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Their Own Deep Oceans

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All hearts float in their own

deep oceans of no light,

wetblack and glimmering,

their four mouths gulping like fish.

--from "The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart" by Margaret Atwood

Jim turned away from the table and blew his nose again, groaning at the scrape of the tissue over red-raw skin. The dinner he'd prepared for himself seemed flavorless, thanks to his stopped-up nose, but the spices he'd used, over-used really, burned his tongue. Disgusted, at himself and at the waste of food, he scraped his bowl into the trash, reaching to take the pot off the stove and empty it as well.

At least he didn't have to take the garbage out every day, a habit he'd developed quickly after his senses came online. And he didn't have to smell the perfume of the new girl Sandburg was seeing when he came home after his Friday-night date. But the headache throbbing through Jim's sinuses more than out-weighed the benefits to his new scent-free existence. He wanted to breathe, god damnit; that didn't seem like too much to ask.

Jim picked up the small paper bag he'd left on the kitchen counter and pulled out the slim box inside. "Cold and Sinus Formula," it said. "Non-drowsy." Not the Senquil that had sent his senses reeling a few years ago. No peyote either, thank you very much. With a week-end off stretching out in front of him, Jim decided to take the medicine and stay home. If he started experiencing weird side-effects like before, he just wouldn't take any more.

It was that simple.

Blair didn't come home that night. Jim spent the evening on the couch, a box of tissue on his left-hand side, a plastic bag on his right-hand side, to collect the used tissues. One emptied and the other filled up as the hours wore on, Jim's sinuses slowly yielding to the decongestant. He watched an old movie, one of his favorites, and then a documentary on medieval weapons.

When his eyes started to droop closed over scabbards and hilts, he turned the TV off. Only ten-thirty, but then he hadn't slept well all week. Heading upstairs with his tissue-box, Jim was careful not to think of Sandburg.

A tactic that did not last far into the night.

Tired as he was, Jim didn't sleep soundly. He woke frequently, feeling alternately stifled by his congestion and choked by the loosening phlegm. Finally giving up on sleep just before dawn, he lay in bed wondering when Sandburg would come home. Wondering who Sandburg was with, probably sleeping soundly by now.

Blair had been unusually secretive about this newest affair. Jim usually had a name--and a scent. Always a scent. Jim had learned the many varieties of female perfume, and he identified his friend's women by those markers. Blair tended to date women who favored exotic scents, Oriental blends, spice notes-occasionally a green-smelling woodsy scent or a tangy citrus. Very rarely a fruity-floral. The florals, Jim found, were hardest on his senses, but those rarely lasted long at all.

However, deprived of smell, Jim could only view Blair's newest woman as an unknown. Blair had even met her in a venue where Jim had yet to venture.

The *meditation* class. The meditation class at the *yoga* center. Blair spent all day in classes at the academy, and then, three night a week, he took a damn meditation class. Jim had scoffed at Blair's intention to enroll, to no effect.

"I know it sounds flaky, Jim," he had explained. "I know, but I need this right now. I have no problem with the academy, and I want to be your partner. I do. It's just..." He sighed and looked down briefly before looking back up and pinning Jim with his eyes. "I need to get my head in the right place. It's been a hell of a year."

Blair looked away again, obviously preparing to continue speaking. "Naomi recommended the class." He raised a hand to stifle Jim's immediate protest. "Yeah, I know, Jim. I know. But an old friend of hers is teaching it, and he's supposed to be really good."

Jim restrained himself from commenting on the risks of dealing with Naomi's "old friends." He knew that he had to trust Blair, had to trust Blair's trust of his mother. And failing that, he knew he had to keep his mouth shut.

In the end, of course, Blair had signed up for the class. Where he met this woman, this woman of unknown name and unknown scent. Sick and alone, Jim let himself worry that this girl would take Blair away from the loft for good.

Pathetic. Pathetic. The word repeated in his brain. Tears stung his eyes, and the increased pressure throbbed within his sinuses.

Time for another dose.

After padding downstairs to take two more of the sinus pills, Jim finally fell asleep as the sun came up, lightening the dull Cascade sky. A couple of hours later he woke, startled by the ringing phone.

"Ellison." He sniffled deeply, grimacing at the thickness of the sound.

"Hey, Jim, it's me." Blair's voice, the sound of coffee brewing somewhere behind him, someone breathing quietly nearby. "You still sound like shit, you know."

"Yeah, thanks, Chief. What's up?"

"Sorry about last night. Just, uh, lost track of time, you know."

Jim rolled his eyes, not wanting to know. "Yeah, I know. So, what's the plan for today?" Unspoken, trapped inside his chest: Come home. Please.

"Well, actually, we're thinking of driving up the coast a little, spend the night in a bed and breakfast. You can have the place to yourself, without all my trademark Sandburg clutter to annoy you."

Jim grabbed a tissue and turned away from the phone to clear his nose again. "You don't annoy me. You know that, Chief." The second sentence hung in the realm between statement and question.

"I know." Blair's voice softened slightly. "I was just kidding, man. Do you need me there for anything? You doing okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Go have fun. Drive safely."

"Ha! Practice what you preach, man. We'll be fine. Feel better, okay?"

"Thanks. See you Sunday?"

"Definitely."

And then the line was dead. Jim leaned forward, resting his head against the cool, hard wall. He spoke aloud to the empty loft. "I'm up. I'm up. Might as well stay up."

He trudged upstairs to his bedroom and dressed, steadfastly ignoring the call of his bed, glad that his clogged nose saved him from having to smell the soiled tissues in the small wastebasket. But the medicine was working, and he expected that smell would be back online soon. He decided to make cleaning the loft the first order of the day.

He set himself to work, diligently dusting, moping, and scrubbing, losing himself in the menial tasks. Late in the morning, he took another dose of the pills, glad that they were loosening his congestion and relieving him of the awful sinus head-ache without any wonky light-shows.

By early afternoon, the loft was nearly spotless, light streaming through newly-clean windows and catching on stirred-up dust particles suspended in the air. At 1:15, Jim stood admiring his work, checking for anything he might have missed. He spotted a clump of fuzz underneath the coffee table and bent to retrieve it. He stood with his quarry in hand and noticed, with a vague sense of dread, how the floating bits of dust suddenly grew larger and darker, obscuring the sun. The room shifted, and he felt the padding of the couch under his hands, the fabric sliding against his face, and then there was nothing.

Jim opened his eyes, looking around a moment to figure out what the hell was going on. On the floor. By the couch. He stood up slowly, checking himself over and realizing that he felt utterly fine. He looked at the clock: 1:20. Whatever it was that had happened, it hadn't lasted much more than a couple of minutes.

Jim tried to remember if he had zoned. Had he zoned on the dust floating in the sunlight? No, he'd just noticed the loft getting darker, but the sun shone brightly. He came to the reluctant conclusion that he must have passed out.

He'd done that once before, a long time before. Basic training. Standing at attention in the hot afternoon sun, and then his knees folding, his face in the dirt. He knew he was lucky that the couch had been there to catch his fall; he could have concussed himself on the coffee table.

He tried to explain it to himself: I didn't sleep well. I haven't been eating enough. Which was true enough, with the cold nulling out flavors and post-nasal drip causing a twist of nausea in his gut. Jim knew that if Blair had been around more in the past week, the younger man would have fed him soup and toast and Echinacea.

But Blair had come home late all week, exhausted from the academy and his yoga center class and from spending time with this new woman. For the moment, Jim thanked his lucky stars that Blair had not been home to see him...take a header, basically. Insult to injury he could do without.

Monday morning, Jim woke up and inhaled experimentally through his nose. Nearly clear, still a little congested. Since nothing crazy had happened with his senses over the week-end, he felt secure in taking another dose before heading off to the station.

Blair had returned from his trip late Sunday evening and was already gone again, determined to fit in some extra practice time in the Academy gym. Jim drove to work in clear, cold silence, reminding himself that in little more than a month he'd have his partner back with him again on a daily basis. He inhaled deeply through now-clear sinuses and realized that he could barely catch a trace of Sandburg at all, almost as if he were really gone. Almost as if…

Jim cut off his thoughts as he pulled into the PD parking garage.

When it happened the second time, Jim could no longer fool himself that there was nothing wrong with him. But, he decided in the first few foggy seconds, he could fool other people. Not a problem.

He'd been running down an alley after a perp, Joel behind him, when he felt his heart pounding abnormally loud. He thought his senses were merely spiking, until the dizziness kicked in, and he had to grab onto a dumpster, yanking himself to a jerking stop. As his vision darkened, he saw Joel speed past him, an odd enough thing in itself.

His pants scraped against the dumpster as he sagged, but he didn't fall. One slow breath, two, and the world sharpened into focus, his heartbeat felt normal again. He stood up straight and looked down to the end of the alley where Joel had the perp in cuffs and was already moving him back toward Jim.

"Hey, what happened? You okay?"

"Yeah," Jim nodded. "Just tripped. I think there's some spilled motor oil back there."

"You sure?" Joel turned his head to look assessingly at Jim.

"Fine and dandy, Joel. Fine and dandy."

Jim decided to talk to Blair about what was going on. Fully intended to do it, just as soon as they were actually in the same place at the same time. And awake. Toward that end, he headed straight home from the station and settled in to watch a Bonanza marathon on cable. He drifted off somewhere into the seventh episode and woke up in the morning to a stiff neck, a blanket over his legs, and a note from Sandburg.

"Jim,

I hope you weren't waiting up for me, man. You got my message, right? Anyway, I just dropped by to pickup some clean clothes. But how about dinner tonight? Tacos, my treat.

Blair"

Checking his cell phone, Jim belatedly listened to the voicemail from Monday afternoon--Blair letting him know that he'd most likely be gone all night. Jim smiled briefly at the "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" tone in his friend's voice and then clicked off the phone and went to start some coffee.

At his desk, working on his fourth--fifth?--cup of coffee, Jim felt simultaneously worn out and keyed up. The energy of the bullpen swirled around him, but he felt himself to be separate from it, as though he were moving out of step. Except, of course, he wasn't moving at all. The thought made him feel dizzy, and he rubbed his head, wishing the day would just end already so that he could have dinner with Blair.

His heart seemed to be pounding in his chest again, and Jim closed his eyes, wishing Blair were there working with him, knowing that Blair would talk him through turning down the dials, even though he'd done it a hundred, a thousand times before.

"Jim? Jim?" Simon's voice startled him out of his contemplation, and he opened his eyes to see his boss standing in front of him. "Good of you to join us, Detective. Are you okay?"

"Sorry, Captain, just tired. You need me for something?"

"How about you come into my office and give me an update on the Mason case? I think we might want to bring Vice in on that."

"Sure, I'll be there in a minute."

Jim grabbed for the correct folder and stood up, only to be surprised as the room swam around him. Darkness washed in from the edges of his vision, and he felt the folder drop from his hand, heard the pieces of paper fluttering through the air. His knees sagged, and he felt as though he were fluttering to the ground, too, until his head met the edge of his desk and everything went silent.

"Detective Ellison? Can you hear me? Detective Ellison?" The unfamiliar voice prodded at his brain, just as insistently as the hand poking at his shoulder. Jim opened his eyes and then quickly slammed them shut when a bright light sliced into his vision.

"He's awake." Another unknown voice.

"Detective Ellison, please open your eyes. We need to ask you some questions."

"Lights," he whispered, feeling his own voice add to the pounding in his head. He heard a click and felt a lessening of the warmth on his face, so he cautiously opened his eyes again to find the room dimmer that it had been before.

A face hovered into view above him--a young man in a white lab coat. "You're at Cascade General, Detective. My name is Dr. Matthews. Now, how are you feeling?"

"Like someone dropped a brick wall on my head."

"Yes, that would be the mild concussion you got from hitting your head when you fell. We're a bit more concerned about why you fell in the first place. Do you feel any shortness of breath?" Jim shook his head slightly. "Dizziness?"

"No, but I… I did feel dizzy. Before."

"You just felt dizzy this afternoon? Or were there other times?"

Jim sighed and looked away from the doctor's inquisitive face. He studied the light glinting off the chrome cart next to him, the minute flecks of blood in the weave of the nurse's scrubs.

"Detective Ellison, I need to know what's going on with you so I can help you."

Jim sighed again and then looked back up at the doctor. "I got dizzy yesterday, and I think I passed out on Saturday."

"Okay. Anything before that?"

"No."

"Well, let me tell you what we know. You passed out by your desk, hitting your head in the process and scaring the hell out of your co-workers. When paramedics arrived, they found that you were having an episode of tachycardia, which is an abnormally fast heart beat. They used their defibrillator paddles to shock your heart back into a normal rhythm and brought you in here.

"The plan right now is to keep you in the hospital for a little while, probably over night, to keep an eye on your heart function. In the meanwhile, we need to figure out why this happened to you. Do you have any history of heart problems?"

"No, not at all."

"You work out? You look like you do." Jim nodded. "Any episodes of dizziness or abnormal shortness of breath when you're exercising?"

"No, never."

"Are you taking any medications?"

"Just a cold pill--my sinuses were clogged. Uh, Sinex."

"When did you start taking it?"

"Friday."

"Okay, and how many pills did you take per day?"

"I--"

"Jim!"

All eyes turned toward the door where Blair stood, out of breath and disheveled in his Academy-issued sweats.

"Jim, what happened? Simon called, and…shit! Did he say pills? What did you take?"

Jim blinked tiredly at the onslaught of questions. "I'm fine, Chief. Relax."

"Fine? Jim, 'fine' is not lying in the ER with a bandage on your head and a heart monitor next to your bed. Simon said…he said they had to shock your heart. Jesus, Jim, I thought…I…"

Jim reached out a hand to touch Blair's arm. "I'm sorry, Chief," he whispered.

Blair's eyes softened into a worried smile. "It's okay, man, just--what pills?"

"Just some Sinex, the non-drowsy formula." Blair opened his mouth to interrupt, but Jim cut him off. "I started taking it over the week-end in case anything weird happened, you know, with my sensitivities. I was careful."

"What are you two talking about? And who are you?"

Blair turned to the doctor. "I'm Blair Sandburg, Jim's friend and roommate. Jim has unusual reactions to medication sometimes. He had some, uh, really strange side-effects from Senquil a few years ago. Which is why he's not supposed to take stuff like that anymore," he concluded, turning back to glare at Jim.

"I was tired of not being able to breathe. And you weren't there."

Blair sucked in a sharp breath and turned away.

"And nothing weird happened, so I figured it was fine."

The doctor interrupted, "You didn't consider passing out on Saturday to be an unusual reaction?"

Blair whirled back around, shock warring with hurt on his face.

"I was only out for a minute. I honestly didn't think it was connected. I thought I was just tired from having a cold."

"Exactly how many of the Sinex pills were you taking, Detective Ellison?"

"Two pills about every six or eight hours. Just what it said on the box."

"Are you sure? You didn't take a few extra to make it work faster?"

"No. I'm sure."

"Well, cardiac arrhythmias are a known side-effect for that kind of medication, but usually only in very high doses."

"Doctor, Jim sometimes reacts to small amounts of chemicals as though there were massive doses. You can pull his chart and see for yourself."

"That makes a certain amount of sense." The doctor looked inquiringly at Jim. "Did you happen to be drinking a lot of coffee or tea this morning?"

"Yeah," Jim admitted. "I didn't get much sleep last night."

The doctor nodded. "I think what happened here is that, for whatever reason, the medication was causing episodes of abnormal heartbeat for you, and all that caffeine this morning compounded the problem. Obviously, you need to stay away from Sinex and anything like it in the future, no matter how clogged your nose is, Detective Ellison. We're going to admit you so that we can keep an eye on that heart rhythm of yours, but as long as everything's okay we'll let you go home in the morning. How does that sound?"

Part of Jim wanted to argue, wanted to go home, but the rest of him was just too tired to care. "Okay."

"Good," the doctor nodded. "Just rest in here for a little while, and someone will come to take you upstairs. I'll go let your friends--your other friends--know you're going to be okay."

"Thank you," Jim replied as the man walked out into the hallway. He let his eyes drift shut but opened them when he felt Blair lay a gentle hand on his chest.

"I want to yell and, like, shake the hell out of you, Jim. You scared the shit out of Simon, you know? He said you were bleeding, and then when they used the paddles. He called me, and I thought you were dying, man. I thought I was going to get here, and it would be too late. God, Jim."

"I'm sorry, Chief," Jim whispered again. "I know that's not a good feeling. I know."

Jim felt Blair's warm, solid hand enfold his and squeeze it. "Yeah, I guess you do."

A minute passed silently between them until Jim roused himself enough to speak again. "If you need to be somewhere, it's okay. Back to the Academy, or your class or whatever. They'll be taking me upstairs soon, anyway."

"No, Jim, I'm staying. As long as you need me, I'm staying."

Jim nodded and closed his eyes, letting himself float. He listened to the beating of his own heart, echoed by the mechanical beep of the monitor. He knew he would need Blair forever, and though Blair said that he was staying, Jim couldn't help but wonder--how long? How long?

He tightened his grip around Blair's hand and let the rhythm of his own heart carry him off into sleep.