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Walking Through the Fires

by Ronnee

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never have been, at least not in real life. I borrow them and put them back, hopefully in the same condition that I borrowed them. I have nothing worth suing me for so please don't.

Warnings: This has tons of spoilers to Memories and Memorabilia. This is from Jim's P.O.V. Finally, after all the requests, Jim speaks up about the events that occurred back then.

&&&&&&&

Jim Ellison focused his hearing on the roar of the engines of the fleeing cars. So far, the two idiots they were trying to catch had run three cars off the road and caused another two accidents as they raced through intersections. At this point Jim didn't care what their reasons were for racing through Cascade, he just wanted to catch them and get them off the road. Drag racing through the night streets wasn't something that usually that brought out every cop in town, but tonight's high speed chase had.

Even as he thought he might have lost the two high performance engines, he heard the squeal of brakes, a police siren, and a muffled whomp as two or more of the vehicles collided. He cursed loudly, taking a corner too fast and making the truck skid as he fought for control.

"Jim?" Blair asked as Jim quickly threaded the truck around another accident. The squad cars behind them weren't so lucky. One lost traction and slammed into a telephone pole, blocking the intersection completely. The others barely stopped in time to miss their colleague.

"Call it in, Chief." The detective growled. "The racers wrecked ahead of us. I don't ..."

"All units in pursuit of red Porsches, there is a civilian report of a multiple car accident on Tate Street involving two Porsches, a gas tanker, and a squad car. Possible officer down. Vehicular fire reported. Please respond." The radio dispatcher's voice was an emotionless crackle that burned in Jim's ears. "David 4 reports that Northside is blocked by an overturned fire trucks. Ambulances are already on the scene."

He grabbed the microphone. "Dispatch, this is Charlie Mike 11, ETA 2 minutes. Be advised that Stanford Street is blocked at Riverfront. Four vehicle crash, officers on the scene. Advise other units to try Lakeland to Tate."

"Roger, Charlie Mike 11." The dispatcher acknowledged. There was a moment's silence before she spoke up again. "Charlie Mike 11, be advised that power lines are down on Lakeland. You will be first response until they can clear the road."

"Roger, dispatch." Jim tossed the microphone in disgust. This neighborhood was fairly affluent, all renovated brownstone row houses and cul-de-sacs with large, secluded houses. Through very careful planning on the part of the architects and renovators, there weren't too many ways into the area. They had hoped to cut down on crime, now that very planning was hindering emergency personnel.

The truck took a left, skidding on the wet pavement. The cold drizzle was not helping as Jim nudged the gas, hitting 60 mph in a 30 zone. He didn't need to dial his senses up very far to see the growing red light that indicated a rapidly spreading fire.

They skidded around another turn and Jim's arm reflexively flew across Blair's chest as he slammed on the brakes at the sight of the destruction before them. A black and white squad car was wrapped around a telephone pole, its passenger side doubled around the wood as if it had been painted onto it. The burned, blackened metal smoked heavily as flames fought the slow drizzle that threatened to extinguish them.

One of the two Porsches rested its front end on another telephone pole. Its driver was wrapped around the steering wheel in an obscene parody of a hug. Jim focused his hearing on the vehicle long enough to notice that there was no sound from the driver, only from the water escaping from a broken water hydrant. The heavy spray of water gushed onto the Porsche's roof, splashing gasoline away from the vehicle as it rolled off the trunk and onto the pavement.

Several feet away, a pale blue flame danced across the street. Jim's eyes traced it curiously, following the flames' path from the burning squad car up the street to the broken tanker resting against a brownstone building. In that brief moment, he knew things were about to become worse. He could hear voices in the two tangled vehicles. The one, trapped in the remains of a low-slung car under the tanker, was weak, frantic, and fading. The other, older, wiser, and far more calm was lifted in prayer. But the prayer wasn't for the driver of the truck, it was for the children in the building. Even as Jim's foot touched the gas peddle, the flames reached the Porsche's gas tank.

The first explosion was small, a fire cracker compared to the next one. Barely a split second later, the heavy metal of the tanker blew. Jim's hearing was barely dialed low enough to protect him from the sound. He could see the fleeing figures through flame shrouded windows. The flames from the police cruiser blocked the exits and the wreckage thrown by the exploding tanker had taken out the fire escapes.

As Jim let his senses dial up to scan the wrecks on the street, Blair grabbed the radio's microphone, "This Charlie Mike 11. We have a multiple vehicle fire that involves several buildings." They both winced as a burning car's gas tank blew. "The orphanage at 1223 Tate St. is on fire. We need fire and rescue teams dispatched immediately."

Jim knew there wasn't enough time for the responding units to arrive. The two main entrances were completely blocked. He could see figures milling behind the windows, small figures, children panicked by the flames, older children, teenagers, trying to herd the younger ones to safety only to find the exits gone. Even as they began to collect in front of one of the large windows on the first floor, Jim decided upon a plan. He was duty bound to rescue as many of them as he could, no matter the consequences to himself. He knew his guide felt the same way.

The truck was going to be a complete loss. There was way around it. Jim grimly told Blair to hold on as he slammed the vehicle into drive and pressed the accelerator to the floorboards. The big V-8 engine roared as the truck

bounced over the sidewalk. Swerving, he caught the chain link fence, hooking it on the grill. The metal shrieked in his sensitive ears, screaming as it pulled free from the poles that held it in place around the small yard and followed the truck, stealing its forward momentum.

Jim grimaced as he steered for the wall of the building. He could hear the muffled cries of the people backing away from the windows. Just before the truck hit the stone and brick wall, he slammed his foot on the breaks, hoping that he had judged their momentum correctly. He wanted to break through the wall without careening into the group huddled against the far wall.

He felt the impact as if each blow was against him, not the truck. He heard the headlights shatter as they were forced into the wall, the frame of the truck following through with the blow. Brick and glass, wood and metal grinding into each other as the truck plowed through the wall. Something slammed through the radiator, causing an odd hissing noise as the antifreeze splashed onto hot metal. A loud, hard clang resounded as another unseen thing hit the engine itself. The front end tilted as the right tire blew, shredded by the jagged wall. And still the truck moved forward.

The hood crumpled, stone fragments dancing along it as if odd colored dice. The horn began to sound, and then it was silenced as its components were broken by the force of the blow it had taken. The windshield shattered, a dense woven tapestry of cracks spreading across it like a fanciful spider web. The roof of the cab tore into the wooden window frame. The truck slowed to a stop, doors flush with the building.

He quickly nudged his eyesight up, forcing himself to see through the rapidly thickening smoke as he tried forcing the truck door open. The metal shrieked as it tore free from the door frame. At the noise, the teenagers startled, and once in motion they raced for the opening he had created.

"Follow the fence!" Jim yelled at the fleeing figures. None of them acknowledged him in their panicked flight, but they all followed the stretched metal links to the safety of the broken fire hydrant.

Jim climbed out of the truck, pausing to wait for his guide. The moment Blair's hand landed on his back he headed into the building. Blair's footsteps never faltered as he followed, Jim knew better than to even try to force the other man to stay behind. So he didn't say anything. He didn't need to.

####

Smoke boiled through the room, blinding him, burning his eyes and making him wish for relief, any relief. He had already dialed the pain down low. Thanks to Blair's teaching skills he could dial down the pain and still use his sense of touch to find a way out of the inferno. He could feel the path of the flames before they moved, judge by the subtle air currents which way they were heading. It was the only reason they were still alive.

A burning ember landed on his shoulder, quickly burning through his shirt and jacket. Reflexively, Jim used his free hand to brush it away. A sound caught his attention. Sirens -- their back up was finally arriving. He knew they had only been in the building for about 20-25 minutes, but it felt longer.

Behind him, Blair coughed, choking on the hot, smoky air. Jim turned to look at him. The bright blue eyes were wide, reddened from trying to focus past the smoke and shadows of the hallway. Tears mixed with the soot covering his guide's face, forming pale streaks down his cheeks. But the younger man stood tall and firm, one hand gripping that of a shocky teenager, his eyes silently declaring that he was ready to continue.

It was time for them to get out of the building, Jim thought grimly. He was certain they had gotten everyone all the people trapped on the first floor. The second floor was unreachable, so he had schooled his face to neutrality and kept Blair busy helping with the groups they had found. He looked over toward the stairs, it had been a while since he had heard anyone moving on the second floor. The deep, crimson glare of heavily burning timbers met his eyes. If the flames had been too hot and too wide spread for him to try crossing them earlier, they were even worse now.

Pausing momentarily, he waited for Blair to chivvy the straggling group closer. The dull roar of a ceiling collapsing made the two men catch each other's eyes. So far the sentinel had been able to keep them together, finding and herding small groups of adults and children to safety. Now the older man noted that the temperature had risen in the past minute while he waited for the others. The smoke was thicker, hotter, and more toxic... burning his lungs with each bitter breath. Soon it would be impossible even for him to find a safe way out of the building. He leaned down and grabbed a small hand, speeding his steps as he did so. He knew it was past time for them to be outside.

Jim led them past the kitchen, senses automatically dialing up to scan the big room for more survivors. It took him a moment to understand what he did see. Small flickering blue and yellow flames danced merrily on inside the stove top. Only a sentinel could see them from this angle. He glanced around, horror registering. The orphanage was supplied with gas appliances. Gas lines, gas stove, gas heat, gas main. They were in the middle of a giant bomb. He turned to look at the flaming hallway, trying to judge how fast the flames were moving.

Moving fast, he turned, grabbed one of the smaller children and shoved him into Blair's arms. The wide eyed stare worried him as his friend struggled for comprehension. The younger man was succumbing to the effects of the heat and smoke. Wordlessly, he pushed the others in front of him and yelled, "Run for it!" They obeyed, panic filling them at the order. Knowing there was little time left, Jim tossed a child over his shoulder raced after them. As they headed down the hallway, he could feel actually feel his skin drying out from the hot air.

Finally, long, hot minutes later, the group slipped past the wreckage of Jim's truck and onto the orphanage lawn. The two men fell to their knees in the grass, gulping in the cool night air in relief. As Blair coughed, leaning forward and trying to catch his breath, Jim cursed Alex Barnes again. Even though it had been a year, her attack still weakened his guide. Most of the time, it didn't matter -- the small percent of dead and damaged lung tissue didn't hinder Blair. But other times, like now, when Blair needed every cubic centimeter of air transferring tissue, the injury made itself very noticeable. As his partner gasped for air, Jim reached over and held him upright.

The first ambulances arrived, growling their way across a well manicured lawn and onto the street. From an alley, a patrol car appeared, followed slowly by a large fire truck that barely cleared the mini mart's wall. The engine pushed a metal dumpster in front of it, and as soon as the truck cleared the alley, firemen jumped out to push the thing out of the way. Jim watched, fascinated by the sight as the burning orphanage reflected in the windshield just above the firemen's helmets. For a moment he thought he saw a child standing at the window of the second floor.

Releasing his hold on his guide, the sentinel stood, turning to face the fire. There was no way anyone could still be alive in there. He knew that. The fire was too hot, the smoke too thick. Above the building, the night sky was streaked with flames that raced along the brown tiled roof. Roiling plumes of dense black smoke blocked the moon which was peeking between the scattering rain clouds. As if dried up by the heat of the fire, the drizzle had stopped. Jim focused his sight on the window, dialing up his vision until the emergency strobe lights burned as they reflected off the building's windows. He couldn't see through them, his sight blocked by the heavy smoke that billowed past the hole he'd made in the wall.

Turning to his hearing, Jim began tuning out all the distractions, sirens, police radios, the roar of the flames, the sound of water splashing onto the pavement, groans from the wounded, adult voices, motors... all of them vanished. Finally only two sounds were left in the heavy silence that remained -- Blair's slowly calming heart beat and one small childish voice.

"They can't see us!" The voice was slightly hoarse, cracked from calling for help. "They can't hear us!"

Completely focused on the small hands beating on the window, Jim broke into a sprint. There was still a chance. He might even have enough time. He noticed in a peripheral way that Blair was right behind him. In the back of his head he could hear his own voice counting down the minutes -- the fire was getting ever closer to the gas lines.

He leaped onto Sweetheart's bumper, vaulting the tailgate. The truck had to hold up just a little longer. Long enough for him to get them out and then the fire could have her. As he climbed onto the roof of his truck, his eyes met the boy's. He motioned for him to back away from the glass. Once the window was clear, he dialed down his sense of touch to below zero and hit it with every ounce of energy he had. Using his forearm, he swept some of the broken glass out of the way.

"Stay here, Chief!" Jim yelled back at his guide as he climbed in through the window. He ignored the broken glass that embedded itself in his arm. He could still hear the quiet whisper of his own voice, barely minutes left. Five children and a badly burned nursery attendant faced him.

Jim quickly grabbed the little boy who had gotten his attention and set him on the truck roof. He didn't pause, just turned and grabbed the next child and helped him down from the window. The next two were slightly older, they jumped down, quickly scrambling for the firemen and safety. He glanced at Blair as his mental countdown hit thirty seconds. The nursery attendant pressed an infant into Jim's arms. Jim took one quick look at the infant before shoving him into Blair's arms. As the younger man bent to pass the child to a fireman, Jim grabbed the nurse and dove for the floor. Moments later, the first of the gas lines blew.

Explosion was followed by roaring explosion. The floorboards shuddered and groaned under the pressure. The heat intensified as flames shot up through a newly opened hole in the center of the room. Pieces of flooring, furniture, and wall flew outward as the windows shattered from the concussive blast. Frantically the sentinel dialed his senses down, bringing them as close to zero as he dared without Blair at his side to guide him back. Hugging the frail body of the burned woman to him, he huddled close to the wall, praying that here the floor would remain solid until the explosions died down.

####

A hand slapped his cheek hard, bringing Jim's eyes open. How long had he been out? He didn't think it had been more than a moment or two. He peered down at the gray eyes of the nurse, her lips moved but he didn't hear any words. Concentrating, Jim raised the dial, adjusting his hearing.

The roar of the fire nearly drowned out her words but this time he understood them and nodded. It was definitely time to get out of the building. He stood, pulling her to her feet with him. Together they peered out the glassless window.

Jim's truck lay below them, its roof flattened by falling brick and stone work. Flames danced along it, burning merrily at the upholstery, peeking and winking at him around the blackened edges of shattered windshields. As they watched, a fire ball enveloped the rear of the truck. The scent of burning gasoline reached them as the heat from the blast knocked them back to the floor.

####

"Jim?" Blair's voice, faint and broken, woke him. Instinctively, the sentinel focused on finding his guide. The sounds that surrounded him were gone. Even in his blurry thoughts, Jim knew that there should be sound. Curiously he touched the lips of the woman beside him. They were moving, asking or pleading with him. He looked up, reading the pain, the confusion in her eyes. A sound distracted him and he looked out through the odd shaped hole in the wall.

Instantly his eyes found Blair. The gentle anthropologist was missing and in his place stood one determined guide. Jim watched as the young man dodged a fireman only to be caught by another. Using a textbook perfect move, he laid the man flat. As soon as he was free, Blair broke into a run, racing towards the building.

Jim shook his head, understanding Blair's actions but disapproving. He didn't want his guide running this way. He looked around, noting the encroaching flames and the nurse's despairing expression. He couldn't focus on her words, his hearing was locked on Blair, listening to the young man's heart race. In a faded, dreamlike way he knew he needed to get himself and the nurse out of there. He needed to meet his guide. Decision made, he scooped up the nurse and settled her over his shoulder. There was no other way. He was going to race the flames, trying to get down the staircase before the flames ate through it.

####

Flames danced along the edges of the hallway. Their flickering light kept distracting the sentinel. He'd look over at the movement seen out of the corners of his eyes only to find more creeping red mist. The flames varied. He had never really noticed that before. There were so many types of flame and all of them wanted a piece of him. IT was as if they were being pursued by a horde of creatures, each and every one of them intent on feasting on sentinel and nurse.

Some of the flames were like stalkers, he knew they were there, hiding around him. He could sense their presence as he passed by them. He couldn't quite see them, not until they burst through the paneling of the walls and scorched his skin. Then they were a dull, deep, russet red that seemed to laugh evilly before retreating. Other flames were cheerful and happy, consuming wooden furniture the way the detectives in the bull pen consumed donuts. He could see them, flickering and dancing as they steadily burned through mattresses and cushions. Those flames didn't threaten him, they seemed almost friendly, cheering him on in his race against the other flames.

Another set of flames whispered and muttered to themselves as they spread like a deep red gold velvet blanket, creeping along the ceiling. They outpaced him and paused, waiting patiently for him to catch up before moving along again. Occasionally they slid down the walls, coming close to his shoulders before darting into a new room. Here and there, he met up with the blue and green flames that poked out of the walls, eating away at supporting timbers like termites. These flames wheezed and whined, barely reaching out from wallpaper before sinking back into the woodwork. Behind them, they left ragged black scorched paths and heat that could easily catch him unawares.

The flames that he feared though, they rolled and sputtered in a pattern of reds, oranges, and yellows. They moved in packs, flashing out into the hallway and gaining speed as they followed the detective's trail. If they caught up to him, it would be over quickly. They were the hungry flames, yelling and roaring at his heels.

Jim ignored them all, focusing his hearing on Blair. Keeping his guide as his goal. He let his sense of touch dial up only to feel the heat building around him, using it to sense air currents and shifts. He let his eyesight dim to ignore the red flames, focusing on the quickest path between them... looking anything that might be an escape route.

"Come on, Blair. The paramedics are waiting for you." Simon was speaking. Jim hadn't realized the captain was there. It made sense. Everyone knew that Captain Simon Banks was always nearby when Ellison and Sandburg got involved in something. It was so well known that it was considered a given at the precinct. Why else had there been no complaints when Taggart requested to transfer over to Major Crimes?

"Simon! You can't think that... Jim's alive! He needs my help! We've got to get him out of there!" Blair's voice broke as he yelled at the captain.

Jim felt himself growl. He needed to reach his partner. His guide needed him. He paused as his foot sank slightly in the flooring. That was not a good sign. Taking a shallow breath, he tightened his grip on the woman on his shoulder. As his next step hit the floor, Jim pushed off, using every ounce of strength available to leap across the last few feet to the stairwell. Behind him, a table fell through the floor and tall flames shot into the hallway.

In the shelter of the stairwell, Jim peered out through an unbroken window. Simon Banks and Joel Taggart held onto a struggling Blair. They were lifting him, dragging him towards the row of ambulances that were waiting on the street. For a moment, Jim's eyes met Blair's through the flames. Instantly, Blair tried again to break free from the arms holding him back, keeping him from joining his sentinel.

"No, you don't." Simon's grim words were soft, but the sentinel could still hear them. "You are not going back in there."

"But Jim's..." Blair tried to tell Simon, but Jim could hear the captain's guttural denial. A fireman nearby quietly murmured that no one could have survived the explosions.

Blair was struggling so hard, Jim wished he could tell his guide to stop, to go with them. Even as he thought it, Blair stilled, tear streaked face turning to stare at the window again. The grief on his guide's face was more than the sentinel could stand. Blair had been through way too much since meeting Jim. There was no way he was going to force the younger man to go through his partner and sentinel's funeral. Carefully checking on his silent companion, he smiled grimly. They were going to make it out alive.

Dimly, as he carried his light weight burden down the creaking stairs he could still hear Blair's voice. "But it wasn't enough! It wasn't enough!" The young detective's voice was hoarse as much from smoke inhalation as from the frustrated tears he fought to contain. His breath hitched oddly in the sentinel's ears -- something was seriously wrong with his guide. Blair's voice continued, "I'm not leaving him. I'll be fine."

The sentinel sped up his descent as Blair's voice caught. The oddly gentle plea in Simon's voice as he spoke to the young man only spurred Jim to move faster. He expanded his hearing, catching other voices -- Joel Taggart, Henri Brown, Brian Rafe, Megan Connor all pleaded with Blair to go with the paramedics.

"No, sir. I don't want to hear that. I am waiting." Blair's voice was strained as he fought for breath. Jim heard something tear like wet cloth and his guide's voice went silent as his heart rate jumped dramatically. He heard the people around his guide begin yelling for medics and for Blair to hold on. Then he heard Blair scream, "JIM!"

Jim leaped the last steps -- ignoring the muffled scream of the woman he was carrying. The door between him and his guide was blocked. The burning wreckage of the gasoline tanker rested against the cracked stone walls. Through one of the broken glass panes of the exit, he saw the blackened corpse of its driver. The dull red and blue flames that still crept through the cab made him seem to still be alive.

"Wait for it." The whispering voice made Jim freeze. It was the same voice he'd heard praying for the people inside the orphanage while ignoring the flames that were closing in on his explosive tank. Jim shook his head at the thought. He didn't need to hallucinate, not now. Blair needed him!

"SENTINEL!" The voice made him whirl. Suddenly the sprinkler above the hall door began to spray water on him. "RUN!"

Jim didn't pause to think. Like a sprinter breaking away from the starting line, Jim dashed into the hallway. As he approached each sprinkler, it rained cool water onto him and the woman on his shoulder, forcing the smoke away from them and allowing them a measure of air. It also gave them an illusion of safe passage through the fiery hallway.

He had no idea how long or how far he ran before meeting the firemen. The first warning he had was a man's amazed voice as he whirled around a door frame and into the main play room.

"Holy Mary, mother of God!" The man's voice was eerie through the air mask. "We've got live ones!"

Jim barely paused, shortening his stride to avoid their outstretched hands. He kept his eyes fixed on the wreckage of his truck, knowing it was the only way out of the building. He dodged around the firemen, ignoring their protests and offers of assistance. The trucker's voice kept exhorting him to run. He knew better than to argue or stop. Putting one hand down on the remnants of a bookshelf, he vaulted over the fire hose that blocked his passage.

"Danny -- two civvies coming out fast!" He vaguely heard the fireman behind him call over his radio. "Get some water on the truck or the flames'll get them."

Another voice spoke up, "the floor's getting soft. We're coming out, captain."

Much later Jim got a chance to see the pictures that put his face on the national news again. An enterprising photographer caught a picture of him as he vaulted a pile of rubble -- water forming steamy billows around him as the firemen tried to cool a path for him and the woman on his shoulder. Behind him, two firefighters were clambering out through the hole he'd made with his truck, racing for the safety of the front lawn. Flames shot out of windows, crawled down the walls, and in one place broke through the orphanage's roof. It looked as if the flames were reaching out, trying to recapture the fleeing people.

Jim didn't remember that last sprint before escaping the flames. From all the witness accounts, the flames actually receded, shrinking away from him and the firemen before shooting out after them. As soon as they were clear of the building, the roof collapsed with a roar, showering them with hot sparks, burning embers, and a dense black smoke. The sentinel was unconscious before he or the nurse hit the ground, choking on the thick smoke.

####

"Sentinel." Incacha's voice whispered.

Jim opened his eyes to face the Chopec shaman. He lay on the portico in front of the Temple of the Sentinels. Around him he could hear the muted sounds of the jungle, he could smell the thick scent of life and death that was the rain forest. He looked down at his hands, they were unwounded, whole, and clean. As was common with his spirit walks, he was himself and yet he was not.

"Your time is not now." Incacha smiled at him, offering him a hand. Jim accepted it, allowing the other man to pull him to his feet. "You must return to your guide. Your shaman needs you at his side."

"Where is he?" Jim looked around, searching for Blair or the wolf who was his spirit guide. As he moved he noted that his entire body felt whole, unharmed, almost numb. A thought came to him, and he gasped, "Incacha, Blair... is he...?" Jim couldn't say the word. He could not and would not accept the idea that his guide, his friend might be dead. The thought of life without Blair brought him to his knees.

"He lives but he disappears. You must return to him." The Chopec began to turn and walk up to the temple door. As Jim automatically followed him, Incacha shook his head. "No, Enqueri. It is not time for you to join us. You have much yet to accomplish and your guide waits for you."

"Incacha?" The words caught in his throat.

The spirit turned, eyes solemn and he nodded gently at the question he read in Jim's eyes. "I will be here to help you both when it is time. But that time has not yet come."

Suddenly pain assaulted Jim -- pain from every inch of his skin, every strained muscle, every single tired cell of his body. They all clamored for his immediate attention. He could feel hands on him, unfamiliar hands that pulled him onto his back. Something cold ran along his chest and he heard cloth rip as his shirt and jacket were quickly removed, causing the dull burning sensation to fade. More hands probed his limbs, bringing unknown wounds to his attention. At the same time his other senses slipped out of control, nearly overwhelming him with an overload of sensation.

"I've got a bleeder here." "We're loosing water pressure, sir." "I need another 10 inch line over on the east end."

"Come on, Jim breath." "Get those gawkers out of here!" "Damn it, man! Get your stubborn assed self back on this world, the kid needs you." "Give me a bag of type O fast." "This one is ready for transport." "Normal rhythm, BP is 110/70, pulse 88." "He's breathing!" "Patient has resumed breathing, shallow and fast, respiration 120, multiple contusions, 1st and 2nd degree burns, probable smoke inhalation." "That's it!" "Thank God!" "Male, Caucasian, unconscious and unresponsive, approximate age 38. Pupillary response was negative." The voices ran over each other, making little sense to the sentinel.

Lights flared in his eyes -- blue and red strobe lights from the emergency vehicles. White and yellow lights glared down from the street poles. A quick moving white light darted across his vision, washing away the numbness that had remained from his vision of Incacha. For the first time, Jim noticed the heavy hand holding a mask over his nose and mouth. The sweet, cool scent of oxygen that poured down from the mask felt good to his sore lungs but he still batted weakly at the hand.

"He's awake!" "Stop it, Jim! Leave the mask alone." "Hold him down." The babble hurt his ears and he shook his head, closing his eyes and trying to escape.

"Let me through you blokes." Megan's lilting words broke through and Jim opened his eyes. Her face appeared over his, eyes red from tears, skin pale and streaked with soot. Her hands replaced the unknown ones, holding the oxygen mask gently but firmly in place. Her voice lowered, softened -- mimicking Blair's 'Guide Voice'. "Listen to me, Jim. Blair is on his way to the hospital. The only way you can follow him is if you let the nice medics here do their job. If you fight them, you will only take longer to get to his side." She leaned closer to him, her hair brushing his cheek. "Do you want to join Sandy?" She paused, waiting for his nod. "Then you breathe in the oxygen and be still. Got it?"

Jim nodded wearily, reaching out with his uninjured hand to grab one of hers. "Stay?" He pleaded with his eyes. He hoped she understood what hurt too much to say. His senses kept flaring without anything to lock on to -- without his guide on which to center them. Everything began to fade and Megan's voice caught him, dragging him back to reality.

"Jim?" When his eyes met hers, she smiled. "I want you to stay with me, here. Lemme tell you about the trouble my brothers got into last week..."

She was still whispering to him, her hand firmly clasping his when the ambulance pulled up to the hospital.

####

"Megan? Who got hurt?" Simon's voice was haunted and broken as he joined the procession that was moving Jim down the ER corridor. Then he looked over at the man on the gurney and Jim could have sworn his skin turned ash gray. "JIM? He's alive? Oh, thank GOD!"

Jim's eyes traveled slowly from Megan's cocky grin to Simon's startled and then relieved expression. It took him a moment to realize that Simon had actually believed that the sentinel had died in the explosion. The paramedics were too busy trying to keep Jim stable to pass the information to dispatch and Megan had stayed glued to his side, helping him stay in control of his senses, unable to break away to tell Simon his detective was still alive.

Jim tugged at the oxygen mask. Megan pulled it away from his face, allowing him to whisper, "Blair?"

"He's in surgery." Simon answered. "They didn't give us any other information."

Megan placed the mask over Jim's nose again. At his impatient expression, she shook her head. "No, Jim. You need the oxygen more than you need to question the nurses. Blair's in good hands. You can ask the doctors when they come to see you."

How had she known, he wondered as Simon grimaced at her. She only raised her eyebrows, briskly keeping pace with the gurney.

"I'm afraid you'll have to wait here." A deep voice interrupted Jim's thoughts. "Detective Ellison, I'd wondered how long it would take for them to wheel you in here. The only thing that could keep you away from Dr. Sandburg's side is an injury. Now let go of the pretty lady's hand, so I can get you out of those clothes." The nurse moved briskly, chatting away at Jim as he shuffled Simon and Megan out of the room. Curly had worked on Jim before and knew exactly how to handle a wounded sentinel. "Dr. Morgan is on her way down here to treat you. Drs. Dennison and Lonetree are in surgery taking care of your partner. They haven't told me anything yet, but as soon as they do I'll pass it on to you. They know you're here, of course."

Without really knowing how the big nurse did it, Jim found himself obeying instructions and answering the soft spoken questions. Nor did he notice that Curly kept up the quiet chatter even after the doctor entered the room. After all of the times they had treated either Jim or Blair, the pair had learned that the best way to handle Jim when Blair wasn't around was to keep him focused on something or someone.

####

"Simon. Joel." Jim's voice was painfully rough as he greeted his friends in the ICU waiting room. He tried to say the other names but his voice failed him.

"He's not supposed to be talking, gentlemen." The nurse advised them briskly as she stopped his wheel chair beside the couch. She swiftly locked the wheels in place and turned her attention to the two captains. Her disapproval of the situation was evident in every biting word. "Dr. Morgan says we may as well bring him here so you can entertain him until Dr. Sandburg has a room. Mr. Ellison is allowed to be here if you can keep him quiet and resting. If not, the doctor will let me sedate him and send him to his own room. He is not to talk, he is not to walk around. He is to sit and be kept out of trouble. Curly will be up here to get him in an hour, whether or not he has seen his partner. Do you understand me?"

The two men nodded their understanding. With that, she nodded and turned, walking away with short, angry strides.

"Whew! That is one unhappy nurse." Joel muttered, watching her retreat with stunned eyes.

"You could say that." Simon agreed, eyeing Jim thoughtfully. "Well, I guess I can't ask you how you are doing. You look like shit. She might be right about you needing to be in your room."

Jim shook his head, glaring at his captain. He regretted the move the moment he made it as his vision danced. He fought back a groan, knowing it would only make things worse.

####

"Detective Ellison, Captains Banks, Taggart." Dr. Dennison acknowledged them with a nod. The man knew them far too well. "I see that while becoming a police officer, Sandburg has become less 'accident' prone, he still way too frequent a patient in my surgery suite." The doctor gave them a half smile before continuing grimly. "I won't make you any promises, gentlemen, he is not doing well. I will tolerate no interference this time, not from any of you. Even if you obey all my strictures, I don't know if he will make it."

All three of them reeled from the verbal assault. Before any of them could retaliate or speak up in their own defense, the doctor held up his hand, silencing them.

"Normally, I would say Blair Sandburg is the most resilient survivor I have ever had the pleasure of watching heal. I can't say that this morning. If I didn't know better, I would swear he had given up on life this time." The brown eyes flickered from one man to another. "I have watched him beat the odds several times, and each time Ellison was at his side. If the detective promises to follow each and every order Dr. Morgan gives him, I'll allow him unlimited visiting privileges in ICU. That will move Dr. Sandburg's chances to 20/80."

"Oh, dear Lord." Joel's whispered cry brought another nod from the doctor in front of them.

"Without the detective at his side, I would not even give him that high of a chance to make it through the night." Dennison sighed, weary lines showing his exhaustion.

"I'll do it." Jim whispered, mind still reeling from the doctor's pronouncement. Blair only had a 20 percent chance... "Wh...?"

"Save your voice for your partner, detective." Dennison focused on Jim. "We've all noticed that if either of you is here, the other recovers far faster than the norm. We've decided to use that to his advantage. Dr. Morgan is arranging for your room to be changed to one at the end of ward. Curly has volunteered to move up to this ward to keep an eye on both of you and the head of ER signed off on the temporary transfer. In exchange, you get full access during the day or any time that Dr. Lonetree or I approve. You stay in the wheelchair, with all IV's in place, letting yourself heal while we wait. Any disobedience and you are barred from ICU. Deal?"

Jim nodded, waiting to get more information on his partner. The doctor just watched him pensively. After a moment, Jim understood. He'd been told to save his voice and the doctor was trying to see if he had caught the order. He glared at the man standing before him.

Dennison smiled. "Good. I think this might work." At Jim's restless movement, he nodded. "He won't look too good when you first see him. We had to do a very fast, ugly job to keep him alive. Dr. Sandburg came in with a severe concussion, multiple broken ribs, a punctured lung that collapsed on the scene, a cracked wrist, torn ligaments in his right knee and that was just for starters. He is in a drug induced coma until the swelling of the brain tissue subsides. Because of that, he is restrained to the bed, do not untie his hands unless you are holding them. We fixed the lung, reinflating it, but he is still on oxygen. While we were in the OR he had a Golden flashback. We think that was due to the concussion and the anesthesia, but we can't be 100% sure at this point." He paused and looked at his feet. That was when he came too and said he could see you, Detective Ellison. He said you were racing through the flames with a dead man turning on the sprinklers above you and Golden Fire People trying to catch you."

Jim was stunned. There was no way Blair could have known. By the time he had made it to that hallway, Blair had been en route to the hospital. He already knew that because of the combination of police escorts and empty early morning streets, the ambulances made some of the fastest times to the hospital in Cascade's history. He whispered to them, "I ran a gauntlet of flames."

The doctor's eyes widened. "Were you carrying a nurse?" At his nod, Dennison shut his eyes for a moment. When he reopened them he stared straight into the sentinel's eyes. "This is part of why Drs. Morgan, Lonetree and myself have decided on this very unorthodox arrangement. Don't give the staff any reason to make us regret it."

Jim nodded. The doctors had put their reputations on the line for this. There was no way he'd believe that the administration or the rest of the staff had approved of this. It explained the nurse's cold attitude.

"Captains?" The doctor turned to the two silent men. Simon and Joel looked at him, waiting for his words. "I've given orders that you and the rest of Major Crimes are allowed in Sandburg's room when Ellison is not there. I want you to talk to him, read to him, tell stories. Sandburg may not remember this later. He may remember bits and pieces, but it is the best way to keep him connected to the here and now. And get the detective a pad of paper and a pen. He is not to talk to anyone. We know there is no way to keep him from talking to Sandburg, but the rest of you can read." With that abrupt sentence, Dennison turned and walked away. Behind him, the stunned men from Major Crimes watched him retreat in silence as they digested the information they had been given.

####

For a big man, Jim noticed that Curly moved quietly. Knowing that the nurse was supposed to wheel him back down to his own room, Jim had kept his hearing ready for the man's voice. As soon as Curly exited the elevator his soft southern drawl began greeting people, warning Jim of his approach. The sentinel straightened, eyes resting on Blair's silent face, unbandaged hand releasing Blair's cool, unresisting hand. The affect instantaneous.

The quiet monitors reflected the change, lights flashing faster, sending out silent warnings to the sentinel.

Blair moved restlessly, a small cry escaping from his lips. It almost sounded like a plea. Jim leaned forward, whispering as loudly as his smoke damaged voice would allow him, "What's wrong, Chief?"

Even as he did, Blair's vitals dropped back down into the drugged sleep he had been in for over 24 hours.

"Detective." Curly smiled as he entered the room. He quickly checked the paper trails from the machines hooked up to Blair. He frowned, turning to Jim. "Did he just wake up?"

Jim shook his head, watching as the big hands deftly tied the soft bandages around Blair's wrists.

"All right, but it looks like he's fighting the drugs again and that's not good." Then Curly turned to him, checking the IV's hanging from his wheelchair. "How are you doing? Voice coming back yet?" At the frustrated growl, the nurse grinned. "I'll take that as a no. Means I get to talk more. Any pain? Glory said you refused the pain killers this morning."

Jim shook his head again. He was not going to accept any painkillers that might force him to miss out on his time with Blair. As long as he could focus on Blair's heart beat he could keep the pain dial focused low enough to ignore. He only had to remember to turn it back up when the doctor's were checking on the burns. The first time he had forgotten and Dr. Morgan had been worried about nerve damage.

"Using that biofeedback stuff the doc taught you?" Curly asked, writing something down on his chart. "You need to say good night to him and we can get you to your own bed."

"I'll be back, Blair." Jim whispered to his partner, letting his unbandaged hand rest on the wide forehead. With his pallor, the young man looked almost as bad as he had on the University lawn. He winced at the thought. Deciding that he didn't care how it looked or how Curly would react, he leaned down, pressing his lips to Blair's forehead. "Don't leave me, Chief. I can't make it without you."

Curly didn't mention it as he wheeled the sentinel down to his own room, just out side of the ICU ward. Jim ignored the funny looks he received from the regular staff as he was settled into the quiet hospice room. He refused to think about it or its implications. He refused to focus on the patients in the other rooms along the hall. He kept his thoughts focused on his guide, his senses locked on the young man's heart beats.

####

"Jim?" Blair's voice echoed through the blue shaded forest. "Where are you, man?"

The panther paced restlessly, crossing and recrossing the wide portico of the temple. Behind it, Jim could barely make out the sight of the wolf. The spirit guide stood just outside the temple doorway. Beyond the wolf, all he could see was a bright, unfocused light. The animal took a step into the temple.

"NO!" Jim yelled, leaping forward. He wrapped his arms around the wolf, burying his face into the warm fur. Bracing his feet against the doorway, he pushed with legs, dragging the animal away from the light.

"Your shaman needs you, Enqueri. Why are you not with him?" Incacha's voice called through the forest.

####

Jim shot up from his bed, eyes wide, gasps shuddering from him. A shrill alarm sounded in the distance. Staggering to his feet, he quickly unhooked the IV bags from their stand over his bed. Moving slowly and painfully, he made it over to the wheelchair. Every step echoed loudly through the burns on his legs and feet, but that was not about to slow him down Blair needed him. Only the heavy warning Dr. Dennison had given him kept him from running to the ICU. Hooking the IV bags to the wheelchair's hook, he sat down, relief pouring through him as the pain quickly became bearable. Ruthlessly, he dialed it down below zero. He'd worry about the repercussions later he thought as he wheeled himself out of the room.

Curly met him halfway. The nurse was pale, eyes wide with worry as he quickly stepped behind the wheelchair. "You already know, don't you? I'm not even gonna ask how. My momma always said there were some things that had to be accepted on faith. This is one of them and I know it. Dr. Lonetree said you could call Sandburg's spirit back and sent me for you. I don't want to know any more than that."

The sentinel nodded grimly, his attention focused more on the conversation occurring in the ICU room. The doctors had gotten Blair's heart started again. They were rapidly accessing the damage from the latest episode. The prognosis was not good.

"Make a hole." Curly spoke tersely as he wheeled Jim into the room. Reluctantly the nursing staff made way.

"We need him to wake up, Ellison. He won't come to us. He might listen to you." The weariness in Lonetree's eyes wasn't enough to mask the desperation there. "He reacted to the drugs that were administered a few minutes ago. We need you to bring him back."

Jim nodded. The doctor helped Curly place the wheel chair as close as possible to the bed. Jim reached for Blair's hand, leaning his head close to Blair's ear.

"Hey, buddy, I need you to wake up. Can you do that for me?" Jim whispered. With the pain dialed back, he couldn't feel the hoarseness that darkened his voice. Someone held a straw to his lips. He took a small sip before speaking again. "Come on, Chief, I need you here." He kept it up for several long minutes, his voice getting rougher and rougher. Finally, he leaned his head on the bed beside Blair, tears filling his eyes as he saw the slowing of little blinking light on the monitor. His words were nearly silent as he whispered into the ear beside his lips. "If you go, Chief, I'll be there soon. I can't control these senses without you and it won't take me long to catch up to you. Wait for me."

The monitors hiccuped as if all of Blair's vitals froze. Then, slowly, steadily, they began improving. Behind him, Jim heard a whispered voice. "That's it! It's working."

"I'm right here, Blair." Jim whispered. Blair turned his head, eyes opening and staring at him blearily. Then they closed again. Jim began to move but froze as the hand he was holding turned, fingers wrapping around his.

####

Simon looked up at Jim as he exited the small room. "Jim, how's the kid?"

"Stable for now. Thanks." Jim murmured quietly, leaning heavily back into his wheelchair. "You and Joel kept him here long enough for the doctor to get the machinery back online."

Joel gently rested his hand on the sentinel's shoulder. "How are you doing, Jim?" The older man asked.

"As long as Blair's still holding on, so am I." Jim missed the look that shot between the two police captains. He sighed, shifting uncomfortably as the burns began to ache again.

"Detective?" Dr. Morgan's voice was soft as she interrupted them. "I need to take a look at your arm. From the look of that bandage you ripped your stitches."

Jim looked down at his arm, surprised by the redness on the bandages. With his dials turned low to keep the many burns from bothering him, he had lost track of the minor wounds like the stitches in his arm. "Oh. Right."

"Mr. Ellison." The woman's voice was stern as she pushed his wheelchair over to the nurses' station. "I know that Dr. Sandburg has taught you to control your pain through biofeedback because of your reactions to pain medication. I heartily approve of it. But, it doesn't do you any good to control the pain so much that you don't notice when you hurt yourself. In fact it only makes it worse for you and for your friend."

Behind them, Joel and Simon took up sentry duty, posting themselves on either side of the ICU room door.

####

Twenty four hours, Jim mused. A full day. And Blair still slept. When scans showed a marked decrease in intra cranial swelling, the doctors had stopped the barbituates that had kept the younger man in a coma. Now it was a simple waiting game. Waiting for Blair's body to purge itself of the drugs. Waiting for his lungs to heal. Waiting for him to open his eyes. Waiting to see if he had pulled through undamaged. Waiting, something that his years in the army had drilled into him, something that he could do, but only under duress.

Jim let his mind wander away from its current path. He didn't want to dwell on probabilities. He didn't want to consider the things the doctors had spoken about. Blair's lungs were already scarred from the pneumonia he'd caught after Alex Barnes drowned him in the U's fountain. Now they were further scarred from having ribs tear through them and then the surgery to repair the damage. How would that affect his work as a police consultant and detective with the Major Crimes department? His knee would heal, but how much? The torn ligaments were healing but would always be slightly less limber than before. And the concussion... Jim had seen the CAT scans when the doctors thought they were discussing Blair's prognosis privately between themselves. The dark shadow had receded, covering less than half the area it had blurred only three days earlier. Unfortunately, the specter of damage hiding under the shadowed area that remained was only too real.

He shook himself, trying to force his thoughts away from their dark paths. He whispered into the quiet room, "What do I do now, Chief? How do I fix this?"

There was no answer as the little green light on the respirator blinked steadily. Succumbing to the exhaustion that plagued him, Jim rested his head beside Blair's and closed his eyes. Within minutes, he was sound asleep, his hand wrapped around Blair's. Some time during the afternoon, Blair's fingers returned his grip. Both men slept through the event.

####

"Detectives. Inspector." Doctor Lonetree nodded to the group. He smiled briefly at Megan, ignoring the instant reaction of the men around her. The fact that he knew her official designation wasn't something they expected, but they were content to let it go for a moment. From the corner of the room, Jim Ellison glowered at him. "I wanted to warn you that Dr. Sandburg has had a very bad night and so has Detective Ellison."

A whisper of dismay swept through the room. The doctor waited patiently for it to pass before continuing. "He woke briefly early yesterday afternoon but was very disoriented. Unfortunately, he woke while Detective Ellison was having his burns cared for and he drifted off before we could get him back into the room. Twice during the night his vitals dropped low enough to set off the alarms. We managed to get him stable again. Right now he is refusing to rouse or respond to any of our entreaties." The doctor looked at them, letting his eyes trace over each of them in turn. "Due to the bad night last night, we were forced to ban Detective Ellison from the room so that he could get some rest. I know this only makes it harder on us all as his voice is the one which is most likely to have a positive response from Dr. Sandburg. The Inspector was kind enough to bring some books from Blair's home so you can read to him if you run out of things to tell him about. At this point, with him fading in and out of consciousness, reading and talking to him is the only method we have for rousing him. If you have any questions, please feel free to bring them to me or to Curly."

As soon as the doctor finished his spiel, Jim wheeled himself out of the room. He was too angry to stay and listen any more. He stopped abruptly as a slim figure got in his way.

"Jim? What to talk about it?" Megan smiled crookedly at him, eyes full of a compassion that broke through the walls he had so painfully erected around his emotions. Even as he felt them crumble, she steered him into a waiting room. Wrapping her arms around him, the Australian Inspector pulled him close, whispering, "I promise, this stays between us."

To his great self disgust, Jim found himself pouring out all of his worries and fears onto the woman's shoulders. She listened to him, offering only her support. Slowly, after a long talk, he found the burden in his heart to be lightened.

####

"Blair? Are you awake?" Joel's voice was soft. The soft beeping of a heart monitor, the hum of medical equipment were so normal, forming a quiet background to Jim's senses. He quickly came fully awake as he realized the import of Joel's words. Still listening to the older man's soft words, Jim began wheeling himself down the hallway, hoping to get back to Blair's room in time to see him awake. "It's time for you to wake up, kid."

Jim heard the dry, rasping sound Blair made as he tried to speak. Then came the sound of water in a cup, a straw being unwrapped, water being sipped and a soft sigh of relief. The next sound nearly made Jim weep. For the first time in days he heard his guide's voice as the young man whispered, "Where's Jim?"

"He's..." Joel's sentence trailed off. Jim sighed to himself knowing it meant the younger man was asleep again. And when he opened the door, he saw the sad look in Joel's eyes. He had missed his guide again.

####

"He was awake, but only for a minute or two." Simon placed a heavy leather bound tome on the night stand. The captain stretched and stood. He shook his head at the man in the wheelchair. "It wasn't long enough to get any kind of response from him though. I'm sorry Jim."

"There you are!" Doctor Morgan strode into the room. Her blue eyes flashed angrily at Jim as insinuated herself between her patient and the captain. "I thought I told you to head back to your room and get some rest? I go to check on you... and lo, you are missing again. Detective, you promised to listen to me about your health in exchange for being allowed to visit your partner's room." She ignored Simon's attempt to speak up in Jim's defense. With a gesture, she motioned for an orderly to wheel Jim back to his room.

"Listen, Doc, Blair keeps almost waking up. If I'm there, he'd wake up faster. You said you wanted him to wake up." Jim tried to reason with her. He really didn't want to annoy her, the last time he had -- she had made his life miserable by calling the station and advising both personnel and Simon that Jim was on medical leave until she said otherwise. Then she had made him come in for a daily check up to make sure he was obeying each and every edict she had made.

"Too late. You are running a low grade fever, showing symptoms of exhaustion, keep sneaking out of your room, have run me and Curly ragged. You, not Blair, are my patient. I will have you recover, even if I have to knock you out to accomplish it." With that, she slipped a needle into his arm. "Good night, detective."

Jim began to protest, fighting the drug that quickly made the walls waver and disappear.

****

The loft was empty, echoing eerily as Jim opened the door. He looked around, shocked by what he saw. It was the same loft he had known for years, but at the same time it was different. It only took him a moment to notice the differences. His things were missing, misplaced. He looked around, seeing for the first time the heavy coating of dust that covered the furniture. Something was wrong. Badly wrong.

He ran over to Blair's room and yanked open the French door. His partner was dressed in his full uniform. IT wasn't something the younger man wore often. The dark blue material only emphasized the pallor of his skin and the bandage taped to his forehead. Double checking that his service revolver was held snugly in its holster, the uniformed figure limped out of the room, leaning heavily on a cane.

"Blair? What's going on?" Jim's words went unanswered by his guide. Fear and a deep seated dreaded filled the sentinel. He knew he couldn't let his guide leave. Resolutely, ignoring the way his body seemed to pass through objects, Jim followed Blair, trying to catch the other man's attention.

He rode in Sandburg's car, noting the way it ran smoothly and without hesitation. The Volvo never before seemed so reliable. Jim glanced around, noting the changes as they sped through Cascade. Changes that could not have occurred in the week since the fire. Jim let his eyes focus on a newspaper as they passed a vending machine and choked. He had lost 357 days.

Jim remained silent for the rest of the drive, his mind racing. Either he was dead or dreaming. He couldn't have lost a year. No way, no how was James J. Ellison going to lose a year. The only thing he would accept was that he was dreaming. And it didn't matter if he was dreaming or not, because nothing was going to keep him from his guide's side.

He stayed glued to Blair's side as the younger man struggled across the cemetery lawn. The cane that supported him wasn't too much help over the uneven ground. Jim found himself reaching out to help Blair only to freeze as his partner ignored the offered hand or, worse yet, passed through it. He didn't like the idea of being a ghost. It just didn't fit in with his idea of self. How was a sentinel supposed to accept being a ghost and being unable to protect his guide or his tribe?

They stopped at a plain, almost stark marble plaque. Simple words on it that read, James J Ellison. The only ornamentation was the sleeping jaguar. Blair sank onto the grass beside the stone, tears running down his face as he began reciting soft words, words that rang through Jim's mind but made no sense to his ears. Dimly, the sentinel recognized the words as a prayer in Hebrew. He had heard the younger man recite in the ancient language before, but he had never heard these words... and the despair in them tugged at his heart. His guide was saying good-bye to him.

The moment that thought raced through Jim's mind he realized their truth. He had convince Blair that they were both alive. Otherwise, the younger man was not going to be coming back from this dream world. Behind him, he heard both the panther and the wolf growl their agreement.

Taking all of his courage in his hands, Jim knelt next to Blair. "Chief? Come on, kid. Look at me. Please."

To his surprise, Blair's head slowly lifted. Amazement, joy, and disbelief flooded the younger man's face. "You came!"

Jim nodded. "I couldn't stay away, Chief. You are my guide. You needed me."

"I'm ready to go, Jim."

The soft words took a no time to sink in. Jim simply stared at his friend, eyes narrowing. "I can't stop you, Chief."

"Thank you." Blair smiled serenely and stood. "Where will we go?"

"We're not going anywhere, Chief." Jim let his sadness echo in his voice. "I'm not ready to die, Blair. I'm staying here. Cascade needs me. At least for a little longer. If you leave..."

Blair frowned, confusion in his eyes. "But, you died, man. I saw it. I buried you."

"No. I'm waiting for you to wake up." Jim watched as Blair shook his head. "If you go ahead without me..." his voice broke and Jim swallowed thickly. "If you go ahead, I'll catch up in a little while. But it's not my time yet. It's not yours either, Blair. Please come back."

Blair shook his head, denying the words the sentinel spoke. "I buried you. You can't be waiting for me."

"Why don't you come looking for me, Chief? You're the shaman." Jim didn't know where the words were coming from, but they were all he had left. "Find me, Blair."

Slowly, Blair nodded. He took a single step toward Jim, letting go of the cane. Instantly Jim reached for him, wrapping an arm around his waist. Together they began walking away from the silent gravestone.

####

Jim quietly opened the door. The figure in the bed ignored him. He didn't need to dial his senses up to hear the slight catching of breath as Blair cried. Otherwise there was no sound, no wailing, no screams... just the silent fall of tears and the slight hitches of breath. He let his hand trace the other man's cheek, wiping away a tear.

"Hey, Chief. How about opening your eyes?" Jim kept his voice soft, trying not to be too hopeful. He could only hope there was a response, hope that Blair actually heard him, hope that the other man wasn't still wrapped up in the dream. "Please? Wake up for me, Sandburg."

Blair turned towards Jim. Ignoring the pain of burns, broken bones and bruises the younger man moved abruptly, coming alive and darting towards the sentinel. His voice, raw, grated painfully on sensitive ears as he cried out in shock. "You're alive!"

"Whoa! Easy, Chief." Jim's words were whispered into the younger man's hair. Gently the sentinel wrapped his arms around the guide, holding him close. He breathed deeply, catching the scent of his guide through all of the medical smells of the room. It felt unbelievably good to hold his guide, to feel each and every heart beat reverberate through his skin. "I'm alive and so are you buddy."

"But you were dead... I saw the memorial and the loft was empty and. . ." Blair's words were confused as he tried to make sense of the things he had seen in his dreams. Finally, his voice nearly breaking, he whispered, "I was all alone."

"I know, Blair." Jim's tortured whisper made him look up. Their eyes met and each saw a reflection of fears, both those survived and those imagined in the other's eyes. "I dreamed too."

"But it was so real... and you weren't there." Blair shuddered, his whisper stopping. Jim's arms tightened briefly.

"It was a nightmare caused by your concussion and a reaction to the medication from the emergency surgery." Jim didn't let go. He simply held on to his shaking guide. This one had been too close, for both of them. He rocked, a slow, gentle movement that soothed both of them. "I'm right here. We're both going to be all right."

It took a several long minutes before Blair relaxed enough to believe the arms wrapped around him were really Jim's arms. Jim felt him sigh, letting the grief and rage and fear go. His guide was alive. All of the hows and whys could wait. And he knew that the inquisitive detective, Dr. Blair Sandburg would ask questions, later. For now the sentinel was glad that his guide was content to rest and heal. Between them they would figure it all out. But right now, they simply needed to be assured that they were alive and healing.

Finis