EVOLUTION OF FRIENDSHIP Part 1
BEST SERIES - GEN
AUTHOR'S NOTES: this is an AU ending to "Switchman" which is one of my favorite episodes. But when I watched it, I was always surprised that Jim, who at this early stage, had little control over his senses, managed to open up his hearing to find the bomb and then when it went off, had absolutely no reaction to that. I also felt that a bomb going off in your near vicinity would probably have more effect on Blair than what we were shown. Personally, I'd have preferred it if this had been a longer episode so we could have seen a little more of the gradual building of the new partnership between Jim and Blair. But since TPTB chose not to give us that, I decided to fill in the blanks myself. I hope you like it. I'm hoping this will be a series but each part will be a stand alone story, so those of you who hate to read WIP's till they're finished, like me <g>, can do so in safety. There will be no cliffhangers, I promise ya!
DISCLAIMER: Not worth the paper (or the monitor) it's written on, I know, but anyway…Quotes from the episode were taken from the show and all credit for these lines go to the writers, directors and producers of the show. "The Sentinel" and its characters aren't mine and no money was made from this. No copyright infringement intended.
Thanks as always to Lyn for the stellar beta job, when I kept getting my POV's confused, and for my page and the constant encouragement. Thanks also to Tate for alpha reading this. Special thank you to my new listsib Bev for being my very own "fic doctor" when I just about gave up on it, and for listening.
"Don't look, listen."
Jim looked at his new partner in shock. His senses were still all over the place. How the hell was he supposed to concentrate on one to the exclusion of all the others, without going into one of those zone out things, *and* find the bomb that was about to blow them all to kingdom come?
Sandburg's gaze was steady, his eyes trusting.
*Shit! * Jim thought, *He really believes I can do this. * He turned away and began to stumble down the aisle of the bus, trying to filter out all the extraneous noises the way Blair had begun to teach him. Rapid heartbeats fueled by fear were cast ruthlessly aside till there was a momentary lull and he suddenly heard what he'd been listening for. Tick, tick, tick. He focused in on it and found his hearing arrowing down as if guiding his eyes to a seat on his right. He reached down beneath the seat, hauling out the ticking mechanism, giving the clock only a cursory glance, before calling out, "Get down!" as he slung it through the back window of the bus. Turning, he pushed as many people as he could ahead of him as he ran doubled over for the front door.
Then the explosion hit and he felt the bus lift and lurch forward and he fell to the floor, his hands clasped over his ears as the world shook and screamed around him. He curled tighter into a ball, his eyes scrunched closed, trying to block out the overwhelming thunder assaulting his sensitized hearing.
There was someone at his side, trying to pull his hands from his ears but he resisted. His head thumped in time to his heartbeat and he groaned. "God, make it stop," he managed to mutter but the sounds continued their assault on the Sentinel hearing he'd opened up wide only minutes before, in order to find the bomb. He rocked frantically, back and forth, desperate for surcease from the pain.
A moment of clarity touched him and he became aware of a patch of warmth on the side of his face. He focused in on it desperately, using the distraction it provided to try to claw his way back out of the maelstrom of noise surrounding him.
Gradually he realized he could hear a voice over the cacophony and he reached for it, managing somehow to filter out the other sounds. The voice was soothing and rhythmic and soon he found himself able to understand the words. At the moment that he did, his hearing dropped back to a normal level and he sighed with relief and opened his eyes.
"That's it. Just concentrate on my voice. Shut everything else out. Listen to my voice."
Jim raised his head and looked up, meeting Blair's gentle gaze. He could feel Sandburg's hand still resting against his cheek, lightly massaging with his fingertips.
"Hey, you okay?" Blair asked, dropping his hand.
Jim nodded wearily then turned as Simon came up and kneeled down next to him as well. The captain looked worried.
"Jim? Are you all right?" Simon asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine, sir. Must have got hit by the concussion of the explosion. Stunned me for a minute, that's all." Jim flung a warning look in Sandburg's direction as Simon helped him to his feet but was glad to see that the captain obviously thought Blair was just one of the passengers from the tour bus. "Hey, kid, you okay?" Jim asked, noticing Blair cautiously massaging his knuckles.
"Sure, I'm fine. Just bruised my hand a bit, I think," Blair replied. He glanced back at Sarris who lay on the floor, moving slightly and moaning. "I had to hit her." He looked as guilty as if he'd pulled out a gun and shot her.
Jim looked the kid over. He was pale and shaky but Jim figured that getting caught on a bus about to explode, not to mention taking out the bomber with what must have been a pretty good punch was probably a new experience for the anthropologist. "How about you get it checked out?" he suggested, nodding toward the ambulances that were pulling up at the end of the bridge.
"You too, Jim," Simon said, firmly ushering the detective ahead of him down what was left of the steps of the bus.
"I'm okay, sir. I'll get myself looked at in a while. Want to make sure no one else got hurt," Jim replied.
Blair followed them down the steps then stood indecisively, unsure whether to follow the cops or head for the paramedics. Seeing a woman approach the detectives, he decided on the latter and made his way over to get his hand checked out. Halfway there, he thought he was going to pass out. The ground seemed to ripple beneath him and he felt the hot/cold flushes of an imminent faint. He bent over, his hands on his knees and took several deep breaths until the feeling passed.
The force of the explosion had knocked Blair out. He'd come round to find himself next to the unconscious body of the Switchman. His head pounded and he wanted nothing more than to stay where he was until the pain went away, but almost automatically he'd found himself looking around for Ellison. Seeing the Sentinel curled up on the ground, seemingly in agony, had spurred him to action.
Pushing aside the throbbing at his temples and the nausea roiling in his gut, he'd made the connection between Jim having his hearing extended to the maximum to listen for the bomb and his obvious distress in the aftermath of the explosion. He remembered something in Sir Richard Burton's monograph on Sentinels about sensory spikes and by the time he'd reached Ellison's side, he was operating on instinct. He'd been overwhelmed with relief when he'd realized that what he had done so naturally had worked. But the adrenaline high that had carried him along since Sarris had discovered him on the bus, was leaching away, now the danger was past, leaving him shaky and exhausted. To make matters worse, the headache had returned with a vengeance.
Blair showed the medic his hand but refrained from mentioning that he'd been knocked out by the explosion. He knew if he did, they'd insist on taking him to the hospital for observation and that was something he just couldn't afford to do right now, financially or time wise. He was still amazed by everything he'd seen Jim do with his senses and he needed the time to process it all and then get it typed up on his computer while it was still fresh in his mind.
Jim glanced over to where he could see Sandburg sitting on the tailgate of the ambulance, then turned his attention back to his ex-wife. He casually made a date to meet her for dinner that night, then almost laughed at the stunned expression on her face when he told her exactly where to find her missing watch. As she walked away he decided that maybe he should check up on Blair. The kid had looked pretty shocky still when they'd left the bus.
Jim walked across to where the medics had set up, just in time to hear Blair complaining about having to hand over his treasured video tape to Joel Taggart, trying to make the burly bomb captain promise to return it to him. Sandburg obviously wasn't too badly hurt if he could still worry about his research after an experience like this, Jim thought.
"He'll promise, he'll promise, you'll get your tape back, Sandburg," Jim interrupted.
"Wait a minute. You know this guy?" Taggart asked, sounding surprised.
"Yeah, my new partner," Jim replied as he began to walk away.
"Partner?" Blair turned to snag his backpack, his headache and bruised hand suddenly forgotten. He scurried off the tailgate of the ambulance and caught up to Jim. He laughed disbelievingly. "Are you serious?"
Jim kept walking but turned toward him. "Every… what did you call them…?" he snapped his fingers, "…Sentinel needs one. Isn't that what the book said?"
"Oh, excellent," Blair replied, "I thought this was gonna be a thesis paper, but I think we're talking best seller here."
"Whoa, whoa," Jim cautioned him, planting himself firmly in front of Sandburg and putting his hands up as if to ward off the kid's enthusiasm. "Hold on, Darwin, slow down here. You're not publishing anything for a while, okay?"
"Why not?" Blair was puzzled. Surely Ellison knew how important this was, how much it could help him in his police work. Blair thought it probably wouldn't do his own reputation too much harm, either.
Jim glanced around them surreptitiously as if checking for eavesdroppers then put his arm under Blair's elbow and pulled him along next to him as he began walking again. "Because I don't want every lowlife in town knowing I've got an edge, especially one I can barely control. Now, you just keep this between us, you got it?"
"Hey, do I get a badge?" Sandburg asked, sounding like a kid who'd just discovered the game of cops and robbers for the first time.
Ellison stopped and faced his new partner again. "First, I gotta find a way to clear it with the captain," he answered. He wiped the side of his mouth nervously. "And you're gonna have to go through the academy, just like every other cadet." He patted Sandburg dismissively on the arm and hurried away.
Blair laughed nervously. "Cadet? Wait a minute, man. I am *not* cutting my hair." He laughed again, hearing the slight edge it held, then took off at a jog after the detective, slowing to a walk as he saw Jim stop and climb into a sedan that pulled up alongside him. * Oh great, man. How the hell am I supposed to get home? * he thought as the car pulled away. *If you didn't notice, Ellison, I caught the bus here. The bus that exploded. * He giggled a little hysterically as he turned and looked at the remains of the bus. *Guess that one won't be making a round trip today. * Sighing, he headed off the bridge to begin the trek home, suddenly feeling his bruised hand and head beginning to throb again.
Simon had driven back to the precinct after picking Jim up, dropping Ellison at the parking garage to pick up a car to drive home. Jim had explained that his jeep had been towed away when he'd parked it in a no parking zone outside the building where he'd caught up with Veronica Sarris.
"You sure you're gonna be okay, Jim?" Simon asked as Ellison climbed out of the car.
"Yeah, I'm fine, sir, really. Don't even have a headache. I'll see you in the morning. Do the paper work then, if that's all right with you?" He waited for the captain's answering nod, then headed over to the carpool sergeant and signed out a car for the night.
Driving out of the garage, he thought about the events of the past couple of days. He remembered when he'd fallen off the back of the Switchman's bike because his senses had wigged out on him and he'd thought he was going stark raving mad. Today, when the bus had exploded, he'd felt as if the madness had subsumed him again, until he'd felt Sandburg's touch on his face and heard the words that had talked him down. The kid had grounded him somehow, like earthing a live electrical wire. Jim had no explanation for why it had worked. He was just grateful it had.
He was exhausted by the time he reached the loft. Making a sudden decision, he called Carolyn and took a rain check on their dinner date, then showered and headed for bed, falling into the first decent night's sleep he'd had in what felt like forever.
The next morning he woke early as he usually did. Feeling only slightly foolish, he did the relaxation and breathing exercises Sandburg had taught him, cautiously testing out his senses as he did so. Everything seemed to be normal, but he experienced a momentary panic as he found his eyes drawn to the slow drip of the coffee maker and only barely managed to pull himself away from it before he zoned. That had the effect of reminding him that, perhaps, this Sentinel thing was going to take longer to get used to than he'd originally thought and he suddenly realized he hadn't even called Sandburg to see if he was okay. After all, Sandburg was an adult, even though Jim seemed to have this propensity for thinking of him as a kid. But, Jim reminded himself, Sandburg wasn't a cop, and yesterday's events had to have been pretty harrowing for him. Mind made up, he picked up the phone and called the operator, only to find out that there was no Blair Sandburg listed.
He headed for the precinct, going up to records and managing to sweet talk Sarah, one of the clerks, into tracking down a phone number in the Anthropology department at Rainier University, where he could leave a message for Sandburg, asking him to call back as soon as he could. Then he went to his desk and began to dig into the never-ending paperwork that accompanied any arrest.
Jim was just thinking about going out to grab some lunch around 2 when his phone rang. He grabbed it up and barked out, "Ellison", hoping this call wasn't going to keep him from the Wonderburger that had his name on it.
"Ah, Ellison, hi, it's me, Blair," came the hesitant voice at the other end. "Um, I'm sorry to bother you but I got this message to call you so…" Blair's voice trailed off.
"Sandburg, glad you called. I just wondered if you were okay. You didn't look too hot when I left yesterday and… I'm sorry I took off like that. The captain picked me up and I didn't remember till later that you didn't have a ride home. I just wanted to make sure you were all right. So… are you… all right?" Jim stumbled to a stop. He really wasn't used to worrying about a partner. That was something else he'd have to learn, he thought.
"Yeah, I'm okay. That's cool, man, about yesterday, I mean. I made it home," Blair replied, deciding that getting pissed at his new thesis subject about the fact that he'd had to walk for an hour to get there, taking time off twice to puke in the gutter, would probably bring a swift end to the partnership. He had the feeling that Ellison probably didn't take criticism well, and besides, he'd signed on for this with his eyes wide open, hadn't he? The last thing he needed was for Ellison to think his new partner needed babysitting. Blair intended to show the cop that he could keep up with him. Otherwise it would be, "Goodbye thesis and goodbye doctorate," and Blair had no intention of throwing 10 years or more of searching for his Holy Grail out the window, just because he felt like shit at the moment
"Good, that's good. So, um, where do we go from here?" Jim asked, suddenly worried that Sandburg might have decided that the day before had been too much and want out. The near zone that morning had scared him more than he was prepared to admit. The one thing he was prepared to admit was that Sandburg was the one person who seemed to be able to help him gain control. His mind kept flashing back to the minutes after the explosion when just the touch of Blair's hand and the sound of his voice had anchored him to sanity.
"Well, I could come and see you tonight," Blair suggested. "You know, show you some more exercises you can try when things are getting out of control, maybe begin to work on ways to lessen the risk of zoneouts. If you want me to, that is. If you're busy, that's cool, man. We can do it some other time."
"No, that's fine, tonight's good," Jim agreed quickly. The sooner he learned enough to get a handle on this thing the better. The last thing he needed was to have his senses overwhelm him on the job, in front of his captain or his colleagues, or worse still a perp. A few lessons from Sandburg on self-hypnosis or some other new age control techniques and he could cut the kid loose and get on with his life, Jim thought. "So, do you want me to pick you up? I'm not sure what time I'll be through here but I could swing by and get you. I don't have your address, though."
"No, that's fine, man. I'll drive my car over. Just give me your address and I'll see you at, say, seven o'clock? You should be home for sure, by then, right?" Blair asked.
"Yeah, 7 o'clock's fine." Jim gave Sandburg the address of the loft then hung up the phone, feeling inexplicably relieved and turned back to the mound of paperwork, deciding to forego lunch in favor of getting it done.
Jim ploughed through the arrest reports then put in some time on the backlog of files that always seemed to pile up when he'd been out of the office for a while, as he had been on the Switchman case. He glanced up at the clock, registering the time with surprise. It was 6-30 PM and he stood and stretched, then turned and grabbed his coat and walked towards the door. He was almost there when he heard a familiar bellow.
"Ellison! My office!"
*Shit! * Jim thought, gazing longingly at his escape route. Five minutes earlier and he would have been gone. Shrugging, he walked across the bullpen and into Banks' office.
"Jim, have a seat," the captain said, motioning him to a chair in front of the desk. "That stuff you were talking about the other day, when you were telling me you needed time off… Has it settled down? Did you find a doctor who was able to help?" He looked Jim over searchingly, pleased to see that the detective looked more rested than he had in weeks, despite the rigors of the previous day's events.
"Yeah, I'm much better, Simon. I spoke to someone who thinks he can help me with it, if it ever happens again." Jim decided to keep Sandburg out of it for now. Better to let the captain think he'd seen a doctor, at least till he had worked out a way to get Sandburg on board as his partner. He justified the white lie with the reasoning that even if Sandburg wasn't actually a doctor yet, he would be sometime in the future, just not the medical kind Banks obviously had in mind.
"Good. I'm glad, Jim. You want to fill me in a little more with what went on in this girl's mind? Why'd she blame you for her father's death?" Simon continued.
Jim glanced surreptitiously at his watch. Damn! He had no way to get a message to Blair to let him know he'd been detained. He'd just have to satisfy Simon's curiosity as quickly as possible, then he'd grab some burgers at a drivethrough on the way home, and hope that either the kid was there waiting, or that he'd gone home, hopefully leaving a note with his contact details on it. If not, Jim figured he could just turn up at the University and find Blair there in his office or somewhere.
It was close to 8PM before Jim was able to make his escape, begging off Simon's invitation to dinner with the excuse that he was still tired and wanted to get home to bed. Simon waved him off and Jim hurried down to collect his jeep. He went to Wonderburger on the way home, realizing in the drivethrough lane that he had no idea what the kid ate. Deciding that most people liked chicken, he grabbed a chicken burger for Blair and a triple beef burger for himself as well as two large orders of fries. Then he headed for the loft. He didn't see any unfamiliar cars in the lot as he pulled in and assumed Sandburg must have gotten tired of waiting. He took the elevator up to his floor and stepped out as the door opened, fumbling in his pocket for his keys. Juggling the takeout sacks and keys in his hands he didn't see Sandburg till he almost tripped over his prone body on the floor outside the door to the loft.
*What the…* Jim stepped carefully over his sprawled out partner and unlocked the door. Tossing the bags onto the counter, he returned to Blair's side, relieved as he saw the backpack Blair had thought to tuck under his head as a pillow. Reasonably certain now that Blair wasn't injured or unconscious, he crouched beside him and firmly shook the shoulder nearest to him. "Sandburg? Wake up."
"Huh!" Blair mumbled, jerking awake. His eyes gradually came into focus and he pushed himself to sit up. "Oh… hi, Jim."
"What are you doing, Sandburg?" Jim asked, then held up his hand to forestall Blair's answer. "Besides sleeping on the floor outside my apartment, I mean. Come on, let's get inside before the neighbours call the cops and report a vagrant sleeping in the hallway." He held down a hand to Blair as he rose to his feet and pulled Blair up with him. Blair looked rough, his hair standing out in a wild frizz around his head, like some sort of hirsute halo. He rubbed his eyes with a fist and then blinked tiredly at Jim, who kept hold of his arm and pulled him into the loft, closing the door behind them.
Jim watched as Blair stumbled over to the couch and collapsed down onto it. "How'd you get here?" he asked. "I didn't see your car outside."
"Oh, she broke down like about a hundred miles from here. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get my drift," Blair replied wearily.
"And you walked the rest of the way here?" Jim asked, astounded. "Why didn't you just call me and ask me to come get you or cancel for tonight? I would have done that, you know?"
"I know, but I didn't have any money for a phone call and I just figured I was more than half way here so why not just keep going, you know?" Blair responded, wrapping his arms around himself in a self-hug, still shivering from the cold that had seeped into him from the hallway floor.
Jim went to the closet and pulled out a wool blanket, bringing it back and draping it around Blair's shoulders.
"Thanks, man," Blair continued. "Anyway, when you weren't here, I thought I'd just wait around, you know, but then my headache from yesterday came back and I felt so tired I thought I'd just lie down for a while before I walked home. Must have fallen asleep."
"Whoa, hold on a minute, what headache from yesterday? You said you were okay apart from the bruised knuckles." Jim moved over and sat on the coffee table across from Blair and looked him squarely in the eyes. "Truth here, alright? Did you get knocked out yesterday?"
Blair flushed and squirmed, looking for all the world, Jim thought, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, then admitted, "Well, yeah, but it was, like, only for a couple of minutes, man, and the dizziness and stuff had pretty much gone by the time I walked home. If I had a concussion I must have walked it off or something. Hey, maybe that's a new treatment for concuss-"
The words were cut off abruptly as Jim leaned forward and grasped Blair's shoulder in a strong grip. "You walked home yesterday with the symptoms of a concussion, didn't tell me or the medics you'd been knocked out? Do you have a death wish or something? Do you know what could have happened? You could have passed out and gone under a freaking truck or something. You could have had a bleed inside that thick skull of yours. You don't WALK a concussion off, Sandburg! You go to the damn hospital and get admitted for observation."
"You didn't," Blair retorted.
"I didn't get knocked out. I had my hearing wide open and the blast knocked me for a loop, that's all. I couldn't really see myself explaining that to the paramedics, can you? Besides, as I recall, you were there to get me out of it. If you didn't want to go the hospital, you should have at least told me so I could have kept an eye on you overnight, woken you up for neuro checks and stuff," Jim finished.
"ididitmyself," Blair mumbled.
"What do you mean you did it yourself?" Jim asked, confused.
"I live on my own, so I set my alarm to go off every 2 hours and when it did I woke up and asked myself my name and who the President was and stuff and then I went back to sleep for another couple hours. That's probably why I fell asleep out there. I am seriously wiped, man." Blair grinned disarmingly at Ellison, who couldn't stop an answering smile from creeping across his own face.
He released Blair's shoulder with a pat and turned toward the kitchen. "I got you a chicken burger and some fries if you're hungry," he said, tossing the bags onto the dining table.
"Thanks, Jim, you didn't need to do that. Normally, I wouldn't touch that 'heart attack in a bag' stuff but I'm really hungry. I think I lost everything I ate down the gutter on the way home, yesterday," Blair said, moving across and taking a seat at the table.
"Too much information, Sandburg," Jim grunted, as he pulled out his own burger and began to eat.
"Right, sorry, man," Blair replied around a mouthful of fries.
They ate in companionable silence then Jim made tea and brought it over to where Blair was sitting on the couch.
"I still don't understand why you came over if you felt so tired, Chief. You should have told me that today when you called me. We could have got together some other night," Jim said.
Blair shrugged. "I said I'd help you with this, Jim. It was no big deal. I burn the candle at both ends all the time, anyway. I'm used to surviving on a few hours sleep a night. After what happened yesterday with your hearing, I thought it was important to get to work as soon as possible on seeing how we can keep things like that from happening. Look, Jim, the thesis is important to me, you know, but helping you learn to control and use this gift is a lot more important. I'd hate to see you get hit by a sensory spike or a zoneout if you were in the middle of taking down a bad guy or something." Blair shuddered expressively at the thought. "Until I know that you're at least starting to cope with all this, the thesis takes second place."
Jim stared at him, stunned. Blair was saying he'd put Jim's needs before his own and the certainty that he meant it brought a lump into the cop's throat. It wasn't something he was used to getting from people close to him, mostly he knew, because he didn't exactly practice it himself. Suddenly, he had the distinct thought that having Sandburg around was going to teach him more than just controlling his senses. He swallowed down the lump and smiled as he saw Blair nearly fall sideways as his mouth opened in a huge yawn.
"Look, Chief, you're tired, I'm tired and it's getting late. How about you crash here on the couch tonight? I've got the day off tomorrow so we can do some work on the senses thing then, if you're free, that is?" He waited till Blair nodded back at him sleepily then went and grabbed pillows and another blanket from the store cupboard before detouring upstairs to find a pair of his sweats that hopefully wouldn't swamp Blair's smaller frame too much.
By the time he'd gone downstairs again, Blair was sitting slumped forward on the couch, his eyes staring owlishly straight ahead. He jumped as Jim touched his arm.
"Hey, Sandburg, you zoning on me?" Jim asked, as he handed over the sweats, pointed out the bathroom and then set about making up a bed while Blair went and changed.
Once Blair was ensconced under the covers Jim locked up the loft and began to head upstairs.
"Hey, Jim, what are we going to do about getting permission for me to work with you on the job? Like I said, I really don't think you should be out on the streets by yourself yet, man," Blair said quietly.
There it was again. That slightly alien sense of warmth in the region of his heart that made itself known every time the kid showed his concern for Jim's safety. Ellison turned around and moved back next to the couch, looking down at Blair's sleepy face.
"I'm off for a few days. When I go back on duty, I'll speak to the captain, feed him some line to get him to let you ride along with me as a civilian observer. Then we'll take it as it comes. But listen, Sandburg, no mention of you being my partner at the precinct, all right? You start with that and Simon'll smell a rat right away. I've been working alone too long. He'll know something's up." He waited till Blair nodded then began the trek upstairs to bed again.
At the foot of the stairs he stopped and turned toward Blair again. "Um, Chief, look, I just wanted to say thanks, you know, for pulling me out of that spike or whatever it was yesterday. It was the first time in the past week or so that I started to believe that maybe I wasn't insane, after all."
"It's like I told you, man. You're not insane. These senses of yours are a gift. You just have to learn how to make the best use of them, that's all," Blair replied with conviction in his voice.
"I think it'll be a long time before I can think of them as a gift, Sandburg, but now that I've found you, or rather since you found me, then perhaps they're not quite the curse I thought they were either. Goodnight, Chief." Jim headed up the stairs and found himself actually looking to the days ahead with more hope than he'd thought he'd ever feel again.
"You're wrong about one thing, Jim," came the voice, Sentinel-soft, from below him. "You didn't find me and I didn't find you. I think we were just meant to find each other."
January 26th 2004