With my senses on high to track the progress of the bomb squad through the building, Taggart's voice echoes resoundingly in my head. Reaching out, I grab hold of some part of Sandburg and drag him to the ground with me, instinctively throwing my body over his as the world erupts.
Sound and white light assault me, obliterating all coherent thought, and I cradle my arms protectively around the agonizing pounding in my head that threatens to cleave my brain in two. There is a blessed brief moment of nothing, and then pain hits -- red-hot, consuming me. My lungs constrict to take a needed breath, and I choke on the foul-smelling fumes that seep into my nostrils and mouth, burning my throat. My chest feels paralyzed and I hear a gasping wheeze push past my lips as I try desperately to drag air into lungs that seem to have forgotten how to work.
Agony sears along my back, a rhythmic banging joining it that makes me scream soundlessly and swat away the unbearable touch. Hands grasp my arms and turn me to my side. A voice speaks close to my ear, and I search through the chaos of my own personal hell to find it. Desperately, I reach out to grasp my anchor; the touch I know will drag me back from the abyss of oblivion.
"Jim?" Sandburg's voice is high and tight, and even through my own self-absorbed suffering, I can hear the fear and tension. His body is draped across me, blanketing me, soothing the raw pain I can feel along my back. I feel him take a deep breath against me, coughing several times before his welcome weight is gone. I reach out with one flailing hand and he grabs it, squeezing it tightly.
"It's okay. I'm still here."
I sag back against the pavement, beginning to feel the roughness of the concrete scrape against my skin through my tee shirt.
"Jim? I need you to dial everything down. You had all your senses on high and it's too much."
"C-can't," I wheeze in a voice that sounds scarcely my own.
His hand shakes mine a little, and I reminded bizarrely of a mother chiding a naughty child. "Yes, you can. We've done this a hundred times," he scolds me softly. "You know the routine. Find the dials, see them in your head, just like you did when Angie shot you."
His voice fades on the last word and his wheezing breath joins mine in counter rhythm. He chokes, and gags, then begins again, coaching me through the exercises, his hand still holding mine tightly, his other hand stroking across my forehead. The touch is meant to soothe but feels like sandpaper on my oversensitive skin and I flinch.
"Sorry. Sorry," he says in a voice that has become deeper, slower, infinitely gentle. "Didn't think. The EMT's are on their way and you're gonna have to be hosed down. I want you to try to turn everything down to two."
"Zero," I manage to grate out. I see darkness encroaching and crack open my eyelids in an effort to stave it off. Blair hovers above me, his face and hair coated in dust, a ribbon of blood snaking along his cheek from a deep cut there.
Firmly, he shakes his head. "Two, no lower. You do it, man and I'm gonna know, and I'll kick your butt into next week. I don't want you hurting, but you need to be able to feel it a little. Okay?"
I nod. I widen my drooping eyelids in an effort to stay focused. "You?"
He looks a little puzzled at that then his face clears. "I'm fine," he says briefly.
Voices approach and suddenly the area is swarming with people. I've got the dials halfway down, but then Blair is pushed away from me, and at the loss of contact with my guide, the pain shoots up again, overwhelming me. I taste bile in my throat and begin to heave. Through the pounding in my head, I hear Sandburg's voice, raised and determined, shouting at the paramedics in a voice that's almost a growl.
"Give me a minute, all right? Then he's all yours." A plea then to an understanding colleague. "Simon, please. Just a minute."
There's a brief silence, and I feel myself overloading on the burning sensation on my back. It's all I can feel, all I know. A hand touches mine again, and I squeeze it automatically.
"Okay, Jim." Blair leans in close, his hair tickling my cheek. "How are the dials?"
"All over the place," I grunt out. My hand clenches in his as a spasm of fiery agony travels down my back and I hear him gasp along with me. "Hurts," I whisper.
His eyes close, just for a moment and his head drops to his chest as though he's praying for strength. Perhaps he is. After a moment, he looks up and smiles, though his lips are tightly compressed and his face is pale and beaded with sweat.
"We can do this," he insists quietly and I find myself nodding in silent agreement. I close my eyes and see the dials, edging up again toward ten. With a monumental effort, that exhausts the meager remains of my energy, I wrench them down ruthlessly until they hover just above two. Lassitude overwhelms me and I sigh in relief at the absence of sensation. Sandburg's hand cups my cheek, gently tapping.
"Better?" he asks. His voice is almost nonexistent now.
I nod again, too tired for words, and when his hands are replaced by the unfamiliar touch of others', I give into my exhaustion and drift away.
"Second degree burns inhalation of fumes not poisonous but rather caustic "
Snippets of sentences drift over me. I don't recognize the voice and opt to tune in out in deference for the pleasant place I've woken in. I feel an intoxicating dreaminess. There is blessed silence, and no pain. I try to burrow further under the covers but I can't seem to move very much and I struggle in panic as I realize my hands are restrained somehow.
"Jim!" A familiar voice filters through the cobwebs in my brain and I peel back my gritty eyelids and focus on a blurred, skewed vision of my captain leaning over me. "Jim? Calm down. You're okay."
"Can't move," I gasp out. "Hands "
A warm hand touches my own, closing around it and squeezing gently. "Your hands are restrained, just to stop you moving around and disturbing the dressings on your back."
I relax onto the mattress, my brain finally catching up with my consciousness. "Bomb?" I seem to be confined to one or two word sentences but can't summon the energy to care.
Simon sighs and flops into a chair at the bedside. Laying his arms on the bed, he leans his chin on them and stares at me. "Yeah. Everyone else got out, thank God. There were chemicals stored in a couple of drums out back of the warehouse. When the bomb went off, it released the chemicals into the air. I'm guessing you had your senses all the way up."
I nod, though he doesn't make it a question. "My back?"
"You got hit with some burning debris, set your shirt on fire. Some second degree burns. Doctor said there'll be minimal scarring, though they're gonna hurt like hell for a few days."
I shake my head, smiling a little, still feeling a little punch-drunk from whatever's going into the IV. "Dials," I whisper conspiratorially. The single word brings more immediate concerns to mind and I struggle to raise my head off the pillow and fight to keep my heavy eyelids open. "Sandburg?"
Simon's face creases into a weary smile and he sits up then scoots the chair away from the bed, revealing a second bed just a few feet away. Sandburg is lying snuggled beneath the covers, an oxygen cannula similar to mine wrapped around his face, his hands swathed thickly in gauze resting atop the bedspread. His face is pale, dark circles rim his eyes, and a neatly stitched gash is evident on one cheek. I turn a horrified gaze on Simon. "What the hell happened to him? He seemed fine, mostly, at the scene. Talked to me, got me to dial everything down."
"He inhaled a few of the fumes as well," Simon says. "He didn't have as bad a reaction as you. Doctor just wants to keep an eye on him for a while."
"He beat out the flames on your back, then smothered them with his body. He's got some nasty, painful-looking burns on his hands, but the doctor thinks they'll heal just fine. He's okay, just exhausted."
I gag as a sudden memory assails me, of me squeezing Blair's hands his burnt hands tightly when the pain got too much. Guilt wells up inside me. God, Chief, I'm sorry.
Simon squeezes my shoulder, dragging my attention back to him. "I'm going to go home and get some sleep. Sandburg should sleep through the night. The doctor said he can probably go home in the morning. You, my friend, will be here for a few more days."
I shake my head defiantly. "I'll go home when Sandburg does. He's gonna need help -"
"Which I can give him," Simon assures me, but I'm no longer listening, my gaze drawn to two weary, red-rimmed blue eyes staring at me from the opposite bed. Or should that be glaring?
"You're staying, Jim." Blair's voice is croaky, but his tone is resolute.
I try to stare him down, but cave-in too easily, knowing I'm up against an expert, and besides, I try to convince myself, I'm tired and drugged up.
Simon turns and grins at Blair. "Hey, Sandburg, I didn't know you were awake. You feeling all right?"
Blair nods and smiles just a little. "Been better, been worse. Why don't you go home, Simon? Leave this with me."
Simon chuckles a little, turns to me, and grins a huge, self-satisfied 'I told you so' smirk. "I'll get the nurse at the desk to come take those restraints off you, if you promise to behave."
Feeling decidedly childish, I poke my tongue out at his disappearing back then smile at the snort of laughter from Blair. Shifting as much as I can, I wince as I try to get comfortable and the nerves in my back wake up. I really hope that nurse gets here soon. My bladder just decided to join the party as well. I turn to my partner in the hopes of distracting my attention from the unpleasant thought that conjures up. "So, are you really okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." He raises his hands to his face and examines them closely. "Just a little banged up."
"That was a hell of a thing you did," I say, a lump forming in my throat at just the thought of it. "Why didn't you tell me about your hands? Jesus, Blair, I was squeezing them."
"Guess with all the adrenaline flowing, I didn't really feel it," he says flippantly, but I know it's only a half-truth. "You did great out there," he continues. "With your senses overloading like that, it can't have been easy."
I puff out a frustrated sigh against the pillow. "I thought I was getting better at this stuff. I really thought I was starting to control it, instead of it controlling me."
"You are! It'll get there, man. You did great," he reiterates.
"Thanks to you," I say, inordinately pleased to see the door swing open and a pretty nurse step in. "Lucky I've got you for a partner, huh?"
I grin when his cheeks color with a pleased blush. "Ditto," he says simply. He turns then to the nurse who has finally released my hands, his Guide persona in place. "After you've finished there, I need to speak with Jim's doctor. He's got some pretty strong reactions to certain drugs "
I sigh, roll my eyes, and reach for the nurse's hand. "Nurse, I'd really like to get up. I need to use the bathroom."
She smiles brilliantly at me, and I see the promise of romantic evenings in my future. Maybe I should stay for a couple of days. Bending down, she reaches for something, and I hear Sandburg guffaw with riotous laughter as she holds up a blue plastic urinal.
He sobers quickly when I say, in all innocence, and only with the best interests of my Guide in mind, "You're gonna need some help there yourself, aren't you, Chief?"