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: Blair might not survive a threat from the past.

Notes: A big Thank You to Cheryl for finding my mistakes.

Warning: This story deals with a non graphic non consensual assault.

House Bound

by Twilight (Dawn)

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

The carpet dug into his knees, his legs quivered and his back ached and burned from being forced to lean over the coffee table for so long. His hands were bound tightly in front of him, cinched in a hard plastic cuff. He flexed his fingers, his arms numb all the way up to his shoulders.

The phone rang again; the hand pressing into his back knotted his shirt a little harder. Finally the answering machine picked up and Jim's voice filled the loft. "Blair? Okay, I'm starting to worry here. You said you'd be in by nine and it's after noon. Well, I'll try your cell again."

As promised a small shrill ring came from Blair's bedroom, muffled by a layer of text books and papers he had stuffed in his book bag the night before. Blair had planned to be up and ready to leave home by eight, had heard Jim moving around a little earlier and a whispered, "see ya later, Chief," as Jim left, he heard the thudded click of the deadbolt as Jim engaged the lock...but then he drifted back to sleep.

"I swear that partner of yours is dumb as a post."

A shiver raced up Blair's back, but he tried to stay calm. Waking to a hand over his mouth had set his heart sputtering, but seeing the cold and calculated eyes beyond the hand nearly did him in.

"Bet he won't call back until late afternoon. Plenty of time..."

Rough fisted hands pushed him lower over the table, tiny drops of blood dripped from cuts inflicted to his chest earlier that morning, his shirt shredded and his shoulders bare. The dots pooled on the table, speckling his student's notebooks and some articles he'd borrowed from the local library to study.

The gun pressed to the back of his head lifted and he relaxed just a fraction, hoping the phone wouldn't ring again anytime soon...hoping that Jim would just get a clue and come home.

Suddenly he was hoisted up and his knees buckled, unable to bear his weight, his head pounded as he was manhandled down the hall on shaky legs, relieved that he wasn't going to be put back into his room.

When the man had woken him he was forced at gun point to go about his morning routine, forced to shower and shave in front of leering eyes, to dress in a pair of slacks and one of his dress shirts.

He fingered the tattered remains of his new blue shirt.

At that point Blair's hands were still free, and he wanted desperately to keep it that way. Free hands gave him a better chance to escape. Blair had been talking to the man...trying to connect with him, let the guy see he was a human being and not an object.

The nut job had been so enraged when Blair hadn't immediately complied with the demand to turn around and Blair scrambled to pacify him, but it was too late. The gun raised and the butt slammed down, hitting him on the side of his head, knocking Blair to his knees.

He'd found himself shoved and stabbed at with a box cutter, his shirt sliced opened and his hands bound tightly with the plastic cuffs. Closed fists and booted feet punched and kicked and Blair rolled away and curled up, the tip of the boot caught his face and bloodied his nose and lips.

Then they'd had breakfast...chocolate chip pancakes and black coffee.

Blair had wondered what kind of cleaning fluid he could get his hands on as he clumsily stirred the batter and set the pot to make one of Jim's gourmet brews, but he didn't have a chance...not even a second unattended.

And now it was after lunch...the morning was fuzzy, but some things clearly stuck out in Blair's mind and all he knew was that he had to go along with his captor...had to do whatever he had to do to stay alive.

As they rounded the corner into the kitchen, Blair was pushed ahead and shoved into the kitchen counter, pushed over at his chest and held immobile while his assailant opened the fridge and got out something.

When Blair turned his head to attempt to see what was happening, fingers dug into his scalp and slammed his head down with such a force it made his teeth rattle. He bit his tongue and his ears popped, muffling whatever the man was screeching at him.

Blood poured from his nose, something hot and sticky slicked down his neck and he had to breathe shallowly through clenched teeth as a tea towel was shoved in his bound hands.

And then the phone rang again.

He was propelled to the dining table, dripping blood all over the hardwood and pushed down on the flat surface, the back of the chair digging into his stomach and the gun reappeared, pressing hard into his temple.

"Okay Sandburg...where the hell are you? I can't wait any longer. I'm heading over to interview Wallace. Call me when you get this."

With the click of the phone, the pressure on his back eased and he was pulled up and pushed toward the sofa and beyond, balking when he got to the steps that led to Jim's bedroom.

"Get up there..."

Blair shook his head, still holding the towel to his oozing nose and cut lip.

A foot caught him in the lower back and he stumbled forward, hitting his side on the riser, rolling and slamming to the floor. Strong arms lifted him up and his world tilted, pressure built in his face as he was hefted over a bony shoulder and taken up the steps.

He bounced as he was dumped on the bed, kicking out, screaming for help, but in the end none of that mattered.

He would do what he had to do...it was the only way to survive.

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

Hours later Blair lay on his stomach in Jim's bed, bruised face turned toward the steps that led down to the main floor of the apartment. The clock on the bedside table blinked, showing the time as 6:15, but Blair knew it was earlier than that, he knew that the reason the clock was blinking was because the power had been interrupted, probably while he was still half asleep in his bed after Jim had left for work.

He gingerly pulled his uninjured leg up, trying to ease the cramps and nausea swirling in his gut, his right arm throbbing in time with his head, his other leg burning and sticky with drying blood.

Blair pulled his free arm a little closer to his bare chest, pain lanced from elbow to shoulder and he knew it was broken, the other still bound to the railing over Jim's bed. He listened as the living room was trashed, hearing things fall from shelves and the crashing of heavy objects.

His captor had to know a neighbor would hear and call the police, but that was probably what the nut wanted.

Blair shivered, wishing he could pull the soiled blanket over him.

It hurt to move, hurt to breathe...

Closing his eyes Blair tried to take in a deep breath, panicking a little when the air rattled back out of his lungs, blood rising to the back of his throat.

He swallowed, shifted gingerly, feeling his own stomach and chest, not really sure what to look for.

His belly hurt, but it was manageable.

Other pains were pushed to the back of his mind.

He couldn't deal with that now.

Jim should be coming home soon.

Something shattered down below and then heavily booted feet raced up the steps to the bedroom.

Blair's muscles tensed and he held his breath, closing his eyes tight.

He couldn't do it again...

Tears squeezed through the thick lashes and ran down his swollen face; his nose ached with each shallow panicked breath until he remembered to open his mouth.

Memories from earlier raced through him, playing in vivid technicolor.

He couldn't do it again...

After being dumped on the bed, the lunatic took out a wicked looking blade and cut his bonds, but before Blair could get in a swinging punch, his captor grabbed his right arm, bending it backward until Blair heard his elbow pop.

The pain didn't register at first, his limb too numb but once his left hand was secured to the metal rail above the bed it came in waves, engulfing him completely, radiating down his shoulder and to his hand and he gulped in air, trying not to pass out.

The mad-man had moved away from him, opening Jim's dresser and Blair passed out for a bit as shelves were ransacked and Jim's closet emptied. When he came to piles of clothes were tossed on the floor and bed, across the mirrored dresser and over Jim's desk.

"What are you lookin' for, man?"

He should have kept his big mouth shut.

The bed dipped and he was turned, his injured arm yanked from the protection of his side and he was forced to his back, strong hands pressing into his shoulders.

The man took hold of his collar and yanked, the buttons of his tattered shirt popped from the shredded fabric, spinning away and scattering over the hardwood floor.

"Don't..." Blair brought up his knees, trying to curl in and away, but something sharp pierced his thigh and he stilled, vomiting bile and blood, chocking and spitting as the blade was pulled out.

"I can play this game all night Blair." Rough bloody hands pressed into his stomach, one sliding down to pop the snap of his jeans, to pull the zipper down and cool air rushed up his body as his pants were peeled off and thrown into the pile of clean clothes strewn across the bed.

And then...

Blair shook himself, coming back to the here and now. He knew without opening his eyes the man stood over him.

He could feel hot breath on his neck, as callused hands wander over the smooth skin of his back, before stopping to squeeze his ass.

Blair's body jumped, shivers raced up his spine as he pressed his face into Jim's pillow, breathing in his friend's scent, taking comfort in the familiar smells of the room.

"I'm hungry...let's eat."

"Wh...what?"

The guy reached over him, using the stained knife to cut the plastic cuff, pulling Blair up and to his feet. "Hungry...I missed lunch." He pinched Blair's ass again, evil eyes gleaming as Blair swayed away and toppled back to the bed.

He was pulled up again and Blair hated that he had to lean on the man for support. An arm came up and around his waist, squeezing the skin there.

"You've let yourself go, Blair. I don't think I can handle carrying you back down the steps." His captor moved closer, lips pressed against Blair's ear. "Good sex always wears me out."

A little slap on the rear end got him moving, but Blair didn't answer, he just tried to stay on his feet. He cradled his aching arm with his good hand and leaned on the brick wall for support, descending the steps slowly, one at a time.

It wasn't until he got to the bottom that he noticed the guy was wearing Jim's flowered apron. "Why are you doing this?" He shuffled along a few steps, listing to the left and banging against the back of the sofa, crying out as his injured elbow was jostled and swayed out of his grasp.

A maniacal laugh echoed from the kitchen. "I thought you minored in Psychology?" Pans rattled, water from the facet filled and splashed in a pot and the burner clicked and came on. "Why does anyone do anything?"

Blair thought about running, but he knew he wouldn't make it to the door. And even if he did, where would he go? He looked down at his twisted boxers and bare feet.

Maybe he could make it to the street.

His host was busy frying frozen hamburger, smoke swelled from the cooking meat and the burning stench wafted through the kitchen to the living room.

Blair inched away from the sofa, carefully turning the corner and passing between the other couch and dining table.

"Don't even think about it."

Sirens in the distance brought his head up and Blair looked toward the balcony doors.

"Finally. Gotta tell ya Blair. I would have thought Ellison would have come runnin' the minute you didn't show...some partner, huh?"

Should he run or stay put?

A glint of sharp steel caught his eye as the sirens stopped abruptly outside. Blair moved back a step, but was quickly overcome and yanked around to the front of the sofa. Feet pounded down the hall as he was pulled to sit on the edge of the sofa between the man's spread legs, a kitchen knife pressed into his side, the man's hand tangled into his hair as the door rattled in its frame. The hand holding the knife moved down and into his boxers, the point digging into his groin and it was then Blair knew that Jim was too late.

He was going to die after all.

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

"God damn it, Simon...how could we not know?" Jim raced down the hall, already knowing that someone was with Blair. The stench of blood and other bodily fluids doubled him over just outside the door to his home. "Oh god..."

"Jim?" His boss caught up, winded from the run up three flights of steps. Other officers converged, some going to secure the alleyway and back entrance, others flanking them as Jim managed to straighten up.

"I'm okay..." Jim reared back; raising his leg and pounding his foot into the door, feeling it give, seeing the wooden frame splinter and crack. It occurred to him that he could have used his key, but this felt so much better.

With a second kick the door gave and he pushed through, gun raised and pointed toward the man sitting on the couch behind his friend. Blair's body obscured the man's features but he knew all too well who it was. "Let him go."

Jim inched forward, watching the hand shoved down Blair's boxers move a fraction, smelt the pungent metallic blood that soaked his friend's underwear. Blair didn't move, his head hung low, his hair obscuring his face, his hands dangled between his knees, but when the hand stopped moving, stopped cutting him, Blair took in a quick shuddering breath.

"Now why would I do that...at, at, at...tell your friend there to move back."

Jim caught a glimpse of Simon working his way around the room for a better shot, but his boss took a step back as Blair's head was yanked back by the hair.

Blair's eyes drifted shut as he gulped for air, sweat poured down his face and chest, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed and Jim could hear his heart beating wildly, erratic.

He thought that this was the end.

Jim could see it in the pinched eyes, could smell the fear along with his friend's resignation.

To hell with that...

Blair's attacker was careful to keep his head and chest concealed behind Blair's body, using him as a human shield, but all Jim needed was a glimpse.

Just an inch...

Move, damn you. Move.

And then it happened, just a slight turn of the head, but it was all Jim needed, the opening he was looking for and he fired. The bullet seemed to sail in slow motion, striking the target, toppling the man backwards, spraying blood and grey matter over the back of the sofa and dinning table before imbedding in the frame of the French door.

Warren Chapel lay dead on the couch and Blair flopped forward and hit the floor.

Time snapped back and Jim rushed forward with Simon hot on his heals. "Blair..."

Jim knelt down, screaming for an ambulance.

"It's already on the way." Simon said, handing over some dish towels.

Jim ignored him, pulling Blair's boxers down and shifting his leg. "Damn it, he got the femoral..." Agile sensitive fingers felt along Blair's groin, finding the jagged edge of the cut artery. "Where is the damn ambulance? He's gonna bleed out."

"His head is bleeding, bad." Simon knelt down, pressing a dish cloth over the bullet wound.

"Move the towel." Jim ordered, shifting his body, but keeping up the pressure over the knife wound, his pinched fingers literally holding in Blair's life blood. His eyes zoomed in on the head wound; cataloging the tear, but it was only a graze. His bullet took off a chunk of Blair's ear. "Keep the pressure up, it's just a flesh wound."

Hooded eyes studied him and Jim managed a weak smile. "It's okay, Chief...you're going to be okay."

His friend nodded weakly and Jim kept up the small talk until dimming blue eyes closed again and Blair passed out.

"Jim?" Simon's eyes moved for Blair face to Jim's bloody hands.

"I don't know, Simon...he's lost a lot of blood."

Paramedics pushed their way through the officers crowding the doorway. In minutes they had Blair ready for transport; a tight cuff was inflated around his lower thigh and a medic applying deep pressure near Blair's hip. "Let's roll."

Jim followed behind, taking the place of the uniformed officer holding the elevator door.

The night air was cold and Jim shivered as they stepped out into the light rain, jogging along beside the gurney and waiting as Blair was loaded into the ambulance. "Sorry sir. We're going to need room to work." The door shut in Jim's face and he stood motionless as it screeched away from the curb, sirens blaring.

"Come on Jim." Simon led him by the elbow back into the building. "Get cleaned up and I'll drive you over."

He looked down at his saturated shirt, wiping his damp hands down his cleaner slacks, leaving streaks of crimson.

Taking the steps two at a time, Jim hurried through his home and up the steps to his bedroom where he stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh god..."

The rumpled bed was covered with his clothes and a puddle of Blair's blood dripped down the side of his mattress, pooling on the floor. Earlier, at some point, Jim noted the shallow wound to Blair's thigh and the funny angle his right arm hung, but this was where it happened...in his own bedroom.

He pushed the reality away; there would be time later to think it through.

Now he had to get to Blair.

Rummaging through the clothes strewn over his desk, he found a pair of jeans, peeling off his pants and putting them on, still looking for a shirt. A dark green piece of cotton stuck out of the pile and Jim pulled on it revealing Blair's favorite new t-shirt. It must have been mixed in with his stuff while he did the laundry...a gift from Blair's latest girlfriend, with the words, "I put the STUD in study".

Jim couldn't help the small smile. He put the shirt over the rail and grabbed one of his own and as he pulled it over his head he caught sight of something round and shiny under the bedside table.

A button.

From Blair's favorite blue shirt.

Pocketing the button he slipped on his sneakers and jogged down the steps, ignoring the sheet covered body still on his sofa.

People worked around the scene, taking pictures and setting up markers. The forensic unit made their way up the steps as Jim scrubbed his hands in the kitchen sink.

"M.E. is on the way, Jim. I got Rafe and Brown coming over to assist and secure your place when the team is done." Simon held Jim's leather jacket.

"Let's go." He hurried thought the doorway, grabbing his jacket and pulling it on, patting his pockets to make sure he had his keys. "I'll drive."

Jim weaved through the early evening traffic Simon looked over at him, a question poised on his dark lips.

"Jim..."

"I hope so, Simon. I hope so."

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

Blair gulped for air, crying out and fogging the oxygen mask covering his face as someone bumped his arm. The mask slid again, sending little ripples of pain wherever it touched his face. Someone shoved some wadded gauze around the rubber binding, but it was still too tight and he couldn't breathe even with the pure oxygen.

His world tilted again as he was rolled to his side, his arm supported and then he was settled on his back again. Needles pinched his skin and people touched him all over, his remaining clothes cut and pulled from his body.

A man kept reappearing, but Blair couldn't make out what the guy was saying. He was drifting, disconnecting from the noise and motion around him.

Floating.

Every once in a while he would register movement and pain, mostly in his leg, like little bolts of electricity zipping down to his toes, making them curl and cramp.

And the next time he opened his eyes, it was to see the inside walls of an elevator. Someone wedged a finger between his skin and the mask over his face, taking the pressure of his nose and mouth and he realized he could finally breathe.

The man he saw earlier was holding one end of the gurney, pulling his bed out of the car, looking back to give Blair a brief nod of encouragement. The hallway was empty as they passed door after door, ending in a small cold room.

He looked up at the woman holding the mask catching sight of blood in the collapsing IV bag that hung from a pole with a few others, one clear fluid and one milky white joining to drip down a plastic tube connected to his hand.

"You're not going to feel any pain...just some pressure."

He lost time again because when he opened his eyes, he was in the middle of a room on a narrow table. The doctor stood near his side watching a grainy TV screen, holding something long in his right hand, pivoting it to change the image he studied.

A rhythmic hand petted at his hair, other people moved around the end of the table, just on the fringe of his vision.

He could hear rubber gloves peeling from skin, the sound of a trash can lid opening and closing and a different voice saying. "Im done down here. The portable x-ray is on its way over."

The guy near his thigh nodded, "This is looking pretty good, the sutures are holding. I don't see any major clots." And that's when Blair felt the snake under his skin weaving up his leg and into his belly.

It slithered slowly and at first he thought he was imagining it but then he felt it move again. Blair shivered, trying to twist away but unable to move his own body. The hand on his head smoothed over his forehead again and again, a soft whispered voice telling him to be still and relax.

"Almost done."

But Blair couldn't relax...

Air puffed from his mouth as he tried to stay calm, his heart skipped a beat or two, and his skin crawled as the slithering abruptly stopped and was pulled down through his belly and out of his body near his groin.

"Okay, let's get a chest..."

And then it was calm...he was floating again, closing his eyes, hearing the whirl of some kind of machinery above him, feeling gentle arrangement and rearrangement of his limbs and head.

And when he opened his eyes again it was to more unfamiliar faces and voices.

The room was curtained and cool, bright lights above hurt his eyes, drilling into his brain. He squinted at someone new dressed in green scrubs talking to a somewhat familiar looking man in a suit. "I'll stay to witness the exam."

"He'll be in and out...it'll be awhile before you can question him."

"Of course."

His eyes closed again and he drifted for awhile. Blair could hear the doctor talking to him, telling him what he was doing to his body, telling the cop what Chapel had done to him.

His stomach flipped, queasy, making a loud rumbling sound in the mostly quiet room.

Looking down through hooded eyes he could see the doctor sitting on the bed beyond his slightly bent legs, felt a warm hand on his knee and some uncomfortable pressure in places he didn't want to have to think about.

On the verge of panic, sickness churning through his stomach and bowels, he felt a gentle squeeze to his hand

"It's okay Blair." Slowly turning his head on the thin pillow he spotted Jim sitting near his side, realizing his friend was holding his hand. "It's okay now..."

Blair nodded, feeling a little squeeze to his fingers as he closed his eyes and blew out a little breath. He could finally relax. Jim was with him, it was going to be okay.

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

Jim watched as the emergency room doctor handed off a box of evidence to Sweeny, a young detective on the night shift. He wasn't friendly with the man but had heard good things about him.

"I'll be by in the morning to see if he's up to a statement so we can wrap it up."

"Thanks Ryan." Jim watched the man leave, still holding Blair's limp hand, fingering the button in his pants pocket with the other.

He had been in the waiting room most of the night trying hard to stay put when he heard Blair's occasional cries of pain.

Simon stayed into the early morning, but headed out when they got a good report from the vascular surgeon who worked on his friend.

Blair's artery had been successfully repaired and his broken arm was set. He had six stitches in his thigh; countless surgical staples in a much more sensitive area and eleven in his ear where Jim's fatal bullet had clipped Blair in route to Chapel's head.

He was told Blair had cuts and lacerations, a few bite marks that were already starting to get infected and a low grade fever, but the doctors seemed optimistic.

Blair was still sedated, his broken nose splinted but they couldn't do anything to stabilize his fractured cheek bone. It would have to heal on its own.

Jim leaned forward, stroking his fingertips over Blair's bruised face, feeling the warmth of his bruises and the moist air leaking around the tube in his nose helping him breathe.

Luckily Blair's ribs were just bruised and not broken. He was going to be sore for a long time but he would heal.

"Jim?" Joel stuck his head into the small recovery room. "I brought your new keys. How's he doing?"

"He's gonna be okay. Did you get a hold of Diswolt?"

The older man moved closer to the bed, and looked down at Blair with a small fond smile on his dark face. "Yeah. His crew's coming first thing this morning. I told him not to worry about cleaning the mattress though. I'll head over to pick you up a new one later today."

"Christ...that's two mattresses Chapel's ruined."

Jim dropped the button and reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. "Here, take my credit card. Charge whatever needs to be done."

Joel took the card, pocketing it in his rumpled suit jacket. "Simon's gonna drop by later today, but said to tell you that the call reporting Chapel's escape was intercepted and routed through a few different numbers. Brown's working it to see if Chapel was in on it alone."

"Just keep me informed." Jim shifted back in his seat, feeling Blair's pulse beneath his finger tips. "I'm staying here until Blair's released. If the loft's not done we'll check into a hotel, hell, might do that anyway...who's to say Blair will ever want to go back there..."

"Hey, man. Blair will be the first one who'll want to go home...you'll see..."

"Yeah, we'll see."

They were silent for a few seconds and then Joel turned to go. "Tell him to call me when he's up to company, okay Jim?" He gave Blair's covered leg a little squeeze then pulled the curtain closed on his way out, leaving Jim alone in the dim room.

Blair whispered something in his drugged sleep and Jim smiled. "Yeah Blair...I'm here."

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

Hard rain pelted the old brick building; storm clouds blew by high in the sky. Thunder rumbled, shaking the glass windows that overlooked the city. Jim had been sitting in Blair's hospital room in the same chair all night long, his back was stiff and his butt was numb. He shifted and crossed his legs, taking some of the pressure off his rear.

Blair lay on his side in the bed nearest the window, bruised and swollen face turned away from Jim, one hand clutching the raised rail even in his drugged sleep. Every once in a while he would mumble, distressed, but settle quickly at Jim's soft spoken voice or a small touch to his uninjured arm.

The few times that his friend had been coherent, he remained mostly silent, only telling Jim that his toes hurt.

"Why do my toes hurt, man?"

Jim wished he knew...

They had moved Blair to a semi private room a few hours ago, the other bed was occupied by an elderly man who seemed to be unconscious, old and balding, face and body shriveled with age. Jim was glad Blair would have some privacy and a quiet roommate while he recuperated.

The elderly man had been in the same position since they had arrived hours ago. Unlike Blair who tossed and turned fitfully, crying out when he bumped his arm or a tender spot. His right leg especially sensitive; it twitched constantly, interrupting Blair's rest even with all the medications floating around his system.

A loud boom rattled the shaded window, the lights flickered and the old man in the next bed groaned deep and low, but never opened his eyes. Jim moved to the window and looked out into the fury of wind and swirling rain, casting a gray gloom over the noon sky.

"Is Chapel dead?"

Having heard a slight change in Blair's breathing, Jim wasn't totally surprised to hear his friend's scratchy voice. "As a door knob."

"Good." And then Blair closed his eyes again, swallowing painfully, tongue flicking out to coat drier lips. "Can I have a drink?"

Jim moved around the bed to the cup of apple juice the nurse left when they first moved Blair to the room. The ice had melted, she must have thought he would be awake and requesting a drink by now, but the liquid was still cool.

Jim held the cup close, gently tapping the straw against Blair's swollen lips and his friend opened his mouth a fraction, taking a few sips, his eyes still closed. "My face hurts." Blair's tongue darted out again, stopping to probe a puffy cut near the corner of his mouth.

Jim flopped back to the chair, "Your nose is broken...I can call the nurse to see if they can give you something."

Blair finally opened his eyes, nodding.

It took a few minutes, but she came with a needle and used the port of his IV to inject the medication.

Blair closed his eyes again and Jim settled back in his chair, flipping on the TV, surfing for a game or something to hold his interest but thirty minutes later Blair jerked himself awake, reaching a hand toward his right leg. "God...my toes...on fire..."

Jim stood quickly, the remote hitting the floor with a muted thud, his hand going to Blair's right foot, gently touching through the thin blanket and sheets, squeezing. "Better buddy?"

"Umm Hmm."

A rap on the door startled Jim, he hadn't heard anyone approaching. Turning, he saw Sweeny standing with one foot over the threshold, a hand holding open the wooded door. "Can I come in?" At Blair's nod, the young detective sat in the chair Jim had just vacated. "How are you today, Mr. Sandburg?"

"Fine." Blair shifted slowly, using his good arm to push himself up in his bed, bending and flexing his right leg under the sheets and blankets. "I guess you want my statement?"

"Yes sir...if you feel up to it." Sweeny wasted no time pulling out his notepad and pen, smoothing down the inner pocket of his black suit. He flipped a few pages, a question poised on his mouth when Blair interrupted.

"Uhh...Jim, would you mind stepping out, man?"

He's throwing me out...

"I uh...sure. I'll pick us up some lunch." Jim went to the long cabinet across the room and pulled out his jacket, shrugging it on and patting his pockets for his keys. "How about some soup from Dave's and uh, I can pick you up a milkshake from Deever's...you want chocolate?"

"Sounds good...thanks." A tiny smile reached Blair's eyes and Jim knew it had to hurt his friend, but he smiled back. The rock sitting in his gut since finding Blair on the couch, limp and lifeless in Chapel's arms, settled a bit.

He stepped out and left Blair in the capable hands of another cop. All the way down the hall and elevator Jim tried not to listen, to give his friend the privacy he wanted, but Blair's raspy voice only seemed to be exchanging pleasantries. They talked about the passing storm and a cold front moving in over the weekend, they talked about Sweeny's unit at the station and the donut girl.

It didn't hit him until he was standing in the long line at Deever's Icy Delights that Blair was waiting for Jim to be long gone before giving his statement.

And he just wasn't sure what to make of that.

Was Blair trying to protect Jim or was he shutting Jim out?

The more he thought about it, the more he realized he and Blair had barely exchanged more than a few words.

Pulling out into light traffic, he sucked on his raspberry banana smoothie, fumbling the cool cup when his cell phone rang. "Ellison."

"It's Banks. Brown turned up another suspect, just wanted you to know he's on his way to pick her up. I'll call you back when we got more."

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

The detective was young, but efficient and his questions were straight forward, to the point.

Blair gave him the details as he remembered them; skimming over some parts but giving out enough of the story to be sure that the man got what he needed.

It couldn't have mattered too much anyway, Chapel was dead.

"Well thank you, Mr. Sandburg." Sweeny stood and closed his little note pad, pocketing it along with the flashy pen. "This should do, but I might need to ask a few more questions later. I'll send the statement over tonight for your signature."

I'll be here, man." Blair watched him go. He rolled over carefully to look at the overcast sky instead of the aging man he shared the room with. The sun was trying to break through, but the rain still fell in steady sheets against the building. Soft sole shoes squeaked to a stop outside his room and the door creaked opened, the smell of chicken noodle soup turned his stomach.

Jim sat his lunch on the tray and Blair wondered if he just ignored his friend would he go away?

Probably not.

Minutes passed. Jim had to have known Blair wasn't sleeping, but he didn't say a word.

Sandwich papers crumbled, the slip of a straw squeaked through a lid and Jim's weight settled in the chair beside him.

After a few more minutes, Blair cleared his throat, "I'm sorry, man." Tears pressed at his eyes, sending ripples of pain down his face, but he was not going to let them fall.

"Nothing to be sorry for...you think you can eat a little?"

Jim stayed put, not pressuring, not coming around the bed to look at him or demand anything from him and Blair loved him for it. "I don't think I can right now, okay?"

"Okay."

Blair could hear the chair as it slid across the floor, moving closer. "You want a sip of your shake? Double chocolate latté."

He nodded, carefully rolling to his back and reaching for the bed controls with his good arm, raising the head of the bed; he took the cool cup from Jim and tentatively sipped the whipped ice cream.

They sat in silence.

The rain had stopped.

Afternoon turned to evening and evening to night.

Blair dozed on and off, listening to whatever show Jim had on the television, catching a blurb about Chapel's escape, the break in and his attack on the evening news before Jim quickly changed the channel.

Late in the evening, a doctor in a crisp white lab coat visited with a score of other young men and women on nightly rounds. They stopped at the first bed and gathered around the elderly man. Like vultures with fresh prey they took turns listening to the man's heart, shifting and lifting blankets, pressing into the fragile looking flesh.

Blair overheard that Mr. Dukan was scheduled for heart catheterization the next day, but had suffered a coronary in the nursing home where he had lived, and now they would just have to wait and see.

He seemed so old and frail, so small lying curled up on the bed.

It seemed sad that the man hadn't had any visitors, any friends or family to stay with him.

The discussion continued for a few more minutes, the students eager, listening to the smooth tenor of the attending doctor, offering treatment suggestions and opinions on which protocol to follow.

When the flood turned and greeted him, Blair flashed a weak smile and blew out a breath to calm himself, not comfortable with all the eyes studying him.

Jim stood and shook the hand of the man in the lab coat, calling him by name.

"Do you remember me, Mr. Sandburg? I'm Dr. Novella." The surgeon extended his left hand and Blair grasped it as firmly as he could, needing to feel at least a little in control.

The doctor turned to the group waiting behind him a few steps. "Mr. Sandburg presented with a small gash to his right femoral artery in addition to other injuries. Our priority was to stop the bleeding and then we explored for clotting." The doctor grabbed and flipped opened the chart on the end of his bed, reading the notes left by the nurses. "His pain is..."

But Blair tuned them out, reaching out to grip the bed railing; afraid of what might come next.

Young voices floated in the air about him, discussing possible complications and reasons for his phantom toe pain.

The squeaky pull of the privacy curtain brought him out of his mini zone. Jim still sat in the chair, but they were alone in the room.

"He said he'll be back in a few minutes, Chief."

Blair nodded, "Did he say when I can go home?"

"No, but you can ask him, he's on his way back in."

Dr. Novella slipped through the curtain with a woman that Blair recognized as the night nurse. The man briskly washed his hands in the sink while she pulled things from cabinets and all the while Blair's heart seemed to beat faster and faster.

Jim patted Blair's arm just above the wrist, his fist still clutching the bed rail in an iron grip. "It's okay, Blair...you want me to stay?"

"Yes."

Dr. Novella moved to study the readouts of the various machines. "You vitals are looking good. I think we'll pull you off everything and start you on oral meds. If you can tolerate the pills and eat we'll let you go home in the morning."

"Okay."

The nurse removed the tube under his nose, reaching across him to flip some switches on the wall behind his head. She unclipped the leads and started to pull sticky pads off his chest as the doctor gently touched his face, turned his head to the side to remove the thick wad of bandages from his ear, the tape pulling on his healing flesh.

"These stitches can come out in ten to fourteen days. We'll have to see how the ear heals, but you might want to see a plastic surgeon."

The soiled gauze went in the red bin near his bed and Blair darted a look at Jim, but his friend sat passively in the chair, eyes studying his own hands.

Blair couldn't remember Chapel cutting his ear, lots of threats and nicks to other body parts, but not his ear.

Then an image of Jim flashed through his mind. He had been standing ramrod straight with murderous rage on his face, blue eyes dark and cold, shoulders back, arms locked and his gun poised.

A spark of hope had flooded Blair in that second and he thought maybe; just maybe Jim would be able to pull his fat out of the fire one more time.

He remembered the pistol discharging; the recoil hardly moved Jim just before his friend rushed toward him. The surrounding air scorched with burning gun powder and the bullet whizzed by his head, whistling loud in his ear and then...and then the filthy hands in his hair went slack and Blair fell forward, bouncing off the coffee table before hitting the floor.

Jim had been beside Blair even before his body settled, pushing the coffee table away, hands pressing into him, holding him, screaming for an ambulance.

This time when tears flooded his eyes he didn't try to hold them back.

The gentle hand holding his cast arm, turning it to and fro, stopped and laid it carefully on the soft pillow support. "I'm sorry, Mr. Sandburg. Connie, can you get him his next dose?"

The nurse left and returned, but Blair didn't notice.

Jim stood quickly, plucking a tissue from the box on his bedside table, carefully patting Blair's eyes, one hand resting on his brow, fingers smoothing over his forehead and hair. "You're gonna be okay, Chief. The meds will be working soon."

He nodded, accepting the comfort of his best friend and after a few minutes his breathing evened out.

The doctor picked up his arm again, looking at each of Blair's fingers then running a hand up and over the plaster to just above his elbow where the cast stopped. "We'll probably recast before you go home tomorrow. It'll be on for at least four weeks, but might be as much as six."

Blair nodded, taking another tissue from Jim.

"Are you having any tenderness in your belly?" Dr. Novella ran his hands down Blair's chest and under his sheets, fingers moving in slow circles, pressing in but Blair wasn't sore...at least not there.

"No, that doesn't hurt."

"How about your hips?"

"Umm..." Strong hands grasped his hips and pushed down, it didn't hurt but he didn't like it. "I ah, not really, just feel a little stiff."

"We'll get you up in a little bit so you can move around; sit in the chair for awhile...it'll help work out some of the stiffness."

The doctor pulled his blanket back up as the nurse picked at the corners of the tape holding the IV, she crimped the one remaining tube and pulled out the catheter quickly, covering the well of blood with a folded gauze, pressing down to staunch the flow.

She distracted him as the doctor uncovered his leg, lifting and bending it to get a look at the stitches on the back of his left thigh. "These will come out at the same time as the ones in you ear."

Blair nodded, casting a glance at Jim. His friend was sitting straight in the chair, eyes scanning the night sky beyond the window, his finger picking at the cuticle of his thumb, but his eyes refocused and he offered a small smile when he realized Blair was looking at him.

"Okay, Blair." The doctor covered his legs, straightening the covers. "I need to look at your other sutures. Do you want Jim to stay?"

"Uhh..."

"Its okay, Chief. I need to check in with Simon anyway." Jim patted his arm before stepping around the curtain and into the hallway.

"I need you to roll to your side."

Blair shifted over, cool air caressed his sweaty back and legs as the nurse held up the blanket so the doctor could check him more intimately, feeling all his tender parts, asking him to pull up his legs, but it was quick and clinical and Blair didn't have time to worry or panic.

In short order he was rolling to his back, yanking his twisted hospital gown back into place as the doctor looked at his incision site. "Your groin might be sore for a few more days, but there shouldn't be any pain...if you start to feel pain, sharp or dull you'll need to come back in."

Blair studied the ceiling and then looked out the window at the dark sky as the doctor slide a gloved hand along the junction of his hip, using his thumb to lightly feel along the surgical staples hidden under the surgical tape. "You'll need to come in to have these removed in a few weeks."

"Blair?" Jim called him from just outside the curtain. "I ran into Simon in the elevator on the way up. Are you up for some company?"

Blair watched the silhouette of his friend through the pastel curtain. "I guess that's okay."

Dr. Novella stripped off his gloves, tossing them in the bin. "I'm done. Connie's going to finish up."

"I'll go get him, then. Be right back, Chief."

The doctor washed his hands in the small basin by his bathroom as the nurse unhooked something from the side of the bed and sat it near his hip. She picked at the tape holding the catheter in place on his upper thigh. Once it was loose she quickly pulled the tube free. "All done."

"I'll be by in the morning with your discharge papers." The man penned his final notes into Blair's chart, sliding it back into the bin at the bottom of the bed. "Do you have any questions?"

"No...uh...can I get up now?" Blair glanced at the door leading to the bathroom.

"If you feel up to it, sure." They both helped him swing his legs over the edge of the bed; the nurse lowered the head to make it easier to get up. "You can wash up a bit if you want, but be careful not to get your stitches wet."

The room swayed briefly as he leaned onto the nurse, wrapping his uninjured arm around her. Dr. Novella supported him under his other arm and holding his cast elbow they managed to shuffle through the bathroom door.

Connie helped him sit on the seat in the shower stall as the doctor excused himself.

She taped gauze over the wound on the back of his leg, adjusting the shower nozzle low on the pole in front of him, turning on the spray. "Turn right to make it hotter. I'll leave some clean gowns on the basin and bring in a chair for when you're done."

Blair could hear her talking with Jim when she stepped out of the tiny room, closing the door all but a crack.

The water was lukewarm, so he notched up the heat, peeling off his gown and tossing it out of the stall.

He pulled the nozzle from the support pole, holding it over his shoulder to direct the hot spray down and over his achy back.

It was a bit of a challenge, but he managed to soap up and wash his feet and most of his legs, then his chest but he couldn't do his unbroken arm without getting his cast wet.

Turning off the water he found clean towels on the bench along the wall and on the basin sat two clean gowns, a pair of gray hospital socks, a package of large wipes and a sealed bag with toothpaste and brush, deodorant and a comb.

He dried quickly, ignoring the purplish and green blotches on his skin. Before putting on the gown he pulled two wipes from the package and cleaned up his underarms and other hard to reach areas.

Finally he looked in the mirror.

His face looked puffy, but it didn't hurt as much, his skin pale except for a smattering of whiskers he didn't feel like shaving. His hair was ratty, sticking up on one side revealing the dark zigzag of stitches and plastered to his head on the other. He couldn't wash it, not yet...so he picked at it with the comb, skimming over dried blood and god knew what else until he could pull it back at the base of his neck with one hand. "Jim? Can you see if you can find something to tie back my hair?"

A few minutes later Jim knocked on the partially open door, "I found a rubber band at the nurse's station." His friend looked from his upraised arm holding his hair to the cast arm resting at his side. "Let me."

He waited as Jim took hold of his hair, wrapping the rubber band around twice then tugging on his ponytail. "Need help with the socks?"

Looking down at his bare feet Blair shrugged. "I think I can do it."

Jim nodded, backing toward the door. "I'll wait for you outside."

He managed to get them both on.

Four to six weeks without the use of an arm..."Swell."

When he finally left the bathroom, Simon was sitting and waiting with Jim, but neither man made a move to help him and he was glad.

Blair knew that both Jim and Simon were trained to deal with victims of crime, but he didn't want to be a victim. It was hugely important to him to do things on his own, he didn't want to be treated differently, didn't want to feel...broken.

"You look like shit, Sandburg."

Simon's ribbing lifted a weight he didn't know he was carrying and he laughed out loud. "Thanks, Simon."

A larger padded chair covered with a sheet sat next to the bed, near the window. He turned and sat carefully, shifting back, surprised that he didn't really feel any pain...just soreness like the doctor had said.

"Really, Blair...you look a lot better. I'm glad you're doing okay." Simon leaned forward and picked up a case folder off Blair's bed. "I just dropped by to tell you we're wrapping the case on Chapel. Sweeny and Brown picked up Emily Gisler this afternoon and she confessed to helping Chapel escape."

"Why..." Blair shook his head, not understanding why anyone would help that maniac.

"She volunteered at the hospital, had a program that let inmates train dogs." Jim told him, "Her statement says that Chapel was charming, always took an interest in the dogs...said if she helped him he would take her away someplace to live happily ever after."

"How did she...I mean, did she know..."

"No, Blair." Simon said. "She had no idea what he really planned. She managed to get him out in one of her dog crates and then she let him have access to her credit card, took him around yours and Jim's building but didn't know who lived there...he'd probably gone in before...scoped things out."

The room fell silent as Blair took in the facts. He was making himself queasy just thinking about what else might have happened...to Jim, to him.

Okay...enough of that. "Did you bring my statement to sign?"

Simon reached into the soft leather briefcase resting on the bed and pulled out the document. Blair read over the case file, skimming the facts of his own assault written by an unbiased detective, skipping the pictures of the crime scene and then he reread his statement, signed the bottom line and handed the paperwork back.

A panicked thought occurred to him, "Do I have to testify?"

"No," Jim told him, taking the report from Blair's hand. "She's pleading guilty; her sentencing is day after tomorrow."

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

Epilogue

"You don't have to do this."

Blair sat on the newly reupholstered couch, now a deep blue instead of white, resting his feet on the coffee table, the right one still throbbed from time to time, but the doctor assured him that the nerves would heal. "I know...I just feel like I should be there."

Jim came into the living room carrying a mug of tea and a bottle of beer. "Here."

He reached forward and carefully took the mug, sipping on the hot brew, handing Jim his plate with a half eaten turkey on rye. He managed to eat most of his lunch, although it still hurt his nose to chew.

Jim puttered around behind him, laying a tarp on the hardwood floor, cutting the plastic packing that held the new frame for the French doors.

Most of his first day home was spent sleeping on the sofa while Jim did some repair work and cleaned up. Diswolt's forensic cleaning crew did a great job of erasing the evidence and even Blair could almost pretend that nothing had happened, but nothing got by Jim.

The Sentinel examined every nook and cranny, pulling out bleach and other solvents when something didn't pass the inspection and that was fine by Blair.

Jim was dealing with things the only way he knew how.

Blair had his own demons to deal with, knowing that he slept on the couch because he really didn't want to be in his own room, at least not yet. He had been leaving the bathroom door open a crack when he needed to use it and he avoided looking up at the loft at all costs.

But today was a little better and tomorrow would be a little better and day by day they would deal.

Jim's new comforter sat at the bottom of the steps. It was blue and yellow instead of yellow and blue...at least that's what Jim said.

Taking a deep breath he sat down his mug and moved toward the bed in a bag, grabbing it up and moving slowly up the steps. He could sense Jim watching him, but to his friend's credit, he didn't say anything.

At the top of the steps, Blair stopped and looked around. The bare mattress lay in place of the old one, but the rest of Jim's room looked the same. Some knickknacks were missing, like downstairs, the pieces had been cleaned up. Blair had made a game of trying to remember what went where, what was missing, and what he might be able to replace.

Jim's clothes were all put away neatly in the dresser, his dress shirts and slacks hung on the closet unit along the far wall. Jim's wallet and change sat in a small woven tray on his bedside table along with a vanilla candle and TV remote. All the picture frames, bill holders and file folders sat on the computer desk.

Hmmm...

Blair opened the bag holding the bedding, fitting the sheet over the large mattress, stuffing the new pillows into the cases. The comforter floated down over the bed and Blair smoothed the edges, catching sight of something dark sticking out from under the bed. He sat on the edge, leaning over and pulling Jim's sleep mask from underneath, tossing it onto the table when something blue caught his eye amidst Jim's pocket change.

A button?

He fingered the small object; rolling it around his palm when it hit him...it was his button...from his favorite shirt, but why would Jim...

"You okay, Blair?" Jim's anxious voice rose from below, but he made no move to come up the steps.

Blair tossed the button back in with the rest of Jim's change and stood up. "Yup..." he wiped his eyes with his sleeve, clearing his throat. "You think you can run me over?"

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

Blair sat in the chair, anxious to hear the verdict. It seemed like it had been hours, but the clock confirmed it had only been about forty minutes. Commotion in the hallway alerted him to their return and he stood as the orderly pushed in the bed that held the frail elderly man that Blair had shared a room with.

"How is he?" He asked, watching as the bed came to a stop and the brakes were set. Mr. Dukan's eyes were closed and his face looked drawn and withered, but his coloring was a bit better.

Dr. Novella filled him in, the news wasn't promising. "We were able to clear the clots, but the damage had already been done to his heart, and he's old...his body is giving out."

After checking over various readouts and monitors, he left Blair alone to sit with the ailing man.

Blair looked over the thin body, leaning forward to see his face better. The man's chin was prominent; his mouth opened a bit revealing no teeth, his cheeks sunken and wrinkled but he had been a handsome man in his youth, Blair was sure of it.

"So, my name is Blair Sandburg..." He talked, just chit chat stuff at first, the weather and gossip the nurses were circulating and then he talked about himself, his career, and his friends.

He talked about the era of Mr. Dukan's prime, making up stories of how the elderly man's life may have been.

The conversation turned to his thesis and his findings, stories of tribes long gone and modern day counterparts. "...and Jim's the best friend I've ever had..."

And when he was tired of talking he just sat and listened. Mr. Dukan's breathing slowed and he sighed. Blair picked up the twisted, aged hand. "He's always there for me, you know..."

Later that day Blair still sat in the dim room, the bed he'd occupied the day before empty.

By the time Jim came to pick him up, Mr. Dukan was gone.

"What's the verdict?"

"Fifteen years, parole after five...not enough." Jim stayed in the doorway until Blair stood to join him.

"It is...life's short and she was naïve." They passed through the door together, riding the elevator down in silence.

"Are you okay, Chief?" Jim asked, holding the door for him.

The twilight sky was clear and crisp.

Alive.

"No...but I'm gonna be."

The End

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