See No Evil
Blair Sandburg was very excited and in a very great hurry. Earlier that day, he'd gotten a call out of the blue from a publisher in San Francisco who'd read several of his articles on his research and field studies and was very interested in discussing the possibility of a book based on his experiences and ideas. Fairly hopping with excitement all day, much to the pleased amusement of his roommate, Jim Ellison, he'd been sorting out files in the loft, deciding what to take with him on the flight that night. At the last minute, he'd decided he just had to take a couple of CDs of pictures he'd taken of ancient rituals of worship and rites of passage.
Though Jim had offered to drive him to the airport to catch the late flight out, Simon had called him about having to meet with the district attorney, in preparation for a court appearance the next day. Ellison hadn't been pleased, but Blair had just blown it off, too excited to care. He could drive himself to the airport. He'd been on his way when he decided he just had to have the pictures, and made a quick detour to the university. He'd dashed through the icy gusting wind, raced down the corridor to his dungeon, er, office to rummage quickly through his disorganized files, found what he wanted and slipped the disc cases into his jacket pocket.
Racing back to the parking lot, he'd had to pull his collar up and hunch his shoulders against the latest squall the wind had blasted in from the sea. Jumping into his car, he had it running and pulling out to drive to the airport in less than a second. As his lights arced around the darkened lot and the sweeping lawns and shrubs beyond, they picked up a man striding up the incline. Startled the man looked up full into the light before turning quickly away. Blair vaguely noticed, thinking the guy looked familiar, but then just as quickly forgot about it as he concentrated on driving through the sheets of rain. There was no way he was going to miss that flight!
Late the next afternoon, Jim was puttering in the kitchen, making dinner and watching the clock. Blair should be back any minute and his buddy was wondering how it had gone in Frisco. A few minutes later, he heard the familiar tread in the hall leading to the loft and frowned. That slow, discouraged thump didn't sound like good news. Turning to the fridge to pull out a couple of beers, he had them opened and poured by the time Blair pushed the door open and slumped into the living room.
"Not a good day?" Jim asked, ambling over to join him and handing him one of the glasses of ale.
Blair looked at it for a moment, then took it, tilting his head back for a long swallow, then shrugged as he gazed up into his friend's sympathetic eyes. "No," he replied with a grimace as he tossed down his pack and moved disconsolately to sit on the couch. Shaking his head, he looked back at Jim as he said, "I can't believe it…they wanted something like, I don't know, Dirk Pitt or Indiana Jones, thundering about in the deep rainforest battling bloodthirsty cannibals. God…do I look like someone who writes comic books?"
At the expression on Jim's face, Blair held up a hand, saying, "Wait…don't answer that. Bad question. But, dammit Jim…I'm working on a Ph.D. I write serious stuff…stuff people would find fascinating and maybe even enlightening. But…no. They want fantasy. That's what sells."
Taking a seat in the armchair, Jim shook his head. "I'm sorry, Chief…I know how excited you were," he said quietly. "It's not your fault if they have no imagination and no interest in learning about something real or amazing."
"Yeah…I know," his partner shrugged as he sipped more slowly on his beer. Sighing, he asked, "So how was your day? Everything go all right in court?"
"Yep, piece of cake. But…a body was found on the campus this morning," Jim said, hoping Blair didn't know the kid.
Sitting up, his own woes immediately forgotten, Blair demanded, "A body? What body? Who? What happened?"
Watching him, Jim replied, "It was a student…Robert Armstrong from Pretoria. Did you know him?" Relieved when Blair shook his head, the detective continued, "He died of a massive overdose…drugs."
"Ah shit," Blair responded, sinking back against the couch. It happened far too often…kids fooling around, experimenting. Or kids despondent and trying to lose themselves in a never-never land that fast became a nightmare. "Poor kid."
"Yeah…but it gets worse. There were bruises on his face and body, as if he'd been beaten and maybe knocked out. We're treating it as a possible homicide investigation," Jim elaborated.
"Murder?" Blair frowned. "Who'd want to murder a kid…especially that way? Doesn't make sense."
Ellison shrugged. "Who knows at this point. The kid's family is fairly well off, and we've learned that he was bright, but antisocial. We haven't found anybody who particularly liked him or even knew him all that well. No girlfriends. No clues."
Squinting at his friend, Blair asked, "You sure…did you go out there yourself? You know you can pick up stuff everyone else misses."
"Yeah," Jim replied, rubbing the back of his neck. "But with all the rain last night, and it was in an area where people are tracking around all the time…no way to tell what tracks might have meant anything…I didn't pick up anything."
"What area?" Blair asked, curious.
Looking up at him, Jim replied, "Across from your building, actually…you know, the grassy common area past the fountain that slopes down to the boardwalk and the seawall?"
"Really?" his roommate replied, frowning suddenly as something niggled at the back of his mind.
"What…?" Jim asked, watching him.
Scowling, Blair shook his head as he chewed his lip. "What time did it happen, any idea?"
"Between 9:00 and 11:00 last night, at least that's what the coroner thought," Jim replied.
Looking up at him, his blue eyes wide as he tried to remember what it was that was nagging at him, Blair muttered, "I was there last night…I had to get some stuff from my office on the way to the airport."
Ellison sat up, all ears. "Did you see or hear anything?"
"I don't…wait…yes!" Blair replied, his eyes skittering as he dredged up the memory. "For just a split second, less…I saw this guy in my lights…coming up from the common."
"You SAW him?" Jim exclaimed, more than a little pleased. This was the kind of break they needed.
But Blair shook his head and held up a hand. "Whoa, don't get too excited. I don't really remember…"
"C'mon, Sandburg, think! What did he look like…tall, short…dark, fair, white, black, young, old…what?"
Shaking his head a little in frustration, Blair closed his eyes, trying to pull back that half-noticed, quickly forgotten image. "Medium height, I think…white, dark hair, but I could be wrong…it was black as Hades last night, and it was raining cats and dogs. I'm sorry…I just don't remember."
Blowing out a frustrated breath, Jim looked away. "A student? Anyone that looked familiar?"
Feeling like he was letting his buddy down, and not needing the guilt after the day he'd had, Blair snapped back, "Look…I'm not the one with the laser vision, okay? I was in a hurry, it was less than a second…I don't remember. I'm sorry, alright."
Holding up his hands at the tone, Jim replied placatingly, "All right, already. I'm sorry…it's just that we don't have anything else…and I'd hoped…well…forget it. Maybe it'll come back when you're not trying so hard to remember."
Blair shook his head as he took another gulp of beer. "I doubt it," he muttered.
Nodding with an expression that suggested he was probably right, Jim frowned. "Do you think the guy would have recognized you?"
Startled Blair looked up at the Sentinel, then away, his eyes going out of focus as he thought about. Shaking his head, he replied, "No…I don't think so. It was dark, raining hard…no way could he have made out much of the car let alone me."
Nodding, relieved, Jim glanced toward the kitchen. "Dinner's about ready, Chief. Want to eat?"
Sighing, Blair nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."
Smiling as he stood and clapped his smaller friend on the shoulder, Jim encouraged, "Cheer up, Sandburg…one idiot publisher doesn't mean they are all idiots. You'll get a book deal, wait and see."
Favouring his friend with a crooked grin of appreciation, Blair nodded, then brightened. "You know, if you let me write more about you…about the amazing things you do and the crimes you've solved…that would sell in a minute."
Sternly, Jim shook his head. "We've had that conversation. No," he replied, implacable.
"But, Jim…" Blair persisted with a pitiful whine, following his buddy to the kitchen.
"No," Ellison replied, grinning a little, knowing Blair was just pulling his chain. "Definitely not," he growled, going along with the game. But, much as he tried to let go of their previous discussion, the detective couldn't quite stifle the nagging worry that even if Sandburg hadn't recognized the other guy, it didn't mean the guy hadn't recognized Sandburg.
The rain was back the next day, a steady drizzle that left the roads slick and visibility uncertain as tendrils of fog drifted over the roadways. Resigned, used to it and hardly noticing, Blair pulled out of the university parking lot and turned onto the parkway along the coast. He didn't notice the SUV until it slammed hard into his back bumper, jerking him forward sharply against his seat belt and making his car swerve on the wet road.
Cursing, he spun the wheel to get control back as he flicked a quick look into the rear view mirror. With considerable shock, he realized the heavy vehicle behind him was coming up fast, intent upon ramming him again. "What the hell?" he exclaimed as he pressed his foot to the accelerator, hoping to stay ahead. But the road curved and it was too dangerous to speed on the slippery surface. There was nowhere to go…the sea on one side, the forest on the other, no turnoffs…nothing.
Bracing for the next impact, he concentrated on keeping his car on the road. When it came, on the curve, it was all he could do to keep from spinning out of control. He glanced again into the mirror, wondering who the bozo was, figuring he was probably drunk and looking for a sick thrill. Or a Super Type A in a mega-hurry. There wasn't time to get a good look at the driver, and the rain made it impossible to make out any details anyway.
The vehicle behind him pulled up fast on the next short, straight section of roadway, and Blair prayed it was the Super Type A option and the guy was finally just going to pass. As it came alongside, Blair glanced quickly to the left, holding his breath to see what was going to happen next. "Come on, come on, just pass me, creep," Blair murmured, his knuckles white as they gripped the wheel. But the other vehicle didn't pass by. His eyes flashing between the road ahead and the larger vehicle beside him, Blair was horrified to see the heavy vehicle was much, much too close and getting closer.
"Oh my god," Blair breathed, hitting his brake, hoping to fall back before the guy rammed the side of his car. His quick action slowed his own vehicle considerably just before he was hit hard, with a sickening screech as the metal buckled. He tried to hold it, but the other more powerful vehicle just kept sliding over, pushing him off the road. Cursing, terrified, he spun the wheel, trying for control, practically standing on the brake, but there wasn't enough room to stop. His eyes wide, his mouth open for a scream he was too terrified to make, he barely had time to think, more than a little hysterically, Wish I had an airbag… before his car slammed into the trees.
As the heavy SUV gunned off down the road and around a curve, the driver smiled grimly when he heard the almighty crash and the steady sound of a horn blaring behind him.
Ellison was on his way home when his cell rang. Fishing it out of his pocket, he flipped it open, "Ellison," he said briefly, watching the traffic.
"Hey…I'm off duty," Jim teased, knowing that Simon knew if it was important, he'd turn around and go back.
There was a pause on the other end of the phone, long enough to let Ellison know something was wrong. Frowning, he pulled over to concentrate on the call. "Simon? What is it?"
"I'm sorry, Jim…there's been an accident. You'd better get over to Cascade General. I don't have any details, just that he had to be cut out of the car…"
Ellison felt a flutter of fear as a cold chill settled over him. "He? You mean Sandburg?" he breathed, his throat suddenly very tight, his mouth dry.
"Yes, I mean Sandburg…I'll meet you there," Simon replied heavily, then ended the call.
Jim flipped the phone closed and sat there for a minute, letting the immediate shock of the news pass, only to feel anxiety fill his chest. How badly had Blair been hurt? Taking a deep breath, he checked the traffic and then swung his truck around, grimly intent upon getting to the hospital as quickly as possible.
Jim raced through the emergency entrance and straight to the nursing station. Flipping open his badge, he snapped, "I'm Ellison. You have an accident victim here…Blair Sandburg…I want to see him."
The nurse looked up with a slightly harried air. In this weather, there were lots of accident victims and the place was hopping. Sighing, she tried to remain polite despite this pushy cop's air of impatience. "If you'll just take a seat…."
"I don't want to take a seat. I want to see Sandburg…just point me to the right examining room and I'll be out of your face, all right?" Jim interrupted.
"Officer…" she began.
"Detective," he replied.
"Whatever," she continued, "you look like you've been around enough to know that's not allowed. Take a seat and I'll see what I can find out about your Brian San…"
"Blair," he cut in.
"Blair Sandburg." She lifted an imperious hand and pointed to the busy waiting room.
Blowing out a frustrated breath, Jim threw up his hands. "Fine…just…just hurry, would you?"
Nodding, she rummaged through the folders, found the one she was looking for and headed down the hall. Jim watched her go, sorely tempted to follow her, but Simon arrived at that moment.
"Jim! How is he?" his superior demanded.
"How the hell should I know?" Jim snapped, then sighed. "I'm sorry, Simon…they won't let me see him and haven't told me how badly he's hurt."
Understanding his friend's anxiety, Simon laid a hand on his shoulder. "Don't borrow trouble…he's probably fine."
"You said they had to cut him out…" Jim replied, again looking down the hall, watching for the nurse to come back.
"He's alive…hold that thought," Simon replied, trying to hold onto it himself.
"Yeah…right," Jim sighed, rubbing the back of his neck as he tried to focus his hearing, tried to hear Blair's voice…but he didn't and that really scared him. Not much ever made Blair stop talking.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he saw the nurse coming back and just behind her, a tired looking doctor in a white lab coat. Taking a deep breath, steeling himself, Jim moved forward to meet them, Simon right beside him.
"Detective Ellison?" the physician asked as he looked from one of the tall worried looking men facing him to the other. When Jim nodded, he continued. "I understand you want information on Mr. Sandburg's condition. For the accident report?"
"Uh…no. Blair's my roommate. I'd like to see him…how bad is he hurt?" Jim asked, his face strained and pale.
"Oh, I see. Don't worry…he'll be fine. His ribs took a beating from the steering wheel, he's got a few cuts and contusions from the shattered glass and the impact of the collision, an impressive lump on his head and his right knee is badly bruised and swollen, but there's nothing that won't heal. It's a good thing he was wearing his seatbelt or it would have been a lot worse. I've ordered x-rays of his head and chest…and I want to keep him in overnight for observation to be certain he recovers from the concussion," the doctor replied.
Closing his eyes in relief, Jim blew out a long sigh as the tension eased from his body. Looking back at the doctor, he asked again, "Can I see him?"
"I don't see why not, but just for a few minutes. He's a little dazed," the doctor replied. Waving his hand, he said, "You'll find him in room four."
"Thank you," Jim replied and then he and Simon were striding down the hall. When they got to the right room and entered, Jim paused a moment, hit by how vulnerable Blair looked. He was lying on the examining table, his eyes closed, his jacket and shirt open, splattered with blood that also still painted his face. One eye was badly swollen and already turning black. The blood and bruises stood out starkly against the white pallor of his face.
Swallowing, Jim moved to the side of the table. "Hey, Chief?" he called softly, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder.
Blair flinched and opened his eyes, relaxing when he saw it was Jim and Simon. "Oh…hi. You startled me," he said, sounding shaky and a little weak. He shifted, trying to sit up but winced with pain and Jim pushed on his shoulders gently to hold him down. "Whoa, Chief…just take it easy. They want to x-ray those ribs of yours."
His eyes pressed shut, gritting his teeth against the sudden stab of pain, Blair just nodded as he grimaced, muscles tensed and fists clenched against the pain that ripped through his chest and head. Unconsciously, Ellison reached to cover one of his hands and Blair reacted instinctively, gripping Jim's hand hard as he fought for control.
"Easy…you're all right," Ellison murmured, sorry to see him suffering.
Nodding, Blair blew out a breath and opened his eyes. "Yeah…just a little dented," he sighed, then made a face as he continued, "The car's a write-off."
"What happened, Blair? Do you remember?" Simon asked. He'd heard a little from the preliminary investigation from the officers who been at the site. And he hadn't liked what he'd heard.
"It was so weird, you know?" Sandberg replied, still too shocked by the accident to be angry. "This guy just came out of nowhere and rammed me twice from behind and then shoved me right off the road into the trees."
"What guy?" Jim demanded, frowning. It was the first he'd heard that this hadn't been any ordinary accident.
Blair just shook his head. "Man, I have no friggin' idea," he sighed. "It was an SUV…black…I don't know the model. It was raining…I couldn't really see the driver…and I sure didn't have time to get a license plate number. I was trying too hard to stay on the road…and, to tell you the truth, too damned scared to even think about details."
Squinting a little as he concentrated, feeling anxiety again fill his chest, Jim asked, "But…it was deliberate?"
"Oh yeah, very," Blair replied with a shudder of memory. "I mean… 'deliberate' that he drove me off the road. Not 'deliberate' that it was me, specifically. He could've been drunk…or crazy. Why would anyone try to kill me?"
"Why indeed?" Simon repeated thoughtfully, looking from Blair to Jim. "Any ideas?"
"Yeah…one," Jim nodded with a grimace, not liking it much. Not liking it at all, as a matter of fact.
"Really?" Blair replied, his mouth a little agape.
Nodding, Jim looked down at him, again laying a hand on his shoulder. "I don't want to worry you, Chief. But you'd better start remembering who you saw the other night, 'cause it's sure beginning to look like he recognized you."
"The killing at the university," Simon murmured, recalling that Jim had briefly mentioned that Sandburg thought he'd seen someone around the right time and in the right place, but couldn't remember much of a description.
"Uh huh," Jim grunted.
"Oh my god," Blair breathed, going a whiter shade of pale.
They posted a guard on his room and tried to suppress his name being mentioned by the media in the hope that, if Jim's idea was right, the killer had recognized the car if not Blair himself. But, they were too late. A particularly conscientious reporter had gotten the information out on the five o'clock traffic and news report.
"Damn it," Jim muttered as he slammed down the phone. "Too late."
Simon shook his head and shrugged. "Maybe," he replied, knowing Jim wouldn't like his idea.
"Maybe?" Ellison replied. "Maybe it's a bad thing that the killer now knows for sure who saw him the other night?"
"Look, Jim…I know this is a bad situation, but we can watch out for Sandburg. But, think of it this way. We have no idea who the guy is, and no way of ever finding out. But…if he keeps going after Blair, we'll be able to catch him. Right?" Simon suggested, determined not to wince at the shout he knew was coming.
"You want to use Sandberg for bait?" Ellison blasted back. "I don't believe it."
"Sure you do…you just didn't think of it first, that's all. And, it doesn't really matter what I want. The fact is, the guy thinks Blair is a threat and is going to go after him again, well, probably anyway, whether we like it or not," Simon retorted, but he kept his tone calm and reasonable. He didn't like the situation any better than Ellison did, but they were stuck with it. "If you would just start thinking like a cop again, instead of a den mother, you'd know that as well as I do."
Jim looked away, his lips thinned as he shook his head…but he had to admit, Simon was right. Every protective instinct within him was screaming out in protest, wanting to deny the threat to his partner, to protect him above all else, but he couldn't, not when he didn't know who the threat was. "Fine…but you get to tell Sandburg," he said, trying for humour but his heart wasn't in it.
"Oh, thanks," his boss replied dryly. "That'll be fun."
"Bait?" Blair repeated, his voice clipped, as he pulled the clean T-shirt Jim had brought over his head. "Well, that's just great. You guys want to fish for a murderer and I get to play the worm on the end of the hook. Oh joy."
"Well…that's a little inelegantly put…but, yeah," Simon affirmed with a wry smile, glancing over at Jim.
They'd come to pick Blair up from the hospital. His cracked ribs were taped, and there was a strip of adhesive covering the cut over his eye, but he looked a whole lot better than he had the night before. It helped a lot that the blood had been washed off. He sported quite a shiner though. Made quite a statement with the wild hair.
"Sandburg…the guy is already hunting you. And he knows your name. At least, this way, we're watching and can protect you," Jim soothed, characteristically rational and logical, though inside he was no more enthusiastic about it all than was Blair.
Resigned, no fool, Blair had figured that much out for himself. But, much as he hated it, he was scared, not that it would do to let the other guys know that. Quirking a grin, he replied, "It's okay…I mean, this'll help you get the guy who killed that student, right? And, hey, no problem, not really. I know you guys won't let anyone close enough to hurt me, right? The bad guy doesn't stand a chance."
Nodding as he laid a reassuring, steadying hand on his friend's shoulder, Jim returned his smile. "You got it, Chief."
But, both Jim and Simon didn't fail to notice that Blair didn't even seem to register the very pretty young nurse who arrived just then with a wheelchair, to escort him out of the hospital. As he absentmindedly settled himself into it, with nary a protest, nor an admiring expression of charming infatuation, they looked at one another over his head. The kid was scared…and he had every right to be.
It was a long week.
At first, Blair was very glad of the protective surveillance, even though it wasn't always Jim who was glued to his side like a siamese twin. Though his roommate wanted to be with him, and was clearly ill at ease every time he watched Blair head out with another cop, or when he had to leave himself, he had a job to do. There were other cases, and another court-date that week.
Blair tried to be stoic about it, waving off his buddy's concerns with a brief, bright grin, but he never felt quite as safe when Jim was out of sight. For the first three days, he loitered at home, his ribs too tender to even bother considering a return to his classes at the university. He called in reading assignments for his students and let it go.
But, by the fourth day, he was restless and sick of being cooped up in the loft. His custodian wasn't much company, not wanting to be distracted from his wary watch of the street from the balcony. So, he read and did some writing, getting ahead on his lecture notes…getting twitchier and twitchier. Finally, he decided he couldn't make like a recluse for the rest of his life, hiding out in their loft above the street like a hermit in a mountain cave. So, he got up, got dressed and told Jim at breakfast that he was going back to work.
"You sure that's a good idea?" Jim challenged, not liking the idea of Sandburg being a more accessible target. "You still look a little peaked…wouldn't hurt your ribs to have another couple of days of rest."
"I'm fine," Blair asserted, draining a glass of freshly squeezed guava juice.
"I like it better when I know where you are," his roommate advised him.
"You will know where I am…at the university. In my quaint little dungeon or in the lecture hall with my adoring students hanging on my every word," Sandburg retorted. He was scared, and he knew Jim was worried about him, but he couldn't just sit around any longer. Looking away, steadying himself, Blair reminded himself that he trusted the police to watch out for him…trusted Jim to make sure nothing happened to him. The sooner they flushed this guy, whoever he was, into the open, the sooner this would all be over.
Jim rolled his eyes. He'd looked in on the classes a couple of times, and he'd thought those 'admiring students' more closely resembled a collection of zombies. "Sandburg, would it kill you to just stay put for a few more days?" At the look on the younger man's face at his ill chosen metaphor, he winced.
"You never know, buddy…it just might," Blair replied, grinning wickedly, trying to blow off his instinctive reaction. He was irritated with himself for feeling so scared that a simple word could throw him.
"Sorry…but you're safer here, Chief," Jim persisted, feeling that crazy desperation in his chest that always made it hard to breathe when he thought Sandburg was in any kind of danger.
"Jim, I'm bored out of my skull…I have to go out or I'll be climbing the walls, swinging from the light fixtures and singing, 'Climb Every Mountain'. Don't worry…I've got Sherlock over there…I'll be fine," Blair insisted, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Relax, Jim…really. I'll be fine."
"All right," his buddy sighed, knowing there was no point in arguing with Blair when he had his mind made up. Sandburg might look like a kid, and might defer to his wishes in almost everything, but the fact was that his partner was no pushover. Blair made up his own mind and acted accordingly. "Have it your way. The upside is we might have a better shot at drawing this guy out if you're easier to get to…."
"You're just trying to scare me, but it won't work. I'm going," the guide sniffed, hoping Jim was just trying to scare him. But the quizzical expression on his partner's face wasn't reassuring.
Still, for all the worry, nothing happened. Not that day, or the next, or the next or even the one after that. Blair took his classes, met with grad students, and went to faculty meetings, which were predictably mind-numbing…and jumped at every shadow, much to his personal embarrassment and silent chagrin. The tension was wearing him out. He could hardly sleep at night and when he did, he just kept seeing that black SUV pressing closer, or the trees rushing up to meet him…or the indistinct face of the man who was hunting him looming out of the dark, like Bela Lugosi on his worst night.
Jim was getting worn down as well. He slept with his senses wide open…which meant he didn't sleep much at all. During the day, though he tried to present his typically stone-faced façade to the world, he was a nervous wreck until he caught up with Sandburg again, and knew he had his partner safe, beside him, where he could protect him. He tried to shake himself out of his mood of over-protectiveness, not really understanding it.
He'd only known the kid for a few months, but in that time Sandburg had become more than a partner. Since Einstein had moved in with him, he'd gotten to know Blair a whole lot better. Though some of his behaviours were annoying, like his love of weird music played at ear-splitting levels, or his propensity to sink into a meditative state like some kind of zombie, not to mention his preference for herbs and soothing teas, the truth was, he liked the kid, really liked him. And, there was something about Blair that seemed vulnerable for all his independence, something that made Ellison feel a need to protect him. The fact that the young anthropologist attracted lunatics like Lash or inadvertently got poisoned by a Golden-laced pizza meant for the detectives in the squad didn't help.
Still, they both tried to hide their growing anxiety from the other, endeavouring to act as normally as possible, as if the possibility of a murderer hunting Sandburg didn't exist.
On the seventh evening after the car crash, Blair lounged on the couch, his feet crossed on the coffee table, nursing a beer as he tried to concentrate on whatever was on television. Jim was sprawled in the chair, similarly engaged, while his ear was tuned to the street below and the hall outside their door.
"Maybe…maybe it was just a drunk or a wacko after all," Blair suggested with a sigh. "Besides, he's got to know I haven't a clue who he is or he'd've been arrested by now. So, he must know there's no reason to keep coming after me."
"Maybe," Jim allowed, wishing that it could be true, but doubting it.
"The force can't afford to keep babysitting me forever," the slight anthropologist noted distantly, not sure whether he wanted to be rid of the constant shadow, or was afraid to be on his own. What a way to live, he thought, wondering how celebrities and people like the President learned to stand the constant threat, the never knowing if someone was going to take a shot at you…or the constant lack of privacy of an ever-present bodyguard.
"Oh, we can afford it for a while longer," Jim replied, though he knew there was already pressure from administration about the costs of having at least one cop off the streets every day. If necessary, he'd take leave and guard Sandburg himself twenty-four hours a day. In some ways, he'd feel better doing that than leaving the kid's security to others.
Sitting up, his expression somber, Blair asked, "Seriously, Jim…what am I going to do? If it was the killer and he's spotted my police escort, he'll just wait it out. What then? What do I do then? I can't keep going around afraid of my own shadow and spooked when a cat walks by."
Leveling a steady gaze at his partner, knowing Blair was scared, Jim replied calmly, "We are going to keep you alive. That's what we're going to do. Any more questions?"
"Good plan…I like it. Really reassuring. No…no more questions," Blair pouted, slumping back against the couch, but oddly comforted by the fact that Jim had emphasized the 'we'. At least he wasn't up against this alone. "I know you don't have the answers, either," he sighed quietly, trying to resign himself to letting the Fates take their course.
Glancing at his watch as he settled into his truck, Ellison thought for a minute and figured Blair would have finished his last class of the day about half an hour ago and would be on his way home. Frowning, he turned on the ignition and headed out of the police lot. The kid was wound tighter than a ball of twine and it was only a matter of time before he began to seriously unravel. Sighing, he knew he was impressed with how well Sandburg had been handling it all. The kid was brave, too brave for his own good sometimes. Just like the crazy rabbit in the old commercials, he took a lickin' and kept on tickin'…but he wasn't a wind-up toy and nobody could stand the strain of being a target forever. Maybe the killer had backed off. Sandburg was right, whoever it was, he had to know that Blair didn't have a clue as to who he was or the cops would have been knocking at his door long before now. Shaking his head, Jim wished he could believe that…but killers tended to be nervous and had a low tolerance for risk. An eye-witness was a loose end that most killers would want to tie up tight.
Ellison was certain the bad guy hadn't given up…he was just smart enough to bide his time. They'd found no clues as to who would want to kill that student. Hell, they hadn't found anybody who'd cared enough about the kid to even notice if he was around. The only thing that was the least bit of evidence was the drug that had killed the youth…some lead. You could buy it from any number of shady clubs, dark alleys or high society shindigs depending on the circles you ran with.
Shaking his head again in weary frustration, he was turning onto the street toward home when his cell phone demanded urgent attention. Dragging it out of his pocket, knowing it was probably routine but unable to quell the sudden shaft of anxiety, he barked, "Ellison."
"I lost him," came the slightly sick voice on the other end of the line.
Hitting the brake and pulling over, Jim shouted, "You WHAT? WHERE?"
"At the university, in his office," Carl, the latest 'Sherlock' as Blair referred to his shadows, replied.
Grimacing with irritation, Jim tried to hold some measure of calm. Losing it wouldn't help Blair. "Explain that if you wouldn't mind," he growled.
"He'd finished his last class of the day and had gone back to his office…surrounded with students, talking a mile a minute, gesturing…like he does, you know? Anyway, I was a few feet back. When he got to his office, there was a guy waiting for him, holding two cups of coffee and Blair seemed to know him, no problem. They went in and the next thing you know, they're gabbing about the philosophical underpinnings of archtypical whatsits in the spiritual beliefs of pre-whatever cultures. I didn't get the half of it. Anyway, Blair looked up and realized I was hovering around the door. He zipped over, told me he'd be about half an hour and I should get a coffee and come back later and closed the door. I swear, I thought it was all right. And, it's been more than a week with no trouble. I was only gone less than twenty minutes…when I got back the door was still closed so I just leaned on the wall and waited…but when more than the half hour passed, I knocked on the door. No answer. When I opened it…well, they were gone."
Jim had long past turned the truck around and gunned it toward the university. "Who was the guy?"
"I don't know… Blair called him 'Tony'," Carl said with a sigh, knowing he'd blown it big time and really worried about the funny little professor with the wild mane of hair.
"Did 'Tony' see you, know you're a cop?" Jim demanded, his throat dry, his heart clenching in fear. He'd promised Sandburg they'd keep him safe…dammit, he knew he should have been guarding his partner himself.
"I don't know. I'm in plain clothes…he might not have spotted me in the hall. The place is thick with students, teaching assistants and professors. When Blair came to the door, he'd've blocked most of the guy's view of me, and he didn't say anything that would signal I'm a cop…and the rest of the time, the guy had his back to me," the police officer reported. He knew he was probably giving too much detail, but Ellison was famous for wanting to know every little thing.
"What did 'Tony' look like?" Jim asked, a cold ball of icy fear growing in his gut.
"Average…Caucasian, about six feet, dark brown hair, nothing remarkable, casually dressed, but good clothes…around forty, maybe," Carl relayed.
Feeling his heart clench, Jim swore softly. "It's him…the killer."
"Damn it," Carl cursed. "Look, I've got security scouring the building and Sandburg's car is still in the lot. He has to be here somewhere. But, so far, nobody saw nothin'."
"Right," Jim breathed, disgusted but not surprised. Nobody ever saw nothin'…they just never wanted to get involved. "Look, I'm at the university…I'm heading straight over to Sandburg's building and I'll meet you outside his office." Maybe he could pick up something…anything. He prayed Blair had found a way to leave him a clue.
The wheels squealed as he hit the brake and jumped out of his truck outside the tall brick edifice. He stopped for a moment, zoning in on his listening, trying to hear his buddy's voice. Blair had to be still near here somewhere…had to be. And, if he was, the odds were, he'd be talking. Filtering out other sounds, hundreds of voices, he closed his eyes and concentrated.
And heard him.
"Maybe I should join the circus," Blair was saying in a singsong voice. "Like the 'Flying Sullivans'…the 'Sonic Sondbergs'…" and he giggled. "Dum de dum," he hummed then muttered, "Fly…maybe I can fly!"
Looking wildly around, trying to place the voice, Jim looked up at the top of the building and his blood froze in stark horror. He focused in, and saw Blair clearly; arms outstretched as he skipped along the narrow wall of concrete that edged the building, a token barrier to keep anyone on the roof from accidentally falling.
"Oh my god," Jim breathed, and then he was running flat out. Up the front steps, skipping four at a time and down the hall to the elevator. He punched the button impatiently, and it opened to his vast relief. Inside, he pounded the top button, and the one to close the doors. Finding it hard to breathe, he kept muttering, "Come on, COME ON!" as it ground its way to the top. As soon as the doors were open, he was racing down the hall, skidding at the door to the stairwell that led to the roof…and on up the stairs. "Don't jump," he panted like a mantra, "don't jump!"
Shoving open the door at the top, he bolted onto the roof and raced to the far edge where Blair was thankfully still walking an imaginary tight rope. He slowed as he got close, not wanting to startle his friend, and came up behind him, within arm's reach. "Chief," he called softly, trying for a reassuring tone, though his voice stuck a little in his throat, blocked by the lump of fear lodged there.
"What?" giggled Blair as he swung around on his toes, practically giving Jim a heart attack as he teetered dangerously. "Hey, buddy!" Blair smiled that blinding, innocent, full of life smile…but his eyes were dark, the pupils so dilated the blue irises were lost in the blackness.
"Hey," Jim replied, holding out a hand, slowly so as not to threaten. "What's up?"
"I am!" Blair sang out, throwing his arms wide. "High in the sky, free as a bird…I can fly, Jim! I know I can…wanna see?"
"NO!" Jim blurted. "No, Chief…later okay…not now. I want to talk now. So…why don't you come down from there and we'll talk, okay?"
Tilting his head as he gazed at Jim, Blair thought about it for about half a second then shook his head. "Nope, don't think so. I tell you, I feel sooo GREAT! I'm gonna do it! I'm going to soar like an eagle over the forest and the ocean…like Icarus…."
"Icarus got burned by the sun," Jim called, desperately afraid as he edged closer.
Blair grinned, "Well…I just won't fly that high…too easy! Watch!"
"NOOOO!" Jim screamed in horror.
The slight man turned and dove…but Jim was already moving, as fast as he'd ever moved in his life as he lunged to grab Blair's arm, catching hold just as his best friend leapt from the roof…pulling him up short and hard against the building as he fell. Jim felt as though his arm was being pulled from his shoulder, but he held on and dragged Blair back up, reaching with his other hand to grab hold of his partner's collar as he heaved him higher.
Dragging Blair over the edge, he pulled the smaller man close to his chest and backed away, sinking to his knees, holding his friend firmly. Hating the restraint, needing to fly, Blair fought him, yelling and kicking and squirming like a fish, but Jim wasn't about to let go. "Easy," he shouted, his voice taut with anxiety, with fear for what had been done to his friend, and of what had almost happened, "Sandburg…settle down! Easy!"
Blair could feel his heart pumping, faster and faster, and the world was spinning, out of control. He felt suddenly sick and stopped struggling, lying perfectly still in Jim's arms. The frantic fear in his friend's voice got through to him. Jim was in trouble, needed him…sounded scared and lost. Blinking, Blair looked up into his friend's eyes. "Jim?" he murmured, reaching up a hand, touching his partner's face… and then his hand fell back and his eyes clouded as his lids drooped and he slumped back against the arm that held him so tightly.
"Sandburg?" the Sentinel called out. "BLAIR!"
But, there was no response. His friend lay as still as death in his arms.
Close to panic that Blair was dying, sick with the fear, Jim almost zoned out, focusing on Sandburg's heartbeat…too fast, too erratic…pounding like a steam engine thundering out of control, a runaway train heading for a crash….no…NO! He heard Blair's voice in his mind, 'They are your senses, man, you were born with them, you can control them…just breathe and concentrate…breathe and focus…." Panting, slowing his breathing down, he brought himself back, sweating with the effort, with his fear.
Then he was up on his feet, Blair in his arms, as he raced back across the roof and down the stairs to the elevator. Inside, he braced his friend between himself and the wall while he punched out the ground floor and pulled his cell from his pocket, punching the speed dial. When Simon answered on the other end, Jim blurted, "I've got Sandburg…he's in bad shape…we're headed to Cascade General. Meet me there."
Shoving the phone back into his jacket, he slipped his arm around Blair's knees and turned as the elevator doors opened. "Out of the way!" he shouted as he plunged down the corridor. "Emergency! Get out of my way!"
The people who heard his frenzied shout looked up in shock and then scattered to the walls as he raced past them, out to his truck. He put Blair on the passenger side securing him tightly with the seat belt, then climbed up over him to slide under the wheel. Hitting his lights and siren, he peeled out of the drive, and gunned the engine when he hit the street.
One hand on the wheel, he held Blair with the other, a firm grip on his partner's shoulder. "You hang on, you hear me!" he shouted. "Sandburg…you hang on!"
When he got to the hospital, he left the truck at the entrance to Emergency. Gathering Blair in his arms, not even bothering to close the vehicle's door, he turned and raced into the building. Simon had called ahead, and they were expecting him, a nurse waving him down the hall…the same doctor waiting by the examining room door.
His own face white with shock, trembling, he laid his best friend gently on the table. "He's been drugged," he said succinctly, looking up at the doctor. "I don't know what it is, but he was hallucinating or something… thought he could fly…and then he just passed out. His heart's beating too fast, way too fast."
"Alright," the doctor replied, deliberately using a calm tone to settle the large man who was clearly on the edge of panic. "Let me take a look." Bending to examine Sandburg's eyes, his pulse, the doctor turned quickly to the nurse who had followed Jim into the room. He ordered a battery of something…Jim didn't get it, too focused on Blair, his increasingly shallow breathing, hearing again the heartbeat…out of control, thumping wildly, faster and faster…until it stopped and the silence was deafening.
"His heart stopped," he muttered, more to himself, scarcely aware of the others in the room, moving forward to start CPR.
"What?" demanded the doctor turning back to him. "You can't know that!"
"It's stopped, dammit!" Jim cried again, pulling away roughly when the doctor grabbed his arm and tried to move him back, away from Blair. He thumped his fist down on his friend's chest to try to shock the silent heart back into action. "Do something!"
Thinking Jim had lost his mind, the doctor still turned to try for a pulse. His eyes widened when he didn't find one. He snapped to the nurse, "Call the code and get me 100 ccs of epinephrine. NOW!"
She went to the phone on the wall and punched in the number, saying crisply, "Code Blue, Emergency, Room One," then turned to the cabinet of supplies. The doctor was already there, pulling out an intubator and grabbing an oxygen mask connected to a manually inflating airbag. Turning to the wall, and the oxygen hook up, he twisted the segments together and turned on the flow. A blur of continuous movement, he was back, standing behind Blair's head, tilting his jaw up and out as he slipped in the instrument to clear the airway, put the mask over Blair's face and started pumping the bag. Jim was compressing his friend's chest, doing the count.
In less than a minute, the crash team had poured into the room, hauling the cart with them. The nurse turned to hold out the long-needled syringe and the doctor took it, as he called to Jim, "Rip open his shirt."
Jim straightened and his hands yanked viciously at the thin material, popping off the buttons as he tore it open. He backed up, and the doctor moved in, plunging the syringe into Blair's chest…into his heart. Jim had to look away, suddenly feeling dizzy and definitely queasy. Blair was dying…god…Blair was dying!
The crash team members had been clearing Blair's extremities and slapping on sensory devices. The line on the crash cart monitor lit and droned with a high whine and a straight line. "Paddles," ordered the doctor. "Give me two hundred."
Someone slapped the paddles into his hand while someone else smeared something on Blair's chest. "Clear," called the doctor as he placed the paddles and zapped the power. Blair arched, his body spasming in contraction, then thumped back onto the table. The line droned straight. "Three hundred!" the doctor called out, "Clear!" and zapped again…another contraction…nothing. "Four hundred," he called, his voice tight. Jim prayed incoherently as he stared at Sandburg's gray face. "Clear!"
This time, when Blair collapsed back against the thin mattress, the monitor beeped and erratic lines appeared…far from healthy, but beating. Jim sagged against the wall and closed his eyes as he swallowed the bile in the back of his throat, panting a little as he grimly tried to hold onto his raging senses.
"Jim?" he heard Simon call and looked up to see his superior in the doorway. More people were pressing into the room, lab techs from the look of them, who took blood from Blair's arm and ankle.
Looking away from Simon back to Sandburg's face…and then up to the doctor's features. "What's happening? Can you keep him alive?" Jim demanded, shivering a little in shock.
The doctor looked away from the monitor, into the Sentinel's eyes, as he replied, "I don't know yet. We need to see what kind of drug he took."
"He didn't take any drug!" Jim snarled. "He was poisoned. Somebody just tried to murder him."
Startled, the doctor looked back down at Blair. "Somebody almost succeeded," he replied.
Simon and the doctor both tried to talk Jim into leaving the small, crowded room, to give them more room to work, to get him somewhere to calm down, but he wasn't having any of it. Wasn't really even aware of them any longer, his senses zoning on Sandburg, his erratic heartbeat, his shallow and irregular breathing. Simon realized what was happening and eased Jim into a corner, where he could watch and listen but be out of the way.
Speaking softly but deliberately, fighting for a calm he didn't feel, Simon worked to bring him out of it. "Listen to me Jim…hear my voice…lock on it. Breathe, man…slowly…take it easy. Just breathe. That's it. You have to talk to me, Jim…you have to tell me what happened. Come on…come back. We need to get the guy who did this…Jim?"
The Sentinel blinked, shuddering a little. "He's dying, Simon…I can feel it," he grated, his voice low, hoarse.
"He's still alive and they're working to keep him that way," Simon reassured him, his arm wrapped around Jim's back, supporting him.
"I should've been with him…I shouldn't've let this happen. I promised him, Simon, I promised him we'd keep him alive…." His voice cracked and he blinked against the burning in his eyes, panting a little, finding it hard to breathe with the vice of sick dread squeezing his heart.
"This isn't your fault," his superior tried to soothe him, but knew he was wasting his time. Jim was trembling with the effort of holding onto his control. While Simon knew a little about this Sentinel business, he knew he didn't begin to understand the link that had grown between these two men. They were almost increasingly symbiotic, one needing the other to function fully. He didn't want to think about what would happen to Ellison if they lost Sandburg.
"What's taking them so long!" Jim growled with mounting impatience, looking from the clock on the wall to his partner's gray face. So still…he was so still. Sandburg was never still...even when he slept, he was restless, mumbling in his sleep. Always moving, shifting, waving his hands, a dozen expressions flashing across his face in scarcely more time than a heartbeat, always with something to say.
"It takes time to do the blood analysis, you know that," Simon replied. Then, to distract Jim, he asked again, "Tell me what happened."
"Well, uh," Jim stammered, struggling to focus, "that idiot Koczanski left his post, left Sandburg unguarded 'cause it seemed he was having a safe meeting with a fellow professor, who'd been waiting at his office with two cups of coffee. Someone Sandburg knew, apparently, called him 'Tony'. Medium build, dark hair, white, around forty. Sandburg told him he'd be busy for a half-hour and to go get a coffee. Carl said he was only gone twenty minutes…when the door didn't open after half an hour, he knocked and went in. Empty. When I got to the campus, I spotted Sandburg on edge of the roof, thinking he was some kind of circus performer…a tightrope walker. I just barely got to him when he decided he could fly and jumped. I grabbed him and hauled him back onto the roof. He fought me…his heart was racing so fast. Pupils fully dilated. And then he just stopped moving. He looked up at me, said my name, and then lost consciousness. When we got here, his heart…stopped beating. That's it…that's all I know."
A technician rushed into the room at that moment, a clipboard with some papers in her hand, which she handed to the doctor. He rubbed his chin as he read, frowning. Then, he nodded, wrote out some orders on the chart and turned to murmur something to the nurse, who went to the supply cabinet and began sorting through vials of medicine as she prepared two syringes.
The doctor checked Blair then turned to cross the room to speak to them. "Well, we at least know what's in his system. A fatal dose of ice took him up…no wonder he thought he could fly. And an equally lethal dose of barbiturate made him crash, hard," he reported.
"So…you know what to do to help him," Jim replied, not liking the way the doctor wasn't quite meeting his eyes.
"To an extent, yes, that's true," the physician replied, slightly hesitant in his manner. "We'll give him medication to counter the effects of the drugs and stabilize his system."
"There's a 'but' in there that I don't think we're going to like much," Simon observed when the doctor hesitated.
Nodding with a sigh, hating having to give this kind of news, the doctor replied, "A big 'but', I'm afraid. I'll need to do more tests…but it's highly possible, even probable, that your friend will have suffered extensive brain damage from the dosages he was given. I'm sorry…I can't really tell you anything more until I do the tests."
Jim's features bleached with shock as he sagged back against the wall, the words hitting him with the force of a sledge-hammer. 'Brain damage'? He thought he might throw up. Memories flashed, memories of Sandburg's words after he'd seen an assassin hooked up to life support, brain dead. 'Whoa, I hope I never end up like that,' he'd said, blowing out a long sigh. 'A soul trapped in a dead body, unable to escape the darkness…I pray to all the gods any people ever worshipped that they have mercy and never condemn me to that.'
"We'll be moving him soon…there isn't anything you can do here except provide information to the admission's clerk and leave word as to how we can contact you. As soon as I know, I promise you I will be in touch," the doctor continued, looking from Jim to Simon.
"I don't want to leave him…he needs me," Jim protested, feeling desperation fill him.
"He needs you to find out who did this, Jim," Simon countered. "There's nothing you can do here."
Torn, needing to stay, wanting to track down the animal who had done this, swallowing, Jim murmured, "Can I have a minute with him?"
"Yes…of course," the doctor agreed, stepping out of the way.
Like a man in a nightmare, Jim moved to the edge of the table and laid his hand over Sandburg's heart, the other moving to brush back his best friend's hair to rest on his forehead as he bent to murmur into his partner's ear. "Listen to me, Chief. I know you're in there, and you're scared. But…but they know how to counteract the drugs and how to take care of you. I can't stay, but I'll be back, I promise. Don't be afraid, buddy…we're going to get through this…I promise you…I won't ever let you be alone…or trapped in the darkness. You hear me? I'll make sure you're okay."
Whatever it cost him, if it turned out it was hopeless for his friend, he'd keep his promise.
Jim closed his eyes, imagining he could hear Sandburg's response. 'Promises, promises…I wasn't supposed to be alone in the first place, remember? All right, I know I screwed up…sending Carl away. Just get the guy, okay? Just…get him, Jim.'
But, he knew it was only his imagination…that there was no way of knowing if Blair had even heard him, or could feel him nearby. Breathing out a shuddering sigh, Jim stood and lifted his hands from his contact with his best friend, then turned to face Simon. With a nod, his captain led the way out of the room.
Appalled that his bad judgment had led to the attempt on Sandburg's life, Carl Koczanski was doing all he could to pick up the pieces and find out just exactly who 'Tony' was. First, he scoured Sandburg's office for the 'grande' sized coffee cups he'd seen the suspect carrying, but they were gone. Damn…but that didn't mean they weren't somewhere in the building. He directed the campus security and the reinforcements from the department to search the building and its environs for the two cups… 'Tony' hadn't been wearing gloves…his prints would be there, along with traces of whatever he'd put in Sandburg's coffee. If it was in the coffee.
Then he headed to the university's human resources office. Word travels fast on the university grapevine and before he'd even arrived at the office, it was widely known that a plainclothes cop had been watching over Sandburg and had already begun the investigation on the assault of the teaching assistant.
Pushing open the glass doors of the office, he strode to the reception desk and showed his badge. "Officer Koczanski," he said. "I'd like to see the personnel records of any professors with the first name of 'Tony' or 'Anthony'."
The receptionist shook her head. "I'm sorry, but personal records are confidential. Without a warrant…"
"I can get a warrant, but it would cost a lot of valuable time. In the meantime," he mused, his voice calm, almost reflective as he uttered an unmistakable threat, "who knows what the media might find out. A student murdered, one of the teachers critically injured…and the suspect a professor, but the university is not cooperating with the police and so efforts are delayed in tracking down a ruthless killer. Should make for interesting 'News at Five', don't you think?"
She gazed at him silently for a moment, then picked up a phone, turning to speak quietly to whoever was on the other end. She nodded and turned back, replacing the phone in its cradle. "The university is always pleased to cooperate with the police, indeed eager to do so, especially given the circumstances of these terrible crimes. If you'll come with me, I'll have one of our clerks search the records for you."
"Thank you. I really appreciate the assistance," he answered dryly, following her further into the office.
'Computers sure make life easier,' he thought less than fifteen minutes later as he looked at the face of the man he'd seen waiting outside Sandburg's office. Dr. Anthony Ralston, Faculty of Philosophy. Bingo.
Koczanski pulled out his cell and punched the code for Captain Banks' cell. A moment later, Banks responded. "Sir…Koczanski. I have an ID on our suspect. Dr. Anthony Ralston, Philosophy Department. He is definitely the guy I saw waiting for Sandburg, the guy with the two coffees."
"Good work, Carl…we're on our way back to the university. Meet us outside Sandburg's office."
"Will do, sir," the police officer replied, then hastily asked, "How is Sandburg, sir?"
"Alive, Carl…he's alive," Simon replied, his voice dull. And then the connection was broken.
Ralston was not pleased to hear about the plainclothes cop who had been shadowing Sandburg. Not pleased at all. It was getting to be like a game of dominos…knock one witness over, and there was another standing right behind him. It had all gone so perfectly…setting up Sandburg by pretending interest in his favourite obsession, getting him alone. He hadn't suspected anything, the schmuck…and by the time he'd realized there was a problem, the drugs were already in his system, and he was susceptible to suggestion. Ralston had led him from the storage room he called an office and up the stairwell to the roof. Nobody took the stairs these days, so nobody noticed a thing. Ralston had planted the idea that Sandburg could fly, as he led him close to the edge of the roof. Oh, he'd tried to resist, but the drugs had confused him in a hurry, made him easier to manage. Leaving him there, Ralston had swiftly returned to his own office, put the crushed coffee cups into his coat pocket for later disposal and had pulled out a file, looking for all the world like an ordinary professor going about his business.
Ralston was sure Sandburg would take a flyer off the roof, while Ralston was safe, back at his office with a solid alibi…but it didn't matter. The long-haired anthropologist would never wake up…and who'd miss an anthropologist anyway? Who'd care about one more professional student who died of a drug overdose? Or, at least, that was Ralston's reasoning…he didn't know enough about Sandburg to know that his victim was an observer with the Cascade PD or that the anthropologist's roommate was a detective.
But, then, he sighed as he thought about the cop he hadn't realized was still on duty, providing witness protection services. His assistant had just come in with the exciting information that he was, even now, going over to the human resources department, to try to identify the terrible man who'd hurt that nice Blair Sandburg. Ralston had nodded and commiserated and hoped they'd catch the bastard and finally got rid of her.
Opening the top drawer of his desk, he removed the thin assassin's stiletto he'd long kept as a souvenir of his youth in Rome, using it as a paper knife. Well, he thought philosophically, perhaps it had been destined to be used for what it was designed to do. Carefully, he wiped it clean of any incriminating fingerprints, then folding it in his handkerchief, he slipped it into his coat pocket. Pulling a hat over his head against the persistent rain and cold wind, he locked his office and left the building.
Frowning thoughtfully as he walked down the hall, he reflected that this had turned into a real mess. That stupid, arrogant twerp of a student, finding out about his profitable sideline and threatening to blackmail him about selling drugs, that hippy anthropologist being there at the wrong time and now a cop he hadn't noticed in the crowded hallway. Nobody had missed the kid, and nobody would miss the anthropologist. But, he was afraid that a cop would be missed. He'd have to give up the drug trade for a while. Let things cool off. If he did this last necessary thing, he'd be clear. They'd never get him.
Koczanski left the human resources office and joined the group waiting for the elevator. When it came, he crowded in with everyone else, thinking he should have taken the stairs. Sighing, he watched the indicator light…and jumped at the sharp bite of ice and then a surge of flame that spread from his back up into his chest. His heart constricted and he found himself panting for air…dizzy. Though he opened his mouth to cry out, it was already too late.
Someone screamed as the man behind her fell forward, pushing her into the elevator door. When it opened on the ground floor, she backed out, horrified. The others surged out, gingerly stepping around the man who half laid across the open portal…one quick thinking student jammed on the hold button to keep the doors from trying to close.
Nobody really knew who else had been on the elevator…who looked at anyone on an elevator and now the body crumpled on the floor held their mesmerized gaze. Nobody noticed that a few had scattered, feeling uncomfortable at scurrying away without offering assistance but in a hurry. It had been only too clear from the blue lips and staring eyes that the man had been beyond help. The knife in his back explained why… and who wanted to get caught in a murder investigation?
Koczanski never knew what hit him.
They had clattered down the stairs that led to Sandburg's basement office, expecting Koczanski to be waiting for them.
"Where is he?" Ellison ground out, impatient, turning to look down the far hall.
Simon's cell rang, and he flipped it open. "Banks, here." As he listened, he closed his eyes and shook his head. Wordlessly, he closed it and looked at Jim. "Carl won't be meeting us. Ralston got to him first."
"He's dead?" Jim exclaimed, consternation on his face.
"Yeah…'fraid so," Simon sighed, depressed by the death of the police officer…then feeling the reality of it fuel the helpless anger that had been burning within him ever since he'd gotten Ellison's call that Sandburg had been assaulted.
Ellison rubbed his forehead as he turned away. "We know Ralston's our man," he said with frustration.
"We don't have a witness, Jim…not anymore. We've got bupkas…nothing to tie him to any of this unless we can find another witness who can place him with Sandburg," Simon snapped, equally frustrated. "Or Sandburg wakes up and tells us his story."
"Ralston's not going to get away with this!" Ellison snarled.
"Evidence, Jim…by the book, remember. He's clear until we get something to tie him in. Right now, we can't touch him," Simon stressed again, not liking the fire in Ellison's eyes no matter how well he understood it.
"Okay, okay, I hear you," Jim spat out, disgusted. His hands on his hips, he tried to think. "What do we have? It's got to be drug related. The student and Sandburg were both given overdoses of ice. We know who he is…what do you think? Stake him out? Try to find the drug connection? Get a warrant to search his office, home, vehicle…whatever?" But, he knew without Koczanski they didn't have probable cause. And this guy was smart and quick. He'd lie low and they might never get to him. Unless Blair woke up. "Sandburg," he said thoughtfully, feeling the constant ache of fear stab into a new, raw awareness, overlaid with guilt, for what had happened…and for what he was about to suggest.
"Jim…you gotta accept it, man…the likelihood of Sandburg ever being able to help is…" Simon just shook his head.
"We don't know that, not for sure…and neither does Ralston," Jim replied, with a stony expression. It was taking every last bit of control he had to stay focused, to shut down the feelings that threatened to overwhelm him. "What if police sources let it out that the doctors have a new treatment, which they are very hopeful will work… within what, say twenty-four hours?"
"You are one cold bastard, Ellison…but, you're right. It's the only chance we're likely to get. C'mon, let's head back to the office," Simon said. And both of them knew, if he could, Sandburg would volunteer to once again be the bait to get the guy who had already murdered two people...while a third lay possibly dying.
But, Jim shook his head. "I'll drop you off, but I'm going back to the hospital. They'll have done their tests by now," he replied. "I want to know what they've found out."
Simon looked away. "No…you go on over there. No point in heading all the way downtown just to come halfway back again to the hospital. I'll be fine. I think I'll go over to Administration and get a picture of this bastard, and I'll get a copy to you at the hospital."
"Thanks, Simon," Jim turned to head back down the corridor.
Simon's voice called after him, "I hope the news is better than the doctor expects."
"So do I," Jim murmured as he loped up the stairs. "So do I."
When Ellison got back to the hospital, he discovered he'd been overly optimistic. It would be another hour before the tests were finished and he was told to wait in the ICU visitor's lounge. Plastic, uncomfortable battered furniture, crumpled and half-filled cups of cold coffee, irritating Muzac playing just loud enough to grate on his nerves. 'Block it out, Jim, you can do that,' he heard Sandburg's voice in his mind and he took a shuddering breath. Would he ever hear that voice again or see those eyes dance with intelligence and humour?
He leaned against the wall, too agitated to sit, then began pacing, his hands stuffed in his jeans pockets. The kid had been scared about being the target of a killer, though he'd tried not to show it. Sandburg didn't want to die…why would he? He was still not much more than a kid, and was getting close to earning the Ph.D. he'd worked so hard for. He was brilliant and funny…and he wanted so much out of life. To do good work, to better understand what made people and societies tick. He wanted to get married and have kids, so much so that every woman who came along caught his attention as the one who might be the right one…and invariably ended up with a bruised but undaunted heart. And he was brave. Jim rubbed the back of his neck as he thought about how often Sandburg had done what needed to be done in the last few months since he'd blasted his way into Ellison's life. Out of friendship or out of sheer decent integrity, he just always did the right thing, without regard to the danger to himself…like parachuting out of a plane over the Peruvian jungle when he didn't have a clue what he was doing because Simon and Daryl were in trouble…or staying on that oil rig in the middle of the ocean, knowing it was about to blow up so that he could save the lives of the other men imprisoned on it. The kid liked to pretend he was no hero, but there was nothing of the coward in him.
And he'd saved Ellison's sanity. The detective knew it. When he'd first met the grad student, Jim had been frightened by what was going on that he didn't understand, the way his senses were out of control. And nobody but the kid had understood. Oh, he knew in the beginning Sandburg's principle interest had been in getting a living, breathing subject upon whom he could test and prove his theories. But…that had changed over the year they'd been working and living together. Changed a lot. The kid had turned down a project he'd dreamed of doing to stay with him… because they were friends. And he knew Jim needed him.
Ellison wondered what would have happened to him if Blair hadn't've come into his life. He knew so much more now, Blair had taught him so much, about how to use the peculiar gifts he had. How to control them, not be controlled by them. And he was grateful, more than grateful. In some pretty fundamental ways, he owed the kid his life.
Sighing as he paced, he reflected on how he'd tried to resist getting to like Sandburg, to care about him. Ellison harboured a notion that he was something of a jinx when it came to partners. Not surprising. He'd lost all of them, whether the squad in that jungle, or in his police work…they'd all been killed, all but him. So, he'd learned to work alone, hold the core of himself back. The walls he'd built around himself had been too high, even for Carolyn, his wife, to climb or break down. It had been lonely, but he'd learned to live with it…better than the pain of loss, he'd told himself.
And the kid wasn't anyone he'd've ever imagined himself being friends with. Weirdo hippy with his strange ideas of what constituted food, messy, exuberantly extroverted, mouthy, and that crazy, wild mane of hair. But, Sandberg had managed what no one else had ever done…he'd gotten through the wall. When he'd thought the kid might be blown up on that rig, Jim had just about lost it, forgetting how to breathe until the seconds ticked by with no explosion. Tears burned in the tough cop's eyes at the memory…and the relief he'd felt when he realized Blair wasn't going to die. He'd known Sandburg had gotten close, worming his way into the loft when his own place, that ridiculous home he'd created in a warehouse, had blown up…and then just had never gotten around to leaving. Oh, they'd had some tough moments, like when Lash had ambushed Blair, or when the kid had been poisoned with the Golden. But it hadn't been until they'd been stuck out on the ocean, Blair still on the rig while Ellison was on the boat, too far away to help, when he'd thought Blair might die within those sick, empty moments, that it had hit him with the force of a battering ram. Sandburg was someone he needed in his life…a friend he'd come to love and depend upon. Depend upon being there, brightening the days of his solitary existence.
Now, he wondered if he could even really function without Blair. In a way he didn't begin to understand, this Sentinel and Guide business had them linked, actually bonded somehow. They weren't completely separate at all anymore…it was a kind of a meshing of awareness and of the soul. If Sandburg got torn out of his life, his loss would leave a gaping wound, one that there was no way to heal. Jim wasn't sure what would happen, but he suspected he'd just shut down, become unaware of anything around him, uncaring. Thinking about that, he was genuinely surprised to realize that he didn't care about that. Fiercely aggressive, combative, Ellison had always been a survivor, doing whatever it took to keep going, even against the most impossible odds. He'd never known how to give up. But the idea of losing Blair left him feeling empty, as if none of it would matter any more, and there'd be no point to anything.
He gritted his jaw and swallowed hard, imagining what Sandburg would have to say about that. He would have no patience with it at all. Would tell him it was crazy…that of course there was a point. Life was the point. The chance to do good, to help people, was the point. But Ellison couldn't help the way he felt, or the knowledge deep inside that he just wouldn't be able to function without his guide.
"Any word?" Simon's voice intruded into his thoughts, startling him.
"No…nothing yet," Jim replied, wearily. "I thought you were going back downtown?"
"I was…I am. But I decided to drop this off for you personally," he said, handing over an envelope.
When Jim opened it and took out the picture, he felt such a surge of hate that it startled him. "So," he growled, "This is Ralston?"
"That's him. The word is going out immediately on the local radio and television networks that police sources hope Sandburg will be conscious by tomorrow, able to tell us who tried to kill him, so I thought you should have that in case he shows up here," Simon explained. "I also wanted to tell you that he doesn't always use drugs…he killed Carl with a stiletto."
Lifting his eyes from the picture, his brow arched, Jim nodded, remembering the attempt on the road the week before. "That is interesting. Daring, opportunistic and versatile, not locked into obsessive patterns…makes him even more dangerous," he reflected thoughtfully.
"Uh huh," Simon grunted as he studied his subordinate and old friend. Ellison looked terrible, pale and haggard, as if the energy was being drained right out of him. "Are you okay, Jim? You don't look good."
"Thanks," Ellison quirked a wry half smile, "You're not my type either."
Simon snorted, but was not to be put off. "I mean it…I'm concerned about you. Do you need to talk about it?" he persisted. "I know Sandburg is important to you."
"Important?" Jim sighed as he turned away to stare out a grimy window. "Yeah, you could say he's important to me. Crazy kid snuck up on me, Simon…got under my skin."
"I know what you mean," Simon said quietly. "I care about him, too."
Jim flicked a look over his shoulder at his superior, and nodded, grateful for the admission. It was a tribute to Blair, of sorts. Simon had also learned to be careful about learning to care too much about the people in their line of work. Turning back to the window, but his head bowed, Ellison murmured, "It's crazy, but I feel like a jinx. All my partners, Simon…all of them. They die."
"Yep, that's crazy alright," Simon affirmed without hesitation and only partial humour. Moving forward, he laid a hand on Ellison's shoulder. "This isn't your fault, Jim. Sandburg was in that parking lot that night, saw Ralston, because of his work at the university, not his work with us. It's because you're his partner that he didn't fly off that roof…isn't already dead."
Nodding a little, thinking about it, Ellison felt some of his sense of personal guilt lift. It didn't change anything, didn't make any of this better, but he never wanted to be the one who was responsible for Blair ever getting hurt. That burden was more than even he could bear. "Thanks, Simon," he murmured.
"And don't you be burying him either, not while he's still alive. The kid's a fighter…he doesn't ever give up. You know that. Sure, the odds might be against him, but so what? Doesn't mean he can't win," Simon offered, knowing hope was the only thing they had left to hold onto.
Ellison turned and rewarded him with a half smile, a trace of light back in his eyes. "You're right, absolutely right. I've been so caught up with worrying about the worst case scenario, I'd forgotten that the doctor said, 'probably'. Sandburg has beaten the odds before," he said quietly.
"That's better. Well, I'd better be going. I've ordered a tail on Ralston so we shouldn't be caught by surprise if he shows up here. Let me know what you hear from the doctors," Simon directed as he slapped Jim on the shoulder, then turned and walked away down the hall.
Ellison watched him go. Simon was a good man, he reflected, and there was a reason he was the Captain. He knew how to lead, knew how to keep low spirits from flagging…knew how to care, and knew how to show it. They were lucky to have him. Not all bosses had the same heart.
It was another half-hour before he was told he could see Blair. When he walked in to the glass-walled cubicle, the doctor was just finishing making some notes in the chart. With a trace of hope he couldn't quite hide, Ellison asked, "So…how'd the tests turn out?"
But, his heart clenched again at the guarded look on the doctor's face. "About as expected at this stage. There is definite swelling of the brain tissue, dulling Mr. Sandburg's normal reflexes. Toxicity levels are still high, though we're countering them. But…the good news is, he's breathing on his own and doesn't require extraordinary life support measures. Once the edema diminishes, well…we'll have a better idea of the prognosis then."
Ellison nodded in comprehension as he looked back toward Blair's unconscious form. Bottomline…they didn't know anything yet. "How long before you have a better idea?" he asked, his voice low and a little raspy.
"A few days…I'm sorry I can't give you anything more definite just yet," the physician replied, slipping his pen back into the pocket of his lab coat as he walked out of the room.
Jim just sighed unconsciously as he moved to stand beside Blair, and then pulled a hardback wooden chair away from the wall to sit down beside him, studying him. He'd clasped his hands loosely between his knees, but couldn't resist the urge to touch his friend, his guide. Reaching out, he stroked Sandburg's forehead, then clasped his limp hand. This was too much like the time Blair had ingested the Golden and had collapsed, needing to be put on a respirator, unconscious for more than a day. Ellison had been scared then, his feelings of helplessness made worse by having been blind at the time. That time, they'd assured him Blair would be alright…this time it was worse. This time, there were no reassurances to hold onto.
"Well, Chief, I gotta say, you're scaring the hell out of me," he murmured quietly. "It's not natural, seeing you so still…so quiet." With a slight smile, he continued, "Bet you never thought you'd hear me complain about that, did you?" Tuning into Blair's heartbeat, he was relieved to hear it steadier, stronger and more even than it had been two hours before. At least the medication they'd given him seemed to be working.
"You gotta come back, Chief...I need you. You know that. But, more than that, you gotta come back for you. You've got a whole life to lead yet…it's too soon to wrap it all up." Pausing a moment, clearing his throat, Jim continued, "You need to know…we found out who did this to you. We know it was Ralston. But…we don't have anything on him, no witnesses left but you. So, I'm doing it to you again, Sandburg. I've made you a target. Between us, we're going to get this guy, Chief. You need to know," his voice cracked a little, "…you need to know you're still helping, you're still making a difference."
The heart monitor beeped, but that was all the response he got. Looking up at the heavy tread from the hall, he noticed the uniformed cop who had been assigned to sentry duty had arrived and taken up his post outside Blair's door. Getting up, Jim pulled the envelope with the photo out of his pocket and went to show his colleague what the killer looked like.
Ralston swore at the news update on the radio as he drove away from the university, and wondered if it was a trap. He was smart enough to know the odds were they could be laying in wait for him. But…he was no medical specialist, and the news could be true. The police might have planted it, but then again they might not have. He'd known, when Sandburg's name was broadcast the week before that that was something the police would have tried to suppress and failed. It didn't matter. Though he hadn't recognized Sandburg the night his car lights had split the darkness, he had when he saw who had gotten into the car at the university when he was waiting to tail him. The little guy was a lucky son of a bitch. The car accident should have killed him. He should have taken a dive off the roof. Would he be 'third time lucky'? It was possible that he'd survive the effect of the drugs in his system. Too damned possible.
Tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, Ralston wondered how he could get to Sandburg. There'd be a police guard, that was a given. Since he was still unconscious, he wouldn't be eating, so that let out slipping drugs into the food on the tray hospitals conveniently labeled with room numbers and patient's names. Too bad. That would have been the safest option. But, unconsciousness also meant his victim could not shout out for help when Ralston entered the room. Did the cops know who he was? That was the vital question. He'd gotten to the plainclothes cop quickly, probably before he'd made any contact with his superiors. So far as he knew, the cop had acted professionally, having checked all the records he'd asked for at the personnel office but not giving away any hint that he'd found what he wanted…he'd just gazed at all the photographs of professors with the first name, 'Anthony', and had left. The rumours were bitter about that…everyone had been hoping for more exciting detail to speculate about. So…it was probably if not definitely safe to be seen at the hospital…he could always claim to be a concerned colleague if anyone asked why he was there. With the arrogance common to criminals, however intelligent they might be, Ralston assumed he was winning, convincing himself that the cops didn't yet know who he was.
He didn't have the experience to spot the nondescript car that was tailing him.
Heading home, he left his car in the drive. The garage was locked…hiding the battered SUV inside. Going to the safe hidden in the basement, he filled a syringe with the drugs he needed to ensure Sandburg died this time and headed back out into the light drizzle that blanketed the city. And then he drove off, heading toward the hospital.
It was anticlimactic when it finally went down. Ralston had gotten a lab coat from a hospital supply cupboard, leaving his coat and hat stuffed in a corner, out of the way. He'd slipped the filled syringe into the capacious pocket and had made his way to ICU. He didn't know the police knew he was coming, knew he was there, and had decided how they'd let it play out.
When he arrived on the floor, Ralston strolled down the hall, not having to worry about finding out what room Sandburg was in…the police sentry made that pretty clear. Holding the syringe in his hand, he paused to acknowledge the police officer, explaining it was time to give the patient more 'medication', and held up the syringe. Nodding, the cop stepped away from the door. Fool, Ralston thought as he entered, nodding at the big man who'd gotten up from the chair by the bed. At first, Ralston assumed it was to give him room to inject the 'medicine' into the IV bottle that hung on that side of the bed.
But, the big man just kept coming toward him, a grim, determined look of barely contained fury on his face. Beginning to panic, Ralston half turned to leave, but saw the cop had moved in behind him, ready to stop him, and he turned back, confused, not knowing what to do. If there had been just one of them, he could have tried to inject the poison into them. Desperate, he decided he had to try and fight his way back out.
He pushed back at the cop behind him, hitting out with an elbow as he turned, the syringe raised to plummet down into the policeman's body. But, even as he turned, a grip like a vise captured his wrist and pulled his arm back around painfully, up into his back, forcing him to drop the deadly weapon.
The killer never knew how close he came to having that syringe 'accidentally' shoved into his own body in the struggle. But, angry as he was, Jim was a good cop and a better human being. Unlike the man held in his strong grip, he was not a murderer.
Ralston felt numb, disbelieving as his other arm was pulled back roughly and cuffs were locked around his wrists. His shoulders were grabbed and he was spun around to face the big man who looked at him with such hate and loathing. Well…he'd killed a cop, hadn't he? Of course all the rest of the cops would hate him. Distantly, he heard the man say, "Anthony Ralston, you are under the arrest for the murders of…but the voice faded away, lost in his shock only hearing, "…and the attempted murder of Blair Sandburg," as he was read his rights. Maybe that phrase had gotten through to him because there'd been almost a guttural harshness underscoring that final charge.
His shoulders were pulled again, this time by the cop behind him, and when he turned, he saw more in the hall, waiting. Where had they come from?
Ellison watched as they took Ralston away, feeling unsatisfied.
He'd hoped the guy would fight. He'd wanted to beat the crap out of him.
Blowing out a long sigh, he turned and went back to sit by the bed. Taking Blair's hand in his own, Jim murmured, "We got him, Chief. He's not going to hurt anyone again. Now…all you have to do is wake up."
The waiting was the hardest part. Hour after hour, day after day, waiting for good news, dreading….
It didn't matter what anyone said to him, however they encouraged him to go home and get some rest. He wasn't leaving, not until he knew. He'd promised Blair that he wouldn't leave him alone in the darkness and he intended to keep that promise. Scared, trying to push the fear away, it kept lurking in the shadows of his mind…kept haunting him with questions he didn't want to think about. What will you do if he doesn't wake up…there's no machine to disconnect. He's breathing. What will you do if they say the brain damage is massive and yet he's still alive, his soul trapped in the dark? How will you keep your promise then?
Jim held his best friend's hand, stroked his head, and talked to him until he was hoarse. Listened to his breathing, his heartbeat…watched for the slightest twitch of movement. The tests began to show the edema was retreating, but still Blair remained unresponsive.
Late on the third day, when the doctor told him that the swelling seemed to be just about completely gone, Jim had gazed at the physician's face, seeing the compassionate expression, the sorrow in the man's eyes. "You don't think he's going to wake up, do you?" Ellison asked, his voice hollow.
"I'm just a doctor, Detective Ellison, not a god. I don't know. All I know is that he is in a coma and the longer it goes on, the less likelihood there is of full recovery. But…people have lived for years like this, and some have awakened. We don't really understand why. I'm sorry, you need to begin preparing yourself for the fact that your friend might not get better," the doctor replied, laying a hand briefly on his shoulder then turning to go.
Sighing, Jim had stood for a long moment, his head bowed and his hands on his hips. 'Years…might not get better….' The words echoed in his mind and he felt an ache in his chest. Swallowing against the lump in his throat, brushing the moisture from his eyes, he turned back to the bed. Laying a big, gentle hand on Sandburg's forehead, he said softly, "You hear that Chief? It's up to you now…it's all up to you."
A couple of hours later, Simon came by for one of his regular visits. Jim had called earlier with the news of what the doctor had told him. Pausing for a moment outside the room, gazing through the glass pane, he studied Ellison, noting the exhaustion on the man's face, the slump of his shoulders…the way he held Sandburg's hand as if it was a life-line. Shaking his head, he sighed and then continued on into the room.
"Hello, Simon," Jim acknowledged him briefly, but his eyes wandered back to Sandberg's face.
"Jim," Simon replied, rubbing his chin. Decided he had to say it. "Jim…it's time you went home."
But the detective just shook his head stubbornly. "Not yet."
Moving to grip his friend's shoulder, Simon persisted, "I know it's hard. But…you have to accept it, Jim. Sandburg…Blair might not ever get any better than this. He wouldn't want you exhausting yourself, wearing yourself out like this. Come on…let me take you home."
Looking up at Simon, Ellison shook his head again, an odd look in his eyes that worried his superior. "No. Sandburg needs me to be here. I can't explain it…I know it sounds crazy. But, I can feel it. I can't leave him."
"Forever? You'll sit here forever? That's not reasonable, Jim, and you know it," Simon replied, but his voice was oddly gentle.
Looking away, Ellison sighed. "I don't know for how long…but I'll know when it's time to go." There was a hollowness, an emptiness in his voice that caused Simon to regard him sharply. It sounded too final, as if 'go' didn't just mean 'home', but more than that and he began to worry that Ellison, in his despair, might be suicidal.
"If you keep this up, I'm going to get the department's shrink to come talk to you," Simon threatened, knowing how much Ellison would hate that.
Surprisingly, Jim grinned a little sadly at that as he looked back up at his boss. "You do what you have to do, Simon…and I'll do what I have to do," he replied, not making his superior feel any better. Catching the look of worried and suspicious assessment in his old friend's eyes, Jim's sparked with understanding and he almost laughed as he said, "Don't worry…I'm not going to do something stupid. I just mean I'll know when…when there's nothing more I can do for Sandburg by being here. You know, you of all people know, there's some connection…something. I can't explain it. But…he stills needs me here Simon."
Relieved, the Captain nodded. It was that Sentinel/Guide thing again. Sighing, he gave in. "All right. But, you also know that I'm here if you need me."
"I know," Jim said, his voice tinged with gratitude.
As stoic and caring as he wanted to be, by the time evening fell that day and the shadows gathered, broken only by the light streaming in from the hall past the partially drawn drape and the lamp on a high table by the bed, Ellison found his anger building.
Anger at a lot of things. Anger at Ralston for having done this in the first place…and then for not resisting, not giving him any physical outlet, any opportunity to punish him for what he'd done. It wasn't his job as a cop to punish; he wasn't the judge and jury. But, as Blair's friend, as a sentinel who'd failed to protect his guide, Jim had badly wanted a chance for some personal retribution.
Anger at his sense of dependence upon Blair Sandburg. Who was this guy, to have come into his life and worm his way into his heart…to become part of his soul? But…that anger didn't last. Blair had brought too many gifts with him when he came. Help that was so badly needed. Confidence that it could all be managed, controlled, learned about, used. Energy and a fresh exhilaration with the promise of life. Interesting ideas and perspectives, and a willingness to argue them, to force Jim to think, to re-evaluate old assessments and assumptions. Boundless good humour, that brightened the days and eased tense moments. Loyalty, backing him up, being on his side, no matter what. Courage, when that's what it took to be a Sentinel's guide, to watch his back. And an innocent, unconditional love of a kind Jim had not really known before. Trembling a little, Jim had to swallow hard and wipe his eyes.
And that's when he got angry with Sandburg himself. "Wake up, dammit!" he snarled. "What's wrong with you? Do you want to stay in that darkness? Have you given up like some kind of wimp? Come on, Sandburg…this is getting old real fast."
He caught himself, cursing a little under his breath, steadying his breathing. This wasn't Blair's fault. He never asked for this. Never did anything to deserve it. If he could wake up, he would.
If he could wake up, he would.
The words kept whirling in Jim's head after that, giving him the irritating sense that he was missing something. Something he should know.
If he could wake up, he would. But, it was up to Sandburg now; everyone had done all they could. The doctors had nothing left. He was on his own now….
And, then Jim raised his head, as that last thought went round and round. The ward had fallen quiet, as quiet as an ICU ever is with the ever-present thump and beeps of machines, the swish of uniforms and the padding of quiet, rubber-soled feet along the hallway. It was long past midnight, heading toward that dark, cold time of the night, when the human organism is at its lowest ebb.
'It's inside of you, Jim, it's all inside…you just have to access it.' Ellison could almost hear his guide, hear his voice as if he was in the room and it wasn't just a memory.
There was something he was missing.
Sentinels and Guides. Jim's mind drifted to the moments he'd spent alone in the ICU waiting room, waiting for the results of the first tests. He reached for it…what had he been thinking then…something. He'd been thinking about how they were somehow bonded, their souls linked….
Sandburg wasn't just on his own…couldn't just fight this by himself. It wasn't all just up to him. If he could do it alone, he would have.
Frowning, wondering if he really had lost it, Jim stood and laid his large hands on Sandburg's body, instinctively again placing one hand over Blair's heart, and another on his friend's forehead, like he had in the emergency room.
Closing his eyes, not really having a clue what he was doing, what to try to do, he tried to breathe deeply, slowly, clearing his mind of all but the image of Blair Sandburg, grinning at him, eyes shining with mischief and humour.
He felt the warmth of Blair's body through his hands. Felt as well as heard the heartbeat. Felt as well as heard the breathing and began unconsciously to breathe in the same rhythm. He flinched at the feeling of darkness under his hand, as it seemed to push at the edges of his own mind and throw shadows on the image of Blair that he held. Startled, he broke the connection, lifting his hands as if they'd been shocked. How could he 'feel' darkness, see it shadow an image in his imagination?
Shaking his head, Jim took a breath and moved back into position, beginning again. Zoning in on Blair with all his senses…breathing in unison, feeling the warmth, the heartbeat…the darkness. This time he didn't flinch away from it, but pushed back, as if he was pushing back a curtain, watching sunlight brighten and finally blaze upon the image he held of Blair in his mind. Felt a change in the breathing as it grew deeper, a change in the heartbeat as it thumped more strongly, now in time with his own heart.
Ellison lost track of time and place, lost himself in the world of his senses, and the images in his mind. An hour passed and though staff had checked and observed him, standing there so strangely, he was doing no harm and they assumed he was just trying to find a way to say 'good-bye' and was finding it hard to let go. They left him alone, undisturbed.
Another hour passed, and it was verging on dawn, the sky outside beginning to lighten in the east.
The image in his mind spoke to him. "Jim?" the voice sounding distant, more like a breath on the wind, a call that was repeated, and then came yet again, dimly from far away.
But, then it came again, sharply, more strongly, "Jim!"
And he felt a hand cover his over Blair's heart, as his Guide called to him again, "Jim, come back, man…you're scaring me."
Startled, he snapped out of it, opening his eyes…and looked down into wide blue eyes that were looking up into his.
"You okay?" Blair asked, concern flooding his eyes. He'd been trying to get Jim's attention for the last minute or so.
Feeling dazed, a little confused, Ellison nodded, as he said, "Yeah…I'm fine." And, then, as his thoughts and impressions cleared, and he came back into full awareness of where he was, his lips trembled and his eyes blurred with tears. "You came back," he replied, his voice ragged and hoarse.
Frowning a little, looking away as he processed his own memories, Blair finally looked back up at him as he said, "I…I can't explain it exactly…it was like I heard you calling me…but I felt it, more than heard it?"
Jim just shrugged, gazing at him wordlessly, not understanding it either.
Looking around, confused, trying to remember, Blair realized he was in a hospital. "What am I doing here?"
"What's the last thing you remember?" Jim asked quietly, playing the guide this time.
"The university…I was talking to a prof from the Philosophy department and…oh god," he replied, paling a little as the memory of feeling drugged came back. "He drugged me! Jim…it was Ralston, Tony Ralston!"
Laying a hand on his friend's shoulder, Jim nodded, "I know…we got him, thanks to you."
"What happened to me?" Blair asked, taking in his best friend's haggard appearance. "How long have I been here?"
The memories haunted Jim's eyes as he replied haltingly, "You almost died, Chief…for a minute or so, I guess you actually did. You've been here, in a coma, for four days."
"Four days?" Blair repeated, stunned, skipping over the being dead part, not wanting to think about that. As Jim nodded wearily, Sandburg suddenly understood his friend had been with him all that time, and compassion flooded his expressive eyes even as he offered a crooked grin, trying to tease him gently, "Scared ya, didn't I?"
"Nah," the older man waved it off as he sat back on the chair by the bed. "I knew you'd be fine. It was just a matter of time."
Studying Ellison's haggard and unshaven appearance, Sandburg wasn't buying it. Remembering how Jim had been zoned in on him, Blair murmured, "You brought me back, didn't you…how did you do that?"
Shaking his head, shrugging, Jim replied, "How should I know…you're the Guide. But, I didn't do it just by myself. We did it, you and me, together somehow."
Blair thought back to the loft, to his fears and questions, 'Seriously, Jim…what am I going to do? If it was the killer and he's spotted my shadow, he'll just wait it out. What then? What do I do then?'
Remembered Jim replying calmly, steadily, letting him know he wasn't in this alone, 'We are going to keep you alive. That's what we're going to do. Any more questions?'
"We did it," Blair breathed, then gazed back at Jim, a blindingly bright smile blazing across his face. "I just have one more question," he said then, with an impish look.
"Only one? Well…okay, one more question," Jim replied, smiling back, filled with incredible relief and happiness to have Blair back, safe and whole.
"When can we go home?"
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