Feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.orgAuthors gen stories: http://brothersinarms.tvheaven.com
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DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and the characters therein are the property of Petfly, Paramount and UA. This fanfiction has been written for my own and others enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended. Just out for a little fun.
CATEGORY: Drama, Epilogue to Crossroads, H/C, Angst and a dose of Smarm.
RATING: PG. (V) (L)
AUTHORS NOTES: I always wanted to do an epilogue of Crossroads but many people have already written wonderful finales, so I decided to take it just a little further, literally.
Many thanks to my betas, Elaine, Katz and EJ. They deserve a medal for plodding through this and making it a much better story.
Simon Banks pulled his car into the space normally occupied by Jim Ellisons vehicle and turned off the engine. Turning his attention to the figure huddled in the seat beside him, he resisted the urge to brush the sweat-damp curls from the face, and instead gently shook the nearest shoulder.
"Sandburg? Blair? Were here, youre home."
The other man moved slightly in the seat, brushing Simons hand off with one of his own, then turning to slump, facing the window with a soft sigh.
Simon groaned and tried again. He reached out and squeezed Blairs shoulder then shook him a little more forcefully. Blair still felt too warm, his skin slick with sweat and his cheeks flushed with fever.
The anthropologist had appeared to recover fairly rapidly from the effects of the pseudo-virus that the townsfolk of Clayton Falls had been infected with. After the pursuit and capture of the men responsible, he had seemed to collapse a little, all his energy apparently expended on following Jim. The detective had decided to stay on to continue his week away, and though Simon could see the longing in Blairs eyes to stay with his partner, he had opted to return to Cascade with Simon.
Neither man had spoken much on the trip home. Simon had felt somewhat embarrassed that he had not recognized Jims need for time-out and that he had ridden roughshod over the mans request for solitude. Even worse, was his shame at cajoling Sandburg into accompanying him, ignoring Blairs obvious discomfort at the notion that Jim needed time away from him. Simon had pushed aside Blairs growing unease when theyd arrived in Clayton Falls and been treated to Jims less than effusive greeting.
When Blair had collapsed from whatever poisons the thieves had placed in the towns water, Jims concern had been only for his ailing friend, all thoughts of a week away quickly forgotten. Then Blair had accompanied Jim, although barely recovered, on a mad chase through the woods and a hair-raising ride on a stolen train then helped him capture the offenders.
Despite looking pale and drawn and less than up to a long road trip, hed insisted that Jim stay behind and enjoy his vacation, squared his shoulders and climbed into Simons sedan for the trip back to Cascade.
An hour out of Clayton Falls, those same resolute shoulders had shuddered and he demanded that Simon pull over. The captain did so with alacrity and watched with growing concern as Blair hurried from the car, waving away Simons offer of assistance and clutching his stomach. He stumbled a few steps before he fell to his knees in the long grass beside the road and violently ejected whatever remained in his stomach. He stayed for a long moment, hunched over, fighting to catch his breath then just as Simon became worried enough to exit the car, he struggled to his feet. He crawled back inside the vehicle and smiled weakly at Simon from an ashen face as the captain draped an emergency blanket about his shivering shoulders.
"Sorry," he whispered, his voice sounding raw from the vomiting. "Wont happen again. If you dont mind, Im going to get some sleep."
Simon eyed the young man and frowned worriedly. "Sandburg, do you think we should head on over to the hospital on the way home? Just to be on the safe side?"
Blair waved a hand in the negative. "Ill be fine," he croaked, curling up in the seat and wrapping the blanket more securely about him. "Just need some sleep."
"I meant to tell you before," Simon said. "You did really well out there today. Considering you were still recovering and all. Jim couldnt ask for a better partner."
Blair looked up and smiled gratefully; the captain could see the tears that welled in his eyes. "Thanks, Simon. That means a lot to me." He scrubbed at his reddened eyes, then yawned widely. "Must be more tired than I realized."
Simon nodded and started the car. "Get some sleep, Blair. Ill wake you when we get home."
"You with me yet, Sandburg?" Simon asked again, concern softening his normally gruff tone. Blair finally stirred and sat up in his seat. He rubbed at his eyes and pushed his unruly curls from his face.
" Yeah. Thanks, Simon," he said, sounding still half-asleep.
"You sure youre going to be all right on your own?" Simon asked, regarding Blairs pale features. Blair still sat hunched over slightly and was clutching at his stomach as though he was in pain.
"Ill be fine," Blair assured him as he got out of the car and opened the back door to retrieve his duffel bag and backpack. "Ill brew some herbal tea, get some more sleep." He squared his shoulders as he walked to stand by Simons open window. "Itll be nice to have the loft to myself for a few days too."
"Sandburg, about yesterday. Im sorry. I should have listened to you. Jim obviously needed some time alone and us turning up just made it awkward for the two of you."
Blair smiled and placed a hand through the window to pat Simons hand. "Its okay, Simon. You meant well. I know that," he said.
Simon continued. "You do know that Jim didnt mean this personally, dont you? He wasnt asking you to move out or anything."
Blair sighed and shifted the duffel bag to his other hand. "I dont know, Simon. I mean, he was right. Im always here, always in his face about doing some test on his senses. He offered me a roof over my head for a week, maybe Ive just overstayed my welcome."
Simon grew suddenly worried at the turn the conversation was taking. "Blair, if it wasnt for you and your knowledge regarding sentinels, Jim could very well be dead now, from a bullet or a zoneout or a combination of the two. You gave him back his sanity."
"Well, Jim obviously doesnt feel the same way. Look, Ill talk to Jim when he gets back. Find out what he wants to do." He patted Simons hand once more and hefted his backpack. "Thanks for the ride, Simon. Ill see you later."
Simon watched as Blair trudged slowly into the apartment building, giving a final wave of farewell before he disappeared from sight.
Blair unlocked the door to the loft and pushed the door open with his foot. Standing just inside the entrance, he put his bags down on the floor, then rubbed tiredly at his eyes. His stomach was still cramping periodically but the nausea was almost completely gone. He hoped that meant whatever had been in the water at Clayton Falls had finally worked its way through his system. He felt totally drained and weak, despite having just woken from a deep sleep. Stretching, he walked into the kitchen and filled the kettle with water. Setting it on the burner, he rummaged in the cupboard for teabags, muttering with displeasure when he could find none. He turned off the heating water and walked into the living room.
He collapsed with a groan onto the couch and allowed himself to fall sideways, pulling his legs up to ease his still tender abdominal muscles. He stared for a moment at his shoes draped over the couch cushions, small tufts of grass still clinging to the soles, then shook his head and snaked a hand out for the TV remote. Screw Jims house rules. The detective wasnt here to frown and argue.
After a few minutes of aimless channel surfing, Blair switched the TV off and sat up. The loft was eerily silent and he shivered a little. Hed spent many nights here alone and the solitude had never bothered him. Tonight, though, was different. The silence was deafening and almost suffocating. He couldnt stay here tonight. Perhaps never again. It didnt feel like home anymore.
Jim sat in the quiet café and watched as the people of Clayton Falls slowly picked up the pieces and got on with their lives. His fishing rod and accessories were loaded into his car but his mind kept drifting to other, more important things. So he sat and lingered over his coffee, trying to come to a decision.
He had not thought that Blair would take his request for time-out so personally. Jim had always been a solitary creature. Even his ex-wife, Carolyn had said that the majority of their marriage had been experienced through correspondence. Ships that passed in the night, shed said.
That had changed though, when he met Blair. Particularly, after the anthropologist had moved in to share his home. Over the ensuing weeks that had become months, Blair had come to be an integral part of the detectives life.
Until now, hed managed to convince himself that it was simply more convenient to have Sandburg right there, should he need help with his senses or as backup. It was true too, that the anthropologist, while well meaning, was sometimes just too ebullient for Jims rather more serious personality. Though the tests that Blair devised often made him feel like a lab rat, a freak, he knew that, many times, the knowledge gained from those same tests had saved his life and sanity.
Jim grinned to himself as he thought of his partner. Blair had become an annoying, necessary, wanted part of his life. His smile faded as he thought back to Blairs collapse the day before. Blair had gone suddenly white, sweat beading his brow, and as Jim had helped him from the building, his legs had given out, his body folding in on itself and he had begun retching violently. Simon had rushed off and found the medics, who had quickly loaded the ailing man onto a stretcher and hurried him into an isolation tent. Blair had awoken with the jostling of the stretcher, his frightened eyes searching immediately for his partner. Jim had reassured him as best he could, then watched with growing apprehension as Blair was carried from his sight, one shaky hand raised in a gesture of understanding.
The fact that the toxin had been a pseudo-virus, placed in the water to keep the townspeople occupied while the robbery was carried out, was no comfort to Jim. The majority had recovered quickly after rest. Blair, however, still looking weak and pale, had been dragged from his sickbed by the detective. Then they had rushed through the forest on a mad dash after the thieves. The fact that he had not questioned Jims decision, despite his obviously worsening condition, spoke volumes regarding his faith in the sentinel.
Jim pushed the coffee cup away and stood up. His appetite was gone and his mind made up. He headed over to the motel and paid his bill then continued on to call in on Linda, the vet who had helped them so much, to ensure that the town was recovering from the attack and said his good-byes, promising to return at another time for a fishing trip. Next time, he promised himself silently, he was bringing his partner with him. Loading his bags into the truck, he waved goodbye to Linda and steered his vehicle back toward Cascade.
Having made the decision to leave the loft, at least for a few days to think things over, Blair had been packing up the essential items that he needed to take with him. His eyes had alighted upon a scrunched up envelope serving as a bookmark in one of his textbooks. The letter inside the envelope was from an old friend, Paul Burns. Blair hadnt seen Paul since the latters wedding and now his friend was the proud father of a baby girl. Paul had issued Blair an invitation to visit and admire the new addition to the family. Blair had agreed to spend a few days in Seattle to view the new arrival sometime before the little girl started college and then had promptly immersed himself in his sentinel research and his work as Jims guide and forgotten all about it.
Now needing somewhere to lie low for a few days and lick his wounds, while finding another place to live, the invitation was perfect. Blair had withdrawn what cash remained in his bank account and left his share of last months rent on the counter in the loft, then hed phoned Paul, advising him of his visit. He picked his keys up from the small basket by the front door and, after a moments hesitation, slipped off the one for the front door. His mind made up; Blair walked over to where he had left his bags. Hefting his duffel bag and backpack, he took a final look around the apartment, before switching off the light and closing the door. He stopped to gas up the Volvo and then spent what was left in his wallet on gifts for the baby.
Blair squinted through the rain-drenched windshield and frowned at the gathering clouds. He was only a couple of hours out of Cascade and had raced the approaching storm most of the way, hoping to be at his destination in front of a roaring fire before it hit. His timing, as always, sucked.
He held his breath as his old car aquaplaned through a puddle that seemed as deep as a small lake and sighed when the old girl kept chugging along.
A half-hour later, the vehicle began to cough and splutter and Blair pleaded with every deity he knew until the car gave one last gasp and died.
"Shit!" he said feelingly.
He coasted a few more yards then steered to the side of the road and got out. He cursed, as the sky seemed to sense his exit from shelter and open up. Rain cascaded under the collar of his jacket and drizzled down the middle of his back, causing him to shiver. He popped the hood of the car and switched on the flashlight hed pulled from the glove compartment. He stood for a moment, examining the cars engine with rapt attention; his head bent low to make the most of the small amount of shelter that the hood provided from the storm. After a few minutes of fruitlessly waving the lights beam over the engine, he snorted in disgust and slammed the top back down.
He hurried around the car and pulled himself inside, shaking his long curly hair about like a wet puppy. Stretching over to the backseat, he reached for his backpack. Then he stopped and cursed his God-awful luck. Hed left the cell phone back at the loft. His pride had not allowed him to claim it as his, when Jim had bought it for him so that he was more accessible in an emergency. Blair had left it on the kitchen counter as a paperweight for the previous months rent.
He figured he had two choices and neither was very attractive. He could stay in the freezing car and wait; hoping that a Good Samaritan might happen along before the night was over. Blair squinted through the rain-swept windshield once more and sighed. Hed taken this shortcut before for the very reason he cursed it now. It was a seldom-used thoroughfare and thinking back, Blair couldnt remember passing anyone at all in the last ten minutes.
His only other choice was to start walking. He remembered that there was a small gas station further up the road, with any luck, theyd have someone who could take a look at his car, maybe jump-start it. At the very least, hed have somewhere reasonably warm to wait until morning.
Sighing at the disastrous turn his life had taken, Blair pulled his backpack from the car, reached for the flashlight and locked the door. He turned his collar up as an ineffectual barrier against the icy wind and rain assailing him and began to trudge slowly up the road toward the lights he could see far in the distance. From time to time, he switched on his flashlight, letting it play on the road ahead, so that he could watch his progress and not fall down and hurt himself.
He looked down at his brand new Nikes, smiling as he remembered Jim coming into the loft and presenting them with a flourish after Blair had lost his shoes once more to Jims informant, Sneaks, a strange little man with an affinity for other peoples sneakers. At Blairs profuse thanks, Jim had insisted that theyd been bought from the snitch fund but Blair had seen the flush of pleasure on his partners face as hed watched him pull them on. He knew that Jim had been aware that he could not afford another pair and had bought them for him.
Blair was shaken from his thoughts by the glare of headlights lighting up the road ahead of him and he turned and stepped closer to the blacktop to wave, in the hope of flagging down a ride. He stumbled quickly sideways as the car swerved toward him, drenching him in a wash of muddy water that soaked his jeans and feet. He ducked as something hard hit his face with a painful blow and other similar objects followed its path, not striking him but covering him in a cascade of strong smelling liquid.
Blair stood and watched the car pass him and flipped the driver the finger as he watched the tail lights disappear into the darkness ahead, loud heavy metal music fading quickly.
He stopped for a moment and dragged a cuff across his cheek, surprised when he saw the smear of blood. Reaching up with his fingers, Blair traced the angry cut along his cheekbone then turned his face skyward in an effort to clean the gash. He pulled a sodden handkerchief from his jacket pocket and held it to his face firmly in an attempt to stop the bleeding. The downpour had quickly rinsed the foul smelling beer from his hair but his clothes now reeked with a combination of water, sweat and booze.
He sat for a moment to remove his shoes and empty the muddy water from them, thinking how disappointed Jim would be that his gift was already ruined then feeling suddenly, inordinately sad that he had no money left to replace them.
A lump rose in his throat as Blair sat on the side of the road and let the rain wash over him. He was tired, cold, wet and more homesick than he would have ever believed possible. He had begun to struggle to his feet when he saw the headlights approaching from the opposite direction.
He looked quickly around for a place to hide or a weapon to use as the car approached. He swallowed down the bitter taste of fear that rose in the back of his throat as he realized with a terrifying certainty that his tormentors were back and they were looking for him.
The vehicle drove slowly past him and Blair drew in a relieved breath until he heard it turn around just up the road and return. He kept his head down as much to shield him from the rain as anything and began to surreptitiously search his pockets for his pocketknife. The car continued to keep pace with him, the only sounds; the crunch of the tires on gravel and the steady fall of rain.
"You need a ride, man?"
The voice, when it came, although soft, startled him and he looked up. He shook his head, sending drops of water spraying through the air and attempted a confident smile.
"No. No. Im fine. Thanks anyway."
A second voice chimed in now. "You sure, man? Youre getting awful wet out there."
Blair smiled again and closed his hand tightly around the handle of his knife. "Really. Its fine. Im almost to where Im headed."
"That your car back there?"
"Yeah. Got some water in the engine, I think."
"Nice car, man. Very cool."
The second voice came back. "A lot cooler now, with the windows smashed. Lets in a lot of cool air."
Both teens seemed to find the comment hilarious and laughed outrageously. Blair bit down on the anger flooding him and continued to walk.
"Come on, man. Why dont you get in the car?" The boy sounded more menacing now, his voice deeper.
Blair shook his head and pulled his hand from his pocket, hoping his sleeve concealed the blade he had released from the sheath. "Really. I dont want a ride."
A younger, thinner voice spoke from the rear of the car. "Come on guys, leave him alone, okay? He said he doesnt want a ride. Lets go get some more beer."
Blair anticipated their next move and as the car swerved in front of him cutting into his path, he stepped backwards and raised the knife. He was caught unawares by the muscular arm that snaked around his neck and he felt it press deeply into his throat. He looked desperately to the side of the road, knowing escape that way wasnt any good due to the steep hillside that abutted the edge of the road. A mad dash to the bushes on the other side was almost certainly suicidal but appeared to be his only chance.
"Drop the knife."
Blair knew that struggling against the stranglehold was futile. He reluctantly made motions to drop the pocketknife to the ground then brought it up suddenly and plunged it into the arm of the teenager behind him. His attacker screamed in pain and Blair wasted no time as the suffocating force disappeared from his throat. He ran as fast as he could, heading toward the rear of the car. He hoped he had enough of a start on them that he could make it across the road and into the dense brush there.
Concentrating his attention solely on his escape route, he didnt hear the vehicle back up and then accelerate forward until it was almost upon him. He turned back once to look, shielding his eyes from the brightness, then continued to run, blinded now by the glare from the headlights. The car continued to follow him as he ran, his chest beginning to burn from the exertion. Something suddenly slammed into the backs of his legs, causing him to be thrown up into the air then land chest first on the hood, his head impacting sickeningly with the windshield. The driver of the car slammed on the brakes and Blairs body slid heavily to the ground.
Blair screamed out at the agony that clawed at him, then realized he was rolling close to the drop off at the side of the road and reached out in panic for something to stop his fall. His hand hit a small bush and he clung to it frantically, grimacing, as the rough bark scraped skin from his palms.
He lay, panting, trying desperately to convince his body to get up and run as the echo of voices and laughter came closer and he heard car doors slamming.
"Nice driving, Rico. Ill give you 50 points for this one."
"Only 50? Come on, man. That was an ace hit."
"Yeah, all right. 100."
Blair groaned as a hard boot struck his chest and he tried to curl in on himself to protect his vital organs.
"Get him up."
He cried out in pain as hands reached under his arms and dragged him to his feet. He stood slumped against two of the men, his chest throbbing from the kick and his right ankle pounding and swelling rapidly in his shoe. Despite his fear and his injuries, Blairs anger flared and he growled and fought to escape the hold of the two men. The teen in front of him laughed and motioned for his friends to release their hold. Blair staggered and almost fell then regained his balance and stood, wavering slightly as he tried to keep the weight off his damaged ankle.
"What do you want?" he asked hoarsely.
The leader laughed again. "Lets start with your wallet, man."
Blair held his hands out in a placating gesture and appealed to a boy who stood slightly back from the others. "Come on, man. You dont want to do this."
The boy swallowed nervously and Blair continued on, hoping that perhaps he was getting through. "Why dont you just get in your car and go? No one ever needs to know about this. Come on, man, you dont want to go to prison. Ruin the rest of your life." Blair regretted the words the minute they were out as the teenagers face hardened and he stepped forward and smashed his fist brutally into Blairs mouth.
"Do like Pete said and get your wallet out, fucker."
Blair licked at his lips where blood dribbled from his split lip then pulled his wallet from his pocket and threw it to the ground, earning himself a hard fist to the abdomen that stole his breath. He tried to stay on his feet and breathe through the pain and was startled when something heavy crashed into his back and sent the ground slamming up to meet him.
"You son of a bitch," the teen yelled. "Not even a fucking credit card. Rico, get his shoes, then well teach the asshole a lesson about coming into my territory without money to pay the toll."
Blair felt his shoes being hurriedly unlaced and pulled from his feet as he lay on the muddy ground, blinking the rain from his eyes. He screamed as the movement jarred his injured ankle and arched up as a boot found its way to his spine once more, sending red hot fire bolting down his legs.
Then the beating began in earnest, as the teens attacked him with boots and fists. Blairs hands took the brunt of the beating initially as he sought to cover his face and chest. Too soon, however, his consciousness fled and the boys tired of pummeling a limp rag doll that did not fight back. Pete dragged Blairs unconscious body to the edge of the road and gave it a hard push. He turned back to his friends and headed for the car, not bothering to watch his victim's progress down the hillside. They piled back into the car and screamed off into the night while the sky opened up and wept on the huddled figure below.
Jim paused at the front door to the loft and rehearsed his apology once more in his head. He took a deep breath as he pushed his key into the lock, unconsciously extending his hearing into the apartment at the same time. Surprised to hear no heartbeat or other human sounds emanating from the loft, despite it being early morning, Jim opened the door quickly and stepped inside.
He placed his overnight bag on the floor by his feet and looked around the darkened apartment, dialing up his sight in his search. He switched on the light by the door and stepped further into the room, combing the entire area. His apprehension mounted as his eyes spied Blairs cell phone atop a small pile of money and his front door key nestled on its own in the small basket on the counter.
"Sandburg? Blair?" His voice echoed eerily in the silent apartment and he hurried over to stand in front of Blairs bedroom. He took a deep breath then pushed open the French doors, an involuntary gasp escaping him at the sight before him. Blairs bed was neatly made up but missing the brightly colored bedspread that normally adorned it. Scanning the room quickly, Jim saw that Blairs laptop and backpack were missing, as was the duffel bag hed brought with him to Clayton Falls. A quick search of the dresser drawers revealed several changes of clothes were gone, as were Blairs sentinel research tapes.
"Shit, Sandburg! What have you done?" Jim muttered as he hurried upstairs to his room. He stopped at the top of the stairs as his sight took in the small case lying on his bed. Packed into the box were Blairs tape recorder and research tapes, each one neatly numbered in the anthropologist's handwriting. Jim stumbled toward the bed and sank down onto it, scrubbing at his face before picking up the bedside phone. "I didnt mean for this to happen, Sandburg," he said softly as he dialed a familiar number. "Where the fuck are you?"
Simon Banks groaned and rolled over in his bed as his phone shrilled once more. It seemed that every time he had the chance for an early night, the bad guys of Cascade came out to play.
"Banks," he said grumpily into the receiver.
"Simon, its Jim."
"Jim? Is everything all right? You still in Clayton Falls?" Simon sat up and switched on his bedside light, wincing at the brightness before reaching for his glasses.
"No. Im here in Cascade. I just got back to the loft. Blairs not here." Jims voice was suddenly hesitant. "Do you know where he is?"
Simon frowned. "No, I dont. I dropped him off there late yesterday. He still wasnt very well but he insisted hed be okay. Have you tried his office?"
"Thats whats got me worried. The person I spoke to at the university said Blair phoned late yesterday and requested a weeks leave of absence. He said Blair arranged for someone to cover his classes and office hours. I spoke to the TA taking over his lectures. He said Blair only told him that it was a family emergency and hed be in touch."
There was a long pause on the other end of the phone before Jim spoke again, his voice shaky. "I dont know where he is, Simon. I chased him away and now I dont know where he is."
"All right, Jim. Calm down," Simon said as he pulled himself from the warmth of his bed. "Meet me down at the station. Well see if we can track him down. Ill put an APB out on him too."
"Okay," Jim replied softly. "Thanks. About what I said at Clayton Falls "
"You can tell Sandburg yourself when we find him, Jim."
"I hope I get the chance."
Blairs consciousness returned in small painful increments, each nudge toward awareness increasingly more agonizing. He gasped as he opened his eyes and squinted at his surroundings. He was lying on the ground and he was cold and wet. He struggled to pull himself into a sitting position, crying out at the pain that clawed at his ribs and back. He wiped at the moisture on his face, then stared quizzically at the blood that smeared his hand.
Looking around, he discovered it was raining steadily. He appeared to be at the bottom of a rather steep hill but he couldnt remember how he had come to be there. Suddenly a thought formed in his bewildered mind and he recalled running away from someone. A face floated hazily into his minds eye and he was able to automatically put a name to the face. Jim.
His disjointed thoughts refused to come together and his heart began to race as his vague memories dredged up recollections of escape and pain. Where did Jim come into all of this? Jim wanted him to get out of his face, that was it. A shouting voice overlaid his memories and he recalled fists and feet punching, kicking, and striking out at him. A car, its headlights blazing, chasing him, thumping him cruelly.
Panicking now, his breath ragged in his throat, Blair dragged himself to his feet, using the branches of a scraggly tree for support. He screamed as he attempted to put weight on his right ankle and it gave beneath his weight, the pain red-hot along his leg. He looked about frantically, finally spotting a discarded tree branch on the ground. Blair picked it up and using it as a makeshift crutch, began to stagger through the thick brush, not heeding the branches that whipped at his already bruised and bleeding face, nor the stones that tore at his sock-clad feet. His confused and battered brain could register only one thing. He had to get away and find somewhere safe to hide, before they could find him again.
The name croaked unbidden from his parched throat before he remembered and then the tears spilled, feeling hot against his rain-chilled cheeks. Jim wanted him gone; he wouldnt help him now.
Simon Banks stood in the doorway to his office and watched the sentinel pace. They had been at the precinct now for two hours and they were still no closer to tracking down Blair.
Jims phone call earlier that morning had been as much a surprise to Simon as it was to Jim. The captain knew that the anthropologist was still upset by Jims announcement that he needed time alone but he hadnt expected it to go this far. He had hoped that after some solitary time to think, both men would sort out their differences and come to an arrangement that would suit both and still allow Blair to help Jim with his senses. There was much give and take in this relationship, Simon now realized, a finely tuned balance and a trade-off of sorts. Blairs sentinel research in return for Jims control over his senses and the rewards for both had been, till now, a close friendship and an almost psychic connection. A link now shattered by hasty words and bruised egos.
Of more concern to Simon at the moment was the fact that Blair had still been recovering from the pseudo-virus that had laid him low in Clayton Falls. When Simon had left him at the loft, Blair had been pale and feverish, still hunched over with abdominal cramps. Knowing how averse the anthropologist was to doctors and hospitals, Simon hoped that Sandburg had found somewhere warm to rest and regain his strength. With any luck, once he was feeling better, hed come to his senses and get in touch with his partner.
He pulled himself from his reverie when Jim called his name. "Simon? Blair withdrew all the cash in his bank account and gassed his car at around 5 oclock last night. He told Monty, the kid at the gas station, that he was headed out of town."
Simon scrubbed a hand over his face. He was feeling exhausted already. "Im guessing he didnt tell Monty where he was headed?"
Jim shook his head and went back to pacing. Simon observed him a moment longer, then spoke up.
"Look, Jim. Maybe its best to just leave him be for now."
Jim had stopped pacing and was staring at him, an expression akin to horror on his face but Simon pressed on. "Hes pissed with you right now. Maybe he just needs his own time-out to think things through. You know what Sandburgs like. He goes off like a bomb but once he settles down, thinks it over, hell be back."
Jim shook his head. "I dont think he will this time, sir. I did more than just hurt his feelings here. I insulted who he was, what he means to me. Hes my guide. I cant do any of this stuff without him." He squared his jaw resolutely. "Besides, as you said, hes still sick. He needs me."
Simon opened his mouth to argue then looked back into his office as his phone rang. "All right," he conceded. "Keep on it."
He perched on the edge of his desk and picked up the receiver, barking an answer impatiently. The voice on the other end of the phone had him on his feet again in an instant, his weariness forgotten. "Where? Any sign of Sandburg? All right. Tell them were on our way."
Simon hurried into the bullpen and snagged Jims jacket and his own from the hooks. Jim just stared at him.
"Highway Patrol found Sandburgs car."
"Where?" Jim headed for the stairs at a run.
"Abandoned on the roadside, about 50 miles out of Cascade. Looks like he was headed toward Seattle."
"Blair?" Jim asked tentatively as they ran toward Simons sedan.
Simon shook his head as he unlocked the doors. "No sign of him. Theyve sent a search party into the nearby area."
Blair continued to stagger along mindlessly, not noticing when his hair snagged on an overhanging branch and several strands were torn from his scalp. His face was bleeding from a dozen tiny stinging cuts caused by his headlong flight through the trees.
He cried out as his injured ankle slammed against a partially buried rock and buckled beneath him, sending him tumbling to the ground. He lay face down in the mud, fighting to catch his breath, his scraped and dirty hands clutching at his burning chest. He shivered as a breeze swept over his sweat slicked skin, the chill a contrast to the fever building within his stressed and exhausted body. His grossly swollen and discolored ankle throbbed rapidly in time with his pounding heart. The soles of his feet felt stiff and hot, their surfaces abraded and dotted with broken blisters. His clothes still felt damp, though the rain had stopped and the sun peeked tentatively from behind gray clouds. His jacket was torn and threadbare, one sleeve had been torn completely off.
Blair struggled to get to his feet, crying out in despair as his battered body refused to hold his weight and he collapsed to the ground once more. He rolled awkwardly onto his back and lay, panting heavily, trying to force a coherent plan of action into his weary mind. Fear spiked, sending a shaft of fiery pain through his chest at the sound of movement through the brush and the muted sound of voices.
"Hide!" his mind screamed at him. "Theyre back."
Simon hurriedly applied the brakes and steered his car to the side of the road as Jim swung his door open and had one foot out of the still moving vehicle. He hurried up behind the detective as he strolled purposefully toward Blairs abandoned car. The captain pulled out his badge and flashed it at the uniformed officer who stepped into Ellisons path.
"Captain Simon Banks, Cascade PD," he said. He motioned to Jim, whose unwavering gaze was still on the Volvo. "This is Detective Ellison, Sandburgs partner."
The officer nodded and stepped to the side, keeping pace with Jim as he walked around the vehicle. "As you can see the cars been pretty badly vandalized." Glass crunched under Jims feet as he bent low to examine the slashed tires. Something under the car caught his eye and he reached under to pull it out. He straightened with Blairs empty backpack in his hand. An equally empty duffel bag lay on the back seat of the Volvo; clothes were strewn around the interior of the car. Most puzzling, were several toys that lay in the roadside, the majority of them broken beyond repair. Simon bent and picked up a small brown teddy bear, now missing its arms and legs. He held it out to Jim, one eyebrow raised.
Jim shook his head. "I have no idea, Simon."
Jim walked over to the side of the road and stood, looking out over the valley and forest below. Simon spoke for a moment longer, then joined his friend. He placed a hand on Jims arm before he spoke. "Can you pick anything up?"
Jim shook his head, then laughed derisively. "I need Blair to ground me so I can use my senses to find him. Where is he, Simon?"
"The uniforms said a youth was treated at the local hospital for a knife wound to the forearm last night. Apparently, he was a little cagey about how he received the injury. The local cops are questioning him now. In the meantime, theres a search party down there, combing the woods. Theyll keep looking until the light goes."
"Im going down to look for him."
"Jim " The captain started to protest, then shook his head. "Give me a minute to get my cell phone."
Jim was already on his way down the slope, slipping occasionally in the slick mud. "Ill see you at the bottom."
Blair scrunched himself further into the cave-like depression hed found at the base of a large tree trunk and pulled the branches closer to the opening. He tried to still his panicked breathing as the footsteps came closer then stopped directly in front of him, so close that he could have reached out with one hand to touch the shiny boot.
"Somebodys been through here recently, thats for sure."
The disembodied voice floated toward him and he clutched his hands over his ears in an attempt to muffle the frightening sounds, his fevered mind hearing only the cruel voices of the boys who had attacked him.
"All right. Well keep searching this area for another half-hour, then move onto the next sector."
As the voices moved further away, Blair allowed himself to relax a little, huddled into the relative warmth of his safe haven. Soon the exhaustion and pain took its toll and he drifted into an uneasy sleep. Small convulsive jerks of his broken body and the restless movements of his eyes beneath closed lids were the only outward indication of his tormented dreams.
Simon cursed as he slammed into the muscled back of the sentinel, who stood stock still, his head slightly cocked to one side. The captain moved to stand next to the listening man and spoke softly. "Jim? Do you have something."
Jim shook his head in frustration. They had been searching now for over an hour and had found no sign of the anthropologist. To make matters worse, his senses were spiking on him, one minute fading out, and the next, careening wildly out of control. "Theres something, just beyond my reach. Every time I think I have a handle on the direction, my hearing spikes or fades and I lose it."
Simon sighed. "Come on, Jim. The search party already searched this area anyway. Lets make our way back up. Well have a rest, something to drink, then well start again." He rubbed his hands briskly along his arms. The sky was darkening rapidly, the atmosphere becoming chilly once more.
Jim shook his head vehemently. "No. You go back if you want. Im going to keep looking. Hes here somewhere, Simon. Im sure of it."
Simon shook his head. "No way, Jim. If youre staying, then so am I. Sandburg would never forgive me if I left you alone out here."
Jim looked back at him and smiled. "Thanks. When we find him, Im going to be straight with him. I need him to understand that I dont, I cant let him leave. I have to make him understand ."
He broke off suddenly as his gaze wandered and then fixed on a point beyond his captain. He strode forward and pulled several long strands of hair from a low tree branch. Turning, he held them aloft and grinned triumphantly. "Hes been through here."
Simon looked doubtfully at the detective. "Are you sure? I mean theres been a lot of people through here in the past couple of hours."
Jim nodded. "Im sure. I wonder if I can "
Simon watched as Jim closed his eyes, mentally crossing his fingers that the sentinel did not zone as he cast his sensory net out.
The name was whispered, then Jims eyes opened and he pushed past Simon to kneel at the base of an old tree just beyond the bend in the worn path. The detective reached out and pulled away a small pile of branches to reveal a large indentation in the trunk and curled within, the shivering body of his guide.
Jim took a shuddering breath then pulled the Blairs limp body toward him, cradling the unconscious man against his chest. One large hand stroked Blairs dirty matted hair from his face and as his head rocked back with the movement, Simon cursed loudly.
"Oh Christ!" Without taking his eyes from the sight before him, Simon fumbled for his cell phone and gave their location, requesting an ambulance and paramedics. Then he pulled off his jacket and draped it over Blairs battered body. He dropped to his knees beside Jim and watched as the detectives hand hovered over Blairs face. Jim turned to him, a helpless look on his face. "I dont know where to touch him," he said.
"Talk to him, Jim. Keep him calm." Simon said, laying a supportive hand on the sentinels shoulder.
"Blair? Can you hear me? Im here now, buddy. Youre safe." Jim continued to whisper assurances to the younger man.
A sighing breath indicated a change in Blairs conscious state and blue eyes finally cracked open to track dazedly over the man above him. Jim leaned over and spoke a little more loudly, cupping Blairs chin in his hand and directing his face to look at him. "Blair? You with me now?"
Blair continued to look at Jim but Simon could see no recognition in his unfocused gaze. Jim tore his eyes away from his unresponsive partner momentarily to look at Simon. "Helps here. Can you show them where we are?"
"Sure." Simon gently squeezed Blairs cold hand, startling when the anthropologist flinched and moaned softly. He looked down and saw the torn, swollen hands, blood and mud caking them. "Oh God, Blair," he whispered. "Im sorry. I didnt realize." Blairs eyes had already slid shut once more, his injured hand dropping to rest against Jims chest. The captain eased himself up from the ground with a groan and made his way down the path to guide the paramedics in.
Jim knelt, holding Blair to him, whispering reassurances and pleas to the wounded man. Still receiving no reply, he splayed his hand across Blairs chest and dialed up his hearing, taking solace in the solid, though rapid beat of Blairs heart.
He looked up as branches were pushed aside and several men crowded into the clearing, one man kneeling beside him to take Blair from him and lower him to the ground. Another man opened a first aid kit and pulled out a blood pressure cuff.
"Well take it from here, detective," the first man said.
As he placed a hand on Blairs wrist to take his pulse, the anthropologist exploded into a blur of frenzied action. His eyes staring wildly about, Blair flailed and lashed out with both hands and his uninjured foot as the medics attempted to restrain him. Jim tried to keep a grip on the terrified man, but was afraid of harming him further. Blairs fear lent him strength and he broke free of the hands reaching for him, scuttling away until he was backed up against the trunk of the tree that had so recently concealed him. Blairs gaze moved rapidly from one man to the other, both hands held out in a defensive posture, a low keening issuing from his parched throat.
Jim remained crouched on the ground but held both arms out to stop the others from advancing. "Stay back, all of you. Youre frightening him."
His command was spoken quietly but with authority, his eyes never leaving his partner. The other men moved away a little as Jim turned his full attention back to the man cowering by the tree.
"Blair? Its all right, Chief. Youre safe now." Jim began to move closer very slowly, keeping his movements unhurried and one hand held out. "Let us help you, okay. Let me help you, Blair."
The awful crying had stopped but Blair kept his gaze fixed warily on his advancing partner. Jims hand brushed the tips of Blairs outstretched fingers and the younger man shuddered slightly. Jim moved in closer and wrapped a protective arm about his partners shivering shoulders. One of Blairs hands came slowly up to grasp at Jims jacket, the grip weak.
"Jim?" Blairs voice was a croak, his throat raw.
Jim reached a hand down to gently squeeze the swollen digits. "Yeah, Chief. Its me."
A fat tear welled up from one swollen eye and dripped slowly down Blairs bruised cheek. He gave a hiccuping sob and rested his aching head against his sentinels chest. "Home?"
"Soon, buddy, soon," Jim soothed. "Youre hurt. Let the medics fix you up first."
Blair stiffened as the paramedic approached. "No," he said firmly. "You do it."
Jim shook his head. "Blair, I cant do it. I dont have enough training."
"You," Blair hiccuped. He emphasized his point by thumping his free hand against Jims chest. "You do it."
Jim looked over at the paramedic who shrugged. "We cant treat him until we have a set of vitals. Can you do that?"
Jim nodded and gently wrapped his fingers around Blairs wrist, though his ears were already picking up the rapid pounding of Blairs heart. His first touch to his partners skin had verified that the young man had a high fever and was dehydrated. Jim continued to talk softly to his partner. Blair stiffened when the stretcher was pulled close but a whispered word in his ear finally brought a small nod of acquiescence. Jim managed to get the exhausted man lying on the stretcher, his swollen ankle strapped into an inflatable splint and an oxygen mask placed over his nose and mouth before they began the trek up the hillside toward the waiting rescue helicopter. Jim marched alongside his partner, Blairs fingers were wrapped securely around his wrist and his tired blue eyes fixed unwaveringly upon his friend.
Jim looked up at the quiet summons and saw Simon standing in the doorway of the darkened hospital room. He loosened Blairs grip on his hand, taking a moment to soothe him when he moaned softly and shifted in his sleep. He stood and stretched then walked over to join the captain, ushering him out of the room into the hallway.
"Hes still pretty jumpy," he explained. "I dont want to disturb him."
Simon nodded in understanding. "What did the doctors say?"
Jim sighed and made his way over to the coffee machine on the far wall. "His ankle is badly broken. They had to put a plate in to stabilize the fracture. He has two cracked ribs and deep bruising to his chest, back and face. Both hands are badly bruised and he has numerous superficial cuts and abrasions to his hands and his feet. He has a concussion and is dehydrated and has a fever, probably from the stress on his compromised system after the effects of the pseudo-virus. In short, hes a mess and he has me to thank for it."
"Come on, Jim," Simon said patiently. "You didnt pay those kids to beat the hell out of Sandburg."
"If I hadnt told him I needed time alone, made him feel guilty about the things he does to help me with my senses, he wouldnt have been on that road, Simon," Jim insisted doggedly.
"That may be true, but hes also a grown man who made the decision to leave on his own. If you ever wanted to pay him back for all the support he gives you, nows the time. Hes going to need you alert and healthy, not curled up in a corner mouthing self-recriminations. I have my own share of guilt in this, too."
"You didnt do anything wrong."
"I knew he was still sick and I could have had him checked out or at least stayed with him. Even if he wasnt still feeling the effects of the toxin, I should have realized how bad he would have felt going back to that empty loft. Lord knows, I know how that feels."
Jim looked sharply at him. "Me too. I cant believe I made him feel like I wanted him to leave after going through the same thing with Carolyn. God, Simon, I really screwed this up."
"We both did, my friend," Simon agreed. "Now, fix it."
"I plan to, Simon, dont worry. What about the animals that did this?"
Simon smiled a little. "Now there, we finally have good news. The kid with the gashed arm caved in when he was made aware of the fact that he was facing an attempted murder rap on his own. They arrested the other three boys late last night."
"I was hoping to be in on the collar," Jim said.
"Its not our jurisdiction, Jim. Let the Seattle guys handle it. Besides, you were where you needed to be."
Jim nodded then cocked his head and listened for a moment. "Hes waking up," he said, moving quickly back to Blairs room.
"Tell the kid Ill see him tomorrow," Simon lifted a hand in farewell and headed back to the elevator.
Jim pushed open the door and hurried over to the bedside, watching as Blair moved in the bed, his face scrunching up in pain as he did so. Jim grasped Blairs bandaged hand and rubbed a slow circle of comfort over the back of it, his other hand moving up to stroke Blairs hot forehead. "Hey, Chief. How are you doing?"
Swollen eyelids crusted with sleep cracked open and looked up tiredly. Blairs heart rate increased, as did his breathing as he tried to pull himself up in the bed. Wincing, he allowed Jim to push him gently back onto the pillows and lay there quietly, his gaze slowly traveling the room.
"Do you know where you are, Chief?" Jim asked softly, continuing his soothing massage.
Blair dragged his eyes back to look at Jim, seeming to process the question before he shook his head slowly, tears once more welling in his eyes, his shoulders beginning to shake with silent sobs.
"Thats all right. Thats all right. Youre in the hospital," Jim said. He pulled his chair up to the bedside then lowered the rail. Sitting down, he moved his hand so that it stroked softly down Blairs upper arm, the rhythm hypnotic, keeping time with the other hand on Blairs forehead. Jim swallowed before he could voice his next question. "Do you know who I am?"
Blair nodded without hesitation. "Jim," he croaked. He licked dry lips and looked at his partner. "Water?"
Jim shook his head. "Sorry, partner, not just yet. Youve got an IV to rehydrate you but youve just come out of surgery, so youll have to be content with some ice chips for now."
Tears were still flowing down Blairs cheeks and he struggled to stop them, his breath coming in gulps that made him wince in pain. Jim stood and shifted him forward then slid in behind him, allowing Blairs back to rest up against his chest.
"Sorry," Blair whispered. "Stupid of me. Cant seem to stop."
"No need to apologize," Jim soothed. "The drugs will probably do that to you. Youve had a rough time, buddy."
Blair nodded, his breathing beginning to slow. He laid his head back and rested it on Jims shoulder. "Sorry about running off like that."
"Im the one who should be apologizing, Chief," Jim answered. "Not you. I shouldnt have said all that stuff about you being in my face."
"Its true," Blair whispered. "You took me in, gave me a room and all I do is hassle you about your senses."
"Your hassling has saved my butt on numerous occasions, Sandburg."
Blair shrugged. "If you want me to move out, I will."
Jim scooted out from behind Blair before pressing his partner to lay back against his pillows once more. Bending over the bed, his hands resting lightly on Blairs shoulders, he looked closely at him. "I dont want you to move out. I never wanted you to move out. I just needed a breather."
Blair nodded. "I overreacted, I know. I just panicked, I guess. There goes the diss, there goes my home." His voice dropped to a whisper. "There goes the friendship."
Jim shook his head and settled back down in the chair beside the bed. "Never. New house rule though."
"Yeah. If either one of us wants some solitude from now on, lets agree to tell the other person where were going. Deal?"
Blair nodded then yawned, fighting a losing battle with sleep. "Okay," he said. "Cant tell Simon though."
"Why is that?"
"Gotta keep some of the best fishing spots to ourselves. Right, Jim?"
Jim grinned and sat back in his seat, watching his partner drift back into healing slumber.
"Number four, step forward, please."
Blair shrank back into the wheelchair as the young man stepped forward. He felt the warmth of Jims hand on his shoulder and tried to relax into the touch. He swallowed hard and leaned forward a little to study the cruel face he could see through the one way window, noting the dark eyes that glittered as the teen curled his lips in a parody of a smile. His attacker raised one finger in an obscene salute and Blair shivered, wincing as the movement sparked a hot spike of pain in his chest and back.
"You okay, Chief?" Jim bent slightly to lean toward him and Blair forced a wan smile and nodded.
"Im fine. I keep forgetting that I cant move real fast yet." Blair turned slightly in the wheelchair to face the blond detective standing next to him. "Thats him. Number four."
Blair watched as a police officer stepped up to the man he had just identified as one of his attackers and began to lead him out of the room.
"Thank you Mr. Sandburg. Well be in touch."
Blair nodded and then jumped as the man in the other room broke away from the guard and threw himself at the glass, hammering on it with his fists. "This isnt over, you son of a bitch. You watch your back, man, because I am coming to get you."
The voice sent Blair spiraling down into remembered fear and he felt his throat close up even as his stomach rebelled. Darkness began to encroach on the edges of his vision and he shivered again as cold sweat snaked down his neck under the collar of his shirt.
"Easy, Chief. Take it easy. Youre safe. He cant get you."
Blair heard the voice close to his ear, soothing him and he opened his eyes to see Jim kneeling in front of him, one hand clutched in Blairs iron grip. He looked up to see his attacker manhandled away from the window, still screaming and struggling to get away. Blair dragged his attention back to Jim and smiled shakily, drawing in a deep breath that stabbed at his ribs once more.
"Im all right now," he said. He forced himself to release its white-knuckled grip on Jims hand and patted the detectives shoulder. "Im all right."
Jim studied him closely for a moment, then appearing satisfied; he nodded and stood up.
"Thanks for your help, Mike."
The detective smiled and shook Jims hand. "Anytime, Jim. It was good to see you again."
Reaching down, Mike extended his hand to Blair. "Thanks again, Mr. Sandburg. Its good to be able to get these assholes off the street."
Blair nodded, not ready to trust his voice just yet. He forced himself to look straight ahead as Jim wheeled his chair out of the room.
Jim steered the rental car into the driveway of the neat two-story house and looked over at Blair. "Are you sure you feel up to this?"
Blair grinned at him. "Im fine, Jim."
His smile faded a little as he saw his friend Paul standing at the front door, a dark-haired baby cradled in his arms. "I just wish those creeps hadnt broken the gifts I bought for the baby. I spent the last of my cash on them."
"Not a problem, Chief," Jim said, waving over his shoulder. "Check out the bags on the back seat."
Blair reached over awkwardly and snagged one of the shopping bags. Laying it on his lap, he looked inside, then glanced over at Jim before pulling out a gaily-wrapped package. "Jim! You didnt have to do this."
Jim raised his hands and shook his head. "Dont look at me. You only had to mention the word baby in the bullpen and those guys were falling over themselves to get to the toy store."
"Yeah?" Blair said, pulling a toy kangaroo from another bag and stroking his hands over the soft joey nestled in its pouch.
"You should have seen them, Chief. Remember those kindergarten kids that Simon made me take on a tour of the station after I lost that bet?"
"How could I forget," Blair replied, his blue eyes twinkling. "Tective Jim."
Jim glared at him, then continued. "Well, those kids were angels compared to Brown and Rafe and Joel in that store."
"You were there?" Blair asked, the smile returning to his face.
"Well, someone had to make sure they behaved," Jim replied, his grin widening as Blair pulled out a miniature replica of his truck and a Jags cap.
"This is really cool, man. Thank you, and thank the others for me too."
"Youre welcome. Now lets get you unloaded. Youll call me when youre ready to come home?"
Blair nodded. "You bet."
Blair slid from the car and grabbed his crutches, hobbling quickly toward the smiling man on the verandah. "Paul? How are you, man? Who would have thought, Paul Burns, the family man?"
He looked back over his shoulder. "Jim? Come on over here. Theres someone I want you to meet."
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