Twenty four hours.

by Sealie

Credits:
Robyn supplied the medical information and advice that made this story bigger and better. Any errors left are my own. Becky was kind enough to point out the Americanisms/Briticisms (is that a word?) and the grammatical thingies.

Post submitting to Senfic - Linda and BFreeh were adept at spotting words that I missed out and suggesting replacements/corrections allowing additional editing to take place.

DAY ONE - 04:00 hrs

Time: - 00:00

"Jim..."

The quiet voice insinuated itself in his unconsciousness, disturbed the tired detective turned over onto his stomach. His brow creased as a quiet voice nagged him. But muted by a white noise generator and earplugs the plaintive call was ignored.

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Below, wrapped around the toilet bowl, Blair Sandburg, teaching assistant, anthropologist and observer with the Cascadeís Major Crime police department whispered the name of his blessed protector again and again. He barely knew where he was. All he knew was that he was in pain; the migraine was threatening to cleave his brain in two. The pain in his neck and back was secondary.

"Oh, God!"

He retched pitifully, missing the toilet completely, leaving bile on the cold tiles.

"Jim, please."

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Upstairs, Jim awoke confused. Automatically, he allowed his senses to extend forth. His hearing balked at the sphere of white noise, but he smelled the sour odour of vomit.

He was barrelling into the bathroom before he realised that he was out of bed. Blair lay sprawled face down on the floor.

"Jesus, Blair!"

He dropped to his knees beside his friend.

"Oh. Shit." His hands fluttered like fledglings, not knowing where to touch. The heat from the studentís body made the air shimmer to his sentinel eyes.

"Blair, can you hear me?" He bent down low, gently feeling the back of Blairís neck -- appalled by the heat emanating from his body. Carefully, supporting the anthropologistís neck, as if handling a baby, he rolled Blair onto his side.

Constricted lungs took in a much needed gasp of air as mucous drained from a slack mouth. Tipping his head back, Jim ensured that Blairís airway was open, then with a deft hook of his fingers he cleared out the final dregs of mucous and vomit from the studentís mouth. The airway clear, Jim checked his pulse; it was too weak and thready.

"Blair, make a sound."

A small groan was the only response, but any degree of consciousness had to be a good sign.

"Blair," Jim kept his voice calm and even. "Iím going to wrap you in these towels."

He suited actions to words, dragging the freshly washed and dried towels from the linen closet and swathing them around his friend.

"Iím going to call the paramedics now."

He dashed out of the bathroom. The cell phones were on the table beside the front door. 911 yielded a recorded message since all the lines were busy. Without pausing a beat, he called police dispatch.

"Itís Ellison, from Major Crime. I need an ambulance at 852 Prospect Place, apartment 307. Officer down," he finished curtly.

He waited for the woman to repeat the instructions, then slammed the phone down. He was back at Blairís side in a heartbeat.

"Hey, kid." Gently, he brushed the hair back from a hot, sweaty forehead. The studentís temperature had to be around 104oF if not higher.

"Blair, can you tell me whatís wrong?"

A low incoherent moan was his only answer. The kid had come home late from university with the beginnings of a cold. Tired and under the weather, he had mooched around for a short while and then sloped off to bed.

Jim had just thought that he was coming down with a cold.

Now Blair lay on the cold floor barely conscious and seriously ill.

"Ellison?" It was Rafeís voice.

"Bathroom!" Jim yelled, causing Blair to whimper.

"Hey, hey," Jim soothed, running a comforting hand along his friendís back.

"Ellison?" Rafe kicked the partially closed door open, and dove into the bathroom covering the older detective with his weapon.

"Thereís no intruder," Jim snarled. "Blairís ill. Go and direct the paramedics up here when they arrive. Now! Heís critical."

"Whhrr?" Rafe holstered his magnum and scurried out of the bathroom.

"Sssssh, Blair. Rafeís gone to get help."

Helplessly, he tucked the towels around the inert form. The studentís temperature had risen another notch and the faintest of tremors rocked his body.

"Sir, can we get in?"

Jim looked up into the dark eyes of an old, greying paramedic.

"Thereís not enough room for four," he continued patiently, pointing to his partner, a young man laden down with medical equipment.

Galvanised, Jim stood, clearing the area. The old man was already moving forward, subtly directing Jim out of the room into the corridor. The detective hovered at the doorway as the paramedic knelt beside the student. He felt for the pulse at the neck and began to assess his patient.

"Heís going into shock."

The paramedicís hands were a startling contrast to Blairís pale, waxy skin. The younger paramedic shouldered past Jim and knelt beside his superior. The older man patted his patientís shoulder.

"Iím just going to make..." He looked up at Jim, a question on his face.

"Blair," Jim supplied. "Blair Sandburg."

"Blair, my name is Doug. Iím just going to turn you onto your back and see what we can do about making you more comfortable."

On the count of three they turned the student over. The sheen of perspiration drew Jimís eye. His curls were slicked back with sweat. Doug peeled away the towels exposing Blairís hairy chest. The paramedic accepted a stethoscope from his partner and listened to his patientís heart and lungs. Blairís features were slack; he was deeply unconscious.

"What happened. Can you give me any information?" Doug asked.

"He came home from university at eight oíclock with a headache. He thought that he was starting a cold. He went to bed an hour later," Jim said with his customary brevity. "I heard him throwing up about five minutes ago. Heís puked twice, three timesÖ"

Doug shared a concerned glance with his partner.

"The university?" Even as the paramedic asked his questions, he was clicking together a backboard and setting it beside the unconscious student.

"Heís a Ph.D. student and teaching assistant. He also has an observerís position with the Cascade P.D.."

"Damn."

Jim heard the soft expletive and felt chilled by it; it wasnít like paramedics to utter profanities -- they erred on the side of optimism.

"Spends a lot of time at the university, does he?" Doug asked as they rolled Blair onto the backboard.

"Not as much time as he should," Jim said candidly.

"How old is he?"

"Uhm, just turned 29."

He watched the paramedic pat the crook of Blairís arm searching for a vein. It took him seconds to insert a needle and attach an I.V. port. The two paramedics spoke on a level that did not require words. The younger man wrapped a tube around Blairís head and inserted an oxygen cannula in his nose as Doug enveloped the student in blankets. A quick short nod and they bent low to grab either end of the stretcher.

Jim moved to help them as they almost drew the stretcher upright to manhandle the student through the bathroom doorway and out into the hall. Strapped securely to the stretcher, Blair remained solidly unconscious as they managed to clear the small room. Once out of the bathroom, Doug breathed a sigh of relief.

"Get the elevator, sir," he directed.

Jim bolted out of the loft to the elevator. It seemed to take hours for the elevator to make the trip from the ground floor up to the third. The paramedics were in place when the doors with agonising slowness finally opened. With urgent, but unpanicked, haste they pushed into the elevator before the doors were completely open. Jim squeezed his way in and smacked the doors shut.

Blair moaned under his breath grabbing Jimís attention.

"Blair?" He crouched down and caught the studentís free hand.

"Uh?" The smallest of questions crossed the studentís lips.

"Hey, hey..." Jim stroked the sweat matted curls off Blairís forehead. "Weíre on the way to hospital--just to check you out."

"Hurts.... Head." His eyes were open the barest sliver and his eyelashes were clumped together by unintentional tears.

"Your head hurts?" Jim questioned softly.

The student moaned an affirmative. The eyes drifted shut.

"No, no, no. Stay with me."

The alarm chimed and the doors opened. Poised the paramedics hurried out onto the street and straight into the back of the ambulance that stood at the bottom of the steps with its doors wide open. Rafe was on guard.

"Whatís the matter with him?" he demanded.

Neither paramedic answered as they efficiently prepared their patient for transport. With a nod from Doug the young paramedic climbed into the driverís seat and gunned the engine. Jim forced his way into the vehicle, plumping himself beside his friend. Doug didnít give him a second glance.

"Doors," he ordered.

Rafe blinked once and then slammed the doors shut on them. Jim was barely aware as the ambulance pulled away, its sirens howling.

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Doug barked into the ambulanceís radio transmitter, "Mavis?"

There was an answering squawk.

"Mavis, Iíve got an adult male, 29, 150 pounds. One day history of fever to 105, stiff neck." Reaching for a small light he peeled back and eyelid and shone it into the kidís eyes. Blair groaned painfully. "Photophobia; nausea and emesis times three; temperature 105; pulse 120; respirations 35; blood pressure 100/60 and a GCS 2-4-4. Sat 98% on three litres via nasal cannula. I.V. placed."

Jim was boggled by the alphabet soup.

"ETA?" he directed the question to his colleague, before dispatch could ask.

"One minute."

They swerved around a corner. Doug reached across Blair and braced his unconscious body. Jim kept his grip firm on Blairís shoulder. The discordant wail of sirens echoed throughout the vehicle.

"Mavis, ETA is one minute."

"Proceed to Cascade General. Thereíll be a team waiting. Paul wants to talk to you."

They careened around another corner, both paramedic and detective held Blair securely.

"Doug?" A tinny voice came over the speaker. "This is Dr. Stevens. I want you to start normal saline at 120 cc/hr. No more; no less."

"Understood."

Doug reached for the bag of saline and attached it to the I.V. heíd placed earlier. "Here make yourself useful." He handed the bag to Jim, who knew that there was a hook designed to support the I.V. just above Blairís head. It was just to give him something to do.

Abruptly the ambulance came to a halt.

"Weíre at the door. Shit, that was good time."

The younger man clambered back into the main body of the vehicle. "Four police cars cleared the way. I think weíve made the record."

The doors were thrown open and a team were waiting in the foyer. A bespectacled, ginger haired doctor, an ashen trainee and two nurses surged forwards. They grabbed for the patientís stretcher and hauled it out onto the tarmac. The wheels automatically extended beneath the stretcher and without pausing a beat they moved en mass into the hospital.

Doug repeated the brief history he had compiled as they whisked through the E.R. and into the closest treatment suite.

Displaying the same quiet professionalismĖthat bordered on telepathyóthat Jim had seen the paramedics display, they positioned the stretcher beside a gurney and then, as one, lifted Blair onto the higher bed.

"Dr. Stevens, we have to leave," Doug said quietly. "Let us know how it goes."

The ginger haired doctor nodded abstracted, already concentrating on his patient. The dark skinned nurse beside him, her hair piled up on top of her head in a Nairobi style crown, nodded and flashed the paramedic a smile.

Doug patted Jimís shoulder reassuringly before he and his partner left.

"Rocephin, I.V.. 2 grams. Now, people!"

The nurse already held a bag containing the antibiotic solution. Dr. Stevens hooked it up immediately.

"What do we have here?" A cultured voice cut through the throng of people clustered around the student. An impeccably dressed woman walked into the treatment room her demeanour assessing the staff before her.

The ginger haired doctor nodded respectfully. "Blair Sandburg. Grad student Ė brought in unconscious."

"I see. Go ahead, Dr. Stevens." Pushing her hands deep into the pockets of her white coat, signalling that she was only observing, she retreated to the far corner of the room and watched, her black eyes calculating.

One nurse began to strip the blankets from the studentís body as the other proceeded to cut his sodden shorts off. Jim hovered just inside the door trying to meld with the wall. If they noticed him they would remove him from the assessment room.

"Foleyís in," a nurse reported. The ginger haired doctor nodded. He was poised at Blairís head peering into his eyes. The other nurse was drawing blood.

"No apparent physical injuries." The junior doctor finished palpitating Blairís abdomen and glanced at his superior, seeking reassurance.

"Yes." Dr. Stevens cast an assessing glance down Blairís naked form.

"Right, I want: CBC with manual differential; Chem 7; blood culture times two; UAÖ" the doctor ordered. "I also want a lumbar puncture: glucose level, protein, cell count, gram stain and culture."

Jimís head came up. He went pale; understanding the ramifications of the request. They wanted a spinal tap; was it to see if Blairís symptoms fit the deadly disease known as meningitis?

Blair was a pale ragdoll, limp in their hands as they assessed his condition. A bright red blanket was draped over his lower torso. Several hands gently turned Blair onto his side. Jim continued to watch Ė unable to turn away. Carefully the doctor in charge swabbed the base of his spine with betadine and then using an almighty long needle punctured the taut skin.

A pain filled moan sounded loud in the Sentinelís sensitive ears. The nurse, to whom Doug had spoken, immediately crouched at Blairís head and whispered reassuringly. Cloudy, straw coloured spinal fluid filled the hypodermic syringe. The needle was passed to the other nurse as Blair was resituated on his back. Dr. Stevens scanned the equipment attached to Blair.

"Update?" he requested.

"Temp at 105. Pulse: 140. Respirations at 50," the nurse at Blairís head reported. She glanced at one of the many monitors that Blair had been attached to. "ABG 7.2, pCO2 60 and pO2 40."

"Heís going into shock. I want him intubated," he ordered. "Aziz, you do it."

The junior doctor scuttled to the head of the bed to obey his superiorís instructions; evidently Cascade General was a teaching hospital. Jim clenched his hands behind his back, standing at attention, as he watched the continuing drama unfold.

"1c.c.succinylcholine and 5c.c. versed," Aziz directed. The paralytic and narcotic drugs were immediately injected into the studentís saline I.V. Tipping Blairís head back, the young doctor braced himself. Then laryngoscope in one hand and intubation tube in the other, Aziz proceeded to insert the tube down Blairís throat. Seeing his unease the woman, who was evidently a consultant of some kind, moved forward and watched with an eagle eye. With an unintentional sigh of relief, the student doctor intubated the observer without mishap.

"Bag him; weíre going straight to ICU," Dr. Stevens instructed as Aziz reached for a ventilator unit standing beside the gurney.

"Paul," the nurse drew Dr. Stevensí attention to a small purple blemish that had risen on Blairís forearm in the space of a heartbeat. "His blood pressureís 70/50."

"Right, people, we have all the information we need. ICU a.s.a.p." Moving as one they began to push the gurney out of the treatment room. It was then that Dr. Stevenís noticed the detective.

"Who are you?" he asked. A senior nurse was already scurrying to his side intent on helping him out of the treatment room and to the waiting room like a good family member.

"Detective James Ellison. Blair Sandburg is my partner." Jim emphasised.

The consultant next to Aziz raised an elegant dark eyebrow. "You need to be checked out and given prophylactic antibiotics. Marilyn?"

The nurse who was tugging on his elbow nodded.

Halfway out of the door pushing Blairís gurney into the hall, Dr. Stevens stopped. "I thought that Doug said that he was a grad student?"

"He consults at the Cascade P.D.. Heís doing his thesis on closed societies. Why?"

"Iíll deal with it, Paul; see to your patient."

Dr. Stevens grunted and continued, with his staff, to push the gurney to along the corridor to the elevator. Jim watched, heart in his mouth, until the doors of the hospital elevator closed on them. His last view was of Blairís pale face masked by tubes.

"DetectiveÖEllison?" the consultant probed, questioning.

Jim nodded.

"Detective Ellison, we need to inform the public health authority that we have a possible case of meningitis. In this kind of situation the people with whom Blair may have been in contact with need to be treated to prevent further illness. That includes you."

"Whatís his prognosis?" Jim asked, ignoring her words.

"I canít say. Heís critical. The next twenty four hours will tell us either way."

Jim clung to the words. "IÖIím Ö Iím a trained medic," his words stumbled in haste to explain himself properly. "IÖ know whatÖmeningitisÖ means," he ran out of breath.

"Detective Ellison," the consultant said compassionately. "Youíve had a shock. This isnít some kind of gun battle, something that youíve been trained for. Youíre allowed to be thrown off kilter. Rest assured your partner will receive the best of care."

Her words had the gilt of being oft repeated. Jim knew their cadence, as a detective he had often broached victims with bad news. Being the recipient only meant that he knew the consultantís tricks and could see beyond her hollow words.

"Is there anyone we can call for you?" Her carefully crafted speech shook him out of his shocked retreat.

"Thatís okay." Jim took a deep breath. "Youíll need to talk to Blairís supervisor, Michelle Lambert, to find out who heís been in contact with at Rainier. The health centre on campus should be able to help you. His observerís position with the Cascade P.D. is with Major Crime. Captain Simon Banks is in charge, you should liase with him about treating the staff."

"Iíd like to examine you," she said softly.

"Iím not ill," Jim said with sentinel sureness.

"Youíll allow me to determine that myself." It wasnít a question.

"Can we do it later? I want to see how my partner is doing."

She crossed her arms and viewed him as a parent studied a child. "It will take the staff a while to settle him in ICU. We should have half an hour or so while the lab runs the bulk of the tests that Paul requested. You wonít be able to see him until then."

Jim nodded perfunctorily. He cast one glance at the closed elevator doors, before following her to another treatment room.

"Doctor." He gained her attention. Blair would kill him if he didnít volunteer this information. "Iím a walking allergic reaction. I got a pretty spectacular rash the last time I was prescribed penicillin. I donít want to experience it again."

"Where was it?" She smiled.

DAY ONE - 06:45 hrs

Time:- 02:45

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A figure of despair, Jim sat in the foyer outside the critical care ICU ward. The hard, unyielding plastic chair made him feel as if someone had pummelled him repeatedly. He rested his elbows on his knees and cradling his head in one hand leaned forwards. He could see nothing; he could hear nothing. Blair was somewhere within the rooms beyond but all he could sense was the pall of sickness and the drone of life saving machines.

Inside the unit he could see a nurse scrutinising the bank of monitors at her station. She flashed him a sympathetic smile before turning her attention back to a print out.

It had been much longer than the half an hour that the consultant had mentioned. A body of nurses and doctors had rushed in and out of both the critical and the adjacent surgical care ICU ward while he waited. Who was Blairís personal physician? Or were they all involved in his care? While he wanted Blair to be the centre of their universe, he knew that other people were fighting for their lives tonight.

Absently, he turned over the antibiotics that the consultant had prescribed in his hand. He did not want to take any until after he had seen his friend, just in case he had some weird sentinel reaction.

"Jim!"

The detective started. His superior, Captain Simon Banks, stormed towards him, only slowing when the duty nurse hissed at him to be quiet. Banks was a mess, pulled from his bed he hadnít had the time to shave and the dark stubble on his cheeks coupled with blood shot eyes made him appear demonic.

"I got a call from Henri on nightshift. He said that a bunch of doctors descended on the station and started handing out antibiotics Ďcos some student worker had come down with meningitis." He took a calming breath. "Why didnít you call me?"

Jim blinked stupidly up at his superior and then consulted his watch. He had been at the hospital for nigh on two hours, more than sufficient time for the doctors to identity whether or not Blair had meningitis and what form. They must have initiated health procedures immediately after diagnosis. Why hadnít he been informed? Pushing past Banks he strode into the critical care unit and to the observation desk.

"I want to talk to someone about my roommate, Blair Sandburg. Youíve had sufficient time to settle him."

"Iím sorry, sir." The nurse lifted tired eyesóbehind a mask of expertise, he could see exhaustion. "Weíve been very busy tonight. Someone will talk to you as soon as possible."

"Can you at least tell me how heís doing?" Jim said with gritted teeth, fighting for patience.

"I donít know, sir. But I will find someone to talk to you." She consulted a clipboard on her desk. "Blair Sandburg?" With a short, stubby finger she followed the list of patient names. "Blairís been assigned Doctor Doyle. Heís very good. Iíll call him for you."

"Thank you," Jim said tightly. He allowed Simon to draw him away. They ended up in the gaily coloured family room attached to the critical care unit. Jim sagged onto a soft chair. The montage of jungle creatures painted on the wall drew his eye and distracted his sentinel senses. The beginnings of a headache weighed him down. He leaned forwards and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"What the Hell happened, Jim?" The captain sat, shifting uncomfortably.

"I was stupid." Jim berated himself. "Blair came in complaining about a sore throat and bad headache and I didnít check him out. I just let him go to bed. Now heísÖ"

"Hey, hey," Simon interrupted him. "How many times has the kid had a cold since youíve known him?"

"A few," he admitted. "But I should know better. Iím a medic. Universities are hotbeds of this kind of thing. I should have checked him out."

"Youíre a sentinel; not god," Simon said waspishly.

Jim snorted.

"Excuse me? Youíre here for Blair Sandburg?" A doctor, judging by his garish green scrubs, cocked his head to the side in question.

"Yes." Simon stood up and held out his hand. "Iím Captain Simon Banks, Blair works for me in Major Crime. This is his partner, Jim Ellison."

"Doyle." The man identified himself, first shaking Banksí and then Jimís hand.

The Sentinel was struck by the strength in the manís hand. They were musicianís hands, long fingered, lightly callused pads and a narrow palm. The grip was cool and professional. He appeared to be somewhere in his early-thirties. Blair hadnít been assigned some wet-behind-the-ears trainee.

"Howís Blair?" Jim said directly.

"Poorly Ė I mean ill." The doctor scratched his head, ruffling his cap of short, russet brown curls. "Weíve identified the causative agent and he has meningococcal meningitis. We do have very good antibiotics to treat it with, though. Heís on I.V. antibiotics and a dopamine drip."

"Is he conscious?"

The doctorís green eyes shuttered for a moment. "No, heís sedated. Blairís in septic shock. The rash means that heís critical at moment. With the aggressive support necessary, it is better to keep him sedated. He would be very uncomfortable if he was conscious. And to be frank his degree of consciousness wouldnít be very high."

"Prognosis?" Jim questioned tightly.

"Weíll know more in the morning."

"Can I see him?"

Doyle assessed him, his brows knitting together as he thought. "One of you. Thatís you--I guess--Detective Ellison. Ten minutes. No more; no less. Then you, Captain Banks, take your man home and make sure he gets some rest."

Simon nodded, a faintly bemused grin on his face in light of the doctorís no nonsense instructions.

"Thank you," Jim whispered. He felt almost faint.

"Iíll come with you; to answer any questions. But first Iíd like you to wear a gown and mask; weíre going to be keeping Blair in isolation for the next twenty four hours."

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The small cubicle was poorly lit. A single overhead light cast sharp shadows on the unconscious form lying on the bed. Blair was stripped to the skin, only a small white towel covering his genitals. A fan whirred beside the bed pushing cooling air over him. The bedís occupant was surrounded by equipment. A monitor glowed eerily at the head of the bed. Another screen attached to a console was placed between the bed and the window. The physician smoothly bypassed the detective to stand at his patientís side.

Doyle stuck something in the grad studentís ear. "Weíve got his temperature down to 104oF," he reported.

Jim remained statue-like, by the door. The rhythmic hiss of the ventilator pushing oxygen into the studentís lungs provided a musical counterpoint to the whirring fan. Jim was reminded inexplicably of the golden episode. The blue tube pushed through Blairís unresponsive lips was secured by sticky tape and elastic; the kid would complain vociferously when the doctors had to tear off the tape.

Doyle moved around to the other side of the bed, and Jim had his first unfettered view of his partner.

Blair was awash with tubes and wires. He counted four I.V.s, two of each, snaked into ports imbedded in the studentís skinny arms. Another I.V. port seemed to be placed on his chest, just above the pectoral muscle. A hand-sized portion of chest hair had been shaved to accommodate the port and tape. Several sticky pads had been stuck to his chest, and wires trailed to the monitors behind his head. He even had one pad stuck on his forehead and another stuck on his temple.

The bright red beating of the pulse-ox meter attached to Blairís finger caught Jimís eye. The beat was reassuringly steady. A blood pressure cuff was wrapped around his right bicep. Beneath the towel, affording Blair a small degree of dignity, a tube dealt with bodily functions that he was unable to handle.

Blindly, Jim found his way to Blairís side. He gripped the rail on one side of the bed until his knuckles were white. He didnít know where to touch. Dots of lurid blood rash had risen on Blairís arms and legs.

"Shit," he whispered in the deathly quiet of his own mind.

"Weíve got him on Rocephin for the meningitis," Doyle said into the silence. He twisted the bag hanging on the pole beside him, checking the flow of liquid that fed into an I.V. port. "That should deal with the infection. Next to you is saline to keep him hydrated. He going to need all his energy." Doyle smiled ghoulishly in the poor light. "But he strikes me as a fighter."

"Yeah, he is," Jim said softly.

"Donít touch anything."

"No, I wonít." It was clichťd but there didnít appear to be anywhere where he could touch without tangling with a tube or interfering with a life saving machine.

Whipping out a stethoscope despite the fact that the ECG was recording a regular beat the doctor listened to Blairís chest.

"His lungs are fine. But his heart sounds a bit fast. Heís doing as well as can be expected. Would you like to sit with him for a little while, Detective Ellison?"

Jim could only nod, mutely.

"The ECG is linked to the monitors at the nursesí desk. Shaunís assigned to Blair tonight; heíll pop in every ten minutes or so. If you need to alert the nurses or myself, thereís an alarm button at the head of the bed."

Jim automatically checked its position.

"Ten minutes and then you have to leave, detective," Doyleís tone brooked no argument. "You can use that chair." He pointed to another back-breaking chair in the corner of the room.

Jim stood at parade rest until the wiry built doctor had left. He ignored the chair, standing on guard over his friend and partner. There was evidence of improvement, Blair was no longer almost convulsing in fever. The student was breathing regularly, albeit with the assistance of a ventilator.

"Oh, kid."

Ten minutes. Ten minutes watching Blair fight an insidious enemy. An enemy that Jim couldnít fight in the grad studentís stead. Damn.

"Jim?" A whispered voice caught his attention. Simon slipped in through the door and closed it quietly. He held a mask against his nose and mouth. "How is he?"

Jim welcomed the intrusion. "The doctorís being cagey. He wonít like you in here."

"Strikes me as a guy you shouldnít argue with. I just wanted to see the kid. Iíll only stay a minute." Simon edged his way to Jimís side. Jim heard the intake of breath as Blairís condition registered on the older man. His colour, his stillness, the machines, the tubes, the shrunken form on the bed all bespoke of serious illness. Simon reached out to touch the student but stopped just short of touching his arm.

"Why havenít they covered him up?" Simon demanded. "Heíll get cold."

"Theyíre trying to get his temperature down. I guess they didnít want to subject him to an ice bath or something."

"Damn."

The silence stretched between them as they stood sentinel over their friend.

"I donít know what to do," Jim finally admitted. "Itís not like Quinn; he was up and whining a couple of hours after theyíd removed the bullet. I caught those bastards who drugged him..."

"You feel powerless," Simon interpreted.

Jim ground his teeth. He didnít like it stated so baldly. There was absolutely nothing that he could do; it was an unfamiliar situation.

"Ah, Detective Ellison and Captain Banks. Thatís two people for five minutes. I guess that thatís ten minutes. Your time is up." Doyle snapped at them. He stepped back swinging the ICU unit door open and he waved them through. His green eyes flashed fire as he waited impatiently.

Simon, chastised, exited. His expression fixed, Jim turned back to his partner. He finally reached down and brushed Blairís cheek.

"You hang on, Chief. Iíll be back in a couple of hours or so. I have to appease your good doctor first."

Doyle stood by the nursesí desk, pacing angrily. He rounded on Banks as soon as he closed Blairís door.

"Neisseria meningitidis meningitis is highly contagious. You cannot just waltz into an ICU room without permission, Captain Banks." As he became more irate a lilt of an Irish accent crept into his words.

"Surely you can appreciate that having his friends close byÖ" Simon began.

"Donít patronise me," Doyle flared. "Thatís why I gave Detective Ellison ten minutes. I donít just give these orders for the good of the family. I give them for the patientís benefit. Blair is in a vulnerable state," even though his voice was low, none of his ire was lost. "I wish to keep him unstressed. That means ten minutes for the patientís benefit and to help the patientís family. No more; no less."

"Ten minutes?" Jim snarled.

"Yes," Doyle nipped his protest in the bud. "Ten minutes at six oíclock in the morning. How well do you sleep when someoneís sitting next to you when youíre trying to rest? Go home and come back after ten. Your friend will still be asleep."

"What if he wakes up?" Jim objected, despite his best efforts he sounded plaintive.

Doyleís expression softened. "He is sedated. He wonít regain consciousness for at least forty eight hours. You can come back in five or six hours and sit with him, on the hour every hour until ten oíclock, then youíll have to go home and rest, and repeat this routine tomorrow. Do you want to get ill? We havenít given you antibiotics just for fun. You are at risk. Do you want to get ill and also compromise your friendís recovery?"

"You play dirty, Doc." A respectful grin flashed across Jimís usually impassive face.

"In my patientís best interests; yes. You buck me again and Iíll have security bar your access to the ward." He jabbed a finger at the pair of them.

"I apologise, Dr. Doyle," Simon said genuinely.

Doyle pursed his lips. "Apology accepted. So you can take your detective home now, Captain."

Ellison rankled a moment, but accepted that the doctor was not going to budge. Fighting with overworked doctors at seven oíclock in the morning could result in all his visiting privileges being revoked.

"Iíll be back in a couple of hours," Jim said easily. He caught Simon by his coat cuff and thrust him in the direction of the exit.

"Oh, and Detective Ellison?"

Jim turned, and waited with predatory intentness for the doctor to continue.

"When you come back in the morning, try not to come in your pyjamas." He gestured with a long, thin hand at Jimís state of undress. "It distracts the staff."

Shocked, Jim realised that he was only wearing his shorts and t-shirt. The nurse behind Dr. Doyle waggled her eyebrows at him before returning her attention to the computer.

DAY ONE - 10:00 hrs

Time:- 06:00

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

Three hours later after a restless nap and a long hot shower Jim sat at the kitchen table nursing a cup of coffee. He pushed the bottle antibiotics across the table with a fingertip. He knew that he should take a tablet but he didnít relish the sentinel side effects. In a coldly calm, logical universe he should have asked Simon to stay over, just in case something happened. He scowled unconsciously; he was too old to need a babysitter. The negative side of his sentinel heritage was that he had to be monitored.

A gleefully obnoxious laugh echoed in his ears. Perplexed, Jim looked around. That had sounded disturbingly like Blair. He could see Blair being tickled at being called a babysitter.

Mercurial, he changed his mind and popped the cap. He washed down the tablet with a gulp of stale coffee. He set his hands on the table and waited.

"How long?" he asked the figment in the back of his mind.

::How long is a piece of string?::

He could have sworn that he had heard a voice.

Bewildered, he ran his fingers through his damp hair. Characteristically, he dismissed his imaginings and concentrated on the more mundane tasks of picking out the dayís clothes.

Clad in pressed navy chinos and a white shirt he waited on the balcony for a taxi. If he was liable to throw a fit or something he couldnít drive the truck.

Sometimes being responsible sucked.

A horn wailed indicating that his taxi had arrived. Jim made a quick check of the loft, double checking the burners on the cooker and then grabbing his heavy jacket he slipped out the door.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

The staff in critical care ICU hadnít finished their shift. Long tendrils of hair had escaped the observation desk nurseís plait. She lifted her head and smiled tiredly at Jim as he approached. The detective rested his hands on the chest high shelf that separated her from the rest of the world.

"Good morning," he began politely. "Howís Blair?"

"Heís stable."

Jim didnít like the sound of that. "How is he?"

"Ah, Detective Ellison." Doyle, no longer dressed in his sack-scrubs, slinked into the ICU foyer. He stretched lithely, evidently he had been catching a catnap. Wearing skin-tight jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt practically glued to his skinny frame he didnít look like an experienced doctor.

"Howís Blair?" Jim said through gritted teeth.

"He gave us a bad turn an hour ago but we managed to stabilise him."

"Why didnít you call me?" Jim demanded.

The physician froze and cast a long, assessing stare at the detective. "We were a bit busy, Detective."

"Howís he doing? What are his chances? IsÖ"

"Detective." Doyle gestured towards the family waiting room. "Letís go and sit down and talk."

Mute, Jim allowed himself to be shepherded to the room with the jungle print on the wall. Doyle managed to extricate some change from his impossibly tight jeans and cajoled two cups of coffee from the drinks machine.

He proffered one to Jim. "Itís sugared, you need it."

Jim nodded and took the cup. Doyle pulled the coffee table close to Jimís knees and sat on it so they could face each other.

"You want me to give you numbers -- to tell you that Blair has a 50/50 chance. I donít gamble with my patientís lives. Blairís seriously ill. But heís holding his own at the moment. Iíve got him on dopamine and dobutamine to maintain his heart function."

"Is he going to die?" Jim asked the cup.

"I donít know," Doyle said honestly. "If he makes it through the next twenty four hours Ė I think heíll live."

Jim stopped himself crushing the plastic coffee cup by pure force of effort. "Iíd like to sit with him."

"Youíve got ten minutes." Doyle stood. "And, Detective, donít forget your gown and mask. Heís still infectious."

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

DAY ONE - 12:00 hrs

Time:- 10:00

Blair was now covered by a standard issue white sheet and red blanket. Jim took that as a good sign; his temperature must have dropped further. He was still swathed with tubes and wires. There were a few more bags hanging on the I.V. poles. A new I.V. port had been set up in the back of his left hand. The EEG and the ECG beeped reassuringly.

"Hey, Chief." Jim caught a chair with the foot and hooked it over to the side of the bed. Sitting, he leaned his chin on the rail and peered at his friend. Blair hadnít been shaven and his five oíclock shadow was dark against his pale, yellowy skin. In a couple of days he would have the beginnings of a good beard.

"I had another run-in with your doctor," he began, fumbling for conversation.

"Hullo?"

Jim jerked. He automatically looked at Blair, but the voice had come from behind.

"Iím Shaun, Blairís nurse." A man, built like a quarterback, complete with dreadlocks (tied neatly back), rolled with a hefty gait into the ICU room. He too wore a mask.

"Iíve just come to check on Blair." He suited actions to words crossing to his patient. "Heís a good Ďun. A strong Ďun. Youíll see."

The man laid his hand against Blairís cheek. "Temperatureís better." He pulled the blankets a bit higher, tucking them in. He twiddled with the I.V.s checking their flow, swabbed the intubation tube, dealt with the foley bag and made a few notes on a chart.

"Heard you growling at Doc Doyle. If I were proper sick, Iíd want Doc Doyle to look after me, you know."

"Really," Jim drawled, but it didnít stop the nurseís patter. Shaun tapped the monitors and made a few more notes. Jim turned away as he drew a vial of blood.

"This is my last check of the shift. Trineís next on. Now Trine has a temper on her. Good with the patients and with the family but donít give her any trouble."

"Must get on with Doc Doyle," Jim said tightly.

"Air and fire those two. Inflammable. Very professional, though. Work well together. Seen them pull off a few miracles. Well, thatís me. Iíll be back tonight. Since Iíve been in here I think you can have a couple of more minutes." Shaunís eyes crinkled as he smiled behind his mask.

"Thanks," Jim whispered.

In a whirl of motion he was out of the door.

"Hey, Chief. He talks more than you do. Listen to him too much and itíll give you a headache." The words echoed through the room as Jim realised that his words were crass. He sagged, leaning his head against the cold metal rail, a bar supposedly to prevent the patient from falling out of bed. Not that Blair was liable to fall since he was so heavily sedated.

Jim sighed, he knew that he wasnít any good at the sentimental stuff. Oh, he was great in emergencies, cool, calm and collected, due in part to his medic training. But now he didnít know what to say.

So he just sat.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

Ten minutes here and fifty minutes there. His day took on a nightmarish quality of disconnected terror. Trine turned out to be a Valkyrie of a woman complete with white blond braids. She was easily six foot nothing in her bare feet and looked capable of rolling him up in a ball and throwing him out of the ICU if he spent longer than his allotted ten minutes. Doyle was still on duty, and religiously checked on Blair every hour on the hour.

"Do you ever go home?" Jim asked as Doyle cajoled a cup of coffee from the ancient dispenser. A woman curled up on the sofa at the far end of the waiting room glanced up as he spoke. Jim knew that her husband had had a massive coronary and his prognosis was very poor. They had little to say to each other.

"Weíre a bit short staffed," Doyle said by way of explanation. He sipped his coffee. "You think that theyíd know how to make decent freeze dried coffee by now," he bitched as he moseyed back to the observation desk.

Jim left him too it. The clock on the wall moved another notch and Jim stood. He could go back into the ICU room. As if an automaton, he pulled a new set of scrubs over his clothes and donned the mask.

There was no change in Blairís condition. He lay as still as an Egyptian mummy on the bed. The wheeze huff puff of the ventilator grated against the detectiveís ears. More wires, more tubes and the lurid glow of the EEG and ECG monitors cast shadows over the still form. Sighing deeply, Jim sat. Slowly, he extended his sentinel senses, focusing on the bright red patches of tiny bruises on Blairís arm. He could have sworn that they were less violent that the last time he had checked. Focusing through the whorls of hair on the studentís chest, he couldnít see any new rash.

Trine stalked into the room to check on her patient. Jim watched silently as she drew more blood, checked the foley and did a number of arcane things to the unprotesting student.

"You know it would help if you talked to him instead of sitting there feeling scared."

"Scared?" Jim pounced on the word like a jaguar.

"Concerned then." Trine hung a new bag of Rocephin and increased the output from the saline I.V. "If youíre no good with words why donít you read to him? Let him hear your voice."

"I havenít brought anything to read," Jim protested.

Trine rolled her eyes heavenward. "I guess youíll have to talk to him then."

Jim didnít watch her leave.

::Go on then::

Jim started, he could have sworn that he had heard a voice. It must have been a figment of his imagination. It was probably some weird side effect from the antibiotics.

"Hey, Chief." Automatically, he waited for a response. There wasnít one. "IÖ took the antibiotics that the consultant prescribed. Iím hearing things but at least Iím not seeing things. It kinda sounds like you," he admitted. "Guess that thatís wishful thinking."

Once again he lapsed into silence.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

Simon strode through the hospital main entrance. He held a sizeable amount of cash in his hand from the crew of Major Crimes. He stopped at the hospital gift shop. Buying an eclectic selection of books for Blair to read when he recovered seemed like a good idea. The captain paused, while he wouldnít admit to superstition to any of his subordinates, to buy the books seemed to be tempting fate. He ground his teeth together, a lŠ Ellison. Getting a bunch of balloons wasnít very imaginative.

"Excuse me, do you have anyÖwellÖ anthropology books?"

He recognised the voice. Simon peered over the balloon display. Ellison was browsing through the book stacks. Unsurprisingly, there werenít any anthropology textbooks.

"Jim?"

"Oh, hi, Simon." The detective looked a bit brighter than the last time the captain had seen him.

"Howís the kid?"

"Holding his own."

"What are you doing here?"

"He wants me to read to him," Jim said absently. "But I canít find anything heíd like."

"Heís awake?" Simon demanded.

Ellison shook his head. There was a reasonable science fiction section. He worked his way down the titles. Simon recognised a few of the names from the books that Blair left lying around in the loft.

"Then how do you know that he wants you to read to him?" Simon asked very slowly.

"This is a good one." The detective held up a copy of the latest Tanya Huff novel. "He said that he was going to treat himself to this when his grant came through."

Mission accomplished, Jim stalked over to the cash till. Simon followed, keeping a leery eye on his subordinate.

"Have you eaten?" the captain asked. Jim was scowling at his purchase as if it was a police procedures manual and he was going to be tested.

"I donít see the attraction of this stuff, but Blair likes it," Jim said ignoring the question.

Simon took his friend by the arm and steered him towards the hospital cafeteria.

"I have to go back to ICU," Jim protested. "I can go back in in half an hour."

"In half an hour you can get something to eat."

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

Fortified by a cheese and salad sandwich, Jim found himself waiting outside Blairís room, decked in his cotton gown and mask.

The long hand on the wardís clock worked its way slowly to the twelve position.

In the ICU room across from Blairís he could see Doyle curled up on top of the bed, his stockinged feet twitching as he dreamed.

The clock hands swept their way inevitably towards four oíclock, and Jim was finally allowed to enter.

There was no change. Another sheaf of notes was attached to the folder hanging at the base of his bed. Nervously, Jim licked his lips, brushing his tongue against the starched cotton of his mask.

Sitting, he began. "Chapter One: ĎWas it something I said?í The innkeeper laughedÖ"

DAY ONE - 22:10 hrs

Time:- 18:10

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

He was up to chapter four by the time the clock rolled around to ten oíclock and the attending physician threw him out. Doyle had long since gone home and Jim found that he missed the moody physician when faced with the icily clinical Doctor Grant.

Simon was hovering in the family room and interrogated him as if he were a serial killer.

"So thereís no change?" Simon groused, when Jim had finished briefing him on every facet of the day since they had last spoken.

"They check him every ten minutes, so that canít be good," Jim said morosely.

"But heís holding his own?" Simon said, clinging to the fact that there had not been a repeat of the morningís crisis.

"Yeah, I guess so." Jim felt suddenly weary, it felt as if Doyle had crept up behind him and jabbed him with a hypo filled with anaesthetic.

"Come on." Simon threw a comradely arm over his shoulders. Jim let it rest there for a moment before shrugging it off. The captain continued, ignoring the rebuff. "The guys are asking after him."

Jim allowed his captain to draw him out of the waiting room. They bumped into Doyle as they waited for the elevator. The doctor was dressed in scrubs.

"Youíre back on duty?" Jim said astonished.

"Yup, Iím on nights for the rest of the week."

"You just went home."

Doyle crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. "I went home about six hours ago. Nygh should have been on but his wife went into labour unexpectedly. Had a premature baby girl. Sheís doing well, considering."

"Good," Simon said inanely.

Jim squinted at the skinny doctor. Begrudgingly, he realised that he preferred Doyle looking after Blair than Sarah Grant.

"Have you got a headache, Detective?" Doyle probed.

Simon immediately turned on him, concerned. "Jim?"

"No, no, no." Jim raised his hands to fend them off.

"You were squinting." Doyle mirrored his pained expression. "You are taking your antibiotics, arenít you?"

"Like a good little boy. Got a bit of a scare when I went to the toilet before."

Doyle laughed and Simon joined in. "You should have heard Henri squeal. He was too busy chatting up the doctor to hear her advice. He got a shock of his life when he went to the restroom andÖ"

"Had fluorescent orange urine," Doyle supplied.

A sudden klaxon echoed along the corridor. Galvanised, Doyle dodged past the two larger detectives. He leaned over the nursesí desk scanning the bank of monitors behind the high shelf and then he bolted for Blairís room.

"Crash cart, stat!"

"Fuck!" Jim launched himself after the doctor.

Simon caught him by the tail of his coat and yanked him back. "Give them space to work, man!"

As he spoke they had to duck out of the way as Shaun and Trine ran by with the crash cart between them. Both detective and captain followed them into the room. Jimís attention was solely taken by the stocky form on the bed. All the colour had leeched from the anthropologistís body, the dark hairs on his chest and deadly bruises on his arms stood out in sharp relief.

"Ventricular tachycardia." Doyle held Blairís wrist, his concentration split between his patient and the ECG. "Poor output."

"Doc?" Shaun held out the paddles of the defibrillator.

"No, no, no. Not yet; he has a pulse. Give him a 100 mg lidocaine I.V. bolus at 2 mg per minute."

Trine had anticipated his instructions. She held out the medication for his inspection. Doyle nodded at the Nordic nurse and, confident that she would obey his orders, returned his attention to the ECG. Heart in his mouth, Jim watched as Trine administered the drug.

"Our Father who artÖ"

Jim could hear Simon praying under his breath. Doyle was poised concentration, his attention now solely on the anthropologistís still body. The tension was palpable. Abruptly his head jerked around and his eyes narrowed as he scowled at the ECG.

"Sinus rhythm," Doyle announced. He turned to his crew and flashed a gamin grin. "Kidís a fighter."

The doctor brushed a curl of greasy hair off Blairís sweaty forehead. Satisfaction was exuding from his pores. Jim was inexplicably reminded of a Cheshire cat. If Doyle had a tail it would have been swishing to and fro.

"Shaun, increase his dopamine by 2 mg an hour. I want to ensure his heart function remains regular."

"Yes, Doc."

"Cut back on his fluids, we donít want to contribute to the meningial inflammation heís exhibiting." Doyle carefully laid Blairís wrist back on the blankets, and bestowed a pat.

It all sounded double dutch to Jim; it was hard to listen when your heartbeat was clamouring in your ears.

"Is he okay?" Simon asked softly.

Doyle noticed them for the first time. His lips curled in an unintentional smile. "For the moment. Weíll know moreÖ"

"In twenty four hours," Jim supplied tiredly.

"We should have better news for you in the morning."

"Iím staying." Jim dug in his heels.

"Detective EllisonÖ"

"No, sir. ThatísÖ thatís my best friend. Youíve told me that there is a good chance that heís--" Jim drew himself taller, "--going to die. I am not going to go home and lie in my bed when I could miss my chance to sayÖ goodbye."

He was irresolute. The doctor had to understand and if he didnít security was not going to budge him.

Jim held Blairís fantasy book like a talisman. Doyle ran his fingers through his hair ruffling his unruly curls. Then the doctorís green eyes softened.

"Okay. You can bed down in the waiting room."

"Thank you, Dr. Doyle," Jim said sincerely.

Doyle casually waved a loose wristed hand. "Still ten minutes, though."

"Hey, Doc, I would have held out for five."

Doyle smiled, displaying a chip-toothed smile. "Go tell your friend youíre staying the night." With his words he began to usher the captain and the two nurses out of the ICU room.

Jim waited until they had left and he was alone with his partner.

"Hey, Chief. You have to stop giving me these scares. You have my full attention Ė you donít need to do anything else."

He took stock of his friend. In the space of eighteen hours Blairís cheek bones were now sharply defined as the disease ravaged his body. There were the blackest of shadows under his quiescent eyelashes. But most strangely there was still a sense of Blair. Through the basest of his sentinel senses he could still feel his friend within the corpselike body. It wasnít a sense that he could quantify. Just a gut reaction that Blair still fought against the enemy. He hadnít given up.

He expected little else of his guide.

"Doc Doyleís letting me stay the night. So Iíll be back in to bug you in forty minutes."

He glanced sideways through the large windows enclosing the isolation room. Doyle was explaining something to Simon. Unobserved, Jim leaned forwards to drop the lightest of kisses on Blairís forehead. The salty sweat clinging to his skin made Jimís lips burn.

"You hang on, kid," he whispered. "Another few hours and youíll be over the worst."

DAY TWO - 03:50 hrs

Time:- 23:50

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

Somewhere in the dead of night, Doyle dumped a blanket and pillow on his chest. Before Jim could mutter a Ďthank youí the temperamental doctor had left the family room. Jim rolled on the couch trying to find a comfortable position. In another five minutes it would be exactly twenty four hours since he had found Blair on bathroom floor. Jim plumped the pillow and tucked it behind his head. He lay on his back staring blindly up at the ceiling. Twenty four hours, the doctor kept saying that they would know more in twenty four hours. It sounded like a mantra. But was that twenty four hours after diagnosis or twenty four hours since he had taken ill? Jim deliberately relaxed his clenched fist.

Naomi. He suddenly realised that he had forgotten to call Naomi. ĎShit,í he swore under his breath, How could he have let that slip his mind? Where was she? He vaguely remembered Blair saying something about Timbuktu. Jim wasnít even aware that the place really existed. Abruptly, he sat up casting the blanket aside.

He felt off kilter and sickening. Uneasy, he stalked over to Blairís room. It wasnít on the hour every houróit was exactly twenty four hours since his friend had been taken seriously ill. It was the dead of night. He shivered with the bleakness of his thoughts. The dead walked at night and this was the time when the coldness stole into your bones. Bad juju. Memories of the dead shaman, Incacha, spoke to him. The Chopec medicine man had respected the night, keeping the tribe around the fire as the demons searched the jungle for prey. Utopbi Ė the Chopec death walkerócame for the wounded and sick before dawn.

He laid his palm against the window and scrutinised Blair.

::What do you see?::

The voice washed over him, its question soft and determined. He didnít fear it.

"I see my friend. I see my friend fighting for his life. I see that there is nothing I can do. I see that it is all up to him."

Unwavering, he opened to door to Blairís ICU room and strode in. The room was as silent as a grave, even the machinery seemed hushed. Beyond the windows grey shadows of an overcast moon rolled over Cascade. A light flared and died down on the harbour. Foreboding walked up the Sentinelís spine. He grabbed Blairís lax hand and clasped it firmly.

"Chief? You feel that?" He entwined their fingers together. The ex-ranger was reminded of foxholes --waiting for the inevitable, waiting for the enemy. You waited nerves strung, muscles tense, and then when the call came you attacked.

A shiver passed through him. Jim turned. His sentinel pupils expanded, seeing into the dark corners of the room.

"You canít have him," the Sentinel said quietly.

The darkest shadow moved, even sentinel eyesight couldnít penetrate its depths.

"You canít have him," he repeated.

A whisper of a breath touched him, a cold north wind.

Blairís fingers twitched in his, despite the heavy sedation, reaffirming their connection.

Jim braced himself, for he didnít know what.

Lights flared into the ICU room as the door was pushed open.

"What are you doing?" Doyle demanded. Silhouetted by the harsh actinide lights, he was an unearthly figure, his unruly curls were gleaming burnished gold and the edges of his being were as defined as a daggerís blade.

To tell the man that he was scaring away death sounded pretty trite.

"Just give me five minutes. Please," there was an unfamiliar sharpness to his request.

Doyle nodded reluctantly and shut the door. The shadows crawled in his wake. Cold, dark and deadly. The more you stared at them the darker they seemed. If he had been a child he would have hidden under his blankets.

ĎLeave," Jim ordered. The shadow twisted malevolently. Incensed, the Sentinel moved to confront the darkness. His hand intertwined with Blairís stopped him. He couldnít let him go.

"Youíll have to take us both."

A jaguarís howl scratched across his bones. From the depths of the shadow the big cat emerged and then the darkness ebbed away. The jaguar sat back on its hindquarters and viewed him dispassionately. It opened its mouth in a feral snarl of completion and then it too faded away.

Jim wiped the sweat from his forehead with his free hand. He felt as if a giant had squashed him to a mote. Gently, he disengaged his fingers from Blairís and set the still hand on the blanket. He felt vaguely silly, standing sentry against death. Yet he had seen the jaguar. It was probably something to do with the antibiotics. He laughed at himself, bleakly.

There were no atheists in foxholes.

DAY TWO - 05:45

Time :- 25:45

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

He fell asleep on the plush sofa and missed his four oíclock and five oíclock check. Bleary eyed, he awoke before six. Grey and stubbled, he struggled to his feet and made his way with deliberate effort to Blairís room. Shaun was hovering over the student Ė drawing yet another vial of blood. If their vampiric activities continued soon Blair would have no blood left.

He noticed belatedly that Shaun wasnít wearing his mask. The quarantine was over.

"His colourís better," Shaun reported. "Temperatureís down as well."

"Heís improving?" Jim heard the eagerness in his own voice.

"Well, thatís for Doc Doyle to say. But lookÖ" Shaun stepped aside.

The odour of death no longer clung to Blairís parchment skin. His face was still drawn with serious illness, but there was a subtle change Ė he didnít look a deathís door.

"You can tell, canít you," Shaun said cryptically.

"Tell what?" Jim asked obediently, his concentration focused Blairís gaunt, blocky features. He heard hope in the nurseís voice, but the Sentinel knew that while a battle may have been won, the war was not yet over.

"White men. You pretend you canít see whatís in front of your face." Shaun tossed his dreadlocks over his shoulder. He cackled demonically.

Completely at a loss, Jim glared at the nurse. "I do not understand," he said shortly.

"Go talk to your priest, man, heíll explain." Shaun collected his vial of blood, sloshing foley bag and spent I.V. bag and continued on his rounds.

Disconcerted, Jim scowled at the well-built man through the ICU windows as he went about his duties. Once, twice, Shaun chanced a glimpse at him, before returning to his work. Eventually the nurse sat at the observation desk and began updating computer files.

The Sentinel was still scowling when Doyle came in to check his patient.

"Whatís the matter?" he asked reading the detectiveís expression. The doctor didnít wait for an answer, scanning his patient with a practised eye. He took Blairís pulse and temperature.

"Well," Doyle eventually asked, startling Jim. "Whatís got you looking like youíve been sucking eggs?"

"Nothing," Jim said curtly. "Howís Blair?"

A genuine smile crossed Doyleís face but he hid his pleasure behind facts. "Temperatureís down. Heart rateís much more stable. All good signs."

"Is heÖ"

"Iíd prefer to discuss his case in the family room," Doyle said succinctly.

Jim dutifully followed the doctor out of the Blairís room. They didnít make it to the waiting room, stopping in the corridor.

"I prefer not to discuss a patientís case in front of them, even if they are sedated," he said parenthetically. "Iím very pleased with Blairís progress. In all honesty, I did not expect him to make it through twenty four hours."

Jim abruptly straightened. His teeth ground together audibly.

"Blair was--and still is--critical," Doyle continued. "But heís made significant improvements. He has a better chance now than he had when he was brought in. Iíve got the results from his cultures." He waved a sheet under Jimís nose. "The bacteria responsible for Blairís illness responded to the antibiotics we have him on."

"Thatís a good sign, isnít it?"

"Indubitably. But I want you to be realistic. Heís still got a long way to go. AndÖ" he drawled, "itís still ten minutes in every sixty. So none of this creeping in whenever you feel like it." He rolled up the microbiology report and slapped it against his hand for emphasis.

"Okay, Doc." Despite the doctorís word Jim felt the frisson of hope.

"By the way," Doyle asked as Jim made his way back to the waiting room. "What did Shaun say to you that upset you?" The doctor cocked his head to the side regarding Jim and then stared at his nurse, whose attention was fanatically devoted to his computer.

"Nothing."

Doyle shrugged, letting him go into the waiting room. But the doctor immediately headed over to his subordinate. Jim watched them through the glass window. He deliberately kept his hearing down to the absolute minimum. They made an interesting contrast; whipcord-thin doctor and massive nurse. The detective groaned tiredly as Shaun left his post and obediently made his way to the family room.

"Iím sorry, man." The nurse addressed the floor.

"Thereís nothing for you to beÖ."

Shaun became more animated. "Itís just that the spirits are strong around you. My hougan would explain dis better. You help your friend just by being here. Even Doc Doyle knows that, Ďcept he doesnít see the spirits, thatís why he let you stay. I just thought that youíd see them too, Ďcos theyíre so strong."

"IÖ" Jim tried to interrupt.

"The spirits are aroundÖ"

It was Jimís turn to interrupt. He stood all contained muscle and lithe strength. "I respect your beliefs," he said with finality. He wasnít going to explain to the nurse that he had his own spirit guide and walked with spirits. It was so disturbing that he could barely admit it to himself and it disconcerted him when other people acknowledged their existence.

"The Doc said to me to tell you that you could file a report with him about me." Shaun held him head up high.

"What for?" Jim asked curiously.

"Not being professional, I suppose."

"As I said: I respect your beliefs. I have no problem with you believing that my friend is going to live." Jim terminated the conversation by sitting down.

"Thanks, man." Shaun scuttled out of room and back to his post. Jim watched him go, incuriously. Doyle was still leaning against the observation desk, nose burrowed in a report. As Shaun occupied himself at his station, Doyle lifted his head and stared at the detective. The curly headed manís expression was quite frankly calculating. He tugged on his bottom lip and then burrowed his nose back in the report.

Jim lay back down on the sofa and stared at the ceiling. So he was strong in spirits, was he? A travesty of a smile twisted his lips.

DAY TWO - 09:30

Time:- 29:30

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

"Jim? Jim?" A gentle nudge on his shoulder startled him fully awake.

Simon jerked back as he sat upright.

"What? What?" the detective grumbled, automatically checking the wall clock. He had been asleep for three hours. The last thing he remembered was thinking about spirits Ė it felt surreal in the light of day. Why was he sleeping so much? His training sergeant in the rangers would chew him out for flaking out. He knew that he had more stamina, he could do without sleep for days Ė yet he seemed to nap at every opportunity.

"Jim?" The question in Simonís soft utterance drew his back from his confused thoughts.

"Howís Blair?" Jim asked, focusing on what was important.

"Doc says that heís improved a bit. Come on, man. Breakfast. Brunch, whateverÖ"

Jim allowed Simon to lever him to his feet. "I wanna check on Blair," he muttered sleepily.

"I took your ten minutes," Simon said softly. "Iím sorryÖ But I wanted to see him. You need food."

The captainís words washed over him, half entreating and half ordering. It made a strange blend. He wanted to respond to it on several levels. On one hand, yell at his friend for taking away his privilege and, on the other hand, understand his needs. But the captain who ordered him to eat sounded like he would not be gainsaid, and Ellison was trained to obey orders, even when he didnít like them.

The hand under his elbow directed him into an elevator. His sense of hearing rebounded off the enclosing metal walls. He was beyond tired, standing on a world weary plateau that made him feel that he had been fighting a battle for his life. Yet the war wasnít over, they had only won the first battle.

Why was he so very tired?

The elevator regurgitated them into the hospital cafeteria. The smell of institution food was over him--boiled cabbage and custard.

A cup of strong coffee, balanced precariously on a tray was pushed into his hands.

"Danish? Or do you want something else?"

"Danish," Jim said monotone. He didnít want to think anymore, he just wanted some sugar and caffeine.

A muffin joined the sweet pastry. Jimís stomach flipped just thinking about it. He allowed Simon to nudge him past the cashier and to a plastic table and chair in the far corner.

"Eat." That was Simonís ordering voice.

Jim washed down the gob of sugary danish with a mouthful of coffee. He gulped down the coffee and reached for the other cup that had magically appeared. The muffin disappeared after the danish, then another danish was pushed into his field of view. Focused on filling his cavernously empty stomach, he gobbled it down. Abruptly, he realised that Simon was feeding him his own breakfast.

Jim shook his head, like a wet dog. "Sorry."

"No, noÖ" Simon allowed a smile to crack his concerned expression. "You needed it."

The sugar was washing away the headache beating at the back of his head.

"I guess I did."

"Hang on." The captain returned to the beverage counter and grabbed another couple of mugs of coffee.

Jim accepted the mug but left Simonís third danish untouched. The captain played with the pastry. He tore a corner off the danish and dunked it in his coffee.

The captain sighed, "Iíll have to go back to work soon. Tell everyone that the kidís a little better."

"BetterÖ" Jim echoed.

"Yeah, better." Opening a packet of sugar, he allowed the granules to play into his coffee.

Belatedly, Jim realised that Simon hadnít moved despite his excuses.

"WeÖ thatís Joan and Öwhen we were married. Darryl was a baby. He was so ill. We rushed him to the E.R. He was convulsing." His words were fragmented with remembered fear. "Iíve never been so scared; Iíve been in fire fights. Iíve fought gang members who would kill me Ďcos Iím a cop and Iím black. Iíve ran into a burning building, but Iíve never been as scared as thenÖ"

"Did he have meningitis?" Jim asked softly.

"Yeah. Different sort; I think it was easier to treat." Disconcerted and off balance he stood up. His cup rattled noisily on the saucer. "I have to go. I was supposed to speak to the Mayor yesterday but I had to cancel, too much was happening. I need to prepare."

He made to turn away and then stopped. Nervously, he straightened his embroidered vest. The captain was at sixes and sevens, patting his shirt, playing with his coffee. He started to say something and then stopped. Jim hadnít seen him so off kilter since he had had to sign his divorce papers.

"Itís okay to care," Jim said softly.

Simon froze. "What?"

"When I sit with BlairÖlaterÖIíll tell him that youíre worried about him. And praying for him." Jim watched his superiorís eyes widen. "Iím glad that you can pray for him."

Jim marvelled at the thoughts bending sideways on Simonís uncharacteristically fraught expression.

"Yeah, you tell him that." Hiding a multitude of feelings, he grabbed a cigar from his jacket pocket and stuck it in his mouth. "Tell him that the gang is bucking for him."

Jim listened carefully as his friend beat a hasty retreat.

A soft voice whispered, "Weíre all praying for him."

Jim dipped his fingertip in his coffee dregs and swirled idle patterns. Simon was lost in the memories of his young son caught in the diseaseís web and projecting his concerns onto Blair. Unconsciously, Jim grimaced, realising that he was being unfair to the captain, it was obvious that the man had in fact developed an abiding tolerance for the energetic observer. In another couple of weeks they might be able to take the student on one of their fishing trips.

ĎHey, I just accepted that Blair might get betterÖí

He didnít want to think about death, but he couldnít help dwelling on the deaths that heíd dealt and lives heíd failed to save. He had been preparing himself for Blairís imminent death. Maybe now there was room for hope?

Tiredly, he trailed out of the cafeteria. He wasnít too sure what ten minutes in every sixty was accomplishing but he knew that he couldnít give them up.

DAY TWO - 22:30

Time:- 42:30

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

Trine glanced up from her work as he hovered outside room 101 critical care ICU. She flashed a blinding smile at him. Obediently, he crossed to her side.

"Howís Blair?" he asked without preamble.

"Stable," she said levelly. "Doctor Doyle is in a meeting but he wants to talk to you afterwards."

"When?"

"They finish when they finish. The doctors are discussing the surgical and critical care cases. Probably about forty five minutes."

Message received and understood--not wanting to ask why-- he returned to his post. At ten to the hour, Trine nodded at him. Jim managed a wan smile, accepting the tacit permission to visit for twenty instead of ten minutes.

Silently he slipped in through the door. The detective stood at the end of the bed. His friendís cadaverous pallor appalled him. Nothing had changed. Blairís still lay in a drugged coma, fighting his battle. No, something had changed, there was a new tube, snaking up into Blairís nose.

ĎOhÖí Blasphemies failed him. This was akin to facing the deaths of his command in the jungles of Peru. His stoic faÁade crumpled. Too much death and too much bereavement. How could he be expected to face this level of pain again and again?

::Hey, man, Iím not dead yet::

Jim snorted, involuntarily responding to the irreverent humour in the voice. Damn tablets, they were still making him hallucinate. He skirted around the side of the bed, taking his position on the hard chair. Pulling Blairís book from his back pocket, he allowed it to fall open at their last page.

"You want me to read to you some more?"

There was no answer, Jim took that as permission. But he balked at reading. He set the book on the mattress.

"Simonís praying for you. I said that Iíd tell you. When Darryl was a baby he got meningitis Ė Simonís remembering it all over again. The kidís probably going to get a big hug tonight and not realise why." He couldnít understand why he was telling his partner the story. "Darryl made a full recovery. Kidís full of hormones and energy, determined to sass his Dad at every opportunityó

"You know, it just occurred to me that thereís a bowl of lettuce in the bottom of refrigerator. Itís going to be disgusting. Have you ever smelled rotten lettuce? Itís enough to make you loose your lunch. Iím going to leave it for you to deal withó

"The antibiotics taste worse than your tofu chilli. And thatís disgusting. What do you think, some sweet pepper will get ride of the taste? A beeró

"Shall I read some more?"

He picked up the book, accidentally brushing his fingers across Blairís arm, touching warm, clammy skin. He shuddered from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. His first impulse was draw away, but he controlled the reaction. Mechanically, he allowed his senses to extend. Through his callused fingertips he was aware of every single hair. The skin beneath throbbed with a slow, regular pulse and the blood flowed close to the surface. Skimming over the skin gently, he stopped over a tiny well of blood. Spiralling downwards, he was washed away in the rhythm of life.

Disharmony gushed in his ears, sluicing over him. Someone was shaking him.

"Detective Ellison? Ellison?"

Jim fell back out of the zone with a shudder. For one wild thought he believed that he had been carried away by the infection poisoning his friend.

"You all right?"

Doyleís fingers were on his pulse and he was peering into his eyes. Adroitly, Jim pulled his wrist away from the doctorís grip. Blinking once, he found control.

"You wanted to speak to me?"

"Damn right I did. What were you doing?"

"What did I do?" Jim feigned a yawn, covering his mouth and a greater portion of his face with a large hand.

"You were staring into middle space. Miles away."

"I havenít been sleeping much." A lie, Iíve slept more than I ever would in a similar situation. "I guess I just got unfocused."

Doyleís eyes narrowed and Jim could see a wealth of tests and uncomfortable questions in their depths. There was a purely truculent, stubborn pout to the manís expression. Whatever he had been doing had intrigued the good doctor

"Stress," he offered.

It was a perfect excuse. Doyle capitulated. "I want to check on Blair, would you give us some privacy?"

Obediently, Jim stood up, retrieving the book from the bed. He hovered a moment, then bracing himself touched the back of his friendís hand. There were no disturbing overtones of disease. He must have imagined it-- he couldnít see things on that level. Without another word he left, closing the door behind him. But he stood beside the doorway, peering through a kink in the blinds.

Doyle leaned over Blair peeling back an eyelid and shining a light in his eyes. He felt his patientís broad forehead with the back of his hand. Doyle was a hands-on kind of doctor instead of relying on his instruments. Flying in the face of Jimís thoughts, the physician twiddled with the ECG before listening to Blairís heart and lungs. Doyle moved down Blairís body masking Jimís view as he checked the foley and central line.

Jim turned away before Doyle joined him in the corridor. The man didnít waste any time. "Itís the end of my shift now. Iím back later. Iíll drop you off at your home and you can have a shower and changeÖ maybe get something to eat?"

"What?"

"Food, sleep, shower: doctorís orders," Doyle said simplifying his instructions.

"What about Blair?"

"If you want you can stay until seven oíclock then go home and come back the following morning," Doyle answered circumspectly. "Your captain told me that you hadnít driven here. Iím offering you a lift."

"Iíd prefer to stay."

Doyle shrugged. "Okay, Iíll kick you of out of ICU when I come back on shift. Youíre not staying the night unless you go home now and get some rest."

The curly headed doctor didnít stay around to argue. Jim caught his arm as he turned away.

"Howís Blair?"

The doctor looked pointedly down at Jimís hand gripping his scrubs. The detective released it instantly.

"White countís down. Temperatureís better. If he continues to improve, Iíll start tapering off his sedatives tomorrow morning."

"Why not now?"

"ĎCos Iím the doctor and weíre pretending that I know what I am doing?" Doyle followed through sharply.

Jim backed off raising his hands in a warding gesture, little realising that it was a classic Blairís response. ĎWhat to do?í he wondered, recognising that Doyle wasnít going to let him stay the night if he didnít go home now. He felt moderately rested from a few naps during the night Ė if he stayed on now he might be able to cajole the weary doctor when he returned in the evening, rested and in a better mood.

"Iím staying on," Jim announced.

"Okay." Doyle shrugged expressively. "But donít think Iím not sending you home when I get back."

Jim grinned without humour as the doctor wandered off to check his last few patients. The detective turned back to the ICU cubicle window.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

It was a disgruntled Jim who found himself on the outside steps of Cascade General Hospital, several hours later hemmed on either side by Henri and Simon.

†††††††††††††††††††††††

DAY THREE - 09:00hrs

Time:- 53:00

~*~

Bright and early, he entered ICU the following morning. Shaun was at the observation desk, there was a pall hanging over the man. Jim could almost see the black cloud in the mindís eye. There had been a death during the night. He could sense it in his bones. Nobody had called the loft, he had slept lightly and uncomfortably throughout the night. Unless of course it had happened while he travelled to the hospital.

"Shaun?" he asked, fear choking his voice.

"Hey, man." Shaun lifted a tired head. The nurse reacted to Jimís pasty complexion immediately. "Mr. Peterson, heart attack."

Jim breathed a sigh of relief. He gritted his teeth together as Shaun acknowledged his relief but, with a bare lift of his eyebrow, somehow pointed out that there was a woman who was bereaved and alone. Mrs. Peterson had been the desperate woman wringing her hands in the corner of the family room. He wasnít going to feel guilty that he felt relieved that Blair was alive, he didnít even know Peterson.

"Blair spent a comfortable night," Shaun reported.

Jim put all thoughts of the anonymous Mr. Peterson out of his head.

"Improved? Will you take him off the sedatives?"

"Itís up to Doc Doyle," Shaun said slowly, knowing that his words were unwelcome. "Tomorrow, maybeÖ I donít know."

"Tomorrow!" Jim echoed. He wanted this over, he wanted Blair conscious.

"I canít say. Iím not the doctor," Shaun defended himself.

Jim accepted the honest words. He had a partner who was probably going to get better, it was more than Mrs. Peterson had. As if his thoughts had conjured her, the older woman appeared. She was nestled against Trine as the tall nurse led the crying woman out of her husbandís cubicle.

"Iím sorry," Jim said softly.

Red ringed eyes caught his own light blue ones. They shot straight through him.

"I hope your friend gets better," she whispered.

Jim felt like a complete and utter heel.

"Youíre only human," Shaun muttered when the two women were out of earshot.

"What?"

"Itís okay to be happy that your partnerís alive." Shaun didnít look at the Sentinel but pretended to fill in a form. "I mean youíre not happy that the old guyís dead, are you? Youíre happy that your friendís still alive. Theyíre two different things."

They were different.

"Thanks."

"De nada." Shaun signed his form with a flourish. "You can go see Blair if you want."

Jim snorted, why else was he there?

The critical care room was lighter. Someone had drawn back the drapes allowing unfiltered light to caress the figure on the bed. Blair appeared to be only sleeping in the sunlight. If, of course, you could ignore the medical paraphernalia holding him to life.

"Hey, Chief."

Jim settled beside his friend. He didnít touch him, not wanting to repeat the disturbing contact of the day before. Here he was again, watching over his friend. He wanted to be up and running and busy. This waiting was torture. Absently he drew out their book, stashed on a shelf underneath the ventilator.

"Weíve almost finished. What do you want to read next?"

Blairís index finger twitched at the same time, almost in response. In a heartbeat, Jim was standing over him peering past the tubes and wires to his friend beneath.

"Blair?" he tried. There was no response. "Come on, kid."

Without thinking, he enfolded Blairís hand in his own. His senses latched onto the flow of blood and corpuscles, yanking him from his tenuous hold on reality like a twig in a raging torrent. He saw it, the minuscule dots that were taking his friend from him. Pulsating, pain filled tissues fought a weary battle against the invader.

"Come on, Blair." He heard his own voice cajoling.

His world view slanted sideways.

The jungle. Hot and steamy. Tinged with blue it was a familiar and somewhat hated place. Yet, the spirits usually brought him here for a reason. The spirits had brought him to the spirit jungle to choose whether or not he would continue as a sentinel on more than one occasion. A flash of dark honey caught his eye.

"Blair!"

He bounded after his friend. Weaving through the undergrowth, Blair moved with uncanny speed, running away from him. The vines and branches lifted before him, allowing him duck past them unhindered. Blair was one with the jungle. Sandburg in the woods was usually an amusing joke. The tangle of greenery hid him from view.

His face showing his determined effort, Jim picked up speed, breaking out of the foliage and into the temple grounds. The Mayan pyramid towered over them.

Blair came to an abrupt halt, his head bowed and his shoulder blades heaving as he fought for breath.

"Blair!" Jim caught his partnerís shoulder. The grad studentís bones felt brittle under his fingers. Slowly, almost fearing what he would see, Jim turned him around. Cerulean eyes surrounded by panda dark circles blinked owlishly up at him. The face was defined by sharp angles and unkempt curls. He was as naked as the day he was born. Covered in grime from the top of his head to the tips of his toes, he was an all together wretched figure. A tremulous smile crossed the kidís face. Jim couldnít help himself, he clasped the wraith against his chest. Blair sagged into his warmth. Unconsciously, Jim ran his hand soothingly up and down the knobbly spine.

"I caught you," Jim said to the head cushioned against his neck.

Blair didnít move, didnít talk, he just leaned. If he let go, Jim knew that the student would fall.

As he stood he became aware that the jungle was deathly still. Not a single animal moved. The spirit world was held in abeyance, holding its breath.

Distrustful, Jim scanned their surroundings. They were there, poised and waiting for the next act. A sliver of sinister darkness caught his eye. Something fluid moved amongst the tree branches above him. It resolved into the jaguar.

Grinding his teeth, hating every minute of the walk, Jim watched as it jumped from its perch and stopped just outside of striking distances. Its flesh moved like liquid silver, elongating and stretching into a mirror image of the Sentinel. The figure wore combat fatigues.

"Your guide battles bravely," it intoned. "He may win."

"What can I do to help him?" Jim asked without preamble.

A bare laugh rolled between them. A shiver walked up Ellisonís spine; it was not his laugh, for all the form wore his image.

"It is the guideís battle."

"Weíre partners. His battle is my battle," Jim said with startling simplicity.

"So be it."

FUCK! Faster than the mindís eye, a thing launched itself from the tree overhead. Red and hot and throbbing, it engulfed him. Jim rolled, losing his hold on his partner. The thing chuckled gleefully and darted away, its lipless mouth sucking for the student. Gagging, Jim caught its slimy tail and yanked. Holding the tiger by the tail, he swung it in a circle, flinging it against the stone temple, where it hit with a wet crack. He didnít watch it drop to the ground in a puddle of mucous and blood.

Instead he hunted for the next one.

Another thing moved. Jim reacted without thinking, grabbing the spirit beingís machete and hurling it at the thing. It squealed. A satisfied grimace flashed across Jimís stony features.

Pain. Pin sharp teeth sunk into the back of his neck. Jim screamed in agony. His sentinel senses shredded him in two.

Relief, the pain was pulled away. Suddenly realising that he was curled up on the jungle floor, he lifted his head. Blair stood over the thing, stamping upon it with his bare feet. Blood and gore were splattered up his legs.

"Canít have him. Canít have him. Canít have himÖ" The guide repeated his mantra, stamping and stamping and stamping.

"Blair, itís dead."

He wasnít listening. He just kept stamping.

Jim struggled to his feet, determined to help.

The jungle frittered away.

Jim jerked. He was back in the hospital. His hands were braced on either side of Blairís head. His fingers were caught up in one of EEG sensors. The cord twisted through Blairís hair. Carefully, he untangled them with deliberate movements, glad to concentrate on something other than the last few moments. He had barely missed fouling the intubation tube, he berated himself, aware in his weird zone out he could have accidentally suffocated the student

What had that been? Some kind of visualisation of Blairís illness or an actual battle with the invaders? He resisted the temptation to groan. He loathed the spiritual side of his heritage. The Way of the Shaman had been passed onto the grad student as Incacha had died in his arms. He, the Sentinel, reluctantly, held the Way of the Warrior. Would Blair now walk in his visions? He hadnít seen the kid before when he had talked with spirits.

Characteristically, he dismissed his thoughts. He was sure that Blairís colour was better. The kid was getting better, he knew that. Exhausted, he slumped backwards into his chair. There was a fine line of sweat dribbling between his shoulder blades. He tangled his fingers in Blairís and just sat, gathering his resources.

DAY THREE - 12:15

Time:- 56:15

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

"Detective?" A voice insinuated in his consciousness.

"Hmmm?" Jim opened his eyes.

Doyle smiled down at him, his chip-toothed smile gentle. Jim made a production out of waking up, rubbing his eyes and face with his free hand.

"Youíve been asleep for a while," Doyle noted.

Astonished, Jim realised that it was time for lunch. The hospital staff must have worked around him for hours and he had slept through their ministrations.

"Sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry for. That couch out there isnít very comfortable and I guess that you havenít been sleeping very well. I want to check Blairís central line, itís easier to do it on your side."

Yawning, Jim reluctantly released his grip on Blairís fingers. In a sort of drunken stagger, he made room for the doctor.

"Iím tapering off his sedatives, now," Doyle said conversationally.

Jimís ears pricked up.

"His blood pressureís improved dramatically since this morning," Doyle continued, he patted his patientís shoulder. "Improvements all round."

"Whenís he going to wake up?" Only army command training kept his voice even.

"Tomorrow, sometime."

"Tomorrow?"

"It takes a while for the sedatives to work through his system. And to be frank, heís ÖwellÖ tired. Been on the equivalent of a marathon, he has."

Blair was getting better. The words echoed around him.

"I wonder if we could have a word?" Doyle interrupted his exultant thoughts. There was a seriousness to his tone that chilled the detective.

Doyleís expression was neutral, a studied neutrality which was suspicious. Jim cocked his head to the side and honed in on the doctorís heartbeat. Its pace was measured, denoting calm, yet he sensed agitation. Jim stepped back further, allowing the doctor to access Blair. The Sentinel turned away as Doyle drew down Blairís blankets.

There was little dignity in ICU yet the staff strove to protect their patients.

"Coffee?" Doyle offered, coming into Jimís field of view.

His stomach was sucking his backbone, Jim was absolutely ravenous, as hungry as if he had been running Blairís marathon. Jim shrugged, he wouldnít say Ďnoí to a pastry or a hamburger or two.

Doyle kept the dialogue meandering and inconsequential as they made their way down to the cafeteria. Jim allowed him to direct the conversation, waiting for his moment. Carrying their plastic tasting sandwiches, they found an unoccupied table in the morass of staff.

"So what do you want to tell me?" Jim said without preamble. Blair was getting better; what could the doctor want to talk to him about? Was this going to be another twenty four hours?

"I believe that your partner will beat the bug making him ill."

"ButÖ" Jim snarled, his patience was frayed at the best of times. The circumspect wording might have well have been a fire alarm.

"Meningitis results in the inflammation of the meninges. This is a protective membrane around the brain and spinal cord. Blairís are very swollen. I canít put him on anti-inflammatory steroids as they have not been proven to improve morbidity with Neisseria menigitidis infection."

"Get to the point, doctor."

"Blair may have sustained brain damage."

White noise engulfed the Sentinel. Whisking him away into a mindless chasm. He had no idea how long he floated, but he doubted that it could have been a fraction of a second, since Doyle hadnít reacted.

"Is that your worse case scenario or do you have evidence that BlairÖ" he couldnít say the words.

"No," Doyle said encouragingly. "I just want you to be aware that there may be someÖ changes."

"I wish that you hadnít told me."

"You donít strike me as a man who wants to be kept in the dark."

"What kind of damage?"

"Potentially anything. Blindness, deafness... short term memory problems."

Brain damage? It was too unfair; Blair was so bright that to curtail his light wasÖ Aw fuck, the very poetic lilt of his thoughts disgusted him.

"What tests can you run?"

Doyle gulped down his coffee. "We wonít run any tests until Blair is conscious."

His thoughts ran around like a jaguar chasing its own tail. This couldnít be happening. If Blair was damaged how could they continue as partners? The selfishness of his thoughts appalled him. Blair deaf, Blair blind, Blair changed forever, meant that he would have to be there for Blairónot: ĎSorry, Sandburg, you canít help me anymore, youíre a vegetable. See ya, kid!í He railed against this commonsensical acceptance. He wanted Blair whole, something that seemed unlikely given the critical nature of his illness. Perhaps, though, he was borrowing trouble? Doyle had a disturbing tendency to lay all his cards on the table. Under other circumstances he could and would respect the manís straightforwardness. At this precise moment he would have preferred to be left in the dark. He could hope that Blair was, well, undamaged. HopeÖ The spirit jungle, Jim remembered, Blair hadnít responded to his calls. Heíd kept stamping and kicking at the bloody monster. Sandburg hadnít even acknowledged his calls Ė Blair hadnít heard. Deafness. The very thought of Blair losing his hearing brought out the detective in a cold sweat. If he could no longer hear his music, talk to his friends or lecture his students. How would Blair cope?

"I have to go see Blair." Jim stood up, leaving his sandwich untouched and his coffee partially drunk. He could see Doyleís mouth moving, but heard no words. Was this the way that thing were going to be? Would he share Blairís sensory loss?

Blindly, he made his way up to the ICU ward. Shaun made an abortive grab for his shoulder, but reversed the movement as if knowing he would pull back a broken limb.

Jim focused on the cascade of curls splayed out over the pillow. The only part of Blair that wasnít bruised, or wrapped in wires and tubes, or pierced by needles. Ignoring the slicked back sweat, he allowed his sight to catalogue every nuance of mahogany, russet gold and plain brown locks.

This wasnít happening.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

Doyle reappeared at some point, mouthing orders to quit the cubicle and return to the family waiting room. Incredibly the doctor gave up and allowed him to sit and concentrate on his friend. Then the doctor reappeared with Simon in tow. The doctor held a capped hypodermic. Simonís hands waved back and forth as he argued against using the needle. His lips moved, forming the unmistakable word Ďallergiesí. Doyle looked very put out, but set the hypodermic aside on Blairís treatment tray.

Simon crouched before him, breaking his view. He shifted to better see his partner. Simon moved with him. Jim jerked to the side, and the captain planted a heavy palm on his chest. He was so close that Jim could feel the vibrations of his speech.

"Look at *me*," he ordered. Simon tapped his embroidered vest with his other hand. "Youíre not doing this, detective. I donít care a jack shit about the fact that you *need* the kid. Locking yourself away isnít going to help him or you. Look at me, thatís an order, man!"

As inevitable as glacial erosion, Ellison lifted his head to lock gazes with his captain.

"Detective, weíre going to the loft. Now." He stood and Ellison automatically rose.

Doyle moved into view, Jim watched his lips. "Iím impressed." The doctorís expression was noncommittal. His fingers twitched towards his stethoscope. "He listened to you."

"He always listens to me," Simon said casually, catching Jimís elbow.

ĎHe always listens to me.í The words awoke his senses. The noises of ICU assaulted him. Ever present drips, clanging sensors and low moans drummed against his ears. The noise from a shrieking monitor pierced his body, he folded over the pain in his gut. Simon held him upright.

"Shit." Doyle caught his other arms, and together they bodily dragged him from Blairís room. Jimís senses were reeling making the floor warp beneath his feet. An unbelievably elongated figure flung open the door to an empty room. A greasy flux rose in his gullet. He was deftly rolled onto a bed. Simon supported his head as Doyle grabbed his legs.

Disoriented, Jim submitted to Doyle ripping open his shirt and planting an impossibly hot stethoscope on his skin. He couldnít protest as the doctor uncapped his hypodermic with his teeth and then stuck him with the needle. Betrayed. His last sight was of Simon trying to apologise.

DAY THREE - 21:23

Time:- 65:23

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

Feeling like par boiled excrement, Jim just opened his eyes as he woke. He knew better than to move when he didnít know where he was. All he could see was a colourful curtain. A pin sticking in the back of his hand told Jim where he was Ė hospital. Carefully sitting up, Jim reached for the I.V., the bag contained a glucose solution. What had happened?

"Hey, hey, hey. Sleeping Beauty awoke." Simon pulled back the curtain. Belatedly, Jim realised that he was in one of the ICU rooms, a room devoid of any heavy duty equipment. Bureaucratic cut-backs meant although there were extra beds in the ICU ward they lacked the necessary devices to support critical patients, apparently the doctors and nurses found them very useful to crash on.

ĎAnd so do pathetic sentinels,í he told himself brutally.

"What happened?"

"Doyle says exhaustion and shock. I think, weird reaction to the antibiotics. Heís given you the rest of the week off work. I guess Iíll have to stop docking your vacation days."

"I havenít taken any days off," Jim protested.

"You havenít been down the precinct for the last few twenty four hours," Simon said pithily.

"Youíre making jokes," Jim noted. "Blairís improved."

Simon didnít protest as he sat up and yanked out the I.V.. Jim swung his long legs off the gurney and waited for his head to catch up. Simon had his arms crossed and was studying him paternally Ė Jim hated when he did that.

"You have ten minutes Ė then youíre coming back to my place for a home cooked meal and a decent nightís sleep."

Jim raised his hand.

"No, this is an order, detective. I donít know what weird sentinel stuff caused your collapse. To be honest Iíd prefer not to know. But I donít need to be a doctor to figure out that youíre at the end of your tether. Blairís going to be waking up tomorrow, you want to be here for that or do you want to be flat on your back with another needle stuck in your hand?"

"Detective Ellison," Doyleís distinctive accent interrupted them.

"Call me Jim, Doc," he said tiredly.

The doctor sauntered towards them. His green scrubs were wrinkled and his five oíclock shadow was at seven oíclock. He stretched lithely, all long sinuous muscle. If the guy didnít run marathons he had to have an active metabolism or food wasnít very high on his agenda.

"How are you feeling?"

"Much better." Jim rubbed at the pin stick on the back of his hand.

Doyleís eyes narrowed, he appeared to be cataloguing the Sentinelís vital signs. "Iíd like to check you over." It wasnít a request.

Reluctantly, tail between his legs, Jim slunk back into the room heíd just vacated. Doyle followed, deftly closing the abandoned I.V. that was still dripping. Without waiting to be asked, Jim perched on the gurney.

"Do that a lot do you?" Doyle said conversationally, hands describing a swan fall.

"No," Jim said succinctly.

"Your reaction to the sedative was pretty spectacular."

"Yeah, in what way?"

"Went out like a baby," Simon volunteered from the doorway.

Doyle flashed a vicious glare at the captain. Simon slunk out of sight, leaving the doctor along with his patient.

"Your boss has a point. I gave you the equivalent of a premature babyís dose and you were out like a light. It was lucky that I had listened to your captain when he told me that you had some pretty severe allergies and weird drug reactions."

Jim shrugged, evasively.

"So have you had any sensitivity tests?"

"No."

"God! This is like getting blood from a stone." Doyle slapped his stethoscope on the mattress beside Jimís thigh. "Read my lips, detective. What allergies do you have?"

For once bare instance, Jim was tempted to storm out of the room, but the doctor had him over a barrel. He had to keep the physician sweet otherwise his visitation rights could be curtailed. And it wasnít that unreasonable a question.

"Dogs, cats, horses, hamsters, gerbils, the old style orange juice with artificial additives, mosquitoesí bites, certain types of wood polish and household cleaning products, marijuana, cigarettes and cigar smoke, pesticides, coloured cheese and too many dairy products make me pukeÖ" Jimís voice was even and apparently unconcerned.

"Any drugs?" Doyle appeared stunned.

"Rashes and a bit of puffiness with penicillin antibiotics, I had a bad reaction with Nyquil once. I wheezed a lot after one of the army inoculations, I forget which one, and spent a couple of days in the infirmary. I havenít really needed many drugs; Iím pretty healthy most of the time."

"What about the Rifampin you were prescribed?" Doyle shook his head from side to side.

"Niggling headache," Jim lied, he wasnít going to discuss the auditory hallucinations. "Thatís why I didnít drive. Oh, maybe thatís why Iíve been sleeping a lot?"

"And it never occurred to you to mention this to the consultant in the E.R.?"

"I told her that I had a bad reaction to penicillin once. She thought that Rifampin would be safe, and I had been exposed to meningitis; so the benefits outweighed the dangers."

"Youíre very blasť." Doyle had progressed through stunned to horrified and onto simply interested.

Jim shifted on the gurney so he could lean against the wall. His attitude was lackadaisical. "I donít lose any sleep over it. I could be killed by a gang banger tomorrow."

"Do you carry an adrenaline injection?"

"No." His innate honesty begged him to be candid, "Iím pretty sure that Blair keeps one stashed in his backpack." And one in the loft and one in the precinct Ė he was fairly confident that the grad student had also spoken precinctís resident first-aider.

"Heís more than your partner, isnít he?"

"Heís my best friend," Jim said softly, he stared directly into the doctorís peculiarly tilted eyes.

The doctor nodded slightly, reading the truth in his words. Covering his naked emotion, Jim looked away as Doyle took his blood pressure.

"Is he an orphan?"

"Who? Blair?" Jim asked startled.

"Youíve been his only visitor," he explained. "Members of your precinct have dropped by. But youíre his only... family, I suppose. Although a Fiona, a very excitable Karen, a Genevieve, a guy called Brad, his supervisor and the Rainier Anthropological Chairís called ICU a couple of times."

"His mom is Asia somewhere. And the rest of his family is spread out over the globe. I kept meaning to try and find his mom Ė but I never got round to it," he said sheepishly.

"Maybe you should try? She deserves to be here."

"What?" Jim demanded, descending into borderline panic. What was the matter with him? He was a ranger, an ex-covert ops operative; he was not a candidate for panic. He dealt with crises on a regular basis. He pushed the unwelcome feeling aside and concentrated on the doctorís words.

"Blair going to be in ICU for the rest of the week and then in a regular room for a few days after that. Itís going to be a couple of weeks before heís back on his feet again after heís been released. Heís going to need some help."

"Oh," Jim mumbled monosyllabically. "Thatís-not-really-a-problem. I mean Iíll try and find his mom and all, because sheíll want to visit. I can hire a home care nurse for him or something."

"His mumís not really a homebody, is she?" Doyle said sagely.

"I think thatís one way to describe her," Jim said diplomatically.

"Cough."

"Whr?" Jim muttered completely thrown by the non sequitur.

The doctor had his stethoscope primed to listen to his chest. Jim obeyed, coughing, inhaling and exhaling then turning his head to the side on demand. Finished, Doyle slowly put his equipment away.

"Detective... Jim, youíre exhausted. You donít realise how draining it is to sit by a friendís bedside. Coupled with not sleeping well and eating rubbish, youíre asking for trouble. I guess you could call my telling you about the possibility of further complications the straw that broke the camelís back. Itís nothing to be ashamed of. I guess, maybe, the Rifampin, turned your stomach, as well. You need to go home and have a decent nightís sleep and some nutritious food. Blair will still be here tomorrow. In fact I expect him to have drastically improved."

"Apart from the possibility of brain damage," Jim interrupted tersely.

"Thatís ... out of our control." Doyle grimaced. "Hanging around wonít make any difference."

ĎWill it?í Jim wondered. ĎWhat if some sentinel stuff is happening here? I think Blair would say that Iím giving him my energy. Or am I just turning into Naomi?í

"Are you a religious man, doctor?" Jim questioned carefully.

"You can pray from home," Doyle shot back.

"What if I need to touch him?" Jim muttered into his chest. He could feel embarrassment flaring on his cheeks.

Doyle squinted at him, evidently missing the softly spoken words. "I guarantee if you stay here another night youíll end up being admitted and subjected to a large number of tests."

"Is that a threat, doctor?"

"No," Doyle said easily, "itís a statement of fact. You seem to forget that you passed out. Iím willing to put it down to exhaustion, so would you if you looked in a mirror. Do it again and I would be failing my Hippocratic oath not to investigate." Doyle scratched his head, searching for a rationale in the face of his stubbornness. "Er, look at it this way. If you were investigating a murderer, wouldnít you eventually have to take a break? So the day after youíd be able investigate to the best of your ability? Blairís going to need you. And heís going to need a healthy partner."

How could he argue with that logic?

"Okay." Jim sighed deeply.

"Hey, I there I was thinking I was going to have to pull out the big guns."

"Like what?" Jim stood up and buttoned his shirt.

"I would have thought of something," he said dismissively. "Captain, you can stop hiding behind the door and come in now."

Simon harrumphed. He poked his head around the door. His un-lit cigar was clamped between his teeth.

"Your detective is exhibiting signs of exhaustion and stress. I recommend that he takes the rest of the week off and speaks to his own doctor about his allergies at the earliest opportunity."

"You two can discuss my physical inadequacies alone. Iím going to see my partner."

Grumbling, Jim left them to it, heading to Blairís ICU room.

"Hey, Chief, Iíve been busted." Wearily, he crossed to the bed. He looked down at the peaceful face. Blair now had the beginning of a decent beard. It made him look like a wildman with his snarled curls. Slowly, reluctantly, he reached down and laid the back of his hand against a cold cheek. There were no spiritual overtones, just the sense of a friend laid low by illness.

"Have we beaten it, Chief?"

Blairís eyelids twitched a fraction, but his breathing remained unchanged. The myriad of bruises, the tiny little petechiae, which had given the doctors the final clue to the nature of Blairís illness hadnít changed. How long would it take for the pinpricks to fade? Jim guessed a week or two. Then maybe a month or two to a full recovery. It would be the start of Blairís fall semester by then. He had a juicy vacation ahead of him, as the most strenuous thing heíd be up to would be lying on the sofa and watching television.

"You hear me, Blair? You better be hearing me. I want you to keep fighting."

Jim turned his hand over, and brushed his thumb over the spiky bristles gracing the studentís jaw bone. It was a strange feeling. He allowed his thumb to travel over to a prominent cheekbone, avoiding the ventilator tube and tape, to where the skin was softer. A fragment of an elusive image brushed over him, gone before he could fully see the imageó a wolf curled in a ball, its nose under a bushy tail, sleeping.

"Resting?" The word rose unbidden. A tired smile crossed his face. All was held in abeyance. Blairís vital signs were on an even keel. Reassured, Jim felt better about leaving with Simon.

He leaned down so his lips almost touched Blairís ear. "Iím going home, Iíll be back later, and with any luck youíll be awake."

Simon was waiting for him outside in the corridor. The captain was propping up the nursesí desk. He held a bunch of reports.

"Ready to leave?" he asked.

"Yeah." Jim cast a glance over his shoulder. "Yeah."

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

He had meant to convince Simon to take him to the loft, however, somehow they had ended up in Simonís mock Georgian house. He had had a hot shower and found a clean selection of clothes in Darrylís bedroom; Rafe had retrieved them from the loft. When he had reluctantly emerged from Darrylís room, the captain had led him into the sitting room and dumped him in the leather armchair.

Just by its scent, Jim knew that it was Simonís favourite chair. It wasnít surprising, the chair seemed to mould to his skin, and was wonderfully comfortable. The captain was ensconced in the kitchen fixing a home cooked meal. Absently, Jim separated the scents: chicken; cheese and parsley sauce; carrots; something he couldnít quite identify and roast potatoes.

A doze crept up on him unawares.

"Come on, Jim," Simon cajoled. "Eat something and then you can crash."

Jim pulled himself upright in the armchair as Simon set a tray on the coffee table. "I figured that we could watch the late night movie while we eat."

"Fine." The scents had been tantalising him for the last forty minutes, now he was drooling.

As Simon disappeared into the kitchen to get his own meal, Jim shifted onto the sofa so he could see the television in the unit beside the stone fireplace.

Simon clicked the remote as he settled in his armchair and ĎLethal Weaponí raced across the television screen.

"Ah, something mindless."

Tired and engrossed in the action, they stuffed their faces and hurled abuse at the movie makersí police procedures. Half way through the movie, Simon threw his cell phone at the detective.

"Go on, check on him."

Jim hit the number without looking. An unknown nurse answered, reassured him that Blair was stable and then hung up.

"As well as can be expected, given the situation."

"Go to bed, Jim, youíll probably be up at the crack of dawn bugging the hospital staff."

"Yeah, good idea." He reached for the tray of dirty dishes.

"Leave Ďem. Iíll stick them in the dishwasher, before I go to bed." Simon pointed vaguely at the screen. "Iím going to stay up and watch Gibson kick the blond guyís butt."

"Okay, Simon." Jim shuffled towards the door. Stopping halfway he began, "SimonÖ" Unable to finish what he started, he stumbled to a halt.

Simon looked at him thoughtfully. "Youíre welcome, Jim. Go to bed."

"Yeah." Jim rubbed a hand through his dried, tufty hair. "Good night."

"Good night. Donít let the bed bugs bite."

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DAY FOUR 09:30

77:30

~*~

Jim slept the clock round. It wasnít until he rolled over in the tiny bed and bounced against the wall that he realised the he had slept the entire night without moving. Fumbling, he peered blearily at the Mickey Mouse alarm clock beside the bed. It was after nine oíclock. UnparalleledÖ He couldnít remember the last time that he had slept so long. Thick headed with too much sleep, he forced himself upright and planted his bare feet on the cold floor. The room was typical for a fifteen year old teen, filled with sports and music posters and a Sega Mega drive ô. It smelled like there was a smelly sock gaining sentience behind a wardrobe.

The bedroom door squeaked enough to wake the dead as he opened it. The house was silent. Only the tiniest of rustling came from Simonís room. Jim padded barefoot to the bathroom, determined to rush through his ablutions and return to the hospital.

As he showered he heard Simon move. The captain called out an absent Ďhelloí as he stomped heavily down the stairs to the kitchen. Jim peered at his reflection in the mirror beside the bath, wiping away the condensation and splashes from the shower.

"How much do you want to bet," he asked himself, "that Simon stayed in bed until he heard me moving so I could sleep longer, undisturbed?"

By the time he had finished shaving, he could smell bacon, eggs, tomatoes and hash browns frying in a skillet. But more importantly he sensed hot, perking coffee. An automaton, he followed his nose to the kitchen.

His captain held out a mug towards him.

Jim clasped it to his chest gratefully. "Thanks, man."

"Blairís fine. I just rang the hospital." He flipped the bacon in the pan. "You sleep well?"

"Best nightís sleep sinceÖ Well, you know."

Simon nodded understandingly. He was almost unrecognisable, Jim noted, a full nights sleep meant that the captain bore a decent growth of stubble on his chin. As stylish as always, he wore a green patterned kimono gown, but his leather slippers were as old as the trees.

"How come youíre not at work?"

"Itís Saturday."

"Saturday?" How could it be the weekend already?

DAY FOUR 10:30

78:30

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Simon dropped him off outside the hospital promising to return after watching Darryl play baseball at a high school tournament. Before heading up to ICU, Jim purchased the next book in Blairís fantasy series. He admitted to himself as he stood in the line to the cashier, that he was putting off visiting ICU. Doyle had told him that Blair was improving, that today the kid would wake up, but what if he didnít improve? What if he didnít wake up? Appalled at his negative thinking he thrust a twenty dollar note into the cashierís hand and without waiting for change he stormed up to the ICU ward.

The nurse with the long braid, that he had met that first horrific night, was back on duty. He didnít even know her name.

"Jim Ellison," he introduced himself, "here to see Blair Sandburg. Can I go in?"

Her name tag said ĎPeggyíóa very old fashioned name for a young woman. With any luck, Blair would be flirting with her before the day was out.

"Yes. Shaun was just in."

Slowly Jim pushed open the cubicleís door hoping to see improvement. He froze in the doorway, his senses cataloguing the scene before him. Blair had been extubated, the ventilator was set aside by the window. A nasal cannula was wrapped around his head feeding oxygen into his nose. Instead of lying flat, head supported by a narrow pillow because of the tube down his throat, he was now propped up on a mound of pillows and the bed had been raised slightly.

The bedding was fresh, crisp and clean. His sense of smell told him that Blair had been washed. Somehow Shaun had also washed Blairís hair; he could smell almost damp curls and institutional shampoo. The nurse had given him the full treatment down to a shave. There was a tiny little patch of red where the intubation tube had been secured with tape. The kidís lips were chapped and sore looking, probably from the tube, and were coated with some kind of ointment.

He was still hooked up to the EEG and ECG, monitoring his brainwaves and a regular heartbeat. The blood pressure cuff groaned and inflated on the studentís right arm. A plethora of I.V.s still fed into the ports in the back of one hand and other forearm.

But he looked impossibly improved.

"Hey, kid." Jim moved mindlessly to the side of the bed. On auto pilot, he reached out, untying the loose ponytail allowing the curls to tumble over his fingers as Blair usually slept with his hair free.

"Book?" he asked the somnolent figure.

There was no answer, but he retrieved their novel from under the ventilator, muttering, "Last chapter. Weíll find out how they stop the invading army. Iíve got the next one."

Taking his customary position at Blairís left hand side, he settled back and started to read, unaware of the involuntary smile on his face.

 

 

DAY FOUR-16:30 hrs

84:30

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His day passed like the previous days, ten minutes in every sixty, but this time it wasnít painful. Little did he know that he paced like an expectant father around the waiting room.

Doyle padded wearily into the room and extracted his fiftieth cup of coffee for the day from the vending machine.

"You do know that coffeeís bad for you," Jim said conversationally.

"Especially this crap." He scowled distastefully as the grains floating on the surface.

"Why drink it?"

"íCos the staff room percolatorís broken. I keep meaning to go out and get a new one. But at the end of my shift it never seems important enough Ė I prefer to go home and go to sleep."

"Shouldnít the administration buy one?"

Doyle snorted. "They subsidise the cafeteria. Staff buys their own coffee and milk and stuff. I broke the percolator, so I have to replace it. I should soon, otherwise Shaunís going to make a voodoo doll of me and stick pins in it."

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

ĎÖnot niceÖsore. Jim?í

Dreams assailed him. Tiny spiders biting his arms and legs; piercing his skin.

ĎJim?í

He tried to turn over. Couldnít.

Tired.

Heavy.

ĎJim?í

Sleepy.

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Blair mumbled fretfully, an unconnected mishmash of words that made little sense. His head moved fractionally on the pillow. A tiny frown line formed between his eyebrows.

"Blair?" Jim leaned forward in his chair. "Are you with me?"

He muttered.

"Itís the disorientation from the sedatives." Doyle moved to the other side of the bed. He curled his fingers around his patientís wrist taking his pulse and monitoring his breathing.

"Whenís he going to wake up?" Jim clamped his mouth shut, the words had taken on the sing song lilt of being oft repeated.

Doyle lost his count, grimaced, and started again. "Soon Ė but heís going to sleep a lot over the next few days."

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ĎLashÖ LashÖhe was here.í

Lash hadnít stuck pins in him? Lash made him drink.

ĎYou canít be me!í

ĎNo!" he sobbed.

He flailed out.

His hand hit metal Ė it hurt.

ĎManacles?í

ĎJim?í

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The Sentinel bolted out of the waiting room and into room 101. Doyle cast a startled glance at him, dropped his reports and then followed. Blair twisted feebly in his bed. He had banged his hand against the bed rail, dislodging his I.V. port. A bruise was all ready forming on the back of his hand.

"Shhh, shhh." Jim caught his wrist avoiding the damage.

"Shit," Doyle swore. He crowded in next to the detective.

"Doc?" Shaun questioned from behind them.

"Itís okay." Doyle leaned down to assess the I.V. port. "Bring me some antiseptic and some bandages."

"Will do," the nurse said smartly.

"And a sterile I.V. port."

Blair whimpered as the doctor removed the compromised needle. Blood welled in its wake. He whimpered again.

"Shhh." Jim rested a cool hand on Blairís forehead. His thumb stroked his temple. "Itís okay, Doc Doyleís going to make it better."

He kept up his litany of reassuring words as Doyle disinfected the puncture and dressed the wound. Jim twisted Blairís arm displaying the main vein running along the forearm so Doyle could reinsert a new port.

Doyleís brow furrowed in question. "Youíve medic training?"

Ellison nodded. "Blair, youíre going to feel a little pin prick but thatís all."

A minute tremor crossed Blairís mobile face as Doyle set up the I.V. port, despite the local anaesthetic. Once everything was re-attached and the flow of medication resumed, Jim laid Blairís arm back on the blankets.

Shaun accepted the bloody cotton wool swabs and the old port.

"Shaun, weíre going to need some restraints."

"No," Jim protested. He stood, protectively, between Blair and the doctor. "You canít tie him up. Heíll get upset."

"Jim?" Doyle began.

"Blairís had some bad experiences. During his association with the police," Jim explained in the face of Doyleís scepticism, "heís ran into someÖ situations. He was kidnapped by a psycho about eighteen months ago. Lash tied him up, drugged himÖ You donít want to go there again."

"Lash? I read about thatÖ" Doyle said slowly. "You shot the serial killer, didnít you?"

Jim rested his hand on Blairís shoulder. "He was trying to kill me. If he had succeeded he would have returned to his hideout and finished off Blair."

"Stay with Blair," Doyle said casually. "He should calm down in a few hours as the sedative wears off."

"Thanks."

He waited until the two medics had left before resuming his place at Blairís side.

"Always determined to keep my attention, arenít you?" He smiled at the familiar features. Blairís eyelids twitched as the eyes beneath roamed this way and that. An agitated sound escaped his chapped lips.

Jim shifted on his seat and leaned over the rail. He gently picked up Blairís bandaged hand.

"Come on, Chief. Youíre safe."

Blairís head turned towards the sound of his voice. Elated, Jim spoke again, "Shall I read another chapter?"

The grad student didnít answer but he seemed to be calming at the sound of his voice. Evidently, he could hear. Hope thrummed through the Sentinel.

One handed, Jim picked up their new book and began the first chapter of ĎFifth Quarterí by Tanya Huff.

DAY FOUR-19:45 hrs

87:45

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Simon sneaked into Blairís room, deliberately ignoring the one-person-only rule. Jim was leaning against Blairís bed, one hand entwined with the studentís. He held a paperback in his other hand and was reading out loud.

But Simonís attention was taken by the expression on Blairís face. His eyes were only open a bare sliver, but they were open. A hint of blue was fixed firmly on the Sentinelís face. And he was sure there was a tiny smile on those lips.

"Jim?" Simon whispered.

"Yeah?" The detective craned his neck over his shoulder. He looked a bit disgruntled at being disturbed.

Simon nodded at their friend.

Jim automatically followed his line of sight. His back straightened as realisation washed over him.

"Hey, hey, hey. Look who woke up when I wasnít watching." A pleased smile blossomed on Jimís rugged features. "Simon, go get the Doc."

Simon was reluctant to leave. Admitting that informing the doctor of the change in his patientís status was more important, he left the room.

Doyle took one look at the large grin on his face and then rushed into room 101. Simon dogged his heels. He had to stop abruptly, so he wouldnít run over the slighter man when the doctor realised that his patient was, indeed, awake.

Doctor Doyle walked calmly further into the room, so as not to alarm the younger man. Simon noticed, with his detectiveís eye for detail that Jim had let go of Blairís hand and was hanging over the rail, scrutinising his face. Skirting around the edge of the bed, Doyle stopped at Blairís shoulder.

"Hello, Blair," he said softly. However, his patientís attention remained firmly fixed on Ellison.

"Blair?" Jim cupped the studentís cheek with his large hand. "Look at the doc, he wants to make sure that youíre all right."

His eyes tracked to the left as, sleepily, Blair obeyed.

"Iím Dr. Doyle, Blair. Do you know where you are?" He leaned in closer.

Blairís eyes slid over to Jimís looking for reassurance. The detective nodded.

"HosÖpital," he whispered.

"Yes, hospital." Doyle smiled widely. "I think someoneís beaten the odds."

The happiness glowing from the Sentinel was almost incandescent. Simon had to glance away, awed by the depths of joy. He took a deep breath, composing himself, before looking back to the tableau.

Tears had welled in the Sentinelís eyes, but they didnít fall. Frowning, Blair squinted at his friend. His hand moved, abortively; too tired to move. Jim brushed at his own eyes in response. A single tear glistened on his fingertips.

Eyelashes blinked once, twice, sleepily. Blair tried to reach out again. By dint of hard effort, he managed to move his hand a fraction. Jim caught the hand, melding their fingers together with tears.

Blairís face screwed up, struggling to form a word.

"Shhh, go back to sleep, my friend. Youíve had a long, hard trip."

"Book," he whispered, as he finally succumbed to sleep.

They were all silent a moment, studying the peacefully sleeping student. Then both Simon and Jim spoke simultaneously,

"Doc, is heÖ?"

"Heís all right?"

"Gentleman," Doyle interjected quietly, nodding at the bed. "Shush. Weíll check Blair out when heís stronger, but he knew where he was and his eyes were tracking and he was listening. All good signs."

He nodded again, this time indicating that they should go outside. Jim grinned up at them, his fingers were held securely. He waggled the fantasy book; he had his orders.

Simon allowed the doctor to draw him out of the ICU room as he had his own questions to ask. He checked his tendency use his great height to force answers from younger and smaller people.

"So whatís going to happen now?"

Simon watched the internal debate displayed on Doyleís expressive face, the man eventually decided to speak to his patientís superior officer.

"At least another six days of I.V. antibiotics. Maybe another forty eight hours in ICU depending on how he progresses. Weíll be running a series of tests. Then weíll move him into a regular room." Doyle smiled. "If everything goes well, he could be home in a week."

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Blair slept through to ten oíclock and there was no reoccurrence of any nightmares. He muttered to himself, disjointed chunterings that were normal for the sleeping student. Jim made decent inroads into the book, until he became hoarse.

Doyle poked his head around the door. "You want a lift home?"

"Are you still here?" Jim was astounded, the doctorís hours verged on the obscene.

"Iím on days now. Weíre still making up time for Nygh, which is why I was working this evening. Nyghís little girl, Rachel, is scheduled for hole in the heart surgery tomorrow morning."

"I was hoping that I couldÖ"

"Didnít we have this conversation yesterday?"

Jim snorted.

"Jim, he might wake up during the night, but I doubt it. And heíll go back to sleep pretty much straight away."

"What happens if heÖ"

"Gets disorientated? Should be okay, the sedatives are practically out of his system."

Jim extricated his fingers from Blairís lax grip, the studentís only response was to mutter and sink deeper into the pillows. Doyle reached past him, twiddling with ECG and then touching his patientís forehead.

"Iím very pleased with his progress. But we better get out of here before Doctor McGregor sees us. Very protective of his patients, he is." Doyle grinned toothily. Chuckling, he made a few notations on Blairís chart.

"Protective of his patients, he is?" Jim mimicked. "Gee, I donít know where he gets that from."

Doyle scoffed loudly, he continued writing as he wandered back to the observation desk. Leaning over the console, he tucked the chart in Blairís pigeonhole.

"Blair?" Jim stooped down to whisper in his ear. "Iíll be back at breakfast, donít do anything that I wouldnít do."

DAY Five - 06:38 hrs

98:38

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ĎCold?í A hard, cold thing pressed against his forehead. It helped the nasty headache that made it so hard to think. He turned his head, pushing it between the cold, hard and soft, yielding thing. He couldnít see very well, his eyes were blurry. He needed his glasses.

His joints ached liked he had a horrible case of the Ďflu. He twisted uncomfortably.

Gentle hands touched his shoulders, drawing him into his back. His arms were repositioned and the suffocating blankets pulled away. A wet cloth brushed his face, soothingly.

"Jim?"

"No, itís Sue. Your Jim will be here in a couple of hours."

The same gentle hand touched his forehead. "You feel a bit warm. Dr. McGregor said that you could have some demerol. That will make you more comfortable."

A delicious lassitude rushed through him, washing away the pain.

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His mind had been too active to sleep so Jim had cleaned. The refrigerator had been on the verge of evolving into a new life form and the dust bunnies were playing soccer with tumbleweeds. He had stripped Blairís bed to the mattress and turned it over. He didnít see much point in remaking the bed, leaving that until the student was released. Deliberately, he cleaned the loft from top to bottom, and then remade his own bed. Only then did he take great pleasure slipping within the clean sheets.

He didnít remember switching off the light.

Blair would have said that he was nesting and the detective would have thrown a cushion at him.

When he returned to the hospital, Peggy and Sue were making Blair more comfortable. The two nurses seemed to be stripping the bed, gently rolling Blair this way and that.

"Dog," he muttered as he took his place in the waiting room. There was a young man gazing blankly at nothing; Jim left him in peace. He occupied himself rummaging through a magazine rack in the waiting room, he hadnít noticed it during his earlier visits. There was an ĎAnglers Updateí and he settled happily until Peg exited Blairís room.

"Detective?"

"Howís Blair?"í He stood towering over the tiny nurse.

"Comfortable. The doctor prescribed some demerol which have made him a bit dopey so donít expect much sense."

Jim twisted the magazine in his hands. "Why is he on painkillers?"

"A bit of a headache and sore muscles, itís to be expected." She gestured over her shoulder. "You can go in now."

Jim was fairly sure that he put the magazine in the rack, or maybe he left it on the floor.

Amidst the forest of I.V tubes and bags, Blair was propped up slightly, face turned to the side, the nasal cannula tube was rucked up but was still feeding oxygen through his nose. He looked remarkably peaceful. Unlike previous days, he wore one of the hospital smocks. Moving forward, Jim noticed that the ventilator had been removed Ė he took that as a further good sign Ė from the room and their new book had been left on the windowsill. The EEG had also disappeared, but wires still wound up to the ECG monitor behind his head to register a slow heartbeat.

"Hey, kid." Jim settled into his chair. "How are you feeling?"

Blairís nose screwed up. "Dim went, blue."

Yup, the kid wasnít making much sense. "Blair, do you want me to read to you some more?"

A fatuous smile graced the grad studentís face and he snuggled down contentedly.

The detective darted over to the window and retrieved the book.

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"Jim?" the soft, hesitant voice interrupted his reading.

Blair was squinting up at him, looking desperately confused. "Hey, man," he croaked. "What happened?"

Setting the book aside, Jim leaned closer. Blair was awake, properly awake. "You came down with meningitis. Youíre at Cascade General."

The words seemed to take a long time to process. For a heart stopping minute, Jim wondered whether or not Blair could have suffered a degree of brain damage.

"Donít remember. I had a migraine Ė went to bed. Weird." He peered short-sightedly at his arm, slowly he brought his hand across and pressed a series of pin prick bruises on his forearm. They did not blanche.

"It wasnít a migraine." Jim stood and patted his shoulder, reassuringly. "Iím going to get your doctor. Heíll want to check you out, this is the first time youíve been coherent."

"How long?" Blair pounced on the words like a listless dormouse.

Knowing his guide to be a stickler for detail and persistent to the point of idiocy, Jim answered, "Five days."

Blair was still repeating Ďfive daysí when Jim re-entered the cubicle, trailing in Doyleís wake.

"Good afternoon, Blair. Iím Dr. Doyle, we spoke briefly last night."

Blair pursed his lips together as he shook his head. "Sorry, itís a complete blank," he croaked.

"Thatís okay. I just want you to follow the path of this light." Doyle suited actions to words, moving a penlight too and fro, allowing Blair to track the light.

Jim retreated a step, but did not leave the room, he wanted to see himself that Blair was one hundred percent. Plainly struggling due to weariness, Blair followed each of the physicianís instructions. He even managed a bare laugh when Doyle tickled his feet. It warmed the cockles of Jimís heart.

Eventually, he quelled a yawn with the back of his hand and Doyle took pity on him. The doctor tucked the blankets around his patient.

"No more at the moment, Blair. You get some more rest." He was speaking to an inattentive audience, Blair had relaxed into the pillows, head tipped back as he breathed deeply and evenly.

"Well?" Jim spoke up.

Doyle started. "How can someone whoís six foot, hide like you do?" He peered up at the detective from his own five foot nine.

"Covert ops. Iím also trained to kill with my bare hands."

"Really," Doyle drawled, there was a glint in his eye.

"I also have a genetically modified, short bullshit quotient."

Doyle laughed out loud, so hard that he had to stop fiddling with Blairís Rocephin drip. "On further examination, I think that we can say that Blairís suffered no brain damage."

Jim felt his knees buckle, by pure force of effort he managed to stay upright. There it was, Blair was going to be okay. His gaze tracked unerringly to his partner, so peacefully asleep. The younger man was present. A weird thought he knew, but while in the depths of his illness the anthropologist had been dwarfed by the equipment holding him to life, whereas now he was a person separate from the I.V.s and monitors. Subtly and pervasively, the Sentinel was aware of the soft glow of a recovering Blair permeating the room. It wasnít a parameter that he could measure, simply a knowledge that the crisis was over.

DAY 6 - 02:27

time: 114:27

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Blair tried to turn over and woke. The foley tube between his legs and the different needles jabbing into his arms made any movement an uncomfortable business. Blearily, he opened his eyes a fraction. He could feel a muzzy headache behind the comfort of some heavy duty drugs.

It was dark. No Jim. He snorted depreciatively Ė all he was capable of was kindergarten sentences. He rolled his head to the side, zoning in his own way on the pattern of his heartbeat on the ECG monitor. How long had he slept this time? He rolled his head again, so he could look at the other side of the room. A large glass window bracketed on either side by pulled back curtains separated him from the nursesí desk. Softly illuminated by a small lantern a male nurse worked at a report, only the top of his head was visible over the high console. The lady doctor with the cold hands was reviewing some notes. Behind her another nurse and a woman in an unfamiliar uniform were busy in the ICU cubicle across the hall.

The male nurse looked up from his work, unerringly staring toward the studentís room. Hampered by the lack of his glasses, Blair could just see the figures, but couldnít make out any nuances of expression. The doctor immediately left her subordinateís side and entered his room.

"Having trouble sleeping?"

She moved around the bed her behaviour assessing as she brushed past the various I.V.s hanging on either side of him.

"Headís too full Ė need to think."

Her attention was split between her patient and boxy machine with dials, that Blair didnít recognise. One of the wires or tubes from the equipment probably stuck him somewhere; he couldnít tell Ė he felt like a spider in a centre of a web.

"You should be asleep."

"Ummm." Talking was too difficult, it required energy and he only had enough to think.

Where was Jim? If it was night that meant that visitors werenít allowed?

The physicianís assistant poked her head into his room. "Sarah, can you come and look at Mrs. Boulet? Iím concerned about her blood pressure."

"Of course. Iím coming, Sue." Halfway to the door, she stopped and turned back to the bed. "Iíll send Shaun in with something to make you sleep."

Blair didnít think that it was necessary; sleep was stealing up on him. Heavy eyelids drooped. He didnít remember falling asleep.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ~*~

He opened his eyes again and it was daylight Ė amazing and he didnít think heíd slept for longer than ten minutes. The curly headed doctor was sticking some sort of device in his ear. The man stood upright, and on reading the thermometerís LCD display, smiledóshowing a front tooth with a chipped corner. Most professionals would have had the tooth corrected.

"Morning. Are you up for some breakfast?"

Blair consulted his stomach; it wasnít the slightest bit interested in food.

Mutely, he shook his head. Then again a cup of tea would be nice. The thought of coffee made him feel queasy.

"Tea?" he said hopefully.

A shudder passed through the doctorís gangly frame. "Each to their own," he said philosophically. "Iíll see what I can do. How are you feeling today?"

Blair gave the question a vast degree of thought. "Fine."

"Fine? Such an informative word. A patient once told me that it means: Fucked, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional."

"Really?" Blair strove for a clever retort but he couldnít think of any. This was bizarre; normally he had a retort on his lips. "Uhm," he managed finally. "When can I go home?"

"Another five days, maybe six." Doyle pointed to the drip on the left hand side of the bed. "Thatís your antibiotics for the meningitis. Theyíre I.V. only, so you have to stay in hospital until the course is complete."

Blair pouted, he knew he was pouting; it was a good thing that Naomi was not here otherwise she would probably laugh. He could actually hear her chiming laugh.

"Look on the bright side, weíll be transferring you to a regular ward today."

"So Iíll be able to have visitors?" Blair finished hopefully.

"Yes, that will mean that Fiona, Karen, Genevieve, Freddie, a husky sounding guy called Bradóhe should really get that seen tooóMichelle, Captain Banks, Rafe, Henri, Joel, Professor Berheart can visit and thatÖ oh whatís his nameÖ Big guy, short hair, sorta pallid blue eyes, bit of a temper on himÖ Hmmm, what is his name?"

"Jim Ellison," came the dry answer from the other side of the room.

"Yeah, how did I forget?"

Blair was part laughing and part coughing, sapped of energy. Jim took command of the room in his own inimitable style, stalking forward like a giant predator. Blair managed to sustain enough interest to wonder at the large cardboard box that Jim held under his arm.

"Did I hear correctly? Blair will be moved out of ICU today?"

Doyle nodded. "In a couple of hours. The dayís discharges will be cleared and the rooms will be ready. We need this bed for really ill people." He lightly slapped Blairís leg through the blankets.

An amazing smile wreathed Jimís face. Blair marvelled in it; the man was positively beaming. His eyes brightened, his skin glowed, and it was as if a dark miasma sloughed off his body. Doyle responded, echoing the detectiveís smile.

"Today is a good day," the physician pronounced.

"Indeed," Jim said softly.

"Right, Iíll see about getting you a cup of tea, and maybe some oatmeal?" Doyle sauntered out of the room as Jim took command of his chair.

"You look better." He leaned closely.

Blair watched as he came under sentinel scrutiny. The detectiveís eyes widened as his pupils constricted to the merest pinpricks. Nostrils flared as his mouth dropped open a fraction. Blair hummed under his breath, giving the Sentinel something new to concentrate on. Jimís brow furrowed, thrown by the new factor.

"Feel better," Blair said deliberately. He was not going to use the word Ďfineí, neither was he going to fall asleep until Jim had done some serious visiting. The detective appeared worn and stressed, he needed to be reassured that his partner was on the road to recovery.

"Good."

Excellent, Blair thought dryly, they were back to the uncommunicative routine; Jim wouldnít read to him now. If Jim wasnít being mushy, he must be getting better.

"Glasses?" Blair ventured, moving into his own one word sentences.

"Huh?"

"Canít read. Can see properly. Headachy. Not bad," he rushed to reassure his friend. "Just there."

"No, I didnít bring your glasses. I never thought." Jim looked impossibly apologetic.

"Oh, thatís okay." A blot of weariness engulfed him. Shit, at least I managed ten minutes. He breathed in deeply, inhaling the oxygen being fed into his nose, hoping that it would clear his head, enough to stay awake at least another five minutes.

"ĎA closed lamp hanging by the head of the bed,í" Jim began reading, "Ďswung back and forth with the movement of the shipÖí"

Cool. He had no idea what book his Sentinel was actually reading, but he knew that he liked listening to his voice.

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Jim was thrown out of Blairís room an hour or so later so the staff could prepare him for transport. He set his box on the nursesí desk. Doyle was curled up in a chair, on the other side of the high shelf, muttering down into a phone and scribbling notes on a desk pad. Occasionally, he nodded and then remembered to speak. Finally he put the phone back in its cradle and he glanced up at the detective curiously.

"Theyíre cleaning him up and stuff," Jim jerked his thumb in the direction of the room.

"Porters will be up here in twenty minutes or so to move him to his room." Doyle consulted his notes. "Room 281."

"I wanted to thank you all," Jim said in a rush, he pushed the box along the shelf.

"Thatís not necessary," Doyle began.

"I know. But I wanted to show my appreciation," Jim said stoically.

"Thank you." He reached up and pulled the box down onto his level. Grinning, he ripped open the plain box and then laughed uproariously. The laughter drew Shaun out from another cubicle.

"Jim brought us a present." Doyle lifted out a coffee percolator from the box.

"Cool, man." Shaun ducked around the console to the nursesí side.

"It can make cappuccino, cafť lattť, and ~oooh~ look expresso," Doyle gurgled delightedly as he rummaged through the box pulling out attachments.

"Like you need expresso. You should tow an I.V. pole with coffee dripping straight into your veins," Shaun said sardonically, then the nurse laughed.

"What?"

Shaun reached over the shorter doctor and pointed to two bags of filter coffee in the bottom of the box. "Theyíre decaffeinated!"

"Too much coffeeís bad for your health," Jim deadpanned.

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Nursing the first decent cup of coffee he had had since Blair had became ill -- Jim stood to the side as his sleepy guide was lifted, with great care, onto a transport gurney.

The younger of the two porters set the rails in place and then ensured that his charge was comfortable and safely secured. Blairís brow furrowed but he didnít really waken. Freed of the majority of the I.V.s and the urinary catheter, he managed to turn onto his side.

Jim trailed after them as they carefully manoeuvred the gurney down the corridor. He felt as if he should be doing something, ensuring that the I.V. pole remained attached to the bed...

The large transport elevator door chiming open distracted him.

"Iím sorry, you canít travel down with us," the older man said, his tone neutral.

"Weíre heading down to the second floor, room 281," the other porter offered.

"Detective? Jim?" Shaunís distinctive Jamaican accent caught up with him. "Your books."

The elevator door closed on them before Jim could object. Silently, he accepted the gaudily illustrated books.

"You look after yourself, man. Youíre looking a bit ragged around the edges."

"Enjoy the coffee." Securing the books under his arm, he fumbled with the coffee cup. Eventually, he managed to free his right hand. "Thanks." He held out his hand.

Shaun grinned, and clasped it firmly. "My pleasure."

They shook hands, a short, masculine shake, with maybe a little bit of squeezing machismo. Grinning, his teeth a bright slash of white in his dark face, Shaun lumbered back to his desk.

Jim stood by the elevator, looking back into the ICU ward. It had become his whole world for the longest six days of his life.

It was over...

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EPILOGUE

The loft-one week later.

He was asleep, sprawled out on the sofa like a giant teddy bear with all the stuffing hugged out. The afghan draped half on his legs and half on the floor, as if he hadnít enough energy to completely drag the blanket over him. The Sentinel was fast asleep, mouth inelegantly wide open with the tiniest, little snore escaping.

Blair gripped edge of his wooden door frame; he still felt a little wobbly. Jim would pitch a fit if he saw him out of bed when the doctor had stated emphatically that he had to endure bed rest for two or three days before he could move onto the couch. He had slept most of the day, exhausted by the short drive from the hospital to the loft. Jim had bundled him up in a quilt and then rolled him into bed about two minutes after they had returned home.

Now he was awake and the loft was so dark and silent after the nights on the ward, he found it too quiet to sleep. Any rate, he had had enough of lying in beds to last him a thousand years. In hospital, sleeping had taken up the greatest proportion of his time as he healed. However, slowly and inevitably his waking hours had began to dominate. The crew at Major Crime had descended, spreading out their visiting hours over the day. He would start a conversation with Henri or Rafe and then wake up to find Jim watching over him at the end of the day. Joel had proven to be a fun visitor, keeping him abreast of the gossip down at the precinct. Simon had been really weird, skirting around a subject that Blair could only guess at Ė eventually he would figure it out. Amazingly, the captain had mentioned the fishing trip that he and Jim had planned at the end of the month, and he had then invited the grad student. Even though he knew absolutely nothing about fly fishing, and had told the captain, the invitation still stood. Jimís only comment was that his Cree fishing spear was an absolute no-no.

His attention firmly fixed on his goal, Blair wobbled his way across to Jimís favourite armchair. Sagging into it, he managed not to sigh deeply and disturb the Sentinel. That short walk had sapped the energy from his bones. At least he had managed the few steps unaided. The first time he had been allowed out of bed, a nurse had had to help him stand. His mission had been to take a very short constitutional out of his room and along the corridor. Crooked, caught between hanging onto his I.V. pole and the tiny nurse, his balance had been precarious. Jim had appeared as if by magic and come to his rescue. He had tucked a large hand under his elbow and had held him. With a firm, steady hand, the Sentinel had then supported him as he shuffled along the corridor, touched the wall at the far end and then laboriously made his way back to the room.

Jimís encouragement had been a warm balm on his soul.

Blair squirmed on the armchairís cushions, trying to find a comfortable spot, turning once around, ending up snuggled against the back of the chair.

The detective rolled onto his back and muttered. Blair thought that he heard his own name, but he couldnít be sure. Jim had probably meant to head up to his bed, not stay within armís reach of the lower bedroom. Exhaustion must have side swiped him. The light from the moon, played over Jimís chiselled features, making him look drawn and pale. His hair had grown out slightly from his buzz cut during the last two weeks.

ĎToo much worrying about his partner to spend time with the barber clippers?í Blair wondered. The thought gave him a warm feeling, even though he felt concerned at the degree of exhaustion that he had seen in his Sentinel.

While getting physically tired, Blairís mind was too active to sleep. A dream had woken him, a dream that was reminiscent of the dreams that had plagued him while he had been ill. He remembered instants of clarity that he shouldnít have. Heíd asked the doctor if he should remember anything from a demerol/sedative haze and she had laughed. They had to be dreams? But there was one memorable moment when he was sure that he had been standing in the ICU next to an ashen Jim. The only thing that he *had* been capable of when he had been in ICU was lying flat on his back Ė not trailing after Jim.

Moreover, there was a weird dream niggling at the back of his mind. He remembered a place of darkness. He had been at the end of his endurance, lost and alone. The place had been hot and confusing. Then he had found Jim and everything had been all right.

Irked, he knew that he was forgetting the dreams as he recovered. Soon they would be relegated to nothingness.

Jim blinked and his glare, turned polar bright in the moonlight, speared him. "What are you doing out of bed?" The man rolled onto his feet and stalked towards him. No one managed threatening quite like James Joseph Ellison.

"I thought that it was my turn to sit beside you," Blair protested, as he was hauled--gently--to his feet. "You know, you really look like you need a vacation."

Jim sort of bodily moved him along, clasped against his hip, it was a knack that Blair knew that heíd never master. He supposed that it was better than being scooped up in Jimís arms like some sort of damsel in distress.

"Youíre all skin and bones," Jim complained. Another twist of his hip, and Blair was poised over his bed. The ex-ranger followed through with a subtle commando move that left the student sprawled over his quilt.

Muttering, Blair crawled under his quilt into his bed, trying to rearrange his mussed up blankets behind him. "Jiiiim?" he whined.

Jim groaned theatrically, and plumped down next to him, perching on the edge of the futon. "What?"

"Did anything weird happen when I was ill?"

"In what way?" Jim asked levelly. The Sentinel was looking at him with a degree of interest that was, somehow, flattering.

"I dunno. I just remember stuff, but itís going away now."

"Like what?" The Sentinel was patience personified.

"We were in a dark, hot, place... It doesnít make sense. But I remember that you were there when it got really bad."

"I had a few nightmares," Jim said casually, "when I was sitting next to your bed. Could yours be a nightmare?"

"Nightmare? Nightmares, maybe. They all run into one. Yeah, it probably was just nightmares and drugs."

"But?" Jim shifted away, leaning his elbows on his knees and bracing his chin on his clasped hands.

"You wouldnít let me go." Blair said softly.

He could barely see his friend in the silvery moonlight.

Jim lifted his head and stared through the balcony windows out over the bay. Blair could only guess at what the Sentinel could see. He sat that way for the longest time, lost in his own thoughts.

"And?" Jim said eventually.

"...And then I couldnít leave," Blair finished.

"Iím glad." Blindly, the Sentinel reached out and clasped his shoulder. "Iím glad."

"Thanks," it was a pure whisper, meant for sentinel ears alone.

Jimís face creased as he mulled over something of vast importance. Words hovered on his lips. Then, mercurially, he began to straighten the studentís quilt. Whatever the Sentinel was going to say, as Blair suspected that Jim had exceeded his emotionality quotient for the night, was going to be left unsaid.

"You need to go back to sleep."

The Sentinel had retreated to a position of actions speaking louder than words.

"Iíve been doing that all the time," Blair said sourly as the quilt was tucked around his body.

"Yeah, well you need to do some more. How am I supposed to sleep if you start wandering around the loft? I need my sleep."

Blair tut-tutted; Jim had resorted to emotional blackmail. Whatever was on the Sentinelís mind would remain hidden until another, fragile moment of communication sang between them. How could he guide the sentinel if Jim didnít talk to him?

A warm hand rested on his forehead and a wave of weariness washed over him. Jimís voice rumbled comfortingly.

"Somemat happeníd," Blair mumbled sleepily.

"When?" came the quiet question.

"I hate it when you change the subject," he grumbled. "When I was ill."

"Lots of things happened when you were ill: dreams; nightmares; visions; pain; terror; thoughts of the future and of the past. We can talk about it in the morning, Blair."

"Nah." He yawned into the pillow. "íam not going to rímember in the morníng. And you wonít have...have to talk about it. Thatíll make you happy."

He could have sworn that the touch on his forehead became a caress.

"Good night, Blair."

His limbs were becoming leaden with sleep. The presence at his side began to tiptoe away.

"Jim," he managed.

The dark form froze. "Yes?"

"As long as youíre okay?"

"Iím fine.... now." The reluctant honesty was the last thing he heard.

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And he was right; he didnít remember the conversation in the morning. And Jim never spoke of his visions.

Finis