Home > Kris Williams > A Test

by Kristine Williams

Part 2

Blair pushed through the ferns and evergreen branches till he found an animal trail that would make the going easier. It was nearly impossible to walk through Northwest woods without some type of trail. The deer path proved just wide enough, and led him up the side of the small mountain they were camped near. He followed the trail until he came to a clearing that overlooked the river. He could see Jim standing in the middle of it, tossing yet another fish to the growing pile on the bank. There was a stump near the edge so Blair took a seat, easing himself down so as not to aggravate his throbbing side, and pulled the notebook from his back pocket.

During the drive out, he had been racking his brain about the little 'incident' of that morning. He had gone through, in minute detail, everything that had happened, trying to find something that could have affected Jim that way. It had to be something new, something that didn't happen every day, he was sure. But what? He had joked about the eggs, but Jim had made breakfast before, hadn't he? There was no food in the kitchen that hadn't been there before. No new plant, nothing Blair had brought out the week before to test Jim's abilities that he hadn't been exposed to before. He mentally walked himself through the morning for the millionth time, eyes closed, breathing controlled.

Eggs, coffee, he came out of his room. Jim was in a fine mood then, happy. He went into the bathroom. Nothing new in there, no aftershave or cologne, neither man used them. He could hear Jim in the kitchen, smelled the coffee, the weather report was on the radio in the living room. Then whammo.

"Nothing." He said aloud. Nothing there that hadn't been there a hundred times before. "Come on think, Sandburg, think." He knew it was there, staring him in the face, but what? "Ok, it had to be something...a smell, a taste...something. Something that had a subliminal effect, flashing on his subconscious, making him react in a violent way, and leaving no trace afterwards." He shook his head in frustration. "Yeah, maybe the eggs suddenly spelled out 'go kick the crap of Blair'" He ran a hand through his hair, glancing back down to Jim in the river. His friend was standing there, looking up at him. "Oh shit." He knew then that he had been thinking out loud again, and his Sentinel friend had most likely heard every word.

"Jim..." He started to apologize, but he saw Jim turn away, and cast his line again. Blair understood when it was time to leave well enough alone. Sometimes he even could. This was going to have to be one of those times, for now. It hadn't taken him long to learn Jim's emotional boundaries. It was pretty black and white with the older man. Happy and mad were his best emotions. Blair was prone to expressing himself. He knew Jim didn't like that, so he tried to stay more evenly keeled in his presence. He knew he wasn't good at it, he knew his face was an open book compared to his friend's. But he had learned to read body language, and more importantly, to respond to Jim's body language. "We'll get this." he said quietly.

Four hours later found both men sitting at the fire enjoying the catch of the day.

"I still say it's cheating." Blair chided, turning the fish over in the pan. "Where's the challenge in fishing if you know where they are?"

Jim laughed, "Admit it Sandburg, you're jealous."

Blair was, and he knew it. He had been jealous of Jim's Sentinel abilities from the day he met him, but he tried not let himself think about that. "I'm not jealous, I'm disgusted that you would ruin 'the fine art of fishing' as you love to put it, buy cheating."

Jim shook his head, smiling, and continued to eat his fish.

"Fine," Blair said, setting the pan down. "Just great." He sat down across the fire from Jim and began to eat.

"I want to take a hike up that ridge tomorrow, feel up to it?" Jim asked, his voice self consciously lowering at the end of the sentence.

"Yeah, sounds great."

"Toss me the radio, I wanna check the weather."

Blair tossed the radio over, then clutched his aching side, cursing his stupidity. Luckily the fire had flared up that same instant, and he didn't think Jim saw his movements. His side hurt, more than it should, he thought. It had taken him twice as long to come down that deer trail than to go up. Each time his right foot touched the ground it sent a stabbing pain through his injured side. Twice he had to stop to rest, and once he even considered calling out to Jim for help, but he hadn't.

He closed his eyes for a moment, willing the pain to stop, while he listened to the weather channel Jim had found. A thought flashed across his mind that he couldn't suppress. Sitting right across from him was a man he considered his friend. Ok, so they didn't exactly see eye to eye all the time, and not just because he had to look up just to meet Jim's eyes. But they shared something. At least, he hoped they did. Sometimes Jim was too hard to read, and it left him feeling unsure about their relationship. Unsure if there even was one. But no matter what Jim thought of him, he still liked and respected the man, Sentinel abilities not withstanding. He liked to think they were friends even outside the research, like today. Except for this morning. Which made him realize, as much as he hated to admit it, if he couldn't find out what had caused this morning's 'problem', if he couldn't prevent it from happening again, the man he was sharing fish with tonight could flip him like a pancake. He knew there was nothing he could do physically against Jim. And he was scared. Just for a moment, for the second time that day, he was scared.

"Sounds good" Jim said, startling Blair out of his thoughts.


"The weather, Chief." Jim shut the radio off and tossed it down. "Sounds good." He stood and stretched. "In fact, I think I'll sleep outside tonight, under the stars. You can have tent to yourself."

Before Blair could comment, Jim walked away, indicating his need to find 'the tree'. The relief Blair felt made him angry. He couldn't keep this up, he couldn't go through another day with this fear/guilt/helplessness. But he couldn't argue the matter tonight. He was too tired, too sore. Before Jim returned he retreated into the tent, noticing then that his was the only sleeping bag inside. So, he wasn't the only one struggling that night. He sighed, too tired to think anymore, and stripped off his shirt. It was then he saw that what had started out as a slowly yellowing bruise across his right side had become a blackish purple welt covering two ribs.

He heard Jim's return and as quickly as he could, put his sweatshirt on, not wanting his friend to see the bruise and not wanting to see it again himself. Jim didn't enter the tent, but set about making the bed of the truck comfortable. Blair settled in on top of his sleeping bag, warm in his sweats, and used the bag as padding between his ribs and the ground.

"We'll get this, Jim." He said quietly. He heard the rustling outside stop for a moment, then resume. He knew that was all the acknowledgment he would get, but it was more than he expected. We'll get this.

Somehow, with the combination of stress, fresh air, and extra padding of the sleeping bag, Blair fell asleep. Waking up was another matter. Or rather, getting up. He heard the unmistakable sound of rain hitting the tent and nearly started to laugh. It took several tries for him to get to a sitting position, holding his aching side, then several more before he was on his feet. He could hear Jim moving around outside, muttering to himself, and cursing occasionally.

"Hey, what happened to 'Sounds good'?" Blair asked good naturedly as he exited the tent, watching Jim hurry to put clothes on against the rain.

"It's just a little morning dew." Jim replied, disgustedly. "Turn the radio on, see if this is going to clear up. I don't want to loose the entire weekend."

Blair laughed lightly "Morning dew doesn't fall." he said, laughing again at the look Jim shot him. "Okay, okay, Great Weather God, I'll turn on the radio." He was still chuckling, watching Jim try to locate dry clothes.

"Real funny, Chief." He said. "You may enjoy getting soaked in the woods, but I've had my fill of that kind of fun."

Blair set the radio on the hood of the truck and turned up the volume, then set out for the woods to relieve himself. He could hear the news as the sound carried through the clear forest air, over the pattering of the rain on leaves. The weather was on next, he knew, and Jim would either calm down, or they'd be packing up and driving home. He didn't mind rain, even liked it. But Jim hated camping in it, hated how everything got soaked, and stayed soaked, long after you got home.

As he neared the truck the news ended. Jim stopped what he was doing to listen for the weather as Blair approached from the other side of the truck.

"This station is conducting a test. For the next 60 seconds there will be a test of the emergency broadcast system...." the announcer began.

"Oh my God!" Blair exclaimed. "That's it!" Seemingly in the same instant he realized his discovery, he also realized the consequences.

As Blair ran for the radio, the world slowed around him. He was vaguely aware of the questioning look on Jim's face,

"This is..."

The radio was perched on the opposite side of the hood. He knew he would have to make a lunge if he was to shut it off in time.

"Only a..."

He propelled himself over the truck, making a grab for the radio, but his foot had slipped on a damp rock, and he slammed into the truck. Pain shot through his right side like a knife. Black spots flashed across his vision as he struggled to reach the radio, but his impact with the truck had caused it to slip. Slowly, dream-like, it fell out of view, over the hood of the truck.



"Sandburg. Blair, answer me, dammit."

Blair's ears were ringing, he thought he heard a voice.

"Come on, Chief, talk to me."

He opened his eyes...someone was standing over him. He could feel rocks digging into his back. Cold, wet rocks. He wanted to roll over and go back to sleep, but when he tried to move, hands held him down, pushing him back to the rocks.

"No, Blair, lie still."

Jim. It was Jim, kneeling beside him, holding him down. "What..?" He struggled again, tried to lift his head.

"I said lie still, Sandburg. You're hurt." Jim replied, pushing him back down gently but firmly. "You slammed into the truck." Jim was saying.

Suddenly Blair was awake. He remembered. "Jim, the radio...what happened? Did it happen again?" He was trying to sit up again, but a sudden blinding pain shot through his side and he gasped.

Jim forced him down, placing his jacket under Blair's head. "No, Chief, nothing happened." he replied. "You made some crazy mad dash, slammed into the truck and collapsed." He put both hands on the younger man's head and looked into his eyes. Satisfied with what he saw, he let go. "Two of your ribs are cracked." he said gruffly.

Blair blinked, still trying to clear his head of the buzzing. "How do you..."

"I can feel them." was Jim's curt reply. He looked away quickly, seemed to start to say more, then stopped.

"Jim, it was the radio." Blair said, trying to help them both through an awkward moment. "The emergency test pattern. You know, that high pitched..."

"I know what it is, Sandburg." Jim interrupted. "What does that have to do with it?"

Blair tried to sit up again, he never could sit still, but Jim held him down. "Don't you see, the test pattern, that's the stimuli. That's what caused you to...loose control." There, he said it. Sort of.

"That can't be." Jim was shaking his head, "I've heard that before, everyone has."

"Yeah, sure, we all have, a million times." His enthusiasm was taking hold again and he tried to force Jim's hands away. "But how many of us can say exactly when the last time was that we heard it? It's a sound we all know, and despise, but you don't hear it every day."

Jim was shaking his head, still holding his friend down.

"Yes, Jim, that IS it." Blair tried his reasoning voice again, but it was more to keep himself from having to breathe too deeply than to convince his skeptical friend. "Listen, you hate the radio. You think music stopped with Santana. Think about it, if it's not a tape, or cd, you only turn on the radio for news, or the weather." He could see he was making some progress, Jim was listening. "That means your chances of hearing that one particular sound is less than most. The radio was on in the loft, I was in the bathroom. They must have run the test, and the tonal quality, or pitch, or something about that sound effected your subconscious. Like a...like a dog whistle, or something"

"Oh great. That's just great, Sandburg. A dog whistle." Jim released his grip on Blair's shoulders and looked up to the grey sky in disbelief.

"Yes, Jim, a dog whistle." Blair was free to sit up now, but the pain hadn't stopped so he didn't try again. "You know there are sounds that we can't hear, just like there are colors in the light spectrum that we can't see. You can hear some of them that the rest of us can't, but even you can't hear them all. Not consciously. But your brain did, your subconscious did, and it reacted in some sort of instinctual way. With your heightened senses, your subconscious level must also be heightened."

"But why that way?" Jim demanded. "And what do we do about it?"

"Well, first, can we get into the truck or something? I'm getting soaked here."

"I should call the Rangers, get a helicopter in here." Jim started to look for the cell phone.

"Forget it, you'll never get out on that in this canyon. It's not like I'm bleeding to death or anything." Blair said. "Just help me up."

He had to hold his breath as the taller man lifted him to his feet in one quick motion. Slowly, they walked around the truck to the passenger side. That's when Blair saw the radio. It had smashed apart on a rock, presumably after Blair had slammed into the truck. "Sorry about the radio, man." he said.

Jim started to chuckle, "Right."

He eased himself into the seat, leaning back as a wave of dizziness hit. Jim's hands were on his shoulders again,

"I know, Chief." he said, "It hurts, I know. I'm gonna get the truck packed, and we'll have to take that logging road slow, but I'll get you to a hospital" He gave Blair's shoulders a gentle squeeze, then set about packing up their gear.

Blair had to sit quietly for several minutes, trying to control his breathing, trying to calm the stabbing pain in his side, but all the while feeling greatly relived with his fortunate, albeit painful, discovery. As Jim set the last of the gear into the truck he turned around, trying to see his friend,

"Hey," he asked.

"What?" Jim had been strapping the unused canoe down.

Blair leaned back into the seat again, closing his eyes. "You said I had two cracked ribs, you really felt them?"

"I felt them, Chief." Was Jim's response. He waved the fingers of his left hand, "I felt them."

"Oh gross." Blair replied, trying not to picture the damaged bones under bruised flesh.

"Yeah." Jim agreed as he climbed into the driver's seat, "Gross."

The drive back to pavement seemed to last weeks. Jim knew it was only an hour, but he also knew every bump, pothole, rock and rut was agony to his friend. An agony that he was the direct cause of. He was sure Blair's ribs must have already been cracked, by none other than himself, before they left home. He should have taken him to a doctor that morning. Hell, he never should have hurt him in the first place, but he had. Guilt had kept him awake all night. Guilt and fear had kept him from noticing the rain had started. When Blair cried out, then ran towards him, his blood ran cold, thinking he had done it again. He hadn't seen the radio fall and smash apart on the rock. He had only seen Blair, and a strange look of panic on his face before he hit the truck and fell to the ground. Fell and didn't move.

That guilt blossomed and threatened to overcome him when he pulled up Blair's shirt and saw the blackish bruise. He was shaking when he ran Sentinel-sensitive fingers over Blair's side, feeling clearly the cracks in two of his ribs. Finally they hit paved road again and Jim pushed the accelerator. He listened intently to Blair's breathing, the slow, deliberate pattern that he had tried to accomplish himself the other morning. He glanced over at the younger man,

"Hang in there, Sandburg." He said, reaching a hand over to lightly touch his arm.

"I'm okay." Blair replied without opening his eyes or raising his head.

Jim spared his friend one more worried glance, then concentrated on the wet road, driving as fast as he dared in the damp conditions. He wanted to say something. He wasn't sure what, but something to reassure himself and his friend that everything was still all right between them. Their relationship, their partnership, he had always felt in control of. Blair lived in his house, followed him to work, worked on helping him with his senses. He always figured if the time came and he wanted to be alone, he could tell Blair to leave. But after this, after what he had done, whether consciously or not....He half expected Blair to pack up and leave. He feared it.

But he hadn't, not right away. Jim tried to reassure himself. He had stayed, even insisted they still go on this trip. Damn him, even being brutally attacked by his own partner wasn't a catastrophe, it was a challenge. A research possibility. That thought made Jim feel all the more guilty, for his selfishness. His inability to even apologize.

In his blackening mood, Jim nearly passed the hospital.

"Blair, we're here." He said, braking as quickly but gently as he could. Blair had raised his head then, opening his eyes for the first time in three hours.

Jim pulled the truck right up to the doors of the emergency entrance and jumped out, motioning to an approaching nurse for help. "Okay Chief, easy now." He opened the passenger side door, taking his friend by the arm and all but lifting him from the truck. "Nurse! I need some help out here."

"Jim, take it easy." Blair chided him.

"Okay, what have we here?" The nurse approached, motioning to the orderly behind her to bring a wheelchair.

"This man is hurt," Jim was saying as he half helped, half carried Blair to the wheelchair being brought out. "His ribs."

The nurse nodded and helped Blair into the chair, "Okay, come with me." She took the chair and started into the emergency room, Jim close behind. "You can go to the desk, right over there." she said, indicating Jim should stop at the desk where an admitting nurse stood. "I have a doctor available now, you'll be informed when he's through." Before he could protest, she had wheeled Blair down a short hallway, into a room, and closed the door.

Jim busied himself with paperwork, admitting Blair. He paused when it came time to explain the nature of the injury. He hated lying, but he certainly couldn't tell the truth. Accident, camping. There, that should be enough. What Blair might tell the doctor, he didn't know. But that was enough for him.

When he had finished, the nurse told him to take a seat, but Jim couldn't sit still. He paced the small waiting area, restlessly. Blair would be all right, he knew. Physically, young healthy men did not die from cracked ribs. But he wouldn't relax until they were home. Until Blair was home, explaining what had been happening, and what he planned to do about it. He tried to hear what was being said in that exam room, but he couldn't seem to block out all the other sounds around him like he had been taught. Vaguely he knew eavesdropping on any conversation between doctor and patient would be wrong, but since he couldn't seem to concentrate he felt the impropriety of trying was a mute point. He had just turned for another go 'round the room when a doctor approached.

"You're the man who brought in Mr. Sandburg?" He asked.

Jim nodded, "Doc, how is he?"

The doctor motioned Jim to follow him down the hallway and into a small office, placing an x-ray on a tabletop viewer. "You were right about the ribs. He said you told him they were cracked. They are. Two of them." He indicated the area on the film. "Here and here."

"He's going to be okay though? No bleeding, nothing else?" Jim asked, not even looking at the screen.

"Yes, he'll be fine." the doctor replied, taking out a pad and pen. "I'd like him to spend the night, but he won't have it. He'll probably be more comfortable in his own bed anyway." He began writing out a prescription. "Will you be with him tonight?"

"Yes, yes I will." Jim replied, feeling tension drain from his body. "But if you want him here..."

"No, not that one." He handed Jim two pieces of paper. "He's determined, and I've given up with his type. When they want to go, they want to go." He stood, smiling. "Just take those down the hall, get them filled and make sure he takes them. I've given him something to make the drive home more comfortable. See that he gets plenty of rest, and sees his regular doctor in a couple of days."

"Thanks doc." Jim shook the doctor's hand, then set off for the pharmacy at the far end of the hall. After filling both prescriptions he returned, knocking for a moment on the door of the exam room before going in. Blair was being helped with his shirt by a very attractive blonde nurse, smiling as he saw Jim enter.

"Okay, you're all set." The nurse looked from Blair to Jim. "He's feeling NO pain right now, so you'll have to keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn't hurt himself."

Jim nodded, "It's straight home and to bed." He took Blair's arm and eased him into the wheelchair the nurse was holding for them.

"Jim, it's fantastic, I've got it worked out." Blair tried to turn in the chair and face Jim, who had taken the handles from the nurse and began to push his friend back to the truck.

"Great Chief, let's just get you home and talk about it there." He reached the truck, guiltily realizing he had left it parked right in front of the doors. It seemed to be a quiet afternoon, no one had asked him to move it. "Here we go." Blair swayed a little as Jim helped him into the passenger seat, reaching around to buckle him in.

"It'll work." Blair yawned. "I just need to get..." he yawned again, "a tape."

Jim had pushed the chair back into the hallway and climbed into the truck. "What'll work, Chief?" he asked. When Blair didn't answer he glanced over quickly, then smiled. His friend was fast asleep.

Blair sighed, bringing a hand up to rub tired eyes, faintly aware of the smell of coffee. Reluctantly he opened his eyes and realized he was in his bedroom back at the loft. For a moment, he wasn't sure why that surprised him. Then he felt the tight wrapping of bandages and tape around his chest, and the throbbing that explained why he had just spent several hours in one position.


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