PACKING UP

By: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@ozemail.com.au

AUTHOR'S WEBSITE: http://brothersinarms.tvheaven.com

DISCLAIMERS: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Petfly, UA and Paramount. This fanfiction was written for my own and others’ enjoyment and no money has been paid. No copyright infringement is intended.

CATEGORY: Drama, H/C, Angst.

RATING: PG (V) (L)

Author’s notes: For Dawn, who asked for some fic, with conditions attached. (g)

"Packing up"

Blair Sandburg blew the dust off the topmost book on the pile and sneezed violently. He fumbled blindly for a tissue in his pocket, coming up finally with a crumpled half piece. He swatted at his tearing eyes then dropped the Kleenex to the floor and used his hand to wipe the yearlong’s accumulated dust from his notebooks.

It was nine o’clock at night and he was beginning to regret his decision to return to the university. In the wake of his dissertation fiasco and his subsequent fraud admission, Blair had been ordered by the Chancellor to remove everything from his office. He’d done that a week before.

It had been no easy task, packing up the contents of his life’s work and studies, all the time feeling disapproving eyes upon him as he carried his gear to the car. He’d had no choice but to perform that unpleasant duty at lunch time when it seemed the university grounds were at their fullest. Jim had gone to visit Simon at the hospital and Blair had taken the opportunity offered to collect his things alone. Jim had been prepared to go with him and help, but it was something he felt needed to do alone, as he had the press conference.

He knew that Jim was desperately trying to atone for his behavior over the past few weeks, and he was grateful for the overture. Blair however, had forgiven his friend long before, more than willing to accept his portion of blame in the debacle. He thought though, that he’d been holding his emotions in check pretty well. He knew if he let Jim get too close now, the dam would break.

The previous week’s experience of walking to his car loaded up with boxes was not one that Blair wanted to repeat. The cartons reached up to his chin and he thought about making two trips, then decided against it. He just wanted to get out of the place and not prolong the agony.

Everyone he met in his trip across the courtyard moved quickly out of his way. Nobody had offered to help him even when the pile had tipped and the top box had fallen to the ground, spilling its contents. With a defeated sigh that sounded ominously close to a sob, Blair knelt and retrieved his papers.

The offer from Simon that same afternoon to become Jim’s official partner had come like a bolt from the blue and Blair was still to give the captain an answer. His confused thoughts had kept him awake every night since as he weighed the pros and cons of such a drastic move in his career and life.

Working alongside Jim while he completed his dissertation was a very different thing from working with Jim. The past few months since Alex had blown into their lives and turned them upside down had proved to Blair how much Jim valued trust. Twice now, Blair had betrayed that trust and once he had almost paid for his lapse with his own life. Jim had resuscitated him and those actions had sparked the deep bond that now linked them. Despite their friendship, Blair wasn’t sure if he could be the partner that Jim needed him to be nor indeed if Jim could ever trust him enough again to put his life in Blair’s hands.

Blair sighed, pulling himself back to the present and the task at hand. He wiped his hand over his sweaty brow, leaving a dirty streak. Until Jason Price had called, Blair had forgotten all about this last box of notebooks and sketches. He’d managed to rescue them from the warehouse that he called home until it blew up in his face. The contents though had been covered in ash and laden with smoke. After Jim had been kind enough to take Blair in, the last thing the anthropologist wanted to do was to offend Jim’s sentinel nose.

His friend and fellow TA, Jason, had come to the rescue, telling him he could store them in his office. As they had nothing to do with his sentinel research, Blair had accepted the offer gladly. There, they had remained for the last three years, both Blair and Jason completely forgetting about them.

Until Blair had done his star turn on television. He’d received a call from Jason the night before. His voice was cool and distant and had Blair wishing desperately that he could explain, to tell him that he hadn’t lied at all. Knowing that was not a viable option, he’d listened silently as Jason had informed him of the box’s whereabouts and demanded that he come down the following day to pick it up. Before hanging up, Jason made a last request. Could Blair please come when he wasn’t there?

Blair snorted as he picked up the box and hefted it against his chest. He could do better than that. He could come when only the janitor was around to look down upon him. He felt immediately sorry for that ungenerous thought. Old Joe Morris was as kind a person as Blair had ever met and had never said an unkind word to him.

Blair moved to the door and fumbled behind him to pull the door closed, at the same trying to keep the box balanced against his chest. He’d arranged for Joe to come up when he was done and lock Jason’s office. He made his way toward the entrance to Hargrove Hall and called out to the janitor on his way past. Joe gave him a friendly wave and got up slowly, reaching for his master keys.

‘’Bye, Joe.’

He congratulated himself when he made it to the car without incident. He placed the box on the hood of the Volvo, shivering slightly in the chill night air, then pulled his keys from his pocket.

Footsteps behind him startled him and he turned, expecting to find Joe rushing up with some forgotten item.

"Hey, Teach. Need a hand?"

Blair smiled uncertainly at Luke Hayes. "I’ve got it. Thanks anyway."

Robbie Hoskins sidled casually over to the box of notes and began to pull on the flaps. "Whatcha got in here, Mr. Sandburg? Maybe exam answers or something, huh?"

Blair moved quickly to the youth’s side and placed his hand over Robbie’s. "Be careful, would you? They’re just some old notebooks."

"Nothing important then?" Robbie answered. With the flick of a powerful wrist, he tore back the flaps on the box and watched in amusement as the first several loose sheets flew up into the air and skittered across the car park. "Whoops!"

Blair moved slowly back so that he was leaning against the driver’s side door and fisted his keys in his hand. He looked around the advancing circle of students, there were now two more that he hadn’t noticed nor did he recognize them. He swallowed past the lump in his throat and held his place defiantly. "What do you want, guys?"

Luke laughed as he stepped closer. "Just wanted to give you a farewell present, Teach. I mean, we didn’t get a chance to say good bye to our buddy, Brad after you got him thrown in prison."

"He was convicted of murder," Blair protested. He cried out as Robbie’s hand grasped his arm and pulled it up and behind his back.

"That’s a good one coming from a liar and a cheat," the well-built student hissed in his ear. "Now you pay."

The first blow from Luke’s fist stole his breath and Blair fought to double up. Robbie’s iron grip on his arm did not allow it however and several more punches slammed into his stomach before his arm was released and he was allowed to slump to the cold hard ground. The others joined in the attack then, boots joining fists, all finding their target with brutal unerring accuracy.

Blair was no longer feeling the single blows and was not even trying to fight back, desperate only to attempt to shield his vulnerable ribs from further damage. Just as blackness began to encroach upon his vision, the assault suddenly stopped and he heard the footsteps moving rapidly away as a far away voice ordered them to leave him alone.

He managed to roll himself onto his side as blood trickled down his throat from his nose and threatened to choke him. He coughed weakly then cried out as the effort caused fire to rip through his chest. He lay on the hard ground and attempted to take shallow breaths as he rocked back and forth trying to will away the pain.

Gentle hands lifted his head and shoulders from the earth and he batted at them weakly as the movement reawakened the agony in his ribs and wrenched shoulder.

"Mr. Sandburg, sir? Can you walk? I need to call for an ambulance but I don’t want to leave you alone, in case they come back."

Blair gestured carefully in the direction of his car as he accepted Joe’s assistance and pulled himself back to lean against his car.

"No," he wheezed, holding his ribs. "No ambulance. I’m okay." He kept his words clipped and economic as his chest tightened and he fought for breath in the aftermath of the adrenaline rush.

Joe Morris looked decidedly unconvinced but after a moment, he nodded and held out his hand. "Give me your car keys and I’ll get the door open for you."

He waited until Blair held out a trembling hand and dropped the keys into his, then turned and quickly had the door open. Spying an old blanket lying across the back seat, he picked that up too before backing out and draped it across the shivering man’s shoulders.

Blair felt the split in his lip with his tongue and grimaced at the metallic taste. His face felt swollen and throbbed in time with the agony that was his chest and he concentrated on calming his breathing. He probably did need to go to the hospital but there was no way he was going in an ambulance. He’d had more than his share of publicity lately and he wasn’t about to invite more.

Joe helped him to stand unsteadily and looked at him doubtfully. "Are you sure you’ll be all right, Mr. Sandburg? You sure don’t look it."

Blair smiled at the old man, wincing as it opened the cut in his lip. "If I think I need to go to the hospital, Joe, I’ll get my partner to take me."

"All right." Joe stood back as Blair slid awkwardly into the driver’s seat, holding his ribs and hissing in pain. Blair drove slowly toward the loft, mindful of the lightheadedness that assaulted him. He felt alternately hot and cold and sweat coated his skin, causing him to shiver uncontrollably.

The shock of the attack finally caught up with him and his stomach rebelled violently. He stopped the car and opened the door, leaning out as he heaved blood and the meager contents of his stomach onto the bitumen. The spasms caused red-hot fire to rise from his abused stomach muscles and claw at his ribs and he squeezed his eyes tightly shut as tears overflowed and ran down his cheeks to mingle with the blood from his abused lip.

He sat for long minutes to catch his breath then looked up and realized that he’d stopped on the corner of Prospect Ave. Just ahead he could see Jim’s truck parked in its usual spot. He let his gaze travel upwards and bit back a sob as he recognized the welcoming lights of the loft.

~o0o~


It was more difficult than he’d thought to get himself out of the car and into the apartment building. He started to drag the box of notebooks out with him, then, feeling the painful tug on his bruised ribs, against his better judgement, left it on the seat. Maybe Jim would come get it for him.

Jim.

The name gave him pause. One part of him ached for his Blessed Protector to come to his rescue while another side of him, that part associated with self-survival, shuddered at the reaction he was going to get when his partner saw what trouble magnet Sandburg had brought down upon himself this time.

He shuffled slowly into the elevator and punched the button for his floor, idly noting the mud that encrusted his hand. He attempted to pull himself up to stand straighter, ignoring the pain that clawed at him and made him want to curl into a sobbing ball on the floor. As he shifted, he caught sight of his face in the polished metal of the control panel and gasped despite himself.

His face sported numerous bruises just beginning to darken and his left eye was swollen almost shut. It was an almost identical injury to the one he’d been given by Brad Ventriss’s goons and he nearly laughed aloud at the irony of it. He licked his puffy lips again, grimacing at the coppery tang of blood and sighed. There was no way he was going to be able to obfuscate his way out of this one.

Blair fumbled to get his key into the lock and cursed as it fell from his shaking hands. As he stood looking at them, wondering if they would magically jump up and save him the agony of bending, the door opened and he looked up.

If he hadn’t been in so much pain, watching Jim’s face show so many different emotions at once would have been amusing. Instead he simply said "Hey," and then slid ungracefully to the floor as his knees buckled and refused to hold him up.

~o0o~

Jim’s shock was so complete that he was unable to react quickly enough to stop Blair’s collapse. He started as he heard the air rush out of his partner’s lungs in a pained gasp as he hit the floor. Not wasting time with questions, he bent down to the barely conscious man and slung an arm about his shoulders. He levered him into a standing position and moved them both carefully over to the couch, pushing Blair gently back to lie flat against the cushions.

"You want to tell me what happened?" Jim asked as he pushed Blair’s sweat damp hair from his face in order to get a good look at the damage inflicted.

Blair slowly opened his eyes. "Had to go to the U to pick up some stuff. Seems no one wants a fraud’s notebooks cluttering up their office." He said it as a throwaway line but tears brimmed suddenly and he raised a shaky, filthy hand to wipe them away.

Jim intercepted the hand with his own and brushed the moisture away from Blair’s bruised cheeks. "Did he do this?"

"No. He asked me to come after he left for the day. It was a couple of Brad Ventriss’s buddies. They wanted to even the score and punching out a fraud seemed a pretty good idea to them." He looked away and stared at the wall past Jim’s shoulder.

"You’re not a fraud," Jim said as he started to lift Blair’s shirt.

"They don’t know that," Blair replied sulkily. He stopped when he saw the look of pain that flashed across Jim’s face. "Oh God, Jim. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that."

Jim squeezed his hands gently. "It’s all right. Let me take a look at the damage." He lifted Blair’s tee and sweater and grimaced at what he found. "Oh shit, Blair. This doesn’t look good. I think I’d better take you to the hospital." He stroked a hand gently down the worst of the bruises and looked worriedly at Blair’s battered face.

"No," Blair said, then winced as the effort twinged more muscles. "No hospital. It’s just bruises and cuts, Jim. Run me a hot bath and I’ll go soak for awhile." He wasn’t as sure as he sounded but pushed the advantage as he saw Jim waver. "You can take care of me better than any hospital."

Jim sighed in defeat then nodded. "All right, for now. If I think, for any reason, that you need to see a doctor, you’re going, no arguments, right?"

"Right," Blair agreed. "Help me up."

"Once I’ve got you settled in bed, I’ll call Simon. He can get someone to come sit with you while I go round these fuckers up."

"Jim! No!" Blair reached for Jim’s hand and gasped as the sudden movement sparked fresh pain. "Please. Let Simon handle it. If you lose it…"

Jim stared at him for moment then slowly nodded. "Let’s get you cleaned up and into bed."

The trip to the bathroom was harrowing to say the least, and Blair was gray with pain by the time Jim deposited him on the toilet seat. He felt the hot/cold sensation return and moaned as the room did a sudden flip. "Jim. I’m going to…"

The world began to darken around the edges and he came back to his senses with Jim holding him over the basin, rubbing a gentle hand along his back as his stomach attempted to turn itself inside out.

"Hospital," Jim said decisively when the convulsions finally stopped.

"No, I’m okay. Just all caught up with me."

"Blair..."

"Run me a warm bath," Blair said, attempting a wan smile. "Does wonders for bruised muscles."

Jim groaned then nodded his agreement before turning back to run the bath. After helping Blair into the warm water, not holding back muttered curses as the full extent of his injuries were revealed, he left Blair to wash the mud and blood from his hair and body.

Once the dirt was removed, Jim could see that Blair’s worst injuries were indeed mostly deep bruising to his ribs and back. He couldn’t discern any internal bleeding or fractures but decided that this was one time he was not trusting his sentinel senses totally. At the first sign of Blair’s condition worsening, he was calling an ambulance.

Jim helped Blair out of the bath, bandaged his injuries and soothed his bruises with liniment, then forced him to take some heavy duty painkillers. Blair settled himself on the couch, wrapping the afghan about his still shaky body. As he watched Blair finally succumb to his pain and exhaustion, Jim roused his partner and steered him toward his bedroom. Once he had the drowsy man tucked beneath the warm covers, he headed for the phone.

~o0o~

One week later:

Blair shuffled out of the bathroom and smiled at Jim who was bent over the stove, stirring the eggs.

"Good morning," Jim said. "How are you feeling?"

Blair stretched both arms up above his head before he spoke. "Pretty good."

The bruising from the beating was fading quickly now, leaving sickly looking yellow stains peppering his chest and back. The nightmares from the attack had been slower to disappear but they were waking him less frequently since Simon had phoned with the news that the third student involved in Blair’s beating had finally been apprehended at a bus station trying to leave the city.

Jim was pleased that the animals that had caused his friend so much pain had been arrested. His relief was tempered by anger that one of the boy’s fathers had hired a fancy lawyer to try and convince the judge that the charge of aggravated assault be downgraded to simple assault. They had received little more than a slap on the wrist. All three had, however, been expelled from the university.

"You didn’t have to get up this early, you know," he said to Blair as he turned back to serve up the eggs. "I’m only doing paperwork at the station today on the Myers case and you don’t have school." He slammed his mouth shut with an audible snap but the words had already escaped. He heard Blair sigh deeply and swore softly at his lapse.

"Blair. I’m sorry."

Blair waved a hand in dismissal as he headed toward the stairs. "It’s cool, man. You’re right. Now that I’m feeling better, I kind of forgot. I’m already up though, so I’ll get some cleaning and laundry done. You want me to take your good jacket into the cleaners for you?"

"No, I did it yesterday." Jim spoke past the lump in his throat. "Thanks, though."

"Okay." Blair continued up the stairs, his shoulders resolutely squared, his pace never faltering.

By the time Blair came back downstairs, Jim had eaten what he could force down his throat and was shrugging into his jacket. He watched Blair walk over to the couch and sink down with an exaggerated sigh. "Guess I finally get to see whether "Days of our lives" is really just as good without MacDonald Carey."

He grinned up at his friend but his eyes remained sad. "Go on," he said, making a shooing motion with his hand. "Get out of here or you’ll have Simon on your case again."

Jim stood for a moment, awkwardly moving his car keys from hand to hand. Finally, he headed to the front door. He opened the door then paused. "So, I’ll see you tonight then."

Blair nodded but didn’t look up from the TV guide he was engrossed in. Jim sighed and shut the door. He drove to work on instinct alone, unable to shake the image of Blair sitting on the couch looking lost and incredibly alone.

~o0o~

Simon summoned him the moment he entered the bullpen then glanced behind him. "Did Sandburg come in with you?"

"No," Jim replied. "He’s pretty much recovered from the beating but I’ve got the Myers report to type up so I told him to stay at home. Wish I hadn’t, actually."

"Still finding it hard to adjust to life without Rainier, huh?"

"You could say that," Jim agreed grimly.

"Has he said anything about his decision regarding the police academy?"

Jim sighed again. He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. "He hasn’t mentioned it and I haven’t brought it up. I don’t want him to think I’m pressuring him and I sure as hell don’t want him taking it up because he’s bored at home."

"Of course. You’re right. You’re right." Simon nodded then ushered Jim into his office and gestured toward the phone. "Phone him, will you? Tell him to get his butt in here. We could use him on this one."

Jim looked questioningly at Simon then made the call before seating himself. "What do we have?"

~o0o~

Blair looked carefully at the grainy images on the photo before him. He willed his stomach to behave as it rolled, the feeling all too familiar to him when he was looking at crime scenes. Particularly when they were as gory as this one. He reached for the magnifying glass, smiling at Jim as the detective held out the item he sought.

"Thanks. I don’t know for sure, Captain. These markings etched into the dirt around the girl’s head do look vaguely familiar and then there’s the way the body’s been placed just so. Certainly has a cultic feel to it. Let me do some research. I’ll get back to you in an hour or two." With that, he stood and stretched before favoring both men with a smile then headed out the door.

Jim grinned, pleased to see the familiar bounce back in Blair’s step. Whatever decision Blair made, Jim knew that he’d be okay.

~o0o~

Jim looked over at his guide who was seated on the couch, TV remote in hand.

"You were really in your element today," Jim said. "The captain was really impressed with how quickly you came up with the information on that cult."

"Yeah, well, I won’t consider it a victory until we catch the bastard who killed that poor girl," Blair said.

"Have you made a decision yet, regarding Simon’s offer?"

Blair stood and walked over to the kitchen and filled the kettle with water. "I don’t know yet, Jim. If it’s the only way I can stay around and help you with your senses then I’ll do it but I’m just not sure if I’m cut out to be a cop."

"Before you make a decision, let me look into a couple of options," Jim said. He stood and walked up the stairs toward his room.

Blair hurried after him, reaching up to grab Jim’s arm. "What sort of options?" he asked warily.

Jim shrugged and smiled at Blair. "Paid consultant, that type of thing."

"Oh, Jim. That would be great," Blair replied. "I could do that."

Jim smiled at his partner. "Are you kidding, Darwin? You’d be great."

FIN

-03.25.01

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