt and pulled upward. Automatically, Blair raised his arms and allowed Jim to pull the shirt over his head.

Then he felt a tug on his boxers, and his hand shot out to grab the elastic band holding his underwear up. "No." His heart suddenly went wild. His cheeks flushed hot, and he was actually grateful for once that he couldn't see Jim's face. It was stupid, really. He was a guy. Jim was a guy. There was no reason for him to be acting like a two year-old.

Jim is not Balentine. Get a grip.

He was spared any further embarrassment when Jim, bless him, released his grip on the boxers and gave Blair's hand a gentle squeeze. Then firm hands pressed down on his shoulders and Blair allowed himself to be guided onto the toilet seat. He sat stiffly as Jim's hands worked at the bandages on his arms. Slowly, the dressings were unwound, and as soon as the air hit his tender skin, the burns started to itch. Badly. He gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to scratch, hoping the maddening sensation would disappear soon.

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

As Blair did his business, Jim reached over into the tub and set the plug in the drain, then turned on the faucet and adjusted the knobs until the water ran comfortably warm. He listened to the light tinkling, a small smile tugging his lips as he imagined what it must be like for Blair to aim for something he couldn't actually see. Use the force, Chief. He chuckled, shaking his head, and stood back up as Blair finished.

Okay, now to get the kid undressed and unwrapped. Jim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder to turn him around, but when he felt the younger man flinch, he pulled back. Damn. Once again he cursed Balentine, wishing the guy had put up more of a struggle during his arrest. Jim still had yet to find out all that had happened to Blair during his abduction, but Balentine had insisted he hadn't sexually assaulted Sandburg. Not that Jim was inclined to believe the man, but the medical evidence had supported his statement. Still, Jim knew that Balentine had done some things to Blair, he just didn't know what. The answers to his questions, however, would have to wait until Blair was ready to give a statement, and that would have to be soon. The D.A. had already waited quite a few days, and he was running out of time. Of course, Balentine's confession gave them some leeway to wait for Blair to recover before forcing him to go through all the gory details but, soon Blair's statement would have to officially go on the record.

Glancing down, he saw that the water filled a quarter of the bathtub. The doctor had said that Blair could take a bath and would, in fact, have to clean his burns with soap and water regularly. The bandages would have to be changed frequently, and the leg would have to be monitored for signs of infection, even though Blair was still on the antibiotics.

"Okay, Chief, time to strip." Jim pulled off Blair's T-shirt, being careful of the bruises that lined Blair's back from his contact with the pavement during the explosion. Tossing the shirt into the corner for the time being, he moved next to Blair's boxers.

"No." Blair's hand shot out to grab the waistband of his shorts.

Jim froze, wondering again just how far Balentine had gone with Blair. You and I are going to have that 'talk' soon, Chief. Still, now was not the time to push, so Jim released his grip and gave Blair's hand a soft squeeze. If Sandburg wanted to take a bath in his boxers, Jim was perfectly willing to let him.

Jim lowered the toilet lid and placed his hands lightly on Blair's shoulders, relieved when the young man didn't flinch, and guided his friend to the seat. Removing the bandages would require a certain amount of finesse, but at least the hospital had used non-stick dressings, which made the wrappings easy to change and spared Blair unnecessary discomfort.

As the bandages came off, exposing the red, tender skin beneath, Blair hissed softly and tensed. Jim frowned, hoping he hadn't hurt his partner. He was working as gently as possible, but just about any touch on the healing skin would probably cause Blair pain.

"Itches," Blair explained through gritted teeth, answering Jim's silent question.

Jim patted Blair's knee in unspoken sympathy and then wrapped a hand around the younger man's elbow, guiding him off the toilet seat and toward the tub. Stopping Blair just before his legs hit the tub, Jim patted the back of Blair's knees to get him to step up and over the side.

Remembering the injured leg, Jim wrapped his arm around his friend's waist for support as Blair placed his good leg into the tub. Jim leaned forward to offer more support as Blair lifted the other leg into the tub, then carefully lowered the young man into the water.

That accomplished, Jim slipped his own shirt off, knowing he'd probably end up getting wet himself before the bath was finished, and kneeled at the side of the tub. The water level reached the halfway mark, and Jim turned the knobs to shut off the flow.

Blair placed his hand with the broken thumb on the far edge of the tub by the wall, away from the water, as Jim soaped up the sponge. He'd have to work carefully around the burns -- no scrubbing. The doctor had told him simply to sponge soapy water over the tender areas and then rinse the burns well.

Deciding to touch on those areas first, Jim squeezed the sponge and allowed the suds to flow over the red, puckered areas of Blair's left arm. The young man tensed when the soap hit, but gave no other reaction. Instinctively, Jim reached out with his free hand and gave Blair's knee an apologetic squeeze.

"S'okay." Blair flashed a shaky smile. "Just stings a bit."

"I know, buddy," Jim whispered, then dunked the sponge in the bathwater and grabbed the bar of glycerin soap from the dish inset into the wall.

He lathered up the sponge again and started on Blair's other arm. He began at the shoulder, squeezing the soapy water from the sponge and moving downward slowly until the entire arm was covered with suds. Blair didn't move at all during the ministrations -- barely breathed, in fact. He remained tense, his muscles trembling slightly from being kept so rigid. Jim didn't know how to interpret the reaction. Was he hurting Blair, or was the younger man just uncomfortable with needing to be bathed? Was Jim encroaching on dangerous territory -- evoking unpleasant memories forged by that bastard, Balentine?

He tried to imagine what it would be like if he were blind and deaf, burned and hurting all over, needing help with the simplest and most intimate of activities. He'd gotten a taste of what Blair must be feeling when the Golden had taken away his sight, but he'd had his other four heightened senses to compensate, and he hadn't been injured. He'd still been able to perform his job, albeit awkwardly. He'd needed help, though, and Blair had been there for him, calm in the face of Jim's frustration, understanding when Jim's fear had turned to anger. He winced when he remembered pushing Blair away. It had been right after the dealers had called his cell phone. He'd stood up from the couch and bumped into something, pain shooting through his knee. He'd felt Blair's hand brush against his arm and knew the younger man was only trying to help him. Instead of taking that help, he'd pushed it away, angry at his own helplessness and terrified that he'd be that way for the rest of his life.

But, even without his sight, he'd been able to hear Blair's voice and listen to his heartbeat, and those sounds had made him feel a little less alone, though he'd never told that to Sandburg. And now I can't tell him. Now he can't hear me. He doesn't even have what little comfort I had. If only I could talk to him...

It was no use dwelling on what he couldn't do. He might not be able to talk to Blair, but he could still let the younger man know he wasn't alone. Turning his attention back to the task at hand, Jim realized he'd squeezed all the soap out of the sponge, and if he didn't rinse the soap off soon, it would start to dry and be harder and more painful to rinse off the burns. Jim leaned back to grab the resident cup from the sink. Turning on the tub faucet, he filled the cup with warm water and rinsed the soap off of Blair's arms. Popping the plug, he let the dirty water drain out while it was replaced by clean water from the faucet, so that the water level stayed approximately the same.

Dunking the sponge again, he lathered it with more soap and turned his attention to Blair's bruised back. Gently, he ran the sponge over Blair's shoulders, his eyes tracking the suds as they traveled the length of his spine to merge with the warm bathwater. As Jim worked the sponge over Blair's back, he felt the tension finally begin to melt from the younger man's body. Then the most remarkable thing happened. Blair moaned pleasantly and leaned back against Jim's touch, his damp curls tickling Jim's arms.

Jim found himself smiling, warmed just from that genuine display of trust and the knowledge that he was making Blair feel better. It was such a little thing, bathing him, but the simple act seemed to do more for Blair than had all those days in the hospital.

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

Blair smiled, losing himself in the silky glide of the sponge across his back. It was kind of nice how the sensation enveloped him, stimulating nerve cells that seemed much more sensitive now that they weren't overshadowed by his other senses. The soft fibers of the sponge tickled his back pleasantly and reached out with phantom fingers to tingle his stomach.

Then the soft rubbing stopped, and the sponge disappeared. A moment later, warm water cascaded down his back, and he shivered from the pleasant unexpectedness of the sensation. A second later, another wash of warm water glided over his back. Fingers touched his chin, tilting his head back, then another dose of warm water slid over his scalp and ran once again down his back, followed by a moment of nothingness. The brief void ended with the soft touch of fingers at the base of his scalp, massaging, probing as Jim worked shampoo into his tangled curls.

He tilted his head forward, welcoming the sensitive fingers, marveling at how gracefully they moved through the chaotic mass of hair that hadn't been brushed in days. His eyelids drifted closed as he gave in to the soothing massage, and he felt himself nodding off, his head becoming heavy with the tug of sleep. He hovered in that twilight stage of consciousness, consumed by the gentle warmth of the Sentinel's touch.

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

The lathery curls meshed between Jim's fingers, soft and tingling, and soon he became drawn into the sensation until he was aware of nothing else...

Then a soft voice broke, tickling his consciousness, and he snapped back to awareness. How long? He wasn't wearing his watch, and there was no clock in the bathroom, so he had no idea how long he'd been in the zone.

Blair sat still and quiet in the tub, his head forward and soapy curls draped to cover his face. He's asleep, Jim realized with a faint smile. Then what had pulled him out of the zone?

The answer came to him immediately when Blair mumbled something incoherent, his head bobbing a little beneath Jim's fingers. So, it had been Blair's voice that had pulled him out of the zone. Good thing, too, or else there's no telling how long he would have stayed in that netherland, and Blair would have ended up as wrinkled as a prune.

He grinned at that thought and stopped his gentle massage of Blair's scalp. Time to rinse. Dunking his hand in the bathwater to clean the suds off, he then gently grabbed Blair's chin and tilted the yielding head back. He filled the cup from the faucet's continuous stream and carefully poured the water over the soapy strands of hair.

Blair barely stirred, and it took Jim a good dozen rinses to get all the soap out of the younger man's hair. Jeez, kid, no wonder it takes you so damn long to take a shower. Jim was always in and out in less than ten minutes, sometimes five. Blair, on the other hand, had perfected the art of the twenty-minute shower.

Suddenly, Blair jerked awake, slipping against the porcelain and sliding backwards, his arms flailing automatically and a surprised squeal erupting from his throat. Jim caught him before he went under the water, one arm braced beneath Blair's back to keep him propped upright.

"Jim?"

"Right here." He punctuated his words with a squeeze to Blair's arm since the younger man couldn't hear the reassurance.

He saw that Blair's bad hand had gotten wet in the unexpected splashing and reached over to pull the arm out of the water. The bandages had been taken off, leaving the burns exposed, but the thumb was still encased in the small brace. Now, that brace was soaked and soapy and would have to be replaced. Fortunately, the doctor had given him a spare with all the other supplies he'd sent home with him.

"Why's it wet?" Blair asked.

Jim chuckled, scooping up a handful of soap bubbles from the water and placing them in Blair's good palm. He watched as the flicker of surprise crossed the younger man's face, his fingers closing over the diminishing suds as realization struck.

"Oh, yeah, a bath." He smiled sheepishly and raised his hand, the suds glistening from the white light of the bathroom bulb.

Oh, no you... Jim ducked a moment too late, ending up with a faceful of suds and an earful of Blair's laughter.

"Not bad aim for a blind guy," Blair chuckled. "Your reflexes must be getting slow in your old age, man."

Jim wiped the soap from his face and debated the ethics of dunking his gloating, blind partner. If you weren't injured, Chief, you'd be a drowned rat right now, Jim reflected, chuckling in spite of himself. It was a good thing he'd taken off his shirt.

Damn, but it was good to hear Blair laugh again. Just don't think you're getting off Scott-free, Chief. He spooned a small ball of suds onto his fingers and plopped them onto Blair's nose, laughing at the brief, astonished expression that graced the younger man's face, soon replaced by a scrunched nose as Blair wiped off the suds, still chuckling in self-satisfied delight.

Then, just as suddenly as it had risen, Blair's laughter died and his face became serious. "Thanks, Jim," he whispered.

Jim swallowed hard, hearing all the subtle nuances in those softly-spoken words. Gratitude. Apology. Fear.

"I..." Blair lowered his head, his hands playing with the suds in the water. "I know you told me this is all supposed to be temporary, but no one has said how temporary or why I'm like this," he continued softly, his Adam's apple bobbing nervously. "I know I'm not the easiest person to communicate with right now, Jim, but I'd really like to know if... well... you know. Am I really going to get my hearing and vision back? When? Do the doctors even know for sure?"

Jim cupped Blair's palm in his own and traced a message: OK. TELL LATER. NOW CONDITIONER. It would take him quite a while to get through the gist of the doc's diagnosis and answer the questions he was sure Blair would throw at him once he heard the doctor's theory. In the meantime, Blair was turning into a prune, so he needed to get the conditioner in and out of the younger man's mass of wet tangles and then get Blair dried, rebandaged, and dressed in clean clothes.

Blair nodded, a hint of his smile returning. "Okay, I think I can handle another scalp massage from you... Actually, you should feel privileged. I'll have you know in some cultures it's considered an honor to wash the hair of another, and actually, longer hair in those cultures is considered a sign of --"

Jim tapped Blair playfully on the cheek, leaving a few suds in his wake.

Blair grinned. "Besides, chicks love the hair."

Jim laughed, shaking his head. "You're a real piece of work, Sandburg," he muttered, reaching for the conditioner.

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

Jim guided Blair over to the couch and lowered him gently onto the cushions. Blair was now rebandaged and dressed, with his hair wrapped in a towel. With a sigh, Jim sank onto the sofa next to the young man, wondering how best to "break the news" about the cause of his condition. Jim was pretty sure the "it's all in your head" explanation wasn't going to go over well with his fiercely intelligent and zealously independent partner.

"Okay, Jim." Blair noticeably squared his shoulders as though preparing for the worst. "Spill it. You don't have to pull any punches, man. I need to know the truth, okay?" He unwrapped the towel from his hair and draped it around his shoulders, letting the wet curls fall loose around his face.

Jim couldn't help but smile as he took in the determined set of Blair's jaw and the rigid posture. "Okay, Chief," he said, even though the younger man couldn't hear him. "No bullshit."

Taking Blair's hand in his own, he began the slow, arduous task of what would likely prove to be a lengthy communications session.

BLIND DEAF AT FIRST PHYSICAL.

He stopped at that, waiting for Blair's go-ahead.

"Okay, got that," Blair said. "My blindness and deafness was first physical. Right? That's what you spelled?"

Jim tapped once, then continued. NOT PHYSICAL NOW PSYCHOLOGICAL.

He watched the emotions swarm over Blair's face. First confusion, then disbelief, and then, finally, the expected anger.

"What?" Blair yanked his hand out of Jim's. "That's the doctor's diagnosis? That this is somehow all in my mind?" He grunted, shaking his head. "No one bothered to tell me this? I... " He swallowed, shaking his head again in disbelief. "Do you believe that, Jim? Do you believe I'm doing this to myself?"

Jim closed his eyes, taking a deep breath and trying to get his thoughts in order before replying. Reaching out, he tapped three times on Blair's arm. I don't know.

Blair lowered his head, his jaw tight. He remained quiet for several seconds, obviously struggling with something. Then, in a low voice, he said, "Great, Jim. Just great. If this is all me here, then, great, no problem, right? All I have to do is snap my fingers and tell myself to see and hear again. Right? Simple." He swallowed, then laughed. "Okay, here goes. Let's try this theory out, okay?" His voice was hard with sarcasm. "I want my sight back right now! I want to hear again and see again." He paused, cocking his head as if listening for something. After a few seconds, he lowered his head again. "Well, look at that, it didn't work. I still can't see or hear a damn thing, Jim. Next theory?"

Jim squeezed the bridge of his nose as he thought about what to say next. There was so much he wanted -- needed -- to say, but he was frustratingly limited by Blair's condition.

Somehow, though, he had to get through to Sandburg. He knew Blair knew the theories behind psychological blocks since he'd minored in psych. Blair had to know that such blocks weren't overcome simply by "wishful thinking." The cause of the block had to be dealt with.

But Blair didn't seem to want to face that, and Jim, as Sandburg's friend and partner, had to help him face the events that caused his retreat into his dark, quiet shell. Reaching out, he took Blair's hand, pulling it toward him, and traced another message on the palm.

IT DOESNT WORK THAT WAY.

Blair closed his eyes and leaned back a fraction, his hand held firmly in Jim's. "Jim, I know what you're saying. Yeah, I studied some psych, but this isn't what's happening here. God, don't you think if I could make myself see I 'd be doing it? There's no psychological block strong enough to make me want to live like this... I mean, Jim, you're more important to me than that, and I'm no good to you like this." His voice began to tremble, and he turned his face toward the balcony. "I'm no good to anybody like this. I can't work at the university and I sure as hell can't work in the field with you, and believe me, Jim, those two things are more important to me than anything. So, man, if that's the best the doctor can do, that's just not good enough because what it really means is she or he doesn't know why I'm blind and deaf and just came up with this 'in my head' crap for lack of a better explanation. Which, of course, means there really is something physically wrong that they just can't find, so I'm not going to get better." His voice cracked, and he swallowed quickly, lowering his head. "I'm telling you right now Jim, I can't do it. I can't be like this for the rest of my life. I can't, Jim, I --"

Blair was getting worked up, his words coming in short, quick gasps. Jim leaned forward and wrapped his hand around the back of Blair's neck, pulling the young man forward. Blair resisted at first, shaking his head and gasping like he was trying to push words out of his throat, then he yielded and fell forward, his forehead bumping into Jim's shoulder.

"Shhh. Okay, okay," Jim muttered, cursing himself. Who was he to play amateur psychologist? If Blair's condition was the result of a psychological block, that block was there for a reason, and Jim had no right to be messing around in what was obviously dangerous territory.

"Sorry," Blair choked, pulling away with a small chuckle. "First I tell you not to pull any punches because I need to know the truth, and then, when you let me have it, I act like this. Sorry."

Jim took the young man's hand again and wrote ITS OKAY in his palm.

Blair took a deep breath, becoming visibly calmer. "Okay, so, uh, let's just say for a minute that the doctor is right. What am I supposed to be blocking? I mean, if I really wanted to block something, wouldn't I just have forgotten it? Instead, I remember all of it, so how am I blocking anything?"

Jim didn't know that it was a good idea to continue this conversation. Maybe it would be wiser for him to let the doctor go over this with Blair. She would know what kind of damage control needed to be done. Hell, she was trained for this kind of thing, he wasn't.

"Jim? You gonna answer me? I'd really like to know what it is I'm supposed to be blocking. At the very least, if it's true, then maybe by recognizing it I'll be able to get past it and get my senses back."

Jim looked down at Blair's hand, pondering his answer. Slowly, he traced the words NOT NOW LATER DOCTOR.

Blair shook his head. "No, Jim. Please. Look, I promise not to freak out again. This is something I have a right to know."

And if I don't tell you, you're just going to keep working on me until I do, right, Chief? With a sigh, Jim made his decision.

U TALKED IN YOUR SLEEP ABOUT TOMMY SAYING IM NOT HEARING THIS IM NOT SEEING THIS. It took him a long time to trace that message out in Blair's palm, and once again, he found himself wishing that Blair could at least hear.

The change in Blair's demeanor was instantaneous. He went perfectly still, not even breathing, the only detectable sign of life was his surprisingly slow heartbeat, its rhythm detectable only to Sentinel ears. Worried, Jim gave Blair's hand a firm squeeze, but he got no response from the younger man.

Looks like I hit the nail square on the head, Jim thought miserably. He should have gone with his first instinct and left this conversation for the psychiatrist.

With his concern growing by the young man's continued lack of response, Jim released Blair's hand and reached for his face, but before he could complete the maneuver, Blair pulled back and slid off the couch.

"I'm going to my room." Blair's voice sounded suspiciously monotone.

Jim rose, reaching for Blair's elbow, deciding the best damage control he could do was to let the matter drop and help the younger man to his room.

Blair pulled away, taking a step back. "I can do it on my own."

Jim let his hand drop as Blair moved slowly away, his hands floundering in front of him for guidance. His good hand made contact with the arm of the couch, and he used the edge to make his way toward the back of the sofa. Once he let go, Blair moved slowly, his hands sweeping in front of him. He bumped into one of the kitchen chairs, his hands brushing uselessly over the top of the chair back.

Jim heard the small gasp of pain and started toward the younger man. Blair raised a hand in the air to stop him, obviously anticipating Jim's reaction, so Jim stopped a few feet behind him, relegated to observer status. It took nearly five minutes for Blair to walk the few feet from the kitchen table to his bedroom, his progress impeded by the limp caused by his injured leg.

Finally, Blair reached his goal and disappeared through the French doors, closing himself off in his room. Jim stood motionless for a few seconds, his hearing extended, listening to the shuffle of footsteps behind the doors. Blankets rustled, followed by a small sigh, and Jim pictured Blair lowering himself onto the futon mattress, favoring his bad leg.

Glancing at the clock on the VCR, he moved toward the phone. It was a little past eleven in the morning, so he should have little problem getting a hold of Dr. Gardner at the hospital. He hoped she would be able to fix the mess he'd just created.

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