I stood by Ellison's bedside, wondering what I was supposed to do now. As his captain and superior officer he'd given me his medical power of attorney several years ago. As his friend he'd jokingly suggested I try to keep him out of situations where I might be called on to apply it. Situations like now, with him lying in a hospital bed, his body tense and his face pain-lined, hooked up to a wall of medical monitors.
His concussion was mild and he should have come to by now. The doctors weren't pressing me, not yet, but they kept saying there was no reason for his still-unconscious state and they'd mentioned more tests, starting with simple imaging methods and possibly increasing into more invasive tests. I could hear their concern--and excited interest--in a strange new case. Jim had once told me that the thing that had driven him to hook up with Sandburg was a gnawing fear that he was going to end up in a medical facility somewhere, strapped to a table for "tests."
I frowned, thinking about Sandburg. I should probably have called him to let him know that Jim was in the hospital, except that I was sure he'd come screaming down here and get in the way, pestering the doctors about Jim's care and interfering any way he could. Jim needed a level head here, someone that could make calm and rational decisions based on the best medical advice, not whatever herbal cure of the week Sandburg would try to peddle.
I rubbed my face with my hands. That wasn't fair to Sandburg. He talked too much, told outrageous stories and never knew when to sit still or drop something, but Jim seemed to trust him, especially with this Sentinel stuff. I had seen minor examples of what Sandburg had described as a zone-out before, but today had been the real, full-blown thing and it had scared me. Up until today I had believed that both Ellison and the kid had over-stated how bad it could be, but the sight of Jim, swaying, slack-jawed and vacant, oblivious to the punk clubbing him in the head...I wasn't going to forget that for a long, long time.
Of course, in the end I didn't actually have to call Sandburg, he came to me--or, more accurately, he came to Jim. He must have gone by the station and one of the others had filled him in on the day's events.
It didn't take Jim's enhanced senses to hear Sandburg's arrival at the nurse's station. His voice was higher pitched than usual, his normally smooth voice rapid and jerky. "Ellison? He's a patient here. Jim Ellison? I need to see him, I'm, uhh, family, his cousin on his mother's side, but she's dead and we're close and my mother, his aunt, is out of the country, so I'm really the only family he has here in Cascade, and--"
I stepped into the hall. "Sandburg. Here."
The nurses at the station were looking a little stunned at his rapid-fire delivery. When he heard my voice he turned. "Oh, hey, Simon." He turned back and smiled at the nurses with his most open smile. "Simon's here, too."
The head nurse gave him a wintry smile and nodded at me. "And he's Ellison's brother, right?"
Sandburg nodded. "Ye... No! Simon's his boss. Captain Banks, Cascade PD. Anyway, I'll just, uhh, go talk to Simon now--thanks for your help."
As Sandburg followed me into the room, I saw him snag Ellison's medical chart and flip through it, rapidly reading the information. "Oh, no...oh, shit!" He looked at me accusingly. "How could you let them give him this crap? These drugs all work directly on the sensory processing centers. Man, he's gotta be transiting the Outer Nebula about now. Seizure disorder? Potential aphasic epilepsy? Oh, please, where do these people get their degrees?" He tossed the chart on the shelf by the door and scurried over to stand by Jim.
"I wasn't aware you had a medical degree, Doctor Sandburg." Respect for authority was not one of Sandburg's attributes.
"I don't need a medical degree to know what's wrong with him," Sandburg snapped back. "Very mild concussion, liberal use of inappropriate drugs given his sensitivities and a zone-out." He looked at the IV and the monitors hooked to Jim. "Why didn't you call me? I need to know right away, I need to be here, the longer he stays zoned the harder it is to pull him out. This is something we're gonna have to work on--"
Sandburg peered at the heart monitor before pressing a button and silencing the audible tone. "Don't touch that! What do you think you are doing?"
Sandburg's voice dropped to a whisper. "He's way overloaded, what he needs now is less, man, less everything. Less light, less noise, less sensory input." Sandburg moved around the room, silencing the remaining monitors, pulling blinds closed and dimming lights. He shut the room's heavy door and came to stand by the bed, looking down at Jim and frowning.
"He's getting the best medical care available. What does an anthropology graduate student know about medicine that respected medical professionals don't?" I refused to feel bad about his wince as I purposely slighted his credentials.
"Simon, Jim is a Sentinel. You have to accept that, and accept all of it, not just when it's convenient that he might be able to hear something that no one else can. And while it means that he can do things that other people can't, it also means he is vulnerable in ways that other people aren't."
"So what caused all of this?" I waved my hand to indicate Jim, the room, the nurses, the entire hospital.
"I don't know yet."
"What do you mean, you don't know? You're supposed to be the expert, the one with the book and the research."
"Okay! I admit it! There is no manual on Sentinels. I make it up as I go. I have no advance clue what the fuck I am doing here, I just do with what feels right, I just sort of know what to do. I've been wrong about what he needed before--but not often." I frowned. He believed what he was saying, but I was not so sure that I did. He moved closer and held out a hand to touch me. I stiffened, rejecting the contact, and he turned the motion into a non-threatening gesture, one hand held out palm up. "Just give me 15 minutes, please. I have never deliberately hurt him. You have to believe that, Simon. Please."
And that much I did believe. It was clear that the kid thought the sun rose and set in Jim Ellison. But that was no reason to let him interfere in Jim's medical care. I sighed. It came down to trust. Sandburg had trying hard these last few months to gain my trust. I was not won over yet and still withheld it. The first time I met him, he lied to me, he spent twenty minutes in my office spewing out a complete song-and-dance lie about the "thin blue line," accompanied by earnest looks and arm-waving. I understood now, a little better, why he and Ellison had tried to hide the real reason, but the fact that he had stood in front of me and lied to me for that length of time did not endear him to me.
He could be cheerful, eager and friendly, but that described the dog Daryl had as a young boy, too. If I had to entrust my best detective's life to someone, I wanted them to have more attributes than a pup with a flea collar. But Ellison trusted him. Hard-ass Ellison had let Sandburg move into his home and into his life and was content to have him there. Sandburg might be a flake, might be a con man, but if he was, he'd been successful in fooling my best detective for almost half a year now.
I sighed. "You've got your 15 minutes, Sandburg. Don't make me regret it."
"You won't," he promised.
Sandburg took a deep breath, reached out with his right hand and touched Jim's chest gently, using just his fingertips. "Jim," he said in a soft low rich voice. "Hey, Jim."
I watched Ellison's face for any sign of movement. Nothing. Earlier tonight I'd watched a doctor stand in almost exactly the same place and try for over an hour to get some kind of response from Jim without any success.
He leaned forward, his hand flattening, palm down on Ellison's chest, his head bent closer to Ellison's head. I could barely hear his whispered, soothing words.
"Jim, it's Blair. I know they have you seriously drugged out, man, and it's got to be confusing in there." He put his other hand over Ellison's eyes. "But everything is okay now. You're going to be fine. No one was hurt. Everything's okay. So what I want you to do now is just breathe with me. Take your time, take it slow, and just breathe. There is nowhere you need to be, nothing that needs to be done except just breathe."
He moved his hand to Ellison's arm. "Ready? Feel my hand on your arm, Jim, as I move my hand up your arm, I want you to breathe in. Then I will move my hand down your arm, and you can breathe out. It's simple and we will do it together, okay? Right, breathe in," his hand stroked up Ellison's arm, his touch light. "Great, Jim, now let it out. Breathe out, follow my hand, listen for my breathing, breathe with me."
I watched as Sandburg patiently repeated the words and the motions with no visible effect. I'd promised him fifteen minutes but I was beginning to feel uneasy. What could the kid hope to do with a bunch of hocus-pocus breathing exercises that that the doctors couldn't do with modern medicine and equipment? When she was pregnant with Daryl, my ex-wife Joan had dragged me to Lamaze classes and during her labor the breathing that we had spent long hours learning had been pronounced worthless by her after about twenty minutes of contractions and Joan had demanded drugs, as many as they would give her as fast as they would give them. Ellison had a concussion and he was unconscious and talking to him about breathing was not going to change that. I wanted to step forward and rip Sandburg's hands off of Jim and then call every medical specialist on the west coast in.
I looked at my watch. Fourteen minutes had passed. "That's enough," I said, stepping between them and physically moving Sandburg out of the way, ignoring his startled yelp. I reached for the "call" button, stopping when I looked down into Jim's open eyes.
Jim's confused pale blue eyes looked past me, recognizing me but searching for something else. When he finally saw Sandburg, his focus sharpened. "S'burg," he slurred, his right hand moving slightly.
Sandburg slipped around me. "Hey, Jim, good to see you back." He touched Jim's shoulder lightly and smiled down at him.
"Hospital." I couldn't decide if the look on Ellison's tense face was disapproval or accusation as he glanced at the blinding white walls and racks of medical equipment.
"Yeeeaaaah," Sandburg drew the word out. "That's where they bring unconscious people. It's like a law or something."
Ellison stared back up at him, unamused and still confused. "Zone?"
"Minor. Pretty good whack to the head, man, you gotta learn to duck quicker. Concussion, but not too bad. Your big problem now is that they've got you on an anti-seizure medication. It's hit you pretty hard, but you'll be fine when it all wears off, we just need to wait it out."
"Yeah, right, buddy, I don't think so, not yet." He gave Jim a stern look. "If we'd done some of the tests I wanted to do after the cold medicine thing, I might have an idea of how long you'll be affected by this. As it is, we just ride it out."
Ellison closed his eyes. "No tests. No drugs." His entire body relaxed under Sandburg's light touch on his arm, the tight lines on his forehead smoothing away.
"There will be more tests. From me, though, not these white-coated clowns." Sandburg's voice dropped even softer. "But not now. You sleep this off and I'll stay here and make sure they don't give you anything else. Okay, Jim?"
Ellison could only manage a grunt in agreement as he drifted back off to sleep.
Sandburg turned back to look at me and his face was tight and closed. He pulled a chair close to Ellison's bedside. "I'm staying," he said with a touch of defiance.
I studied the young man before me. He was everything that I had said he was earlier. But he was also something more. Something that Jim seemed to need.
I rubbed my eyes with one hand, shading my face with my palm. I'd made this gesture several times today: from stress, in fear, in annoyance. Finally it was in relief. "Fine. You're staying. He's going to be all right."
I could have been asking a question, but I didn't want to give Sandburg the opening to speak. What I had just witnessed between the two of them was both astonishing and terrifying. I hadn't ever thought that Jim Ellison would allow anyone this close, would need anyone like this, and I didn't really even want to think that it could be true. I had chosen to ignore as much of this Sentinel business as I could and this was not the time I would have picked for that ignorance to bite me on the ass.
I held up a hand to silence him. "I'm heading back to the station. Call me with any updates." He tipped his head to me warily. What, was he expecting some kind of apology? From a police captain to an unpaid observer? I scowled at him. "You take care of Jim."
He opened his mouth to say something flip, but the look on my face must have stopped him.
"Whatever it is, Sandburg, keep it to yourself. Keep me informed about what is going here, understood?"
"I will. You can trust me."
"Trust is earned. Here's your chance."
His eyes narrowed and I got a quick glimpse of the Sandburg underneath the smile and the non-threatening exterior. The one with the strength and courage to go toe-to-toe with an angry Jim Ellison. Or an angry and bitter police captain, afraid he was losing his best friend to an upstart.
"I expect a full report. On my desk by tomorrow afternoon." I caught the ghost of a smile on his face as he nodded at me, and then I turned and left, sure for the first time today that I had made the right decision.
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