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.

Title: Setback
Series: Trials of Life
Sequel: Processing
Rating: PG
Archive: Starfox, others ask.
BETAS: Lorri, PaulaC
Warnings: angst, mild smarm
Spoilers: none
Feedback is definitely encouraged. J

Setback

by Slery

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

The fall semester had started and classes were now back in full swing, Blair was taking one class and teaching two Intro classes. He was also once again pulling his weight at the station and headed out to his car on his way to meet his partner, Jim. "Man, I can't be late, again." Yep, definitely getting back to normal.

Blair's heart had broken that fateful day a few months ago when he had taken his mother to lunch and she ended up dying in his arms. Since then, Jim had been picking up the pieces and slowly putting him back together. Things would never be NORMAL again but at least he was finally living again.

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

At the station, Jim was in the middle of a heated discussion with his Captain. "Ellison, SIT DOWN!" Simon Banks' temper clearly told Jim he was not about to lose control of the situation.

"Simon, it's too soon! I can't take the case. Give it to Brown and Rafe."

"That's CAPTAIN to you, Detective. I can't keep assigning you light cases because of Sandburg. You are my number one detective and the mayor wants you on this case. I need you on this case, Jim." Simon took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose. Then, in a lighter tone, he said, "Jim ... Sandburg has to get back in the saddle sometime. And, I want both of you on this. This is right up his alley."

Ellison sighed; he wanted to protect his friend from everyone and everything, but finally relenting he said, "Okay."

The Sentinel looked up when he heard his Guide enter and greet the other detectives as he made his way across the bullpen to Jim's desk. "He's here, Sir."

Banks walked over and opened his door, "Sandburg, my office. Now!"

Blair came into the office with the biggest grin Jim had ever seen plastered all over his face. Great, Simon, you just made his day, well, at least he is out of the silent funk he's been in for the last three days. He was barely even acknowledging me. This is much better.

"Have a seat Sandburg. I was just about to tell Jim about this new case." Simon handed the file over to his detective before continuing. "We have several artifacts missing from the High-Lee dig. Each one has disappeared the day after it was found and all records of its find destroyed. However, the head of the dig went back secretly and made several photographs of the day's find before leaving and we now have actual evidence to follow."

Banks finished briefing them and sent them on their way. As Sandburg left the station with Jim, the old familiar bounce was back. Jim still didn't think his friend was ready, but it was good to see him acting more like his old self.

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

"Wow, I can't believe this case is on the local dig at that subdivision. Ya, know, Jim, I was asked to help on that dig. I can ask Michael what he thinks."

"Who's Michael, Chief?"

"He's a prof at Rainier. He's heading up the dig."

"How come you didn't tell me about the dig?"

"Because I wasn't doing it and I didn't want you to feel guilty because I wasn't." Blair sighed. Because I didn't want to be having this conversation that's why.

"Oh, I'm sorry."

Rolling his eyes, Blair responded, "Jim, just drop it okay. I'm not on it because I didn't want to be."

"Okay." Blair watched him grip the wheel tighter as he waited for the light to turn green. "So, what other brilliant ideas do you have?"

"Well, I do know there is a pretty active black market for the items found at the site. Some of the Native American stuff ya know."

Jim glared at his friend, "And just how do you know this?"

"Um ... well ... you see I was hit up for a couple of pieces I have." Here it comes. I am so dead meat.

"What?" Why didn't you tell me!" Jim clenched his jaw.

"C'mon, Jim. It's not the first time and I'm sure it's not the last."

"It's not the first? Well, when exactly was the first?"

"Just STOP it! That's the nature of the beast, man. And I'm a grown man and I don't have to tell you every time someone hits me up for an artifact, offers me a hit, or propositions me. You are not busting every friend I have."

Shocked, Jim didn't appear to know what to say. "I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't know you dealt with all that." Glaring at his partner he interrupted, "Wait a minute. Propositioned? C'mon, Sandburg, I wouldn't call having a date every Friday a proposition."

Blair turned to look out the window and quietly said, "That's not what I'm talking about. Just drop it okay?"

"Okay, for now." Jim sighed, "You want me to come with you to talk to this Michael? Or do you think you can get more information without me?"

"Just drop me off. I'll see you at home tonight and tell you what I find out."

Pulling up to Hargrove Hall where the anthropology department was housed along with archeology Jim waved as his friend climbed out of the truck, "See ya later, Chief."

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

Jim flinched when Blair walked in and slammed the door to the loft. "Stupid, stupid, stupid. I am so stupid!" Blair continued to mutter as he threw his keys in the basket. He was about to throw the backpack down as well when Jim quickly grabbed it to save the laptop he knew would be in there from being destroyed.

"Whoa, Chief. What's wrong?"

"I'm so stupid, Jim."

"You're hardly stupid." Jim couldn't help the smirk that escaped, "A little annoying, but trust me on this, definitely not stupid." He saw Blair's own smile escape despite the obvious efforts to control it. "Now, tell me what happened."

"Do you remember that grant I've been writing a proposal for?"

"Yeah, you've been working on it for a month. Wasn't it due last week?"

"Oh, man!" Blair sat down on the couch and whispered, "Thanks, Jim," he muttered sarcastically.

The older man was totally confused now, "For what?"

"Why didn't you remind me?"

"Remind you about what?"

"AREN'T YOU LISTENING?"

"Stop shouting! Yes, I'm listening now tell me what you're talking about."

Blair slumped forward and rested his elbows on his knees, "The deadline. Why didn't you remind me about the deadline?"

"You didn't ask me to. I take it you missed it."

"Yeah."

"So, you'll apply for another one. What's the big deal?"

Bowing his head, Blair's hair fell forward and he whispered, sentinel soft, "I can't."

Jim walked over and sat down next to his friend, "Why not?"

Blair almost sounded on the verge of tears, "There aren't any more grants for this semester."

"Oh, what was the money for?"

"Don't worry about it. I was just going to take care of some things. They'll just have to wait, that's all."

Jim frowned at the despondency in his friend's voice. "Is there anything I can help with?"

Blair gave his friend a crooked grin, "I'm already your charity case, remember? Will guide for food and shelter," he said with tongue-in-cheek sarcasm. Jim wasn't buying the attempt to lighten the mood.

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

Blair grabbed his jacket from behind Jim's desk, "I still can't believe it was Brad selling the artifacts. He was one of my best students."

Jim handed over his backpack, "C'mon, Sandburg, you know how tight money is when you're a student."

Shocked, Blair responded, "Excuse me! You're siding with a perp Mr.-Cop-the-law-is-black-and-white?"

"I didn't say I agree with what he did. But I see how little money you have no matter how hard you work." Jim punched the button for the elevator, "Sometimes life just isn't fair. Let's go home, Chief."

"Hang on, I left some tea in the break room. Blair was embarrassed that his friend knew how bad his money situation was. As he walked into the break room he kept hearing the phrase over again in his head. I see how little money you have. I see how little money you have. I see... His breathing became shallow while he stared at the counter top.

"Blair, are you okay?" Joel asked.

I see how little money you have. Blair realized he was hyperventilating when he felt Joel wrap an arm around him and then guide him over to a chair. His legs gave out when they reached the chair next to the table.

Spots were dancing in front of his eyes when Jim stepped into his line of sight. Man, I have no idea what you're saying, Jim. But please take me home before I pass out.

"Blair, C'mon talk to me, buddy." Jim placed a paper bag over his friend's nose and mouth. "Slow breaths, Chief. That's it, nice and slow." Blair felt Jim rub small circles on his back while he continued to try and calm him down.

Jim removed the bag when his Guide's breathing began to ease.

"Can we go home, Jim?"

"Sure, Chief." The Sentinel helped him to his feet and threw a whispered, "Thanks," over his shoulder to Joel.

After they got in the truck he asked, "What happened, Chief?

"I don't know, just overwhelmed I guess." I can't believe that happened again.

"Talk to me, Blair."

"I just want to go home, please." Blair sighed as he felt his world slipping out of his control.

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

To everyone it appeared that Blair was back to his old self. He was fully into the swing of teaching, studying, research, and helping out at the station. But Jim knew something was wrong. Blair didn't seem to really care about things; he was merely going through the motions. In fact, he had come home twice to find Blair taking a nap. It wasn't unusual for him to fall asleep grading papers or studying, but it looked like he came home just to take a nap and that was wrong, just plain wrong.

Jim was also worried about the sudden mood changes and outbursts of anger the last few days. Blair always managed his anger. But now he was either angry or completely withdrawn. He just didn't know how to handle Blair anymore.

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

As Simon headed toward the elevators, he motioned to Jim he was ready to go to lunch. He held the doors while the detective finished putting on his jacket. "So, what're you in the mood for? No, let me guess," he paused to look around. "No Sandburg, so it must be Wonderburger."

"You wound me, Simon," he feigned indignantly.

"Yeah, but that's where we're going, right?"

"Of course." Jim grinned at the older man.

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

Simon pulled into a spot near the park and they headed over to a picnic table to eat. "So, how is Sandburg? He looked pretty tired when he was in yesterday. I take it too many late nights again." He gave Jim a wicked grin and then amended, "You should give him a couple nights off to catch up on his dating. Joel can sit with you on stake-out."

"That's not it. I'm not sure what's wrong with him." Jim wiped some mustard off his chin with the napkin before continuing. "He's getting plenty of sleep, maybe too much."

"So, his energy level is a little low. After what he's been through it's nothing to be worried about, Jim."

"I think it is, Simon." Jim looked at the older man hoping for guidance, "He doesn't care about anything anymore. He doesn't date. He doesn't even work on his research."

"Give the kid a break. Maybe he's having a harder time bouncing back than everyone thinks. He's strong, Jim. Just give him time." Simon gathered his trash, "You ready to head back?"

"Yeah."

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

"Man, my head hurts. I didn't get drunk did I?" Looking around the room he spotted the alarm clock on the floor, Ten o'clock. NO! I missed my class. Oh, well, too late to do anything about it now. Blair rolled over to go back to sleep. Just before dropping off he heard the phone ring and then the machine picked up.

"Blair, this is Leslie. I'm just calling to find out what happened this morning. Call me."

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

"Rrrrgh," Ellison growled when he slammed the phone back in its cradle for the fifth time.

"What's wrong, Jim?" Simon Banks asked.

"Sandburg's late."

"So, it's not the first time and probably won't be the last."

"I know. But something's not right." He looked up to see the knowing look on his Captain's face, "You know I told you he's been acting strange."

"Yeah."

"Well, he was supposed to meet me for lunch and I can't get a hold of him. I've tried his office, the loft, and his cell, and yes, the cell is working but he's not picking up."

"So, he'll show up sooner or later. He's a grown man, Jim."

"Yeah, but it's been almost two hours and even Sandburg would have called."

Simon frowned, "You're right, he 'would' have called. Why don't you go look for him. I'll keep an eye out here in case he shows up."

"Thanks, Simon." Jim quickly shut down his computer and headed out.

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

After finding no sign of Sandburg in his office, Ellison stopped in to ask the Anthropology Department secretary, "Leslie, have you seen Blair?"

"Hi, Jim. No, Blair hasn't been in and a couple of his students came in complaining that he didn't show up for his class this morning."

"Oh, well thanks anyway."

"No, problem. I hope he's okay."

Yeah, so do I. Ellison returned to his truck and headed for the loft.

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

Blair's car was still in the same spot it had been in when Jim left in the morning. When he got out of the tuck he walked over to the car and placed his hand on the hood. Even an enhanced sense of touch couldn't detect any residual heat. His concern was growing so he headed upstairs. Not finding any signs that Blair had ever gotten out of bed he walked over to the French doors and tapped twice. "Chief, you okay?"

When Blair didn't answer, Jim opened the doors and walked over to the edge of the bed. The young man was wound in the blankets and shivering uncontrollably. He clasped Blair's shoulder, "Blair, what's wrong?"

"Just leave me ALONE!" he shouted.

"Hey Buddy, come on what's wrong?"

"GET OUT!"

"BLAIR," he shouted back. The Sentinel then softened his voice, "Calm down. Talk to me, Chief."

"I HATE YOU! GET OUT!"

Shocked, Jim quickly back peddled out of the room. What the hell? Something was definitely wrong with Sandburg.

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

Blair couldn't control the shivering any more. He thought he heard the front door open.

"Chief, you okay?"

He felt Jim grab his shoulder, "Blair, what's wrong?"

Oh, god. Jim, don't touch me. "Just leave me ALONE!"

"Hey, Buddy, come on what's wrong?"

"GET OUT!" Oh, Jim. I'm sorry, so sorry.

"BLAIR, calm down. Talk to me, Chief."

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

Noticing the blinking red light on the answering machine, Jim walked over and pressed the button to listen to the messages.

"This is Ali at Smith's Cleaners, Jim. Your dress blues are ready to be picked up and Blair dropped off a sports jacket that is ready too." She is definitely flirting with one of us, he thought wryly.

Beep. "Blair, this is Leslie. I'm just calling to find out what happened this morning. Call me."

Beep. "Blair, this is Dr. Kettering. You still haven't filled your prescription and it's been over a week. You can't abruptly stop your medication. If you don't have the money we can work it out. Please call me as soon as you get this message, so I know you're all right. My pager is 621-5489."

Jim grabbed a pen and piece of paper while he hit the rewind button. After listening to the message again he jotted down the number. Confusion was quickly taking over; this wasn't the doctor that had been treating Blair after the shooting that killed Naomi, and Jim didn't know of any medication that Blair was still taking. Maybe this doctor just has a wrong number. Yeah, and a wrong number that just happens to be named Blair.

Tentatively, Jim went back into Blair's room, "Chief, who is Dr. Kettering?"

"Wha..., Jim? What are you doing in my room?" Blair sat up and untangled himself from the blankets. He then looked up at Jim like he didn't realize he was standing there. Just as quickly Jim saw the look turn to anger. He barely ducked in enough time to miss getting hit by the glass Blair threw at him. "GET OUT!"

Jim left the small room once more and picked up the phone number and cordless on his way to the couch.

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

"Wha..., Jim? What are you doing in my room?" I told you to leave me alone. You're smothering me. I can't breathe. Panting, Blair sat up and untangled himself from the blankets. He then looked up at Jim. Jim, man what are you doing here? Man, my head hurts. What are you trying to say? Just as quickly his emotions turned to anger, "GET OUT!" Blair reached over and grabbed the glass of water he had by his bedside and threw it at his friend. Blair was mesmerized as the glass shattered and fell to the floor like a waterfall of diamonds.

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

Jim snatched the phone from its cradle on the first ring, "Ellison."

"This is Dr. Kettering, someone paged me."

"Yes, I'm calling about Blair Sandburg. You left a message on our machine."

"And you are?"

Jim sighed, "Detective Jim Ellison, I'm Blair's roommate. What medication is he taking and who are you?"

Now Jim heard the doctor sigh, "I can't release that information without Mr. Sandburg's consent."

"I'm listed as his next of kin and I'm also his power-of-attorney."

"I still can't release that information. But, how is he doing?"

Jim then proceeded to tell him what happened when he came home.

"Mr. Ellison, I need you to bring him to the ER and I'll meet you there."

"Is he going to be okay?" Jim was really worried now.

"Yes, he will be okay. But I need to run some tests so I can get his medication straightened out."

"Thanks, we're on our way."

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

After twenty minutes a nurse finally came out and asked Jim to come back with her. When he stepped behind the curtain, he found Blair curled on his left side facing away from him. "Chief, how you doing?" Blair refused to answer as the Doctor stepped in.

"Detective Ellison, I presume. I'm Dr. Kettering."

Taking the extended hand, "Jim, please. How is he?"

"I can't discuss his care without his consent. Since you live together, I was hoping you could help me convince him to okay it. He won't even let me tell his mother."

Jim flinched at the comment about Naomi, "Doctor, Blair's mother is dead. She was killed in a shooting recently."

"Oh," the doctor gasped, "that explains a lot. Blair, please let me tell Jim. If you don't agree, I will tell him anyway since you are not acting in your own best interest. He has power-of-attorney and I will consider it in the best interest of my patient for him to know. Please, Blair."

A barely audible sniffle came from the bed, "Okay."

"Blair, don't fight the medication. You rest while I tell Jim what's going on." Dr. Kettering patted Blair's leg and then ushered Jim down the hall to a small room.

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

The doctor gestured to the chair on the other side of the table as he took his own seat. "Jim, please have a seat."

"I'm sorry, Doctor, but I would prefer to stand," and pace but he didn't say that last part aloud.

"It's okay, Jim." He grinned as Ellison began pacing the length of the table, "I'm glad to see that Blair has someone who cares enough about him to be so worried." Dr. Kettering got up and made himself a cup of coffee before continuing.

"I've been treating Blair for depression since he was sixteen."

Shocked, Jim exclaimed, "My Blair, you can't be serious. He is the most energetic and upbeat person I know."

"That's because of his medication and he tries to stay busy all the time to help combat his illness. Have you ever noticed how much he can talk without saying anything?"

"Yeah, he can definitely talk your ear off. It can be really annoying down at the station. But, you know when it's just me and him at home he is so quiet and relaxed."

"It's about time he found someone he can be himself around." The Doctor paused and took a sip of his coffee. "Eli Stoddard is the one who got Blair to come see me."

"Stoddard, as in Dr. Stoddard, Blair's mentor?" Jim asked.

"Yes, he is a personal friend of mine. He noticed Blair was having trouble adjusting to college life so Eli took him under his wing," Jim looked at the doctor as the Sentinel was rather surprised by the comment. "When Blair kept spiraling downward he called me up. It took Eli two months to convince Blair to come see me. In fact, Blair probably wouldn't have if he hadn't slashed his wrists."

"Oh, my god!" Jim whispered.

"Yeah, Eli told Blair he wouldn't report it if he agreed to come see me, and I've been treating him ever since."

"But, if he is on medication what happened to him today?"

"The medication Blair is taking cannot be abruptly stopped. I'm guessing he ran out of money and was too ashamed to call me."

"The grant," Jim whispered.

"Excuse me?"

Jim took several deep breaths before continuing, "He missed applying for a grant last week and was really upset about it. I asked if I could help and what the money was for. He said no and claimed it wasn't for anything important."

"I want to keep him overnight so we can keep an eye on him."

"He's gonna be all right, isn't he?"

"Yes, Jim he is going to be all right," he leaned over and patted Jim's hands and smiled at the big man, who was now sitting across from him. "But his emotions are going to be totally out of control until we get everything straightened back out. Also, Blair has tried to slash his wrists two other times when we were trying to find medication that would work for him."

"No," Jim silently breathed. "Please, can I take him home? He hates hospitals so much. I promise I will not leave him alone." He begged.

"Jim, caring for a person with depression is very hard. It will try your patience and his. I'm sure you have heard of tough love before. Well, this is tough love to the nth degree."

"Please, I owe him so much." He clenched his jaw in determination, "I was also a medic in the Army Rangers, and so I can handle anything medical that comes up."

"Depression 'is' a medical illness and it can't be cured with a band aid and a Lollipop."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know."

"Most people don't, that is why I am hesitant. But, I do agree that keeping him in the hospital is not the best solution either." The Doctor made a couple of notations in Blair's file that he had brought with him. "I will release him on two conditions. One, he has to make an appointment to see me every day until I see his medication is straightened out. Two, since it looks like you are in this for the long haul, of which I am glad, you will have to attend a series of classes for living with a family member who has depression. And three, you will also have to attend two of Blair's appointments with me a week."

"I thought you said only two."

Dr. Kettering grinned evilly, "So I lied. Are you okay with those stipulations?"

"Yes, I'll do anything for him. Thank you so much, doctor." Jim's smile lit up the room. "So, when can I tell him he's a free man?"

"You can't."

"What!?"

"Hey, I'm tired of always being the bad guy. I get to tell him the good news."

Jim shook the doctor's hand and followed him out of the room and back down to his partner.

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

"Blair, are you awake?" When Blair nodded his head, Dr. Kettering continued, "I've talked with Jim, and after I get the blood tests back I'm going to let him take you home, if you agree to my conditions."

He rolled over and faced Jim, "What conditions?" He quietly asked.

"One, you have to come see me everyday until your medication is straightened out and I release you. Two, Jim will attend two sessions a week with you."

Blair looked Jim in the eye, "Jim?"

Reading his friend's mind, "Yeah, Chief, I'm okay with that." He reached over and took Blair's hand, "I'm also gonna attend classes about depression. Jim then tried to lighten the mood, "Maybe they'll even teach me how to get you to follow the House Rules."

"No way, man, never happen." Blair's smile reached all the way to his eyes. "Thanks, Jim."

"Why don't you get some rest, Blair. I'll come sign you out when the test results are back. Jim, I'll have the nurses put together some pamphlets for you." The doctor made another notation in Blair's chart before leaving.

Blair was quickly losing the battle to keep his eyes open. "It's okay, Chief, go to sleep now. I'll take you home soon."

Still grasping his friend's hand tightly, Blair whispered, "Thanks. Jim."

~~~~~~~~~~

THREE MONTHS LATER

Jim had finally caught the suspect after a three-block chase. "You're not getting away this time, Mattson!" He quickly cuffed the suspect and then hauled him to his feet roughly as Blair pulled up in the truck.

"You okay, man? Blair asked as he jumped from the driver's side of the vehicle.

"Yep, our close rate just went up another notch, partner. You want to go out and celebrate after we book this scum bag?"

"Sure, you buying?"

"Yeah, why not. C'mon, let's get this guy booked."

The duo was definitely back on track.

FINIS

Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail slery.