Disclaimer: This story is a work of fan fiction based on UPN's The Sentinel, and is not intended to infringe on the copyright of UPN, Paramount, Pet Fly, or any other PTB. I don't claim the characters, setting, or concept, but the story is mine. I'm not getting a profit, and suing would be pointless.

Ratings/warnings: PG for language (just in case); major smarm and sap warnings; a few minor Blind Man's Bluff spoilers.

Dedication/Thanks: To Tab's hamsters, with hopes that they don't starve. Thanks to Wendy for help with the ideas and encouragement, and to Brenda for sharing Blair for that extra half hour. Ladies, pack those backpacks! Vancouver's a long walk. <G> Also, thanks to Robyn for help with the medical aspects; I'm sure I totally mangled what she told me, but she was very gracious and helpful when I asked the question in the first place, and I'm grateful to her for her help. Any mistakes are my fault completely.

White Knight
by Katie

Jim leaned against the rail of the fire escape, enjoying the feel of the cool breeze against his face and the fresh smell of air newly cleaned by rain. As long as he kept his dials down to "normal," he could still enjoy these simple pleasures, and he was taking full advantage of the fact that he had no need to smell or even hear or see anything other than what he would have been aware of if he hadn't had enhanced senses. It was almost like being on a vacation. It wasn't that often that he had the time to just enjoy a Cascade evening with no distractions.

Speaking of distractions--Jim looked at his watch, frowning a little when he saw how late it had gotten. Sandburg was due back from a faculty barbecue over an hour ago, although Jim had figured out early in their partnership that Sandburg's colleagues tended to be as long-winded as Sandburg himself. He was probably stuck being outtalked by a senior professor with more interest in the sound of his own voice than in the actual content of his words. Jim briefly considered feeling sorry for his partner.

Nah. He deserves every minute of it. Jim grinned and turned back to his contemplation of the night sky. The crickets were in particularly fine form tonight, competing with the sounds of traffic from the street for supremacy, but the noises blended together in the background, simply reminding him that there was life in the city other than his own. It was nice, even peaceful, although not quite up to the standards of a night in the wilderness.

Wonder if Sandburg's got enough free time to go camping this weekend, Jim mused. With things slow at the station, this'd be the perfect time.

It'd be nice to spend some quiet time with his partner. Being busy was a way of life for them both, and sometimes in the blur of daily activity they didn't take time to simply be friends. Jim grinned wryly to himself. The fact that he, Mr. "I work alone," not only enjoyed having a partner, but thought of him as a friend and wanted to spend free time with him, not to mention allowing him to move in to Jim's home, had surprised no one so much as it had Jim. The detective had come to the conclusion that it was all a conspiracy on Sandburg's part to completely take over his life--a conspiracy in which Jim was usually a willing participant. He had no difficulty whatsoever remembering what life pre-Sandburg was like, and he had no intention of going back to it any time soon, if he could possibly help it. All the order and control and neatness in the world were not worth the emptiness he hadn't known he was feeling until it was filled by someone who simply, selflessly, completely cared about him. Jim knew that his partner gave more than he got out of their relationship. Jim was just grateful that somehow, some aspect of their partnership seemed to provide something Blair was needing, too--something beyond a basis for his dissertation.

The familiar sound of the Volvo's engine cut through his musings, and he could feel a tension he hadn't really been aware of leaving his shoulders. It really wasn't that he was over-protective of his partner.  It was just that so many times, Blair being late had meant that he was in trouble, and now whenever he was late, Jim couldn't quite shake the feeling that something had gone wrong.

Apparently not this time, however. Sandburg parked out of Jim's line of vision, but Jim turned up his hearing enough to be able to track the younger man into the elevator and up to the door of the loft. He turned and came back into the living room as Sandburg opened the door.

"Hey, Chief, how was the party?"

Sandburg just shrugged tiredly, running a hand through his curls as he kept walking toward his room.  "It was fine, man. I'm gonna get some work done, okay?"

Then the door shut firmly, leaving Jim with the distinct impression that, if Sandburg could have built an extra wall between himself and his roommate, the loft's ceiling would be safely reinforced.

Okay, I'll take that as an "it sucked, man." Jim briefly debated letting it go till morning and giving his partner a chance to cool off from whatever had him so pissed. It was rarely a good idea to let Blair stew, however, so he decided to arm himself with something to smooth things over and beard the lion in his den. He stopped in the kitchen to make a cup of the new herbal tea Sandburg had started drinking.  The stuff was strong enough to make Jim's eyes water, but Blair liked it and it might just be the thing to calm him down.

Jim knocked gently on Sandburg's door, then took the silence within as permission to enter, since he had no intention of going away until they'd talked anyway.

"Hey, I thought you might like some of this paint remover."

Blair was lying on his bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. He looked over at Jim and smiled briefly.  "Thanks. Just put it on the night stand, I'll get it in a minute."

Jim set the cup down and leaned against the desk, looking his partner over carefully. Blair looked exhausted and upset, his face mirroring the emotions he wouldn't express verbally.  "Want to talk about it?"

Sandburg sighed.  "There's nothing to talk about, Jim, really."

Jim raised his eyebrows.

Blair glanced over at him, caught the expression, and added, "Nothing I want to talk about tonight, anyway. I'm okay, I'm just going to drink my tea and head to bed at a reasonable hour for once."

"Sandburg . . ."

The younger man rolled over to face Jim. "I'm okay, Jim. Nothing to worry about. Honestly, man."

Jim frowned skeptically, but let it go. If Sandburg didn't want to talk about whatever was bothering him, Jim would just have to back off for a while.  Not long, but a while.  "Well, if you change your mind. . ."

Blair grinned.  "Yeah, I know, you'll hear me."

After Jim had left, Blair sank back into his pillow with a sigh. He wanted nothing more than to sleep, but his mind was racing in a terrified attempt to sort out the events of the evening. The barbecue had been an average party--nothing exciting, but not too dull--until he'd found himself staring into the coals of the barbecue pit and one of the flames sat up and waved at him. He'd handled it rather well, he thought; instead of dropping everything he was holding and bolting, he'd calmly excused himself, walked out to his car, and sat there quietly until he'd stopped shaking enough to drive home.

Blair had known he might have flashbacks from his Golden overdose. He had enough experience with hallucinogens from his childhood, being around people who used such things in their attempts at spiritual enlightenment, that he really hadn't needed the lecture the emergency room doctor gave him after he'd come out of the coma. After months with nothing more than nightmares, though, he'd been pretty sure he'd escaped that little thrill ride.

God, I don't know if I can do this again. I thought I was going to go insane the first time--all those, those things coming out of nowhere, so bright and hot and they knew, man, they knew I couldn't stop them.  He shook his head, trying to clear the images. That wasn't real. Let it go, Sandburg, let it go. Jim told you it wasn't real.

For a while, it'd been pure faith in his partner that had convinced him that what he'd seen in the parking garage hadn't actually happened. It'd seemed real, no matter what logic told him, and it'd taken Jim's repeated reassurances and recounts of what had actually happened to let him believe he hadn't actually seen figures made of fire coming out of the floor. He'd finally put it behind him, though--or thought he had. After tonight . . .

I should tell Jim. He'll kill me when he finds out I was hallucinating and didn't tell him. But there's no way I'm going to the hospital tonight, not even if the fire people crawl into bed with me. I'm wiped, and he'll panic--not that he'll act panicked, he'll just get that soothing tone and hustle me out the door before I know what's happening. I just can't handle keeping him calm tonight.

Sitting up, Blair took the cup of tea and sipped, letting the warm liquid soothe more than just his throat. It was strong enough to make him feel as if it was doing some good, easing the headache that gripped him like a vise. No, no way was he going to deal with the fallout from this tonight. He'd tell Jim tomorrow, after he'd gotten some rest. Draining the cup, he leaned back and closes his eyes, just intending to rest for a few minutes before getting up and taking a shower.

When he did wake up, it was a lot lighter in his room than it should have been. The tea cup was gone, as were his shoes, and a blanket had been thrown over him. He grinned.  Jim had obviously been in to check on him.

He got out of bed, stretching and grimacing a little at the feel of his wrinkled clothes. At least his headache was gone.  In fact, he felt so good it was hard to believe that he'd had a flashback last night. Maybe it wasn't anything serious--just a one time occurrence that he'd made more of than it was worth. For a moment, as he hunted up something halfway clean to wear, he toyed with the idea of not telling Jim at all. After all, what Jim didn't know wouldn't hurt Blair, and the idea of avoiding Jim's mother henning was very appealing.

He was almost immediately ashamed of the impulse, however. If the flashback hadn't been a singular occurrence, if it happened again when he and Jim were out on a dangerous case and Jim got hurt, he'd never forgive himself. Jim trusted him to be backup, and he couldn't do a very good job if he was off in la-la land somewhere communing with rejects from the set of Volcano. He'd have to sit Jim down and tell him what was going on before they went in to the station.

Unearthing a reasonably clean pair of jeans, he headed for the shower, only to discover that his intentions of having a heart-to-heart with Jim before work were a little late. The loft was empty, no doubt because it was nearly 10 a.m., and a note sitting on the table told him that Jim had decided to let him sleep in and had gone in to the station without him.

Man, I must have been more tired than I thought. I haven't slept this late since . . . I can't even remember when.

Blair rushed through his shower, grabbing a bagel and a cup of tea before running out the door.

Jim had spent the morning at his desk, following up on leads to a few minor cases and finishing off a few reports Blair had started the last time he was in. Jim hadn't really even debated over whether or not to wake his partner up this morning. Sandburg had been so exhausted last night that he hadn't even stirred when Jim came in, took the cup from his hands, pulled off his shoes, and covered him with the blanket at the foot of his bed. Whatever had disturbed him at the party apparently hadn't affected his sleep. He was in the exact same position Jim had left him in when the detective checked on him this morning. Since Jim had known he was going to have a light day, it'd simply made more sense to let Sandburg catch up on his rest.

Around midmorning, he headed down to Forensics to check on some evidence. It might have been easier to call, but he was feeling the need to stretch his legs, and even took the stairs in a virtuous effort to counteract the half dozen doughnuts he'd consumed that morning. Sandburg would have been proud. On his way back up, he heard himself paged over the intercom.

***Ellison to Major Crimes ASAP. Again, Ellison to Major Crimes ASAP.***

Frowning, he abandoned the stairs and got on the elevator at the next floor. What the hell could be so important that it couldn't wait till he got back up there?

The bullpen was empty when he got there, sending a shiver of unease down his spine. One hand unconsciously went to his gun as he scanned the room and Simon's office, stretching his hearing and sight to locate the source of the problem. Just as he pinpointed a disturbance of some sort in the break room, Simon strode through the door that faced in that direction.

"Jim, where the hell have you been? Sandburg's having some sort of .. ."

He didn't get any further. Jim brushed past him, focusing intently on sounds coming from the break room. There were a lot of voices, Brown's and Rafe's among them, and although he couldn't hear Blair's voice, he could hear his heartbeat thundering far too rapidly.

A crowd of people had gathered outside the break room door. Jim ignored them too, pushing through with a total disregard for anyone's feelings or toes. Two detectives from Homicide were blocking the path to the door, but Jim pressed through them to see a tableau that jerked him to a halt. The shattered remains of a coffee cup or two littered the floor near the snack machine, and several chairs were overturned. Rafe was leaning against a counter, cupping his hand to catch the blood pouring out of his nose. Brown had Blair in a tight hug from behind, holding him as he struggled. As Jim came in, Blair gave a grunt and heave, almost breaking loose, but Henri tightened his arms, the strain showing on his face.

"Easy, Hairboy, easy." He spoke soothingly, but Blair didn't respond except to fight harder. Jim's immediate response--to rip the arms off the man touching his partner--was halted only by the fact that it was Brown, a man he respected and trusted. It took him a second to see Henri and not a threat, though.

"Hey, H. What's going on?" Jim asked softly, most of his attention on Sandburg. His partner didn't seem aware of his surroundings, much less Jim. Blair's eyes, when he shoved back against Brown enough that Jim could see them, were dilated and wild, his hands clawing at Brown's in an attempt to free himself, his breath coming in harsh gasps. Jim could hear the pounding of Blair's heart, and felt his own speeding up to match.

"I don't know. He just went crazy. Started throwing things, yelling something, didn't hear us when we talked to him." Rafe answered in a muffled, nasal tone.

Brown tightened his hold as Blair jerked again.

"Damn it, let me go!" Blair threw his head back, narrowly missing Brown's chin.

Jim winced. What the hell? He's--it's like he's drugged or something--like when he'd eaten all that Golden.

"H., let him go." Jim kept his voice low and soothing. He met Brown's eyes and nodded. "I've got him. You and Rafe get these people cleared away, okay? Give us a little privacy."

Rafe went across the room and ushered the Homicide detectives out, one hand still cupped under his nose. Brown, with another doubtful look at Jim, let go and backed away quickly towards the door. Blair whirled and slammed into the counter, his hand groping behind him to grab another mug out of the sink. He was shaking, his eyes darting frantically around the room without settling on anything.

Jim took a step closer, spreading his hands in a placating gesture. "Sandburg? What's going on here, Chief?"

Blair brandished the mug in front of him threateningly. "Go away. You can't come here. Get away from me!"

"Sandburg. It's me, Jim. There isn't anyone else here now, and you know I won't hurt you. What's wrong?" Jim took another step forward. It was like trying to talk his partner down from the Golden--except the coffee cup was a lot less dangerous than the gun Sandburg had been firing last time. Had he been drugged again? Or was this a flashback? The doctor had warned that he could have them, but Jim had thought after so long that he was out of danger.

"Jim?" Blair finally focused on him, and the cup lowered slightly. "Jim?"

"Yeah, buddy, it's me. What's going on? Who were you talking to?"

"Don't you see them, man?"

The question--the same one Blair had asked when he was overdosing on Golden, and in the same plaintive, almost frightened tone--sent a chill up Jim's spine. He took another step closer, and Blair pressed his back harder against the counter.

"See who, Chief? Like I said, we're the only ones here now."

"No, man, don't you see them? They were just in the corner, but they're all over now. We gotta get rid of them before they get out and hurt people."

"The fire people?" Jim asked gently, remembering the things Blair had hallucinated and had nightmares over after eating the Golden-laced pizza. Blair nodded, his eyes darting around again as if tracking movement.

"Yeah, do you see them now?" he asked hopefully. Suddenly he hurled the mug at the door, shouting, "No! Get back! Jim, stop them!"

"Blair . . ." Jim stepped over a chair and reached for him, but Blair shied back.

"No, don't call me that." He hugged himself, still moving backward. "You only call me that when you're scared, and you gotta be brave here, man. I can't keep them from escaping by myself. I need your help. They're scared of you."

Gut twisting at the terror and trust in his partner's voice, Jim reached out to him and all but whispered, "Chief, I'm not going to let them hurt you, and I won't let them escape. You're going to be okay. Just come here a minute, all right?"

Blair hugged himself tighter, shaking his head violently so that his curls whipped across his face. He only seemed able to meet Jim's eyes for seconds at a time before he'd go back to tracking his demons.  "Jim, this is not about me. These things are evil, they're going to destroy everything. We gotta stop them."

"No, buddy, we talked about this before, remember? This isn't real, no matter how much is seems like it is. There's no one here to hurt you. Trust me on this one, okay?" Jim moved closer, almost close enough to grab his partner, and kept his hand outstretched. He was gambling that Blair would trust him enough to let him take over.  It had worked before, but then Blair had been confused enough that Jim had been able to placate him with that little handclapping trick. He seemed much more clearheaded this time, relatively speaking, and Jim didn't think he was going to buy anything so simple. All Jim had to offer him this time was the truth, and all the comfort he needed until he was able to think straight again.

"But, Jim . . ." Blair actually looked at him for more than a second, his eyes filled with appeal.

"Trust me, Blair. You're not thinking very clearly, so let me figure things out for right now. I'm not going to let anything happen to you or anyone else. You're safe. Just trust me."

"I do, Jim, but . . ." Blair blinked, then shook his head impatiently and rubbed at his eyes. "Don't you see them?"

"No, buddy. There's nothing there. We're going to make this okay, I promise." Jim took the final step, clasping Blair's arm so that he couldn’t back away any further. Jim tugged gently, pulling his partner closer so that he could drop an arm around his shoulders. Minute shivers ran through Blair's frame, but he didn't seem to notice except to hug himself tighter. "What do you say we blow this joint?"

"I guess. I just . . ." Blair sighed, his shoulders slumping. "I really messed up, didn't I?"

Jim was about to answer when Blair jerked back, his eyes wide and fixed on a spot across the room. He clenched his fists, the shivers growing to full-blown shakes.

"Jim . . ."

"Hey." Jim tightened his hold, reaching over to turn Blair's face to him. "It's not real, Chief. There's nothing there."

With a sigh that was almost a moan, Blair shut his eyes.  "Can we just go home? Please?"

"Sure. Let's go."

Walking out of the break room was like entering a gauntlet. It seemed like half the station had gathered in the hall. Jim pulled Blair a little closer and shot a glare around the crowd, stopping more than one question in its tracks. Even Simon shut his mouth after a second, gesturing with his head for Jim to go on and leave. Blair didn't look up from the time they left the break room till they got down to the truck.

The drive home was silent. Blair had pushed himself as far back into his corner of the truck as he could and shut his eyes, arms still wrapped around himself protectively. Jim kept glancing over at him worriedly, wishing he'd say something and too concerned to see more than passing humor in that wish. After a few minutes, though, the younger man's head began to droop, and he shifted to lean against the window with a soft sigh. By the time they were half way to the loft, he was fast asleep.

Blair woke up cautiously, knowing he should be wary of something, but not remembering at first exactly what the problem was. Then memory returned, along with a crushing headache.  "Oh, god . . ."

"Hey, Chief, about time you woke up."

Blair didn't even try to open his eyes to acknowledge his partner's words. Jim sounded far too cheerful for how he was currently feeling.  "Jim? Tell me we're home and you have plans to shoot me and put me out of my misery real soon."

"We are home, I have no intention of shooting you because I don't feel like dealing with the paperwork, and if you don't scoot over, you're going to fall off the couch."

Blair felt a hand touching his forehead as if checking for fever.  The coolness was soothing and he felt his muscles relax of their own accord. He shifted slightly, feeling the edge of the couch with one arm, and scooted carefully back the other way. Cautiously, he opened his eyes, squinting against the dim afternoon sunlight. Jim was standing over him, blocking out most of it, a slightly worried smile on his face.

"How you feeling?" Jim asked, his voice turning serious as he squatted down to Blair's eye level.

"Like I'm on the wrong end of a three day drunk." Blair sighed and closed his eyes again, glad that Jim hadn't removed his hand yet--he needed the comfort and feeling of safety it brought, and he was too tired and shaken up to be embarrassed about it. "I can't believe I freaked out at the station again, man. They're not going to let me through the door now."

He could hear Jim's smile in his voice as the older man replied, "Oh, I think they'll forgive you this time--although you may have to do some serious groveling to get back on Rafe's good side. I think you broke his nose."

"Oh, man . . ."

"I did talk to Simon after we got home and I lugged you up the stairs--don't ever take up sleep walking, Chief, you have no coordination when you're unconscious--and he said you'd have to be cleared by a doctor before you can come back, though."

Blair opened his eyes again, a protest forming before Jim had even finished, but Jim's adamant expression stopped him before he could voice it.

"Sorry, Sandburg, but the insurance company is going to insist. Whatever it was that happened to you, whether it was a flashback or something else, they're gonna want to know it won't happen again."

"Me too." Blair sighed. He'd almost be willing to go to a doctor without complaint if he could find out why he was having these visions, and more importantly, how he could stop them. He really didn't have much faith in the healing powers of modern medicine, however. If he knew the cause, he was pretty sure he could come up with a solution. He had to find a solution, because he couldn't live knowing that any second, he could totally freak out. "Jim, what if it does happen again? I mean, this isn't the first time . . ."

He stopped, suddenly remembering that he hadn't had a chance to tell Jim about the night before. Jim raised his eyebrows, but didn't comment, and his thumb stroked Blair's temple rhythmically. Blair met his eyes apologetically, and he gave a wry smile.

"I figured that's what last night was about. Any other times?"

"No, that was the first time. Scared the hell out of me, too." God, Jim, that feels so good. Don't stop. Whatever you do, don't stop. Blair felt his eyes begin to drift shut and didn't fight it.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

The question was asked so gently that Blair didn't feel the slightest bit defensive when he answered, "I had to get it straight in my mind first, man. I was gonna tell you first thing this morning, but you'd already gone in."

Jim's thumb continued its soothing path, stroking away the headache and the lingering fear and tension.

"You have any idea what brought it on?"

Blair sighed. "I dunno, man. I don't even know what it was." Keep it up, man, I'll be asleep in another ten seconds.

"You haven't taken anything unusual recently, have you? Medicine, or. . ."

Blair felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach. He would have shot up, but Jim's hand kept him anchored to the couch--no more pressure than before, but he couldn't, didn't dare, lose that contact, because the world had just fallen out from under him.

"You think I took something, don't you? Golden, or something. You think I was high, don't you?" He knew his voice was rising, but couldn't have controlled it to save his life. How could Jim think that?

"Sandburg. Blair, listen to me." Jim's thumb didn't stop stroking, his voice didn't leave its quiet, calming register, but his eyes focused on Blair's with a startling intensity. "I know you didn't take anything illegal. I know you wouldn't. But you didn't take the Golden on purpose the first time, and there's nothing saying you couldn't be having an allergic reaction of some sort to something perfectly legal. Stress can cause flashbacks, but so can reactions to drugs, alcohol, and god knows what else. I just want to figure out why this happened."

Blair searched his eyes, then let out a shuddering breath, convinced that he was telling the truth. Blair had to bite hard on the inside of his mouth to keep the tears out of his eyes.  He was not going to start crying over a stupid misunderstanding. He was just tired and shaky, that was all.

"Sorry, man."

"S'okay. I know you don't feel like it, but I think we'd better go visit that doctor now."

Blair groaned. "No, Jim, c'mon. Tomorrow. I'm okay now, really, I just need some sleep."

"The sooner we go, the more likely the doctor will be able to figure out what's wrong. I would have taken you straight from the station to the emergency room, but I thought you'd feel better waking up at home." Jim stood up, taking his hand away and leaving Blair feeling slightly abandoned. "C'mon, buddy, let's get going."

It was more than an hour before they actually got to see the ER doctor. Blair had drifted off early in their wait, and awoke to find himself leaning against Jim's shoulder. Since it was Jim's fault he was there instead of home in bed, though, he didn't feel that guilty. The doctor, when they did finally get to see her, introduced herself as Dr. Clancy, and did a quick, almost embarrassingly thorough examination before launching into the same lecture the other doctor had given when releasing him from the hospital after the Golden overdose.

"You're likely to be tired, more emotional than usual, and even nervous or irritable in the aftermath of a flashback, so just be patient with yourself. Cut back on as many of your stressful activities as you reasonably can, make sure you avoid alcohol or other substances that make you prone to hallucinations--illegal drugs, pain killers, things like that. Get plenty of rest. With luck, these two incidents were aberrations that won't occur again, but there's no way to know for sure," she concluded, giving him a tired but compassionate smile and patted his leg. "We'll need to take a blood sample to eliminate the possibility of some sort of drug or allergic reaction, since we're trying to clear you to go back to work."

"Great." Blair eyed the large needle she pulled out apprehensively. Jim, who had waited silently in the corner throughout the whole procedure, grinned wickedly.

"It'll just sting for a minute."

Then they were waiting again, Blair stretched out on the examining table and Jim sitting next to him in an uncomfortable-looking plastic chair. Blair started to drift again, and thought groggily that he couldn't remember the last time he'd slept so much. He had the strangest sensation of floating, like he was hovering above the table instead of on it, and he kept waiting to fall. Every few minutes, he'd jerk awake, thinking he was falling, and Jim would reach over and pat his arm.  Eventually, the older man just left his hand there, and the falling sensation disappeared.

When Dr. Clancy finally returned, she was carrying a computer printout and her eyebrows were drawn together in confusion.

"Mr. Sandburg, do you practice homeopathic medicine? Perhaps drink herbal teas? Use a lot of herbs in your cooking?"

Blair frowned and felt Jim's hand tense on his arm. "Yes, why?"

"I think I've discovered your problem, or part of it. You have a large amount of several herbs in your system. None of them are illegal or dangerous on their own, but together, they create a compound that's very similar to a 'natural' version of certain hallucinogenic drugs--particularly Golden." She paused for a moment, giving them time to process the information. "Have you recently started using a different type of home remedy? Something unusual that might have a herbal mixture you haven't tried before?"

"Ohmigod." Blair turned to look at Jim, feeling the blood drain from his face. "That tea--the new stuff I bought, that you're always saying makes your eyes burn. God, Jim, I've been . . ." He'd been poisoning himself all along. And maybe Jim's eyes had been reacting to the same thing--not just the pungency of the tea, but to the actual ingredients. The possibilities that suggested . . . But to think that he'd been sitting there drinking this stuff that was causing him to see the fire people--god, he'd thought he was losing his mind, he'd thought . . .

"Sandburg. Sandburg."

Blair blinked, suddenly remembering there were other people in the room.  "Oh, sorry, doctor. What were you saying? Does this mean I won't be having the flashbacks anymore, once I stop drinking the tea?"

The doctor leaned back against the counter tiredly.  "It's hard to give you a definite answer on that, Mr. Sandburg. That's what I hope will happen. You might have a troublesome day or two while the herbs get out of your system, but with luck, that will be the end of it." She sighed, and brushed a lock of greying hair out of her face. "Unfortunately, I can't guarantee that. Flashbacks are very unpredictable, as I mentioned earlier. The stress from undergoing these flashbacks and from worrying about having another one could trigger one. You might never have another one, or you could go a few years before having another episode. I just can't give you a definite answer."

"You mean I might never get past this?" Blair could hear the desperation in his voice, but it was nothing compared to the panic he was feeling inside. Even though he'd known before that he might have flashbacks, it had been little more than academic knowledge. It hadn't had any more reality than the knowledge that he could die in a nuclear explosion--sure, it was possible, but it wasn't something he was going to center his life around. Now, though, he didn't have any choice. He could be seeing little yellow men dancing at the corners of his eyes for the rest of his life.

"Take it easy, Chief. Don't borrow trouble. If it happens again, it happens. We know we can deal with it. If not, well, we still know we could have dealt with it. We'll survive, either way." Jim's hand was rubbing his back gently.

"But, Jim. What if I freak out when we're doing something dangerous? I'm supposed to be your backup, man. What if . . ."

Jim moved his hand up to Blair's shoulder and gave it a little shake, smiling that little smile that had no more reason behind it than affection.  "Let's worry about that if it happens, okay? Whatever happens, we'll handle it."

Jim moved quietly around the kitchen making himself a sandwich. It seemed like forever since he'd last eaten, with all the things that had happened that afternoon and evening alone. Was it just that morning that he'd gotten the call to return to Major Crimes?

If he was tired, he could just imagine how Sandburg was feeling. Actually, he didn't have to imagine.  It was pretty clear from the younger man's direct line from the front door to his bed when they got back from the hospital that he was exhausted. Dr. Clancy had said that his sleepiness was to be expected, and that Jim shouldn't be to concerned unless it lasted for too long.

At least this time Sandburg had made it up the stairs more or less on his own power. It was a hell of a time for the elevator to be out. Jim had had to half-walk, half-carry his partner up all three flights when they'd returned from the station, and he wasn't sure his back would ever be the same. This time, a guiding hand on Sandburg's shoulder had been sufficient, although Jim wasn't sure the anthropologist had been all that aware of what was going on.

Jim finished constructing his sandwich--an odd conglomeration of various leftovers that made most of Sandburg's dishes look fairly tame--and went to sit in front of the TV with it and a glass of tea. He would have liked a beer, but he was already half asleep, and he had a feeling it might be a rough night. He wanted to have his brain working if Sandburg had nightmares or--he winced at the thought--another flashback.

He thought back to the one earlier in the day. He'd been so sure the whole Golden thing was over. They'd had their lives back, and he'd convinced himself that there was no more threat. It just seemed so terribly unfair that Sandburg, who was an innocent victim if anyone was, who relied so much on his brilliant, creative mind, could be attacked in a way that made him unable to trust what his mind told him. Jim hadn't wanted to believe that it could happen more than once.

Jim stared at the inane sitcom he'd somehow tuned into, grimacing at the canned laughter that seemed incredibly out of place after the events of the day. He'd lost his partner for a little while--not physically, but he'd lost the part of Blair that made him Blair, and reminder of how that felt made him even more determined than ever to make sure it wouldn't happen again. He'd kept finding himself touching the younger man, literally unable to stop, as if he was subconsciously afraid that Blair would slip away if he took his hand off for a second. Luckily, Blair hadn't minded.  In fact, Jim had noticed that Blair seemed to be comforted by those little touched Jim used to communicate, even under less trying circumstances.

//The classroom was too hot, but that wasn't unusual any time except in the dead of winter. Blair walked in and dumped his materials on the little table near the podium, glancing over the empty room. In another ten minutes or so, it would start filling with students, but he liked having a few minutes--when he wasn't running late--to get himself organized and to settle his mind into "teacher" mode. He was still a bit tired from his ordeal at the station a few days before, and it seemed to be taking him longer to think of things lately, so he really needed this prep time to make sure he didn't come across sounding like an idiot as he taught.

It was particularly important today. The department head, Dr. Sharp, was supposed to come and observe him, and he really wanted to do well. He knew that Sharp was less than impressed with his sporadic absences from his teaching and classes, and the last thing he needed was to come in looking unprepared after taking the last two days off--although he would have looked worse falling asleep in front of the class, or dragging around his own personal cop, since Jim wouldn't let him out of his sight until today.

He'd just finished writing the topics for the day on the board and setting out the handouts when the first of the students began to trickle in. He exchanged pleasantries with a few, listened to a few comments on the previous class's readings, and then it was time to start the class.//

Jim finally settled on an old cowboy movie, more for the company of the images and sound than out of interest in the plot or characters. It felt more lonely than usual, not having Sandburg sprawled across the other couch or at the kitchen table, working on something. It wasn't like they spent all their evenings together; it was just that the reason why, this evening, they weren't together, had him feeling uneasy.

He wished he knew what they were going to do--Sandburg had been right at the hospital about it being dangerous for him to continue working with Jim if he was having flashbacks. He'd be far too easy a target if he had one during a shootout. Jim didn't know what he'd do without his partner, though. It wasn't just that Blair was his guide, although that was a huge thing, too. Beyond that, though, was the fact that Blair was his friend and partner, someone he could trust, depend on, and expect to understand him. That was more important than Blair's help with his senses, even though he would have probably gone insane without Blair's help.

C'mon, Ellison, here you are telling the kid not to borrow trouble, and look what you're doing. Whatever happens, we'll handle it. Odds are, he just needs to get that crap out of his system, and he'll be back to normal. He never had flashbacks before, why should now be any different?

Jim frowned at the screen, realizing that the characters in the movie were in the middle of a gun battle, and he didn't have the slightest clue who the good guys and bad guys were. With a sigh, he finally gave in to the urge that had been plaguing him almost since they'd gotten home and went to Sandburg's room to check on him.

//The class was going well. Dr. Sharp was still awake, as were his students, and he hadn't forgotten anything or made any stupid factual or grammatical mistakes. Blair was just beginning to relax and get into the swing of the lecture when he saw it. Right behind Dr. Sharp, slowly rising from behind one of the seats, was a golden, demon-like figure. Its red eyes were fixed on him, and it had an evil grin on its face as it reached out for Dr. Sharp. Blair felt his breath stop.  He couldn't even scream out a warning.  And then there were more around the edges of the room, creeping toward the students, who sat oblivious to their danger and to his fear.//

Jim stood in Blair's doorway, indulging himself for a moment as he watched his partner sleep. Blair had collapsed on his back, curled slightly toward the door with one hand reaching up to grasp his pillow as if he thought it might escape him. His breathing was deep and even, showing his exhaustion. He still had his clothes and shoes on, but Jim doubted he was all that bothered by them.

He looked pale even now, and the dark circles under his eyes that Jim had noticed when he was first sleeping off the effects of the flashback seemed even more pronounced. Jim knew he probably didn't look any more fragile than usual, but Jim couldn't help but feel that he was more fragile, that he could be shattered by the wrong blow at the wrong spot.

Moving silently, even though Blair probably wouldn't have woken up if he'd come in doing the Macarana, Jim went over to pull off the younger man's shoes and throw a cover over him. Just as he was finishing, Blair shifted and his heartbeat increased, and Jim paused, thinking he was waking up.

Then Blair shifted again, his brow furrowing in either pain or fear, and whimpered, "No, please, go away."

"Blair?" Jim moved quickly, sitting down on the bed next to his partner and shaking him gently. "Hey, Chief, time to wake up. You're just dreaming, it's okay."

Blair didn't hear. He twisted again, his hands balling into fists and crossing protectively over his chest. "No. No. Get away, you don't belong here!"

"Shh, buddy, take it easy." Jim tried again, stroking his hair and cheek in the hopes that touch would get through where words hadn't. "You're safe, I'm not going to let them hurt you. You're just dreaming, Blair, everything's okay, but you need to wake up now."

It was as if he wasn't even there. Blair wasn't responding at all to anything he did, so locked in his terror that nothing else existed. Jim hadn't even felt this helpless during the other hallucinations.  At least then, he'd been able to communicate with Blair. Now, he might as well have been still in there watching the cowboy movie.

Blair had curled himself up as tightly as he could, not even speaking coherently now, just whimpering from time to time. Jim stared at him helplessly, not having the slightest idea how to comfort him when he didn't even know Jim was nearby. All Jim could do was rely on the things that had worked before, his voice and his touch and the feeling of security Blair seemed to get when he was close by. Carefully, prepared for any sort of reaction, Jim scooted around so that he was sitting with his back to the head of the bed, then pulled his unresponsive partner into his arms and tucked him up against his chest. The light from the open door showed the trek of tears running silently down Blair's cheeks. Jim brushed them away, then continued stroking, speaking soft reassurances into Blair's hair, hoping that the tone of his voice would penetrate even if the words didn't.

They sat there for a long time, Blair lost in his mind and Jim unable to follow. The best he could do was hang on to the shell and hope the soul found its way home intact, offering his voice as a lifeline to pull it back. He found himself understanding more than ever the helpless, panicked look Blair sometimes had on his face when Jim snapped out of a zone out; the total inability to do more than wait while the person he was closest to in the world was suffering was one of the most frightening things he'd ever experienced. When Blair's whimpers finally became more coherent again, he felt as if a weight had been lifted off him.

He wasn't really listening to what his partner was saying, just trying to calm him down, until he heard his own name.

"Jim? Jim, where are you? I really need your help here, man."

He had to swallow hard before he could answer.  "I'm right here, Chief."

"Jim? Where've you been? They're all over, and they've burned everyone up, and I think they're gonna get me next. I can't hold them off much longer." Blair's voice had the same frightened, disconnected quality that it'd had in the station garage.  He was obviously not all the way back, but that gave Jim an idea on how he could handle the situation.

"Where are you, buddy?" he asked softly, brushing the curls back out of Blair's sweat and tear-soaked face. If he could just get into Blair's world, maybe he could defeat the demons there.

"At school, man. They came into my classroom and burned up everybody. I couldn't stop them, Jim. I tried, but I couldn't make them go away." He was crying even harder now, clinging unconsciously to Jim's shirt.

"Will you let me help? Do you trust me?" That was the key; if Blair didn't trust him enough, he could never protect him.

"Always, man." For a second, Blair's voice grew calm and his muscles relaxed, and there was no doubt at all in his voice. "Just make them go away."

"It's really simple, Chief. You know how they always go away when I come? Like in the garage, and in the break room? When I found you, they went away. Remember?" Jim felt Blair's hesitant nod, and continued in his most persuasive tone. "That's 'cause they know I won't let them have you. You're my guide, and I'll protect you no matter what. They know they can't get past me to hurt you. You're safe from them."

"Are you sure, Jim? What if they try to hurt you?" The fear was back, and Blair clutched more tightly at Jim's shirt. "I don't want you to get hurt, man."

Jim held back a sigh. He hadn't thought of that angle. His main concern had been to make Blair feel safe.  While the story he was telling his partner wasn't literally true and wouldn't have fooled the younger man for a second if he'd been thinking straight at all, it was still truth in a deeper sense. Jim wouldn't let anything, be it human or demon from Blair's worst nightmares, hurt his partner if he could do anything at all to stop it. As long as Blair believed that, as long as he could trust Jim to protect him, he would have the strength to survive these attacks on his sanity. It was just taking the handclapping trick a step further. The power was all in Blair's belief and trust, but that would be enough. It would have to be. It was just like Blair to get protective of him when he was trying to protect Blair, though.

"They can't hurt me either, Chief. I'm a sentinel, remember? I can see what they really are. They can't touch me. And if they can't touch me, they won't touch you. You're safe now, you don't have to be scared of them ever again, okay?"

"You won't let them come again?"

The childlike quality in Blair's voice gave Jim chills, but he knew that was the part of his partner he was dealing with, the part that these flashbacks exposed--the child that believed in monsters and in white knights who rode to the rescue against all odds. If he wanted the strong, intelligent man he knew back, he first had to put the child to rest. He didn't dare promise something he couldn't control, but he did the best he could.

"Even if they do come back, they won't be able to hurt you. I won't let them. They'll never hurt you again."



Blair sighed, then pressed his face into Jim's chest, mumbling sleepily, "Thanks, man."

"Anytime, partner. Anytime."

As Blair snuggled closer and drifted to sleep, Jim shifted into a more comfortable position. It looked like he'd be here for a while. Well, Ellison, you wanted some quiet time with him, he thought, and grinned wryly. Next time, I think we'll just go camping.