Sometime after Sentinel Too
Jim parked the truck in the lot adjacent to Cascade General Hospital. He turned off the engine, but kept his hand on the key for several seconds. God, he was tired. Slowly, his body drifted forward until his head rested against the steering wheel. He took several deep breaths, trying desperately to ease the ache in his chest and the knot in his gut.
How did things go so wrong?
He'd asked himself that question a thousand times already, but still he had no answer. Well, that wasn't exactly true. He did have an answer, just not one that he liked to admit. The answer was very simple. He had made things go so wrong. He had pushed Sandburg away, kicked him out, said things to hurt him... and, in the end, Sandburg had been hurt, and hurt worse than Ellison ever intended.
Face up to it, when you set your mind to do something, you do it right, he mocked himself. But another part of his soul protested. He hadn't really meant to hurt Sandburg. He'd just been confused... confused and angry, and he hadn't known why. He'd had that horrific dream, and it had shaken him to the bone. He closed his eyes, feeling his fingers release the arrow. He watched it sail through the jungle air and sink into the tender flesh of the grey wolf. A soft whimper escaped the animal as it crumpled to the ground, and then, in agonizingly slow motion, the figure shifted, and Jim found himself staring down at Sandburg.
Oh God, forgive me.
And so he'd pushed Sandburg away. Lashed out... and he hadn't even consciously been aware of his motive. Had he really been trying to save Blair? He wanted so desperately to believe that. He needed to believe that... because he couldn't live knowing that a part of him had really wanted to hurt Blair... and succeeded.
He swallowed, taking another deep breath. So, the dream had come true. True... True in every way. He'd released the arrow himself, and Sandburg had died, and, just like in the dream, he hadn't realized what he'd done until it was all over.
He clenched his eyes tighter, remembering that heart-wrenching moment when he'd turned around to see Sandburg's lifeless body floating in the fountain... and the painful knowledge that Sandburg had died with those last, awful words echoing in his skull had almost been too much to bear.
But it's not over.
No, it couldn't be. He wouldn't let it be. With a sigh, he pushed himself away from the steering wheel and unsnapped the seatbelt. Grabbing his keys, he slid out of the truck and headed for the hospital entrance.
It was a lonely event. Blair Sandburg forced a smile as the dark-skinned nurse wheeled the chair into the room.
"You have a ride home?" she asked.
He swallowed. Home. That was a word that had lost its meaning. It was a word other people used... not him. Not anymore. Slowly, he shook his head. "I'll just catch a cab, thanks."
She frowned. "You know, your friends have come to see you almost every day."
Blair looked away. Friend. That was another word that also no longer belonged to him. It's about friendship, his words came back to haunt him, pounding in his skull. Go away! he screamed mentally. Go away and leave me alone. Just leave me alone.
And he was... completely and totally alone.
The soft voice jarred him from his thoughts, and he managed a shaky nod.
"I know this is none of my business," she began.
You're right, it's not, he silently agreed.
Here it comes.
"Well, your friends seem pretty concerned about you. Why won't you talk to them?"
He took a deep breath. Because he couldn't. Because he hurt too much. Because all the friends that he had -- all the REAL friends, anyway -- he'd made through Jim... and he couldn't face Jim... couldn't even think about him... not without crumbling into a thousand tiny pieces. Simon, Taggert, Brown, Rafe, Megan, Daryl... they were all Jim's friends, and Blair knew that if he saw their faces, he'd fall apart. And I can't fall apart. No, he couldn't fall apart... because, if he did, there would be no one to pick up the pieces. He felt the sting of tears in his eyes, and clenched his jaw, cursing himself silently.
"I'm sorry," the nurse said. "I didn't mean to upset you... Don't... Don't you have family?"
Jesus, lady, kick a guy when he's down, why don't you?
He slid off the bed, sinking wordlessly into the chair. Naomi was his only family, and he hadn't been able to contact her. She'd show up eventually... or write... but until then he was all alone.
"I have a mother," he said flatly. "She's out of town."
"Oh," the young lady muttered. "Will she be coming to visit?"
"I don' t know," he stated.
The tone in his voice must have said something, because the woman asked no further questions as she wheeled him toward the elevators. She parked the chair in front of the closed lift doors and pressed the down button. Several tense seconds of silence passed, then a ding signaled the arrival of the lift car. The doors opened, revealing a tall, firm figure in a black leather jacket and a Jags baseball cap.
Blair stopped breathing, caught in the spell of the blue eyes that peered down at him.
"You could have told someone you were being released today," Jim said, his voice almost whisper-soft.
Blair's gaze fell to the floor. "Take a hint, man," he blurted, immediately hating himself for the retort.
Seconds passed, and Blair swore he could actually feel the cold blue eyes boring into his skull.
"Can I take him from here, Ma'am?"
After a brief pause, the woman said, "Well, if he doesn't object."
Several more seconds of silence passed, and, when Blair failed to respond, the woman patted him on his shoulder.
"Just be sure to stop by the desk in the lobby and pick up his prescriptions," she told Jim, then turned and left the two men alone.
Blair listened to her retreating footsteps, focusing on the soft squeak of rubber against the smooth tile floors as she made her way down the hall.
"You haven't found Naomi yet?" Jim asked.
Blair continued to stare silently at the tile floor.
"Chief, where are you gonna go? You need someone to look out..." His voice caught, and he swallowed. "You're recovering," he amended. "You've got a concussion--"
From Alex, Blair amended silently.
"two cracked ribs--"
From the CPR.
"--and you're just getting over a bout of pneumonia."
From drowning. Blair shivered, closing his eyes. He saw her face, felt himself falling forward, his skull throbbing. Then his face hit the water and...
"Let me take you home, Chief. Please."
Jim's voice held a note of desperation Blair couldn't remember ever hearing before, and the plea hit him like a knife in his chest. He clenched his eyes tighter. Home. There was that word again.
"What home would that be?" he asked bitterly.
He couldn't help himself. Funny thing was, he didn't really feel angry. No, what he felt was far, far worse than anger. It was a hollow, aching, gnawing sliver of hopeless loneliness in his chest, and, whenever he opened his mouth, words of anger spewed forth... anger to cover the quivering despair in his soul... anger to cover the sobs that would otherwise escape.
Jim said nothing as he pushed the wheelchair into the elevator and pressed the button for the lobby. With a soft woosh, the doors slid closed. It was then that Jim spoke.
"What can I do, Chief?" The Sentinel took a deep, audible breath. "Please tell me what I can do."
"Haven't you done enough, man?" Blair flinched inwardly. There was that anger again, spilling out of him like a vat of molten lava.
"I'm sorry, Blair," Jim croaked, and Sandburg thought he heard tears in the man's voice.
Blair took a slow, deep breath and pushed the anger down. It wasn't fair. Not really. He didn't blame Jim. Jim hadn't been the one to hold a gun on him. Jim certainly hadn't been the one to push him into that fountain.
No, but Jim was the one that kicked you out... told you he didn't need you... accused you of betraying him, the anger in him retorted. Jim was the one that left you there all alone while your lungs stopped and your heart died.
But I did... I did betray him, the lonely despair inside him responded. I helped another Sentinel, and I kept it from him. If I'd told him sooner, together we could have figured out what was eating at him... I might have been able to help him.
But you did try to tell him. He cut you off. Dismissed you... just like he always does, the anger shouted.
But I didn't try hard enough, the other part of him whispered.
"Blair?" another voice cut in. "You gotta believe me, buddy. I never wanted to hurt you."
The elevator doors dinged open, and Blair looked up to see an old couple waiting on the lobby floor. The man and woman looked down at him, their faces registering surprise... then awkward embarrassment. He creased his brow, wondering if he really looked that bad. He glanced at the metallic control panel on the inner wall of the elevator car, and caught his reflection. He was surprised to notice the redness of his eyes and the wetness on his cheeks.
He swallowed as Jim pushed him out into the Lobby. He'd been crying, but, oddly enough, hadn't felt the tears. His gut twisted suddenly. Had Jim heard? Had he known? Did he know now?
"I can get your stuff and move it all back in. Just tell me where you put it," Jim continued, acting as though Blair had already agreed.
"Stop," Blair whispered.
Jim continued pushing the wheelchair toward the front desk.
"Stop I said!"
The chair jarred to a rather sudden and uncomfortable halt, and Blair suppressed a gasp as a sting of pain touched his cracked ribs.
Jim rushed to the front of the chair, crouching down. "I'm sorry, Chief," he apologized quickly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. Are you okay?" He looked up into Blair's face, and lifted his hand slowly. His palm touched Blair's cheek, and his thumb gently rubbed the tears away.
Blair tensed under the touch, but the soothing strokes began to quench the ache inside him, and soon he felt himself leaning into sensation... seeking it out like a life buoy amidst a sea of despair. He caught himself, though, and jerked his head back, slapping Jim's hand away.
"Why are you doing this?" he asked the Sentinel, his voice low.
Jim looked as though he'd been kicked in the gut. It was several seconds before he formed a reply and, when he did, his voice was strained. "Because I need you, Sandburg. I want us to go back to the way things were before."
"No you don't," Blair heard himself saying, though he had no conscious awareness of forming the words. "You said you didn't need me. You kicked me out. You said you couldn't trust me. The only reason you're doing this is because you feel sorry for me... and guilty... guilty about me having no place to go now that I'm injured." He looked away, focusing his gaze on a landscape picture on the far wall. "Well, I don't need your pity, man. So you can just go... leave me alone."
"That's not why I'm doing this," Jim protested. "Those things I said, Chief, I... I didn't mean them. I don't know what got... I don't... I mean..." He took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "Can we talk, please? Will you let me try to explain?"
Blair studied the picture on the wall, letting his eyes drift over the soft colors of the morning landscape. Green trees, rose-colored flowers, a hazy blue sky... blue like the eyes peering at him now. He swallowed, and his hands began to shake. He grabbed the sides of the chair tightly, hoping Jim hadn't noticed his trembling. He wanted desperately -- so desperately -- to have things go back the way they were before. He wanted his friend back. He wanted a place to call home again... a sense of security... a sense of belonging. He wanted that feeling he'd had when he'd stood out on the balcony, overlooking the city, and told Jim that it was all "about friendship". He remembered the gentle smile that had played on his friend's face at the time, and it had filled him with a warmth he'd never known before.
He also remembered when he'd first moved into the loft... begged Jim to take him in "just for a week". That week had turned into two, and then three... and Blair had waited all that time for the bombshell to drop. Then a fourth week had come and gone and Jim still hadn't kicked him out. Even a year later, Blair would sometimes return home from work, slide his key into the lock, and wonder if he'd find his stuff packed once he opened the door. Every time he and Jim argued, he'd figured that would be the last straw, and he'd be out on his rear trying to find another place to live... but that hadn't happened. Jim would get mad, but he'd never ask him to leave. After awhile, Blair had begun to relax. He'd allowed himself to care... to feel like he had a home with someone he loved like a brother. Then he'd slid his key in the lock one day, opened the door, and found his stuff packed... Just like that...
A sob caught in his throat, but he closed his eyes, pushing it back down. He couldn't go through that again. Not ever.
"Chief?" He felt a hand on his shoulder.
Pulling out all the stops, eh, Jim? he thought bitterly. Jim obviously knew how to play him... and play him well. Hell, he'd spent three years learning what buttons to press.
"You don't get it, do you?" Blair asked, his voice hoarse with emotion.
"What?" Jim pleaded.
Blair opened his eyes and forced himself to meet Jim's gaze. "This thing we had going," he began, gesturing from Jim to himself. "I... I've never known anything like it before. I never had a friend like you, Jim. I never really had a home before, not even with Naomi... we'd always move around so much... but then I met you, and... and..." He looked away, afraid he'd lose control if he continued to gaze into those blue eyes any longer. "What didn't I do, Jim? I followed you around... Watched your back... Went to Peru, jumped out of a plane, for chrissakes... I followed you through the mountains searching for Simon... I did everything I could to gain your trust and respect, even when you tried to push me away. I wanted you to know it was more than just the Sentinel thing... more than just my career. That's why I turned down Borneo... That's why I asked you before we went to Peru. I wanted to see if you really considered us friends, or if I was just making our relationship into something it wasn't. That's why I delayed my thesis... stalled... I just didn't know if you'd still want me around afterwards." He swallowed, taking another deep breath.
"You've saved my life over and over again, Jim," Blair continued. "After awhile, I began to believe that this thing meant as much to you as it did to me. I let my guard down, bared my soul to you, man, and then I came home and found my stuff packed and you telling me you didn't need me anymore." He finally found the courage to turn his eyes back to Jim, and, when he did, his gaze hardened infinitesimally. "I always thought you'd be there for me, and then you weren't. That's when I realized how much I'd grown to depend on you... on our friendship." He felt the anger swell in his chest again. "But I was the fool, wasn't I? You were the one with all the power. Whatever you said, went... end of discussion. You could get rid of me at any time, and there'd be nothing I could do about it. And then you pulled the rug out from under me and accused me of betraying you. And, I swear to God, Jim, I never knew anything could hurt so much." He pulled his eyes away again, returning his gaze to the painting, wishing he could disappear inside that tranquil landscape. "It's not ever going to happen again. I've learned my lesson. You want us to make-up. Fine. You forgive me. I forgive you.... But I'm not coming back to the loft. I'm not working with you. I don't want your stupid house rules. I don't want to worry if my writing on a tablet is making too much noise at one a.m. I don't want to worry if my breathing is keeping you from getting your precious sleep... I don't want to be the target for every psycho in Cascade... I don't want to be yelled at, barked at, pushed aside, or mocked...I don't want to be part of your world, Jim. Get it? I'm tired of it. Tired, hurt, and angry... and, so help me, if I never hear the word 'Sentinel' again it'll be too soon!"
Blair looked back at Jim, and, when he did, his breath hitched in his throat when he saw the depths of anguish in those eyes.
Jim listened to Blair, hearing the thrumming of his heart and the hitch in his breathing. Each word stung him like a slap in the face.
What have I done? What he had done was managed to turn the thing that had been Blair's passion and life's work into something the young man now cursed. What he'd done was kill a part of his best friend's soul.
Despite the pain Blair's words caused him, he didn't dare interrupt. These words were the most Blair had said to him since the young man had regained consciousness, and even though the words weren't the offer of friendship he had hoped for, they were still Blair's words... Blair's voice... a voice Jim thought he'd never hear again. He didn't dare interrupt.
Finally, Blair's voice faded. He turned his eyes to meet Jim's gaze, and the Sentinel saw Blair's soul in those eyes... naked and vulnerable. He also saw the anger, fear, and pain that churned underneath the surface, and he knew he was the cause of most of them.
My God, what have I done? he asked again.
He hadn't known... Hadn't really thought about it all that much, to be honest. He'd never realized that Blair had felt that way.
He'd always been afraid the kid would leave. What he said... about Jim having all the power. It just wasn't true. Blair admitted to having plenty of information for his thesis, and that's all he was really getting out of the deal... though even that was iffy since he needed Jim's approval to go forward. So, when it came right down to it, Blair needed nothing from Jim. Not really. It was he who needed Blair... desperately... and that scared the hell out of him. He'd never needed anybody before. He'd never depended on anybody before. Then his senses came on-line, and he found himself overlooking the abyss of insanity. It had been Blair Sandburg who pulled him away from the edge and taught him how to control his senses.
He needed Blair every day. He needed him at work... needed him when he got a cold that sent his senses haywire... needed him when he drank a bottle of imported water with unexpected consequences... Hell, he even needed him to cross the street without zoning and being run over by a garbage truck. If Blair walked, it was Jim who would lose everything... his life... his sanity... so, how on Earth did the kid figure that he, James Ellison, held all the power in the relationship?
You needed him, but you told him you didn't and pushed him away, a voice in his head whispered. He thought the voice sounded a bit like Incacha. Maybe the Shaman was watching him now, a frown on his face, shaking his head in disapproval from somewhere in the Beyond.
You broke it, now fix it, Ellison, he told himself. Trouble was, he didn't quite know how to fix it... or even if what was broken could ever be fixed.
And do I even have a right to try? he wondered. Was he being selfish, putting his own needs above Blair's once again? Sandburg would be a hell of a lot safer far, far away from one James Ellison, that much was sure. So, was it even right for him to ask the young man back? But if... if Blair had really felt so strongly about the friendship, shouldn't he offer back what he had taken? Or was he just finding ways to rationalize what was in his own interest?
Still, he had to try, because he now knew he couldn't function without Blair Sandburg... and, he also realized, he missed his friend. "What can I do, Chief?" He asked. "Please, just tell me what I can do? I know I screwed up. I said some stupid things. Hell, you should know me by now, Blair. You said it yourself... fear-based responses." He leaned closer to the young man, prepared to put it all on the line, bare his soul, for the chance to reclaim what he once had. "You know what I was really afraid of? Losing you. You were wrong, Chief. I didn't have all the power in the relationship. You did. I needed you. You know that. If you left, where would I be? Shit out of luck. I was so afraid of losing you, I ended up pushing you away." He glanced down at the floor, taking a moment to collect his thoughts before going forth with what he had to say. It was important that he get it right this time. "There's something I haven't told you... and I've been doing a lot of thinking about it over the past few days." He took a deep breath. "I had a dream... before I packed up your stuff and kicked you out... It was a nightmare, actually... and more real than any dream I've ever had. I was standing in the jungle. I felt something... a presence. I felt threatened, but I don't know why. I saw a wolf in the distance, and I aimed my arrow at it and let go." He closed his eyes briefly, pushing back the painful images of the dream. "The arrow found its mark, and the wolf went down... dead. Then... Then it transformed right before my eyes... and I was staring down at you."
He opened his eyes, forcing himself to look back up at Blair. "Sandburg... I..." He swallowed, feeling his chest grow tight. "I swear to you, on Incacha's name, I swear a part of me was pushing you away to protect you... God, I didn't know it at the time, but I do now. Only, by pushing you way, I made the dream come true... and... and I know what I said to you. I know I had no right to kick you out. I should have told you. I have no excuse... I can only promise... give you my word... that if you give me another chance, I'll do better. I'll do whatever it takes, Chief. If you want the loft, it's yours. I won't ever be able to kick you out again and you'll never have to worry about finding your boxes packed. If you want me to sell the loft.. that's fine. It's gone. You and I can pick out a place... someplace close to the university, if you want. It'll be half yours. You can make your own house rules. I promise never to turn off your music when you're meditating. I'll never complain about the candles you burn. I'll never yell at you for making too much noise..." His voice caught again as he recited things he so desperately missed... things he never knew he ever would miss. "Please, Blair, don't do this. What else can I do? What else can I say? I'm sorry... so goddamned, sorry, Chief. If I could take it all back, I would, but I can't. All I can do is offer you an oath. It'll never happen again. The loft is your home. I'll turn the whole thing over to you if I have to to prove it to you." And he would, too, because he needed Blair Sandburg more than he needed a title to a piece of property.
Blair remained silent for several seconds, and his inward struggle showed on his face and reflected in the shimmer of his eyes. Finally, he looked away, studying the painting once again. "Okay," he said, his voice shaky.
Jim felt something burst in his chest with the sound of that one word.
"Two months," Blair continued. "I need some time before I decide for sure... I need to get some things straight in my head... but I'll move back for now, if that's what you want... and we'll give it a two-month trial period... but I don't want you to feel that you have to take care of me. I don't want that at all."
Jim's face broke into a huge smile, and he nodded once. "Whatever you want, Chief," he said, placing a hand on his partner's shoulder.
Jim guided Blair into the loft, keeping a careful hand on the young man's shoulder as he steered him over to the couch. He had managed to drag some of the furniture back into the loft, but he still had the tables, the armchair, and all of Blair's bedroom to tackle.
Blair sank down on the couch, leaning back against the cushions with an audible sigh. He closed his head and tilted his head back.
"Can I get you anything?" Jim asked.
"No, I'm okay," Blair replied.
"I'll have your stuff moved in by tonight. Just tell me where you put it all."
He heard Blair's heartrate quicken a notch. "Uh... some of it is still in my office... but some of it was at the motel, and I doubt it's still there. They've probably tossed it out by now."
Jim clenched his jaw, feeling anger flare in his chest. He knew that just about everything Blair possessed held value to the young man... whether they were books that he held in high esteem, journals that he wrote in, or masks and other items that were either university property or had been given to him as personal tokens by friends he'd made along the way. Everything Blair owned, he cared about... and the thought of someone tossing those things out as garbage tore at him.
Like you packed them up carelessly and shoved them by the door? he berated himself.
"What motel?" he asked.
"Bastrop Motel. Room 203."
"Can I get the key to your office?"
Blair lifted his head to look at Jim, offering a small shrug. "They weren't in my clothes. They probably got lost at the fountain."
At the fountain. Jim doubted he would ever look at another fountain again without feeling the blinding rage that assaulted him now. He wondered how Blair could sound so nonchalant about the whole thing.
With a curt nod, he headed over to the phone and dialed Simon's number.
"Captain. It's Jim. Sandburg's home and--"
"That's great, Jim! So you two... Have you patched things up? Everyone here's been asking about him, but he keeps refusing visitors. We had to put a plain-clothed officer on his floor as a guard."
"Any sign of Alex?" he asked...
"None yet," Banks said.
Jim walked up to the front desk at the Bastrop Motel and gained the attention of the haggard, elderly man behind the counter.
He flashed his badge and leaned on the counter. "About a week ago you had a guest in room 203 by the name of Blair Sandburg. He had some boxes in the room, but he left without taking them. Do you know where they are?"
The man shrugged. "I tossed 'em. This ain't a storage hole, ya know."
Jim heard the man's heartbeat escalate, and he narrowed his eyes. He focused on his sense of smell, detecting a subtle odor in the air. He recognized the scent immediately as Sandburg's herbal shampoo. Raising his eyebrows, he leaned a little farther over the counter.
"You wouldn't mind if I searched the place, would ya?"
The man swallowed, avoiding the Detective's gaze. "Did.. um... Oh! Did you say room 203? Yeah. Yeah. I remember now. Yeah, that stuff is sitting in the back. I was about to toss it out."
Jim nodded tolerantly. The man was a scavenger, obviously, but Jim had no intention of letting him stake claim to Sandburg's possessions. "Good." He pulled out his wallet, placing two twenty dollar bills on the counter. "Then you won't mind if I take them back to their owner, right?"
The man snatched up the money and gestured toward a back room. "Help yourself."
Jim carried the last of Blair's boxes into the lower room. Sandburg had fallen asleep on the sofa, and soft light danced over the young man's features as images flickered on the television screen in front of him. Jim set the box down near the bed, then walked into the living room, stopping to stand by the couch.
Blair laid on his side, stretched out on the sofa. His head rested at an awkward angle on the arm of the couch. The remote had fallen to the floor, and Jim stooped to pick it up, turning off the television and setting the remote on the coffee table.
Blair shifted in his sleep, releasing a soft moan as he shifted onto his stomach. Jim stood above his sleeping partner, transfixed by the young man's features. The soft crease in Blair's forehead and the rapid movement beneath his eyelids signaled a dream. Jim stood in silent observation for several minutes, waiting to see if the dream turned into something unpleasant... almost wishing he could peek into Blair's head and catch a glimpse of his friend's subconscious.
Satisfied that Sandburg was sleeping peacefully, Jim grabbed the afghan off the back of the couch and draped it over his partner. Blair shifted once again in his sleep, muttering something unintelligible. The small movement and soft sound stole Jim's breath, and a warm emotion welled in his chest as he gazed down at the life he'd almost lost.
His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone, and he quickly snatched up the receiver before the second ring sounded. Blair stirred, but remained asleep.
"Ellison," he said softly.
"Jim. We've got a lead on Alex," Banks informed him.
And the hunt began...
Six weeks later...
Jim gave into a yawn as he unlocked the loft door, fighting back the headache that threatened to rise. He was still recovering physically and mentally from Alex, and he'd had a long day at work. At least the woman had been dealt with, and he and Blair could continue on with their lives.
He heard Blair's music drifting loudly from the young man's room, and pushed the door open, tossing his keys into the basket. He frowned, glancing at the closed french doors, and released a long sigh. Ever since they'd gotten back, things had been different. Jim had thought that their ordeal together with Alex would have helped strengthen their relationship, but since their return, Blair had done nothing but try his damnedest to push Jim away... and the Sentinel knew exactly what Blair was doing.
Every night Blair would play his music... louder than the house rules Jim had sworn off dictated. The music would stop, and Blair would go to bed. At least three times a week he'd get up in the middle of the night, go to the bathroom, flush the toilet, make himself some tea, and then, if he was feeling particularly awake, turn on the television for a late-night movie.
Jim shook his head, wondering how on Earth the kid managed on so little sleep.
Sometimes Jim would come home and the house would be filled with sage. It would send Jim into a sneezing fit and cause his eyes to water, but he dared not complain. Instead, he'd stroll out onto the balcony, no matter what the weather, and immerse himself in the respite the fresh air provided.
It was a test of his patience, but it was a test he could pass. Hell, it was what he deserved, anyway. He wondered if Blair knew he was onto the little scheme. Actually, he wondered if Blair was even consciously aware of what he was doing. Sure, the kid had to know he was breaking every house rule Jim had ever made, but was he consciously aware of the reason?
It didn't matter, Jim supposed, because he knew why Blair was doing it all. Blair was pushing as hard as he could, trying to test the limits of Jim's resolve before he risked his heart again. Sandburg wanted to see what it would take to make Jim kick him out... waiting for the proverbial ax to fall so he could make a clean cut and be done with it... never to risk anything again.
But Jim wasn't going to let that happen. He'd play Blair's game. He'd smile politely and put up with anything and everything the kid could dish out... whatever it took to make Blair realize that this was his home and he could stay as long as he wanted.
The volume of the music increased a notch, and, despite his budding headache, Jim smiled. So, he knows I'm home. He walked up to the french doors and knocked loudly, competing with the music.
Jim pushed the door open and peeked his head inside, finding Blair hunched over his desk in front of his laptop. "What do you want for dinner, Chief?"
Blair barely glanced at him. "Actually, I invited a few friends over for a party tonight. We're gonna order pizza and watch a movie. Then maybe play some games."
Jim's headache broke through the barrier, and he raised one hand to rub his temple. "Okay," he muttered, recognizing the fact that Blair hadn't even asked if he minded the intrusion. Of course he wouldn't ask, that wouldn't be playing the game right. "Have fun."
He closed the door and headed up to his room. He sighed as he slipped out of his clothes and fell into bed. Maybe he could get a couple hours of sleep before Blair's friends arrived. Dinner could wait. He wasn't really all that hungry, anyway.
It was two a.m. and they were still going strong. Jim clenched his jaw, listening to the raucous laughter from below. This is getting a bit ridiculous, he thought. He peeked his head over the head of his bed and looked down through the railing at the group below. Blair sat with about five other young men and women, crowded around the coffee table as they played some game that had one person drawing while the others tried to guess what the image represented.
Of course, it would be a loud game. Jim grimaced, pushing the covers off and yanking out a pair of sweats and a T-shirt. He then put on his socks and shoes, grabbed an overnight bag, and began filling it with all the essentials. He trotted downstairs, and Blair's head whipped around, his blue eyes gazing up with something akin to surprise.
"Hey, Jim, sorry if we woke you." He glanced at the overnight bag. "Where are you going?"
"Out," Jim said, heading for the bathroom. He stuffed his toothbrush, razor, deodorant, and a towel in his bag and headed back toward the front door.
"Just out?" Blair asked as he watched Jim cross behind the couch.
Jim nodded curtly. "You kids have fun."
He noticed that the rest of the group had suddenly grown strangely quiet, no doubt wondering if they'd gone a bit too far with their intrusion. Jim wondered idly if they were aware of Blair's little game, or if they were just innocent bystanders. He grabbed his jacket from the rack and opened the door, ducking into the hallway. He didn't really care whether they knew or not. He had two weeks of "probation" left with Blair, and maybe then Blair would make his decision and decide to give Jim a bit of peace.
Jim rang the doorbell. After a few seconds, he rang it again. He heard footsteps inside, followed by cursing, and then heard the man press up against the door, probably gazing through the peephole. After a moment, the lock clicked and the door swung inward.
"Jim, what the hell are you doing here?" Simon asked, standing in a flannel pajama set, his gaze falling to the duffel bag.
The Detective forced a smile. "Can I impose on you for one night?"
Jim could have gone to a hotel. In fact, he'd planned to go to a hotel, but on the road he'd decided that he actually needed someone to talk to, and, since Blair wasn't an option, he'd headed to the next person on the list.
Simon sighed, gesturing for Jim to come inside.
"Thanks, Simon," he muttered, walking past the man as he entered the living room.
"Want some coffee?"
Jim nodded. "Yes, Sir. That would be nice."
"Jim, anybody who shows up at two-thirty in the morning on my doorstep with an overnight bag need not be calling me 'Sir'."
Jim managed a chuckle. "Whatever you say, Sir."
Simon threw him an annoyed glare as he shuffled into the kitchen to tend to the slowly-dripping coffee maker. A few minutes later, he returned with two mugs, handing one to Jim as he sat himself down on the other end of the couch.
"So what's up?" Simon asked.
Jim sighed and leaned back, taking a sip of his coffee before answering. "Sandburg." He replied.
Simon nodded as though he'd expected the answer. "You know, you two really are beginning to act like a married couple."
Jim's eyes narrowed. "Somehow I knew you were gonna say that."
The Captain chuckled. "So what's your problem with Sandburg?"
Jim shook his head. "He's really pushing this two month trial period. He's driving me crazy, and I know he's just waiting for me to lose my cool so he can take off and convince himself he was right all along. I'm not giving in, though. I'm hashing it out, letting him do whatever the hell he wants... but, I swear, two more weeks of this seems like an eternity."
Simon raised his eyebrows, peering at the younger man intently. Jim swallowed, noting the sudden hint of reprimand in that gaze... or was he just imagining it?
"Jim, six weeks ago the only thing in the world you wanted was to have Sandburg back at the loft with you. Now you're complaining that he's there?"
Nope, not imagining it, Jim mused.
He placed his mug on the coffee table and leaned forward, rubbing his hands over his face. "I'm not complaining that he's there. I know why he's doing this. I'd put up with this for the rest of my life if that was the only way keep him around, but that doesn't mean I don't get the urge to toss that radio of his out the window or chop all his candles up into little pieces."
Simon managed another chuckle. "Just hash it out, Jim. Let the kid get it out of his system."
"I know," Jim muttered, then looked up at the Captain. "In the meantime, would you mind if I caught a few zzzz's here? Sandburg's having a party at the loft."
Simon raised his eyebrows. "A party? At this time?"
Jim nodded solemnly.
"Damn, this is worse than I thought," he muttered, then smiled and shook his head. "He really is laying into you, isn't he?"
Again, Jim nodded solemnly.
Simon rose to his feet and patted Jim's shoulder. "Go on. You can sleep in Daryl's room. He's with his mother all week."
"Thanks, Simon. I appreciate it."
"Anytime, Jim. It's in my best interest, anyway. You're so much more pleasant to work with when you've had sleep."
Jim forced a smile and sauntered off to Daryl's room. "You gotta teach me that trick you have about going to bed before the sun comes up," Jim said, referring to his Captain's ability to trick his body into thinking it had a full night's sleep as long as it was in bed before dawn.
Simon chuckled. "It's innate. Can't be taught, Jim. Some got it. Some don't."
Blair bid his friends goodnight, and, as he closed the door, released a tired sigh and turned around to view the mess left in their wake.
What am I doing? A twinge of guilt churned in his gut. He was being a royal asshole to Jim, and the man hadn't ripped his spine out yet. That said something, didn't it? The twinge of guilt grew to a knot that twisted painfully. Jim hadn't gotten a decent night's sleep in days. Blair knew because he was the one responsible. He bit his lower lip, asking himself again what it was he was doing.
Jim's a cop. You can't mess around with his sleep. What if he slips up on the job and gets hurt... or gets someone else hurt... what if he's tired and zones?
He had spoken to Simon, and the Captain had said that he was keeping Jim's load light to give the man some down-time after the Alex thing. The only big case at the station was the Perkins case, and Simon was handling that pretty well with Brown and Rafe, so Blair tried to convince himself that there was no real harm in his antics
The Alex thing. The knot in his gut twisted again, and he shook his head, gazing once again at the mess.
He glanced at the clock. It was nearly three a.m. Jim's departure at such an ungodly hour, with overnight bag in tow, had quickly spoiled the mood for his friends. Truthfully, he was glad to see them leave. He was exhausted. He couldn't keep up these long hours forever.
Two more weeks.
What would he do in two weeks? He clenched his jaw, shuffling into the living room to stand in the middle of the mess. He let his eyes drift over the chaos: an empty pizza box, half-empty beer bottles, scraps of paper, a discarded video box, and a few bits of pepperoni on the floor.
Broke almost every house rule in the book in one night, he mused. With a tired sigh, he closed his eyes and sank onto the couch. What am I doing? he asked again. Am I trying to make him hate me? Having him kick me out is one thing, but do I really want him to hate me?
It was a childish game he was playing, and he suddenly felt very foolish. Still, he wasn't ready to just let go and accept Jim's offer. Jim was being a saint now, but what would happen in two, three, or four years when they'd gotten "comfortable" again and no one's life was on the line? What would happen when Blair screwed up again? Because I am, Jim. I am going to screw up... probably a lot. I have no idea what I'm doing here. I just wing it. It's not like there's an instruction manual. It's not like Incacha stuck around to tell me what it is a shaman is supposed to do to 'guide the animal spirit.' He fell onto his side, letting the arm of the couch cushion his head as he pulled his feet up. You've got me to help you with your senses, Jim, but I'm working in the dark, here... and there's no one to help me with whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing.
Blair fought the heaviness of his eyelids as he glanced at the clock again. Would Jim stop home before going to work? He looked at the mess one more time, and, with a sigh, pushed himself off the couch. It was time to clean up. He was doing a good job lately of being a jerk, but even jerk-hood had its limits. The big guy maybe deserved a little reprieve. He had, after all, been literally forced out of the loft in search of a decent night's sleep.
And he didn't even complain.
That, more than anything, disturbed Blair. Jim was not well-known for his patience, but he hadn't uttered a word of complaint in the weeks that Blair had been back home.
He swallowed. He'd said the word... thought it, actually, but that still counted. He felt the tears surface, and closed his eyes tight, clenching his jaw.
"Damn you, Jim," he muttered.
It was going to happen. It was going to happen all over again, wasn't it? Blair was going to let his guard down... accept Jim's friendship and start to think of this place as home... He'd start to buy little things for the loft... Mix pieces of his soul with Jim's and display them on the walls and shelves... He'd bare his soul and open his heart... And then he'd screw up and Jim would decide he'd had enough... Or, let's face it, Jim could get married and then Blair would leave. It happened. Hell, in a normal friendship, it was expected to happen.
But this isn't normal, isn't it? He wished Incacha were still alive. He had so many questions. When Jim had kicked him out, it had hit him hard... harder than he could have possibly imagined. It had felt like a knife slicing through his soul and cutting out his heart. That wasn't normal, was it? He'd read a few things about the sentinel-shaman relationship, and they all spoke about the bond between the two... like two sides of a coin, each half necessary to complete the whole, but each side distinct in its own way.
And, so help him God, that's what it felt like. It frightened him to know that someone could be that important... that he was that important to Jim and vice versa.
But, if I'm so important, how could he kick me out? If it hurt me so much, how could it not have hurt him just as much? If we're really two sides of the same coin, how could he just do that and not hurt like I hurt?
And that was the crux of it, he realized. Jim had hurt him, and he hadn't seemed to hurt in response; and, so, Blair could only figure that Jim just didn't care as much. It wasn't that he didn't care at all... he did, and he'd proven it on many occasions, but there was a difference between caring about someone and needing them. Blair needed Jim, and he didn't really know why. He just knew that he'd felt a tremendous loss when Jim had kicked him out, and then he'd felt a pain like nothing else when Jim had looked him in the eyes and told him it was over, that he didn't need him and didn't want him around anymore. At that moment, Blair's world had crumbled, but he'd staggered back to the university, the only familiar thing he'd had left, and tried to figure out how everything had fallen apart so quickly.
Jim, on the other hand, hadn't even blinked as he'd severed their relationship.
"I don't need you to tell me who I am... Maybe you should just find another research subject..."
I don't need you. Find someone else. That's what it had boiled down to, and Blair had left, holding his head high as he'd walked through the bullpen doors, keeping his shoulders squared as he made his way to his car... and then crumbling when he'd found his way to his office.
And then Alex had come to finish him off. One sentinel had driven the knife into his chest, and another had twisted it. All in all, a splendid day.
He felt the tears spill onto his cheeks, and quickly brushed them aside. Damn you, Jim, he cursed again. Damn you. I hate you. I fucking hate you. You're a goddamned fucking asshole and I hate you. Why couldn't you just leave me alone? The tears ran fresh down his cheeks, and, this time, he did nothing to stop them.
"You sure you don't wanna stop by the loft first?" Simon asked, glancing at Jim as he locked the front door.
The Detective shook his head. "No. I think we both need some down-time. Besides, if he's kept true to form, the loft's probably a mess after last night's party and I don't wanna deal with it."
Simon smiled sympathetically. "It won't last forever, you know. The kid doesn't have it in him to hold a grudge for very long."
"I think this is a bit more than a grudge," Jim replied, walking down the porch steps with his Captain. "He's afraid, I think. He's afraid of letting his guard down and getting hurt again. He's trying to test me... see if he can push me away."
Simon raised his eyebrows. "So now you're Dr. Freud?"
Jim managed a small smile, but it faded quickly. "Blair's death taught me a lot of things, Simon... Things I didn't even know I needed to learn."
He walked across the street to his truck as Simon slid the key into the door of his own sedan. Jim heard the cock of a gun the second before Simon opened his door, and the Sentinel spun around, piggybacking his sight to his hearing to hone in on the location of the shooter. He saw the grey-haired man sitting in the front seat of a black Mercedes, aiming the barrel of a rifle at Simon.
"Simon, get down!" he yelled, breaking into a run toward his Captain.
He felt the impact of the bullet in his right shoulder and felt himself flying forward. He slammed into Simon, and the two men went down hard as the Mercedes sped off with a screech of rubber.
Blair jerked awake, immediately glancing at the clock on the VCR. Seven a.m. His eyes fell to the mess in front of him, and he groaned. Great. Just Great. He didn't know if Jim intended to stop by the loft on his way to the station, but he at least wanted to have the place cleaned up before the older man came home.
He pushed himself off the couch and decided to tackle the mess. If he worked quickly, he could have it all cleaned up in about twenty minutes.
Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. Probably Jim, he figured. He didn't know if the Detective was calling to chew him out or check up on him, but he supposed he should answer the phone to find out. He snatched up the receiver and braced himself for the worst.
"No, Blair, it's Simon."
"Oh, sorry. Look, Jim's probably on his way to the station--"
"Blair, I'm with Jim now."
Blair recognized the tone in Simon's voice, and it sent his blood running cold.
"He's at Cascade General. He's been shot--"
Blair dropped the phone, closing his eyes. Oh God... Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening. He hadn't meant for anything like this happen.
What the hell have I done? Oh god, what have I done? Numbly, he walked toward the door, grabbing his keys and heading out of the loft. He didn't even remember to lock the door. By the time he got to his car, he was shaking so badly he could barely get the key in the lock.
Oh God, please let him be okay. I didn't mean for him to get hurt. Simon said he was doing mostly paperwork... I didn't mean for him to get hurt. Oh please, God, oh please let him be okay.
He started the engine and pulled the car away from the loft. Tears filled his eyes, blurring his vision, but he found himself pressing the accelerator harder. This isn't happening, he repeated again. It couldn't be happening. God, what if he'd gotten Jim killed? His tears flowed harder, and a sob rose from his chest, accompanied by another... and then another. He took the turn up ahead sharply, nearly crossing over the line into on-coming traffic. A horn blared at him, but he didn't notice. He continued toward the hospital, all the while praying that Jim would be okay, hoping the fates gave him a second chance. This time he'd do better. He'd do it right. He'd apologize. He'd clean up the loft. He'd keep his music down. He'd do whatever the hell it took to make things right.
He screeched to a halt in front of the hospital, leaping out of the car without even bothering to close the door as he ran into the lobby. He immediately spotted Simon in the waiting room, and the Captain rose, snapping shut his cell phone as he walked quickly toward him.
"Sandburg, Jesus Christ! You scared the hell out of me. How'd you get here so fast? Are you--"
"Where's Jim?" he blurted.
"Third floor," Simon said.
Sandburg darted passed him, running toward the stairs.
He heard the Captain's footsteps running after him, but he didn't slow down. He had to see Jim. He had to apologize. He had to let him know how he really felt before it was too late.
"Sandburg, would you stop for a moment?! Jim's okay!"
He head Simon's voice, but not the words. He burst onto the third floor, rushing up to the small reception desk and slamming his hand down on the counter to gain the attention of the young nurse behind the desk. She looked familiar, and he thought he'd seen her several times during his own stay.
She looked up suddenly, her eyes wide. "Mr. Sandburg--"
"Jim Ellison," he blurted. "What room is he in?"
"Three-oh-four," she said, "but--"
He took off just as Simon arrived on the floor, panting hard and cursing profoundly.
Blair found the room easily, slipping inside as quietly as he could. Jim laid on the bed, hooked up to a heart monitor, his right shoulder bandaged and his arm immobilized against his side with gauze and a sling.
He stumbled forward, lowering the left railing and pulling the empty chair closer to the bed. He sank down into the seat, his whole body shaking, and gently lowered his head to Jim's chest, feeling the steady beat of the man's heart beneath his cheek.
"God, Jim, I'm sorry," he cried, feeling hot tears course down his cheek. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I didn't mean for you to get shot. I screwed up again, I know. BIG time." A sob caught in his throat, stealing his words, and it took him several seconds to gain control. "God, Jim, why didn't you just yell at me? You should have just yelled at me... told me to shut the hell up... smashed my stereo.... kicked my friends out. I'm so sorry... so so sorry, Jim. God, please don't die. You can have all the peace and quiet you want. Sleep all you want, just be okay. I promise I'll be outta your hair. I'll clean up the loft just like you had it before and move my stuff out. I'll still help you with your senses, if you want, but I don't blame you if you don't want me to. I know I screwed up. I got you shot. I can't ever take this back, but, God Jim, I'm so--"
He felt a hand on his head. "Sandburg, will you shut the hell up?"
Blair clamped his mouth shut, his eyes clenched. His chest nearly burst with joy and relief at the sound of Jim's voice. Another sob broke through his tenuous control, and he balled his fists with the effort to keep quiet.
"First, I'm okay," Jim said. "The bullet went in and out clean. Second, if you're thinking my getting shot is the result of your midnight antics, it's not. I told you the Captain's put me on desk-duty. This had to do with Simon. Perkins tried to take him out, I just got in the way of the bullet. So you can let go of the guilt. I think there's been enough of that going around over the past few months to last us both a lifetime."
This time Blair couldn't control the sob that escaped him, and he turned his face into Jim's chest, his body shaking with the effort to hold back the flood that threatened to escape.
Jim gently stroked his head. "It's okay, Blair. I understand. I know what you've been doing. You said it in your thesis... but I'm not the only one with fear-based responses. You're afraid of getting hurt, so, just like I did, you're lashing out... trying to push me away before I push you away. I know. But I'm not going anywhere, buddy. I'm here to stay, and, God, Blair, I hope you are, too."
Blair gave into Jim's soft touch and gentle words, and the dam broke, releasing the flood he'd kept pent up for two months. He cried softly against the Sentinel's chest, grateful for the gift of a second chance.
Jim closed his eyes, stroking Blair's head gently as the young man cried on his chest. He felt tears sting his own eyes, and he knew Simon had left a few minutes ago, giving him and Blair the privacy they needed. For that, he'd have to remember to thank the man later.
Right now, all he wanted to do was revel in the warmth of Blair's head against his chest and the soft rhythm that beat in sync with his own.
Sorry for the big jump, but, hey, I'm not even gonna touch what they do with Alex.
I'll leave that to the folks at Pet Fly. <grin>