by Kristine Williams
Jim tried to block out the pounding in his head by pressing the heels of both hands against his forehead. It had to be working, since the sound of his own breathing wasn't causing so much pain in his ears. And the beating sound was less dramatic now. Cautiously, he took a deep breath. The sensation no longer sent chills up his spine, and the sound in his nasal passages was less of a roar. Whatever had happened, seemed to be dissipating.
But what had happened? Hesitantly, Jim removed his hands and allowed his eyes to open. The light that struck them was bright white, and only dimmed after he tuned his sight down as far as he was capable. The room he was in took shape then, and he remembered something else that was no longer thundering in his ears. Something that had been so loud, so painfully loud, he'd wanted to stop it--he'd been desperate to stop it. But what was it?
Oh God! "Sandburg!" Jim's own voice echoed through his head like a cannon. He stood and had to reach out for the wall to steady himself against the violent wave of dizziness and nausea. "Blair?" He tried again, only much quieter. Still nothing. "Sandburg." Jim moved forward, then tried to open his hearing enough to direct it around the room, but too many sounds struck him hard. The scraping of insects, the wind, leaves hitting the building. He swore he could even hear the grass grow.
But no heartbeat. "Oh God!" Blair's leg was visible sticking out from behind a bin at the far end of the room. Jim hurried as best he could with the waves of dizziness and the painful pounding in his head. "Sandburg!" He fell to his knees next to his unconscious friend and clutched his shoulders, noticing the large red and black bruise on the side of his face.
Blair was awake in an instant, jumping inches into the air, fighting to get away until his eyes focused. "Jim!"
"Thank God." Jim breathed out a heavy sigh of relief, then sat back slightly, closing his eyes for a moment.
"How do you feel? Are you okay? Man, I must have fallen asleep or something." Blair tried to sit up and winced, placing a hand over his stomach.
Jim remembered then, exactly what he had done. "Take it easy. Let me have a look." He pushed the hair from Blair's face, trying to ignore the pounding in his own head so he could examine his friend. The point of impact was high on the cheek, and Blair pulled back a bit when Jim ran overly sensitive fingers over the bruise. His tactile senses were still flashing on and off a cocaine induced overdrive. At first, Jim was able to control the input; then suddenly he could feel each burst capillary and pool of spilled blood. He had to fight back a wave of nausea at the sensations.
"Jim, I'm fine." Blair was keeping his voice quiet, looking at Jim with concern. "How's the input?"
"Sporadic." Jim shook his head, flexing the fingers that had just given him more information than he wanted. They seemed to go numb for a minute, then returned to normal. His vision was doing the same, flashing brightly, then dimming. The pounding headache wasn't subsiding at all. "Let's get out of here." Jim pulled out his cell phone.
"No, wait." Blair reached out a hand, pushing the phone down. "Jim, hang on. Let me do that." Reluctantly, Jim handed the phone over. "Your ears are still overly sensitive too, aren't they?"
"Yeah, flashing off and on." Jim grimaced at the sudden input of the cell phone's power-up beep.
"Sorry, man." Blair covered the phone quickly. "Jim, we can't risk any permanent damage. Until the effects have completely worn off, we need to keep you isolated."
Jim shook his head. "I want to get you to a hospital. And we need to get forensics out here." He had to stop and close his eyes as the light level increased dramatically, then subsided. That was followed by another wave of dizziness that passed more quickly this time. Jim felt a hand on his arm and opened his eyes again to see Blair looking into his eyes intently.
"Jim, they can wait. The evidence isn't going anywhere. I'm more worried about you. It's been nearly 3 hours, and you're obviously still affected."
Jim shook his head. The motion sent his head into a painful round of increased pounding. He wanted to argue, but he had to wait until another onslaught of over-stimulation passed. At least now he was able to keep his mind on track. And he was able to concentrate, and lower the levels when they surged too high.
"I think it's passing, Chief." Jim patted the hand that Blair was still resting on his arm. "Call Simon, tell him we need a team out here, and an ambulance." He stood slowly. His caution was rewarded with a milder dizzy spell. "Where's my gun?" Jim still had to squint to prevent the light from being painfully bright.
"It's over by the tractor, under some leaves." Blair flipped the phone open. "Jim, just sit down over there and try to concentrate on turning everything down as far as you can. Use that mantra I taught you to keep your mind focused on one goal."
Jim nodded absently as he moved away from the phone call he knew would echo through his tired, sore mind. He reached the other side of the building and found a stack of crates to sit on. Just before he sat down, his foot struck something. Reaching down, he found his gun and picked it up. The carbon odor of spent powder assaulted his nose, and he remembered the two shots that had exploded inside his head with painful volume. Shots that could have killed Blair.
Jim sat down and closed his eyes, then tried to still his breathing the way his partner had been trying to teach him. Most times, he had no need for Blair's little neo-hippy methods, but as odd as they might seem, each one Jim did try, worked. Like this one. He was picturing a dimmer switch, and watching it turn down, lowering the lights to a more pleasant level. At one point, he lost his mental 'grip' on the switch, and the lights spun out of control. Jim took a deep breath, then found the switch again, and held on, turning it down. It was working. Next he tried the volume control, and after losing it twice, it too came under control.
He heard the phone clicking shut after the call; and the sound of his friend's voice no longer reverberated in Jim's ears. His sense of touch was harder. Blair had suggested once he imagine a cushion of thick air between his finger tips and the world, then let that image spread over his body, cocooning him from outside sensations that could only be felt if he pressed through it. As time passed, Jim realized his clothes no longer irritated his skin, and the feel of the night air was back to a normal level. Cautiously, with eyes still closed, he stretched out and listened to the sounds in the room. Blair's heartbeat was back, but the sound no longer sent him into a blind rage. Jim opened his eyes to see his friend, bruised and sore, standing beside him.
"Is it working?" His voice was still very quiet.
"Yeah." Jim nodded, then reached out and put a hand on Blair's arm, feeling only the normal sensation of skin on cotton. "I'm okay." He noticed the pained expression on Blair's face, and the arm held protectively over his stomach. "Let me see." Jim pulled Blair's arm away and reached down to lift his shirt.
"No, Jim, I'm fine. I'm okay." Blair's protests were interrupted by a sound they both heard. A key was placed in a lock, and the door opened, admitting two campus security officers, two uniformed officers, and Captain Banks.
"Jim, what happened?"
"Captain." Jim winced at the volume of Simon's voice. He'd just attained a balance, but Blair had been helping by keeping his own voice low. After the initial shock, he regained control. "We stumbled into the cutting room and I got blindsided." Jim had let go of Blair's shirt and now stood slowly. There was no dizzy spell this time, but he was weak and exhausted.
"Simon, he needs to get to a hospital." Blair was beside Jim, one hand now resting on his arm protectively. "He got dosed with cocaine when we came in and he's still recovering."
Simon looked worriedly from Blair to Jim. "Are you all right, Jim?"
Jim nodded, but was prevented from answering by his friend's reply.
"He was on extreme sensory overload, Captain. And I think there's still enough of that drug in this room to be affecting him." Blair was trying to usher them all out the doors that were now open to the pre-dawn air.
"Willis, get Jenkins and a forensics team out here."
Simon's order sent a stab of pain into Jim's ear as he and Blair passed the Captain on the way to the door. By the time they were outside, he had control again.
"I'm okay, Chief." Jim looked for the ambulance he'd asked for. "It's getting better."
"Yeah, Jim, but it's not gone yet." Blair turned to Simon as he approached. "Captain, Jim's senses are still picking up too much. He's even more sensitive than usual, and he can't control it yet." His voice was still low, and he gestured with one hand for Simon to keep his own voice quiet.
"I'll be okay, Simon. It's fading." Jim glanced back at the officers inside. "I didn't see who it was, but it looks like they were definitely doing the cutting and repackaging inside." He looked back at the Captain. "I need to get Sandburg to the hospital, get him checked out."
Simon glanced from Jim to Blair, noticing the bruise on his face. "I'll drive you both." He motioned toward the parking lot. "I want you checked out, Jim."
He wanted to protest, knowing full well his problem with the cocaine was more Sentinel related than a doctor would understand, but he also knew the wisdom of being checked out after that kind of exposure.
They walked to Simon's patrol car and Jim climbed into the passenger seat only after seeing Blair ease himself down in the back seat. Once inside, he rested his head against the seat and closed his eyes.
"Jim, you okay?"
"Yeah, Simon. Just trying to concentrate." He'd managed some control before the start of the engine, but the sound was still magnified. They pulled out slowly, and Simon remained silent on the way to the hospital. Jim's eyes were closed, but he could picture Blair motioning to the Captain not to talk. Just like him, always concerned with Jim's senses.
And this was the second time he'd lost control of those senses and hurt his friend. The first time, he'd had no conscious awareness or memory of the attack. This time, he did. He could still feel his mind wanting to drift and pull from thought into chaos, but with Blair's techniques he was now able to prevent that. The sound of his partner's heartbeat was once again a comfort, not a source of blind rage and auditory pain. And Jim was able to stay on one thought without sudden, violent shifts that took him from frustrated, to uncontrollably angry, then back again. Now, if he could just get this pounding headache to stop, he'd be fine.
"Jim." He opened his eyes again to find Blair standing next to the open car door, one hand on Jim's shoulder.
They were in the hospital emergency entrance parking lot, and Simon was coming around the hood of the car. Jim nodded, then got out slowly, trying not to add to his headache with any sudden movement. Blair tried to help him, but he winced suddenly and Jim waved him off.
"I'm okay, Chief." He patted Blair on the arm, then nodded at Simon. "I'm fine now, Captain. Just a residual headache."
"We'll let the doctor decide that, Jim. For both of you." Simon ushered them into the emergency room.
An hour later the doctor was letting him get dressed. "Well, Detective Ellison, you're lucky. I've seen some Narcotics officers come close to overdosing after an incident like you've described."
"Yeah, I was lucky this wasn't straight cocaine." Jim pulled on his shirt and pain shot through his head.
"You'll need to rest for a day or two. That headache should keep you down for a bit." The doctor finished writing something on the chart; Jim squinted a little against the sound of his pen. "But I don't see any permanent damage. You'll need to be aware that there could be some side effects within the next 24 to 48 hours."
"Side effects?" Jim finished with his shirt. The pounding of his head lessened when he wasn't moving around.
"Depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating for short periods of time." He clicked the pen closed and placed it back into his lab-coat pocket. "But these shouldn't last more than a day. Just take it easy for a bit, Detective, and you'll be fine."
"Thanks, Doc." Jim nodded as the doctor turned to leave.
Passing the doctor in the doorway was Blair. He was walking a little slowly, and the bruise on his face was even more impressive. In his right hand was an ice pack, but Jim wasn't sure if that was for his face, or the bruises he could see on several fingers.
"Hey, Jim." Blair's voice was still quiet, but Jim realized his hearing was once again in control. "They said I can take you home now. How do you feel?"
Jim nodded reluctantly and eased himself off the exam table, wincing as the movement increased the pressure in his skull for a moment. "I'm okay, Chief. Just a headache like you wouldn't believe."
"I'm not surprised, Jim." Blair reached out to steady him with a hand on his arm. "Your mind had an extreme overload of information that was coming in too fast and intense to analyze." Blair's hand fell away. "I can't imagine what would have happened if this had taken place in the daylight, or in a noisy crowd. Or anywhere else with more outside stimuli." He shook his head. "Your mind could have reached a point of complete shutdown. I don't know what---I didn't know what to do."
Fear and uncertainty were plain in his friend's voice. Jim put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. "What did the doctor say? You going to be okay, partner?"
"Yeah, just bruises. I'm fine. Let's get you home, okay?"
Jim opened his mouth to apologize but was interrupted by the Captain's entrance.
"Jim, I had your truck brought over. Sandburg here can take you home." Simon pulled his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I'm turning this case over to Narcotics."
"Captain--" Jim was cut off by Simon's raised hand.
"That cocaine has probably hit the streets already. Look, you did your best. Let Narcotics take it from here." Simon glanced at Blair then back to Jim. "Just go home and get some rest." They started walking down the short hallway to the waiting room. Neither Jim nor Blair were able to walk very quickly, so Simon was forced to slow his pace. "That much cocaine hitting the market should draw some attention. We found evidence of a heavy amount of cutting back at that grounds maintenance shed. Forensics is still going over everything, but so far they've found only a few partial prints."
"Most likely mine and Blair's, sir." As they rounded a corner and entered the waiting area, Jim had to squint against the sun now an hour into the sky, but after a quick adjustment, his vision responded and the light levels were tolerable.
"Probably. Listen, you two go home, get some rest. This case belongs to Narcotics now." Simon turned to Blair. "Think you can handle him?"
"Yes, sir, I think so."
Jim would have laughed at their little exchange, but he knew that action would just add to the pain in his head. "Let me know if forensics comes up with anything, will you, Captain?"
"Sure thing, Jim."
He nodded, then followed his partner out to the parking lot, and got into the passenger side of his own truck. Blair started the engine, then winced as he tried to put the truck in gear using only the heel of his right hand.
"Here, let me." Jim reached over and put it in reverse, then took Blair's hand in his and examined the fingers.
"I'm okay, Jim. Just bruises, nothing broken." Blair waited until Jim released his hand, then backed the truck up. He was able to change into drive without difficulty.
"How's the head?" Blair interrupted, turning to see if it was clear to pull into traffic.
Jim sighed. "It hurts. Feels ten times worse than a prom night hangover." He could tell Blair was trying to avoid something, something Jim needed to talk about. But until this headache died down a bit, he didn't feel up to breaking down his friend's wall.
"Yeah. You just need to go home and rest. All that input has your head refusing to process anything right now."
Jim rested his head against the back of his seat and closed his eyes. "Are you saying I'm not capable of thinking right now, Chief?"
Blair laughed shortly. "Don't worry, Jim. It'll pass. I can't imagine you being unable to think for too long."
Jim nodded slightly but didn't open his eyes. They drove the rest of the way home in silence, and the pain reached a tolerable level. Any movement increased the pressure behind his eyes and between his temples. Walking up the stairs, he was very much aware of Blair's hand on his back. Once inside, his partner ushered him toward the steps to his bedroom, one hand on his back, another on his arm.
"Why don't you get some sleep? I'll draw the blinds and keep things quiet."
They were climbing up to Jim's room now, Blair's hand still on his back. Jim nodded and continued up the stairs. Inside he sighed with some contentment. Blair was finally learning that touch was a valid form of communication, often translating far more clearly than words. And right now, he needed that reassurance. Until they could talk about this, Jim could at least be fairly certain Blair wasn't ready to pack up and leave, or too scared of him to be this close.
Too many flights of stairs had set Jim's head to pounding again. Gratefully, he reached the bed and sat down.
"I'll keep the blinds shut, and the noise down. Do you still have those earplugs, Jim? The white noise generators? They might help to block out all the input, give your mind a rest." Blair was fussing around the room, looking for the earplugs and moving the clock away from the nightstand.
Jim reached out when Blair came close enough and grabbed his arm. "Chief, I'm fine. Everything's under control now. If I can just get rid of this headache, I'll be fine." Blair nodded, then glanced around the room again. "Listen, are you sure you're all right?" The bruise on his face was red and angry looking. Jim could only imagine what the other bruises looked like.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Blair assured him. "Come on, get some sleep, Jim. If you need anything, just call out. I'll be downstairs."
Jim sighed, then gave Blair's arm a gentle squeeze fore lying down. "Thanks, Chief."
Blair nodded, hesitating for just a moment, then turned and walked quietly down the stairs.
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