Disclaimers: All characters except 'Dr. MacKay' belong to Pet Fly and UPN, as does the whole premise of the story. Dr. MacKay might belong to Pet Fly too (for some reason the name rings a bell), but it's my middle name and I want to use it. No commercial transactions here, no copyright infringement intended, we all know the drill.
Summary: An anti-death story -- Blair refuses to let Jim die.
Yes, I did write this the day before Easter, but I wasn't thinking of that at all until I got to the 'Easter' line near the end of the story. Anyway, this story has to be set just before next year's Easter in order to put it after the so-far-unwritten first story in this timeline tentatively titled 'Angel'. The inspiration for this story was Death and Dignity by Timothy Quill, a text on physician-aid-in-dying which I'm reading for a class and which is making me think a great deal about what I'd do in such a situation... so of course, I sat down and wrote a story about it, which eventually (thank goodness) turned into a story about Our Boys before it got too personal. I'll write the first two 'Angel' stories (wherein Jim and Blair go on a three-week vacation without so much as twisting an ankle) if I get nice feedback on this one.
The lines Jim quotes for Blair are from "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" by Dylan Thomas. Why am I on a Dylan Thomas kick? I dunno.
Warning: No sex. Only very lightly implied romance. NOT a death story; more of an anti-death story (sorry if that spoils anything, but I don't do or even read death stories, so I want to make it very clear: this is NOT a death story). R, for mortality themes. Not beta'd.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
--Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"
Blair Sandburg's world dropped out from beneath his feet.
His head was pounding and it hurt to breathe deeply through a throat raw from smoke inhalation, and Blair tried desperately to convince himself that he'd merely misheard certain phrases, that he was tired and in pain and simply reading his own nightmares onto the doctor's grave expression and solemn tone.
Reaching out to lay his hand on the white-clad arm, he said insistently, "But he's not dead, is he?"
"Mr. Sandburg," the woman said kindly, "brain functions have all but ceased. His heart restarted but the respirator is really keeping only the physical shell alive."
"I'm sorry," she said, and she sounded sincere. "There's nothing more we can do."
"But he's not dead," Blair repeated.
"Mr. Sandburg. James Ellison is dead. I'm sorry."
"Doctor," called Simon, intruding into their conference. He grabbed Blair's arm as the younger man staggered. "How bad is it?"
"You're a friend of Mr. Sandburg's?" asked the doctor. At Simon's nod, she continued, "I'm afraid Mr. Ellison did not recover from surgery."
Blair heard Simon whisper something shocked. Their voices, and the hospital walls around him, wavered and shook like sunlight through a wind-tossed forest. He heard the doctor asking something about life support and then everything was sparkling with tiny black motes...
With a jerk, he realized that he was sitting on the floor, there was a hand on the back of his neck, and someone was telling him he needed to breathe. He struggled free and lurched to his feet, grabbing at the nearest solid object to steady himself against the wave of dizziness that rose. His solid object turned out to be Simon Banks' arm, which was convenient for demanding the captain's attention.
"Mr. Sandburg--" the doctor began wearily.
"Where is he?"
"I'll take him, doctor. We'd like to... see him," Simon added, and shifted his arm to support Blair.
With a sigh, the doctor led them out of the room and through a maze of twisty little passageways. The hallways all looked alike to Blair, and he closed his eyes, leaning heavily on Simon, recognizing that this was perhaps the first time anyone from Major Crimes had remained in physical contact with him for more than a minute or two. Except, of course, for Jim.
Jim was in front of him when he opened his eyes again. Flat on his back in a hospital bed, tangled in tubes and wires and the bulk of an artificial respirator-- how often had one of the partners held vigil over the other like this, Blair wondered. And each time, the unlucky one would eventually open his eyes and croak out a request to go home now, please.
"Jim?" said Blair. His voice cracked, and he didn't bother trying to blame the smoke inhalation. "Jim, man, it's Blair. I'm here." He let go of Simon and found a chair to drag to Jim's bedside. Jim's left side was still wrapped in bandages where the EMTs had tried to cover the worst of the burns while they restarted his heart and held his ribcage together. Blair took the uninjured right hand in his own; it was warm, if limp. "Jim, please, Jim, you've gotta wake up now."
Jim's face didn't twitch. His chest rose and fell evenly with the hiss of the respirator. Only the mournful beep of the heart monitor filled the silence when Blair stopped speaking.
"Jim?" Blair's voice was soft. "Jim... please..."
"I'm sorry," the doctor said quietly, "but he can't hear you anymore."
"Blair," Simon said gently, "Jim has a Living Will on file, doesn't he?"
Blair nodded. Keeping his gaze on Jim's broad fingers lying loosely across his palm, he said, "He'd-- he wants to be-- disconnected once his-- his family says g-g-goodbye. If, if there's, I mean, if I say there's no hope."
"Do you want me to call his brother and his father?"
Blair nodded. Simon patted his shoulder awkwardly and turned to leave, only to turn back again.
"Blair? Would you like me to call your mother as well?"
"Yeah." Blair pulled in a deep shaky breath. "Yeah. Thank you, Simon. Her number should be in my address book on my desk at home, under 'N'." He fished his keys out of his jeans pocket without rising and held them out to Simon.
"I'll bring you some clothes without smoke stains too, okay, kid?"
Blair nodded his thanks again, already turning back to Jim.
The sentinel could hear his guide's voice whispering through the humid air that caressed his skin. Twisting, he tried to cry out for help, to call his guide to him, but the bounds across his chest were too tight to allow enough breath for any words. He couldn't even manage a weak moan, or a gasp at the pain of the attempt. Lying back, pulling in agonizingly shallow breaths, the sentinel resigned himself to waiting for rescue. His guide would find him. His guide would set him free. This was the spirit jungle where his guide was powerful, and the sentinel had faith. Wasn't his panther there, just on the edge of his vision, waiting to lead him to the sweet cool water he could almost smell? Once his guide released him from the painful ties holding him to the stone, he would be free to go.
Blair's feelings about the east-facing room where he had waited the night through with Jim were ambivalent. On one hand, one last shared sunrise -- and it was, Blair thought bitterly, an extraordinarily beautiful sunrise -- was something to be treasured. On the other hand, watching the sky gradually brighten was a slow form of torture when he knew that Jim would be finally, irrevocably, undeniably dead shortly after the sun cleared to horizon. He told Jim about this agony as the sun was peeking over the Cascade skyline; he told Jim everything that came into his head as he kept his vigil that night.
He'd never realized, before, how responsive Jim's silences had been as an answer to his partner's chatter. Now, speaking to a face that was truly slack and not merely stoic, he understood. He shared that with Jim, too.
He resolutely ignored the stack of printouts detailing the injuries to Jim's brain. He'd poured over the more familiar EEGs when the nurse had brought them in, early last evening, searching for a pattern that might indicate a zone-out, a sensory spike gone wrong, anything that might be in his power to fix. The flat sections streaking the graphs, longer and longer as the afternoon had worn on, had only driven him closer to despair, and he'd set them all aside before Jim's family appeared.
Stephen had arrived at about ten that night. He'd sat with Blair, watching Jim, for half an hour before offering his own awkward monologue. Embarrassed after a few minutes, he'd squeezed his brother's hand, slapped Blair gently on the back, and gone to get a hotel room. Jim's father had been in earlier. He hadn't spoken at all, and he had left as soon as Blair had noticed the tears tracking down his face.
Now it was over. Stephen and William Ellison stepped back into the room, followed by the doctor, Simon, and another woman in a nurse's uniform. Blair lifted his head and glared at them, suddenly hating this doctor who had given up and let Jim die, hating all of them as they came to take his partner away from him.
"Sandburg," Simon said softly, laying his hand on Blair's shoulder again, "I'll wait outside to take you home, okay?" His voice was gruff. He placed a folded piece of paper in Blair's hand and then backed out the door, closing it carefully behind him.
"Blair Sandburg," the doctor intoned, "James Ellison's Living Will requests that under these circumstances and with your explicit permission, he be removed from external life support devices and any artificial hydration and nutrition and allowed to die peacefully in the presence of yourself and his immediate family. Do you give your permission?"
Eyes blurring, Blair unfolded the paper Simon had handed to him, recognizing Jim's handwriting in the simple 'Sandburg' scrawled across the outside of it. It must be the note he had paperclipped to the Will on file with the P.D., Blair decided, and he rubbed the tears away to read it.
"Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
Detach with love, Chief, and I'll see ya on the other side.
"Do it," he whispered.
The nurse stepped forward to carefully remove the IVs from his arm. Next the tape holding the respirator to his face was gently pulled away, and finally the tube slid out of his throat and the sigh of the bulky machine halted. Jim's chest deflated slowly and didn't rise again. Blair, tensed on the edge of the bed, held his own breath, silently pleading; the other four in the room moved back to give them space for Jim's death. The quiet bip of the heart monitor still trailing from his chest faltered.
No, thought Blair. No. He insisted again, "No!" It suddenly wasn't enough to silently plead; his sentinel was dying. He heaved himself up and over Jim, slapping his hands down on either side of the quiet face so they were confronting each other nose-to-nose. "No, damn you, breathe, Jim! Breathe!" He drew a deep lungful of air and tilted Jim's head back with one hand; pinching Jim's nose, Blair exhaled into the slack mouth below him, forcing Jim's chest to rise again. "Listen to me! Breathe!" Everything focused on the man lying in the bed. Jim sighed out the air Blair had given him, and his chest fell back into stillness. Blair filled him again with his own breath. "Come on, Jim, listen, breathe, just breathe, just--" Jim's chest fell again, and then rose, almost imperceptibly. "Yes!" choked Blair, "yes, that's it, just breathe for me, man, that's it, Jim..."
This time there was no doubt that Jim's chest rose under its own power. It was shallow and weak, but the sentinel was breathing. With a sob, Blair fell back into his chair. One hand on the back of Jim's neck, the other delicately resting over the cracked ribs of Jim's abused chest, he encouraged each breath with single-minded concentration.
Abruptly the bonds holding the sentinel snapped. Tumbling free with a joyful relief, he whirled to embrace his guide, only to feel the brightness shift until it was once again behind him. Spinning in place, he couldn't find the other he knew was there, the one he had known all along would rescue him eventually. Confused, uncertain, the sentinel tried to find his guide's heartbeat. It wasn't where it should have been; it should have throbbed through the entire jungle, making the earth and the very sunlight pulse in time, but instead it came, like his guide's voice, echoing from nowhere. Something was very wrong.
"Something's wrong," the sentinel said, and the panther beside him shook itself and paced toward the trees. The sentinel took a step to follow and halted as the echo of his guide's voice rose in urgency. "I'm sorry," he said to the spirit, "but there's something I have to do first." He could smell the water plainly now, and it drove the thirst to choke him with need, but his guide was insisting that there was something that the sentinel must do, now, right now. What? He couldn't tell, but there was only one job for a sentinel: guard.
Walk the perimeter, the sentinel's training prompted him. You have a job to do. He drew himself upright and took a step along the familiar path. He'd walked this trail for eighteen months, alone; he could walk it again. Another step, and he fell into the cadence of his military patrols. His guide was at his back, one warm hand on the small of his back to keep them in sync as they moved; yes, this was what the sentinel had to do. Protect and serve, even if he was so thirsty. Just walk the path, he told himself, and your guide will lead you to water when it's time to drink. Have faith.
"Are you really doing him any favors here?" a voice demanded in Blair's ear.
"Come on, Jim, inhale, good, stay with me here, exhale, that's it, inhale, just like meditating, you've got it, exhale, right, inhale, you know this drill, yeah, exhale, good, Jim, inhale, I'm right here to watch you, exhale..." Blair kept his focus on coaxing each breath of air in and out of Jim's lungs. It wasn't until he saw Jim relax into the light meditative rhythm that he realized what that relaxation meant: Jim had tensed up to continue breathing. Muscles that had been lying utterly limp all night had contracted and were now flexed in a close approximation of deep sleep -- a state Blair would, until that moment, have described as without tension.
"I knew you weren't dead, Jim," he said softly. Jim's chest rose and fell gently in time with Blair's own. "I'll stay right here until you wake up, okay? Right here with you, buddy."
"Blair," Stephen said sadly. "Blair, the doctors wouldn't have taken him off the respirator if there were any hope of his living."
"He's not going to die," Blair said, not taking his eyes off of Jim. "I won't let him. You saw the will; he needs my permission, and I don't give it."
"Blair..." Stephen trailed off helplessly.
"This is ridiculous," said the voice which Blair had been ignoring. "It's disrespectful to my son. I'm not going to let this sentimental little queer keep pawing over his body when the doctors have already told us he's dead."
"Dad," interrupted Stephen angrily.
"Shut up, boy."
"No." The younger Ellison rose from his crouch beside Blair to his full height; he wasn't as tall as his brother, but both children towered over their father. "You're the one who's disrespectful here, Father, and you're the one who's going to either shut up or leave."
"Shh," Blair was murmuring, sentinel-soft, to the figure on the bed. "Ignore them, Jim. Just listen to me. I'm right here with you, okay? Just the two of us, really. You and me and a hospital vigil, we've been here before, we know the drill, right, so let's just ignore the bickering children over there and pretend it's just us, as usual. As always. You and me, Jim..."
The argument moved to the other side of the room, getting louder and then quieting as, apparently, Stephen manhandled his father out the door. With an embarrassed exchange of glances, the doctor and nurse moved out of Blair's peripheral vision; the door opened and closed again.
After a while, the door opened again. Blair glanced up -- craned his neck back awkwardly, really -- to see Simon hovering over him.
"He's still hanging on?" Simon asked.
"He's in there, Simon. He hears me, on some level at least."
"Dr. MacKay asked me to tell you that involuntary reflexes such as breathing don't mean that there is any sort of higher brain function."
Blair smiled at the rote repetition. "Thanks for telling me."
Simon shifted from foot to foot uneasily. "Blair," he said, and stopped.
"He heard me, Simon," Blair answered. "This isn't an involuntary reflex, or at least not of the type the doctor means. He's breathing because I told him to breathe, because in extremis a sentinel will obey his guide no matter what. It's-- it's a different sort of respirator, I suppose, but if he heard me, he must still be in there, right?"
"Is this what he wants?"
"I'm not giving up, Simon. I can't. And if I can't, he wouldn't either."
He watched Simon think this over, studying first Blair's face, then the figure on the bed. "All right, Sandburg," Simon said. "If anyone would know, you would." It barely even sounded grudging. "May I stay with you?" he asked after a moment. Blair nodded. "I'll be right back with coffee, then."
Sentinel and guide walked their rounds. Something was still bothering the sentinel, something about his guide whom he still couldn't see behind him even though the presence was there. A sudden sense of deja vu almost made him stop in his tracks. His guide pushed him forward, urging him into motion, but the sentinel had began to concentrate beyond the immediacy of his guard duty.
Deja vu. I've been here before. Before, after: time exists. I've been somewhere other than here in my life. Maybe I will go somewhere else again.
It was thirsty work, this thinking, but the panther who kept pace with them didn't offer him the water again. Not that the sentinel would have stopped for it; in fact, he was hurrying forward now, thinking, Maybe when this patrol is done my guide and I have somewhere else to be.
Blair paused for another pull at his bottle of lukewarm apple juice. His throat was raw, his voice was hoarse, and he wasn't giving up. Not yet, not ever. They'd had another sunrise after all, several hours ago now, and another changing of the guard. Simon had shown up to take his mother back to Jim and Blair's apartment and Joel Taggart had settled into Naomi's vacated chair by the windows.
Their friends on the force had rallied around them once the shock of the death announcement and revocation had been dealt with -- especially after Blair made the mistake of insisting to a nurse that Jim had moved his eyes under the closed lids. Henri Brown, the detective on late afternoon Ellison-Sandburg duty, had had to physically bar Dr. MacKay from the room. Confrontation was just what a bunch of cops needed to feel like contributors to Jim's recovery, now considered all-but-certain by most of Major Crimes despite the patient's continuing coma. Blair had refused point-blank to allow further medical assessments of Jim's brain functioning, declaring that the hospital had already given him up for dead and there was nothing they could do to make a difference now anyway.
He would have removed the heart monitor, too, but the thought of not hearing his partner's life reaffirmed every few seconds frightened him too much. Not for the first time, he wished for sentinel hearing that would have kept Jim's heartbeat constantly with him.
Abandoning the apple juice for the last of the cold coffee, Blair drained the cup and began talking again. He knew his hands and voice were shaking from the caffeine, but there was nothing for it but to continue. He could feel a crash approaching; fifty-odd hours should have been well under his limit for an all-nighter, but the panic, first from crawling through the wreck of the burning house looking for Jim, then from hanging on every breath -- each and every one -- for the last day and a half, was draining him. Besides, fond exaggerations aside, Blair doubted he'd ever talked nonstop for anywhere near this long.
He finished a recitation of "A Child's Christmas in Wales" in as close to Dylan Thomas' accent as he could get as Joel got up to fetch them more coffee. He drew in breath to ramble on into another topic and waited, head spinning, for inspiration. Nothing came. There was something about Dylan Thomas that he'd meant to say, he thought, but he'd decided to see if he really had the whole story memorized first -- which he apparently did -- and now his mind, having shut down into minimal 'quotation' mode, was blank in the face of need for original thought. So he did the only thing he knew to do in this situation: he turned it over to Jim.
"Jim," he called urgently, moving his hand to Jim's good shoulder and shaking it lightly. "Jim, man, you've got to wake up now because I'm crashing. It's your turn on watch, big guy. Come on, wake up."
Jim drew in a deep breath and actually groaned.
"Come on, Jim, I'm about to keel over here, man."
"Leh-uh." That was actually a word: Blair. There was no doubt, now, that Jim's eyes were rolling even still closed.
"I'm right here, Jim, but I need you to wake up and take over now, man."
There was a pause while Jim tried to swallow, then he croaked, "Drk."
"Your eyes are closed, man." Blair stuck his fingers in his mouth and sucked, then ran damp fingertips over Jim's eyelids, rubbing gently. He braced his hand over Jim's face to shield it from the sunlight pouring in and coaxed, "Okay, open them now. Your eyes, Jim, open your eyes." Nothing. Carefully, he pushed one eyelid back; the pupil was dilated so far he couldn't see any blue at all. Startled, he let Jim snap the eye closed again, but then the sentinel blinked cautiously, snapping his eyes shut in pain each time but clearly on the way to regaining control of the muscles.
This was a good thing, Blair knew through the haze of exhaustion. "Good," he told his partner. Then, unable to resist any longer, he curled himself down onto the edge of the bed and closed his own eyes. Pillowing his head on Jim's near shoulder, the uninjured one, he wrapped both of his own hands around Jim's larger one and tucked all three up under his chin. Jim's back, he thought fuzzily. He'll take care of us now. The hand in his grip tightened its grasp for a moment, reassuringly. Jim's back.
The sentinel sat cross-legged on the ground and waited. His guide had led him here and ordered him to stand guard, so guard he stood. Or sat. He knew there was still something wrong, something he didn't understand, but his immediate priority was clear, at least: to stand watch over the guide. He'd actually been able to turn his head and catch a glimpse, fleeting but true, of his guide at last. The light that normally radiated from his guide and shaman was magnified twenty-fold in those instances and hurt his eyes, but with the warm body curled at his back, breathing evenly, he didn't care about his eyes. The guide was resting, and the sentinel was on watch.
He didn't know how long he sat there, watching, before someone approached. The intruder called out as he stepped from the trees, a password casual and with a tickling familiarity, but the sentinel took no chances; he was guarding his guide. Moving on reflexes built solidly on the protective instinct, he rolled to his feet and stood, out of contact with his guide but ready to defend him. Taking another step forward, he drew his own breath out of sync with his sleeping guide and opened his eyes.
Joel Taggart was standing in a puddle of sunlight, gaping at him over the tops of two cups of coffee.
Groaning as his rapidly blinking eyes watered from the sun's reflected glare, Jim tried to raise an arm to block the light, but one hurt too much and the other was folded around his sleeping guide's chest.
Joel didn't move.
Then the pain hit. Everything was agony. It hurt to breathe, and gasping in pain wasn't helping. His chest hurt too much; he was panicking, feeling the pressure squeezing.
Something jolted Blair awake again, out of the nest of Jim's arm. Breathing, labored breathing -- he'd spent too many hours listening to that sound to sleep through its change now.
"Jim?" Shooting upright, he saw his partner gasping, muscles twisting until he arched up off the bed. "Jim, don't, listen to me, don't fight the pain, Jim, breathe." The heart monitor was squealing, stuttering faster and faster as Jim fought to breathe. "Jim, turn it down, dial it down, find the pain and dial it down, man, you can do this, okay? Follow my hands, relax where my hands touch, right? Follow me, listen to me, turn it down and relax," he urged, splaying his hands across Jim's stomach and slowly sliding then upwards, praying silently and generally because he couldn't spare a thought to find a specific deity to name. The spasming muscles under his fingers were calming, though. "Good, Jim, trust me now and let the pain go, okay? I've got you, I'll keep you breathing, just don't fight it, just let it go." The pain seemed to snap free suddenly; Jim drew in great gulps of air as the ping from the machine slowed and steadied again. "Easy, Jim, easy, relax, just breathe easy. Right? In rhythm with me, Jim, in, out, in out..." He regulated Jim's breathing again, matching their inhalations.
Jim's eyes never left him, trusting even as tears of pain slid out of their corners that Blair would make it all right. That faith warmed the young guide even as it shook him, but he talked Jim through a careful diagnosis and control of the pain from his injuries without his voice cracking from anything other than exhaustion.
Finally, he sat back and took Jim's hand in his own again. "Jim," he began, "do you know where you are?"
Jim opened his mouth, licked his lips, and looked like he was trying to answer.
"Oh gods, I'm sorry. Here, um," he poured some of his apple juice into an empty coffee cup, poured that into another cup, and poured more juice into the slightly cleaner cup. He dribbled the liquid into Jim's mouth, where it was eagerly lapped up, and added more to the cup to repeat the process.
Jim downed the rest of his apple juice, which wasn't much, and licked his lips with a surprisingly content expression for a man who'd just been drip-fed warm fruit juice while flat on his back in a hospital bed. "I'm in a hospital," he croaked, less hoarse than Blair himself, and added, "What hit me?"
"Most of a burning building, man. Do you remember it?"
"Did-- did Pearsons get out okay?"
"Everyone but you got out fine, and they arrested the dealers on the way out."
"The wood broke." Jim's voice roughened as he remembered. "I was trapped. And, and you came to free me...?"
"Yeah, Simon and I had to haul you out of there, man." Blair shivered, seeing again the pile of broken wood pining Jim's arm and head to the gritty floor. Flames had already been licking out of the top when Blair had found him and begun frantically digging, unable to see in the smoky haze whether his partner was still alive until he'd dragged him to the front door where Captain Banks had been waiting. Jim was frowning at him now, as if that weren't exactly what he'd meant, but he didn't ask anything more about it.
Jim almost pulled off a smile. "You look worse than I did after my three-day vigil for the Golden."
"Yeah, but they never pronounced me dead!"
Jim stared at him. "Wha--?"
"Gods, I'm sorry. I don't need to dump this on you now."
"Chief..." That was the old Ellison growl.
Saved by the bell, Blair nearly said, as the door opened and disgorged Simon, Joel, Naomi, and briefly Dr. MacKay's face until Joel closed the door on her.
"I don't believe it," said Simon. "Jim? How are you feeling?"
"A little confused by all the fuss, actually."
"Fuss? Fuss? If you think this is attention, you should have waited until tomorrow to rise from the dead, Jim. Couldn't you have waited the third day until Easter Sunday?"
Jim stared at Simon, and then turned to Blair. "Chief, remind me again who in this room has the head injury?"
"Uh, well, you see, Jim, the doctors kinda pronounced you brain-dead when you got to the hospital yesterday."
Joel put in, "The kid refused to believe it. Guess he couldn't tell the difference or something." Not even Joel himself laughed at that one. "He sat down and talked you up off your deathbed, apparently. Nonstop chatter. For two days. Could have woken the dead."
"Well, it did," Jim said, smiling just a little.
"You weren't dead, Jim. I wouldn't let you die like that," Blair protested.
"I know," Jim said, and squeezed the hand in his.
"This is sweet, guys, but can we let the doctor back in now, Sandburg?" demanded Simon.
"I could stand some more juice," said Jim.
"You're not on any painkillers, Jim," protested Simon.
"Yes he is," corrected Blair. "The same kind as the 'respirator' I've been keeping him on these past two days." At Joel and Naomi's puzzled looks, he elaborated, "Biofeedback."
"Really," Blair's mother said dryly, arching an eyebrow at the cop on the hospital bed.
"I meant," interrupted Jim, "more apple juice. Or water. Or a beer, come to that."
"It's not coming to that," Blair told him.
"Biofeedback?" asked Joel. "You mean, you just talked him out of a fourth heart attack?"
"You'd be surprised what I can talk Jim into or out of," Blair said.
"I wouldn't," said Simon, and got another smile out of Jim.
Someone pounded on the door. Joel opened it, carefully, and then stepped back to admit Stephen. After a moment's hesitation, he let Dr. MacKay in as well.
"Jim?!" Stephen stopped short halfway to the bed. "Captain Banks said you woke up but, but--"
"I'm fine, Stevie," croaked Jim. "Or not fine, but on the mend, anyway. May I please have something to drink?"
"My goodness," said the doctor as she leaned down to inspect Jim's pupils. "My goodness."
"I told you he wasn't dead," said Blair.
She ignored him. "My goodness. Mr. Ellison, can you remember who and where you are?"
"Yes, and I remember the building collapse that sent me here, too. I just went over this."
"My goodness. Well, can you run it through one more time, just for formality's sake?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "My name is James Ellison. The date is April 10th, 1999. I live in Apartment 307, 852 Prospect Avenue. I'm in Cascade General Hospital because a burning building collapsed on me during a drug bust. Anything else?"
"My goodness. We need another electroencephalogram, I think. Yes, definitely."
"Look, I'm fine."
"Are you in any pain?"
"No, but I'm hungry," he said pointedly.
"Your burns, at least, should be causing you some mild discomfort, in addition to the bruising where your ribs were cracked. Are you saying you can't feel anything?"
"No, I feel it, but I'm controlling the pain."
"Would you please stop saying that?"
Jim looked relieved when Blair finally managed to herd well-wishers and nurses out the door late that evening. Blair, as exhausted himself as Jim must be, collapsed back into 'his' chair and took up Jim's hand again.
"Well, looks like it's just you and me again, Jim," he said, tossing his head as his hair fell forward over his face. In spite of the deepening fatigue, a shower, shave, and actual meal had perked him up considerably.
"So what really happened to me, Chief?" Jim asked.
"I don't know, man. I took a good look at the new EEG printouts and they look absolutely normal for a guy who'd just been whacked on the head. I mean, that happens to you often enough that I can recognize it, y'know? But the ones from two days ago, they look like exactly what the doctors were calling them: fading electric residue on top of brain death, man. Like you weren't even in there, which was so not--" Blair stopped. "Like you weren't even in there," he repeated, and bounced forward to the edge of his chair. "Whoa, man, what if you weren't? In there, I mean, what if you were somewhere else?"
"Where else would I be?"
"Out of body."
"Well, obviously if I wasn't in my body--"
"No, I mean yeah, that's it exactly."
"You're losing me here, Chief."
"Jim, do you remember anything between the bust and waking up this morning? Like floating above your body or a tunnel of light or--" Jim made a rude noise. "No, man, seriously."
Jim sighed. "No, Sandburg, nothing like that. No floating, no singing, no angels--" He stopped. "A jungle, no angels, and something I needed to do. That's what I remember."
"'A jungle, no angels, and something you needed to do,'" repeated Blair. "Well, 'jungle' seems pretty clear. That's where you always go when you meditate, right? So the trauma must have sent you all the way there, this time, and you couldn't get back to this plane." Jim frowned. "Hey, is that for talking about astral planes or because it wasn't like that exactly? Tell me more about it."
"I don't know. I'm not even sure that's what it was. Maybe I'm just dredging up those mental exercises of yours trying to remember something for you now."
"Then what's with the 'no angels', man? Were you expecting heavenly choirs at the Pearly Gates?" He laughed. "No, wait, you mean the panther, of course. Your spirit guide wasn't there, is that what happened?"
"No, he was there." From the way his jaw snapped shut, Jim had surprised himself with that certain statement. Blair let him think about it for a moment. "You weren't, or you were but you weren't." He sighed. "That's what it was, Chief. Usually you're right there grounding me for these things."
"And you interpreted that as 'no angels'?" Blair blurted out.
The skin over Jim's cheekbones flushed bright red, and he didn't answer. Blair stared at him, Jim looked away, and the blush spread to cover Jim's whole face.
"Wow, man." Blair guessed that his own face was probably glowing as brightly as Jim's. Embarrassed, he rubbed his jaw with one hand and tucked his hair more securely behind his ears. "Uh. Okay, so you got to the jungle without me and had to do something. What did you have to do?"
"My territory. My guide." Jim continued to look surprised at his answers to the questions Blair was firing at him.
"So I was there."
"But I couldn't see you."
"Did you expect to?"
"Usually you glow."
That stopped them both. They stared at each other in mutual astonishment, then Blair asked, "I glow?"
Jim hissed in frustration and settled his head deeper into the pillow. "I don't know, Sandburg. Isn't this your field of expertise?"
"Yeah, man, but I never knew shamans were supposed to glow. That is so weird. I never glow when I'm meditating." He paused. "Do I? Maybe it's on like another wavelength, ultraviolent or something, so a nonsentinel can't see it. Hey, Jim, we've never tested you on light wavelengths, have we? Infrared, now that would be useful... Sorry, man. We can test that later."
Jim groaned. "Can I just go to sleep now, Sandburg?"
"Yeah, go ahead," Blair said absently, releasing Jim's hand to dig through the bag Naomi had brought with another change of clothes that afternoon. Holding the pencil he found in his teeth, he worked a small notebook free. He flipped it open to a clean page and scrawled the date and the title 'Sentinels and Trance States' across the top; humming to himself, he began to list sources on out of body experiences that he wanted to hunt up from the library or local bookstores.
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