Therapy for the Soul

Part One

"Well, Chief, I don't know what you want me to say. I don't know if I can get past this. To me, it was a real breach of trust and that struck really deep with me."

He couldn’t get the words out of his head. They kept going round and round like an old scratched record as did his plea for understanding and forgiveness.

"I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I lost track of my friend."

Groaning, Blair pushed back his desk chair and paced the office. What to do now? Alex was gone apparently, and South American police were on standby at the airport in Bogota to arrest her. Jim – Jim was gone too, at least out of his life. Looked like now, he'd never get the chance to say the words he wanted to say.

The monograph was sitting on the shelf and Blair picked it up, stroking a loving hand over the worn embossed cover. Carrying it carefully, he took it back to the desk and sat down. When he lifted the cover, the pages fell open instantly to the picture of the sentinel he’d shown Jim three years ago when they’d first met.

Blair had been so excited to see the detective standing in his doorway that day, he’d babbled some incomprehensible bullshit about the Yanomano music he’d been listening to and watched Jim’s assessment of him plummet instantly into minus figures.

Of course, the prehistoric man comment had really been the icing on the cake and he could still remember how his heart had almost beat its way out of his chest when Jim grabbed a large fistful of his shirt and slammed him up against the wall – hard.

He thought he’d blown it when Jim turned and strode from the room, Blair’s warning about the zone-out factor still hanging half-spoken in the air. He had no conscious memory of moving when he’d thrown himself at Jim after he followed him outside and saw the garbage truck bearing down on his motionless figure. Even now though, the feeling of the truck passing over them sent a shiver snaking down his back.

He’d been so na´ve back then. Blair snorted as he closed the book. Looks like he’d come full circle.

He scrubbed a hand through his ponytail, loosening a few strands and making it look more unkempt than it already was. God, he was tired. He didn’t think he could spend another night in that motel room.

‘Tough!’ he told himself firmly. ‘It’s not as though there are a whole lot of options open to you right now.’

Doug Saunders, a fellow TA, had offered him his couch to sleep on for a few nights, but he didn’t get back from LA until Friday. He’d lived in an abandoned warehouse for three months, listening to rats skitter through the building and going to bed in his clothes to stay warm. Another couple of nights in a run-down, flea-infested motel room weren’t going to kill him.

He knew it wasn’t the motel. It was just that it wasn’t home, or at least wasn’t where he’d thought home to be for the past two and a half years, and Jim wasn't there. Would never be there beside him again or so it seemed. No use feeling sorry for himself, he’d brought this whole mess tumbling down, he’d screwed up by not telling Jim about Alex and this was his punishment.

It didn’t matter that Jim hadn’t known Blair had met the other sentinel when he kicked him out of the loft. It was all connected, somehow. Karma, fate, synchronicity? Perhaps it had been leading to this all along. He looked up as the doorknob turned and the office door swung inward.

"Alex."

He dutifully put his hands in the air when she aimed her gun at him. She looked disheveled and angry.

"If it hadn't been for you, I never would have understood what I really am," she said, not unkindly. "I owe you that. You want to know how I really got the sentinel senses?"

Blair nodded, though he’d already figured it out. If he could keep her talking, there might be time for Jim to get here. Maybe. Did Jim know where he was?

‘You know where to find me.’

"Solitary confinement in prison. I thought I was going crazy. It wasn't until I met you that I realized what I'd become."

"And look how you use this gift," Blair replied sadly. "What a waste." He knew he’d said the wrong thing when her eyes narrowed and she cocked the gun.

"This is the one thing I really didn't want to do, but I can't leave you alive."

She stepped up to the desk. Blair closed his eyes. Did that make him a coward? Not wanting to see death approaching? ‘Jim! I’m sorry!’

He jumped at the touch on his arm and looked up, relief coursing through his body, leaving him weak and shaky as she pointed at the door with her gun.

"Get up," she ordered.

He still had a chance. He walked around the desk, keeping his hands out from his sides, offering no threat. As they walked down the corridor and through the main doors, he drew upon his greatest strength and tried to reason with her.

"Alex." He half-turned toward her. "You don’t have to do this."

"Shut up." She shoved him hard in the small of his back and he stumbled down the rest of the steps, barely keeping his balance.

It was almost daylight. Pink streaked the sky and Blair found himself inanely thinking about the old children’s rhyme. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning. It wasn’t going to be a good day to die. He stifled a terrified sob. He didn’t want to die.

He managed to look around as they crossed the expanse of grass in front of Hargrove Hall. The place was deserted; it couldn’t have been later than 6a.m. He stopped as he approached the fountain, his shins hitting the concrete edge, and knew.

"Where’s Jim?" he gasped, desperate to hear her reply, knowing her silence would leave him desolate.

Pain blossomed in the back of his head and he felt himself blacking out, his legs collapsing beneath him. His arms flailed out for purchase as he dimly felt a hard shove in his back, and then he was falling forward, his breath stolen from him in the first shock of icy water.

His hands scrabbled frantically on the bottom of the fountain, fingers slipping on the slimy residue built up there from years of neglect. He had no strength in his arms or legs to push himself upright, and the blackness in his vision began to change to red.

He felt totally disoriented, couldn’t figure out which way was up, felt his chest burning as he fought to pull air into his dying lungs.

Finally, his legs were supporting him and he pulled himself upright, water falling from his clothes and hair like rain. He took in a whooping gasp of air and choked, doubling over with the effort of expelling water from his lungs. Staggering, half-falling back into the water, he made it to the side of the fountain.

Alex turned, and he knew he was doomed as she stalked back toward him. He raised his hands.

"Please," he croaked.

The gun barrel hit him in the temple, and this time the darkness was absolute. He felt himself falling again, felt a weight on his back. He struggled convulsively, arms splashing the water. His face was pressed to the bottom and he rolled his eyes up to see her above him, her face dispassionate as she held him under.

He took a gasping breath and felt agonizing pain shear through his chest. He thought he screamed. He didn’t know it would hurt this much to die.

‘You know where to find me.’

~o0o~

 

Jim cast a worried glance at his partner as Blair startled awake once more. The young man shifted slightly in his seat and looked with some confusion out the airplane window for a brief moment before slumping sideways again, heavy eyelids closing as a sigh escaped his lips. A few minutes later, the episode replayed. Just as Blair’s breathing settled finally into the deep rhythm of rest, he tensed once more, moving restlessly in his seat.

"Relax, will you Sandburg?" Jim groused, moving his lanky frame further into his seat and pushing Blair back into his own space. "You’re gonna have everyone in the plane awake in a minute."

Yawning, Blair scrubbed a shaky hand over his face. "Sorry," he whispered. "I’m still a little wired, is all."

He pulled a magazine from the pouch in front of him and began to flip desultorily through it. Jim watched him a moment, taking note of the pale features, the shadowed eyes and gaunt cheeks.

"You don’t look wired, Chief," he finally said. "You look out on your feet."

Blair stared at the page in the magazine for a long moment, then opened his mouth to speak. Before he could, his words were ambushed by a coughing fit and he tensed, bracing his hands against his tender ribs in anticipation of the familiar pain. Jim placed a supporting hand against Blair’s back, rubbing softly and when the spasm subsided, pressed a glass of water into the young man’s hand. The liquid sloshed over the sides as Blair's hand trembled.

"Thanks." His voice cracked and he leaned back in his seat, his face looking wraith-like in the dimmed cabin lights.

"You all right?"

Blair nodded. "Just a tickle in my throat. From that tube they stuck down there."

Jim didn’t refute his words, despite having felt and heard the congestion rattling in the younger man’s lungs when he'd coughed. Visions of Blair unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator danced at the periphery of his memory, causing nausea to surge, bile burning the back of his throat. He took a gulp of water from Blair’s glass and tried to push the memories down with it. Blair slipped back into a restless slumber.

Hearing a snore, the detective turned slightly in his seat and looked across the aisle where Simon and Megan sat side by side, dozing lightly. He still couldn't believe that Conner had allowed Blair to accompany her down to Mexico. The kid had almost died a few days before, for God's sake! Should probably still be in the hospital.

He looked back at Blair, noting the pale, sweat-damp face and twitching hands, the thick wetness of his labored breathing, and cursed the Australian detective's foolishness silently. This was all Conner's fault. If Blair got worse… He stopped that thought before it consumed him, remembering the many times he had given in to the whims of the anthropologist simply because he knew that no matter how often he refused, in the end, Blair would always win out.

The memories of the past few weeks had a surreal hazy quality about them as though they had been dreamed then only half-remembered on waking. The sight of Alex Barnes being carried from the temple, her mind overwhelmed by her rampaging senses, was only too real though.

The week before that the detective could barely remember, knowing only that a pervading sense of doom and danger had enveloped him. He was stunned when he returned to his apartment to pack for the trip to Mexico and discovered the loft bare. He had only vague memories of moving the furniture and packing Blair’s things in a frenzy of activity, feeling smothered and claustrophobic.

The guilt that swept over him now more than made up for the lack he’d felt then. It was tempered with his conviction that he’d pushed Blair away to protect him, mistakenly believing that the danger he sensed was to himself. Too late, he had realized that Alex considered him a challenge, a primal conquest and Blair, a mere wrinkle in her otherwise perfect plan. He knew too that part of the reason for pushing Blair away was that he was afraid that Blair would discover the true feelings Jim had for his partner. Jim loved Blair. It was as simple, and as complicated as that.

Jim had been aware of his deep love for Blair for a long time, his feelings reinforced several times over the past few years. His unwilling mind dredged up memories of Galileo, Kincaid and Lash and he shivered. He had always assumed that his feelings had been those of one man to a comrade, a brother, in the aftertimes when the adrenaline is still high and relief at their safety is overwhelming. In his career as a soldier and as a cop, Jim Ellison had experienced those feelings often and not just for Blair.

The first time he had any hint that his feelings for Blair had become more than fraternal had been that terrible day at the fountain. Jim had frantically attempted to breathe life back into Blair's dead body, only to be pulled away by his friends and told there was no hope. Yet Jim knew instinctually that life still slumbered within Blair’s soul and the key to awakening it was to commit himself forever to his partner. His vision of Incacha only confirmed what he already knew and granted him the knowledge to unleash his own spirit to merge with Blair’s.

The depth of feeling he now felt for Blair both frightened and embarrassed him. He had never before felt such commitment to another person. In his marriage to Carolyn, he had upheld his marriage vows solemnly only to feel that they were a mockery of the true feelings that he kept hidden in order to spare her. Eventually, Carolyn had tired of their playacting and taken the matter out of his hands, releasing them both from what had become a tedious fašade.

He feared now that he would let Blair down once more, as he had when Alex had taken the anthropologist and drowned him in the fountain at Rainier after phoning him to gloat. When Blair had coughed up the dirty water and began to breathe again, Jim silently renewed the vows that no one would ever harm his partner or take him again.

Coupled with his fear was the embarrassment that he had never felt an attraction to another man before and had been as guilty as anyone else was of parroting lame gay jokes in the gym and over poker games. He was unsure now whether his sexual feelings had always existed below the surface, merely awakened by the fear of losing the one he cared for most, or whether Blair’s death and his role in resuscitating the young man were part of a predestined plan orchestrated by a higher force. His overwhelming love for Blair outweighed his discomfort and uncertainty, however and he knew that this was not something that needed explanation. It simply was.

How Blair might react to Jim’s revelation was, of course a whole other story and the detective promised himself fervently that he would not make a move on Blair unless it was in reciprocation. He had already told Blair that he was not ready to dwell too deeply on the anthropologist’s journey into the netherworld of near death experiences. If he was unable to admit to the fact that they had both shared a mystical experience; he could hardly expect Blair to be thrilled with the notion that his death had brought on a life-altering change in sexual preference in his previously heterosexual partner.

Now was not the time any way to be entertaining thoughts of admitting his feelings to Blair. They were both exhausted, Blair doubly so after his suffering at Alex's hands and Jim was convinced that nothing he said right now would come out the way it was meant to. It was enough for now to have Blair back with him. Safe, alive. It could have so easily gone the other way.

Leaning back in his seat he closed his eyes and allowed himself to slip back into the memories.

~o0o~

 

Jim accepted Megan’s hand and dragged himself from the shaft at the foundry, then staggered over to where Conner claimed to have left Alex and saw she was gone. Terror replaced his anger. He heard a jungle cat growl mockingly and the wolf he’d shot in his dreams morphed into Blair. Suddenly he knew what his dreams had meant, and that Blair's musings on his territorial imperative behavior were right. Now he knew where the danger lay.

Heart pounding, breath rasping, he fought to get the words out. "We have to find Sandburg."

‘You know where to find me.’

And he did. Dragging Conner along with him, he pushed her into the truck, ordering her to call for back up. The inspector hung grimly onto the dash as Jim drove with his hand clamped to the horn, veering around inconsiderate drivers who ignored his flashing light and siren.

He slammed on the brakes and was out of the truck, running toward Hargrove Hall without bothering to turn off the motor. Pounding up the stairs, he had an inexplicable urge to turn around. As his feet hit the top step, he knew. "Oh, my God!"

He knelt on the ground next to Blair’s limp form with no memory of how he’d gotten there. Simon was shouting at him, asking if he could hear a heartbeat, but he'd known when he'd seen Blair's lifeless body floating facedown in the water. His senses had cast themselves out toward his guide and been greeted with silence.

The next few minutes were a blur of activity and sound as Simon's large, capable hands pressed down rhythmically on Blair's still chest and Jim tried to push air into Blair's blue-tinged mouth, alternately pleading and demanding that he take a breath.

The EMT's had arrived and taken over, pumping oxygen through a mask and injecting medication through an IV line in Blair's arm. Finally, one looked up and shook his head.

"I'm sorry, guys."

Jim gaped at them in shock as they began to pack up their gear. "What do you mean, 'Sorry?’ You can't give up!" Jim shook his head angrily. "This isn't over. He's not dead." Breaking away from Simon's grip, he flung himself back down at Blair's side and began the compressions again. "Come on, Sandburg."

"Jim..."

He ignored Simon's hand on his shoulder as he leaned in to open Blair's mouth and blow into it again. They could all give up on Sandburg if they wanted. Jim knew him better, knew himself better. "Come on, buddy," he urged. 'Prove to them you're stronger than this.'

"Jim, let him go. He's gone." Simon's arm became forceful now, dragging him back away from Blair. "He's gone."

Jim slumped. "Oh, God, no." In that moment, torn between hope and grief, he saw the wolf superimposed over Blair's lifeless features. The sight gave him new hope. It wasn't over yet. He looked up to see Incacha standing in front of him.

The long-dead shaman smiled gently and raised a painted hand. "Use the power of your animal spirit."

Jim dropped back to his knees and cupped Blair's face in his hands. His partner's skin was icy, the flesh sallow and blue-tinged. Gently, Jim stroked a thumb over the still lips and waited, focusing all his strength inward, believing.

He saw the wolf leap toward him, saw it merge with the panther, then over the sound of Megan's quiet sobbing, his hearing picked up the sweetest sound of all. "Simon, I can hear a heartbeat."

He tuned out Simon's frantic summons to the EMT's and Henri's gasp of shock as he urged Blair back to consciousness. "Come on, Chief, come on, come on. Come on, buddy. Come on."

He felt Blair's once limp body convulsing beneath his hands and then Sandburg was spewing up water, coughing and choking, drawing in wheezing gasps of air as Jim turned him gently to his side.

"We'll take it from here, detective. Thanks."

This time Jim didn't fight as Simon pulled him up from the ground and embraced him briefly, his own eyes swimming with tears. Together, the team watched as an oxygen mask was strapped to their friend's face, a cervical collar snapped around his neck and he was moved rapidly to the waiting ambulance.

Jim walked with them, with one hand now gripping Blair's tightly. Blair's eyes slowly opened, but there was no awareness in them, and fear clutched Jim's heart. Had he brought him this far only to fail anyway? A hurried conversation between the paramedics and Simon had them backing down when they realized there was no way Jim was being separated from his partner.

Satisfied, he climbed into the back of the ambulance and lowered himself wearily to the narrow bench beside Blair. Reaching over, he freed a strand of hair caught in the elastic strap of the oxygen mask. Blair's eyes were closed again, his breathing labored. "Hang in there, Chief," he whispered. "I'm here."

He tried to blot out the aggravating howl of the siren and focus on his partner's sporadic heartbeat, willing it to continue when it appeared to falter. Blair's limp body rolled slightly toward him as the ambulance rounded a corner at high speed and Jim reached out to grasp Blair's hand, shocked at the icy feel of it. The blinding glare of the hospital lights highlighted Blair's white features and blue lips as he was rushed from the ambulance into the trauma room.

Blair was in intensive care. He had been intubated and placed on a ventilator. The doctor assured Jim that it was simply a precaution to allow Blair to rest completely. Of more concern was the ominous specter of lung infections from the dirty fountain water.

"We’re doing all we can," the doctor said. "The induced coma will allow him to recover his strength and we have him on broad-spectrum antibiotics to fight off any potential infections. The rest is up to Blair." He paused a moment. "He was without oxygen for an extended period, Detective…"

"Brain damage?" Jim shook his head firmly. "He’ll be fine."

Simon touched his arm. "It’s best to be prepared, Jim."

"He’ll be fine, Simon. Excuse us for a minute, would you, doctor?"

"Of course. I have other patients to attend to. The nurse will let you know when you can see Mr. Sandburg, but please one of you only and just for a few minutes. If you don’t mind my saying, Detective, you look like you could use a bed yourself."

Jim turned to face the captain and led him a short distance away from the doctor. "I’ve been trying to figure all this out while we’ve been waiting and I don’t have all the answers yet, though I bet Sandburg does. I can’t tell you how I know, Simon and I don’t know if you’d believe me anyway but Sandburg’s going to be all right."

"Jim, he was without oxygen for several minutes after we got there. Who knows how long… how long he’d been in there before we arrived."

"I know. All I can tell you is that something happened out there that allowed me to bring Sandburg back, and I know there’s no way I would have been able to do that if he was going to be brain damaged. It would serve no purpose."

"You’re starting to sound like Sandburg," Simon grumbled. "It’s a sentinel thing, isn’t it?"

"Yes, sir."

Simon sighed and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Then I don’t want to know. I just hope you’re right." He looked away as a nurse approached them. "Go see your partner. I’ll wait for you. Henri’s bringing your truck here."

"Thanks."

Jim stepped up to the bed and closed his eyes, reveling in the heartbeat that pounded steadily in his ears. It swelled and echoed and Jim was tempted to let it take him into oblivion. He touched a finger gently to Blair's now warm cheek and opened his eyes when he encountered wetness. Bringing his fingers to his lips, he tasted the salt of tears. "Blair?" He leaned in closer and scrutinized the unresponsive man carefully. "Are you with me, Chief?"

The nurse noticed the tears on Blair's cheek and blotted them gently with a tissue. "It happens sometimes," she said kindly. "It's an autonomic response."

Jim knew better. "I'm sorry," he whispered, anguish twisting his features as he fought to hold himself together, his own moist eyes taking in the dark bruise high on Blair's temple, allowing the sight of it to fuel his anger and shame.

After sitting with Simon in the waiting room for another four hours, then being told he wouldn't be allowed to see Sandburg until the following morning, Simon convinced Jim to leave.

Sitting in his truck, staring up at the dim light coming from Blair's room, Jim whispered a vow of vengeance to his guide. Making himself as comfortable as he could within the confines of his cab, Jim cast out his hearing and anchored it to Blair's heartbeat, then sat sentry through the long dark night.

Any time he may have needed to think about his bizarre behavior in the weeks before Alex's appearance in Cascade, and Blair's revelation that he had shared Jim's dream of their spirit guides, was cut short two days later by the sighting of Alex in Mexico. Jim had hurriedly packed an overnight bag and joined Simon on the next available flight. His mind had been focused solely on catching Alex and exacting his retribution. Blair was in hospital in good hands, or so he thought.

The following day Blair and Megan had followed them down -- Blair looking fragile and pale but insisting that he was all right. He had traipsed resolutely through the jungle at Jim’s heels, forcing the detective to split his attention between Alex's trail and his ailing partner, his focus and control over his senses and his protective instincts wavering as they neared the other sentinel and the temple.

Alex had been apprehended, the nerve gas recovered, and they had returned to Sierra Verde. Blair looked spent and ill and Jim felt emotionally fried.

They’d spent a night in Sierra Verde, resting and recuperating after their trek through the jungle. Blair had remained in his room until it was time to leave for the airport. Conner and Simon had both tried to entice the young man to join them for dinner but he’d begged off, citing exhaustion.

That part certainly hadn’t been exaggerated. Jim could see the tiredness that tugged at his friend’s body, hunching his shoulders and angling his body into a caricature of an old man. And old Blair was, Jim thought, well before his time. The anthropologist had seen and experienced man’s inhumanity to man far too often in the past three years of his life and his sorrowful eyes reflected it.

~o0o~

Further movement from Blair brought Jim’s mind back from his reverie and he sighed as he watched the anthropologist sit forward once more and reach again for the well-thumbed magazine.

"What’s going on, Chief?" His hand reached out to rest lightly on Blair’s forearm.

Blair turned red-rimmed eyes toward him, his look feigning nonchalance, but Jim wasn’t buying it.

"You haven’t been sleeping since… since this shit started." Jim’s eyes widened in sudden understanding. "The other night in the church. You kept talking. You wouldn’t shut up. I was getting ready to deck you. You were trying to keep yourself awake, weren’t you?"

Blair sighed. "I can’t go to sleep." His voice still sounded strained from coughing. "Every time I start to drift off, I’m back in that damn fountain and she’s there. I can see her above me, her foot’s in my back holding me down, and no matter how hard I fight, I can’t get away."

His voice slowly got louder and the words more rushed. Jim gently squeezed the arm under his hand. "Is that what happened? What you remember happening?" he asked, dreading the answer.

Blair shook his head, then lay it back to rest against the seat. "I don’t remember any of it. I’m not sure if it’s just a dream or what really happened. Like the dream we both had about the jungle."

Jim nodded. "You need to get some rest or you’re going to collapse."

"You’re not telling me anything I don’t know, Jim."

"I have an idea," Jim said. "Lie back and close your eyes."

Blair sat up slightly and stared at him. Jim reached over and pushed him back into the seat.

"Okay, you comfortable?"

"I guess."

Jim lowered his voice to what he hoped approximated his guide’s timbre. "All right, I want you to picture a dial."

"Jim!" Blair sat up, wincing as the sudden movement pulled at his bruised ribs. Then he saw the mischievous grin on his partner’s face. Snorting, he punched the detective lightly on the chest. "Jerk," he said, shifting back again.

"Punk," Jim countered. "I’m sorry. Just yanking your chain, Sandburg. It’s good to see you smile again though." He paused a moment and rubbed his hands together thoughtfully. "Let’s try this anyway. Can’t hurt. Now picture some place restful and warm. Try to relax your muscles one at a time, starting with your toes and working up."

Jim continued to talk, stroking his hand in a rhythmic caress up and down Blair’s arm whenever he startled from his slumber. He allowed his voice to drone on, not caring that his throat was becoming dry and sore. He knew the sense of security he felt when he came out of a zone-out anchored by Blair’s calming voice and hoped that Blair could experience the same thing.

The steward stopped, offering refreshments. Jim ordered juice for himself and more water for Blair. He murmured his thanks as the young woman held out a blanket. He pulled it over Blair, allowing his hands to linger for a moment on Blair’s slowly rising and falling chest.

Blair slept the rest of the way to Cascade, waking only when Jim roused him as they taxied over the tarmac toward the airport building. The anthropologist sat up and stretched carefully, smiling his thanks as Simon handed him his duffel bag.

People stood and retrieved bags from overhead lockers, then began the slow trek toward the exit. The atmosphere seemed suddenly oppressive now they were on the ground and the plane's air supply was off. In the midst of the passengers crowding the aisle, a baby cried fretfully.

Blair stifled another coughing fit as they waited for a break in the line. Finally they were moving, Jim ushering Blair out in front of him. Suddenly Sandburg appeared to stumble and sink toward the floor. Jim caught him quickly by an arm and supported him for a moment against his side. "You all right?"

Pulling himself up shakily, Blair nodded before starting forward again, holding onto the backs of seats as he went. "I’m fine," he assured the others. "My legs have gone to sleep, that’s all."

Jim watched for a moment, then let him go. He looked back as Simon laid a hand on his shoulder. "How's Sandburg?"

"Not good, sir," Jim said. "He’s exhausted but he’s having some trouble sleeping."

"So I noticed. I wish we’d had you around when Daryl was keeping us up nights."

Jim blushed slightly at the comment. "It’s no more than he does for me every time I have a zone-out or need to dial down pain."

"I’m not criticizing." Spotting Megan and Blair waiting just up ahead, Simon grasped Jim’s arm for a moment then shifted around to face him. "I’m just relieved to see things getting back to normal between you two, that’s all."

Jim looked at him, his own weariness beginning to weigh him down. "I don’t know if things will ever be normal again, but I’m going to do my best to make up for what he had to go through."

"You're not responsible for what Barnes did. The kid's tough. He'll bounce back. Look how fast he was on that plane to Mexico. Look, we'll tie up the loose ends tomorrow. I'm going home to see my son and sleep in my own bed. Tell Sandburg not to rush into coming back to the station with you."

Jim’s face fell at the comment, making Simon scowl. "What now?"

"I haven’t asked Sandburg… I mean, I don’t know…" He leaned in closer. "I kicked him out, Simon! I don't know if he's coming back to the loft."

Simon began walking toward the exit. "Of course he’s going back to the loft. I mean, everything’s been sorted out. Besides, where else has he got to go?"

By the time they caught up to Blair and Megan, the others had found their remaining luggage and Megan was searching in her purse for cab fare. "We were in such a rush to catch up with you two," she said, aiming a glance at Blair, "that I didn’t have time to get extra cash out."

"I’ll give you a ride home," Simon offered. "Here comes Henri now." He waved at the approaching detective then turned to the others. "I’ll see you tomorrow, Jim. Sandburg, I don’t want to see you back at the station until you’re fully recovered, understand?"

"I’m fine, Captain, really," Blair insisted.

"Understand?" Simon repeated, glaring at the anthropologist.

Blair sighed and nodded. Simon grinned and pulled a cigar from his pocket, sniffing it appreciatively. The five exchanged good-byes and Simon, Megan and Henri headed for the exit.

Jim took Blair’s bag from him and hoisted it over his shoulder. "Let’s get going, Chief. I’m looking forward to some real food and about twelve hours’ sleep."

He headed toward the exit, then stopped and turned back as he realized that Blair was not with him. "Sandburg?"

"I’ll catch a cab back to the motel," Blair said, holding his hand out for his bag. "Doug Saunders said I could move in with him just before…" He motioned ineffectually with one hand. "Before all this shit happened."

Dread and anger mingled at the words. "I thought you were coming home. I thought you said we were okay."

Blair looked up sharply at the words. "Okay? We’re okay, though it’s a relative term here. I screwed up. You screwed up. I’m past that. But you kicked me out of the apartment and I had to find somewhere else to live. Do you really think that I am that destitute? Even three years ago I wasn’t, you know? I asked you for somewhere to stay for a week because I knew I wouldn’t find a place to rent while I had Larry. After a week, it just seemed like," he shrugged, "you didn’t ask me to move out and I didn’t want to. It felt like my home."

"It is your home," Jim said forcefully.

"I just need us to be clear on this, Jim," Blair continued. "I didn’t stay and put up with any crap you wanted to throw my way because I had nowhere else to go. If I wanted to, I have plenty of options, plenty of friends."

"You might have somewhere else you can go, but it’s not home. The loft is home." Jim looked away unsure how the other man might take the next piece of information, nervous that perhaps he'd overstepped his bounds. "I already organized for your stuff to be picked up from the motel. Rafe used his considerable persuasion with the manager to let him take your things back to the loft. If you want to move out, I’ll help you shift it all tomorrow."

"I don’t want to move out." Blair gave a small smile and Jim felt his shoulders slump in relief as they took another small step in rebuilding their friendship.

"Good. Let’s go home and get some sleep."

Blair reached out to take his duffel bag from Jim’s shoulder and cursed as the strap slipped through his fingers. Jim caught it before it hit the floor and swung it back onto his shoulder. "I got it, Chief."

Blair stood for a moment, flexing the fingers of both hands, then nodding, followed the detective out to the exit.

~o0o~

They made the trip home in exhausted silence. Blair sat slouched in his seat, his eyes closed, his body limp and boneless.

"Do you know when you're going back to school?" Jim hoped to fuel some enthusiasm in his partner.

Blair shook his head tiredly and continued to gaze out the passenger window. "I haven't had time to think about it. What with being in the hospital and then going down to Mexico."

His eyes flickered to Jim and the detective could swear he saw a flash of guilt cross Blair's expressive features.

"I thought you'd been eager to get back to the university," Jim ventured, hoping to uncover the reason for Blair's lack of interest.

"I am. It's just…"

Jim hazarded a guess, based on his own experiences in the past couple of weeks. "Bad memories?"

"Yeah."

"Well, you said Steve could cover you for another week." At Blair's silent nod, he went on. "Okay, why don't you take advantage of the situation and get some rest. You've been to hell and back this last couple of weeks, Chief. Cut yourself some slack."

He glanced over at Blair's troubled face. "Hey, if you think you'll be that bored, I'll bring home some paperwork for you to type up."

"I'm gonna be bored, Jim, not desperate," his partner replied dryly. "Besides, do you realize how much more information I now have to research and write up for my thesis? This is probably the most important chapter of all."

The detective smiled when Blair perked up as he talked about his dissertation but frowned as a troubling thought struck him. "How much of this thing between me and Alex are you going to put in there?"

Blair sighed and shifted so that he sat curled on the seat, facing Jim. "All of it, but you already know it won’t be you and Alex. You’ve got to trust me on this."

It was Jim’s turn to sigh. "I trust you, Chief. Really. I’m just nervous."

"I know. Remember you’ll get to read it first. And Jim?" Blair gave him a weary but genuine smile when Jim turned to him. "Thanks. It's nice to be home."

Jim grinned back, hope rising that they really were going to be okay. "It's great to have you home, Chief."

~o0o~

By the time they reached the loft, Blair had dozed off again and it took Jim several nudges before the other man woke. Blair yawned and stretched stiffly then climbed out of the truck, stumbling a little as his feet hit the ground, but refusing a supporting hand from his partner.

The anthropologist staggered through the front door of the loft as soon as Jim had the door open, not bothering to wait until the lights were turned on. He still looked totally drained and his legs were shaky. He cursed as he banged into something unyielding and stopped, reaching out his hands to feel for the culprit.

"You all right, Sandburg?"

"Yeah. I just banged into something."

"Give me a minute to get the light."

Blair stood still as Jim strode over to the light switch. He scrunched his eyes up a little at the sudden brightness, as though in pain. Jim was beside him now, bending a little to find the injury to his leg.

"It’s okay, just a bump," Blair assured him. "I’m really wiped, man. Can we wait till tomorrow to debrief?"

Jim grinned. "Debrief? You’re really starting to talk the lingo, Chief."

Blair grimaced. "Guess I’ve been hanging out with cops for too long." He waved a tired hand at his partner. "Later, man. Much later."

He turned and headed toward his room, but stopped suddenly at the doorway and Jim remembered. The bedroom was bare – no bed, no dresser, no… Blair.

"I got the stuff just about all moved back up from the basement," Jim rushed to explain. "Then the call came about Alex. I didn’t get time to put it all in its place." He shook himself. "It’ll only take a minute. Why don’t you sit over on the couch…" He tried again. "Why don’t you wait over in the kitchen while I get your things into your room."

Blair smiled at him. "If we both do it, we can crash that much sooner."

Jim grinned back, relief flooding through him. "All right, but if you start feeling tired, you stop. Deal?"

Blair nodded. "Deal."

By the time they had shifted the futon and dresser back into the spare bedroom, Blair was shaking with fatigue. Jim looked at him worriedly as he headed over to the hall closet to find clean sheets and bedding.

"Why don’t you go have a shower and let me finish up here?" he suggested.

Blair shook his head and yawned. "If I do that, I’ll probably fall asleep in the shower. Tell you what, you have a shower first. I’ll order us a pizza and get these sheets on the bed. Then I can go to bed straight after we eat."

"I'll take you up on the shower but I'll order the pizzas before I go in and the bed will wait until I come out. I mean it, Sandburg."

"Okay."

Jim took his time in the shower, relishing the feel of the hot water sluicing off the grime and sweat from the day’s traveling. He kept his hearing turned up to check on Blair, relieved that the young man’s heart rate stayed slow, his breathing punctuated only occasionally by a coughing spasm.

Exiting the bathroom, Jim was a little startled to still hear Blair’s heartbeat and breathing, but not detect any signs of movement from the other man. Taking a quick look into the living room, he could see no sign of his partner. Turning toward Blair’s bedroom, he stopped in the doorway. Blair lay across the futon, one sheet already tucked over the mattress, and another still clutched in his arms. He was deeply asleep, a soft snore issuing from his slightly open mouth.

Jim smiled at the sight, pleased to have Blair home again, where he belonged. He made his way quietly to his partner’s side and bent to pull his shoes off. Blair stirred slightly as he did so and he decided against removing the rest of Blair’s clothes.

He pushed the lax body until Blair lay fully on the bed and waited again as he yawned and shifted onto his side. Then he grabbed the pile of blankets from the desk chair and draped them over the sleeping man. He rested his hand for a moment on Blair’s forehead, detecting only a slight fever, then stroked his fingers down the whiskered cheek.

As he turned to leave, he spotted two pharmacy bottles atop the dresser and picked them up. Dialing up his senses, he turned the bottles in his hand, a frown appearing on his face as he read the labels. One was for an antibiotic, and the other for an anti-inflammatory.

Studying Blair’s face a moment, Jim debated whether to wake him to check if he needed to take the pills. He reached once again to smooth the tension from his friend’s forehead as Blair muttered unintelligibly and slumped onto his back, rewarded as the young man relaxed and gathered the bedclothes more closely around him.

"Love you, Jim," Blair whispered and Jim froze.

Seating himself on the edge of the bed, Jim reached out and caught one of Blair’s hands in his. "Blair? You awake?"

"Hmm?" Blair’s eyelids fluttered and slowly opened to reveal dazed blue eyes. "Jim? What’s wrong?" he mumbled.

"Nothing’s wrong, Chief," Jim answered, his mouth dry as Blair wrapped his other hand around Jim’s.

"Good," Blair sighed. He lifted Jim’s hand to his lips and kissed it softly. "Meant it. Love you. Always have. Always…"

The voice faded out and Jim sat in shocked surprise, mulling over Blair’s words. "Blair? You still with me?" There was no answer, save a soft sigh as Jim carefully extricated his hand, still feeling the heat from Blair’s lips on his skin. He stood on shaky legs and walked to the door.

Wondering whether Blair's words meant what he hoped them to mean, then impatiently reminding himself that his partner was exhausted, sick and probably not even aware of what he'd muttered in his half-asleep daze, Jim left the room, pulling the doors shut softly behind him.

Jim was more tired than he was hungry himself, he realized. He spent a relaxing half-hour on the couch with a beer in his hand and the late news droning on the TV, though his thoughts were more on what had just occurred in Blair's room, than they were on the headlines of the day. Finishing his beer, he closed everything up and went upstairs to bed.

He felt a shiver go through him as he automatically reached out with his senses to anchor himself to his guide sleeping below, the reassuring sound of Blair’s presence reminding him painfully of what he had almost lost.

~o0o~

Blair was already up and moving around in the kitchen by the time Jim came downstairs the following morning. The anthropologist still looked pale and shadowed under the eyes, but he smiled cheerily enough. He turned as Jim reached around him for the coffeepot and Jim froze for a moment as their hands touched, but Blair showed no outward reaction.

.

"Hey, Jim! Good morning. Let me get that for you."

"It’s all right, Sandburg. I got it." Jim poured his coffee, watching his partner with curiosity as Blair stood scrambling the eggs with one hand and prodding at his mouth with the other. "What’s the matter? Got something stuck in your teeth? There are some toothpicks in the cupboard."

Blair shook his head and continued to poke. "No. ‘y ‘outh ‘eels ‘unny," he said around a finger. When Jim simply raised an eyebrow, he removed the digit and tried again. "I said my mouth feels funny. Like it’s been shot full of Novocaine."

Jim snorted as he sat down at the table. "Probably all those weird teas you drink."

Blair shrugged and went back to poking and scrambling.

"What are you going to do with your spare time today, Chief?"

Blair turned off the stove and pulled two plates toward him. "I should go over to Rainier and pick up some notes that I left at my office, but I haven't decided for sure."

"You don't feel up to it yet?" Jim asked, accepting a plate piled high with eggs, bacon and toast from his partner. "Take your time. You’re supposed to be taking it easy."

"I will be taking it easy, Jim," Blair said. He sat down opposite the detective and buttered a slice of toast, then placed it back on his plate. "I’m just going to call in, get the notes and come back here to do a little research. I just haven't decided whether to work on the notes I have here first."

Jim studied the other man for a moment, watching as he pushed his breakfast around the plate. Blair looked gaunt, thinner than Jim had realized. "Is something else going on here, Chief?" he asked finally.

"No. Nothing. You know me, man. Always got a dozen different ideas happening at once, then I can't decide what to do first." Blair smiled at him. "I’ll be fine."

"Then eat."

Blair pushed himself away from the table. "Not really hungry." Picking up his plate, he took it back to the kitchen. "Think I’ll just have some juice."

"Blair…" Jim tried to hide his irritation. Couldn't the kid see he needed to take better care of himself?

"What?" He turned back to Jim, his stance decidedly impatient and challenging.

Jim shook his head and picked up his coffee cup. "Nothing."

Blair scraped his plate and Jim studied his own breakfast. Suddenly he wasn't so hungry himself. Blair headed toward his bedroom but stopped briefly, laying a hand on the detective's shoulder, his thumb stroking lightly over the skin. "Sorry. I’m still a little tired. I’m fine. What do you want me to cook for dinner?"

Jim tried to hold onto his fraying temper. "How about I get take-out, maybe Thai?"

Blair smiled with genuine pleasure. "That would be great." Then he grew serious. "Jim, there’s some stuff that we need to talk about tonight."

Jim tried to swallow past the lump in his throat, wondering if Blair had decided to leave anyway. "I thought we had everything sorted out."

"We do. We do," Blair answered, nodding. "I’ve never been one for beating around the bush. Obfuscating, yes, but I had some time to think after you asked me to leave and there’s stuff I need to get out in the open so we both know where we stand. Then we can decide if I should stay."

Jim pushed away his breakfast and stood up, his appetite gone. "Is it about what you said last night?"

"Last night?" Blair looked puzzled. "When?"

Jim shook his head and squeezed Blair’s shoulder, allowing his hand to linger for a moment. "Never mind. No problem. I’ve got to get going. I’ll be late."

"Okay," Blair answered. "I’ll see you tonight."

~o0o~

He should have known it was too soon. Blair stood and stared at the fountain, trying to still his quaking insides.

Flashes of fractured memory assailed him. He remembered turning to plead desperately with Alex, to make her see the futility of her actions, freezing and almost forgetting how to breathe when she pressed the barrel of her weapon to his head. He'd known then. He was going to die. Jim wasn't going to rescue him this time. If the sentinel came at all, he would be too late.

Berating himself for his cowardice now, Blair told himself it was only a fountain. Hell, it was only a few feet of water. Reassured, he took a hesitant step closer. Suddenly the pounding of his heart drowned out the cheerful burbling of the water and his throat closed up entirely. Turning away from the source of his nightmares and pain, Blair fled on trembling legs.

He forced himself to stop for a moment as he approached the back entrance to Hargrove Hall. Pressing his forehead against the stone wall, he relished the coolness of the brick against his sweaty skin. Taking a few slow, deep breaths, he waited until his heartbeat approached a more normal rhythm before making his way up the steep steps.

Halfway up, his heart lurched as his legs gave way beneath him. Hands flailed desperately for a hold as he tumbled backward. His body impacted the unforgiving stone as he somersaulted down the steps, forcing a grunt of pain from him. A final flip, and then his head smacked into the ground and with a sharp, exquisite agony, blackness descended.

~o0o~

The call from the hospital, when it came, caused a lump of cold dread to settle in the pit of Jim’s stomach. The detective paused to ask Joel to fill in for him at an interview and, after informing Simon of the call, headed to the hospital at a run.

Striding through the doors of the ER gave Jim an uncanny and unsettling feeling of deja vu and caused the hairs at the nape of his neck to prickle. He willed himself to calm as he turned toward the front desk and recognized the nurse seated there.

Annie Wilkes had sat with him and plied him with coffee and soothing words, the morning of Blair’s drowning. She looked up, her professional demeanor in place as Jim came to a halt in front of her, then smiled as she realized who it was.

"Detective Ellison." Annie stood up quickly and rounded the desk, placing one hand lightly on Jim’s arm as she led him toward the trauma rooms at the back.

"He’s all right," she reassured him quickly. "He had a tumble down some steps. He’s got a nasty gash on his head. Took 6 stitches and he’s a bit bruised. I called you mainly because he was insisting on taking a taxi back to his apartment and he’s still a little shaky."

Jim nodded, his voice somehow seeming to have deserted him, and swallowed against the dryness in his throat. "Thank you for doing that," he finally croaked.

Annie led him to a slightly opened door and left him there, squeezing his arm gently before she disappeared. "He’s signed out and ready to go."

Jim thanked her again and pushed the trauma room door open. Blair sat sideways on the examination table, his legs swinging back and forth as he appeared to study the floor intently. He sported a dark bruise along his temple, partially covered by a small square of gauze. A crumpled hospital gown, spattered with small drops of blood, lay over his backpack on the chair next to the examination table.

He looked up as Jim stepped into the room and a wide grin split his face. "Jim! Thank God you’re here." He hopped down off the table, grabbing hold of the bed as he wavered a little, but holding a hand up in a halting gesture as Jim rushed forward to grab him. "I’m okay. I’m okay."

"They wouldn’t let me leave," he whined as he bent carefully to pick up his backpack from the chair next to the bed. "Said they were going to hold my clothes ransom unless I let them call you." He straightened and made his way slowly toward the door. "So I’m really sorry, man. I know you’ve got a lot on today."

"Blair. Stop!" Jim finally managed to snag one arm and halt Blair's forward momentum and the verbal onslaught. The detective pointed to the chair. "Sit."

Blair sighed and obeyed, wincing a little as he did.

"What happened?"

"I fell down some steps," Blair said softly.

Jim tried again. "What happened, Blair?"

Blair looked down and played idly with the strap of his backpack. "I couldn’t go past the fountain," he whispered. "I had every intention of just waltzing past there but as soon as I saw it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go through with it."

Jim knelt in front of his partner and rested a hand on his knee. "That’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Chief. I don’t think I want to go near it any time soon, either. So what did you do?"

"I went the back way but the steps must have been wet or something. I must have slipped. Next thing I knew I was laying on the ground, staring at the sky."

"You don’t remember what happened?" Jim asked, frowning.

"Ahh, Detective Ellison. Glad you showed up." The booming voice interrupted further conversation and Jim stood. "Seems our young friend here has decided he doesn’t like our company."

"Dr. Mason." Jim shook the hand of the jovial dark-haired physician, remembering him as being the doctor on duty when Blair had been brought in before.

Before. He wondered if he would from here on, forever label all occurrences according to Blair’s drowning. Before or after. A poke in his side from Blair brought him back to the present and he stared at the doctor, who seemed to be waiting on an answer from him. "Sorry. What was that?"

"I asked if you had any questions regarding Blair’s injury?"

Blair was back on his feet and moving toward the door as Jim spoke. "He said he doesn’t remember what happened." He ignored the rolling of his partner’s eyes and focused on the doctor.

"It’s not unusual," Dr. Mason answered. "He’s suffered a mild concussion. He may have slipped, or he may have fainted. He’s still recovering from the drowning and he’s a little run-down. Running off to Mexico after a drowning incident was not in his best interests." He looked over at Blair, who had the grace to look uncomfortable. "You need to get more rest, Blair. How’s the chest infection?"

"Almost gone," Blair said, looking as though he dared Jim to challenge him.

"You said this morning your mouth was numb," Jim interjected.

"It’s fine now," Blair countered.

"Possibly a side-effect of the antibiotics," Dr. Mason said thoughtfully. "If it comes back, or if you experience any other symptoms, give me a call."

Blair nodded. "Can we go now?"

The doctor chuckled. "Yes, Blair, you can go now." He turned to Jim and shook his hand again. "You know the routine, Detective. Hopefully, I won’t see you again in the near future."

"My sentiments exactly, doctor," Jim answered as he gave Blair a relieved smile and ushered him out to the truck.

~o0o~

Jim got his partner settled on the couch at home, then rang Simon and asked for the rest of the day off, over Blair's protestations. The detective glared at Blair as he hung up the phone, then sat down in the chair opposite. "Okay, I’ll give you a choice."

Blair raised an eyebrow.

"Either I stay home and do hourly neuro checks on you, or I take you back to the hospital to be admitted and let them do the checks."

Blair sighed dramatically and lay back, one hand slung over his eyes. "Hand me the remote."

He spent most of the day dozing, cooperating mostly without complaint to Jim’s checks on his wellbeing. By 7PM, he cried off watching a basketball game on TV and crawled into bed.

Jim decided to let him sleep for a couple of hours before waking him and relaxed on the couch with a chicken stir-fry.

The detective mulled over what Blair had said that morning about needing to talk. Jim wasn't certain that it had to do with Blair’s confession of love the night before. Surely, that had just been a combination of the meds and exhaustion making the young man confused. Either that, or Blair had simply meant that he loved Jim as a brother.

Two thoughts kept returning to Jim. What if Blair had picked up on Jim’s feelings toward him? What if Blair wanted to leave? Jim would have to reassure him that it wouldn’t change their partnership at all. Blair could stay and Jim would push down the feelings of love and desire he felt surging every time Blair was near. He’d been doing that for years, even before he'd recognized it for what it was. Piece of cake.

He did a final check on Blair at midnight and, satisfied that his partner had recovered from his spill, headed for bed, making a mental note to set his alarm for the required two-hourly checks.

~o0o~

As soon as Blair woke the following morning, he knew something was wrong. He lay in bed and tried to force himself to move, but his body stayed stubbornly still, his legs totally numb and his hands feeling tingly, as though he’d slept on them. Taking a deep breath that seemed to drain his energy and make him dizzy, he called out. "Jim."

There was no answer and Blair could hear the shower running now. Jim was in the bathroom, oblivious to his calls. He had no need to have his hearing dialed up.

"Jim." Blair shouted the name, panic making his voice quaver.

Jim’s voice answered and Blair could see steam billow from the bathroom as his partner opened the door. "I’ll be out in a minute, Sandburg."

Terror seemed to close Blair’s throat as he heard the bathroom door shut once more, leaving him alone, and he surged upward in the bed, his mind distantly relieved that his arms appeared to be working. Hoping that perhaps his condition was simply due to one of those weird nightmares where you think you’re paralyzed, but you’re not, he pushed the bedclothes back and stood up…

…Only to fall flat on his face, one panicked hand reaching out for the chair, sending it crashing to the floor beside him. From his position on the floor, Blair could see a skewed view of Jim as the door opened once more and he stepped out with a towel wrapped around his waist. He looked toward Blair’s room and whatever it appeared he’d been about to say seemed to die on his lips.

Hurrying forward, the detective knelt at Blair’s side and lifted one of his arms, checking the pulse at his wrist. "Blair? What the hell happened?"

Blair tried to speak, but could only manage a pathetic keening wail that frightened him as much as it appeared to panic Jim. Tears spilled from his eyes and coursed down his cheeks as his body shook.

Jim squeezed his shoulder and began to stand, only to kneel again when Blair snaked out a hand and clutched at his arm in panic. "I need to get the phone, Chief. All right? I’m going to call an ambulance."

Blair nodded and watched Jim leave the room, trying desperately to rein in his spiraling fear. His chest felt tight and breathing had become difficult, though Blair was not sure whether that symptom was due to a panic attack or something more sinister.

Jim was back almost before he had the time to blink, crouching again at Blair’s side. He cradled the phone against his ear with one shoulder while reaching to squeeze Blair’s hand.

"They want to know what happened, Chief."

Blair shook his head. "I don’t know," he answered. "Jim, I can’t feel my legs. I tried to get up, but I can’t." He took a gulping breath of air. "It’s hard to breathe."

Jim nodded and stroked a hand gently up and down Blair’s arm. Blair forced himself to concentrate solely on Jim’s touch, allowing it to keep him from sliding into a full-blown anxiety attack.

Not realizing he'd drifted off, he opened his eyes as something cold touched his chest and looked up into the dark brown eyes of a Hispanic-looking man in a paramedic’s uniform.

"Can you hear me, Mr. Sandburg?" The man rubbed his knuckles hard along Blair’s breastbone and he winced and shifted under the touch.

"I can hear you," he replied, then craned his neck to search for his partner. "Where’s Jim?"

Jim immediately appeared at his side. "Right here, Chief. I just needed to show the paramedics what meds you’re on."

Blair nodded and gripped Jim’s hand. "It’s hard to breathe."

Jim looked quickly at the paramedic, then smiled down at Blair. "They’re going to start an IV and give you some oxygen," he assured his partner. "You’ll be at the hospital in no time."

Blair looked alarmed. "You’re coming with me, aren’t you?"

"All the way." He gestured at the towel around his waist. "Just let me go throw some clothes on."

Blair jumped as he felt a sharp pain in the back of his hand.

"Sorry about that," the paramedic said. "Should have warned you, huh?"

"At least I felt it," Blair said with a hint of a smile, his fear receding slightly at the realization. He swallowed as an oxygen mask was placed over his mouth and nose and then a cervical collar was snapped into place around his neck.

"Just taking every precaution, Mr. Sandburg," the paramedic assured him. "Detective Ellison tells me you had a fall yesterday."

Blair attempted to nod over the constriction of the collar. "Is that why I can’t feel my legs? I feel a little light-headed too."

"Your blood pressure’s a bit low." The paramedic squeezed his shoulder and smiled, then nodded to his partner who moved to place a backboard next to Blair. "We’re going to log roll you onto a backboard now and then get you onto a gurney. Just let us do all the work."

Blair nodded again, his breath fogging the facemask as his chest seemed to become heavier and he found it becoming more difficult to pull in air. He tried to ignore the nausea that cramped his stomach as he was rolled sideways, then back.

He could feel the unyielding surface of the backboard beneath him and he stiffened as straps were tightened over his chest, forcing the constriction to become worse. His heartbeat seemed to swell in his ears, deafening him and his vision grayed out.

~o0o~

Fear tightened Jim's chest as he saw Blair's eyes roll up into his head and he became limp and unresponsive to the paramedic's questions. Another sternal rub elicited no response, and the paramedics exchanged concerned looks before bundling up their equipment and pushing the gurney toward the door.

"Are you riding in with us, sir?" the dark-haired paramedic whose badge identified him as Davide, asked.

Jim nodded as he pulled the front door shut. Stepping closer to the gurney, he took the proffered IV bag from Davide's hands and followed the small group into the elevator. He gave as much of Blair's medical history as he could remember on the ride down to the lobby.

Once in the ambulance, the IV was placed on a hook in the vehicle's roof and Jim sat forward on the seat, only vaguely registering the paramedic relaying Blair's symptoms and vital signs over the radio. He tried to focus his senses on Blair's heart and lungs but they refused to cooperate, his fear invading them and throwing him off-course.

He looked at Blair, frowning at the ashen pallor of his partner's face and his shallow breaths. Tentatively, he took Blair's cold hand in his and squeezed it gently. "Come on, Chief. Open those eyes, huh?"

~o0o~

A slight bump shook the gurney and prodded Blair toward consciousness. Struggling to open his heavy eyelids, he gazed in confusion at the slightly familiar surroundings and suddenly realized he was being rolled through the doors of the hospital entrance. He struggled to sit up, forgetting about the restraints that bound him to the backboard. Looking around in panic, Blair flinched at the firm hand on his shoulder that pressed him back onto the gurney.

"Easy, Chief. Take it easy."

Blair relaxed at the sound of Jim’s voice and concentrated on trying to breathe normally as he felt himself lifted and placed on another bed. A stern face swam into view and a harsh light shone in his eyes, making him wince.

He felt hands upon him, the straps gone and his clothes stripped away and then a rush of chill air that caused him to shiver violently.

"Can you tell us what happened, Blair?"

The voice sounded familiar and Blair tried to place it, then gave up in favor of answering the question. "I fell."

"You fell yesterday, didn’t you?" another voice asked.

"And today." He felt vague, his thought processes slow and unwieldy. It seemed as if an iron weight had settled upon his chest and he began to panic again. "Jim!"

Jim’s face appeared from over his head, his hand reaching down to clasp one of Blair’s. He tried to close his fist around Jim’s, but he couldn’t seem to get the muscles to work. Then suddenly the weight on his chest increased and he could hear his heart pounding, sounding louder and louder in his ears, as his vision grayed out again and then turned black.

~o0o~

Jim stared in shock as Blair’s body became suddenly limp and his eyes rolled up into his head. He looked at the doctor, then shook his partner’s shoulder frantically. "Blair? Answer me. Blair?"

His hands were pushed away as the doctor pressed a stethoscope to Blair’s bare chest.

"Respiratory arrest," the doctor announced and Jim was pushed aside as a crowd of medical personnel descended upon the unresponsive body of his partner. Shocked into submission by the frightening turn of events, Jim did not argue as a nurse steered him out of the room.

"Wait in the waiting room," she ordered. "Someone will come talk to you as soon as they can."

Jim nodded mutely and turned toward the banks of chairs. Then he turned around and headed for the payphone by the entrance doors. Having made his call, he walked resolutely back to the trauma room and slipped inside, his arrival unnoticed by the bustling doctors and nurses, his attention fixed solely on the lifeless body of his partner.

He watched silently as Blair was intubated once more. Blinking back the memories of the last two times he had seen Blair subjected to this treatment, he wiped angrily at the sole tear that escaped down his cheek.

He allowed the jumble of medical terminology to wash over him – CBC, Chem7, urinalysis - and concentrated on willing Blair to wake up, not aware that he’d taken several steps forward until he stood once more at his partner’s side. Reaching out to clutch Blair’s lifeless hand, he glared at the nurse who rushed to his side, attempting to move him away.

"Did you come in with him?"

He pulled away from the nurse’s grip and turned to face the man standing over Blair. He was young, with long dark hair tied back into a shoulder-length ponytail. His brown eyes regarded the detective appraisingly.

"Yes," Jim answered shakily. "He’s my partner."

"How long has he been sick?"

"A week or so. He drowned two weeks ago."

The doctor looked up sharply at the comment and then waved the nurse away. "Go get me the case notes, would you?"

"Dr. Mason treated him then," Jim added. "He’s been taking antibiotics and steroids for a chest infection. We just got back from Mexico the day before yesterday and he had a fall down some steps at the university yesterday."

He reached forward and stroked along the stitches on Blair’s temple. He felt a memory nudge at his dazed mind and he looked at the woman pushing air into Blair’s lungs with an ambu-bag connected to the endotracheal tube, before he spoke again. "He said his mouth was numb and he’s been a little shaky."

A nurse finished hooking Blair up to the various monitors surrounding him, then called out the readings as they flashed onto the screen.

"BP’s 80 over 50, temp’s 101.4, pulse 50."

The doctor nodded. "He’s hypotensive, bradycardic. Temperature’s not real high." He pulled his stethoscope from around his neck and bent to listen again to Blair’s chest. "He’s got some rales bilaterally." The doctor looked up at the nurse bagging Blair. "Cease bagging for a second."

Jim stepped forward, dialing up his own hearing in a desperate attempt to hear air rushing into Blair's stilled lungs. The nurse obeyed and all noise in the room, save for the beeping of the heart monitor, ceased; all attention focused on the unconscious man. Jim knew his hopes were futile before the doctor spoke.

"No spontaneous respiratory effort."

He motioned for the nurse to continue breathing for Blair, then reached for a percussion hammer and pulled the sheet from Blair’s naked body. He lifted first one knee and then the other, checking the reflexes.

"Set up for an LP," the doctor finally said. "Probably worth doing an NSV too, though I think the symptoms are fairly conclusive." He looked again at Jim. "Are you squeamish?"

Jim shook his head and reached again for Blair’s hand. "I’m a detective with Major Crime."

"I’m Doctor Steve Carter."

"Jim Ellison. Blair’s my partner and roommate." His thoughts focused for a moment on that and his stomach churned when he realized that he might never get the chance to tell Blair that he loved him. He shook himself mentally and concentrated on the doctor's words.

"Okay. I’m going to do a spinal tap on your friend here. I suspect he may have Guillian-Barre Syndrome."

"What?"

"It’s also known as Landry’s ascending paralysis. I’ll explain it to you as I work. The quicker we can get the results to the lab, the quicker we know what we’re dealing with. Blair may regain consciousness at any time and he’s going to be very frightened that he can’t breathe for himself. Do you think you can keep him calm until I’m done?"

Jim nodded without hesitation.

"All right. Let’s do this. Hook him up to the vent and then get him on his side. Detective, pull up that chair and sit facing Blair."

~o0o~

Jim raised his eyes from Blair’s white face and looked over at the doctor sitting opposite him, the faint tinkle of metal on metal the only indication of the procedure taking place. The mask he wore mostly concealed the doctor’s features, but his brown eyes were serious as he spoke.

"Guillian-Barre Syndrome is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks parts of the nervous system. Symptoms include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs. In many instances, the weakness and abnormal sensations spread to the arms and upper body. The symptoms can increase in intensity until the muscles can’t be used at all and the patient is almost totally paralyzed."

"We’ve put Blair on a ventilator to assist with breathing and we’ll need to watch him closely for problems such as an abnormal heart beat, infections, blood clots, and high or low blood pressure. His heartbeat is a little slow and his blood pressure is low. I already know from his chart that he was being treated for a severe respiratory infection secondary to his drowning. That could complicate his recovery."

"Could he die?" Jim whispered, unsure if he wanted to know the answer. He stroked the back of Blair’s hand with his fingers, the touch soothing him.

"Most patients recover from even the most severe cases of Guillian-Barre syndrome, although they may suffer some continuing minor problems. Less than 5% of Guillian-Barre sufferers die, Detective. Blair was lucky. He was already in the hospital before his chest muscles became paralyzed so he was artificially ventilated immediately. He wasn’t without oxygen long enough to suffer any brain damage. Tell me about his drowning."

Jim took a deep breath. "He was attacked by a criminal I was chasing. She took him captive at Rainier University. He’s an anthropologist there."

The doctor raised his eyebrows at this information but said nothing, so Jim continued. "We think she forced him out to the fountain at gun-point and knocked him unconscious before… before…"

Dr. Carter nodded. "I read about it in the newspaper and it did the rounds here when he was brought in. He was incredibly lucky to survive after being in full arrest for so long."

"He’s strong," Jim whispered.

"You’re close."

"He’s my partner." Jim wondered if the doctor had any idea what that meant. "And my best friend," he added, still unwilling to admit more. "What causes this syndrome?"

"Guillian-Barre usually occurs a few days or weeks after the patient has had a respiratory or gastrointestinal infection. It can develop over the course of hours or days, or it may take up to 3 to 4 weeks. Most people reach the stage of greatest weakness within the first 2 weeks after the symptoms appear, and by the third week of the illness, 90 percent of all patients are at their weakest. There’s not a lot known about what causes it yet."

The sensory onslaught of the bustling activity around them was distracting. Nurses came and went. The smell of antiseptic stung Jim's nose and eyes. Someone dropped a metal tray and he fought not to cringe at the deafening crash. Further up the hallway, a woman moaned in pain. Jim tried to rein in his senses and concentrate on the doctor's words.

"Usually the cells of the immune system attack only foreign material and invading organisms. In Guillian-Barre syndrome, the immune system starts to destroy the myelin sheath that surrounds the nerve cells. The muscles begin to lose their ability to respond to the brain’s commands. The brain also receives fewer sensory signals from the rest of the body, resulting in an inability to feel textures, heat, pain, and other sensations."

Jim looked down again as his hearing picked up Blair’s accelerating heartbeat even before the monitors sounded their alarm.

"Blair? It’s okay, Chief. I’m here."

Blair’s eyes were open, blue irises almost black as he stared up at his partner, stark fear evident on his pale face.

"Can you keep him calm, Detective? We’re almost done here."

Jim nodded, but continued to look at Blair, willing the young man to trust him. "I know you’re scared, buddy, but you’re going to be fine. The ventilator will breathe for you until you get stronger. You’ll be fine."

Blair’s eyes closed momentarily and a fat tear welled up from under one lid, dripping slowly down his cheek. Jim wiped it away with a gentle thumb and went back to stroking soft circles of comfort on Blair’s hand. Then he tried to will away the awful thought that Blair might not be able to feel his comforting touch. He was relieved to hear his partner’s heartbeat begin to steady.

"What happens now?"

The doctor handed three small vials of clear liquid to the nurse assisting him. "We’ll take him up to ICU and wait on the test results. If they’re positive, the doctors up there may start him on blood washes and immunoglobulin injections. They’ve been known to lessen the severity of the disease and shorten its duration somewhat. In the meantime, he’ll be sedated and treated supportively."

"When will you know if… when he can breathe again by himself?"

The doctor paused at the hand basin to wash his hands, then moved back to supervise Blair’s transfer upstairs. "They’ll lighten the sedation now and then and challenge his spontaneous breathing, plus keep a close eye on his reflexes to see if the paralysis is subsiding."

Both men followed the gurney and its small crew out of the trauma room. Up ahead, Jim saw Simon jump up from a chair in the waiting room and stride toward him.

"I’ve got other patients to attend to, Detective." Dr. Carter held out his hand. "Your partner will be in good hands. Given time and some intensive therapy, I think he’ll pull through. Keep in mind though, that you’re looking at a couple of months before Blair is back on his feet again. Be patient. Give them an hour or so to settle him, then they’ll let you see him."

Jim nodded and shook the doctor’s hand. "Thanks." He watched the doctor disappear into another trauma room then turned toward Simon.

"Jim?" The big police captain looked worriedly after the disappearing gurney and then at the detective. "What’s wrong with him?"

Sighing deeply, Jim dropped heavily into a chair, scrubbing a hand wearily over his face. "He stopped breathing, Simon. He’s paralyzed."

"What?" Simon looked as stunned as Jim felt. "How? Why?"

"He has some kind of syndrome. God, I can’t even remember the name of it, let alone pronounce it. French-sounding. Anyway, it’s some sort of disease caused by a viral infection. His mouth was numb. It causes a kind of paralysis."

Simon sank into the seat next to him and stared ahead silently for a long moment before looking at Jim. "Was this because he came to Mexico, after us?"

Jim shrugged. "I don’t know, but it can’t have helped. Damn him! Why couldn't he have stayed in the hospital where he was safe? All that humidity has got to breed God knows what germs. Why the hell did he have to come after us?"

"I think you already know the answer to that."

"Yeah, you're right. Stubborn little… He'd just drowned, for Christ sake. What did Conner think she was doing, letting him get on a plane? I could have handled it without him. "

"He's your partner." Simon patted his shoulder. "Plenty of time for recriminations and what-ifs later. What are they going to do?"

"Some sort of blood wash, immunoglobulin injections. The doctor thinks he’ll get better eventually but he’s going to need physical therapy when the paralysis wears off."

"It’s not permanent? Thank God."

"His condition is critical. It could still go either way because of his chest infection and weakened condition." Jim buried his face in his hands. "If I’d just listened to him that first night when he tried to tell me about that bitch." He looked at the captain. "I pushed him away, Simon. Kicked him out."

"Don't do this to yourself!" Simon ordered. Looking around quickly, he put a hand on Jim’s shoulder and lowered his voice. "You did not drown him. You did everything you could. You brought him back from the dead. You caught Alex Barnes. She did this, not you."

Jim stared at him tiredly. "I pushed him away and left him unprotected." He stood up and motioned toward the elevator. "I’m going to wait upstairs in the ICU waiting room until they let me in."

"I’ll come with you." Simon stood. "I’ll give you a ride home after you've looked in on him."

Jim shook his head. "I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to leave him to face this on his own."

"Do you think they'll let you stay with him?"

"They'll have to." Jim squared his jaw. "I’m not leaving him here alone."

Simon sighed and held out his hand. "Give me your keys." At the detective’s questioning look, he smiled. "I’ll go to your place. Get your shaving gear, a change of clothes. I’ll drop them off here tomorrow on my way to work."

"Thank you, sir."

Simon reached up and gently squeezed Jim’s shoulder. "You keep me apprised of his condition. Understand?"

Jim nodded and headed for the elevator.

~o0o~

Jumping at the slight touch on his shoulder, Jim looked up into the warm brown eyes of the ICU nurse.

"Sorry," she said kindly. "Didn’t mean to wake you. I thought you could do with a fresh cup of coffee."

"Thanks. You didn’t wake me. I must have been daydreaming."

In fact, he’d turned his hearing down to just above zero. The noise of the monitors and ventilator were drowning out Blair’s own heartbeat, and he’d almost zoned out twice trying to find it.

He reached forward for the coffee cup and took a grateful sip of the steaming brew, watching the nurse’s skilled ministrations as he did so. As always, his gaze quickly returned to Blair’s face.

The endotracheal tube partly obscured Jim’s view, but the detective could still see the ghastly pallor of Blair’s skin, overlaid with a fine sheen of perspiration from the fever that had begun to ravage the anthropologist’s body.

He averted his eyes as Lucy, the nurse, suctioned out Blair’s tube to rid him of the congesting secretions welling up from his infected lungs. He fumbled with the dials to turn down his hearing again, so he did not have to listen to the awful wet slurping of the suction machine.

*Two days, * Jim thought. *Is that all it’s been? Two days? * It felt like a lifetime. Yawning mightily, he shifted in the chair, then leaned forward to brush a strand of hair from Blair’s face. The young man’s skin felt somewhat cooler, and Jim looked questioningly up at the nurse. "Lucy?"

Lucy nodded and smiled at the weary detective. "Finally, some good news, Jim. His fever’s broken."

~o0o~

The raucous screaming finally penetrated Jim's sleep-numbed brain and he shot up in his chair, his eyes frantically scanning his surroundings before he remembered where he was.

He stood as he realized Blair's monitors were sounding loudly in chorus. Turning to check the unconscious man, Jim could see that Blair's chest was ominously still. Rushing footsteps neared, then the door burst open and the room was suddenly crowded with people and more equipment.

Jim stumbled back toward the wall as Blair's doctor leaned over the unresponsive body and pressed a stethoscope to Blair's chest. The heart monitor stuttered slightly and Jim closed his eyes, dialing his hearing back up to better hear Blair's fluttering heartbeat. The doctors barked orders as the nurses read out an array of medical jargon, and then the suction machine started up again.

A sudden silence descended as the medical staff stopped and watched with bated breath, and then the monitors started up again, their frantic bells replaced now by welcome, regular beeps. Jim jumped as a hand touched his arm, and he opened his eyes to see Doctor Parry's kindly face staring at him with concern.

"Jim? You all right?"

Jim huffed out a breath and nodded, though his legs felt as though they were about to collapse. The doctor regarded him a moment longer before continuing.

"Blair's fine. The endotracheal tube got blocked. It happens sometimes."

"He's all right?" Jim stared at the doctor then over at Blair.

"He's going to be just fine."

The doctor's voice suddenly seemed to be coming from down a long tunnel and Jim felt himself slide down the wall. Doctor Parry followed him down, and Jim's last conscious sight was of the good doctor's surprised face.

~o0o~

"Exhaustion." Simon Banks crossed his arms over his chest and gave his detective a smug 'I told you so' smile. "What do you expect? You've been camped out here at Sandburg's side for almost a week. God knows when you last ate decent food or slept the night through."

Jim struggled to sit up on the gurney, closing his eyes against the dizziness that threatened once more. "I'll sleep when they wake Blair up from his coma and I can see for myself that he's okay," he answered stubbornly.

Simon shook his head and handed the detective his clothes. "You'll sleep tonight. Doctor's orders. Home, a meal, and a night's sleep. He won't let you back in to see Blair until tomorrow morning."

"Come on, Simon," Jim wheedled. "Talk to him." He lowered himself gingerly to the floor and pulled on his trousers. "I promise to go to the cafeteria for dinner tonight, all right?"

Simon held the door open for Jim to shuffle through. "Go say good night to the kid, Jim. I'll wait for you here." He hardened his heart against the pleading look on Jim's face and sank down into a chair to wait for the detective to return.

~o0o~

"So, I'll be back tomorrow morning, Chief. Be good for the nurses, huh? I… I love you, Blair." He hated himself for his weakness; that he could only say those words now when Blair could not hear them. With a final look, Jim walked to the door and pushed it open. Simon steered him toward his own car in the parking lot, insisting that he'd arrive bright and early the following morning to drive him back to the hospital.

He drifted off to sleep before they'd cleared the parking lot and knew nothing more until a gentle but persistent shaking disturbed his bottomless slumber. "What?"

He batted irritably at the hand on his arm and flopped over to his back. Opening gritty eyelids, he focused blearily on the dark interior roof of Simon's car and cracked a jaw-breaking yawn. Rocking his head back and forth to loosen already stiff neck muscles, Jim smiled at his captain.

"Thanks, Simon," he muttered around another yawn. "You want to come up for a beer?"

"No, thanks. I've got to pick Daryl up from his mother's. He's staying with me for the weekend."

Jim nodded. "Okay. Tell him I said hi."

"Uh, Jim?"

"Hmm, yeah?"

"You're home. You want to get out of the car?"

"Oh, right. Okay." He levered himself upright with some difficulty and fumbled for the door handle.

"I think you should bypass the beer tonight too, Jim. Get some decent food in you and go to bed."

"Yeah, good advice, Simon. I'll see you in the morning." With a wave of his hand, Jim trudged wearily into the building. He almost drifted off to sleep again on the slow ascent, but woke with a start when the elevator bumped to a stop and deposited him on the third floor.

A cursory look inside the refrigerator revealed a wrinkled apple, two carrots and something that was possibly one of Sandburg's famous mold experiments and Jim dialed down his sense of smell as he deposited it down the garbage disposal.

The loft seemed chilly and silent, even with the television and fire turned on, and Jim wandered aimlessly for a few minutes, returning unerringly time and again to Blair's doorway to gaze at the empty bed.

Scrubbing a hand through his hair, Jim phoned for a pizza, then showered while he waited for it to be delivered. Seated on the sofa, he thought how pleased he should be to have the place to himself. No Discovery channel, no lectures about his fatty arteries, no endless Sandburg prattle drowning out the game on TV. He chewed listlessly on a second rubbery pizza crust, then tossed the lot into the waste-basket and climbed the stairs to his bed. He didn't even remember his head hitting the pillow.

~o0o~

There was no change in Blair's condition by the time Jim arrived back at the hospital the following day and although he was relieved to know his partner was no worse, Jim still felt an inexplicable disappointment tighten his throat. He knew Blair was heavily sedated, knew he would only be terribly afraid by not being able to draw a breath or move if he were awake but deep down, Jim yearned for just the slightest glimmer of awareness that would reassure him that Blair was on his way back.

Giving the monitors a quick knowledgeable glance, Jim lowered himself into the chair at Blair's bedside and pulled a paperback novel from his jacket pocket. With his ears tuned in to the rhythmic beeps of the heart monitor, and one hand curled around Blair's, Jim lost himself in the adventures of Jack Ryan, CIA agent.

He was disturbed when raised angry voices intruded on his reverie. Standing, Jim placed his book on the chair, then moved toward the door with the thought in mind that his assistance might be needed. He stumbled back, startled, as the door to the ICU slammed open and Naomi rushed into the room.

"Where's my son? You have no right to…" Her voice trailed off and tears instantly filled her eyes and trailed down her cheeks as she saw the silent figure of her son. "Oh, God. Blair."

Stepping up to the bedside, she picked up a lax hand and brought it to her lips, kissing it gently before laying it against her cheek. "Oh, Blair sweetie, what have they done to you?"

"Naomi?" When she didn't react to his voice, Jim moved up beside her and touched a hand to her shoulder, surprised when she shrugged it off and turned her head toward him, her eyes full of anger.

"Look what you've done," she whispered harshly. "You promised you'd look after him. He loved you, and he trusted you to look after him. Don't worry so much, he always said, Jim'll look after me."

Jim felt tears sting his own eyes as she collapsed into the chair and began to sob. "I love him too. I'm sorry," he rasped. "I didn't mean for this to happen."

Naomi's green eyes flashed as she glared at him. "It wasn't enough you let some maniac drown him, you had to bring him back to suffer through this? You should have let him go."

Jim's eyes widened in shock. "What? You think he shouldn't have been resuscitated?"

"He'd been gone for too long, Blair told me. The doctors were amazed there was no brain damage, yet all the time, this was festering inside him."

"He's going to get better." Jim looked toward the door as it opened and Doctor Parry stepped silently into the room. "This is Doctor Parry, Blair's doctor. He can explain everything."

Naomi pushed herself to her feet, pointedly ignoring the doctor's outstretched hand. "I want Blair off these machines. He wouldn't have wanted to be kept alive this way."

"Ms. Sandburg, I think we need to talk. The situation isn't as dire as you think. Blair's condition is still critical, but I believe he will fully recover. At the moment, he's heavily sedated."

"So, you're saying that if he were awake right now, he could breathe without these machines?"

"Guillian-Barre causes an ascending paralysis," Doctor Parry said. "It is true that at the moment, Blair is unable to breathe for himself or indeed to move at all. His brain function, however, has not been compromised, and his chances of a full recovery are high."

"So that he can sit in a wheelchair for the rest of his life?"

"It won't come to that," Jim put in.

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because I know Blair."

Naomi shook her head defiantly. "I know my son. I know what my son would want."

"Actually, you don't," Jim said softly. "When Blair applied for his ride-along with me, certain papers had to be filled out, insurance and so forth. We discussed something like this happening. I needed him to know what he was getting into. I hold Blair's power of attorney and he holds mine."

Jim stepped back to the bed and looked down at the unconscious man. "Blair's states that no extraordinary measures are to be taken to prolong his life. On consultation with the experts in the field, Doctor Parry being one, I don't consider that to be the case here. Until such time as Doctor Parry tells me there is no hope of recovery, Blair stays on the machines."

"You're condemning his soul," Naomi whispered.

"He's not going to die," Jim stated firmly.

Naomi turned back to the bed; one slender hand reaching out to tenderly brush Blair's freshly shaved cheek. "I'd like to spend some time with my son. Alone." She gave Jim a brief sideways glance. "Perhaps while you're waiting, you could find the legal piece of paper that gives you precedence over his mother."

"You can sit with Blair for as long as you like," Doctor Parry said softly. "If there's anything you need to know, please have me paged."

The doctor ushered a reluctant Jim from the room and closed the door behind him. He laid a reassuring hand on Jim's shoulder as he steered him out to the nurses' station. "She'll come around, Jim. She's frightened and concerned for her son."

Jim punched a fist lightly on the desk. "What if she doesn't?"

"The paperwork is completely legal and binding, and given the circumstances of Blair's illness, she'd have no hope at all of securing a release in a court of law. Why don't you take the opportunity to go home and have a decent meal? Come back in a couple of hours."

Jim nodded and headed for the exit. Sitting in his truck, he hesitated as he reached forward to turn on the ignition. Leaning forward wearily, he rested his head on the steering wheel and dialed up his hearing, listening unashamedly as a tearful Naomi begged her son to prove he was still there.

Two hours later, Jim could wait no longer. At the nurses' station on Blair's floor, he asked the nurse to page Doctor Parry and have him meet them in Blair's room.

"There's no need," Naomi said from Blair's doorway as the nurse picked up the phone. "I've spoken to Charlie Spring. He tells me to give you a week."

Jim smiled and nodded, even as the lump in his throat threatened to choke him. Naomi's next words, however, gave him no solace.

"If Blair's still on the ventilator then, I will fight for his rights in court."

"Blair's rights, Naomi? Or yours?"

Naomi didn't answer, sweeping past him in a perfumed rush. "I'm going on retreat, to meditate. I'll be back in a week, Jim. The doctor has my number should anything happen before then."

~o0o~

One week later:

Jim looked up as the door opened and Simon stepped into the room. He glanced quickly at Blair, but the anthropologist was still sleeping deeply, the effects of his last dose of sedation yet to wear off. Simon shook his head as Jim began to stand up, so he sat back down and reached once more for Blair’s hand.

Blair was due to be wakened again soon from his induced sleep so that the doctors could test his breathing ability. It was a procedure that terrified both men as Blair struggled to pull air into unresponsive lungs, his eyes widening in fear, perspiration beading his brow with the effort.

Through it all, Jim forced himself to remain calm, stoically smiling down at the ailing man, whispering assurances and encouragement even as his hands bled where his clenching fingernails dug gouges into his palms.

This would be the third attempt. Jim had been watching the clock, despising the minute hand’s inexorable sweep around the face. His eyes felt gritty and sore, and he knew it would not take much to push him back over the edge of exhaustion.

He’d been visiting Blair each morning before heading off to the station. Simon had the sense, over Jim’s protestations, to place the detective on desk duty until Blair began to improve.

Simon’s reasons were twofold. He had seen first-hand the control Jim had over his senses when Sandburg was there to guide him. He’d also experienced the results when the anthropologist was not at Jim’s side.

The zone-outs were a frightening thing to see, almost a waking death, and not something the captain wanted to witness again. The desk duty also freed Jim up to spend more time with Blair at the hospital, should he need to.

So Jim worked at the station, leaving early if Blair was scheduled for some procedure or test, then stayed at the young man’s side until the early hours of morning, catching a nap on a portable bed before hurrying home to shower and change for work.

Simon had managed to encourage Jim to leave Blair when he was taken for plasmapharesis treatments, a procedure Simon could not even pronounce, let alone hazard a guess as to its detail.

Jim had told him it was a treatment where they washed the toxins from Blair’s blood in the hope they could shorten the duration of the illness and lessen the severity of the paralysis.

The procedure took several hours, and Simon insisted that Jim accompany him to the cafeteria for a meal at that time, knowing the sentinel’s senses would be attuned to his partner should anything go wrong.

Jim refused to leave the hospital grounds, and it was a strange encounter, seated opposite a man who answered every question you threw at him though his attention was firmly focused two floors above.

Simon had not been present before when Blair had been roused. Jim had described it to him in minute, terrifying detail, and the captain had vowed, despite his own fear, not to allow either of his friends to suffer through the experience alone again. He moved now to Blair’s bedside and looked down at the sleeping man.

"How’s he doing?"

Jim leaned forward protectively over the still form and continued to gently stroke Blair's hand. "The doctors are optimistic that the plasmapharesis is working. I thought earlier that I felt…" He shrugged tiredly. "I was dozing. I thought he squeezed my hand but he hasn’t done it since."

"That’s good," Simon answered, trying to smile.

"Yeah, I guess."

Both men looked up as two men in white coats and several nurses entered the room. "Jim. How are you doing?" Dr. Richard Parry strode quickly over and shook Jim’s hand, then turned to Simon. "Captain Banks. I didn’t expect to see you here."

Simon smiled wanly as he shook the doctor’s hand. "I could think of better things to do, Doctor, but then again, so could Jim and Blair. I like to keep tabs on my men."

Parry smiled and nodded, then rubbed his hands to warm them. "Let’s get this show on the road." He leaned forward and pressed his stethoscope to Blair’s chest, then looked up at Jim as he slung it around his neck. "You told the nurse he squeezed your hand earlier?"

Jim shrugged again. "I thought he did. I don’t know. He hasn’t done anything since then." His voice dropped to a whisper as he continued to idly stroke Blair’s hand. "I asked him to do it again but he didn’t."

The doctor straightened up and squeezed Jim’s shoulder. "It’s a good sign, Jim. The nerve tests were encouraging. I’m confident we’re on the home stretch here. Let’s wake him up and see."

~o0o~

Blair struggled to shift the heavy weight that sat upon his chest, panicking when it would not move and his efforts to draw in air were hampered. He groaned deep in his throat in frustration, startled when no sound issued from his mouth.

"That’s it, Blair. Come on, buddy. I know you can do it."

*Jim? * The voice came from above him and Blair forced his heavy eyelids open, blinking drowsily at the blurry images in front of him. A face came close to his, a broad hand stroking hypnotically across his forehead, soothing him back toward sleep, but then the suffocating feeling was back and his eyes opened wide as he fought to drag air into his recalcitrant lungs.

"No, no. Don’t panic. It’s all right. I’m here."

The hand slid around to the back of his head, lifting it slightly from the pillow and he felt his breathing ease slightly. He blinked slowly and forced himself to concentrate on the sweet cool air now filling his lungs, consciously trying to keep his breathing slow and shallow and not choke on the hard tube that filled his throat.

"That’s it. Looking good, Chief."

Blair tried to look up as the endearment was spoken, but his neck muscles seemed lax and unresponsive, his head too heavy. Jim’s voice droned on, reassuringly close to his ear, and he tried to follow the words.

"Just concentrate on breathing, Sandburg. Doc’s going to take that tube out of your throat in just a minute and put an oxygen mask on your face."

His head was lowered gently back to the pillow and suddenly Jim was gone, his place taken by a stranger with a round face and bald head. Blair panicked, his breath coming in short gasps that did nothing to replenish his oxygen and he felt his vision begin to gray out.

"Hey. Hey. Take it easy. I’m still here. I’m right here. See?"

Jim’s voice came now from somewhere behind him, and his chin was lifted until he could see the familiar face of his friend above him. "I’m not going anywhere," Jim assured him. "I need to stay out of Dr. Parry’s way while he takes the tube out. You concentrate on breathing and just keep looking at me. Okay?"

Blair blinked once, hoping that Jim would pick up on the signal, relaxing as the detective smiled, and a warm hand went back to stroking his forehead.

The bald-headed man was back, leaning down close to his face and smiling. "Blair, I'm going to take the tube out of your throat now, you'll be pleased to hear. It might be a little uncomfortable, but just do exactly what I ask you to do and it will be over very quickly, all right?"

He thought he blinked his eyes, but his concentration was waning, his thoughts drifting. He felt hands near his mouth loosening the tapes that stuck to his lips. As the head of the bed was raised, the room spun violently and he clamped his eyes shut as nausea surged. Dimly he could hear the doctor instructing him to blow out a breath. The tube was pulled from his throat quickly, leaving him gasping and coughing weakly, then a mask was secured over his face, air puffing reassuringly into his mouth and nose.

The doctor stood by the bed and spoke for long moments, explaining Blair’s illness and its outcome, but much of what was said washed over him in a haze. He focused instead on forcing his lungs to expand and relax, the effort draining him physically, the soothing sensation of Jim’s hand on his head allowing him to drift away.

~o0o~

Jim watched as Blair’s eyes slowly closed and his breathing evened out, punctuated occasionally by a deep sigh. He pulled a Kleenex from the box on the bedside table and wiped gently at the thin line of drool that seeped from beneath the oxygen mask.

"What now?" He looked at the doctor.

"This is a big improvement, Jim," Richard Parry said as he pulled Blair’s chart from the basket at the foot of the bed. "I’m not going to kid you, though. He’s got a way to go yet. He’s still not completely out of the woods with the pneumonia but now that he’s breathing on his own, we can start some chest physiotherapy to try to clear the congestion. We’ll give him at least one more plasmapharesis procedure and some immunoglobulin to really give this thing a kick in the ass."

Doctor Parry scribbled instructions on the chart and handed it to the nurse before continuing. "Once he begins to regain some feeling and strength in his extremities, we’ll start him on some gross motor physiotherapy. If all goes well, I think we can look at moving him out of ICU tomorrow. It’ll depend on Blair a little but I think it’ll be about another week before we move him to a rehabilitation facility."

Jim was startled by the comment. "Couldn’t I just take him home? I could hire someone to work with him there."

"It’s an intensive 24/7 commitment initially, Jim," Dr. Parry said. "Not just from Blair, but also from you, as well as his therapist. You wouldn’t be doing him any favors by skipping that part of his treatment. He’ll also need occupational therapy to teach him to speak again, to eat, to write."

Jim had given little thought to Blair's post-illness care, assuming he'd just have to build up his strength and go home. Now he was deeply shocked by the amount of help Blair would still need. "But I want…"

"Jim?" Simon spoke sharply from his position by the door where he had retreated when Blair had first begun struggling for breath. His face was still damp with sweat, but his hands no longer shook, and he stepped forward now to place one hand on the detective’s arm. "Let’s pretend the doctor knows more about this than we do, huh?" At Jim’s hesitation, he tugged slightly. "Let’s go grab a cup of coffee. Lord knows, I need one after witnessing that."

Jim looked at Blair and brushed an unruly curl away from the sleeping face. "Will you call me if he…"

Richard Parry nodded. "If he wakes or there’s any change at all, I’ll make sure you’re paged."

"Thanks." With a final look at his slumbering friend, Jim allowed Simon to lead him from the room.

~o0o~

"Blair!" Blair's leaden eyelids slowly opened as Naomi's familiar voice rang out. Jim watched from his chair at the bedside as Sandburg's brow creased in concentration and he managed to push his head to the side and then allowed his chin to drop onto his chest so he could see Naomi as she swept through the door. Jim stood and moved away from the bed, stifling a sneeze as he did so.

"Oh, Jim. Your allergies. I'm sorry, I forgot."

Jim waved away her apology with one hand as he fished in his pocket with the other, pulling a handkerchief out a moment later, just in time to catch another sneeze.

"I figured they wouldn't let me burn any sage in here, so the least I could do was dab on a little cleansing scent."

"M-Ma." The one word was dragged out with agonizing effort, but Naomi beamed and hurried forward to enfold Blair in her arms. Finally, when Jim thought Blair would suffocate from the crush of her embrace, he managed to push one arm weakly against her shoulder. Naomi took the hint and lowered him back to the bed, taking care to cradle his still wobbly head.

"I couldn't believe it when Doctor Parry called to say you were awake. I mean, after the poisons they gave you, I'm amazed you survived."

"Wha?" Blair's eyes flickered from Naomi's to Jim's, and Jim wondered if his decision not to mention Naomi's previous visit had been wise. As Sandburg's face clouded over in confusion, and his frustration at being unable to give it voice became obvious, Jim interrupted the reunion.

"Naomi. It's good to see you. How long are you planning on staying?" He forced out his offer. "You can stay in Blair's room at the loft while you're in town, if you want." Please don't want. He felt his face heat at his uncharitable thought. Naomi could be a royal pain in the butt sometimes, but she was Sandburg's mother.

"Oh, I can't stay." Naomi dismissed Jim with a wave of her hand before seating herself at Blair's side. "As soon as I heard the news that Blair was recovering, I phoned Perry. You remember Perry, don't you, sweetie?"

Before Blair could make the effort to nod or shake his head, she went on. "Perry owns a little island off the coast of Australia. He runs a meditation and holistic center there. He suggested that I could probably use some healing right now to get over the trauma of Blair's illness. I'm leaving this afternoon, so I wanted to come and spend some time with my son before I go." She turned dazzling green eyes on Jim. "You don't mind letting me have Blair to myself for a few hours, do you, Jim?"

Jim had already backed away to stand by the door. He debated telling her exactly how he felt about her breezing in and out of his partner's life. Sandburg's pale, confused face, with the corners of his mouth turning up lopsidedly as he basked in his mother's attention stopped Jim in his tracks.

"Actually, I'm glad you're here. Simon needs me to go over some arrest reports at the precinct." He smiled at Blair. "Do you mind if I take off for a couple of hours, Chief?"

Blair waved a shaky hand. "Go."

Jim gave him a snappy salute and left. Once in the car on his way to the station, he gave full vocal vent to his thoughts on Naomi Sandburg's idea of parenting. "I don't believe you, Naomi," he ranted. "One minute you're demanding to make life and death decisions for your son, the next moment you're flitting out of the country while he's still recovering."

He calmed himself with the thought that Sandburg at least had appeared accepting of his mother's decision to leave.

To Part Two