Originally posted to the SA List May 2004
Jim wasn't overly surprised to feel the pulsating roar in his head. He remembered being hit by the car during a vain attempt to stop its progression, and recalled his annoyance at running out of bullets. Using your body to stop a speeding vehicle was never a good idea.
Nor was he overly surprised to feel the familiar intrusion in the back of his right hand, and the gentle flow of intravenous fluids confusing his system.
There was a weight over his left leg, and a miniscule movement clarified the cast encasing his damaged limb from hip to ankle, angled up from the bed to relieve the pressure.
There was someone else in the room; and the potent tang of recently smoked cigar was all the clue the detective needed to know his Captain was holding vigil.
Why was it, that whenever a patient roused from unconsciousness in either books or on TV, they moaned as their first utterance? Ellison wouldn't do that; he had a wider vocabulary than that.
Another searing blast lanced through his head reminded him of the concussion he must have sustained.
The heavy feet landing on the floor pre-emptied the name being repeated, but much closer. "Jim? You in there?"
Sleep-encrusted eyelids reluctantly flickered open, but refused to focus on the looming tower above him. Annoyed, he found himself offering a second moan.
Then, Jim cleared his throat to voice a familiar name. "Blair?"
"Who?" Simon reached over to use the call button, wanting to alert the medical staff of their patient's awareness.
"Sandburg." Ellison's eyes closed, the effort of speaking overwhelming his battered system.
Simon Banks shook his head, a small smile creeping across his mouth. Ellison rarely made sense when he was fully awake. Now his first words were, bizarrely, the name of a petty thief who was proving elusive to arrest.
Four weeks later, an uncomfortable Ellison was giving up any idea of sleeping. He was fed up with being incapacitated and was finding it hard to cope with the perpetual itching emanating from the dry skin under the cast. He had spent a boring week in the hospital, being monitored for any underlying injuries and receiving bed-baths from a voluptuous nurse with a personal hygiene issue. Three weeks of stumbling around his loft apartment, and having to sleep on the sofa had become more than he could bear. This evening, he had exerted a good deal of energy in dragging his aching body up the stairs to his own bed. Now, at just after 2am, with a pillow cushioning his recovering limb, Detective Ellison was still staring straight up at the cobwebs that had sneaked into his immaculate home.
He could hear the occasional car down in the street and had become accustomed to being able to track them for nearly a mile before losing individual sounds. It was a trait that had gradually impeded on his life, as his hearing extended, his eyesight became too clear, his sense of taste far too acute, and his olfactory senses causing nausea until he was able to tone it all down. His sense of touch could go to hell right now, he mused, as his monitoring of the Chevy with the unbalanced tires was interrupted by another round of itching skin.
Temporarily appeased, he extended out his hearing into the night once more, a small comfort against the throbbing pain in his fractured leg.
The Chevy seemed to have made a wrong turn and was being driven down Prospect for the second time. Ellison secretly marveled that he could identify the slight swoosh in the offside front tire. His senses had proved useful in his work, and had been enthusiastically accepted by his colleagues. Any weapon against the rising crime rate in Cascade was welcome.
The vehicle came to a halt and was parked up a few blocks north, and two doors surreptitiously clicked shut. Conversation was muted but seemed to include the words 'force' and 'no activity'. Intrigued, Jim refined his hearing and listened more closely. The two men's voices were hushed, but at such an early hour, that shouldn't be so out of place, what pulled Ellison in further was the number '307' and the words 'straight in, grab what you can and get out'.
A furtive hand reached into his bedside cabinet to retrieve his ever-present service revolver. Following his disastrous run-in with the Delaney car, Jim triple checked the chamber and the clip, and ran yet another precautionary finger over the safety catch.
The voices had ceased but the soft footfalls were creeping inexorably closer to his building, pushing through the exterior door and ascending the two flights of stairs up to the loft.
Maneuvering himself to the top of his stairs, Ellison waited, his left hand on the railing and taking the majority of his weight; his right hand raised and gun pointed towards the door in readiness.
The chain clanked almost imperceptibly, and the minute scraping sounds of metal on metal gave Jim the advantage of knowing the second the lock dropped. A small pair of wire cutters were slid through the inch gap between the door and the frame, and made quick work of the last security barrier. The door was slowly pushed open and a blond crew-cut sauntered in, flashlight in hand. His partner followed immediately behind and turned to the lounge area, heading towards the television.
"I wouldn't." Ellison's voice rang clear and was accompanied by the click of the safety being released on his weapon.
The startled intruder froze and retained his hold on the television set; while crew-cut spun around from his rifling in the kitchen drawers, and aimed the flashlight towards the unexpected voice. The sudden influx of light caused the detective's irises to contract so quickly that he was temporarily blinded. Instinctively, he brought up his left hand to cover his eyes and found himself losing his balance.
Crew-cut foresaw the next turn of events, grabbed the wallet from the side and the keys out of the basket, and ran. The dark-haired young man by the television had yet to turn, and so didn't see their burglary victim beginning his fall down the flight of stairs.
He did, however, see the expression of alarm on his cohort's face as he ran from the apartment, and heard the strangled cry from the plummeting victim. He didn't so much hear, but rather sense the discharge of the unsafe weapon, as an errant bullet sped across the room and embedded itself into his unprotected chest.
"Jim, wake up."
Go away. The voice was persistent and annoying.
"Mr. Ellison, can you hear me?"
Of course I can fucking hear you, you're shouting at me.
Crap, was that him moaning again? Could he please stop with that pathetic whimpering sound?
Yes, for god's sake, yes, I can hear you. Now go away.
Ow, fuck. Where did that pain come from?
There was a single line of fire pulsing through his left side, but seemed to stop at his leg. His arm, his hand, his side. All seemed to be warring with his skull for preference. The stabbing in his head was so not being helped by Simon shouting at him.
What the hell was Simon doing in his bedroom?
"Yeah, Jim. Good. It's me." A cloying antiseptic smell was transplanted by, unless he was mistaken, Macanudo cigars. A limited edition gold label. He wrinkled his nose against the aroma and was rewarded with a plastic oxygen mask being slipped over his face.
Opening his eyes, Jim realized he was still in his apartment, but far from being on his own, it was now a hive of activity. There were several EMTs hovering, some over him and some over someone else near the door. It seemed that Major Crimes had roused themselves, and were now prodding and poking into every corner, under the guise of looking for clues. Simon himself was playing Mother Hen and fussing around with the medics. Both Ellison and the other patient were now on backboards and being prepped for journeys to the hospital.
"What happened, Simon?" Jim's voice was muffled but coherent.
"We think you surprised a burglar and fell down the stairs in the process," Banks filled in.
Ellison mulled this over, and offered one final comment, "I fell down the stairs? How embarrassing." It wasn't fair that he was hurting all over again. Hadn't he been hurting enough in the last few weeks? Hell, he hadn't even had any sleep since yesterday morning.
Sleep. Being unconscious was a form of sleep.
That seemed like a good idea.
At which point, the light went out and Jim slipped into the blackness.
"This is getting old news, Joel."
The latest permanent transfer to Major Crimes chortled, as he stacked the reports on Ellison's bed-table.
"You in hospital? Yeah, tell me about it, it's costing us a fortune in whip-rounds to buy you baskets of fruit."
"How's the kid doing?" Jim pulled the table towards him and idly flipped through the first buff-colored file.
"Yeah." The patient feigned interest in the report, but was desperate for more positive news about the intruder he had accidentally shot. Sandburg had been in surgery as dawn broke, and now, long after the sun had set, there was still no sign that the young man was going to regain consciousness.
"I can go and see." The burly man rose and headed for the door. "Why are you so concerned about him anyway, Jim?"
"I'm the one who shot him. In my home." He wasn't going to mention his confusion that it had been Sandburg's name he had uttered four weeks before. The expression on his face told Taggert not to question him further.
The statistics and background check lay open in front of him, and Jim had all but memorized each detail. Blair Sandburg came from a single parent family, and had been studying in higher education since the age of 16, mostly on scholarships. Receiving his Masters in his early twenties he had begun work on his doctorate. And it was at that point his life had spiraled downwards. Arrested for theft from the offices of two of his advisory committee, and later found to have been submitting fraudulent thesis documentation for approval, Sandburg had been dismissed from Rainier University and had apparently been living on his wits since. In the last year there had been a spate of burglaries that the former-anthropologist had been linked to, but with no concrete evidence, no arrests had been made and no charges brought. There was no address listed on the file, and the Social Security documents indicated that one Blair Sandburg was currently homeless.
That would explain the long, filthy, straggly hair; the stench from the clothes that had been removed from him when admitted; and the almost emaciated appearance.
Ellison looked from the typed pages on his lap, to the unconscious form on the ICU bed. He had pleaded with the nursing staff to allow him to be in here, and was sitting in a wheelchair, left leg at a right angle to the floor, and the replacement cast now dry.
Sandburg's face was so pale. The detective felt a pang of guilt at the trauma he had caused this young man, and the fight he was now having for his life. A petty criminal who was clearly only going to steal easily pawn-able items, did not deserve to have a bullet ripping through his chest. The kid must have only been doing enough to survive.
The tubing swamped the small figure. Machines bleeped in tandem with vitals, oxygen fed, IV tubes nourished, small plastic tubes collected, catheters removed, bags stored.
This was so unwarranted.
Forcing past the lump in his throat, Ellison finally managed the words: "I'm sorry."
He closed the folder and placed his hand over the slender paw resting on the sheets. "I'm sorry."
Against medical advice, Ellison maintained his vigil for the next thirty-six hours, and was rewarded when Sandburg floated back towards the world he desperately wanted to leave.
Groggy, unrecognizing eyes stared up at the detective's face, before rolling back into his head and falling back to sleep.
It wasn't until the next day, when some of the tubes had been removed, that Sandburg was lucid enough to manage a short conversation. His eyes had flashed warily at Ellison's still unknown face, and he couldn't understand why a patient was taking the time to sit with him.
"Who're you?" The question was whispered so quietly that the detective was glad of his enhanced hearing.
"My name's Jim Ellison," he offered. "I'm a detective with Major Crimes here in Cascade." Blair's stiffening body was obvious.
"Maj'r Crimes? 'm I under arrest?" The tense jaw muscles displayed his nervousness, and Jim found himself looking down at his own hands and unable to make eye contact. Major Crimes had only noticed the name of Sandburg because he was becoming such a thorn in the side of the uniforms what he couldn't explain though, was the draw he felt towards this kid.
"Not as such, Chief." The silence asked the next question. "It was my place you broke into."
Neither man spoke. Sandburg gazed at the ceiling, mixed emotions fighting for dominance. Ellison stared uselessly at his hands.
Not even the first time he had shot someone, had it hit as hard as this. It felt wrong in so many ways. This was the first time his gun had unintentionally discharged, and it was certainly the first time he had unjustifiably injured someone. Yes, Sandburg had been intending to steal from him, but he had had neither a weapon, nor the intention to cause bodily harm.
"When... when will... be, be arrested?" His energy was dwindling, and the older man watched Blair's eyes slowly shut.
"Don't worry. You won't." He didn't know if Sandburg heard his comment or not, but he felt easier for having said it.
The door to 307 closed behind them, as Ellison gestured towards the small box room under the stairs. "That's your room."
Sandburg nodded in mute surprise, and walked towards his new accommodation. The scarring on his chest still pulled when he moved, but the residual discomfort was fading as the days passed. Being offered a roof over his head by the very man he had not only tried to burgle, but who had shot him, had been an astonishing turn of events. Ellison's work colleagues had appeared equally taken aback, and he had been openly criticized by his Captain.
"Just give the kid a break," Blair had heard as the exasperated argument continued. "He needs time to get back on his feet."
"What, so he can rob you blind and leave?"
The words had stung, but Blair couldn't deny their validity. This was the most generous anyone had ever been to him in the last, oh, the last ten years? The shower at the hospital had been a godsend. The ones in the shelter never seemed to have enough water pressure to do more than get him mildly damp he had washed better during the recent downpours. Recovery had been an upward climb, but having free hot food placed in front of him had worked marvels on a dilapidated immune system. He was almost at the stage where he could think straight. Now, here was Detective Ellison offering him a free room.
"I have certain house rules which involve cleaning up after yourself, and not making a mess Think you can manage that?"
Blair wasn't sure how much of this was patronizing and how much was in jest, but he remained silent as he took in the futon bed and the cushions. Apart from the hospital, he couldn't recall the last time he had actually slept in a proper bed. There was that time they had burgled the house over on Anderson, and had staked it out so well that they knew the owners wouldn't be back for hours, so he and Mikey had caught a few hours sleep on the Anderson's divan beds. But that had been many months ago. The back seat of stolen cars, the occasional shelter, the odd alleyway, the frequent park bench during the day none of which were 'home'.
He edged forwards, expecting the offer to be rescinded at any moment, until his knees were against the soft mattress.
"Go on," Jim urged, picking up on the elevated heartbeat. "Do you need to rest now?"
"No, man, I'm good." Sandburg shuffled his feet, feeling awkward. He turned and managed a rare smile. "Thanks." He sat down on the bed. "As soon as I'm better, I'll be outta your hair." He considered his new 'friend' and risked a jibe. "Not that you have much..."
Jim was relieved to find that his guest did indeed have some sense of humor, and offered a smile of his own.
"I'm going to grab a shower, help yourself to food. I'll be a while." Jim indicated the strapping that now replaced the cast. It had been two weeks since the shooting, six since his original accident, and although his leg was healing well, his wasted muscles needed support.
When Jim emerged from the shower thirty minutes later, he found freshly made sandwiches sitting on a plate on the kitchen counter. A cup of coffee sat next to it. The counters had been wiped clean; the cutlery washed and was drying on the drainer. Sandburg was back in his room.
"Thanks, Chief." Ellison listened for a response, but only heard the relaxed breathing of someone who had fallen into a light sleep. He had been nervous about inviting his own thief to share his house for a few weeks, but the personal references from those who had known Sandburg at Rainier dismissed many of those fears. It almost seemed that the deception and stealing had been completely out of character, but Blair's subsequent behavior and thieving led credence to the accusations. Guilt played no small part in his decision, and Ellison was also aware that the young man would be perfectly within his rights to draw up charges of actual bodily harm it was a weird legal system if an intruder could sue when injured by those from whom they were stealing. Jim stole upstairs as quietly as he could to avoid disturbing Blair. He took his new, replacement wallet with him, along with his keys and his revolver.
Allowing the kid into his house was one thing. Trusting him implicitly would be another.
Dinner four days later, was the first time Blair had left his room while Jim was in the living area. He had sneaked to the bathroom a few times, and had covertly prepared food while his host was either out or in the shower. This gesture was appreciated, but unnecessary, nevertheless Ellison needed to find the opportunity to discuss their situation in sentences of more than a few words.
Jim had spent his last day of his sick-leave making and receiving telephone calls while the younger man slept. He had widened his enquiries about his houseguest and had made some interesting discoveries. A new confidence in his convictions over the doctoral reject had flourished, and he wondered if it had been more than mere coincidence that had drawn the two of them together. Certainly, with the results of today's questions stored in his head, he doubted that it could have been anything other than providence that had led Sandburg to be in this apartment.
Determined to make some progress at communication and trust, Jim had ordered Chinese and the smell alone had finally tempted Blair from his room.
"I've kept it plain, as the hospital said you needed to avoid spicy until you're system's back up to full whack," the detective explained as he hobbled back to the table. "I didn't know what you liked, so I got a little of everything."
Blair bit his lip as he stared at the array of food in front of him. He had seen Chinese food in the trash behind The Kam Wah a few weeks before he broke into 852 Prospect, but no matter how desperate he had become, he couldn't allow himself to forage in open containers. Instead, he had turned and headed back to the shelter, to be given a mild chicken broth that was virtually flavorless. He couldn't afford to be picky, it was clean food, and it was free.
"Um, can I...?" The pale face looked lost, the dark hair falling freely. "You don't..."
"What, Chief?" The sweat glistening from Blair's forehead, once more, coupled with the racing heartbeat, was a telltale sign of nerves. "Don't you like Chinese food?"
"No, I love it." The gushed words showed an energy Jim hadn't seen before. "I mean, um, have you got, do you mind if I make a sandwich?" Blair was moving towards the refrigerator before Ellison could stop him, and was reaching for the uncut loaf. He gasped as his chest pulled, and clasped his arms over the injured area. Jim watched. This wasn't a show for attention; nobody could fake the symptoms of pain, the way Blair's vitals were doing.
"Come and sit down, Chief," Ellison almost commanded, trying to keep a soft edge to his voice.
It took some time before Sandburg could straighten, and close the refrigerator door. When he did his face was white and the sweat was now streaming down his temples. "Come and sit down," Jim reiterated, holding out a hand of support. "You need food, and there's too much here for me to eat by myself. You'll have to help me."
Blair was ravenous and the food did look inviting. If there really was too much there for Ellison to eat, then it couldn't hurt to help. It was clean food, and it was free.
Jim smiled as the noodles disappeared along with the rice and the chicken dishes, and a hint of color returned to the kid's face. "What kind of stuff do you like?"
Bright eyes looked over. "I love Asian," Blair replied, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "We used to get take-out from that Thai place over on Robson, before it closed down."
"Yeah, I remember that place."
"Their Red Eye Chili special was really something. I used to buy tubs of it from them to make my own, and we had Thai food parties at..." The animation died.
"At what?" Jim prompted, curious and wanting to see more of the happiness that had radiated for a few fleeting moments. "At Rainier?"
Blair's fork fell onto his plate and he pushed the dish away. "Leave the washing up, I'll do it in the morning." He made to stand. "Thanks for the meal, Jim."
Jim did not intend to let the matter rest here. "Tell me about Rainier, Blair? What were you studying?"
"Thanks for the meal, Jim." Sandburg tucked the chair back under the table, and winced as he turned. "I'm heading to bed, I mean, if that's okay?"
Ellison scrubbed a discouraged hand through his hair. This was not the same personality that had been described to him by the students and professors. They had described an outgoing, gregarious, flamboyant figure who was vivacious and full of curiosity towards life. How had that changed so drastically? This was a subdued man who, although recovering from a serious injury, showed no zest for anything. The occasional glimmer was all Jim had seen, and he needed to encourage him. He could help him get back on the right path again. Perhaps he could talk to the faculty advisors at Rainier about giving Blair another chance. If money had been such an issue before, then perhaps offering him free accommodation could help him.
Ellison had no idea why he was thinking such selfless thoughts. He had been so relieved to again be living on his own after his failed marriage to Carolyn. Now he was prepared to offer long-term housing to a known thief, liar and vagrant. Perhaps Simon had been right, and he was seeing more into the situation than was necessary. The detective had been glancing over the Sandburg file shortly before his accident so subsequently, having his name in his forethought was easily explained.
Undeterred in his quest to make meaningful contact, Jim switched on the television and flicked through the sports channels. None of the games held his attention and he found himself tuning to the Discovery Channel. A former roommate had declared that to be Blair's favorite pastime when time allowed. There was a program on the hidden tribes of the African continent, discussing the impact that "civilization" was having on their cultures. During one set of commercials he found himself limping over to the box room. "Sandburg?"
He berated himself for not hearing the stifled sobs earlier, but acted as though he hadn't noticed anything. "Blair? There's a program on the Discovery Channel about the lamba in Zimbabwe." Jim counted to ten before shifting his leg to a more comfortable position. "There's another forty minutes of it left, according to the TV guide."
A scuffling behind the curtain showed promise, and was followed by a muttered, "It's the Lemba tribe, and they were reputed to be descendents of the attendants to King Solomon, and they traveled to Ohir, as it was known at the time, to...." The curtain untouched, Blair's voice broke off as he ambled back to his bed, throwing himself down and facing into his pillow. Enhanced hearing picked up the next words too, although Blair did not intend that. "But why should you care, no one cares. Fuck, I don't care anymore. It was damn useless at the time anyway. What use is that to pay the rent?"
"If it keeps you in a doctorate program, it's damn useful information."
The stunned silence lasted for a full three minutes. Jim settled himself against the counter edge and waited.
At last, the curtain was drawn back and a questioning and bemused former student emerged. "How did you hear what I just said?"
"I did my research."
"Into what? Psychic transference?" Blair seemed almost scared by the thoughts that were charging through his mind.
"Into what you were researching." Jim's stance remained stoic; he knew he was taking an enormous gamble.
"My 'research' was false, and if you've done as much prying into my background as you seem to think you have the authority to do, then you would know that. I'm a fake, a phony, and I deserved to be thrown out of Rainier." The animation so often mentioned by former associates had returned, but there was certainly no joy in the frightened blue eyes. Deservedly so. Both knew that Ellison did indeed have the authority to check out a felon's background, especially when it came to offering them board and lodging in their own home.
"Your research was based on Richard Burton's findings in Paraguay."
"And I proved, almost conclusively, that Sentinels don't exist." One arm wrapped across his damaged chest, and his shoulder against the doorpost, Blair clarified with an exhausted sigh. "I wanted to believe it was possible for sentinels to exist, but they don't. There are instances of one or two heightened senses in a person, but never all five. I searched for years and experimented with a vast range of people and tried to induce conditions whereby Sentinel senses could be activated, and produced those negative results and analyses for the committee."
"And I heard you, how?" Jim raised an eyebrow in provocation.
"Because you have one heightened sense. It's not uncommon." Blair was adamant.
Ellison looked over at the window, and extended his vision. "And I can tell you there's a fire truck approximately seven blocks away, heading this direction, how?"
Sandburg followed his line of sight and waited. It took several seconds before he was able to identify the blur of red in the distance for himself. Setting his jaw, he admitted, "Okay, man, so you have two heightened senses."
"You used the lemon shampoo at the hospital, the natural conditioner, the mint shampoo here, and you intentionally left in some of the herbal conditioner." Jim twitched his nose, glad that he no longer had to smell the disgusting odor that was on Blair's clothes when he had first broken into his home.
"Not hard to work out," Blair stammered, deliberately not back-peddling. "Hospital issue is all the same, and you only have two brands here."
In a last ditch attempt, the detective lurched forwards and grabbed Sandburg's arm. "Just here," he murmured, rubbing a gentle finger across the right wrist. "You used to wear a leather strapped watch, with the face on the inside of your wrist. You must have worn it for years because I can still feel the shape of it."
Blair snatched his wrist back and examined the skin for himself. He ran his own fingers over the surface in stupefaction, unable to detect anything. Suddenly anger surged through him when he decided that the information must have come from the dossier this man had on him. Was nothing sacred? He guessed not he had given over that right when he had turned into a criminal.
"You wanted to study someone who could taste water and tell you its individual components; someone who could look at a drop of rain and tell you the shape of the molecules; someone who could listen to a bird singing a mile away and tell you what it had for dinner." Although Jim had accepted his own senses when they emerged, it had never occurred to him that there might be someone in the world, other than the government, who might want to study this phenomenon. Receiving word from one of the present Teaching Fellows at Rainier that Blair Sandburg had been studying Sentinels, Ellison's enhanced senses were finally given a name when an explanation was offered as to what that implied. The slow realization of his legitimate connection to this man had come as a shock.
Jim now knew the definitive reason he had offered Blair a home.
Not the world's greatest believer in fate, he couldn't help but acknowledge, sometimes, that everything happens for a reason.
He had expected Blair to be astonished, bewildered, overwhelmed, relieved, even dismayed. What he hadn't considered was the suffering that spread across Sandburg's face, and the engulfing agony of hurt that slaughtered the last of his defenses.
"So when my notes were stolen, and I had to falsify my results or be kicked off the program, you were already in Cascade." The quiet, heartbroken voice carried over the background noise of the television. "When my credit card company wanted payment, and I had been sick and had had to give up my part-time job, and I couldn't afford my rent, the one person who I could have studied was here." There were no tears in Blair's eyes as he talked through the lost emotions. "I spent years proving that you didn't exist, and not only do you exist, but you have to offer me the one thing I've been looking for, for over a year. You offered me somewhere to stay."
Jim wanted to take the younger man into his arms, and give the only form of comfort he knew, when words failed. He stepped forwards, but Blair backed into the room. "Y'know, man, I always wondered what I would have done if I had only got my doctorate. And yet you were here. The student loans might have been worth something." The choked laugh was initially small, but swiftly turned hysterical as Sandburg fully realized the cruel way that fate had twisted. Jim tried to follow him into the room, and stood helplessly as Blair slumped to the floor - a decent soul that had been crushed by circumstance.
"We can move on from here, Chief." Jim struggled onto the floor, his leg out-stretched. He grasped the trembling hands in his own, and moved the shaking form into his embrace. "You've got someone now, we can move on."
Blair Sandburg, a verbose, eloquent, former graduate student, could no longer articulate his emotions. He was beyond feeling, so he allowed himself to be held by this man who was a virtual stranger to him, the same man that he had wronged. This was the first form of caring he had known in such a long time. He had expected his dismissal from Rainier; events had been conspiring against him for too long, and his career was already in tatters. He had expected to be injured at some point during his new life as a full-time thief, but was surprised that it had taken over a year. But to be presented with the antithesis of his doctorate fourteen months too late, was an overwhelmingly depressing shock.
He was sure there was a story for the papers in there somewhere: "Fellow Shot by the Antithesis of his Doctorate". It brought about another uncertain laugh, which Ellison ignored, and only hugged him even tighter.
They stayed on the floor for a long time, while both gathered their thoughts.
"You said, 'we'," Blair eventually observed. "What did you mean by 'we'?"
"As in 'us'," Jim returned, flexing his seizing left leg. "You can stay here while you get your life back together, and I can help you."
"But why would you do that?" Blair was still incredulous that anyone could be so generous. "You don't know me. Not really. All you truly know about me is that I've been stealing from people to make ends meet since before I left Rainier."
"And if you stay here, there's no need to steal." Jim moved to stand as his recovering leg was starting to object to the floor. "Think about it, Chief. All you have to do is say 'yes'."
Another mute nod.
"C'mon, help me up here." Ellison offered the emotional young man a further hug, and balanced against the chair, favoring his left side. "We can talk some more when I get home tomorrow. You should still be taking it easy. Do you want me to bring home anything special for dinner?"
Dumbfounded at the continued show of support, Blair could only manage a dazed headshake. "Why?"
"I seem to have turned from a rational man into a fatalist, and I'm sure that you've got some anthropological analysis as to how that relates to my having abilities as a Sentinel." Jim straightened the lines of the curtain before turning back. "And, why not?"
"I could have been stealing from you," Blair announced.
"But you haven't."
"But I could have been."
"You need a Sentinel," Jim reminded him, running a tired arm across his face. "And I wouldn't mind some ideas about how and why I'm able to watch the fish jumping in the ocean, nine blocks away. Sounds like a good partnership deal to me, Chief. What d'ya reckon?"
Blair had nothing to say. He was being offered the chance to begin again, in safety.
Dazed, he stood in his doorway and watched as Ellison readied himself for bed. The detective was riding a desk in the morning, until the doctor gave him full medical clearance, but he would still need an early night.
"If I don't see you in the morning, I'll be home around 4pm," Jim called, as he climbed the stairs. "If you need anything during the day, the number's by the phone. Just call."
Blair had still not spoken, but allowed the turn of events to wash over him. He stared as Jim disappeared to his room, and didn't turn into his own room until long after he heard the gentle snoring from above.
Drained, he sat on the bed, and remained motionless for hours. After his sudden extremes of moods he now drew a blank. He couldn't feel anything. He wanted to feel excitement that he could now run some tests with his very own Sentinel and try out his own hypotheses; he wanted to experience the thrill of knowing he could finally turn in an accurate, fully researched doctoral thesis. But, gradually his thoughts were over-ridden by the same sentiment that had run through Jim, and thus led to Blair living in this apartment for nearly a week.
Nothing could ever detract from the fact that Blair had stolen. He had stolen from friends, colleagues, superiors, and total strangers. In the last year alone, he had pawned countless items beginning with his own property. The car had been the first to go, then the laptop. With summer break on the cards, any employment had already been snapped up by students, and no one wanted someone who had been fired and was unable to produce references. When he found himself selling the last of his collected artifacts to the University Museum he knew that the next rent check he produced, would be his last. And it had been. When the debt collectors arrived and took the very last of his possessions, he found himself on the street with nothing. He hadn't been able to locate his mother, Naomi, and feeling so disenchanted with the world, he hadn't felt like trying to hitchhike to Mexico to get on a dig. Besides, his heart was no longer into anthropology. He felt betrayed, by himself, and by all those he had ever known.
That was when he had forced himself to bury his ethics along with his career aspirations.
It came back to guilt. He would always, now, be branded a thief. He still couldn't understand why he hadn't been arrested for breaking into this very apartment. Perhaps Jim had lied for him? Or perhaps he just hadn't pressed charges knowing that if Blair chose to, he could have launched counter charges for the shooting. Not that he would have done so. He was too honorable... that was a joke.
It was ironic that Blair found himself writing the note just after 2am. Approximately the same time he had been shot.
As he had taken his full dose of pain meds to help him through the night, Jim never heard him leave.
The note was simple, thanking Ellison for his hospitality, and explaining that he could never face the world of academia again. He had disgraced himself in more ways than one, and to have found a Sentinel was reward enough for the years he had spent researching. He wished his new friend well, and thanked him for trusting him, but he was sorry he couldn't accept the generous offer of support.
When Jim awoke the next morning, he knew that Blair had gone. The note was laid on the kitchen table, but he read it from the top of the stairs. His insides plunged to their depths with despair; he had truly hoped that he might have been able to make a difference in the young anthropologist's life. He would put out an APB on the elusive thief, and endure the comments from the rest of his department. Simon would point out that mentioning Sandburg's name that time, had simply been a coincidence after all, although Jim would always choose to believe differently. He had found a name for his abilities, and, for a brief moment, a possibility of helping to turn someone's life around. His friends had been wrong in one respect yes, Sandburg had stayed until he was feeling better, but the only thing he had stolen from Ellison, was the hope that Blair would accept a chance of redemption. By not stealing from him, and the opportunities had been many, Sandburg had not breached the trust that had been bestowed on him.
He hoped that although his short-term guest had left, that he would be able to make something of his life now. He wished for him to be able to move away from living off other people's misfortune, and to be able to find the way forward once more.
He could only hope.
Two months later, Jim Ellison called at the local Safeway on his way home one afternoon. He had the uncomfortable sensation that there was something wrong, and his gut twisted in anticipation.
He pulled in, and spotted the patrol car at the far end of the parking lot. Store security guards were complaining loudly, and foul-mouthing the culprit they had caught. One police officer was busy pacifying them and assuring a custodial sentence this time, while the other was clicking the metal cuffs around a man's wrists.
Ellison felt sickened.
The long, straggly hair of their captive was unmistakable. As were the accompanying words:
"Blair Sandburg, you have the right to remain silent..."
"Crap, shit, fuck, damn." Ellison didn't know whether to be furious or exasperated.
He had followed the patrol car to the 13th Precinct, making frantic telephone calls to Simon en route. Banks could not understand his detective's obsession with Sandburg, and was gruff in his response.
"It's about time the little runt was caught, and pulled off the streets," the older man had warned. Ellison, on the other hand, was too tenacious and not easily dissuaded.
"You're forgetting that this is the first time he's actually been arrested," his driving skills were neglected as he warmed to his subject. "If he was guilty of other crimes, wouldn't he have been charged on other occasions? Who's to say this isn't his first offence? All I'm asking for are a few minutes alone with him, before the booking officer gets him to confess to being on the grassy knoll. " Simon had been surprised to hear his friend all but beg, and had asked for time to make telephone calls of his own.
Ellison was now sitting on the split, graffiti-covered chair in the waiting area, desperate for his cell phone to ring, and rapidly losing patience. The perennial drunk sitting opposite him was emitting one of the more putrid smells Jim had had the misfortune to encounter, and he was struggling to maintain any tolerance. The only thing that kept him within thirty meters of the vagrant was pure stubbornness. He had extended his hearing towards the holding cells and had heard one of the officers telling "the Sandburg shit" to "sit down and shut the fuck up". He hadn't recalled Blair offering any resistance, or comment, so perhaps the officers were simply making their quota and swearing at everybody. If he concentrated he could make out the slumped and dejected figure in the distance, and Ellison gripped the silent phone in his palm even tighter.
Ring, damn you, ring.
He stared at the blank display in frustration. How many phone calls did it take to allow a Detective from a different precinct to spend five minutes with a first-timer?
Jim was so lost in concentration that he didn't hear the booted footsteps heading towards him. It wasn't until the heavily set Sergeant was clearing his throat in front of him, that Ellison snapped up his head in attention.
"Detective Ellison?" The booming voice enquired. "You got some ID?"
Slapping the phone into his jacket pocket, Jim immediately shifted the flap to reveal the badge affixed to his belt.
The badge was noted with a grunt, and the Sergeant gestured his head toward the holding cells behind him.
"What's your interest in Sandburg, then? Seems he's just been caught shop-lifting, and wants to admit to a batch of other crimes in the last year."
Why would he want ..?
A thought crossed Ellison's mind that made the granting of his request even more urgent. What if Blair wanted to turn himself in over anything else he may or may not have committed, for the sole purpose of having a roof over his head and three square meals a day? The graying Sergeant seemed unamused at the Detective's presence.
"Your Captain called, and asked if you could speak with Sandburg. Alone. That right?" The man snorted and wiped his hand over his face.
Ellison was so glad he wasn't assigned to the 13th. Perhaps this was the infamous Sergeant Madison he'd heard so much about. Four months short of retirement, and making everyone's shifts a living hell. The voice sounded like the same one that had venomously given Blair his instructions. That said; there was hope. Maddison was reputed to like the easy life, and if there was a chance here, then Jim was the first one to take it.
"Simon, er, Captain Banks called you?" Ellison tried to hide his surprise and relief. "Yeah, if that's okay, I just want a few minutes to ask him some quick questions. Won't take long." Testing his luck, he ventured. "What are the chances of him getting off with probation if someone posted a bond?"
Maddison frowned. Why the interest? What was so special about this kid? "He's up for at least one count of larceny, but it will be a first time conviction if we get it." He sighed. "Probation's a possibility, but he's got no address."
"Yes, he has." Jim couldn't believe the speed at which he jumped in. He must have deserted his usually refrained nature back in the Safeway parking lot.
"Didn't give us an address," Maddison rumbled, wanting to return to his desk. "Sandburg's in holding cell 7. Make it quick."
Jim leapt at the opportunity and was through the door almost before Maddison had turned. Now all he needed was the wherewithal and persuasive skills necessary to get Blair to see things from his point of view.
The noise from the incarceration unit was more skull pounding than Ellison had thought. Perhaps he had been so focused on just hearing Sandburg and the sounds around him, that he had managed to filter the levels. He tried that again, concentrating on Blair's pounding heartbeat and quickened breathing, and was surprised to find that it worked. A small grin escaped from the corner of Jim's lips, in satisfaction. That was the first time he had been able to do anything like that consciously. Maybe the kid could be a positive influence on him, as well as, hopefully, vice versa.
The vitriol being hurled at him from the cages he passed, was nothing unusual. Neither was the acrid smell of stale urine. Ellison was tough-skinned. He would never had made it as an Army Ranger or a Detective, if he had been bothered by sleazebags with no vocabulary, insulting his parentage and sexual preferences.
The dark, curly hair lay in greasy layers around the filthy figure of Blair Sandburg. It tugged at Jim's heart to see him looking so forlorn in the end cell. This was more pitiful than when he'd seen the kid strapped to life-monitoring units. It seemed that all traces of hope had been ripped away, and when soulless, blue eyes met his own, Jim almost trembled at the sadness that radiated towards him.
It took a moment before Blair placed the face. Jim knew he had been recognized when the vacant expression turned to one of devastation.
"... leddyu d'n," the words mumbled together as his head dropped.
Ellison didn't need the words repeating to understand the gist. He hastily glanced around him for any officers that might be paying attention. He didn't give a damn who was watching him from the other cells. The mumbled words came again, and this time Jim moved around to the side and crouched down. At eye level with the former student, he reached his hand through the bars and squeezed the thin shoulder. For the third time, the semi-coherent words fell from Sandburg's lips and Jim's heart melted. No matter what Simon, or Joel, or Rafe, or Brown, or Swanson, or Janacek, or anyone else thought, this kid did not belong in a jail cell.
Jaw fixed, his resolve firm, he assured. "No, Blair. You did not let me down."
How could the bouncy grad student that he had researched, be reduced to such a degenerate? It was such a waste. A surge of notions and ideas rampaged through Jim's mind as he knelt there, offering what little support he could. He had to get Blair out of there, and legally. It would not be right to use anyone's position within the department, but perhaps Maddison could be persuaded to release Blair into his custody.
It was worth a shot.
What was the worst he could do? Say 'no'?
Lowering his voice, Jim whispered to the cowering man, "I've got to go for now, but I'm not leaving you. I'm going to be back." As he stood, another thought came tearing across him. "Blair," he called, willing eye contact and being thankful for small mercies when it was granted. "Don't forget that I'm your Sentinel, so no matter where I am in this building, all you have to do is say my name, and I'll hear you."
The impoverished eyes held his, until a blink broke their connection. The smallest of nods showed Ellison that Blair understood, and would know that he was not being left on his own.
Detective James Ellison strode through the hallways with the confidence of two. Blair's repeated mantra echoed in the distant recesses of his hearing, and reinforced his determination to win the next few conversations. Jim could tell it would take a concentrated effort to convince him that he had not let down the older man at all, and that they could still move forwards from here, as he had promised two months ago.
Sarrachio, one of the arresting officers, was on his break and had initially proven elusive. The paperwork was still incomplete, as no one had expected bail to be posted, and no release could be authorized without the necessary documentation. It had taken too long, in Jim's mind, especially as Blair's words had now turned to pleas to forget about him, and leave him where he belonged, because that's what he deserved.
The sooner he was freed, the better.
Knowing that Blair was homeless and impoverished, the bail had been set reasonably low. It only took a quick telephone call to his bank for Ellison to clear funds, and then the penultimate signature was added to the sheet.
The clunk of keys in a lock, and the shuffling of feet marked the end of Sandburg's confinement. He had been bailed to appear in front of a hearing in the morning, where his fate would be determined. In the interim, Ellison would see that he showered, was dressed in clean clothes, was fed a decent meal, and slept in the safety of a room of his own.
The bedraggled, pathetic looking figure stood timidly next to the detective, while he signed his name to his bail papers. He was quiet as the Sergeant read through the procedure for the conditions, and nodded slowly in understanding.
He didn't realize that he was allowed to leave until Ellison turned him around, put a guiding arm behind his back, and uttered words that Blair could barely believe: "C'mon, Chief. Let's go home."
The conversation on the trip to Prospect was one-sided. Sandburg had allowed himself to be led to the truck he had only ever seen parked outside the loft apartment, but once into the passenger seat, he pulled up his legs and sat, rocking gently, head buried in his knees.
He stayed like that for the duration, and even outside 852, it took Jim several minutes of coaxing before Sandburg would disembark.
Walking through the apartment door, Jim stood back, only offering an encouraging shove to bring the younger man into his home once more. Blair now stood, wavering on his feet, but not moving anywhere.
"Hey Chief, it hasn't been that long," Ellison cajoled, gently closing the door and placing his keys in the wicker basket. "You know where your room is. Help yourself."
Sandburg continued the swaying movement, but now nervous hands were brought to his face, and he started to worry his fingers. Jittery teeth nibbled cautiously at filthy fingertips.
"If you want a shower, I can find you some clean sweats." Jim was becoming more nervous himself. This was not the same man who had first come into his home two months ago. If twelve months on the streets hadn't transformed him into this before, how had sixty days more caused so much damage? He reached out to the shaking body "Do you want to lie down? Or would you like some food first? I could get some Chinese again, I know you like that. When was the last time you ate?"
The slap of barely-soled sneakers tapping over the flooring, accompanied faltering, limped footsteps towards the bathroom. Jim opened his mouth to speak to the disappearing back, but couldn't think of anything to say. He was more surprised that the door had not been closed.
Ellison set water on to make some tea; he was sure he had some chamomile somewhere, and if memory served, that was a drink that his guest enjoyed. When Sandburg concluded his business but did not re-emerge, Jim stood near the bathroom.
"Everything okay in there, Chief? You want towels so you can take a shower?"
When there was still no response forthcoming, the detective gently pushed the door open wider, and saw Blair scrutinizing himself in the mirror. "Yeah, you need a shower." He grinned and hoped that Sandburg would hear the intended humor, but there was no reaction. "Chief? You okay?"
The grubby, white-knuckled hands gripped the edges of the porcelain sink. Blood-shot eyes, caked with the residue of too many sleepless nights stared at the unforgiving reflection. The kid had all but turned to stone.
Jim came and stood behind him, hands resting on either shoulder. He dropped his chin onto the top of the dark, unkempt curls.
"I think you need a shower, then some sleep." His voice was soft, and full of concern.
Slowly, and with a disconcerting lack of faith, Blair's eyes looked from his frightened visage, to the gentle frown of his host.
"... want a towel? Sure." Jim knew that Sandburg was too exhausted, filthy and malnourished to manage much in the way of confessions and he knew there was something troubling the kid but first, priorities: shower, food, bed, sleep. They would work the rest in the morning.
Jim grinned, and reached for his dark blue bath sheet that was hanging on the towel rail. "Here, use this." He turned for the door. "Shout if there's something you need and can't find it. I'll be in the kitchen ordering Chinese food."
It took some time before Jim heard the shower being activated, but he respected Blair's privacy, and switched his hearing over to more mundane issues, such as the weekly argument in 205 over whose turn it was to buy the TV Guide. There was something to be said for living alone, he mused, scratching down a potential food order, at least if dishes were left unwashed, or clothing left hanging around, or purchases left on the shelf in the store, it was a tough battle to determine who was to blame out of the one suspect!
Food ordered, table set, an older Jean-Michel Jarre song on the stereo, and Blair surfaced from the bathroom. Jim had slung him some clean sweatpants and an old sweatshirt for now; they could shop in the morning. Although the cuffs had been turned up, as well as the pant legs, Blair was nearly managing a lop-sided grin.
"Feels better, huh?"
Blair's second word since arriving home. It was progress.
"Tea?" The mug was unceremoniously thrust into open hands before Sandburg could refuse, and it didn't take long before the aroma infiltrated his senses enough to beckon an initial sip. The ensuing sigh of pleasure told Ellison how much joy the simple gesture had evoked.
Jim patted the seat of the kitchen chair, and beckoned him to sit. Hesitantly, Blair complied, still clutching his mug. The detective sat opposite and waited for Sandburg to initiate some form of conversation. He hoped it wouldn't be too long.
Gradually, Blair drained the mug and stared longingly into the dregs at the bottom. Without a word, Ellison took the receptacle and refilled it, handing it back to a bemused, but not ungrateful young man.
At the end of the slow, second mug-full, the doorbell rang. Jim ignored Blair's jerked response, knowing it had become an almost conditioned reaction to unexpected noises, and collected the delivered food. Pretending that everything was normal, it didn't take him long to lay out each of the dishes and scoop rice, noodles and one of the chicken dishes onto Blair's plate.
Blair's uncertain hand lifted a filled fork to his mouth, and tense eyes waited for Jim to scold him. Instead he was greeted with a warm and encouraging smile.
Dinner was consumed in silence. Sandburg clearly wanted to shovel the food into his ravenous mouth, but manners and a cautious restraint held him back.
He tried to assist with the dishes at the end, but a firm hand on his shoulder kept him seated. "No, Chief. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow night." There was that warm, encouraging smile again.
"It's been a long day for you, Chief," Ellison pointed out as he fed the dirty plates and bowls into the sink. "We've got an early start in the morning, so do you want to turn in?"
Blair gave him a disbelieving look of gratitude, and quickly nodded his head.
"Okay, you know where your room is. Help yourself. If you need a toothbrush, there's a spare in the cabinet over the sink."
Jim pretended to be engrossed in the washing-up, but followed Blair's nighttime preparations until he was safely ensconced in his futon bed. Moments later, the breathing became more regulated, and Sandburg slept.
The clock laughed at him as he read off the numbers 4:06. What had woken him? The sounds in the street were not unusual, and the apartment building seemed quiet.
In the room below, a muffled moan of anguish was stifled, but quickly followed by a heart-rending sob.
Ellison was out of bed and down the stairs before that, too, could be hushed. He crept through the curtain to the box room, and wasn't surprised to see the comforter thrown on the floor, and Blair huddled in the corner of the bed with the scrunched sheets twisted around his legs. The pillow was on his knees and his fists were stuffed in his mouth, in a hopeless effort not to be heard.
Making soft "shush"-ing sounds, Jim carefully approached the futon and eased himself up into the corner with the distraught Blair. He was stunned and relieved when the tentative trust he thought he had been building was clarified, and Sandburg turned into the outstretched arms.
It was like comforting a crying baby, Jim reflected, wondering if it had been nightmares, or a contemplation on reality, that had brought this on. Either way, he could still be here as the support that Blair so obviously craved and needed.
What he couldn't understand himself, was why he wanted to. What was so special about this person who had studied Sentinels? Why did he so desperately want to help him, and not just any criminal he found on the streets? Why was he so willing to trust him?
The man is his arms was virtually a stranger to him, and yet he had no regrets.
This was no longer an issue of guilt.
And this was not the time to be contemplating what it now was.
He felt Sandburg ease away slightly, and Jim ran a light finger down the tear-streaked face to brush away some of the dark strands of hair. He didn't speak, but offered yet another comforting smile to convey that everything was okay.
A small hiccough later, and Blair breathed the reason for his sorrow. "Mikey's dead."
Jim had no idea who Mikey might have been, but he clenched the whimpering kid tighter. It didn't matter who he had been, be it pet, friend, or mentor, death was the ultimate intrusion into happiness, and the surfeit of pain it brought was often inconsolable. With the profusion of hurt being emitted now, Ellison could only assume that it had been someone very close. Although the mortality rate was much higher amongst the homeless, it did not lessen the impact or significance of death. He would soothe as best he could, and absorb where he could. And when Blair was ready, he would listen.
Eventually the heaving transformed into coherent syllables, and as the night started to fade, Jim listened to the litany of Blair descriptions of his partner in crime, his savvy companion on the streets, his business contact, his protector, his friend. When the streaks of daylight fought through the window curtain, Jim was regaled with stories of their adventures, of their conquests, of the variety of roofs over their heads they had improvised, of the places they had cased, searched and raided, and of the sickening incident two weeks before, when Mikey had been caught by a victim in a house, fled the scene by climbing to the roof, misjudged a distance, and tumbled to his death. Standing in the street below, waiting for his partner, Blair had heard Mikey's startled scream, and watched in horror as his blond-haired friend had sped towards his death.
Blair admitted that he had run scared, not wanting to be caught at the scene of the crime, but he was more traumatized to realize that Mikey's body would not have been claimed by anyone, and he would probably have been cremated, as the most cost effective method of disposal. Worse still, no one would have mourned his passing, but Blair. Mikey would not have a grave, or a memorial. He had lived and died as a no one. Blair had tried to get by since then, but in the end he had overtly stolen from the Safeway store in the hope that he would be jailed. If he confessed to as many other crimes as possible, including those only committed by Mikey, then surely they would be obliged to put him away. That way, he wouldn't have to scrounge any more, and he would be provided with food, clothing, a watertight roof over his head, employment, and a small amount of money of his own.
As the stories unfolded, Jim had kept a tight hold on Blair's shoulders. Not for the first time in his life, he counted his blessings, and thanked whoever was listening for his home, his job, and his financial security. It would have been so easy to follow the wrong path when he returned from Peru, and even more so when his senses had come on line during the Switchman case.
Blair's voice had become raspy with his lengthy monologue, and Jim was glad he had put a glass of water next to the bed, before heading upstairs. This time, it was the sick child he nurtured, holding the glass against trembling lips, letting Blair quench his thirst.
With everything he had heard, it would have been easy for Jim to pass judgment, either in sympathy or in criticism, but instead, he remained silent. He had never been in this situation before, and almost wished he were female for five minutes. They seemed to be far better judges of emotions than any males he had met.
Blair suddenly shifted away from Jim, as though noticing him for the first time. He looked at him puzzled. "Why are you helping me, Jim? Why aren't you disgusted with what I've become, and with everything that I've done?" He resumed the gnawing of his fingertips that he had begun the previous evening. "I hate who I am. Why don't you?"
Jim connected with the blue-eyed gaze, and shook his head. "I don't know, Chief. That's my honest answer. I don't know." He sat up straighter to ease the growing muscle cramps. "Does there have to be an answer?" Jim was aware that the court hearing could make or break Blair's future. "Let's just say, I don't know, leave it at that, and look at getting you back on your feet."
Blair made to protest, but Jim continued. "When we leave here in a few hours, we will go shopping for some clothes. At the hearing, you will admit to the crime at Safeway, only, and explain what happened with Mikey. You will accept whatever sentence they pass, and I hope it's only probation." He held up a hand to halt the impending comments. "I know how you felt when you left before, because you left me a note. I also know, somehow, that I can trust you. When we know the results of the hearing, we are going to find a coffee shop, buy the fattest, most calorific Danishes we can, and discuss what happens next. Okay?"
Blair's mouth opened in anticipation, but closed again when he realized the last question had been rhetorical.
"After that, we are going to shop for whatever foods you like the most, and when we come back here, you're going to prove to me what a good cook you are, and you can also test me on the smells of a variety of spices and herbs. Deal?"
"Um," the flood of words before dawn had vanished.
This was too incredible. Jim, the man he had tried to rob, was offering him the chance and support to put his life back on the rails. Was he really offering to overlook his fourteen-month crime spree? Jim might be able to forget what he had done, but Blair's conscience would never do that. Then it struck him why it was such a fantastical notion. That it was okay. Really okay.
He was still asleep, that was all. He'd wake up shortly and be back in the shelter on Roehampton, and Mikey would be along any moment to kick him awake and persuade him out for another jaunt.
The former Rainier student reviewed the last sixteen hours, and decided that it was definitely a dream. He had let Jim down by leaving before, and there was no way the detective would ever do anything to help him now. Sentinel seeking guidance or not.
He found himself laughing out loud, and causing Ellison consternation as he slid from the bed and stood in the middle of the room.
In an almost psychic leap of faith, Jim found himself saying the words: "This isn't a dream, Chief. I'm here; you're here. And we're going to get through this together. I just need you to trust me in the same way that I'm learning to trust you."
His bottom lip rigorously chewed, Sandburg thought over the words before warily accepting. "Okay, Jim. I'll try."
Dressed in his new gray sweatshirt and blue jeans, Blair was slumped on the sofa in front of the television, the remote control in one hand and a full mug of amaretto coffee in the other. It was the most relaxed Jim had seen him, but the kid's responses were still guarded.
"I need to call Simon," Jim said, as he took his own cup back into the kitchen. "My captain, remember him? Big guy, perpetual cigar, thick glasses, lousy cologne."
Blair actually smirked at the description. "Yeah sure, Jim, it's your home, call him. You don't have to tell me what you're doing."
No, but it was courtesy. Especially if it was unspoken between them that Blair would need to keep Jim informed of his movements.
Ellison took the cordless up to his bedroom, at least suggesting some distance between the two of them.
"Banks." The gruff voice acknowledged the connection.
"Hey, Simon, it's Jim."
"Well?" Succinct, and to the point.
"Probation, 200hrs community service and a general smack on the wrist."
"Damn lucky. Damn lucky. How is he?"
Jim shot a look over the railing, and examined the mop of curly, dark hair. "A little bemused, but we're communicating."
"Simon, I need you to find out some details on a kid called Michael Lomax, known as Mikey." Ellison filled Simon in on the basic details surrounding the itinerant's death. The three hours of coffee and maple Danishes, had shown Jim how much Blair relied on being able to talk, to catalogue every thought running through his highly-educated mind. Since Mikey had died, he had had no one he could vent his pent up emotions to, and it explained the internalization that had been eroding away at his remaining confidence. "I also want to take Blair out on some of the rides with me, just to get him back into being part of something constructive. He needs some goals, and I thought this might be a good starting point."
"Jim, he's got a record," Simon reminded him, not eager to explain this idea to his superiors. "You know I can't authorize something like that. Not even unofficially."
"What if I said he could help me refine the use of my senses, especially out in the field? It would speed up our need for laboratory time if I can smell accelerants in arsons, or the components of device after an explosion," Jim attempted, not wishing to be shot down.
"He can help you do that?"
"No, er, I'm saying 'he could'." This wasn't working and he knew it. "You've always said how concerned you are that my senses sometimes appear out of whack, and that I might become a liability to those around me..."
"I'm not authorizing it, Jim," Simon announced categorically, "End of discussion. What he does to help you control these extremes in your own time is entirely up to you. Now, was there anything else, or can I go back to winding up Brown?"
"No Sir, that was all," Jim sighed, forcing himself to accept that he had lost round one. "I'll be late in tomorrow; Sandburg's got to meet with his probation officer and arrange his intake interview for the community service, and I want to..."
"Sure, no problem. Arrive when you can." Simon's compassion seemed genuine, and Ellison was touched. Perhaps Sandburg was unintentionally winning over more than one heart. Just what was it about the kid, because it was certainly more than a case of wanting to help someone who was down on their luck?
Jim disconnected the call and passed the handset from hand to hand, debating the direction he needed to take. No, it wasn't down to him to motivate Blair back onto the tracks, or to boost his self-worth but if he didn't do it, how else was the kid going to make progress, and not finish up back on the streets? Again. Besides, for that reason he still couldn't fathom, he wanted to help. Still contemplating, he sensed a slight hitch in Blair's breathing downstairs. Frowning, he leant over the rail, "You okay, Chief?"
"Yeah, man." The answer was too hasty, and a little hoarse. "Just finishing up my coffee. You want me to make you another one? Is it okay if I make a start on cooking the dinner?"
Where had the frantic unease come from, and what had happened to the calmer person who had been watching the television? Jim didn't miss the next hitch in Blair's breathing either. "No, I'm good, Chief. I was going to take a shower, then I thought we could cook the meal together." Jim grabbed a clean shirt and sweats, and descended towards the kitchen area. "And you can talk me through some of those spices we bought at the store today, you never did explain about the baharat. Where did you say it's from, Africa?"
"Countries around the Persian Gulf," Blair seemed to correct automatically, and Jim waited for the racing pulse-rate to decrease, as he encouraged forward some of the hidden knowledge. Instead there was another small hitch, which the younger man hastily tried to disguise by clearing his throat. "Is it okay if I make myself some tea, Jim?"
Still not satisfied, Jim nodded and disappeared for his shower. Perhaps Blair had been caught up in another memory and needed a little time to settle himself. That was the most likely the kid had lost his friend, been arrested, had his life turned around once more, been through the first round of the judiciary system and was beginning a long road to piecing his life back together. The events of the last 24hrs had happened thick and fast, and his own head was still spinning.
As Jim washed the lather of shampoo from his hair, something else occurred to him. He had only been given full medical clearance for his fractured leg a month before. Blair had been recuperating from the after effects of a bullet to the chest, when he had run off two months ago what follow-up medical appointments had he attended? What antibiotics would he have accessed to fight potential infections? He wouldn't have been sleeping in either temperature-controlled or healthy environments. What if the hitch in the kid's breathing had been a symptom of something more ominous? What if bringing him into a warm home had been the worst thing he could do?
Ellison almost laughed at himself for his stupidity. Of course bringing Sandburg to the loft had been the right decision. What he would have to remember for future decisions, though, was that, regardless of history, it was still Blair's life.
He toweled himself dry, slipped on the fresh clothes and stepped out into the dusk-filled apartment. Blair had switched on some of the lights, and was making himself more tea. The pale face seemed more ashen and the breathing a little shallower. "Want me to light the fire? It's quite cold for September."
Blair poured the stewed liquid, and chewed his lip. "It was colder last year. That's how I met Mikey." He brought the cup up, taking an initial sip.
"Did you steal his propane heater?" Jim knew that joking about this was a calculated risk.
He was studied by worn eyes, which slowly softened. "No," Blair smiled. "But not far off. The shelter on Clarke was full and I didn't know where else to go. I tried to curl up in the park there's a really nice, secluded spot, where the bracken crunches down at the end of the summer. It's quite comfortable." The tea was consumed in small, treasured gulps. "Anyway, Mikey saw me there and said that it was going to be too cold that night to stay in a summer sleep, and I needed to get to a burner." Jim could piece together the ideas of 'summer sleep' and a 'burner'. "He showed me where some of the friendliest and safest burners are, and I was best to sleep with a buddy when it got cold, for heat as well as protection. I didn't have anyone else to trust. The summer had been okay for sleeping, and before I got too dirty, I was allowed to spend days reading in the library. By the end of September, it was getting damp at night, and I only had a few clothes."
Unspeaking, Jim guided the pair of them back towards the couch. He was honored that Blair was opening up to him within such a short time of being at home. He could never imagine himself in Blair's position. Being stranded in Peru held some comparisons, but Incacha's tribe had found and nursed him almost from the start, and he had never lost hope that some day a team would come in search of him. Both had had to learn to live in a completely unfamiliar environment, where the rules they had previously learned did not necessarily apply.
"When I lost my home," the hitch was more obvious, "I tried to find places for some boxes. Personal things, like photographs, some books that I couldn't bear to part with, letters. One friend offered to take some stuff, but I don't know if he ever got it because he was away, so I had to leave them at the University. I haven't spoken to him since."
"What about family?" Jim gently probed, watching the ashen face carefully. "Couldn't you have gone to any of them for help? You mentioned your mother, before. What about her?"
"Naomi?" The smile returned. "She lives a very nomadic existence and I never really know where she is, or when she's going to drop by. Not a great believer in material possessions, and I guess that helped me when I knew I had to give up my ho... the warehouse. Ironically, things I couldn't sell were sent to the charity shops. I could only really take what I could carry."
"But they can't have just kicked you out on the streets with no place to go? There are laws against that, aren't there?" As someone who worked to uphold the laws, he sometimes wondered at the system they were supposed to be protecting.
"Apparently not. I was in quite a state financially, and I couldn't get any of the right answers at the benefits place. Then, when I had no address it got harder to be able to receive any handouts at all. July 17th. That's when I stood in front of the warehouse and watched the last of my things being carted out. Hey, you know what?" Jim shook his head. "I went back there a few months later, and it had burned to the ground anyway! How lucky was I, that I wasn't living there?" The chuckle crept out of the emotional mess that was Blair, and even as it became less composed, it soon evolved into a wheezy cough. Forced air hissed past Sandburg's teeth, his eyes watering with the vigor of his spluttering. Jim was at his side in an instant, stroking the skeletal back, and holding up the half drunk tea. Blair tried to clear his throat but the dryness blocked his attempts, and initiated a fresh bout of coughing. Patiently, Jim waited, still tenderly rubbing the spasming frame.
Several minutes passed before Blair could accept the offered drink. The coughing subsided into a mild wheeze, but Jim could detect the faintest rattle skirting around the edges of his lungs.
"When was the last time you had a medical appointment?" His tone was the harshest he had used with his housemate.
"When I was last here," came the honest reply. "I couldn't get to the free clinic after I left here, because I could only get a bed in the Roehampton hostel, and I needed so much sleep."
Jim was incredulous. "So why the fuck didn't you come back here, and tell me?"
"I told you why." Blair tried to pull away, but Jim refused to let him go.
"In the morning," he began, holding Sandburg's shoulders firmly; "We're going down to the free clinic on 3rd, before I take you to meet your probation officer. That way, you might be honest with them about your symptoms, and not feel obliged to leave as quickly as possible so you're not taking advantage of anyone." Blair hung his head, feeling caught. That was precisely what had been going through his mind earlier, when he'd felt the initial tightness across his chest. "If you need antibiotics or other treatments, we will get them, and I'll negotiate with you later how often you'll need to clean my truck in repayment!" Blair kept his head down. He had heard the lighter tone in Jim's voice, but wouldn't it just be easier if he left as soon as the man went to bed? If he got caught for another crime, say tonight, he would be put in a holding cell, and probably be transferred to a correctional facility in the morning. They'd treat this cold he was getting, and he wouldn't feel so guilty for their hospitality.
What Blair had forgotten was that he was in the clutches of the embodiment of his dissertation topic. And Sentinels had heightened senses.
"Your heart rate, breathing, body temperature and the sweat from your hands tell me that you're thinking otherwise." Jim tilted Blair's chin up with his finger, and looked directly into the younger man's eyes. "Look me in the eye, and tell me I can trust you. Tell me that you'll let me help you."
It would be so much nicer to stay here. Jim had shown more caring than he had known in the majority of his life. Would it be that hard to accept his generosity and repay it somehow, further down the line? Would this person understand the pain of swallowing pride, and trying to recover lost dignity? There was only one way Blair was going to find out.
"Okay," he gasped, wishing away the unpleasant gurgle that was pushing at his lungs, and uttering his new mantra. "I'll try."
Armed with an aggressive course of steroids and an antibiotic to combat his chest infection, Blair fidgeted in the passenger seat of the truck. He was more perturbed by the anti-emetics and further medication to counter the upset stomach caused by eating decent food. He was reluctant to use conventional Western medication, much preferring natural remedies, but there would always be time to convert his host as the weeks went on. He wiggled his toes inside the gym shoes Jim had bought him, and felt a pang of guilt over the expense. Blair had insisted they shop at K-Mart, because it was cheap, and refused to try on anything other than the $3 sale pair. Strange how he had gone from wantonly raiding other people's houses, to refusing $5 in a gift.
The pharmaceutical bag sat on his lap, while he snuggled further down into the coat Jim had lent him. The sleeves were far too long, but once the shivering had started sometime in the night, he hadn't been truly warm since. He blushed to remember the second restless night he had brought the detective, unable to sleep through coughing and the continual need to use the bathroom. When the non-productive cough began causing a ripping, burning sensation in the back of his throat, Jim had brought a bowl of steaming water and added eucalyptus oil to help ease it. It had alleviated things enough for him to sleep for a while, but when he awoke, Jim was still in his room, monitoring him, and there if he needed him.
The comfort of that thought alone had made him feel more human.
Blair believed in the psychosomatic, and wondered if he had never been sick while living on the streets, because he knew it would literally have been the death of him. Perhaps he had only succumbed now because his subconscious had given him permission.
The meeting with the probation officer had been positive. She was an astute, middle-aged lady, who acknowledged Blair's illness, and accepted that he wanted to make reparation. She asked a fountain of questions, and had taken Ellison's presence in her stride. "I take it you are now Mr. Sandburg's big brother, then?" As they were finishing, her question caught both men off guard.
"In a way," Jim responded, "I suppose I am." It hadn't occurred to him, but to be Blair's guide, someone for him to turn to, and, in effect, his sponsor, it was like he had become his big brother. He didn't mind. His relationship with Steven would never be affable, and he was getting on well with Sandburg. "So, intake interview next Tuesday to determine community service placement, but in the meantime lots of TLC and sleep?"
"In short, yes." Marilyn Cornell held out her hand. "It's been a pleasure to meet you Mr. Ellison, and Mr. Sandburg, Blair, I hope you feel better soon."
Preoccupied, Blair absently shook the outstretched hand before being escorted back to Jim's truck. The world had taken on a peculiar angle when he stood up, and he wondered when he might be allowed to go back to sleep. If he counted the steps and reminded himself which foot followed the left one, he might just make it back to the vehicle without falling over.
His ever-present Sentinel intervened; however, aware that Blair's body temperature had increased during the morning. He all but scooped the wilting probationary into the passenger seat and shut the door.
Their trip home had involved a detour to the local Wal-mart, but Blair didn't think he could cope with walking anywhere so he was guarding the truck, where he now sat.
He had been drifting in and out, staring at the paper bag on his knee, when Jim returned.
He bore three large carrier bags, only one of which contained food. "I've got varieties of soup and some juices, they should help."
"What about...?" The words were too painful to push past his rough throat so he gave up.
"We can explore the other bags later." Before Blair fell asleep, it registered that each time Jim had discussed him, he had used the word 'we'. The warm glow he felt nearly halted his shivering. For reasons he couldn't comprehend, Jim was continually reminding him that he really didn't have to face this on his own.
"Maybe tomorrow, Simon," Jim offered, desperate for sleep. "His temperature's nearly normal and he's stopped being sick. He's managed a few hours of true sleep without waking himself up and he's breathing much easier." The voice continued on the other end of the phone. "Sure, no problem, whenever, I'll be here. Okay, see you later. Bye."
His hushed conversation over, Jim went back in to check on his patient. The heavy cold had been nasty, and Blair's underweight body had had little defense against it. The laundry basket was full of the t-shirts and sheets that had been soaked through during the illnesses strongest hours. Utterly drained, Blair lay with one pale hand under his cheek and the other drawing the bedding up under his chin. As Jim watched, one of the sleepy eyes flickered open, and a smile stretched across his face.
"Hi." It was hoarse, but it was a lot healthier than the voice that had told Jim the ground was moving, when they'd arrived home from Wal-Mart on Friday.
"Hey." Jim sat on the futon, the back of his hand feeling Blair's face and forehead for heat. "C'mon." He helped the younger man to sit, and supported his head while he swallowed half a glass of water. "Enough?"
"You nursed me," Blair began, settling back against the pillows.
"Yes I did."
Ellison shrugged. He was exhausted, but he had simply been glad that someone was here for the kid. Not that he would say 'no' to twelve hours sleep. "You ready to get up for a few hours?"
"Is it still Sunday?"
"Uh-uh," Jim clasped Blair's arms in his, as the smaller man stumbled to find his footing. "It's been Monday for nearly sixteen hours!"
A worried head shot round. "My intake interview..."
"... is tomorrow," he soothed. "Simon's coming over shortly, because he's got a few ideas to run by you, if you're fit enough to go tomorrow." Sandburg getting so sick was not the ideal method to develop confidence in someone, but his body language was showing greater trust, leaning against Jim for support the way he was, while his aching muscles remembered how to hold him upright.
"What kind of ideas?" Blair allowed himself to be tucked up on the sofa. He was unused to be looked after, and felt uneasy about it, but he didn't have the strength to object.
Might as well get it over with. "Ways to help you do something that you'd like to do, in the long term."
There was a brief pause while the words floated on the air. "Jim, I have a test for you," Blair pronounced, effectively changing the subject, and relaxing into the cushions behind him. "I want you to listen for Simon's car, and tell me when it's three blocks away. Then I want you to block out your hearing and tell me when you can smell the cigar you've told me he's always carrying. Think you can do that?"
Perhaps this was how Sandburg needed to play the game for the moment; in exchange for having a home, Blair wanted to begin work on Jim having full control of his senses. Okay, he could play that way. For the moment.
Simon's visit made Blair's mind swirl. He could tell that the large man didn't really like him, but that was fine, he had been dealing with hatred and prejudice for a long time. Anyway, Banks was justified in his thinking.
Papers were scattered across the coffee table and over Blair's knees. Jim hadn't missed the squinting that took place when Sandburg scanned each sheet, and he made a mental note to rectify that and check to see if the kid used to wear glasses. Each sheet contained different sets of information, ideas that had been formulated among Ellison's colleagues in the Major Crimes unit. They might still consider him too trusting of this petty thief, but they were prepared to help out their friend, when he had asked for their help, misguided though they thought he was.
"I phoned Marilyn Cornell and she agrees that this would be a great way to start, especially taking your qualifications and experience into consideration." Banks held up one set of papers. "The people at the Museum of Anthropology at Rainier are aware not only of who you are, but why you left the University." Blair's cheeks burned with embarrassment. He never wanted to face those people again. Wasn't this why he had walked out of this apartment in July? "However, when your community service is completed, they are prepared to let you work with two of the archivists on a part-time voluntary basis. This would give you more kudos on your resume when it comes time to apply for full-time permanent positions." Hadn't the two policemen noticed his humiliation? What kind of detectives were they that hadn't noticed how much he was squirming? "I spoke to Karlos Ingmar," Shit, not Karlos. That man had been distraught when he heard what Blair had been doing. "He's happy for you to work under his supervision, but you would have to be closely monitored for the University to sanction any such work."
Banks held up a second sheet, covered in unintelligible scribbles. "This is a contact sheet I had Rafe, one of my men, work through. There's another idea that Jim had which would use your experience, your psychology undergrad skills, your anthropology qualifications, and is something that I think you are in a unique position to offer. It's still in the works, but we wanted..."
"We?" Blair couldn't stop himself. It was that word again.
"... we wanted," he continued, unabated, "to give you something to aim for in the future. You could start off voluntarily and then possibly seek a part-time position later on." Sandburg accepted the offered sheet and read through the notes that Brian Rafe had made on his behalf. Blair couldn't do this this would be the ultimate humiliation.
The elevated pulse rate gave him away once more. "Don't panic, Chief. These are simply some ideas." He handed Banks another beer. "What about the intake interview?"
"I told Mrs. Cornell that Sandburg's been sick, and she mentioned that he'd looked quite ill last Friday. If he can't make it tomorrow, then you will need to reschedule, but they believe that St James' would be a potential opener."
Blair's head shot up at the name. "St James'?" he repeated, quietly. "Wh... when do you want me to go?"
"Not until you're better, Chief. Obviously."
"The shelter takes all ages, and doesn't ask questions. It would be a good place to start."
Blair gently tugged the blanket away from around his legs and shifted forward. "I haven't managed to get in there since January," he put in, trying to show participation. "Who did you talk to?"
"The manager there is a guy called," Simon scanned the copy. "Callum Harpowicz. He's more than happy for you to go there." He handed over the sheet, but the recovering patient only saw Wednesday's date circled, with a question mark next to it. He didn't read any of the other comments. So he would have to go there from Wednesday, then? That was okay. He would have had nearly a week of his own bed, again, and that would make nearly two weeks this year. Mikey would be so envious. No. Mikey would have been envious. Had he been alive.
If it was Monday today, he'd have his intake interview tomorrow, and they might even tell him his placement there and then, so he wouldn't have to worry about finding the office again for another week, St James' had a curfew and they were right across the other side of town from the Probation Offices. He could get at least two more proper showers in before he went to the shelter, that would be nice. Although they offered to wash your clothes at that shelter, too, he remembered that. Might Jim let him keep one of the sweatshirts, it was so warm?
"My sneakers," Blair spoke softly, giving back the paper and trying to stand. "They rub my left foot and don't give me much protection from the rain because of the holes in the bottom." The room was still moving without him. "If I paid you back somehow, I wouldn't steal it, but would it be possible for me to keep the gym shoes? They're comfortable, and I can walk in them, and I haven't had a pair like that since..." Banks and Ellison were staring at him, and frowning. He knew he shouldn't have dared to ask, how stupid of him. Would they make it tomorrow, instead? If he slept now, that would make it easier to deal with in the morning.
Blair shuffled across the living area, past the astounded detectives. The movement tired him, and he had to lean heavily against the kitchen island when another bout of coughing overtook him. "Where are you going, Chief?" Ellison asked, confused, already out of his seat and standing next to him. He tried to twist the coughing man around, but Sandburg found a reserve of stubbornness and stayed where he was. "I bought those shoes for you, you know that. Of course you can keep them." Blair nodded, but resumed his journey. "Chief?"
Banks snorted, and collected the strewn pieces of paper. "Told you it was a waste of time, Jim."
"Simon, wait," Ellison barked, weary from a long weekend without much sleep. "Blair, talk to me, why the sudden question about shoes?" Jim was suddenly torn between keeping his boss placated and dealing with Sandburg's change of mood.
The forlorn, blue eyes turned on him, and all color drained from Blair's face. "I just wanted to know if I could keep them, that was all. I didn't throw out the old ones, it's all right; I can wear those instead." Banks halted his paper sorting, and gaped at the young man in the kitchen who was gripping the counter for support. "I saw you put them in the trash, Jim, along with my shirts and pants, but I took them back out, I hope you don't mind, and I washed them in the sink and kept them under the bed for when I have to go. Wednesday's good for me. It's a good day." The voice became fainter. "I can't believe how much you've done for me, and I'll always be so grateful. St James' is a good place; it'll be fine, man. I couldn't find my coat, did you put it in the trash?" The eyes glazed over. "I couldn't find it, but I got that one from Roehampton. They might have some more. Mikey had a good coat from there, once." Jim walked forward as the words grew more garbled.
"He always said that one good coat was better than two bad ones, and he had a good thick coat. Even carried it in summer so he wouldn't lose it. Made a great blanket."
Jim's frown deepened at the rush of words. "Blair? What are you talking about?" He was inches from his housemate.
The unfocused eyes tried to look up at the detective. "When I go to St James' on Wednesday. Said so on the sheet that Sim... Mr. Banks had. They have good showers there, like yours. How long can I stay there, can I have a bed for a whole week?"
Tears pricked at the back of Jim's eyes when he realized the horrific misunderstanding that must have been going through Blair's mind. "Chief," he clamored, reaching out to hold the shattered man in his arms. "You live here, now, this is where your bed is. You misread the sheet - St James' is where you're going to work your hours of community service."
Even Simon had felt the wrench in his heart when he saw the pathetic, scared figure, convincing himself that he was to leave, and was wondering if he would be allowed the bare essential of something to wear on his feet.
Ellison's words sunk into Blair's fatigued and stricken mind, and he muttered a surprised, "Oh," before his legs gave out and Jim found himself holding an unconscious anthropologist in his arms.
Blair wasn't well enough to leave the loft until the Thursday, by which time he and Jim had discussed Monday's episode. A large part of the younger man was still perplexed over the Sentinel's generosity, and privately vowed to do what he could to repay the kindness. The only spoken condition his host had given him was that he follow the terms of his probation, and that he at least attempt to secure himself a future through honest means. Blair was earnest in his agreement, and knew that Ellison was seeking repayment through the fulfillment of this condition.
The St James' shelter was a former tenement that had been taken over by the church some twenty years before. It had been falling into dereliction at the time, but through community projects and contributions from private sources, it had been converted into a place where those without anywhere else to go, could find a free, hot meal, a shower, a safe roof over their head, and someone to listen to them. The crumbling stone facade bore the name of its patron saint, and surrounding it, the windows gleamed in their cleanliness. Recently painted metal railings shone in the early morning light, and the footsteps of the people arriving and departing, echoed on entrance steps that were clear of any debris. This was a place that asked only for a daily fifteen minutes of cleaning and maintenance from its tenants, in exchange for its hospitality. Few failed to adhere to such a minimum contribution pact, willingly offering what they could.
Blair stood nervously at the bottom of the steps. The last time he had been here, it had been the depths of winter and his morale had been at its lowest. It was around this time that he had idly considered ending everything, but was only encouraged to keep fighting by a small voice inside of him that told him that life could get better one day, and that he must always keep some hope. He was never sure whether that voice was a hidden optimism, or his friend, Mikey. More recently, he had started to believe the latter.
He missed his friend.
He could do this, if only to honor his friend's memory.
Inside this building were many people he had met before; he knew that. There would be the people he had shared burners with; people who had shared their meager rations; people who had turned him away from their corner of the world; people who had screamed and ranted at him for breathing at the wrong time; people who had threatened him physically, and taken away things that belonged to him.
The core of nervousness grew into the twitching of muscles, and his inner voice this time tore at him to turn around, and find something less daunting to complete his obligation.
Rooted to the spot, Blair fought his internal battle and took a deep breath.
Somewhere in the world beyond this, was his friend, Michael Lomax. For four years, Mikey had lived and survived on the streets. He had used his wisdom and knowledge to show Sandburg how to endure. To see Blair standing here would have brought sarcastic comments as well as a certain pride. Mikey had never had the chance at a decent education, and had always boasted that his most elevated position had been operating the crane at the dockyards... and that was only because he had climbed the extending arm one day to loosen a cable. Mikey had always shown admiration and respect for what Blair had been, and spent countless hours asking him questions about the subjects he had studied, and the places he had explored. They planned dreamy excursions to far off places, but both knew that they were always pipedreams.
Mikey would have wanted Blair to make good. Wasn't it fitting that he was to complete his mandatory duty to the law, by helping those who didn't have the opportunity he was now being given?
Jim stood silently in companionship, knowing that Sandburg needed time to steel himself. 'Please let this work out,' he begged unseen forces. 'Please let this be the beginning of Blair's new life.'
A rush of warmth created by all of Jim's caring, brought speech to the probationer's lips. "I won't let you down, man."
Jim was heartened. "Do it for yourself, more than for anyone else."
Blair bit his lip, shook his head, and added, "I'm doing this for you, for Mikey, and for all those in there." He squared his shoulders and proceeded up the steps, pressing the security buzzer for admittance.
"Want me to come inside with you?" Jim called, unmoving.
"Nah, man, I'm good." There it was. Ellison smiled. There was the confidence beginning to blossom. The pasty face was a mark of how sick the young man had been, but something in the stance changed as the door opened. Blair was finally in a position to give something positive to the voluntary system that had befriended him.
"Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg. I'm here to see Callum Harpowicz." The door closed and Jim returned to his truck, but he opened his hearing to follow Sandburg through the building. Only when he was convinced that the kid would be okay, did he insert the key into the ignition and drive away.
"Blair Sandburg," the namesake offered, as he shook hands with his new supervisor. He didn't recall the face from his last stay nine months before, but life had been a haze of cold then, and his clearest memories were of freezing conditions rather than faces he may have seen.
"Great to meet you, Blair," Callum enthused, his grip firm. "I'm glad you've been able to join us." He showed his new colleague through a large meeting area, and into an equally large-sized kitchen. "I was told you've been quite sick, so you need to take it easy today, no overdoing it. If you need to stop, or lie down, say so."
Blair was lost for words. It was his duty to be here; he didn't expect any special consideration.
"I'm going to get Jonas to show you around, he's the big guy over there. He's our inbuilt security system." The hulk of a man was taller than Simon, and easily twice the width. Blair immediately felt intimidated. "Don't let him frighten you," Callum laughed, introducing the new arrival. "He's only scary if you annoy him." Blair had no intention of doing that, and winced at the vice-like grip in the handshake. "I know you've been here as a guest, but you won't have seen the inner workings. All you need to know is that everyone's treated as an equal, as long as they respect one another, and what the building stands for. We don't question how they got to be where they are, or what they were before. That's their personal business. Nor do we question how they survive now, as long as they're clean from drugs and aren't here to abuse our shelter. All we ask in return is a little of their time to help with the general maintenance, and the sharing of any skills they might have."
"I know about the cleaning rota, and the laundry system," Blair said, recalling images from his last stay; times when he had helped clean bathrooms or hallways, or stripped beds. "Just tell me what you want me to do."
"Jonas will show you everything, and then I'd like you to come back into the front meeting room, the place you walked through to get in here, and I'd like you to help me with the processing today." Callum's lean figure and blond crew cut reminded Blair very much of Mikey. "That way you can meet many of our guests, including a lot of the regulars. Any good with computers?"
"Used to be," Sandburg replied, "But I guess they will have changed a lot since... since..."
"Since you started living on the streets?" Callum was brash in his words. "Don't be embarrassed, we've all been there." Blair's eyebrows nearly shot into his hairline. "Yeah, 87-90. Bad years on the whole, although they had their moments. How do you think I met Jonas?"
In a daze, Blair allowed himself to be shown around the vast building, asking questions as he went, and cataloguing all of the information he was given. He passed many familiar faces, and it felt quite surreal when he exchanged pleasantries with those he had been living with in the previous weeks. He imagined that many harbored jealousy on his apparent change in fortunes, but didn't comment. It wasn't until he rejoined Harpowicz on the front desk and was asked, "So, had any death threats, yet?"
"Wha...? Death threats?" He spluttered, thinking he must have misheard.
"Yeah. 'I fucking hate you, who are you to get the chance that I haven't got? I'm gonna kill you.' That kinda thing?"
"Er, no." Blair was getting seriously worried.
"You will. Trust me." How could this shelter manager be so blasť about it? "For every one you get, you force yourself into buying a drink, and then considering the ten other positive comments that you've received to offset it." He grinned at Blair's anxious expression and clapped him on the back. "It's part of what we do. You must have gotten thick-skinned being out there?" He gestured toward the front door. "Use what you learnt and what you experienced. You know where these people are coming from, and where, ultimately, too many of them go back to. Use it. That's why we're ideally suited to this kinda job. No point getting a suit involved in this kinda thing, they spend a few hours here then go back to their 2.4 children in the suburbs, via the gym and the delicatessen. Not a clue."
Blair dropped into the battered chair behind the desk. This hadn't been what he had been expecting, not that he was sure what he had thought. Certainly he had expected neither acceptance nor understanding, and yet, he was being offered both. He accepted them voraciously and listened eagerly while Callum explained the paperwork system, and the legal channels they were required to operate by law.
The main influx of people didn't begin until late afternoon, when the wind changed for cooler and the sky darkened with thick, rain-filled clouds. The newest member of staff watched in awe as Callum calmly greeted everyone, most of them by name, answered their sometimes banal or extraordinary questions, and ensured that each of them was introduced to Blair. Some barely spared him a glance, others overly enthused, but most accepted him as part of the furniture. There were scornful looks amidst the general malaise, and before the sun had set, he had received two verbal threats, and Jonas had pulled off one ape-like creature who remembered Blair from one of the under-bridge gatherings. The spitted venom reverberated in the street where Jonas physically reasoned with the man, suggesting that he 'shut-the-fuck up or take his gripe elsewhere'.
Blair had recoiled under the assault, but Callum remained unperturbed. Did nothing phase this man?
"Warned ya," he reminded him, nonchalantly passing over a soda from the refrigerator in the office. Blair's confidence started to wither. This wasn't the place for him, at least, not on this side of the desk. He didn't deserve it. "Pig-green with envy, that's all it is. Wouldn't you be, in his position?"
"Yeah, but..." Blair defended.
"You got the lucky break. Use it. Enjoy it. Make the most of it." Callum popped open his own can. "And never once, ever, take it for granted. Cheers." He raised the can in a toast. "To future success."
Blair fumbled with the metal release. "To future success."
I'm doing it, Mikey. I'm here. I'm not quitting.
Jim was surprised when Blair hadn't called. He had been out with Brown investigating the Highhurst abduction, done a cursory sweep with his olfactory senses to try and identify any unusual visitors and found himself sneezing for half an hour with the glut of pollen in their spacious living room. He had never known lilies to smell so like cat urine, and be so obnoxious. Perhaps he and Sandburg could work on filtering his senses?
Back at the PD he had filled out the excess of paperwork, phoned around on several lines of enquiry, been out to lunch with Rafe and Swanson, and defended his decision to help Blair. Again.
"The kid has cost me a grand total of $22 so far," Jim pointed out, pushing his fries around the plate. "I wanted to get him decent footwear and he'd only accept a $3 pair of gym shoes. I tried to take him to the mall for clothes, and he'd only try on the sweatshirts and jeans in K-Mart."
"He tried to rob you blind," the arrogant transfer noted with disdain. Ellison eyed Swanson, and sighed.
"I spent two months discussing this with you guys." The last of his fries disappeared. "If he wanted to steal from me, he had more than enough opportunities the last time he stayed, and he could quite easily have shown his friends how to burgle the loft in the two months afterwards. If he's that bad a person, why didn't he do that?"
Rafe ran a hand through his gelled hair. "I heard what Simon said happened on Monday. Did the kid really believe you were kicking him out?"
"He wasn't well." Jim scraped his tray contents into the trash and grabbed his truck keys off the table. "Hey Rafe, you get that contact I wanted?"
"Yeah." He pulled a slip of paper from his wallet. "And you can't tell me that won't cost you less than $22." Ellison was relieved to hear that the comment had been spoken in jibe. Could he yet convince his workmates?
That had been at lunchtime, before he dropped the two men off at Major Crimes, and ran some errands of his own.
Now he sat at his cleared desk, staring at the wall clock. Maybe Blair had lost the number. What if he had absconded? What if he had had a relapse? The kid hadn't been 100% that morning, and it was only by mutual agreement that he would call if he felt unwell, that Jim had even agreed to let him start today. The intake interview had been conducted at home, and the St James' placement authorized almost immediately, but what if it had been too soon? Maybe he'd met someone he knew and gotten into a fight? What if he had decided he couldn't do this, and run off?
The clatter of the ringing phone cut short his rambling thoughts, and he snatched up the receiver. "Ellison."
"Blair!" He was relieved to hear his voice. "Where are you?"
"Um, I'm at St James'." Sandburg seemed surprised at the question. "I was just asking if you minded if I..." Here it was. The thank you/goodbye speech. "If I got a lift back to your place with Callum? I want to help with the evening kitchen run."
Speechless. But rewarded. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm a little tired, but it feels good, man. I feel like I'm doing something." There was a lift in Blair's voice that Jim hadn't heard before. What a turnaround in such a short space of time. "Is it okay to be back late?"
"Of course." Ellison caught Simon looking at him through the window of his office, and threw him a thumbs-up. "If you still need a lift, you've got the number for the loft, haven't you?"
Simon came out as the call ended. "I've just had Marilyn Cornell on the other line."
"Oh?" Blair had sounded so positive. It couldn't be bad news, please no.
Simon balanced on the edge of the desk and firmly stuck his cigar between his teeth. "Callum Harpowicz called her to say that he was very happy with Blair, and thanked her for referring him." The sigh of relief was loud. "I take it all back, Jim. You did good."
Sandburg could barely stand when he crawled through the door at 10pm, and the hollow, hacking cough was in full evidence. Callum escorted him up, partially to ensure he got there, but also to meet the illustrious roommate who had proven to be so generous. "I'm returning one exhausted helper," he smirked, as Blair yawned loudly. "I don't want to see you before 10am tomorrow, Professor. You need a good night's sleep."
Professor. It had a nice ring to it. Blair grinned lopsidedly at Jim as he blundered towards his room. He didn't quite manage to get his gym shoes off before landing nose first in his pillow, sound asleep.
Cocking his head to one side, Jim followed his movements before turning back to the shelter manager. "Everything okay?"
"More than okay, Mr. Ellison."
"Jim. He fitted right in, and I couldn't ask for anyone to try harder." Callum declined the offer of a drink. "Make sure he gets enough rest, he can't afford to get sick again. Our job's hard enough when you're fit and well."
Ellison thanked him and secured the door, a large weight lifting from his shoulders. This was a very promising beginning.
Over the next two weeks, Blair devoted a minimum of twelve hours each day to the homeless shelter. Eventually, Callum had to insist that he take one day off midweek, as it wasn't healthy to be there every day. Blair was fulfilling his probation obligation by being there for 8hrs each day, five days a week.
So, on that designated Wednesday, Sandburg fell out of bed at his usual 7am, and had already finished in the bathroom when he heard the front door open and close. Expecting to see his roommate regaled in his jogging clothes, he was surprised to see him in his typical off-duty clothes of shirt and jeans.
"Jim?" Blair finished toweling dry his shaggy mop of hair. "No jogging today?"
"No, Chief, not today." He set a plastic crate on the counter and opened the lid, pulling out a small, brightly-colored, feathered object. "We're going to do something completely unconstructive instead."
Blair's face lit up and the most rapturous expression beamed towards Jim. "We're going fishing?" Jim nodded an affirmative. "Oh wow, man. That's so... cool."
This was precisely the reaction he had hoped for. In his jacket pocket were the other two surprises he had been waiting to spring on his new friend, but those could wait until they reached the secluded spot he had picked out. It was time Blair breathed open woodland air, and relaxed into a hobby.
"Simon's got a son, Daryl, who's about your size, and he's let me borrow his waterproofs for you. So go and get changed and we can get on the road. We'll have breakfast on the way, I've bought donuts."
"For breakfast?" Blair admonished. "I so have to change your eating habits!"
Once on the open road, the transformation in Blair was astonishing. Gone was the nervous, uncertain creature that Jim had rescued from the 13th Precinct's holding cell, and here, finally, was the confident, wealth of useless knowledge that Jim had been convinced had been lurking within.
"So I tried using it once," Sandburg was jabbering, proving Jim's theory over the fount of valueless information. "The Cree fishing spear has these three inverted prongs on the end of a lengthy stick, so I figured that if it worked for them, why not give it a go. I always believed that my teaching would benefit from first hand, honest experience. My first effort lasted for hours, and all I got was cramp."
"And the second?" It wasn't that he was overly interested, but there was something engaging about Blair's manner.
"Ah, now the second time, man, that was really something. You shoulda seen me." Encouraged, Blair gave a highly entertaining and descriptive narrative of his fishing attempts, which accompanied a good portion of their journey. The truck pulled into a deserted parking area, and Jim watched his companion fall out of the car and scour the area with delight.
"How did you find this place? This is great." He bounced back eagerly to help with the unloading of the trunk. "Which direction do we head?" He followed the indicated path and stood at the water's edge in pure enchantment. "It's been too long," he admitted, staring into the glimmering depths. "I've missed feeling so human."
"There's something else, Chief." Ellison couldn't help smiling at the changed man in front of him. This was reward enough for everything. Wasn't that what he had said all along? He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew an oblong packet and handed it to Blair. "I hope this is okay."
Wide eyes stared at the brown paper. "But, Jim..."
"Just open it, Chief. I want to get down to some serious fishing." The detective was suddenly embarrassed by his gesture.
Blair diligently removed each strip of sticking tape, treasuring the moment. No one gave him presents. But he was relieved about that, because he could not reciprocate. The paper finally slid off to reveal the glowing letters of the title: 'First Footsteps in Africa; Or an Exploration of Harar by Richard F. Burton'. If the sight of the book had left the former academic voiceless, the smaller oblong case that was now placed in his hand, robbed him still further.
"You used to wear glasses for reading," Jim said, as Blair opened the container. "If your prescription's changed we can get the lenses changed."
"I don't deserve this," Blair whispered, finally finding the power of speech. "I don't deserve any of this." Glistening, tear-filled eyes gazed in wonder around him at the beauty of the area, and fell back to the gifts in his possession. "I can't believe that there could be someone like you in the world, who could be as kind as you have been." He swallowed a lump in his throat. "I've given you nothing in return."
"You've spent what little free time you have suggesting different ways of controlling my senses," Jim observed, his own throat constricting. "You're over three quarters of the way through your community service. You've kept your end of the bargain. And," he added, "you've become my friend."
Mindful of the touching gifts he held, Blair threw his arms around his Sentinel and held tight.
Mikey would have been envious. But so very proud.
"C'mon, Chief," Ellison said, patting his friend on the back. "Let's see what fish are out there waiting for us."
During his third week at St James', Blair was just helping to clear away from the evening food rush, when Callum approached him. He thrust a large envelope into his hands, and placed his hands on his hips in expectation.
"Well?" he demanded, waiting for his volunteer to inspect the contents.
Sandburg dried his hands on his jeans, and hesitantly slit open the envelope. Inside was a single sheet of card that had a multitude of colored type on it. Slipping on his glasses, he scanned the wording.
"It's your 'Get Out of Jail Free' card, Professor," Harpowicz simplified, a sliver of regret in his voice. "You've done your allotted community service hours, you can go home now!"
Something didn't feel quite right about that, to Blair. He should have been celebrating that his period of servitude was over, but it actually came as a disappointment. During his three weeks here, he had helped to feed the many hungry mouths, spent many hours washing bedding and charity-donated clothes, listened while people less fortunate than himself had vented, pleaded and begged for help. He had even been part of the system that had to say 'no', when the mandatory 105 limit on the number of guests had been reached. To exceed it was a fire hazard and, heart-rendingly, these people had to be turned away. Blair had known that feeling himself. That sickening lurch of rejection, when it felt the whole world was turning against you in the immortal words, 'I'm sorry'. It was nothing personal, but not everyone understood that. The wrath and bitterness that was flung at him was like physical blows, but he had grown to learn that it was better if their misery was aimed at him, and not at another wretch like themselves. He was in the enviable position to have a home to go back to.
Part of the work at St James' was the counseling service and referral unit, offering guidance and support to people, housing and placement services, vocational referrals and case management. This, above all else, had intrigued Blair. For the few nights he had resided here himself, he had known of the schemes but hadn't subscribed to any of them. Why not? He had since questioned. Perhaps it was the concept that he had either failed the system, or it had failed him, and he didn't want to go there again. Either way, he wanted to be a part of the group that lent support to people in the situation he had once been in. He wanted to be there to offer the advice that he could have taken, and conceivably had a shorter street life, getting back into work and having a permanent place to live.
The vibrant card burned in his hand. "Can't I stay?"
Callum glowered at the return of insecure Blair returning. He too had seen the flourishing confidence. "Of course you can, you schmuck." Harpowicz gripped the kid's shoulder. "But now we do this the structured way, and we work out how to get you into full time employment! Grab a seat." Blair abandoned the dish clearing to one of their guests, and parked himself on one of the plastic chairs. "What d'you wanna do next?"
It was such an open-ended question. A month ago, Blair couldn't have even begun to answer that question, but with the huge upheaval, his priorities had changed. "The advisory service," he stated, hoping he wasn't being impertinent. "I'd like to see what I can offer through them."
"Good." If anything Callum seemed delighted. "Now tell me why."
The words began slowly as Sandburg finally crystallized his own thought process. They were ideas that had been swarming around his head, but had never been voiced. "While I was teaching at Rainier, I was sharing my enjoyment for what I had learned. I felt I was accomplishing something by bringing my learning and my experience to the students there, even when they were only taking Anthro 101 for credit." The assurance was there now. "With everything that's happened, I've come to realize that it possibly isn't my experience in the anthropology of other countries, civilizations and tribes that is the most beneficial to the students, but what I can offer them now, out of experience of the harsher side of life. I want to be able to offer them the kind of open, uninhibited, strings-free guidance that I never found."
"There isn't an advisory service at Rainier?"
"There is, but it didn't feel accessible to me. I didn't think it was for me, or that I would gain anything by using it. It wasn't their fault."
"So what can we do to make a difference?" That was the all-important question.
"I think I want to work on their counseling service, eventually. If I can reach just one student and show them that falling off the tracks would be the wrong decision, then surely I've accomplished something." It was there. Fifteen months after losing both his home and his direction in life, Blair now knew what he wanted to do. The pride he felt in himself was nothing compared with the look of Callum's face.
"I'm proud to know you, Blair Sandburg." Harpowicz leaned over, and shook Blair's hand. "There aren't many people who are able to come full circle, and reap their rewards for the benefit of others." He stood. "I'll give you a ride home, but I want you to take tomorrow off. Come back in on Wednesday, and you can spend the day with Ruth in the advisory and welfare unit."
Jim was equally as proud of his friend when he heard the news. "Thai?" he offered, knowing that food was as good a way as any to celebrate, where Sandburg was concerned. He did have an ulterior motive, though, because if he ordered takeout, then his Sentinel expert might avoid making him test concoctions to challenge his senses of taste and smell. The fungus experiment with the out-of-date mushrooms had not been fun.
He found some thumbtacks in the kitchen drawer so that Blair could immediately display his freedom card in his room. "So what's next, Chief?"
He briefly summarized his conversation with Callum, but stopped when Jim returned to the kitchen and rummaged in the bill rack for a manila folder, last seen in the hands of Simon Banks less than a month ago. "You've forgotten, haven't you?" He withdrew a sheet that was covered in Rafe's unintelligible scrawl. On it was the Rainier University logo, and it had been that alone which had caused Blair to panic and lack faith when Banks had been here. What he had failed to notice, read or acknowledge, were the words "Advisory Service." Perhaps he would have read that if he had had his glasses at the time, or had been healthier. He hadn't been very well at the time. It would seem that Jim had had this level of belief in him a long time ago, and Jim's colleagues had already made approaches on his behalf.
With his academic qualifications, and his unique perspective on the University system, the academic board had agreed that with correct supervision, a written guarantee of behavior, the accruement of the relevant experience, and the attainment of the necessary qualifications, Blair Sandburg could, in theory, be considered as an applicant should a position arise within the advisory service.
Blair knew that achieving a job would not negate any ill-feeling towards him, and that would be a series of separate battles he would have to fight, but that was part of why he wanted to be there. He wanted to prevent anyone else from losing everything the way he had. Not everyone would be lucky enough to have a Jim Ellison somewhere down the line.
"I don't know enough ways to thank you," Blair stammered.
"You mean, apart from decorating your room last weekend, getting Jonas to fix my truck, finding someone at the shelter who used to be a plumber to come and sort out the sink in the bathroom?" Blair looked abashed. "Those small gestures mean a lot, Chief. And I have a much better handle on my senses now, so much so that I can hear the safety catch being released on a gun, and know when to duck. You've probably saved my life more than once."
Blair smiled at Jim. How lucky could a man get? His life had gone from being a hopeless sham, to having direction. Somewhere in the future, he knew that he would be able to afford his own place again, but in the meantime, he was allowed to feel safe. He truly wished Mikey could have been this fortunate.
The next day, Jim requested that Blair accompany him to the Cascade PD. It wasn't a demand, it was purely voluntary, and he was allowed to refuse if he chose to. He would understand if the idea of being surrounded by police officers was too daunting an experience.
Curious, Blair accepted the lift and chattered away his nervousness for the duration of the ride. There, Ellison parked up in the basement garage but walked Sandburg back onto the street to enter through the main reception area.
Pushing through the throng of people there, some in uniforms, some shouting, some simply seeking refuge from the rain, Jim brought Blair to a halt front of a large, metal cage. "I wanted you to see this."
It was hard to determine what he was looking at, until his gaze fell on a plaque off to one side. On a black background, a series of gold, embedded letters revealed the words: Michael Lomax Clothing Collection.
The four foot square cage was full to the brim of coats, pants, shirts and footwear, all in reasonably sound condition. All of them had been donated by the friends, family and employees of the Cascade Police Department, to give to the various shelters in the city.
"Mikey was cremated as a John Doe, Chief. I'm sorry." Jim and Blair stood off to the side, in a quieter corner. "I know how much he meant to you, and I wanted you to know that he wouldn't be forgotten. I hope you don't mind."
"Oh Jim, it's perfect." Blair couldn't believe his eyes, and emotion choked him.
"We've got some help coming later, and we're going to load all this into the truck and take it out to Roehampton, Clarke, St James' and anywhere else you think it should go. Do you want to help?"
It was a redundant question.
Mikey would have been so happy... and proud. Blair wished he could thank Mikey for all the support he had given him, and for helping him keep the faith, but at least, now, in Mikey's name, good would come out of a bad situation. Blair knew that there would always be people who would brand him a thief, but his goal would be to prevent that from happening to anyone else.
Blair turned to the detective. "I know I've said it before, but let me say it again, Jim." He smiled at his friend; a true, honest smile that acknowledged all the trust that Ellison had placed in him. "Thank you."
copyright Xasphie 05/05/04 (part 1) 15/05/04 (part 2)BACK