LIMITS OF TRUST
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DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Di Meo and Bilson, Petfly and Paramount. This fan fic was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This little snippet came to me after an unpleasant occurrence recently. Some of you will know what I'm talking about. Let's just say I needed a gigantic angst and owie fix and so did Wolfshy.
For Wolfshy, you're not alone.
Set early Season One.
Detective Jim Ellison made his way into the Major Crimes bullpen still chuckling quietly over the far-fetched story that Sandburg had related to him while he'd driven the grad student over to the university. The kid's car was in the shop again, though this time the damage had not been Blair's fault. A thief who had been trying to escape Jim's clutches had sideswiped him. Jim shook his head, remembering that day. If it hadn't been for Blair, the perp would have gotten away and Jim himself would have been at the very least injured, if not dead.
The detective had zoned in the middle of an alley, his control over his sentinel senses still shaky. Blair had used his car to block off one end of the alley and then charged into the firefight, managing somehow to only get grazed on the arm by a stray bullet in the process before dragging Jim out of firing range. The thief had tried to drive straight through Sandburg's car in his panic to get away. Either way, the impetuous grad student could have been killed.
Jim shook his head again and added a sigh for good measure. It wasn't the first time the anthropologist had thrown himself headfirst into Jim's investigations without thought for the consequences. Perhaps the tales he'd been telling about some of his narrow escapes in New Guinea and Mexico weren't as far-fetched as Jim had first thought.
The detective stopped his trek to his desk at his captain's summons and made his way into Simon's office. "Yes, sir?"
The big police captain looked up from the papers on his desk and motioned Jim in. "That'll be all for now, Brown," he told the young detective who stood on the opposite side of the desk.
Henri Brown nodded and turned. "Thanks, captain." He looked at Jim quickly, then walked out with only a terse nod for the senior detective, his usually jovial attitude notably absent.
Simon continued to peruse his notes for a few seconds longer, then he stood and turned to pour two cups of coffee. He offered one to Jim. "It's straight, no flavors," he said.
"Thanks." Jim accepted the cup and sat at Simon's invitation. He watched with concern as Simon lowered himself back to his seat and then paused, obviously thinking about what he wanted to say.
"Where's Sandburg today?"
"He had to be at Rainier all day, sir," Jim answered. "He had to submit a grant proposal and do some office hours with his students. He won't be in until tomorrow. Is there something wrong?"
Simon sat back and linked his big hands behind his head. "That was quite a chance he took at the Rowen collar the other day. Did you get him to fill out the insurance forms about his car?"
"Yeah, though there's some question over whether he's entitled to compensation as he'd signed a waiver to qualify for the ride-along." Jim took a sip of his coffee, then placed the cup on the desk. "All right, Simon, come clean. What's going on?"
Simon nodded. "How well do you know Sandburg, Jim?"
Jim shrugged. "Well enough. I mean I've only known him for a couple of months but he's had all the standard police checks and so on. He's doing really well on teaching me to control these senses of mine and he's quick on the uptake, smart. He just seems to have a natural affinity for knowing how to guide me through using my senses. I wish he'd learn the meaning of stay in the truck but we're working on it." Jim grinned but sobered quickly when Simon merely nodded again and shuffled the papers on his desk.
"I've had some reports coming into me about personal items and cash going missing from the bullpen," the captain finally said. "You know that the rule is if you want something kept safe, you leave it in your locker and you know as well as I do that the rule doesn't often get adhered to. Most of the time, it's easier and saves hassle if you keep your stuff in your desk drawer."
"You think Sandburg's stealing from us?" Jim stood up quickly, not noticing the coffee that sloshed from his cup as he knocked the desk.
"Calm down a minute, Jim and think," Simon said, reaching over with his handkerchief to mop up the spill. "This has only been occurring over the past few weeks. I find it hard to believe that police officers that have been working together for years would suddenly start stealing from each other. It's mostly small amounts, pocket change and inexpensive items, lighters, watches and so on, but it's escalating in both frequency and amount. Henri just reported that the $200 he had stashed in his drawer to buy his latest lady a birthday gift went missing yesterday."
Jim nodded slowly. That certainly explained Brown's nervous reaction to him this morning. "When would Sandburg have taken it. I mean, there's usually someone in here at all times."
"Usually but not always," Simon added. "There's never been a reason to leave someone here. It could be done when you two are the only ones here and you come in to talk to me or go get a file. I don't know, Jim. Look, I want you to talk to him. He never seems to have two pennies to rub together."
"Exactly," Jim tossed in. "Doesn't that prove he's not the one?"
"I hardly think he'd be throwing the cash around the same place he stole it from. Look, Jim, I hope it's not the kid but I sure as hell don't like the alternative either. I want to keep this as an inter-office investigation but if I don't turn up some leads soon, I'm going to have to turn it over to IA and Robbery. See what you can find out."
"Yes, sir." Jim turned and moved to the door. "You're wrong about Sandburg, sir," he said as he put his hand on the doorknob. "I know it."
"I hope you're right, Jim. I really do."
Jim unlocked the door to his apartment and trudged wearily inside, his thoughts still preoccupied with Simon's allegations. There was no way that Jim could believe that Sandburg was a thief, though. The young man was simply too nice, too honest, too good.
It was true that Sandburg never seemed to have any cash. On the few occasions that the two men had gone out together for a meal, Jim had always insisted on picking up the tab, considering it payment for the many things Blair did for him, in addition to helping Jim with his senses.
The sentinel stuff was an entirely separate issue, Jim thought. It was a quid pro quo situation just as Sandburg had suggested the first day they'd met at Rainier in Blair's tiny office - cum - storage room. On top of that, though, the grad student helped Jim with his paper work and accompanied him on stakeouts, helped interview witnesses and felons alike. The kid could get the most hardened criminal to admit to almost anything in minutes. He had a manner, an aura that made people gravitate to him and trust him with their innermost secrets.
Blair on his part, appeared to take it all in his stride, on the surface at least. Only Jim knew of the times at crime scenes, when Blair had done his job, grounding Jim, whispering advice as the detective had used his heightened senses to find clues. Then he'd excuse himself with a calm manner, his face sheet-white and walk quickly outside to find some quiet corner in which to throw up.
Jim pulled a beer from the refrigerator and tossed the cap onto the counter. He walked into the living room and was just lowering himself to the couch when someone knocked at the door. With a weary sigh, the detective placed his beer on the coffee table and made his way over to open it. He was surprised to see Blair standing on the other side, a six pack of beer in one hand and a wide grin on his face.
"Sandburg? What are you doing here? I thought your car was in the shop until tomorrow."
Blair's smile slipped a bit and he took a step back, then seemed to shake himself and held up the beer. "I come bearing gifts."
Jim nodded. "So I see."
The two stood in awkward silence for a moment, then Blair spoke up. "I'm sorry. This was stupid of me. I should have phoned first. Made sure you were free. I was so excited, I didn't think. Sorry." He turned to leave but before he could step away, Jim caught his arm.
"It's no problem," the detective said sincerely. "Come on in."
Blair still hesitated. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. You just took me by surprise, that's all."
The smile finally came back to Blair's face and he nodded and followed the detective into the apartment. Walking into the kitchen, he put the beer in the fridge, taking one from the plastic pack for himself. Coming out into the living room, he gestured at the coffee table. "I see you've already started," he said, lowering himself into the armchair opposite Jim. "Rough day?"
Jim nodded and took a swig of his beer. "Yeah, you could say that. So, what are we celebrating?"
"Oh, I got the grant."
Jim tipped his bottle at the grad student and sat back on the couch. "That's great. Congratulations. What are you going to study?"
"The effect of television violence on Primates." He waved a vague hand at Jim's blank look. "Don't worry. I'll explain it some other time. Anyway, I hope you haven't eaten because there's a couple of pizzas on the way. I ordered them before I left."
"How did you get here?" Jim asked.
"Caught a cab," Blair said casually, taking a swallow of his beer.
"You rob a bank or something?" Jim asked, then felt the words stick in his throat.
Blair shrugged. "Or something. Actually, my mom sent me $200 for my birthday."
"I thought your birthday was last month," Jim said, feeling his mouth go dry.
Blair didn't seem to notice his discomfort. "It was," he said. "But she was in Nepal then and couldn't send it, so she waited until she got back to the States. She knows how I'm always scraping by, so she sends me $200 every birthday and Christmas. Most of the time, I use it for books, rent, food."
"You'd better put it aside then for what you need," Jim advised. He felt his stomach begin to churn ominously.
Blair shook his head cheerfully and got up. "Don't need to, man. I've got the grant money coming in. Besides, after all the times you've helped me out and paid for dinner, it's the least I could do." He looked over at the door as a knock sounded. "That's probably the pizzas now." Pulling a battered wallet from his pocket, he extracted some bank notes as he headed for the door. He turned and carried the pizzas to the dining table, but Jim still sat on the couch, his legs feeling leaden. "I'm just going to wash up, okay?" Blair said.
Jim nodded mutely and stood. "I'll set the table."
Blair stopped at the bathroom door. "Jim? Is everything all right?"
Jim stopped mid-stride to the kitchen. He took a deep breath and fixed a weak smile on his face. "Sure. We, um, need to talk but let's eat first."
"Okay." With a final puzzled look, Blair disappeared into the bathroom.
Jim waited until he heard the lock click, then quickly made his way over to where Blair's ever-present backpack sat on the floor under the coat hooks. With a shaky hand and a heavy self-loathing, Jim picked up the bag and opened the straps. Pulling back the flap, he opened the top and took a cursory look inside. Nothing appeared out of place. The backpack held Blair's usual assortment of text books and notepads, along with numerous loose sheets of paper. Jim pushed his hand inside the backpack and felt around.
"Looking for something?"
Jim dropped the pack like it was a hot potato, cursing as he heard something shatter within as it hit the floor. "Shit!" He knelt on the floor, and tipped the pack up, frowning as the broken shards of a pill bottle fell out. Blair knelt beside him and scooped them up before Jim had a chance to read the label, carrying the pieces quickly to the bin in the kitchen and depositing them inside.
Jim stood slowly. "I'm sorry, Chief."
Blair stopped at the kitchen counter and leaned back against it, his arms crossed over his chest, looking both belligerent and vulnerable all at once. "You didn't answer my question," he said. "Why were you going through my backpack?"
"What are the pills for?" Jim replied. "I didn't know you were sick."
Blair shook his head. "I asked first. What's going on, Jim?"
"Shit!" Jim groaned loudly and scrubbed tiredly at his eyes. "Some money and valuables have been going missing from the bullpen and Simon "
"You think I've been stealing from you?" Blair suddenly stood ramrod straight, his blue eyes wide.
"No! It's just that there hasn't been anybody else around apart from the usual personnel and the others don't know you as well as I do."
Blair's eyes flashed blue ice. "Obviously, you don't know me as well as I thought you did."
"I didn't think it was you," Jim said miserably, knowing how lame he sounded. "I already told Simon that. But you turn up with beer and pizzas, in a cab when you never have two pennies to rub together and you say your mom sent you $200, the exact amount that Brown had stolen out of his desk drawer yesterday "
"Henri thinks I stole from him?" Blair's voice broke and he walked over to his backpack. Kneeling down, he scooped the spilled contents back inside, then slung it onto his back and opened the door. He was halfway to the stairs before Jim could even react.
"Sandburg, get back here and let's talk about this."
"Nothing more to say, Jim." With that, Blair hurried down the stairs. Jim debated going after him but knew it was useless. He still didn't believe that Blair had anything to do with the robberies from the bullpen. What he needed though was proof. Suddenly feeling enormously tired the detective cleared up the remains of their spoiled celebratory dinner and went to bed. By the time dawn broke, he was still awake but he was confident that he had a way to clear Sandburg's name.
Jim knocked at Simon's office door and waited for the invitation to enter. The captain was seated in his usual seat but he was hunched over something on his desk and his face was troubled. "Have you seen Sandburg today, Jim?"
Jim shook his head. "I was just about to phone him and ask him to come down."
Simon looked up sharply at his words. "Is this about the thefts?"
"Yes sir." Jim couldn't suppress a triumphant smile as he held up a videotape. "I'd like to know for a start why the security tapes weren't checked the minute money started disappearing, sir. I've found our thief."
Simon's mouth opened and then he sighed. "I take it it's not Sandburg?"
"No, sir," Jim replied. He sat down in the seat opposite Simon and pushed the video over to his captain. "Sally Thomas, the new refreshment girl. Clear evidence, sir."
Simon's shoulders slumped. "Good work, Jim. And I'll look into why the tapes weren't checked. Although I hope it's not too little, too late."
Simon held up a badge. "This is Sandburg's observer ID. He must have come in early this morning and left it on my desk. You didn't know anything about this? He didn't discuss it with you?"
Jim stood and paced the room. "He came over last night. Brought beer and a pizza, said he wanted to celebrate getting his grant. He said his mother sent him $200 for his birthday." Jim turned a saddened face to his captain. "It wasn't that I disbelieved him. I just needed to be sure. He caught me searching his backpack."
"Shit!" Simon said feelingly. Then he thumped his fist on the desk. "Go! Find your partner and drag his ass back here. I'll organize Brown and Smith to pick up Miss Thomas and bring her in."
"He may not want to come back, sir," Jim said as he opened the office door. "I can't say I'd blame him."
"Give him this." Simon tossed the ID through the air and Jim caught it in one hand. "Tell him if he still wants to leave after I apologize, he can do it to my face."
Blair shifted slightly, trying vainly to find a comfortable position on the lumpy sofa. A cold wind whistled around the ill-fitting window frames of the abandoned warehouse he called home and he shivered violently. Reaching down to pull the thin blanket up around his shoulders, he winced as the movement awoke fresh pain in his badly swollen hands. He wondered once more if he should have gone back to the clinic and gotten another prescription for antibiotics since Jim had broken the first bottle.
Almost immediately he nixed that thought. Turning up at any medical facility in his condition would have been bound to provoke an investigation and that was more than Blair thought he could stand right now. It was enough that the man who Blair had come to think of as his best friend now believed him to be a thief and an opportunist. A tear snaked its way down his hot cheek and Blair could not hold back the sob that was wrenched from a throat so tight with tears, he thought he would choke. Giving in to his abject misery, Blair curled himself tighter into a ball, ignoring the protests of his battered body, and cried himself to sleep.
He wasn't sure how much later he awoke, his heart pounding and his breath coming in panicked gasps as he fought off the remnants of a nightmare. Pushing himself up to sit on the old sofa, he rested his head on his knees and fought to slow his breathing as nausea surged in his stomach.
Finally he gave into the sickness assailing him and staggered to the bathroom. He knelt before the toilet bowl and heaved painfully, more tears streaming from beneath his tightly clenched eyelids, though this time they were caused by the physical pain as the vomiting tore at stomach muscles bruised by angry fists.
It seemed a group of off-duty police officers had heard the rumors of Sandburg's thefts and, already suspicious of the long-haired hippie who waltzed into Major Crimes as though he owned the place, decided to take justice into their own hands.
It had been easy enough for them to discover Blair's address and they'd simply waited for him to return home from his trip downtown to hand in his observer's pass. He'd initially intended to wait at the precinct until both Simon and Jim arrived, to give them both a piece of his self-righteous anger before throwing his ID in their faces and walking out. When he arrived there however, he couldn't bear the thought of seeing Jim once more, knowing how difficult he would find it then to walk away. So, he'd gone in before dawn and left the badge on Banks' desk. No note, no confrontations. If they wanted to believe he was guilty, so be it. The only thing that still ate away at him was that Jim had believed he was capable of doing something like that. It seemed that the friendship had only ever been a one-way street, after all.
Even if he had been a skilled fighter, the sheer odds of numbers were against Blair making any attempt to defend himself, and a short, agony-filled time later, the gang of righteous vigilantes left him bruised, bleeding and almost unconscious on the ground outside the warehouse. He'd managed to drag himself inside and up the stairs to the small living space he'd made for himself and collapsed onto the couch.
There was no doubt in his mind that he couldn't report the attack. It was simply the word of an outsider, a suspected thief against the fine, upstanding police officers of Cascade. Making his mind up, he resolved to hole up here and lick his wounds until such time as he felt recovered enough to pack his things and get the hell out of Dodge.
A fresh bout of vomiting hunched him back over the toilet bowl and in his misery, he didn't hear the footsteps that echoed through the warehouse and then climbed the stairs to his home.
Blair managed to straighten enough to reach out one hand and push the bathroom door shut so that he was hidden from view, biting back a cry as pain knifed through his injured fingers. "Go away, Jim," he muttered, his voice scratchy from the vomiting. "I'm sick."
"You need some help, Chief?"
Jim's voice came from right outside the bathroom door and Blair almost lost his composure entirely at the utterance of his nickname. Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he managed a negative. "I think you should leave, man. I've got stomach 'flu or something."
"I've got something to tell you first," Jim insisted and Blair rested his head on the toilet seat and moaned softly. He didn't look up as he heard the bathroom door open.
"Sandburg? Are you all right?" Jim crossed swiftly to his side and knelt down beside him. Suddenly feeling enormously weak, Blair didn't fight when Jim gently pushed his hair away from his face and cupped a hand under his chin, angling his face into the meager light. "Jesus, Blair. Who did this to you?"
Blair pulled his face from Jim's hand and staggered back to his feet. He leaned on the hand basin shakily and turned on the tap, sluicing cold water over his face. "Don't you know how to knock?" he asked angrily.
"I knocked, you didn't answer but I could hear your heartbeat, so I knew you were home," Jim replied. He draped an arm around Blair's shoulders and half-carried the younger man out to the couch. Settling Blair down against the cushions, Jim hurried away and Blair could hear him in the bathroom, opening and closing the cabinet door. Then he was back kneeling beside the sofa. "Who did this, Blair?"
Blair looked away and studied the back of the sofa. "Doesn't matter," he whispered. "They thought I deserved it."
"Of course it matters," Jim growled. He grasped Blair's hand and jumped when Blair howled in pain and snatched his hand back to cradle it against his chest.
"Slammed it in the door," Blair whispered. "Said I wouldn't be able to steal anything with my hand out of action."
Jim gently raised the damaged hand and laid it on Blair's chest. Standing up, he quickly found a blanket and wrapped it around his shivering friend before coaxing the young man to his feet. "We need to get you to the hospital, buddy."
"No!" Blair squirmed from his grasp and would have fallen but for Jim's quick actions in catching him. "Nobody will believe me. Just leave it alone, Jim."
"Your right hand at least is broken, Sandburg," Jim said as he steered the young man firmly toward the door. "I'm not sure about the other one. Your face is bruised and swollen, so are your ribs and God knows what other injuries you might have. I'm taking you to the hospital."
"Fine," Blair shouted, pushing Jim's hands away. "You can drop me off at the emergency entrance."
"I'm not going to just dump you there, Chief," Jim said, his voice sounding shocked. "Youre my partner."
"Fine way you have of showing it," Blair said, knowing he sounded petulant and not caring. "You accused me of stealing from your friends. I thought you were my friend. I thought you'd know that I could never do that. I thought "
"I did know, Blair and I told Simon there was no way it could be you. I knew with a little time I could prove you had nothing to do with the thefts and then you came over with the money and the beer and the story that your mother sent you the money and despite knowing you as well as I do, I doubted you. I don't know if you can ever forgive me for that," Jim said.
He grasped Blair's shoulders and turned the young man to face him. "I know I don't deserve to be forgiven but I spent this morning going over the security videos from the bullpen and several other departments who chose not to mention that they were experiencing their own thefts. It's Sally, the new refreshment girl. Her boyfriend has an expensive drug habit and she's been keeping him supplied. You're in the clear, Chief."
Blair didn't fight Jim now. He stared at the other man, his slightly unfocused eyes blinking slowly as he tried to take in what Jim had said. "You knew it wasn't me?"
"Youre my friend, Blair, my partner. I know you could never do anything like that."
Jim's voice sounded as though it was coming from a great distance and his vision suddenly blurred and wavered before blinking out entirely. He didn't feel Jim's arms envelop him in a strong grasp as he slumped toward the floor.
Minutes later, Jim had the unconscious man belted into the truck beside him and was making his way to the hospital, his lights and siren echoing his distress.
Ellison looked up at the soft voice and rolled up the tattered magazine he'd been leafing through while he waited for Blair to wake up. "Come on in, sir," he said as he saw Simon standing in the doorway of the hospital room.
Simon stepped up to the bed and looked down at the sleeping grad student, wincing in sympathy at the multitude of bruises that covered the young man's face. One hand was encased in a fresh white cast and rested on a pillow at his side. The other arm was heavily bandaged around the forearm and held in a sling on Blair's chest. An IV snaked under the blankets dripping fluid and medication into Blair's right ankle. "How is he?"
"Broken hand, bruised ribs, black eye, concussion, not to mention an infection in his arm from the bullet wound he got last week saving my sorry ass. Of course he did the right thing and went to the clinic and got antibiotics for the infection but I broke the bottle when I did an illegal search through his backpack. How do you think he is, sir?"
Simon looked sharply at the venomous tone in Jim's voice. "I didn't beat him up, Detective."
Jim looked away and reached out to stroke a gentle hand across Blair's brow as the young man shifted in the bed and muttered something incomprehensible. "I know that, sir but if this had been investigated and handled properly in the first place It's my fault, Simon. I knew he was innocent and I searched his damn bag, for Christ's sake. The kid finally has a run of good luck and I suspect him instantly. I don't deserve his friendship."
"I'm as much to blame as you are, Jim. Probably more so. I should have checked the security tapes first before I did anything else. I wouldn't blame the kid if he just upped and walked away in disgust as soon as he's able."
"I hope he doesn't," Jim replied. "I need him here with me."
"Because of your senses?"
"I guess but not just that." Jim sighed heavily. "It's complicated. Since Blair's been around, it's easier somehow. It's like he's the missing part of the puzzle. Like he's a part of me." He broke off at the soft moan that issued from Blair's lips and smiled as cloudy blue eyes slowly opened. "Hey there, Chief. How you doing? You going to stay awake long enough to talk to the doctor this time?"
"What happened?" Blair asked, his eyes flickering around the unfamiliar room in obvious puzzlement.
"I'm hoping you can tell us, Sandburg," Simon said, moving forward so that the student could see him. "I need you to tell me who attacked you."
Blair looked away again. "Doesn't matter," he whispered.
"Of course it matters, damn it," Simon growled, then frowned and lowered his voice when Blair winced, his broken hand going up to touch his head. "Sorry. Look, Sandburg, you were assaulted and these men have to be stopped. Do you want them to go do this to the next person they assume is guilty and pass judgement on? If we don't stop them now, we could have a vigilante group on our streets."
"I didn't think of that," Blair said. He looked at Jim. "Can I give you my statement?" Jim nodded silently then Blair continued. "I'm sorry I walked out on you, Jim but I couldn't bear to think about everyone thinking that I was a thief. I didn't steal Henri's money or anyone else's, I swear."
"We're the ones who should have apologized, Sandburg," Jim said. "We had you marked as guilty without a shred of evidence. I knew you wouldn't have done it and I still searched your things. I won't blame you at all if you don't want to come back to work with me."
"I don't want to leave but I can't go back there if everyone thinks I'm a thief."
"You're in the clear, Chief. Don't you remember me telling you we caught the woman?"
Blair shook his head at first, then nodded. Finally his eyes began to droop shut. "I don't know. I guess. I can't tell which parts I dreamed and which parts were real."
"Just rest," Jim soothed. "When you're feeling better I'll tell you the whole story."
"I want to go home," Blair whispered. "Got to work on your senses. Figure out how to stop you zoning so much."
"There'll be plenty of time for that when I take you home, Chief," Jim assured the drowsy man. "You're going to stay at my place until you're back on your feet."
"You don't have to do that," Blair answered as he fought to open his eyes. "I can look after myself."
"I know you can. It's not that I have to," Jim replied. "And before you say it, I'm not doing it because I feel responsible for what happened to you, though I do. It's just what friends and partners do for each other. You're going to need some help for a week or two so you're coming home with me. No arguments."
Blair smiled at that and finally began to give into the intoxicating lure of sleep. "No arguments. I'll show you how to make algae shakes for breakfast."
"Algae is not food, Chief."
"Sure it is," Blair insisted. "Algae is good for you, Jim. You really need to be more adventurous."
"I'll leave the adventures to you, Chief," Jim said. "You seem to have enough for both of us."
- February 2nd, 2002.
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