Warning: Spoilers for TSbyBS.
Meeting of Minds
Megan walked slowly toward the hunched figure on the bench. She had never actually seen Jim Ellison in a zone out before but hoped she'd recognize one if faced with the situation. She hoped she wasn't faced with the situation now. Sandy may have forgiven the detective, but she was far from it. Just the thought of Sandy going back to the loft on the slim promise of Jim working things out with him made her blood boil. She stopped directly behind the bench to calm herself. As angry as she'd grown on the short walk over, she wouldn't do Ellison any good if he did need her help.
"Did you talk him out of going home with me?" Jim's question startled her but did nothing to soothe her concerns.
"Did you listen?" she asked, angered over the lack of privacy apparently afforded her and Sandburg.
"No," he said. "But it doesn't take a rocket scientist or a psychic to realize you weren't thrilled with the idea."
"I tried." Megan walked in front of the bench. "I think it's a wrong move. I can't believe he's even considering it."
"It doesn't have to be for long," Jim whispered, still staring at the ground.
"You asshole," she hissed, voice gradually rising. "You're going to do it again, aren't you? Give him a home, then kick him out. You..."
"NO!" Jim shouted, shutting her tirade down. "I'll give him the damn loft if he wants it. I'll leave the city if he doesn't want me there. I'll do whatever he wants, Conner. Whatever he wants. I'll fix things, and he can do whatever he wants."
"Fix things?" Jim nodded at her question but didn't speak. She studied him, noting the tension in his face that hadn't been there just a half-hour before when she had seen him in Sandy's room. Even when he'd left the room, he hadn't looked that tense, that pained. "How?"
"I'll tell the truth. As soon as I have enough control to make people believe, I'll tell the truth and he can get his doctorate and his Nobel Prize and the movie deal and the television show and the books and the honors he deserves."
"It isn't his dissertation that's the problem, Ellison," she snapped. "It's that you don't trust him! He never did anything to deserve being kicked out of your home!" Megan's anger and voice rose with each statement.
"I know." Jim's calm, quiet answer only infuriated the Australian inspector.
"He never gave you any reason to believe he had authorized the release of his dissertation! I don't care how many jokes he cracked!"
"He never gave you any reason to doubt him!"
Megan's voice dropped to a whisper, curious and confused. "So why did you?" Jim shrugged and shook his head, unsure how to answer the question. Taking a deep breath he leaned back against the bench and closed his eyes against the bright, blue sky. "Sandy says it doesn't have to be him as your Guide," Megan finally said.
"Maybe not. Maybe a Sentinel doesn't need a particular Guide." He paused, remembering basketball games, pick up games, movies, discussions, camping trips, fishing trips and just heading home and knowing someone else was there. He remembered a concerned face and a hesitant offering of advice in bad times. He remembered a soothing voice when the world was going crazy. He remembered a brilliant smile keeping the dark violence of his life at bay.
"Maybe the Sentinel could find another Guide, but Jim Ellison would miss his friend," Jim whispered. He tried a deep breath but found his throat constricted, and he bit his lip to fight back the sudden tears. He shifted position and fixed his sight firmly on the ground. When a degree of control had returned, he continued.
"I haven't had much better luck with best friends than I've had with women," he admitted. "Hell, my best man was Carolyn's brother, and I barely knew him. Never had a best friend as a kid, unless you count Bud, and he was murdered. My best buddy from high school ended up in jail for selling drugs, then he was murdered. My best buddy in the Army got the girl and then tried to drag me into a fraud scheme. Then he was murdered. I guess Sandburg is my best friend--he's been murdered. Is there a pattern here I should be getting?" He forced a harsh, unamused laugh and rubbed his face with his trembling hands.
"I've been ready to die for others, Megan. I know lots of people who are ready to die for their friends, their family, even strangers." He looked up to meet her eyes. "I've just never known anyone willing to destroy himself and keep on living just so some selfish bastard could think he was in control." The thought of what Sandburg had done, the realization of what the man had given up for him washed over him again, and Jim's expression filled with remorse and disbelief again. "How could I do that to him? He's my best friend, Megan. He's been there for me through more shit than you can imagine and I just let him throw his life away? What ever made me think I was that important?"
Megan listened to Ellison's monologue and remembered all the times her father had been there for her. She'd never been afraid his love would disappear. She'd never considered not being able to go to him if she needed to. She couldn't think of anything that would drive him from her. Or her from him. She'd lost touch with her best friend from high school, but back then, they had trusted each other with their secrets. Both of them had been guilty of breaking promises, but they'd always made up and been as close as before. That they had lost touch had more to do with moving in different career circles than a falling out. When she'd gone home for a visit several weeks ago, they'd spent a night catching up. Though sheer distance kept them from being as close as they once had been, they'd still fallen easily into old habits, old jokes. It had been a wonderful, all-too-short evening.
To never have known that. Megan shuddered at the thought. Everyone needed someone else to talk to, to trust. It was obvious to Megan, in her short acquaintance of the unorthodox partners, that they shared a deep friendship. But to have never known that security had hampered them in times of stress. Jim's voice broke her from her thoughts.
"All my life, I have wanted to be different than my father. You know what I told Sandburg? I told him I would change things if I could. That I'd go back to the first day we met and change the way I treated him from day one."
"What else have you done to him?"
"Well, when I first met him in his office, I threw him against the wall and threatened to arrest him. When I took some over-the-counter cold medicine after he told me not to, I threw him against another wall and told him he had to fix it."
"You are an ass. Why did he stick it out with you?"
"I don't know. But if he hadn't, I wouldn't be here today."
"Were you really that close to losing it with these senses?"
Jim nodded. He squinted up at the inspector. "What do you hear?" he asked her.
"What do you hear? Tell me everything you can hear."
"Cars, air conditioning, a couple of birds. Why?"
"Cars are traveling down the road. There's an ambulance about a half mile away. There was almost a traffic accident at the light two blocks down. There's a car with a serious engine knock looking for a parking place. It's playtime at the day care three blocks down. A couple is arguing over what to name their daughter. Nurses are complaining about overtime and the latest contract negotiations. Two doctors are making out in an office two floors above us. Your heart rate is way too fast, but then again you are angry as hell..."
"I get it," Conner said, stopping his litany.
"Do you want to know what I can see? Or feel? Or smell? It's like being bombarded, Conner."
"I get it," she repeated. "He shouldn't have had to deny what he is," she went on when Jim remained silent. Megan dropped to her knees in front of him. "And why? Why, Jim? Why did he have to deny everything he's worked for?"
"Because I was scared, Conner." He studied his hands, lost for a moment in the intricate patterns of lines on his palms. "You ever seen a freak show?" he asked.
"I did. When I was 10. Stevie and I went into the sideshows of a carnival. Dad didn't know. He always said it was a waste of money. It was pretty interesting to a 10-year-old. Seeing people who were different for whatever reason, because of genetics, of how they looked or what they could do. It was really interesting--until his dad asked him if he wanted people to think he was a freak. It became my recurring nightmare for years."
Conner put a hand on his knee and he heard her open her mouth to begin to speak.
"I know what it's like to hurt, Ellison," she said. "My mother died when I was a child, remember?"
"She died. She didn't have a choice, did she? She died because something beyond her control forced her to leave. She didn't just pack up one morning and leave! She didn't give custody of you to your father! She didn't argue with him every time she had to watch us for a couple of days! She didn't just disappear into the night and never look back!" Jim's voice rose to a shout and drew the attention of passersby.
"I felt no less abandoned," Connor snapped. She stood up and paced a few steps away before turning to face him. "You don't even know when you do it, do you?" she asked. His puzzled expression answered her question. "You don't even see when you turn everything back to you. For a man who loves his privacy, you sure make yourself the center of the pity party. You did the same thing to Sandy. His life fell apart when yours did, Jim, not after the press conference. His life fell apart when he lost control of his research and his paper, but you were so caught up in your loss, in your pain, that you didn't even see." She studied him a moment. "It's not really that you didn't care, is it? You just didn't see."
"No," Jim admitted in a quiet voice. "All I saw was someone who was getting everything my dad always said I should want. Recognition, money."
"You have some real hang-ups with your dad, don't you?" Megan commented dryly.
Jim laughed quietly. "Yeah, I guess so. I know he did the best he could. He did what he thought had to be done. But what he did drove me away from him and from my brother. What he did made me forget who I was and what I could do. And I know all he was trying to do this time is help me, protect me."
"When?" Megan sensed a new angle to this whole mess.
"He, uh, he's kind of responsible for Sandburg's abrupt departure from Cascade. He tried to pay him off to leave. Said he'd pay off his student loans if Sandburg would just get out of my life."
"Sandy wouldn't leave for money!"
"I know. I told Dad that. Well, Sandburg didn't take him up on his offer, but some of my dad's arguments began to work on him and he decided to leave. Between Dad's theories and my treatment over the past year, it seemed like a good idea at the time."
The quiet settled between the two officers and Megan eventually wandered to the bench and sat beside Jim.
"He's my friend, Megan. Even if I didn't owe him my life, I'd want him as my friend."
"The way I remember it, you saved his life," Megan said, thinking of the fountain and the stories she'd heard of Ellison's cases.
"Not at first."
"Would you really have gone crazy? Would this senses business have killed you?"
"It almost did, in more ways than one." Jim looked sideways at her. "After I threw him up against a wall and threatened to arrest him when he first talked to me about Sentinels, I walked out into the street and would have been flattened by a garbage truck if Sandburg hadn't knocked me to the ground."
"Sandy did that?"
Jim nodded and they returned to their private reflections for a moment. "Right now, all I want is to be the friend he deserves, the kind of friend he's always been to me. I could save his life every day and it wouldn't begin to match what he did for me in four years."
Despite herself, Megan felt her heart begin to mellow. She knew Jim's contrition was heartfelt. "You're not that bad of a friend," she said, laying a gentle hand on his arm. "You did bring him back from near death."
"Not really," Jim said. "That was the panther and the wolf. Just like the other day. The wolf decided to stay. He decided to trust me again and I just want to live up to that trust."
Megan frowned. "You're losing me here, Jim," she said. "Just when and why did we take a trip to the zoo?"
Jim's soft laugh brought a small smile this time. "It seems there's a mystical side to this Sentinel business. Sandburg says my spirit animal or spirit guide is a black panther or jaguar or something. His is a wolf."
"And what do they have to do with the fountain and this latest disaster?"
"At the fountain, when everyone gave Blair up for dead, I saw my panther and his wolf and the wolf was leaving, but it came back. The two animals.... merged. When I got here, I saw the wolf in Sandburg's room. It wouldn't let me touch him. If I moved toward the bed, it tried to leave the room. After Dad showed up and told me what he'd done, I told him I didn't believe Blair would agree to be paid off. The wolf jumped into Sandburg and he woke up." Jim glanced at Megan and noted her skeptical expression.
"You two are so strange," Megan finally muttered. Giving up on this line of conversation, Megan turned her attention to other matters. "Did you find out when Sandy gets to leave here?"
"This afternoon," Jim said. "I think they're ready for him to get out of here because he doesn't have any insurance."
"Oh, God," Megan whispered. "I hadn't thought of that. How's he going to pay for all this?"
"He's not. I'll pay it. Or my father will."
"Well, since I'm the only one with a car, how about we go collect our personal anthropologist and take him home. I know a lot of people who want to see him," Megan said.
Jim smiled at her. "Thanks, Conner." She nodded once then turned to lead the way back to Sandy's room.
"Just remember, Ellison," she whispered. "I'm watching you."
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