It was morning before Taggert stretched and instantly regretted spending the night in one of the most uncomfortable positions possible. Still, he must have been tired if he managed to sleep through all the comings and goings of the night shift.
Brown was no longer in the room, and Ellison was asleep.
Extricating himself from the chair and easing himself slowly into an upright position, Joel made a beeline for the chart. He knew which numbers they were looking for in the tox screens and lab reports, and prayed that they might be seeing an improvement.
The level of recorded toxins in Jim's third blood test was lower than when he had been admitted the evening before, but it was still too high, and Joel knew they were a long way off the comfort zone. As he wearily read off the numbers, the nurse returned to check over her patient's stats. The heart monitor continued to bleep in its reassuring monotone, as she did a quick but thorough scan.
She smiled at the disheveled Captain, who was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "Would you like some coffee, sir? I'm sure I can arrange something." Joel returned a bashful grin, knowing that he must look as scruffy as he felt.
He stretched his arms over his head and yawned widely. "How is he?"
"His vital signs are stable." She added one or two more numbers to the clipboard. "The sedation will keep him more unresponsive than you might expect, and he'll still be quite confused initially. Time is the main cure. It's going to be a long, slow process, but we need to continue to monitor him very carefully until we're quite sure there's no long-term damage. And," she placed the chart back into position, "that he's no longer a danger to anyone else."
Joel cleared his throat. "Do you know how, um, how Blair Sandburg is doing?"
"Why don't you go down and see him? He's in room 221."
"Yeah," Taggert sighed, noticing the morning sky outside. "I know."
Simon had dozed but not truly slept. His subconscious had been under strict instruction to wake him at the first sign of movement, and although it had obeyed to the letter, it had not been because Blair was regaining consciousness.
It was just after 7am when Joel staggered in, eyes expressing the hope that his body didn't have the energy to convey. When he saw the respirator still administering critical support, his heart fell. He gripped Simon's shoulder to steady himself, wondering why they couldn't go a whole month without someone getting hurt. Last month it had been Christian in Vice; the month before had been that awful accident with Summers from Highway Patrol, and the month before that, Rafe had had that knife wound. This kid had the most intriguing way of worming his way into people's hearts, and yet he was lying here because one person had intentionally poisoned an entire habitat, causing another to viciously attack him.
"Any change at all?" Taggert kept his voice low.
"His levels have improved, and they're fairly sure it's only bruising to his kidneys, but " But he hasn't woken up yet. Bruising instead of irreversible damage was good news, however it was the tagged 'but' that held the dread.
Their reflections were interrupted by the arrival of steaming coffee and a friendly smile from Ellison's nurse. Grateful, both men sipped the brew sparingly, although needing the caffeine boost as well as the fluid.
"Have they said why he still hasn't come round?"
"They think he must have been exhausted before all of this happened, so his system was too drained to cope." For the first time in his life, Simon didn't feel like drinking the coffee in front of him. It was pleasant enough, but the situation was leaving an acrimonious taste in his mouth. "Add the kidney damage on top of the metam sodium poisoning he must have ingested from the fish, and more probably, from any water if he helped Jim clear out the truck, then "
He lapsed into silence. He spent too much of his life waiting for good news to come out of a bad situation. It was getting harder to handle with each new occurrence. This time seemed to make it worse, knowing that, quite probably it was one of his own that had contributed to the hurt.
"Because his kidneys were fighting to function normally, the doctor suspects that the pesticide made him sicker. All they keep telling me is that it's a matter of time."
It was difficult to know what to say.
The click, hiss and whirr of the ventilator machine punctuated the void, and it felt like each expansion of the unit brought to mind each occasion when Blair had been injured. The total was too numerous for comfort. Although it pained him to consider it, Simon wondered whether or not he and Sandburg should renegotiate his observer status. Bring him into something less dangerous. Having said that, Blair had been attacked by Ventriss' hired help, even before the student knew of the TA's involvement with the PD.
Maybe they would be better teaching the kid how to stop attracting trouble instead.
Click, hiss, whirr.
Each movement guaranteed Blair's life for another two seconds.
The motionless hands lay palm down against the crisp sheets. They should be waving through the air, emphasizing whichever triviality their owner was imparting.
Simon rested his hand over Blair's and held on. "C'mon, Sandburg. You can do it."
Slipping out of the room, the nurse allowed the one visitor rule to temporarily slide.
"You had all the symptoms classic of poisoning, yes." Brown was at it again. When he'd returned from the bathroom, Taggert had left, but Jim was babbling something pathetic about Blair giving him food poisoning. That had angered him beyond balanced reasoning. "But you had poisoning from a pesticide, you fuck nut." He was drained, and didn't rightly care that Jim should be treated carefully. "Most people would have stuck with the usual symptoms, but not you. No, you resorted to physical violence. And because of this Sentinel shit, you'll probably get away without being accused of GBH."
Jim was hallucinating. He had to be. Somewhere in the perplexing world in front of him, was Detective Henri Brown. Except that the Henri Brown he knew wouldn't be using words like 'Sentinel' unless he was referring to a guardian. Maybe that's what those words meant just now. Perhaps H was referring to himself as a guardian who had watched over him all night. Sure, he'd seen the guy during the night, or at least, he thought he had.
"S'nice," he slurred in gratitude, his drugged mind not appreciating the incensed rage that was set to burn within the other detective.
"Nice?" H slammed a hand into the bed frame so hard the cupboard next to it rattled. The movement jostled Jim's bandaged hand against the support, and the anguished cry that escaped his lips rocked Brown to the core. Jim fought to comprehend why this man was intentionally hurting him, and willed his throat to cooperate, but all he could manage was an agonized wail as the knives in his hand sliced further into the raw nerves.
For a split second, Brown's logical mind stepped in, but his fear, concerns, and worries over Sandburg's potentially life-endangering condition dominated his judgment, and the invective won out. "Maybe now you know how it feels, you little fuck. How does it feel to be hurt by someone you thought you could trust? Huh?" He rocked the bed again, for the sole purpose of eliciting yet another tormented moan. "I don't know what you think is nice, fuckhead," Brown enthused, sneering at his so-called friend. "You assaulting Blair has got nothing to do with this super sense thing; no, you assaulted him because you can be an arrogant sonuvabitch who doesn't know how to control himself. Nothing more." About to launch into a further tirade, a stunned voice broke through.
"H, for fuck's sake, STOP!"
A shocked Rafe stood at the open door, unsure in which direction to vent his ire. This was beyond the boundaries of the friend he thought he knew. Is this what had happened to Blair the day before? Had something provoked the situation, and Jim had turned on him?
Brown froze in the act of preparing to shake the bed for a third time, and looked first at the new arrival and then down at his treacherous arms, still locked on the bedrail. He was appalled. What the hell had he done?
He was no better than Ellison right now.
Whipping his hands away from the rail, he heeded the results of what he had done.
Sweat was pouring off Jim's brow and he was gasping for breath, using all his strength to muster control into his limbs. He was trying to reach his left hand over to support his right, and failing, his uncontrolled movements leaving his hand to flail uselessly.
Rafe swallowed any enmity, stepped forwards, pushing Brown back as he did so, and carefully brought Jim's damaged hand into his own. He placed his other hand on the patient's left, and held it there for a moment as if to say that everything was okay. It was over.
"I know how we feel about what he did, H." Rafe's voice was composed as he watched Jim's forehead slowly ease back from the onslaught of pain. "You're tired, you're worried, and you're going to go for a long walk and get some air." Brown nodded with shame. He couldn't believe he had brought himself down to this level. This was the reason he worked out at the gym. The treadmill, the cross-trainer and the punching bag were designed as targets for this frustration. Humans were not. Rafe was still holding Ellison's arms in comfort as Brown slowly left the room. "H," he called, as his partner headed towards the open doorway, cheeks flaming with embarrassment. "This didn't happen."
The connection held for a beat, then Brown replied, "Thanks, Bri. But it did."
Rafe lied to the nurse that he summoned, and claimed that Jim had moved too swiftly and caught his hand on the bed frame. Which was partially true.
Complete words were reduced down to partial syllables by the overriding agony, as the supervising staff reassessed Ellison's medication. Maybe it was something to do with this Sentinel stuff, but without Sandburg around, or Jim able to speak to him, Rafe was unable to offer any assistance. Until the tox screens showed substantial differences from the initial readings, they were reluctant either to lower the sedative, or to increase the pain relief. The consulting doctor agreed with decision, and Rafe drew up a chair, knowing that Ellison was in for a pain-filled day, with a confusion of input that needed clarification. He had only caught the end of Brown's diatribe, but he knew the man well enough to know what would have been said.
The only problem would now be what Jim's muddled psyche would create from the content.
At 11:47am on the Friday, sixteen hours after being brought to Cascade General, Blair Sandburg finally showed signs of wanting to continue his contribution to the world.
The heart rate monitor brought a weary Captain's attention to the screen, and he was out of his chair and personally collecting a nurse before the first feeble splutterings of rejection were heard. Within a few minutes, the routine of establishing that he was able to breathe for himself, and having the tube removed was complete. An O2 mask replaced the invasive equipment, and a damp cloth was wiped across the patient's face.
With further encouragement, Blair was able to respond to a few visual stimuli, but his body was adamant that it required a good deal more rest, and he soon fell into a much healthier sleep.
It was late afternoon before Simon had the chance to go home and freshen up. On his return, he had forcefully suggested that the rest of his men leave the patient-watching duties to himself. Blair and Jim were out of immediate danger, despite both of them still being desperately ill; but with tempers and emotions alike running so close to the surface for anyone's comfort, it was counterproductive to leave Major Crimes so depleted of staff. He deputized Taggert, requesting that he keep Rafe and Brown as occupied as possible, preferably with active investigations rather than paper pushing.
Curious to learn more about her patient, Doctor Wall found time to sit with Banks and pose some of the questions that had been flooding her mind. She guaranteed that he had her word not to share the information, much as her professional inquisitiveness was dying to discuss the existence of a Sentinel further afield. "I suppose it's akin to patient confidentiality," she assured him. "Even though you have given me knowledge about him, rather than the patient offering me information, it will stay with me."
"Blair's more the expert in this area," Banks confessed, as Jim attempted to turn over in his sleep, grimaced, muttered something indecipherable and fell back asleep. "He's been working with him for years. They use a dial system to help him control his senses."
"Like a form of self-hypnosis." Wall's curiosity was piqued. Not generally a fan of holistic therapy or alternative treatments, over the years she had begun to see a basis in the mythology. Self-hypnosis was a peculiar concept that she would like to see in action. Would Detective Ellison object to her running a few tests of her own in the future?
"But we've always agreed to keep the secret of his senses among ourselves, so he isn't turned into a lab rat by The Powers That Be."
"Would he mind discussing his responses with a medical person, would you think?" She didn't want to intrude, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. "I would be interested to know how he controls pain, especially as he reacts differently to the drugs, and they don't seem to be helping him much at the moment; but also to learn how he is able to see things which us mere mortals can't!"
Banks was relieved to see some humor in the impassive doctor. He still felt like a traitor for having imparted details regarding Jim's senses; but Joel had been right; which was more important, his secret or his life? At some point in the future, he would need to discuss the Sentinel scenario with the three men he had just sent away. Had he, Blair and Jim been so obvious? Or had Connor said something?
"Blair might even be relieved to have someone with medical knowledge to bounce ideas against," Simon considered. "I know he's had to do a lot of his research through trial and error. The only thing I would ask..." Was he about to be impertinent? "Is that you respect their privacy, and if they choose not to share, then you leave them alone."
Cathy Wall chose not to take offence. "My job is to help my patients," she smiled. "My goal is to have Detective Ellison healthy enough to walk out of those doors in a few days' time, hopefully followed soon afterwards by Mr. Sandburg. Anything I, or Doctor Kamcha can do to facilitate that goal has to be for their good. It would be a shame not to examine and learn about such an extraordinary gift. It does, however, explain why his skin's reaction was so severe, and possibly, why it caused such a violent physical response. But in the meantime, I want to thank you for trusting me."
Simon stared at the closed door, long after their conversation finished. She had given him even more to think about, and he was still only partway through cataloguing his own tumultuous thoughts. Blair wasn't expected to be coherent much before the morning, but it was hoped that Jim might be able to manage a more articulate exchange by that evening.
There was so much Simon wanted to say to him; but according to Rafe, any accusatory attack had already been launched. In the few short sentences Jim had uttered earlier that afternoon, it seemed that he had caught on that Blair had been seriously hurt, but remembered nothing after leaving the bullpen. It wasn't established if Jim was aware of who was believed to have inflicted the injury.
The evening steadily wore on. Banks used the time to wander between the two rooms, realizing that the only reason Blair had changed positions in the bed was because the nurses had turned him. There had been no voluntary response. The results from the sixth four-hourly blood work came back a lot more positive, indicating that the level of toxin in his system was finally, but irrevocably decreasing. The kidneys were now proving to be functioning within more acceptable parameters although there was still, unsurprisingly, evidence of blood in the urine. The doctors seemed reasonably satisfied with his progress, however his lack of reaction to noise and pain was being closely monitored. Physical and emotional exhaustion were targeted as culprits; his body just demanding more time to heal itself.
Simon returned to Room 215 after making several telephone calls. The Major Crimes Unit ran worryingly well in his absence. If that were the case, perhaps he could take more vacation time.
Bloodshot eyes followed his journey across the room. Jim valiantly tried to offer a welcoming grin, but fell short.
"Hi, Jim, how ya doing?" This was still his detective.
Unsure of the reaction, Jim croaked the word, "W't'r?"
"Sure, hold on." The plastic cup and straw had recently been refreshed, so the downed fluid was blissfully cool as Banks held the straw against Jim's parched lips. "Better?"
Slight nod, and the drink was placed back on the side cupboard.
"Where are your dials, Jim?" Simon had very little idea what to do if the answers weren't right. This was Sandburg's job, but needs must. Doctor Wall had mentioned about the drugs not holding the pain at bay, so perhaps a quick sidestep into the Sandburg Zone was necessary.
"'M 'kay." Sure you are, Jim. That's why your face is screwed up in pain and you don't want to keep your eyes open.
"Jim, look at me." The red-rimmed eyes slowly focused on the Captain's face. Once he had eye contact, he asked again. "Where are your dials?"
"Senses okay," he maintained. "Pain n't good, 'n' skin hurts."
This was more like it.
However, the image of Blair still lying in 221 without any response was foremost in Simon's mind. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, a self-respecting officer should wait to accrue all the evidence before making an accusation.
"You have a dial for pain, right? Okay, Jim, you're going to turn that dial down as far as you can." He was not comfortable doing this. "Have you got it? All the way down. Doesn't matter if it sticks at 1, but you've got to lower it."
Something inside Simon told him that Jim's labored breathing to ease the worry lines in his forehead were part of a cover-up. Ellison wasn't coping with his dials at all, but was either being too stubborn, or too preoccupied to manage.
"Better?" Banks hated playing games unless it was for undercover work. He disliked the hidden truths.
The breathing settled, but it took several minutes. Would they be better asking for more pain medication, now they had decreased the level of sedation?
So, he did remember that part.
"He's better than he was, Jim. He's doing okay." He wished Ellison would rouse further; it had been more than twenty-four hours, and Simon had so much pent-up frustration that he needed to reconcile.
Yes, by you.
As far as we know.
"He got injured, yes. We're not sure how, yet. But," Simon watched as the detective turned his head into the pillow, "he also ingested some of the same poison as you. And we believe Jim?" The man had closed his eyes to shut himself out from the rest of the world. "Jim, stay with me here." Simon didn't want to lay his hand on the man's shoulder if he couldn't control his sense of touch, but his detective needed to know what was happening. Finally, his persistence was rewarded. "We believe he might have also become contaminated through any water that was brought back."
Jim screwed his eyebrows in thought, frantically trying to piece together the tangled mess in his head. He could remember Brown shouting something about poison, and he knew the words 'assaulting Blair' had been in there. Several times.
"Can you tell me what happened yesterday afternoon?"
"Y'st'rday?" Thinking hurt nearly as much as his hand did. Yesterday. Yesterday was Thursday; he could work that out. He had gotten up as usual and gone to work. Then "Talked."
Simon seated himself on the edge of the bed, sick of the same chair hour after hour. "Yes, you talked. To me. What did we talk about, do you remember?"
It was so disconcerting to see such a strong man so disorientated and vague. While a good proportion could be attributed to the ongoing medication, it was hard to imagine what contaminants were still running riot through Jim's bloodstream. Banks was thankful that the foul temper of the previous few days seemed to have dissipated. The last thing he needed right now was a physical battle on top of the emotional one he was fighting.
More water was needed, and the cup was half-emptied this time.
"I know it's difficult, Jim, but it's very important that you concentrate, and try to remember what happened yesterday afternoon." Come on, Jim; get with the program. "You and I were talking. What about?"
Simon smiled. Certainly, those words had been said. "What else?"
Jim shifted his upper body carefully and tried to bring up his legs. His body seemed to have a mind of its own, and coordination was out of the question. Why was remembering so complicated? "No gun." He had given Simon his gun; he could see himself putting it down on his desk and walking away. Then what? The hazy fog where his memory should be, bled into his heart; there was an arrow slicing into him that went beyond the hate-filled words Brown had thrown at him. But H had been right. Blair was hurt; that much he knew.
And they all believed he had done it.
The tide of guilt was overwhelming, as the realization dawned. No wonder no one had helped him the night before. They all believed he had done it.
With no memory of the previous afternoon, then it must be irrefutable.
"I hurt Blair."
Whether it had appeared as an admission or a summary of facts was irrelevant, Simon's lack of spontaneous denial, and the swift look of shock were all the proof Jim needed.
" see him." Weakness and pain were the last things Jim was prepared to allow to tether him to the hospital bed. Regardless of excuses, the fact remained that Blair had been harmed. His Guide. His friend. The protective instinct warred with the remorse that accused him of being responsible.
"No, Jim, you're sick." Simon was off the bed and at his side. "You are on strict bed rest until the doctors say otherwise."
"G't off me, Simon." Damn, this was taking too much energy. He couldn't even sit up properly without everything lurching sideways. "Have t'see San'burg." The flailing hands returned as his limbs failed to respond properly. He managed to get his legs over the edge of the bed before Banks's face appeared in his line of vision.
"Stay. There." Simon could see why Brown had become so incensed. It really was like talking to a brick wall sometimes. "Goddammit, Jim. Just stay in that damn bed. I've told you, Blair's okay and he's getting better."
"But I hurt 'im, S'mon."
"For God's sake, Jim, you haven't even got the energy to hold a proper conversation, what the hell makes you think you can waltz out of here and stroll down the corridor?" He grabbed Jim's legs and physically hauled him back into the bed. "Just do as you're damn well told. You criticize Sandburg enough for not doing as you want him to do, so for once, you can do what I'm telling you to do. Stay. There."
The stern voice ripped Jim from somewhere out of the obscure world the Haldol had forced him into, and threw him straight back into reality. Simon was as pissed with him as Henri had been. Joel hadn't even spoken to him.
He groped around for his right hand to cradle, and to lay the lacerated hand against his chest. His soul felt shredded. Somehow, in the last twenty-four hours, he had alienated these people. He must have attacked Blair to the point of hospitalization, and caused serious enough damage that his friends now hated him. He didn't remember doing it. But what was worse was that he knew it was entirely plausible.
"Need t'sleep." Would Simon leave him alone if he pretended he was set to fall asleep?
The bigger man nodded in agreement and gently tugged the sheets back into position. He hadn't wanted to manhandle Jim, but it was that or watch him fall face first onto the floor. He didn't think that calling for assistance would have done him any favors; the staff already believed Jim to be violent and out of control.
"Sleep." If Blair was not expected to make much headway towards consciousness before morning, and Jim had had enough; Simon intended to take this opportunity to head home. A fresh start in the morning would be advisable for all.
Jim kept his eyes closed for a good few minutes after Simon had left. If he concentrated incredibly hard, he could extend his hearing out to where his Captain was leaving contact numbers with the night shift. He didn't pull his aural levels back down until he heard him exiting the stairwell on the floor below.
Things were not going well.
He needed to be able to think clearly and not have this damn suppressing cloud obscuring every notion in his head. If he wanted to be this out of control, he'd go out and get hammered. At least that way he would have had the fun of getting drunk first.
Think, Ellison, think.
The pulsating ache in the back of his head threatened to return with a vengeance, and it took concerted willpower to overcome it. There was little he could do about the continuing blast of fire in his right hand - he was still curious as to what he had done there - the dial for pain was only working selectively. Blair would
Yeah. That's why it was essential for him to be able to think. He had to get to Blair.
Okay. The IV had to be stopped. The chemicals that were intruding on his system were causing more havoc than they were curing, he was sure of that. They had told him that his blood work was encouraging, whatever that meant, and now he was awake, if they wanted him to have fluids there was a perfectly functional cup sitting on the side. He didn't need sedation; he needed to work out just what the hell was going on.
Easing his left hand up towards his face, he fought to direct his movements. His right hand ineffectual, he carefully used his teeth to strip away the small square of gauze coating the IV needle. Leaving one of the four sides in place, he strove to dislodge the embedded thread of steel without dropping it. Finally his endeavors were rewarded, but he was worn out as he laid the needle against the skin, and nudged the gauze back over the top. If he left it like that for a few hours then called in the nurse to tell her that he'd spilt the water, and knocked out the needle trying to catch it, that way, they shouldn't question the fluid on the sheets. Would a few hours be enough time for him to have enough control over his emotions and thoughts?
He had to see Blair. That much he knew.
What he was anxious to know, was how badly hurt he was, and, for the sake of his sanity, who had hurt him. Because if his friends were right, and he was to blame, then a serious rethink of his life was in order. Sandburg was too accident-prone as it was, without the added threat of an aggressive roommate.
In the meantime, he would sleep, and hope that sufficient time elapsed for him to have a better grasp of his mind.
Ellison woke in the night with a start, and immediately felt the damp sheets. The IV bag had gone from full to two-thirds depleted. Perfect. Taking a ridiculous amount of effort, he inched his left hand up to the water cup, and watched the container tumble towards the bed. He breathed a sigh of relief, fumbled for the call switch and waited for help, stirrings of memory filtering into his head.
Feeling more able to form a complete sentence, he waited while the orderly changed the sheets, before asking if he could be taken to see his friend, Blair Sandburg.
The IV stand trundled down the corridor in accompaniment. His request had been agreed to with reluctance, and with strict instructions that at the first hint of unacceptable actions or words, he would be pulled away and heavily sedated. The threats were met with resignation, rather than surprise. As soon as he could remember what had transpired on that Thursday afternoon, he would fully understand the veiled hostility.
Blair lay on his back, his head tilted to the right, mouth slightly open. His mussed hair was loosely tied back, revealing the healing cut and bruised surrounds. Seeing Sandburg hospitalized was an unpleasantly familiar sight but it still jarred him. "What's wrong with him?" Jim's voice caught as he examined the pale, lax face; the long lashes closed to everything, but dreams.
The nature of the nurse's job, dictated that she be impartial, however, she had heard the other detectives talking, and knew what they suspected. This man's reactions didn't seem to be those of a violent person - but then, she had worked with a multitude of character types over the years. "He sustained massive bruising to his stomach, and he's being monitored for a bruised kidney, along with trying to overcome the effects of the poisoning." Ellison swallowed convulsively and she thought he looked nauseated. "He's fighting hard. They took him off the ventilator yesterday morning."
At the mention of the breathing aid, the emitted cry was soft but the nurse heard it and diplomatically stepped behind the wheelchair, offering a small degree of privacy. She would have moved further away, but Jim was already beginning to sway with the effort of being seated upright.
"Hey, Chief." Jim cautiously stretched out his re-needled hand, floating his palm over the facial wound. He remembered waking in his bed at home, and Blair telling him that he had stumbled against the doorframe. Fast disappearing on his hand, was the mark that was supposedly caused by hitting his alarm clock. He had queried the shape of the mark at the time. There was a difference between obfuscation and lying. Chewing his lip, he figured that they would have to discuss the two at some point, because covering up for him this way was unacceptable. Slowly, and with infinite care, he drew back the cotton sheet and slid up the surgical gown around Blair's midriff, dreading what he would find.
The exposed skin was a blaze of bruising.
Very lightly, he ran his fingers over the distended area, examining the contours of each mark. Without realizing it he opened up his vision and mapped out the patterns in front of him, watching as they formed the distinct imprint of a foot. He stared down in horror at his own bare feet, and bowed his head, bitterly accepting the unthinkable accusations. "Oh Christ, Chief, what have I done?"
Blair's eyelids flickered half-open, but the eyes remained glazed and unfocused for a few seconds before fluttering shut completely.
"God, Blair, I'm sorry." Jim's head remained bowed as he carefully eased down the gown, and reset the sheet. Having spent years convincing Blair that he was safe in the loft, and that he had a place in all of their lives, he had ripped away that security by one callous and, Brown was right, uncontrolled action. He felt sick. His stomach twisted as his soul crumbled. He did not know how to repair this. An apology would never suffice.
At some point on the Thursday afternoon, that period of time that was an abyss in his memory, Blair must have been to their home, and suffered this assault. Rafe had said that he was found in his office at Rainier, semi-conscious and sick; whereas Jim had been found at Prospect, and therefore received medical treatment far sooner. Jim could have killed him.
The gut-wrenching twist of guilt cleaved into him like a blade, and he grasped the long, slender fingers of Blair's left hand. "Chief, I know you can't hear me, but I need you need you t'know, that I'm sorry. The pois'ning wasn't my fault, but this " He looked at the covered area. "This was. And 'm sorry." Damn, that new needle was allowing the drugs to seep back into his body, and the words were getting foggier. "I know I've been 'n asshole this week, and I d'n't know why." I shouldn't have come back from that damn trip. "H has already told me how... how I fucked up, and Brian didn't want t'be with me. Haven't seen Joel. 'N' I don't think I'm 'n Simon's Chris'mas list an'more. Understand why now." If only Blair would look at him, and call him a jerk. "They're pumpin' some damn sedatives in me, 'n' if you were awake you'd tell them how it's fuckin' up m'system." He loosened his hold to run his fingers against his sinuses. It was getting hard to think in a straight line. "I can't make th's up t'you, I don't know h'w." And I don't know where this leaves us.
His head was beginning to loll, and the nurse quietly moved forward. "Come on, Detective Ellison. Time to go."
"S'Jim," he began, the words starting to slur with the effort.
"Come on, Jim. You've been out of bed for more than long enough. It's time to get you back." Knowing that his visit was over, sapped the last of Jim's energy, and he was fast asleep before the nurse even reached the door to 215. Fresh sheets, fresh water, a fresh bag of dosed IV, and the orderlies lifted the sleeping man onto the bed.
"Captain Banks!" Simon halted his path toward Blair's room and turned instead toward the hurrying doctor. It was Saturday afternoon and he had managed to sleep in until nearly lunchtime. Refreshed, he felt equipped to deal with most scenarios.
"Good afternoon, Doctor Wall, and how are you?" He threw her his most disarming smile, but it was returned with a troubled one.
"Jim's trying to sign himself out against medical advice. He removed the IV this morning, and refused to have it reinserted, saying that he needed to be 'in control', and if his blood work was doing so well, then we needn't fear his temper reappearing." The calm exterior was missing, and Simon didn't hesitate in following her down the corridor.
Jim was sitting up with his legs over the side of the bed, and battling to release the ties on his gown when they walked in.
"You're not leaving until Doctor Wall says you can," Simon opened, hoping his tone would tell Jim that he was in no mood for an argument.
"Yes I am." Jim's attempts to remove the gown were futile.
Jim stopped, and lowered his arm. "Why?"
"Yes, why?" Simon had his arms folded, his glasses halfway down his nose, and his best imposing glare. Try as he might, Ellison would not win this time. "I know you hate hospitals, and it knocks your Sentinel senses out of line, but I'm not listening to that excuse."
Jim gaped at him. He had just mentioned Sentinels in front of a third party.
"Doctor Wall here, knows all about your senses. How else was she able to stop that itching so fast, and why did she not have you tied to the bed in restraints?" Jim was already looking off kilter. "Where do you plan to go?"
"The loft." That answer was straightforward.
"You can't. The EPA, or CDC, or whoever it was, are still fumigating it, or whatever it is they do. You need to wait for them to finish, and for the place to be put back together."
"Put ba ?"
"You trashed it. Remember?" Clearly Jim didn't, the way he balked at the turn of phrase. "You can't look after yourself with that hand, you can't even get undressed. It was a close call, Detective, and we are not going to pick up the pieces by you leaving here when you feel like it." Simon stopped for breath and glared at the recalcitrant and obstinate fool in front of him.
Simon really didn't like him; Jim could see that. He had wanted to sidle out of the hospital with as little fuss as possible, but that had proven unfeasible. Hadn't he done enough damage?
"I was on my way to see how he's doing."
"I wan "
"When he wants to talk to you, then you'll be allowed to. It's his call."
Had he really screwed up so badly that Simon wouldn't even hear him out?
A small voice of reason leaped into his head, pointing out that at the end of the day, doctors were trained and paid to know best, and his Captain was merely being their enforcing spokesperson. He needed to try another tactic. Anything for them to leave him alone again. "If I stay, would you tell me how he's doing?" Cathy Wall observed the back step but did not envy the detective's position.
"Yes, I will do that." Simon's tone and body language visibly softened when Jim consented to stay. If it had been the physical injury alone, he would have stood back and let the man make his own mistakes, but this had far more reaching implications, and even though the tests were plainly more positive, until the doctors cleared him, Ellison was not going anywhere.
"If he doesn't press charges "
The one topic nobody had mentioned was now out in the open.
"You can claim diminished responsibility on the grounds of a chemical influence." Banks wanted this subject changed immediately, there were too many other things going on.
"If he doesn't press charges," Ellison pursued, "I'm going to insist. I did it, Simon. I saw the foot mark on his stomach last night."
"You saw th "
"But I don't remember doing it." The distress and remorse on Jim's face tugged at Simon's heart and he reached out to help swing him back around.
"I know, Jim, I know."
He helped him scoot further up the bed, and waited until Jim had slid back under the covers, head turned away, before leaving for his original destination.
Blair was sipping some of the water the nurse was holding for him, when Simon entered the room. His weak smile made the straw slip from his lips and he raised a limp hand to try and locate it.
"Hi." Whispered, but there.
"Hi, Blair." Protective father, concerned colleague, worried friend. The police captain settled in his customary chair next to the bed, and took the shaking hand that was offered to him.
"Wh're's J'm?" Why was Sandburg's first concern always with other people? Wasn't it time the younger man dedicated his recuperative powers to himself?
"He'll be here later." Simon squinted at the ashen face and wondered how much the kid remembered. It was a relief to see that the heart monitor was gone, and the O2 mask there simply as a stand-by. "How do you feel, son?" He could tell by the clenching and loosening of the grip on his hand that there were waves of pain flooding through the battered body.
"'M fine." The sharp inhale indicated otherwise, Blair tilting his body to the left to alleviate the pressure in his side.
The nurse gently lifted Blair's head and shoulders, rearranged the pillows and settled him back against them. The pain lines seemed to lessen and his hitched breathing fell into a steadier routine.
For a while Simon thought he must have fallen asleep again, until panicked blue eyes shot open. "'Day is it?" The suddenly heaving chest obviously rankled the bruised abdomen.
"Saturday. Afternoon." Simon had been in that position himself; the one where you did something on one day, and the next time you were able to hold a conversation, someone was telling you how many days you had missed. Hated it.
"Phone." Blair twisted his head around examining the bedside table for what he needed. What the hell was it about these two men that they couldn't lie in a hospital bed and wait to get better? When would they learn that crawling out to god-only-knew where, was the fastest way back to the same room they were trying to leave? Blair's subsequent attempt to leave the bed was even more pathetic than Jim's had been.
"No phone, Blair. Everything's fine." The nurse and Simon shared a sympathetic smile as they tucked the forlornly gesturing hands back under the sheets. Simon brushed his hand across Blair's forehead to pacify the fretful patient.
"Class. Dr. Huntley." The wildly searching eyes looked into Simon's brown ones.
"It's all taken care of, son." He stroked the damp and rapidly flushing skin, willing Blair to calm. "You've been very sick, and you need to rest and get better." The University was hardly likely to complain about a few missed classes, especially after the commotion caused by an arriving paramedic team. There were enough witnesses to keep the rumor mill circulating for at least another week.
The stark panic was beginning to fade, but even without the presence of a monitor, Simon knew that Blair's heart was racing. Several more minutes of pacification passed, and just when Simon thought Blair might be drifting off, he muttered, "How's J'm?"
How did the kid know that Jim was even ill? "He's doing better."
Blair nodded in understanding. "B'd dreams," he murmured as he sank back towards sleep. "Couldn't h'lp h'm."
It didn't surprise Banks to think that Sandburg must have been having bad dreams, especially following such a brutal attack. He'd seen less severe wounds on mugging victims. "Everything's going to be okay," he whispered, still stroking his friend's forehead. "We're here for you. Whatever you want to do, we'll support you."
On Sunday afternoon, Detective Brown returned to the hospital to make his peace with Jim. He felt it only just that he apologize, but express his feelings nonetheless, especially now that Ellison was able to defend himself. He was not a man to walk away from an argument, nor was he too ashamed to admit when he was wrong. Plucking up courage, he marched along the corridor, each section of the argument planned in his head, and with the objective of not leaving until both sides had been heard. What he hadn't expected was a sign on the door refusing admission to visitors.
Bemused, he sought out one of the attending staff who informed him that Detective Ellison had no desire to talk to anyone at that time. If he cared to leave a message, they would see that it was received.
He returned to the door and stared through the wire-enforced glass. No longer confined to his bed, Jim sat hunched in a chair by the window, staring vacantly out across the parking lot below. Brown raised his hand to knock, but was politely turned away by the man he had spoken to. "No," he said, turning back. "No message. Thanks."
Passing by Sandburg's room, Simon was snoring away in the chair, his feet stretched onto the foot of the bed, head tipped back, and mouth hanging open. The glasses were dangling precariously by one arm. More reassuringly, the impish, if tired grin of the patient was enjoying the sight.
"Hairboy, how's things?" H smirked at his noisy Captain: he could use some teasing material.
"Good." The raised whisper was more from fatigue than consideration. "Got headache, throat hurts, and stomach's giving me hell, but otherwise !" Brown stood next to the bed.
"Ain't stopping long, been a busy few days. Just came to see how you're doing." He looked so much better than he had this time yesterday; more so now he was awake and talking. "Popped in to see how Jim is too."
Shit, the kid didn't know. The hint of color that had been returning, faded.
The words were urgent in their intensity.
Ellison had been sitting in his self-instigated isolation for nearly twenty-four hours, wanting to reflect on all the information at hand; his system slowly weaning itself off the disturbing elements in his blood stream. He was surprisingly placid, even for him, and had been since yesterday.
Last night, he had shuffled the short distance to Room 221, aggravated at his lethargic movements, and the legs that were unwilling to respond to him. He didn't trust his senses and wanted to see Blair's progress for himself. Approaching the door, he could make out Simon's sonorous snores, and the hushed chuckles of Taggert and Sandburg. Neither of them looked up as Jim raised a tentative hand towards the glass, wanting to join them, doubting his welcome. Pausing, he had changed his mind and let his hand fall. He had waited several more moments before haltingly making his way back to his refuge.
He hadn't spoken to anyone since.
At some point in the next hour, the doctor was scheduled to deliver his discharge papers, upon which his own signature would be no more than a few indecipherable letters penned by his unfamiliar left hand. Following that, pain meds should arrive from the pharmacy downstairs, and then he could go home. Among the batch of papers, were instructions to visit with either the departmental counselor, or one of the services offered by the hospital.
He had received notice that whichever Government acronym they were, had finished going through the loft, had removed and hosed off all of his fishing equipment, de-toxed the interior and rear of his truck, and apart from the damage he had caused himself, he was good to return home.
Images of that Thursday afternoon flashed across his recollection in an absurd and bizarre sequence. He remembered returning from the PD and being angered by the sun glimpsing off the glass of Blair's bedroom window, the one that looked onto the living area. For some pathetic reason, he had hunted for the switch to get rid of that light, and could recall the feel the cupboard handles giving under his incensed actions. Hadn't he tried lowering the blinds, or anything rational and sane like that? That damn headache had made thinking so difficult.
With every heartbeat, the pulsating throb of the torn skin edges on his hand reminded him of the moment that he could now picture with crystal clarity. In a final bid to stop that piercing brightness, he had drawn back his fist, and smashed it straight through the crossbar of the four panes. Any respite from the glare had been demolished by then yanking his hand back through the shattered glass and watching in dumb stupefaction, as the skin was sliced wide open.
He had felt sick. Okay, so he had been feeling nauseous for a few days. But this time the queasiness had taken all of his strength, and the last thing he remembered was stumbling out onto the balcony to get some air.
No matter how hard he racked his brains, there was no image of Sandburg connected with that afternoon, and yet, from the evidence, he had to have been there.
He hadn't realized Sandburg was also sick with this infected stuff. He was embarrassed that he had misinterpreted Brown's comments, and for wanting to tease Sandburg for giving him food poisoning. Of course, he hadn't known about the damaged kidneys either. At the end of the day, that metam sodium incident had created a beast far worse.
Options had rumbled through Jim's head - he understood that Simon must have shared pertinent information with his attending doctor. If one chemical had caused such an adverse reaction with his senses, would it not be advisable to establish which ones did the most harm, and which ones had a positive effect? He could envisage the delighted face of Cathy Wall if he were to offer himself up for experimentation. Along a similar vein, another idea he had toyed, with, that was vile by its very existence, was of contacting the CIA and granting them a carte blanche.
It would for the best: he couldn't risk a repeat performance.
It wasn't the first time he had acted irrationally and blamed it on his senses - Laura and pheromones, and Alex Barnes' arrival in Cascade with Blair returning to an empty apartment were only two such incidents. What if the next time he actually killed someone?
It wasn't out of the question.
After all, he had gotten as far as pulling a gun on his partner.
A conversation stirred on the borders of his memory. What had her surname been? Brendan, Brennan, Drennan? Michelle from ATF. Cute. Got shot.
They had been in the break room, and he was telling her about Delgado, and how, after the rookie been killed, Ellison had been so pissed off at everything, so angry and confrontational. He even admitted to doing some seriously stupid things because he had kept thinking that it was his fault. But in that instance he'd been wrong, because there was nothing he could have done.
"He was my partner." Drennan had said. "You're supposed to protect your partner."
Yes you are.
His answering words haunted him. "You do your best and if it all falls apart, then hopefully, you can find some forgiveness. And you move on. Cause that's all you can do."
Find forgiveness and move on.
It would be so easy to do the 'move on' part. Like Blair, Cascade wasn't the only place he'd ever lived. It was tempting. But as Sandburg so eloquently rammed down his throat once, 'Running away never solved a goddamn thing, all you got were sore feet.'
He would love to know where to start.
Sifting through the papers, he brought to the top the number of a recommended psychiatrist. The letters PTSD had been bandied around when he had been given the number, and for the first time, the previous week had begun to make sense. Regardless of pesticides, anger and assaults, Jim had to remember that he was still overcoming his own trauma of finding the disfigured body of a small girl.
He gulped down the swath of emotion that was pushing up into his throat.
Ten days ago she had still been alive. He could have sworn he had heard a heartbeat in that building, and had raced forwards, hope surging within him, demanding the presence of a medical team. But the appalled paramedics had taken one look at the mutilated body, and fought to convince the distraught Ellison, desperately breathing oxygen into her still lungs, that the girl had been dead for several hours.
He realized that he hadn't trusted his senses since then.
Yes, talking to someone would be good.
Still waiting for the light footfalls which would signify his imminent release, Jim stared disconsolately at the scudding clouds, watching as they twisted and curled in the afternoon breeze, floating, winding, interweaving, ever-changing, shape-forming, hypnotic, serene and tranquil.
"H is right, you are a dickwad."
"I think I called him a fuckhead."
"Whatever. Both work for me."
Sarcastic but familiar voices drifted towards him, encouraging him out of his stupor and dragging him relentlessly towards the gray he had been trying to avoid. "Oy, asshole. Wake up. Hairboy's supposed to be in bed."
The brightness of the sky reassembled the individual molecules and gradually took on a more cohesive form, streams of light trickling into his subconscious and towing him back.
Blinking rapidly, Jim shook away the residue of the zone and nearly leapt out of his seat. "For God's sake, Chief, sit down."
"Why? Apparently I've been lying down since Thursday." Nevertheless, Brown's arms were aching from supporting the majority of Blair's weight and he eased his burden into the second chair. It was typical of the anthropologist to be awkward and refuse the simplicity of a wheelchair. "Tried walking here on my own, but my body had other ideas."
The color might be drained from his face, and the characteristic gesticulations missing completely, but the spark of energy that symbolized Blair Sandburg was unmistakable.
Jim studied the man in front of him - the blue eyes, the sideburns, the matted locks, the fading bruise across the temple, the dried skin around his mouth where the tape had secured the tubing, the regulation IV needle, the hunched posture protecting his stomach.
"Don't think I don't know it was you who arranged for a tape of African chanting to be played in my room."
Touched, slightly embarrassed, he murmured. "It was all the nurse could find at short notice."
"Thanks man, it was good to wake up to that." Sandburg's eyes sparkled. "I bet you didn't know that it's perfect for emotional and physical healing. The repetition of the drumbeat is supposed to focus the mind and promote a state of deep relaxation."
Jim allowed himself a small laugh. "No, actually, Chief, I didn't know that."
Brown also noticed Blair's hitched breath and clenched fist. Hairboy wasn't up to this just yet, but as soon as he'd heard the accusations, he had demanded assistance and H had felt he had little choice. They had planned for a more subtle entrance than the door slamming against the wall, but with both of his arms occupied with the faltering patient, he had had to kick it open. The kid had sworn as soon as he realized the lack of reaction was due to a zone, and nearly fallen in his haste to reach the window.
"You okay?" H inquired, crouching next to the chair. Blair waved him off.
"H wants to talk to you, Jim." The excessive movement was already taking its toll and he bit back a moan before continuing. "But not yet. Not until I've "
"I know I hurt you," Jim interrupted, wanting to make amends. His interruption was met with a frustrated glare.
"From what H told me, I think enough has been said," Blair coughed, wondering if he could use Jim's bed to lie down. It felt like his insides were trying to escape through his side and he didn't know if he could keep up this façade much longer. "It's my turn."
Brown eyed Ellison, neither of them comfortable with the other, but both of them aware that Sandburg was pushing his limitations.
"Yeah, you hit me," Blair started, expecting the cringed reaction. "But it was on Wednesday night." Objections silenced themselves. "Jim, do you remember how I woke you up because you were having bad dreams, and were thrashing around?" Still not liking the knowledge that he was ultimately to blame, Jim nodded. "You were standing, and I had to get you back to bed before you fell down the stairs. You were an obstinate bastard, and just as I got you in there, you caught me hard, with your foot." Blair's breath was becoming more labored. "It was an accident, Jim."
Exasperated Jim allowed the comment to sink in. "So why didn't you tell me when you woke me up?"
"The same reason I didn't tell you that bump on your head came from me shaking you, and me smacking your head against the railing."
Jim raised his hand to finger the healed area; he'd forgotten all about that.
"And if we want to put this in perspective, what about all the other times, " Blair had to stop; the oxygen levels in the air seemed to be falling. A line of sweat appeared on his forehead and ran down his cheek. "All the other times, you you saved my li H?" This wasn't fair. He knew Jim, and knew that the guy would be beating himself up over this. He had to finish what he had to say, but the room was lurching and making his head spin.
Willpower alone wasn't going to keep him upright for much longer.
"Think w'chair." The hospital staff were going to be furious with him as it was. So what was a little extra unconsciousness among friends?
Brown virtually ran for assistance. "I know you, J'm," Blair forced, speculating how undignified it would be to sprawl across someone else's hospital room floor. "You think you're to blame, and that I can't trust you. Well, guess what, buddy. Ow." Jim leaned forward and cradled Sandburg's wilting body against his own, cursing his lack of strength and movement. "Thanks, man." Blair fell into the support. The words became fainter as the last of his energy faded. "Shit happens, man. Th're's no one to blame."
Two orderlies hurried through the door and aimed straight for their runaway patient. As the wheelchair was leveled with his seat, Blair looked up into Jim's emotional eyes, grinned weakly and asked: "S'okay if I pass out now?"
Much to his dismay, Blair found himself still in the hospital on the Wednesday, and not scheduled for release until the next day at the earliest. He was vocal in his complaints to all who would listen, but finally relented and settled in to enjoy the ministrations of the female nursing staff.
Or rather, one female nurse in particular
Jim accepted Rafe's and Taggert's help in the Loft, and narrowly avoided being belted up the back of the head when he couldn't phrase his request to Connor properly, managing to insult her womanly abilities. "I'm doing this for Sandy, not you," she announced, fresh back from her vacation, and armed to the teeth with soft fabrics and a borrowed sewing machine. "But I want it down on the record that I hate sewing, and as soon as you're better, you are reciprocating in my apartment."
Jim was heavily reliant on those around him. Not only did the sling and bandaged hand limit his movements, but he was still physically drained. Anything longer than fifteen or twenty minutes of standing, and he found himself flopping into the nearest chair. He had always known that Rafe was a great cook, and had no problem with letting the man loose in his kitchen - especially as it was Rafe who resecured each of the cupboard doors, and replaced two panels where the wood was too splintered to be repaired.
Blair should be home tomorrow, and in a way, Ellison dreaded it.
The apartment was as obsessively neat as before Blair had moved in years before, but retained the homeliness that Sandburg had been seeping in. The blinds and curtains had been replaced; the woodwork, glass, ornaments and upholstery repaired, replaced and/or treated. Unsure as to who had caused more damage - himself or the clean-up squad - the loft had needed several days' worth of attention. Now it resembled home once more.
It's a shame their friendship wasn't in the same condition.
Ready to hit the sack, Ellison was down to his boxers, and toothbrush in mouth when there was a knock at the door. He glanced at the clock and wondered who had the audacity to be visiting at nearly 10pm. He'd taken his pain meds for the night, and was in no mood to receive visitors. Surely Simon would have called if he were coming over? Spitting out a mouthful of toothpaste, he sighed and made his way towards the door.
"This is a set-up," were possibly not the most welcoming words Jim could have uttered, but Brother Marcus didn't mind, as he watched the toothpaste remnants dribble down Ellison's chin, before inviting himself into the apartment.
"Not a set-up, my friend, or Brother Blair would know that I am here." Brother Marcus and Sandburg should be related, Jim mused, for the uncanny knack they both had of worming their way into his life.
"Excuse me a moment." Jim meandered back to the bathroom to finish brushing his teeth and collect his thoughts. When he returned, it somehow didn't surprise him to see Brother Marcus casually making them both a cup of tea.
"I guessed you could do with some refreshment while we discuss your situation."
Incredulous, Jim wiped his mouth, adjusted his sling, and slumped onto a kitchen chair. He'd psyched himself up for this conversation to take place between himself and Blair tomorrow. Not now.
With someone else.
Regardless, there was something so endearing about Brother Marcus, and the man would have no agenda other than seeing his friends reunited.
"Blair called me because he wanted to talk, and when I heard he was in hospital, Brother Jeremy had no problem with granting me leave, so I came straight here." Marcus set the mug down in front of his host; who screwed up his nose when he realized it was some of Sandburg's herbal rubbish, and not his regular brand. "Green tea, Brother Jim, good for the body, clears the mind, and restores good chi."
"Now you even sound like him," Jim grumbled as he toyed with the drink.
Marcus waited him out until he had gulped the first few mouthfuls, then plunged straight for the kill.
"Did he say that he forgives you?" The conversation with his young friend had been very productive, and he had a fundamental understanding of the previous week's events.
"Not in so many words, but yes." His senses must really be off - this tea wasn't bad.
"Blair's worried about you. He called me as an impartial friend, and explained about Emily." Jim recoiled at the name. "About your trip away; your actions and emotions when you returned, his own response to his injury, and how you were both suffering from the effects of an external influence." Brother Marcus had an annoying way of staring into your soul when he chose to. "With such poison in your bloodstreams, is it any wonder that both of you reacted strangely? I am sure your doctor explained that reactions are psychological as well as physical?" He paused for Jim to nod in mute agreement. "There now, I was right."
Yesterday's session with the Departmental Psychologist hadn't struck as raw a nerve as this man was doing.
"Your friends were upset at seeing both of you suffering, and it is hardly surprising that they also acted emotionally. Especially with only some of the facts to hand. Had your boss not been called, who knows what would have happened to both of you. They all thought you were just being an aggressive slimebucket, who wanted to be left alone."
Ellison's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. What the hell had Sandburg been saying to this man?
"So what it all boils down to, Jim," Marcus ambled on heedlessly. "Is who needs to forgive who?" He swirled his tea around and slurped the restorative substance. "As I see it, Blair's prepared to put it all down to experience, and you need to accept that shit happens. Of course," he added, "you will be supplying his meals for the next month and valeting his car once your hand is mended."
Damn it, if they didn't even share the same impish smile.
It seemed that the Brother had said all he had intended to say, and deemed the one-sided conversation successfully completed. As Jim opened his mouth to speak in response, he was simply treated to an upheld hand, suggesting his silence.
"So," Marcus rallied on, finishing his drink and placing his mug on the counter-top. "Which is Blair's bed? He said I could use it to sleep in tonight. You don't mind, do you? It'll be far easier returning to St Sebastian's in daylight."
It took effort to make Jim Ellison so speechless, but the wink was the final straw. He could do nothing but watch the erstwhile uninvited guest pad into the small room, make himself comfortable, and turn in for the night.
Blair had had enough. Jim had been pussy-footing around for the nearly three days since had Sandburg returned to the loft, and it wasn't so much not allowing the anthropologist room to move in the physical sense, it was the overburdening emotional oppression that was, quite frankly, beginning to piss him off. It seemed that Brother Marcus' not-so-subtle conversation had relieved Jim of a good portion of the guilt he had been feeling, but it hadn't changed the treat-Sandburg-like-glass kid glove treatment.
Nothing Blair said made a difference. He'd tried the direct approach; in that he'd tried to tell Ellison that everything that had happened was in the past, let bygones be bygones, yadda, yadda. He'd tried the 'let's look at this from a scientific point of view' and had nearly lost his temper when Jim suggested more tests, if it would help the two of them understand what had happened a little better. On a normal week - 'normal?' he found himself muttering, 'since when has my life been normal?' - this might have pleased him, energized him, and made him consider all the possibilities. However, in light of recent events he felt that Jim was merely appeasing him and it irked him not to have to contest even an ounce of resistance.
He could have taken advantage of this situation, and of Jim's potential generosity, but it only served to make Blair angry himself.
In terms of Jim's generosity, he only had to consider the roof over his head, and the ongoing willingness to experiment with Sentinel senses. Sure, that was of mutual benefit, but it was usually at Sandburg's behest. Okay - the charity was reciprocated; how much time did Blair actually spend down at the Cascade PD to the detriment of his own academic career? 'No,' he scolded himself. 'You always tell Jim about prior commitments; you only go down there when it fits in with your schedule. Admit it, Sandburg, you enjoy being a part of it. If you didn't you would invent reasons not to be there. Yes, you're observing and helping Jim out with his senses, but that doesn't mean you have to update computer records, help with paperwork ... or do you feel obliged to do that because of the roof over your head?'
A myriad of thoughts spun around and around in Blair's tired mind. He had spent the best part of a week in the hospital - boring - and had missed a goodly portion of his University work. It was all very well having your classes covered by other people, especially when you have a valid medical excuse, but it was only more ammunition for Chancellor Edwards the next time she got into a snit.
Sandburgs didn't do depression. They were Master Obfuscators, and wheedled their way into and out of most situations. So why was every part of his psyche crying for attention, and asking him to question the current situation? Jim had kicked him while asleep - an accident; Blair hadn't told anyone and made himself sicker - stupidity; they had both succumbed to the side effects of metam sodium poisoning - lousy luck and timing. So who was to blame?
Brother Marcus had gotten Jim to believe that, so why was Blair having such a hard time convincing himself, and why was Ellison still trying to make it up to him?
"Stop it!" Blair commanded, as his Jim fussed around him, angling the new coffee table into a perfect parallel to the sofa, and hitched up the obligatory afghan covering. It seemed to be a routine that if either of them got sick, or needed convalescing time, then they would camp out in the living area, affording maximum noticeability and optimum spoilage. In Blair's case, he had originally opted for spending a few days in bed, but the persistent visitor at the bedroom door, and the offer to rearrange pillows had grown to the point where he felt he either had to come out onto the sofa, get Simon or Rafe to fit a lock on his door, or just move out for a while.
Reminding Jim of his own temporarily crippled right hand didn't seem to matter anything either.
"I don't like this place looking a mess," Jim defended, stooping to pick up a barely visible thread of cotton from the rug. "You know that. That's why I always get on at you ..."
"No, you just get on at me because you're anally retentive and have no life." Blair groused, wishing for a little peace and quiet so he could wait out his next dose of pain meds in peace. He didn't want another cup of tea, herbal or otherwise. He didn't want any food. The incense burning was fine, thank you, and no it didn't need changing to another aroma.
"Yeah, and you have, I suppose." Jim straightened up and glared down at his dark-haired nemesis. His hand had gone from a searing burning sensation to the throbbing of healing skin that was itching uncontrollably. No matter what he tried, there didn't seem to be a working dial for this. The stitches had been removed, and the layers of bandaging reduced, but every movement or muscle twitch speared new torment into his recuperating limb.
He was trying to tolerate Sandburg, he owed him that much. Watching his friend lying unconscious in a hospital bed was becoming such a repeat performance, but it never lessened in intensity of worry, and this time had been no exception - in the full knowledge that he had been a part of ...
No. Brother Marcus had told him to let it go.
Sandburg still needed someone to ...
No he didn't. Who was he kidding?
"You don't need anything, do you?" The question was rhetorical. "Good. I'm going to lie down." Jim turned on his heel and moved towards the stairs.
"Wait." Blair stalled, not wanting to end the day on a sour note. Perhaps he could work an honest response from Jim. Perhaps that was a flying pig that just went smack into the windowpane. "We have to talk."
"Yeah. We always do, don't we?" Jim's cocked head and manner was more for self-protection than attack. "Well, you know what, Chief?"
Blair reached his left arm over the back of the sofa, and winced as he pulled himself around to face the detective. "I can imagine, Jim, but surprise me anyway."
"That does it." It would have sounded less ominous had Jim shouted the words, but the cold, menacing sneer with which he spat out the sentence had Blair wondering if he should attempt running after all. Forget the pissy attitude of last week. Forget that they had been under one another's feet for the past fifty-five hours. Forget the careful sidestepping of one another's feelings. This one was set to blow.
Jim could lose his temper? So what, so could Blair.
If the worst came to the worst, he was sure he could find somewhere else to live. He had friends. Yeah, living with his research subject was convenient, and certainly a shit-sight cheaper than that crappy warehouse, but look at how much space he had had at his since-destroyed home.
"How much longer are you signed off for?" Ellison demanded as he faced the back of the sofa.
"You want me out?" Blair answered obtusely, already flinging off the blanket, clutching his recovering side and getting to his feet. "One step ahead of you there, man." His breath caught as he stood too quickly and the blood rushed from his head.
Jim observed impassively, finally realizing that perhaps it hadn't been any reaction that had caused his vile behavior the previous week; perhaps it had simply been the end of the road. Shame, but there it was. Time Sandburg got on with his life; he must have enough information to complete two theses by now.
"Want some help packing?" He had waited until the grad student had reached his room before offering. When there wasn't even a headshake as a response, he continued, "Good, because I was going to suggest you called someone to help. And you would have to use your own phone." Blair had frozen in the doorway, one hand on the frame, the other still wrapped around his stomach. "Oh, that's right," Jim added, tersely. "It wouldn't be charged. Or you've left it somewhere. Or given it to someone."
Jaw squared, teeth clenched and face a furious fiery red, Blair slowly turned towards the man he thought he had known. "That's more typical of you, isn't it?" He was surprised that his voice was so quiet. "Not the phone thing, of course, no that would be your incompetent partner." He leant against the doorjamb for support. He was hurting, again, but didn't care. Again. "Yeah, your useless partner who has sponged off you for years and done nothing in return."
"Turning this into a pity-party for yourself already, Sandburg?" No, it couldn't have been the pesticide. This was pure, undiluted Ellison. He was no longer on pain meds for his hand, and the bloodwork had confirmed that his levels were close enough to normal. The feelings he had inside him now must have been brewing for some time, and had been waiting for the right opportunity to push their vicious way forwards.
"I am not a junior officer, or an underling to be ordered around," the incensed younger man began. "My name," the anthropologist hissed, finally at the end of his tether, "Is Blair." He made eye contact with Ellison, eyes blazing. "'Chief' was fine, but one small measure of respect from you might just have elevated me from 'Sandburg' to 'Blair'. But I guess that was too much to ask for."
Jim wanted Blair to shout at him. It would justify the incendiary rage that was smoldering inside him, that he was desperate to vent physically. The sotto voce volume was audible enough, but he needed to be attacked - purely so that he could defend.
"It was one helluva ride, man," Blair continued, rubbing his nose in quiet despair, because he knew deep down that this would probably be their final conversation. "That stuff with your senses, it mattered," he rested his head back against the door. "And we made a difference, didn't we?" He paused, waiting for anything in reply. When nothing was forthcoming, there was only one more thing that he wanted to add. "And I don't regret meeting you..."
"That's a shame, because I do."
Yes. It obviously was their final conversation. And now it was over.
It was all over.
852 Prospect had been a fantastic address. It had become home; a safe place to live - even if he had been abducted from here by Lash a few years back. It was the place where his friends could visit and share meals; it was where the guys came over occasionally from the PD and they could shoot-the-shit, play cards, catch a game. It was a place where he could grade, research and write papers, study, prepare classes, and not have to worry about the amount of natural light left, the heating, or whether the rain would leak in. They'd laughed. They'd shared triumphs. They'd compared dates. Yeah, he'd had good times.
Shame it all had to end on a sour note.
The irony was that the final chapter of his dissertation had been finished for over a month, including the preservation of his research subject's identity. Despite it being his life's dream, for some stupid, crazy, ill-conceived notion, he had wanted to find a time to let Jim read it first, to discuss and share his thoughts. He had withheld it from his supervisor, using lame excuses about hard-drive failures and magnets erasing back-up data. Now he could hand it in, defend his work, hopefully receive his doctorate. And move on.
Good - because recently his interest in Sentinels had diminished to the point of not caring less.
Blair was the first to break eye contact; Ellison's eyes now seeming to glow with triumph. Two weeks ago, Jim had been on a fishing weekend, and Blair been looking forward to his return. Since then, he could have questioned precisely what had changed in his friend, but for the moment, with the steady thrumming of his recovering body, and the permanent exhaustion, he was sorry, but any investigation would have to be deferred.
It shouldn't take him long to pack his essentials. The bathroom came first, filling his sponge bag with his shower gel, toothpaste, toothbrush, raz ... His hand hovered over the newly-bladed razor and remembered that it had been a spare Jim had lent him when he had first moved in. He left it in place, and collected a few other sundries.
"Fuck." Too preoccupied, Blair managed to catch himself on the sink as he turned to leave room. Arm straight back to its protective position over his side, he shoved the bag under his elbow and moved gingerly to his room, breath whistling through gritted teeth as he tried to regulate the airflow.
Damn, it was giving him hell. Even though the bruising had calmed to faded yellows, he had been told that the internal damage would take longer. He wasn't to forget the pesticide that his kidneys had had to fight as well. Still wasn't fair, because he needed a fuller range of movement right now.
Stuffing a few sets of clothes into his bulging rucksack, Blair sucked in another breath as he leant over to pull on socks and don his boots.
The detective had ensconced himself on the sofa, remote control in left hand, and right hand cushioned on his lap.
"I'll see you, then, Jim." Blair tried the light, nonchalant approach, although inside he was tearing apart in confusion. He dearly wanted to be supportive, and to understand what had happened, and why, but perhaps it was for the best if they recovered separately.
Ellison grunted acknowledgement that he'd heard, but didn't bother to raise his head or offer the platitude of a civil farewell.
"I'll call you with my new address and contact details when I'm settled."
Blair wriggled his feet into his shoes but left the laces untied. He jammed his laptop under his right arm, and hefted his rucksack around but found that he could barely manage, so instead held it at arm's length.
Where had that poster gone from the back of the door? That mark looked very obvious without the white paper hiding it. Megan had told him that a little remodeling had taken place. Now was a good time to get out before Ellison tried to remodel his face.
Thank god for fire doors that clicked shut under their own weight, saved him the hassle of having to do it himself.
Once it was closed, Blair pulled out his wallet and checked the number of bills in there. He could get a taxi over to Megan's - she'd let him crash there for a while, at least until he was healthy enough to think straight.
He rang for the elevator and took a final look back at his former home. He didn't feel regret, more concern for Jim's welfare.
The sentinel still wasn't right.
All Blair had wanted to do was get Ellison to stop fussing around him, and it had quickly descended into a catfight. Blame could be portioned out equally. Strange how three years ago, when he had caught that really nasty chest infection, it had almost made him cry at the attention his very own Sentinel had bestowed on him. He had never experienced having someone there to fetch and carry, ensure meds were taken on time, sheets changed when he had been in bed for two days straight, a steaming bath run when he was so congested every breath was a battle.
He'd call Simon when he got to Megan's, and ask him to keep an eye out.
He'd apologize to Incacha the next time his wolf got loose, and hope that the spirit would understand incompatibility, and the drifting apart that time often creates.
He'd arrange a meeting with Jim one day to find out if their friendship had ever really meant anything, or whether it had simply been a business agreement.
Why did those pain pills he'd hastily dry swallowed need longer to work than the two minutes they had had?
Jim tracked his former roommate in the elevator down the two floors to the ground, and refused to be touched by the ragged and increasingly labored breathing. The damn kid knew that the Sentinel would be monitoring him, and was only doing it for the attention. Well, more fool him. Ellison wasn't falling for it this time. Damn kid never stayed in the truck, and asked for half of the trouble he got himself into. It would be a relief to work with trained officers when necessary - knowing they didn't need someone watching out for them. Doctor Wall had explained that it hadn't been his senses last week, which proved that he no longer needed Sandburg's help at all. He could manage. The thesis-writer had enough data. This was the end of the road.
Simon would be relieved that he no longer had to worry about an errant observer who flaunted the unwritten rules of the department on a daily basis.
Sure he'd miss him - but the peace and quiet were enviable.
He heard the echoing ping as the elevator door slid open, and the shuffled step as Sandburg hauled his loaded rucksack behind him, unable to bear the extra weight on his frame.
The stilted steps were suddenly joined by the clack of a cane against tile, and the rubber-soled step of one of their elderly neighbors. "Why, hello, Blair, my darlin', how are you?" The throaty croak of Mrs. Raftery was a testament to the rebellion her lungs were giving her after twenty-five years of thirty cigarettes a day. "Now, how are you? I heard you haven't been very well, again. You really should take better care of yourself, you know, my darlin'. There isn't enough of your skinny little ass to cope with the number of Band-Aids I've seen you plastered in." Oh, to be as exuberant and zestful as this octogenarian. "Wallace was telling me there was a problem last week, and that brave detective wasn't very well either. I read about him in the evening paper, about finding that little girl. Such a tragedy. I'm not surprised he wasn't very well." The hoarse tones had no intention of abating. "My Albert was back in the war, you know. My, that's right, my darlin', you've seen my photos. He was such a mess when he came home. They didn't have a name for it then, but it's called that PSDT, that Post Disaster Stressful Thing. Or somesuch. Now, now, Blair, my darlin', are you laughin' at an old woman? Dear, dear. It's what? My, alright, PTSD. Does Detective James have that then? Is that what's wrong with him? Poor boy. I hope he gets some help. But what happened to you? I do worry about the two of you. Who's looking after you now?"
The words began to wash over the eavesdropper until he heard:
"No, no, Blair, I can carry that bag myself. You look set to drop, my darlin'. It's my fault; I should have had the groceries delivered. My, that's very sweet of you, I'm sure I'll be able to manage them from here... are you okay, you look quite pale? Are you going somewhere? You should go and sit down, my darlin'. Why don't you come in for a sit down with me while I make you... Blair? Blair, my darlin', are you all right? Honey, I can't... Blair?
Several of them.
Or was it wasps?
Both have stripes.
Lots of them.
Lots of stripes.
To go with lots of bees.
Swarming. Sitting in his head and buzzing persistently and not letting him sleep.
They were angry bees - or wasps - and he wanted to swat them out of his head, but they wouldn't shift. He wanted to force them out and leave him the hell alone.
He was recuperating here. The doctors had only released him on the premise that he would rest for at least the first three days, and then take things very easy. No lifting. No stress.
He didn't need bees causing him to lose sleep.
It took some time before the buzzing descended into muted voices, and Blair was pretty sure that opening his eyes and joining in the distinctly unhappy tone of the conversation wouldn't be one of his wiser moves.
Since when had he followed the sensible options?
He cracked open one eye half-expecting the familiar panels of the hospital ceiling, and was pleasantly surprised to recognize reddish-brown brickwork, although he really couldn't remember the blinds being that color before.
Deja-vu. He was back in Patient Recovery Zone 1, exactly eighteen paces from the bathroom door, sixteen paces to his room, and eleven paces to the coffee machine. Pain meds probably in Zone 2, on the counter, eight paces away. That was good. He needed some.
The confrontation had transformed into what appeared to be a heated discussion that broke off as a shadow loomed over him, blocking out the late afternoon sunlight. It wasn't the usual calloused hand that held its palm against his forehead, but the touch was reassuring. He closed his eyes for a moment, wondering if he had dreamt the argument with Jim, and the panicked look on Mrs. Raftery's face when he couldn't stand upright any more, and had felt his legs fold underneath him as the rising surge of darkness overtook him.
"Hey, Hairboy. You back with us?" That certainly wasn't a voice Blair had been expecting to hear, fictitious or factual argument aside.
"H?" He could open his eyes again, it was okay, there was a friendly face waiting for him.
"Yeah, c'mon, wake up." The uncharacteristically gentle manner comforted. "There's a little ol' lady downstairs having a coronary cos she thinks she's killed you."
"Mrs. Raftery?" So it hadn't been in his imagination at all - he and Ellison had gotten out their shovels and dug a ravine in their friendship. Blair struggled to push himself further up the sofa, not yet fully awake. He wasn't accustomed to Brown's assistance when he wasn't feeling at his best, but the arms helping him were welcome, as were the cushions used to wedge him up. "Where's Jim?" He saw the seated figure out of the corner of his eye, and wondered what the man's reaction would be to having him back in his home, however many minutes it was since he had been voluntarily evicted.
He did a double take when he realized that Ellison was holding something against his eye.
Blair's eyes grew wide, and he stared in amazement. "Frozen peas?"
"Told you he'd notice," Jim glared at the floor.
"Blame it on the doorframe." Brown's body language dictated that he was in command of the situation, something that bemused Blair still further.
"Oh god, man, I didn't hit you did I?" Sandburg would have flustered had he had the energy, but was brought up short by Brown's laughter.
"Nah," he announced. "I did." He settled on the sofa next to Blair, checking his patient's pulse, and watching his temperature. "Thirsty? Okay, drink this." It didn't feel right having Brown supporting him with one arm around the back of his shoulders, and the other holding the glass to his lips. Hand injury or not, Jim wouldn't have done that, not this time. Blair leant into the strong arm and wished he had more grip, as opposed to the shaky, tremulous hands that couldn't clasp the glass.
"Steady, Hairboy. Don't want me calling the doc again, do you? He's already furious with us as it is." Brown pulled away the half-emptied glass, and eased Blair back against the sofa. "Said we should have kept a closer eye on you, and not let you go charging around." The young detective shot Ellison a dark look. "Course, schmuck-head here probably didn't help matters."
Where Blair expected a protest at the very least, nothing happened. That told him categorically that there was definitely something wrong with the former army Ranger.
"I came over to talk things over," Brown started, wrapping the afghan over Blair's lap. "Found you unconscious in the entrance, and this poor woman screaming down the phone for paramedics. Phoned Doctor Kamcha myself, and he said to get you back upstairs, and if you didn't show signs of improvement to call him again."
"Got you up here, and Ellison was in a pissy mood so I decked him." Well, that explained the frozen peas vainly trying to lessen the swelling on the impending black eye. "We had quite a long talk after I got you settled, and were just having a row about whether Stampede are going to whip the Jags' butts this season when you woke up."
Blair fought against the steadying grip on his shoulder, wanting to go and kneel in front of Jim, and assess the eye for himself. Brown, on the other hand, wasn't letting the young man move anywhere. "Just stay here," he chastised, "Doctor Kamcha insisted on you staying off your feet until tomorrow." Brown was firm, knowing what Blair wanted to do, but also stopping him for diplomatic reasons. Their talk had been nearly an hour long, only Brown seeking to check on the unconscious and over-exerted Sandburg.
When the junior detective had appeared on Ellison's doorstep, the pale anthropologist out cold in his arms, he had had to force his way in, shoving his foot in the door to avoid it being closed in his face. He had questioned why the man had even opened the door in the first place, knowing who would be there, if he had no intention of allowing admittance.
Ellison's attitude had been noncommittal as he turned his back and marched back to his seat in front of the television, back ramrod straight. Brown had carefully laid his charge on the adjacent sofa. Raising up Blair's legs, he unlaced and eased off the boots, then lifted his upper body forwards to slip off his jacket, his head lolling against H's chest. Brown checked his pulse and respiration once more, stroking back some of the damp strands of hair from his face. Seeing that Ellison was either oblivious to his actions, or unconcerned, he helped himself to water from the kitchen, a washcloth from the bathroom, and the blanket from where it had fallen to the floor. He surmised that this was where Blair had been resting before whatever incident had caused him to wander off, rucksack and laptop in tow. It had been immediately obvious to Brown that the grad student had been attempting to move out, whether temporarily or permanently. What he couldn't determine was why. Which was the reason he finished checking over his patient, relayed the details in a second conversation to the consultant at the Cascade General, and turned to face the homeowner. He was prepared to hear reasonable arguments, still feeling the tendrils of guilt from his hasty assumptions the previous week, however, evidence was beginning to look far from circumstantial, and he assumed that Ellison's way of behaving was not only still out of character, but detrimental to his roommate.
"What the fuck?" Okay, not the most inviting of questions, but it summarized his feelings.
"He pissed me off, and offered to leave," Ellison stated, his jaw still set firm, and his gaze firmly fixed on the television screen. "Done deal."
Blair's breathing was reasonably even; he attempted to turn in his stupor, his arm dropping down. Brown gently eased the limp limb back underneath the protection of the blanket, and stormed over to the stupefying Sentinel.
"Y'know what, Ellison?" He charged, not caring anymore about repercussions. "You have a unique arrangement with Hairboy, one which the two of you should be treasuring. He helps you with your senses, yes," this last comment drew a dagger glare. "I know all about your senses, and from using my head, not from any outside source. And yes, Jim, I've been using my head. Which is more than I can say for you." He returned the glower and towered over Ellison, preventing him rising to his feet. His heart was pounding, and he dug his fingernails into his palms to stop the itching in his fist.
"Get the hell out of my apartment." The words were venomous.
"No." Brown stood firm, waiting for the physical outburst he felt was imminent as he took a step back, giving the bigger man space to stand. "Blair needs time to recover, and so do you. I'm not talking about what happened after your fishing trip, I'm talking about before." The sweat was dribbling down H's back as he drew himself up, ready for the attack. If no one else was prepared to say it, then fine, it could be down to him. "I'm talking about before that." He was right; the twitching of that muscle to the left of Jim's eye was a large enough hint. "I'm talking about finding Emily."
The eruption was quite spectacular as Ellison launched himself bodily towards the prepared detective, the assailant's movements hampered by the useless right hand. The gut-wrenching yell that accompanied the frenetic onslaught showed Brown more than any three-hour conversation could have. The suppressed emotion, the frustration, and the inability to hold onto his anger any longer. The anger that he had been channeling through and taking out on Blair, both consciously and unconsciously. He might have been clucking around like a mother-hen for the past three days, in the guise of helping, but simmering beneath the surface had been the raw distress, building and putrefying.
Ellison continued in his puny efforts to pummel, his actions ranging from weak to misplaced, until Brown had had enough and smashed forward his right fist, catching the Sentinel squarely in his right eye.
Stunned, Jim dropped down into the seat and ignored the instinct to reach up a hand to assess damage. Instead, he stared at his antagonist in dumb amazement.
Brown was astonished that he felt no guilt, but rather a perverted sense of accomplishment. Perhaps this was what the two of them needed.
After a few moments of silence, H crouched in front of Jim, and held out his cell phone. "I believe Karen works on Saturdays." He was referring to the departmental psychologist.
Jim mutely accepted the offered handset and dialed the number for the main switchboard, his lips moving wordlessly until the operator asked him for the extension required, for the fourth time. He completed his call and closed the phone, the appointment booked for later that evening.
"So, now what?" The question held no animosity, nor was it received with any.
"Now I get you something for that eye."
"I'm gone," Brown announced, shifting Blair into the corner and checking his forehead one last time. "You kids are going to talk, nicely, like good little grown-ups." H patted Blair's leg as he stood. "No one's going to move out, or that lovely chatty lady from downstairs will come and smack your heads together." He threw both men an amiable grin, and made his way out of the door and towards the elevator.
Jim smothered his own grin when he heard the muttered, "For the love of God, I swear you guys are like a married couple in need of counseling." Ellison was just removing the long-since melted bag of peas, when he heard the summary, "And I know you can hear me, schmuck, so look after yourselves."
His jaw went slack and he had to allow himself a small laugh, bringing about a raised eyebrow from the far-too pasty Blair.
"H giving us our orders from afar," he confided, hating anything that involved discussing emotions and wondering how to get the next conversation over with as quickly as possible. "You, um, want..."
It was an impasse. His conscience wouldn't let him offer Blair anything other than an apology and he couldn't quite bring himself to do that. "Look, Sandburg, I... er..." The defrosted vegetables squished in his fingers, the smell of freezer-burnt goods not quite escaping his dialed-down olfactory sense. He idly considered how they had managed to leave the food in there long enough for that to happen - perhaps he was slipping. He was usually extremely thorough about how long things were kept.
But he was digressing. Or was he in fact, obfuscating. Proving yet again that his life had been completely turned around by the student sitting opposite him, the student that was attempting to...
"Sandburg, sit down!"
"I just wanted to get some more water," he whined, appreciating that the command this time had contained an element of warmth and concern, instead of the callous instructions of earlier.
Jim ignored the puppy-dog eyes, and caught up the extended glass, swinging by the trashcan and ditching the peas on his way to the sink. He let the water run cold before rinsing and refilling, bringing it back and handing it over.
He gestured to the end of the sofa with an unspoken question in his eyes, and the expectancy of rejection. "Sure, man, knock yourself out," Blair responded, intentionally heavy on the irony. "It's your house."
"Yeah," Jim winced, deserving the knock. "About that." He waited for Sandburg to scoot over and then perched warily on his section of the cushions. "What say you stay here until you're given the all-clear by the hospital, and then if you still want to move out, we look for apartments together."
Blair had to ensure that his relief wasn't too evident on his face, but knew it was impossible to hide the fluctuating body temperature and heart rate. Having a Sentinel as a friend could be so difficult sometimes.
"Um, yeah, I'd like that," he flustered, slurping the water to keep his hands from shaking. He hadn't wanted to leave at all, but the situation had become almost untenable, and although walking away from an out of control man was not in his nature, especially when, under the usual circumstances, he might have been able to help, he had had to consider self, and preserve what little sanity he had left. Even if it had been, yet again, to the forfeiture of his health.
Blair toyed with the last few drops of water, swilling them around in the bottom.
"More?" Ellison's offer was yet another obfuscation. Under different circumstances, Blair would have been proud.
"No thanks, Jim." He rested the glass in his lap, and hitched his legs round and underneath him, getting comfortable, but finding himself nervously picking at the arm of the seat.
"How you feeling? Dizziness, nausea? You still feeling light-headed?" Even Ellison cringed at his lousy tactics.
"Actually, Jim, yes." Blair leant forward and banged the glass on the table, a little heavier than planned. "I feel light-headed, and my side's hurting. The pain meds I took earlier didn't kick in, or if they did, they've worn off again. I feel quite nauseous, but I know that's part of what's been wrong, and the recovery process." He turned sharply to Jim. "So that's me. How are you?"
"My eye's aching, and probably looks reasonably stunning. My hand's itching and the dial won't work, or it's stuck. I've got a headache," Jim couldn't believe how easy this was. "And I'm hungry."
"Okay," Blair smiled, genuinely. "That worked. Next?"
"Yeah, your turn."
Jim craved the easy relationship of before, but wasn't sure whether too much water had passed under the bridge - or another such cliché. There were a hoard of butterflies loose in his stomach and he realized that he was more nervous now of getting this friendship wrong, than he had been when sent on his first mission out of army training.
"Do you remember when you had taken that Golden crap, and how it affected you in the basement garage of the PD?" It wasn't exactly circumventing the problem, but it was the only analogy he could manage.
"Well, I don't remember much apart from what people told me."
Jim's mouth was so dry he grabbed up the last few drops of Blair's water and swigged it down. "In the garage you trusted me."
"Actually," he countered, "From what I was told, you got me to believe that clapping my hands got rid of the golden fire people." He shuddered at the memory of those fiery suffering souls that still crept unbidden into his memory - he sure as hell remembered that part.
"Point being," Ellison snapped abruptly, and was instantly contrite. "Sorry." He buried his head in his hands, angry at himself for not even managing a civil conversation.
"It's okay, man, that's why we're doing this." Blair reached over and laid a gentle hand on Jim's arm, and tried to coax them away. "Look at me, Jim." He was almost pleading, his own voice cracking with the strain of the weeks gone by. "Please, Jim. I need you to look at me."
Slowly, very slowly, the pressure of Sandburg's touch pushed the unwilling limbs downwards, and Ellison found the gentle force of unremitting fingers tilting his head towards his friend. "The point being," he continued in Jim's place. "Was that I trusted you then, and you want to know if I can find it in me to trust you again, after all this."
Blair shouldn't have minored in psychology; he should have majored in it.
Jim fidgeted, glad that the sentence had been voiced for him, but nervously waiting for the answer.
"Jim, when have I not trusted you?" Blair's fingers were still keeping his head facing towards him, making the eye contact all the more difficult to break. "I have always trusted you to be there for me, no matter how improbable the situation. Trust your Sentinel sight to get the shot off when necessary. Do I have to remind you of machete wielding maniacs working for Maya's uncle; or when you heard my warehouse about to blow up; or the ticking bomb on that bus?" As Sandburg's animation returned, so did the characteristic bevy of gesticulations. "How many people do you know will jump onto the landing struts of a helicopter when an asshole for the Sunrise Patriots is trying to kidnap you?" He barged straight on now, to Jim's bewilderment and quiet amusement, arms waving in all directions. "Don't tell me I have to bring up David Lash, or I really will hurl." It was good to see Blair back on form, even if he was now regretting the extent of his movements, as they had pulled on several already abused muscles. "Of course I trust you, man." Without the hand holding his head in position, Jim had maintained the eye contact. But this time, because he wanted to. Not because he felt obliged.
He wasn't quite sure what to say, so he did his usual, and allowed his Guide to continue unabated.
"Yeah, we go through shit. But I wouldn't swap what we do for anything." Blair offered his first entirely natural and unforced grin in weeks. "It's a bumpy ride, but a good one."
Jim could feel tears pricking the edges of his eyes, but he didn't care. Perhaps it wasn't too late.
Damn, he had a good, if highly unpredictable friend sitting here.
"And if we continue this ride, I can carry on pissing you off by leaving soggy towels all over the bathroom floor, blunting your new razor, spilling coffee grinds, leaving the light on, leaving my spare key over the door, picking up weird women and ...."
The only way to shut Sandburg up was to draw him into a hug, so that's exactly what Jim did. And he held on. Tightly.
"Okay, okay, enough already." Blair choked, slapping away the embrace, and flopping back against the sofa with a groan. "Ouch."
"Yeah, always am." He eyed his Sentinel with mischief. "But it's nothing that can't be cured by that tofu on rye you're about to make me." He ducked to avoid the friendly swipe and felt his shoulders relax as the ingrained pain in Ellison's face seemed to dissolve. "Just the two slices will be fine, but if you could top it with..."
Maybe that was pushing it too far. Jim's raised eyebrows implied as much.
"I don't think that pizza place serves tofu, but I can ask." He reached for the cordless handset and placed their dinner order for delivery. He ordered enough for three, remembering that home visit he was receiving from Karen within the hour.
Blair noticed the change in demeanor as his friend concluded the call and replaced the phone in the cradle on the wall. "What is it?" He grunted at the sharp stab in his side, as he made his way over to the kitchen counter, and took in the slumped shoulders of the bigger man. Blair had to hold his arm, both for balance and out of concern. "Jim?"
The room grew so quiet that Blair could hear the faint sounds of traffic in the street below, and the hum of the refrigerator. "Shaw."
He looked at Ellison quizzically, and hoped that he would elucidate. It had been such a heartfelt word, several weeks' worth of emotion spelt out in four letters.
"Her name was Emily Shaw, Chief."
Blair rubbed the trembling arm to console, knowing that words could never be enough. "I know, Jim. I know."
"She lived over on Hill View. She had a younger brother and an older sister."
Mrs. Raftery had been right. Metam sodium was only the vehicle on which Jim's emotions had spiraled ever further downwards, and all the events surrounding them drew connecting lines back to the sick homicidal maniac called Mandel. There were counselors who could talk people through PTSD, good counselors. He had a friend who specialized in helping armed forces veterans. If Blair thought about it, to consider Jim's past - losing his unit in Peru, the breakdown of his marriage, the discovery and handling of his Sentinel senses, the loss of people he knew and cared for - it was hardly surprising that a breakdown of sorts hadn't happened before.
This time it was Blair who drew his friend into the hug, and held on as the older man lost the tension and nervous energy that had plagued his life for so long.
"I'm sorry, Chief." Jim kept his arms around his friend for several minutes longer, drawing on the willingly given support. "Sorry, I meant, Blair."
"Nah," the anthropologist retorted, smiling through his next words, and still not letting his hold lessen. "Doesn't suit you. Sandburg's fine. Actually, I prefer it when you call me 'Chief'."
Neither realized that H had never fully closed the front door, and so it was laughing and hugging, using the strong friendship of one another, that Karen Goldstein, departmental psychologist, found the two men. Jim finally releasing some of his self-retained burden, and Blair, his friend and Guide, in spite of everything, wanting to help share that burden.
A powerful friendship was always the best start towards healing.
The gentle, wooded slopes were a dense mass of trees, suffocating the dirt track that meandered thoughtlessly through the wild and untended undergrowth. Almost pitch black in the enveloping arms of the brushing branches; the straggling pathway seemed to lack direction.
The old, stone-built farmer's cottage stood dilapidated, another mile further down the winding, seldom-used track. Crows scavenged in the untilled fields in the distance, the decaying crop shuffling listlessly in the morning dew, and the last vestiges of night fell slowly away, as the pink haze of newness fluttered into the breaking dawn sky.
It was down this track that the blue and white truck hurtled, grit and stones smashing against the paintwork, the tires squealing in protestation. Inside Blair Sandburg was gripping the roof for support with one hand, while bracing himself against the edge of the seat with the other, desperately trying to hold one elbow against his recently healed abdomen.
"Jesus, Jim, we're supposed to be taking it easy, not landing ourselves back in that hospital." Ellison pitched the vehicle a hard right to avoid a gaping hole in the left of the road, and the truck teetered on two wheels before slamming back against the mud. "Brown only said that he'd spotted Matier heading this direction, he..." This time, however, even Blair heard the heart-rending scream that ripped through the early morning air, rapidly followed by the terrified shriek of:
So that was why Jim had gone from a sedate 20mph to this dangerous pace. Blair couldn't understand why, with the custody hearing over, the father believed that kidnapping his own daughter was his only solution. He glanced over at Ellison's gritted jaw, and the fiery bursts of concentration lining his face. They both knew there was more to this middle of the night kidnapping than simply the theft of the child.
The scream came again as they burst out of the forest track and into the fields. Blair wanted to jam the pedal to the floor himself when the crows launched themselves high into the air, as a shot ricocheted into the departing night, closely followed by a blood-curdling scream and a second shot.
As they approached the old house, Brown's sedan lay abandoned, with both the driver's and the passenger doors flung wide-open. Neither detective was visible.
The truck careened to a barely-controlled halt, the ground hissing in defeat as the onslaught ceased.
"Stay in the truck, Sandburg," Jim commanded, not even bothering to turn round. "Call for back-up, but stay in the goddamn truck."
"No." Blair eyed the pink of newly healed skin on the back of his partner's hand and knew that, strictly speaking, neither of them were truly ready for such intense action, regardless of departmental psychologists.
"For fuck's sake, Sandburg, I...." Jim stared at the mutinous grimace on Blair's face and furiously backpedaled. "At least stay low. Any more shooting, and you're straight back in the truck."
"Yes sir." Now was not the time for sarcasm, but there was one psychotic father out there, a small child and two officers. A recently-traumatized Sentinel being let loose on his own was not an option. He would need guidance.
Shouts came from the rear of the house, and Jim could see Brown edging away from the boarded-up windows, into the main part of the building. Scanning the area they had left, his heart all but stopped.
Lying in the mildewed and rotting vegetation, lay the crumpled, bloodied figure of the six year-old girl, who had been snatched from her bed only a few hours before.
"Oh, dear god, no." His heart pounding in terror and recall, Jim raced to the site, his hearing refusing to cooperate as he frantically tried to listen for a heartbeat. The world caved in around him as he ran towards the small figure; heedless of the gunman in the vicinity and the predicament of his fellow officers. Nothing mattered to him now. Only saving Emily. Mandel had taken her and if it meant killing the vicious murderer himself, then that was what he would do. Only Emily's continued life mattered.
Flinging himself on the ground next to the prone shape of Danielle Matier, Ellison wasted little time in checking her airway and delicately turning her onto her back as though she were as brittle as glass. Surrounding him were the phantom hands of the medics pulling him off the wasted life of Emily Shaw, and his subconscious tore against him in the battle of which was the past and which was the present.
She wasn't breathing, but he knew there was a pulse. He had heard one. It was faint and thready but it had been there. Was there. He hadn't imagined it. Emily wasn't dead, because there was a distinct if weak beat.
The phantom hands grabbed at him again, and Jim threw them off as before. She needed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Just as Blair had needed it. That time at the fountain, that awful, soul-destroying time at the fountain where he would have happily given his own life instead.
He tipped back the pale, blonde head and rested his ear against the slack mouth. She needed oxygen to live, and he was the only one here to administer it. Pinching the girl's nose and holding her chin down, he sucked in his own lungful of air, and pressed the life-giving substance back into the needy body. Twice more he forced air into the resisting lungs before stopping to listen for signs of life.
The heartbeat that he knew had been there had faded to nothing.
Hopelessness thundered through him, as he began compressions, determined that this poor child would live.
He catalogued the blood on his fingers from the wound on the back of Emily's head, as the pulse quickly took up the necessary rhythm. He puffed two more gasps into the girl's mouth and nearly cried with relief when the involuntary spasm made his job redundant, and she began to breathe independently.
The recollection of actions and voices in his head, made Ellison's vision swim as he carefully rolled the girl into the recovery position, and checked her airway one last time. He gently stroked back the matted strands of hair from her face and found himself starting to zone on the blood that coated his hand.
No, not coated.
It wasn't a zone either.
In the two minutes since sprinting over from the truck, his conscious mind had drifted to events in a different place, whereas, thankfully, his conscious mind had performed everything necessary to save this girl's life.
But this girl wasn't Emily. Emily had gone.
This was Danielle Matier who was alive. This was Danielle Matier who, by the looks of it, had fallen, or been pushed, from the upstairs window of the weather-beaten old house.
In a sudden urge of realization, Jim pushed back the grief that was welling inside of him and concentrated on ensuring Danielle was comfortable and stable, before forcing out his vision into the dark interior of the two-storey cottage.
Where the hell was Sandburg? If the runt wasn't going to stay in the truck, the least he could do was make himself useful - or, Ellison reminded himself bitterly, keep himself safe.
His hearing evened out enough for him to pick up Sandburg calling for medical assistance, but his blood ran cold when he heard the acrid words: "Officer down." What the hell had Sandburg seen take place in that house?
Still on his knees, one hand covering the pulse point on Danielle's tiny neck, Jim eased himself higher in the neglected crop and recognized the crouching figure of Brown, now out of the building and anticipating the exit of his prey. Horrified, Ellison watched as Matier inched through the rotten doorframe, arm in a throttlehold around someone's throat, and gun rammed tightly against his captive's head.
The events suddenly pieced themselves together as he took in the tracer mark of gunpowder residue across the detective's right cheek, and the hobbling limp of the distraught father. "Danielle!" Matier's beseeching voice tearing the morning silence. Ellison guessed that Rafe had been trying to either reach the girl, or get her away from her father when the bullet had skimmed across his face, and his responding action had been to loose a bullet of his own. Whether that had caused the accident involving Danielle's fall, he would find out later. In the meantime, Brown's gun was leveled at the narrowest gap between the side of the deranged father's head and his partner.
Knowing that Matier hadn't noticed his own presence, he reached behind his back for his own piece and came up short. Panicked movements still produced nothing in the fruitless hunt for his weapon. Where the fuck was it?
The whisper on the breeze wasn't Danielle; he looked down to check.
"Jim!" The whisper came again with more urgency. Leaning against the house for support, Sandburg was relying on his friend to trust his abilities, and let his hearing carry Blair's hushed words to him. "This side of Danielle. You dropped it. About one foot this way."
How incompetent could he have been? How unprofessional? How... What?
"You saved her life, Jim. That was more important than anything else." Peering through the stems of dying wheat, he could see the imploring gestures of his friend. The friend who knew him better than he did himself, and who knew that he would be beating himself up for charging towards the girl first, and not helping his colleagues. "Danielle's alive, I know, man, or you wouldn't be looking at me. You'd be busy with her. It's because of you that she's alive. I saw you."
Thank god for Sandburg. He might have been flying by the seat of his pants with regard the Sentinel stuff; but he was speaking from heart-achieved experience to know what Ellison needed to hear.
Yes, it had been too early to get back into the field, but he was here now, and Danielle was breathing and resting comfortably.
He inched his way across her, to finger the butt of his revolver back towards him until it was within his grasp.
Brown, however, was now trying to encourage Matier to drop his weapon, or at least let the ashen-faced Rafe go. Brian was staggering to keep up with the sidesteps of the limping gunman, but every time his legs sagged, the gun was pressed tighter against his skin.
"Just do it, H." Rafe opened his eyes wide enough to make contact with his partner. He had seen Ellison out of the corner of his vision, but knew there was no clear shot from either position. With the trembling in Matier's hand intensifying with each passing moment, Rafe knew that it was a matter of moments before the mechanism was triggered. It was either do things their way, or have his head blown off by this incensed and emotionally dangerous man.
"Shut up!" Matier demanded, searching the area for his daughter. "Danielle! Danielle, Daddy's sorry. I love you, sweetheart. I'm sorry." He hoisted Rafe closer into his body, using him as protection against the other policeman who had been stupid enough to follow him here. He and Danielle would have been safe. She loved him, and wanted to be with him. That's why she was going to stay with him. That's why he had been and fetched her from that woman who didn't know what it was to love a child. "Danielle. Where are you?"
"You've killed her, Matier," Brown risked, getting increasingly nervous at the demeanor of his target. "You pushed her out of the window, and I heard her hit the ground. So did you." He knew Ellison was off to his right, but Sentinel vision or no, there was no way the detective could have gotten a clear shot from where he was. Brown knew it was down to him. Hairboy was no doubt around here too, but this would have to be between himself and Matier. The guy looked about ready to shoot off the next round, regardless of who it hit.
"I didn't kill her. She's alive. Aren't you? Danielle?" His hoarse shout lifted across the expanse. Where did he expect her to have gone? Was he so wound up that he couldn't figure the fall distance from the pulley entrance above him?
"Just do it," Rafe pleaded, feeling the twitch in the weapon arm. He couldn't duck out from this position without taking a pellet of lead through the skull, but his legs were refusing to hold him up for much longer. That sting across his face earlier had been a close call, but the pummeling his head took when he landed hard had knocked the energy out of him. Brown would have to take the bull by the horns and do this.
Helpless, Jim had watched the shake of the father's hand, and centered his Sentinel vision. The only way he could take out the perpetrator was to shoot Rafe along with him.
"For god's sake, H..." Rafe hastily ransacked his thoughts to give his partner a clue for what he intended, and remembered the altercations which had been dealt with, then swept firmly under the rug two weeks before. "Do an Ellison," he yelled, inspiration kicking in hard. "Do an Ellison."
The idea hit the three waiting man in tandem.
At that moment, Danielle made the faintest of moans, and attention was diverted away from the house and into the tall stalks of wheat. Matier had been keeping Rafe so close that his vision had been obscured. Now, panicking that his daughter might need him, his fingers clenched tighter onto the gun.
All Ellison could see through the sight, was the trigger finger being drawn inexorably backwards, and in the split second between Danielle regaining consciousness and Matier releasing the next bullet in the chamber, Henri Brown, knowing what would happen if he didn't act now, swallowed every comment he'd made towards Ellison - and shot his partner.
The gunshot echoed across the distant woods and flocks of frightened birds sprang forth from the high branches of trees. The second shot rebounded off the house, while the final shot brought a stillness that sickened those present.
Brown slowly lowered his gun and surveyed the damage. Two men lay on the floor. Blood spattered the surrounding area.
Jim checked his charge one more time, before stepping forward, holding his hand out for the detective's fired weapon, and making it safe. Blair rounded the corner, and headed straight for his downed friend, Brian Rafe.
"I had to do it, Jim," Brown coughed, distressed by his forced actions. "Matier was going to kill him."
Ellison laid the used gun on the ground, and drew the other detective into a tight hug. "You had no choice, H, you did the right thing." They were used to dealing with unpleasant acts in their line of work, but sometimes it became too personal.
"He's dead," Sandburg's shout came back to them.
Brown turned around swiftly and yanked himself out of Ellison's embrace, striding over to the fallen men. He knelt on the ground, and reached out to the staring eyes. Muttering a silent prayer of forgiveness, he lowered the lids, and bade the man a farewell to this life.
"If you hadn't have taken him out, we would have been next," Jim assured him, patting him on the shoulder.
"Yeah," agreed a second voice. "But I wish to hell you hadn't had to shoot me first."
Rafe was sitting with Sandburg's assistance. "It hurts like hell."
"Hey, I only winged you, cry-baby." Brown's face broke into a tired smile. "And I'm sorry."
"As Ellison said," Rafe winced, pressing his hand against his bleeding shoulder, "you did the right thing." Blair was already searching through Rafe's jacket pockets for something to help stem the flow of blood. "How's the girl?"
Jim was already on his way back over to Danielle, who was beginning to stir. "She's okay," he returned, as the sirens in the distance grew ever closer. "I think she's probably concussed, but she's breathing on her own now, and her heart rate's steady."
The four men looked at the still figure of Matier, and wished for Danielle to know nothing of this.
"So what precisely is 'Doing an Ellison?'" Banks insisted as Rafe finished his spiel. The junior detective was sitting up in the hospital bed, arm in a sling, and a butterfly dressing on his cheek.
Rafe looked around at the gathered people there, and figured he'd be safe in a hospital. Ellison wasn't allowed to be verbally abusive in a hospital, was he? He certainly wouldn't be allowed to threaten a patient. Would he? "It's the... um..." On second thoughts, perhaps he'd wait until he was in a position to run away, very fast, in the opposite direction.
"It's a wanton act of violence against your partner," Jim filled in, much to everyone's amazement. He had been sitting quietly in the corner while Rafe and Brown discussed the events of that morning. He knew that at some point in the day he would need to discuss at least temporary discontinuation of fieldwork with Simon; being so single-minded at such critical times could have resulted in a far worse ending; as it was they had been lucky. Very lucky.
"I hear Danielle's alive and talking with her mother, thanks to you," Simon pointed out, knowing how Ellison's mind must be working.
"Should have seen him, Simon," Blair offered. "Straight in there, madman on the loose, and he was giving her CPR."
"Don't, Chief." The words were quiet, but all heard them.
It was Brown who spoke next, moving from his partner's side, to the chair where Ellison sat. "It wasn't Emily, Jim. We all know that. Especially you. But Danielle is quite definitely alive because of you. And you mustn't forget that."
"Hey - and I'm alive because H knew what I meant by 'doing an Ellison'."
"Okay, okay," Simon intoned, holding up restraining hands. "Let's break this up before everyone starts declaring their love for one another. Jim? I need your full report on my desk before you go home this afternoon. Rafe, get some rest. Brown, you need a shower. Sandburg, go... go practice faking Jim's signature or something. Anything where you're not standing for any length of time; I'm not having your doctor hounding me again."
The group broke up, leaving Rafe to sleep.
As Jim, the last to leave, headed towards the door, the patient called him back. "You don't mind, do you, Jim? I didn't mean anything by it." Ellison shook his head, happy to let the matter drop. "You're okay, Jim. We trust you."
He didn't turn back as Rafe settled down for some well-earned rest.
The words rang in the detective's head as he headed back towards the truck. As a timely reminder, the new skin on the back of his right hand prompted him to remember the origins of the phrase. He still felt guilty, but if he admitted that to them, Sandburg would give him yet another lecture, so he smiled, and tried to keep the thoughts to himself.
"Hey, Jim," Blair said, as the engine was gunned and shifted into gear. "Henri's just given me this. He said I had to open it when we were in the truck."
Jim looked across at the large manila envelope in his friend's hand. "Well, go ahead, Chief. Open it." He turned onto Main and headed downtown. Simon could wait for the report. He owed his friend a very late lunch.
"Oh man, I don't believe this." Blair leafed through the sheets and the other contents of the packet. "You're going to hate him."
"What? Who?" The truck cruised past Wonderburger, and Jim didn't even flinch. "Sandburg, what is it?" The kid was going to get it if he didn't spit out whatever it was. He could tell mockery when he heard it. Didn't take Sentinel hearing to sense sarcasm. "Chief?"
Blair gave in and held up the items, ensuring that the road was clear enough for the backlash, first. "It's two tickets for an awareness course run by the EPA, and two tins of salmon."
copyright Xasphie 31/01/05