Primality Part III  


Blair stood in front of the chalkboard as his students filed into the class. He took a deep breath to calm his raging nerves. Today was his first day back at the university, and, unfortunately, Jim and Simon had come no closer to discovering if any of the gang members attended Rainier.

The students took their seats, talking loudly amongst themselves. Blair glanced up at the clock on the back of the wall, then cleared his throat and turned his attention back to the students.

"Okay, time to settle down," he said. Immediately the class quieted. "We'll be viewing a segment of a documentary about the Yanomami. While you're watching the film, try to notice similarities and differences between this tribe and other primitive cultures."

He continued his lecture for the next ten minutes, then popped in the video, relieved to be out of the spotlight. Normally, he enjoyed standing in front of a classroom talking about other cultures, but today he wanted to be anywhere but in front a class. As the video played, he stood to the side and looked out over the sea of young faces, his eyes lingering with dread on each of two asian men in the room. He swallowed. Get a grip, Sandburg. You can't go staring at every male asian student. They're your students and they are NOT guilty simply by virtue of their ethnicity.  His thoughts crumbled, however, when the asian man in the middle of the row of seats turned his head and looked directly at Blair.

Oh God.. Blair felt suddenly light-headed, and his stomach clenched in a knot. He stared at the kid, blue eyes locked involuntarily with dark ones. He searched his memory. Was that one of the kids that had tormented him? Billy. That was his name. Billy... something... he couldn't remember the last name. He did remember that he'd given the kid a D on a report a couple of months ago. Billy hadn't been very happy about it and had spent almost an hour in Blair's office complaining about the injustice of the grading policy. But, come one, lots of students gripe about grades. Just because he got a bad grade doesn't mean he'd gonna seek out revenge, he thought, desperately trying to convince himself it was the truth.

His desperation faded to cold terror when Billy's eyes narrowed suspiciously. He's checking me out, Blair realized. Trying to see if I remember what he did...

Blair quickly averted his gaze, looking at the television screen. No, no, no... I'm just wound up, imaging things.

The film ended and the screen went black, bathing the room in darkness. Blair flicked on the light switch and turned off the television, turning back to his students.

"See you all tomorrow," he said, glancing up at the clock and realizing he still had ten minutes of class time left. "I'll let you all go early if you keep it quiet in the halls."

The students nodded.

"Yes, Mr. Sandburg," a few of them sing-songed jokingly.

Blair forced a small smile and nodded, waving his hand toward the door. "Okay. Get out of here."

The students wasted no time obeying. As the students filed out of the door, Blair kept his eye on Billy.

"Hold on, Billy," Blair said. "Can I speak with you for a moment?"

Billy had just reached the doorway when Blair's request startled him. He spun around, staring at Blair with wide eyes. Swallowing the lump in his throat, Blair waved the young man over.

"Come over here for a moment, please," Blair reiterated.

Billy glanced anxiously out into the hallway, then, slowly made his way over to Blair. "Yes, Mister Sandburg," he asked, a slight tremor in his voice.

Blair's small spark of doubt was quickly being extinguished by Billy's demeanor. A part of the anthropologist seemed detached from the situation, as though watching the exchange from outside his body. He marveled that he even possessed the ability to face Billy, knowing that the student might very be one of the men responsible for his kidnapping and torture.

Look at him, he's so young... He doesn't look dangerous, just scared. Maybe I'm projecting. Maybe he's just worried that I'm going to come down on him for not paying attention in class, or something. Students always hate getting called aside. That's probably all it is.

Blair tried to appear nonchalant as he gazed at Billy. He didn't exactly know what he was going to say, but he knew it had to be something that would get a reaction if Billy possessed a guilty mind. "Billy, is something wrong? You look a bit nervous."

Billy took a step back, shaking his head. "No, I'm fine. What did you want?"

I want to know if you're one of them, Blair thought, but, instead, said, "The reason why I was absent is because I was attacked. The police think some people at Rainier may know something or have seen something. Do you know anything about this?"

Billy shook his head vehemently. "No! No, Sir, Mister Sandburg."

Blair nodded, eyeing Billy with a critical, overt gaze. "Are you sure you can't tell me anything?" What the hell am I doing? Jim would kill me.

With unexpected fury, Billy pushed Blair backward and bolted out of the classroom. Sandburg hit the chalkboard hard, momentarily dazed. Then he muttered a curse and leapt into pursuit. Vaguely, a part of his mind screamed at him to stop. He knew the kid. He could find out Billy's address. Jim would take care of the rest. However, the larger part of his mind filled with a sudden rage, hurtling him forward, intent only on pursuing the man who had taken part in his torture.

He flew through the halls, closing in on Billy as the young man weaved through the halls. Finally, Billy burst through the doors and flung himself outside. He spared a brief glance back at Sandburg, and Blair forced his legs to pump faster. He followed Billy across the street, narrowly avoiding a collision with an on-coming car.

The door to Simon's office flung open and Banks stormed over to Jim's desk. The detective looked up, immediately rising out of his chair upon seeing the concerned expression on his Captain's face.

"Let's go, Jim," Simon barked. "There's been a disturbance at the university, and Sandburg's been taken into custody."

"What?!" Jim rushed after Simon, heading toward the elevators. "What kind of disturbance. Is he all right? What do you mean he's 'in custody'?"

Simon raised a hand to silence Jim's frantic questions. "That's all I know, Jim. They're still at the university, questioning witnesses. I told them to hold Sandburg there until we arrived."

The elevator doors dinged open and the two men stepped quickly inside.

Simon pulled his sedan in front of the anthropology building, parking behind a black and white squad car that held a long-haired figure in the back seat. Jim hopped out of the passenger side and trotted over to the squad car, peering through the window at Sandburg.

Blair looked up at Jim with angry eyes, a bruise visible on the young man's cheek. The driver's door opened and a uniformed officer stepped out.

"What happened," Jim inquired.

The officer glanced at Sandburg, then back at Jim. "We got reports of a disturbance here. My partner and I arrived and found two students engaged in a brawl." He pointed to the second squad car parked across the street, and Jim saw a young asian man seated in the back. "Witnesses said they saw Mr. Sandburg chase Billy Wong out of the building, then tackle him across the street. The two men exchanged fists, and when we arrived on the scene, Wong had pulled a knife out and was about to use it on Mr. Sandburg. Fortunately, we weren't far off to begin with, due to the extra patrol orders. Otherwise, we would have gotten here too late."

Jim clenched his jaw, feeling a headache growing behind his eyes. He glanced at Sandburg, who sat like a statue, his eyes locked on the young man in the squad car across the street. It didn't take a genius to figure out that Blair thought the kid had somehow been involved with his kidnapping.

"Let him out," Banks said, and Jim looked over his shoulder to see the Captain standing at the rear of the squad car.

The officer nodded, opening the rear door. Sandburg slid out of the seat, wincing, and leaned against the side of the car, his hands cuffed behind his back.

"Damnit, Sandburg," Jim growled. "Are you trying to break those ribs?"

Blair remained silent, his eyes hard. It was an expression so uncharacteristic of the young man that Jim felt a chill sliver down his spine.

"Uncuff him," Jim said.

"Yes, Detective," the officer acknowledged.

The officer held up the keys, waiting for Blair to pull away from the car so he could unlock the cuffs. When Blair made no attempt to move, Jim reached out and grabbed his arm, gently pulling his partner away from the car. The Sentinel cast a worried gaze at Simon as the officer unlocked the cuffs. Blair's arms fell forward, and he rubbed at his wrists absently, keeping his gaze locked on the car across the street.

"What happened, Sandburg," Simon asked, his voice a mask of tenuous control.

Sandburg kept his gaze firmly rooted to the police car. "He's one of the guys," he stated, his voice flat.

Jim stepped in front of Blair's gaze, and the young man blinked, meeting Jim's quizzical stare. "How do you know? You remember?"

Blair shook his head. "He was looking at me weird in class. I--"

Simon rolled his eyes. "Dear Lord, Sandburg. Don't tell me you attacked a kid because he was looking at you weird."

Blair turned fiery eyes onto the Captain. "No, Captain, I didn't just attack him. I called him upfront after class and asked him a few questions. I was trying to see if he was one of them. When I started to probe too deep, he pushed me into the wall and took off running. I chased him."

Simon had the good grace to look apologetic. "Sorry, Sandburg. I shouldn't have jumped to any conclusions."

Blair gave a terse nod, his expression softening only slightly. "It's okay."

Jim placed a hand on his partner's shoulder. "Are you okay?" He shifted his head to inspect Blair's bruised cheek.

Blair nodded. "Yeah, Jim. I'm fine."

Jim clenched his jaw, displeased with the hollow tone in Blair's voice. "Come on," he said, guiding his partner to Simon's car. "Let's get you home."

Blair shook his head. "I have classes," he mumbled.

"I'm sure they'll be covered," Jim reassured him, opening the rear door of the sedan.

"It's my first day back," Blair stated. "I should stay."

Jim carefully pushed Blair into the rear seat. What concerned Ellison most of all was that, despite Blair's verbal protestations, the young man didn't utilize one muscle to resist Jim's physical administrations. Shock? He glanced back at the squad car across the street. Billy Wong kept his gaze straight ahead, obviously doing his best to avoid the stares thrown his way. Jim's chest flared with warm anger. This kid better not have diplomatic ties...

Jim unlocked the door to the loft, stepping inside and tossing his keys in the basket. Simon and Blair brushed passed him, both men heading toward the kitchen. Ellison cast a quick, critical gaze at his partner. Sandburg had barely said a word the entire way home, and his partner's unusual silence worried the Sentinel. Sandburg sat down at the kitchen table while Simon stuck his head in the refrigerator.

"Want a beer, Jim? I'm officially pulling you off duty for the next twenty-four hours," Simon informed the detective.

Jim looked at Blair, noting the deep lines etched in the anthropologist's face, making him look much older than his twenty-eight years. Ellison wanted to protest Simon's order, but doing so would mean leaving Sandburg to go to the station to question Wong. Looking at his partner's blank expression, Jim didn't think leaving Sandburg alone would be such a good idea. Maybe it's about time we set up an appointment with a psychiatrist, Jim wondered. The doctor had provided him with several good references, and there was also the department shrink. But has she ever encountered anything like this?

"Jim? Jim you okay?"

Ellison looked at his Captain and nodded. "Yes, Sir. Just thinking." He turned his gaze to Blair. "You hungry, Chief."

Sandburg shook his head, staring blankly at the table. With a tired sigh, Jim sat down in the chair next to his partner and placed a hand on the younger man's elbow.

"Talk to me, buddy," Jim pleaded. "What's going on with you?"

Blair's eyes drifted slowly upward, finally coming to rest on the Sentinel's face. Sandburg tilted his head, looking momentarily confused. Then he took a deep breath and shifted his gaze to an indistinct point just over Jim's shoulder.

"I remember a cross in the sky, covered with barbed wire," Blair began, his eyes distant and his voice whisper-soft, mesmerizing the two men with its soft cadence.

Suddenly the cause of Blair's unusual demeanor became clear to the Sentinel. He's remembered something, Jim thought, though the 'cross in the sky' didn't make all that much sense. Whatever demons lurked in Sandburg's brain, Jim hoped his friend would be able to deal with them.

"I saw myself on it, my wrists bound to each end with strands of the wire, digging into my flesh." Blair paused for a moment, staring into the air at some far-away memory. "I thought it meant I was dying. I thought I was seeing myself from the outside. Strange, really. I'm not even sure if it was real, but it seems real in my mind...." His voice trailed off, and he stared silently ahead as though in a trance.

"Jim," Simon whispered. "There's a billboard like that off Route 29 just outside the city. A cross with barbed wire, only instead of Sandburg, there's a cigarette."

Jim nodded. "Yes, I remember seeing it once. It's an anti-smoking ad."

"That area's pretty rural... a lot of cabins," Simon said.

"Perfect for people wanting absolute privacy," Jim finished.

"But it's still a big area to cover," Simon remarked. "If that's where they were holding Sandburg, it won't be easy to find."

Jim raised his hand to Blair's shoulder and gave the young man a gentle shake. "Sandburg? Come on, buddy, look at me. Snap out of it."

Blair's eyes drifted back to Jim, but his face remained blank.

"Do you remember anything else," Jim prodded. "Do you have any idea where they took you?"

Blair blinked. "It was real?"

Jim squeezed his Guide's shoulder reassuringly. "Part of it. I think you hallucinated the rest. You were drugged, after all."

Blair cocked his head inquiringly. "You know where it is?"

Jim nodded. "Yes, it's a billboard off of a highway."

"Take me there, and I'll find the place," Blair stated matter-of-factly.

"Why don't we wait and ask the Wong kid," Simon suggested. "I'm sure we can persuade him to be cooperative."

Jim nodded. "Okay, Sir." He didn't relish the thought of taking Blair in in search of that house of horrors.

"Can I use your phone to call the station?"

"Yeah. Go ahead, Simon," Jim said.

The Captain walked over to the phone and punched in the number for Major Crimes.

"Brown? Simon. What's the deal on the Wong kid?..... Already? Damn?" He sighed. "Okay then, we'll do it the hard way. I may need you to assemble a search team to cover an area of woods with a radius of about ten miles.... Yeah, I know, just get on it. I'll touch base with you again in a little bit." He hung up the phone and walked back to the table.

"Wong's already got his attorney present. The good news is that the kid does not have diplomatic immunity. The bad news is that his lawyers advised the kid not to say a word, and Wong's taking it to heart. He's giving us the complete silent treatment."

Jim clenched his jaw. "Damn."

Simon looked at Blair. "Okay, Sandburg. You think you're up to this?"

Blair nodded hesitantly. "I guess I have to be."

Simon drove for nearly an hour before reaching highway 29. The Captain's sedan was followed by two police cruisers, just in case this 'goose chase' turned up something substantial. Sandburg sat in the front seat, gazing silently out the window at the passing scenery. Jim sat in the backseat, keeping his senses trained on his partner. Blair's heart and breathing remained steady, and his demeanor seemed eerily calm. Jim had seen enough horror in his life to know what afflicted his young friend. He'd seen men react the same way after intense trauma, but the fact that he now saw that same reaction in his Guide troubled the Sentinel deeply. Blair was shutting down, blocking off his emotions. It was such an abnormal state for the normally passionate young man, the antithesis to Blair's child-like exuberance, that Jim almost wanted to shake the kid, scream at him.... anything to get a reaction.

But what had triggered it? His confrontation with Billy? Returning memories? The culmination of the stress he'd endured over the past couple of weeks?

Jim heard a spike in Blair's heartrate and followed Blair's gaze to the dark billboard on the side of the highway. The background was black, and in the center was a large wooden cross wrapped with barbed wire. A cigarette laid on the center of the cross. It was a striking, morbid ad, extremely out of place among the breath-taking backdrop of plush green trees.

"I was here," Blair stated softly. "I think I was laying in the backseat of a car. I remember voices, but I can't remember what they were saying. I couldn't feel my body."

Jim clenched his fist, placing his other hand on Blair's shoulder. "Do you remember where to go from here?"

Blair stared out the window, his brow creased. "The next turn-off, I think."

A few seconds later, a narrow, dirt road intersected the highway in one direction. Simon turned the wheel to his right, slowing down to avoid skidding on the unpaved road.

"It's quiet here," Blair remarked, his voice low. "It wasn't quiet before. Someone was screaming."

Simon looked over sharply at Blair. "Was there someone else? Did they hurt anybody else."

Blair furrowed his brow. "I... I don't know. I don't think so."

"Who was screaming," Simon prodded.

Blair closed his eyes, leaning his forehead against the window. "The golden fire people. They were all around me. I think I was screaming."

Simon's face registered his surprise, and he cast a concerned glance in the rearview mirror at Jim. The Sentinels' eyes blazed, and he almost opened his mouth to tell Simon to turn the car around. This surely was not the best way for Blair to confront his suppressed memories. However, his unspoken protest was cut off by Simon's announcement.

"I guess we're here," Banks said.

Jim's eyes shot forward, focusing on an old cabin set at the edge of the road. Blair gasped, and Jim immediately turned his attention back to Sandburg, noting the man's wide eyes and pale complexion.

"Hey," Jim gave Blair's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "It's okay. You just wait here. Simon and I will check it out."

Blair acknowledge Jim with a nod, keeping his gaze fixed on the small cabin. The sentinel extended his hearing, searching the cabin for signs of life.

"It's all clear, Simon," Jim announced. "I don't hear anybody inside."

Simon grabbed the police radio and glanced at the patrols cars behind him. "Okay. Ellison and I are going in. Jenson, Smith you're with us. Baker, you stay out here with Sandburg."

Simon opened his door and stepped out. Jim gave Blair's shoulder a gentle pat, then opened his door and slid out, keeping his ears tuned to the cabin... just in case.

Officers Jenson and Smith, two veteran uniforms, approached Banks. Jenson, a tall man with dark hair, indicated the cabin with a jerk of his chin.

"It looks deserted," the officer remarked.

"Probably is," Simon confirmed, "But keep alert all the same."

Jenson and Smith nodded.

Blair's door opened, and the young man pushed himself to his feet. "I'm going inside," he said.

Jim couldn't believe his ears. Had Sandburg finally lost his mind completely? "I don't think so, Blair," he said.

"I can tell you for sure if this is the place once I'm inside," Blair explained. "I didn't really see the outside.. maybe once, but it's kind of hazy."

Simon shook his head. "If this is the place, I'm sure we'll be able to figure it out on our own. From your description, there should be plenty of evidence to pick up, unless they did a real thorough job of cleaning it."

Blair shook his head. "I... I don't want to go inside, but I... I think I have to," he said, his voice shaky. "I have to know for sure... I have to see it. I have to--"

Jim grabbed Blair's arm and pushed him back into the front seat. He understood what Blair was trying to say, but he still didn't think it was a good idea to let Blair confront his demons... not now, not like this. He knew Sandburg wanted to see the real thing... Needed to confront it, to cut it down to size and dispel the distortions of his memory.

"Sandburg," Jim began. "Maybe later, when you're ready. Right now, you just sit out here and let us check it out."

"No," Blair insisted. "I'm ready now. I have a right to go inside." He stood up. "I'm going."

Jim bit the inside of his lip, recognizing the determined glint in Sandburg's eyes and realizing that there was no way short of physical restraint that he was going to keep the kid in the car. Finally, he decided on a compromise.

"Okay," Jim said.

"Are you crazy, Ellison," Simon barked.

Jim ignored the Captain's outburst. "But we go in first. Let me check it out, make sure everything's safe. Then I'll come out and get you," Jim told Blair.

Blair sank back into the passenger seat of the sedan. "Okay," he said.

Fifteen minutes later, Jim exited the cabin. Blair remained seated in the front seat, with officer Baker leaning against the side of the car. Baker waved to Ellison, then glanced back at Sandburg.

Jim trotted up to the officer. "Thanks," he said. "You stay out here and keep an eye on things."

Baker nodded. "Okay."

Jim looked at Blair, who gazed at him expectantly. "Come on."

Blair bolted to his feet, but he stayed close to Ellison as they walked up to the cabin. Jim stopped just outside the door and glanced over at his partner. Blair's breathing was fast and shallow, and his heart pounded fiercely in his chest. And we haven't even gotten inside yet, Jim thought, debating the wisdom of his decision to let Blair inspect the cabin. I must be crazy. If he has a breakdown, it'll be my fault.

"You know, you don't have to do this," Jim said, hoping he could still change Blair's mind.

"Yes I do," Blair stated, giving his partner a cursory glance. "There's nothing more that can happen to me. They did it all."

Jim clenched his jaw. "Look, Blair," he said, placing a reassuring hand on Sandburg's shoulder. "I don't think you're ready for this. Why don't you just give it some time? A few weeks? We can come back again when you've had time to process the memories."

Blair shook his head. "If I don't do it now, I'll never process anything." Despite the tremor in his voice, he kept his eyes steady. "I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of not knowing which memories are real and which aren't. This probably won't change all of that, but it's all I have right now."

Jim nodded, relenting. He kept his hand on Blair's shoulder, though, worried that his partner's excessively calm demeanor was a prelude to something else. The calm before the storm...

Blair reached out and turned the handle, pushing the door open. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and stepped inside. Jim stayed right behind him, his hand on the young man's shoulder.

Blair held his breath as he crossed the threshold and entered the cabin. Dim light bathed the interior of the small living area. An old beige couch sat in the center of the room, but, otherwise the place looked deserted. Two doors sat propped open on their left. The left one led into a small bathroom, and the right one revealed a large, empty room.

Blair walked over to the room on the right. As he approached the doorway, a severe-looking chair in the center of the room came into view. The sight of the chair sent a bolt of fear through Blair's chest, bringing with it a flash of remembered pain and distant screams. Blair inhaled a sharp gasp, taking a step backward.

Jim kept his hold on Blair. "Easy, Chief. It's okay. You can turn back anytime you want."

Blair shook his head, his eyes locked on the Chair. No. He couldn't turn back. He had to do this. He took another step forward, forcing his feet to move, and nearly jumped out of his skin when Simon and the two officers appeared in the doorway, apparently having been out of view inside the room.

"You okay, Blair," Simon asked.

Absently, Blair nodded, though his hammering heart testified that he was far from okay. Simon and the officers stepped out of the room, walking passed Blair to give the young man space to enter. Blair swallowed, then continued forward into the room. Jim remained tethered to his partner, giving Blair's shoulder a small squeeze to remind the young man that he was still there.

The room looked to be about fifteen by thirteen feet, with wood floors and a window in the far wall. Boards covered most of the window, but one lower section of the plywood looked as though it had been ripped off. The piece of wood laid on the floor beneath the window, and claw marks marred the wood beneath and around the window. Blair figured that the dog had probably been left to die there when the boys made their departure. It had apparently managed to tear one of the boards loose and effect an escape. He felt a momentary pang of regret at the thought of the tormented animal clawing desperately at the boarded window, insane with hunger and thirst. Blair swallowed, he knew just how the dog must have felt because he himself had been in much the same state not too long ago.

The other three walls were bare, and cobwebs filled the corners. Dark blotches stained the wood floor in one corner, and Blair stared at them. He remembered laying on the floor, in the corner, feeling a warm wetness against his side. My blood? He wondered if Jim could smell it, and, briefly, cast a glance at the Sentinel. Jim looked paler than Jim had ever seen him. Yeah, he smells it, Blair realized, turning quickly away from Jim's intense gaze, suddenly embarrassed by the evidence of his own weakness.

Blair turned around slowly, falling away from Jim's grasp. His eyes scanned the room, drifting over the walls, onto the floor, and then back to the object in the center of the room. The chair had a metal frame, with its base bolted to the floor. It presented a cold, stark appearance... almost clinical in nature. Faces flashed in his mind, standing over him, some laughing, some emotionless... A lighter, bronze with a dragon on the side... hanging above him, a fiery flame dancing in his vision... Jason Woo lighting a cigarette, then lowering the lighter, keeping the flame alive... Blair clenched his eyes shut, taking a deep breath. He gave himself a few seconds, then opened his eyes and took another look around the room.

"This is it," Blair whispered. His gaze lingered on the chair for several more seconds, then he looked back up at Jim. "Okay. We can go now."

Jim watched Blair closely, listening to the young man's frantic heart and wondering once again if he'd made the right decision by allowing Sandburg inside the cabin. Relief flooded him when Blair finally voiced the desire to leave. Jim didn't know how much more stress Blair could handle, but the Sentinel knew he was quickly reaching his own limit.

Jim nodded, both impressed and worried by Blair's demeanor. Sandburg walked passed the detective, heading for the front door, his back straight. He passed Simon and the two officers on the way out, and the Captain gave Jim a curious look as the detective followed his partner to the door. Jim met Simon's gaze and offered a small shrug in response. He didn't have to ask to know what Simon was thinking. He was thinking the same thing: Sandburg was just being to damn reserved. Too quiet. Too Calm.

Jim turned his attention back to Blair, following him out of the cabin. It wasn't until Sandburg was halfway to the car that he collapsed.

Shit! Jim lunged forward, catching Sandburg just before his Guide hit the ground. "Baker, call an ambulance!" Jim sank to the ground with Sandburg, cradling the young man's head in his lap. "Forget it," Jim rescinded just as Baker grabbed the radio. "The nearest hospital is over half an hour away. We'll drive him."

Jim listened to the erratic fluttering of Blair's heart and noted his slow breathing. He didn't think Blair was in any mortal danger, but he didn't like the sound of Sandburg's heart. The ambulance would take about half an hour to arrive, the same amount of time it would take Jim to get his partner to the hospital. Damnit, I never should have let go in there.

"What happened?"

Jim looked up to see Simon above him. The Sentinel had been so focused on Sandburg, he hadn't even heard the Captain approach.

"He collapsed," Jim explained, turning his attention back to Blair. "Help me get him into the car."

Without another word, Simon bent down and grabbed Blair's legs. Jim wrapped his arms beneath Sandburg's armpits and lifted him up. Together, he and Simon carried Blair to the sedan and settled him into the backseat. Jim slid into the backseat with Blair, placing his partner's head on his lap and keeping his senses tuned to Blair's heartbeat and respiration.

"Hang on, buddy. Hang on," Jim whispered.

"Well, we've got the results back and the news is not great, but not too bad, either," the doctor began, standing in front of the two men in the waiting room.

Jim and Simon gazed expectantly at the young doctor, waiting for him to continue.

"You do know that atropine sulfate is an extremely toxic drug, right?"

Jim nodded. "Yes, we were informed about its effects, but the doctor didn't mention anything about it affecting his heart."

"Well, it doesn't directly affect the heart, but it does place a great deal of stress on the body. Combine that with Mr. Sandburg's malnourishment, dehydration, and.... uh.... physical torture, and, well, his heart began to weaken. The body has about 24 hours of glucose reserves for use during times of fasting. After that, it starts to take glucose from glycogen, which is a large component of muscle tissue. This includes the heart. Mr. Sandburg's heart was affected by the lack of food, but, fortunately, the damage wasn't extensive. As a matter of fact, while there was a small indication of heart damage in his tests, it wasn't enough to cause alarm. I'm surprised his previous doctor didn't at least mention it. Anyway, he's young and, fortunately, in relatively good health. It wouldn't have been expected to cause a problem, except that, as you now tell me, he's been under extreme stress since being discharged from the hospital. He hasn't been eating or sleeping well, and he's been experiencing severe emotional stress."

"So are you saying he had a heart attack," Jim asked.

The doctor shook his head. "No, I'm not saying that. Let's call it a 'coronary incident'. Nothing major, and his tests indicate that he's completely out of danger. Looking at his blood work, I don't see any indication that his heart was ever in any real danger. He was under an emotional strain, and, quite frankly, his body is exhausted. His passing out probably had nothing to do with his heart." The doctor shrugged. "But, I can't say with absolute certainty. We'll run a few more tests, though, just to make sure. From the looks of it, I'd say he can go home tomorrow; but, PLEASE make sure the young man gets plenty of sleep and eats properly. He doesn't really need to cut back on his normal level of physical activity, just make sure he doesn't overdo it. Actually, I'd recommend having him do some type of aerobic exercise three or four times a week for about thirty minutes each session."

Jim nodded. "So this heart thing isn't going to cause a problem?"

The doctor shook his head. "No. His heart is just reacting like the rest of his body to the stress. If he gives himself time to recover, and, again, I stress the importance of having him follow orders, then he'll be fine. Actually, I'm surprised he hasn't come down with something. Stress weakens the immune system, and, with the physical and emotional strain he's been subjected to--"

"He came down with something about a week ago," Jim informed the doctor. "Should I have brought him in? I didn't think it was that serious. He had a slight fever, but it didn't last."

The doctor shook his head. "Was there any vomiting?"

Jim shook his head. "No, as a matter of fact, he kept down a bowl of soup and some juice. The fever didn't last that long."

"Well, then, I don't think there was any need to bring him in," the doctor said.

"So can we see him now?"

The doctor nodded. "He's still pretty groggy, so don't expect too much from him right now."

Simon and Jim followed the doctor to the second floor, where he directed them to room 202 at the end of the hall. Jim gave the man a brief nod of thanks, then took off down the hall with Simon right behind him. The two men entered the room, seeing Sandburg asleep on the bed, hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor.  On the opposite wall rested another patient, an older man with wispy grey hair who looked dead to the world.

Jim sat in the chair next to Sandburg's bed and inspected the young man. Blair's face was pale, and dark circles hung beneath his eyes. Reaching out with his hearing, Jim listened to Sandburg's slow, steady breathing and his regular heartbeat, satisfied that Sandburg was merely sleeping.

"Damn, he looks like hell. He didn't look this bad before," Simon commented.

"I guess he does a good job of hiding things," Jim remarked. "I have half a mind to knock some sense into him when he wakes up."

"What's the other half of your mind thinking," Simon inquired, pulling a chair from the opposite wall and carrying it over to the bed to sit down.

"That I should take him home and handcuff him to the bed." He sighed, leaning forward to bury his face in his hands. "Oh man, Simon. I should never have let him go into that cabin."

"He insisted, Jim," Simon countered. "This isn't your fault."

Jim rubbed his eyes, feeling a knot of pain in his head just above the bridge of his nose that indicated an on-coming headache.

Blair heard voices, but they sounded vague and distant. His head felt heavy, as though his skull were filled with lead. With a monumental effort, he managed to lift his eyelids. Two blurred figures stood above him, and, immediately, the voices ceased.

Blair blinked, attempting to clear his vision. What happened?

"Blair?" The voice sounded clearer, and foggy recognition filtered into Blair's consciousness.

"Jim?"  He blinked again, and, this time, Jim's face came into focus. "What happened?"
 "It seems you pushed yourself a bit too hard, buddy," Jim answered, his face expressing his disapproval.

"Oh," Blair said.

"I personally don't want to see you in the station for the next two weeks," Simon added.

Blair shifted his gaze to look at the towering Captain. "But what about Jim? What's he gonna do for two weeks?"

Jim gently patted Blair on the arm. "Don't worry about that."

"Yeah, he gets a week off," Simon added.

Jim looked over in surprise at his Captain. "Thanks, Simon."

Simon shrugged. "You two have earned it. Besides, if you're not home to keep an eye on him, how are you gonna make sure he follows doctor's orders?" Simon cast an admonishing look at the young man.

"Good point," Jim agreed.

"Uh-huh," Blair mumbled, his eyes fluttering closed. "Remembered something...." His voice drifted off before he could complete the thought and he fell into a thick sleep.

Jim opened the loft door and motioned for Blair to enter ahead of him. The young anthropologist offered a fleeting smile and walked into the living room, sinking onto the couch. Jim closed the door and tossed his keys into the basket, then he walked into the kitchen and grabbed himself a beer from the refrigerator.

"You want anything, Chief?"

"No, thanks," Blair mumbled.

Jim headed over to one of the armchairs and plopped himself down. Blair grabbed the remote control off the coffee table and flicked on the television. Star Trek: Voyager came to life on the screen with a scene set in sickbay. Blair immediately changed the channel, flipping through the channels with veiled disinterest. Finally, he gave up and turned the t.v. off, throwing the remote back onto the table.

"One hundred channels and nothing's on," Blair commented, glancing at Jim.

Jim shrugged. "We can rent a video if you want."

Blair waved his hand in the air. "Nah, that's okay. I'm still a bit tired, anyway."

Jim nodded, chewing on the inside of his lip as he debated whether to approach the subject taunting his mind. Finally, he leaned back in the armchair and took a swig of the beer. Swallowing the cool liquid, he eyed his partner analytically and said, "Sandburg, I think it would be a good idea for you to see one of the counselors the doctor recommended."

Blair shrugged one shoulder. "Maybe."

Jim raised his eyebrows. Well, that was a hell of a lot easier than he'd thought it'd be. "Well, I could call a couple of them tomorrow... Make an initial appointment for you?"

Again, Blair shrugged. "Okay."

Jim swallowed another mouthful of the beer, deciding to broach the other subject that was on his mind. "Did you remember something else at the cabin?"

Blair looked at him in bewilderment. "What?"

"At the hospital yesterday you mentioned remembering something," Jim explained.

"Oh?" Sandburg looked back at the blank television screen. "Oh," he said again, this time with realization. "Yeah, I did." He leaned his head back against the couch and released a big yawn. "Billy was the reason they let me go instead of killing me. I remember him arguing with one of the others... I'm not sure if it was Jason or Eric Woo, though. He said that the drug would make me forget and that it would be better to let me go rather than kill me. He mentioned something about the cops, but I don't remember all of the conversation."

Jim nodded. "Well, I suppose that will go in his favor at the trial."

Blair nodded. "Yeah, I guess."

"You wanna go to bed?"

Blair closed his eyes and said, "No. I'd just like to stay here for a bit, if you don't mind."

"Whatever you want," Jim said. The Sentinel took a deep breath, wondering when he would have the real Sandburg back... the one that bubbled with exuberance and took joy in the smallest of wonders.

Jim cocked his head as a footsteps sounded in the hall. The scent of Simon's cigars floated to his nostrils, and he rose from the couch and walked over to the front door, opening it just as Simon tapped on the wood.

Banks shook his head. "Those ears of yours really are a nice commodity," the Captain mumbled, then looked over Jim's shoulder toward the couch. "How's the kid?"

Jim stepped aside to allow Simon entrance. "Okay," he said. "He told me he remembered that Billy was the one that convinced the Wong brothers to let him go."

"Really?" Simon raised his eyebrows. "Well, that's lucky for Wong. We did manage to get quite a bit of information from the kid."

Jim directed Simon over to the kitchen table, where both men sat down. "What did he say?"

"Well, it seems this whole thing was an initiation event for Eric Woo, orchestrated by the gang leader, a kid named Dean Kunsch," Simon explained.

"Kunsch? I thought this was a strictly asian gang," Jim remarked.

"Kunsch is half Chinese, on his mother's half. Anyway, they decided to target the police, and since Billy had a grudge against Sandburg and knew that he worked with the police, he suggested they take Blair. Then he started having second thoughts. He claims he never wanted them to kill Blair, just rough him up a bit and dump him somewhere near the precinct. They were sending us a message, declaring war. Funny thing is, it seems it was a small gang. Four guys. Can you believe that? They were trying to recruit. Anyway, the boys are being sent back to China with their father. Billy's behind bars, and we just arrested the fourth guy this morning. They'll be standing trial, Jim, you can count on that. Neither of the two have any kind of diplomatic ties, thank God."

"Well, that's something." He glanced over at Sandburg's sleeping form. "Though I wish he didn't have to testify."

Banks sighed. "Well, Billy finally gave us a full confession, despite his lawyer's advice. Kunsch, on the other hand, is staying tight-lipped. Brown's still working on him, and he thinks he'll be able to get the kid to work out a plea. Both of them are going down, but Billy's content to shift as much of the blame to Kunsch as he can."

"Blair said there was only one guy doing all of the direct torture," Jim remarked, the muscles in his jaw taut. "Have they confirmed that was Eric Woo?"

Simon nodded, "According to Wong, yes. It seems that was part of the initiation ceremony. He had to do all the dirty work to prove himself."

Jim took a deep, calming breath. "I really hope Sandburg doesn't have to testify. It'll be rough on him... having to get up on the stand with Kunsch and Wong right there and a roomful of people listening to him describe what happened."

"If it comes to that, he'll be able to handle it. He faced three of them already, and he told you and me what he remembered. He's a tough kid," Simon reassured the detective.

"Yeah, but he'll also have to deal with the defense attorney. You heard the doctor, he shouldn't be under any stress," Jim insisted.

"He said for a couple of weeks, Jim. You know trials don't happen that fast. Besides," Simon continued, "what would you have us do? Let the guy go so Sandburg is spared the emotional distress?"

"Thanks, guys," a tired voice interrupted, "but I'm not an eggshell." Blair turned around to look at the two men. "I can handle whatever comes."

Simon sighed. "We didn't mean that you couldn't, Sandburg. We're just concerned, that's all."

Blair nodded and rose from the couch. "I know you are, Simon," he said, heading to the refrigerator and grabbing a bottle of mineral water. "I just don't like being talked about like I'm mentally incompetent. I can make my own decisions, you know."

Jim raised his hands appeasingly. "Come on, Chief, we don't think you're incompetent."

Blair sighed. "Look, I'm tired -- like that's news -- I don't feel like doing this right now. Can we talk about something else?"

Jim forced a small smile, willing to agree to almost anything at this point to avoid undue stress to his partner. "Sure. Like what?"

Blair shrugged. "I don't know... Why don't you tell me how your senses have been these past couple of weeks? I know I haven't been a heck of a lot of use, lately." He looked momentarily away. "Sorry."

Jim hesitated before answering. If he told Sandburg he didn't need him and that his senses were just fine, he would almost certainly hurt his partner's feelings. On the other hand, if he said he had needed Sandburg over the past couple of weeks and would continue to need him over the next couple of weeks, the kid would burden himself with feelings of guilt and insist on accompanying him into the field. So, what would be the most diplomatic answer?

Jim took a sip of his beer, stalling for time as his mind raced through alternatives. "Uh... Well, Chief, things have been pretty light at the station for me and my senses haven't really been taxed. Things are fine on this end." There. He hoped that phrasing fit the bill.

Blair nodded. "That's good. No zone outs?"

Jim shook his head. "No." Not really, he added silently, neglecting to mention the brief zone-out he'd experienced when listening to Sandburg's heartbeat. "Like I said, things have been light. I've been devoting most of my energies to your case, and Brown and Rafe have picked up some of my other cases."

Blair took a large swallow of the mineral water and set the bottle on the table, sitting down in one of the chairs. "That was nice of them."

"No it wasn't. They owe me," Jim said, smiling. "I decided to collect."

Simon chuckled. "Well, it's good for me at least. Rafe's handwriting is a hell of a lot better than yours, Jim. It makes my life infinitely more pleasurable."

"You know, I can help out with the paperwork, Jim," Blair offered.

"Absolutely not, Sandburg," Jim shot back. "Doctor said you rest."

"Like sitting at a desk is stressful? Come on," Blair insisted, "he also said I didn't really have to tailor my usual physical activity."

"He said you needed to rest and get your strength up first," Jim replied.

"And have you forgotten that I've barred you from the station for the next two weeks," Banks added.

Blair sighed. "Okay, so bring them here. I can do them laying in bed. That should satisfy the requirement."

God, how did I get stuck with such a pain-in-the-ass stubborn partner, Jim mused, somewhat affectionately. "That's not resting, Sandburg."

"What's the difference between reading a few case notes and reading a novel? What if I want to lay in bed and read a mystery novel," Blair asked. "You gonna tell me I can't?"

Jim sighed, raising one hand to rub his temple. Why is it Sandburg causes me more headaches than the perfume aisles of department stores? "Not after your bedtime, Chief," Jim answered.

Simon chuckled. "Face it, Sandburg. You're stuck with Mother-Hen here for the next couple of weeks. If I were you, I'd soak it up while I could. Make him do all the cooking and cleaning... breakfast in bed... that sort of thing."

Jim shot his Captain a glare. "Don't give him any ideas, Simon."

Blair sighed, placing the cap back on his bottle water and walking back over to the refrigerator. He returned the bottle to the refrigerator and turned back to Jim.

"Fine. I guess I'm outmatched," he relented. "So I might as well go to bed now."

He turned to leave, then stopped, fixing Jim with an intense stare. Jim straightened immediately, wondering what was going through Sandburg's head. Not another flashback? He was surprised to see a small smile tug at the edges of Sandburg's lips.

"I'll expect breakfast at 8:30 am. Sharp," Blair stated, obviously struggling to suppress the smile. "No bacon, and I want fresh fruit... none of the canned stuff."

Jim felt the tension drain out of his shoulders at Blair's sudden display of humor. He narrowed his gaze in mock anger and pointed a finger at his Guide. "Watch it, Junior! I could have left you in the hospital eating green Jell-O."

Blair chuckled, and the sound was music to the Sentinel's ears. "Okay, okay," Blair said. "Cook whatever you want, just as long as it's not fried lard."

Jim raised his eyebrows, glancing at Simon. "Hmmm..? Fried Lard? I haven't tried that yet. Have you, Simon?"

The Captain nodded. "Yeah, Daryl and I tried it at this little place called FatBurger. Delicious!"

"Ugggh!" Sandburg rolled his eyes. "You guys are disgusting." With that, he turned around, threw his hands up in defeat, and shuffled into his room.

Jim's eyes lingered in the direction of Sandburg's room, a smile plastered on his face. It's good to hear you laugh, buddy.

Blair awoke suddenly, shaking uncontrollably. He was surrounded by darkness. A surge of panic gripped his chest, quickly clenched by realization when he saw the red glowing digits of the clock. 2:05 am. He was in his room. He released a shaky breath and closed his eyes. He wasn't sure what had woken him, but he guessed it had been a bad dream.

He held his breath and listened to the sounds of the loft. No footsteps pattered down the stairs. Good. Jim needed his sleep, and Blair didn't want to disturb his friend. God knows he's had his hands full with me. He really needs to take it easy.

He shifted under the covers and tried to go back to sleep. About twenty minutes later, he realized such an endeavor was futile. Whatever nightmare had gripped him, it had obviously shattered his tenuous grip on sleep. He opened his eyes, staring into the thick darkness. It seemed to press in on him, suffocating in its intensity.

This is no good, he thought, throwing back the covers and sliding out of bed. As quietly as he could, he tip-toed out of the room. Soft light filtered through the balcony doors, adding a touch of relief to the darkness. Blair glanced up at Jim's bedroom, almost wishing Jim would wake up. He shook his head, feeling guilty for his selfishness. Jim needs his sleep,  he told himself. Stop acting like a child, Sandburg.

Quietly, he shuffled to the couch, grabbing the afghan off the back and wrapping himself in it as he lowered himself onto the couch. He laid down on his side and closed his eyes. The faint sound of Jim's breathing floated to his ears, amplified by the night silence. The sound soothed him, wrapping him in a warm blanket of security. Within minutes, he fell into a peaceful slumber.

Jim descended from his heavy sleep, opening his eyes. His vision immediately compensated for the darkness, and the blackness lifted. Automatically, he extended his hearing, honing in on his Guide's soft breathing and steady heart beat. The sound came from downstairs, but in a location different than the one Jim expected.

Jim slid out of bed and glanced over the rail, peering down into the living room below. He saw Sandburg's motionless form on the couch, curled up beneath the afghan. Wondering why Sandburg would abandon the comfort of his own bed for the couch, the Sentinel shuffled down the stairs and walked over to his sleeping Guide.

He stood there for several seconds, gazing at his roommate, listening to the reassuring sound of his Guide's breathing. The afghan rose to Blair's chin, wrapped snugly around the young man's frame. Blair's face looked so peaceful that Jim decided against waking his partner. Whatever had caused Blair to abandon his bed for the couch wasn't important enough to merit Jim disturbing Blair's sleep.

Instead, the Sentinel made a quiet retreat, climbing the stairs to his room. Maybe he had a nightmare... but why didn't I wake up? He couldn't be THAT tired, could he? Deciding he wanted to make sure he woke up if Blair had another nightmare, Jim grabbed his covers from the bed, wrapped them around his body, and shuffled back down the stairs. He sank into one of the arm chairs near the couch and adjusted the throw pillow until he was comfortable enough to go back to sleep.

Sunlight tickled Blair's eyelids, and he opened his eyes, taking a moment to realize that he was in the living room instead of his own room. With a yawn, he shifted onto his back and stretched, pulling the kinks out of his back and shoulders.

The ruffling of covers other than his own caused him to jerk his head to the side. He saw Jim on the armchair, wrapped in his white comforter. Blair blinked, confused. When did he come down? Did I wake him? Don't tell me I snore...

Blair gazed at Jim, a slow smile finding the way to his lips as he realized how rarely he got to watch the Sentinel sleep. Jim was a notoriously light sleeper, a result of both his sentinel senses and his time spent in the army. If Blair ever got close enough to observe a sleeping Jim, then Jim would no longer be sleeping -- barring the trips to the hospital, of course.
A knock sounded on the door, and Jim shifted, releasing a muffled groan. Blair frowned, immediately rising from the couch and hurrying to the door, wondering why the noise hadn't woken Jim but also wanting to make sure he answered the door before the person knocked again.

Blair cracked open the door and peeked into the hallway. Captain Simon Banks stood outside, raising quizzical eyebrows as Blair opened the door the rest of the way.

"I'm surprise I got to--" He glanced at Jim at frowned. "He okay?"

Blair shook his head, his face a mask of concern. "I don't know," he whispered. "He seems dead to the world." He shuffled back over to Jim and placed one hand on the Sentinel's forehead. Jim shifted again and mumbled something unintelligible.

"He's got a fever," Blair announced.

I wonder where he got it from, Blair thought sarcastically, kicking himself for being stupid enough to wonder around in the rain and get himself sick. Now not only have I caused him to lose sleep and time off from work, I've also gotten him sick.

Blair placed a hand on Jim's shoulder -- or, at least, what he thought was Jim's shoulder underneath the covers -- and gave the Sentinel a gentle shake. He didn't relish the thought of waking Jim, especially considering how little sleep his partner had gotten recently, but he wanted to make sure Jim wasn't battling anything more serious than a cold.

"Jim? Wake up," Blair said.

Jim groaned, then shifted, pulling the covers tightly around his body. His eyes fluttered open and he looked up at Blair, his eyes clouded with fatigue.

"Blair?" Jim straightened, pushing the blanket onto the floor. "You okay?"

Blair nodded, smiling. "Yeah, Jim, I'm fine. I was just about to ask you that question."

"Huh?" Jim made an attempt to stand up, but only made it halfway to his feet when he raised a hand to his head and sank back into the chair. "Whoa," he muttered, his voice hoarse.

Blair snatched up the blanket and draped it back over Jim. "Just stay there, Jim. I'll make you some tea." He turned to the Captain. "Simon, could you get the thermometer from the bathroom cabinet? I need to check his temperature."

Jim leaned forward, letting the blankets drop back to the floor. "Belay that, Simon! I'm fine." He looked up at Sandburg. "And you should be in bed, not hovering over me. The doctor said you need REST." Jim pointed to the couch. "Now get your ass back over there."

Blair shook his head. "Cut it out, Jim. You're sick." He lowered his head. "Man, this is all my fault. I'm sorry, Jim. You caught this from me." He smacked himself on the forehead with the palm of his hand. "Stupid! I should never have gone out in the rain like that."

Jim managed a small smile. "Yeah, Sandburg, how DARE you get sick. Drop and give me twenty."

Blair threw a deadly glare at Jim. "Funny, Jim. Hilarious." He bent down and grabbed the blanket, throwing it over Jim's body. "Now stay there."

Jim looked over at Simon. "Captain, will you get this kid back in bed, or at least back onto the couch?" Then he looked over at Blair. "Why were you on the couch."

Blair glanced nervously at Simon, then back at Jim. "Uh... I just felt like it, that's all."

Jim looked unconvinced. "Yeah, sure. Anyway," he said, waving a hand in the air, "I want you to take it easy. I've had enough lip out of you over the past couple of weeks, and I don't want to hear anymore. Got it?"



"You do look a little pale, Sandburg," Simon added.

Blair raised his chin defiantly in the air and fixed Jim with a firm glare. "I don't think so. The doctor said I didn't have to cut back on my physical activities as long as I got plenty of rest, food, and fluids. Now you shut up and do as you're told."

Jim looked genuinely contrite, gazing at Blair in near-awe. A low chuckle sounded from Simon's direction, and both men turned to look at the Captain.

"Well, I'll be damned," he said, shaking his head. "I never thought I'd see the day."

Jim glared at the Captain, his gaze promising retaliation.

Blair smiled, looking extremely pleased with himself as he glanced back at Jim. "Now, you stay there and I'll go make you some herbal tea."

"Not that monkey pee you call tea," Jim protested, struggling to get to his feet.

"No you don't." Sandburg placed a firm hand on the detective's chest and pushed him back. "I know where your handcuffs are, and I won't hesitate to use them," Blair threatened, eliciting another chuckle from Simon.

The detective threw his Captain an evil glare. "I'm not sick," he rasped.

Simon raised his eyebrows. "Of course not, Jim. Your voice is just changing."

That comment provoked a burst of laughter from Blair, and the Sentinel looked furiously between the two men. "Did you come here for a specific purpose, Simon," Jim asked, his voice displaying his irritation.

"Yes I did," Simon said, looking at Blair. "The D.A. just informed me that Kunsch gave a full confession in exchange for a recommendation against the maximum sentence."

Blair's smile faded. "Oh. Well, I guess that's a good thing."

"He's should get fifteen years. Billy's sentence will probably be somewhat lower in light of your statement," Banks told the anthropologist.

Blair nodded, sinking back onto the couch.

"You okay, Chief," Jim asked.

Blair looked up at the Sentinel, and, after a moment, revived his smile. "Yeah. I'm fine." He pointed a finger at the detective. "But you are going to get out of that chair and go to bed."

Jim cocked an eyebrow, shaking his head. "No can do, Chief. As an anthropologist, you should know that tradition dictates that the sick vegetate on the couch in front of the television while others wait on them hand and foot."

Blair raised his eyebrows. "Oh, so now you don't mind if I'm not 'resting'?"

Jim shook his head. "You'll be resting, Sandburg," Jim said, looking pointedly at Simon. "It IS your day off, Sir, isn't it?"

Simon's face registered his sudden dismay. He raised his hands in he air and took a step toward the door. "Oh no. Absolutely not. I've got better things to do than baby-sit you two."

Jim shook his head. "Uh, if I recall, you said you owed me for keeping quiet about that little Pekingese incident." Jim rose from his chair and shuffled over to the couch, sitting down next to Sandburg. "But, if you'd rather--" He was stopped mid-sentence by an unexpected cough.

"You're the most aggravating pain-in-the-ass I've ever met, Ellison," Simon growled.

Jim lifted the blanket and threw half of it over Blair, placing his arm across the young man's shoulder and leaning back. Sandburg broke into a conspiratory grin and snuggled cozily beneath the blanket.

"What Pekingese incident," Sandburg asked innocently, glancing up at Simon.

The Captain shook his head. "Never mind, Sandburg!" He glared at Jim. "Don't think I won't figure out a way to get you back for this."

Jim grinned, placing his feet up on the coffee table. A moment later, Blair followed suit.

"Whattya want for breakfast, Chief," Jim asked, glancing pointedly at Simon.

Blair looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully. "You know, I'd really like one of those bran muffins from the bakery on the corner."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, I could go for a muffin myself," he said.

Simon did not look pleased, but he spun on his heals and headed for the door. "Fine," the large man huffed. "What the hell did I do to deserve these two," he grumbled on his way out.

Jim chuckled as Simon slammed the door. "You know, Chief," he said, giving his partner's shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "There's nothing sweeter than the taste of revenge."


The End

Wow! I'm finished! :-) This story started out with a plot, honest... but somewhere along the way the plot went AWOL, and a diligent search failed to uncover its whereabouts. Please note, however, that I have placed an A.P.B out on the plot, so be advised to keep a look-out for a worn-looking and amorphous little plot, A.K.A. "storyline".

If you find the missing plot, or just want to send me comments reaffirming my decision to post this story even after losing sight of the plot, you can e-mail me.