Jules: Sorry this is so late. I was trying to make a grand entrance. Did it work? <g> Here's another little something to add to the list of things to read while you're recuperating! I hope you enjoy it! Love ya!
The first thing he was aware of was the pain. It took him a while to figure out where it was coming from. His head. It was coming from his head, especially the back and around his left eye. He struggled to remember what had happened to him, but nothing was coming to mind. Swallowing against the pain, he forced his eyes open. At least he tried to. Only his right eye opened, his left eye remaining stubbornly closed.
He focused all of his senses on figuring out where he was and what was going on. He was lying flat between stiff sheets on a hard mattress. Sunlight streaming in through the window fell across the plain green blanket covering his bed. A hospital. He was in a hospital. Why was he in a hospital?
Concentrating hard, he heard subdued voices coming from the other side of the room. Slowly turning his head until his right eye was facing in that direction, he focused blearily on the two people sitting just inside the doorway. They were talking animatedly, but in low tones, apparently trying not to disturb him. He strained a little harder, attempting to identify them. Megan and Joel.
Swallowing hard, he opened his mouth to speak. "Hey." It came out in a hoarse whisper, but it was enough. Both detectives rose from their chairs and came over to his bed.
Megan grasped his hand gently. "Hi, Sandy. How are you feeling?"
Blair Sandburg struggled to remember what had happened to land him here this time. "Head hurts," he managed at last. "What happened?"
Megan and Joel exchanged concerned glances. "You don't remember?" Joel leaned forward, studying Blair thoughtfully.
"No, I don't remember!" Blair snapped irritably, wincing. His head was really hurting now. "If I did, why would I ask you?" Suddenly a thought struck him, and he paled. "Where's Jim? Something happened to Jim, didn't it?"
"No, no!" Megan stroked his hand soothingly. "Jim's fine, Blair. Simon took him outside to get some fresh air, that's all." She looked away as she said this, and Blair's concern grew.
Joel leaned forward again. "Okay, Blair, just calm down and we'll tell you what happened......"
"Come on, Chief!" Jim Ellison entered the Major Crimes Bullpen, throwing a mocking smile over his shoulder at his partner. "You get yourself into these messes! You can't honestly expect me to feel sorry for you! I've told you before...if you stick to dating one girl at a time, you wouldn't have things like this happen!"
Blair followed Jim toward Ellison's desk in the corner. "Well, how was I supposed to know that Martika sings in the band that Lori's been dying for me to take her to see?"
"NO!" Both men stopped and turned at the shout. The suspect sitting quietly at Henri Brown's desk had suddenly risen, flashing wild bloodshot eyes desperately around the room. "I'm not going back!"
Before anyone had time to move, he had lunged away from the desk, head lowered. He barrelled straight into Blair's unprotected torso, knocking him back against Jim's desk. Blair's head hit the corner of the desk with a sickening thud before he fell forward to land on his hands and knees, trying to clear his suddenly spinning mind.
The suspect faced off against Jim, moving toward him threateningly. Jim spared a glance toward Blair to find him still on the floor, looking dazed. Jim was beginning to suspect that this guy was on some heavy duty drugs.
Later, everyone would agree that time seemed to slow at that moment, causing what happened next to stand out in everyone's memories. In reality, it happened too fast for anyone to stop it. Jim pulled his fist back, launching a massive punch at the suspect, determined to stop him before he hurt anyone else. As his fist sailed through the area over Blair's head, his partner regained his senses and stood up, walking directly into the blow.
Jim's fist connected with his partner just below his left eye, snapping his head back. Blair was instantly unconscious. As his head continued its backward arc, it impacted into the face of the suspect, who was still standing just behind him. Both men went down in a heap. Jim was frozen in his tracks, stupefied by what had just happened.
Immediately the rest of the unit launched into action. Several of the detectives headed toward the small group, Simon Banks among them. "Somebody get some Medics up here!"
Brown and Rafe were the first to arrive, and they both dropped to their knees beside the crumpled bodies on the floor. Rafe looked the suspect over while Brown studied Blair. Rafe looked up in shock. "Captain, this guy has a broken nose! Ellison just took out two men with one punch!"
Simon looked over at his detective, studying him critically. "You okay, Jim?"
Ellison turned dazed eyes toward his captain. "I hit Blair!"
"Yes, I know. We've got Medics on the way up to check him out." Simon continued to study his friend. "But are you doing okay?"
"I hit Blair!" Simon sighed. "Conner, get him out of here. He needs to sit down or something."
Megan immediately stepped forward, leading Jim to a chair. "Okay, Jim. Let's sit down now."
Jim turned those dazed eyes on her. "I hit Blair!"
"Come on, Jim. It was an accident. He's going to be fine!" Simon stood on the front lawn of the hospital, still trying to reach his detective. "He's only got a minor concussion, and that was from the first hit on the head. He'll be fine!"
Ellison looked over at him sorrowfully. "I hit Blair!"
Simon sighed, clenching his cigar tightly between his teeth. This was getting nowhere fast. He looked up hopefully as Megan poked her head out the door. "Captain, he's awake." She glanced sympathetically at Ellison, shook her head and disappeared back inside the hospital.
"Okay, Jim. Sandburg's awake. Did you hear that? He's awake! Time for you to go inside and face the music."
Ellison shook his head, making a visible effort to gather his composure. "I'm okay, sir. Thanks." He patted Simon on the shoulder and walked stiffly inside. Banks followed slowly, waiting to see how both men would react.
Jim's steps slowed as he neared his partner's room, and he steeled himself for the confrontation ahead. Stepping inside, his heart contracted painfully. Blair was on his side facing away from him, shoulders shaking. Jim could smell the salt of tears, and his heart sank. It was worse than he thought! Joel stepped back, dropping his hand from Blair's shoulder.
"We just told him what happened." Joel patted Jim gently on the arm and left the room, leaving the two partners alone for the first time since the fated blow.
Jim stepped further into the room, clearing his throat nervously. "Chief?"
Blair stilled for a moment, and then his shoulders began to shake again, harder this time. "Ow, ow, ow." Jim wasn't sure if he had heard the voice, it was so muted.
He stepped quickly up to the bed, tentatively dropping his hand to Blair's shoulder. "Chief...Blair...I am so sorry!"
The shaking got worse, and Jim finally grasped the exposed shoulder and turned his partner toward the door. Blair's face was streaming with tears, and he looked up at Jim, one blue eye focusing on his partner before he closed it. The other eye was swollen completely shut, and it was going to cause some spectacular bruising. Then Jim focused on the rest of Blair's face and looked at him in confusion. Blair was..... laughing?
Blair opened his eye again, trying to get control of himself. "Sorry, Jim. Ow, ow, ow! I just can't believe you hit me!" He erupted in gales of laughter again. "Ow, ow, ow! That's probably the best example of partners working together I've ever heard of. Took both of us to subdue the suspect! Ow, ow, ow!"
Jim studied his partner, aghast. But then he started to think about what Sandburg had said, and it *was* kind of funny. When Simon made it to the door of Blair's room, he smiled, listening in satisfaction as the two voices blended in laughter. He nodded to himself at Blair's words. "Yup, they're the best example of partners working together that I've ever seen, too."
The words were whispered, but he was unsurprised to hear a quiet voice from inside the room. "Thanks, Simon."
The trial was in two days. Everyone in Major Crimes had to prepare for it, meaning that most of the detectives had to pull an all-nighter or two, looking though the evidence or otherwise strengthening the case against the new bomber in town.
And no one in the bullpen had had anything other than a cup of coffee since lunch.
When many muscular and sleep-deprived detectives get hungry, the best thing to do is feed them. So, a certain long-haired observer started taking orders. Since all the cops on the floor knew pizza was not even suggestible to someone who had algae shakes for breakfast, they decided to have a local mixed-Oriental place deliver.
Joel wanted Mongolian Beef with extra mushrooms. Henri asked for some Mu Shu Pork; Rafe, some Orange Chicken. Simon and Jim wanted to split a large Thai Almond Chicken Breast. Blair was just getting what was usually considered a side order, some Vegetarian Lo Mein.
While they were waiting for the delivery, they went over their notes.
Henri spoke first. "Did you know that six years ago, our perp tried to get someone arrested for using endangered bird-of-prey feathers in one of her works of art? And he knew all along that they were fake and really made out of mini-kie-chi paper."
"Minokichi," Blair corrected.
"Yeah. Anyway, the woman tried to press charges because of the legalities she'd had to go though, but it never got anywhere. This guy lives off of pissing people off."
Joel also had some interesting bits of information. "He tried to press charges on a company when the automatic can opener he bought cut him. He's just screwed up. I hope this doesn't mean he'll get the insanity plea."
Rafe yawned and stretched. Glancing at the clock, he noticed it was only 12:30 am. "Paperwork like this is exhausting. Some day they'll probably find it to be a hazard to people's health."
After about 10 minutes of discussing the strange personality quirks of the most recent homicidal maniac that they had to deal with, the delivery boy arrived.
Ten seconds later, the delivery kid was paid and every member of Major Crimes had their own food. Except Blair.
"Hey, anyone grab the Lo Mein by mistake? Did anyone order fish?"
All the detectives shook their heads or otherwise signaled a negative. So Blair decided to try something new. He tried a bite of the fish.
The fish tasted good. *Really* good. It almost seemed to make his mouth tingle when he ate a bite. After only a few minutes, the box was mostly empty.
And the tingling sensation started to spread throughout his body.
Jim was the first to notice something was wrong as Blair's heartbeat had begun to get slower with every passing second.
"Uh," was the only sound that Blair could form at the moment.
Then Blair's eyes rolled up and back while his body crumpled to the ground like a worn-out rag doll.
A flood of shouts entered Blair's mind:
"Someone call an ambulance!"
"He's stopped breathing!"
"What's their ETA?"
"Bring his food to forensics, have it checked out!"
"What's his heart rate?"
While Blair's hearing focused on the chaos of the bullpen, his body was slipping away. He vaguely felt himself being put on a gurney and wheeled out of the building.
In the ambulance, Blair felt the pain of being intubated. He felt his Blessed Protector's presence. He then heard soft whisperings of reassurances as well as the sound of the paramedics speaking with the doctors at the hospital. He heard what they were saying as a probable culprit: Poison.
Instantly, Blair heard Jim on his cell phone, talking to the forensic lab at the station. Blair knew that they couldn't have gotten information on the food yet; it could only have been a few minutes. He then heard the sound of Jim letting out a frustrated sigh and turning off the phone.
The ambulance stopped. Why did the ride seem to take so little time? The normal hospital sounds were heard, but it took quite an effort to concentrate on them. Then he felt himself slipping away.
"Blood pressure's dropping!"
The next thing Blair knew was waking up in a hospital room. Again. He heard the sounds of people talking. The detectives he worked with and someone else, probably his doctor.
"So it was Fugu."
"Isn't that fish?" Was that Rafe?
"Why did it cause this?" Joel.
"Because of the tetrodotoxin."
"Tetro-what?" He knew that was Henri.
Jim. "So he was poisoned?"
"Yes and no. It was poison that he ingested, but I doubt it was intentional. Tetrodotoxin, also known as TTX, is found in Puffer fish. Most of the time when it's prepared, the main parts of the fish that have TTX are cut away. Sometimes cooks make mistakes."
"Will he be okay?" That was Simon.
"Yes; if someone survives for more than a few hours, they'll live. The only possible problem is brain damage from lack of oxygen, but that isn't a issue because we got him intubated and then on a respirator right away. He'll be completely recovered in a week."
Henri again. "When will he wake up?"
"Any time now. I have to check on other patients, so I'll let you talk to him."
When he heard the doctor leave, Blair finally got the strength and will power to open his eyes.
Jim grinned. "Look who finally decided to join us. You thought taking a nap would get you out of doing your share of paperwork, didn't you?"
Blair had to smile back. The respirator was gone, it must have been taken it away before he awakened, meaning he could talk. "Gotta give me some credit for creativity. What time is it?"
"8 am. How do you feel?"
"Fine, just tired. Rafe, have you applied for a job with the Psychic Friends Network yet?"
"You were right; paperwork is a health hazard. Without the paperwork, no Fugu. Without the Fugu, no hospital. Just think about the women who work there."
Jim could help but chuckle, "Table leg, Chief."
Rafe seemed to actually ponder this idea. "Women. Lots of beautiful psychic women. Are you trying to get me to quit my job?"
"Hey, I'll do it if you do. Jim, you can come too."
"Thanks, Chief, but we're not psychic."
"We could always fake it. Just think about how much your detective skills could help you," Blair said, not wanting to give away any hints about his partner's abilities.
"Can I come?" Brown didn't spend as much time with women as Rafe or Blair, but he did still spend time with various girlfriends.
"Don't leave out your Captain."
All eyes turned to Joel. He simply stated, "Married."
"Anyone want to check with the hospital staff to see when I can get out of here? I need to apply for a new job."
p.s.--I LOVE feedback
Today was turning out to be an exceptionally good day for Blair Sandburg. As he walked down the hall towards the Major Crimes Division, Blair smiled. He spent a quiet morning at the University attending and teaching classes and finishing up some research at the library. Now, he was about to start the shift of his "second job" with his partner, Detective Jim Ellison. He remembered Jim telling him at breakfast that he expected today to be a relatively slow day.
Blair opened the doors, entered the almost empty bullpen, and smiled again. "Oh yeah, itís gonna be a good day," he thought happily.
Blair was soon shaken from his reverie by the sound of grumbled conversation. He turned to see Jim, Brown, and Rafe enter the bullpen, covered head to toe with mud and leaves and smelling like dirty, stagnant water. Captain Simon Banks entered behind them, purposely keeping his distance.
"I still canít believe that guy," groused Brown. "Was he high on something or what?"
"Maybe he was just crazy," replied Rafe. "And just where did he think he was going anyway?"
Then Jim spoke up, "I donít know but if I ever see him on the streets again, Iím gonna kick his ass. This is my favorite jacket!"
The detectives stopped dead in their tracks at the sound of uncontrollable laughter, Blairís laughter. The three men glared at the young observer. Blair caught the menacing looks and fought to keep a straight face.
"This isnít funny, Chief," Jim admonished.
Blair wiped the tears out of his eyes. "I know, man. Iím sorry. Itís just that you look so funny." The last words were barely out of his mouth before he dissolved into another fit of laughter.
Then it was Simonís turn to speak up. "Okay, I think weíve had enough entertainment for today. Why donít you three hit the showers?"
Blair restrained himself long enough to notice that Simon was still clean. "Hey, Simon. How come you didnít get dirty?"
"Because, Sandburg, Iím the captain." Simon stuck a fresh cigar between his teeth and winked at Blair before he headed toward his office.
"Come on, Hairboy," said Brown. "Weíll tell you all about it on the way to the locker room."
"Okay, man. But could you do me a favor and stay downwind? No offense but you guys really stink!"
"So then we chased him through this construction site. With all the rain weíve had lately, the ground was just solid mud."
Blair sat on a bench in the locker room while the detectives showered and recounted the details of the morningís arrest to him. "Oh man, H. Then what happened?"
Rafe took up the story. "We were slipping and sliding around for a while. Then we finally got the cuffs on him before he took off running again. He made it down the street to a residential area and started running in between the houses."
"Where was he going?"
"Weíre still trying to figure that one out," Jim replied. "I guess he was just trying to get away, I donít know. We finally cornered him in somebodyís backyard. He slipped and fell into the pool. Then we jumped in after him and hauled him out."
Blair gave a low whistle. "So what did the homeowners say?"
"They werenít home," said Jim. "By the looks of the water and the trash floating around in that pool, they havenít been home for a while."
"But you got him, right?"
"Yeah, Chief. We got him."
Blair smiled. "Score one for the good guys."
"Hey, Hairboy. Itís a good thing you werenít with us today. It would take you forever to get all the mud out of your hair."
"Ha, ha. Very funny, H."
Blairís stomach unexpected began to rumble and he checked his watch. 2:00 p.m. "Hey, guys. If you havenít eaten yet, what do you say we all go grab a bite somewhere when youíre finished?"
"Sounds like a plan." "Oh, yeah. Iím starving." "That sounds good to me."
While he waited for his friends to finish showering, Blair looked at the pile of muddy clothes beside him on the floor. He picked up Jimís jacket and looked at it sadly. Carolyn had given it to Jim for his birthday the first year they were married. "Damn, Jim really loves this jacket," Blair thought. "I sure hope the dry cleaners can save it."
Just then an odor attacked his nostrils. "What the hell IS that?" Blair silently wondered. "It smells likeÖ" He took another whiff of the jacket and grimaced. "Thatís funny. It smells just likeÖ" Blair suddenly froze, his eyes wide with shock as his senses began to overwhelm him. The sound of the water running in the showers thundered in his ears, the smell of the filthy clothing threatened to choke him, his eyes became fixed and unfocused on the invisible threat. His breath came in panicked gasps and his heart felt like it would explode out of his chest.
The Sentinel instantly sensed the distress of his Guide. "Hey, Chief. Are you okay?"
"Chief?" Jim called a little louder.
Still no answer.
Jim frowned in concern as he shut off the water. He quickly wrapped a towel around his waist and headed out toward the lockers.
"Hey, Jim. Is something wrong?"
"Iím not sure, Rafe."
Jim cautiously approached his unresponsive friend and softly called again. "Chief? Are you all right?"
As Jim slowly reached out to touch Blairís shoulder, Blair whispered "Oh my God" and collapsed in an unconscious heap on the floor.
The detectives gathered in their captainís office. They spoke in hushed tones and cast concerned glances at the still form of the young man lying on the couch. Jim never left his partnerís side. When Blair collapsed in the locker room, the Sentinel quickly dressed, picked up carried the unconscious observer to Simonís office, and gently deposited him on the couch. Then he knelt by Blairís side and began his self imposed vigil, waiting for his friend to return to consciousness.
His patience was rewarded when he heard a slight shift in Blairís heart rate. His Guide appeared to be waking up. "I think heís coming around, Sir."
Blair twitched as he let out a low moan.
"Come on, buddy," Jim said softly. "Itís time for you to wake up now."
Blair slowly opened his eyes, focusing on the face of his Sentinel. "Jim?"
"Yeah, itís me, Chief. Welcome back." Jim smiled as he gently pushed a stray lock of hair off of his Guideís face.
Confused, Blair looked around and tried to sit up but Jimís strong hand on his chest held him in place. "Easy, Blair. Donít try to move around."
"Jim, what happened?"
"Iím not sure but I think you fainted."
"Yeah. Whatís the last thing you remember?"
Blair wrinkled his brow in concentration and thought for a long moment before he answered. "Well," he began hesitantly, "I was sitting in the locker room waiting for you, H, and Rafe to get cleaned up so we could all go get some lunch. The next thing I knew, I was here."
"How do you feel, Sandburg?"
Blair was startled by the question asked by the concerned captain. Glancing over at Simon, he noticed that his predicament had attracted an audience. The anxious faces of H, Rafe, Joel, and Megan silently peered back at Blair. "Way to go, Sandburg," he thought sarcastically. "Passing out in from of your co-workers. Real smooth move." His mortification was reflected by the deep crimson flush that gradually began to color his cheeks. He swiftly lowered his eyes, wishing for all the world that the ground would open up and swallow him whole. Blair took a deep breath before he quietly answered the captainís question. "Um, Iím fine, Sir. Just a little tired. I guess all those late nights finally caught up with me."
"Do you feel dizzy, Chief?"
"A little. I think maybe Iíd like to go home."
Sensing the young manís embarrassment, Simon spoke. "I think thatís a good idea. Jim, why donít you take your partner home and make sure he gets some rest. I expect to see both of you back here tomorrow."
"Yes, sir." Jimís clear blue eyes reflected his unspoken gratitude to his friend and captain. Gently, he helped his unsteady partner to his feet and carefully guided him toward the door. As they passed the captain, Simon whispered, "Let me know if you need anything."
Jim smiled and nodded in reply. Then he and Blair slowly made their way through the bullpen and toward the elevator. After the Sentinel and Guide disappeared through the doors, Simon loudly cleared his throat and gruffly addressed the group of detectives amassed in his office. "Okay, people. We donít get paid to just stand around, you know."
"Yes, sir," the group spoke in unison and hastily retreated to the bullpen, the last detective closing the office door behind him. When Simon was alone, his thoughts returned to Blair. He would never openly admit it but he really did care for the young anthropology student and was just as concerned about him as the rest of his team. "I hope heís okay," he thought before sitting down behind his desk and returning to his work.
Once the elevator doors closed, Blair heaved a heavy sigh as he slumped against the wall and closed his eyes. "I canít believe I did that," he whispered dejectedly. "Man, those guys must think I am some kind of wimp."
Jim looked solemnly at his partner. "Why? Because you passed out?"
"No, Jim," Blair snapped. "Because I danced ĎSwan Lakeí through the bullpen. Yes, because I passed out." He cast a furtive glance at Jim and sighed again. "Iím sorry," he said softly.
Jim studied the young manís face for several moments before he spoke. "Chief, look at me." The tenderness of his Sentinelís gentle command compelled Blair to obey. As Jim turned to face his Guide, he placed his strong hands on the young manís slender shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze. "Blair, anyone whoís ever seen you in action could hardly call you a wimp. Youíre one of the strongest people I know."
"Yeah, right," the young anthropologist said sarcastically.
"Yeah, right," came the compassionate reply. "Blair, you have nothing to feel ashamed about. Okay, so you passed out in front of the guys. Big deal." Jim shook his partnerís shoulders slightly to emphasize his point. "For your information, Chief, those guys really admire you. They admire your loyalty, your courage, and your tenacity. I canít tell you how many times theyíve asked me how you manage to keep up with the schedule you have. Iím not sure how you manage it myself. I mean you carry a full load at school, then come here and pull a full shift, THEN spend hours on end with me on a stakeout. And youíve never once complained about being too busy or too tired; you just do it. You are definitely NOT a wimp, Blair. Youíre likeÖSuperman or something."
Blairís eyebrows shot up to his hairline in disbelief. "Superman?"
"Well, yeah. Sort of." Jim chuckled at the shocked look on his Guideís face. "But donít let it go to your head, Chief. I donít want to see you going out looking for trouble."
"No problem there, Jim. I donít have to look very hard. Trouble just seems to find ME."
The partners shared a long, serious look before they suddenly burst into a fit of giggles. As the elevator doors opened onto the parking garage, Jim put a protective arm around Blairís shoulder. "Come on, Junior. Letís go home."
Sleep refused to come and offer relief to Jimís weary mind. Something had been nagging at him ever since he arrived home with Sandburg earlier that evening, but he couldnít quite seem to put his finger on what the problem might be. He lay on his back with his hands clasped behind head and stared through the darkness at the ceiling of his bedroom, hoping that the elusive answer he was seeking could be found there.
Blair had still been a little shaky after passing out at the station. Jim had ushered his young Guide to the couch and told him to stay put while he quickly prepared a simple dinner of soup and sandwiches.
During the meal, Blair chatted on about one of his many adventures while Jim had taken a long, hard look at his friend. As if really noticing the young man for the first time, Jim was dismayed at what he saw. Blairís face had acquired a gaunt appearance with dark circles surrounding his expressive blue eyes, evidence that his friend had not been eating or sleeping properly. Then he remembered that Blair mentioned a difficult exam that was coming up and he was afraid that he wouldnít perform well on it. The Sentinel smiled at the memory; the anthropology student always fretted about his exams, fearing that he would fail each and every one. Then when he received his grades (almost always an "A") he would casually shrug it off as if it were nothing.
After dinner, Blair had decided that he would turn in early and headed toward his room. Jim had monitored his Guide while washing the dishes and smiled when he heard Blairís breathing even out into a deep, peaceful sleep. Placing the last dish into the drainer, the Sentinel decided that his Guide had the right idea. Before he headed up to bed himself, he silently walked into his partnerís room and tucked the blankets more securely around his sleeping form. Then Jim climbed the stairs, got undressed, and pulled the covers over his weary body. This had been an extremely tiring day and he was more than eager to put it behind him.
That had been hours ago. Jim glanced at the clock on his nightstand once more and emitted a frustrated sigh. 3:00 a.m. He had been playing the events of the day over and over in his mind until his head felt like it was ready to explode. "Maybe Blairís right," he relented silently. "Maybe it IS just too many late nights catching up to him and Iím just reading way too much into this. God, Iím so tired, I canít even think anymore!" But as exhausted as he felt, Jim couldnít seem to shake the gnawing sense of dread that had crept into his bones. He closed his eyes and forced himself to relax as he prayed for sleep to claim him soon.
Jimís eyes shot open as he sat up in bed. "What was that? Was that Blair?" he wondered. Maybe he was mistaken, his sleep deprived brain playing tricks on him. Then he heard the whispered plea again.
"Blair!" Jimís mind screamed as he bolted out of bed and grabbed his gun. He extended his hearing to scan the loft as he quietly crept down the stairs, trying to locate the threat to his Guide. Suddenly, Jim stopped his descent and frowned in confusion. The only other person he detected in the loft was Blair. But something was definitely wrong; Blairís heart was beating like a jackhammer. Jim then continued to the bottom of the stairs, his nerves wound up as tightly as coiled springs, his service pistol aimed steadily at Blairís bedroom door.
Blair began to emerge from his room with his eyes wide open and his hands raised in surrender as he made his way through the doorway and across the floor.
Jim had been correct; Blair was the only one here. He slowly lowered his weapon and slumped against the wall in relief. "Jesus, Blair. You scared the hell out of me!"
But Blair didnít appear to see his Sentinel or hear his words. He continued his deliberately sluggish pace across the living room with his hands held up. Jim extended his senses to run a sensory scan on his friend. He could see the tears flowing down his roommateís cheeks, softly illuminated by the moonlight passing through the balcony windows. He could also see the violent tremors coursing through every muscle in Blairís body; he felt fear rolling off him in waves and heard his heart still beating wildly. Blair was terrified. "Way to go, Ellison," Jim mentally kicked himself. "You just scared the hell out of your best friend."
"Hey, buddy. Iím sorry. I didnít mean to scare you."
Blair still didnít acknowledge Jimís presence, instead continuing his tortured trek across the loft. He was openly sobbing now, his soft voice breaking with emotion as he spoke. "You donít have to do this."
"Do what, Chief? I donít understand."
Jimís confusion began to turn into panic as his Guide finally reached the balcony doors. Blair lowered his right hand enough to open the doors and carefully stepped through them. Once outside, he raised his right hand again and gradually continued until he stood before the low balcony wall. Jim followed closely behind him and moved to stand at Blairís right.
"Oh God, Jim. Iím sorry. Iím so sorry. Please forgive me."
"Forgive you for what?" The raw emotion behind Blairís words hit him like a hard kick to the stomach. "What the hell is going on?" Jim wondered in bewilderment. His heart was pounding in his ears as he struggled to make some sense, any sense of the scene that was unfolding before him.
"Iím so scared. I donít want to die."
Jimís breath caught in his throat as he tried to reassure his friend that all was well. "Blair, listen to me. Youíre not going to die." He reached out to touch his heart stricken Guide when the next words out of Blairís mouth stopped him cold.
"Please, Alex. Please donít kill me."
Jim froze. The painful recognition of those words twisted like a knife in his heart. "Oh God!" he thought. "The fountain! Heís back at that damn fountain!"
Blair had never spoken of the conversation that had transpired between him and Alex Barnes the morning of his drowning, the morning of his death. What had happened from the moment she entered his office with a gun until his face hit the cold water of the fountain outside Hargrove Hall, that information the anthropology student kept strictly to himself, sharing it with no one, including Jim. Besides, Jim wasnít sure that he really wanted to know everything anyway. He had confessed to Blair in the hospital that the memory of seeing him floating face down in that fountain was enough to haunt him for the rest of his life. But now, Jim no longer had the luxury of ignorance, his friendís nightmare was being played out right before his very eyes and he was powerless to stop it.
Jim had almost zoned on the memory of that day when Blairís tortured pleas reached his ears, dragging him back into the present. "Please donít do this. Please."
Jim looked up in time to see Blair violently pitch forward, throwing his body headfirst over the railing.
"Blair!" Jim screamed as he lunged toward his falling Guide. He grabbed a fistful of Blairís T-shirt and pulled as hard as he could, sending Blair crashing into his chest, the momentum knocking both of them backwards to the balcony floor.
Jim threw his arms around his unconscious friend in a bone crushing bear hug. Tears freely flowed down his face and his breath came in harsh gasps as he gently rocked the young man who hung limp in his arms, his eyes now, blessedly, closed. Jim whispered into Blairís ear, the heartfelt words repeating over and over again like a mantra. "Iím sorry, Blair. Iím so sorry."
Morning came much too early for Blairís liking. The warm, golden beams of the sun shone brightly through the windows of the loft and fell gently on the sleepy anthropologistís face. "Oh, man," he thought lazily, "Does it always get so bright in here?" He couldnít seem to remember. Blairís brain was still fuzzy from sleep, his thought processes not quite functioning properly. As he closed his eyes tighter and tried to snuggle his face deeper into his pillow, he frowned. "When did his pillow get so hard?" he pondered sluggishly. Jim probably replaced it with a rock as a joke. "Very funny, Jim," Blair mumbled.
"Whatís funny, Chief?"
Blair froze as his eyes popped open in surprise. "Jim?" he asked, his voice sounding small. Cautiously, his left hand probed the space above his head and landed onÖwhat is that? An arm?
A deep rumble suddenly erupted from somewhere beneath his head. Laughter, it sounded just like laughter.
"Good morning, sunshine," Jim chuckled.
"Jim!" Blair quickly sat up and looked into the amused face of his Sentinel. He nervously looked around as he tried to get his bearings. It immediately dawned on him that the "rock" he had been sleeping on was Jimís chest. Blairís face flushed a deep crimson as the realization of the situation his him full force. He had somehow fallen asleep in Jimís bed.
"HowÖ? WhatÖ? WhenÖ?" Blair sputtered, his mind reeling. "And why is Jim smiling like that?" he thought uneasily.
"Donít worry, Chief. I still respect you," Jim teased, his blue eyes twinkling with mischief.
Blair gave his smiling roommate a playful smack on the chest. "Jim, that is SO not funny! Seriously, man, can you please tell to me how I managed to go to sleep in my bed last night and wake up in your bed this morning?"
Jim quickly sobered as he met his friendís questioning eyes, last nightís events still fresh in his mind. He took a deep breath and slowly let it out before answering. "You had a nightmare last night."
"A nightmare," Blair repeated slowly, his brain trying to process the information.
"Yeah. You were walking in your sleep."
"Uh huh." The young Guide could tell by his Sentinelís behavior that he was holding something back. "But thatís not all that happened, is it?"
Jim lowered his eyes for a moment before meeting his friendís intense gaze once more. "Chief, you almost fell off the balcony," he said softly.
"Itís true. It scared the hell out of me."
"And Iím in your bed becauseÖ"
"Because I wanted to keep an eye on you."
Blair couldnít believe what he was hearing, but he knew by the frightened look on Jimís face that his friend was telling him the truth. "What the hell is happening to me?" Blair wondered fearfully. Yesterday, he had fainted at the station and last night he almost fell off the balcony? "Whatís next, Iím gonna get run over by a bus?" he thought bitterly. He threw a troubled glance at Jim and realized that the Sentinel had been speaking to him but he hadnít heard a word heíd said.
"I asked you if you remembered anything about last night."
"No, nothing." Blair sounded anxious and unsure.
It pained Jim to see his Guide so distraught. It pained him even more to think how close heíd come to losing his best friend last night. If he hadnít looked up when he did and saw Blair topple over the railingÖ If heíd been a second or two slower when he reached for himÖ Jim hastily banished the disturbing vision from his mind. He had to concentrate on a way to diffuse this unsettling situation quickly, to give them both peace of mind. All at once, a thought popped into Jimís mind. "Yeah, thatíll work," he thought happily. Now all he had to do was convince Blair to go along with it.
"Hey, Chief," he said suddenly, "what do you say we play hooky today?"
"Letís play hooky. You call the University and tell them youíre sick and Iíll call Simon and tell him that you need another day to recuperate."
You could have knocked Blair over with a feather. "You mean you want to lie?"
"Of course not, Sandburg. Think of it more like Ďobfuscatingí. As I recall, you seem to be pretty good at that sort of thing."
Blair suspiciously eyed his friend. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah, Iím totally serious. Come on, Chief. Itíll be fun. We can just goof off and do whatever we want. How about it?"
"I donít know, Jim." Blairís head was spinning. In all the time heíd known Jim, heíd never seen this impulsive side of his partnerís personality. Come to think of it, he wasnít really sure that Jim even HAD an impulsive side. This was quite a revelation and Blair wasnít sure what to make of it. "You are being given a rare gift, Sandburg," the young man contemplated thoughtfully. "Better make the best of it while you can."
"Come on, Blair. Itís just for one day. I mean the world can do without us for one day, canít it? Come on. What do you say?"
"Iíd have to say ĎWho are you and what have you done with Jim Ellisoní?"
Jim laughed good naturedly at his partnerís obvious quandary. "So, is that a yes or what?"
Blair beamed at his Sentinel. "That is definitely a yes."
After Jim and Blair "called in sick" to their respective bosses, they formed a plan of how they would spend the day. They agreed that the first item on the agenda would be a game of basketball at the park, followed by breakfast back at the loft.
As he watched his partner skillfully bob and weave around the court, Jim knew that this impromptu "day off" had been a good idea, for both of them. Last night, the recurring visions of Blairís lifeless body lying on the street below the balcony had relentlessly haunted the Sentinelís dreams. He had abandoned all hope of getting any sleep that night, sleep meant that Blair was dead. Instead, he contented himself to watch his Guide in peaceful slumber beside him in his bed, sending his relieved thanks to whatever deities might be listening that his nightmares hadnít been realized. Jim then assumed a self imposed vigil, never relaxing his protective posture until Blair woke up the next morning.
He was alive. Blair was alive and whole and at the moment, beating the pants off of him at basketball. It warmed Jimís heart to watch his partner running, laughing, and happy. The sight was almost enough to alleviate the weariness he felt right down to his bones. Almost. Random visions of last nightís horror continued to flash periodically in his mind and the overwhelming sense of dread that had been plaguing him had returned. Jim decided to chalk up these unsettling feelings to his lack of sleep. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and released it slowly, hoping that the action would also release his bodyís stress. "God, get a grip, Ellison," he silently admonished himself.
Blair noticed Jimís hesitation, his eyes filled with concern. "Hey, Jim. Are you okay, man?"
"Yeah, Chief. Iím okay. Just didnít get much sleep last night, thatís all." Jim said, flashing a playfully wicked grin and wiggling his eyebrows at his partner.
As the unlikely implication of the Sentinelís words hit him, Blairís jaw dropped as his eyebrows simultaneously shot up in a look of slightly panicked shock. Taking advantage of his stunned partnerís temporary immobility, Jim laughed and grabbed the ball, charging unguarded toward the open basket.
"Oh, man! I still canít believe that you would cheat like that!"
"Blair, for the last time, I did NOT cheat."
"Come on, Jim. It was game point and you deliberately pushed the ball back up through the net! What would you call it?"
"Iíd call it Ďcreative defenseí," Jim replied innocently.
Blair narrowed his eyes as he glared at his roommate. "Yeah, well. I definitely want a rematch. Unbelievable, man."
"Tell you what, Chief. Let me make it up to you. You can take your shower first."
"Gee thanks, Jim," Blair quipped sarcastically. "Your generosity is overwhelming."
Jim smiled as he reached out to lightly cuff his young friend on the back of the head.
"Hey, Jim. Watch the hair!" Blair cried with mock indignation before turning to disappear into his room.
Jim roamed around the kitchen, gathering the supplies to prepare a late breakfast for himself and his partner. "Hey, Chief," he called. "Iím taking my stuff to the dry cleaners this afternoon. If you have anything that has to go, just put it in that garbage in the bathroom."
Blair returned to the kitchen carrying a change of clothing, stopping for a moment to watch Jim rummage through the cupboard. "Iím really sorry about your jacket, Jim. You think they can save it?"
The Sentinel was touched by his Guideís concern. "Weíll see," he answered with a smile. "Eggs okay with you?" he asked before withdrawing the carton from the refrigerator.
"Yeah, eggs are fine."
Noticing the clean clothes in Blairís hands, Jim set down the carton and shook his finger at his friend. "Donít use up all the hot water, Junior," he scolded mildly.
"I wonít," Blair smiled sheepishly and headed down the hall toward the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He closed the lid of the commode and deposited his clothing on the seat. Then he turned on the shower, allowing the water to heat up as he began to undress. Blair spied the bag Jim had mentioned on the floor beside the dirty clothes hamper. He tossed his sweat stained shirt into the hamper and bent down to pick it the bag. As soon as he opened it, the pungent odor rose up to attack his nose, almost causing him to gag. "Oh man!" he choked.
An unexpected feeling of recognition overcame him. "I know that smell," he thought, "but where is it from?" He frowned as he concentrated, trying to remember the familiar odor. Suddenly, Blair froze as his brain identified the memory with startling clarity, his eyes opening wide with terror. That smell!
"Oh my God," he whispered. His hands instantly slackened, loosening his grasp on the garbage bag and allowing it to fall. The filthy clothing spilled out onto the floor, filling the room with a sickening stench. Blair felt his knees weaken as he limply sank to the floor. His breath came in labored gasps as his frightened eyes filled with tears. He felt his heart pound harshly in his ears. Was that his heart? He wasnít sure. He couldnít think, couldnít hear, couldnít see, couldnít breathe.
"Not again," his voice a choked whisper. "Please God, not again." Blair saw something suddenly advancing toward him. In a blind panic, he scooted backward until his back met the bathroom wall.
"No," he pleaded brokenly. "No! NOOO!!"
The moment Blair disappeared around the corner, Jim automatically extended his hearing, monitoring his friendís progress down the hall and into the bathroom. After everything that had happened yesterday, he wasnít taking any chances with his Guideís safety.
"A mother hen" Blair had once called him; Jim chuckled at the memory and shook his head. "Okay," he grudgingly admitted to himself, "so maybe sometimes I am a Ďmother hení. And maybe sometimes I do get a little overprotective." But he couldnít help it; heíd never had a friend like Blair Sandburg before. Blair was not just his friend; he was much more than that. He was his brother, his family, a living extension of himself. The intensity of the bond the Sentinel shared with his young Guide sometimes frightened him beyond words. What would happen to him if he ever lost his best friend? That was one question that Jim Ellison prayed would never be answered.
"Cut it out, Ellison. Youíre doing it again," he chided himself. "Youíve gotta lighten up." Jim fervently shook his head, trying to banish the dark thoughts from his mind as he extended his hearing once more to check on his friend. Satisfied that his Guide was safe, Jim resumed his breakfast preparations.
A few moments later, Jimís head abruptly snapped up. Blairís heartbeat had begun to accelerate with alarming speed. He took the skillet off the burner and made his way down the hall, stopping at the closed bathroom door. "Chief? Is everything all right?" he called, concern flooding his voice.
"Oh my God."
Blairís panicked whisper screamed in Jimís ears, causing his anxiety to grow. His mind reeled at the disturbing noises he heard coming from the other side of the door. What was that? Did Blair just fall? What the hell is going on? "Chief?" he yelled, trying the knob and finding it locked. Overwhelming fear enveloped the Sentinel; he had to get to his Guide, right now. He began to pound frantically on the door. "Blair! Open the door!" Jim bellowed. "Blair!!"
"Not again. Please God, not again."
"Hang on, buddy! Iím coming!" Jim stepped back and kicked in the locked door as hard as he could, the intensity of the blow splintering both the door and the frame. The Sentinelís eyes immediately fell to his friend slumped on the floor. Blairís heart was beating wildly, his breathing rapid and shallow, his eyes wide with terror and brimming with tears. As Jim cautiously stepped into the room, he watched as his best friend attempted a desperate retreat backward, slamming into the bathroom wall.
"No. No! NOOO!!"
Jim felt his heart stop, the power of Blairís anguished cries threatening to knock him off his feet. "God, he was just gonna take a shower! What the hell happened?" The confused Sentinel wondered.
"Chief? Itís okay. Itís me. Itís Jim. Can you hear me, buddy? Youíre okay. Youíre safe." Jim spoke in a soft, reassuring tone as he carefully crept toward his friend. He noticed that Blair was not looking at him, focusing his attention instead on a spot somewhere to Jimís right. Jim spared a glance in that direction, seeing nothing but the water cascading from the showerhead and falling into the tub. He shifted his gaze back to his stricken friend and inched closer.
The tears that refused to stop flowing from his eyes clouded Blairís vision. He suddenly sensed that danger was about to overtake him. Pulling himself into a protective ball, he shot out his hand in a feeble attempt to stop the threat. "No!" he screamed. "You stay away from me!"
Jim ignored the young manís cries and continued to inch forward, keeping his voice soft and light. "Blair, itís Jim. Itís okay, buddy. Iím not gonna hurt you. Everythingís gonna be all right, I promise. Youíre safe now."
Blairís panic increased. "NO!! Youíre a liar! Stay away from me!"
"Chief, please. I promise, Iím not gonna hurt you."
Blair became enraged. "Liar! You killed me once, youíre not gonna kill me again! I WONíT LET YOU KILL ME AGAIN!!"
Jim stood motionless as he felt his blood turn to ice. Then an involuntary shudder shook him right down to his very soul. His body went completely numb. All of a sudden he felt the room begin to spin and he closed his eyes for fear that he might pass out. "Kill him?!" his mind screamed. "Never! I could neverÖ" Suddenly, his eyes flew open as a vision flashed into his mind. The vision of a dying wolf in the jungle, a wolf that HE brought down a single arrow, a wolf that had turned into Blair. The dream! Dream, nothing; it was a nightmare. The same nightmare that regularly invaded his sleep and, on more than one occasion, drove him from his bed in the middle of the night to physically check on Blair.
"But how could he know about that?" Jim pondered. "I never told him about that dream."
The Sentinel dragged has focus back to the frightened young man huddled before him on the floor. Blair had wrapped his arms protectively around himself, rocking back and forth. His large blue eyes were transfixed on the water flowing into the tub and his lips were moving though no sound could be heard. Jim extended his hearing to make out the inaudible words; Blair was repeatedly whispering "not again, not again."
Seeing his best friend in this condition was more than Jim could bear. He took another step toward his friend when his foot brushed against something. Looking down, he noticed the open garbage bag and the filthy clothing littering the floor. As Jim bent down and picked up his jacket, the foul odor assaulted his senses. He immediately released the offending article. An overpowering sense of dťjŗ vu instantly flooded the Sentinel. He took a long, hard look at the scattered clothes on the floor, simultaneously turning up his sense of smell. Then keeping his smell intensified, he heightened his hearing as he turned to study the water flowing from the showerhead. "Oh my God," he muttered, astonished as recognition struck him like a bolt of lightning. "The fountain. That damn fountain!"
Jimís eyes began to mist with tears as he stared at his friend. Blair was nearly catatonic, lost in the memory of the sounds and smells of that most terrible of days; the day he died, drowned in the putrid water of the fountain outside Hargrove Hall.
Wordlessly, Jim gathered the rancid smelling clothing and stuffed them into the garbage bag. After the bag was securely closed, he tossed it into the hall. Then he reached into the tub and turned off the water.
The Sentinel warily approached his unresponsive Guide and knelt beside him, careful not to startle the apprehensive young man. He gingerly reached out his hand and lightly rested it on Blairís shoulder, the young manís rocking ceasing under his touch. Blair turned haunted blue eyes toward his Sentinel. "Jim," he said, his voice barely a whisper. Jim shifted and sat on the floor beside Blair, gathering his tormented friend into his strong, protective arms and murmuring reassurances into his ear. "Itís all right, Chief. Everythingís gonna be all right."
The Sentinel and Guide resembled two statues, calm and stone still, locked in a timeless embrace. The silence was broken by Blairís small, faint voice. "Cold," he said, his body shaking slightly as if to emphasize the word.
Jim snorted softly in amusement. "Well, thatís not surprising, Chief. Thatís usually what happens when you sit half naked on a hard, tile floor." As he spoke, he instinctively tightened his hold on the shivering young man, drawing him closer in an offer of comfort and warmth. "How long have we been sitting here?" he wondered curiously to himself, but immediately dismissed the idle thought. Time was an irrelevant issue; he would stay there as long as Blair needed him to, even if that meant forever.
Blairís fuzzy brain was having a difficult time processing the words Jim had just spoken to him. "Half naked? What are you talking about?" he asked confused, his face contorting into a frown. Slowly, he looked down at himself. Jim was right; he was clad in only his shorts and a pair of socks. Blair thought for a moment, recollection was swift in coming. "Oh, yeah. Right," he said, having remembered leaving his shoes in his room and throwing his shirt into the hamper.
Again, silence descended on the room.
Several more moments passed before Blair spoke again. "Hey, Jim?"
"Can we get up now?"
Jim chuckled and smiled down at his best friend. "Sure, Chief. Let me help you." He stiffly climbed to his feet, a soft groan escaping from his lips.
"Hey, old timer," Blair teased, his blue eyes twinkling. "Maybe I should be helping you up."
"Very funny, Junior," Jim groused good-naturedly. "Ready now? Easy does it." He slid his strong hands under Blairís arms and lifted, steadying his shaky partner as he struggled to remain upright. The morningís horrific events had completely drained Blair of his strength, both mentally and physically. Jim slipped his arm securely around his friendís waist, helping him keep his balance. Then he began to cautiously guide Blair out of the room and down the hall toward his bed.
Blair lay in his bed and watched with amusement as Jim fussed with the pillows and covers, meticulously fluffing and tucking. He reached out his hand to straighten a fold in the top blanket, only to have it gently batted away by the Sentinel. "Yep, heís definitely in major Ďmother hení mode," the young man thought with a smile.
"Jim, this really isnít necessary."
Blair started to protest again but the piercing look on his Sentinelís face instantly silenced him. Accepting defeat, he sighed and lay quietly, allowing his friend to continue with his painstaking efforts to make him comfortable.
After a few minutes, Jim finally got the bedding arranged to his satisfaction and stepped back to inspect his handiwork. "There. Howís that? Are you warm enough? You need another blanket? Maybe another pillow?"
"No, Iím fine. Thanks, ĎMomí."
Blair chuckled at the playful barb and cast a glance at his partner. The look on Jimís face quickly subdued his playful mood. He became self conscious at Jimís scrutiny as he felt intense blue eyes bore into him. The Sentinel was scared and Blair was the cause of his fear.
"Iím sorry," he whispered dejectedly, his fingers nervously playing with the edge of the blanket.
Jim stepped forward and carefully sat on the edge of the bed. He placed a warm hand over Blairís, stilling his fidgety movements. The forlorn look on his Guideís face tore at his heart. The events of the past two days had taken a severe emotional toll on Jim and he had been comforted by the knowledge that his young friend had escaped the trauma minimally untouched. However, Blairís terrifying revelation that morning had brought everything back with startling clarity, threatening to claim his sanity.
Jim studied his Guideís face for a long moment before he spoke, his voice full of compassion. "Chief, you have nothing to be sorry about."
"This was all my fault. None of this would have happened if I hadnít tried to help Alex."
Jimís eyes instantly flashed with rage at the mention of her name. He silently cursed her with every fiber of his being, cursed her for the anguish she had inflicted, was continuing to inflict. Her lust for power had driven her insane and now she was forever locked away in both body and mind. As far as Jim was concerned, she was dead, but the lingering memories of their encounter were still very much alive. "Blair, itís okay. She canít hurt you, canít hurt US anymore." At least not physically anyway.
"I know, Jim," Blair admitted quietly. "You know, itís funny. I remember the first time I saw her at the station. She looked so lost, so alone; she kinda reminded me of you when we first met. She was really scared and I knew what was happening to her. I knew I could help her understand, tell her what she was. Man, I never dreamed that it would end the way it did." Blair shook his head sadly at the tragic memory, his eyes shining with tears. "All because I wanted to try to help her."
Suddenly, Blair was filled with intense anger, pounding his fist on the bed. "God, I am so stupid! When am I ever gonna learn, Jim? Huh? I mean, itís like a sickness or something. I see someone in trouble and I jump in and try to help, but in the end Iím the one who winds up getting hurt. And you know what the funny part is? I go right out and do the same thing all over again! I almost lost everything because I was stupid enough to think that I could actually make a difference. Me, the wimpy little anthropologist sidekick. God, when am I gonna learn to just mind my own business and keep my big mouth shut?" Blair wiped angrily at his tear-stained face, trying in vain to erase the evidence of his self-proclaimed weakness.
Jim stared at his Guide in stunned silence. He had never heard Blair speak with such bitterness and self-loathing before and it frightened him. He struggled to keep his already turbulent emotions in check for fear if he let go, even for a second, they would savagely betray him and tear him apart. He had to remain calm and strong, not for himself but for Blair. Swallowing hard, he summoned all the confidence he could muster. "Chief, I would appreciate it if you wouldnít talk about my partner like that," he said, desperately trying to keep his voice from quavering.
"Yeah, thatís some partner you got," Blair snapped.
"Yeah, he sure is. The best partner I could ever ask for," Jim said, the lump in his throat threatening to choke him.
Blair studied his Sentinelís face, searching for the slightest hint of mockery and deception, but instead finding only heart-felt sincerity and truth. "Really?" the young man asked, his voice full of hope.
Jim smiled warmly at his Guide and squeezed his hand in reassurance. "Yes, really."
Blair heaved a small sigh of relief, feeling some of the pent-up tension release with the gesture. "Thanks, Jim."
"Youíre welcome, Chief.
They were both silent for a long time, neither man sure of what to say next.
"Blair, how come you never told me any of this before?"
"Well, I tried to a couple of times, Jim, but letís face itÖyou donít do Ďfeelingsí very well."
The Sentinel felt the sting of Blairís words like a slap in the face. It was true that he didnít go for that "New Age, Sensitivity Crap", as he called it, but the thought that his young friend had been silently suffering from aftermath of the most traumatic event of his life, of both their lives, was almost too much for him to bear.
Sensing the unintentional distress his words had caused, Blair reached out his hand to comfort his friend. "Hey, Jim. Iím sorry. man. I didnít meanÖ"
Jim felt the fragile hold he had on his emotions slipping through his fingers. Overwhelming guilt threatened to consume him. He sprang off the bed as if it were on fire, wrinkling the blanket. His hands instinctively reached out to smooth the covers one last time. "You should try to get some rest," he said, refusing to meet his Blairís anxious gaze. Without another word, he turned around to make his exit, hesitantly pausing in the doorway. Keeping his back toward his Guide he said softly, "And for your information, Blair Sandburg, you do make a differenceÖto me." Then the Sentinel disappeared through the door.
The incidents of the past two days had worn heavily on Jim Ellison, not only robbing him of sleep and peace of mind, but also deeply wounding him in both body and spirit. After leaving his Guideís room, he forcefully willed the momentum of his tense muscles not to falter as he slowly shuffled into the living room and collapsed onto the couch, sinking deeply into the cushions. He was tired, really tired. He couldnít remember the last time he felt this tired. It was as if the weight of the entire world was resting solely on his shoulders, gradually crushing him. He rubbed his eyes and sighed. How had things gone so wrong, so fast? Yesterday, he had jumped into a swimming pool to apprehend a suspect. It was no big deal; he was just doing his job.
Only it was a big deal; that one simple act had re-awakened agonizing memories of Blairís drowning and death at the hands of Alex Barnes. For Jim, the memory would always remain painfully fresh. He had lost count of the number of times he had awakened in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, visions of Blair floating face down in the Hargrove Hall fountain relentlessly attacking his dreams. But that was all right; he could handle it. And, he had reasoned, since Blair hadnít spoken about it that he was handing it, too. Unfortunately, Jim had learned the startling truth last night and again this morning. Not only was his friend also being tortured by the same horrifying memories, but he was afraid to share his fears with Jim. That painful revelation had rocked Jim to his core.
He rubbed his weary eyes again and let his gaze drift around the loft until it came to rest on the dirty dishes from that morningís abandoned breakfast. An exasperated groan escaped his lips as he let his focus shift to the garbage bag in the hall. Exhaustion quickly descended upon him. "I really need to clean up around here," he yawned. "But first, I just need to close my eyes for a fewÖ" Jim was sound asleep before he could finish the thought.
Blair gradually awoke, the sound of someone pounding on the front door gently shaking him from slumber. He tried to focus his bleary eyes on his bedside clock. 5:07? "Who the hell is knocking at this hour?" Blair mumbled lazily. "Oh well, Jim can get it." He closed his eyes again, rolled over on his side, and tried to go back to sleep. The pounding continued, forcing its way into Blairís semiconscious mind. His eyes popped open as the events of the day came flooding back into his muddled brain. A quick glance out the window confirmed that it was 5:07 P.M. not A.M. and someoneÖsounding an awful lot like SimonÖwas knocking on the door. "Why would he knock?" he thought. "Jim always said that he could tell when Simon was around because he could smell his cigars from a mile away. Jesus, he must have zoned!" Panicked, he jumped out of bed, making it as far as his doorway before he heard Jimís slightly irritated voice yell "Yeah, Iím coming!" from the living room.
Blair froze in his tracks, his brow knitted in confusion. Jim must have been
really out of it if Simon had to knock. Concern for his Sentinelís well being
enveloped him as he stood quietly and listened to Jim and Simon chat. Finally
satisfied that Jim was all right, Blair turned to make his way back to bed when
he heard Simon mention his name, concern coloring his deep voice. He could tell
by the conversation that his friends had no idea that he was awake, so he
decided to do a little eavesdropping. He stood just inside his slightly open
door and waited.
"What?" Jim snapped awake, his head swimming in a momentary state of confusion. He looked around to get his bearings; the couch, he was sitting on the couch. Had he fallen asleep? He couldnít remember, couldnít think over all the noise. All of a sudden, his muddled brain was flooded with recognition. That "noise" was Simon frantically pounding on the front door and calling his name. "Yeah, Iím coming!" he yelled and instantly regretted it, the rhythm of the pounding in his head matching his captainís pounding on the front door beat for beat. He closed his eyes and tried to summon all his strength he could to lever himself off the couch, his stiff muscles screaming in protest. Sluggishly, he made his way to the front door and greeted his friend.
"Hey, Simon. Whatís wrong?"
"You tell me, Jim," Simon retorted as he entered the loft. "Iíve been trying to call you all afternoon!"
"All afternoon? What time is it?"
"A little after 5:00."
"Oh. I didnít hear the phone ring. I guess I must have been sleeping." Or zoning, he wasnít sure which.
The captain took a long appraising look at his friend. "Jim, you look like hell. Are you sure youíre all right? Is it Sandburg? Is he okay? Did something happen to him?"
Jim held his hands up in a feeble attempt to deflect the questions that were rapidly being fired at him. "Simon, please. One question at a time. Come on, letís sit down." He turned around and headed back toward the couch, every step draining him of what little energy he had left.
As Simon followed the Sentinel, he glanced into the kitchen and was taken aback at what he found. Half cooked eggs had congealed in the skillet, the orange juice pitcher was sitting on the counter, the butter had been left out and was melting across the counter and dripping onto the floor, two place settings sat untouched on the table, and something black Öwas that a garbage bag Ö lay haphazardly in the hall. To top it all off, Jim looked as though he hadnít slept in a week. Something was definitely wrong with this picture.
The tall captain eased his frame onto the couch beside Jim and got right down to business. "Jim, what the hell is going on here?" he demanded.
Jim closed his eyes and tried to gather his thoughts. "Itís kind of a long story, Sir."
"Iím not going anywhere."
The Sentinel took a deep breath and faced the inevitable. "Sandburg had a nightmare last night," he began softly.
"A nightmare," Simon repeated. "And?"
"And he was sleepwalking. He almost fell off the balcony."
"What?!" the captain exploded.
Jim silenced him with an icy glare then turned his focus toward the French doors. "Would you keep it down?" he hissed. "Sandburg is sleeping."
"Sorry, Jim. Is he all right? Did he hurt himself?" Simonís heart had leapt into his throat. He had grown quite fond of the young anthropology student and the thought that he might have been seriously injured frightened him.
"No. He scared the hell out of me, though. I stayed up all night in case he tried a repeat performance."
Blair swallowed hard. So thatís why he woke up in Jimís bed this morning. That was the only piece missing from the puzzle he had constructed regarding the incidents of the past two days. He had suspected that something terrible had scared Jim badly enough for his fear-based protective responses to kick in; hearing his partnerís soft words of admission had confirmed it. He leaned forward and listened again.
"I see," Simon continued. "And would you care to explain why your kitchen looks like a disaster area?"
"Simon, it doesnít look that bad." Jim protested.
"Jim, for a neat freak like you? Yes, it does."
The Sentinel was silent for a long time, contemplating the "damage" in the kitchen.
"Iím waiting, Detective," the captain prodded.
Reluctantly, he continued the story. "I was fixing breakfast and heÖhe had a another flashback. He remembered, Simon. He remembered everything. Alex, the water, everything."
"It was the water, Sir. The water in that pool yesterday is exactly like the water in that fountain. Blair smelled it on my clothes. Couple that with the sound of running water from the shower, it triggered the memory. Thatís why he passed out at the station."
"Heís almost 30 years old, Simon. Heís hardly a kid," Jim snapped with annoyance. Blairís words were still ringing in his ears, wimpy little anthropologist sidekick. And now his captain had called him a "kid". How many times had Simon referred to Blair that way? How many times had he for that matter? Blair was a grown man and very close to becoming a Ph.D. He had one of the brightest minds that Jim had ever encountered. And he was one of the bravest men that Jim had ever known. Yet everyone, the Sentinel included, still saw him as a kid, someone you patiently listened to and then quietly dismissed. No wonder his self-esteem was shot.
The annoyance Jim felt quickly grew into anger. Anger at Simon, anger at everyone at the station, but mostly anger at himself. Suddenly, he attacked, verbally lashing out at his captain. "Is that how you see him, Sir? Is that how everyone sees him? Just some little kid that you tolerate because heís my partner?"
"Whoa, back off, Detective."
Jimís mini tirade had deflated his spirit; whatever energy he had had vanished, leaving him feeling defeated. "Iím sorry, Sir," he quietly apologized. "Itís just that I was thinking about something that Sandburg said. He was embarrassed about passing out at the station yesterday. Heís under the impression that everyone thinks heís a wimp, weak."
The captain almost choked at Jimís words. "Weak? Sandburg? Youíre kidding, right?"
"No, Sir," the detective answered seriously.
"Jim, Iíve seen that kid face evil, pure evil, and never even flinch. Heís got this inner strength, I guess. I donít know. What I DO know is that he risked his life to save my butt more than once, for which I am eternally grateful. How could he possibly think that he's a wimp?"
"Maybe because we treat him more like the department mascot than like a colleague."
Blair suddenly felt his chest grow tight as heat crept into his cheeks. If he wasnít completely humiliated before, he certainly was now. Was it physically possible to die of embarrassment? He really wanted to know. Then he remembered, his friends thought he was asleep. Keeping that thought in mind, he fought to keep his breathing steady as he refocused his attention on the conversation in the living room.
Jim continued, "I know when everyone sees the two of us together they automatically assume that Iím the strong one, but thatís not true. I may have the physical strength but Blairís got the strength that really counts, his intelligence. He uses words and reasoning the way you and I use guns and force. And I canít tell you how many times something has effected my senses and scared me shitless. But it never seems to phase Blair. He just analyzes the problem and always seems to know what to do to solve it. Heís more resourceful than we give him credit for. I know he deserves a hell of a lot more respect than we give him."
"Yeah, youíre right. That kid definitely knows how to keep his head under pressure. Heís a real asset to the department." Immediately realizing his slip, Simon glanced apologetically at Jim. "Sorry."
Jim just smiled and snorted in reply before his mouth twisted into a deep yawn. Now it was his turn to apologize. "Sorry."
"Well, I guess thatís my cue to leave," Simon said as he rose from the couch and made his way to the front door. "I want you and Sandburg to take tomorrow off. Something tells me that the two of you are gonna need it."
"Thanks, Simon. Iíll call you and let you know how things are going."
"You do that. And Jim? Take good care of that partner of yours."
"Why, Simon, I didnít know you cared. Does this mean that Sandburgís grown on you?"
"Yeah, like fungus," the captain teased, both he and Jim laughing at the comment.
After he bid his friend goodbye, Jim closed the door and turned to gaze at Blairís bedroom doorway.
Blair stood paralyzed by shock, his mind silently pondering the overheard conversation. He couldnít believe what he had just heard. His head was swimming, he couldnít remember how to breathe. The sound of Jimís footsteps approaching his bedroom door shook him from his introspection. He sprang across the floor and jumped into bed, pulling up the covers and closing his eyes, trying to keep his breathing slow and steady.
Jim opened the French doors wide and leaned against the doorjamb, crossing his arms across his chest. He smiled fondly at the "sleeping" form of his Guide before he spoke. "You can come out now ĎSleeping Beautyí. Simon just left."
Blair opened his eyes and felt a crimson flush creep across his face. He slowly sat up and turned to face his partner. "How did you know?"
Jim chuckled and tapped his chest. "Your heart, Chief. Gives you away every time." Then the Sentinelís mood shifted. "So how much did you hear?" he asked seriously.
Blair swallowed. "All of it," he quietly admitted, then nervously began to babble his apology. "But I didnít mean to, Jim. Iím sorry. Itís just that I thought that you had zoned and I heard Simon at the door andÖ"
Jim held up his hand to silence the young manís tumble of words. "Itís all right, Chief. Iím glad you were listening. I just want you to know that I meant every word I said. Iím just sorry that I havenít told you before now. Can you forgive me?"
Blair stared at the Sentinel for a long moment. "Yes, I forgive youÖon two conditions. Number 1, if one of us is having a problem, no matter what it is, we talk about it, together. No more secrets between us. Deal?"
"Deal. And the second condition?"
"You order the Chinese, man. Iím starving!"
Six Months Later
It was still early that Sunday morning as Blair stood before the window of his office at Ranier University and gazed out on the peaceful campus. The sun had not yet risen, but there was every indication that it was going to be a beautiful day. The young anthropologist jumped slightly when a warm hand came to rest on his shoulder. "Sorry, Chief. I didnít mean to startle you."
"Thatís okay, Jim. I was just thinking."
"Having second thoughts? You know we donít have to do this if you donít want to."
"Iíve got to do this some time, Jim. You heard what Dr. Hartley said."
"Yeah, I heard what Dr. Hartley said. I also heard him say that you shouldnít push it if you donít feel youíre ready. Just say the word and weíre outta here."
Blair turned and looked solemnly into his friendís eyes. "Thanks, Jim, but I really need to do this now. I donít know when Iíll have the nerve again."
"Okay, Chief. Itís your call. Just remember Iím right here with you, every step of the way."
The Sentinel and Guide began seeing Dr. Robert Hartley, the department psychologist, about five months ago. He was a quiet, unassuming fellow and both men liked the doctor immensely. They had been attending joint sessions every week to come to grips with the disastrous aftermath of their brush with Alex Barnes. Jim could have knocked Blair over with a feather when he first suggested the idea of therapy. The Sentinel wasnít very comfortable with what he considered "touchy, feely stuff", so his recommendation that they begin the sessions came as a complete surprise to his Guide. The healing process had been excruciatingly difficult from the start, but they were making steady progress. Today marked a crucial point for both men, they had been dreading this day for some time. If they could just make it through todayÖ
Blair sat down at his desk and stared out the window again, waiting for the first golden-pink rays of dawn to appear over the horizon and signal the beginning of the new day. "I was sitting here watching the sunrise when she came in," he whispered haltingly, lost in the memory of a similar day not so long ago. "I remember thinking how cold her eyes were, almost dead. She stood right there," he said, indicating the spot with a nod of his head. "Then she pointed her gun at me. She said that she owed me for helping her understand what she really was. I donít knowÖI thought that maybe I could reason with her, you know? Stop her somehow, but she just wouldnít listen." Blair shook his head mournfully. "I told her that she was wasting her gift. She kinda had this look of regret on her face. For a second, I thought that I was getting through to her. ĎIím sorry but I canít leave you aliveí, thatís what she said. I thought she was going to shoot me right then and there, but she didnít. I guess she didnít want to take the chance that someone might hear the shot, so we walked to the fountain." Blair stood up and began to move toward the door.
Jim sat transfixed in a chair on the other side of the desk, watching his Guide as he heartbreakingly recounted the last moments before his death. The second that Blair moved, the Sentinel was on his feet, ready to offer whatever support his young friend needed. Together, they walked out of the office and down the dark hallway toward the fountain.
Violent tremors shook Blairís slender frame, intensifying with each step he took toward the exit doors of Hargrove Hall. Jim gingerly placed his arm around his partnerís shoulders and was pleased when the young man leaned into the embrace. He tightened his grip in an offer of reassurance and felt his Guideís tense muscles relax just a fraction. "I was so scared," Blair said, his voice thick with emotion. "All I kept thinking was that I was gonna die and I wasnít gonna to get to say goodbye. I knew you hated me for betraying you, but I just wanted the chance to see you one more time and explain. I never meant to hurt you, Jim. Iím so sorry that I did." Blair bowed his head and let his tears fall unhindered.
When they reached the door, Jim gently placed his hands on Blairís shoulders, turning his friend around to face him. "Chief," he said, his voice filled with such compassion that it made the young Guide look up. The grief etched on his friendís face broke the Sentinelís heart. "I never hated you and I never meant to hurt you either. Iím sorry, I just didnít understand before. Now I do." Jim could feel the tears in his own blue eyes escape down his cheeks, a brief smile finding its way to his lips.
Time seemed to stand still as two sets of tear-bright blue eyes locked together, unwavering in their commitment of absolute trust. The journey to heal their wounded friendship was almost complete, only one obstacle remained. Together, they opened the doors and walked out of Hargrove Hall, pausing at the top of the stairs. Then taking a deep breath, they slowly made their descent as the fountain loomed large before them.
The two men moved as one, Jim taking his cues from Blair. When they were about a foot from the fountainís base, they stopped, studying the waterís surface. Nothing seemed the same since the last time they were here. Instead of the fountain gurgling and bubbling cheerfully, it stood strangely silent having been turned off for the weekend.
Blair suddenly knelt down to touch the cool clear water, his trembling hand briefly hesitating before it dipped below the surface. After a moment, he pulled his hand out of the water and impulsively sniffed it. Bewilderment played across his face as he looked up at Jim. "Itís different," he said, his voice sounding small.
Jim quickly knelt beside his partner. Blair sniffed his hand again. "They cleaned it" he whispered as he held his hand under the Sentinelís sensitive nose. Jim obliged the unspoken request for confirmation and inhaled deeply, committing all the smells to memory. "Youíre right, Chief. They did."
The young anthropologist was thunderstruck. He stared at the fountain again, trying to make sense of this newfound revelation. This was not the same monster that had mercilessly stalked him in his dreams. Sure, it looked the same but everything about it was completely different. "Well, you know this doesnít change anything. Iím still gonna leave out the back and take the long way around so that I donít have to walk past this thing every day. You know that, donít you?"
The Sentinel smiled fondly at his partner. "Yeah, I know."
"And you know that Iím still probably gonna have a panic attack every time I see this thing, right?
"Yeah, I know that, too."
"And youíre okay with that?"
"Only if you are, Chief."
"Yeah, Iím okay. Weíre both okay." And that was the truth. The wound was healed, a little scarred but healed. Blair grinned at his partner. "Hey, Jim. How about a game of hoops? I feel like I could take you today, Old Man."
"Youíre on, Junior," the Sentinel said, returning the grin.
Without another word, the Sentinel and Guide stood and walked away.