One week later:
Jim shook his head as he checked the seasoning in the casserole and listened with half an ear as Sandburg regaled him with the story of some South American tribe he'd once studied, then segued into how it tied in with the murder case he'd been looking into that day.
His partner was sitting in front of the TV, having finally found a documentary on the Discovery channel that had taken his interest. As Blair jumped from one subject to the next, often forgetting to take a breath, Jim snorted and reached for his beer. Perhaps things were finally getting back to normal.
"You're not listening to me."
Jim's head shot up at the voice at his shoulder. "Of course I am."
"All right." Blair folded his arms across his chest and regarded his partner with a skeptical eye. "What was the last thing I said?"
Jim took a wild guess. "You were talking about going back to school and working with me."
Blair looked surprised. "Okay, maybe you were listening."
It had, in fact, been easy enough to figure out since that was what the conversation turned to every night since Blair had come home from The Pines. The work that Simon had readily handed over for Blair to look at had been a mixed blessing. It kept him occupied during the day and often well into the night, with Jim confiscating the reports on more than one occasion when he found his partner slumped over them, asleep.
While Blair was recovering more of his abilities each day, he was still not fit enough for Jim to entertain the thought of him coming into the station. His fingers and toes were still numb, as were his lips occasionally. He was walking mostly without his cane inside the apartment, though he took it for support if they went out. He tired quickly, and tended to suffer dizzy spells and lose his balance when he got too fatigued. Considering that a few months before he'd been on a ventilator, unable to breathe or even move, Jim thought he was improving in leaps and bounds. That wasn't what bothered him.
Jim put down the wooden spoon and turned to face Blair. "I'm just thinking that maybe you should concentrate on your studies for a while. I mean, this has been a pretty tough thing you've gone through, and you're still not a hundred percent."
"I know that." Blair reached into the cupboard and carefully pulled out two dinner plates. "I'm thinking about to talking to the Dean about maybe going back to teach a couple of lessons per day. Keep my hand in, you know." He paused as he pulled glasses from the shelf. "I think I'm ready to start on my dissertation again. I mean, I still get the creeps when I think about Alex, but there's a lot of incredible information in all of this. It's gonna be useful to you too, man. You never know if there's more sentinels out there."
"I've been thinking about that too."
"Yeah." Jim gave the casserole a final stir then turned off the burner. "Come over and sit down for a minute." He steered Blair to the dining table and pulled out a chair for him then sat beside him. "I've been thinking that maybe you should change your dissertation subject to the closed societies thing that was your cover story."
Jim saw the color drain from Blair's face as he spoke, and rushed to reassure his partner. "I'm not saying I don't want you working with me and I'm not kicking you out. I'm just thinking you could work at the station and because you wouldn't be studying my senses, you wouldn't need to come out on calls with me and you could even work with some of the other guys."
"You don't want me to be your partner any more?"
"Of course I do. I justÖ"
"Sentinels are my life's work, Jim. I can't give that up now."
"Well, you already said you've got more than enough information for your dissertation, so why not work on finishing it up now?"
Sandburg toyed with the pepper grinder. "So you are saying you don't want me to be your partner."
Jim stood and began to pace. "I'm saying I don't want to put you at risk any more. I don't want you getting hurt because you're with me. The sight of you on that ventilatorÖ"
"Jim, this was caused by a disease. It was nothing anybody did."
"Right, and what about the Golden, huh? Or here's another one of my personal favorites, you chained to a fucking dentist's chair while a serial killer pours sedatives down your throat so he can drown you and become you."
"I'm a popular guy."
Jim rounded on him, his eyes blazing. "Don't you dare make a joke out of it. You've been shot, kidnapped, dropped in an elevator. Not the sort of thing that happens to your everyday university professor." He stopped and took a deep, slow breath, then dropped back into his chair. "I still think you wouldn't have gotten so sick if you hadn't had the pneumonia from the drowning to fight as well."
"Thank you, Dr. Ellison." Blair smiled to take the sting from his sarcasm. "Look, Jim, three years ago, I approached you with an idea. I told you I could help you with your senses and get the information I needed for my dissertation. If I didn't know then what I was getting into, I certainly found out pretty damn quick. I've had every opportunity since Veronica Sarris blew up that bus to pull out, and I know you wouldn't think any less of me. It's still my choice, my life. Incacha trusted me enough to appoint me Shaman of the Great City and to be your guide. This is where it began, and I guess this is where it will end." Blair reached out and took Jim's hand. "Do you trust me, Jim?"
"Of course I do."
"Then trust me enough to know that I know what I'm doing, and that I'm right where I want to be. I'll stay away from the station until Dr. Parry says I'm ready to go back. All right?"
The detective smiled and stood up. "Dinner's ready."
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly enough, though Jim still had misgivings about Blair returning to the precinct. After dinner they watched a 'Die Hard' movie. Blair fell asleep halfway through it. Jim roused him enough to help him walk to his bedroom, with Blair muttering darkly about slave-driver gym instructors around a jaw-cracking yawn. He was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Jim sat down and watched the rest of the movie through half-lidded eyes, then gave up as the closing credits began to roll and headed for bed as well. He had an early start the following day, with a court appearance thrown in just to make life interesting. Crawling wearily into bed, Jim automatically dialed up his hearing and anchored on the heartbeat of his guide. Its regular, soothing beat soon had him drifting off.
Jim startled from a deep, dreamless slumber. Sitting up in his bed, he scrubbed a hand through his hair and yawned widely. Unsure what had woken him, he extended his hearing into the bedroom below and focused on Blair. His roommate's heart rate and breathing were slow and even, the soft snore Jim could hear indicating he was still asleep.
Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Jim glanced at the alarm clock on the bedside table and cursed. He was late. In his exhaustion the night before, caught up in his concern over Blair coming back to the PD, he'd forgotten to set the alarm.
Quickly making his way downstairs, Jim calculated the time he had. If he skipped breakfast and shaved in the shower, he'd probably make it to the station before Simon lost his temper.
He showered rapidly and stepped from the bathroom, wrapping his towel around his waist. His gaze strayed longingly to the coffeepot sitting on the bench in the kitchen. Later, he admonished himself. Turning toward the stairs, his foot hit the first riser as Blair's drowsy voice summoned him.
Walking down the short hallway, he pushed open Blair's bedroom door, and smiled at the lump that shifted slightly in the bed, a muffled groan emanating from beneath the covers. A disheveled mass of curls appeared and two eyes gazed sleepily at him.
"Morning, sunshine. Look, buddy, I'm running real late here, so you think you could make do with some cold cereal for breakfast? I'll bring you some juice as well."
Blair blinked slowly at him as though trying to digest the verbal onslaught, and scratched at his morning bristles. "'kay." Jim smiled gratefully. "Can I have a shower before you go?"
Jim tried not to grit his teeth. "Why donít you sleep in and just have a wash when you get up? Iíll be home early this afternoon and Iíll help you with your shower then. I'll leave your cereal and juice on the table."
Blair opened his mouth as though to protest, and Jim tried to hurry whatever he was going to say with a mental shove as he looked with growing alarm at the clock on Blair's desk.
Finally, Blair nodded. "Sure, no problem." He waved a loose wrist. "Forget breakfast. I'll get something when I get up."
Jim hesitated. "Are you sure? It'll only take a minute."
"Too tired still to be hungry." As though to emphasize the remark, Blair yawned loudly and rolled onto his belly, snuggling into his pillow with a sigh.
"Okay, buddy. I'll phone you from work."
There was a chipped tile beneath his cheek and more than anything else, he wished he could move his head. In the grand scheme of things, it should have been a minor annoyance, but it had grown out of all proportion into the one thing that his exhausted brain could no longer cope with.
A cool breeze gusted over his naked, now-dry body, and he shivered. Distantly, he heard the phone ring and then voices spoke as the answering machine picked up, but he could no longer decipher the words.
Jim had called earlier, though he was unsure now how long ago it had been. He thought he had slept for a time, shuddering awake at the rude interruption of the phone. He'd chuckled a little hysterically, as Jim demanded he pick up the phone.
*Would if I could, man. *
Heíd felt a despairing lump form in his throat as heíd recognized Simonís voice in the background. "Jesus, Jim, donít wake the kid up if heís sleeping. Just leave a message. If worst comes to worst, you can leave a little early and stop by to pick it up."
Then Jimís voice again, sounding worried. "Okay, Chief. You said last night you were going to stop by after youíd been to the library. Could you come here first and bring the Hudson file with you? I left it on the dining room table. Thanks. Get some rest."
There was more indistinct chatter and then Jim spoke again. "Brown says to say hi."
*Hi, H, * Blair thought wearily.
He really wanted to go back to sleep, but that damn chunk of tile was making itself known again, digging into his cheek like a boulder, and he whimpered a little at the pain. He didnít think heíd be able to take it for much longer. He wondered idly if you could go crazy from having a chipped tile digging into your face. Probably not.
He really wished now that heíd done what Jim had said. He smiled a little at that. It wouldnít be the first time. All heíd wanted was a shower, but the doctor said he still needed someone with him and Jim had been in a rush.
"Why donít you sleep in and just have a wash when you get up? Iíll be home early this afternoon and Iíll help you with your shower then."
Heíd been about to protest when he saw Jim glance at his watch, noticed the faint tapping of his foot, the quick, almost casual glance at the alarm clock on Blair's desk. "Sure, no problem."
He waited until he heard the front door slam shut, then struggled out of bed; his muscles were still a little weak and unwieldy first thing in the morning. Shouldnít be that hard to climb into the tub and have a shower, should it? And it wasnít. It was the getting out that was a killer.
He wasnít sure now if he slipped, or simply fell. All he could remember was a brief overwhelming terror as his legs gave out, and then a mind-numbing thump as he hit the hard floor.
He came back to awareness some time later, and heíd been lying on the cold bathroom floor ever since, willing his recalcitrant body to move. Or at least his head. He was going to go crazy if he couldnít move his head.
The front door slammed, and then a shadow loomed in the doorway. "Sandburg? Oh, God."
He opened his bleary eyes and tried to focus on the shape striding toward him and now dropping down at his side. *Jim, thank God youíre home. * At least, thatís what he wanted to say, but all he could manage was a rather pathetic wail.
He felt Jim lean closer to him and felt fingers press into his neck. The touch was more than reassuring, the warmth in Jimís fingers was positively delicious, and he fought to lift his head in order to experience more of the wonderful heat. The tile dug cruelly into the flesh of his cheek and his body trembled from the exertion, then he sank back to the floor with a moan of frustration.
He managed to lift one hand enough to twine his fingers weakly in the sleeve of Jimís shirt. Taking a deep breath, and ignoring the saliva and blood that dribbled down his chin, he forced out his one request. "Up."
Jim shot him down in flames. "Not yet, Chief. You could have spinal injuries. Letís wait until the paramedics get here."
Blair gritted his teeth and taloned his fingers so tightly in Jimís sleeve he thought they would break. "Up," he repeated. "Please."
He felt embarrassed by the tears that dripped down his cheeks and mixed with the mucus that dribbled from his nose, but this was too important. "Up," he said again.
Jim watched him for a moment, then taking Blairís icy hand in his, he extended his other hand and ran it along Blairís neck and down his naked spine. "You realize if I zone doing this, Sandburg, weíre both in deep shit."
"I - guide," Blair whispered, absurdly pleased to get out an entire sentence with only minor slurring.
"Okay." He felt Jim's large hand ruffle his hair, then at last he was carefully rolled from his stomach to his side. From the corner of his eye, he watched as Jim lowered himself to the floor, then he was pulled up to rest against a broad, firm chest. As he felt something large and warm settle over his chilled body, Blair sobbed in relief and let the darkness take him.
Jim stroked a gentle finger down the bloody indentation on Blair's cheek. "Thatís a nasty gash youíve got there. You ready to let me phone 911 now and get some help?" There was no answer. Growing more concerned by the second, Jim managed to pull out his cell phone and call for help.
He sat on the cold floor, briskly rubbing Blair's arms and legs, wrapping the bath sheet more closely around the shivering body and praying that his worst nightmare hadn't come true.
Activity and voices from the other room dragged him from an almost-zone where he'd retreated as he'd monitored Blair's heart rate and breathing. Coming back to awareness with a shudder, Jim called out to the paramedics to let them know where they were, and opened up his senses once more to check on his roommate.
Blair's breathing and heartbeat were regular, though somewhat slow, and Jim breathed a sigh of relief. His partner was still shivering spasmodically, but a hand on Blair's brow and down his bare back beneath the towel reassured Jim that his body temperature had risen fractionally since he'd first arrived.
"Detective Ellison?" A blue-uniformed figure knelt at Jim's side, and he shook himself from his examination and looked up at a young Hispanic face. The paramedic smiled and laid a hand against Blair's throat. "You probably don't remember me, sir. We transported your friend to Cascade General a month or two back."
Jim nodded, though his memory of the people involved at the time was hazy. His focus had been entirely on Sandburg. Even now, the remembrance of finding Blair collapsed on the floor by his bed sent a shiver snaking down his spine.
*Not again, * Jim thought. *It's not supposed to happen again. * A shaking of his shoulder reined in his chaotic thoughts, and he shook his head, forcing himself to concentrate on the paramedic's words. "What?"
"Can you tell me what happened here?" The paramedic - his nametag read Juan Davide - had wrapped a BP cuff around Blair's upper arm and was pumping up the sphygmomanometer, his eyes focused on the numbers on the dial. Through the doorway, Jim could see a second medic unloading equipment from an orange box that sat on top of a gurney in the hall.
Jim scrubbed the hand that wasn't hanging onto Sandburg over his face. "Sorry. I'm came home and he was here on the floor. I don'tÖ" God, he felt so helpless, so numb. "I don't know what happened."
Juan nodded and patted his shoulder. "That's all right."
The paramedic accepted the blanket his partner handed him and draped it over Blair's unmoving body, then strapped an oxygen mask onto his face. "He's got a bump on his head and a gash on his cheek." He looked over at the tub. "Looks to me like he fell out the tub. Was he conscious when you found him?"
"Yeah," Jim rasped. "Sort of. He wanted me to get him off the floor. Wouldn't take no for an answer." He looked quickly at the paramedic. "I checked his spine. I was a medic in the army. I couldn't feel any damage."
Juan looked at him curiously but nodded. "That's okay. His blood pressure's a little low and so is his pulse, but he's breathing nice and easy. He's a little hypothermic. Let's concentrate on getting him to the hospital, all right?"
He reeled off a series of orders to the young blond man accompanying him then helped to support Blair's lolling head as the other medic secured a collar around his neck. A backboard came next, and Jim closed his eyes to shutter the memory of the last time he'd been a witness to this.
He watched as Blair was log rolled to his back, then carefully carried out of the bathroom and lifted onto the gurney. Exhausted and chilled, Jim staggered to his feet. He collapsed to one knee, his legs numb from the enforced wait on the cold, hard floor, and nodded his thanks as Juan held out a helping hand and hefted him upright.
"You all right, Detective?"
"Yeah. Legs are numb, that's all. He's recovering from Guillian-Barre syndrome," he added as he helped maneuver the gurney through the front door. He was amazed that the name rolled so smoothly off his tongue.
"I remember," Juan replied. "Okay. Let's get him down to the ambulance. Harry, you drive, I'm gonna sit in back. You riding with us, Detective?"
Jim picked up his cell phone from where he'd dropped it on the floor. "Yes."
"All right. Let's roll. I'll start an IV en route."
To Chapter Fourteen