Blair Sandburg's booted feet rang a discordant cacophony as he roared through the stairways and corridors of Cascade General Hospital. With no patience for the elevators, he ripped through the stairwells till he reached the fifth floor.
Blasting out of the stairs, he showed to check the room numbers. Finding the room he was looking for, he pushed the door open with a THUD.
The man in the bed just smiled weakly. "Hey, Chief."
It took a moment before Blair could speak. The sight of the bandages swathing the upper half of Jim Ellison's head was a complete shock. But at last he found his voice. "Don't you 'hey, chief' me, Jim. What happened, first of all? And second of all, why the hell didn't you call me?"
"I didn't call because you had a class to finish. You don't need to get in any more trouble with Ranier you just got reinstated as it is!"
"I couldn't care less about Ranier right now!" Blair snarled. "And you're avoiding the question -- what happened?"
Jim waved a hand toward the bandages over his eyes. "Just some debris and shrapnel. I'll be fine. They're keepin' me overnight for observation, then I come back in a week to get the bandages off."
"Okay," Blair sighed. "Fine. You won't tell me what happened, I'll just go ask Simon."
A deep sigh, and Jim settled back onto the pillows. "Domestic that got interesting. Punk had decided to do a murder/suicide but, of course, he didn't want to do it conventionally. Nope he had to jerry-rig a bomb."
"Are they all right?" Blair asked. No need to ask if Jim was it was obvious he wasn't.
"She has some cuts and scrapes, but she's fine. He's in psych, and he'll more than likely be there the rest of his life. She'll have to get a new dog, though it didn't make it."
"How'd you get caught in the blast?"
"Sheer stupidity. Joel taught us never to relax till we're sure the bomb's been neutralised." He shrugged. "I relaxed too soon and was leaving. Heard a 'click' turned around --" He spread his hands. "Ended up here with Simon and Joel both rippin' me a new one."
"Good," Blair growled as he pulled a chair closer and sat down. "That way it won't hurt so bad when I do it, too!"
"Aw, hell, Chief..." Jim deflated onto the pillows.
Jim got out of the truck and stood there, automatically extending his remaining senses to give himself a mental snapshot of his surroundings.
This wasn't the first time he had been blind. But now he was more comfortable using his senses to compensate. "No more Batman," he teased gently as he heard Blair's boot heels track closer to him.
"And hopefully, no fire people either," Blair replied, a whisper of pain beginning to creep into his voice.
"Hopefully," Jim agreed whole-heartedly as Blair took his elbow and guided him toward their apartment building. "You doin' okay there, Chief?"
"Almost Zero Hour," was Blair's reply. "Called home before we left Dean had come lookin' for us when nobody answered his calls."
"So he's in the Loft?" Jim asked.
"Yup. Waitin' for us with his uhm typical patience."
A snort was Jim's initial reply. "You mean lack thereof."
Blair chuckled. "Pot, meet kettle..."
"Are we away from any eyes now?"
"Then change. I don't like seeing you hurt."
He had never been touching Blair before when the change happened. And he fervently hoped he never did again. Now he understood the gasp of pain that accompanied each transformation.
He had felt the skin and bones liquefy and reshape themselves. He had felt the ripple and flow before solid form had reasserted itself.
"Okay there, Sandy?" he asked.
"I am," she affirmed as he felt the last ripple of the change pass. "Let's go see Dean."
They got into the ancient elevator and got up to their floor. All the way up, they were discussing scenarios.
"Maybe it won't be as bad as we think," Sandy said as she led Jim to their door and fished for the keys in her jacket pocket.
The door opened to reveal ATF agent Dean Masterson. One look at his face and Sandy audibly gulped.
Jim frowned, his head tilted. "What is it?"
"Well..." Sandy said with a nervous chuckle. "I was right... it isn't as bad as we thought."
Now it was Jim's turn to audibly gulp.
"OW!" Jim bellowed as a sharp sting connected with the back of his head after Sandy had led him to the couch and moved away. "Hey! What was that for?"
"For bein' a stupid idiot," Dean hissed at him. "That was a rookie mistake, and you should have known better!"
Jim shook his head. "Not you, too!"
"He went a little further than we did," Sandy pointed out. "None of us hit you."
Scowling, Jim crossed his arms. He could sense Dean scowling back at him and hear the soft clinking as Sandy got something from the refrigerator.
Suddenly the arms fell and Jim sat up straighter. His eyes widened as a scene wove into his mind.
It was the familiar blue jungle. The black panther its eyes obscured was huddling, trying to protect itself. The wolf was on its right side, alert to any danger. But this time, Jim saw something in the jungle he'd never seen in the visions before.
A giant black cobra as large as the wolf was coiled on the panther's left side. Its huge head was up. The massive hood was spread, and as it swayed slightly, Jim could see the pince-nez pattern on the back of the hood.
The snake was also guarding the panther helping the wolf!
"Dean?" Jim heard himself whisper. At the sound, the cobra's head turned as if in acknowledgment.
Then there was a flash of blue light, and the vision faded. Jim was wrapped in blackness once more.
"What?" Sandy asked, coming to sit by his side. "What was it?"
"I... saw something," Jim croaked. "A....vision."
"A what?" Dean gasped.
"I'll explain later," Sandy told him. "Jim, what did you see?"
Jim shook his head slightly. "The blue jungle... the panther...Chief, it was blind, too...."
Sandy's hand stroked his arm. "It's your totem, Jim. Of course, you would see it blind."
"It wasn't alone... your wolf was there, keeping watch." Jim licked his lips. "And Dean's totem animal was keeping watch, too!"
After a long moment, Dean's awed voice whispered, "I have a totem animal?"
"Yeah..." Jim took a shaky breath. "Biggest, blackest damn cobra I've ever seen!"
"....cobra?" Dean gasped.
Jim nodded. "King Cobra, too had the pince-nez on the hood."
"I...I've got a cobra tattooed on my hip, but....the cobra... is my totem?"
"Dean," Sandy abruptly ordered. "Sit down before you fall down."
Jim heard a 'THUMP!' as Dean collapsed into a chair, then Sandy asked, "Jim, how are your oth--"
And all three of their cell phones rang simultaneously.
Dean flipped his cell open. "Hello?" A moment later, he was entering the bathroom to talk in private.
Sandy answered hers. "Hello?" She laughed. "No, Brian, it's me. Yeah, it's Zero Hour -- can't be Blair till six." She went into her bedroom to speak to Rafe and give Jim some privacy.
Finally, Jim opened his phone. "Ellison."
"Jim?" Simon's voice was tense. "You took so long to answer..."
"Relax, Simon -- all three went off at once. Sandy's talking to Rafe and I don't know who's called Dean. Is something wrong?"
"What, I can't be worried about one of my best?"
Jim smiled. "They took the bandages off this morning and I checked out AMA."
Simon sighed. "It figures. So what are they saying?"
"Well, I'm totally blind at the moment. They feel once the abrasions heal, my sight will begin to return."
"Good! And in the meantime?"
"In the meantime, I'm to wash my eyes out three times a day, wear the sunglasses for debris, and try to rest."
"Well, your leave of absence hit my desk an hour ago. Sandburg's was denied."
Jim cursed. "Why?"
Simon sighed again. "With Brown out of town and you... and you blind... we're too shorthanded. I need h... uh, her? Him?"
"Her at the moment." Despite the situation, Jim couldn't help smiling. When he couldn't see Sandy, Simon still didn't like to call her "Blair" if she was a girl.
"Her. I need her here. I'm willing to let you come in and help out, but I need her here."
Now Jim was chuckling slightly. Simon knew how antsy Jim could be when he was bored. Hiding behind work and gruffness, his big-hearted boss had just given him things to keep him busy and feel he was still needed! "Is that so?"
"Yes, that's so! I want her in here bright and early day after tom--"
Suddenly Jim heard Rhonda's voice. "Excuse me, sir -- you have the director of the Cascade ATF on line two."
"Thanks, Rhonda." Simon sighed again. "Jim--"
"Go on," Jim said. "I'll call you tomorrow."
"Take care, Jim." And Simon hung up.
Jim closed his phone and heard two sets of footfalls. "All done?"
"Yeah," Sandy grumped. "My leave of absence got pulled. I gotta go in day-after-tomorrow and help Brian out."
"That was Simon," Jim smiled. "Calling to check on me. Dean?"
Dean sighed. "That was my boss. Would you believe I've just been handed another case? Talk about bad timing...."
"Your boss?" Jim frowned. "Your boss just called Simon -- that was why he hung up."
"Huh!" Sandy said. "Wonder what that was about?"
When Blair went in to work with Jim in tow two days later, he found what "that" was about. Dean's boss had been calling Simon to confirm that all the paperwork had finally crept its way through official channels.
Dean was now officially stationed in Cascade and now paid to do what he had been unofficially doing all along.
The cobra was now fully integrated into the team of jaguar and wolf. The ATF wasn't very happy about one of their best choosing to work with a pair of police detectives, but they were very impressed with the trio's solve rate.
"Sandburg!" Simon bellowed. "My office! Masterson, this may involve you!" A slight pause, then a groused, "Ellison, come on it'll save us explanations later!"
Jim chuckled as the three entered Simon's office. He was led by Blair, with Dean bringing up their rear. "You know me too well, Simon."
"After all this time, you're surprised?" Simon snorted. "Sit down. Blair, I've got a case for you."
"Now?" Blair squeaked.
"Now. There's a major drug trafficking ring that's attempting to infiltrate Cascade. We need to take it down."
Blair nodded thoughtfully and turned to Dean. "Isn't that similar to that case you'd been handed?"
"Depends," Dean shrugged. "Who's in charge of the ring?"
Simon nodded at the question. "Lincoln Porter."
Dean's eyes narrowed and he met Blair's eyes. "It is the case I was handed."
"Well, damn," Jim sighed.
Back at the Loft, Dean and Blair went over and over the case files. They took turns reading it to Jim, who tried his best to memorise what he was hearing.
After almost an hour, Jim held up a hand. "Zero Hour?"
Blair groaned and then Sandy's voice asked, "How did you guess?"
"The pain in your voice. Sandy, you've got to stop delaying the change till you hurt!"
"My choice," Sandy gritted out. "I'll be fine. Now where's the ballistics file?"
"Brian's bringing it," Dean informed her. "And supper."
Jim smiled. "Correction -- Brian has arrived with it. Half a crate of Chinese takeout, unless I miss my guess."
Sandy chuckled. "That man and his Chinese food obsession..."
The rest of the evening was spent working, but relaxed. At one point, a rice fight broke out between Rafe and Dean.
Despite their working, they actually had a good time.
The particulars of the bust began to come together slowly too slowly for Jim's tastes. He was beating figuratively at the walls.
More than once, Blair or Dean had to sit the blinded detective down and demand that he calm down! Grudgingly, he would obey.
The day of the bust, Sandy walked out of her room to find Jim standing by the balcony door. "Jim, you okay?"
He sighed. "I'm concerned. I should be there." With another sigh, he gently thudded his head against the glass. "But like this...like this, I'm only a liability."
Sandy walked over and lay a hand on his arm. "Not only a liability. Your input has been invaluable."
The blind eyes closed and the head slowly shook. "But taking a blind man on the bust that would be suicide."
"Yes," she agreed reluctantly. "It would." Then her hand tightened on his arm as a sudden thought struck her. "Unless... can we trust you to stay in the van?"
Shocked, Jim turned toward the sound of her voice. "Sa...Sandy?"
"Jim, you have believed in me when I was only a liability so many times... I'll be wired anyway. You can use your hearing to monitor things. If you hear things going sour...."
Jim's body was resuming its normal stance. Around the dead eyes, his face began to animate, to be lit from within. Sandy couldn't help but smile to see the despair being replaced with purpose. "Dean?"
"Just like we planned." There was a small grunt of pain, then Blair's deeper voice said, "He'll be with me the whole time."
Jim gave a short nod, smiling. "Very clever, Sandburg being male for an hour before the bust."
"Yup," Blair said. "This way I won't number one, go into the bust with Zero Hour hanging over my head; and number two, suddenly change into Blair in front of everybody. I mean, Jim, come on. As Blair, I look pretty damned ridiculous in a mini-skirt!"
The image that burst into Jim's mind in glorious Technicolor made him almost double over in hysterical laughter.
True to his word, Jim was in the surveillance van as the bust started going down. He put on the headphones though he didn't need them and closed useless eyes, focusing on the sounds of the bust.
In the van with him, Rafe put a hand on top of Jim's and occasionally spoke softly to him. The ATF tech looked startled at them, but Rafe gave him a deadly cold smile in reply.
Let them talk. He was grounding the blinded Sentinel so he wouldn't slide into a Zone.
About fifteen minutes in, Jim frowned as he focused on the soft whispers exchanged between two of the baddies.
Suddenly, Jim's eyes flew open. "Sandy!" he bellowed into the microphone. "Dean's been made! Get out of there!"
"You've been made," Sandy whispered.
Dean's eyes focused on one bad guy. "I figured. Follow my lead." He took a step forward and opened his arms. "Hey Porter!"
Porter tilted his head.
Dean pointed at the one who had recognised him. "Your friend Cole over there recognises me from my former job." His grin grew. "I was ATF before I left for more lucrative pursuits."
Cole growled, "Then why are you goin' by a different name?"
"Insurance!" Dean spread his hands again. "I'm not fool enough to expose myself by going under my real name!"
Porter made a chopping motion. "All right, you two that's enough." He smirked. "Having an ex-ATF man on my payroll may actually benefit me." He swept a hand toward a table. "Let's go discuss terms, shall we?"
In the van, Jim sank back down into his seat. He put his head in his hands and began to shake. "That was too damned close!"
The rest of the bust went smoothly. On schedule, Porter and Dean made the exchange. On schedule, the participants left the meeting place.
On schedule, they were picked up or picked off. By the end of the day, Lincoln Porter's extensive crime empire was history.
But Jim had other things on his mind. Ever since the scare when Dean got made, the blackness had become first dark grey, then lights and shapes.
The Sentinel's sight was at last beginning to return.
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