Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Drama

Through a Window, Darkly
Part Two
by Robyn
August 1998

The elevator beeped and the lighted numbers changed as it passed floor after floor. Jim wished it would go faster. Having appeased Simon by going to the ER so the doctor could check him over, Jim's desire to get back to his partner had risen to a new level of intensity, just like the elevator rising within the building. It was all he could do to keep himself from being totally controlled by the instinctual, unbreakable bond connecting him to his friend. Blair being alone and weakened made Jim all the more anxious to be close to him, to be there to provide the emotional support and comfort Blair would need when he woke up. He tried to hide this from Simon, but one glance at his captain confirmed he wasn't doing a very good job of it.

"Jim." Simon, hands shoved in his pants pockets, looked at the detective with the genuine concern of a friend.

"Yeah, Simon?" came the somewhat absent reply.

"What do you think of what the doc said back in the ER? You think that drug is what made your senses go haywire?"

"I'll be fine, Simon. He said it was probably just some little ear infection, that's all. Nothing to be concerned about," Jim said, as if he had just been told it was only a cold.

"Ellison, you're not listening to me. What if you're more sensitive because of your sentinel abilities? You need to be more careful, Jim. Sandburg can't help you right now, and I don't know squat about your senses. If something happens...."

But Jim was no longer listening to the captain's words of reason. From within the ascending elevator he could hear something -- no, someone -- calling -- Jim....Jim....Jim....

"Floor eight," the recorded voice declared as the elevator halted, dinging as the doors slid open.

"What?" said Simon as they stepped out, realizing Jim was tuning into something.

Jim looked down the hall, toward Sandburg's room.

"It's Blair. He's calling for me." A statement so simple had never been so powerful.

"Jim! Wait!" Simon called, but the detective had already taken off -- running, no less -- down the corridor. Not even the limp seemed to slow him down.

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

Jim....Jim....Jim....

The words rose in volume as Jim's feet pounded the sport rug-carpeted floor, approaching the room of his younger friend. Jim knew Simon was close behind him, but the thing foremost in his mind was getting to Blair. He hadn't wanted Blair to have to wake up in a strange place without a familiar face to reassure him, and now it seemed he had failed in his attempt. Sentinel vision zoomed down the long hall, cutting through the glass windows and confirming Sandburg indeed stirred. Hold on, buddy, I'm coming, thought Jim over and over.

The nurses, respiratory techs, and a doctor looked up from their duties at the nurses' station as the tall man fairly blew by them with another following in long purposeful strides at a slightly more controlled pace. Most of the health care workers had questioning looks on their faces. Though not soundproof, the glass doors of the ICU rooms very effectively absorbed the noises coming from within the room over which they stood guard. The only thing escaping to reach the ears of those standing near Room 3 were the barely audible, quiet moans of a sedated young man -- moans that would stop as soon as the temporary post-surgical delirium wore off and he could settle into a more comfortable rest.

But to Jim, those cries could not have been louder had they been blasted over the hospital loudspeaker. Ignoring the calls of his captain to wait, he reached the doors to Blair's room only about five seconds before Simon did, but it was enough time for him to fling -- no, shove -- the glass doors aside before Simon could stop him. He did it with an intense vehemence, as if to say How dare you muffle the cries of my friend! How dare you separate me from the one who needs me!

"Blair!" Jim called as he set forth one step, then another, inside the room and toward the bed. "Bl--" he reached out to his friend, when the malicious ringing struck his ears again with a vengeance. More intense than the first time to the point of pain, the noise seemed to punish him for having the audacity to ignore the warning he had previously received and to challenge its power a second time. Summoning all the strength he could, he fought to regain control of his senses. But nothing he did could make it stop. Then his balance came under attack, and Jim crumpled to the ground, his face writhing in agony.

Suddenly Simon and a couple nurses rushed in, their mouths moving as if yelling his name, their hands grabbing his arms, half-dragging him outside, away from Blair. "Noooooo," Jim pleaded, struggling against the other people, though rather ineffectually since his body couldn't tell which way was up. It was strange, not even being able to hear his own voice echoing inside his head. Even more disturbing, he couldn't hear Blair's voice or heartbeat any more, though somehow he knew his partner still called his name. Jim continued to cry out. "No, please! He needs me.... "

This time they led him to a chair at the nurse's station, steadying him as he sagged down into it. Jim could feel Simon's hands firmly on his shoulders, making sure he didn't fall out of the chair and further injure himself. Gradually his hearing and balance returned. The voices sounded garbled at first, then came into focus all at once.

"Are you okay, sir?"

"Ellison! Jim! Can you hear me? Jim!"

"Sir, do you feel all right?"

"Jim!"

"I'm okay, I'm okay!" Jim burst out gruffly, adjusting from going from deaf to hearing in a matter of seconds.

"Thank God!" muttered Simon.

"Let's get this man down to the ER." This time Dr. Ford had been present for the whole spectacle.

"No, really, ma'am, I'm fine."

"I don't know about that, sir. I'm starting to think I should stick you in one of these beds myself," she said in a tone of voice both doubtful and wary.

"Please, Simon, tell her. I'll be fine." Jim met Simon's eyes. The captain looked grave, but understood the detective's request. Jim did not need another doctor probing him for information he couldn't reveal, trying vainly to diagnose a condition without crucial facts.

Simon sighed. "He'll be fine, I think. The ER doc said something about having some inner ear infection. It'll pass."

"Are you sure?" Dr. Ford still didn't look convinced.

"Yes, ma'am, I feel fine now." Jim said politely but earnestly, "Please, don't let me interrupt your duties."

Dr. Ford paused, considering the man before her, then nodded. She and the other health care workers dispersed.

Jim felt Simon touch his arm again. "C'mon, Jim. Let's go to the waiting room. We need to talk."

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

This time a different set of feelings pervaded the still-empty waiting room to which Jim and Simon retreated. They were barely inside the doorway when Jim stopped.

"Look, Simon, I know what you're going to say," began Jim, "but this could still be some big coincidence."

"A coincidence. A coincidence?" Simon tried to fight the incredulous tone which crept into his voice. A short laugh escaped as the captain looked hard at the detective standing before him, and Simon's unconscious hand gestures revealed his uncertainty at how to verbalize his concerns without alienating the gifted but stubborn Ellison. Forget the enhanced senses -- I know he's seeing this whole thing with tunnel vision right now, Simon thought ruefully. I've gotta be careful or he won't hear a word I say.

"Jim, I'm worried about you," he began.

"I know, Simon, but we still don't know for sure it was the antibiotic," Jim said.

"Then what do you think happened in there?" Simon demanded.

"I....well, it was just like the time before. All of a sudden I couldn't hear and my ears started ringing."

"Right after you walked in the room. And your balance went to pot. This wasn't old man Ellison getting a little hard of hearing, Jim. You were incapacitated! Scared the hell out of me, too. And you're forgetting the first time we walked into Blair's room, you seemed perfectly fine. We were in there for several minutes. You didn't go deaf until the nurse brought in the antibiotics and you got exposed." Even with laying out the events in a simple and logical manner, the method of choice especially for a detective, Simon knew it would take more than logic to convince Ellison his captain was right.

"That's all circumstantial evidence," Jim faltered.

"But it's all we have to go on right now. Jim, you're one of my men and you're one of my friends. I can't let you put yourself in danger for no good reason until we find out exactly what's going on!"

"But I'm fine, Simon!" insisted Jim.

"Look at me, Jim. Look at me and tell me your senses are totally fine, that it was all a freak accident." Simon looked hard at his friend.

Jim looked at Simon, but he paused.

"Tell me, Jim, what do you hear?"

"What do you mean 'what can I hear'? I can hear you, can't I?"

"Jim," Simon persisted, ignoring the sarcastic response, "right now, tell me what you can hear."

Jim paused. "The wall heater in the corner is blowing."

"Anything else?"

"Now I'm starting to hear a siren approaching the hospital."

Simon sighed heavily. "Jim, I could hear that siren faintly 10 seconds before I even asked you the question. You can't even hear as well as I can! I've always trusted you to be honest, so tell me the truth! Can you hear the extra sounds you normally hear with your sentinel senses?"

Jim listened, straining to hear voices from down the hall. He heard nothing, only the noises from the room in which he stood.

"I -- I can't." He looked at Simon with an expression which revealed the horrible reality was setting in.

"I knew it! Jim, you've already lost at least one of your senses. The first time your sentinel hearing came back right away, but this time it didn't. You can't tell me whatever's causing this isn't doing more damage. Who knows? Maybe next time your hearing won't come back. Maybe your other senses will be affected. I can't let you risk it!"

"You can't tell me what to do here, Simon. This is my decision!" Jim shot back defensively, groping vainly for some bit of control in a world which laughed wickedly at him. And losing control was one of the things Ellison feared most.

"Think of how many people you've saved with your senses. Cascade needs you." Simon paused for a breath, then rushed on. "You owe it to them -- you owe it to the people of this city to protect your gift." The captain seized one of Jim's shoulders for emphasis. "You owe it to Sandburg!"

Jim shoved Simon's hand away viciously. "I don't owe anyone anything! Don't tell me what to do! Sandburg needs me!"

Simon summoned all the earnestness and sincere concern he had, pouring it into his tone of voice and his choice of words. "You're right, Jim, he does. That's why you can't go in. He needs you! He needs you healthy, and to do that you've gotta stay out here until he gets better and doesn't need the medicine anymore. Just for a little while."

"No!"

Jim turned and started to walk away. I don't want him to be alone. I -- I don't want to be alone, he thought.

"Jim." Simon spoke more quietly now. "If Sandburg were standing here, what would he say?"

The simple question made Jim stop, though he didn't turn around.

Simon waited, knowing the other man struggled with the answer.

This isn't the way it's supposed to be! thought Jim angrily. Desperation welled up inside him and threatened to consume the last shred of rationality he had left. A sentinel isn't supposed to have to choose between his senses and his partner, between his duty to the tribe and his duty to the guide! They're supposed to be the same thing -- never clashing, never separate. Jim bit his lip unconsciously, fighting the emotions that tried to spill out. His shoulders sagged as he wondered how a self-sufficient detective like himself could feel so lost and alone. And in his heart, he knew why.

In his heart, Jim Ellison also knew the answer to Simon's question. The hard part wasn't knowing the answer. It was carrying it out. And where he would get the strength to do it, he didn't really know.

Finally, he turned back to his captain.

Simon's hands were still shoved in his trench coat pockets. He examined at the floor, wondering the same thing.

"Simon."

The taller man's head raised. He said nothing, still waiting.

Jim sighed. "I know what he would say. He'd say my senses have saved people over and over and they're too important to throw away. He'd tell me not to give my senses up because of him."

"Jim, he's your partner. He understands these senses of yours better than anyone else. Hell, he understands you better than anyone else. Maybe you should just trust him," said Simon quietly.

Jim closed his eyes for a few moments, lips pressed into a firm line. His voice dropped to a whisper. "But I can't ignore the part of me saying I should be at Blair's side. I can't."

Simon stepped carefully forward, reaching out to squeeze Jim's shoulder. "Maybe you need to listen to Blair's voice instead of your own."

Jim took a deep breath and opened his eyes to look at Simon. A small smile tipped up one side of his mouth. "Sounds like something Sandburg would say."

Simon grinned in relief. He put his arm around the other man's shoulders. "I don't think I've ever received such a disturbing compliment. C'mon, Jim. Let's go say good night to that partner of yours. And if you ever tell Sandburg I'm starting to sound like him, well, I'll have your desk moved out to the hall. If I think you still deserve one, that is."

The weary smile on Jim's face turned into a soft chuckle. He grasped Simon's shoulder. "Thanks, Simon."

"For what? Talking some sense into that thick head of yours? Someone had to." Simon shook his head, smiling as they walked back down the hall to the ICU. "The kid had better wake up soon and take his job back. This wasn't part of captain school, you know."

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

Jim and Simon stood once more outside the closed doors to Blair's room. The detective walked up to the windows to look in. His sentinel hearing remained very sub-par, so he still couldn't hear Blair's heartbeat. His eyes dilated a little to see into the darkened room. He could tell by his partner's slow, even breathing, his still form, and the regular blips on the monitors that the younger man slept comfortably again.

He turned back to Simon. Jim's face looked troubled again.

"What is it now, Jim?" said Simon. I knew that conversation was too easy, he thought.

"I--I don't like leaving Sandburg to wake up alone. I always try to be there when he wakes up in the hospital. He gets so disoriented sometimes."

"We could stay and watch him, right guys?"

Simon and Jim turned in the direction of the voice. Behind them stood Taggert, Rafe, and Brown, smiling but concerned looks on their faces. They had walked up just in time to hear Jim and Simon's last lines.

"Sure, H." Rafe grinned at Brown.

"Count me in," added Joel.

"Yeah, Jim. We could all do shifts until tomorrow morning when you come back," Brown said. The three men looked at Jim expectantly.

"Excellent idea, men," agreed Simon.

"Are you guys sure about this?" questioned Jim.

"Anything for you and Sandburg, man. You guys had a pretty rough day," said Joel. "It's the least we can do."

"Yeah, and Sandburg -- well, ordinarily he'd be a tough one to babysit, but I think he'll behave himself tonight," grinned Rafe.

"And frankly, Jim, you look awful. You need to go home and get some sleep," Brown said knowingly.

"There you have it, Ellison," said Simon proudly. "Your own personal stakeout team for ICU Room 3. They'll be sure to notify you if anything changes, right men?"

"Yes, sir!" said the other detectives in unison. Brown clicked his heels and saluted Jim, with Rafe and Joel nodding in agreement.

Jim smiled at his faithful Major Crimes cohorts. He dropped his hands to his sides in defeat. "I guess I've run out of excuses, Simon," he admitted grudgingly.

"It's about time." Pleased, the captain went to speak with the resident to arrange permission for the other men to sit with Blair.

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

The nurse in Blair's room walked around taking another set of vital signs. Had she looked up, she would have seen her patient's tall partner reach into an inside pocket of his parka and give a pair of wire-rimmed glasses to a shorter black man who nodded. She would have seen Ellison turn away from the four other men and step up one last time to the large glass windows.

She would have seen Jim put his hand up to the window and press his palm against it, trying to get as close as he could to his friend, pledging an oath to return soon. He lingered there for a few seconds, then finally turned away when he felt Simon's hand on his shoulder once again.

But by the time she did look up, she only saw the two taller men turn and walk away, out of the ICU.

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

"You gonna be okay, Jim?" asked Simon as the two men paused outside the door to the loft.

"Yeah. Thanks for the ride," said Jim, fumbling in his pocket for keys.

Simon watched Jim attempt to unlock the door, wondering if he should believe him. The detective's hand trembled as he inserted the key into the lock with a slight rattle. Simon knew the unsteadiness was more than fatigue.

The door clicked open and Jim looked up, his eyes meeting the captain's. The light bulbs hanging from the ceiling of the dimly lit hallway cast a harsh shadow on Ellison, accentuating the tired lines on his forehead and the hairs out of place.

"I'll be okay, Simon," Jim repeated, trying to sound convincing for the captain's sake -- and his own.

Simon paused, considering the man before him. "You sure?"

Jim nodded. His jaw clenched and unclenched, the only other manifestation of the sadness and exhaustion in his blue eyes.

"All right. If you need anything, you know where to call. Don't worry about coming in tomorrow morning -- I'll see you at the hospital, okay?"

"Very good," was the quiet response.

Simon smiled encouragingly, touching Jim's shoulder once more. Then he turned and left.

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

Jim opened the loft door wider and stepped inside the darkened apartment. The emptiness overwhelmed him and Ellison gave in to the sudden urge to flip on the light switch by the door. Ever since he'd gotten used to seeing in the dark, Jim simply used his sentinel vision when he came home late and Blair was already sleeping. But somehow Blair's absence made the darkness seem more malignant and Jim felt the need for light to quell its oppressiveness.

He stood to the side of the kitchen, looking around the loft aimlessly. The camping gear was stacked against one of the walls near the door. The men who had revived the truck and drove it home had kindly unloaded the back of the pickup so the stuff wouldn't be left out on the street. The ice chest sat on the kitchen floor, still containing the fish they had caught. The clock read midnight. The rest of the loft is so dark....

Somehow, he managed to make it to the bathroom and into the shower to wash away the day's grime. Rubbing the towel a few times over his head but not bothering to comb his hair, Jim thrust his arms into his gray robe, unwilling to expend the effort to straighten the robe over his shoulders. He stumbled over to the couch and sagged into it, his back and head slouching against the back of the couch. The warm water had left him at the mercy of his fatigue, both physical and emotional.

He looked over at the stairs leading to his bedroom. They seemed so high. He didn't think he could make it. Weakly, he pulled the red patterned afghan off the back of the couch and held it up to his face. Breathing in, he smelled Blair's scent on the blanket. Strange. How can I smell him and he not be here? thought Jim deliriously. He inclined his head to glance towards Blair's room. At first it seemed to be lighted. He blinked. It wasn't. Suddenly he heard a loud dripping coming from outside the loft, from the balcony eves -- the first loud noise he'd heard since the hospital. Rain. The dripping was so loud, like the loudness of noises just before one falls asleep. Jim couldn't control the volume. He felt himself falling into the world between consciousness and unconsciousness. Maybe my hearing is back....but why can't I hear his heartbeat?....how....

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

....can I just sit here?

Jim sat on the edge of the ER gurney, watching as shouting voices filled the large trauma room and people rushed around the other gurney, leaning over the body of the young man occupying it. The relatively minor wound on Jim's left leg had already been inspected and dressed by one of the medical students working in the ER, and after Jim assured them he had had a tetanus shot in the past five years, nothing more needed to be done for Ellison.

Everything seemed slightly blurred and disconnected to Jim, like an out-of body experience. The calm but commanding voices of the ER doctor and surgeon heading the trauma team activation combined with those of the nurses and techs. They had forgotten to pull the drape between the two halves of the room.

"Airway clear!"

"He's breathing. Respirations up to 20 per minute! Let's turn up the oxygen to 3 liters, people."

"Pulses weak but equal. Do we have good access yet?"

"Working on it. There! We've got two peripherals, 16 gauge. Gimme a bag of saline."

Jim heard the cutting of heavy-duty scissors as they removed Blair's clothing and examined him from head to toe in a matter of minutes.

"Foley's in. Good job!" The medical student grinned.

"Gunshot to the right upper quadrant. This guy's lost a lot of blood. I want to do an ultrasound. Do we have labs drawn yet? Let's get the type and cross, he's gonna need it."

The x-ray tech came in and shot several views with the portable machine.

"Forget the ultrasound, people. This guy needs surgery. Pulse and respirations stable for now. Let's get him up to the OR. Move!"

As they started to wheel him away, Jim lowered himself off his gurney and tried to half-hobble, half-stumble after Blair, but so many people stood in the way.

"I'm sorry, sir, you'll have to wait. He's gotta go to surgery now." A couple orderlies and a nurse turned to face Jim, blocking the way.

Another nurse handed him a pair of glasses. "Why don't you hold on to these for your friend?" Jim's hand closed around the spectacles absently, the only acknowledgment of the receipt.

All he could do was watch. He felt as helpless as Blair looked.

"Jim!" It was Simon. "Let him go. We'll see him soon. C'mon, Jim, let's go sit down. Jim! ...."

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

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch....

The sound of leaves and pine needles beneath Ellison's feet formed a marching cadence as the sentinel hurried through the forest. He had been carrying Blair for a couple hours now toward the road where he knew Simon and the other patrol vehicles would find him. It was 4 p.m. and the evening light was fading rapidly. His eyes dilated easily to accommodate the approaching darkness while his hearing focused on his precious unconscious burden.

"Hhhh. Hhhh. Hhhh. Hhhh...."

His breathing's so shallow. So rapid. Hurry, Ellison....

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

".... Jim! Behind you!" Blair screamed.

They had left the truck about a 1/4 mile away so Anderson wouldn't hear it approaching and get spooked. That left them no place to hide except the trees.

Jim whipped around as a man dropped out of the trees behind him carrying a handgun with a silencer. Anderson's cohort! He landed on top of Jim, tackling him to the ground and knocking his gun aside. Jim struggled but managed to deliver more punches than he received. Finally he threw the suspect aside. The other man landed with a thud a few feet away. He tried to get up, but with a final blow he was out cold.

Breathing hard, Jim cuffed the man and rose from the kneeling position.

He turned around, back toward where he knew Blair stood, about ten feet behind and to the right among a stand of evergreens.

Just in time to see -- and hear -- the muffled shot of Anderson's silencer as the bullet ripped through his partner.... and the younger man crumpled to the ground.

"Noooo!" Jim screamed.

Another muffled shot hissed through the air, grazing Jim's left leg.

<Bang!>

The gun fell from the criminal's hand when Ellison's bullet struck him fatally in the chest in the next instant.

"Sandburg! Blair!" The detective limped over to the crumpled form of his friend, gritting his teeth and silently cursing his own leg for having the gall to slow him down.

Blair lay on his side, curled up. He didn't respond to Jim's voice.

"Blair, buddy. No, oh, no," Jim murmured over and over, fighting to control his emotions of anger, guilt, and most of all, fear. He gently turned Blair onto his back, quickly finding the hole in his partner's jacket. Pushing the sweater and shirt aside, he found the wound, oozing red everywhere.

Ripping off his parka and then his flannel shirt, Jim didn't even feel the frigid coldness of the forest air through his gray t-shirt. He tore a strip from the flannel shirt and pressed it against the wound. It soaked up the blood greedily.

Then the wilted body of his friend moved. "Ughh," a weak moan managed to escape from Blair's lips.

"Blair!" Jim moved so he could see his partner's face more closely, still reaching with his arm to press on the wound. "I'm here, buddy. I'm here."

Another moan, this time a little louder, came forth as Blair began to feel the pain. His eyes opened, then squinted shut, his face paling.

"Shhh, buddy. Try not to move. You've been shot."

"Jim."

"Yeah, Blair?"

"How bad is it?" he whispered hoarsely.

"You're bleeding pretty bad. I've gotta get you to a hospital," Jim said. His voice sounded matter-of-fact, but his hands trembled. "You'll be okay, buddy, don't worry."

"You...get shot...too, Jim?" Blair managed between breaths.

"Just grazed on the leg. I'll be okay. Save your strength, Chief."

Blair exhaled, fighting the fogginess and black dots now appearing in his vision. He tried to focus on the warm sensation of the hand gently stroking his forehead.

"I'm so sorry, Chief. I should've waited for backup," he murmured.

"It's not...your fault, Jim... We...had to...go after...him."

Jim was silent. He knew nothing would convince him that he shouldn't have tried to take Anderson alone.

"I'm gonna get you to the truck, okay?"

"Okay," Blair replied weakly.

Using both arms, Jim reached under Blair's body and tried as gently as possible to pick him up. Nevertheless, Blair groaned and his face turned an even paler shade.

"Sorry, Chief, I --"

"Jim."

"Yeah?" They were walking now.

"Do me...a favor...try...to avoid...the potholes..." the younger man managed a smile with effort.

Jim nodded. He bit his lower lip to keep the tears away.

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

Crunch, crunch, crunch....

The heartbeat felt thready now, the breathing even more shallow.

Faster, Ellison, faster....

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

Finally, thought Ellison, the truck is in sight. A quarter of a mile seemed a lot longer with the invaluable load he carried and the searing pain in his lower leg getting harder to ignore.

"Blair, you still with me?" asked Jim.

"Yeah, Jim," the anthropologist managed.

Something's not quite right. The truck seems -- lop-sided. Jim focused in on the truck. Damn! His heart sank when he saw the shot-out tires. How would he get Sandburg to the hospital in time? His mind whirled with possible solutions -- and dreadful consequences.

"Jim -- is something wrong?" Blair asked, noticing the slowing of Jim's steps.

"Someone's shot three of the tires on the truck, Chief."

"How're we gonna get out of here, man?" Blair's voice was quiet.

"We'll get out of here, just maybe not as quickly as we would've before," Jim reassured him. Maybe saying it will make me believe it, too, he thought. He walked the last few feet to the truck more quickly, awkwardly maneuvering open the passenger side cab door and gently laying his partner on the seat.

"How?" asked Blair weakly as he leaned back against the passenger seat like a limp rag.

"Simon's already on his way out here, remember?" said Jim, climbing into the cab himself. "I'll just call him and tell him to rustle up a helicopter for you, Chief." Jim seized the radio and spoke into it. "This is Ellison. Banks, do you read?"

For a couple seconds the only answer was static. Then, "Banks here. Ellison, come in."

"Simon, I need you to call for a helicopter. Blair's been shot."

<static> "Jim! Is he okay?" <static>

"He needs to get to a hospital soon."

<static> "Roger that. But I'm afraid we're still a good two hours away from you at the least, and the way the fog is coming up, the 'copter's gonna to have to follow us for most of the way." <static>

Jim shut his eyes tightly, his mouth set in a thin, hard line in reaction to Simon's words, even though the realistic part of him had expected the bad news. "Another thing, sir," he continued. "Anderson took the tires out on my truck. I'm gonna have to meet you on a different road so the helicopter can land. I'm gonna carry Sandburg through the forest to Route 89. I'll come out where it crosses the north fork of the Steel River."

<static> "Roger. Route 89 and north fork of the Steel. We'll be there as soon as we can, Ellison. And Jim, be careful." <static>

"Will do, sir. Ellison out."

Jim grabbed a backpack and stuck a few survival items in it -- matches, a canteen of water, and the last of the granola bars, and swung it over his shoulders. Going around to Blair's side of the truck, he opened the door again.

"C'mon, Chief. We're going for a little walk."

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

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

Drip, drip, drip.

The heavy mist had distilled onto the tree branches and pine needles, wetting the hair and faces of the two figures moving steadily through the eerily quiet forest.

They had been walking for over an hour now. Jim had only allowed himself one short break for a drink of water and a chance to wrap his leg with a piece from his shirt. The leg caused him serious pain now, and he could no longer avoid limping. His arms burned from the dead weight he carried. His partner had been drifting in and out for the past 20 minutes.

Something tugged weakly at one of the front edges of Jim's open jacket. "Jim?" the whisper barely audible now.

Jim looked down to see the familiar hand grasping his jacket. Their eyes looked deeply at each other, each desperately focusing on the fact that things would be okay as long as they remained together, each trying to instill courage into the heart of the other. "Yeah, Blair?" said Jim, continuing to trudge ahead.

"Your leg...it's...bothering you...more?" The younger man sounded even more short of breath than before.

"I'm okay, Chief. Just try to rest." He couldn't hide the clenched jaw, however.

"I figured...as much... Guess we're...gonna...have to...find...that...pain...dial...again."

"Sandburg, please. You've got to save your strength," pleaded Jim.

"I...don't know...how many...minutes...of consciousness...I have left..." whispered Blair. With effort, he moved his cool hand slowly from Jim's jacket to rest on his partner's chest on top of the strongly beating heart. The gesture comforted both partners in the most natural way. Blair took another shaky breath, then continued. "I've gotta...help...you...if we're...gonna...make it...."

Jim sighed. Apparently it doesn't work to protest the instructions of a guide, even when he's seriously wounded, he thought.

"You're...the one...doing all...the...hard...work...here...aren't...you?"

Jim smiled. "Guess there's some truth to that statement, Chief."

"Now...focus...on...your leg...see it...as a fire...now...picture...the rain...soothing...it...."

As Jim listened to the words and felt the touch of his guide, he felt the pain wash away. How easy it was, considering he'd been constantly fighting to turn down his pain dial for the past 45 minutes.

"Thanks, buddy. It worked."

But his partner's hand slowly slid from its place on Jim's chest.

Blair had drifted off into the unconscious world again.

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

Slowly, he turned back toward Blair.

<Pffftt!> Again, the muffled shot of Anderson's silencer -- again, the bullet slowly ripped through his partner -- again, the younger man slowly crumpled to the ground.

"Noooo!" Jim screamed. He tried to run, but his legs felt like jelly. He moved so agonizingly slow....

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

The ringing in his ears -- it was so loud.

"Let go!" screamed Jim. "Don't take me away from him!"

But hands pulled him away, and he felt helpless to fight them....

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

There he is, sleeping in that awful ICU bed, not knowing they won't let me in, that they won't let me stay.

He put his hand to the window, the glass feeling cold beneath his touch, like an impenetrable barrier. Using the senses he had left, Jim focused in as hard and as closely as he could on his partner, the most important person in the world to him, his missing link to the real and mystical worlds.

Suddenly, the bed and the person on it started to shrink, to get farther away, smaller, and smaller.

"No!" cried Jim. "Don't take him away from me!"

He plastered his other hand against the window also, grabbing at nothing.

"Noooo! Blairrrr!...."

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Continued in Part Three...