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DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Paramount and Petfly. This fanfic was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.
RATING: PG (A little language)
SPOILERS: The Debt.
Many thanks to Annie for the beta and good words.
As exhausted as he was after the events of the past few days, Blair couldn't sleep. He shifted on the small, borrowed futon, trying to find a comfortable spot that didn't press on bruises or make his back ache. He'd spent the entire night before sitting on Mrs. Du Croix's armchair after the old blind woman had refused to leave her apartment and go somewhere safe. Despite his bravado to Jim, Blair had to admit he'd been terrified to think that the door would crash open at any time and a gang of thugs would confront them.
It had only been the beginning of a very long day. Larry, the Barbary ape had trashed Jim's apartment again, and Jim had finally had enough. Larry was back at the university and Blair's research grant and money were out the window. Which left Blair with four days left to find somewhere to live and no cash flow for at least another two weeks.
He sat up, the darkness suddenly stifling; the realization that he was homeless felt like a punch to his gut, bringing tears to his eyes. The stale smell of smoke rose up around him, and he lifted the top of his tee shirt, grimacing at the unpleasant odor. Most of his clothes were impregnated with ash, smoke and the sour taint of chemicals from the drug lab next door to his warehouse. If it smelled this bad to him, he could only imagine what it was like for Jim with his sensitive nose.
Deciding a hot shower might relax him enough to sleep, and would at least make him less offensive to Jim, Blair climbed out of bed and headed for the bathroom. The steam and warm water were blissful, and he closed his eyes, tipping his head to let the pounding water massage away his headache. The bite on his hand throbbed and he rubbed at it, then squinted through the streaming water to check it out more thoroughly. Larrys teeth had broken the skin, but it wasnt deep, though it looked a little red and swollen. Hed told Jim that Larry had tried to bite him, a minor detour from the actual truth, but the furious look on Jims face and the gun in his hand had stopped Blair from admitting to more. He was pretty sure that Jim wouldnt have actually shot the little ape, but he wasnt taking any chances. It was enough, hed decided, that Jims apartment had been trashed and he now had an unwanted roomie, without emergency room visits on top of it. Not that Blair could have afforded it anyway. He was still trying to figure out how to pay Jim a weeks rent. There was no way he was going to ask the detective to float him a loan.
The door burst inward suddenly, startling Blair from his thoughts. A rumpled-looking Jim stood in the doorway, the steam from the shower billowing about him, making him look like a demented madman from an old horror movie.
"What the hell are you doing, Sandburg?" Jim bellowed.
"Taking a shower," Blair explained, looking around frantically for something to cover himself up with. He settled for pulling the shower curtain closed a little and stepping back behind its cover. "I couldnt sleep and my clothes "
Jim frowned. "Its two AM. Some of us were sleeping." He looked around the room. "You planning on doing your laundry in my bathtub? For one thing, the hot water heater is small, and for another, theres a washing machine in the basement."
Blair reached back and turned off the faucet, then stood shivering in the sudden coolness of the room. The steam had dissipated, and uncomfortably cool air wafted in from the other room. Water dribbled from his hair down his face and neck, and he suspected he looked as much like a drowned rat as he felt. "Sorry," he said quietly. "I didnt think. I couldnt sleep. The smell "
Jims angry features softened a little and he sighed, reaching up to scrub a hand through his mussed hair. "Its fine. Just dont use all the hot water. I need to have a shower before I go into work in the morning. Ill show you where the laundry stuff is before I go. For now, Ive probably got some sweats upstairs you can wear."
Blair shook his head and pulled a towel from the rack, swiping at his face with an edge, then looked glumly at the black smudge from the ash that had washed from his hair. "Ill, uh, throw this in too." He wrapped the towel around his waist. "Its fine, Jim. Ive got clothes. Sorry I woke you."
Jim nodded and turned to leave. Pulling the door shut, he muttered, "Just mop up the water before you come out, and close the shower curtain next time, Chief."
Blair stood in the tub a moment longer, staring at the closed door, his face heating with embarrassment at having once again pissed off his benefactor. Then, shaking himself, he dried off and dressed quickly in the least foul-smelling sweats he could find and padded out to the kitchen.
He stood for a moment, feeling disoriented, still not sure where Jim kept everything. He had no tea anyway, and coffee was just going to keep him awake longer. Finally he settled for a glass of water to soothe his throat, still a little sore from the fumes of the explosion and walked into the living room. His laptop sat on the dining room table, and he allowed himself a small sigh of relief that it had been undamaged. That thought only brought more gloom when he remembered the broken remains of the PD video camera, smashed beyond repair when Jims timely and forceful shove had sent Blair falling on top of it. The shopping list in his head edged up several notches, causing his headache to surge once more. Now feeling more depressed than ever, he sat down and powered up his computer, hoping to lose himself in his dissertation until drowsiness overtook him.
Jims voice thundered down from above and Blair jumped, startled by the unexpected intrusion on his solitude. "Um, yeah?"
"Will you stop that infernal clacking on the keyboard and go to bed?"
Blair stared at the screen for a moment, the words blurring and wavering. "Sure. Sorry." He saved his work, realizing dejectedly that he couldnt remember a single word hed written anyway, and switched off the computer. Standing, he walked over to the balcony doors and stood staring out at the darkened sky. "Fuck!" he muttered, too softly, he hoped, for sentinel ears to hear. "This is not going to work."
He knew there was no way he was going to find a place to live before the scheduled week was up. Even if he had the money, there were only so many times you could crash on friends couches and impinge on their hospitality before their patience ran out and they told him, politely, of course, to get himself organized. Blair had used up most of the favors owed him, and now he was riding with Jim, the scales had begun to tip heavily the other way, with colleagues taking classes and lectures for him whenever they were embroiled in a case.
He knew too that Jim had been understanding when hed explained why he couldnt always be available when the sentinel needed to use his heightened senses to pick up clues others could not, but Blair always felt an overwhelming guilt. The whole ride-along, partnership deal had been his idea after all, and he felt now that he was letting both sides down.
Giving up on trying to negotiate a way through the mess his life had become with the flash of a match, Blair turned and went back to bed. He lay in the dark, staring sightlessly up at the ceiling until his fatigued brain finally switched off and he slept.
He could hear Jim in the shower when he awoke the next morning, and scrambled out of bed, eager to cook breakfast as an apology for disturbing his friends sleep the night before. He scrambled eggs, leaving them to set in the pan, popped bread into the toaster, then headed back to his room to pack his things for the day.
Rummaging through his boxes, finding misplaced notes and scorched textbooks, his fingers touched something sharp-edged and he cursed when it cut into his finger. Sucking on the tiny wound, he pulled out the offending object with his other hand and stared at it, a sudden lump rising in his throat.
It was just a small, rather crudely made figurine, but it held a sentimental value for Blair that made it irreplaceable. Naomi had brought the ornament home from one of her many trips away when Blair was quite small. In the little boys mind, it became a talisman, a guarantee that no matter how far his mother went or how long she stayed away, she would always come home. Many nights he had gone to sleep, the little figure tucked securely beneath his pillow as hed counted the days till Naomis return.
Blair collapsed down onto the bed behind him. Curling his hand tightly around the porcelain, he did not feel the pain as it cut into his flesh. Time lost all meaning until a loud voice shook him from his reverie and he looked up to see Jim standing in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest and a thunderous expression on his face.
"What?" Blair asked dazedly.
Jims gaze shifted to Blairs hand and a tiny furrow creased his brow. "Youre bleeding."
Blair looked down, noticing the blood oozing between his fingers for the first time. A few spots had dripped onto the bed sheet and he stood quickly, grabbing tissues from the bedside table to mop at his palm. "Sorry," he said, rolling his eyes he seemed to be saying that an awful lot lately. "Something broke in one of my boxes. Ill soak the sheet. Cold, salt water brings out blood."
"The kitchens full of smoke, Sandburg," Jim snapped. "Forget something?"
"Shit! The toast!" Blair jumped up, the figurine dropping to the mattress as he hurried out of the spare room in Jims wake. "Fuck, sorry. I was unpacking. Forgot all about it."
He strode to the exhaust fan switch but Jim beat him to it, flicking it on, then picking up a kitchen towel to wave away the smoke. Abashed, Blair turned to the eggs, turning off the burner and giving them a quick stir. "The eggs are still good," he said hopefully. "If you can wait a few minutes, Ill make some more toast."
"Im late now," Jim grumbled. "Ill stop at a drive-through." He sidled past Blair, picking up his jacket and keys and opening the front door. "If you want to stay here for the rest of the week, were going to have to talk rules, Chief."
Blairs mouth dropped open in surprise. "Rules? Come on, Jim, it was just some burnt toast.""
"And a psycho monkey ape, showers in the middle of night, typing when Im trying to sleep." Jim looked around the less than pristine apartment. "Look at all the crap out here. Try to keep your stuff in your room, all right? I dont mind you working out here, but take it back when youre done."
Blair nodded, his voice failing him. He stood in the kitchen and watched Jim close the door. Turning his attention to the living room, he saw the papers and books hed left on the couch the night before. Hed meant to pick them up, but hed been so exhausted by the time they'd sorted out Larry and cleaned the apartment, hed totally forgotten. He was such a slob - and an idiot too. Jim hadnt wanted him here in the first place, had virtually been brow-beaten into it by Blair, and this was just the detectives way of asking Blair to leave without exactly asking.
"Take the hint, Sandburg," Blair said as he made his way into the spare room. Scrutinizing his paltry belongings, he saw he had little to pack. In less than a half-hour, he had everything stowed in his car and was heading for the university, a hastily scrawled note left propped against a bowl on the kitchen counter.
" hear me, Jim? Tell me youre not doing that zone thing Sandburg keeps going on about."
"Just concentrating, sir," Jim replied. He had in fact, almost slipped away, attempting to bring the faint footprint on the carpet into sharper focus. "Im not going to get anything useful from this," he continued. "Get Forensics to go over the murder scene again."
"Where is Sandburg anyway? Simon asked.
Jim stood, absently dusting his hands on his pants. "University and trying to find another place to live. I feel sorry for the kid, Simon. He lost almost everything in that explosion. He was up pacing half the night."
Simon raised an eyebrow. "You having second thoughts about the one week deal?"
Jim shrugged and turned to leave. "Maybe. Hes not so bad a roomie. Though Im gonna have to crack down on his nocturnal habits a little if I want to get any sleep."
"Good luck," Simon chuckled. "I dont think the kid slows down awake or asleep. With the hours hes been putting in with you, coupled with his study, I dont know how he keeps going."
Jim frowned, mulling over Simon's words. "Guess I hadn't given it that much thought. Least I can do is let him have a roof over his head for a week or two."
"You heading home?" Simon asked.
"Yeah, if this is all covered."
"Copy Brown on your report and Ill see you in the morning."
"Good night, sir."
Jim dropped his keys in the basket and looked around the tidy apartment in surprised appreciation. It looked like Blair had taken his little lecture that morning to heart. The loft was silent, and Jim could discern no presence of his partner. "Sandburg? You home, Chief?"
When there was no reply, Jim made his way toward the kitchen. A note propped against the fruit bowl halted his foray to the fridge, and he picked it up, quickly scanning the contents.
Finally my luck has changed. An old buddy offered me a room for as long as I want, so Ill get out of your hair. I dont have his phone number right now, and Im going to be in and out of the office for a few days, but Ill be in touch. Dont try anything too ambitious on your own. Thanks, for everything.
Jim placed the note back on the counter, alarm bells ringing loudly in his head. How the heck can I can tell you Ive got problems if I dont know where you are, Chief?
He crossed to the spare room and looked in. All of Blairs things were gone, but the bed was still unmade, the tiny spots of blood still visible on the sheet. Jim entered the room and sat down on the futon, gazing around the small empty space. Memories of the night before came unbidden to him, of him yelling at Blair every time the young man made a sound, and how hed lain awake most of the night himself, listening to Blair pace and mutter. Until that afternoons admission to Simon, Jim had not given any thought at all to how devastated Blair must be at losing so much. He thought then of how Sandburg had pushed his own problems away just a day after the explosion, and volunteered to go see Mrs. DuCroix, refusing stubbornly when Jim had ordered him to leave.
Something dug into Jims hand and he looked down, then picked up the little porcelain figure on the bed. The head had snapped off and the broken edge was stained slightly with blood. The image of Blairs bleeding hand came to mind and realization slammed into him. He had no idea what place the curious little figurine had in Sandburgs life, but he had no doubt of its importance. "And there you were bitching about burnt toast and house rules," he muttered angrily. "No wonder he left. Decided to get away from the uncaring asshole of a sentinel while he could."
Making a momentous decision, Jim stood and headed to the front door, taking the ornament with him. He hurried down the stairs, climbed into his truck and steered it toward Rainier University.
There was no light showing under Blairs office door, but Jim knew without a doubt that the anthropologist was inside. Sleeping, it seemed, by the even breathing and slow heartbeat he could detect.
He turned the knob, faintly surprised when the door opened. Adjusting his eyesight to the dimness of the room, Jim spotted Sandburg right away. The young man was curled up on an uncomfortable looking fold-up cot in front of the bookshelves. A thin blanket was pulled up to his chin, but Jim could see small shivers assailing the sturdy body.
Crossing quickly to Blairs side, Jim reached down and shook the nearest shoulder. "Sandburg? Come on, buddy. Time to go home."
"Five minutes, mom," Blair slurred back at him and Jim couldnt suppress a grin.
"You are so wrong, Chief. Sandburg? Come on. Up and at em."
Blue eyes finally cracked open and blinked lazily at him, before widening in surprise. Blair fairly surged up on the cot, and if not for Jims firm grip on his arm, would have toppled right off.
"Easy, Sandburg. Its just me."
"Jim? Whats wrong? Why are you here?"
"I came looking for my roommate," Jim said.
"Your roommate?" Blair's brow creased in puzzlement and he reached up with a swollen hand to rub his head as though he was trying to process the words. "Didn't you get my note?"
"I got it." Jim caught hold of Blair's hand, holding it gently in his own. "What happened to your hand, Chief?"
Blair attempted to pull the injured appendage away but Jim held on. "I cut it this morning, remember?"
Jim tapped the other hand. "That was your left hand, Chief. What happened to this one?"
Blair's head dropped to his chest and he huffed out a sigh. "Larry bit me. It's not bad," he hurried on, glancing up at the detective. "It's not even very deep. Barely broke the skin."
Jim shifted his hand to Blair's elbow and levered him off the cot. "Come on."
Blair pulled away and took a faltering step backward. "Where?"
"Emergency room. Get that bite checked out."
But Blair was already shaking his head. "I said it's fine. Jim, you didn't answer my question. Why are you here?"
Jim mirrored his partner's earlier action and rubbed his forehead. He sat down on the cot and stared at his hands. "I have been an unmitigated bastard," he said finally. He looked up. "Blair, I'm sorry. I got so caught up in the case that I didn't take a minute to think about what you'd gone through. I'm sorry."
Blair moved back to the cot and sank down beside Jim. "I kinda badgered you to take me in," he admitted quietly. "I appreciate you doing that, especially with what happened with Larry."
"We'll get to Larry," Jim said with a small smile. "The thing is when I needed your help with Mrs. DuCroix, you put your problems aside to be there, then when it finally all caught up with you, I laid into you like a a "
"Pissed off sentinel?" Blair ventured.
"Yeah." Jim shifted to face his partner. "Look, Sandburg, I don't know if you want to do this, but... You want to give this roommate thing another shot?"
"For the rest of the week? Jim, I don't know. If I've got to be out in a week, I may as well stay here till I find something else." Blair looked away and Jim could almost see the cogs turning in his brain. "I've got a few leads on some places."
"We could see how it goes for as long as you want to stay," Jim offered.
Blair studied him for a moment. "And the house rules?"
Jim grinned at him, but the smile faded quickly. "Even when I was living alone, I had house rules. Everyone said I was anal, but it was the only way I could keep things under control so they didn't overwhelm me."
Blair shook his head and gave Jim a rueful smile. "I profess to be the only known expert on Sentinels, and it seems I've still got a lot to learn. That makes total sense, man." He looked at Jim and the detective was pleased to see a sparkle of interest in the blue eyes. "You think we could talk a little about that some time?"
Jim stood and held out a hand to his partner. "At home, over a steak and a beer."
"Works for me," Blair grinned, but winced when he grasped Jim's hand. He tried to shrug it off but Jim could see the pain on his friend's face.
Jim nodded. "Good. Let's go home."
Blair had drifted off on the drive home; the ride punctuated by a stop at the Emergency Room as promised by Jim. Blair had attempted to put up a weak argument, but had finally relented and admitted that the bite was causing him trouble. The wound had been disinfected and dressed and Blair was stuck with various needles protecting him against an assortment of dire diseases, all the while grumbling and casting affronted looks at his partner. The other hand had been similarly treated and bandaged in a light gauze dressing.
Jim looked over to the passenger seat after pulling into a park outside the loft. Blair was scrunched up against the door, snoring softly, his unruly curls partially hiding his face. "You are a sight for sore eyes, Chief." Reaching over, Jim shook the nearest shoulder gently, taking care not to jostle Blair's injured hands. "You awake, Chief? We're home."
Blair moved slowly, attempting to snuggle further into the warmth of his jacket before finally opening his eyes and staring blearily at Jim. "Home?" he asked in a croaky voice.
"Yep." Jim began to open his door, then remembered the small item in his pocket. He pulled it out carefully and held it out to his partner, balancing it on his palm. "I think this is yours," he said. "Careful, I don't know if the glue's set yet. I had a shot at fixing it while you were in the Emergency Room."
Blair looked from the figurine to Jim, before reaching out to take it. "Thank you," he said simply, but Jim could see the gratitude shining in his eyes.
"Maybe one day you'll tell me the story behind that," Jim said as they made their way to the front door of the apartment building.
Blair nodded. "One day," he agreed. "You know," he said as he settled back against the wall of the elevator with a tired sigh and winced as he rubbed his butt. "An herbal poultice would have done just as much good as those jabs in the butt the doctor gave me, perhaps even more. It's widely known that the super-viruses that are around today are caused by too many "
"Welcome home." Jim smiled, tipped his head back, closed his eyes and listened with half an ear to his partner's tirade against modern medicine, while the ancient elevator trundled slowly upward to deposit its passengers on the third floor.
14TH May 2003