Frustrated, Jim circled Cascade Mall's parking lot for the third time. Just as he was about to give up on finding a parking spot, a bus pulled out. Stomping on the gas, he barely managed to edge past another car and pull into the now vacant spot. Ignoring the blasting horn and dirty look from the woman in the other car, Jim muttered, "Shit, just what I need." Buttoning up his jacket, holding the collar together in an attempt to keep the snow out, Jim began to trudge up the length of the parking lot; getting wetter and colder with each step. "I hate this time of year," he complained. "Why didnít I just pull my badge and park right by the mall entrance instead of getting stuck at the back of the freaking parking lot?"

Stomping his feet as he walked into the mall, Jim headed directly towards the food court where Sneaks had insisted on meeting. Sniffling, groaning as he recognized the stuffy nose and tickle at the back of his throat as the beginning of a cold, Jim coughed briefly; drawing wary looks from the people around him. Scowling, causing those people to quickly avert their eyes, Jim pushed his way through the crowd.

When an enticing aroma managed to work its way through his clogged sinuses; Jim glanced around until he spotted a group handing out hot, spiced cider. Deciding that it smelled good and that the warmth would help to sooth his scratchy throat, Jim walked over and grabbed a cup, nearly splashing the hot liquid on his hands. Mumbling a barely audible, "Thanks," he continued on to the food court.

Finally reaching the crowded food court, Jim stood off to the side and shifted from foot to foot. Scanning the crowd, he started to grow impatient when he didn't immediately spot Sneaks. "C'mon, where are you?" He murmured, his impatience growing with each passing second. "You'd better get your ass here soon, Sneaks," Jim continued to mutter. "And if your information about the illegal arms showing up in Cascade pans out, I'll give you the biggest bonus ever. Hell, I'll even spring for a gift certificate to one of the shoe store in this place."

Feeling tired and drained, Jim walked over to a newly empty table and sat down to wait for Sneaks. Cautiously, not sure how his sense of taste would react, he sipped at the hot drink. Then, he took a bigger drink when the first taste felt good on his sore throat. Looking up, Jim finally spotted Sneaks as the informant made his way towards the food court.

Suddenly, his vision spiked; the lights were painfully bright and the flashes were like knives in his brain. Reeling from the sensory assault, he gasped for breath as his chest tightened. Then hearing spiked, noises roaring then fading down to a low murmur. Beginning to lose consciousness, his senses fought against this debilitation and instinctively searched for Blair; trying to lock onto his guide.

'Oh, shit, this hurts,' was Jim's last conscious thought as he collapsed to the floor; just before losing consciousness, his vision spiked again, giving him a brief glance at Sneaks' retreating form as the informant ran away.

Slightly disappointed at not having found any gifts yet, wanting to find the perfect present for each of his friends, Henri was on his way to the food court to grab a slice of pizza. Nearing the crowded area, he heard a commotion and saw a group of people gathered around a table. Pushing his way past the gawking spectators, flashing his badge at those that were reluctant to move, he yelled, "I'm a cop, get out of way!" Finally coming to the center of the circle of people, he momentarily paused, shock halting any further movement. Shaking off the temporary daze, he helplessly looked down at the unconscious man lying on the floor.

Kneeling down, he placed a hand on Jim's shoulder, but quickly withdrew when Jim's body jerked as if the simple touch caused pain. Horrified at the thought that, even though Jim was unconscious, his action that was meant to comfort was in fact creating more torment for his friend; Henri muttered, "And I used to envy you? I didn't have a clue, did I? None of us did." Glancing up at a mall employee, he ordered, "Call 911 now and tell them that thereís an officer down!" Waiting until after the young woman had hurried off, he pulled out his own cell phone and dialed the bullpen.

"Rhonda, itís H," he said as his call was answered. "Put the captain on."

"I can't," Rhonda answered, "heís in a meeting with the commissioner." Concern evident in her tone; she asked, "Why, whatís up? Is something wrong?"

"Itís Ellison," Henri hurriedly explained. "Heís here at the mall. I donít know why, but heís passed out and having trouble breathing. He seems to be in a lot of pain too. I had someone call 911 so an ambulance should be here soon. When it gets here, Iíll head to the ER with him. I may not know what to tell them, but at least Jim won't be alone."

"Hang in there, H," Rhonda encouraged. "Iíll make sure everyone knows, and I'll try to get in contact with the Captain. In the meantime, Iíll try to contact Jimís dad or brother. With Blair out of town and the Captain unreachable right now, they will need to be there. If it's something with hisÖ Well, hopefully, they will know what to tell the doctors, maybe know what to do to help Jim. "

"Okay," Henri agreed. "The EMTís are coming. Iíll call when Iíve got news." Slamming the phone shut, Henri stood as the paramedics approached.

"Do you know the victim?" One of them asked.

"Yeah," Henri confirmed. "We work together. We're cops."

"Can you tell us what happened?" The same medic inquired as his partner knelt down and began to take Jim's vital signs.

"I don't know," Henri answered. "I was just shopping in the mall when I saw the crowd. I came over to see if I could help and found JimÖ Detective EllisonÖ lying there unconscious."

When Henri finished, the paramedic attending to Jim looked up. "We need to get him to the hospital. His respiration is shallow. Pulse is thready and weak. He needs to be moved now!"

"Let's get him onto the stretcher."

"Can I help?" Henri asked as the paramedics began to pick up Jim.

"We've got him, Sir. Just stand to the side."

Concerned, forced to stand helplessly by as the paramedics loaded his fellow detective onto the stretcher, Henri pleaded, "At least let me ride to the hospital with him. After all, you'll need someone there, won't you? In case the doctors have questions. Besides, he should have someone he knows with him, don't you think? In case he wakes up?"

Impatient to get Jim to the hospital the paramedic agreed, "Come on, then."

Following behind the stretcher carrying Jim, Henri said, "Man, I wish that you were here, Hairboy. I know that Jim treated you like shit, but he really needs you right now." Still hoping that Blair would by some miracle suddenly appear, Henri climbed into the back of the ambulance and hung on as it sped towards the hospital.

Hanging up the phone, pushing aside her concern for Jim, Rhonda stood up. "I have an announcement," she stated, drawing everyone's attention. "That was Henri on the phone. He said that Jim is being taken to the hospital right now." Raising her hands to halt the multitude of questions being directed her way, she continued, "I don't have very many details. Henri just said that Jim had passed out and was having trouble breathing, then the paramedics arrived and he hung up."

"So H is with him?" Rafe asked.

"Yes," Rhonda confirmed. "He was going to ride to the hospital with Jim."

"What about Simon?" Joel asked.

"He's in a meeting with the commissioner right now," Rhonda said. "I'm going to try and reach him. But in the meantime, I'm going to call Jim's father. Just in case they need someone to provide information or to authorize treatment."

"That sounds good," Joel replied. "I'm going to head over to the hospital in case Henri needs any help."

"Me too," Megan said. "ThereÖ umÖ there might be some things that I can tell them."


"Not now, Joel," Megan interrupted. "Let's just get to the hospital."

"All right," Joel agreed, "let's go."

"I'm with you," Rafe said. "Besides, with Sandburg gone Jim will need all the support he can get."

"We'll take my car," Joel stated. "RhondaÖ"

"I'll get a hold of the Captain," Rhonda finished. "You all just get to the hospital."

After the group of detectives left, Rhonda got on the phone. Since Simon was always forced to turn off his cell phone when meeting with the commissioner, she was forced to call the commissioner's office instead of contacting the captain directly. Impatiently drumming her fingers, she waited for someone to pick up the phone.

"Yes," she said when the phone was finally answered. "This is Rhonda Carson, Captain Banks' assistant. I need to speak to him immediately. No, this cannot wait. One of his detectives has been taken to the hospital and he needs to be informed."

"Hold just one moment," the administrative assistant snidely replied.

"Bitch," Rhonda muttered under her breath after being put on hold. "I swear that woman gives all of us a bad name." Frustrated by the length of time it was taking, she urged, "Come on, already."

Just as she was about ready to hang up, the receptionist returned. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but he is still meeting with the commissionerÖ"

"I know that," Rhonda cut in. "That's why I called you. Now, I need to speak to Captain Banks right now!"

"I'm sorry, but I can't interrupt the commissioner while he is in a meeting," the woman replied. "But I'll be sure to inform Captain Banks of the situation just as soon as they're finished."

"You'll what?" Rhonda exclaimed in disbelief. "Now you listen here, I need toÖ"

"You have a nice day," the woman interrupted and then hung up.

Bringing the phone down, Rhonda held it in her hand. Staring at it in shock for several seconds, she then muttered, "I swear, I'm going toÖ" Shaking her head, she sighed. "Let's just go to plan B then, shall we." Quickly, she hung up then released the button and began to dial another number. "I hope you remembered to switch your beeper to vibrate mode instead of just turning it off, Simon," she said. "Because if you didn't, you're going to be doing your own typing for a while." After dialing the number for Simon's beeper, she quickly punched in the numbers 000. It was a code they had developed for situations like this. Situations in which Rhonda desperately needed to get in contact with Simon; who, for whatever reason, was unreachable by any other means.

Bored, having been forced to listen as the commissioner drone on and on about topics totally unrelated to the PD, Simon was startled out of the trance he had fallen into when he felt his beeper begin to vibrate. When he saw the code, he immediately pulled out his phone and turned it on. Ignoring the commissioner's protests, he called Rhonda. After talking to her and finding out what was happening, he slammed the phone shut and turned to glare at the commissioner.

"Would you care to tell me, Sir," he growled, "why your secretary failed to inform me that my department had tried to contact me? Because of your staff, I failed to receive a vital message telling me that one of my men has been taken to the hospital." Pausing for a moment to collect his racing thoughts, he then continued. "I understand your policy regarding no cell phones. I may not like it, but I respect your wishes. But thisÖ something like this, I simply cannot understand; nor will I tolerate. Right now, I'm going to check on my detective, but you can be guaranteed that I will pursue this matter, Commissioner." Without waiting for the commissioner to reply, Simon left the office.

Stunned, Commissioner Warren remained in place for several seconds. Then, he left his office and headed towards his administrative assistant, intent on having a very serious discussion with the woman. A discussion that would wind up with a letter of reprimand being placed in her personnel file.


Chapter 5

After they arrived at the hospital, Jim was taken back into the treatment area; and Henri, despite his protests, was directed to the waiting area. He had been waiting for about ten minutes when a commotion at the admitting desk drew his attention. Trying to remain inconspicuous, he wandered over to lean against the wall.

"I don't care who his regular doctor is," a young doctor arrogantly stated, "right now, he is my patient and I'll treat him how I see fit."

"But, Doctor Smithers," the nurse replied, "I really think that you should wait for Dr. Cuthbertson. You could take a look at the patient's file until she gets here. I've treated this patient before and know that he has quite a few allergies."

Snatching the file from the nurse's hand, Dr. Smithers simply shoved in under his arm. "I'm not waiting for anyone," he stated. "I know how to take care of this patient. You call whomever you want; I'm going to see my patient, MrÖ"

When the doctor hesitated, unsure of the patient's name, the nurse supplied, "Ellison, Doctor. And it is Detective, not mister."

Alarmed that this man was going to be treating Jim, Henri stepped forward and blocked the man's way when he started towards the treatment area.

Impatiently glancing up at the man blocking his way, the Doctor's expression turned to one of disdain as he took in the appearance of the person in front of him. "Can I help you?" he snidely asked.

"Yeah," Henri replied, "you can listen to the nurse and keep away from Jim until his doctor gets here."


"Detective Ellison," Henri explained. "You know, your patient."

"Who are you to tell me how to do anything?"

Pulling out his badge, Henri held it out to the doctor. "I'm Detective Henri Brown, that's who and I work with Detective Ellison. He's a friend of mine and I'm not about to let some stuck-up, arrogant son-of-a-bitch like you get anywhere near him."

Pushing past Henri, Doctor Smithers said, "Well, if he is your friend then you'll get out of my way and allow me to treat him."

"Listen, DocÖ"

"No," Doctor Smithers interrupted, "you listen. I don't care who you are. If you don't get out of my way, I'll call security and have you forcibly removed from the building."

Before Henri could respond the loud speaker announced, "Code Blue to curtain area three. Code Blue to curtain area three."

"That's your friend," Smithers announced as he hurried past Henri.

Worried, not knowing whether stopping the doctor would help Jim or only endanger him more; Henri let the doctor go. After the man disappeared around the corner, Henri turned to the nurse, "Get Dr. Cuthberson here, and get her here now."

"She's on her way," the nurse reassured. "Since she was scheduled to work today, she was already en route to the hospital when I paged her. She just called to check in a few minutes ago and said she'd be here momentarily."

"That's a relief," Henri replied.

"What's a relief?" Joel asked as he, Megan and Rafe came up behind Henri. "What's going on?"

Turning around, Henri said, "Thank goodness you guys are here. Some stupid, son-of-a-bitch doctor is treating Jim right now and the guy doesn't even have a clue as to what's going on with him. The arrogant bastard wouldn't even look at Jim's file or wait until his doctor got here."

Forced to move aside when someone else needed access to the admittance desk; the group went over to the waiting area to finish their conversation. "How bad is it?" Megan asked after they had all taken a seat.

"That's what I'd like to know," a new voice inquired.

Looking up the groups of detective saw William and Steven Ellison. "Well, what is going on with my son?" William Ellison demanded.

"We donít know anything yet," Joel replied for the group.

"I was at Cascade Mall and found Jim collapsed on the floor," Henri explained. "I had someone call 911 and then rode with him in the ambulance. But when we got here, they took him back into the treatment area and I haven't seen him since."

"Where's Blair?" Steven asked. "Why isn't he here?"

The group of detective exchanged nervous glances. "Jim hasnít spoken to you about Blair?" Joel asked.

"No," Steven replied. "At least not with me. I haven't spoken with him for about a month. How about you, Dad?"

"I haven't spoken with Jimmy either," William answered. "Now someone tell me everything that has happened."

"Maybe you should take a seat," Joel suggested. When William and Steven sat down, Joel began, "It all started on Thanksgiving Day when Blair paid a visit to the stationÖ."

Rushing into the room where Jim was being treated, Dr. Smithers asked, "What's the situation?"

"The situation is still critical," a nurse replied. "He went into cardiac arrest, but we managed to get him back."

"All right," Dr. Smithers said, "this gentleman is obviously on some kind of drugs; steroids would be my guess. Let's give him something to fight that upper respiratory infection he has going and a shot of epinephrine to counteract this allergic reaction." When nobody moved, he ordered, "Let's get moving, people. While we're waiting for the injections, let's go ahead and pump his stomach just to be on the safe side."

When the nurse began inserting the tube down Jim's throat, he began to regain consciousness. Confused, thinking that he was under attack; he began to thrash around on the bed. Rushing forward, several orderlies grabbed a hold of him and held Jim down. Fighting against the restraining hands, Jim jerked a hand free and managed to land a blow to Dr. Smithers' nose.

Reeling backwards, hands held against his bleeding nose, Smithers yelled, "Hold him down damn it." Turning to a nurse he yelled, "I want this man sedated immediately and then placed in full restraints."

While preparing the injection, the nurse happened to glance down at Jim's file that Dr. Smithers had flung down on the counter unread. Scanning the sheet, the nurse immediately spotted the sedative listed under known allergies for this patient. Turning towards Smithers, she began, "DoctorÖ"

Jerking the syringe out of the woman's hand, Dr. Smithers didn't pay attention to her protests as he plunged it into Jim's arm and injected the medicine. Instantaneously, Jim began to convulse on the bed. Before Smithers could react to this new development, the curtain was pulled aside and a woman entered the room.

"What the hell?" Dr. Amanda Cuthbertson asked. Rushing over to Jim's side, she exclaimed, "What did you give him, Smithers?" When the man didn't answer, she added, "Answer me, Smithers. What in the hell did you do to my patient."

"IÖ IÖ" Dr. Smither stammered. "It wasn't my fault," he finally managed to say. "The guy is insane. He tried to attack me so I ordered him sedated. It's obviously he is some kind of an addict. A steroid junkie, I'd say."

"A what?" Cuthbertson asked in disbelief. "I don't believe this! Detective Ellison is most certainly not any kind of junkie. My God, did you even read his file? If you did, then you surely noticed his extreme sensitivity to certain drugs, especially sedatives."

"But IÖ"

"I don't want to hear it," Cuthbertson interrupted. "Just get the hell out of here. Due to your negligence, youíve given this man a drug he is allergic to; and I'm bringing you up on charges! Now get out of here! Sadie, get the chief of staff down here now or Iíll report the attempted murder of Jim Ellison to his buddies out in the waiting room."

"Done." Sadie grimly replied.

After Smithers retreated from the room, Dr. Cuthbertson worked steadily on Jim. Briefly, she wondered where Blair was but she couldn't afford to divert her attention from Jim. Finally, she had Jim stable enough to move to ICU, although he was going to be on a ventilator until the sedative worked its way out of his system. Watching as Jim was wheeled out of the emergency room, Cuthbertson sighed in relief. There for a while, she was afraid that they would lose Jim; he had come perilously close to dying and it was mainly due to his own will to live that he was still breathing.

While Jim was being settled into the ICU, Sadie went to the crowd in the waiting room. Her initial surprise at seeing William and Steven Ellison quickly faded when she saw the concerned expressions on the group of people waiting for news. "Mr. Ellison," she addressed the older man. "Jim is being moved to ICU. Heís on a ventilator until the sedative works its way out of his system. We know from experience that Jim does better if heís kept company, so we invite someone to be with him twenty-four hours a day if you would like."

William Ellison was surprised and a little dismayed that his son was so well known here. He looked at the police officers that surrounded him. "Gentlemen," he began, "in many ways you are Jimís family. I donít want him to be alone. Thanks to you I do understand why Blairís not here and we will work together to make the holidays happen. Letís set up a schedule so that Jim is never alone and weíre not so exhausted that we canít give him the care he needs. Sally is due back tomorrow and I know sheíll want to be included." William Ellison finished his announcement with a tired, hopeful smile.

"Sounds good, SirÖ" began Rafe.

Ellison interrupted, "Please call me Bill. After all, we all care about Jim Ö and Blair Ö and weíre probably going to get to know each other very well over the next few weeks."

Standing up, Simon, who had arrived at the hospital a few minutes ago, said, "Okay, Bill, letís get a schedule set up."

When Simon went over to the nurse's station to get some paper, Joel said, "I'm really glad that you've agreed to all of this, Bill. I think that it is just what Jim and Blair need."

"I wasn't always the kind of father that Jim needed," William confessed. "But that's something that I want to change. I haven't got all that long left and I don't want to waste my remaining years being estranged from my son Ö both my sons Ö anymore. It is time for peace in this family. Time for peace for all of us, but especially Jimmy and Blair. I owe that young man so much. He's been so good for Jimmy and I think that Jimmy has been good for him too."

"He has," Simon confirmed as he rejoined the group. "Those twoÖ they need each other."

"And we need them," Joel stated. "William's right. It is time for peace in our family."

Amid the murmurs of agreement, Simon sat down and began making out a schedule. "Who can take tonight?"

After leaving the ER, Dr. Smither had been summoned to the Chief of Staff's office. Now, as Jim was being transferred to the ICU, he stood before his boss.

"Smithers, what do you have to say for yourself?" Dr. Rose thundered.

"I did nothing wrong," Smithers arrogantly defended his actions. "I followed textbook procedure for treating a hyped up steroid junkie. That man should be arrested for illegal use of drugsÖ"

"Did you read his medical file?" Rose inquired. "I know that it was given to you and that one of the ER nurses tried to point out Detective Ellison's history with medications."

"Why waste time reading some internís stupid notes?" Smithers asked. "I saved the bastardís life and he has the nerve to break my nose? He assaulted me and I want him arrestedÖ"

Quickly losing his patience, Dr. Rose sighed. 'That's it,' he thought as Smithers continued his tirade. 'I don't care how connected this man is, he will not be allowed to jeopardize this hospital's patients any longer.'

Meanwhile, obliviously to the fate that awaited him, Smithers continued to drone on. "When my father hears how this institution has treated me, leaving a criminal lose after he attacked meÖ"

"SHUT UP!" Rose yelled, smiling in satisfaction when the other man finally shut up. "Listen to me very carefully," he continued. "You are fired! And not only are you fired but I am also reporting your behavior to the licensing board. Your arrogance nearly killed a good man today; a man who is a highly decorated police office I might add. Due to his work, he has been a patient here far too often; and, as such, there is an extensive medical file on him. The first two pages list his drug sensitivities. Yet you chose to ignore that information when the nurses tried to tell you about it. Not only that, but when one of those nurses refused to give him the medication that you ordered, you proceeded to snatch the syringe out of her hand and inject it into the patient anyway. Never before have I seen such a blatant disregard for hospital procedure."

Standing up, Rose stalked over towards Smithers. "And I'll tell you another thing, Doctor. Since Detective Ellison is now in the ICU due to your incompetence, you will be footing the bill for his treatment. I only hope that William Ellison is satisfied that we are taking all action to see that his son is healthy again. As it stands now, I guarantee you that either Detective Ellison or his family will most assuredly be taking legal action against you."

Pointing at Smithers, Rose continued, "If for some reason they decide not to pursue this matter, I guarantee you that I will make sure that you never practice medicine anywhere ever again. Now I want you out of this hospital immediately. Security will escort you to your office and will supervise you while you remove your personal items. After that, you will leave this hospital and not show your face here again. If you do, I will personally call the police and have you arrested for trespassing. Security is waiting for you outside. Now, get out!"

"You canít do this. Iíll have your jobÖ" Smithers started to protest.

"I suggest you not delay," Rose advised. "I happen to know that several of Detective Ellison's co-workers and family members are downstairs in the waiting area. I'm sure that they would like the chance to speak with you. Although I doubt that you would find the experience very pleasant."

Relenting, Smithers went with the security officer. Walking down the hallway, seeing the looks of disgust and disdain directed his way, he couldn't help but feeling that he had really screwed up. 'On no,' he thought. 'Why didn't I make the connection? Ellison. I've heard my father talk about them before. They're one of Cascade's most powerful families. Or at least William Ellison is one of Cascade's most powerful men.'

Later, as he was driving away from the hospital Smithers said, "You ended my medical career, Ellison, and I'll get you for it. You think that you're suffering now? Just wait until I get through with you. I'll make you regret messing with me."


Chapter 6

Now, more than twenty-four hours after his collapse at the mall, Jim had not shown any signs of returning consciousness. After much discussion, which sometimes turned into rather heated arguments, about informing Blair of Jim's condition, it was decided to wait and see what developed before alerting him. Simon, being the only one who knew of Blair's whereabouts, eventually made the final decision. Citing Blair's condition, both emotionally and mentally, at the time of his departure, the captain stated that it would be best to hold off and see if Jim's condition worsened before contacting Blair.

Taking his appointed turn, Rafe silently sat beside Jim's bed and contemplated the man lying in the bed before him. 'I hope Banks made the right decision,' he thought with some amusement, 'because when Blair gets back and finds out about this, he is definitely going to rip Simon a new one.' Rafe's expression turned grim once again. 'No matter what the captain said, I still think that Blair should have been told. I don't know why, but I've got a feeling that you'd be awake by now if he was the one here with you.' His musings becoming silent for the moment, Rafe sat and listened to the sounds echoing around him.





'I never realized how many noises there are in the ICU, even with the audible alarms turned off. I always thought it'd be quieter than this. But then again, I'm not the one usually sitting here. Normally, it'd be Jim here and Blair would be the one lying in the bed unconscious and on a ventilator, ' Rafe thought.

Leaning forward, Rafe grasped Jim's slack, chilled hand in his own and remembered Dr. Cuthbertson 's visit earlier in the day. Although her alarm over Jim's continued unconsciousness was clearly evident, she had been confident that he would wake up soon and had assuaged some Rafe's concerns.

Gently rubbing Jim's knuckles, Rafe said, "You know, Jim, itíd be really nice if you surprised everyone and woke up now. Weíre pretty worried about you. The doc still doesnít have a clue about what knocked you down. Of course, having a cold on top of whatever is affecting you isnít helping things." Sighing, he hung his head down and quietly continued, "I want you to wake up so I can apologize for how Iíve been acting. Feeling sorry for myself is no reason to act like a shit. So, Iíll say it now. Iím sorry. Iíll say it again when youíre awake."


The detective looked up to see William Ellison enter the room.

"Rafe, go on home," William ordered, his voice soft. "I know youíve got court tomorrow so Iíll sit with Jimmy for the rest of the night. Heíll be fine and I know heíll wake up soon. Heís far to stubborn to quit now."

"Thanks Mr. EllÖ I mean Bill," Rafe replied. "Iíll be back tomorrow afternoon. I sure hope heís awake then."

"Me too, son," William agreed. "Me too."

As Rafe left the room, William made himself comfortable in the lounge chair that had been placed beside Jim's bed. Glancing around, he noted all the broken hospital rules evident in the room. From the chair he was currently sitting in to the potted plant located on the windowsill, it was clear that hospital policy had been suspended in this particular room.

Looking towards the aloe plant, he smiled as he remembered Megan bringing it in. She stated that Sandy would insist on it being here because its scent would have a soothing effect on Jim. William realized that it did help to alleviate the rather unpleasant medicinal odors permeated the air. Slightly bemused, he wondered if Dr. Cuthbertson was responsible for no one having said anything about the blatant violations.

Expression turning somber again, William looked at the still form of his son. 'Damn you, Smithers,' he thought. 'As soon as my son is out of here, I plan to make you regret ever deciding to practice medicine.' His anger threatened to overcome him as he remembered Dr. Cuthbertson's explanation regarding Jim's condition. Although she hadn't said it outright, he knew exactly who Smithers was and his part in Jim's treatment.

Already familiar with the Smithers family, or more precisely Dr. Smithers' father with whom heíd had the distinctly unpleasant experience of various business dealings in the past, William decided that the apple apparently didn't fall far from the tree. On the advice of Dr. Rose, William had contacted an attorney to be sure that Smithers paid all of Jimís hospital bills and also that he had his license revoked or at the very least suspended. Grinning, William recalled the call heíd received that afternoon.


"Bill, this is Hank Smithers. Seems we have a problem."

"No, Hank. WE donít have a problem. Your son has a problem."

"Now look, Ellison, my boy is a fine doctor. He told me that your son was hyped up on steroids and attacked him while he was trying to administer aid. I know your kid is supposed to be some kind of supercop and Iím sure you donít want the press getting the information on his drug useÖ"

"Hold it right there, Hank! Let me enlighten you as to the facts. First, MY son does not use drugs; the PD conducts drug test periodically and he often has blood drawn during his many visits to the ER and all of these tests have come up negative. If you imply drug use to the press, Iíll sue you on his behalf for liable. Believe me, Iíve got all the proof I need to make sure you pay for any comments you choose to make. Second, YOUR son refused to read Jimís medical chart and dosed him with a sedative that he did not need and is allergic to. Thatís called malpractice and Jim will press charges. Third, YOUR son will pay for all of Jimís bills from this particular stay in the hospital since itís his fault my boy is in ICU on a ventilator. Do I make myself very clear on these points!"

His grin growing slightly feral, very similar to one sometimes seen on his son, William recalled how Hank Smithers had proceeded to sputter a bit and then hang up.

Immediately after that phone call, Bill contacted his attorney to report Hank Smithers' threats. Now, as a result of Hank Smithers' action, the attorney was looking into a restraining order to keep Smithers, both father and son, from harassing any of the Ellison clan; those related both by blood and by choice.

"Jimmy, weíre all looking out for you," William said to his son. "I really wish youíd wake up." Hearing a groan, he looked down to see Jim's pale blue eyes slowly blink. Hitting the call button to summon help, he told his son, "Jim, donít fight the tube. I know itís uncomfortable but the doctor will be here soon and will hopefully be able to take it out."

Upon entering the room, the nurse took in the situation at a glance and immediately paged Dr. Cuthbertson who arrived only a few moments later. Forced to leave the room while Jim was being examined, William stood in the hallway and pulled out his cell phone and a sheet of paper. Although it was a little after 2:00AM, he knew that the others would want to hear the good news. Looking at the first number, William started to make the first of a long list of happy calls.

"Joel, this is Bill Ellison," William announced as the call was answered. "I've got some terrific news. Jim is finally awake!"

Holding the phone away from his ear, William grinned as the shouts of joys issued from the phone. After a brief conversation with Joel, William hung up and dialed the next number, his smile growing as he made each phone call. Within an hour of his getting the word out, the waiting room was filled with the men and women of Major Crime and, of course, Steven.

When Dr. Cuthbertson came into the waiting room, she was bombarded with questions. Gesturing for the group to calm down, she waited until the room was silent before speaking. "First off, Jim is indeed awake; however, he is somewhat groggy and confused right now which is causing him some agitation." Glancing around at everyone, her gaze came to rest on Simon and she pointedly said, "Since Blair isn't here, I thought one of you could come in and try to calm him down."

Stepping forward, William said, "I'll go, I want to be there for Jim right now."

When no one objected, Dr. Cuthbertson said, "Come with me, Mr. Ellison."

When William entered Jim's room, he immediately went over to his son and took his hand. Worried by the panicked expression in Jim's eyes and the way he seemed to be searching the room for something Ö or Ö someone, William suddenly realized what was upsetting his son. "It's okay, Jimmy," he reassured. "I know that you're looking for Blair, but he isnít here."

Seeing the panicked expression turn into one of regret, William quickly added, "Blair is off finishing his dissertation and your captain thought it was best not to contact him unless your condition worsened; that there was no need to worry him unnecessarily. But, Jim, there's a roomful of people out there that care a great deal about you. Steven, your co-workers, all of them are out there just waiting to come in here and see you."

Having seemed to stop listening after his father said that Blair was not at the hospital, Jimís expression clearly showed both despair and disbelief. Before William could say anything else, Dr. Cuthbertson bustled into the room, looking entirely too chipper for the late hour. "Jim," she greeted, "itís good to see you awake. Weíve been weaning you off of the vent since you showed signs of consciousness and Iím sure youíre ready to get that tube out of your throat, arenít you?"

Jim gave a small nod in response.

"Mr. Ellison, would you please go to the waiting room," Dr. Cuthbertson requested. "After I remove the tube and give Jim a more thorough examination, Iíll let everyone back in here briefly for a visit; I don't want him overwhelmed. You can also inform them that I hope to have Jim moved into a regular room later today."

"Yes, Dr. Cuthbertson," William agreed despite his misgivings. "Iíll tell everyone the good news." Looking at his son once again, he said, "Jimmy, we'll be right outside and we'll see you again soon."

Returning to the waiting room, Williamís concern for Jim was briefly pushed aside as he looked at the assembled group. Amused, he took in the varying appearance of the men and women. Rhonda and Megan looked pretty well put together; however, Henri and Rafe looked like they'd barely managed to drag themselves out of bed.

Finally noticing Williamís return, everyone looked up expectantly. Holding up a hand to forestall the onslaught of eager question, William quickly informed them of Jim's condition. "Heís awake and seems coherent. Right now, Dr. Cuthbertson is removing the ventilator and checking him over. After that she's going to allow us in, for a brief visit. And later today, she'll be moving him into a private room. I'm sure that we're all glad to hear that."

"Thatís great news, Bill," Simon replied. Noticing William's concerned look, he asked, "What's wrong, though? You look worried."

"Jim, he justÖ" William began. "Well, once I said that Blair wasn't here Ö Jim just seemed to shut down after I told him that Blair wasn't here. I tried to explain that Blair wasn't here because no one contacted him, but Ö I don't know. Jim just seemed to shut down and stopped listening to me. I don't think he heard a single word that I said after that."

"Well, we're just going to have to make him listen," Megan asserted. "We have to take it upon ourselves to keep Jim going until Sandy does return. Hey, at least he is awake now and back with us."

"Yeah, but now is when the hard part begin," Simon responded.

Confused by the captain's words, Steven asked, "What do you mean, the hard work is about to begin?"

"Steven, have you been around you brother when heís recovering from an accident or an illness lately?" Simon asked.

"Not since we were kids," Steven rather sullenly replied.

"Well, we have," Simon stated. "And trust me when I say, it ain't pretty." Chuckling, he added, "Your brother is one cranky son of a bitch when heís laid up and itís damn near impossible to keep him down long enough to get well. Without Sandburg here, itís going to be really hard. I just wish that we could tell him aboutÖ"

"But we canít," Megan interrupted. "Weíve all agreed to keep this from him; to surprise him."

"I know," Simon replied, "but it just seems to keep getting harder and harder to stay quiet, especially now that he is awake again."

Oblivious to the happenings out in the waiting room, Jim lay in the ICU; concentrating on cooperating with Dr. Cuthbertson and the nurses as they removed the tube from his throat, he hadnít heard anything his friends and family had said. Wincing in pain as the tube finally came out; Jim smiled in thanks when Sadie gave him some ice chips to soothe the soreness in his throat.

Finishing her exam, Dr. Cuthbertson smiled down at her patient. "Jim, do you have any questions besides ĎWhen can I go homeí?" she asked with a smile.

Jim returned the smile with a rueful one of his own. "How about you tell me how I ended up here?" he managed to ask, his voice scratchy and hoarse.

Not surprised by the memory loss, Dr. Cuthbertson queried, "Whatís the last thing you remember?"

"Waiting at the mall for a snitch to show," Jim answered in a low voice, his words barely audible. "I was drinking something hot. I donít remember what. After that, nothing."

"Okay, Jim, this is what I know," Dr. Cuthbertson replied. "Youíre right; you were at the mall and until now, no one knew why. Lucky for you, Henri Brown was also there doing some Christmas shopping. When he noticed a commotion at the food court, he decided to investigate and was very surprised to find you, lying on the floor unconscious and having difficulty breathing." Watching as Sadie spooned some more ice chips into Jim's mouth, Dr. Cuthbertson continued, "He told someone to go call 911 while he called the PD. Since you still hadn't regain consciousness by the time the paramedics, he rode in the ambulance with you to the hospital."

Waiting a moment to allow Jim to digest everything that she had said so far, Dr. Cuthbertson frowned as she added, "I was paged but wasnít able to get here right away. As a result, a truly idiotic and extremely arrogant colleague of mine, who no longer works here by the way, refused to read your chart and gave you a sedative; one which youíre extremely sensitive to. Due to the administration of this drug, you went into respiratory arrest and that necessitated your being placed on a ventilator for last twenty-four hours, give or take a couple of hours."

Smiling, she said, "On the plus side, I didnít expect you to wake up for another eight to ten hours but right now you're not only awake but extremely cognizant. Once again, you've managed to surprise me. Jim, it really would help if you could remember what you reacted to at the mall. It was pretty much textbook allergic reaction and whatever agent caused this really should be listed in your medical records."

"Iíll try to remember Dr. Cuthbertson," Jim promised. "But right now itís all a blank."

Seeing Jim yawn, Dr. Cuthbertson said, "I promised everyone theyíd get a chance to see you briefly. I know that you're still tired, but do you think that you could you stand some visitors? Theyíre all pretty anxious. But if you don't fell up to it, I'm sure they'll understand."

Flashing briefly to his father's visit, only remembering hearing that Blair wasn't at the hospital, Jim hesitated for a moment. Eventually he relented and agreed. "Okay, Dr. C," he said, even though he couldnít imagine who would be waiting to see him in the middle of the night. Especially since he was well aware that everyone at the station was still upset with him over his treatment of Blair on Thanksgiving.

Taking in the uncertainty, not to mention loneliness in Jim's eyes, Dr. Cuthbertson patted his arm and said, "Iíll go get everyone."

When Dr. Cuthbertson. entered the waiting room, she immediately became the focus of everyone's attention. "Jim is going to be fine," she announced and then smiled at the resulting cheers. Shushing everyone, she continued, "Heís tired; he has a cold and his throat is sore, but thatís all to be expected. I know he wants to go home, but with Blair gone he'd be alone and he isn't in any condition to take care of himself right now. So unless you all can guarantee that he will have someone with him all the time, he'll have to remain here for now."

Briefly meeting everyone's eyes, she added, "He has agreed to visitors so you can go into see him. If you keep if brief, I'll allow you to all go in together. He seems rather depressed and I think that it would cheer him up to see some friendly faces right now. But please keep it short because he still needs his rest. In fact, I think heís about to fall asleep right now; he was yawning when I left."

Speaking up when the doctor fell silent, Sally announced, "You don't need to worry about Jimmy, doctor; he'll be coming home with Mr. Ellison and myself. After all, I took care of him when he was a boy and I am certainly able to take care of him now. I doubt that he'll be any more difficult to take of now then he was when he was a boy." Smiling, she added, "Besides, Iím sure that Iíll have lots of help."

Taking a look at the group of smiling men and women, Dr. Cuthbertson nodded her agreement.

Dozing, Jim was awakened when the door to his room opened and a large number of people began to come inside. Temporarily rendered speechless, by the fact that his co-workers were actually here to see him and that Dr. C was allowing them to violate the rules by all visiting at once, Jim stared in shock after they had all entered the room

"Jimmy," William spoke, breaking the silence, "youíre a lucky man. Youíve got really good friends who are going to make sure that you recover completely; they've already been seeing to that by staying with you the whole time that you've been here. They've made sure that you haven't been alone a single second since you were admitted." Pausing for a moment to allow the news to sink in, William cleared his throat and then added, "Now as soon as you're released, you're coming home with Sally and me. Before you start arguing, you should know that you don't have a choice in the matter. Just as we didn't allow you to be alone here, we're not going to allow you to be alone after you get out of here. And that included the holidays, Son."

Not knowing what to say, still feeling Blair's absence despite the presence of his friends and family, Jim stared in disbelief as his colleagues wished him well and then took their leave. After everyone had left, he started to surrender to the weariness that had been pulling at him. Settling down to sleep, he eventually noticed his brother sitting down in the comfortable chair sitting by his bed. "Stevie," he croaked, "whatíre you doing?"

"Getting comfortable, big brother," Steven answered with a smile. "You arenít going to be here alone. Iím staying." Smile widening, he added, "And for once, youíre in no shape to make me do anything!"

Directing a half-hearted glare his brother's way, Jim sighed and closed his eyes; giving in to the encroaching exhaustion, he finally drifted off to sleep.


Chapter 7

The next morning, feeling reasonable happy and content for the first time in several weeks, Simon Banks smiled as he arrived at work. 'What's not to be happy about?' he thought. 'Jim is getting better and although I wish it hadn't taken his illness to accomplish it, my unit is quickly becoming a true family. And once we finally get Jim and Blair face to face again, our family will finally be complete. Then, the real healing can begin and we can have a wonderful Christmas together.'

Whistling 'Silent Night', Simon nodded hello to Rhonda on his way into his office. Contemplating bringing in some Christmas decorations, he sat down to check his voicemail. Patiently, he waded through the usual messages from his detectives; attentively, he listened to their updates of various open cases. Then, he good mood increased when he came to a message from Daryl; however, that good mood quickly evaporated as he heard what his son had to say.

"Dad," Daryl's voice issued from the phone, "Iím calling to let you know that I wonít be at your place for Christmas, but Iíll try to get back for a couple of days after New Yearís. Momís boyfriend has a place on Fifth Avenue and heís invited me to spend the holidays with them there in New York City. Youíll probably have to work anyway. Alan and Mom are getting pretty serious and I want to get to know him better. Sorry about the plans we made. Iíll be in touch."

Taking a deep breath, Simon determined not to let his disappointment spoil Christmas. 'We've all gone to a lot of effort to salvage this holiday,' he thought, 'and I'm not about to all that hard work be for nothing.' Caught up in his thoughts, it took him a moment to notice movement in the bullpen. Spotting Naomi Sandburg, he let out a loud sigh. 'When did she get into town?' he wondered as he went to see what she wanted.

Seeing Simon open his door, Naomi greeted, "Oh, Captain Banks, itís good to see you again." Sweeping past him to barge into his office she asked, "May I come in?"

"Certainly, Ms. Sandburg," Simon replied, hurriedly stepping aside when Naomi almost ran into him. Hoping to include Blair's mother in their Christmas plans, he said, "And please, it's Simon. Now, what can I do for you?"

"Iím looking for Blair," Naomi answered. "The loft seems to be unoccupied and the neighbors wonít tell me anything. Iíve got the most wonderful opportunity for him to go to India for the holiday, possibly longer. The most wonderful ashram has offered to help the both of us find enlightenmentÖ"

"Ms. Sandburg, when was the last time you communicated with Blair?" Simon broke into the monologue.

"IÖwellÖI, I havenít spoken with him since he accepted the offer to go to the police academy," Naomi hesitantly answered. "Iíve thought about emailing him but, well, things were still a bit tense. So, I decided to come and get my son so that we can clear the air."

Simon sighed again; remembering Blair's very specific instructions to not tell Naomi his location should she come looking for him, Simon remained silent. Eyes slipping shut, Simon also recalled how in the letter Blair stated that he was fully aware of how Naomi felt about Jim and was relying on Simon to shield Jim from one of Naomi's tirades. Risking a glance at Naomi, Simon saw that she was growing impatient with the continued silence.

"Ms. Sandburg, " Simon said, "If youíll give me a moment, Iíll tell you what I can." When he proceeded to tell Naomi about the Ellison family's efforts, and eventual success, in restoring Blair's academic reputation, Naomi seemed to grow increasingly agitated. Then, when he informed her that Blair was now in seclusion, omitting the details of Blair's departure, she grew even more upset.

"But my son and I have so much catching up to do," Naomi replied after Simon finished his explanation. "I'll just wait for him to come back to Cascade, then Iíll ask him to go on the retreat with me. Once he finishes his dissertation, I know that he'll want to come with me." Expression hardening, she added, "And Iíll be so glad to get him away from the violence of your world; over the past few years, he has been repeatedly hurt and injured due to his relationship with Jim and this department. It's not like he even belonged here in the first place; he was never cut out for this line of work and no matter how much Jim and the rest of you tried to influence him, he never would have been happy being a pig."

Appalled by Naomi's attitude, which was just as clueless as it had been last spring when she'd nearly destroyed Jim and Blair's friendship, Simon grated out, "I think that you may be in for a rather unpleasant surprise." Inwardly pleased by the annoyed expression on Naomi's face, he continued, "Contrary to what you think, I donít believe Blair will be that eager to leave Cascade." Reaching into his desk drawer, Simon pulled out an envelope. "He sent me this letter so that I could give it to you in case you showed up in Cascade." Handing the envelope to Naomi, Simon said, "If you'd like, you can use my office to read the letter. I'll make sure that no one disturbs you." When Naomi nodded, Simon left the office, giving her some privacy.

Barely registering Simon's departure, Naomi opened the letter; as she began to read it, she didnít even notice the trembling in her hands.



Dear Mom,

If youíre reading this then that means you finally decided to come back to Cascade. I'm glad. I've missed you, Naomi, and even though I know we've still got a lot of issues to deal with, I know that we can work things out. By now, Simon has told you everything that has happened since you left last spring so you know that I'm finishing my dissertation. Now I know that you're probably going to want me to go away with you to some retreat so that I can process everything that has happened, but that's not me anymore, Naomi. I'm not going to run away from my problems. Cascade is my home now and I'm not leaving. And I am definitely not going to abandon my family. That's right, Naomi; I consider Jim and the others my family.

After I finish the dissertation, hopefully it'll be accepted and I'll get my doctorate, I plan on pursuing a job at the PD as a full-time consultant. Also, I might even teach at the Police Academy or at the University of Washington. Hell, I may even end up teaching at both. What I'm trying to say is, I've finally found my place, Naomi. After all those years of never fitting in, never belonging, always being an outsider, I found the place that I belong. And that place is by Jim's side. He is my brother, Mom. In everything except blood, he is my brother. Despite our recent problems, I'm more certain of that than ever before and I know that we'll work everything out. I only hope that you can accept this and be happy for me. I love you, Mom.



After she had finished reading her son's letter, Naomi crumpled it in her fist; unable to believe that her son, who she had raised to be as free thinking and unconventional as she was, had written those words. 'Work for the police,' she thought. 'I don't think so, Blair. I was never going to permit that in the first place. I especially wonít now that you're going to receive your doctorate. After all, there are so many more options, ones that donít include any involvement with Jim or the rest of these pigs, for you to consider now. I'll just have to make you see that.'

When Simon returned to his office a few minutes later, the sight of a fuming Naomi Sandburg greeted him. "Can I get you some coffee?" He mildly asked.

"No," Naomi answered through gritted teeth. "But you can tell me can tell me where my son is!"

"Iím sorry Ms. Sandburg," Simon apologized, "but I gave my word to Blair that I would keep his whereabouts confidential, and that is one promise that I don't intend on breaking. I can, however, assure you that he is safe and healthy."

"So, whereís Ellison?" Naomi spat out. "Iíll get the location from him."

"Detective Ellison is in the hospital," Simon answered, "but it won't do you any good to go see him since he doesnít know where Blair is either. Besides, he has had a rough time lately and I really think that you should leave him alone and not hinder his recovery."

"You do not have the right to keep me from my son," Naomi exclaimed. "If I have to, Iíll get a court order to force you to tell me! If you think that I won't just try me and see; I won't allow the likes of you to keep me from my son!"

Knowing that Naomi's shouts were audible to the detectives in the bullpen, Simon remained calm and replied in a low and even tone. "Ms. Sandburg, Blair wishes to be left alone right now. Unless you want to totally alienate your son, I suggest that you respect that decision; just as I have." Attempting to reason with Naomi, though expecting that he wouldn't be able to get through to the irate and distraught woman, he urged, "Please let this go. No one wants to see you hurt, but Blair needs space right now; both to finish his dissertation and to finally come to terms with everything that has happened over the past few months. Even with Jim was in the hospital I didnít attempt to contact him, although I know that he wonít be happy with that decision once he finds out about it."

Mind racing, Naomi tried to think of where her son could have gone. ĎThat has got to be it,í she thought as she was struck by a sudden inspiration. Without saying another word to Simon, Naomi turned and stormed out of the office; she didn't even pause as a picture crash to the floor when she slammed the door behind her.

Later that afternoon, having heard nothing further from Naomi, Simon was just starting to calm down from the womanís visit. 'I really should call and check on Jim,' he thought. Just as he picked up the phone, the intercom clicked on and he heard Rhonda say, "Line one, sir. Itís Megan."

Pushing the button for line one he said, "Banks."

"Captain, I have a very disgruntled detective here," Megan stated, her voice sounding somewhat harried. "Maybe you might do a bit of attitude adjustment for me?"

Smiling as he heard the barely audible grumbling in the background, Simon said, "Put him on."

After a slight pause, Jim came on the line. "Simon, Iím signing myself out AMA," he announced. "They canít keep me here."

'I donít think so, my friend,' Simon thought as he heard Jim's weak, but determined, sounding voice. "Detective," Simon barking into the phone, using his best donít-mess-with-me-because-Iím-the-Captain-and-I-will-assign-you-to-meter-maid-duty-if-you-piss-me-off voice, "listen to me. You nearly died, during which you just happened to give your friends and family a very bad scare." Tone softening, he continued, "We care about you, Jim, and want to see you get better."

Once again switching to his previous commanding tone, he ordered, "So you will follow directions and you will stay in the hospital until your doctor releases you. After which, you will go home with your father. And you will not be allowed back on duty until I get a written statement from Dr. C stating that you are fit for duty. Do I make myself very clear?" When Jim didn't immediately respond, he stated, "Iím waiting for an answer, Detective."

"You made yourself very clear, Sir," Jim grumbled.

"Good," Simon replied. "And, Jim?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Get well, Jim," Simon said. "You're missed around here. Now, give the phone back to Connor."

Jim glared at Megan as he handed her back the phone.

Smiling, she warned, "Donít you give me that look, Jim Ellison. Or else I might have to tell Santa how naughty you've been this year." Turning her attention to the phone, she said, "Yes, Captain."

"He giving you too hard a time, Connor?" Simon asked.

"No, sir. At least not now, he isn't," Megan replied. "After your little chat just now, Jimbo is back to being his usual cheery self. Besides, Sally will be here in a few to relive me. Iíll get down to the station after she arrives."

"Very good," Simon replied. Grinning, knowing that Jim was listening to him, he added, "Donít forget the meeting," referring to everyoneís plans to meet at his house later that night to discuss plans for the Christmas party.

"I wonít, sir," Megan assured; watching in amusement as Jim tried to hide his interest in her conversation with Simon. "See you then."

"What meeting?" Jim asked after Megan ended her call.


"That meeting that Simon mentioned," Jim explained. "Whatís that about?"

"Why, Detective Ellison," Megan chided, "were you eavesdropping on my conversation? Iím shocked."

Irritated by the smirk on Meganís face, Jim growled, "Just tell me what the meeting is about? Is something going on that I should know about?"

"Itís nothing, Jim," Megan replied. "Just a typical meeting. Nothing is going on."

"Whatever," Jim said. Looking down, picking at his blanket, Jim asked, "SoÖ umÖ have you or SimonÖ I mean, has SanÖ" Sighing, he inquired, "Has anyone heard from Sandburg? I justÖ I know that you guys are pissed at me because of the way that I acted, butÖ WellÖ IímÖ Iím worried about him."

"Look, Mate," Megan replied, "first off, yes we were rather annoyed with you for a while. You were totally in the wrong on Thanksgiving. Sandy certainly didnít deserve that type of treatment, especially from you of all people." Her tone softening, she added, "But weíve all decided that even though you act like a total jackass sometimes, youíre really an okay kind of guy. As long as you and Sandy work things out, nobody will be holding any grudges. We all just want to put our family back together again, especially at this time of year."

"But it isnít a family without Sandburg, is it?" Jim asked.

"No, it isnít," Megan agreed. "But it is Christmas time, Jim; a time for forgiveness and being with the people you love. I donít know where Sandy is right now; but Iím sure that wherever he is, he is thinking of you. Heíll be back, Jim. I know he will. I have faith in that and you should too."

"Having faith in something isnít exactly one of my strong points," Jim stated.

"Oh I donít know about that," Megan replied. "I remember seeing you show some pretty strong faith once before."

"Me?" Jim skeptically replied. "When?"

Tone soft, concern clearly evident in every word, Megan answered, "At the fountain. The day SandyÖ" Voice choked with emotions, she continued, "Even after we had all given up, you still held out hope. You had faith that Sandy would come back to us. Your faith was justified that day. Is it so difficult to believe that it will be justified this time as well?"

Not knowing how to respond, Jim remained silent.

Later that afternoon, after Megan had gone back to the station, Dr. Cuthbertson came in to examine Jim and proceeded to proclaim him recovered enough to go home. After his release him from the hospital, his father and Sally had brought him home, or to his fatherís house.

Now settled into his old room, Jim glanced around the room; lost in thought for a while, he was caught up in some rather unpleasant childhood memories. Shaking off the reverie, Jimís thoughts turned to Blair. Absentmindedly, he turned on the television and flipped through the channels. ĎIt may be an improvement over the hospital, but I sure as hell wish that I was back at the loft right now,í he thought. Then, remembering the empty feeling he always seemed to have lately when he was at home, he cursed, "Shit. Maybe I donít wish that I were at the loft. But I would if you were there, Chief. God, Blair, Iím so sorry. I screwed up again, didnít I? These fear-based responses are a bitch. Youíd think that Iíd be able to control them a little bit better by now."

As he allowed himself to think about Blair and their friendship, which he had willfully destroyed because of his insecurities and fears, depression began to set in once again. "I donít even know where you are, Chief. Are you okay? Have you finally finished your dissertation? Are you going to come back? Megan thinks you are. She wants me to have faith, but I donít know if I can. I mean, I have faith in you, Blair. I always have even though it didnít always look like it. I just donít seem to have any in myself lately, faith that Iím worthy enough for you to want to try and salvage our friendship."

Thought preoccupied with Blair, Jim didnít notice William standing outside beside the bedroom door, listening to his sonís softly spoken words.

His heart saddened by his sonís despondent tone, William quietly crept down the hallway. Once downstairs, William headed for his den. Picking up the phone, he called Simon. "Hello, Captain Banks," he said when his call was answered. "I really need to speak to you about Jim. I think itís time for us to step up those plans."

After ending his conversation with Jimís father, Simon paged Rhonda.

"Yes, Sir?" Rhondaís voice came from the intercom.

"Rhonda, I need you to find me the number for Saint Sebastianís," Simon said. "Itís a monastery."

After ending his conversation with Rhonda, Simon leaned back in his chair. ĎI hope that I made the right decision, guys,í he thought. ĎNot informing Blair seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but now Iím not so sure.í

"Captain," Rhondaís voice interrupted his musings, "Iíve got that number for you."

"Thank you, Rhonda," Simon said as he quickly jotted down the number Rhonda recited to him. "Could you please see to it that Iím not disturbed for the next few minutes."

Ending his conversation with Rhonda, Simon picked up the phone. "Hello," he said when the phone was answered, "this is Simon Banks from Cascade and I need to speak to someone about Blair Sandburg."


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