This was originally posted as a March themefic on the SentinelAngst list.
Some graphic descriptions. Spoilers for BMB. Angst and H/C. Rated PG-13.

OZ
 
 

Blair yawned as he brought the Volvo to a gentle stop at the red light, soft Celtic music playing over his speakers. He glanced at his dashboard clock. 9 p.m. It had been a long day, and all he wanted to do was go home and go to bed early.

Up ahead, he saw an on-coming car speeding toward the intersection. Traffic was virtually non-existent, with only a lone vehicle several yards distant traveling the right-of-way, its headlights the only indicator of its approach. The dark sedan ran unimpeded through the red light. Blair shook his head as the car sped past him. Some people
just had to be a in a hurry.

The screech of rubber against blacktop startled Blair, and he jumped in his seat. He twisted around to look over his shoulder. When he saw the large, Hispanic-looking man running toward his car, he automatically stepped on the gas.

The Volvo shot forward, and Blair fell back against his seat. It occurred to him that the guy might need help, and he looked in his rearview mirror...

And ducked just as the bullet pierced his back window, whizzed past his right ear, and exited through the windshield.

"Geezus!" Blair turned the corner hard just as another gunshot rang out. One of his back tires blew, sending the Volvo skidding wildly. It slammed sideways into the back of a brick office building, sending his body into the side window. The driver's door crumpled at the same time a hail of bricks rained down on the vehicle.

For several seconds after the crash, silence reigned. Blair remained leaning on the interior of his door, a warm wetness touching the left side of his face. His head, neck, and left shoulder hurt, and although he was still dazed from the impact, he managed to take stock of his physical situation. He was alive and breathing, and the pain in his
upper areas wasn't overwhelming.

A deep voice shouted something, and he looked to his right, his skull pounding. The glass on the passenger door lay shattered in pieces on the seat, and the gunman shoved his upper body through and grabbed Blair's shirt.

Pain exploded in Blair's neck and shoulder, and he cried out, lashing out at the man even as his seat belt kept him restrained. The guy unsnapped the lock, and Blair, suddenly freed from the strap, felt himself being pulled through the window.

His shoulder screamed from the jarring motions, and he used his good hand to bat wildly at the man's face. He cleared the window, the assailant's hands still clutching his shirt, and fell hard on the guy.


They tumbled to the blacktop, and Blair felt a sharp pain in the right side of his ribcage.

A surprised cry escaped him, and he managed to twist away from his attacker. He slammed back against the Volvo, his legs sprawled loosely on the blacktop. He looked down, and it took his eyes a moment to find the syringe sticking out of his side.

"Oh man." He head seemed to be floating, like a balloon on a string attached loosely to his body. He told his arms to move, but he wasn't quite sure the command would traverse the expanse from his brain to his limb. Still, he watched his hand raise and his fingers wrap around the syringe, then pull it out and drop it to the ground.

He saw the attacker a few feet away, laying limp on the pavement, his eyes staring glassily at the night sky. He seemed to be breathing, but that was the only indication he was still living.

Then the strangest thing happened. The man's body began to move, his skin rippling unnaturally. Blair blinked, focusing his gaze on the man's dark skin. Little black spots appeared in his flesh, expanding as they seemed to crawl right out of epidermis. They had sleek, black bodies and tiny, scampering legs. Their gold pin-point eyes seemed to stare right at him.

Blair's chest tightened, and the terror bubbled out of him as a scream. He scrambled to his feet, swaying unsteadily, and flung himself back through the passenger window. Panicked, he made it into the driver's seat and slammed on the accelerator. The car, still running, lurched forward, dislodging the bricks that had fallen on its hood and roof. Keeping the accelerator floored, he spun the car wildly around the corner. A golden reflection caught his eyes, and he glanced in his rearview mirror.

The street behind him was on fire, the insects burning even as they chased after his car, their bodies growing larger and larger each second. Figures took shape from the inferno -- human forms with long, stringy arms reaching for him...

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

Jim steered the truck onto Prospect when the call came over his radio. "All units in the vicinity of University and Tower, respond. Shots fired. Auto collision. Vehicles involved include a late-model sedan and a green Volvo.

Jim's heart leapt to his throat. Green Volvo... He swung a sharp U-turn, cutting off a white Honda that blared its horn at him, and raced toward the scene.

He never made it. Sandburg's Volvo screeched around a corner, running without headlights, and clipped the edge of his front bumper as it slid into the proper lane.

"SHIT!" Jim spun another U-turn and fell into pursuit, laying hard on his horn. He tensed when he spotted the damage to the small car's roof. It looked like the vehicle had sustained significant damage.

The Volvo showed no signs of slowing. It swerved dangerously in and out of the lane, forcing oncoming motorists to veer wildly to avoid a collision.

What the hell...? Jim focused his vision and zoomed into the Volvo's rearview mirror. He caught Blair's reflection and saw the wild look in the young man's eyes and the dark redness on the left side of his face.

Pressing harder on the accelerator, Jim tried to keep up with Blair's frantic driving. He took one hand off the wheel to grab the dispatch radio and report the situation, requesting back-up but making it clear that Sandburg appeared to be injured and all responding units should use minimal force.

Blair took a sharp right, and Jim dropped the radio to grab the steering wheel, careening the truck around the corner and barely managing to keep the old Ford from skidding off course. The Volvo's red brake lights came on, and Jim slammed on his own brakes. He was going too fast, however, and he knew he wasn't going to stop in time, so he spun the wheel and sent the truck into a fishtail, managing a 180-degree turn. Tires screeched against the pavement. Jim gritted his teeth as the truck jerked to a halt, the smell of burnt rubber filling the cab.

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

Blair had seen the blue-and-white truck behind him, but he couldn't see behind the wheel, and he didn't dare stop. The other image in his rearview mirror kept his foot pressed hard on the accelerator. It was the strangest sight. It couldn't be real, but it was. Oh God it was.

Out of some twisted Wizard of Oz nightmare, the Wicked Witch chased after him on her bicycle, keeping just ahead of the Ford. Beneath her tires stretched a narrow, golden brick road, seemingly alive as it grew to keep pace with her wheels.

But she wasn't the same Dorothy-taunting witch he'd seen in the movie. In the visage of something vaguely resembling human resided a monster. Its face was twisted, flesh rotting from its cheekbones. Sharp, jagged teeth jutted from lips pulled back into a snarl. The eyes flashed with golden fire, seemingly delving into his own through the reflection in the mirror.

He rounded another corner, his heart beating so fast it threatened to burst from his chest. Impossibly, the monster appeared in front of him, standing like a demon with its arms spread wide as it waited for the impact.

Blair hit the brakes, bringing the car to a jarring stop. He slammed forward, colliding with the steering wheel. Pain exploded in his chest, stealing his breath, but he couldn't let it get to him. He looked, horrified to realize the thing had disappeared.

Where was it now?

It reappeared beside him, its face peering in through the nonexistent driver-side window. Sleek black insects crawled out of its nose and ears and scampered along limbs that reached for him.

He screamed and flung himself toward the other door, kicking as the monster leaned toward him.

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

"Blair, easy. It's me!" Jim reached through the open window, but Blair just kept screaming, his legs kicking desperately as he moved toward the passenger door.

Realizing he wasn't going to reach his friend that way, Jim pulled back. Sirens screamed in the background, growing closer. They would be on the scene in seconds.

Sandburg flung the door open and toppled onto the blacktop, scampering away faster than Jim would have thought possible.

"Chief, please. Listen to me. Just listen, buddy." Jim moved quickly around the Volvo, crouching low as he inched toward his partner. "Listen to my voice, Blair. It's me. It's Jim. I'm not going to hurt you."

The sirens became much louder, and the night erupted in a spray of red and blue lights as several police cars converged on the scene. The sudden commotion escalated Blair's terror, and he shot to his feet, screaming incoherent words as he made a dash toward the busy street.

Jim shot into action, overtaking Sandburg quickly and, instead of tackling him, grabbing him in a bear hold. His momentum carried him forward, and he twisted around so that he landed on the pavement beneath Blair. He didn't want to risk aggravating Sandburg's injuries by crashing him into the blacktop.

Blair came down on top of Jim hard enough to knock the wind out both of them, but Jim maintained his hold. Sandburg arched back, screaming, shouting something about bugs crawling into his skin.

Uniformed officers descended on them. Jim recognized some of the faces only vaguely, so he didn't trust them enough to release his hold on Sandburg. He wasn't sure whether they realized Blair was a victim and not a suspect.

The question was -- A victim of what?

"Back off!" Jim shouted. "He's my partner! Get an ambulance here!" It was hard to get enough air into his lungs to out-shout Sandburg -- especially with the kid on top of him -- and keep his grip on the young man, but his message got across and the officers slowly backed away.

"What's happening here?" The booming, familiar voice parted the officers.

Jim looked over Sandburg's shoulder to see Captain Simon Banks approaching, the older man's face going slack with astonishment. Blair's continued, panicked shouts made it difficult to talk, so Jim just shook his head at Simon and tightened his hold on his struggling partner.

Several seconds later, Blair exhausted himself and collapsed limply on top of Jim, panting hard. Sweat ran from virtually every pore of Sandburg's body, soaking his hair and clothes and seeping into Jim. His gasps caught with sporadic, dwindling sobs, and Jim tuned into his friend's heartbeat. It was much slower now, and, carefully, Jim eased
himself and his partner into a sitting position, keeping his arms around Blair.

"Jim." Simon crouched in front of them, his voice low. "What happened?"

Jim shook his head again, feeling Blair relax further as his heartbeat continued to slow. The young man seemed to be slipping away, and Jim silently urged the ambulance to hurry. "I don't know, sir." He kept his own voice soft and soothing, even though he wasn't sure whether Sandburg was still conscious. "I got the call and headed in that direction when Blair's Volvo turned a corner and clipped the truck. He was driving like a madman. Then he just slammed on his brakes."

Simon pressed his lips into a tight line as his eyes traveled the length of Sandburg's body. "He looks like he's been banged up." His eyes rose to the blood on the side of Blair's face. "A witness reported gunshots and a car accident. From the looks of the Volvo, that was the car involved." His eyes met Jim's. "Is he high on something?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, I think so, but there's no way he did this to himself, sir."

Simon turned his attention back to Blair. "Sandburg? You with us?" He waited several seconds, but Blair gave no sign of responding.

Jim loosened his hold. "His heartbeat's getting real slow, Simon. Does he look awake?"

"His eyes are half open, but I can't be sure. He doesn't really look aware of his surroundings."

The ambulance arrived, adding its own pulsating red hue to the kaleidoscope of lights washing over the officers and vehicles. Two EMT's hopped out. They grabbed equipment from the back of the ambulance and hurried over to Jim and Blair.

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

The soft light of dawn arrived by the time a doctor appeared with news about Blair. Simon had gone home a few hours ago, but Jim remained seated in the stiff chair of the waiting room. He rose when he saw the physician approach.

"You're here for Mr. Sandburg?"

Jim nodded. "Yes."

"I'm Doctor Blackwell." The man extended his hand, and Jim shook it briefly. "I'm sorry you had to wait so long. You should've gone home. I would have had someone call you with news. Please, sit down. You look exhausted."

Jim dropped back to his chair. "How is he?"

Dr. Blackwell released a long, slow sigh and sank into the neighboring chair. "We're not sure. He has some kind of hallucinogen in his blood. We found the puncture wound in his right side, just above the last rib. The drug appears related to LSD, but as far as we can tell, it's a new compound."

"So what are you saying? And what took so long?"

"We had a hard time stabilizing him. He was on the verge of cardiac and respiratory arrest. We would get his vitals up to what we thought were stable, then they would suddenly plummet. Whatever he has in his system seems to be interfering with the ability of hemoglobin to carry oxygen. As a result, his O2 saturation levels were very low. They still are, but we've given him some drugs that managed to bring it back up to a safe
level. As a result, however, his brain was briefly deprived."

Jim stiffened. "What do you mean? Brain damage?'

The doctor shook his head. "I don't think so, but it's a possibility. We won't know for sure until he wakes up and we can run a few more tests. We did CT and PET scans, and everything looks okay. He's got a minor concussion, but that's not our main concern right now. At the moment, we just want him to wake up. He seems to be on the verge of a coma, and we're trying to keep that from happening. As for his other injuries, he
bruised his shoulder and there's some swelling in that region. He also has a bruise along his chest -- probably from the seat belt. There's slight trauma to his upper vertebrae -- his neck -- and we've got that immobilized. Right now there's a bit of swelling, but I don't think that will be a problem. Once we get the swelling down, he should have full range of movement. However, we're keeping his neck immobilized just to be on the safe side. Once the swelling diminishes, we'll know more."

Jim's stomach churned at the news. His mind kept playing over what the doctor had said earlier about coma and brain damage.

No. That wasn't going to happen. Sandburg would pull through fine, just like he always did. He leaned forward in his chair. "Can I see him, please?"

Dr. Blackwell nodded. "He's in ICU, but I spoke with the physician who treated him during his Golden episode. We've decided to give you unlimited visitation rights. My hope is that you'll talk to him as much as possible. Right now my main concern is making sure he doesn't slip into a coma. While a coma can be healing, in his case, with this new
drug, I would rather he just woke up. If and when he does, we'll take things from there."

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

Jim sank into the chair next to Blair's bed. Instead of hard plastic, someone had provided him with a cushioned, ergonomic chair. He'd have to remember to thank the staff later.

He rolled the chair closer to the bed. Sandburg lay motionless except for the slow rise-and-fall of his chest. A respirator tube disappeared into his mouth. His face looked pale -- whiter even than when he'd died in the fountain. Jim wouldn't have though that possible. How could anybody be so pale and still be alive?

A large, square bandage had been taped to his left temple, but it wasn't large enough to cover the black bruise that emerged from beneath the gauze and snaked to his jaw. A thick collar wrapped around his neck, and two pillows supported his head. His left shoulder looked wrapped beneath the thin hospital gown, and the blanket covered his arms and chest, hiding any other injuries.

The EKG sang a slow, steady song in the background. Jim glanced at the monitor, noting the number in the lower, right-hand corner. 46 BPM. Too slow.

He looked back at his friend. "Talk to him," the doctor had said. But what could he say? He was so tired. His brain didn't seem capable of forming coherent sentences. He'd been up all night waiting in the hospital room for news. But he would stay awake as long as he could and talk gibberish if that's what it took to keep Blair from slipping further away.

"Okay, Sandburg." Jim leaned back in the chair, dangerously close to giving in to his exhaustion. His eyes drooped, but he kept talking. "The doc was nice enough to let me stay in here with you. He says he's not sure whether you're going to wake up, but he doesn't know you very well, does he? You have that date with -- what's her name? -- Christy? Karen? That's next week, right? You don't want to miss that, I know. She's
quite attractive. Seems like a nice girl. You'd better wake up soon, buddy. It'll take you a while to find some half-decent clothes in that disaster you call a room." His eyelids drifted lower. "You need to... open... your eyes, Chief. Anytime, now..."

Jim slumped in his chair, eyes closed, and let exhaustion claim him.

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

Blair rose slowly to awareness, but what he felt urged him back toward oblivion. Pain in his head, his neck, and his shoulder -- hot and throbbing. His throat felt strange, and he tried to swallow, but he couldn't. Something hard snaked down his throat, gagging him. His chest tightened with panic. He tried to move, but he couldn't. He couldn't feel his arms or his legs, just the pain in his upper regions.

A noise rose to his ears -- short, steady beeping. Beneath that sound was another one -- a soft, rhythmic woosh near his left ear.

Sensation returned to his extremities, but the limbs felt heavy, and he still couldn't move them. Something kept tickling his right forearm, tracing a path toward his wrist, then changing direction to travel back toward his elbow. He tried to lift the arm, but it refused his commands. The tickling sensation grew stronger, almost maddening, and it pushed him further awake.

He opened his eyes, seeing white all around him. The thing in his throat seemed suddenly larger and more intrusive. He resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to swallow, knowing that he'd only gag again.

God, he really needed to scratch that itch. He tried to look down at his arm, but something beneath his chin stopped the motion. A trapped feeling washed over him, driving his heart into panic. He tried to move, but the only thing that seemed to work were his toes. He wiggled them, glad to be able to move something. Then, slowly, the motion moved upward to his ankles. After a few more seconds, he managed to move both
his legs, bending his knees slightly.

The sensation on his right arm continued, and he curled his toes in frustration. He could barely stand it. He screamed silently at his arm, willing it to move and, finally, it budged. He lifted it a few inches, but his muscles trembled and the arm dropped back to the mattress. A black, buzzing figure darted upward, flying in half-circles around his
head.

Bugs. The image of hundreds of sleek, black insects crawling in and out of flesh sprung to his mind. A face also presented itself to him -- fiery eyes and jagged, inhuman teeth set in rotting flesh. The black insects crawled all over the creature, emerging from its ears and nostrils and scampering along the limbs stretched toward him.

The black insect buzzing around his head dove, landing squarely on the tip of his nose.

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

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Jim jerked awake, greeted by chaos. Alarms screamed, and Blair was thrashing wildly on his bed, his hand wrapped around the respirator and pulling it out, releasing the hoarse, tight scream stuck in his throat.

"Shit!" Jim flung himself out of the chair and grabbed Blair's arms, pinning them to the bed.

The door flung inward, admitting a mass of frantic, white-clad staff members. They swarmed around the bed, pushing Jim out of the way, and converged on Sandburg until Jim couldn't see him, anymore. He staggered back until he hit the wall and struggled to keep his legs beneath him. What had happened? Damn, how could he have fallen asleep? But Sandburg was awake... That had to mean something good, right?

Blair's screams grew stronger, and it looked like the men and women were having a hard time restraining him. One of the orderlies grabbed Blair's flailing legs and pounced on them, pinning them to the bed. The mass of bodies parted enough for Jim to see that Blair's upper body was completely off the bed, and two men on either side of him grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back down.

Sandburg's screams changed from the tempo of terror to that of pain. Jim stepped forward, anger flaring in his chest. "Be easy, goddamnit! His shoulder!"

"JIM!" Blair's head swiveled around, his eyes searching through the mass of white bodies and finally finding him. "Help me, man! Please!"

Jim rushed forward. Blair's eyes were locked on him, wild with terror.

"Sandburg, I'm right here." He pushed his way past one orderly and grabbed the bed rail. Blair stopped struggling, collapsing against the mattress, his chest heaving. "That's it, Chief. Take it easy."

The combination of orderlies, nurses, and doctors reconverged on Blair, and Jim detected the spike in his partner's heartbeat.

"Back off a minute!" His growl stopped them in their tracks, and their compliance surprised him. He didn't ponder his success too long, though, as he turned his gaze back to his friend. "You're okay, buddy. Just relax."

Blair stared up at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. His body tensed as though ready to spring into action. "Tell me, please. Jim. You'd tell me the truth, right?'

Jim leaned closer to Sandburg. "What is it?"

Blair swallowed hard, then closed his eyes tight and fell against his pillow. "It's not real. Please, Jim, tell me it's not real. It can't be real. Right?"

His voice soft but firm, Jim leaned even closer to Blair. "It's not real, Chief. I promise you. Trust me. You're in a hospital. There are nurses and doctors around your bed."

Tears sprung from beneath Blair's clenched eyelids. "W-What's happening to m-me?" His voice, weak and rough, trembled.

"You were drugged with an hallucinogen, but you're gonna be okay. I promise." He took a deep breath, praying his was a promise that wouldn't turn sour.

Blair opened his eyes. The collar restricted his head movements, but his gaze traveled warily around the room.

Finally, he looked back at Jim, obvious relief in his face. "It's gone now." He sounded almost breathless, worn out. "Jim, where am I?"

Jim swallowed. "In the hospital, remember? I told you that."

"Hospital?" Again Blair's gaze drifted to the nurses and doctors standing silently a few feet away. "It's not here."

Jim frowned, the confused, child-like tone in Blair's voice sending a stab of fear through his chest. "It's okay, Chief. Whatever you thought you saw doesn't really exist."

Blair looked back at him, his expression somber. "It's not human, Jim." His voice sounded hoarse and scratchy.  "It wants to kill me. Maybe you, too. You need to be careful man. W-Watch out for the... the bugs. They dig into your flesh, crawl under your skin. They eat you alive."

"Blair..."

"Please, man... Be careful..." Blair's eyelids fluttered closed, and he went limp.

An older man in a white jacket stepped forward, his voice low. "It's obvious he's still affected by the drug."

Jim nodded.

"But he trusts you, and that's good. He's going to need someone he trusts and feels comfortable with. We'll get him hooked back up to the machine and take a few more blood samples. For now, we'll keep him off the respirator. I really don't think he'll be needing it again. I'm confident with more rest, and as more time passes to clear the drug from his system, he'll be back to normal."

Jim cleared his throat and scrubbed a hand over his face. "So, uh, you don't think there's any brain damage?"

The doctor tilted his head. "I think the chances of that are pretty small, but we'll have to wait and see before we can say for sure. Once he's conscious and more rational, we'll schedule him for another PET scan. That should give us more useful information."

Jim sank back into his chair, wheeling it back to give the group room to work around Blair. "Thanks, Doc."

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

"Ellison."

Jim's head snapped up. "Huh?" He blinked and wiped the sleep from his eyes. Simon stood at the foot of Sandburg's bed, his normally gruff face softened with concern.

"You look like hell."

Jim managed a small smile. "Thanks. Nice to see you, too."

Simon's mouth tweaked upward, but then the tiny smile faded as he looked at Blair. "How is he?"

Jim sighed and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "Better. His vitals are stronger, more stable. He woke up... uh..." He glanced at his watch, "about five hours ago, but he wasn't very coherent. He got violent, but I got him to calm down. He was still hallucinating, though." His shoulders slumped. "At least they're more optimistic now.
Before they were talking about possible brain damage, but one of the docs told me he doesn't think that's very likely. I can only hope he's right."

"Damn." Simon shook his head. "The shit this kid has to go through..." He swallowed and shifted on his feet. "I thought you'd be happy to know that the guy gave a full confession."

Jim snapped to alertness. Officers had investigated the witness report and visited the intersection where the gunshots had been heard. They'd found a dark sedan stopped in the middle of the street with its lights on, engine running, and driver-side door open. An unconscious man, later determined to be the owner of the vehicle, had been found laying  in a side street.

"Yeah? What did he say?"

Simon sighed. "He doesn't remember everything, but he did say he remembered seeing a 'long-haired dude' behind the wheel of a green, 'sissy' car. He thought Sandburg was laughing at him, and he also saw a little leprechaun in the seat next to Blair. He got pissed, took out his gun, and started shooting. He was going to get the gold from the Leprechaun."

Jim closed his eyes and leaned back. "Great. Just great. Why couldn't he have overdosed long ago and spared us all?"

"Ellison..."

Jim opened his eyes. "You were here when the booking report came in. This guy's got a rap sheet of drug charges that goes back over five years."

"I know, Jim. But this time he'll be going away for a lot longer. Three strikes. He's looking at life."

Jim leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He hung his head forward and worked his fingers around the knot of tension at the base of his neck. He let out a long, tired sigh. "That's something, I guess."

"Uh... God..."

Jim's head shot up. Blair's eyes were open and staring glassily at the ceiling. "Blair." He jumped to his feet and leaned over the rail. "Hey, buddy."

Blair's eyes drifted to his face. His head was still held rigid by the collar. "Jim... Whu happ'ned?" His words came out as a raspy whisper, but Jim deciphered them easily.

"You had a run-in with a bad guy." He forced a smile, hoping he looked reassuring. "But you're gonna be okay. How are you feeling?"

Blair's eyes closed, and he swallowed. "Strange... Thick. Water?"

Jim reached over and pressed the CALL button. "Yeah, just let me talk to the doc first. He needs to check you out."

Blair's brow furrowed, his eyelids lifted lazily. "Oz?"

Jim leaned forward, not sure he'd heard that correctly. "What was that, Chief?"

"Witch..." His eyelids floated up and down, betraying his struggle. "Bicycle?"

Jim shook his head. "I don't understand."

Blair's eyelids finally gave up and settled closed. "Yellow brick road..." His voice faded as sleep claimed him.

Doctor Blackwell walked into the room, moving immediately to Sandburg's bedside. "He woke up?"

Jim nodded, glancing at Simon briefly. "Yeah. He's still not very coherent, though."

The doctor leaned forward and gently shook Blair's good shoulder. "Mr. Sandburg? I need you to wake up. Can you open your eyes for me?"

Blair groaned, and once again, his eyelids floated open. He blinked at the doctor, his brow lined with confusion. "Who..?"

The physician smiled. "I'm Doctor Blackwell. Do you think you can answer a few questions for me?"

Blair's eyes slid to Jim, and the crease in his brow softened. "Hey."

Jim smiled. "Welcome back."

"Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair looked back at the doctor. "Y-Yeah?"

"Do you know your full name?"

"Blair Sandburg." He swallowed, his eyelids growing heavy again. "Can I get some water?"

Doctor Blackwell nodded. "Sure. I'll be right back." He stepped away to peek his head out the door. "Sylvia, can you bring us a small cup of water with a straw?"

Jim heard a woman's voice answer, and then the doctor hurried back to Sandburg's bedside.

"Coming right up, Mr. Sandburg. Can you answer a couple more questions while we're waiting?"

Blair tried to nod, but the collar prevented the motion. His eyes widened when he realized he was restricted, and he tried to look down at the offending device.

"Mr. Sandburg?'

Blair's gaze shifted back to the doctor. "Yeah?"

"Just a couple of questions, okay?"

"'Kay."

"Do you know what month it is?"

Blair cleared his throat. "Uh... March."

"That's right. Can you tell me what year you were born?"

"1969."

"One more question."

Blair's lips tweaked upward. "You said a couple. That's two."

The doctor smiled. "Very good. I see you're as sharp as I've heard. But this is the last one, I promise."

"G'head."

"Do you remember what happened to you?"

The beeping of the heart monitor increased a notch, and Blair's smile faded. Jim resisted the urge to physically touch his friend, not wanting to break the spell of whatever Blair was trying to remember.

"Uh... I'm not sure." Blair glanced at Jim, his eyes troubled. "There was a guy... a gun. He shot at me. I..." His brow furrowed. "I think I crashed the Volvo."

Doctor Blackwell nodded. "You were in a car accident, yes. That's why we've got the collar on you. You also injured your shoulder and sustained a concussion."

A nurse shuffled in carrying a small cup of water with a thin straw bent over the lip. "Here you go, Doctor."

He faced her. "Thank you, Sylvia."

Jim grinned. The doctor turned and realized that Sandburg had fallen back to sleep.

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

"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."

Blair opened his eyes to a white room.

"... A beautiful day in the neighborhood..."

His gaze drifted to the television hanging from the far wall.

Mr. Rogers sang happily. "Won't you be my neighbor?"

Blair groaned. Where was he, and why was he watching Mr. Roger's Neighborhood?

"Blair?"

He looked over to see Jim sitting in a long-backed chair. A smile touched his lips. "Hey, man."

Jim grinned and leaned forward. "How are you feeling?"

"Okay... I think." He took stock. His neck and shoulder hurt a little and a slight headache pounded behind his eyes, but otherwise he felt fine. He turned his head back to the television, realizing suddenly that he could move his head. He vaguely remembered not being able to earlier...

But earlier when? He struggled to grasp the elusive memory, but it flittered just out reach.

"Chief?"

"Yeah?' He looked over at his friend. "What happened? And... uh... Why are we watching Mr. Rogers?"

Jim grabbed the remote from his lap and switched off the T.V. "Sorry. I fell asleep watching something else." He looked back at Blair. "Do you remember anything about how you got here?"

Blair pursed his lips, searching his memory. The last thing he remembered was driving home at night. A car had run a red light. He closed his eyes, placing himself mentally at the scene...

The dark sedan screeched to halt. Blair turned to see the driver running toward him. He pulled off... A gunshot... He turned a corner and spun out of control. Had there been a second gunshot? He strained to remember, but he couldn't be sure. He remembered slamming into the building. Bricks came down on the Volvo...

What then?

He shook his head. "I remember a guy running a red light. For some reason, he jumped out of his car and started shooting at me. I was just stopped at the light. I didn't do anything to piss him off. I floored it, then I rounded a corner, and I think my tire blew -- maybe he shot the tire? I can't be sure. I slammed into a building. That's the last thing I remember."

Jim rose to his feet and laid a hand on the bedrail. "That's enough, I guess. We got the guy, by the way."

Surprise flickered over Blair's face. "Really? Who was he? What was his problem?"

"He was high on drugs. It was totally random, Chief. He didn't go after you for any real reason. He just wasn't rational. He even confessed to seeing a leprechaun in your passenger seat."

"A leprechaun?" Blair chuckled. "Man..." His smile faded as an image teased at the edge of his memory. There had been a woman chasing him on a bicycle.

No, not a woman...

His heart rate spiked.

"Hey, hey. Easy." Jim's hand came down on Blair's shoulder, causing him to flinch. "Blair, take it easy."

"Jim..." Blair swallowed. "What happened to me?" He struggled to keep his voice steady. "I... I remember this... I don't know... A woman? But garish. Like something out of a nightmare. She was chasing me on a bike, and the road beneath her kept turning to gold."

Jim sighed heavily and withdrew his hand to lean on the rail. "You got dosed with a new drug. We're not sure how, but we found your assailant passed out on a side street next to where your Volvo crashed. There was an empty syringe next to him. No one's really seen the drug before, but the doctors here managed to identify it as being loosely related to LSD. Whatever it's made of it's a fairly powerful hallucinogen."

Blair's stomach twisted, and the air in his lungs suddenly seemed thick, making it hard to breathe. He closed his eyes. "Again?" he whispered. "Not again..."

Jim's hand touched his arm. "You're going to be okay, Chief."

He swallowed and opened his eyes, looking into his friend's concerned face. He felt his throat tighten, but he forced the words out. "How long?"

Jim's eyes held a remarkable gentleness. "You've been in the hospital for three days."

Three days? That meant today was... He closed his eyes to remember. It had been Tuesday, so now it must be Friday. He was supposed to have taken a midterm yesterday. Damn. More of his academics missed. He was riding a thin line these days. Now this...

And what exactly had this drug done to him? He took a deep breath. "Will I have any flashbacks?"

Jim lowered his gaze. "They don't know for sure."

Blair's eyes stung and he closed them, struggling to get a grip on the fear churning in his chest. If he could think about something else for a moment... "The Volvo?"

"Repairable. It's in the shop. The insurance is taking care of it." He patted Blair's arm. "I'm gonna call the doctor. He'll want to check you out now that you're more awake."

Blair nodded, keeping his eyes closed and trying his best not to let the tears escape.

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

A day later, Blair was released with a 'clean bill of health.' He just had to pop back for a check-up in a couple of days, but otherwise he was through with the hospital. He hoped to not find himself a patient in one for a long time.

Jim parked the truck in front of the loft's building and looked over at him. "You okay, Chief? You've been pretty quiet."

Blair nodded, shifting his injured shoulder experimentally as he unbuckled his seat belt. His shoulder no longer required immobilization, but he still had to go easy on the joint.

"I'm fine, Jim. Just a bit tired."

"Your heartrate's up."

Blair frowned. "Can you keep the radar off of me for a bit?"

Jim turned off the engine, his voice low. "Sorry. I'll try not to from now on."

Blair sighed and grabbed Jim's arm. "No, I'm sorry. I'm just a little cranky."

The sentinel looked at him and smiled. "If you put up with me, I guess I can put up with a bit of your crankiness. Besides, I think I know what's got you so pensive."

Blair withdrew his hand and looked away. "Oh?"

"It'll be okay, Chief. You heard what the doc said about the final lab results. Odds are you're over and done with this. No flashbacks. Nothing."

Blair nodded, his voice soft. "I know. I just can't help but think this is pushing it. First the Golden, now this... I don't like playing those odds."

"Sandburg."

The tone caused him to look over at his friend.

Jim's eyes held a regal intensity. "If it happens, we'll face it then. Right now, don't worry about it. You and I face enough crap every day without you letting this eat at you. All you have to do now is rest, move on, and trust me to be there for you, just like you've been for
me."

Tears sprung to Blair's eyes, and he cleared his throat, holding them back. "Thanks, Jim."

"You're welcome, partner."

~~~~~~~

The End
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