Rated PG. Angst. Thanks to Susanne and Danae for beta-reading and providing opinions on whether this story "works." All mistakes are mine. Takes place second season.
Summary: A story of
tribulation, sacrifice, and friendship.
For the Good of One
The door of Captain Simon Banks' office opened, and the tall, dark man popped his head out. "Ellison, my office. You, too, Sandburg."
Jim rose from his seat, glancing at Blair as they headed to their superior's office. Simon waited for the two men, then closed the door behind them.
"What's up, Captain?" Jim leaned on the table at the rear of the room.
"Are you familiar with the Needles Research Facility?"
The detective nodded. "Yeah. They do a lot of high-level government stuff."
Blair tensed, his eyes flashing with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. "They're into a bunch of hush-hush stuff, right? CDC, military, even bioweapons. You can't even step foot on the compound without a security clearance." He shook his head. "These government types messing around with viruses and bacteria, trying to develop the next biological superweapon for --"
"Sandburg..." Banks looked ready to roll his eyes. "Will you cut out the end-of-the-world conspiracy paranoia spiel and listen up?"
Irritation danced across Blair's face, but he nodded. "Sorry. Go ahead."
"Thank you." Simon turned to Jim, who had a tiny smirk on his face. "Anyway, as I was saying..." He glanced briefly back at Blair. "There was a break-in attempt at the Needles Compound early this morning. They caught the intruder on tape, but he triggered an alarm and took off before they could close in on him. The trespass got the attention of the CDC and the FBI because the intruder supposedly got past a few of the preliminary security measures, and he appeared to be heading for a part of the compound that is designated level 5 security -- their highest -- and houses top secret government projects. The feds are on their way, but the Brass wants us to do a preliminary investigation. Start digging around while things are hot, and they want you," Banks smiled, "my best detective, on the job. I managed to swing you and Sandburg security clearance." He gestured to the door. "So let's go."
Blair groaned. "Great. Just great. Like I wanted to spend my morning traipsing around a place with a bunch of super-bugs."
The three men headed to the elevator, riding it to the parking garage.
"We can take my car." Simon veered for his sedan, parked in its reserved spot.
"You can sit in the back, Chief." Jim flashed a grin at his partner.
Blair narrowed his eyes, mocking a hateful glare at Jim. "So what else is new?"
The Sentinel's eyes traveled down, then up, Sandburg's figure. "Uh, well, I know one thing that's new.'
"You without a jacket."
"Oh man!" Blair stopped, turning back toward the elevators. "I forgot it at your desk."
Simon dangled his keys in the air, getting Blair's attention. "Forget it, Sandburg. It's not that cold outside, and we need to get to Needles ASAP." He slid his key in the lock. "I'll even put the heater on for you."
Jim batted Blair on the head. "You hear that, Chilly Willy? The Captain's concerned about your comfort."
Banks grunted. "More like I don't want to hear Sandburg complaining about how cold it is the whole way to Needles."
"Captain Banks, I'm Dr. Katherine Green." The older, silvery-haired woman shook Banks' hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, though I'm sorry the circumstances aren't so pleasant."
Banks nodded, his face serious. "What can you tell us about the break-in?"
Behind him, Jim and Sandburg stood silently. Jim's eyes traveled around the room, drifting over the collection of machinery, computer equipment, and laboratory supplies. Bottles of chemicals lined counters and shelves along the wall, and on one counter, a contraption with a set of vertical glass plates sat next to a sink. Bluish liquid filled lanes caught between the two plates, apparently moving sluggishly toward the bottom of the contraption, as evidence by the residual, hazy trail left in the wake.
"Well, Mr. Banks, let me start by showing you the tape." Dr. Green turned toward the door just as it opened, admitting a tall, wiry man with glasses and dark hair. She smiled when she saw him, then gestured to Banks. "Jason, this is Captain Banks of the Cascade PD, along with Detective James Ellison and Blair Sandburg." Green looked back at Simon. "This is my lab tech, Jason Cawlings."
Cawlings eyes darted over the three men, and Jim immediately perked up, focusing his hearing on the young man's heart. It was beating like a jackhammer. Jim pursed his lips and took a step forward, extending his hand to the man. Cawlings shook it quickly, then shuffled back half a step.
"Mr. Cawlings," Jim began, "were you here this morning during the break-in?'
Cawlings shook his head. "No, uh, I was at home. I didn't get in until about eight."
"Is that the time you usually begin work?"
Cawlings glanced at Dr. Green, then nodded. "Yeah. Sometimes eight thirty."
"I see." Jim turned to Dr. Green. "That tape?"
She nodded. "Right this way."
Jim watched the image on the screen, darkened from lack of light. The camera hadn't picked up sound, so Jim kept his ears tuned to Cawlings' heartbeat. Whoever the intruder was, he had needed inside information to penetrate the substantial security of the complex. Cawlings' nervousness made him Jim's number one suspect.
The figure on the screen was clad in black, with a ski mask over his head. He trotted toward the camera -- which, like all of Needles' security cameras, was hidden. The intruder raised a walky-talky and spoke briefly. Jim focused his sensitive vision on the man's lips.
"... Proceeding.... Level Four... Cawlings..."
Jim smiled. He couldn't make out all of the man's words, but he was pretty sure the intruder had spoken Cawlings' name. Ellison leaned back and looked at Green, who held the remote in her hand. "Pause it, please."
She complied, and the image froze. Jim rose from his chair, shot his captain a warning look, then positioned himself in front of the exit. He focused his gaze on Cawlings. "Mr. Cawlings, do you mind coming down to the station to answer a few questions?"
Captain Banks frowned, but kept silent, his eyes questioning Jim.
Cawlings stiffened, his face going white. He nodded, however, and rose from his seat. "Sure, anything I can do to help. Just... uh... I left my wallet and jacket in one of the rooms..."
Jim smiled politely. "I'll go with you to get it."
"Oh, okay." Cawlings swallowed and moved toward a doorway that lead to an enclosed room.
Jim could see a refrigerator and part of a counter in that room. When he'd arrived, Dr. Green had given them a very brief tour and pointed out that room -- with no exit -- as the area where they stored most of the materials that needed to be kept cold or frozen. They had a refrigerator kept at about 4 degrees Celsius and a minus seventy freezer in the room.
Jim followed Cawlings into the room, aware of Blair's footsteps directly behind him. Cawlings' jacket lay draped over the back of a chair that faced a counter, and the young man grabbed it just as Jim stepped up behind him.
Then, without warning, Cawlings spun around and flung something wet in Jim's face. Jim's eyes burned, and he cried out, stumbling backward into Blair. His head suddenly felt weightless, floating, and he slammed into something hard. Vaguely, he was aware of the scream of sirens, but then oblivion claimed him, blocking out everything.
"Jim!" The room was spinning slowly, but Blair tried to focus on Jim, crawling forward toward the fallen detective. "Oh man, Jim..."
His stomach twisted, on the verge of rejecting the breakfast he'd eaten earlier that morning. He tried not to breathe too deeply. Whatever Cawlings had flung at Jim had strong fumes that seemed determined to push him into unconsciousness. He reached Jim and pressed a couple of fingers along the older man's neck, feeling a slow, steady pulse.
With a sigh of relief, he lay his head on Jim's chest, noticing, for the first time, the small puddle of liquid next to Jim's head. With a groan, he pushed himself into a sitting position, groaning louder when the room shimmered and swayed. Taking off his outer flannel shirt, he used it to wipe up the liquid, fighting the tug of sleep as he focused on that small task.
Satisfied that he'd cleaned up all the liquid, he scooted to the refrigerator against the wall, opened the door, and tossed the soiled shirt inside, then quickly slammed the door shut and fell onto his back, giving into the darkness.
"Ellison! Ellison, can you hear me? Wake up! Damnit... Sandburg... Blair? Can you hear me, son? I need you to wake up."
His head felt like the inside of a drum, and a pounding, hot pain throbbed at the base of his skull.
"That's it, Sandburg... Wake up! Come on. I need you to open your eyes."
Huh? Simon? Cracking his eyelids, Blair saw a fuzzy whiteness.
"Sandburg... look at me." The captain's voice sounded strangely hollow.
He swallowed, his mouth dry, and tasted bile at the back of his throat. "Oh man..."
"Sandburg, I need you to wake up and help Jim."
Jim? Blair's brow furrowed. What's wrong with... Jim! He shot bolt upright, then slammed back to the floor when the room tilted and his head threatened to topple off his shoulders. "Oh God..." He was going to die... No one could feel so bad and not be about to die.
"Sandburg, come on, kid. Jim needs you."
Jim... Blair tried to sit up again, this time moving slowly. The room still spun, but the motion seemed to be slowing. Carefully, he turned his head to the right. There, next to him, lay Jim. The sentinel looked completely out, his face white, his chest rising and lowering slowly as he breathed.
Thank God. Blair closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. He swallowed again. "What's wrong with him? What... What did that guy dump on us? It smelled like... like... " His brow knitted as he struggled to place the scent.
"Ether," a female voice replied from behind, but Blair kept his eyes focused on Jim.
"Oh." He took another slow, deep breath, and the dizziness seemed to abate marginally.
"Cawlings' threw it in Jim's face," Simon's deep voice informed Blair. "You think you can wet some paper towels and wipe off any of the residue? Try to rouse him?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah... Yeah, of course." God, he had to get moving. "How long...?"
"Fifteen minutes ago."
"Oh." Damn, Jim had been exposed to that stuff for fifteen minutes. With his senses, there was no telling how the chemical could affect him. "I'm on it."
Slowly, he pushed himself onto unsteady legs and spotted the roll of paper towels perched next to a small sink set in a black countertop.
"Careful, Sandburg. Don't take another header yourself."
Blair didn't bother replying. It took all his energy to keep his feet moving and focus past the pounding in his skull. Some indefinable time later, he reached the sink, bumping gently against the edge, and tore off a handful of paper towels. He turned on the water, held the towels beneath the stream, then turned it off and moved back to Jim, kneeling beside the detective.
"Okay, tough guy. Wake up." Please.
He wiped the wet towels over Jim's face. His vision was still a bit fuzzy, so he couldn't tell whether there was actually any ether remaining on Jim's face. After a few seconds, he dropped the bunched up towels to the floor and gave Jim's cheek a firm slap. The pain in his skull flared angrily as the impact traveled up his arm to his head.
"Oh man..." He closed his eyes and fell onto his tailbone, ignoring the new pain in his rear. Don't do that again.
A groan made him open his eyes, and he looked down at Jim. The detective's eyelids fluttered open, and he blinked a few times, then turned to look at Blair.
"Chief?" Jim croaked, squinting.
Blair released a relieved sigh. "Yeah. How do you feel?'
"Like shit." Jim slowly rose to a sitting position, one hand going to his head. "Oh man..." He looked back at Blair. "You okay?"
Simon answered. "Cawlings' threw ether in your face and bolted. I made a move toward him, but he shoved Dr. Green at me and tossed the rest of the ether at us, got my gun in the process and blasted the controls outside the room you're in, then he took off. Don't worry, though, I alerted security. This place is sealed.
Blair tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. "Uh... Simon."
Jim suddenly noticed the transparent partition that kept Simon from entering the room. Behind Simon, two men in blue jackets knelt in front of what looked like a damaged control panel.
A heaviness sank in Jim's gut. "What's with the doorway?"
Simon shifted on the balls of his feet. "Uh... On his way out, Cawlings punched this red button set in the wall. It activates some kind of emergency containment system, but, when Cawlings' shot the panel, he caused a malfunction of some type. As it stands now, you two are stuck in there for the next twelve hours unless these tech guys can figure out a way to repair the damage."
"Twelve hours!!" Blair shouted, then winced and groaned, rubbing his temples. "Oh man... Twelve... How? I mean, isn't there some kind of override? Can't you break the glass?"
Dr. Green spoke up. "Yes, there is an override. We've never had to use this system, unfortunately, so we kind of forgot about it. Dr. John Simmons and Dr. Karen Bartles both have the code to override. But, even if we had the code, the control panel is totally nonresponsive."
"Damn." Jim sighed. "Have you at least contacted Simmons and Bartles?"
"Jim." Simon looked quite anxious. "Both of them are in New York for a conference. We left messages with the hotel, but we haven't been able to get a hold of them."
"Great." Blair closed his eyes. A shiver passed through him. Was it just him, or was it cold in the room?
"I hear a fan," Jim announced.
Blair opened his eyes again and perked up. Sure enough, he finally noticed the low hum of the fan that had been droning steadily in the background.
"Uh, yeah, that's another thing." Dr. Green sighed heavily. "A fan is removing most of the air from the room and putting it through a special system to decontaminate it and kill any free organisms. It's a completely sealed system, so nothing can escape into the environment or even into the rest of the facility. Also, the temperature controls have been totally shut down in that room, and, as the air gets pumped out, I'm sure the room will start to grow colder."
Blair swallowed hard. "Uh... what do you mean it's removing most of the air?"
Simon cleared his throat. "Don't worry, Sandburg. We'll have you two out of there before it gets critical."
Jim straightened his shoulders. "How long, Simon?"
The captain glanced away briefly. "You've got six hours of air left."
Dr. Green's face flashed with apology. "This room won't open for twelve hours." She placed her palm flat against the partition. "And this panel here is three-inches thick and bullet proof."
"What about cutting through the walls or the ceiling?' Jim asked.
Dr. Green shook her head, glancing anxiously back at the two technicians working behind her. "We have top of the line security in this area. The labs here have been designed to be virtually impenetrable when shut down."
"Come on!" Blair's voice took on a note of hysteria. "Simon... " His throat caught, and he cleared it quickly, his eyes wide. "How do you plan on getting us out of here within six hours?'
A brief silence followed Blair's question. Finally, Simon answered. "We're working on it, Blair. We're working on it."
Two hours later, Simon and Dr. Green were no closer to figuring out a solution to the problem. Blair sat on the floor, his back propped against the wall, listening absently as Jim talked to Simon.
"... Cawlings was apprehended a few minutes ago..."
Blair's brow furrowed. If the room was sealed with a three-inch, impenetrable partition, how was he hearing Simon? The question just occurred to him, probably because his head finally stopped trying to float away. As he focused on the captain's voice, he realized it didn't sound quite right...
"How is it we can hear one another through that wall?"
"Speakers are set on either side of the doorway. The room is also designed to allow people to work with highly biohazardous material in a sealed area and still communicate with someone in the outer lab.
"Oh." Blair closed his eyes, still fighting the headache. The pain, at least, had died to a manageable level. "Speakers." He laughed. "Maybe we can get some music going."
As suddenly as it had risen, his laugh died. In about four hours, he wouldn't have to worry about the pain in his head...
He opened his eyes. "Any luck contacting those two doctors with the code?" If the technicians managed to repair the damage, he wanted to be out of there right away, not waiting around for them to find the code to open the door.
Dr. Green answered him, looking at him strangely. She kept her eyes on him, but whispered to Simon, and Blair thought he heard her say something about the ether's effects. Then she turned her attention back to him. "We were just telling Jim a few minutes ago..." She swallowed, her face somber. "The hotel told us they checked out. Something about skipping the last day of the conference and spending it at some beachfront cabin."
Blair groaned and closed his eyes again. The pain continued to pound behind his eyes, making his thoughts muggy. "Great. Just great." He shook his head, a chuckle of disbelief threatening to bubble from his chest. "We're gonna die in here, aren't we?'
"Chief?" A hand on his shoulder made him open his eyes. Jim knelt beside him, his gaze intense. "We'll get out of this. One way or the other. You just gotta hang in there."
Blair swallowed. Four hours. They had four hours of air left in a room that wasn't going to open for another ten hours.
Four hours of air for two people...
He tensed, a horrible, gut-wrenching thought playing at the back of his mind.
Jim's eyes narrowed. Apparently, the older man saw something in Blair's face. He pulled back, then shot to his feet, gun in hand. "Okay, enough waiting."
"Jim..?" Simon took a step away from the transparent wall.
"Move back, sir. I'm gonna try and shoot my way through that thing."
Dr. Green shook her head. "It won't work, Detective."
Jim tilted his head and looked up at the ceiling. "What about the fan?"
"There's not even a traditional vent. Again, this room is in the highest security area. The vent is actually a set of five small holes in the ceiling, and the fan is set above. You can't shoot through the ceiling."
Vent. Blair glanced up at the ceiling, searching for the elusive holes. He couldn't see them. I'd sure like to vent about now. A dying man's right...
"What if I try?" Jim asked.
"My guess? The bullet will just ricochet, and, if it punctures the minus seventy freezer, some biohazardous material could be released."
Blair chuckled at the hopeless absurdity of it all. Then he shivered. The room was getting colder, or was it just his imagination?
Jim nodded, casting a concerned glance back at Blair before answering Dr. Green. "Not the greatest scenario, but I have to try, at least." He turned again to Blair. "Chief, scoot behind the refrigerator, along the side, out of the way."
With a nod, Blair complied, listening as Jim shifted his own position, then fired. The roar of the gun sounded almost deafening in the room, bouncing off the walls and vibrating through his chest. The bullet did the same thing, skipping off the glass wall, then bouncing off the side wall, and finally stopping when it lodged in the door of the minus seventy freezer.
Blair flinched, half-expecting the bullet to ricochet again and hit him. Assured of his own safety, he lunged forward to see Jim moving toward him, a mixture of frustration and relief on his face. "Okay, Chief. That's out."
Blair managed a smile. "Ya think?" He eyed the gun still clutched in Jim's hand. "Jim...?"
"Yeah?" The detective slipped the weapon back in his holster.
"You know some of those meditation techniques I've been trying to teach you?"
"They slow your breathing."
Jim's face lit with understanding. "That's a great idea, Chief! You know, Incacha taught me some stuff along those lines, too, but I forgot about it." He grinned, but it faded quickly. "But even if we do it, that's not going to be enough for another ten hours."
Blair pursed his lips. "Worth a try, though, right? Maybe they'll figure something out before then."
Jim's face betrayed his anguish at that remark. The situation was becoming agonizingly clear. This room would most likely end up being their tomb.
God. Blair closed his eyes briefly. His head was still killing him. He wanted to throw up -- anything to stop the queasiness in his stomach.
"Yeah, Jim?" He opened his eyes and looked at the sentinel standing over him.
"Why don't we try those meditation techniques. Okay?"
"Those meditation techniques to slow our breathing."
"Oh yeah." Damn. His brain was all fuzzy still. He couldn't think past the headache and the nausea. "Sure. Yeah. That's a good idea."
Jim looked at him strangely, kind of like the way Dr. Green had looked at him earlier. Then the detective sat down and crossed his legs, giving Blair an encouraging smile. "You ready?'
Blair nodded. Oh YEAH... He suddenly remembered why he'd suggested the meditation. "Just take a deep breath and close your eyes."
"Breathe in. Out. Focus on something boring. Relaxing... Like, uh, the fan. Focus on the sound of the fan. The low hum. Steady." He paused, studying Jim. The sentinel looked zoned...
He took his chance, leaning forward and slipping his hand beneath Jim's jacket. The older man jerked to awareness just as Blair snatched the weapon out and pulled back.
"Chief?" Jim's brow furrowed, something close to horror touching his eyes as he looked at the gun, then back up into Blair's gaze. "What's going on buddy?" He held a hand out. "You wanna give me my gun back?"
"Sandburg?" Simon almost bellowed. "What...?" His tone softened suddenly. "What are you doing?"
Blair scooted further away until his back was against the counter.
Jim stayed still. "You're not gonna shoot me, Chief. What's up?"
From the tone in Jim's voice, Blair guessed the older man thought he was having some kind of Golden flashback, probably induced from the ether. He almost chuckled. Heck, maybe in a way he was. His brain felt all fuzzy. Maybe he was just imagining this whole situation.
No... It was real. If he didn't do this, he and Jim would most likely die. Maybe there was a slim chance they'd get out of this alive, but very slim...
Both of them couldn't survive on four hours worth of air. But with only one person breathing... and if Jim slowed his breathing... meditated...
"Blair?" Jim slowly rose to his feet.
Blair flinched back, his vision blurring. He blinked, and felt wetness slide onto his cheeks. Damn. Was he crying? He hadn't meant to cry.
"I"m not going to shoot you, Jim." He stood and faced Jim, ready to take action if the detective made a move for him.
Jim took a step closer.
"Stop!" Blair turned the gun on himself, pressing the barrel against his temple.
The Sentinel froze. "Chief, come on... Give me the gun."
Blair shook his head. "S-Sorry, Jim. You know it makes sense. They're not going to figure out a way to open that door, and I can't take the chance waiting around. I have to do it now or it won't work at all. You... You can meditate. Slow your breathing. Make eight hours last 'til ten. That's, what? Not a lot. Right? You can do it."
Jim shook his head. "No. No, Blair. I can't. Come on, buddy. Don't do this." He smiled, but it looked fake. "Blair... We'll figure out something. Don't you think your act of heroism is a bit premature? Come on, give me the gun."
"No." Blair whispered the word. "Believe me, Jim, I don't want to do this, but I have to. It's like I said, time's running out. If I don't do it now, it won't work at all. There won't be enough air left for you."
Jim straightened. His face took on an air of authority, as did his voice. "Come on, Sandburg, cut out the melodrama and give me the gun. We'll do the meditation stuff together and let the captain, Dr. Green, and the tech guys figure out how to get us out of here."
Blair smiled, recognizing the gruffness in Jim's voice as false. For a moment, the headache pounding in his skull seemed to dissipate, but then the throbbing returned. One good thing about putting a bullet through his brain... it would, at least, kill his headache.
He almost laughed at that thought. But, as he looked into Jim's eyes, he sobered. Despite the front Jim was trying to put forth, his eyes betrayed his fear.
"I'm sorry, Jim. I hope you can forgive me someday, but I think you know I'm doing what has to be done. You're special, Jim." A small smile touched Blair's lips. "The world has thousands of anthropology students, but there's only one..." His eyes darted quickly to Simon and Dr. Green, then back at Jim. "...Detective of the Year."
"Sandburg," Jim growled. "That's not true. I'm not any more important than you." His voice softened, as did his face. "Please, Blair... Please give me the gun."
"I think you should close your eyes now, Jim... or, uh, turn away."
"No! Sandburg... Blair, buddy, please, come on. Don't do this. You don't need to do this..."
Simon's frantic voice spoke up from behind Jim. "Sandburg, for god's sake, don't do this!"
Blair's attention jerked to Simon, and, in that second, Jim tackled him, twisting the gun out of his hand and slamming him back against the counter.
The collision renewed the throbbing in Blair's head, and his knees gave out. A strong hand wrapped around his arm and eased his descent, propping him against the base of the counter. A click indicated the release of the cartridge as Jim emptied the gun.
Blair looked up into an angry pair of blue eyes. His cheeks grew hot, and he averted his gaze quickly, eyeing the tile floor. Tremors started in his hands, working up his arm until his whole body was shaking. Having prepared himself for death, his body now sought relief from the stress.
"Jesus..." Anger colored Jim's tone, but, when he spoke again, his voice held gentleness. "Blair..." His palm touched Blair's cheek, then slid around to the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, but I'm not gonna give you another chance to sacrifice yourself."
Huh? Blair looked up, reluctantly meeting Jim's gaze. He thought he saw a note of apology in those eyes.
"Stand up." Jim's grip on Blair's arm tightened, and he pulled upward.
Rising, Blair struggled to find his voice. Before he could, Jim turned him gently toward the wall and did a quick pat-down. A solid lump formed in Blair's throat as he felt the detective's hands on him, and then those hands reached into his back pocket and withdrew his Swiss Army knife.
Anger replaced embarrassment, and Blair spun around to face the Sentinel. "Jim..."
"File a grievance later," came the clipped reply. Jim's eyes were ice, but behind them Blair could see fear.
He didn't get the chance to say another word. Jim grabbed his shoulders, spun him back around, and pushed him firmly but carefully against the wall.
Instinctively, Blair tensed to resist, but Jim grabbed his arms and pulled them back. Blair barely realized what was happening when he felt the coldness of metal on his wrists, followed immediately by two clicks of the handcuffs.
His heart skipped a beat, and his stomach twisted as he pushed back and turned around, tugging futilely at the cuffs. The pounding in his head rose with the flare of anger in his chest, throbbing to the tune of his heart, and he shot a hard look at Jim.
Jim took two steps back, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Chief. It's for your own good."
"I agree," a deep voice echoed. Blair looked over at Simon and the doctor. "And suicide happens to be against State law, Sandburg, so, for the time being, consider yourself under arrest."
He'd forgotten they were there. Shame rose hot in his cheeks, and he looked away, back at Jim. His chin came up. "Aren't you gonna read me my rights?" The fog that had previously dampened his thoughts seemed less substantial beneath the heat of his anger.
For a fraction of a second, pain touched the Sentinel's eyes, then it vanished, replaced by the mask of non-emotion Jim excelled at presenting. He moved closer to Blair and whispered. "You played dirty, Sandburg. You lured me into a zone and stole my gun. I know you were trying to save my life, but you knew upfront I wouldn't let you. And I didn't. Now I'm turning the tables on you. You don't like it, I'm not sorry. You can be angry with me all you want. If we survive this, you can hate me later. If we don't..." He swallowed, and his voice dropped another notch. "At least we did our best and we go down together."
Blair swallowed hard and took a step back, bumping into the wall. He inhaled a deep breath, but the lungful seemed insufficient, and he went to take another when realization kicked in and he stopped himself. Damn. No more deep breaths. There's none to waste.
Blair slumped against the wall, twisting his wrists in the cuffs. Jim had fastened them loosely -- not loose enough for him to slip out of them, but loose enough so they didn't bite into his skin. Still, he held Jim's gaze. If this room was to be their tomb, he didn't want to die with anger between them. Nor did he want to die in handcuffs.
"Jim... " He swiveled his wrists again, hating the feel of the cuffs. "You have my word. I won't make any more Kamikaze attempts." He offered a tiny smile.
Jim didn't seem receptive. His face remained expressionless, and he shook his head. "Sorry, Chief. I can't take the chance."
"I gave you my word, man." He closed his eyes briefly, taking a deep breath before meeting Jim's steady gaze again. He could feel his heart picking up pace, pounding against his breastbone and forcing him to breathe faster. He struggled to control the rising anxiety, acutely aware of how quickly he was using up oxygen. "I can't die in handcuffs, Jim. Yeah, maybe we'll get out of this, but maybe we won't, and I don't want my last moments on Earth to be like this." He tugged hard against the cuffs, his chest tightening from the feeling of being restrained -- a feeling which evoked too many unpleasant memories.
Jim's face softened, and Blair thought he saw a flash of guilt in Jim's eyes, but the Sentinel looked away before Blair could get a fix on the emotion.
After a moment's silence, Jim answered in a low, strained voice. "Your word, Chief? You won't try to harm yourself? You won't try to make me zone or otherwise pull any tricks?"
Blair nodded. "You have my word. I told you that. After the years we've known each other, I'd think my word would be enough."
After another moment's hesitation, Jim nodded. Blair turned around, raising his cuffed wrists. He heard the key slide into the lock on the right cuff, then the metal ring slid open. Jim quickly unlocked the remaining ring and grabbed the cuffs before they could fall to the floor. Blair turned to face Jim, absently rubbing his wrists even though the cuffs hadn't been fastened tightly.
Jim tucked the handcuffs into his back pocket, his eyes never wavering from Blair's. "How are you feeling?'
"Huh?" That question wasn't what Blair had expected to hear.
"Earlier you seemed to be affected by the ether, but you look and sound better now. Headache gone?"
Blair smiled. "How'd you know I had a headache?"
"It wasn't hard to tell, Sandburg."
"I see." He shrugged. "The headache's gone, but, uh... is it just me or does it seem like the air is thinner?" A change in subject is good. "I mean, I know it's thinner because it's being sucked out, but I don't know if I'm just being psychosomatic about feeling like I'm not getting enough oxygen when I breathe. I feel kind of light-headed still."
Jim nodded, his face grim. "I feel it, too. The air is getting thinner."
Blair leaned back against the wall and tried to resist the urge to take a deep breath. He glanced at Simon and Dr. Green, who were turned away from them, engaged in a conversation that Blair couldn't hear. He watched them silently, marveling at how only three inches of wall separated him from a room full of air.
A room full of air.... Oh shit. Blair looked back at Jim, his heart thudding with realization. "Jim?."
"The air in this room is being sucked out." Too quickly.
"That means the pressure is getting lower." Creating a vacuum.
"Uh-huh... Right. Shit. I'll ask Dr. Green." He turned and walked toward the clear wall, tapping it to gain Simon and Green's attention.
They turned toward him. Simon raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, Jim?"
"What are we gonna do about the pressure in here? If it continues to drop, how will that affect us? And what about the refrigerators and freezers? Are they locked? With the pressure difference, what are the odds of them exploding?"
Dr. Green's face lost some of its color. "Yes, that's going to be a problem. I didn't tell you because I didn't want to worry you until there was something to worry about. I was hoping we'd have you out of there before it became a problem."
Blair listened to the conversation from his position near one of the refrigerators. He eyed the machine warily and stepped away, moving behind Jim. "Great. Just great. Are they locked? Can we open them?"
"The minus seventy is locked. The refrigerator one isn't, so you should open it now to release the pressure."
"But what about the other one?"
"I can shoot a hole in it," Jim offered.
Dr. Green shook her head. "That may not be a very good idea. You've still got some time before the pressure difference builds enough to threaten the minus seventy, but if you put a bullet through the door, you could shatter some vials that contain highly dangerous pathogens. They won't be active with the low temperature, but they could conceivably be sucked airborne by the fan and inhaled by you or Sandburg. Your body temperature could activate them."
Blair's stomach sank. "What kind of pathogens?"
Green shot him an apologetic look. "That's classified, and, at any rate, it won't help you to know. Trust me."
Blair rolled his eyes and released a disgusted sigh. "Yeah, right. Trust you." His chest clenched with anger at his own helplessness, and he dropped his gaze to the white, tile floor.
"Hey!" Realization snapped his head up. "What about the floor? Don't tell me it's bullet-proof, too?"
A tiny smile touched Dr. Green's lips. "No, it's not -- at least not the surface. I know the floor below us is a level three security area, not quite as high as us, but it's still designed so that someone cannot come through the roof below -- or through the floor here -- into this lab." Her smile faded. "But even if you could shoot a few chips in it near the glass, it wouldn't be enough to counter the amount taken out by the fan, and your bullets would likely ricochet. If one manages to punch a hole in the refrigerator..."
"I know that," Blair said, his arms moving as excitement took him over. "But we could maybe find something in here to pull up part of the tile or pound a hole in the top of the floor. We could make enough of a space for air to slip in."
"It's worth a try, Chief."
Nodding, Blair spun toward the cabinets, opening them randomly and searching the contents. He rifled through the cabinet below the sink and found nothing, then searched the cabinet above the sink and found something that could be very useful.
"Aha!" His hands closed around the glass bottle, and he pulled it out, turning to face Jim. "Sulfuric Acid. Will it eat through the tile?"
Dr. Green shrugged. "I'm not sure if the tile is fiberglass or something else. You can try it."
Blair's enthusiasm faded in the face of Dr. Green's ambivalence, but he nodded and moved toward the doorway, carefully unscrewing the cap. He noticed one of the technicians behind Doctor Green look down at a pager clipped to his belt. The man's face lit up momentarily, then he went back to work at the panel. A moment later, his delight faded and he shook his head, throwing a grim look at his partner.
"You should really have some gloves and goggles on when you pour that stuff," Green said. "It has some nasty fumes, too, so hold your breath or see if you can find a breathing mask in one of the drawers. They're white, cupped, with a rubber head band."
Blair tore his gaze away from the technicians, giving Dr. Green a curt nod. He left the cap on loosely as he set the bottle on the floor and rose to search through the drawers near the sink. He didn't find the breathing mask, but he pulled out a set of plastic glasses and found a carton of latex gloves. Slipping double gloves over each hand, he hurried back to the bottle. He kneeled as he glanced up at Jim and flashed a reassuring smile, then gestured for the Sentinel to step back.
Jim complied, moving far away from Blair, but his eyes narrowed, scanning the floor. He raised his hand and pointed, his voice low. "That one, Chief. The tile with its edge just under the partition. The edge closest us looks misaligned. Its spacing is off."
A faint look of awe crossed Blair's face, followed by pride and delight, and he nodded. Taking a necessary deep breath, he held it as he removed the cap and poured a generous amount of acid on the tile. The liquid snaked toward his knee, and he capped the bottle and stood, moving away as he watched the seemingly innocuous, clear liquid spread in a puddle on the floor.
It seemed to have no affect, and Blair's shoulders slumped. Carefully, he tightened the cap on the bottle and set it on the back of the sink's counter.
A couple of stifled coughs erupted from the Sentinel, and Blair looked over at Jim and whispered, "The fumes, I know. Sorry, man. I'd say dial it down, but it's no good for you to even be inhaling that stuff."
"I'll live." Jim eyed the puddle of acid, jerking his chin toward the liquid. "We both might." He grinned, shooting Blair a glance. "It looks like the acid's starting to work."
"What?" Blair's attention snapped back to the caustic mess on the floor, and he squinted, taking a few steps closer to the puddle. "Yeah... It looks like it's going between the tiles and eating the adhesive... or whatever they use. A carpenter I am not." Blair took off his gloves and protective glasses and set them on the counter. "Now, if we can find something..."
He turned back to the counter and began rummaging through the drawers, but, after a few minutes, gave up and faced Jim. "Nothing very useful in there." He straightened, eyeing Jim's jacket pocket, then slowly extended his hand, palm up. "My swiss army knife. I can use it to lift the damaged tile." He held his breath, waiting for Jim's response. He'd given the older man his word earlier. Now it was time to see how much his word meant to Jim.
Jim hesitated. "I can do it." He turned toward the tile, but Blair's voice stopped him.
"The sulfuric acid is still giving off some fumes. With your, uh... " he glanced at Dr. Green, "sensitivities, it's best if I do it."
"The fumes aren't good for you, either, Sandburg."
Blair's chin came up. "I don't have your... allergies."
Jim held Blair's gaze a moment longer, then his shoulders slumped. "Fine." He reached into his pocket and withdrew the Swiss Army knife, placing it in Sandburg's outstretched palm. "Just be careful not to breathe any of that crap." The command was softened by the gentle tone used.
Blair nodded, pocketing the knife. He put back on the goggles and gloves, then shuffled to the damaged, discolored tile. Taking out the knife, he knelt down, staying as far away from the residual puddle as possible. He slid one of the blades from the tool and worked the tip of the sharp instrument between the cracks of the tile. With a bit of back-and-forth movement, he managed to get the blade beneath the damaged tile, and with a grunt, he popped up the square to reveal the mottled, digested material beneath. He felt a small whoosh of air slide through the new, tiny space beneath the partition and almost yelled with joy, but the fact that they still weren't in the clear kept him from using the excess oxygen such a vocalization would require.
"Way to go, Chief."
Blair turned his head to smile at the Sentinel. "Now all we need to do is..."
Abruptly, the fan cut off, and the sudden absence of the incessant hum silenced Blair. He glanced up at the ceiling, then looked to the technicians crouched behind Green.
Jim moved to the partition. "What's going on?"
One of the technicians rose, his face beaming. "We did it! Ryan," he jabbed a thumb at the other technician still crouched near the panel, "is working on the temperature controls now to see if we can get some air pumped back into the room."
"Think I got it!" Ryan straightened and looked at Jim and Blair just as the noise of the fan resumed.
Both Jim and Blair looked up toward the source of the noise. A cold, gentle breeze ruffled Blair's curls, and he grinned.
"They did it!"
Jim smiled, releasing a relieved sigh. "Yes, they did."
Simon tapped on the glass, and both men looked to see him grinning madly. "Was there ever any doubt?"
Blair rolled his eyes. "Easy for you to say being on that side of the wall."
Simon shrugged. "Quit your whining, Sandburg. You got air. Next these two brilliant young men will get this door up." He glanced at the two technicians. "Right?"
"Uh, well..." Ryan glanced uncertainly at Doctor Green. "Besides Doctors Simmons and Bartles, our Chief of Security has a listing of all the codes. The first three digits of each code correspond with a particular lab. The Vice Chief has the list that tells what lab corresponds with each three-digit code..."
Surprise flickered over Doctor Green's face. "I didn't know that. So, you contacted them?"
"We'd gotten a hold of the Chief, but left a message for the Vice Chief. He just paged me with the code. I tried it. It doesn't work. The computer's just too damaged."
Blair looked heavenward. "So we're likely stuck here for -- what? Another nine hours? Then the door comes up automatically?"
Dr. Green nodded. "We hope. Since Cawlings damaged the panel we don't know for sure that it'll work right."
"Great." Jim frowned and leaned against the edge of the sink. "Well, I guess we can't complain too much. At least we've got air to breathe."
"Yeah, there's that." Blair folded his arms, suppressing a shiver. "But can we get the temperature a little higher in here?" He grimaced at Jim. "Of all the days for me to forget my jacket at the station, and my flannel shirt's soaked with ether and in the fridge."
Jim slid out of his jacket. "Here, Chief. Put this on." He held the coat out.
Blair shook his head. "No, no. I'm okay. You keep it."
"Don't argue, Chief." Jim tossed it to Sandburg.
Blair caught it and threw it right back. "No. You keep it. If it gets too cold, then I'll steal it from you. Okay?"
"Sandburg..." Jim stepped forward and draped the jacket over Blair's shoulders. "Stop being a pain in the ass. I have a long-sleeved shirt on."
With an exaggerated sigh, Blair slid his arms into the thick, leather jacket. "Well, if you insist..." He flashed a grin at the older man.
Jim batted him on the side of the head. "I do."
A battery of sparks and sharp exclamations from the technicians drew Jim and Blair's attention to the workers.
"Damn." Ryan rubbed his hand and threw an anxious look at Doctor Green. "I think I just fried the temperature controls."
Jim glanced at his watch. Damn. They'd been trapped in the small laboratory room for over eight hours, and the temperature had dropped to a painfully uncomfortable level. The technicians had been working on stopping the flow of cold air, but so far had met with failure. Jim eyed Sandburg sitting on the floor near the rear of the refrigerator, his back propped against the side, presumably soaking up the heat from the machine's motor.
Sandburg caught Jim looking at him. "You want your jacket back, man?" He made a move to rise.
"No." Jim raised his hand to stop Blair. "Keep it. I'm fine."
"You are not fine. You're shivering."
"So are you, even with the jacket."
"Yeah, I know, so it's gotta be doubly cold for you."
"My tolerance to the cold is higher than yours."
Blair sighed. "Not that much, man." He shifted on his tailbone, and his eyes shifted to a point behind Jim. "Oh man! The sink!"
"What?" Jim turned around to eye the faucet. "Of course!" He turned the hot water handle and a strong flow of water ran from the spout. Holding his hand beneath the stream, he waited several seconds. "It's taking a while..."
Dr. Green's voice drummed from the speaker. "The labs are on an energy-saving plan. None of the faucet water gets above lukewarm."
Jim sighed and turned off the water. "This day is just getting better and better," he muttered, turning back to Blair. "Well, it was a good idea, anyway."
Cold. Damn. So cold. Jim sat next to Blair, trying to absorb the meager warmth of the refrigerator's motor. The temperature had dropped to almost freezing. Several times, Blair had tried to force the jacket on him, but Jim had refused. Sandburg had nothing to protect him from the cold. But Jim had more substantial clothing on and a natural tolerance to the cold. However, his tolerance had been blasted away as the temperature approached freezing.
He tilted his head back against the refrigerator and closed his eyes. Sandburg had taught him how to use an imaginary dial to control pain. A few minutes earlier, Blair had used that same idea and tried to convince him to imagine a dial for his body temperature. Jim had tried and failed, but he was ready now to make another attempt.
He tried to relax, taking several slow, deep lungfuls of air as he listened to the soothing heartbeat next to him. He took a moment to wonder at that. Puppies and kittens, so it was said, could be calmed by the sound of a heartbeat. What was so special about the rhythmic lub-dub of a beating heart? Did it call to something instinctual inside every living organism that possessed one?
Maybe it had to do with life. The sound of life. Knowing another life was nearby.
Knowing you're not alone.
A sudden, unexpected pain twisted inside his chest, and he remembered Peru. The chopper going down. His men dying. Their hearts stopping, one after another until only his own and the sounds of the jungle remained.
A heavy warmth came down over his shoulders and chest, pulling him from his painful thoughts, and he opened his eyes. Looking down at himself, he saw his own jacket draped over him.
"Sandburg." He looked over at his partner and shrugged off the jacket. "Take it."
Blair sat huddled next to him, his arms wrapped around himself and his legs pulled up. Although he was shivering violently, he shook his head. "N-No. Your turn." He glanced back at the mottled tile near the transparent wall. "Just wish we could make more of a hole in the floor. You know, maybe they could slip us a jacket."
Jim shifted closer to Blair, draping an arm across the younger man's shoulders. "Score one for their security."
He managed a smile as he tried to adjust the jacket over both their chests, but the material came up short. Turning the jacket lengthwise to cover them horizontally, he realized it was too short to reach their legs, and the floor was really cold.
"Come here." Jim shifted, and used the arm he held draped across Blair to urge the young man forward.
Blair complied, throwing a confused glance at Jim, but allowing himself to be guided forward.
"Rest against me." Jim patted his chest, sliding the jacket away. "It's getting too cold in here, and this jacket's too small to cover us both all the way. You come in front of me, and I'll drape it over you and slide my arms in. That'll trap our body heat from the front, and from the back we've got the refrigerator."
"Oh, okay." Blair glanced at Simon, a bit of color rising to his cheeks. Still, he slid into position and leaned back against Jim.
"That's it." With a smile and a glance at the captain, who remained wisely silent with a somewhat grim expression on his face, Jim pulled the jacket over Blair. He adjusted the length to cover their thighs, and leaned forward to slide his own arms through the sleeves.
Ahh. That hits the spot. Despite Blair's shivering, the kid felt like a furnace. Jim closed his eyes again and slumped against the refrigerator, crossing his arms as best he could across Blair.
"How's that feel, Chief?"
Blair moaned contentedly. "Warm. Nice. Thanks."
"Don't mention it." Jim tightened his hold, a smile quirking his lips. "I mean that."
He was rewarded with a chuckle from the young man. "Oh, believe me, I won't. But you might have to worry about Simon. I don't think you can threaten him."
The captain finally spoke up, clearing his throat. "That's right, Ellison. I only wish I had my camera."
Jim kept his eyes closed, relishing in the new-found heat, but his smile broadened. "The important point is that you don't, sir."
Blair gave into a yawn and, when it died, he slumped further against Jim. His drowsy voice filled the small room. "Any progress on getting us out of here, Simon?"
"We're still working on it, Sandburg."
Jim frowned. Blair sounded much too groggy. Exactly how I feel. Drowsy. Tired. Wanna sleep. Stay awake.
He gave Sandburg a firm shake. "Chief?"
"Yeah?" came the softly murmured reply.
"Stay awake for me."
Jim felt himself drifting as well. "I mean it." His tongue felt thick.
"Thanks for earlier."
Jim focused on the pounding of Blair's heart against his and smiled. "You're welcome."
"What?" Jim forced the question out. It was getting harder to stay awake.
"If I had... y'know. Wouldn't be able to give you my body heat now."
A pang twisted in Jim's chest as the thought of being trapped all these hours in the room with Blair's corpse flashed through his head. He shivered and tightened his hold on the young man, fighting the tug of sleep.
Within a few minutes, he was asleep. Simon's deep, insistent voice urging him awake filtered into Jim's dreams.
His rise to consciousness met with the sound of a steady beeping. As he came further awake, he realized he was lying in bed, with a soft pillow beneath his head and a scratchy material covering his arms and legs.
Simon's whispered voice brought him to full consciousness, and he opened his eyes. A dark, blurred figure stood above him against a background of white.
"Sir?" Jim blinked to clear his vision, and the hospital room shifted into focus.
He looked around quickly, realizing he was alone except for Simon. Strangely, the room lacked the usual smells associated with hospitals -- antiseptic, cleaning fluid, soap, and a mixture of other indefinable scents.
Simon placed his hand on the bed rail. "How are you feeling?"
Jim swallowed to wet his dry throat. Looking up at his friend, he also realized Simon didn't smell of his usual cigars. Taking a deep breath, Jim focused on finding a scent -- any scent -- and his chest tightened when he realized he could smell nothing.
"Simon, I..." He stopped himself from telling Simon about his olfactory problems. There was nothing the captain could do except maybe call a physician, and Jim didn't want his senses under medical scrutiny. The Sentinel stuff was Sandburg's department, anyway.
Blair... Jim extended his hearing, grateful to realize he still possessed that heightened sense, and searched outward for his partner. "Where's Sandburg?"
"In a room two doors down." Simon pointed to his right.
Jim followed his captain's direction and focused his hearing. He encountered several heartbeats, but couldn't be certain which was Blair's. Thinking back to the feel of Blair against his chest and the steady rhythm of the young man's heart, he focused on sifting through the several heartbeats to find the one he wanted.
Simon's gruff voice jarred Jim from his search. A flash of irritation crossed his face. "What?"
"You looked like you were spacing there for a second. Was that a zone?"
"No." I don't think so, anyway. And he wouldn't admit it to his captain even if he had been on the verge of zoning. Simon already had enough ambivalence about Jim's senses. "How is he?"
"Sandburg? He's fine. Been in and out, but last I saw he was sleeping. They've got him on a warm IV drip just like they do you."
Jim looked down at his arms and saw the line running from his left one. His eyes followed it to the liquid-filled bag hanging above his bed.
"How'd we get out?" He looked back at his superior.
Simon sighed. "It was close, but the technicians cut through the wall next to the control panel and managed to trigger the door mechanism from there. Took them a while, though."
With a groan, Jim pushed himself up until he was sitting unsupported, his legs stretched out in front of him. With a wince, he yanked the IV out of his hand and placed his palm over the wound to stop the bleeding. The bed rail on either side of him prevented him from swinging his legs over, and he searched for the lever to lower them.
"Jim, what are you doing?"
Finding the mechanism, Jim removed his hand from the small puncture in his skin and lowered the rail on Simon's side, then swung his feet over the edge. He landed on unsteady legs and placed a palm on the edge of the mattress to support himself. "Going to check on Sandburg."
Simon's large palm rested flat on Jim's chest. "I told you he's fine. Now get back in your bed."
Jim shook his head. "No, Simon. Just for a minute, okay?" He took a deep breath, but still smelled nothing. "I... If he's awake, I just need to talk to him, okay?"
With a long sigh, the captain nodded. "Fine, let me get a nurse to bring you a wheelchair.
Shaking his head, Jim draped his arm across Simon's shoulder. "No, sir. I can walk if you let me lean on you."
"Do I have a choice?"
A smile touched Jim's lips. "Thanks, Simon."
Starting off slowly, he hobbled next to his taller friend as they headed out of the room. The duty nurse at the desk had her back turned to them, and Jim made an effort to keep his steps soft so as not to draw her attention. Fortunately, they made it the few feet to Blair's room undetected.
Once inside, Jim's eyes immediately settled on his sleeping partner. Blair lay in the bed, his eyes closed and his chest rising and falling steadily. The heart monitor next to the young man sang out a steady tune, and an IV dripped liquid down a tube attached to Blair's left hand.
A chair appeared next to Jim, and, with a grateful smile, he sank into the seat.
Simon's voice must have penetrated Blair's sleep, because the anthropologist groaned, turning his head toward the two men.
"Blair?" Jim leaned forward, resting his arms on the rail.
Sandburg's eyelids rose slowly, and his gaze drifted until it found Jim. A slow, tired smile lifted the corners of his mouth. "Hey..." It came out a croak, and he swallowed and licked his lips. "How're you?"
"Fine. I, uh..." He hesitated. He didn't want to bother Sandburg so soon with the Sentinel stuff. Smell wasn't all that important at the moment, anyway. It could wait. "How are you feeling?"
From behind Jim, Simon cleared his throat. "I'm gonna head down to the cafeteria for some coffee." A pause. "You two behave yourselves. That's an order."
Jim smiled and glanced back at the captain. "Aye aye, sir." He watched Simon turn and leave, closing the door quietly behind him, then Jim turned his attention back to Blair.
"What is it?" Sandburg shifted, his hand closing around the bed controls and raising the head of the mattress a few degrees higher. "You okay?"
Jim sighed. "Yeah... Yeah." He shook his head. "It's just..."
"Well, I can't smell anything."
Blair's jaw went slack. "What?"
"I can't smell anything. Nothing. My sense of smell is totally gone."
Blair swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. "Well, uh... maybe... Have you tried to focus? I mean..."
"Yes, Sandburg, I tried. Nothing."
"Okay, okay, no need to worry yet." His eyes became distant with thought. "Uh, I'd guess it has something to do with the lab. You know, all those chemicals. The ether. The acid. Maybe it's a protective measure. Or maybe your sense of smell was so overwhelmed, it's taking time to recover. Kind of like when you go to a loud concert and you can't hear for awhile afterward." He shook his head. "No, but we've been here for some time, right? How long?"
Jim shrugged. "I'm not sure."
"Well, it's gotta be hours, at least... " He searched the room for a clock and found one hanging on the far wall. "It's nine now, but that doesn't tell me much." He took a breath. "Anyway, I'd guess what happened is you closed off your sense of smell as a protective measure, which, if you think about, isn't really very protective. You'd still be inhaling the fumes, only you wouldn't know about it."
"So how do I get it back?"
"Try picturing a dial in your head. It controls smell... You know, like we did with the pain."
Jim nodded and closed his eyes. "Got it."
"Right now, it's set low. Say zero. Slowly start turning it back up."
"What do you got it at?"
"Okay, that's good. Take a deep breath. Can you smell anything?"
Jim opened his eyes and shook his head. "Nope. Nothing."
Blair's brow furrowed, his eyes revealing his dismay. "Okay..." He pressed his lips together, his gaze drifting toward the door. "Uh, okay, I got another idea. Taste and smell are often linked. When Simon comes back, we'll send him back down to the cafeteria for some more coffee. Hopefully, he can smuggle it up here."
Twenty minutes later, Banks walked into the hospital room, his eyes going from Jim, to Sandburg, and back again. "Well, everything looks like it did when I left."
Blair cleared his throat. "Uh, Simon, can you do us a favor?"
"That's still Captain to you, Sandburg. What is it?"
"Go back down to the cafeteria and bring up one cup of coffee. Don't let the nurses see it."
Simon's eyes narrowed. "I get the feeling this is more than a craving a for caffeine."
Jim nodded. "I'd appreciate it, sir."
With another long-suffering sigh, Simon turned and left the room.
Fifteen minutes later, the captain reappeared, one hand tucked beneath his jacket.
Jim's lips twitched. "Subtle, sir."
"Don't start with me, Ellison." Simon pulled out the styrofoam cup of coffee and popped off the lid. "Here."
Jim took the hot cup gratefully, then turned back to Sandburg. "Now what?"
Blair sat straighter, anticipation tightening his face. "Take a whiff."
"What's going on here?" Simon asked.
"Just a minute, Sim... uh, Captain." Blair flashed a quick smile at the captain, then turned his attention to Jim. "Go on."
Nodding. Jim held the cup beneath his nose and inhaled a slow, deep lungful of air. After a moment, he shook his head. "Nothing."
"Not to worry. We just gotta work on triggering it." Blair gestured toward the cup. "If it's not too hot, take a sip and hold it over your tongue for a few seconds, then take another deep breath and swallow."
Jim raised the cup to his lips, blew softly on the liquid, then took a sip and lowered the cup. The bitter coffee -- unsweetened and black -- made him wince, and he shot a glare at Simon. The captain simply grinned.
"Okay, take a deep breath and swallow," Blair prodded.
Jim complied. The biting scent of coffee blasted his nose, and he flinched back. "Whoa. Got it." He shook his head, his repulsion turning to joy, and a delighted smile lit his face. "It worked."
Blair grinned. "That's great." He slapped gently at Jim's arm. "See? I told you there was nothing to worry about." His hard swallow betrayed him, and Jim chuckled.
Simon grabbed the handrail, towering over both men. "Will one of you tell me what's going on?"
Jim placed the cup carefully on the small stand next to Blair's bed, then looked up at the older man. "Nothing to worry about, sir. The chemicals in the lab knocked out my sense of smell temporarily. We just kicked it back online," he threw a glance at Blair, "thanks to Einstein here."
Simon glanced at the ceiling. "I see." He shook his head and turned back to the door. "I'll be back in five minutes. I'm sure there's gotta be a bathroom around here somewhere." He pointed a finger at Jim. "Then I'm taking you back to bed."
Once again, Simon left, and Jim turned back to Blair. The young man looked remarkably pleased with himself.
A warmth filled Jim's chest, then a pang as he thought back to the events of the past day. The image of Blair holding a gun to his temple sent a shiver through him, and his face grew serious.
Blair seemed to notice the change, because the self-satisfaction melted from his face. "What? What is it now?"
"Chief..." He placed a gentle palm on top of Blair's head. "No hero acts next time. Got it?" He swallowed hard, then tapped a knuckle on Blair's skull. "If you're going to stay in the field with me, I don't want to have to worry about you sacrificing yourself for me. No throwing yourself in front of bullets or..." His throat tightened, and he left the sentence uncompleted. "Got it?"
Blair met Jim's steady gaze with his own. "What are you talking about, man?"
Jim pulled back with surprise. "The, uh... Back at the lab." He searched Blair's face, then tuned to the young man's heartbeat, finding it slightly elevated. Was the kid putting on an act? "Don't you remember?"
Blair's brow furrowed. "You know, it's kind of fuzzy. I remember using the acid to lift the tile, but..." He shook his head, swallowing. "It's kind of fuzzy, actually. Must have been all that ether."
Jim's instincts told him the kid was lying. "The ether... I see."
Okay, so he wants to play this game. Standard Sandburg evasive tactics. For the time being, Jim decided to drop the subject. He didn't know if Blair was embarrassed by what had happened, or simply didn't want to deal with the fall-out... or maybe he was worried Jim or Simon would pull his observer credentials after that stunt... Granted, it had been a noble stunt, but much too self-sacrificing for Jim's comfort. Fear niggled at the back of his mind. He didn't want Blair sacrificing himself. Not for me.
Blair held Jim's gaze. "Did something happen that I should remember?"
Jim kept his face impassive. "I guess not. Just file this away for future reference. I'm the cop. You're the civilian." His tone softened. "I'm paid to put my life on the line. You're not. Furthermore, a shitload of paperwork will come down on my head if you buy it in the field. And I hate paperwork. Got it?" He softened his words further with a faint smile.
Blair nodded, looking immensely relieved. Jim's smile broadened. The kid wasn't as good as hiding his emotions as he'd like to believe.
"Good." Jim rose slowly, testing his legs. They seemed steady, and he leaned forward and pulled the sheet up to Blair's chest. "I'm gonna head back to my room, now, before I get caught." He grinned. "There may only be one... Detective of the Year. But there's only one Blair Sandburg, so get some rest and do what the doctor tells you."
Blair's cheeks colored, and he nodded, averting his gaze. "Yeah... uh. Thanks. Got it."
Grinning broadly, Jim turned and left his friend in peace.