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.

Rated: PG

Summary: Blair gets more than he bargained for at a trip to the eye doctor.

Warnings: None really, but it is a Blair owie.

Feedback: Yes, please...at dawn_twilight@hotmail.com

Quasi-Pseudo

by Twilight (Dawn)

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

Early morning sunlight spilled through the skylight, Jim turned his head into his pillow, eyes closed tight against the bright light.

"Jim? Are you awake?" The whisper soft voice of his friend drifted up to his sensitive ears.

"Yeah," he moaned, folding his pillow up over his ears.

"Okay. I gotta go. I have an early appointment with the eye doctor and a class at 10:00." His partner paused and Jim moaned again, his head was pounding. He squinted at the bedside alarm clock. 7:00am. He needed to get up, even though he'd only fallen into bed a few hours ago.

"I'll be by the station later," Blair called and Jim could hear him picking up his worn backpack and keys from the basket by the door. "Later, man."

"Later," Jim murmured. How could Blair be so awake when he got just as little sleep? The all night stake out was uneventful, but sitting in a truck till the wee hours of the morning, night after night was taking its toll.

Jim rolled over, putting his pillow completely over his head, a few more minutes of sleep and then he would go into the station.

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

Blair had to settle for breakfast on the run, so he went to the corner bakery and picked out a few buttermilk donuts for Jim and a poppy seed bagel for himself. He made a fresh pot of coffee before leaving.

His day was full; he had an 8:00a.m. appointment with the eye doctor and an early class, followed by a lecture and office hours. Then he was going to the station to help Jim with his paper work before another endless night of staking out Bob Hotchkiss' house.

The suspect in question was probably out of the state by now. He was an older man, established in a good career, with a wife and three grown children. Earlier in the week he was identified by a robbery victim, a mini mart owner claimed that the offender was in his store almost daily and that he was a good customer, usually buying a coffee and morning paper.

Blair wondered what would make a man like Bob Hotchkiss snap and ruin his life over a lousy eighty-five bucks.

Later in the week three more gas stations and convenience stores were victimized and the surveillance cameras revealed Bob Hotchkiss as the perpetrator.

Pulling his Volvo into a spot in front of the medical center, Blair stuffed the rest of his breakfast into his mouth, wiping a few stray poppy seeds with the back of his hand.

Once inside, he signed in and waited his turn to register. He hated to wait, hated going to see a doctor, but he needed a new prescription. His glasses were almost four years old; he was way overdue and he was starting to have headaches. Thinking it was from the endless night of grading papers, it had to be eyestrain.

Finally through the registration process, he found himself sitting in a packed waiting room. The other occupants were mostly older people, all watching the endless loop of prescription drug ads and helpful health tips on the waiting room television.

Seeing that he was in for the long haul, he reached for his backpack, pulling out a tattered book and his old glasses.

An hour later the nurse finally called his name. She was young, her brown hair hung loose, angled around her thin face.

He smiled at her, stuffing his journal back into his pack, hauling it over his shoulder and followed her down the end of a narrow hall to a small room.

"Have a seat in the chair, Mr. Sandburg." She pulled out a stool next to the table that ran the length of the far wall. "My name is Molly."

"Hi Molly. Please call me Blair." Blair dumped his pack in the corner of the tiny room and sat on the chair in the middle. A small shiver ran up his spine at the sight of the chair, it was a smaller version of a dentist chair, but Blair pushed the memory away and took a steadying breath.

On the wall to his left was a rig holding a mask-like device to test his eyes. He watched silently as Molly filled out a few pages in his charts. "It's been awhile since you've been in. Are you having any problems?"

"Um...not really. I'm just way overdue for a new pair of glasses and I've been having some headaches. I thought it was probably from the strain on my eyes."

"Okay." She picked up a black mask with a notch in the middle. She handed it to him and asked him to cover his right eye. "Look at the eye chart and read the smallest line you can see."

He read across the third line from the top, and then repeated the process with his other eye.

She stood when he handed the cover back. "Okay, I'm going to put a few drops into your eyes."

He shifted back in his seat, placing his head on the rest. She stood close to him; he could feel her soft breath on his face as she gently held his right eye open. The drops were cold and he flinched, tiny droplets ran down his cheek and Molly handed him a tissue then repeated the process with the other eye. It was so much harder to keep that one open.

"The drops will numb and dilate your eyes," she explained, moving the rig in front of him and adjusting it to his height. She used an alcohol prep to wipe off the chin rest. "Rest your chin here," she instructed.

Blair leaned forward and waited as she pulled her stool to sit in front of him. "Ready?" she asked.

"Yeah." He watched as she adjusted a blue light extension and moved it toward his right eye.

"Just look straight ahead, this doesn't hurt." She was looking through some kind of scope on the other end of the light, which gently touched his eye. It was all he could do to not pull away; a shiver crept down his spine and straight to his toes. The thought of something touching his eye gave him the creeps.

She repeated the process with the other eye then pulled the rig away. "Looks good. Your pressure is fine and there's no Glaucoma."

Blair released a small sigh, nodding his head. Glaucoma didn't run in his family, so he wasn't too worried.

"Okay, you can have a seat in the waiting room and Dr. Gordon will be out to get you in a few minutes."

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

Jim sat hunched over his desk, a half filled cup of cold coffee at his fingertips. There was twice as much paper work in his in box than was in his out box. It was mornings like this that he really missed Blair.

The headache he woke with was still steadily pounding away, but he dialed down the pain to a more manageable level.

"Hey, Jim. You look like hell, man." Henri Brown sank into the chair next to Jim's desk, an evil grin on his dark face.

Jim just glared at him for a brief second, and then went back to the open folder on his desk.

"I have the witness statements from The Corner Mart." H handed over the folder.

Jim flipped open the folder and skimmed the statement. It was what he expected. The night clerk had come in earlier and looked through some photographs. They had the surveillance video from the other stores and wanted the clerk to ID Hotchkiss.

It was his last job, just two days ago. He robbed The Corner Market and when the clerk pulled a gun, he must have panicked. The clerk boxed Hotchkiss in the store and left him little choice. They struggled for the gun and Hotchkiss won, ordering the clerk into the back room.

A witness reported seeing Hotchkiss leaving on foot. The clerk was found, bound and unharmed in the back room and the hunt for Hotchkiss was ongoing. Jim still wasn't sure how he managed to be the lucky one to catch this case. It was one of those favors for the Mayor deals. Simon informed him that Hotchkiss was a standup guy. Seems he was friendly with the Mayor, they went way back to His Honor's college days.

"Ellison?" Simon's bark could be heard down in records.

Jim slid the folder shut and stood, walking slowly toward his captain. "Yes, sir?"

Simon moved away from his door and allowed the detective entrance. The door slammed with a resounding thud as Jim moved to stand in front of the large desk, waiting for an invitation to sit.

"Have a seat, Jim," the captain walked around his desk and plopped into his chair, "and please tell me you have something on the Hotchkiss case."

Jim sat and studied his friend's face. He knew that Simon would be getting pressure from the brass on this one. They had plenty on the case. Lots of evidence to put Hotchkiss away, but no Hotchkiss and no idea why someone like him would just up and rob a mini mart.

"We have a positive ID, sir. We have been staking out his house and place of business, but have been unable to locate him." Jim waited to see if there would be an eruption, but none came. His boss just slumped farther into his seat. "Sir?"

"There seems to be a new twist." Simon stood and poured a cup of coffee, nodding his head toward Jim.

Moving forward in his seat, Jim declined the coffee. "New twist?"

"I got a call this morning," Simon began. "It seems that Hotchkiss' youngest daughter is missing."

Simon sat his cup on the desk and walked around to the table on the other side of his office. "She's a college student at Rainier. Her roommate reported her missing a few days ago."

Jim jumped up and followed Simon over to the table, taking the folder and opening to a picture of a young girl, maybe sixteen. Her bright green eyes shone in the sunlight, her pretty face peppered with tiny freckles. "Why are we just now being told this?"

"I don't know," Simon said wearily. "Something is going on here and we are only getting the information they want us to know. I thought that since she was a student, maybe Blair could find out some information. Where is he?"

"He had an appointment and class this morning. I'll fill him in on this new development when he comes in." Jim picked the folder up and turned to leave.

"Just be discrete," Simon said.

"Very good, sir." And then Jim decided to head over to the university. Blair should still be at his appointment away. He could ask around, see what he could find out and then meet up with Blair after his class for lunch.

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

Thirty minutes later, his vision too blurry to read, Blair's name was finally called. He stood and followed a woman down the same hall into a slightly larger room than the one he'd been in earlier.

She patted the large exam chair and he dropped his pack on the chair in the corner. "I'm Dr. Gordon. Hop up and we'll have a look."

She was a pleasant looking older woman, chubby, with round dimpled cheeks when she smiled at him. Her curly salt and pepper hair was tucked behind her ears, as was her pen.

Blair stepped up on the footrest and slid back into the reclining seat. He jumped a little when the chair was adjusted forward into a more upright position. She smiled at him and patted his arm. "Sorry, should have warned you about that little ride."

She pushed a loose curl behind her ear and pulled her swivel chair in front of him. Again the large apparatus was pulled in front of him and the chin rest was wiped clean. "Rest you chin here."

Blair leaned forward and placed his chin as directed. "The tech dilated your eyes. I'm going to shine a pretty bright light in so I can see way to the back. You ready?"

Blair nodded and tried to relax as much as the awkward position would allow. The doctor leaned forward and a bright light came on. "Look at my left ear."

Blair shifted his eyes and the light became more bearable. He could hear her shifting around, picking things up on the tray in front of him. She placed something in front of his eye and the light intensity changed again. "You're doing great."

Blair swallowed, feeling a little uneasy. His last eye exam was nothing like this. It seemed like minutes ticked by before she moved to his other eye.

He flinched back a little with the intensity of the light. "I'm sorry," she soothed. She stood and the light went away. "Lean your head back for me."

Blair leaned against the headrest and her hand rested on his forehead. "This will help relax you eyes." She pulled his eyelid up and dropped a few drops in. The soothing liquid took the burning away. "The light is very bright and sometimes it's hard for people to relax enough for me get a good look. Just keep your eyes closed for a few minutes and relax." He could feel her patting his face with a tissue where the drops escaped his tightly closed lids.

Blair cleared his throat and then asked the question that was really bugging him. "Is there something wrong?"

Her brief hesitation told him all he needed to know. "Well, your optic nerves appear to be swollen. I really want to look again, though, when you are ready and I want to have a colleague come in to have a look too."

Blair opened his eyes and searched her face. "What do you think it is?" His voice sounded panicked and he licked his lips, trying to calm down. "Is it something serious?"

"It can be a few different things, but I want to look again to make sure I'm seeing what I think I'm seeing." She smiled at him again, patting his hand.

Blair nodded and leaned forward again, sliding his chin into the rest. She moved in and studied his left eye, taking her time. After a few minutes she pushed a button on the console and a voice crackled over the intercom.

"Molly, can you page Dr. Moyer please?"

Blair stayed put and Dr. Gordon moved back to her seat, examining his other eye. "Okay, Blair. Sit back and relax for a few minutes. I've paged Dr. Moyer and he's going to have a look too."

She pushed her chair back over to the table to review his chart. "You told the tech that you've been having some headaches, that you thought it was because of eye strain. Can you tell me how often and where your head hurts?"

Blair thought for a second. "Um, well I usually wake up with a mild headache. I'm a TA at the university and I tend to stay up late, grading papers, reading, working on my laptop."

"Do you take anything for it and where in your head does it hurt?" She wrote his responses down in the chart, pulling a fresh piece of paper from the cabinet.

"I don't usually take any over the counter medicines. If it's bad enough I might take an aspirin. In the mornings it seems that my head hurts toward the back, but sometimes I have stress headaches."

"Where are those headaches at?" She looked up at him, waiting. His apprehension doubled. How did a trip to get new glasses turn into a discussion about his headaches?

"Sometimes right in the front," Blair pointed to his forehead, "and sometimes it's on the left side, but they are usually mild."

"How about any other pains? Muscle or joint pain?"

"Well, sure." He was always getting banged up. Heck sitting with Jim in the truck all week long had done a number on his back and neck. "Sometimes. I work as a...consultant of sorts with the police department. This last week I spent my nights on a stake out and my back is paying the price."

Before any more questions could be asked, a young man knocked on the door. "Hello. I'm Dr. Moyer." He stepped the rest of the way in and briskly shook Blair's hand. The two doctors talked, most of which Blair had a hard time following and then Blair found himself back with his chin on the rest.

Dr. Moyer looked into his right eye, taking his time as Dr. Gordon had, his steady breath hitting Blair's cheek. Then he moved to the left spending more time there. "His left eye is more pronounced," he said.

"I agree. I think we need to do a rule out today." Dr. Gordon's voice floated to him from the far corner of the room.

Finally Dr. Moyer pushed the chair back and the machine was pulled away from Blair's face.

"I'll set it up," Dr. Moyer said. "Have you explained anything to Mr. Sandburg?"

"No, I just started to question him about his history."

All the conversation about him was unnerving, considering he was sitting right there. "Can someone just tell me what is going on?" It was harsher then he intended, but he was more then a little scared and didn't like being talked about like he wasn't even in the room.

Dr. Gordon sat in the swivel chair and crossed her legs. "I'm sorry, let me fill you in while Dr. Moyer sets up the tests."

"Tests?" God, he definitely didn't like the sound of that.

"Yes, we need to send you for a rule out head CT scan."

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

Part two

Jim sat in his truck, looking over his notes. Bob Hotchkiss' youngest daughter was indeed young, only seventeen. She was a freshman and living on campus with two other roommates. She had gone to the library to study for an exam and never returned.

That was three days ago and that was all Jim had. He had talked to the head of campus security and was assured that he would be kept informed, but that they didn't have any leads.

He talked to both the girl's roommates. They were a little older, one was eighteen and one was nineteen. Both were majoring in History, just like Jennifer Hotchkiss. Both girls came from wealthy families; their records were clean. Jim didn't sense that either were lying as they both told their stories.

Neither one had been in the room when Jennifer left to study that night. They both had a late class and Jennifer had left a note; which had been turned over to campus security. Jim made a note to find out what became of it.

They both saw her at dinner in the cafeteria, around six that night and had shared the meal with her. They discussed their day, what plans they had for the weekend and said that Jennifer seemed distracted, nervous.

Neither knew of any family problems, or could remember Jennifer remarking about her father. Something just wasn't adding up and Jim just couldn't figure it out.

The ringing phone made him jump and he dropped his pen. Fumbling in his jacket pocket, he finally pulled the phone free and snapped the mouthpiece open. "Ellison."

"Hey," Blair's voice sounded strained.

Jim sat up a fraction straighter and glanced at the clock. It was only 10:30; Blair shouldn't be done with his class yet.

"Chief, what's wrong?"

"I, um..." Jim could hear him trying to control his breathing. "I'm still at the medical center. I have to have a few tests and just wanted to let you know I was going to be late to the station. Didn't want you to worry, man."

"Is everything okay?" Jim turned over the engine and started to drive, not really sure of where he was heading.

"Yeah, I just have this thing with my optic nerve they wanted to check out." Blair's voice sounded breathy to Jim and it worried him. What wasn't Sandburg telling him? "So I have to go over to Cascade General and have a few tests. I shouldn't be long."

Jim turned onto the freeway and headed south toward the station. "I have to drop something off at the station and then I'll be over."

"You don't have to do that, Jim." But Jim wasn't going to hear any of it.

"Look, Sandburg, if they are going to be doing any kind of test with your eyes, you're probably going to be needing a ride home. It's no problem. I'll wrap things up at the station and be there in an hour or so, okay?"

"Okay." Was that relief in his Guide's voice?

"Good, where can I find you?"

The pause set Jim's senses on alert. He strained to hear Blair though the phone line, to catalog his vital signs. "I um, I'm going to be in the E.R. That's where the open testing equipment is. See you later." Blair hung up before Jim could say anything else. What the hell was going on?

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

Blair signed in like everyone else waiting to be seen in the overcrowded waiting area. He was a bit surprised when his name was called just a few minutes later.

"Hello, Mr. Sandburg. Dr. Moyer called and told us to expect you. I'm just going to check your blood pressure and temperature and then we can go back."

The triage nurse checked him over and started a chart. She asked him a few questions about his medical history and then walked him over to the admission desks. "Mr. Sandburg, we need to get some information for billing and then we'll take you back for testing."

Blair nodded and sank into the chair she pulled out for him. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

A woman in a purple business suit came over, smiling a little too much. "Hello, Mr. Sandburg. I'm Cathy."

"Hello," he greeted, not really feeling chatty or like smiling. She reached across the cubicle and shook his hand.

"I just have to ask you a few questions about your insurance and emergency contacts. That sort of stuff." She posed her fingers over the keyboard and Blair wondered how she could type with fingernails so long, painted a deep red, with a swirling pattern of glitter.

When he gave all the pertinent information, the triage nurse returned and ushered him back to a small cubicle. She told him to undress and put on a gown, and that a doctor would be with him in a few minutes.

He got undressed and waited. It felt like minutes; it felt like forever. The sounds around him were suddenly loud, a baby crying for her mother, a man in the next cubicle moaning, and then the noise faded and Blair sank back against the pillow, covering his eyes with his forearm.

This can't be happening. I can't have a...

"Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair shifted to his side and looked to the partially open curtain. A woman dragging a blood pressure machine stepped the rest of the way in. "I'm Jane. I'm going to check your blood pressure again and start an IV."

"An IV?" Blair sat up on the exam bed. Why did he need an IV for a CT scan?

She wrapped the blood pressure cuff around his arm and pressed the button. "It's just a precaution. We aren't doing any liquids right now, it's just in case we need to give you any fluids or medicine later on."

When she was done checking his pressure, she started to look for a vein. God, he hated needles. If the CT scan was clear, and he prayed to any deity that would listen that it was, he was worried about the next step. Hell, he should be extremely grateful that it would mean...well, he couldn't even really think of the possibility. But still, the thought of a huge needle being stuck in his...

"Just a little pinch." Her words brought him back from his own mini zone and he flinched, even though it didn't really hurt all that much. She taped the plugged tube down to his arm and cleaned up the area. As she was leaving, Dr. Moyer came in.

"Okay, Blair. Are you ready to go for a ride?" Blair nodded and an orderly came in behind the doctor.

The man busied himself with unlocking the brakes on the gurney as Dr. Moyer reviewed the plan with his patient. "So, what we are going to do is rule out a mass."

It was so matter of fact. Blair was so scared. Rule out a mass. A mass. If it was a mass, was it cancer? Thoughts of brain cancer and surgery and chemotherapy and dying far too young flirted across Blair's mind. What if Blair lost his mind? What if he was reduced to the mind of a child? What if...

But Dr. Moyer had another theory, one that Blair desperately wanted to believe, even though he didn't fit the normal profile for it.

What was it called again? Pseudo something. Dr. Moyer said it was found primarily in women, but it wasn't unheard of in men. And he said that Blair had some of the fundamental symptoms. That was encouraging, all he had to do was go through the CT to rule out a mass and then he would have to have a lumbar puncture to confirm the diagnosis. He could do this. Just a little test then he would know.

The ride down the corridor was a cold one; the breeze from the moving gurney finding its way under his sheet to his bare skin. He shivered, wondering if it was because he was cold or just in a state of shock. He could hardly believe his ears when Dr. Gordon began to explain what she thought might be wrong with him. She told him that the reason his optic nerves were swollen was because something was pressing against them. That if left alone, he would have started to experience a loss of vision.

She told him that it was possible that he had a mass, but that the symptoms that he talked about earlier sounded like a condition that they saw sometimes. She asked if he sometimes got lightheaded, or heard ringing in his ears.

The answer was that he had, but he always passed it off as something else. He would go without eating when he was on a case with Jim or had a project at the University. If he skipped a meal, he might feel a little dizzy and sometimes when he stood up, he got that ringing in his ears and his eyes had been doing weird things lately, but he thought he just needed a new prescription for his glasses.

The gurney stopped and the orderly helped him to sit up. A tech came out of an enclosed windowed area and helped Blair adjust his gown.

"I'm John and I'm going to help you get situated." He grabbed Blair under the armpit and slid him off the gurney, supporting him at the elbow. "I just want you to sit about halfway down the bed."

John pointed to the narrow table and Blair complied. He sat where John put him and waited, looking around the room. John walked over toward the door and tapped a few commands into a computer there.

On the opposite end of the bed Blair was sitting on was a huge hollow ring. It went around the head of the bed. Blair hadn't been awake during his last head CT, but assumed that it was the business end of the machine. From the foot of the bed, he could see the windowed room and a few techs on the other side.

John came back over and helped Blair lay back, resting his neck in a raised groove. "Okay, this will only take about ten minutes. Just relax and lay as still as possible."

John pressed a hand held remote and the bed moved toward the huge rings. When Blair looked up, he could just see the tip of the machine. "Just close your eyes and relax," John instructed. "I'm going to be on the other side of the window. If you need me, just talk, we can hear you."

Blair nodded and heard the door clicking closed. If he looked down without moving his head, he could see the people on the other side of the glass, walking around. The machine came to life and made a whishing sound, but it wasn't too loud. He tried not to think about all the radiation going into him and shivered, wishing he had thought to ask for the sheet on the gurney.

A woman walked past the window and looked in at him and he briefly wondered if was putting on a free show, noting the gooseflesh on his upper thighs, then he concentrated on trying to read her face. Could he tell by her expression if she saw a mass?

Time passed, the machine noise died down and the door opened. John came out, but his face was neutral. He helped Blair up and then left to pull the gurney back in. Once settled under the sheets and feeling a little warmer Blair asked, "Now what?"

John started to push the gurney through the doorway and down the hall. "Now the radiologist comes in to read your results. He should be back from lunch soon. Your doctor will let you know as soon as he has the results."

Blair nodded, pulling the inadequate sheet a little tighter around his shoulders. He would have to ask for a blanket when he got back to his cubicle.

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

Jim entered the bullpen and sank into his chair. The folder sitting on his desk was still a huge question mark. He was no closer to solving this case than he was when he first got it. It just didn't make any sense.

Rafe walked through, with a fresh cup of coffee and a bag from the corner deli. The smell was appealing and Jim's stomach agreed. It was only 11:30, but an early lunch wouldn't hurt and then he could pick something up for Blair on his way to get him.

That was another cause for concern. Jim wondered if his friend was keeping something from him. He knew that Blair was burning the candle on both ends, but he always did that... He didn't seem to be any worse for the wear. Just the usual; an occasional headache, body aches; He'd noticed Blair rubbing at his neck. Hell, the kid wasn't getting any younger and neither was he.

"Jim?" Simon was standing just outside his office door.

"Yes sir?" Sitting up a little straighter, he watched as his boss walked over and perched on the end of his desk. Not a good sign.

"Anything on the girl?" The question was accompanied by a sickly sweet smile. He was definitely in trouble. Simon was only ever this nice when the pressure from the top was unbearable.

Jim shifted, Simon didn't intimidate him and Simon knew it, but they went through the dancing ritual anyway. "Nothing helpful, sir."

The smile dropped from Simon's face and Jim sighed.

"Well, maybe that so called partner of yours will have some inspired insight. Where is he, anyway? I thought he should have been bouncing in by now." Simon stood, shoving his hands deep into his pants pockets.

"I'm going to go pick him up in a little while, he had to have some tests done." Jim noted the raised eyebrows, but didn't want to have to explain something he had no knowledge of himself. "But I was going to grab a bite to eat first, care to join me, sir?"

"Oh. Are you kidding? Without the kid around, I can eat whatever I want without a lecture. Count me in." Simon walked briskly back his office to grab his jacket.

"My thoughts exactly, sir," Jim called to him, grabbing his own coat from the hook by the door, "my thought exactly."

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

Even with the blanket, the cold seemed to seep in. Blair wasn't sure how long he had been lying there, but it seemed like hours. "How long does the radiologist get for lunch, anyway?" he wondered.

Time ticked by and he drifted in and out of a troubled slumber. He was beginning to think that they had forgotten about him when the curtain was pulled back and a woman in scrubs walked in, carrying a heavy looking covered tray.

He craned his neck on the pillow, wiping sleep from his eyes, zeroing in on the tray and its significance. Hope surged through him as he shifted onto his side, pulling his stubborn gown from under him as it twisted with his body.

"I'm sorry that you had to wait so long, Mr. Sandburg." The women smiled, setting her burden down on the rolling table by his gurney.

Blair shifted forward a bit, trying to sit up, but she stilled him with a hand to his shoulder. "Hey there, don't get up on my account."

His tongue didn't seem to want to work and he briefly wondered if they had slipped him a drug to keep him calm while he waited. "I'm here to give you some news. Dr. Moyer got called into a consult, so he sent me. My name is Shelly and I'm an intern in the Neurology Department."

News? She didn't say good news. His heart took a sudden down drop again. "What kind of news?" he asked, pushing himself up a little, feeling vulnerable from his current position.

She smiled at him, perching on the end of his gurney. Her brown eyes sparkled as she took a deep breath as if about to launch into a long speech. Her simple words washed over him and he wasn't sure if he heard her right.

"Huh?" It came out shaky, but he didn't care. He needed to hear the words again.

She smiled again and repeated herself. "I said, the CT scan was clear."

Blair collapsed back against the pillow, rubbing his hands over his face. His hands were shaking, but he didn't care; he could literally feel the relief wash over him. After a few seconds he regained his composure.

"Now what?" he asked, his hands falling back to his chest.

"Now we do the lumbar puncture to check the pressure. That's the next step." She shifted off the foot of the bed and moved to the tray. "I'm going to call a nurse in and we are going to get started. Have you ever had this procedure done before?"

Blair shook his head; words seemed to fail him at the sight of the uncovered tray and the thought of what it held.

"Don't worry, it's not as bad as you might think." She continued to unpack her supplies, opening a large bottle of brown fluid and pouring it into a well on the tray.

Blair watched with a sort of detached interest. Maybe if he pretended it was someone else, he might be able to calm down a little. It wasn't as if he was a wuss, really. He just wasn't a huge fan of pain, and that long needle looked really painful. And he wasn't scared really, more like...nervous.

Shelly was talking, explaining the release form. He half listened, until she got to the infection, paralysis, and death part. "But your prognosis is excellent for this procedure," she finished, handing him the pen.

He swallowed hard, touching pen to paper, deciding he was being childish and that she was surely an expert on this sort of thing, he signed his name.

She tucked the paper into his chart and stuck her head out the curtained area. A few minutes later another woman came in, smiling down at him. A few more minutes were spent setting up the area they needed to work in and Blair took that time to try to relax.

He tried to use his breathing techniques, taking a deep breath in through his nose and blowing it out slowly through his mouth. It was just starting to work when he was startled by a light touch to his arm.

"Sorry." Shelly frowned. "We're just about ready, but I just wanted to go over the procedure with you."

"Um...okay." He wasn't really sure he wanted to know. Ignorance really was bliss at moments like this.

She didn't seem phased by the uncertainty of his voice and plunged right ahead. "We are going to put you on your side and I need you to curl up in a tight ball, okay?"

"Okay."

"Um, next we numb you up with a local and then the bigger needle is inserted, but all you should feel is just some pressure. Don't worry, okay?" She smiled again, but it just made Blair more nervous instead of putting him at ease.

"Okay." Great, that must be all he was capable of saying.

"Okay, let's get you on your side, then."

Blair rolled over onto his right side, facing the bright curtain. At least he would have something colorful to look at.

Both women stood behind him, Blair strained his hearing trying to figure out what they were doing and at the same time, dreading the knowledge.

The sheet was lifted off him and pulled down, low on his hips. His gown was opened in the back and pushed around to the front, the nurse tucking the bulk of it under his armpit and he felt decidedly naked, shivering a little in the cool room.

Large pads of some sort were swiftly tucked under his back and hips as he was rolled this way and that. "I need for you to pull your knees up now," Shelly said. "All the way up to your chin."

He heard a cabinet opening behind him as he drew his legs up and then it closed again. He could hear paper being discarded into the trash and the sound of latex being pulled onto her hands.

"I'm just checking for landmarks," she announced, pressing hard into his spine. She traced her fingers over from his hips, and he was sure that she was using her fingernail to somehow mark the spot she wanted. "Can you tuck your head down a little more?"

He did as he was asked, although his chin was already touching his chest. It was hard to breathe, he felt crunched, like he couldn't get in enough air.

"That's perfect. Just try to stay just like that." The hands and fingers on his back were removed and he could hear movement behind him. He tried to stay perfectly still, because he just wanted to get this whole thing over with as soon as possible.

The more he thought about it, the tenser he got.

"I'm just going to put some soap on your back now," Shelly said.

Blair lay as still as possible, trying not to jump, even though the soap was cold.

"We try to judge how a patient is going to tolerate the procedure by how they react to the soap. You didn't even flinch," Shelly commented.

"Okay, now you're going to feel a little pinch."

Blair tried not to tense, he waited for the pinch, which really wasn't so bad, but the burn wasn't so pleasant. After a second he could feel the small area becoming numb. She told him that she was injecting more numbing medicine, but he didn't feel it.

"I'm going to give it a second to take effect and then we'll start."

Blair started to nod his head, but then thought better of it. "Um, okay."

His legs were starting to feel weird, and he hoped that he didn't get a cramp. He could hear Shelly moving back, her chair gliding across the floor on squeaky wheels. Too soon her hands were resting on his exposed hip. "Okay, just relax. You should just feel pressure."

He waited, not sure what to expect. The needle went in smoothly, but not painfully. It was a deep pressure, like someone was pressing something hard, but blunt into him. It was manageable, as long as he didn't think about it too much.

After a few minutes, the pressure changed and then returned in a slightly different spot. "You're doing great," Shelly encouraged. For some reason her hands were back on his hips again and he could sense, if not feel, that she was pressing into his spine again.

"Something wrong?" he asked.

"Nope, just looking for a good spot. Can you pull your legs up a bit more?"

He tried, although he already felt like a pretzel.

"Perfect. Stay just like that." And then the strange pressure was back and Blair's mind conjured up images of her digging around with the ten-foot needle, just looking for a juicy spot.

Suddenly, what felt like a bolt of lightning shot down his left leg, causing it to jump off the bed, "Ow." Which really wasn't the right response, it wasn't pain, really.

"What did you feel?" she asked, her voice close to his head.

"I, it felt like, I don't know, sort of like a shock." A cold sweat broke out all over his body and his heart was beating triple time.

God a fan would be good right about now. Maybe this woman didn't really know what the hell she was doing.

The needle shifted again and this time it did hurt. The blunt feeling was gone. This was definitely pain. "Ow, ow, ow," he hissed between tightly clenched teeth.

He could feel her withdraw the needle and press into his spine again. "I'm sorry, just take a deep breath and try to relax."

She was taking forever, or so it seemed, her fingers digging into his spine.

"Mr. Sandburg? Is there a Mr. Sandburg here?" a deep voice called from the other side of the curtain.

When he realized that no one else was going to answer, he spoke up. "I'm Blair Sandburg."

The curtain opened and a man in scrubs stuck his head in. "Oh," he said, taking note of the situation. "Sorry to interrupt, but I got a Jim Ellison out here and he wanted to see if you're okay."

"We're in the middle of a procedure," Shelly said, a little tersely, clearly not happy at the interruption. Her hands were still planted firmly on Blair's back and Blair wasn't sure which was worse, her fingertips or the needle.

"I'll tell him," the guy said, starting to beat a hasty retreat, but Blair's voice stopped him.

"Can you tell him I should be done soon and that I'm okay?" Or at least he hoped all that was true. He was sure that if Jim was already here, he had heard him and that was why he had sent someone back to check on him.

The guy nodded, "Sure thing," and ducked back out of the curtain.

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

What the hell was going on?

Jim got to the hospital and checked at the front desk. The receptionist told him that Blair was still undergoing some test, so Jim sat down in an old plastic chair in the waiting room with fifty other people, tucking a take out bag behind the leg.

Ten minutes later, he was sorta just drifting, letting his senses do what they seemed to do and picked up Blair, clearly in pain. He jumped up and followed the sound, not bothering to stop at the swinging doors marked authorized personnel only.

Once on the other side, he spotted row after row of curtained cubicles and wondered what his best approach would be. It wasn't like he could just barge in. Blair hadn't told him what was going on and he didn't want to infringe on his friend's privacy. Unless, of course, Blair wasn't sure exactly what was happening either.

He grabbed the first person he saw and asked them to go check on his friend, listening to every word of the conversation from his side of the hallway.

When the man returned with Blair's message, Jim wasn't happy. He could hear the strain in Blair's voice and wanted to know what kind of procedure was being done?

"I'm sorry, sir. I don't know what's happening with Mr. Sandburg, he's not my patient," the man explained.

"Well, is that his doctor in there with him?" Jim asked, giving his best glare.

The guy glanced back at the curtain and sighed. "No, that was Shelly Johnson. She's an intern in the Neuro Department."

"Neurology?" Jim repeated, frowning. "Who's his doctor? Can I speak with him?"

The man moved over to the large circular desk area and punched something into a computer. "The referring doctor is Dr. Moyer in Neuro. He's an Ortho-Neurologist, but if Shelly is doing the procedure, he probably had an emergency or consult. Look, I'm sure she shouldn't be too much longer."

Jim nodded, not really sure what to do. His attention was drawn to the other side of the curtain and his friend's fast breathing. "Thanks."

Jim walked back around the corner and slipped into the men's room, focusing on Blair's breathing and the voices coming from the room.

"I think we're going to have to sit you up and let you lean over the tray table. Sometimes it's easier that way. The bones in your spine are really close together and I'm having a hard time getting the needle in place, but with you sitting up, it will help. Your muscles will relax more."

Jim could hear Blair's heart speed up a little, but his voice sounded mostly calm when he responded with a simple okay.

Why was Blair getting a spinal tap?

Jim moved back to the waiting room, a little surprised to see the take out bag where he left it, he had forgotten about it. He waited a few minutes, still tuned into the room on the other side of the swinging doors.

The women's voice was reassuring as she spoke and Jim could hear as they repositioned Blair; the rustling of bedclothes and Blair's skin sliding over the padded gurney. He could hear the table being wheeled over and a slight huff of breath as Blair lay his upper body across it.

"Just wrap your arms around the pillows and rest your chin on top."

The steady breathing increased as the minutes passed, sometimes a low humming sound would escape Blair and Jim would shift restlessly in his chair, looking around guiltily as if everyone in the waiting room could tell what he was doing.

"Can you arch your back toward me? Good. There we go." And Jim breathed a sigh of relief along with Blair and the intern. "Now we're going to help you lay on your side. Let us do all the work."

He could hear a small grunt from his partner and the rustling of sheets again as they shifted him onto his side. "Good, now I want you to very slowly straighten your legs out. Good. We've got a good flow. Just relax now, it will take a while to collect the sample."

Jim stood, stretching his legs. He grabbed the bag under the chair and walked to the trash to pitch it, thinking that he had enough time to go to the cafeteria to find something decent, sure that Blair had to be starving by now. It was nearly 2:00 p.m.

He stopped by the reception desk to tell her where he was going in case Blair asked for him, but he figured he had some time before they finished up and more than likely; they would want to keep him for a few hours anyway.

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

Part Three

Finally back under the warm blanket, Blair was able to relax. He had shifted carefully over to his left side, because his hips were killing him.

The nurse had washed off his back and put a little bandage over the puncture site. He was relieved to be able to stretch out his legs, but it was a bit uncomfortable on his back, so oddly enough, he found himself curled up in a ball on his left side.

Shelly was still sitting at the table, filling in notes on his chart, but he paid her little attention. Now that the ordeal was over, he felt washed out and just sorta drifted. She told him that she had to show everything to Dr. Moyer and that he would be in to go over the results.

He was just about to drift off to sleep when a hand touched his shoulder and he looked up with hooded eyes to see Jim smiling down at him.

"Hey."

"Hey, man." He felt a little disoriented, slowly stretching out his legs and rolling over.

"Are you in any pain?" Jim's question caught him a bit off guard.

He took a full minute to think about it, trying to get the cobwebs out of his brain. Maybe he did fall asleep after all. "Mostly sore. What time is it, man?"

Jim glanced at his watch, then pulled the rolling chair a little closer to the gurney, which was getting more and more uncomfortable. "It's almost four."

"Four?" Yup, fell asleep. "Sorry you had to wait so long. Did anyone say when I could leave?" Blair moved his hips again, grimacing a little with the effort to shift his weight off the sore spot. He really wasn't in a lot of pain, just uncomfortable.

"Don't worry about it, junior. Your doctor hasn't been in yet. But the intern checked on you and said he should be here by five." Jim turned sideways in his chair, reaching for something Blair couldn't see.

"Good, because I want to get outta here and sleep in my own bed." A smile lit his face when Jim lifted a brown bag and bottle of ice tea.

"I've been keeping this on ice for you." Jim stood and pulled the rolling tray table closer, stepping out of the curtained area, he returned a few minutes later with a cup of ice and a lid with a straw.

Blair started to push himself up, but Jim stopped him as a wave of dizziness hit. "Whoa there, Chief. Not a good idea. Let's just keep that noggin of yours on the pillow for a little while longer, huh."

Jim handed Blair the cup and he sipped cautiously, hoping that his stomach didn't decide to rebel. That poppy seed bagel seemed like weeks ago. A turkey on rye, cut in neat quarters was laid out on the tray and a piece was placed in his hand as the cup was taken away. "Eat it slow."

Blair nibbled, taking his time. He managed half the sandwich and a few sips of the tea before giving up.

"That's all you can handle, buddy?"

"Afraid so." A mighty yawn escaped and Blair blushed. "Sorry, man."

"Don't be. Go back to sleep. The doctor will be here soon and then..."

The man in question breezed into the room in a flurry of activity, his intern hot on his heels. "I see you had some dinner, Mr. Sandburg. Do you feel okay, nauseous, headache?"

"Not really," Blair said, peering up from under his blanket. "Mostly tired."

"I hear you had a time of it and I'm sorry." He glanced at Shelly, then at Jim before opening the chart she handed him. "Hmm."

"Hmm?" Blair repeated, looking confused.

"Well. It's what we suspected. Your condition is called Pseudotumor Cerebri. That's what I'm going to diagnose. Your opening pressure was 270. That's not extremely high, but it's above normal." Dr. Moyer closed the chart and handed it back to Shelly. "I suggest you make a follow up visit with Dr. Gordon for next week. She can recheck your eyes then. Sometimes by doing the lumbar puncture, we alleviate the problem. She can prescribe a new prescription for glasses then too."

Blair looked over at Jim, then back to the doctor. "I guess I'm just a bit confused. I mean, what causes this?"

The doctor sighed and crossed his arms. Not a good sign in Blair's book. "We simply don't have the answer to that. The cause is a mystery and it affects each person differently. There are usually the common factors, the headaches in the back of the head, ringing in the ears, dizziness, and visual disturbances. It's usually discovered when an exam of the eye is done. The name literally means false brain tumor. It can have any or all the characteristics, without the actual mass. The disease can vary and it can progress, but based on your numbers and the facts that your symptoms are mild...well, I think you have an excellent prognosis."

Now it seemed it was Jim's turn to be confused, because before Blair could ask his next question, Jim beat him to it.

"Wait a sec here, Doc. Are you saying that you have no idea where this comes from, how to treat it, if..." Blair almost smiled at Jim's facial expression; glad he wasn't on the other end of that particular look.

"Not exactly. This condition is rare. It's mostly found in women of childbearing years, who are overweight. Because it's rare, there haven't been wide studies done, but there are a few experts out there and this can be a very debilitating disease. Unfortunately because the cause is not known, we can only treat the symptoms." Dr. Moyer shifted his feet, looking from Jim and back to Blair.

"Right now, the best course of action is to monitor your eye sight," he explained. "When you go in next week, we may find that since we drained the excessive fluid off, we have alleviated the problem and it may not return. Your eye doctor will follow up with you closely to make sure your eyesight is stable. That's the major problem with this illness...loss of vision. The spinal fluid either over produces or your body is unable to absorb what it does produce and there is nowhere for it to go. That's why you have the pressure headaches and it's the fluid that's compressing your optic nerves."

Blair nodded his head in understanding, but he still needed a why...why now?

"I guess I just don't understand why this is happening now. I mean I think this is a pretty recent development."

"It may very well be. Some people can have this for years and just didn't know what was wrong with them; it's misdiagnosed a lot. In more severe cases, people can be confused, disorientated. They have a problem coping with everyday life due to the headaches or loss of vision, it can be a nasty illness, but you're lucky, your case is mild and may be gone altogether."

Blair still wasn't satisfied, it bugged him and he wondered if he really had this or if maybe it was something else. Maybe the CT had missed something. Maybe he should request an MRI. Jim must have seen the feeling flash across his face, because he beat him to the question.

"Are you sure this is what he has?" he asked. "Should he get a second opinion, maybe have an MRI done?"

Dr. Moyer shifted his attention to Jim. "I'm ninety nine percent sure, but Mr. Sandburg can always seek out a second opinion. An MRI might become an option in the future if we don't see an improvement in his optic nerves. Again, all we can do is treat the symptoms."

"And what would that include?" Blair asked, drawing the focus back to him.

"Well, if we find that nothing has changed with your optic nerves, and that your vision is being compromised, we may put you on medications that will decrease the production of spinal fluid. If you were overweight, we would suggest weight loss, but that's not a problem for you, although I will stress the importance of a balanced diet. You're going to get a list of things to avoid, certain kinds of foods and drinks and excessive amounts of vitamin A has been connected to this illness, so you have to watch the type of vitamins you take. If the medications don't work, we'll try lumbar punctures to drain off the fluid and as a last resort, we can put a shunt in to continuously drain the fluid, but that's usually only necessary in severe cases and I really don't think you're even going to need any medications."

Blair took all the information in, wide-eyed. He should have been happy with the abridged version he got back in the eye doctor's office.

"When can I go home?" he asked after a few silence filled seconds.

The doctor smiled then, taking the chart from Shelly, who had remained silent throughout the whole exchange. "I'm signing your release now. The nurse will come in and take the IV out and you can get dressed, but take it slow and easy. You should go home and lay down. Sleep if you can. Sometimes you can get a headache after an LP and it can last for a few days if you do, so if you even feel like one is coming on, I want you to take the Motrin I'm going to be giving you and lay down, you'll find your head will feel better if you're laying flat. Drink plenty of fluids. Do you have any questions?"

Blair shook his head, just really wanting to get out of there, already picking at the corners of the tape holding the IV in place.

The doctor left, leaving them alone and Blair decided he would try to get up to get dressed. He pushed himself up slowly, smiling when Jim jumped up to help him. "Thanks, man."

He slipped off the side of the gurney and looked around for his clothes. Jim spotted the bag up under the gurney and reached under to get them. "Here ya go, Chief."

Blair took the offered bag and glanced around for a place to change, the nearest bathroom was down the hall, but Blair wasn't sure he wanted to try walking that far. He felt okay standing there, but when he turned his head, he was a little bit dizzy. Nothing major.

"How about I pull the curtain and give you some privacy?" Jim asked.

Sounded like a plan to him. "Okay." And that way, he could lean against the bed.

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

The old blue and white pick up truck thudded over another pothole and Jim glanced over at Blair.

His partner was slouched sideways against the door; his body snug in the groove and his eyes were still closed. He gave no indication that he felt the bumpy pavement, but the shrill of Jim's cell phone snapped his eyes open.

Cursing, Jim pulled the phone from his coat pocket and barked his name into the mouthpiece. The conversation was short, but his instructions were clear.

Sighing, he glanced back at Blair, who was nodding back to sleep. "Sandburg?"

Blair pushed his hair away from his face, shifting in the seat to sit up a little straighter. "Yeah?"

"You think you'll be all right if I drop you off at the loft?" Jim made a quick left, flipping his visor down and turning on his police lights.

Blair seemed to perk up, wincing a little as he turned to look at Jim. "What's going on? Who was on the phone?"

Jim made another left and shouted as a slow moving Metro pulled in front of him. "Come on...get out of the way."

"Jim?"

"Simon," Jim said, softer, realizing he shouldn't be hollering around Blair, that he might have a headache. "They found Hotchkiss' daughter...she's dead."

"I'll go with you." Jim looked at Blair, a protest on his lips, but it didn't come out.

Blair looked tired, haggard really. Jim felt the need to keep his friend close. "Okay, but you're staying in the truck."

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

Twenty minutes had passed and Jim was still inside the old warehouse. Blair actually stayed in the truck. He felt stiff and just a little dizzy, it would be just his luck to fall on his ass and not be able to get up.

Jim had told him the forensics team had already been through the place and that Simon just wanted him to have a look...just in case. Simon met them at the truck and promised that he would keep an eye on the Sentinel.

A few men came out the door carrying utility boxes and packing up the forensics van. Blair guessed that Jim shouldn't be too much longer. He gingerly reached down to his backpack and pulled out his cell phone.

"Hello? I would like to order an extra large, deep dish." Blair rummaged in his pack, still holding the phone to his ear, searching for his wallet. "Yeah, with everything on top. I'll pick it up in about half an hour. The name's Blair."

After dropping the phone back into his backpack, he checked to make sure he didn't need to stop at the bank machine. It was only a few buildings down from Toni's, but he didn't think he had the energy. He just hoped that Jim was going to be able to join him for dinner.

Five minutes turned to ten and ten to fifteen. Soon the sky turned purple and then shades of dark gray. Blair shifted again, thinking that he might feel better if he could lean a little to his side. It helped the achy feeling in his back to stretch and before he knew it, he was laying on his left side across the seat, his head pillowed in his folded arm, fast asleep.

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

Jim and Simon walked from the building together. It was just another piece to the puzzle that didn't seem to fit. A crew of city workers had found Jennifer Hotchkiss' body. She had been dead for at least three days, which meant that she was killed around the same time that she went missing.

They would have to wait for the coroner's report, but as far as they could tell, she was strangled to death.

A crime of passion, Jim thought, rubbing his hands over his bristly hair.

Simon stopped as they crossed the parking lot. "Jim?"

"Yes, sir?" Jim looked over his shoulder at the Captain.

"I thought you left Sandburg in the truck." Simon nodded toward the truck and the empty passenger seat.

"I did," Jim said, turning to look for himself. He listened for a second and heard the steady breathing of his sleeping friend. "He's in there." Jim continued walking forward. "He's sleeping."

When they got to the driver's side, he opened the door to find Blair lying across half the seat, his back was against the back of the seat and his rear end was snug against the door, leaving plenty of room for Jim.

"He must be really wiped out, Jim. Go home and get some rest," Simon offered. "We can't do anything more tonight, anyway."

"Thanks, Simon." Jim climbed in, his thigh just rested against the top of Blair's curly head. "He had a rough day. I'll come in early and go over Hotchkiss's files again. We have got to be missing something."

Halfway home, Blair's rumbling stomach woke him, sort of. "Toni's?"

Jim made a u-turn on Chelsea and headed north. "You want pizza, Chief?"

Blair nodded and handed Jim a crumpled up twenty he had in his hand. "I called it in." At least that's what Jim thought he said.

Smiling, he pulled in front of their favorite pizza place and turned off the ignition. "I'll be right back."

Blair started to push himself up, but Jim laid a hand on his head. "Just stay put. The pizza will be fine on the floor. You rest."

Blair nodded and closed his eyes again and Jim quietly closed his door. The pizza was just coming out of the oven and it had the works! Paying the bill, he grabbed a handful of napkins and headed back to the truck, slipping the pizza box onto the floor by Blair's feet.

The rest of the trip home was calm, just the steady sounds of Blair's breathing and the tires on the pavement. It was a sense of security and Jim was glad for it. He realized today that his security, that Blair could be facing a serious illness, but he would find a way for him to deal with it, for them to deal with it.

The loft was dark, but Jim managed to help Blair over to the couch and juggle the pizza box as well. He flipped the lamp on and dropped the box to the coffee table. "You want a soda or something?"

Blair toed off his shoes and struggled for a while with his jacket, as Jim pulled plates from the cabinet and a beer for himself from the fridge.

"Yeah. Do we have any root beer left?" And then, "No...I forgot I'm supposed to avoid caffeine. Do we have any Sprite?" He was finally settled on the couch, with the remote in hand when Jim returned with his plate and drink.

"Here you go, eat up."

Blair held out his hand, accepting the glass and plate. "Thanks, man."

They sat together on the couch, watching TV until Blair finally put his plate aside.

"Something about this whole case bothers me," he said, looking at Jim expectantly.

Jim finished off his beer and gathered their plates. "Only one thing?" he smirked, dumping the trash and rinsing the plates.

Blair craned his neck to see into the kitchen. "I don't like the whole thing, man. But something is going on here and we aren't being given all the details...I mean, tell me how you landed this case to begin with?"

Jim wiped his hands on the dishtowel and flipped off the kitchen light. He checked the front door locks and then sank onto the other end of the couch. "Simon got a call from the brass. Hotchkiss is an old pal of the Mayor's...it's a personal favor. We got the call today that the daughter was missing. I went over to Rainier this morning and talked to her roommates. But you're right. We're not getting the whole story, here. I'm going to see if I can dig a little deeper in the morning."

Jim stood and offered Blair a hand. "How about you get some rest and maybe if you feel up to it, you can see if you can find out anything about Jennifer in the morning."

Jim pulled his friend up and watched as he shuffled to his room. "Night, Jim."

"Goodnight, Buddy."

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

Blair rose slowly, tossing the tangled blankets to the floor. He had slept pretty soundly, but had woken up a few times with a start, feeling like he was falling.

He gingerly touched the back of his head, twisting from side to side, smiling. It was hard to explain what he was feeling. It was as if his head felt...lighter.

Rummaging through his dresser, he pulled out a fresh pair of jeans and his favorite blue shirt. The sun was already pouring in his window and he knew that Jim must have let him sleep in. He didn't have any classes today, only office hours this afternoon.

A quick glance at the clock confirmed it. It was already 12:30. He would have to hustle to get to the University on time.

The phone rang just as he turned off the shower. Grabbing a towel, he made a dash, slipping on the throw rug in the hall and nearly slid all the way to the phone.

"Hello"

"You okay, Sandburg?"

"Yeah, Jim. Just getting out of the shower." Blair shifted the phone to his other ear, drying off as he padded back to the bathroom. "What's up, man?"

"Just wanted to make sure you got up on time, sorry, I got a little tied up. I meant to call a little earlier."

"S'kay. I woke up on my own." Blair managed to juggle the phone and pull his boxers and jeans on. The shirt was a little harder, but he managed. "Did you find anything on Hotchkiss?"

"No. It's weird, the lack of information. I'm going to try one more thing, though."

"Okay." The towel landed neatly in the hamper and Blair began to lather his face. "I have a few friends that work in the History Department. I'll see if they had Jennifer in any of their classes."

"Okay, I'll see you later."

"Later." Blair sat the phone on the counter and finished his morning routine. He poured the last of the coffee, decaf, filling his thermos and rinsed the pot, making sure to turn the burner off and rooted in the fridge for a left over muffin. Wrapping his breakfast in a napkin, he grabbed his backpack, coat and keys and headed out the door with ten minutes to spare.

The traffic was light for this time of the day and Blair made it to his office just as his first student was coming up the hall. "Have a seat, Jason," he smiled.

The tall, willowy boy sank into the wooden chair beside Blair's desk. His red hair was neatly combed and parted to the left and he crossed his legs, resting his ankle over his knee.

"Coffee?" Blair offered, scanning the area for a mug.

"No thanks, sir." The voice was small, quiet and Blair smiled. Jason was a freshman, young, and painfully shy. He was sixteen and unlike Blair, came from a pretty wealthy family. He had only been at Rainier for a semester and was doing great in all his courses, all except Anthropology.

Blair poured the steaming brew into the lid. "Hope you don't mind."

"No, sir." The boy smiled a little, digging into his briefcase for a folder. "Here is my assignment. I was hoping you might look it over? See if it's what you were looking for. I want to make sure it's right before I turn it in."

Blair took the paper and began to read. It was much better than his previous work. "This looks good, Jason." He handed the folder back and waited as Jason put his work away.

"Thanks, Mr. Sandburg. I've been seeing a tutor and she's been helping a lot." The younger man stood and picked up his briefcase. "I'll see you later, I'm late for my History class."

"Later, man." Blair watched as Jason pulled the door closed behind him. He waited a beat or two and then unwrapped his muffin, hoping that he didn't have too many students stop by.

A few hours and several students later, his cell phone rang. "Sandburg."

"Hey, Chief."

"Jim. What's up?" Blair glanced at the clock; he still had two hours before he was supposed to meet Jim

"A little road trip...if you can get away."

"I guess." He started to pack up, shutting down his computer and stacking the papers he was working on. "Where are we going?"

"I'll tell you when I come to get you. Did you have a chance to talk to anyone?"

"Umm, nope." Thinking for a second, he tried to remember if Laura would be in class now. "I can stop by while I'm waiting for you, though."

"Okay, see you in twenty."

Blair locked his file cabinets and stuffed his papers into his pack. He straightened his desk as much as possible and then closed and locked his office door, heading for the History Department.

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

Jim scanned the area in front of Hargrove Hall for his partner. Blair was sitting on a bench, his head in his hands.

A bit concerned, Jim parked the truck and hurried over to his friend. "Hey, Chief? You okay?"

Blair jumped a little, but recovered quickly, grabbing up his backpack and started toward the truck. "Yeah, I'm fine."

Jim followed along behind, sliding in behind the steering wheel and waiting for Blair to buckle his seat belt. "Did you find out anything useful?"

"Laura said that Jennifer was a pretty good student," Blair said. "She got good grades, stayed out of trouble...didn't talk too much."

Jim pulled onto the highway, heading north. "That pretty much jives with what the room mates said about her."

"She seemed like a good kid, Jim. Laura said she was part of a study group that one of my students attends. I just talked to him today." Blair looked out the window, a far away look in his eye. "He's about her age...I wonder if he knew her..."

"Chief?"

Blair snapped his attention back to Jim. "Jason, my student. He was having trouble in my Anthro 101 class and I suggested a tutor. He joined a group and Laura was telling me that Jennifer was a part of the same group. Maybe I'll talk to him. So where are we going, man?"

"I ran Hotchkiss' prints again and nothing came back..."

Blair raised his eyebrows, waiting patiently, "and..."

"And why is that? I mean the guy is a corporate bigwig. I checked with the company, they fingerprint all employees, it's standard practice..."

Now Blair looked more intrigued. "So..."

"So the FBI database should have a standard file, but it doesn't, so I dug a little deeper and called in a few favors." A satisfied smile spread across Jim's face.

"Do I even want to know?" Blair asked.

Jim suddenly grew serious. "I could tell you, Sandburg," And then swatted his partner on the head, "but then I'd have to kill ya."

Blair shot him an indignant look and rubbed his head. "So what does this source of yours find out for you?"

"That Hotchkiss' records have been wiped. That he has a sealed juvenile file and that we can't get access." Jim reached across and pulled open the glove box, pulling out the Washington State map.

"And how is that helpful?" Blair asked, snatching the map away before Jim could open it.

"We might not be able to open the file without a court order, but we can question the people who knew him as a juvenile... now give me the map. I want to get there today."

But Blair didn't hand over the map. "You are so not funny. Now tell me where we are going so I can navigate.

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

Part Four

The trip had turned out to take longer than expected. They had spent the better part of the afternoon looking up and questioning people who had known Hotchkiss as a teen. The lack of information was disappointing.

The public records were a dead end, it seemed as if no information was available prior to Hotchkiss' junior year at Sunny Brook High. There was only one teacher still on staff that taught during that time and he didn't have much to say. He recalled the young man as being new to the school, but what little info they had on Hotchkiss suggested that he had attended Sunny Brook since junior high school.

It just didn't make sense and was turning into a huge waste of time.

Now in the truck, on the way back to Cascade, Blair pondered the possibilities.

"I can almost see the smoke coming out of your ears." Jim's smooth voice actually caused Blair to jump.

He adjusted himself in the seat for the umpteenth time, glaring at his roommate. "Not funny, man. Beside, I'm just trying to make sense of your case here."

"And I appreciate it, Chief. But I don't think even that brilliant mind of yours is going to figure this one out."

Blair smiled a little at the offhanded compliment. Hey, he would take them where he could get them. "It just doesn't make sense, I mean I can see having a record sealed, but this is insane. There should be some kind of record that would leave a trail. It's almost as if he didn't exist before his junior year. And I know you've seen his birth certificate and his school records. But, but..."

"Hey, breathe, okay? I can sympathize with ya here, but I can't explain it anymore than you can." Blair slid closer to the door as Jim made a quick u-turn.

The truck surged forward and then another quick left and they were parked in the parking lot of an all night diner. "Moody Tuesday's, Jim?"

"Hey, don't knock it until you try it. I think I saw a sign saying they serve boiled tongue."

"Hardy, har, har, Jim. You shouldn't knock that until you've tried it." Blair opened his door and slid out of the cab. Jim was already holding the door to the diner by the time he made it around to the front of the truck "Hungry, man?"

"You could say that," Jim deadpanned, his face unreadable.

"Hungry, Jim." Blair laughed, ducking under Jim's arm and sliding up onto the stool at the counter.

"You're a real comedian, Seinfield." Jim plopped next to him and ordered a coffee, black.

"And you, sir?" Blair looked wearily up at the waitress, in her tight fitting, low cut, pepto colored, ultra short uniform. She looked at him expectantly, her blond hair tucked behind a delicate ear, blue eyes sparkling in amusement.

"Sir?"

"Oh, oh right. I'll take a glass of orange juice. Uhh, thanks." He watched her all the way to the other end of the counter where she was chatting up a biker type.

"Smooth move, Romeo," Jim smirked, sipping his hot drink.

Blair ignored him, smiling as the waitress returned with his glass. "Can I get you guys something to eat?"

Jim ordered a cheeseburger with gravy fries. Blair was having more trouble deciding. He wasn't really hungry. He thought about a Greek Salad, but thought that something hot would be more satisfying. Finally he settled for poached eggs with a side of toast.

Sometime later, Blair was still pushing around his fork, making a mess with the yolk. Jim had finished stuffing soggy, slightly gooey fries into his mouth and turned to him, clearly questioning him with those sensitive eyes.

"I'm just not too hungry and I've got to tell ya, I'm fading fast here."

"I'm sorry, Chief. You should be home taking it easy, not out chasing down red herrings with me." After slapping down some bills from his wallet, Jim stood. "Let's get outta here."

Blair dutiful followed, smiling one more time at their waitress. Man, something must be wrong with him. He didn't even try to get her number.

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

Jim watched Blair out of the corner of his eye. He was a bit worried at dinner, but now his spidey senses, or whatever the heck it was, seemed to be on full alert. Blair was sort of slumped in his seat, head tilted against the window.

He seemed to be soundly asleep and totally still, which just wasn't natural for Blair. Even when Jim had to slam on his brakes because of the idiot that cut him off, Blair only briefly stirred and then settled right back to sleep.

Finally he pulled into his usual parking spot outside their loft. Jim turned off the ignition and studied his friend. Blair's breathing was even and steady, his heart beat strong, but there was just something he couldn't put his finger on. Something sounded off, felt off.

"Blair?" Jim tapped him on the shoulder, catching the wince when Blair opened his eyes and shifted forward.

"Hey, man. Are we home?" Jim noted the slightly glazed eyes, as if Blair was unable to focus. Blair rubbed his neck and then reached for the door handle.

Jim scurried out and around the truck, ready for whatever might happen. Blair stood on wobbly knees for a brief moment and then moved forward toward the building, hardly noticing Jim.

Together they waited for the elevator. The ride up to the third floor was quiet. Jim waited for Blair to go ahead and then hurried around him to unlock the door.

Once inside, Blair dropped his backpack, kicking it slightly under the table by the door. Jim took his keys and tossed them into the basket. "You want a drink or something?"

Blair nodded his head and then winced again. "I think I need to lay down," and then he was gone, into his room, leaving the doors open.

Jim could hear his friend undressing, the sounds reaching his sensitive ears. It seemed that Blair managed to kick off his shoes and discard his jeans before plopping onto his bed. A tiny groan came as Jim was pouring some apple juice into Blair's glass.

He wasn't sure how to help, he didn't want to ...intrude. He waited until Blair had gotten off his shirt before approaching the door. Blair was laid out on his back, arms resting over his forehead.

"I got your drink, buddy." Blair looked at him with hooded eyes. "Can I get you anything else?" He asked, setting the drink on a coaster on Blair's nightstand.

"No, man." Blair scooted up a little and reached for his drink. "I'm just going to hit the sack."

Jim watched as he took a few sips. "Well, then...I'll see you in the morning." He closed the doors as he exited, looking around the quiet living room.

"Might as well turn in early," he muttered, checking the locks and then climbing he steps. Before he slipped off to dreamland, he checked on Blair one more time, tuning into his breathing and gentle heartbeat. Everything sounded normal, but Jim just knew something still wasn't right.

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

The morning came much too fast for Blair. He had forgotten to pull the shade on the emergency door and the sun was spilling in the window, covering his bed. He squinted against the bright light, moving his head cautiously. He had slept fitfully, tossing and turning all night, but just too tired to actually get up and do something productive.

He sat up carefully, head pounding as soon as he was upright.

Man, I so do not need this today.

He was going to be spending his morning with Jim at the station and then he had to go to the university and get some paperwork done...plus he wanted to talk to Jason, see if he knew...what was her name?

"Oh man, I'm losing it," he muttered, using his dresser to pull himself up.

The trip to the bathroom was slow. He held onto the doorframe until a dizzy spell passed. Once in the door, he went right for the toilet, sitting heavily on the closed lid. His doctor had said that he might experience a mild headache after having the spinal tap, but he didn't remember anything about being dizzy.

Well, hopefully it would pass.

He managed to get upright, brushing his teeth and hair, doing a decent job of shaving, only nicking himself once. By the time he had finished up, he could hear Jim puttering around in the kitchen.

Once he had the door open and started toward the kitchen, he noticed Jim had already set the table. He sure wasn't going to complain, and instead just plopped into his usual chair, grateful for the steaming cup of coffee that was waiting for him.

After his first sip, he heard Jim snickering.

"What's so funny, man?"

Jim scooped some eggs onto his plate. "Oh, just that face you made. Don't like my coffee, Sandburg?"

Blair shoved in a forkful of breakfast, then answered. "Nah, that's not it. I just have to get used to the taste of decaf."

Jim settled in to eat. "So, what are your plans for today?"

"I'm going to meet you at the station before school and I want to talk to Jason about Hotchkiss' daughter." A few more sips of coffee and then, "Hey, Jim. What's her name again?"

Jim dropped his fork, a weird look on his face. "Jennifer," he finally replied.

"Oh, Jennifer, right." Blair scraped his plate and dumped his coffee. "Thanks man."

Jim just shrugged, cleaning off his own plate.

"Well, then. I'm gonna go. I'll see ya there." Blair grabbed up his backpack and keys, hand already unlocking the deadbolt.

"I can give you a ride," Jim offered.

"Nah, but thanks." And then he was in the hall, hurrying to the elevator. He just didn't want to admit that he was going to run by the drug store. He figured that he could pick something up for the steady pounding in his head.

The traffic was light for that time of morning and it only took a few minutes to run in and pick out something for his headache. If he hurried, he should be able to get to the station about the same time as Jim.

A few blocks away from the station, a loud honk sounded and then there was a sudden flash. "Oh, man." Blair stomped on his brake, slowing down, searching his rearview mirror for the mad honker. A car swiftly sped up, the driver flipping him off, speaking angrily as he passed, although Blair couldn't hear him, as he had his windows up.

"I can not believe this. Jim is going to kill me."

Way to pay attention, Sandburg. Damn red light cameras. "Just great, like I need a ticket."

The parking garage was mostly empty, so Blair parked close to the elevator. The ride up was uneventful, going all the way to the seventh floor uninterrupted.

The ding on arrival startled him. He slipped past the officer entering and went right to the break room. Someone had already started the coffee pot, the smell tempting. He searched through the cabinet for his mug, finally finding it in the drainer.

After a quick rinse, he filled up his mug with water from the cooler that stood in the corner of the room. It took a few minutes to open the top of his pill bottle, irritating his already frazzled nerves.

Jim was already at his desk when he entered the bull pen. He looked up at Blair, a small frown on his face.

"You okay, Chief?" Jim was picking at a donut, waiting for his computer to power up.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm good." Blair settled in, pulling some folders from his knapsack.

They worked in silence for most of the morning. Jim was back and forth and Blair just didn't feel like talking. He did manage to work on the computer for a while, but toward the end, he was having problems looking at the screen, the words seemed to waver, turning his stomach.

"Can you type this up?" Jim handed over a preliminary report for the Walker case. At least that one was pretty open and shut.

Blair scooted his chair over to the typing table, skillfully inserting the paper and started to type, but this too seemed to be more than he could handle. He kept messing up the spelling, inverting letters. It was completely frustrating. He was almost relieved when he heard Simon bellowing for Jim from his office.

"Be right back," Jim called over his shoulder.

Blair decided it was time for a break. He walked stiffly to the break room and headed for the snack machine. There wasn't much to choose from, so he settled for a bag of cheese popcorn. Pulling a chair from the table, he sat and opened his snack.

He didn't understand why he was having so many problems this morning, but just chalked it up to the steady pounding in his head. At least it was manageable; the drugs were finally taking the edge off.

Once his popcorn was gone, he sucked on his slightly orange fingers, thinking about what to work on next. He still had a few hours before he had to go to his other job.

Man, just thinking made his head hurt. This really sucked.

He leaned over the table, resting his head on his forearms. It just had to get better. The sounds of people working around him came into sharp focus; he covered his ears with his hands.

Before he knew it, Jim was crouched beside him, wiping tender fingers over Blair's face.

"What's going on, buddy? Why are you crying?"

God, was he crying?

"I'm good," Blair said, but as he raised his head, an excruciating pain enveloped him. Waves radiated from the top of his head, down his spine and into his legs.

He dropped his head back onto his arms, feeling the tears streaming down his face, but with his head down, the pain seemed to ease.

People moved around him, their words jumbled and frenzied. The next thing he knew, someone was patting his shoulder, reaching under his arm to get him to move. As he was pushed onto something soft, he was sure he was going to be sick.

He squinted open his eyes, the overhead lights burning. A stranger huddled over him, encouraging him to roll onto his side. Someone placed a basin haphazardly by his head and then he was rolling.

Sickness churned though him, and as the elevator doors opened, his popcorn came back up.

"It's okay, buddy." Jim was close by, holding his wrist.

The medic put an oxygen mask over his face, blocking some of his view. Someone was squeezing his arm, a sudden pinch making him flinch. The doors opened and he could smell the gasoline from the pumps in the garage. Gagging, he tried not to be sick again.

The gurney jerked to a sudden stop and then dropped down, the falling feeling from the night before returned, making his head spin, and his vision blur.

"We'll be there soon," Jim said as he was wheeled into the waiting ambulance. "I'll meet you there."

And then the doors banged closed, leaving his ears ringing.

Gonna be sick.

The sirens started as the truck pulled out, lurching to the left as it exited the garage.

So gonna be sick.

The lights, the sounds, the smells, it was all too much. It was too much input, his brain refusing the stimuli, bile quickly rising in his throat.

And then he was sick again, and again, dry heaving until they rolled him into the emergency room and someone swabbed his hip, the injection stinging, but finally bringing blessed relief.

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

Part five

The chair was hard, making him sit up too straight. Jim squirmed; his rear a little numb. It had been two hours since the ambulance had brought in his friend. Even though Jim had inquired a few times as to Blair's status, the man at the counter could only tell him that the doctor was still with him.

Highly unlikely.

Especially since Jim had been listening in from time to time. When he first arrived, he could hear Blair being sick. In fact he could hear Blair being sick most of the way to the hospital. As soon as he was wheeled into the cubicle, someone gave him something. Blair stopped moaning and fell asleep.

Since then people had come and gone, inserting tubes, checking pulse and blood pressure, shining lights into oversensitive eyes, and asking his friend questions that he didn't answer.

Well, he did groan when the intern was pressing around the site of the lumbar puncture.

Jim had given the paramedic a rundown of what was going on with his roommate and he did hear them page Dr. Moyer about thirty minutes ago, so...

So I'm giving them ten more minutes.

Jim leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, face buried in his hands.

The waiting room was crowded, row after row of hurting and miserable people, some dozing, some complaining, some cursing, and some crying.

And the noise...people talked, the TV played with the volume on low, the nurses moved to and fro, calling people's names, talking to waiting relatives, the constant buzz was giving him a headache.

A small girl reached up and touched his pants, pulling on his leg again. She was sitting on the floor near his feet, her mother telling her to keep her hands to herself and to play quietly. She had arrived with the lady in the next chair about an hour ago, clutching a blanket and a little book close to her chest. Soon after they were seated, Jim heard the woman crying, but she tried to hide it from the toddler, holding her magazine up close, pretending to read.

A small tug caught his attention and he looked down at her toothy grin.

"Samantha, leave that man alone. I'm so sorry."

"It's not a problem." Jim tried not to sound annoyed, almost smiling when he looked at the toddler, hiding behind her Winnie the Pooh book. She perched it on her lap, upside down, pointing to pictures, babbling to herself, sneaking glances at him, giving shy smiles.

"Pooh has boo-boo." She pointed to a page, looking back to her mother. "Dada has owie?"

"Yes, sweetie." Her mother scooped her up, cradling her close. "Daddy has a big boo- boo." They moved away, Samantha's little hand waving.

"Bye, bye." She tucked her tiny head against her mother's neck.

Sighing, Jim stood, walking briskly to the authorized personnel door. He glanced around, but no one was paying attention, so he pushed it open. The other side was even more hectic than the waiting room. People in scrubs walked the halls, trotting from room to room, talking, writing notes in charts, some even laughing and listening to a radio that sat on the counter.

Each cubicle was full, most curtains drawn to give the patient some measure of privacy. Looking from right to left, he found Sandburg hand written on a cubicle card near the hall. Listening in, he could tell that Blair was still asleep, so he slipped into the room.

His friend was curled on his side, back to the wall, legs tangled in the thin sheet. His head rested half off the pillow, hair fanned out like a halo.

"How ya feeling, buddy?" It was just a whisper.

He hooked a chair with his foot, scooting it closer and sitting.

Jim rested his hand on Blair's arm, feeling fine tremors under the soft skin.

He found an old magazine on one of the counters and flipped it open one handed, settling in for the long haul.

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

Noise, loud, and then fading. He lifted his hands to his ears, eyes closed tight against the overhead fluorescent lights.

"Blair?" The voice was familiar, but he didn't want to look, didn't want to feel pain that he was sure would come if he opened his eyes. "It's just best if he sleeps for now. I've ordered some tests, but he should rest while we're waiting."

"Okay." That was Jim. "I'm waiting with him."

More was said, but he tuned it out, only hearing the shriek of the sliding curtain as the doctor exited.

"It's going to be okay." Jim's breath was hitting his cheek; so he tried to open his eyes. This time it was better, the bright lights dimmed.

"What's wrong with me?" he asked, cuddling the blanket closer to his chin. "Why does my head still hurt?"

His friend sat, looking at him between the safety bars. "Dr. Moyer thinks it's still the same thing, but they are going to do some tests, just to make sure."

Blair closed his eyes, moving his head a little on the pillow. The pounding from earlier was mostly gone, but his head still hurt, achy really.

He was startled awake sometime later. His bed was moving, someone pulling the gurney down the hall.

"Hey." his voice was just above a whisper. The guy didn't hear him. At the end of the hall, he was pushed against the wall and the guy pulled out a security card, running it through the scanner. The door unlocked and he entered, leaving Blair alone in the hall.

Time passed, Blair dozed, and then someone touched his arm. "Mr. Sandburg?"

The same guy from before was calling his name, patting his arm. The door was open and a woman in a lab coat smiled, moving to help pull the gurney through the entryway.

"I'll be back to get you when Joan is done." And then he was gone.

The woman introduced herself, asking if he thought he could get up.

It took a few minutes, but he finally made in to the chair she wanted him to sit in.

"I know you probably still have a headache, but Dr. Moyer wants to get this done today."

He was thinking in slow motion, his mind apparently stuck in a mud hole. Had someone already told him what was going on? The room was almost completely dark except for a large monitor flickering to the left and the chair he was occupying was low to the ground, in a reclining position.

"Now, rest your head back and I'm going to put some drops in." She sat on a stool beside his chair, rolling back a little to the counter to grab a tiny droplet bottle and some tissues. "It will feel a little cold."

The giant pearl of liquid clung to the end of the dropper; it seemed an eternity before it fell. Despite being ready, he jumped, his eye closing even as she held it open between her fingers. Swiftly the next eye was coated with the cool fluid and she was dabbing at his cheeks, mopping up the extra solution.

"We have to give that a few minutes to work." She tossed the tissue in the trash, handing him another as she opened and rummaged through some drawers. "It will make your vision a little blurry, close your eyes if that bothers you."

So he rested with his eyes closed, wondering what the hell was going on.

A low-pitched whine signaled as her fingers moved over the keyboard. Latex moving over skin and a spurting sound had him opening his eyes to a blurry room.

She held up something, "This is the conductor. It works just like the wand on a full-scale sonogram machine. We put the gel in the curved eyepiece. It doesn't hurt. You're only going to feel a little pressure."

Before he could even question her, she pried open his right eye and sat the thing on his eyeball. Panic surged, he stiffened, ready to pull away.

"Close your eye and try to be totally still."

Oh God, she was moving that thing around on his eye.

"You okay?" She was sitting close, her elbow almost resting on his chest, hand posed on the wand.

It didn't hurt really it was just weird. "Yeah...um what are you doing?"

She stilled suddenly. "Didn't Dr. Moyer tell you what was going to happen?"

"Well, probably. I've been a little out of it."

Man, this was weird. It was really hard to have a conversation with someone who was messing with your eyeball. A shiver raced up his spine, just thinking about it made him cringe.

"You're in the eye lab. This is a sonogram machine. I'm looking at your optic nerves and the space behind." She started to move the wand slowly, circling his eyeball.

Man, just don't think about it.

"I think you're going to have a MRI when you're done here, but don't worry. I looked at your CT scan and agree with Dr. Moyer. Your symptoms are atypical for Pseudotumor. He just wants to cover all his bases."

He was only half listening, too freaked out about the eye thing.

She asked him to move his eye, left, right, up and down. He could hear her pull another tissue from the box. "Okay, open your eye."

The thingy was taken away and she pressed the tissue over his eye, rubbing from corner to corner. "One down and one to go."

Yuck. Yuck. Yuck

Once she was finished, she pushed a call button on her phone. "Mr. Sandburg is ready."

The orderly that escorted him to the lab was wheeling him through the halls again. The trip was fairly short, just up in the elevator and right to the Imaging Department.

Another tech helped him onto the table and into the tube. This was familiar to him. She offered him earplugs and a sleeping mask. He took both, not really having a problem with confined places, but last time he was able to relax better with the mask.

The table was half way in when he felt her hand on his arm. "I'm just injecting some contrast dye into your IV port."

Once fully sheathed, the machine came to life, the rattling and whooshing sounds buffered by the earplugs.

"This part is the loudest, Mr. Sandburg." Her voice was piped in over an intercom. "It sort of sounds like a tommy gun. If you have any problem, just talk. I can see and hear you."

He tried to relax, talking to himself, concentrating on his voice instead of the racket swirling around his head, going over the facts from the Hotchkiss case...trying to think of something they just weren't seeing.

It just doesn't make sense. It's almost like the guy never...

Suddenly the noise died down, he was moved out and onto the waiting gurney. His favorite orderly helped him to lie down. They moved through the halls with purpose, the elevator open and waiting for them. Before long he was wheeled back into the ER.

Jim jumped up as he was parked back into his cubicle. "You doing okay, Chief?"

Blair rolled onto his side, resting his head on his hand.

"I'm okay... am I on drugs?"

The look on Jim's face was priceless. "Well, I know they gave you something for nausea and for your head. Why?"

Sighing, he rolled to his back, fighting with the gown that twisted under him.

"Never mind." The ceiling looked the same; all hospital ceilings looked the same. You would think that since the patients spend a lot of time looking at them, they would try to make them a little different, more interesting.

Jim sat beside him, thumbing through a magazine. "The doctor should be back soon and then hopefully we can get you home. How's the head?"

Rolling said head from side to side, Blair frowned. "It's better. I mean it's still, I don't know, weird. But better."

"Weird huh?"

He didn't even bother looking at Jim. He was happily spacing when he remembered something.

"Hey Jim?"

"Hmm."

"You know how Hotchkiss seems to have not existed until he was a teenager?"

"Mmm Hmm." Blair could hear the magazine closing.

"Well, what if he didn't?" Blair closed his eyes, the ceiling just not holding his interest.

"Come again?" His friend stood, the magazine placed on the chair.

"Well, what if he didn't? What if Hotchkiss was someone else?" Blair restlessly turned again, this time his blanket was giving him trouble. Jim helped untwist the sheet, patting Blair's shoulder once he settled. "I mean he could have had a different name...a different identity."

Jim seemed to think about it and then smiled. "You might just be on to something. I'll be back." And then he was gone, leaving Blair to stare at the ceiling by himself.

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

Part 6

Jim hurried to the outside corridor, weaving through the crowd; people in wheelchairs were parked in the pavilion, waiting for their rides.

Once he hit the cobbled stone path leading to the gardens, he pulled his cell phone, pressing speed dial number two.

While the phone rang, he moved to a bench. The garden was mostly empty, only a few people lingering near the small fountain.

"Banks."

"Hello, sir." Jim leaned back, watching as an elderly couple shuffled slowly past him, hands intertwined, the woman wearing a robe.

"Jim, something wrong? How's the kid?"

"Umm...he's okay, we're still waiting. But that's not why I'm calling." A woman with a small child sat on the bench next to him, the little girl rested her head on the lady's shoulder. Jim stood, moving up the path a bit.

"What's going on?"

"I, uh...well, Blair thought of something. We've been going on the premise that Hotchkiss was born Hotchkiss. I know the birth certificate looks legit, but what if it's a planted trail? I don't know, Simon. Could be something else, but with the sealed files I'm thinking witness protection."

"Oh lovely."

"Tell me about it." Jim moved back down the trail, the woman still sat on the bench, rocking the little girl. "Can you put in a call to the State Attorney's Office? See if we can shake anything loose. I hope to be out of here within the hour. I'll drop Blair off and come in to see what I can dig up."

"Yeah and Jim...I got some news. Someone found a body in a warehouse off of Lamont Street. Joel and Brown caught the case. It's Michelle Hotchkiss, the oldest daughter."

This just keeps getting better and better.

"What was the cause of death?"

"She was strangled. M.E. puts time of death approximately seventy two hours ago." He could hear Simon rubbing at his forehead. "I got his wife in protective custody, but we can't find the son. Mrs. Hotchkiss told us he was in college in Seattle. We sent word to Seattle P.D. but they can't locate him."

Jim hurried through the garden, approaching the hospital from the east entrance. "I'll meet up with them later, just keep me informed." He snapped the phone shut, showing his ID as he passed through the security check and made for the elevator.

Hopefully Blair would be ready soon.

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

"So, do you have any more questions, Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair rested back against the raised gurney, listening to Dr. Moyer's diagnosis. Jim had just slipped back into the room, sitting down to listen to what the doctor had to say.

"No, I'm not happy about it, man, but it's not like I can do anything to change it." He just really wanted to go home and sleep for a week, seemed like he was going to get his wish.

"Okay, I'll see you back in two weeks. The nurse will bring in your discharge paper and prescription. Don't forget to follow up with your ophthalmologist."

The doctor left, smiling at his roommate as he passed.

Man, this just totally sucks.

"So what's the verdict, Chief?" His friend sat up a little straighter, hands clasped and hanging slightly between his knees.

"I can go, for starters." He was angry, but he didn't mean for his words to come out so clipped. He took a few deep breaths before continuing. "It appears that it's still Pseudotumor, and I probably have a spinal headache. Dr. Moyer said that it could happen after a spinal tap, that if I lay down, it will get better."

Jim stood and moved to the bed, "So why are you so upset, sounds like something temporary."

He closed his eyes; even now a slight pounding thudded in his head. This is just so not fair. What am I going to do?

"It gets better, I don't know, something about the MRI, but Dr. Moyer just put me on a four week leave of absence. Said I have to start taking some drug." He pulled himself up a little more, swinging his legs over the edge, needing to get his clothes and get himself ready to leave.

Jim helped him as he slid off the gurney, holding onto his elbow until he was steadier. He bent to grab his clothes from under the gurney.

Bad move.

Next thing he knew he was sitting on the floor, elbows on knees, hands supporting his head. "Talk about a head rush." A high pitch ringing echoed in his ears.

"You okay?" Jim must have helped with his descent, now kneeling slightly off to his right, hand gripping Blair's shoulder.

"Yeah, just remind me not to do that again."

He was lifted; strong arms wrapped around him, guiding him to the chair that sat in the corner.

"Just give it a minute and then I'll help you to the men's room."

Blair nodded carefully, noting that his friend clung to the bag with his things.

"So why are you taking a vacation?" Jim wanted to know. "What's changed?"

He rubbed at his eyes, just too tired to think about anything. "Well," he began, sitting up a little to see Jim. "These drugs I have to take...pretty strong stuff. I can't drive or anything and he said they will make me really tired."

"Don't worry about it, Chief. You'll get through it." Jim's hand went under his arm, pulling gently until he was upright. Blair made it to the bathroom without any more dizzy spells and managed to get himself dressed with little fuss.

Jim went to pull up the truck and Blair listened to the nurse as she explained his release papers.

"Now, here are your meds instructions. Dr. Moyer wrote them down to show your pharmacist, because they are going to question you about your dosage and also as a reminder to you. Do you have anyone who can help you?"

"Yeah, my roommate will keep me straight."

Blair scooted into the wheelchair that she brought in from the hall, watching as she bent to help him put his feet on the rests and release the brakes. "Ready for a little ride?"

She pushed him swiftly thought the halls and into the elevator. People crowded in around him at every stop down, a mass exodus once they made it to the lobby. Jim was waiting in the corridor, walking beside them as the nurse maneuvered through the other waiting patients.

The brakes were set and she helped him stand, releasing her hold as soon as Jim took hold of his elbow. Together they walked a short distance to the waiting truck.

Blair climbed in, fumbling with his seatbelt, finally getting it to click. Jim was already in the driver's seat, pulling out of the pick up lane as soon as Blair was settled.

"I have to go to the pharmacy, Jim." He leaned his head back, feeling a little better. "I have to start those meds tonight."

His partner turned the truck left, heading toward home. They had a pharmacy on the corner of their block. The trip was pretty quiet, Blair figuring that Jim was either keeping quiet because of Blair's headache or because he was thinking about something.

The truck lightly bumped the curb when Jim parked in front of the drug store. "Let me get this filled for you." His friend plucked the paper from Blair's hand and headed into the store.

Ten minutes later Jim was back, rapping on the passenger window. Blair quickly grabbed the handle and got the window down. "Yeah, man?"

"The pharmacist wants to see your instructions, said he has to make sure they are clear before he can issue the drugs."

Blair dug the paper from his jeans' pocket, handing it to his friend through the opening in the window. Jim disappeared back into the store, returning a few minutes later with a prescription bag.

He handed the bag to Blair before putting the truck into reverse. They made it home just as the sun was setting. Jim walked ahead of him, holding the elevator door and pushing the button for the third floor.

Soon Blair was ensconced on the sofa, a drink in one hand and the precaution paper for the medicine in the other. Jim handed him back his instruction paper.

"I'll probably need help with this, Jim."

"Sure, anything you need." His friend snatched the piece of paper back, reading over the instructions. "Looks pretty straight forward."

"Yeah," Blair agreed. "But it says here that I'll probably experience some memory loss, amongst other things and Dr. Moyer told me that I'll probably sleep a lot for the first few weeks."

Jim went into the kitchen, returning with the calendar they kept on the side of the fridge. Blair watched as he dutifully wrote in each dose for the next month. "So the doctor is easing you into this stuff?"

Blair grabbed the bottle, opened the lid and shook out one tiny pill. "Yeah, he said they are mostly used in patients with seizures, but they just started using it for people like me. I have to take one twenty five milligram tablet every morning for ten days, then one in the morning and evening for ten days, then two in the morning, one in the evening for ten days and then two and two. That will put me up to one hundred milligrams a day. He said we would have to see how it works, I might have to go up more."

"Don't worry, Blair. Once you're adjusted to the meds, things will go back to normal." Jim took the calendar back to the kitchen "You be okay by yourself for a while? I'm going to check in at the station."

"Yeah." Blair stretched out, putting his feet up onto the coffee table. "Can you hand me my laptop. I want to look up a few things."

Jim brought over the notebook, helping to plug the modem into the landline. "Just keep your cell phone on, in case I need to get a hold of you."

While the machine powered up, Blair made a trip to the bathroom, changing into some sweats and a t-shirt. Jim was just pulling on a light jacket when he came back.

"Okay, I won't be long." Blair could hear him locking the deadbolt from the outside.

Hours later he shut down his laptop, eyes drooping. He had only found three websites about his disease and one support group on Yahoo, but now he just wanted to roll into bed, exhaustion washing over him.

He was careful to unplug the machine, placing it on the table behind the couch. One more trip to the bathroom and then he flopped into his bed, almost asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

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

Jim was not having a good night. Joel had just dropped off the preliminary file for the Jennifer Hotchkiss case, but they had nothing new. Brown had interviewed the roommates and her study group, but the info was basically the same as when Jim had questioned them.

One note of interest was that a kid named Jason had reported seeing Hotchkiss later in the evening on the day she disappeared. He stated that he was leaving the study group, that Jennifer was a no show, but he had spotted her on the east side of the campus, not far from the student union. Apparently she was talking with someone parked in a car, but the witness didn't get a good look. Another student had stopped him, asking questions about a class and when he had looked back, the car and Hotchkiss were gone.

Jason Manner.

He would have to ask Sandburg if this was the same kid he had mentioned earlier.

"Jim?"

Henri was standing in the doorway, his coat in hand.

"Captain says you want to have a look at the Michelle Hotchkiss crime scene. I thought we'd head over before I call it a night."

Jim nodded, logging off his computer. "What about the crime scene investigators? Do they have anything of interest?"

They moved to the elevator. "Nothing yet. The lead is supposed to call me in the morning with anything they may have." The doors opened, the elevator empty at the late hour.

"So, how's Hairboy? He gave us all a good scare."

"He's going to be fine." The elevator went all the way to the garage without interruption; they stepped out, moving to their own vehicles, planning on heading to their own homes after checking out the scene.

The crime scene was still taped off; one officer left to make sure it remained undisturbed through the night. The woman nodded as Jim and Henri presented their badges, stepping from the entryway so they could pass.

The warehouse was large, all its windows were high, near the roof. Boxes and debris littered the ground and in the far left corner, a single lamp illuminated the ground where the body had been found.

The chalk outline remained, but all other evidence had been already gathered. Jim moved around the area, while Henri walked back to talk to the cop at the door.

He sniffed the air, but all he could smell was death and decay, the warehouse was one of many in the area, all falling into ruin, all scheduled to be torn down to make room for a new shopping center. It was all a part of the city's plan to beautify the waterfront.

Even though he looked with careful eyes, he didn't see anything that might have been missed, he would just have to wait for the forensic report in the morning.

Walking back to the entryway, he noted a paper coffee cup sitting behind a stack of boxes. It was from a Mini Mart and he wondered if one of the cops or investigators had left it.

"Hey, Brown?"

Henri wrapped up his conversation and moved back to Jim. He pointed to the cup and Brown pulled out a baggie, scooping up the cup and sealing it. "I'll run it by on my way home, Jim. Probably left by one of the crew."

Jim followed the detective out, waiting until he had made it to his car before heading to his own.

Well, that was a waste of time.

He decided to call it a night and head home. Hopefully the morning would bring some much-needed answers.

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

When Blair opened his eyes, sunlight was spilling in the window. He moved his head carefully on the pillow, searching for his alarm clock, nearly rolling off the mattress in an attempt to reach the little black box.

He squinted at the display, not believing the time it was showing. A cabinet closing in the kitchen drew his attention and he shifted, pushing himself into a sitting position. He waited a beat or two before standing. His head felt a little foggy, but his headache was finally gone.

"You awake in there?" Jim called from the other side of his door.

"Yeah. I'll be out in a minute." Blair pulled his blanket up in a half-hearted attempt to make the bed.

"I'll warm you some soup."

Soup...

He dressed, feeling a little like he was in slow motion. Once at the table, he noted the news was on, maybe the clock was right. "Umm, Jim? What time is it?"

His friend glanced at his watch, setting a plate with half a sandwich and a bowl of beef barley in front of Blair. "It's a little after noon."

"Noon?"

Man...I can't believe I slept that long.

"Yeah, sleeping beauty, I was wondering if you were ever going to get up." Jim sat across from him, sipping on a cup of coffee.

His lunch tasted weird. The soup was warm, but had a funny after taste, but he did manage a few bites of his sandwich.

Jim cleaned up the table while he jumped into a shower, but he tried not to get his hair wet. He didn't feel like fooling with it.

When he emerged from the bathroom, Jim was sitting on the sofa, studying a file that was spread across the coffee table.

Blair sat on the other end, waiting for Jim to finish. A photo peeking out from under the sheets of paper drew his attention, so he reached out for it. Jim handed him the item without even looking up from his reading.

A young woman stared back at him.

"Who is this?"

"That's one of the daughters. Her body was found yesterday."

Oh man.

"She had been dead for a few days, probably around the same time that her sister was killed." Jim handed him a few sheets from the pile and he read in silence.

Jason Manner.

"I know this guy," Blair said, looking to his friend.

Jim looked up. "I was going to ask you if that was the same kid. Maybe you can call him, see if he remembers anything else."

Shortly after lunch, Jim headed into the station with a promise to drop by the university to pick up some things for Blair.

Once his friend was gone, Blair watched a little TV, but soon became bored with the whole daytime scene.

"Why do people like these things?" Maybe he would do a research paper on the appeal of daytime soaps.

Sometime during Guiding Light, he nodded off on the sofa, waking with a kink in his neck. He thought about calling Jim to remind him to bring his student listing, but he knew that his friend would be busy, so he decided to flip through the channels again.

One station was showing old programming so he settled in to watch MacGyver.

Man, I haven't seen this in years...I think I like him better as the guy on that space TV show.

Even before MacGyver could disarm the bomb with a bubble gum wrapper, his head tilted to the side, his eyes drooping and a mighty yawn escaped.

His last thoughts before sleep claimed him were about the other guy on that show. Yeah, Jackson...he's cool...buddy shows...he should write a paper on buddy shows...

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

Part Seven

"Jim? Can I see you for a few minutes?" His boss stood in the doorway to his office.

Jim pushed back his chair, picking up his coffee mug as he moved toward the open door. Simon had seated himself behind his desk, pouring himself a cup of coffee.

"You want some?" Jim held out his mug, dropping back to his seat and waited.

"I had to pull a few strings and don't ask me how," Simon started. "But it appears that your side-kick was right." Simon pushed a file toward him.

He scanned the contents, reading what little info was there. It confirmed that Bob Hotchkiss was previously John Simms. Apparently he was placed in foster care at the age of fourteen.

Simon stood, moving to the conference table. "I also got a hold of this." He pushed over another folder, this one detailing a family under suspicion.

Barelli. He had heard that name before.

"It's an old case. The Barellis were suspected of money laundering and organized crime. Simms was just a young man when the case was being built against the family." Simon slumped back into his chair. "The case folder mentions a John Simms Sr. on the payroll and if you can put two and two together..."

"He rolled on his boss," Jim finished.

"Nothing there mentions his cooperation with the case, but it makes sense that all files would be sealed for the family's protection."

Jim sat up a little straighter. "You said he was placed in foster care as Bob Hotchkiss. Any indication as to what happened to his parents?"

"No, but it's a good bet that they were killed. I've got Joel working on it, but I doubt he'll come up with anything." Simon sat his mug down. "The funeral for the daughters is tomorrow at noon and there are viewing hours this evening. Maybe you can swing by and see who shows up."

Jim stood, gathering the papers back into the folder. "I'm going to head home and review the case file again. I'll see if Sandburg is up to going with me."

"Tell the kid I hope he feels better," Simon called.

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

He heard the door swing open and something heavy hit the table. Blair shifted a little, pulling something soft up over his head.

"You awake, Chief?"

No...

"Come on. I've got something for you to look at."

He pushed himself up, running his hand through his tangled hair. The loft was dark, only the moonlight and glow from the TV illuminated the living room.

Jim was setting things out on the coffee table, but the need to pee overcame his curiosity and he made for the bathroom. He glanced into the mirror as he washed his hands.

Man, I look rough.

His hair was standing up at all angles and he had a bit of fuzz growing on his chin and cheeks.

Don't remember when I last shaved.

He decided to take care of his current condition, turning on the tap and digging in the drawer for his razor.

Jim was waiting with a plate of Chinese from his favorite take out. The smell of chicken made his stomach rumble.

"I bought dinner," Jim said, moving to the kitchen to pour them something to drink.

Blair picked up the plate. "Thanks."

His partner sat in the chair across from him, digging into his egg foo yong. "I got some more info today. If you feel up to it, you can go with me later to the viewing. It's from seven to nine at Connley's."

Blair picked at his chicken, reading over the files. "I still don't get it. If this guy was in hiding, why would he suddenly go on a crime spree?"

Jim sat down his plate. "Got me, but something made him snap and the better question is who killed his daughters and what happened to his son?"

Dinner plates were cleaned up and put away. "You want me to wrap this for you?" His friend nodded toward Blair's half eaten plate.

"Yeah, I'm going to go get dressed." Blair moved to his bedroom, hearing the shower start in the small room at the end of the hall. He dug through his closet, looking for a clean dress shirt.

Once he was dressed, he went back to the living room, noting that the TV was on and MacGyver was off on a new adventure.

"You ready?" His roommate was fully dressed, sitting at the table, pulling on his shoes.

"Yup."

The drive to the funeral home was short. It was only a few blocks over from where they lived. The mourners stood clustered in small groups throughout the room. Younger people milled around one of the sofas near the door. The older people seemed to be closer to the center, talking in groups.

A woman wearing a black shirt and white blouse stood off to the left, her eyes drifting back to the caskets every few minutes. Joel hovered nearby, keeping a wary eye on her.

"I'm going to take a look around." Jim moved off through the crowd

"Okay."

He recognized a few of the younger people, students from Rainier.

"Hello, Mr. Sandburg." Blair turned to see Jason standing off to his right.

"Hey, Jason. I didn't realize you knew the family."

The young man looked down and then toward Mrs. Hotchkiss. "I ah...I knew Jennifer a little. See you around, Mr. Sandburg." And then the young man was gone, moving to speak with a few of the students that Blair didn't recognize.

"Later."

Jim moved up beside him. "Who was that, Chief?"

"That was Jason Manner."

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

Jim noticed the young man talking with Blair. The kid seemed nervous and Jim wondered who he was.

Blair confirmed the young man's identity and then excused himself to mingle with some of his students.

Jim watched as Jason spoke briefly to Mrs. Hotchkiss and then made his way through the crowd to the exit. He glanced over his shoulder once, a funny smirk on his face.

It was only a hunch, but Jim covertly followed, watching as the guy waited on the curb, a car moving toward him. Jason pulled his cell phone out and pressed in a series of numbers. A harsh voice answered as Jason slid into the back seat of his car.

Jim noted the license number and caught a few words of the phone conversation.

"Mark four...too protected."

A hand landed on Jim's shoulder and he turned to see his roommate. "You okay, man?"

"Yeah." He looked one more time before the car passed from his sight. "Tell me about this Manner guy."

He could see Blair's confusion. "Come on. I want to check something out."

They went to the truck and Jim waited until Blair was buckled in. "I just overheard something as that kid was leaving. I want to check into his background, see if anything turns up."

"What are you thinking, man? He's just a kid." Blair seemed bemused by his suspicions.

"Yeah, well...you never know."

Twenty minutes later they arrived at the station. Jim went right to his computer, pulling up whatever information he could find, running the plate number and name through the precinct database. After about half an hour, he sent Blair to get them some coffee.

Simon walked in, a frown on his face. "Jim, I was just about to call you. What are you doing here?"

"Just wanted to check something."

Simon sank into Blair's unoccupied chair.

"What's up, sir?" Jim stopped what he was doing, giving his boss his attention.

"I got called into a meeting with the mayor."

"Oh, oh."

"You got that right. I thought I was going to get reamed, but oddly enough, His Honor was more than nice." Simon sighed, looking up as Blair approached the desk with two mugs.

"Hey, Simon."

"Hi, Sandburg." Simon got up and perched on his desk, allowing Jim's partner to sit.

"Anyway, Jim. The Chief was there too. I was officially thanked for our participation in the Hotchkiss case, but told in no uncertain terms that the Feds would be taking over."

"Sir?" Now this was a surprising turn of events.

"Yup, Agent Monroe informed me himself that we were not needed, that this was being bumped up to a federal level."

His boss stood, sticking his cigar into his mouth. "I got the impression that they weren't too worried about finding Bob Hotchkiss and I was told that his wife was going to be picked up this evening and put into federal custody."

"What in the hell is going on here?" Jim asked, looking from the captain to Blair.

"It's a safe bet that they got Hotchkiss," Simon said.

"What makes you think that?" Blair asked, sipping his coffee.

"When I asked about him, I was assured that Bob Hotchkiss was being taken care of."

Jim's computer dinged, signaling the end of a search. He turned his attention to the screen, not really all that surprised with the results.

"What have you got, Jim?" His boss wanted to know.

"I overheard Manner tonight on his phone while he was waiting for his car. He said something about mark four being too protected."

"So, what...you think a sixteen year old kid is an assassin now?"

Jim turned his monitor toward Simon. "No, but this guy could be."

The display showed the same man, only slightly older looking without his glasses, hair slicked back and eyes dead. The accompanying information supplied his name. Jon Barelli, grandson of Tony Barelli.

"What?" Blair asked, clearly confused.

"I ran the Barelli name through the federal data base with a description. Says here he is twenty six."

"I can't believe that, man. No way is that guy twenty six."

"Put out an APB. Let's bring him in for questioning." Simon sighed. "This case may be out of our hands, but I'll be damned if I'll let the Feds bury this."

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

The next week a male body was found in a warehouse in Seattle. Agent Monroe stopped by to tell them personally that the case was being closed. They had a suspect in custody, one Jon Barelli.

"And what about Hotchkiss?" Simon demanded. "He committed some serious crimes."

"Yes, yes. He certainly got our attention. But we'll take care of everything." The agent left with his encrypted message hanging in the air.

Simon was fuming, Jim was pacing the length of the window, but Blair was still mostly confused.

"So, that's it?" he asked, watching as Jim made a return circuit.

"Apparently so." Simon sank back into his chair. "It seems that they have been watching all known Barelli aliases. They picked the kid up last night."

"So, what...Jason...Jon, whoever, goes on a killing spree and that's it. Why did he even do it?" Blair wondered.

Jim plopped into the chair next to him. "It's a good bet that Simms Sr.'s testimony sent away the upper echelon of the family. I found out in my search that Barelli's father and grandfather were sent away when he was still very young. The father died in prison a few years later, but it's rumored that Tony Barelli is still very much in control of the family business, even behind bars." Jim leaned forward, resting his head in his hands.

"His mother died not long after his father was sent away. It's reported that he and his sisters were sent to live with his grandmother. Who knows, maybe he saw Hotchkiss and decided it was time for a little revenge...we might not ever know."

Blair shook his head, still not really quite believing the whole ordeal.

What a waste.

"Well, sir." Jim stood and Blair followed suit. "I'm going to work on the other cases piling up on my desk. You with me, Chief?"

"No, man." Blair followed his friend from the captain's office. "I got an appointment today."

After retrieving his coat from the rack near the door, he grabbed up his knapsack. "I'll be home later this evening."

Jim sat, pulling a random folder from the pile on his desk. "You sure you don't want me to come with you?"

"No, but thanks. I can manage the bus and besides," Blair paused, "I can see you have a lot of work to catch up on."

His friend waved him off, so Blair hurried to the elevator and out of the building. If he hustled he could catch an earlier bus, maybe get in to see Dr. Gordon a little earlier.

Like that was going to happen.

The doctor's office was stuffed full when he arrived. He checked in and waited, knowing he was in for the long haul.

He had to admit that he was a bit nervous. The medicine he was on seemed to help with his headaches and even though it took a little while to get used to it, it seemed to be working for now.

"Mr. Sandburg?"

He was surprised to be called so soon. Once though the initial check and questioning, his eyes were dilated and he was led to the same exam room that he was in on his last visit. Dr. Gordon popped in a few seconds after he sat.

"So, how are you feeling, Mr. Sandburg?"

Blair watched as she read through his chart, a small frown appearing.

"I feel mostly okay. I'm still trying to get used to taking my medication, but the side effects aren't as bad."

She smiled, rolling her chair closer. "Well, lets have a look."

Just as before, she looked at each eye, taking her time. The bright light was just as annoying. "Well, " she said, rolling back and moving the mask from his face. "Your optic nerves are still swollen. I'm going to set up an appointment for a visual field test."

"A what?" A sick feeling slinked through his stomach.

"It's a test to see if you have lost any vision. Pretty easy and not painful." She smiled at him before going back to his chart. "We'll check your vision every other month. Do you have a follow up with Dr. Moyer?"

"Uh, yeah. Next week."

She finished up, closing his chart. "I'll send today's office notes and the results of the visual field. Tell him to send me his office notes so we can make sure we are working together."

She stood, handing him his chart. "Let the girls up front know you need a visual field ASAP and a follow up with me in two months. I'll put in your new prescription and call you when your glasses are in."

He walked to the front desk, feeling a little numb. He made his appointment and then waited out front of the center for his bus.

When he got home, he shucked his pack and shoes, heading for his room. The light on the answering machine blinked as he passed and he took a few steps back to hit the play button.

"Hey, Chief. I hope everything went well today. I'm going to work over, try and finish up some of this paper work by myself." A small laugh followed. "Well, I'll see you later this evening."

Blair erased the message, tears unexpectedly burning the back of his eyes.

His bed was soft as he dropped down. He pulled his covers up, burying his head in the pillow.

He wanted to sleep, but his mind just wouldn't shut down. He thought about his appointment today, what Dr. Gordon had said.

He just wanted this whole thing to go away, he wanted to be normal again.

Tears soaked his pillow and he wiped angrily at them. The worst case scenario played over and over in his head. He would just keep getting sicker and he would have to take more medication until finally they would have to put a shunt in. Would he be able to do his job, get his PH.D., work with Jim?

"God, why can't this be over?"

But deep down he knew...

It was only the beginning.

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

The End

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