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.

Golden Moments

by Arianna

Missing Scenes and Epilogue to Blind Man's Bluff

Spoilers for Hear No Evil and Light My Fire

(Note: Language Warning)

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

There he goes, marching into Simon's office with our latest information on the constituents of Golden, and if I didn't know any better, I'd swear there was nothing wrong with him. Man, I really don't know how he does it. I mean, he's blind, for pity's sake, but does that stop my partner? Oh, no - he's out there dealing undercover, taking down snipers, romancing one of my friends from Rainier. I mean, he's a phenomenon, and I don't think he even thinks he's doing anything, like, extraordinary! Sigh. He amazes me and just plain blows me away. But…sometimes, he scares me, you know? He has so much faith in my ability to help him, to back him up. Man, when he went up alone on those meets with the drug producers, blind as a bat 'cause all he can see is golden light, I thought I'd have a heart attack, both times. Okay, I know I should have refused; should have stopped him, somehow. But he's like a force of nature. And, well, if he had to stop, had to deal with maybe being blind forever, it would eat him alive. He has to keep going, has to keep fighting the good fight, no matter what. It's who he is. So long as he's breathing, he'll be doing everything in his power to protect his tribe. Is it because he's a sentinel or is it just the way he is?

Probably a little of both.

I do my best to help him, protect him even, but, man, sometimes it's terrifying! The first time we met with those creeps, there we were in the middle of nowhere, and I'm backing him up with binoculars and a laser pointer, can you believe that? And the other guys are armed and definitely dangerous! Sheesh. I was so scared for him I could hardly breathe. And then, during the exchange meet to catch them in the act and arrest them, when that sniper broke up the bust by shooting at him? Well, I swear I forgot everything I ever knew about how to breathe. But Jim? Is he afraid? Uh-uh, no way. Not my Jim. He takes off after the sniper, yelling at me to give him directions to get the guy, and he takes him down! How incredible is that? I know he must feel fear - he's a human being after all, not some kind of comic book superhero - but it never stops him, never slows him down. He feels so bad for that kid, Lisa Hughes - I think he feels responsible for not being able to save her life, though he wouldn't ever admit it. Tough guys don't harp on their feelings, they just go out and kick ass. He's doing everything in his power to make damned sure no other kid dies from this new designer drug that is, like, really, really deadly stuff. People have visions, or something, and they think they're going to nirvana when they jump off dams or into molten vats of metal. Some visions. I just hope the payoff is that they really do wake up in Nirvana, or however they define Heaven. God, this Golden shit is bad news.

All Jim had to do was get some of that poison on his fingers and brush his nose unconsciously, and it blinded him. Almost instantly. I didn't know what to do, you know? God, I was scared and I could tell he was, too. My heart was in my throat the whole way home, where we flushed out his eyes, but that didn't help. It's not that he's blind in the traditional sense - he doesn't only see darkness. He sees swirling and flowing golden light, but he's blind, just the same. Well, sure, I got him to the hospital right away - he didn't want to go, wanted to just wait and see (no pun intended) if it would get better - either a bad case of classic denial or wishful thinking - but this was way beyond my capacity to help him and just too damned serious to play around with. So I dragged him out of the apartment, not that it did much good, as it turned out. The specialist says there's no physical reason for the blindness that he can tell from a superficial exam, but Jim wouldn't agree to check into the hospital for more tests. I know he feels driven to stay on this case, and I respect that, but I'm so worried about him. I mean…he could get killed so damn easily, and somehow he thinks my backup keeps him safe. Is he kidding? Well, yeah, sure, I'm armed and dangerous with my good old trusty laser pointer! State of the art, it is. God give me strength.

According to the doctor, the blindness is apparently psychological and may or may not ever get better, but I'm not certain that's what's happening here. I just don't believe that Jim would 'wish' himself blind, not even unconsciously. It's just not him, you know? And I cannot believe he'll never see again. I won't believe that. So, it has to be something else. I think his ultra-sensitive circuits got overloaded with the stuff; he can't even take off-the-shelf cough medicine without getting woozy and his vision going all spacey - God, he was hanging under a moving train at that point. Breathe, Sandburg. Ah, where was I, oh right - so it's not really surprising that the Golden has knocked him for a loop. I mean, it makes sense, right? He recovered, fairly quickly, from the benign (yeah, right) cough syrup and I sure hope this is, like, temporary, too. I guess all I can do is keep telling him he'll be okay, that he has to work on trying to see, to make the connections in his brain function again - but who am I to know that? I keep telling myself he'll be okay, but I'm so scared for him.

And, I know he's scared, too, even if he won't admit it and just keeps truckin' along. Whether he really believes in my theory of sensory overload or not, I don't know, but he's trying so hard to 'make the connections'. I wish there was something I could do to help him, besides try to teach him how to make the best use of his other senses to compensate, and give him hope. Oh, and back him up with my super-cool laser pointer. Ah, dammit - what if he never gets his vision back?

God, I don't even want to go there.

Man, he doesn't deserve this, not for trying so damned hard to do his job and protect innocent, or not so innocent people - I mean, there's a choice, right? People make the decision to buy and ingest that crap. It's not like they're forced or tricked into it. Not that they intend for it to drive them to suicide, but talk about being nuts. Why do people do that to themselves? I've seen it all my life, but I have never understood why people take risks like that with their minds and their lives. 'It's for fun', my Mom told me when I was a kid, not that she's done much more than toque up, which isn't so bad and could even be considered medicinal, or drop some acid, as scary as that is, but I just don't see the fun in maybe frying your brain or getting addicted to something that will only, ever, destroy your life. Not that I don't understand its use in some cultures, for vision quests and searches for knowledge and enlightenment, but they're using natural herbs and stuff, not some chemically cooked-up poison, and traditional vision quests are usually a whole lot better controlled and guided than some kids popping junk into their mouths, or inhaling a line of coke, or mainlining to get a buzz or a high or whatever. Being alive is an adventure! Okay, so life sucks for some people, maybe a lot of people, but getting whacked out on drugs doesn't make anything any better. Ever.

Anyway, I'm rambling, I guess. I do that when I'm nervous, even when I'm just talking to myself. Wow, great insight, Sandburg. Shit. I'm half out of my mind with worry and Jim's in there with Simon, taking care of business just like always, trying to get a handle on how we might track down the manufacturers of the 'illegal substance'. There're enough rare chemicals in the drug compound that we might be able to isolate suppliers or labs that have sold or bought the stuff. Maybe when they're done, we can take a bit of a break and get some lunch. Everyone else headed out a while ago, and I'm starving. Being nervous also makes me hungry. Like that's news. Get a grip.

Ah, wait. What's this? A huge delivery of pizza? Right on! Talk about timing. And from the Mayor? Well, it's about time he started to acknowledge the fine work of the people in Major Crime. Sure, sure, he's given out a few medals, and that's great as a form of psychic reimbursement - means a lot to the guys and gals who put their lives on the line everyday - but you can't eat medals, you know? A spontaneous reward like this, just to let them know they're appreciated, is really special, too. Too bad the delivery couldn't have been a little earlier, before everyone headed out. Would have been nice if the Mayor had thought to include a tip for the delivery guy, too, but nobody's perfect, right? I guess it's the thought that counts.

Sure smells good, and did I mention that I'm starving???? Ah, one slice wouldn't be so bad, would it? I help out here, so I can enjoy a little appreciation, too, right? And I did tip the guy. Should be worth one measly piece of pizza. I mean, I don't even get paid - not that I'm complaining. I wouldn't trade the time I get to spend with Jim on the job, helping him, sometimes making a difference to the case but mostly just backing him up, for anything in this world, even if I am scared out of my wits half the time. Truth be told, I'd probably pay them to let me do this, I really would. Not sure how I'd afford it, but I'd find a way. Working with Jim is, well, it's my life's dream, you know? And, well…he's my best friend. The best I've ever had, so of course I'll be here for him. Always, if that's what he wants or needs. Haven't told him that. Would sound too mushy. But that's the way it is.

Mmm, good, really good. Hits the spot, that's for sure. Man, I was hungry. I wonder if anybody'd mind if I stole another piece?

WHOA! What was THAT? Something flickering by the elevator, like the metal doors are on fire…shit… ohmygod! They're people! On fire! Wait, what? I can't…Jesus, they're…they're fire people! Coming up from the basement! Like they escaped from Hell or something. They're evil, I can tell by the way they're leering and…I have to do something! I can't let them near Jim - he wouldn't be able to see them, and they'd consume him! Kill him!

Oh, looks like they know I've spotted them and they've disappeared back into the elevator, probably going back to get others, so they can take over, you know? Kill everyone in the building and then attack people on the street. Innocent people, man. I can't let that happen! I have to…have to stop them. Kill them first, before they annihilate everyone. I can do this. I can. I have to! I can't let them get back up here - they'd get Jim. But how…wait. Jim's backup service revolver! It's here…right here in the drawer. Where the hell… okay, I've got it! I'll head them all off downstairs, before they can do any damage. Not much to burn in the concrete basement. If I hurry, there's a chance. No time to call for help. Besides, Jim would want to go after them, and I can't let him take the risk. It's too dangerous, man. I can't…I have to…I have to do this. If I take the elevator down, it'll block the shaft and they won't be able to get up through it - and I'll trap them in the garage. Maybe I can get help down there. Maybe some cops are already fighting them off.

Come on, come on…why does this elevator have to take so damned long! Okay, finally…got to stop them! I can't, can't let them get upstairs. Have to make a stand.

But they're everywhere! The floor's hot and they're coming right through it. I need higher ground. If they get me, I won't be able to stop them. Ashes that are alive, man, stalking us, wanting to…wanting to envelop us! They need our energy to keep burning! Oh, man, they're coming through the walls now. I have to stop them! There's so many of them! Sneaking all around me, hiding behind some of the cars. Oh, God, I don't know if I can do this on my own. I think they'll get me, but I have to try. I have to try!

Take that, you monster! Devil's spawn! And that! Oh, yeah, you're all scared now. Good. Go back to Hell where you belong! I can see you! You can't hide from me! I won't let you get past me to the door! No way, man. You'll have to take me down first!

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

What the hell is that? Smells sharp and metallic, and it leaves a harsh chemical aftertaste in my mouth. Wait a minute - I know that smell! It's Golden! One hell of a lot of Golden! And it's on my desk! What the… oomph, what's the desk drawer doing open? What? It's on pizza? Those bastards! From what I can smell, there's enough Golden on the food to kill everyone in the Unit!

A piece missing? Someone has eaten some of that shit? Oh my God. Where's Sandburg? And my backup .38 - it's gone!

What? The garage? Damn it, I HATE not being able to see, having to be led around. I don't have time for this shit. What's happened to Sandburg? God, if he ate that pizza, that stuff'll kill him!

Distant popping sounds - gun shots! - will we ever get to the bottom of these endless flights of steps? Blair's shouting. He sounds… scared. Really scared. What the hell is happening? All I can think of is that poor kid, Lisa, and the euphoric look on her face until she disappeared into the raging rush of water. No time to think about that now. He won't die! He can't.

More shots and I smell gasoline. Who'd be shooting up the garage when there's gas flooding out of - Sandburg? Oh my God. And they're going to shoot him??? NO WAY! No fucking way are they going to hurt that kid, not if I can help it!

Yeah, I know it's nuts to walk towards him - that damned drug makes people crazy. But he won't hurt me - Blair would never hurt me. I know that as surely as I know the sun will rise every morning. I'd stake my life on that. Guess that's exactly what I'm doing. Betting my life that my partner and best friend won't kill me, no matter how much that crap is screwing with his head.

Golden fire people? Oh, great, no wonder he's shooting at them. I have got to get that weapon away from him! God, he's so scared…so scared. His voice is quaking and breaking. And his heartbeat is skipping like a trip hammer.

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

Jim? Jim's here? What's he doing here? I wanted him upstairs, safe. But, it's okay, right? I've got things under control. They won't hurt him. I won't let them. They'd have to take me out first. I've got it covered, right?

Who'm I kidding? They're all over, man! More of 'em all the time. They just keep coming and coming through the floor and the walls. Evil. Pure evil. And I can't…I can't make them go away! I'm trying, God, I'm trying so hard, but they aren't scared of me. Not like I'm scared of them. They're all around me, dancing and taunting me. Jesus, they're horrible things to look at. All black ash and hot fire, but alive! Coming from everywhere. Too many of them. I can't… can't stop them.

I'm losing it here, man. I can't stop them. And they'll kill Jim, everyone… they'll…

What? Bat echo trick? No. No, that won't work? Will it? But Jim, he's smart, man. And brave. So brave. He can't even see and here he is, trying to help me fight them off. How does anyone get to be that brave? I wanted… wanted to protect him. But I failed, didn't I? 'Cause he had to come down here and stop them himself. He's a hero, you know? A real hero.

He says they're eating the energy from my gun, from the bullets. Oh, God! Is that true? Have I only made everything worse? Oh, I'm sorry…I wanted to…wanted to stop them, not make more of them! But Jim, he knows. I should've, should've told him right away. I just screwed everything up here. Made it worse. Gave the golden fire people more power.

But Jim says, he says we can still stop them. If I give him the gun so I can clap my hands like he was doing - we can destroy them. I trust him, you know? Trust him with my life, 'cause he's, well, he's amazing. It's his job to save lives and he does. He does every day.

Good thing he showed up when he did. I don't feel so good. Everything's closing in on me here, and I can hardly…hardly breathe, you know? Like they sucked up all the oxygen with their fire.

Jim says I did it, that I stopped them, drove them away…guess I did, but only 'cause he told me how. It's all getting dark now. No more fire people. Just…darker and…darker.

Thank God.

And Jim.

Even blind, he's a better, braver man than I'll ever be. I mean, he's the one helping me now, right? 'Cause I feel so dizzy and I can't hardly breathe. Helping me down, before I fall down…

I'm sorry I screwed up. I tried… I tried…

He sounds so far away, but I can just barely hear him.

"Hang in there. It's all right."

But he's the one hanging on.

He's hanging onto me. Real tight.

Holding me so they can't come back and take me away with them. Protecting me. Keeping me safe.

Like always…

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

When he was clapping his hands, he sounded uncoordinated and weak. Nearly fell off the hood of the vehicle and just collapsed into my arms. Apologizing, for God's sake, his voice breaking with despair. As if any of this was his fault.

Ah, Chief, I can smell your tears.

Simon's yelling for a medic, but it'll take time for the EMTs to get here. How much time do we have? Damn, his breathing sounds bad, as if he's too exhausted to pull in air. And I don't like the sound of his heart. It's beating 'way too fast and starting to hitch and skip. God DAMN that Golden crap and the bastards who did this! I'll tear them apart if he…no, I won't go there. He's going to be all right.

He has to be all right.

He feels so cold… must be going into shock. I've got to keep him warm!

"Get me a blanket!"

His breathing is so faint; I can barely hear it. He feels so small, so vulnerable. How can somebody who can fill a room with his energy, and light up the whole damned city with his smile feel so…fragile? God, his heart sounds like a bird fluttering desperately, terrified, trying to get free, like it could burst from his chest.

Oh, shit. SHIT! He's hardly breathing at all anymore!

"Simon! Help me here! I'm losing him!"

Breathe, damn it. Please, God, Blair - breathe! His heart's going bad, he's not getting enough air. Damned drug is killing him!

C'mon, Chief. Don't do this. Don't let go. C'mon. Okay, okay. I'll breathe for you. Does that help, kid? Tell me it helps.

No! No! I won't stop, dammit! I don't care if there's still Golden on his lips or in his mouth! He's dying here! Stop trying to pull me away and do something to help me!

Good. Great. Can you feel that, kid? Simon - he's making your heart go. We're not going to lose you! You HEAR me, Sandburg? We won't let you go!

I won't let you go.

Where the hell are the EMTs? What's taking so fucking long?

Damn, I wish I could see you, Chief. I can't hear you. You've gone too silent. I can smell you and touch you; even taste you. But I want so bad to be able to see you. And hear you. C'mon, Blair, buddy - breathe!

Okay, that's it. Yeah, that's good. Your heart's going again. Yeah, yeah…breathe, uh huh. Like that. Jesus, you scared me, you know that? Don't DO that!

Finally! Okay, okay, I'm moving. Get the oxygen going. Hurry it up, will ya? C'mon. I'm going with him; you got that? So, let's just go, already!

Ah, Sandburg, your hand's so cold. You're still scaring me here. Please, Blair, please… I wish to hell that I could see you. The damned siren's so loud, I can't hear you. Chief? You're still with me, right? Chief…don't let go.

Right, fine, I'll wait out here. Just…just do something for him. Help him. I don't want to lose him, you know? I…please, help him. Don't let him die.

It's torture, having to sit out here and just listen to them, what they're saying, not being able to help. Brain damage? Oh, dear God, no, not that. God, you can't…can't destroy that brilliant mind! This wasn't his fault! He didn't deserve this, doesn't deserve to be so hurt. He's a good kid, you know? A good man. He's decent and brave. God, please…I love him. Anything. I'll give anything; do anything. Just…let him be okay. Please.

Ah, no, dammit! He's not breathing! Do something! Right, okay, a respirator, yeah, that'll work. Keep him going until the damned drug is out of his system, or at least enough so he can breathe on his own. Damn it, I hate being stuck out here in the waiting room. Useless. I feel so fucking useless.

They're moving him to Intensive Care. Just let them try to stop me from sitting with him! I don't care about their damned rules. I know they couldn't do much in the ER, just kept him breathing, and gave him some drugs to try to counter the drugs in his system. I heard all that. Heard how it might take hours, even days, for that shit to work its way through his system. And until it does, they won't know if…if he's really going to be okay. He was so scared. If…when he wakes up, I don't want him to be alone. With that tube in his mouth, he won't be able to talk, ask questions. It'll drive him nuts. I have to be there, to tell him everything's okay, so he'll rest and get better.

I hate him to be so frightened, like he was in the garage. He tries to be so brave, to be there for me, no matter what. I know sometimes he's terrified to his boots. I can hear it in his heartbeat and respirations; sometimes I can even smell his fear. But he never lets it stop him. Ever. I've never known anybody like him, you know? He's…unique. Completely unique. Not like anybody else in the whole world. He says I'm special. Tells me that all the time. But I think he's the special one. He's the one with all the answers, who makes sense of things. Who figures out what I need, or need to do, to manage these crazy senses. But he's not a cop. Hasn't got a clue about how to defend himself. No. That's not true. Okay, so he doesn't use a gun or his fists, not often anyway. But he'll use anything that comes to hand to help me if I'm in trouble. A flare gun. A baseball. A paperweight. He's sure no coward. I still can't believe how he got on the bus with the Switchman and tried to call it in, when I was too far away to do any good. Or how he faced up to Kincaid. Or Lash. Or…so damned many psychos and murderous creeps. Too many. I must be nuts, a certified lunatic - or a criminal one - to always be dragging him into such danger.

But…I need you, Chief. You know that, don't you, Sandburg? That's why you won't let me go off alone. You won't leave me alone now, will you? Nah, you wouldn't do that.

Your hand's still cold, Chief. And you're so still. You're hardly ever still. Always moving. Enough energy to power the state.

I wish you'd wake up.

I wish I could see you.

Wait…he's getting restless, moaning…

"Easy, Blair, shhh, easy."

Damn, I think he's still haunted by those Golden fire people. Probably thinks he should have been able to stop them, like anyone can stop Golden once it takes hold. Just have to wait it out.

"Ah, Chief, don't cry. You got them, honest. You won, buddy. Shhh, just rest."

Like you can rest with that crap screwing with your mind. I'm sorry, Chief. So sorry. Why didn't I take you with me when I went to talk to Simon? There was no reason not to. Just wasn't thinking - never imagined you'd be in any kind of danger in the bullpen, for God's sake. I hate those bastards for making this poison and putting it on the street just so they can get rich. But this - this was a deliberate attempt to murder cops. I'm going to take them down, Sandburg. I promise you that. They won't hurt anybody else.

I wish they hadn't hurt you. And you're not even a cop. Not anybody they would have been targeting. They wanted to get to me. How the hell did they figure out who I was and where I work so damned quick? Not that it matters, I guess. Face it, Ellison, you're just worrying about stuff that doesn't matter a damn because you're scared Sandburg might not…can't even say it, can you? Not even to yourself. Jesus, he just has to be okay. I never wanted him hurt. Never. I figured I could protect him. Yeah, right, like you protected him from being shot by the Iceman, after you'd set him up to go undercover. Are you certifiably insane? He could have been killed! Or, how about the way you protected him from damned near being blown up by the bomb on that rig a few weeks ago? Okay, so nobody could have known what was going down. You still drag him into danger every other day - he's a civilian, for God's sake! Hardly more than a kid!

"Shh, Chief. You're gonna be okay. You did good, Blair. Real good."

Ah, geez, he just keeps fading in and out, and whimpering, thrashing around, as if he's trapped in Hell. Tears me up inside.

He did do good, though, didn't he? Sure, the fire people aren't real, but he didn't know that. He went on his own to try to defend us all from them. That took real guts. Just like it did to stay on that rig and find the bomb, knowing he could be killed. And to risk drawing out the Iceman…and to face down Lash and Kincaid. All times when he had to figure he was toast. God, he's brave. He doesn't seem to realize it, though. Just seems to figure that anyone would do what he does, if push came to shove. Yeah, sure. Anybody'd hang around with a guy who chases down bad guys with guns for a living. Anybody'd give up all their spare time - shit, sleep time - to sit on stakeouts or fly to Peru 'cause friends were in trouble. To back me up. Smart ass kid. Talks a mile a minute and bounces around like an Energizer Bunny revved up on steroids and speed. Big innocent eyes and shit-eating grin. But underneath all that? There's the purest, finest, strongest steel. He's got to be the most stubborn person I've ever met, for all he makes like he's the easiest going guy in the world. Sure doesn't let me get away with shit. But…he backs me up. Even when he's scared. He never quits on me. Believes in me, more than I believe in myself.

I'd give anything to have spared him this. The doctor says he might even suffer flashbacks, for God knows how long. I hope the Doc's wrong. I just want him to wake up and tell me everything's okay. He said that he figures my blindness is only temporary, that the effects won't last. I want to, have to, believe him - not just because I want to see again. God, do I want that. Scares me to think I'll only ever see this golden haze for the rest of my life. But, mostly, I want him to be right about my eyes, about the effects of the drug being temporary, 'cause that means it would only be temporary in his case, too. If he's right, then he will get better. Soon. I hope.

I don't even want to think about how massive the dose was that he got from that pizza. The worst of it is over. Has to be over. It nearly killed him…but it didn't. The machine might be breathing for him now, but at least he's breathing. It's just for a while, until the worst effects of the drug wear off. He'll be breathing on his own again soon. I hope. Ah, geez, he's moaning again, and thrashing, fighting…

"No, no, Blair. Don't fight, okay? They're gone, buddy. Shh. You beat them. I'm here and you're going to be fine. No, don't pull at the tube. Just rest, Chief. Shh. That's it, kid. Rest. Just rest."

Damn drug! He's still so scared. I think he thinks he failed somehow and the fire people won. I hate this!

I want the bastards who did this to him. And killed that young girl, Lisa.

I want them bad.

And I'll get them if it's the last thing I do.

Simon's right. I'm not doing much good here. I don't think Sandburg even realizes I'm here, the brief bits of time he's even semi-aware. And I can't stand doing nothing, just sitting here listening to that machine breathing for him. It's driving me nuts. They say he won't come out of it for hours. I hate to leave him… but I need to get the creeps who did this. I need to make sure they never hurt anybody again.

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

Oh, God. They're here, all around me! I can't breathe - my throat is on fire! They're inside of me! Oh, man, I failed. I couldn't stop them…

Jim! Where's Jim? I know he was close. I was sure I heard him. But - did they get him? Did he d-die to protect me? Oh, please, no. Please, God. Not Jim.

No no no no no…please…

Jim? Oh, man. Please don't be dead.

I couldn't stand it if you were dead. I…couldn't.

Jim? Where are you, man?

He wouldn't leave me alone with the fire people. I know he wouldn't. Not unless…maybe he had to go save other people? Oh, God, I hope that's it. It's okay if he left me alone. Just let him be alive.

Jim?

Please, oh, please. Somebody tell me he's okay! Somebody? Anybody? I HATE these damned fire people! I want, want to annihilate them! If they killed Jim, I swear, I'll follow them into Hell and make them pay for all eternity! Don't - what - holding me down. I can't do the trick, Jim! The bat echo trick? The one you showed me? I can't…my hands…I can't clap them! They're holding me down! Burning me up.

Jim? Oh, man. Jim?

I have to find him. Have to know he's okay. Why can't I move, dammit? What…I can't talk, can't move. Shit! The damned fire people've burned me into the ground and…and I can't find him. What if he needs me? Oh, God, help me. I have to find him. Have to…

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

Oh, man, listen to that. Elevator isn't even at the floor yet and I can hear some poor bastard grunting and keening in distress and despair. Don't know how the staff can stand it, dealing with such pain and anguish on a regular basis. Give me a fast pursuit or an armed perp any day rather than have to hear that kind of suffering.

Wonder how Sandburg is doing? At least I'll be able to see him - golden halo and all, I guess, but better than it's been for too long. I hope he's starting to come out of it.

Keening is getting louder…sounds like…oh, God! It's Sandburg!

Sonofabitch! They've got him tied down! Who the hell was stupid enough…!

"Easy, Chief! Blair! Please - it's okay! Hey, hey…don't, ah, don't fight so hard, relax, buddy. Shhh, I'll get you free. Just…just give me a minute here, kid. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left you alone. I'm so damned sorry!"

Poor kid. That respirator's got to hurt and being tied down and left alone has scared the shit out of him. Can't imagine what's been going through his head. Goddamn it! I know they're short-staffed around here, but how could they leave him like that? How could they listen to his suffering and not do something or be here with him?

I should have been here. Shouldn't have left him. He's looking at me like he's not sure I'm real. I've never seen such fear in his eyes. Touching him seems to be helping, though. Yeah, holding his hand, stroking his forehead…he's staring at me, and making soft whimpering sounds, like he's afraid to blink or I might disappear again or something.

"I'm here, really here, Chief. You can relax, okay? I know the visions are scary, and it's hard to tell what's real and what isn't, but I'm real. I'm real and I'm not going to go anywhere. I promise. Ah, please don't cry, Blair. Shh, everything's gonna be all right."

Okay, he's calming down, even though he keeps darting his gaze around fitfully, probably checking to see if the fire people are going to ambush us, or something.

"The fire people aren't real, Chief. You hear me? Understand me? Just nod. Okay, good. You got dosed with Golden when you ate some pizza - remember the pizza? No? That's okay. Everything's going to be all right. You just need to rest a bit more. We got the bastards, Blair. They won't hurt you or anyone else again. Shh…close your eyes, buddy. Don't be afraid. I won't let anyone hurt you. That's it…just sleep, kid. I'll be right here."

Thank God, I think he's slipped off to sleep, for a while, anyway. I don't know what was worse, hearing that terrible keening and finding him struggling so desperately against the restraints, or seeing the haunted look in his eyes as he gripped my hand so hard and wept when he finally realized I'm really here. Jesus, he looked so scared, almost crazed with fear. What was he thinking? Imagining? Why was he trying so hard to get loose? Did he think the fire people were going to burn him? Damned drug!

I'm glad I helped bring those bastards down - but I wish I hadn't left him. I just never thought…

But I'm here now. And here's where I'm staying until that damned tube is out of his mouth and he knows he's okay.

Until I know he's okay.

His forehead still feels cold; so does his hand. Must be a blanket around here, somewhere. He's got enough to deal with, without being cold. Poor kid. I really hate seeing him suffer like this. Hurts…inside, it hurts. Don't know when I last felt like this…I guess when my guys were dead or dying after we got blown out of the sky. Or when Danny died. I guess that's the last time I felt this…this ache. Like I just want to…to make all his pain go away.

God, I love this kid. Chokes me up, seeing him suffer. When did his pain become mine? When he followed me out of that plane over Peru? And I saw him squirming with that lizard in his pants? God, he just looked so damned young, you know? Dirt all over his face and leaves tangled in his hair. Afraid of heights and he jumps out of an airplane rather than let me head out into the jungle alone - in case I needed him. I've never known such personal loyalty - or downright courage. He said it's about friendship, him and me. Was that when I first felt a twist inside? When he told me I was more than a research paper to him? I know I felt it, was scared shitless, when I found him down, in that hotel room after Zeller had shot him. Jesus, if I got him killed, I'd never forgive myself. Never. When did I know I really needed him in my life? Not just for the senses, dammit. But for himself? Because he's so damned special. So full of life and enthusiasm and a weird kind of innocence - like he knows damned well that there's evil in the world, but he still honestly believes that good will triumph. I need that - need to know all the crap I deal with every day isn't all there is in this world. Need to know that fighting back against the darkness makes a real difference. Need him, to ground me, to give me hope. Yeah, I remember when I first realized that. It was when I thought that bomb was going to take the rig to the bottom of the ocean, and I couldn't do anything, not a damned thing, but count down the seconds until he was gone, and feel like I was going to die, too.

He looks so young now, too. So pale and vulnerable, that damned tube still breathing for him. Surely they'll be taking it out soon. His heart's better, stronger. He seemed alert, sort of, for a while there, anyway. I need to hear him talk. I need to know his mind is okay, not damaged by that shit. I need to know he's okay.

God, he's got to be okay.

I wonder if he's got a fine clue of how I feel about him? Of how much I need him? And want him in my life? Imagine that. How the mighty have fallen. Ellison the loner actually wants another living soul sharing his personal space. An intrusive, noisy, rambunctious, often babbling other soul who is as stubborn as the day is long and … and who really cares about me. Friends. Yeah, we're friends, all right. He's the best friend I've ever had. Don't know what I ever did to deserve him. Knowing Sandburg, he'd say I earned it in another life. Must have. Sure didn't earn it in this one.

He really believes all that mystical psychic shit. Guess there's something to it. I'm the one who sees visions of a jaguar that isn't there. But…I can't imagine what he ever did in this life or any other to deserve to suffer this. Corny, I guess, but I just think his soul is too…luminous…to have that kind of bad karma. Fact is, shit happens. No reason. Just does.

Wish it didn't have to happen to him.

Oh, great! They're going to take the tube out. Means he's getting better. Stronger. He'll be glad to be able to talk the next time he wakes up. Being muzzled has to be torture for him.

Sure wish he'd wake up. Really wake up. I want to see those eyes light up with awareness and intelligence. I want to see him smile again. Even just a small smile. 'Cause, well, when he smiles, I know everything's all right with the world; my world, anyway.

God, I better make damned sure he never knows what kind of sappy things I think when I'm worried about him.

I'd never hear the end of it.

C'mon, Chief. Wake up…

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

Oh, owww. Hurts. Like I got hit by a Mac truck, and like somebody tried to rip my throat out. What are the odds of those two things happening at the same time? Who's moaning? Oh…I think it's me. How embarrassing. Shit. Guess I should open my eyes and figure out where I am and what the hell happened. Only, feels like they're glued shut. Maybe…maybe I should just roll over and go back to sleep. Must be a bad dream or something. Nightmare, actually. About hideous, terrifying fire people? And shooting at them? But only the 'bat echo trick' worked against them. Very weird. I mean, 'bat echo trick'? What is that?

Uh…is that Jim? Talking to me? He sounds hoarse. Worried. Almost scared. Nah. Jim doesn't get scared - he gets mad instead. But…he really sounds anxious. Wonder if his senses…

Guess I'd better wake up. Oh, don't want to. Really don't want to. Hurts. Oh, good, be pathetic. C'mon, already! Get a grip and open your eyes. Jim's calling you. God. Jim. What if…what if the blindness is getting worse!

"Jim?"

"Easy, Chief. I'm right here."

"You…you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm just fine. You're the one in rough shape, Blair."

Blair? Not 'Junior' or 'Sandburg'. I must be in 'rough shape'. And he does look worried, really worried. Maybe I was hit by a semi. What's goin' on?

"Uh…wha' happen'd?"

"Don't worry about that now, okay? Here. I've got some ice. It'll help your throat."

"Mmmm. T'anks, man. S'good."

Where am I? Hospital? What'm I doing in a hospital? And Jim - he looks wrecked. Totally exhausted.

And why does everything have a gold tinge to it? Wait - what's that in the corner. Oh God! It wasn't a nightmare! They're real!

"Jim! Look out! Fire people - in the corner!"

"Shh…they're not real, Blair. NOT real."

"But…"

"Trust me, Chief, please? You got dosed with Golden - down at the office. There was some pizza that was laced with it. But you're going to be okay."

Golden? Not real? They sure in hell look real. Scare the crap out of me. But if Jim says… pizza? Yeah… I remember, I think. Bunch of boxes, from the Mayor. Guess they weren't from the Mayor after all, huh? Brilliant, Sandburg. Keep this up and you might be ready to reason your way out of a paper bag sometime soon.

But…OH SHIT!

"I was shooting at them! In the garage! Oh, man! TELL me I didn't hurt anybody!"

"No, no, you didn't hurt anyone, Blair. Take it easy, calm down. It's alright."

"All right? How can shooting up the PD be all right? Geez, they'll think I'm a user! Or a nut case!"

Like a lot of them didn't already think that. This would only confirm their bad opinion. I shot up the Cascade PD parking garage! I'll never live that down. Oh, God. What was I thinking? How could I do something like that!

"Easy, buddy, easy. Nobody thinks that, Chief. Everyone knows you were a victim of a plot to murder everyone in MCU."

"M-murder? But…everybody's okay, right?"

"There was enough Golden on those pizzas to kill us all ten times over, but you were the only one hurt."

"Oh. Guess we all got lucky then, huh?"

"Not all of us, buddy. You've, uh, you've been pretty out of it."

"How long? I mean, when did I…"

"Two days ago, Chief."

Two days??? Man, I feel wasted and those damned fire people are still dipping in and out of the wall, and they are like, truly petrifying. I won't look at them; I'll just pretend they don't exist until they disappear forever. They are NOT real! I wonder if I have such horrible hallucinations - as opposed to the alluring, beautiful imagery others experienced - because of the whopping big dose of Golden that garnished that pizza? Whatever. At least I ended up trying to kill the illusions and not myself. It scares me sick, though, to think how easily I might have hurt, or God forbid, killed someone. It's a wonder they didn't shoot me! I can't think about all that right now. Way too scary; worse than the fire people themselves. Don't look at them! They aren't real! Just hallucinations! Oh, man. I'll just look at Jim. That's it. Yeah. If I can't see them, they aren't there, right? God, they're hideous. Don't think about them. They aren't real. Oh, man, I am SO tired and every muscle in my body is screaming at me and, from the look of my partner, I'm not the only one who is hurting. Jim really does look wrecked, and I don't think it's just the effect of the golden haze making him appear sick and sallow. And the look in his eyes, like he's been suffering so bad. But, then, he has been, hasn't he? Damn stuff blinded him. But…wait. He's…he's looking right at me! Like he can actually see me! Oh, thank God!

"You can see!"

"Yeah, better anyway. Still a bit hazy, but it's coming back."

"That's great, man! Really, really GREAT!"

Now if those fire people would just take a hike, life would be wonderful. So…why does Jim look like he might start crying any minute now? Must be the golden haze. Jim doesn't cry.

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

Ah, man, look at him. Scared out of his mind. The way his eyes keep shifting to the corner behind me and from the sharp fear in them, I can tell he's still seeing those damned fire people. And, he's hurting; he's trying not to show it, but he winces when he moves. Pale as a ghost, too.

And he's still so incredibly happy, smiling broadly with boundless joy, to know I'm okay.

"Yeah, it's great, Chief. But it'll be even better once you're well again, too."

Wonderful. You'd think I'd be able to keep my voice from cracking. Now he's peering at me, worried something's wrong.

"You're going to be fine, Blair. The stuff just needs to work out of your system."

Who'm I reassuring? Him or me? Take a breath, Ellison. Don't lose it now. It's just that…I'm so glad, you know? So achingly glad he's awake and alert. I was…scared. So scared. He was unconscious for so long. Damn, my chest is so tight I can hardly breathe, and what is with this lump in my throat? He's going to be okay. Really. He's fine, will be fine.

"You sure you're okay, Jim? You look really beat, man. Maybe you should go home and get some rest."

Still taking care of me, even while he's cutting quick looks to the corner and trying not to cringe. His words say, 'go home' - but the look in his eyes says, 'please stay'.

"I'm fine, Chief. I'll just, uh, pull up a chair and stay for a while if it's all the same to you. Why don't you close your eyes and get a little more sleep, okay? I'll be right here."

"Close my eyes? Uh, yeah, good idea. Thanks, man. I…I'll try to sleep."

His forehead is still so cold, and his hand. It's the fear. He's still shocky. But his strength is coming back. He's sure got a lock on my hand. That's okay. It's good to know that me being here makes him feel safe. Safe enough to shut his eyes and not keep checking on the fire people behind me. What kind of trust is that? He can see them, but 'cause I say they aren't real, he's trying to believe that. Ah, good. He's settling into sleep. Best thing for him right now.

Trusts me enough to just let go and rest.

Trusts me.

I wonder why? I know why I trust him. So many reasons, really. Couldn't handle these damned senses without him. Don't know how, but he never fails to come up with what I need, when I need it. And he proved the first day and too many times since that he'll put his life on the line to keep me safe. God, you'd think he was the cop - he's so protective of me. Takes too many risks. I need to watch that. Forget too often. Too easy to take him for granted 'cause he's so inventive and resilient that nothing much seems to faze him for long. But he's not a cop and - well, I hate it when he gets hurt. Hate myself for not taking better care of him.

He'd never knowingly or willfully hurt me. Even that damned Golden couldn't screw up his head enough to let that happen. He's the only person I've ever known who consciously tries not to hurt me. For all that he bounces around, talking a mile a minute, there's something calming about him. Maybe it's his voice. Maybe that open, candid gaze? The way he focuses his whole being on me when I need his help? Ah, hell, I don't know. He makes me laugh. Makes me feel good. Blows me away sometimes with his crazy, off the wall ideas - but they work. I have no clue how that brain of his does what it does. It's like a human computer, everything he ever learned or heard or saw filed away for easy access, like he's on constant search mode, correlating and synthesizing information, finding obscure links. Wonder if all geniuses are the same?

I guess he trusts me 'cause I push him out of the way of bullets, more times than I like to think about. He's fascinated by my senses, but he trusts me. Even asleep, he's still holding tight to my hand, like it reassures him to know I'm close by.

He said, not too long ago, that it's about friendship. And I guess it is.

God, I love this kid. I don't know what I'd do if anything ever happened to him, anything that couldn't be fixed. It's bad enough seeing him suffering like this.

Jesus, I hope this Golden shit doesn't haunt him.

Hope he won't suffer flashbacks.

I just want him to be okay.

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

Man, it is like SO good to be going home! It's not that the nurses and everyone aren't nice - some of 'em are very nice! But, uh, like they say, there is no place like home. Yeah, sure, I'm still a bit shaky and everything is still a lovely tinge of gold, but it's getting better. I think the fire people are gone for good. Sure hope so, anyway. Man, they were ug-ly. And downright terrifying. That Golden is some scary shit. Really sucks, man.

Still can't believe I shot up the parking garage. Simon coming in to see me, and telling me nobody holds it against me, helped. H making a joke of it helps even more. Ah, well. Just another thing to chalk up to that weird Sandburg kid; never know what stunt he's going to pull next, right? Right.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Home. Goin' home. Jim'll be here any minute. He's been so great, but he still looks tired. I think he must've stayed with me for the whole time I was out of it. I'm pretty sure he'll rest better once I'm home. And how neat is that? That he worries about what happens to me and likes to know I'm good. Luckiest day of my life was when I found him. He likes to pretend he's a tough guy, but I've got his number. He's a marshmallow inside. Well, maybe that's overstating things, just a little - more like a friendly Doberman, dangerous, but careful of his friends and those who need his protection. He's good to me, that's for sure. Blows me away how much he seems to care what happens to me. Never had a friend like him before. Yep, I'm a lucky guy. Reeaallll lucky.

God, it'll be good to be home.

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

I'm glad to have him home, that's for damned sure. Still looks too pale for my liking, though, despite the golden glow I see around everything. And he's still more concerned with how my eyes are than saying anything about how he's doing. Hell, he's the one who almost died! What?

Margaret's here?

Are you kidding me? Tonight? Chief, you just got home! I'm not sure I'm ready for this. I mean, what if she's … Sandburg's right, that shouldn't matter. I like her; I already know that. Wait, wait, I'm not sure I want you taking off - but, what? Margaret. Uh, well, yeah. Hey…she's lovely, especially haloed in gold.

But where is Sandburg going? He just got home from the hospital, for Pete's sake! He didn't have to take off like that. I swear, that kid can move like greased lightning when he wants to - was sure out of here before I could stop him.

I guess he must be feeling okay - he set this up, right? Might as well relax and enjoy myself.

Still…

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

Oh, man, I hope it works out between Jim and Margaret. It's great when two friends get together, but not fun if they discover they can't stand each other. I know I told Jim I set this up tonight, but what was I supposed to do when she called me, at least giving me some warning this time that she'd be coming over? What could I say? Hey, um, well, you see, it's like this - I really don't want to go out tonight, you know? There're these fire people who follow me around and I don't know if I'm ready to - yeah, right, tell a colleague that you're freaking out of your mind after a Golden OD. How to project a reliable, professional image - not! And, hey, when I think about it, I really do think they should figure out if they've got something special or not, and I don't want to get in the way of that. I mean, it's not like Jim should have to babysit me, for crying out loud!

Actually, even aside from how things work out with him and Margaret, taking off for a while could be a good thing, maybe convince him that I'm fine. And I am, mostly. Most of the time. Sort of. I honestly don't want him worrying about me and I know they'll go away, that they aren't real. I just need to go somewhere that'll help me remember that, that's all. Like, um, the park down by the waterfront. Yeah…good idea. It's so damned cold and with this drizzle, the fire people, if they were real, couldn't survive. And if I stare at the water in the harbour, and they rise up out of the sea, I'll know that can't be true, 'cause the water would extinguish them. Good old cognitive dissonance; nothing like it to keep hallucinations at bay.

Oh, man, it's freezing out here! I'll be lucky if I don't get pneumonia. Whine. Whine. For once, cold and wet is a good thing, man. Helps keep your head straight. See, it's working. You can look at the fire people and know they are nothing but figments of your imagination, a drug-induced illusion that has no substance and holds no threat.

But they are fucking horrifying, even if they aren't real! Shit, I hate them. Hate wondering how long they're going to haunt me.

I'm good. I can do this. Take a deep breath, slow-ly…and let it out. Again. That's it.

Okay, covering your eyes works, too.

Shit, I wonder when the coast will be clear.

I'd really like to go home.

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

He tells me he's fine, but I'm not sure. Looked like a drowned rat when he got back the other night and I gotta wonder if he was out in the rain because, intellectually, he knows fire people can't exist in the rain - it's the way his mind works, I think, though I'm never really sure. But I can see him convincing himself that being in the rain would be a kind of proof that the hallucinations aren't real, even if he's not still seeing them. It would be a kind of pre-emptive strike. Damn. I wish he hadn't taken off like that, though. Was hard to relax with Margaret when I was worried about where he'd gone. I've made damned sure he's stayed home or been with me since - he's still a little shaky and he's not sleeping all that good. At least he's only been restless the last couple of nights. The nightmares seem to have stopped.

He's trying so hard to make like everything's fine. A little too hard, if you ask me. I think he's still seeing fire people every once in a while even if he won't admit it. But his heart jumps into high gear for no apparent reason, and his breathing gets sharp and shallow until he forces himself to take deep breaths and calm down. Maybe it's just residual stress - it's only a week since he got home from the hospital. Takes a while to get over what he went through. He says he's okay.

Margaret wants me to go over to her place for dinner, and I have to admit, all things being equal, I wouldn't hesitate for a second. I like her. She's…nice, really nice. Pretty, too. A bit young, maybe. But, well, I think she's looking for a husband - not sure I want to go down that road again.

I guess it's all right to leave him alone for a few hours. And Blair really seems to want me to go and have a good time.

I suppose I could go. I won't stay late.

He says he's fine.

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

I think it's like so cute the way Jim and Margaret are hitting it off! Maybe I worried about them getting together for nothing. I just hate getting caught in the middle, you know? Anyway, I'm glad he finally decided he can leave me alone for an evening. I mean, I appreciate his concern, I really do. But he, like, hovers, you know? Kinda sweet actually. He tries to pretend he's not paying attention, watching TV or whatever, but I can tell he's monitoring my heartbeat or something, focused on me and not on the television. It's a dead giveaway when he misses a spectacular play and doesn't know why I'm so excited all of a sudden. But I don't want him worrying about me. I'm good. Mostly. I guess.

I have to admit I do feel safer when he's around. Those damned fire people still pop out of the floor or wall every once in a while, but I know they're not real and I just focus on him and I'm fine. Stupid. Childish. If they aren't real, then it doesn't matter if he's nearby or not. I mean, they can't hurt me, right? And I'm not going to shoot up the loft or take a dive off the balcony or… whatever.

Just wish they'd disappear for good. It's unnerving when…

Ah, shit. Speak of the devil. This is what I get for thinking about them.

They're not real. They're NOT. I…I just won't look at them and they'll go away. I just need to think of something else. Read. That's a good idea. Oh, damn, now they're burning up the pages!

GET AWAY FROM ME!

I hate this. I want it to stop so bad.

Is it ever going to stop?

I can handle this. I can. I have to.

GO AWAY, damn you! Just go the fuck AWAY!

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

Well, now, that was a pretty nice evening. Margaret's a sweet kid - good cook, too. Not sure what she sees in an old guy like me, but, hey, I'm not complaining. Real nice girl, interesting, too -

What the…? Sandburg's heart's going a mile a minute! And I smell salt. Tears? Oh, shit. I shouldn't have left him. C'mon, already. Get the damned door open!

Ah, no. Look at him, all curled up tight in the corner of the couch, hunched, covering his face with his hands and, yeah, I think he's been crying.

"Chief, hey. What is it? What's wrong?"

"Jim… oh, man, I didn't… didn't expect you home so soon. Sorry, I… they… I'm tryin', man. But it won't stop! Just won't stop!"

"'They'? The fire people? Ah, I'm sorry. Here, c'mere. I've got you. It'll be okay."

"I feel like such a wuss, man. Like I should be able to control it better, you know? Like in the garage. I was just trying to…to stop them. Make them go away. Before they hurt somebody… before they hurt you. But I couldn't. They just kept coming and coming, out of the floor and the walls, and they were burning. Still burning. I know they're not real. I know that. You told me and I believe you, I really do. It's just the aftereffects of the drug, but they won't leave me alone and I don't know what to do to make them go away. I don't know what to do, Jim. They just…"

"Hey, easy, Blair. Shh. Take a breath, okay? I've got you. You're okay. You're right, they aren't real."

"I know. I know. But they look real, you know? I want it to stop. I'm a basket case, man! How'm I supposed to go back to work like this, when they keep flowing out of the walls and floor? Maybe I'm crazy? You think?"

"No, no. You're not crazy, Sandburg. It's just the damned drug. It takes a while, that's all."

"Least I didn't go looking for your gun. Guess that's something, huh?"

"You're doing good, Chief. Real good. It's hard. But… but we'll get through this. I promise. You'll be okay."

"Scares me, Jim. To be so out of control. To have my mind go bad on me. Really fucking scares me, man. Sorry. Sorry. Didn't want to worry you… just… I'm scared."

"I know, kid. I know."

"I hate this! Makes me so angry, you know? I mean, I'd never take stuff like that and risk fucking up my mind, and… and, uh, damn. Sorry, I just really hate this."

God, I wish there was something more I could do besides hold him like I'll never let him go. He's trembling like a leaf here, sniffing back tears so I won't see him cry. Damned hallucinations! He got sideswiped by a murder attempt directed at me, and who knows how long he'll have to deal with the fallout? He's got every right to be angry. And he was down in that garage to protect me? Ah, Blair. Facing fire people alone, terrified out of your mind - to protect me. And here all alone, 'cause I felt like having a fun evening; trying to make them go away and scared 'cause the drug is still screwing with your mind and it's not listening to you. How long have they been tormenting you tonight? It's gotta be hell, buddy. I should have listened to my gut - I knew you've been seeing them and not telling me, trying to pretend everything's fine, trying to not worry me. How did you get to be so brave? But you feel like all you did was screw up - and you're still apologizing, when you have nothing to be sorry for.

"I'm sorry, Chief."

"Not your fault, Jim. It's just…I'm so tired of it all. I want it to stop."

"It will. The doctor said things should be getting a lot better soon."

"Can't happen soon enough! I'm…I'm okay, man. You can let go now."

"Humour me, Sandburg. You're still shaking. It's okay to hold on. And okay to be scared and angry. I was terrified out of my mind that I might not be able to see again. Feeling fear doesn't make you a wuss. Being furious that someone tricked you into taking that shit is legitimate - they almost killed you. Fighting it, not giving in to the anger or fear, trying your best to protect other people, me - that's what counts. Takes courage, kid. Real courage. And…and strength of will. To see them and still tell yourself they aren't real. I'm proud of you, Chief. Damned proud."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

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

Proud of me? What a prince of a guy. Here I am, burrowing my face into his neck to shut out the damned hallucinations, trembling so hard my teeth are practically chattering, and I think he knows I've been crying. Of course he knows. He's a sentinel. But, God, it feels good - safe. Stupid? Uh huh. Childish? Big time. But he makes me feel SO safe. And loved. 'Cause he really cares about me. So he holds on, hard and strong. And tells me he's proud of me. Ah, damn. What is with the water works? I've got to stop crying here. Breathe, Sandburg. Deep breaths. That's it. You're doing good. Breathe.

I'm glad he got the guys who were making that shit. Glad to know nobody else has to go through this, not from Golden, anyway. Man…he couldn't see but he went after them with Simon. Used Simon's car to stop one guy from escaping. And he says I've got courage? Jim wrote the book on courage.

Jim's proud of me?

"Thanks, man. Means a lot. An awful lot."

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

Good, he's calming down. He looks exhausted, and no wonder. Guess I should let go of him but, right now, I need to hold him as much as he needs to hold onto me.

I guess that's the point, huh? Being there for one another?

"You don't have to deal with this alone, Blair. We'll get through this, Chief. Together."

"Yeah, but you can't be babysitting me for the rest of my life. Flashbacks can happen any time, for years. I just have to…have to learn how to cope with them better, that's all."

"No, that's not all. Pay attention here. When, maybe hopefully only if, those fire people come back, I don't want you trying to fend them off alone anymore. If I'm not with you, you call me. You're always there for me when…when…geez, whenever I need you. I'm here for you, when you need me. Got it?"

"Yeah, I got it, big guy. Thanks, man."

Hell, you'd think I just gave him a million bucks. Tired, wrung out worse than a dishrag, and he can still conjure up that smile. But the yawn he can't quite repress pretty much says it all.

"Come on, Einstein. You need to hit the sack. Think you can sleep?"

"Yeah, I'm good now. The demons took off as soon as you got home. I think the fire people are scared of you, man."

"They better be damned good and scared. Next time they show up when I'm here, I'm going to take a fire hose to them."

Good, got him snickering. He's okay now. Yeah, I know, the damned hallucinations might come again. But we can handle them.

Together, Sandburg and me can handle just about anything.

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

It's been a month now since the golden haze wore off and everything started looking normal again. The fire people seemed to fade off with it, thank God. Jim's good. I'm good. And, hey, we found out he had this wax buildup in his ears - and I thought his hearing was amazing before! It's too much, though; was really driving him nuts. Glad I was able to find those white noise generators for him. Took quite a bit of research, and they weren't cheap, but he's worth it. Teased him about not saying 'thank you', pretended it mattered, just to pull his chain. But it feels kinda good that he just accepts that I know what to do to help him - treats it like 'situation normal' and no big deal. That's neat, you know? It's what we do for one another. He knows now, really knows, I think, that I'm here for him. And I know he's here for me. Between us, we can handle just about anything. Life's good.

Except for this arsonist we're after now. Like I needed to have to deal with real fire! Man, Jim ran straight into a burning warehouse the other night…saved a guy's life. Scared ten years off mine. Still, despite this case I've had no more flashbacks, so I guess the effects of the Golden really have worn off. I even dared spout off about how some primitive tribes believed fire is alive (and no fire people showed up to prove that to me, so that was good), and how the Polynesians consider fire a god. Now if that didn't call them forth, I think the fire people are really and truly gone.

Geez, it's cold out here. Jim sure seemed to think my hat is funny, but it's warm, man. Speaking of Polynesia and that wondrous dancer in Fiji, Jim pretends like I'm the only one who appreciates the ladies. Nuh uh. I think he's convinced himself Margaret is too young for him, and she seems to be taking that okay, thank God. But I also think he's interested in the lovely Deborah Reeves, Arson Investigator Extraordinaire.

Jim'll get him, whoever he is. My Sentinel's the best, no question. When he goes after the bad guys, their goose is like so cooked. Uh, no pun intended. I'm not really too keen about his plan, though. Oh, sure, it's a great setup to trap the guy, but I still don't like the idea of him going into that warehouse alone to catch the firebug in the act, and well, he heard something, so I'm afraid Matson slipped the surveillance and is in there, too, you know? Okay, okay, I know those suits Deborah's dad made are supposed to be guaranteed to handle that kind of heat. But, man…I worry about him, you know? Some days, I swear I'm gonna have gray hair before I'm thirty!

But that's Jim. Nothing slows him down or stops him. He is like really amazing. He drives me crazy, but he's my best buddy and I love him. It's all about friendship, man. And I'll be forever grateful to have a friend like him. He's the best. He really is. Even if he does give me grief about my love life, such as it is. Sam didn't really mean to send me up in flames. It was just a joke. Yeah…a joke, right.

I just wish he'd come out of the warehouse with the bad guy, you know? I hate being stuck here in the truck, not knowing what's going on. And do we have backup here? Oooh nooo. Brown and Rafe are still staking out Matson's probably empty house across town; I'm ready to bet good money that he's in there, getting ready to blow the place up. No, I'm the backup. Like me and the radio'll be able to do any good. God, it's freezing! And, despite what I said to Jim a few minutes ago, I sincerely hope it stays that way. I do not want to see any fire right now -

What was that? I thought I heard an explosion!

"Jim? Can you hear me?"

Nothing. Dammit. What's going on in there?

"Hey, Brown, can you hear me? I think we've got some trouble in there."

OH SHIT! Ohmygod! The whole place is blowing up! Jesus! JIM!

"Brown! Call the fire department! We need trucks here now!"

Oh, man! More explosions! The place is a firestorm!

"BROWN! GET THOSE TRUCKS HERE NOW!"

Oh, please…God, please. Jim? Can anybody be alive in that inferno? I knew this was a bad idea! JIM?

Wait, what's that, walking through the fire! Like silver spacemen!

It's Jim, gotta be Jim. But who's with him? Matson? Ah, thank God, Jim's okay. And Deborah, too. What was she doing in there? Who cares? They're fine. Everything's good. Good. Great.

I swear - gray hairs, man. Lots of gray hairs.

Finis

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