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by Kristine Williams

Part 13

"God, Jim, was it this hard for you?" All that time, sitting with Blair as he came and went, fighting the drugs and the pain. Jim had stayed. He was there each time Blair opened his eyes. Now Blair was getting a taste of the hell he had put Jim through. He wanted to reach out, to rest a hand on Jim's arm, to reassure himself that his friend was right there, alive. But he was afraid. He was suddenly and inexplicably afraid. Blair felt a chill up his spine, and he glanced around the room, noting its emptiness. The beeping of the monitors was anything but soothing as they mocked him from the wall behind Jim's bed. He felt so small sitting there. Small and alone, as Jim lay unconscious beside him. There was no one to tell him it was going to be fine. No one to explain how this could have happened. No one to make it all go away. He knew the blood was waiting for him back at the loft. There would be blood all over the couch, and the floor. Jim would expect him to clean it up. But he couldn't go back there. Not now. Not alone.

Blair pulled part of the pillow around so he could hug it against himself. He couldn't lean back without hurting, so he rested his head as best as he could against the wall beside him, and closed his eyes.

It was dark, and the club was vacant. The purple flashing lights were gone, but there was an eerie, blue glow to everything around him. Jim searched the room for any sign of life. Blair had to be there somewhere. He'd heard his partner's voice, but he couldn't see through the blue glow. Gone was the band, the noise, the press of the crowd.

"Blair." Jim felt compelled to keep his voice down. There was no sound, no sense of any danger, but he felt something was out of place. "Sandburg." He started to move forward, walking slowly through the empty club. Shapes began to take form around him. Empty tables, with glasses still sitting on top of them, most empty of whatever exotic drink they had held. The silence was nearly deafening after the roar of the band that was no longer there. Something wasn't right, something very important was happening, but Jim could find nothing to tell him what it was. There was no sign of Blair. He continued on, squinting through the blue light. He should be able to filter this out somehow, but he wasn't sure how.

"Sandburg, where are you?" The club seemed larger than he remembered, but he continued on, walking around empty tables, empty chairs, across an empty dance floor. He kept going until he'd passed the last of the tables. Ahead of him was a familiar sight. Pillars of cement surrounded by cables and wires hanging down like electric vines in a concrete jungle. There was a sound behind him, a low growl. Jim spun around, trying to see through the blue haze. Someone was there, sitting at one of the tables he had already passed.

"Blair?" He was there, writing something down in a notebook. "Sandburg, what's going on?" Jim started toward him, but Blair didn't even look up. Something moved in front of Jim and he stopped in his tracks. It was back. The panther was there, walking up to Blair. Was it going to attack again? "Blair! Sandburg, answer me!" Why was he just sitting there? Jim stepped forward again and the panther stopped, turned, and bared his teeth. Jim stopped, and the panther quieted down, looking at him. What was going on? The panther was supposed to be there for him. He was supposed to be Jim's Spirit Guide. But the last time...the last time, he had attacked. "What's going on?" Jim directed his question to the big cat this time.

"It's bigger than both of us, Jim." Blair spoke, but never took his eyes off his notebook as he continued to write.

"What is?" Jim began to step forward again, but the cat bared his teeth and he stopped. "Blair, what's going on here?"

"It's not your choice to make." Blair still continued to write, never once looking up.

Jim looked at the cat. "I don't understand." Why didn't he change into the man he usually was? He needed answers. This didn't make sense.

Blair suddenly closed his notebook and stood up, facing Jim for the first time. "It's not your decision to make." He turned then, and walked away, toward the pillars and cables on the other side of the club. The panther stood also, and walked with him.

"Wait, where are you going?" Jim moved to follow, but suddenly something fell in his way. Wires and cables were hanging down all around him, some of them spitting blue fire and dancing in the air. He lost sight of Blair and the panther amidst the tangle of cables. "Sandburg!" Something wasn't right. Something was very, very wrong. Jim pushed through the wires, careful of the live ones that spat and hissed. His heart began to race as he searched for Blair. "Sandburg!"

"He has a destiny."

Jim spun around. The tribesman was there, finally. "Where is he?"

"He is where he needs to be. He is where he was destined to be. You cannot make the choice for him."

"I was trying to protect him." Jim could feel his determination slipping away even as he spoke the words. He had lost the argument. Or had he merely let it go? He could feel an emptiness in his chest. A feeling that had been spreading since Blair stood and walked away. It was an emptiness that was growing with each breath, and he could feel himself begin to fall into it. If left unchecked, it would swallow him up, cause him to collapse in on himself.

"And he, you."

Jim swallowed against the buzzing in his ears, the hollow sensation in his chest.

"Your paths are one. You cannot change this." He turned and began to walk away.

"No, wait!" Jim moved to follow, but instantly lost sight of him in the tangle of wires and blue light.

"They will not allow you to change this."

The voice echoed back to Jim, and he stopped dead in his tracks. All around him, glowing back through the darkness, were eyes. Not just one pair, but hundreds. Pair after pair of green cat's eyes, peering back through the blue, staring at him from all around. Jim licked his lips. He was sweating, and his heart beating faster. They were all around him, blinking, watching him.

"It's about friendship."

Blair's voice came from the far side of the room, and Jim turned his head to locate his partner.

The blue haze had been replaced by an orange glow streaming in through the windows. It looked like late evening sunlight, and Jim slowly realized he was lying down, in a hospital room. He turned his head away from the window and found Blair, sitting in a chair on his right side, head resting against the wall beside him. There was a deep throbbing in his left shoulder that ached when he breathed. Other than that, Jim knew he was lucky to be alive. He remembered Agent Mills, and Blair reaching for the gun. Then the pain shot through him, and for an instant, he thought the bullet had struck Blair. There had been a second shot, he remembered that. And Mills was dead. Then Simon was there. Jim swallowed, turning his head more towards Blair. He was sitting in the chair, with a pillow wedged between his right side and the arm of the chair. Simon never should have let him stay. He was still badly hurt himself, and needed rest.

Jim reached out a hand and placed it on Blair's shoulder. His partner was instantly awake, raising his head and wincing at the same time.


"Hey, buddy." Jim's voice was stronger than he'd expected. Blair looked tired, and pale. How long had he been sitting there? "What's goin' on?"

"You really scared me, man." Blair moved in the chair to face Jim more, wincing as he did so. "You lost so much blood."

He stopped, and Jim could see moisture forming in his expressive eyes. "Hey, it's okay now, partner. I'm fine." He gave Blair's shoulder a gentle squeeze, then let his hand fall back to the bed. He was so tired!

"Yeah, you'll be fine now. The doctor said there was no permanent damage," Blair agreed as he pushed his hair from his face. "Might even let you go home tomorrow afternoon."

Jim nodded, closing his eyes for a moment. The EKG was beeping rhythmically behind him, but there was something else there...something under the beeps. Jim opened his eyes and glanced up, seeing only the usual medical paraphernalia there.

"Simon said he'd be by soon. He was here earlier but you were still pretty out of it."

"What about Mills?" Jim couldn't recall much after seeing Blair unharmed.

Before Blair could answer, there was a quiet knock on the door, followed by Simon walking in. "Jim, it's about time you woke up." The Captain crossed the room and stood at the left side on the bed, looking down at Jim.

"Hey, Simon." Jim turned his head back to the middle of the pillow, looking up at Simon. "What's happening with Mills?" Simon glanced at Blair, who looked down, then around the room for a moment. Jim noticed the look on Blair's face just as the Captain started to explain.

"Mills is dead. Sandburg shot him, with your gun. Just in time, from what little I saw," Simon replied.

Jim turned back to face Blair, but his friend wouldn't look at him.

"I came up to see what you two had found out. Heard the shots just as I was standing outside the door," Simon continued. "They found the money, as well as a plane ticket, and a gun matching the one used to kill Edwards and Patterson in Mills' car parked outside your loft. It's pretty obvious he was the third man."

Jim was still watching Blair. His partner had killed a man. Saving Jim's life, and his own as well, but for the first time, he had fired a gun at someone, with full intent. Still, Blair's eyes were everywhere but meeting his.

"How you doin', Jim? The doctor said you lost a lot of blood. We had half the department here donating."

Jim looked back at Simon. "I'm okay, Simon. Just don't tell me Sandburg here donated too. I don't need to get a sudden craving for emu."

"Funny. That's funny, Jim," Blair replied over Simon's laughter. "Well you can relax. They wouldn't let me donate anything."

"Nope. In fact, they've been telling him to go home since last night. So have I."

Jim saw the look Blair shot Simon, but his Captain didn't seem to. He understood why Blair was there, and why he felt he had to stay. He understood, even if Simon didn't. "Listen, both of you, I'm fine." He'd certainly been hurt worse than this before. "How about you both go home, and let me get some sleep?"

Before Blair could protest, a doctor entered the room and insisted Blair and Simon both leave so he could examine his patient. Jim watched as Blair stood with some effort, then followed Simon out and into the hall, still holding one arm around his injured side. His partner was still badly hurt himself, and should be home resting.

Jim endured the exam, and was grateful when the doctor removed the IV, and EKG leads, turning off that incessant beeping behind him. He learned that the bullet came out easily enough, having missed the shoulder itself. Blood loss had been a problem, as was keeping him anesthetized, for some inexplicable reason. But with time, and rest, a full recovery was expected. And, barring any complications, he could go home the next afternoon. He didn't argue when the doctor gave him a few shots for the pain. Jim knew they wouldn't last, but he was getting better at turning down the dial, as Blair had taught, so the pain was manageable. The doctor finished his exam, then gave Jim the usual talk about rest and not doing to much for at least a week. He listened, only paying enough attention to satisfy the doctor.

He hadn't realized Blair had killed Agent Mills. Thinking back, he did recall the larger man falling, right about the time Simon appeared, but Blair having shot him wasn't something he remembered. This would make things even more complicated. Now that he had to get Blair to understand that Jim did want him back--did need him back--was he going to want to come? The last time Blair had fired a gun was in the Precinct garage. He'd been hallucinating then, and had no idea what he was doing. But, he hadn't shot anyone then, either. This time, for the first time, Blair had aimed a gun, and pulled the trigger, with the full intention of stopping someone. Killing a man wasn't an easy thing to deal with even for a cop. Jim's first had been in the service, and he could still recall the incident with full clarity. But it was part of the job. Being a cop, it was part of the job as well. Blair couldn't be expected to react in the way a cop would after his first time. He'd need help.

The doctor finished his talk and walked back to the door. Jim quickly reviewed what he had barely been listening to, and realized it was the usual after-gunshot advice. Blair and Simon returned as soon as the doctor cleared the door.

"What did he say, Jim?" Blair stopped at the side of the bed, but didn't sit down again.

"I'm fine, Chief. I can come home tomorrow." Just as he realized Blair would have listened in to the doctor's exam if he'd been able to, Jim also realized that Blair, being Blair, would still have ways of finding out, probably even word for word, what the doctor had said.


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