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.
"Hey, Jim! Good morning. Let me get that for you."
"Itís 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. "Whatís the matter? Got something stuck in your teeth? There are some toothpicks in the cupboard."
Blair shook his head and continued to poke. "No. Ďy Ďouth Ďeels Ďunny," 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 itís 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. Youíre 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. "Iím 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. "Iíll be fine."
Blair pushed himself away from the table. "Not really hungry." Picking up his plate, he took it back to the kitchen. "Think Iíll just have some juice."
"BlairÖ" 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. "Sorry. Iím still a little tired. Iím 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."
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.
The call from the hospital, when it came, caused a lump of cold dread to settle in the pit of Jimís 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 Blairís 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 Jimís arm as she led him toward the trauma rooms at the back.
"Heís all right," she reassured him quickly. "He had a tumble down some steps. Heís got a nasty gash on his head. Took 6 stitches and heís a bit bruised. I called you mainly because he was insisting on taking a taxi back to his apartment and heís 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. "Heís 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 youíre 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. "Iím okay. Iím okay."
"They wouldnít 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 Iím really sorry, man. I know youíve 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.
"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 couldnít 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 wouldnít be able to go through with it."
Jim knelt in front of his partner and rested a hand on his knee. "Thatís nothing to be embarrassed about, Chief. I donít 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 donít 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 doesnít 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 Blairís 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 Blairís injury?"
Blair was back on his feet and moving toward the door as Jim spoke. "He said he doesnít remember what happened." He ignored the rolling of his partnerís eyes and focused on the doctor.
"Itís not unusual," Dr. Mason answered. "Heís suffered a mild concussion. He may have slipped, or he may have fainted. Heís still recovering from the drowning and heís 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. Howís 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.
"Itís 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 wonít 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.
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, Iíll 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 Jimís 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. 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.
To Chapter Three