The Loft, 10:02 PM

Jim had walked into a nightmare. As he and the hobbling Simon strode into the apartment building's hallway, the sound of Daryl's scream had sent him running. He had ignored Simon's demands for an explanation and had taken the stairs three at a time, leaving his bewildered captain to wait for the elevator. He burst through the door, looking for intruders, but instead found the teen straddling his partner, doing his best to choke him to death. Just as he was about to manhandle him off Blair, Daryl collapsed on his own. The detective pulled him sideways so he wouldn't crush the now gasping Sandburg, and examined him quickly. From what little he had seen, the teen had obviously been delusional and violent. A sharp memory assaulted him, and for a split second, he found himself staring down the barrel of his own service revolver, his frightened and delusional partner at the other end of it. No designer drug clouded his vision this time, and it was clear to him that Daryl had somehow been drugged.

Abandoning the ramifications that train of thought exposed, he turned his full attention on keeping his captain's son alive and getting help for his injured partner. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and was about to call for the paramedics when Daryl quit breathing and his heart stopped. Another glance at Blair showed him his roommate was coming around. Daryl needed help now, so he thrust the phone at his dazed partner and told him to call 911, having to repeat it twice before Blair complied, all the while cursing himself that he needed the wounded man's assistance. Simon had only just entered the elevator on the ground floor.

He began CPR, checking the teen's airway and tilting his neck back before starting mouth-to- mouth resuscitation, after which he began chest compressions. He gratefully saw Blair resume his place at Daryl's chest as he moved back up to his mouth to breathe for him again. The captain's son was in serious trouble, but if Blair was helping out, then his partner probably wasn't hurt too badly. He was grateful he hadn't had to make a choice between them. He breathed twice into Daryl's mouth, then paused to see if the teen resumed breathing on his own when the attack hit him.

He rocked back away from Daryl and began to cough and choke. The fiery taste of the jalapeno pepper still lingering in the youth's mouth burned through his own and set his eyes to watering. He vaguely heard Sandburg growl at him to get control of himself as he wheezed, clapping his hands over his mouth and blinking his streaming eyes. In his heightened emotional state at seeing his friend's son attempting to kill his partner, he must have engaged his other senses as well, taste among them.

Jim watched helplessly through fiercely watering eyes as his partner moved to continue mouth-to-mouth, but the choking cry of distress Blair emitted as his damaged throat tried to bring in enough air to breathe life into Daryl was all Jim needed to gain full control of the dials and ease the younger man aside. Despite the blood staining the front of Blair's shirt, he valiantly continued the chest compressions on Daryl.

"What the hell is... oh my God! Daryl!"

Jim felt the thud of Simon's knees hitting the floor beside his unconscious son and absently thought it must have hurt his still-healing leg. Simon eased Blair's hands away from Daryl and placed his own hands on his son's chest, resuming the rhythmic compressions with barely a pause.

"What happened? What's the matter with my boy?" he asked frantically.

"I don't know," replied Blair miserably, his voice cracking with each word. "He was fine, then just freaked out. I thought he was having an allergic reaction, but then he attacked me."

"Attacked you? Christ almighty, what the hell happened?" Blair remained silent. There was little he could say to alleviate Simon's fear and concern, and the pain in his throat made any long explanations impossible right now.

"Simon, stop for a minute, I think he's responding."

Sure enough, Daryl's chest began to rise and fall on its own. Jim pressed his fingers against the carotid artery in his neck, and nodded to confirm the weak but present pulse. Simon placed his hands on either side of his son's face, his thumbs stroking away the beaded sweat and tear tracks.

"I hear the ambulance pulling up. I'll go bring the paramedics up here," Jim stated as he jogged towards the door.

"Ahh, my sweet boy. You've got to be okay, Daryl," Simon whispered to his son. "Fight hard. Whatever's happening to you, you've got to fight it hard!"


Blair inched closer to his captain and laid a supportive hand on his back. Simon glanced quickly at him in acknowledgment before returning his gaze to his son's too-still form.

"Sandburg, I need to know. Did he... I mean, how did he seem... Ahh, hell."

Blair understood what Simon was trying to ask him. Was it possible that Daryl had taken drugs on purpose? Every fiber of his being was screaming that there was no way the responsible, intelligent young man could have made such a stupid choice. But this same responsible, intelligent young man had been trying his hardest to kill him mere minutes ago. Simon needed reassurances right now that Blair could not give him.

"I don't know, Simon. I honestly don't know."

The captain glared at his newest detective, whether in anger at his non-answer or at the overall situation, Blair didn't know. He was spared from that painful gaze by the arrival of the EMTs, gear in tow. He shuffled back out of their way as they began working on Daryl. Simon remained by his son's side, staying out of the way of the paramedics, but maintaining physical contact with his ailing child.

Blair's view of the surreal scene was disturbed by his partner kneeling down in front of him, his hands full of medical supplies.

"I told them I'd check you out myself," Jim murmured as he deposited the supplies on the floor then eased Blair down onto his back. The pulling on his stomach caused him to flinch and automatically raise his knees to ease the strain. Jim carefully pushed his shirt aside and pulled up the bloodied t-shirt underneath. His touch was gentle as he cleansed the wound of blood with antiseptic-soaked gauze.

"This doesn't look too deep. Maybe needs a few stitches, but you'll live." Blair smiled at his partner's quip while Jim covered the wound with clean gauze. The smile faded, however, when Jim's fingers moved over the bruises on his neck. His hands moved up to cover Jim's but stopped short of pulling the hands away.

"Sorry, Chief. I know it hurts, but I want to feel for any damage here."

Blair closed his eyes and nodded, his hands dropping to his sides in acquiescence. After a few gentle palpations, Jim removed his hands and sat back on his heels. The EMTs had completed their preparations and were ready to transport Daryl to the hospital. Jim moved over to assist Simon up off the floor.

"Go with them, Simon. You just take care of Daryl, and I'll handle everything else," Jim said gravely.

"Thanks, Jim. Sandburg?" The tall captain looked over to where the former grad student still lay on the floor, concern evident in his glance.

"I'll be fine, Simon," Blair replied, smiling through the pain for the captain's sake.

"Good. I want to talk to you, but later." At a nod from Blair, he turned and hobbled from the loft, his limp much more pronounced now. As Jim was helping Blair up off the floor and into a chair at the table, they both heard the ambulance sirens wail as it sped into the night. Blair lay his head down on his folded arms on the table, the shock of his injuries and the bizarre events of the evening finally catching up to him. Jim grabbed the blanket from the back of the couch and covered him up, lingering to tuck it around his partner before taking action again.

After rummaging in Blair's room for a clean shirt and helping him change into it, Jim first called the station, then called Henri Brown at home, giving him a brief explanation of what had occurred and asking that he come to the loft to personally oversee the forensic investigation.

That accomplished, he guided his friend down to the truck and helped him settle in the passenger seat. After revving the engine to life, the troubled partners followed the same route to Mercy Hospital that the ambulance had taken mere minutes before.


Mercy Hospital Emergency Room, 10:36 PM

Jim pushed aside the curtains surrounding the bed in the ER where his partner lay. A doctor was just knotting the last of the six stitches he had needed to close the deep end of the gash to his abdomen. The cut looked far less impressive now than it had at the loft, to Jim's relief. After flashing his badge, the sentinel pulled a chair up beside the bed and sat watching as the wound was bandaged and taped. After a quick inspection of the bruises on Blair's throat, the doctor left, indicating he would return once some test results came back.

"How're you feeling, Chief?"

"Stupid," Blair whispered.

"Why?"

"Jim." Blair's voice broke on the first word but he swallowed hard, grimacing as he did so, and continued speaking, his words barely above a whisper. "In the academy, we were taught ways to subdue a violent suspect, whether that person was drunk, high, enraged or just plain bigger than yourself. Not to mention the training I went through on breaking a chokehold. All that went out the window tonight, man. One minute I'm chatting with my friend, the next I'm flat on my back losing consciousness. I keep replaying what happening in my mind, and I'm seeing at least five different ways I could have restrained him before either of us got hurt. How much worse would it have been for Daryl if he woke up to discover he'd killed me, huh?"

Jim didn't know what to say for a moment. He had come into the room fully intending to ask Blair the facts about what had happened, hoping to set aside the emotional aspects of the incident for later. He realized that he was more adept at 'checking his emotions at the door' than his partner was, but now was not the time for that speech.

"I know you're upset about this, Chief, but we need to focus on figuring out what happened so we can have some answers for Daryl when he does wake up. Training or not, you were attacked in your own home by someone you trusted. Right from the start you were at a disadvantage. Besides, you were hurt. I don't think anyone could be counted on to be at their best with a knife wound and a concussion."

"I know you're right, but I still feel stupid," he blew out a frustrated sigh as he shook his head firmly, as though banishing his thoughts. "Thanks for showing up when you did. Things could have been a lot worse, huh?"

"Yeah."

They remained silent for a few moments, Blair with his eyes shut, breathing slowly in and out, Jim staring at the small black stitches holding the wound on his partner's abdomen closed.

"You ready to tell me everything that happened?"

"Yeah, okay."

Jim pulled a small notebook and a pen from his jacket pocket. It was time to get some answers. He'd help Blair work through the emotions of the case later. Now it was time for policework.


#

ICU Waiting Room, 11:17 PM

"I'm pretty sure he was dosed, Simon. From what Blair told me, I don't think he did this on purpose."

"I know that, Jim," Simon replied sharply. Too sharply. His quick exhalation of breath as he turned away confirmed to Jim that his captain had been secretly despairing that his son had taken the drugs purposely.

Jim had discovered his captain sitting wearily in the ICU's waiting room. The large cup of coffee Jim had bought for him earlier remained untouched at his side. Simon had little information to share of Daryl's condition, except that it was too soon to tell whether he would recover fully, if at all. Simon had attempted to contact his ex-wife Joan, but settled on leaving an urgent message on her answering machine. It was likely she had been out for the evening, and Jim knew that Simon did not relish the thought of explaining that their son had OD'ed on an unknown substance, and could possibly die or suffer permanent brain damage. The captain would be allowed brief visits with his son, and now sat waiting for the nurse to come and tell him he was able to head into the room and sit with his child.

"How's Sandburg?" Simon asked as he turned back to face the detective.

"He'll be fine. They needed six stitches to close the cut on his abdomen, and they're monitoring him to make sure his throat doesn't swell up further, but he should recover fully."

"Good. Daryl would hate it if he'd really hurt Blair."

"Sandburg was saying the same thing. He's pretty upset about what happened, and beating himself up over what he could have done differently."

"Him and me both," was the captain's whispered answer. Jim doubted Simon consciously realized he could hear him, and let the comment pass.

"What was he able to tell you about what Daryl said?"

"Basically, Daryl walked in on something suspicious at the university's chemistry lab a few weeks ago and decided to do some investigation of his own before he talked to you. The students appeared to be using the lab for something besides classwork. Blair gave me the names of the students Daryl suspected, and I have Taggart running them through the computer as we speak. First thing tomorrow, I'll head over to campus and get their records. Hopefully we can locate them and find out just what they're involved in." Jim paused for a moment. "And find out why Daryl was targeted, but I think we know that already."

"Because of me," Simon replied with a painful sigh.

"Simon..." Jim began.

"Don't even start, Ellison. My child is lying in that room fighting for his life because of who I am. He was so damned determined to prove himself to me that he placed himself in danger. How the hell can I live with myself if he doesn't make it?"

"He'll make it, Simon. You have to believe that."

"Why did he think he needed to prove himself to me?" Simon continued as though Jim hadn't spoken. "I love that boy more than my own life! He could discover the cure for cancer or lay about the house like a bum, and I would still love him just the same. Didn't he know that?" Simon stood unsteadily and began laboriously pacing in front of Jim, dragging his still-healing leg as he walked.

"I've worked my whole life to make this city a safe place for my child to grow up in. I sent him to good schools, maintained a civil relationship with his mother for his sake, and tried to be there whenever he needed me. I tell him all the time that I love him, Jim, that I'm proud of him, but still he needs to do some crazy thing like this to prove what?"

"I think he's more like you than you know, Simon," Jim said softly.

"What?" The captain lowered his frame into his seat again, the burst of energy gone.

"He's a Banks. He sees the kind of man his father is and wants to be just like him. Of course he knows you love him, but he's not a baby anymore. I can't see him lying around the house any more than I can picture you doing it. Making good grades and returning your love isn't enough for him. He's got that Banks stubbornness without a doubt."

"He does, doesn't he," Simon replied with a smile.

"He's stubborn enough to fight this, and win. If only so you can chew him out when he wakes up."

"Oh, I think I'll take it easy on him for a day or so. But as soon as he's better, that child of mine is going to thank the Lord I don't believe in spankings." Both men shared a chuckle, the tension of waiting eased somewhat by thoughts of a healthy Daryl being lectured by his relieved but furious father.

"This waiting is the worst part," Simon declared after several more minutes had passed in silence. The momentary peace was replaced again with agitation "Why wasn't I there for my son when he needed me? I just wish there was something I could do now!"

"You're doing it, Simon. You're here for Daryl, and when he wakes up, you're going to do whatever it takes to help him get past this. We've been here before, remember?"

Simon's stricken look told Jim that he, too, recalled the golden incident.

"Blair bounced back, eventually, and Daryl will too. He's got his parents and two very concerned friends waiting to help him however we can. And you've got someone who's been in your shoes available to talk to you whenever you need it." Jim reached over and gripped his friend's arm. "I mean it, Simon. Whatever you need, you tell me."

"I just need my son to wake up, Jim. Anything that comes after that, we'll handle it. I just really need my boy to wake up."

"Mr. Banks?" The ICU nurse stood in the doorway to the waiting room, clipboard in hand. "You can go back in now, but only for ten minutes."

Jim stood up and offered a hand to his captain, helping him stand and walking with him into the main corridor.

"I'm heading in to the station now to check on how things are going. Blair's going to be down in the ER for a while under observation, but I'll be back to pick him up in a few hours. I'll check in with you then."

"Good. Thanks," the captain answered distractedly. Simon's attention was already on the still figure visible now through the glass.

Jim watched him walk unsteadily into the room and sit heavily in the chair at his son's bedside. After a moment of watching the naked grief on his friend's face, he turned and strode purposefully down towards the stairs, intent on getting some answers.


Forensic Lab, 11:50 PM

"For once, I'm glad you're on the swing shift rotation, Serena," Jim called out as he entered the forensics laboratory. Several plastic bags were strewn across a long table in the middle of the room, with gloved technicians sifting through them. The detective recognized the contents as coming from the loft. He was glad he didn't have to stress the importance of this investigation to anyone. The well-known veteran technician in charge ensured the timely and accurate analysis of the foodstuffs which were the likely cause of Daryl's near-OD.

Serena Chang looked up from where she sat hunched over a petri dish and smiled at the detective.

"Been missing me, huh?" she asked.

"You bet. Have you discovered anything yet?"

"As much as I appreciate your faith in me, we've only had this stuff for a half hour. We've just started sorting out the best possibilities. You're welcome to help out." She waved a hand in the direction of the table and bent back to study the contents of the dish.

Jim wandered over to a cabinet and pulled out a set of gloves. Once he had donned them, he joined the group by the bags. Recalling what Sandburg had told him about the earlier events, he rummaged about until he found the plastic bag containing the Odwalla bottle. Zooming in with Sentinel vision, he examined the plastic container for needle marks. Up near the top of the bottle, in a spot which would have been virtually hidden by the cap, he found what he had been looking for.

"Serena, check this out. Tell me what you see."

The forensics technician held the bottle in her hands and peered closely at the spot Jim indicated with his finger. After a few moments of scrutiny, she reached over and grabbed a magnifying glass. This time, she was able to spot the needle mark. She raised her eyebrows questioningly at the detective, but he quickly looked away.

Let him keep his secrets, she thought. He makes my lab look good with finds like this.

"Barry," she called out to one of her assistants. "I want you to check out the contents of this bottle immediately. Detective Ellison has a hunch."

Jim thought that Barry was grinning a bit too widely as he accepted the proffered bottle from his boss, but decided to ignore it. He trusted Serena, and knew she trusted her team. For all he knew, Connor may have convinced them that he was psychic.

After discovering another unopened bottle of the Odwalla and several suspect candy bars in Daryl's backpack, Jim left the Forensics Lab and headed upstairs to his desk, intent on looking up the names of the students Blair had recalled. It would be several hours before the ER doctors would release his partner, and he was determined to make good use of the time, all the while trying to erase the vision of his captain's grief-stricken face from his mind.


Mercy Hospital ICU, 2:15 AM

Jim strode purposefully down the corridors of the ICU wing of Mercy Hospital, heading for the room the ER staff had indicated. Blair had earlier been released from observation and told the nurses to send Jim up to Daryl's room when he arrived to pick him up. It was late, and he wanted to get his partner home for some rest before they tackled the case the next day.

A sharp memory assaulted Jim as he paused in the doorway to Daryl's hospital room. It was in a room very much like this one that he had sat by his partner's side, waiting for him to waken from his drug-induced coma after he was dosed with Golden. Blair sat in a chair beside Daryl's bed, his eyes moving from his friend's face to the tubes and wires keeping him alive. One arm was wrapped around his torso, the other twisted aimlessly at the corner of the sheet. The detective watched his partner shake his head as he let out a deep sigh, and moved forward into the room to stand next to the chair.

"Hey, Chief, how're you feeling?"

"Jim. Hi," Blair replied wearily, his voice sounding raspy and raw. He ran a hand over his eyes, rubbing at them as though to wake himself up before continuing. "I'm okay. No concussion. My throat's going to be sore for a few days, but the swelling's not too bad. They let me leave the ER about an hour ago and I came right up here."

"And Daryl?"

"Preliminary lab results indicate the drug matches the stuff that the coroner found in the other kids. Since Daryl apparently ingested it rather than having shot it up or snorted it, the doctors are 'guardedly optimistic,'" he raised his hands and made quote marks at the phrase, "that his body can work it out of his system before it fries his brain. Bottom line is, they're not sure which way it'll go right now. Simon took Joan out for some air. She's not taking this well at all."

"How's Simon doing?"

"I think he's in shock, or on autopilot. He's been pretty cool so far, 'keeping the faith' he says, but there's something in his eyes... something that tells me he's holding on to a very thin rope right now." Blair turned his attention back to the bed and its occupant. "I just wish he would wake up."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Jim chuckled at that. Blair glanced at him sharply, not understanding his sudden mirth.

"That's exactly what I remember saying to Simon," Jim said softly. He moved closer to the bed and laid a hand on Daryl's forehead, sliding it down to rest on the young man's shoulder.

"Is this what it was like for you?" Blair asked.

Wordlessly, Jim moved away from Daryl to stand behind his partner's chair and reached around to cover his partner's eyes with his hands.

"Listen to the respirator, Blair. Hear the hiss, the click? Now the heart monitor. Monotonous, isn't it? And doesn't tell you a thing about how he's doing, what he's feeling. Reach out with your hands, now. Can you feel how cold Daryl's skin feels? Can you tell what the expression is on his face with your hands? Can you tell if he's close to waking up or about to slip away forever?"

With a soft gasp, Blair pulled Jim's hands away from his eyes and stood up to face his partner.

"That's how helpless I felt when you were lying there, Blair."

Several moments passed as the men held each other's gazes, distress and understanding flowing between them. Finally, Blair nodded at his friend. He opened his mouth as though to speak, but stopped and simply nodded again. Jim reached up and clasped Blair's shoulder, squeezing it lightly. The former grad student reached up and covered the hand with his own for a moment.

"I can hear Simon down the hall with Joan. They're heading back here, so it looks like your shift is over. Let's go home, partner."

After a brief conversation with Simon and Joan, the men headed out to the truck and back to the loft. Throughout the ride home, their emotions remained too high to have a fruitful discussion about what happened. The heavy silence followed them into the loft. After eating a very late dinner of scrambled eggs, each man headed off to bed, both equally resolved to tackle the case in the morning.



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