Spoilers for Murder 101 and Sentinel Too (1 & 2). Thanks to CJ and jael lyn for doing
a quick and, per my request, light beta job. So, any mistakes are definitely mine alone.
"What am I doing? What am I doing?" Blair raised his voice to be heard over the sound of the chopper and the boat on the water below. "Stay with him! Down lower!"
The pilot yelled back, "You've got it!" Slowly, the helicopter inched closer to the ocean.
Blair hung out of the open door of the helicopter, leaning out over the skid as he stared down at the water racing past. Why me? Heights. Water. Did I piss off some deity? This is SO not good. "Lower!" The water seemed to swell toward him. He swallowed, his chest tight.
He was close enough to jump. He could jump. It was only water. He knew how to swim. No big deal.
He heard the pilot shout a reply, but the words were lost to him.
He tensed, preparing to jump, but his hand wouldn't open, and he couldn't get a handle on his breathing. All he could think about was the last time he was immersed fully clothed in water. He'd been hit over the head, on the verge of unconsciousness, and pushed forward into the icy cold liquid. He'd taken a breath even as the blackness pulled at him, but ended up with a lungful of water.
He remembered struggling weakly, his hands pushing against a hard bottom, but a pressure on his back held him down. His chest had burned, his lungs screaming for air and revolting against the chlorinated water that had forced its way inside.
Now that he knew what it felt like to drown, he never wanted to do it again -- was terrified, in fact, of the very possibility.
Blair's kept his steel grip on the chopper. "Can't you get any lower?!"
He did. He was only inches above the water, so he didn't hit hard, but he did go under. Briefly. Panic kicked his heart into overdrive, and, for one terrifying moment, he couldn't breathe. Then he saw Brad Ventriss in front of him, and he pushed his fear aside long enough to grab the kid.
A swell of satisfaction lifted the fear clutching his chest as he looked at Brad's not-so-smug face. "Hey! If you noticed, I'm not in class today! I hope you don't file a grievance!" It felt good. Really good. Brad wasn't going to be able to buy his way out of this one.
Brad wasn't going down without a fight, though. The kid lashed out, and Blair ducked the awkward right hook, diving briefly beneath the surface and inadvertently swallowing a bit of water, then popping back up again. His mouth tasted of salt, and his eyes stung. His clothes were heavy with salt water, weighing him down. It felt as if the ocean itself were trying to pull him into its murky depths.
A smug smile twisted Brad's mouth when he saw Blair come up sputtering. "Hey teach. Heard about your little dive in the fountain. What's the matter? Don't like water too much these days?"
Brad lunged at Blair, sending a hard fist into Sandburg's ribs. Pain exploded along Blair's already battered torso, shooting straight to his back and down his legs. He gasped from the suddenness of it, but didn't have time to recover before Ventriss put both hands on Blair's shoulders and pushed down. Sandburg found himself once again beneath the water, being held down.
He had to get out. No more fooling around. Terror dampened the pain and gave him speed and strength. He twisted out of Ventriss' grip and shot up behind the man, latching onto Brad's shoulder and spinning the kid around. Blair pulled his arm back and delivered a hard blow to Brad's face... and another, and another until the young man was on the verge of unconsciousness and no longer a threat.
Then Blair wrapped his arms around Ventriss and closed his eyes, waiting for someone to come get him and pull him out of the deep, deep ocean water.
Jim spotted Blair treading water with Brad Ventriss clutched in his arms. A smile lifted his mouth, and he steered the boat toward his partner, glancing back at the girl he'd cuffed to the railing. She would keep well enough until they reached land.
The boat came to a slow stop a couple of feet from Blair and the semi-conscious man in his arms. Jim leaned over the side, a smile on his face. "Hey, Chief." He gestured toward Ventriss. "Don't you know it's a crime to pollute the ocean?"
Blair was panting hard, obviously exhausted, but he shot toward the boat like a drowning man reaching for a life buoy.
Jim frowned, suddenly noticing the stark look of panic on Blair's face. He tuned his ears to the young man's heartbeat, and his alarm shot up at its frantic pace.
Then it hit him. Damn. It had only been a couple of months since the fountain.
Blair hit the side of the boat, clawing one-handed along the wood as he tried to maintain his grip on Ventriss. Jim lunged forward, grabbing Ventriss first and hauling him up. He dumped the young man unceremoniously on the floor, doing a quick sensory scan to make sure the kid was really out of it and not just acting. Brad's eyes were glazed, his lids hovering half-mast. His heart beat was slow and his breathing shallow. Yep, he was out of it all right.
Jim leaned over again and grabbed the collar of Blair's shirt, pulling him up. When he was high enough, Blair grabbed the rail and practically vaulted over, heading face-first to the floor, barely getting his hands in front of him in time to cushion his landing.
"Chief?" Jim dropped to his knees next to Blair, who was shivering and gasping for breath, curling into himself, his arm clutched around his right side. "Talk to me? You okay?"
Blair looked up at him, his eyes red and teary, but Jim couldn't tell if the tears were from pain, fear, or simply the sting of salt water.
Sandburg took a deep breath, uncurled and rolled onto his back, then shot a glance at Brad. "Just get us to land." He coughed a few times, and the rattling sound of his lungs did little to reassure Jim.
"Sure thing, buddy." Jim slid out of his jacket and draped it over Blair, then straightened and hurried to the controls, steering the boat back toward the shore and hitting the gas.
Two ambulances and a group of paramedics were waiting for them. Jim eased the boat into the shallow area until the bottom hit sand. Quickly releasing the anchor, he uncuffed the woman as a group of uniforms swarmed the boat and took her into custody.
The EMT's followed, two going to Ventriss and another two dropping next to Sandburg, who was now half-sitting against the base of a bench, wet and shivering. Jim's jacket hung loosely over his shoulders, covering his chest and stomach, but his arms rested on top of the thick material, clutched close to his ribs.
"Hey there. I'm Dan. What's the problem?" The EMT, a man with short, dark hair in his thirties, set his toolbox next to Blair and popped the top, taking out his stethoscope and slipping it into his ears.
Blair took another deep, rattling breath. "Ribs. Chest. Hurts."
"Okay. Let's take a look." Dan slid the jacket off and lifted Blair's T-shirt.
A collection of dark bruises mottled the fair skin. It was obvious those were older ones, and Jim grimaced as he inspected the full extent of the damage Ventriss' goons had done to Blair. Damn. He should have checked the kid out better, gotten him to a hospital. But Sandburg had been moving okay, had seemed all around uninjured, except for his black eye.
"He got in another punch," Blair gasped. "I think maybe he cracked a rib. And my chest hurts. Hard to breathe."
The paramedic nodded and placed the flat surface of the stethoscope on to Blair's chest. "Take a deep breath."
Blair complied, wincing. Even normal ears could hear the slight rattle as the air entered Sandburg's lungs.
Dan moved the stethoscope a few inches to the side. "Again."
Blair took another deep breath. The other EMT, a petite woman with blond hair, grabbed Blair's left wrist and took his pulse, then wrote down the number on a sheet pinned to her small clipboard.
"Okay." Dan removed the stethoscope and placed it next to his toolbox. "It sounds like you've got some water in your lungs. How much did you swallow?'
Blair shook his head. "Not a lot."
Jim's jaw twitched. "He drowned a couple of months ago. Doc said his lungs will take a while to fully recover."
The EMT nodded, his expression flat and professional. He looked back at Blair. "We'll take you into the hospital. Those lungs definitely need to be looked at. Now, about your ribs. What are these bruises from?"
"A couple of guys jumped me yesterday."
"I see." Dan's fingers moved gently over Blair's battered ribs. "Tell me if it hurts when I press. I'll be very gentle." His fingers slid slowly over the area, stopping to press softly every few inches.
When he reached the fourth rib, Blair gasped. "There."
Dan nodded an acknowledgment and glanced at his partner, who scribbled that information on her clipboard. He then continued his inspection, but found no other particularly sensitive areas, though it was obvious from the extensive bruising that the whole torso must have been tender.
"Well, I'm pretty sure nothing's broken. Maybe fractured." He packed up his toolbox and locked the lid. "Stay right here. We'll bring a stretcher." He rose to his feet, but Blair's voice stopped him.
"No, it's okay. I can walk."
"No you can't." Dan smiled. "Anything happens to you, and it's my rear end. So don't move. Got it?"
With a tired and somewhat pained sigh, Blair nodded. "Okay. Fine."
Simon chewed on his cigar, watching the ambulance carrying Blair pull off. He turned to Jim. "What the hell happened to Sandburg?"
With a sigh, Jim began the somewhat long trek back to his truck, the Captain following at his side. "Start with his getting beat up yesterday and end with a romp in the ocean going one-on-one with Ventriss. I saw the bruises. Looks like he was roughed up worse than I thought. He should've gotten medical attention earlier, but he seemed okay. Guess I should've known, huh?" He rubbed a tired hand over his face. "Sandburg gets riled up about something, and he doesn't pay much attention to his own welfare."
"What do you mean? He was walking around fine. Didn't seem to be in any pain."
"Come on, Captain. You should know him better than that by now. He was angry and on the war path against Ventriss. He must have been hurting, but he was too fired up to take the time off to tend his own wounds."
"I see." He chewed on his cigar some more. "Reminds me of someone else I know."
Jim shot the captain a sidelong glance. "Maybe, but at least Blair's always tuned into me. I so much as sneeze and he's all over me. He gets beat up, and I missed all the signs." He stopped and turned toward the captain, a troubled, confused expression on his face. "And you know what I can't figure? Why? Ever since the fountain... " He shook his head. "Well, you know. You were there. That was just way too close. You know what they say, 'You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.' I should be more tuned into him now. I should be paying more attention."
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Jim. The kid'll be fine. Got a bit banged up, but he's okay. Right?"
Jim shrugged. "Yeah, but it's only been a couple of months, sir. His lungs aren't back to normal, and the last thing he should have been doing was romping around in the water with that Ventriss kid."
Simon slapped a hand on Jim's shoulder and pushed him forward. "So let's go meet him at the hospital and see how he's doing before we start worrying."
The doc held up the X-Ray and pointed to the dark, hair-thin line along the rib bone. "Here's the fracture. Fortunately, it's not too bad, and I won't wrap your ribs, but you will need to take it easy for a couple of weeks."
"A couple of weeks?" Blair's eyebrows rose. "You've got to be kidding? I can't...." He stopped suddenly, his face darkening. "Never mind, I guess I can."
He'd forgotten for a moment that he no longer had a job. Perfect timing. He almost laughed.
"And, don't forget to take the antibiotics on schedule and finish them. You can't afford another infection in those lungs. I want to see you back here in two days. Got it?"
Blair nodded solemnly. "That shouldn't be a problem." My schedule's pretty much all clear.
As for his work at the station, he'd do what he could, but if Simon didn't come up with a position for him, he'd have to start looking for another job.
And since he no longer had a dissertation to work on....
The doctor focused a more intense look on Blair, his brow furrowing. "How are you feeling otherwise? Everything okay at home? Work?"
Surprise fluttered across Blair's face. Damn. Was he that easy to read? "Uh, everything's fine." He shrugged. "Usual stresses." It was a blatant lie, of course, but he wasn't in the mood to talk about the mess he called a life with a stranger wearing a white lab jacket.
The doctor frowned slightly. "Any depression? How are you sleeping?"
"I"m sleeping fine." An average of four hours a night. I particularly enjoy reliving my dying moments several times a week. Why doesn't someone invent a way for us to turn off our dreams?
"How's your energy? Any fatigue?"
Another shrug. "Just the usual. Really, I'm fine."
The doctor took a breath. "Mr. Sandburg, you drowned not that long ago. You were clinically dead for several minutes. Your brain and the cells of your body were deprived of oxygen. Your lungs developed an infection. You left the hospital much too soon. Have you given your body any rest since that time?"
Blair swallowed, his gaze dancing away from the doctor. "I'm busy. It's not like I can just take a vacation, you know."
"Yes, you can." The physician's voice was firm, almost hard. "I hate to break the news to you, but if you don't schedule in some recuperation time, your body's going to decide to do it for you, probably at a most inconvenient time, and very likely with the end result being a stay in the hospital. Your entire system was affected when you drowned and your heart stopped... for several very long minutes. It takes time to recover. Your lungs take time to recover. You need to rest and, if possible," his voice took on a hint of amusement, "avoid fist fights in near-freezing waters."
Blair sighed, looking back at the doctor. "Fine. I'll rest." He hopped off the table, suppressing a grimace at the twinge in his ribs, and grabbed his shirt, slipping into it. "As it turns out, I've got tons of time on my hands now. So, I'd really like to go home and get started on all this rest. Write me up whatever prescriptions you want and I'll be on my way."
The doctor's gaze narrowed. "All right. But, remember, you're back here in two days."
"I got it."
"And, Mr. Sandburg, might I suggest you make an appointment with one of our psychiatrists. I will gladly write you a ref--"
"Thanks for the advice, but no thanks."
"It seems to me you're a bit on edge."
"I'm not on edge." He dropped his gaze to his shirt, his fingers roughly working the buttons closed. "I've just had a really long couple of days and I'm feeling pretty lousy, okay?" He looked back up at the man. "Believe me, if you had the week I just had, I doubt you'd be anywhere near as civil as I am right now."
"... I doubt you'd be anywhere near as civil as I am right now."
Jim clenched his jaw.
He'd been eavesdropping for several minutes, his impatience finally overriding his respect for Sandburg's privacy. He'd been at the hospital with Simon and Joel for over an hour, and the only thing any of the staff would tell him was that Sandburg was being examined and he'd have to wait.
He hated waiting.
But at least he now knew what was going on with the kid, and he wasn't too happy about what he was hearing. Not that all of it was news to him. He was well aware of just how little sleep Blair had been getting ever since the drowning, but he hadn't thought much about it. Truthfully, he hadn't wanted to think much about it. The memory of that day was still too raw, too painful. He just wanted things to go back to normal, and he knew that would take time. So, he'd just focused on his job and let Sandburg focus on his own stuff until distance made the memory of that day at the fountain a little less sharp.
And, come to think of it, Blair seemed to be working the same strategy. As soon as he'd come back from Sierre Verde, he'd returned to his university and police duties. He hadn't even taken a breather. Straight from the hospital to the jungle, then back to fighting crime and teaching classes.
Burying himself in his work.
A shiver passed down Jim's spine. His mind sprang back to that night at the church when Blair had seemed unwilling to go to sleep. The kid had just kept talking. And talking. And talking.
And I kept shooting him down. I didn't want to talk about it. He gave me an opening and I slammed it closed. Gave him a signal. Loud and clear.
And Sandburg had never brought up the subject of his death again. Not once. Hadn't even mentioned their shared vision after that day in the hospital, something the pre-Alex Sandburg would have jumped all over. Probably, again, because Jim had made it clear he didn't want to talk about it.
It just made him feel too damn uncomfortable. Too weird. Like some of those new age freaks spouting nonsense about auras and reincarnation. He was not a man of the mystical, even though he had to grudgingly admit to some kind of spirit guide. Rather, he preferred solid evidence, concrete facts, and things he could deal with in the physical world.
Not elusive visions filled with horror and riddles.
Yet, he had to admit, that mystical side had brought Blair back from the dead. And his own experience in that tank Alex had forced him into made him look straight at the spiritual side of his sentinel abilities.
But it hadn't been pleasant, and it definitely wasn't an experience he ever wanted to repeat.
He heard the doctor tear off a sheet. Blair thanked the man, then hurried out of the room, his sneakers squeaking against the tile floor.
Jim looked over at his captain seated in the chair next to him. "Yeah, sir."
"You've been awfully quiet." He glanced at Joel. "Hey, Joel. Can you do me a favor?"
The big man straightened in his seat. "Sure, Simon. What?"
"Get Ellison here a cup of coffee."
"Gotcha." Joel rose hastily from his seat, obviously catching on to Simon's real meaning as he hurried out of the waiting room.
When Joel was out of sight, Simon lowered his voice and leaned closer to Jim. "Is everything okay?"
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Sandburg's on his way out. He's, uh, fine."
Simon released a relieved sigh, breaking into a grin. "Well, that's good to hear."
"And speak of the devil." Jim rose and jerked his chin toward an open doorway leading into a hallway.
Half a second later, Blair appeared, walking stiff and slow. He looked around briefly before spotting Jim and Simon, then offered a weak smile and hurried his pace.
"Hey guys. The doc told me you were out here."
Simon got to his feet. "How are you feeling, Sandburg?"
Blair shrugged, holding his shallow smile a moment longer. "I'm okay. The doctor gave me a clean bill of health."
"Uh-huh." Jim raised an eyebrow.
Blair's gaze darted nervously to the Sentinel, questioning, but the anthropologist moved forward and pulled a small piece of paper from his jean pocket. "Gotta go pick up some meds." He shuffled past Jim, glancing briefly back at the detective. "You two can stay here. The pharmacy's in the building. I'll be right back."
Jim shook his head. This was getting ridiculous. "Sandburg." He trotted after the young man, grabbing his elbow. Blair turned around and looked up at the Sentinel, a mixture of indignation and embarrassment on his face.
"What is it, Jim?"
Jim moved closer to Sandburg and lowered his voice. "Stop the bullshitting. I heard what the doctor said. You didn't exactly get a clean bill of health, Junior."
Blair's eyes flashed with anger, and he jerked his arm away from Jim, a stunted hiss escaping his throat. His arm moved close to his ribs, and he took a step back. "You were eavesdropping? Oh that's just great. Doctor-patient confidentiality. Ever hear of it?"
Jim clenched his jaw, taking a deep breath. He didn't want to get in a fight with the kid. "Look, I'm just saying that you should listen to him. Take it easy, and maybe... Well, maybe it's a good idea for you to go talk to someone."
Blair barked a laugh. "Oh that's real good coming from you. Have you ever been to see a shrink in your life when it wasn't mandated by the department?"
Jim took a step forward. "This isn't about me. It's about you. The doc's right. You need to slow down."
The anger faded from Blair's face, and his shoulders hunched. He looked up at Jim, his eyes suddenly heavy with fatigue. "Well, now that I'm unemployed with no dissertation to work on, that shouldn't be a problem."
He turned away, but Jim grabbed his elbow again and stopped him.
"Jim, man --" Blair spun to face him.
"Easy, Chief." Jim kept his tone soft. Gently, he took the paper from Blair's hand. "I don't want to argue with you right now. I just want to go get your prescriptions. You sit here and wait. Rest." He steered Blair over to an empty chair, grateful when the young man didn't resist. "Look, I, uh, also want to apologize. You were right about Ventriss, and you stuck to your guns. You didn't back down even with pressure from the university, from me, and from Simon." He gave Blair's shoulder a light tap. "If there were more people like you, Ventriss never would have gotten as far as he did."
Blair's jaw slackened, his eyes growing wide and his cheeks flushing.
Jim offered a smile and pushed him gently into the seat. "I'll be right back. Wait here. Go easy on those ribs."
It was dark by the time Jim and Blair made it home.
Gesturing toward the couch, Jim closed the door and headed to the kitchen. "Take a load off, Chief. I'll whip us up something to eat."
Blair nodded and shuffled wearily to the sofa, sinking onto the cushion. "Thanks. I didn't realize how hungry I was until you mentioned food. Been so hectic today, I missed lunch -- and dinner, of course."
Jim opened the refrigerator and perused the contents. He spotted a square tupperware container filled with yesterday's rigatoni. Too tired to really cook, popped the corner of the lid, and placed the whole thing in the microwave. He set the time to five minutes on low power, then walked back to the refrigerator and retrieved a beer for himself. He glanced back at Blair. The young man was still sitting quietly on the couch, his head back, shivering ever-so slightly.
Closing the refrigerator door, Jim placed his beer on the counter and filled the teapot with water, then set it on the burner. He moved over to the thermostat and set the temperature higher. That done, he headed back to the kitchen, grabbed his beer and tossed the cap in the trash, then strolled to the living room and dropped into the armchair.
Blair's body was limp, his eyes closed, and his breathing steady. Jim listened to the young man's heartbeat, finding it slow, but he couldn't quite tell if Sandburg was actually asleep.
In a near-whisper, he asked, "You awake, Chief?"
Blair didn't move, but he mumbled a reply. "Getting there."
"You'll get a cramp in your neck if you fall asleep like that."
Blair didn't reply.
Jim took a swallow of his beer, then perched the bottle on the arm of the chair. "I put some hot water on for you."
He cleared his throat. "Can we talk?"
Blair opened his eyes, lifted his head, and looked at Jim. "What about? I'm resting, right? You can't get on my case about not following doctor's orders."
Jim's thumb rubbed absently at the cool glass of his beer bottle, but he met Blair's gaze steadily. "I think it's time we talked about what happened with Alex and the fountain... and, uh, that vision we both had."
Blair's eyes darted away briefly before returning to Jim. "What about it?"
Jim sighed, his frustration rising. "Come on, Sandburg. Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. You haven't gotten over it yet. It's obviously still --"
Blair's eyes widened. "I haven't gotten over it? I died, Jim. Remember. That's not something I imagine anybody ever really gets over, but I am going on with my life." He closed his eyes and dropped his head back to the cushion. "What's left of it now."
Jim's brow furrowed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Blair answered without looking up. "It means I don't have a job, Jim. No university, no dissertation, no legitimate reason for me to remain an observer. And, unfortunately, a master's degree in anthropology doesn't get you very far in the real world." He chuckled hollowly. "I should've majored in computer science."
"But Ventriss has been arrested. Your allegations have been substantiated. That's gotta square things with the university, right?"
Blair finally looked up, one eyebrow raised skeptically. "You obviously haven't met Chancellor Edwards. She's not likely to reinstate me, because her official reason for firing me was a breach of my employment contract due to my numerous absences. If she reinstates me because of the Ventriss thing, it's an outright admission that her official reason for my dismissal was merely a smokescreen to cater to Ventriss' money. It'd be like practically admitting she took a bribe from a criminal and looked the other way regarding academic dishonesty."
Jim face darkened. "I hadn't thought of it like that."
Blair blew out a frustrated breath. "Welcome to the wonderful world of academia."
"Chancellor Edwards, huh." Jim made a mental note of that name. "Well, go talk to her, anyway. She might come around."
"Of course, I'll try."
"Now, back to the, uh, other stuff."
Blair's eyes narrowed. "You mean my dying and coming back to life?"
"You think I'm not dealing well enough for you?"
"No, that's not what I meant, Chief, and you know it. Don't play games. I heard what the doctor said, and he's right. You haven't been sleeping well. You haven't rested at all, and you've been a bit on edge lately. Look how fired up you got with --"
"Oh come on, Jim. You gonna keep throwing this in my face? I got a little angry. Yeah? I think I had a right. The guy raped one of my students and sent goons to beat the crap out of me. I'm not supposed to get angry? But I did not let it affect my job."
"Okay, okay." Jim realized he was approaching the whole conversation wrong. "You're right. You kept your head on this case, and you did have good reasons to be angry. But, let's get back on topic. Are you going to sit there and tell me you're not still having nightmares about Alex and the fountain? About Sierre Verde?"
Blair swallowed and shifted his gaze to the balcony. "You're the Sentinel. I'm sure you know I do." His gaze darted back to Jim. "But I'm dealing. I'm sorry if you think it's some kind of weakness to have night--"
"No, no." God, the kid was on the defensive tonight. "Where do you get this stuff? I didn't say that. I'm just concerned. We never really talked about this, and --"
"Is that my fault? I tried."
"I know you did. I wasn't ready --"
"Oh, but now you're ready, right, and I'm supposed to be okay with it? Maybe I'm no longer ready. I've been trying very hard to just put the whole thing behind me, and I'd really rather not dredge it all up again."
Jim's frustrated rose, propelling him off the couch. He stepped over Sandburg's legs and dropped next to him on the couch. Blair shifted to look at him, but scooted a few inches back until he hit the arm of the sofa.
When Jim spoke, his voice was low. "Something happened that day at the fountain. That vision we shared.... It meant something. It had to, right?"
"Your visions always mean something, Jim. The fact that we shared this one, well, yeah, it means something."
"Got any ideas?"
Blair took a deep breath. "Well, the wolf and the jaguar merged. The jaguar represents you, obviously. I was the wolf. The obvious conclusion is that we, uh, somehow..." He looked away, obviously uncomfortable. "I guess it means we somehow melded temporarily, or something. Maybe a merging of energies. That's probably what got my heart pumping again."
Jim nodded, his lips pursed. "Yeah, probably." He took another breath, deciding to change the path of the conversation a bit. "What about your nightmares?"
Blair raised his eyebrows. "What about yours?"
Jim's jaw went slack.
A faint smile touched Blair's mouth. "Well, you know, I'm up half the night. I hear you sometimes." His smile grew a fraction wider. "I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours."
Jim's lip twitched. "Okay. You first?"
"No way. You brought it up. You go first."
Jim sighed and leaned back against the cushion. "Okay, fine. There's not much to tell, anyway. I've been having some dreams about the visions I saw when I was in the temple. They all came so fast, I couldn't make sense of them." He shook his head, his gaze drifting as he focused on the memories. "Some of the stuff I saw... Well, it wasn't good. I think maybe I got glimpses of the future. Some of the scenes were unfamiliar, disturbing. I know they haven't happened... Yet."
"Like what? What did you see?"
He shook his head again. "I can't remember it very clearly. I know I saw Megan down. She looked hurt. I think there was something about Simon, but I'm not sure."
"So what are your dreams about?"
Jim shrugged one shoulder. "I don't know. I can never remember them clearly. If I wake up in the middle of one, I get a glimpse of these images... images I know I saw in the temple, but it all fades so fast."
Blair nodded slowly. "I think I know what's going on. When you're sleeping, your subconscious is processing the visions you received, trying to make sense of things, sort through it all."
"Then why can't I remember any of it?"
"It's all there." Blair tapped his own temple. "Somewhere. It's just a matter of retrieval. We can work on some meditation exercises. Might help you bring some of those images forward."
"Okay." Jim nodded. "I went. Now you tell me what your dreams are about."
With a sigh, Blair dropped his head back. "I can never really remember them."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Nice try, Junior."
The whistle of the tea kettle interrupted them, and Jim rose from the couch. "Hold on a sec." He hurried to the kitchen, turned off the burner, and trotted back to the couch. The tea could wait. Returning to his seat next to Blair, he wasn't surprised to see that the kid hadn't moved. Sandburg was obviously exhausted.
"Okay, Chief. Now, the truth this time."
Blair managed a smile and raised his head, offering a small shrug. "Well, it was worth a try." His smile faded and he dropped his gaze. "The truth is, I don't dream about the same thing every night. Some nights I'm back at the fountain, Alex holding me under. Other nights, I'm on that beach in Sierre Verde. You're kissing Alex, she raises the gun..." His voice faltered, and he cleared his throat before continuing. "You, uh... You say something to her like, 'Do it right this time.'"
Jim's jaw tightened. Shit.
Blair took a deep shaky breath and continued. "And then sometimes I dream about Lash. Or Chapel. Or Kincaid." He swallowed hard. "I remember part of one dream where someone breaks into the loft. You're not here. I see Alex. That blond hair. She turns toward me, but then I see that it's not really her. It's Lash." He shivered. "Really freaky."
Sandburg took another deep breath, closed his eyes, and rested his head back on the cushion. "And I dream about the vision, only it's never the same each time. Sometimes it gets mixed up. I'm running through the jungle. There's something after me. Then it changes, and I no longer feel threatened. I turn around. There's the jaguar. I feel drawn to it somehow. I start running, I leap." He stopped a moment, swallowed, then continued. "Then there's this pain in my chest, like I've been shot. I look down, and I see an arrow sticking out. I look up, and I see you standing there holding a crossbow."
Jim stiffened. He'd never told Blair about that vision, and he'd never suspected it would find its way into the young man's nightmares. Perhaps when his and Blair's animal spirits had merged, they'd shared more than just "life energy," or whatever it was called.
"I'm sorry, Jim."
Huh? Jim brought his attention back to Blair. What was the kid apologizing for?
A faint, somewhat embarrassed smile touched Sandburg's lips. "It doesn't mean anything. Doesn't mean I don't trust you, or anything. I'm sure it's just my whacked out subconscious trying to process."
Jim swallowed. "Well, uh, actually, it does mean something."
Blair's brow furrowed. "What? From the tone of your voice, I gather it isn't good?"
Jim shrugged. "I don't know whether it's good or bad. I think it's a mute point, now. The dream you're having about the crossbow is a vision I had before Alex got to you. In the vision, I was tracking something in the jungle. A wolf. I felt threatened, but I'm not sure by what. I aimed and let go. The arrow hit the wolf, and I ran toward the downed animal. It whimpered... and, as I looked down at it, I realized it wasn't the threat I was sensing. It wasn't a threat at all. Just an innocent animal I had taken out with no provocation." He took a deep breath. "Then it changed into you, and you were dead."
Blair just stared at him for a few seconds, his expression slowly morphing from astonishment to realization. "Wow... I guess when our spirit animals merged, I got a glimpse of your vision."
"I guess so."
"How come you didn't tell me about the vision earlier?"
Jim sighed and ran a tired hand over his face. "I didn't see the point in re-hashing the whole thing. I was trying to forget about it and put it behind me. And... uh..." His gaze shifted to the balcony. "I guess I didn't want to give voice to the vision. It's somewhat self-explanatory, don't you think? As far as visions go, there's not many ways to interpret this one." He forced himself to look back at Blair. "I killed you. And it came true. It started with my pulling a gun on you at the door and ended when Alex pushed you into that fountain."
Blair shook his head. "Alex killed me. You didn't."
"I made it easy for her."
"I made it easy for her." Blair dropped his head back to the couch and closed his eyes. "She played me, used me, and then she had to get rid of me." His voice grew softer. "I should've seen it coming once I found out what she really was."
Jim shook his head. "Chief, I didn't even see it coming, and I had the vision.... and I'm a cop. If I'd have been thinking clearly, I would've seen the danger earlier."
"Maybe." Blair mumbled, on the verge of sleep. "But I'm tired. So damn tired of it all. Get passed one hurdle, and there's another one right around the corner..." Blair began to list sideways toward Jim.
"I know, buddy." Jim scooted back, grabbing Blair's shoulders and gently lowering him to the cushions. He pushed himself to his feet, grabbed Sandburg's legs, and lifted them to the couch.
With a low murmur, Blair pulled his legs up, and one slid off the edge. Jim reached down and lifted the leg again, placing it back on the couch. Then he grabbed the afghan from the rear of the sofa and draped it over the young man.
Sleep well, Chief.
He wondered what hurdle waited next for them.
Chancellor Edwards leaned back in her chair, her gaze cool. "What can I do for you, Detective?"
Ellison settled in the chair facing her desk and offered a smile. "I just have a few questions to ask you regarding the Ventriss case."
"Whatever I can do to help."
He nodded. "I appreciate your cooperation." He reached into his pocket and withdrew a notepad and a pen, flipping to a blank sheet. "Brad Ventriss came to see you with his attorney, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did."
"There was an accusation of academic dishonesty against him by Mr. Sandburg?"
"Yes, there was."
"And the end result of this meeting was the dismissal of Mr. Sandburg?'
"Yes. It was brought to my attention that Mr. Sandburg had missed an excessive amount of work days. He was in breach of his employment contract."
Jim nodded and scribbled on the pad. "I see. Thank you for explaining that." He looked up at her. "According to my information, though, no action was taken against Mr. Ventriss. Is that correct?"
"We had no evidence against him other than Mr. Sandburg's word, and he was no longer a credible source in light of the recent revelations."
"I see." Jim purshed his lips. "The Ventriss family has contributed substantial money to this university, right?"
She nodded. "His family is wealthy, and, yes, they do pay full tuition and they have made some donations."
Jim nodded again and scribbled in his notebook. "Are you aware of the previous accusations against Mr. Ventriss concerning an alleged rape?"
The Chancellor nodded. "I had heard something about that. No formal legal action was taken against him, correct?'
Jim flipped to a new page in his notebook. "It seems, however, that Mr. Ventriss has eluded the law for quite some time, most notably by gaining the cooperation of high-level officials." He scribbled more notes in his pad, then looked up at the woman. "Would you mind coming down to the station for further questioning?"
Surprise flickered over the woman's face. "What? What for? I can answer any of your questions now."
Jim nodded. "Very well. Let me be straight, Chancellor. Did you fire Mr. Sandburg and retain Mr. Ventriss as a student here as part of a conspiracy to cover Mr. Ventriss' illegal and unethical activities and secure the financial future of the university?"
The Chancellor shot to her feet. "Are you accusing me of taking bribes from Mr. Ventriss?"
Jim shrugged. "I simply asked a question, Chancellor. If you wish to consult with an attorney, that is your choice. It's probably a good idea, actually. You should be aware that conspirators are held legally accountable for all actions committed by any member of the conspiracy, including murder and attempted murder. One for all and all for one, so to speak."
"Why that's ridiculous! I know Mr. Sandburg is a friend of yours, but if you think--"
Jim remained cool, relaxed in his chair, and scribbled a couple more notes on the pad. "It simply looks suspicious, as I'm sure you can understand, that you fired Mr. Sandburg on the spot with no academic review and retained Mr. Ventriss after numerous accusations of wrongdoing were lobbied against him. Furthermore, in light of Mr. Ventriss' recent arrest and the implications of a university cover-up...."
"A cover-up? Please, Detective," she gestured to the door. "Get out. You will be hearing from my lawyer if you ever attempt..."
Jim rose. "Very well. Please stay in town, Chancellor Edwards. You'll be hearing from me shortly. And please do bring your lawyer next time."
"Your accusations are completely absurd."
Jim snapped his notebook closed and returned it and the pen to his pocket. "I'm not making any accusations, Chancellor. I'm simply saying it looks highly suspicious that you fired Mr. Sandburg and retained Mr. Ventriss given the circumstances. Surely his sudden dismisal was unusual university protocol. And, furthermore, in light of the fact that Mr. Sandburg's allegations against Mr. Ventriss have been demonstrated to be true, his continued unemployment by this university indicates..."
The Chancellor's eyes narrowed. "Are you saying that if I give Mr. Sandburg his position back, you'll leave me the hell alone?"
Jim smiled. "I'm saying no such thing, Chancellor. However, it would, of course, make you and the university look less culpable if Mr. Sandburg were reinstated."
Edwards straightened. "I see."
"I'm sure you do." With a nod, Jim turned and left her office, a broad grin breaking out on his face as he headed to his truck.
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