Art by Lyn
Jim was indeed on the roof. In fact, Jim was standing on the ledge of the building with nothing between him and the sidewalk but ten floors of empty space and a very deadly landing. Cautiously, Blair approached his partner. When he got close enough, he could hear Jim speaking anxiously to whomever was on the other end of the cell phone that he had pressed against his ear. Because his back was turned to Blair, he couldn't hear what Jim was saying, but he was instantly terrified. If he was correct, Jim was in immediate jeopardy, and unless Blair could get through to him, he would throw himself from the ledge and fall to his death.
"Jim?" Blair called softly, walking slowly toward his partner. "Jim, man, please..."
Jim never turned, but his hand fell away from his head, the cell phone still tightly clutched in it. His head fell forward, chin to chest, and Blair knew that while he was staring down onto the city street far below, that he probably saw and felt nothing, that he might not even be aware of what was happening. But no, that would be too -- easy for the victim. They had to suffer, so they knew. Blair felt it down to his bones. While they couldn't do anything to help themselves, they felt each second of each minute of exactly what was happening before they did what they were ordered to do. With a groan, Blair broke out into a cold sweat. The wind whipped his hair into his eyes and he brushed it away in irritation.
"Jim, it's Blair. Please, please..." Blair was within touching distance of his partner when Jim turned his body from the waist to face Blair. His eyes were large and dilated, and his face was covered in a sheen of sweat in spite of the cold, biting wind.
"Jim? Please come down from there," Blair pleaded, reaching out a shaky hand.
Jim sneered, and ground out, "Get away from me."
"Jim, please listen to me. I know what's happening-"
"Shut up!" Jim suddenly yelled, his face turning red. "You are such a jerk! Always telling me what to do. Always rubbing your smarts in my face! I'm tired of you! Year after year, I have to listen to your sanctimonious preaching. I have to hear your brilliant ideas and I have to have you solve my cases! I don't need you! I don't need anyone!"
Blair froze in his step, his body shaking. He cleared his throat before he asked, "Jim, who was on the phone?"
"None of your fucking business! You wouldn't understand anyway! You think you're so fucking smart! I'll show you. I'll prove to you who's the brains of this operation!"
"Jim, please... You're not making any sense!" Blair's gaze bore into Jim's. He pleaded with his eyes while he pleaded with his words. "Come down from there, and you can tell me exactly what you think of me. You can ream me out about my not cleaning the bathroom and my dumb eating habits. We'll go for a beer-"
Jim's eyes narrowed. "Don't you get it? You are so stupid! I don't want you any more! You're a liability! I'm sick of looking at you!"
"Okay. Okay. I understand." Blair stepped closer, wondering if he could possibly throw his arms around Jim's waist and have enough strength to pull him back from the ledge without tumbling both of them over. The retaining wall was about three feet high. If he levered himself just right...
"Don't even think about it," Jim growled, his hands clenching into fists. "Touch me, and you're a dead man."
Blair held out his hands. "All right. It's okay. I won't -- touch you. Just tell me who was calling."
Glancing down at the phone that he still gripped in his clenched fist, Jim shook his head. "I'm doing what she wants! Finally! I can't let her down again!" Jim shouted, turning back toward the open space, staring up into the sky.
Blair saw him tilt his head slightly and slowly bring the cell phone up to his ear. Knowing that Jim's attention was momentarily distracted, he took a careful step to the side so that he had a clearer field of vision. He could see Jim speaking in a hushed voice, but with the wind's howl, as much as he strained to hear, he couldn't make out the words. Afraid that who- whatever was on the other end could be giving Jim some kind of instructions or, even worse, his final orders, Blair almost panicked. With Jim's focus diverted, he decided that it was now or never. He moved forward quickly, wrapping his arms around Jim's thighs.
Jim moved just as swiftly. His hand grabbed a large handful of Blair's hair and he yanked upward forcefully. Blair yelped, his eyes instantly filling from the sharp pain. He dropped his arms and wrapped his hands around Jim's wrist. He pushed up, trying to release some of the tight hold and alleviate some of the pain. But Jim's grasp wasn't affected in the least by Blair's hands. In fact, he tugged harder, and started to sway, his balance almost thrown off kilter. Blair panicked, terrified that Jim would fall, and also terrified that he'd be dragged over the ledge right along with him. He dropped one hand to grab onto the ledge, steadying himself and Jim in tandem. With a small moan, he tried to take a breath. His head ached from Jim's tight grasp and his heart pounded in fear that he wouldn't be able to get through to Jim in time to save him, to save them both.
"Jim, please! You're hurting me!" Blair pulled sharply on Jim's wrist. "Please!"
Jim grunted, releasing his hold while shoving Blair hard. He stumbled backward, falling to his butt with a hard thump. Rubbing his damaged head, he watched Jim through wide, disbelieving eyes. Jim, his Jim, would never hurt him. He felt a momentary harsh stab of depression. His Jim was gone.
"No!" Blair shouted, rising. "I won't let you have him!" he screamed, turning with his hands outspread, shouting toward nothing in particular. "I know you can hear me! You'd better listen to me! He's a good man. He's not for you! I'll fight you! Whatever you do, I'll fight you for him!" Walking back to the ledge, Blair ordered, "Jim, look at me! Look at me!"
Jim's breathing was heavy and raspy. He turned his head slowly and glanced down, but his gaze didn't meet Blair's. Sadly, he said, "She wants me. Finally! I hurt her so much, but she's going to forgive me. All I have to do is this one thing... To prove I'm worthy. That I understand what I did to destroy her. And then she'll understand too. She'll come back, and we'll be a family."
"Jim, who? A family? Your mother? Jim, please... Your mother isn't talking to you. There's nobody on the phone. It's not your mother, it's -- something bad. Please, Jim... Do you want to talk to your dad? I can have him come right over. I can call him. You know he'll-"
"No! He's always hated me. She told me what happened! How she had to leave because I was -- different." Jim's face looked pained when he admitted, "I'm a freak. She left because she couldn't live with a freak! Don't you understand? If I wasn't what I am... This damned freak, she'd be here now! My father would love me and I wouldn't have lost my family!"
"Jim, you are not a freak! You're special. You're very special, and I love you!" Blair put out a hand. "Please, Jim... Please come down."
"She likes talking to me. She says she likes -- me. And she wants me to be with her. All I have to do is..." Jim turned back to stare into the empty space in front of his feet. "It's so easy... One step, and I'm forgiven. I need to be forgiven..."
Blair's heart pounded. "No, no. I need you! You're important! She's not real, damn it! I'm real!"
Jim didn't turn back toward Blair, but he did shake his head. "She loves me. She needs me. I have to..."
Blair rubbed a hand down his face. He had no idea how to fight this. How could he convince Jim that the voice he was hearing wasn't his long-lost mother, but evil, pure and simple? He knew Jim, his Jim, loved him, and would never hurt him. But what about this strange, almost possessed Jim? With renewed determination, Blair walked a few feet down from where Jim stood, tossed a leg over the ledge, and with his heart pounding in his throat, he briefly straddled the wall before he forced himself to pull the right leg over also. He stood on shaky legs, trying not to look down.
Of course, his eyes were dragged exactly where he didn't want them to go. The city street below looked far away. The multi-colored cars, huge trucks, blue buses and bright yellow taxis seemed to zip along like tiny toys from a child's playroom. Specks of people hurried to and fro, not even noticing the two men who stood ten stories above them, their lives hanging in the balance. Blair briefly wondered if he fell, if he would kill any people when he landed. With a noisy gulp, he blinked to relieve the dryness in his eyes. The wind whipped at his body constantly, cold and biting. He swore it had grown colder since he'd walked out onto the roof a lifetime ago. He blinked, surprised that he could even register the thought in his terrified brain that the sun was hidden behind some clouds and the sky was growing darker by the minute. Soon it would be as black as the darkest night.
"What are you doing?"
The deep, soft, forceful voice startled Blair. He quickly glanced over at Jim, who, for a brief moment, looked like his Jim. His eyes were clear and blue, but his face was tight and drawn, fear clearly etched in the strong lines.
"What?" Blair blurted.
"Get out of here! Run while you still can!" he ordered.
"Jim?" Blair scuttled closer to his partner, his hands tightly grasping the cold stone. "Please, Jim, please. I'm scared!"
"Blair," Jim mouthed, his words yanked away by the howl of the wind that again increased in intensity. "Please..."
"No," he said, vehemently shaking his head, "I'm not going anywhere. In fact," he added, moving even closer until his elbow touched Jim's, "if you go, I'm going with you."
Jim looked puzzled for a moment before he shuddered violently. He shook his head and erratically waved a hand in front of his face as if he was trying to bat something irritating away. If Blair hadn't been this close, he would never have heard the whispered, "Mom?" He brought the dreaded cell phone up toward his ear, but Blair moved quickly. He batted the phone from his hand, and both men dazedly watched in silence as it tumbled through the air toward the ground. It disappeared from Blair's sight quickly. When he chanced a glance at Jim, his eyes were focused intently on the dot that fell to the pavement far below. Taking the opportunity of his distraction, Blair hooked his right arm through Jim's left.
Jim jerked, making Blair clutch the wall with his free hand even harder. "Get away from me!" he begged, trying to yank his arm away.
"No! I'm going with you! If you go, I go too!"
Jim cocked his head, staring blindly. "No," he muttered. "No, no, no. I don't want him. I don't want him. I don't want to hurt him. Please, please, please..." The pleading tone of Jim's voice made Blair let out a small moan. Even without the phone, it was clear that Jim was still hearing the echoes of whatever voice had spoken only to him.
Blair grimaced, realizing how simple the logic had been. The -- entity, force, whatever, had been using something familiar, commonplace, acceptable -- a cell phone -- to gain access to each of its victims. Something they could readily accept. If the force appeared as a malevolent demon with red glowing eyes, sharp claws and horns, people would scream and hide. They would call for their holy men to exorcise the evil, and would see it for what it was. This way, it was so simple. Use a device that everybody seemed to own these days. Young, old, and in between. Everybody scurried around with their cell phones attached to their ears. That was then Blair knew he was right, after all. The person never realized that the commands emanating from the phone were from a force bent on destruction. They blindly accepted the voice because it touched something deep within each person's soul. It masqueraded as something from each person's past, something painful and haunting, something they tried to forget, but something they felt immense guilt and shame over. It knew their weaknesses, and it preyed on them. With cold, calculating, destructive pleasure.
"I'm so cold," Blair murmured.
"I don't know what to do. I... I don't want to do this!" Jim pleaded yet again, tightly closing his eyes.
"Jim, don't listen to it. Please, Jim. It's not your mother. It's something bad. It's been hurting people. Think, Jim. It's been making people hurt themselves, sometimes after they hurt innocent people! People they loved! You've seen it! And now it's trying to take you. You're the prize, Jim. The only Sentinel that we know of. If it can turn you, if it can make you do something bad, then it wins!" Blair held tightly onto Jim's arm. "It wasn't hard to turn the first two. You remember? Brenner and Bartholomew? They were bad men, but then it made the priest and the school teacher, both good people, do bad things! Remember Father O'Malley, Jim? He was a good man and this -- thing hurt him! And Mrs. Lane! She was a nice woman. All the kids loved her! Please, Jim. You have to listen to me. It wants to hurt you!"
"I don't know what to do."
"I know what to do, Jim. Trust me. I know what to do."
"But my mother... She wants to see me again." His head turned and when his gaze met Blair's, he smiled, looking angelic. "She's waiting. I miss her so much!"
"I understand. I know how much you miss her! If she were here, she wouldn't want you to hurt yourself. She'd want you to be happy."
Jim shook his head. "No. If she loved me, she'd be here. She never loved me."
"I love you, Jim. I'm sorry she's not here, but I love you. More than anything." Blair glanced down once again before he swallowed loudly and blurted out, "If you jump, you'll take me with you. In fact, I'm going with you! Do you understand? I'm staying with you, no matter what!"
Jim's eyes turned sad, and they pleaded for understanding while he whispered, "Please, Chief... I don't know... Please..." He looked down toward the street again. "Once it's over, there will be no more pain. No more. My dad won't think I'm a freak any longer, and mom will come home."
With a sad cry, Blair felt his heart break. "No! Jim, I need you so much. You are not a freak! You're a wonderful gift. Your senses are special. You are special! Do you hear me!" Blair jiggled the arm that he had hooked through Jim's. "I love you!" He took a deep breath before he released the hand that still held onto the ledge. "I love you enough to trust you, Jim. I'm cold and scared, and I want you to take me home! Do you hear me?"
Jim glanced down again before he slowly raised his eyes. When his gaze met Blair's, he whispered, "She's calling me, Chief."
"Jim, I need you. More than she does. I don't want you to die, and I don't want to die either."
Jim's face fell. "I'll always be a disappointment. She says I'll always be-"
Blair vehemently shook his head. "No, Jim! None of that is true. You're a good man. You're a great friend, and you've given me so much! You're Sentinel of a Great City. All of us need you!" When Jim seemed to be listening, Blair held onto his arm tighter. "I'm your partner. I'm your lover. And I want you to take me home and make love to me. Now, Jim! I need you to hold me, and tell me you love me. I need you, damn it!"
"You love me?" Jim asked tiredly.
"Yes, more than anything."
"And you -- trust me?"
"With my life."
"No," Jim whispered, "I killed you. I hurt you. I'm not a good person. You can't love me. They all left, Chief. Every one of them..."
"Look at me!" Blair held out his left hand, showing Jim that now his only tether to the building was his hold on Jim's arm. "Look at me!" he repeated. "I'm not holding on here, man. I'm leaving my life in your hands. Do what you want, but whatever it is, we're doing it together. You and me, Jim. That's the way it is. We're in this together."
"For better..." Jim blinked, shivering in the cold air. "...or worse?"
"Yeah, that about sums it up."
"I think..." Jim looked down yet again before glancing at where Blair's hand clutched his sleeve. He looked like he was considering what to do next. Finally his gaze caught Blair's while his right hand covered Blair's hand where it clutched his sleeve. "I think -- I think I want to go home as well."
Blair almost cried. "Me, too," he said around the lump in his throat. "I want to go home more than anything. What do you say that we get off this roof?"
Jim slowly nodded. Blair carefully watched for any sudden movements while Jim helped him back onto the safety of the firm roof. Carefully, he slipped one leg, then the other over the wall, while he kept his fingers tightly clenched around Jim's sleeve, sure he was tearing holes in the material, terrified that it was a trick, and that at the last second, once he was safe, Jim would take that final step off the edge.
As if reading Blair's thoughts, Jim said quietly, his voice tired and sad, "It's okay, Blair. I'm taking you home."
"Come on, man. Put your arm over my shoulder." Blair wrapped an arm around Jim's waist while Jim slipped his arm across Blair's shoulders. Jim swung his legs over, left first then right, and in what seemed to be a lifetime to Blair, he finally planted his feet on the firm surface. They both leaned back against the wall for a few moments, catching their breaths. Blair briefly closed his eyes, feeling the sun's warmth on his face. Blinking rapidly, he glanced upward for a moment, surprised that the black clouds were gone, and that the sun now shown brightly in the clear blue sky. With a sigh of relief, Blair gently tugged Jim into motion. "That's it, Jim." They walked one step, then two before Jim stumbled. "Jim, are you okay?" Blair cried, feeling Jim's full weight sway against him. He stumbled himself, and lost his hold on his partner's body. Unconscious, Jim crumbled to the ground.
"Jim! Oh, God! Jim!" Blair reached into his pocket, yanking out his cell phone. He stared distastefully at the item for a brief moment before he gulped noisily and hit the recall button to call Simon's office phone. Almost expecting to hear some evil spectral voice ordering him to put a bullet in his and Jim's head, he almost cried when instead, the voice on the other end barked, "Banks!" Relieved, he asked for help.
Art by Romanse
Blair didn't feel as if the day's incident was over completely until he and Jim were finally home, safe and secure, and under the blankets in their own bed. Even though Jim had regained consciousness within a few minutes, and even though he waved off Simon's help, his face was white as a sheet. Blair could tell that he was definitely feeling out of sorts after his brush with death. He brushed off Simon's questions with a curt excuse that he'd been feeling sick and came up to the roof for some fresh air. At Simon's raised eyebrow, Blair nodded, backing up his partner, casually saying that Jim had said he felt dizzy and had passed out. He offered the excuse that there was a bad bout of flu going around. He didn't say anything to Jim about what had just occurred, not in front of Simon. Simon hated hearing about mystical or spiritual incidents regarding Jim's Sentinel abilities anyway, and Blair doubted that he wanted to hear that some nameless evil had tried to convince the world's only known Sentinel that killing himself was a good thing to do. Not to mention the brief moments when killing the Sentinel's Guide was a real possibility.
In spite of Jim's dismissal of his help, Simon nonetheless clamped a hand under his elbow, and with Blair on Jim's other side, they had led him down the stairs to the floor below where Simon directed the three of them into the nearest elevator. While he allowed Jim and Blair to return to the bullpen, it was only for their coats. He immediately sent them on their way with a curt, "go home", which they both gladly did without protest.
Now, several hours later, after having a quick dinner of chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and after hot showers, the men lay under thick blankets, cuddled closely, weary but reluctant to sleep. Blair needed to be close to Jim, to reassure himself he was truly okay, and he was sure Jim felt the same.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Blair asked yet again.
"I'm fine," Jim said reassuringly, his voice soft and even. Blair had to smile. Usually by now, Jim was snapping at him for asking the same question ten times in a row. But tonight, he knew Jim needed his lover's attention. "Really, Chief. I'm good." Jim lifted his head from Blair's shoulder and looked into his eyes. He smiled, running a finger down Blair's nose. He tapped the end and said quietly, "I love you."
Blair smiled, squeezing Jim's upper arm with a warm hand while the arm he had wrapped around the back of Jim's shoulders pulled him even closer, if that were possible. "I was so scared," he said softly.
Jim snuggled closer to his naked lover, sighing happily. "I still don't remember much," he said just as softly, the fingers of his right hand lacing with Blair's left. He gave Blair's hand a reassuring squeeze.
"Don't worry about it," Blair said comfortingly, returning his lover's squeeze with one of his own. "Everything worked out the way it was supposed to." Blair kissed the top of Jim's head before he brought their entangled hands up to his mouth to kiss the back of Jim's hand. While the hand on his lover's shoulder slowly caressed the warm skin, his mouth again placed more kisses across Jim's scalp and the top of his forehead, paying particular attention to the places where the hairline insisted on marching backward in a receding line.
"You're being very -- touchy tonight," Jim murmured drowsily.
"And you've had a rough day. Go to sleep."
"Uhmm. I am tired." He fell silent for a moment before he said, "Blair?"
"Are you sure I didn't... you know, do anything to try and hurt you?"
"Jim, man, you'd never hurt me. I was terrified, though, that you were going to hurt yourself. I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you."
"You'd be fine," Jim whispered. "You're a strong person. That's one of the things I admire about you. Adaptable. Smart. And sexy," he added with a chuckle.
"Shhh," Blair ordered softly. "Go to sleep."
While Jim drifted off, Blair felt sleep skitter out of his reach. He lay, comfortable and warm and content, with his lover's breath huffing against his skin. His eyes were drawn up to the skylight and he admired the stars twinkling against the dark sky. Cold and clear, the tiny pinpoints looked like so many specks of diamonds scattered on a blanket of black velvet. When Jim let out a muffled snore, he craned his head sideways to peer down into Jim's sleeping face. He smiled, admiring the peaceful look that softened the strong features. Carefully slipping his hand out of his partner's clutch, he brought it up to lightly run the tips through his short, soft hair before lacing his hands together, holding Jim close.
"You'd never hurt me, Jim. And you just fought through some kind of -- hell today to prove it. I love you, too."
Blair sighed happily, relishing the feel of his lover in his arms. For the moment, he was unable to quiet his wandering mind, and his thoughts were filled with the day's events. He considered Jim's brush with death, and his triumph over whatever had been determined to destroy him. Together, they had proved that the ultimate prize -- a Sentinel, the embodiment of righteousness -- could not be turned to evil. A vision of Alex flashed across his mind. He grimaced, realizing that given the right circumstances, even a Sentinel could be -- unsavory, wicked. But not his Sentinel. Not Jim. Today proved that Jim Ellison was a good man, and a Blessed Protector to all. Relieved, Blair smiled, but the smile quickly faded when another unhappy idea niggled in. Was today the end of it? Would whatever had been gleefully tormenting these people try again? After a moment, Blair realized that although there would always be pain and suffering in the world, and that evil would always fight for the souls of good men and women, that Jim's strength had laid to rest this particular evil -- at least for now. And he was pleased that he had played a small helpful part in the victorious outcome. With a contented smile, Blair followed Jim into a restful sleep.
Author's Notes: First, thanks to Lyn and Annie for inviting me to join the Thin Blue Line. I am truly honored. Next, I would like to thank the wonderful artists for their contributions to making my story look just beautiful. And finally, many thanks to Chris and Lyn for their beta work. I appreciate everybody's help over at TBL, and I'm having a great time.
Coming Next Month!
Sins of the Father
May 1st 2006.