Note: This was written last year - one evening, I'd been watching 'Prisoner X', and when I turned off the VCR, the images and dialogues just kept on running. Annie and Xasphie did the beta - thank you, Ladies! If you find any mistakes, be sure they're all mine.
"And then I told this guy, no way you're going to pass the exam if you keep on..." Returning to the living room area, Blair couldn't suppress a sigh at the sight before him. Jim had fallen asleep on the couch - again. This seemed to be happening a lot lately. It wasn't extraordinarily late, neither had they had a particularly exhausting day, having mostly done paperwork.
There had been a time when Blair would have joked about falling asleep on the paperwork, knowing how much Jim hated that part of the job.
Jim had outright refused to talk about his experiences in the maximum-security prison, sentinel-related or otherwise; his report had been sketchy enough that he'd been ordered into Simon's office with the friendly request that the gaps be filled. He had reacted with the same anger he always showed when Blair tried to somehow get behind that wall that Jim had erected between him and the rest of the world.
On the surface, they just did business as usual, but Blair wasn't fooled, except that he didn't have a clue about how to act.
He found that obvious lack of energy in his friend frightening; it was something he wasn't accustomed to. And, of course, Jim's tactics of avoidance didn't work very well; easy to tell that from the recurring nightmare.
Blair was still convinced that if he had just a little more information, he'd be able to figure it out, where to go from here.
He sat down, waiting. Jim's sleep hadn't been a restful one to begin with, even before the nightmare started, the one he said he could never remember. "Hey. Jim." Blair knew better than to touch someone with Jim's training while he was asleep and dreaming; so he used his voice, knowing that the volume wasn't a factor here. "Come on. Wake up. Follow my voice back here," he added for good measure, hoping what had proven to work with a zone-out, could help here, too.
Intuition told him that there were probably similarities - it could be a sense memory, repeated over and over in the dream. As in post-traumatic stress, no surprise there, even though Jim had fervently refused to see the department shrink, claiming he'd dealt with much worse before.
Jim jerked awake, eyes darting around as if he didn't quite trust his surroundings.
"Hey," Blair said softly. "The bad one again?"
"I told you I don't remember!" Jim snapped at him, as he all but jumped from the couch. A moment later, Blair could hear the distinct sounds of the fridge's door being opened and slammed shut again. A bottle being opened. Okay. Maybe it was really just a question of being persistent.
He stood up as well, to join Jim in the kitchen, but holding back the words that were on the tip of his tongue.
It was remarkable how sometimes Jim seemed to be able to read his mind.
"What part of 'just drop it' don't you understand?" he asked icily. He stood with his back to Blair, his grip on the bottle's neck so tight Blair was afraid it would break any minute now.
And, whose neck was it he really wanted to break here?
But he seemed to have forgotten that Blair had taken more than a look at what was beneath the ice, right from the first time they met. "Something's tearing you apart, and you're trying to handle it all on your own. It doesn't have to be that way. I'm your friend. You can trust me."
"I can?" Jim spun around so fast he almost collided with Blair who had taken a cautious step forward. "So, Chief, can you tell me then what the hell you were doing in that place when I practically *begged* you to stay away? Huh? Is that how you define trust?"
The sound of his own heartbeat seemed loud to Blair in the heavy silence between them. Jim's hand was clenching on his forearm, though if he was meaning to shake Blair, or was desperately holding on, it was hard to say.
"Jim, you know I..."
"Sometimes I think I don't know you at all," Jim said, letting go, defeated. "Stop trying to analyze me. Just - don't." And he turned away, his body language making it clear that the conversation was over.
God, how he hated this. The mirror that had been held up in front of him, had shown him an exact picture. Of the dependency and need he'd thought he'd buried deep enough, of failure -- and fear. Damn it. Jim thought he had every right to be pissed off by Sandburg's naivete, and of course he knew this trait in him, but Simon should have known better than to sign off on this assignment.
Much had gone wrong, and it could have been a lot more.
Sitting in that stupid creative writing class, it had taken Jim every bit of his training to stay with his undercover persona, as he listened to the other inmates' comments on the new teacher. Blair had had no business being there, and even though his presence had been a relief for his senses, as always, it was another factor for stress as well.
That alone, he could have put behind him. Hell, he'd overheard comments at the station along the same lines, not regularly, but a time or two he'd had a hard time keeping his temper in check and not asking his colleagues who the bloody hell they thought they were. It wasn't what this was all about, not entirely, at least.
Truth was, he remembered every detail of that recurring dream too damn well, and there was no way he'd share them. Ever.
How could you ever burden *anyone* with something like that, ask them to find a translation with no strings attached? Impossible.
Rationally, he knew there was probably nothing he could have done about Liotta's death; or the others', for that matter, but 'probably' was not enough for Jim to just leave it behind him. Which the dream reflected all too clearly; that, and more.
He needed time, not an interpretation.
A few days later they were on stakeout near the house of a man who had allegedly murdered a small-time drug dealer; thanks to a tip from the ever-resourceful Sneaks, they had learned that he was to be expected here this evening. Eleven-thirty; nothing had happened so far.
Wilkes had always bought large quantities from his business partner, obviously planning to get into business himself, which had pissed off the boss of the other guy. After what had to be one of their meetings, Wilkes had been found dead; stabbed in the chest.
It didn't take Jim long to find the blond hair near the body. They could match the DNA to a hired muscle of Jeffrey Corrins, a major league supplier.
They sat, waiting in silence. Blair seemed to have resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn't get any more information on any nightly spook occurrences, and Jim was grateful for that.
The murder scene - he used to be able to put those things behind him much quicker. Why the hell did Wilkes have to be stabbed to death? Like Liotta. Like, in that nightmare... but no, he couldn't go there. Not even once, to look at it and face it; impossible.
It would go away with time.
//This is my world, Curtis.//
So this was a matter of trust after all. It had hurt when Jim turned things around like that; hadn't Simon trusted him to get this right? As Blair reflected on last night's conversation, he was sure that they'd only touched the surface of things; it was obvious in all that Jim had *not* said.
And he would have to talk about it someday, because it had already taken up a near presence beside them, always there in the space between them.
It couldn't stay that way much longer.
That was about the only thing right now he was sure of, but there seemed no visible end to this, and another three nights had brought Blair to the end of his endurance. He'd briefly considered asking a friend from the psychology department, or even the CPD's shrink, but found that wasn't an option. Even if he had told the story from 'a friend of a friend', they would have surely made the connection soon. Not to mention what Jim would have thought about it.
So, he was on his own here.
But that didn't really matter, did it, he was Jim's Guide, and it was his damned duty not to let go here, right?
And Blair didn't intend to. He couldn't quite put his finger on it yet, but the real cause of Jim's nightmares appeared to be something that had to be solved between the two of them in the first place.
He'd been sleeping badly again.
It had been a long day already, with a body having been found near the docks in the early hours, interviews, some paperwork, that, too... it was close to five and Jim wished fervently he could just leave, but Simon had scheduled a briefing in ten minutes, so that was out of the question.
As he was staring at the last form to be filled out, the sheet of paper seemed to turn into a canvas on which the nightmare images came to life once more, with a frightening intensity. Fuck, if this went on much longer, he would definitely start losing his mind.
In spite of Blair who'd been doing his best everyday not to let that happen, as if it was in his power anyway.
The color of blood was so vivid, even if it was only in his memory. If he looked close enough, he could imagine it running over the page, staining his desk, whoa, this was really strange -- stop it, there was this damn briefing, no way he could afford to...
"You have ten minutes to get here, and another five to work a miracle, that's as long as I can hold off the briefing."
That's what Simon had told him on the cell, and Blair was sure the Captain would have never called him if there had been any chance he could handle the situation on his own. //As if I had a single fucking idea...// But he'd simply dropped everything, excused himself to the student who'd come for office hours, and to the two others who were waiting, and he must have broken every speed limit on the way to the station.
He'd made a decision then; no more leeway or backing off; this time, Blair was determined to get answers. No matter what.
Only a few minutes later, he slumped into the next available chair, feeling like he'd just stepped back from the edge of a cliff at the last minute. What ever place it was that Jim had retreated to, it must have been dark, and very lonely.
And for a moment, it was, bizarrely, as if they were connected somehow, so that Blair could feel that place, even though he couldn't see it. He shuddered with the lingering cold, but at least, he seemed to finally succeed in his attempts - and he'd been right, this was a situation that required a Guide more than a therapist. Instinctively, he reached out to take Jim's hand, an assurance he needed just as much.
"Hey, Jim. You back with me, man?"
He was, indeed. With an indignant glare, Jim pulled back his hand, looking around as if to check whether anybody had witnessed the exchange. However, the few people that were in the bullpen that moment, didn't seem to have noticed.
When his gaze fell back on Blair, there was a flash of all those conflicting emotions Jim would hardly ever be ready to put in words, but it had gone too far already, impossible to let it pass, or they would never be free of the nightmare that had haunted them both since Starkville.
"What are you doing here?" Jim asked brusquely.
"Yeah, it's nice to see you, too." No, Blair decided he wouldn't get mad even if it was probably justified - he'd simply refuse to take the bait. "Simon called me, said he couldn't bring you back. What happened?"
Jim didn't answer right away, but his eyes skimmed over the sheets of paper on his desk, then his own hands. "Are you okay?" he asked then, and you would've had to be a watchful observer to detect that faint trace of vulnerability. No problem with that... It seemed a beginning, at least.
"I will be, if you just stop shutting me out. Look, I'm sure it's alright with Simon if we go home right now and--"
"No way. Briefing starts in a minute."
"Jim, Sandburg is right." The relief was clearly audible in the captain's voice, his words unmistakable. "I want you to go home, take some time off and figure out what's wrong with you. It's Thursday, so we can get back together first thing Monday, and then we'll have to see how we're going to deal with this."
"What's 'this', Simon? I can do my job!" There had been a warning, too, and Jim had clearly understood it.
"Do you really think I'd take the risk of something like this happening in the field?"
"Alright then," Jim snapped, yanking his jacket from the coat-hook. As he stalked out of the bullpen with angry strides, Blair had to hurry to keep up with him.
Three and a bit days to figure it out. Which was, Blair assumed, better than nothing, but he was well aware of the responsibility that rested on his shoulders.
"I know it's still early, but would you like dinner already?"
"No. I'm supposed to rest, and that's what I'm going to do," Jim returned, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
God, he had to get some distance. Those looks Blair gave him, as if Jim was some complicated riddle that he had to solve, at times like these, he hated it. He didn't want to be someone you'd have to constantly worry about, special, freak, whatever the term. And at the moment, there was nothing he wanted more than just a little bit of peace and quiet, knowing at the same time, he wouldn't get it, because sleep would inevitably lead to... What the hell was he doing anyway, sulking with the blanket over his head like a sullen teenager?
//Because you've been zoning on blood that nobody could see but you.//
One way or another, this had to fucking end.
Waking in a cold sweat, he firmly put one hand over his mouth until the urge to scream had passed. Why was all this happening? It hadn't been fun, there was no denying that. But Jim had seen worse things in his life than what happened at Starkville. The oppression, the knowledge that you couldn't afford to let your guard down, not for a second, it wasn't so new.
He'd had his share of those situations, and dealt with them. So what was so different now?
Right. Like it was such a big question.
Downstairs, he could hear Blair's hesitant footsteps, as if trying to decide whether he should come up or not. //Don't// Jim advised silently. // I don't trust myself at the moment.//
"You've had that nightmare again."
It wasn't a question, but a statement. Much to his credit, Blair had waited until after dinner, Jim had to give him that. "So what?"
"And you're going to tell me about it, cause that's the only way we can ever get on with life and put it behind us." Blair's eyes were on him, unflinching.
"Us, huh? What if I don't want to? You know, I can keep a secret. I'm trained for this."
Shaking his head in exasperation, but determined, Blair continued, "And it's not only about us. Are you going to wait 'til Simon suspends you?"
There was some truth in this statement, but Jim wasn't ready to acknowledge that. "Because of nightmares? Get real. Can we end this conversation now?" He got up from the table. "You know, this is starting to bore me. I think I'm going out. Don't wait up for me."
"Not before you've told me what really happened today. Or what has got you so damn scared." Having moved surprisingly quickly, Blair was blocking the doorway.
//Right, just let him try. Scared? Watch me now!//
"Get out of my way!" Jim really hoped he would, because he was unable to predict his own reaction at the moment. That anger he'd felt, that time in the prison, about being helpless, and effectively useless, welled up again with all its force.
"Don't test me, Sandburg!" Jim had meant to simply push him out of the way, but Blair resisted him. "Just let me..."
He must have lost a second or so, because in his next conscious moment he found himself standing with his fist raised, on the verge of...
"No," Blair said firmly. "I know you, Jim. You wouldn't hurt me." Everything, his voice, the steady heartbeat were clear indications - he really believed that.
Both of them were holding their breath for a moment, as time seemed to stand still, then Jim simply let go, dropping his hand to his side. He couldn't win in this, should have known all along. As long as they were exchanging words, it was Blair who had the unfair advantage. And he had this infinite trust in Jim, just where the hell did he get that from?
At the moment, Jim wasn't that sure of himself.
Not of anything.
He turned away, very aware of Blair's gaze following him. Tired; he was always so fucking tired.
"Do you really believe anybody thinks you're less of a man because you were scared in there?"
"But that's not the point," Jim said, without facing him, but keeping his eyes on Blair's reflection in the balcony doors, as he remembered the details of what had led to today's zone. What always brought on the nightmare. "It's you!" He was embarrassed to feel his eyes stinging. No way he'd let this get any more pathetic.
"Me?" Blair said, startled, for the first time revealing a hint of uncertainty. "Then why don't you tell me what I've done?" He hadn't moved from where he stood at the door.
"It's not-- it's not about something you have done," Jim tried to explain, frustrated, since he didn't have any idea where to start. "There was this guy... he'd been in some trouble, because of his side income; sold stuff from the infirmary to dealers outside. Vinson wanted in on it, but that didn't happen, and he killed Liotta for it. I tried to stop him - but I was too late."
"Oh man. That must have been horrible." Those things were no platitudes when Blair said them, who had in-depth insights into how seriously Jim took the 'tribal protector' detail.
Tentatively, Blair stepped closer, until he sat down on the arm of the couch, lowering his hand onto Jim's shoulder, almost an embrace. "I'm sorry," he added softly. "And I'm such an idiot, I should have known it wasn't you who wrote the note, that you were in trouble and--"
"No! You couldn't have known. It's just that I dream about how he comes out of the room, wiping the knife on that rag. I went in, but it was too late, Liotta was already dead, and in that dream, it's that scene over and over again, only it isn't him, it's..."
He prayed he wouldn't have to say it out loud, and his wish was answered, fortunately, Blair made the connection himself. "God, Jim, you've been carrying that around with yourself all this time? Why didn't you tell me?" He didn't even seem to expect an answer, just leaned forward until his forehead rested between Jim's shoulder blades, this kind of close proximity unusual, strange, but comforting.
"Okay, I take that question back. But you know that I'm a shaman now, so don't ever try to get anything like that past me again," he said with a hint of amusement in his voice, but got serious again the next moment.
"You won't get rid of me so easily. So there's really nothing to worry about."
And just a moment later: "I was with you in that zone."
And that moment, any further words seemed pointless, because the experience of that cold, dark place couldn't be taken back. As much as Jim would have wished for Blair not to have come anywhere near Starkville, it had been impossible, and maybe Incacha had seen it already when he'd passed on the way of the shaman.
It meant a commitment to their respective roles, and to each other, that they had never considered before, but there would be another time to take a closer look. Blair seemed just a little bit overwhelmed with the intensity of closeness reflected in Jim's nightmares.
"Do you know what it means?" Asking, 'Do you want to know', in reality, Jim understood. If they took this seriously, it was the end of playing it safe, staying in Jim's shadow, out of the line of fire.
"I guess so. And you hope you don't misunderstand if I say I don't like it."
"But that's the way it's going to be. We can't hide from it any longer. You trusted Incacha, didn't you?"
"Then you believe in what he saw. I know you're trying so hard to protect me, but you don't have to carry everything alone."
There were no words to think of, but Blair must have been right in everything, because he didn't have to demand any explanation, seemed to know without it how grateful Jim was. And scared at the same time, because this new development would ask a lot, of both of them.
But for the first time in a long time, Jim knew, that the nightmare wouldn't come back.