Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Drama

Summary: The substance that will save Blair's life will also destroy Jim's senses. Set in third season after Poachers and before Foreign Exchange. (In five parts)

Warning -- marathon fanfic! This thing grew into a horrendous beast, and before I knew what was happening I was chained to it and couldn't get off. Thanks to Becky for inspiration and daily pep talks -- this never would have gotten done without your support. Thanks to Becky and Tate for being wonderful beta-readers. Tate, you gently helped me to refine my words and give them power.

Through a Window, Darkly
Part One
by Robyn
August 1998

Sirens wailing, six blue and silver Cascade P.D. cars screeched to a well-choreographed halt. They formed a semi-circle which opened off to the side of the paved two lane road cutting through the thick forest well outside of Cascade city proper. The flashing red lights of the patrol cars glowed eerily through the evening fog two hours past sunset. Officers jumped out of their cars, crouched behind them and drew their weapons. Captain Simon Banks also emerged from his burgundy Chrysler, gripping the CB in one hand, ready to call out the command to move in. Everyone was in position. Everything was quiet. They all watched the forest, waiting where Ellison had told them.

Then a figure emerged, materializing from the fog in slow motion. It was Ellison. He carried Sandburg in his arms. Jim's face was smeared with dirt, his hair and forest green parka wet from the pine trees dripping on him. Jaw clenched, his ice blue eyes revealed streaks of anguish and pain painted upon a canvas of exhaustion. Jim gently cradled Blair's limp figure. Long hair dangled loosely and beads of water dripped from the curled ends, landing with faint splashes on the forest floor. Audible only to Jim, the drops sounded ominously loud in the stunned and unnatural stillness. Blair's jeans and brown parka were soaked, and the front of his parka stained a dark red.

Suddenly the other officers rushed forward toward Ellison, banishing the silence forever from the scene. Banks yelled into the receiver for the helicopter to land. It didn't seem like only a few hours ago....

***********************

Simon sat in the well-lit Cascade Hospital waiting room in a chair next to his best detective, Jim Ellison, who still wore the clothes he'd had on when they had been rescued. His parka still bore telltale deep red stains on the arms and front. They looked almost black on the dark green fabric, painful reminders of his guide's mortality.

Comfortably furnished in mauve and blue, the waiting room chairs and couches smelled faintly of new upholstery. A stark contrast to the raw, unforgiving cold and wet of the forest, thought Simon as he went over the events of the evening yet again. The two men sat in silence, as they had for most of the four hours since Jim had been released from the emergency room and Blair had gone up to surgery. Thanks to Ellison and Sandburg the Anderson case was over. It had ended with the suspect's secret hideout discovered and stash of homemade explosives confiscated. It had ended with Anderson himself dead from Ellison's well-placed bullet.

It had ended with Sandburg shot.

Simon shifted in his chair again and glanced over at Jim, but the other man remained motionless, his visage glazed over. The quiet ticking of the wall clock read just past 9 p.m. Simon sighed almost imperceptibly, trying in vain to distract himself by turning his attention to the other doctors, nurses, and visitors walking past the surgery waiting area. Occasionally the hospital operator's voice paged someone, superimposing itself over the background noise of people talking and shoes tapping on the tiled walkway. Simon knew it would be of little use to try and talk to Jim now; he knew Jim was still struggling to absorb the events of the afternoon, still attempting to go over every detail that had led up to Sandburg's injury, still trying to figure out what went wrong and how he could have possibly prevented it. Simon knew Jim.

"Mr. Ellison? Mr. Banks?"

Simon looked up, startled by the man standing before them in blue scrubs, a disposable cap tied around his head and a mask dangling loosely around his neck. Sudden movement also jerked through the man next to him. In less than a split second, Jim had surged to his feet. His hands curled into loose fists at his side, a mixture of hope and dread visible on his features. Simon followed suit, wondering faintly if the surgeon could feel Jim searching his face for details.

"Dr. Harris here," said the man in scrubs, extending his hand to Simon and then Jim. "I'm the trauma surgeon who operated on your friend. Mr. Sandburg will be fine."

Both men sighed with relief.

"Mr. Sandburg will be fine," he repeated. "The gunshot hit his gallbladder, so we had to remove it, but that wasn't much of a problem. The bullet also grazed the liver, but we were able to stop the bleeding." The surgeon paused. "He lost a lot of blood. We had to give him four units. Fortunately he's young and healthy -- he should do just fine. Your friend is very lucky."

"Where is he? How is he doing now?" asked Jim, the questions pouring out rapidly.

"He's in recovery, probably still pretty out of it," answered the surgeon. "They'll be taking him up to the ICU shortly. He's stable, but I want to watch him a little more closely tonight since he came in with peritonitis from the burst gallbladder. We'll be giving him some antibiotics for that. Otherwise, I expect him to do very well."

"Thank you, sir," said Jim gratefully.

Simon sensed Jim allowing his tense stance to relax just a little. The man's shoulders sagged slightly in relief, then straightened. "When can we see him?"

"Give them about 15 minutes or so to get him up to the unit and settled. Then you're free to go in."

"Thanks again," said Simon. The surgeon nodded and smiled, then turned to walk back down the hall.

Jim just stood there, watching the doctor disappear around the corner. Simon could feel Jim holding himself back, resisting an overwhelming urge to follow the surgeon back to the recovery room. Simon put a hand on Jim's shoulder. "The kid's gonna be okay, Jim," Simon said in his most confident and reassuring voice.

"Yes, sir." The words sounded automatic, though relieved.

The tall captain sighed. "Look, Jim, I know you don't want to think about this now, but neither of us have eaten since we got here. Hell, you probably haven't eaten for almost ten hours. Blair's out of surgery now and we have some time before we can see him. What'd you say we get something at the cafeteria?"

Jim shook his head. "You go ahead, Simon. I'm not hungry."

"Really, Jim, you need to keep your strength up. It'll only take --"

"Simon, go ahead, please. Maybe I'll get something a little later, but not now." Jim met his eyes for a moment before focusing back onto the hallway leading to the recovery room.

Simon paused. By Jim's tone of voice the captain knew Jim wasn't going to change his mind with any level of arguing, so Simon nodded. "All right. I've gotta go call the station anyway and let everyone know Sandburg is out of surgery and doing okay. I'll meet you in the ICU waiting room. Eighth floor, right?"

Jim nodded. "Yes, sir."

Simon turned in the direction of the cafeteria and took a few steps toward it. Instinctively he turned his head back towards Jim. Sure enough, Jim still stood in the same spot. The glazed look had again taken over his expression.

"Jim."

The man lifted his head upon hearing his name.

"Blair's -- gonna -- be -- fine," Simon repeated, emphasizing each word. Then he jerked his head toward the elevators. "Now get yourself up to the eighth floor before I have to call hospital security to escort you there!"

Simon thought he saw the corner of Jim's mouth turn up faintly as the detective turned and limped toward the elevators. Simon watched long enough to satisfy himself that Jim would indeed make it to the ICU, then turned again in the direction of the cafeteria. He mentally shook his head at the present emotional and physical state of Ellison. Everything will be okay when Ellison can finally see Sandburg for himself, he thought.

***********************

Hands shoved into his jacket pockets, Jim stepped out of the elevator on the eighth floor and made his way to the waiting room like a pre-programmed robot, favoring his bandaged left leg slightly. He knew the inside of the hospital well, but he could never get used to the distinctly unpleasant feelings which always washed over him when he had to be there because of a fellow officer or other friend. The intense perceptions recorded by his heightened senses -- the smell of harsh disinfectant mingled with body fluids, the sound of bleeping monitors and labored breathing and coughing of patients pacing out a strange cadence, the sight of the worried faces of friends and family -- all intensified those feelings. They brought with them memories of friends in pain or dying crashing upon his mind like inescapable waves. No, he could never get used to this. Especially not when the friend was Blair.

Jim hated the hospital. It was one of the few places in his city where he felt so utterly helpless. This sentinel and police officer was used to intervening in a bad situation, helping those who needed it, protecting the vulnerable in danger. Here, a type of harm he didn't understand struck victims down with audacity and without his permission. And he could do little more than stand by and watch -- an awful thing for anyone to endure, much less a sentinel.

He slumped into the unoccupied sofa in the waiting room, rubbing his face in an attempt to push away the fatigue trying to engulf him. The waiting room felt strangely empty. Then Jim remembered it was visiting hours. Don't worry, Blair, he thought. You'll have plenty of visitors soon. Jim had to smile to himself, thinking of all the people from the station and the university who would invariably show up at Sandburg's room sooner or later. Yep, better sleep while you can, Chief. I know you're gonna need it. Jim paused. He gripped the arms of the chair with both hands. Although he believed the doctor's reassurances with the logical part of his mind, his soul desperately needed to see, hear, and touch Blair before accepting those words as real. Jim swallowed, fighting another wave of dreadful helpless feelings which threatened to overwhelm him again. He felt himself losing the battle as the scenes from the forest and the ER began to flash through his mind again. I never should have let you convince me to let you out of the truck. I should have waited for backup. I ....

***********************

"....can't believe I let you talk me into this!" said Blair, trying to sound indignant but ending up sounding more humorous than anything.

The blue and white hayseed truck chugged along in the early morning darkness, making its way out of Cascade and toward Ice House Lake, a good four-hour drive into the mountainous wilderness to the north of the city. The heater hadn't quite kicked in yet, and Blair shivered in his heavy brown coat, thick Gortex gloves, and warm knit hat.

"Oh, c'mon, Chief, this'll be fun!" enthused Jim, laughing as he watched Blair fiddle with the heating vents. "I can't think of a better way to spend a free Sunday than getting in some good fishing."

"Yeah, but you didn't tell me last night it was ice fishing, Jim. I knew I should've made you tell me the name of the lake. Now that would've clued me in," Blair muttered.

"I didn't want you to give the lake an unfair rap before you'd seen it. I knew the name would've scared you off, and then you never would've found out how beautiful it is and how big the fish are. Once you've been there, you'll fall in love with it, just like I have."

"Hey, I got no problem visiting a lake called Ice House. But I'd rather do it in the summer when it doesn't have ice!"

"Trust me, Sandburg, once you catch your first big lake trout, you'll forget about the cold."

Blair shivered. "Not if all my fingers and toes freeze and fall off first!"

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that." Jim's eyes twinkled. "We'll just collect them all and sew them back on when we get back. Doctors are pretty good at that nowadays, you know. Besides, the cold should keep 'em preserved, right?"

A large groan and a whack on Jim's right arm served as the only response.

Truth was, Jim knew no matter how much the younger man complained, Blair still planned on having a good time. He liked that about Sandburg. They hadn't had much time off together lately, and Jim had been missing the fun they'd had on their adventurous jaunts in and out of the city. Fishing, one of their mutual pastimes, allowed them plenty of opportunity for talking and of course, teasing, in a peaceful setting undisturbed by the pressures of life in the city.

"At least this place isn't 'catch and release'," Blair said, interrupting Jim's thoughts.

"Yeah, you can catch your limit and take it home if you want."

Blair shivered and hugged himself again. "Man, it's cold in here!" he chattered. "Why doesn't the heater work faster? Can I have a drink of whatever you brought in those thermoses, huh, Jim?"

"I think you're gonna want to save the hot chocolate and coffee for the lake, Chief." In addition to the hot drinks, Jim had brought some pastries, muffins, and four hearty sandwiches he'd made the night before. "Look, the heater's coming on now. What did you think -- that the heater was in cahoots with me?"

"I wouldn't put it past you two," Blair said, referring to Jim and the truck which he called Sweetheart from time to time. Blair leaned forward to get closer to the vent's warmed air. "But then, to be in cahoots with a sentinel named Jim Ellison -- that's not such a bad thing."

The two men grinned at each other.

Jim and Blair spent a whole day, although admittedly a cold one, at the lake. Blair refused to admit he "loved" the coldness of the sport or the lake, but Jim knew his younger friend was enjoying himself by the way he joked and carried on in his usual manner. Around 1 p.m. they decided to call it quits and head back to Cascade.

"Man, these sure are gonna taste good," said Blair, admiring the two large Mackinaw trout one last time before plunking closed the ice chest lid in the back of the truck. They'd caught more than their limit and had kept only the two biggest ones while releasing the others. A good thing, too, since the two fish were so big no more would fit into the ice chest.

"Try not to salivate on them, Chief." Jim piled in the poles and other gear, arranging them to his satisfaction.

"I know, I know, I just can't help myself! I've got these herbs -- they're supposed to be absolutely fantastic for trout. And get this, Jim, they're -- "

"Don't tell me, they're an aphrodisiac."

"How'd you know?" Blair said, pausing outside the passenger side door.

"Seems to be a common theme with you, Sandburg," Jim said drily, reaching for the driver's door handle. "Just make sure it's not something illegal like narwhal horn --"

Jim stopped mid-sentence as an unnatural noise from across the lake caught his ears. He turned his head back toward the truck bed, looking across the lake and focusing in. The noise distilled into an engine.

"What?" said Blair, still on the other side of the truck.

"I don't know, Chief, sounds like a sports utility vehicle -- you know, like the Expedition. Over there, on the other side of the lake." Using a technique that was second-nature to him by now thanks to Blair, he let his ears guide his eyes to the source of the rumbling.

"Probably just another crazy fisherman coming to try his luck out," Blair offered.

"Maybe, but I don't think so, Chief. No one else has been here all day except us, and I've never known anyone to spend the night up here. It drops way below freezing. I can almost make out..."

By this time Blair had walked around the truck and now stood next to his friend. Blair put a hand on Jim's back, something which always seemed to have a steadying effect on him. "You're trying too hard, Jim. Just relax and let it come into focus."

Following his guide's instructions, Jim relaxed and the vehicle came into view. "It's an old green Chevy Blazer. One of the back windows is cracked. The license plate is ... 647... PW..." his eyes adjusted a little more to make out the last letter before the vehicle disappeared through the trees.

"R," finished Blair with certainty.

Confused, Jim brought his attention back to his immediate surroundings and looked at his partner. "Yeah, R. How did you -- "

"This sentinel thing, maybe it's contagious," grinned the anthropologist mischievously.

"C'mon, Chief!"

"Okay, fine. Jim, don't you recognize that plate number? It's the vehicle at large in the Anderson case. You know, the one Brown and Rafe are working on. I remembered it from a file I looked at on Friday."

"Pretty good, Sandburg. Now that you mention it, I think you're right. I'm impressed," Jim grinned.

"Guess I just have a knack for remembering a series of digits." Blair bounced on his toes and grinned back proudly.

"You get lots of practice with women's phone numbers."

"Hey!"

"C'mon, Chief," Jim chuckled clapping Blair's back and gesturing towards the cab doors. "Let's go find out where that truck is going."

Once inside, Jim picked up the hand radio since his cell phone was out of range. "We'll tell Simon where we are and that we've spotted Anderson's truck. By the time we catch up to him, the captain will be well on his way out here with backup. Anderson's a loner. Should be no problem...."

***********************

The space on the couch next to Jim sank suddenly with the weight of someone sitting down beside him, jerking the detective out of his reverie.

"Here," said Simon, handing him a Styrofoam cup of steaming coffee and a napkin holding a buttermilk donut. "Since you wouldn't come get your own food. And you'd better eat it, too -- that's an order. Can't have you passing out."

"Thanks, Simon," Jim said, exchanging a tired smile with his captain.

"Guess the kid's not up on the floor yet, eh?" said Simon.

"No, sir. We'll know when he is. Just have to listen for a gurney being pushed down the hall and someone making a date with the transport nurse."

Simon chuckled. "Yeah, that's Sandburg all right. Remember how he did that just before they airlifted him out of the wilderness with a gunshot to the leg? Didn't he say something like 'I can't help myself'?"

This time Jim had to chuckle too, remembering the Quinn case. But his body tensed the next second as his sensitive hearing picked up the small ding of an elevator.

"What?" said Simon quietly.

"It's the big transport elevator down the hall. They've brought him up."

The moment of joviality fled as reality struck both men, forcing them to remember that their young friend was more likely to be asleep, maybe even intubated, after his surgery.

Jim moved to the doorway of the waiting room with Simon behind him. Looking down the long hall, he focused in on the gurney being guided around the corner by two nurses. His hearing reached out to Blair, seeking out his heartbeat and breathing. Both remained even and normal. Jim could also see Blair wasn't being bagged; he only wore a mask connected to some oxygen. Good -- he's not intubated. Jim's other senses urged him to get closer. Something drew his soul to the friend who needed him -- not only for Blair's comfort, but for his own. Jim started to move forward, but felt a hand grasp his shoulder gently but firmly.

"Jim. Give the nurses a few minutes to make Blair comfortable. If we give them a chance to do their job, they'll get done sooner and we can see him without getting in their way or them getting in ours."

The detective sighed, but he knew Simon was right.

Reluctantly Jim followed Simon back to the couch. Now that he knew they were so close to seeing Blair, the five minutes seemed almost as long as the hours they had waited for the surgery to finish. He tried not to listen to the quiet tick of the second hand on his watch or feel the subtle vibration on his skin, but Jim couldn't seem to keep himself from counting the time. He took a few bites of the donut and several sips of coffee, though he had no appetite. Only three minutes had passed when Simon stood up abruptly.

"We can walk slow," rationalized the captain.

"Whatever you say, sir," Jim said, the appreciation written on his face as both men walked down the hall.

*********************

"Room 3 -- the one right over there." The unit secretary motioned them in the right direction, a few steps to the left of where they stood.

Acceptably close to the nurse's station, Jim thought. The ICU ward was composed of private rooms with large glass walls and hung with blue drapes. The drapes were not drawn, and he could see a nurse moving around Blair's bed, checking one of the connections on the monitor and making sure her patient was well-covered with the blanket.

The nurse looked up as the two men entered the room. She smiled and extended a hand in greeting. "Hi. I'm Ledeen. I'll be Blair's nurse for the night."

"Simon Banks, Sandburg's, uh -- boss -- at the police station. This is Detective Jim Ellison, his partner," said the captain, taking the liberty of introducing the other rather preoccupied man who had moved directly to the bedside.

The nurse smiled, understanding the familiar actions of a close friend or family member. "Your friend looks pretty good considering the long surgery he's just been through. We've got him hooked up to the heart monitor, a blood pressure cuff, and a pulse ox on his finger. I just have to hang his antibiotics now. I'll be right back with them."

Jim stood at Blair's left side. His partner slept, taking in deep, even breaths. Differently colored wires traveled from the small monitor overhead to the round stickies on Blair's chest, recording the pulsations of his heart with moving colored lines and numbers. The white disposable blood pressure cuff groaned as it inflated intermittently. A red light glowed from underneath the band-aid-like tape on his right index finger as it recorded the oxygen concentration of his blood. Jim could smell the faint odor of betadine coming from Blair's skin in places where the yellow-staining disinfectant hadn't been wiped off completely. He could see some adhesive residue left from the tape which had fastened the breathing tube to his partner's upper lip and cheeks. He could hear the faint drip, drip of the clear solution as it flowed from the plastic bag, down through the tubing and into Blair's vein.

Locks of curly hair spread out haphazardly on the pillow, not unlike how Blair slept at home. The expression on his face was peaceful at the moment. Jim reached out, placing his own larger, warm hand gently on top of his partner's cooler left hand which rested on top of the covers, taking care not to compress the IV tubing which ran into one of the veins on the back of Blair's hand. The plastic tubing and tape felt strange and unnatural, but Jim felt himself relax instantly. Blair was comfortable. Blair was going to be okay. Jim curled his fingers softly around those of his guide's.

"Mmmm," Blair murmured in his sleep.

"Chief," said Jim, still grasping Blair's hand and leaning down closer to his friend's face. "Blair, it's me." The sleeping anthropologist responded by turning his head to the side where Jim stood. A brief wince flashed across his face at the pain elicited by the slight movement, but Sandburg didn't awaken. "Still dead to the world, I see," Jim said in response.

Simon chuckled in the background. "Let the kid sleep, Jim. Looks like he's got some pretty good pain control at least."

"Just wanted to let him know I was here," said Jim.

"I think he knows." The voice of the nurse interjected as she reentered the room, carrying a couple small plastic bags with clear liquid inside of them. "Look how his pulse slowed down," she motioned to the monitors.

Jim smiled to himself, though somehow he didn't feel surprised at her observation.

"Well, Blair," continued the nurse, "here are your antibiotics -- ampicillin and gentamicin," she read, confirming the drug names and Blair's name and patient number printed on the bag labels with the name and number on Sandburg's pastel green plastic wrist band. "As if you didn't have enough tubes hooked up to you already." The nurse uncurled a length of plastic tubing and hooked it to the bags, then hung them on the IV pole next to the larger plastic bag of Lactated Ringer's solution.

"No, no, you can stay right there," she said, catching the uncertain expression on Jim's face as he stood at the bedside. She let the antibiotic liquid run down slowly through the tubing, allowing it to push out the air in front of it. Slowing the speed so the liquid wouldn't be wasted, the nurse let a couple drops drip from the needle on the end of the tubing just before connecting it to one of the ports on Blair's IV.

Instantaneously, a horrifically painful, high-pitched ringing sound filled both of Jim's ears, so loud he couldn't hear anything else. The detective clutched his ears with his hands, his eyes clamping shut and his face cringing with the sensory overload.

Simon's eyes widened in horror and he rushed to Jim's side. Jim could see Simon's mouth moving, and it looked like the captain was shouting his name and asking what was wrong, but the ringing had begun to alternate with silent moments in which he couldn't hear anything. Jim struggled in desperation to control his sense of hearing, but whatever had thrown it into chaos seemed to mock him, and he felt strangely naked and defenseless without Blair to help him. Jim felt the room start to spin, and he grasped at one of the bed rails in a vain attempt to steady himself.

"Jim! Jim, what's going on?!?" Simon yelled, forgetting he was in a hospital. He grabbed one of Jim's arms and tried to keep the tall man from collapsing on the floor.

"Oh my goodness!" The nurse, equally horrified, dropped the IV tubing and grabbed Ellison's other arm just in time to keep him from sagging onto the numerous wires and tubing strung along the bedside.

Simon and the nurse half-guided, half-dragged Ellison to the door of the room and out into the hall where his legs finally gave out and he sagged onto the floor. Simon crouched beside him as the nurse called urgently for someone to get the doctor on call.

"Jim! Jim, are you all right?" Simon shook Jim's arm, searching his face for reassurance.

In a matter of seconds, Jim felt the ringing subside and Simon's voice going from indecipherable to its regular level. The room also stopped spinning. Ellison opened his eyes more widely and shook his head slightly back and forth, trying to shake off the last of the frightening attack.

"Jim! What happened?" Simon shook his arm again.

"I -- I don't know, sir. All of a sudden I got this loud ringing in my ears and I couldn't hear anything. Then I felt dizzy. It happened so suddenly, I don't know...."

"Are you okay now?" Simon asked urgently.

"Yeah, I think so -- the ringing stopped and I can hear now. It was weird -- it all happened so fast. It's gone now."

"Are you okay, sir?" Jim and Simon looked up to see a young woman in scrubs and a long white coat looking concernedly at them.

"Yes, I'm okay," Jim said as he and Simon stood to their feet.

"I'm Dr. Ford, one of the ICU residents. What happened?"

"I just felt a little dizzy and had some ringing in my ears, but it's gone now," said Jim.

Dr. Ford visually assessed the detective, satisfying herself that aside from looking a little shaken, he didn't seem in any immediate danger. "You feel like you could walk down to the ER?" she asked.

"Yeah, I feel fine. But let's not overreact here. I don't think I need to go to the ER -- I feel fine. It was probably just a fluke."

"All the same, Jim, I think we should let the ER doc check you out just to make sure," said Simon.

"Really, sir, I don't think --" Jim protested.

"I'll walk him down there," interrupted Simon as he looked at the resident. She nodded in approval.

"But sir, Sandburg --"

"... doesn't need you collapsing in his room and accidentally disconnecting some wire or tube. We're going, Ellison, then you can come back here if everything's okay." Simon's tone of voice sounded final.

"We'll be back," Simon said to the nurse. "C'mon, Jim, let's get this over with."

***********************

At least the ER's not very busy, thought Jim, trying to control his frustration as the tall and imposing captain escorted him downstairs. I feel like a kid who's being taken to the principal's office. I feel fine, can't he see that? Sandburg needs me up there, not down here. Jim didn't want to admit that if he really thought nothing was wrong, he would have flat out refused to go to the ER. After all, the medical field hadn't been much help to him in the past when his senses had gone haywire. But without Sandburg, Jim had few options on where to go for medical advice. In truth, Ellison had no idea what had brought on the bizarre attack on his hearing, and thus he had no explanation or better argument to counter Simon's common sense.

Simon signaled to the young ER doctor who had helped the trauma team earlier with Blair's initial resuscitation, and afterward had taken care of Jim's minor cuts and bruises. The doctor smiled in acknowledgment. After clarifying some instructions on a chart to one of the nurses, he turned to his former patient and the patient's captain. From the grudging stance and mannerisms of the former, he could tell the visit hadn't exactly been Ellison's idea.

"Detective, Captain," said Dr. Racine good-naturedly. "Thought I sent you guys outta here already. Couldn't stay away, eh?"

"Yes, Jim does like it here, so many comfy beds to nap on and nice people to take care of every need, right Jim?" Simon dead-panned. Jim rolled his eyes. "We had a little -- problem -- just now with Jim's hearing. Do you have a minute to check him out?"

"Problem, eh? Sure thing, Captain." Dr. Racine ushered the two men into one of the empty spots in the ER and pulled the curtain for some privacy. Jim and Simon leaned against the gurney and Dr. Racine leaned against the counter. "So what kind of problem are we talking here?" he said, looking from one man to the other. Simon's eyes narrowed as they did when he had to deal with a stubborn Ellison. Jim knew he'd better speak or deal with the consequences of disobeying a very loud unspoken order.

"Uh, well, it was really nothing, doc," Jim faltered. Simon glared a little more at the uncooperative detective. Dr. Racine crossed his arms patiently, amused by the nonverbal cues passing between the two men.

"Jim," said Simon. He had the edgy but polite tone of a man trying to get a stubborn mule to move -- of one who was twitching a riding crop in one hand for use if necessary. "If you don't tell the doc here what happened, he might have to do quite a few unnecessary tests to find out. Right, Dr. Racine?"

"Yes, sir!" Dr. Racine nodded his head and gestured in agreement. The smile playing around his lips became a bit more obvious.

"It was nothing," the mule repeated, but appeared to have resigned himself to his fate. "I was in Sandburg's room, and all of a sudden I heard this loud ringing in my ears. Simon and the nurse helped me get out of the room, and it went away. The whole thing lasted only about 30 seconds."

"Hmmm," Dr. Racine stroked his chin. "This ever happened to you before?"

"No, doc," Jim lied. He didn't want to go into the other times his senses had flipped out. And besides, this time was different. Instead of his senses becoming hyper acute or simply out of control, he'd almost lost his hearing entirely.

"Anything else happen besides the ringing? Like going deaf, or feeling dizzy?"

"Yeah. It started with ringing, but there were moments I couldn't hear anything. I could see Simon and the nurse talking, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. I can hear fine now, though. And I guess I did feel a little dizzy during the whole thing."

"A little dizzy?" Simon interjected. "You lost your balance and fell on the floor!"

"I see," said Dr. Racine. "Did you feel you were going to pass out or was it like the room was spinning?"

"Like the room was spinning, sir."

"Any pain with this whole thing?"

"No, sir."

"You taking any medications? Prescriptions or over-the-counter? No cold medicine or anything?"

"No, nothing. I stay away from that stuff," said Jim.

"Any other medical problems you might have, detective?"

"No."

"Well, let me take a quick look in your ears," said the doctor, grabbing the otoscope from its position on the wall and stretching the curled black cord over to Ellison. "Your eardrums and ear canals look fine, Ellison." And after a quick neurological exam, he added, "you seem fine, detective. No problems with your other cranial nerves, including hearing and balance, and your sensation and motor functions seem intact to me. I don't think you need a CT scan of your brain right now."

Simon and Jim both breathed a sigh of relief.

"As for what happened, I'm not sure, but you could have some inflammation or infection in your inner ear. That would explain the ringing and vertigo. These attacks can be brief, and they can happen again. Just be careful. You can take some meclizine -- an over-the-counter motion sickness pill -- if you get nauseated. That might help...." The doctor paused, thinking again. "The only strange thing is a person usually doesn't go deaf with most inner ear infections.... Your reaction was almost more like the effect of a toxin. Are you sure you aren't taking any medications?"

"No, sir, I haven't taken any medicine for months."

Dr. Racine sighed the way a physician sighs when he can't quite put a finger on what is wrong with his patient. "Well, I think you'll be okay. If it happens again or gets worse, come back and we'll check you out again."

"Thanks, doc," Jim said as he and Simon shook the doctor's hand.

Just as they turned to leave, they heard Dr. Racine's voice again. "Detective."

"Yeah?"

"What exactly happened right before you had this attack?"

Jim paused, remembering. "Well, I was standing next to Sandburg's bed. Simon was in there, too. The nurse was making sure Sandburg was okay....she was putting up some bags of antibiotics. Then my ears started ringing."

"What kind of antibiotics?"

"I don't know -- I think one of them was amp... " Jim paused, trying to remember the name.

"Ampicillin," said Simon. "It was ampicillin."

"There was another one, too. Gent-something," said Jim.

"Gentamicin?" said the doctor.

"Yeah, gentamicin. Why?" asked Jim.

"Interesting...." he said. "Well, that might explain it if you were the one getting the drug, but since you weren't --"

"What are you saying?" pressed Jim.

"I was looking for another explanation of your symptoms, but I don't think it's likely. One of the drugs you mentioned -- gentamicin -- one of its side effects is something called 'ototoxicity'. At high concentrations, usually in people who take it for a long period of time, gentamicin is toxic to the inner ear. There have been reported cases of people losing their hearing and losing their balance -- vertigo -- as a result of the drug. Don't get me wrong," he hastened to add, "gentamicin is an excellent antibiotic. We use it here all the time. It's one of the most effective antibiotics doctors have. That's why your friend is getting it. And like I said, you have to be exposed to high concentrations of gentamicin for prolonged periods to be at risk for ototoxicity, which is why doctors always monitor gentamicin blood levels when they give it. Don't worry about Sandburg -- I'm sure he'll be fine."

"Doc -- is there any chance of getting this toxic side effect from being in the same room with a patient?" queried Simon.

"No, no," Dr. Racine said quickly. "You have to get the drug intravenously. There's almost no way Detective Ellison could have been affected by it. Especially since you and the nurse weren't affected. No, I think an inner ear infection is mich more likely," finished the doctor.

Simon looked at Jim questioningly, but called out only "thanks," to Dr. Racine as he and Jim exited the ER.

Jim remained silent as they made their way to the elevators and Simon stabbed the button for the eighth floor. He pondered the pieces of information the doctor had happened to drop at the end of their conversation without knowing of Jim's senses. What if.... Possible consequences flitted in and out, but Ellison succeeded in putting them out of his mind.

Nothing could separate him from Sandburg. Nothing.

************************

Continued in Part Two...