A TEST OF FAITH

By: Lyn

EMAIL: Lyn

 

Blair Sandburg hunched himself further inside his jacket and tried to curl into a smaller ball of miserable humanity. The icy cold he felt was not entirely due to the wild Cascade weather that threatened to force the truck off the road and he stole a furtive glance over at the object of his thoughts.

Jim Ellison's clenched jaw and white knuckled grip on the steering wheel indicated to Blair that he was up to his neck in it this time and when they got home, the shit was really going to hit the fan.

If they got home.

Blair grabbed for the dash as the truck skidded on the icy road and his head banged painfully against the window. He bit back a groan and tried to surreptitiously rub at the bump suffered earlier when he had contacted the edge of the pavement. He couldn't hold back the deep sigh though that escaped his lips and he glimpsed over again at Jim.

Jim showed no indication that he had heard, his frowning countenance firmly fixed on the road ahead. Blair sighed again. The whole thing had been a bust from the time they'd gotten the call.

~o0o~

They had been on their way home after a long, tiring day. Blair had classes at the University all morning and then he had hurried to the precinct to meet Jim. He hadn't bothered to stop for lunch, figuring he and Jim would eat together while they finished the stack of paperwork that seemed to have taken up permanent residence on Jim's desk.

Jim, however, had appeared surly and withdrawn and all Blair's attempts to draw his partner into a conversation had been met with muttered one-word responses. He knew Jim's caseload had been a heavy one recently and he put his partner's dark mood down to exhaustion.

He knew Jim had been having some problems controlling the sensory spikes that seemed to escalate when he was tired and stressed. Blair was beginning to feel burnt out himself as he struggled to keep up with his teaching and student workload and tried to support and guide Jim through the traumatic zone-outs.

He decided that keeping on the good side of his partner took precedence over his growling stomach and resolved to make an especially large pot of spaghetti when they finally got home. That settled, he contented himself with correcting Jim's rushed, rather garbled reports and tried to ignore the icy stares thrown occasionally in his direction.

By the time they'd settled themselves into the truck, Jim's mood seemed to warm along with the heater and he leaned over and turned the vents toward Blair.

Blair smiled in appreciation. ďThanks, man.Ē

ďNo problem. Youíre looking a little ragged around the edges, Sandburg,Ē Jim replied.

Blair shrugged. ďYou know how it is. Busy, busy.Ē

ďAnd these damn zone-outs arenít helping, I know.Ē

ďLetís just say there are times Iím glad Iím not the sentinel,Ē Blair replied.

Jim nodded. ďThere are times I wish I wasnít either.Ē

ďWeíll figure it out, man,Ē Blair said with his usual optimism. ďSpaghetti for dinner? Iím cooking.Ē

Jim smiled at Blair then, for the first time in what seemed like a very long time. ďIf youíre cooking, Chief, Iím eating.Ē

Just as Blair had begun to doze off, the radio squawked to life, requesting backup at a convenience store, just around the corner from the loft. As Jim turned on the lights, Blair called in their response, then sat up straighter, his hands unconsciously checking his seatbelt.

"Don't worry, Chief," Jim grinned, "I haven't lost a passenger yet."

"Yeah, right, Juan Fangio, there's always a first time," Blair retorted, only half joking.

It had gone rapidly downhill from there.

"Stay in the truck, Chief," Jim said, "and call it in, make sure there's an ambulance en route."

Blair nodded and watched from the safety of the truck as Jim conferred with a uniformed officer and checked out his injured partner. The man had only suffered a flesh wound and Blair could already hear the approaching ambulance sirens.

As Jim stealthily approached the store, gun held steadily in both hands, Blair had climbed from the truck's cabin and now crouched next to the other police officers behind the relative safety of their squad car. He watched with bated breath as his partner got closer to the storefront, where they could clearly see a longhaired, heavyset youth struggling to keep hold of a terrified middle-aged woman as he pressed a pistol under her chin.

Just as Jim drew a bead on the unknowing gunman, his movement triggered a security spotlight suspended over the shop's door and Blair watched in horror as Jim threw one hand up to cover his eyes then froze in place. The gunman slowly spun to face him, keeping his hostage in front of him.

Without a single thought, Blair raced from the safety of the police car, easily evading the officer's grasping hands and ran toward his partner with a shout. "Jim!"

Startled, the gunman swung his gun toward Blair and then, as Blair launched himself bodily at Jim, pushing both of them to the ground in a flurry of tangled arms and legs, pushed the frightened hostage at them and stumbled back toward the entrance to the shop.

With a feral snarl, Jim rolled to one side, throwing Blair's body to the ground and snapped off a quick shot, born as much of innate marksmanship as it was of his sentinel sight. The slug took the man in the chest and he was lifted off his feet and carried backward through the shop window, the glass shattering spectacularly.

Jim holstered his weapon and ran to check on the thief, then scouted the interior of the shop for a reported accomplice. He found a handful of frightened late night shoppers and a store clerk huddled together in the storeroom and ushered them out into the frosty night, where additional police took statements and helped them into waiting ambulances to be treated for minor injuries and shock. There was no sign of the second thief.

Blair raised himself painfully to a sitting position and groaned as various bruised parts of his anatomy began reporting in. Both his hands were grazed from his body skidding along the icy pavement and his right wrist felt swollen and tender. He gently fingered the large, bloody bump on the side of his head where he had smacked the edge of the kerb as Jim had thrown him to the side.

ĎJim!í Blair looked wildly around and then relaxed as he saw his partner approaching with a paramedic. Jim moved past him however and knelt at the side of the distraught hostage.

"Are you alright, ma'am?' he asked gently.

The woman nodded mutely and allowed Jim to help her to her feet. She leaned shakily into his support and he turned to the paramedic. "Perhaps you should let the medics take you to the hospital for a check up."

The woman nodded again and Jim handed her over to the care of the other man. Finally he turned his attention to his wet and disheveled partner.

"Let's go, Sandburg," he said in a tone that brooked no argument. "You need to get out of those wet clothes."

Blair simply nodded and struggled to his feet, stifling the moan that escaped as he put weight on his injured arm to push himself upright. Wordlessly, he followed his angry partner to the truck and wearily pulled himself up into the cab.

~o0o~

Jim Ellison stormed angrily through the front door of the apartment, tossing his keys toward the small basket, not looking to see if they hit the target.

"Jesus, Sandburg, just what part of stay in the truck don't you understand?" he asked, rounding on his nervous and slightly battered partner.

Blair eyed Jim apprehensively, the fear and adrenaline rush of the past hour causing him to bounce ever so slightly on his feet, despite the exhaustion that clawed at him.

"Jim, I said I was sorry. I called for back up like you said. You were zoned on the spotlight and the guy aimed his gun right at you. That's what the guide's supposed to do, right, watch your back?" He grinned easily, hoping to defuse the tense situation.

Jim's eyes narrowed. "If I wasn't having to look over my shoulder to watch out for you all the damn time, Sandburg, I could watch my own back."

Blair's eyes widened in shock at the venom in the statement and he backed away involuntarily. "Jim, I'm - I'm sorry. I knew the guy had a bead on you and I knew you were trying to figure where the hostages were and whether there was more than one gunman andó"

"And nothing, Chief. You nearly got yourself killed, not to mention a hostage. You might be comfortable with putting your life in danger but that woman wasn't consulted. You come up behind me, the perp almost shoots a hostage in a nervous reaction, and then while I'm trying to get you off me so I can get a clean shot, his buddy gets away. Oh yeah, let's not forget that one got away."

Jim's voice fairly dripped sarcasm and Blair stepped closer again, desperate to explain. "JimÖ" He raised a hand to rest on Jim's arm and was rewarded with a blinding pain to the cheek as Jim lashed out, catching Blair in the side of the face with his fist. Blair flew back through the air and hit the wall with a resounding thud, his legs supporting him for mere seconds before he slid slowly down to the floor.

He was stunned momentarily and then became aware of warm wetness dribbling down his face. He lifted a hand to his cheek and wiped at the dampness, staring in surprise at the blood smearing his fingertips.

Jim still stood in place, his fists clenched, breathing heavily, but showing no inclination to assist his downed partner. Blair managed with difficulty to haul himself to his feet, using the wall for support. Still holding a hand to his gashed cheek, he shakily began to move toward the kitchen. As he skirted widely past his friend, Jim seemed to shake himself and stared in horror at the damage he'd wrought.

Quickly he extended a hand toward Blair. "Chief, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hit you," he said.

"Thanks, Jim, that's comforting," Blair said sarcastically. "If you'll excuse me, I've got an appointment with an icepack."

Blair flinched as Jim's eyes darkened once more. "I said I was sorry I hit you, Sandburg, I'm not sorry for what I said. You put yourself and several other people at risk tonight because you couldn't follow a simple order. I don't need you to hold my hand every time I go after a perp. I was doing the cop thing long before you came along; you're an observer, nothing more. You help me with my senses so they don't go out of whack and then you stay the hell out of the way, got it?"

"Oh yeah, Jim, I got it," Blair whispered. He shrugged off Jim's hand and strode to the front door. Pulling it open, he stormed out, slamming the door behind him. As he ran down the stairs, he heard Jim's voice echo down to him.

"Sandburg, get your ass back here now. I'm not finished."

"Oh yes, you are, man. Yes, you are," Blair said, his voice sounding ragged in his ears as he fought to swallow the lump in his throat that threatened to choke him.

He picked up his pace as he hit the landing and ran down the street, sliding on shiny patches of slick ice, his breath coming in great shuddering gasps. He continued to run until the burning in his chest forced him to his knees and he fought to catch his breath, his head bent, the cold rain mixing with shameful tears and blood that streamed down his cheeks.

~o0o~

Extending his hearing, Jim could hear Blair's footsteps receding into the distance. His partner's heartbeat was hammering frantically and his breath came in gulps of tight pain.

"Chief, I'm sorry, wait!" Jim ran for the door, his senses focused on the man running from him. "Damn it, Blair, wait. Let me explain."

He stopped suddenly with his hand on the doorknob. Explain what?

ĎYou hurt him,í his conscience whispered.

He didn't know where to begin. Blair deserved an apology, not an excuse. He grabbed his jacket from the hook beside the door, and after a moment's hesitation, pulled Sandburg's off as well. Taking his keys from the basket on the side table, he walked out and shut the door.

~o0o~

After what seemed like hours, Blair became aware of the paralyzing chill that had wrapped around him like a shroud and he staggered drunkenly to his feet. Leaning his good hand against a brick wall, he tried to take several deep breaths to calm himself. A short time later, he felt shaky but more in control, and as he shivered violently in the downpour and wind, he realized that in his rush to escape, he'd left without his jacket and his keys. The day certainly couldnít get any worse, he decided.

"Shit!" Blair slapped at the wall in frustration then yelped as red-hot agony tore through his arm from wrist to shoulder.

He was cold, wet, hurting, and he had no money, no keys for either his office or his car. Worse still, he was worried sick about his partner. Jim had seemed totally oblivious to Blair's fear.

Sure, theyíd had their share of arguments, especially in regard to Jimís fixation on house rules, but Jim had never raised a hand to Blair in anger, well, not if you didn't count the first time. Blair figured he'd deserved that, with his comments regarding cavemen and all. Sometimes his mouth just got away from him.

This was different, though, Jim had acted like he was back in the military and Blair was nothing more than one of his soldiers. Blair leaned back against the wall, cradling his injured arm to his chest. There was a link here, he knew it, if he wasn't so tired, if he could just rest for a minute and gather his thoughts, he'd be able to figure it out. His mind seemed to reach out for the answer, but it slipped away like quicksilver before he could grasp it. His eyes slowly closed and his exhausted body slid slowly down the wall until he sat, his head resting on his chest, his energy spent.

"You okay, buddy?" A rough voice spoke close to his ear and Blair gagged on the sour whiskey tainted breath that seeped into his nostrils.

His head shot up and he scrabbled to his feet, moaning as the movement awakened the agony in his wrist and head. He looked at the old man swaying over him.

"I'm - I'm fine," he nodded and began to move back toward the wall, trying to pull the remnants of his scattered memories together. 'Where the hell was he? Where was Jim?' "Jim?" he muttered.

The old man shrugged. "Don't know no Jim, sonny. You got a dollar on you, buddy? We could get something to keep the cold away." He held a shaking, filthy hand out hopefully.

Blair shook his head. "No, sorry, I don't have any money. I left it at home." He didn't know if it was still home or not. Maybe Jim didn't want him around any more. No, that wasn't right. He was Jim's guide, Jim needed him.

The angry words came unbidden to taunt him.

"If I wasn't having to look over my shoulder to watch out for you all the damn time, Sandburg, I could watch my own back. You help me with my senses so they don't go out of whack and then you stay the hell out of the way, got it? You're an observer, nothing more."

Blair stared blearily around him. ďWhere am I? What street is this?Ē

"Donít know streets,Ē the old man said. ďJust looking for a warm spot to sleep.Ē He studied Blair for a moment. ďYou'd better get to a hospital, sonny, you don't look so good."

Blair backed away toward the entrance to the alley, shaking his head. "No, I don't have time. I just need to figure out what's wrong with Jim and then it'll be okay."

Turning into the wind, he began to stagger back the way he had come. As he approached the entrance to the apartment building, he hesitated, shivering uncontrollably as the strong wind buffeted him. He wouldnít find the answers there, he knew and, he had to admit, he wasnít in any hurry to see Jim again just yet. Best to let him cool down and then they could talk things through.  Wrapping his arms protectively around his body, he trudged resolutely on.

~o0o~

"You sure you don't need me to get an ambulance, Mr. Sandburg?" the janitor said worriedly. "You really don't look well."

"I'm okay, Charlie, really," Blair said, shaking his head. "I've got some dry clothes stashed in here, once I get warmed up, I'll be fine."

Charlie Jackson had probably seen a lot in his sixty-four years and he didn't look convinced. "What about your face? You look like maybe that gash could take some stitches, and that bump on your head, must have walked into that door more than once, huh?"

Blair smiled gently at the janitor. "I'll be fine, Charlie. Could you do me a favor? Don't let anyone know I'm here right now, I've got some important research to do."

Charlie nodded and turned to leave. "You take care, Mr. Sandburg."

"Thanks, Charlie, I will."

Blair shut the door behind the old man and locked it. Giving in to the exhaustion clawing at him, he stumbled over to the small portable cot he kept in the corner of his office and lay down. In moments, he was asleep, curled into a tight ball; the restlessly moving eyes under darkened lids the only hint of the nightmares he suffered.

Blair awoke after what seemed like scant minutes, his head thundering deafeningly as he levered himself slowly upright. He moaned in pain as he put his weight on his forgotten injured arm. He attempted to push his sodden sweater up his arm to get a better look at his wrist, but the purple black swelling cut tightly into the material. He knew he had no choice but to get it X-rayed.

After cutting up the sleeve, he managed to pull the destroyed sweater over his head. His skin felt chilled yet clammy, but he decided to forgo a warm shower and dressed quickly instead in dry jeans and an old flannel shirt. He could feel cold rainwater pooling in his shoes, but he had not thought to leave a second set of sneakers in his office, so he made do with dry socks and pulled his wet shoes back on. With his feet rapidly becoming damp again, he wrapped his arms around his still shivering body, and began the slow, painful trek to the nearest clinic.

~o0o~

Jim walked slowly back toward the loft, his sodden head bent, his icy hands pushed deep into the pockets of his jacket. He'd lost track of Blair at the first alleyway. He had ranged out his senses as he raced down the stairs after his fleeing partner. The pouring rain, traffic and icy chill had combined with a flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder to send him careening headlong into a massive spike of almost all his senses.

He returned to consciousness, courtesy of a violent shaking of his shoulders and a querulous voice, the breath thick with alcohol, telling him to wake up. Seeing that Jim was becoming more aware, the old man begged a few dollars from the still dazed man and weaved back up the alleyway. "Two crazies in one night. Gotta wonder what the world's coming to," he grumbled.

As Jim slowly made his way back toward the loft, he sifted through his memories of the last few days, trying desperately to find a link that would provide an answer to his violent, unpredictable behavior.

Aside from an extra heavy workload and the fright that Blair had given him pushing him out of the way of the thief's gun, he could think of nothing. Blair had been helping him with extra exercises, trying to find an answer to the worsening sensory spikes and they were both worn out, short tempered.

This was not the first time that Blair had risked his own life for Jim's. This time, however, his reward had been to be abused, ridiculed and physically attacked. Jim remembered Blair throwing him to the ground the first day theyíd met. Jim had zoned in front of a garbage truck and Sandburg had pushed him down without sparing a single thought for the danger in which he placed himself. He'd done this for a total stranger who had just thrown him up against a wall and threatened him.

"That's what the guide's supposed to do, right, watch your back."

Blair's words haunted Jim and he knew that he had to find his partner now, if he wanted any chance of making things right.

Instead of returning to the loft, Jim pulled out his keys and unlocked his truck. Reversing out onto the road, he headed toward the university. He had to begin his search for Blair somewhere and Blair's office seemed to be the logical starting point.

Jim ran through the heavy rain and into the hall. He hoped that Blair wasn't still out walking in the downpour. He knew how much his partner detested the rain and cold. Jim wiped the raindrops from his face and knocked on the door of the janitor's room. He smiled as the old man's wizened face showed through a crack in the door.

"Hi, Mr. Jackson, I don't know if you remember me."

The janitor nodded "You're Mr. Sandburg's police partner, let me think a minute." Charlie raised his eyes toward the ceiling then looked back, smiling. "Jim, that's it. Talks about you all the time."

Jim's heart lurched at the janitor's casual reply. "I need to find him, Mr. Jackson. I have to talk to him. Is he here?"

There was a moment's hesitation before Charlie spoke. "No, he's not here," he said, looking at his shoes.

Jim tried again. "Have you seen him tonight? It's important, Charlie."

Jim detected the acceleration in Charlie's heart rate and the dilation of his pupils, indicating the man wasnít being entirely honest.

"No, IÖ He's not here."

"You've seen him though, haven't you?"

The old man looked directly at Jim now, defiance obvious in his stance. "He asked me not to tell anyone he was here. Said something about important research."

"So he was here?"

Charlie nodded "He's not here now, I saw him leave, maybe he's gone to the library. Shouldn't be here at all, he's sick."

Jim grabbed at his arm. "He's sick, how? What's wrong with him?"

"His face was cut up and he had a nasty bump on his head, said he walked into a door." Charlie's snort of derision indicated what he thought of that. "He looked worn out, like he could hardly stand up. Maybe he went home."

Jim hoped not, he knew Blair had left his car at the loft in his headlong dash, and that meant he'd be out again in the rain. He was already injuredÖ

Jim tried not to think of the consequences of his actions. "Could I check out his office, see if he's left a note or something? I'll call home as well, in case he's there." 'Then I'll call Simon, put out an APB, call the hospitals and have myself arrested, in that order' Jim thought.

"You okay, Detective?"

"What? Yeah, I'll just go check his office."

"I guess it'll be okay. You're a cop after all," Charlie said.

As Jim walked away toward Blair's office, the janitor called to him. "Tell him I hope he's feeling better soon, he's a nice kid. I hope you catch the guy who hit him."

Jim nodded, his heart skipping a beat. "I'll be sure to tell him, thanks."

~o0o~

Blair left the clinic feeling marginally better than when heíd arrived. After waiting an interminable length of time in a crowded and smelly waiting room, trying desperately to knead away the headache that pounded at the back of his head, he was ushered into an exam room.

Doctor Martin Roberts had seen Blair several times since he'd partnered up with Jim Ellison and showed no surprise as the nurse catalogued his current injuries.

"Well, Blair, it's been a while," the doctor said, helping Blair off with his shirt. "I was beginning to think you'd found a safe job, digging up mummies and the like in some dark corner of the world."

Blair didn't smile at the joke and the doctor grew more serious. "Not feeling too good, huh? Let's take a closer look at this wrist and set up an Xray. Looks like your cheek could do with at least a couple of stitches."

He grabbed at Blair's shoulders as Blair slowly began to sink sideways on the gurney and eased him down onto the pillow.

"All right, Blair, you just rest there for a minute, I'll get the technician in here and while he's shooting some film of your arm, I'll call the hospital and let them know you need to be admitted. Where's Jim? He can take you over there."

Blair struggled to sit up again. "No, not the hospital. I'm okay, just tired."

The young doctor frowned "I suspect you're a bit more than tired, Blair. Looks like you took a nasty blow to the head too."

He reached over to the trolley next to the bed and picked up a thermometer. Putting a finger to his lips as Blair began to argue once more, he placed the thermometer under Blairís tongue then, while he waited for the temperature to register, began to gently clean the cut on Blair's cheek. He removed the thermometer and checked it, then looked at Blair.

"Well, you do have a fever, but some Tylenol ought to start bringing it down."

He looked at Blair's throat and listened to his chest. "Sounds like you have a touch of bronchitis too. I'll add some antibiotics to the cocktail, Blair, and you will take them. I'll make sure Jim knows you have them." He grinned and was startled when Blair fought once more to get off the gurney.

"All right, Blair, level with me here. We've known each other for a while now. What the hell's going on? Where's Jim?" Martin asked.

Blair sighed and finally accepted the doctor's proffered assistance to sit up. "I fell while Jim and I were at a robbery, I slipped on the ice and hurt my wrist and stuff."

"Blair, where's Jim? Was he hurt too?" Martin asked again.

Blair shook his head, then winced as his headache re-established itself with a vengeance.

"I don't know, Martin. We had an argument; I left and went to my office. I'm gonna sleep there for tonight, figure out something else in the morning. I've got something to research and I can do it better at the U anyway."

Martin turned to the door and waved in the Xray technician. "Let's see what the pictures tell us, but I can guarantee you're going to leave here with a cast on that arm. After that, I want to do a neurological check to rule out anything serious from that bump on your head. Did you lose consciousness?"

Blair shook his head no.

"You probably don't have a concussion then, but I want to be sure. Then we'll talk about your treatment. You came here for help, Blair, let me help you."

Blair nodded then and settled back against the pillows as the technician slid a plate under his injured arm.

Twenty minutes later, the doctor was back, apologizing for the delay and explaining that a child suffering febrile seizures had to be transported to the hospital.

"The wrist is broken as I suspected, and I can cast it here, it's only going to require a small reduction, so I'll give you a shot for the pain before we go ahead."

After getting Blair's agreement, he asked the nurse to administer the painkilling injection, while he prepared the plaster medium.

A short time later, Blair sat on the side of the examination table, feeling pleasantly woozy as the nurse finished fixing a sling around the rapidly drying cast. His headache was all but gone and although he still felt feverish, the chills of earlier had subsided as his jeans had dried in the warmth of the clinic. His second cut up shirt of the night had been replaced by one of Martin's sweaters with the assurance that it could be returned at a later date.

"Okay, Blair, I'm going to cut you loose from here, but with a couple of provisos. Uh, uh," the doctor admonished as Blair opened his mouth to speak. "No studying tonight, or as it's almost 5am, I should say today. You go see your doctor in a day or so to get the cast looked at, make sure it's not too tight. There'll be some swelling still due to the reduction and we can't risk the cast pressing on nerves. Also I want your lungs re-examined, make sure the antibiotics are doing their job. Lastly, you get a cab back to the university. You can't drive with the painkiller in your system and I don't want you getting my work of art wet."

Blair began to nod his head, then looked up with an expression that mixed panic and embarrassment. "Shit, Martin, oh, I'm sorry, Nurse. I left my wallet at the loft; I left in kind of a hurry. Look, I can walk back, it's not that far."

"No way, Blair," Martin interrupted "I'll lend you cab fare. You can return it with the sweater."

The doctor held a hand up as Blair opened his mouth to protest again. "No arguments, Mr. Sandburg, or do I ask Nurse Rogers here to call an ambulance instead?"

~o0o~

Blair exited the cab stiffly and walked slowly into the warmth of Hargrove Hall. Dawn had broken while he had been at the clinic, and brought with it relief from the constant downpour of the night before.

The painkiller the doctor had administered had almost worn off, and he could feel the awakenings of pain in his wrist. He felt an enormous lassitude settle over him and stumbled several times as he made his way along the hall to his office.

He unlocked the door and pushed it open slowly, already deciding that a quick nap was first on his list of priorities. Suddenly he froze, as he became aware of the figure that rose from the chair behind his desk.

"Jim." The name was whispered, his lungs suddenly bereft of the air needed to push the word out.

"Blair, thank God! Are you okay? I don't know what to say. I know you probably don't want to talk to me right now, but I've been worried sick."

Jim moved slowly around the desk toward him, his gaze taking in Blairís bruised and battered condition. "Shit, Blair, I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me. Charlie told me you were sick. Have you seen a doctor? Maybe we need to get you to a hospital."

Blair backed away just a step as Jim moved toward him. "Just chill, will you man," he said lightly "I'm fine. Saw the doctor at the clinic and he patched me up."

Jim stepped backward as well and then sidestepped quickly to allow Blair to move past him.

Blair sat down at his desk with a groan that he was unable to stifle and looked up at Jim with pain filled eyes. "I'll be okay, Jim. The painkiller's wearing off and I haven't had a whole lot of sleep for the past few days," he said.

"You can't sleep here, Chief. Why don't you let me take you back to the loft? I'm sorry for what I did, Blair. It won't happen again. I don't know what came over me."

Blair tried to smile though it felt strained on his face. He knew they werenít going to move past what had occurred without talking it through but that would never happen if he didnít take the first step toward forgiveness. "I've got an idea about that, man, but I've got to get some sleep first, then I need to do some reading."

"After what I said to you, Iíll understand if you canít forgive me," Jim said hesitantly.

"I can get past it if you can. I know there's some weird stuff going on here and I'm pretty sure it's tied up with your spikes and zoning somehow. We'll figure it out." Blair stood up and moved toward the door. "I am so ready to crash, man, and I donít relish crashing on my desk." He looked back at his partner. "We'll figure it out, Jim."

~o0o~

As they settled into the truck cab, Jim indicated Blairís casted arm. "So, did IÖ?"

"This? No." Blair shook his head, holding his arm protectively to his chest. "It happened at the convenience store, when IÖ when you..."

"So I did."

"Well, if you want to put it that way, yeah," Blair muttered.

By the time the truck had left the University grounds, Blair was asleep, huddled into a ball, his back resting against the door. His head lolled gently with the motion of the vehicle and he muttered incoherently.

Jim knew Blair already suffered occasional nightmares caused by the unsavory characters and scenes he had dealt with since teaming up with Jim. Ellison well remembered the nights following Blairís abduction by David Lash, when his partner had woken yelling in fright, struggling to escape the terrifying images of his kidnapping.

ĎWell done, Ellison,í his conscience whispered. ĎNow he can add you to his list of nightmares.í

Shaking himself, Jim forced himself to concentrate on the road ahead. He was relieved that Blair was even talking to him, let alone coming home.

Jim turned off the ignition and turned to face his slumbering partner. "Blair? Come on, Chief, weíre home."

Getting no response, he reached out and gently shook Blairís uninjured arm. Blair sat up in the seat as though heíd been shot, his eyes wide and slightly unfocused.

"Easy, buddy, itís okay. Weíre home," Jim said softly. "Iím sorry I startled you."

ĎHeís afraid of you.í His conscience mocked him and he clenched his jaw as he fought to quell his guilty thoughts.

"Huh? What?" Blair turned sleepy eyes to Jim.

ĎWeíre home, Chief," Jim repeated. "Wait there a minute, let me give you a hand. You look like youíre out on your feet."

Blair nodded and rested his head back on the seat headrest. He turned as the passenger door opened and grinned weakly as Jim offered a helping hand to him. "Thanks, man." His feet hit the ground and he continued to sink downwards.

Jim caught him rapidly under both arms and levered him gently up. . "Okay, buddy, Iíve got you." He moved alongside his partner and placed a strong arm around Blairís waist. "I think we both could do with some sleep."

As they moved inside and waited for the elevator, Jim used his sentinel senses to further check Blair out. He was relieved to discover that Blairís fever was not too high and he was breathing easily enough.

Finally, they made it into the loft and Blair walked slowly toward his room. "Iím gonna crash, Jim, Iím really wiped."

"Blair?" Jim made a move to halt his partnerís progress.

"Look, Jim, weíll talk later tonight when Iím making sense." Blair gave him a wry grin. "Well, more than I am now."

"What about your meds, Chief? Let me get you some water. Do you need a painkiller as well?"

"Nah, man. Iím fine and Iíll start the antibiotics tomorrow if Iím not feeling any better. Itís just a cold." Blair continued on to his room.

"Itís not just a cold, Sandburg," Jim said sternly "I can hear you wheezing from here and youíve got a fever."

Blair waved a weary hand. "Iím fine, man, really."

"No, youíre not," Jim yelled angrily. "Take the damn meds now, Sandburg, before you get sicker. Why do you always have to act like a two year old when youíre sick?"

"I donít want that shit in my body, Jim, and Iím old enough to decide for myself what I need when I get sick, which, by the way, Iím not," Blair yelled back.

For a moment, it appeared there would be a standoff then Jim moved toward Blair, holding out his hand. "You are going to take those pills, Blair, even if I have to force them down your throat. I donít want you to get worse, I wonít be responsible for what happens if you do."

"Fine by me, big guy," Blair answered "Iíve been responsible for myself since I was a kid." With that, Blair turned and walked into his room, slamming and locking the door.

Jim groaned and turned back toward the kitchen. "Well, you handled that well, Ellison."

He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a beer, then moved to the couch, sinking tiredly down. Within moments, the unopened beer dropped from his hands to the floor as his eyes drifted closed. His head slid slowly to the arm of the couch and he began to snore softly.

~o0o~

Deeply asleep, Jim wasnít aware of the figure that padded quietly from the small room under the stairs. Blair stood at the back of the couch for a moment watching his partner sleep, then he grabbed the afghan rug that lay over the back of the chair and draped it over Jimís slumbering form. He went into the kitchen and picked up the antibiotics and painkillers. He swallowed one of each then plodded slowly back to bed.

~o0o~

Blair woke to pain. It seemed to permeate through his entire body and he groaned softly. He could hear the clatter of dishes from the kitchen and the odor of coffee and Chinese reminded his growling stomach that he hadnít eaten for at least a full day.

Jim looked up as his partner shuffled slowly from the small bedroom under the stairs. Filling a mug with hot coffee, he placed it on the table and pulled a chair back for his friend.

"How are you feeling, Chief? How about Chinese for dinner and I can squeeze some juice for you or maybe make you an algae shake?"

"Jim, breathe." Blair smiled at his friend, patting his shoulder. "No food, but juice and coffee would be great."

Blair knew Jim was inconspicuously scanning his vitals as he prepared the juice and coffee. If anything though, this morning, the gesture warmed him.

"So, you didnít answer my question. How are you feeling?" Jim asked quietly, fiddling with the coffee mug,

Blair looked tiredly at his partner. "I feel like crap, Jim. My wrist hurts like hell, my headís pounding and I got maybe two hours sleep. That being said, I doubt you feel much better. Letís have dinner and Iíll throw an antibiotic down my throat to appease you, then weíll talk."

Jim merely nodded and went back to squeezing juice.

Jim insisted on cleaning up after dinner, so Blair used the opportunity to do some reading in his room. Finally confirming his theory, he felt his eyes begin to slide shut, and after a short struggle, gave up the fight and decided to go with the flow.

~o0o~

Jim heard the first soft incoherent moan and was at his partnerís side in a heartbeat.

"No! Iím sorry."

Sitting on the side of the bed, Jim gently shook Blairís shoulder, trying to avoid causing him further pain. "Blair? Itís okay. Wake up."

Blair continued to twist in his sleep. "No, leave me alone!" he shouted. He violently pushed Jimís hands away and rapidly scooted to the head of the bed, eyes wide and his chest heaving frantically.

"Blair, itís me, Jim."

Jim began to panic as he heard Blairís heart rate spike at the mention of his name. "Iíll go call Simon, okay. Just take it easy for me, buddy. Youíre going to hurt yourself here." He got up quickly to go into the living room when the whisper of his name stopped him.

"Jim?"

The detective turned to see Blairís eyes focused, his breathing slowing, only occasionally hitching as his partner made a visible effort to bring the panic attack under control.

"Blair, are you okay or do you want me to call Simon?" Jim asked, fearing the answer.

Blair groaned softly, bowing his head and massaging his temples. "God, Jim, Iím sorry, man. Iím fine, just a crazy nightmare, and I hurt all over."

"Do you want me to run a hot bath for you? Iíll go get you a pain pill."

"Jim, stop hovering. Iím fine, really. Let me have a shower and Iíll be with you," Blair said, hoping his smile made him look better than he felt, then seeing the worried frown on his partnerís face, knew he had failed miserably. "A hot bath would be great, thanks."

Jim turned back to the door, pleased to be able to do something to relieve his friendís pain.

ĎThe pain you caused.í The voice came again and Jim clenched his fists against the sides of his head in an attempt to stop the voice, his voice.

"Youíve been having them too, havenít you?" Blairís voice was soft but steady. "Nightmares."

Jim started to shake his head, then stopped and sat back down on the bed. If they were going to fix whatever was wrong here, he knew now was not the time to be evasive.

"Yeah, for the last few nights. Not nightmares exactly, just running, toward something, Iím sure of that, not away. Running, but knowing that no matter how fast I run, Iím not going to get there in time."

"In time for what?" Blair asked, resting his arms on bent knees.

Jim scrubbed a hand through his cropped hair. "I donít know, Chief, I know itís important, but I always wake up before I get there." He grinned ruefully at Blair.

"Yes, I know," Blair answered. Blair yawned and looked over at the alarm clock. "Oh God, Jim, itís eight oíclock. In the morning?"

Jim nodded "Donít worry about it, Chief, Iíve got it covered for you. I called the university, told them you needed a couple of days off."

ĎThanks to you,í the voice added.

Blair sat up straighter and pushed his legs over the side of the bed. "Go make some tea, Jim, we need to talk."

Jim hesitated. "We donít have to do this right now, Chief," he began.

"Yes, we do, Jim. The sooner we get a handle on this, the betterÖ for both of us," Blair replied firmly.

A half-hour later, sentinel and guide sat facing each other across the small expanse of the coffee table.

"How long ago was your chopper crash in Peru, Jim?"

Jim shrugged. "I try not to think about it, Chief, I guess itís got to be coming up to ten years. Why do you ask?"

Blair sat forward on the couch, clasping his hands in front of him. He thought carefully before he spoke. "I think you could be suffering from posttraumatic stress syndrome." As Jim opened his mouth to speak, he held up a restraining hand "Let me finish, okay?"

Jim nodded his head and sat back, his hands clenched tightly on his lap.

"I think your lack of emotional control is coming from the chopper accident. You have strong memories and your mind is setting a reminder, if you like, of this anniversary. I think thatís what the nightmares are about."

Jim nodded and breathed a heavy sigh. "Theyíre mixed up, the chopper crash, my men dying." Jim swallowed. "All mixed up with you and Lash and Galileo and feeling like Iím running to save you, but Iím never going to make it on time. Why now, though? What could have triggered it?""

"From the little bit Iíve read about it, it could have been something significant, linking you to your memories of your time in Peru."

Stopping suddenly, Blair snapped his fingers. "Remember that guy a couple of weeks ago, the one in the mall who went on a rampage with a couple of guns because he got fired from his job as a security guard there. He was dressed up in camouflage gear. You said at the time, it brought up memories youíd rather forget. I think the sensory spikes are linked to it too. I think youíre overextending your senses and overloading the circuit, so to speak, trying too hard." Blair watched Jim carefully, willing him to speak.

Jim stood and paced the length of the living room. "If youíre right, what do we do about it?"

Blair took a deep breath. "I think you need to talk to someone who knows more about this than I do, Jim. There are a couple of guys here in Cascade, they work with Vietnam vets. They get them together with other guys who have gone through the same stuff. It helps to know youíre not alone in this."

Jim turned suddenly to face his partner. "Iím not alone in this? What, I can just go up to these guys and have a nice tete-a-tete, tell them how I got heightened senses after I got my men killed in Peru, how I nearly got you killed, no, wait a minute, I did get you killed, by another sentinel." He waved his hand dismissively and resumed pacing. "Sorry, Chief, that is not going to happen."

Blair swallowed uneasily but stood anyway and approached his friend. "Thereís no reason for them to know about your senses, Jim. Hell, you were on the cover of Time, man, but weíve been able to keep it all under wraps so far. I know you feel guilty that your men died and you didnít, but you have to get over that. I know that you feel responsible for me, but I came on board as your guide and your partner with full knowledge of what I was getting into here." Hesitantly he reached out and placed a gentle hand on Jimís arm. "You have to do this, Jim, for both of us."

"Maybe we should forget the guide thing for awhile. At least, until I get this under control," Jim suggested.

"No," Blair said vehemently. "Thatís not the answer, Jim. I couldnít let you go out there without me grounding you and thereís no guarantee that that would stop the problem. I was reading about a guy who had an episode when he saw some policemen. They prompted a flashback to Vietnam and the guy took a passerby and forcibly protected him in his home against an enemy that didnít exist any more. Jim, please, would you just go talk to one of these guys? We can still work on the spikes here, and a part of that is due to fatigue, Iím sure of that. If you can stop the nightmares and the guilt, the fatigue will decrease, thereforeÖ" Blairís voice tailed off as he stared at Jim, a pleading expression on his face.

Jim was silent for a long moment. Finally he spoke. "Well, Darwin, looks like youíve got it all figured out. Iíll make you a deal, you sit down there, eat the breakfast I cook for you and take your antibiotics until theyíre finished and Iíll go see this shrink. Iím not making any promises here, Sandburg. Iím not as sold on this theory as you are and Iím not going to risk you getting hurt again."

ĎOut there or by me.í

That said, he put out a hand, smiling as it was clasped in Blairís.

"Deal," Blair said.

"And from now on, youíll stay in the truck when I tell you to?"

"Sorry, Jim I canít promise you that," Blair replied firmly.

"Just testing, Chief, you seem pretty keen to agree to anything at the moment. It was worth a shot." Jim smiled.

~o0o~

Two weeks later

Jim looked up as Blair strode into the bullpen, acknowledging greetings from either side of the room. The young man hoisted his backpack from his shoulders, cursing softly as it got caught on his plaster cast.

"I will be so happy when this thing comes off," Blair sighed. He started guiltily at the look his partner gave him. "Oh man, Iím sorry, I didnít meanÖ."

"Itís okay, Sandburg. I know what you meant," Jim replied, smiling, but feeling guilty himself nonetheless.

Blair settled himself at the desk and picked up one of the numerous files lying in front of him. "Howíd things go with Professor Graham today?" he asked.

Jim shrugged nonchalantly. "Same old, same old. Iíve got to get past the guilt; Iíve got to find positive reasons for why I survived and theyÖ they didnít." He looked down at the papers in front of him and shuffled them absently.

"Youíre not having as many nightmares though."

Jim looked up and smiled. "Yeah, well, one thing me and the good doctor agree on is that youíre nuts."

"What me, Jim?" Blair smiled then sobered. "Why?"

"He figures that anyone who would willingly run in front of a guy with a gun has got to be nuts, friends or not. Doesnít think he could be that loyal himself," Jim answered, looking more serious despite the intended joke.

"You would."

"Just proves weíre both nuts, Chief," Jim smiled. "Now, how about you get started on whittling down these reports? As it is, itíll take you twice as long seeing youíve got to do it one-handed."

"Still twice as quick as you, man," Blair retorted, ducking his head automatically from the whack he knew was coming. He relaxed; knowing things would improve, given time and their faith in each other.

FIN