A Fine Day to Exit
Rating: Fifteenish and up, for a bit of language
Summary: The old formula of missing character, frantic partner...sorry, too wiped right now to be original!
Long way from home, nowhere to go;
What made the river so cold?
Sweat of thoughts
Trickles down my brow,
Soaking and stinging my eyes...
Tell-tale sighs and cries,
And time is running, running dry...
Panic-stricken, bloodshot hearts try to restart,
But no longer have the will to survive
I got these feelings and I don't know why,
I see all my fears in the darkness of light;
What made the river so cold?
Never anyone to rearrange and fall to
Time inside the Empty...
Call to the blameless,
I am faithless--placid, dying eyes...
You gotta face it head on,
So you can turn this thing around,
Cause this ain't right...
You have to go eye to eye,
Raise your face to the sky,
Cause this ain't right.
I got to believe when I say,
Only this is the way...
---the song "A Fine Day to Exit" by Anathema
Long way from home, nowhere to go...
For the longest time he didn't understand what had happened, or how to go back. It was so much simpler just to stay there in that gray, nowhere place, barely tethered to his body and only distantly and dimly aware of its discomforts. And then even those vague sensations of pain gradually faded as he seemed to leave his corporeal form behind. Through some unknown method he came to hover outside himself, viewing his own flesh as from afar; and for a timeless interval he merely studied with some detachment the surreally familiar conglomeration of limbs and trunk and head that made up the physical shell of the man he recognized as himself--Jim Ellison.
He supposed he should be frightened or at least a tad upset; but he merely watched his own body lying just at the edge of the cold,muddy river, feeling nothing at all as the strangely empty form on the river bank was alternately wracked by convulsive shudders of cold and injury and the smaller but much more intense tremors of cramped, agonized muscles crying out for nonexistent relief. Jim Ellison watched himself slowly dying, some vital part of his essence trapped in the darkness of the lost, unable--perhaps even unwilling--to summon the strength to return to the cold, sodden body there on the ground. He had endured so much in the past two days, so many bad things; and now it seemed he'd disassociated from his battered flesh and the pain-filled memories his body still held locked inside itself. Invisible and noncorporeal, his soul drifted near the lump of bone and muscle it had so recently inhabited, his consciousness alert and aware but seemingly powerless, his body neither dead nor fully alive...and he waited.
You gotta face it head on/so you can turn this thing around...
In another place, moving through a landscape of seemingly permanent rain and dreary pewter skies, an exhausted Blair Sandburg found himself taking part in the frantic, two-days-and-counting search for his missing best friend. His shamanic abilities hampered by the inexplicably stubborn refusal of his soul to venture out beyond the confines of his physical body, the best Blair could do at the moment was to keep his body moving as quickly and efficiently as he could, forcing weary limbs to work in tandem with his restless mind in the hope that he and the others in Major Crime would find either Jim or the men who'd taken him, or both...and find them before something truly terrible came to pass.
With the grimness of his thoughts all too transparent on his face, Blair stood just outside the open doorway to Simon Banks's office and forced himself to pay attention to the latest, maddeningly useless search report being delivered by some whey-faced, wet-behind-the-ears recruit with a nervous tremor in his voice.
"You're telling me that after eight hours that's ALL you've got?" Banks was growling at the unfortunate recruit; and though Blair would normally find himself feeling at least a twinge of sympathy for the hapless man being called onto the carpet, this time around it was different. This time the stakes were much too high, and for once Blair found his stressed-out sympathies allying with the scowling hulk of his captain as Simon bit off an infuriated epithet and sent the recruit scurrying out the door. The dressed-down man stumbled blindly past Sandburg with a careless haste born of exhaustion and embarrassment, and briefly Blair's gaze followed the recruit's clumsy exit from the bullpen, his eyes tracking but not really seeing the other's progress. All he COULD see inside his head were grim, recurring mental images of Jim lying dead somewhere in a pool of his own blood, or strung up with ropes or chains somewhere as his life dripped down, down to some dusty floor below...or maybe Jim,locked up in some windowless room or cell, howling and crazed with rage and pain in the aftermath of whatever nameless, heinous tortures and/or experiments his captors might have carried out on him...
"Stop it, Sandburg; just...just get those bad thoughts out of your head and that LOOK off your face, and get your ass in here," Banks said roughly now, his voice a low, fatigued growl as one long arm reached from the interior of his office to snag Blair by his shirt sleeve and drag him inside the doorway. "Sit down a minute and have some coffee and tell me if you've come up with anything new in the four hours since I last saw you," the captain continued as Blair reluctantly allowed himself to be directed to the chair on the other side of Simon's desk.
"Just promise me I won't get a repeat of the treatment you gave Javez," Blair snorted tiredly as he leaned forward across Simon's desk to accept the steaming cup of premium coffee the captain thrust toward him. Simon gave an almost identical snort in reply as he rolled his eyes toward the doorway and the fast-fading memory of the recruit who'd just made his escape.
"Gotta toughen up the new ones, Sandburg," he muttered into his own coffee cup, then raised grim eyes to Blair's. "But this is a hellava bad case to break him in on." Blair had nothing to say to that; his eyes said it all for him as he gingerly took a sip of the too-hot liquid in his cup and then set the sturdy mug down on the edge of Simon's desk.
"Ugh, all this coffee is eating the lining of my stomach," Blair complained quietly, his face twisting into a grimace as he allowed himself to sink back in the chair and relax for the first time in hours. His hands coming to rest over his chest, Blair absently twiddled his thumbs together as his exhausted gaze met Simon's equally frazzled perusal. "I can't remember the last time I had actual food in my belly, instead--not that I could eat anything right now," Blair sighed, and Simon nodded agreement.
"Same here; you know it's bad when your favorite coffee starts to taste like week-old sludge," the captain griped, setting his cup down with more force than necessary. With a pained groan the powerfully built commander of Major Crime stretched his arms high over his head andworked out some of the long-ignored kinks in his shoulders, the _expression on his face changing from one of pain to a weary sort of relief.
"When this is all over and we have Jim back, safe, I think we're due for a seven-course meal at the fanciest damned restaurant in town," he quipped, and for a brief moment Blair's haunted _expression softened into a half smile.
"I'm so there, man--as long as you're buying," he returned with a bit of his old energy, and Simon thought privately to himself that he'd be more than glad to pay the tab for the whole damned department if it meant Jim was back with them, alive and well. But the longer this fruitless search continued for the three suspects and one missing cop who'd all seemed to vanish into thin air, the less likely it seemed that this whole nasty business would have a happy ending. Dammit, I TOLD Jim to watch his back, to take those threatening notes and calls more seriously, Simon mused angrily to himself now as he recalled Jim's casual indifference to the danger he was facing. Privately Banks felt that the detective had become much too complacent and over-confident in his sentinel abilities of late, to the point of almost believing that his heightened senses rendered him nearly invincible to injury or disaster. Some tiny part of Simon was tempted to pin the blame on Sandburg for guiding Jim just a bit TOO well with the whole senses thing; but in all fairness Simon knew that even Blair had recently become concerned by his partner's insouciant attitude toward the dangers of their job.
"Actually, I'd be happy with a trip to Wonderburger and their extra-value burger meal," Blair was murmuring quietly, a rueful smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. "And I HATE all that grease and fat. But it would be the one time I'd jump at the chance to go along and indulge Jim in his favorite 'bad food' addiction. God, Simon, where the HELL could they have taken him?!" the younger man burst out suddenly, erupting from his chair and storming across the office."We've gone over all the places Eakins and Reynaud and that dope of a cousin of his might frequent or use for their dirty work, and we came up with nothing. Freaking NOTHING, Simon." Running his hands through his increasingly unruly hair, Blair flashed a desperately frustrated glare in Simon's direction before moving to stare, unseeing, out the window.
"And the worst part of all is that I can't FEEL him anymore," Blair continued softly, bitterly. "I can't really explain it to you in a way that makes sense, but the mental 'connection' Jim and I have shared since I started helping him with his senses just isn't there now. I don't know what that means, if it means he's...gone already. I don't want to believe it; in fact, I DON'T believe it; something tells me he IS alive still. But maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part. All I know is that I can't tap into the link we have, and that scares me more than anything. I just don't know what to do next--Rafe and Henri and Megan and Joel and every other person we've been able to pull in hasn't found anything of substance, and it's a fair bet that we're running out of time."
His features twisted with mounting frustration, Blair turned his full attention back on Simon to find the captain eyeing him with pursed lips and a thoughtful frown on his dark face. Privately Simon was thinking that he wasn't going to touch all that scary, woo-woo psychic Sentinel/Guide mess with a ten foot pole; but there had to be a way that good, old-fashioned police work could still bring a desirable end to this situation. And right at this moment he had one anxious, stressed-out, exhausted observer on his hands who needed a little boost to get him going again.
"You say all the places these scumballs have ever frequented have been thoroughly cased, am I right?" Banks spoke up, and at Blair's weary nod Simon sat up straighter in his chair and nodded back, briskly. "Well, then, I'm guessing that leaves a lot more places still to look where they might have taken Jim, locations that would become obvious if we just dug up that ONE essential kernel of information," Simon retorted brusquely; and Blair turned to face him with a mixed _expression of despair and almost-drained hope at the determined light in Banks's eyes. Don't quit on me now, Sandburg, that light said; and don't you dare quit on Jim. We still have time to figure this thing out, still have a chance to bring Jim back home alive and put those scums back in prison where they belong. They never should have gotten out in the first place...
"Well, there WAS one incredibly out-there, doubtful contact I still haven't gotten round to tracking down," Blair muttered distractedly to himself, the exhausted slump of his shoulders squaring into a semblance of renewed vigor as he began to move toward the door of Simon's office. "It was such a long shot I saved it for last; but since no one's come up with anything new in the last eight hours, it looks like my last shot has become my NEXT shot, instead."
"Let me know if it pans out," was all Simon said; but as Blair reached the doorway, the captain was suddenly there to meet him, one large hand moving to briefly clasp Blair's shoulder. No more words were exchanged between the two men, but the look of shared understanding and commiseration that passed from brown eyes to blue brought a fleeting but immeasurably uplifting bit of hope to each man. It was almost as if Jim's spirit was right there with them, so strong was the bond of love and concern his two friends were feeling for him at that moment; and as Blair turned rather abruptly and left the momentary sanctuary of Simon's office, his eyes were suspiciously moist. Hang on, Jim, he sent a mute entreaty to his absent partner. Hang on, damn you, till we can find you and bring you home where you belong.
Simon Banks stood in his doorway for one long minute after Blair had whipped out of the bullpen, watching Jim's guide move as though his hair was on fire; his wiry body brimming once more with the tension of the hunt for his missing friend, Sandburg's agitated passage through Major Crime had weary heads perking up with hopeful curiosity at his sudden resurgence of energy. But their wild-haired coworker wasted neither time nor breath on filling anyone in; his attention firmly fixed on his next objective, Blair snatched a piece of crumpled paper off Jim's desk in passing and was gone, leaving a strangely bereft-feeling vacuum in his wake.
Please let this lead pan out; please give us SOMETHING to work with, here, Simon heard himself pleading with the fates; and as the relentless, hours-old throbbing in his head returned with a vengeance, he closed his office door with careful deliberation and moved to sit back at his desk, his dark gaze alighting on an old photo on the wall of Jim and Blair and himself on a fishing trip they'd taken last summer. God, Jim; where ARE you? the captain silently asked the smiling face in the picture. But only silence answered.
And time is running, running dry...
Jim knew he'd messed up, but good; but it was only now, when it was all too late, that he felt faint stirrings of regret for not having heeded Blair's and Simon's advice. You are NOT Superman, Jim...Blair's irate, worried voice came back to the dying man now, those heartfelt words from four days ago resounding in Jim's soul as he gazed without physical eyes down upon his body. Too late now to go back and try to explain to his best friend that he'd never thought he WAS Superman; too late to open up and admit that it was the very opposite of arrogant machismo that had driven him to such extremes of carelessness of late, that it was his pained awareness of just how vulnerable he truly was that had led to his final, sad state here by the river.
Hell, maybe he still didn't completely understand it himself, the sudden, almost overwhelming feeling of denial concerning his senses that had come upon him that day, a denial that hit right after his last, successful bust. While everyone else stood around alternately praising and ribbing him for being Super Cop of Cascade, Jim's gaze had ghosted past Blair's slightly smiling, knowing face and had settled restlessly on the neat stack of files on his desk, files which on the surface seemed to reaffirm the usefulness of his unique talents in carrying out his job. And it all just became too much, the whole deal of struggling to control his highly-tuned senses without being controlled BY them, along with the stressful, wearying need to keep his abilities a secret from virtually everyone and yet open them up in glaring, techni-color detail for Blair's avid study.
I'm tired, Jim had realized that day with some surprise and no small measure of moroseness. I'm too damned tired to mess with all this anymore. And when the anonymous threats against his life started up the very next day, they came almost as a relief. At least now he might find distraction from his renewed preoccupation with his senses and how exhausting managing them could sometimes be. And even as Simon and Blair noted that something seemed 'off' with their friend and worried that he was being overly reliant on his enhanced abilities, the opposite was true. Jim had quietly turned them all down, so far down that he began to suspect his sense acuity was little better than average. Now the playing field was level, now he was just like everyone else, with no added edge in this latest game of cat and mouse with ex-cons who had reason to bear a grudge against him. It was a strangely refreshing feeling, even knowing that his very life might be at stake should he drop his guard completely; but Jim wanted to go through this latest crisis without calling on his senses as though they were his only hope and salvation. He knew he was an intelligent man, a highly trained and decorated military man as well as a damned good cop; and maybe that was enough. Maybe he didn't NEED to be the damned sentinel of the city any longer, didn't need Blair poking and prodding and bullying him into tests and all those never-ending 'exercises' to help him better utilize the so-called gifts Fate had bestowed upon him.
Well, Fate obviously had a twisted sense of humor, Jim thought now as he contemplated the soulless shell of his body lying with one leg half-submerged in the cold waters of the river. Or at the very least, good old Fate carried a very strong grudge against those repudiating Its dubious bequests. Jim didn't know where he was, couldn't remember how he'd gotten here; but he remembered what Reynaud and the others had done to him just before they'd brought him here and dumped him, remembered every minute of every excruciatingly long and drawn-out hour at the hands of his three torturers. As he surveyed his inelegantly sprawled form he found himself dimly surprised that there wasn't more blood; but then, the river's rushing current probably accounted for that. Heavy rains had fallen in the last few days, and the cresting river water had obviously given Jim's helpless body quite a wild ride before he'd washed up here, nude but for his favorite pair of jeans...and those were now pretty much beyond salvaging. As if it matters now, Jim thought with a brief flash of morbid humor; and then he became suddenly aware that his body was no longer shivering as it had been just moments before, no longer valiantly trying to keep warmth and circulation moving through its hypothermic tissues and organs.
I really am dying, Jim realized, and hard upon the heels of that thought came a sudden, startlingly vivid image of Blair, his partner and roommate and friend, Blair who even now must be furiously looking for him, refusing to give up hope, running himself ragged in his determination to discover Jim's whereabouts and condition. Sorry, Chief, Jim thought with more emotion than he'd been able to feel about his own dying body; sorry to do this to you, to leave you without those final words of affection and remorse that would have made all this bearable for you. But at least I kept you safe; I knew they were coming for me, 'sensed' it even without benefit of enhanced vision or hearing or smell; and I made sure I sent you on an errand, sent you out for a stupid movie and some beer, so I could face this on my own.
Jim reflected back on how he'd known that the guys in the patrol car out front who were supposed to keep an eye on the loft couldn't protect him from what was coming; and he didn't want Blair caught up in the middle of it all. So he'd gone out on his own, had almost decided to call Simon as backup, but no, he was so sure he could handle it alone...and then it all went to hell, and when he'd made a belated attempt to bring his senses fully back online to help pull his own ass out of the fire, everything went haywire. So much disorganized input flooding in from everywhere, all of it too overwhelming, too much...and he'd zoned, leaving himself effectively helpless.
And now I've paid the ultimate price for my own stupidity, Jim mused darkly to himself as he hovered in between this world and the next, waiting. If Bair could speak to me now, he'd tear me a new one, all right. He'd likely go ahead and kick my soon-to-be dead, sorry ass too, just on principle. Ah, god, Chief, I'm sorry. Sorry I don't know how to fix this, that I don't know how to find that weird thread of connection that usually stretches between us...sorry I can't figure out how to escape this limbo and force my way back into my body, make it move and breathe and live again...
As regrets and recriminations flooded through Jim's soul, some fleeting, ephemeral burst of half-forgotten knowledge briefly lit up the grayness around him, briefly charging his fading energy with something hot and sharp and electrifying. Startled out of the strange, placid lethargy that had almost overtaken his unattached spirit, Jim performed the metaphysical equivalent of tilting his head to look and listen and sniff out whatever this new thing was; and as he struggled to concentrate without the assistance of a corporeal form, he felt the faintest brush and whisper of the unique bond he shared with Blair. CHIEF! he heard/felt? himself call out, his voiceless cry traveling through the nebulous ether of near-oblivion he currently occupied as it sought for that link to his friend, for that shared connection that now seemed Jim's only hope of ever making it out of the fix he was in. No, it's too late, it's all too late, some part of his desperate spirit mourned as the body on the ground grew grayish-blue and waxen. The very faintly light-limned cord that Jim's detached soul seemed to sense stretching between itself and the body below had become so thin now, practically transparent; and Jim knew he was slipping away.
NO! No, I won't go, I don't WANT to go, he protested against Fate and all the universe. I wasn't finished here, I know that now; I was just confused for a little while, just a bit uncertain about the course my life has taken. But I'm starting to figure it out now, beginning for maybe the first time to really SEE...and I still have things to do, dammit. I promised Blair I'd help him with his dissertation, promised I'd be there with him to celebrate when he wraps it all up and garners all those accolades...and I never really told him how proud of him I am, how, even with all my misgivings about this whole project, I remain so impressed by his intelligence and drive and by his unbelievable energy...God, Blair, if you could just help me, here, meet me somewhere along this connection we share...Help me locate the bond that's always given both of us more strength, more power together to do what needs to be done...C'mon, buddy, I'm dying here, literally!...
And there it was again, the sudden, almost scorching surge of light and energy and power, thrumming along some invisible, cosmic ley line from one desperate, searching soul to the lost, fading soul so in need of that connection. SANDBURG?! Jim sent the beloved name hurtling along that line, pushing every bit of his fading will and desperation along with it, and was rewarded almost at once by the faintest but most wonderfully familiar response: Jim? And then stronger, so much stronger, flooding in on waves of tumultuous, excited energy: JIM! OH GOD, JIM, HANG ON, WE'RE COMING, I FOUND SOMEONE AND THEY THINK MAYBE THEY KNOW WHERE YOU MIGHT BE...and fading out again, on a trailing wisp of frustrated desperation: help me, Jim, help me find you...where?...landmarks, sounds, anything?....
And Jim was tired now, so tired of concentrating with every bit of his soul's energy to hold to that last, fading cord of light and life drifting with such feeble lassitude between his dying body and his spirit; so tired, but he summoned energy for one word, just two syllables moving sluggishly along the fading connection to his partner. RI-VER. And then the darkness took him.
...Cause this ain't right/you have to go eye to eye/raise your face to the sky...
"Come on, Jim, give me a sign, here...come ON, damn you, don't you do this to me, don't you fucking do this..."
Cold, so cold, and his soul carried the weight of the universe, carried it down and down right along with it as it descended slowly, so very slowly and painfully, back into the leaden, nonresponsive flesh that had once surrounded and contained it. No, don't go back, how can I go back, down into that heavy, disgusting mass of meat and bone and gristle...easier to fly away, fade away, wait for the next thing...
But no; dimly he realized that this was HIS choice, his responsibility; he'd sent out the call for help, set off emergency flares in the heavens, and someone had responded. Someone had come to find him, to save him, someone he knew and loved, the same someone whose angry, desperate voice seemed to be all around him now, immediate and distractingly loud and somehow welcome, so welcome.
"Dammit, Simon, where are those medics?! He's severely hypothermic, and God knows what sorts of internal injuries he probably has! I think he's got broken ribs at the very least, and this head wound..." That voice faded in and out, first extremely loud and then so faint and tremulous Jim wasn't sure if he was really hearing it or just imagining he did. But as he sank deep and deeper, back into his stiff, half-frozen, terribly abused flesh, the oddly submerged-sounding quality of his anxious friend's voice began to sound clearer and ever more normal.
Help me, Chief, Jim wanted to say; I'm cold, so damned cold...won't you bring me some frigging blankets, maybe wrap your arms around me and give me your warmth, your heat, your fire, just what I need, I need it so badly...Help me, Blair; be my friend, my guide, and guide me home, back to my body, back to you...
And then he felt something new, something other than the terrible, paradoxically burning cold, something different and wonderful and immeasurably comforting; he felt the slightest warmth, a warmth expanding, the slightly moist heat of Blair's breath on his face, merging with the quietly intense sound of his partner's voice murmuring against his cheek, over and over: "I've got you, you're not leaving me, I won't let go, won't let you go...warm, gonna get you warm, nice and toasty, safe now, you're safe, Jim..." And he believed it, despite feeling worse than he ever had in his life, worse than he could ever remember. Blair breathed on him, breathed FOR him for one long, scary moment when Jim's lungs seized up and he forgot how to move air in and out, lacked the strength to even try. Blair's respirations, Blair's warmth and scent and essence were forced into him, filling and warming his mouth, his throat, his chest. And the taste of Blair's love and fear and need rushed like a drug to the center of all that Jim was, calling him back, urging him to try, to breathe again, to open his eyes and gaze up, up into the familiar blue eyes that would let him know without any remaining doubt that he was back, that he still lived.
"Thank God you didn't throw that last contact name away, Sandburg, or give up when you couldn't find him right away," came a gruff, emotion-laden voice from somewhere out in space or maybe much closer; and Blair's shaky laughter vibrated against Jim's ice cold but reassuringly rising-and-falling chest as warm Blair arms wrapped themselves snugly around his sentinel's icy trunk, pulling him in close and closer, the familiar contours of Blair's hands briskly rubbing up and down Jim's left arm.
"It was just dumb luck that even though the guy didn't know squat about where Reynaud had taken Jim, his ex-girlfriend was there and had overheard enough of their plans to give us a general location to start searching. Kinda ironic, I guess, how easy it was in the end." That gruff voice--Simon's voice, Jim realized dimly--droned on and on, and Jim wanted to tell him that it hadn't been easy, not easy at all; but it was okay now, it was all okay, because Blair was murmuring words of reassurance and encouragement against the rigid cords of Jim's neck, those wild Sandburg curls lightly tickling painfully reawakening nerve endings on Jim's face; and Jim was vaguely aware of others coming to lend aid, his senses stubbornly extending even in the midst of his agony to track the progress of several medics approaching down the mud-slippery bank of the river.
"I am SO gonna kick your butt once you're out of the danger zone, scaring me like this, you big oaf," Blair's voice promised him; but the words were said with such choked affection that Jim found the will and the strength to force one gummy, unfocused eye open to search out the blurry but unmistakable azure gaze of his partner; and the _expression he scried in the heartfelt baby blues looking back at him gave him the added strength to sigh out one word, his voice hoarse and strained but clearly intelligible:
And then the cold and darkness sucked him down again, but this time he knew he would be all right; this time he had his anchor there, ready to pull him back again to warmth and light and life. Now it was safe to rest, just for awhile, and after that, the morning.