Okay, Okay, so this plot is really just a shameless vehicle for sappy smarm. I almost didn't post it, but, then I remembered all you smarm-addicted Sentinel addicts out there (like myself) and figured I'd put it up just in case some of you were in need of a fix. <grin> I kind of have mixed feelings about this one, so please e-mail me with honest feedback. Let me know whether you liked it or hated it.

A Touch of Sanity

Blair cursed inwardly when he inspected the hole in the back tire of his Volvo. "Stupid. Really Stupid," he muttered to himself.

He'd been meaning to replace the worn tires on the car months ago, but he just hadn't been able to scrape up enough cash. Now, as he stood at the side of the mountain road in Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, he wondered just why he'd thought he, of all people, could press his luck by taking a road trip to Seattle. With him, Murphy's Law seemed to prevail at every opportune moment. He'd figured it would be a simple trip. He needed to drive up to see Doctor Belvar about an artifact, and he figured he'd make a weekend out of it and see the sites. Now he wished he'd just gone straight home after inspecting the artifact.

Grumbling, he detached the temporary spare from underneath the rear of the car. As he maneuvered the tire around the side of the car, he spared a nervous glance toward the cliff's edge. He was a pretty good distance up, and he had no desire to peak over the edge and inspect what he was sure would be an awesome view. Nope. He'd keep a good safe distance between himself and the ledge. He didn't, after all, want to give Murphy's Law anymore ammunition. 

A few minutes later, he had the temporary spare in place and tossed the useless tire and tools in his trunk. With a sigh, he walked back around toward the driver's side. If he drived slow, he was pretty sure he could make it to the nearest service station with the spare. Then he'd figure out what to do.... either get the tire replaced or, as a last resort, call Jim and ask for a tow home.

Just as he walked past the front of his car, an alarming grumble reached his ears. His head snapped up, and he barely managed a gasp before a watermelon-sized boulder slammed into him. He was thrown backwards, and, with dull horror, realized he was toppling over the edge of the cliff. Instinctively, he reached out for a handhold. A barrage of smaller rocks hailed him, and a few hit his head. He closed his eyes and reached out to shield his face, vaguely aware of a sense of falling. His pulse thundered in his ears, and he opened his eyes to a horrific site: nothingness. There was no ground beneath him. Terror hit him full force as his stomach registered the nauseating sensation of free-fall, and he released a loud, disbelieving scream just before a part of the mountainside slammed into him.


"Doctor, we've got that ETA on the airlift at 5 minutes," the young nurse announced.

Doctor Kathy Yamani nodded, signalling to the male intern on her left. "Okay, let's get mobilized!" With that order, the team of medical professionals erupted into a whirlwind of organized chaos, collecting equipment as they prepared to meet the chopper on the roof.

Four minutes later, the chopper landed on the roof and the group helped the EMTs maneuver the stretcher out of the helicopter. A young man with long dark hair was strapped to the board, his neck immobilized in a large brace.

"Male, late twenties. Head trauma. Possible broken ribs. Possible spinal injury," the large medic yelled, his voice competing with the roar of the chopper.

Doctor Yamani nodded. "He fell off a cliff?"

The man nodded. "YEAH!" He ran alongside the stretcher as the team rolled it toward the entrance. "Would have been a gonner, but he landed on a small projection along the side of the mountain -- barely wide enough to be called a ledge."


Three hours later...

Doctor Yamani yawned as she looked over the young man's chart. She shook her head. He was damn lucky. His only serious injury was a concussion. Other than that, he had acquired bruised ribs and an assortment of cuts and scrapes.

Unfortunately, she had no clue as to his identity. He had no wallet on him, and the hospital was still waiting on the DMV report on his license plate. Gently, she reached out and touched the man on the shoulder, hoping she could rouse him. With his concussion, prolonged unconsciousness could lead to a coma. Fortunately, there was only minor cerebral swelling, so she felt fairly optimistic that the young man would pull through with a relatively clean bill of health.

"Hey there... Can you hear me?"

The young man gave no response. She gave him another extremely gentle shake. "Sir?"

Finally, he groaned. She raised her eyebrows and smiled. "Can you hear me, Sir?"

Another groan, then his eyelids fluttered open to reveal astonishing blue eyes.

"Hello there. I'm Doctor Yamani and you're at Mercy General Hospital."

His brow creased. "No," he muttered, his voice whisper quiet. "Fire people. You think they're ashes... Golden fire."

"Excuse me?"

"Kill them. Gotta kill them... fire people." His voice rose in volume, and his eyes darted frantically around the room. "They're alive! Get away! Get away!" His arms flailed out, nearly ripping the IV line out of his vein.

"Easy... Easy," Yamani soothed, grabbing his arms. She turned her head and yelled, "I NEED HELP IN HERE!"

A few seconds later, an orderly and a nurse bolted through the door. The orderly, a large man with stern features, grabbed Blair's legs just as the young man kicked outward, rattling the bedrail.

"Get me Bergan from Neuro," Yamani told the nurse. The woman nodded and fled from the room.


Dr. Bergan examined the CT and PET scan images and shook his head. "I see absolutely no sign of trauma. Everything looks normal."

Yamani gazed at him. "Well, there's obviously something abnormal. He's been in-and-out of delirium for nearly four hours. We've had to keep him sedated, otherwise he's violent."

Dr. Bergan shrugged. "Well, I'm not ruling out a brain injury, but it's just not showing up on these scans. I'd suggest a psych consult. In the meantime, I'll keep him here for observation."

Yamani nodded. "Thanks."

"No problem. Have you contacted his family yet? They could provide us with some valuable information on the young man... tell us if he has a history of psychiatric problems."

Yamani shook her head. "We just got the info on his identity an hour ago. On several occassions, he's called out for a Jim, but, right now, we have no idea who that is. At this point, all we've got is his name, address, and telephone number. I'll be calling his number as soon as I'm outta here."

Bergan nodded. "Well, get a move on then," he said, smiling. "I'm somewhat curious about this young man."


Doctor Yamani headed off to call Sandburg's home number while Doctor Bergan called for a psych consult.

She listened to four rings, then a recorded message played. Patiently, she listened to the strong, confident voice, waiting to hear the beep. Finally, it sounded, and she left her message. "Hello. My name is Doctor Yamani at Mercy General Hospital in Seattle. I'd like someone to call me as soon as possible regarding a Mr. Blair Sandburg." She glanced at her watch and, realizing she was late for a staff meeting, quickly relayed the hospital phone number. Then she hung up and headed off down the hall.


Blair's head pounded, and, slowly, he opened his eyes. A glaring, painful light seared his eyes, and he clamped them shut. Gradually, he became aware of a maddening tingling sensation all over his body, and a sudden, inexplicable fear clamped his throat tight. Cautiously, he opened his eyes again. This time, the previously glaring light looked like an ordinary flourescent panel. The edges of the long bulb flickered with golden fire. The golden light pulsed, expanding and contracting rhythmically.

Suddenly, the light exploded into several horrendous, dancing flames... fires with souls. They converged upon him, and he thrust his arms out, screaming as they swarmed over his body. He bolted out of the bed, heading for the narrow, glowing doorway he saw in front him. As he moved forward, the room spun, and the floor hit him hard on the side of the face.

He felt hands on his arms and shoulders, pulling him up, and, blindly, he lashed out. They were after him. They wanted to kill him. Demons of fire... evil that sometimes took the shape of men. Fire. Lash. Death. Destruction. Pain.


"Tox screen came back negative."

"Another dead end. Have you tried his number again like I asked?"

"Yes, Doctor. Still no answer."

Blair listened to the voices, hearing them as a distorted, distant echo.

"How about the police info?"

"They said it would be faxed to us by the end of the day."

Police? Jim. His throat hurt, but he opened his mouth, forcing a single word out. "Jim."

"He keeps calling that name."

"Brother? Significant other?"

"Don't know."

His eyelids felt heavy, but he forced them up. Blurred, white images swirled into view, slowly coalescing into two people, a man and a woman, each wearing white lab coats.

"Mr. Sandburg?" The woman gazed at him.

He groaned. God, his head hurt. He tried to raise a hand to his temple, but found he couldn't move his arm. He looked down, noticing that his arms and legs were bound by leather restraints. Restraints. Panic clutched his chest, and he jerked his arms upward, struggling against the restraints.

"No.... " That single utterance set his throat on fire, and he winced form the pain.

"Mr. Sandburg, you're okay. You're safe here."

My head... Why does my head hurt so much? What happened? Where am I?

"Mr. Sandburg, do you understand me?"

Slowly, he nodded. The room spun, and he closed his eyes to combat the dizzying images.

"You were in an accident. You're in a hospital in Seattle."

An accident? Hospital? Jim... Where's Jim?


"Hey, Chief, how are you feeling?"

Blair opened his eyes, seeing the most wonderful thing on earth standing right over him.

"Jim?" Blair's throat felt scratchy and tight.

Jim nodded, smiling, "Who else?"

Blair managed a small smile of his own. "Man, am I glad to see you." He glanced down at the restraints that held his arms and legs. "Get me outta here, will ya?"

Jim's smile broadened, but he shook his head. "Sorry, Chief. I can't do that."

A hand clamped over Blair's heart, and his smile faded. "What are you talking about, Jim?" He yanked at the restraints. "Come on, man, stop joking around. This place seriously gives me the creeps."

Jim shrugged nonchalantly. "Look, Sandburg, I know this is difficult for you, but there's nothing I can do about it. That Golden must have seriously messed up your brain chemistry, not that it was all that normal to begin with. You've suffered a lot of psychological trauma recently, you know, with the Golden, Lash, the elevator, etc. You're just not mentally stable anymore." Jim reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out Blair's observer credentials. "I hate having to tell you this, Chief, but, naturally, your observer credentials have been revoked -- permanently." The detective tossed the credentials into the trashcan next to Blair's bed.

Blair tried to sit up, but the restraints held him down. His head spun, feeling like it would topple off his shoulders at any moment. "Jim? Jim, what the hell is this all about. Come on, man? You know I'm not crazy. I'm okay... What... What about the sentinel thing, man? You need me for that. You can't handle this thing by yourself."

Again, Jim shrugged. "Actually, these senses seem pretty under control lately. You've taught me how to control them, and now I no longer need you." He smiled, shaking his head. "Come on, Sandburg, you didn't think this was a lifelong deal, did you?"

Blair's eyes grew hot. This isn't happening. This is NOT happening. "Jim, listen to me!" He heard his voice rising hysterically. "You can't leave me here. This place is a madhouse. I'm not crazy!"

Jim raised his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "Don't worry, I'll come back and visit you every once in awhile." He reached out and whacked Blair gently on the side of the head. "Don't go hitting on any of the nurses now."

Blair stared wide-eyed at Jim for several long moments. Finally, he closed his eyes and sank back into the bed. This is a dream. This is a dream. God, this has GOT to be a dream.

A loud shriek broke through his internal chant.

"NO! Don't you see it? Don't you? It's here!!! HELP! HELP ME! WHERE ARE YOU? WHERE ARE YOU? HELP ME!"

The screaming shot through Blair's skull like bullet, and he clenched his teeth. God, he felt sick. He needed to throw up. He needed that agonizing noise to stop.

He opened his eyes and looked in the direction of the sound. An old, gaunt man with thin strands of grey hair lay strapped to a bed on the opposite wall. The man looked straight at Blair, fixing him with a hateful glare. Blair cringed, struggling against the restraints that held him to the bed.

"You're the devil! The devil!" The old man threw his head back and screamed at the ceiling. "Help me!"

Blair stared with wide eyes at the raging man.

"See, Chief, even he knows your dangerous."

Blair turned his head, looking at Jim. Oh man, he's still here. This ISN'T a dream. Oh God... He shook his head. "I'm not a danger. What are you TALKING about?"

Jim cocked his head. "You're a danger to yourself and those around you. These Golden flashbacks of yours make you violent. We can't very well have you running around free as a bird when you could just go berserk any second. Come on, Blair, would you really be able to live with yourself if you hurt or killed someone in a blind rage?"

Blair swallowed. This is my nightmare... my worst nightmare, and it's actually happening. He gazed into Jim's confident, sympathetic eyes, and bit his lower lip, shaking his head solemnly. "No," he said. "No, I don't want that to happen."

Jim smiled reassuringly and patted Blair on the shoulder. "Good, Chief. I know this isn't your fault, but this is the best place for you now."

"HELP!"

Blair's head snapped back to his strange roommate.

The man pulled at his leather bindings, screaming obscenities at Blair. "You've come to take my soul. Fucking demon! Get away from me. Evil fucking demon!"

Blair closed his eyes, trying, unsuccessfully, to block out the insane man's tirade. His heart pounded fiercely in his chest. Again, he tugged at the restraints. He needed to get out of there....

"HAH! Can't fucking hold me now!"

Blair opened his eyes and looked at the man, noting with a sinking horror that he had managed to slip one hand out of a restraint. Frantically, the old man worked at his other restraints.

No.

Sandburg looked at Jim. "Come on, Man. Go call someone. He's getting loose."

Jim smiled, shaking his head. "Nope. Sorry, Chief. I can't save your butt all the time, you know. You're in here on your own, you've gotta learn to take care of yourself."

Blair felt as though his whole world were crumbling. No way this was actually happening. Jim would never say such a thing. I really am dreaming. It's the only logical explanation.... but... God, it's SO real.

Blair turned away from Jim, looking back at the insane man. The old man freed his other hand, then pulled at his ankle restraints. Blair's heart leapt into his throat, and he convulsed wildly against the restraints, desperate to free himself before the raging man could break free completely.

The man unbuckled the last restraint and leapt out of the bed. With uncanny clarity, the man's features morphed into those of David Lash. Blair pulled frantically at his restraints. "HELP! HELP ME!" He glanced at Jim, who stood casually near the door, only a few feet away. "JIM! Come on, man!" Jim showed no inclination to take action. "HELP ME! SOMEONE HELP ME!" He screamed at the top of his lungs,  hoping someone... anyone... would hear him and answer the call.

Lash lunged toward Blair, wrapping his hands arounds Blair's throat.

"DEMON! They won't get me! You'll see. I'll switch! I'll show you!"

The crushing pressure on Blair's windpipe silenced his screams, and he tried to pull away. His brain kicked out all conscious thought as it sent a surge of adrenaline through his system. His lungs ached, demanding oxygen. Spots danced along the edges of his vision. His eyes felt like they would pop out of their sockets any second. His body convulsed in one final act of rebellion before going limp.


Jim opened the loft door and tossed his keys into the basket. With a tired sigh, he hung his coat on the rack and headed into the living room. It had been a long day and all he wanted now was a nice hot shower followed by a quiet slumber. He glanced at his watch. 3:00 a.m. He cocked his head. The loft was unusually quiet, devoid of the normal rhythms of his Guide's breathing and heartbeat. Jim rubbed his temples. Sandburg wasn't due back from his trip for another day, and Jim found himself actually missing the little daily eccentricities he encountered with his partner.

A blinking red light caught his eye, and he strode over to the answering machine and pressed the play button. "Hello. My name is Doctor Yamani at Mercy General Hospital in Seattle. I'd like someone to call me as soon as possible regarding a Mr. Blair Sandburg."

His heart nearly stopped. Oh God...

The woman left a phone number, and Jim snatched the receiver off the hook the moment she finished speaking. Frantically, his heart pounding in his chest, he punched in the number.

Three rings sounded, followed by a female voice. "Mercy General Hospital. How may I direct your call."

Jim balled one hand into a tight fist, struggling to keep his voice steady. "This is Detective James Ellison with the Cascade PD. I received a message from Doctor Yamani regarding Blair Sandburg. Can you put me through to the doctor?"

"Just a moment, Sir."

Jim's fist tightened. He didn't expect to get a hold of the doctor at such an obscene hour. Seconds ticked by.

"Hello, this is Doctor Yamani. Are you calling about Blair Sandburg?"

"Yes! What happened? What is this about? Is he alright?"

"Your name again?"

Christ! "Jim Ellison."

The woman sighed. "So you're Jim."

"Doctor, could you just tell me what's going on? Has something happened to Sandburg?"

Of course something happened to Sandburg. It's a universal law. He closed his eyes. Just please be okay. His mind flashed on the image of Blair's body resting on a cold slab in a hospital morgue miles away. A lump caught in his throat, snatching his breath from him. God, if Sandburg..... No. He couldn't be dead... not alone like that.... not in a strange city.

"Mr. Sandburg was in an accident, but he's on his way to a full physical recovery."

Jim's knees threatened to buckle, and he sank onto the couch. "Thank God," he whispered. Then something she said struck him, and he tensed. "Physical recovery?"

"Uh... yes... Mr. Sandburg has been sporadically delusional and violent. Does he have a history of mental problems?"

Delusional? Violent? Those were not words one would ever use to describe Sandburg. "No, Doctor." He took a deep breath. "Just what kind of accident was he in?"

"He was struck by several boulders and fell off the side of mountain. He fell about 20 feet. He's got a concussion, bruised ribs, and a few cuts and scratches," she explained.

"Exactly how is he delusional?"

"He keeps talking about fire people."

Jim closed his eyes. He inhaled another deep breath, releasing it slowly. When he spoke, his voice was flat. "A year ago he was dosed with a hallucinatory drug called Golden. You can contact Cascade General Hospital for his medical records, but don't do anything until I get there. I'll be there before dawn."

"Can you tell me a bit more about this drug?"

"It's a powerful hallucinogen that can cause flashbacks months to years after being ingested." He sighed, rubbing his face with one hand. "Maybe his head injury has something to do with his condition."

"Oh," she said. "Damn."

The color drained from Jim's face. "What?"

"Well, we called in a psych consult due to his violent behavior. We've currently got him on anti-psychotic drugs." She paused. "I'll have him taken off immediately. With what I know now, I'm afraid we might be doing him more harm than good with those drugs."

"WELL GET HIM OFF THEM!"

"We will. I'm sorry, Mr. Ellison. We didn't know."

"Fine. Whatever. Just get to it."

"Of course," she said.

"I'm on my way. I don't want you or any of your people giving him anymore drugs that aren't absolutely necessary."

"Okay, Mr. Ellison." Another pause. "He's been calling for you."

Jim clenched his jaw, muscles popping out like steel cables. "Tell him I'm on my way." He slammed the phone down and bolted upstairs to his bedroom.


Cindy stood rigidly, nervously listening to the instructions snapped at her by Doctor Korrins. This was only her first week on the job, and she was beginning to feel like more of a hindrance than a help. At every turn, some doctor was either barking orders at her or screaming at her for screwing up.

"Take Carl here and transport Mr. Kyle to surgery. Think you can handle that?"

Cindy nodded, glancing at the large orderly behind the desk. "Yes, Sir."

The orderly turned, flashing her a reassuring smile. "Okay, Cindy, let's get the fruitcake to the O.R."

Cindy smiled and nodded, turning on her heels to walk down the hall. Carl followed closely behind. They stepped into the room, and she walked over to the only occupied bed, glancing at the chart.

"Okay," she said, glancing at Carl. "This is the one." She looked at the unconscious man on the bed, noting the pale skin, long, dark curls, and bandages.

Carl glanced around. "Wasn't there an old guy over there," he asked, pointing to the empty bed against the opposite wall.

Cindy shrugged. "Don't know."

Carl shook his head. "They move people around so much in the hospital, it makes me dizzy."

Cindy chuckled. "Musical beds."

Carl nodded. "Yep. So, uh, what kind of surgery is this guy supposed to be having?"

Cindy shrugged. "I don't know. Some sort of neurological procedure."

"Well, let's get a move on," he said.

"Okay." Cindy walked to the side of the bed and glanced at the man's wrist ID. Gregory Kyle.

Cautiously, she unfastened his restraints, then grabbed the resident stretcher from the far end of the room and wheeled it next to the man's bed. Carl helped her secure the man onto the stretcher, then wheeled the patient out of the room.


"What the hell happened to this man?"

Cindy glanced at Carl, then back at the doctor. She shrugged. "What do you mean, Doctor?"

"These red marks around his neck. They're fresh." He leaned over the patient's head, listening to the raspy, shallow breathing. "Hmmmnn." He reached behind him and yanked a stethoscope off the counter. He placed the instrument against the patient's chest and listened. "Well, his pulse sounds good." He shifted the instrument to several different spots on the man's chest. "Breathing okay."

He yanked the stethoscope off and tossed it back onto the counter, shrugging. "Okay, let's continue."

One of his assistants handed him a electric razor. "It's almost a shame to cut off those curls," the woman mused.

The doctor smiled at her. "He'll live." Then he glanced at the anesthesiologist. "Ready?"

The man nodded. "Yep."

The patient groaned. All eyes focused on him.

"Looks like their sedative is wearing off."

"Well, let's get him under before he becomes irate," the doctor suggested.

"Jim..." The patient struggled against the straps holding his body down.



 
Jim skidded to a halt in front of the hospital. He leapt out of the truck, slammed the door behind him, and ran into the hospital.

"Excuse me!" He dashed over the front desk, pushing past a woman speaking to receptionist.

"Hey!"

He spared the woman a cursory glance. "Sorry. Emergency," he muttered, then turned his attention to the receptionist. "I'm Detective Ellison." He reached into his jacket and pulled out it his badge, flashing it to the woman. "I'm here about a patient, Blair Sandburg. Doctor Yamani is working his case."

The woman nodded. "Okay. Hold on. She's still on shift." She picked up the phone and punched in three numbers. "Paging Doctor Yamani. Please come to the front desk. Doctor Yamani, please come to the front desk."

Jim felt a headache growing behind his eyes. "Listen, can you just tell me what room Sandburg's in?"

"Why don't you wait for Doctor Yamani?"

"Why don't you just tell me where Sandburg is?"

She sighed, then turned her attention to the computer. Her fingers flew over the keyboard, and, after a few seconds, she glanced back at him. "Uh, he's in the psych ward. No visitors allowed."

"THE PSYCH WARD?!"

The woman jumped. All eyes in the small waiting room turned to him. Ellison ignored all the curious and fearful stares, training ice blue eyes on the woman in front of him. He leaned over the counter threateningly.

"Listen, lady. Someone's made a big mistake here, and if I don't see my partner within the next five minutes, I'll have the whole damn police force down here!" It was an idle threat, he knew, but the woman apparently believed him. She nodded. "Okay, Officer. Just calm down. She glanced at the computer screen again, obviously avoiding his intense glare. "The psych ward is on the fifth floor."

"Thank you," he said.

He pushed himself away from the counter and turned, scanning the room for an elevator. He spotted one in the far wall and hurried over to it. Impatient, he slapped the UP arrow and waited, his body tense. Come on. Come on. It seemed like an eternity had passed, and still the elevator doors hadn't opened. He was just about to search for the stairwell when a female voice called his name.

He turned, seeing a petite, dark-skinned woman behind him. "You ARE Jim Ellison, aren't you?"

He nodded. "Doctor Yamani?"

"Yes." She extended her hand.

Ellison took her hand and shook it, barely aware of the gesture. "My partner?"

She raised her eyebrows. "Mr. Sandburg is your partner?"

He nodded, suppressing a frustrated sigh. "Yes. How is he?"

"Uh... well..."

His heart dropped to his feet. "What?"

"We seem to have, uh, lost him."

"WHAT?!" Dear God, what is it with these hospitals? He remembered when the hospital in Cascade had lost Simon. That time, someone had been trying to kill the Captain. Jim's headache flared to life, and his stomach churned. Sandburg... geez, what the hell could the kid have gotten himself into?
 
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Jim bolted inside, followed by Doctor Yamani.

"I'm sorry, Detective. We'll find him, believe me. Just give us some time."

He threw her a stony glare. "That's not something I'm prepared to do."

She swallowed, glancing at the numbers above the doors. " I am sorry, Detective. I don't know how this could have happened."

"What room was he in?"

"I'll show you."

The elevator stopped on the fifth floor, and Jim followed the doctor out into the hall. She jogged down the corridor, finally coming to rest at a door a few yards down.

"In here," she said.

Jim stepped into the room, opening his senses. He smelled a faint hint of Sandburg's herbal shampoo, almost overpowered by the smells of chemicals, sweat, and urine. He reeled backward, nearly gagging on the stench.

"Are you okay, Mr. Ellison?" The doctor placed a hand on his arm.

Jim shrugged her hand off. "I'm fine." He turned down the dial on his sense of smell and stretched his hearing outward, taking in the myriad sounds of the hospital. Moans. Coughs. Whimpers. Footsteps. Voices. A baby crying.

"No... Jim..."

Jim stiffened, leaping into a run like a bloodhound following a trail.

"Detective?!"

Jim kept his ears tuned to the voice of his Guide.

"Hel..."  Blair's voice trailed off.

A new voice replaced Sandburg's. "That's it Mr. Kyle. Time for a little nap."
 
Jim's chest tightened, and he pumped his legs faster. He flew through the stairwell doors, taking the steps two at a time.

"How 'bout a little music?"

"I brought some oldies."

Jim burst through the doors, emerging like an angry bull onto the fourth floor. He stormed down the corridor, following the voices. He strained his hearing, finding the slow beat of his Guide's heart. Hang on, Chief. I'm coming.

"Well, pop in the CD."

Jim skidded to a halt in front of a pane of glass. He peered inside, seeing Sandburg on the table, unconscious. Several green-clad people surrounded him, one of them holding up a electric razor. The person with the razor turned it on, and the obnoxious buzzing pierced Jim's eardrums like a bolt of lightning. He winced, stumbling backwards. Sandburg. He shook off the echoing in his skull and lunged forward, pushing through the doors. The group of doctors and nurses all looked up. A few released startled gasped.

"Who the hell are you," a man asked, stepping away from the group.

Jim reached into his jacket and pulled out his badge, glaring at the man. "Detective James Ellison." He jerked his chin toward Sandburg's limp form. "What the hell are you doing to him?"

The man looked suddenly confused. "What the hell is this about?"

The doors opened again and an out-of-breath Doctor Yamani staggered into the room. Jim turned to look at her, then returned his gaze to the doctor in front of him.

"Oh my God," Yamani muttered. "What are you doing with my patient?"

The man glanced back and forth between Jim and Yamani. "We're performing a laser labotomy."

Labotomy? Jesus Christ.... Jim pushed passed the doctor and walked over to Sandburg. He placed a gentle hand on Sandburg's forehead, noting the stitched gash on the side of the younger man's head and the angry red marks around his neck.

"You've got the wrong man here," Jim heard Doctor Yamani say.

The other doctor answered her. "Gregory Kyle?"

"Dear God, no. This is Blair Sandburg. He's in here for a concussion."

Silence. Then. "You're shitting me?"

"No. How the hell did he get here?"

"A nurse and orderly dropped him off. His wrist ID says 'Gregory Kyle'"

Jim grabbed Blair's wrist, glancing at the bracelet. "He's right. It does," Jim muttered. "What the hell kind of a place do you run here?" He glanced over his shoulder at Doctor Yamani. "He comes in here with a head injury and nearly gets labotomized?" His eyes blazed fire.

"Well, where is Mr. Kyle, then," the other doctor asked.

Yamani shrugged. "I don't know. He was the patient sharing Sandburg's room, I believe."

"Well, I suggest you search the hospital. Looks like you have an escaped mental patient," Jim said, then turned his attention back to Sandburg. "And I want this man put in a private room."

"Uh..."

Jim whipped his head around, glaring at the two doctors. "Would you prefer a lawsuit and some press coverage?"

Yamani swallowed, then nodded. "Of course, Detective. I'll see to it immediately."


Jim sat by Blair's bedside, his eyes focused on the raw band around Sandburg's right wrist. Restraints. God, Chief, I'm sorry... Doctor Yamani had ordered that Sandburg be kept in restraints until they could be sure he was no longer a danger to himself or others. Ellison had other ideas. He'd insisted the restraints be removed, assuring the doctor that he would take full responsibility for his partner. She argued with him, but, considering her tenuous position on the edge of a malpractice suit, she caved in rather quickly.

The door opened, and Jim looked up into the concerned face of Captain Simon Banks. "I came as soon as I got the message, Jim." He glanced at Sandburg. "How's the kid?"

Jim raised one hand and rubbed his eyes. "I don't know, Simon," he sighed. "They say the anti-psychotic drugs will take about 18 to 20 hours to work their way out of his system. He mumbles every now and then, but he hasn't come to yet."

"What the hell happened," Simon asked.

Jim shook his head. "I'm not sure. Sandburg was in an accident, they admitted him here. He started having some Golden flashbacks, from what they tell me. They couldn't find any neurological reason for his delusions, so they sent him over to the psych department. It just went downhill from there. Apparently one of the other psych patients escaped and switched his chart and ID bracelet with Sandburg's. When I finally found him, he was in the O.R.. A few minutes later, and I would have been too late," Jim said.

"What kind of surgery were they doing?"

Jim leaned forward and rested his head in his hands. "A laser labotomy." He suppressed a shiver, trying to block out the thoughts of what could have happened. He imagined himself arriving at the hospital to find out that part of his Guide's brain had been destroyed.

"Jesus." Simon walked over to the side of Sandburg's bed. "How does the kid manage to fall into so much trouble on such a regular basis?"

"I wish I knew," Jim muttered.

Simon sighed. "Well, at least he'll be okay now. Right?"

Jim nodded. "They think so, but they're a bit worried about how the drugs they gave him are affecting his Golden flashbacks."

"You mean like some kind of weird drug interaction."

Jim shrugged one shoulder. "Not exactly. The Golden incident was over a year ago, but you heard what the doctors said that time. He could be affected for months or years by the aftereffects of that drug, especially with the dose he got. They just think that the anti-psychotic drugs may heighten or contribute to his flashbacks."

"When did they start pumping him with them?"

"About ten hours after he was admitted. He got out of bed and attacked an orderly," Jim explained. "They said the drugs have kept him pretty much out of it since then."

"And when he starts to come to?"

Jim swallowed. "We'll have to wait and see." He turned anxious blue eyes onto Simon. "Christ, Simon, the stuff they gave him... it messes with his brain chemistry. It's designed to be used on psychotic patients to correct chemical imbalances in the brain."

"But with Sandburg...?"

Jim shook his head. "He doesn't have a chemical imbalance.. well, not exactly. Doctor Yamani thinks that maybe the blow to his head brought on the flashbacks. He had some minor brain swelling, nothing that concerned the doctors, but it was probably enough to cause the flashbacks."

Simon sighed, shaking his head. "What a mess." He placed a hand on Jim's shoulder. "I've made reservations for us at a nearby hotel."

Jim looked over at Sandburg's pale face. "Thanks, Simon. I'll be staying here, though. There's no way I'm leaving him alone in this place."

"So I figured. Still, if you want a shower or a nap, we're booked into the Hilton on the corner. Room 204."

"Thanks, Sir. I'll--"

A soft voice cut him off. "Fire. Send 'em back...." Blair turned his head, mumbling, his eyes closed. "Ashes... Alive..."

"Shhh," Jim whispered, placing a hand on Sandburg's elbow. "Easy, Chief."

Without warning, Blair jack-knifed into a sitting position. His arms flailed wildly, contacting Jim square on the jaw. "HELP! HELP ME!"

Jim almost tumbled out of the chair, but caught himself on the bed rail in time. Simon sprang into action, grabbing Sandburg's arms. Blair kicked his legs ferociously. "GET AWAY FROM ME YOU HEADCASE!"

Jim shook his head, his ears ringing from the blow. He sprang to his feet and grabbed Sandburg's legs, pressing his weight down to keep them pinned to the bed.

An orderly rushed into the room. "You need some help?"

"NO!" Jim's voice came out harsher than he intended, but he didn't want any of the hospital staff near his partner unless it was to check the IV, change his bandages, or take his vitals.

The orderly backed quietly out of the room.

"LEAVE ME ALONE!" Sandburg bucked viciously against the two men holding him down. "JIM!"

"Simon, change places with me!" Jim met Simon's gaze and mouthed a count to three.

Swiftly, the two men released their holds on Sandburg and switched places. Jim had an easier time restraining Blair's flailing arms than Simon did with the legs. Finally, both men were in place, with Sandburg secure beneath them.

"JIM! DON'T LEAVE ME HERE!"

"God, he's strong," Simon yelled.

Jim kept his weight on top of Sandburg, the younger man's arms pinned between the Sentinel's chest and his own. Jim brought his head down, inches from Sandburg's ear.

"NOOO!" Blair arched his back, trying to break free. Jim's hold remained firm.

"Blair. It's Jim. I'm right here. You're safe. Nothing's going to hurt you," he soothed, speaking into his partner's ear.

Blair's struggles weakened, and he stopped screaming.

"That's it, Chief. Easy... I've got you. It's okay."

Blair's struggles ceased completely, and his body went limp. A low, whimpered moan escaped his throat. Slowly, his eyes fluttered open, revealing confused blue eyes.

"Hey, Chief," Jim whispered.

Blair's eyes drifted toward Jim's, locking onto the Sentinel's anxious blue eyes. The young man blinked, and tears filled his eyes, spilling over onto his cheeks.

"Jim?" His voice was soft and hoarse, almost disbelieving.

Jim eased his hold on Blair. "Sshhhh. You're going to be okay."

"He's here. He tried to kill me, Jim. Don't leave me here... please...." His voice was a whimper. "I'm not crazy. I'm not..."

"No one's going to hurt you, Blair," Jim said.

Jim glanced at Simon, silently instructing him to release Blair's legs. Simon complied, taking a step back but remaining poised for action should Sandburg become violent again.

"He tried to strangle me," Blair croaked.

Jim snapped his head back to Blair, his eyes automatically falling on the young man's bruised neck. "Who did?"

Blair swallowed, closing his eyes. "Demon. He said I was a demon.... Not me... Fire people."

"Jim, he's delusional," Simon said.

The detective turned to Simon, indicating Blair's bruised neck with a jerk of his chin. "Look at those bruises Simon."

"Jim, maybe--"

The Sentinel raised his head sharply, "No, Simon," he said, "There's no way he did this to himself."

"NO!" Blair tried to sit up, but Jim held him down. "He tried to kill me." He fixed Jim with wide eyes that shimmered with tears. "Help me, please... please, Jim."

Jim found himself captured by that child-like, pleading gaze. He swallowed, his chest tight. "Okay, Chief. I'll help you. I promise, no one's going to hurt you." He placed a hand on Blair's forehead. "Just take it easy. I'll stay right here. I'll make sure you're safe."

Blair sank back into the bed, releasing a shaky sigh. "Don't leave."

"I won't."

Sandburg's eyes floated closed. "Why didn't you help me, Jim" he mumbled, then drifted off to sleep.

Jim stiffened, glancing at Simon with confused, pained eyes.


"Jim."

Ellison snapped to awareness, stiffening in the rigid hospital chair. He felt a momentary sense of disorientation before his sleep-fogged mind registered the fact that he was still at the hospital.

"Jesus. You look like hell," Simon observed, grabbing a chair from the far wall and sitting down near Sandburg's bed.

"Thanks," Jim grumbled, sparing a critical glance at his sleeping partner. Blair's face was pasty white, and he had dark bags beneath his eyes. With a yawn, Jim turned back to Simon. "What's the damage."

Simon leaned back in the chair. "Well, there's a busted a window and a minor dent on the side, near the front. He also needed a tire replaced. The estimate came to a little over $700."

Jim nodded. "Okay. I'll call them and give them the go-ahead."

Simon shook his head. "I already paid them. You can pay me half back later."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "Half?"

Simon shrugged, a smile playing on his lips. "Well, hell, I figure with all Sandburg does around the station, without pay, this is the least I can do." He jerked his head toward the sleeping figure. "If you mention this to the kid, I'll bust you down to traffic cop."

Jim smiled. "Careful, Simon, the kid seems to be growing on you."

The Captain scowled. "Like a rash, maybe. Unsightely and irritating."

A small groan escaped the still figure on the bed, and both men turned their heads to look at Sandburg.

"Blair?" Jim scooted his chair closer to the bed.

Blair's eyes opened, and he squinted at Jim. "Oh man," he moaned. "What happened?"

Jim grinned, every muscle in his body suddenly relaxing. "Welcome back, Chief."

Blair glanced at Simon, then back at Jim. "My head hurts." He closed his eyes briefly. "And my throat hurts." He opened his eyes, clenched his teeth, and added. "Okay, and my ribs hurt."

Jim patted Blair gently on the knee. "You went one-on-one with a mountain. Do you remember?"

Blair tilted his head, raising one hand to his temple. His arm stopped in mid-air as his eyes caught sight of the red ring around his wrist. Quickly, he raised his other wrist for inspection. Then he narrowed his eyes and looked at Jim. "What happened?" He waved his arm toward Jim. "These look like rope burns, or something."

Jim glanced at Simon, who simply raised his eyebrows and looked away.

"Jim?"

Ellison turned his attention back to Blair. "What do you remember, Chief?"

Blair shrugged. "My car got a flat tire, so I pulled over and changed it. I only had the temporary, so I was going to drive it to a service station. Anyway, as I was walking back around the front of the car, something slammed into me." He paused, narrowing his eyes in concentration. "I think it was a rock slide.... yeah...that was it. I got pushed over...." His eyes widened and his heartbeat spiked, echoed by the rapid beeping of the heartmonitor. "OH MAN! I fell off the edge!" He glanced at Simon, then back at Jiim. "That's the last thing I remember... I swear I am NEVER pulling my car over on a mountainside again!" He searched briefly for the bed controls, then released a small exclamation of victory when he found it. He pressed the button, and the upper half of the hospital bed lifted to a 45 degree angle. Finally, he lifted his head and fixed steady blue eyes onto the Sentinel. "So now you want to tell me what you're not telling me?"

Jim raised his eyebrows innocently. "What makes you think I'm hiding something, Sandburg?"

Blair tilted his head and gazed at Jim skeptically. "Come ON, man. You two look like the cat that ate the mouse." He raised his arm briefly. "And what about these marks... which, now that I'm aware of them, are really starting to itch?"

Jim sighed, his amused expression faultering momentarily. "I thought your head hurt, Chief," he remarked, aware that his attempt to change the subject would probably not work on the young man.

"It does. And you're not helping it any."

"Well maybe it you'd stop talking and get some rest, that headache of yours would go away," Simon suggested, a mock-scowl plastered on his face.

Blair grimaced. "I'm not going to sleep until one of you tells me what's up!"

Jim sighed. "Okay, Chief.... lower your voice" He didn't want to give any of the hospital staff cause to enter the room before he could explain the situation to Sandburg. "I'll tell you what I know."

Blair sank back into the bed, staring at Jim expectantly. "Okay." he whispered. "Happy now."

Jim smiled briefly, then sighed. "After they airlifted you here, you regained consciousness. From what I've been told, you were delusional. You... uh... had a Golden flashback."

Blair's face paled, and he clenched his jaw. He kept his gaze steady, silently urging Jim to continue.

"They said you became violent, so, to make a long story short, you ended up in the psych ward. They had to restrain you." He swallowed, glancing momentarily at Simon. "Unfortunately, they didn't have access to your medical records, so they had no idea about your exposure to Golden. They gave you antipsychotic drugs, which, they think, enhanced your flashbacks."

Blair bit his lower lip and looked away, staring out the window to the rooftop across the street. "How long have I been here?"

"Almost three days," Jim replied.

Blair's eyes snapped back to Jim. "Three days?"

Jim nodded. "Uh-huh."

Blair closed his eyes. "Oh MAN. I was supposed to give an exam yesterday."

"Don't worry about it, Chief," Jim said.  "I called the school as soon as I got here. Everything's being taken care of."

Blair opened one eye. "Really?"

"Yep."

The other eye opened, and Blair managed a small smile. "Thanks."

"Not a problem, Chief."

"Now can you get me the hell out of this looney bin?"
 
Ellison wasn't so sure Blair was ready to leave the hospital, but he winced at Blair's terminology. "Why don't I talk to the doctor, and then we'll see."

Blair sighed, shaking his head. He reached over and lowered the bed rail.

"Just what do you think you're doing, Sandburg," Simon asked.

Blair looked up at the Captain, a hint of rebellion in his eyes. "I'm going to the bathroom, if you don't mind."

Simon raised an eyebrow in response, but Jim responded before Simon could even open his mouth. "Are you planning on taking the machines with you?"

Blair creased his brow. "Huh?"

Jim indicated the IV with a jab of his chin. "You've got an IV and heartmonitor hooked up to you."

"Oh."

Jim sighed. "Just hold on and I'll get the doctor." He walked out of the room and, a few moments later, returned with Doctor Yamani at his heals.

The doctor walked over to Sandburg, and, after whisking a penlight out of her pocket, inspected each of his pupils. "Hello, Mr. Sandburg," she said, placing the penlight back in her pocket.

"Hello, Doctor."

She smiled, gazing down at him. "I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself. I'm Doctor Yamani. You've been here at Mercy General Hospital for about three days."

Blair nodded. "I know."

"Mr. Ellison brought you up to date?"

He nodded. "Uh-huh."

"Do you know what day it is?"

Blair glanced up at the ceiling, scrunching his forehead in thought. "Uh... let me see... the accident happened on Saturday, so I'm guessing it's now Tuesday."

She nodded. "That's right."

"So, what do you do for a living?"

"I'm a grad student and T.A. at Ranier University."

She raised her eyebrows. "Oh? What are you studying?"

"Anthropology."

"Sounds interesting."

Blair sighed, recognizing the little interrogation for what it was - an attempt to see if he was playing with a full deck. "Can I go home now, Doctor Yamani? I can assure you, I remember who I am, what I do, who the President of the United States is, and what day of the week The X-Files comes on."

She chuckled. "Who's the vice president?"

"Al Gore."

"Just checking," she said, giving him a wink and a smile. Then she looked at the Detective. "Well, if you want, you can take him home in a couple of hours. I'd like to keep an eye on him a bit longer." She then turned back to Sandburg. "No driving for a week. Get plenty of rest, and take it easy over the next few days. If you get any dizzy spells, or headaches that don't go away, please call me or go see your own doctor."

Blair nodded.

"Thanks, Doctor," Blair and Jim chimed.

"Can you unhook me, Doctor? I'd like to use the restroom."

The doctor nodded. "Okay." She moved over to a small cabinet against the far wall and retrieved a cotton ball and some tape. Then she walked back over to Sandburg and grabbed his IV line. "This shouldn't really hurt," she said.

"Isn't that what doctors always say?"

She threw him a playful glare and then pulled the IV out of his vein, instantly taping the cotton ball over the small puncture wound. Then she reached up and grabbed the top of his gown, pulling it off his shoulders.

"This one might hurt a bit," she said.

"Great," Blair muttered. "If you admit it, it probably menas it's going to hurt a LOT."

"Oh stop being such a baby, Sandburg," Jim admonished.

Blair threw the detective a deadly glare. The doctor yanked off the wires, and Blair yelped in surprise. "Hey! Warn me next time."

She smiled. "That only makes it worst. You're lucky I was able to do them all at once. It's a talent."

"So can I get up now?"

"Let me get someone to help you," she suggested.

He waved her off. "No. I'm fine. I can do it."

"It's hospital policy, I'm afraid."

"I'll help him," Jim said. "Thank you, Doctor."

She gazed at the detective for a second, then, finally, nodded. "Okay. Call if you need anything." She turned and left the room.

Blair silently accepted Jim's assistance as he slid off the bed and limped toward the bathroom. Once he reached the doorway, he shrugged Jim off and, with a small smile, said, "I think I can handle it from here, Jim. Thanks."

The Sentinel nodded as Blair closed the door behind him.


Sandburg leaned against the bathroom door and closed his eyes. So, it had finally happened. The doctors had warned him of the possibility of flashbacks occuring even after the drug was flushed from him system. Now, a year later, the Golden was back to haunt him. He supposed it was fortunate that he didn't remember a damn that had happened since he went one-on-one with the mountain.

He sighed and pushed himself away from the door, then staggered toward the sink. He leaned heavily against the porcelain sink, inspecting himself in the mirror. His face was pale, with dark circles under his eyes. God, I look like hell. He turned on the faucet and splashed cold water on his face.

"I hate having to tell you this, Chief, but, naturally, your observer credentials have been revoked -- permanently."

Blair raised his head sharply in response to the voice in his head -- Jim's voice. The image of Jim tossing his observer credentials into the trashcan flashed in his mind, and he almost gasped at the cruel unexpectedness of the memory. Blair blinked. A memory? He shook his head. No, that wasn't right. It wasn't exactly a memory.... was it? A dream perhaps?

"Actually, these senses seem pretty under control lately. You've taught me how to control them, and now I no longer need you." Jim smiled, shaking his head. "Come on, Sandburg, you didn't think this was a lifelong deal, did you?"

Blair's heart dropped to his feet. My God... did that really happen? Am I still Jim's partner? It did make a certain amount of sense, Blair realized. Simon couldn't very well let Jim take an unstable person into the field. If Blair was prone to Golden flashbacks, then he would be more of a hindrance to Jim than a help. Blair's mouth suddenly felt dry, and he swallowed.

A knock sounded on the door. "You okay in there, Chief?"

Blair straightened, staring at the door. There was only one way for him to find out where he stood with Jim and Simon. Slowly, with one hand tucked around his ribs, he walked over to the door and pulled it open.

Jim raised his eyebrows. "Done? You need some help back to the bed?"

Blair shook his head, glancing at Simon. Better just get it over with. His eyes darted back and forth between Jim and Simon, and he forced himself to meet each man's gaze with calm eyes. "Am I still with the department?"

Simon blinked, and Jim crinkled his brow, glancing at the Captain. "Ah... of course you are, Chief. Why wouldn't you be?"

"Of course, Sandburg," Simon confirmed.

Blair breathed a visible sigh of relief, almost slouching against the doorjam. "Oh," he sighed, glancing at the floor. "Okay."

Jim placed a hand on his shoulder, and Blair looked up into the older man's narrowed blue eyes. "Why would you think otherwise," the detective asked.

Blair shrugged. "I just thought..." He shook his head. "I don't know. I guess I thought I remembered you saying something like that."

Jim leaned closer to Blair. "What do you mean? What exactly do you remember?"

Blair glanced toward his empty bed. Jim's voice echoed in his head. "I no longer need you." Blair shrugged off Jim's touch as he made his way over to the bed. "Nothing," he said. "My mistake."

Jim grabbed Blair's arm gently and helped him onto the bed. "It's obviously something." He sighed. "Whatever you think you remember, Chief, it must have been a dream."

Blair nodded. "Yeah, I know. I'm delusional and prone to hallucinations. Who wouldn't want me as partner?"

"Now wait just a minute, Blair," Jim said, grabbing Blair's shoulders. "You're not delusional. You've got a bump on the head, that's all. As soon as you're out of here, I expect your butt back at the station. God knows there's a pile of paperwork that's getting higher by the minute as a result of my little unplanned excursion here, and I expect you to help me tackle it once we get back."
 
Blair held Jim's gaze for several seconds, then, slowly, a smile found its way to his lips. "So, what's the story on my car," he asked, deciding it was time for a change of subject.

Jim grinned broadly, glancing at Simon. "It's all taken care of, Chief."

Blair raised an eyebrow. "What is?"

"Your tire, and all the damage caused by the rocks," Simon interjected. "There was a small dent and a busted window."

"Oh?" Blair looked back and forth between Jim and Simon. "So what do I owe?"

Jim's grin broadened. "Nothing, Chief. Consider it a thank you gift for all the hours you put in at the station."

Blair's jaw dropped open. "What? You mean, you paid for it?"

Jim nodded. "Well, not just me."

Blair's eyebrows rose to his hairline. "Who else?"

Jim's face remained impassive. "I'm not at liberty to say."

Blair glanced at Simon, who put on a show of staring nonchalantly out the window. Suddenly, the young man's face lit up, and he grinned sheepishly. "Simon?"

The Captain almost jumped, throwing a glare in Jim's direction. The Sentinel simply smiled and shrugged. "The kid's bright, Captain. What can I say?"

Simon ignored Jim's remark and stared at Blair, waving a finger in front of the grinning patient. "Don't go getting any ideas, Sandburg--"

Blair raised his hands in the air. "I know, Simon, this doesn't mean that you really like me."

"It's Captain to you," Banks growled, but his features softened. "But you do work hard around the station... and, God knows, it can't be easy being Jim's partner." Simon spared a glance at the detective. "Now that he has you to vent his frustrations on, my life has become infinitely more enjoyable."

Blair looked away briefly, lowering his head. "Thank you, Captain. That means a lot." More than you know, he added silently. He turned his gaze back to Jim. "So, uh, what about my car?"

"I took a shuttle flight here and used a rental car," Simon explained. "I'll drive Jim's truck home and you and he can drive the Volvo back."

Jim shook his head. "Wait a minute, Simon. You might as well drive the Volvo back --"

Simon pointed a finger at the detective. "If you think I'm scrunching myself into that little green tin can, you're mistaken Ellison. He's your partner, you get to drive him and his car home."

Jim rolled his eyes and sighed. "Fine. Just be careful with the truck, Simon."

"Of course. I'm easier on cars than you are."

"And no smoking!"

Simon sighed. "Fine. I'll drive the Volvo."

"Listen guys," Blair began. "I'm sorry to be so much trouble. You don't have to drive the Volvo, Captain. I'll come back for it later."

Jim and Simon exchanged glances. "It's not a problem, Sandburg," Simon replied.

"You sure?"

The Captain nodded. "I'm sure. Now, if you'll excuse me gentlemen, I'm going for a cup of coffee."

Simon left the room, leaving the two men alone.

Blair cleared his throat. "Thanks, Jim."

The Sentinel raised his eyebrows. "For what?"

Blair shrugged. "The Car. Coming all the way out here. Stuff... you know..."

Jim smiled. "I'm just protecting my most valuable asset, Chief."

Blair smiled, his eyes bright. "You mean that?"

Jim ruffled his Guide's hair. "Of course. You think I could actually get anybody else to do my paperwork, watch my back, and cook breakfast?"

Blair placed his arms behind his head and gave in to a long, deep yawn. "You get to do the cooking for the next few weeks, big guy. I've got doctor's orders to rest."

"And that's what you're going to do," Jim said, then he glanced back at the closed hospital door. "Now, Sandburg, do you want to tell me what you were talking about earlier," he asked, pinning Blair with his gaze.

Blair swallowed. Damn. He had hoped his brief explanation had satisfied the Sentinel, though he knew the chances were slim. "What?" That's it, play dumb, Sandburg. Like he won't see right through you.

Jim's narrowed his eyes. "You said you remembered me saying that you were no longer with the department."

"Oh that."

"Yeah, that."

Blair glanced out the window. "It was nothing. Obviously a dream, or something. I don't even remember it all that well."

"You're lying."

Blair looked back at Jim. "You know, sometimes it really sucks having a Sentinel as a friend."

A smile tweaked the edges of Jim's mouth, but his gaze remained firm. "Stop stalling."

"I'm not stalling."

"Yes you are."

"I told you, it's nothing."

"So then, if it's nothing, it shouldn't bother you to tell me."

"Fine," Blair relented, taking a deep breath. He closed his eyes briefly, then forced himself to meet Jim's intense gaze. "I.. uh... well, I thought I woke up at one point and saw you standing over me. Everything was cool, you were acting normal, I was acting normal... you seemed genuinely concerned about me. You know, the usual. Then I asked you to get me out of here and you said you couldn't. You told me that I was... I was delusional and a danger to myself and others. You said my observer credentials had been revoked." Blair glanced away, swallowing the lump in his throat so he could continue. "Then you took my observer credentials out of your pocket and.... tossed them in the trashcan." Blair kept his eyes focused on a string of lint on his bed covers. "There was this other patient in the room. He started yelling at me. Then he got loose. I... uh... I don't remember that part really well... I thought... well... I kind of remember seeing Lash, but I'm not sure...." Blair's voice trailed off, and he stared silently at the string of lint.

After a few seconds, Jim said, "Go on, Chief."

Blair blinked. "Oh yeah. Anyway, he got out of bed and came toward me. I asked you to go call someone... get help... but you said I was on my own. He came over to me and...and..." Blair reached up, absently rubbing the bruises on his neck. A shiver ran down his spine, and he closed his eyes, seeing Lash's face looming over him. He felt a pressure on his shoulder and opened his eyes, looking up into Jim's sympathetic gaze.

"He's the one that gave you those bruises on your neck," Jim asked.

Blair nodded. "He tried to strangle me. That's the last thing I remember."

Jim pulled the chair closer to Blair's bed and sat down. He locked onto Blair's blue eyes, and reached out to place a hand on the younger man's elbow. "Blair.... God, I'm sorry. I wish I could have gotten here sooner. You know I value our friendship, and I sure as hell need you as a partner. This should have never happened to you, but it did. No matter what, though, you're never alone. You never have to go through anything on your own. All you have to do, Chief, is say the word, and I'll do whatever I can to help you... " He allowed himself a small smile. "Hell, you don't even have to ask, I'll be there whether you like it or not.... isn't that what you keep grumbling about? You think I'm too overprotective? That I hover too much?" He patted Blair's arm. "Well, that's tough, Sandburg. You're stuck with me."

Blair smiled, dropping his gaze in modest embarrassment. "Thanks, Jim." He stifled a yawn, his eyes suddenly heavy.

"This doesn't mean I'm not gonna smack you upside the head every once in awhile when you get out of line," Jim added.

Blair raised an eyebrow. "You are, like, SO funny, man." He cocked his head. "So this means you get to play nurse-maid to me for a week?" He could no longer suppress the yawn, and it escaped, making him bleary with fatigue.

"Soak it up while you can, Chief," Jim retorted, smiling as his partner's eyes fluttered closed. Softly, he added, "Rest now. I'll be here when you wake up."


The END