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 has been putting something off for a long time and Jim's determined to find out why, but at what cost...

Feedback: Always welcome

Notes: This story has been suggested by my dear friend Romanse, yeah, she made me do it.

Inside Out

by Twilight

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

The cold winter air buffeted his body, blowing the grey scarf away from his neck, letting his loose hair swirl and whip in the wind. Blair pulled his coat a little closer to his chest, fisting the wool material, shivering and coughing as he ran from his heat-challenged car to the campus medical center.

His stiff fingers curled around the lobby door handle, but before he could pull it open, someone else pushed from the inside, knocking his arm. "Oh, sorry."

A mumbled, "no problem", followed the woman bundled tightly in her winter coat and fuzzy green hat. Blair watched as she ran through the parking lot to the safety of the bus shelter across the street as he forcibly pulled the door shut against the harsh wind.

Winter had finally arrived.

Inside, the small waiting room was packed with many people occupied the worn vinyl seats, coughing and sneezing, some slumped over in sleep, all looking just as miserable as he felt, but he had another reasons beside his runny nose for visiting the clinic today.

A slight jab of pain radiated from his hip, but he ignored it and stepped up to the reception desk. The man behind the counter chatted on the phone, briefly glancing Blair's way before turning slightly and continuing his conversation.

Blair muttered, "Hey, that's cool, man...I can wait."

He surveyed the waiting room once more, spotting Ginny Hendricks, a freshmen from his study group. He hadn't seen her in the last few nights and now he knew why. She sat hunched over in her seat, leaning against a guy Blair hadn't seen before, but judging by the way he patted and rubbed her back, the guy had to be her boyfriend. A round of dry coughs seized her and she sat up straighter.

Blair could relate, swallowing hard to keep the tickle in his own throat from erupting into a full blown coughing fit.

"Hey, can I help you?"

"Umm..." Blair turned to see the guy finished his phone conversation and waiting expectantly with a clipboard in his hand. "Yeah, I ah called this morning about getting a physical."

"Name, please." The clipboard was pushed Blair's way, a tossed pen landed on the sheets of paper.

"Sandburg, Blair."

"Have a seat and fill out all the forms and questionnaire."

Blair grabbed the clipboard, searching for an empty seat.

He stepped over a pair of long legs crossed at the ankles, asking, "Hey, how are you?" The guy was so far down in his chair he looked like he was pouring out of it.

Slipping in a seat between the guy and some other girl, Blair crossed one leg over the other, resting the clipboard on his knee, filling in the general information on the forms that would go in his chart.

Why have you come to the clinic today?

He supposed he could answer, 'because my pushy roommate can't leave anything alone.'

Jim had been on his case and in his face all week.

For a smart guy, the man could be so dense and frankly Blair was tired of trying to explain his…little problem.

"Like a dog with a bone, man."

The guy next to him sat up a little straighter, "huh?"

"Nothing, sorry, man. Just talking to myself." He got a grunt in reply, the guy sunk even lower in his seat, pulling his hoodie up and over his head.

Man, he wished he had never found that thrift store.

Walking home from the deli on the corner of Prospect he'd spotted a storefront across the street with a huge window display. Inside, arranged among a camel back sofa and heirloom chair, sat a beautiful handmade oak bookshelf, with beveled edged shelves.

He should have waited for Jim to get home once he found the elevator was on the fritz again, but he was afraid to leave his purchase in the lobby. So he pushed, pulled, nudged and lifted the damn thing up three flights of steps, grunting and sweating, muscles straining until finally he had it on the landing near his front door.

"Mr. Sandburg?" Blair looked up from the unfinished questionnaire and his thoughts, a little surprised that he was being called back already. "This way, please."

He followed behind a woman dressed in all white. She was even wearing a little white cap on her head, a neat bun peaking out the back and held with a few bobby pins. He hadn't realized that nurses still dressed that way.

She pushed through a door and he followed her down a hallway and into a small exam room. The walls were painted a blue pastel, the tile once the same color, but now graying with age. A long table was pushed against the far wall and a few cabinets and a desk abutted the other wall.

"I'm Noel," she said, "have a seat." Her easy smile and dimpled cheeks put him at ease.

And he had to admit, he was a little bit nervous.

He sank into the chair as she pulled a pen from her scrub pocket, hooking the rolling stool with her foot and sat. "I'm gonna ask a few questions and then I'll get your temp and blood pressure." She scribbled in his chart while asking about any medication he might be taking, if he smoked, if he had any complaints.

"Well, I can't seem to shake this cold and I…ah, I'm having a little pain. I think I might have sprained something."

"Where?"

"Well, ah, my elevator was out again and I ah…"

He retold his story, leaving out that the cause of his little problem was a genetic defect.

He didn't like talking about it, so he just didn't.

Once done with the chart she slid closer to him, taking his arm and wrapping the pressure cuff around his bicep, pressing the button on a machine that would do all the work for her. While she waited for the blood pressure readout, she stuck an electronic thermometer into a plastic sleeve and raised it to his lips. "Open." He held it under his tongue, biting down to keep the heavy end from pulling it free. The machine beeped the same time as the thermometer and she pulled it from his mouth, reading the results.

"Everything looks normal." Noel pushed her chair back and returned to the chart to write down her findings. "The doctor will be with you soon," she said, standing and opening a drawer under the exam table. She pulled out a blue paper gown and white paper drape sheet. "I need you to get completely undressed and then have a seat on the table."

He accepted the paper products, giving a little wave as she pulled the curtain and stepped into the hall.

No more stalling.

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

"So you say that you were diagnosed when you were around twelve?" Melissa Lambert, the medical resident on call at the clinic under the supervision of the university medical department asked as she pressed her gloved hand down Blair's left flank and then lower, to where his thigh met his groin.

He felt ridiculously embarrassed, holding the gown up, talking casually as if he wasn't standing essentially naked in the middle of the room with a beautiful woman sitting in front of him examining his most private bits.

Not like he hadn't fantasized about getting naked with Melissa Lambert, but this wasn't what he had in mind.

She was blonde and beautiful, slim and leggy, lovely in every sense of the word and he'd been trying to ask her out for ages now, but the opportune time never came. From the moment he'd met her years ago at the campus pub he'd been smitten. They shared a few drinks, a few laughs with mutual friends, but she'd been called away by some medical emergency, some student had fallen, needed stitches or something, and that was the purpose of having a free clinic and it gave Missy the hours she needed to complete her schooling.

Now she split her time between Mercy Medical and the U's clinic, giving seminars to first year medical students. In all that time since, they'd became fast friends, still meeting at the pub for an occasional drink and dinner every once in awhile at the all night diner on Chelsea, across from the hospital.

"Blair?"

"Hmm...oh, yeah...around there." He could feel his face heating as she felt his testis, rolling each and then using just her index finger to press upward into his groin. "Ah, Naomi was in Barcelona, I was staying with my Aunt Ines and she got me interested in playing basketball with the Rec. League. I zigged when I should have zagged, ended up doing a split near the foul line and had to go to the emergency room."

She kept pressure on the small bulge protruding from his groin, pushing the nodule back to where it belonged. He hissed with the pain, fisting the paper gown he was still holding up.

"Sorry. I can definitely feel an abnormality...come lie down for me." He slid onto the exam table, the paper protecting the surface crinkled and pulled free, the torn piece sticking to his sweaty skin.

She quickly covered him, pushing up the gown to expose his belly. She took her time again, feeling all around his pelvis and then groin. Pain flared and he grunted back a sob. "Does it hurt more when you're lying down?"

He nodded, moving his leg a little when she reached between them and cupped his testicles, her fingers moving around to the back, pressing gently. "Can you cough?"

Clearing his throat, he coughed, feeling heaviness that he couldn't really explain and then coughed some more as a fit overtook him. She let him go as Blair rolled to his side, his arm holding his stomach, the other going to cup his tender parts, trying to stifle the ripples of pain that traveled upward with each intake of air.

Missy rubbed and patted his back until the spell passed. "I'm gonna give you something to help with your cough, should make you more comfortable."

Blair's eyes watered when he tried to speak, to sit up, his congested nose ached and a steady pressure was building behind his right eye.

Missy handed him a few tissues, taking his arm and helping him get upright, readjusting the torn paper sheet over his dangling legs, then she pressed a button on the telephone. "Noel? Can you call Mercy and ask for an E.R. Doc. Tell them the resident on call at the U has a patient that needs to be seen."

Blair shook his head while trying to blow his nose. "I'll be fine, Mis, really. I lifted something too heavy and on top of that I've got what ever is going around...all the coughing is agitating my condition...when my cold's gone I'll be good as new."

Missy sat in front of him, resting her hand on his knee, looking him in the eyes. "Blair...come on, you gotta know the situation has changed. I'm betting the intestines have pushed into your scrotum, maybe even have tangled..."

"But the doctors have all said it's a congenital defect, that..."

"Okay," she stood, going to the phone again. "There's only one way to find out if anything has changed."

And what could he say.

He had always known that his condition could worsen.

Back when he was twelve, his Aunt Ines took him to see many doctors, getting second and third opinions until his mother came home and they moved on. Naomi wasn't ready to rely on western medicine.

Missy stood, phone still in her hand. "Who can I call to drive you?"

"Drive me? My cars right out front."

She just gave him the look. He'd seen her using it before with people that didn't want to cooperate.

Crap.

She waited, watching him struggle through his internal musings, maybe thinking he might bolt for the door if she turned her back.

And he might have, too.

But she was so good…not even saying anything, just holding the receiver, one finger pressing the disconnect button until he supplied a number, pressuring him without even saying a word.

Double crap.

"Okay," he huffed. "555-6907." Missy dialed quickly, handing him the phone on the first ring. Jim picked up on the second. "Ah, hey man."

Blair glanced up at her, still hunched over on the cold table. "The doctor says I need to go to the E.R. and have some tests...yeah, could you...okay, see you out front in twenty." He handed over the receiver, pushing himself up, going for his folded clothes, but she stopped him mid shuffle.

"Look, I know you got this...thing about doctors and hospital, but we're not all that bad." Her soft blue eyes lit up the whole room when she smiled and she pulled him into a quick hug. "You need to get this taken care of, once and for all."

"I know. Can I get dressed now?" He asked, not yet ready to accept it might be out of his hands. She lowered her head, nodding and slipped out the door to give him some privacy.

Jackass…it's not her fault you're a quivering ball of mush.

But he didn't want to go to the hospital, didn't want to hear what the doctors were sure to tell him and didn't want to have to deal with Jim, who was sure to agree with everything the medical staff would have to say and then badger Blair into doing something he really didn't want to have to do.

On his way out he tried to locate Missy, but she was already with another patient. The guy at the front desk handed him a thin chart folder. "You need to give this to the E.R. doctor. They're expecting you."

By the time he got to the front door, Jim was waiting at the curb, engine idling.

The wind had died down, but it was still crisp and cold enough to take away his breath as he darted to the waiting truck. A blast of heat hit his face as he climbed up and buckled in, a tinge of pain radiated from below, but he ignored it.

Jim didn't say anything as they pulled away and to his credit, he kept his mouth shut until they got to the first stop light after pulling out of the university parking lot. "So…You feeling ok?"

Blair ran a hand through his hair, looking out the window at the snow dusted lawns. "I'm okay."

The hospital wasn't far and soon they were pulling up to the patient drop off. "I ah, I don't know how long I'm gonna be."

Jim waved him off. "I can wait. Told Simon I was knocking off early anyway. I've got some shopping I need to do, so I can wait around until they know how long you're gonna be and then I'll pick you up when you're done."

"How about I just call you?" Blair slid down from the bench, turning his body toward the warmth of the cab. "It might be awhile before they can even see me."

Jim nodded as Blair shut the door and started to walk away. He could hear the passenger window lowering behind him. "I'm only going to the mall. If I get done before you, I'll come back and wait for you."

He waved his hand in acknowledgment and continued on through the automatic doors. The holding area was crowded, but it turned out he didn't have to wait. The triage nurse looked over his chart and made a call and the next thing he knew, he was on an imaging table deep within the bowels of the hospital.

Inguinal Hernia.

That was the diagnoses all those years ago, but at the time, the specialists his Aunt Ines took him to all agreed that his was manageable; he just had to be careful.

No surgery.

He wouldn't need surgery.

From time to time when he was still growing, he would get a small budge near his thigh, but he could always push it back in. He hadn't had any problems since then, at least not until last week when he was dragging the damn bookcase up three flights of steps.

The machine he lay in whirled and sputtered above him, silencing suddenly and the door along the far wall opened. The tech that led him to the room entered with another man in scrubs.

Dr. Sallings introduced himself, shaking Blair's hand as he still lay on the table. He went over the facts of the Inguinal Hernia, stuff that Blair has heard countless times before, but this time was different.

"So I'd like to schedule you as soon as possible."

"I ah...what? No, no I can't do that." Blair sat up quickly, pulling the sheet that covered him around him before sliding off the table. "Where are my clothes?"

The doctor stood, opened mouthed for a beat or two. "But, Mr. Sandburg...you need this surgery. The intestines have tangled. There is no choice."

Like hell there isn't.

Blair found the bag holding his clothes tucked under the gurney. "There's always a choice Dr. Sallings and I'm giving you mine. Now bring me whatever I need to sign. I'm outta here."

He grabbed the bag, spotting the changing room across the hall and hurried over, pulling the door tightly closed behind him.

God, just breathe, man...

He leaned against the closed door, sinking down, allowing the hard surface behind him support his descent. The room was spinning wildly around him, a persistent knocking buzzing on the fringe of his hearing and he knew had had to settle down.

"Just calm down, man. You are NOT a kid anymore. No one can make you do something you don't want to do. No one."

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

Blair sat still, blowing air out of his mouth and breathing deep in through his nose, sorry that he hadn't done his swan dive onto the changing bench instead of sinking all the way to the floor. Now he had to pull himself up onto shaky legs. The room was small but warm and it only took him a few tries to get his pants on.

The knocking had stopped some time ago and he could only hope that the doctor had given up and was now printing up his release waiver, because he was leaving, no doubt about it.

He fumbled his phone, pulling it from his pocket, pressing the speed dial. Jim picked up on the first ring. "Done already?"

"Umm, yeah...where are you?" He sank onto the bench, cradling the phone between his shoulder and ear, pulling on one shoe with a shaky hand.

"I'm in line at J.C. Penny's. I can..."

"No, no Jim. I'll wait out front for you; take your time, man." He reached for his other shoe, drawing in a short breath as a sharp pain zipped through his thigh.

"Blair? What aren't you telling me?"

He'd bet all the money in his wallet that Jim wasn't in line anymore. "I'm fine, stay and finish shopping, really."

"Blair..."

"Jim. Come on, man. I'll tell you all about it over dinner at the diner."

After he hung up, he went in search of the doctor. The man was on the phone, talking urgently into the receiver, back turned to Blair.

He considered just walking out, but with a little more time to think, he knew he would have to talk things through with the man, see if he had any other alternatives. What he really needed was more options…other options.

Finding a bank of chairs along the wall in the narrow hallway, he sat, waiting. The doctor consulted a gadget he pulled from his pocket and then went back to his phone conversation.

It was a good twenty minutes before Dr. Sallings hung up, scratched his head and turned slowly in a circle before spotting Blair. "Mr. Sandburg." He came around the nurse's kiosk, hands shoved deep into his lab coat pockets. "I have to admit, I'm at a loss here. You need this surgery, it's not a matter of if, if you don't have this procedure soon, your intestines will die, your waste will back up and start to leak, slowly poisoning you and you will die. How can I make you..."

Blair held up his hands, not wanting to hear anymore. There had to be some way, anyway besides going under the knife. "Look, Dr. Sallings. I hear you, okay? I just need some time..."

"But Mr. Sandburg. That's what I'm telling you, there is no time."

"Time for what?" a familiar voice asked.

Crap on a stick.

Turning, he saw Jim moving toward them from the elevator. "Jim, I thought I told you I'd meet you out front, man." Blair blew out a hurried breath, running a nervous hand through his hair.

He didn't have a choice all those years ago, but he wasn't a little boy anymore.

"I'll be out in a minute." It came out strained and he could tell that Jim wasn't satisfied as he turned from his friend; mad as hell at the turn of events.

The doctor looked beyond him, hoping to find some support from Jim, but thankfully Jim didn't say a word.

"I'm going home Dr. Sallings. I'll be in touch." He turned on his heels and walked quickly passed Jim to the elevator at the end of the hall.

He needed to get away from this place, needed time, time to think about what he had to do.

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

Surprisingly, Jim drove without comment.

Blair was ready for the confrontation that he was so sure would start as soon as he got in the truck, but his friend was strangely quiet.

The silence grew as Jim turned off the interstate, taking the exit for Rainier, pulling into the diner parking lot. The metal framed building glittered in the early evening sunset, customers waited to be seated, some sitting on the bench that abutted the entryway, some leaning against and gazing at the huge glass-enclosed dessert case.

Blair loved the giant éclairs, the creamy filling and fragile pasty covered in milk chocolate. He would even cut it in half and take home the other chunk for a midnight snack...that is if Jim didn't get to it first.

The waitress soon called Jim's name, sitting them in a booth, leaving a huge menu with multiple dinner specials, but once Blair opened the vinyl cover, he found he wasn't really hungry. In fact his stomach was queasy, rumbling in hunger, but something heavy sat in the pit, seemingly pressing his other organs up. Slow churning bile worked its way up to his throat.

He closed his menu, head down, eyes staring at the floating ice in his water glass.

Finally Jim broke his silence. "You know, Chief, you're gonna have to do something..."

He looked at his friend, "I know, man...I know."

"Is it because you're scared? Has something..."

"No." his denial was sharp, but he lowered his eyes back to his glass, hazily noting the running drops of condensation. "Not really."

Man, this is so stupid.

"Than what is it?" Jim asked, pushing his menu aside, folding his hands on the table in front of him. "You know you can talk to me, here? I won't judge you."

And he knew that was true.

Jim was his friend, his best friend...hell, more like a brother.

So why is it so hard to tell him?

It's silly, that's why, a stupid childish fear.

Blair smiled a little, sitting back in the booth, picking up his straw paper and twirling it over his finger, twisting the paper around and around. "When I was younger, I was staying with my grandparent's while Naomi was on some retreat. I was playing with a kid that was staying with his aunt, Mrs. Danbush. She was a really nice lady, used to invite me over for homemade cookies and chocolate milk." The warm memory filled his belly, taking away some of the tightly coiled knot in his gut. He loved spending time with his Memaw and Dedad.

They were one of his best childhood memories and he really missed them.

"Sounds nice, Chief."

"Yeah, yeah it was. Anyway, Micky and I were making a fort in one of the trees in her backyard. He'd made this pulley system to bring up some old two by fours and planks we found in an old wood mill down the road."

Jim sat still, one hand resting on his drinking glass, the other palm down on the table. His friend was listening; really listening to him and it made the whole thing seem all the more ridiculous.

"Anyway, on one of my trips up to lay the floor, I slipped...fell about ten feet and knew as soon as I hit the ground my arm was broken. I could hear it snapping." A fine tremor ran the length of his arm as he thought about that horrible day, the pain and confusion, his grandmother holding him and singing softly as he cried in the back seat of their old station wagon, his grandfather speeding down the rural road they lived on to the interstate that would take them to the nearest hospital.

"What happened?" Jim asked, shifting in his seat, bringing Blair back to the here and now.

"Poor Mrs. Danbush almost had a coronary; she was so beside herself, she really panicked. Micky ran and got my grandpa and he took me to the emergency room."

Blair shifted back, not sure how to say the rest. He didn't want to sound stupid or immature. It had happened so long ago, yet he could still remember the pain. Even now as he thought back to that day, it all came back in a rush and he could tell his face was flushing, feel rivets of sweat run down between his shoulder blades.

"Blair?"

He shook his head, running a shaky hand through his hair. "Sorry, it's just not a very pleasant memory."

"You've got nothing to be sorry for. Whatever happened wasn't your fault."

And in his heart he knew that. But his brain was hard to get around sometimes.

"Um…they had to set my arm, so they gave me an anesthetic. The E.R. doctor waited for a bit...I could really feel the pain by then, but they didn't give me anything because the sedation should have taken care of it. It only made me drowsy though, did nothing for the pain and I kept telling them it hurt, but they didn't believe me, so..."

Jim sat up in his chair, lax hands forming into fists. "Are you saying that they reset your broken arm and you could feel..."

"Every bit of it, man." A cold chill ran up his spine with the thought of it. Images of sitting on an exam table passed behind his closed eyes. His arm was raised in some kind of traction contraption, each finger incased in some kind of mesh, holding his arm upright, the doctor kept telling him to calm down and to stop crying. 'Come on; settle down, it can't hurt, kid.'

He cleared his throat a couple of times before finishing. "I tried to tell them, but for whatever reason they didn't believe me." He shivered more; wrapping the straw paper so tight around his finger the tip was turning bright red. "But I still remember how that felt. Alone and scared and hurting and the one person that's suppose to help you doesn't give a shit because you're just a dumb little kid."

"Did he say that to you, Blair?"

"What…yeah, I guess. It's a little fuzzy. The drugs they gave me made me tired, I thought I was dying because I was floating, you know. I can remember him talking about his weekend. He talked to the tech while they held me down and set my arm. It was so surreal."

"Blair, I…"

"I can still feel it, Jim. I remember the feeling of my bones rubbing together as he twisted my arm back and forth, the sound of them scraping against each other and I just can't...I know it's stupid..."

"It is not." Jim's jaw clinched and Blair smiled. Not like Jim could do anything about it now. "You were just a little boy and the doctor should have made sure you had good pain control, but Blair, you gotta know that was one man's mistake. I can see why you're not too fond of doctors in general, but we both know you need this surgery."

He dropped his eyes once again, fiddling with the menu still in front of him.

He had always known that it was a very real possibility.

"I hate this."

"Look, if you don't like Dr. Sallings, we'll find another doctor and if that guy's a jerk, we'll look some more, but you have got to do this."

He knew Jim was right. It wasn't gonna go away this time.

But dread still settled in his stomach, making him queasy and he just didn't want to have to think about it for now. "Look, Jim, I know you're concerned but I don't really want to deal with it right now." He took a quick drink; the ice had long since melted. "I need time to think." He started to get up, but Jim reached out and grabbed his arm, the same one that had been broken in a fall so long ago. "Let go."

"Not until you listen to some reason." Jim's eyes softened. Blair supposed he saw the panic in his eyes. "Come on, Chief. You're not a little kid anymore. You're a grown man…"

"You're right. So get the hell off of me and let me go." He wrenched his arm from Jim's grasp, quickly picking up his backpack and turning to leave.

"Blair, wait…"

But he didn't stop. He pushed through the heavy metal door into the cold, half expecting Jim to stop him. Walking quickly down the ramp, he turned onto the street, passing Jim's truck and kept walking. Jim called to him again from somewhere behind, but he didn't turn, just picked up his pace. It didn't matter that Jim didn't understand. He didn't even understand what he was feeling and he needed time to think.

Yanking his cell phone from his pack, he dialed Missy Lambert at home. When she answered, her voice seemed muzzy, like maybe she had been sleeping. "It's Blair. Did I wake you?"

He could hear her shifting on sheets and blankets, clearing her throat. "I was just catching a cat nap. What's wrong?"

He shouldn't have called her. "I'm sorry, I'll…"

"No, don't hang up. I'm up. Come over and we'll talk."

"Are you sure, I mean I don't want to…"

"Just come. I'll make you some waffles with whipped cream."

He laughed, relaxing as he flagged down a cab, scooting into the back set, giving the address to the cabbie. "It's not time for breakfast."

"Ah, but does it really matter? You love waffles."

As the car lurched forward he sighed, resting his head back on the seat. "I'll see you soon."

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

Missy always seemed to ground him when it came to medical issues. She knew his dislike for western medicine and he trusted her and felt at ease when she was around. So after talking out his fears, drinking three cups of Nonu tea, picking at his waffle and going through a box of tissues for his sore and runny nose, he felt better equipped to handle what had to be done.

The trauma that he endured so long ago lost its hold just a little. He could think about it more subjectively and not through the eyes of a frightened child.

Later, when he arrived home, the loft was empty, but a note on the table explained that Jim had gone to the grocery store and would be home soon. Next to the note sat a plate holding a whole chocolate éclair.

He picked up his treat, smiling all the way to the sofa.

Blair spent some time on his laptop, searching the web for alternatives, drinking some more tea to sooth his throat and clear his stuffy nasal passages. Jim came home a little later, coming over to him, jacket still clutched in his hand. "Blair, I…"

He held his hand up, forestalling whatever Jim wanted to say. "It's okay, man. We're okay."

Jim's smiled a little as he tossed his jacket in the chair before sliding down to sit on the other end of the sofa.

They talked for a bit. Blair told him about a list of surgeons Missy had given him and promised that in the morning he was going to call the first person on the list.

They watched TV for nearly an hour, an old Jimmy Stewart film, before Jim called it a night. "Good night, Chief."

"Night, Jim."

Blair sighed, feeling warm at last and looked around the loft, taking in the safety and comfort it offered.

Moonlight filtered under the closed blinds of the balcony doors. A few candles burned atop a pile of books resting on the coffee table and two dessert plates sat nearly empty but for a few shavings of chocolate and crumbs, a smidge of cream filling smeared one of the forks sitting on top of the plates.

This was his home and most important, he wasn't alone anymore.

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

In the morning he wasn't feeling so sure, sitting on the couch, a warm fleece blanket wrapped around him, a cup of hot chocolate cooling in his hands. Jim was on the phone, had been on the phone for hours speaking, having gone through Missy's list and with his own physician, asking for referrals of trusted surgeons and then contacting their offices. Blair supposed Jim needed to be doing something.

"How you holding up, Chief?"

Looking up from the chocolate tornado he had made by swirling his mug, he shrugged. He was fine really; his cold was better and the lingering pain near his groin was manageable, although he felt a little stupid for causing such a fuss. As much as he reasoned with himself, telling himself that it was long ago and that it was the doctor's error, cold tendrils of fear still sneaked up on him every time he thought about it and he held onto his cup a little tighter.

It didn't have to be rational he knew, phobias never are.

"You hungry? I can thaw the beef barley soup, maybe I'll run to Herman's and get a loaf of Italian?"

He shook his head, setting his cup atop the stack of books on the coffee table. "I'm not hungry, did you find out anything?"

"I've talked to a few people and they all put Dr. Ramanatha at the top of their lists. She's a specialist at Mercy, a topnotch surgeon and her office can schedule you day after tomorrow."

He could feel himself paling, the blood draining from his face as Jim spoke. That soon?

Jim shoved the books and some papers out of the way and sat across from him on the coffee table, breaking a few of his own rules.

"She's really the best, Blair."

He looked so uncertain and Blair's anxiety level shot up another notch or two. "So, what do I gotta do?" His voice cracked, he could feel something suspiciously like tears pressing behind his eyes, but he sucked in a breath, told himself again to grow the hell up and stood, tossing the throw over the back of the couch.

"They're expecting you this afternoon for some pre-op testing."

He headed to the bathroom to shower and get dressed, nodding his head. "Okay, it'll be out in a few." Slowing he closed the bathroom door, shutting the world out.

I can do this, just take control and do what has to be done.

Staring the shower, moving through the motions of his morning routine, he decided it was time to suck it up.

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

He could hear Jim pacing the small room where he lay with his eyes closed, trying to repeat his calming mantra, and it was really getting on his last nerve. "Would you just sit?" he finally snapped.

A second later a chair scraped across the floor and Blair opened his eyes, giving up on his mantra. Jim sat close to the bed, eye level with a goofy grin on his face. "Sorry, Chief."

He nodded, resting his head back against the flat pillow behind him and closing his eyes again. ‘I am calm, I am calm, calm, stay calm…everything will be fine, of course it will…'

The room was cold and sterile, and he started to shiver under the thin sheet that covered him.

‘…calm…stay calm…relax…re…la…'

"Good morning, Mr. Sandburg." He jumped, eyes flying open and watching wearily as a younger man with balding head and brilliant green eyes breezed into his room, much too chipper for the ungodly hour. "My name is Jake. I'll be with you through the morning until you're moved to your own room." The man pulled the rolling tray table over Blair's lap and plopped down a stack of papers in a twist of wrist and fingers. "I need to go over the authorization of consent for treatment and I can answer any questions you may have."

Blair nodded as the man spoke, he knew most of what the papers explained, having spent the day before at the hospital enduring more poking and prodding, undergoing various tests in preparation for his surgery. The nurse went over each form, reciting as if a monologue, "Your procedure is fairly routine but could take up to three hours."

He wondered what those three or so hours would feel like to him.

"So minor risks include reaction to the anesthesia, infection and bleeding at the surgical site, nerve damage, numbness of skin, loss of blood supply to the scrotum or testicles resulting in testicular atrophy, damage to the vas deferens resulting in sterility, and damage to the femoral artery or vein and even death."

Not exactly a comforting notion.

"But these risks are low and your prognosis is very good. Once you are in recovery and stable, we will move you to a room to be monitored for the rest of the day. By this evening the nursing staff will get you up, make sure you can eat and pass urine and have a bowel movement. You will more than likely be released in the morning or by midday tomorrow. You can expect to be out of work for at least six weeks and can return to light activity within two. No heavy lifting or strenuous physical activities, including sex for at least four weeks. Do you have any questions?"

He shook his head; taking the pen from the guy and signing his name where indicated. He knew the risks and didn't want to have to think about the risks regardless of how low.

"Okay, I'm gonna get things set up, start your IV and then your friend," he nodded toward Jim, "will need to wait in the lounge for a bit."

Jim jumped up like he'd been bitten. "I'm gonna…" he indicated behind him, backing up toward the door. "Can you get me when I can come back in?" He asked the nurse.

"Sure thing," Jake told him, heading toward the door himself. "I'll be right back, Mr. Sandburg."

"Ah…Jim?" Blair caught him before he crossed the threshold and Jim made his way back to the bed, looking at him expectantly. Blair held out his hand and Jim took the contents. Earlier this morning, right after they had arrived he was directed to get undressed and to change into a gown. He had removed his earrings and bracelet, but didn't tuck them into the bag he was given for his belongings. "You mind hanging onto these for me?"

Jim closed his head around the jewelry. "Sure thing, Chief." He pocketed Blair's belongings, leaving his hand inside his pocket, a little more relaxed look on his face. "I'll be right outside."

Jim left as the nurse returned; supplies for god knew what in his arms. "Okay, let's get ya ready."

And for a big guy, Jake was surprisingly gentle as he prepared Blair body for the surgery.

He barely felt the needle pierce the skin of his left forearm, watching impassively as the catheter was secured and his whole arm strapped to a padded foam board. They had given him something when he had first arrived and Blair was finally feeling the effects.

A safety razor removed hair then little plastic disked probes were taped to freshly shaven skin on his chest and back, a small clip like device was attached to his left index finger and a blood pressure cuff was secured around his right arm.

He watched as Jake set the timer on a machine that the wires were attached to, feeling the cuff as it began squeezing his arm. "It's set for every fifteen minutes."

The nurse spent a few more minutes fiddling with the IV line and then he pulled a syringe from his pocket, uncapping it with his teeth and using the upper IV port to inject the contents into Blair's IV. He tossed the used needle and cap into a red container over the head of the bed, then patted Blair's arm. "That'll help you relax a little more, okay?"

Whatever it was, it was a lot stronger. He could already feel his breathing evening out, the coiled knot in his belly for the pass few days loosened just a bit.

He didn't even flinch when the sheet covering him was pulled back to his knees. "I'm gonna be shaving some hair away at the surgery site."

He nodded, feeling something cold on his skin, and then gentle scraping as his legs were moved to allow access. "I'm gonna wait until we get you to the OR before putting in the foley, it'll be more comfortable after the sedation takes effect."

He didn't know if he had acknowledged Jake, feeling disconnected, but a few minutes later the sheet was pulled back up and Jake went to one of the long cabinets that lined the wall and grabbed a blanket, straightening it over Blair. "You might feel a little cold, shiver a bit, that's normal. I'm gonna get your friend and then I'll be in to check on you. It shouldn't be too much longer."

This time he nodded, feeling chilled already. Tiny goose bumps rose on his arms and legs and he was shaking just a little before his teeth started to chatter.

Pulling the blanket around him as best he could, he closed his eyes and found that relaxing was a little easier now.

He drifted…the feeling somehow familiar and subconsciously he knew that at some point Jim had returned. He could feel his presence; a sense of calm blanketed him, a peace he couldn't really explain just knowing that Jim was sitting beside him, waiting with him.

A moment later…an hour later…a small knocking startled Blair's eyes open.

"S'okay," Jim said, reaching out and lightly stroking Blair's forearm. "They're ready for you."

He squinted up at Jake and some other man dressed in green scrubs. He felt a little fuzzy as the men worked around him, transferring his IV lines to the pole attached to the gurney, lining the rolling bed up with the one he lay in. "I need you to scoot this way," one of them said, taking hold of the sheet under him and pulling as he tried to slid closer to the edge of the bed, but he was uncoordinated, gangly in a way he had never been before.

Suddenly cold air caressed his skin as he was swiftly lifted and deposited onto the gurney and he shivered anew, waiting for them to cover him with the thin sheet and blanket the other man was holding.

Jake bent and unlocked the rolling wheels, speaking close to his ear. "Okay, you ready to roll?"

The soft surface under him moved before he could even respond.

Jim walked along the corridor with them and Jake told him, "You can wait in the family waiting room around the corner. They're expecting you, so check in at the counter."

Jim nodded, stepping closer to the gurney, awkwardly patting his arm. "I'll see you soon, Chief."

Blair blew out a steadying breath, feeling fairly calm. "Later, man."

He lost sight of Jim as the gurney began to move through a labyrinth of brightly lit corridors, so he closed his eyes against the lights, feeling even more like he was floating and briefly wondered if this was what getting stoned felt like. A tiny chuckle escaped his lips as they finally came to a stop and he opened his eyes to see two swinging doors.

Someone grabbed his wrist, consulting the plastic ID band around it and then the chart she was holding. "Okay, room six."

They rolled him through the doors and Blair could see many beds cordoned off with curtains. "This is recovery," the woman said. "This is where you'll be for about an hour after the surgery and then you'll be assigned a room."

Two other people clad in blue scrubs took the end of his bed and pulled him farther down the hall and through another set of swinging doors.

Panic surged when he lost sight of Jake.

Everyone around him wore masks and ugly green gowns, concealing their features and facial expressions.

He was pushed past several rooms with large windows and then through one more door and into an operating room.

A blinding set of lights hung in the center and various machines and equipment lined the walls. Several other people in gowns worked around the room. He noted one laying out instruments on a tray and covering them with a blue sterile cloth, and another adjusted knobs on a large machine at the head of the narrow bed that he was being asked to slide over to, others moving in on him, holding IV lines and supporting his back and head, helping him scoot over to the operating table.

Once settle, the thin sheet that covered him was lifted away and the gown he wore was opened at the shoulders and pulled down a little. Someone else pushed the thin material up over his belly, baring the surgical site and exposing his nakedness.

A woman worked near his feet, opening plastic containers, laying things out on his stomach and between his legs and a horrible feeling of vulnerability overtook him, making him shake more. "I need to put in a catheter now, Mr. Sandburg." She told him. "You're going to feel some pressure, but just try to relax and breathe through it."

He jumped despite knowing that she would be touching him. "Relax." She soothed, holding his organ firmly, guiding something cold over the tip of his penis. "I'm injecting some lidocaine jelly to numb you up." The slimy gel slithered through his urethra, burning as it was forced upward. "Now I'm putting in the tube." He could feel it enter into him and inch forward. It hurt like a bitch, taking his breath away and he wanted to tell her, but only managed to gasp and clutch at the bedding. "Take a deep breath for me." He tried, garbling in a shaky breath and then he felt something shift, give way and the pain receded, but the pressure remained. Finally the tube and his penis was pulled upward and taped down to his belly. "All done."

Not soon enough.

Someone disassembled the table he was laying on, the piece supporting his legs and feet dropped away and he briefly felt like he was falling. At the same time another contraption was attached to each side of the bed and his legs were lifted and pulled apart and into the supports. Looking down his body he could see and feel long green stocking pulled onto each foot and up to his mid thigh; a couple pieces of Velcro stretched from each side of the leg supports and his legs were strapped down.

What looked like a blood pressure cuff was wrapped snugly around his left thigh and a cold black disk was slid up and under the strap to hold it to his leg.

At the same time the masked man at the head of the bed asked him to pick up his right shoulder and then slid the last wire and disk beneath him, attaching it to almost the center of his back, between his shoulder blades. As he lay back flat, the other lead wires and blood pressure cuff were attached to a machine above his head, immediately squeezing his arm for a new reading and he could hear the sound of his own heartbeat echoing on the machine that kept the readings.

Finally heavy drape sheets fluttered down to cover each leg and another was smoothed out across his body as both arms were pulled out from his body and secured to boards on either side of him.

Feeling trapped, he could feel panic arise within him, but the meds he was given kept it in check.

"Just rest for a bit…the doctor will be in soon."

He nodded, rolling his head to the left, seeing Dr. Ramanatha on the other side of the window, scrubbing her hands in the deep sinks in front of her, her long black hair pulled up into her cap, a mask tied by the two bottom ribbons dangled around her neck.

Missy came into the room too, scrubbing her hands, using her elbow to shut off the water and drying them on a few paper towels. She smiled at Blair when she saw him, giving him a playful wink and blew him a kiss.

He smiled or at least he thought he did...he was getting really sleepy.

Dr. Ramanatha came through the swinging doors that connected the operation room from the scrub room, a nurse helping her put on her purple surgical gloves. "How are you, Blair?" Her rich Indian accent bounced off the walls and Blair opened his eyes, wondering when he had closed them.

"I'm okay..."

"Good, good. We're going to get started now. Dr. Manning has given you something to help you relax. In a minute he's going to put a mask over your face. Just breathe normal, okay."

He nodded; a new layer of drowsiness overtook him. The next time he opened his eyes, a masked Melissa stood near his side, patting one outstretched arm. She leaned forward and whispered in his ear. "You're doing great, everything is gonna be fine."

And he believed her.

As she straightened the mask was held over his mouth and nose. "Take deep breaths." The anesthesiologist instructed, so he breathed in deep. "Can you count backwards from one hundred?

"One hundred…ninety nine…ninety eight…ninety seven…ninety…"

His body felt like it was sinking down, deeper and deeper into a waking dream. He could hear the people around him and knew he had stopped counting, could feel people touching his body, but he wasn't able to move, to open his eyes or answer them.

Something sticky covered each eye and gentle hands on his head tilted it back. Something hard passed his lips and tongue and then down his throat, he could feel it scraping along, unable to breathe until it passed into his lung.

But he wasn't really worried and he briefly wondered if he should be. It was uncomfortable, but not painful.

Music came on, violin and guitar, a haunting melody, and he could hear Missy, still standing near him, telling someone that he loved listening to Angie Ferris, her low and sultry voice filled the room.

He listened to the soft playing music, briefly thinking it was odd that he could hear what he was hearing. Jim had told him that once he was under, he should wake up feeling like time hadn't passed.

"Let's begin, scalpel."

A slight pressure on his leg was followed by a sharp stinging pain in his groin and with sudden clarity he realized he could feel the surgeon's scalpel cutting his flesh.

STOP, he screamed and cried, trying to recoil from the pain, to move away from the cutting edge of the knife, but he's body remained quiet and still.

"Pressure 132/85. Heart rate 93."

"Check the saturation rate."

"All levels are normal, Doctor."

White hot agony shot through his groin and into his belly, zigzagging up his spine and he kept on screaming, begging for help.

But no one could hear him.

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

Jim sat in the family waiting room, his back stiff and aching. He'd been listening in, trying to hear what was happening beyond the walls between him and Blair.

Melissa was whispering words of encouragement to his partner, Angie's sweet voice filtered through the cracks around the swinging doors and the low pitched sound of machinery hummed in the background.

He sat back, trying to calm himself, not really sure why he was so nervous, it was a routine surgery after all, still an uneasy feeling settled in the pit of his stomach.

Blair's heart rate seemed a little elevated, confirmed by someone calling out his friend's vitals. Jim could hear the steady thump, blood rushing through veins and the slight rattle of air being forced into Blair's lungs.

"Can I get you something?"

Jim jerked, surprised to see an elderly woman standing in front of him, a pleasant smile enhancing the deep wrinkles around her pale blue eyes, "um…sorry?"

She shook her head, smiling even wider. "I said can I get you something, a cup of coffee maybe?"

"Oh," he looked around the room, finding other people sitting in the cluster of chairs. Some families sat together, some people were on their own, but all had the same look of worry. Several other women dressed in the same yellow smocks moved around the room, talking with the other people waiting to hear word about their loved one's operations. "I ah...coffee? No thanks. I'm good."

"Okay, than." She gave a little wave. "I'll be back to give you an update on Mr. Sandburg as soon as I hear something."

He watched her as she stopped to talk to a few other people before settling in behind a desk near the front of the room. It took a few minutes for him to find Sandburg again, amongst the noise and smells of the hospital.

Dr. Ramanatha was talking to Melissa, explaining something about the intestine, asking her to hold some sort of instrument, but Jim tuned them out, instead concentrating on Blair and his heart beat. The muscle still pumped steadily, but something was off…something wasn't right.

He stood, moving to the desk and the friendly elderly lady. "Um, excuse me, Ma'am?"

She looked up from a magazine, quickly closing the cover. "Yes, Mr. Ellison? How can I help you?" She fumbled her glasses, finally folding them with shaky aged hands, sitting them on top of her copy of Cosmopolitan.

"I was hoping you might be able to find out about my partner…Mr. Sandburg. See how the surgery's going?" He didn't know how to explain what was going on, just knew that something was wrong.

She looked at him for a second then slowly rose to her feet. "I'll be right back."

He followed her progress as she disappeared through the double doors at the end of the waiting room. She shuffled her feet, a slight limp as she favored her left leg. He could hear her stopping at another set of doors, using her card key to access the rooms that lay behind them. On the other side people whispered and moaned in drug assistant sleep, nurses tended to their needs, some doctors talked with their groggy patients, explaining their recovery to the family members permitted in the recovery room for five minutes every hour.

She bypassed the curtained cubicles and went to the doors at the other end, using her card key again, entering into a quiet hallway, soft shoes scuffing the waxed tile floor. She stopped with in a few feet of entering, and Jim could hear a metal scraping sound and a small buzz. "Hello Ethel." A voice echoed through a phone receiver, a young man greeted her.

"Hi, Jake. I need an update on Mr. Sandburg."

"Be right back." His voice bounced around the room, a strange echo followed and Jim realized that the woman must be standing at the window over looking the operating room. She could probably see Blair from where she was standing. A few minutes later he heard, "Dr. Ramanatha is in the process of repairing the hole in his scrotum now. She's already removed a piece of the dead intestine and repaired the lining. He's vitals are normal; he's tolerating the procedure fine. Barring any unexpected complications, he should be done in about another sixty to ninety minutes and be in recovery by noon."

"Thank you, dear."

Jim stopped listening as she made her way back down the hall and through recovery; instead he concentrated on listening to his friend again, the worry in his gut growing with each passing second.

He tried to tell himself that he was imagining it, that he was worrying for no reason, that he allowed himself to get caught up in Blair's childhood fear, but his ears…they were telling him something else. Every fiber of his body hummed with the truth that he couldn't explain, couldn't even understand.

Blair was in trouble.

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

Time had long ago lost its meaning. He floated now on a river of pain so intense that he was sure that his heart was going to stop, that his body must be pulsing with it, but the sounds around him remained calm, a soft melody played on the radio, people's voices floated over him, sometimes muffled, sometimes loud and clear.

"So, he's more then a friend than?"

"Yes…well no." A soft giggle escaped followed by, "Blair and I have been dancing around each other for years now. He's such a sweetie, but he's busy…I'm busy."

Missy's voice faded, the sounds drifting away as a new wave of agony engulfed him. He could smell his own flesh burning, could feel something pulling on his hip, could tell that his flesh was opened and his insides were laid bare, exposed…but he couldn't move, couldn't get away from the constant pain.

He tried again to move his finger, just an inch. Get the attention of someone, anyone, but the digit didn't move.

How much longer?

Bile churned in his stomach, but his breathing stayed steady, air was forced into his lungs then drained away by a machine. He could feel it, so he tried to concentrate on that sensation instead of the all consuming pain.

He some how knew that if this didn't end soon, he wasn't going to make it. How much more could his body handle before it started to shut down.

Even as those thoughts drifted away his mother's face appeared in his mind's eye, her sad eyes looked down at him and then Jim appeared, jaw set and face hard, but they both quickly disappeared to be replaced by utter darkness.

A fleeting sense of sadness overtook him.

I'm going to die.

‘Come on Sweetie…don't think like that. You have to remain positive.'

The muffled voice floated to him…Mom…that was his mother's beloved voice. He tried to see her through the darkness, to hang onto something other then the pain.

‘You're strong Blair…you can do this.' As Jim's voice faded into the blackness he floated along, but now the pain seemed to recede, still there, just not as…intense.

A bright light beyond his tightly closed eyes drew his attention and then in the darkness of his mind eye he could see his grandmother's smiling face looking down at him. She held out her hand, so he reached for it, surprised to feel the solidness of her hand. "Come on, darling. I've got some cookies and milk ready. De Dad is waiting for us."

Pushing up from a field of brown and dying grass, devoid of any other vegetation, and a red streaked alien sky, he held her frail and wrinkled hand in his and followed behind, yet his feet didn't seem to touch the ground...he didn't even know if he had feet.

Together they stepped through a dark doorway and he found himself in his grandparent's brightly lit kitchen. His grandfather sat at the butcher block table, reading the evening paper. But he put it aside and smiled, "Hello, son. It's so good to see you again."

Blair found himself sliding into the opposite chair and it felt solid against him, yet when he looked down he could see nothing but shadows and shades of grey. Strangely he could smell the fresh baked almond nut cookies that his Me Maw laid on a cooling rack in front of him, his favorite and he could hear her ancient refrigerator door creak shut then the pouring of cold milk into a glass of crackling ice.

He watched, it's a dream, someone whispered as she sat the first glass in front of his grandfather. Sweet pearls of laughter floated passed him as his grandfather wiped at the milk mustache that clung to the older man's whiskers.

His glass was cool in is hands, yet he didn't remember picking it up and when he reached for a cookie from the plate she sat in the center of the table they were pleasantly warm and tasted just the way he remembered them, but he didn't remember lifting one to his mouth or even taking a bite.

"I need some suction here, please. Can you retract a bit more? I've got some bleeding…"

'So, sweetie…' his Me Maw slid into the chair beside him and he focused on her warm and open face. Her eyes were still a bright blue; a riot of curls escaped the bun at the base of her neck. ‘Tell me a story…I want to hear all about your latest adventures.'

So he talked, pushing the other voices away, telling them both about his life, about the university, about Jim. 'And he's the real thing…you would love him. I wish you were still…'

Alive.

That was going to be his next word, but as he looked into his grandmother's vibrant eyes, he couldn't bring himself to say it.

If my grandparents are dead, what does that make me?

His grandfather suddenly pushed back from the table, snagging a few cookies. 'I've got something for you buddy…picked it up at the antic shop in town.' The old man turned to see if he was following. 'Come on, Blair. You're gonna love this.'

He floated through the door that led to his grandparent's living room, but the old floral sofa and his De Dad's comfy lazy boy chair weren't there. Just an old oak bookshelf, then the shelf was sitting in a window display surrounded by other used furniture, a camel back sofa and he knew this place…had seen it before. He pressed his hand against the cool glass of the store front.

But it shimmered and started to fade away quickly, only the top shelf with an open and blanked page book remained and then a sea of black engulfed him and when he turned back to look, his grandfather faded into the mist.

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

A moment late, a year later he heard a new voice…

‘Hello, Blair.'

A feminine voice called to him over a rolling wave of darkness.

Familiar, yet strange.

‘I'm so glad to see you…'

Its gentle cadence drew him in, held his attention before other voices invaded his ears.

"I need another sponge, please…let's get the suture gun ready…" These voices intruded into his murky existence from time to time, bringing with them icy pain that waxed and waned, but now he had to strain to hear them.

He knew he had no perception of time or distance or even self, as he seemingly drifted over a great expanse of nothingness, free from his body, free from worry, an overwhelming sense of peace settled over his soul, taking away the last vestige of uncertainty and fear.

‘I've been waiting for you.'

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

A sliver of light filtered through the bleakness, a stream of sunshine suddenly lit a field of lush green grass, the chirping of birds and the light clean scent of lilies infused his new existence and little by little his body reformed.

First he felt his bare feet and the crisp blades of grass under them. Looking down he could see his toes, taking pleasure in curling them into the mossy sod.

A cool breeze blew across him, making him shiver, picking up his loose hair and whipping it around his face.

He lifted his newfound hand and shaded his eyes, the sun overhead bright and beautiful.

In the distance a corps of tall leafy trees lined the horizon, shading the grass.

And he saw her there, reclining on a blanket…the voice that called to him.

As he drew near he could smell juniper berries, a scent unique to only her and his mind went back to when they had first met.

She wasn't a botanist, but loved the study of organics and often made her own lotions and shampoos, giving them as gifts or selling them to make a little extra spending money.

Her pure love for nature and his love for her had taken them on many adventures.

He sat down with her, feeling his legs curl under him, realizing he now had a whole body, hands to reach out to her, taking her offered hand in his.

The sun played off her beautiful dark skin, chocolate brown eyes sparkled with life, but…they shouldn't.

He'd seen those same eyes in the past, glassy and staring, dull in death.

Seen Jim close them because she no longer could and he wondered now as he stared into the depths of them…what was the last thing she saw?

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

The Cosmo reading aid finally offered to take Jim back to recovery. He almost felt bad as he walked around her and hurried into the room as she opened the recovery door.

"Wait here."

He expecting Blair to be there, but couldn't find his heartbeat among the curtained cubicles within the sterile room.

He'd been listening in on and off over the last few hours, worry and dread churning in his stomach, but he didn't know why…couldn't explain the undeniable feeling that something was wrong. So intent on listening he would be caught unaware, jumping back from a near zone out, pulling his hearing back to normal range time and again as sounds spiked, giving him one hell of a headache.

And Ethel had gotten tired of him after awhile. He had asked three more times for her to check in on his friend and each time she would consider his request, neatly fold her glasses and place them on top of her magazine and walk back to the authorized personnel doors.

And each time Jim could hear her requesting an update and getting the same answer.

Unable to shake the feeling he had begun pacing the waiting room, and with each new circuit he would get more anxious, wanting, needing for the surgery to just be over so he could see with his own eyes that Blair was fine.

Squeaking wheels pulled him from his mussing. Two men rolled a gurney holding Blair toward the cubicle, pushing it forward until the head end bumped the wall.

Jim resisted the urge to jump up, stayed seated in his chair until the breaks were set and the men moved away. A nurse holding a metal clip board followed the men into the crowded space, allowing them to pass her on their way out before looking at the plastic band around Blair's arm.

She smiled at Jim, reaching across Blair to shake his hand. "I'm Elaine. I'll be staying with Mr. Sandburg until he's moved up to the ward."

"Is he okay?" Jim asked, still shaking her hand. She looked over the machines around Blair, setting aside the folder and pressing some buttons here and there, adjusting the flow of Blair's IV and then injecting something into the port.

"Everything looks okay." Elaine pulled over a rolling stool, picked up the chart again and plucked a pen from her scrub pocket. "He should be coming around soon. You can stay until 12:45 and then if he's still here you can come back at 1:30." Pocketing her pen, she pushed back and stood. "I'll be back in a few minutes to see how he's doing."

Jim nodded, eyes never leaving Blair's pale face.

He's eyes were partly open, revealing a small slither of blue, but there was no awareness there, a sticky residue clung to the eye lids.

And a breathing tube jutted out of Blair's mouth, white tape holding it to parted lips.

Jim's moved closer, taking a slack hand in his. "You're all done, buddy. You can wake up now." As he spoke he glanced down Blair's sheet covered body, taking in the leads and wires, the tubs snaking from under the sheets, carting away waste and other bodily fluids.

Blair's chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm, and Bair's hand was warm in his.

Finally every sense snapped into sharp alignment and Jim took it all in.

He smelt pungent antiseptic and traces of drying blood…heard Blair's heart pump, the muscle squeezing blood through each chamber then into his lungs and veins…felt the heat rising from Blair's body in waves, hotter near his lower stomach and groin, were under the sterile dressing he knew sutures marred Blair's skin…could see tiny beads of sweat gathered at Blair's hair line, but now his body temperature seemed normal.

Jim had to believe what his senses were telling him and as the nurse came in to tell him his time was up he leaned forward and whispered into Blair's ear, "Wake up soon and tell me to stop worrying here, would ya…I'll be back in a little bit, Chief."

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

Jim was getting that sinking feeling again.

During his first visit to the recovery room, Blair had slept on and at the end of Jim's allotted time he was shown the waiting room. While he waited for a second visit he had calmed down, telling himself it was just his imagination, Blair's own anxiety rubbing off on him.

During his second visit he had questioned the nurse about Blair not coming around and was assured it wasn't uncommon. His vitals were good and he seemed to be only sleeping off the effects of the anesthetic.

Now he was back for a third visit, surprised when Ethel directed him back to the recovery room instead of Blair's assigned room on the ward.

He ignored the background noises, the machines that whirled and hissed, the other patients in their cubicles, the nursing staff chatting at the desk. Jim only concentrated on his friend, who lay in the same position, unnaturally still.

And that same feeling of dread that had besieged Jim earlier in the day reared its head again.

Near the end of his time, the nurse came in again to check vitals, replacing an IV drip and then raised the blankets and looked at the dressing low on Blair's belly before readjusted the blankets and leaving on soft soled shoes.

She didn't seem too concerned, but still not completely satisfied, with only a few minutes left, Jim leaned forward, not caring who might see, not really understanding his own need.

He pressed his lips to Blair's forehead, tasting the salty skin and in that instant he knew…Blair was gone.

Pure panic gripped him as he screamed, "Nurse…Nurse!" Jim desperately grabbed up Blair's hand, feeling the steady pulse beating beneath his sensitive fingertips, his head spinning with conflicting input. Blair was here, right here, lying pale and still on the bed, but still with him, breathing, alive and yet Jim knew that the man's essence was missing.

Elaine ran from another room, another patient, her breath coming in short pants, her rubber sole shoes squeaking on the linoleum floor. Jim could smell a slight change in her basic scent, his brain automatically cataloging her response to his call for help. She rushed into the room, her face registering alarm, but quickly changing to a look of confusion upon looking at her patient. "What's the matter, Mr. Ellison?" Her eyes continued to scan the various monitors, her hand went to push back her auburn bangs, tucking a few straight strains behind her ear.

"There's something wrong…with Blair. Something's not right."

She looked toward the heart monitor again, the blood pressure readings, her eyes narrowing and her pupils shrinking, her nose wrinkling in confusion.

"Look," Jim urged. "He's not waking up. Something's really wrong here." She looked at him like she was considering calling the men in white to cart him away to a nice room with padded walls.

"It's not uncommon, Mr. Ellison." The nurse walked around to his side of the bed, gently laying her hand on his arm, guiding him over to the waiting chair like he was already a guest of the psych ward and maybe he should be. He sat heavily, resting his achy head in both hands. "You'll see." She soothed, "He'll come out of the anesthesia soon."

Jim nodded his head, agreeing just to agree, to get her away from him. He needed time, time to think, to come up with a game plan.

Who the hell am I kidding?

Blair was there, yet gone and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

Soon Elaine came to tell him his time was up and that he could come back in an half an hour for ten minutes if Blair hadn't already been moved to his room.

He rose slowly and walked to the waiting room, lost. He sat in the same chair he had waited in while Blair was in surgery and time ticked by. In a daze he waited, mind unable to wrap around what was happening and more importantly, what he could do to help Blair.

"Mr. Ellison?" Thirty minutes later the nurse came to get him and soon he was back in the cubicle, holding Blair's warm hand. The breathing tube was gone, Blair chest rose and fell on its own and each time that Jim came back to the recovery room, Blair had looked better physically, but he wasn't coming around, wasn't waking on his own.

The doctor that preformed the surgery had come and gone, saying that sometimes the anesthetic lasts a little longer; she wasn't concerned...not yet.

They finally moved Blair to a room on the ward, deeming him stable even thought he hadn't fully awakened yet.

The high afternoon sun shone through the slated blinds covering the large window that overlooked the parking garage.

Blair's room was small and private, the last on the left, just down from the elevators and nurse's station.

All afternoon people had come to look and poke and prod, but Blair laid impassive, not noticing the intrusions, still and quiet, not answering the repeated questions or responding to the less then gentle touches.

The nurse assigned to Blair came in again, smiling pleasantly, sticking a thermometer into Blair's ear, holding it in place until she got a reading.

Jim watched dust lazily float across the room, the rays of sun dancing off the fine particles making them sparkle.

The nurse adjusted the bed, rolling Blair to his side, tucking the sheets around him, making sure that none of the protruding tubes were crimped.

"Jim?" Missy stood in the open doorway, hands shoved deep into her lab coat pockets. The sun played off the stethoscope hanging around her neck, drilling right into Jim's eyes, notching up the slight pressure headache that had been building up all morning. "How's he doing?"

"They say he's okay." Jim ran his hand up and over his shoulder, squeezing tight muscles as he went. His neck ached and his back burned, his brain hurt from thinking and rethinking solutions on how to help Blair.

Not that he had come up with much.

He had spent the early afternoon talking, urging, yelling at Blair to snap out of whatever the hell was wrong with him, but nothing had happened.

Even now Blair lay in front of him, eyes closed seemingly in sleep, but if it were sleep it was so deep and profound Blair might not ever wake again and the thought of that scared the hell out of Jim.

Missy came into the room, looking over the handwritten notes and printouts stuffed into a folder that lay on the rolling table near the bed. "But you're not so sure?"

God, he couldn't explain it again. "It's just…"

"I'm a little worried too."

Surprised, Jim stood, moving closer to the bed, watching as Missy pulled back the sheets, popping the snaps of the gown along Blair's shoulder, exposing Blair's chest. He was still attached to leads that monitored a steady heartbeat, but Missy ignored them, resting her fist on Blair's chest and used her knuckles to rub hard, leaving a red streak down the center.

"Is he in a coma?" Jim wondered, not liking that Blair didn't even finch with the vigorous rubbing.

She covered Blair's chest, shaking her head. "I don't think so, but I'm gonna get a scan of his head to be sure."

Within minutes, they took Blair away for an MRI, Missy following along with a promise that once the test was done she would have a better answer.

Jim sank to the worn vinyl chair, feeling for the first time that there was hope, that whatever was happening would come to an end.

He followed the sound of the squeaky wheels of the gurney down the hall and into the elevator, could hear the gears and pulleys carry the car up a floor and the doors parting. Lost in the sounds of movement, watching the dust dance around the room he listened as Blair was lifted to the table of the MRI machine and the sheets tucked around his body.

The tech spoke to Blair as if everything was awake. The machine whirled to life and a tapping, humming racket filled Jim's ears. Just before he pulled away from the noise of the test he thought he heard Blair's voice.

Rough and low, mumbled and slow, but definitely spoken, Jim heard Blair say, "Jaannnet."

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

'Janet…What is this place?' Blair turned around, taking in the wildflowers and trees, breathing in the clean fresh scent of the forest.

Janet stepped closer, her hand rising to rest on his shoulder, her brown eyes suddenly sad. 'It's you, Blair.'

But he didn't understand.

Moving away from her, looking around the clearing he spotted her red mustang parked along a dirt road, the top down and black leather seats shinning in the sun light. This was the car that took them on their many journeys.

He turned to ask where they were again, but she was gone.

The forest melted around him, the green trees morphed into brick buildings and the lush grass to asphalt.

Glass crunched under his feet and he looked up to see a large picture window smashed out, TV's and stereo equipment sat in a display beyond the broken pane.

‘Come on, dude…let's go.' A familiar voice rang out behind him.

This can't be happening…it's not real.

Turning slowly, he came face to face with a ghost from the past. 'Roy? Sweet Roy…'

'Gotta move, man…let's get outta here.'

'No wait…' But Roy jogged off down the street, leaving him alone, the landscape changing again as Roy's body wavered and then disappeared.

He was alone again.

Roy had left him, just like Janet, just like his grandparents. They were all gone…they were all dead.

Oh, god…I'm dead.

Blair slammed his eyes closed, biting his bottom lip hard, feeling the sting of pain.

He was dead. Something horrible had happened to him and now he was stuck here, wherever here was.

‘You can open your eyes, Hairy Blairy.'

Blair's heart jumped as he whipped around, eyes straining to see anything in the utter darkness.

No…no, no, no.

‘I can be you…' the disembodied voice taunted him, whispered hideous and terrible things in his ear, feather soft touches grazed Blair's shoulder and then his hair. He stumbled forward a few steps on wobbly knees, hands raised and outstretched, searching in the dark, protecting himself from the invisible threat, but David Lash never materialized.

Instead a spark of flame ignited in the pitch black, its cool blue blaze not casting any illumination. Blair watched in utter horror as the wave of fire moved closer, its form folding in on it's self, gliding gracefully across the space between them.

Closer and closer it came, a horrible screeching filled the dark space Blair was in and he covered his ears, his heart beating so hard it hurt his chest.

This isn't real…it can't be.

The fire people were caused by a bad trip, the product of being poisoned by Golden.

They weren't real.

This isn't real…it isn't real.

Closing his eyes tight, he wrapped his arms around himself, crouching down and tucking his head under his arm, waiting to be consumed, but the hot lick of flame never touch his skin.

After a time he cautiously opened his eyes a saw an unfamiliar room, his body twisted on a bed, his arms wrapped around himself and his head turned at an odd angle. The TV was on, but from his prospective, it was upside down.

The room was dim, a small light shone somewhere off to the right, but he couldn't turn his head to look.

His arms didn't work, nor his legs. His eyes tracked slowly across the tangled sheets, but he couldn't even blink.

"Oh god, Blair!"

He could hear feet pounding toward him and hands on his hips and back as his body was shifted.

"The meds are starting to work, Jim…"

Missy?

Their words flowed over him as he was positioned on a hospital bed, pain radiated from his groin and stomach and he remembered. He was having corrective surgery, but something had gone terribly wrong.

He could feel it, feel it all.

The memory of horrible pain was still fresh in his head and he wanted to tell them that he had felt each and every cut of his skin, the burn of the cauterizing tools, the pull of the instruments that held his skin and muscles apart, but his mouth wasn't working.

This new existence was more real then the last.

He was trapped inside his body….like he was on the inside, looking out, but not able to respond to the world around him.

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

Jim stood, smoothing down the covers, tucking Blair's arm under the sheets. Blair's eyes were open now, but he stared ahead, unseeing, eerily unblinking and blank.

A soft knock came at the open door and he turned to see Simon and Joel standing in the doorway.

Jim nodded as his boss and friend entered the semi darkened room and Simon sat in the chair near the window and Joel stood close to the foot of the bed, examining Blair.

"You okay?" Simon asked, looking from Jim to the still figure in the bed.

Jim nodded, leaning on the raised bed rail. He had never seen anything like this and truth be told it scared the shit out of him. His heart was still periodically sputtering. "Yeah, thanks for coming."

"So what are they saying now?" Joel wanted to know, reaching forward to touch Blair's foot through the sheet and it was then that Jim remembered he wasn't Blair's only friend, that other people had cared and loved for both of them and it was a small comfort to know that it also meant he wasn't alone in his worry.

"They know he's catatonic," he couldn't help the sigh that escaped. "But not why."

As they watched, Blair's arm came slowly from under the covers. Jim started to reach for the appendage, but stopped when the hand settled onto the sheet beside Blair's body.

It was still freaking him out to see Blair move parts of his body, usually in super slow motion, sometime leaving his arm hanging in mid air, or if he waited without interruption, he would twist his body, slowly moving to a destination known only to Blair. Missy had explained that it was a usual symptom of the illness that had overtaken Blair, but should improve with the meds they were giving.

Joel moved around the bed to stand across from Jim, resting his hand on the arm that Blair had moved a moment before. "Do you think he knows we are here…he's in there… somewhere, right?"

"They said to talk to him…he might be aware on some level." Jim sank into his chair, voice rough from all the talking he had already done.

"I just don't get it," Simon said. "What could cause this, Jim?"

"A short list, but they already checked for autoimmune disorders, neurological lesions. Missy thought he had had a…" he cleared his throat, not wanting to think about the possibilities. "a ah stroke, but the MRI was clear. They're still checking for metabolic disturbances. She also mentioned PTSD…but he doesn't fit into that category since we know he hasn't had any recent trauma."

Blair's hand was on the move again, slowly rising from the bed. When Jim leaned forward to reach for the hand again, Joel spoke up. "Why don't you let him be…what harm can he do?"

But Joel hadn't been the one to find Blair earlier, his body contorted in an unnatural position, twisted on the bed with his neck turned in an odd angle, both arms up and over his head.

It was something that Jim was surely never to forget.

He shouldn't have left, shouldn't have listened to Missy when she told him that Blair was stable and had been given medications that would take time to work.

Coming back from a quick bite to eat in the cafeteria and meeting up with Missy in the hall, they had spent a few minutes at the nurse's station while Missy finished up with something she was typing into the computer. She told Jim while he waited that they had increased the medications that would bring Blair out of his state, but that it wasn't an exact science and that it would probably be trial and error until they found the right combo of meds and often times that patients came out of it anywhere within a few hours to a few days once treatment had been started.

Ever since he had left the small hospital room he had been attuned to Blair's heartbeat and respiration and suddenly sensing a change ran down the hall, Missy on his heels and calling after him, wanting to know what was going on.

They had entered the room to find Blair twisted on the bed, eyes opened wide, but not responding to Jim's calls.

Pulling himself from his thoughts, he tucked the arm back against Blair's side, Jim sunk back into his chair. "He might accidentally hurt himself or pull a tube," he told them. "The doctor said that if he doesn't snap out of it soon and remains active, they'll have to restrain him."

Simon shifted in his seat, clearly not sure what to say to him. But Jim was sure that sooner or later he was gonna offer him a ride home. He glanced at the clock, a little surprised to see that it was nearly nine at night. "Anyway, I'm gonna stay with him. I don't want him to be alone."

Simon nodded, gathering up his coat and stood. "Tell the kid we're all rooting for him. I'll check back with you in the morning."

"Hey Blair." Joel leaned over the prone man in the bed. "Get better and come back real soon, okay man? We all miss you."

Jim walked them to the door, saying good night before returning to the chair.

Hours slowly ticked by…but nothing changed.

Around three in the morning Jim finally drifted off to sleep, encouraged hours before by the nurse that came to check on his partner. "I'll keep watch for now, get some rest."

Her words didn't sit right with him, but despite his best intentions, he's eyes grew heavy.

Sometime later he awoke to a dim room, the sun was just coming up and its early rays were trying to penetrate the haze of the room. Jim looked toward his friend and sighed, reaching to tuck the raised arm back under the covers. "Good morning, Chief."

He wasn't surprised when he received no answer. Blair's eyes remained closed.

Over the next few hours people came and went, the ward doctor checked Blair's incisions, looking for signs of infection. "Everything looks good."

Jim nodded, "What about the meds…are they working?"

"It's too soon to know for sure. The Lorazepam will be injected again this morning and hopefully we'll see more improvement.

"What if you don't see improvement, then what?" Jim asked, needing to know what the outcome could be.

"We'll try Zolpidem next, there are some therapies we can try." The man finished his examination, pulling down Blair's gown and pulling up the blankets, carefully lowering the arm that had risen a few inches off the bed. "That fact that we are seeing movement is promising. I'll be by a little later to check him again."

As the doctor left, Missy came in. "How's he doing Jim?"

"About the same." He sighed, feeling so frustrated that there wasn't a damn thing he could do. "He's still lifting his arm, so I guess that's good."

She sat in the chair on the other side of the bed, taking Blair's lax hand and moved closer to speak softly to him. Jim could have heard the words if he wanted to, but it seemed like an evasion of privacy and at least he could give that to Blair.

A nurse breezed in a few minutes later, checking lines and tubes, briskly pulling down the blankets and swabbing Blair's thigh to give an injection. After tossing the needle she hiked up the gown and looked at the dressing again, pressing firmly around the site, but Blair didn't stir.

Missy helped pull the gown back in place and they all helped gently roll Blair over to his side, rearranging pillows to support his back, placing one between his bent legs to keep pressure off his healing parts. The nurse breezed out just as quickly with a promise to come and turn Blair onto his other side in a few hours.

"How are you holding up, Jim?" Missy settled herself back into the chair, but Jim remained standing, feeling boxed into his own skin, needing to move around.

He paced to the window to look out over the parking lot, letting the afternoon sun warm his face. "I just wish there was something I could do…I don't know how, but I knew something was wrong, during the surgery, I should have done something." He didn't tell her that he could sense that Blair wasn't present when he'd seen him in recovery and how when they had found him twisted on the bed, something had changed.

Blair was back, just trapped inside somehow.

"What?" Missy wanted to know. "There was no way of knowing that Blair would have a reaction like this. You can't blame yourself."

"I do…I talked him into the damn surgery in the first place, even though I knew he had an aversion to doctors and hospitals. I should have…"

"Jim," She stood then, walking around the bed. "He needed the surgery; there were no other options…"

"I know, I know." He slumped back into his chair. "I just can't wrap my head around why this is happening. They already ruled out most possibilities. The nurse told me that sometimes they have to treat the underlining cause in order for the patient to come out of this state…what if we can't find the cause?

"We will and he will come out of it…think of it as if Blair was somehow overloaded. He just shut down and will come out of it when his body feels it's safe."

Jim sat thinking about what she had said. "Overloaded." Like as in zoned out? "Can you stay with him for a bit, I need to run home and get some things for him?" He was already moving to the door before she even answered.

"Sure, no problem." She called as he rushed through the corridors and into the parking garage then to his truck, finally with a plan, feeling like he might be able to help Blair after all.

*~*~*

Blair felt heavy and muzzy, the floating feeling gone, the memory of the place he was at before fading, but still not able to fully connect with his own body.

He could hear people talking, cool hands touching him, but what they were saying and their intentions were beyond him.

His body hurt, but not like before, the pain was muffled and distant instead of sharp and fiery.

He didn't know how long he'd been like this; somehow he'd forgotten how to move his limbs.

He could open his eyes, but not due to any effort on his part. He wasn't conscious of opening them, just knew that at times they were closed and then as if waking from a dream he would be staring at something new.

Sometime later, the surface above him, a drop ceiling, his own voice told him, became his fuzzy view and then the image blurred and he could feel real pressure on his right side and thought he could see something even lighter…a window<.i>, his own voice seemed to whisper, but he didn't yet really understand and on some level he knew that he should know those sounds and their meanings, but that thought passed quickly and the slight panic that rose to the surface of his thoughts faded.

And then a new sound caught his wandering attention.

"…so, it's gonna be okay, you'll see…"

"…and then we went to the movies, remember…"

He knew he was hearing people talking…words, a distant part of his mind told him, but the sounds had no meaning.

He drifted along, riding waves of sensations his body didn't always recognize, except that he knew without a doubt that his nose itched, sometimes intensely, but he never seemed able to reach it to scratch it.

"…I'm just checking your incision…"

"…take a look. Can you look at me, Mr. Sandburg..."

The blurry view before his opened eyes shifted, something white and very bright passed across his field of vision.

"…the same…try another…"

A small pain pricked his skin somewhere in his body. His new existence was foggy and cold and he thought he felt his body vibrate,shivering.

Later, as the words and world around him floated into his conscience, and he began to understand them, he started to remember the place he had been.

He briefly remembered the all consuming fiery pain and then seeing his grandparents, but had he really seen them and Janet, of god, Janet and Roy?

Was he dead? Dead and destined to remain in the place he was now?

How could he know?

If he could go back, go home, how would he know he was safe, how could he know that the pain wouldn't come back?

As scary as those thoughts were, and he knew he should be afraid, he wasn't scared…something around him was shifting, something was changing…

"…Chief, just relax…something new…like a zone out…"

He knew that voice, it was safe…home, and so he listened.

"We'll start with touch…that okay with you, Chief."

Chief…was that him?

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

Missy moved from the chair, tucking Blair's hand back beside him to help Jim unpack some things from the bag he brought from home, curious. "It can't hurt to try," She said, eager to help once he explained what he wanted to do. Assuming it would be similar to therapies sometimes used for coma patients.

Jim couldn't tell her it was how Blair had gotten him out of his own zone outs.

While Jim busied himself setting up what he needed, she told him that Blair's doctor had been in and ordered a change of medicine, but Blair still wasn't responding like they had hoped. She warned that there had been whispers of electroconvulsive therapy as a next possible step.

Stunned, he stopped what he was doing. "You mean like electroshock?" Not quite believing what she was saying.

She nodded, plugging in the portable CD player Jim had brought with him. "It's not like it used to be in the 50s Jim. Most ECT machines deliver a brief pulse current, which is safer and more effective. It's not the first choice, but it could be a valid treatment."

Jim didn't care about its validity. No way in hell was he ever gonna allow them to shock Blair.

"I need to get to the U for a shift." She told him, laying out a few bottles on the rolling tray table, giving each one a curious glance. "Will you call me if anything changes?" she asked, leaning over Blair and kissing him lightly on the cheek. "I'll see you later Blair. Night Jim."

"Good night, Missy. I'll call you." He told her, walking her to the door.

The sun was just setting and the room was a little cool. He thought about asking to turn up the heat in the room, but Blair didn't seem to be uncomfortable, so he pulled the door partly closed and went over to the bed.

"Hey, Chief." Jim hooked the nearest chair with his foot, sitting down and taking Blair's hand in his. He's friend felt warm and alive, the blood rushing through his veins just under the surface of his skin, his heart pounding at a normal rhythm, alive and yet in total contrast to the stillness of the body that laid on the bed. "Just relax, buddy." He went on. "I want to try something new. Missy said what's happening is sorta like a zone out and I thought maybe I could use some of your own research to help you make your way back. We'll start with touch…that okay with you Chief?"

Jim noted a little twitch of one closed eye and said the word again. "Chief…can you hear me?" But the eye didn't move, nor did any part of Blair's face and Jim wondered if maybe he had imagined it.

Dropping Blair's hand, he pulled unscented lotion from the duffle at the bottom of the bed, pouring some out and rubbing the cream between his palms to warm it. Careful of the IV lines, he started with Blair's arms, working the lotion into skin at the shoulder and moving down to the bend of elbow, finishing with Blair's palms before moving on to the other arm.

He took his time, allowing his finger to linger on Blair's wrist, needing to feel the precious pulse that beat there. The machines had all confirmed life, but Jim needed to touch to be sure.

When he started out he decided not to talk, fearing that it would be too much stimulation for Blair, hoping that if Blair could just concentrate on one sensation at a time, he might be able to reach him.

But the sound of the quite was too deep, so he started to hum. Just a silly song he remembered from his own childhood. Something his mother used to sing him each night before bed.

Outside a gentle rain started, but soon the drops pelted the windows, ice crystals forming on their decent to the earth, but Jim ignored the extra sensory input, concentrated on Blair and his touch as he continued to hum.

Finished with the arms, he uncovered one leg, carefully using a soothing touch at Blair's thigh and then the kneecap, working the muscles of his calf and finally his foot. The process was repeated for the other side and when he was finished he looked at Blair's face. A small frown had turned down the corners of Blair's lips and Jim didn't know if that was good or bad.

But he could only press on, so he rolled Blair to his side, holding him at the hip and shoulder, using a gentle pushing movement to roll the limp body, propping pillows in the front of him to rest on so Jim could reach his shoulders and back. The muscles he found there were tense, which was surprising since the medicines Blair was on should have relaxed his muscles.

He used his thumbs to work the muscles at Blair's shoulders and then the flat of his hands to loosen the tight cords of his back.

When he was done and Blair was still so still he decided to try smell next. "I brought some things from home, your favorite cologne, that fruity shampoo you insist on using, some fresh ground coffee…"

Jim held each item up close to Blair's nose and waited a few minutes before switching to a new item. After going through everything he thought to bring, he put all the bottles back in the duffle. "So, not smell then…"

Jim dropped the duffle to the floor, turning on the CD player he had brought from home. Falling rain and wind emanated from the tiny speakers, crashing lightning and loud booming thunder came next, the sounds of a storm. Blair had gotten the CD as a gift from his mom a few years back, saying that he loved the sounds of a storm that he never slept better then when he was listening to the CD.

Thinking that the last thing he wanted was for Blair to sleep he reached over and turned off the player and just started talking.

"Ya know, if you needed a little break, we could have taken a weekend." He went on and on, talking about basketball and hockey, then the station and how everyone was sending him their best wishes. He talked about Simon and poker night and how Henry was just waiting for the next game to win some of his money back. He talked about Blair's mom and wondered if he should call her, but his question wasn't answered. He moved on to a current case, asking Blair's thoughts on his newest theory, but the man in the bed stayed quiet.

Hours passed but nothing changed and Jim started to think he was doing no good at all. He didn't want to believe that…couldn't let himself start to doubt that Blair would come out of it, didn't want to think about the proposed new treatment if the meds fell.

"Come on, Chief…will you just wake up already and tell me to shut up." He fell quiet then, running the palm of his hand up and down Blair's arm lost in thought, in his own little world. What would he do if he had a zone out now? There would be no one to help him, to help him find his way home. "Come on, Blair…I need you."

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

"Come on, Chief…Come on Blair…I need you."

His world was dark, but he wasn't afraid anymore. He felt like he was waking from a long sleep, body achy and sore, eyes swollen and dry. He tried to run his tongue over his lips, but he didn't even have enough moisture in his mouth for that.

There was heaviness in his arms, so he carefully turned his head to the side, squinting in the dim light to see a figure sitting on a chair beside the bed he was laying in.

And he wasn't quite sure why he was laying in a bed…a memory tickled the back of his mind bringing with it an intense and consuming fear…

And then in a flash it all came back, the fiery pain, the inability to move, to let anyone know…he frantically tried to move his body, but it responded sluggishly, ratcheting up his anxiety level and his heart beat wildly in his chest. He squirmed on the bed, panic surging, feeling things attached to his body pull painfully, but that didn't matter…he had to get up, get out and that's then he found his voice, that's when he started screaming.

The sheets under him bunched up as he frantically swung his legs down, shaking off something that was trying to hold him back, hearing a terrible, weak wailing and then realizing it was him.

He fell a distance to the hard floor with a thump, sending a sear of fire through his belly and up his back, but he still tried to scramble away, knowing only that he didn't want to be wherever here was.

Something still pulled on him, caught his arms and tried to envelop him, like the terrible darkness, the place he was trapped and he knew he didn't want to go back there, so he scratched and clawed at anything that came in striking distance, used his fists to fend off anything that wouldn't let him go…he could hear someone else's voice over the roaring in his head, but he couldn't listen…what if it were the fire people, or David Lash trying to take him back to that place he'd been before…he had to get away, but still something held firm to him, wrapping around him like a blanket and his strength was waning, he tried to pull away again, but it held on tight.

In a part of his mind, he knew that people were all around him, the bright overhead light flipped on and lightened the darkness behind his tightly closed eyes and hurried conversation drifted over his head.

Something bit his hip, stung and dizziness swept through him, a wave of heat engulfed his body, taking away what little strength the brief pulse of adrenaline gave him and he's struggles lessen against whatever was trying to hold him still.

"…Shhhhh….you're okay, you're safe now…shhhhh…"

He laid his head down on something soft, hot tears burning down his cheeks, but his body was rocking, someone was holding him close, he realized and he could feel he was sitting partly on something solid and partly on a cold tile floor.

"…just don't fight it…that's it…"

The rambling noises that tumbled from his lips quieted to tiny whimpers and the rocking slowed, but the arms held on tight and as he leaned against someone's shoulder. The soft fabric of the shirt under his cheek was cool against his heated face and it smelt familiar, good…it smelt like home.

"I gotcha, Chief…I gotcha."

Chief? He was Chief, he was Blair.

A few shuddered breaths caught in his throat, but his breathing slowed down more and his racing heart settled.

"That's it, buddy…you're okay, I gotcha."

Jim? Jim was here in the darkness…or had he'd gone to where Jim was…the assaulting memories ebbed, confused, he didn't know if this was real, but he felt like he could open his eyes to look.

The room was dim again, lit only by the hallway beyond where he sat on the floor and a tiny light shone behind him somewhere, an upturned tray table and scattered bottle lay beside a duffle bag, his duffle bag. He could see white pants and sensible white shoes and when he turned his head a little he could see a hospital bed and then more memories surfaced…his hernia, the surgery, the pain, the place he escaped too…the things he saw there, the loved ones he had lost, his mom's voice…

And Jim's.

Jim was here now, he was practically sitting in the man's lap, but Jim wasn't pushing him away, in fact his hand ran continuously up and down Blair's back, his soft exhalations and whispered words hit the side of Blair's neck, chilling him, but Jim was here so it must be over.

Relieved and overwhelmed…the noise, the lights, the memories, the pain, he turned his head in towards Jim's neck and let more tears fall; softly at first and then harder, shaking…he still hurt, but not like before…was it really over.

The rocking started again and Blair clung to Jim, as if he could be pulled back into the darkness if he didn't hold on tight.

"Shhh…You're okay Blair. You're gonna be okay."

The arms around him tightened, but he shook his head against the body holding him. "No." He cried. "I couldn't stop them, Jim. I tried…but they couldn't hear me."

Jim didn't say anything for awhile, just sat and held him and then. "It's over now, Blair. Whatever it is, it's over."

And Blair wanted to believe him, he really did.

"Come on. Let's get you back in bed. The doctor's on the way to check you over."

Blair froze, still partly in Jim's lap, and dug his fingers into Jim's shoulders, not letting the man rise from the floor. "NO…I can't…I won't…let's just go home." He pulled back and looked into Jim's confused blue eyes; not caring how he sounded or if was even making any sense. "I want to go home now."

"Okay, okay," Jim soothed, but Blair knew from the look Jim was giving his he was only trying to calm him, agreeing just to agree. "I'll take you home; just…we have to make sure your okay first."

Blair shook his head even as Jim got a better hold on him and grabbing him under the knees and shoulders, lifting and walking a few feet to the hospital bed, laying him out on the blood stained sheets.

He grabbed at Jim's arm as he tried to move away. "No, no…I don't want to stay here."

He had to tell Jim, make him understand.

"I promise, Chief. Just as soon as they look you over."

And then Jim moved back and people descended on him; hands invaded his body, touching him, poking him, hurting him.

And yet his eyes grew heavy and for a brief second he panicked, reaching out for a hand that he found immediately, afraid of going back to that place. "I can't…"

"You're safe now, Chief." The words were whispered close to his ear and he nodded. Jim was here now. He could believe him.

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

Jim had been pacing up and down the hall for the last twenty minutes, waiting for the doctor to come out of Blair's room. "What the hell was that?" He demanded as soon as the man appeared and then lowered his voice because it was late and there were other patients on the ward. "Is he okay?"

The doctor was different then the one that had been in to see Blair earlier, but he carried his friend's chart and seemed to know what he was talking about when he explained that Blair had come out of the catatonic state and that he had a bad reaction to the stimuli of the waking world. "I've giving him another mild sedative, so he's resting comfortably now. His incision was intact, but he managed to pull one of the drains and his IV's. We repaired everything and the nurse is cleaning him up now. You can go in soon."

The one thing the man couldn't answer was why. Why Blair had reacted so violently. "It could be the drugs we used to treat his condition. We'll know more when he's more lucid."

Jim thanked the doctor then slipped back into the room. Two nurses worked around the bed, having changed the bedding and wiped the puddle of blood up from the floor, fitting a new gown over Blair's arms, but not pulling it down, leaving his belly exposed.

One spoke softly to Blair, even though his eyes were partly closed and he seemed to be lightly sleeping with the aid of the drugs the doctor had given him. The other gently wiped a cloth over Blair's skin around his wound and then taped on clean white gauze before wiping up any other specs or spots of blood on Blair's pale and flushed skin.

The tube that carried away extra fluid near the surgery site was reinserted and looked a little redder than the other and Jim was worried about infection.

The other nurse, Shelly worked to find a new vein in Blair's other arm for the IV fluids and medications that were needed to help him heal and as she stuck the needle in, Blair's arm jerked, but he didn't open his eyes.

When they finally left, Jim pulled the chair back over to the bed and took Blair's lax hand. The fingers twitched in his, so he gave them a little gentle squeeze, hoping that Blair would know he was there. "I'm not going anywhere, buddy."

Blair's eyes moved rapidly under closed lids and Jim could only hope his dreams were pleasant.

He sat a few hours, watching every muscle twitch and movement, every sigh and murmur that came from the bed, relieved that Blair wasn't lying so still anymore, praying that whatever had caused the catatonia was gone.

Around seven in the morning he could hear the squeaky wheels on the breakfast cart as it made its way down the hall, stopping at each room.

Nurses had been in and out the past few hours and on the last visit had told him that Blair would be getting a light breakfast this morning and then they would be getting him up and moving with the hopes that he could be released to recover at home in a few days.

Jim looked at Blair, trying to decide if he should wake him.

He lightly touched him on the arm and was surprised when Blair startled awake, looking wildly around the room. "Easy, Chief. Everything is okay."

"Jim…" Blair's voice was rough and low and he licked his dry lips.

Jim reached for the cartons of juice left during the night if Blair awakened, opened and put a straw that bent in the clear liquid and placed it against parched lips, "easy…not so fast."

Blair pulled away when he was done, his eyes roaming the room again before settling on Jim's face. "Can I…can I go home now?"

Jim puzzled at the fear he could clearly see in Blair's eyes and the smell of panic that started to permeate from his skin. "Soon," he finally said. "Breakfast is coming and once they get you up and around the doctor…"

"NO, no doctor."

Jim lunged for Blair as he clumsily tossed off the blanket and nearly rolled off the bed.

What the hell?

Was Blair just remembering his phobia and was confusing things, he still had some heavy duty meds in his system. "Why are you so afraid of the doctor, Chief? They're here to help you. They won't hurt you."

Instead of settling at his words, Blair struggled harder to get away from Jim's grasp and then made a strange little noise, bending awkwardly around Jim's steadying arm, moaning as if he had pulled painfully at his own incisions.

"Easy, Blair…lets get you back in bed."

"No," Blair moaned, but released his grip on Jim's arm. "I can't. I'll die this time, I know I will."

Jim didn't know what to say, so for the moment he didn't say anything.

He rubbed Blair's back and tried to settle him more comfortably on the bed.

After Blair's body uncoiled a bit, he ventured, "Everything is fine, Chief. You had surgery, but they fixed the problem and it's all over. We'll be out of here hopefully by tomorrow." Jim had no idea when they had planned to release Blair, but he wanted to give some timeframe. "Nothing is gonna happen to you."

Blair looked at him with glassy eyes and said, "It already did, man…it already did."

The fine hairs on Jim's arms stood on end at the whispered words and the uneasy feelings he had earlier came rushing back. He was so sure that something was wrong and in a way he had been right…he just didn't know why.

Not sure if it was him that had gotten through to Blair or the meds finally doing their job and no one could tell him why it had all happened in the first place.

But then he had never thought to ask Blair.

Blair's eyes were partly closed in fatigue and he was lying so close to the edge of the bed that he was in danger of falling off, but he seemed to have settled down, maybe resigned to his fate.

Jim leaned a little closer and patted his arm, not sure he wanted to hear the answer to the question he was about to ask. "What happened, Blair? What happened to you?"

At first he didn't think Blair would answer, but then he started to speak, softly at first and then a little stronger. "I ah…I remember going to the OR and hearing people talking around me…the mu music on the radio and I thought it was strange, ya know?"

Jim's blood ran cold as ice when he realized where this was going.

"I ah…I could feel them touching me, man…I could fell them…"

Oh god…Blair had somehow been awake during his surgery.

"God, Jim…the pain was so intense…I was sure I was dying." Blair's whole body shuddered at the remembered agony. "They sliced my skin open, man and I could feel it, every tug and pull and god…the burning…How is that even possible?"

Jim didn't know and he didn't know what to say either. So many thoughts swirled through his mind…was it possible? He sure as hell had never heard of anything like this happening before…or was Blair just so wound tight about the procedure that his own mind had imagined that he was feeling things he couldn't possibly feel…but then how could he explain his own feelings and the intense sensation that something was wrong.

Blair still shivered on the bed, watching him, waiting for a response.

"God, Blair…how…I mean…" Jim shook his head, knowing that he needed to pull it together, not wanting to screw this up. He realized that his own bond with Blair ran deeper than even he could comprehend and that he needed to trust what Blair told him to be true, even if only Blair believed it to be and it didn't actually happen. "Okay, okay…I'm gonna get a hold of Dr. Ramanatha and we'll get you outta here. We'll figure this out."

Blair sank back into the pillows as the cart with his breakfast arrived. A woman in blue sat a covered tray on the rolling table and pushed it over Blair's lap, finding and handing the bed control to Blair.

Jim moved to help Blair raise and settle comfortably on the bed. "You just try to eat something and I'll be back in a few minutes…will you be okay until I get back…are you in pain now, I can call…"

"No, just hurry…"

Jim nodded, moving to the door, looking back to see that Blair hadn't removed the lid from his plate, but he looked more relaxed, seemed a little calmer and he realized something important had just happened.

Blair believed that Jim believed him and for now, that was all that was important.

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

Jim hurried down the hall, intent on asking a nurse to call Dr. Ramanatha. Thoughts of what Blair had endured chased through his head, making him feel queasy. The whole time that Jim had been sitting in the waiting room, indecisive about what the hell to do with his feelings of unease; Blair had been nearly tortured to death a few hundred feet away.

And he was angry, but he didn't fully understand who that anger was directed at, the doctor or the hospital staff that participated in the surgery or maybe even himself. He should have been willing to help Blair explore alternative options.

The nursing desk was manned with one young lady dressed in colorful scrubs. She was talking on the phone, but that didn't stop Jim from saying, "Excuse me." She lifted her eyes to look at him, giving a brief smile before raising her index finger signaling him to please wait. But whoever was on the phone could wait, this was more important. "I need to get a hold of Dr. Ramanatha about one of her patients, Blair Sandburg." She continued to speak into the phone, Jim catching medical jargon. Phrases like, guarded condition, respirator oxygenation, blood count.

He opened his mouth again when another nurse walked behind the counter, looking his way and asking, "Can I help you, Sir?"

"Yes," he shifted his attention his way. "Yes, I need to get a hold of Dr. Ramanatha about Blair Sandburg." The man's fingers flew across the keyboard in front of him. "She's not due until later this afternoon. She's in surgery at the moment. Do you want…"

"Jim?"

He turned to see Missy walking toward him from the elevator.

"I heard he's awake." Her smile could have lightened up the whole hall if not for the fact that Jim wasn't in the mood to make polite conversation. "Have you been in to see him yet this morning?"

"I've been here all night." He turned from the nurse, directing his anger at one of the people that had helped hurt Blair. "He told me he was awake during the surgery."

She stopped mid stride, her smile dropping, a look akin to horror passing over her soft features. "He…he what?"

The two nurses behind him had stilled and Jim could sense that they were equally horrified, relieving just a small bit of Jim's righteous anger. "Awake," he repeated. "How the hell is that even possible. Someone screwed up and Blair paid the price."

She seemed to snap out of her paralysis and began walking toward him again. Jim realized that he had been yelling and it was early, some patients might still be sleeping. He told himself to calm down as she approached him, taking him by the elbow to the small family waiting room at the end of the hall.

"It's not something that happens often, but it can."

Jim sunk down in the chair, guilt now vying with his anger. So it could have really happened? Up to this point he was willing to concede the possibility, because Blair believed it had happened and yet a part of him was hoping that once he talked to the right people they would tell him that it was impossible, that Blair had a bad reaction to the anesthetic, that he was hallucinating, vivid but not real. "Oh god." He sunk down in to the chair, the queasy feeling was back and he felt red hot.

She sat in the chair next to him, patting one of the hands that rested limply on his lap. "It's called Anesthesia Awareness. There are only a few hundred documented cases a year, and the degree of awareness varies."

"A few hundred!" A few hundred? "Why have I never heard of something like this happening?"

"Well, as you can imagine, it's not something that hospitals advertise. In fact until recently it wasn't even considered a possibility. I remember reading an article a few years back about a patient who could recount the conversations in the OR. She was believed because it wasn't a faint notion of awareness or pain or random memories from the proceedings."

"But what…how?" Jim couldn't believe what he was hearing and then he suddenly remembered Blair's past experience when he had broken his arm. "Could that be why he felt pain when he had his arm set? We both knew about…"

"No, Jim. That was a local given by an incompetent doctor."

He frowned at the bluntness of her statement.

"The medicines given during surgeries are vastly different. In Blair's case he was given a type of sedative and a paralytic. He shouldn't have been able to feel anything or have any concept of time passing, but if the sedative failed and the paralytic was doing its job, he wouldn't be able to move to tell anyone that he was aware."

My god…the thought of Blair fully aware and in pain, but unable to open his eyes or even lift a pinky finger to signal anyone…it was too much.

"I need to talk to him." She said, standing suddenly. "And I'll contact Dr. Ramanatha, the board will get involved."

He jumped up too. "Wait, wait…what would cause something like this, why Blair? And is that what caused the catatonic state?"

She started moving toward the door, Jim in tow. "It's not been widely studied since it's so rare." She told him. "It's thought that some people have a higher tolerance and need more medication than the anesthesiologist would normally use. High anxiety could cause the medication to lose some potency and there could always be human error, machine malfunction." They neared Blair's partially closed door, but before she could cross the threshold, he grabbed her arm.

"You mean the man giving the medicine? He could have made a mistake?"

She turned to him again, placing a slender hand on his shoulder. "Yes, Jim…I'll get in touch with the board and there will be an investigation."

He wasn't sure if he was satisfied with that answer, but he also didn't know what else he could do, beyond running a criminal background on everyone involved, look for complaints made, malpractice proceedings. "Can you stay with him for a bit?"

"Yes, I'll stay. What are you going to do?"

"I need to check on a few things. Call my bo…some friends and let them know what's going on."

She sighed, taking a little breath. "Okay, but we'll figure it out ok? Blair's been though an incredible physical trauma, he might need counseling, so lets…"

"Don't worry, Missy. I know what I'm doing."

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

His eyes snapped opened and he looked frantically around the room, his heart beating triple time, and then it started to settle.

Blair was still alone.

He couldn't be sure how long Jim had been gone, but he wished he would hurry the hell up.

He felt hot and muzzy, but tried to lay as still as possible, panting as new pains let themselves be known. Maybe they would give him something soon, because even though what he felt was mild by comparison, he didn't want to be feeling anything at all.

Moving his head slowly toward the door, he saw the plate lying on the tray table that had been drawn up and over his lap. The congealing eggs and soggy toast had been left within his reach and he remembered that Jim had told him he had to eat before he could go home, but just the smell of the cooling food turned his stomach.

He used the fork to scoop up some of the more solid parts of the yolk, gagging even as he put it in his mouth. The eggs popped back out and dribbled over his lips and landed on the front of his hospital gown.

He reached for the napkin tucked under his spoon, but a sharp pain in his stomach stopped him mid reach and he could feel tears springing to his eyes and his thoughts went back to the pain he had felt earlier.

But he didn't want to go there, didn't want to revisit that place ever again.

Yet he felt so close to tears again, his emotions so close to the surface, but he didn't want to let them fall.

Everything that had happened since he had first woken up was fuzzy and confusing, his memories of that pain fading, his brain working to shut out those feeling, but every time he moved, tiny jolts of normal post op pain would plunge him back to the past.

His face felt tight and he's eyes hurt but his body felt mostly numb, especially if he lay very still.

He carefully raised his right arm looking at the IV lines, the white tape against his darker forearm, then to the partially collapsed bag and wondered what they were giving him.

The medicines might have had a hand in his emotions, but he knew if he didn't get control of himself they might want to keep him longer, think he was unbalanced and that thought started off a new wave of anxiety.

Missy stepped though his door, closing it quietly behind her. She studied him for a second before moving closer to the bed, taking his hand. He tried not to pull away, knew that she was not the one responsible for what had happened to him.

"How you feeling?" she asked, smoothing her hand up his arm. "I talked to Jim and he told me what happened, I'm so sor…"

"Don't be," he said. "It's not your fault." He sank back a little into the bed, feeling a little more in control. "When can I go home?"

She lowered the bed rail and perched on the end of his bed. "Soon. Do you want to talk…"

"Um…no. No, I'm okay now. I just really want to get out of here, ya know?" He looked down at his lap, spotting the dibble of egg still on his chest, but when he reached for the napkin again, Missy got it and wiped at the stain.

"It's not yours either," she said as she gently scrubbed at the front of his gown. "You didn't do anything wrong to cause what happened, it just does sometimes."

He nodded his head as his throat closed a little and the tears were back, waiting to fall.

"It's not widely documented, but it happens rarely. I'm gonna let Dr. Ramanatha know what happened to you and they'll investigate. But even if they can't find the cause it wasn't you, okay?"

He let go a shaky breath, nodding his head. "I know."

"Good." She looked down at the plate of eggs and wrinkled her nose. "Ya know, they're not mine, but the little café next door makes a pretty good waffle…what do ya say, wanna try them?"

He wanted to say no, didn't want to eat, not yet anyway, but he found himself nodding his head anyway.

"Okay, then I'll just call in an order. How about some fresh coffee or maybe tea?" She picked up the phone that sat unnoticed on his bedside table, dialing then turning to him.

"Um…tea would be good, I guess."

A little later a nurse came in to take his temperature and blood pressure, look at his belly and incision site. Missy asked her to keep him company for a few minutes and slipped from the room.

"How's your pain, Mr. Sandburg?" She asked, still fiddling with the IV lines.

"Okay, I guess."

She smoothed down his blanket and plumped his pillows. "I've talked to Dr. Ramanatha, she's gonna be up in awhile to evaluate your condition, but I have orders to get you up and around after you eat. I can get you something for pain if you need it, just let me know."

"Okay." He was afraid to get up, afraid that the pain would be too great, but then again, he wasn't getting out of here until he jumped through all their hoops.

"How about we get rid of some of these tubes?" She suggested, stopping the trickle of the mostly collapsed bag hanging on the pole, picking at the tape on his forearm and removing the flexible tube, but leaving the catheter in. "Just a precaution." She explained, taping down the end of the port so it wouldn't catch on anything.

She bent by the side of the bed, probably capping the urine collection bag and then stood, pulling up his blanket near his knee. He stayed still as she picked at the tape on his lower stomach, and then tensed as she fiddled with the tubing between his legs. "Just breathe normally, relax."

He tried, blowing out a lungful of air. He could feel the tube being swiftly pulled out and his penis being wiped down, his gown pulled back into place and the blanket righted.

The rustling of plastic bags drew his attention to the door where Missy stood, holding two insulated cups and a bag.

"I'll be back to check on you a little later." The nurse left as Missy moved closer.

"You're looking better." She told him, covering the plate of eggs and moving it over, putting down her bag and cups. "I got you some tea." He watched as she unpacked two carryout containers, laying out the plastic forks and napkins along with little glass bottles of maple syrup. "Yum, smells good." She smiled at him and he tried to smile back.

He was feeling a better, but still a little hot. Just being unhooked from some the tubing helped, made him feel a little more in control, a little more like himself.

He was halfway through his waffle, chatting in between mouthfuls as Missy sat in the chair, her feet propped up against his bed, enjoying her own food.

"Smells good in here."

Blair actually smiled when Jim walked in the door, but he pushed his food away, choosing to sip on his tea, the warmth of the cup felt good in his hands and when he took a sip it soothed his sore throat.

He wondered where Jim had been, but figured he would tell him once Missy had gone.

"I've actually gotta do a little work today." Missy said, tossing her container in the trash. She leaned over the rails and kissed him on the forehead. "But I'll be by a little later to check in on you. See ya, Jim."

"Talk to ya later." Jim said, snatching Blair's half eaten waffle and fork. "You look like you're feeling better." He said, shoving a huge chunk of cold waffle in his mouth.

Blair nodded, watching as Jim grimaced, but speared another piece with his fork. "I feel a little better." Jim finished off his leftovers and tossed out the trash.

"I talked to Shelly before coming in. She said she took out the tubes. She should be in soon to get you up and around and then maybe we can blow this joint."

It sounded good to him. He wanted to go home, but the need wasn't all consuming like when he had first woken up in the morning.

His eyes felt heavy and began to droop. He could hear Jim move around the room, turning on the TV, turning down the volume. And then the noise from the hall invaded his small room, being cut off again as the door closed and the voice that greeted Jim sent a new tendril of fear down his spine.

His eyes snapped open and he could see Dr. Ramanatha approaching his bed. Her lips were moving; a soft smile on her face, but Blair couldn't tell what she was saying. All sounds were blocked out by a tremendous roaring in his ears and his vision dimmed, he couldn't get in enough air and he was hot, so very hot.

Jim's face swam into his sight; he was speaking urgently, his hands reaching out toward Blair along with Dr. Ramanatha's, but he pushed back into the pillows, trying to get away.

He had to get away.

"Noooo, no, no…don't touch me, no." He squeezed his eyes shut only to see the leering face of David Lash. "Oh, god…" His eyes shot open again, but only Jim remained. He was holding onto Blair's arms, speaking so quietly that Blair had to concentrate over the fading roar in his ears.

"It's okay," Jim was saying. "It's all over, your safe now."

He shook his head, trying to get himself under control.

"It's okay," Jim repeated. "Calm down, Chief. Breath nice and slow."

He tried to slow his breathing, tried to still the shaking of his body.

"Nice and slow, in and out…that's it, Blair."

He could hear his breathing evening out, the rapid beat of his heart slowed and fluttered in his chest.

"It's just a panic attack, you're okay, just breathe...breathe with me."

He thought that he was alright, that he was getting better, but now…if just the thought of the doctor touching him caused such a reaction.

"I want to go home," he murmured, leaning into Jim's steadying arms, sucking in quick gulps of breath. "Please, Jim…I just want to go home."

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

Time seemed to fade for awhile, but when Blair opened his eyes he was still sitting awkwardly on the bed, Jim's hand running soothingly up and down his arm.

His face heated as he tried to straighten up, allowing the helping hands on his arms and back.

When he finally met Jim's eyes he opened his mouth to say 'thank you, I'm sorry,' but no words came out. The murderous look of rage on Jim's face stopped him cold.

Is Jim mad at me?

Tears gathered in his eyes again and he swiped at them, not wanting Jim to see and then giggling at his own thoughts.

Of course Jim will see!

"Sorry." He finally murmured, shaking his head.

God, what is wrong with me? He felt like he was cracking up, pieces and hunks of his sanity breaking off and falling away with each breath he took.

When he met Jim's eyes the second time something about his countenance had changed, Jim's face softened and his jaw loosened and he looked at Blair with such…guilt.

But why is Jim feeling guilty?

"You don't need to be sorry, Chief. You didn't do anything wrong." Jim sank into the chair beside his bed, running a shaky hand up and over his head. "I'm sorry I wasn't here when you woke up earlier. I had a few things to take care of and I was talking to Dr. Ramanatha, trying to get some answers."

Blair caught himself tensing even at the mention of the doctor's name, but now that he felt a little more with it, he relaxed just as quickly and found that Jim had continued talking and he had missed a chunk of what he was saying. "…I know Missy told you it's rare, but Dr. Ramanatha also said it could just have been a hallucination brought on by the meds…"

Hallucination?

Have I made it all up in my head?

Well of course you did, Einstein.

He knew he wasn't really seeing any of it, but it felt so real and the pain…that sure as hell was real.

"…investigation…might not ever really know…"

And he didn't want to think too hard as to why he was seeing people he had lost in his life, although he took enough Psych classes to know it probably had to do with his own guilt issues.

He'd never been able to spend too much time with his grandparents, Naomi had made sure that they didn't put down roots in any one place for too long and well, whether he wanted to admit it or not, he had some part in the deaths of both his friends."

"…in a few hours, so how about we get you up?"

And why the fire people, why Lash? He had escaped death both times, had come close but…

"Um…Chief?"

He startled at Jim's voice so close to his ear and glanced up in time to see a strange look of relief cross his friend's face. "What?"

"Dr. Ramanatha will be back a little later, so let's get you up and around. If you can keep down your lunch and go to the bathroom, you can go home this evening."

Nothing sounded so good to him before. He let Jim help him sit up, sucking in a quick breath as pain erupted in his groin.

"Take it slow. You're gonna be really sore for a few days yet."

He slide to his feet, bending a little at the waist to ease the pressure on his incisions, and then stood clinging to Jim's supporting arm for a few minutes as the world wavered a little. A warm flush worked its way up his chest to his face and he felt incredibly tired even though he hadn't even taken a step.

"Let's just take it easy." Jim told him, wrapping another hospital gown around his back, "just up to the nurse's station and back."

He shuffled along; passing his neighboring rooms at a snail's pace, occasionally glancing in at the misery of the other people on the ward. By the time he got back to his room he was spent and sweaty and relieved to just get back into the bed and rest for the time being.

Jim turned on the TV and they watched the afternoon news while they waited for another visit from the doctor and his lunch.

As he drifted someone entered the room and addressed Jim. He cracked open his eyes to see a woman in blue, sporting a hairnet over graying hair, bringing in a tray and putting it on the rolling table, scooting it over his bed so he could reach.

Jim took off the lid before the food was completely in place, "chicken. Looks great."

Blair wasn't as enthusiastic, still felt full from the half waffle he had eaten a few hours before, but it looked a lot more appetizing then the breakfast he was served, so he gamely poked the meat with his fork, managing some mashed potatoes and green beans before forking some dry and tasteless chicken into his mouth.

His stomach was doing weird things, growling like he was hungry, but nauseous all at the same time. So he pushed the plate away, sipping on the apple juice that came with his meal.

A little later, during the end of the news cast, a nurse showed up with an armful of stuff she sat down next to his legs on top of the sheets.

"How are you feeling Mr. Sandburg? Did you eat any of your lunch?"

Before he could even answer she asked a few more questions, wanting to know if he had been up or able to use the bathroom.

And that was the problem with hospitals in general.

The staff functioned within a set parameter, a routine, but not everything could be a part of it. There were variables that could happen outside of the norm. That was how mistakes happened.

"Um, yeah…I walked down the hall and back, but I haven't needed to use the restroom yet."

She was nodding her head, opening packages and laying things out on the bed and he wondered if she was listening to him or if she even really cared. She seemed to be operating on auto pilot.

"I'm gonna show you how to care for your wound. Do you want your friend to wait outside?"

He shook his head, watching as she rolled out some gauze and pieces of tape, placing them on the edge of the tray table. She used a piece to cover the IV port. "We got word you'll be leaving sometime today, so we're taking this out." She pulled the thin tube from his arm and put some pressure on it to stench the flow of blood, before taping the gauze down with a piece of white tape.

She pushed the tray table back a little and pulled his blanket down near his hip, bunching it up to give him a little privacy since Jim was sitting on the other side of the bed.

Blair glanced toward him and could tell by the set of Jim's jaw that he was having no problem seeing his bandages even with the small barrier.

"This looks good." She told him as she worked the tape loose, uncovered his incisions, and dropping the soiled gauze in the trash bin.

For the first time he looked down at himself and the puckered skin pulled by black thread. He felt a little sick to note the two tubes that protruded from him as well, one near his groin and one up a little higher on his belly. The other ends were attached to a plastic disk that folded like an accordion, which expanded when it filled with fluid and blood from the wound. "You need to make sure you change the gauze at least once a day, disinfect around the drainage tubes and empty the collection bag into the measuring cup we give you. Record the findings and then you can flush the waste down the toilet."

She unpinned the collection bag from the inside of his gown, showing how to open the bag and pour the fluid into a tiny measuring cup. "You should be able to get at least two cups full each time you do this. The amount will lessen as you heal."

"When can…when can the tubes come out?"

She used cotton swabbed q-tips soaked in alcohol to wipe around each tube where it met his skin, careful of the two or three black treads holding it into place. "Usually in about three or four weeks and the stitches will come out in about six to eight." Covering each protruding tube with clean gauze she taped them into place and pulled down his gown, moving to the bathroom to dump the measuring cup.

Jim spoke up beside him. "When can we go home?"

The woman tossed her gloves and washed her hands. "I'm printing up his release papers now. He just needs to make sure his bowels are moving. Let me know as soon as he goes to the bathroom." Without a backward glance she left the room and Blair realized he didn't even know her name.

"I'm gonna try," he nodded toward the bathroom across from his bed because he was getting that itchy feeling again, that need to get the hell outta here. "Maybe you can…"

Jim jumped up, opening the drawers in the table by Blair's bed. "I'll start packing up; take some of this stuff down to the truck."

Blair nodded, slipping for the bed on his own, padding barefoot carefully across the cool tile floor. Before he ducked inside, Jim had picked up the flowers the guys from the station had sent and the fruit basket from the U.

"I'll be right back." Jim told him before slipping out the door.

Blair nodded, pulling the bathroom door almost all the way closed. He carefully sank onto the seat, noting what looked like a collection pot nestled inside and relieved the pressure of is bladder.

Someone came into his room, but left almost as quickly. So he assumed it was Jim.

Relaxing as best he could, he tried to move his bowels. He could hear Jim moving around outside again, so he sat still until he could hear the footsteps move away and then finally he was able to go.

Walking just as carefully back to the bed he saw that Jim had left his duffle with clothes and some toiletries sitting on top. It hurt when he bent to pull on his boxers and sweat pants, but he ignored the pulls and twinges.

He had just put on a layer of his organic deodorant and was pulling a t-shirt over his head when Missy came into the room, a bright smile on her face.

She held some papers and a strange looking belt in her hand. "You ready to get out of here?" she asked stepping into the bathroom and for a brief second Blair was embarrassed.

Feeling his face heat again, he said, "Yeah…I'm looking forward to my own bed." And he was too. His back and hips were a little achy and he knew he would sleep better in his own home, be able to heal someplace he felt safe and comfortable.

He heard the toilet flushing and she returned, picking up the papers from near the sink where she sat them and placed them on the tray table. "I've got your discharge papers and this." She held up the weird belt. "You need to wear it all the time, at least until you heal up some. Let me show you."

So he sat on the edge of the bed with his feet on the floor, grateful that it was Missy that had shown up and not Dr. Ramanatha. He knew it was irrational, but he didn't care.

"Lift your arms for me." He did as she asked and watched as she reached around him and wrapped the thick material around his middle. It was snug and had a Velcro closure in the front, but it wasn't uncomfortable, in fact his stomach felt a little better now that there was the slight pressure over his incisions.

"This will give you some support. You should wear briefs and loose fitting pants for awhile." As she talked she pulled up the collapsed collection bag and pinned it to the front of the belt. "You need to clean around the tubes at least twice a day and put on clean gauze. Empty the bag twice a day too." She pulled down his shirt to cover up the belt, her fingers lingering on the hem for a few minutes before she turned to the discharge papers. "You have lifting restrictions for the next month or so, nothing heavier then a pillow." She smiled. "Rest as much as you can, but be sure to get up everyday and walk around your apartment. In a few days when you feel up to it, you can take some walks outside with someone with you, just don't overdo it. You can shower as long as you cover the incision with something like cling wrap to keep it as dry as possible and then use q-tips and alcohol to clean around the tubing and change the gauze as soon as you're done." She signed her name to the form under another signature and made little check marks down the list as she told him the rest of his restrictions. "No driving for the first two weeks and no sex for a least a month. You'll need a follow up appointment for two weeks from now."

She slid the papers closer to him, handing him a pen.

Jim came back into the room as he was signing. "Looks like you're about ready," Jim said, picking up the duffle that sat on the bed and handed Blair a travel pillow.

"I'll get a wheelchair if you want to go pull up the truck." Missy told him.

Jim looked toward Blair and then nodded. "I'll be waiting out front, Chief."

"Okay," Blair tried to lever himself out of the bed.

"No, wait there." Missy slipped out the door and returned a few seconds later with a wheelchair. "I have your ride right here."

He let her help him up and over, watching as she flipped down the footrests and put his feet up on them. She released the brakes and pushed him forward and out into the bright hall.

People moved back and forth, nurses and visitors, a few patients pushing IV poles. Before they got to the elevator Dr. Ramanatha was coming out of a neighboring room. She started to turn from him, but he called out her name.

"I just wanted…well I'm sorry about before." He told her. When he had woken to her voice, still in that twilight state, it took him right back to being trapped and feeling helpless, but now that he was fully awake and coherent, he wanted her to know he wasn't afraid of her.

"No need to apologize Mr. Sandburg." She met Missy's eyes before looking down to him again. "I'm just sorry that you had to go through something like that. And I want you to know that we are investigating and someone from our legal department will be in touch. I fully understand if you want follow up care from another doctor."

He hadn't thought about legal ramifications before now, but he felt comfortable with her as his doctor, so he shook his head. "I'm fine with seeing you."

"Glad to hear it. I'll see you in a few weeks then."

The elevator arrived, so Missy pushed him forward and pressed the lobby level button. "How are you feeling now, Blair?" She asked as they descended.

"Mush better." The doors parted and people waited as she got him turned around and heading toward the exit. He could see Jim's old Ford at the curb and his friend coming around the truck to open the passenger door.

"If you want, you can come to the clinic for your follow up." Missy set the breaks and came around the front of him, bending to kiss him on the cheek. "Call me if you need anything or you know…just want to talk."

"Okay, I will." Jim moved closer and the automatic doors parts. He breathed in deep, enjoying the sunlight on his face.

They both took him under an arm and helping him stand, moving at his pace to the open door.

He wasn't thrilled with the idea of trying to get himself up into the cab of the truck, but with a little help from Jim he was seated. Missy handed him the pillow that Jim had brought and he tucked it against his body. "I'll call you." He told her, and then shut his door.

Jim slid in behind the wheel and Blair watched as the hospital became smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror.

He was on his way home and hopefully he would be able to forget all about the living nightmare he had experienced…he should have known better.

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

Jim busied himself in the kitchen, slicing bananas and strawberries and putting them into the blender. He glanced up from his task to see Blair shifting uncomfortably on the sofa. "You want to lay down for awhile, Chief?"

"No, I want to stay out here."

Jim nodded, adding ice and a splash of milk to the machine before turning it on. "How about lying on the couch for a bit? It's a change of scenery and you can watch the TV, maybe take a nap."

Blair hadn't been sleeping well, restless most nights.

They'd been home for four days now and even though Blair had been following the doctors instructions, he still seemed worn down and…well sick.

He moved stiffly, as if afraid he could hurt himself just by walking from his bed to the couch. Jim had tried to get him outside into the sun, take a short walk, but Blair flat out refused.

Some days the trip to the bathroom seemed too much for his friend.

Jim heard a small sigh and then the shifting of Blair's body over the roar of the blender. He didn't move to help ease Blair down even though he itched to help.

He was trying hard to give Blair some space.

They hadn't really talked about what had happened, Blair didn't elaborate on the events and Jim didn't ask.

It was enough to see the evidence of the surgery. The toll it took on Blair's body, his inability to sleep well, the puffy and dark circles below dull blue eyes, the lines of pain around his mouth.

Jim felt like he was walking on glass or maybe a minefield.

He'd been tiptoeing around, not wanting to do anything to remind Blair of what had happened or to bring up painful memories with unwanted questions.

Blair would open up when he was ready.

So until he did, Jim made sure Blair rested as much as possible without being overbearing, made sure her ate without making a big deal about what was left on his plate, made sure he took his medicines and helped cleaned his drains, change his gauze.

Since coming home Blair had seemed a little withdrawn, staying in his room for much of the day and evening. Jim had brought him his meals, so he was happy that Blair had come to the dinner table and ate some soup.

He didn't return to his room after dinner, instead settling on the couch. Since Blair hadn't eaten much, Jim was making them both a smoothie because it was the one thing that Blair seemed to finish.

The phone rang so Jim's flipped off the blender and picked up the phone. "Ellison…yeah, hang on. It's for you, Chief."

Blair sat up slowly, wincing a time or two. Jim handed him the phone and went back into the kitchen to pour out their dessert.

The conversation was short.

Blair was pale and sweaty as he flicked off the phone, tossing it to the other end of the sofa and then sinking back into the cushions.

Jim waited, already knowing the call was from Mercy's administrator.

"They didn't find anything." Blair finally said. "The machine was functional and the paper work supports the dosage confirmed in the machines computer. But…"

Jim came into the living room and sat on the end of the couch, waiting.

"They ah, they want to settle. Want me to sign a waver stating the hospital and their personal claim no responsibility."

"What do you want to do?" Jim asked after another minute of silence. "We could request an independent investigation."

Blair shifted forward and stood on weak knees, grabbing his pillow and blanket. "No…I don't want…their lawyer will call at the end of the week, so…"

Jim nodded standing and following Blair to his bedroom under the steps. "Ok, whatever you want…"

Tired eyes met Jim's.

It just wasn't fair that something like this could happen.

He knew Blair was only willing to settle because he didn't want to relive it. The people that should have been doing the healing were doing the hurting…and not only physically, but emotionally.

Blair had been sullen and moody since he had come home and Jim had a feeling that it would be awhile before he saw Blair out of his bedroom again.

He didn't know what to say, so Jim reverted to how he could help. "Ah, before you lay down how about we change your bandages."

"I got it, man. Thanks" and then the door quietly closed on him.

"Damn."

It was only a little before six, too early for bed.

Jim went into the kitchen and cleaned up the dishes, washing then drying then putting them away in the cabinet. He cleaned out the blender, put the smoothies he made in the fridge incase Blair come out of his room later and decided he wanted it.

Twenty minutes later he found himself on the couch, flipping through the channels. "This sucks…"

*~*~*

Blair sunk down onto the closed toilet seat, wincing as a twinge of pain shot through his belly.

He was still really sore and tired; really tired just from walking to the bathroom, even though he had spent most of the day in his bed.

At this point he was tired of being tired.

Carefully pulling at the Velcro that held his support belt in place, he unpinned the collection bag, noting that it was nearly empty, that the tubes carrying away the fluid from his wound had hardly any drainage.

It had only been a little over a week since his surgery and he knew that it would be at least another before the tubes came out.

Uncapping the collection bag, he dumped the contents into the measuring cup, noting the amount on a log he had to keep. Once the bag was empty, he squeezed the air out and recapped it, pinning it to the wide belt wrapped around his abdomen. He already had the alcohol and q-tips sitting on the counter around the sink. After dipping the cotton end into the fluid, he swabbed around the base of the tubes, where they were stitched into his skin.

"You okay in there, Chief?"

He could tell that his friend was standing right outside the door. "Yeah…just give me a minute." He finished with the alcohol and q-tips, taping down clean pieces of gauze over the tubes. The surgical tape that covered his stitches was starting to fray on the edges and pulled at his skin, itched so bad, he couldn't wait until they came out…he just wanted to get back to normal.

So much had happened but he was trying to move on, not dwell on any aspect, and just forget about it…that tactic had served him in the past.

It's been hard though.

Every time he closed his eyes and started to drift toward sleep it all comes rushing back. Memories of the pain he suffered. The confusion and fear. Vivid details of that other place that he couldn't escape. And it scared him that it was him, his own mind conjuring up the details to his own private hell.

Movement in the hall caught his attention. He stood, pulling his shirt down and cleaning up a little, disposing of the gunk in the measuring cup and cleaning it out.

When he opened the door the hall was empty, but he knew Jim wasn't far away. If he called the man would be by his side in seconds. And that was kinda nice, he had to admit. That was the difference between then and now. Now he had a friend, he had Jim.

"How about we go out for dinner?" Jim was in the kitchen, looking through the fridge. Blair sat at the dinning table, still feeling some twinges near his belly button. He wasn't hungry and didn't really want to go out, but when Jim came into the room, he looked so hopeful.

"I guess that would be ok." He said. It was time to get back to his normal routine.

They decided on Lindy's by the docks. Blair order soup and pasta, not yet trusting his stomach. Over the past few days he went from running to the bathroom to not being able to go.

Jim had made a comment earlier about being up through the night, but Blair just blew it off. His bathroom habits shouldn't be a topic of conversation.

"So," Jim wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin and sat it on the table before picking up his glass. "I was thinking that if you're feeling up to it, we can work on refinishing your bookcase this weekend."

"Thanks. That would be great." Blair pushed his food around his plate, his appetite gone. In fact his stomach was turning itself into knots. "I'm gonna…" he stood up, feeling flush and dizzy, but needing to go to the restroom. "I'll be right back, man."

He didn't wait for Jim to acknowledge him, but hurried through the tables and down the hall that lead to the bathroom, but he didn't make it to the door. Something sharp stabbed his belly and he doubled over and threw up in the hall. The greenish brown mess hit the hardwood floors, splashing over his sneakers and pant leg.

He could hear a commotion behind him, but couldn't look as he continued to heave whatever was left in his stomach. A hand rubbed at his back, held is hair and finally he could hear Jim's soothing voice. "It's alright, Chief. Let it out." Finally he stopped, gagging again on the smell and taste.

Someone handed him a wet towel so he wiped his lips and face, desperate to get the taste out of his mouth before it made him threw up again.

He was lead away from the mess and pushed down to the floor, turned to his side, his legs pushed up to take the strain off his stomach. Another wet towel was laid along the back of his neck and someone was holding his wrist.

"The ambulance is on the way, just relax."

What…wait… He shook his head. "Noooo…I can't Jim, please…"

"I know, Blair." His friend sat behind him, his legs along Blair's back. "It's ok, you're gonna be ok."

He shook his head again. Shaking with fear and yet knowing he needed to calm down. Sweat broke out on his top lip and he felt hot. Pain near his belly button continued to throb and he was scared.

"What's, what's…"

The hand holding his tightened, "You need to go buddy. Something's wrong, but they'll figure it out. Don't worry."

He knew he was breathing too fast, his heart beating triple time in his chest and he was freezing, lying on the hardwood floor near the kitchen entrance. People kept going back and forth and Blair could see the legs of the chefs and wait staff.

"You have to calm down, Blair. Take some nice deep breaths."

He tried, but his panic ratcheted up another notch when the paramedics arrived.

Jim filled them in on his being sick and having belly pain, told them about the surgery and his doctor's name.

He was rolled over and hands lifted his shirts and pressed into his stomach. "Have you been feeling sick before now?"

He shook his head, keeping his eyes tightly closed as someone put a blood pressure cuff around his arm, then listened to his chest and belly with a cold stethoscope.

"Have you been having pain?"

"I little," he wheezed, feeling bile rise to the back of his throat again. "I'm gonna…"

He was swiftly turned and something was shoved under his chin. It was hard to bring up whatever was left in his stomach lying down, but more of the foul smelling gunk came up.

The paramedics were talking over his head as he was bundled onto a gurney and strapped down. He felt a pinch on the back of his wrist and realized they were starting an IV and panic surged through him again, but then Jim was there. He was moving through the restaurant, but Jim had grabbed his hand. "It's going to be fine, you'll see."

They didn't let Jim ride with him in the ambulance.

He tried not to work himself up anymore than he had already, but being unable to see his friend and not knowing what was going on scared the shit out of him.

The roar of the sirens died down and the ambulance slowed down, backing up into the ER bay. The doors swiftly opened and people began to pull out the bed he was laying on.

New faces surrounded him, the paramedic he had rode in with called out his vitals and pertinent information.

A man dressed in scrubs leaned over him and felt his belly and it was all he could do not to hurl again.

He was quickly stripped of his clothes. Someone else collected his things and stuffed them into a plastic bed. A thin sheet was unfurled and drifted down over his shivering body.

He cast his glance around, but still no Jim.

"How long ago since your surgery?"

It took a second or two for Blair to realize the doctor was talking to him.

"Ah…a little over a week ago. Dr. Ramanatha…"

"Call up to surgical and see if Ramanatha is on."

Hands pressed into his belly again, but lower and then something cold touched him. "I'm just listening. Try to relax."

The flurry of activity died down a little as a machine was rolled into the room. His bed was raised just a bit and an oxygen mask was pulled over his face. He glanced around the room, noting the glass panels and door between the section he was in and the others that looked like his.

"We're gonna just take a look at your belly."

Cold gel was squirted onto his stomach and a conductor was rolled though it. The doctor moved the wand around, stopping periodically and looking at the screen that sat a few feet away.

"Dr. Ramanatha is on her way down." Someone announced as the wand was removed and his stomach was wiped.

His surgeon arrived, "Hello Mr. Sandburg. I just spoke to Jim and he told me what happened."

Jim was finally here…where is he?

"Don't worry, well figure out what's going on."

She turned to the man that was working on him and they stepped away as a nurse moved forward and helped him put on a gown.

His doctor looked at the pictures that were taken by the sonogram machine and then turned back to him. "We're going to have to admit you…"

He was shaking his head no even before she got the rest of the words out.

"I know you're upset and confused, Mr. Sandburg, but we need to keep an eye on you for a few days. It looks like you may have a partial bowel obstruction."

He tensed up, dreading hearing what would come next.

"We're going to treat you with IV antibiotics and a NG tube to give your stomach a rest. Hopefully that will clear up the blockage."

He didn't want to ask, but he needed to know. "What if that doesn't work?"

"Then I'm afraid will have to use surgical intervention."

*~*~*

"Hey, man. How you holding up?" Henry sat across from Jim, tucking his coat over his arm. "What's going on with hairboy?"

Rafe followed his partner into the waiting room and plunked down by Henry, waiting for Jim to reply.

Jim wiped his hand up and over his face, before dropping it back into his lap. "I ah…I talked with Blair's surgeon. They're gonna admit him in a few minutes and then we can go up. They think he might have a bowel obstruction."

"But what does that mean?" Rafe wanted to know. "I mean, what can they do for him?"

Jim shifted forward; ready to explain what he'd been told when a man in scrubs came into the family waiting room. "Mr. Ellison?"

"Yes, here." Jim stood, glancing back at his co workers with an apologetic nod.

"Were getting ready to put in the NG tube and I think Mr. Sandburg will be more relaxed if he had someone familiar with him."

Jim followed the man back through a set of doors and then down a maze of hallways and gurneys. The ER was busy, many people bustled back and forth, moving from room to room and to the large desk that seemed to be the hub.

Blair was sitting up, rigid in the bed, both hands holding the medal rails on either side so tight that his knuckles were turning white. His face was pinched with pain, the fine lines around his mouth and eyes drawn and he looked flushed, sweaty.

"Hey, Pal. How you holding up?"

Blair's eyes lifted to meet Jim's, but he didn't let go of the rails. The deep blue iris' swam with unshed tears that Blair seemed to be trying to hold back. He looked miserable and Jim's own anxiety ratcheted up a few notches.

He couldn't fix this…Couldn't protect Blair from the betrayal of his own body.

"I've been better, man." The words were practically whispered, Blair's voice was strained from being so violently sick. He held a plastic basin on his lap, but it seemed empty.

The doctor and a few other people moved around the room, pulling things from cabinets and opening packages and placing them on a table by Blair's bed.

"What have they told you, Blair?" Jim asked. Dr. Ramanatha had stopped by and spoke with Jim after she saw Blair, but Jim wasn't sure what Blair had been told.

He knew from his own experiences that not knowing what was happening could make things worse.

"They ah…"

Jim moved closer, resting his hand on one of Blair's, hoping that he would release his death grip from the rail.

"They ah said that I'll be moved to a room after they put the NG tube in and that ah…"

The hand under his relaxed a little and the fingers uncurled from the medal bar. Blair rested his hand on the sheets as Jim continued to run his fingers soothingly over the palm.

"I'll have to stay for awile. They're gonna try antibiotics first..."

Jim knew that there was a possibility that Blair might need additional surgery, but he didn't want him to dwell on that. Blair's other hand tightened around the rail, but the one under his stayed relaxed.

A nurse stepped up to the bed, some papers in her hand. Jim was glad for the distraction.

"I need you to sign for admission, Mr. Sandburg. The papers explain the procedures we might have to do and contain your authorization for both treatment and insurance payment."

Blair scrawled his name on the bottom without even reading them. Jim supposed he had already been told his treatment options beyond admission.

"Ok," the woman tucked the papers into a folder and turned to pull on some gloves. She reached into the opened package on the table and pulled out a long coiled tube. She held the end up to Blair's nose and then ran some around to his ear. "This is just to measure how much tube we need." She explained, still holding the tip to Blair's nose in one hand the other hand held the section a few inches away by Blair's left ear. She then tucked the tube behind the ear and ran the tube down to Blair's stomach near his belly button. She noted the increment on the tube and then rubbed the tip through some jelly. "Okay. I'm going to thread the tube through your nostril and then down into your stomach."

Jim could see and feel Blair's body tense even as he nodded his head in understanding. He curled his fingers around the palm and held it gently, giving what little support he could.

She placed a cup with a straw in Blair's other hand and Jim was glad to see it held something other than the side rail.

"Once the tube gets to the back of your throat I going to ask you to drink, swallowing the water will help the tube go down."

Another person came to the bed, holding a bottle of something in her hand. "I need you to open your mouth while I spray in the numbing medicine."

Blair obeyed; opening his mouth as the liquid was sprayed in, swallowing a few times.

"It'll only take a few seconds to work." The woman said, going back to whatever she was doing on the other side of the room.

"Okay, ready?"

Blair nodded his head, closing and opening his eyes a few times as the nurse moved in closer with the lubed tube.

"Relax and breathe normal."

He nodded as the tip entered his nostril, gagging a little when it reached his throat.

"Okay, take a drink."

Blair sipped from the straw, swallowing the water and the tube.

"Open our mouth and let me see." The nurse told him as she continued to feed the tube down into Blair's stomach. "Good, it's not coiling. You can keep drinking."

He took a few more sips from the straw, but put the cup in his lap after the nurse stepped back. She screwed a syringe to the end of the exposed tube, drawing back on it until a browning liquid came up the tube from Blair's stomach. Satisfied with the placement, she connected the tube to a machine that would continue to draw the fluid from his stomach and used a little tape to hold it in place in his nose and another under his ear.

"All done." She said, giving them both a small smile. "They'll be coming soon to take you up to your room."

Once she was done, Blair seemed to relax a little, resting against the pillows. Jim remembered he had left Rafe and Brown in the waiting room. "Um, Chief. Some of the guys are out there. Will you be ok for a few minutes while I go tell them what's going on?"

"Sure, man." Blair's eyes were dropping, but he forced them open each time they started to close. "I'll be fine."

Jim patted his leg through the sheet, relieved to see both of Blair's hands resting beside him. "I'll be right back."

The crowd had grown when he returned from the treatment room. Rafe and Brown sat drinking vending machine coffee while Simon chomped on his unlit cigar. Joel was standing by the window that overlooked the parking lot, talking on his cell phone.

Jim was surprised to see everyone, thinking that someone should be still working, but then he glanced at his watch. Their shift had been long over and it warmed the chill in his belly to see people that cared about Blair waiting to hear word of his condition.

"Jim?" Simon spotted him first, rising to meet him near the door to the waiting room. "How's Sandburg?"

"He's doing better. They're taking him up to a room soon. You might get in to see him before visiting hours are over."

He sat down in the chair near the window, across from Henry and Rafe and Simon followed him. Joel shut his cell phone, saying goodbye to his wife.

They all waited to hear the prognosis and it brought home again the fact that Jim wasn't alone in his concern.

"They ah, they think it's a partial blockage. Could be from the surgery. Sometimes fibrous fissures form and block the colon. They've started him on antibiotics and hopefully that will take care of it."

They all seemed relieved, probably choosing to believe the best case scenario.

"I'm gonna go check on him. I'll come get you when he's settled in his room." He stood to leave, not too surprised when Simon stood to follow.

Once they were out of the room and in the hall Simon said, "So what aren't you saying?"

Jim slowed his step, turning to his captain and friend. "There's a chance that they may have to operate again. If the meds don't work they may have to go in and…" He didn't want to say the words, didn't want to take the chance that just speaking it could make it true. Blair had been through so much already. He shouldn't have to be dealing with this possibility on the heels of the trauma he had just to endure.

"Listen, Jim. Don't go getting all worked up over this. Blair's gonna need you to be the level headed one if it looks like it's gonna go that way.

Simon always did know how to state the obvious. He sighed, knowing that Simon was right…he had to hold it together.

"Besides, we don't know what's going to happen here. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

We will. Not Jim, not Blair, but we.

Sometime Jim forgot that Blair wasn't the only one that understood his…problems. The others didn't know about his abilities, but they did care for both of them. For Jim and Blair.

"You're right. I need to keep it under control, 'cause Blair…he's hardly holding it together."

Jim started to walk away again, but Simon grabbed his arm. "You ah…have you been feeling anything lately, you know…"

"Feeling?" He wasn't being dense on purpose, but the look Simon gave him was priceless.

The cigar reappeared from his boss' pocket and he shoved it in his mouth and clamped down on it. "You know…that sixth sense thing you two got going. You knew the first time around that something was hinky. You can use that to your advantage."

Jim's eyebrows rose as Simon snickered.

He hadn't thought of that.

"Now go see how the kids doing. Tell him his friends are all waiting to see him."

Jim nodded, turning on his heels and moving back through the ER doors. A nurse at the large desk stopped him mid way to the treatment room. "They just took Mr. Sandburg up to his room," she told him, looking at a clipboard on the desk. "He's on the fifth floor. Room 524."

"Thanks," he told her, turning to go back out the way he came.

"You can use the elevators at the end of the hall there." She pointed in the opposite direction. He followed the hall and around the bend found a bank of elevators.

When he arrived on the fifth floor, he looked at the signs on the wall, finding Blair's room to be to on the right.

The hallway was bright lit but many of the rooms he passed were darkened. He glanced at his watch again; surprise to see it was almost nine at night.

A nurse was stepping out of Blair's room as he came to the door. "Oh, sorry. Are you Jim?"

He nodded, looking beyond her and into the dim room. He could clearly make out the man on the bed, resting on his side, faced away from the door.

"I'm Fiona. I'll be with Mr. Sandburg the rest of the night. Go on in. I'll be back in a little bit."

Jim stepped up to the bed, sinking into the chair as Blair rolled carefully to his back. "How ya doing, Chief?"

"Better." He shifted again, sitting up a bit against the pillows.

"The guys are all waiting to see you if you're feeling up to it." Jim told him, leaning forward in his chair, fisting his hands in his lap. Seeing Blair like this again, it just brought back all those feelings of helplessness.

He itched just to do something.

"I don't know, man. I'm sure I look like…"

"Don't worry about that, buddy. They're concern. They want to make sure you're doing okay."

Blair seemed to be considering his words and then nodded. "Yeah…okay."

Jim stood, patting Blair's shoulder. "I'll go tell them you're ready. They won't stay long, buddy. You need your rest."

Fiona passed Jim on her way back in. "I'm gonna let our coworkers know he's settled in the room so they can visit."

"Sure, that's fine but only for a little while. I need to clean out his drains."

Jim didn't like the sounds of that, so he hurried his steps.

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

Blair felt like shit. The drugs or the tube in his stomach, he wasn't sure which, but he felt like he was gonna hurl. Each time he took a breath he could feel the tickle at the back of his throat. And he was hot. The sheets that were cool now stuck to his heated skin.

They guys had just left. But Joel was lingering near the end of the bed, talking to Jim.

The nurse walked by from time to time, glancing in; probably ready to throw out his guests so she could get him settled for the night.

While they were all with him, he could almost pretend that he wasn't lying in the bed, feeling worse by the minute. But once they were gone he started to fade fast. He must have zoned out because he was startled when Joel touched him on the shoulder.

"You're in my prayers, Blair." Joel squeezed his shoulder and then stepped away. "Me and the Misses will be by in a day or two to check on you. She's wanting to feed you once you can eat again."

Blair smiled, nodding his head. "Sounds good, man. You know I love her cooking."

"I'll remind her." Joel said, moving to the door. "Sleep tight."

Almost as soon as he stepped out, the nurse stepped in. "How are you feeling, Mr. Sandburg?" She was young, maybe younger than Blair, her dark hair pulled back into a pony tail at the base of her neck.

"Just Blair." He told her, watching as she opened some packages. "I feel old when people call me mister."

"Okay, Blair." She pulled on some gloves and asked him if he wanted Jim to stay. "I'm just going to be scraping the tubes to open them up. That should get them draining again and you'll feel better once they do."

Jim waited by the end of the bed, where he was standing when Joel had been talking to him.

"He can stay if he wants."

Jim nodded, sliding into the chair.

Blair shifted as she pulled the blanket and sheet back. "This won't hurt." He watched in a detached sorta way as she used a gauze and some sort of flat metal thing. Starting at the end closes to his skin, she held the tube so it wouldn't pull and scraped with the medal thing downward, cleaning the clogged gunk and forcing it into the collection bag.

After a few passes on each tube the fluid was flowing again. He watched as she emptied the bag and then cleaned around the drains. "Your stitches look good. They should be coming out soon."

He nodded, thinking he might still be in the hospital when it was time to have them removed and that was a depressing thought.

As soon as she was done, she cleaned up and got ready to leave. "The doctor said you can have something to help you sleep if you need it."

He shook his head, "No…I don't want anything." Jim gave him a curious look, but he didn't explain.

"Okay." She moved around the bed, straightening his sheets and making sure he was comfortable and that the call button was clipped to the pillow within easy reach. "Just buzz me if you change your mind."

"Thanks, Fiona. I will."

He turned to Jim, thinking he should explain why he declined, but Jim nodded. "It's okay. I think I understand. Ya know, a few times after you came around and you would just sorta drift, zone out. It scared the shit outta me. I thought you were…"

Blair was surprised. He hadn't really thought about Jim in all this.

"Anyway, I knew you were still with me, it just worried me there for awhile."

"You knew?" Blair took in the look that crossed Jim face, as if he had been caught doing something wrong.

His friend cleared his throat. "I ah…I got this sorta feeling that something was wrong. Knowing what I know now…I should have acted."

"Wait…what do you mean a feeling?" He sat up a little more, shifting his body a bit more toward Jim.

Jim seemed to be thinking through what he wanted to say. "I ah…when you were in surgery I had this feeling…a strong feeling that something wasn't right. I sent the aid back a few times to check, but when she reported back everything was fine and then when you were in recovery…I just knew you weren't with me. I don't know how…"

"That's so cool, man." Jim gave him a startled look, but he smiled anyway. It was amazing that he and Jim could be so in tune with each other. As he thought it through he realized it was a natural conclusion. His job was to guide Jim and it made sense that the Sentinel would have to protect that relationship. Know intuitively when the guide was in danger.

He thought back to that horrible day. When the surgeon had made the first slice in his skin and the pain that followed. But he remembered now, above the pain, before he slipped into the darkness of his mind he had heard his mom, but even more loudly he had heard Jim.

It was worth thinking about. But he filed it away for later, when he was feeling a little better and more clear-headed.

"You were there Jim." He told his friend. "Right before I…well, before it got too bad you were with me and then after. When it was safe, but I couldn't tell for sure, but it was your voice that guided me back.

Something shifted on Jim face and Blair couldn't explain it. He didn't know what had changed, but there was something about Jim's eyes…somehow they seemed lighter and the lines on the man's face seemed to fade and then Blair remembered he hadn't been alone.

"Why don't you get some rest? I know you're feeling sucky, but if you get some rest I bet you'll feel better.

Blair nodded, not surprised that Jim chose not to directly acknowledge Blair's admission. Jim had his own language and Blair was left to decipher the meaning of things.

But that was okay. He was learning Jim's language and Jim was learning his and it felt…nice.

"I am tired." He said. "Do you think you could ask Fiona to bring in the sleeping pills?"

Jim smiled and stood. "I'll ask her on my out, kay? You get a good night's sleep and I'll see you in the morning."

Blair said goodnight, waiting for the nurse. He was afraid to sleep too deeply, but Jim was right. He was worn down and his body was feeling the effects.

And this was a first step to recovery.

He needed to trust that these people could help him. If he could face a simple sleeping pill he could believe that if the time came, he could face having the additional surgery too.

Earlier Dr. Ramanatha swore to him that now that they knew he had a problem with awareness, she would personally guarantee that he would be completely out or maybe even offer a local.

It went a little way in making him feel more secure, but it was a start and that was all he could ask of himself.

Fiona came in, a small smile on her face. She dimmed the rest of the lights and handed him a little cup with two pink pills and poured some water from the pitcher that rested on the tray table. "This will help you rest better, help you get to sleep, but they won't keep you under. I know that's a concern."

He swallowed the pills, handing her back the cup. She sat it on the table along side the pitcher, within his reach. "I'll be back in a few hours to check on you. Buzz me if you need me before then.

He said goodnight, already feeling the effects of the pills. His eyes drooped and he dropped off, sleeping deeply for the first time in almost two weeks.

When he did open his eyes, he was surprise to see the sun streaming in the blinds on the window. He had slept through the whole night.

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

Three days later Jim watched as a nurse snipped the threads that held the tubes in place on Blair's belly, watched Blair's face closely for any signs of pain. She pressed into Blair's stomach around the drain and pulled it out quickly. Blair made a weird face, but didn't say a word.

The process was repeated and then she was disposing of the tubing and washing her hands. "That should feel better." She told them, using a paper towel before tossing it into the trash. "You'll be more comfortable laying down now."

Blair closed his eyes after she left. He looked a lot better today. His fever was gone and his face had the color back. He seemed on the mend.

Dr. Ramanatha was due to look Blair over and decide what the next step would be. Jim was hopeful.

"How about some broth?" Jim asked. He could hear Blair's stomach rumbling and took it as a good sigh. It had been days since Blair had eaten, but he could have cold and hot liquids if he wanted.

"Nay, man…if she takes the tube out I want real food."

Jim nodded, knowing that they both hoped that was the outcome.

They watched a little tv and Blair drifted to sleep. Talking outside the door roused him and they both smiled as Missy came in.

"Hey there." She was pushing a portable sonogram machine, smiling at Jim and then giving her attention to Blair. "You ready to see what's up?"

Blair nodded, rubbing at his eyes. "If it gets me outta here, I'm up for anything."

The procedure only took minutes and Missy seemed happy at what she saw. "It looks like it is resolving on its own…that's great news."

Blair took a deep breath, squinting at the fuzzy screen.

Jim took a big breath of his own, not realizing he had been holding it until his lungs demanded some oxygen.

"Dr. Ramanatha will take a look at your scan, but I bet you'll be outta here by the end of the week.

True to her words, the doctor came by after lunch. Jim stepped out while she examined Blair, going to call the station to let them know the newest developments.

He got Ronda. Simon was in a meeting and the guys were all out on calls, but he relayed the info anyway, trusting Ronda to pass the word.

When he returned Blair looked relaxed. "What does the doc say?"

"They're gonna take the NG tube out in a little while. Put me on a soft food diet for a few days and make sure the blockage has cleared.

Things were finally looking up.

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

Blair tensed up as Fiona pulled the tape off his face and around the tube in his nose. As happy as he was to get the damn thing out, he was worried that it was gonna make him puke.

She handed him a basin, just in case.

Jim stood by the bed once she was ready to pull it out, resting his hand close to Blair's on the raise rail.

"Ready?"

He nodded, feeling the thing snake up and out of his stomach. He did gag a bit when it passed through his throat, but he managed to keep his stomach contents where they belonged.

A small shudder racked his frame at the memory of throwing up waste and bile. He could still taste it even though he had rinsed his mouth many times since that night almost a week ago.

"You did great, Blair." She disposed of her gloves and the tubing. "I'll be back after dinner. You know the drill."

He nodded, knowing that they wouldn't let him go home until he had a bowel movement.

Jim retook his seat and they sat watching some game show until his dinner tray came a little later. He had some soup with a few mushy vegetables and crackers along with coffee and some jello.

This was familiar at least.

Over the next few days he got a little stronger, able to get out of bed without taking a nose dive and go to the bathroom on his own. He even managed a few jaunts down the hall and back.

His food got a little more solid as the days passed and he was able to go to the bathroom twice the evening before they released him.

Dr. Ramanatha showed up bright and early the next morning.

"How are we today?" She asked, looking over his chart and making a few notations.

"Better," he decided was the best way to answer. "I'm feeling much better."

"That's wonderful." She pulled her stethoscope from around her neck and put them in her ears, listened to his chest, asking him to sit forward and then she laid him back and listened to his stomach. "I think we can take these out before you go." She indicated his sutures and Blair nodded, happy that he could rid himself of one more nuisance.

He didn't watch as she peeled back the surgical tape and used a pair of odd shaped scissors she pulled from a pocket in her lab coat. He could feel the fine threads as they were pulled from his body, but it didn't hurt.

"I'd say that once Jim gets here, you can go home. I'll have the nurse print up your release forms."

Once she was done, he looked down at himself. A straight line of pink, raised flesh ran from just above his belly button to his public bone. On each side of the line his skin looked like he had pin holes, but that was where the sutures had been, holding his incision together.

"This looks great. The scar will fade over time, shrink."

But he knew that it would never completely go away, a permanent reminder of all that he had gone through.

Before he could go too far down that road again, he pulled his thoughts forward and listened to what the doctor was saying.

"…so only lighter foods at first and then you can add some richer things as you start to feel better. Let your stomach tell you."

Jim came into the room just as she was pulling down his gown, carrying an overnight bag that Blair knew held his street clothes.

"Feel free to get dressed."

She smiled at Jim as she left and Blair filled his friend in on the details. It didn't take him long to get dressed and when the nurse came in with his release forms he listened to the instructions, most of them the same as before and signed.

She brought a wheelchair and Blair got in, riding down the hall as Jim walked by him.

The truck was waiting at the curb and the sun was bright, even though the air was chilly.

On the trip home Jim stopped and got his prescriptions and some soft serve yogurt. His roommate had hardly said a word since arriving that morning.

"Is ah…Is everything okay, man?" Blair glanced at Jim then turned back to watch the scenery flying by his window.

"Yeah, Chief. Everything is great." Blair could tell Jim was studying him for a beat or two, but when he turned his head, the man had his eyes back on the road. "I'm just glad to have you back home."

They pulled up to the parking lot and Blair noticed a few extra cars. "Umm…Jim?"

Jim got out and headed around the truck and opened Blair's door, taking his arm as he slid down from the cab.

"I didn't think you would be ready to go right away…" Jim explained. "You know how hospitals are?"

When the loft door was opened, Jim went in first, saying loudly, "He's here."

When Blair finally got a look at what was going on he stopped his forward motion and openly stared. His friends, all his friends were at the loft. The furniture was pushed back and large tarps covered the floor. His bookshelf and two others, two identical ones sat atop the tarps and people wearing gloves and using brushes were staining them to match.

Rafe and Henry worked on one, while Simon and Joel had the other. When he looked to Jim, he noticed for the first time some dark stains on Jim's sleeve.

"Hey, hairboy…how ya doing, man?" Brown dropped the brush back in the bucket, pulling off his gloves, slapping Blair on the back a little too hard. "Sorry, sorry…"

Rafe joined them, laughing at his partner. "Good to see you up and around, Blair."

Simon greeted him too, and then Joel hugged him. "Nice to have you home, kid."

At first, he couldn't fathom how they had all gotten off from work, but them he remembered it was Sunday.

When Joel let him go, he led him to the sofa that was now pushed against the outer wall of his bedroom. "Sit and take a load off. You rest while we finish this and get this mess cleaned up."

He nodded, sinking back in to the cushions, taking the pillow Jim offered him and pressed it to his belly.

He watched as his friends, his family finished up, talking and laughing, getting more stain on the tarp than on the furniture.

Jim checked on him a few times, making sure he was comfortable, bringing him some tea and then a little later the soft serve yogurt in a small dish, dripping in hot fudge sauce and whipped cream. There was even a cherry on top.

He enjoyed his treat as they finished up, cleaning and putting away the brushes.

Rafe and Brown came by and sat with him for a bit, talking about the upcoming football game and their plans for the evening.

"Get well, Blair. We need you back at the station." Rafe said as he stood to leave. Blair went to get up too, but Henry laid a hand on his arm. "Don't get up for us, hairboy. We know the way out." Henry patted his arm and then they called goodbye to the other men.

A little later Joel came over and sat by him. "Cillie made some beef barley soup and home made bread this morning. It's in the fridge when you're ready for it and she wants you and Jim to come by a little later when you feel up to it. She's making her secret recipe fried chicken."

"Yum, you can count on it, man." Joel stood and said his goodbyes. "Take care if yourself, Blair. Call me if you need anything."

Simon was the last to leave. "I got Jim covered at the station, so don't worry, Sandburg." He whispered but then looked right at Jim as he said it, knowing dang well that Jim could hear every word. "You just concentrate on getting better and getting your butt back to work."

Blair laughed and waved as the man grabbed his coat from the rack. "Yes, Sir…I'll be back as soon as I can."

Once they were all gone, Jim sunk to the sofa, holding his own frozen treat.

"That was a nice surprise." Blair told him, grateful for the thoughtfulness of his friend. "But how am I gonna fit all three of them into my room?"

"Don't have to," Jim said. "I thought we would put them along the wall over there."

Blair didn't know what to say, the offer unexpected.

"How about some lunch?"

He wasn't too hungry, but felt like he needed to do something. "I'm good, man, but can you…would you mind driving me somewhere?"

"Drive you. I don't think you should be overdoing it on your first day home."

"I won't, man. I just need to do something."

Jim looked skeptical, but he agreed. He took Blair's arm and helped him up from the couch.

The drive wasn't long, but the sky was a little overcast now and the wind had picked up. Jim stayed in the truck as Blair slipped from the cab and walked through the rows, searching for the one he wanted.

The cemetery was pretty empty and quiet. Blair stopped in front of the oval shaped headstone, his eyes scanning the dying flowers and little bobbles that rested against the base.

He didn't know why his mind chose to conjure up Janet, but he knew that he was still feeling guilty for her death.

And she was sooo alive. She was a feisty and exciting lover, and a beautiful person, inside and out.

"Hey, Janny. I'm sorry I haven't been here in awhile, but I wanted…I just wanted you to know that I still think about you. I haven't forgotten you."

The wind picked up, howling through the trees, blowing Blair's hair around his head and face. Janet had always loved his hair, short or long, she would run her fingers through it, massage his scalp, and kiss the nape of his neck, like the wind was kissing it now.

"I miss you, Jan…I wish…I wish things were different… I wish I had gotten there a litter earlier. I may be able to stop…" The guilt he still felt brought tears to his eyes. "I just wanted to tell you that you helped me Jan…when I was dying, I know it was you."

He was about to turn away, thinking that he should pay a visit to Roy's grave too. It was on the other side of the city, but he could bring flowers, could make an effort…when Jim wrapped an arm around his back and he realized he was shivering.

"Ready to go, Chief?" Jim asked, guiding him away. He held an open cell phone in his hand and as Blair looked at it, he handed it to him. "You got a call."

He was confused. Who would be calling him on Jim's cell? He lifted the phone up and tentatively said, "Hello?"

Jim gave him a little squeeze as they parted ways to get in the truck.

"Mom? Hey…yeah, I'm doing fine."

Jim rolled his eyes at that one, but kept quiet as they buckled in and Jim started the truck, put the into drive.

"I was just thinking about calling you…oh yeah? Hmm, that's great. Yeah, I remember when…sure ma…okay, I love you too." He hung up and handed the phone back to Jim.

After a few minutes, as they were pulling onto the beltway to get back home. Jim asked, "Are you okay, Chief?"

He nodded, not sure if he could talk. "Yeah…I'm good, man." He looked toward his friend, the man that had saved him and smiled. "My mom found an old trunk cleaning out the attic and found a roll of undeveloped film. It was from the summer I spent with my grandparents…the year I broke my arm." He saw Jim grip the steering wheel a little tighter and a warm feeling spread through his belly that had nothing to do with his surgery. "She said she over-nighted them. They should have gotten here yesterday."

Jim took the next exit, stopping at the end of the ramp and turning toward home. "Can't say I've checked the mail in a few days."

When they pulled up Jim helped him out again and they stopped to get the mail. A thick brown envelope addressed to Blair in his mothers neat handwriting rested on top of the pile.

Once in the loft, Jim went to check the shelves, deeming them dry and moving them on his own over to the wall. He left Blair to his mail as he dragged boxes of books from Blair's room and arranged some of his own.

Blair found a few get well cards scattered throughout the parcels, as well as an envelope from Mercy, but with shaking hands he opened the brown envelope.

He found within the man he loved so deeply and a woman that looked so much like Naomi. Over time it was hard to picture what his memaw and dedad had looked like…but he could see a little of himself in his grandfather.

Soon Jim wandered back over and sat on the other end of the couch. Blair knew he would want to put the living room back in order, but he didn't want to stop looking at the photos and the people in them.

In one, he had his arm slung over the skinny shoulder of his new friend, standing in the yard in front of Ms. Danbush's tree. In another he was seated at the cozy kitchen table, he and his grandmom holding up huge homemade cookies, milk mustaches on each of their faces. In another he was sitting on his grandfather's lap, being tickled by the looks of it, the older man reclining in his easy chair.

He handed the pictures to Jim, each one in turn, not explaining who he was seeing, knowing that Jim could figure it out without Blair having to say a word.

And in that moment he realized, what had happened…It could have turned his whole life inside out. But he didn't have to let it.

He had done some research, read about other people who had gone through the same thing he had and he didn't want to end up like some of them, detached from the world and afraid to live.

"You know," Jim said. "If we framed some of these, they would look great on the bookshelf."

Blair nodded, fighting the lump that was forming in his throat. Jim had always, always known what Blair needed to hear.

He thought about his grandparents and then Roy and Janet. They were apart of him, even though they had gone on. They lived in him in his memories and had helped him through the worse days of his life.

But it was Jim who lived in the here and now, Jim that had talked him from the darkest recesses of his own mind.

"I'd like that. Thank you, man."

As Jim started asking about lunch, Blair's belly rumbled loud and long and they both laughed.

"Guess that answered that question." Jim said, carefully putting the photos on the coffee table and going to the kitchen.

And Jim had spoken volumes in what he hadn't said.

You're not as alone. I'll be here for you. I'm right here.

The End

Thank so much for reading and for nominating this story for the LMFA!

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