Now and Forever - Blair

By Zanz

EMAIL: Zanz

Characters are not mine, but they are fun to play with. No money was made in the telling of this story.

The Now And Forever stories were the first two Sentinel stories I wrote. They were done as a character study. 'N&F Jim' came first and was originally done as a test to see if I thought I could do the characters justice in writing them. Half way through the first story, a little trickle of thought chased through my head wondering how Blair would react in the same situation. The more I thought about it, the stronger the idea grew. By the time 'N&F Jim' was complete, 'N&F Blair' was so entrenched in my head that it demanded to be told as well.
I tried to keep the skeleton of the story the same because the idea was never to do a different story, but to see how Blair would react in the same situation.
Most of the time when I write I have a vague mental outline in my mind but I don't know the details of what's going to happen. I discover those as I go along just as the reader does, which for me is the joy of writing. I was amazed in writing the N&F stories at how incredibly differently the guys responded, which shouldn't have surprised me, I suppose, because the two characters are so different but it was an eye opening bit of writing for me.

 

He'd never lost consciousness. The release of just 'not knowing' had been denied. He'd tried to. He'd prayed to. But that release, that comfort was never granted. Not even from the beginning. He'd actually witnessed the entire accident. Seen when the oncoming semi had swerved to avoid the small carload of teenagers that cut it off, its left front tire hitting a pothole and thrown further to the left. Then the front tire dropping off the pavement, sinking into the soft mud. It had been pulled, despite the frantic efforts of the driver, into the center median. Clumps of mud and grass were thrown up marking the progress of the run away vehicle, the soft ground making it impossible to steer. He'd watched its progress bouncing down into the ditch, recognizing from his own trucking experience that the swaying and hitching of the trailer spoke of a full load.

Not even conscious of doing it, his mind flashed even faster than normal as he clinically analyzed the truck's speed and trajectory, to make sure they weren't the unwitting targets. It would come into his lane about four car lengths in front of him. If he was lucky he should be able to avoid the truck completely but he might hit or be hit by some of the other vehicles dodging the accident. He'd already lifted his foot to apply the brakes when he heard Ellison gasp, "School bus," and turned his head to feel his chest clench at the sight of the big, lumbering, yellow vehicle. He could see the silhouettes of the kids through the windows. There wasn't even a second thought. His foot stomped the accelerator and the old car hesitated causing a second of terror that it would stall, then it jumped, its tires squealing as they tried to gain purchase on the hot asphalt. Then they were across the shoulder on a converging path with the massive steel battering ram. He only had time for a hurried, "Hold on, Jim." Then a whispered, "Damn!" from between gritted teeth just before the semi plowed into them, its path slowed enough by the old car that the two vehicles only just grazed the school bus.

If they'd been in a newer vehicle they would probably have both been killed instantly but the massive old car with its thick steel panels absorbed most of the impact. He was sure his body wore bruises from where it was thrown into the seat belt before the belt snapped and he was thrown free of the car. That one little brief space of time was the only thing he couldn't remember, going though the windshield and then hitting the ground. He remembered the impact of the truck then opening his eyes on the ground, the smell of grass and mud, trying to reorient himself.

Where was Jim? Was he hurt? Up, he had to get up, check things out. What about the school bus? Oh, God, the kids. And the truck driver? Had any other cars been involved? Jim. Where was Jim? Get. Up. And then his eyes had widened and for the first time he saw what he was looking at through the curtain of his hair. His own hand, lying where it'd been flung, just in front of him. Not moving. Nothing was moving. Nothing was there. What the...? And then the fear took over, broadsiding him as surely as the semi had. He couldn't move. He couldn't move anything. Couldn't feel anything. "Jim?" his voice came out in a shaky whisper but that was okay, it worked and with that one little bit of knowledge, that something worked, he struggled to pull his thoughts back from the abyss. Where was his partner? He fought the new panic. He couldn't move, couldn't get up to go find him and he'd landed with his back to the accident. Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes wishing, not for the first time, that he could dial up his own senses, then he could find his partner just by listening. He tried to calm his thoughts, push the fear down as he concentrated, listening for the voice he wanted so desperately to hear. There was so much, just... noise. The voices of the kids still on the school bus, somewhere above his head, high pitched and filled with adrenaline, frightened, excited, a few crying. The tic tic tic of the overheated semi engine as it cooled in the sudden stillness. The sound of swearing and car doors slamming as people who'd stopped to ogle exited their cars. A general murmur of horror at the destruction.

Then he breathed, when he hadn't even been aware he was holding his breath. Because he heard it. A very pissed off sounding Ellison swearing more vehemently than he could ever remember, finishing up with, "Open the fuck up!" Each word punctuated by what sounded like someone rhythmically beating something with a sledgehammer. This was followed by a shout, "Sandburg?"

And he almost grinned. "Jim?" he said softly, sure that the Sentinel had his hearing dialed up.

Still the metallic pounding. "Sandburg? Are you all right?" A little quieter, not as frantic, but still almost a shout. This was questioning, as if confused.

And he couldn't answer that one. Not yet. "You okay, Jim?" he asked instead, his worry plain in his voice.

"Yeah, yeah." Sandburg heard the exasperation in his voice. "Can't get the damn door open!" And he realized the hammering was actually his partner trying to kick his way out of the jammed car door. Then the kicking was rewarded with the sound of the car door being slammed open. A moment of silence while Sandburg knew his friend was extricating himself from the car then, "Where the hell are... Shit!" And Sandburg knew Ellison had seen him even before he heard the fear in his partner's voice. "Blair!"

"Easy, Jim," he cautioned, as he heard the halting, running footsteps. He knew the Sentinel could hear even his soft whisper. "Easy. Do it by the book."

And Ellison did, remembering his training as he slid to his knees in front of his friend without first grabbing him and trying to turn him over. A wound in the edge of his hair, turned the entire side of Ellison's face into a sheet of bright red, glistening blood. But it looked superficial and the relief of knowing his partner was okay allowed Sandburg to breathe a little easier. Ellison impatiently wiped at the blood with the side of his hand. "Chief? Chief, you all right?" Concerned blue eyes met his, reading the fear Sandburg knew he couldn't completely hide. "Talk to me, Sandburg." Ellison reached out one hand to touch him.

"No!" Sandburg gasped the warning. "Don't move me."

The hand stopped, then with fingers not altogether steady, Ellison gently moved the hair back away from his partner's face. "Blair?"

Sandburg cut his eyes sideways to see his partner's face above him. "I can't move, Jim," he said, not caring that his voice trembled. "I..." and it took a second breath to get it out. "I can't move anything."

After only a second of stunned silence when the terror was mirrored in the two pair of blue eyes, Ellison rose to a seated position directly in front of his partner. Picking up Sandburg's glasses, which were laying on the ground beside his friend's head, he folded the earpieces down before sliding them into his shirt pocket. Folding his right leg half under his body, extending his left leg out protectively above Sandburg's head, Ellison's fingers were feather light as he assured the man, "Don't worry, Chief. It'll be okay."

The detective took control of the situation, issuing orders. Never leaving the downed man's side, keeping his hand in gentle contact with Sandburg's face to ground him, he reassured the frightened man. Pulling out his cell phone, he called first 911, identifying himself as a cop, giving them the pertinent information before they could ask too many extra questions then he disconnected and called Simon. He couldn't answer many of his Captain's questions, couldn't even the get word 'paralyzed' out of his mouth but he was relieved when Simon said he'd meet them at the hospital. He relayed the information to his partner before giving instructions to the curious onlookers. "Check the school bus; see if any kids were injured. See about the driver of the semi, he still hasn't moved from the truck. Were there any other cars involved? Any one else injured?"

And as the minutes passed and not even his Sentinel hearing could pick up the sound of sirens he felt his apprehension grow. "Get me a blanket, a coat, anything. Where the fuck is that ambulance?" And something was spread over the man lying so still on the ground. And he'd absently added 'thank you' when Sandburg reminded him. And the whole time, in between barking out orders, Ellison's voice, soft, low, calming his partner.

And it worked. Sandburg lay quietly. Listening to the voice telling him to, Breathe in, hold it. Now breathe out That's right. Stay calm. Answering the questions. *"No, there's not any pain. I can't feel anything below my neck. No, not anything.*" But Sandburg could hear, and he recognized the strain in his Sentinel's voice and he spoke words of calming himself. Instructing his partner to dial it down, stay focused, keep calm. And Ellison listened to his Guide, bringing himself back under tight control.

Sandburg had asked one question. "Was anyone else hurt?" And the answer from someone behind him. On the bus, one broken arm, a couple of minor cuts and a lot of bruises. The truck driver was okay. He'd already been over twice to explain and apologize before Ellison chased the crowd back. No other cars involved, no one else hurt. And he'd closed his eyes in a silent, thankful prayer.

Then the EMTs were there. Examining. Inserting an IV. Pushing his hair back to fit him with the neck brace that he could feel under his chin but not on his shoulders. Saying the fear inducing words, *'spinal cord injury,*' that sent his eyes to his partner's with a small gasp, "Jim." Competent hands touched a body he couldn't feel, turning him onto the backboard, positioning him. Strapping him down to keep him immobile. And somewhere in the back of his mind, with a tickle of hysteria, he found that redundant. Immobilizing a paralyzed man. And the usually loquacious young anthropologist, whose life had been defined by words, could suddenly find nothing to say, keeping frightened blue eyes on his partner as if the big detective had miraculously become the keeper of all things sane.

Then they were preparing him for transport. Trying to push Ellison back out of the way until the big detective had fisted the shirt front of one of them, lifting the man completely off the ground, lips pulled back and a look in his eyes that told them how close to the edge he was and they had backed off. Sandburg's soft voice had reached through the haze, bringing him back to his side, kneeling beside the stretcher. "Take it easy, Jim. They're just doing their job."

"I know, Chief. I'm sorry," but he said it to Sandburg, not to the man he'd threatened. But it was enough. The emergency crew didn't even protest when he climbed into the back of the ambulance with the stretcher.

They'd been lucky in the emergency room of Cascade General, drawing a doctor who knew them, knew the smaller man was better off with the big detective at his side and didn't object when Ellison followed them into the examining room. At his partner's insistence, Ellison allowed them to take him into the curtained area next door to clean his own wounds up, stitching the cut on his head but only because Captain Simon Banks showed up and was pressed into duty to stay with Sandburg. And because in a voice so low that only the Sentinel could hear him, Sandburg had told him, "You can listen just as well from behind the curtain, Jim. You'll know everything that happens. Let them help you. I need to know that you're okay."

In spite of the activity going on around and being done to him, Sandburg was glad for the few minutes without his Sentinel, even though he knew Ellison was listening. "Simon?" he said, his voice so soft the big man had to bend down to hear the words. The younger man squinted, trying to bring his friend into focus. "If something..." Sandburg swallowed. "If something happens and I don't make it, look after Jim, will you? Help him with his senses. Be there."

Ellison's anguished moan was heard from the other side of the curtain and both men knew it had nothing to do with the physical pain the detective was going through in having his wounds cleaned. Simon raised up, not liking where this conversation was going. "Sandburg, that's not going to happen. This is not life threatening."

"Promise me, Simon."

And Simon Banks had promised. "Okay, Blair. I promise, for all the good it will do."

Sandburg looked at him sharply. "What do you mean?"

"I'm not sure he'd make it without you," Simon said bluntly.

"He'll make it," Sandburg said with certainty.

"Not as a Sentinel," Simon told him with a frown.

"He's got to make it. He's too important to lose."

Simon looked down at the young man lying before him. "So are you, Sandburg." He considered it for a moment. "I'm not sure I like it and I damn sure don't understand it but I'm not sure either one of you would survive for long without the other."

The curtain parted and Ellison reappeared, a small bandage covering one side of his forehead, "Thanks, Simon." His frowning blue eyes told them that he'd heard every word but he said nothing as he took his place at the head of the gurney, his fingers lightly resting against Sandburg's temples. Once again his attention was fully on what they were doing to his partner. The nurse ushered Simon out of the emergency room, directing him to the waiting room. And he went, grumbling that he damn well knew his way to the damn waiting room, hadn't he spent entirely too much of his life there? The nurse returned to the examining room grumbling about nonessential personnel in the ER, casting dowering looks at Ellison who, to be honest, was not even aware of her existence.

Not being able to feel anything that was done to him, Sandburg turned his attention to his partner. "What about you?" he asked, looking at the bandage on Ellison's head.

Ellison shrugged. "Superficial. Nothing major," he said briefly.

"Jim?" There was a touch of panic in Sandburg's voice.

"What is it, Chief?" Ellison asked, bending down slightly to bring his face closer to his partner's.

"Don't call Mom," he said urgently. "Promise me you won't let anyone call Naomi. Not yet."

Ellison stared at his partner for a moment, weighing the 'not yet.' He knew the way Sandburg's mind worked, knew what he was asking. He didn't want his mother worried if there was no need. But Naomi was his mother and Ellison knew that mothers tended to get almost as territorial as Sentinels when their protective instincts kicked in. He raised up, last he'd heard Naomi was in the outback of India somewhere on a trek of some kind, the likelihood of being able to reach her was practically nil anyway. "Okay, Chief," he agreed. "No one will call her yet. We'll give it a couple of days."

"Not without checking with me first, okay?"

Ellison nodded. "Not without checking with you first," he affirmed.

The cervical collar was removed and the young anthropologist was ridiculously relieved to discover he could turn his head with no pain. The movement wasn't much, his chin going an inch or so up and down and slightly more than that to each side.

At one time, Ellison purposely let his hearing follow one of the young nurses who'd worked on his partner. He needed to know his condition. *"Remind me to have Ellison on my side next time I'm injured. I've never seen Dr. Killion backed down before."*

Another voice, more seasoned, answered dryly, *"It's not like they're never in here or anything. Hardly a month goes by that at least one of them doesn't wind up here. You'll see after you've been down here a while. And if you think Ellison's bad, wait until you have to deal with Sandburg. He's polite enough but I've never dealt with anyone quite so protective. He's worse than a mother with a child."* And then her voice dropped and Ellison found himself wishing he'd dialed his hearing back down when he heard her soft words, *"I just hope I get the chance to deal with that particular pain in the ass again."*

"Bad?"

"Yeah, it's bad."

Sandburg saw the haunted look in his friend's eyes immediately and demanded the reason. "Nothing specific, Chief," he told him. "I was just listening."

A small lull then while the information from all the tests was gathered and the partners found themselves alone in the small curtained off area. Ellison moved from the top of the gurney around to the side so it would be easier for Sandburg to see him. "Chief."

Sandburg waited.

"What you were saying to Simon..."

With a tiny shake of his head, Sandburg told him, "Don't worry about it, Jim. I was just... covering my bases, you know?"

Troubled eyes stared at him. "You're gonna be okay. You know that, don't you?"

Sandburg's eyes shifted to the ceiling and he tried not to think about the fact that the only thing he could feel with his entire body was the hardness of the gurney under his head. A sudden rush of pounding in his ears told him that his heartbeat had just spiked and the anxious look his partner gave him let him know he'd heard it too. "Yeah, Jim," he whispered. "I'll be okay."

"Blair..."

"Jim," Sandburg broke in, knowing there wasn't much his partner could say. "I want you to promise me something."

Ellison looked at him half fearfully, wondering what his partner was wanting of him. He waited, not committing himself. He wasn't at all sure he'd be able to promise what the young man wanted.

"I know you'll use your hearing to listen in on everything anyone says about me. And you'll check out the charts if they're left anywhere near where you can get a look at them." Sandburg's eyes narrowed. "I want you to promise me that you'll tell me everything you learn about this."

"Chief," Ellison began.

Sandburg cut him off again. "Jim, you know me. You know I deal better with things if I have all the facts. Even the bad stuff. It's the lack of information, the not knowing that terrifies me." He swallowed hard. "I can take a lot, you know that. But I can't deal with the whispers, and the looks and the silences 'for my own good.' I want information. And I want it all, the good and the bad, so I'll know how to prepare myself." He looked up at his partner. "Promise you'll tell me everything you hear."

"Sandburg," Ellison said cautiously, "there's a reason doctors don't tell you everything at one time."

A snort told him what his partner thought of that. "So, you're saying that if the roles were reversed you wouldn't use your hearing to find out what they were saying about you?"

Ellison had the grace to blush and he dropped his eyes before his partner's pleading look. He considered all the things Sandburg could have asked of him and this suddenly seemed like a small thing to promise. So he did. "All right, Chief. I'll tell you what I learn."

"Everything?" Sandburg pushed.

Ellison nodded. "Yes. Everything."

"Promise me," he said, knowing he sounded like he was in grade school again but he didn't care. He knew his partner well enough to know that once Ellison promised, he would follow though.

"I give you my word, Blair," the Sentinel said solemnly.

And then came the non-information, which was better than bad news but almost as frustrating to deal with. Nothing broken that the x-rays showed. A lot of bruising, a lot of swelling. Pressure on the cord but no way of telling if there was any permanent damage. Wait and see. Twenty-four hours. Maybe a little longer and they should know. It just depended on how long it took the swelling to go down. So they'd catheterized him, which he hadn't felt, then they moved him to a room. To wait.

Now he lay on his back staring at the sterile ceiling, the white light that someone, Ellison? had considerately turned down. And they were approaching the fourth day. And still nothing. There was no feeling, no movement. Only the fear, and that grew proportionally with the amount of time that passed. He hadn't slept, not really. A couple of small catnaps that lasted five or ten minutes at the most before he came gasping awake, eyes wide, filled with terror until his questing eyes found his partner standing there. Always there. He'd heard murmurs of drugs to knock him out but at his request Ellison resisted. The thought of sleep terrified him. The dreams were too much.

He couldn't stop the playback. Couldn't stop reliving the past several... hours? Days? God, had it really been days? He couldn't stop the memories. He couldn't stop the 'what ifs' that haunted his mind. Couldn't stop the pain. Not that kind of pain, there was nothing... His mind shied away from that in panic. He could feel the rapid, pounding pulse in his temples like some wild tribal drum and knew it was his own heartbeat. God, it was frightening to be able to feel that beat in his head and not in his chest. It felt like his head would explode. As if more and more stuff was pouring in and there was no outlet for it. Like a science project he remembered when he was in the fifth grade, his way of explaining the birth of the universe, the big bang theory. He'd taken numerous dark blue balloons and drawn tiny little white dots on them representing galaxies. As a balloon was filled, the dots spread further and further apart, growing both away from the center and away from each other at the same time. He'd gotten so excited explaining his project that he'd forgotten to turn the air tank off and the walls of the balloon had grown thinner and thinner until it had finally exploded. The kid next to him had called it the big boom theory.

Everyone had been in, all their co-workers from Major Crime. He'd decided Simon must have camped out in the waiting room as much as he was there. No one stayed long. No one knew what to say but Ellison told him they kept coming back, that there were always friends in the waiting room across the hall. Somehow that surprised him. He knew he was liked by the men and women from the department but he wasn't an official part of them and he hadn't expected this. It helped, knowing they were there.

~~<>~~

The nights were the longest. The hardest. When the everyday noise of the hospital was quiet and it was more difficult for him to keep his mind from racing in all directions. He heard the quiet talking and laughing of the staff; the squeege of rubber soled shoes as the nurses made countless trips up and down the hall. And sometimes he could hear the patients. The ones whose pain wouldn't allow them the release of sleep. Part of the pain was physical; he could occasionally hear their soft moans and cries echoing down the deserted halls. It was the other pain he heard that scared him. He knew it wasn't always caused by the fear of dying. Sometime, like his own, it was the fear of living. And it was these sounds of quiet desperation that he couldn't block out, maybe because it was calling to the despair in his own soul he was trying to keep blocked now.

Ellison was there. He'd tried to get him to leave, go home and rest or go back to work but he'd refused and secretly Sandburg was glad. He needed the strength of the other man. And he was always there for him. Talking, reading, remembering things they'd done, planning things for the future. He joined in when he could. Sometimes Ellison just sat, touching, kissing, holding, as much for himself as for his partner. The Sentinel had always been a touchy-feeley person.

Sandburg knew he wouldn't have made it through those nights without his presence. Sometimes he let Ellison draw him out, and he talked. It was like the quiet and the darkness and even the paralysis itself was some kind of cocoon, offering a sense of other worldness, of safety, allowing him to speak in a soft voice of things from his past. Growing up almost constantly on the road, moving from one place to another with little warning. Never living in one place long enough to really call it home. Mostly he talked of things that didn't matter. Occasionally it was about things that did. "I never thought about the fact that my life was so much different than everyone else's. Kids don't, you know? It was the only thing I'd ever known so it was normal for us. Exciting in an odd sort of way. New schools were always a little difficult, I guess that's one reason I got so good at making friends quickly. A survival instinct. People didn't travel around much, so most of the time it was easy to get them to open up by telling them about the places I'd been and the things I'd seen. I was good with show and tell," he said with a smile.

"It wasn't all fun, of course. Naomi worked a lot of temporary positions and planning ahead was never one of her strong points so we never seemed to have more than the bare essentials where money was concerned. I remember one year just before Christmas, we were gone for a couple of days and the water lines in our apartment froze and thawed then froze again, ruining all the food in the cupboards. Our Christmas dinner consisted of canned peaches and one of those little tubes of brown and serve biscuits.

"But even in the bad times, Naomi always made sure we spent time together. Most of what we did never required much money. We'd spend the day on the beach, building sandcastles, maybe just collecting sea shells or playing in the water. Or we'd take a book from the library and walk through the woods, and she'd show me how to identify different plants and insects. We watched a garden spider spin an entire web one evening and came back the next day to see it sparkling with diamonds of dew in the morning sun.

"Naomi may have been an unconventional mother but I always knew I was loved. That I was important." The corners of his mouth lifted slightly. "I never thought she did too badly."

Very serious, Ellison looked at his partner. "In some cultures if the child grows into a healthy, productive member of society as an adult, people compliment the mother for doing such a fine job in raising that child." He brushed his fingers along Sandburg's cheek. "I don't think there are words enough to tell Naomi what a fantastic job I think she did."

Sandburg stared at him in total surprise and more than a little embarrassment. As his cheeks flushed, he tried to make light of Ellison's words. "What? Are we switching roles here now, Jim? You gonna be the anthropologist and make cultural observations while I play Sentinel?"

Ellison looked embarrassed as well. "Sorry. You know I don't do things like that well."

"No," his partner contradicted him, regretting the teasing. "I don't know how you could have done that any better. Thank you," he added with a smile.

Ellison knew it was easy for his partner to talk of things that didn't matter. Places half way around the world he'd visited, things he'd seen before he was even out of high school that most people would spend their lives only dreaming about. Knowing his partner better than anyone and using his senses to register the increase in his heart rate and skin temperature, Ellison saw when it became hard for Sandburg to speak of things he'd done and knew he was wondering if such things would be in his future. The haunted look in his partner's blue eyes spoke of his thoughts, and of what he might never do again. It was during one of these times that a sudden spike in Sandburg's heart rate drew Ellison closer, words of comfort on his lips. Words that died unspoken when he saw the intensity of the blue eyes that stared up at him.

"I can't shut it off, Jim," his lover whispered desperately. "My mind's going a thousand miles a minute, all the thoughts tumbling about, falling all over each other. Jumbled up. I can't think."

His Guide's heart beat pounded in his ears, sounding like it was trying to escape the strong chest. Trying to bring his friend back from the edge of panic, Ellison cupped his hands around the frightened face, touching as much as he could of the area that Sandburg could still feel. "Easy, Blair," he said urgently.

"I can't think straight," Sandburg panted. "Make it stop, Jim. Please make it stop."

Sandburg's fear and pain frightened him and he would have given anything, done anything then to ease the turmoil twisting the thoughts of his partner. And Ellison found that Sandburg's stillness and his own desperate need to help, to ease his friend's pain, drew things out of him he'd never spoken of.

"Look at me, Blair," he said insistently. "Look at me." Sandburg's eyes met his then slipped away like a wary animal, examining the ceiling again, darting to the corner of the room, searching, before returning finally, pleadingly, to the calming depths of the blue eyes above him. "Listen to me, okay?" Ellison waited for his partner's response, a tight nod. "I need you to concentrate, to hear me. I've never told anyone this." His fingers stroked gently over the sides of his friend's face as he spoke. "I don't know what's brought it back. I don't know if it's having you here like this and I've got enough time right now to remember it all or if it's because there's been time now for it to work through the barriers that my mind put up, but now it's back to haunt me.

"Maybe it has nothing to do with any of this but it's here, in my head and if you don't mind, I'd like to tell you." His words were true. Over the past three days of quiet intensity his mind had dredged up his past for review and he would have liked to share it with his partner but he hadn't planned on mentioning it. Sandburg had too much on his mind right now but instinctively Ellison knew what his partner needed was something besides his own problems to think about. Something to occupy that magnificent mind besides the possibly bleak future.

"What, Jim?" Sandburg whispered, reaching beyond his own desperation. "You can tell me anything. You know that."

Ellison nodded, relieved that his impromptu idea worked. "I know, Chief. It's not that. It's just, I don't think I've ever allowed myself to remember parts of this."

"Your time in Peru," his partner said with certainty, his eyes losing the wild look as his thoughts were turned to the months of horror Ellison had survived. The needs of his friend over rode his own fear. He could give strength to others even when he had none for himself. "Tell me."

Even then it took Ellison several minutes to find his voice. There was a difference in wanting to share this, needing to redirect his friend's thoughts and the actual process of speaking it out loud. This had remained repressed too long. His voice was harsh when he finally spoke. "Three of us actually survived the crash." He drew back, suddenly finding it too much to remain in physical contact with his partner. "I never told anyone the full story, the details weren't important to anyone else. It wouldn't have made any difference to the army one way or the other and there was just so much of it that I didn't remember at the time.

"One of the pilots lived but never regained consciousness. He died that night. The other man, Fletcher, was part of my squad, a young kid, just turned twenty but he had a good head on his shoulders. He was from New York City and damn proud of it," he remembered with a small smile. "He was almost as big as Simon." The smile died.

"I was thrown from the chopper as it hit the treetops. I think that's what saved me. I don't remember all of it." He shook his head, his eyes holding his pain. "I know I hit my head but I don't know if that's why I can't remember things or if I just blocked it all out. There's just bits and pieces. Waking up. The smell. God, the smell!" His nostrils flared as if the odor was still in the air. "I used that to find the crash site.

"I remember fighting my way through the growth, it was so thick. Everything seemed to grab me and hold on. I remember yelling. Listening for somebody to respond to me. Pushing my way through that last wall of green to see the chopper there on its side. The rear of it was still burning. Two of my men were lying on the ground. I could see more in the helicopter." His breathing quickened, his words choked. "I knelt and turned the bodies over, checking for life signs. The pilot and copilot were still strapped in their seats. That was the only way I knew who they were. The fire." His mouth twisted. "God, I don't know how but the pilot was still alive. I remember praying he wouldn't wake up, that he'd just die without regaining consciousness. When I tried to move him," Ellison's eyes closed and his lips drew back from his teeth in pain, "his skin, it came away..." His hand reached out, fingers tightening in a claw.

"Breathe, Jim," Sandburg instructed urgently. "Touch me. Touch my face. That's it. And my neck. Do you feel me? Feel my heartbeat?" He watched his friend carefully as he reigned it in. "It's just a memory. It can't hurt you."

Ellison swallowed. "Thanks, Chief," he whispered.

"You want to continue?"

Wiping his face with his hand, Ellison nodded. "Yeah. If you don't mind."

Sandburg waited.

"I moved the pilot over to one side, afraid the wreckage would catch on fire again, it was still smoldering and the gas tanks were still intact. Then I searched for the other men. Fletcher was the last one I found. I knew he was hurt but I didn't think it was that bad when I first pulled him from the wreckage. I thought I'd arm him when he woke up so he could protect himself and the pilot while I went for help, maybe tried to establish contact with the natives as ordered. But when he woke up, he was paralyzed." Ellison broke off, knowledge of his words drawing him out of his remembrance and he knew suddenly why this memory had returned now. Dear God.

"Completely?" Sandburg asked calmly. "Like me?"

Unable to speak, Ellison nodded silently, his eyes full of misery.

"What happened?"

So Ellison continued. "I didn't know what to do for him. I'd had the training. All Rangers are trained as medics but that's more like stop gap measures. Stop the bleeding, splint the broken bone, prepare for transport to turn it over to somebody who knows what they're doing. His injuries went way beyond what I knew to do. All I had was the medical kits we were issued.

"He was dying. We both knew it. I tried to make him comfortable, which wasn't too difficult since he couldn't feel anything. God help me, but I was glad of that because his feet and legs had been badly burned. Even worse than the pilot. What was left of the fabric of his pants and his leather boots had bonded to his skin, the rubber soles had melted into. . ." The muscles in Ellison's jaw jumped as he clamped his teeth together and it was several seconds before he could continue. His partner waited for him. "I don't think he could have recovered from the spinal injury alone even if he'd been in a hospital, let alone with the degree of burns he'd suffered. There was just too much damage. He tried to get me to end it for him, told me I needed to leave him, improve my chances. When he saw I wouldn't, he started talking. He was from the Bronx but spent summers with his grandparents in Mississippi. He told me all of it, like he needed to get it out before he died. Fishing and swimming with cousins in the summer, learning survival of the streets in the winter. Staying alive with the drug dealers and pimps. Dealing with the racism of two totally different worlds.

"It took him three days to die. The smell from the gangrene in his feet and legs brought in the predators that last night and I kept a big fire going all night to keep them away. He was out of his head by then from the fever and infection, fading in and out of consciousness. I buried him the next day beside the rest of my men and headed out into the jungle. Two days later I found the Chopec."

~~<>~~

The days were easier but even those had a sameness. The sound of movement caught his attention and his eyes dropped, his head turning sideways the fraction it could. Nothing was within his range of vision and his eyes drifted back to the ceiling, trying to examine his options. Options? He wanted to laugh, to cry, to scream out his frustrations but his jaw clenched, the muscles there knotting as he denied himself even that, afraid if he ever gave in to any of it he'd never be able to stop. If he could just shut it off, close his eyes and see only blessed darkness. The scary thing, the absolutely mind terrifying thing, was that he realized he actually did have options. And that scared the shit out of him. That he was actually considering them.

A murmur of soft indistinguishable voices reached him but he felt no curiosity. If he concentrated just a little he knew he would have been able to understand them, but he didn't. If it involved him Ellison would tell him. Movement again and his partner came into view, moving a little stiffly. He'd tried to get him to rest but he'd refused. He wouldn't leave Sandburg's side for longer than the few minutes it took him to go to the bathroom, refusing even when the doctor was in the room to leave his friend's bedside. Sandburg was glad. He loved this stoic cop and in the months since they'd become lovers, partners in the true sense of the word, that love had grown beyond any rational explanation. And he was loved just as fiercely in return.

Simon was the only one they'd told when they'd become lovers. Besides being Captain of Major Crime, he was a good friend and they hadn't wanted him hurt by finding out from the rumors that would eventually spread. Sandburg'd been half-afraid to tell even Simon. The big, gruff man had scared him when he'd first started riding with Ellison. The police captain held the power in his hands of ending his ride along privileges and that was something he hadn't wanted to happen. He wasn't sure how Simon would react when he found out that his best detective was now sleeping with his police observer. But he needn't have worried. Simon's reaction had been typical. Shoving his cigar firmly between his teeth he'd actually beamed at them, 'About time,' he'd said gruffly. And they'd both left the room feeling slightly embarrassed and foolishly proud. They knew the other Major Crime detectives suspected but no one asked and they hadn't volunteered. Ellison had insisted on it and he'd agreed. Ellison had reassured him that his desire for silence was not motivated by shame of their relationship but of fear for Sandburg's safety. He knew Ellison had been surprised when he'd agreed but didn't tell him of his own fear. The big detective tended to believe he was indestructible. But Sandburg'd heard too many tales of straight cops who'd delayed response times when called upon to backup their gay co-workers and he didn't want that to happen to Ellison. The job was dangerous enough without factoring stupidity into the equation. Besides, he knew already there was resentment directed at him, partly because he rode as Ellison's partner when he wasn't a cop and partly for his unconventional looks. This hadn't come from the people in their own department, they knew his value and accepted him as one of their own, coming to him for advice when they felt he could help them. But even without Sentinel hearing he had picked up the innuendoes and the snide remarks from men in other departments. A lot of guys in the world of law enforcement were prejudiced toward gay cops and he feared for his partner. He hadn't wanted Ellison to be on the receiving end of the hostility and out and out physical violence he'd seen aimed at other officers. Besides none of the small touches and looks they'd always given each other stopped and if they took those feelings a little further when they were in a stairwell or an elevator by themselves it was no one's business but their own. With a grin, Ellison had confided that sometimes it just added a little spice to think they were doing something clandestine.

Now Ellison traced Sandburg's jaw with feather soft fingers and the young anthropologist turned into the touch, seeking contact. Under the exhaustion Sandburg could read the love in his partner's eyes. And the fear. The man who regularly faced down armed felons without a second thought was afraid. That shook him. He needed Ellison now; maybe more than he ever had in all the years they'd been partners.

And it hurt him to see his friend hurting. He wanted to ease his pain, to hold him, tell him that everything would be okay but he couldn't. "Hey, Jim." Ice blue met sapphire and despite the terror swimming just beneath the surface of Sandburg's eyes and the exhaustion, fear and total determination in Ellison's, no words were spoken about what was really on their minds. Sandburg took in the bruises covering the right side of the detective's face, the black eye and the split lip. From his position that was all he could see but he knew there was a bruised hip, cracked ribs, a twisted knee and bruised shoulder. He knew because he'd made Ellison catalog each and every injury for him. "You look like shit, man," he said with a little smile.

"Yeah, but you make up for it. You look great," he said and realized it was true. Somehow the anthropology student had gone through the windshield of the old car and ended up thirty feet from the accident scene and other than bruising from the seat belt, didn't have a scratch on him. At least nothing that showed.

"Yeah, but that's only on the outside." Sandburg said it lightly but a sudden flash of fear in the depths of his eyes spoke of truth.

Ellison brushed his fingers across his friend's forehead then let his hand stay on the pillow beside Sandburg's head, his fingers resting gently against the skin. "Not for long, Chief," he said softly. "You'll be up and around in no time. Going five different directions at once, just like always." And prayed it was true.

Before the pain could deepen in his friend's eyes, Sandburg asked softly, "You have your senses dialed down?

"Yeah, a bit."

"What'd the doctor say?"

And Ellison accepted the change in subjects. "He's worried you're not sleeping, Chief."

"I can't stop thinking, Jim. I can't shut it off." His voice dropped to a whisper, "I wish I could."

Ellison's fingers caressed his cheek in comfort. "I know." His eyes broke away and Sandburg knew there was more.

"What?"

"I think you should think about letting them give you something. You need to rest."

"No," Sandburg said flatly, turning his eyes back to the ceiling.

"Blair, please. You need the down time and you can't do it on your own, you just said that."

"No," this time the word came out pleading. "Jim, please." Fear washed over the expressive features. "I can't," he whispered, his eyes closing, afraid that Ellison wouldn't accept the obvious explanation and would ask.

"Chief?"

Sandburg pressed his lips together, fighting the emotion. He didn't want to talk about this. He took several long breaths, trying to calm his breathing. "I can't go to sleep," he said softly, and his breathing exercise had worked because his voice sounded almost normal, even to his own ears. Calm. Rational. "I have to be awake. I have to know." He swallowed hard. "I've lost all I can afford to lose, Jim. If I go to sleep something else may be gone when I wake up."

Ellison's horrified whisper let him know he hadn't pulled it off. "God, Chief. There's nothing left for you to lose."

And this time Sandburg couldn't quite keep the quiver out of his voice as he looked up at his partner. He took a shaky breath and it all came out in a rushed whisper. "I can still breathe, Jim. I can still speak."

"Oh, God, Blair! No, Chief, no," Ellison said, suddenly finding it very hard to breathe himself. He tried to reassure his friend. "You've only got swelling. There's nothing in there to cause further damage. It's just bruising, that's all." And he stretched out both hands registering the increase in his friend's heart rate as his fingers touched Sandburg's neck just beneath his ears. "Shhh, Chief. I won't hurt you, you know that. I want to check. I just want to check."

"What are you doing, Jim?" Sandburg asked, fear in his tone. "Don't," he whispered. "Please, don't." But he didn't move his head, didn't try to turn away from the touch, just closed his eyes, shutting out the intensity of the gaze above him.

"Look at me, Blair. I need to see your eyes," his partner instructed. "That's it. Let me do this. It'll be okay. Trust me on this, Chief. I'm not going to hurt you."

"I know," Sandburg breathed. "I'm just not sure I want to know."

The Sentinel waited until his partner gave a slight nod then, dialing his sense of touch up, Ellison's hands began a slow movement, his fingers moving almost of their own volition, probing in a breath soft dance across the skin.

"Tell me what you're doing," his partner instructed, his heart rate slowing almost to normal as his voice dropped into the tone he unconsciously used when he was Guide. "Tell me what you feel."

And Ellison let himself slip into a near zone as he concentrated, conscious only of touch and the sound of his Guide's voice. "It hurts," he breathed with a grimace.

"What hurts, Jim"

"The feel of the wind from the air conditioner on my face."

A look of surprise flitted through Sandburg's eyes. He hadn't even been aware the air conditioning was on but he didn't doubt the source of the Sentinel's pain. "Okay, you've registered that and recognize it. Now negate it. Pull it out of the equation." He watched as the tight look faded from Ellison's face. "Better?"

"Better." His eyelids dropped half closed, not releasing their hold on the strength he saw in his Guide's eyes. "I feel the hair on your neck, like young plant stalks. They bend, then when I brush over them, they snap back against my next finger." His voice was filled with awe, as if even he was amazed at what he was feeling. Then a small smile moved his lips. "You need to use more moisturizer, Chief. I feel the dry skin cells flaking off." And he was serious again. "There's no bruising of the outer skin, everything feels normal here. Hang on a second, let me get it a little higher." He flinched and there was a little hitch in his breathing. "There it is. Deep. It's full. Tight. Blood soaked tissue." A grimace. "It feels like a sponge filled with water."

"Jim? You're feeling inside my neck?" Sandburg whispered in awe.

Ellison didn't respond but the frown in his eyes deepened. Sweat broke out in small beads on his upper lip and forehead. "Let me..." His nostrils flared. "The vertebrae. I want to check..." He felt the rush of blood through the blood vessels as his friend's heart rate increased. "Easy, Chief. I don't need anymore input here," he cautioned.

"There," he said in triumph and fell silent as his eyes narrowed in concentration. "Not what I expected. Velvet covered steel. Smooth, not rough. Slick. Like warm ice," he whispered. Then he repositioned his fingers against the warm skin, midway up Sandburg's neck. "The damage is here. Right here. But I want to check..." Minutes passed as his hands moved slowly upward to the base of Sandburg's skull then back down to the junction of his shoulders before settling back over the injured area. "Nothing broken, Blair. There's a hairline fracture down near your left shoulder but it's years old, I can feel the scar tissue where the bone healed. Probably when you were a kid. Nothing else, Chief. No bone fragments. Nothing to cause further damage."

"Dial it down, Jim. Come on, back out of there. That's it," Sandburg said as the intensely focused look dimmed in his Sentinel's eyes. "Breathe. That's it. Take a deep breath. Let it out. Another."

Ellison gave his partner a little smile as he removed his hands but he almost stumbled when he tried to raise up. He bit back a groan of pain and braced himself on the bed.

"Jim? What is it? What's wrong?"

"I'm okay, Chief. Just muscles," the detective said and he let a low moan out as he stretched to get the kinks out.

"How did you do that, man?" Sandburg demanded. "Your finger's were barely touching my skin but you were feeling my bones."

Ellison shrugged. "I don't know. It just seemed... possible. No big deal."

"No big deal? No big deal?" Sandburg's voice rose in excited surprise. "What do you mean it's no big deal? What else can you do? Man, I need to run some..." But his voice trailed off as reality intruded on the excitement of the moment. "Ahhh, man," he whispered in despair. He fought the sudden tears that threatened to well up.

"No, Chief. It's okay," Ellison's voice begged to be believed. "I promise. Okay? I promise. You're gonna get better."

"You can't promise that," Sandburg denied softly around the lump that was back in his throat. He took a deep breath, trying to dislodge his fear with anger. "I hate this. I hate all this nothing," he said bitterly. "I want my body back. I want to feel you, Jim. I want to feel your warmth. I want to put my arms around you and trace the muscles in your back, feel the little chill bumps you get and know that my touch is what puts them there. I can't feel anything, Jim," he whispered desperately. "I can't feel anything. I want to feel your arms around me. Do you know how safe I feel when you hold me? I've never felt that before in my life. And now it's gone," he whispered.

Desperately dialing down the renewed pain in his hip and back, Ellison leaned forward again. "No, Blair. It's not gone. It's here. It hasn't gone anywhere." He cupped Sandburg's cheek with his hand. "I love you, Blair," Ellison's voice broke with emotion. "I love you so goddamned much." He gently brushed his lips against his partner's.

Blue eyes swimming in tears stared up in fear. And for the first time, Blair Sandburg admitted it, "I'm scared, Jim," a bare breath, whispered into his lover's mouth. "I've never been so scared in my life." His voice shook as he fought tears.

Ellison swallowed down the lump in his throat. "I know, Chief. I know and it's okay to be scared." He tried to offer all the reassurance he could in his voice, in his eyes, in the touch of his hands. "It's time to rest now, Blair. I want you to trust me on this. Nothing will happen while you sleep right now. I'll monitor you with my senses and if anything changes I'll wake you, okay? Turn it over to me for a while. I'll watch out for you. That I can promise.

"I'm going to take your glasses now, okay?" He waited until the young man nodded before slipping them from his face and placing them on the bedside table. His voice continued, speaking soft words of comfort, and he watched as slowly the terror left his partner's exhausted eyes and the heavy lids dropped lower. "Just rest, Chief. I'll be here. I'll watch out for you." And for the first time in over three days the fear let go of Blair Sandburg long enough for him to slip, first into a shallow sleep, then as Ellison stayed with him, stroking his hair, speaking softly, Sandburg's breathing evened, and he slipped into a deep sleep.

Straightening up, Ellison tried to regulate his heartbeat, fighting the emotions that constricted his chest, making it difficult for him to breathe. His own fear was such that he felt ill, on the verge of throwing up. What must it be for his partner? It was several minutes before he turned from the bed. He was exhausted, his mind not able to think beyond the next few minutes. A shudder shook his broad shoulders. He didn't want to think beyond that.

He relieved himself in the bathroom, taking time to splash water on his face, almost not recognizing the man staring at him from the mirror when he raised up. It went far beyond the physical damage that was visible, although that was bad enough. It even went beyond the mental exhaustion. This was a soul wrenching weariness that lurked in the depths of the eyes of the man in the mirror. It hid an almost knowledge, one he could see there but not quite grasp. And it scared him, scared the hell out of him. Because he didn't want to know. He was good at repression. He knew that. Hell, he never would have survived if he hadn't been, not with some of the things he'd had to do. But he was scared now because there were just some things that wouldn't hide.

He stepped out of the bathroom and his hand reached to shut off the overhead light, leaving only the dim light mounted on the wall above the head of the bed as illumination. Crossing to visually check again on his partner, he was relieved to find the lines of worry had eased a little as he slept. Placing his hand on the sheet covered chest; he was irrationally pleased to feel the strong steady heartbeat beneath his palm. He could hear Sandburg's heartbeat of course, he'd realized a long time ago that he always stayed dialed up to that particular sound. But it was comforting to actually feel it. *God, let him be okay. He's too important. I can't do this without him.* Ellison had never been a praying man but he'd found himself wishing he knew more about it the last three days.

He stroked his fingers down his partner's arm feeling the tickle of the hair as he brushed through it. Sandburg's hand was laying palm down by his side and he traced the large blood vessels down to where they branched at the wrist and again at the knuckles. Very tenderly he turned his partner's hand over and, dialing his sense of touch up only a bit, he traced the strong lifeline with his fingertip, sliding his hand down the palm, to lace his fingers through Sandburg's. The younger man had large, powerful hands, almost as big as his own. His own fingers were a little longer, more slender but he knew the strength of his partner's hands and knew the gentleness of their touch. Closing his eyes, he could almost feel the caress along his cheek.

He moved quickly then, away from the bed, pushing the door open, needing to escape. But he stopped just outside the door, gasping, trying to get air down into his lungs. He leaned his shoulder against the wall, head down but keeping the door open a slit so he could monitor his friend. He'd promised.

"Jim?" The deep voice was soft, quiet.

It took a couple of seconds for him to process the one word. "Simon," he finally said without moving. "What are you doing here this time of the night? It's after midnight."

"Stake out. Finished late, thought I'd run by before going home. How's he doing?"

"There's been no change, Simon," he sighed heavily, shoving himself away from the wall. "I finally got him to let go enough to sleep but I don't think it'll last."

"Any sleep is better than none."

"Yeah, I guess." He rubbed his hands wearily over his face.

Simon shifted uncomfortably. "It's been so long..." he started but was cut short by the intense blue eyes that shot warnings at him.

After a second Ellison looked away, the muscles in his jaw jumping as he clenched his teeth on the harsh words to keep them down. He couldn't blame Simon for vocalizing what was in everyone's mind but he didn't have to listen to it and he wouldn't let it be said anywhere near Sandburg.

Simon indicated a black gym bag over near the chair he'd occupied. "I brought you some clean clothes. Take a few minutes to grab yourself a shower, man. You haven't slept since he was admitted. You need to rest as badly as he does. You won't do him any good if you make yourself sick."

"I'm okay. I've got to be here when he wakes up. He needs me." His hands tightened into fists. "He's got to get better, Simon. He's got to." Frightened eyes stared at his Captain. "I touch him, Simon. I take his hand and dial up my sense of touch as high as I can bear, trying to feel some sign of movement. Anything." His voice shook and he dropped his head, unable to meet his friend's eyes as he forced the words out. "I can feel the blood moving in the veins in his hand but that's all. There's no movement. There's nothing there," he said in anguish. "This is Sandburg, Simon. He's never still, you know that. It's like he's got this perpetual motion machine inside him that won't let him be still. Especially when he's talking. He talks with his whole body. And his hands, constantly on the move, laying out, detailing, illustrating whatever he's talking about. I love just watching him talk." Ellison rubbed a shaking hand over his eyes and drew a ragged breath. "And now." His lips twisted. "It's like I'm deaf or something, like I can't really hear him. I'm so aware of him just lying there. So goddamn still! I try to hide it, to give him all the support I can." Ellison's voice dropped so low Simon had to strain to hear it. "He can't feel anything now. He can't feel me."

"He may not be able to feel your touch, Jim," Simon said gruffly, "but he knows you're there. He's leaning on your strength." His voice dropped to a low insistent whisper as he stooped to stare into his friend's eyes. "And he does feel you, Jim. Don't ever doubt that. Maybe not on the outside but he feels you on the inside, where it counts."

The anger left as suddenly as it had appeared and only a soul wrenching ache was left in the blue eyes. "I love him, Simon. God, this is so far beyond what I felt for Carolyn. For anyone. It's not even in the same universe." His voice trailed off. "What do we do, Simon? How do I. . ." he stopped, unable to finish and Simon could do nothing but stare at him helplessly.

Ellison dropped back against the wall as if suddenly it was more than he could do to remain upright. "He's scared," he said softly.

"Yeah, well, I guess that's understandable. Anyone would be." Movement near the elevators midway down the hall drew their attention and they watched as two doctors moved across the hall to lean against the desk, laughing with the nurses. "Isn't that Sandburg's doctor?"

"Yeah." Ellison stared with apprehension.

"Who's that with him?"

"I don't know."

Instinctively dropping his voice a little lower as he always did when he spoke of the Sentinel's senses in a public place Simon asked, "What are they saying?"

Ellison looked uncomfortable. "I don't know. I can't hear them."

Simon looked at him curiously. "Your senses on the fritz again?"

Ellison looked away, unable to meet his captain's eyes. "Yeah. You might say that."

Simon's eyes narrowed, knowing there was more. "What have you heard?" he demanded.

"Nothing."

"Jim?" Simon questioned.

Ellison shook his head. "Really, Simon," he denied. "I haven't heard anything. I... I won't let myself listen to anything outside his room."

"What?" Simon's voice held his disbelief. "Why?"

Ellison finally met the dark brown eyes, his own filled with misery. "He made me promise to tell him anything I heard."

The Captain stared at his friend in understanding. "So you just don't listen."

"I just don't listen," Ellison repeated. "I can't lie to him, Simon."

"God, Jim." Simon shook his head, not knowing what to say. "Take care of yourself, my friend. You know..." but he was talking to air. With a low cry Ellison shot back into the room. Simon glanced in long enough to see him hovering closely over the head of the bed, his voice soft and pitched so he couldn't make out the words. He hadn't heard anything but the Sentinel must have because Sandburg was stirring, a frown creasing his features, his lips moving, driven by dreams Simon didn't want to contemplate. The barely heard sounds of the sleeping man became audible and Simon could hear one sound repeated over and over until finally the fear in Sandburg's mind drove him out of the nightmare called sleep and he cried out in desperation. "Jim!"

And Ellison was there; his own needs forgotten as he bent, reassuring his partner. Simon pulled back, closing the door softly, knowing neither man would really want this scene overheard. His chest clenched when he thought of the fear that tormented the brilliant mind of the anthropologist, driving him, demanding that he do something, anything and the utter stillness of the young body that lay, unable to comply. The captain crossed back to the small waiting room and sat down, his large hands finding the nylon strap of the gym bag between his feet, twisting the strap restlessly. His thoughts were on a hundred things, and nothing. His mind stilled, horribly fascinated as he found himself watching the actions of his hands working the nylon. They seemed almost to have a life of their own, living, expressing the torment of his mind, then his eyes jumped to the door across the hall; the door he'd just closed, his thoughts on the man occupying the room. He had a sudden mental flash of a moment a week before of Blair Sandburg standing in his office, his hands gesturing, his whole body working to get his point across as he expounded on some obscure fact that only he knew to help shed light on a difficult case. His excitement and satisfaction at being able to help was evident in every facet of his being. And now. Simon hadn't really thought about it. "Dear God," he whispered, in final comprehension. Dropping the straps he hid his eyes in his hands, rubbing roughly to cover his anguish.

Simon Banks was a praying man. "Please," he begged aloud.

~~<>~~

He was saying words of reassurance even before he got across the room but the frantic muttering didn't slow, becoming instead of separate words, one long sound with no meaning.

"notjimnotjim."

"Shhh," Ellison said softly approaching the bed, desperately hoping his friend could stay asleep. "It's okay, Chief. I'm here."

Eyes scrunched up tightly, Sandburg's head twisted slightly in the small movement it could, the soft dark curls writhing like live things on the whiteness of the pillow.

"Chief, Chief," Ellison's voice, though still soft, was insistent. He could hear the rapid heartbeat and knew the nightmare was too far gone, he had to wake his friend, break its hold. "Blair, wake up. Open your eyes, Chief."

A gasp and a single word, "Jim!" and Sandburg's terror filled eyes opened, searching Ellison's face. "You're okay," Sandburg whispered as if to reassure himself. "You're okay."

In the space of three pounding heartbeats echoing in his ears Ellison read the undisguised emotion in his partner's eyes; the fear of the dream and the recognition that it was a dream; the unfamiliar room and the struggle to remember where he was; and then the accident and the memory of his injuries. And then, so quietly that even with his Sentinel hearing, Ellison wasn't sure if he heard right, Sandburg said, "It's me." Then louder, "Oh, God!" Sandburg's eyes rolled back and his eyelids fluttered shut.

The whispered despair ripped straight through Ellison bringing a lump to his throat he thought would choke him. His hands reached frantically to his partner's face to touch, soothe, offer what comfort he could. "I'm here, Blair. I'm right here."

There was a small hitch in Sandburg's breathing, almost a sob and his voice came out in a soft whisper. " I am too, Jim. I am too."

Ellison pulled away a little to better see as he continued talking, explaining, trying to bring his partner back to the odd equilibrium they'd existed in before his short nap. Sleeping hadn't provided the relaxation he'd hoped for. "It's gonna be okay, Chief. It just takes..."

"Jim?" Sandburg's soft voice interrupted as if he hadn't been aware Ellison was talking.

"Yeah, Chief?"

Heart rate slowing, the anthropologist stared at the ceiling. "Tell me what you've heard."

Raising up slightly, Ellison said truthfully, "I haven't heard anything."

After a moment, Sandburg's chin dipped once in a nod. His eyes flickered closed and his tongue came out to wet his lips. "I'm asking the wrong question, aren't I?"

Ellison stilled, not answering.

"It should be, 'Have you been listening,' shouldn't it?"

Ellison dropped his head, sudden shame tinting his face. "I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't think about it from your standpoint. I just couldn't..." his voice trailed off.

"It's okay, Jim," Sandburg said wearily, the barest hint of a smile of understanding lighting his eyes. "Can you check now for me?"

Eyes widening, Ellison fought the rush of fear. "Chief. Don't."

Sandburg shot a look at the man standing over him, his eyes narrowing slightly. Ellison heard his heart rate quicken. "What's going on, Jim?" He read the reluctance on his partner's face. "Please," he begged in a whisper.

And Ellison found he couldn't deny this. "Your doctor's out there, Blair," he admitted. "He's got another doctor with him."

Swallowing hard, Sandburg's features stilled as he considered, then he told the Sentinel, "Listen." He brought troubled eyes back to his friend's face. "Even if it's bad news, I'd rather hear it from you. Please, Jim."

Ellison straightened, his hands tightening around the bed railing as he nodded.

In spite of his situation, Sandburg slipped into Guide mode without thinking about it. "Stay grounded with me, Jim. Put your hand on my chest and feel my heart beat while you concentrate on your hearing. I can't have you zoning on me here," he tried for lightness but his heart rate increased as he saw rather than felt Ellison's long fingered hand come to rest firmly over his heart and his voice was breathless when he continued. "You feel it, Jim? Can you feel my heart beat? Keep that in your mind as you extend your hearing. It won't be too noisy this time of night so you shouldn't have any problem hearing them. You don't have to give me a word for word." He stopped speaking as he recognized the intense, slightly unfocused look in his partner's eyes that signaled his concentration on one of his senses.

"Snoring," Ellison said softly, relaying the sounds he was hearing. "It's the guy in the room next door." A moment. "Two guys talking." He shook his head. "It's the cleaners in the restroom down the hall talking about a car one of them wants to buy. The nurse. Giving instructions to someone. Change the sheets in some room. Two men." He listened for a moment then nodded with a frown. "It's Dr. Killion. They're talking about a female patient." Ellison blinked and stared down at his partner. "Blair. Are you sure?"

Sandburg's troubled blue eyes held his friend's. "I'm sure, Jim."

Ellison didn't question, instead focusing his eyes on the far wall and his hearing on the conversation down the hall, repeating what he heard. *"Want to try to grab something to eat when we're done here? That little place down the block will still be open."*

"Sure, I'm starving. I haven't had a chance to slow down all day."

Ellison gasped and flinched.

"Jim?" Sandburg questioned, reading his partner's pain. "What is it? What happened?"

Shaking his head as if to clear it, Ellison explained. "Somebody just dropped a tray or something and I wasn't expecting that much noise." Refocusing he said, "He just asked the nurse for your chart." He looked at his friend. "I don't want to do this, Blair," he protested one last time, pleading.

Lying motionless, staring up at the man standing above him, Sandburg took in his flush of discomfort and nodded, acknowledging his partner's feelings. "It's time to know, Jim."

Knowing he couldn't watch his friend and concentrate enough to relate the conversation at the other end of the hall, not with the life shattering news that might be exposed, Ellison dropped his head and closed his eyes. He kept his left hand on Sandburg's chest; the other gripped the bed railing so tightly his knuckles showed white. "I'll just repeat what I hear," he said. And with his hearing, he reached. "The nurse, talking about drug dosage. Not yours."

There was a slight pause and the emotion seemed to drain from the larger man's face, turning his features cold, mask-like. Distancing himself as much as he could was the only way he could do this. When he spoke his voice was just as empty as his face. "Your doctor. *'So? What do you think?'*

'Only soft tissue damage, you said?'

'That's all the tests have shown.'

'And there's been no return of sensation.'

'No, nothing.'

'Not good. You know that.'

*'Without doing your arsenal of exams, which I'll schedule in the next couple of days, what kind of prognosis would you expect?'*

'What did this man do before his accident?'

*'He's got something to do with the police department but I'm not sure what. The nurses say that cops are up here all the time checking on him and that detective hasn't left his room since he was admitted.'*

'But he wasn't a cop, was he?'

'No, no. I remember someone saying he was a teacher of some kind.'

"Ahhh, yeah. Well, he should still be able to teach.'

'What do you see for him, Paul?'

Ellison's voice broke but he continued. *'Going on what you've given me, with no further tests, I'd say total paralysis. With any luck at all he may regain limited use of his upper arms. I wouldn't expect much more than that if I were you. And if he was my patient I wouldn't even give him that much hope. Not yet.'*

'Damn. Damn!'

'You knew all of this, Killion.'

'I know. I was just hoping you'd tell me differently.'

'Facts are facts, my friend. When are you going to tell him?'

*'God. Not tonight. Let the poor bastard have one more night of hope. He can face this tomorrow. Listen, are we still on for golf Sunday?'*

*'Tee time's seven unless one of us get called in. It's been so long since I've had a day off for golf I'm not sure I'll know how to play.'*

Ellison stopped speaking and for several seconds longer he stood with his eyes closed, his harsh breathing the only sound in the room.

"Okay."

The one word was barely audible, even to him, but it jerked the big detective back and he suddenly became aware of the pounding heart beneath his hand, the same sound echoing so loudly in his head he thought even non-Sentinel ears should hear it. Sandburg's face was turned away from him, he couldn't see the look in the blue eyes that were intently searching the ceiling tiles. "No, Chief," he said, shaking his head. "I don't care what they say. I don't believe it. I won't believe it."

The low voice continued as if he hadn't heard. "This is like not what I was hoping for, you know? But then I don't suppose anyone ever does, do they?" Sandburg took a deep breath. "I can do this. I know I can." A tiny chuckle of hysterical laughter was clamped off. "I don't want to, but then I don't remember anyone asking me what I wanted." He took three quick breaths. "Okay, Sandburg. Get your brain in gear. It's the only thing you've got left now. Get off your ass." A sound like a whimper was cut sharply off. Then he continued in a whisper. "Metaphorically speaking, of course." His breathing was fast, shallow, giving his voice a breathless sound. "I guess I'll be spending a lot of time on my ass from now on." He gasped. "Like the rest of my life." And his voice rose slightly, "Oh, God!" His eyes closed as he fought the terror eating at the edges of his sanity.

"Blair, no," Ellison said in horror, fear in his voice. "Listen to me." Keeping his left hand on his partner's chest he reached forward with the other.

Almost as if he could feel Ellison's hand moving to comfort him, Sandburg's eyes flew open. "No," he whispered a little desperately. "Don't touch me! Don't touch me." And his eyes fluttered shut again when he saw his partner's hand return to the bed rail. He missed the stunned look on Ellison's face. "I've got to think. I've got to get this straight in my head." He took several more deep breaths and his heart rate did slow fractionally beneath Ellison's hand.

"Okay." Sandburg opened his eyes, staring a little wildly at the ceiling. His teeth clenched, sending the muscles in his jaw dancing. "They'll have somebody here at the hospital who deals with things like this, a case worker or something. They'll be able to advise me, help me get started. There'll be rehabilitation." His heart beat spiked again as his breathing shallowed. "Although, since I'm totally paralyzed I don't know what there'll be to rehabilitate. I guess it's more of a case of getting used to it. Just learning what has to be done now to get me through a day." His eyes closed again as his mercury quick mind ran through what this would entail now. His voice dropped back to a whisper. "I'll have to hire someone to live with me. Get me up, dress me, feed me, do the morning hygiene routine." His eyes squeezed tighter shut for several seconds before popping back open as his heart pounded frantically against Ellison's palm. "He's right though. That doctor. After I get used to this a bit and... and learn to live with it, I should still be able to teach." His voice grew stronger. "I've known professors who taught from wheelchairs. Maybe not this severe but still, I... I should be able to do it.

"I'll talk to the hospital representative tomorrow and have them get in touch with the various agencies I'll need now. I'll have to get funding from somewhere but they should be able to help me with that too. I'm sure the hospital rep will know. It can't be much different than applying for grants and, God knows, I've done enough of that."

"Blair," Ellison said. He could feel the flush burning off his friend. Dear God. Staring in numb horror, he could barely process the words pouring from his friend like water through a floodgate. "Chief," he said softly but the flow of words didn't slow. Sandburg's mind was skipping around, unable to hold one thought for longer than a few seconds.

"After rehab, I'll have to move out of the loft, of course. Well, actually I guess you can do that for me now, if you don't mind, since I'm sure it'll be rehab right out of here. Just shove it all in boxes and store it downstairs until I get settled and can get someone to help me go through it. There'll be a lot of that stuff that I can't use now." Two quick, shallow breaths. "Like my laptop." A second of panic swept his face with the introduction of another topic and all the ramifications he couldn't think through, then he switched again. "I'll need something wheelchair accessible, I guess. Preferably on the ground floor. Or with a reliable elevator. But ground floor would be better since I won't be able to press the elevator buttons now. Maybe somewhere close to the campus. I won't be able to drive anymore either so something close enough for an electric wheelchair would be nice. I wonder how much those things cost?" His lips quivered as a thought flashed thorough his mind. "Of course that's assuming I get some kind of upper limb movement back enough that I can operate an electric wheelchair." Then his heart rate spiked so high Ellison was afraid for him, reaching almost a fibrillation. And his Guide's voice dropped. "I guess I could use one of those that's operated by one of those pneumatic tube things, you know? One of those that you blow into to activate the chair."

"No," Ellison breathed, feeling like he was caught up in the eye of a hurricane.

And this soft denial Sandburg heard and he gave a little hysterical chuckle. "I'm trying here, man. I'm really trying but you're gonna have to work with me a little, Jim." And his thoughts skipped again. "I guess you'll have to contact Naomi for me too. Of course it'd probably be better if I told her. Maybe you could hold the phone for me? And Simon'll have to find you a new partner. If you want me to, I can advise whoever it is on how to help you but you've got fairly good control of your senses now so I don't think you'll have any problems. It's mostly been fine tuning them lately anyway."

Ellison's hand slammed down on the bed railing beneath his palm, the noise echoing in the otherwise silent room. "No!" he cried, almost in a shout and Sandburg's head jerked around, the terror replaced with startled surprise. "No, no, no!" Ellison said from between clinched teeth, his fist hitting the railing with each word before tightening back in its death grip. "Listen to me, Blair Sandburg. I don't for a minute believe this is permanent, no matter what those doctors said. We just have to get through it. Get through the Now. If you are paralyzed for a while, then we'll deal with it. We. Do you hear me? Not you. We. The two of us. We will make the decisions about what's best. And if that means moving out of the loft, then we'll move. But it will be us. You're my guide now and you'll be my guide forever. But it's not just the sentinel thing.

"When we began this relationship it was for the long haul, not until things got bad. And if you need rehab then I'll be right there along side you because I'll have to learn how to care for you until you're back on your feet."

Sandburg shook his head gently. "No, Jim," he said quietly. "You're the Sentinel. You need someone beside you who can work with you, guide you. That's not me. Not for the Now." He took a shaky breath. "And not the Forever either. Not anymore."

Ellison's eyes flashed. "You are my guide, Blair. There will not be anyone else. If you aren't the Guide, then I won't be the Sentinel. It's as simple as that."

Eyes filled with infinite sadness stared up at the tall man and again Sandburg shook his head. The frantic need of only moments ago now completely gone, leaving only an empty reminder of the man who had been Blair Sandburg. For the first time since Ellison had repeated the doctors' words, his partner's heart rate was steady. Slow. "Nothing is ever that simple, Jim. No matter how much you want it to be." His tongue came out and wet his lips as a small frown creased his forehead. "I'm not what you need. Not anymore. Not as a Guide." He shook his head. "Not as a working partner. Not even as a life partner." His words were calm, explaining the facts to someone who was a little slow on understanding. "As a Guide, you need someone who can go with you, be at your side. Help you, touch you. Work with you to help you stay focused, on task without zoning. I can't do that, Jim. As a working partner, it's self-evident. I'm a quadriplegic now. I'm not physically capable of being your partner. And as a life partner." He smiled but there was no joy. It was only a movement of his lips. "I won't say I don't love you, Jim Ellison. That would be a lie and you know it as well as I do." His chin came up slightly. "I love you more than I ever dreamed it was possible to love anyone. Certainly more than I ever believed I could love someone." Sadness crept fleetingly over his features. "I remember sitting in front of the fire on that camping trip we took last spring watching the light from the fire caress your features, turning them into sculptured bronze." The sound of tears entered his voice and he spoke around the tightness in his throat. "And I ached. I physically hurt from the love I felt for you. I thank you for that. It's something I've never had. But I can't physically love you anymore, Jim. And while you'll say that's not important, we both know it is. It may not be the most important thing in a relationship but not only can I not participate in the loving aspects, I can't do any of the other things that build a normal, healthy partnership either. A relationship with me now will be totally one sided, with me on the receiving end. I won't do that, Jim. Not to someone I love. Not to you."

"Don't you think you're selling yourself a little short here, Chief? Selling us short?" Ellison asked softly.

Sandburg shook his head. "This isn't something I'll recover from, Jim. Not next week. Not next year. Not in twenty years. Permanent is forever. And forever lasts a long time," he said, his breathing quickening. "Sometimes even longer than others." He swallowed. "It's gonna take months, even longer, for me to adjust to this, to accept it and to learn what my life is now. Everything I am will be focused toward that. It'll have to be in order for me to survive." He blinked up at the man above him. "And I do want to survive, which shocks me a little, I guess. Over the last three days I've tried to imagine what my reaction would be if it came to this but now that it's here and I'm living it, I'm surprised. I didn't think I'd want to live but I find that I do. Even paralyzed. But it will be a long time before I'll have time or energy for more than the bare essentials." His eyes held the pain of his words. "I won't do that to you. Not for the Now. And certainly not for the Forever. I love you too much."

Ellison's voice dropped to a low, agonized whisper, his eyes pleading with his partner. "Where does that leave us, Chief?"

"I don't think it leaves an us, Jim. I don't think I have enough me left for an us."

"Don't shut me out, Chief. Please." Ellison reached out to gently brush the cheek of his partner. "I love you, Blair."

Sandburg didn't protest this time, turning into the touch instead. "I know, Jim."

In something near panic, Ellison swung away from the bed and turned instead toward the window to stare out from the only world he'd known for three days. The heels of his hands went up to press against his temples in an effort to reduce the pressure that wasn't really physical. Sandburg's soft voice still seemed to echo in the stillness of the room and the calmness of his words and the words themselves terrified him. Everything that made Jim Ellison who he was screamed at him to help, to protect, to fix what was wrong in his world. Maybe it was part of the Sentinel thing, this predisposition to protect that his partner had told him about when they'd first met. He'd never really thought about it. It didn't matter. He was who he was and no amount of analyzing would change it. But this...this nightmare that had become their life three days ago was not something he could change. There was no way he could fix this.

A slight sound came from the direction of the door and Ellison focused on the reflection in the glass in front of him and saw the heavy wooden door swung silently inward and the nurse appeared carrying a large white envelope. She was small, several inches shorter than his partner and very slight in stature but they'd learned in their dealings with her that she had a kind-hearted core of steel. Her eyes took in Ellison's back then moved on to the bed. She smiled a tentative greeting when Sandburg turned his head toward her. "Hi, Blair," she said softly, approaching the bed on silent shoes. "I thought you might still be awake."

"Hi, Mona," he greeted her with a smile. "Yeah, I'm awake. Sleep just doesn't seem to be my friend lately. What's that you've got?"

Ellison saw the tension go out of the nurse at his partner's words and felt his throat tighten with emotion at the selflessness his lover displayed even in this little corner of hell they currently existed in. Ellison knew he couldn't have found it in himself to release his own anger long enough to be civil to the nurse. Blair Sandburg did it without a thought. Ellison refocused on the woman's words.

She displayed an envelope roughly eighteen by ten inches in size. "I don't know how they missed it unless it was just because it was so big no one really thought it was mail, but it came in earlier this afternoon and no one brought it to you," she explained.

"Thanks for taking the time to bring it down," Sandburg told her but his tongue had to slide out and moisten his lips before he could finish almost calmly, "Could you open it for me?"

Ellison registered the quickened heartbeat that the simple question cost his friend and his own shot up in response as he realized that in Sandburg's mind this was just the first question in a lifetime of asking others to do things for him. The man who had always been the first to do things for others was now dependent on others for every detail of his life.

"Who's it from?" Sandburg asked.

The nurse paused in opening the envelope to check the return address. "It just says, 'East Cascade Elementary School," she said. She flipped the envelope back over to finish opening it, having no way of noting the suddenly pounding heart beat of the man in the bed.

But Ellison did and he zoomed his sight in and even in the window reflection he could see the slight flush that colored his partner's otherwise pale features with his recognition of the name of the school that had been painted on the side of the bus they'd prevented from being hit.

"Here you go," the nurse said, cheerfully unaware as she slid the over sized card out. It showed a large, sad eyed cartoon puppy lying in bed with a bandage on its head and a thermometer in its mouth. "The puppy's fuzzy," she said running her hand over the card. It was typical of something that might be picked out by grade school children. "'Feeling sick as a dog?'" she read. She opened the card. "'Don't worry, you'll soon be back howling at the moon.' It's signed, 'Mrs. Parkhurst's Third Grade Class.' I think every kid in the class has signed the card and there's a short note from the teacher," she said holding up a separate piece of paper. "Would you like me to read it?"

Ellison tensed to intervene but Sandburg answered first, "Just the note from the teacher, please."

"Chief," Ellison cautioned, afraid of the emotions it would evoke.

"It's okay, Jim," the young anthropologist said, managing to keep his voice even. "Go ahead, Mona."

The nurse looked briefly toward Ellison then back to her patient who nodded encouragingly and she unfolded the plain piece of pale blue paper. "'Mr. Sandburg, I and twenty-eight other families find ourselves with a debt that can never be repaid. How do you thank someone for your life? Words are not enough. Please know that gratitude, prayers and well wishes for your recovery are in the hearts and minds of every family whose life you've touched. Thank you, Eleanor Parkhurst.'" The nurse looked up with tears in her eyes. "She's the teacher of that group of kids on that school bus, isn't she?"

Sandburg nodded and tried for another smile. "Just lay the card there on the night stand, would you, Mona? Thank you for bringing it."

Ellison monitored his partner's heart rate as the silence stretched into minutes after the nurse left, noting when it slowed to a strong steady rhythm only slightly faster than normal.

"I may hate the result but I don't regret the action that caused it, Jim," Sandburg said softly. Another minute of silence. Ellison rested his forehead against the cold of the glass window, closing his eyes, exhaustion settling into his bones. "And I'd do the same thing again if I had to."

Ellison sighed as he noted the respiration and heartbeat that told him his partner spoke the truth. "I know, Chief," he whispered in anguish. "But is it okay if I hate you for it?" He heard the tiny puff of air as his partner snorted and he fought the sting of tears.

"What do you see out there, Jim?"

Ellison shifted, opening his eyes, trying to get everything under control enough to answer his partner. "Not much traffic out this late, a few cars here and there," he reported. He raised up for a better look. "The moon's almost full, giving off that brilliant white light that almost makes it unnecessary to dial up in order to see."

"Can you see the bay?" Sandburg asked softly.

The Sentinel automatically zoomed in. "There's no wind tonight. The bay's almost as smooth as glass. I can see the reflection of the boats in the mirrored surface of the water. It's not often we get a night this still here. I'll bet the sounds out on the water are crystal clear, the water lapping against the hulls of the boats. And the sounds and smells in the mountains tonight must be something. We'll have to go camping again when this is over, Chief."

This time Ellison registered the increased heart rate. "It's not my world out there anymore, Jim. Mine's a little narrower now, sorta defined by four walls." A very slow, deep breath. "The walls may change from time to time but they'll always be there." Ellison stiffened when the very faint scent of salt invaded his sense of smell, and he heard the tears in his partner's voice when he spoke again through a sad little laugh. "I guess I've truly become an observer, huh?"

Ellison moved back over to his partner's side, reaching to dry the tears that ran silently, unchecked from the corners of his friend's eyes to disappear into the tangled curls at his temples. "I'm sorry, Chief. I'm so god-damned sorry," he said softly. "If there was anything I could do..."

"But there's not, Jim. There's nothing anyone can do."

Ellison stroked his partner's cheek, his eyes showing his grief. "God, Blair, if there was some way I could trade..."

"No!" Sandburg said savagely. "No. You're the Sentinel."

"Screw the sentinel business," Ellison said bitterly. Then he stopped his words as he felt his friend's heart rate accelerate. "I'm sorry."

Sandburg took a deep breath and let it out slowly then took another and held it for a long count before releasing it. "Jim..." He couldn't continue.

Fearfully, Ellison watched the play of emotions across the determined face. "What do you want from me, Chief?" he asked, knowing he didn't want to hear the answer but trying to make it as painless as he could for his partner.

Sandburg's voice shook slightly. "I don't want to argue."

Looking down at his hands, Ellison nodded. "No arguments."

"I need time," Sandburg told him. "I need time to think. Let it soak in. Do a few mental adjustments." His lips twisted momentarily in a grotesque caricature of a smile. "I guess I need to process," he said stealing one of his mother's phrases. Then even the parody smile died as he looked at his partner. "I want you to leave, Jim. Go home. Shower. Rest a while. You've been up here for three days with no break. You need to rest. Please."

A frown drifted across Ellison's face and his jaw muscles bunched. "Can I... get you anything?"

Sandburg studied him for several minutes before saying, "A drink? Some water maybe."

Ellison poured half a glass of cold water from the misted carafe on the nightstand, added a straw and held it to his partner's lips. "More?" he asked when the last of it was gone.

Licking his lips to savor the last of the cool liquid, Sandburg shook his head. "No, thank you. That was enough."

Looking around like he wasn't really sure what he should be doing next, Ellison patted his pants pockets then opened the drawer of the nightstand and took out his keys. He picked up his jacket from the back of a chair and slipped it on.

"How are you going to get home? Somebody bring the truck up?"

"Ahhh, no," he said sounding lost. "No. But Simon, he's out there." He made a little gesture toward the door. "I'll catch a ride with him."

"Simon's here? This time of the night?" Sandburg said in surprise.

"Ahhh, yeah. He was worried. Finished up a late stake out. Stopped by."

The surprise in his face strengthening, Sandburg looked a little embarrassed. "He didn't have to do that." Then Ellison's words registered. "Simon was on a stake out? Simon never..." his voice died in comprehension. "It's because you're up here with me. That's leaving the department shorthanded."

Ellison shook his head, not allowing the young man to take blame. "The department's always shorthanded, Chief. You know that. It would be just as shorthanded if there were four less men or if even if there were four more. Besides Simon's got me on medical leave."

A grin pulled at his friend's mouth. "Yeah, there always seems to be more bad guys than cops, doesn't there?"

Ellison shrugged, trying to match his friend's attitude. "Always, Chief." Any attempt at lightness dropped. "I don't believe it, Blair," he said. "You will get better."

And his partner actually smiled. "I'm not sure I can believe in Tinkerbell this time, Jim," the younger man said. His eyes softened as his held Ellison's and he saw the confusion, the fear and over it all was the love, staring out at him through the exhaustion and he felt humbled. And more than a little scared. "Go home, Jim."

Ellison turned to leave then stopped and half turned back. His voice was soft as he asked hesitantly, "May I kiss you, Blair?"

When Ellison lifted his eyes the uncertainty Sandburg read there seared through him like a flash fire. "Yes," he whispered.

The lips that brushed his were soft and warm. The kiss tender. Loving. And Jim Ellison was gone. The door making only a little bump of closure.

~~<>~~

Twenty minutes after his best detective had made a hurried return to his partner's room Simon Banks heard the door reopen. He jerked around from where he'd been standing looking out the window and started forward but stopped when Ellison paused with his back to the door he'd just exited. Ellison was better than anyone he knew at walling his emotions off. No one ever knew what was going on behind the facade unless he wanted them to know. Now was no different. The face was calm, cold. Hard. And then he saw Ellison's eyes.

The man was looking straight at him but wasn't aware of anyone else in the world. Very slowly Simon crossed the hall, coming to a stop right in front of his friend. It took a full two minutes for his presence to register.

"He sent me away, Simon." His voice was empty, hollow sounding.

"Why?" Simon asked, stunned.

Ellison gave a helpless little shrug. "He said I needed to rest."

"He's right, Jim."

"Not right now, Simon. I need to be there for him now."

"You can come back in the morning," Simon said reasonably.

"No. Morning'll be too late."

"Too late? Too late for what?"

Ellison looked up at his Captain and the pain in his eyes made the bigger man flinch. "He knows, Simon. He made me listen to them and he knows."

It only took an instant for the knowledge to register. With it came fear. "You listened to his doctors talking? What'd they say?"

Ellison's mouth worked, trying to form the words but they just wouldn't come.

"Jim," Simon said softly, "is it permanent?"

"No," he breathed from between clenched teeth. "No!" But his shoulders slumped after a minute of defiance and he whispered, "But they said it was."

"Dear God," Simon whispered. He ran a hand over his eyes. "What do we do now?"

Beside him, Ellison stiffened, his head cocked as he listened to the sounds in the room behind him.

"What's he doing?" Simon asked.

"Crying. He waited until he thought I was gone," Ellison whispered raggedly. "He's crying." The detective swung away from his Captain, moving rapidly with purpose down the hall.

Simon watched, thinking that finally the man had reached his limit and was surprised to see him stop at the nurse's station and offer one of the women on duty his hand to lead her out from behind the desk. He pulled her further down the hall and stood over her, head bent to her level while he spoke. The young woman stared up at him but it was too far away for Simon to understand what was going on. He saw her shake her head then her shoulders slumped and she nodded. Her hand reached out and gripped the large forearm of his detective and she spoke earnestly for several minutes. Eyes down, Ellison listened intently, his head nodding at her words. He raised up, stared down toward where Simon was standing and nodded again. His stride was long as he started back down the hall.

"Jim?" Simon questioned.

"I won't let him do this, Simon. Not alone."

A slow smile lifted the big Captain's face. "Good." He gripped Ellison's shoulder. "Good. Listen, I'm gonna leave but I'll keep my cell phone on. If you need anything, call."

Ellison nodded, his face still not showing his emotions. "Yes, sir."

"Take care of him."

"Yes, sir," Ellison said again. "Simon? Thanks."

"Of course."

Silently Ellison opened the door a crack and slipped back inside, standing unobserved for several minutes just inside the room. He wasn't sure how to do this. His partner would be mad that Ellison was ignoring his wishes and an angry Sandburg was not someone you wanted to ignore. Then a ragged breath and a tiny sniff decided for him. Without thinking, he crossed the room. Pulling two tissues from the box on the bedside table he held them to his partner's nose. "Blow," he instructed.

Sandburg looked surprised, then angry but did as he was told, blowing his nose into the tissue.

"Do you trust me, Blair?" he asked earnestly before the younger man could say anything.

"Dumb question, Jim," Sandburg said impatiently, closing his eyes long enough for Ellison to dry his tears. Having to have someone wipe his nose and dry his eyes for him pushed his anger even higher. "What are you doing here? You were supposed to go home. You need to rest and I need some time to myself."

"Yeah, I know. To think," Ellison said. He balled the wet tissue up and tossed it into the trash can. His mouth twisted, his forehead wrinkling in puzzlement as he surveyed the man in the bed, taking in the entire length of the still form. What now? How did he proceed? He knew this young man better than anyone. He knew the strength and determination that lay within, disguised by the mass of curly brown hair and wide blue eyes that held the knowledge and innocence of the world. There was no one stronger than this man. But he was hurting now; his psyche wounded as surely as his body. And Ellison knew, knew that his next words were pivotal, their entire future teetering; and it could go either way on the strength of one word. In spite of his superior physical size and strength; despite the fact that he was older and had more experience; despite even the current helplessness of his partner, Ellison knew if the younger man said 'Go,' he would go.

He didn't know what happened then, certainly it was nothing he planned. Whether it was the sheer physical exhaustion of the last three days where no sleep was the least to worry about, or whether it was the desperation that plummeted through his mind leaving him feeling like he'd just stepped off a cliff and was now twisting, searching, scribbling for something, anything to hold on to before he crashed and his whole world shattered. But suddenly the earth shifted, reality... tilted. And he blinked. And grinned. And saw the uncertain surprise shade the anger in his partner's eyes.

"Well, it's like this," he said easily. "I planned on doing what you wanted. Going home, taking a shower, getting some rest and not coming back up here until morning. I figured that would give you time to think your way though whatever it was you needed to think about without me around to hear your thoughts."

And Sandburg blinked. "Uhhh, hear my thoughts, Jim?"

"Yeah. Hear your thoughts. Why else would you need me gone to think? I mean, you've been thinking around me for over three years and it's never slowed you down before so you must think I've developed telepathy as well as heightened senses now."

Sandburg stared at him as if he'd lost his senses, heightened or otherwise. "Jim?"

"I just thought I'd let you know that I haven't so you can think all you want. And you can go back to totally ignoring me, just like you always do when you're thinking." As he spoke he worked, ignoring the surprised, then baffled look his friend was giving him. Very gently he lifted Sandburg's right hand and arm and bent the elbow, laying it across his chest. Then he slipped his hands under his friend's head and upper back and pulled the unresponsive body toward him several inches, stopping when Sandburg's shoulder rested against the metal bed railing. He left the arm where it lay.

Sandburg's eyes widened when his body slid sideways. "Jim, what're you doing? Why's my arm on my chest?" He sounded a little breathless; partly in fear, partly in surprise.

"Nothing," the detective lied, taking advantage of his partner's stunned silence to move downward a bit and slide his hands under his friend's lower back and buttocks. And he pulled this portion of his body sideways as well. "Anyway, that was my plan." He lifted the sheet covering the still body and checked the flow of the catheter. "Well, I got out in the hall and stood there in the silence and tried to think." Chewing on the side of his lip, he looked thoughtful. "I guess it's not completely unreasonable to think that if I can't think when I'm around then maybe it's sorta normal that you might not be able to think when I'm around too though, huh?" He frowned, giving it serious consideration. "But you have been doing it for three years now. I'll have to think about that." He lifted his right eyebrow in question, giving his friend a chance to comment.

Sandburg's mouth opened. Then closed. Then opened again.

"Yes?"

"And you call it a Sandburg Zone?" was all that came out.

When nothing more was forthcoming Ellison continued, deciding he liked this advantage of surprise. "Anyway it didn't take but a minute to realize that there was no way I'd make it in the loft by myself. I mean if I can't do the silence of the hall in the hospital, there was no way I'd be able to handle the silence of the loft by myself." He pulled Sandburg's right leg up, bending it at the knee and resting the sole of his foot on the bed. "Are you okay?"

"What?" the young man asked in confusion, his breathing a little rapid. "Yeah, I'm fine. What are you doing to me?"

"It's okay," Ellison assured him. "I checked with Mona. She said it wouldn't hurt to move you. They plan on getting you up tomorrow anyway." Before this statement could be processed, Ellison placed his hand against the side of his friend's upright knee and pressed sideways. Using it as a fulcrum, he lifted Sandburg's shoulder with his other hand and rolled him over onto his left side, facing the center of the bed. Then he slid his hands under him again and slid his body sideways until his back was resting against the bed railing.

"Jim?" And this was said in fear.

Ellison moved around the bed to stand in front of his partner. Gently he pushed the mass of brown curls back away from his friend's face, clearing his vision. "It's okay, Blair. I'm not going to hurt you, you know that, right?"

Frightened eyes searched his then his partner nodded. "Yes." But his heart still raced and pinkness flooded his face.

"Trust me." Ellison dropped the bed railing and slipped out of his jacket, tossing it onto the chair against the wall. "Anyway, as I was saying, I knew I couldn't go back to the loft. I wouldn't rest even if I went. There would just be too much silence and not enough you. So I decided to stay here in the hospital. Simon brought me a bag with clean clothes and I thought I'd shower and change clothes then just crash in the waiting room across the hall until morning and you'd never know the difference."

Sandburg eyed him, his fear turning to anger and suspicion. But there was a touch of laughter behind the anger too as he watched his partner toe off his shoes and slide into bed beside him.

Ellison saw the laughter and knew he was home free then. There were a couple of tense moments while he wrestled the limp body into position but nothing the two of them couldn't handle. Within minutes his right arm was wrapped around his partner and Sandburg was tucked into his side, his cheek resting in the hollow of his shoulder and the mass of curls were once again under his chin. "You comfortable?" Ellison asked, listening to the heart beat slowing to its regular rhythm.

"Where's my left hand?" Sandburg asked.

"Between us."

"And my legs?"

Ellison smiled. "Your right leg is laying on top of my leg, just like it always does when we're in bed. Your left," he waved toward the foot of the bed, "is down there somewhere."

"'Down there somewhere?'" Sandburg repeated blankly.

"Yeah. Down there somewhere. It's one of those technical terms," Ellison explained patiently.

"Oh." There was a smile in his friend's voice. "Would that would be one of those technical police terms or a technical medical term?"

"Actually, I think it covers both fields. Take my word for it."

Sandburg's head twisted as if trying to get comfortable.

"What's wrong?"

There was a moment of silence before his partner answered. "I like this shirt, Jim. I mean, I really like it. It fits well and the color's really good on you. I liked it even better when I borrowed it and wore it myself." And he didn't even hear the past tense. But Ellison did and he had to fight to bring his mind back from the edge of despair as his partner continued lightly. "I've even liked it for the last three days."

"Yeah?" Ellison bent his head down and looked at the item of clothing in question. "Yeah, it's an okay shirt. Your point is?"

"I can't feel you. I want to feel you, not the shirt."

And the world tilted back on its axis. Ellison laughed and spent several minutes wrestling one handed with the buttons on his shirt before he got them unfastened and the shirt pulled back off his chest. It was worth it when he felt the rough growth of his partner's beard against his skin and heard the deep moan of contentment his lover made. He brought Sandburg's right hand up and cupped it in his left, folding them both into position over his heart. "I love you, Blair Sandburg." He felt the small smile on his partner's face.

"This doesn't solve anything, Jim," Sandburg said in a quiet voice.

"No, it doesn't," he agreed, then he laughed. "Well, actually it does. At least we'll both sleep better. But in the long run?" He sighed. "It's not going to be easy, Blair. Life never is. But whatever it gives us we'll handle together. And if that means dealing with paralysis for a while, then we'll deal with it. I'm not going anywhere." He pulled the lax body tighter against him and was rewarded when his partner shifted his head to snuggle a little closer. "If you didn't already know it you're about to learn what a selfish bastard I am. I want it all, Blair. I mean to have your Now. And your Forever. And by God, if there was any way to do it, I'd take your Used To Be too."

"My Used To Be?" Sandburg laughed. "You want my Used To Be?"

"I want it all, Blair. Every last ounce, every minute I can get." He buried his nose in the soft curls, inhaling the fragrance of the man who owned his soul.

Turning his head slightly Sandburg placed a gentle kiss on the skin beneath his cheek then gave him the greatest gift known as he whispered, "I love you, Jim."

Ellison monitored his partner's heart rate and respiration. The strong regular beat and the calm slow breathing pulling him into the rhythm of sleep. He resisted, wanting to make sure the man tucked against him was asleep first. Only then would he allow himself to join him.

"Jim?" It was a sleepy mumble, more dream than sound.

"Mmmm."

"I wish I had my hands, you know?" the soft voice murmured. "I don't think I'd mind the rest as much if I had my hands." The soft mass of hair on his chest shifted, snuggling closer. "I could touch you then."

And then with a soft sigh his lover slipped into sleep and the Sentinel was left staring at the ceiling, a painful constriction within his chest. "Ah, Chief," he whispered around the tightness in his throat, "you touch me now more than you can ever know."

~~<>~~

It was the beat of the drums that dragged the anthropologist from the depths of sleep. He struggled, wanting to return to the safety of his dreams but the drums pounded through his being, demanding his attendance. And what? Rain? Sweat? Something was running down his face. And those drums. He didn't recognize the rhythm, the tribe. He should. It was familiar. Frowning, he opened his eyes.

A jolt shot through him as he was brought back to the present. Reality. His throat tightened, darkness swirling as he struggled. Reality was not all it was cracked up to be. He stared at his motionless hand still laying cradled within his partner's. He shifted his head slightly, rubbing his cheek against the smooth chest beneath him, and let himself smile. There was the dream, the beat of the drum; his lover's heart beat. No wonder it had been familiar. He frowned. He could still feel the trace of water on his face. Had he been sweating? Another drop hit his cheek making its pathway downward, stopping just as it hit the edge of his lips.

Anxious, without knowing why, he reluctantly put his tongue out to touch the droplet. The knowledge brought his chin up with a snap, his eyes trying to search the face of the man above him. "Jim?" His own heart beat pounded in his ears now. "Jim? Come on, man. What's going on? Put me down." He nudged the chest beneath his head with his chin, the only movement he was capable of making. "Jim? Come on, man. You're scaring me here. Talk to me." His voice rose in fear. Another drop struck his face, following the previous ones downward, this one marking the track of its predecessors, making its way completely into his mouth. Again he tasted salt. His partner was crying. He'd never seen Jim cry before. His panic rose, choking him. There was nothing he could do. "Oh, God! Jim, please. Let me look at you. I need to see you."

Beneath him, finally, Ellison moved. Raising up slightly, he turned. Not moving his hand from where it lay curled protectively around Sandburg's, still holding it against his heart, he rolled his partner onto his back, his head cradled into the bend of his right arm. The younger man shook his head wildly trying to get his hair back out of his face. He had to see. "Jim?" He stared up into the face above his, taking in the tear filled eyes that held... what? Love, certainly, but more. Wonder, awe, joy, laughter? Yes to all that and more still. "Jim?" he whispered. "What's going on? What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong, Blair. Everything's right." Ellison smiled, a blindingly, brilliant, joy filled smile. "God, it couldn't get any righter." He bent his head to take his lover's lips in a gentle kiss.

Confusion, with more than a touch of apprehension, filled Sandburg's eyes as he watched his lover pull away and his tongue moved hesitantly out to again taste the salt of tears on his lips. "You wanna tell me what's going on?" he whispered, catching his bottom lip between his teeth.

Another tear slid slowly down his partner's face and he followed its path down the sculpted cheek until it too hung for a second on the brink of the top lip until Ellison's tongue captured it as he opened his mouth to speak. "You moved, Blair," he whispered. "You moved!"

Sandburg's features stilled, the color slowly draining from his face as his eyes fluttered shut. "No." The single word breathed out from between frozen lips. "No. Don't do this to me," he pleaded. The curls surrounding his face quivered as he minutely shook his head. "Don't do this."

"Blair?" Now it was Ellison's turn for confusion. "Didn't you hear me? You moved!"

Misery filled eyes opened under him. "No, I didn't move, Jim." Sandburg said from between clenched teeth. His lips twisted in pain. "I'm paralyzed now. Remember, Jim? I can't move."

"But you did, Chief," Ellison insisted. "You moved your hand. Believe me."

"I can't," Sandburg whispered, shaking his head. "I can't."

Ellison kissed the corner of his lips. "Why? Why can't you believe it?"

Turning his head, Sandburg's mouth sought comfort from the kiss, breathing into Ellison's mouth, "I can accept this. I can live with the paralysis, Jim, I can't live with the continuous hope."

"Ahh, Blair, it's not hope," Ellison promised him. "You moved."

Turning his head away from his partner's lips he asked dully, "What moved, Jim? What part of my body moved?"

"Your left hand twitched first," Ellison told him snuggling his nose into the hair, "where it lies between us. Then your leg, moving your knee a little up higher between my legs. Then your right hand."

Sandburg's lips quivered. "It wasn't me, Jim," he assured his partner softly. "I didn't make anything move. I can't. It was an involuntary movement, that's all. Nerve synapses firing randomly and the muscles of a newly paralyzed body relaxing into its new state. It's normal. It's not a voluntary movement. It's just something that happens in paralysis."

This logical explanation didn't stop Ellison's gentle exploration, it didn't even make him pause. "Maybe," he admitted. "But it wasn't an involuntary movement that tweaked my nipple," he whispered. His mouth sought out the trembling lips again and brushed them lovingly. "Twice," he whispered.

"Twice?" the young man breathed.

"Twice," Ellison confirmed, pressing the hand he held tighter against this chest. "This one."

"I tweaked your nipple twice?" Sandburg whispered, wanting desperately to believe but terrified to allow himself that much. He stared up at his partner.

Ellison grinned. "Try it," he suggested. He tightened his grip around Sandburg's hand. "Move your fingers, Blair."

A tremulous smile hovered around Sandburg's lips as he narrowed his eyes in concentration. Seconds passed, becoming a minute and the smile faded, tears washing the pain filled blue eyes. "I can't, Jim," he whispered.

"Yes, you can, Chief. You did," Ellison told him positively. "Try it again." He watched as Sandburg's lower lip crept between his teeth, his eyebrows pulling together in a frown. The tendons in his friend's neck stood out as he strained, his face turning red with his effort. Desperately Ellison dialed his sense of touch higher, himself straining as he tried to sense the movement he'd felt only minutes before. Then it was like watching pieces of a puzzle fall apart as his partner's face crumbled in despair.

"I can't," Sandburg gasped and his voice rose in anguish. "I can't! Oh, God. It was involuntary. It was. I'm still paralyzed."

Great sobs racked the still body as the terror he'd held at bay for three days suddenly became too much. Ellison pulled him close, letting his partner hide his face in the security of his neck. He hated himself for bringing his friend to this point. Could he have been wrong? Had it only been an involuntary reaction as Blair believed? Maybe the left hand, he'd been half-asleep when that happened. That could have been involuntary, but the knee and the right hand as well? No, he didn't believe it. He'd repositioned Sandburg's fingers when his right hand first moved only to have it happen again. It couldn't be coincidence. "It's okay, Chief. If it happened once, it'll happen again. Just give it time. Maybe it takes a while to get those nerve pathways re-established, you know? Shhhh. It'll happen, Chief. It'll happen."

Against his neck, his partner managed to nod his head, and he could feel him struggling, fighting to get his breathing under control.

"I'm sorry," Sandburg gasped. "I'll be all right. I just... wanted it, you know?" he mumbled around hitching breaths. "I wanted it so bad."

Then he froze and Ellison felt fear grip his heart as he realized his partner had stopped breathing.

"Jim?"

If he hadn't had his hearing dialed up he'd never have heard it. He lowered his friend back to the bed, stretching his senses to take in the rapid pulse and the slightly raised body temperature. "Chief?"

Numb, disbelieving eyes stared at him. "I'm paralyzed, Jim," he whispered, his grief choking him. "I'm really paralyzed." He'd known in his head, of course, and had tried to deal with it on that level. But there was a difference in knowing and knowing. Now he knew. And that knowledge drained the blood from his features, his dark beard line and soul sick blue eyes the only color in the pale face. "Jim," he breathed as his eyelids fluttered and his eyes rolled back until only the white showed.

Ellison released his partner's right hand and it slid down to rest between their chests. "Chief?" he said. His hand cupped his lover's face. "Blair." His hand moved anxiously, stroking the still features. "Concentrate, Blair. Feel my hand. Come on, Chief." As his partner's heart rate slowed, his own sped up as if it could somehow make up the difference. His fear redoubled. "Blair. Don't do this, Chief." He slapped Sandburg's face gently. "Come on. Open your eyes." Ellison could feel his own panic rising. Then he gasped, his hand pressing stiffly against the bearded jaw under it, his breath stilling in his body, time itself seeming to pause for one heart beat. And wonder crossed his face as he felt his partner's fingers move against his chest. And he dialed up touch to feel it all. Then the right leg again, Sandburg's knee shifting slightly, nudging gently against his groin where it lay snuggled. Ellison caught his breath, because this time, further down the left foot moved, sliding up once, twice, bumping his leg then the foot rotated, Sandburg's toes sliding down against his ankle and nudging, caressing. "Blair," he said urgently.

Sandburg's head turned slightly away from him.

"Open your eyes, Chief." Ellison's voice was insistent. "Blair." His voice rose. "Blair!" he said sharply, almost a shout.

The lax body in his arms jerked in response and he had one brief moment of indefinable joy when his partner's eyes opened and he saw him feel the movement. Then pain, skyrocketing upward into his brain, his body arching away from his lover in silence because there was no breath, no thought left for even a moan. And darkness.

~~<>~~

Detective Jim Ellison lay on his side in the king sized bed practicing his favorite past time - Blair Watching. It was something he never tired of. Currently the object of his attention lay on his back, damp hair clinging to the sides of his face, his breathing only just now beginning to returning to normal. "You look like I feel," he told his lover.

"If I look even half as good as I feel then you must feel exhaustedly debauched."

"I do," Ellison said smugly.

A slow smile pulled at the younger man's lips, turning into a full blown grin. "Don't you ever get tired of that?" he asked without opening his eyes.

"Nope," Ellison said contentedly. "Could watch you all day."

"Which you have, every day for the last two weeks," Sandburg laughed at him.

"Yep. Nights too."

A delicious shiver sent waves of anticipatory chill bumps up the sweaty muscles of the man beside him. "Yeah," he agreed, rolling over onto his side. "Nights too. Good thing we're going back to work tomorrow."

Ellison's right eyebrow shot up in question. "Good thing, Chief?"

"Yeah," the younger man purred, reaching out to tweak the small brown nipple lying in front of him so temptingly. "Too much more of this and I'd have to go on medical leave to recover from my medical leave."

Ellison's body arched into his lover's touch. "Be careful there, Chief," he warned breathlessly. "That's what started all of this, remember?"

Sandburg grinned wickedly. "What can I say? I've always had a weakness for your nipples. They're just so...cute!"

"Cute?" Ellison said indignantly. "Cute?"

"Yeah, cute," Sandburg confirmed. "What? You've got a problem with that?"

"Nope. No problem at all," his partner laughed, rolling onto his back and lifting his hands in defeat. He grabbed the hand that had remained on his chest and pulled lightly. "Come over here you little Snuggle Bunny."

Silence.

"Snuggle. Bunny?" Sandburg repeated in a low dangerous voice.

"Yeah, Snuggle Bunny," the older man said struggling to hold back his laughter. "Unless you prefer Sex Kitten."

"Well," his partner considered his options seriously. "Yeah. Actually I do. If those are my only two choices." He let himself be pulled over, placing his head on his lover's chest. "Personally I'd probably describe myself as a sex cat. I think I've gone a little beyond the kitten stage."

Laughing, Ellison's left hand cupped Sandburg's where it lay on his chest and he ran his right hand slowly down the nude back, enjoying the feel of the chill bumps that sprang up under his fingers. He registered the increased heart rate and the sudden stillness of the man he held. "Chief?"

The young man stared at his hand where it lay in exactly the same position it had been two weeks previously; held within the protective grip of his partner's. "I was scared, Jim."

"Yeah, I know, Chief." He pulled him closer. "Anyone would have been."

A fine shudder shook his body causing him to press against the bigger man. "I could see you touching me and there was no feeling at all. And no matter how hard I tried..." his voice trailed off. He shifted a bit, shaking off the mood. "You know what's weird though?"

"What's that?"

"Now that it's all back, I'm almost glad that it happened. Is that weird or what?"

"New appreciation, huh?" Ellison said softly.

"Oh, man. You have no idea," Sandburg said. He raised up suddenly, slipping out of his lover's grasp. "You do though, don't you?" He looked at his friend in awe. "Is this what it was like when you got your Sentinel senses back after having lost them?"

Ellison smiled. "Only on a small scale, Chief." He traced the line of his partner's jaw. "I'm just glad to have you back."

"Yeah, me too, Jim. I'm glad to have me back too." Sandburg lay back down again, snuggling closer to his partner. He pulled his knee up onto Ellison's leg and couldn't help the snort of suppressed laughter when the older man flinched.

"Easy there, Chief. Been there, done that and would really rather not do it again."

"I am so sorry, man," he said sputtering laughter. "God, I can't believe I kneed you hard enough to make you pass out."

Ellison sighed heavily. "We've been over this already, remember? I'd dialed up to feel your hand moving when you suddenly jerked your knee up." He slapped his partner's forehead lightly. "Laugh it up, your time will come. What on earth possessed you to jerk your leg up anyway?"

"Hey," Sandburg protested. "It's not like I meant to do it. It was just a major mental overload when things came back online, you know? Everything wanted to move at once."

"Yeah, and it did," Ellison said dryly.

"I said I was sorry, you know." His hand drifted downward. "You really think I'd want to injure this? I want more from you than just your Used To Be."

Ellison grinned. "What? You've got plans for my Now?"

"Oh, yeah," Sandburg breathed, running his tongue around the temptingly alert nipple under his mouth while his finger's tweaked the other. "And wait until you hear my plans for your Forever."

END

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