And So It Begins…
(Missing Scenes from 'The Switchman')
A response to the Sentinelangst January 2005 challenge to write up a missing scene or epilogue for episodes or moments not usually written about…
Blair Sandburg, teaching fellow and doctoral candidate in Anthropology at Rainier University, hastily pulled on the plain white lab coat his friend, a nurse in Emergency, had appropriated for him and then pulled back his wild, unruly hair, looping it into a plain leather thong. Slipping on his glasses, he smiled gratefully as he took the patient's chart. She could get into trouble for helping him this way; the information was private and confidential, but she'd been excited when she'd heard about the case and knew this man might well be the one Blair was looking for - had searched most of his life for.
"Thanks, Lin,” he said quietly, though excitement resonated in his voice and sparked in his eyes as he turned his attention to the documented history and lab results. She gripped his arm supportively but, realizing he hardly even realized she was still there, slipped away to her duties before anyone noticed she was spending an inordinate amount of time in the supply closet.
Blair's mouth went dry as he read the notes and he could feel anticipation build in his chest. The patient, James Ellison, a detective with the Cascade PD, complained of sight and hearing problems - acute sensitivity and vision distortions, hearing things that others couldn't, smelling things others couldn't, like gas in an abandoned mill. He'd experienced hypersensitivity to some foods, too. Swallowing, Blair closed the chart and stared at the cupboard wall. When Linda had called about the guy, he'd done a quick Internet search and had come up with the information about Ellison after he'd been found in Peru, five years ago. His chopper had been shot down, all his companions killed in the crash, and he'd survived alone in the jungle. Not only that, but he'd organized the local aboriginals to hold the pass against the incursions of drug runners and rebels. Trauma. Isolation. And he'd been out in the forest alone for the past couple of weeks, trying to get a lead on that crazy bomber, The Switchman; it had been in all the papers that he didn't stop his isolated surveillance until he thought it was over. Isolated, because apparently he worked alone.
Sandburg took a deep breath to calm himself, and then left the small supply room to head toward the treatment room Ellison was currently in, waiting for answers to what ailed him. Spotting a doctor's nametag on the reception counter as he passed, Blair picked it up and attached it to the smock. This could be it. Ellison could be the one. His heart was pounding as he knocked on the door and then let himself in. For a moment he simply gaped at the older man, feeling like a fool, but he couldn't find his voice. Ellison was a big man, obviously athletic and in good shape. He looked like the ex-soldier and cop that he was, his hair cut short, clean-shaven, expression controlled, but his eyes revealed that he was unnerved, even scared. It was the eyes, something about the eyes, that captured Blair - he felt as if he'd seen this guy somewhere before, as if he knew him. But that was impossible. They had never met.
When Ellison slipped off the examining table as he finished tying the knot of his tie, looking at him expectantly as he pulled on his sport coat, Sandburg cleared his throat and smiled, his own nervousness more obvious than he liked. "Mr. Ellison, I'm Doctor McKay," he said.
"Your nametag says, 'McCoy',” Ellison replied, his gaze narrowing; not quite suspicious, but wary of details that didn't mesh.
Blair babbled on about the proper Gaelic pronunciation of his name and then moved on to what really concerned him. He had to know if all five senses were heightened. This guy could be it! Could really be the one! He knew his words were tumbling over one another as he verified the history and confirmed the existence of three exaggerated senses. It was a simple matter to also confirm that smell, linked to taste, was also accentuated. But, he needed to know if touch was also involved. Feeling like a fool, he blurted out his question and, at the offended look on Ellison's face, he could have bit his tongue, wishing he'd been more erudite, or at least diplomatic. Nevertheless, the flare of defensiveness gave him his answer.
He was looking at an honest-to-God sentinel! It was all he could do to restrain his enthusiasm and not hug the guy right then and there. He'd found a sentinel!!!
Scant minutes later, he left the treatment room as swiftly as he'd entered, and moved quickly out of the Emergency Unit. When he put the chart back on the nurses' desk, he wanted to sing and dance and shout to the world that he'd found his Sentinel - but he couldn't, not yet. His hands were trembling as he pulled off the white lab coat and stuffed it in a laundry bin. What if Ellison didn't follow up? The man had been jumpy, irritable, definitely scared because he clearly didn't understand what was happening to him. Would all that mumbo-jumbo about 'technotrash' and 'see the man', intrigue the detective enough to make him resort to the information on the card that would lead him to Rainier and Sandburg's home ground?
On his way out of the hospital, Blair passed the gift shop, and went in to arrange for a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to Lin. On the note, he simply wrote, "You helped my dreams come true - Forever Grateful, Blair'. And then he loped out of the hospital to his old classic and drove back to his office. He would camp out there until Ellison showed - and if the man hadn't showed within the next day or so, Blair told himself he'd go looking for him. After all, he knew both where the detective worked and where he lived. No way was he just going to let this possibility slip by.
Besides, Ellison needed his help. Who else would have a clue about what was really going on with him and how to deal with his hypersensitive senses? Even if he only had four heightened senses and not five, the guy was suffering and deserved to know how to help himself manage all the confusing, uncomfortable sensory input. Man, in his job, if he zoned at the wrong time, he could get himself killed.
Sandburg thought about that, the fact that Ellison had chosen to be in the Army, in Covert Ops no less, and then in the specialized police unit. Did sentinels feel compelled to do work that safeguarded and protected others? Was this further 'proof' that he'd found his holy grail? Pulling into his parking slot at Rainier, just outside Hargrove Hall, Blair turned off the ignition and let his memories of Ellison flicker in his mind. Those eyes. What was it about those eyes? Why did he feel so sure that he knew this stranger when ... when he didn't?
Tapping his fingertips on the steering wheel, Sandburg told himself that he didn't know Ellison yet - but he promised himself that he would, and soon.
Too excited to focus on lecture notes, Blair prowled around the storeroom cum office. The magazine with Ellison's photo had been delivered by his TA, who had gone to the Library to find a hardcopy of it. Sandburg leafed through it and again read the article he'd first seen electronically. Then he pulled out his copy of Burton's text, The Sentinels of the Paraguay. There was something uncanny about seeing Ellison's face as a warrior, almost primitive with the streaks of mud and the bandanna around his brow and then comparing it to the ancient portrait of the sentinel in the book. It was the eyes, Blair decided - and that's what had caught him so off-balance earlier in the day. The look in the eyes. Watchful, intelligent, shadowed with pain yet lit with hope. Steady and unflinching. Complex layers of being revealed in the windows to the soul.
Pushing his hair back behind his ears, he forced himself to sit down and tried to engage his mind on the notes for his lecture later in the week. But it was hopeless. He felt nervous energy coursing through his body and it was all he could do to sit still. Turning to his ghetto blaster, he pulled out one of his favourite CDs, one that mingled the earthy beat of primitive life with the complex arrangements of modern day. Sometimes, often, he felt the music was a metaphor for his life…maybe for all life.
Letting the rhythms surround him, his whole body vibrating with excitement, he didn't hear the door behind him open, or realize he was no longer alone until Ellison called out to him. Startled, thrilled to his boots that the detective had come, and so quickly, he found himself burbling about the music - and immediately felt the censure, the cold irritation that flowed at and over him, leaving him slightly chilled. Complying with Ellison's request, he immediately turned down the volume and snapped the machine off. Man, if he didn't get his act together, he'd screw this up.
It was just so hard to be sober and sensible, to mute his exhilaration; he'd been looking for the man standing so stiffly in front of him for nearly the whole of his life.
When the bigger man slammed him against the wall, growling at him threateningly, he supposed for a fleeting second that maybe he should be afraid of the violence that vibrated through this guy. But he wasn't. The sentinel didn't hold any fear for him. But, man, Ellison was scared, and that touched something deep inside Sandburg, making him want desperately to help Jim understand what he was.
And when the detective stormed out, Blair loped to the door to call after him. Ellison didn't know what kind of danger his senses posed! For a moment, just a blink of time, Sandburg hesitated. Maybe he should let the guy cool off before accosting him again. But there was really no time to waste, and if he let Ellison go now, he might never get him back again. So he followed, jogging a little to catch up - and nearly had a heart attack when he realized his Sentinel was standing frozen in a zone, completely oblivious to the danger bearing down upon him. His heart in his throat, telling himself vainly that he was crazy to be running in front of a truck that was too close to stop in time, Sandburg flew down the steps and onto the drive, to grab the detective by the hips and drag him down to the ground in one fast, lurching motion.
The truck passed overhead, and Blair yelped when strands of his hair were caught and pulled by the massive wheels, so close were they to his head. But then the truck was gone and they were both still alive and safe. Panting with residual fear, Sandburg hoisted Ellison up and then spun away, shuddering by how close they'd come to being crushed, probably killed. Still shaking as adrenaline coursed through his body, blinking to get his bearings, he felt a surge of warmth when Ellison said they needed to talk. Pushing the older man ahead of him, together they cleared the crowd that had gathered, and then he led Jim to the market area near the harbour, just past the University's gates.
"She said she thinks you're a dork."
Ellison immediately felt a stab of remorse for having caused the stricken look on the kid's open face, and for having dimmed, if even for only a moment, the vibrancy of his eyes and smile, the ineffable exhilaration that Sandburg wore like others wore clothes. But nobody was going to treat him like some trained baboon, performing magical tricks. No one. Period.
Not even someone who had just saved his life.
He turned to walk away, torn between wanting to drag the grad student with him and keeping him close like some kind of security blanket, and - what? Turning back time? Pretend none of this was happening to him? He heard Sandburg's steps behind him, the scruff and pad of sneakers on concrete, and his shoulders tightened in resistance. Not to the kid, but to everything that was happening to him. Taking a breath, he forced himself to calm down. What had Blair said? That he was a human crime lab? Wincing against the intrusive sounds and smells that surrounded him, Jim wondered if that could be true. Was it possible to shut out the confusion and focus, to use the senses and not be crippled by them? Pausing, letting Sandburg catch up, he looked back at the eager young man, and thought he looked like a puppy with all that hair and those big blue eyes. All the kid wanted to do was help, right? Well, and write his paper. And get famous. Sighing, Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. They'd need some ground rules, but he didn't really have any choice, did he? Sandburg was the only game in town, the only hope he had of getting a handle on these senses, so that he could live with some kind of normalcy and do his job.
"Chief, you had lunch yet?" he asked.
"Uh, no. I could eat," Blair replied with a tentative smile, so transparently wanting to please.
Ellison nodded and pointed to a coffee shop halfway down the block. Maybe the kid could tell him something more about this guy, Burton, and what he'd learned about...what did he call them...sentinels?
Jim yawned as he closed and locked his front door. Tossing the keys into the basket on the entry table on his way by, he loosened his tie as he slowly mounted the steps to his bedroom. It had been a long day, and he ached more than he liked from the physical stunts he'd pulled - he really was getting too old to jump from overpasses onto moving buses. Still, he reflected with a smug smile, he'd done it and saved the day.
Not alone, though, he admitted to himself as he hung up his sport coat. ‘Don't look. Listen!' the kid had directed, and Blair had been absolutely right. Without that focused guidance, they would have all blown up before he ever found the bomb. Undressing, he thought about Sandburg. Carolyn had wanted to know what was up with the kid, most especially as he was famous for refusing to work with any partner after Jack disappeared. And he hadn't known quite what to say. Just that the grad student was working on a project that required him to follow Jim around on cases. Pretty thin, really, and not nearly enough to convince Simon that Blair should have an observer's pass. They were going to have to come up with a storyline, and soon. Sighing, Ellison rubbed the back of his neck; he didn't like the idea of not being straight with Banks, but it was too weird. How could he even begin to explain something he did not understand himself?
Lying down and staring up through the skylight at the stars, his thoughts again drifted to the hyperactive grad student. Blair had surprised him by getting onto the bus to make sure their target didn't disappear with all the hostages, to try to be of some help. But his gut cramped a bit at how easily the kid could have gotten himself killed by venturing beyond safe boundaries. They really did have to get some ground rules established before Sandburg's enthusiasm and inclination toward helpfulness got him killed.
But the kid was no coward, that was for sure, and that was something that counted with Jim. Sandburg hadn't backed down a bit when Ellison had thrown him up against the wall of his office - in fact, he'd given as good as he got, laying out the bottom line very clearly. And he hadn't given up when Jim had stormed out, but had followed - and ended up saving his life. So the young man was tenacious and determined, thought fast and was resourceful and, hopefully, resilient.
Frowning, Jim remembered how he'd handed his weapon to Blair to hold on Veronica, and he chewed on his lip, wondering at how easily he'd trusted the kid. A cop wasn't supposed to surrender his weapon to civilians, and yet he hadn't thought of Sandburg as a civilian - he'd already begun to think of the grad student as his partner. What was it about Blair that made him so easy to...to work with? Almost as if they'd known one another for years and were used to backing one another up. Jim swallowed and scrubbed at his forehead, and then curled on his side. The fact was, he didn't know the kid from a hill of beans and he'd better not forget that. Blair wasn't trained to be a cop, didn't have the knowledge or skills needed. He would be a ride-along to help with the senses and that was it. They weren't friends, weren't colleagues and weren't ever likely to be. This was a temporary thing, just until he could get a handle on these senses.
Closing his eyes, he thought that he'd better soon figure out how to get out of the agreement about being written up in Sandburg's dissertation. No way did he need or want that kind of notoriety. No way in hell.
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