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Please note:  The copyright on The Sentinel and all it's characters is owned by Pet Fly Productions and Paramount.


by Kristine Williams

Part 5

"If you touch him again, I swear to God I'll kill you with my bare hands." Jim's voice was level, and ice-cold.

The larger man with the gun actually flinched and drew back as he sidled past the door to Jim's cage.

Blair tried to back away, to move away from the hands that were reaching down for him, but the pain was too much. He cried out against the stabbing lightning that tore through his right side when the larger man lifted him from the ground, slamming him into the cage bars. There was no time to think, no time to cry out or protest, before the metal-clad fist struck him again in the already injured side. He wanted to scream, but he had no air. Another blow to his side, and the cracking sound was both heard and felt. One more, and Blair was falling, blackness swooping over him from all sides. There was an incredible clatter, like metallic thunder, just as he hit the gunny sacks piled on the floor. Someone shouted, and Blair expected another blow, but none came. He heard scuffling, and more shouts, but they were growing distant as the blackness encroached. Blair wanted to succumb, to let the numbness of unconsciousness take him, but something was nagging his mind, keeping him from slipping away. Something that compelled him to try harder to fight the blackness. He didn't want to fight it, there was pain out there, but something wouldn't let him slip into it. The sounds were still there, and someone was screaming. Jim?

Suddenly a gun went off, and Blair's consciousness was slapped, bringing his head up slightly as he blinked, trying to focus. Jim was there, in front of him, and there was a body lying motionless on the ground three feet away. Jim had his back to Blair, and he was struggling with someone. Something flashed past his head, and Blair saw the gun fly across the room to slam into the cage bars. He saw Jim raise an arm, then send his fist slamming down into the face of the man he held. The fist fell again, and again, smashing into the larger man. Blair heard a muffled cry of pain, and realized that Jim wasn't going to stop. Raymond was still cowering inside the cage, holding on to the bars as if they would save him from Jim as well as the two now subdued kidnappers.

"Jim!" Blair couldn't move, could hardly breathe! God, Jim was going to kill the guy! "Jim..." His voice was losing volume instead of gaining it. He tried to reach out, to touch Jim's arm before the fist came down again, but he couldn't move. Oh God, Jim, stop! He had them, it was over, why didn't he stop? He's going to kill him! Blair steeled himself, took as much air as he could, and concentrated the last of his strength into one final plea. "Please, Jim, stop!"

The eyes that turned to him were ablaze in blue fire. Cold, but alive with a heat that cut more deeply than any knife. The instant after those eyes focused on Blair's, they changed, softened. The fire was gone, but the intensity remained. He turned back to the limp body he was holding up by the collar, and shoved the man aside, checking quickly on the other unconscious form before moving to kneel beside Blair.

"Easy, partner, easy. It's over. Lie back." Jim's hands pushed relentlessly on Blair's shoulders until he surrendered and let himself fall back onto the sacks. Pain was stabbing into and through him from all sides. "Find a phone!" He knew his ribs were broken, he'd heard as well as felt them, and the thought of the broken bones under badly bruised flesh made his head swim with dizziness. There was movement beside him, and when he focused again, Jim had his cell phone and was dialing.

"Just hang on, Blair."

He nodded, swallowing against the nausea that was welling up from his gut. Turning his head to the side, Blair caught a glimpse of the cage door, the one Jim hadn't been able to knock down. It was on the floor, half covering the smaller man's unconscious body. The darkness was encroaching again, and Blair felt himself start to drift. There was a hand on his shoulder, and Jim's voice cut through the fog.

"Over here!"

More voices joined in, but Blair could no longer open his eyes. There was a buzzing in his ears, and the voices were getting farther away. All but one.

"Hang on, partner. It's over now, Blair."

Hands were touching him now, several hands. Someone pried his arms away from his side, and he was too weak to fight them. Hands touched his arms, his chest, his stomach. One pressed into his side, lightly, but it was enough to make him cry out against the pain that ensued. More hands touched his head, pushing through his hair. His head was lifted slightly, and he felt something under him, something softer than the gunny sacks. Jim's legs? The hands on his head began to stroke his temples in the same slow, rhythmic pattern Jim had used on his thumb. He tried to take a deep breath...big mistake!

"Jim...I can't...breathe!" His jaw was so tightly clenched, he wasn't sure if the words even got out.

"Easy, easy, it's okay. You can breathe, partner. Just try and stay calm."

Blair nodded. At least he thought he had, but there was no movement against the hands stroking his temples. Vaguely, he felt himself being lifted up, then set back down on something softer. The legs that had been under his head were now replaced by something soft, but the hands remained, never changing their rhythmic stroking. Blair focused on that touch, blocking out all the other sounds and sensations around him. The pricking of needles, the touch of other hands, the motion of being placed into the ambulance, were all numb sensations, barely registering on his consciousness. All that mattered, all Blair was aware of, was the stroking of his head, the hands maintaining a rhythm that eased him into an almost hypnotic state. The hands were taking the pain away, and the fear. The voice continued to talk to him, calming his nerves, easing the fear that each breath was going to be the last one he could pull in.

Something told him he wasn't in the same place as before, but he didn't care anymore. He was beginning to feel soft, and floaty, and the pain was going away. The hands made the pain go away, and now he could sleep. He could sleep, and it would all be a dream. Jim had fixed it again.

Hands were everywhere, touching, pushing, prodding... and hitting! He remembered then. Remembered the pain. The horrible, relentless pain that stabbed him in the side, piercing through his lungs, making the simple act of breathing unbearable.

"He's coming around."

Who was that? Where was he? Where was Jim? There was a tightness around his chest like he'd never felt before, squeezing so firmly he could barely breathe. Oh God, he couldn't breathe! He struggled to open his eyes, and a moan escaped his lips.

"Mr. Sandburg. Mr. Sandburg, can you hear me?"

Who was that? Blair turned his head away from the voice he didn't recognize, and the touch on his forehead returned. The touch he knew. Heavy lids rose.

"Blair, can you hear me?"

Jim was there, in blurred form, but right there beside him. Blair tried to respond, but his mouth and lips were too dry, and he had no strength.

"Just take it easy, partner. You're in the hospital. The doctor needs to talk to you, Blair."

Jim started to move aside, and Blair's heartrate increased. No, stay! He tried to struggle, but his body refused to respond. Jim's hand left his head, but immediately Blair felt the touch on his hand, felt Jim's larger, stronger hand cover his own.

"I'm right here."

Blair sighed lightly, then turned his head enough to see the other person he could sense standing there. He swallowed, and his vision focused on an older gentleman with grey hair and a white lab coat.

"Mr. Sandburg, you need to lie still. Can you understand me?"

Blair nodded slowly. That motion alone cost him nearly all the reserve energy he had.

"Fine. Now, that tightness in your chest is the bandaging. You've sustained three fractured ribs, as well as a bruised lung."

Blair swallowed again, trying desperately not to think of the shattered bones as he eased more air into his lungs.

"You're young, and should heal well, but you'll need some time to recover, and plenty of rest. There's been no permanent damage. We've got you on continuous morphine for the time being, so you'll be in and out for a while." The doctor looked away for a moment, then produced a chart and pen and began to take notes. Blair closed his eyes, feeling a soft floatiness surge over him again. Jim's fingers began to stroke the back of his hand, and Blair wondered idly if it was intended as a calming physical mantra for him, or Jim. When he opened his eyes again, the doctor was gone. What the hell? Blair turned towards Jim, and found his partner still beside the bed, one hand on Blair's arm, rubbing slowly as he snored gently from the chair. By the look of Jim's chin, and the beginnings of growth there, Blair realized it had been at least 12 hours since he last took notice of his partner's appearance.

The bandages around his chest forced Blair into a shallow rhythm of breathing, and he realized the multitude of IV's hanging down from behind him, and hooked up to his right arm, must be keeping the worst of the pain at bay. An errant strand of hair fell across his face, and he told his right hand to move the offending curls, but it refused. He was about to chastise his hand for ignoring a direct order when the hair was removed and a hand smoothed over his forehead.

Blair sighed quietly and closed his eyes for just a moment, before turning to face Jim. "Jim?"

"Right here, partner."

Blair's eyes met Jim's. He looked and sounded exhausted. How long had they been there? His hand came up again to stroke Blair's head, and he noticed the bandaging over one set of knuckles. He remembered then. The larger man. Jim was beating him. Hitting him over and over again, even after he had succumbed. He remembered those eyes, the ones that flashed at him when removed from their task. The eyes that changed immediately upon seeing Blair. Oh my God...

"Jim, did...you..." The pain, coupled with the tightly-wrapped bandages forced Blair to take each word separately. "Tell...me...you...didn't..."

"What, Blair?" Jim leaned in closer, still stroking Blair's head. "There's nothing to worry about, partner. They're in jail, they can't hurt you again. Come on, get some rest."

Thank God, he hadn't killed them after all. Blair nodded, relieved. That anger, that incredible ice-blue anger released, even though it only flashed on Blair for one instant, had terrified him. But he hadn't. Jim hadn't killed them. He'd confessed once to nearly throwing Galileo off the building when the elevator bomb went off. But he hadn't done that either. Jim wouldn't do that. He was better than the emotions. He had control. But what if he had? What if he had thrown Galileo off the building because he thought Blair was dead? Or beaten that man to death? No. He wouldn't. Jim wouldn't do that. But...he was! He had been beating him to death, right there. Those eyes had shown no signs of stopping until they saw Blair.

Blair's heartrate increased as he realized what Jim had been doing. He felt dizzy, but he was still lying down, eyes closed. In fact, he couldn't seem to open them. Everything was slowing down, and he felt the bed falling away again as he drifted into unconsciousness, Jim's fingers once again stroking the back of his hand.

Blair's eyes opened slowly, hearing voices in the room. His vision was a bit fuzzy, but he could make out Jim standing at the other end, near a window. Talking to him, was a Viking. Blair was sure he was seeing things, drug-induced things. Jim was talking to someone who looked like a throwback to the old Nordic warriors. The Viking turned towards him, and Blair thought the face looked familiar. It was a round, bearded, gentle face.

"Maybe we should do this in the hall?" the Viking asked Jim.

"He's pretty drugged up, coming and going. It's okay, he sleeps better when he hears voices."

"Ah, like having the TV on for company"

Great, Jim, now tell him I've been sleeping in your old Cascade PD sweatshirt, and I have nightmares. Tell him that. I'm sure the Viking wants to hear that. Blair fleetingly wondered if those thoughts had just been out loud. Probably not. No one was laughing, and he hadn't felt his mouth move. In fact, he couldn't make much of anything work. He'd been trying to tell his right hand to scratch his nose for the past ten minutes, but it wouldn't budge. Nothing was cooperating. His eyes had just closed again and wouldn't open, his hands simply refused to move. The bed would only stop spinning long enough to change direction. And his heart felt like it was pumping pudding.

"...match perfectly with the other three crimes. They claim mistaking Blair for Raymond was due to the ID. Idiots didn't research their target very well this time."

Blair realized the Viking was talking, and he thought maybe he wanted to listen, but the sentences were cutting in and out. Or was he drifting in and out?

"Have they confessed to the other ones yet?"

Jim was still there. His voice was calm and conversational, so whatever the Viking was saying, at least it wasn't upsetting him.

"No. I'm sure they'll hold out until we come up with more physical evidence. Each case carries a minimum 20 years to life. That one...Edwards, he's dropped his charges of police brutality. I think his lawyer forced it."

Brutality? Oh God, that's right. Jim had been going to kill that guy. He had to talk to him about that. Jim had been killing a man. Blair had never seen that before, and never would have believed it.

"...almost perfect crimes. So far, they had netted over 8 million in ransom. With Raymond, they were going for another 2.5 mil."

There was the Viking again. Man, it was like listening to a movie while falling asleep on the couch. He hardly knew what the plot was.

"...was the money marked? How did they get away with that much?"

"..in the case only. They checked the money for marks. We didn't want to chance it."

"I don't like how this is sounding."

What, Jim? How what is sounding? Was the movie still playing or was this another channel? The last film Blair remembered seeing was about Amazonian tree frogs. Why would they have tapes? Should he be sleeping in like this?

"...we can consider this case closed, and stop the surveillance on the others now ."

This part of the movie sounded familiar. But what was the Viking doing there in the jungle?

"What about Whatcom?"

"Raymond? He's with his father. The old man is staying in town until this is all cleared up."

Raymond. That was definitely a name Blair recalled. More of a color, really. Yellow, wasn't it? That name brought the color yellow to Blair's mind. He didn't like this movie anymore.

"We can talk more about this later. How is he?"

"Hurt." Jim's reply seemed louder than the conversation. "But he'll recover in time. This never should have happened."

"Some things come with the job. You can't prevent them."

"It's not his job. And I intend to prevent this from ever happening again."

Wait, prevent what from happening? Blair didn't like this movie anymore. He stirred, trying to roll over on his side and go back to sleep, let Jim turn off the TV, but he couldn't move.

"Hey, you with me, Chief?"

Blair opened his eyes to find Jim, and only Jim, standing beside him, one hand on his shoulder. He swallowed, glancing around the room for the Viking. Hadn't he just been there? The bed was propped up now, and Blair's head was raised, giving a better view of the room. The sun was streaming in from the large windows, and Jim's face was clean shaven.

"Jim.." His mouth and throat were dry, but he seemed to have a little more energy than before. "What's going on?"

"You've been in and out for a while. It's the drugs. They've started tapering them off now, so your head'll clear soon."

Blair nodded slowly. There was an incredible aching in his side and chest when he inhaled, but the pain was bearable now. "How long have you been here?" There wasn't much volume to his voice, but the words were coming out.

"Today? Just a few hours. I've been back to the Station a few times. I don't think you missed me." Jim was smiling as he looked down at Blair. "Agent Mills and I were going over a few things."

Oh, right, the Viking was Agent Mills. "What's going on?"

"With the case? It's closed now, Chief." Jim pulled up a chair and sat down beside the bed so he was even with Blair's eyes. "The two men we caught are claiming innocence, but they were caught in the act this time."

Blair swallowed and adjusted his head to have a better view of Jim. Everything seemed to be working in slow motion, but at least he wasn't fading in and out again. "I don't get it. How can they claim that?"

Jim ran a hand over his short-cropped hair, then leaned forward just a little. "Standard operating procedure. You plead innocent even if you're caught with the smoking gun. Make the lawyers and cops do all the work."

"What about the money?" Blair paused to ease more air into his sore lungs. "From the other ones?"

"Hasn't been found." Jim sighed. "They've most likely got it stashed somewhere, hoping they'll get off on bail, or just about anything. Sometimes they just don't want it recovered, as a last ditch effort to inflict harm on the families they've stolen it from. It sits somewhere and rots."

"So that's it, it's over?" Blair was encouraged by his ability to complete sentences now in one breath. And Jim wasn't just making statements, he was explaining the case in his usual patient manner.

"Yeah. The FBI has them now. It's over, Chief."

Blair realized then that he had seen doctors and nurses now and again, during some of the odd dream sequences he'd been having. "When can I come home?"

Jim's hand squeezed his arm slightly before releasing. "Tomorrow, if everything checks out tonight."

"What about Raymond?" Blair had nearly forgotten the reason for all this.

Jim's jaw flexed again, and there was a flash of steel in the blue. "He's with his father." There was a pause, then Jim moved a little closer. "Listen, Chief, Raymond's not exactly an innocent here. He switched ID with you back at the Twisted Pearl. He led us on that merry chase to begin with. Simon and Agent Mills felt, under the circumstances, he'd be better off in his father's hands. I met him yesterday, and I can tell you, he's one man I'd hate to go up against."

Blair tried to picture the kind of man Jim might possibly be afraid of. He couldn't.

"Listen, partner, here's the doctor." Jim nodded to the door that had just opened. "I'll be right out in the hall, okay?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Jim."

One more gentle squeeze on his arm, and Jim rose and left the room.


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