The Day America Cried

by Akela

Summary: Blair travels to New York to attend a conference about social anthropology. On the day of his departure home on the way to the airport, he decides to visit the World Trade Center for a quick tour.

Author note: This is the hardest story I ever wrote. I did a lot of research, trying to figure out, what happened inside the WTC, by reading official reports, survivors' stories, studying floor plans, etc. It took me only four months to write this one, but I needed ten years to finally truly understand it all. Before I started to work on this story, I never realized the true meaning of what was lost in that day. And I also know that no matter how hard I tried to do my best describing the episodes inside the WTC, it will be only a weak reflection of the horror that took the place in that day.

This is my tribute to those twenty people, who survived the towers collapse, renewing the hope and light for everyone in that day.

Special note: I want to say thanks to one of my favourite authors – JET. Your 'In Memoriam' stories at Starfox Mansion inspired and encouraged me to write this story. Thank you, JET!

Another note: I used a lot amount of direct quotes in TV reports and also where the people that actually were in WTC are mentioned!

Disclaimer: Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg and Major Crime's team belong to PetFly and Paramount.

Music note: Song "The Day America Cried" composed and performed by Johnny Van Zalt.

In our hearts we will remember…

Sunday, September 9, 2001 Cascade, Washington

The Loft

Jim Ellison suppressed a moan, when annoying rustling sounds woke him, disturbing one of the nicest dreams he had had in past couple of months. There was a beach, golden sand, nice warm sunlight, and no stress, just peace. Gritting his teeth against the disappointment, Jim eyed the clock. 6:00 a.m. Too early even for him. He closed his eyes and tried to drift back into sleep once again.

It didn't work.

"Sandburg!" Jim finally groaned and with a sigh, threw his legs over the edge of bed. He shivered when his feet touched chill floor. "Whatever you're doing down there, do it quiet!"

"Yes, sir!" his sentinel ears caught a muttered answer.

He grabbed his robe and put it on, stomping downstairs. He found the young man in the small bedroom packing his books and journals in a travelling bag. Jim stood in the doorway watching Blair's chaotic movements, when he tossed some clothes and underwear on top of the papers.

"Chief?" Jim sighed, startling his friend.

"Oh, hey, morning!" Blair swung around and nervously and chuckled, seeing the tall detective standing behind him. "Sorry to wake you up. Just wanted to finish the packing."

"You don't have to be at the airport for another three hours. There's plenty of time left for you, buddy."

Blair ran his fingers through his long hair, slightly embarrassed. "Um, yeah, I know. Didn't want to leave everything for the last minute, y'know?"

Jim rubbed his forehead. Only few days ago Blair had got an opportunity to attend some conference about social anthropology in New York City. He was excited about it and hadn't stopped talking for hours, trying to convince Jim to go along. Jim wasn't very fond of such idea, so Simon helped him out, giving Blair a little feeble, telling that Jim's presence in station is a necessary and his leaving to New York is absolutely out of question. So Blair was going to have to go without his partnerto one of the biggest cities of United States, not that that bothered him at all. Eventually, he had asked one of his university friends, Rick Feldman to come along, who agreed to be company for Blair.

Now that the day of his departure had come Jim couldn't deny the odd feeling that he was going to miss the kid, but then he brushed the thought away, reminding himself that Blair would be back Tuesday's night.

"Well, I don't think I'll be able to sleep anymore, so how about some early breakfast?" the detective offered.

The bright Sandburgian grin was his answer. Jim shook his head and turned away to head toward the kitchen, leaving his partner alone to finish his packing.

"I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps…" Blair hummed Sinatra's song under his breath, chuckling quietly when he heard Jim pausing on his way to the kitchen. He could almost hear Jim's mental musing over 'to shut up or not to shut up Sandburg' stuff. Blair waited until the detective restarted his movements and then continued his humming about New York. He knew that Jim would never hold back his shouted comments if Blair's musical talent would start to bug his way too sensitive ears.

Finally all the books were sorted and the notepads neatly packed, clothes were folded and placed in the large bag, along with camera and cell phone. Blair swept his gaze over his room searching for anything he had forgotten, then he grabbed the bag and walked out of his room to the kitchen, where Jim was waiting. And so was breakfast.

"Mm, oh, man, you're a cook in a full meaning of the word." Blair happily sniffed the air, allowing his nose to enjoy the scent of freshly scrambled eggs, bacon and toasted bread. This bouquet was perfectly completed with the aroma of coffee.

Jim couldn't resist grinning when Blair attacked his food with a speed of light. "Easy, Chief. I don't see any legs under your plate yet and it's not running away, trust me on this one."

He ignored Blair's mimicking. Thanks to his filled mouth, his partner was unable to give an appropriate answer. However, it didn't stop him from rolling his eyes and playfully tossing his napkin at Jim.

"Hey, be nice to your partner," Jim teased, avoiding Blair's napkin-missile "ground-Ellison". "Or I might drive you ten times around the block instead of taking you to the airport. Speaking about your trip, did you get a map? We don't want you to get lost in such big city, kid."

"Come on, Jim. You really shouldn't have watched that 'Home alone' movie last night." Blair grinned, remembering how they spent the evening in watching the second part of little Kevin's adventures in New York. It had been Blair's choice of movie, while Jim's treat was the Chinese meal. Although Jim had complained about his choice, soon they both were settled down on the couch, roaring with laughter, when Kevin started to beat up both clumsy robbers.

"Please! First, that movie was funny. Childish, but sometimes that's exactly what a man needs to relax after a hard day's work." detective rolled his eyes upwards. "And, second, you attract trouble. Everyone knows that only you can rush into danger while sitting in your safe office at Rainier."

Blair sighed. Just a couple of weeks ago, some drugged teenager, apparently searching for something to steal and buy more dope, had somehow crept into the university. As if there were no other place to search the boy decided to head directly to Blair's office. If Jim hadn't stopped by Rainier to pick him up… who knows, how it could have ended up. Jim managed to get there just in time to save his partner from being stabbed.

"Hey, day dreamer, it's time to wake up." Jim playfully kicked Blair's feet under the table.

Blair shrugged and quickly recovered, flashing a brief smile to the tall man in front of him. "I am awake, just thinking."

"Oh, no, that might be dangerous. Should I call for backup?" Jim was forced to duck under the table, when Blair reached his hand out for him with a speed he didn't expected.

"One more joke, and you can wave Sweetheart bye-bye," Blair growled, still trying not to laugh.

"Keep your hands away from my truck!" Jim jumped on his feet and leapt around the table but Blair already was halfway to his bedroom.

Jim chuckled as he turned to clean the table and wash the dishes. Blair responded to teasing so easily that he just couldn't resist. It was kind of fun, actually. And he had plenty of time for a second round during the way to the airport.

"You know that you can't stay in there forever!" he called, his hands in the sink, and grinning at Blair's muted curses. "I hear that, Chief!"

"You know, considering your senses, you should be giving a man a bit more privacy in here," Blair whined, walking out carrying his backpack and travelling sports bag. He tossed them down by his suitcase at the front door and then grabbed his unfinished coffee before Jim added it to the other items into the sink.

"So, do you have any other plans besides sitting in lectures?" Ellison casually asked, quickly finishing the washing and drying his hands with a towel.

Blair shrugged. "I haven't thought about that yet. Maybe I'll just take a walk through some of the usual tourist spots."

"Mhm," Jim nodded. "Sounds boring, if you ask me. Never thought I would be glad about staying in the station and doing the paperwork."

"Never thought you would be, either. Are you sure you can handle such a difficult task on your own?" Blair jerked aside to avoid the whack aimed at his head.

Jim peeked at his wristwatch and whistled. "Time to go. If we hurry up, we'll have time to grab a hotdog in airport, huh?"

Blair grinned, swung his backpack on his shoulder and strolled out of the loft. Jim took the other bags and followed, locking the door behind himself. Blair had already vanished into the stairwell, however Jim could clearly hear his humming again.

"All my bags are packed down, I'm ready to go… I'm leaving on a jet plane, I don't know when I'll be back again…" Blair sung softly as he jogged downstairs.

The detective followed trying to block out the song. Something about it made him nervous. He couldn't tell whether this was because Blair was travelling alone to one of America's biggest cities, or because he was instinctively tuned into his Blessed Protector mode, which meant that he worried about his partner every time Blair was out of his sight.

Stepping outside the building Jim immediately turned to look for his friend and was weirdly relieved to see him standing at the truck, waiting. The energy, the endless excitement, vitality and simple love of life – it all was in there, combined into this young man. Why did he notice it so rarely? And why was it so obvious right now?

"Ready to hit the road?" Blair cocked his head to one side and smiled but his smile soon vanished, seeing that Jim was standing as if frozen. He made a few steps toward his friend. "Hey, are you okay?"

Jim forced himself to get a grip and strolled forward, using his long awaited chance to whack Blair's head. This time Blair didn't react in time.

"Ow!" he complained, climbing up into the passenger seat and tossing an annoyed look at Jim. "I thought you zoned."

"Not today, Chief. Not today." Jim grinned, pulling out of the parking lot and taking the route to the airport. "Besides, I can't afford to zone. Not until you get back."

"Oh please, stop the world and notify the press, because almighty Jim Ellison, the Sentinel of the Great City is whining!" Blair threw his hands up in praying gesture thenchuckled. "Only two days, Jim. Don't you think you should use these days to get a rest from me? 'Cause you never know what kind of tests on your senses I'll come up with next."

Jim growled and reached for him, but Blair ducked behind his backpack, holding it up as a shield. All the way to the airport they teased back and forth, enjoying each other's company. When they finally reached the gates, Blair paused for a moment. He turned to face Jim, who was standing behind him.

"I'll call you as soon as I get to the hotel, okay?" he promised but any further words stuck somewhere in his throat because without any warning, Jim suddenly hauled him into tight embrace and pressed his face into Blair's hair, inhaling the aroma of his herbal shampoo. Blair stalled, surprised then returned the hug. They stood for a moment and then Jim hesitantly pulled away a little bit, still keeping his hands on Blair's shoulders.

"Promise me something, Chief." He stared deeply into Blair's sky blue, innocent eyes, almost as if he was trying to burn them into his memory. "Promise that you'll be careful, okay? Just… watch out."

"Jim, don't worry. I promise to do my best to stay away from any kind of trouble." Blair reassuringly smiled and gently patted Jim's arm. "I'm going to New York, not the jungle."

Jim bit his tongue to stop himself from saying he'd feel better about the jungle. But he knew that if he said anything about the way he felt, Blair would worry and possibly even cancel his trip. Jim decided to keep his thoughts to himself. Unwillingly he released the young man and watched him leave.

Before vanishing from his sight, Blair turned and waved good-bye. Jim raised his hand to wave back but Blair was already gone. A sense of loneliness swept over him, as if the kid took along something vital from inside him, too. Jim fought with a sudden and irresistible urge to run after Blair, to drag him out of that plane and back home.

'Get a grip, Ellison, you're overreacting again,' he thought.

Jim tried to shrug off all his negative imaginings but he knew he wouldn't be able to relax until Blair called him on his arrival in New York.

Monday, September 10, 2001

Cascade, Washington

The Loft

Flames… smoke… someone screaming… pleading for help… chaos…

He stood in a stairway filled with thick smoke. People were chaotically passing by him, as if he wasn't really there. No one even noticed him. He looked at their faces, searching for the familiar one, but it wasn't there…

Desperate scream… he looked up… there he was, standing a few feet higher on the steps… the ceiling was crashing down… terror crossed his friend's face… he reached for his hand… the debris and dust obscuring one from the other…

"No, come on, take my hand!" he screamed. "Blair! Don't you go! Blair!"

Blair's horrified eyes looked at him one last time… he vanished into the chaos…

"NO!" Jim screamed, bolting up into a sitting position. His heart was beating like a trip hammer. Instinctively he scanned the downstairs, searching for the familiar heartbeat, and his heart clenched when he didn't find it. Jim had almost jumped out of the bed, when all of a sudden he remembered.

Blair was in New York. And he wouldn't be back till tomorrow night.

Jim looked around. It was still dark outside. He wiped the sweat off his face, slowly realizing that his dream was nothing more than a nightmare. Taking some deep, relaxing breaths, the detective laid back down. Staring at the ceiling, he tried to recall the details of what he'd seen.

In his dream, Blair got buried under the debris of a collapsing building. As far as he could remember it wasn't a small one. Jim closed his eyes trying to calm down. He didn't know if he was seeing this nightmare just because he was worrying about Blair so much, or if it was some kind of warning.

Wouldn't be the first time his sentinel senses tried to give him the alarm of incoming danger. But… Jim frowned, recalling the last time it happened and all of the other times. Every time it was his animal spirit and the jungle that warned him. This time there was nothing similar. So, maybe his dream wasn't a prophetic one? Maybe it was just a… dream?

Must be stress, nothing more. Jim sighed and turned on his side, pulling the blanket over his head.

Yesterday Blair has called in the late afternoon. He'd successively arrived at the hotel and was planning to stay in there for the rest of the day. He'd complained a bit about the traffic in the city and they'd discussed this for a while. Jim smiled, remembering his partner's tone when he'd bitched about car-filled streets. Sometimes Jim truly wondered why the kid hadn't joined some "Greenpeace" group yet. However, at the same time he knew the answer – because of them. Without this Sentinel/Guide thing, Blair would be God-knows-where at the present time.

Jim sighed and shifted under the blanket. Blair had promised to be careful and he knew his Blessed Protector well enough to keep his word. Besides, he'd also promised to call again sometime during the day. Soothing himself with the thought that he would hear Blair's voice soon, Jim drifted back into slumber.

Several hours later Jim was awakened by the alarm clock's beeping. He felt like a truck had hit him. Only his army training helped him to get himself together enough to get up from the bed. The silence in the downstairs bedroom seemed deafening. Without Blair the place was cold and empty. He'd been gone only twenty-four hours, but the lack of his laughter, energy and brightness already made Jim feel as lonely as never before.

'Just one day. One day, and everything will be back to normal.' With this thought, Jim calmed himself and went downstairs to prepare for the new day.

The morning began with its usual rituals. Shower, breakfast, reading the newspaper and quiet drive to the station. His captain, Simon Banks, teased him for not having his shadow around but Jim wasn't really paying attention. His dream still lingered in the corners of his mind, making him feel somewhat nervous.

"Jim, is there something you want to clue me in about?" the captain asked, noticing his best detective's mood.

Jim shrugged, grabbed another file and started to read it over. Simon stood by his desk for a moment, then returned in his own office deciding to leave him alone. He knew Jim well enough to know when he didn't want to talk. If anything important was going down Ellison would let him know.

Jim noticed Simon leaving and almost called out to stop him, but then he decided to keep it to himself. What could he say after all? That he'd become paranoid about Blair's safety because of some stupid dream? Simon would probably send him to the department shrink. Releasing a deep sigh Jim started his paperwork, trying to concentrate all of his thoughts only on what he was doing. Still he caught himself glancing toward the phone once in a while, waiting for Blair's call.

Amazingly, the day went by peacefully. There were no murders or burglaries; nothing that came the way of Major Crimes. Simon dared to mention that he hadn't had such a lack of stress since he'd gotten divorced. Rafe and Henri soon took off, after finishing their own paperwork. An hour later only Jim still remained behind his desk.

"Leave something for Sandburg to do when he's back," Simon chuckled, stepping out of his office and approaching Jim. "Or maybe you wanna finish a month's worth of paperwork in one day?"

Jim dropped the pen on the top of an unfinished report and stretched out his arms, groaning when his stiff muscles protested against the movement. Simon patted his shoulder, an understanding look in his face.

"Look, I'm sure that the kid's okay. He'll be back tomorrow, won't he? Besides, if you worry that much about him, why don't you call him?"

Like he hadn't considered that option. But that wouldn't do any good anyway, so Jim glanced at the clock to find an excuse for not calling. "He's probably still at the conference, Simon. When he called yesterday, he mentioned that it might take all day."

"Then leave a message. Anything that might make you feel better," the Captain advised then turned to leave. At the door he paused, sighed and gave Jim a look. "Come in, Ellison. Take a break from those papers. Let's have some coffee. My treat."

A message, yeah, he could probably do that. Mentally cursing himself for not having such idea earlier Jim smiled thankfully and picked up the receiver, pressing the number Blair gave him. After the monotone request to leave a message after the beep, he spoke, "Hey, Chief, it's Jim! Don't worry, everything is fine, I'm just calling to make sure that you haven't got your butt into any trouble. I know you promised to watch out, but with your bad luck… okay, never mind. Call me when you get this. Bye!"

When he entered Simon's office, the captain offered him coffee and chuckled. Jim frowned, not really seeing the reason for such sudden amusement.

"You look better, y'know?" Simon mentioned, joining him at the table. "I'm telling you, Sandburg is fine. Not to mention the fact that he's in such a big city. Imagine all those dating options, huh?"

"Yeah, I know. It's just… Maybe I'm really overreacting." Jim sighed. "I just have a bad feeling, that's all."

"Is there any reason for it?" Simon frowned. He tried to keep a distance from everything that was somehow related to the Sentinel thing but there were the times when it was just impossible. Like some weird promotions in a form of visions about the jungle, or an instinctive sensing of trouble, or if his Guide was in any kind of danger.

Jim shook his head.

"That's the problem, Simon. I can't explain it. I haven't seen any visions that could possibly tell me what's going on. All I've got is a bad feeling that something is going to happen." There, he'd finally said it. Well, at least the main part. "The worse thing is that if anything actually happens, I won't be able to help him 'cause I'm too far away."

"Okay, I get your point." Captain drawled, rubbing his forehead. "Let's see if I can get you distracted by something else. I was planning to spend this weekend with Daryl, but I'm having trouble deciding where to take him. Maybe you could take a look and give me some advice. You know he's not too keen on fishing, so I have to find some place which could satisfy both of us."

He stood up and went to his desk to grab the brochures of various camping places. Peeking over his shoulder he noticed that Jim's eyes were locked on the phone. Simon shook his head. He really needed to do something about this.

"Ellison, leave the phone alone!" he growled, returning to the table. "Never thought I would say this but right now I wish there was a crime out there, so I could assign you to solve it, to give you something else to think about besides worrying about Sandburg."

Jim made a wry face although Simon was right. With nothing to do all of his thoughts unconsciously were concentrated on Blair. Returning to his desk he clenched his jaw and resolutely studied the brochures Simon had given him, for the second time today forcing his thoughts onto the task at hand. Maybe he should see the department shrink after all?

While he read the description of a fishing camp near the Forks, Jim decided that the next time Blair invited him to go along, he'd say 'yes'.

Later, back in the loft Jim had barely finished his Chinese takeout when his phone finally rang. He ran upstairs and grabbed the receiver from his nightstand, assuming that the conversation might take a while and he wasn't intended to stand on his feet, while talking to Blair.


"Hey, big guy. Just got your message," Blair's cheery voice greeted him. Jim closed his eyes in relief.

"Thank God, it's you." From the silence on the other end of the line, Jim realized too late that his tone had undoubtedly rung alarm bells in Blair's mind.

"Are you feeling okay? Is there something wrong with your senses?" Blair finally asked anxiously.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Just… you know, you weren't calling all day. I thought that…"

"Yeah, I know." Blair began to laugh. "I wasn't calling and you, of course, decided that I got in trouble, right? Well, just for your information, we just got back from the conference and I haven't gone anywhere else. Not even to meet girls." At the last words he almost sounded disappointed.

Jim groaned. The kid sometimes acted like a psychic. It was as if he knew exactly what's going on in Jim's mind. However, the dating remark helped him to smooth things over. It was a great… no, it was a perfect topic for teasing and joking about.

'Be cool, don't let him know that you're getting paranoid,' Jim told himself.

"Wait a minute, are you telling me that you haven't gone out with any metropolitan girls?" Jim put a good effort into making his voice sound truly concerned. "Are you getting too old to make a positive impression on women?"

Although Blair couldn't hear the hint of laughter in Jim's voice, he was too smart and way too good an observer to know when not to take his friend seriously.

"You just wait until I come back, detective Ellison!" he jokingly threatened. "I just haven't had time for that yet, okay? The conference was long and mostly boring. I didn't hear anything I hadn't heard before."

"Sounds like a waste of time. If I'd known it before I would probably have talked you out of it." Jim stretched out on his bed, kicking his shoes off and crossing legs.

Blair sighed on the other side of the line. "And then I would have to spend my whole time filling out your paperwork."

"Bite me," Jim yawned, almost twisting his jaw.

"Don't blame me if I actually will," Blair silently thanked to God that they both were in opposite sides of country. Otherwise, he would already be forced to run for his life to escape from an annoyed Ellison. He could almost hear Jim's teeth gritting.

"Very funny, Chief! So, when are you coming back?"

"My plane leaves at two o'clock in the afternoon." Blair yawned so loud that Jim had no need for his Sentinel hearing to hear it. "Sorry, that conference was really boring."

"Oh, okay." Jim smiled, allowing himself to relax a bit. Then he figured out the way to feel even better. "Hey, why don't you give me more detailed info of what was that meeting about?"

Blair snorted and then went into a deep discussion about social anthropology. Being Jim's Guide, he always knew what was the very thing his Sentinel needed at the moment. Even if it was hard to believe that Jim could really be interested in social science, Blair decided to care about the reasons until later. But Jim really didn't listen much, at least not in the words. He simply enjoyed the sound of his Guide's voice. He opened his hearing and closed his eyes, finally gaining peace.

Blair could tell that Jim was slowly drifting into sleep due to the way he responded on various comments. He turned his voice into an even more soothing tone until he heard quiet snoring on the other end of the line. Blair smiled to himself and then ended the connection. His Sentinel was now relaxed, and he was too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

New York City

8:30 a.m.

"Yeah, Simon, I promise I won't be late!" Blair sighed into his cell phone. He had left the hotel an hour before and now was sitting in a taxi, stuck in the metropolitan traffic jam. "I'm just going to take a quick tour in the World Trade Center before going to airport, since I'm here anyway and traffic sure isn't moving right now. Y'know, I want to take a quick look at the Big Apple from the top of the tower."

Simon hissed, "You better do it 'quick', because if you miss your flight, Jim won't be happy. He's been nervous about something since you left. And if it has something to do with his senses, y'know I'm not a big help."

"Alright, alright!" Blair rolled his eyes grinning to himself. His Blessed Protector must be getting on the Captain's nerves. "Tell him that I won't be late this time, okay?"

"Fine, Sandburg, I'll let him know. Oh and there's a lot of paperwork waiting for you, by the way. See ya!" Simon chuckled and dropped the phone.

Blair glared at the cell phone as if it had bitten him, but then he remembered last night's conversation with Jim. Something was really bothering his friend, or else he wouldn't need Blair's help to relax. Of course, he tried very hard to put a good show on. Typical Jim; he'd rather shoot himself than admit that he desperately needed his Guide. But Simon was the one who was forced to face an irritated Jim Ellison. No wonder he tried to find some fun in the situation. His anger dissipated and Blair began to feel sympathy for the older man, handling one rather paranoid Sentinel who was worried about his Guide.

"We're here, sir," the cab driver called over his shoulder, distracting anthropologist's thoughts and bringing him back to reality. Blair paid for the ride and climbed out. He was glad that Rick had already left for the airport and agreed to take Blair's baggage along with his own. It wasn't too comfortable to enjoy the spirit of this city whilst carrying around heavy bags. Blair pushed his hair away from his face and looked around.

He was standing at one of the most recognizable spots in the New York panorama. Sure, there were other popular places, like the Chrysler building, Empire State building, Central Park, and many more. Still Blair couldn't help but just stand there for a moment, allowing himself to enjoy the sudden pride of being American. A small smile broke on Blair's face seeing both World Trade Center Twin Towers across the street. He lifted his gaze upwards, admiring the sight of the noble towers, which were stretching up against the crystal clear blue skyline.

Blair tore his eyes away and glanced at the clock. 8:33 a.m. He didn't have a lot of time for this excursion if he wanted to reach the airport in time. He made sure that cell phone, wallet and plane ticket were still in his jacket inside pocket, fixed the backpack on his shoulder and then jogged across the street. Entering the North tower he headed to the elevator.

Thirteen minutes and forty seconds later, all hell broke loose…

Cascade, Washington

Major Crime department

5:49 a.m.

Simon absently pressed the buttons on TV remote control, trying to find something decent to watch. He had only two hours left till the end of his night stakeout, and he was bored.

"… just in. You are looking at obviously a very disturbing live shot here. That is the World Trade Center and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. CNN Center right now is just beginning to work on this story, obviously calling our sources and trying to figure out exactly what happened, but clearly something relatively devastating happening this morning there on the south end of the island of Manhattan. That is once again, a picture of one of the towers of the World Trade Center…"

Simon froze for a moment, seeing the CNN live breaking news from New York. The screen subtitle read "World Trade Center disaster". A camera shot showed the Twin Towers from a distance. It looked like there was an explosion in one of towers. Large pillars of black smoke billowed high in the air, completely covering the floors above the explosion site as well as the top floors and the roof of the second tower. Whatever happened there, it had destroyed at least six or seven floors, leaving a very small chance of escape for those people who were above the impact zone.

Simon shook his head. God, how could such a terrible accident occur? Those poor people, he thought with the distant gratitude of someone who didn't know any of those injured or killed when a sudden thought caught him.

"I'm just going to take a quick tour of the World Trade Center, since I'm here. Y'know, I want to take a look at the Big Apple from the top of the tower."

Sandburg was there.

The captain grabbed his phone and pressed Blair's number. Holding his breath, he waited for a connection.

The regular buzzing signal went on and on, but no one answered. He tried again with the same result.

Cold shivered down his spine when Simon pressed another number to get in touch with the only person he wanted to inform about the ongoing at the moment. He hoped that his worst fear wouldn't come true.

Please, Blair, don't tell me you're in there, the captain silently prayed, his eyes never leaving the sight of the burning tower.

New York City

World Trade Center, North Tower

8:49 a.m.

About three minutes had passed since the massive shock wave caused by giant explosion between floors 93 and 99 travelled down to the ground. Below it a giant fireball had burst through the elevator shaft, blowing its walls out and seriously injuring those who were standing near it. The air pressure changed immediately, whipping papers into the air. White smoke and flames filled the corridors and stairs. The ceilings and some of the walls were crashing down, trapping people in their offices.

People above the explosion site were trapped. The stairways were blocked and partially destroyed. Elevators went out of service. Some of them made their way upward toward the roof in hope of helicopter rescue, but the roof access doors were locked. There was no chance for escape. They tried to do everything to get out, but all exits were blocked by fire. Some of them decided to call their loved ones.

On lower floors, no one knew what had happened although several people had seen the airplane flying past Empire State Building and heading toward the North tower. Looking out of the windows, people could see the fire, debris, and smoke coming from the floors above. The hallways were dark, filled with the very strong smell of smoke and burnt fuel. Those who were able to, gathered together and tried to find the way to the closest exits.

Above the impact zone, a hopeless fight for survival continued.

Cascade, Washington

The Loft

6:00 a.m.

A sharp phone ring filled the loft. Jim jerked up from his restless slumber and fumbled around a little bit, until he finally found the phone, which had somehow gotten wrapped in his blanket during the night.

"Ellison," he groaned with a sleepy sigh noticing that he had gone to sleep with all his clothes on. Geez, what went on last night?

"Jim, it's Simon. There is something I think you should know." Simon's voice was strained, as if was having trouble speaking.

In one millisecond, Jim was fully awake and alert. The tension he felt since Blair's departure increased, twisting his guts into a tight knot. With Simon's first words he was already out of bed and quickly putting his shoes on, clutching the phone like a drowning man is holding onto the lifeboat.

"Is it Blair? Is he okay?" His hands trembled slightly and he was afraid of what he might hear.

"I spoke to him half an hour ago. He was on his way to the airport, but he wanted to see the World Trade Center, the view from the top of it, if I understood him correctly."

Simon paused for a moment, as if wasn't sure what to say.

"Look, maybe you could come down to the station?" he suggested.

Jim felt the cold shiver running down his spine. This wasn't good. Simon would never call him for a personal talk if it weren't anything serious.

"Tell me now!" he demanded.

"Well, I… Jim, I just turned on the CNN channel. Something happened in there. An airplane, a jet, struck the building and exploded. Nobody knows what's happening in there, not for sure. " Simon's voice cracked. "It looks bad, Jim. Really bad."

"Oh, God!" Jim gasped, leaning forward to get a grip on the railing.

He should've listened to his instincts back there, before Blair had left. He should never have let him go. Now he was too far away, where Jim couldn't reach him fast enough to give some qualified help.

"Are you sure that the explosion went off in the same tower he's in?" Jim finally managed to ask.

"I don't know which tower he went into. I tried to call him, but he's not answering. Right now I'm praying to God that he managed to get out of there."

Jim lunged down the stairs and flicked on the television, the scene of impenetrable black clouds of smoke from the North tower engulfed the top floors and roof of the second tower, too. Even if Blair was on the top of the second tower, he still was in serious danger of fatal smoke inhalation if he didn't move downstairs fast enough.

"I can't believe this!"

"Yeah. They're saying that the airplane crashed into the tower or something but no one knows anything more at the moment."

Jim didn't answer. The view was heart freezing. He silently watched the burning tower and the amount of smoke, which seemed to only increase. He tried to use his Sentinel sight to see through it, searching for a familiar longhaired figure but every time he zoomed in, his sight went blurry. Jim tried several times with the same result, until was forced to give up. The picture on the TV screen wasn't good enough for such detailed observation. The minutes passed by.

Simon was still on the line and once in a while he tried to find some comforting and reassuring words.

"Knowing Sandburg, I wouldn't be surprised if he got distracted by something and didn't enter the building at all…" Simon was speaking, but Jim was distracted when his ears suddenly caught some unexpected noise from TV. He could hear it through the reporter's comments… impossible, but it sounded like a jet… coming closer… the engine roar sounding louder…

"Do you hear that?" Jim stopped the captain's flow of words.

"Hear what?"

"Sounds like a plane," Jim noted and listened more carefully, but his eyes saw it faster than his hearing could pick up.

Time seemed to slow down until seconds felt like minutes, and minutes endless hours… unconsciously holding his breath, Jim watched in shock and disbelief as another airplane approached the World Trade Center from the right side and then vanished behind the North tower, where camera couldn't pick it up…

The horrible and unmistakable sounds of an explosion echoed in Jim's ears, whilst the phone slid out of his numb fingers and landed on the floor. He didn't notice, he didn't care. This was no accident, no coincidence. All Jim could do was simply stare at the screen, while the fireball burst out of the South tower, a couple of levels lower than the first hit.

"Oh no, Blair…" he whispered, sick to his soul with the fear that Blair was in there and wouldn't come out of this alive.

New York City

World Trade Center, North Tower

Floor 70

9:07 a.m.

"What was that?"… "Something exploded in upper floors, I think."… "I heard it was an airplane!"… "The South tower is on fire!"… "Where is he?"… "Check the bathroom, we have to get out of here!"… "Somebody help me, please!"…"Oh, my God, look at the elevator!"…

Panicked voices rose around him. Everything was dark. He could hardly breathe. The air was hot and filled with smoke fumes, making him cough. The scent wasn't like any kind of smoke he remembered smelling before. He pulled his scarf over his nose, trying to keep the fumes away. It made things a little bit better, letting him think clearly. The carpet roughly pressed into his cheek. Laying down on the floor, he tried to recall what the hell just happened.

After entering the North tower, Blair headed straight to the elevator. He'd ridden more than half way up to the top when he remembered that the observation desk was in the second tower. Just as he realized that, he pressed the button of the elevator and exited on floor 70.

The hallway was almost empty, with only few people going in and out of the offices. Blair lingered around, waiting for another elevator to come when a sudden swoosh like that of a rocket caught his attention. He was about to run toward the closest window to look outside when he heard and felt an enormous explosion somewhere above him, in the upper floors.

The sound of impact was so loud that Blair got disorientated for a moment. The tower violently rocked from side to side. The floor shook so much that Blair's knees buckled. He could see the ceiling trembling above him, the windows were shaking, and he could hear the dreadfully unnatural, horrifying, sounds of the building cracking apart. Then something fell from the ceiling and everything went dark.

When he woke up a few minutes later, he found himself surrounded by chaos. He could hear voices calling to each other and checking the rooms. Blair's heart was about to beat out of chest and his body was shaking from fear. He had no idea of what exactly happened, but he knew he had to get out of the building.

'No way, get a grip, Sandburg, do not panic', he told didn't dare take a deep breath to calm down, so Blair used his favourite mantra as an alternative option to get himself together. After several vain attempts he managed to relax enough to stop shaking. Blair resolutely rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself up into a sitting position, for the first time taking a look around as far as he could see.

The sight was shocking. Where the elevator was supposed to be, now only dark hole was visible. Flames and smoke came out of the shaft, filling the hallway. Pieces of ceiling had crashed down, the walls were blown out, and windows were shattered. Blair carefully removed the scarf from his face and sniffed a little bit of air. The smell was horrible, no ordinary smoke. It was a smell of metal, jet fuel, of rancid concrete… a smell of things unspeakable. Blair couldn't tell exactly what it was.

Sitting on the floor didn't seem to be the best option, anyway. Blair fixed the scarf onto his lower face part and slowly stood up. He felt dizzy and his head hurt. He couldn't tell if that was because of smoke or the blow that had knocked him out. Through the wall of smoke, he could see shadows moving.

"Hello? Is anyone there?" Blair called out and almost choked when fumes smoke went into his throat.

No one answered him so he staggered toward the sound of voices. He had to find the way out. He felt thankful for the time he had spent riding along with Jim, hanging around crime scenes and facing danger way too often. The practice and experience he acquired in Cascade now helped him to stay calm and think clearly. Blair knew that in extreme situations that remaining calm could be the most important element of survival.

Blindly, he moved forward, avoiding the fire and covering his head just in case something else crashed down. The air was hot, burning his throat even through the scarf, but he tried to keep his breathing shallow to inhale the least amount of it. Blair had seen too many cases when people had died not because of getting burnt, but because of suffocating in smoke.

He made a few more blind steps and almost fell down when his foot suddenly lost the ground. Blair swayed, his arms wide to keep his balance, and leaned backwards. Regaining control, he blinked, trying to see something in front of him.

The stairway. Unbelievably he had managed to find the exit. Blair grabbed the railing with both hands for support and started to move downstairs. He could hear a few more people behind him, but didn't bother to look back. There was only one thought in his mind – he had to get out of the building.

Several floors lower the smoke had cleared somewhat from the stairway. He could breathe almost normally. The stairwell was filled with people who moved quickly, rushing to get outside. Some of them were wounded; bruised and burnt, covered in dust, walking with support from their colleagues, apparently coming down from the higher floors, closest to the impact zone. Several firemen had already passed them, moving in the opposite direction and carrying their gear in order to help those who had were left behind, trapped on their floors or for some other reason unable to get to the moved forward, concentrating on the steps, trying to not to trip. Now that he was going further away from the danger zone, he slowly began to calm down. Everything would be okay, Blair assured himself. The building was well made and stable.

Suddenly, he spotted an older woman in front of him. She moved very slowly, limping. Blair almost passed her by but then his pace became slower. Jim would never turn his back on someone who needed help. He would risk his own life to save the others. It wasn't only because of his sense of duty, it was part of what he was.

Yeah, Jim would help her, if he were there. And he would definitely expect Blair to do the same thing.

Blair resolutely turned around and approached the woman. No matter what, he had to give a helping hand to those who needed it. And this woman looked exhausted; still, the determined look in her eyes told him that she had no intention of giving up. Step after step she went forward, holding the railing, although it was clearly visible that she had difficulty walking.

"Here, let me help you." Blair took her free arm and carefully supported her, guided the woman down. "What's your name?"

"Josephine," she answered. "Josephine Harris."

"Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg," the anthropologist introduced himself and gave her a reassuring smile.

Together they continued their way toward freedom.

World Trade Center, North Tower Floor 19 9:59 a.m.

People on the streets watched in disbelief and horror when the top of the South tower started to slide down with a deafening rumble, vanishing from their sight, a roiling cloud of white dust enclosing it. The shock was so overwhelming that nobody realized the horrific truth. As the roar of the collapse went silent, tremendous gray-white clouds of pulverized concrete and gypsum rushed through the streets, forcing the people to run to escape from it. Most of them thought a new explosion or impact had produced the smoke and debris that now obscured the South Tower but once the wind cleared the smoke it became clear that the building was no longer there.

Moments after the South Tower fell, Chief Pfeifer inside the North Tower, gave the order over the radio to all fireman, and repeated it at least twice. "Evacuate the building, I repeat, evacuate the building!"

Captain Jay Jonas and five of his firefighters from Ladder Six, based in Chinatown, had been on the twenty-seventh floor of the North Tower when they heard a rumble, felt the staircase sway, watched as the lights flickered off and on. A captain from another company let Jonas know the cause of the disturbance; the South Tower had just collapsed. After walking to the window and seeing that the second tower was no longer there, Jonas gave the order to evacuate. He didn't tell his men why; they didn't know that the South Tower was gone.

Each firefighter carried close to 100 pounds of equipment that day, but Jonas, a stickler for regulations, wasn't about to let any of them drop it. Still, they moved down the stairs at a good pace. The men were trained for emergency situations and they kept going, calm and methodical.

They were down at the nineteenth floor when two people came into sight. An older woman slowly making her way downstairs with a young man's help. He had put the woman's arm around his shoulders and was helping her down step after step. Still it was obvious that they both already were exhausted and were about to stop at any moment.

Then the woman actually stopped, breathing heavily from the effort it took to her walk down the stairs. The man shot a glance over his shoulder and noticed the firemen behind them. The look in his eyes clearly pleaded for a help. He looked strong enough to continue his way, but he obviously was determined not to leave her behind.

"I don't think I can go on," Jay heard the woman saying. He paused in his tracks, trying to decide what to do. The building wasn't safe anymore.

"What do you want to do with her, Cap?" one of his men asked to Jonas, since it was obvious that the woman was the only one to actually worry about.

Jay thought for a second. He was the oldest of his firemen. Among them they had more than half a dozen young children. Others had already run down the narrow stairway passing by those both people.

"We got to bring her with us," he told his company. By that point, the woman could barely stand. Bill Butler, short, barrel-chested, the company's strongest man, put her arm over his shoulder. The company's pace slowed to hers. The young man, who had been with her before, didn't use the chance to move downstairs on his own, but remained at her other side, keeping on helping her.

"It's okay, Josephine, we're going to make it," he reassured the woman.

World Trade Center, North tower

Stairway B

10:18 a.m.

Blair glanced at the firemen who had come across them and luckily decided to help. He wasn't sure if he would've been able to carry Josephine out of the building on his own. She was hurt and with each passing minute her condition only worsened. But now the whole situation seemed to be a bit optimistic, since those guys had joined them and he had no longer to fight for their both lives alone. Not that he wouldn't at least try. He just felt exhausted and his head still hurt from the earlier blow. Several times Blair's vision blurred and he wondered if he had concussion. No matter how much he hated hospitals, Blair decided that it would be the first place he would go when they got out of the building.

Since he had other pairs of helping hands, Blair allowed himself to think about something that bugged him. He wondered if Jim already knew what was going on in here. With his free hand he searched into his jacket to find the cell phone. They were almost out of here. It wouldn't do any harm to call Jim and tell that he was okay.

Blair pulled the phone out and frowned seeing how many unanswered calls he had received. Probably he'd never heard the phone ring in the noise around him. So Jim already knew what's going on. Who else would call him so many times? Determined to calm his partner Blair resolutely pressed Jim's number when they reached the fifth floor and it become certain that they're going to make it in time.

A nation saw evil over September skies

By some faceless coward who must pay the price

For challenging the spirit of American pride

The day America cried

Cascade, Washington

Major Crime department

7:25 a.m.


Twenty minutes before CNN had shown the headline, announcing the terrible news to the world. Those who hadn't made it out in time were now buried under tons of concrete.

Simon glanced at Jim who hadn't turned away from the TV, watching the latest reports about the horrible events in New York. Right after the second plane crash he had practically flew rather than driven to the station. Now they had all settled in Simon's office, gathering in front of the TV. Henri was the only one still sitting at his desk. He was trying to get in touch with Naomi, unsuccessfully so far.

Information about a similar attack on the Pentagon had just been announced. Now it was completely clear that none of this was a terrible accident, as it had been believed. Two airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers, a similar attack on the Pentagon and as yet unconfirmed information about one or two more hijacked planes – clearly it was all a considered and planned attack.

Everyone in the bullpen was unusually silent. They all knew that Blair Sandburg, one of their team, was inside one of the towers; now that the second tower was destroyed completely, they were all afraid that at any moment the first one would collapse, too. Blair's direct location was still unknown since his cellphone rang but went unanswered.

Jim had settled himself at the window and hadn't moved since. Every few minutes the captain checked on him to make sure he hadn't zoned. As if feeling his gaze Jim looked up with a silent question in his eyes, but Simon couldn't give him the answer he was waiting for. All they could do was sit and wait.

Half an hour earlier, Simon had managed to contact the New York City police department to inform them that one of their colleagues was inside the World Trade Center. The NYC police were unable to give any kind of definitive information about the people already evacuated because the evacuations were still proceeding in the North tower.

"Jesus, I hope that Hairboy is okay," Rafe sighed, bowing his head, unable to continue watching the heartbreaking images in TV.

"If he was somewhere in the upper floors or on the roof…" Taggart didn't finish the sentence, but the look in his moist eyes spoke volumes.

Jim heard their words but didn't bother to even turn his head to look at them. He'd been staring at the screen for the past hour, watching the burning towers and the desperate people who had chosen to jump to their deaths rather than stay trapped inside. The resolution of the image wasn't clear enough for him to see if Blair was one of them and he didn't strain to try to see. Above all the other thoughts there was one thing he knew for sure.

His Guide would never be one of them.

No, Blair was brave enough to fight for his life till the end, even if the fight seemed hopeless. Blair had a strong drive to survive; he was strong and too stubborn to give up even the most desperate fight, regardless of how hopeless the odds were, like when Lash or Kincaid kidnapped him, or all those uncountable times when various other criminals and lowlifes had been a threat to his life.

Jim braced himself with the firm belief that Blair would find a way out, that he would survive. There was no way he would leave his Sentinel, his partner, his friend, behind. At least, not like this. Jim had already come too close to losing him; hell, he actually had lost him, when Alex Barnes killed him. But Blair's spirit was stronger than death itself. He came back when Jim called him, their souls merging in a vision they had shared.

Blair was always there when Jim needed him; more than Jim was there for him, he realized with a sharp sense of guilt. He would give anything, do anything, to have a chance to do things differently. That was all he asked for – another chance to be with his Guide again, to say the things Blair needed to hear, to make things right.

The ringing of his cellphone cut the silence, interrupting Jim's thoughts.


"Jim?" Blair's so familiar, long awaited voice filled his ears.

"Chief? Where are you? Please tell me you're already out of there!" Jim jumped to his feet and waved the others into silence, although it wasn't necessary – with his first word, everyone held their breaths, waiting.

"No, Jim, I'm still in the North Tower, but I'm on my way out, okay? Don't worry about me, buddy. We're going out…" Blair's voice faded away.

"Where are you right now?" Jim strained his ears to better hear his partner. He could hear the encouragement to move downstairs in the background and he could tell that the voice belonged to an experienced officer.

"Hang on, I've got you… " Blair said to someone then he continued to Jim, "Look, I'm on the fourth floor right now, don't know exactly… I'll call you back as soon as I'm out, okay?"

"The fourth floor?" Jim echoed. "Chief? Are you still there? Blair?"

"Yeah, I'm here," Blair coughed, "Sorry, too much smoke… we'll be out in a matter of minutes… I can barely see where to go… what the he… oh, my God! OH, GOD!"

The connection abruptly ended. Jim instinctively turned to look at the TV just in time to see his nightmare coming true.

The North Tower of the World Trade Center slowly collapsed, vanishing into a roiling white cloud of dust.

Blair's dreadful scream echoed in Jim's ears while he watched the giant tower turn into a cloud of debris and dust. He didn't notice Simon, Rafe and Joel, standing behind him, staring at the screen in shock and disbelief.

"This can't be happening, this can't be happening," he whispered, repeating it over and over again.

The others watched in dead silence. After the cloud of dust had partially cleared away, they could see a portion of the building was still standing, like a spire but a few seconds later it also came down. Where the two noble towers used to be, now there was nothing left but destruction and death.

"No! No, not Blair! NO!" Jim suddenly snapped and screamed, throwing the phone against the wall. It crashed into small pieces, scattering across the floor, grimly echoing his own internal death. He covered his face and sagged to the floor, refusing to look any longer at the remnants of the place that took his partner's life.

"Oh, God," Henri, who just had entered the office, collapsed in a chair and dropped his head in hands. Rafe placed a trembling hand on his shoulder, while Simon approached Jim. He struggled helplessly for words. But he had nothing to say, no comfort he could give to the man who just had lost his friend in such cruel way.

"Jim, we don't know anything yet. Maybe he made it out in time." Joel wiped his face and glanced at Jim, whose expression mirrored all their grief.

Jim didn't hear anything. His rational mind understood that Blair was likely dead; no one could survive under tons of concrete and steel. Still his heart refused to accept the reality. His Guide, his partner, his sense of life… all gone. In those few seconds, everything he cared about, everything he loved… all torn away. The sense of loss was so overwhelming that Jim felt it physically. He hardly swallowed as he struggled to stay in control, at least until he got home, where he could break down.

The problematic factor of his Sentinel abilities, which Blair always tried to prevent, now turned out to be his salvation, releasing his mind from unbearable pain.

He zoned…

In the shadow of the statue of Liberty

In the torch light of the land of the free

Lies the burning wreckage of our Fathers dreams

And the souls who paid with their lives

New York City

Ground Zero

11:12 a.m.

Rescuers had already begun their search, before the dust cleared away, some working in breathing apparatus, some were just trying to find friends and family and breathed the choking dust. All of them – firemen, police officers, free volunteers – everyone joined in the search, not really believing they'd find anyone, but still not giving up hope completely.

God made some miracles that day. For some reason, He decided to spare several lives and allowed them to survive the collapse. They were buried under the concrete, debris and steel construction remnants, waiting to be found or trying to dig themselves out on their own.

About an hour later, one of the greatest miracles of that day occurred. One stairway of the North tower had survived, barely. Railings were bent. Debris covered the steps but, amazingly, it was passable from the second to fifth floors. Fifteen people were lucky to be spared. But their survival was only the beginning of their struggle for life.

When the North tower collapsed, a hurricane-like wind blew down the stairway. Ladder 6 firefighter Matt Komorowski flew, literally, from the fourth to the second floor and found himself in standing position, buried to his knees in pulverized Sheetrock and cement. Battalion 11th Chief Richard Picciotto, was thrown from the sixth to the second floor. Others were knocked off their feet and scattered inside the stairway from the lobby to just below the sixth floor. The stairwell was dark, smoky, and dusty. The men's eyes, ears and mouths were clogged with dust.

The firefighters sounded off. There were a dozen, including one cop and two civilians. One of them was knocked unconscious while trying to cover the woman next to him to protect her from falling debris. A piece of concrete landed on him, knocking the young man down and throwning him head on into the wall.

After the noise settled, the trapped firefighters went exploring. After three hours, they made a discovery: sunlight. Between occasional breaks in the smoke, they could see the sky from a hole on the side of the stairs. Picciotto was the first out. He walked up the stairs and onto the top of Ground Zero. He was alone in an endless field of debris. Buildings burned in the distance.

Port Authority officer David Lim walked up the stairs and joined him. They stood in silence atop sixteen acres of rubble, looking in disbelief at the sight of destruction around them.

"Chief," Lim said finally, "What do you think the chances of surviving something like this are?"

"One in a billion," Picciotto said. "One in a billion."

They turned back and start to help the others on the way out. Soon the rescuers noticed the small people group crawling out from the rubble and rushed to help them. While they carefully lead the survivors down, paramedics were already preparing to transport them immediately to the closest hospital. The woman was barely conscious and couldn't walk at all, so the firemen carried her down on a stretcher. Only one of them was injured seriously and the medics made him their priority.

When all fifteen survivors were on their way to the hospital, the rescue workers restarted their efforts with a new strength, carefully searching all over the Ground Zero for those, who might be just as lucky as those who were in stairway B.

Cascade, Washington

The Loft

2:23 p.m.

"Jim? Jim, can you hear me?" A familiar voice reached through his consciousness, but something was wrong; it wasn't the voice he usually heard. Still it persistently, annoyingly, called for him. If only to make it stop, he reluctantly drifted toward the sound of voice.

Slowly Jim blinked and gazed up into Simon's dark eyes, nearly flinching at the pain and concern he saw there. Banks was kneeling beside him, his hand on Jim's shoulder in a firm but soothing grip. Jim shot a quick glance around the room, surprised to find himself laying on the couch at the loft. Somehow he was back at home.

"Wha… what happened?" he shook his head and tried to sit up.

"You zoned." Simon stood up and grabbed Jim's arm for support, helping him to sit. "You were out for seven hours! Got me really worried. I couldn't bring you back. Joel and Henri helped me to get you in here."

If Jim heard, he showed no sign and didn't answer. The TV was still on as he had left it hours before and was now showing the latest news from New York. Cameras showed firemen and police officers wandering around the rubble, searching for survivors. The smoke hadn't cleared completely yet, partially blocking the sight, although Jim could see the ambulances standing nearby, ready to take injured persons to hospital. But they stood empty and motionless; there was no visible action of digging anyone out of the debris.

Jim cringed at the sight. He turned away and crossed his arms on the table, resting his head down on them. He felt like his heart had been torn from his chest. Though it continued to beat rhythmically within him, nearly all emotions were gone along with his friend's last, terrified scream, as if his heart had been turned into stone.

Only one feeling still remained.

Unbearable pain of loss.

Blair was dead. His best friend, his Guide, the brightest part of his life was gone forever. Hot, salty tears streamed down his face, but he didn't even try to wipe them away. Nothing mattered any longer to him. The only person in his life he truly cared about was gone now, cruelly torn away from him, buried under tons of steel, concrete and dust, leaving not even the smallest chance for Jim to prevent it. They hadn't even said goodbye.

All this time they'd lived their shared life without even considering the option that tomorrow might not come. They took each other's presence for granted. Of course, they both knew that police work was dangerous, but neither of them ever thought that there wouldn't be at least a chance to say their final words to each other. Being a cop, Jim acknowledged the risk Blair took by hanging around but he always thought that he would be able to protect him. He always believed himself capable of keeping Blair safe, no matter what that would cost him. If he had to give his very life to save Blair, with not a second's hesitation, he would have done so.

But Blair had been too far away for Jim to protect him.

Simon had turned the volume down on the TV. The images alone were disturbing enough. He sat next to Jim, placing hand on Sentinel's shoulder. Jim tensed but didn't pull away. Simon sat in silence, ignoring the moisture of his own eyes. He remembered the first time Blair bounced into his office – a young, longhaired, flower child, a free spirit who just seemed unable to stop talking. His endless energy radiated out of every pore. It took quite an amount of time until Simon had hesitantly begun to accept Blair as a part of the team. Looking back, the Captain had been sure that Blair would run away from them right after facing Kincaid and his men.

But he hadn't run scared. Instead, Blair continued to hang around, never leaving Jim's side, helping him to control his senses and brightening his life with the warmth of their soon developed friendship. Thanks to Blair, Jim had changed. He wasn't the cold lone wolf he was when Simon had first met him. Blair turned his empty, cold loft into a warm place to call home and filled their lives with laughter, loyalty and kindness. He had changed the bullpen, too. From the first moment he came in as Jim's partner, he was friendly with everyone, in spite of the fact that most of detectives teased him and didn't take him seriously, at least in the beginning. But Blair never took that to heart and went on with a smile on his face. He changed from a bouncing kid into an adult man, who learned to face the world and cope with whatever might come into his way.

Now Blair was gone. Simon was afraid that Jim might never recover from this loss. He already looked like a dead man. Even if he tried to hide it, Simon could see the emptiness and sharp pain in Jim's eyes. Not that he hadn't seen it before. Of course, he witnessed Jim grieving for his lost friends before – when that woman, Lila, died in his arms, when they pulled Blair's body out of that damn fountain, when Jim found out what happened to his former partner, Jack Pendergast – all those times Simon saw similar pain in Jim's eyes, but never like this. For Jim, Blair meant a lot more. At the fountain, he was in pain, seeing his partner lying on the grass, immobile and lifeless, still he never gave up the fight for Blair's life. But now…

Jim was too far away to fight for his friend. He couldn't do anything.

"You don't have to stay here," Jim whispered, bringing Simon back from his thoughts.

Simon shook his head and quietly said, "I know."

"Then why are you still here?"

"Jim," Simon sighed, "No one should be alone in a moment like this. You don't have to deal with this on your own, you know?"

"I really need to be alone right now." Jim pulled himself up and walked toward the balcony windows. Then he looked back to Simon, who still hadn't moved. "I'll be fine. Please, Simon, just go."

The captain warily observed him. He was hesitant to just stand up and walk away, when his friend was so hurt. But Jim's eyes stared back at him coldly and resolutely, not really leaving for him any chance to argue.

"Okay. But I'll check on you later." Simon stood up and slowly walked to the door. Before going out, he turned to look back at his friend. "They're searching for possible survivors. Don't lose hope, Jim!"

Jim only nodded. When the door closed behind his captain's back, he turned and went straight to Blair's room. Tears filled his eyes at the sight of the messy place. Jim reached for Blair's pillow and pressed it against his face, inhaling the familiar scent, filling his senses with his Guide's presence. The wall he had managed to build temporarily around his feelings broke loose, his emotions now crashing over him just like the remnants of the Twin Towers had crashed over his best friend. His legs unable to support his weight, he collapsed onto Blair's bed; curling into a tight ball he clutched the pillow against his chest as close as possible. His body trembled in heartbreaking sobs as he cried out his grief for his lost friend and Guide.

"Please, Blair, don't leave me like this," he desperately whispered, "Please, God, let him be alive! I'm begging you, please, bring him back to me…"

Cascade, Washington

Major Crime department

3:42 p.m.

After leaving the loft, Simon returned to the station, he felt better being with other people. The streets were unnaturally quiet. Everyone's attention was focused on the terrible events in New York. The people from coast to coast shared in the victim's pain and wept tears of grief and horror. They already knew about the fourth plane, which had crashed near Shanksville; as yet unconfirmed sources had reported that some of the passengers had tried to retake control of the plane and, during the fight with hijackers, the plane went down.

Simon took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Suddenly he felt so old. He knew he would love to get his hands on those cowards to rip their throats out with his bare hands. He'd been working in law enforcement for a long time, fighting crime on the streets, but when something like this happened, he felt as if nothing he'd done mattered any longer.

Not only civilians were the victims today. Many brothers in uniform had lost their lives, too, while trying to evacuate people from the towers. They all were simply doing their job, just like they were taught to do; serving and protecting, like always. Simon knew that if any of his men were there today, they wouldn't have hesitated a second but would have gone straight inside the inferno. Especially Jim. He was the best man in his unit. And with Blair, they made a perfect team.

Now his unit had lost one good man, and Simon had reason to fear that soon he might lose another. Not that Jim would do something to himself, no way. Simon knew that much. Jim would live, because he knew that that was what Blair would want him to do. But, what kind of life would it be? Sometimes it seemed as if Blair had held Jim's soul in his hands; without Blair, would Jim as they knew him still exist or would he be only an empty shell?

Captain Banks sighed deeply and fought back the tears. He couldn't afford to lose it, not now and not there. Later, at home, he would let his feelings out. He'd told Jim that there was still hope. How could he ask Jim to believe there was hope, if he'd lost hope himself already?

Suddenly, the office door burst open and Taggart practically leapt inside.

"I have a news. You have to hear this," he announced.

Simon shook his head in denial. Another announcement about more attacks and more victims was the last thing he needed. He didn't think he could bear it.

"I called the New York police department. They got reports from their men that they had found survivors in the rubble field!" Joel's eyes were sparking with hope.

"Did they say…?" Simon left the sentence unfinished, but Taggart knew what he hoped to hear.

"There are no names yet. From what they told me, it turns out that there was a part of a stairway, which remained intact. A bunch of people were inside that section when the North tower collapsed."

"North tower?" Simon suddenly jerked his head up. "What was the height of the segment?"

"I don't know, but not too high, anyway." Joel's eyes narrowed. "Do you think we should tell Jim?"

Simon considered their options. North tower, fourth floor – that was Blair's final location, if only… He didn't know the World Trade Center's architectural plans, but it wasn't likely to think that there was only one stairway. And they didn't know exactly where the kid was during the collapse.

Should they tell Jim about the survivors? Simon thought about it for a while. What if he only worsened the whole situation by giving false hope? What if later they learned that Blair wasn't among the survivors after all? It would destroy whatever remained of the Jim they knew, crushing whatever control or determined hope he still held.

"Don't tell Jim about it yet," Simon finally decided. "Keep on communicating with New York. If there is any more news, call me. I'll try to set up a flight for us."

"But the airspace is closed," Taggart reported with a frown.

"I know, but medical, military or Con Air flights are still allowed. I'm going to talk to Fuente and Chief Warren. Maybe together we can figure something out." Simon sighed, then picked the phone receiver and pressed the first number.

Walking out of Simon's office, Joel heard his first words, "Fuente? It's Captain Banks. Can you help us out there? Some of us need to get to New York."

New York City

Bellevue Hospital

7:27 p.m.

He floated in the darkness. Wherever he was, it wasn't unpleasant. There was no pain and no fear. But, somehow it wasn't right. There was an emptiness within him that needed to be filled with… something.

Blair tried to reach out to see, where he was, but… there was nothing. He was alone, all by himself, floating in some kind of netherworld or inner space or … maybe he wasn't anywhere. Maybe he was nowhere. Panic began to rise in his chest. He opened his mouth to scream, but no sound came out. His throat burned and itched; he wanted to open his eyes, but his eyelids felt like they were glued together. He couldn't move, couldn't see, couldn't call for help… the darkness slowly enclosed him more and more tightly, indifferent to his desperate struggle for freedom.

Only one person could help him get out of this. Only one man always came to save and protect him. But, if he couldn't scream, how could he call for help?

'Jim, please, help me!' he frantically pleaded in his thoughts. 'Please, come and bring me back home! Please, Jim, I need your help!'

Dizzy silence was the only response. He fought back a sob. No one would come, because no one could hear his thoughts.

Despair overwhelmed him, and the darkness finally captured him completely.

Unaware that he was safe in a hospital bed, Blair slept restlessly, unable to wake up and tortured by the demons that haunted his nightmares.

Cascade, Washington

Major Crime department

4:53 p.m.

Joel held the phone receiver, trying to control his hand's trembling, while he waited for his New York colleague to tell him the names of the survivors found in the rubble. He'd explained to the officer earlier that they were looking for one of their men. Now he was told to wait until the confirmed list was received. So many things depended upon what he was about to hear; most importantly, the news could mean everything to Jim or devastate him completely.

Joel shook his head, realizing what was at stake. Only two words. Jim's life hung on two simple words, which either would or would not be announced at any second. And not just Jim would be impacted. Joel knew it could save or destroy himself as well; Blair was like a son to him and he couldn't bear to imagine that the brilliant young man had been snuffed out. Taggart looked up at Simon's office. Through the glass he could see that Simon was still trying to arrange a flight. Fortunately, there were several options for them: Police departments, their own and others from various states and cities were sending their men to New York City to assist in the rescue effort. Simon hoped they could hitch a ride on the flight from Cascade.

"Okay, I've got the names," the officer on the other end of the line finally said. "You ready?"

"Go ahead!" Joel snapped out of his thoughts and turned his full attention to the phone conversation.

The officer begun to read the names of those, who were found alive in Stairway B, which had remained more or less intact after the North tower had collapsed. Joel listened, praying to hear just one familiar name. Jim McGlynn, Rob Bacon, Jeff Coniglio and Jim Efthimiaddes from Engine 39, Port Authority police officer Dave Lim, Battalion Chief Rich Picciotto from 11th Battalion, Mickey Kross from Engine 16…

Joel closed his eyes and thanked God for each one of them. They all were the same kind of person as himself – uniformed men, who did their best everyday to protect and serve the public and were just lucky to be alive.

"Billy Butler, Tommy Falco, Jay Jonas, Michael Meldrum, Sal D'Agastino and Matt Komorowski from Ladder 6. Two civilians were found along with this crew." The officer took a breath and read the final two names. "Josephine Harris and Blair Sandburg."

Overjoyed, Joel jumped to his feet, knocking his chair over in the process. He couldn't believe his ears.

"Repeat the last one again," he demanded, needing to be sure, needing to know it wasn't just wishful thinking.

"Blair Sandburg. He's your guy?" Joel could almost hear the hint of smile in policeman's voice. He felt just as glad for giving good news, as Joel was glad to hear it.

"Yes, he's the one. Can you tell me, where is he at the moment?" Taggart barely could stand still. He urgently needed to spread the news around the station, but first Simon and Jim needed to know.

"He was transported to Bellevue Hospital," the officer answered. "Sorry, but that's all I can tell you for now."

"No, no, that's more than enough. Thank you, thank you so much," Joel thanked him profusely and then put the receiver down.

He closed his eyes, sending a prayer to God, grateful beyond words for Blair's miraculous survival. Then he turned and burst into Simon's office, almost taking the door out in process.

Simon had just finished his conversation with Chief Warren. They had successfully arranged a flight to New York. Now he only had to decide whether to take Jim along. Simon had a reason to worry that his detective would not be able to handle it. Concerned about Jim, he was distracted and irritated, when Taggart hurried into his office. Simon opened his mouth to bark, but something in his friend's face told him to swallow the bitter complaint.

"I just got the names of survivors," he gasped, trying to calm his breath. "Blair is alive! Simon, he's alive!"

"No shit!" Simon exclaimed with a surge of incredulous relief mingled with joyous gratitude. "Are you sure?"

"One hundred percent. They found him. He's in hospital right now. Unfortunately, they couldn't tell me anything about his condition." Joel paused for a moment then motioned toward the phone. "How'd it go with Chief Warren?"

"The flight is all set up. We can leave in two hours." Simon stood up and headed toward the door. "Find Henri, Rafe, everyone who volunteers to come along!"

"Where are you going?" Joel called to his back.

"I'm going to tell the good news to Jim in person." Simon glanced back and grinned, before stepping into the elevator.

Joel pumped his fist in air and rushed to the break room, where both detectives were discussing the latest events, mostly talking about Blair. He had to repeat the news about three times until Henri and Rafe realized that Taggart wasn't joking. Loud cheers filled the room, accompanied with tears of joy and relief. And, when Joel told them about the support flight to New York, they wasted no time in getting ready to go.

Cascade, Washington

The Loft

5:32 p.m.

"Jim?" Simon yelled then banged again against the loft door. "Come on, I know you're in there!"

He went silent and pressed his ear to the door, carefully listening. Nothing. At any other time, he would think twice before breaking in, but this wasn't the time to stand on ceremony. Worried more than he wanted to admit, Simon pulled out his spare key and unlocked the door, stepping inside.

The loft was dark and seemingly empty. Simon walked deeper inside and headed toward the stairs, but then the slight snoring coming from Blair's bedroom caught his attention. He tiptoed to the door and peeked inside.

The sight almost broke his heart. Jim asleep in Blair's bed, curled in ball like one pile of massive grief. Tear stains tracked across his cheeks. His hands were tightly clutching Blair's pillow. Simon released a shuddering breath, silently watching his friend. He felt incredibly glad that he was able to take what was clearly overwhelming pain away from his friend.

He quietly moved closer, leaned over the sleeping man and gently shook him. Jim moaned something but didn't open his eyes. Simon tightened his grip on Jim's shoulder and shook him again, this time more firmly.

"Jim? Come on, Ellison, wake up!" he urged.

Slowly Jim's eyelids opened and he looked up at his captain with blurry sight. Recognizing the familiar face, he rubbed his eyes and pushed himself up into a sitting position.

"Simon? I told you that I'd be fine," he said, his voice rough with spent emotion. "You shouldn't have to come and check on me."

Simon couldn't help but chuckle. "I'm not checking on you. Come on, we have to catch a plane in an hour. Your partner is waiting for you."

At first, Jim simply gaped at Simon, not really understanding what he was saying. Then, something clicked inside his brain. A powerful wave of joy swept over him and filled the ragged reaches of his heart.

"What? Blair is alive?' Jim bolted out of the bed and latched onto Simon, grabbing his shoulders and accidentally slamming him back against the wall in his eagerness. "Are you sure? Because if you're just assuming without serious evidence…"

"I'm certain," Simon replied with low, firm kindness. Then smiling as he remembered a line he'd once said to Blair, he added, "And get a grip, Ellison. On something other than me."

"Oh," Jim blinked, only then realizing that he had pinned his boss against the wall and abruptly released his grip as he stepped back. "Sorry about that."

"Look, there's a support flight heading to NYC in an hour. Pack your bag and be ready to leave in…" he looked in his wristwatch. "How much time do you need?"

"Five minutes, Simon, and I'll be ready!" Not waiting for a response, Jim rushed out of Blair's room and jogged upstairs.

Simon followed, pausing in the kitchen to listen to the sounds from upstairs, where Jim hurriedly packed up. After less than five minutes, he hurried down the stairs and joined his captain, ready to rejoin his partner.

One hour and seven minutes later, the jet filled with law enforcement as well as fire and rescue personnel eager to help their colleagues in NYC, laden with tons of equipment and supplies, took off, lifting into the night and heading to the far eastern coast.

New York City

Ground Zero

11:07 p.m.

Miracles were rare on that day of terror. For those who survived the day, the difference between life and death was that they could see sunlight after the collapse or were with someone who could. It was, in the truest sense, a ray of hope, a kind of affirmation of the strength and power of life.

Indeed, miracles were rare. But still there were some. One of the miracles took place when two more survivors were found under the rubble. They were Port Authority police officers; Sergeant John McLoughlin and rookie cop Will Jimeno. The way in which they had survived was unbelievable and miraculous.

Upon his arrival earlier that morning, McLoughlin had asked for three volunteers to evacuate the North tower. The group that entered the building consisted of McLoughlin, Jimeno, Dominick Pezzulo, Antonio Rodrigues and Chris Amoroso, who joined them inside. The men went into the underground mall and were just about to enter the North tower when the buildings begun to rumble. Their only chance of survival was to run into the service elevator shaft. Amoroso and Rodrigues were unable to get to the shaft in time, but McLoughlin, Jimeno and Pezzulo managed to escape the huge amounts of dust and rubble flying down from the collapsing South tower. As the rubble continued to crush the elevator shaft, the three men were trapped.

Jimeno was pinned by a concrete wall that had fallen on his lap. Another officer, Dominick Pezzulo was buried nearby. They were in a triangle-shaped cave. Sergeant John McLoughlin, a veteran police officer, was twenty feet away and a little below. His crevice was the size of a coffin.

Pezzulo freed himself and repeatedly tried to lift the cement off Jimeno. It always fell back. Pezzulo took out his gun and fired out through the hole, hoping someone would hear the noise. Then, a second rumble began. The north tower was collapsing, killing Pezzulo. McLoughlin's legs had been crushed fully in the second collapse. The two men could not see each other. It took a great effort for Jimeno and McLoughlin to stay awake and alive. But they never gave up.

At eight o'clock, a United States Marine found them. It took the New York Police Department's rescue specialists three hours to free Jimeno. Only a couple of minutes before, rescuers carefully brought him out of the rubble and carried him to the paramedics, who were waiting. They took care of Jimeno and immediately transported him to the hospital.

Rescue workers wrapped Pezzulo's body in an American flag before they removed it.

The rescue work continued. They had to clear the way to reach McLoughlin, so they could dig him out. Those who got tired went up to rest a bit, while others replaced them. The man they were working to save was one of them, buried under the remnants of Twin Towers; they were all determined to fight for his life to the victorious end.

Eight hours later they sighed in relief, when John McLoughlin finally was freed and brought to the surface. While rescuers carried him on a stretcher down the pile of debris, those who were standing along side, greeting their brother with applause. They all were tired and exhausted but their work wasn't in vain – a man's life had been saved and that gave them hope and lightened their hearts.

The sun was rising above the grieving city. A new day had begun. But these men barely noticed. Their joy at having found survivors was brighter than the sun and gave them new strength to go on and continue the searching with renewed hope.

Wednesday, September 12, 2001 New York City

Bellevue Hospital

8:53 a.m.

Jim shifted in the hospital chair, trying to settle himself into a more comfortable position. The plastic chair's legs slightly scratched the floor, the sound not for normal ears but to him, since Jim was keeping his hearing wide open to monitor Blair, it seemed like a thunder roll. He quickly settled, trying to make as little noise as possible.

Glancing at the clock, Jim wondered how it was going at the site of the collapsed towers. Thinking about the way he'd gotten here, Jim thought that he probably should figure out a way to thank and reward his Captain and Fuente. Jim shivered, remembering the first couple of hours in the City: five hours after departing from Cascade, they landed in New York and headed straight to Ground Zero, joining the other cops, firemen and medics, who already were there, continuing the rescue.

His colleagues were still there, trying to find more survivors. Right after arriving, Jim couldn't decide whether to stay with them or not. The only place he truly wanted to be was by Blair's side, but his sense of duty and his awareness of the help his senses could provide in the search held him back. Simon finally made the decision for him, and arranged for a police squad car to take him to the hospital. Jim was grateful and he'd promised to call to inform them about Blair's condition.

Now here he was, in the hospital beside his partner, ignoring the nursing staff's mutters about visiting hours. Nothing could have torn him away from Blair at that point. He settled in the chair beside his Guide's bed and reached out to hold Blair's hand. Although he felt exhausted, more emotionally than physically, Jim stayed awake and kept his senses trained on Blair.

Blair was as pale as a ghost. Once in a while, his eyelids trembled and Jim almost thought that his friend was about to wake up, but then Blair calmed and remained still and asleep. Bruises and burn marks covered his face and arms. Several stitches covered by gauze bandages closed the worst gashes. Another bandage covered his forehead. Jim cringed at the sight and his heart ached at what his partner had suffered. Blair looked too young, too vulnerable. He definitely hadn't deserved this. No one deserved this.

Jim wiped his face and lightly brushed his thumb against Blair's palm, wishing he'd move, wake up … anything: such prolonged stillness was uncommon, even unnatural, for the young man, who usually bounced around, always so vital and filled with energy enough to light up all of Washington State. Jim sighed and bowed his head. He'd been so relieved to hear that Blair had managed to survive, but now his joy was muted by growing worry and anxiety. Back in Cascade, he'd prayed for Blair's life; now he was praying for his awakening and recovery.

Will anything ever go back to normal? Jim asked himself, although he already knew the answer.

Nothing would ever be the same.

Some good news reached him less than hour ago – John McLoughlin had finally been rescued and brought to the hospital. Jim felt relieved for another spared soul, for another restored family.

The doctor walked into the room to check on Blair. The detective stood up and retreated, silently pleading for some good news. After checking the monitors, IV system and fixing the respirator, which helped Blair to breathe, the doctor turned to Jim.

"How is he?"

The doctor sighed. "He got had a blow to the head, which caused the coma. Also, he breathed in a huge amount of smoke. Right now he needs the respirator, until his lungs recover enough to allow him to breathe on his own. And he's got a broken ankle and few second degree burns on his leg. Other injuries aren't that serious, just a scratches and bruises, which would heal easily. I'm afraid it might take a while until I'll be able to tell you something more."

Jim glanced at the sleeping man across the room. A coma? He turned his gaze back to the doctor, who reassuringly patted his arm, seeing the alarmed look on Jim's face.

"His life isn't in particular danger anymore. I'm almost certain that your friend will wake up soon. You just have to be patient." The doctor gave him a quick smile and then rushed out to check his other patients, leaving Jim confused and no less anxious as he was before.

The detective returned in his previous spot and once again held Blair's hand. Jim had heard that people in a coma sometimes are able to hear and feel what's going on around them. Hoping that it's true, he leaned closer to his friend and spoke quietly, in a soothing voice, "Chief, it's Jim. I'm here, buddy. I'm not sure if you can hear me, but you'll be okay. And you will come back, won't you?" he paused for a moment, then added. "I need you, Chief. If you need the time to wake up, that's okay. I will wait as long as necessary, just come back to me."

Maybe it was only his imagination, but it seemed to him that Blair nodded almost invisibly.

Friday, September 14, 2001

New York City

Bellevue Hospital

10:25 a.m.

It had been a rough three days.

Most of the World Trade Center survivors still were healing from their physical wounds, which were easier to deal with than emotional scars. There were a lot of tears for those who had lost their lives. People who had been indifferent and isolated from their neighbours, from the strangers who lived down the street, now reached out to help each other. The tragedy united them like nothing else ever could.

During his time in the hospital, Jim had seen it all. Once in a while, he wandered around the hospital wing, seeing the other patients. He talked to their relatives, encouraging them or simply listening in their stories. He'd already met the family members of the woman, Josephine Harris, who was rescued along with Blair.According to her family, just a few months before, she'd been hit by a car. Still, she'd signed herself out of the hospital that same day, putting a brace on her leg and going back to work. Apparently, the climb down from 73th floor had worsened her condition. Now she was forced to stay in hospital. Jim had had no chance to talk to her yet, since she was resting and doctors insisted that she needed peace and quiet after all she'd endured.

Jim was lucky to talk with one of the firemen who had been rescued with Josephine and Blair. He told Jim that Josephine was the reason they'd stopped on the fourth floor, since she was too exhausted and refused to go any further. At that moment, before he or one of the other firemen could lift her over a shoulder to continue the descent, the tower began to collapse around them. Jim also found out how Blair ended up in a coma. Still the fireman claimed that if they hadn't stopped, they might be dead by now.

However, Jim couldn't stand being away from his friend for too long. After making a quick round and grabbing a sandwich and coffee, he returned to his spot by Blair's side. The doctor and nursing staff soon realized that it was impossible to convince him to leave, to get some rest at a hotel. Every time they tried Jim resolutely said no and stubbornly remained in the room. Finally the doctor arranged for a spare bed in Blair's room, so that Jim could get some rest without leaving his friend. Jim knew that Simon had intervened with the staff and had called the physician to convince him to let Jim stay.

Jim promised himself that he would find a way to thank Simon for all his help and understanding. He looked at Blair. He was still unconscious and that really worried Jim. A few hours before they'd removed his respirator, replacing it with a nasel cannula. At least now he was breathing on his own. However the risk of brain damage was still unknown. He'd spent more than an hour in a smoke-filled stairway and it took about three more hours for him and fourteen more other people to be pulled from the debris. God only knew what kind of shit he'd inhaled.

God, he would give anything to help Blair, to make him well.

"Jim?" A familiar voice startled detective and he swung around.

Simon stood in a doorway and three other faces were visible over his shoulder, all trying to see Blair. In spite of his worry Jim smiled and waved for them to come in.

All four detectives almost tiptoed into the room so as to not disturb their youngest colleague's rest. This was their first chance since their arrival to break away from the rescue activities to see how Blair was doing They'd called few times to ask how he was, but Jim had nothing new to tell them. He could only repeat that Blair was still unconscious, but the doctor was optimistic about his eventual recovery. His colleagues were relieved and glad to hear that at least Blair wasn't getting worse.

Simon motioned toward Blair, asking without words, about his condition.

"Well, he's breathing on his own." Jim sighed. "But otherwise, no change. The doc said that it might take a while until he wakes up."

"Hairboy is tough, you know that," Henri said with a reassuring pat on Jim's shoulder. "He'll get through this."

"Yeah, like always," Rafe added. "I don't know any other guy who bounces through trouble so easily. Well, maybe except for you, Jimbo," he added.

Joel didn't say a word for a while. He walked closer to Blair and gently squeezed his hand. The older man's eyes were moist when he turned back to look at Jim.

"It's gonna be fine, Jim," he said quietly. "He knows that you need him. And you know that he'll never let you down. Blair never has and he won't now. Trust me on this."

Grateful to them all for their support, Jim couldn't speak as he suddenly was at a loss for words but the look in his eyes spoke volumes for all of them. They were united with thousands of others who were suffering in the aftermath of September 11. Together, they knew that the President was right when he'd addressed the nation in the evening of that terrible day – "…terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve…"

Thousands of good people had gone but they would never be forgotten. Their brothers in arms, who had bravely, unhesitatingly, gone into hell, risking their lives to save those who were trapped in both towers, were heroes. Simon and his team knew that those heroes had no doubt been afraid, but not one of them had allowed fear to stand in their way. They'd been the best they could, and had given the ultimate sacrifice – to serve and protect.

None of the men spoke. They simply sat in the room and listened to the regular beeping of Blair's heart monitor, each of them deep in thought. They weren't from this city, this wasn't their jurisdiction, but they hadn't hesitated either when duty called. Three days ago it hadn't mattered where a man came from. They were as one, working together and together they mourned each lost soul and rejoiced for every soul who had been saved.

Sitting here, around their friend's hospital bed, each member of the Major Crime Unit shared the joy for Blair, for his survival, which they wouldn't ever believe to be possible.

Hours later, when Simon and the others had left to get some rest, Jim used the bathroom and, for the first time since he'd arrived at the hospital, he looked at himself in the mirror. He barely recognized the face in the reflection. His pale skin and the dark circles around his tired, red eyes made him look like a vampire. When had he last been outside? When had he last really slept? He couldn't remember. How long had it been since he'd been more than a hundred feet away from Blair?

Jim quickly washed his hands and splashed some water onto his face. That helped to refresh him a little. He dried his hands with a paper towel and returned to his friend, settling himself on the chair, and took Blair's hand in his own. He needed to ensure himself that his Guide was right nearby. It was the only way he could relax enough to nap.

"Please, Blair, wake up, you hear me?" Jim whispered, "Please, come back! I need you, Chief. Please…"

As if in response, Blair shifted restlessly. His respirations became shallow and fast and his eyes moved rapidly under the lids. Jim instinctively leaned over him, placing one hand on his forehead. Feeling his touch, Blair seemed to calm down and relax. His lips trembled and he frowned in sleep, as if dreaming about something that upset him. No wonder, Jim thought wryly, after what he'd been through; it would be surprising if he weren't suffering nightmares.

"Shh, Blair, it's okay," Jim soothed his friend. "I'm right here. It's all right. Just rest, buddy, okay?"

Slowly Blair relaxed and his breath steadied. Jim didn't remove his hand, and reassuringly stroked his friend's forehead and cheek. He felt a physical need to be as close as possible: a Sentinel's need for his Guide. They'd been apart from each other for too long, for what seemed like eternity to Jim. He had thought that he'd lost Blair forever and, by some miracle, here he was, right in front of his eyes, alive. Injured, unconscious, still needing oxygen, which helped him to breathe, but his heart was still beating.

Jim kept on talking until tiredness overcame him and he drifted into restless slumber. But he still held Blair's hand, maintaining their connection not only in a spiritual way, but also physically.

"Please… wake up… you hear me?… Come back… I need you, Chief…"

Jim? Jim was here, he'd called for him. But… Blair struggled desperately to break his way out of the darkness that surrounded him but it seemed to enclose him even more with each attempt. He was running out of air, the dark sucked the oxygen out of his lungs… he couldn't breathe…

Suddenly he felt something warm on his face. He couldn't tell what it was but it drove the darkness away. Blair wanted to call out for Jim but he felt too tired to move his lips. But Jim needed to know that he could hear him, he just couldn't answer. What if his Sentinel was in trouble? What if there was something wrong with his senses? He needed Blair as his Guide.

Blair shifted a bit more…

"Blair, it's okay…I'm right here… It's all right…"

Jim's warm, calming voice soothed him, making him feel safe again, protected and comforted. Slowly, hesitatingly the darkness retreated, step by step, until there was nothing but peace. His friend's voice filled his heart with joyfulness and the fear dissolved, replacing it with long-awaited serenity. Listening to Jim's reassuring words, Blair relaxed and allowed himself to rest. The warmth on his face disappeared, but still covered his hand.

But then, he could no longer hear Jim's voice. Anxiously, Blair struggled to open his eyes. Something was wrong. Jim needed him. He'd gone silent and Blair had to know why. He tried to move toward the direction from which Jim's voice had come and he made one more desperate attempt to open his eyes.

Sharp pain swept through his whole body, making him wish he hadn't tried so hard to wake up. Blair clenched his teeth against crying out and he clenched his hands as he tried to control the pain. His eyes felt so heavy and he was too tired and hurt to move. But even if his body was hurt, his mind still worked. He could still think. Blair searched his memory as he tried to figure out what the hell had happened to him.

His heart wrenched as the memories hit him.

Blair closed his eyes, fighting off the tremble that took over his body. Geez, he hated to feel like a whiner but for once it was too much for him. Jim wasn't here, he couldn't be here and Blair felt the loneliness and fear coming back again, realizing now that he heard his friend's voice only in his dream. He refused any further attempts on opening his eyes, instead squeezing them tightly shut. He just wasn't ready yet to see the room, where, as far as he knew, there was no one waiting for him. Blair tried to get a grip on his beaten nerves.

Suddenly his ears picked up a noise, which seemed to be out of place. Someone was in the room with him and was quietly snoring. And… someone was holding his hand.

Slowly, afraid to give himself vain hope that maybe Jim's voice in his dream was real, Blair finally forced his eyes to open. Everything seemed to be blurry. He blinked a couple of times to clear his eyesight. Avoiding looking at the unknown hand's owner, he peeked at his free arm, spotting an IV needle that was surrounded by uncountable bruises and scratches. He was in hospital and he was alive, if that regular monitor beeping at his side was any indicator. The snoring continued, so Blair decided to look, who was it, expecting it to be some other patient or maybe too compassionate nurse.

Shifting his gaze, his eyes widened when he saw the oh so familiar tall man dozing in the plastic chair next to his bed.

"Jim?" he whispered, his voice raspy with disuse and barely audible.

The Sentinel jerked his eyes open. Sitting up, his worried gaze carefully slid over Blair, obviously searching for any reason for worry. Not finding one, Jim finally greeted him with tired, but relieved smile. Without releasing his grip on Blair's hand, he stood up and moved to sit on the edge of the bed.

"Hey, Chief, glad to see you back." He gently entwined his fingers around Blair's, squeezing them gently. "Had me scared for a while there, y'know."

Blair was at a loss for words. He stared at Jim like he'd seen a ghost. Indeed, if Jimi Hendrix had appeared sitting on his bed playing his guitar, Blair couldn't have been more surprised. In his muddled mind, Blair just couldn't grasp the fact that his friend had travelled across the whole country just to be there with him. But the truth was that Jim was there, holding his hand as if he had never left his side. Blair wanted to tell him how grateful he was, but the words simply didn't come.

Such unusual silence from his Guide made Jim anxious, and his smile slowly vanished, replaced with worried frown.

"Chief? It's okay now, trust me. The doctors were worried about you, since you spent a long time in the smoke, but you'll be okay, I promise." He rested his free hand on Blair's shoulder. "I'm so glad you finally woke up."

A million questions whirled through Blair's mind. How long had he been there? The last thing he remembered was calling Jim to tell him that he was okay. He remembered screaming when the thunderous rumble started to bring down the ceiling above him, so loud it sounded like two freight trains coming at him at full speed. Looking up, he could see the concrete falling down. Had he still been on the phone with Jim, when it happened?

"Jim, I…" he licked his dry lips in attempt to moist them enough to speak. God, his throat was parched. "Water… please…"

Jim reached for the plastic cup and lifted Blair up, supporting his head, so he could drink the cool liquid. Blair took a few sips then slowly leaned back. Jim carefully positioned his head back on a pillow before placing the cup back on the table.

"They had to put a respirator in your throat. You couldn't breathe on your own for a while," Jim explained, as if sensing his Guide's silent questions about his condition. He placed his hand on Blair's cheek, stroking it with his thumb.

"Wha… what happened?" Blair finally managed to ask. "How did I get here? When?"

Jim swallowed hard before answering. "EMT's brought you in here three days ago. I spoke to one of the officers at the crash site, when you were brought out. When the North tower collapsed, one portion managed to stand a while longer, before collapsing, too. You were lucky to be in that part of tower. One step one way or another and… " His voice trailing off while he fought back the thought of what could have happened.

Blair carefully shifted in bed, examining his body. He tried to move his legs and gasped when a sharp pain stabbed in his ankle. Jim winced at the sound, which echoed in his heart. He leaned forward and gently placed his hand on Blair's leg, keeping it from moving. Blair gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, until the pain eased a little.

"How bad is it?" he groaned.

Jim took a deep breath. "You've got a lump on your head, which was the reason, why you were out of it for so long, a broken ankle and a few second degree burns on your legs. Fortunately, that's the worse of it." He released a shuddering sigh and then continued in a lighter tone, "As for the rest of it, I think you broke all the bruise count records in Major Crime for the last year."

Blair gave him a small smile and once again observed his hands. Then his expression changed as he again became serious and he bit his lower lip, as if seeking the right words. He opened his mouth then closed it, unsure of what or how to say what he wanted. But Jim wasn't in any rush. Knowing how lucky he was to be able to hear Blair's voice, he was willing to wait for ever, if need be, for his friend to formulate his words.

"When… did you get here?" Blair quietly asked. "How?"

"Less than three days ago. The local airspace was closed after everything that happened, but Fuente and Simon arranged a flight to support the local forces, to help in the search for survivors." Jim shook his head. "I owe them both. Especially Simon. He helped me, when…"

Blair read the unspoken words in Jim's eyes, which were suddenly moist, before Jim quickly turned his head away. The young anthropologist reached up to his face and covered Jim's hand with his own. He didn't know what exactly had happened in Twin Towers, but something in Jim's face told him that it was bad. Very bad. During his escape from the tower, Blair had heard some people saying that an airplane had crashed into one of the towers, some said that it was mechanical explosion, but no one knew for sure.

"I saw it. After you spoke to Simon, he saw a CNN news broadcast about the first plane crash… He called me, woke me up, actually, and I turned on the TV … and then I saw the second plane…"

"Airplanes?" Blair frowned. "Two airplanes? Two? How could two planes accidentally …" He stopped and went very still. "Jim, what are you not telling me here?"

Jim took a deep breath, cursing himself for maybe saying too much, too soon. What the hell he was thinking, throwing these horrifying facts at his partner's head? Blair wasn't ready to take this yet. He just woke up, damn it! For now, he needed the rest and peace, not the horror of what had happened. Unfortunately, Jim knew too well that once Blair got a hint of some information, he would never stop until he got the whole story.

On the other hand, Blair went through the hell and must have some idea of what had happened. He had a right to know the truth.

Jim took another deep breath, then locked Blair's gaze with his own. Trying to keep his voice calm and steady, he explained, "It wasn't an accident, Chief. Those were planned attacks. That morning, four airplanes were hijacked. Two of them crashed into the World Trade Center towers. Another one…" he swallowed hard then continued. "Another plane crashed into the Pentagon. I don't know where the last one was directed, some are saying that it was headed to Washington DC, but it crashed into a field somewhere near Shanksville. The latest information is that the passengers were trying to retake control of the plane, so those bastards chose to slam it into the ground."

Blair didn't say anything. Tears gathered in the corners of his eyes, threatening to escape. His head suddenly felt like a ton of bricks had fallen on him and nausea rolled in his gut. Blair forced himself to breathe deeply to calm down. Memories of a massive explosion, a fireball shooting out of an elevator, running downstairs along with others through a smoke and flame-filled stairway… it all crashed over him like an avalanche of fear and now also of grief. But over all that there was another emotion, stronger than anything else.

It was joy. For being alive. For his friend's being here, with him. Indeed, Jim was there, his warm hand still rested on Blair's cheek, gently wiping away one single tear which had somehow managed to escape. Relief swept over him and Blair lost his self control; sobs wracked him.

"Shh, shh, easy, Blair," Jim leaned over his trembling friend and carefully enclosed him into warm embrace, covering him with his own body like a shield, desperately wishing to protect him. But he couldn't protect Blair from the sorrow that had overtaken him. He could only give support, sooth his friend and hold on until the storm of emotion passed.

"Take me home," Blair whispered quietly against Jim's neck. "Please…"

Jim paused, before answering, "Soon, Chief, I promise. I'll take you back home. Trust me."

He felt a slight nod and tightened his embrace in response. For the first time in days, he closed his eyes and let the tension leave his body, while his heart beat in sync with Blair's. The Sentinel had finally rejoined the other half of his soul.

Through the darkness of the day of terror, another small hint of light became visible.

Now as the calm falls on the skyline

Now as the smoke reveals the sun

Still the fire burns in our memory

This date is etched forever, nine-one-one

And now we stand as one,

Our flags are raised to hail the heroes

And now the healing starts

We join our hearts

To remember all who had died

The day America cried…

Monday, March 11, 2002

New York City

Liberty Island

"It's almost time." Jim put his arm around Blair's shoulders and pulled him closer. Although it was an early spring, in here, at the water's edge, the wind chilled them, when the sun disappeared.

When tonight's ceremony was first announced in television and newspapers, they'd known they had to be there. Now, six months after the attacks, they were on Liberty Island, facing Manhattan, where the skyline was changed forever – the emptiness where the two proud towers had stood was a heart-wrenching reminder of all that was lost that day.

Jim glanced aside at his young partner. His heart still ached when he remembered how close he'd come to losing him. How close he had come to being one of those mourning lost loved ones. All those terrifying "what if" possibilities he could only imagine, once in a while haunted him. What if the attacks had happened a bit later, when there would have been more people in the towers? What if Blair had been on the roof, above the impact zone, instead of luckily being on a lower floor? What if he had chosen a different stairway for escape? What if…

"Jim? Hey, are you with me here?" Blair's concerned voice brought him back to reality.

Reality. Yeah, Blair was here, alive. They hadn't talked much about what had happened inside the North tower, but Jim knew that someday they'd have to – but not tonight. He wasn't ready for that yet. And Blair probably wasn't ready to hear the details of the personal hell Jim had gone through that day, thinking that his friend was dead.

Jim forced a weak smile and fought to suppress waves of emotion that threatened to bury him. Even six months later he woke up nearly every night, drenched in sweat and biting his pillow to suppress a scream. He had to admit that Blair dealt with his night demons a lot better. Yes, he still cringed and Jim could hear his heartbeat increasing, when the TV replayed the scenes of the second plane crash or the towers collapse. At least his nightmares stopped a couple of months later. The same couldn't be said about Jim. Every night, over and over, he lived through the TV shots of the North tower crashing down even as he heard Blair's terrified scream on the phone. The sound of Blair's steady heartbeat and even breathing wasn't enough to reassure him. Only after he'd gone downstairs to see that Blair was there, alive, home and safe, could he calm enough to drift back to sleep.

As if instinctively sensing his Sentinel's concern and need for his Guide, Blair moved an inch closer and wrapped his arm around Jim's waist. This moment wasn't meant for words. They just stood there in silence, watching the city lights and floating deep into their own personal thoughts, memories… praying for healing. For new hope.

Suddenly, two identical beams of light shot skywards, like silver echoes of the once so noble towers. The sight was almost surreal, not of this world, as if the lights were the souls of the steel and concrete buildings: the souls of the Twin Towers reaching their way toward heaven.

Ghost towers.

Or a path of light, made by those who survived, a path for the almost three thousand souls, including those who had died in the Pentagon and in the fourth plane which had crashed near Shanksville. A path to heaven, where they could find peace at last.

Jim felt a light pressure at his side when Blair rested his head against his chest. He raised his hand and gently caressed anthropologist's curly hair. Blair's shoulders trembled slightly, while hot tears trickled down his cheeks. Jim tightened his warm embrace, ignoring his own tears as he looked at the light of hope rising up into the sky, filling the skyline of the city again after a half year of emptiness and grief.

"Sometimes it seems so unfair." Blair's whisper was barely audible and his eyes never left the beams of light. "I shouldn't be here."

Stunned by the words, Jim gently turned the young man to face him. "Chief, what are you saying?"

Blair bowed his head and sighed deeply. He wasn't sure how to explain the way he felt. It was an odd feeling, and he knew that he should be thankful for another chance to live. In any other circumstances, he would be glad for being alive.

But this was different. So many good people had lost their lives that day. Civilians from more than ninety countries, police officers, firefighters, paramedics… far too many people. And it seemed unfair that he was standing here, alive, while thousands of families were crying for their loved ones. So many children would never again kiss one or both of their parents good night. Many husbands and wives would never be able to say to their beloved ones the most important three words – "I love you." So many parents would never see their daughters and sons again.

No matter how many years would pass by, nothing would ever repair the damage that was done. Some wounds would never heal completely. Some wounds would never heal at all.

"Blair, talk to me," Jim pleaded, trying to reach into whatever had triggered such words from his friend. "What's going on in that head of yours?"

Blair swallowed, shook his head, struggling to find the right words. He knew very well that Jim could be a man of patience, if he wanted to be.

"I… I was just thinking… all those, who have died…" he finally spoke, choosing the words carefully. "I know I should feel glad that I'm alive, but sometimes it just doesn't seem right, you know? There were so many other people with families, friends, their lives… But they're dead now, while I'm standing here. And I don't know why."

Jim gazed down at Blair and his heart almost broke at seeing him so desperate and vulnerable. He understood the way Blair felt better than he would have imagined; he'd felt very much the same after his chopper had crashed in the jungles of Peru, killing all his men and leaving him the only survivor. He'd asked himself the same questions while burying his friends with his bare hands. There were moments when he didn't want anything more than to be there, buried under the ground along with them. He was all too familiar with this sense regret and the guilt shared by the survivors of horrifying events.

It had taken a long time until he learned to let it go. Incacha had found him when he'd felt desperate and lost and his senses were going wild. The wise shaman gave him shelter from the demons that tortured his mind and soul. Now, he was the one who must give the same shelter to his Guide. Jim was surprised to realize that it wasn't his physical strength that he needed; this time only his words could hold meaning for both of them.

"You're asking why you survived? I don't have an answer to that, but I can tell you that everyone who survives something horrific feels guilty and wonders why them and not the other guy," Jim said in a quiet, but determined voice. "You once told me that nothing in this universe happens randomly and maybe that's true. But I don't think that anyone will ever make any sense of what happened on September 11, because it just doesn't make sense. It was pure evil; cowardly actions against innocent people. But I do know one thing for sure..."

He paused for a moment, lifting his gaze to the towers of light.

"Do you wanna know what I see, looking at these lights?" He waited for Blair's nod, and then continued. "I can see that as long as we stand united, there is hope for tomorrow. We won't recover soon, but eventually we will."

Blair wiped his hand across his face, then lifted his head just enough to look into Jim's icy blue eyes. His Sentinel returned his gaze with a weak but reassuring smile. They didn't speak for a long time, bonded by their trust in each other and their friendship. Then, without a word, Blair released himself from Jim's hands and took a step away. Confused, feeling rebuffed, Jim stood motionlessly and waited. Blair would never pull away like that without a reason. Whatever was wrong, he would explain.

And he didn't have to wait too long.

"When I was there, I never even considered the thought that I could die." Blair's voice was hoarse, his gaze downcast. "I could only think of getting out of there as fast as possible. Elevators were out of service. Smoke and fire filled the stairwells and corridors and I couldn't really tell if there were any people left behind. Those of us who were going down could barely see each other. Then, I saw that woman, Josephine. She was barely walking. At first I wanted to pass her by, but then… " Blair took a deep breath, then continued, "I suddenly thought about what would you do, if you were there. I knew you would help her. So, I turned around and helped her down flight after flight of steps. I heard the first tower collapsing… but I wasn't thinking about the people, who were still in there… I just wanted to get out of there…We'd reached the twentieth floor when we met those firemen who led us down the stairs. And then… "

Blair's voice broke off and he turned away from Jim to stare down into the dark waves of the Hudson. Opening his senses, Jim heard his shallow, rapid breath, while he struggled with the memories of that day. He could taste in the air the bitterness of the salty tears that streamed across his friend's face.

Jim felt an urgent need to tell Blair that he shouldn't blame himself for anything, but he bit his tongue. All of his instincts told him that if he didn't allow Blair to say this, he would never try to say it again. Jim already knew the story – he'd heard it from one of Ladder 6 firemen but he'd never heard it from Blair himself. Maybe that's why they both felt such an irresistible need to be here – to finally talk and find the healing for both of them. To find some sense of closure.

"We stopped at the fourth floor. Josephine was totally worn out and she needed a rest. I was on the phone with you when the tower above me began to collapse. I remember leaning over her to protect her. And then…" Blair spoke so softly that his words could only be audible to the Sentinel. "Then all hell broke loose. I don't remember at all how I managed to get above ground… When I was in hospital, I heard your voice. You called me, said that you needed me to wake up. When I did, at first I thought that it was just a dream, that I would open my eyes and no one would be there. I didn't really know if I was dead or alive."

Blair paused, regaining control over emotions that threatened to overwhelm him, when he remembered the terrible sense of loneliness he'd felt in that moment. He blew a long breath and spoke again, "Then I heard you snore. I opened my eyes and the first person I saw was you, Jim. And nothing else mattered in that moment. I didn't think about the people who never will see those whom they care about… I didn't think about all those, who were gone… I could only think that I was alive and you were there with me…" Blair's voice trailed off again and his body trembled with sobs.

Unable to bear his friend's pain, Jim reached out for him, grasped his friend's shoulders and squeezed reassuringly. Blair didn't pull away – a good sign.

"You don't have to feel guilty for being glad to be alive, Chief. Everyone who got out of there was feeling just as lucky as you did"

Blair sadly glanced over his shoulder. "I know, Jim, I know. It's just… I can't stop thinking about them… "

"Blair, there is something I must say and I want you to listen carefully. When I watched the news about our colleagues over there, in the rubble field, I wanted to join them. Being a Sentinel I could do good things there. It was a hell of quite a dilemma. When we arrived, I wanted to go into the action and do my best to make a change there but I just couldn't leave you behind. And without you, Chief… "

Jim took a deep breath and then finally said the words he never thought he would say out loud. "I have to say that sometimes I even hate myself for that, but… I need you, Blair. I can't go on if you're not with me. When I thought that you'd died in that tower, it was as if I had died along with you."

Blair's wide-eyed look spoke a thousand words, but he couldn't seem to actually say them.

"Got you speechless, huh?" Jim smiled sadly. "I know I never told you that. But every single word is true. No matter how you might regret your survival, this is not just about you. It's about us, our friendship, about everything we have together."

Sudden realization almost knocked him off balance, as if he'd known the answer all along. Taking another deep breath, Jim gripped Blair's shoulders and stared straight into the depths of those no longer innocent blue eyes. The last trace of innocence was lost that day that shook the whole nation.

"You asked before, why did you survive? You survived, because we need each other to make a difference. Not in global terms, maybe, but we can change the things in our tribe, as you call it, in Cascade. What happened here that day, can happen anywhere. And we all must do our best to stand up and fight against it." He waited, giving Blair time to absorb what he was saying and then added. "You know, I can be pretty bone-headed when it comes to the mystical stuff but if there really is some higher power which leads our destinies, it probably decided that you must survive to help me to make these changes. I can't do it alone."

"I guess that's all we can do now." Blair wiped away the last trace of tears from his face. "We must show these cowards that they can destroy our buildings, but they never will be able to destroy our spirits."

Jim hesitated a bit and then nodded. At a loss for words, he hauled Blair into a hug and held him as close as possible, releasing a sigh when Blair returned the embrace. He once again looked at the powerful twin lights which stretched side by side up into the heavens. He listened to the strong heartbeat of his Guide, feeling that their hearts were beating in sync. Jim felt Blair turn his head to look at the light beams, too. He bowed his head and pressed a kiss onto his friend's curly hair, allowing his heart to fill with peace and the warmth of their friendship.

The Twin Towers souls reflected silently on the calm water and filled the skyline.

It wasn't just a memorial; it was much more than that. The twin lights, shooting up into the dark skies, were a symbol for the beginning of healing and hope for survivors, for victim's families, for the nation. They all faced evil on September 11, but their spirit was strong. One of the mottos that emerged that day was –

"Never forget. Never surrender".

On the altar of the chapel of Liberty

We light the candle for eternity

And pray that history will never repeat

The day America cried

The End.

In terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were lost total 2977 lives.

2606 people lost their lives in attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers and on the ground, including eighty-seven passengers and flight crew on American Airlines Flight 11, sixty passengers and flight crew on United Airlines Flight 175, three hundred and forty one FDNY firefighters, two FDNY paramedics, twenty-three NYC Police Department officers, thirty-seven Port Authority Police Department officers and eight additional EMT's and paramedics from private EMS.

184 people lost their lives in attack on Pentagon, including fifty-five military persons, fifty-nine passengers and flight crew on American Airlines Flight 77.

All forty passengers and flight crew of United Airlines Flight 93 lost their lives in a courageous attempt to retake control of the plane against the hijackers. Flight 93 crashed into the ground near Shankswille, Pennsylvania.

May they all rest in peace. We will never forget them.