It all happened so quickly.
What had started out as a quiet day at Babi's Salon had turned into a near riot. Apparently, the two brothers and owners of the store had gotten into an argument that lead to an all-out family fist-fight, with the sister, aunt, and two cousins joining in.
Three police cars and two unmarked vehicles, including Jim's truck, remained stationed in the parking lot. Jim was there for only one reason -- he knew Blair was inside. The young man had had an after-hours appointment to get his hair trimmed. Blair was good friends with the sister of the owners, and, ofen trusted them to trim his hair.
A loud bang sent the officers ducking, but they didn't know whether it was a gunshot, or something else. The police commands through the bullhorn had no effect on the occupants of the store and served only to hurt Jim's ears. Lieutenant Maley, the officer in charge, commanded his team to remain in position.
Jim honed his hearing, drowning out the chaos outside to focus in on the people in the store. The argument still raged, and he could see the brawl inside through the slits of the blinds, but, so far, no one seemed seriously injured. Beneath the angry shouts, he found the unmistakable voice of his partner. Blair spoke in a loud and firm voice, trying to gain the attention of the fighting family members, but his efforts appeared futile. The brawl continued to rage.
After further one-sided communications proved fruitless, Maley gave the command. "Okay! We're going to send in a flash-bang and a few olfacs. That should do the trick!"
Jim heard the man's voice, but not the words, too focused on the commotion inside the store to decipher their meaning. In the next instance, his world erupted in an explosion of sound and light, and a sudden, powerful odor seared his nose.
"Come on, guys! Hey! Hey!" Blair ducked behind a swivel chair as another bottle of shampoo sailed over his head. "Take it easy!"
All of a sudden, the front window exploded inward in a flash of sound and light, and a repulsive smell filled the small shop. The sensory assault slammed into him like a cannonball, and he felt himself falling. His head contacted the hard tile floor, giving him an instant headache.
Footsteps pounded and voices shouted. Hands grabbed him and turned him onto his back, and something cold and hard gripped his wrists. He coughed, his lungs protesting the foul air. The world around him swirled with dots of white light, and his ears rang. The hands hauled him to his feet and pushed him forward. He stumbled, but was too dazed to do anything but acquiesce.
Captain Simon Banks walked up to the nurse's station and flashed his badge. "Excuse, me. I was told Detective James Ellison was admitted about half an hour ago."
A large, broad-chested man looked away from his computer screen and swiveled in his chair to face Simon. "Yes, I remember him. He just came in." He pointed down the hall. "He's right down there getting checked out by the doctor. If you'll have a seat, I'll let them know you're here."
Simon nodded and glanced down the hallway, but it curved to the right, cutting off his view. "Do you know his condition?"
"The doctor will tell you more, but I don't believe he's seriously injured."
Simon released a relieved breath. "Thanks, again." He turned and headed to a vacant chair on the far side of the room.
Blair rubbed absently at his right wrist as the officer opened the cell and gestured inside.
"In you go."
Blair walked obediently into the cell, but turned to face the officer. "I'm telling you, man. I'm Blair Sandburg, an observer with Major Crime. You can call Detective James Ellison or Captain Simon Banks. They'll vouch for me. Or even Joel Taggart. Or Henri Brown. Anybody up there will know me. Please..."
The officer nodded. "You'll get your phone call when it's your turn. The Babi brothers are up before you."
Blair sighed. "How long will that take?"
"A few minutes."
"Fine." He turned as the door slid shut behind him with a loud *clang.* He winced at the noise, but saw the two large, unhappy-looking men in the far left corner staring at him, so he managed a smile. "Hey. How's it going?"
The one on the left with the buzz-cut grunted. "Oh just great. Never better."
Blair raised his eyebrows and sat quickly down on the bench opposite the men. Well, he'd asked a stupid question...
The other man had shaggy, brown hair and dark eyes. He jerked his chin toward Blair. "What did you do? Drugs?"
Blair almost rolled his eyes to the ceiling, but the pain in his head stopped him. Why did everyone always think that? "No. Just a misunderstanding."
Mr. buzz-cut barked a laugh. "I'm sure."
Jim hopped off the table and rubbed a hand over his face. His head was still killing him, but at least the doc had given him a clean bill of health and signed his release papers.
Simon stood next to him -- a little too close. "You sure you're okay, Jim? You wanna tell me exactly what happened?"
"I was focused on what was going on inside the store, and I guess I didn't hear the order to use the flash-bang and the olfactory pellets. It just hit my senses hard, that's all. I'm fine now." He fought against the throbbing in his head to scan the hospital area, hoping to find Blair. When he didn't see him, his stomach twisted. "Where's Sandburg? Is he okay?"
The Captain looked confused. "Sandburg? Why wouldn't he be? Was he with you? "
Jim suddenly felt light-headed, the blood draining from his head. "Damnit. He was inside the building. What the hell happened?"
"I spoke with Lieutenant Maley, and he said they arrested everyone inside the building. It was after hours, so there weren't supposed to be any customers. Maley said his officers could see a little through the blinds and the only people visible were involved in the fight. No one was hurt, though."
Jim closed his eyes briefly and leaned back against the bed. "Hell, they probably arrested him then. Damn. Damn. Damn. I told one of the uniforms there that my partner was there."
"Did you tell them Sandburg was *inside* or did you just say he was *there?*"
Jim groaned. "I don't know, Simon. I'd just arrived on the scene, and I was focused on what was going on in the store, and that damn bull horn was driving me nuts."
"Well, let's go down to the station. I'm sure we'll find him, and I'm sure he's okay."
Jim walked alongside his Captain as they hurried toward the holding cell. An officer sat at a desk near the cell, and Jim immediately spotted Blair laying on a narrow bench, his eyes closed and his breathing even. Two other men inhabited the cell, but both seemed content to remain on the bench opposite Sandburg.
Jim automatically extended his senses as Simon signed the release form. His nose twitched from the unpleasant odor of blood, and his chest tightened. "He's hurt, Simon."
The duty officer's head snapped up. "What? No way. He was fine when they brought him in."
Every muscle in Jim's body tensed. "He's not fine. Open this up now."
The duty officer rose quickly and, with a jangle of keys, unlocked the door. Jim and Simon hurried to Blair's side, and Jim tried to locate the source of the blood. Blair had no obvious signs of injuries, so a head wound seemed likely. Gently, Jim used his fingers to probe beneath the mass of Blair's curls to the scalp below. Carefully, he lifted the young man's head just enough to feel behind the skull, and his fingers met with a wet slickness. When he pulled his hand back, he saw the blood.
Simon whipped out his cell phone. "I'll call for an ambulance."
Jim nodded and dropped to his knees beside Blair. "Chief?" Softly, he patted Sandburg's cheek. "Wake up, buddy."
A moan answered him, and Blair opened his eyes, squinting. "Jim?"
"Yep. How do you feel?"
Blair closed his eyes again and groaned. "Man, those lights are bright... My head hurts."
"Yeah, you've got a nasty bump. Did you hit your head?" *Or did somebody hit you?*
Blair opened his eyes and eased himself onto his elbows. "Uh... I don't exactly remember. I guess I hit my head. There was some kind of explosion, or something..."
Jim nodded. "A flash-bang. It's a nonlethal device that goes off with a very loud bang and a brilliant light. The body is washed with this sensory stimuli and can't instantly understand it all."
"And a smell?"
"Olfactory Pellets. Like very bad stink bombs. As pungent as smelling salt."
"Well, they worked." Blair sat up, then moved to his feet.
"Easy, there." Jim stood and grabbed his partner's arm. "You should lay down. The paramedics are on their way."
"No... I don't think I need an ambulance. If you want, you can drive me to the hospital." He noticed Simon and managed a small smile as he moved toward the open door. "Oh hey, Si... Oh man..." Suddenly, Blair swayed, then fell backward toward Jim.
"Whoa." Jim caught Blair and eased him carefully to the ground. Sandburg was out cold.
Jim fidgeted in his seat and rubbed a hand over his face. His head was still pounding, and he hadn't taken the prescribed painkillers because he wanted to be alert while he was waiting for news about his partner. And, if Blair was going to be sent home without staying the night, then Jim would have to stay awake to keep an eye on him.
Simon, slumped in the neighboring chair, looked up from his magazine. "Head still hurt?"
Jim sighed. "Yeah. Feels like a grenade went off in my skull."
Simon raised his eyebrows and set the magazine on the end table. "Well, those things are pretty hard on people with normal senses." He kept his voice low and looked around to make sure he wouldn't be overheard. "With your sensitivity, I can only imagine what it felt like."
Jim shrugged. "I don't remember much of it. It knocked me out, which I guess is a blessing. My senses shut down, but my head is still pounding."
"So you and Sandburg will have matching headaches." He glanced at the clock on the wall. "It's getting late, and I haven't had dinner yet. Why don't I get you something to eat, and you can take one of the pills the doctor prescribed?"
Jim managed a small smile. "Well, I am kind of hungry, but I think I'll pass on the pain killer. I want to be alert for Sandburg."
"I'm sure it's just a little concussion, Jim. He did, after all, walk into that cell on his own two feet. The duty officer said he looked fine."
"Yeah, but if they release him tonight, then I'll have to keep an eye on him at home."
The double doors leading to the trauma room opened, and a doctor pushed a wheelchair-bound Sandburg into the waiting room.
Jim rose from his seat and met the two men halfway. He looked briefly down at Sandburg, who looked tired but otherwise okay. There weren't even any visible bandages around his head.
Jim looked up at the doctor. "How is he?"
"Just a minor concussion. He insisted on going home, so we're releasing him. We've prescribed some pain killers for him, but otherwise just let him get some rest. He can sleep as much as he wants, but it would be a good idea to check on him every hour or so and wake him up."
Blair shook his head. "How about not waking me up every hour and just letting me sleep? I'm way too tired, and I promise not to slip into a coma, or anything. Okay?"
The doctor smiled, and Jim shook his head. "We do what the man says, Chief."
Blair narrowed his eyes at the Sentinel. "You okay?"
Jim took a step back, resisting the urge to rub his forehead. The pain was really beginning to wear him down. "Fine. Now, let's get you home."
"You look a little pale, Jim." Blair twisted his head to look up at the doctor. "Doesn't he look a little pale?"
The physician leaned a fraction closer to Jim, and then nodded. "Yeah. You were in here earlier, Detective, weren't you?"
Blair looked quickly back at Jim. "You were admitted? What happened?"
Jim sighed and moved behind the wheelchair, gently pushing the doctor out of the way. "I'm fine. I'll tell you all about it at home."
"Maybe you should --"
"The doctor released me with a clean bill of health."
Blair grunted and looked at Simon. "Is that true?"
The Captain rose from his chair and raised his hands defensively. "As far as I know, but don't try to drag me in the middle of this. I want you *both* to go home and get some rest."
Blair nodded and looked back up at Jim. "And you can't rest if you're waking me up every hour. Neither can I, actually. So why don't we just both go home and go to bed?"
Jim opened the loft door, but let Blair go ahead of him. Tossing his keys in the basket, he hung up his coat and moved to the kitchen. "You hungry?"
Blair shook his head and shuffled toward his room. "Nah. My stomach's not feeling so great. I'm just going to go to bed." He stopped and paused in the doorway to his room. "How are you feeling?"
"Just a little headache. The doc prescribed some pain killers, and I'll take those with my dinner."
"You said they didn't really help you when you injured your shoulder, Jim. And you know that drugs don't affect your normally."
Jim sighed, but his lips quirked with a faint smile. "It's okay, Chief. I HAVE taken pain killers before, you know."
Blair shrugged and released a low sigh. The edges of his eyes were lined with pain, and his shoulders hunched. "Okay, whatever you say, Jim. Just call me if you need some help with anything. You know..."
Jim's smile widened. "I know. Thanks. How 'bout you? How are you feeling?"
Blair managed a lopsided smile. "Nauseated. Killer headache."
Jim nodded in understanding. "Well, get to bed then, Junior."
Blair yawned and then grinned. "Okay, Jim. G'night."
~~ Knock, knock ~~
Blair groaned and shifted deeper under the covers.
~~ Knock, knock ~~
*Oh, man.* He opened his eyes and squinted at the clock perched on his dresser. 4:30 a.m. *Who the hell would be knocking at this hour?*
Squirming out from beneath the covers, he pushed himself to unsteady feet and shuffled out of his room. The loft was dark, but he navigated the obstacles from memory. Walking to the front door, he peered through the peep hole. "Babi?"
"Open up, Blair!"
"What do you want, man? It's --"
Suddenly the door crashed inward, breaking the small chain. Blair stumbled backward as Babi, his face twisted with rage, stomped toward him. "You stupid hippie freak! If you hadn't made me stay late, none of this would have happened!"
"Babi, no, I didn't..."
"Shut up!" Babi reached into his jacket.
Blair tensed, stumbling backward and tripping over his socks. He landed hard on the wood floor.
Babi pulled out a shampoo bottle and pulled back his arm, getting ready to throw the weapon. "You wanted the herbal stuff, well too bad! Now you're gonna get what's coming to you. First, I'm going to wash your hair with Pantene...."
"No, Babi! Please!"
"Then, I'm gonna shove the rest of this up your --"
"Babi, no! Not the shampoo!"
"Chief!" Jim gave his partner another firm shake.
Blair jerked, and his eyes snapped open. He gasped and flung the covers off. "Whu..? Huh? Babi!"
"Easy, Chief. It's just me."
Sandburg blinked at him. "Jim?"
"Yep. That sounded like an, um, interesting dream."
"Dream?" He blinked, then winced and dropped back to the mattress. "Oh, man, my head."
"Yeah... That was weird. I dreamed Babi came into the loft and threatened me with a bottle of shampoo."
Jim chuckled. "Shampoo?"
"Pantene. Man, I'd have been walking around with all frizzy." He mocked an exaggerated shudder. "Scary."
"Sorry I woke you."
"How's your head?"
"Much better. I took a pill."
"There's some left overs I can heat up for you."
"Yeah, I could eat. But don't worry about it, man. You go back to bed. I can handle it."
Jim shook his head and patted Blair's shoulder. "You just lay there. I'll bring you some food along with a pain pill."
"You don't mind?"
"Nope." He gave Blair's shoulder another pat and then moved to the doorway. "Be back in a few."
Blair smiled and sank into his pillow. "Thanks, Jim."
"Don't mention it, Chief."
Blair relaxed into his mattress and closed his eyes, reminding himself to ask around campus for a good hair stylist. Babi's sister never did finish cutting his hair, and he certainly wasn't going to risk his life a second time going back there. Who knew getting a simple trim could be so dangerous?