The following story is a work of fan fiction. It is not intended to infringe on any copyright or to make a profit. The Sentinel belongs to Pet Fly, Paramount, The SciFi Channel, and probably others; only the story is my own. Please do not copy, post, or redistribute without permission from the author.

So Close, Yet So Far
by Carolyn

"Jim . . . "

"Hey Chief. I thought you were . . ."

"Help me . . ."

"What's wrong? Where are you?" Jim Ellison motioned to the guys in the bullpen and everyone jumped. H went to get Simon while Rafe started recording the conversation. Joel traced the call.

". . . I don't know. . . " Blair sounded so disoriented. Jim kept his own voice calm.

"It's ok--we'll find you. Are you hurt?"

"Huh?"

"Are you hurt?"

There was no answer and Jim spoke sharply.

"Sandburg!"

"Jim?"

"Yeah, buddy. I'm right here. What happened?"

"I don't know." Blair's voice was shaky. "I need . . . help."

"I know you do, Chief. I'm coming."

"Do you think they're coming back?"

"They who, Blair?"

"The guys that . . . wait . . . " Jim could hear voices and a

"Blair!! What?"

"NO!!" Blair cried out and and Jim heard the unmistakable sound of a slap.

"HEY!!" Jim called, and another voice came to the phone.

"We've got your friend."

"Who the hell are you?"

"Shut up and listen. You can't find him. He called you from his cell phone and we're gonna dump it in a minute. We'll call you when we want you. The little sh*t won't get away from us again."

Jim's hands gripped the phone so hard, his knuckles turned white. The muscles at his jaw tensed.

"We've got cops within a block . . ."

A throaty laugh interrupted him. "You sure do. You have no idea."

"Listen, you touch him, and I swear . . ."

"You swear there's no place I'll be able to hide. Yeah, I know. We're wasting time here. You want to see your partner? Go look out the window by the water cooler."

Jim made it across in two broad strides. He pulled the blinds back . . .

And came face to bloody face with his partner.

"Oh God," Jim breathed at the sight of Blair Sandburg hanging against the high window--terrified eyes glazed, mouth bleeding, face bruised. His shaking hands were splayed against the glass.

And for a split second, their eyes met and tears rolled down Blair's face.

"I'll get you, Blair," Jim yelled through the window that wasn't made to open. "I gotta break the glass."

The voice on the telephone barked, "You do that Ellison, but we'll be long gone in no time."

Jim was lifting the water bottle to hurl through the window when he heard an engine roar to life and the unmistakable sound of rotors.

And Blair floated back away from the the window. Jim could see that he was wearing a harness and hanging precariously by a rope. The helicoptor pulled away and Blair swung dangerously close to the building across the street.

Jim watched Blair float into the sky. Blair dazed, scared, floating.

Blair. Blair. Blair.


"JIM!!"

Startled, the Sentinel found himself sitting in a chair in Simon's office.

"Oh, God, Simon," Jim said softly. "How long was I . . ."

"Twenty minutes," his captain answered. "You scared the hell out of me, Jim."

"Blair."

"Everyone's combing the city, the sky. We'll find him."

Jim rubbed his hand down his face. "I didn't hear . . . anything else the guy said."

"It's ok. We've got the whole thing on tape."

"He was so scared, Simon."

"I would be, too, if I were hanging from a helicopter like that."

"Come on, Cap, you know what I mean. He's scared of heights."

Simon's voice was low. "I know, Jim. But he's their pawn. They won't kill him."

"They'll try to break him first."

"But they won't. He's tough. He's been in every possible situation with you and he's never caved. He won't now."

Simon rested his hand on Jim's shoulder. "That zone was really bad, Jim. I'm afraid I don't know how to help when that happens."

"I don't know either, Simon. But right now, I don't know how to help Blair and that scares me a lot more."

"You've gotta be 100% if you're gonna be any good to him."

"I know that, Simon. I know."

A knock on the door.

"Come in," Simon bellowed.

Rafe nodded at Simon then addressed Jim. "They found something at the loft."

"The loft?"

Simon answered. "Yeah, I sent a team there to study the place--see if that's where they picked him up."

Jim stood up--a little shakily. Rafe grabbed his arm to steady him.

"Rafe, you drive," Simon commanded. "I'll meet you there."

Jim allowed himself to be led to the garage. He couldn't shake the image of Blair pleading with him through the window. Well, Jim knew he had to pull himself together. Zoning for twenty minutes? Damn.

That wasn't helping anybody.

He'd just have to control his senses himself. He'd use the things Blair had worked so hard to teach him.

And he'd find his partner. God help him, he'd find him.

I'm coming, buddy. I'm coming.


The loft felt strange somehow--like the way a house felt after a funeral. There were people you knew, food you liked, the chairs in the right place and yet there was an awful void. A soul was missing and the collective souls of family and friends couldn't begin to replace the familiar spirit.

H showed Jim the evidence of the break-in. Whoever it was had made no attempt to hide their prints. It was almost as though they wanted to be found out. And they wanted Jim to see evidence of a struggle, to know that Blair had suffered when he was kidnapped. For a moment, Jim felt sick, but that was replaced by an all-encompassing rage. How dare they violate his home, his family . . . his brother. His fists clenched as he examined the door to Blair's room. No sign that they had forced their way in. Well, of course not. Blair never locked his door. Then the sick realization hit Jim. Blair had never heard them coming. Dear God, they had dragged him out of his bed. He had to have been terrified. Oh, Chief, I'm so sorry . . .

A hand touched the Sentinel on the shoulder, and Jim spun around and grabbed the person by the collar. He threw Simon up against the wall and pressed his forearm against his captain's throat. It took three men to pull Jim off of Simon. Even then, Jim felt the uncontrollable anger burn.

"Detective!" Simon yelled. "Stand down!"

Jim squeezed his eyes closed and tried to slow his breathing. Once he found his voice, he spoke softly. "Sorry, Sir."

"Let him go," Simon told his men. Then he put his hands on Jim's shoulders and waited until they could speak privately. "Now what the hell was that all about?"

Jim shook his head. "I don't know, Sir. I felt such . . . rage . . . when I realized . . ." Jim glanced back toward Blair's room. "When I saw that they just . . . dragged him out of the bed . . ."

"But Jim, you could've killed somebody."

"I . . . could have killed you." Jim's head dropped to his chest. "I don't know. Simon, when you touched me, it felt like . . . like you hit me or something." Jim looked back up. He hoped that somehow Simon might have an answer.

Simon frowned. "Could it have been that after you zoned for so long your senses have gone off the chart?"

"I guess so. Blair said that since we try to keep me from zoning--since we try to arrest a zone, we don't know what the consequences could be if one went on . . . unchecked."

"He told me once that he was afraid you could stay catatonic indefinitely."

"It was the one aspect he'd always document but never actively test." Jim smiled sadly. "How can I help him if I can't control my senses?"

"You can, Jim." Simon looked Jim in the eye and spoke quietly, like Blair had taught him. "How's your sense of touch now?"

"All right."

"Hearing?"

"Up a bit, but controllable."

Simon nodded. "Can you dial it down and then dial it back up?"

Jim closed his eyes and focused. He listened. And he dialed down and back up. "Yessir."

They worked through each of his senses, and Jim found himself very much in control.

"Now, Jim, until we find Blair, you work with me."

"Simon . . ."

"That's an order. You can't help Blair if you spend twenty minutes in a virtual coma."

"You're right, Sir. I just know you have a job to . . ."

Simon held up his hand. "One of MY men in missing, Jim. My job is to do what it takes to find him."

Jim nodded his appreciation.

"Now, do your job, Detective," Simon ordered.

Jim studied the loft--this time keeping his intense emotions in check.

Blair's things were there. His stuff was carefully put away, and Jim felt a pang of regret for riding the kid about "throwing his stuff around". Jim carefully let his senses absorb the things that were essentially Blair: the strange artifacts, the smell of his shampoo and the lingering heady fragrance of the imported herbal tea he'd made at breakfast, the sound of his voice on the answering machine, the sound . . .

Of his heartbeat.

"WAIT!!" Jim commanded, and Simon had to echo it before there was silence in the loft. Jim cocked his head to the side and closed his eyes. He followed the sound to the bathroom -- to the vent. Simon was suddenly at his shoulder.

"What have you got, Jim?"

"His heartbeat. I hear it in the vent. He could be anywhere."

"If he's in the building, we'll find him."

"Blair?" Jim called into the grille that covered the central duct.

The phone rang and Rafe brought him the cordless.

"Ellison." Jim stayed calm.

"Good work, Detective, but can you actually find him?" The hated voice.

Jim tried to determine whether or not he could hear it acoustically in the building in addition to hearing it through the phone. But could they have gotten into the building so fast?

"Let me talk to him," Jim said as he kept listening to the vent sounds.

"He can't come to the phone right now. He got tired of . . . hanging around. He's a little tied up."

"You're not going into stand up or anything, are you?" Jim quipped. He fought his blistering anger and tried to sound as glib as the kidnapper.

"It doesn't bode well for your partner for you to PISS OFF his captor."

SLAP! Jim heard it.

And Simon did, too. Simon pointed to the room next door and Jim followed him out of the loft and to the storage unit that backed up to the bathroom in the loft.

Jim cringed as he heard the sounds of his partner being hit repeatedly just on the other side of the door. "Blair!!" Jim called.

"Don't . . ." a weak voice called back. "Don't open the door, Jim. It's . . ."

"Tell him," the hated voice hissed, and when Blair didn't respond quickly enough, Jim could hear the breaking of a bone as Blair screamed.

"NO JIM. There's a . . . bomb. . . a bomb. Get out of here."

"No way, Chief."

"Evacuate the building, Ellison," the voice commanded. "You don't want to have this building leveled with all your neighbors inside. If you leave now, I won't blow your partner to f***ing bits."

Jim's heart pounded mercilessly and he listened, helpless, to his partner's struggle against the pain. The Sentinel looked to his captain for advice.

Simon was gesturing to the other officers to find another way into that room. While he was navigating his team, he spoke aloud for the benefit of the kidnapper. "OK, get on the horn and get everyone out of this building." He nodded for Jim to go along with him.

"No way, Cap. Sandburg's just on the other side of the door. I'm not leaving him."

"You don't have a choice, Detective."

While both men raised their voices in a staged argument, the tension and the anger at the situation were very real. They let their argument escalate.

Jim cranked up his hearing, and Simon kept a hand on his shoulder. Jim felt like Simon could keep him connected somehow.

"Jim . . . " Blair's voice momentarily halted the argument. "Please . . . just . . . go."

"That's not gonna happen, buddy."

Everything that happened next seemed to happen in slow motion. Jim came to a realization and was about to tell Simon when he heard the detonator. He dove into his captain and rolled with him away from the explosion.

The door missed his head by inches and the shock left him quaking on the floor for-- well, he didn't know how long. The next realization he had was being turned over and then he was looking up at Simon.

But he couldn't hear anything.

Simon finally pulled out his little spiral memo pad and, with shaking hands, he wrote:

Storage room destroyed completely. No survivors.

Jim read the difficult words and shook his head, no. "He wasn't in there, Sir." Simon tried to argue, but again realized Jim couldn't hear him. He started to write again, but Jim grabbed his hand. "The last thing Blair said . . ." Jim had to stop to catch his breath.

". . . was taped. I quit hearing his heartbeat about a minute before the explosion."

Simon sighed deeply, and there was no mistaking his words, "Thank God."

But Jim shook his head. "We gotta find him. He's hurt. They're killing him a little bit at a time."

Simon started talking, but Jim pointed to the memo book.

"Hospital first," Simon wrote.

Jim shook his head no. He started to stand . . .

Then his world went black.


Underwater.

But he wasn't wet.

Still, the voices he heard were unintelligible. They were distant and muddy and he couldn't tell where they were.

Someone pulled his eye open and . . .

He screamed as blinding light flooded him.

He felt hands holding him down, and again he heard voices.

Then silence.

A hand held his and a thumb pressed into the center of his palm. It was a signal Blair had developed in the event that sight and sound were compromised. It was a signal meaning to focus. For a split second, Jim thought it WAS Blair, but then as he focused, he smelled the cigar smoke.

Simon. Not smoking in the hospital, of course, but it permeated his clothes, his hair. The familiar essence that was his friend.

Then Jim remembered the loft, the heartbeat, Blair's scream, and the explosion.

Well, that explained why his hearing was messed up. And he probably still had his senses cranked up a bit. He squinted his eyes open again and waited for the stars to disappear. Finally he could see . . .

A hospital room and a frightened nurse standing by the door still holding a penlight. Jim felt Simon's finger drawing a circle in Jim's hand -- counterclockwise -- "dial it down." Blair had had the foresight to train Simon in the event something like this ever happened. Blair was, in essence, still guiding him. Jim's eyes stung, though this time it wasn't from having his sight cranked up.

Oh God, Blair . . .

Jim worked to turn everything down, and finally he could hear Simon speaking.

". . . not your fault. He's really light sensitive. I think it startled him more than . . ."

"Simon," Jim said.

"Hey!" the captain smiled broadly--relieved. "You can hear me?"

"Yeah. Still a little . . . dull, but I can hear."

"How do you feel?"

"Tired, but I'm ok." Jim glanced around. "We've gotta get outa here. We may not have much time."

Any other time, Simon would have insisted that Jim stay in the hospital, but Jim was right. Blair could be dying. Jim sat up on the side of the bed and a wave of dizziness washed over him. Simon steadied him. Jim closed his eyes for a moment and waited. He was just starting to stand when Rafe came running in breathlessly.

"They just brought Blair in," he said, and Jim stood up with Simon.

"How is he?" Jim asked quickly.

"It's bad. He's so sick."

"Sick? I knew he was hurt, but what kind . . ."

"I don't know anything really," Rafe interrupted and started leading them out. The nurse evidently realized that trying to stop the officers was pointless. "The doctors are in with him trying to figure out what it is."

They were almost to the elevator when the nurse called after them.

"Detective Ellison?" she called. "Telephone for you."

Jim jogged back to his room and grabbed the phone from the nurse.

"Ellison."

"So you two can be reunited now." The hated voice.

"What the hell do you want?"

"I don't want anything. But you do."

Jim was getting sick of this sh*t. "What do I want?"

"The antidote."

Oh God . . . "What have you done to him?"

"Just go see for yourself." The hated voice laughed. "You can look but don't touch. He's highly contagious."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Are you deaf? Go see him. I'll get in touch with you."

The phone went dead. And Jim ran to the elevator to catch his friends.


This was horribly wrong. Jim's eyes filled as he watched his partner.

Blair was the most life-filled person Jim had ever known and now he lay in an isolation ward under a plastic tent. Jim had had to put on a hazmat suit to go in and see him.

Jim sat beside his dearest friend and studied his injuries.

Blair's face was bruised and beaten. The bruises contrasted hideously with his too pale skin. There was a bandage over one eye an the other eye was almost swollen shut. His mouth was swollen on one side and a cut stretched from under his eye to his jaw. Blair's throat was mottled with bruises--like someone had tried to strangle him. The longer he looked, the angrier he became.

Jim couldn't see Blair's body, but the doctor had told him that Blair's shoulder was dislocated and he had a broken wrist. Jim remembered hearing the horrible crack of bone and his eyes filled.

"I'm so sorry, Chief . . ."

A weak voice. "Not . . . your . . . fault. . ."

"I'm gonna get you out of here. I'm gonna get the antidote and we'll have you up and around in no time."

Blair painfully turned his head and Jim's eyes met his. "No," Blair said, then he squeezed his eyes closed and threw his head back. Jim reached out to touch him and realized that he couldn't.

"Easy, Chief. Dial it down, can you do that like you've taught me?"

It took a moment, but then Blair seemed to be trying to settle, to breathe more easily, to ride out the pain.

"Better?" Jim asked, forcing himself to smile when Blair looked at him again.

"Yeah." Then a pained expression crossed Blair's face. "Trap . . ." Blair said, his voice even weaker.

"I know, but don't worry. I'll think of a way."

"No use," Blair breathed.

"What do you mean?"

A tear rolled down Blair's beaten face.

Jim spoke as gently as he could. "What is it, buddy?"

Blair's lip quivered slightly as he spoke.

"No antidote."


Blair hurt, but no one could touch him. No one could hold him. If he died, he'd die without human touch. He'd die isolated. He'd die physically alone.

And Jim could never forgive himself for that.

Blair's words hung heavily in the air. No antidote. No cure. No hope.

The phone rang and Jim didn't wait for the hated voice. "Listen, you son of a b****, I'm tired of this sh*t. When and where?"

"I see I got your attention. How's your partner?"

"Are you scared of me?" Jim asked quickly.

A nervous laugh. "Why the hell would I be scared of you?"

Jim didn't answer. He heard the agitation in the hated voice. Maybe he was onto something. Jim consciously slowed his own breathing.

And waited.

"Don't f*** with me, Ellison. Your partner's life is in my hands."

"So the only way you can deal with me is to bully my partner. You have to keep hurting someone who can't even defend himself anymore because you don't have the guts to fight me."

"Are you crazy, man? Your partner's in a g**d*** coma and in twelve hours, he's gonna be dead. You can't afford to piss me off."

"Look, just call me when you've got the guts." Jim slammed the phone down, his breath coming in great gasps.

Oh God, what have I done?

Jim looked at Blair. His poor, beaten friend lay in a coma now and if there had been a way to save him, Jim just blew it.

He smelled the cigar before he heard the thundering voice. "What the hell was that, Jim?"

An angry nurse was on the captain's heels, insisting that he lower his voice, but Simon didn't seem to notice at all.

"You hung up on him!" Simon stood inches from the Sentinel. "We don't have any way to find him. What's the matter with you, man?"

Jim opened his mouth to answer, but no sound came. Instead, his eyes started to sting and he searched Simon's eyes for . . . something. Comfort? Help?

Oh God . . .

Simon's yelling was fading, even though Jim still could see his mouth moving and Jim began to feel the room spin.

And the last thing he felt were his captain's strong arms catching him as he collapsed.


His head throbbed. His stomach rolled and a wave of nausea overwhelmed him. He felt clammy and sweaty and disoriented. What had happened? Something horrible. He was so sick, but that wasn't as bad as . . .

"Help me . . ." he breathed when he couldn't figure out what was wrong.

When there was no answer, he screamed. . . "HELP ME . . ."

A crushing hand pressed on his shoulder and a voice thundered in his ears.

"He's coming back around."

"DON'T TOUCH ME!!!!!!"

Instantly the hand moved. "Jim . . . what's hurting?" Even though the voice was too loud, Jim could tell the speaker was trying to whisper.

"Everything," Jim answered, despising the defeat he heard in his own voice. He spoke much more softly. "Everything . . ." his voice trailed off. Then a horrible memory rushed him.

"Blair's . . . sick?"

No one answered him and Jim forced his eyes open. "Where the hell is he?" he asked any of the shadows standing around him. The light was much too bright for him and it damn near blinded him.

"Simon??" Jim was starting to panic.

"Right here, Jim."

"Where's Blair?"

Simon's silence told him volumes, but Jim wouldn't believe the implication.

"He's not dead," Jim stated. He squeezed his eyes closed then opened them again slowly, as if trying to wake up again.

"We don't know, Jim."

Waking up the second time wasn't any better. "What do you mean, you don't know? He's in a hospital."

"The kidnapper is in there with him and won't let anyone get close."

Jim struggled to pull himself up. "How'd he get in? There were cops everywhere . . ." Something dawned on him. "I was with him." Jim lowered his voice to little more than a whisper. "God, Simon, what happened?"

"You were poisoned. Poison was on the phone. In fact, hanging up on the guy probably saved your life. If you'd kept talking, you'd have gotten more of it on you."

"ON me?"

"It was a transdermal poison."

Jim's head ached more. "What kind of guy is this?" None of this made sense. And Jim couldn't believe the account of his own actions. "I hung up on him? With Blair's life at stake?"

"Don't beat yourself up, Jim. The poison was already getting into your system when you got so mad."

"What about Sandburg?"

"SWAT is trying to find the best way into his room. We don't know anything yet. The kidnapper doesn't want to talk to anyone but you."

Jim squinted and tried to get up. For the first time, he realized he was in bed. He reached for one hand with the other to pull the IV out.

"Leave it alone, Jim." Simon's tone was hard. "You're another ten or twelve hours from getting up and around."

"Sandburg may not HAVE ten or twelve hours, Sir."

"We're working on it."

"Yeah, well, you said he wouldn't talk to anyone but me. I've gotta go."

"It's not gonna happen," Simon said in a voice that sounded strangely distant. Jim's mind was working in slow motion. "How long have I been out?"

"Twenty hours."

"Dear God . . . Blair . . ."

Jim again saw Blair's terrified face on the other side of the glass window.

Blair looked so . . . vulnerable. Jim relived the moment so completely that he could feel the cold glass under his fingertips. And once again he could do absolutely nothing to help his friend. Oh Blair, I'm so sorry . . . so very . . .

"JIM!!" Simon was yelling at him, and Jim's hands immediately went up to cover his ears. Simon grabbed his wrist and forced him to look at him.

"Jim, don't fade on me again. You can't help him if you zone."

Jim looked at him and saw the relief in his captain's eyes--tired eyes that said that Simon hadn't slept in a couple of days at least.

"How are you, Simon?" Jim asked softly.

Simon finally smiled. "I'll be all right when I know Sandburg is."

Jim nodded. "I hate this," the Sentinel said.

"So do I, Jim."

Try as he might, Jim couldn't shake the picture of Blair's terrified eyes, but at least he could engage his other memories--the hated voice, the condescending words--then suddenly: "Cap'n, how did he know where the water cooler was?"

"What?"

"Back at the station. The kidnapper said to look out the window by the water cooler. How would he know that?"

Simon's eyes widened in understanding, then he frowned. "Anyone who's been in the bullpen would know."

"Anyone who's been in the bullpen since Rafe and I moved it over to the window."

"That was last week, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, when the new cooler came in, it had a bad hum."

"I never noticed it," Simon commented, then caught himself. "But, of course, I wouldn't." Simon drummed his fingers on the little table by the hospital bed. "So who's been in the bull pen since . . . "

"Thursday . . ."

" . . . since Thursday. Who's been in the bullpen who has it in for you."

"No perps, Simon. I've been catching up on paperwork."

The big captain chuckled a bit. "You mean Sandburg's been catching up on your paperwork."

Jim chuckled as well, but then his eyes began to fill. "God, Simon. What do we do?"

Simon shook his head. "I don't know, Jim, but we'll . . ."

"Jonathan Beck!" Jim interrupted.

"Beck? That homicide detective?"

"The man is crazy, Simon. He thought he'd wrapped up that triple murder case -- the Ripper copycat . . ."

"Yeah, I know which one, but that was Bingham's case. He's the one who's ass was on the line when it went belly-up."

Jim shook his head. "Beck was the one who 'discovered' the damning evidence."

"The one who 'planted' it? I thought it was Bingham."

"So did I. So did everyone, but Beck is the one."

"And he knows you know."

Jim grimaced. "Worse than that. He thinks I trapped him. Since I can't explain how I figured it out . . ."

"Your senses . . . "

Jim nodded slowly. "He thinks I set him up. But it never went anywhere because I CAN'T prove anything. I smelled the chemical on his jacket and there was blood and the faintest fragrance of Sung, but once I noticed it, he surely got rid of the jacket." Jim let the significance of the events sink in, then the muscle in his jaw tightened and he felt an all new rage.

"Damn him," Jim breathed, trying to keep his temper in check long enough to figure out what to do.

Simon shook his head. "But what could he possibly gain by torturing Sandburg."

Jim rubbed his hand down his face as the picture became clear. "Beck thinks Sandburg is with IA. He thinks I set him up . . . "

How could Jim have missed this before? "He must think I set him up so Blair would have an easier time nailing him."

"Jesus . . . I knew Bingham lost his badge."

"But Beck hasn't. Why would he rock the boat when we don't have any concrete ev-. . ." Jim's jaw dropped as he stopped in mid-sentence.

"What?" Simon asked.

"Dear God . . ." Jim muttered. He felt like . . . like he was zoning on a realization, if that were possible. "Oh Simon . . ."

Simon had stood up and gently placed a hand on Jim's shoulder. Jim squinted his eyes closed and uttered the unthinkable. "Beck didn't plant the evidence so he could make a major bust."

Jim swallowed hard. "Beck committed the murders, Simon. He murdered those people."

"Why?"

"Who the hell knows? But if Beck IS the one who's got Sandburg, he's got nothing left to lose."

"He's got everything to lose. No one but you thinks he's done anything."

Jim shook his head quickly. "Somebody must. His back's against the wall. He's gonna self-destruct and he's taking Sandburg with him."

Simon opened Jim's door and summoned Joel. "Get that homicide detective over here--Bingham. He lost his . . ."

Joel frowned. "Bingham's dead, Cap."

"WHAT??!!" Simon and Jim cried at once.

"Self-inflicted gunshot wound."

Jim was on his feet pulling the IV out of his hand and Simon didn't try to stop him. He got Ellison's clothes out of the little closet in the hospital room. Once Jim took a step, though, the room began to swim.

"Whoa there, Jim," Joel said, steadying his friend and helping him to sit on the side of the bed.

Jim's headache was unbearable. He pressed his temples with the palms of his hands. Blair would be able to help him. Blair could always help him. Why couldn't he help Blair?

Help Blair . . . help Blair . . . help Blair . . . somebody help Blair . . .

Was Simon helping him get dressed? Jim had given himself over to listening.

Even if he couldn't help Blair, he could at least try to listen for him. He could listen.

Listen . . .

He heard the screaming before Simon or Joel did.

And he bolted to his feet.

He ran down the hall--following the sound of his Guide . . .

His Guide was screaming.

His Guide was hurting.

His Guide needed him.

Noise . . . SWAT leader barking orders . . . the pounding of boots . . .

The hated voice . . .

Screaming at Blair.

"YOU'RE A F***ING DEAD MAN, SANDBURG. YOU HEAR ME?"

SLAP

Jim slid around a corner, and the sight before him took his breath.

Behind the observation glass of the quarantined room, Blair was on the floor trying to get away from the crazed killer. The front of his hospital gown was slashed and covered in blood, and the hilt of a large knife protruded from his thigh. Blair's screams had subsided and all he could do now was whimper. One of Blair's arms protected his abdomen while the other tried to protect his leg. Beck hit him again, and Blair seemed to have been knocked out.

"Get me in there," the Sentinel cried. A SWAT officer in a Hazmat suit blocked the door to the room.

"Out of my way," Jim commanded.

"Can't do that, Sir. There's a deadly contagion in there and a man with a knife that can shred a hazmat suit."

Jim spun on his heel. "Who's in charge here?"

An officer approached Jim just about the time Simon and Joel arrived. Simon flashed his badge and spoke to the officer. Jim would have paid attention, but Blair was dying. Blair was dying and Jim had to get to him.

Beck stood up and looked at his "audience." When he saw Jim, his face contorted into a sick grin, and Beck turned back to Blair. Jim tried to get his body to move, but he just stood there. It was as though he were paralyzed. He watched through the thick glass as Beck pulled the blade out of Blair's leg.

Blair screamed and Jim screamed with him. And once again, Blair was out of reach.

And he was going to die that way.

Beck dropped to one knee beside Blair

And raised the knife to plunge into Blair's chest.

"NOOOOO!!!!" Jim threw his head back and cried as Beck brought the blade down.

Strong arms encircled him and held him up as the Sentinel screamed again.

He almost didn't hear the SWAT officer by the door.

"Sweet Jesus . . ." the man muttered. And there were other murmurings in the observation area.

Simon shook Jim gently. "Look . . . Jim, look . . ."

And Jim opened his eyes . . .

To see Beck writhing on the floor, his own knife buried in his abdomen.

Blair was shaking uncontrollably and, except for his cuts and bruises, was ghastly pale. He was edging away from Beck, but could barely move.

A tiny voice. "Jim . . ."

"Right here, buddy." Jim wondered how he could find his own voice.

"Help . . . "

That was it. Jim pushed the SWAT officer aside, but Simon grabbed Jim's arm.

"Suit," was all he said, and Simon helped him put on the strange outfit.

"You don't need it." Jim and Simon both turned at the doctor's voice. He had evidently arrived sometime during the crisis.

"What did you say?" Jim's voice was spent.

"It's not a contagion. In fact 'it' isn't anything more than food poisoning. We just had to check every possibility."

Without another word, Jim stumbled out of the Hazmat suit and pushed his way into Blair's room.

His Guide was curled on his side, trembling violently and moaning softly. Jim slid to the floor beside him. He reached out to touch his friend, but spoke first.

"Blair?" Jim's voice was quaking with emotion. After a long moment, eyelashes fluttered and frightened blue eyes looked up at the Sentinel.

"Jim . . ." His name was little more than a breath, but Jim could hear.

Blair reached a hand up to his partner and Jim reached out and pulled Blair to him, his strong arms protecting the Guide, comforting the friend and connecting with his brother. Jim could feel Blair's hands clutch his shirt--desperately hanging on as if his life depended on it.

Maybe it did.

"I got you, Chief. It's over now."

"Jim . . ."

"Yeah, don't try to talk." Jim tightened his hold on his partner. He barely noticed that the room was filling with people. Blair's breathing was coming in gasps.

"Easy, Chief. Breathe easy." The doctor knelt beside them, trying to check Sandburg for injuries. Jim started to ease him back down to the floor, but Blair grabbed his hand . . .

And clutched it to his chest. "He told . . . me . . . you . . ." A sob hitched as Blair tried to talk. " . . . were dead."

Tears rolled down Blair's beaten face. The doctor looked at Blair's torso and found cuts and shallow stab wounds. Beck was making Blair suffer before killing him.

"Dear God . . ." the doctor said, his own eyes filling. Jim's eyes met the doctor's and he nodded his understanding.

Blair squeezed Jim's hand as the doctor examined his thigh.

So much blood, Jim thought, but he forced himself not to zone. He kept talking to his partner. Blair needs me, he thought like a mantra. He'd have stayed focused, too, if he hadn't seen Beck being placed on a gurney.

But just as the former detective was being wheeled out, Jim saw his eyes pop open. "This ain't over, Ellison," the hated voice said.

And Jim jumped up. "YOU SICK SON OF A BITCH. YOU COME NEAR MY PARTNER AGAIN AND I WILL END YOU." Simon and Joel both had to hold the Sentinel back, but Jim's diatribe followed the murderer down the hall.

"Don't . . ."

Jim turned to see Blair trying to pull himself up. "No, Chief. Lie down."

But Blair was agitated now and he gripped Jim's hand with a sudden surge of strength--strength born of fear. "Don't go after . . . him . . . please . . . promise . . ."

Jim fought the urge to break the man who'd hurt his Guide. He didn't want to add to Blair's distress. He knelt beside his friend as the doctor and the trauma team lifted Blair gently to the gurney.

"Promise," Blair repeated.

"I promise, Chief," Jim said softly. Then he leaned closely to Blair's ear.

"I couldn't stand having you just beyond my reach. . . just past my . . . ability to help you. I'm so sorry, Blair."

Jim took Blair's hand and held it against his chest and Blair smiled through his tears. "I knew," Blair said on the thread of a breath. " I knew . . . you'd find me."

"You saved yourself, Chief."

Blair's eyes drifted closed. "Only because . . . I knew you were just on the other side."

Jim watched as they wheeled his partner out of the quarantined space and down the hall.

And he heard the sleepy voice, meant only for Sentinel ears. "Glad . . . you're my . . . brother."

And for the first time since Blair had been taken, Jim smiled. "Me too, Chief." Jim followed the entourage. "Me too."

THE END


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