This story immediately follows S2P2.

RAIN

It was raining. The air was hot, humid, and sticky. Blair Sandburg stood on the beach, only a block away from the hotel. His jeans and flannel shirt hung heavily, plastered to his body, and his long curls snaked down his neck, glued to his skin by the suffocating moisture in the air.

He lowered himself to the sand and brought his knees to his chest, resting his chin on them as he studied the waves. Breathing was difficult. His chest was tight, and he felt a cough coming on. The doctor back at Cascade General had reluctantly discharged Blair and instructed him to take it easy. Rest in bed. Ingest plenty of fluids. The usual.

Blair had broken all the physician’s orders, and he knew he’d probably damned his recovering lungs, but at the moment, he didn’t care. He had things going through his head – too many things -- and he’d needed to get out of the claustrophobic hotel room and, especially, away from the smothering attentions from Jim, Simon, and Megan. He’d waited until Simon and Megan had retired to their rooms and Jim was in the bathroom. With a yell over the shower that he was going to the front desk, Blair left the room. That was over twenty minutes ago, and he figured by now Jim had to be out of the shower and wondering about his absence.

He watched the waves crash against the shore, and images from not-so-long ago played in his head. Jim and Alex on the sand. Looking at the barrel of a gun pointed directly at him. Jim holding Alex, caressing her, and finally, forcing her to lower the weapon.

He reviewed his own explanation for Jim’s actions. Genetic imperative. It made sense. So much sense, in fact, that Blair knew his hypothesis was correct. It had to be.

He closed his eyes, banishing the images of Jim and Alex, and focused on simply breathing. In. Out. In. Out. The tightness in his chest remained, and on the fifth breath, he couldn’t suppress the cough that exploded from his lungs, erupting out of him with the force of jackhammer.

It took him almost a minute to get his breathing under control.

“What the hell are you doing out here, Sandburg? You trying to kill yourself?”

Blair didn’t bother turning around. He tried to think of an appropriate answer, but nothing came to mind, so he opted for silence.

After a few seconds, the weight of a leather jacket descended over Blair’s shoulders, and Jim dropped to the sand next to Blair, his legs spread casually, knees bent. “Okay,” Jim began, an unusual gentleness in his voice, “so we’re going to sit here in silence getting soaked?”

Blair sighed, grateful for the jacket, relishing the lingering warmth from Jim’s body heat. “This is going to get ruined.”

“The leather’s weather-treated, and even if it does, it’s just a jacket. You want to tell me why you’re out here?”

Blair blinked against the rain beating down on his eyelids. “I won’t be able to sleep. I needed to try to clear my head.”

“How’s it going?”

Blair managed a smile at the nonchalance in Jim’s voice. “Not so great.”

Jim sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, wiping away the rain. “Look, Chief, I’m sorry. The apology is overdue, I know. When we get back home, I’ll move your stuff back to the loft myself. You won’t have to worry about anything except recuperating.”

Blair’s smile faded, and a sadness welled in his chest. “That won’t be necessary, Jim.” He hadn’t realized he’d made that decision until the words flowed off his tongue.

Jim tensed and turned toward Blair. “What? You’re not coming back?”

“You don’t want me there.” It was a realization Blair didn’t want to face. From the first day he’d moved into the loft, he’d been merely a guest living under Jim’s roof, following Jim’s rules. It was a strain on both their friendship and working relationship.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Chief. I wasn’t thinking rationally when I kicked you out, and if I didn’t want you in the loft, I wouldn’t ask you back.”

Blair turned his head to look at Jim. He saw guarded uncertainty in the older man’s eyes. “Yes, you would. You feel guilty because you kicked me out, and as a result, I was at the university at an obscenely early hour, all alone, a sitting duck for Alex.” Jim’s jaw twitched, and his eyes snapped to the ocean. Blair’s gaze followed, and he looked out over the waves. “It’s not your fault, that’s not what I’m saying, but I know that’s how you feel. Face it, you’re asking me back because you feel sorry for me and you’re dealing with misplaced guilt.” He shrugged and took a deep breath, feeling another cough swelling in his lungs. “I’ve overstayed my welcome. That’s okay, Jim. I’ve been on my own for a very long time. I know how to make do.”

Blair took another deep breath, which turned into a cough. He covered his mouth with his hands and rode it out. He knew he had to get dry soon, or he’d end up with pneumonia.

“Let’s discuss this back at the hotel.”

“Okay,” Blair conceded, that single word heavy with fatigue. He felt like shit, and he knew it would be suicide to spend anymore time out in the rain.

He pushed himself to his feet and found himself surprisingly out of breath from that simple motion. The ground seemed to tilt toward him when strong hands grabbed his shoulders.

“Beautiful,” Jim said, an edge to his voice. “You’re going to end up back in the hospital.”

Blair didn’t argue. Jim was probably right, anyway, so Blair didn’t bother trying to shrug off Jim’s support. Besides, he was pretty sure he needed that support to remain upright.

By the time they got back to the room, Blair was wheezing. It felt like there was a band around his chest, squeezing the life out of him, and dots danced in his vision. The coat fell away from him, and he shivered from the small breeze in the room caused by the air conditioning.

Blair felt Jim pushing him toward the bed, and he moved automatically, dropping on his butt to the edge of the mattress, barely managing to remain upright.

“Get out of those clothes. Did you pack sweats?”

Blair barely found the energy to nod. “Pants only. Just grab me a t-shirt.”

“Your lungs are already congested,” Jim said, hurrying toward Blair’s duffel bag. It was the only luggage he’d brought. He was a master at traveling light. “Christ, Chief, I don’t know what goes through your head sometimes.” Jim ruffled through the bag and pulled out a pair of gray sweatpants and a green T-shirt.

“Too many things,” Blair muttered tiredly, sliding out of his wet jeans and tossing his soaked shirt onto the floor. A sliver of guilt nagged at him for making such a mess and leaving Jim to clean up, but he knew if he tried to pick them up, he’d wind up with his face to the carpet.

He felt himself tilting again, and this time he was stopped by the mattress. His head sunk into the pillow, his wet hair clinging to his neck, and as the air-conditioned breeze tickled his skin, he shivered and rolled, grabbing the blanket and wrapping himself with the thick material.

~~~~

Jim looked up, the pants and shirt in his hand, and froze when he realized Blair had cocooned himself within the blanket and was already sound asleep. With a sigh, he stuffed the clothes back into the bag and walked to the bed. Blair was curled toward the far wall, his back to Jim, and Jim took a moment to listen to the young man’s breathing.

The congestion in Blair’s lungs was obvious from the unhealthy rattling that accompanied each breath. Jim was pretty sure it wasn’t yet pronounced enough for normal ears to hear, but if Blair didn’t get medical treatment soon, it could turn into something nasty.

He walked around to the other side of the bed and extended one hand, stopping just short of touching Blair’s forehead. He frowned, his suspicions confirmed. Blair was fighting a fever. First thing in the morning, he’d find a local clinic and drag Blair to get checked out.

Taking a fatigued breath, Jim moved away from the bed and headed to the bathroom. He’d showered just before Blair had snuck out, and now he needed another one. Moving into the bathroom, he undressed and quickly turned on the spray, letting the warm water rinse away the lingering grains of sand, then he got out and quickly dried himself. It took him only a few minutes to get into a fresh pair of boxers and gather up the wet clothes. He draped them all neatly over the side of the tub, then headed back into the living area. He found the rectangular thermostat near the door and raised the room’s temperature, then turned off the light. His eyes adjusted to the darkness almost immediately. Since there was only one bed in the room, he shuffled to the armchair positioned in the far corner and curled up, closing his eyes. It took him a long time before he fell asleep.

~~~

Blair came awake with a brutal coughing that rattled his lungs and scorched his throat. It was dark all around him, and he realized he was laying on something soft. He sat up, trying to clear his chest, unable to stop coughing, and found his arms and legs restrained. He struggled, flailing, but whatever held him remained unyielding.

“Take it easy,” a voice instructed from the darkness, and Blair felt hands on him,. Seconds later, he was free.

“Jim?” Blair managed through coughs, blinking against the blackness.

“You were expecting someone else?”

Blair felt a hand on his shoulder, supporting him. Finally, the coughing died down, and he gasped, struggling to fill his oxygen-starved lungs. “Can you…turn on the light?”

The hand left Blair’s shoulder, and a moment later, light flooded the room. Blair blinked, wincing, and squinted up at Jim as the detective made his way back to the bed.

“I’m going to call the front desk and see if there’s a hospital around here with an emergency room.”

Blair shook his head. “It can wait until daylight. I think I’m okay now.”

“Didn’t the doctor give you any medication?”

Blair nodded. “He wrote me a couple of prescriptions, but Megan and I left in such a hurry, I didn’t get a chance to fill them.”

Jim looked heavenward and sat on the edge of the bed. “Unbelievable, though I shouldn’t be surprised.” He looked straight at Blair, his expression stone. “This is serious, Sandburg. Your lungs—“

“I know.” Blair waved a dismissive hand in the air. “The doctor gave me the full briefing.”

Jim shook his head. “I don’t know why you even came here. You should’ve stayed in Cascade.”

Something twisted in Blair’s chest, and he slid off the mattress, pushing himself to his feet. “You were going after another Sentinel. I thought – maybe – you could use my help. That’s not the first thing in my life I’ve been wrong about.” The words came out with more bitterness than Blair intended, and he turned abruptly away from Jim and hurried to the bathroom. “Now excuse me. I’ve gotta take a piss.”

He didn’t make it past the bed. Jim shot around and intercepted Blair, stopping him with a hand on his chest. “I didn’t mean it like that. You were an asset on this trip, but I didn’t lock lips with you back at the fountain to have you drive yourself into the grave days later. You're sick. Your lungs are filling with fluid, and you’ve got a fever. We’re in a third world country, miles away from anything I’d consider to be a quality medical facility, and despite all that, after traipsing around in the jungle and sleeping on leaves, you took a stroll in the rain. I’m a little concerned here.”

Blair felt his irritation softening under Jim’s concerned gaze. “Look, I understand, and I appreciate it, but there’s not much we can do about it right now. I’ll be fine. I’ve had bronchitis worst than this.”

“Well, I hate to break it to you, Chief, but my ears are telling me a different story.”

Blair sighed and took a step back, folding his arms. “Well, what do you suggest?” His legs were starting to shake from the few minutes of standing, and he moved back to the bed and sat down.

Jim frowned, his eyes narrowing. “When’s the last time you had anything substantial to eat or drink?”

The question surprised Blair. In all the chaos, he hadn’t thought about eating or drinking. The last time he could remember having anything was at the small café, and even that had been interrupted by gunfire.

“Uh…”

Jim’s nostrils flared. “I thought so.”

“Hey, man, don’t give me attitude. It’s not my fault my last chance at a meal was interrupted by automatic weapons.”

Jim exhaled a loud breath, a flash of guilt crossing his face. “I know, Chief. I know. I should’ve thought about it and suggested we all get something to eat rather than head straight for the hotel.”

“Hey, man, we were tired, dirty, and sweaty. No one was thinking of anything other than a shower and bed.”

“Well,” Jim glanced at his watch, “it’s too late, now.” He marched to the pack laying on the floor next to the armchair. “I’ve got a couple of leftover power bars. How does that sound?”

Blair shrugged one shoulder. “I’ll give it a shot, though the way I feel right now, I can’t guarantee it’ll stay down.”

Jim’s lips formed a tight, straight line as he rummaged through the pack. “I’m out of water, and you need fluids.”

“Thanks, Doctor Ellison, but I think I can make it until morning,” he countered, slightly out of breath from talking faster than his lungs could work.

Jim looked at him and raised a skeptical eyelid. “From the way you look and sound right now, I’m not so sure.”

Blair fell back against the bed and sighed. “Okay, I’ll admit I feel like crap, but as you’ve pointed out, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it right now.” He stared up at the ceiling. The horizontal position was already making his chest tighter, and he closed his eyes to focus on NOT coughing.

Blair heard a sigh, then Jim said, "Fine, but first thing tomorrow, we're going to a clinic."

“Conceded, but forget about the Power Bar.  I really don't think I'll keep it down.” Blair pushed himself to a sitting position and gestured toward the arm chair. “Let’s switch sleeping arrangements, okay? I think my lungs prefer a vertical position.”

Jim frowned but nodded. “All right.”

The deal struck, Blair rose to his feet, and Jim headed to the bed, grabbing the extra pillow from the head of the mattress and tossing it to Blair.

“Thanks.” With a yawn, Blair moved to the armchair and lowered himself to the cushion. He placed the pillow behind his head, at the base of his skull, and closed his eyes.  He doubted he’d get much sleep, but at least he could breathe relatively easily.

The light beating at his closed eyelids disappeared with the click of a switch. Blair listened to Jim’s footsteps, then the creaking of the mattress. Moments later, the room was silent except for the soft whirring of the air conditioning.

~ ~ ~

Jim opened his eyes. The room was dim, and he glanced at his watch.

Crap! He sat up, blinking at the numbers. It was already ten in the morning, local time. His eyes darted to Blair, who was still sprawled in the armchair, his eyes closed, breathing with a firm rattle in his chest.

Jim tossed the covers off and moved to the window, parting the curtains halfway to allow the morning sunlight into the room.

“Wow,” Blair muttered, “I didn’t realize it was already morning.”

Jim frowned and turned to his friend. “Did you sleep well?”

“Ah, sure. Got a total of five minutes. Maybe.” Blair gave into a short spasm of coughing, then rose to his feet and headed to the bathroom. A soft tinkling sounded, followed by the flush of a the toilet and running water.

Jim moved to the telephone and dialed the front desk. The clerk spoke English fairly well, albeit with a thick accent, and it took Jim only a few minutes to find out that the nearest medical facility was a naval hospital about three miles away.

Blair shuffled out of the bathroom and grabbed his duffel bag from the floor. Setting it on the bed, he ruffled through the contents and pulled out a T-shirt and a pair of jeans.

“There’s a hospital not too far away,” Jim commented as he ducked into the bathroom to do his morning duties.

“I wonder if my insurance will cover me here?” Blair asked, his voice coming in low from the other room, but Jim’s sensitive ears picked up the words easily.

“They usually have some kind of reimbursement provisions. Don’t worry about it, Chief. It’s a naval hospital, and the cost of medical care here is substantially less here than in the U.S., especially with the exchange rate. I’ll front any costs.”

“Thanks, but I might have some room on my VISA, if they take it.” More coughing followed that comment.

Jim quickly brushed his teeth. He made a mental note to call Simon and Megan before leaving to let them know there was a small change in plans. Hopefully, they’d still be able to catch their afternoon flight.

~ ~ ~

“Respiración hacia fuera.”

Blair complied with the physician’s instructions and released a slow, rattling breath, mindlessly swinging his legs over the edge of the examination table. He wasn’t fluent in Spanish, but he knew enough of the basics to get by. Fortunately, Jim’s Spanish was better, and whatever Blair was unable to understand, Jim translated...which gave the Sentinel an excuse to be in the examination room.

“Cada uno en los ESTADOS UNIDOS consigue las vacunaciones para las cosas como Rubella?” the doctor asked as he wrote something down on the chart.

Blair frowned. The physician had spoken much too fast, and all Blair was able to understand was the word Rubella.

Rubella? His heart thundered, and he tried to remember exactly what that was. He knew it was related to measles and scarlet fever, but he wasn’t quite sure about the details. His mind raced. When had he last been vaccinated? Could he have contracted that locally?

Blair swallowed. “Tengo?”

The doctor looked up and smiled, shaking his head. “No. No. No.”

Blair looked at Jim, noting with some irritation that the older man was smirking.

“He’s asking if everyone in the United States gets vaccinated for things like Rubella.”

Blair released a breath that turned into a cough. He nodded, and when the coughing died down, said, “Oh. Okay.”

Jim looked at the doctor and said something in Spanish. Despite Jim’s near fluency, his accent was horrible, Blair noted with some satisfaction.

“Ah.” The doctor removed the end of the stethoscope from Blair’s chest and draped the instrument around his neck. “

“Qué sobre tuberculosis?”

Blair stopped breathing? Tuberculosis? “Tengo?”

The doctor shook his head. “No. No. No.”

Blair resumed breathing. Great, so he didn’t have Rubella or Tuberculosis, but he did have a chatty doctor who seemed to enjoy inspiring fear by rattling off everything in Spanish except for the names of diseases.

Jim chuckled. “Chill out, Sandburg. He’s just making conversation. You don’t have Tuberculosis.”

Blair scowled and threw a glare at the detective. “Easy for you to say. I think he’s talking fast just so I won’t be able to understand his Spanish.”

The doctor pulled a pad from his desk and scribbled on the top sheet. He looked at Jim and said something in Spanish, and Blair was able to gather something about a prescription and a pharmacy a few blocks away. The physician tore off the small page and held it out to Blair.

“Esto debe ayudarle, pero consigue comprobada hacia fuera por su doctor una vez que usted vuelva a los Estados Unidos.”

“Gracias.” Blair took the paper and glanced at the handwriting but was unable to decipher it.

“He’s prescribed you some medication, but suggests you go to a doctor as soon as we’re back in the U.S.,” Jim translated.

Blair managed a smile and hopped off the examination table. The physician walked them out, gesturing to a woman dressed in white at the front desk.. Blair and Jim walked up to the young woman. She smiled at them, said something in Spanish, and then typed on a keyboard attached to an archaic-looking computer. A dot-matrix printer buzzed to life, making obnoxious noises as it spewed out a sheet of paper. She tore off the page and handed it to Blair, who graciously accepted. He scanned the page, realized it was a bill, and mentally did the conversion in his head to find out how much he owed.

“Seven U.S. dollars?” Blair blinked, then redid the calculations. He looked up at Jim. “Can you believe that?”

Jim peered at the invoice and raised his eyebrows. “Hmmmm. You need me to float you a loan for that?”

Blair’s eyes narrowed. “Funny.” He reached into his back jean pocket and pulled out the appropriate amount of local currency. He’d managed to stop at a counter in the airport to convert the cash he had on him into local money. He’d also bought a few traveler’s checks, but the whole trip was so rushed and his bank account so low that he’d only been able to draw on about seventy-five dollars. He’d only been able to charge half the cost of the ticket to his card. He’d had to borrow the rest from Megan.

That done, Blair took the invoice and his prescription and headed out. Jim followed, increasing his stride to fall alongside Blair. With a glance at his watch, Jim pointed to the left. “Pharmacy’s that way, the doctor said. We’ve got a few hours ‘til we have to be at the airport, but we better hurry.”

“Right.” Blair followed Jim, not looking forward to standing in the lines that seemed to accompany all international departures.

~ ~ ~

Jim sighed as the plane touched down, the impact jostling him in his seat. He looked over at Blair, who was finally asleep, his head tilted toward Jim and his jaw open. Drool trickled from the side of his mouth, carving a line down his chin.

"Sandburg." Jim gently elbowed the young man. "Wake up."

"Huh?" Blair jerked awake, blinking rapidly, and looked around. His brow creased as he peered out the window. "We land?"

"Your powers of observation never cease to amaze me. Now, wipe the drool off your chin before you scare the other passengers."

Blair blinked again, still bleary-eyed, and wiped his chin with the back of his hand. "How long was I out?"

Jim unbuckled his seat belt. "About forty-five minutes."

"Oh, man," Blair groaned, tilting his head back against the seat, "that's all?"

"You can sleep all you want back at the loft," Jim said casually, hoping Blair's 'decision' back at the beach had been induced by sickness and exhaustion.

Maybe, if he was really lucky, Sandburg either wouldn't remember it, or would be too tired to even think about moving at the moment. That would, at least, give them time to get back into the swing of things, and hopefully, by the time everything was back to normal, Sandburg would forget about moving.

Jim stood to stretch his legs. He and Sandburg had the two seats closest to the window, and the older woman in the aisle seat had already merged with the stream of exiting passengers. Since he wasn't in any rush, Jim had no desire to fight the crowd and decided to wait until most of the passengers had passed before making his escape. Simon and Megan had been seated near the front of the plane, so he figured they were already out.

"Uh, yeah," Blair finally answered. "Look, Jim..."

*No such luck,* Jim silently mused. Apparently, Sandburg's memory was as sharp as ever.

Jim turned to Blair. "You're sick, Chief. Why don't we just put everything on hold until you're better? I'll recruit Simon into helping me move all your stuff back, then when you're back to 100%, if you want to move, I'll help you search the ads."

Blair sighed, his shoulders slumping. "How 'bout you let me crash there tonight and don't bother moving my stuff? I put most of it in storage just before I bought the plane ticket."

"Okay, fine. Whatever." Jim didn't want to argue about it in public. The conversation could wait 'til later.

A few minutes later, the last of the passengers hurried past Jim, and he slid into the aisle. His height allowed him to easily reach into the overhead compartment and retrieve both his and Sanburg's bags. Glancing at the pale anthropologist, Jim slung his carry-on across his chest and carried Blair's duffel in his right hand.

Blair pushed himself to his feet, and Jim began the walk to the exit. He stopped when he reached the terminal and turned, waiting for Blair, who was walking sluggishly.

“Oh, man,” Blair rubbed his hands over his face when he reached Jim, “I can’t wait to get h... to the loft.” He held out a hand toward the duffel bag, but Jim simply turned and resumed his trek.

He got only a few feet when he ran into Simon and Megan.

“There you are,” the captain said, adjusting the large bag he carried on one shoulder. “What took you so long.”

“I decided to wait until the crowd was gone.”

“So,” Megan interjected, a smaller carry-on held in her right hand, “what are we doing for rides home? Sandy and I took a cab here.”

“So did Jim and I.” Simon switched the bag to the other shoulder. “I guess we’ll catch another cab. The four of us *might* be able to fit into one.”

“Well, I’ve gotta stop by the baggage claim and pick up my suitcase. How ‘bout I meet you outside?”

“I’ll go with you,” Simon said with a lingering glance at Jim.

Jim nodded, guessing that was his captain’s hint for him to have a few quality words with Sandburg, as if they hadn’t had more than enough time to talk during the flight. He looked at Blair’s pale, weary face and figured it was obvious to anyone that the kid felt like shit and things weren’t back to normal between them.

“Okay, Chief, what do you say we get out of here?” He reached out and gently set a hand on Blair’s shoulder, pleased when the young man managed a smile, and started his feet moving toward the exit.

Fortunately, the exit wasn’t too far away. They traversed a long hallway, made a left turn, and saw their escape. Jim hurried through the exit doors, blinking against the light. His body was all out of whack from the time change, the traveling, and the layovers. In his ranger days, his body had been used to such stresses, but that was a while ago, and he was no longer used to such change.

“Home, sweet home,” Blair muttered from behind him.

Suddenly a barrage of flashes went off, and Jim jerked away from the brightness, dots dancing in his vision.

“Hey, watch it!,” Jim heard Blair yell, then felt hands on his arms.

Voices bombarded him, and he blinked, clearing his vision, until he saw the sea of faces around him.

Reporters.

“Mr. Sandburg, have you fully recovered from your ordeal?”

“Did you have any professional or personal involvement with Alex Barnes?”

“Detective, any word on Alex Barnes' whereabouts?”

“Has the nerve gas been recovered?”

“What the hell is this?” Jim growled, briefly glancing at Blair’s concerned and confused gaze before glaring at the reporters.

“I don’t know, man.”

Jim pushed past one of the reporters. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure Blair was following, and headed for a cab. The group of reporters followed, and he ducked into the backseat of a waiting cab, scooting toward the far door to give Blair room to get in.

Sandburg slid in after him and slammed the door closed. “Unbelievable.” He coughed and ran his fingers through his long curls, then looked at the cab driver as the reporters hovered outside the vehicle. One of them tapped on the glass near Blair, but he ignored them. “I’m sorry,” he told the driver. “We’ve got two more people coming. Can you wait here? Just don’t open the windows.”

The cab driver, an older man with glasses and dark skin, nodded as he leaned forward to start the meter. “Sure thing, but the clock’s ticking.”

“I can’t believe this,” Jim glared at one of the reporters leaning near the vehicle to peer inside the window. “Why is this such a big story, and how did they know to find us here?”

“You’re asking me? I don’t know.” Blair gave into another short burst of coughing. “There were a few reporters at the hospital, but nothing like this.”

“Hey, now I recognize you.” The cab driver turned to look at Blair. “You’re that guy that was in the fountain at Rainier. I saw it on the news.”

Blair grimaced and took a breath. “Yeah, that’s me.”

The cab driver turned back around. “The stolen nerve gas made big headlines, and the governor even issued a statement. They even had footage of the crime scene at the university.” The driver glanced back at Blair. “The news said you were helping that woman. That true?”

Jim saw a flash of guilt in Blair’s eyes as the young man glanced at him.

“Look, this is an ongoing investigation,” Jim told the driver sharply. “We’re not at liberty to discuss it.” That was a slight lie. The investigation was pretty much over. Alex was in custody, and the nerve gas had been recovered. There wasn’t much left to investigate.

Jim saw the tall, dark, and imposing figure of Simon Banks push through the crowd of reporters. Megan was close behind him.

“Some room, people!” Simon barked at the reporters as he opened the front door and slid into the seat, quickly closing the door and sealing himself off from the reporters.

Blair scooted over to allow Megan into the back. It was a snug fit with the three of them, and Jim found himself jammed against the door.

“Let’s go,” Simon said, giving the driver the locations.

Jim got his seat belt buckled and, with a relieved sigh, felt the car move and watched as they left the reporters behind.

~ ~ ~

“Thank God.” Blair leaned against the closed loft door and closed his eyes. They had encountered a couple of reporters outside the building, but they’d hurried past them without comment. Now, finally, they were in the loft.

“We’ve got messages,” Jim said.

Blair opened his eyes and hung up his coat, then moved to stand next to Jim at the answering machine. The loft was empty except for a few necessities, one of which was the phone. When he saw the two little red numbers on the machine indicating the large number of waiting messages, he shook his head. “I bet most of those are reporters.” With a sigh, he turned and headed toward the bathroom. “I’m going to take a leak and head to bed.” He stopped, glancing at the open doorway to his room, and stiffened when he noticed the emptiness. “Oh.”

“Damn. I’m sorry, Chief, everything’s still in the basement. You can sleep in my bed.”

Blair turned to him. “And where are you going to sleep?”

“I’ll crash on the floor.”

“The bed’s big enough for two.”

Jim tilted his head. “I’ll crash on the floor.”

Blair shook his head. “It’s a hard floor, Jim.”

“I was in the army, Sandburg, remember? I can deal with it one night. First thing tomorrow, I’ll work on getting all the furniture back up here.”

“Okay, fine. I’m too tired to argue, and I really do want a bed. Tell me you’ve got extra pillows, though. I need to raise my chest.”

Jim nodded. “In the closet under the stairs. I’ll get them and bring them up.”

“Thanks.” Blair headed to the stairs.

He stopped at the foot of them and looked up. With a deep breath, he started to climb, taking slow steps. By the time he was halfway up, he was panting. He paused for a few seconds and tried to catch his breath.

“You okay, Chief?” Jim asked from behind Blair.

“Yeah.” Blair glanced over his shoulder at Jim. “I just need a moment.” He took a few more breaths and started his climb again, this time with Jim’s hand on his back.

By the time Blair made it to the top, he was out of breath and seeing dark spots. He dropped to the mattress and worked on taking in oxygen. He couldn’t believe he’d gotten so exerted just climbing the few steps to the loft bedroom.

“Here you go.” Jim stacked the pillows.

Blair nodded, pulling off his shoes and sliding out of his jeans. “Thanks, man.” He removed his shirt and slid under the blankets, closing his eyes. He was already starting to drift off when he heard Jim’s footsteps on the stairs.

~ ~ ~

Jim headed to the bathroom. He stripped quickly and turned on the shower, waiting until it was comfortably hot before stepping beneath the spray. He let the water pound the tired muscles of his back and shoulders, easing away the tension that had accumulated as a result of carrying luggage and sitting long hours in a cramped airplane seat.

He was exhausted. He focused on the roar of the spray, letting it block out all other sounds until it filled his head, almost hypnotic in its intensity.

~ ~ ~

Blair sprang awake, his chest tight. He suddenly couldn’t breathe, and no matter how hard he tried, the most he could manage was a pained wheezing. He stumbled out of bed, his heart pounding, frantic for oxygen. One hand curled around the railing, and he pulled himself toward the staircase. He tried to call out, but he couldn’t do anything other than wheeze, his chest heaving with the effort to pull in air.

Blackness encroached on the edges of his vision, and the room spun. He felt himself falling forward, and his cheek hit the floor. His body jerked violently, fighting against the agony of suffocation, and he reached out, desperate, but he lost the battle, and the darkness took him.

~ ~ ~

Jim turned off the spray, rolling his neck to further loosen his muscles. He grabbed a towel and quickly dried off, then wrapped it around his waist as he padded into the living room. Glacing up at his bedroom, he frowned when he didn’t see the top of Blair’s head through the rails. Extending his hearing, his frown deepened when he couldn’t find the familiar heartbeat.

Automatically, his legs sent him moving toward the stairs. He tried to focus his hearing, telling himself his ears were just adjusting after the shower, but his pace increased, and soon he was jogging up the steps. He got halfway up when he saw Blair lying limp on the floor, one arm stretched in front of him, his curls sprawled chaotically around his head.

“Blair!” Jim took the remaining steps two at a time and dove into a crouch next to the young man. His heart in his throat, he shook his head, denying the lack of an audible heartbeat, and placed his fingers on the side of Blair’s throat.

“No. No. No.” Failing to find a pulse, he quickly but carefully flipped Blair over, then tilted the young man’s head back.

Jim placed his mouth over Blair’s and began breathing. He counted in his head, and then moved to doing the chest compressions. “Come on. Come on, Chief.” He tried to focus inwardly as his body went through the motions, hoping he’d again find the connection to the spirit plane that had brought Blair back from the dead last time, but nothing happened.

When several minutes passed and he got no response, he shot to his feet and flew down the stairs, grabbing the phone and dialing 911, then he ran back up to the bedroom. He held the cordless receiver with his shoulder and resumed CPR, though the motions were awkward with the phone cradled against his ear. Quickly, he relayed the information to the dispatcher, then set the phone down, the line still connected, and continued trying to force life into Blair’s unresponsive body.

~ ~ ~

Jim sat in the waiting room, tapping his foot against the floor. Images played over the screen of the television hanging on the far wall, and an obnoxious song, backround for a commercial, grated against his eardrums.

He shifted in his seat and crossed his arms, then uncrossed them and fidgeted again. He couldn’t find a comfortable position. Finally, he shot out of the chair and began pacing, ignoring the curious looks from the other occupants.

He hated waiting. He’d rode in the ambulance with Sandburg, and try as they might, the paramedics had been unable to get a stable heartbeat. By the time they arrived, Blair was still lifeless, his chest rising and falling only from the air forced in and out of his lungs through the piece of plastic covering his mouth and nose.

“Jim!”

Jim’s head snapped up, and he turned toward his captain’s voice. Simon hurried toward him, his face grim. “What happened exactly?”

Jim took a breath. He’d called Simon from his cellphone, but he’d only told him the basics – that Blair had stopped breathing and been rushed to the hospital. “I’m not sure. Blair was in bed. I took a shower. When I came out, I checked on him. He wasn’t breathing.” He shook his head. “I don’t know how long he was like that. I couldn’t have been in the shower for more than ten minutes.”

“What did—“

“Excuse me.”

Jim turned to see an older man in green scrubs. His face was worn with deep lines, and his gray hair was cut short, spiking up in different directions and giving him a haggard appearance. “Are you James Ellison?”

Jim nodded. “Yes. I brought in Blair Sandburg. How is he?”

The doctor gestured to a relatively quiet and isolated corner of the waiting room. His face was grim, and Jim’s gut twisted. He straightened, and held his breath, waiting for an answer he didn’t want to hear.

“I’m Doctor Smith.” The physician took a breath. “I’m sorry. We used all the skills and tools at our disposal, but—“

Jim’s knees weakened, and he staggered, falling against the wall. He shook his head. “No. No. No.” This didn’t make sense. How could he have brought Sandburg back only to lose him so quickly?

The rest of the doctor’s words were blur. Finally, Jim felt a hand on his arm, shaking him.

“Jim. Jim, come on,” Simon urged.

“This can’t be happening,” Jim muttered, looking up at his captain, not surprised to find tears in the older man’s eyes. “He was sick, but he didn’t seem that bad.”

“We have to fill out some paperwork. Why don’t you sit down?” Simon’s words were low, and they trembled with emotion.

Jim shook his head, denying the doctor’s words. They couldn’t be true. Less than an hour ago, Blair was alive. Now, he was dead. Just like that. How could it happen so fast? How could everything have changed so completely in less than an hour?

“Come on. Sit down.” Jim felt Simon’s hand on his arm, guiding him.

He forced his legs to hold his weight and allowed himself to be guided into a chair. He’d have to get a hold of Naomi. God, how could he tell her Blair was gone?

"I don't understand." Jim looked up into his captain's distressed face. "How could I not have heard something?"

His stomach twisted, and he swallowed the bile that rose in his throat. Blair had been on his stomach when Jim found him, one hand stretched toward the stairs.

"Jesus, Simon." Jim closed his eyes. "He was trying to get help. He was dying, and I didn't hear a thing. The damn shower...."

"Jim, it's not your fault." Simon rubbed a hand beneath his glasses and wiped at his wet eyes. "It just happened. The doctor said his lungs.... He just.... God, poor kid."

~ ~ ~

Simon pulled the sedan up to the entrance of the building. "Jim, are you sure? I really think you should stay at my place tonight."

"No, thank you, sir. I'd like to be alone."

"Do you need anything?"

Jim shook his head and opened the car door. "Thanks for the ride. Tomorrow's, uh..."

"Monday, and I won't expect you in."

Jim nodded. "I have a lot to do, gotta locate Naomi, find out where Blair stored his things, inform the university."

"I'll take care of finding out where Blair stored his stuff, and I'll contact the university."

"Okay." Jim slid out of the car, moving on autopilot. "Thanks, sir."

Closing the door behind him, Jim walked into the building. He opted for the stairs, pushing himself mindlessly up each step. Finally, he emerged onto the third floor, retrieved his keys from his jacket pocket, and let himself into the loft.

He stopped in the entrance, his eyes scanning the empty apartment and, finally, lingering on the French doors to Blair's bedroom. His eyes grew hot, and he blinked, his vision blurring.

Jim closed the door and locked the chain, then leaned his forehead against the wood and slid to the floor. The loft was far too quiet, and he knew it would remain that way from now on, for as long as he lived in it.
~ ~ ~

A knocking, along with a vibration, woke Jim, and he opened his eyes. It took him a second to orient himself, and he realized he was on the floor, leaning against the door.

"Just a minute," he grumbled, pushing himself to his feet. The knocking stopped, and for that, he was grateful. He avoided looking at the empty living room and, instead, unlocked the chain and opened the door.

Megan stood in the hallway, her eyes puffy and her nose red. "Jim," she croaked, her voice unusually soft, "I'm so sorry."

Jim cleared his throat. "You didn't have to come, Connor."

"Do you need anything?"

He shook his head. "No, thank you." There was only one thing he needed at the moment, and it was beyond anyone's power to give him.

She shifted to look past Jim. "Your apartment's still empty. Do you need some help moving things back?"

"No, thank you." He took a breath. He didn't have the energy for conversation, and he especially couldn't stand having to deal with sympathy from well-meaners. "If you don't mind," he began to close the door, "I'd like to be alone."

"But--"

He closed the door on her and locked the chain. He waited, holding his breath, until he heard her retreating footsteps, then he turned around, glanced at his watch, and decided to start on the unpleasant stuff.

He had to get a hold of Blair's mother.

~ ~ ~

Simon stared at the dark liquid in his coffee mug. His stomach was in knots, and he hadn't been able to eat breakfast. For a Monday morning, the bullpen was unusually quiet. News of Sandburg's sudden death had spread quickly and hit everyone brutally hard. It seemed worst this way -- having lost Blair and then gotten him back so miraculously, only to lose him again so soon.

He'd called Rainier and delivered the bad news. Megan had volunteered to track down the storage facility where Blair had put his belongings. There was bound to be a ticket or receipt in his office...or somewhere. And if all else failed, Megan could simply call all the facilities close to Rainier and the loft.

With a  sad sigh, Simon pushed his mug away. The coffee had grown cold, and he couldn't muster the will to pour himself another one.
~ ~ ~

Jim hung up the phone and scrubbed a hand across his face. Naomi was a hard person to track down, and the continued calls from reporters weren't helping. Sandburg's passing had already made the news, a blurb amidst the other chaos going on in the world. He hoped the reports were limited to the Cascade area. He'd hate for Naomi to find out about her son's death through a news report.

He knew Naomi always left contact information with Blair, but if there was a more recent number for her, Sandburg probably had it stuffed somewhere in his office, or...

Sandburg.

Jim looked around the still empty loft. "Damnit, Chief, why'd you have to follow me? You should've stayed here, in the hospital."

The phone rang, and Jim winced from the sudden auditory assault. Gritting his teeth, he quickly yanked up the receiver. "Ellison."

~ ~ ~

Simon's desk phone rang, and he took a steadying breath before answering it. "Banks here," he said, his voice sounding weary even to his own ears.

"Simon, this is Jim."

Simon straightened. "How are you holding up?"

"Okay, I guess. I just got a call from the hospital. I made arrangements to have Blair taken to Muffey Funeral Home. I guess I should coordinate a date for the service."

"Whatever date you want, Jim. I'm sure everyone here will make themselves available, and I can't think of any court appearances on schedule this week."

“Thanks, Simon.”

“Have you spoken with Sandburg’s mother yet?”

“No. I was going to head to his office and see if I could find contact information for her.”

Simon took another breath, picturing Jim, alone, going through Sandburg’s things at the office. “One of us can do that, if you like.”

There was a brief pause, then Jim answered, “No, thank you, sir. I’ll do it.”

“You sure?”

“Yes. Look, I’ve got to go. I have a lot to do. Thank you for your help.”

“Don’t mention it. Sandburg was special. We all miss him.”

“G-Goodbye.”

“Bye.”

The line ended, and Simon hung up the receiver and, with a tired sigh, leaned back in his chair. It was hard to believe that, only two days ago, Sandburg was hiking through the jungle with them, and now....

Swallowing hard, Simon pushed back his chair and shot to his feet. He’d check with Megan, see if she’d found the storage facility. He had to do something other than sit at his desk and pretend to work.

~ ~ ~

Jim looked at his reflection in the mirror. His face was old. Lines had crept up, framing his eyes and marring his forehead. Stubble darkened his chin. He knew he should clean himself up before heading to the university, but he didn’t care enough to take the effort. Everything was different now. He’d let Sandburg down. The vision had come true. Blair was dead, and he, Jim Ellison, was responsible. He’d kicked Blair out of the loft, and if he hadn’t done that, Blair wouldn’t have been at his office that ungodly hour, and Alex wouldn’t have had such easy access.

And then, once again, he’d taken off after her. He should have known Blair would follow. The kid always did, but if he had stayed in Cascade and simply alerted the authorities in Sierra Verde, Blair would’ve stayed as well and would probably still be alive.

*Fuck!* His hand shot out, sweeping the toothbrush holder and cup off the sink. He was such a screw up!

Jerking away from the sink, he stormed into the living room, grabbed his jacket from the coat rack and his keys from the basket, and headed out of the loft, slamming the door closed behind him.

He was at the truck before he even realized it, barely remembering the journey. Sliding behind the wheel, he started the engine and pulled a U-turn in the middle of the street, then drove the familiar route to Rainier.

When he pulled up outside of Hargrove, parking his truck next to the fountain, much like he’d done *that* day, he turned off the engine and sat there, his eyes glued to the water. Had it only been a few days ago that he’d climbed the steps and, feeling a tingling in the back of his neck, turned and saw Blair, his jacket billowing in the water, floating face down in the fountain?

He closed his eyes briefly, then flung open his door and slid out of the seat. He walked stiffly past the fountain, this time keeping his eyes firmly rooted to the doors at the top of the stairs. He forced his legs to carry him up, one step at a time, until he reached the top. Then, he pushed through the doors, walked a short distance down the hallway, made a left turn, and then he was there, in front of the frosted glass. He reached out and tried the knob, but it was locked.

He pulled out his cell phone and called Suzanne Tamaki’s office. When she answered, he was clipped and abrupt, not in the mood to be on the receiving end of more sympathy. With her reassurances she would be there ASAP, he ended the connection and slipped the phone back into his jacket pocket.

True to her word, less than five minutes later, Tamaki was at Blair’s door. Fortunately, she seemed to get the hint and kept conversation to a minimum. It wasn’t until she unlocked and pushed open the door that she turned to Jim, put a hand on his arm, and said, “I’m sorry, Jim. Blair Sandburg was a good man.” She glanced into the office, then back at him. “Take as long as you need, just lock up when you’re finished.”

He nodded and stepped away from her. “Thank you.” With that dismissal, he moved into the office and, quietly, closed the door behind him. He waited until he heard Tamaki’s retreating footsteps, then moved deeper into the office.

The air seemed different than that in hallway. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, suddenly realizing why. Blair was all around him. Jim inhaled the earthy, familiar scent, and if he kept his eyes closed, and tried really hard, he could almost convince himself that Blair was alive, sitting in the chair behind the desk, engrossed in some book.

He stood there for some time, reluctant to open his eyes and shatter the fantasy, but he had work to do, and no matter how much he indulged himself, it wouldn’t change what needed to be done. Opening his eyes, he kept his back straight and his shoulders square as he moved to the desk and began the search.

~ ~ ~

Ray Muffey directed the morgue guys to the embalming room, barely glancing at the dark plastic mound on top the stretcher. He’d seen more dead bodies in his time than he had football games, and they ceased to impress him.

“Right this way,” Muffey led them into the room and pointed to a table in the center. “Over there.”

The two men worked in tandem, not saying a word as they lifted the figure on to the table. Muffey pulled back the dark plastic covering and took his first look at the new arrival. The man’s face was pale. He had dark, curly hair that was now lax and oily. Pulling the sheet back farther, searching for signs of damage, he froze when he felt the plastic move.

“What the....?”

“What’s wrong?” one of the hospital guys asked.

Muffey stepped back, his gaze fixed to the body on the table. Was that...? He focused on the chest, sure that he was hallucinating.

“Do you see that?”

“What....?”

“Shit!” the other hospital employee exclaimed.

Muffey swallowed hard. “He’s breathing!”
~ ~ ~

Jim leaned down in the chair and opened the last desk drawer, having found nothing in the other drawers to give him any idea how to contact Naomi. He paused when he saw the tin of herbal tea resting on top of a stack of papers. It was so very Sandburg-like. The kid kept tea everywhere. In the loft. In his office. There were even a few bags of some blend in Jim’s desk drawer, though he wasn’t quite sure when Sandburg had placed them there.

Sandburg had left remnants of his life scattered all over.It seemed everywhere Jim was bound to go, there’d be reminders. He couldn’t drive down University Avenue without passing Blair’s favorite Chinese place, or go to the docks without being reminded of the time Lash had kidnapped the kid and kept him chained up in the warehouse.  Hell, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t even be able to go grocery shopping without hearing Blair in his head, chastising his food choices while bemoaning the fact that the meat department didn’t carry tongue.

Jim was torn from his reverie by the shrill ring of his cell phone. Yanking his hand away from the drawer as if it had suddenly become scalding hot, he pulled out his cellphone, cleared his voice, and answered the call.

“Ellison.”

*”Hello, Mr. Ellison. My name is Linda Ronie from Cascade General. I...I don’t know quite how to tell you this, but while Mr. Sandburg’s body was being transferred to the funeral home, it was discovered that, uh, well...”

Jim closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. If they had done something, dropped the body, or... or.... He took a deep breath. “Look, lady, I haven’t got all day. What happened?”

*”Mr. Sandburg was breathing. He’s been transferred back to Cascade General, and he’s currently in ICU, breathing on his own, though he’s still unconscious.”*

Jim’s gut went cold. Was he hallucinating? Dreaming?

“Mr. Ellison? Are you there?”

He blinked. “What did you say?”

“Blair Sandburg’s alive. He’s in ICU."
~ ~ ~
Jim ran through the doors into Cascade General and almost rammed into the front desk. He slammed one hand down and reached into his jacket with the other to pull out his badge.

"I'm Jim Ellison. I'm here for Blair Sandburg. I got call that he's in ICU."

The young woman behind the desk looked up, her eyes wide, and rolled her chair back a few inches. "Uh, j-just a moment, please." She turned to her computer and typed at the keyboard.

Jim resisted the urge to pace. He eyed the elevators, debating just barging into ICU, when the woman turned back to him.

"Yes, he's admitted. I--"

"ICU's on the fourth floor, right?"

"Yes, but--"

Jim pushed away from the counter, breaking into a jog toward the stairs. He bypassed the elevators, not willing to wait, and charged up the stairs.

He was out of breath by the time he made it up the three flights. Pushing through the door, he exploded onto the fourth floor and hurried to the nurse sitting at the counter. "I'm...here for Blair Sandburg," he panted. "I got a call from Linda or Lisa or someone. He was pronounced dead, but--"

"Yes, sir, Mr. Ellison, Blair Sandburg was admitted a few hours ago. If you'll wait a minute--"

"What room is he in?"

"I'll have to get the doctor."

"Look!" Jim leaned forward suddenly, his body rigid. "I don't know what kind of place you guys run here, but someone pronounced Blair Sandburg dead. Only he wasn't, apparently. Now, I want to know right now where he's--"

"Mr. Ellison, please calm down," a man's voice suggested, and Jim turned to see a gray-haired doctor wearing a white lab coat.

"I need to see Blair Sandburg."

The doctor nodded. "I'll take you to him, but we can't let you in the room right now." He extended his hand. "I'm Doctor Malebed, by the way. I'm sorry about this. I've been practicing medicine for twenty-five years, and I've never even heard of anything like this happening."

"He's alive?" Jim still wasn't sure it was happening. He expected to wake up from the dream any moment.

"Yes, he's alive. This way." The physician gestured down the hallway and began walking.

Jim followed. "He's breathing on his own?"

"Yes. Right now, he's stable. His heartbeat is at 75 BPM, his blood pressure is a little low, but better than it was when we brought him in." The doctor stopped in front of a room.

Half the wall was a window, and Jim looked in to see Blair laying on the bed, a blanket covering him up to his waist. The wire from electrodes peeked out from the top of his gown, and the machine next to the bed indicated a steady heartbeat.

Jim placed a palm on the glass. He still couldn't believe it, even though his own eyes were telling him it was true. Blair was alive. He focused his hearing, searching for Blair's heartbeat, and found it surprisingly strong and steady.

His throat tight, and his mouth dry, Jim managed to croak, "How did this happen?"

"I honestly don't know," Doctor Malebed answered. "Our procedures for declaring time of death are extremely specific, and the machines we use to aid in that determination are very sensitive. When Mr. Sandburg was declared dead, he had no heartbeat and resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful." He shook his head, his brow creasing. "I'm sorry I can't offer you an explanation. I suppose it's not totally unheard of for a patient to spontaneously self-resuscitate, but I've personally never encountered such a phenomenon, and although I'm reluctant to use the term, it's really on the order of a miracle."

"Could your machines have malfunctioned?"

The doctor took a breath and shrugged. "While it's possible, death is confirmed via stethoscope. In this case, the EKG showed a lack of activity. The physician physically listened for and was unable to hear a carotid pulse. In addition, he looked and listened for the absence of spontaneous respirations. The position of Mr. Sandburg's pupils were noted, as was the absence of pupillary reflexes. By medical standards, Mr. Sandburg was dead."

Jim rubbed a hand over his face and sagged against the glass. He realized his hand was shaking and quickly lowered it, then managed to straighten and, with another glance into the room, cleared his throat and faced the doctor. "I'd really like to go in, sit with him."

Doctor Malebed nodded. "I'll let you have ten minutes now. When he wakes up, we'll evaluate him further then and probably transfer him out of ICU. You'll have more extensive visiting privileges at that time."

Jim nodded, grateful the doctor used the word 'when' and not 'if' in referring to Sandburg waking up. "Thank you."

Malebed pushed open the door to Blair's room. "Ten minutes only."

Jim nodded and walked into the dimly lit room. There was an aluminum-framed chair against the wall, and he carried it over to the side of the bed and sat down. Blair was still and quiet in the bed, his chest rising and falling in a steady, shallow rhythm. His face was pale, but not alarmingly so, and when Jim noticed the movement beneath Blair's eyelids, he straightened and leaned forward.

"Hey, Chief," he said, his voice low, "if you're going to wake up, now would be a really good time. I've only got ten minutes, and I'd love to see those baby blues." He fell silent and waited a few moments, but Blair gave no sign that he'd heard Jim.

"Simon and the gang aren't going to believe this. Right now, they all think you're.... Well, let's just say everyone's missed you. You sure do have a flare for the dramatic. You going for a record, or something, with these dying-and-coming-back-to-life stunts? If you keep this up, you're going to find yourself with a cult following. We may have to start bowing in your presence."

Jim again fell quiet, but again Blair gave no sign of waking. With a sigh, Jim leaned back in the chair and looked at his watch. He had five minutes left.

Five minutes. He glanced at the window and didn't see anyone watching, so he rose quietly from the chair and leaned over Blair. Back at the fountain, he'd been able to tap into some kind of spiritual energy -- or something -- to bring Sandburg back. Maybe he could do so again. Reaching out with one hand, he placed his palm on Blair's cheek, pleased to feel warmth emanating from the skin, and closed his eyes.

"Come on, Incacha," Jim whispered. "Help me out, here."

He waited several minutes, maintaining physical contact with Blair the whole time, but nothing happened. Finally, when he heard footsteps in the hall outside, he opened his eyes and, reluctantly, pulled his hand away. He glanced quickly at his watch, then back at Blair.

"My ten minutes are up. I'm going to go now, but I'll be back. I've gotta tell everyone the good news." He chuckled at that thought. "They're probably going to think I've gone crazy."

He heard a tap on the door and turned to see a nurse pointing at her wristwatch, a sympathetic expression on her face. Jim rose from his chair and nodded at her. "Well, I'm going now. Any time you want to wake up and start flirting with the nurses, go ahead. I think they'd be disappointed if you didn't."

With a final, lingering look at the still figure in the bed, Jim turned and walked out of the room.

~ ~ ~

 Jim practically ran out of the hospital. He was buzzing with energy. As he flew through the hospital doors, he almost ran down a nurse on her way in.

"Excuse me, ma'am." He beamed at her, resisting the urge to wrap his arms around her and spin her around. He couldn't wait to share the good, unbelievable, miraculous news with Simon and the rest of Major Crime. Whipping out his cellphone, he dialed Simon's office number, walking briskly to the parking lot as he listened to the ringing.

Finally, on the third ring, the captain answered. "Banks here."

"Simon, it's Jim." He didn't bother even trying to control the enthusiasm in his voice.

"Jim? W-What can I do for you? You sound, uh....better than I expected."

"Blair's alive!"

"What was that?"

"Blair, sir, he's alive. I'm on my way out of Cascade General."

"Jim, are you.... Have you been drinking?"

"No, sir, not a drop. I'm not crazy, not hallucinating. It's true. You can call the hospital if you like."

"Blair's alive?"

"Yes, sir, he's alive and breathing on his own. They transferred him to the funeral home. God, they were about to embalm him, but the funeral home owner noticed he was breathing. They transported him straight back to the hospital. He hasn't woken up yet, but his vitals are stable, and he looks pretty good."

"Slow down, Jim. Blair's alive?"

Jim was running out of air in his lungs and took a breath. "Yes, sir. He's alive. Blair Sandburg, observer to Major Crime, the guy that's been renting a room from me for the past three year, is alive. Breathing. Heart beating. Wracking up a hospital bill. The works."

"Are you, uh, on your way here?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Good." Simon didn't sound convinced. "I'll, uh, give the hospital a call. Get over here as soon as you can, but drive carefully, okay?"

"I'm all right, sir."

"Of course you are. I'm going to hang up, now."

"I'll see you soon."

~ ~ ~

Simon hung up the phone, a crease in his brow. His heart thundered in his chest. He wanted to shoot out of his chair and scream at the top of his lungs, but he contained his excitement. He wasn't totally convinced Jim wasn't off his rocker. He had to be sure. He couldn't stand another emotional rollercoaster, and he certainly wasn't going to share such news with the rest of his people until he'd gotten confirmation. With Jim's sentinel stuff, visions, and all that craziness, there was a chance Jim wasn't exactly dealing in reality.

Picking up the receiver, he dialed information and asked for Cascade General, then asked to be connected. When a woman answered, he cleared his throat. "Hello. I'm Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department. Can you tell me if you have someone named Blair Sandburg currently admitted?"

"I'm sorry, I can't release that information."

Simon inhaled slowly. "Ma'am, I appreciate the privacy concern, but Mr. Sandburg was presumed dead from complications as a result of an attempted murder. That's a crime, and if he's not dead, then no homicide has been committed. This is a serious police matter. All I'm asking is a yes or no answer. Do you have a Blair Sandburg alive and in the hospital right now?"

"I'm sorry, sir, but with the new HIPAA regulations, I cannot divulge the admission status of a patient."

"Look! This is important. I don't want to know his medical history, for Christ's sake, I just want to know if he's alive. Is there a privacy concern about whether someone is actually, physically breathing?"

"I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to get a subpoena or produce a court order to obtain that information."

Simon closed his eyes and counted to three slowly, then released a breath. "Thank you very much. You've been quite helpful. Have a nice day."

He hung up the phone, going over the things he'd like to do to whatever politicians had been involved with drafting the new HIPPAA regulations. He was itching to confirm for himself that Blair was alive, but it looked like he'd just have to take Jim's word for it, or at least, he'd have to wait until Jim arrived. He knew Sandburg had given Ellison durable power of attorney for health care decisions, so when the detective arrived, he'd have Jim call the hospital himself and authorize them to release the information.

~ ~ ~

Jim couldn't keep the smile off his face as he exited the elevator and headed into Major Crime. He passed Rafe on the way, who gave him an odd look. Megan was on her way back to her desk, and she stopped to greet him. He didn't give her a chance, and giving into a compulsion he'd been fighting all the way from the hospital, he pulled her into a hug and laid a huge kiss on her cheek.

She stiffened, surprised, and just looked at him when he released her and, with a whistle, marched to Simon's office. He knocked, and hearing the "come in!" opened the door and walked inside.

"Hello, sir." Jim grinned.

Simon stood up, the phone receiver in his hand. "Call Cascade General. They won't tell me whether Sandburg's even admitted."

Jim cocked his head, still grinning like a madman. "You don't believe me, sir?" He wasn't surprised. In fact, it amused the hell out of him. Hell, he barely believed the facts hiimself, and he'd seen, heard, and touched Blair.

Simon held up a hand. "It's not that, exactly, I just--"

Jim took the receiver from Simon, moved around the desk, and punched in the numbers to the hospital. Quickly, he explained the information he wanted, told them he held durable power of attorney, confirmed some information for them, and then asked the woman to kindly tell his captain that Blair Sandburg was, in fact, admitted and currently alive and stable in ICU.

He handed the receiver to Simon, who after a brief exchange with the woman, nodded and then hung up. He met Jim's gaze for a brief second, then grinned broadly and, with a loud bark of laughter, pulled Jim into a hug.

"I can't believe it!" the captain exclaimed, releasing Jim and running to his door. "People! Listen up! Blair Sandburg, our favorite anthropologist, is alive and currently at Cascade General in ICU!"

Dead silence met his announcement. Megan rose slowly from her desk, her face dark with skepticism. "Sir?"

Simon beamed. "It's true. There was some kind of mix-up. Sandburg's alive."

Another moment of silence followed, then cheers broke out. Henri slapped Rafe on the shoulder, and Megan quickly wiped tears from her eyes. Jim leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms. His mouth hurt from smiling, but he couldn't seem to stop.

His cell phone rang, and quickly, he whipped it out. He glanced at the caller ID, and his heart skipped a beat when he saw 'Cascade General Hospital' on the display. He finally dropped the smile, his gut twisting. "It's the hospital," he said, looking up at Simon. "God, I hope it's not bad news."

Sending a quick request to whatever deity was listening, if any, Jim prayed Blair hadn't taken a turn for the worse. Taking a breath, he answered the call on the fourth ring. "Ellison."

*"Hello, Mr. Ellison. This is Mary Summers in ICU, Cascade General. I thought you'd like to know Mr. Sandburg just woke up."*

~ ~ ~

Blair's eyes scanned the dim room. It took him a moment to figure out that he was in a hospital. He turned his head and looked through the window. A nurse was standing in the hallway, talking to a man dressed in green scrubs. She pointed at him, and catching his gaze, smiled broadly and waved.

Blair swallowed hard and turned his head to the other side to study the machine. He tried to remember what had happened? Why was in the hospital? His last memory was of coming home from the airport after fighting a crowd of reporters. The loft had been empty, and he thought he remembered going upstairs to Jim's rooms. He frowned, trying to remember past that, but there was nothing.

The door opened, and Blair turned his head. He saw a gray-haired man dressed in a white lab coat.

"Hello, Mr. Sandburg, I'm Doctor Malebed." The physician walked up the bed and grabbed the stethoscope hung around his neck. He put the earpieces in his ears and rubbed the metal disk on his coat. "I'm going to listen to your chest, and," he reached forward and grabbed the control for the bed, "I'll raise this up a bit."

The upper half of the bed whirred to life, raising slowly. It finally stopped at a little more than a 45 degree angle. The doctor carefully slid his hand behind Blair.

"Can you lean forward for me?"

*I'm feeling fine, Doc, thanks for asking,* Blair mentally responded, but since his mouth was dry, he didn't trust himself to produce sound. Instead, he simply nodded and leaned forward. He felt the end of the stethoscope against his bare back, and the doctor instructed him to breathe in, which he did, then out, which he also did.

The doctor moved the instrument to another spot on Blair's back and repeated the instructions. After a few more repetitions, Blair was allowed to lean back again, and the doctor returned the bed to it's original, horizontal position.

"Well, you're lungs sound remarkably good. How are you feeling?"

Blair tried to swallow, to get some wetness in his throat, but he seemed unable to produce saliva. He opened his mouth and managed a croak. "Okay, I guess." He took stock further. Nothing seemed to hurt. He didn't even have a headache. The only discomfort he could localize was his mouth and throat, but that was nothing a very large glass of water couldn't cure. "Can I have something to drink?"

The doctor nodded. "I'll send the nurse in with some ice chips."

*Oh, yippee. Ice chips.*

"Can..." Blair again attempted to swallow, but he still couldn't muster up enough saliva. "Can you call Jim Ellison. H-He should be listed--"

"He was here, earlier, and one of the nurses just called him to let him know you're awake."

Blair nodded. "Thanks." He felt his eyelids drifting closed, but he had no idea why he was so tired. "Whu'h'ppned?"

"You're lungs had fluid in them, and you had a respiratory attack and stopped breathing. Your roommate found you on the floor, and..." the doctor seemed to hesitate a moment, "now you're here."

"How long....?"

"You were brought in by paramedics from your home almost two days ago."

Two days?  He must have been really sick to have lost two days.

"Can you answer a few questions for me?"

Blair nodded.

"What's your birthday?"

"May 24, 1969."

"Do you know where you are?"

"Cascade General?"

"That's right."

Do you know what day it is?"

Blair closed his eyes briefly. He and Jim had left Sierra Verde...uh... if he'd been in the hospital two days, then they'd gotten in, Sunday, if he remembered correctly. "Uh? Tuesday?"

"Very good."

What's twelve point five times three hundred and forty seven?"

Blair frowned, his brow creasing, "Uh....?"

The doctor smiled. "I'm just kidding. Your mental faculties seem intact, but I'll order some more testing."

Why did he need more testing?" "What for?"

"Well, uh...." The doctor glanced away briefly, looking conspicuously uncomfortable. "I just want to play it safe. We'll talk more in a little while, after you've had some more rest. Okay?"

Blair nodded. He *was* tired. "'Kay."

"I'll send the nurse in with some ice chips."

"Thanks." Blair let his eyes close, listening to the doctor's retreating footsteps. He heard the door squeak open, then click closed. A few minutes later, he succumbed to sleep.

~ ~ ~

Jim, Simon, Megan, and Joel rushed into Cascade General and headed straight for the first desk. Jim leaned on the counter, grinning. "We're here to see Blair Sandburg."

The woman nodded. "Mr. Ellison, right?

Simon chuckled. "That's scary, Jim. I think it's a sign you've been here too often."

Jim smiled but otherwise ignored his captain. "Yes, ma'am," he answered the woman.

"He was transferred out of ICU. If you go up to the second floor, he's in room 203. Check in with the desk nurse first."

Jim nodded. "Thank you."

He bolted for the elevators, and Simon, Megan, and Joel followed. The ride up seemed to take forever, and finally, when the doors parted, he hurried out, jogging up to the desk. "I'm Jim Ellison. I'd like to see Blair Sandburg. I was told he's in room 203?"

The woman nodded. "Yes." She pointed to the right. "Second door to the left."

"Thank you." Jim followed her directions, then stopped in front of a closed door with the numbers 203. He tilted his head and heard steady breathing and a strong heartbeat inside. Falshing a grin at his captain, Jim turned the knob and pushed the door open.

Blair was lying in bed. A thin blanket covering him, up to his chest. He was still hooked up to an EKG, but his color looked almost normal. His eyes were closed, and he gave no sign that their entrance had disturbed him.

~ ~ ~

Blair heard voices. They were almost whisper-soft, all around him.

*"I can't believe it."*

"*He looks so....good, considering.*"

*"The kid has more lives than a cat."*

"*Somehow, I think he's more like a dog. He sheds, likes to eat weird stuff...."

*"And he's loyal to a fault."*

Blair managed to crack his eyelids open. He was in a bright room, and four figures hovered around his bed.

"Blair?" One of the figures moved forward. "Hey, Chief, you going to officially join us?"

Blair blinked, and the figure snapped into focus. "Hey." He managed a smile, or thought he did. "Didn't we do this hospital thing before?"

Jim smiled and stepped closer to the bed. He sat on the edge of the mattress. "Yeah, and I'm getting tired of driving here, so what say we don't do it again? Ever."

Blair saw something in Jim's face -- a not-so-well-disguised fear in his eyes, along with a hint of wetness -- and he swept his gaze over Joel, Megan, and Simon. Megan looked on the verge of tears, and Simon and Joel couldn't seem to take their eyes off him. His smile faded. "Ws'it that bad?"

Jim's brow furrowed. "What did the doctor tell you?"

"Just that I had some kind of an attack and stopped breathing."

Jim glanced at the others, and Simon cleared his throat, cocking his head toward the door.

"Come on," the captain began, moving toward the door. "How 'bout we go find the cafeteria and get some coffee?"

"Sounds good to me." Megan followed Joel and Simon to the door, but she hesitated in the doorway and turned around. "It's nice to see you're getting better. Take care of yourself better, Sandy." Then, she disappeared into the hallway.

A crease formed in Blair's brow, and he looked to Jim. "Wow. I guess it was really serious."

Jim nodded, his face suddenly grim. He turned away and pushed himself to his feet, then paced to the window and stopped there, gazing out.

Blair waited a few moments, thinking Jim was preparing to say something, but when the silence lingered, he grabbed the control for the bed and raised the upper half of the mattress until he was sitting up comfortably. "Jim?" he prodded, "what is it?"

A low sigh escaped from the sentinel, then, slowly, he turned to Blair. "I'm not sure I should say anything. Maybe the doctor thinks it's best if you don't know yet."

Blair frowned. "Know what? C'mon, spill it. If it has to do with me, I have a right to know."

Jim cocked his head to one side and moved slowly back to the bed. "Or maybe he just doesn't want you to start thinking about a malpractice lawsuit."

"What happened?"

Jim took a breath. "You died."

Blair's eyebrows shot up. "Again?"

"Look," Jim sat back on the edge of the bed, "I don't know how to tell you this, but they told us you were dead. They even transferred you to a funeral home, but the home owner noticed you breathing. God, Chief, I was trying to get a hold of your mother and give your the bad news."

Blair sat, stunned, his hands suddenly cold and his chest tight. An image of himself, lying pale on a slab somewhere, sprang foremost in his mind, and he swallowed hard. "How...How did that happen?"

Jim shook his head, inhaling deeply. "I don't know. The doctor doesn't know. No one seems to be able to explain it."

"Wow." Blair tried to wrap his mind around the information. "I don't remember having any visions this time."

"I didn't do anything to bring you back. I tried to recreate whatever happened at the fountain, but there was nothing this time."

Blair took a shaky breath. "H-How long was I...dead?"

"We don't know. No one seems to know." Jim shifted on the bed, "But now that I have you here, there's something I want to tell you." His voice cracked for a moment, and he swallowed before continuing. "I thought I'd never get the chance to say this, and now that I have the chance, I don't want to wait."

Blair nodded, but remained silent.

Jim took another deep breath. "You've been a real help to me, Chief. An asset. If it weren't for you, I'd be dead...probably squashed by that garbage truck. I like having you around. I'd...kind of miss you if you moved out." A tiny smile lifted his lips. "And it's kind of nice having someone else to share the cooking."

Blair found himself smiling. He remembered his conversation back at the beach, when he'd made the decision to move out, but that seemed so long ago, and now things seemed different. Maybe dying again and coming back gave him a whole new perspective. "Wow. That must have been painful."

Jim's smile brightened. "No, actually. It was long overdue. So?" he raised his eyebrows.

Blair shrugged a shoulder. "It's a bitch trying to find a place in the middle of the year like this." His smile faded. "But, just so we're clear on this...if you want me out, at any time, just give me a normal two week notice. Okay?"

"It's not going to happen, Chief. The loft is your home for as long as you like."

"Well, if you get married, your future wife might have something to say about that."

"We'll adopt you."

Blair chuckled and raised his hands. "Hey, man, you as my father? Now, that's an image I could do without."

The door opened, and Doctor Malebed walked in. He gave a brief smile and then looked down at the clipboard in his hand. "Well, Mr. Sandburg, you've made a remarkable recovery. Your lungs are clear, your blood pressure's normal." He looked back up again. "I'd say you're ready to be discharged."

Jim shot to his feet. "So soon? Don't you think...?"

Blair swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Shut up, Jim. Unless you really don't want me back?" He raised his eyebrows, knowing he was playing dirty but really, really wanting out of the hospital.

Jim tilted his head. "C'mon, Sandburg, you know that's not it." He sighed and looked at the doctor. "It's really okay for him to come home this soon?"

The physician nodded. "He's healthy. There's no sign of infection in his lungs. His test came back, and everything looks good. His white cell count is a bit low, but that's fairly minor and probably a result of the stress his body's been under."

"Well, then," Blair grinned, "if someone will just get me some clothes, I'll sign the exit papers."

~ ~ ~

"Okay, that's the last of it." Simon's voice carried out from Blair's bedroom. "Now, it's time for the beer and food you promised, Jim."

Blair glanced over his shoulder at his room. He stood by the stove, idly stirring the sauce. Jim and Simon had forbid him to help move anything, apparently worried he might overexert himself and suffer a devastating relapse. Like moving a few bits of furniture was going to kill him. Still, he knew they had suffered through some pretty serious grief recently, and he figured he'd just have to wait it out. Eventually, they'd stop treating him like a sick five year-old.

"Dinner's just about ready." Blair turned off the stove. He'd offered to make dinner since they were doing the moving. Cooking was a fairly safe activity, it gave him something to do besides sit on the couch. He grabbed the handle of the pot and moved to the counter, pouring the sauce into the bowl he'd set there earlier.

Jim and Simon shuffled out of the room and headed to the kitchen. They set the table while Blair took the garlic bread out of the oven.

"Thanks, Chief." Jim patted Blair on the shoulder as he past, heading toward the fridge. He opened the door and pulled out three beers.

Blair grinned as he took one of the bottles from Jim. "Beer and pasta. That's real class."

"Beer goes with anything," Simon said, taking his seat at the table. He looked up at Jim and Blair sat down. "Jim, next time you get the urge to clear out the loft, hire movers."

Blair suppressed his smile by taking a sip of beer. "Okay, guys," he said, setting the bottle on the table. "Dig in."

Jim leaned over and grabbed the pasta fork, helping himself to a generous plate-full. "This smells great, Chief." He poured a large serving of sauce over the pasta, then looked up at Blair and gave a lopsided smile. "You'll make a good wife one day."

"Ha. Ha." Blair grabbed a piece of garlic bread from the plate while Simon filled his dish with pasta.

"Oh, and Chief." Jim lifted out of the chair slightly and reached into the back pocket of his jeans. He pulled out a folded piece of paper and tossed it to Blair.

It landed on the table next to Blair's plate. He swallowed his foot, set his fork down, and picked up the sheet, unfolding it. "What's this?" He read the word LEASE at the top, then skimmed the contents, his brow furrowing.

"It's a one-year lease," Jim explained. "Renewable at your option, terminable at your option."

Blair looked up. "Jim, I don't need this--"

Jim shrugged and took a quick sip of his beer. "I don't want you to worry about my kicking you out again."

Blair set the sheet down. "Besides," he smiled, "are one-sided termination clauses even enforceable?"

Jim leaned forward, his face serious. "I want you to know that I'm sorry I boxed up your things and kicked you out. It won't happen again."

Blair nodded and tore up the paper. "That's good enough for me, man." He picked up his fork. "Now, eat. The food's getting cold."



The End.