Author's Notes:

This is a reminder that the following story is connected to my previous stories "Candle In The Dark", "An Essential Friend", and "Faith". You probably need to read them to make sense of this one.



D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 2-24-98)

Our duty is to be useful, not according to our desires but according to our powers.

Amiel, Journal, December 17, 1856

Chapter One

"You have the number, right?"

"Yes, I have the number, Sandburg," Jim Ellison said wearily for what seemed like the eighth time. "You better get a move on, Chief, or your colleagues are going to leave you."

Blair Sandburg took a quick glance at his watch. "Okay, you take care, man. Don't try anything without Simon around. I know you've been getting better with not zoning, but I don't want you to take any chances."

Jim was a Sentinel which meant he had five heightened senses. It was the perfect setup for a detective, which Jim was, but sometimes the senses overwhelmed him to the point he lost contact with reality. Such a point was referred to as zoning and when that happened he needed someone to either call him or literally shake him out of it. That was usually Blair's job since he was Jim's Guide-- his teacher in mastering the senses. But since he was going out of town, Jim was now Captain Simon Banks' responsibility. Well, actually Jim was always Simon's responsibility; for one thing Simon was his commanding officer and secondly, Simon was their official Watcher-- he took care of both Sentinel and Guide in the general sense. He provided back up, comfort, and a healthy dose of "parental supervision" when needed. In Simon's own words, he was their "babysitter."

Speaking of babies... "Who's mother henning who this time, Chief? I've been on my own before, you know."

"I know. But this came up so sudden..." Blair wondered again if he'd done the right thing telling his buddy in the Archeology Department at Rainier University he would replace the grad student they lost due to a wife going into labor. Although Blair was an Anthropology grad student and not Archaeology, the two disciplines were very similar-- especially since Blair's focus was ancient civilizations (mainly Sentinels in Peruvian tribes)-- and he knew his way around a dig site. He really was looking forward to this trip to a well-explored site in Wyoming. Since a panel of leading archeologists had deemed that men had settled in lower North America several millennia earlier than originally thought, scholars were now scrambling back to old sites and reexamining them. A brand-new way of looking at old artifacts. It sounded fascinating.

But working with Jim was fascinating too. Officially, he was an observer at the Cascade, Washington Police Department. However, he functioned mainly as Jim's partner. Basically, he rode shotgun (although he didn't use a weapon, he was dangerous with a cell phone), helped the detective use his Sentinel abilities as forensics tools, and even once or twice used his own brain power to help to solve crimes. At times, more times than he cared to admit actually, the job was dangerous and scary and downright gruesome. But he and Jim helped people, saved them, protected them... It was a satisfying challenge.

So was taking care of Jim. That was part of being a Guide too. He was responsible for the physical and mental well-being of his Sentinel. So he came up with tasteful ways of making healthy foods, made Jim talk about his problems, cleaned the loft better than he'd ever cleaned anything else, and made sure he was quieter than a mouse after Jim settled down for the night. All this he did without complaint (okay, maybe one or two comments about cleaning) not just because Jim was his Sentinel but because the detective was his best friend.

"Sandburg, I can survive without you," Jim said in exasperation as he watched the thoughts tumbling behind his friend's deep blue eyes. Just as easily, he saw his words had been misconstrued. Aw, hell. "At least for a few days anyway," he amended.

"I'm going to hold you to that, Jim," Blair replied and slung his bag over his back. "I'll call as soon as we get there. It may be late so don't worry."

"I won't, Chief. Have a good time."

"Thanks, Jim. Talk to you later."

Jim closed the door and reviewed his options. Originally he had planned to go back to sleep after his roommate left. But now he was wide awake and the thought of going back to bed seemed a waste of time. So he showered, dressed, went to the station, and started in on the paperwork he had to do himself this week.

"Don't get me wrong," Simon said as he walked into the Major Crimes bullpen and did a doubletake. "I mean seeing diligence in my men makes my heart go pitter-patter. But what the hell are you doing here this early, Ellison?"

"Sandburg." He took a breath, preparing to explain but Simon cut him off.

"Oh, yeah. He took off this morning to work in the dirt somewhere, right?"

Jim was confused. "How do you know that? His friend just called him last night and asked him to go."

Simon nodded. "And after you reassured him that it was alright for him to go, he called me. He wanted me to know I would be on Watcher/Guide duty this week so I had to be extra attentive to your needs. He also gave me the telephone number, address, and contact person at the place he would be. Just in case, he said."

The detective was slightly humiliated. "I'm sorry about that, captain. He was just being--"

"Sandburg," Simon filled in. "And you're a fine one to talk. Last time you had to leave him here by himself, you gave me a five-page treatise on how to handle him."

Jim's face brightened to a nice shade of red. "But that's because he gets into trouble and he likes to hide it. I just wanted you to be aware of the signs of impending doom."

"I'm used to it by now, Jim, so don't get so defensive. Now, why are you here? The loft too lonely?" he asked with a smirk.

Jim glared at his captain. "I literally had to kick Blair out before he would leave. By that time, I was too awake to go back to bed so I came to work. Got a problem with that, Simon?"

Simon held up his hands and backed away. "Not at all, Det. Ellison. Please don't let me disturb you." He walked toward his office, then stopped to turn around again. "You'll let me know if you need me?"

Jim smiled. "Yeah, Simon.

The day passed by slowly and by the time Jim noticed an appreciable difference in the pile in his inbox, it was almost time to go home. Since Simon knew he'd come in early, he was debating whether to ask the captain if he could leave now. With Sandburg gone, it was the perfect time to really clean the loft. Not that he hadn't taught his roommate well, but it wasn't Blair's fault he couldn't see the dust Sentinel eyes could.

"Hey, Jim," Brown said softly as he came up behind him. "What to do me a favor?"

"What do you need?" Jim had heard his fellow detective being called into Simon's office. If it was about paperwork, his friend was on his own. He wasn't going to type one more word.

"A fellow Rafe and I have been looking for all week just showed up at his job. Want to ride with me to get him?"

"Where's Rafe?"

"His sister called and said if he didn't get his ass down to the tailor's to have his tux fitted for her wedding, she was going to tell their mama something incriminating. I don't know what his sister has on him, but he took off."

"Simon know this?" Brown shook his head. Jim sighed. No detective should pick up a suspect on his own. It wasn't safe. "Well, since neither of us has a partner at the moment, why don't we team up?"

"Thanks, Ellison," Brown replied with relief.

"Who are we after?" Jim said as he settled into the car beside Brown. They were heading out to Ashford Industries on the outskirts of Cascade. The man they were looking for had been part of an industrial cleaning crew the company had hired and paychecks were to be handed out today.

"George Hagler. He's small time but we think he knows who is behind that string of robberies at the mall. He's the nonviolent type so he shouldn't give us any trouble."

Jim should have realized his day was in a downward spiral when that turned out to be false. As soon as Hagler saw the two cops, while the secretary at Ashford Industries tried to "find" his check, he ran. Jim signaled for Brown to go one way and he went the other.

He easily trailed the fleeing felon through the facility, around storage containers, through drainage ditches, and finally brought him to ground as he tried to scale a fence to freedom. With a growl, he snapped on the cuffs and tossed the man to Brown as the other detective caught up with them.

"No trouble, you said," Jim muttered loudly as he looked down at his soaking feet. Damn ditches. "Next payday, you're buying me a new pair of shoes."

"Sure, Ellison," Brown said affably. "Where did you get them? Kmart? I have to admit, they do look good with those white socks, man."

Jim growled a warning. Was it his fault that because of his heightened senses he couldn't wear dyed socks anymore? Everything else was fine once he had started using Ivory Snow for his laundry. But colored socks he just couldn't tolerate.

Rafe was waiting for them in the parking garage when they returned. Brown had called him in to help with the questioning. "Thanks for helping us out, Ellison," he said as he hauled the prisoner out of the backseat. Jim grunted and tried to ignore the squishing sound coming from the direction of his shoes.

"Ellison's part cat, man," Brown said, explaining to his partner. "Hates getting his feet wet. He'll get over it. Let's go, Georgie."

Despite his discomfort Jim smiled when he overheard the comment. Brown didn't know it, but he had come pretty close to the truth. When Jim had discovered his hypersenses (although they were genetic in nature, they had stayed recessive until a few years ago), he'd also discovered his spirit guide which just happened to be a black jaguar.

Up in the bullpen, Jim went straight to Simon's office and tapped on the door. "Just wanted to let you know I'm heading home."

Simon's eyes widened in surprise. "When I didn't see you earlier, I figured you'd already left."

"Now you tell me," Jim said and started to smile. But a sharp pain flashed through his head and the smile turned into a wince.

"Something wrong, Jim?" Simon asked quickly. Before, he probably wouldn't have noticed the brief spasm, but now that he was officially their keeper of sorts...

"Just the beginning of a headache," the detective assured him. "A combination of too little sleep and too much paperwork."

"Not my fault your personal secretary left you to fend for yourself."

Jim knew some of the other detectives envied him because of Sandburg. But hell, Blair was an academic and writing reports was second nature to him. He shrugged. "With the perks come the problems and the perils, Simon. I think I'm still getting the short end of the stick."

Simon laughed. "You have a point there, Jim. I'll see you tomorrow. Give Sandburg my regards when you talk to him tonight."

"Sure, captain. Blair lives for you to remember him."

Simon snickered. "Get out of here before I find something for you to do, Ellison."

"Gone," Jim said quickly and shut the door.

By the time he reached the parking lot, Jim knew the headache wasn't going to subside on its own. By the time he reached the loft he had considered, and dismissed, the idea of using his gun to put himself out of misery. The idea of the mess he would leave behind went against his nature. So instead he opted for aspirin. Realizing that once he took the pills and went upstairs to his bed, he wouldn't want to come down again, he carefully locked the door and put the security chain in place. No roommate to wait on tonight.

He took a step toward the bathroom and the relief its medicine cabinet held and noticed that his feet were stinging. Now what? He detoured over to the sofa, kicked out of his still damp shoes and peeled away the socks. Damn. His feet were lobster red-- cooked lobster. What the hell? Then he realized the water he'd run through must have been contaminated with something. Probably a detergent or fertilizer or even the bane of his pedal extremities-- dye. Great. This was definitely turning into a bad day.

Having dealt with allergic reactions before, his damn skin was so sensitive now, he knew the first thing he had to do was take a long shower. He unbuttoned his shirt and shrugged out of it. Then he grabbed his T-shirt by the tail and tugged it over his head. It was at that moment he realized he was dealing with something more extreme than his usual allergic reactions. Dizziness slammed into him like a tidal wave, totally consuming him to the point that he was almost sick while still wrapped up in the shirt. He struggled his way out of the fabric and the situation got worse. The room rushed around him like a videotape in rewind, glitches and static snow included. Even as he struggled against the vertigo and accompanying nausea, he saw humor in the situation. The last time he'd felt this bad was in boot camp. Challenged by the other soldiers, he'd gotten so smashed that he'd thrown up all over his drill instructor. The man never forgave him. If he hadn't already been tough, he surely would have been so after the sergeant got through with him.

When the room settled down into a mild view from a carousel, he tried to stand and get to the phone. Simon had said to let him know if he needed him and as the spinning began to regain speed, he figured that yeah, he needed him. But as soon as he stood, he knew he would never reach the phone. As the darkness claimed him and the floor rose to greet him, he was pretty sure Blair was going to be royally pissed when he got home.

Chapter Two

Simon Banks tossed his gold wire-rimmed glasses onto the desk and pinched the bridge of his nose in search of relief. However, there was none to be had because this wasn't ordinary tension wrapping the tight rubber bands around his skull. No, this was Watcher tension... and he damn well wasn't going to give in to it.

Just because Sandburg was out of town, he chided himself, didn't mean he was going to obsess over Jim. The man was more than capable of taking care of himself. Ex-Army Ranger and captain, Ellison was fit and lethal. His one vulnerability, zoning, hadn't been an issue today. He hadn't left the department, hadn't used his senses, and that meant there was no reason for the Watcher to worry.

But there was this tickling-- no, that word was too benign for the insidious sensation. Maybe niggling was a better description because it was similar to a worm burrowing its way through his brain, warning him of danger involving the Sentinel. He shook his head, hoping the sensation would somehow disappear with the movement. He hadn't signed on for this kind of stress. He didn't need it, didn't want it, and he didn't want to waste time analyzing it. And he certainly wasn't going to act on it. God, Jim was coddled enough by Sandburg. He didn't need his captain dogging his every step as well.

Determined not to bother Jim, Simon closed up his office and headed home. When his car drifted into a turning lane and he found himself on the street leading to the loft, he told himself he was just checking to see if Jim's truck was in its usual space. It was. When he parked and stared up at the loft, he figured he was just doing this as a favor to Sandburg. When the elevator deposited him in front of Jim's door, he knew he was there for his own peace of mind.

His cover story was simple: an invitation to dinner. If Sandburg had called, they could go to the new Italian place that had opened across town and if Jim was still waiting to hear from his partner, well, takeout wasn't out of the ordinary at the loft. Why hadn't he said anything to him while they were at the station? Because he hadn't been sure of what time he would get out of the office. There. Perfect.

He rapped softly on the door, knowing Jim not only could hear the sound but probably knew who was standing there. He knocked louder when there was no answer. The truck was downstairs so he had to be inside. Of course, he could be somewhere else in the building-- the laundry room, the dumpster out back, or even helping out a neighbor. Sandburg had mentioned how helpful Jim was in the neighborhood. The Sentinel and his territory...

With a sigh he pulled out the key Ellison and Sandburg had given him-- even before the Watcher thing became an issue. No use in him waiting in the hall like an idiot when he could let himself in, grab a beer and turn on the news. He was laughing at himself overreacting to his "Watcher" vibes as he opened the door. The laughter stopped when he realized the chain was engaged. Which meant Jim was inside. "Jim, it's Simon!" he yelled through the crack in the door. No answer. Not a sound. He stepped back and kicked. When his foot hit the floor, the door was still hanging in the jamb but it was definitely open.

"Jim?" He scanned the apartment and didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Jim's keys were in the basket by the door, the furniture was in place, the lights on. Where the hell was the detective? He started up to Jim's room in the loft, thinking maybe the man was asleep. Maybe a neighbor had been making noise and Jim had used earplugs or what was that thing? Oh, yeah, a white noise generator.

Simon never made it to the stairs, however. When he reached the base of them, he saw Jim's feet poking out from a corner near the sofa. Hurrying over, he found Jim sprawled unconscious on the floor, blood pouring from his head. "God, Jim, what have you done?" he asked as he whipped out his cell phone and dialed 911. As he kneeled down beside his friend, he saw the bloodstains on the edge of the coffee table. What the hell had happened? Jim wasn't the type who tripped over his own two feet.

Although he knew the detective was alive because the blood was still flowing, he nevertheless placed his fingers against his neck, double reassured when he felt the throbbing pulse. Seeing the T-shirt on the sofa, he balled it up and pressed it against the wound as he waited for the ambulance. It bothered him Jim had fallen. Maybe the headache had gotten worse and he'd lost his balance. He searched his friend's body for other injuries and finally noticed the condition of his feet. The reddened skin was starting to peel. What the hell? Then he saw the shoes and socks. Damp? He wiped his fingers quickly on his pants. Jim had apparently stumbled into something. And perhaps when he tried to stand, his feet wouldn't support him and he'd fallen. As good a supposition as he was going to get until Jim woke up and gave him some answers.

Simon stood back as the EMTs took over, easing Jim onto the stretcher and wheeling him outside. He drove to the hospital in his own car, lights flashing. At the E.R. Sadie Farmsworth, an older lady who was very familiar with the three of them, was on duty so he didn't have to do anything except sit and wait. Five minutes later he was standing, furiously patting his pockets and flipping through his wallet for the number Sandburg had left. He remembered how disdainful he'd been on the phone, how he had been tempted to merely pretend to write down the information. You almost blew it, Banks. But the responsible part of him made him reach for the pen. Now all he had to do was find the slip of paper. Where the hell had he put it? Aha. He had put it where he would remember to carry it to work; his badge holder.

Sandburg hadn't arrived at his destination yet, so he left a message for the grad student to call him. He told himself the delay was good, that by the time Blair checked in he would have a handle on Jim's condition. Probably just a concussion. Jim had had those before, but he had a hard head and it always survived quite nicely. The doctor would keep him overnight for observation and he would be released tomorrow. He would have to be watched, but hey, that was his title anyway. Sandburg could go on with his dig.

"Captain Banks."

Simon stood as Jim's doctor approached. "How is he, Dr. Cuthbertson?"

Dr. Mandy Cuthbertson shook her head. "I'm not sure, captain. We're still trying to determine what exactly is wrong with him."

"Something more than a concussion?" he asked, already knowing the answer. Something had caused Jim to fall and bump his head.

"The dermatitis on his feet and ankles is telling us that he's been exposed to some chemical. It could be just a mild irritant or in the extreme, a poison. We're running tests now but a large part of the problem is that we can't determine which of his symptoms are from the contaminant and which are caused by the concussion and blood loss. If he was awake..."

"He hasn't regained consciousness?"

"No, captain."

Simon wracked his brains for something useful. "His shoes and socks were damp. If I got someone to bring them to you, do you think maybe you could get an idea from them?"

She pursed her lips and thought for a moment. If it was something that was volatile and quickly turned to gas, the items would be useless. What they needed was the puddle or whatever he'd stepped into. A puddle in Cascade. May as well be that proverbial needle. "Sure, captain. Get them for me and we'll see if it works. In the meantime, I'm going to get him settled into a room in the Intensive Care Unit and just treat him symptom by symptom."

Simon had reached for the phone Mrs. Farmsworth had so graciously told him to consider his own, but paused at her words. "ICU?"

"We don't know what we're dealing with, Captain Banks. It's better to be cautious."

"I understand."

The doctor started to walk away, but then turned. "Captain, where is Mr. Sandburg?" They were always together. The way it usually went was that one was being worked on and two were in the waiting area. Of course there had been variations-- two being worked on or on a particularly bad day, all three demanding the attention of the emergency staff. Apparently there was a lot of risk in protecting Cascade. Mandy thanked God every day these three were willing to take that risk.

"Out of town. Actually, it's worse than that. He's en route to 'out of town'. I've left word at his destination."

"Well, at least you won't be alone." He looked at her questioningly and she pointed over his shoulder. He turned around and saw Rafe and Brown coming through the door. "You know all my men on sight?" he asked in amazement.

"You're a close-knit group, captain. Such camaraderie is to be commended. I'll keep you informed on the detective's condition."

Simon thanked the doctor and waited for his officers to reach him. "What are you guys doing here?"

"We were still at the station finishing up with Hagler when Ellison's address came through the 911 grapevine," Brown explained. The 911 system flagged the addresses of police officers and other rescue personnel because an incident at their homes could be much larger in scope than an emergency at an ordinary citizen's residence. When the flag was tripped, an alert sounded in the addressee's home department. "What's happening, captain?"

Simon filled them in. "I was just going to call a uniform to go over to Ellison's place and pick up his shoes and socks. The doctor and I are hoping they may give us an indication of what he got on his skin."

Brown and Rafe exchanged worried glances. "We can take care of that, captain," Brown offered quickly.

Simon figured they would feel better doing something than just hanging around the hospital so he gave them the key to the loft. The door hadn't been too stable but it had locked. He told them where to find the footwear and to be careful touching it.

His words and the key were unnecessary however, because when the men returned he discovered they hadn't been to the loft at all. Instead of carrying shoes and socks, they had four vials of water. "What is this?" he asked.

"Samples of the water Jim splashed through at Ashford Industries," Brown said.

Simon couldn't wait to hear an explanation, but instead he went up to the desk and asked Mrs. Farmsworth to page the doctor. When Dr. Cuthbertson saw the samples she was thrilled. "I'll get these to the lab right away. Thank you, captain. This may be the break we need. How in the world did you narrow it down?"

"That's what I'm about to find out," he said softly, spearing the two detectives with a glance.

The doctor felt sorry for the two men, but she was more concerned about another detective. "We're getting ready to move him. I'll have Sadie inform you when we have a room number. See you in ICU, captain."

"Of course, doctor." He looked around and saw that the area was crowded. He pointed his finger and the detectives preceded him out to the drop-off area. "I want answers, gentlemen."

Brown took a deep breath and explained about Hagler and the chase through Ashford Industries. Then he told how he and Rafe had gone over there and gotten samples. "We also talked to the jail to see if Hagler was experiencing any symptoms but he seems to be fine."

Simon nodded as if he approved. "By the way, I thought I sent Rafe with you, Brown. Explain to me again how Ellison wound up being your partner?"

Rafe was a decent guy and decided to save his partner the trouble. "I left early to go have a tux fitted. When Brown called that he had Hagler, I met them back at the station to assist in the questioning."

Simon took off his glasses and removed an imaginary speck."Well, I hope the two of you are proud of yourselves. Your harmless little switcheroo could cost Jim Ellison his life."

"That's not fair, Simon," Brown argued defensively.

He replaced his glasses, now spotless for glaring through. "I didn't mean for it to be."

"We couldn't have predicted this would happen, captain. I mean, Hagler is fine," Rafe pointed out.

Simon's gaze raked across him. "So now it's all Jim's fault? If he wasn't so sensitive, he wouldn't be lying unconscious in the hospital, right? You guys had nothing to do with it."

"That's not what we meant!" Brown shouted, his own sense of guilt making him angry. "But, hell, he did have something to do with it, you know. He could have told me no."

"And let a fellow detective, a friend, go out and pick up a suspect alone? Oh, yeah, Ellison certainly could have done that," Simon said flatly. "You two don't get it, do you? The fault in what you did was not in Jim getting wet; it was in not telling me. The doctor needed to know what Jim had gotten into. If I had been informed that he had chased a suspect through the grounds of a manufacturing plant, I could have told her and we could have sent someone out there immediately and checked those drainage ditches. The lab could have already finished its analysis and the staff could be counteracting the crap!"

Simon paused and said in a much quieter tone, "Hell, if I would have known Jim had been exposed like that, I would have kept a closer eye on him and maybe he wouldn't have fallen and cracked his skull."

Before Brown and Rafe could reply, a voice came from the direction of the emergency room. "I have his room number for you, Captain Banks," Sadie called. She knew from the slump of the detectives' shoulders that the captain hadn't been easy on them. From what she could gather, their carelessness had something to do with Det. Ellison's condition. But she also knew whatever had happened, it hadn't been deliberate. With five grandsons, she could read men of all ages like a book.

"Thank you, Mrs. Farmsworth. We'll be there in a minute."

"No, captain," she corrected firmly. "You're coming with me now and these gentlemen can follow in a few minutes."

Simon was speechless. He'd seen Mrs. Farmsworth tear into worthless people like a certain I.A. commander, but she'd never been anything but nice and respectful to him. What had he done that had him on her hit list? Bewildered, he followed her into the building without a word of protest. She patted him on the shoulder when they got into the elevator.

"It was for your own good, you know," she said.

"No, I don't know."

"You had heaped enough guilt on them, captain. Any more, and you would have been apologizing to them later on." Simon grunted, but knew she spoke the truth. "Besides," she added, "blaming them won't make you feel less guilty, will it?"

Simon sighed and the stiffness went out of his stance. "Don't tell me you're psychic," he pleaded. In the world he used to live in, the comment would have come out as cynical or snide. But the more he was drawn into the lives of Ellison and Sandburg, the more he realized there was a lot of things he didn't understand, didn't know existed, and didn't want to be involved in.

"I raised one son and five grandsons, Captain Banks. I don't need to be psychic." She took his arm as they stepped out of the elevator. "I have a confession to make, captain. I know I was being pushy when I interrupted you like that and I'm sorry. But what you aren't aware of is that I've sort of adopted you, Mr. Sandburg, and Det. Ellison. I hate it when I see you because that means someone's been hurt. But seeing you makes me smile too. My family's always been a close-knit one. We fight. We laugh. We love. I see that in the three of you."

Simon chuckled uneasily and she smiled. "Don't worry, captain. I'm not going to make you admit to anything. Just remember, you have family at this hospital, okay?"

"Okay, Mrs. Farmsworth."


Simon smiled. "Sadie. And my name is Simon. I'll have to bring my son Daryl by to meet you one day soon."

"Another grandson? I'm delighted. But do you think maybe Mr. Sandburg or the detective will give me a granddaughter one day? I'd love to have a little girl to spoil." They were both so handsome. Surely there was a woman or two out there worthy to mother their children.

Simon laughed. "You'll have to ask them that one yourself."

"Not going there, huh?" Sadie teased.

"That's a definite no, Sadie." She laughed and led him to the waiting room before going off to see what was happening for him. She returned with the doctor.

"Good news and bad news, captain," Dr. Cuthbertson said without wasting time. "The good news is that we have determined there were traces of ethylene chlorohydrin in the water. I made a call to Ashford Industries and they admitted the chemical was used to clean machinery there a few days ago."

"And Jim just absorbed it through his skin?"

"Yes, that's one way you can be exposed to it."

Simon nodded and braced himself. "What's the bad news?"

"Poisons are rated by their toxicity. One is the lowest and six is the highest."

"And ethylene chlorohydrin is?"

"A six."

Chapter Three

"What does that mean? That Jim won't recover?" Simon asked, wondering if they expected him to tell Sandburg that. No way.

"If the patient survives the first eighteen hours after exposure, there's an excellent chance of complete recovery," Dr. Cuthbertson said. "The fact that he's here in ICU is quite a plus. Sometimes the victim doesn't get care until it's much too late."

"What are we talking about here? Will he arrest, stop breathing, what? He had a headache earlier. Was that a symptom?"

"Yes. And so is dizziness which probably explains how he hit his head. As his condition progresses, he could possibly experience nausea, abdominal pains, and excitability. He may become delirious at times. His blood pressure will be low. If he regains consciousness, he may lose it again. You may notice a blue tinging of his fingernails or his face because of lack of oxygen. His breathing will slow, so will his heartbeat."

"Is there a specific treatment for this kind of poisoning?" Sadie asked, reminding Simon she was still there.

"No, we'll have to treat each symptom as it appears. As I said, if he survives the next fifteen hours or so, he's going to be fine. The job of the medical staff is to see that he has those hours." She looked directly into Simon's eyes. "You know he's going to get the best treatment possible."

"I know," Simon said and meant it. These people cared for Jim, not just as another patient, but as a friend. They would do everything possible to keep him alive. But Jim's reactions weren't always by the book. Medications which behaved one way in everyone else in Cascade, behaved another in the Sentinel's system. Blair tried to explain that Jim processed chemicals faster so that the Sentinel would recover faster, but it didn't make a lot of sense to him. "There's a prisoner over in the jail who had the same exposure. Should we put him under watch?"

The doctor shook her head and made sure her voice was low. "There were only trace amounts of ethylene chlorohydrin in the water, captain. Only ultra-sensitive people like the detective would be affected." She had learned by trial and a whole lot of error how sensitive James Ellison could be.

Apparently Sentinels have several built-in vulnerabilities. No wonder it takes a Guide and a Watcher to keep him safe. "Okay, we're looking at fifteen hours, right?"

She shrugged. "That's according to the book, Captain Banks, and we both know Det. Ellison prefers to write his own version."

Simon sighed. Why was it never easy? "What's your best guess, doctor?"

Dr. Cuthbertson figured she was one of only two people who could even begin to formulate an estimate. The other was Blair Sandburg, the detective's partner and best friend. Without him, she probably would have killed Ellison several times over by now. "Given his history, I would say the crisis period will occur sooner. Maybe in the ninth or tenth hour."

Simon looked at his watch and wondered why the hell Sandburg hadn't contacted him yet. "So then he'll be out of the woods?"

"In conjunction with the poison, yes. But we still have the matter of the concussion to deal with."

"Jim's got a hard head," he pointed out dismissingly.

The doctor nodded. "But we don't know how the damage will be affected by the poisoning. They are not two separate incidents, captain. Each will affect the other." A nurse tapped her on the shoulder.

"Dr. Cuthbertson, Mr. Ellison is coming to."

"Thank you. Come on, captain. He'll probably want to see a familiar face."

Just not mine. Simon followed her anyway. Jim was surrounded by machinery, monitors that beeped, buzzed, and hissed. Oh, Jim was definitely not going to be happy when he awoke. Which was obvious he was close to doing. "Take it easy, Jim," he said as the man struggled to consciousness.

"Simon?" Jim's eyes fluttered open, focusing on the voice he'd heard. "I was dreaming I was falling."

"It wasn't a dream. You were in the loft, remember?"

"My head hurt and I was dizzy. I tried to reach the phone to call you, but..."

Simon patted his hand. "It's okay. I came anyway."

"How?" Jim began, then read something in Simon's eyes. "Oh, right. You call Sandburg?"

"Yeah, but they haven't arrived yet."

Jim's eyes drifted closed, then opened again. "They were going to stop at a couple of places along the way. I'm glad you didn't get him. Wouldn't want him coming back for nothing."

"A concussion isn't nothing, detective," Dr. Cuthbertson said, even though she was extremely glad that it seemed the concussion hadn't affected him. He obviously remembered what happened, who he was, who and where his friends were.

"Hi, Dr. C. A concussion?" His hand strayed to his head and found the bandage.

"You hit the corner of the coffee table when you passed out, Jim," Simon explained.

"Good thing you found me then. But it's still not a good reason to bring Sandburg home. Let the kid enjoy himself, sir."

Simon glanced at the doctor who signaled he should continue. "Jim, it's not just the concussion that has you in the hospital. You said you remember the headache and the dizziness?"

"And my feet were all red."

"That's because you got something called ethylene chlorohydrin on them."

Jim's eyes widened. "That has a toxicity level of six. Are my feet frostbitten?" He wiggled his feet beneath the coverings.

"No, just chapped," the doctor assured him. The detective apparently knew the chemical well. It could indeed cause symptoms of frostbite. "What you feel on your feet are not bandages. We just put on a salve and then placed them in socks."

"White socks?" Jim asked quickly.

"White, hypo-allergenic socks like we use for burn patients," she assured him. "The levels in the water you splashed through were low. But as you evidently know, the substance is readily absorbed through the skin and I'm afraid you're showing signs of having been poisoned. But it's nothing for you to be concerned about. You're here in ICU and what you can't handle, we'll handle for you, okay?"

"Okay, Dr. C. I trust you."

"I need to go have another look at your latest blood gases. So I'm going to leave Captain Banks here to amuse you for a while. I want both of you to behave yourselves, okay?"

"You have my word, doctor," Simon said. "By the way, could you send Sadie home? Tell her I won't fuss at my men anymore tonight."

"I'll give her the message."

"What's going on between you and Mrs. Farmsworth?" Jim asked with a grin.

"Jim, she's old enough to be my mother," Simon replied, pulling up a chair. He noticed the other rooms in ICU didn't have chairs. Dr. Cuthbertson must have had it brought in just for him. This hospital is full of nice women. "In fact, Sadie confessed that in her mind she has adopted you, me, and Sandburg."

"That's nice. I've always liked her." A pain cut across his abdomen but he ignored it. Or at least he thought he had.

"What's wrong, Jim?" Simon asked quickly. "And don't shrug it off. Last time you did that, I found you passed out on the floor. Should I get the doctor?"

"It's okay, Simon. Just an abdominal pain. Goes with the territory."

Simon frowned. "How the hell do you know so much about this stuff? I had never heard of it and you seemed to have memorized its scientific monograph."

"It's hard to forget a chemical warfare course."

"You know the more I know about your past, the more I don't want to know," Simon griped. Jim fought against another spasm. "You sure you don't want me to call Dr. Cuthbertson?"

He shook his head. "I just have to adjust my pain sensors."

"Can you do that on your own? Do you need me to coach you through it? Help you turn down the dial? I know I'm a lousy substitute for Sandburg..."

"Stop it, Simon. You're not a substitute for anyone. And no, I can manage the pain on my own. Heaven knows, I've had enough experience." Jim paused, then turned so he could look directly at his friend. "If you're sitting here because you think that's what you're supposed to do, because Blair left you as the Guide, or because you agreed to be our Watcher, go home. Watching me suffer is not part of the regularly scheduled programming, okay? Coming to my rescue is. Seeing that I got medical attention is. Staying by my bedside isn't."

"Jim, I'm not doing anything I don't want to do, or anything differently than I've done before-- except then I was in the waiting room or the hallway. You say this isn't part of Watcher duty, but it is. Sitting here feels right. And if I've learned anything today it is that I should listen to my feelings, even when I don't want to." If he had listened earlier, Jim wouldn't have passed out alone in the loft and hit his head. The poisoning was a freak accident, but the rest was entirely the fault of a reluctant Watcher. And a pretty sorry captain too. "Damn it, Jim, I forgot to call Steven. You know his number?"

"I know his number, Simon, but I don't want him here."

"It's your call, Jim. But I thought you two had worked out your differences." Jim and his brother Steven had been estranged since their teen years. But a chance meeting in the middle of a murder investigation had brought them in contact and led to a complete reconciliation, or so Simon had thought. "He helped Sandburg get you out of that Indiana sanitarium."

"I know and I've thanked him." Jim sighed and shifted in the bed. "This has nothing to do with my brother, Simon. I know the effects of ethylene chlorohydrin and one of them is delirium. If that happens I want to limit who's around me. I don't know what may slip out." Like the fact that he was a Sentinel, which his brother didn't know.

Before Simon could tell Jim he understood, one of the monitors went off. The blaring alarm had Jim grabbing his ears and curling up defensively. Simon didn't know what had gone wrong but he knew Jim couldn't take the noise. He quickly scanned the offending machine for the off button and when he couldn't find it, he bent down and snatched its plug out of the wall.

Medical personnel flooded the room and Simon was sort of washed out into the hallway. As soon as he saw Dr. Cuthbertson run in, he withdrew to the waiting room, knowing Jim was in good hands.


He looked up and saw Joel Taggert, Brown, Rafe, and at least two other members of Major Crimes. "Somebody call a staff meeting and didn't tell me about it?" he asked wryly.

"How is he, Simon?" Joel asked, concern in his soft voice.

Simon shook his head. "Something just set a monitor off in his room. They're working on him now."

"The lady who works in the E.R. said something about him being poisoned before she left."

"Ethylene chlorohydrin." Damn. I'm going to have the name engraved in my head permanently. "Hagler and his crew used it to clean the machinery out at Ashford. Jim just happened to stumble into it. It's no one's fault." Sadie was right. If blaming others wasn't going to lessen his guilt, he may as well stop.

"How about Sandburg?"

"I'm still trying to reach him." He pulled the scrap of paper out of his pocket. "This is where he's supposed to be, but he's with a group of other students and they're driving down, so who knows when they'll get there. You're welcome to keep trying."

"Were they driving a university vehicle?" Brown asked. Simon shrugged. "It's okay, captain. We'll find Sandburg. You just concentrate on Ellison."

"Thanks, gentlemen. Jim's going to get worse before he gets better and I know he really wants his partner here."

"Don't worry, captain. We'll find him," Rafe said and followed his partner down the hall.

"So he's going to get worse?" Joel asked as he motioned for Simon to sit. His friend nodded. "What does that mean? We're not talking about death, are we?"

"A possibility," Simon replied bleakly. "But if he survives the next seven or eight hours, he should be okay."

"Then we'll just have to make sure he does."

"From your mouth to God's ear, Joel."

Joel shrugged. "He's listened before, Simon."

Thirty minutes later, Dr. Cuthbertson walked into the lounge. "He's stable, captain. You can go back in when you're ready."

"What happened?"

"His blood pressure took a nosedive. But as I said, we got him stabilized and we're ready for whatever comes next."

Simon looked at Joel. "Go on, Simon. I'll wait here for a while, see what Rafe and Brown come up with. If you need a break, just send someone for me. I'll sit with Jim for a while."

"Thanks, man. I may just take you up on that."

"I'm sorry about unplugging the machine, doctor," Simon apologized as they walked back to Jim's room.

"No, captain, I'm the one who should be apologizing. I knew better than to have the audible alarms set on those monitors. Mr. Sandburg made sure I knew the detective couldn't tolerate loud noises, especially when he was sick. I just forgot."

And Sandburg wasn't around to tell you. And I'm useless. Strike two, Banks. He stopped in the doorway. "There are more machines."

The doctor nodded. "Fluid has started to build up in his lungs. We had to put in a catheter to drain them. We've also got him started on oxygen."

They had turned Jim into a human pincushion. But the man looked in no condition to mind. "Is he merely sleeping or unconscious again?"

"He lost consciousness as his blood pressure dropped. But we have a brain wave activity monitor and it assures us he hasn't reached coma stage yet."

Simon knew she was trying to be helpful, but each word she spoke was like a nail being driven into his gut. "If you've turned off the alarms, how will you know when a crisis sets in?"

"It's okay, captain. There are a bank of lights at the desk. They will go from green to red."

"Thank you for the update, doctor."

She smiled and wished the families of all her patients were so nice. "You're welcome. I'll be back to check on him in about an hour."

When she left Simon sat and resumed his vigil. A picture of how Jim had been, curled up with his hands over his ears, flashed in his mind. Damn. It was so reminiscent of how Jim had been when they had found him in the psychiatric hospital. Tortured and starved for six weeks, Jim had lost control of his extraordinary talents and had been totally overwhelmed by the slightest sensory input. He said a silent prayer that Sandburg hadn't witnessed this latest re-creation of that. Kid probably would have lost it.

He must have drifted off because the next thing he was aware of was a nurse gently shaking his shoulder. "Sorry to disturb you, sir, but you have a phone call."

Mumbling an apology for falling asleep, which the nurse shrugged off, he followed her out to the desk. "Banks," he said into the receiver she offered.

"Simon, it's me, Blair."

Chapter Four

Blair Sandburg was not a happy camper. The Suburban the university had given them for the trip had been nothing but trouble. It had stalled twice before they got out of Cascade, then when they stopped at a shop on the highway for lunch it had refused to start. Two hours later they were finally on the road again. Five hours later, they were on the side of the road with a flat tire. Now, just as they crossed the border into Wyoming, a state trooper was behind them flashing his lights.

"Man, I wasn't even speeding," the driver said to his friends as he obediently pulled over.

"Good thing Alan wasn't driving," one of the two women grads said. "He'd give the guys at Indy a run for their money." Alan gave her the finger.

"Knowing this vehicle, and I use the term loosely," Blair said, "we're probably missing a taillight or the muffler fell off." He hit the guy beside him who was curled up on the seat. "Sit up, Wilson. Cops don't like it when they can't see everyone in a vehicle."

"And you would know, wouldn't you, Officer Sandburg," somebody said. Blair didn't react. Most of these people he didn't know and what they thought of what he did in his spare time, didn't matter to him.

"Evening, officer," the driver said politely.

"Are you from Rainier University?" The carload of students looked at each other in confusion and nodded. "Is there a Blair Sandburg here?"

All eyes fell on him. Even if he'd thought about not answering, he was out of luck. "I'm Blair Sandburg."

"Sir, the Cascade P.D. has asked me to escort you to the airport to expedite your return to Cascade."

Blair frowned, then he gasped. Cascade P.D. That meant only one thing. "Hey, Blair, you look pale, man. What's going on?" the driver asked as Blair bent over the back seat and began shoving supplies around to get to his bag.

"Something's happened to Jim," he mumbled and grabbed his gear.

"Who's Jim?"

"His police partner," the driver said. He was Blair's friend who had asked him to go on the trip.

"Sorry to bail on you," Blair said belatedly as he climbed out of the Suburban.

"Babies get born. Partners get hurt. Shit happens, man."

Blair was surprised when the trooper opened the front door for him. Even when acting as mere passengers, civilians rode in the back. "I heard your friends. So you're a cop, huh? I figured as much when I got the call to be on the lookout for you. I'm Andy Hoest."

"You don't have any details about what's going on?" Blair asked, not disclosing he wasn't a real member of the police force. It wasn't his fault the trooper had gotten the wrong impression.

"I'll call in and check." He talked to the dispatcher for a few minutes. "They have a number and are going to patch the call through." Hoest handed him the transmitter.

"Cascade General, ICU Main Desk. May I help you?"

Blair swallowed hard."Yes, may I speak to Captain Simon Banks?"

"Just a minute, sir."

ICU? Well, that meant Jim was alive, didn't it? He heard the familiar rumbling of the captain's voice. "Simon, it's me, Blair."

"Where are you, Sandburg?"

"In the company of a Wyoming State Trooper who's taking me to the airport."

Simon's relief was evident even through the static-filled connection. "Good. You need to come home."

"What's happened to Jim, captain?"

There was a pause. "He was poisoned." Blair poised to ask more questions, but Simon cut him off. "He's alive. That's all you need to know until you get here." The connection went dead. Simon was right. That is all I need to know.

"Sorry about your partner," Hoest said, having heard the conversation and knowing what his fellow officer must be going through. "You don't look like a uniform. Vice or Narcotics?" he asked, thinking the long hair was a dead giveaway.

"Major Crimes," Blair replied distractedly, wondering if the airport had a flight to Cascade and how long he would have to wait for it. Of course, there was also the problem of paying for a ticket.

"No shit! We're talking the elite of the elite. You must be a hell of a detective," Hoest said in awe.

Blair shook his head. "My partner is the best. I just follow his lead."

"Were you working on something big?"

"No, or I wouldn't have left. Damn it. I haven't been gone a day," Blair mused aloud. "I'm supposed to get into trouble that fast, not him. What the hell happened?" Knowing Jim was alive was enough to keep him from falling apart before he reached Cascade, but he really wished Simon had been more forthcoming. Was the poisoning deliberate or accidental? Jim could react strongly to the most benign of substances. He was always careful to scan the ingredients of foods he fed his partner and anything Jim bought at a clothing store had to be washed before it was worn in order to set the dye and remove the starch. And dry cleaning was such a hassle that it had been a year since either of them had bought something that had the "Dry Clean Only" label. Any dry cleaned item had to be picked up on a day when it wasn't raining in Cascade because it had to hang out on the balcony at least two days before Jim could tolerate the smell. If Jim was supposed to wear it, better make that four days.

Lost in his thoughts, Blair didn't notice they were at the airport until a jet thundered overhead. Hoest pulled up into the Police Only space. "Thanks, man. If you ever need assistance from the Cascade P.D., just give us a call."

Hoest held out his hand. "Hope your partner's okay. Take care, detective."

Blair watched him drive away, then hoisted his bag. Where to now?

"Blair Sandburg?" Airport Security pulled up in a golf cart. "There's a flight waiting for you, sir. If you'll just climb aboard."

If Blair hadn't been so worried about Jim perhaps he would have appreciated the "star" treatment he received as he was whisked through the small airport and ushered into the first class section of the jet bound for Cascade. But despite the warm, friendly smiles of the female flight attendants and the curious, interested stares of two lovely passengers, all Blair could focus on was the picture of Jim in ICU with miles of tubing and wiring connecting him to machines that hopefully would keep him alive until his Guide reached home.


"You look like hell, captain."

Simon slowly got to his feet as Dr. Cuthbertson and her nurse came in for the hourly readings of Jim's monitors. "I guess it would be ungentlemanly of me to say so do you."

The doctor gave him a tired smile. "Ungentlemanly, but truthful." She glanced at Jim's brain wave activity. "Looks like he's about to regain consciousness again. Maybe it will last longer this time."

Jim had come to briefly following Simon's conversation with Sandburg and he'd told the detective of his partner's imminent arrival. Jim had seemed pleased but had passed out soon after. "I'll be in the lounge," Simon said, as he had every time the doctor arrived to examine Jim. Despite his designation as captain/watcher/friend, it just seemed an invasion of privacy to stay.

He made it as far as the corridor before stopping and leaning back against the wall. He didn't feel like facing the guys in the lounge and telling them once again that nothing had changed. Joel would pat his shoulder and tell him everything would be okay. Brown and Rafe were staked out at the airport waiting for Sandburg, but there was always at least a couple other officers there keeping Joel company and reporting back to the station. They would look at him eagerly, then he would shake his head, and everyone would pretend that they weren't disappointed. He was just tired of the damn cycle.

"Detective, no!"

The doctor's yell got his attention quickly. He ran back into the room and found Jim out of bed and violently shaking the nurse. "Let her go, Jim!" Simon commanded.

"You've taken Sandburg and I want him back!" Jim growled. "Give him back!" The poor nurse was too terrified to scream.

Simon grabbed Jim from behind and pinned his arms to his side, forcing him to release the nurse. Jim countered the move and his elbow smashed into Simon's face, shattering the glasses. Simon cursed but didn't let go as Jim struggled to free himself of the bear hug. The doctor checked on the nurse, then called for a sedative.

It took Simon a moment to realize he was no longer restraining Jim but supporting him. As quickly as the frenzied energy had appeared, it dissipated leaving the man in his arms limp and breathing heavily. The captain lowered his friend to the bed, ignoring his own pain. "It's going to be okay, Jim," he said softly, knowing the Sentinel could hear him.

"They took him, Simon. I let them take him," Jim said sadly. "I failed him. I was too weak to save Blair. I was always too weak."

Simon felt wetness hit the hand that was placed firmly in the center of Jim's chest, keeping him upright. God, the man was crying. That was worse than the attack. "Jim," he whispered hastily, "they don't have him. I do. I knew there was danger, Jim, so I put him in a safe place. Remember, that's my job."

The sad blue eyes searched his face. "You have him, Simon?" Jim asked hopefully.

"Yeah, I do, Jim. He's driving me up the wall, but he's safe."

"Can I see him?"

"I'll bring him to you when the time is right, okay? For the moment, however, you have to get back into bed. You have to get well so you can protect him. I'm tired of doing it alone, okay, Sentinel?" Jim meekly nodded and obediently lay down.

"Nice job, captain," Dr. Cuthbertson said, pocketing the syringe she held. "I didn't want to suppress his system even further with a drug. I'll order restraints in case--"

"No!" Simon said forcefully. Another image of Jim in Indiana. "No, that won't be necessary. I'll be here from now on. I can keep him under control."

"If you're sure," the doctor said hesitantly.

"I'm sure."

She nodded to the medical staff standing in the doorway. "Let's get the detective hooked back up and see what the situation is."

Jim didn't lose consciousness but made no protest as he was poked, prodded, stuck, rolled over, and examined from head to toe. When everything was back to the way it was and no one was left in the room but the doctor, Jim turned toward Simon and held out his hand. "The Guide is safe, Watcher?"

Simon took the offered hand. "The Guide is safe, Sentinel."

"I need to rest now. The watch is yours."

"It always is, Jim-- and the watch is not just for the Guide." The Sentinel smiled and closed his eyes.

"Captain, when I told you earlier you looked like hell, I didn't know what I was talking about," Dr. Cuthbertson admitted as she grabbed some bandages and approached him. "Because if that was hell, you're in a far worse place now." She gently cleaned the cut just below his eye where the metal frames had lacerated the skin. Thankfully the plastic lenses hadn't scratched the eye itself. She arranged a few butterfly bandages and declared him fit for whatever duty the detective had assigned him to. "Don't try to explain, captain," she said, when he opened his mouth. "All that matters is that my patient is about to fight for his life and he knows that he isn't fighting alone."

"You mean...?"

She nodded. "His delirium has precipitated the crisis point. If he makes it through the next hour, he'll be fine."

"What should I do?" Simon asked anxiously.

She looked at the hands which were still linked. "Exactly what you're doing, captain. I'll check on you in a few minutes, okay?"

Simon looked at the indicators on the monitors and visibly saw them dropping. Where the hell are you, Sandburg?

Chapter Five

Blair was convinced the world had conspired to keep him away from Jim. There had been a two hour delay in Wyoming where the plane had sat on the runway waiting for a sudden, dense mountain fog to lift. Then when the plane finally reached Cascade a thunderstorm kept them from landing for nearly another hour. By the time Brown and Rafe had him stashed in the back of the car, he was almost at his wit's end.

The detectives were uncharacteristically quiet on the way to the hospital and Blair figured that meant Jim's situation was dire. Afraid to hear the answers to his questions, he too remained silent as the three rode the elevator to ICU. The two cops joined their compatriots in the lounge while Blair went directly to the nurses' station. When Blair gave the duty nurse his name, she didn't hesitate in telling him where to find Jim. Another bad sign, so he thought.

But when he cautiously peeked through the door, he was in for a surprise. Blue eyes, which already knew of his arrival, met his as did a matching grin. He started to express his relief when Jim tapped his finger against his mouth in the universal sign of shush. Curious, Blair opened the door all the way and saw Simon sprawled in a chair beside the bed, his head back and soft snores blending in with the hum of the equipment.

"About time you got here," Jim whispered as Blair tiptoed in and sat on the corner of the bed.

"I swear, Jim, I don't think I was meant to get here. It was like some kind of test, man," Blair said as he carefully lowered his backpack to the floor.

"I think it was a test," Jim said, nodding in Simon's direction.

Blair took in the amount of equipment surrounding the bed, some still active and others now silent and awaiting removal. "What happened to you, Jim? Simon wouldn't tell me anything on the phone."

"You know how when you were a little kid your mom warned you about splashing in puddles?"

Blair shook his head. "Actually, Naomi didn't want to stifle my sense of adventure." Jim rolled his eyes. No wonder the kid had no discipline. "But I understand what you mean."

"Well, I should have listened. My puddle was contaminated with ethylene chlorohydrin. I absorbed it right through my shoes and socks."

"And you were playing in puddles because?"

"I was chasing a suspect with Brown."

Figures. Also explains Brown and Rafe's silences. He touched the bandage on his friend's temple. "Did the suspect do that?"

"No. I passed out in the loft and hit my head on the coffee table."

Blair winced, then paled. Jim had been there all alone. "You could have been there all night before you were missed," he said in horror.

Jim smiled and shook his head. "We have a Watcher on duty, remember? Something didn't feel right to Simon and he came over and found me."

Blair glanced over at the sleeping man and frowned at the bandages on his face. Apparently he'd missed a lot in a few hours. "Did he run into the coffee table too?" Next time they bought furniture, it was all going to be round with padded edges.

"I hit him, Chief," Jim admitted shamefully. "I apparently got delirious and thought someone had taken you. I ... attacked a nurse. Simon tried to calm me down and I elbowed him in the eye. I owe him a new pair of glasses among other things." Guilt ate at him. "Even after I drew blood, Chief, he didn't leave. Every time I opened my eyes he was there. I finally recovered enough that Dr. C. came in to say her goodbyes and I still couldn't get Simon to leave. He said he wanted to keep the seat warm for you, Chief."

Blair put together the missing pieces of the night: how close Jim must have come to dying, how Simon was there urging him to hang in there, encouraging him that there would be a dawn... Blair knew these things because he'd been on both sides of the situation; giving the encouragement and receiving it. Hope was the most important part of such a recovery. "He did much more than that, Jim. So much more. If this was a test, he passed, Jim."

"We're in total agreement, Chief. By the way, welcome home."

Blair clasped the hand, warm and tanned against the white blanket. "Wouldn't want to be anywhere else."


Jim watched Rafe and Brown come out of Simon's office with a manila folder and knew that another case had been assigned... and not to him. He'd been out of the hospital a week and working full-time for three days and he didn't have a single new case pending. He was not a happy man.

He turned his head toward the door and waited for his partner who had just gotten off the elevator. It would be best if they both confronted the captain because Jim was almost certain that his lack of cases had less to do with his skills as a cop and more with Simon's position as the Watcher.

"He did it again, Chief," Jim said when his partner walked in. They had discussed the situation at home and had decided that enough was enough.

"Let's do it then."

Jim rapped on the captain's door. "Can we see you for a minute, sir?"

Reluctantly, Simon motioned them in. "What can I do for you, gentlemen?"

"Tell us why you haven't assigned us any cases." Jim knew Simon preferred blunt honesty to hedging and game-playing.

"Dr. Cuthbertson said you should take it easy."

"But she didn't say I couldn't work." Jim looked at his friend. "What's going on, Simon? This isn't the first time I've come back to work after a medical leave and it probably won't be the last. My desk is usually covered in files you saved just for my return. Why the change?"

Blair had been silent through the exchange, watching the captain as he spoke with Jim. And he saw the shadow of something very familiar cross Simon's face. "It's guilt, Jim. Simon feels guilty."

Jim shifted his gaze between his partner and his captain. "Guilty about what? Simon, explain," he demanded.

Simon debated whether to pretend he didn't know what Sandburg was talking about, snatching the Guide's observer status, or just coming clean. The kid was just too bright for everyone's own good. "I told you I would be your Watcher and at the first chance I got, I ducked the responsibility. It almost got you killed, Jim. I'm sorry."

Jim frowned. "What am I missing, Simon? Wasn't it you who kicked down the door and got my ass to the hospital? Wasn't it you that I assaulted but stayed by my side anyway? Wasn't it you who talked me out of my delirium by telling me Sandburg was safe and in your care? When did you duck responsibility, sir?"

Simon wasn't comfortable with failure and failure in respect to his hoo-doo, voo-doo job as Watcher was really, really uncomfortable. "I shouldn't have let you leave that day, Jim. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't want to face it. I sat right here at this desk for at least an hour after you left, trying to ignore the warnings I felt. I even left here planning to dismiss the thought that you were in some kind of danger."

"But you didn't ignore it, Simon," Blair pointed out. "You went to the loft and you saved him."

"Sure. After he fell and hit his head. After he'd been exposed to the poison an hour longer than he should have been."

Jim started to comment, but Blair shushed him. "I hate to tell you this, partner, but you're not exactly the person to be lecturing someone on guilt-- unless you're giving him pointers." Jim looked offended, but remained quiet. "There's a quote I want you to hear, Simon. 'Our duty is to be useful, not according to our desires but according to our powers.' We desire to have hindsight and to have every decision we make be the right one. We even desire at times to have control over life and death. But none of that, captain, is within the powers we are given. We have limitations, human ones, and spiritual ones. Our duties, the ones we gladly embrace and the ones that are thrust upon us, are to be served with those limitations in mind. Guilt serves no one, Simon. It just gets in our way."

Simon looked at the man he called "the kid" in wonder. Sometimes Sandburg was so smart, he was scary. No wonder Jim was so often in awe of him, and so proud of his roommate. Speaking of Jim... "Your partner buy into this?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Guilt is not just a hobby for Jim, but a way of life. I was hoping, captain, that you were a much more reasonable human being."

"That's right, Sandburg, suck up to the boss," Jim muttered peevishly. Just because he couldn't be responsible for certain things, didn't mean he wasn't responsible.

"Jim, I haven't survived in the halls of higher learning for over a decade without learning certain skills," Blair rejoined good-naturedly. "So how about it, Captain Banks? Do you understand what the quote is saying?"

"In part it means that I can only do what I have the ability to do," Simon summarized. "But it also means that I must do what is within my abilities as well. Therefore, I do have a right to feel guilty because I didn't listen to what the Watcher in me was saying. But now that I have confessed, the feeling is null and void."

Blair grinned. Gee, Simon twisted words and ideas even better than Jim did. At least the conclusion he reached was the one he was supposed to: no more guilt. "Come on, Jim. I think our job here is done."

"Not quite," Simon said, going over to open the door to the bullpen. "Rafe, bring me those last two files I gave you. Dalton, you haven't touched the Miller file or the Cascade Arms one, have you? Drop them on Ellison's desk as you go by. Carter, aren't there a couple you want to give up?"

Jim watched his fellow detectives gleefully drop folders on his desk, even Brown, who had let go of his guilt when he'd handed Jim a gift certificate to a shoe store at the mall. Jim probably wouldn't have accepted it but buying Simon a new pair of glasses had him running a bit short. Of course, Simon wasn't exactly flush since he'd paid for a new door at the loft. Damn, this had been an expensive little accident. Sandburg was lucky to have been out of town for most of it.

And now it was going to be expensive time-wise. What the hell had he been thinking, complaining about a lack of cases? Maybe he was just trying to be useful, he thought, remembering the quote. Solving crimes was his duty and well within his powers, cop and Sentinel both. He looked at the two contrasting men who flanked him on the right and the left, and knew they too were part of his duty-- and realized they were not only the most important part, but the best as well.

With a grin that was in direct contrast with his overflowing inbox, Jim Ellison went to work.


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