Disclaimer: Jim, Blair, Simon, et al do not belong to me, but if they put them on ebay, I'd try my darndest to get them.
Rated PG-13 for language; angst, smarm, and a smattering of h/c.
Author's notes: This began as a nice little themefic for Toni back in May and, geeze Beave, here it is a novella two months later. I want to thank my beta, Kathleen, for her wonderful comments and encouragement.
This story takes place after "Sweet Science", but before "Foreign Exchange".
Forgive me for any and all medical inaccuracies -- I used more imagination and creative license than facts.
"Hey, look at these -- neon colored ones," Blair Sandburg exclaimed.
Jim Ellison paused in the drugstore aisle and glanced at the peg hooks containing condoms. He shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Maybe you can get a case discount."
Blair laughed and elbowed his friend in the ribs. "Very funny. Between the university and working with you, my love life is almost nonexistent."
"You know what they say, Chief."
"It's downhill from eighteen for a guy anyhow." Blair's eyes twinkled and Jim could almost read his mind. "Don't even go there, Chief. Besides, who was the last one to have an actual date?"
"As I recall you were home by ten," Blair teased.
Jim did not intend to tell his friend he'd nearly fallen asleep during dinner and that his date had cooled considerably toward him by dessert. Listening to her drone on about this sister and that co-worker hadn't helped either. "C'mon, Sandburg. I want to get home before the Jags game starts."
Jim led the way to the first aid aisle and a small smile captured his lips as he listened to Blair's soft chuckling behind him. Although he and the student didn't always see eye-to-eye, they had become good friends during the last two years of living and working together. It was his need for control of his sentinel senses that had brought Blair into his life, but the relationship between them had grown beyond need and expanded to friendship. For a loner like Jim it was nothing short of a miracle that he had allowed Blair into his life in the first place. Five years ago Jim wouldn't have been able to accept his dependence on another person, but now the sound of his guide's heartbeat and voice were treasured anchors in Jim Ellison's life.
As Blair read through the ingredients of the anti-bacterial creams, Jim shifted his weight from one foot to the other, feeling a little like a kid with his mother. He scanned the store, absently cataloguing the few people shopping the neighborhood drugstore in the early evening. An elderly man was picking up his prescription from the pharmacist while a technician counted pills on a blue tray behind a glass barrier. The customer turned to leave as a young man around twenty years old approached the counter.
"This one doesn't have any ingredients that we know irritate your skin or nose," Blair said, handing Jim a tube.
Jim took it distractedly, his focus still on the younger person talking to the pharmacist.
"What is it?" Blair asked in a low voice.
"I don't know," Jim said. "I have a funny feeling."
He heard the increased heart rate of his friend.
"About him?" Blair pointed to the man at the counter.
Jim nodded, tipping his head slightly as he opened his hearing. He was vaguely aware of Blair's fingertips lightly touching his back, grounding him so he wouldn't spiral off into a zone-out. He listened to his guide's heartbeat for a moment, assuring himself he had a shelter for his senses within the comforting sound. Reluctantly, he blocked out Blair's heartbeat and respiration and concentrated on the conversation between the pharmacist and the scruffy looking man.
"Yes, I remember the call, but as I told the doctor, that's a schedule two drug and a phoned in script won't work. I have to have a written prescription," the pharmacist was explaining.
"Look, my mom's out in the car and she needs her prescription bad. She's in a lot of pain." The younger man sounded desperate, but there was something patently false about it.
"Has she had prescriptions filled here before?" the middle-aged pharmacist asked.
"No. This is her first time."
"I'm really sorry, sir, but there's nothing I can do without a written prescription from her doctor."
Suddenly, the younger man reached behind his back and withdrew a revolver, centering the barrel on the pharmacist's chest. "I want that morphine now."
The forgotten tube of antibiotic cream fell from Jim's hand as he quickly reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. "Go out and call for back-up. This guy wants to rip off some drugs," he said hoarsely to Blair.
"No arguments. Go, Sandburg."
Jim knew his guide didn't want to leave him, but he needed Blair out of the action. He couldn't watch him and take care of the would-be drug thief at the same time. Keeping his hearing tuned up, Jim eased his service revolver out of its holster clipped to his belt against his back. Moving stealthily, he kept close to the shelves as he neared the counter. When he was within ten feet of the man, Jim stepped into the open. "Freeze. Cascade P.D."
The addict stilled, his body stiffening.
"Cascade PD! Drop the gun and put your hands up," Jim ordered, keeping his revolver aimed at the younger man.
Suddenly, an arm looped around Jim's neck and he clawed at it instinctively as his air supply was cut off. He registered a gun barrel against the side of his head, above his right ear.
"Drop the gun, cop," the male voice commanded as he tightened his already snug hold around Jim's throat.
Son-of-a-bitch! There were two of them.
The muscular arm around his neck left no doubt that the man could do as he threatened. He released the gun and let it clatter to the floor. The tension around his throat eased slightly, but the gun remained pressed to his skull. The thief's ragged breathing sounded like a hurricane in his ear, but Jim needed to hear if Blair had gotten away and called the robbery in. With his hearing wide open, he recognized the familiar heartbeat of his guide and though it was faster than normal, he sounded all right.
Suddenly the technician behind the glass ran out a back door and Jim felt the revolver move away from his head. Before he could react, the man pulled the gun's trigger and excruciating agony filled Jim's head. Unable to process the overload, he dropped to the floor in an unconscious heap.
At the sound of the gunshot, Blair's heart leapt into his throat. He spotted a woman wearing a white lab coat racing for the front door and instead of following her, he ran in the opposite direction -- toward his partner and the gunfire.
He came around the corner, his arms flailing as he pinwheeled to an abrupt stop. Jim lay on the floor, his face chalk white and his breathing fast and shallow.
"Oh God," Blair whispered hoarsely. Everything ceased to exist except Jim and his obvious suffering. Blair stumbled toward him, only to have his arm caught in a vice-like grip. Oblivious to the gun in the would-be drug thief's hand, he struggled to escape. "Let me go. I have to help him."
The sound of police sirens filled the abnormal silence.
"Fuck! The cops are here," the robber nearest the pharmacist swore. He grabbed the older man's lapels and nearly jerked him across the counter. "Is there another way out of here?"
The pharmacist, his face pale and sweat-pearled, nodded. "There's a b-back door," he stammered.
"Check it out, Lanny," the man who held Blair ordered. "I'll keep an eye on them."
Lanny licked his thin lips and hurried toward the back of the small store.
"Please let me check on my partner," Blair said, his attention focused on his sentinel.
The brawny man laughed. "Partner, huh? You vice?"
"No," Blair answered tightly and hurled him a venomous glare. "I'm an observer."
The man's gaze raked across him. "And I'm a boy scout."
Lanny returned, his eyes wide. "We're surrounded by cops!"
"Now whadda we do, Monk?" Lanny asked, his voice reedy.
Monk remained rooted to the ground, one meaty hand wrapped around Blair's upper arm and the other holding his gun. The phone's ring in the pharmacy cage startled them all.
"It's probably the police," Blair said, keeping his voice steady through sheer force of will.
Lanny's breath came in hitched gasps. "Damn it, Monk. They got us."
"Shut up! Lemme think," Monk roared.
Blair cringed, but pressed. "You better answer the phone, man."
Monk glared at Blair, but he appeared to be having a problem processing so much input at one time. "Okay. Let's get these two over there with the pharmacist. The cops ain't gonna come charging in when we got three hostages." He gave Blair a shove toward Jim. "Get him back there or I'll just shoot him here."
Blair's head spun, but he quickly squatted down beside Jim. His hands lightly moved over him, trying to determine what had happened. He couldn't see any external injuries. "What'd you do to him?" he demanded, his rage giving him courage.
"Nothin'. When I shot at the bitch, he just dropped," Monk replied with a shrug. "Hurry up."
Knowing he couldn't carry the bigger detective, Blair gritted his teeth and grabbed hold of Jim's wrists. Carefully, he dragged him into the cramped quarters of the pharmacy work area. He ignored Monk who finally answered the phone and concentrated on making Jim comfortable. Removing his coat, he pillowed it beneath Jim's head.
"Okay, big guy, you can wake up any time here and tell me what the hell happened," Blair said softly. He laid his palm against Jim's cool cheek. "C'mon, buddy, you're scaring me here. Is this some weird kind of zone?"
The shaky pharmacist lowered himself to the floor a few feet from them. "What's wrong with him?"
Blair shook his head impatiently. "I don't know. Did you see what happened?"
"It's like he said. He shot at Carol, the technician, and your friend just fell down."
"Where was Jim in relation to him?"
"Right beside him. That Monk had his arm around your friend's neck when he shot."
Blair's blood ran cold. "So you mean the gun was right next to Jim's ear?"
The pharmacist nodded as he drew a trembling hand across his face. "That's right."
At that close of range, a gunshot was loud enough to damage a person with normal senses, but for a sentinel, especially if he had his hearing tuned up, the noise would've been incapacitating. Had Jim had a major zone-out of a type Blair had never seen before?
"No, you listen to me, cop. If I so much as see anyone, I'll kill one of them and throw his body out the window," Monk was yelling into the receiver.
"What's going to happen to us?" the pharmacist asked, his voice husky with fear.
In spite of his worry over Jim, Blair laid a hand on the pharmacist's shoulder. "Don't worry. The police are experienced at dealing with this type of situation. We'll get out of this just fine." He managed a reassuring smile. "What's your name?"
"Nice to meet you, Jeff. I'm Blair Sandburg and my partner here is Jim Ellison." Blair shook the man's hand.
"He's a policeman?" Jeff asked, looking at Jim.
Blair nodded. "A detective. I'm a ride-along, an observer." At the question in Jeff's eyes, he added smoothly, "I'm doing my dissertation on closed societies."
"So you're used to this?"
Blair managed a weak chuckle. "More used to it than I want to be, man. Try to relax, Jeff. Before you know it, you'll be home."
"My wife's going to be frantic when she finds out," Jeff said. "I mean, it's not like we aren't warned about things like this with the drug problem and all. It's just that I never thought it would happen to me."
"Nobody ever does," Blair said quietly. Unable to offer any more reassurances, he gave his attention back to Jim. He rested his hand on Jim's chest, feeling minute tremors skating along his friend's muscles. "C'mon, buddy, it's time to come back to the land of the living. Follow my voice back."
Monk slammed the phone down. "Goddamn them!"
"What?" Lanny demanded, his bloodshot eyes wide with fear.
"They said it's not their policy to negotiate with people like us." Monk paced five feet one way, then spun around and paced the opposite direction. Back and forth, one hand clenching his gun and the other fisting and unfisting. "I told them if they didn't meet our demands, the first hostage would be killed in one hour."
Dread crawled through Blair. Would they follow through? Or were they all talk and no action? Monk had missed the fleeing technician. Had his aim been off or had he subconsciously not wanted to kill?
He observed Lanny's frantic, jerky motions and suspected the addict needed a fix. It wouldn't be long before he searched through the drawers until he found his drug of choice and then what would happen? What about Monk? He didn't seem as strung out as his partner, but a few of the telltale signs were there.
Blair couldn't worry about that now. He had to concentrate on Jim, try to bring him back from whatever abyss he'd fallen into. Taking hold of the detective's broad shoulders, Blair shifted him around until he was sitting up, leaning against a shelf of bottles. Jim's head drooped and he listed to the side. Blair moved up beside him, propping his shoulder against Jim's side to hold him in an upright position.
"What the fuck's wrong with him?" Monk demanded, aiming his gun barrel in Jim's direction.
Rage filled Blair and he had to take a few moments to gather his prudence before replying. "How the hell should I know? I don't know what you did to him."
"I told you, I didn't do nothin'. He just dropped like a sack of dirt."
Blair swallowed the lump of helpless anger in his throat. "Whatever you say, man."
Monk squatted beside Blair and grabbed a handful of hair, jerking the observer's head back and leaning close. His fetid breath washed across Blair nearly making him sick. "You make sure he doesn't die before I can kill him."
Blair blinked at the absurdity of the man's order. "Look, you don't have to kill anyone. If you let us all go right now, they'll go easy on you."
Monk laughed harshly. "Not when I got two strikes against me already. If I'm going down, I'm taking all of you with me."
Blair's blood turned cold. The man was desperate and armed -- dynamite and matches would've been a more stable combination. "You kill somebody and you'll be sitting on death row. You let us go and all they can do is put you away for a little while," Blair spoke quietly and wondered why his voice didn't shake.
Monk's eyes grew hard and frigid. "I know what you're trying to do and it's not going to work. So just shut the fuck up and let me think." He gave Blair's hair a final painful tug, then released him.
Blair bit the inside of his cheek. Monk was fast becoming as agitated as Lanny.
A slight movement and soft groan sent Blair's attention back to his partner. He gripped Jim's bicep. "Hey, Jim, c'mon back. Listen to my voice, let it guide you back."
Jim's motions became more pronounced as he lifted his head and flexed the fingers of one hand, but his eyes remained closed. Blair grasped Jim's arm. "Take it easy, big guy. You're all right. Just relax."
The detective's eyes suddenly flew open, wide and frantic. His gaze latched on Blair and moved lower to watch his lips.
"Whoa, buddy. It's okay. You're fine," Blair soothed.
Jim shook his head vehemently, his face paling even further. "Chief." Jim blinked as if surprised.
He lifted his fingers to touch Blair's lips, startling the younger man. He gripped Jim's hand, lowering it but keeping it within his grasp. "What is it, Jim? What's wrong?"
Jim only shook his head more violently and his other hand moved down to Blair's chest to settle over his heart. By tiny increments, Jim's panicked expression lessened.
"I can't hear you. Can't hear your heartbeat," Jim finally said in a flat monotone.
Blair's eyes widened. Dammit! The gunshot had done more than bring on a zone; it had deafened Jim. "It's all right, Jim," Blair said quietly, exaggerating the movement of his lips. "Can you understand me?"
Jim concentrated on Blair's lips, trying to read them. Silence like he'd never known filled him, making him dizzy. He could feel his heart thudding painfully in his chest, but it was the absence of Blair's heartbeat which threatened the slender thread of control he'd always managed to cling. He couldn't hear his guide's heart, his lifeline to sanity and his oasis when everything else was out of control. The lights seemed brighter, his clothing irritated his skin and the overpowering scents were sending him into full-blown panic.
He closed his eyes against the onslaught of colors and motion and concentrated on the pulse beneath his hand which lay against Blair's chest over his heart. The rhythm was the same one he could pick out of a crowd without even trying and he allowed the steady beat to soothe him. He gathered his marauding senses, found the dials and worked them down one by one, until he came to hearing. The dial was gone. There was nothing there.
The increasing staccato of Blair's heart beneath his palm made him open his eyes. He spotted the man who had captured him standing above them and although he couldn't hear him, Jim knew by the man's expression and body language that he was tense. No, more than tense. Ready to snap. The criminal's lips curled upward in a snarl as he looked at Blair but his mouth moved too rapidly for Jim to recognize any of the words. However, the rapidfire beat of Blair's heart told Jim everything he needed to know.
Though he and Blair had joked about Jim being the anthropologist's blessed protector, Jim had to admit he did harbor more than his share of protectiveness toward the younger man. The thug was threatening Blair and Jim had to stop him. But how?
He rose to face the aggressor, removing his hand from Blair's chest and his four remaining senses protested violently. The dials spun out of control and Jim covered his eyes against the onslaught of visual input. He staggered back, knocking bottles off the shelves but there was no sound when they hit the floor. A sharp acrid odor suddenly rose and Jim fell to his knees coughing and gasping. His stomach spasmed as he fought to keep down its contents. His clothing scraped his skin and it felt like someone was rubbing sandpaper across him.
Hands wrapped around his wrists, then went to his shoulders and Jim instinctively fought against them. They were gone for only a few moments, then the bruising force returned as two hands grasped one wrist and pressed his hand against something coarse. He tried to draw away, but the grip tightened. Then Jim felt it -- the familiar thumping of Blair's heart. He embraced the sensation, allowed it to move inside him, wrapping around him like a warm quilt on a cold winter night.
For a long time, he lay unmoving, soaking up the serenity which Blair's heartbeat and familiar scent offered. His own heart pulsed in time to his guide's and his breathing fell into synch with the rise and fall of Blair's chest. Lost in the silent void, Jim imagined he and Blair were one entity, a guide-sentinel, whole together but incomplete apart.
He didn't know how much time had passed before fingertips touched his cheek and Jim knew he had to return. Had to return to Blair. Had to protect Blair. He found his sight dial was already fixed and he opened his eyes slowly. Blair's face swam into focus and his blue eyes were filled with worry. The next thing he noticed was the swelling bruise on Blair's left cheekbone. A thin line of blood trickled from a split in the middle of the contusion. Anger and concern fought for dominance in the detective. The rage dimmed as Jim lifted a hand and his fingers brushed across the injury.
He looked around and realized he was lying on the floor. Blair was close enough that Jim's other hand rested easily on his chest. Blair knew -- he understood that Jim needed contact to remain focused. But didn't Blair always understand, even when Jim didn't?
Movement behind Blair caught Jim's eye and he spotted the all too-familiar uniforms of EMT's approaching. They attempted to move Blair aside, but Jim couldn't let them do that. He grabbed Blair's arm, struggled to curl into Blair's chest. His partner's mouth moved but Jim couldn't understand what he was saying and that took him over the edge of fear.
"No!" Jim cried.
The single word startled Blair as did Jim's iron grip around his arm as the panicked man attempted to get as close to Blair as humanly possible. He swallowed hard, recognizing the alarm in Jim's voice and wrapped his own arms around his terrified partner. "I'm not going anywhere," Blair said softly knowing Jim couldn't hear him but needing to say the words aloud. "I'm staying right here beside you, big guy."
The intensity in Jim's eyes as he stared at Blair's lips unsettled the student. He'd seen Jim in many different situations, but could only remember one other time when he'd appeared so vulnerable... so helpless. It had been when the Golden had blinded him, making him rely on his guide for more than just his senses. This time, however, it seemed worse.
"What's going on, Sandburg? What happened to Jim?"
Blair glanced up to see Simon Banks standing behind the puzzled EMT's. The captain had lowered his cigar and his eyes behind his glass lenses were wide.
"Jim's deaf," Blair replied. "Two men tried to steal drugs from the pharmacy. Jim tried to stop them. One of them fired his gun right next to Jim's ear." He glanced at the paramedics deliberately, hoping Simon knew what he couldn't say aloud.
"Let the paramedics help him," Simon said in the impatient tone he used when he was feeling helpless.
Blair tightened his arms around Jim and felt the sentinel reciprocate. "Jim won't let me move. He's really scared, Simon."
Blair watched as Simon's expression filled with comprehension. Good, he recognized it was a sentinel problem.
"Is he hurt other than his hearing?" Banks asked.
Blair shook his head.
Simon thought for a moment, then spoke to the EMT's. "Would it be all right if we take him to the hospital to have the doctor check him out?"
The paramedics glanced at each other and back at the captain, then one of them said, "He doesn't seem to be in distress so that should be all right, but someone will have to sign a form."
"I'll do it," Simon said.
Simon signed the required release form and the two EMT's picked up their equipment and left. Simon moved to Blair's side and hunkered down beside the two men.
"Jim must've had his hearing turned up and the explosion of the gun was too much for his auditory processing center to handle," Blair explained quietly to Simon.
"Damn. Do you think it's permanent?"
"I don't know." Weariness and pain washed across Blair. "Let's get him to the hospital and see what they can tell us." He paused and added firmly, "But no matter what, I'm not going to leave his side, Simon. Jim'll freak out. If the doctor doesn't like it, I'll just take him home."
Simon gave Blair's shoulder a squeeze. "I understand." He gave the student's bruise a critical look. "If nothing else, you can have them clean that up for you."
Blair waved aside his concern, having forgotten about the injury the moment after he'd received it. "I'm all right. Let me see if I can get Jim to understand what we're going to do."
He turned his attention back to Jim who had closed his eyes again. The student hoped he hadn't zoned. He brushed the back of his fingers across Jim's whisker-rough cheek. "Hey, Jim, you in there?"
The detective's cloudy blue eyes opened and immediately settled on Blair.
"Simon and I are going to take you to the hospital. You know, the hos-pi-tal," Blair exaggerated the pronunciation. "You're going to have to stand up."
Jim's eyes narrowed in concentration as he focused on Blair's lips. He looked over Blair's shoulder and his gaze settled on Simon. He smiled tremulously.
The captain smiled back and Blair could see his relief. "Hey Jim. You're going to be okay."
Jim tipped his head to the side and tapped his ear.
"I think he's trying to tell you he's deaf," Blair said to Simon.
"Why doesn't he just say it? He's only deaf, not mute."
"It's a phenomena among people who lose their hearing. Since they can't hear their voices, they think nobody else can either so they don't talk. It's a purely psychological reaction," Blair explained.
Blair shifted, getting ready to stand and Jim frowned.
"It's all right. I'm not going anywhere without you. Just call us Siamese twins," Blair said with a reassuring smile.
Simon leaned down to help Blair bring Jim to his feet. The two men rose together as Jim's hand remained firmly attached to Blair's chest. The detective swayed and his face paled.
"What's wrong with him?" Simon demanded.
Blair grappled for an answer. "Equilibrium is located in the ears so my guess is that was affected by the gunshot, too."
"This just keeps getting better and better," Simon muttered.
Blair ignored him, concentrating on his sentinel's well-being. With one arm around Jim's waist and the other pressed against his chest in a mirror image of Jim's hand on his chest, the anthropologist shuffled forward. He sidestepped the pool of blood where Monk had accidentally shot his partner. Blair didn't want to think about how the stand-off had ended. He couldn't fall apart yet, not when Jim needed him.
Simon supported Jim on the other side and a path was opened for them by the policemen, vice detectives and witnesses as the three men left the pharmacy behind. Five minutes later, Blair sat in the back seat of Simon's car with Jim nearly in his lap. It was disconcerting to have Jim so reliant on him. Jim Ellison was one of the most self-assured people he'd ever met, yet at the moment he could've been a child holding tightly to his mother.
"What happened in there, Sandburg?" Simon asked after he was driving down the road.
Blair shrugged and Jim glanced at him questioningly. The student rubbed Jim's arm absently. "It's okay, Jim." He gazed at Simon via the rearview mirror. "Jim and I stopped at the drugstore after work to pick up some antibiotic cream since we'd run out at home."
Simon chuckled. "That doesn't surprise me."
Blair smiled weakly. "Anyway, as I was figuring out which one to buy, Jim noticed this guy Lanny at the counter. He figured out something was wrong and handed me his phone and ordered me out of the store to call for back-up." He raked a hand through his unruly curls. "Damn it, Simon, I should've stayed with him."
"It wasn't your fault, Sandburg," Simon said quietly.
"Yeah, well maybe not, but it's going to take me some time to believe that. I made the call and then ran back when I heard the gunshot." Blair paused, reliving the awful moment when he'd seen Jim lying on the floor so still and pale. "I figured out what had happened to him after we were thrown in the back with the pharmacist. Both Monk and Lanny were pretty strung out. I think the phone ringing so often finally sent Monk over the edge. Lanny was bouncing off the walls and he must've gotten on Monk's nerves because the next thing I know there's another gunshot and Lanny's on the floor, blood beside him." He took a deep breath, pressing back the dark memory. "Then the phone rang again and Monk nearly jumped a foot in the air. He answered it with his back to me and I grabbed a bottle to knock him out. Only he turned at the last moment and I missed. He slugged me." Blair touched his bruised cheek deliberately. "But I got the last laugh and hit him over the head with the fire extinguisher. He went down like a ton of bricks. Next thing I know there's cops and EMT's all around us," he finished in a rush of words.
"You kept your head while keeping an eye on your partner. You did good, Blair."
The captain's praise and his use of his first name made Blair smile a little. "Thanks, Captain. I just hope Jim hasn't permanently lost his sense of hearing."
Simon's expression grew somber. "If anyone can help him, you can."
"Two compliments in less than a minute. Better be careful, Simon, or I might think you like me a little," Blair teased.
Simon only grimaced, but his brown eyes twinkled fondly.
Jim shifted against Blair and the student glanced over at the sentinel. His gaze collided with Jim's apprehensive eyes -- saw the fear lurking in their blue depths -- and Blair couldn't blame him. Hell, he was scared, too, but he didn't want Jim to know how frightened he was. Jim gave Blair's arm a gentle squeeze and smiled reassuringly.
On second thought, with or without his hearing, Jim always seemed to know how Blair was feeling.
"You can talk, you know," Blair said quietly. He wished Jim would -- his partner's silence was unnerving, but then Jim was dealing with complete and utter silence. Blair couldn't even imagine what the sounds of silence were like for a sentinel.
Once they arrived at the hospital, Blair didn't have any trouble leading Jim inside. It was only when the nurse told Blair he had to stay outside the examination room did Jim balk, picking up on Blair's nervousness.
"I have to go in with him. He needs me," Blair said quietly, hoping he didn't sound too desperate.
She shook her head firmly. "Hospital regulations."
Simon stepped forward. "Excuse me. I'm Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department. Could you make an exception in this case? Detective Ellison has been traumatized and he needs the support of his partner."
The nurse wavered only slightly.
"I'm listed in Detective Ellison's medical files as his next of kin and he's given me power of attorney," Blair stated.
Simon stared at Blair as if he were a total stranger. Blair didn't like springing that kind of information on the captain so abruptly, but he didn't have a choice. Six months ago Jim had made the necessary changes to his records, knowing Blair understood the medical aspects of a sentinel better than anyone. Jim had been surprised when Blair had reciprocated with his medical files. The meaning was clear: there was nobody Blair trusted with his life more than Jim.
Finally the nurse nodded. "It's highly irregular, but he does seem to want you to stay."
Blair smiled wryly. That was an understatement. Jim was still close at Blair's side, his palm resting against the young man's heart. "Thank you."
They walked into the exam room. Jim managed to hitch himself up onto the bed without losing his hold on Blair.
The student grinned. "You're getting good at that, buddy. I just hope we don't have to do this too much longer. I'm not sure how my students would take an extra body glued to their teacher."
The door opened and a white jacketed man entered. "Good evening, Mr. Ellison. I'm Dr. Manesti."
"I'm Blair Sandburg." Blair pointed to Jim. "He's Detective Ellison and he can't hear you."
The doctor frowned and gazed back down at the clipboard in his hand. "It says a gunshot deafened him."
Blair nodded. "He has really sensitive hearing and the gun was fired within an inch or two of his ear." He glanced at Jim, noticing his scowl and how his blue eyes tracked the doctor.
Dr. Manesti retrieved an instrument from one of the cupboards and approached Jim. "I'll do a visual exam of his ears first. After that I'll arrange some tests for him to undergo. This will take some time so you may want to wait outside."
Blair shook his head. "I can't. Jim's pretty shook up and not thinking very clearly. Every time I move away from him, he becomes extremely agitated."
Dr. Manesti nodded. "That's understandable. I'll work around you."
Relief filtered through Blair. "Thanks."
Jim made it through the exam with only a little fidgeting.
"Has he spoken since he lost his hearing?" Dr. Manesti asked Blair.
"A little in the beginning."
Again, the doctor nodded. He turned over Jim's admittance form and wrote something, then held it up to Jim. Blair read it with his partner. [You can speak. It's only your hearing that was affected. Are you in pain?]
Jim looked startled and nodded, then spoke in a rusty voice. "My head hurts. Headache."
Blair wasn't surprised. A sensory overload that resulted in a zone-out more often than not gave him a migraine. He gave Jim's arm a sympathetic pat while the doctor scrawled something else on the paper.
[I'll give you something for that then I'm going to have you take some auditory tests.]
"All right," Jim replied.
Blair relaxed a little. Just hearing Jim's voice again eased some of his apprehension.
"I'm going to get a prescription filled for him, then get the tests organized. You may as well wait with him in here," the doctor said. He leaned closer to Blair, scrutinizing the cut and bruise on the younger man's cheek. "I'll send in a nurse to clean that up for you and get a butterfly on it."
"Thank you," Blair replied.
Dr. Manesti scurried out, leaving Blair and Jim alone.
Blair hopped up on the exam table beside Jim. He was exhausted and knew Jim had to be even more so.
"How're you doing, Chief?"
Jim's question startled Blair, making him jerk slightly. He searched his jacket pocket and came up with a small notebook and pen. He scratched something on the paper and held it up to Jim.
[Okay. Tired. Worried. What else is new?]
Jim laughed wearily. "Me, too. Am I talking too loud?"
Blair shook his head and scribbled [Just right] in the notebook.
The detective seemed relieved. "It's weird not being able to hear myself. Or you."
[How're your senses?]
[What's with the hand on my chest?]
Jim's cheeks reddened. "Your heartbeat, Chief. My senses were out of control and I couldn't hear your heartbeat. Feeling it helped me stay grounded."
"Oh, wow! That's cool," Blair exclaimed as he wrote the same words so Jim could read them.
Jim chuckled. "Maybe for you, but not from where I'm at, Darwin." He sobered. "What happened at the pharmacy? I don't remember."
[I'll tell you all about it later when your hearing comes back.]
"And if it doesn't come back?" Jim asked bitterly.
[Then you can read the best selling novel after I write it.]
Jim snorted. "I'll wait for the movie. With closed captions."
[That's so NOT funny, Jim.]
Their strange conversation was interrupted by the same nurse who had initially told Blair he couldn't come into the exam room with Jim.
"I'm here to take care of that cut on your face, Mr. Sandburg," she said.
"Blair," he corrected.
She smiled. "Okay Blair. This will hurt a little but you don't want to get it infected, do you?"
"No way. Go ahead."
Blair was aware of Jim's protective scowl as the detective watched the nurse closely. The cleaning and disinfecting did sting and Blair was sure his heartbeat shot up, which made Jim even more defensive. But Jim didn't speak again until the nurse had applied the butterfly bandage and left the room.
"You sure you're all right?" Jim asked, his voice lower.
Blair nodded. [It's nothing.]
They sat quietly for a few minutes, each caught up in their own thoughts.
"You think the doctors can fix it?" Jim asked.
"Can you fix it?" Jim asked, his gaze leveled on his guide.
[I'm going to have to do some research, but we'll get through this -- just like we did with the Golden.]
"I hate this, Blair," Jim said, his voice barely audible. "If I was normal, I would have only had some ringing in my ears for a few days."
Blair wanted to shake some sense into Jim. He thought they'd gotten past the pity party.
[You're not abnormal, not a freak. You're SPECIAL.]
"Damn it, Sandburg, you make me sound like some politically correct category."
Jim's jaw muscle was jumping all over the place, telling Blair his frustration level was nearing the boiling point. Blair took a deep breath and sighed heavily. He was beginning to realize how much he relied on his voice to get through Jim's stubborn armor. But then Jim had to deal with the loss of his hearing -- twenty percent of his sensory perception. And for a sentinel that was a massive amount.
He settled a hand on Jim's back and massaged the tight muscles in gentle circular motions. "Relax, buddy. I know it sucks, but we'll work it out. We always do, don't we?"
Blair didn't know if it was the physical contact or his voice's vibrations in his chest, but the older man's shoulders began to droop and his molars stopped grinding together.
Blair reached for his pen and notebook.
[Can you try holding my wrist instead? It might be easier.]
After reading it, Jim licked his lips nervously. "Okay."
Slowly, Jim drew his hand away from Blair's chest then quickly curled his long slender fingers around his guide's left wrist.
"I can feel it strong enough to anchor me," Jim said.
"Good," Blair said, then smiled when his partner gave him a questioning look.
[This way we both have a little more room to move.]
"Jesus, I'm sorry for acting like a lost kid, Sandburg. It's just that..." Jim shrugged, his expression forlorn. "I never knew how much I relied on the sound of your heart beating."
Blair knew how much it took for Jim to admit that and he wrote quickly.
[It's an unconscious thing. Don't sweat it.]
The door opened and Dr. Manesti entered. By the expression on his face, Blair knew he didn't have good news.
"I didn't realize how late it was. The techs who administer the hearing tests have gone home for the day," he began.
"So now what?" Blair demanded.
Jim straightened perceptibly, his body tensing. Blair's anxiety telegraphed itself to him through sight, touch and maybe even scent. He laid a hand on Jim's forearm. "It's all right, Jim."
The detective's muscles eased slightly, but his nostrils flared as if he caught the scent of an enemy.
"I've set up an appointment for tomorrow at ten a.m. We'll keep Detective Ellison overnight then get him upstairs for his tests."
Blair shook his head vehemently. "No. I'll take him home and bring him back in the morning."
"What's going on?" Jim demanded stridently.
Blair tried to calm himself, knowing that would placate Jim, too. He reached for his pen and paper.
[He wants to keep you overnight. I said NO WAY.]
Jim's hand tightened around Blair's wrist but his hard glare was directed at the doctor. "No. Not overnight."
Dr. Manesti took a step back. "Well, if Mr. Sandburg keeps an eye on you..."
"No problem, Doctor. We're roommates," Blair said. "I'll watch him."
"If his headache gets worse or if he starts complaining about pain in his ear canals, I want you to bring him back here immediately."
The doctor withdrew a bottle from his pocket and handed it to Blair. "These are painkillers. They'll help his headache."
Blair read the name and nodded. It was generic Tylenol with codeine. Jim could handle one of those every eight hours. "Anything else?"
The doctor studied the two men. "He hasn't let go of you since you got in here. Why?"
"I guess he feels safe as long as I'm with him," Blair obfuscated.
Dr. Manesti narrowed his eyes, not quite believing but deciding not to ask any more questions when Blair's chin rose in stubborn determination. "You're free to go. I believe there's a Captain Banks anxiously waiting to see Detective Ellison."
Blair smiled. "Yeah, I'm sure he is. Thanks, doc." He wrote two words on a piece of paper and held it up to his partner.
Jim grinned in relief and his icy blue eyes thawed. "Good."
After some paternal fussing, Simon dropped them off at the loft and asked again if they would be all right alone before leaving. Blair, with Jim holding his wrist, locked the door behind the captain.
"I never realized what an old softie Simon was," Blair said, then belatedly remembered Jim couldn't hear him.
He began to remove his coat, hoping Jim would be all right for the short length of time it would take. Though Jim seemed startled, he released Blair and didn't have the panicked look he'd had earlier with the loss of contact. Maybe being home made him feel safer. Jim took off his own coat and hung it on its usual hook. Blair could almost believe everything was normal.
Blair retrieved the notebook and pen from his jacket pocket.
[Do you think you can handle being apart in the loft?]
Jim's hand trembled slightly, but he nodded. "Yeah, it's a lot better here."
[Good. I'd hate to do the buddy shower thing.]
"That's how rumors start, Chief." Jim chuckled and it sounded so Jim-like that Blair grinned like an idiot.
[I'm going to order pizza, okay?]
"Sounds good." Jim walked toward the fridge and pulled out two bottles of water. He opened them and handed one to Blair. "I'm not completely helpless."
[You're doing fine! Relax. Watch some tv.]
"Watch is right."
[Two words. Closed caption.]
"Right." Jim lowered himself onto the sofa and leaned his head back against the cushion. His eyes remained open and fixed on Blair.
It looks like sight replaces touch for now, Blair thought.
He picked up the cordless phone and walked into the kitchen. He found the number for their favorite pizza place under a magnet on the fridge and quickly called in their order. After hanging up, he glanced at the clock on the wall: 11:40. Nearly midnight. They'd left the precinct at 5:30. Over six hours had passed -- two in the drugstore, the rest at the hospital.
"Par for the course," Blair murmured to himself.
"You say something, Chief?"
Blair's eyes widened.
"I didn't hear you. I saw your lips move," Jim replied to the unspoken question.
Disappointment thrummed through Blair but he tried to keep it hidden behind a cocky grin. He wrote on a pad of paper.
[Just commenting on our usual luck.]
Jim grunted. "Our usual bad luck."
The call of nature shouted to Blair and he realized he hadn't gone for over eight hours. A new record for him especially after all the tea he'd put away while working on Jim's reports. He headed for the bathroom, but Jim's fearful voice halted him.
"Where are you going?"
Blair couldn't stop himself -- he laughed until tears were running down his cheeks. There were a helluva lot of things about this sentinel business Burton never mentioned and this was one of them, but then this predicament wasn't even one Blair could've imagined. He glanced up to find Jim standing directly in front of him.
"No way, man. This is something I've been doing by myself ever since I was eighteen months old if you can believe my mom." Seeing Jim's confused expression, he pointed down at himself then at the bathroom.
"Oh," Jim murmured.
"Yeah, oh," Blair reiterated with a grin.
He hurried into the bathroom, debated whether to leave the door open and decided his bladder wasn't that shy so left the door ajar. Blair quickly took care of business then flushed and washed his hands.
"You almost done?"
Blair hurried out, surprised to see Jim had returned to the couch. He sat down beside the sentinel and took Jim's hand and rested it against his chest.
Jim relaxed visibly, the creases in his brow smoothing out. "Thanks, Chief."
Blair thought back to when Jim had been blinded by Golden. Even though the sentinel had been blind, Blair had been able to guide him by talking to him and teaching him how to listen like a bat. Had he listened to Blair's heartbeat then? Had it anchored him so he hadn't freaked like he'd done this time?
He could give Jim some quick lessons in lip reading, but that wouldn't alleviate his fear. No, he'd have to delve into his pile of sentinel books and notes and see if he could find something which might give him a clue as to how to help his friend. He leaned his head back against the couch. Jim's hand was warm and firm against his chest and Blair was surprised to find that he, too, felt a sense of peace by the physical contact.
In the beginning, Blair had been startled by Jim's propensity to touch -- nothing overt, just a light cuff or a slight squeeze of an arm. However, he'd grown accustomed to it and understood that it was a part sentinel/part Jim Ellison thing. As a sentinel, all of Jim's senses including touch were heightened so it gave him a predisposition to gain tactile information. But the part that needed human contact -- Jim Ellison, the man -- was definitely more complicated. Growing up in a sterile environment, Jim hadn't had the comfort of touch so important to a child's well-being and sense of worth. Maybe his unconscious little pats were a product of that absence in his childhood.
Blair rubbed his face then grimaced as he remembered the bruise on his cheek. He hoped Jim believed the lie he'd told Simon as to how he'd gotten it. Jim would never forgive himself if he knew he'd given his guide the injury.
"Something wrong?" Jim demanded.
Blair shook his head. "I'm okay. Just wiped out."
Whether Jim understood every word or not, he seemed to catch the gist of what Blair had said. He nodded sympathetically and eased his hand away from his guide's heart.
Jim suddenly stiffened and his gaze flew to the door. "Pizza's here, Chief."
"How-" Blair began, then grinned and tapped his nose. "Smell."
He bounced off the couch and grabbed his wallet from his jacket pocket. When the knock came, Blair was just reaching for the doorknob. After paying for the pizza, he locked the door behind him and carried their supper to the table. Jim joined him, leaning over the pizza and sniffing appreciatively.
Blair laughed. A little thing like deafness wasn't going to stop Jim from enjoying his favorite pizza. The two men fell into their routine of gathering plates and napkins and another bottle of water, then moved back to the living room with two slices of pizza each. They ate in companionable silence, or at least Blair thought it was companionable. He was pretty certain Jim wouldn't agree.
After they were done eating, they cleaned up and Jim settled back on the couch.
Blair pulled another notebook from one of the kitchen drawers and joined his friend.
[Why don't you go to bed?]
Jim read it and his cheeks reddened. "I won't be able to see you."
[I'm not going anywhere.]
Jim shrugged then jumped to his feet and ran a hand over his short-cropped hair. "I hate this, Blair. When the hell did I get so dependent on you?"
Blair scribbled something, then joined Jim and rubbed his upper arm in an almost unconscious motion.
[Relax. Being upset doesn't help.]
"What will help?" Jim demanded.
Blair drew his hand away from Jim long enough to write again.
[I will. We'll get through this. I promise.]
Jim closed his eyes, cutting off his sight along with his hearing. He inhaled the familiar scent of Blair's herbal shampoo and could almost taste the honeysuckle and chamomile. He turned up his sense of touch, feeling each unique whorl on Blair's fingertips and each individual hair on his forearm as Blair stroked his arm. He could almost hear his voice in his mind.
"It's okay, Jim. Breathe in and out, slowly now. Relax those muscles. Come back to me."
I'll always come back to you, Blair.
The tension seeped from his tense muscles and he realized how exhausted he was. He managed to open his eyes and found the notebook held in front of his face.
[Why don't you sleep on the couch? I'll sit across from you where you can see me.]
Jim nodded slowly. "How the hell do you put up with me, Chief?"
[Damned if I know.]
He glanced at Blair to find one of his trademark smiles aimed in his direction and Jim wrapped an arm around his guide's shoulders, pulling him close to his side for a quick hug. "Thanks."
[Any time, buddy.]
Jim was glad he was within lunging range of the sofa and he dove headfirst onto the cushions. God, he was tired. He felt an afghan being settled over him and felt Blair's breath across his cheek as his guide leaned close to tuck the blanket around his shoulders. Blair rested his palm on Jim's forehead and it was warm and reassuring.
A minute later he was sound asleep, a little smile on his lips.
Blair rubbed his eyes then dragged a hand through his tangled hair. He glanced at the clock on the end table. 3:35 a.m. No wonder his vision was blurring. He had been searching through his journals and books for the past three hours, but had found little to help him solve Jim's current problem.
No, their current problem. What affected the sentinel affected the guide and vice versa.
It was a symbiotic relationship he hadn't been prepared for when he'd jumped headlong into James Ellison's life. But Blair didn't regret a single moment of his association with the sentinel.
He leaned back against the loveseat and gazed across the coffee table at Jim's tranquil features. It was rare for Blair to see the detective so... still. Usually he was glowering or scowling or muttering or putting the fear of God into suspected felons. Occasionally, he would smile, which usually heralded an affectionate pat to Blair's head. Recognizing the precursor signs, Blair would try to duck, but rarely did so in time. Those reactions Jim had honed in the military came in handy for playfully cuffing his guide.
Reactions. Survival. React first, sort it out later after the danger was past.
The seed of an idea germinated. Jim had his hearing turned up high when the gunshot sounded. In order to survive, his mind reacted by shutting down the injured component. In this case, Jim's hearing. Now that the danger was gone, the dial would have to be manually located and fine tuned. But how could they do that?
Blair's musing was interrupted by Jim's restless motions. The sentinel murmured as he tossed and turned, but didn't awaken. Blair quickly unfolded himself from his position and leaned over Jim, laying a hand on his broad shoulder.
"Wake up, Jim. You're having a nightmare." Blair stilled and suddenly realized Jim couldn't hear him. He would've laughed at his inanity but Jim's movements became more violent and his strangled cries more anguished.
Blair squatted down and cupped Jim's sweat-coated face between his palms, hoping his sentinel would recognize his touch. He stroked Jim's cheeks with his thumbs. "C'mon, man, wake up. I'm not sure what to do here. Give me a clue. Something."
Jim grew more agitated, kicking off the afghan and nearly hitting Blair with his flailing arms.
His heartbeat -- Jim said he needed to feel Blair's heartbeat to control his senses.
Blair grabbed at one of Jim's thrashing limbs and managed to snag a hand. Straining against the larger man's strength, Blair managed to place Jim's palm over his rapidly beating heart. It took all of five seconds for Jim to calm down and open his eyes. It was obvious he was still groggy from the painkiller which he'd taken when they'd eaten pizza.
Shocked by the tangible and indisputable evidence of his influence on Jim, Blair felt hysteria tugging at his thoughts. He didn't want this responsibility. God, he didn't want Jim's life in his hands.
However, hadn't that happened the day they'd met when Blair had saved Jim from being run over by a garbage truck? He and Jim joked about Blair's propensity for getting into trouble and Jim's blessed protector role, but Blair had been the original blessed protector. It looked like he still retained that duty, whether he wanted it or not.
Jim struggled to sit up as he awkwardly kept his hand on Blair's chest. "What's wrong, Chief? Your heart's racing like it's going to come out of your chest."
Jim's frantic question penetrated Blair's shock and he shook his head absently. "I'm all right. Everything's cool." He consciously took deep breaths to calm his racing heart.
Finally he met Jim's piercing blue eyes and nodded in reassurance, then laid his hand over Jim's. "I'm okay. Really."
Jim's answering nod was hesitant. "What happened?"
Blair grabbed his notebook and pen from the coffee table.
[You were having a nightmare. I couldn't wake you up.]
Jim grimaced. "I guess yelling didn't work."
Blair considered telling Jim he had a theory about his deafness, but decided against it. Blair's brain felt mired in mush so he wasn't going to place a lot of confidence in his hypothesis until daybreak -- after he drank a pot or two of coffee. Maybe then he could try to explain it.
[You think you can go back to sleep?]
An uncertain smile teased Jim's lips. "Would you sleep beside me?"
[Is my virtue safe?]
Jim snorted. "Your virtue hasn't been safe since you discovered girls."
[Jealousy doesn't become you.]
"Jealous of you, short stuff?" The sentinel playfully tapped Blair's cheek. "I don't think so."
"Short stuff?" Blair shot back and knew Jim had read his lips just fine.
"I hate to tell you this, Chief, but you aren't an Amazon."
Blair merely rolled his eyes heavenward, though his earlier apprehensions faded with the familiar banter.
[Your bed or mine?]
When Jim glanced up from the paper, Blair waggled his eyebrows.
"Mine's bigger," Jim said. He stood and pulled Blair to his feet as the younger man was trying to write.
"Witch doctor punk."
Laughing, the two men shuffled up the stairs and dropped onto Jim's bed, too exhausted to strip to their underwear. Jim's arm shifted and his hand came to rest on Blair's chest above his heart. Within minutes, they were both sleeping peacefully.
Blair awakened to a ray of sunlight shining in his face. What the hell? Where was he?
A weight across his chest slammed him back to reality as he turned his head to see Jim sleeping on his side facing Blair, snoring lightly. His left arm was lying across Blair's chest.
Blair rolled his head back to stare up at the skylight where the sun was peeking into the upstairs bedroom. "This isn't exactly how I pictured waking up in somebody else's bed," he murmured.
The phone rang, startling Blair. For a moment, he couldn't figure out how Jim slept through the loud ring. He raised Jim's arm from his chest and carefully slipped out from under it, hoping the sentinel remained sleeping. There were dark circles beneath Jim's eyes and Blair suspected his headache hadn't disappeared overnight.
"Hello," he said into the receiver.
"Sandburg. It's Simon."
"Hi Simon," Blair replied wearily.
"Did I wake you up?"
"No, the sun beat you to it."
There was a moment's hesitation. "How's Jim doing?"
"He didn't hear the phone."
"Shit. So he's still deaf?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"What time's his appointment this morning?"
Blair closed his eyes. He'd forgotten about it. "Ten." He glanced at the clock radio on Jim's nightstand: 8:28. "Damn. I've gotta go, Simon. I have to get Jim up and make breakfast."
"All right. Call me when you get back."
"I will," Blair promised and punched the off button.
He reached over and shook Jim's shoulder. "C'mon, buddy, time to get up."
Jim growled and tried to brush Blair's hand away.
"No way, Jim. I'm up. You have to get up."
The sentinel's eyelids fluttered opened and he groaned. "Wasn't a dream."
Blair shook his head. "Afraid not."
Jim glanced at him quizzically and Blair reached for a piece of paper and pen beside the phone.
[Appointment at the hospital at 10. Hearing tests.]
"Damn." He sat up and scrubbed a hand across his brush cut. "Did you come up with any ideas?"
The sleep disappeared from Jim's features. "What?"
[Later. Shower now. I'll make breakfast.]
Jim scowled but nodded. He climbed off his bed and began to strip out of his wrinkled clothes. Seeing Jim was all right, Blair went downstairs and quickly used the bathroom before Jim came down to shower. When he came out of the bathroom, he found Jim standing outside the door in his bathrobe, his expression anxious.
"I'm right here, big guy," Blair said.
He took Jim's hand to lay against his heart, but the older man tugged it out of his grasp.
"No," Jim shouted, probably louder than he had intended. His chest heaved as he struggled with some inner battle. "I can't do this forever, Sandburg. It's crazy."
Blair shook his head patiently. "Not crazy. You're scared."
Jim stared at him in frustration and Blair brushed past him to grab a notebook and pen from the kitchen island. If Jim's deafness didn't disappear soon, there would be paper and pencils scattered in every room of the loft.
[It's been less than twenty-four hours. You're allowed to be scared, Jim.]
The detective's teeth ground together as he remained mute.
Blair's temper rose and he scribbled on the paper with more force than necessary.
[Don't you dare go GI Joe on me!]
Jim took a deep breath and reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Where are the painkillers?"
Blair frowned. He didn't think Jim should be taking any drugs before his hearing test. Even though the current prescription didn't have any visible effect, it might interact with his hyperactive senses in a way they couldn't see.
[Can you wait until after your appointment?]
Jim glanced down at the notebook. He sighed and nodded. "All right, Chief. I'm going to shower."
[If you need me--]
Jim's eyes thawed and he gave the back of Blair's neck a quick squeeze. "I'll call you."
Troubled, Blair watched Jim disappear into the bathroom.
Blair glanced at his quiet partner who huddled in the passenger seat of the pick-up. Jim hadn't even tried to argue about who was going to drive "Sweetheart" and that worried Blair. It was as if he was shutting down all of his emotions, unable to deal with his major dependency on another person.
Blair turned his attention back to the traffic light which turned green. He stepped on the accelerator and clung to the steering wheel with both hands. A siren's wail grew louder and Blair glanced in the rearview mirror to see an ambulance racing up behind them. He quickly shifted to the far right side of the road and slowed to a stop.
Jim shot him a sharp glare. "What're you doing?"
Blair pointed out his side window as the ambulance raced by them.
Jim closed his eyes briefly then nodded curtly. Desolation dulled his usually clear blue eyes when he aimed his gaze straight ahead.
Blair tapped his arm and mouthed, "What?"
"I didn't hear it," came the quiet reply.
Blair swallowed hard. He wanted to give Jim some verbal reassurance but that avenue was cut off for them. His greatest asset for helping his sentinel -- his voice -- was useless.
After a glance behind him and over his shoulder, Blair pulled back into traffic. He'd never felt so helpless. He had thought blindness was the worst thing that could happen to Jim 's hyperactive senses, but it turned out hearing was more essential. Who the hell would have figured?
Blair found a parking place in the hospital lot and eased the truck into it. He and Jim walked side by side across the damp asphalt. The morning sun had already been obliterated by dark clouds and thunder rumbled a warning that more rain would soon be arriving.
He withdrew a memo size notebook from his jacket and wrote.
[You doing okay?]
Jim glanced at the words and nodded tersely. "Fine. Let's get this over with."
Blair grabbed his arm, halting him on the sidewalk.
[What's your problem?]
"I'm deaf, Sandburg." The caustic tone in his voice would have frightened a lesser man.
"Isn't that enough?" Jim spun on his heel and strode toward the entrance.
Blair scrambled after him, wanting to both punch and hug him. Jim Ellison had to be the most frustrating man he'd ever met. So why didn't he just leave and let Jim handle this by himself? That's what the detective wanted, wasn't it?
Hang on, Sandburg. You're losing it. Blair knew damn good and well why Jim was shoving him away, both mentally and physically. He knew what made the sentinel and the man tick, but recognizing and accepting Jim's fear-based responses were two completely different concepts.
Blair entered the hospital and found Jim leaning against a wall near the door, watching for him. Blair spotted the desperate anxiety in Jim's eyes a moment before he could mask it. The student resisted the urge to take Jim's hand and place it over his heart. That would only humiliate Jim further.
Jim joined Blair, standing behind and just to the left of him, Blair's usual position when he was working with his sentinel. The bitter irony wasn't lost on the guide as he pulled the card the doctor had given him from his jacket pocket and glanced at the room number where the tests were to be conducted. He led Jim to the elevator and five minutes later, they stepped into room 404.
Blair motioned for Jim to sit down in one of the four chairs against the wall. After Jim had done so, Blair went to the single desk where a technician sat.
"Can I help you?" the brunette woman asked with equal amounts of professionalism and kindness.
Blair smiled. "Yes. My friend has an appointment at ten o'clock. Jim Ellison."
The nurse glanced at the appointment book opened to today's date. "All right. I'll let Dr. Hemmings know he's here." She attached a form to a clipboard. "Have him fill this out."
Blair gave her a nod and joined Jim, sinking into the chair beside him. He handed Jim the clipboard and the detective looked at him.
"More forms," Blair said.
Jim sighed and accepted the clipboard and pen Blair held out to him. He began to fill in the blanks and Blair watched over his arm. Jim's writing was small and scrawly -- Blair hoped they could read his chicken scratches. It had taken Blair who was well-versed in interpreting students' handwriting a long time to figure out Jim's.
Blair raised his eyes to Jim and tipped his head in silent question.
"They want drug allergies and sensitivities," Jim said.
Blair pointed to himself, pantomiming that he would fill out that section. Jim nodded in comprehension and finished the insurance information. He signed it with a flourish, then handed it to Blair.
It took the guide a few minutes to complete the drug allergy information. Once he was done, he took the clipboard and form back to the nurse. When he returned to his chair, Jim's expression had become as easy-to-read as a brick wall. However, Blair had a lot of experience at reading this certain brick wall and it wasn't difficult to see Jim hated not being in control.
No surprise there.
Blair slouched and wondered if he wasn't sublimating the antithesis of Jim's stiff-spined position. There was no doubt about it -- when Blair started thinking in psych terms, he was exhausted. He was also no closer to a solution for Jim's deafness than he'd been early that morning when he'd had the epiphany about reactions and survival and danger. He knew the answer was close but he just couldn't get a handle on it.
Blair was surprised Jim hadn't badgered him about his theory over breakfast, but then Jim hadn't said much of anything besides, "Pass the salt, Sandburg." He snorted. Stimulating conversation there.
"Mr. Ellison," the nurse called out.
Blair jerked and touched Jim's arm, then motioned toward the nurse. Jim gave him a quick nod and stood. Blair rose, but Jim's hand on his shoulder stilled his motion.
"I can do this myself," he said.
Blair's eyebrows furrowed, but he didn't argue. Jim needed to do this alone. He needed to prove to himself he wasn't a basket case without his guide.
Blair only hoped he was right. He nodded at his friend, feeling as if he were abandoning him. He watched Jim follow the nurse into the back. Once Jim was out of sight, Blair's palms began to sweat and his heart picked up a few beats. Was this some kind of sympathetic response to Jim's loss? Or was it simply because it was the first time he and Jim had been apart since the drugstore fiasco which had injured Jim?
The anthropologist closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply, inhaling through his nose and exhaling through his mouth. He concentrated on the soothing routine, feeling the air circulate through his lungs and out into his body. Once he'd grown calmer, he set his thoughts on the theory he'd hypothesized last night.
If Jim's body had "turned off" the dial for his hearing to assure that it wouldn't overload again, then the solution would be to turn the dial back on. Jim had tried, but had said the dial was gone. Maybe they had to create a new one. In order to do that, he would have to put Jim into a relaxed trance then Blair could talk him into either finding or re-creating the dial. Only that wouldn't work because Jim wouldn't be able to hear him.
Okay, then how?
What about those little silver balls attached to strings which, when started, would keep clacking back and forth in perpetual motion? One of his professors had one on his desk and Blair used to visit him just to watch the balls move in precise motions. He could've stared at it for hours. If he could borrow it, maybe he could put Jim into a light meditative trance.
The sound of Jim's voice and approaching footsteps made him open his eyes and he found his partner standing above him.
"The doctor wants to talk to us," Jim said gruffly.
"C'mon, Chief. I told him I wanted you there when he gave me the results." Jim's voice softened considerably.
"Thanks, man," Blair murmured, knowing only his sentinel would've heard him if his hearing was unimpaired.
He stood and Jim rested a hand against his back as he guided him to the back room where the doctor was waiting for them.
"You must be Blair Sandburg. I'm Dr. Hemmings."
Blair shook his hand. "Nice to meet you. Jim said you have the results of his tests."
The doctor frowned as he pressed his black-rimmed glasses up on his nose. "I did all the standard hearing tests as well as a physical exam of his ear canals." His scowl deepened. "Your friend has no reaction to any of the range of tones we used in testing him."
Blair's heart sank. "So he is deaf."
Dr. Hemmings tugged at his earlobe. "Well, this where it gets a little, uh, confusing. I can find no obvious physiological injury to his ears."
The words were hauntingly familiar. I can find no obvious neurological or traumatic injury to your eyes.
"So what are you saying? That it's like hysterical deafness?"
Cool fingers encircled Blair's wrist and he glanced at his partner to find Jim's worried countenance aimed in his direction.
"What's going on, Chief?" Jim demanded.
Dr. Hemmings scratched some words on a piece of paper and held it up to Jim. [I told your friend there's no physical reason for your deafness.]
"Then why can't I hear anything?" Jim demanded.
Dr. Hemmings shook his head. [I don't know.] He turned to Blair. "I'll arrange for Mr. Ellison to be admitted to the hospital so we can run more extensive tests."
"What is it, Blair?" Jim asked anxiously, feeling his guide's pulse accelerate.
Dr. Hemmings held up the piece of paper. [I want to admit you for more tests.]
"No," Jim roared.
Blair flinched, knowing Jim had no idea how loud he'd shouted. He rubbed Jim's arm instinctively. "Calm down. We don't have to do this."
"I thought you wanted to help your friend, Mr. Sandburg," the doctor exclaimed.
"And I intend to," Blair said firmly. "But not this way. Since you say it's not physiological, then it's purely psychotic, right?"
Dr. Hemmings shifted nervously. "That's my assumption, but I want to run more tests before entirely ruling out a medical problem."
"No, I think you're right." Blair followed the doctor's gaze to where he was stroking Jim's arm, trying to soothe him. He knew what the doctor was thinking, but Blair didn't have time to worry or correct his mistaken assumption. "I'm going to take him home."
Dr. Hemmings drew his attention back to Blair. "I hope you understand what you're doing."
Blair smiled grimly. "No offense, Doctor, but probably more than you do." He turned to Jim and gave his arm a little tug. "Let's go home."
"Home?" Jim asked.
Blair nodded and gave him a smile. "Home."
It was almost noon by the time they returned to the truck. Blair's stomach growled and he considered stopping someplace to eat lunch but figured Jim wouldn't care to, even if it was Wonderburger. As he drove out of the parking lot, he heard a loud gurgling from Jim's direction and glanced at his friend who smiled sheepishly.
"I guess that was as loud as it felt," Jim said wryly. "Let's go to the park and grab a hot dog. My treat."
Blair nodded in agreement.
Twenty minutes later, the two men sat on a picnic table with hot dogs and drinks in hand. A large mutt joined them and Jim fed him a piece of his hot dog.
A sense of deja vu filled Blair. This was the exact place the Golden nightmare had begun. They'd been sitting here eating hot dogs and Jim had even fed a dog who looked suspiciously like this one when they'd gotten the call which had set the whole agonizing episode into motion.
Jim finished his hot dog then leaned over to pet the apparent golden lab/collie mix. The dog's tongue lolled with pleasure.
"Here we are again," Jim finally said quietly.
Blair shouldn't have been surprised they were thinking along the same lines. He nodded. "Here we are." He passed the remaining half of his hot dog to Jim since his appetite had fled. Jim took it but fed it to the appreciative dog.
"You were the one who helped me bring my sight back," Jim began as he scratched behind the mutt's ears. "Do you think you can pull another rabbit out of a hat?"
Blair dug into his pocket and withdrew the notebook and pen.
[I don't know. I hope so. I have an idea.]
"What is it?"
[I have to put you in a light trance.]
Jim nodded without hesitation. "Then what? I can't hear you."
[I'm still working on that.]
Jim took a deep breath and gazed across the park where two boys were playing catch with a baseball. "It's so damned quiet, Chief. I never expected silence to be so... nothing, so totally silent. I can hear my thoughts but nothing else. Sometimes I wonder if what I think I'm saying is actually what's coming out of my mouth."
[You make as much sense as you did before.]
Jim grinned. "I could take that a couple different ways, Sandburg."
Blair chuckled but the gravity of their situation quickly sobered him.
[I'm trying to imagine the silence, but can't.]
"Don't try. It's one helluva scary place, Chief. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."
[Deaf people live normal lives.]
"But they don't have their other senses spinning out of control."
Jim shrugged. "A little. My head's still hurting."
For Jim to admit even that much, it had to be hurting quite a bit. As Blair looked closer, he could see the telltale lines of pain in his friend's brow. Blair reached into his pocket and retrieved the painkillers he'd brought from the loft. He opened the bottle and handed one to Jim. The detective took it without comment and washed it down with his Coke.
Somebody whistled and the dog raced off to his owner. Jim turned to Blair. "Let's get back to the loft."
[Good idea. This evening we'll give my idea a shot.]
"It'll work, Chief." Jim paused and licked his dry lips. "It has to."
Blair could only nod as they headed back to the truck.
Blair parked the pick-up in its usual place in front of the loft and glanced at his partner who'd fallen asleep with his head back against the seat. A barely perceptible hint of drool shone on a corner of his mouth, giving the detective a vulnerable boyish appearance. They had stopped by Rainier so Blair could borrow the perpetual motion gadget from the professor. He'd contrived some story about needing it for an experiment on human behavior and when he'd returned to the truck, Jim had been fast asleep. The pain medication combined with too little sleep the night before had overcome Jim's panicked reaction to being separated from Blair.
Blair hated to wake him but there was no way he'd be able to haul the sentinel up three flights of stairs. Reluctantly, he leaned over and gripped Jim's shoulder, giving him a shake. Jim awakened slowly under the painkiller's influence.
"We're home," Blair said, pointing out the window to the front of their building.
Jim nodded and dragged a hand along his mouth, then opened his door. Blair watched closely as Jim unfolded his long lean frame from the seat and wearily stepped out of the truck. He came around to join Blair but kept walking across the street without waiting for his guide. Shaking his head, Blair leaned into the truck to grab his backpack.
A horn blared as a car screeched around the corner, heading directly toward Jim. Blair's heart leapt into his throat.
"Jim!" he screamed, belatedly realizing his friend couldn't hear him.
Blair shoved away from the truck, his legs pumping as he struggled to reach his friend before the car. The squeal of brakes penetrated his brain, but he didn't stop, praying that he wouldn't be too late.
Blair's fingers latched onto Jim's jacket sleeve and with a burst of adrenaline-induced strength jerked Jim out of the car's path. The two men hit the pavement hard and time seemed to slow as they rolled to a halt.
Blair scrambled to Jim's side as the older man pushed himself to a sitting position on the curb. A scrape on Jim's forehead bled lightly, but otherwise Blair didn't see any injuries on him. The student nearly collapsed in relief.
"Are you two all right?" came a man's frightened voice.
Blair glanced up and noticed that the white car had come to a stop about fifty feet beyond them and the driver was standing beside his door.
"Yeah, yeah, we're fine," Blair said with a wave.
"He just walked out in front of me," the man babbled.
"It's okay. We're okay," Blair called out impatiently.
After a moment, the driver slid back into his car and drove off at considerably less speed.
Blair leaned close to Jim, ducking a little to look into his friend's downcast face. "Are you all right, man?"
Jim's eyes followed Blair's lips and he nodded, but remained silent.
Blair cupped Jim's chin in his palm and tipped the detective's head up to examine the abrasion and swelling on his temple. "We need to clean this up so it doesn't get infected."
Jim shifted his gaze away from Blair, but the student could tell Jim was seeing something within his mind's eye. Blair let his hand fall away from his friend's face.
Jim's expletive vibrated with intensity and sent a cold shiver shimmying down Blair's spine. He rested a hand on Jim's arm gently. "What?"
Sitting on the curb beside Blair, Jim wrapped his arms around his knees and lifted his eyes to the gray sky. He repeated in a softer voice. "Goddammit. I can't even cross the fucking street by myself."
Icy dread gripped Blair's gut and his grasp tightened on Jim's arm. "It's no big deal."
Jim wasn't looking at Blair so didn't realize he'd spoken and Blair felt a wave of helplessness, as well as a swell of panic. He should have been watching Jim closer. Jim was on pain medication and a sense he relied on was gone. The sentinel needed his guide now more than ever and Blair had let him down.
He urged Jim up and motioned for him to wait on the sidewalk while he hurried back to the truck to grab his pack and lock the doors. When Blair returned, he was surprised to see the detective hadn't moved an inch. He ushered him into the building with a trembling hand on his back.
In the loft, Jim mechanically removed his coat then crossed the floor to drop onto the sofa. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
His stomach clenching painfully, Blair filled a bowl with warm water and grabbed a clean cloth from a drawer. He moved to sit on the coffee table in front of Jim and touched his knee. The sentinel jerked slightly, but calmed when he saw Blair.
"Hey, man, I need to clean that cut," Blair said, pointing at his own forehead then Jim's.
The detective nodded and closed his bleary eyes once more. Dabbing at the wound carefully, Blair cleaned the dirt from it, as well as the dried blood around it. Jim remained motionless with only an occasional hitch in his breathing. Blair wanted to tell him to lower the pain dial but how could he do that when his sentinel couldn't hear the soothing tone his guide was so accustomed to using?
After finishing his task, he took the dirty water and emptied the bowl in the sink. He hurried into the bathroom and searched for the anti-bacterial cream. Shit, that's what they'd gone to the drugstore for last night. He continued rummaging through the medicine cabinet until he found anti-bacterial bandages. He'd try a couple of those and hope that Jim's sensitive skin wouldn't react to them.
When he came out of the bathroom, he found Jim's gaze aimed down the hallway toward him. The moment he spotted Blair, the detective turned away but not before Blair saw his relief.
"Damnit," Blair shouted. "I fucking hate this!" Jim had often cared for him when he was hurt, yet when Blair did the same for him, the sentinel saw it as a personal weakness. On an intellectual level, Blair understood how difficult it was for his self-reliant friend to receive assistance. Yet emotionally, Blair hated that Jim couldn't accept what he himself gave so freely to his guide.
"I have to hold it together," he said quietly and took a couple deep steadying breaths. "Jim needs me even if he hates needing me."
By the time he came around to face Jim, Blair had composed his features into a mask of calm. But if Jim touched him, the sentinel would be able to feel the accelerated beat of his heart and detect his higher respiration. He just had to insure that the sentinel didn't touch him for the next minute or two, not even accidentally.
Blair leaned over Jim, careful to brace himself against the sofa and not the older man's legs. He ripped open the bandages and pressed them gently against wound. Through it all, Jim remained disturbingly quiet.
Blair reached for the pen and paper on the coffee table and wrote a few words.
[Take a nap. I'll be working at the table.]
Jim read the words and without comment shifted around and stretched out on the sofa. Pillowing his head with his arms, he closed his eyes.
Blair stared down at him for a long time. He knew Jim was aware he was there -- the sentinel would be able to smell him. This passiveness was disconcerting. It was even more troubling than Jim's deafness because Blair had no clue how to pull him out of his emotional withdrawal.
When Jim's breathing finally became deep and regular, Blair rested a gentle hand on his creased brow. His thumb feathered across the detective's short hair. "Hang in there, buddy."
But Blair didn't know if the words were for Jim or himself.
Blair added broccoli, cauliflower and carrots to the heated oil in the wok and stirred them with a wooden spoon, then checked the rice cooker. The phone rang and he nabbed it on the third ring.
"Hello," he said.
"Blair, Simon. You didn't call." There was faint accusation in his tone.
Blair slapped his forehead. "I'm sorry, Simon. I completely forgot."
Simon grunted at the other end of the line. "What did the doctor say?"
Blair stirred the vegetables with one hand as he held the phone in the other. "There's no physical reason why Jim shouldn't be able to hear."
Blair sighed. "Jim's body is reacting to this trauma just like it did with Golden."
"You mean it's like he can hear but doesn't want to?"
"Not exactly. I've got an idea we're going to try tonight."
"Why tonight? Why not earlier?"
Blair recognized Simon's impatience as a sign of concern. "He almost got hit by a car when we came home because he couldn't hear the horn."
"Son-of-a-- Is he all right?"
"He got a scrape and a bruise on his forehead. Emotionally, though, I don't know."
"What do you mean, 'you don't know?'" Simon demanded.
Blair sighed. "He's scared because the accident made him realize how dependent he is on me."
There was a long moment of silence. "Damn. Is he really that dependent or is it just the shock of losing his hearing?"
"I wish I knew." Blair glanced at his partner and his chest tightened to see Jim curled up in a tight ball on the sofa. "If what we try tonight doesn't work, we won't be in the office in the morning."
"Take whatever time you need, Sandburg. I'll have H and Rafe check Jim's current caseload and see if there's any pressing leads which need to be followed up on."
"Tell them there should be a fax from Seattle about priors on Kevin Aster. He's our primary suspect in the home invasions up in Canterbury," Blair said.
"All right." There was a moment of silence. "I know I don't say this very often, but thank you Blair."
The student's throat grew thick, but he forced the maudlin emotion aside. "What do you mean, you never say it?" He smiled at the inarticulate grumbling at the other end of the phone. "I'll call and let you know how it goes tonight."
"I appreciate it. Good luck."
"I'll need it. Bye." Blair hit the off button and set the phone on the island.
He added sauce and leftover chicken to the vegetables, mixing it well.
Blair spun around, nearly knocking the wok to the floor. "Jesus, Jim, don't scare me like that."
Jim frowned. "Are you all right?"
Blair worked to get his galloping heart under control and nodded. "I'm okay. You just scared me."
Jim tipped his head to the side quizzically. "I didn't catch anything but 'okay.'"
Blair smiled and mouthed, "Okay." He opened a cupboard and motioned to the plates, then to the table.
"Gotcha loud and clear, Chief. I'll set the table," Jim said with a wry grin.
For the next few minutes, the two men moved around the kitchen and each other with a familiarity bred from over two years of living together. Blair caught Jim's eye and pointed to his head. "How's the headache?"
There was only a moment's hesitation before Jim replied, "Better. My senses are better, too."
"Good." Blair grinned and nodded.
"In fact, my senses seem even sharper than usual."
Blair wrote on the nearest notebook page.
[They could be compensating for your loss of hearing.]
Jim thought about it. "I've read about people whose other senses became more acute after being blinded, so I guess it would make sense with the other senses, too."
Encouraged by his friend's improved state-of-mind, Blair couldn't help but smile as he set the wok on a hot plate in the middle of the table beside the bowl of rice. The nap must have helped his friend because the trust which shone from Jim's eyes nearly knocked the guide to his knees. If the sentinel only knew how many of Blair's theories were just plain old seat-of-the-pants intuition, he wouldn't be so optimistic.
Blair shoved his own pessimism aside. He had written two pages worth of instructions for Jim to read before they began. However, he was uncertain if Jim would remember what to do once he was in the trance.
Forcing himself to eat despite his churning stomach, Blair glanced up to find Jim staring at his face. He tipped his head in question.
Jim reached out and brushed his fingers across Blair's swollen and bruised eye, then glanced at the scraped knuckles of his right hand. His blue eyes blazed. "I did that, didn't I?"
Blair's heart triple timed in his chest but he kept his outward expression collected. There was no sense obfuscating though Blair would've preferred if Jim had never found out. "Yes," he replied with a short nod.
"Jesus, I'm sorry, Chief. When--?"
[The drugstore. When your senses went crazy.]
The misery on Jim's face and the gentle palm cradling Blair's cheek made the younger man furious at the drug addicts who were the cause of his friend's anguish.
[It's okay. No biggie. You didn't know what you were doing.]
"Maybe not, but I still hurt you," Jim said softly.
[Not as badly as THEY hurt you.]
Blair set the paper and pen aside and wrapped his fingers around Jim's hand, bringing it to his throat over his larynx. "Take it easy, Jim. Relax. You didn't know. I'm fine. Everything will be all right," the student intoned softly.
"I can feel your voice," Jim said. "It helps." He managed a little smile.
"That's good." Blair chuckled lightly. "You should probably enjoy the peace and quiet now because when your hearing returns, you'll be back to wishing I would shut up so you can get some peace and quiet."
Jim's smile grew. "Something tells me I don't want to know what you just said." He drew his hand out of Blair's grasp reluctantly and continued eating.
Blair's stomach settled and he was able to finish eating the food on his plate. Once the two men were done, they efficiently cleaned off the table and set the dishes in the sink to soak. The only difference from their usual routine was the lack of banter between them as they worked and Blair missed the easy camaraderie he'd taken for granted and wondered if Jim did, too.
As the sun fell behind the western horizon, the loft was bathed in a pale orange glow. Blair took Jim's arm and steered him toward the couch, motioning for him to sit down. Jim complied and accepted the papers Blair handed to him. The guide gestured to read them.
As Jim read, the student gathered half a dozen candles and set them on the coffee table, framing the perpetual motion gadget already setting there.
"You really think this will work?" Jim asked, clenching the two sheets of paper.
Blair did a half-shrug and nod.
[I'm hoping. Any questions?]
Jim frowned. "You want me to do my deep breathing exercise as I concentrate on the silver balls. Once I feel myself falling into a light trance, I should turn down each of my dials one at a time, then bring them up slowly. I'm supposed to do the hearing dial last. I find it and slowly turn it up."
[I'm going to sit right beside you so you have an anchor.]
Jim smiled in relief. "Good."
[Any other questions?]
"Will you be talking?"
Blair nodded after a moment's hesitation.
"Even if I can't hear you, I'll be able to feel the vibrations of your voice which will help me center."
[That's the ticket.]
"My ticket to the Sandburg zone," Jim said dryly, but his eyes twinkled.
[An E ride, man.]
Jim cuffed Blair's head gently. "Riiight."
The two men stared at one another for a long moment, each understanding the implications of what they were about to do. If this didn't work, Jim's hearing may be lost for good, an option neither sentinel nor guide wanted to contemplate.
"I'm ready, Chief," Jim finally said huskily.
Blair nodded, then leaned over and set the silver balls into motion. The clacking sounded loud in the loft's silence. The student lowered himself to Jim's side, their arms and thighs touching, and his friend immediately untensed. Allowing instinct to guide him, Blair rubbed Jim's arm soothingly.
"All right, Jim, watch the balls. Keep your eyes on them as they continuously move back and forth. Concentrate on the steady rhythm, feel it deep inside you. Take deep easy breaths. That's right." He continued intoning in his guide voice.
Jim's eyes became heavy-lidded as he moved into the next stage.
"Now turn one dial down at a time," Blair spoke sentinel soft. "Let's start with taste. Find the dial, bring it all the way down to zero and leave it there for a count of three. One. Two. Three. Now slowly bring it up, slowly Jim, up to normal. All right, you're doing good, buddy." Though Blair had no idea what was happening with Jim's senses or dials, he hoped things were going as he'd outlined.
Blair talked him through smell next, then sight, and touch. Finally it was time for the last and most important sense.
"Find your hearing dial, Jim. Can you picture it in there?"
Jim moved for the first time and his breath stumbled. Blair leaned closer, still stroking his friend's arm.
"Take it easy, Jim. The dial's still there. It's just hiding from you. You have to go in and find it. Search it out." Blair paused, his mouth as dry as the Mohave Desert. "All right, you've found it. It's already down to zero, now you need to bring it up slowly. One. Two. Three. Four."
Suddenly Jim jerked and his hands flew to his head. "Oh, God," he moaned.
Terrified, Blair bent over Jim, wrapping an arm around his back as he laid one hand against Jim's face. "Jim, can you hear me? Come back to me, big guy. Let it go," he pleaded.
"Trying to turn it." Jim's face twisted with agony. Then abruptly he sagged against Blair's chest.
Blair could feel his friend breathing harshly, his broad shoulders trembling within Blair's arms. The guide continued to speak in a quiet soothing voice as he massaged Jim's back in slow circular motions.
Slowly, Jim collected himself and he raised his head, pushing out of his guide's protective hold. Jim's pupils were dilated and he grimaced as he closed his eyes again.
"Turn it down, Jim," Blair said, guessing that his sentinel's sight dial had gone askew because of whatever sensory spike had occurred.
Finally, Jim opened his eyes and his slack jaw firmed as a muscle jumped in his cheek. He kept a hand against his head.
"Jim, can you hear me?" Blair asked quietly.
There was no reaction.
Jim turned to face Blair, his face pale and sweat dotting his forehead. He shook his head slowly. "I still can't hear a thing, Chief."
Blair's heart dropped like a rock into his gut. "Damn it!"
"Yeah." The one word was laden with emotion. "My head feels like it's going to explode, Sandburg. I need a painkiller."
Absently, Blair rose and dug out a pill and filled a glass with water. He carried them to Jim and his friend took them gratefully. After washing down the painkiller with the water, Jim set the glass on the coffee table. He leaned forward, his elbows resting on his thighs and his hands clenched between his knees.
"I guess that's it then," Jim said quietly.
Feeling numb, Blair blew out the candles. He lowered himself to the table in front of Jim, searching for the reassuring words his friend needed. He couldn't find them.
"I think I found the dial for my hearing and when I tried to turn it up, my head started pounding. For a moment, I thought it was going to explode." Jim gazed at Blair, his blue eyes sad but not without warmth for his friend. "Thanks, Chief. I know you tried your best."
Jim's empty voice struck something deep inside Blair and the student jumped to his feet. He leaned over, his face inches from his friend's. "Damn it, Jim. Don't you dare give up! We'll figure this out."
The detective smiled, but it was filled with desolation. "I don't know what you said, but I can probably guess." He paused. "Maybe we just have to accept it this time. When I was blind, I could make out objects even though they were hazy. But this time, I can't hear a thing, Blair." The cool composure slipped. "Not a fucking thing."
He stood and weaved slightly. Blair reached out to steady him, but Jim backed away. "I'm okay, Chief. I just want to go to bed."
Blair scrabbled for the notebook.
[Are you okay by yourself?]
"I'm fine," Jim said curtly.
Blair watched him disappear into the bathroom and he was still there when Jim came out and headed upstairs. The sentinel paused halfway up to his room and turned to Blair, a hand on the railing. "I'm sorry I hit you, Blair."
"That's all right, man. It's nothing."
Though Jim couldn't hear him, he seemed to catch the gist of it and nodded wearily. He continued up the steps.
Only when Blair heard his friend crawl into bed did he reach for the phone to call Simon with the bad news.
Jim awakened slowly, surprised by the fact he was so warm. He lay motionless with his eyes closed, enjoying the moments from sleep to wakefulness in slow degrees. Memories of the evening before filtered back to him and his momentary pleasure abandoned him.
He was still deaf and couldn't hear Blair's slow steady heartbeat from the bedroom below, but the realization didn't bring the expected panic. He slowly became aware of the familiar rhythmic pulse against his back. The weight of something over his waist and the warmth behind him made his eyelids flicker open.
Glancing down, he spotted an arm draped across him and when he turned his head, Blair's silky curls tickled his nose. The scent of his friend's herbal shampoo wafted over and he stifled a sneeze.
What the hell is Sandburg doing in my bed?
Blair was still dressed and lay on the comforter, a spare blanket thrown over him. He tried to remember how the kid had ended up here instead of his own bedroom. A vague recollection tickled his thoughts and embarrassment flooded through him.
He remembered waking up, his heart tripping like a jackhammer. He must have hollered out because Blair was beside him when he'd opened his eyes. His friend's face had been pale and his blue eyes wide. Whatever Jim had done, it must have scared the kid half to death.
Blair had taken Jim's hand and laid it on his chest. Jim had immediately felt the calming beat of his guide's heart and it soothed him, chasing away the panicked terror -- which was the last thing he remembered.
Blair must have lain down beside him, hoping his presence would keep Jim's nightmares at bay. And though Jim was loathe to admit it, his friend being there had given him the reassurance to sleep peacefully through the rest of the night.
Jim hated to disturb Blair's sleep, but his bladder was protesting loudly. He eased his friend's arm from his waist and slipped to the side of the bed, then gently re-settled Blair's arm on the mattress. Jim rested his hand lightly on Blair's chest. His breathing was deep and steady. Smiling, Jim stood, grabbed his robe and threw it on over his boxer-clad body.
He hurried downstairs and into the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later he came out -- showered, clean-shaven and teeth brushed. Feeling as close to normal as a deaf sentinel could feel, Jim put a pot of coffee on, then mixed up a batch of blueberry pancakes, both his and Blair's favorites.
As he worked in the kitchen, Jim pondered his situation and had to admit while he had felt physically helpless when he lost his sight; emotionally, the loss of hearing was worse. Was hearing an integral part of the sentinel/guide bond which helped a sentinel control his senses and hold on to his sanity as well? He'd be curious to hear what Blair had to say about his hypothesis. He smiled wryly at his choice of words.
After pouring himself a cup of coffee he flipped the next batch of pancakes on the griddle. Wondering if he should go in to work, Jim automatically reached for the phone to call Simon. As he punched in the numbers, realization struck him. He set the phone back as he ground his teeth in frustration.
A motion out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and he looked up to see Blair trudging down the stairs rubbing his eyes. He reminded Jim of a little boy -- all he needed was a blanket trailing after him.
"Morning, Chief," Jim called out.
Blair glanced up in surprise and waved. His lips moved and it looked like he said good morning but Jim couldn't be certain.
"Did you sleep well?"
Blair nodded as he joined him in the kitchen. He leaned over the pancakes and sniffed appreciatively. He gave a thumbs-up to Jim.
The detective laughed and poured Blair a cup of coffee, then handed it to him. The student accepted it with a smile.
"Why don't you shower? Breakfast will be ready when you're done," Jim suggested.
Blair nodded again. He spoke for a moment and Jim wanted to hear his voice so badly he thought he actually did. Jim swallowed the block in his throat, determined not to wallow in a self-pity party. He snapped the kitchen towel at Blair, hitting him on the hip.
"Go or I'll eat all the pancakes myself."
Blair laughed and his eyes sparkled as he walked past Jim, giving his friend's back a friendly slap. Jim watched him round the corner and imagined he could hear Blair talking to himself as he entered the bathroom and closed the door behind him. He closed his eyes, remembering the everyday sounds of Blair turning on the shower and brushing his teeth. If he tried hard enough, Jim could almost believe he was hearing his guide.
The smell of burning pancakes penetrated his musings and he quickly removed the cakes from the griddle. He sighed and tossed the three ruined ones in the garbage, wondering if he could blame his oversight on his deafness.
By the time Blair came out of the bathroom and had changed into clean jeans and a flannel shirt, Jim had breakfast on the table. The student grinned, his eyes sparkling. Jim didn't need his hearing to know Blair was impressed and grateful.
Blair grabbed a nearby notebook and jotted something down.
[You're in a good mood.]
"My headache's gone and I slept like a baby," Jim confessed.
Blair's cheeks reddened.
[You were having a nightmare. I hope you weren't mad when you found me in your bed this morning.]
"I've woken up to worse." Jim grinned and cuffed his friend lightly on the head.
The anthropologist smiled, amusement lighting up his eyes.
They sat down at their usual places and dug into the pile of blueberry pancakes, smothering them with syrup. Jim had also made sausage for himself, knowing Blair wouldn't eat the cholesterol bombs. He was surprised his guide hadn't made fun of his meat fix, but then even if he did, Jim wouldn't be able to hear his teasing words.
The meal lost some of its appeal and Jim laid his fork on his plate. He missed the lively discussions with Blair and the joking around which had become second nature to them. Hell, even blind he'd been able to match wit for wit with the lively anthropologist, though Jim had to admit he usually came up short in those battles. But it never mattered. It was the thrill of trying to keep up with Blair's sharp intellect which Jim enjoyed, and he knew Blair had fun widening Jim's horizons and dodging quips.
Was that lost forever to them?
"Excuse me." Jim stood and hurried up the stairs to his bedroom.
Blair watched his sentinel go, his mood falling as flat as one of the pancakes. He propped his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands. He'd been surprised to find Jim doing so well this morning. After last night's failed attempt to bring his hearing back, Blair had assumed the sentinel would be angry and remote. Instead, everything had seemed normal. Almost.
He raised his head and glanced up at the bedroom. He could see Jim making his bed with military precision. If nothing else, Jim was a creature of habit. When he'd been blinded by Golden, Jim had tried to continue his morning routine. He had almost tumbled down the stairs that first morning while he'd been making his bed. Only Blair's warning shout had saved him.
Loneliness weighed heavily on Blair's shoulders. Even though Jim was near by, the knowledge they couldn't communicate like they used to felt almost like one of them had gone away. It was irrational and stupid, but Blair had always relied heavily on verbal communication. His anthropological studies included tribes which passed their history down by stories told and re-told around a campfire where everybody would hear them.
He glanced at the closet where his pack was ready to go at a moment's notice. When things became uncomfortable, it was time to move on. That had been Naomi's credo throughout Blair's childhood years and he'd adopted it almost unconsciously. So why didn't he leave? Why hadn't he left two years ago after Jim had rescued him from Lash? Or a year ago when Dawson Quinn had shot him? Or a few months ago when the dying Incacha had passed on the way of the shaman to him?
Because he and Jim had persevered together.
Blair took a deep breath. Whatever happened, Blair could abandon Jim as easily as his sentinel could abandon him. It was a two way street and when one of them was in a traffic accident, the other would be there to pick up the pieces and put him back together. That was the way of Sentinel and Guide. Warrior and Shaman.
Jim and Blair.
The student pushed himself to his feet and began to clear the table. It was the least he could do after Jim had gone through the trouble of making breakfast. Ten minutes later, Blair hung the dishtowel over a rack. Hearing footsteps, he turned to see Jim coming down the stairs. He was dressed in his tan Dockers and a dark blue shirt.
"I'd like to go into the office, Chief," Jim announced.
"Are you sure?" Blair fumbled for paper and pen and wrote the words he'd just spoken.
Jim nodded. "There's work that needs to be done and even if I'm deaf, at least I can read and write reports."
He tugged on his black leather jacket while Blair remained rooted in place.
[I told Simon we wouldn't be in today. He said H and Rafe will take care of your cases.]
"When did you talk to Simon?"
"And when were you going to tell me?" Jim demanded.
[It wasn't a secret. I just forgot to mention it.]
Jim remained rigid, his fists at his sides. "Let's go, Sandburg." He grabbed his truck keys and opened the door, but remained standing there as he waited for Blair.
The student muttered a curse and grabbed his jacket and backpack then went out the door. He heard Jim lock it behind him.
"Take these," Jim muttered.
Blair turned to see him holding out his key ring and he took them without comment.
Blair knew it would difficult for Jim to sit at his own desk, unable to hear the circling conversations or the phones ringing or Simon's occasional bellow for one of the detectives to join him in his office. When they'd arrived, everyone had slapped Jim's back in welcome and Blair had to explain that the detective was still deaf. Simon had called them in after the fervor had died down, but then seemed uncertain what to do with a deaf cop. A deaf Jim.
Blair glanced over at the silent detective, noting the creases in his forehead. Occasionally Jim would squeeze the bridge of his nose as his eyes narrowed with pain and fatigue. If Blair were a betting man, he'd say another killer headache had descended upon the sentinel -- although he doubted Jim would admit it.
The student glanced up to see Joel's concerned visage above him. "Something wrong, man?"
Joel shook his head. "I was just wondering how you were doing."
Blair smiled, though it was only a shadow of his usual grin. "I'm okay. Worried about Jim."
Joel's dark eyes drifted over to Jim, then returned to Blair. "We all are, but you're the one who has to live with him."
This time Blair's smile wasn't forced. "Thanks, Joel, but really we're dealing with it as best as we can."
"Did the doctor say if it was permanent?"
"He doesn't know." Blair wished he could confide in him, but Joel didn't know the whole story about Jim and it wasn't for Blair to tell him. "Do you know what's going to happen to his position here if he doesn't get his hearing back?"
Joel glanced down nervously. "He would be dismissed and given a disability check for the rest of his life."
Blair swallowed the bile in his throat. It was bred in Jim's sentinel genes to be a watchman, a protector of his tribe. What would Jim do if his job were taken from him?
"That would kill him," Blair said quietly.
"I know," Joel replied equally as soft. He leaned over and grasped Blair's shoulder. "We have to believe his hearing will come back."
"Easier said than done."
"Hang in there." Joel gave his shoulder one last squeeze then moved back to his own desk.
Glancing at Jim who had his eyes closed as he massaged his temples with his fingers, Blair stood and walked over to his side. He squatted down beside him and used a small police memo book to write Jim a note.
[Ready to go home?]
The familiar stubborn look glinted for only a few moments, then Jim nodded wearily. "Yeah."
To acquiesce so easily was unlike Jim Ellison, but Blair wasn't about to argue. He told Simon they were leaving, then after a round of farewells from the Major Crimes detectives, he and Jim headed down to the parking garage.
Once in the truck, Jim leaned his head back against the passenger seat cushion. His face was pale and pain etched in every line of his sharp features. Blair wished he had remembered to bring his pain pills.
What was causing his headaches? At first Blair had believed it to be a residual effect of the gunshot so close to his ear, but now he wasn't so sure. The pain had gotten worse after they had seen the doctor and Jim had had another near-migraine after he had been put in a light trance with the perpetual motion gadget and tried to find his hearing dial. This morning he'd awakened fine and five hours later, he had another headache.
Blair's heart stumbled as the answer struck him. He'd been going about this from the wrong direction.
"Eureka," he exclaimed softly with a wide grin and headed toward home.
Blair hung up the phone with a barely audible "Yeah!" If his theory was correct and his gut was telling him it was, then Jim would have his hearing back before midnight. His friend Adam worked at a sound studio and had promised to call him when the last job was done -- around seven. Adam would wait until Jim and Blair arrived, letting them have the studio to themselves under the strictest orders that they were to lock up when they were done.
Blair knew Adam assumed it was some kind of tryst and wondered what Adam would think when he arrived with Jim and not his latest girlfriend.
He carried the phone into his bedroom and made another call.
"Hey Simon, it's Blair. I need a favor."
Two minutes later, he had ensured a puzzled Simon's assistance. The captain would be dropping by on his way home with the equipment he had requested and Blair knew he wanted an explanation to go with it.
Blair tiptoed into the living room and crossed his arms. He stared down at Jim's peaceful features as he slept on the sofa. The pain creases had smoothed out with the help of a painkiller. By the time they were ready to begin the evening, the medication should be out of his system, but for now it gave Jim the relief and rest his body needed.
Blair returned to the kitchen where he put on a pot of water for tea, then sat at the dining room table with his laptop open in front of him. From his position, he could keep an eye on Jim and do some work. Careful to remain as quiet as he could, Blair began typing.
A knock on the door sounded, startling Blair out of his concentration. He stood and walked on stocking feet to open the door. He wasn't surprised to see Simon on the other side.
"Come in," Blair whispered.
Simon glanced over to see Jim still asleep on the couch. "Why are we whispering? I thought he couldn't hear," Simon said, though he did keep his voice down.
"Did you bring them?" Blair demanded quietly.
Simon reached into his overcoat's pocket and withdrew a couple sets of small two way radios like the ones used for undercover work. Blair accepted them eagerly.
"All right, Sandburg. Spill it," Simon said.
Blair tucked the radios in his jacket which hung on the rack, then took Simon's arm and led him to the balcony. He slid the door open, ushered Simon out and followed him, clicking the door shut behind them.
"So why can't we talk around him if he can't hear us anyhow?" Simon asked in a normal tone.
"Because he can hear us. At least I think he can," Blair said. The wind whipped a strand of hair free from his ponytail and he tucked the curl behind his ear. "Not in the conventional sense, though."
Simon held up his hands. "Whoa, you lost me already. Start at the beginning."
Blair slid his hands into his jeans pockets and began to pace. "Remember when he was blinded? The doctor said he wasn't blind in the conventional sense -- he saw light, not dark."
"Bear with me here, Simon. What if Jim isn't deaf in the conventional sense? What if his dial is stuck on the highest setting?"
"The mental dial he uses to control his sensory input. Each sense has a dial. One is the lowest setting and ten is the highest. What if the gunshot kicked the dial up to, say, fifteen and it got stuck there?"
"I'd say he needed a repairman," Simon said dryly.
Blair flung his arms out wide. "I'm the closest thing to a repairman he has and I've been trying to fix the problem totally backwards. I thought the dial was stuck at zero and that's why he couldn't hear, so I urged him to turn it up. Every time he tried, he was pushing his hearing so far beyond even what his sentinel senses could process he would have an auditory overload from even the slightest of noises. That's where his headaches are coming from."
Simon stuck his unlit cigar in his mouth. "So what does all this mean?"
"It means I need to get him in a completely soundproof room with one of the radios with the volume turned on its lowest setting. Then I'm going to talk him into bringing the dial back down where it's supposed to be." Blair bounced on his toes as his eyes glittered with excitement.
Simon studied the student with narrowed eyes. "Where the hell do you come up with this stuff?"
Blair grinned. "My brilliant insight and a helluva lot of luck."
Simon chuckled. "So you think this will really work?"
"I'm crossing my fingers."
"What did Jim think of your theory?"
Blair's smile faltered. "I didn't tell him."
"Because I don't want to get his hopes up again. I'm going to tell him I want to do some tests to find out if he has any range of hearing at all, then I'll take him to the studio."
Simon sighed. "I suppose that's for the best. I know it must've been a blow to him last night when it didn't work."
"For both of us."
Simon glanced at his watch. "I have to get going. Darryl and I are going to a movie."
Blair slid open the glass door and they went back into the loft only to find Jim sitting up and rubbing his face.
"Simon, what're you doing here?" he asked with a sleep-husky voice.
Blair stepped over to an abandoned notebook.
[He stopped by to see how you were.]
Jim managed a weak smile for his boss. "I'm doing all right for a deaf man, sir."
Simon glanced at Blair who handed him the notebook. Simon scribbled two words.
The resignation in Jim's voice cut through Blair's exhilaration, tempting him to share his hypothesis with his friend. He steeled his backbone and walked Simon to the door. He couldn't weaken because if this didn't work, Jim might lose the small kernel of hope he still retained.
"Call me tonight," Simon ordered. "If I'm not home, leave a message."
"I'll do one better. I'll have Jim call you," Blair said.
Simon aimed an admonishing finger at him. "Don't get cocky, Sandburg."
Blair sobered instantly. "I'm sorry. You're right. Whatever happens, we'll let you know."
Blair locked the door behind Simon and turned to find Jim in the kitchen getting a bottle of water from the fridge.
[How's the head?]
"A lot better. Those pills work pretty good," Jim replied.
Blair didn't think it was the pills as much as the peace and quiet of the loft.
[Want a sandwich?]
"Sure. Sounds good. I'll give you a hand."
Blair made an effort to be as quiet as possible as they made the sandwiches, then sat by the table. They each washed their sandwich down with a glass of milk. Once they were done, Jim carried their plates to the sink and washed them.
The phone rang, startling Blair who nabbed it on the second ring. "Hello."
"It's me. The studio is empty. You still want it?"
"Yep. We'll be there in about fifteen minutes."
"I'll be waiting."
Blair set the phone down and walked over to the coat rack, retrieving both his and his partner's. He walked over to Jim and held out his jacket.
"Where are we going, Sandburg?" Jim demanded, taking his coat automatically.
Blair leaned over the island and wrote on the notebook.
[Sound studio. I want to run some tests on your hearing.]
"Didn't the doctor do that already?" Jim asked in a surly tone.
Blair ignored him and opened a kitchen drawer, rummaged around for a moment, then brought out the pair of white noise earplugs. He held them out to his friend.
"What the hell do I need those for? I'm already deaf," Jim said.
"I'm always humoring you, Sandburg," Jim growled, but stuck the plugs in his ears. He reached out and grabbed Blair's wrist, his index finger resting over the pulse point. "All right, Chief. What's going on? Your heart's nearly pounding out of your chest."
Blair scowled at his friend.
[Nothing. Let's go.]
He tugged his hand from Jim's grasp and led the way out of the loft. Jim followed, his body language telling Blair he didn't believe him for a minute.
Fifteen minutes later Blair parked the truck in front of New Stars Studio and hopped out, making sure he had the miniature radios in his pocket. He came around the truck, but Jim hadn't moved from his seat.
Blair opened his door and yanked on his arm. "C'mon, Jim."
"Not until you tell me why we're here." The corner streetlight shadowed Jim's stubborn expression with sharp angles and contours.
Blair dug his little notebook from his pocket.
Jim stared at the two words silently, his blue eyes losing their arctic coolness. "You know I do, Chief," he said in a low voice vibrating with faith and confidence.
Blair brushed at his eyes impatiently.
[Goes both ways, buddy. Let's go.]
With a heavy sigh, Jim got out of the truck and the two men walked with shoulders touching into the building. They were met at the door by Blair's friend whose eyes widened at the sight of them.
"I thought you were bringing your latest girlfriend over," Adam said, then arched an eyebrow. "Unless you're holding out on me?"
Blair chuckled. "Nope, sorry Adam. He's a friend."
Adam grinned as his gaze raked Jim with unconcealed interest.
"Forget it. He's straight, too, and a cop," Blair said with a smile. "Look, Adam, I really appreciate you doing this for us. If there's anything I can do for you--"
"Introduce me to his brother," Adam said without missing a beat.
Blair laughed. "You're incorrigible. Thanks, man."
"Anything for a friend. Just remember to turn off the lights and lock up. I'll stop by your office tomorrow afternoon to pick up the key."
With a wave of his hand, Adam left.
"Who the hell was that?" Jim demanded.
[A friend from Rainier.]
Jim grunted as if that explained it, then turned to Blair. "Now what?"
Blair took his arm and guided him back into the bowels of the studio. Adam had given him a tour a few months ago so he knew where the soundproof rooms were. They arrived at the first one and Blair was glad to see a couple chairs were already set up inside. Though Blair wouldn't be in there with him, he wanted Jim to be able to get comfortable enough do his breathing exercises.
Blair motioned for Jim to remove his coat and the white noise earplugs, then led him into the room with walls lined with something resembling carpet. There were two speakers set into the walls near the ceiling.
"A soundproof room?" Jim's eyebrows hiked upward.
Blair nodded and coaxed Jim into one of the two comfortable chairs. He pulled the other one around so he could face Jim and sat down. Balancing the notebook on his lap, he began to write.
[I'm going to run some tests, see if you have any hearing in ranges that the average doctor wouldn't think of testing on a human.]
"Like a dog whistle?" Jim asked with a scowl.
[Not exactly. We're going to start with your breathing exercises. I want you to relax, remove any tension in your body. Then I want you to just sit here, eyes closed, concentrating on your breathing. In. Out. In. Out. I'm going to leave you in here alone and start the tests through the speaker system. Questions?]
Jim shook his head.
Jim leaned back in his chair, his arms resting on the chair arms and his legs sprawled in front of him. He closed his eyes and began the deep breathing exercises. Within a few minutes, the detective seemed to sag bonelessly into his chair. His chest moved slowly and evenly.
Blair stood and walked to the door, pulling one of the radios from his pocket. He turned it down to the lowest setting then squatted and set it in the corner where Jim couldn't see it. His heart beating rapidly, Blair left the room and closed the door, sending Jim into a totally soundless world.
He moved back to the control booth above the soundproof room where he could look down on Jim. The sentinel remained in the same relaxed position.
Blair removed the second radio from his pocket and fit the earpiece over his ear and the speaker part near his lips. His fingers trembled and his palms dampened with sweat. Would this really work?
Jim was aware he was alone in the room. He had noticed the loss of Blair's scent soon after he closed his eyes. Remembering everything Blair had taught him about relaxation and breathing, Jim concentrated on the air moving into his lungs, then up and out through his trachea. He could almost feel the molecules swirling within him then out into the complete silence which lay outside of his thoughts.
Again he thought of Blair and imagined his voice slipping into his mind. "Listen closely to me, Jim. Keep breathing slowly, in and out. In and out. Take it easy, big guy and just relax. I want you to try something for me, buddy. I want you to try to find the dial for your hearing."
Jim frowned. Wasn't Blair going to pipe some high-pitched sounds into the room to see if he could hear them? Why was Blair's voice telling him to find the dial for his hearing?
"It's all right. You don't have to do anything but find it. Find your hearing dial, Jim."
God, it sounded so much like his guide. Was this really his imagination? He thought about opening his eyes, but didn't want to lose the familiar warm soothing voice which moved through him, calming him, centering him, teaching him.
He did as the Blair voice asked. He found his hearing dial but didn't touch it. The last time he had, his brain had nearly exploded with pain.
"You see it now, don't you Jim? But you don't want to touch it because every time you do, it brings pain."
That's right, Chief, and I don't plan on turning the dial again any time soon.
"You have to touch it though, Jim. You have to turn it down. Do you understand me? You have to turn it down, not up."
Blair's voice sounded so damned real. What should he do -- ignore or obey it? When had he ever been able to ignore his guide's voice?
Slowly, Jim wrapped his thoughts around the dreaded dial.
"Come on, Jim, you have to do it. You have to get it unstuck from the fifteen where it's at and slowly bring it back down. Can you do that?"
For you I'll try, Chief.
He attempted to turn it counterclockwise but it wouldn't budge. But it also wasn't sending arrows of pain shooting through his skull. Blair said it was stuck. He'd have to try harder. He twisted again and this time he felt some give in the dial. Again he tried and it slipped down a notch to fourteen.
"I'm hoping you were able to loosen the dial, Jim. Remember, you need to bring it back down to a normal setting. Do you remember what it is? A four or five?"
A four, Chief.
Since Jim had managed to rotate the dial down one notch without an explosion of pain, he surged ahead with more confidence. The dial remained stiff, but it moved down to a thirteen, then a twelve, eleven, ten, nine.
"I hope this is working, buddy, because--"
As Jim continued to turn the volume down, Blair's voice disappeared. For a moment, Jim considered turning it back up so he could hear his guide's voice. But, no, Blair had given him his instructions.
Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four.
Blair said to set it on normal and that's what Jim did. Now what? Did he win a stuffed teddy bear or something?
He nearly laughed aloud at his absurd thought.
Silence filled his mind, but it felt different... expectant. Then he heard it, the one thing which could keep him from spinning off into insanity. The steady beat of his guide's heart.
He opened his eyes and spotted Blair standing in the doorway, his expression tentative, his shoulders tense.
"How're you feeling, Jim?"
The very real dulcet tones of his guide washed over him, sending a wave of dizziness crashing through him. Was this real? Or was he imagining Blair's voice again?
Or maybe he hadn't imagined it at all?
"Blair?" His heart stumbled as he heard his own voice.
Blair walked over to the chair in front of Jim and lowered himself warily. "Can you hear me?"
"Loud and clear, Chief. Loud and clear."
Jim began to laugh and threw his arms around his friend. Blair hugged him back, holding him tight. The guide's elation joined with his sentinel's and the sound of tears and laughter replaced the sounds of silence in Jim's heart.
"So what was this with your friend last night?" Jim asked Blair as they walked through the underground parking garage at the Cascade P.D.
Blair grinned and mischief twinkled in his eyes. "He thought you were pretty hot, but I told him I didn't share."
Jim stopped in his tracks. "I don't think my hearing is fixed yet. I thought you said you didn't share me with your friends."
Blair grabbed Jim's arm and tugged him toward the door. "Don't worry, man. He didn't get your name or phone number."
"But he thinks I'm... you're... we're a couple?"
Blair gave him his best hurt puppy look. "You don't think I'm cute enough to catch you?"
Jim tried to keep a straight face, but his laughter spilled forth and he wrapped an arm around his guide's shoulders. "I don't know. Maybe. You are sorta cute in a cocker spaniel way," he teased.
Blair glared at him. "Are you calling me a dog?"
"A cute dog, Sandburg."
Blair gave up and chuckled with his friend. Jim led the way into an empty elevator.
"Why didn't you tell me you were going to try something last night?" Jim finally asked quietly.
Blair studied the toes of his Nikes. "I was afraid if it didn't work, you would lose hope."
"That wasn't fair, Sandburg."
Blair met Jim's gaze. "I know and I'm sorry, Jim. But I just didn't want to see you hurting again."
"That wasn't what I meant, Chief. It wasn't fair to you. You have just as much at stake in this whole sentinel thing as I do. You didn't have to shoulder the weight of it alone."
Blair's eyes glistened suspiciously even as he smiled sheepishly. "I guess I was being the blessed protector this time."
Jim studied him for a long moment, listening to his heartbeat and noting how his own heart answered it. "It wasn't the deafness so much as the silence."
Blair tilted his head in question.
"The silence of the heart, Blair. Yours and mine. Together." Jim suddenly shrugged, embarrassed by his display of emotion. "Another chapter for your dissertation."
Blair shook his head. "No, this one's personal, Jim. We both learned things about ourselves we didn't realize before. Whether it was because we're sentinel and guide or good friends, I don't know. All I know is that I had a taste of that silence myself, and I didn't like it. Not one damn bit, but I could never leave you to face it alone either."
"I know you wouldn't, Chief." Jim took a deep breath. "Well, do you think H and Rafe have gotten all our cases cleaned up?"
Blair snorted. "Dream on, big guy."
The elevator doors opened and the two men walked down the hall and entered Major Crimes side by side.
Where they belonged.
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