Chapter Eighteen

"Jim?"

The detective stood quickly and made his way to the emergency room desk as Steve Carter called his name. "How is he?" he asked, wasting no time on niceties.

"He'll be okay, Jim. You got him here in time."

"In time?" Jim felt panic claw at his gut. "What do you mean?"

"He was as close to entering a status convulsive state as anyone I've seen," Carter said.

"What's that mean?"

"When Blair was brought in, he was seizing almost continuously, and the anti-seizure medications were having no effect initially. Let's sit for a minute."

Taking Jim's arm, he led the detective over to a row of chairs and sat down. He waited for Jim to do the same before he spoke. "The tablets you found in Blair's hand contain very high doses of caffeine. Now, they in themselves aren't necessarily harmful though I don't approve of them at all. It was more a combination of things that got your partner in the condition he's in."

He looked down at the notes in his hand, his eyes quickly scanning the scrawl across the page. "He was already debilitated from the GBS, and the Aminophylline I prescribed for his wheezing can prevent caffeine from being broken down fully in the body, which increases the level in his bloodstream, plus Aminophylline itself can cause those same side effects in certain people. Blair also began taking more and more pills when his body started building up a tolerance to the caffeine. All of this set the scene for him to have a toxic episode due to the caffeine levels in his blood."

"He seemed like he was whacked out on something. He thought I was taking him back to the rehab center. He said his skin hurt, everything hurt, the light hurt his eyes." Jim shuddered, remembering Blair's face as he had succumbed to the poisonous effects of the drug.

"They're all common symptoms of caffeine toxicity," Steve said. "Confusion, light sensitivity, extreme sensitivity to touch. It's like all your senses are incredibly heightened." He sat forward when Jim's face drained of color. "Hey, are you all right?" he asked, as he touched Jim's arm.

Jim nodded and leaned forward, resting his head in his hands and closing his eyes. "Yeah. Tired. Shook up." He leaned back and blinked his eyes to clear the fogginess from them. "But he'll be okay?"

Steve nodded. "It'll take some time, and it won't be pleasant either. Caffeine withdrawal might seem like a joke, but for someone coming down off the level that Blair has floating around in his system, it's no picnic. He could have severe headaches, fatigue, drowsiness, irritability, restlessness, vomiting."

"It can't be any worse than what he went through tonight. We got through the GBS together, we'll get through this, too," Jim said. "Can I see him?"

"Just for a minute," the doctor replied, standing up. "He's heavily sedated against the chance of a convulsion though I think that's unlikely now, and he's feeling pretty lousy, so he needs some uninterrupted rest."

Jim nodded and followed the doctor back to the trauma room. Steve stepped aside after pushing open the door. "I'm going to write up his chart and arrange to have him admitted for a couple of days," he whispered. "Don't be long."

Blair was lying on his side on the examination table. Once more an IV dripped fluid into a vein in his left arm and cardiac monitor patches were adhered to his chest. His eyes were closed and his breathing was steady, though it hitched now and then on an almost inaudible sob.

As Jim approached the bed, Blair rolled to his back and Jim reached out a hand to ensure the wires and IV tubing didn't become tangled. The detective moved his hand up to rest on Blair's forehead, pleased that this time the other man didn't flinch or pull away. Clouded blue eyes opened to look at him, the gaze unfocused and confused before it cleared and a lazy smile crossed Blair's face.

"Hey," he whispered, his voice almost inaudible except to Sentinel hearing.

"Hey, yourself," Jim replied, shifting his hand to grasp Blair's and resting both on the other man's chest. Blair's hand still twitched spasmodically, fine tremors still evident in the tensed muscles of his forearm, though his general appearance was of utter bonelessness.

Leaning in closer, Jim tried to force a smile to his face, but the muscles seemed frozen, and before he could stop it, all of his anguish came pouring forth. He shifted his hands and clenched them tightly around the cold metal of the bed's safety bar. "What the hell did you think you were doing, taking that crap? You just got over being drowned and paralyzed. That wasn't enough for you, you decided to try and kill off a few thousand brain cells as well?"

He saw Blair's face become impossibly paler, his mouth dropping open and his eyes widening in shock. Jim clamped his jaws shut so hard he heard the snap, but the angry words still spewed from between his lips. "Do you know…" His voice wavered, and he was finally able to drag in a shaky breath and recover some of his equilibrium before he continued. "Do you know what it's like to watch someone you care about convulse on the floor and not be able to do a damn thing about it?"

The final words came out mangled around a stifled sob, and he turned his head away as tears stung his eyes. There was a long drawn-out silence before Blair finally spoke, so quietly that Jim had to turn back to face him in order to hear the words.

"Sorry. Stupid. I'm so stupid."

Jim let out a shuddering breath and felt his anger flow out with it. "Yeah." He dropped into the chair by the bed, feeling every day of his forty years. "And not just you. I should have taken more notice of what you were saying to me." He sighed and grasped Blair's hand again. "You made a mistake," Jim said. "A dangerous mistake, but it's over and you're going to be fine. But you try anything as half-assed as that again, and I will kick you into next week."

"I was just worried you'd ask me to stop."

"Stop what?"

"Being your guide," Blair replied quietly. "Especially after you zoned. If I'd been there, it wouldn't have happened."

"We don't know that," Jim said. "I think we've both been working so hard at not hurting each other's feelings after the thing with Alex that we've been sending out mixed messages. I want you back on deck with me. I need you with me, but I need to be sure that you're up to being there. That's where I stand. I'd understand if you think it's all getting too much for you, but I want you to stop for yourself, not for me. You've got enough information for your dissertation. It's okay to let go."

"I want to be your partner, your guide," Blair answered, then suddenly his brow furrowed and he moaned softly, bringing one arm up to lie over his eyes.

Jim walked over and turned off the overhead lights, then switched on the smaller lamp over the gurney, angling it away from Blair's face. "Is that better?" he asked.

Blair managed a slight nod then spoke again. "I have this ringing in my ears too. It's so loud, and it won't go away. It's driving me nuts. Everything's too much -- light, sound… Can you take this sheet off? I feel like it's scouring my skin."

He tried ineffectually to push down the covers while keeping his arm still over his eyes, then stopped and dropped his arm, looking at Jim sadly. "Now I know what it's like for you," he whispered. "How can you stand this?"

Jim leaned over him. "I couldn't," Jim said, smiling, "but then you found me. Let's try something."

Blair nodded.

"Lie back and close your eyes."

Blair obeyed the command.

"You ready to try something?"

Blair squirmed uncomfortably and huffed out a small groan, then nodded his head. "I guess."

"All right, I want you to picture a dial."

The arm dropped and Blair opened one eye to glare balefully at his Sentinel. "This is no time for jokes, man," he complained. "It hurts."

Jim nodded. "And I'm serious. Now close your eyes."

Blair stared at him a moment longer, then did as Jim asked.

"All right, deep, slow breaths. That's it." Jim waited a few moments to allow Blair to get into a comfortable rhythm, then spoke again as softly as he could. "Find the dials, Blair. Concentrate until you can picture them in your head. One dial for each sense."

He waited until Blair's breathing was slow and even. His hands still twitched on top of the sheets but his eyes remained closed. "That's good. Now, turn them down, one at a time. All the way down, as far as they'll go." Jim kept up the soothing words until he saw Blair's shoulders and hands begin to relax.

A sudden crash of metal outside the room startled them both, and Blair jumped at the assault on his senses, then screwed his face up in pain once more. He drew in a gasping breath and arched his back. His eyes opened wide and his gaze flittered around the room until Jim captured his face in two gentle hands and stilled the movement.

"It's all right. It's all right," the big man soothed, brushing his thumbs down Blair's cheeks. "Let's start again. Find the dials, Blair. That's good. Turn them down. Doing good, Chief. Doing good."

0~0~0~0~0

Jim eased himself down onto the chair beside the gurney and studied Blair's peaceful sleeping face. There would be more tough days ahead, he knew, but for now he was content to drink in the sight of his Guide at peace and pain-free.

Blair's drowning in the fountain had forged one bond between Sentinel and Guide. Now this experience would make the link even stronger as each had the opportunity to walk for a while in the other man's shoes.

0~0~0~0~0

The next three days were as tough as any that had gone before when Blair had been in the throes of Guillian-Barre. The grad student was hollow-eyed, craving sleep that came in bursts of an hour or two before he jerked awake, only to repeat the cycle again. His stomach burned with indigestion, and excruciating headaches ambushed him several times a day.

He took to prowling the hospital corridors like a wraith, hoping to calm jittery nerves and ease cramping muscles. Impatience and irritability flared easily with little or no provocation, and he seemed to apologize endlessly, especially to Jim.

Jim kept silent through all of Blair's tirades and childish tantrums, waving away Blair's regretful acknowledgments, though Blair could see what it cost him in the set of his jaw and his shadowed eyes.

One week later, Blair packed his bag and waited impatiently at the desk for Jim to take him home. Steve Carter had given him a clean bill of health, even going so far as to give him permission to return to the university in a few days. Though the caffeine pills had been potent, the effects were short-lasting once Blair's body began to purge them from his system.

Arriving back at the loft, Blair found his restlessness and trepidation returning. Throwing his bag onto his bed, he headed out to the kitchen. "I'm going to be pretty busy once I'm back at school, Jim, and when I come back to the station next week, it's going to be hectic. I thought I might cook up some casseroles and soups, store them in the freezer."

"Sounds like a plan." Jim leaned against the kitchen counter and rested his chin in his hand, striving for a casual effect. "Anything I can do to help?"

Blair thought a moment, then smiled and nodded. Reaching out, he snagged a pen and writing pad and began to scrawl hurriedly. "You can go to the store." He stopped and whirled, opening the refrigerator door, quickly scanning the contents. "There's nothing in here. What have you been eating while I've been gone?" As Jim opened and closed his mouth a few times, Blair shook his head in mock exasperation. "I don't want to know, man. What happened to 'your body is a temple'?"

"I've been worshipping Wonderburger a couple of nights." Jim shrugged sheepishly, looking totally unrepentant. He watched for a moment as Blair turned his attention back to the shopping list. "Go easy, Chief. I don't get paid again for another week."

"Just a couple more things." Blair surveyed the completed list critically, then nodded in satisfaction. "That ought to keep us going for a few meals."

"You want to come with me? Make sure I don't slip into Wonderburger?"

"Nah. I'll run through my lecture notes for my classes while I'm waiting." Jim took the proffered shopping list and reached for his truck keys. "Jim?" The detective stopped at the door and looked back. Blair raised an admonishing finger. "If you even drive past Wonderburger, I'll know."

Jim flipped him the finger and left, chuckling as a hastily wadded up piece of paper hit the closing door.

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