Acceptance III: Guides

Debra Fran Baker



Jim stood in the doorway of the therapy room. Blair was too busy trying to eat to notice him. Under the watchful eyes of his therapist, he grasped the oversized handle of his fork and tried to guide the food to his mouth. Over and over again, he would twist his hand incorrectly and the food would fall out before it reached the goal. Several times, he tossed the fork down in frustration and tried to brush the hair out of his face with the back of his wrists.

"I hate this! I'm a grown man. I shouldn't have to wear a bib to eat!"

"Mr. Sandburg...Blair...you've made tremendous progress in just a few weeks. You have to be patient." She placed the fork back in his hand. "It's still better than being fed."

He nodded. This time, screwing his face in concentration, he managed to get a forkful into his mouth. Jim's heart leaped at his triumphant smile. Drinking was a little easier because the plastic mug had two handles, but it was no less of a success. He added his own applause to that of the therapist.

"Jim! Don't look at me like this!" Jim took in the messy clothing, smudged face and tangled hair.

"You're so beautiful." It was simple truth. "I just had a talk with your doctors. There is no medical reason for you to stay here any longer. You're going home with me today."

Blair smiled as Jim took one of his clumsy hands.

~~~~~~~~~~

The moment when Jim could not feel Blair's heartbeat was burned into his memory. For that brief time, Jim's life had no anchor. He couldn't see it continuing beyond that point.

Blair was his life. He knew that as certainly as he knew Simon's scent of cigars, coffee and cologne. Which meant that at that moment, Jim was also dead. Maybe his body would live on, but he didn't know and he didn't care.

And then, in answer to his cries and his pain and to the true and sincere prayers of all those around him - not just the cops - the *fellow* cops - who knew and loved Blair, but also the EMT's who'd never met him, Blair came back and Jim's life began again. With it came all the feelings he'd been denying to himself, and the sure and certain knowledge that those feelings were reciprocated.

There was more joy than Jim could contain. The paramedics, tears streaming down their own faces, had rushed in as soon as Blair's eyes had opened, so Jim had to content himself with a brief kiss. He stood and backed into Simon's waiting arms. Jim clung to his friend as he watched the EMT's attend to his partner.

"Jim, go with him. We'll take care of things here." Simon's voice was gentle.

Jim looked at all of his friends' faces; at the mixture of relief and determination on them; at Megan's tears and anger.

"Alex Barnes is *mine.*"

Megan touched his shoulder. "We'll get her for you, Jim. And for Sandy. Especially for Sandy." Henri nodded fiercely. "You be with him now. He needs you."

"Only until he's settled. Someone follow with my truck?" Simon nodded and took Jim's keys.

True to his word, as soon as Blair was put in ICU, with tubes and a ventilator and uniforms watching him and Simon watching the uniforms, Jim gave Blair a gentle kiss on his still damp forehead and ran out the door.

The truck was waiting in the hospital lot. He got in. He was quivering in anger. He couldn't even pick out the correct key from the ring, much less get it into the ignition.

Alex Barnes was another Sentinel. He could feel his hackles rise at that very thought. How dare a foreign Sentinel invade *his* territory and threaten his tribe? The reaction must have been cell deep, it was so strong. Rage flooded his mind, driving away all rational thought. Just as well he couldn't drive yet. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the black jaguar snarling on the parking lot, its black on black spots gleaming in the sun. Beside it was the wolf. Its intelligent eyes looked straight at him before turning to the panther and stroking it with its muzzle.

Jim heard his own voice in his head.

"Breathe, Sentinel. Concentrate on breathing." It was Jim's voice, but it was Blair's cadences.

Blair had shown him this technique dozens of times. He took the deep breaths and tried to center himself. When Blair was with him, it was easy - he just flowed along Blair's voice. He'd never tried it alone before. He found it took more concentration and he wasn't as grounded, but he could do it. The panther in the lot also calmed.

With his rage minimized, Jim could think again. Okay. He had to find the other one and rmove her somehow.

"Feel her."

Feel her. There it was, an intrusion on the edge of his thoughts. No wonder he felt crowded. It wasn't Blair. Never Blair. It certainly wasn't the furniture he'd piled in his basement. It was the other.

"Focus."

He could feel his anger rising again at the thought of the other. *She* made him kick the guide out. With an effort, he pushed the anger away, and aimed his thoughts and senses towards her. There - there was the spotted jaguar. It was sitting. Sitting by water. The marina. He wanted to run there, catch her, kill... The black and the wolf growled at him. His head began to hurt. He backed away from the thought. Okay, but she had to be caught, for the sake of the Tribe.

There was a knock on the truck window. Megan smiled at him as he rolled down the window.

"We just got a call. Alex Barnes is in the marina on a yacht."

"How did you know...good old fashioned police work, right?"

"Got it in one. Jim, I'll make you a deal. You tell me what's going on with you and I'll let you drive."

"It's my truck, Conner." He unlocked the passenger door.

He spent the trip telling her about his senses and being a Sentinel. She accepted it.

"There are legends among the Kooris about such people, you know. And it does tie everything together. And Alex Barnes is another?"

"She's no Sentinel, but she does have the senses."

"Well. Now that I know, I can help you deal with her."

Henri was waiting for them at the marina, crouched behind a car. "She's in that yacht in front of us. Harbor patrol is out, as you can see, so she can't go anywhere. She was shooting at us just a few minutes ago. She just stopped."

"You think she's reloading?" Megan stared at the ship.

Henri shook his head. "Not enough bullets by half. Something else happened."

"She gets these blinding headaches. We saw on the video tape." Jim brought up his hearing in an attempt to find out what was going on. At first there was too much noise. Then he heard, "Filter." Again, it was harder alone, but he managed it. He could hear Alex groaning in pain.

"I think she may have one now. Which means this is my best chance to get her." He stood up and started walking to the dock.

"Jim! Where are you going?" Megan ran to catch up with him.

"I'm going to commandeer that rowboat over there and get the bitch."

"Not by yourself. I'm going with you."

"I can handle this by myself, Connor."

"Listen to me. You're too close to this. Let me go with you and keep this proper, so that your courts don't throw it out."

"You like Sandburg, too."

"Yes, I like Sandy. You're the one in love with him, remember?" He looked at her, startled.

"What...how..."

She laughed. "I'm not blind, you know."

"It seems I am." He shook his head. "Okay, Conner. I can use your help."

"Good. Better I get into a hand-to-hand with her than you."

"Yeah. She fights dirty."

"Only way to win, Jim." Megan grinned and got into the rowboat. Jim joined her to row as silently as possible to the yacht. Jim knew that the other would hear him if her hearing was on line, but she was still moaning in pain. It seemed likely that even if she could hear anything, or distinguish sounds she could not stop them.

They rowed the boat to the side of the yacht. There was a ladder attached to the side. Megan kicked off her heels and began to climb with Jim close behind her. As soon as they got on deck, they drew their weapons and Jim focused in on the other's groans. The shot nearly deafened him.

He ran to the front of the boat, ignoring Megan's cries for caution. The other was there, waiting for the city's Sentinel, desecrating his territory and he had to remove her.

The Sentinel pounced on the other with a snarl. She responded with bites and scratches and hard high heels. Yes, this was a match! In their minds, two jaguars fought it out with claws and teeth. The humans forgot their civilized weapons entirely. This was a cell-deep response to an invader and as an invader. Not even their senses could help them here. He didn't hear Megan call for backup, either.

He was without a guide, alone with the other. The other had no guide. She wanted his, but she hurt him instead. She hurt the guide! He twisted his body to pin hers to the ground, but she fought back. What would the guide do? He'd been with him so long, he should know.

She didn't have one. She was new. The senses were new. They hurt her. He could use them to hurt her. He got his mouth to her ear, and he screamed as loudly has he could. She screamed back and collapsed on the deck. He'd turned his own hearing down, just like the guide would have said, so her scream did not hurt. She was helpless now. He could kill her. Except - she was no longer trying to kill him. The fight was over. The woman with him was cuffing the other. Members of his tribe were climbing onto the yacht. It was over.

Everything looked and sounded far away. He could almost see his own body sitting slumped on the deck, drained of all energy. A tribesman...no, a fellow cop...Henri...Henri was shaking him, talking to him.

"Jim...Jim, come back! Ellison, where are you?"

Jim blinked his eyes slowly. "I'm all right, H." He felt like a stranger in his own body, as if something had taken over. If he didn't have Blair to keep him grounded, that's what he would have become forever. That's what Barnes was facing if she didn't find someone to help her. Jim didn't know if that would be a worthy punishment or create an opponent to fear, but right now he didn't care. She wouldn't be threatening Blair for a long time.

He struggled to his feet.

"Have to get to the hospital."

Henri and Megan exchanged glances. "I'll take you there, Jim. Henri can manage here."

"Just get me to my truck and I'll be fine."

"You are not fine, Jim Ellison, and Simon would kill me if I let you go by yourself. You *should* go home."

"I'm not going home. I'm going to the hospital."

"I know. Besides, there isn't anything in your home, is there? My car is at the hospital anyway. Let me take you back and I'll leave you the truck for when you do go home."

Jim nodded. He wasn't going to leave the hospital without Blair walking beside him, but she didn't have to know that. And he was tired, so maybe it would be a good thing if Megan drove. He followed her back to the rowboat and watched her put on her heels again. He still felt far away from reality, but he was in his body now.

Megan drove in silence, which Jim appreciated, and parked his truck reasonably close to the hospital. She handed him his keys, found her own car and drove off. Jim sleepwalked to ICU, where Blair was down to an oxygen tube and an IV. He stood there for a long time watching Blair breathe. He could see his eyes move under his lids. Was Blair dreaming? Could one dream while unconscious, or was Blair asleep?

"He's asleep, Jim."

"Simon. I didn't hear you."

"You didn't hear me?" Simon looked at Blair. "I think I understand. Good collar, Jim. I'm glad she's off the streets."

"For how long?"

"I don't know, but prison would probably be a horror for her."

"I hope so."

"Jim!"

"Look at him, Simon. As beautiful as an angel, and she wanted to kill him. She deserves whatever she gets. And now that he's going to be fine, I can relax."

Simon looked at him. His voice was gentle. "Jim. We need to talk and now."

"I need to be here when Blair wakes up, so I can take him home."

"They'll tell you when he's awake. You have to come with me now. Please?"

"Okay. I just need to do something first." Jim walked to Blair's bedside and, in full view of the nurses and of Simon, kissed Blair on the cheek. Simon didn't react at all. He just put a hand on the small of Jim's back and led him to a waiting area just outside of ICU.

Jim sat on a couch and waited patiently while Simon bought a bottle of fruit juice from a vending machine and sat down next to him.

"Here. You need to drink something."

Jim shrugged and took a sip. "What's going on, Simon?"

Simon took a deep breath. "It's about Blair. Think, Jim. We don't know how long he was in that fountain. We don't know how long he wasn't breathing, or how long his heart was stopped. You know what that means."

Brain damage? "No! Oh, God, Blair...how bad do they think it will be?"

"They don't know yet. He has to wake up first, and then they have to run tests. He could have physical problems, he could have speech problems, he could have memory problems and we won't know until he opens his eyes."

"Could he be a ve..." He couldn't say the word.

Simon looked down. "They don't know. But he does seem to be dreaming,so his mind is functioning, and he is breathing on his own. So there is plenty of room for hope, at least as far as that is concerned." He wiped at his eyes.

Jim looked closely at Simon. "Captain?"

"Damn it. When I think that we might lose that brilliant mind... that great kid. You know, I was looking forward to the day he was going to get his doctorate? Just thinking about it made me proud. As proud as I feel when I think about Daryl graduating from high school. I was...I *am*...going to get invitations for the entire Major Crimes unit so we can cheer one of our own, and I'm going to sit there and glow. Because that kid is nothing but stubborn and he will get his degree."

"Yeah. He is that stubborn. So long as that part works, the rest will follow. Just like me."

"You're nothing but stubborn, too. Two of a kind. No wonder you two are..."Simon stopped.

Jim shook his head. "I know I just put on a show, but until he's back, I think we shouldn't go there."

"Your call, but, Jim...whatever happens between the two of you is fine by me. Except for you two breaking up, I mean."

"No chance of that." Jim smiled briefly. Then he dropped his head to his hands.

"You look exhausted. Why don't you take a nap or something while I get us some dinner? I know I'm not getting you out of this place until something changes for Blair."

"You got that right. I'll be here. Somewhere."

"Are either one of you related to Blair Sandburg?"

*Yeah. I'm his boyfriend and that's his father.* Too bad neither was true...yet.

"I'm his captain, Simon Banks, and this is his partner, Jim Ellison."

"*You're* Jim?" The nurse, whose nametag read "Michael Burns", smiled at him. "Mr. Sandburg has been calling your name. He's starting to wake up."

Jim was back at Blair's bedside in moments.

"Jim! I'm back! Where are you!" Blair was tossing on the narrow bed, his arms moving wildly and his hands flapping oddly.

"I'm here, Chief. I'm here." There were too many tubes. Jim couldn't let him keep flailing around. Blair responded to his touch immediately. His eyes opened.

"Jim! Oh, Jim. I thought...Alex...Thank God!" His speech was oddly slurred.

"It's all right, Blair. You can go back to sleep."

"No...first...I have to tell you. Jim - love you."

When did his heart start beating again? "Love you, too, Blair. Always."

"Always." Blair drifted off again, a lopsided smile on his face.

Jim took one of his limp hands and squeezed it gently before leaning down to kiss his cheek. Blair stirred a little, but didn't wake.

"Ahem." Simon was standing next to the open cubicle, the nurse by his side.

Jim stood up. "Sorry, captain."

"About what? That boy needs everything you can give him. And you can give him a lot." Simon smiled.

"There's something wrong. His speech, his hands...something isn't right."

"He just woke up, Mr. Ellison. It could be nothing. He'll probably sleep through the night now."

"He woke up knowing who he was and who you were, and what had happened. I'd say some of our prayers were answered. He's still *Blair.*"

Jim nodded. "He's still Blair. I have to hold on to that." That and that he actually loved him.

"Well, if Blair's going to be all right and going to sleep through the night then there is no reason for us to stay here. Is there?"

"I would say it would be best if you and Mr. Ellison went home and had something to eat. If you leave your phone numbers with us, we'll call if anything happens."

"I don't want to leave. I don't want to leave Blair alone here."

"Jim, you can't do any good by staying here."

"What if he wakes again?"

"Mr. Ellison, he's exhausted. Let him sleep."

"I can't stand the thought that Blair might wake up alone and confused."

"Jim, you can't help Blair if you need your own sleep. You'll be back in the morning. Just follow me home now. I'll lend you a toothbrush and a razor."

He rubbed a hand over his face. He was ready to fall apart. As much as he needed to be with his Blair, the thought of a bed was seductive, and Simon was a good cook.

"Are you sure he'll sleep through the night?" He looked at the nurse.

"Mr. Ellison, your friend has had a traumatic experience. He'll be more asleep than awake for a couple of days. Give me your phone number and I'll call you if he does wake up."

"Deal." He handed the nurse a business card. "Just let me say good night first." Simon nodded.

Jim stood and watched Blair sleep for awhile. He never looked more like an angel. Jim gently touched his face and stroked the tangles of hair on his pillow. Blair stirred slightly but didn't wake.

"Good night, angel." He bent to kiss Blair's cheek. "I love you." For some reason, his eyes were wet. Jim had never felt such intense emotions before. Everything prior to this seemed muted, just the way life felt without his senses.

"Ahem." Simon waited by the door. He was smiling, though. "We better get going, Jim." Jim nodded and tore himself away from Blair.

End Part One

Next