Nobody dies. The rhythm of the story is slightly altered. Instead of it unfolding in ABC order, it's more like AB,AC, AD, etc. where "A" equals the present and the others are flashbacks.
Now that you are thoroughly confused....
Blair liked the emergency room. It had been crowded, noisy, people in constant motion. So different from the Intensive Care Unit's hushed atmosphere where the only sounds were the hum and hiss of life-giving machines. No one laughed or talked. Except in Jim's room, the noisiest place in the entire wing. But no one expected quiet when there was a life to be saved, a heart to be restarted.
Although there was nothing to distract Blair's attention from the sounds coming from that room, he didn't need to listen to know what was going on; Jim had gone into cardiac arrest three times since arriving at the hospital, and that wasn't counting the times at the loft and in the ambulance. So Blair knew exactly what was happening. The needles plunging into the Sentinel's skin, the chest compressions, the paddles sending jolts of electricity into the organ, forcing the cardiac muscles to react and, hopefully, continue reacting.
He looked up to see Captain Simon Banks standing over him with two styrofoam cups. The police observer's face hid nothing. "Not again?" Simon asked, wincing as Blair nodded. "Damn," the older man muttered, angry at himself for leaving to get coffee. As if his staying would have helped. So far, nothing had. Not the doctors. Not the medicines. Not the machinery turning Jim into a giant pincushion. With a growl of frustration, he settled into the chair next to Blair's in the ICU waiting room.
Blair tried to take the cup that was offered, but his hand shook too badly so he waved it away and lay his head back against the wall behind him. "You know, Simon, of all the ways I imagined getting Jim killed, this was not one of them."
"Say, Chief, you're looking pretty spiffy tonight," Jim said as Blair stepped out of the bathroom, tucking in a freshly ironed shirt into equally pressed Chinos. "Got a big one tonight, huh?"
"Yeah. She's a transfer grad student from Ohio. I met her a couple of days ago, asked her out, and she said yes."
"What's her name?"
"Lauren Demerest." He eyed his loftmate suspiciously. "You're not going to do anything drastic, like run her file through the station, are you?"
'Don't you think the Cascade Police Department has better things to do than worry about who you're dating?"
"I'm not talking about the department, Jim. I'm talking about you."
Jim laughed. "Just because the last woman you got involved with was a drug dealer and ones before that got you into even deeper hot water than you normally find, doesn't mean I'm going to screen all your dates, Sandburg."
"She's going to love your paranoia, Chief."
"Mr. Sandburg." Blair nodded, too frightened to look up at the doctor. "Once again, Detective Ellison has defied the odds and his heart rhythm has stabilized. But the muscle is weak and I'm not sure how many times it can go through this. As the detective's next of kin, I'm afraid you're going to have to make some hard decisions in the next few hours."
Blair nodded again and the doctor left. Blair knew about DNR orders, Do Not Resuscitate. It meant the patient was so far gone that reviving him only prolonged the pain. Basically the doctor was asking how long he was gonna let Jim suffer before letting him go.
He had been stunned earlier in the emergency room when the attending physician had asked Simon who was listed as Jim's next of kin and he had turned to Blair.
"I thought you and Jim had discussed this, Sandburg," Simon had said.
"But what about Steven? He's his brother."
"Jim knew you would be the one at his side. He trusted you to make the right choices."
"Damn you, Jim," Blair said as he stood, grabbed his crutches, and went back to his chair beside Jim's bed.
Blair knew something was wrong the minute he walked into the loft. He'd had a late class so he knew Jim was already home. He expected him to be watching the news or a game on the television, sprawled comfortably on the sofa in just his shorts or maybe a pair of sweats. What he didn't expect was his partner waiting at the door for him with a determined look in his eye.
"Hi, Jim," he said warily, tossing his backpack in the usual place. "Something up?"
"You tell me."
He followed the Sentinel to the sofa, trying to figure out what he'd done wrong. Had he forgotten to put the used towels in the hamper this morning? Or had he drank directly from the milk carton? He couldn't remember. "Give me a hint?" he asked cautiously.
"How about the fact that you're planning on getting married and I didn't know? Is that enough of a hint for you?"
Blair laughed. He couldn't help it because he was so heady with relief. He'd thought Jim was actually pissed with him. "God, Jim, you had me shaking in my tennies, man. What's with the joke?"
"No joke, Chief. Lauren stopped by tonight to tell me I didn't have to worry. That she knew you wouldn't be happy far away from me, so when the two of you were married I'd have my own room or maybe I would prefer a cabin on the property behind the house."
Blair sobered quickly. "She told you we were getting married?" His partner nodded. "Damn, Jim. For the last two weeks I've been trying to figure out how to get rid of her. I definitely don't plan on marrying her."
Jim relaxed. "You must have said something to give her the impression that you were serious about her."
"No, Jim." He stared at the coffee table in front of him. "The reason why I've been reluctant to just come out and dump her to her face is that I think she may be...unstable."
"Unstable how, Chief? As in suicidal? Or as in homicidal?"
"I honestly don't know, Jim. It's just a feeling I get when I'm with her. Quite frankly, she gives me the creeps."
Jim's jaw quivered and hardened. Thanks to him, his partner had dealt with a lot of psychos. If he felt creepy, it was for a reason. "Okay, Chief. Is it time to run her name now?"
"Be my guest."
Blair didn't take his eyes off Jim as he acknowledged the captain's presence. Jim's breathing was growing shallower as the hours passed. His condition had degraded to the point it wasn't just his heart that was failing; his whole system was on the verge of a shutdown. "What should we put on his tombstone, Simon? 'Here Lies James Ellison, Killed By His Best Friend's Stupidity'?"
"Stop it, Sandburg," Simon said fiercely. "You didn't kill him and if Jim was awake, he'd be the first one to tell you none of this is your fault."
"But he's not awake. That's the problem. Jim is never going to wake up again!"
The police captain couldn't ignore the agony in the younger man's voice. He crouched down beside the chair and placed his hand on the quivering shoulder. "I know how difficult this is for you, Blair. Jim is a friend to both of us, but he's so much more to you. He's your partner, your father, your big brother."
"My Sentinel," Blair sobbed, burying his face in his hands. "He is my Blessed Protector, Simon, and as his Guide, I should have been his. This never should have happened. I should have been there to protect him."
"You were in the hospital, man."
"It doesn't matter where I was, captain. All that matters is where I wasn't-- beside Jim."
After learning about her discussion with Jim, Blair thought it was time to confront Lauren with the truth: he didn't love her, would never marry her, and at times was scared of her. He hadn't been quite that blunt, but he didn't have the luxury of waiting for her to get the message. She'd done the one thing he couldn't condone or ignore; she'd made Jim doubt their relationship.
"I'm sorry, Lauren," Blair said as he drove her car back from the restaurant. She said the bucking of his car made her nauseous and her sporty Mercedes coupe was a thrill to drive. "I know this wasn't what you wanted to hear."
"And I'm not hearing it now! You can't do this to me! You can't!" she screamed and grabbed the steering wheel.
Blair fought to control the car, but couldn't.
"I have to try Steven's number again," Blair said, positioning the crutches under his arms.
"Sandburg, you've left a tape full of messages on his machine already. When he gets home, he'll find them and call."
"By then it may be too late, Simon. I signed the damn DNR papers. Jim could go at any time. And I don't want his brother coming around later blaming me. Jim made peace with Steven. I want it to last after he's gone."
Blair made his way down the hall to the pay phone and dialed the now familiar number...and got the equally familiar recording. Instead of repeating the message, he hung up and hobbled to the men's room. He stared at his face in the mirror, the sprouting beard and dark smudges under his eyes making him appear paler than he was. Jim, mother hen that he could be, would have taken one look at him and sent him to bed-- in handcuffs if necessary.
He laughed. That was one Simon hadn't mentioned-- Jim being his mother. But at times, Jim cared for him much better than Naomi had. Jim was there at night to calm his fears, to tend to him when he was sick, to look for him when he was lost. And mostly, Jim was there. Whenever. Wherever. His partner thought Blair was strong, because he had survived kidnappings and bombings and shootings without cracking up. But in all those situations, the one thing Blair anchored his sanity to was the fact that Jim would be there to rescue him, comfort him, make him feel safe.... Would he ever feel safe again?
Jim had taught him to open up, to understand that revealing your weaknesses to a friend only made you stronger. He'd taken an original "Mr. Anti-Establishment" and turned him into a cop. He'd anchored a "rolling stone", giving him a home and someone to come home to. Whatever Blair was today, he owed all to Jim Ellison.
But in all that teaching, Jim had failed in the final lesson: he hadn't taught Blair to live without him.
Blair woke up to bright lights and varied voices. It took him a few seconds to remember the car going off the road and down an embankment. Then he remembered why.
"He's awake!" a voice called animatedly. "Mr. Sandburg? Your girlfriend's fine, just scraped up a bit. Do you want me to get her for you?"
Blair squinted into the lights placed around the accident scene. "No, I want Jim."
"Who's Jim?" one of the EMTs asked.
"We'll find out later," the other answered. "This shot is going to knock him out anyway. You have the amputation kit?"
Amputation kit? No way, Blair thought in a panic. "Jim!"
"Right here, buddy."
And miraculously enough, Jim appeared. "I don't think I want to know how you got here so quickly," Blair said with relief.
Jim shrugged. "I had a feeling."
Jim's feelings were usually more accurate than others' facts. "They want to cut off something, Jim. But I need all my body parts."
"Hold on, Chief. Nobody's cutting anything. Someone want to fill me in on the situation?" he asked the two paramedics.
"Who are you?" the bolder one asked, the one who wanted to get the amputation kit.
"Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade P.D. This is my partner Blair Sandburg and I want answers now!"
The other paramedic hurried to reply. "Mr Sandburg's leg is caught in the wreckage. We're afraid blood flow has been blocked. Because the car is on an incline if we tried to bring in equipment to extract him, well, the cure could be worse than the disease."
"How tightly is the leg wedged in?"
"We aren't sure. We can't get enough light into the area."
Jim nodded and crawled carefully into the car from the passenger's side, his senses on alert for the slightest movement of the vehicle. When he had arrived on the scene, he had toned down his sight to counteract the halogen lamps set up around the perimeter. Now he allowed his enhanced vision to take over in order to see the bulge of metal pressing into Blair's leg. With a touch, he discovered the paramedics were right; blood flow had virtually stopped in the leg.
Cautiously, he slid out of the car. "Chief, do you trust me?"
"With my life, Jim."
The detective nodded. "I need a small acetylene torch," he said to the EMTs.
"Det. Ellison, we can't allow--"
"I'll take full responsibility for what happens to Sandburg," the Sentinel said, his blue eyes flashing. "But you will bring me that torch!"
"This is going to be tricky, Chief," he admitted as he slipped into a welder's mask. "I'll try to be careful but...."
"Do what you have to, Jim. But be careful of your eyes. The flame will be bright."
"I'll be careful, Chief."
"What is it, Simon?" Blair asked, looking at the captain in concern. He knew Simon was just as exhausted as he was. He'd not only been at the hospital all day but had conducted police business with the station via the telephone. But now Blair was detecting an ashen cast beneath Simon's dark complexion.
"I just got off the phone with Daryl." Daryl was his teenage son, a son who lived in awe of Jim and idolized Blair. He hadn't taken the news very well and Simon had nearly broken down hearing the tears of his son across the telephone lines. "He says to tell you that you are not alone. His thoughts are with you and if you want, he'll have his mom bring him here tonight or tomorrow."
Blair blinked back tears at the thoughtfulness of the teenager. "If you don't mind, I may want to borrow him for a few days. I may need the reminder of what youthful exuberance feels like."
"What are you talking about, man? You're not that old."
"I'm a lot older now than I was before, Simon. A lot older," he said sadly.
Blair was about to fall asleep when through half-opened eyes he saw Lauren enter his hospital room. Quickly, he shut his eyes and feigned sleep. He didn't have the energy to deal with her. Last night at the accident, he had wanted Jim to get rid of her. Since she had been on the edge of hysteria anyway, Jim had convinced the paramedics to give her a sedative and send her to the hospital.
She had tried to talk to him when he arrived in the emergency room, his leg fully attached but aching. The doctors had kicked her out. Jim had stayed with him all night, watching over him as the anti-clotting drugs took effect and restored circulation to his leg. A little over an hour ago, he'd finally convinced his partner to go home and get some rest. Selfishly, he wished Jim had stayed so he could throw Lauren out.
"Blair," Lauren called softly. He didn't move. "I guess they have you drugged pretty thoroughly, my love. But I'll have the rest of our lives to talk to you. You see, I know what the problem was between the two of us. It was your Jim. He was jealous of me and poisoned your mind against me. But I've taken care of him. He won't be in our way anymore."
Blair's eyes flew open and he rose out of bed to grab her by the arm. "What have you done to Jim!" he yelled.
With enough shaking, she told him what she'd done and he pushed her away to grab the phone. "Simon! Get over to the loft now! Lauren's hurt Jim!"
"It won't be long now, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair nodded, the doctor confirming what he already knew; Jim was fading away. The heart monitor's sound had been turned down, but he could see how far apart each beat was. Jim's chest rose so infrequently that he thought each breath was the last. "Thank you, doctor. Do you think I could be alone with him?"
The doctor nodded; he and the nurse left. "Want me to go too, Blair?" Simon asked.
"Unless there's something you need to tell him before...."
Simon shook his head. "Jim knows what he meant to me." He moved to the bed and held his friend's hand one last time. "Goodbye, my friend. You were an original. May God give you peace." He left before Sandburg could see the tears on his face.
"Well, Jim, it's just you and me now. Just Sentinel and Guide, the way it's supposed to be. Thank you for sharing your life with me. Not many people would have taken me in. I not only invaded your home, but your job, and as you were always telling me, your heart. I was always worried that you were going to tire of me, toss me aside like all the other men in my life. But you didn't. I made you mad, forgot the house rules, put you in danger, changed the whole way you lived. Yet you didn't complain, at least not much, and you never once asked me to leave. More importantly, you never left."
He stood and walked over to the bed, stroking Jim's arm, putting his hand in his. "And you're not leaving me now. I refuse to believe that my Blessed Protector will just disappear. I think you'll always be somewhere near, watching over me. So travel on, my friend, and one day you'll look over your shoulder and there I'll be, your Guide at your side once again."
The hand he held went limp. Blair looked at the heart monitor and saw the straight line. He leaned over and placed a kiss on Jim's brow. "I have loved you forever. That will never change. Goodbye, my friend, my Sentinel."
"What happened, Simon?" Blair asked as the gurney bearing Jim sped past him and into an emergency room cubicle.
"I found him in the bathroom, Sandburg. From what I could tell, she clubbed him over the head, then injected pure heroin into him. He overdosed, Blair. I had to start CPR. Then he arrested twice more in the ambulance."
"Did my men get here?"
"Yeah, hospital security held her until they arrived. What about Jim, captain? He's going to be okay, isn't he?"
"I can't say for sure. The hit she gave him was three times the normal amount. And it was pure. I can't wait for her to tell us who her supplier is."
"If you need to get to the station...." Blair didn't want to be alone, but he understood Simon wanting to be there when Lauren told her sordid tale.
"I'm not going anywhere, Sandburg. Brown and the others know what she did; they won't give up until she breaks. No one attacks a cop and gets away with it. Not in my city!"
The two sat in the emergency room, not noticing the myriad of people who came and went as they waited. Blair only stirred when he heard the words "Code Blue" yelled and watched the equipment wheeled rapidly behind the curtain where Jim lay.
"Why did she do this, Simon?"
"I guess Jim never got around to telling you, huh? We received a report on her yesterday. Seems she was accused of stalking a young guy on Ohio State's campus. According to report, she was obsessed with him. He claimed she had threatened the women who had classes with him, even his sister. After he broke it off with her, she would follow him home from class, trail him on his errands, etc. Scared him bad enough that he reported it to the police."
"Then why in hell was she free to roam Rainier's campus? Why wasn't she locked up?"
Simon shrugged. "Her family has money. They paid the guy off and promised to send her away. Cascade is where she landed."
"And latched onto me." Blair sighed and removed the band from his ponytail. "What is it about me, Simon, that loonies can spot me from a mile away?"
Simon had thought about that for quite a while. "You have a sympathetic nature, Sandburg. It's like a magnet for certain types of personalities."
"I guess Jim didn't take that into consideration when he invited me into his life."
"I don't know about that. Jim's always been pretty good at reading people, even before this Sentinel business. I think he knew what baggage you'd be bringing along, but he wanted you as a friend so he accepted it."
"Jim taught me everything I know about friendship. I used to think a friend was someone who occasionally went bar-hopping with you, gave you a ride when your car broke down, or shared the notes from a class you missed. But Jim has friendship down to an art form," Blair said with a smile. "Friendship to him means loyalty, support, understanding, even sacrifice. I know he gave up a lot for me. Not to mention all the ribbing and innuendo at the station with me following him around like a puppy dog and moving in with him."
Simon winced at the references to the rumors at the station. He'd done his best to protect his friends from the ugliness. "Jim has never done anything he didn't want to do."
"Except when it comes to me, man. Did you know he wanted to run Lauren through the computer the night of our first date? Like a fool, I ignored his instincts and stopped him. Then when even I began to feel nervous around her, I didn't confide in him. If I had...."
"You can't play the 'If' game, Sandburg. It's a no-win situation."
Blair nodded, but the words kept running through his mind. If Jim's heart started beating again...if he lived...if he came home...if he could ever forgive his partner....
The first time Blair thought it was a trick of his tired imagination. The second time he remembered the gas reactions the med students working morgue duty told tales about. The third time he knew without a doubt that Jim's chest was rising and falling.
His eyes glanced quickly to the cardiac monitor. Blips. There they were: a series of equally placed blips streaming across the screen. "Jim!" he cried.
Simon had been waiting outside the door and now he rushed in, hoping the kid wasn't totally losing it. Without a word, Blair took his hand and placed it on Jim's chest, then nodded toward the monitor. Simon's eyes grew wide, then misty.
They both took a second to bask in the moment, then Simon went running for the doctor. Blair went into Guide mode, talking softly as he led Jim to consciousness.
"What the hell?" the doctor exclaimed as Simon practically pushed him through the door.
Jim's blue gaze flashed to the doctor and then back to Blair's solemn stare. For a minute, he wondered if something had happened to his vision for there was a brightness in his Guide's eyes that he'd never seen before; a light that shone from beyond the blueness.
"You okay, Chief?" he whispered, clutching the hand he found in his.
Blair blinked, but the light didn't disappear. "Yeah, I am now, Jim. I am now."
Jim Ellison stood at the large windows, listening to Cascade wake up. For once the rain had stopped and he could detect the first rays of sunlight stretching toward the city skyline. He could also detect the nearness of a familiar heart.
"Good morning, Chief. Don't tell me I woke you. I thought I was the only Sentinel living here."
Blair smiled and joined him at the window. "I've been thinking about the things I haven't shared with you and the sunrise is one of them. At least not shared willingly."
"I guess that doesn't include stakeouts, huh?" Jim asked with a laugh.
"That's a definite 'no', big guy."
"So have you figured it out yet?" Jim asked a few minutes later. "What happened to me in the hospital? How did I die, then come back?"
Blair had lost more than one night of sleep on the question in the past two weeks since it happened. "The body is a complex system of circuits and connections, similar to a computer. Well, sometimes you can foul up a computer so badly that no matter how many times you punch the escape button or alt/control/delete, nothing works. The only solution in that situation is to turn off the whole system, wait thirty seconds, then reboot. I think that's what happened to you, Jim. The heroin crashed your system and you had to shut down--"
"And reboot," Jim completed. "Sounds reasonable enough to me."
"It does?" Blair asked in surprise.
"Sure because the only other alternative is that someone up there," he pointed to where the sun was cresting over Wilkerson Tower, "thought this ol' Sentinel and his Guide had a few more criminals to bust and adventures to share-- together."
Blair shrugged happily. That worked too.