Warning: Spoilers for TSbyBS.
Detective Jim Ellison sat quietly in the hospital room, attention focused on the wolf which paced in the corner. He and the wolf had been eyeing each other for more than twenty-four hours now and neither would give in. The wolf wouldn't leave the room as long as Ellison sat watch by the door.
With his hearing, Ellison tracked the steady breathing and heartbeat of the man in the hospital bed. He wanted to sit close enough to touch the patient, but the one time he had moved closer, the wolf had made a dash for the door. There was little he could do for the unconscious man in the bed except keep the wolf in the room.
The Cascade police detective had been surprised to see the animal. He'd only seen him twice before--once when he'd shot the animal in a dream and again when he had called the creature back from the edge of a forest and subsequently brought life back to his friend's body. If the wolf left this time, Ellison knew, there would be no calling it back. If the wolf left, Blair Sandburg would die--so he watched and waited.
Doctors, nurses, even Captain Simon Banks had tried to get him to leave, but they didn't understand. They didn't see the wolf, and they didn't see he had to be there. Sandburg had left Cascade a month ago, almost a month after announcing his dissertation was a fraud. Ellison had found only a short note from Blair saying he couldn't see how working with the Cascade police would help any of those involved. He had said he was planning to meet up with his mother.
Jim had found no clue of either Blair or Naomi's whereabouts in the past five and a half weeks. A week ago, Blair had called Megan to say he thought he'd seen Brackett in Portland. A day and a half ago, Seattle police had called Jim to say Sandburg had been in a one-car accident. Jim had learned from Seattle police that Blair and Naomi had parted company two weeks earlier and no one had been able to find her yet. Honestly, Jim didn't care. Brackett was dead. Shot by Seattle police in the parking lot of this hospital after Jim had found him in the corridor outside Blair's room.
So now, Jim waited, watched and stood guard. His senses drank in the evidence of Sandburg's presence and life like a parched wanderer, relishing in control lost for almost a month. He wanted to fix what was wrong. He needed his friend back.
He had no clue what the wolf wanted or needed now.
He heard footsteps in the hallway stop outside the door and waited for whoever was next in line to try to convince him he had to leave. He expected any of several people. He didn't expect the man who walked through the door.
"Jimmy," William Ellison greeted his son in a quiet voice. He ignored the patient and simply pulled up the other chair in the room close to his son's sentry post. Jim barely glanced from the wolf to acknowledge his father.
"I thought you were on business on the East Coast," Jim said.
"I was. Steven called me. He's worried. He said you haven't left here in two days."
Jim chanced a look at his watch. "It's been twenty-eight hours since I got here," he said.
"And you haven't slept?"
"Sure you can. I bet your own bed and a nice hot shower would feel great. You'd sleep like a baby."
"I can't go back to Cascade."
"I've got a hotel room not far from here."
"I can't leave."
"Maybe we can get a cot brought in here, then."
"I can't go to sleep."
William Ellison jumped to his feet. "Why not?" he hissed.
"I can't leave him alone."
"You don't owe him anything, Jimmy."
"Yes, I do. I owe him my life, and my sanity, and my career. I owe him for the fact that I don't have to keep my telephone turned off. I owe him for being able to walk down the street without being accosted by reporters. I owe him everything, Dad."
"He used you."
Jim spared his father a short, derisive laugh. "Yeah, he used me right into ruin. He loves to teach and no one will hire him now. He loves anthropology and he has no future left in it. He tried to start a new life and an enemy tried to end it. An enemy he wouldn't have had if not for me." Jim shook his head, still watching the wolf. The creature had stopped pacing and stood, tensed, waiting for something. "He said he was mad at me," Jim explained to his father. "But he still called to warn me about Brackett. He was on his way to Cascade. I just wish I knew why he took off in the first place."
"Do you really want to know?" William asked his son.
"Yeah. I mean I thought we'd worked it out. I know I was an ass, but I really wanted to make it up to him. Hell, I'll tell the world I'm a Sentinel if that's what he wants."
"Be careful what you offer. He might accept."
"What do you mean?"
"I know why he left."
"Because I asked him to. I told him I'd pay off his student loans if he'd get out of your life."
Jim felt his heart stop and his body grow ice-cold. Once again the betrayal he'd learned to expect all his life crashed into him and he found breathing difficult. He stared at the wolf and saw the tenseness leave its body. The sharp eyes grew dull and sad, and the furry head hung low. It shuffled slowly for the door.
Panic raced through Jim and suddenly he was hot and his heart raced. This was what the wolf was waiting for. Just as Jim expected everyone to turn on him, the wolf expected Jim to believe his father. Blair's spirit animal knew what Blair knew: Ellison would believe the worst.
"What did he tell you?" he asked his father, panic easing as the wolf stopped in its tracks.
"What did he tell you? What did he say when you made him the offer?" William Ellison hesitated. "The truth," Jim ordered.
"He told me to go to hell."
Jim met the wolf's eyes and responded to his father. "Sounds like a good idea."
The wolf kept his eyes on the sentry at the door, boring into the blue eyes that met his. With a small nod, the creature turned, leaped onto the bed and settled into the patient there.
Ellison heard the low moan from the bed even as the image of the wolf faded. He dismissed his father from his thoughts and made his way wearily to the bed on which his friend lay. Tentatively, he reached out and touched the arm that lay above the sheet, careful of the IV which provided fluid for the younger man.
"Blair?" he whispered as Sandburg's head moved slightly. "Hey, Chief. Ready to wake up?" He leaned over the patient and watched the bruised face intently. Dark blue eyes slowly cracked open, and Ellison lowered the rail to sit on the bed.
"Jim?" Blair whispered, throat dry and sore. Jim nodded. "What happened?"
"Well, you won't have to worry about getting the Volvo fixed anymore," Jim said. "It's pretty much toast. I'm just lucky you're not." Blair raised his hand to touch his face and Jim stopped him. "You don't want to do that. You've got some cuts and bruises on your face, Chief. Just start keeping your hands off now." Sandburg yawned. "I need to call a doctor in here. Think you can stay awake a little longer?" Blair nodded as Jim pushed the nurse's call button.
Jim told the nurse the patient was awake and kept talking to Blair until the doctor showed up. He stepped back and watched as the doctor briefly examined the patient and smiled in relief when the man said everything was looking good.
Blair was back asleep before the doctor left and Jim resumed his seat. This time, however, he pulled it closer to the bed and laid his head beside his partner's arm. William Ellison watched from the shadows of the room until his son had fallen asleep then quietly left. Half an hour later Simon Banks walked in with a cup of coffee in each hand, intent on forcing Jim to leave if his father had been unsuccessful. He stopped in mid-stride as he took in the sight and backed quietly out.
Blair awakened slowly and more completely each time over the course of the next two days. As his fourth day in the hospital began, he was less interested in his surroundings and more interested in getting to the bathroom for the first time in a while. He eased off the bed, carefully maneuvering around his sleeping roommate and inched his way to the restroom. He was in the doorway ready to return to bed when Ellison awoke. Blair watched Jim's head snap up and anticipated the "Sandburg!" if not the worried tone in the voice.
"Right here," he whispered. Ellison helped the patient back into the bed before pouring a small glass of water for him. Sandburg gratefully accepted the drink and settled back into the pillows before raising the bed.
The two men stared at each other in awkward silence for a long minute before Sandburg spoke.
"So," he said. "What's the story?"
"Brackett tinkered with your car. You crashed. You were out totally for two days and started coming around two days ago. We picked Brackett up shortly after the crash."
Sandburg looked himself over. "Nothing broken?" he asked, noting the absence of casts. Jim shook his head. "But my face looks like hell." Jim nodded. Blair watched him. "So rant," he said.
"Rant. It's what you do, Jim. I do something that I think is the right thing and you rant and rave about my decisions."
"I don't want to rant." He paused. "I want to know why you left."
"Because it was best." Jim waited and Blair continued. "Your dad came to see me."
"I know. He told me."
"He offered to pay me off to leave town. Kind of funny really. I told him to go to hell, but after he left I got to thinking about some of the things he said."
"Things like how people would always wonder about you. Like how it didn't look good for the police to hire an admitted fraud. Like how I trashed your life and you should have kicked me out, not gotten me a job."
"You didn't trash my life, Sandburg. You saved it. Again and again."
"That's not what it sounded like to me for a while there."
"I know." Silence fell between them again.
Blair changed to safer topics.
"So what was Brackett's deal? How'd he get out of prison and why'd he come after me. You put him away."
"We put him away," Jim corrected. "He wasn't too happy with the accommodations we arranged for him. I think he decided to extract a little revenge before moving back to his old career. He found you first. He knew if he got rid of you, I'd be easier to get."
"I'm kind of lost here. Just how did he figure that?"
"He knows how much I depend on you." Jim stood to pace.
"You don't need me to be a sentinel, Jim," Blair whispered.
"Then how come everything went crazy after you left?" Jim remembered the lost feeling, the sounds, sights, smells, textures spiralling out of control almost from the moment he'd read his roommate's note. He remembered the haven he'd found in Sandburg's room, surrrounded by the many items left behind. "Everything started to get out of control. The only place I felt safe was in your room." Jim stopped by the windows close to Blair's bed.
"Jim, you don't need me to be a sentinel," he repeated.
"I do. You said I needed back up."
"You do need back up. You need someone who knows what to look for to keep you from zoning. You need someone who knows what's going on. It doesn't have to be me."
"Then why did my control leave with you? Why was I falling apart unless I was in your room every few hours?" Jim's whisper barely carried across the three feet separating the two men.
"I'm sorry," Blair said. "I never meant to make you dependent on me." He paused. "I think this is a lot like what happened when Danny Choi died. You felt out of control. You thought everything was fixed, then everything changed suddenly. I'm sorry. I should have thought about that."
"It wasn't the same as when Danny died. It wasn't even anything like what happened when....Alex attacked you."
"Jim," Blair began again and Jim swung around to face him.
"Why won't you believe it?" Jim asked. He paced around the bed again. "Brackett knew how important you are. Incacha knew. Hell, even I knew if I would have just admitted it." His rough, cracking voice stopped Blair. "I'll do whatever I have to do to fix this. Whatever you want. No one has ever even offered to give up for me what you gave up. No one has ever in my life put me first the way you have. I have never needed anyone's friendship or presence the way I need yours. I thought that damn fountain was bad, but that was just disbelief. Now I know what it's like to not have you as a friend in my life.
"I wish I could go back to the day we met and change everything. Change the way I treated you. Change the times I lied to you. Change the times I yelled at you. Treat you with the respect you deserved instead of the fear I felt. Treat you the way you deserved to be treated instead of the way my father taught me. I don't want to be my father's son. I want to be your friend. I'll do whatever I have to do to be your friend again. You just have to teach me how to be a friend." Jim stopped beside the chair and dropped back into it. Unable to watch Blair's face, Jim covered his own with his hands.
Blair Sandburg, one-time anthropology graduate student, watched the tall man standing in the dimly lit room. His eyes blurred with each word the strong detective spoke, knowing the man had never come so close to telling the depth of his feelings before. Once the detective had represented his "Holy Grail," the living embodiment of his chosen field of study: sentinels.
Re-awakened enhanced senses had driven the detective to desperation four years before and he had reluctantly come to this grad student for help. For four years Blair had followed this man around Cascade, to Peru and to Mexico. Somewhere, the detective had stopped being a "Holy Grail," a way to fame and fortune, a career step. Somewhere, the man had become his friend. For four years, Blair had put his life into helping this man and turned aside the many times he had been yelled out, humiliated and disregarded. In a moment of fear a month ago, he had fled the home they'd shared, even then thinking it was best for Jim that he get out of the man's life so the detective's career, at least, could go on untainted by association with an academic fraud.
Sandburg knew what Ellison was offering. He knew he was offering to admit to being a Sentinel, to give Sandburg his own career back. And, having studied Jim for all those years, he knew how much the cop craved privacy. He knew what the inadvertent release of his thesis on Jim had done to the man when the media storm descended. He knew how much the detective feared others knowing about his enhanced senses. Jim had only hinted at the relationship with his father that had caused him to repress his abilities as a child, and it didn't take a genius to see how many times the detective had been--not just felt--betrayed over his lifetime. Blair eased his way out of the bed.
Jim waited. He replayed all the times in their acquaintance that he had belittled the student. He reviewed all the times he had accused the man of betraying him when in reality it had never happened. He remembered the horror of Sandburg's lifeless body pulled from the university's fountain and knew it was nothing compared to the loneliness of the weeks Blair had been gone. He was stupid, he knew, but he had really hoped Sandburg would forgive him and they could work something out. He couldn't believe he had thrown away this friendship. He took a deep breath to drive back the tears and prepared to leave the room when he felt a soft touch on his shoulder.
The tears spilled out at the touch, and he looked up to see Sandburg kneeling before him, arms open to embrace him.
"Maybe we can find another solution, Jim, without exposing your abilities, okay?" Jim moved into the embrace and fell to the floor. He felt Sandburg's arms go around his shoulders and offer him the forgiveness he so desperately sought but didn't think he deserved. For the first time in his adult life, for the first time since he was a young child in his mother's arms, Jim Ellison cried, releasing a lifetime of fear.
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