As if things weren't bad enough, now I'm deaf, too.
Well…not really. Just a loud persistent ringing labeled Captain Simon Banks.
"…I told you in English to stay in the car! You can't see but you can damn well hear, Ellison!"
Not if you keep yelling, sir. I had opened up my hearing when they had busted into Bio Helix. It was a good thing I did. Jacobs was leaving fast and furious. I had to take the chance. My sight was returning. Well…improving…a little, but it was a risk worth taking. If I hadn't done that, that bastard would have gotten away. But of course, I didn't point that out to him.
Wouldn't have the chance to anyway. Simon was still going. And I thought I had the patent on the "Stay-in-the-car-if-you-know-what's-good-for-you" speech.
"…I don't care if you got him, Ellison! You know damn well that I had a pretty good reason why I told you to stay in the car! Damn gave me a heart attack…Too old to be babysitting my detectives here…"
I stopped listening at some point. The ringing in my ears was nothing compared to the headache behind my eyes. I think straining to see past that damn golden light like some sort of stained glass was hell on my nerves. Now that Jacobs was sitting in the patrol car, all nice and cuffed, I can finally let my other senses draw me a map of where I was. Too tired to try and see any more.
There was only one person I wanted to see and he was not here.
Simon must have noticed that I wasn't listening any more and was just concentrating on rubbing the rock band out of my temples. He trailed off and sighed.
"Ellison." He nudged me on the shoulder. "Jim. You okay?"
I feel like crap, sir.
"I'm fine," I said automatically and Simon growled. He did. He really growled.
"Like hell you are." He grabbed my forearm and hauled me up.
Shit, I must be really tired. I needed him to help me stand.
I staggered away from the hood of the car I had…borrowed from Simon to give chase. When the ground under my feet finally decided to stop its imitation of the ocean and calmed, I pulled my arm away from Simon's grip. Luckily, he let go without any arguments.
"It's over, Jim. Go home. Get some rest."
It's not over, Simon. Not yet.
"Sandburg." I croaked out. God, I sound like I lost my voice somewhere along the line. How did that happen?
"Jim, you're barely on your feet. We could get the paperwork done tomorrow. Get some rest."
I staggered a step back, sensing heat from his extended hand. Simon was trying to lead me into the car again so he could drive me home. But that's not where I need to be. I needed to be elsewhere, to catch Blair.
To keep him from jumping.
"I have to get back to the hospital, sir." I managed to say that without slurring. I took another step back, a steadier one, to show that I was all right. "I want to see my partner."
"I'm okay, sir. I can see now."
Simon grabbed me on the arm and I could hear his breathing pick up a bit with the news. "Really? You can see? Everything? Your sight came back?"
I nodded and forced the best possible grin I could come up with despite the way I was feeling right now. I probably looked like I had on a grin a patient would show a dentist. "Of course. Just like Sandburg said it would."
Simon breathed a sigh of relief. "Damn. The kid's right then. This is good news, Jim. Really good news."
"Better news if Sandburg wakes up." That slipped out of me before I could stop myself.
Now Simon's sigh became more…defeated. "Yeah." He paused and I could see him…sort of…turn towards me, studying me for a long moment. "I'll take you to the hospital, Ellison, but-" he added quickly when he saw I was about to bolt for the car. "you promise me you'll get some rest over there. I'll get the nurses to bring in a cot or something."
"Is…that…a…deal?" Simon's voice became very, very thin.
I winced and did the next best thing when it came to that tone of voice. I shut up and just nodded.
"You're sure you're okay?" I saw a blur going left and right in front of me. He must be waving his hand at my face.
To prove my point, I grabbed his hand easily enough. "I'm sure." I dropped the hand and turned around. "Let's go."
It would have been convincing if I hadn't tripped over that damn rock jutting out of the ground and promptly fell on my face.
Now I was deaf again.
Simon's going on and on as he drove me to the hospital.
"…God damn stupid stunt…thinking you could fool me again…ought to…lock up…throw away the key…"
I winced as the words filtered through. He did not sound happy. "Don't drive so fast, sir. I'd like to get to the hospital in one piece."
"How would you know?" Simon bellowed so loud that my ears literally stung. "You can't see!" The car screeched as he turned the corner.
My hands clamped over my ears, I retorted. "I can see, Simon. Just not too…clearly. And I can see damn fine enough to know that you're speeding!"
"Am not!" But Simon slowed down a little. I had a funny feeling that he was just as anxious to see Sandburg as I was.
I thought this would make me feel better. Everyone behind bars, the Golden shit labeled and packed away as evidence, never to hit the streets again and draw one more soul to the edge of some dam. It was over. The case was done.
So why did I still feel like crap?
"He's going to be okay, Jim." Simon must have read my mind. He dropped his voice to a bearable level.
I nodded. Too tired to even dignify that with an answer.
"Hell, by the time we get there, the kid's probably flirting with the floor nurse as we speak."
I would have pointed out that if Sandburg had awakened, the hospital would have known to call me. My cell phone number was the last thing I gave them before I left that room. But they didn't. I already knew what I would find- a still body under flat sheets, with no sounds except for the machines that pump air for him. And now with my vision returning a little, I would be able to see this soon without my hearing, touch, smell, or taste to paint what my imagination concocted.
I wished I were blind again.
The car stopped and the vibrations of its engine, stilled underneath me. The car door went whoosh, then thump as Simon got out and closed his door. Then my side went whoosh.
But no thump.
"Jim?" Simon stood there with the passenger door still open. "Jim? We're here."
I knew that.
"Hey." Simon touched my shoulder briefly, giving it a little shake. "Hey. You with me here?"
"Yeah," I croaked out. My voice was going again. "Right here, sir."
"We're at the hospital," Simon said needlessly.
I forced my knees to unbend, turned myself to face outside, and used my arms to push me away from the car and into the outside where the hospital waited.
Where Sandburg waited.
Simon didn't understand my reluctance and had just thought I was only tired. He grabbed me by the forearm, intending to guide me inside, but he jumped when I jerked my arm away.
"Fine!" I snapped before I could stop myself. I know I should apologized. Simon didn't deserve that, but he didn't say anything. He just grabbed my arm again and pulled me inside.
It was worst than I thought.
I stood there frozen by the foot of the bed. I didn't hear Simon any more. He had murmured that he was going to talk to the nurses and doctor about setting up a cot. Then he left me here.
I could see. Not like I use to. But enough.
Too much, in fact.
Chief was so still on that bed. It was almost as if the sheets were holding him there, imprisoning him. It was so strange. Even in the past, when I sometimes checked on him on the cold days, he would sleep in some sort of sprawl or other contorted position that I might have done in my younger years.
Shit. I sounded so old. I feel so old.
And he was so quiet. During this whole case, while I was stumbling over unseen obstacles, I always at least had his voice. He would go on and on about anything. As if he knew. As if…he knew his voice would be a calming beacon that could cut through my blindness.
I really need that beacon now, Chief.
The smell was driving me crazy here. I thought Chief's weird jungle medicine that he likes to brew was bad, but this- It was like smelling…smelling…
Nothing at all.
No. There was something. Ammonia. Surgical soap on the passing doctor's hands. Bleach from the hallway floors. Bathing salts from down the hall. Stilted oxygen, filtered and strained out like as if it was filtered bottled water. Sandburg would find that incredible, I suppose. He would be jumping up and down exclaiming, "I didn't know you could smell air, man!" It just smelled too strange. The scents of the city, of smog, of dust, of pollen, drifting by perfumes. It's all gone. This room does not have air.
In short, the room smelled like nothing.
The ventilator tube was still there. That I could see and I wish I didn't. The plastic tubing, tinted slightly yellow from my vision, disappeared through Sandburg's open mouth, down his throat, pumping that stilted, tasteless, artificial air down his lungs.
It's not right. It shouldn't be like this.
Chief shouldn't be here. He should be back at Major Crimes, complaining about doing my paperwork, while doing it all the same. He should be joking around with Brown, annoying Simon and…and…
Just be there.
Scratch that. He shouldn't be at Major Crimes at all.
Chief. Blair. He should be in that musty closet he called an office, listening to that war drum music when I first went down there; where I had called him a Neo-hippie-witch doctor-punk. He should be cramming for those exams, writing up papers and only have to worry about getting a paper cut, not dodging bullets that should only have my name on it.
Yes. He shouldn't be here at all. Not here. Not at Major Crimes. Not in my so-called chaos I called my life.
Simon. Damn. I didn't even hear him. Didn't smell those unlit cigars in his coat pocket.
"Talked to the nurses." He sighed. "Nothing yet. He's still…unresponsive."
Wrong. He's just still.
"What about my staying here, sir?" I asked as I shuffled over to give him room. I was still standing over by the doorway.
"Nurses have no problem with it." Simon grunted. "Obviously they figured you would be back."
I wasn't going to stay away, Simon. But now I couldn't make myself come in.
"They're bringing over a cot for you and I called Taggart. He's going to swing by the loft and get you a change of clothes and some shaving stuff-"
"It's not necessary, Simon." I numbly said. "Wouldn't be needing the-"
"Look, if you're going to stay here, you're going to stay here in my terms." Simon said sternly. He then looked at me a bit more carefully. "Sit down, Jim. You look beat."
But that would mean coming in.
Despite my misgivings, I found my feet obeying Simon before hearing my reasons why I shouldn't put myself in the same room with Blair again. I went over to the gleaming golden chair that I knew couldn't have been golden and sat down. Simon stood by the doorway, watching me.
"You okay, Jim?"
Why was everyone asking me if I was okay? Didn't they see? I wasn't on that bed. Blair is. Not me.
"You can't blame yourself for this." Simon sat down on the edge of the bed, making the sheets wrinkle and flutter softly in my ears. He placed his hands on his knees and leaned forward. "This is not your fault, Jim."
"I should have stopped when you told me, Simon." My voice sounded so strange in my ears. It didn't sound like that before. "I should have backed away."
"But you didn't," Simon reminded me. "You couldn't. It wouldn't have been like you to give up." He sighed as if what he was saying next took a lot of effort. "Look. You were…right to stay on the case. The bust wouldn't have gone down without you calling the buy. They would have slipped out of our fingers and that crap would have been out on the street with a real backer." Simon nodded as if he was convincing himself. "You got that shit off the streets, Jim. You've saved a lot of lives."
"But not Sandburg."
"He's going to be okay." Simon repeated this to me like some sort of magical chant. "He's tougher than he looks. Kid's got guts."
"Never thought I would hear you say it, sir." Even I had to crack a smile to that admission.
"I didn't." Simon joked lightly. It was a running gag for them. Blair thinking Simon has daggers for him while Simon and I both knew it was really a soft spot instead.
"He is going to be okay," I repeated after Simon. "But…"
"What about next time?" I shifted away in my seat, away from Blair's pale face painted with golden light. "Guts can only go so far, Simon."
"Stop it." Simon grabbed my arm again. He's been doing that a lot. "Don't do this to yourself, Jim. Stop knocking yourself over with all the damn what-ifs and should-be. You had no control over what had happened. And thank god, he'd okay. But I'll be damn if I let that Golden shit make another victim out of you!"
I flinched at Simon's words. "I'm not a victim here. Blair is-"
"You're hurting like a victim here." Simon gave me a shake and any other day I would have knocked him down on his feet for that. "Your partner went down. That effects you as much as it effects the guy on the bed!"
I didn't know what to say. So I just sat there like I was in one of those zones, letting Simon shake me like some rag doll.
"Damn it, Jim." Simon's voice dropped lower. "You can't be beating yourself over this. How is Blair going to take it when he wakes up and sees you?"
I winced. "That's a low blow, Simon. Why should he feel bad about my guilt?"
"Because he's your partner." Simon let go of my arm. "And he's your friend. Probably the best friend you've got." He paused and I saw him turn his head towards Blair. "You're probably the best friend he's got, too. You can't do this to yourself. You can't do this to the kid."
I nodded wearily, just so he would stop talking about it. Simon must have sensed it and didn't push. Instead, he got up mumbling about seeing what was keeping that cot so long, and left me to my thoughts.
It was nothing but golden light again. I turned left and it was that light. I turned right and there it was again. There weren't even any shapes to differentiate man from machine, ground from air, wall from door.
Blair from gun.
"I don't think that's gonna work here, Jim." Blair's voice sounded so scared, all trembling and shaky. Nothing else mattered at that point- not the shouts of police officers behind me, not the hiss of a ruptured gasoline hose, not even the close sound of a gun cocking its barrel right in front of my face.
"Come on." I stepped forward, where I thought Blair was and extended out my hand. "Give me the gun." Sandburg didn't respond. "Blair…"
I could hear his shoes squeaking on top of the slick hood of the patrol car. His teeth chattered. His heart was beating so loud, I could have sworn everyone else heard the same. But I only heard. Not saw.
"I just don't think that's gonna work here." Blair's hand was in front of me. I just knew it. I reached out and felt heat inches away from my fingers. He's there. Right over there. I just had to reach over and take the gun…
Then suddenly…I could see.
Bright yellow light became grays, blues, and whites. I blinked, momentarily stunned. Then I grinned. Chief was right. My sight was coming back.
"Blair, I can-" I looked up to give him the good news and froze.
Sandburg stood there with the gun to his head. His eyes were bleak, so empty as he turned them to me.
"I don't think that's gonna work here, Jim," he said softly.
Chief. No. Oh God, no.
I reached for the wrist that I could now see clearly but the hand jerked up at the same time the shot rang out.
And now my grays, blues, and whites had a new color- red.
"No!" I fell out of the cot and landed hard on the floor. My head hit the tiles with a loud smack and I saw golden stars along with my yellow ceiling. It took me a few seconds before I realized that the thump-thump I was hearing was the footsteps of fast approaching nurses.
"Is everything okay here?" A soft voice inquired as the door opened and light came flooding in to irritate my sensitive eyes.
"Yes." I got up and waved my hand. "Sorry, got a little spooked here and forgot where I was."
I couldn't see her face, but I heard the sympathy. "Oh. Would you like something to help you sleep-"
I shook my head, then realized that she couldn't see me. "It's all right. Thank you."
The nurse sounded reluctant to leave, but finally she did after checking on Sandburg once more. Then the door went click and I was able to drop my aching head onto my hands.
Damn. It just got better and better, didn't it?
Not wanting to go back to sleep again, at least not just yet, I staggered over and sat down on the chair again.
I heard so many sounds and not one that told me Sandburg was there. I couldn't get myself to pinpoint his heartbeat. I was afraid to find it not there after all. But I didn't want to hear all this other stuff either.
I sighed out loud and reached out for that pale golden hand. I gave it a squeeze, but it never squeezed back.
Suddenly, all this was too quiet here. His heartbeat just wasn't enough.
I jumped. Even though it was my own voice, I didn't realized how loud it sounded here.
"Hey, Chief." I started again. "Don't you think you've slept enough here?" I leaned closer. "Come on, Chief. Open those eyes."
Of course he didn't answer. How could he? Lying there with that damn tube shoved down his throat, rendering silent that voice I hadn't realized until now, that I was so dependent on.
Damn it. Damn it all to hell!
I sat there for I don't know how long, numbly stroking his hand in hopes of some response. And it was by his bedside I was found sleeping until Taggart came by to drop my stuff off.
"Jim." A strong hand gripped my arm and shook it gently. Why was everyone grabbing me by the arm here?
My head felt so heavy when I finally lifted it and saw Joel's concerned face. I blinked again. The golden fringe was there, but now it wasn't so pronounced. Everything wasn't painted in a gleam of yellow light any more and just framed my peripheral vision like a picture frame.
"Jim?" Joel grew concerned. I must have looked strange to him, gawking at him like as if he was some sort of ghost.
"Yeah." I rubbed my eyes to cover my surprise. "Sorry…what time is it?"
"What?" I peered at my watch and saw the digital numbers lit up in its normal blue light. "Man, I must have slept right here the whole night."
Joel chuckled. "Well, I figured as much from what the nurses told me."
"What did the nurses tell you?" I asked warily. I wasn't sure if I was going to like the answer.
"That you were making bear sounds by Blair's bed."
I shook my head ruefully. "I don't snore. Last I checked."
Joel chuckled again and I couldn't help but smile just a little. "I got you some clothes so you would look decent, Jim." He shook a bag in front of me like as if it was a bag of treasure. "Unless you want to start wearing those drafty hospital gowns."
"Thanks." I meant it. My jacket and shirt was all rumpled from sleeping in them and they were beginning to irritate my skin. I could almost feel each wrinkle like as if they were boards against my skin. Sandburg would have been interested in that. Feeling wrinkles in clothes like-
I turned around eagerly to catch a glimpse of him for the first time since my sight had returned to some sort of normalcy. But when I saw him, my smile had faded and I rocked back on my heels in shock.
"Shit." It slipped, out in my state, as I stared at my friend in disbelief.
Taggart misunderstood my shock, thinking I was hoping that he was awake. He gripped my shoulder now. "I know, Jim. I was hoping he would wake up by now. But I spoke with the doctors before and they said he was doing better." He paused when he realized that I wasn't really listening. "Look. Why don't you go get a bite to eat? Head back to the loft and grab a shower or something?"
"I…I rather stay here," I managed as I tried to calm down, but my damn eyes were just riveted to the bed before me.
"How about some coffee?" Joel tried again. He sighed when he saw I wasn't moving. "Look. If I get you something to eat, will you eat it, Jim?"
"Sure." I just said.
"Blair's going to kill us if he knew we just let you sit here like this."
That got my attention and I forced my head to turn towards Joel this time. I smiled, feeling my face crack when it did. "I guess I could use a bite to eat. Especially some coffee."
Joel relaxed and I could feel his fingers on my shoulder loosen. He grinned. "I'll be right back, Jim." And with sturdy sounding footsteps, he was gone. I turned back to the bed.
That wasn't Blair.
That was my first thought when I had turned towards him the first time. And still I can't get past that.
That wasn't Blair. That wasn't Chief.
The golden light had gone to the corners of my sight, the center of my view now muted colors of reality, I saw.
Oh God, I saw.
When had he lost so much weight? It hadn't been that long since…since…
And he was so pale. I couldn't tell before, but he's so white. The sheets and he were no comparison. Even his hair looked dank and gray, plastered close to his face after a day of neglect.
All those tubes. Everywhere, pinning his body down to his bed or so it would appeared. I had to stop myself from running to the head of the bed and ripping out every piece of unnatural bonds that trapped my friend. But I couldn't. I couldn't. They were holding him, tying him down here, away from the edge I had so recklessly put him on.
Christ, Blair. I'm so sorry. I should have dropped the case. I should have let Simon take me off the case. I should have taken you with me to the office. I should have never agreed to let you stay as an observer. I should have never walked in that door with your name hastily taped over the glass door. I should have never walked into your life and turn it upside down.
I can't stay here.
Forcing myself to get up and walk out of that room was a lot easier than I thought. I didn't hear the nurses calling me as I walked by and before I knew it, I was up on the roof.
Breezes with the scent of pine, smoke from cars, and smells of distant kitchens, came over to where I was on top of the roof of the hospital.
That's how air was supposed to smell like. Not mingled with man-made scents.
I took a deep breath and tilted my head towards the sun that was shining on my face in this morning hour. Opening my eyes, I saw golden light again and I panicked, before I remembered it was the sun's light this time.
"Goodbye, Jim." He smiled a sad farewell, his hair covering his face a bit when the sudden wind went by. I didn't want to see this. But I couldn't turn my eyes away.
"Bye-bye." And he...jumped.
I shuddered. Damn. Weren't dreams supposed to fade away into distant memory? They're not supposed to be lurking in the alcoves of your mind, ready to pounce viciously at a moment's notice.
I put him there. On that edge. It didn't matter that it wasn't a dam. It was an edge, all the same and I kept pushing him closer and closer to that edge, until it was too late for him to turn around on his own to save himself. But I could. All I had to do was yank him back in, back to solid ground where the world was safe and secure with no Sentinels with targets on their backs running around. Just one pull. Just a word to Simon and Blair could go back as a normal grad student working on getting those three letters added to his name. Just one pull.
I banged my fist hard on the brick edge that wrapped around the roof like a fence. The pain from my violence throbbed like hell, but even that didn't seem enough for me.
All it took was one pull. One pull. Just turn around, call Simon, and tell him to pull Blair off from his observer status. That was all it took. I just turn my feet around, face that damn door that lead back inside, go to the third floor to the waiting room and pick up that phone.
I wasn't moving. Why wasn't I moving? Maybe it was a zone out. Maybe I was concentrating too hard on the scent of air that only I could smell.
I should have been so lucky.
I was concentrating all right. But not on air. But on the fact that the loft would be so quiet after that. It would be back to the silence that I didn't realize it had been before until Chief moved in with his books, his tests, his laptop, that weird jungle music he liked so much, weird artifacts cluttered about. None of that would be there any more and that room would become an empty spare room again.
What was the sentence for being too selfish?
Too tired to just stand there any more, I sat down on the ground, feeling every bit of gravel underneath me, and leaned my back against the brick wall.
I couldn't do it. Couldn't walk down there, pick up my cell phone and call Simon. Couldn't make myself pull Blair out. Yank him off that damn edge.
"Bye-bye." And he...jumped.
I covered my face with my hands and sighed deeply. That was the only thing I could allow myself. Anything else and my rage would become a zone out all its own.
Can't keep him tottering on that edge, yet can't pull him in.
Ellison, what kind of shit have you gotten yourself into?
"Because he's your partner. And he's your friend. Probably the best friend you've got. You're probably the best friend he's got, too. You can't do this to yourself. You can't do this to the kid."
Simon's right. Kid's the best friend I've had; hadn't been able to say that about anyone else in a long time.
"You're probably the best friend he's got, too."
Don't know about that, though. What kind of best friend would drag him in front of a firing range simply because he would miss his companionship otherwise?
Some Blessed Protector.
Some best friend.
I looked up bleakly and saw Simon standing by the doorway, his long coat flapping like some half-staffed flag in the wind. I didn't acknowledge him as I turned my head up towards the sun again. Maybe if I focus real hard, the sun would burn my eyes out and I wouldn't have to see any more-
"You know, you've got some nerve, Ellison."
What? I looked back numbly at Simon's angry face. What's he so upset about?
"Joel called me when he came back and couldn't find you." Simon's nostrils flared as he stood over me with both fists rammed down deep inside his pockets. "What the hell are you doing up here?"
"Thought you didn't want me down there all the time, Simon," I mumbled.
"I wanted you to go back to the loft to get some rest!" Simon bellowed. "Not to sit here feeling sorry for yourself!"
That got me to my feet. "I'm not feeling sorry for myself!"
"Oh? So what was that? Some new Sentinel ritual I should I know about?"
"I was thinking!" I roared back, just as loud, but Simon didn't flinch. He stood there with his arms crossed, looking angry, when he had no right to be.
"Couldn't have been very smart thinking if you had to leave the kid to do it," Simon snapped back.
That did it. I took one large step over to Simon and grabbed him by the labels. It didn't matter that he was bigger than I was and probably could easily throw me off the roof. I grabbed him by the coat and shook him as he did me before.
"You don't know what I'm thinking…sir!"
Simon glared back at me, never minding the fact that his detective was out right ignoring the fact that he was the captain. "I know you think that this is all your fault. That you should send the kid packing for his own good. That none of this would happen if he wasn't your partner!"
I dropped my hands stunned. What? Had I been saying all this out loud the whole time and not know it?
Simon straightened out his coat and grunted when he saw my face. "Don't look so surprised, Jim. We've been through your guilt trips before."
"It's true though," I whispered. All my anger had bled out of my fists when I grabbed Simon by the collar. "Sandburg wouldn't be here like this if I-"
"Hadn't walked through that university office. I know. I know."
I glared at him for stating the obvious.
"If you didn't force him to go along with you in all those cases."
My mouth dropped open. What was Simon trying to say here? "I didn't force him. You make it sound like I had him bound and gagged, dragged to every stakeout I was in."
Simon touched his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm. So you didn't force him to ride along, huh? Then he was willing to go along and that got him in this mess. Well then…it's all his fault."
"What?" That erupted out of my throat so loud, that this time, Simon did flinch. "How the hell can you say that? How can you pin this on Sandburg? He had no control over what happens to him!"
"Oh? And you do?" Simon crossed his arms across his chest, a smug look on his face.
I…I didn't know how to answer that.
Simon nodded as if he knew. "Jim. You're a good friend and a good detective, but your logic, to quote a certain someone we both know, really sucks."
My face grew hot as I glared at him. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"You're blaming yourself for something that wasn't even your fault. The kid is willing to go through hell and back for you, Jim. The least you could do is let him."
"He's not a cop," I mumbled.
"Can it, Ellison. That's my line." Simon snorted. "We both know he's not a cop. But, we also both know that he's the best damn partner you've got, Sentinel senses or not." He gazed at me thoughtfully. "Kid's willing to go through this all for a reason here, Jim. And I don't mean just for some paper."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Simon waved my correction off. "You know what I mean, Jim. He's doing this because he knows he can count on you if something should happen. That you'll do your damnedest to help him."
That I would catch him should he fall.
I sighed and leaned against the brick wall, too tired to even keep my shoulders straight. "It just seems like even my hardest is not going to help him all the time, Simon."
"I know. He knows that, too."
"Does he?" I looked up at Simon for some sort of confirmation. "I don't know, Simon. Why does he still hang around me after all this time? My God, have we kept count of all the shit he's been through so far?"
He just looked at me silently, so I just went right on.
"The first day he comes in with me and the building is taken over by Kincaid; he gets kidnapped by a psycho and still gets nightmares about that; gets shot at more times than I can count; and even had a radio antenna fall down on him once. My God, Simon. Does Sandburg have some sort of sick perversion to pain that I don't know about? He shouldn't even be seeing ten percent of this shit much less experience it!" I rubbed the back of my neck tiredly; all the memories spinning around my head like an out of control merry-go-round with no brake to stop it. "He should be sitting at home watching this stuff happen on the news only!"
"Then he would have been dead."
I gaped at Simon, my mouth slightly opened.
Simon lifted his hand to start his own counting. "Let's see if I get this right. If the kid hadn't met you, he would have been living still at that warehouse with that monkey-"
"Barbary ape," I mumbled.
"…Right. With that animal and probably be dead instantly when that drug lab had blew." Simon raised an eyebrow towards me. "Am I right?"
Shrugging, I mulled it over.
I winced. "Right."
"If you hadn't been there, Jim, there would have been one more body for us to bring to the morgue when we went on the scene that night."
A chill traveled up my spine with that thought.
"I could name a lot more, but you probably could list them yourself," Simon said quietly. "He's a good kid. Sandburg isn't stupid. A little weird at times," he grinned crookedly at me "but not stupid. He has a lot of trust, Jim."
"Sandburg would fall right on his ass if he could hear you right now, Simon," I found myself saying. I looked up expecting his automatic gruff denial.
But instead, Simon looked at me solemnly. "Well…I may not say it at times, but like I had told his mother Naomi a while back, Sandburg's an asset to this department and…" he smiled fondly, the way I've seen him smile towards his son Daryl, "he's a good kid. Just-"
"Weird." We both said it at the same time. Simon and I looked at each other and started laughing. He clapped me on the shoulder.
"So…" Simon eyed me sideways. "I'll ask again. Are you okay?"
"No." I sighed as I pinched the bridge of my nose tiredly. "But I will be."
"Good, then let's get back downstairs. They got the breathing tube out and-"
I leaped back in surprise. "What? He's breathing on his own? Is he awake? Why the hell didn't you tell me?" How could he let me stay up here for so long when Blair was awake?
Simon looked over at me with a frown. "I wasn't about to have you go down there thinking the way you were thinking before, Jim."
With a snap, I shut my mouth.
"Now…are you coming, or not?"
I went by Simon so fast that he barely had enough time to catch the rooftop door before it slammed shut on his face.
He was awake.
I could hear his heartbeat beating steadily even before my feet stepped into the hallway that led to his room. I went by the nurses' station with a brief smile as they called after me that the doctor was just in before and took the ventilator tube out. I didn't need them to tell me. Separating the background noises of the hospital, I could hear Blair's dry raspy throat as he asked Joel once more where was I.
I'm here, Chief. I'm coming.
Ten feet became one as I fast approached his room. When I got there, just at the door, I paused.
If I went in right then, there would be no turning back. It would be back to walking on the edge.
"He's doing this because he knows he can count on you if something should happen. That you'll do your damnedest to help him."
I'll catch him should he fall.
I opened the door and went right in.
Joel got up from the seat I had occupied for hours earlier. He looked right at me with narrowed eyes, probably still upset that I had left Sandburg before. But then his eyes wandered to a point behind me and I smelled Simon's cigars as he finally caught up with me. Then Joel relaxed, passed by me with a brief pat on my arm, and the two men left.
And now I was alone with Blair.
"Hey, Jim." Sandburg croaked out from the bed. "Why…why you standing…all the way over there, m-man?" He lifted his hand with the IV still attached to it and waved weakly towards me. "I'm getting…d-dizzy looking at you from here."
I walked over slowly, studying Blair as I got closer. I was glad to see his eyes were open and alert, even though they looked groggy. He was still too pale, too still for my comfort.
Sitting down, I suddenly realized that the chair I had been sitting on was green and not yellow. I gave it a cautious poke, just to be sure, before sitting. When I turned my eyes back to Sandburg, he was smiling at me sadly.
"Seeing…it for the first time, huh, Jim?" He coughed abruptly and I leaned forward in alarm. Sandburg waved his hand at me to show that he was okay. Seeing the cup of ice chips the nurses must have left, I took it and spooned some ice to his lips. He took it gratefully and we were silent for a few seconds while he let the ice melt into his parched and, surely, sore throat.
I sat there in that chair that was really green, watching the walls there were no longer golden and at the tiled floor that turned out to be beige. My hearing dialed up, I heard Sandburg slowly sucking the ice, his breathing calm, his heartbeat steady.
Then suddenly, it picked up.
"What is it, Chief?" I turned around and found myself caught in his gaze. It was disconcerting to see his face, framed in the remaining fringe of glowing light like some sort of angel sitting there on that hospital bed. It made me uncomfortable.
"I…I…" Sandburg swallowed, wincing as he did, and I found myself doing the same out of sympathy. "I'm…s-sorry, man."
Well, that was unexpected. I sat there, staring at him for the longest time, wondering why he was saying my line.
"What-" I began and then had to stop. Suddenly, my voice sounded as harsh as Sandburg's did. "What in the world are you apologizing for?"
Blair swallowed again, I could see moisture gathering up in his eyes, and briefly I wondered if that was how he looked back in the garage. Simon wouldn't tell me. And at the time, I didn't ask.
"T-the…" Sandburg's stutter became pronounced, betraying how nervous he was. "Your g-gun, 'im." He blinked and the tears came down his white cheeks. He was either too scared to realize it or too tired to care. "I…I remember taking it…the garage and…and…shooting that thing…everyone…man, I'm so…s-sorry."
I closed my eyes briefly, remembering those gunshots that never sounded so loud before, coming out of my gun, that were earth shattering when Blair fired it. I remembered holding my breathing, praying that I wouldn't hear an equally loud sound of return fire. Thank God. No one did.
Sandburg mistook my silence as anger, he moaned in grief, and it sounded so gut wrenching, that my stomach churned at the sound of it.
"Oh m-man…I'm so s-sorry, 'im."
I leaned forward and gripped his hand. He was surprised at first, but then he tentatively squeezed back. It was a small touch but it made me break out into a huge smile that confused him.
Shaking my head, I squeezed back harder, allowing my senses to feel the sensation of warm blood rushing through fragile veins under skin. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I couldn't believe how…how great it was to feel that hand responding after hours of it just lying limp on my palm.
"Jim?" Sandburg was getting really worried now. He was probably freaking out at the look of that goofy grin on my face; probably wondering if I took another whiff of Golden.
"Right here, Chief," I murmured as I patted the hand before setting it down again. "I…I'm just checking."
I looked right at him and shrugged. "Just checking." I furrowed my brow and looked sternly at him. Blair flinched as if he were waiting for me to start yelling. "And I should be the one to say sorry, Chief." I sighed and leaned back on the seat. "This wasn't your fault. It was mine. I am sorry, Chief, for getting you into this mess."
"W-what?" Blair looked totally confused. He opened his mouth, then shut it again. And he tried again, but no words came out.
Well I'll be damned. Blair Sandburg…speechless. Where was my camera?
A strange look passed over my friend's face, and he then knew what to say.
"You d-didn't put me here, Jim."
The hell I didn't.
"Not you…" Blair swallowed. "That did this. Not you." His voice grew stronger as he continued. "How could you think of even blaming yourself when I was the one who was holding the…g-gun?" Blair looked away suddenly, his eyes riveted to the bland walls to his right. "I was the one…s-shooting…"
His voice dropped so low, I had to turn up my hearing to catch the last part.
"I was the one…who…almost k-killed you, 'im."
"Whoa." I grabbed him by the chin and gently turned him to face me again. "What's this about killing me here, Chief? I'm right here."
"The…gun…" Blair's eyes watered again. "I had it…r-right at you, man. I…I…c-could have s-shot you."
Shit. I was hoping he didn't remember that.
"I remember," Sandburg whispered. "Not everything…b-but enough to know…that I c-could have k-killed someone out there. I..." His eyes went wide with the revelation. "I c-could have shot you! You…you weren't even armed! You wouldn't have d-done anything to p-protect yourself from m-me! Oh God…" He began gasping, gulping desperately for air.
Recognizing a panic attack coming, I didn't hesitate. I went over, sat on the edge of the bed, and carefully, as if he were made of glass, sat him up. He didn't resist, too caught up in his own terror to pull away when I folded him into my arms like when I had back in the garage. But this time, his fears weren't drug induced. They were coming from his heart, hammering out what-ifs as rapidly as his heart was beating right then.
"You wouldn't have shot me, Chief." I was certain of that. "You wouldn't have pulled the trigger. I knew that. That's why I came over there," I said softly into the ear that was close to my lips. I ignored the irritation of hair strands tickling my face as I pulled him closer, determined that no golden ghosts were going to take him away this time.
I felt lanky arms hesitantly wrapping around me. When I didn't pull away, they went tighter in their grip and I could feel Blair's desperation for an anchor.
"P-please don't hate me, m-man." Sandburg's voice was muffled against my shoulder but I heard him all the same. I closed my eyes at the words. Hate him? Never. Just don't hate me for my selfish reasons, Chief.
"Never," I whispered back and I rocked him slightly like I would a child. Looking down, I saw the golden frame around my vision, adding a halo around my shivering friend. More than ever, he looked like some angel, who fell down from the sky in hopes to help me, yet needing me to catch him at the same time. And here I was, with this person closer than anyone I could call brother or friend, shaking in my arms, who only wished that I wouldn't hate him for a sin that I had committed when I first agreed to this partnership.
"They…they were everywhere, 'im." Blair whispered and I knew what he was referring to. I tightened my grip to ward off the demons. "They…I could see them…before anyone else…I k-kept wondering why no…no one else saw them…they were so…" He couldn't finish and I felt the warm tears on my shirt as he began to cry. "No one…no one else saw them, m-man."
"I…s-saw you…" Blair's voice sounded faraway. "In…m-my dreams, 'im. I was walking on this r-rope…it was so high…fire everywhere, man."
Don't, Chief. Don't say any more.
"…was so s-scared…standing there…"
Me too, Chief.
"I was going to fall…" Blair hiccuped slightly. He still held on to me so tightly that I didn't have the heart to let go even though my arms began to ache. "Into…into the fire…but you…were there…'im. You were there, m-man. You had…you had your arms stretched out…telling me to jump…"
I stiffened at the words, but Blair didn't seem to notice as he went on.
"…told me to jump…"
Oh God, Chief.
"…and that you…you would catch me…before I…before they get me…"
Blair pulled away and he smiled up at me, tears staining his cheeks, hair all over his face. I sat there, at a loss for words as I saw something I thought I didn't deserve.
"You d-did, Jim." Blair moved his hands to my forearms and gave them a weak squeeze. "You caught me…I felt…felt your hand on mine and you…you didn't let go. Even though I had…had almost s-shot you and…and…"
I started talking before I even realized it. "I kept seeing you on the dam, like Lisa Hughes, getting ready to leap and I couldn't do a damn thing about it. And you jumped right in front of me."
Blair's eyes misted over as he shook his head slowly. "Never. That would never…happen." He smiled up at me again. "You always caught me…I knew you would…" He sniffed loudly. "I was afraid…that you…you wouldn't want to do that any more after this."
I grinned back. "Never gonna happen, Chief. I'll catch you before that happens…" My voice trailed off as I watched the emotions flit across his features. "That is…if you'll let me."
Blair gripped my hand with surprising strength before his hand dropped back to the bed. Sensing that he was tired, I helped ease him back to the bed and pulled the covers up to his chin.
"You're going to be okay, buddy?" I asked softly. I wanted to hear it from him.
"Are you?" Blair countered.
I tilted my head back and thought about it. With a smile, I nodded. I would. I would be okay with it.
Blair saw that and he sighed. "Then I'll be okay, Jim." He reached out and touched the back of my hand on the bed. Then his eyelids fluttered shut, his breathing evened out, and he was asleep.
He was going to be okay. I would make sure of it. He was going to be okay.
Simon. Didn't know he was still here.
I turned my head towards him as acknowledgment. "Simon."
"Everything's fine here?" He poked his head in, opening the door wider. He relaxed when he saw that Blair was asleep. "You two all right here?"
I grinned wider, the effort not as difficult now. "Yeah, Simon. We're okay."
He studied me for a moment, as if he could hear my heartbeat to see if I was lying. I could see the shoulders visibly relax. He liked what he saw.
"Good. Then can I kick you out and drive you home?"
I hesitated for a moment.
"You need to get some sleep, Jim."
I yawned, my own body betraying me to my Captain and Simon grinned smugly.
"See?" Simon stepped into the room completely now. "What'd I tell you? We'll drive you back and you catch a few hours."
"I want to-"
"We'll drive you back later if you want." Simon waved towards Blair. "Although I think the kid's going to be out for a while. He looks beat." He turned his scrutiny towards me. "And so do you."
I was about to protest when another yawn interrupted me. I scowled. Even my own body wouldn't listen to me. Simon chuckled.
"You need to rest up, Jim. Try and relax, get your vision back."
I stood up, stretching out. God, I could almost hear my own joints popping. "I'm fine now, Simon. I can see."
"Are you sure this time?" Simon waved his hand in front of me.
I rolled my eyes. "I'm sure. Will you stop waving your hand at me?"
"How many fingers do I have?" Simon demanded, sticking two fingers out.
"Forty," I quipped before adding, "Two, Simon."
"How do I know you're not using your senses to cheat?" Simon asked warily.
I sighed, exasperated. "I can't as well smell how many fingers you have there, Simon. For crying out loud, there are some things that I still need my sight for."
Before Simon could open his mouth to argue the point, Blair spoke up in a groggy voice.
"Chief." I was there in two long steps. "What is it?"
Blair opened his eyes and I saw a flash of blue before he shut them again. "Get some sleep, man." He said sleepily. "You look like shit." And with that, he was asleep again.
I smiled softly even though I knew Sandburg couldn't see. "Okay, buddy. I'll be back in a few hours." I stepped away from the bed, from the halo around Chief and turned around to see Simon watching me with an amused expression on his face.
Simon chuckled. "He's right, Jim. You do look like shit."
I growled which only got me another chuckle. I looked back at Chief once more before leaving the room. His heartbeat was easy to pick up and it sang out loud among the beeps and chirps of medical machinery. Sandburg stirred a bit, turning slightly on his side and I chuckled. Restless sleeper.
That was the Blair Sandburg I knew there.
"Okay, Simon," I finally agreed. Maybe with a few hours, the lead in my limbs would drop off. I took one more glance at my friend, then walked out of the room, knowing I would be back.
I would be back, walking that rope, Chief. You with your arms outstretched to balance yourself. Me behind you with my arms out, too.
So I could catch you. Each and every time.
It's going to be okay.
With that last thought, I found myself easily walking down the hallway, out of the hospital, knowing I would be back.