Small World

by Calista Echo

 

There was so much he didn't know, where he was, how he'd gotten there, why no one came. And there some things he did know. He knew he had been shot. He knew that his shoulder felt like a red-hot poker was repeatedly being jabbed into it.

He knew that grass growing made a soft, groaning noise, that ants made a lot of noise, that every small and previously silent thing seemed to make noise. He knew thirst, and heat and cold, and blinding light and darkness, so much darkness.

And he knew pain. His clothes, damp with morning dew, razored his skin with every movement, the dirt he lay in was pebbled with diamond sharp stones, and his shoulder-it was every nightmare he'd ever had magnified. The pain was bad-but he'd had bad pain before. This pain never let up, never released him to sleep, never loosened its hold for even a moment. And then came the real nightmare, the sensation of being eaten alive, bit-by-bit.

He knew all this was insanity, the insanity that had been creeping up on him the last few weeks. For a time in the grass and dirt, he was able to push the insanity back, quiet the cacophony that ate at his mind. Then the distant roar of the lawnmower kicked in, unbearably loud in the hot summer evening, and Jim's last hold on sanity was torn away.

+++++

A month after Jim was reported missing; Simon was notified about a John Doe that matched Jim's description.

The hospital administrator, Dr. Sparrow, had been vague about his John Doe, something about a gunshot wound and a strange reaction. Rather than pin the man down, Simon left work and headed for Spokane. Simon was sure it was Jim and everything would be fine now that he'd been located.

Driving as if the spirit of James Ellison possessed him, he got to Spokane in record time.

Arriving at the address Sparrow had given him, Simon frowned. He'd been expecting a hospital, but the building was small, perched overlooking the river, the grounds manicured in a way that announced Clinic. Buzzed in and told where to find Sparrow, his purposeful stride faltered as he took in the "patients" of the Adelman-Sheffer Institute.

None walked. They shuffled or skittered, their energy seemingly either depressed or manic. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rafe and did a double take. But it wasn't Rafe; just a dark haired man shambling down the hallway.

Shuddering at the horror of thinking one of his men had been reduced to that, he hurried on, anxious to get Jim out of this place.

Entering the Administrator's office, he felt vaguely depressed, in contrast to the elation he had felt when he had first heard about the John Doe. "One of my men was brought here," he informed the secretary, "and I want to see Detective James Ellison right now."

"Have a seat, I'll let the doctor know you're here." Her smile held sympathy, but instead of giving comfort, it worried him.

Backing away from her desk, he studied the diplomas on the walls. The guy was a psychiatrist. What the hell was going on here?

It wasn't long before the office door opened and Dr. Sparrow emerged, a smile on his moon face. "At last! Perhaps someone who can tell us about our mysterious John Doe. I'm Peter Sparrow." The rotund little man held out his hand and seized Simon's in an enthusiastically damp grip.

"Come in to the office." He gestured to the open door, but Simon didn't want to sit through some hearty chitchat about his trip, or the obligatory, "Brace yourself, it might not be who you hope it is."

"I'm sure it's Jim Ellison. He fits your description and has been missing a little over a month, which fits the time frame of your John Doe. I'd like to see him and start the process of getting him home."

"You can see him, but that's about it." The doc looked pained and Simon had a bad feeling about that. "Come in and sit down while I try to explain." Simon followed him into the large, airy room. The windows were the kind that didn't open and the piped air felt dead and stale. "What're you saying? He's in a coma?"

That damn, sympathetic smile made a comeback. "Oh, no, nothing like that. He's alert, but he doesn't speak, hasn't spoken an intelligible word since he was brought in. He doesn't respond normally to any stimuli, and no one has been able to figure out what kind of mental illness he's suffering from."

Simon longed for a cigar. Something to bite down on. Hard. "Mental illness? What the hell are you talking about? Jim has no history of mental illness. He's as sane as anyone I know and a damn fine man."

Sparrow jerked back a little at that. "Mental illness strikes damn fine men, Captain." Sparrow's tone had changed from warm to somewhere north of Anchorage. Opening the thick file in front of him, he asked, "Do you know if there's any history of drug use? It could be a psychotic break."

Clenching his jaw, Simon ground out, "Hell, no, no way has Ellison ever ingested drugs- well, not voluntarily." Simon seized on that possibility. "Could that be it? He was given something? A drug, a poison?"

Sparrow patted the file in front of him. "There were no indications of drugs or toxins at the time he was admitted to Spokane General."

"What the hell did they do to him at General?" Simon knew his tone was borderline belligerent, but he knew this was a bunch of crap.

Sparrow's soft face settled into hard lines. "They did what they could for his body. As for his mind, well, they weren't prepared to deal with someone in that state."

"State?" Simon shivered and crossed his arms against the frigid air-conditioning." What do you mean his "state? Just what in the hell's wrong with him?" Simon leaned in, trying to read the file upside down, deeply suspicious of this nonsense.

Sparrow pulled the file closer to him.

"He was found in a field south of Cheshire. Evidently he'd been there awhile, because the gunshot wound was so badly infected maggots had gotten to work-which tells you how long he had to have been there." Sparrow acknowledged Simon's shudder with a grimace of his own.

"But aside from the infected wound, there were no other signs of trauma. He couldn't tell anyone who he was or what had happened. For a time they thought he must be autistic."

In contrast to Simon, Sparrow was sweating and took off his jacket. Then he opened the three-inch file in front of him and read.

"He can't stand to be touched and gets agitated when people come near him. He spits out most of his food, tears his clothes off, spends the day with his eyes closed, and his hands over his ears as if he's afraid. Sometimes he scratches at his skin until he bleeds." Sparrow looked up, shaking his head. "I wish we knew what happened to him in that field."

Simon bowed his head. Jim had complained before his disappearance about all sorts of weird shit happening, but he hadn't wanted to hear it. He hated weird shit. He just assumed Jim would be fine once they closed the case.

How was he supposed to know it was something else? If he had a nickel for every cop who bitched to him....aw, hell. This was Jim-the Jim who you couldn't force to take down time, who'd refused to come in for six weeks from the stake out at the lumber mill. He should've paid attention.

Sparrow's secretary came in with coffee. The heat from the cup was welcome and Simon tried to fortify himself for what was coming. It no longer seemed the simple retrieval he'd envisioned.

+++++
Sparrow led the way down white hallways. There were a great many people moving about vacantly, their minds somewhere else entirely. Simon shivered. The damn air conditioning was set too damn high.

"Here, he's in this room."

The small window set in the door revealed that John Doe was indeed, Jim Ellison. Simon's joy at seeing Jim gave way to dismay as he looked at the man in the padded cell. He was straight jacketed and sprawled limply against a wall. His eyes were shut tightly, and his head lolled forward.

Simon closed his own eyes for a second, trying to blot out the reality of the scene. Then he stood up, burying his pain with anger.

"Get him out of there right now!" What kind of place was this? Next thing they'd want to use electric shock on him.

Sparrow put his hand on Simon's shoulder and said sympathetically, "I'm afraid that's not possible."

Simon jerked away from the touch. "Why the hell not?"

"Detective Ellison is as safe and as comfortable as we can make him right now." Simon bit down on his unlit cigar and hoped like hell this was just one big mistake that could be straightened out with a little growling.

"Safe? Comfortable?" What the hell would these people call uncomfortable and unsafe? "Look, I've been friends with this man for years. Let me in there. Let me talk to him."

"I don't really think that would be a good idea..." Sparrow backed up a little when Simon frowned down at him. Then crossing his arms, he looked Simon up and down. "On the other hand, you're a cop, you can probably handle him. Go ahead. I'd love to see the guy look up and say hello."

Simon glared at the little man, but Sparrow just swept his arm out in a gesture that invited Simon to go inside.

When the door opened, Jim curled up even tighter and made a terrible sound of distress. Not quite a moan, not quite a howl, it hovered between. Simon approached him slowly and Jim seemed aware of his approach, but to Simon's dismay, instead of greeting him, he turned, burying his face in the padding.

"Hey, Jim, we thought we'd lost you." Simon's hearty voice filled the small room and Jim whimpered, scuttling a few inches further away.

Simon moved in closer and knelt down, putting his hand on Jim's arm, who screamed and rolled away from Simon.

"Jim, it's Simon. Come on, let's show this doctor you're fine and get you out of here."

The only response was a leg kicked out vaguely in Simon's direction. The second kick connected with painful accuracy and Simon took the hint, backing away. Settling down on the floor, he started to tell Jim about Rhonda's new boyfriend and Daryl's latest invention. A half-hour later, Jim was smack up the corner and Simon thought he heard sobs mixed in with the whimpering.

The day Jim disappeared had been bad and the days that followed, agony, but this...damn, to see Jim like this-a sound that came suspiciously close to being a cry rose up in Simon and he stifled it. One gibbering cop was enough. Slowly standing up, he admitted defeat. The man in the corner stayed where he was as his Captain limped away.

++++++

William Ellison watched as his son was wheeled into his room from yet another CAT scan. Body rigid, eyes squeezed shut, Jimmy moaned continuously. Scrubbing his hand over his face, the senior Ellison turned away, running smack into Dr. Harry Henry, the diagnostician his law partner had so highly recommended.

"When will we know something?" Martin had been effusive in his praise for the young doctor, but so far the guy had come up with nothing. Not a goddamn thing.

"I doubt we'll learn any more from this scan than we did from the one we ran last week. Your son's brain looks normal, no tumors, growths or other abnormalities."

This doctor was young, with a narrow, pale face that exposed his lack of a golf game. At first William had found his hunched shoulders and thick glasses, comforting. A guy like this would have to be brilliant and would find out the cause of Jimmy's ailment in no time. Now the geek annoyed the hell out of him. He'd run out of ideas and it was up to William to call for the tests and insist they be done.

Fairview was supposed to the finest Psychiatric hospital in the region, but they were clueless. William Ellison knew that something had invaded his son and made him this alien and he wanted to know what the hell it was and how the hell to get rid of it. A grown man didn't stop functioning for no good reason.

"I want the blood work done again." He ignored the look that came over Dr. Harry's face. What kind of parent named a kid Harry Henry?

"You know what that does to Jim, Mr. Ellison. Something about the process of drawing blood seems to alarm him, or-I don't know-cause him intense pain. And it's not as if we've found anything in the last five batches." The doctor frowned and William Ellison decided he needed to find another specialist, one with some guts as well as brains. One that was brilliant enough to be courted at a country club, for crying out loud.

"You're telling me that because Jimmy doesn't like needles you're willing to deny him the best shot at discovering the cause of this illness? Is that what you're telling me?" William moved into the doc's personal space and suppressed a grin when the 'brilliant young physician' audibly gulped and took a step back.

"And I want you to keep up with the physical therapy. I don't care how much he screams and carries on, I don't want him wasting away and losing his muscle tone. Believe me, when he comes out of this, he'll thank me."

"Mr. Ellison, I don't think you understand the implications of the test results. There is no toxin; there is no organic physical reason for Jim's state.

Something has happened to his mind."

"Nonsense. His mind is just fine. He's an Ellison, there is absolutely no history of any Ellison ever having mental problems."

"That's all well and good, but this isn't necessarily genetic. He seems to have almost lost the capacity for speech. We aren't even sure he has the capacity to understand speech. These are profound benchmarks, Mr. Ellison and nothing accounts for them."

"I learned a long time ago, ignorance does not define a problem. I want the CDC brought in, I want to make sure he hasn't caught some long dormant disease in the jungle that's only now manifesting."

Shaking his head, Dr. Henry sighed making William count to ten in an effort to keep his fists at his side.

Slowly letting his breath out, William tried to make the young pup understand. "You're asking me to give up on him. And that's not something I'm prepared to do. I won't give up on him."

"I'm asking you to take pity on your son. To allow him a day that isn't filled with intrusive procedures that cause him agony."

"Agony? You call having blood drawn and CAT scans agony? What college did you say you graduated from? The Little Miss Mary Sunshine School of Bedside Manners?"

His face set in tight control, Dr. Henry answered, "Every day we do these tests, he retreats a little more. He's losing ground this way, Mr. Ellison. Losing. If you don't want him a total vegetable, I suggest you stop while there's still something left."

"Pftt. That's a lot of hogwash you're spouting to cover your own incompetence." "Fine. You have the power here and the money to pursue every avenue twenty times over. But I'm no longer going to take part in what I consider needless torture. I'm off this case. Go find yourself another pet doctor and see what you can accomplish."

+++++++

Three doctors later, William Ellison finally did admit defeat. Unless restrained, Jimmy curled up in a fetal position and it sickened William to see the lack of intelligence in his eyes, and the gibberish that came out of his mouth. In disgust, he left his son alone and hired a team of researchers to study the problem. The problem that was his son.

+++++

Simon slowly shut the door, in no hurry to turn around and face what was left of his detective, his friend. It was the third Sunday of the month, and he always came on the third Sunday of the month. It was both a promise and a bargain made.

He couldn't abandon Jim entirely, but neither could he make the daily visits that had left him feeling depressed and ancient. So he came on the third Sunday, sat in the chair and read the sports section to the husk of a man who only acknowledged his presence by trying to shift farther away.

"Jim, listen to this, the Jags lost again. That damn Morrison can't manage a team. I mean, honestly, 103 to 89! What kind of bullshit is that?" His cry of outrage was met with a cry from the man in the bed.

Simon threw down the paper, pushing the call button. "What is it? What hurts?" Simon ran his hand down Jim's arm, who screamed and tried to pull away.

The nurse came in, no urgency apparent in her movements. "Something wrong?" She glanced at the writhing man in the bed.

"Something's wrong, he's in pain. Do something." Simon hadn't seen Jim this agitated since the first time he'd tried to communicate with him.

The nurse turned her professionally assessing gaze on Jim and walked over to the head of the bed.

"Having one of your bad days, hon?" She asked in a voice that held the kind of relaxed concern heard in nursing homes. She patted his arm, ignored his sharp cry and turned back to Simon.

"Some days are worse than others. I'll put in an order for some meds, but I gotta tell you, when he's like this, nothing much seems to help. When it's really bad, we just knock him out and let him sleep though the worst."

"How often is it really bad?" Simon dreaded the answer. He'd consoled himself that Jim was getting help and was at least comfortable-ignoring the fact that he had yet to see Jim actually looking comfortable on any third Sunday.

"Bad? Well, there's bad and then there's worse and on a rare occasion, there's good."

"What's he like when it's a good day?"

She cocked her head, thinking, then said, "He's quiet."

"That's it, he's quiet?"

She considered. "He usually has a good day when you come, so you know what he's like then." She left, and as the door closed, Jim whimpered.

Slumping down in his chair, Simon looked at Jim, or at least, what was left of Jim. What the fuck had happened to him? Jim's body was rigid; the muscles in his neck standing out with the strain, and sweat coated his face.

"Jim," The quiet syllable made Jim flinch, "I have to go now. I'll be back next month." Simon's hand hovered over Jim's arm, but he didn't touch; though the need to offer some comfort was strong. He walked to the door and out and down the hallway and out the front door and to his car and he didn't look back and he didn't wipe the tears away.

+++++++

Something had happened to Jim's world. It used to be simple. There had been a hundred natural laws in place that worked and he had taken every one of them for granted. If you ate a donut, it tasted like a donut. Voices were modulated, not reaching into some ungodly register. You put on your socks and never thought about them again until you took them off and tossed them into the hamper.

You didn't see things that couldn't be seen. Didn't hear what wasn't possible to hear.

This world, the world he had awakened to, was a living nightmare.

Nothing could be counted on. Most days his lungs hurt with every breath, his clothes scratched and made his skin feel like he was on fire. When he opened his eyes, he could see the dust gathering and clumping on the floor. His hearing was an exquisite torture as the sound of clocks ticking, pencils scratching, machines beeping and pumping, people mumbling, talking, screaming, breathing, pissing, and moaning filled his head. It was as if he was on a perpetual LSD trip. Except he'd never done that. Couldn't see the appeal of a drug that took away your control and contorted reality. He liked reality. It suited him.

He knew that either he was mad or he was on drugs and being tortured. He preferred to think he was being tortured-it implied the possibility of it ending.

Each day he longed for one thing above all others. He longed for someone to come in and ask him a question. If only someone would ask him for a code, or the location of a safe house, or what he'd done in Peru, he would know it was torture and not madness.

But no one came in and asked that. They asked if he was comfortable, hungry, ready for more tests. And they never acted as if they expected an answer. Then one day-a day like all the days that had come before-he was in bed, his arms and legs held down so he couldn't react to the torture. It meant he was unable to put his hands to his ears to block the maddening sounds. Though he knew it wouldn't-couldn't help, he longed for that small ability.

Though his eyes were tightly shut, the light that seeped in seared his retinas. The nurse had just come in and placed the noxious pan beneath him and then had re-tucked the blanket made of thumbtacks and horsehair tightly around him. As much as he fought it, his body reacted to the hard plastic and released. He started to gag, unable to cope with the stench that assaulted him.

He wanted to scream, to ask why were they torturing him, what did they want? What could he give them to make them stop? But that implied hope, a hope of compassion, of beneficence, of someone having the power to make it stop. And he knew that no power like that existed, because this was madness.

There was still one small part of his brain he could retreat to, but every day that little island of intact Jim Ellison got smaller and smaller.

And then something different happened. Someone came in.

Oh, someone was always coming in. They came in to force slimy, smelly, awful, food down his throat, to put acid on his face and skin, to wipe scalding hot water on his body. They moved him and often pretended to drop him, making him feel sure he was going to land on the hard floor.

The door opened and Jim braced himself. The air currents whipped along his skin, telling him that the someone was coming near. He tried to hold his panic down, knowing it did no good.

Instead of someone yelling the ridiculous question they all seemed to love to yell, "How ya doing, buddy?" this someone remained quiet. The air currents told him that the someone was about to touch him and he flinched, though he tried not to. Instead of being slapped or pinched or poked, the touch was feather soft. It stroked his cheek and the touch didn't burn. It felt good and there was comfort, the first comfort Jim had felt in a long, long time. There was murmuring, words that sounded like a soothing drone, but the sound didn't hurt his ears.

The hand left his cheek and if Jim had been free he would have grabbed it, kept it with him. But he wasn't free and the hand left. The dark space inside that had been getting bigger and bigger each day yawned before him. Jim tried to scramble back, tried to find the hand that had brushed his cheek. It was gone and Jim felt cold air where the warm hand had been.

Jim could still hear the someone whispering and he clung to the sound of that voice as he yearned for the hand to come back. The hand finally did come back, joined by a second and the hands turned him over, removing the hard pan the nurse had placed there. He wasn't shoved back in place. Instead the someone rubbed Jim's back lightly, still talking in his quiet voice. Bits of what he was saying floated around and fought with the other sounds to be heard, finally settling into Jim's unsettled mind.

".... hard being cooped up like this.... breathe, deep breath, let it out slowly." The hands slowly moved up and down his arms as the voice urged him to breathe.

Jim understood, "hard being cooped up and breathe" and breathe he could do. When he took in a breath and let it out slowly, he was rewarded with the hand on his cheek again and he sighed and breathed some more.

After awhile he realized the noise had subsided and his nerve endings weren't processing every molecule they encountered. He sighed again and slipped into sleep, the first sleep not drug induced in three months.

Waking some time later, Jim listened for the whispers, craved the touch. He was alone. That shocked him. It was true; he was alone. No voices in his head, no layers and layers of noise battling it out, just the silence of the room. The little island of Jim Ellison expanded a tiny notch and Jim basked in his kingdom. It was small, a tiny principality, but it was his.

At dinner, a different someone came in. He smelled nothing like the man of the whispers, his touch lacked any warmth or comfort. With him the noise came back, as well as the smells. This someone fed him and then cleaned him. It was bad, but not as bad as it sometimes got. Jim held on to the coral reefs in his mind and waited for it to be over.

When it was, someone thankfully turned off the lights and Jim opened his eyes slowly. The room stood out in vivid detail and Jim looked around, letting his eyes settle on each piece of furniture, fixture, door and window.

For some reason he felt ready to take in this information. This knowledge of place. Up until now he had fought any reality being imposed upon him. He didn't trust any of it. But the someone who had offered comfort had passed through this room, and Jim wanted to hold on to all the reality that followed in that someone's wake. For the first time, the air smelled like-air, the sounds he heard were-normal-footsteps, low voices, a cart being pushed.

+++++

The next day was one of the rarest of days. It was a good day. He waited all day for the voice and the hands. When they didn't come, he waited for the noise and the pain. The day was long, but Jim was so grateful for the respite from the chaos that it passed in a sweet glow.

As the day progressed, the glow dimmed.

He tried to tell himself to be grateful for the reprieve from the overwhelming wash of noise, the never-ending layers of smell that surrounded him. A greedy part of his soul called out for more. The lack of something was not the same as the presence of something. For the first time in a long time, he allowed himself to want.

He slept and woke to the voice. He strained to decipher the words. "Hey man, how're you doing today? You look a little better, not so wired." The voice of his someone was low, Jim could smell a pleasant tang of sweat and soap. Jim was tense with attention, and the hand came back to his face and moved down his neck and shoulders.

"Shhh, hey, it's okay, I've got you."

Amazingly, the hands were unfastening the leather straps holding his arms in place. It felt odd to feel air on his wrists and Jim made no move to lift them. He didn't want to frighten the man and be restrained again. He left his arms lying flat. Just knowing he could use them, that he could scratch an itch or take hold of something, scared him.

His wrist was being picked up and Jim resisted the urge to pull it away, to try to keep it free. He knew if he did, there would be shouting and what he had come to recognize as the scent of fear. Then the pain would come as people grabbed his thrashing arms and legs and held him tightly as they lashed him down again. There would be screaming and sometimes sharp burning needles that filled his veins with acid and always that smell-that ghastly smell. So now he simply waited to feel the leather encircle his wrist again.

But it didn't. The man's hand was simply holding his and Jim smelled a fruity scent and then the cool smooth texture of lotion. The man massaged it into his hands and wrists then moved up, extending the blissful sensation to his arms. The hands were strong and intuitive, kneading and pressing in unexpected spots, lingering over bunched muscles, acknowledging all the skin covering that fragile eco-system now out of whack.

The ankle restraints were released next and the hands held his foot and sure, strong thumbs pressed and massaged his arch.

The man had been silent, intent on his task. Jim knew the sound of his voice, the way he smelled, the shape of his hands. All else was unknown. He was content.

After time had seeped away entirely, the man spoke.

"My name's Blair Sandburg. I'll be here during the week. I just got switched to nights."

The hands now had a name. They were Blair's hands and they moved up to his shoulders and then his neck, finally coming to his face. Blair's hands were in his hair, massaging his temples, tracing the contours of his forehead, cheeks, jaw.

Jim could hear the distant rattle of carts and knew by the awful smell that food was coming this way.

Blair's hands stopped and patted him, then left. Jim could hear him at the door, talking, saying something...something... something. Jim strained to hear what he was saying, wanting to know-but perversely his hearing was weak and he couldn't make out any of it. Then his someone-Blair-was back, his warmth and smell mixed with the warmth and smell of the food.

"Dinner's here. You hungry?"

Jim didn't want to eat, and he tried to think how to say that. He'd been so long without words that the idea of forming and projecting them seemed outlandish, though he had them right here in his head..

Moving his tongue to the roof of his mouth, he tried to expel air. No word came out, just a grunt and he felt his face heat up in embarrassment. The noise he'd made didn't seem to phase Blair, who said, "Ya gotta eat-if only to make me look good. Second day on your case and all that."

Jim nodded, unwilling to try and fail again to make a human sound. Instead he nodded.

"That's great, Jim!" Blair's voice was loud with excitement making Jim flinch, his hands coming up instinctively to cover his ears.

"Sorry, sorry." Blair crooned, his hand stroked Jim's cheek again and Jim charted the way his skin warmed.

Blair said in quiet tones, "It's just that, according to your chart, this is the first response to a question you've given since you were found. Man, the docs are going to high-fiving it all over the place tomorrow."

The space where Blair was suddenly emptied, and where there had been warmth radiating towards him, now there was simply raw air. He wanted to reach out, hold on, to pull his someone back and then he realized he could, he was no longer restrained. He held his hands out and moved them, hoping to connect. "Wha-?" Blair's soft exclamation was immediately followed by his hand on Jim's face. "Sorry, should have let you know I was getting dinner ready." He held Jim's hand lightly, his thumb caressing one of Jim's knuckles.

Jim could smell the chicken, the green beans, the chocolate something. Instead of being hit with the usual wave of nausea as he picked up the scent of hairspray, cleanser, and sweat, the food smelled-like food.

"Looks pretty edible for a change. You wanna open your eyes, Jim? It would make eating easier."

Jim considered that request. It really wasn't safe, but he wanted to see Blair, to have a face to hold in his head. He opened them a fraction and then slammed them shut when the light flooded in, gasping in pain.

"Whoa, there. Too bright? Let me fix that."

The buzz of the florescent lights overhead cut out. He could hear Blair looking in the drawers; hear his happy little exclamation as he found something. "Okay, try opening them now."

Jim tried again, and instead of pain, he found he could allow the light to illuminate his room. Blair had draped a T-shirt over the light next to the bed. The room was cast in warm shadows and Jim slowly opened his eyes all the way.

Blair was leaning over him, concern in his deep, blue eyes. The man who was Blair had long, dark hair tied back, and his face was definite in its masculinity, tender in its regard.

"Better?"

Jim nodded.

Pulling up the bed tray, Blair uncovered the dinner with a flourish, as if a waiter in a Greta Garbo movie. Placing it in front of Jim, he set to work cutting and preparing, then put the fork in Jim's hand.

"Dig in." Blair sat down in the chair facing him and started eating.

Jim looked at the innocent implement. He hadn't been allowed to feed himself since he had stabbed an orderly in the hand with a fork. He hadn't meant to, but he couldn't keep his eyes open because it just hurt too damn much and the guy's hand had been in the wrong place.

He took it from Blair with only a slightly shaky hand and put the food in his mouth. It tasted surprisingly like chicken and that made Jim smile. Blair smiled back in delight.

At the end of dinner Blair tidied up, stacking the dishes together and setting the tray outside. Coming back in, he asked, "Would you like a quick wipe down before you sleep?'

Jim froze and started to shake his head. Every time the other someones had given him a bath, it had been an unending agony. The water always heated beyond endurance, the sponge scraping over his skin like a razor. The soap spreading oily stickiness and smelling of chemicals.

But this was Sandburg, and it had been a while since he'd felt clean. Jim gave a small nod. Jim could hear Blair go into the bathroom and fill a bucket with warm water and come back.

"Let's get you out of these clothes."

His body started to involuntarily tremble at those words and Jim tried to tense his body to stop them. Blair had started to unbutton the pajama top when he detected the tremors.

"You want me to stop?"

Jim shook his head no and brought his own hands up to the buttons in an attempt to show he wanted to do this.

Putting his hand over Jim's, he said, "Let me."

As soon as the shirt was undone, Blair put his hand on the center of Jim's chest "Breathe. Take in a deep breath, that's right, hold, now slowly release. Good. Again."

Blair's hand spread warmth and his voice eased the fear that had gripped Jim. As Jim released a long sigh, Blair said, "That's better. I'm just going to get organized."

First Blair placed towels under Jim. Just before he started, Blair looked into Jim's eyes and Jim knew it would be all right.

"I'm going to start your bath, you can stop me at any point."

The sponge, when it made contact with his body, was pleasantly warm and soft. After a few strokes, Jim sank all the way back against the pillows, limp with relief.

Sandburg found the puckered scar from the bullet, still red and raw looking. "That musta hurt." Blair gave special attention to the wound and then continued his ministrations. At each scar Blair encountered, he lingered.

The washcloth on Jim's chest felt good, the nubby texture sweeping the tension away.

"Let's go all the way. I'm going to take your pants off." That suggestion made Jim's whole body flush hotly and fear spidered across his nerves.

Sandburg seemed oblivious, easing the flimsy cotton material down past his buttocks and cock easily. Blair made the journey with the warm sponge down one long, muscled leg, then up the other.

Sighing, Jim reflected he'd been in the army, been injured many times before, tended to by pretty nurses and medics, but never before had it felt like this. The feeling of ease he felt as Blair lifted and manipulated his arms and legs was in sharp contrast to the terror he'd felt since he'd lost his mind.

When Blair came to Jim's genitals, he looked to Jim for permission. Turning his head away, he gave a small nod and Blair carefully lifted Jim's penis and ran the sponge around the crevices, dipping down to wash the perineum and the hidden places of Jim's body. The feeling of intimacy where normally there was only impersonal indifference made Jim shiver. Blair paused. "You're cold? Hold on." Nudging Jim onto his stomach, he covered him with the blanket. "I'll be right back, just going to get some hotter water."

As Blair moved away, Jim began to panic. He'll be back, he'll be back, breathe, he'll be back.... Before the fear could override Blair's promise, a very warm washcloth began moving up and down his back. There were more scars there. Scars of another life, a life of action and purpose, a life half-forgotten by Jim. Too soon, Blair blotted the water off Jim with a towel, then dressed him in clean pajamas. He was almost asleep when Blair brushed back his hair, whispering, "Sweet dreams, Jim."

The room went dark and Jim slept.

++++++

Simon came on the third Sunday of the next month. He'd almost stayed home, telling himself that his visits were doing zilch for Jim and they were hell on him. But he couldn't shake what the nurse had said, that the days he visited were the good days. So he gathered the sports section and Daryl's graduation picture and went to Fairview.

Jim's room was dark and for a moment Simon wondered if something had happened and he hadn't been notified. Then his eyes adjusted and he saw that Jim was in the bed.

"Jim?" Simon stepped further into the room, afraid of what he would find. Of course there was no answer, but to Simon's amazement, Jim lifted his hand as if in a wave. Stunned, Simon looked harder at the man in the bed, trying to reassure himself that it was Jim, that he hadn't stumbled into the wrong room. Jim was unrestrained and he had acknowledged Simon.

"Jim?" Moving to the bed, he took Jim's hand, sure that Jim would jerk it away, but that didn't happen. Instead, he squeezed it and Simon squeezed back.

"Do you know who I am, Jim?" And Jim nodded. Just like that, he nodded and Simon laughed out loud with the joy of it. There was a small smile on Jim's face.

"Son of a gun, you know me. You're back. Jesus, Ellison, I thought we'd lost you for good. Jesus-" Simon couldn't stop himself from saying Jesus, it was as close as he came to a prayer and he felt like praying, hell, he felt like testifying. Jim was back.

Letting go of Jim's hand, he grabbed the chair and swung it around, leaning in close to Jim's bed. Then he once again took Jim's hand and held on. "What happened? Did they find out what the problem was? Did they hit on the right medication?"

Jim didn't say anything, didn't even to try to say anything, but he looked comfortable and he was smiling and his hand was still in Simon's, so Simon let go of the questions and just enjoyed the sight of his detective sitting up with his eyes open.

They sat that way for quite awhile and Simon was at a loss as to what to do next. "You want to hear about the Jags?"

Jim hesitated, then gave a short nod and Simon hesitated himself. Maybe he should tell Jim about Henri's new partner. No-maybe Daryl's new girlfriend...looking at his friend whose lanky form used to fill the doorway to his office, who used to date a different stunningly attractive woman every week, but who now lay in a darkened hospital room, he stopped himself. Jim didn't need to be reminded of a world he no longer lived in.

Instead, Simon turned on the light next to the bed. It had a t-shirt over it and he took that off. Jim immediately shut his eyes and shifted in the bed, turning away from him . Simon carefully placed the t-shirt back. There was enough light to read and he picked up the newspaper, "The Jags hit both a new low and high this game, when rookie Phillip McQuire took on veteran Danny..." Every once in awhile as he read, Simon looked over his glasses at Jim, gratified to see him looking relaxed, if not particularly interested.

"I think you've probably had enough for today, eh, Jim?" Simon folded the newspaper and got up, surprised to see how late it had gotten. Leaning over the bed, Simon resisted the urge to do to Jim what he still did to Daryl, kiss him on the forehead and wish him sweet dreams. Instead he took Jim's hand again and gave it a squeeze.

"I'll be back next week, Jim. We can hope for better from the Jags by then."

+++++

William Ellison visited. Walking into Jim's dimly lit room, he flipped on the light. His son jerked, shutting his eyes and William noted with satisfaction that the restraints had been taken off.

"It's great to see you're cooperating and that those damn restraints are off. I knew this was just temporary. You'll be back to you old self in no time."

William walked past the bed and to the windows. Pushing the curtains aside, he looked out over the well-kept grounds. He spent a lot of time at the window when he came to check on Jimmy. Jim's low moans were nothing new and William tuned them out.

"It's too damn dark in here, Jim. You need sunshine, need to keep the window open, let the fresh air in. Otherwise you might as well be buried already."

He had his back to Jim as it was easier to talk to him when he didn't have to look at what his son had become. The light was suddenly turned off and he turned to see a short man with long hair and an earring for God's sake, creeping up to his son's bed, "Hi, Jim, what's with the lights?" His voice was barely above a murmur and William wondered just who this guy was wanted the room dark and came into his son's room whispering his name.

The beatific smile on Jim's face was shocking. What the hell? William couldn't ever remember seeing his son smile like that-not at him, not even on the day he married Carolyn.

William cleared his throat and was pleased when the little man jumped, startled by it.

"Um, hi, I'm Jim's aide, Blair Sandburg. You must be his father. I can see the resemblance." The kid was babbling in his nervousness and held out his hand as if William would want to shake it.

His ramblings explained who but not why. Why the hell did someone hire this fag and then assign him to his son's room?

"You're Jim's aide? What kind of training have you had? Who gave you this assignment?"

The hand was slowly withdrawn. "They trained me here, though I have taken psychology classes at Rainier and I don't know who makes the assignments. His doctor I guess."

The homo had his hand on Jim's arm and was stroking it. Jim didn't seem to mind, just lay there like the lump he was becoming, but he knew if Jim had been his old self, he'd've decked this guy. William held himself back, knowing how easy a lawsuit was to come by, knowing in the end he held all the cards.

"What did you say your name was?"

"Blair Sandburg."

William nodded. "Goodbye Jimmy, I'll see you tomorrow." He hated to leave Sandburg with his son, but he knew he had to go through channels. It was the world they lived in these days.

+++++

"Hi, Jim." Blair spoke in hushed tones.

Jim was ignoring him, as he sometimes did and Blair simply waited for Jim to turn his attention to him. He idly stroked the arm under his hand, filling Jim in on his day at school.

After a few minutes, Jim turned his head and Blair breathed a little easier. It bothered him when Jim turned in on himself, refusing to acknowledge him. Although Jim never actually talked, Blair felt a connection to him. When Jim shut down, he felt left behind. Smiling to himself, Blair mused it was like there was a tear in the time continuum. Ha! Blair Sandburg switches fields to new age physics. Shaking his head at his flight of fancy, Blair started in on the night's routine.

A few hours later, Jim had eaten and been bathed and Blair had finished reading Chapter Seven in The Day Of The Jackal. Jim was resting peacefully so Blair whispered his standard, "Sweet dreams, Jim" before leaving.

+++++

There was an uproar coming from Jim Ellison's room and it was setting the entire floor on edge.

The abnormally quiet man was yelling at the top of his voice. He'd been put back in restraints the week before, after knocking the food tray over and breaking an orderly's wrist. No one could understand what had caused such a dramatic set back.

Blair stood at the nurse's station, listening to Jim's anguish and unable to do a thing to help. Ten days ago, William Ellison had barred him from Jim's room. Blair brought the heels of his hands to his eyes, trying to keep the tears from leaking out. He could feel pain coming from Jim's room, hitting him in waves. He shook his head, trying to clear it. It made him want to rush the door to get to Jim, but knew that would only get him fired and placed even farther away.

And he couldn't afford to lose this job. He'd made a promise, taken this job for a reason and he wasn't going to back out.

So he stood there, hanging onto the counter, trying to absorb some of Jim's pain, trying to communicate his presence.

Nurse Wilson saw him and her lips compressed into a hard line. "Mr. Sandburg, don't you have patients in need of your care?" She was irritated with him-they were all irritated with him, for he had brought William Ellison's attention and wrath to their floor

He'd had Blair thrown off of Jim's case and three other aides that had been assigned had all met similar fates. It made everyone's workload twice as complicated and Blair worked three times as hard trying to make up for it. Blair raised his head, though it took enormous effort.

"Uh, yeah, of course."

Pushing himself wearily off from the counter, he tottered for a moment, a look of perplexity on his face, then sank to the floor. He distantly heard an uproar and Nurse Wilson yelling, "Get someone into Ellison's room and sedate him..."

++++++++

"What the hell's the matter with him?"

William Ellison paced the doctor's office, irritated by the lack of floor space, irritated with the doctor sputtering in front of him and irritated with his son, who seemed determined to return to a vegetative state.

"Mr. Ellison, these kind of cases are notorious for their set-backs. I have no doubt Jim will show signs of improvement again soon."

Dr. Grey was better than Dr. Harry-er, Henry. For one thing, he belonged to Woodbury Country Club. For another, he had done every test William had suggested.

"I don't like it. Did that punk kid you had in there do something to him? What made you hire a freak like that anyway?" William had stopped pacing. He stood looking at the wall that was covered with diplomas and licenses. The guy had gone to John Hopkins, that was good.

"That "freak" is a graduate student in the field of Anthropology and has been a competent aide. I've studied your son's chart for the last month and it was during Sandburg's shifts that your son showed the most progress."

William seethed. As if having that longhaired freak around would have made an improvement that the best doctors and drugs money could buy couldn't. He eyed the doctor. Maybe qualifying him as among the best had been a mistake.

"That's bullshit, doc. I heard that kid collapsed from a drug overdose. If that's the kind of help you think is competent, then I may just have to rethink what kind of facility I think is competent."

Grey frowned. "You heard wrong, Mr. Ellison. Sandburg collapsed from exhaustion. There were no drugs found in his system and believe me, we did a thorough check."

The doc was sweating now and William kept his smile to himself. "What is this, voodoo medicine? Because I sure as hell don't believe this-this-punk- had anything to do with Jim making progress."

The doctor was leaning back in his chair, trying to create distance between them, but William leaned on the desk and closed the space.

"I don't like him and I don't trust him and I don't want him anywhere near my son. Do you read me, doctor?"

"Yes, of course, we'll obey your wishes concerning your son. Blair Sandburg won't be a problem." Dr. Grey stood up, straightening his tie and trying to look as if he still retained his authority. William decided to throw him a bone.

"I just stopped in for a moment and that orderly you assigned, Sam-he seems good. Jimmy's quiet, but I don't like that he's back in restraints."

"That's just temporary, as your son adjusts. He did regress to an alarming degree, but we're confident that Samuel will be able to handle him."

"Good. I have a business trip that's taking me to Europe. I'll be gone a few weeks. I expect to hear that progress has been made when I get back."

Dr. Grey held out his hand and as he pumped William's, he nodded, saying, "Oh, I'm sure we'll be able to regain the ground we've lost. Have a good trip."

+++++++

As Jim floated up from the sticky sleep that came every time he smelled fear, he searched his room. His eyes remained closed, but he knew only the person in the room with him wasn't Blair.

Before Sandburg would regularly go away, but he'd always returned. Then came that time when he didn't return and the madness had made its comeback.

In his madness he'd been able to hear Blair-could hear him talking and if Jim really concentrated, he was able to make out Blair's step. For awhile he would hear Blair walking down the hallway and he could tell that Blair had stopped at his door-then someone would say, "Mister SANDburg!" and Blair's footsteps would fade away.

Which was crazy, because Blair wouldn't walk away, but then he knew everything was crazy, after all, he was fucking crazy and what did he know anyway? Maybe Blair was part of being crazy, an invisible friend conjured up.

The someones came back then. Lots of them. He tried to get rid of them, tried to make them bring back Blair, because Blair was out there, within reach. Then one day the world had tilted and poof, just like that, no more Blair.

+++++

Sam strutted through the corridors of Fairview. He felt nine feet tall. He was the one who had taken on the crazy in room 303 and had come out the victor. Three men before him had tried and been routed by Jimmy Ellison. But Sam had gone in there and shown him who was boss.

Jimmy's old man had stopped by and been so glad to see his little boy being good, he'd tipped Sam 100 dollars.

Jimmy had tried his shit with Sam, done that moaning and groaning thing, kicking and fighting every single thing Sam tried to do for him. Sam hated the sounds that Jimmy made-they weren't even words, just sub-human noise.

But Sam knew a thing or two about bringing someone around, about how to get through to stupid people. You don't talk to them, you don't reason, fuck no. You assert yourself, you make it clear-and stupid people only understand two things. Pain and pleasure.

One was doled out in big heaping handfuls and the other was bestowed on the rare occasion.

Twice a nurse had decided that the noise coming from room 303 needed investigating. Both times he was able to lay it off on Ellison's hypersensitivity. Everyone knew the white boy was a pussy who cried out over just about everything. And Sam was careful. No bruises, no marks...Just some damn fine disciplining. The only fly in the ointment, as his grandma used to say, was that Jimmy had gotten too quiet. It had gotten so it was hard to get any rise out of him at all. And Sam found he missed that.

++++++

By the time Simon made his next visit to Jim, he was shocked by the changes that had occurred in the last two weeks.

Jim was once again restrained and refused to open his eyes even in the dim light at night. He lay stiffly in bed, his pajamas dotted with rejected food. Simon looked over to the orderly sitting in the chair. "What's your name?"

The orderly slowly stood up. He was taller than the tall captain and he slowly and carefully set his magazine down on the chair.

"My name is Samuel Hector Jones." He moved to stand next to Simon and looked down at Jim.

"He doesn't look like he's doing so good." Simon tried to keep his voice neutral.

Sam answered with exaggerated concern, "Yes, Jimmy's having a real bad spell right now."

Simon looked sideways at the man, not liking the unctuous tone much. The guy looked like a bouncer, not an orderly and his bedside manner was like something cribbed from the back of a comic book.

"Why's he so messy?" Simon found the sight of his usual fastidious detective, rumpled and soiled, alarming.

"He fights everything and it takes two of us to feed or change him. I'm waiting for Dennis to come in right now."

"Where's Blair?" Simon had been suspicious at first of Jim's night aide, that guy hadn't been his idea of a qualified aide but had come to appreciate the way his calm approach had brought about the only good changes Simon had yet to see. "Jimmy's father took one look at him and had his ass thrown out of here."

Jimmy? Where the hell did this guy get off calling Detective Jim Ellison, Jimmy?

When Simon came close to the bed, Jim opened his eyes. He looked into Simon's startled ones and barely whispered, "Find Blair."

Simon almost said, "What?" out loud but there was something in Jim's eyes, a desperation that held him back. Jim's eyes had fine pain lines around them and his hands visibly shook within the restraints.

Sam had gone back to reading his magazine, paying no attention to them, and Simon moved his body to block Sam's view even more and leaned in.

"You want me to find Blair?" Simon asked, his voice a whisper to match. Simon said this to reassure himself that Jim had indeed just communicated with him and was capable of it. Capable of it and looking to Simon to do something. Jim mouthed, "Yes."

What the hell did Jim want with the kid? What could Sandburg do that Simon couldn't? Simon hesitated and Jim seemed to realize that he wasn't that keen on going out to hunt down that kid.

"Please?" The entreaty was soft, but it might as well have been a shout. Simon closed his eyes and nodded his head. "Of course I'll find him."

Jim gave him a smile that was rare even before he'd fallen ill and non-existent since.

Simon stood up and announced. "I'm just going to check the parking meter. I'll be back." No sense letting this guy know that Jim wanted his old aide.

Sam didn't even look up, just gave a little nod of acknowledgement.

Simon headed to the Nurse's station and asked the first one he encountered where he could find Blair Sandburg.

"And you are?" The nurse asked.

Stifling the growl that came at being challenged; he bit out, "Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade PD."

Simon noted the gleam that came into her eyes.

"And you want to speak with Mr. Sandburg. I'm not surprised. He passed out from using drugs right in front of me last week." He's working in room 323 with Mr. Nelson. Go on in and have a talk with him."

"Drugs, eh? I'm shocked they allowed him to keep working here."

The nurse had the decency to look away. "Well, they didn't find any in his system, but I'm sure he was exhausted from some binge he'd been on."

Ah, so it was like that. Innuendoes and half-baked accusations. For a moment she held his gaze and then muttering about a patient, left him.

Simon walked down the hallway to room 323, pondering the nurse's conviction that Sandburg was in trouble. That made two people who thought Sandburg was something less than a sterling worker. And he was going off to bring this guy to Jim who was way too vulnerable to be able to judge his character. But he'd agreed and he wasn't going to let Jim down.

He knocked on the door and heard Sandburg say, "Come in." The kid was sitting on the bed with a patient, a math book on his lap. He looked up in surprise at Simon's entrance.

"Captain Banks, right?" Sandburg stood up and held out his hand. Simon shook it, noting how his hand trembled.

Sandburg looked like hell, eyes behind the glasses puffy and red-rimmed, pale as the white walls that surrounded him. Maybe that nurse hadn't been so far off. "You all right, kid?"

At those words the little man who had been silent, stood up. "This is Doctor Sandburg. He's my surgeon and I don't think calling him kid is appropriate." The guy was really affronted. He had to be crazy to think this longhaired punk was a surgeon. What kind of crap did Sandburg give out to his patients?

"Doctor Sandburg? Why, I had no idea." His mocking tone made the kid blush. Good. He knew he'd been found out.

As he opened his mouth to ask just what the hell was going on, the kid tugged on his sleeve and indicated the hallway.

"Let's talk out there."

Simon took the hand off his sleeve. "Sure." No sense in disturbing the patients. He'd let Sandburg explain himself for Jim's sake, but then he was talking to the people who did the hiring in this place. They walked out into the quiet corridor.

"So what's this about your newly minted Physician's license. I could arrest you for impersonation."

Blair gave a weak chuckle. "Hey, it's the only way to get him to let me take care of him."

"So you lie to him." The idea that this kid inflated his importance with these people sickened him.

"No, not lie, it's an obfuscation. It's just a way to make Mr. Nelson feel safe. Look, his doctor knows about this and okayed it. Ask him."

Simon would, but for now, he was on a mission that took precedence.

"Just what do you need, Captain?" Sandburg didn't look at him as he asked, but kept his attention on the patient in room 323.

"Jim asked me to find you."

That got his attention. "WHAT?" Sandburg stood up straight and his eyes bored into Simon's.

"Jim asked me to find you." Simon repeated it more slowly.

Sandburg's shoulders slumped. "No offense man, but no way. Jim hasn't said one word in almost seven months."

"Well, he said three words to me." Simon waved his cigar in a dramatic arc. "He said, "Find Blair" and when I asked if he was sure he said, "yes". Oh, and he said, "please"."

Sandburg ran his hair through his hair, then grabbed Simon by the arm and swung him around. "Oh man, that's unbelievable, that's great! Have you told his doctor? What did he say?"

"The doctor doesn't know yet." Simon took Sandburg's hands off arm and stepped back from the excited man, who just continued to hop around.

"Oh man, if only I could hear him speak." The wistfulness in the kid's tone was unexpected.

"Don't you listen? He wants to see you. Can you leave your patient?" Simon knew that Detective Ellison had asked him to find Sandburg for a reason and he planned to deliver the goods to his Detective.

Sandburg's happy dance came to an abrupt stop and his shoulders sagged. Once again he looked like someone who had had just a little too much fun on Saturday night.

"Uh...sorry, no. I'm not allowed to go in his room."

"Oh, yes, I heard something about your collapsing. I also heard that drugs were suspected."

Sandburg's hands came up and he backed away. "No way, man, I don't do drugs. I just got hit hard with that flu-I'd been working a lot of hours-"

At Simon's incredulous look, Blair hurried on. "Check my chart. They didn't find any drugs in my system. Check my records, I don't have any-I've never been in trouble."

"Then why can't you come with me to see Jim?"

"I was told that I did not conform to Mr. Ellison's idea of an aide for his son." Blair pushed his hair back wearily.

Wondering at the pain he saw reflected in Blair's face, he realized that he had assumed a guy like Sandburg would be used to that kind of attitude. Expect it, accept it.

"Hell, you don't conform to my idea of an aide for Jim, either, but I've seen how much he's improved under your care."

Sandburg put his hand on the wall. He looked as if without the architectural support he'd be on the floor. "Yeah, well, no one believes I had anything to do with Jim getting better and Mr. Ellison is adamant that I stay away, so you see, as much as I want to come, I really can't."

Simon found himself moving forward and putting his hand out to the kid. "You sure you'll all right? You look like hell."

"I'm okay, this flu kind of reeked havoc with my electrolytes and blood sugar. I'm just a little off, still." Sandburg pushed away from the wall and got his balance.

"Shouldn't you be home in bed?" What was he now, a nursemaid? What was it about this kid that was making him want to take care of him?

Blair smiled ruefully. "Yeah, but we're short staffed as it is and it's very hard on patients to have strangers coming in and taking care of them." Simon was starting to get a really strange idea about Jim's relapse. He'd need to see Jim's chart to be sure, though. If he could get his hands on it without a search warrant. Which was unlikely."

"Okay kid, you go back to Mr. Nelson, I'll talk to you later." Sandburg gave a small smile.

"Time to be Dr. Sandburg again and put Mr. Nelson to bed. Tell Jim-" It seemed like his voice broke, he must be really exhausted."-tell him I miss him, okay?"

++++

Returning to Jim's room, he quietly pushed the door open, hoping to find Jim alone. Sam briefly looked up from his magazine, and then went back to ignoring him.

Jim's eyes opened, squinting at the light. He tilted, as if trying to see Sandburg behind him. Simon shook his head and Jim slumped back into the bed and closed his eyes. None of this was right. Simon didn't know who he was madder at, William Ellison for being blind, Jim for stubbornly needing a punk to make the difference or Sandburg, for making Jim need him. It was a mess and one he seemed to have gotten stuck with.

Leaning in close to Jim, he whispered, "Sandburg's here, just down the hallway. Your father had him taken off your case. I'm going to talk to the doctor and see what I can do."

Jim gave Simon a ghost of a smile. There was a world of faith in that tiny smile and Simon's anger was swept away, leaving only a resolve to find away to give Jim what he wanted.

Brushing some crumbs that lay on Jim's chest, Simon noticed a bruise covering Jim's forearm. Lifting the sleeve, he saw the bruise extended all the way up. He looked at Jim who just shrugged. On a hunch, Simon lifted the pajama top and saw more bruises scattered over Jim's stomach. Jim looked down at the bruises as if seeing them for the first time.

"What the hell happened here?" Banks barked, gratified when Sam jumped. Jim jerked away at the yell and Simon patted his arm.

"What?" Sam came over and Simon pointed at the bruises.

"Oh, yeah, that-he gets violent and we have to restrain him or he'd hurt somebody."

"He is restrained." The words were said in a growl and Sam had enough sense of self-preservation to step back.

Counting to ten, Simon held himself in check by the thinnest sense of restraint. The urge to round on Samuel Hector Jones and beat the crap out of him was overwhelming. But aside from knowing the kind of trouble that would come down on his head, he knew there was a better way to serve Jim.

+++++

Jim half-listened to Simon go, but his thoughts were elsewhere. Now that he knew Sandburg was in the building, in fact, just down the hall, he concentrated on being able to feel Blair's presence. Before he'd always been able to tell when Blair was near, until the day the world had tilted and Blair had disappeared from his radar screen.

Now he could just faintly feel the shimmer of intangible information that was telling him Sandburg was nearby. He relaxed into the shimmer. It wasn't the same as Blair being with him, touching him, but after the last few days of no Blair at all, it was like water in a desert. As he basked in the Blair feeling, he realized he could hear Sandburg talking.

He knew he was crazy but this was a new twist on what was wrong with him. He could hear Sandburg talking to someone he called Mr. Nelson. God, it was good to hear the various tones and rhythms that made up Blair's speech. Delighted to discover that the craziness was good for something, Jim fell asleep to the sound of Blair reading a math textbook.

++++

Simon met with Dr.Grey in his office at seven. It was one of those offices that seem determined to belie its function. There was a desk, but the computer, if the man had one, had to be discreetly inside a teak console. There were no filing cabinets, no papers on the desk and perhaps most surprising for a Psychiatrist, no couch, just two leather chairs facing the handsome and barren desk. Simon took the one on the left.

"We haven't met, but I'm-I was, Jim Ellison's Captain. Simon Banks of Major Crime."

Dr. Grey held out his hand and murmured the usual niceties.

"I've been visiting Jim Ellison every month, and for months there was no change-well, no good change. Then last month I find him with his eyes open and responsive. You can imagine my elation. Then I come today and it's a whole different story, and I want to know what happened." Simon gave the doctor a hard stare and Dr. Grey shrugged his elegant shoulders.

"Yes, he had a good spell there for awhile. Unfortunately we can't predict the variables in a case like Mr. Ellison's, but set-backs are a fact of life with the mentally ill."

"They are, are they?" Simon set aside his affable fellow colleague tone and took up his- I'm the Captain, so listen up voice. "I suppose physical abuse is a fact of life for the mentally ill."

Dr. Grey looked up sharply at the accusation. "Physical abuse? What are you talking about? There has been no physical abuse. Our people carefully screened and highly trained. Mr. Ellison has excellent aides. Sam in particular has been managing Mr. Ellison quite well. In fact, he's been able to calm Mr. Ellison down and elicit the only cooperation we've managed to get from Mr. Ellison in the last month."

"Anyone give a thought to how he elicited that cooperation?"

Dr. Grey started to sputter and Simon held up his hand. "Have you looked at the man? He has bruises on his arms and stomach. Deep bruises. He's lost even more weight, weight he can't afford to lose."

"Well, we may have to consider feeding him with---"

Simon reached over the desk and grabbed the doctor by his tie. "Are you even hearing me? The man has been beaten!"

Yanking his tie out of Simon's hand, Dr. Grey stood up. "Look, I realize you're his captain and consider the man in there your friend, and so I'll overlook your inappropriateness. The man lying in that room is not the man you knew. He's angry, violent and dangerous and his own actions cause him pain and leave bruises."

Simon shook his head in disbelief. "How the hell does a man give himself bruises on his abdomen? Explain that to my forensic people. They will laugh you out of your job."

"Now Captain Banks, just take it easy. I'll look into your allegations and see if there is any foundation to them."

Simon hated the placating tone but if the man did as he said, he supposed he should be grateful.

"And one other thing. Why was Jim removed from Blair Sandburg's care?"

"That's private information, Captain Banks."

"Well, Jim wants him back."

The laughter coming from Dr. Grey was genuine. "And you know this how?"

"Jim told me."

"You're saying he spoke?" Dr. Grey's chuckle faded away.

"He whispered. He said, " Find Blair" "yes" and "please."

Grey sat down and brought his hands together, then brought the tips of his index fingers to his mouth. For the first time, he looked as if he were really thinking about the case before him.

He gave a low whistle. "That changes everything. I had noted that Mr. Ellison's improvement coincided with Blair's involvement in his care, but convincing the senior Ellison that Blair is an asset to Jim's case won't be easy."

"Show him the bruises. Ellison's a hard ass, but he won't like the idea of someone abusing his son."

++++

William Ellison stalked into Jim's room. Glaring at Sam, he stood over the bed. Jim's eyes were closed and he was breathing funny. "What the hell do I hear about some son of a bitch using my son as a punching bag?"

The object of his concern tried to shrink away, the moaning turning into small sobs.

Reaching down, William Ellison jerked Jim's loose cotton top up and touched the evidence. "I want to know how my son came by these bruises?" Jim screamed in response, but William was in his prosecutorial role and nothing was going to bring his oratory to a halt.

His barked, "There'd better be a damn good explanation!"

Sam threw up his hands and shook his head, his face calm. "Hey, like I told that black dude, your son is violent. Everything with him is a struggle. Look at him now."

Jim was sawing at his restraints, his screams frantic as he tried to get loose. "Look, I know Jim is a handful," The disgust was clear in his voice, "but if you can't handle him without leaving marks..."

William could hardly be heard over the screaming and he raised his voice another notch, "then you need to find another profession, young-"

The door was flung open and into the maelstrom of voices and anger, Blair entered.

"Jim." Blair's voice was less than a whisper. Jim's screamed abruptly ended and he turned toward the voice, "Blair?"

Sam and William Ellison stood in tandem, mouths open.

"Right here, buddy. It's okay." Blair had maneuvered around William and was at Jim's side, stroking his arm. He looked rough, eyes bloodshot, hair a mess-a colorful vest peaking out under his uniform jacket.

"Blair."

The voice was nearly unrecognizable as Jim's, and it shocked his father that the first word he said in six months was the freak's name.

And he'd said it like a revelation.

Even William Ellison had a hard time denying the power that flowed between the two men. He glared at the towering orderly. "You're dismissed."

Sam started to protest, but the look William Ellison shot his way, made him clamp his mouth shut. Picking up his magazine with slowly deliberated motions, he left.

William watched as Blair talked softly to Jimmy and his son visibly relaxed. Sandburg had his hands on his face now, his thumbs rubbing small circles on Jim's temples. William gritted his teeth at the sight of his son being mauled. But the touch was gentle and Jimmy looked at peace.

Blair looked at Jim's father. "He needs to be cleaned up and I don't think he's been eating enough. I'd like to get some food into him."

As Blair spoke he tidied the blankets covering Jim and straightened the pillows. William Ellison was surprised to see such a disheveled person bothered by the disarray.

William knew he'd been routed, but surprisingly the taste was not bitter. "Yes, well, that sounds like an excellent plan. I'll be back later." He left the room to search out the doctor and rescind his orders.

++++

"Easy, Jim." Blair got busy releasing the restraints, dismayed at the raw patches of skin on Jim's wrists and stunned at Jim's condition. He was filthy, his face gray and haggard. Blair wanted to strip him and wash him clean, but first he took the time to soothe Jim with his words and touch.

"It's gonna be all right now. I think your old man got the picture."

Blair began massaging Jim's body. When his hand went up Jim's arm, Jim yelped and pulled away.

"What? Too much pressure?"

Blair looked down and saw the mottled purple spread along Jim's arm.

"Who did this?" Blair's voice rose with indignation and Jim covered his ears, whimpering.

"Oh, God, sorry, sorry." Blair barely breathed the words.

"Oh, man, that guy has something to answer for." His hands skimmed the abused arm and moved to Jim's head. With hands that were shaking, he gently smoothed the hair back from Jim's forehead and traced Jim's eyebrows and cheekbones.

Blair didn't know why caring for this man was so important to him, why this one called to him. He just knew, from the first time he entered Jim's room, that he had acquired another purpose in being at Fairview.

"I'm going to move away to get the things I need for you bath, but I'll be right here."

First thing he did was find a t-shirt and drape it over the lamp. Then he flipped off the overhead florescent light. At that Jim let out a grateful sigh and opened his eyes a slit, then wider.

Beginning the routine of Jim's bath, Blair gathered the towels and started the water running to get it warm. He discarded the hospital soap and hunted below the sink for the soap he'd brought in for Jim's use.

Calling softly to Jim, mainly to let him know he was still close by, Blair said, "Hey, maybe if all goes well, you'll be able to get a real shower tomorrow." For some reason, both men sighed at that thought. Blair came out of the bathroom with his prized mild, hard-milled soap. Stripping Jim of his pajama top, Blair froze when he saw more damage.

Hissing in sympathy at the sight of the painful looking bruises, Blair declared, "The only way you could have gotten these kind of bruises is if that guy beat you."

Jim's look told Blair that he didn't know, didn't know what Blair was talking about. Heart breaking at the bewilderment he saw there, Blair tenderly skimmed his hand over the part of Jim's arm that was untouched. "You don't remember, do you?"

Again, a blankness.

Blair wondered if Jim had gone into one of his unfocused states and the orderly had taken his frustration out on him then. It disturbed him that Jim was this vulnerable and he wondered if he could somehow extend his work here to some part of every day. He'd ask. It would suit his other purpose as well, but play hell with the rest of his life.

Closing his eyes, he fought a wave of weariness at the thought. Somehow, he would manage it.

Blair finished undressing Jim and began to give the bath. He lingered over each part of Jim, wanting him to feel safe, clean., human. Jim needed a real shower, his hair washed; tomorrow he would have to arrange it.

Dinner was brought in and Blair read as Jim ate. The routine felt like it had never been shattered.

The time came when he usually whispered, "Sweet dreams, Jim," but he hesitated. The last time he had left this room he hadn't been allowed back in. He knew William Ellison had cancelled the order that kept him from Jim. Still, two weeks ago he had left this room and then found himself unable to regain entry.

Remembering the pain of knowing Jim was alone and the helplessness he had felt, Blair considered just parking himself in the chair and not leaving. The idea had to be rejected, the impracticalities too high to count.

Closing the door of Jim's room had to rank up there as being one of the hardest things he'd ever done. After he closed the door, he stopped and leaned against it, gathering his strength to move away. Finally he detached with a whispered, "Good night" and moved on to the rest of his night's work.

Blair checked in at the nurses' station and picked up the chart of his other patient. Mr. Eliot Nelson was the whole reason Blair had landed at Fairview in the first place. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and demanded Blair's credentials every time he entered the room.

Blair had gone to the trouble of making an ID showing that he was indeed a surgeon with the U.S. Air Force. Mr. Nelson would allow no one but an Air Force surgeon to take care of him and if it made Mr. Nelson feel safe, Blair was happy to oblige.

"Good evening, Mr. Nelson." Blair had his ID out and showed it to his patient, who scanned it carefully as he did every night.

"Dr. Sandburg." Mr. Nelson was fifty-four years old, quite old to begin displaying schizophrenia. Normally, signs of it would have been apparent in his late teens. But in Mr. Nelson's case, there had been no symptoms until eight months ago. He had been hit by a car and had refused treatment unless it was by an Air Force Surgeon. His leg had gotten worse and worse and still he held fast to his desire. A widower, eventually his children stepped in and had him certified, operated on and placed at Fairview.

Usually, Blair enjoyed his time with Mr. Nelson. The man had been a researcher and still retained flashes of brilliance. He had a quick, agile mind, if you were able to keep clear of his paranoid parameters, and their discussions ranged between anthropology, mathematics and biology until Mr. Nelson was ready for bed.

Tonight Blair's mind had stayed back in 302. He tried to give Mr. Nelson the attention he deserved, but he found it hard to concentrate. Noticing, Mr. Nelson asked, "Dr. Sandburg? Are you all right?"

Blair just barely remembered to respond to the name Dr. Sandburg. "Oh yes, just a difficult surgery ahead tomorrow. I'll be fine. You have a good night and I'll check back with you tomorrow."

Mr. Nelson seemed to accept that and lay back down, ready to rest his busy mind. Blair shut Mr. Nelson's door and went to the lounge. He was on for another four hours, getting off at 2 a.m. Then he needed to finish grading the test he'd given two days ago. The patients were usually asleep by this time of night and often Blair got a lot of schoolwork done. If he was lucky and the night stayed quiet, he'd get to bed by four. That would give him three hours of sleep.

It was a killer schedule. He'd started in the summer, when he had a break from the University. School had resumed a month ago and he was in the thick of it. He had thought his time at Fairview would come to an end in a relatively short amount of time.

His mother had called and begged him to check on Mr. Nelson. "I just know the military complex has something to do with this, it's much too late for signs of schizophrenia to be showing up. Please, sweetie, go check on him."

Nothing Blair said assuaged her fears and in the end he'd finally agreed to go to work at Fairview and discover if something nefarious was happening. So far, Blair could see no reason to doubt that Eliot was indeed a paranoid schizophrenic. He received no medications that would induce the state he was in. By all accounts, his job here was done. And yet, having encountered Jim, there was simply no way he could walk away now. Blair sank into the chair wearily. He didn't know if he could keep doing it.

But there was no alternative. No way would he leave Jim alone here. He'd just have to manage. Jim would get better and then maybe Blair would stop working here.

+++++

Lying in a whirlpool of sensations, Jim waited. Blair was in the building now and would soon be in the room.

Even though he was no longer restrained, Jim had a tendency to stay in bed when Sandburg was not around. In bed, he could anticipate the pain brought on by the sounds and feelings that still battered him.

Movement brought a weird vertigo, as his hearing changed with every movement, ebbing, then suddenly escalating and his eyes tried to cope with light that alternately dimmed and flared brightly.

Oddly, when Sandburg was with him, he moved without the vertigo. The sounds and light were merciful in Sandburg's presence, allowing him a respite he'd long ago given up on finding.

Second floor, third, in the hallway, talking to the pretty new nurse. As Sandburg chatted, Jim sat up, confident that he could. Leaning back against the headboard, he waited and it wasn't long before Blair came to him.

"Hey, Jim." Sandburg's voice coasted across his nerves, easing the tension that was forever twisting at him. But there was something different about Blair and it frightened Jim. He cast about, searching for what had changed, what was wrong.

The voice, low, sweet as always, was rough. As he moved closer to the bed, it was one step after another, his usual bouncy locomotion absent. Inhaling, Jim relaxed a little when the scent he had knew came with fear was absent.

"You doing okay today?" Blair stretched a tentative hand out.

Were Sandburg's eyes a little faded? Could that happen? Jim couldn't quite remember if that was something that happened, or if his insanity had taken another detour.

"What is it, you're looking at me funny. Man, I wish we had a better way to communicate-though have you noticed that usually we don't seem to have a problem? But right now you're looking at me like I have a third eye and I don't know what's going on in your head." Sandburg paused, sighed, then smiled a little. "But it'll come clear, I know, it always does. You hungry?"

Jim shrugged and Sandburg went onto other things.

"Sorry I didn't make it in yesterday, my mom came to town and that doesn't happen all that-" Sandburg's speech trailed off as he wandered over to the chair and picked up the pants that were there and folded them, them moved to the chest of drawers and put them away.

When he turned back his eyes were more faded, kind of red and soft, like he wasn't focusing them. Jim guessed that was it because he fumbled around in his pocket and then pulled out his glasses, putting them on. His hands were shaking a little, or maybe it was Jim's vision that was trembling. It was hard to know sometimes what was real.

"What chapter we on?" It was the signal that Sandburg was going to read some before dinner and Jim moved off the bed and sat in the chair. Sandburg smiled, as he always did when Jim took an initiative.

Jim waited, expecting Sandburg to leap into the bed, which he did every time Jim vacated it. No leap, rather, a shuffle, then a small sigh as he leaned back and brought the book up.

"Chapter five. "

By the time dinner came, Sandburg had been asleep a half-hour and didn't wake when the trays were brought in. Jim surprised the orderly at the door, blocking his view of Sandburg's dereliction.

Jim waited, hungry, but somehow soothed by the sight of Blair sprawled in his bed, relaxed and asleep. His glasses were slightly askew and his hair was loose and wild on the pillow.

Twenty minutes later the book went fell to the floor startling Sandburg awake. Jim hurriedly put the first bite in his mouth.

"Wha--?" Looking around in confusion, his eyes opened wide at the sight of Jim calmly eating dinner. "Jim! You're eating!"

Jim shrugged. He ate every day, just not by himself.

He kept his smile to himself, pleased to have surprised Sandburg.

Ignoring the food, Blair looked at him intently, and Jim just knew something was coming, some new test or technique to help him cope. Sandburg's ideas often left him limp with exhaustion, but every one of the crazy exercises he'd suggested made it easier for Jim to cope with the insanity.

Blair pulled up a chair next to him and put his hand on Jim's arm. "I know what I'm going to say will seem far out, but just hear me out, okay?"

Nodding, Jim waited. He'd been putting up with Sandburg's far out stuff for awhile now and hell, something told him he'd put up with it for as long as Sandburg dished it out.

"Um, you see, there are these men, well, I don't know if there are any more, I mean, I've looked and until you I'd never found..." Sandburg stopped his nervous ramblings and took a deep breath, then began again. "In some primitive societies-no, no, not primitive, well yeah, primitive, but intelligent, there were these men..."

Jim just looked at Sandburg patiently, waiting for the kid to get to the point. Usually he had one, but not always.

"Let me try this again. Richard Burton-the explorer, not the actor-wrote about tribal people he had discovered who had five enhanced senses. Sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, all highly developed. These men acted as watchmen for their tribes, looking out for danger, protecting their people."

Jim stifled a yawn. He really hated to be rude, but he was tired.

"Yeah, I know it sounds like science fiction but Burton was well respected, he knew his stuff. I've met people with one or two senses, mainly in this modern age you find people with enhanced olfactory abilities, sometimes taste but-" Blair shook himself like someone had just walked on his grave. "Sorry, man, I'm getting sidetracked-"

Sandburg stopped his rambling speech when Jim frowned. What was the kid going on about? Yeah, yeah, enhanced senses, explorers named after actors, people who watched over people....

"What I'm trying to tell you is that you're the only one who has all five. I think you're a Sentinel."

The pause was dramatic and he waited like he expected some big reaction. Jim just sat there, thinking over what Blair had said, wishing he'd paid a little more attention. Sandburg thought he was a Sentinel. Sandburg thought he was like one of these primitive tribal people. What the hell was this about?

"I've watched you and done a few little tests. You've heard me when I whisper from across the room, you make a face when I put one drop of lemon juice in your water. You pointed out a heron that I couldn't see for another three minutes. Two weeks ago you looked alarmed and later I found out a house had been on fire three miles away. Touch, I'm not so sure about, but I'm sure I could figure out a test to figure it out." He ran out of breath and sat looking expectantly at Jim, then continued.

"I read your records. You were on stakeout for six weeks in that forest, mostly alone. That kind of isolation could have been the reason your senses kicked in. And when they did, you had no way to process the information." Shaking his head, Jim tried to convey his skepticism. He swirled his index finger at his head.

"No, Jim, you're not crazy, man. You're genetically superior. You see, smell, hear, touch and taste like a---I mean you're not crazy, you just can't filter all the stimulus coming your way, but already you've learned a lot and we can find more ways to help you control them."

Jim shook his head, his frown deepening. It seemed impossible that the chaos in his head would actually have some purpose and yet, if the kid were right, it would mean he wasn't insane. It would mean that maybe he might some day walk out the door of Fairview.

He looked at Blair's blue eyes, the blue no longer faded but so saturated they looked like the sea. His iris was dilating and expanding a fraction and Jim watched it in fascination.

He felt Blair's hand on his face and realized he'd blacked out again. He relaxed as Blair rubbed his thumbs in circles on his temples.

"Jim, you with me?" He opened his eyes to Blair's worried ones. He nodded and Sandburg released a breath, bowing his head, a hint of tears in his voice. "God, you scare me sometimes."

Looking away, Jim squeezed his eyes shut, ashamed at his affliction, at all the ways it robbed him.

"Even that-that blank place you were just in-is described by Burton. One sense gets so focused on something that that you get lost in the depth of the information. It's like you zone out." Sandburg always, always had something to say to make things right.

Jim put his hand out to touch Blair's face. Blair's eyes widened at the contact, irises growing larger, telegraphing his pleasure in the touch. The kid was such an easy read, his face so quick to reveal his secrets. He should be okay in academia, safe behind all those books. Lord help him if he ever landed on the streets.

Now he was looking hopefully into Jim's eyes and asking, "You believe me?" So much fucking hope in that sentence.

Ah, hell. Did he believe? What kind of question was that to ask a man who was certifiably crazy?

"Want-to believe you." So seldom used, Jim's voice was harsh and he winced at the ugly sound of it.

Mouth open, Blair just stared at him. "Did you just-you just-you spoke!" Shrugging, Jim declined to comment.

"Oh man, this is so great. We've already made a start on finding ways or you to control your senses and I have some ideas about tests that we can do..."

++++++

As Jim accepted that he wasn't insane but at the mercy of his senses, he alternated between elation and anger. The work to get on top of the information that came at him was staggering and left Jim limp with exhaustion.

If he was in his room, and especially if Blair was at his side, he could tolerate quite a bit and each day his tolerance seemed to get bigger.

But outside of his room, the world still became a jumbled mix of sight, sound and smell clawing at his nerve endings. Only when Blair was next to him did the world assume manageable proportions. Things looked the way they were supposed to, smelled and sounded the way they were supposed to.

"What kind- of Sentinel- can't walk down the hall- by himself?"

"The kind of Sentinel who is learning how to process and understand what's happened to him. Jim, you're getting better every day. Soon, you'll go home. You are going to have control again. And you'll be able to use this gift."

"Don't want it. I want to get-rid of them." Jim waited, hoping that all of Blair's research would hold the key to turning his senses off.

"Hey, I know it would make your life easier. And if I knew how, I'd tell you, even though I've searched my whole life for you." Blair stood up and paced the room. "I don't think you can put your senses back in the box once it's been opened. I'm sorry."

Blair must have seen how discouraged his words made Jim feel because he rushed on. "But I've thought of a way to get your senses more normal. I'm going to hypnotize you, okay?" Blair knelt by Jim's knee and waited for permission. His first instinct was to fight that idea, but instead, Jim nodded. He might as well try to say no to the sun coming up as to try and deflect Blair from one of his ideas on how to help. He really wanted to curl up on his bed and tune all this out, but Blair was only his for four hours a day and he could retreat later.

Blair spoke the low soothing words that soon had Jim in a light sleep. "Jim. Picture a set of dials, one for each sense. They go from one to ten. You can move them. See yourself adjusting the dial to five. That's normal. Can you see them?" Jim nodded. It was all very clear. Whether it would be clear when the world spun into a kaleidoscope was a whole 'nother question.

Blair took Jim through the dials again ending the session by saying, "You will wake alert and calm, ready to go for a walk outside."

That sneaky bastard. He'd been trying to get Jim to go out for a week, but Jim knew he'd lose it out in the open.

Much to Jim's surprise, when he came out of the hypnosis, the idea of being outside had appeal. It was evening and early winter, so the little garden area the hospital had would most likely be quiet. Jim dressed in the sweater and jacket Simon had brought when the weather turned cold.

The door to the outside swung open and Jim walked through without hesitation. The crisp dark night was like a balm to his senses and to his soul. Walking away from the building, he sought the deeper shadows. Jim took a deep breath and the world smelled clean. The dial was at five. Blair stayed near the door, and Jim savored the first taste of freedom.

It felt odd, almost naked to not have someone hovering within a foot of him. The darkness enveloped him, while the moon dodged the clouds. Breathing in deeply, Jim let himself imagine a life outside these four walls.

Christmas was in just a few days and Fairview was awash with garlands, fake evergreen trees and small twinkling lights. The sound of Christmas carols came over the tinny loudspeakers. Blair had much less going on, with his Mom in North Carolina for the season and school on break.

He left Mr. Nelson tucked in bed, and went on his break. He'd found a new book on the neurology of the senses and he was eager to get to it. Mrs. Parsimmons had been moved last week and he'd been using room 343 to study in.

Normally he'd have gone to the lounge, but these days he avoided it. Never exactly one of the guys, Sam's dismissal had made him persona really non grata with the other orderlies.

"Yo, Sandburg, who you pay off to get the cush jobs? Let us in on some of your secrets."

"Hey pretty boy, who'd you do to get in with the zombie?"

"Whad'ya do this weekend, Sandburg? Read some poetry? Go to the opera? Play teacher's pet?"

"Sandburg, don't you smell good, must be all that rich ass you wipe."

As soon as Blair entered 343, he knew he was in trouble. In the middle of the room stood Sam, his mouth twisted in a vicious smile.

"Been waiting all night for you, Sandburg. Got some things I need to clear up."

Blair swallowed hard, and tried for nonchalance. "Uh, oh, hi Sam, you get rehired?"

Sam's smile disappeared. It had been an ugly thing, but it was better than the expression that replaced it.

"No, Sandburg, I have not been rehired. In fact, Ellison's old man plans on pressing charges. How's that for a kick in the head?" Sam moved toward Blair as if to deliver his own kick in the head.

Backing up, Blair ran into something solid. A very solid chest, and he guessed it belonged to Tally, Sam's first cousin.

Putting his hands up, Blair said, "Whoa, there. I didn't have anything to do with you getting fired, Sam."

Blair turned around to leave, but strong hands grabbed his shoulders and held him in place.

"I don't think you're going anywhere, little buddy. Sam has some comeuppance to deliver and you're going to stay put and receive." Low, rumbling voice. Yeah, Tally, whose low, rumbling voice was so soothing to the older women, and whose grip was biting into his shoulders muscles.

Sam stepped in close, and without preamble, landed a blow to Blair's stomach. Pitching forward, Blair tried to draw breath in against the bloom of pain. Only Tally's hands kept him from falling to the floor.

Sam chuckled. "Looks like a big fish fresh outta the water, don't he?" Shoving a rag in Blair's mouth, he secured it with a handkerchief.

Blair had been close to panic before, but now that more than half his air supply had been cut off, it went into high gear. Kicking backwards, he tried to connect with some part of Tally's body that was vulnerable. He delivered a good thwack to his shin, but Tally just yanked his arms back harder.

Grabbing Blair by his hair, Sam lifted his head. "You think you're so hot, with your University job. Slumming here, taking the easy bodies, making me look bad." Sam's agitation was increasing and he pulled harder on Blair's hair. "You're the one who's gonna to look bad after tonight."

Sam let go of Blair's hair and as Blair's head dropped down, Sam's fist came up, smashing into Blair's nose. Blair felt it break and the blood that flooded his nasal passages threatened to cut off what little air he was getting. They couldn't mean to kill him, could they? Couldn't they see that he was suffocating? Oh, Jesus, this was bad.

Jim sat up. Had he been dreaming? He had been drifting and thinking about the stars and the stillness of the night when a kind of thrumming filled his brain. Sandburg's breathing, which usually kept counterpoint with Jim's breathing, was loud and fast in his ears. Something was wrong. Jim swung out of bed and went to the door. Slowly he opened it, searching the hall. There was no sign of Blair and Jim stood frozen with uncertainty in the doorway.

For Chris'sakes, it's a quiet hallway. Still, he held back, knowing full well the kind of pain that lurked in quiet places. Sure, right now his senses were normal, but one false move and they could shatter, and take Jim back-back to before Blair, back to when every breath, every sound, all light, any touch was torture.

But if he went there, Blair would come for him. He knew that. Stepping out into the corridor, Jim listened. All was quiet, but the silence did nothing to reassure Jim. It had been silent the night he was shot, and he lay in the grass, a bullet burning in his shoulder and the silence erupting into a cacophony of insignificant sounds, all magnified by his madness. Silence wasn't to be trusted. Even as he thought about it, sound began pushing its way in.

He could hear a TV down the hall, the toilet flushing, a car driving too fast five flights below. Then a grunt, inarticulate, yet Jim knew it was Blair and the other sounds faded away. Now he could hear the sound of a fist smashing into flesh, air being sucked out of lungs, low laughter and the shuffling of feet. Jim started running towards the sounds of pain and the erratic beat of Blair's heart.

He burst into the room he knew held Blair. Two men, one holding him and one with his fist cocked back, ready to deliver another blow. Blair was limp, held upright by a hand in his hair. He was faintly blue and his chest heaved from the effort to get air past his broken nose and the gag. The one he knew as one of the somebodys came at him, confidence apparent in his step.

"Well, wouldja look at that? You got out of that damn bed, didn't ya, Jimmy-boy? And after all those times you took it from me without a sound, now you're here to be a hero. Well, come on and show Sammy what you got." Sam beckoned to Jim, urging him into the fray.

Jim's attention was on Blair, who looked at him through half- closed eyes. "Let- him go." Jim cursed the way words refused to flow.

Sam looked shocked. "Oh, so Jimmy can talk now. And Jimmy wants me to just let him go. Well, I don't think so."

Addressing himself to Tally, Jim said, "Get the- gag out of his-mouth. You're-killing him."

Sam laughed. "Listen up. Zombie boy wants you to do something. How many times did I ask you to do something, Jimmy? Asked nice, too. But nooo, you wouldn't listen to me, you had to fight me every step of the way and when I did what had to be done to get the job done, you had me fired. Maybe you need another lesson in cooperation, Jimmy."

As Sam was speaking, Tally dropped Blair to the floor and reaching down, untied the handkerchief and pulled out the sodden rag.

Sam caught on. "Tally! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"What I'm doing is making sure I don't end up facing no murder charges, Sam. Fun is fun, but the guy was turning blue."

"Blue's his color. Put it back in."

Tally shook his head, backing away from Blair. "Hell, no, you put it in. This ain't my fight anymore." With that, Tally walked around Jim, hands up and left the room.

Blair was breathing heavily, color slowly returning to his face and he tried to push off the floor and get to his knees. Sam caught the movement and before Jim could react, delivered a swift kick to Blair's midsection, sending him against the wall.

With an inhuman scream, Jim cut the distance between them and sent a fist flying into Sam's face. The sound of Sam's nose breaking was the most satisfying one Jim had heard in a long time. Sam's head snapped back and Jim followed through with an uppercut to his chin that knocked the orderly unconscious.

Dropping down next to Blair, Jim carefully turned him over.

"Blair? Open-your eyes. Come on."

Blair blinked at Jim a few times and tears mixed with blood ran down his face. Jim murmured, "It's okay. Just. Breathe." Jim's mouth twisted a little at saying Blair's words back to him.

He gently levered Sandburg up, leaning him against his chest as he used his shirt to wipe some of the blood away from Blair's face.

"You left your room!" Blair's gasped words were slurred and wet with blood, and his head dropped back down, as if too heavy to hold up.

Jim could hear the air wheezing in and out of Blair's lungs and had to stop himself from getting lost in the sound. Jim tilted Blair's head up so he could breathe a little easier and to see what a mess had been made of his face. Split lip, broken nose, blackened eye. Blair smiled and quickly winced, feeling his lip.

Jim held him fast. "Nothing. To it."

"Oh, no you don't. No downplaying. You know it's so much more than that. How do you feel? Any sensory spikes? Any pain? How're your eyes? Am I talking too loud?"

"You're talking-too much. I'm fine." Jim tried to wipe away some of the blood from Blair's face.

"I know what it took to leave your room." Blair put his hand on Jim's cheek in a familiar gesture that had become habit. "I know what you risked for me." Jim shook his head, trying to deny Blair making such a big deal out of such a little thing.

Sam took this moment to moan and begin the process of coming to. Jim felt hot anger course through him. He wanted to stand up and kick him back into senselessness. It had nothing to do with his own history with Sam and everything to do with the man who lay bleeding in his arms.

As Jim looked at Blair he knew what his priorities were. Jim covered Blair's slightly smaller hand with his own. The hand that had unlocked his world.

As Jim looked at Blair he knew what his priorities were. Jim covered Blair's slightly smaller hand with his own. The hand that had unlocked his world. "Come on, Blair."

Blair held on to Jim for support, struggling to his knees. "You need- a hospital."

Blair shook his head, a stubborn tilt to his chin alerting Jim to a new side of Sandburg.

"No, man, let's just go back to your room."

"What?" Confused and distracted, he gently tilted Blair's head back to try and stop his nose from bleeding.

Blair batted his hand away. "I want to go to your room."

"You need- someone to look at your face." Jim pulled Blair up and put his arm around his back, keeping Blair steady.

"You're looking at it."

"Ha. Ha. Have you- always been this lousy- a patient, Sandburg?"

"I've never been a patient, Jim. I lead a very quiet life. Nothing that a little Neosporin and band-aids can't take care of." Blair wobbled and Jim tightened his hold.

"Let's hope- it stays that way, Chief."

Blair slowly and carefully winked the eye that wasn't swelling shut, and said, "Oh, I don't know, the merry-go-round is vastly overrated."

Jim took the bottom of his shirt and dabbed at the blood that was dripping from Blair's split lip.

"Come on- the nurse's station should have- some Neosporin and band-aids. And we need-need- to call the cops and have- this picked up." Jim toed Sam and was satisfied the perp was still out.

"Okay, Nightingale, I'm all yours."

"Mine, huh? Just- what am I going to do with- you?" Jim smiled down at the smashed face that looked at him with such trust.

"Well, I'm no expert, but I suggest a butterfly bandage for this cut", Blair pointed the one over his eyebrow, "and maybe a small band aid for this one, and the rest should probably just be left alone."

"No expert? Yeah, right." Jim turned out the lights to the room and carefully closed the door. They walked down the corridor, Jim's arm supporting Blair, Blair chattering away, ignoring his split lip, Jim half-listening, lulled by the steady thump of Blair's heartbeat, neither realizing something profound had happened.

The principality of Jim Ellison had expanded.

It was now a nation of two.

THE END