This story is in response to Challenge #4 on Suzie's Challenge page. Comments, as always, are welcome.
Blair opened his eyes slowly, dreading what he might find. He looked around the all too familiar room. //Damn, I was afraid of this.// He thought as he recognized the uninspiring decor of a Cascade General Hospital room. He looked to his right and, seeing the growth of beard on his sleeping partner's face, he guessed that he had been out for about a day and a half.
He took inventory. //Well, what am I in here for this time? I don't feel any bullet holes, no broken bones; I don't feel like I have a concussion.// He was now confused. //Man, I hate to wake him up but Jim will be able to tell me what happened.//
Blair opened his mouth. His heart began to race when he realized he was unable to speak. Jim was awakened by his young partner's frantic motions. He quickly reached out to comfort his guide.
"Take it easy, Chief. You're going to be okay." He could see the questions in the younger man's eyes. "The doctor said you might have some trouble with your voice because of the chemicals you were exposed to." He saw the puzzled look on Blair's face. "You don't remember what happened, do you?" Blair shook his head. "I'll fill you in as soon as the Doctors have a chance to check you out." Jim ignored his partner's frown and pushed the call button.
The next half-hour was occupied by doctor's checking to make sure the chemicals hadn't caused any neurological damage. The hospital's ENT specialist checked the now paralyzed vocal cords.
Blair was growing increasingly frustrated by his inability to speak. Jim had been monitoring the younger man's agitation. He pushed his way to his partner's side.
"It's going to be okay, Chief. Just take a deep breath. They'll be done in a minute, and then I will explain everything." Blair's tense shoulders relaxed under his 'Blessed Protector's' hands.
//I am calm...I am calm.// When the medical staff left the room the younger man gave a sigh of relief. He turned to his partner. Jim could see the questions in his friend's eyes.
"Do you remember going to the University yesterday morning?" Jim asked. Blair shook his head. "Okay, from everything I was able to piece together, I think this is what happened."
The morning started with it's usual rush. It had taken two separate attempts for Jim to get Blair out of his warm cocoon of blankets.
"Get moving, Chief, you're going to be late if you don't get your butt out of bed." He heard a quiet groan from somewhere under the pile of blankets.
Jim moved to the kitchen to fix breakfast. Soon the smells of cooking eggs and bacon served to draw the younger man to the land of the conscious.
"Wow, man, I can't believe it. You're fixing breakfast." Blair said in disbelief.
"I figured I'd better if I didn't want to go hungry." He looked at his rumpled partner. "You want some eggs, or are you going to have one of those algae shakes?" Jim could barely suppress a shudder.
Blair breathed in the scent of the cooking meal. "Eggs, definitely."
After breakfast, Blair finished getting ready to go to the University. The days schedule was light. He only had one class to teach in the morning. He was looking forward to spending the rest of the day with his partner at the station. The drive to the station was uneventful. The Volvo was having a very good car day. It had recovered for Jim's use of it as a pursuit vehicle.
The morning went as planned until just before lunch. Andrea, a Chemistry TA, who had been auditing Blair's Anthropology class, had asked for help carrying a load of equipment from the receiving area, to the Chemistry Lab. Blair checked the time and, noting that he had a few minutes before he was due to meet Jim, agreed to help.
They quickly collected the shipment. Once in the lab, Blair set his armload down in a convenient spot. He had just turned to tell Andrea he was leaving when he heard a WHUMP from the back of the room. He could feel a burning sensation in his throat. He shouted at Andrea who was closer to the door, to get out. He tried to run to the door. The fumes overtook Blair before he could get out and rendered him unconscious.
As soon as Jim had mentioned the Chemistry Lab, the memories had flooded back. Blair started to panic at the memory of the burning fumes.
"Take it easy, Chief. You're safe." Jim tried to comfort his partner. Blair pointed to his throat. "Something in the chemicals paralyzed your vocal cords. The doctors believe it is only temporary." The big man explained. Blair made a writing motion. Jim smacked himself on the forehead. "I'm sorry, buddy. I wasn't thinking. Give me a minute and I'll get you something."
As soon as Jim left the room, Blair's mind started running a mile a minute, trying to process this new information. His thoughts latched onto the most important aspect of his condition. //What if Jim zones? How am I going to bring him out of a zone if I can't speak?// He had almost managed to work himself into a full-blown panic attack by the time Jim returned with the paper and pen. The big man's presence was enough to provide an anchor, helping him to calm down.
Blair snatched the paper out of Jim's hand and began to write. Jim waited patiently for the expected questions. Shortly the scraps of paper were handed back.
[How long till this wears off?]
"The doctors aren't sure how long. It could be days or even weeks before you voice returns."
[When can I get out of here?]
"As soon as your last group of tests come back. They want to make sure there are no other side effects." Jim explained.
Blair wrote another note. [Could you find the doc for me? I really want to go home.]
"Sure, Chief, but if he says you have to stay, I don't want any argument out of you." The younger man just glared at his partner. As he picked up the phone to call in search of the doctor, Jim chuckled at the mutinous expression.
When the doctor arrived, Blair was ready. He had a sheaf of notes waiting.
"Mr. Sandburg, I know you want to go home. And trust me, there is nothing we would like better." He said with a smile. Blair tossed half of his notes. "We should know within the next four hours. If the tests come back negative, you're out of here."
[Great.] Blair wrote. [Since I have to wait, can I have something to eat? I'm starving.]
"Sure, Chief, I'll get you something." Jim turned to the doctor. "What do you say, Doc? How about a nice big bowl of lime Jell-O?" Blair tried to glare but his sense of humor kicked in and he started to chuckle silently. The hours passed slowly with Blair's mind returning to his primary worry, how could he guide his partner without a voice?
"Okay, Chief, straight to the couch." Jim ordered as he unlocked the door. Blair knew his partner was in 'mother hen' mode. He also knew that if he were a big enough pain in the butt, Jim would go back to normal. He handed Jim a note.
[Looks like you're stuck with me. I can't teach and I'm not taking any classes this semester. I'm all yours.]
Jim smiled, "the doc did clear you for everything except talk, right?" Blair suddenly had visions of unending piles of paperwork in his future.
The detective smiled, he always felt more comfortable with his guide by his side. He noticed a worried expression cross Blair's face.
"What's wrong, Chief?"
Blair wrote. [How can I get you out of a zone if I can't talk?]
"Don't worry, I haven't zoned in a very long time. And if I did, I know you would find a way to get me out of it." He said trying to calm his stressed partner. It didn't seem to be working. "Look at me." Blair looked up at his friend. "Don't borrow trouble. You know things will work out. They always do." Blair shrugged and tried to smile. They both knew he would continue to worry until they found a solution.
That night, Blair tossed and turned, unable to sleep. He was thinking of and discarding ideas. Jim heard him fall asleep around two in the morning. An hour before daybreak the young Shaman found himself in a vivid dream.
He was in a lush old growth forest. As he walked, he could see a wolf to his left, keeping pace. He remembered everything he had learned about spirit guides, and turned to confront the wolf. When he drew closer, the wolf morphed into a version of himself. The other Blair seemed older and was dressed as a Chopec Shaman. His spirit guide was the first to speak.
"Took you long enough to face me."
Blair just stared in disbelief; he couldn't wait to tell Jim that he too had a spirit guide.
"Come on, pay attention here." The Spirit guide ordered. "If you're here, you must have a problem. So out with it."
Blair almost laughed at his Spirit Guides put upon tone. "My voice, I can't speak and I don't know what to do if Jim zones, or how to bring him out of it."
The other Blair looked at him with amusement. "You haven't even begun to tap into your true potential or discover all of your abilities. When the need arises, you will be able to do what must be done."
Blair shook his head. "Come on, man, what does that mean? What kind of abilities?"
The Spirit Blair smiled. "Patience, Shaman. Your abilities will manifest when you need them. Worry is useless." The man morphed back in the form of the wolf. Blair watched as it ran into the forest.
"There must be a spirit guide union. They must have a rule about being vague and cryptic." Blair muttered and heard the lilt of laughter in the air just before waking.
Jim could see and hear the difference in his young partner. The worried look was gone and the bounce was back in his step. The big man did admit to himself that he did miss the sound of Blair's voice. The drive too work was too quiet. While the younger man was no longer worried about the zone out problem, he was frustrated by his inability to communicate. Jim looked over at his fidgety partner. "Hang in there, Chief, we'll be at the station soon and you'll be able to write. Now, sit still." Blair crossed his arms and slouched down in the seat.
They walked out of the elevator and went to Major crimes. The first person he ran into was Henri Brown. "Hey, Hair boy, it's good to see you back." The detective said when he spotted the young anthropologist.
Blair smiled, and Jim said, "Hey, H," and waved at the other detective.
"He got his voice back?" Brown asked. Blair glared over being talked around. Henri gave the young observer a quick smile. "Sorry, kid." He patted Blair on the back. Blair shrugged and smiled before heading for Jim's desk. He waved at the other detectives as he crossed the bullpen. He settled at the desk looking in disbelief at the stack of files on the desk.
He handed a note to his partner. [What happened?] He gestured at the paperwork.
"Beats me. Let's go check with Simon and see what's up." Blair bounced out of the chair, closely following the detective to the Captain's office. As Jim raised his hand to knock, the door opened.
"Come in, gentlemen." Simon invited. He was expecting the protests about the mountain of paper, and had been waiting for the inevitable complaints. "Have a seat." He walked over to his coffee bar and poured a cup. "Do you want some?"
Blair shook his head and Jim answered, "No, Sir, but I would..."
Simon held up his hand. "Hold it right there. Let me see could you possibly be getting ready to complain about the amount of paperwork you have been assigned?" Jim started to answer. The Captain once again held up his big hand. "I'm only going to say this once. You are both on restricted duty until Sandburg gets his voice back."
"But, Captain, we can still work out in the field." Jim protested, Blair nodding in agreement beside him.
"Sorry, Jim, I know how the two of you work." He watched as his best team looked at each other. "You don't think I see how many times the kid pulls you out of a zone just by whispering your name."
"Come on Simon, We'll be careful..."
"What part of 'no' didn't you understand?" Simon glared at the two men.
Blair put his hand on his partner's arm. Jim turned to his guide and saw the barely perceptible negative shake of his head. The big detective took a deep breath.
"Very well, sir." Jim said past a tightened jaw.
Simon sat back in his chair with a deep sigh when they left his office. He understood that they needed to test their limits but it made him feel like he was talking to a pair of teenagers. He shook his head and poured himself a cup of coffee returning to the stack of paperwork on his own desk.
The two men spent the morning tunneling through the mountain of paperwork that had magically appeared on their desk once it became known that the two had been restricted to desk duty. At one o'clock Jim realized the time and tapped his partner on the shoulder.
"You ready for lunch, Chief? I don't know about you but I'm starving."
Blair nodded and quickly wrote, [Anything, just not Wonder Burger!]
"You mean the one time I can go and eat without you extolling the dangers of cholesterol? I don't know..."
Blair smacked him on the arm. "Okay, Chief, I'll give in this time." Jim laughed. The younger man gave an exaggerated sigh of relief. "Keep it up and I might change my mind." He tried to sound gruff but could see the silent laughter shaking his partner's shoulders as he headed for the elevator.
The younger man's eyes widened in surprise when they pulled up in front of their destination. It was a new Indian restaurant that had opened up a short ways from the station. Blair had heard a lot of good press about the place. He was just surprised that Jim had heard about it. The detective had decided it was worth a lunch of strange food to see the happy expression on his partner's face. Blair pointed out to the waiter his selection from the menu. He raised an eyebrow at Jim.
"Yeah, go ahead and order for me. I don't recognize anything." Jim gestured at the menu. Blair made a production out of searching the menu. Looking for just the right meal. "If you take much longer we're going to be on our way to Wonder Burger." The younger man quickly pointed out a selection.
When the food arrived, Jim, looked at his plate in amazement, it actually looked edible. He took a fork full of the mixed salad. Blair watched anxiously, waiting for a reaction. Jim drew it out, making his partner wait.
"Good job, buddy, this is actually edible." As he dug in to the salad, Blair visibly relaxed and was able to enjoy his own meal.
They left the restaurant in a good mood. As soon as the truck was started, the radio squawked an all cars bulletin. There was a bank robbery in progress. When they heard the address they looked at each other; it was close to their current location. Blair nodded his agreement to the unspoken question and they sped to the scene.
Jim pulled up beside the police car blocking the end of the street. He could clearly see two more cars at the other end of the block, effectively blocking off the street. As they approached the scene, he grabbed the first uniformed officer he spotted. Jim flashed his badge.
"Officer..." He quickly glanced at the man's nametag. "...Davis, what can you tell me about the situation?"
"My partner and I got here as fast as we could when we heard the first report about the silent alarm. We blocked off the area when a few more cars arrived. When we drove up, a car took off like a bat outa hell; we put the license out right away...I think it might have been their driver. We heard a shot when we got out of the car but we weren't able to get much closer. Someone yelled out the door to keep away or they would kill the hostages."
"You did everything right." Jim assured the young officer. He pulled out his cell phone and called Simon.
"Banks." Was the reply over the sound of an engine.
"Ellison here..." he was interrupted.
"Don't tell me, you and the kid are outside the bank."
"Okay, I won't tell you." Jim answered trying not to laugh at the long-suffering tone in his Captain's voice.
"Just don't do anything until I get there." Simon warned.
"No problem..." Jim began to answer when he heard the distinctive pops of gunfire. "Damn, got to go, Simon."
"JIM!" Was the yell he heard as he disconnected the phone.
Blair had also heard the gunfire and knew his Sentinel would be unable to wait for Simon before trying to find out personally what was going on. He also knew it would be useless trying to dissuade him. He moved into his customary position behind his partner, resting his hand on the center of his partner's back to keep him anchored.
Jim stretched out his sight to investigate the interior of the building. "I can see three men with automatic weapons walking around. No one else is visible." Blair tapped him twice on the back, Jim knew he meant for him try piggybacking another sense. He followed his sight with hearing, at first focusing on heartbeats. He determined that there were fifteen people besides the bank robbers inside. One was seriously wounded; he could hear someone inside asking to be allowed to help.
He listened to an argument between two of the gunmen.
"Man, I told you this was a stupid ass idea. But, no, this is going to be a piece of cake, you said. In and out, you said." One whined.
"Shut up, you idiot. There's nothing we can do about it now. It's not my fault Tucker went rabbit on us." The other answered. "Just watch the hostages while I try to figure a way out of this goat rope." He turned and walked away from his cohort.
Jim pulled back in response to the tapping of his partner's fingers on his back. He turned and smiled at his worried guide. "So far so good, Chief." He tilted his head slightly. "Simon is almost here."
They turned and looked as the big Captain walked up with the department hostage negotiator. "Glad to see you followed my orders." He said gruffly. He missed seeing the amused glance the two men shared.
Jim quickly filled him in on what they had learned while the negotiator set up her equipment.
"So there are only three of them?" Simon asked knowing that his detective had used his abilities.
"Yes, sir. And it looks like there is access through the vent system." Jim looked hopefully at his boss.
Simon began shaking his head. "Oh, no, you don't. If you got into the vent and zoned we'd never be able to get you out."
Blair stomped his foot to get Simon's attention.
"What, Sandburg?" Banks said impatiently. Blair pointed at himself trying to tell Simon that of course the Guide would also be going. "No, no, no. You are not going in." He held up his hand as Jim began to interrupt. "I know you have worked out signals but I'm not going to risk your lives on an untested theory."
"That is my final word." Simon said turning from the now frustrated pair. He understood how they felt but he wasn't going to take the chance of something happening to his best team.
They stood back letting the negotiator work. The hours passed without any change in the situation. The detective kept his hearing partially focused on the inside of the bank.
"Damn." He whispered. "Stay close, Chief." They move closer to the building.
"Ellison, where do you think you're going?" Simon asked angrily as his detective started to walk past him. Jim gave him a quick glance.
"They're going to start shooting the hostages in ten minutes. They think the negotiator is just pulling their chain, and that if they start killing, we'll take them serious." Jim quickly explained.
Simon sighed knowing there was no way he could keep the pair out of the action. "Okay, tell me your plan." Simon ordered
Jim explained about the vent system that extended from the roof into the crawl space in the ceiling. Jim had remembered the weak points in the banks security system from its annual security test. He was hoping the bank had drug its feet about correcting the flaws.
Jim, Blair and Henri Brown climbed to the roof of the building. Blair kept his eyes on his partner's back. He didn't want to take the chance of his fear of heights making an appearance.
The big man stopped and listened; he grew alarmed at the increasingly erratic words of the bank robbers. "Come on guys, we need to get moving." Jim went into the vent with Blair close behind, with Brown bringing up the rear. It was a snug fit but they managed to get to the grillwork in the counting room ceiling without incident.
Blair stayed back out of the way letting his heavier companion's force the gate. The two detectives leaned their weight against the grate. It suddenly gave way, and Jim and Henri tumbled through to the floor. Blair looked through the opening and saw them lying dazed on the floor. He couldn't tell from that distance how badly hurt they were. He had never been more frustrated in his life.
//Jim!// Blair mentally shouted. //I know those bozos in the bank had to have heard that.// He was getting ready to swing down when he saw the door knob turn. //Jim, get up now!// he mentally screamed. //They're coming in, get up!//
There was no reaction from the dazed man on the floor. //Shit, I really don't need this.// Blair thought as he watched the door open. The man slowly pushed the door and saw Brown trying to sit up.
//Jim, this would be a really good time.// Blair watched as the robber walked over to the fallen men. The younger man waited until the man with the gun was directly under the ceiling opening, then he dropped, mentally yelling, //Jim!// He landed on the man's back knocking him to the floor.
Jim came to hearing a scream in his mind, just in time to see his young partner drop. He rolled and unsteadily came to his feet. Watching as the robber crashed to the floor, he swiftly retrieved the weapon and cuffed the man's hands tightly behind his back.
"You okay, Chief?" he asked trying to shake the echo of his name out of his mind.
Blair nodded and smiled. //Yeah, I'm fine. I'll check the bruises tomorrow.//
"Good." Jim relaxed slightly. They moved to check Brown's ankle. "H, looks like you're going to be sitting this one out. Your ankle is broken."
"Damn, I was afraid of that." Henri groaned. "I'll keep and eye on this guy. Just be careful." Jim nodded and flashed him a grin.
//What do you hear?// Blair thought, wishing he could ask.
"They're wondering where their partner is," Jim whispered.
Blair's eyes rounded. //Where are the hostages?//
"I think the rest of the people are toward the front of the building." Jim was so focused on the situation he didn't realize what was happening between himself and his Guide. "Come on, Chief, let's go, stay behind me."
//Always.// Blair thought.
Jim knelt just outside the door behind the teller's counter, listening for the location of the other two robbers. He was focusing so intently on top of the previous knock to the head that he quickly zoned. Blair noticed the minute his partner lost his contact with reality.
//Not now, Big guy. Focus back on me.// Blair thought in the mental equivalent of his Guide voice. He knew he had to get through to the zoned Sentinel before the arrival of the man he heard being told to check what was taking the other one so long. //Jim, I need you to come back or we are going to be in a world of hurt.// Finally there was a response, the big man snapped out of it the way he would a normal zone and the young Guide breathed a sigh of relief.
Jim motioned for Blair to stay back as he heard some one drawing close to the counter they were hidden behind. Jim managed to surprise the bank robber, knocking him unconscious like his partner in the counting room. The third man wasn't as easy. He was too far away for Jim to grab so the big detective decided to take a chance and stood with his gun raised pointed directly at the last robber.
The man reacted faster than Jim anticipated. He grabbed a hostage, holding the woman as a shield.
"Let her go and drop your gun." Jim ordered as he stood pointing his gun at the remaining man's head.
"Yeah, right. The minute I do, I'm a dead man."
"You're only a dead man if you kill a hostage. You can't get the death penalty for bank robbery. But you will if you kill her." Jim tried to reason with him.
The nervous man gave a bitter laugh. "Too late, there's already one dead." He gestured at the body on the floor.
Jim focused his hearing and was relieved to find a heartbeat. "He's not dead yet. You have a chance to get out of this with only jail time, but if you wait much longer, it will be too late."
He could see the indecision on the man's face. Jim wished his Guide would add his two cents and work his calming magic with his voice. //What the hell? // The big detective thought as he remembered the past few minutes. He started to zone on the memory of his Guide's voice in his head.
Blair could feel the instant his partner started to zone. //This is not the time, Jim. // Blair thought using the mental equivalent of his Guide voice. //Come back out of it. // He was rewarded by the relaxation of the tense back muscles under his hand. The incident had only taken a few seconds. The gunman didn't even know anything out of the ordinary had occurred.
"Just put the gun down." Jim said quietly, trying to look as nonconfrontational as someone his size could. "Think about it, you could be out in a few years, instead of waiting years for a lethal injection." Jim could see him begin to waver. "Just let her go."
They watched as the man's arm fell to his sides, releasing the frightened woman, and dropping the gun to the floor. Jim quickly cuffed the man and confiscated the weapon. Blair had moved to check the hostages, trying to find out if they were okay using gestures. Unfortunately most were so traumatized, they were unable to understand the young man.
//Jim, I could really use your help over here.// He thought.
"Just hold on a minute, Chief, I'll be right with you. Give Simon a call and let him know it's..." Jim stopped realizing what he was saying. He looked at his partner in disbelief.
//When we get home, Big Guy.// Jim nodded in agreement. He called Simon and suddenly the room was full of officers and paramedics.
"Jim, are you and Sandburg alright?"
"Yeah, Simon, We're okay, H. broke his ankle though." Jim said as he directed the paramedic to where the injured detective was waiting.
Blair stepped up to his partner, placing his hand on Jim's back. //When can we go home?//
"I'll check with the Captain." Jim answered. He did a quick sensory sweep of the area to satisfy the Sentinel in him. When he knew every thing was under control, he was ready to leave.
"Simon, we need to get home. I promise we will be in bright and early to finish the paperwork."
The Captain looked back and forth between the two men. He knew something had happened. Sandburg was bouncing again. He also knew that it was probably one of those things he really didn't want to know about but they would tell him eventually. He sighed.
"Go ahead, but I want to see both of you along with a detailed report in the morning."
"You got it, Sir." Jim answered, with Blair nodding emphatically beside him.
The ride to the loft was accomplished in total silence. Jim kept glancing at his partner trying to absorb this new facet of the connection between them. Blair was excited and thrilled that he was able to guide his Sentinel even without a voice. He was very careful not to send while Jim was driving, but the minute they arrived at the loft he burst out with thought.
//Isn't this great? I was going crazy not being able to say anything. I don't know how monks who take a vow of silence do it. This has been the toughest week of my life...//
Jim smiled to himself. His Guide was back.