New Arrivals
Author-Sherrylou and Author-LindaS
Titles

Say It With Flowers
by Sherrylou and LindaS

Summary: It's been six weeks since Sarris made her last appearance. Is she gone or just biding her time? Spoilers for Switchman. This story follows Secret Santa and is the second installment in Death Takes a Holiday Series. Rated PG for language.

Note: Many thanks to CJ (Alberte) for her excellent beta job!

Disclaimer: Not ours!

In the late evening hours, no one in the Cascade Medical Building seemed to notice the mousy woman clad in a janitorial gray outfit pushing a cart full of cleaning supplies. With her hair tightly pulled back into a bun and thick glasses perched on her nose, she slipped invisibly down the office building's hallway. Pausing in front of an oak-stained door marked 'Dr. Anderson,' she expertly picked the lock.

Switching on a small bank of lights, she crossed over to the large row of filing cabinets.

"Let's see, A to C, D to F," the woman mumbled as she pulled open the second drawer and began to rifle through the files. " Eisler, Eller, Ellicott...Ellison."

A wide smile broke across the plain-looking face; the eyes dazzled as they flitted over the pages in the folder.

"Now isn't this interesting?" A small chuckle escaped from her throat. *Oh, what I can do with this information...the possibilities.*

*****

"I don't believe it!"

"What?" Blair grabbed the paper from Jim and quickly skimmed the letter before it was snatched back.

Angry eyes scanned the memo once again. Not that it was totally unexpected, but Jim had hoped for more time. The usual conciliatory excuses burned his eyes -- fiscal responsibility, effective use of manpower, public trust and safety.

Damn! He wasn't giving up. Not yet. Not with her out there, location unknown, planning whatever.

He grabbed the memo and stormed into Bank's office without knocking, the words flying hotly from his mouth. "What is this, sir?"

The captain set his pen down and looked at the paper in Ellison's hand. "Oh, yeah...uh, that," he hedged for a moment, then cleared his throat and sat up straight, meeting the incensed detective's eyes. In a calm, but authoritative voice, he stated, "I believe it's self-explanatory. We have other cases pending that are more pressing."

"More pressing than taking out the bitch who blew up several buildings, killed eight people, and almost killed Blair?" Jim moved closer to the desk, towering over his superior. "When were you going to tell me, Simon?" he asked, waving the piece of paper in front of the captain's face. "Huh? I had to find it out in a weekly memo"

"It'll be kept opened. We just can't justify the manpower. As far as we know, she could be in Timbuktu by now."

"Or right across the street!"

Simon stood up, forcibly slamming both hands down on the desk. "Now, look, Ellison! We've had every available detective in Major Crimes working on this case, many on their own time, but it's time now to pull back. I can't justify the hours, and you know it!"

"Is that you talking, or are you parroting what's been channeled down?"

"You're bordering on insubordination, mister."

*****

Blair looked toward the captain's office, wishing the blinds had been closed. He could read the fury in Jim's gestures, and the loud, muffled noises indicated that Simon was giving back as good as he got. Seeing wary, downcast eyes sneaking peeks at the explosive scene, he decided that maybe now would be a good time to interrupt.

He couldn't fault Jim. But after six weeks and no leads, it was time to move on. Face the facts. She had to be gone. Jim couldn't keep devoting all his free time toward finding Veronica Sarris. It was obvious that the detective was exhausted, working long hours not only on this case, but also on a few others.

Getting up, Blair grabbed a folder as a decoy and headed toward the office. With a quick rap, he opened the door and leaned through the opening. The shouting stopped and both heads whirled his way. Gulping at the twin sets of orbed daggers flashing dangerously at him, he steadied his voice and said lightly, "Hey, Jim. That file you wanted from Records is here."

Those few words broke the volatile mood, and Blair relaxed a bit as Jim's shoulders slumped, obviously embarrassed by his actions, and the captain returned to his seat.

Gesturing with a conciliatory hand, Simon spoke first. "Look, I'm sorry, Jim."

"I understand, sir."

"Do you?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, I do. I'm not happy about it, but I understand."

"I think my work is done here." Blair grinned, happy to see reconciliation between the two men, and as Jim approached him, smacked him lightly with the file. "Come on. Let's follow up that lead on the Hennesey case."

Jim followed Blair out of the office, pausing as he closed the door to rub at his nose. "A-a-achoo!"

"God bless you." Blair looked over his shoulder at the sneezing man. "You catching a cold? Hey, I got something in my backpack that'll fix you right up."

The observer chuckled at the low-throated groan he heard coming from his partner.

*****

Jim couldn't believe the faith Blair put in those herbal concoctions of his. Sneezing again, the detective, not watching where he was walking, bumped into the young woman pushing the pastry cart.

"Sorry," he apologized while steadying the girl.

She averted her eyes from the detective and mumbled, "S'kay." Turning around, she continued her way out of Major Crimes.

Jim stared at the back of the departing woman; his brow scrunched up in concentration. There was something familiar about her, and he asked, "Sandburg, who was that?"

"Who?" Blair questioned, then turned to look in the same direction as his sentinel. "Oh, that's Claire...Dolly's replacement while she's on vacation. Not quite as cute, is she?"

Jim smiled at Sandburg's remark. It figured that he would have the lowdown on anything wearing a skirt. And yet, there was something about her...maybe her hair? Carolyn's hair was that same reddish-brown color. A sharp jab in his side brought him out of his musing. Eyeing the perpetrator, Jim just shook his head as Blair innocently grinned at him.

"The Hennesey case...remember?" Blair held up the file.

The baffling thought tickled the back of his mind, and not wanting to let go of it, Jim responded with a reluctant, "yeah," as he sat down at his desk. "So, what's this big lead you found, Sandburg?" He directed part of his attention to Blair's rambles as he continued to puzzle over the doughnut girl. Who did she remind him of? If only he could remember.

*****

Resisting the temptation to look back, Veronica pushed the cart to the bank of elevators. She carefully schooled her face, nodding to the other people waiting beside her. She could barely suppress a giggle, and coughed a little to cover up the tittering sound. Stupid men. They never noticed what was right under their eyes unless it was food. They could probably recall what variety of doughnuts was on the tray today before remembering the color of her shirt.

And Ellison...he didn't even recognize her! A little hair color, tinted contacts and make-up were all it took. She was careful, though, not to draw too much attention to herself, appearing just pleasant-looking, not attractive like that little pastry tart. Poor Dolly. Getting rid of the original doughnut girl had been easy. She'd just sent her on a vacation...permanently.

The past month had been a busy one for her, securing a new place to live, obtaining some money, and most importantly finding out all that she could on Jim Ellison and his ever-present sidekick, Blair Sandburg. 'Know one's enemy.' She had read that once on a small slip of paper found in a fortune cookie. It was good advice, which she followed.

All week she had free rein of the station while pushing the pastry cart. Office gossip and certain files provided a wealth of information. And it seemed wherever Ellison was, Sandburg was right there with him, except for the times when the young man was at the university. Several times she even followed Sandburg to the university and mingled with the co-eds at the Student Union Center. The students loved to talk about their professors, and a few well-phrased questions got her an earful about Ellison's quirky partner.

The door to the elevator opened, and she maneuvered her cart inside. Turning so she was facing toward Major Crimes, she smirked -- smiling in the knowledge that they'd given up looking for her.

It had been an added bonus to be there when the high and mighty Ellison found out they were shelving the case and went storming into the captain's office. The detective put on quite a show with his ranting, nearly losing control. And all because of her. The power she had over them was addicting. She felt like a puppet master pulling the strings, and she could hardly wait for the next act to begin. Soon, very soon...and then she would have her revenge.

*****

*A few days later*

Megan swung her handbag down onto her desk with a heavy thud as she dropped wearily into her chair. She may have caught the perp with Joel's help, but not without sacrifice. Her stockings were torn and ripped and her shoes...well, they didn't look as if they had survived the chase. Sighing, the Aussie leaned over to remove her mud-encrusted pumps. Another pair ruined, good going, Mate. Grabbing the comfortable brown loafers she kept in the bottom drawer of her desk, she slipped them on and escaped into the break room. A double espresso was what she needed, but she'd settle for coffee...as long as it was hot.

Scowling, she returned a few minutes later, cup in hand. She could hear the boisterous laughter as Joel's deep voice outlined the account, to those willing to listen, of the great capture and arrest made by Major Crimes' female detective. Hey, it wasn't her fault that the criminal turned out to be a thirteen-year-old shoplifter or that Joel's massive girth prevented him from following through the small gap in the fence. The kid led her on a merry chase through some of Cascade's seediest lots and for what? A CD of Britney Spears and a pack of gum. Well, let the old boys' club laugh it up, she'd...

Whatever revengeful thoughts churning around in her mind fled as she gasped in surprise, nearly spilling the coffee. On her desk sat an arrangement of flowers, and not just any arrangement. It was filled with an assortment of fresh flowers, flowers she didn't think were available this time of year. Setting the cup down, she removed the attached card, reading to herself, "To Megan, Happy Valentine's Day. Your Secret Admirer."

"Brown." Megan turned toward the detective's desk. "Did you see who delivered these?"

"Nah, not really. I was just returning from the men's room. So, who're they from?"

"Don't know." Megan blushed, puzzling over the possibilities. Perhaps it was Bob in Dispatch or Troy in Narcotics.

"Oh, how pretty," Rhonda remarked entering the room. She sat down her armful of papers on Megan's desk in order to better admire the flowers.

"Yeah," Megan said smiling, agreeing with the secretary.

"Well, I better get back to work." Rhonda sighed as she picked up her pile, accidentally brushing against the flowers. "Duty calls."

Megan watched the woman head toward the captain's office. She couldn't help but notice the slight, envious glint in Rhonda's eyes. Well, Valentine's Day wasn't over yet. Maybe, she'd have her own bouquet by the end of the day.

Sitting down at her desk, her spirits lifted as the light flowery fragrance reached her nose. Megan gently touched the petal of one small, blue flower before picking up her pen and turning her attention to the report. Perhaps there'd be something to look forward to this Valentine's Day.

*****

Jim blew and wiped his nose before stuffing the handkerchief back into his pants pocket. God, he hated colds, especially since he couldn't take over the counter medicine like normal people. Times like these, being a sentinel sucked. He could feel his sinuses filling, the slight wheeze in his chest and the annoying tickle in his throat.

And then there was Blair...fussing about and saying to him what did he expect with staying up all hours in pursuit of Sarris? He was bound to get sick.

He sneezed again and glowered at Simon. It was his fault...his fault that he was now trapped in this office with the assistant DA. You would think the captain of Major Crimes would have some pull in these matters, but apparently not.

Tugging at his tie, the miserable detective attempted to clear his throat. He hated wearing a tie and suit, he hated going to court and he hated meetings with the DA or in this case, the assistant DA.

Jim threw Simon a withering glance, wondering how much longer this meeting was going to go on. He was glad that the get-together was being held in the captain's office, glad for the first hour or two. Now he was uncomfortable and hot, when did it get to be so hot in here? He swallowed and cleared his throat again. He had to remind himself that this pipsqueak lawyer was on their side. The case was a simple open and shut one, but Mr. Herman, being new with the DA, was anxious to prove himself. It appeared that no detail was too mundane.

Relief was provided when Rhonda knocked and opened the door.

"Here are the copies you wanted," she announced as she briskly dispensed the set of papers to each person sitting in the office. "Would any of you like me to order lunch?"

"We couldn't possibly break for lunch, yet," the assistant DA sputtered.

Rhonda only nodded in response. However, Jim caught the pitying look in her eyes that she sent his way before exiting.

Silence momentarily filled the office as each man took a few minutes to glance over the documents in their hands.

Jim lightly shook his papers, having noticed a light yellow powder dusting the surface. Curious, he rubbed his fingers across the document transferring the residue. Rolling the substance between his fingers, he turned up his sense of touch. The fine golden grains remained a mystery, so Jim brought his hand up toward his face. He was able to catch a faint scent but with his cold, it wasn't strong enough to identify. Puzzled, he increased his sense of smell, inhaling deeply, and promptly sneezed.

"Bless you, Jim," Simon automatically responded while pushing the box of Kleenex on his desk closer to the suffering detective.

"Thanks, Sim...er, Captain." Jim grabbed a tissue and sneezed again.

"Now, Detective Ellison, if we may continue the questioning. Please tell me again where you were standing at the time of the arrest in relationship to the accused," the small man squawked as he pushed his glasses back up his nose.

"As I stated in my report, Mr. Herman, I was outside Robert's Jewelry Store on the northwest corner of Main."

"Please be accurate, Detective Ellison. Remember you are scheduled to go on the stand this afternoon." The attorney paused, his face clearly reflecting his displeasure with the officer before him. "And the cross street was...?"

"The cross street was Fourteenth..." Jim paused to cough and swallow. Damn, his throat felt really dry. "Excuse me." Jim reached for the cup in front of him and drained the now cold, bitter coffee. However, the liquid really didn't seem to help whatever was bothering his throat. Looking at his yellow-tinged fingers, he guiltily wondered if he made a mistake trying to recognize the substance. The powder didn't seem as fine as when he first touched it. It seemed more coarse with larger particles...particles that right now were aggravating his throat.

"Is that Fourteenth Street, Detective?"

"Yes," Jim uttered before coughing again. Now not only was he hot and uncomfortable, but he also felt like he couldn't get enough air. Loosening his tie, his eyes pleaded with his superior. "Captain, is all this really necessary?"

Simon raised his eyebrow and then addressed the assistant DA. "Mr. Herman, all this information has been provided to you in the report. Furthermore, you have spent over two hours grilling my detective. May I remind you that he is not the one on trial?"

"I understand that, Captain Banks, however my job clearly is to..."

Whatever the two men were discussing was lost on Jim as suddenly he was gasping for air. His throat constricted, his chest felt tight, and if there was any air in the room, he sure didn't feel like he was getting his fair share. Rising unsteadily to his feet, he stumbled toward the door. Jim was sure he heard Simon shouting something in the background as he grappled with the doorknob, but he was too busy trying to breathe to comprehend what the captain was saying. Swinging the door open, the detective staggered out toward his desk.

The air outside of Simon's office appeared no better, perhaps even worse. Wheezing, Jim searched the faces before him. Spying Sandburg walking into Major Crimes, the detective managed to gasp, "Blair," before dropping down on his knees.

*****

Blair exited the elevator carrying a take-out bag from Sam's Delicatessen. Once he saw the assistant DA that morning, he was sure Jim wouldn't have much time for lunch before his scheduled court date this afternoon. He knew Jim was feeling a bit under the weather, and he decided that he would treat his partner, forgoing any lecture on fats and cholesterols. He had Sam make up one of his special Reuben sandwiches, adding one bag of chips and a large vanilla milkshake.

As he walked into Major Crimes, he noticed Simon's door opening. Good timing! Jim would have a chance to eat his lunch before the hearing.

The smile on Blair's face fell as he watched his partner stagger out of the office. As he observed Jim sinking to his knees, the paper bag slipped out of his grasp, hitting the floor with a plop.

"Jim!" Blair cried. Rushing over, he kneeled beside the stricken man, placing a hand on Jim's hunched-over shoulders. He felt the struggle the man was having in breathing. He could audibly hear the wheezing with each breath. Looking toward the many faces peering at the spectacle, Blair questioned, "What happened?"

"I'm not sure. Jim just suddenly stood up and stumbled out of my office," Simon answered. "Has anyone called this in?"

"The medics are on their way," Joel replied

"Can't...seem...to...breathe," Jim managed to puff out. "Inhaled...something...yellow...on...paper."

Simon shot a look at Rhonda, and Blair followed that look with his eyes. The confused secretary took a stop back from their scrutiny.

"I just brought in some copies. I came straight from the copy room...I...I only stopped by Megan's desk on the way."

Taking a look toward Megan's desk, Blair muttered, "shit," under his breath when he saw the flower arrangement. He immediately recognized the small blue flowers. More than likely he was dealing with a severe allergic reaction due to Jim's curiosity. Knowing Jim with his bad cold, he'd probably opened up his senses, trying to identify the substance, and not realizing his sensitivity, made matters even worse. *Ah, Jim. Don't you know that curiosity killed the cat?*

"Can somebody get rid of those flowers?" Blair shouted, barely noticing as Brown grabbed the vase and exited the room.

Blair supported Jim in his current position, rubbing a hand across his back. Jim's breath sounds were getting worse. "Let's see if we can get you fixed up here." Blair guided his friend back until he was sitting upright with his back against the front of his desk. Removing Jim's tie, he quickly unbuttoned the top few buttons of the shirt.

"Simon, can you pull open Jim's lower desk drawer. There should be a package with an inhaler in there."

The captain quickly located the package and handed it to Blair. "Do I even want to know why you have this?" Simon hissed under his breath.

"Jim has had a few mild asthma attacks in the past. The doctor thought it would be wise to keep one on hand. Don't worry, we've tested the medication," Blair explained quietly as he hastily opened the bag and removed the inhaler. He gave the object a few shakes, removed the cap, and then quickly test-sprayed the inhaler, making sure the mouthpiece was clear. Turning his attention back to his stricken partner, Blair placed an arm around his shoulder. "Here, Jim, this will help your breathing. You know what to do."

He watched as Jim exhaled and brought the blue inhaler up to his mouth. On inhalation, Jim depressed the button dispensing the medication.

Supporting Jim, Blair cautiously observed the detective holding his breath before exhaling. "That's good, that's good. Now try to take some normal breaths."

"Can't," the man gasped.

"That's okay...we can give it another shot." Blair took the inhaler and gave it another shake. "Here try again."

Placing the inhaler in Jim's shaky hand, Blair assisted him in bringing it up to his mouth. Noticing his partner's increasing weakness, he helped Jim complete the second treatment.

Blair looked on hopefully. "Any better."

The weakened man could barely shake his head. "No."

He heard Jim struggling to get air into his lungs, but quickly squelched the panic he was feeling. What was going on? By now he expected the medication to offer some relief.

"Well, third time's the charm," Blair spoke with false bravado.

"No," Jim gasped, pushing without strength against Blair's hand that was holding the inhaler, before dropping his arm limply to the side. "No...good."

Confused, Blair attempted to place the inhaler in Jim's mouth. He felt Jim's warm hand on his wrist stopping him, and his friend's tired eyes pleading with him.

"No...good...diff...erent."

Blair was momentarily stunned as he watched his sentinel gasping. Telltale blueness around the man's lips indicated the lack of oxygen Jim was getting.

"I don't understand," Blair mumbled as he examined the discarded inhaler. Popping out the canister, terror seized his chest as he stared at the blank, white item.

"Shit, this isn't right."

"What isn't right, Blair?"

The observer turned his shocked eyes toward the captain. "This...this isn't right." Blair held out the canister. "It's suppose to be Ventolin, I know it. I just replaced the canister two weeks ago. There should be writing on it."

As the implication sank in, Blair felt the canister removed from his hands and heard Simon ordering Joel to have Forensics run tests ASAP. Dazed, he turned his attention back to Jim. The man was barely conscious, but at least the medics had arrived. He watched them as they scampered around his partner, gathering information. He scarcely heard Simon's telling of the event until the captain used the words, "possible poisoning." Oh, God, had he poisoned Jim?

He watched as the paramedics worked on his partner, hearing terms being bantered about such as cyanotic and respiration very shallow. His heart clenched as they hooked Jim up to a transport ventilator. *Don't die...oh, please, Jim...don't die.*

Blair stumbled forward as the medics packaged Jim onto a gurney and moved toward the elevators. A hand restrained his progress, and Blair found himself staring up into Simon's concerned brown eyes. No words came out of his mouth. What could he say? His body, betrayed by shock, began to tremble. A large hand slid across his shoulder, and Blair felt himself pulled close into the captain's side. Without Simon's support, Blair doubted he would still be standing.

"Come on, let's head to the hospital...Jim will need you."

Blair numbly followed, letting the older man direct the way. He could only hope that by the time they arrived at the hospital that Jim *would* need him.

*****

With the morning rush over, Veronica parked her cart in the first floor supply room, retrieved her coat and purse, and then made her way down the hallway toward the side exit. Today was the day. She wanted to run, skip, shout, do something to release her pent-up excitement, but knew that she needed to remain in control. Her stomach quivered in anticipation, like the exhilarated feeling of riding a roller coaster. All the pieces were finally coming together.

She had approached each objective as a well-planned mission. She had been methodical, disciplined, just like in the Navy -- just like back when she was the Switchman. How else had she eluded the police for over six months? Veronica still wondered how Ellison had clued in on her. What had she done to give herself away?

Captain James J. Ellison. That name left a bitter taste in her mouth. Now he was a detective for Major Crimes -- and alive. She couldn't forget that. No -- no not that. Back in the institution, Dr. Burke had said that she'd needed to let go of her anger and thoughts of revenge, make peace with the past, and embrace the future.

What a load of crap! Embrace the future. Where'd he read that, in one of his psychobabble books? The only thing she wanted to embrace was a headstone bearing the name of one James Ellison.

A deep, familiar laughter echoed down the hallway and caught her attention. *Daddy?* she thought hopefully. The hard lines of her face melted away, and she stretched her neck, searching the corridor expectantly. Her mouth gaped open in surprise as a large man approached her, and her bright eyes flitted over the tall man, taking in his solid bearing and confident stride. *Here. I'm right here, Daddy.* With each step the man took, her heart thumped loudly in joyous anticipation. As he neared, the man gave her a little nod and then continued to walk past her.

Letting out a small gasp, Veronica turned to face the wall as she realized that the man wasn't her father, but a stranger. She had forgotten just for a moment that her father was dead. But it had seemed so real. That laugh -- the man's physical shape. Her face fell, and she fought back the stinging tears that burned her eyes. Balling up her fists, she pounded on her forehead, angrily chiding herself. *Stupid, stupid, stupid! Focus, girl. Stay in the here and now!* Taking a shaky breath, she settled down and then slipped on her coat. Her fingers fumbled with the buttons, still trembling from the illusory experience.

Stepping out of the police station, Veronica pulled up her coat's collar, warding off the cold February wind, and walked around the corner to the front of the building. Looking down the street, she decided to have lunch at the corner coffee shop. As she checked her watch for the time, she wondered if her surprise had been delivered yet. She was only sorry that she wouldn't be there to see the result.

A loud commotion drew her attention toward the entrance of the building where she noticed a crowd gathering. Curious, she pushed her way to the front, arriving just in time to see two paramedics wheeling a gurney toward a waiting ambulance.

A smile crept over her face as Sarris recognized the dusky pale face of Detective Ellison. She bit her bottom lip to keep from snickering. Gee, he looked pretty sick, like almost dead. Veronica dipped her head, hiding her face, as her eyes glittered in evil delight.

The ambulance pulled away with its lights flashing and siren blaring, and the people began to disperse in different directions now that the excitement was over. Veronica took one last look at the departing emergency vehicle. A celebration was in order, but first there was something she had to do. They had to know. Turning around, she reentered the police station, calculating just what she would say in the note.

*****

Simon guided the mumbling man to a chair and then crossed over to the registration desk. Even from there, he could still make out the words, "It's my fault...If Jim dies," that the distraught observer kept repeating.

Sighing, as he was able to learn nothing about his detective's condition, he returned to Blair.

"It's not your fault...you know that, Blair," Simon asserted.

Blair raised his sorrowful eyes. "Who knows what was in that canister, Simon. Even you thought it could be poison, and I was the one helping to dispense it."

Simon shook his head. "You couldn't have known." The captain wondered about the coincidences, the flowers, Jim's reaction, and the switched canister. It had to be planned. Blair had explained in the car over to the hospital that Jim probably reacted to the flowers. Blair recognized the culprit. It was sage. True, Jim had always shown sensitivity to sage, sneezing at the incense burned by Sandburg's mother on her occasional visits. But Blair explained that the bouquet included a variety of sage, some uncommon in this country, especially in Cascade. Jim probably hadn't encountered the pollen from those flowers before.

The captain made a note to get Brown and Rafe to pull Jim's cases. Someone wanted him out of the way, and there was one suspect that was already a forerunner in that category.

Hearing his name paged, Simon crossed back over to the receptionist and took the phone handed out to him.

"Banks here...yes...one minute." Covering the mouthpiece, Simon asked the receptionist for the fax number and then repeated it over the phone. Hanging up, he told her that an important fax would be coming concerning the patient, Jim Ellison, and that the doctors would need to see right away. Getting her assurance to carry out the task, Simon moved back over to Blair.

"So, what was all that about?" Blair stood up to face the captain.

"The report on the canister." Simon watched as the observer's face blanched. "There was nothing in it...nothing but air and a propellant. The lab thought it could be one of those demonstration models used in doctor's offices for training. There was no poison in it, Blair."

"But there was no medication either."

Simon was at a lost at how to respond. Luck was with him as Blair spied Dr. Anderson crossing over to them.

"Doctor, how's Jim doing?"

The elderly gentleman smiled as he removed his glasses and pulled out a handkerchief in order to clean the lenses. "He's responding fine, Blair. Just received the fax from your office, Captain, and I have to say I'm glad we're not dealing with anything else."

Simon suddenly felt lighter. "So he's going to be okay?"

"It looks that way. We'll be continuing treatment and monitoring him closely due to the severity of the attack. It was probably due to a combination of things...the flowers, his cold; the propellant from the canister might have even aggravated it. Once we get his symptoms under control, we'll be keeping him overnight for observation."

"Would the medication have helped if Jim received it sooner?" Blair questioned.

"That's hard to answer." The doctor paused as he slipped his glasses back on. "I spoke with the paramedics, and they were of the opinion that it was a good thing they thought poison had been involved. Normally, their protocol would be to provide oxygen and to set up an inhaler treatment. In Jim's case, the medication probably wouldn't have worked since it's only good if the patient can breathe deeply enough to move the drugs to the alveoli for absorption. It appears that the attack was very severe, and that Jim was so centrally hypoxic that he probably wouldn't have been able to keep the inhaler in his mouth. If they had first attempted treatment and hesitated ventilating him, Jim most likely would have gone into respiratory failure to the point that resuscitation might have been futile."

"When can I see him?" Blair asked in a shaky voice. Simon wondered if perhaps the information provided by the doctor was too much for the observer.

The doctor chuckled at the question, breaking the tension in the room. "Soon, Blair. We want to get his oxygen saturation up before moving him into a regular room. We'll keep you posted."

"Thanks, Doc" Blair shook the man's hand. The captain watched the doctor disappear behind the double doors before turning his attention back to Blair. Glancing over at the kid, Simon noticed that for the first time since Blair walked in on Jim's collapse, the kid appeared to relax.

*****

Blair sat next to his friend's bedside listening intently to his quiet inhalations. Was it only five or six hours ago that he was trying to will Jim to breathe? Pleading for him not to die?

"You're doing it again." The slurred voice startled Blair.

"What do you mean?"

"You're listening to me breathe," Jim mumbled drowsily

"How do you know...scratch that question." Blair decided that now was not the time to probe into his sentinel's abilities.

"Go home...or to the station or get something to eat. All I'm going to do is sleep."

Blair watched as Jim closed his eyes. He knew today took a lot out of his friend between the cold, the attack, the treatment and now the drugs. They came so close to losing him. When he found out who... Blair shook his head. Nope -- not going there. He pushed down his anger trying to center himself.

"I guess I'll head back to the station. I left my backpack there and then maybe get something to eat. But I'll be back."

As Blair rose, he placed a hand on Jim's arm. The drowsy man's murmured response was unintelligible, but the nod of his head indicated to Blair that Jim had heard him.

"You get some rest," Blair whispered softly as he left the room.

*****

Heading over to where he'd left his backpack, Blair spied a muffin sitting on Jim's desk. "Whoa, what's this," he said to no one in particular. A pink envelope decorated with hearts lay by the muffin with the name 'Blair' written on it. He smiled at the sight of the Valentine treat and picked up the envelope. The surprise lightened his heart. Wondering whom it was from, Blair opened the envelope and pulled out the Valentine's Day card. After today's events, a cheery note was definitely in order right about now.

His whole body tensed, the fingers of his one hand digging painfully into his palm, as he read the message. Closing his eyes for a moment, Blair swallowed convulsively and choked back the burning bile in his throat as he struggled with the mounting anger. Unable to restrain himself, he snatched up the muffin and blindly threw it with all his might.

Ducking, Brown called out, "Hey, Sandburg! Watch it!" as the muffin narrowly missed the detective. The cake-like projectile continued its journey, skimming the top of a filing cabinet, before finally thudding dully against the far wall.

"Damn it! I don't believe it. I don't freaking believe it! She was here." His voice quivered in uncontrollable rage as he held onto the card. "All this time, watching us. All week long!" Spinning around, his foot lashed out, solidly connecting with a nearby filing cabinet.

The metallic "clunk" silenced the bullpen as all eyes turned in his direction. Breathing hard, he stared back, not one bit embarrassed by his outburst, until the startled spectators returned to their work.

The throbbing of his toes helped to clear his head. Taking a few cleansing breaths, Blair sat down hard in Jim's chair. Picking up the card, he turned it over in his fingers. His first impulse was to tear the thing into a thousand pieces...but it was evidence. So instead, he stared at the words, hoping to gleam some sort of information. Blair never noticed the approach of the captain until his large frame cast a shadow across the writing.

"You want to explain the floorshow?" When the distraught man didn't answer, Simon dropped a report onto Jim's desk, and said softly, "Fingerprints came back from the inhaler. It's a match for Veronica Sarris."

"Well that would explain this."

"What's that?" Simon nodded toward the card.

"A note," Blair spat bitterly. "It says, 'Roses are red, violets are blue, flowers are deadly, too bad for you. Love, Claire, AKA Veronica.'"

His eyes turned hard as he handed the note over to the captain. It was one more piece of evidence, but it didn't bring them any closer to catching Veronica Sarris. *Bitch, bitch, bitch!* he mentally cursed her. *Rot in hell!* However, now was the time to face the facts, and he had to admit that even though an underlying determination thrummed through him to grab her mangy little hide and toss her into the deepest pit, never to see the light of day, it scared him to voice what was already known. In a strained voice, he asked, "She's not going to stop, is she, Simon?"

The captain remained silent for a moment, and then resolutely shook his head. "No, I don't think she is."

Hanging his head, his long hair hiding his face, Blair closed his eyes, slowly accepting the captain's response. No, she wasn't going to stop. Instead, they would have to stop her, stop her before...before... He let loose a frustrated sigh. Sitting back up, he angrily pounded a fist on the desk. "Oh, god, I hate this!" Direction. They needed some direction.

Hopefully, he looked toward the other man for that guidance and asked, "What are we going to do?"

~*~The End...for now~*~