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.

Summary: This is the first story of my summer project. It's not really a missing scene...well, it is...well, you'll see. References made to Switchman.

Guarded Optimism

by Twilight (Dawn)

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

Part One

The small waiting room was stuffy and crowded. Jim sat in the corner, away from the noise of the busy corridor and elevators. The constant hum of the moving car was making him batty.

Zeroing in on his watch, he closed his eyes. Three thirty in the morning. "Six hours...what's taking so long?"

"You say something, Jim?" Simon sat across from him, his shirt wrinkled; his tie pulled down and loosely knotted, perusing an outdated Modern Motherhood magazine.

Shaking his head he sat up, feeling the shifting of vertebra, hearing a snapping and whooshing sound as his stiff back came into alignment. "I was just wondering what was taking so long?"

Simon nodded, going back to his article.

Deciding to get up to stretch his legs...and maybe his hearing, he headed to the hall. "I'm going to take a walk. I'll be near."

Simon eyed him over the edge of paper, but didn't say anything.

The glass paneled doors opened automatically as he approached. The early morning air was cool and clear, caressing his arms and face and he took in a huge lungful, blowing it out slowly.

A black jeep turned into the emergency drop off and stopped in front of him. Brown rolled down the driver's side window. "Hey, babe. Any news?"

"Nothing new. You got anything?" Jim moved closer, nodding to Rafe.

"I talked to a few people from the club. They said Blair only had a few beers and left early. John Marks was acting drunk, so Blair got his keys and was going to drive him home."

Rafe nodded, pulling out his own note pad. "I talked to Molly Ranshaw. She said that Marks was making a scene. Said Blair talked to her on the way out the door and he seemed fine."

Jim looked back toward the entrance of the E.R. Simon was coming toward them, his face set, his dark eyes pinched and focused on the car in front of him. He dug in his coat pocket, locating a cigar to chump on.

"Something happen, Sir?"

"Marks just died on the table. They said his injuries were too severe."

Jim pawed at his face, rubbing a hand up over his nose and eyes. "Any news on, Blair?"

"The nurse said she'd check. I want Brown and Rafe back to the scene. See if CSU came up with anything on the car...maybe someone tampered with it."

"You got it. Jim, CSU gave me this earlier." Brown handed a tattered book bag out the window. Blood smeared the side; tiny specks dotted the handle where Jim grabbed it. "I thought you might want to hang onto it. It's got Blair's wallet and some books." He gave Jim's arm a little pat before rolling up his window and pulling off.

"Go on back in, Jim. I need a smoke." Simon skirted the corner of the building, lighting up before he turned from sight.

Jim's truck was still parked in the designated police space, but he didn't feel like moving it. Opening the creaky door, he tossed the bag in, an old leather bound book plopped out on the passenger seat.

The musky scent of Blair mixed with leather clung to the book and Jim fingered the ridged edges, carefully picking it up and sticking a few loose pages back in.

Earlier images of Blair's bloody mangled face raced behind his tightly closed eyes and Jim remembered he had to strain to hear...to understand the broken words that Blair mumbled when he realized Jim had come.

"I can't feel anything, man. God, Jim...help me."

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

The tiny cubicle was cool and dim, the only light coming from the curtained off hall. Beyond the partially open entrance, the sounds of the hospital assaulted his ears, his head pounded in concert with the beeping and whooshing machinery attached to the man in the bed he sat by, keeping him alive for just this moment.

People talked quietly near by, a man in the next room moaned and groaned, crying on and off in his drugged sleep, someone at the nurses station wrote in a chart, the slide of the pen grating Jim's ears.

Jim pushed himself up a little in the hard plastic chair, scanning the lifeless face of his friend. He had only been sitting with Blair for a few minutes, but it was so hard to look, to take in the battered face and body. Every inch of his face was bruised and broken, traces of blood still clung to the wavy hair and smeared the edge of his right ear and jaw. His left cheek was swollen, the skin pink and splotchy and his nose was taped to hold the broken cartilage in place.

A thick tube invaded Blair's throat, delivering precious oxygen, making his chest rise and fall in a steady but artificial rhythm. Both eyes were puffy, twice the normal size and starting to blacken and his top lip had a huge cut, the jagged split extending up to his cheek and disappearing under the bandages covering his nose.

The arm lying on the pillow near him was splinted, the fingers fat, the nails a strange shade of blue.

But the worse was the contraption he was laying in. Thick padded panels ran the outline of his body, holding his arms and legs straight. His neck was encased in a white plastic collar, various tubes and leads zigzagged over and under the thin sheet covering him.

The nurse told him that Blair was in a semi coma. They were keeping him under, so his battered body would be better able to heal. His head injury was bad, a few hairline fractures and some swelling, but so far the medicine they had given him was keeping the worst at bay...

The spine they repaired during the nine hour surgery was bad, but not life threatening.

Three crushed vertebra...

Two titanium rods and seven titanium screws held the mangled pieces together and only time would tell, when the swelling went down, when he became more lucid...

Dropping his head into his hands, Jim let the tears pressing the back of his eyes fall.

How could this have happened?

Minutes later, hours later, streaks of sunlight seeped through the slightly opened blinds, creeping over Blair's chest and face, making the molting bruises and yellowing splotches look even worse.

Jim reached slowly forward and rested his hand on one unmarred spot above Blair's elbow, using his fingertips to caress the smooth skin, trying to relay his presence and comfort, comfort for Blair and comfort for himself.

"What happened Blair? What made you lose control?"

Silence answered, but he kept up the gentle touch to his friend's cool skin, hoping that Blair knew he wasn't alone.

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

"Jim? How's Hairboy?" Brown jumped up from his desk, hurrying around to follow Jim to his own. His desk was covered with open files and piles of paper, just where he had left them a few nights ago in his hurry to get to the hospital. He scooped everything up and pushed the folders aside, plopping heavily into his chair. "He's still unconscious...in guarded condition. But the doctor seems optimistic. Said they're going to start decreasing his sedation in a few days. See how he responds. You got the autopsy report on Marks yet?"

"Yeah..." The other detective moved back to his desk and rummaged through a few folders there, pulling the one he wanted from the stack. "Rafe is over at CSU. They're working on a recreation of the scene."

Jim moved closer, perching on the end of his friend's desk.

"The M.E. said cause of death was loss of blood and shock. They released the body to family yesterday."

Jim nodded, scanning the report as Brown ticked off the major points. "Tox screen for drugs was clear, but he was legally drunk two times over. He had a crushed pelvis and spinal injuries. Head injuries...a punctured lung...he bled out, even with medical intervention."

"Hmm..."

Brown looked up at him. "Hmm, what?"

"Just a hunch...the report listed numerous and large taste buds as an oddity." He knew that Blair had documented cases of people with hyperactive scenes for his Masters.

"Yeah, so..." Brown closed the folder, looking at Jim with a small frown.

"It probably has nothing to do with the case, but I'm going to go check something out. I'll call if I find anything." With a slight wave, Jim hurried to the elevator, jabbing the down button.

This had to mean something...Blair could be facing criminal charges if they didn't find out what caused him to lose control and that was something Jim wasn't prepared to let happen. Blair wasn't drunk, but his passenger was. No one witnessed them going off the road and hitting the phone pole, but the CSU found skid marks several hundred feet from the scene, like the driver was trying to regain control.

The elevator deposited him on the garage level and he hurried to his truck, ignoring the gas fumes and car exhaust. The trip to Rainier was short, the traffic light in the early afternoon. Parking was a little trickier; he had to circle the lot a few times to find a space near Hargrove Hall.

The halls were mostly quiet, a few people milled about, walking from office to office, talking in hushed voices. His shoes made little clinking sounds on the hardwood floors as he walked toward Blair's office.

The small room was dusty, the wooden surface of Blair's desk covered with hundreds of tiny particles. They floated on the air, twinkling in the sunlight pouring in the small window and Jim had to cover his face, trying to smothering a series of sneezes.

Wiping his nose and eyes with a hanky, Jim quietly shut the door behind him, turning on the small desk lamp and sitting in the chair. He opened several drawers, searching the bottoms and sides for the key to Blair's filing cabinets. Coming up empty, he moved to one of the cabinets and yanked at the drawer, testing the sturdiness.

He searched his pockets and pulled out his keys, finding the little nail clippers hanging between his house and car keys. Turning the top to reveal the short file and shoved it in the small lock when a glimmer of metal caught his eye. Above the window, resting on the sill was a small key.

"Only Sandburg." Jim grabbed the key and opened the cabinet, sorting through the over-flowing files. He checked all four sets, going back to the first when he couldn't find Marks name. On his third time around he found a thin folder labeled Master. Inside a red floppy disk was taped to a piece of paper with a hand written list of names.

Pocketing the floppy, he searched the listing and found the name he was looking for. Knowing that Blair's office computer was password protected, he headed home.

The loft was equally as dusty, but Jim didn't care, cleaning had not been a priority over the last few days. He dumped his keys and gun, jogging up the steps to grab his laptop, then headed back to the couch to boot it up. Jim had no problems pulling up the word document, but was disappointed when the password cue popped up.

He typed in the first thing that entered his mind, but he got an error message. "Not Sentinel, then."

He thought for a bit, then tried Burton, senses, Mayan, Eli and on and on until he sat back and pushed the computer away.

Think, think, think.

His stomach growled a little later, so he stood and stretched, heading for the kitchen to get a beer and heat up a piece of leftover pizza. Popping the top to his brew, he took a big swallow, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. The password had to be something familiar...

An idea struck and he hurried back to his computer, hearing the microwave ding, sitting his beer bottle on the side table near by.

He clicked on the file again, typing in two words.

Holy Grail.

The computer beeped and ticked, the program opened and pulled up an index of files.

There were hundreds of names...two Marks, but only one J. Marks.

Clicking on the name, a summary appeared. Jim scanned down to see that J. Marks was subject number 132 and had answered a posting for volunteers from McNany Winery, although he was a Rainier student, majoring in Horticulture.

The file gave basic stats, including a heightened sense of taste and smell, personal information on work history, medical records and participation in the study Blair was conducting.

"The subject seems well adjusted. Over active senses seem a natural occurrence and subject has had no adverse effects."

Scrolling down Jim noted that Marks participated throughout the entire study. At the end of the report was a reference mark indicating additional notes in Blair's personal journal.

Closing the program, Jim popped out the floppy and went to Blair's room. He knew Blair kept personal handwritten journals, but he also had a stack of disks with work related notes.

Searching the desk tucked into the corner, Jim found a stack of disks, some red and some blue. They were only labeled with numbers, so he took them all back to the living room, starting with the first floppy.

Draining his beer, happy to see that a password was not required he looked at his watch. He still a few hours before he would be able to get in and sit with his friend. Sighing, he settled in, sifting his way through hundreds of entries. They all seemed to contain more personal facts about Blair's subjects. Adverse reactions to tests, medical complaints like headaches and stomachaches, hallucinations and even psychosis.

There had to be something here on Marks, something to help explain the accident.

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

The smooth, long legged stride and smell of vanilla and tobacco weed had Jim looking toward the hall even before Simon entered the ICU cubicle.

"I though you might be here when I couldn't reach you on your cell." Simon sank into the chair near the foot of the bed, his eyes scanning Blair from foot to head and back again. "How's the kid doing?"

Jim shifted the laptop to the side table, leaning forward and resting his clasped hands between his knees. "He's about the same."

Blair lay still in the same bed, his body tilted, head above hips and feet, listed just a smidge to the right. The nurses came in five times a day to shift him, moving the whole contraption that held him straight, checking his IVs and tubing, changing waste bags and recording his vitals.

"I got Rafe's and Brown's report on the accident. CSU recreated the scene. Blair lost control of the vehicle three hundred yards back from the crash site. They say he over compensated and the car spun out. I'm going to put it to low priority, see if Blair can tell us what happened when he wakes up, but since he wasn't intoxicated..."

Jim nodded, watching the rhythmic rise and fall of his friend's chest, listening to the hollow sound of air entering and exiting Blair's lungs. "I found a few things on Marks."

"Brown said you saw something on the autopsy report...what is it?"

Turning to look at his boss, Jim shifted, reaching for his laptop. "Marks was a participant in a study Blair did to obtain his Masters Degree. He had a heightened sense of taste and smell...worked part time at McNany's as a quality control specialist."

"Blair did a paper on heightened senses?"

"Yeah, thing is he followed the lives of a lot of his subjects and some of them turned out to be real nut jobs. I got into his files and it seems Marks started out okay, but as time passed he became more aggressive, complained of headaches and ringing in his ears. His medical records are clear, but I think he may have been experiencing sensory spikes...his hearing may have been coming online."

"Christ, Jim. You saying the guy was a Sentinel?" Simon's eyebrows rose as his lips turned down.

"No. Not exactly." Jim waited for the screen to flicker on, scrolling back a few paragraphs in the Word Document. "Blair has entries of calls and visits. Early last year Marks dropped out of his studies and took a sabbatical. When he returned Blair describes him as irritable, more reclusive. He finished school, but didn't pursue a career in his field."

"As interesting as that is, what's it got to do with the here and now?"

Shrugging his shoulders, Jim shook his head. "I'm not sure, but I think it has something to do with what happened. Think about it...if this guy had a repressed sense coming online, it was probably causing him all kinds of trouble and drinking on top of that...Blair has another sixty pages on this guy and he makes reference to his personal journals. I'm going to finish this then look through them when I get home, see if I can find any specific behavior that points to this guy having a short wire."

Simon stood, patting his pockets. "Just keep me informed. The funeral is tomorrow and the family wants answers."

"I'll be in early, but I'm coming back over here after lunch. They're going to start bringing him around, see if he can go without the respirator."

His boss nodded, backing toward the hall. "Tell him we're all pulling for him and let me know when he's coherent enough to talk with Rafe and Brown."

"Will do, sir." Jim watched as Simon pulled the curtain and listened to the heavy footsteps until they entered the nearby elevator.

Closing the lid of his laptop, he stood near the bed, finding the smooth patch on Blair's arm. "Hey, Chief. It won't be long now."

He looked a little better today; the swollen lips and eyes were almost back to a normal size and some of the bruising on his face was yellowing and fading. His broken wrist was cast this morning and the steroids and anti-seizure meds were doing their job.

"I gotta go for a bit, buddy but I'll talk to you tomorrow." With a final gentle pat, Jim headed for home.

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

He sat with the heavy book open on his lap and his dinner sitting cold on the coffee table. Jim had made good time getting home and decided to order out. The Chinese had arrived about twenty minutes ago, but he was already engrossed in the neat handwritten script on the yellowing pages.

Instead of pulling out the leather book tucked into Blair's book bag, he pulled one out from the bookcase in Blair's room. Naomi send a new one each year on Blair's birthday, but they were similar in size and color, each hand sewn and engraved. Figuring that Blair went through one a year, he grabbed the one third from the end.

Jim found recorded encounters on Marks, but they were sporadic. Instead of searching the pages for his name, Jim decided to read from the beginning, skimming unrelated things until he got to a certain day a little over three years ago.

"Johnny is still having headaches. I told him I would stop by later if the medication doesn't work and note to self: always recommend unscented candles."

With a warm smile Jim reread the next part again.

"Melissa called and man I can't believe it. She's faxing the medical file now, but if it's like she says...this could be the real thing..."

Letting the words flow over him, Jim imagined what Blair thought about their first meeting; almost able to see the scene through the words scrawled on the pages he held.

**** Blair jogged into the ward, hardly able to contain himself. Melissa met him by the nurse's station and ushered him away to a room at the end of the hall. Kissing him hard on the lips, she pointed to a white lab coat hanging in one of the cubbies and produced a nametag from her scrubs pocket. "You owe me," she kissed him again, their tongues twining briefly before she pushed him away. "And I'm collecting tonight."

She moved to her own locker, spinning the dial lock quickly and pulled out her purse. She dug around for a minute, finding a single pink rubber band. With a silly smile on her face she moved closer to him, using one slender finger to indicate she wanted him to turn around. He pulled on the coat and buttoned it all the way up to cover the bright colored vest and most of the tattered jeans as she finger combed his hair, pulling the unruly curls back to the nape of his neck.

Looking both ways before exiting the room, she grabbed an empty chart and pushed it into his hands, whispering the room number as she gave him a final kiss.

Blair walked down the hall, heart pumping, seeing the door partly open. It took a few seconds, but he got his breathing under control and entered. The man looked at him expectantly and Blair almost lost it, beginning to back up when the man stood and started to button his shirt. He had to think fast when the guy questioned the nametag, but the bullshit story just flowed from his mouth and before he knew it, he was shoving his card at the guy. "See the man."

He bumped into someone on the way out, but Blair didn't care...he was so pumped. Shedding the jacket quickly, he dumped everything into a hazmat can sitting at the end of the hall and mouthed the words 'thank you' on the way by the nurse's station.

"God, please let this guy show."

Humming and bouncing all the way back to his car he thought about the possibilities and how he was going to pay his debt to Melissa.

Should be an interesting night.

He didn't even remember the drive back to campus, but he knew he nearly floated back to the storage closet he claimed as his office. Moving to the stereo, he put his new CD on shuffle and listened to the heavy beat of drums, pounding in concert with his heart.

This was sooo incredible.

The phone rang and he jumped on it, clearing his dry throat before answering. "Hello. Oh, hey man. Well, did you try lying in a dark room with a cool cloth over your eyes? Hmm...how about you try some visualization? Yeah, man...find a comfy spot and picture say...a radio. Yeah, now look at the dials...one for the volume and one for the channel. Start with the channel first. Turn the dial to the easy listening channel...a nice, smooth ballet."

Blair dropped the pitch of his voice, talking a bit slower. "Now look at the volume dial. Turn it down a notch at a time until the music is barely audible. Great Johnny. I'll catch ya later, man."

Time passed, the CD started a new tune and Blair couldn't help but pick up his pencil and tap out the tune, startled when the guy from the hospital showed up.

He made small talk, nervous, but determined not to let it show. Turning down the stereo and clearing a seat he did his best to show Ellison that he knew what he was talking about, but the shove against the wall was a little over the top.

Jerk.

Blair shrugged it off, figuring the guy had to be at his wits end.

He followed him to the hall, calling after Ellison to reconsider when he remembered something important. Flicking the tumbler lock, he patted his pockets to make sure he had his keys before closing the old wooden door and racing down the hall, his sneakers squeaking on the wooden floors.

When he cleared the outer door he spotted the man in the middle of the street, rooted to the spot, a large dump truck barreling down the one-way road.

Crap.

Taking the stone steps two at he time, he hurried toward the cop, swearing as he pulled them both down and praying the truck had enough room to pass over them.

Jumping up as soon as it was clear, he squirmed and shook with the sudden rush of adrenaline pumping through his veins, only picking up on a few words the cop said, allowing Ellison to pull him along to a red Jeep parked in a faculty spot.

"Get, in kid."

Blair sat in the passenger seat, letting his heart slow as he breathed deep. "Where are we going, man?"

Ellison shot him a weird look, but pulled off the next exit and into the street market parking lot. "I don't live too far from here...let's just walk a little."

Blair got out and followed behind the guy, his heartbeat and breathing back to a more normal rhythm. He wasn't sure where this was leading, but he knew it was going to be a wild ride.****

Jim rubbed his eyes, sticking a take out napkin in the spine of the leather book to hold his place. There wasn't really any system to Blair's writing and he could have mentioned Marks on any given entry. Not wanting to delve too deep into Blair's personal writings, he decided to call it a night and ask Blair himself when he woke up.

Putting the book on top of his computer, Jim gathered the takeout cartons and put them in the microwave, going to Blair's room to gather a few things. He packed a tote bag with the portable CD player and a selection of music. He grabbed a few books that Blair might like; although he was sure he would have to read them out loud at first.

Task completed, he sat everything together and went back to the kitchen to eat his dinner. The phone rang just as he was dumping the leftovers into his Tupperware and he hurried to pick up the receiver. "Ellison."

The urgent voice on the other end had him feeling a little faint and sweaty. He sat down heavily on the dinning chair. "Yes, I understand. I'll be right there."

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

He wasn't even sure how he made it to the hospital; the drive was a blur, headlights bounced off the windshield as he jerked to a spot in emergency parking.

He jogged to the elevator, punching the button to the fifth floor, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. Finally the door parted and he walked as fast as his legs could carry him down the hall and to the double security door to the ICU.

A buzzer sounded and he pushed the heavy door open. A nurse in scrubs strode toward him. "Mr. Ellison?"

"Yeah...I got here as soon as I could."

She pivoted away, looking over her shoulder to make sure he was following. "He spiked a fever a little while ago and suffered a seizure. He's in imaging, they're trying to determine if his brain injury is causing it or if something else is going on."

She stopped in front of another set of double doors, using her card key to open them. A few chairs lined the hall and she asked him to sit.

Jim could just make out the machine on the other side of a window as she entered the room to his right. Heart pounding, he sunk into the chair on the end, raising shaking hands to his face, taking a calming breath and tried to listen.

The voices were distorted and hallow and he had to strain and concentrate to make them out.

"His head's stable. We're doing a belly scan to check his liver and kidneys."

A few minutes passed in relative silence and Jim could hear the machine spinning and sputtering as it took three-dimensional pictures of his friend's insides.

"Damn it...call the O.R."

A flurry of activity followed and then the door down from the control room slammed opened as Jim jumped up. A few men in blue scrubs quickly exited, one pushed and the other pulled until the rolling bed was completely in the hall. Another person walked briskly by the head, rhythmically squeezing a bag attached to Blair's breathing tube. "Clear the way."

The nurse followed along, pulling on Jim's arm. "He's got a bleed in his belly. They're taking him to surgery."

Jim nodded, following the gurney down the corridor and to an elevator. When the doors parted, he pushed himself in, scanning his friend's body. Blair's face was red and flushed, his lips pale and dry, everything below the brace on his neck covered with a thin sheet and Jim could make out the panels holding him straight and still.

Standing this close, Jim could feel the heat rising from Blair's body. "What about his fever?"

One man snapped, "No time to wait", as the metal doors parted. Jim grabbed Blair's lax hand, walking beside and waiting as one guy went ahead.

They stood in the hall for a few minutes and Jim leaned forward, whispering into Blair's ear. "Hang in there, buddy...you hear me? Stay with me."

Before he could say more, the gurney was pulled away, Blair's still hand slipping from his own and then the doors closed and Blair was gone.

"Hang on, Blair."

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

"He's afraid of heights, you know?"

Simon nodded, draping his coat over an empty chair and sitting across from him. "I know, Jim. Joel told me about that pep talk Sandburg gave him years back."

"I didn't know. Not right away." The sun was rising and Jim moved to the large windows overlooking the parking lot, glancing at his watch. It had been hours and he didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. He called Simon a while ago, figuring that he would be awake early.

A case specialist, whatever the hell that was, came in during the night to ask if Jim needed anything. What he needed was to know what was happening in the operating room on the other side of the third floor.

Jim tried to listen in, but too many noises assaulted his ears...he couldn't seem to find his center.

Wandering back over to the bank of chairs, he plopped down, closing his eyes. "He never said a thing."

He could sense Simon shifting, angling his body toward him. But his friend didn't say anything, sensing that Jim just needed to talk. "You should have seen him." He said, opening his eyes. "The first day we spent together I had him climbing trees. You should have seen how he scaled to the top and tossed down that nest."

"Nest?"

Smiling at the memory, Jim nodded. "He bitched all the way up, but didn't say no...he never says no."

"He's not that kind of man, Jim." Simon's eyes sparkled, a soft smile on his face.

"I know...he helped out so much on the case. We would have never caught Sarris if he didn't pull a few rabbits out of his hat." A smile split his face and a little chuckle escaped. "He was so frustrated that he couldn't go into the Needle with me. Called me Kojak."

"What?"

"Yeah, yeah. I told him to wait with the truck, 'course I know now that I was wasting my breath. He caught sight of Veronica helping passengers onto the bus and sneaked on. I was sooo pissed when I got back to ground level and saw the jeep being towed and no Sandburg."

"I remember dispatch saying he was waiting on the line for me...I didn't even know who he was."

"He did good, kept his cool, helped me find the bomb before it blew us all up." Jim stood again, stretching his neck and looking at his watch. He could hear more activity in the halls now. People scheduled for surgery were arriving and checking in. "I knew right at that moment, Simon."

"What Jim...what did you know?"

Jim looked down at him, dropping back into his chair, hanging his head. "That night I took him out to dinner. He was so excited and had no idea what he was getting into. We argued over what line to feed you to get him on as a ride along...I knew I couldn't do it alone anymore. I knew he was my last chance."

"Come on, Jim."

"No Simon, I mean it." He looked his boss right in the eyes. "If he hadn't come along I would be crazy...I know it. That's why I think Marks caused the accident somehow. I know what it feels like for everything to spin apart..."

"Mr. Ellison."

Head jerking up, Jim saw the case specialist from before standing in the doorway to the waiting room. Her face was impassive, so totally neutral that he couldn't get a read on her.

"I have some news...can you come with me?"

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

Something was buzzing near his ear...

The incessant hum was maddening and he tried to raise his hand to swipe it away, but his hand didn't budge.

So he tried to pry his eyes open, even raising his eyebrows didn't help, but that was okay...

It was nice here, wherever here was...except for that buzzing sound.

"Raise to 300...CLEAR."

A rush of warmth flooded his chest, tendrils of electricity zigzagged down his arms and he knew his hands jumped, but he felt numb, he felt...nothing.

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

The case specialist walked swiftly down the corridor in front of Jim, stopping to press the button beside the huge automatic doors at the end. She turned to him as the door swung open. "They took him to recovery a little while ago but he coded."

Jim stopped suddenly, looking for a handhold along the wall, his ears ringing. "Wh...what?"

She stopped, placing a tiny hand on his back. "They got him back, but he's critical. The doctor will be able to tell you more." After a few seconds, she turned and started walking again, her ponytail swinging from side to side as Jim followed slowly after her.

A small room at the end of the hall held two chairs and a little round table and she motioned for him to sit. "He'll be in recovery for a few hours, but when he's more stable you'll be able to see him."

She left him alone, but a doctor entered soon after and stuck out a slender hand to shake. "I'm Shelly Owens."

"Jim Ellison." He returned the firm hold, rising halfway until she took the seat across from him.

"As you know we had to explore Mr. Sandburg's abdomen for bleeding. His right kidney and liver are still bruised, but his spleen had to be removed and a small tear in the lining of the large bowel had to be repaired." She reached up and took the green scrub hat from her head, crumbling it in her hand. "He's very weak, he's lost a lot of blood and it puts a lot of strain on his heart. He coded, but we got him right back and I've increased his fluid intake and adjusted some of his medication to help eliminate the strain. We can only wait and see."

Jim nodded, releasing his hands from tight fists, flexing his fingers to renew the flow of blood, ignoring the tingling that raced from tip to wrist.

"Do you have any questions?"

Shaking his head, he stood when she did. "Someone will be out to get you when you can see him."

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

Hours later a nurse led him to a ward, Simon had already gone into work. "You can visit for five minutes every two hours while he is in recovery."

Pastel curtains sectioned off the beds arranged in a semi circle around a huge nurse's desk. Doctors and nurses moved from space to space, checking on patients and delivering medications or talking to loved ones that stood by the beds.

Blair was toward the middle, a nurse sat in a raised stool, writing something in a chart. She smiled when Jim walked in and up to his friend. "He's doing good."

He nodded, eyes following the tubing carrying crimson fluid to a line leading to the side of Blair's throat, the tape peeking out from a hole in the plastic collar.

Blair's eyes seemed bruised, his face a little puffy and he was covered with a silver lined blanket

"He has some swelling from blood loss, but his vitals are stabling, his fever is down and he's on his last transfusion. I think he'll be back on the ward in a few hours."

Jim just stood for a bit, placing his hand on top of Blair's, surprised when he felt a tiny twitch.

The nurse smiled, glancing at the clock over the nurse's station. "He's coming up from sedation. They need to test the extent of his spinal and neck injuries."

Nodding, Jim gave the hand laying on top of the sheets a gentle squeeze, hoping that Blair could feel him, hoping that his friend knew he wasn't alone.

"I gotta go for a bit, Chief." Jim squeezed the fingers one more time. "I'll be back a little later."

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

The buzzing was gone...

Something cool caressed his body and someone was holding his hand, fingers moving gently over tendons, feather light.

His hand moved slightly, getting a gentle squeeze in return.

"I gotta...g..bi...cheeeefff."

The words washed over him, but he knew that voice...

Jim?

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

Two days later Jim sat in Blair's room, watching as a doctor pulled the sheets and blanket up. Blair's pink toes were peeking out of the bottom of a white support hose that extended all the way up to his thighs.

A parade of people had been in and out all morning; the breathing tube was removed and replaced with an oxygen mask, resting on the gauze that protected his healing nose. The drainage tubes from surgery were emptied and IV bags were replaced, the central line in his neck removed.

The nursing staff bathed him and shifted his bed so that he was on his back, the padded panels replaced by a removable hard plastic body cast, the new collar on his neck was softer and smaller.

Blair had opened his eyes a few times throughout the morning, but they were glassy and unfocused.

The Neurologist was using a few fingers to tap along Blair's legs, lifting and bending his knees.

The man held a short metal object, running it from heel to toe and Jim watched as Blair flexed his feet. "That's a very good sign. We'll check him again a little later once most of the drugs have worked their way out of his system."

Jim stood, shaking the doctor's hand. "Thanks."

Alone again he sat, pulling a book from the duffle he brought from home. It was a mystery novel Blair had given him months ago.

A few pages in, he heard the familiar stride of his friend and boss. "Hey, Jim...is he better today?"

Creasing the page to save his place, he stowed his book in the side table drawer. "He's doing really good."

Simon sunk into the other chair, sighing. "I got some news."

Jim sat forward, the fine hairs on his neck rising. "What's wrong?"

"Seems Marks was only survived by a younger sister. She's an assistant to Maxwell Landers, the new D.A."

Not liking where this was going, Jim stood, moving to the door. "Let's talk outside, I don't want..." he nodded toward Blair and Simon stood and followed him, pulling the door closed.

"Rafe got a call this morning from Landers requesting information. He kicked it over to me and I informed him that there wasn't enough evidence, but I don't think he'll let it go."

Before Jim could answer a familiar women stepped from the elevator and headed toward them. Her black hair hung loosely around her pale face and she smiled briefly when she saw him. "Hi, Jim."

"Um...hi Molly."

"I ah...I was hoping to see Blair. I heard he was doing better." She looked from him to Simon and back again.

"Yes, of course. I'll be right back, Simon." Jim ushered her in, holding her as she suddenly sunk into the chair by the bed. "It's alright. He looks a little banged up, but he's doing a lot better."

"Can I...do you mind if I have a minute alone with him?" She pushed herself up, legs shaking so much that she had to hold on to the raised rails of the bed.

"I'll be right outside." She nodded, not bothering to look at him as he slipped out. Her heart was pounding and Jim could detect a faint bitter smell, but figured she was just upset about seeing Blair for the first time after the accident. His roommate had been dating her on and off for a while, but Jim didn't think it was anything serious.

Simon waited a bit down the hall, leaning against the nurse's station. "I'll see if I can stall, but you let me know as soon as Blair is awake enough to talk."

Jim nodded, ears still attuned to his friend's room and the thundering pounding of Molly Ranshaw's heart. Turning, he started back down the hall.

"Jim? Are you listening to me?" Simon followed along and Jim held his hand up, stopping just outside the closed door.

"God Blair...I'm so sorry...I didn't mean for..."

"Jim?" His boss's voice made him jump and he turned to ask him to be quiet, but the door to Blair's room flung open and Molly pushed past them and hurried down the hall.

"Sorry," she whispered, tears clouding her voice.

Jim started to follow, but stopped when Simon grabbed his arm. "What's going on, Jim?"

Shaking his head, he turned to go back into Blair's room. "Nothing, it's probably nothing."

Simon followed, stopping at the door. "Just keep me informed. I'll check in with you later." He cast a quick look toward Blair before leaving.

Jim returned to his seat, trying to get his brain around Molly's reaction. He picked up his book, opening it to the last section he read and looked briefly at Blair.

His friend's eyes were open wide, his head turned slightly in his collar, looking right at Jim.

"Blair?" Jim jumped up, book falling to the floor with a soft thud.

The dull blue eyes blinked once then closed. "Blair...stay with me."

He reached up and pressed the call button, heart tripping when Blair opened his eyes again.

"Can I help you?"

"He's awake. Get the doctor."

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

Jim stood off to the side, hovering near the closed door, arms crossed over his chest, but Blair couldn't see his face.

People gathered around him, touching him and asking him stupid questions, but he was confused and he hurt...

Everything hurt.

"I know your throat is sore, but try to answer the questions Mr. Sandburg."

He tried to nod his head, but his chin bumped into something, sending a searing pain down his neck and chest. The mask over his face clouded as he breathed in a shallow tattoo, his heart pounding so fast it hurt his ribs.

"Just stay calm, you're going to be alright."

"'urts." The word came out breathy and weak, tiny bolts of pain erupting as he tried to swallow, his mouth dry and his tongue felt huge.

"They'll get you something in a minute, Chief. Just try to relax."

He moved his eyes around frantically, looking for Jim, but his friend wasn't in his limited line of view. People huddled at the bottom of the bed, but Blair couldn't tell what they were doing, cool air raced up his legs and when he looked down he could see the sheets moving, but his legs were numb.

What was happening?

He tried to move his legs then shift but nothing seemed to be working.

Oh god...what was happening.

"Easy buddy." Jim had moved near his head, leaning over the raised rails, running a hand up and down his arm, and god, he could feel it.

He could feel Jim's hand...

"Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair sniffed, looking for the person to go with the voice, feeling tears stream down his face and into his hair. "You're doing really well. We're going to give you something to take the edge off the pain and then we have to run some tests."

A fuzzy figure moved to his side and almost immediately the pain ebbed. He could hear his own labored breaths evening out and a gentle hand wiped at the wetness on his face.

"That's it buddy..."

People talked nearby, but their words were distorted and when he next opened his eyes, his room was empty.

"I'm right here, Chief." Jim stood and moved closer. "How you doing, buddy?"

"'kay..."

"I know you feel a little weird, but that's the drugs. You're going to be fine."

"Wh..appen?"

Jim hooked the chair and sat, resting his hands on the bed. "You were in a car accident over eight days ago. You lost control and hit a pole on Berkshire. Someone came along later and called it in."

Blair watched his friend with hooded eyes. "M..baaad?"

"It took them a while to get you out. When you got here they rushed you into surgery to repair your spine."

Blair's eyes opened as he tried to understand what Jim was saying.

"You broke your back, but they patched you up. You have a few ribs healing and you cracked your skull. Everything is on the mend."

"Hurt?"

"What hurts, buddy? I'll get the nurse." Jim started to stand, but Blair managed to raise his arm and pull on Jim's sleeve.

"Noo...hurt?"

Slumping back into his chair, Jim ran his hands though his short cropped hair. "What do you remember, Chief?"

Blair thought back, remembering that he had just finished midterms.

"Miid..t..term?"

Jim's head dropped then he looked at Blair. "That was over two weeks ago."

Before he could ask anymore, two men came in. "Mr. Sandburg? We're here to take you to imaging."

They released the brakes on his bed and started to roll him through the door. "Jim?"

"I'm here. I'm going to go make a few calls and meet you back here, okay Chief?" His friend walked beside him until they reached a bank of elevators. "I'll see you soon."

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

"He doesn't remember the accident, Simon." Jim cradled his cell phone close, the lobby of the hospital mostly empty except for a few security guards talking behind a check in desk.

"What did you tell him?"

"Just that he got hurt, but was going to be fine. I don't think he can handle hearing about Marks just yet."

His boss sighed, taking a deep breath. "I'm sending Rafe and Brown over this evening to get his official statement. I want you to let them do all the talking, see if we can get this thing wrapped up even if he doesn't remember. Landers is just blowing smoke up my ass...he doesn't have anything."

"Yeah, all right. But why don't you come with them. I'm sure Blair would appreciate the visit."

Jim smiled as he disconnected, only picking out a few words of his boss's reply.

A familiar woman stepped into the elevator car as Jim turned the corner. "Hold the elevator, please."

A petite hand stuck out to hold the door open and Jim stepped on, "Hi Molly."

"Jim." She smiled, clutching a tan teddy bear. "I'm sorry about before...it was just a shock, I guess."

The car stopped and they exited, walking side by side to Blair's room. "It's understandable, but Blair's not in his room. He woke up earlier and they're running some tests."

She stopped walking and Jim turned to see why. "I'm ah...I forgot something, Jim. Can you give this to him for me?" She shoved the bear into his hands and walked briskly back down the hall.

What was she afraid of?

He sat the gift on Blair's tray table and picked up his book, just thumbing through the pages, thinking about Molly's strange behavior.

It didn't make sense that she was so upset, maybe she was just feeling guilty that she didn't do anything about Marks...like calling him a cab.

Or maybe she's just guilty.

Whoa...where did that come from?

Jim looked toward the bear and the little card attached to the blue ribbon around its neck, but before he could act Blair was wheeled back into the room.

Jim jumped up and followed the bed until the head was pushed against the wall and the brakes set. Blair's eyes where closed but opened as soon as the bed came to a stop.

"Hey there."

A nurse came in and sat a pitcher of water and a few small cartons of juice along with a cup on the tray table. "The doctor is putting you on a liquid diet. You can drink as much as you like."

Jim pointed from the water to the juice.

"Water."

He poured the cool fluid into the cup and capped it with the lid and straw, holding the tip to Blair's lips.

He sipped for a few seconds, swallowing seemed a bit easier.

"I almost forgot Molly stopped by." Jim put the cup back on the tray and held up the bear. "You want me to read the card to you?"

"Maybe later...I'm really tired." Blair's eyes drifted shut again.

Jim sat the bear on the bed near Blair's cast arm. "You never did tell me how you two met."

Blair's looked at him for a second, a small frown on his face. "I met her years ago. I was doing a study for my Masters..."

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

When he awoke some time later he could make out soft talking and the droning of the TV. Cracking open his eyes he could see two blobs sitting off to the right of his bed. Blair opened his mouth to say something, the healing bruises and cuts pulling as he parted and licked his dry lips. "Hey."

"Hairboy." Brown's jovial greeting split through his head like a freight train and he slammed his eyes shut, riding out the spike of pain.

"Sorry," his friend lowered his voice. "How ya feeling Blair...can I get the nurse or something?"

Shaking his head he chanced a second look, seeing the man hovering over him. "'m 'kay... Hey Rafe."

"Blair. You're looking a lot better."

Brown sank back into his chair, tapping his fingers along the armrests, but Rafe stayed standing near him. "Me and H are working on your car accident and needed to ask a few questions to wrap it, if you're up to it."

Blair nodded, relieved to realize the thick collar around his neck was gone, but the sticky hot plastic of the body cast molded to his skin and he could feel a tickling wetness pooling at the base of his back.

"Okay," Rafe pulled a notepad from his pocket. Blair could hear the pages flipping as he closed his eyes and blew out a small breath. "Jim said you might not remember much, but let me tell you what we know."

Blair listened as Rafe talked about the evening out he had spent with some friends and colleagues from Rainier. He could remember the plans that he had made to celebrate, dribbles of images returning since Jim had told him his last clear memory had been from a few days before the accident.

He knew Molly had organized an impromptu party at the Paper Moon. She had just been accepted for a grant she proposed to conduct a study on the physiological effects of pain on the body and personality. She was involved with a group that worked out of Moorgate Pharmaceuticals, but Blair wasn't sure of the specifics.

"That's about it, man," but it irked him that he couldn't really remember the party or even what he had done that day.

"Jim told us you left the apartment around five to meet with some people. He had to come in to take care of some paperwork and was at the office when the call came in."

"I'm sorry, but I'm just not sure what I did." Blair moved his legs, sliding his heel up the sheet, wishing he could roll over. Tiny aches were making themselves known, little cramps rippled through his belly and his chest itched. He raised his good arm and scratched through his gown above the cast. "I remember bits and pieces, but it's...like a dream."

"It's okay, Blair. We understand." Rafe looked to Brown and then turned back to him. "I'm sorry to tell you this, but you need to know. From witnesses at the bar we determined you left with John Marks. Apparently he had been drinking pretty heavily and when he started to disrupt others you confiscated his keys to drive him home."

Blair stopped scratching, dropping his hand to his chest, feeling his heart pick up pace.

"I'm really sorry, Blair..."

"No...uh..." he could feel beads of sweat breaking out on his face, his teeth chattering as he tried to catch his breath. "Wh..what are you saying, man?"

Brown stood and grabbed up his hand, squeezing gently. "We're really sorry, Blair."

God, oh god, oh god.

He looked around frantically, eyes landing anywhere but on the two men that stood so close to him. "I ah...I'm really need a minute here."

"S'kay Blair. Jim will be back in a bit. We'll check in with ya later." Brown gave one more gentle squeeze before turning away.

Tears burned his eyes, but he waited for the door to close before he let them fall.

God...

Crying hurt his face, but he couldn't help it. His eyes burned and the cut near his mouth was breaking open with each sob.

He killed his friend...

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

Jim shifted through the last few pages of Blair's current journals, reading everything he could on Molly Ranshaw.

The living room was dark, the blinds pulled to deflect the rays of the setting sun. He had managed a shower and shave, boiling some pasta to eat with leftover sauce he found in the freezer.

Blair had recorded some of his feelings for the woman, but it seemed that the relationship had fizzled, that Molly was seeing someone new.

"Molly's been great and I'm so happy for her. We're all waiting to see if she gets her grant. I know she'll be a real asset to Moorgate and this could really launch her career."

Nothing seemed to point to anything obviously out of order. By all accounts Molly was on her way to the career of her dreams and she and Blair had remained friends.

Good friends.

Dropping the book back to the coffee table, Jim grabbed his computer and popped in the index floppy. He waited for the listing to pull up and scrolled down to find Molly's name. Opening the file, he found some information as it had pertained to Blair's study. Molly had answered Blair's ad for study participants, but there wasn't a lot on her. She complained of being sensitive to light and smells, but Blair noted that she suffered from migraines and that her symptoms were probably side effects of the headaches.

Sighing, he shut the program down and pushed aside his ill feelings. He couldn't really find anything and with nothing to go on...

Glancing at the clock, he tidied up, rinsing his dishes and stuffing Blair's journal back in his bag to take to the hospital. Blair's doctors were pleased about his recovery so far, but the next few days were going to be critical. They were going to remove some of the machines and tubing, see if they could get him up and around. A physical therapist was scheduled to come in to work with him, as it was likely that he was going to have some weakness.

Picking up his keys and slinging the backpack over his shoulder, he left the loft and jogged down the steps into the cooling night air.

The parking garage was crammed full and he had to park on the very top level, taking the elevator to the concourse with the walk bridge over to the hospital.

The halls were mostly empty, although the rooms he passed on the way to Blair's seemed full of visitors. Blair's door was ajar, but the lights were off and Blair was propped on his side, turned away from the door, a few pillows along his back to support him.

"Hey, Chief...you awake?" Jim dropped the bag near the foot of the bed, slipping into his seat, pleased to see an arrangement of flowers and a few get well cards scattered over the heating unit under the window. "Simon said he was coming by tomorrow to see you."

"Why didn't you tell me?" His friend's voice was strained and flat, his shoulders began quivering and shaking, and the sour scent of tears mingled with the smells of antiseptic and Blair reached Jim's nose.

"I'm sorry," he stood and came around the bed, kneeling down and reached his hands through the rail and patted the healing knuckles that held tightly onto the cool metal. "I just thought you should concentrate on getting a little bit better."

"I guess I missed the funeral...oh, man..." the cloudy voice cracked, going up a notch. "That's why Rafe and H were here..."

Jim moved quickly, rubbing a hand over Blair's arm. "Don't worry about that. It's just a formality. We know that you weren't drunk and it appears that whatever happened, you tried to regain control."

"I wish I could remember," Blair whispered, rubbing against the soft pillow to dry his face, wincing when he bumped his nose. "Man, I should call Molly, she must be devastated."

Jim shook his head, not understanding. "Why's that, buddy? Were they close?"

A small snort escaped his friend as he raised his cast arm to rub at his forehead. "You could say that. They were seeing each other."

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

Jim shoved the last of his steak, egg and cheese bagel in his mouth, quickly wiping his greasy fingers and lips on a crumpled napkin. He stuck the trash back in the bag and slid from the truck, dumping the remains of his breakfast in the first trashcan he could find on the way into the hospital.

Blair was scheduled for a visit from the therapist this morning and Jim wanted to be close by in case his friend needed him.

The revelation the night before still bugged him, but he decided to let it drop for the time being, thinking he might get to talk to Molly and straighten a few things out. There was no evidence of foul play and her teary eyed apologies could mean anything.

The building was crowded for the early hour, patients walked the corridors, dragging IV poles behind them, visitors milled about, talking with sickly looking people or standing on the front walk to take a smoke.

Blair's ward was a bit more subdued, most people too sick to move around and he was grateful that his friend was being moved today out of the intermediate care to a regular room.

One more step toward recovery.

With any luck Blair could be home in as little as ten days.

The nurse at the desk smiled as he passed and he gave a little wave, recognizing her as one of the many who had taken care of his friend at some point. Shirley, a pleasant dark skinned beauty stood outside Blair's room, a few unidentified tools in her hand.

Jim strolled up to her, "Morning...what's going on?"

Shirley smiled, bright eyes sparkling as she ran a hand over her short-cropped hair. "Good morning. Mr. Sandburg has a visitor."

"Oh..." he listened for a second, picking up a light soft voice.

"I told him I would give him a few minutes, but I've got to get him ready for the P.T. visit this morning." She looked at her watch, "I'm going to go check on the schedule, confirm some times. I'll be right back."

Jim nodded, ears still attuned to the room beyond the closed door.

"But it's all my fault, Blair."

"No it's not, Molly. You couldn't have known what he would do...I just wish I was paying better attention."

"Do you think I should knock?" Shirley was back, pushing a large rolling cart to rest against the wall, knocking on the closed door even as she asked. "Mr. Sandburg? We really need to get you ready."

A chair scraped along the floor; skin rubbing against her clothes and then she spoke. "I'll talk to you later, Blair." And Jim could hear the plastic bed cover crinkle and creak and lips meeting, a short smacking sound followed by a tiny sigh. "Call me, okay."

Tiny footsteps approached the door and then it swung open. Molly slipped out and smiled up at Jim. "Hey."

"Hi, Molly." He frowned at her apparent happiness, utterly confused.

The nurse pushed in her cart and greeted his friend before he got into the room. Blair was lying on his back again, head raised a bit and a tray of uneaten food pushed to the side.

Shirley made small talk, asking why he didn't eat. "I guess I'm a little nervous about today...hi, Jim."

He nodded, taking his usual seat.

"Do you want Mr. Ellison to stay while we take care of some things?" Shirley was already pressing gauze over one of Blair's IV sites, pulling out the tubing.

"It's okay with me."

She nodded, pressing against the tiny drop of blood that welled up, quickly covering it with a bandaid.

Blair eyed him from across the room. "You heard, didn't you?"

He couldn't deny it, "A little, yeah."

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

Blair laid his head back against the pillow, trying to ignore what the nurse was doing to his body, trying to figure out what to say to Jim.

That's the one thing they don't tell you about the hospital...how they violate you on a daily basis. How you're at the mercy of those taking care of you.

His favorite nurse worked quickly, removing the other IV bag and tubing, but capped off the port without removing it. "We're leaving one in case you need it."

He nodded numbly, closing his eyes. The blankets were shifted up and the hose he had on peeled off. Blood rushed up and down his legs, prickly and strange and the tube in his penis stung as she swiftly pulled it out.

"Sorry," she soothed, patting a petite hand against his naked thigh. The blankets were rearranged as she moved back toward his head, pulling down the sheets to expose his chest.

The cast that enclosed the trunk of his body had a few Velcro strips on the right side and she pushed up his gown and pulled them open. Cool air hit his skin and a putrid smell reached his nose.

Poor Jim...

But he kept his eyes closed as she removed a few sticky leads from his chest that were left from a few days ago when he was taken off the heart monitor. He looked down the length of his body, watching as she emptied and measured the fluid from each of his four drains. "I think these will come out in a day or two. The doctor might take the ones from your back today."

He was feeling a little warm suddenly.

The doctor breezed in while she was examining his stitches. "Good morning."

Blair nodded, not really feeling much like talking, letting his eyes drift closed again.

They talked quietly over his head and he only paid them any attention when they talked to him directly. At one point he squinted at his friend to see a bright smile and Jim jumped up to help them sit him up after they closed and secured the cast. "Depending on how you do in physical therapy, we'll send you home with something more light weight and comfortable."

His head swam once he was upright on the bed with his legs dangling over the edge. Jim held onto his side, supporting him under the elbow and allowing his cast arm to rest against his own.

He hung his head, feeling Shirley sidled up against his other side after Dr. Owens undid the straps and removed the plastic that encased him.

It felt good to get it off.

"Okay, Blair. Just relax. You should only feel a little pressure." She pressed something against his back and he jumped when the tubing under his skin snaked out.

Her fingers picked along his spine, pulling up pieces of surgical tape that covered his stitches. "These look great."

Buy the time they got him laying flat without his cast, he was sweating and feeling sick.

"We're going to leave it off until the therapist comes to do a few tests." The doctor slid off her gloves and tossed them. "Probably this afternoon they'll have you up out of bed."

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

Jim used a damp cloth to wipe Blair's forehead. His friend was still looking a little green. "How ya feeling, Chief?"

"Mmm...better."

Shirley had given Blair pain meds in the form of a needle to his hip before she left and it seemed they were finally taking effect.

"You want to talk about it?" Jim patted the cool cloth down Blair's neck and over his chest before tossing it on the tray table, pulling the chair closer so Blair wouldn't have to strain his neck to see him.

"I just wish I could say for sure...it's all so hazy...was I wearing my new blue shirt?"

Jim laughed, nodding his head. "Yeah...but I'm afraid it didn't make it."

"It's not Molly's fault...not really."

Jim shifted forward, clasping his hands between his knees. "What did she tell you Blair?"

"I know I never told you much about her, but we go back a bit...she suffers from headaches and sometimes she reacts before thinking."

"Was Marks a Sentinel?" Jim blurted, needing to know at least that much.

Blair eyed him, but carefully shook his head. "No, man. He had a few heightened senses and I think he maybe was struggling with another...sound may have been developing, but I couldn't help him...he wouldn't let me."

"Did Molly cause the accident, Chief?"

"I don't know...she thinks she did. She told me that they were fighting constantly and Johnny was drinking. She drove him to the party and apparently had a fight over me." Blair raised a hand to scratch at his chest and Jim resisted the urge to slap his fingers away.

His friend closed his eyes and stayed quiet for a few minutes, Jim knew he was on the verge of sleep, but Blair jerked his eyes open again. "She told me that he thought she was spending too much time with me, but I was trying to tell her how she might help him...I told her a lot of stuff, maybe too much."

Jim raised an eyebrow at that, but kept quiet.

"She told me that when he got out of the car, she turned the volume of the stereo all the way up and turned the power off...I think maybe while I was driving him home one of us turned the radio on and the loud sound caused him to freak out...I don't know, maybe th...that's what hap..."

Jim mulled it over as Blair finally drifted to sleep. On one hand Molly's intentional actions most likely caused a death and grave injury to Blair.

On the other hand Blair himself probably gave her the ammunition to cause the harm.

There wasn't any measure of law to judge what may have happened.

And that didn't sit too well with Jim.

No sooner had Blair finally dropped into a deep sleep than the therapist showed and woke him up.

She talked with Blair briefly before she started to manipulate his limbs, bending and stretching his legs. Blair was breathing heavy by the end of the session, tears streaming down his face as she rolled him into the front of the body cast, securing the fasteners, pinching his skin.

She was rough and brisk, turning and shifting Blair, but she had a bright smile and held and patted Blair's hand when she was done.

"Tomorrow we're going to go to occupational therapy on the fourth floor. See if we can get you walking."

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

There is nothing quite as liberating than walking under your own steam.

At first Blair couldn't remember whether it was heel, ball, toe or toe, ball, heel...but by the end of his first session he was hanging heavily between the support rails, hands sweaty and slick where he held them, dragging his feet forward one glorious step at a time.

That was over a week ago and now he could do laps in the corridors with his old man walker, but at least he was moving.

He was dressed in his own clothes and tennis shoes, a lighter weight brace encircling his middle, he pressed forward...lift, step, step...lift, step, step.

His friend whistled from the end of the hall and Blair blushed at the praise. "You ready to blow this joint, Chief?"

He nodded, eyeing the wheelchair Jim was pushing, but as he moved closer he could see it was filled with Blair's things...a plant from Simon and fresh flowers from the guys at the station. Jim ducked into his room to grab a bundle of balloons and the little tan teddy. "I think we got everything."

Blair followed beside him, saying good-bye to the staff...taking the time to give Shirley a small hug. "Take care of yourself."

He waited in the lobby as Jim drove Simon's car to the entry, helping him sit in the seat and buckle up, folding up his walker and stowing it in the trunk.

The ride through the city was calming, despite the traffic and seeing their building after so long was almost too much.

Jim unloaded everything, settling him on the sofa with a soda and the remote, leaving the walker within easy reach, setting the teddy bear on his lap with a small smirk before going to get some more things from the car.

The phone rang and Blair leaned carefully forward to grab the cordless from the coffee table. "Hello..."

He listened to the unfamiliar voice, looking toward the door when Jim returned, nodding his head in response to what the person was saying. Jim took the phone from his hands, talking briefly with the caller before clicking it off and setting it on the table.

"I'm sorry, Chief."

Blair looked up through unshed tears, "I should have seen this coming."

"It's not your fault...you can't help everyone." Jim sat next to him, resting his arm along the back of the couch, letting it casually fall over Blair's shoulders.

"I should have helped her..." Blair leaned closer to his friend. "I should have done...something."

The tiny tan teddy bear fell unnoticed to the floor as Blair cried on his best friend's shoulder.

His tears were for Molly and Johnny, but mostly for himself.

"Shhh...it's okay..."

But he couldn't stop, his outlook on life was guarded at best...he sure as hell wasn't feeling like his optimistic self...

He felt like he was splintering into a hundred pieces.

But the arms around him tightened and he suddenly stopped, wiping the wetness from his face on his sleeve.

He was alive and on the road to recovery...

He survived and that had to mean something...

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

The End

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