Jim owie. Blair owie, too. Angst all around.
Rated PG. Well, this is what happens when I'm sitting at my desk at the court of appeal reading about oxymorons such as 'attempted involuntary manslaughter.' J I had to do this incognito. Couldn't save it and get busted on the network. Had to just print it out and scan it in at home, then do a search for weirdness, like when the scanning software decides that a parenthesis should be a comma. :-)
It really was a gorgeous day. Blair inhaled a lung full of the crisp, mountain air and flashed a broad smile at his partner. Jim looked as happy and relaxed as Blair had ever seen him.
"Oh man, Jim, this is great. Just gr-- achoo!"
The Sentinel backed away. "Look, sneezy, point those germ-infested nostrils of yours somewhere else, okay?"
Blair pulled a wad of toilet paper out of his pocket and blew his nose, glaring at Jim over the tissue. "Hey man, consider this payback for drenching me last time you had a cold. I didn't hear you apologizing for projecting billions of viruses toward me at a velocity of 100 miles per hour."
Jim chuckled and shook his head, starting on their trek up the hill. "I think it was more like 200 miles per hour, and my germs are nowhere near as weird as your germs."
Blair stuffed the toilet paper back in his pocket and withdrew a small bottle of pills from his sack. "You know Jim, I think I'm going to do a whole chapter on these delusions of grandeur you have." He popped two pills in his mouth and took a swig of his water, then tossed the two bottles back in his backpack.
Jim glanced over his shoulder at Blair. "What did you just take?"
"A vitamin-goldenseal-echinacea mixture -- boosts the immune system."
"Then maybe you should have taken it before you caught this cold."
Blair rolled his eyes. "If I'd known I was going to catch a cold, I'd have taken it, thank you very-- achoo!"
Jim laughed and forged ahead. "You keep this up, you're going to scare off all the wildlife."
"And that's a bad thing? Lions and tigers and bears are nice to see on t.v., but I'm not too keen on meeting one."
"There are no lions or tigers here, Sandburg."
"But there are cougars and bears and snakes."
"Shut up and keep walking, old man."
Blair glanced at his watch, pausing to catch his breath. Damn, he and Jim had only been hiking for twenty minutes, yet he felt like he'd been running a marathon. The slope wasn't that steep. *Guess I'm getting out of shape -- either that or just plain old.*
Jim stopped and turned around, grinning madly. "Can't keep up, shortie? Who's old?"
Blair's eyes narrowed. He hated it when Jim started acting all superior. He especially hated that smug smile. He didn't even want to be up in the mountains walking three feet away from a cliff. *Jim doesn't seem to give jack-shit about my fear of heights.*
"I've got a cold, remember? The only reason I'm here is because you wanted a weekend away in the mountains and I have to tag along and baby-sit to make sure you don't zone and walk off a cliff."
Jim's smile dropped and his eyes flashed dangerously. 'What the hell's your problem? You don't want to be here, you can turn around right now. I don't need a damn baby-sitter."
Blair raised his eyebrows and released a short bark of laughter. "Oh really? Well when I met you, you couldn't even cross the street on your own. Remember?" He didn't wait for a response as he stormed past Jim to resume his hike up the mountain.
Jim was stunned. He stared at Blair's back as the younger man stalked up the mountainside, breathing hard. Breathing too hard. Jim focused his hearing on his partner. *Breathing rapid and strained, heartbeat rapid and... What's that?" He listened closer and the icy grip of fear clenched his chest. Blair's heart sounded like it was tripping over itself, its rhythm fast and irregular.
He rushed forward and grabbed Blair's arm. "Slow down, Chief. Your--"
Blair whirled around. "Lay off, man!"
Jim felt the fist contact his jaw, but he wasn't prepared for the
blow. The force sent him stumbling back, and the increased tug of gravity pulled him down
the slope. He lost hisfooting and slammed backward into the ground, then went into an
involuntary roll. The ground dropped out
from under him and his stomach slammed into his throat as he went into
freefall over the edge of the cliff.
*Oh God!* "JIM!" Blair lunged forward, sliding onto his stomach to peer over the cliff, his stomach tight. *What the hell did I do? What's wrong with me?* He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Jim hanging by his fingertips off a rock outcropping, but his relief quickly turned to guilt when he focused on the redness soaking the left side of Jim's head.
"Hang on, Jim!" *Rope, I need rope.*
Jim didn't answer, and that worried Blair. "Jim? Jim can you hear me?"
"Oh God, oh God." He sat up and rifled through his pack, retrieving his cell phone. He dialed "9" but then his vision blurred and the world spun around him. *Whoa.* He blinked, and found himself laying flat on his back looking up at the solitary cloud in the otherwise clear, blue sky.
Just as suddenly, the blue sky changed to orange, then purple. *Oh man." A strange ringing tickled his eardrums and his head began to pound. He lay there for a couple of seconds before realization slammed into him.
"JIM!" He bolted upright, almost throwing up with the surge of nausea the motion caused. Pushing the feeling down, he looked over the cliff again, almost sobbing when he saw that Jim was still there, literally hanging on for dear life.
Remembering the phone, he completed his call, grateful that the phone was picking up a carrier signal. He relayed the information quickly to the dispatcher, but his thoughts raced far ahead of the conversation. He knew Jim couldn't hold on long enough for help to arrive, but he didn't have a rope in his backpack and the hike back to the truck would take way too long.
And he was wasting time thinking about it while Jim's hold weakened. *Okay, Okay, think!* He peered over the edge again, swallowing hard at the sight of his friend hanging over the impressive expanse. He estimated the distance between the Sentinel and the top of the cliff at about six feet.
*Six feet. Six feet. Six feet. What am I gonna use?* He looked around wildly, then regreted it when the world spun again, sending him staggering. *What the hell is wrong with me?*
Whatever was wrong, he needed to get over it and fast, because Jim's life depended on him. *Okay, fashion a rope, Sandburg.* He looked down at his jeans. *Maybe.* They mightjust be long enough. Quickly, he untied his hiking boots and slipped them off, then hopped out of his jeans.
"Jim, man, hold on!" He wrapped the end of one denim leg around his right hand, then tossed the rest of the material over the side, dropping to the ground as he did so. "Okay, grab this!" He inched forward until the material just brushed the top of Jim's head, but the Sentinel gave no response. In fact, Jim seemed completely frozen.
*Oh no. Don't tell me he's zoned.* "Jim! Jim, listen to my voice, okay? I need you to grab this for me." *And I hope I can pull you up, man. I am NOT in the best position here.*
In fact, he didn't have anything to grab on to, but he had to maintain this precarious position or else the material wouldn't reach.
"Jim, c'mon, man. You gotta do this. Grab the damn jeans!" No response. "FUCK!" He pulled back, tossed the jeans on the ground, and ran his fingers through his hair. "What the hell's wrong with you, Jim?" *Damn, it's hot.* "Don't need a baby-sitter, huh?" *My head's killing me.* "Well look at you now!" *Shut, up, Sandburg, shut up!*
The air around him seemed to change, growing lighter with colors. Yellow, orange, wisps of blue. *Oh shit.* It came to him suddenly. *The echinacea pills.*
What had he *really* ingested?
Jim was too afraid to move -- afraid because he didn't know where he was or whether a move would end his life. His head hurt, but that was his only sensation. He couldn't see. He couldn't hear. He couldn't smell. Hell, beside the pain in his head, he couldn't feel anything.
He remembered falling. He'd seen a sharp protrusion along the mountainside and braced himself to meet it, hoping to grab it and stop his descent, but then he'd hit his head on the same outcropping and the lights had gone all out. Completely. A total sensory blackout.
But that wasn't all that worried him. *Blair.* Something was wrong with Sandburg. His heartbeat had been dangerously erratic and his breathing too rapid for a the energy he'd exerted in the hike. His behavior was another matter. Equally erratic. Angry. Violent. Not Blair. Not Blair at all.
*The pills?* It was the only thing he could think of at the moment. Not even twenty minutes had passed from the time Blair had popped his cold pills to the time his behavior changed. He knew Blair would never intentionally ingest a harmful chemical, but that herbal store he shopped at wasn't exactly a hospital pharmacy. Hell, packaging errors occurred even in the best pharmacies, so a one-man herbal health food store wasn't above such errors.
Or had it been an error? What if the pills had been intentionally tampered with? Someone bent on revenge?
All speculation and not, at the moment, important. What was important was him finding a way out of or off of wherever he was and getting his senses back online. He didn't know what was happening with Blair, and that *scared* him. He imagined Blair "tripping" and taking an unintentional dive off the side of the cliff. Or, maybe trying to help Jim up and losing his foothold. Or maybe seeing a golden bridge and a fairyland on the other side and...
*No. Don't panic. He'll be okay for a little bit. Just need to clear my head and then my senses will come back on. God, my head hurts. Wish I *couldn't* feel *that*. Damn, why now? Why this? Can't even go on a hiking trip and here I am stuck on the side of a cliffwith a pounding headache - blind as a bat and deaf as a doorknob. Or is it doornail? What is a doornail? Oh hell, this hurts. I can't think. THINK! THINK, Ellison! THINK!*
He couldn't exactly feel, but he *did* become aware of a strange tingling in his fingers. Exhaustion. He tightened his muscles. If his hands were getting tired, that must mean he was *using* them to hold onto something. Something he really shouldn't let go of.
*Ooh, look at the birdie. Big bird. Loud bird. Wind blowing.*
Blair laughed and waved at the approaching beast. *Nice birdie.*
A man inside the bird waved back. Blair frowned. *Not so nice birdie. Eat people.* He didn't want to get eaten. *Gotta hide!*
The bird dropped closer, hovering over the edge of the cliff. *Cliff?* Blair swallowed, his mouth dry. There was *something* about the cliff that seemed important. The memory teased at him, but then flittered away, just out of reach.
Blair struggled to his feet and backed away, the wind slamming against him and stinging his eyes. He blinked and staggered backward.
"Stay where you are, sir!" a voice yelled.
*Yeah, right.* Blair spun around and took off running.
Jim knew he was moving. His stomach sank suddenly and his head seemed to sway.
*Blair?* He wasn't sure if he'd said the name out loud, but he hoped it was his partner moving him. That would mean Sandburg was *all right.*
Of course, he didn't hear an answer. It was so damn frustrating, and his head still throbbed angrily. He felt himself straining, trying to find his senses -- any one of his senses, but he kept hitting a brick wall. A black, impenetrable brick wall.
Finally, he gave into the darkness.
Blair slid to a halt, the memory that had eluded him earlier slapping him in the face. *JIM!* He spun back around, then screamed when a wall of fire sprang to life in front of him. Hot flames licked at his cheeks and he flinched away. The fire grew, wispy yellow arms reaching out toward him.
A golden person made of fire and ash stepped out from the inferno and glided toward him, one long, flaming arm outstretched. Reaching. For him.
*No, no, no.* He knew the fire was evil. Demons. Come to destroy. To take souls. To turn him into one of them. He had to get away!
But he had to get to Jim. And Jim was on the other side of the fire.
It hit him all at once. Sight. Sound. Taste. Smell. Touch. And pain.
Bright, white light seared his eyes, the hum of the bulbs drilling into his skull like a jackhammer. An incessant beeping pounded against his eardrums to the tune of his throbbing headache.
He closed his eyes, but that was the only sense he could turn off. His skin itched all over -- and he felt wrapped in sandpaper. Something hard lay in his hand, snaking inside him to fit inside a vessel. It was almost maddening.
Smell threatened to gag him. Vomit. Antiseptic. Bleach. Deodorant. Perfume. Urine. Feces. Sweat. Tobacco.
He shifted his head to the right and forced his eyelids open a slit. A dark blur filled his vision.
The word slammed into him like a freight train. He flinched, clenching his eyes closed.
"Sorry." It was a whisper this time, but even that was too loud. Manageable, but loud. "You can hear me now, right? That's a relief. You had me worried there for a second, Jim. Can you tell me what happened?"
*What happened?* He struggled through the pain in his head to pin down the memory. Blair. Hiking. A strike to his jaw. Falling. Blackness.
"Blair?" His own voice exploded inside his skull and he winced.
"Chopper pilots reported a man matching Sandburg's description standing on the cliff above you. They told him to stay put, but he turned and ran. A small search crew is looking for him now."
He'd spotted them earlier - bright, flaming figures spouting beams of golden light. They'd called to him, trying to tempt him into their clutches, but he'd hid silently in the brush. After a small eternity, they retreated, leaving the wilderness silent save for the peaceful songs of the crickets.
It was dark now, and he couldn't see to navigate. It was also cold. So cold. He wanted to go home, but he had to find Jim first. Jim was hurt. Jim needed him.
But where *was* Jim? He couldn't remember anymore. It was all so foggy in his mind. He and Jim had fought. An argument. Maybe Jim was mad at him and went home. *Without me.*
No, Jim was hurt, right? He... He... Damn, he was so tired and so cold. His feet hurt from running unprotected on the harsh wilderness ground. His legs hurt. The biting night wind slapped against his bare thighs, puckering this skin and making him shiver.
Wet drops fell from the tree leaves above him, slapping against his cheeks and legs. He looked up, and the downpour started. Rain like ice pelted him, and he scooted beneath a towering tree and curled in a ball, trying desperately to find a meager hint of warmth.
Jim flinched, his hands snapping to his ears.
"Sorry," came the whispered reply as Simon hurried to his side. "But, damnit, what are you doing? You should be in bed."
Jim took a deep breath, the ringing in his ears abated. He finished buttoning his shirt and turned toward his captain. "The search party hasn't found Sandburg yet?"
Simon shook his head.
"Then I'm going out there. I can find him."
"You're hardly in any condition to go anywhere," Simon whispered.
"I'll manage." *I hope.*
Truthfully, he didn't know how far he'd get. Although he had his senses back -- more acutely than he'd like -- they weren't stable. They flickered in and out like the reception on a dying cell phone. At the moment, he had sight, sound, and touch, but his smell and taste seemed to be off-line.
"Fine." Simon grabbed his elbow and steered him toward the door. "I'm coming with you."
Jim raised his eyebrows, somewhat surprised by his captain's easy acquiescence. "Thank you, sir."
Simon gripped his flashlight tight, aiming the beam low. "Damn, it *would* have to be pouring rain."
"And Sandburg's been out here for almost twenty-four hours." Jim forged ahead, grateful that his eyesight seemed to be holding steady. He still couldn't smell anything, and his hearing had flickered in and out a few times since he'd left the hospital, but, in the moonless night, it was his vision he needed most of all.
However, his best bet in finding Sandburg lay in his using his eyes, ears, *and* nose. With his eyes, he could track. With his ears, he could listen for tell-tale signs of his friend -- breathing, heartrate, footsteps. With his nose, he could search for Sandburg's distinctive scent -- a mixture of herbal shampoo and natural soap.
"Jim, what is it you think the kid ingested?"
"I don't know." He tilted his head, straining his hearing while he had the use of it. "He thought he was taking cold pills, but I'm pretty sure that's not what they were. Maybe some kind of an hallucinogen." The deafening roar of crickets beat against his eardrums, and he winced, trying to tune the insects out and focus on what lay underneath -- hopefully, that single, precious heartbeat he'd been searching for.
He met with failure, his jaw clenching with frustration as he continued his hurried pace. He scanned the ground, picking out numerous booted footprints. The small search party had already been this way, leaving a clear trail.
Jim glanced briefly back at Simon. "You said they found his jeans and shoes back at the cliff?"
"So Blair's barefoot." *And half-naked. Damn, it's freezing out here. He's wet and cold and probably hypothermic by now.*
"Should be." Simon sounded out of breath, but Jim didn't slow his pace, turning his attention back to the tracks on the ground.
Five minutes later he spotted something that twisted his gut into a knot.
Finally, he found it. Cocking his head, he honed onto the low, raspy sound of distance breathing and found the underlying heartbeat.
"Got it, sir!" Jim took off like a bloodhound, tearing through the brush as he followed the beacon of Sandburg's heartbeat.
And, seconds later, he lost it... along with his vision. Blackout. He slammed into a tree and felt himself bounce off and fall backward. He hit the ground hard, laying dazed for several moments. Hands touched his shoulders, but didn't move him.
He couldn't hear or see anything. Deaf and dumb, just like he'd been on the cliff. At least this time, however, he still had his other senses... and he *did*, he realized. He could smell the residual odor of Simon's cigar and taste the sting of blood in his mouth. Had he bit his tongue when he'd hit the tree?
The rain pelted his face and he opened his mouth, welcoming the fresh drops and trying his best not to panic. He felt so very helpless, laying in the dark silence, knowing Sandburg was close. Very close.
The scent of blood and herbal shampoo tickled his nostrils, and he bolted into a sitting position. "I can smell him, Simon. Help me up."
A large hand wrapped almost painfully around his wrist and pulled him upward. He had no idea if Simon was talking to him, but he had to break the news to him. He'd need the captain's help to find his way to Blair.
"My hearing's on the fritz, sir. Oh, and my eyesight's gone, too, for the moment. I can smell Blair, though. I'll need you to guide me, sir. I'll point and direct you, you keep me from slamming into anymore trees. Okay?"
He could just imagine the expression on Simon's face right now. The captain was probably on the verge of a coronary. He almost smiled at that thought -- picturing Simon's stunned disbelief mixed with a healthy dose of "Am I crazy to go along with this?" But the smile faded as soon as it formed when a distant, soft whisper drifted from the darkness.
Their progress was painfully slow. Simon seemed to be taking extraordinary care guiding Jim through the brush, but speed was of the essence.
"Pick up the pace, sir, please. We're close. Keep going straight."
Thankfully, he couldn't hear Simon's reply, if any. He'd probably get a good lecture later about subordinate, blind, deaf detectives ordering around their captains.
But Simon quickened his pace, pulling Jim along with him, weaving around obstacles and stumbling over the uneven parts of the terrain. Then, all of a sudden, they slammed to a halt.
He was here. The smell was strong now. He dropped to his knees, his hands outstretched. Searching. His fingers brushed against a thick, wet, cold mass of curls.
Like a switch had been thrown, his senses came back online. All of them. He saw Blair curled into a ball in the wet grass, his hair clinging to his face and neck and his shirt soaked.
Simon was already shrugging out of his rain jacket. "Damn, he's cold." Quickly, the captain draped the jacket over Blair, then pulled out his cell phone and dialed help.
Jim worked Blair's arms into the large jacket, then took off his own and tucked it around his partner's chest and shoulders. "Chief?" He slapped Sandburg's cheek lightly. "Come on, buddy, wake up."
Blair's breathing was shallow and his heartbeat rapid. His skin was cold to the touch, like ice.
And he could still smell the blood. His nose twitched, and he began a quick scan of his friend, searching for signs of injury. His eyes found the source on the bottom of Blair's feet. The rain was doing a good job of blasting it away, but the cuts and scrapes were still oozing.
Blair felt something warm and heavy over him, but it did little to cut through the cold. He tried to curl himself tighter into a ball, seeking out the warmth, but he didn't think he managed to move.
Pain on his cheek. Fast and hard. Stinging. A voice. Deep. Familiar. Pressure on his shoulders. Moving. Rolling him on his back. The rain slapped him in the face, cutting into his cheeks like icy razors.
Something was hitting him in the face, slapping his cheeks. The voice was there, but he couldn't focus on it. He was so cold, but he couldn't feel his arms or legs anymore.
Then heat on his neck. Blessed, wonderful heat. The voice seemed louder now, and he struggled toward it. The words took shape slower, morphing into something recognizable.
"Come on, Chief, wake up. I need you to open your eyes for me."
Hands. They tugged at him. Worked at his feet. Batted his cheeks. Annoying. He wanted to sleep, but they wouldn't let him.
"Wake up, Sandburg. Come on, buddy. Open your eyes."
*Go'way, Jim.* He moaned, trying to turn away from the hands that kept slapping him.
"That's it, Chief. Come on. Look at me."
"ETA five minutes, Jim."
*Jim.* Something teased at the back of his mind. Something about Jim. Jim and fire. Jim falling. An argument. Jim was mad at him.
"Jim?" He struggled to open his eyes.
"Yeah, Blair, right here. That's it. Come on, open your eyes." The constant stinging slaps on his cheeks stopped, and fingers gripped his chin, turning his head to the right. The voice changed, sounding deeper and angrier. "Open your eyes, Sandburg. Now."
Two blurred figures loomed over him, a bright light hovering over them like a fog. Then it came back to him. The fire! The ash people.
"No!" He struggled, but something weighed him down, hampering his movements.
"Easy, Blair, easy."
He was shivering now, the cold hitting him with more force. Arms slid beneath his back, lifting him up and cradling him against something warm. He stopped struggling.
"Yeah, right here."
"Sorry." Maybe Jim wasn't mad anymore.
But wasn't Jim dead? Didn't he fall off the cliff? *I punched him.* He remembered now. *I punched him and he fell. I killed him.*
Tears sprung from his eyes and mixed with the rain. He didn't realize he was sobbing until the arms holding him tightened and a hand rose to cradle the back of his head.
"Shhh. It's okay."
He pressed himself into the solid warmth. His senses told him Jim was holding him, but he knew it couldn't be true. He remembered it so clearly now. Jim had fallen over the cliff. *I hit him. Why did I hit him?* He remembered being angry, but now he didn't know why.
"I'm sorry, Jim."
"I didn't mean to kill you. I'm sorry."
"Chief, I'm okay. I'm right here."
It was nice to hear, even if it was just a dream. Blair felt the darkness calling. He closed his eyes, letting himself believe the voice speaking to him and the warm arms holding him were real.
Jim and Simon both rose from their seats when the doctor walked into the waiting room.
"Detective Ellison. Captain Banks." The doctor nodded a greeting and gestured to the recently-vacated seats. "Please sit down."
The two men obeyed instantly. The physician took the neighboring chair. "The tox screen turned up LSD."
Silence. The doctor paused while Jim and Simon digested the news.
"LSD?" Jim took a deep breath. "How much?"
"That's hard to say because of the amount of time that's
passed since he ingested the pills. However, each pill contained about 300 micrograms.
Since you're not sure if he took one or two pills, that puts the range between 300 and 600
micrograms. Suffice it to say he took in quite enough, but his prognosis is good. He's
coherent now and responsive, though a bit confused. However, the effects of LSD can last
for days. He's probably going to be 'in and out' and confused for the next day or so. He's
also very worried about you, Detective Ellison. I've told him you're okay, but he doesn't
believe me. I think it would do him a world
of good to see you for himself."
Jim shot out of his chair. "Lead the way." He turned to Simon before leaving. "I'm not sure where he bought those pills, but I do know he shops at a little place off of 8th Street. Sunami's Good Health store, I think it's called. They package their own stuff. I'll find out for sure from Blair as soon as I can."
Simon nodded. "Jim, don't worry. I know Sandburg didn't take the stuff knowingly and I'll make sure anybody else involved knows it as well. I'm on it. Get back to me with the information as soon as possible. Okay?"
With a curt nod, Jim turned and followed the doctor down the hall.
As Ellison walked on the heels of the doctor, he mentally reviewed the prognosis. "What do you mean about his being 'in and out' for the next day or so?"
The doctor glanced quickly at Ellison. "LSD can affect the user for days. He might have a few pseudo-hallucinations that he'll know are not real. He may experience distorted perceptions of time, distance, or gravity. Minutes can seem like hours, for example. He won't be safe behind the wheel of a car for at least a week, but I'll have to evaluate him then before I clear him. As for the gravity perception, users often feel light, like they're floating, or heavy, as though someone were pushing down on them. Also, fusions of the senses. He may 'see' music or 'hear' color."
Jim breathed slowly and deeply. "Yes, I'm aware of the effects of LSD. I've seen it enough in my line of work, but how is he now and how severe do you expect these affects to be?"
"Right now, like I said, he's coherent and responsive to questions, but he's confused. He thinks he killed you. He thinks he was in a forest fire. Then, at one point, he started talking about fire demons and ash people. I'm well aware of his previous Golden exposure, and a past incident like that will likely induce hallucinations of a similar nature upon a subsequent psychotomimetic drug exposure."
The doctor slowed and gestured to a closed door. Jim peered through the slanted blinds to see Sandburg laying in a hospital bed. His eyes were wide open and puffy, their edged rimmed with red. The heartmonitor beat a bit too fast for Jim's comfort, as though Blair had just finished running up a few flights of stairs.
The doctor opened the door and let Jim go ahead. "I'll be out here in the hallway."
Jim nodded and smiled his appreciation. "Thank you." Then he closed the door and turned to the figure on the bed, not surprised to find Blair staring at him as though he were a ghost.
"Hey, Chief." He maintained his smile and walked up to the bed. "How are you feeling?"
Immediate tears sprang to Blair's eyes. "Jim?"
"In the flesh." He gave Sandburg's arm a gentle pat.
"I thought I... I remember hitting you. You went over the cliff."
Jim didn't think it wise to get into the details just yet. "I'm okay, Blair. Did the doc tell you what happened?"
Blair's gaze shifted to the ceiling. "My cold pills were LSD." His voice was suddenly flat and hollow.
Jim frowned, concerned by the sudden change in Blair's tone. "Yeah, that sums it up, but you're going to be okay."
"First Golden, now LSD," Blair continued in that same chilling monotone. "I'm turning into a regular junkie."
"No, Chief, that's not true. Look, the Golden wasn't your fault and this wasn't--"
"Me and my stupid herbal remedies. Next time I'll just wait the bug out."
"I thought you were dead." His voice cracked and he turned his head away. "I thought I killed you. But I hit you, didn't I? I hit you and you fell over the cliff."
Jim sighed, taking a moment to collect his thoughts and figure out how to relieve his partner's guilt. "You hit me, yes, and I did fall, but I'm okay now. See?" He paused, but when Blair didn't turn to look at him, he reached out and grabbed the younger man's chin, turning his face toward him. "But you didn't know the LSD was in those pills, right?"
Blair met his gaze. "Right. I didn't know. It was supposed to be --"
"I know. Simon's checking into that now. Where did you buy the bottle?"
"From Sunami's Good Health on University and Eighth."
Jim nodded. "I thought so."
Suddenly Blair pulled back, yanking his chin out of Jim's grip. His eyes widened and his heart sped, echoed by the beeping heartmonitor.
Jim tensed. "Blair --?"
"I know they aren't real, Jim, but they're back. They come back and it's hard for me to ignore them, you know?"
Blair's soft, plaintive tone send a chill through him. "The Golden Fire people? You see them now?"
Sandburg nodded, looking away again. "I can't do this again. I... " His voice trailed off and he closed his eyes. "I can't make them go away."
"Hey, hey." Jim lowered the bed rail quickly and slid onto the edge of the mattress. "They can't hurt you. Remember that."
"I'm sorry I hit you, Jim."
"Shhh." He brushed his hand over the top of Blair's head. "It's okay, Chief."
Blair whispered something else -- a whimper really -- but it was too low and garbled for even Sentinel ears to make out. Jim simply continued his low reassurances and gentle strokes until Blair's heart rate dropped and his breathing evened out.
Blair sat on the couch with his bandaged feet propped on a pillow on the coffee table. Idly, he used the remote to flip through the TV channels. A hard knock sounded at the door just as Jim emerged from the bathroom, and the detective hurried to answer it.
Blair glanced over to see Simon enter the loft as Jim closed the door behind him.
"How are you doing Sandburg?"
Blair forced a smile on his face. He wasn't feeling good at all.
Embarrassed and guilty, mostly, and a little sore. Not to mention anxious. He wasn't sure
if any more episodes were pending, so he couldn't help but be tense all the time,
expecting reality to morph into
something nightmarish at any moment.
"Okay, Simon. Thanks."
Jim moved into the kitchen. "Something to drink, sir?"
"No thanks." Simon sank into the armchair. "I've got news about the health shop. Turns out they were running a little illegal drug operation on the side. Not only do they deal LSD, PCP, and Marijuana, but they also sell illegal products from endangered species. We're not exactly sure if the LSD packaged as cold pills was a mistake or a deliberate act by someone out to get the owners."
Blair swallowed hard and looked back at the TV. "Thanks, Simon."
"We've made some arrests, of course." Simon rose from the chair and walked toward the door. "If it's any consolation Blair, you helped us bring down a local drug operation."
Blair flashed a weak smile. "I'll send you my bill."
"Funny." Simon shook his head and Jim opened the door for him.
Blair heard the two men whisper briefly to one another. It didn't take a genius to figure out they were talking about him. Probably discussing how safe he was to continue as Jim's partner. First the Golden now the LSD. Flashback city. He wasn't stupid. He knew the risks. Why did they have to treat him like a child? Didn't they have enough respect for him to lay it out straight to his face?
A sudden surge of anger took control of his mouth. "You two got something you want to say to me?" He muted the TV and looked over at the men, his gaze steady.
Simon and Jim exchanged glanced, then Simon cleared his throat. "Just to wish you a speedy recovery Sandburg."
"And then...?" Blair raised his chin as if in challenge.
Sudden realization dawned in Simon's eyes and he took a step toward the couch. "Listen, Blair, if you think your observer status is jeopardized by this, it isn't. You're the only one who can help Jim with his senses and, as I've said before, you're an asset to the department."
"An asset?" Blair looked back at the silent television screen. "Yeah, right. An asset who almost got Jim killed."
A low, tired sigh answered him and a hand came down on his shoulder. "Chief, you've got to stop this guilt thing. Things are a little amplified for you right now, but you need to let yourself off the hook. If it had happened to me, would you blame me?"
Blair didn't hesitate. "No, of course not."
"So then why do you insist on blaming yourself?"
Blair shrugged, feeling suddenly two years old and three inches tall. He *was* acting like a sulking child, wallowing in self-pity.
Simon opened the door and stepped into the hall. "Listen to him Sandburg. I'm going to go now. You two take care of yourselves."
Jim gave Blair's shoulder a firm squeeze. "We will. Thank you, sir."
The moment the door closed, Jim moved around the couch and sat next to Blair. "You going to be okay?"
Blair shifted further against the arm of the couch and resumed his idle flipping through the muted channels. "Yeah, fine. Sorry about that."
A hard hand wrapped around the back of Blair's neck, startling him. He flinched and looked over at Jim, wondering if he'd just pissed him off. Jim's eyes were bright and intense and they trapped his own.
"You don't have to pretend with me." Jim emphasized the words with another firm squeeze. "You've pulled me through all sorts of weird stuff, and I'm here to do the same for you. That's what being partners is all about."
Damn. Blair felt his eyes grow hot, and he suddenly found it very hard to breathe. The need inside him was so great, he let it out. "I'm scared."
Jim's gaze remained solid. "I know."
"I don't know if I can trust myself," he blurted quickly. "I don't even know if what I see is real. I'm scared one day I'll be out in the field with you and start seeing golden fire people again and get you killed."
"And I'm scared one day I'll be out in the field with you and zone and get you killed, but you still stick with me."
Blair shook his head. "That's my job --"
"To watch my back?"
A slow, tender smile touched Jim's lips. "Ditto."
Blair's vision blurred and he looked quickly back at the television. Jim let go of his neck and swatted his head lightly. "Have you developed Sentinel hearing or are you going to turn the sound back on?"
Blair ducked his head and grinned, hitting the mute button to revive the sound. He felt Jim shift beside him, moving just a fraction closer so that his arm brushed against Blair's. It was such a simple gesture, but suddenly Blair felt safe. Everything would be okay.
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