by Kim Jackson
Summary: Jim collapses at a crime scene and Blair has to figure out what caused it.
Disclaimer: Jim, Blair, Simon, and all other characters don’t belong to me. Any other characters do belong to me so if you wish to use them, please ask.
The hospital room was dark and quiet except for the sound of the ventilator that was feeding oxygen into the still man in the hospital bed. In the chair next to the bed sat a dejected figure who held his partner’s hand tightly, gently rubbing his thumb over the back. His head rested in his other hand as he leaned his elbow on the arm of his chair. Dark curls obscured his face, but anyone who entered that room could tell how worried he was.
Blair Sandburg stared at his friend and partner, watched his chest rise and fall in time with the clicking of the ventilator. The pale and gaunt face gave mute testimony to Jim Ellison’s dire condition. Blair closed his eyes. He hated seeing Jim so vulnerable when he was always so strong.
Blair thought about the previous events that led up to this. God, how had things gotten this bad? It had started like any other normal day…for a sentinel that is.
Several Days Earlier
“Ok, that’s good, Jim. Now just a few more and we’re done,” Blair said.
“No, no more,” Jim said, shaking his head.
“Oh c’mon, Jim. You promised.”
“Yeah, that was before I knew you were going to go crazy with the tests. I need a break.” He started walking across the park.
“Where are you going?” Blair asked.
“I’m going to get something to eat. We’ve been at this for hours.”
Jim shook his head as he passed a young couple having a picnic, heading for the café across the street. How he got himself into this, he’ll never know. Ok, so he promised Blair they’d do a few sentinel tests if Blair helped out with his niece’s birthday party. He didn’t know the kid was going to do twenty of them all at once. There was only so much testing Jim could endure before he exploded, and he was just about there. Better to take a break before things got ugly.
Jim walked into the café and sat down at the counter. He ordered a grilled chicken sandwich and French fries. Blair finally caught up with him and sat down next to him after the waitress brought Jim his drink.
“Hey Jim, sorry about all the tests. I guess I went a little overboard.”
“Ok, so I went a little nuts, but what do you expect? It’s hard enough trying to get you to agree to testing, and when you finally do, I’d like to get the most out of it.”
Jim just grunted as he starting sipping his coke.
“Ok, no more testing today,” Blair conceded. He picked up a menu and started glancing through it. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until that moment.
As the waitress was bringing Jim his food, Jim’s cell phone rang. He pulled the device out of his pocket and answered. “Ellison. Where? Alright, we’ll be right there.” He flipped his phone closed and put it back in his pocket. “You’re going to have to forget about lunch, Chief,” he said as he got up. “We’ve got a murder to solve.”
Blair looked longingly at the many delectable dishes in the menu as Jim asked the waitress to wrap up his food. Sighing, he closed the menu and put it back on the counter. So much for their day off. Looked like he was going to have to wait until dinner to eat. Oh well, price of being a cop’s partner.
“So where are we going?” Blair asked as he followed Jim out the door.
Jim pulled up in front of a large 2-story brick house. There were two evergreen trees in the front yard, partially obscuring the house from the street. There wasn’t much of a lawn. There was too much shade from the two tall trees that there really was no grass, just cloves.
The property wasn’t in very good condition. The driveway was cracked. The plastic mailbox was on a slant and, judging from the buzzing, was also home to nest of bees. The paint on the front door was peeling, and the front steps were crumbling. All the windows were intact, but they looked like they hadn’t been washed in a while.
“Wow,” Blair said as he got out of the truck. “And someone actually lived here?”
“Looks that way. Come on, Chief.”
They made their way past police officers to the front of the house. The minute Jim entered, he started coughing. Blair patted his back gently.
“Are you alright?” Blair asked.
Once he could catch his breath, Jim replied, “Yeah. What is that smell?”
Blair sniffed the air and shook his head. “I don’t smell anything. Can you tell what it is?”
Jim tried to focus and take a deep breath, but he just ended up coughing again, harder this time. He shook his head. “No, and I don’t want to try,” he replied in a ragged voice.
“Maybe we should get out of here,” Blair said, worried.
“No, I’m ok. This shouldn’t take too long.”
“Are you sure?”
“Alright,” Blair said reluctantly.
Jim talked to the officers and the ME. He examined the scene. He examined the body, a young woman in her early thirties. All the while, Blair watched him worriedly, noticed that Jim continued to cough. Sometimes he’d cough so much that he was forced to pause and lean on something to catch his breath. His breathing was ragged, and he started to wheeze. When Jim stumbled, Blair moved to catch him before he fell. He watched the color drain from his partner’s face and decided it was time to go.
“Alright, that’s it. We’re getting out of here.”
“I think…you’re right…Chief,” Jim panted. He seemed to be having trouble breathing, and that scared Blair to death.
The young man helped his partner out of the house. Jim was leaning heavily on Blair as they carefully descended the front steps. Simon was just getting out of his car when they came stumbling down the driveway.
“Jim!” he cried. He ran to their side and helped take some of Jim’s weight. “Sandburg, what happened?”
“I don’t know. There must be something in that house, something in the air that Jim’s reacting to.”
“Chief…” Jim mumbled, but before he could say anymore, he lost consciousness.
“Jim? Jim!” Blair cried.
“We need an ambulance here now!” Simon yelled as they slowly eased Jim onto the ground.
Jim’s breathing was slow and shallow, and Blair felt powerless to help. All he could do was wait by his side.
“Hang in there, Jim. Don’t you give up.”
Blair and Simon sat in the hospital waiting room waiting on news. Jim had stopped breathing in the ambulance and the paramedics were forced to intubate him while Blair watched. It was the scariest moment of his entire life. Then he was forced to stay in the waiting room while the doctors took Jim to one of the trauma rooms. He met Simon there who had followed in his car. They’d been there for the past two hours with no word.
He had been trying to figure out what could have caused this, if only to keep his mind off his worry for Jim. It was obviously something that Jim inhaled inside that house, but what? Could it have been whatever it was that Jim had smelled when they first entered the house? That was a possibility, but that could have been any number of things. Jim had a lot of sensitivities to a lot of different things. He’d have to go back, but that was a crime scene. He doubted the police was going to let him poke around until the case was done. He could ask Simon. It was worth a shot.
Blair was so deep in thought, he barely noticed when Rafe, Henri, and Joel came in.
“Captain,” Brown called.
Simon got up from his chair next to Blair and greeted the three detectives.
“We got here as fast as we could. Any word on Jim?” Joel asked.
“How’s Hairboy doing?” Rafe asked.
Simon sighed as he glanced at the dejected figure sitting in the chair with his face in his hands. “Worried.”
“Aren’t we all,” Henri stated.
Blair’s head snapped up when the doctor entered the room. He jumped from his seat and was in front of the doctor in three long strides. “Dr. West! How is he?”
Dr. Adam West was Jim’s primary doctor. He took care of the checkups and he was the one called in whenever the detective was brought into the ER for one thing or another. After some stupid doctor almost killed Jim after giving him a drug that was lethal to the sentinel, the partners decided to elect one doctor to be Jim’s primary care physician, someone they trusted, someone who knew all about Jim’s allergies and drug sensitivities. Dr. West had been the best man for the job. Blair didn’t trust anyone else to be Jim’s doctor.
Dr. West put his hands on the young man’s shoulders. He had dealt with these two many times before, and he knew how each one operated under these circumstances, and Blair was always the easier one to deal with .
“Blair, calm down, ok? Now why don’t we sit down.” He led Blair to the waiting room chairs where the rest of Major Crimes had gathered to hear the news.
“Is Jim ok?” Blair asked more calmly.
“For now. As he you may have already guessed, he had severe allergic reaction. To what we don’t know, but it had to have been something he inhaled. Do you have any idea what that could have been?”
Blair shook his head. “No, we were at a crime scene. It could have been anything.”
Dr. West nodded and took a deep breath. “Jim is breathing on his own right now, but…”
“There is some wheezing and shortness of breath still present that has me concerned.”
“What could cause that?” Simon asked.
“We’re not sure. The swelling caused by the allergic reaction has gone down, so it can’t be that. We’re going to do a few more tests and see if we can figure out what’s causing these symptoms. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on his breathing.”
“Can I see him?” Blair asked.
“He’s resting right now. Look, when was the last time you ate?”
“Um, this morning. We were about to eat lunch when we got called to that crime scene.”
God, had it only been a few hours ago that he and Jim had been in the park, Jim complaining and Blair trying to get the sentinel to cooperate? It seemed like forever ago.
“Blair, why don’t you go to the cafeteria and get something to eat?” Dr. West suggested.
Blair shook his head. “I’m not hungry. I just want to see Jim.” He needed to see for himself that Jim was ok.
“I know you do, but you also need to eat before you end up in the bed next to him. When you get back, I’ll take you to see Jim. I’ll let you know if anything changes.”
Blair didn’t move. He didn’t want food. In fact, the very thought of food made him feel sick to his stomach. He just wanted to be with Jim and find out what had caused this so they could make sure it doesn’t happen again. He looked up when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Simon looked down at him sympathetically. “C’mon, Blair. Dr. West is right. Jim needs you to be strong.”
Blair sighed and nodded. Simon was right. Jim did need him to be strong not a basket case. He let Simon lead him to the cafeteria where the captain forced Blair to choke down an unappetizing sandwich. The meat looked like rubber and it pretty much tasted like it too. After he ate most of the sandwich, they returned to the ER where they met Dr. West, who led them to Jim’s room in ICU.
Blair entered the room alone. He stood by the door for a moment, staring at the still figure in the bed. He could hear the wheezing breaths from where he stood, and it just made him worry even more. He noticed that the lights were turned down and sound was being kept to a minimal. He smiled in spite of the situation. He was glad Dr. West knew enough about Jim’s sensitivities to think of such things. It saved him the trouble of having to worry about it.
Blair approached the bed and sat in the chair beside it. He took Jim’s hand in his own, careful not to wake the sleeping sentinel. He didn’t understand how this could happen. Jim had had many allergic reactions before, but there was never any wheezing or shortness of breath afterwards. What could have caused this? Whatever it was, he had to figure it out and fast before Jim came into contact with it again.
Jim opened his eyes and looked around in confusion. Then his eyes settled on Blair sitting next to him deep in thought. He looked worried about something.
“Chief?” he rasped. God, his throat was sore, and why did it feel like an elephant was sitting on his chest?
Blair looked into the eyes of his partner and smiled. “Hey, Jim. How are you feeling, big guy?”
“Oh, wait a minute.” Blair reached for the pitcher on the table next to the bed and poured some water into a cup with a straw. He put the straw to Jim’s lips.
Jim drank gratefully. The cool water felt so good against his raw throat. When he had his fill, he leaned back into the pillows. “Thanks. What happened?”
Blair put the cup down. “You collapsed. You had some sort of allergic reaction to something inside the house.”
“It’s so hard…to catch my breath.”
“I know,” Blair said quietly. “Dr. West is trying to figure out what’s causing it. What do you remember?”
“I remember smelling something…when we got inside…but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. It just seemed to get harder to breathe…the longer I stayed in that house.”
Blair sighed and rubbed his face. “I knew we should have left when you started coughing.”
“It’s not…your fault, Chief. It’s mine. I’m the one…who ignored…what my body…was telling me.”
Blair patted Jim’s hand. He still felt guilty, but he wasn’t going to argue, especially since it seemed that Jim’s breathing was getting worse the more he talked.
“Ok, why don’t you get some rest while we wait for the test results,” Blair suggested.
“Maybe…that’s a good…idea.”
“I’ll be right here when you wake up.”
Jim nodded slightly, his eyes already closing. In just a few minutes, he was sound asleep. Once Blair was sure Jim was asleep, he settled more comfortably in his seat, laid his head on the bed next to Jim’s hand, and soon followed his sentinel into sleep.
A couple of hours later, Dr. West returned with Simon right behind him. They both paused in the door and smiled at the scene before them. Jim was awake, his eyes only half open, and he was running his fingers gently through Blair’s curls. Blair was still asleep. Jim looked up at their entrance and smiled back. Then he shook Blair’s shoulder.
“Huh?” Blair said groggily as he opened his eyes.
“The doctor’s back.”
Blair sat up, suddenly wide awake, and looked behind him. “Oh hi.”
“Blair. Have a nice nap?” Dr. West asked, still smiling.
Blair blushed. “Uh yeah. I guess so.”
Dr. West pulled a chair up next to the Blair’s while Simon went around to the other side of Jim’s bed.
“Jim, how are you doing?” Dr. West asked.
Jim took a deep breath. “Better. It’s easier to breathe now.”
“So what’s the verdict, doc?” Simon asked.
“Yeah, what did the test results show?” Blair asked.
“Well, apparently, whatever you inhaled, Jim, is still in your lungs.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“There’s a minute amount of the substance still left in your lungs, which is causing some inflammation in the pathways of your lungs, and that’s what’s causing the wheezing and the shortness of breath. Basically, it’s mimicking the symptoms of asthma.”
“Wait, so Jim has asthma now?”
“No, I didn’t say that. These symptoms are like asthma and can in fact be controlled with an inhaler.”
“So, I’m going to need an inhaler for the rest of my life?” Jim asked. Oh god, please don’t let that be true, he thought silently. If this was like asthma, and he was going to need an inhaler, then he wouldn’t be able to be a cop anymore. He wouldn’t be able to meet the physical requirements.
“No, these symptoms should dissipate in time and eventually, they should disappear altogether.”
“Do you know that for sure?” Blair asked.
“Well, according to Jim’s medical records, it has happened.”
Blair, Simon, and Dr. West all looked at Jim, who looked confused. “What?”
“You don’t remember?” Dr. West asked.
Jim shook his head.
“Well, it’s not so surprising. According to your medical history, you were brought into the ER when you eight years old with the same exact symptoms, anaphylactic shock followed by wheezing and shortness of breath. The doctor came to the same conclusion that I did, and he prescribed an inhaler for you. Over the next couple of weeks, the symptoms slowly dissipated until they were completely gone, and you had no need for the inhaler anymore.”
“You must have come into contact with the same substance that you did this time,” Blair said.
“Why don’t I remember that?” Jim asked, bewildered.
“Well, it was a traumatic experience, Jim,” Blair said. “People tend to block out traumatic experiences. You should know that better than anyone.”
“Well,” Dr. West said, standing up, “I’m going to prescribe the same medication that was given to you when you were a kid, so there should be no problems with allergies or reactions. And then you’re free to go. Just come back in a week or so, and we’ll see how you’re doing.
“In the meantime, take it easy and relax. No strenuous activity. I can’t stress that enough. Right now, you are considered an asthmatic. You have to be careful what you come into contact with and what activities you do. You put too much stress on your lungs and not even the inhaler will help you. You could go into respiratory arrest. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, doc, I understand.”
“And that means you are on medical leave until the doctor clears you. Is that clear, detective?” Simon said.
“Alright. I’ll be back with that prescription.”
After the doctor left, Blair turned to Jim. He had a stony expression on his face, but Blair could tell that the sentinel was scared. He took Jim’s hand in his.
“It’s going to be ok, Jim.”
“How?” Jim asked, meeting his partner’s eyes. “How is it going to be ok? We don’t even know for sure that this will go away. Just because it happened before, doesn’t mean it will happen again.”
“You just have to keep your hopes up, and in the meantime, we’ll try to figure out what caused this so we can avoid it in the future.”
After Jim was released, Simon drove them home. Simon had wanted to stay just to make sure Jim was ok, but Blair assured him that they would be alright and that it wasn’t necessary. Simon finally agreed, and after asking them to keep him posted, he drove away.
Jim and Blair entered the building and headed towards the elevator only to discover that it wasn’t working again. Jim sighed. This wasn’t what he needed right now. Blair patted his back reassuringly and headed toward the stairs.
Jim kept a steady pace, but after the first couple of flights, he started to get winded. By the time, they made it the second floor, Jim was breathing heavily unable to catch his breath. Blair was at his side, looking worried.
“Are you ok?” Blair asked.
“Yeah…I’ll be fine.”
Blair knew better. He reached into the paper bag he’d been carrying and pulled out the prescription inhaler. He handed it to Jim.
Jim shook his head.
“C’mon, Jim. Stop trying to act tough and just take it.”
Jim locked gazes with his guide and then finally relented. He grabbed the inhaler and took a couple of puffs from it until he was able to breathe easier.
“Better?” Blair asked.
“Good. Keep that with you. At all times,” he said forcefully.
They entered the loft and hung up their jackets. Jim then proceeded to walk to the balcony windows where he stood ramrod straight, staring out at the Cascade skyline as the last rays of sunlight disappeared behind the buildings. There was so much tension in the sentinel’s body he looked like he was about to snap. Blair joined him at the window.
“Look, Jim, I know this must be frustrating.”
Jim snorted. “Frustrating doesn’t begin to cover it. I can’t even walk up three flights of stairs. What if this lasts for months or years? What if this is permanent? I’ll never be able to be a cop. What the hell am I going to do with my life?”
“Jim, calm down. We don’t know if this is definite, and playing the ‘What if’ game is not helping. We’ll deal with it if and when it happens. There’s no sense worrying about it now.”
Jim sighed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“Besides, we’ve got to focus on the bigger picture and that’s finding out what caused this so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“I know. Just not tonight, ok Chief?” Jim said wearily.
Blair nodded. He could tell Jim was exhausted and could use a little downtime. It could wait until tomorrow.
“Ok, how about some dinner?” Blair asked.
Blair went to the phone to order the food, casting surreptitious glances at Jim as he did so. He hoped this wasn’t something permanent. He really didn’t know what Jim would do if he couldn’t be a cop anymore. And he was afraid to find out.
The next morning, Jim and Blair were eating breakfast consisting of bacon and eggs. Jim hadn’t slept well. He was tossing and turning all night until finally he just got up and sat out on the balcony until the sun came up. Blair was aware of his partner’s lack of sleep, but didn’t comment.
“Ok, Jim,” Blair said, “I’m willing to bet that whatever you smelled in that house is what caused your reaction. We just have to figure out what that smell was. What do you remember?”
Jim pushed around his food as he tried to think. “Not much. I remember getting hit with that smell the minute I walked in the house, and then I couldn’t stop coughing.”
“What about the smell? Did you recognize it?”
Jim shook his head. “I’ve never smelled it before. It had different components to it though.”
Jim closed his eyes. Blair put his hand on Jim’s arm reflexively. Jim concentrated on the memory of walking into the house and first smelling the odor. Once he had it, he tried to pick it apart.
“Cedar,” Jim said. “And aloe.”
“Ok, cedar and aloe. What else?” Blair asked.
Jim’s brow furrowed. He tried to analyze the odor further, but it was becoming harder to breathe and his mind was becoming fuzzy. Blair noticed Jim’s breathing was becoming labored and got worried.
“Jim? Jim, are you ok?”
But Jim didn’t answer as his breathing became worse.
Blair got up and ran up to Jim’s bedroom. He grabbed the inhaler from the bedside table and returned to Jim’s side in a second. Jim took it gratefully this time. Once he had enough of the medication, his breathing settled down, and he leaned back in his seat with a sigh.
“Are you ok now?” Blair asked, still worried. He hated seeing his friend like this.
Jim nodded. “Thanks.”
“I’m sorry, Jim. I shouldn’t have pushed. I should have known that was going to happen.”
“It’s ok, Chief. I’m just sorry I didn’t get anymore.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s better than nothing at least. I’ll do a search on the Internet and see what substances contain cedar and aloe. You just take it easy. Go watch a movie or something.”
“Watch a movie?”
“Yes. It’ll take your mind off of things.”
Jim looked at him dubiously.
“Just think of this as a vacation, a long overdue vacation. Now go on.”
Jim glared as the young man pushed him toward the living room. “Shouldn’t you be heading to the university or something?”
“No. I took the next few days off.”
“Chief, you didn’t have to do that.”
Blair shrugged as he started to clear the table. “Sure I did. We need to figure this out, Jim. Besides, I didn’t want to leave you alone.”
“I don’t need a babysitter,” Jim said in annoyance.
“I know that. I’m not a babysitter. I’m your friend who’s really worried about you.”
Jim looked into the blue gaze, saw the concern and compassion, and sighed. “Thanks, Chief.” He went into the living room.
Blair continued to clear off the table.
Blair looked up only to be hit in the face with a throw pillow. Blair’s lips thinned as he looked at his laughing partner. He was trying hard not to laugh himself.
“Thanks. I feel so much better,” Jim said, still laughing.
Blair picked up the pillow and walked around the table. “You think that’s funny, huh?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Oh yeah? Well, see if you think this is funny.” He threw the pillow back and managed to hit Jim right in the face.
“Oh now it’s on,” Jim said as he threw the pillow back.
They threw pillows back and forth at each other for a while, being careful not to break anything. When it was over, they were both sprawled on the couches laughing.
“Ok, I think we should stop before we break something,” Blair said. Or another attack comes on, he added silently to himself.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” And Jim was grateful Blair suggested it first. It was fun throwing pillows at each other, but truth be told, he was starting to feel a little winded.
“I guess I’ll go finish clearing off the table and then get on the Internet.”
Blair got up from the couch and went into the kitchen to finish cleaning up while Jim picked up the pillows and returned them to the couches. Then he was sat down, flipped on the TV, and started surfing through channels to see if there was a good movie on.
Jim was halfway through Die Hard when he heard Blair’s frustrated growl from the kitchen table where he sat in front of his laptop. Jim looked at his partner and saw him with his head in his hands. He then got up and came over to sit next to Jim on the couch.
“No luck?” Jim asked.
“No. I can’t believe how many things are out there that contain cedar and aloe. There’s no way I’ll be able to narrow down the list.”
“So then we’re back to square one.”
“Yeah. Ok,” Blair said, turning to face Jim and bringing one leg up onto the couch. “Let’s forget about the smell for now. What about what happened when you were a kid?”
“What about it?”
“Well, the doctor said that you had these same symptoms when you were eight. Maybe if you can remember what you came into contact with when it happened, we can figure out what caused it.”
“I don’t even remember it happening. Besides, we don’t know that whatever caused it then is what caused it now.”
“Well, it’s the best we have right now. Now come on, Jim. You must remember something.”
Jim leaned back and closed his eyes. He thought long and hard, trying to bring his elusive memories to the fore. Finally, he shook his head and opened his eyes.
“Anything?” Blair asked.
“Not much. I vaguely remember being in a hospital, but I don’t remember what for.”
“Well, what about your dad? You think he’d remember?”
Jim rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Then let’s talk to him. Ask him what he remembers.”
Jim got up from the couch. “I really don’t want to go there,” he said as he walked to the balcony windows.
Blair got up and went to stand next to Jim. He knew Jim and his father didn’t have a very good relationship, and if he didn’t push, Jim would never talk to the man. He hated to push when Jim wasn’t at his best, but this was necessary to find out the cause of Jim’s condition. This could very well mean Jim’s life.
“Look, Jim, I know you don’t get along with your dad, but you’re going to have to talk to him if we’re going to figure this out.”
Jim stayed silent, his gaze fixed outside the window.
“Look, just call him and ask him to come over. Or would you rather I do it?”
Jim glared at Blair, a glare that seemed to have no effect whatsoever on the persistent young man. Finally, he relented. “No, I’ll do it.”
A half hour later, Jim was opening the door to a very confused William Ellison.
“Dad, come on in.” Jim stepped aside the let the older man in.
“Jimmy, what’s going on? Why did you want me to come over?”
Jim walked into the living room where Blair was already seated. “Have a seat, Dad. I have a few questions for you,” he said as he sat down on the couch next to his partner.
William, still very confused, came and sat down on the other couch.
“Dad, do you remember me having to go the hospital when I was eight?”
William took a moment to think. “Yes. Yes, I remember. You had an allergic reaction. You were on a respirator for a while. It was one the scariest moments in my life.”
Jim shifted uncomfortably at his father’s statement. It didn’t escape the older Ellison’s attention, but he said nothing. He knew his bad relationship with his son was his fault. How could he blame his son for being uncomfortable?
“Why do you ask?” William asked finally.
Jim pulled the inhaler from his pocket and tossed it on the coffee table. He looked at his father and waited for his reaction.
William picked up the inhaler carefully as if it were made of glass. “Oh no. Not again,” he whispered. He looked up, his face pinched in concern. “Are you alright?”
“Aside from the fact that I can’t walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded, I’m fine,” Jim said sarcastically.
“Oh, Jimmy. I’m sorry this had to happen again. I remember it had been absolutely horrible for you back then.”
Jim stared at his father. He didn’t remember him ever being this sentimental or this caring. It was knocking him off-balance, and he didn’t like it.
“Dad, we need to know what caused this. Do you have any idea?”
“No, the doctors never figured it out. You had been out playing all day that day, and you never told me where you went. And afterwards, you didn’t really remember.”
Jim leaned back into the couch cushions. “Damn it.”
“Well, at least tell us what you remember about that day,” Blair said. “Maybe something will spark Jim’s memory.”
“I remember that day very vividly. It was a Saturday. You boys had left early that morning to go play. God, I didn’t even ask you where you were going. I just said, ‘Have fun.’ Anyway, I spent the day working in my study. I think it was around noon that I heard the front door open. I figured it was you boys coming home for lunch. Then Stevie came running in yelling that there was something wrong with you.
“I remember coming out of my study and seeing you on the floor gasping. God, I’d never been so scared in my entire life. I called 911 and stayed by your side until the ambulance came. You were on a ventilator for a while, and then after they took you off, you were still having some shortness of breath. The doctor prescribed an inhaler, which seemed to work. Then, after three or four weeks, the symptoms seemed to alleviate until you no longer needed the inhaler.”
After William finished, Blair looked to Jim. “Well? Do you remember anything?”
Jim sat staring at the wall. His dad’s story did spark some memory, but it wasn’t much and it wasn’t anything that’ll help them figure out the cause of all this. He shook his head. The other two both let out a collective sigh.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help, Jimmy.”
“It’s ok, Dad. It’s better than nothing,” Jim said. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and rubbed his face. “Wait. Did you say that Stevie left with me that day?”
“Was he with me the whole day?”
“I don’t know. I tried asking him what happened, but he was too upset to talk to me. Every time I brought it up, he’d get this frightened look and then run out of the room.”
Jim stood up and grabbed the cordless phone from the kitchen table.
“What are you doing?” Blair asked.
“I’m calling Steven. Maybe he’ll remember what happened.”
Jim dialed his brother’s work number and waited for his secretary to pick up. “Hi, can I please speak to Steven Ellison? This is his brother.” There was a pause and then, “What? You’re kidding. Well, when will he be back? Alright, could you please have him call me the minute he gets back? Just tell him it’s extremely important that he call me. Ok, thanks.”
“What’s up?” Blair asked after Jim turned off the phone.
“Steven’s on a business trip. He won’t be back until tomorrow.”
“So what do we do now?” Blair asked.
“We wait, I guess.” Jim dropped the phone on the coffee table and faced his father. “Dad, thanks for your help.”
“Are you going to be ok?” William asked as he stood up.
“Yeah. The doctor said the symptoms should alleviate in time,” Jim replied as he escorted his father to the door.
“You’ll call me if you need anything else, won’t you?”
Jim gave a half smile. “Sure, Dad.” He closed the door behind the older man and then leaned his forehead on it with a sigh.
Blair stood up from the couch and approached the sentinel. “Jim, are you ok?”
Jim lifted his head and turned around. “I don’t know, Chief. I just don’t know.” He tried to walk past Blair to his room, but the younger man grabbed his arm.
“C’mon, man. Talk to me.”
“It’s just…it feels weird.”
“I can…feel it…inside.”
Blair’s brow furrowed. “What are you talking about?”
Jim tried to search for the right words to explain. “It’s like my body is reacting to this foreign substance, and it’s constantly letting me know it’s there. I can feel it in my chest. I can feel in my lungs every time I breathe.”
“Ok, Jim. Calm down. You can feel that?” Blair asked, concerned but a bit awed at the same time.
“Well, are you ok?”
“Yeah, it doesn’t hurt. It’s just irritating as all hell and I don’t like it,” Jim said through gritted teeth.
“Ok, well, maybe there’s something we can do about that. Have a seat.”
Jim was aggravated and heading towards pissed off, but he sat down anyway. He trusted his guide to help him through this.
“Ok, now you know the drill. Close your eyes and take a deep breath.”
Jim did as he was told, but when he took a deep breath, he winced a little, which didn’t escape Blair’s attention.
“Are you alright?” Blair asked.
“Yeah,” Jim said, opening his eyes. “It’s just when I take a deep breath, it’s like grating in my chest.”
“Ok, we’re going to take care of that. Close your eyes. Now, I want you to catalogue all of the stimuli your senses are receiving and separate it into two categories: the outside stimuli, all the sights, sounds, smells, etc. that you sense out in the world; and the inside stimuli, everything that your body is telling you from the inside. You got that?” At Jim’s nod, Blair continued. “Ok, now I want you to focus your hearing on something on the outside, something that will keep you grounded.”
Jim immediately latched onto Blair’s heartbeat. He let the soothing beat echo in his ears and serve as a calming agent to his raging emotions. “Got it.”
“Ok, keep your hearing focused on that. Now turn your other senses on the inside stimuli. I want you to sift through all that your body is telling you and find that little irritant. You got it?”
“Yeah, I got it.”
“Now, push it out of your mind. Just don’t even worry about it. We already know what it is. We already know what’s causing it. We don’t need to worry about it now. Just push it aside.”
Blair watched Jim’s face carefully. The muscles in his jaw slowly relaxed, and he smiled as he opened his eyes.
“Well? Did it work?” Blair asked.
Jim took a deep breath. “Yeah, I don’t even feel now. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Now, how about some lunch?” Blair asked as he stood up.
“Yeah, I could eat.”
That night, Jim didn’t sleep well. He tossed and turned for hours, and when he finally did sleep, his mind was flooded with a barrage of images from his past. He remembered being a kid and coming home from playing outside all day, although where he’d been was still a blank. He remembered the fear when he couldn’t catch his breath. He remembered the sensation of suffocating and not being able to do anything about it. The experience had Jim sitting up in bed and reaching for the inhaler that was sitting on the bedside table.
Once he had his breathing under control, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and looked at the clock. It was only four in the morning. He knew he wasn’t going to get any more sleep this night so he got out of bed, grabbed his robe, and went downstairs. Careful not to wake up Blair, he silently went out on the balcony and sat down.
He sat out there and watched the sun come up. He heard Blair moving around and glanced at his watch. It was 9:00 a.m. He hadn’t realized he’d been out there for so long. He stretched to get the kinks out of his back and shoulders from sitting in that chair for five hours and went inside just as Blair was exiting his room.
“Hey Jim. What were you doing out there?” Blair asked.
“Oh, couldn’t sleep.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“I had a nightmare, that’s all. Actually, it was a memory.”
“Yeah?” Blair said, looking hopeful. “What did you remember?”
“Don’t get excited, Chief. It’s just what Dad told us. I remember coming home as a kid, and not being able to breathe. I remember telling Stevie to go get Dad and then collapsing to the ground. I remember Dad was there in an instant. I think it was the first time I’d ever seen him worried about me. Then the ambulance came and that’s all I remember.”
“Well, at least you’re remembering something. Hopefully, Steven will remember more. Did they say what time he’ll be back today?” Blair asked as he headed into the kitchen.
Jim followed as he replied, “Yeah, she said around two.”
“Ok, good. That’ll give us some time to figure out our plan of attack if he can’t help us. Listen, why don’t you take the first shower, and I’ll get breakfast started?”
After breakfast, the partners spent the next few hours brainstorming ideas. If Steven couldn’t provide anything helpful, then they had to figure out some other way of finding out the cause of all this trouble. They couldn’t go back to the crime scene because the investigation was still ongoing, and they couldn’t go poking around the scene until it was wrapped up. Hopefully that would happen soon, but they couldn’t count on it.
A few hours later, they were interrupted by the phone ringing. Jim grabbed the cordless from the coffee table and answered.
“Hello?” After a few moments, he handed the phone to Blair. “It’s for you, Chief.”
Puzzled as to who could be calling, Blair took the phone. “Hello? Oh, hey Sidney.” He got up from the couch and proceeded into his room.
Jim leaned back and turned on the TV. It was probably an old girlfriend or just some girl he really liked. This could take a while. About twenty minutes later, Blair came back out. He dropped the phone on the kitchen table and grabbed his coat from the hook.
“Sorry, Jim. I gotta run to the University really quick.”
“I thought you took a few days off.”
”I did, but Sidney needs help with something that really can’t wait. I won’t be long. I promise. Just turn on a movie or something. Or you could start making some lunch. I should be home in time to eat. Just don’t leave the loft, ok?”
With a flurry of activity, Blair was out the door and down the hall before Jim could object. Jim was left standing in the middle of the room, wondering what he should do next. He looked at his watch. It was almost noon. He supposed he could start lunch.
He went into the kitchen and started rummaging through the refrigerator and cabinets. He realized that they didn’t have much in the way of food. Certainly not enough for a full meal. They hadn’t had time to go grocery shopping the past few days. Closing the fridge, he contemplated what he should do. He didn’t really want take-out. They’d had take-out the last three nights.
He could go down the street to the supermarket. It wasn’t far, within walking distance. He could go down there, pick up a few things, and be back before Blair returned. He’d done it a thousand times before. What could happen?
He grabbed his wallet, keys, and jacket and walked out the door, not realizing that he had left his inhaler on the coffee table.
He made it the supermarket without incident. He grabbed one of the plastic hand baskets and proceeded to move through the aisles, filling the basket with a few things he needed to make lunch. He heard the bell over the door jingle, signaling another customer had entered, and then a few seconds later, he heard screams from other customers and a guy yelling, “Empty the cash register!”
You’ve got to be kidding, Jim thought as he dropped his basket and pulled his gun from the holster at the small of his back. He hurried to the end of the aisle and peered around the shelving. A tall, lanky guy was holding a gun on the cashier who was frantically stuffing money into a cloth sack. Unbelievable. He had to have the worst luck in the world. Of all the days for this shit to happen. Well, he had to do something. He couldn’t just let this happen.
He quietly made his way through the aisles so that he could get closer to the robber, motioning any customers he came across to the back of the store so they wouldn’t get hurt. He sidled up behind the robber and put his gun to the back of his head.
“Police! Don’t move!”
The robber stiffened but didn’t turn around.
“Put down your gun and put up your hands,” Jim ordered.
Slowly the guy did as commanded, and Jim thought that for once a crisis would be averted without incident. That is until he heard the bell over the door sound followed by the cocking of a gun. Jim quickly ducked out of the way just the second assailant started firing. He fired back a few times before diving into one of the aisles and taking cover behind the shelves. He heard a woman scream and peered out from his cover to see the second guy on the ground bleeding, and the first holding a young woman hostage.
“Let her go,” Jim said calmly.
“No way! You put your gun down first.”
“All right. I’m putting it down. See?” Jim slowly bent and placed his gun on the floor. “Now let the woman go.”
There was a minute of indecision on the robber’s part before he pushed the woman at Jim and bolted out the door. Jim caught the stumbling woman before she fell.
“Are you ok?” he asked.
She nodded tearfully and Jim handed her to one of the customers to take care of. He then picked up his gun and ran after the would-be robber, pausing a moment to make sure the other guy was down. He chased the guy down an alley, over a fence, and down the street, but after a while, he started to get tired and out of breath, but he pushed on. He felt his muscles start to weaken with lack of oxygen so finally he just lunged on the guy, tackling him to the ground. He got the guy in handcuffs fairly quickly and pulled him to his feet.
He felt weak with exhaustion and breathlessness, but he kept himself upright in order to get the perp into protective custody. He led his prisoner back to the supermarket where he could hear the police sirens. His vision was starting to gray when he handed his prisoner off to the nearest uniformed officer. Finally, he collapsed to his knees. He vaguely heard his name being called and then everything went dark.
Blair parked in front of 852 Prospect. Luckily, Sidney hadn’t needed him for too long, and he was able to get back not long after he had left. He went up to the loft and was surprised to find that Jim wasn’t there. He searched the entire loft but found no sign of his partner.
“Damn it, Jim. I told you not to leave,” he muttered as he headed toward the table to look for a note, but there wasn’t one. He stood in the middle of the room, contemplating on where his wayward partner could have gone. He noticed the inhaler sitting on the coffee table and sighed in exasperation. When was his stubborn sentinel going to get it through his thick skull that he needed to keep that with him at all times?
He walked toward the table to grab the inhaler but detoured to the balcony when he heard sirens in the distance. Leaning over the railing, he saw the police cars gathered around the supermarket just down the street, the one that he and Jim frequented. His heart dropped and he somehow knew that that had something to do with Jim.
He spun around and ran back inside. Snatching the inhaler off the coffee table, he ran out the door. He raced as fast as he could down the street and arrived just in time to see Jim collapse to his knees.
“JIM!” He ran forward and caught the older man just before he hit the sidewalk. “Somebody help!” he yelled as he lowered Jim to the ground, horrified to find out that he wasn’t breathing. Before he could start CPR, a couple of paramedics were pushing him out of the way. He stood back and watched earnestly as they stuck a tube down Jim’s throat, and started forcing air into his lungs.
The ambulance ride was a blur, and the next thing Blair knew, Jim was being whisked away into a trauma room and he was being left behind in the waiting room. He sat down in one of the hard plastic chairs to wait. He still had the inhaler in his hands.
Blair didn’t know how much time had passed before Simon ambled into the hospital like Blair knew he would even if he didn’t call him.
“Sandburg, what the hell happened?” Simon asked.
Blair stood up. “I don’t know, Simon. There was a robbery at the supermarket we usually go to. Jim must have gone there to do some shopping. Anyway, he tried to stop it, and I think he chased after the guy, and…I got there just in time to see him collapse. He’d stopped breathing.”
Simon sighed as he took off his glasses to rub his eyes. “And where were you when all this happened?” he asked accusingly.
Blair lowered his eyes. “I was at Rainier. I got a call from one of my students saying that she needed my help with something. I wasn’t gone that long. Nothing was supposed to happen. I shouldn’t have left him. God, why did I leave him?” He sat back down and started rocking, his eyes brimming.
Simon sat down next to the young man and put a hand on his shoulder. He felt like a heel for yelling at the kid. “Look, kid, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound accusatory. This isn’t your fault.”
“But I was supposed to be watching him. I was supposed to be taking care of him.”
“Blair, he’s not a child. He doesn’t need a babysitter. He made the decision to stop that robbery because it’s who he is. It’s in his nature to help people. You know that.”
“But he wasn’t supposed to leave the loft. I told him not to leave the loft.”
“Yeah, well, sometimes he doesn’t do what he’s told. I think he got that from you,” Simon said teasingly and was rewarded with a smile from the young man.
An hour later, Dr. West entered the waiting area, and Blair and Simon were immediately on their feet to meet him.
“Doctor, how is Jim?” Blair asked anxiously.
Dr. West rubbed the bridge of his nose and looked at Blair grimly. Blair swallowed hard. He didn’t like the look of that at all.
“It’s not looking good. Here, come into my office.”
He led the two worried men down the hall to his office and invited them to sit down while he chose to lean against the front of his desk.
“Well, what’s going on with Jim? Is he going to ok?” Blair asked impatiently.
“Right now, it’s hard to say. The symptoms, which we thought would dissipate, haven’t. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. It’s actually a good thing that he decided to go chasing after bad guys.”
“What? Why?” Simon asked.
“Because if this had been left untreated until his next check-up, the damage might have been much more severe. As of now, he’s unable to breathe on his own, but his lungs are still functioning with the aid of the respirator. We’re giving him antibiotics, and we’re trying out different medications to see which one will work best. Don’t worry.” Dr. West put up a hand to forestall the argument he knew was coming from the young man in front of him. “We’re not giving him that much, and we’re monitoring his condition very closely. I know Jim’s sensitivities. Trust me.”
Blair closed his mouth and slumped in his seat with a nod. He had to trust Dr. West. He knew more about Jim’s sensitivities than anyone. That’s the reason they chose him to be Jim’s doctor in the first place.
“So what now?” Simon asked.
“Now we wait. There’s really nothing more we can do for him. Now, it’s up to him.”
“Can I see him?” Blair asked quietly.
Dr. West smiled and nodded. “Thought you might say that.” He escorted the two men up to Jim’s room in ICU. “We had a cot brought in for you,” he said to Blair. “You can stay as long as you like, but you have to promise me that you will get some rest and you will eat. Otherwise, I will have you forcibly removed and send you home. Ok?”
“Thanks Doctor,” Blair said before he turned to enter Jim’s room. He paused at the door and tried to steel himself for what he was about to see, aware of Simon’s strong presence at his back. When he was ready, he pushed the door open.
He approached the bed slowly. He always hated seeing Jim lying in a hospital bed with wires and tubes running into his body and surrounded by all different kinds of machines. It was always so daunting. He sat down in the chair next to the bed and carefully took Jim’s hand.
“Hey there, Big Guy,” Blair said quietly. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but in case you can, I want you to know that I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere, buddy, so you just hang in there.”
He bowed his head and tried to hold back tears. He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and looked up into the concerned face of Simon. He’d almost forgotten the captain was there.
“Sandburg, I’ve got to head back to the station. Are you going to be ok here?” Simon asked.
Blair nodded. “Yeah, thanks.”
“Ok, I’ll be back later to see how Jim’s doing. I’ll even bring you some coffee and something to eat if you like.”
Blair smiled, but it was forced. “Thanks, Simon.”
After Simon left, Blair turned back to Jim, determined to stay at Jim’s side no matter what.
Blair wasn’t aware of the passage of time. Doctors and nurses came and went, checking Jim’s vitals and making sure he was still stable. And all the time, Blair remained at the sentinel’s side. There was no change in Jim’s condition. He hadn’t gotten worse, but he hadn’t gotten better either.
It was an hour or two later that Blair heard the door open. He turned thinking it was Simon with dinner but was surprised to see Steven standing in the doorway.
Blair stood. “Steven,” he said as the younger Ellison moved toward the bed where his brother lay.
“Blair, what happened?” Steven asked.
“Do you remember when Jim was eight and he had to go to the hospital?” Blair asked.
Steven looked stricken. “No, did that happen again?”
Blair just nodded.
Steven looked back at his brother. He looked like he was lost in thought, and Blair wondered what he was thinking.
“It’s worse this time, isn’t it?” Steven finally asked.
Blair nodded. “That happened a couple of days ago. Dr. West prescribed an inhaler like the one he used when he was kid, but it got worse rather than better. Of course, Jim chasing after a robber didn’t help.”
They both smiled, both knowing that Jim would go after any criminal even if he was suffering the gravest of wounds. That’s just who Jim was. Nothing stopped him and nothing slowed him down when he was trying to protect the tribe.
“Anyway, the reason we needed to talk to you was because we needed to know how much you remember about the day Jim went to the hospital. We need to know what caused this.”
Steven sat down in the chair Blair had been sitting in earlier. Blair pulled another chair forward and sat down next to the younger Ellison.
“I don’t know what caused it, but I do remember where we were. I remember back then Jim and his friends had this tree house out in the woods just beyond the football field where Jim used to play football. It was like their own secret clubhouse, and Jim never let me come no matter how much I begged or pleaded. Then finally he caved. I guess he got tired of me asking.
“I was so excited that morning. We ate breakfast as fast as we could, told Dad we were going out, and then practically ran out the door. We met Jim’s friends at the football field and then we set off into the woods. There was this small stream that we had to cross to get there, but it had rained the day before so the stream was flooded and we had to take the long way around. We spent the whole day at the tree house.”
“And you didn’t go anywhere else?” Blair asked.
Steven shook his head. “No, we didn’t leave until lunchtime when we headed home. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. Wait…” He paused, his expression thoughtful.
“I remember on the way back I tripped and fell down an embankment into a patch of flowers, and Jim came down and helped me back up.”
“Flowers? What kind of flowers?”
“Um…I don’t know. They, uh, they were purple.”
“Violets?” Blair suggested.
“Um…” Blair racked his brain, trying to think of other flowers that were purple. “Irises”
“Yeah, that’s it. They were Irises.”
“And Jim came into contact with them?”
“Yeah, we were both practically crawling around in them. Wait, do you think that’s it?”
Blair rubbed his chin. “Maybe. But I didn’t see any Irises at the scene.” He grunted in frustration. “I wish I could go back there and check it out.”
“Why can’t you?” Steven asked.
“Because it was a crime scene. We can’t go poking around until the case is solved.”
They both sighed and slumped in their chairs. It looked like they weren’t going to get any further at the moment.
“Well, thanks for the info, Steven. It was a big help,” Blair said, patting him on the back.
“You’re welcome. I just wish we could have figured it out sooner.”
Blair nodded in silent agreement and they both returned their gazes to the still figure on the bed. A few minutes later, the door opened and a nurse poked her head in.
“Mr. Sandburg, there’s a phone call for you at the nurses’ station.”
“Ok, thanks,” Blair replied. He turned to Steven. “Steven, do you mind staying with him?”
“Of course I will.”
Blair nodded his thanks and left the room to take his call.
“Hello?” Blair said into the phone.
“Sandburg, it’s Simon. How’s Jim doing?”
Blair sighed. “There’s been no change.”
“Damn it. Well, I have some good news for you. The murder has been solved. You can go look at the crime scene if you wish.”
“Really? Oh that’s perfect, Simon, because I think I have an idea of what caused this.”
“Well, Steven told me that when this first happened they had fallen into a patch of Iris flowers, and it was after that that Jim had the attack. So if I can find some Iris flowers at the scene, we may have our culprit.”
“Iris flowers?” Simon asked. “Are you sure that’s it?”
“Yeah, I mean, it’s the only thing I can think of,” Blair replied.
“Hard to believe that all this trouble was caused by a flower.”
“I know. Thanks for the info, Simon. I’ll let you know what I find.”
Blair handed the phone back to the pretty nurse behind the counter. She smiled at him sweetly, and he gave a small smile back before turning to go back to Jim’s room. Normally, he’d be trying to get her phone number, but his heart just wasn’t in it. He was too worried about Jim.
As he walked back down the hall, he thought about what he should do next. He was now free to check out the crime scene, which is what he’d been wanting since this happened, but right now, he just didn’t feel right leaving Jim. He knew Steven would take good care of his older brother. Since they had met back up with each other at the race track, they had been working on repairing their relationship. But there were just some things that even Steven couldn’t do.
Steven looked up as Blair reentered. “What was that about?”
“That was Simon,” Blair replied as he reclaimed his seat. “He called to tell me that the case has been solved, and I can go check out the scene now.”
“That’s great. So what are you still doing here? Go check it out. Go prove your theory.”
“I-I can’t,” Blair stammered, at a loss as to how to explain what he was feeling. “I don’t want to leave Jim.”
“I’ll stay here with him. You need to find out for certain what caused this. For Jim’s sake.”
Blair bit his bottom lip worriedly. Finally, he said, “Ok. I shouldn’t be gone long. Don’t leave him alone.”
“I won’t. Now go.”
Blair stood, leaned over Jim, and whispered in his ear sentinel soft, “Jim, I have to go, but I won’t be long. You just hang in there. Don’t you dare leave me.” Then he left the room and hurried down the hall and ran right into William Ellison. “Oh, Mr. Ellison.”
“Blair, how’s Jimmy?” William asked worriedly.
Blair licked his lips. “Not good. The doctors aren’t optimistic about his recovery.”
There was a look of such grief and sorrow on William’s pale face. “Can I see him?”
“Yes, of course. His room is that door right there. Steven’s already with him. Look, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go.” Blair continued past the elder Ellison.
“Wait, where are you going?”
Blair stopped and turned around. “I may have figured out what caused this. I need to go make sure I’m right.”
“But…” William started, cleared his throat, and continued, “what does it matter if he’s…not going to make it?”
“He’s going to make it,” Blair said confidently.
“But you said the doctors weren’t optimistic.”
“The doctors may not be, but I am. And you should be too.” William looked doubtful but nodded. “Ok, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Blair turned and left. He wasn’t exactly as confident as he sounded, but he couldn’t afford any negative thinking. Hell, Jim couldn’t afford any negative thinking. His mother always talked about the power of positive thought. Well, he hoped in this case his mother was right. Besides, thinking positively didn’t make you worry so much.
Jim found himself walking through a dense jungle. At least, he thought it was the jungle. There was a fierce wind blowing so hard into his face that he had to put an arm up to shield his eyes. He could barely see anything, and no matter which way he turned, the wind was always blowing right in his face. It blew so hard, he had a hard time walking. He almost got blown backwards a time or two. And leaves hit his face and arms so hard it hurt, but he continued on. He didn’t know where he was going. Only that he had to keep moving, keep fighting the driving wind.
He felt so lost without his guide. He tried to find him but all he saw were leaves whipping about and not much else. He tried to call to his guide, but his words got lost in the strong gusts of wind. Still he pushed on, trying to find his way back, trying to find his way home. He paused to try to get a feel of where he was, but it was too dark and the wind was too strong for him see anything clearly.
He felt the ground shift beneath his feet, and suddenly, he was falling. He fell for what seemed like an eternity before his fingers latched onto the rock wall in front of him. With nothing below him but a deep chasm, he held on tight to the rock face. He’d fallen over a cliff. He’d fallen over a cliff that he hadn’t even seen. Looking up, he tried to judge how far it was to the top, but the wind blew dirt and grit into this eyes, nose, and mouth until finally he had to tuck his head against the rocks to escape the irritation.
He started climbing, but without being able to look up to see where he was reaching or what he could grab, it was very slow-going. He grabbed a piece of rock that crumbled in his hand and he slide down the face a couple of feet before he could get purchase. His strength was quickly leaving him as he held on against the gale force winds. He couldn’t hold on for much longer. He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the jagged rock.
“Chief, where are you?” he whispered. “I need you.”
Blair entered the house that had been the sight of a grisly murder. Now, where to start, Blair wondered. Well, might as well start where Jim did. So he entered the living area and followed the path that Jim had taken just a few days ago. Was it only a few days ago? Blair thought. Seemed like much longer.
He went around the room, looking carefully at every nook and cranny, but there were no Iris flowers in sight. Not even a petal, and Jim hadn’t left this room. He paused in the middle of the room to think. Maybe he was wrong about the Iris flowers. Maybe it was something completely different.
Then he remembered the mysterious odor. It had been the first thing Jim had smelled when he came in, and it had him sneezing and coughing right away. Jim had said that the odor contained cedar and aloe. Maybe there was Iris flowers mixed in there as well. But what would smell like cedar, aloe, and Irises?
Of course. Blair snapped his fingers. Incense. His mother had taught him how to make incense when he was a kid. Cedar and aloe were just a couple of the many ingredients that could be used to make incense. And any type of flower could be used, including Irises.
He quickly searched through the entire house and found an incense burner upstairs in the bedroom. A half burned incense cone was still there. It looked like the victim had been burning incense just before she was killed, and that’s what Jim had smelled. Nearby he found the remnants of what had been used to make the incense, among them pieces of Iris flowers.
Bingo! He couldn’t help grinning at his triumphant discovery. It quickly faded though as his thoughts turned to Jim. This discovery of his won’t do any good if the sentinel didn’t make it. He shook his head. No, he wasn’t going to think negatively. He had to think positively. He stood up and was hit with a sudden wave of dizziness.
*Chief, where are you? I need you.*
Blair put his hand on the wall to steady himself as he shook his head. The dizziness faded to be replaced with a sense of urgency. Jim. Jim needed him. He grabbed the incense cone from the burner, making sure to use his sleeve. He was sure that it was only harmful to Jim when it was burned, but he wasn’t taking any chances. Stuffing it in his pocket, he hurried out of the room.
He drove back to the hospital as fast as he dared. When he got up to ICU, his heart froze when he saw Steven and William standing outside Jim’s room looking anxious and worried.
“Steven. Mr. Ellison. What happened?” Blair asked.
Steven looked shell-shocked. It didn’t look like he was going to be saying anything anytime soon so William answered instead.
“Jimmy’s heart rate started to drop dramatically. The doctors are in with him now. No word on how he’s doing. They’ve been in there for about twenty minutes.”
Blair was horrified. No, it couldn’t end like this. He wouldn’t let it end like this. He just had to let Jim know that he was there. He didn’t imagine it before. He had heard Jim’s voice. Jim needed him, and he wasn’t going to let him down. He went passed the two men and entered Jim’s room, ignoring their protests.
Blair froze at the scene before him. Doctors and nurses worked furiously over the prone form of his partner. The heart monitor beeped incessantly, and the number indicating Jim’s heart rate was dangerously low and still dropping.
“Jim,” he whispered.
Dr. West noticed Blair’s presence and left his position at Jim’s bedside. “Blair, I need you to wait outside,” he said, ushering Blair back toward the door.
Blair resisted and moved closer to Jim. “No, I’m not leaving. Jim needs me.”
“Blair, you’ll just be in the way. Let us work.”
“I said I’m not leaving,” Blair said forcefully.
Dr. West sighed as he saw the stubborn determination in Blair’s eyes. He knew he wasn’t going to win. “Fine, but you stay out of the way.”
Blair nodded eagerly, and Dr. West returned to his work. Blair inched slowly toward Jim’s bed as he watched doctors work vainly to save the sentinel. He placed his hand on Jim’s ankle where he would be out of the way, but still be in physical contact with Jim.
He closed his eyes and blocked out everything that was going on around him. “Jim,” he whispered. “I’m here, buddy. It’s ok. Come back to me.”
Jim clung to the cliff face as the strong wind continued to blow around him. His strength was waning fast. He couldn’t hold on much longer. He felt his hands starting to slip, and then he heard the howl of a wolf above him. He looked up and saw the outline of a wolf standing up on the precipice above his head.
*Jim. I’m here, buddy. It’s ok. Come back to me.*
“Blair,” Jim whispered, and suddenly the air cleared. The wind stopped, and the sun shone brightly, illuminating the land. His strength and energy returned, and he felt like he could do anything. Getting a better grip on the rocks, he started to climb. It was suddenly so easy when before it had felt impossible. Finally, he reached the top and found himself eye to eye with the blue-eyed silver wolf. He knew instinctively that this was Blair’s spirit animal.
He smiled and scratched the wolf behind the ears. “Thanks, Chief.”
The wolf licked his face happily until the panther came out of the trees, and the wolf went to greet his old friend. Jim stood up and watched the two animals with wry amusement. They butted heads playfully, and the panther proceeded to sniff the wolf from head to tail, presumably making sure the wolf was unharmed. The wolf endured this and just laid its head on the panther’s back contentedly. When they were done, they both walked side by side toward the tree line. They both paused and looked back at Jim who was still standing at the cliff’s edge.
Jim could take a hint. They wanted him to follow them. Where they were going, he couldn’t say, but hey these were his and Blair’s spirit animals. They couldn’t possibly lead him to danger, could they? Shaking his head, he followed after the two large animals.
Blair opened his eyes and smiled as he heard the beeping of the heart monitor speed up to a normal rhythm. The doctors and nurses all stood around in awe of what had transpired. Dr. West looked at Blair, who just smiled back.
The staff examined Jim one last time before they filed out of the room until only Dr. West and Blair remained. Dr. West waited until the door closed behind the last person before turning to Blair who still had his hand on Jim’s ankle.
“Blair, I have to tell you. I’ve never seen anything like that in my entire career as a physician. Jim was slipping away, and nothing we did had any effect. It is in my professional opinion that he should be dead right now.”
Blair stared at the doctor, giving away nothing. “So what’s your point?”
Dr. West sighed and turned away. “I always thought that there was something special between you two. Now I know.” He turned back to face the young man. “Whatever happened here, it wasn’t because of us.”
Blair didn’t say anything. He didn’t know where the doctor was going with this, but he wasn’t going to confirm or deny anything. He trusted this man with Jim’s life. There was no doubt about that, but he wasn’t sure he should tell him about the whole sentinel aspect. Maybe one day, they would tell him, but not today.
When Blair offered no reply, Dr. West said, “Alright. Clearly you don’t want to talk about it, so I’m not going to pry. I’ll be back later to check on Jim.” He walked to the door.
“Doctor,” Blair called. West paused at the door and turned around. “Thanks. And listen, I need to be in constant contact with Jim for the next few days.”
Dr. West put up a hand. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure you’re not disturbed. After what I just saw, I think you have a better chance of curing him than we do.”
“Thanks. Oh, and doc,” Blair called. “I think I figured out what caused this.”
“Iris flowers. You see, Jim’s brother said that they had been crawling through irises when they were kids, and it was soon after that that Jim started having those symptoms. And today I found this at the crime scene where Jim collapsed the first time.” He pulled the incense cone out of his pocket and handed it to the doctor.
West looked at it closely. “What is this? Incense?”
“Yes, and I think it was made with iris flowers. I found the ingredients scattered around the room.”
“Hm. Well, I have the lab analyze this just to make sure. Good job, Blair.” The doctor patted him on the shoulder before leaving the room.
After the doctor was gone, Blair seated himself by the head of the bed, reached through the bed railing and took Jim’s hand. He could still see Jim hanging from a cliff. It was almost as if he had actually been there, and who knows, maybe he had been. He could remember seeing the jungle and the cliff through the wolf’s eyes. The wolf was still there. He could feel it, guiding the sentinel back home. Jim needed him now more than ever, needed him to guide him back to the land of the living so to speak. He shuddered to think what would happen if he left for he knew that if he left now, Jim would be lost once again. He wasn’t moving, he vowed. He wasn’t going to take his hand off of Jim until he saw those pale blue eyes open.
The door opened, pulling Blair from his thoughts. Steven and William entered, both looking anxious and worried.
“Blair,” Steven said. “How is he?”
“Better. He’s stable now.”
“Thank god,” William sighed in relief.
Steven blew out a breath. “I thought for a minute we were going to lose him.”
“Not while I’m here,” Blair said.
“How can you be sure?” William asked.
“I can just feel it. As long as I’m here, he’ll be ok.”
The two Ellison men traded glances. William looked skeptical, but Steven was more inclined to believe. He had spent more time with these two than his father had, and he recognized the special relationship they had with one another, was even a little jealous of it at first. Then he realized that he was lucky to have a relationship with his brother at all, and he had a feeling he had Blair to thank for it. If Blair believed that Jim was going to be ok, then he did too.
Steven put his hand on Blair’s shoulder and gave it a little squeeze. “It’s ok, Blair. We understand. We won’t interfere.”
William looked at his younger son quizzically but didn’t say anything, and Blair was grateful for small favors.
Jim walked through the dense jungle following the panther and the wolf. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been walking. It felt like forever. At least it wasn’t dark and windy anymore. He could be grateful for that. He saw the two animals disappear into some brush and hurried to catch up. Pushing his way through the leaves, he found himself standing in front of a rope bridge that stretched across a wide, deep chasm. The panther and wolf were already on the other side. How the hell did they get over there so fast, he wondered.
He inspected the bridge closely. It didn’t really look very sturdy. Some of the wood planks looked rotted and brittle. He glanced back at the two animals. They were sitting on the other side looking at him expectantly. Ok, they wanted him to cross. Breathing deeply, he stepped on the first plank that looked strong enough to hold him. When it didn’t crack or break, he continued on with careful steps.
About halfway, one of the wood planks broke beneath his foot and his leg fell through the bridge. He grabbed a hold of the rope to stop his fall. He looked up and caught the wolf’s eyes, and suddenly, he could hear Blair’s voice.
*C’mon, Jim. You can do this. I’d be a nervous wreck in your place, but not you. You’re stronger than I am. You were never afraid of heights. Something like this should be easy for you. Now, c’mon. Get back up.*
Jim nodded and slowly pulled himself back up and continued on. Not far from the other side, Jim heard something that sent his heart racing. The ropes were breaking. Throwing caution to the wind, he broke into a run. He jumped the last few feet just as the bridge collapsed under him. He hit the edge hard and then used the collapsed bridge like a ladder to climb back up. He crawled a few feet forward and then sat back on his haunches to catch his breath. The wolf butted his head against Jim’s arm, and Jim smiled. He rubbed the wolf’s head reassuringly.
“Yeah, I’m ok,” he said. Satisfied, the wolf and panther continued on their journey. “When is this going to end?” Jim asked with a sigh as he got up and followed.
Blair awoke to find himself back in the hospital. He looked over at Jim and squeezed the hand he held gently.
“That’s what I want to know,” he answered Jim’s question.
Glancing at his watch, he was surprised to find that it was morning. The last thing he remembered was William and Steven leaving for the night, promising they’d be back in the morning. That had been around 8:00pm. He must have fallen asleep not long after that. The next thing he knew, he was back in the wolf’s body watching Jim cross a rope bridge in the jungle.
His heart was in his throat when he saw Jim nearly fall through the bridge. Luckily, he was able to coax Jim to getting back up and continuing on. His heart nearly stopped when the bridge collapsed. He’d wanted to give Jim a hand up, but he couldn’t exactly do that when he had no hands to give.
He stretched languorously and found that he really needed to take a bathroom break. There was a bathroom just down the hall, but he was afraid to leave Jim alone even for a second.
Simon came in at that moment carrying two Styrofoam cups. “Sandburg, how’s he doing?”
“Better. Doctor says his vitals are a bit stronger.”
“That’s good to hear. Here, I brought you some coffee.” Simon handed Blair one of the cups.
Placing the cup on the table nearby, Blair stared at Simon, trying to decide what he should do. He didn’t want to leave Jim, but then again, if he didn’t go right now, he was going to pee his pants.
“Simon,” Blair finally spoke up, “would you do me a favor?”
“Would you sit with Jim for a minute? I need to run to the bathroom really quick.”
“Oh, of course.”
Blair stood up and leaned close to Jim’s ear. “I need to leave you for just a few minutes, but I’ll be back as soon as I can. I promise.”
After Blair was gone, Simon sat down in the chair Blair had just vacated and looked at the pale face of the man in the bed. It was hard to believe that this was the same man whom he called his best detective. He hoped Jim got better soon.
Dr. West walked in at that moment. “Oh,” he said in surprise. “Captain Banks. I didn’t expect you’d be the one sitting there.”
Simon smiled. “Yeah, well, Blair had to take a run to the bathroom.”
Simon watched quietly as the doctor examined Jim and wrote some things down in his chart. He opened his mouth to ask how Jim was doing when Blair walked in.
“Oh, hey Dr. West,” Blair said as he walked to the bed and immediately took Jim’s hand. “So, how’s Jim doing?”
“Better. But he still has a long way to go.”
“I know,” Blair sighed.
“Oh by the way, I had that incense cone analyzed. You were right. There was Iris flowers mixed in. So it looks like that’s our culprit. I’ll add it to his list of allergies and sensitivities.”
“Thanks Doc,” Blair said as the doctor left the room. He was relieved the mystery was finally solved, but that still didn’t help Jim.
“What incense cone?” Simon asked.
“I found an incense cone at the crime scene. It looked like the victim had been burning incense before she was killed.”
“And that stuff had irises in it?” Blair nodded. “Oh man.” Simon sighed. “Look, Blair, I want you to take a break. Go get some sleep or some food.”
“C’mon, Blair. You’re exhausted. How long has it been since you’ve eaten or slept, and I mean in a real bed?”
“I don’t know,” Blair muttered as he picked at a loose fiber in the blanket.
“You’re not going to do Jim any good if you wear yourself out.”
“I can’t leave him.”
“I’d be happy to stay with him, and I’m sure Jim’s father and brother would be too.”
“No, it’s not that, Simon. It’s just…it has to be me. I have to stay with him. At least until I know.”
“Know what?” Simon asked puzzled.
“That he’ll be ok. That he made it back.”
Simon looked confused.
Blair sighed as he tried to find the right words to explain. “He’s lost, Simon. And if I’m not there to guide him back, he’ll die.”
“Is this a sentinel thing?” Simon asked.
Blair gave him a half smile. “Kind of.”
Simon put his hands up as if to ward off impending doom. “Alright. I don’t need to know anymore. Look, why don’t I go get you something to eat. That way you won’t have to leave Jim’s side.”
Blair nodded and Simon left satisfied. Blair turned back to Jim. The sentinel did look better. He wasn’t as pale as he had been, and the doctors had said that he was starting to fight the respirator and that he may be ready to have that tube removed soon. But he was still wasn’t back yet. Blair could sense it. Blair settled in the chair, his hand still latched onto Jim’s and, with one last sigh, fell asleep.
Jim walked through the trees, trying to keep up with the panther and wolf. He felt like they’d been walking forever, and there seemed to be no end to this jungle. Jeez, how long is this journey, Jim wondered. And where are we going, and how will I know when we get there?
The panther suddenly stopped and growled at something off to the right, stepping in front of the wolf protectively. The wolf growled too, trying to see around his larger companion. Jim saw some leaves moving not far away. He took a few careful steps toward whatever it was. He caught sight of an orange striped head and yellow eyes.
There was a loud roar as a tiger bounded into view, and it didn’t look to happy they were there. Jim froze. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do with the angry cat. The panther roared and leapt into Jim’s back. Jim felt his body suddenly changing and lowering, and suddenly, he was the panther. It was definitely a weird sensation. Well, Jim thought, at least the odds are more even. He leapt forward with his powerful hind legs just as the tiger was getting ready to attack.
The two great felines traded blows and rolled on the ground, trying to gain the upper hand. Jim hit the tiger across the face with one massive paw, and the tiger reciprocated with a claw across the panther’s neck. Then the tiger pounced and tried to bite Jim’s neck, but he pushed it off and came back with another attack.
The wolf sat idly by as the fight continued. Blair watched the fight through the wolf’s eyes. Blair wanted to help, but he couldn’t. He knew he couldn’t. This was Jim’s fight. Still it was hard to watch. He winced every time Jim got hit.
The fight seemed to last forever until finally Jim got the upper hand. He knocked the tiger to the ground and then pounced on it. He bit into the tiger’s neck and started chewing until the tiger no longer moved. The panther moved back and suddenly Incacha was there.
“Well done, Inquiri,” the shaman said with a smile.
Jim looked back at the tiger, but it was gone. He suddenly found himself back in his own body with the panther sitting next to him. Confused, he looked back at Incacha.
“Incacha, what’s going on?”
“What you have experienced so far has been a test.”
“Yes. To prove how strong your will is to live.”
Jim’s brow furrowed. “You’re saying that I’ve been fighting for my life this whole time?”
“Yes, and you have proven your will strong and your choice a just one.”
“My choice? What choice?” Jim asked. He heard a small whine and looked down at the wolf at his feet. The wolf nuzzled his hand, and Jim rubbed his head obligingly.
“You have chosen your guide well,” Incacha said. “And now it is time for you to go back.”
Blair woke with a start and looked at his surroundings. Realizing he was back in the hospital, he sighed and rubbed his face. Did that really happen? Shrugging, he stretched to get the kinks out of his back and neck.
The beeping of the heart monitor started to speed up. Blair brought his attention to Jim just as the sentinel’s eyes opened. Blair was out of his chair in instant. After pressing the call button, he gripped Jim’s hand tightly and made sure he was in Jim’s line of sight before he said anything.
“Jim? Can you hear me, buddy?”
It took a moment for Jim’s eyes to focus. He blinked a few times before focusing on Blair with a question in his eyes.
“Hey, it’s ok,” Blair said. “There’s a tube down your throat to help you breathe, but I think the doctor can remove that shortly. You had me worried there, big guy.”
Dr. West walked in followed by a couple of nurses. “Blair, what’s…” He paused when he saw Jim’s eyes open. “Well, Jim, it’s good to see you finally awake. Well, I think we can remove this tube now. What do you think?”
Jim nodded eagerly. The doctor smiled before he began unhooking the respirator.
After the tube was removed and Jim had a few swallows of water to alleviate his sore throat, Jim finally got to ask the question that plagued him. “What happened?”
“Well, it appears that your symptoms hadn’t been getting better as we originally thought they would,” Dr. West answered. “If fact, they got worse.”
“Yeah,” Blair took over. “You’ve been unconscious since yesterday afternoon. Of course, chasing after a would-be robber didn’t help your condition any.” Blair crossed his arms and looked stern.
Jim had the grace to look sheepish. He knew he was going to get hell for that little stunt. “Well, what was I supposed to do? Stand there and watch?”
“Oh no. Of course not. That’s not in your nature. You know, I told you to take it easy. I told you not to leave the loft, and the first thing you do is go chasing after robbers.”
“Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?” Jim asked with a grin.
Blair raised an eyebrow. “Touché.” He tried to look indignant, but he couldn’t stop the smile from creeping onto his face. It was good to have Jim back.
“Well, the good news is,” Dr. West interrupted, “that you seem to be getting better. Your vitals are stronger. You don’t seem to be having a hard time breathing. All in all, I think you’ll make a full recovery.”
“Does this mean I can go home?” Jim asked.
“Not yet. I still want to keep you here for a few more hours for observation and few more tests.”
“Great,” Jim said sarcastically, putting on a fake smile.
“Don’t worry, Jim. We’ll get you out of here as soon as we can. I’ll check back with you later on.”
After the doctor left, Blair turned to Jim. “So Jim, how are you feeling?”
“Better. At least I can breathe easier now,” Jim said, taking a deep breath.
“Well, that’s good. Oh, by the way, we figured out what caused this.”
“What?” Jim asked, curious.
“Iris flowers? How did you figure that one out?”
“Well, Steven said that the day you went to the hospital you guys had been playing at this tree house out in the woods, and that on the way back home, you both fell into a patch of irises. And it was soon after that that you started getting those symptoms. And earlier, I went to the crime scene and found a half burnt incense cone. The doctor analyzed it and confirmed that it was made from irises.”
“And that’s what I smelled when I first walked in,” Jim stated.
“Yep. That’s it.”
“Wait a minute,” Jim said. “You took something from a crime scene?”
“No, no. It’s ok. Simon said I could. The case is solved.”
“Oh. Ok. So I guess I have to avoid irises from now on, huh?”
“Sounds doable,” Jim said with a yawn. He rubbed his face to try to wake up. Even after being asleep for almost two days, he still felt tired.
“You know Jim, why don’t you get some sleep? I’m sure by the time you wake up you’ll be able to go home.
Jim nodded. He closed his eyes but then opened them a minute later. “You know Chief, I had the weirdest dream. I was following a panther and a wolf through the jungle. I had to cross this rope bridge and fight this tiger. It was pretty intense.”
“Uh, Jim,” Blair said hesitantly. “I don’t think that was a dream.”
“What do you mean?”
“Because I was there. I saw it all. I was the wolf.”
Jim opened his eyes wider. “What? How is that possible?”
“I don’t know,” Blair shrugged. “You’ve had visions before with the panther. Maybe this time, we shared one.”
“This is getting weird, Chief.” After a moment’s thought, Jim looked up at his partner. “Thanks, Chief. I couldn’t have made it back without you.”
And it was the truth. He wouldn’t have even made it off that cliff if Blair hadn’t been there to help him. He owed the kid his life. And maybe this whole sharing visions and spirit animals wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Of course, that didn’t mean he wanted to go through something like that every day. No thank you.
“Well, what are guides for? Now get some sleep. I’m sure Simon, your dad, and your brother will be by soon to check on you.”
Jim nodded and closed his eyes. Blair leaned back in his chair as he watched the steady rise and fall of his friend’s chest. Well, the mystery was solved. Jim was getting better. And all was right with the world.