Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

Warning - this is a little dark and angst ridden, so you may wish to avoid it. There's a spoiler at the bottom you can scroll down to for reassurance if you get to a worrying bit <g>

Brain Drain

by Shedoc

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

Prologue

Blair grinned as his partner looked up from his desk. Jim was looking more than a little harassed as he tried to cope with a huge stack of files and forms that were liberally scattered all over his desk. He waved to Brown and Rafe who were on their way out and stowed his pack in its accustomed place behind Jim's desk. It had taken him a few weeks at the start of all this to figure out the best place for this pack. It had to be out of the way - that was a vital consideration. If Jim kept tripping on it he'd force-feed the pack to its owner. It also had to be instantly accessible - Jim had a tendency to blow out of the bullpen with a full head of steam and Blair didn't always have time to fuss and fiddle retrieving his gear. In addition he had to consider that the Sentinel had a clearly defined 'space' that he didn't like cluttered up. That had perhaps been the hardest part to work out - where did Blair Sandburg fit in that space.

"Hey Jim, attack of the clerks, man," Blair settled in his usual chair and caught a tottering pile, sorting them according to the Jim Ellison filing system and replacing them in their allotted place on the desk.

"Chief?" Jim was watching in astonishment, "What are you doing?"

"I got it wrong?" Blair batted his eyes at his friend, knowing that it irritated him no end. Sure enough, he got a roll of the eyes and a slap to the shoulder.

"When did you turn into my secretary?" Jim half grumbled and Blair shrugged with a grin.

"I'm an observer," he teased and mimed great hurt when Jim aimed a slap at his head that barely ruffled his curls.

"So what's going on?"

"What you haven't observed that yet?" Jim sighed, "I've been given a new case. I have to clear my current caseload before I can take it. This," he waved at the stacks on his desk, "Is all supposed to go to the other detectives in the squad."

"Whoa - that must be some new case," Blair shook his head, "So what are we gonna be working on?"

"Uh," Jim glanced up and saw that Simon was watching from the doorway of his office. He waved Jim over, adding a verbal request for Blair as well. Blair got a very bad feeling in his gut at that and headed in after his partner, closing the door very carefully and then turning to face the two taller men, folding his arms and levelling his best 'I'm a teacher, don't make me come over there' look at them both.

"What is it?" he asked in a quiet level voice and watched in satisfaction as the look slipped in under their tough guy radars and had them both straightening up a little.

"This new case," Jim broke the uneasy silence first when it became apparent that Simon would not, "It's undercover, Chief. I can't take you with me. I have to be prepared and leave by the end of shift today."

"No way - Jim, your senses."

"We don't have a choice here Sandburg," Simon stepped in now, to derail the tirade that he knew was coming, "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to nail a particularly nasty cadre of gun runners here. It's international. One of the lead players in the illegal arms trade was killed this morning in a car crash. So far we've been able to keep it quiet. Jim's going in to take his place."

"Why Jim?" Blair shot the question back at Banks, too worried to be diplomatic now. Jim sighed.

"I look exactly like him," Jim replied, "He could be my twin, Chief. It's almost scary. The point is that I can go in there and get a lot of information on these creeps to take them out. I've got to try it Chief."

"And your senses? Are you planning to just shut them down?" Blair tilted his head at his Sentinel; "The stress alone could trigger some major problems for you."

Jim nodded, relieved that his Guide was thinking now, not reacting. Now was not the time for a hissy fit.

"I figured that you could help with that. I'll try and set them at about a six and leave them there. High enough to give me an edge, but not overwhelm me if things go badly. This guy was into meditation as well as the usual jock pursuits.looks like I'm finally going to have to try all that stuff you keep suggesting."

"Well, if you ever need a guru," Blair trailed off, accepting that in the short time they had there was no way he could finagle his way into the situation. The best he could do for his friend now was to help clear his workload and get his senses balanced and settled. He knew better than to press for details - security around this would be really tight.

"Thanks Chief," Jim put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, "I'll keep you in mind. You'll take care of the loft for me while I'm gone, right?"

That was the closest Jim could get to asking if Blair would still be around when he got back. He didn't want his friend and Guide disappearing while he was gone - Blair was important to him, and not just because he knew how to handle the senses.

"I'll take good care of it," Blair nodded, "How long do you think this will take?"

In the back of his mind there was an irrational hope that the assignment would only last a month, tops. It wasn't going to happen, he knew that.

"I don't know, Chief. Plan on a couple of months at least," Jim sighed, "There'll be a cover story in place here, and you'll have to help support that. I'll need you to keep coming in to the station - to work on that thin blue line crap we sold to everyone."

"Can do," Blair grinned at his friend, "Let's get the paperwork organized Jim. Then I'll run you through some meditation stuff, ok? Do we know if he followed a particular discipline or anything?"

Jim returned the grin, relieved. Blair was ok with this - and more importantly, he'd be there when Jim got back.

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

First Incident

"Ok, I've got us a good candidate here - accident at school. He's healthy otherwise. He's the perfect age and body weight for this stage of the trials."

"A head injury?"

"Yeah a minor one. A concussion, no more than that. Can we lose him in the system for a couple hours?"

"Yeah, shouldn't be too hard, we're real busy at the moment out there. Can we get the scans and everything done?"

"I've already got that started. You want me to start the IV then? At the higher end of the dosage, right?"

"Yeah right. Can we got the obs done on time this time - we don't want to skew the data."

"I'm on it - relax."

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

Simon locked his car hurriedly and half jogged into the emergency room. At this time of day it was the usual zoo. Children with their parents, elderly people and the usual mish mash of office and site workers crowded the waiting area in various states of calm or panic. The receptionist was a harried young woman with hair escaping from its plait in wild strands. Simon pulled his badge without a second thought.

"One of my men was brought over from Rainier U - Blair Sandburg. What's his condition?" Simon watched her fingers fly over the keyboard deftly. She frowned and asked him how it was spelt, re-entering the name carefully.

"I've got no one by that name on my data base," she said, her fingers entering a new search straight away, "Can you give me a physical description?"

Simon knew she was now checking against the John Doe's on the system - if a person was unconscious and without ID they were entered under that name with a physical description to help keep track of them. Simon described his resident anthropologist, wondering why the people at the Uni hadn't supplied ID for the ambulance drivers - hell they should have recognised the kid, he spent enough time in the various rigs.

She went through the system carefully, re-entering the data in a variety of ways, checking thoroughly and double-checking before admitting defeat.

"I hate to say it, but are you sure it was this hospital he was coming to?" she asked. Simon nodded.

"The security office at the Uni called me to let me know he was on his way here," Simon insisted and she shook her head, biting her lip in thought. Before Simon could ask her to check again she picked up the phone and hit a speed dial button. He listened as she identified herself and realised she had called Mercy to get them to check their records. When they came up with no result there she called the private hospital as well, going through the same procedure again. She hung up with a frown and rechecked her system one more time before shrugging and looking over at Simon.

"He's just not showing up," she sighed, "We can call security down here and get them to start a cubicle search, but you'd need permission from the head of ER for that and he's not likely to give it without evidence that your man was here in the first place. The other thing you can try is locating the rig that he rode in. If the medics confirm he arrived here then you'll have the evidence you need for the search."

"Great," Simon blew out a disgusted breath, "All right. Thanks for your help. I'll be back."

"Look, give me your card and a written description. I'll keep trying in case there's some kind of mix up with the records," she put a hand out, "I've got a break coming up in an hour - I can snag a terminal and try again then."

"I'd really appreciate it," Simon scrawled down the information and she pinned it to her pocket with a grin. He nodded and headed outside to sit in his car and make some calls. Three people took his place at the desk as he left, their voices rising in complaint as they struggled to be first for her attention.

Nancy Hong - head of Rainer security was able to give him some more information about the actual accident. Blair had been hit in the head by a flying baseball bat. Apparently some students had decided to have a game of baseball in the quad after a liquid lunch. Blair had been skirting the game when the batter swung for the ball, missed and lost his grip on the bat, beaning the grad student pretty hard.

They'd called an ambulance straight away and campus security had arrived with the rig. Fortunately for Simon, the paramedic was a cousin of one of the security guards. Armed with a name, Simon hung up the phone and then called through to dispatch, requesting the paramedic - whose name was Frank Keller - be found and contact him urgently.

He was in luck - the man wasn't on a call at the moment and got back to him straight away. Simon got him to confirm that Sandburg had arrived at Cascade General and then explained the problem. Keller arranged to meet Simon at the hospital in ten minutes time and Simon put in a final call to Rhonda. He explained what was going on and asked her to locate Rafe and Brown and send them down to the hospital as soon as she could. Then he went back inside to contact the head of ER. Jim had only been out of town two days - Simon hoped it wasn't going to be like this the entire time his best detective was out.

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

Doctor Armstrong was a portly man with a pair of silver rimmed round-framed glasses and a very casual appearance - not at all what you'd expect from such an eminent doctor. He headed the ER with an air of competent command and was worried that there was no trace of Sandburg after the paramedics had dropped him off. Simon was also worried that there was no sign of Sandburg. If the head injury was as minor as the paramedics seemed to think then he should have woken by now and be making some kind of noise.

None of the staff in the ER could remember him beyond the initial examination. The intern who'd treated Blair confirmed that he'd started a saline IV because his patient had looked so pale and then written orders for an x-ray. The orderly that was supposed to have taken the patient to x-ray never got the order, and Sandburg's records eventually turned up in a corner of an exam cubicle.

The intern said that his examination had shown a minor concussion and he'd ordered the x-ray to be on the safe side. His patient had shown no sign of returning consciousness and that had justified the scan. Armstrong backed the very worried young man up. The intern hadn't been at the hospital for very long, but had never given any reason for his superiors to believe he wasn't competent to do the job.

By now several hours had passed and Rafe and Brown had joined Simon at the hospital. Armstrong was reluctant to open the ER to allow a search, not wanting to admit that there was anything wrong and open himself up to a later law suit. He raised the possibility that Blair had simply woken, felt better and gone home. Rafe and Brown exchanged glances and Simon had given them his spare key to the loft, sending them over to check it for themselves. They would also check along the bus routes and look to see if Blair had decided to walk home, and maybe got into trouble on the way - no one was sure if their observer had his wallet with him, or the funds for a cab. Jim might have seemed unaware of the shoestring budget that Blair operated on, but the other cops had all noticed that the threadbare clothes and strange diet were more a function of budget than fashion.

He put out an alert with the taxi companies that worked around the hospital and an unofficial APB over the police band, and then went toe to toe with Armstrong. In the end the doctor was no match for a determined police Captain and the security guards began their search with Simon assisting. They went from cubicle to cubicle first, moving slowly and thoroughly through the front of the ER to begin with, checking supply closets and bathrooms as they went to avoid overlooking the missing patient.

In the end it was Simon that made the terrible discovery. He'd managed to work his way into an area that didn't seem to be heavily used - there were more empty cubicles along here than anything else. He'd pulled back the curtain of a corner cubicle quietly - no one wanted to distress any of the occupants in here, and Simon additionally didn't want to burst on someone who was naked or something.

Blair was lying on the gurney in the cubicle, the blanket draped over him tangled and twisted, half on the floor. There was an IV in his arm, it was running low on fluids and Blair was twisted a little on the narrow bed. His breathing was harsh and unsteady. It looked like he'd been struggling with someone.

"Sandburg!" Simon barked in relief and strode to the young man's side. He reached out hesitantly and started untangling the blankets, calling over his shoulder for the intern who'd been searching with him. Blue eyes struggled open and met his.

"Take it easy kid," Simon smiled in relief, "How are you feeling?"

His smile faded as the man in the bed made a horrible croaking noise and shivered as the doctor approached. The shiver became more pronounced and Sandburg grunted. His arms jerked as Simon stepped back and the intern stepped forward, frowning in concern.

"Sir? Can you hear me?" he asked, getting out his penlight. Blair grunted again and then thrashed, his arms and legs jerking spasmodically, the blanket tangling around them.

"Get this off him!" the intern snapped at Simon and hit the alarm button that would summon a team to the cubicle. Simon managed to yank the blanket clear as his resident specialist in Jim Ellison went into a major seizure. He was pushed aside by the influx of medical personnel and the air became thick with shouted orders and information as the men and women in the room struggled to stabilize the young man.

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

Second Incident

"So what are we looking at here?" Simon asked Armstrong, his whole body practically vibrating with tension as he tried to get a straight answer about Sandburg's condition.

"We're still waiting for the final scans to come through," Armstrong cautioned him, "But at the moment it looks as though the damage to Mr. Sandburg was worse than we originally thought."

"Damage?" Simon pounced, the word chilling his guts through and through. Please god; don't let him be so sick he never recovers!

"There was a significant haematoma caused by the original injury. The subsequent swelling is what caused the convulsions that you witnessed, Captain. At the moment we're also looking at the possibility that there were several small strokes as well. There's some loss of movement and nerve response. He's able to breathe by himself at the moment, which is a good sign. We're giving him a fairly complex drug regime to control and stabilize his condition, but it will take time for us to achieve the proper balance."

The devastating words were delivered in an even tone, though there was compassion in Armstrong's eyes. Simon leaned back, his mind whirling in horror - strokes, paralysis, brain damage…and Jim was out of their reach. Sure there was a system in place for the feds to get a message through to him, but if they told Jim what had happened to Sandburg…he'd either blow the cover to be here with his Guide, or they'd lose him when the detail was over because he'd forced himself to stay. Either way, Jim would hate himself for not being here - the Sentinel would have been able to find his Guide in minutes. Maybe that would have saved Sandburg the damage…if he'd been treated sooner…

"When will we know for certain what we're facing?" Simon asked in a deceptively calm voice.

"I'll have the scans back in an hour - we should know by the end of the day. If there's any family you could contact…" Armstrong trailed off and Simon nodded, reflecting that Jim was out of reach, and he didn't even know where Naomi might be at the moment.

He got up and said goodbye, heading out of the doctors office to the waiting room where Rafe and Brown were. They knew straight away that it was bad news. Brown was almost in tears when they heard how bad Blair was hurt and Rafe was shaking in grief and rage. He got them focused again, telling them to go back to the station and start tracking Naomi down.

Rather than waiting at the hospital for news Simon went to the loft to retrieve some pajamas for Blair and a few other things the young man would need in hospital. He gathered the book by Blair's bedside and then detoured upstairs to steal the Sentinel's robe. It was large and thick and warm and the closest thing he could to get to a hug for the sick man from his absent partner. As he was heading out there was a knock on the door.

William Ellison was waiting on the other side, a confused expression on his face.

"I'm looking for Jim Ellison," he said politely and Simon pulled his badge.

"I'm his captain, Simon Banks, Mr. Ellison," Simon didn't think twice about identifying the visitor, though William's face showed his surprise. Obviously neither man saw the family resemblance between father and son.

"Is Jimmy hurt?" William blurted when he realized his son wasn't in the loft and the Captain had an overnight bag packed for someone.

"No," Simon stood back and let the other man in. Jim hadn't spoken about informing his father, obviously not expecting the man to contact him despite the fact that they were living in the same city.

"He's out of town for a while - I don't know when he'll be back," Simon said quietly, "I can't discuss it, sir - it's work related."

He saw the business mogul recognize the situation and accept it with a short nod.

"If you don't mind me asking, Captain, why are you here then?" William's tone was genuinely curious. Simon sighed - he didn't want to get into this either. It was just too awful to think about.

"Jim's partner - Blair Sandburg - is in the hospital. It's pretty bad. I came to get him some stuff - you know, try and make him more comfortable," Simon confessed. William looked around at the loft - the combined style of the two men that lived there mixed together in an eclectic style that just seemed flawless. The pictures of them both - together and with other friends - that adorned the walls and the bursting bookcases. Most people would have thought the books were Blair's, but most of his were crammed into his room - only the overflow rested out here. The rest were Jim's - a wide range of fiction and non-fiction.

"I remember him," William focused back on Simon, "He's still living here while Jimmy is away?"

"Your son trusted him like a brother," Simon could have kicked himself when he heard what he'd said, but William nodded grimly.

"I hope he'll be ok. Which hospital is it?" William stood up and Simon ushered him through the door gratefully, supplying the details automatically. He watched William head down the corridor, then shook himself and locked up before heading back to the hospital.

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

Blair was in ICU. There was no sign of life in the lax form - it almost didn't look like Blair. William Ellison had been and gone - he'd stayed long enough to hear the doctor's proclamation of irreversible gross brain damage and semi coma and then left quietly.

The news had devastated Major Crimes. In Jim's absence they were taking shifts to sit with the stricken young man, talking and reading to him despite the nursing staff's assurances that he couldn't hear their kind words. Simon deputised for Jim, taking the night shift and doing his best to make Blair comfortable. Blair's eyes opened and closed irregularly, always sparking the wild hope that this time he'd wake properly and smile back at them.

Naomi had been in Brazil and was on her way to her son's bedside. Until she could arrive Simon was the closest thing to family that Blair had. He made a few decisions for the doctors - things that would make Blair's long term care more comfortable for him, such as the insertion of a feeding tube. He also started reviewing care facilities for Blair - places that took long-term patients as a specialty. The costs were enormous, though Simon knew that Jim would probably help contribute to his friend's care, just as the people in Major Crimes were preparing to do. They were also planning to sue the hospital on Blair's behalf - any money awarded would also go to his care.

Naomi arrived tearfully, clutching at Blair's hand and whispering to her son for hours. She was ushered from the room exhausted and Simon put her in his own spare room rather than leaving her in the loft. With neither Jim nor Blair available to play host it just didn't feel right that the red head stay there alone. Despite the fact that Blair had opened his eyes the first time Naomi had called his name there was no miraculous healing, and Simon was now resigned to having lost the incredibly intelligent bundle of energy that was Blair Sandburg.

Two days after her arrival Naomi announced her intention to remove the feeding tube and 'letting her son's spirit free'. There was instant uproar as the men and women of Major Crimes as well as Blair's friends at the Uni tried to dissuade her from this final course of action. There was an additional edge to Simon's pleas. As much as he hated to see Blair lingering this way - without will or dignity - he hated to deprive Jim Ellison the chance to say his farewells to Blair while the man's body was still alive. Jim would be crushed as it was - firstly that he hadn't been here and secondly that he hadn't been available to find his friend when he first went missing. The Sentinel could have found his Guide the moment they realized he was missing. Maybe then they could have caught the injury in time…

Naomi was deaf to their pleas, and a chance remark that Simon overheard explained a part of the reasoning behind her decision. She genuinely didn't want her son to suffer, but neither could she afford to pay the bills of a long-term care Hospice. In a bout of despair Simon explained it all to William Ellison, when the man was making one of his momentary visits to the hospital. William looked very thoughtful while he visited the comatose man, standing at the foot of the bed and looking at the peaceful face.

Simon had been surprised that William continued to visit the young man he'd only spoken to once. If he thought about it at all, he assumed that William was trying to deputize for his son - some sort of amends he was making. Jim had mentioned meeting his father for lunch or a dinner once or twice; Simon had got the idea that it was at Blair's insistence he kept these appointments with the man that had driven him away. It made sense - Blair had no father and was intensely protective of his friend. William's original rejection had hurt Jim - Blair would want to see that issue resolved.

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

It was very early in the morning when William arrived on Simon's doorstep. Naomi had gone to the Cascade Buddhist Temple to meditate last night, promising Blair's friends that she would 'process' what they had said about letting the feeding tube remain in place. Simon didn't hold out any real hope that her mind would change and had spent the night wracking his own brain for some idea that would alleviate her financial concerns at least until Jim could say goodbye.

William took in his dishevelled appearance with a knowing eye and sat amongst the clutter of coffee cups at the dining table. He looked so spectacularly out of place in his slacks and cashmere sweater that Simon had a fleeting wish for a camera.

"I've been thinking about Blair's disposition," William said baldly, getting down to business straight away, "I have no wish to see the young man die, but I understand that this is not the kind of life he or my son would wish for him."

Simon nodded at the telling phrase - whatever was about to be suggested was for Jim's sake, not Blair's. It matched the mental picture he had of William Ellison.

"I've arranged for Mr. Sandburg to be transported to the Lincoln Hospice today," William named the top care Hospice as if it was the local burger stand. The Lincoln Hospice was the best rehabilitation and long-term care Hospice in the state and hideously expensive. It was also very reclusive - certain politicians and Hollywood stars had been known to stay there for 'nervous' - read drug - problems. Before Simon could protest that the amount of funds he and his colleagues had been able to gather wouldn't even cover the consultancy fee of that particular hospice, William put up a hand.

"I'll foot the bill. If he's to linger in this way, the least I can do for him is to ensure his complete comfort. Jimmy…let's just say that my son once told me how much he values Mr. Sandburg. This is going to be difficult enough for my son to deal with upon his return. I can at least ensure that his friend is comfortable while he waits."

Waits to die, Simon completed the thought silently and nodded. Hope had faded for him each time Blair woke and failed to respond to their words or touch.

"What about Naomi?" Simon reminded the business mogul. William shrugged.

"She will of course be welcome to visit him at the Hospice - I have a letter here explaining what I am doing and where Blair will be. Perhaps you would give it to her?"

He was fishing the letter out and standing as he spoke and Simon got the feeling the man was about to leave. The captain realized that William didn't want to get into a huge confrontation with the flower child - he'd avoided her after his one attempt at conversation had led her to use the phrase 'materialistic poser'.

"Mr. Sandburg is being prepped to move now - we'll be out of Cascade by nine," William said on his way to the door. Simon followed along, listening intently, "I'll put your name on the visiting list for the young man, as well as Jimmy's. When he returns he should call me - we can go to the Hospice together."

Part of Simon was dismayed that his friend was going so far away that he would be unable to visit daily - and a guilty part of him was glad that he wouldn't have to see Blair's decline from a strong healthy young man to a wasted shell. No matter how good the masseurs and therapists were, there would be a significant loss of muscle tone and body weight.

"You'll go with him?" Simon needed the reassurance that Blair would have someone who knew him at the other end of the journey - even if it was only for a little while.

"In cases like this, the Lincoln Hospice requires that the person admitting the patient attends the initial few days - to ensure that the patient is settled according to the families satisfaction. I will fill in for Jim," William nodded, and Simon resigned himself to being comforted with that thought. He'd make a weekend trip to see his friend as soon as he could get away.

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

"Damn our luck - who knew the patient had friends in high places?"

"Look, we just have to get the records out of here and transfer to a new hospital, that's all. The data is valid no matter where we are."

"Are you sure our tracks are covered?"

"Yeah, the intern will take the fall, no problems."

"Cool. So where would you like to try next?"

"Somewhere warmer and drier."

"Sounds good to me."

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

Third Incident

William got out and walked over to the private ambulance that had transported his son's friend. The attendant smiled reassuringly as they lifted the stretcher down carefully and started wheeling it towards the waiting doctor and orderlies.

"He had a good trip," the young woman said encouragingly, and William nodded in acknowledgement. The doctor came forward and accepted the files and paperwork, directing the orderlies to take Blair inside and transfer him to a gurney of their own so the ambulance could go back. William found himself temporarily ignored as Blair was fussed over and settled by the people in the room. They all used Blair's name as they moved him about.

"Mr. Ellison, I'm Tricia Pender," the doctor straightened after a moment and turned to smile at him, "Sorry about ignoring you, but I find it best to talk with my patient first. Saves us some trouble down the line."

"He's in a coma," William pointed out. Tricia smiled.

"Yes," she agreed vaguely, "Now, what we'll be doing tomorrow and the next day is a complete evaluation and assessment of Blair's condition so we'll know what he needs. You'll need to stay for that, and then we'll get him settled and you can meet his carers."

"But you have his files," William protested, and Tricia's smile hardened a fraction.

"Yes I do," her voice was still gentle and polite, "The policy of this hospice is to treat each new patient as if their injury has only just occurred. We assess them ourselves, and then compare data to ensure we haven't missed anything. Policy dictates that we have the admitting family member stay while we do so."

"I'm not a member of his family," William pointed out, sure that he had a loophole now, and Tricia lost the smile.

"You are the person responsible for his admission to the Hospice," she replied firmly, "You can of course speak to the director, but he will of course back me up…"

Recognizing that he'd lost this round, William gave up and nodded in acceptance. There was a decent hotel nearby and he'd brought his laptop to work with - it was second nature and he rarely traveled without it.

"Very well, I'll be at my hotel," William sighed, and Tricia looked him over closely.

"Visiting hours for Blair tomorrow will be in the morning between nine and ten," she said, "I'll tell reception to expect you. Before you leave you should give us a list of the people we may expect to visit him, and contact details for yourself - we are a secure facility and don't allow chance visitors without clearance. Have a nice evening - I'm told the hotel restaurant is quite good."

She dismissed him to return to her patient, checking things over one last time before heading out for her rounds. William looked at the still figure on the bed, then around the pleasant room. The rest of the staff had left after connecting Blair to their monitors and the medication he needed. The room seemed to echo slightly and William hesitated, turned to leave and then stopped. When he turned back Blair's eyes were open, staring up at the blank ceiling. The young man seemed so very alone lying there.

At the hospital in Cascade, someone had always been with Blair, despite the fact that he hadn't responded to them. William fished around the room, came up empty and went out to the car to retrieve the book he'd packed for this evening. He went back and sat down beside the still man, opened the book back at the beginning and began to read aloud.

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

At ten, William was just concluding his visit when Tricia arrived to begin the testing. She smiled at him and stood on the other side of the bed. She put her hand on Blair's arm as William finished the chapter and the young man's eyes opened. She leaned over him to make eye contact - despite what the files said - and spoke in a clear voice.

"Blair, I'm your doctor, Tricia Pender," she smiled, "We're going to be giving you an exam and assessment over the next two days. Some of it will be a little uncomfortable for you, but we'll do our best to make it bearable, ok?"

A single tear tracked from the pale man's left eye and she reached out to brush it away. The monitors showed an increased heart rate and William stood up, wondering what was happening here.

"I need you to just relax Blair," her tone of voice changed a little, and she stroked the side of her patient's face, "It's ok, Blair."

The eyes of her patient slid shut and she looked over at William in surprise.

"That's one hell of a coincidence," she said, "Did it happen in Cascade at all?"

"Not to my knowledge. Captain Banks never mentioned a response to their words," William replied and she nodded.

"Let's get this started - the sooner we begin, the sooner we'll have some answers," she straightened up as the orderlies came in. William watched as they spoke to the man on the bed, explaining what they were doing as if he could hear them. It was this unique attitude that gave the Hospice such a good reputation.

"The cafeteria makes decent coffee if you want some," the doctor said on her way past, and William resigned himself to following the blatant hint. He'd stay here while Blair was tested and checked over. He still couldn't explain the impulse that had led him to read to the young man last night. It wasn't as if they'd had any kind of relationship - when his son had handed his care over to his partner, William had been too worried about Jim to pay real attention to the young man supporting him from the woods to the waiting ambulance. By the time his head cleared, Jim was there to take him home.

William settled into the armchair by the window, pulling out the book again and reading on, absently marking the page he'd stopped at while reading to Blair.

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

Tricia sat down at the table opposite William Ellison and used the remote to dim the lights and switch on the projector. It showed the multi-colored scans of Blair's brain that the Cascade hospital had sent to them, the damage standing out sharply even to William's uneducated eyes.

"This is what we were sent from Cascade," Tricia said in a firm tone, "Can you tell me again how Blair was injured?"

"He was hit with a baseball bat and due to the fact that he hadn't woken up they sent him off for some x-rays. He somehow got lost in the system and had a few strokes and seizures. We were told the initial damage…" William stopped when she shook her head and held up a hand.

"Go back a bit," she frowned, looking at her own files, "How was he hit? Did someone swing the bat at him deliberately? How many times was he hit?"

"Once," William told her with a frown, "My son's employer said that Mr. Sandburg was walking around a game of baseball and the batter lost his grip while swinging at a pitch. He was hit a glancing blow to the head and taken to hospital unconscious."

Tricia shook her head and leaned back, frowning heavily in thought.

"We've finished our assessment, though I'm waiting on some additional drug screens that I ordered," she told William, "When I spoke to Blair and we had that reaction, his medication was actually at the wrong dosage."

"What? Look, this young man has suffered enough medical incompetence to last a lifetime!" William snapped, "Let me speak to the director!"

"Mr. Ellison!" Tricia barked, her eyes flashing, "It's much worse than you think!"

Confused, William stopped his tirade and gaped at her. She turned on the second projector.

"These are the scans we took of Blair's brain. As you can see there is significantly less damage than the initial scans showed. In fact with the exception of this small - almost insignificant - spot here, there is no other damage at all. The seizures appear to be drug induced. Someone has done this on purpose, then covered their actions by giving Blair a complex series of drugs to mimic the effects of brain damage that were described to you. He isn't comatose because he's damaged, he's comatose because he's healthy and his brain chemistry is being altered by our medicine."

The second scan showed a healthy looking brain, one small cloud on its horizon. Tricia's words sank into William Ellison's brain like cold lumps of lead and he felt his skin crawl.

"Is he aware…" the words escaped involuntarily and she nodded gently.

"I believe so," she confirmed, "That is one of our problems. He's been treated like a vegetable for a week while trapped in an unresponsive body. We have to find a way to reduce his medicines slowly, avoiding negative side effects and thereby getting him back to normal. Then we can start rehabilitation - there's bound to be some physical side effects that will require medical intervention. He's going to need the support of friends and family."

"Captain Banks…" William stopped when Tricia shook her head again.

"The other problem," she continued as if he hadn't spoken, "Is that there is no way the hospital should have agreed that this was Mr. Sandburg's scan. The paramedic's report - which you just confirmed for me - speaks of a single trauma to the brain. This scan shows multiple traumas. It's possible it belongs to a car crash victim, or someone who was beaten pretty badly. The moment that the attending doctor saw that scan he should have demanded the machine be checked and the scan performed again. Damage done by strokes and seizures presents itself differently."

"His doctor was an intern," William spoke up, "He was new to the hospital."

"Come off it Mr. Ellison," Tricia fixed him with an old fashioned look, "You mean to tell me that young man has no one that would insist that a more experienced doctor checked him over when he was found? I find that very hard to believe. What I'm trying to get at Mr. Ellison, is that someone at the hospital did this deliberately and then covered it up. If the intern you speak of was involved, then the senior doctor that checked his work was as well. Our final problem is what to do with this information. If we just announce what we know and start an investigation then we could very well tip them off and send them into hiding. This will need careful and discrete investigation. As much as I'd like to call Captain Banks and tell him of our discovery, I can't. He is law bound to report this immediately."

"Aren't you as well?" William got that shot in quickly, feeling pleased with himself.

"I have already spoken to the Director. He is starting the investigation for me as we speak," her tone was faintly chiding and William scowled. No one had taken that tone with him in a very long time - he didn't like it now.

"The reason I am telling you this is that I need someone the young man knows here to help us out. He'll need a familiar face. You originally admitted him to await your son's return in comfort - so I know that it wasn't for his sake you brought him here. I want what is best for Blair now; I'm not concerned about anything else at the moment. What I want to know is, will you stay and help him fight, or will you nominate someone outside the law community to stay in your place?"

Tricia's pager went off and she jumped up, flicking the lights back on and hurrying for the door in the wake of her bombshell. William could see that she was already focused on whatever the pager had summoned her to - the mark of a dedicated doctor.

"Let me know," the words floated over her shoulder as the door whispered shut behind her.

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

Sitting at the table provided in his room, William stared out at the view and remembered.

He'd been having dinner with Jimmy. They were in the family home and Jimmy was uneasy - just as he had been so many times before. William knew what had started the problem - its roots were in Jimmy's childhood. He'd thought he'd got rid of that particular little curse, but at too high a cost. Jimmy had been a different child after Bud's death. Quiet and uneasy, obedient and stoic. He'd grown up to be a fine man and William had an inkling that it wasn't due to the parenting he'd gotten from his father.

Over dessert Jimmy had taken a deep breath and told his father about being a Sentinel. William's first reaction had been anger - these wild senses were dangerous, and Jimmy was a detective on the street, doubling the danger. He'd been furious when Jimmy had explained that the hippy that had helped William out of the woods was training Jim to use those senses on the job.

An angry remark had caused an argument, Jim defending the man he called his Guide to his father with heated words and flashing eyes.

"He just knows what to do, ok! He makes everything bearable, and while these senses are a huge pain in the ass sometimes they actually come in handy. He's helped me to save lives with this stuff - and he doesn't call me a freak! He works at the Uni and he's so smart Dad - he's got whole encyclopaedias in his head, but he's not some spineless geek. He's my partner and he works on the streets with me all the time - gets hurt sometimes too, and just gets back up and keeps on going. He accepts me as I am, and lets me do what I do without…"

"I just want what's best for you," William had interrupted and Jim's eyes had flashed vivid blue at him.

"He is the best," the simple statement had closed the conversation. Jim had left soon after, with a few awkward words. Three weeks later he'd taken his father out to lunch and William had asked after his partner politely and left it at that. If Jim needed the hippy around then William would leave it alone. He'd had the feeling that he was only having lunch with his son because the hippy had pushed the issue - this restaurant hadn't seemed the kind of place his son would normally choose, though he was familiar with the menu and the waitress had also asked after Sandburg.

So, for his son, could William stay out here and see the young man through therapy? He had a vague idea that it wouldn't be a stroll in the park. Blair's doctor was the sort of woman who would ensure that he got involved if he stayed. Simple visits wouldn't be enough; he'd probably have to help out or something. With a heavy heart, William realized the answer was no. He loved Jim, but he couldn't do this for his son…

With a start William sat up straight. This wasn't really about Jim: it was about the young man who'd been experimented on and left to stroke out. This man was a stranger to him. Or was he?

The memory of a gentle voice, slim body and strong arms came to him. Jimmy's voice and hands were gone, he'd been handed over to this new person, Jimmy had called him partner, his head spinning as he was urged up gently. The stranger had encouraged him through the pain and disorientation, holding him firmly. There was comfort in that touch and support that was too gently offered to deny. Pride had no place in those woods as the stranger had half helped half carried him out, never faltering.

He'd sat down gratefully, though his head was a lot clearer. He'd got a good look at the stranger who'd guided him effortlessly through the trees. Slender form in bright clothes, long curls and deep blue eyes that burned into his very soul with fierce intelligence and infinite compassion…

William picked up the phone and dialed the hospice number, leaving a simple message on the doctor's voice mail.

"I'll do it."

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

Simon took a deep breath and opened the door to Sandburg's room. It had only been a few days since their friend had been taken to the hospice, but he'd been worried about him - after all William Ellison didn't know their anthropologist that well. The businessman had called and said that he was going to stay near the hospice for a while - he'd been vague about how long - and that Blair was getting the best of care.

Blair lay slack in the bed, a ventilator breathing for him and a nurse cleaning his body with a sponge. She turned, startled at the sound of the door and sent him a questioning look. The naked body on the bed didn't react at all as the machine - hadn't Blair been breathing by himself when they'd brought him here - sent air to his lungs. The monitor was beeping steadily and an IV tree rested by the bed; its lines snaking down to the fang in the back of Blair's hand.

All Simon could think was how much Blair would hate to be seen like this - being handled without dignity or will. It brought home to the tall man that his friend was really gone. Maybe Naomi had been right…

"I can't do this, I'm sorry kid," Simon choked out and hurried from the room, almost running to his car and hating himself as he drove away. He didn't want his last memories of the young man he'd come to respect as a professional and like as a friend to be a lax body in an empty room. He'd rather remember the hyper kinetic bundle of intelligence that stole his coffee for his best detective and wrote reports with a flair that the rest of the squad envied. The young man that flirted with just about everyone - even Simon! - But loved whole-heartedly. The activist who did his best to make sure that everyone got a fair deal out of life, even though he rarely had the funds to cover more than his rent, gas and a few groceries.

Simon grit his teeth and headed back to Cascade. He wouldn't come again - not until Jim was back. There was no way the Sentinel was making this trip alone. All he could do now was make sure the hospital paid for its mistake.

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

Fourth Incident

William watched as a thirty-year-old man struggled to feed himself a simple breakfast of toast and cereal. Blair's first awakening when the last of the drugs had finally left his system had been a heartbreaking mixture of terror and joy. He'd made desperate noises in response to their words and weak fingers had twitched urgently in their grasp - the body on the bed trying to prove that it was not wasted, not a coma victim. Tears had streamed down Blair's face and the heart monitors had gone crazy. Unable to calm the frightened man with words, Tricia had hugged him, shushing in his ear like a mother with a frightened child, whispering reassurance and hope.

Though speech was still a problem - Blair was aphasic, stuttering and slurring his words, substituting the wrong ones and getting oh so frustrated - motor co-ordination was coming along in leaps and bounds. Gross movement had returned on the third day of consciousness for Blair, and fine motor skills were now creeping back slowly, with aid from Blair's therapists and the determined practice regime he put himself through before and after therapy sessions.

"D-d-d-d-did it!" Blair grinned as the bowl was finally empty and no spills had occurred. William grinned back - Blair's enthusiasm was infectious. William had been privileged to watch this young man evaluate his situation and then throw himself heart and soul into rebuilding himself from the ground up.

"Full sentences, please," William reminded him and Blair rolled his eyes. The speech therapy was coming along slowly, and in a simple sentence that had taken Blair nearly fifteen minutes to say the young man had asked William to pick on him - almost bully him into speaking in full sentences. William had agreed reluctantly at first, but over time he'd become accustomed to performing this service. He'd moved out of the hotel - renting a small property near the hospice instead with plenty of space around it and a sound phone line. He continued to work from there; in between his regular visits to the hospice. The office had sent up a fax and printer for him, and a courier delivered and collected documents regularly.

"Aye aye aye," Blair frowned and bit his lip to stop the sound, then took a deep breath, "I d-did it-t."

"Congratulations," William replied graciously, "Would you like anything else for breakfast?"

"N-n-n-no th-thanks D-d-dad," Blair put the tray back together and watched William push it away. They were sitting in the hospice cafeteria - William had started to join his adopted son for breakfast when Blair had complained of the food and the nurse who insisted on staying to watch him eat.

They had become friends during the last two months, though Blair had called him Dad almost from the first. William, or Mr. Ellison, was too difficult for the young man to say at first, and William hated to be called Bill. Blair had been a bit concerned about the name at first, until William assured him that Jim wouldn't mind that his friend called him Dad. Blair had woken with most of his memory, missing the day of the accident and all of what had happened afterward, though at the time he had been aware of it all. William figured the nightmare was better forgotten, and had explained the accident and circumstances leading to Blair's presence here in calm, analytical sentences.

To the senior Ellison's astonishment, Blair hadn't been worried about his mother's attempt to literally starve him to death and her subsequent refusal to contact or visit him at all. He'd offered to try and locate her for the healing man, and Blair had shaken his head, smiling in thanks and refusal. He didn't want his mother here - all his energy now went into his recovery. He was determined to be fit before Jim returned.

"Let's go for a walk," William suggested and Blair nodded, getting up carefully, pushing the chair in with deliberate movements, not letting it bang into the table or skid on the floor. What had once been an automatic series of movements was now deliberate effort. There was a shadow in Blair's eyes as they walked from the sunny cafeteria, and William put a gentle hand on his wrist.

"Relax, Blair," he said gently, "You're improving every day - don't push it."

"I-I-I-it's sssso hhhard!" Blair complained - a rare thing for the positive young man, "I w-was a t-teacher, D-dad. N-now l-l-l-look at mme! Hhhhow c-can I l-l-lettuce n-now?"

"Try again, Blair," William reminded him, understanding what he meant, but sticking to his promise. Tricia had warned William that depression was a possibility for Blair - after all he'd gone from a confident young man who could do what he wanted without real thought, to a person struggling to learn the simple skills of everyday life once more. This was the first negative reaction William had seen in the last two months. Blair walked with his head down; lips moving as he silently rehearsed the words he wanted to say.

"Hhow can I l-l-lecture n-now?" Blair's voice was low and quiet. Despondency dragged at every line of his body. William tugged him to a halt and stood in front of the younger man, fixing his best glare on him.

"Now you listen to me," William growled, "You are recovering in leaps and bounds, but it will take time. Don't take yourself out of the game by giving up now. You'll teach again, but not any time soon. Focus on getting better and the immediate future. Leave the distant future for later."

Blair straightened up a little and nodded, squaring his shoulders in a childish gesture that had William hugging him without second thought. Blair gave and received hugs freely, hugging the therapists and nurses when he couldn't adequately express his thanks or happiness. He'd flung his arms around William once or twice too, and once William had gotten over the first shock, he'd welcomed the contact.

Blair hugged him back, leaning into the comforting touch. He'd given Blair the stick, now for the carrot.

"It's a privilege and honor that you've let me stay and help you, Blair. I want you to know that. Jimmy is lucky to have you for a friend. He'd be so proud of you right now - and so am I."

"Thanks, Dad," Blair breathed the words lightly in his ear and they hung on tightly to each other for a moment. Blair pulled back with a sheepish smile and William patted his shoulder before resuming their stroll down the corridor.

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

Simon looked out at the bullpen with a sigh. The people out there were working with their customary professionalism and dedication. An outsider would see a bunch of men and women going about their daily business as usual.

An insider would see the lack of spark that usually characterized his team. Blair's…injury and Jim's absence were casting a pall over his people. He could see it, and feel it in the slightly subdued voices and movements. Jim's desk sat like a shrine in the bullpen, the files neatly stacked, one of his partner's textbooks resting on top of the monitor. Simon had toyed with the idea of shuffling the desks around and thereby packing Jim's stuff away, but in the end he'd decided not to. The thought of packing his two friends away hurt too much.

The weekly email from William Ellison, stating that Blair was in good health, burned on his monitor. For some reason Jim's father had stayed at the hospice, alleviating some of Simon's guilt at not visiting. None of the people in Major Crimes had gone to visit, preferring to remember Blair as he was. Simon couldn't blame them - they'd all heard horror stories about coma victims - a living death.

The problem, Simon mused, was that they'd never had any real closure here. Jim's return would shake everything up again, as the men and women were forced to consider the idea that their friend might agree with Naomi and use the power of attorney he held to let Blair slip away from life.

If that happened, Simon knew that Jim wouldn't stay with them for long. One way or another he'd withdraw from life, eventually following his Guide to Beyond.

Truthfully, Simon didn't know how he wanted this to end. Actually, he wanted for this to never have happened, but he lacked the knowledge to build a time machine and knew of no magic that could turn back time. His son, Daryl, had been devastated at the news, and asked after their friend whenever he was with his father. Joan disapproved of course - she wanted to protect their teenager from any hurt, and that included the pain of losing a friend in this way. However, she couldn't blame Simon's job for the situation, as she had so many other times, and Daryl had stood up to her on the subject, stating quite firmly that he wasn't going to forget a friend like that. It had been a painful reminder that their child was growing up. Simon had been proud of his son.

Jim had been gone for four months now, and Simon hadn't heard anything about the situation. He hadn't asked either, not wanting to risk a leak at his end that might shatter the cover story, or a breach of security on the other that might blow Jim's cover. The men and women of Major Crimes would have to resign themselves to waiting, and in the meantime pray for Blair's ease and comfort.

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

William smiled as he listened to the improved sound of the piano. True, getting it tuned had helped a little, but over the past few weeks the player had also improved no end. The Beatles medley that Blair was currently playing was note perfect, and almost time perfect as well.

In order to improve his fine motor skills, Blair had started typing again, using an old machine from the nineteen forties that clattered and allowed him to gauge the rhythm and accuracy of his typing. William had bought the near-antique machine on a whim and it had been a huge hit. Blair was drawing as well, relearning the ease he'd once had with a pen or pencil in his hand. The piano had already been in the house and Blair had asked William to unlock it - it seemed it was one of the instruments the young man had learned to play. Reading the music had helped his processing skills as well - at first Blair had been horrified at the thought that he might be illiterate, a left over of the small damaged area in his brain. That had proved to be a false fear as the young man could read and retain the knowledge just like he'd used to.

The damage - according to Tricia - had been due to a small clot that had developed in response to the trauma of the drug-induced seizures. It was on the border of an area known to be active in the brain, and there had been some concern that the aphasia was a result of that. That condition was persisting with Blair, though it was much improved, only becoming a real difficulty when he was tired or under some stress.

They'd moved Blair into the spare room across from William as soon as they were sure the young professor could handle the stairs safely. Blair went to the Hospice daily for his on-going speech and motor therapy, but otherwise lived in the house with William. Lately he'd taken to walking the five miles to and from therapy in an effort to increase his overall fitness.

They played chess in the evenings and watched a few programs. William had found someone who shared his interest in non-fiction shows, and they both enjoyed the sports channel as well. William had lost quite a few bets to this man's acute knowledge - and not just about shows on the sports channel.

William thought of the young man as a close friend, despite the fact that he was still being called 'Dad'. As Blair's speech had improved he'd offered to change back to William, but the businessman had confessed he didn't mind the name. It had become a nickname between them - when William was being overly stern, or Blair was in a teasing mood the name was shaded with the petulant tones of a four year old. William had threatened to spank him once and reduced the anthropologist to hysterics of laughter. Every time Blair looked at him he'd go off again until William was laughing helplessly with him.

As the piece finished Blair sighed and closed the lid, turning to shrug at the man leaning in the doorframe. He'd gained a little color lately and William had bought him some clothes to wear other than pajamas. They weren't Blair's usual style - plain thick sweaters in solid colours and moleskins in cream or dark blue. A pair of good quality hiking boots had been added to the list as well as the usual undergarments. Blair had promised to pay him back - wondering if he'd ever be able to afford it, this stuff was designer label gear - and William had decided not to argue for now. He'd wait until his son came home and they could gang up on the young man.

"I w-wasn't th-that good to st-start with," Blair grinned at his Sentinel's father, "M-my b-best inst-t-trument w-was the g-guitar."

"Ahh," William nodded sagely, "You stick to that story, Blair. I'm sure people will believe you."

Blair laughed at the teasing. William had learned that this particular person took gentle jibes as a sign of acceptance. It hadn't been hard to slip into a pattern of banter that was surprisingly comfortable. William leaned back into the hall and grabbed the bag he'd carried in from the car.

"I used to play this in high school," he held it out, "Sally shipped it over for me. You can use it while we're here if you like."

He was careful not to give the young man the battered student's guitar outright, aware that Blair was uncomfortable taking from him. The student's low income had at first made William suspicious that he was sponging off his eldest son - these past five months with Blair had shown that was not true. It was very hard to give him a gift of any kind, though he was generous with anything he had.

Once Blair had been sure he wouldn't set fire to anything he'd taken over the cooking in the cottage, not wanting to be a burden or cosseted, and William had to admit the boy could cook like a gourmet. He'd never eaten so well, even Sally could learn a thing or two from Blair when it came to the more exotic dishes. Under his 'son's' supervision William's new diet had led to weight loss and healthier habits. Though the businessman had regularly visited the gym, and belonged to the Cascade Country Club, he'd never felt fitter in his life. He'd accompanied Blair on his walks to and from the hospice, and Blair had encouraged him to go for short hikes with the younger man. Blair's stamina was slowly building up again.

"You're s-s-sure?" Blair asked, reaching out eagerly. William nodded and watched the battered instrument emerge from the scuffed cardboard case. He smiled in fond remembrance and Blair plucked at the strings to check the tuning. They were sour and both men pulled a face, and then laughed.

"N-n-n-needs ssome w-work," Blair bent his head and started tuning, becoming absorbed in the task easily. William left him to it and went to make a pot of tea - Blair had rationed his coffee strictly and William had to admit it had made a difference.

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

Simon looked up when the bullpen quieted. He'd warned everyone that today was the day - the Feds had only called him late last night. After six long months, the case was over and Jim Ellison was coming home.

The detectives had all agreed to let Simon break the news to the returning man - recognizing that it was better that a friend told him about the whole mess, rather than a colleague. Though Jim was friendly with his fellow detectives, after Blair, Simon was the closest friend he had.

Jim looked a little tired. There was a slight shadow in his face that spoke of long strain. The separation from his Guide wouldn't have helped, and Simon was aware that Jim the man would have missed the quirky Blair Sandburg as well. Simon opened the door and stepped out of his office, into the crowd of people that were welcoming Jim home, smiling and patting his back or shaking his hand. They made way for their boss, who pulled Jim into a gruff bear hug. He couldn't help it - he needed to do something to express his relief and this was all he could think of.

"Welcome back Jim," Simon growled, "You all right?"

"Yeah," Jim grinned a little, startled by his welcome. Simon ushered him into his office and waved him to a seat.

"I must have just missed Sandburg this morning," Jim continued, "There was no answer at the loft or his cell. I came straight in - I haven't been home yet."

This was a subtle request for information on his partner's location and Simon knew it. He chose to lean on his desk edge in front of Jim rather than go around and sit down.

"Ahh, well, about Sandburg," Simon sighed. Jim rolled his eyes and groaned.

"Let me guess, he's done something stupid again," Jim shook his head, "That guy is such a trouble magnet. Is he ok? What happened?"

"He was crossing the quad at Rainier and got hit by a baseball bat when the batter lost his grip," Simon thought it best to start at the beginning.

"Ouch. Is he ok? Which hospital is he in?" Jim was starting to get tense, his jaw clenching. Simon put up a hand in a request for patience and waited until Jim leaned back in his chair a little.

"He's in the Lincoln Hospice," Simon answered the second question again, and Jim blanched when he recognized the name of the top care facility in the area. His face lost all color.

"Jim," Simon sighed, "There's no easy way to say this. The hospital here screwed up. Blair got lost in the system and by the time he was found again he'd suffered some major seizures and strokes. He's in a coma. There was no hope of recovery. They say he's got major brain damage and paralysis. I'm sorry Jim. There's nothing we can do."

"Who got him into the hospice?" Jim was stunned and it showed on his face. Simon put out a hand that his detective flinched away from. Tears were swimming in pale eyes, though Jim was managing to hold them back in public.

"Your dad," Simon replied, "Naomi came - she wanted the doctors to let him go. Your father got Blair admitted to the Hospice before Naomi could make her final decision. She left not long after - we've lost contact with her. He e-mails me regular reports - they say Blair's healthy."

"Healthy," Jim barked the word in disgust and leapt up, reaching for the phone, "I'm calling Dad and going to Blair."

"I'll come with you," Simon said, "I'll be outside."

He collected his coat and headed out to the bullpen, meeting the sombre faces there with his own pained eyes.

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

Fifth Incident

Jim had insisted on driving and Simon hadn't argued. It gave the other man something to do rather than imagine what waited at the end of their journey. Simon had that luxury though and was trying desperately to distract himself. They'd be at the hospice by late afternoon, and Jim drove without pause, his face grim and pale.

He'd asked Simon for a full recount and the police Captain had obliged, telling the whole thing steadily, without apology or emotion, ending with the upcoming law suit against the hospital. They were silent after that, the scenery blurring past without being noticed.

Simon frowned when Jim turned off before reaching the road that led to the Hospice.

"Jim?" he asked and the detective shot him a glance.

"These are the directions I was given, Simon," his voice brooked no argument, and Simon shrugged, settling back. Maybe they were going to the place that William Ellison was meeting them. Perhaps Jim's father wanted to forewarn his son of what to expect at the Hospice. Surely the elder Ellison would want to see that his son was alive and healthy.

Jim pulled up in the drive of a secluded two-storey cottage and got out. His father's Mercedes was also parked in the drive and he walked past it to the front door, giving the bell a good long ring. Simon came to stand beside him and was startled when Jim went tense, a hand whipping out to clench around Simon's forearm. A glance showed him the familiar posture of a Sentinel listening hard to something.

"What is it?" Simon asked, but was interrupted by the opening of the front door. William Ellison gaped and then broke into a huge smile.

"Jimmy!" he cried and reached out for his son, pulling the man into a rib creaking hug. Jim responded automatically, his concentration broken by the unexpected welcome.

"Come in, come in!" William let go and tugged his son inside. If he was disconcerted by the lack of response he showed no sign. He continued to lead Jim deeper into the house.

"Where is he?" Jim's voice was low and urgent. William smiled up at his son happily.

"He's in the sun room, resting. He caught bronchitis a week ago, but he's responding well to the medication," William soothed, "Jim, it's not what you think. Blair's condition…"

"He's sick and you took him out of the hospice?" Jim demanded in a low voice, "What are you doing here anyway?"

"I stayed on with him," William frowned at his son, "Keep your voice down, he needs the rest…"

By this time they were at the entrance to the sunroom. The afternoon rays made it a warm, pleasant haven. Blair hated the cold and a part of Jim registered grateful that someone had realized or remembered that fact. The heartbeat that had caught his attention at the door was loud in his ears as Jim rounded the wide couch. Blair was dressed in his Sentinel's robe and propped half upright on the couch in a warm nest of blankets and pillows. He looked a little pale, but peaceful, almost as if he was asleep. Jim heard Simon ask something about a respirator, but all of his senses were wrapping around the man lying before him. Before he could do or say anything Blair's eyes opened slowly. As Simon had warned him they were dazed and unresponsive. Then he fixed on Jim's face. A wide smile broke over his face and his eyes cleared rapidly. Blair pulled his arms out from under the blankets and held them up for his Sentinel.

"Jim!"

"Oh," Jim said and dropped onto the edge of the couch, pulling Blair up into his arms and holding him close, burying his face in warm skin and drinking in the sweet scent there. Simon knew just how he felt. His wife had made the same noise when she'd held their baby for the very first time.

"It's a miracle," Simon breathed in awe and William shook his head, gently pushing the stunned man to a chair and sitting him down.

"There's a lot you need to know, Captain," William said gently, "But the most important thing is that he's ok - or he will be soon."

The two men rocking on the couch were totally oblivious as William began to explain in a soft voice.

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

Blair's coughing broke them apart. Concerned, Jim stroked his back and shushed meaninglessly while Blair shook with the force of each whooping explosion. William hurried over with a glass of water and waited until Blair was gasping for breath at the end before leaning over.

"Have some water, Blair," William said gently and Blair turned his head, hectic color in his cheeks. He reached out and took the glass, leaning away from Jim a little to sip at it and calm his breathing once more.

"How'd you catch bronchitis, Chief?" Jim's voice was quiet and frustrated. Blair handed the glass back and stroked a hand over Jim's jaw, soothing the clenched muscles gently.

"C-c-c-c-caught a c-c-cold and th-then g-got w-w-w-w-wet," Blair rolled his eyes and grimaced, a typical reaction to the bad luck that shadowed him, "I'mmm mmmuch b-better now, r-right D-dad?"

"Yep," was the laconic reply, "Though you frightened me out of a year's sleep with your coughing the first night. His doctor has him on house and bed rest, Jimmy - though as you can see he got round me after lunch."

"S-still g-got it," Blair grinned cheekily and leaned back against the pillows behind him, while William grunted and put the glass on the table. Jim was tucking the blankets back in place with gentle pats.

"Just don't give it to me," he replied, "Jimmy? Are you and Captain Banks staying? We'll be having dinner soon."

"I'm not leaving," Jim's eyes didn't move from his Guide as he answered his father. William nodded and headed out of the room. Simon took his chance to come close and Blair's smile welcomed him over for his own hug and reassurance.

"I still say you're a miracle," Simon said gruffly, "And I'm sorry I wasn't here for you kid."

"I underneath Simon," Blair said reassuringly, then pulled a face and took a deep breath, "I underSTAND, Simon. S-sorry. I g-get m-m-muddled w-w-when I'm t-t-t-t-tired. It w-w-will b-be b-better t-t-t-tomorrow."

"You should go to bed, Chief," Jim was instantly concerned. Blair hit him with the old glare and his partner backed off, putting back the blankets he'd started to peel off.

"He'll go after dinner and no arguments," William said from the door and Blair stuck his tongue out. William ignored his friend with the ease of long practice, offering to show Simon and Jim the bathroom and where they could stay tonight. Blair shooed them out with firm signs and by the time they got back from the brief tour of the four-bedroom cottage the young man was asleep once more. William beckoned them into the kitchen where he checked the casserole in the oven.

"Thanks for staying, Dad," Jim said softly, "I don't understand…why didn't you tell Simon what was going on? And what was Simon asking about a respirator for?"

"Captain Banks came to visit while Blair was being weaned off the drugs that were keeping him in the coma. He'd had some trouble breathing and Tricia put him on the respirator as a precaution. Apparently, the Captain walked in on a bath. He left before we could explain what was going on, and afterwards it was decided not to breach security by telling him what was happening."

"Breach security?" Jim asked with a frown and William explained quietly what Tricia had discovered.

"Between the investigation that the hospital and Captain Banks had initiated I was able to slip a few of my own people in and we came up with some pretty damning evidence. My legal people were working on it and we were going to contact Captain Banks before the damages suit was brought to trial. Believe me, I didn't want to make this any more difficult that it has been for you, Captain," William met Simon's eyes and the taller man nodded slowly.

"Can you tell me what his diagnosis is?" Jim glanced in Blair's direction and William smiled.

"He should have a complete recovery," he patted his son's arm, "We're dealing with the last of the aphasia now - it has gotten worse with his illness, but the stutter and slip ups were almost gone before the bronchitis knocked him down. He's almost back to full physical dexterity, though he's clumsy at the moment. I've been privileged to watch him do this. Therapy can only take a person so far - without the energy and pure stubbornness he's put into his recovery I doubt we'd be seeing such a vast improvement so soon. He'll be ok, Jimmy."

Some of the tension drained out of the Sentinel and he nodded, looking at the floor and blinking hard. His father kept up the soothing pats for a moment and then cleared his throat.

"You'll have to watch how you treat him, though. He's not allowed to speak in incomplete sentences - I'm his bully for that - and he hates being picked up or moved without his consent. It's a left over from when the drugs were in control I guess. Wait until he asks for help, ok son? Blair is very independent and his pride can be fierce."

"He hates fuss," Jim nodded in memory of the few times his partner had been too sick to care for himself. Blair got cranky very quickly when people fussed over him. Jim had learned to back off - reluctantly. There was something about his friend that called out for mothering to the Sentinel.

"What are we going to do now?" Jim felt adrift, tired and unable to plan for the future. He'd just been given back his most treasured companion and the enormity of the gift had overwhelmed him.

"We're going to have dinner and then go to bed. It will all seem clearer in the morning," his father replied gently.

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

Jim's room adjoined Blair's. As soon as his Guide had finished the bowl of stew that William had put in front of him - and taken the medication that William had also put out with a stern look - he'd said goodnight and headed slowly upstairs to bed.

William had gone up after cleaning the kitchen, wishing his son and Simon goodnight. The two cops had followed him, splitting up at the top of the stairs. Simon had gone past William Ellison's door to his own and Jim had walked past Blair's as well.

The adjoining door was half open and the sensory song of his living Guide drifted through it - marred a little by the congestion in his lungs. Jim had prepared for bed to the rhythm of it and then snuck across the threshold for one last, unbelieving look. His feet had carried him to the bed without any direct intervention on his part, and his arms had lifted the blankets so he could climb in. Blair was lying propped up on a second pillow and Jim snuggled into his side, soft unconscious noises of need escaping his throat. The Guide reacted without waking, pulling the Sentinel closer and petting him soothingly. Jim sighed and fell straight into dreamless sleep, blessed by his Guide's warmth and presence.

Waking in the morning was reluctant - their nest was warm and Jim was able to let his guard down for the first time in six very long months. He opened his eyes to Blair's amused expression and smiled a little hesitantly.

"Good morning Jim," Blair's voice was a little hoarse, but no stutter marred it, "I take it you slept well?"

"Uh hum," Jim yawned and put his head back on Blair's shoulder, "Best sleep in months," he said sleepily, "I'd like some more so keep it down, ok Sandburg?"

"Sure," Blair rubbed the other man's back lightly, listening as the breathing evened out again and Jim went totally limp. The door opened and Simon stuck his head in nervously. Blair grinned and waved him in with his free hand, putting a finger to his lips.

"Good morning Simon," Blair whispered, and Simon grinned at the sight of his detective cuddled up to his partner.

"Good morning," Simon whispered back, "I see you got teddy bear duty."

"Yep," Blair smiled fondly at his partner, "He's really tired. Has he said anything about the case?"

Simon noticed how much better Blair's speech was and felt something in him relax. He'd been secretly afraid that William and Blair had been snowing them with information, trying to avoid admitting how bad things really were. Self-deception was not one of Blair's traits, though he lied to others as needed.

"No, there wasn't really time. We told him what happened to you straight away and he came directly here," Simon's voice was regretful and Blair nodded, the smile leaving his face. Jim sighed and snuggled closer, putting an arm over Blair's chest.

"I need a picture of this," Simon lightened the mood, "Pity I left my camera in Cascade."

"I'll help Jim hide the body. Out of consideration for your years of friendship I'll make sure it's a quick death," Blair promised the police captain. Simon snorted and told his friend he was heading down to breakfast. Blair replied that he was going back to sleep. When Simon glanced back at the door the young man had turned into his partner's warmth and was breathing slowly.

Too happy to see them together again and knowing that Blair was in his right mind once more, Simon shut the door softly and walked down the stairs, unworried that he'd just seen his best team in bed together.

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

The week passed in a blur for the two cops from Cascade. Blair improved daily, the cough settling rapidly with the rest and medicine he was getting, not to mention the finally relieved strain of worrying about his Sentinel's safety. Jim was in Sentinel heaven. His Guide was responding eagerly to his care and attentions and his father had magically mellowed from the gruff stranger he knew to quite the human being. The knowledge that he could finally relax and be who he was in front of the people he was living with went a long way to repairing the damage the constant secrecy and lies had done to his spirit over the last six months.

William continued to bully Blair through the daily home therapy, though it wasn't really necessary now. His son and their friend's presence had urged the young man onto even greater feats of strength and determination, almost entirely eliminating the speech problems that had dogged his heels. The weekly therapy appointments were duly kept, though Jim had come along too, wanting to speak to the people who had cared for Blair when he could not. The therapists had been pleased with the rapid improvement of their patient and the GP on staff also cleared Blair for further activities at the end of the week, provided he stayed warm and dry inside the house.

Blair hadn't been too impressed with the continued restriction that he stay inside, even though winter was closing in rapidly. William had resigned himself to a grumpy house mate for a day or so - the young man could be moody when he suffered what he thought of as a 'set back' - but Jim had coaxed his Guide into a better humor on the drive back.

Simon had met them anxiously, to be reassured by the smiles and chuckles of the three men as they walked from the car to the house. He'd managed to extend his leave to stay in the mountains with them for a short while - at least until the end of the week.

Unfortunately lawyers interrupted their week. They'd managed to get the case into court despite the hospital's stalling and Simon had to go back to Cascade. William had got a very crafty look on his face and disappeared with the police captain for an afternoon; they'd made calls and sent faxes, the busy noise drifting out to the conservatory where Jim slept on the couch with his arms around Blair. If William had noticed the 'teddy bear duty' that his young friend was engaged in for his son he'd made no mention of it. Over the last few days it was not an unusual sight to come upon the pair, snuggled together asleep on the couch or in the morning in Blair's bed. There was nothing carnal in the actions, William was sure. Simon didn't care either way - he'd figured out that a Sentinel and Guide were pretty close - closer than normal friends anyway.

Simon left two days before the upcoming court case - giving him a day to travel and another to prepare for court. William would follow with Jim and Blair, arriving the afternoon before the case to allow his son and friend to recover from the journey. Tricia would be there as well - she had insisted that someone who was familiar with Blair's case history be in Cascade in case the lawyers needed them.

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

Final Incident

He'd asked Rhonda to keep everyone back after shift tonight - he'd be with the lawyers all day and needed to get things finalized. They'd agreed at the cottage that Blair's colleagues at the PD should be told what was going to happen - especially as the whole team planned to be there anyway. Blair had recorded a tape for Simon to play with his own apology - but Simon was hoping that his people would be able to forgive the young man's necessary deception.

Blank, stoic faces greeted Simon as he stepped into his office. They were all there, crowded around the table and drinking the coffee that Taggert had brought in from the place down the street. No one was really talking, so it didn't take long for Simon to get their attention. They'd already closed his office blinds and Simon looked around carefully, taking a deep breath. This news - however joyful - was not going to be easy to deliver.

"I've…I've got some news for everyone," Simon wished he'd made a better start of it as Taggert flinched and steeled himself, "There's no easy way to say this - though it is good news."

"Spit it out Simon," Taggert's voice was flat and tense.

"We were lied to," Simon rubbed his thumb on the edge of the table, "Sandburg's diagnosis was grossly incorrect - and he was misdiagnosed on purpose."

Tears slipped down Taggert's face as his people began shouting and interrupting each other. Simon couldn't get them to quieten or let him finish as the storm of long suppressed anger and grief broke. In the end Simon was forced to put the tape on and crank the volume up.

"Stop scowling H - and someone hand Joel the tissues," the familiar voice cut through the din and Simon dropped the volume to normal when silence fell as if a switch had been thrown, "I'm sorry I couldn't t-tell you that I was ok s-sooner than this. B-by the t-time I was thinking straight I'd missed the window of opportunity. Simon was supposed to tell you that I'm fine and I am - I'll be seeing you in only a few days and you can judge for yourselves. W-we'll have p-poker night at the l-loft, ok? I w-want to thank you all for your s-support and h-help. I know this h-has been a bad sh-shock, I h-hope y-you c-can forg-give me."

Taggert nodded thanks for the tissues that were slid down the table to him and Brown grinned in delight at hearing the voice of his friend.

"He's stuttering!" Rafe's exclamation sounded indignant, and Simon concealed a smile.

"It's from the bronchitis. He caught a cold from the hospice - it was making the rounds - and he got wet afterwards hiking in the forest on his way back from an appointment. He's slightly aphasic, but the meds and being tired make things worse. First thing in the morning when he's properly awake you can't even tell," Simon sat down, the tape in front of him, "He's almost a hundred percent again."

"It's a miracle," Taggert straightened his shoulders, stuffing the used tissues in his pocket. He'd always had a soft spot for the young man who'd helped him get over his job related stress so long ago.

"No," Simon vetoed, "It's the result of Sandburg's blood, sweat and tears in daily therapy sessions. He was never as badly hurt as we thought - in fact the original injury wouldn't have damaged him at all. Sandburg's doctor suspects he was being used for illegal drug trials, and then they gave him enough drugs to alter his brain chemistry so he'd present the symptoms of severe brain damage that we were told about. Jim's father had some people investigate the whole thing. They think they've got the evidence they need to put these people away - including the original manufacturer of the drug. Funnily enough the doctors think that the trial was for a new medication to help someone with epilepsy control the condition. They were trying it on people without the condition to see if there were any side effects. There were other victims - three of which have since died and the fourth is in the hospice now, receiving treatment."

There was silence as the people in this room took all this in. They were smart enough to follow the chain of events, realizing that to breach security and inform them of Blair's recovery could have also alerted the people responsible.

"So, when are the arrests happening?" Brown leaned forward, an evil glint in his eyes.

"During the hearing tomorrow. Most of the players will be picked up out of town, but there's one still here in Cascade. We'll get him at the hearing. I know we can depend on you for back up."

"What's the plan?" the glint had spread around the table and Rafe leaned forward too. Simon smiled and started laying it all out for them.

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

The hearing was difficult from the start. As well as the lawyers that Simon had hired there was an additional group from William Ellison's firm and a representative from the DA - though the last person was sitting very demurely at the end of the row and saying nothing.

Major Crimes was dotted around the room - most of them near the exits, just in case.

The hospital's legal team were all ready to jump in with both barrels blazing when Simon's lawyers made a simple request. They would discuss hospital liability in a moment, if first they could clarify exactly what the injuries to Sandburg were. They wanted Armstrong to get up on the stand and explain his diagnosis. After two hours of tedious wrangling Armstrong was brought in, put on the stand and asked to go over his diagnosis of Blair Sandburg, based on the hospital scans and reports from Blair's original file.

"Can you clarify for us the difference between a minor trauma and a major trauma on the scans, Doctor?"

Armstrong did, happily pointing out that a concussion would show up in different colors, placement and size on the scans. Major trauma tended to be brighter colors, with the edges of the trauma delineated in a spectrum.

"So according to the scans you say belong to Mr. Sandburg he has suffered a gross trauma, resulting in permanent, irreversible brain damage?"

The question made Armstrong look startled for a moment, and then he nodded and pointed out all the pertinent places on the scan, explaining what each one meant to the patient.

"Is it possible to get the charts mixed up?"

No, they were computer controlled and the printer was fed directly by the computer. Armstrong shifted uneasily. The lawyer then told the court that they'd had another doctor look at the damage showed in the scans, and it was her expert opinion that the scan did not belong to Blair Sandburg.

Armstrong, still on the stand, protested hotly - overriding the hospital's lawyers as he did - that he would swear on his doctorate that they were, and that he'd challenge anyone who said otherwise. Blair Sandburg was a vegetable - and he was one for what little time remained to him in whatever care facility he'd gone to.

At that point the defense lawyers demanded to speak to the other doctor, and the doors at the back opened.

Blair walked in quietly beside Tricia, with Jim a single step behind.

Case closed.

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

"So Armstrong was supervising the trials," Brown took a pull of his beer and looked around at the others in the loft. They'd never managed to get the cards out for poker night, preferring to sit and talk to their anthropologist.

"Uh huh," Jim nodded from where he leaned against Blair's legs. He was sitting at the young man's feet, supremely content.

"Hairboy - I've gotta tell ya. When you walked into that court room I felt like standing up and clapping," Rafe grinned at his friend and Blair smiled back quietly.

"No hard feelings?" he asked, glancing around and everyone shook their heads, several people toasting him silently in reply, "So, when Jim gets off leave, I'll be back too. I've got a thesis to finish."

"Thin blue line, huh?" Simon grinned and Blair rolled his eyes.

"The committee made me throw out the last thesis," he sighed and Jim sat up in alarm, "So I'm doing a slightly different one now. It's ok, though - this one won't be as difficult to write. It's got the ground work in place already."

Jim settled back. If he was reading his Guide right Blair had decided to do the 'closed society in law enforcement' thesis that they had sold to the brass so long ago. He'd given up on publishing his findings about a modern Sentinel, removing the final barrier between them. He grinned and rested a little more heavily against Blair's leg. A hand ghosted over his hair for a second as the people around them talked quietly.

It was all ok. Case most definitely closed.

End

SPOILER - the brain damage isn't real or permanent!

Author's note - I don't know anything about neurology, that's why this is fiction and I don't work as a brain surgeon!

Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Shedoc.

Back to Shedoc's page.