Knowledge Gained

By: Lyn

EMAIL: Lyn

The usual disclaimers apply.

SUMMARY: Written for Debbie Tripp’s November themefic on Sentinelangst – under duress from Lisa Adolf. <vbg>

Thanks as always to Annie for the beta and brainstorming session when my muse refused to cooperate.

~o0o~

Jim frowned when he opened his apartment door and saw his roommate standing at the stove, dressed in his ratty bathrobe, a wad of tissues grasped in one hand while the other stirred whatever was bubbling in the saucepan. "Hey there, Chief. I thought the doctor told you to stay in bed for another day or two."

Blair looked up and sniffed wetly. "It’s just a cold, man," he said nasally. "Besides I was bored out of my skull."

Jim shrugged out of his jacket and hung it up, knowing it was no use arguing with his stubborn partner. Instead, he walked into the kitchen and sniffed appreciatively. "Your famous vegetarian spaghetti sauce. What’s the occasion?"

Blair ground black pepper into the sauce. "No occasion. Just takes a lot of time to prepare, less time to be bored."

Jim opened the refrigerator and pulled a beer from within, holding it out to Blair. "You want a beer?"

"Nah, thanks." Blair sniffled again and grimaced. "Everything tastes weird. I can’t vouch for the sauce, Jim. I can’t really taste anything past the mucus and –"

Jim cut him off, holding up a hand. "TMI, Chief." He picked up a spoon and dipped it into the sauce, tasting it carefully. "S’good." Taking a sip of his beer, he sidled past Blair on his way upstairs to change, then stopped. "What is that smell?"

Blair waved his wooden spoon at the saucepan, ignoring the droplets that spattered the counter. "Sauce."

Jim shook his head. "Not that. It’s faint but…" He concentrated a moment, dialing up his olfactory sense but whatever it was seemed to have wafted away. "You forget to clean out your Tupperware containers again, Sandburg?"

"I have that planned for tomorrow’s entertainment." Blair sniffed the air. "I can’t smell anything with this nose."

Jim dismissed it and headed for the stairs. "It’s gone again. Put the garlic bread in the oven and open that bottle of red you bought for your aborted date with Sam the other night."

"Hey, I’m miserable enough, man," Blair called out, his voice croaking on the last word. "Did you have to bring that up?"

"Bread, wine," Jim responded, grinning. It was always good to get the last word in on the kid.

"Your wish, master."

Jim sighed and shook his head. Or not.

~o0o~

As they sat down at the table to eat, Jim automatically reached out with his senses to catalogue Blair's wellbeing. Blair endured it, if somewhat impatiently, as Jim knew he would. Blair’s temperature was up slightly, though not dangerously so. His lungs sounded tight, a slight wheeze punctuating each exhalation. He wondered if the smell that had bothered him earlier was the odor of illness. He supposed it was possible. Inhaling carefully, he detected perspiration and that godawful niktabi root Blair had tried to force on him the last time he’d been sick. Jim wrinkled his nose and fought back a sneeze. He sat back, drawing in the odor, comparing it to what he smelled earlier…

"Jim!"

A hand touched his, patting rhythmically and he jerked backwards with a gasp, his dazed gaze taking in Blair’s concerned face across the table.

"You all right?" Blair asked. "You zoned."

"I’m okay. Just tired, I guess." Jim really didn’t need a lecture in the middle of dinner about using his abilities more carefully.

"What did you zone on?" Blair had pushed away his mostly full plate and was eyeing Jim with interest.

"You," Jim blurted out before he thought about it. "Just checking to see if you’re as okay as you say you are. Went a little too deep, that’s all. Happens when I’m tired."

Blair nodded, his face thoughtful. Jim waited for the lecture to begin but all Blair said was, "So, do I pass muster?" A teasing grin upturned the corners of his mouth.

"You'll do," Jim replied then added with a serious tone, "but you do have some wheezing in your lungs and your sinuses sound positively revolting."

Blair rolled his eyes and sniffled loudly. "You should try them from this side." He reached out to grab a slice of garlic bread, and again, that faint odor tickled Jim's nose. Impetuously, Jim snagged Blair's hand and brought it to his nose.

"Aah, Jim, you're a great guy and all," Blair pulled his arm from Jim's grasp, "but you're just not my type." He sat down again and stared at Jim, a worried frown creasing his brow. "Are you sure you're okay?'

Jim sighed and pushed away his plate. He felt slightly nauseated amid all the talk of illness, and now he had a budding headache behind his eyes. "I'm fine. I can't believe you can't smell that!"

Blair looked suddenly guilty. "Oh, man! Don't tell me you're catching my cold! I mean, it does leave you with a foul taste and all." Standing, he rounded the table and picked up a spoon, thrusting it handle end into Jim's face. "Open up! Let me see your throat."

Suddenly disgruntled, Jim pushed the implement away. "Will you quit it, Sandburg! I am not catching your cold! I don't get colds… Very often," he added, remembering that night on the train and the infamous Nyquil incident.

Blair stepped back, looking sheepish. "Sorry, Jim."

"No, it's okay, Chief." Jim pushed back his chair and stood. "Why don't you get some rest? Leave me clean up duty seeing as you cooked."

"I am a little tired," Blair admitted. "Okay, I'll see you in the morning." He turned and headed toward his room.

"Sandburg?"

Blair stopped and turned around.

"You try that thing with the spoon again and I'll shove it where the sun don't shine," Jim joked, trying to inject some humor into the heavy moment. He knew that Blair’s Blessed Protector instincts were as well developed as his own.

Blair grinned back but it looked a little forced. He was still entirely too pale for Jim’s liking. "I keep telling you, man, you are so not my type." With a wave, he disappeared into his room.

~o0o~

Jim efficiently cleaned up the kitchen, keeping one ear on his sick partner. Blair might argue that he simply had a cold but since the drowning a few months before, he was susceptible to bronchitis and seemed to take longer to recover. He grimaced as Blair settled in for a long session of noisy nose blowing and moist coughing before climbing into bed.

Jim still felt queasy. In fact, if he thought about it, his stomach seemed to be churning even more. Great! That was all he needed. Not only didn’t Jim tolerate sickness well in others, he absolutely hated being ill himself. Fine, he decided as he wandered into the living room and slumped onto the couch. I’ll just ignore it. Psych myself out of it.

His gaze caught Blair’s backpack dumped on the love seat opposite, contents spewing from the opening. A pile of textbooks sat on the floor by Jim’s feet. With a muttered curse, Jim stood and picked up the books, carrying them to Blair’s bedroom. He extended his hearing for a moment into the small room. Blair was sleeping deeply, his breathing punctuated with rough snores. Opening the door, Jim stepped inside and looked around.

"Sandburg, I swear…" Jim muttered. Balancing the books precariously, Jim stepped carefully over a pile of clothing on the floor. Whether it was dirty laundry or clean clothes that should be in the dresser, he didn’t know. He stood in the middle of the room, wondering what to do. There was nowhere to put the books he held. Every surface seemed to be overflowing with papers, books and clothes. It was a wonder Sandburg managed to find his bed. Jim turned, deciding it would probably be best to leave the books where he’d found them for now. In the morning, he’d have a talk to his partner. If Sandburg was so bored, he could spend the day cleaning up his room.

A thread of guilt niggled at him suddenly and he took a really good look at the spare room. It was tiny, almost box-like. Jim had never used it for anything other than storage before Blair moved in. How could he expect someone to keep the entire collection of their life in one small room? Jim had a spacious loft bedroom and his own books and other collectibles were on the bookcase downstairs.

Jim knew that after the warehouse explosion, Sandburg had nowhere else to go. He knew too, that it wasn’t just because of Larry. After paying to replace clothing and textbooks, Blair had been down to his last cent. Once he was back on his feet though, he still didn’t seem eager to move on. Jim remembered his initial reticence at having a roommate. Somehow that had shifted to acceptance then finally he realized that he wanted Blair here, that it felt good coming home to a meal on the table, someone to watch the game with. After the debacle with Alex Barnes, Jim had worried that Blair would not want to come back but the anthropologist had accepted the situation with equanimity. Jim’s reactions to another sentinel in close proximity was hard-wired into his genetic sentinel make up, Blair told him, and therefore uncontrollable, and he had his own guilt to shoulder, for not telling Jim about her. Jim didn’t entirely agree. In fact, he thought his behavior toward Blair had been unforgivable in the extreme. He tempered his guilt with the knowledge that he’d brought Blair back from the dead. He felt somewhat mollified and redeemed by that. Once they returned from Mexico, they’d driven to the motel, picked up Blair’s things and put them back where they belonged. It had not been mentioned since.

There had to be a solution to the problem. Jim yawned, suddenly tired. He’d sleep on it and maybe tomorrow he and Sandburg could come up with something together. As he left the bedroom, he was hit full force by the smell that had plagued him all night. He gasped, inhaling even more of the scent and ended up choking. Doubled over, he fought to hold onto the books in his arms. After a moment, he got his breathing marginally under control and staggered over to the couch.

He sat and leaned forward, massaging his suddenly pounding head. What the hell was it? It didn’t smell like gas and Blair seemed fine, apart from his cold. Were his senses just out of whack, amplifying something, that to others would be unnoticeable? He debated waking Sandburg then dismissed it almost immediately. The kid needed his rest. Now that he was sitting down, he was actually feeling a little better. For a moment there, he’d thought he was going to suffocate. Could feel his lungs seizing up… Again, his chest began to tighten, as though at just the thought of it and Jim dragged all his senses down, fighting to see the dials in his mind’s eye. He kept going, turning them down until they hovered just above one. Exhausted, he slumped back against the cushions and closed his eyes. The sensations were easing, the smell barely noticeable now. He still felt a little nauseated and decided sleeping here on the couch, close to the bathroom was probably a good idea. If he was still having trouble in the morning, he'd ask Blair about it. Maybe it was just some weird sentinel thing. Every time he thought he had things under control, something came out of left field. Weird. He’d ask Blair… He was asleep before he could finish the thought.

~o0o~

Blair woke from a deep sleep, fighting for breath, his first thought, that the bronchitis that had plagued him since the drowning had returned with a vengeance. He sat up in the bed and wrapped his arms around his aching chest, trying to calm his breathing enough to pull in a slow, deep breath. If anything, that action only made his lungs feel tighter and he could hear his breath husk out with an audible wheeze. Panicked, he called out to his partner. "Jim!"

The word came out in a pitiful croak, his throat burning, and he blessed the knowledge that Jim was a sentinel and had no doubt been keeping one ear on him through the night. After a few moments though, Jim didn’t appear and Blair, feeling dizzy and nauseated, struggled from the bed and tottered out into the living room.

"Jim?" Blair whispered. He could see the back of Jim’s head over the couch. His partner must have fallen asleep there. With difficulty, fighting the blackness encroaching on his vision, Blair stumbled across the room to Jim’s side. Collapsing onto the seat beside him, Blair reached up a trembling hand and shook Jim’s shoulder… and watched in horrified shock as Jim’s body slowly toppled sideways.

Seriously worried now, his own problems all but forgotten, except for his struggle to pull in air, Blair felt for a pulse in Jim’s neck, sagging in relief when he felt it, though it was slow and faint. In a move that almost sent him into oblivion, he pushed at Jim’s limp body until he was able to drag him, as gently as possible to the floor. Placing a hand on Jim’s chest, he exhorted the other man in a voice that was barely there, to wake up… and then realized Jim was not breathing.

"Oh god! Jim?" Blair slapped at Jim’s chest, frantic, his thoughts a chaotic tumble. What to do. Calm down! he ordered silently. Reaching out, he grabbed the phone off the coffee table and punched in the emergency number. While he waited for the call to be answered, he scrabbled laboriously around until he was kneeling beside Jim’s head. Holding the receiver beneath his chin and tipping the detective’s head back, Blair drew in as much breath as he was able and blew into Jim’s mouth. The effort almost sent him into unconsciousness and he collapsed to the floor, coughing violently. The phone had dropped from his hand and lay inches away. He could hear the tinny voice of the operator, demanding a response.

Blair staggered back to his knees and picked up the phone. "Medical emergency," he gasped, hoping his voice was strong enough to carry. "852 Prospect, Apartment 307. My… my partner, ‘Tective Jim… Ellison. Unconscious, not breathing…"

Blair dropped the phone, hoping the information had gotten through and turned his attention back to his partner. His strength was waning rapidly and he didn’t know how much longer he could hold on. Desperation fueled him and he leaned forward once more to blow a few breaths of air into Jim’s mouth. He was barely hanging onto consciousness now; Jim’s face was wavering in and out, the darkness at the edge of his vision overtaking everything. As he fell forward, he thought he heard Jim take a gasping breath before oblivion swept in and claimed him.

~o0o~

"Blair? Open your eyes."

An unfamiliar voice seeped into his consciousness. Funny, he thought they were open, but now that he realized they weren’t, he wasn’t sure he wanted to. He hadn’t felt this bad since that faculty party when Bernie – Someone jostled his shoulder – gently enough – but his head exploded with agony from the movement and he moaned, raising a hand to bat away the intrusion on his peace.

"Blair! Open your eyes!" This voice was familiar, one that he rarely disobeyed. He struggled to do as he’d been told, finally cracking open gummed up eyelids to peer blearily up at a dark face. He knew this guy, so why the heck couldn’t he remember – "Blair, it’s Simon."

Right, Simon, that was it. "Water?" he croaked and instantly a straw was held to his mouth. He sipped at the blissful cold liquid thirstily then pushed it away when his stomach began to churn. "Thanks." His voice was barely there, his throat burning and a foul taste coated his tongue. Something was placed over his face and he startled and turned his head.

"Just some oxygen," the first voice he’d heard said. "It will help you breathe more easily and clear your head."

Well, he was down with that, though he was sure his head was going to fall off any minute anyway. He let his eyes drift closed again, enormously weary, then a thought trickled past and he grabbed onto it. "Jim!" He surged up in the bed, fighting against the strong hands that restrained him and gasped as a sharp pain knifed through his chest. He dropped his head, fighting for breath, the big hand, rhythmically stroking his back, helping to calm him at last.

"Simon, where’s Jim?"

"ICU. He’s on life support. He was breathing sporadically when they got to you but –"

Blair lay back against the pillows and stared at the captain. "What happened. Everything’s kinda blurry."

"There was some kind of chemical poisoning. The lab doesn’t have the full results yet but it was similar to carbon monoxide poisoning."

Blair stared at him in shock. "Chemical? How?"

Simon shrugged. "We don’t know that yet, either. I was notified when the dispatcher you phoned recognized Jim’s name. By the time I got there, you were both on your way to the hospital. I left Henri in charge and headed straight down here. They’re still processing the loft."

"Was anyone else in the building affected?"

"Not so far as we can tell. We’re still checking. Look, Sandburg, you need to rest."

"No." Blair struggled to sit up, ignoring the pain that once again lanced through his chest. He stared at Simon, determination etched on his pallid features. This was one time he wouldn’t obey the captain’s order. "I need to see Jim."

"Blair…" The doctor cut in, his voice, a soothing tone of attempted reason. "You’ve just regained consciousness and your oxygen saturation is still below normal, even assisted. You need to remain in bed and let us monitor you for a while longer."

Blair was already removing the mask from his face. "How long?"

"Forty-eight hours at least."

"You can monitor me in the ICU, can’t you?" When the doctor hesitated, he pushed on. "I need to see Jim." He turned his gaze on Simon. Only the captain knew how important this could be to saving Jim’s life. "Simon, please."

Simon stared at him for a long moment then sighed and turned to the doctor. "I’ll take full responsibility, Doc. Can you monitor Sandburg in the ICU? I’ll make sure he doesn’t over exert himself."

"He’s to remain in a wheelchair," the doctor said, though he didn’t sound entirely happy with the decision. "I’ll arrange for him to be hooked up to a portable cardiac monitor and IV stand." He looked at Blair, a stern, no-nonsense look on his face. "And you will leave that oxygen mask on."

Blair sketched a shaky salute and slid his legs over the side of the bed, stopped from going further by Simon’s restraining hand.

"We do this my way, Sandburg," he growled, "You fall on your face, it’s my ass on the line, and Jim will tear me a new one, too."

~o0o~

He existed in a nether world, sensation gone, apart from the pain. His stomach churned nauseatingly, making him feel as though he was on a never-ending roller coaster ride. His throat burned around a hard object that forced air into recalcitrant lungs. His eyes watered and stung, his head pounded.

Voices washed over him – one, deep, almost too loud to endure, another, merely a harsh whisper. He strained to hear it as it alternately bullied and cajoled him to follow it back.

…"Zoned?"

"Don’t think… no focus… more like… too much stimuli…"

"You… rest."

"Can’t. Not till… wake…"

"Jim…" That was the voice he needed to listen to, but try as he might, it always faded away and left him adrift. He had no strength left to fight. It was easier to let go.

"No, don’t! Crashing…"

"Jim! Let me… Simon, please…" And then even the voices were gone.

~o0o~

Blair tore off the oxygen mask and struggled out of the wheelchair, fighting his way past the doctors and nurses to Jim’s side. His own cardiac monitor sounded a soft alarm in protest at the disconnected leads, in counter rhythm to Jim’s. He grabbed hold of Doctor Morris’ lab coat and pulled him around to face him. "I know what’s happening here," he grated, then coughed harshly. "You have to let me try."

The doctor glanced over at the cardiac monitor and studied it briefly. "You get three minutes maximum, then I’m going to have to stimulate his heart. Any longer than that, he’ll die."

"Sandburg?" Simon was at Blair’s shoulder, gazing from Jim to Blair, his face a mask of worry.

Blair’s focus was solely on Jim as he flung the words over his shoulder. "I know what to do. Clear the room."

"I’m staying," Morris said firmly, "in case I’m needed."

Blair didn’t bother with a reply. There was no time to lose. If he was right, Jim had turned down the mental dials they had fashioned for his senses so long ago, in order to escape the overwhelming stimuli of the chemical that had been used to poison them. He just needed to find a way to get through to the comatose man.

Reaching out, he grasped Jim’s lax hand and held it against his chest. His voice was almost gone, his throat blistered from the toxic fumes that had been insidiously pumped into the apartment. "Jim!" he said, leaning over to talk directly into Jim’s ear. "You have to listen to me. You need to feel your hand on my chest, notch up your hearing, man. Hear my heartbeat."

Nothing.

Blair groaned and gave Jim’s arm a shake. "Do it, Jim. Listen to your guide! Follow my heartbeat." There was a twitch of Jim’s fingers. Blair was sure he hadn’t imagined it. "Come on, Jim, listen to me."

The doctor stepped up to the bed, a loaded syringe held in one hand but just as he prepared to inject the contents into the IV, Jim’s eyes opened. There was no real focus for a moment then he slowly blinked and his bleary gaze fixed on Blair. Blair smiled. "Welcome back, Jim."

~o0o~

It was good to be home, Jim thought as he followed his partner to the front door of the apartment. Blair was still chattering away. He hadn’t really stopped since his voice had returned completely the day before. Jim wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or not about that.

Blair turned and held his hand out for Jim’s door key. In his rush to get to the hospital to pick his partner up, he’d left his own set behind. At least he’d stopped leaving a spare over the door after the first time Freeman had invaded their apartment.

Jim still found it hard to believe. Dan Freeman had been released from the psychiatric unit of Cascade Hospital three months ago; his psychiatrists convinced he was no longer a threat now he was being medicated. Of course once Freeman was on his own, he’d tossed the pills and reverted back to his old vindictive, out of control ways, his psychosis back in full force.

"Earth to Jim." Blair’s voice intruded on Jim’s thoughts of just what he would have liked to do to Freeman if he hadn’t been laid up in the hospital when the madman was apprehended.

"Sorry, what?" Jim cleared his throat. His own voice was taking a while to return to normal.

"I said, I can’t believe Freeman got away with this. Piping a toxic chemical concoction into the loft without being caught." Blair unlocked the door and swung it open, allowing Jim to precede him inside. "I mean, I’d been here for three days and I didn’t notice a thing."

"This is the crazy who got away with hauling god knows how much manure into the loft," Jim reminded him. "How’d you figure out what was wrong with me?" Jim asked.

Blair shrugged. "You looked totally the opposite of when you’re in a zone. You had no focus at all, man. Like you’d just gone to sleep."

"I guess in a way I had," Jim mused. "I figure the reason I kept smelling that stuff whenever I was near you was because you’d been there all day. It had seeped into your clothes and hair." He shivered a little, remembering the doctor’s pronouncement that if Blair had not woken when he had, they would probably both be dead now.

"And next time, you’ll tell me, right?" Blair wagged a lecturing finger at Jim and he capitulated, nodding his acquiescence. "Well, the treatment is essentially the same," Blair went on with a small shrug, "but it’s good to think I’ve figured out some of this sentinel stuff out after three years."

"Are you kidding me, Chief?" Jim gave his partner an affectionate tap on the top of his head. "Every time, my senses do something weird, you figure it out. Why do you think I still let you hang around?" He smiled to take the sting from his words, pleased to see Blair grin back at him.

"Thanks," Blair said, and Jim noted the small blush of pleasure that colored his cheeks.

Jim walked just inside the door and stood, surveying his home. He nodded in satisfaction. While Blair had been preoccupied at the hospital, H and Rafe had followed Jim’s instructions to the letter, using Blair’s spare key to gain entrance to the apartment and set everything back in its place, after Forensics was finished.

Blair gave him a small shove in the back. "Will you move already, man? I thought you’d be racing me for the couch." When Jim didn’t reply, Blair stepped around him and gazed up at the detective, studying his face intently. "Jim? You all right? What’s wrong?"

Jim grinned at his partner. "Nothing’s wrong, Chief. Everything’s perfect." Grasping Blair by the shoulders, Jim turned him to face the living room.

A small gasp escaped from Blair’s mouth, which was agape in surprise. "Jim? What is this?"

Jim rolled his eyes and moved past Blair, walking over to stand in front of the new computer desk that had been set up near the balcony doors. "And your mother told me you were a genius! It’s a computer desk, Sandburg, complete with all sorts of drawers and shelving for your disks and papers."

"And a bookshelf!" Blair walked slowly over to join his partner. He ran his hand lovingly over a row of his books then raised his eyes to meet Jim’s. "But why? I don’t understand."

"Because I can’t stand your stuff overtaking my living room," Jim teased. Blair’s hand dropped away from the book he’d been about to pull from the shelf and his gaze shifted to study the floor. Jim rushed on, not wanting his roommate to misunderstand. "Because you need this. You have your own workspace here. No more having to try to cram everything into that shoebox of a room. I know we never really discussed you moving out after I told you that you could stay for a week. Figured we didn’t need to, we were both happy with the situation, but I never gave any thought to where you could keep your things. I just thought it was about time you had your own space."

Blair smiled at him then impetuously reached out and enfolded his partner in a hug. "Thank you. This is so cool!"

"Thank you, Chief," Jim said, delighted with Blair’s happiness, "for bringing me back."

END

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