Without Trust there is Nothing
Note: This story picks up during Sentinel, Too, Part One and carries on past the end of The Sentinel, Too, Part Two. Having come late to the fandom, I feel a need to make my own additions and resolutions to these particular episodes. I have read excellent fan fiction by others, practically inhaled it actually, so if I have been influenced by the stories of others, it is not intentional but perhaps inevitable.
"I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to analyze it. I just need you out of here by the time I get back," Ellison snapped with barely contained anger, then grabbed his coat and left the loft.
Blair stood stunned, his mouth slightly agape as he watched the door close and then gazed at the boxes stacked around him. His friend had been increasingly irritated and short-tempered lately, but it had never occurred to the anthropologist that it was because Jim was quite simply tired of having him around. They'd been roommates and friends for three years…and though there had been a few rough spots and the need to adapt to one another's very different characters, Blair had thought they'd worked it all out long ago.
Now, he didn't know what to think.
There had to be something else, something going on with Jim and his senses that made him feel, what did he say, 'claustrophobic', something that was driving him to define and defend his boundaries and borders against all comers, even his Guide. Briefly, Blair wondered about the spotted jaguar Jim had said he'd seen just after he'd stopped that robbery at the corner store, but his friend hadn't wanted to talk any more about it. Frowning thoughtfully, Sandburg toyed with the idea that the presence of another possible Sentinel in Cascade was somehow impacting on his friend, but he couldn't see how. Hell, Jim hadn't even let him tell his partner about having met Alex and had no idea that she even existed. Shrugging, he gazed again at the boxes then went to the phone to call a friend to help him transport the artifacts of his life to his office.
"Thanks, Jason," Blair said to the young man who'd helped carry in the last of the boxes from his van and Blair's car, stacking them in the corner of Sandburg's office with all the rest.
Stretching a little, the student with short-cropped blond hair and green eyes turned to his friend and student prof. "Do you need a place to stay?" he asked, offering, "You could crash at my place until you get a new apartment."
Blair smiled at the generous offer but shook his head. "No, thanks anyway. I'll be fine. Listen, man, I really appreciate your help tonight…"
"Don't mention it," Jason replied with a diffident shrug. "What are friends for, right? If you're sure you're okay, I'd best be headed back to my place. Jenna and I were just about to eat when you called."
"Oh, sorry, Jason…sure, you head on out. Tell Jenna I'm sorry," Blair replied quickly, moving back to let his friend pass him on the way out of the office. With a slap on Blair's shoulder, Jason was on his way and Blair closed the office door behind him.
Turning to lean against it, he gazed at the stack of boxes and shook his head. Biting his lip, he couldn't help the feelings of hurt that grew in his chest, making it hard to breathe. Rejection, sorrow, loneliness and the beginnings of despair washed over him in waves, but he swallowed hard, pushing them down and away. This wasn't the time to get all worked up about being kicked out of the only home he'd ever really known. Sighing, he pushed himself away from the door. He'd spent his life on the move, first with his restless mother and then on his own, and it looked like he was on his own again. He'd survive…he always had.
But, he'd really come to believe in the friendship he and Jim shared…had shared? Was it over? Had there been something so annoying about him that Jim just couldn't stand having him around anymore? His friend had been so anxious to see the last of him, to remove all trace of his presence from Jim's life…with no warning, or none that Blair had picked up on to prepare him for this. Frowning, he wondered again if it was something to do with the Sentinel abilities, something that made Jim feel so crowded that he needed to exert control. Nobody knew better than Blair did how important 'control' was to Jim, how it was the detective's first defence against anything and anyone who threatened him, against fear that he couldn't explain or handle.
Well, whatever it was, Blair needed a place to crash if this was a permanent thing and not just some aberration of Sentinel senses. Moving to the boxes, he rummaged until he found a sleeping bag and a blanket. Even as he shook the bag out, he knew he was engaged in denial, preferring to believe Jim didn't want him gone permanently. Besides, he didn't have enough money to splurge on a motel room, however cheap it might be. If Jim really did never want him back in the loft, then he'd need every dime he had to scrape up rent money for other digs.
He could make do here for a few days…he'd done it before, using the showers over at the gym and the bathroom down the hall. There were Laundromats and he could buy food on a daily basis. He could live without the modern conveniences of a washing machine, refrigerator or microwave…if he could manage on a dig in the middle of nowhere, he could certainly manage here in the office with the facilities he needed near by. Exhausted, he laid down fully clothed, just kicking off his sneakers before he wiggled into the sleeping bag. Feeling a little lost, and scolding himself for being such a wimp, he curled onto his side hoping sleep would claim him.
But, he was too wound up and laid awake for hours, staring into the darkened office, going over Jim's behaviours, trying to make sense of it all. Rubbing his forehead, Blair wondered if the dissertation was worrying Jim. A week or so ago, during the strike, they'd exchanged a few hard words about it down at the station. Jim had been really upset, calling what Sandburg had written a 'violation of friendship and trust'. In his anger, Ellison had made some reference to 'after I let you stay at my place, got you a job at the department'…Blair had thought they'd worked it out, even suggesting in a fit of temper that he would just destroy his notes if that would appease Jim, because the friendship meant more to him. Jim had finally said the document was good, though he was still clearly uncomfortable. Maybe that had been the signal he'd missed. Maybe Jim had been thinking about it all this time, until he just couldn't stand it anymore, couldn't stand to have Blair around him anymore.
Thinking about that night brought back memories of Gabe, the homeless guy who'd claimed to be an angel, there to work a miracle. And, he had…he'd saved that kid's life, jumping forward to use his own body to block the bullet the assassin had shot at the young witness to a murder. Blair couldn't help but smile in the dark when he thought about Gabe, remembering his sweetness, his gentleness, how he'd said the hardest part of a miracle was making it look like an accident…how he'd disappeared from the hospital later, no one knowing where he'd gone…and then how Megan had found out that the man Gabe seemed to have been had died the winter before. Sighing, Blair stared into the darkness, wondering if he really had met Gabriel, the archangel, thinking he could use a miracle to help him understand his friend, to help Jim do battle with whatever fear or paranoia had currently laid claim to his senses. Feeling the sting of sudden tears, he blinked hard as he murmured brokenly, "How about it, Gabe? Do you think you could help me help my friend…or, forget about me and just help him? Jim looked so desperate tonight…I'm really worried about him, you know? He shouldn't be alone right now and he won't let me help…so, maybe, you could watch out for him? I'd sure be grateful if you would."
But, it didn't seem as if Gabe had heard his prayer. Things just seemed to go from bad to worse. The next night, Megan arrived in his office to tell him Jim had lost it down at the station, and though Blair recognized what she was describing as an extension of Ellison's need to protect his 'territory', in this case, his desk, the anthropologist had no answers as to what had triggered his friend's bizarre behaviour. Nevertheless, he went with Megan to the loft, to try to help sort things out.
When they arrived, Blair was stunned to see the whole place had been cleared out and the heat turned off. Megan whispered about it being 'weird', and he had to agree. Jim seemed barely aware of them as he stood on the balcony, watching the city, listening, distracted by feelings the Sentinel didn't understand. Filled with a confusing, overwhelming surge of emotion, Jim's senses were raging out of control as his eyes and ears had searched the city, searching for the other, the one who'd brought danger, the one who made everything so very wrong. He'd seen again the vision of himself hunting the wolf in the jungle, saw himself kill the wolf and the wolf transform into the form of his Guide. Dead. Though nothing had been making much sense to him, deep inside he knew he didn't want to see Blair dead, so he'd pushed him away, a distraction he couldn't afford and one that might prove deadly for his partner. Now, he was barely even aware that Blair had come back with Megan…it wasn't important, they weren't important. All that mattered was finding and stopping that other who had invaded his territory.
The next thing they knew, Jim was gone, racing into the night. The Sentinel had pushed past them, intent upon the siren only he could hear.
Blair and Megan followed him, only catching up in an alley behind a half-finished building, Blair carrying the flashlight Megan had requested to help them see in the darkness. Inadvertently, the torch caught Jim's eyes, blinding him and he cursed Blair with angry impatience, calling him an idiot.
Blair could feel the tension between them and it sickened him…it didn't make any sense. All he knew was that Jim was pushing him farther and farther away, resenting him now, barely able to stand having him near. It hurt. And it scared him. What was going on? Why wouldn't Jim let him help? Why did his best friend suddenly seem to almost hate him?
Later, back at the station, Sandburg cornered his friend and demanded to know what was wrong. It was then that it all became too sickeningly clear to Blair as Jim related his disturbing experiences with the visions, recounting the same things Alex had shared with him. Stunned, not wanting to believe it, Blair had muttered unconsciously about it all being the same visions…and Jim had demanded to know what he was talking about. When Blair confessed, stumbling a little, protesting that it couldn't be relevant, but finally admitting that he'd been working with a woman who seemed to be another Sentinel, he could feel his partner's disbelief, then anger. Ellison was furious…there was another Sentinel out there…and Blair had known and not told him. He felt more betrayed in that moment than he'd ever felt before in his life. But, that would have to wait…right now, he needed to meet this woman and assess the threat she represented.
Knowing he had no choice, Blair took his partner to confront Alex. The meeting was tense, and before it was over, Ellison realized she was as aware of the threat he posed to her as he was aware of the danger she represented to his city. They'd circled one another like wild animals…challenging one another boldly and bluntly. Frustrated that there was nothing with which to charge her, no proof as yet of her complicity in any crime, Ellison had stormed out of her apartment, practically shoving Blair along the hall in front of him.
Returning to the station, Ellison worked with H. in the tried and true methods of police investigation, using the computer to quickly pull together information about this mysterious woman. Blair was mortified to learn how much he'd misjudged her when H. read off her criminal history, and though Blair hated to think Alex was really a criminal, he couldn't deny it to himself anymore. He couldn't believe he'd been so blind, so stupid. How could he not realize that one Sentinel would sense the presence of another? God, Jim had probably picked up the scent of her on his clothing. No wonder he'd been kicked out of the loft, that Jim could barely stand to have him nearby. He'd let his excitement about his discovery get in his way, his desire to maintain appropriate research 'protocol' over-ride the candour he owed his best friend. In his view, Jim had every right to be angry, but he hadn't meant to cause any harm…surely Jim knew that?
Surely Jim couldn't believe he'd deceived him deliberately?
Now that he knew Alex had a criminal history, Ellison was determined to find the evidence he needed to link her to the crimes. While Ellison talked to Blair about the case, his manner was strained and he didn't want to discuss the fact that Blair hadn't told him anything about Alex. Ellison was trying to get past that, past the sense of profound betrayal, but wasn't having much luck. He wanted to shake Blair, yell at him for having been less than straight with him, but the words got stuck in his throat and he was really afraid that if he lost control of his barely contained fury, he might actually hurt the smaller man in his rage. So, instead of dealing with his feelings, he focused on the case. Returning to the alley, Jim searched for something to tie her to the scene…and he found a strand of blond hair where the thief had been standing before escaping into the night.
Relentlessly focused on the case, determined to find what he needed to remove this threat from Cascade, Jim pushed forward, pursuing the next step which was to bring Alex in for a DNA sample that could be compared to the strand of hair. But, when they got back to her apartment, the door was locked or jammed. As Jim and Blair began to move away, Megan determinedly tried to force the door knob to open…and Jim put the combination of sound and smell together only just fast enough to save them all from being blown to bits.
Alex had rigged her apartment with the hope that the explosion would kill them.
Bad news piled up on more bad news when they discovered Alex had likely stolen canisters of deadly nerve gas and left the country, apparently headed to Bogota. Though they knew the danger she represented, she was out of their jurisdiction. Frustration mingled with something like relief to know Cascade was safe…but they were all sick with the realization that the gas she'd stolen could kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people. But, she was gone and there was nothing they could do now to stop her.
Jim wouldn't look at him, scarcely acknowledging his presence after having scorned him for having been taken in so badly. Blair was devastated to think he'd contributed to a situation that threatened so many innocent lives…sick to his soul to realize that Jim held him responsible for not having been straight with him in the first place. He couldn't do anything to change the past, couldn't do anything about the fact Alex had deceived him…but he had to fix the rift between himself and his best friend. They had to talk about it, clear the air, find a way past this, or it would destroy their friendship. Jim clearly didn't want anything to do with him, stalking out of Simon's office without a backward glance, but Blair followed and forced a conversation when he saw they were alone in the bullpen. This couldn't wait…it was too important and whether Jim wanted to talk about it or not, Blair was determined to get passed the wall of anger and condemnation.
Blair didn't know what he hoped for…understanding if not forgiveness. A chance to make up for his lapse in judgment. Something, anything, that would end the cold, frozen way Ellison was treating him and allow them some measure of the easy relationship they had known.
Sincerely sorry, he apologized, but an apology wasn't enough for Ellison. Stunned, he listened to Jim calling his action a 'breach of trust' and when Jim avoided his eyes as he said he needed a partner he could trust, Blair felt as if he'd been punched. But, then, Jim went on to challenge the value of the research Blair had done, the importance of it, and Blair's own temper flared briefly but still he tried to remain rational and pointed out that his research had helped Jim understand and control his senses, to understand who he was.
Jim cut him off, brutally. "I don't need you or anyone else to know who I am," he snapped cold. Shocked into silence by the vehemence, Blair was horrified to hear his partner go on, making it abundantly clear that he couldn't get past this and that Blair should move on to another subject for his dissertation. Turning aside, Jim felt as if something had shattered inside and he couldn't put the pieces back together. All he knew was that didn't trust Sandburg anymore…in that moment, as far as he was concerned, their friendship and partnership was over.
Blair was devastated to think Jim felt that way, and to see that there was no way Ellison was interested in trying to work it out. "That's crazy," he said desperately. "I know I made a mistake and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get past this. But, if you're gonna hang onto it…." He paused, unable to believe what was happening, unable to think of how to make it right, hoping to see his friend relent, to be granted a reprieve. But Ellison wouldn't look at him and remained stonily silent. "You know where to find me," Blair finished hollowly as he straightened and walked away.
Jim watched him walk away, feeling numb and confused. It didn't help when Simon, who'd overheard the conversation, told him he'd been hard on Sandburg and challenged him as to whether he'd have been able to handle being a Sentinel on his own before he also walked away, not bothering to conceal his disgust at how Ellison had just treated his partner. Swallowing as he thought about Simon's words, Ellison knew he couldn't have managed on his own, knew he'd been close to losing his sanity when Blair had found him… but that didn't help diffuse his sense of having been betrayed.
He wasn't angry anymore. Just hurt…and a little lost. But, he couldn't find it in himself to forgive Blair for not having been straight with him. Look at what had happened, what she'd done. If Blair had just told him…after all their years of partnership and friendship…why had Blair deceived him? He couldn't get past it…he just couldn't let it go as easily as Simon seemed to think he should.
Blair wasn't sure what he felt as he stormed away from the police station, jumping into his car and heading unconsciously back to the only home he had left…the university. Initially, he just felt anger, that Jim could just write off everything that had happened in the past three years, denying the contribution he'd made in helping Jim understand and control his senses. Damn it, he'd given everything he had, risked his life more than once to stand beside his Sentinel, to guide Jim and protect him. But, bitterly, Sandburg reflected that it seemed none of that counted, that it could all be wiped out by a single mistake. He was furious with Jim's rigid, black and white definition of the world, and he couldn't believe Jim could just let it go, as if their friendship had no meaning, wasn't something to fight to hang on to.
As if he was nothing.
And, that hurt most of all.
Blair had a world full of acquaintances but few friends, and none as close as Jim had become during these last few years. God, he'd offered to tear up his dissertation outline just a few weeks ago because their friendship was worth more to him than his life's work. He'd found the first home he'd ever really known, work that was meaningful beyond the realm of ideas and theories… work that actually helped save people's lives. All of it because of Jim. Blair felt he owed the older man more than words could ever begin to express, and deep down, Blair accepted that he would have died to protect him. To know that he'd cared so much for someone who evidently only saw him as incidental was shattering. He couldn't believe it. Didn't want to believe it.
In part, Blair knew that this wasn't all his fault…or Jim's either, for that matter. Jim's reactions were exaggerated and out of control, exacerbated by his sentinel instincts and his need to protect his turf. But…kicking him out of his home with no warning, saying that all trust between them had been lost and that Blair should find some other subject for his thesis…that wasn't all 'sentinel' behaviour. Jim wasn't an automaton with no choices of what he thought or acted. He had to really mean those things to say them, to want to cut off all contact between them. For a brief moment, Blair again felt his own temper flare, felt his own sense of betrayal that Jim was prepared to write off all of the last three years so easily, with so little apparent reluctance or regret.
Coldly he reflected that Jim was right, it was a matter of trust, but trust worked both ways…and for the first time, Blair wasn't sure he'd ever be able to trust Jim not to hurt or reject him again.
At that moment, deep down, Blair knew they'd crossed a line of no return. Jim didn't trust easily and Blair knew he'd blown it. It might not have all been his fault and he could point to Jim's unreasonable need for control as a big part of the problem, but that didn't change the outcome. But, for all his apparent ingenuousness, Blair knew that he didn't trust all that easily either. He didn't make commitments easily… hell, he'd hardly learned to make any at all except to his studies. But, he'd come to trust Jim and had committed everything he was to their partnership, more…to the friendship that had grown between them. Thanks to Alex, the trust between them had been shattered and seemed irreparably so.
Their friendship, partnership, was done, over.
Sighing, he parked his car in the university lot and dejectedly crossed the pavement to the building, following the hall to his office. He wasn't a kid who could just walk away and sulk. He was an adult, with responsibilities and commitments to be honoured so there were things he had to do. Even if Jim wanted to deny his need for a Guide, the fact remained that he would need help. Blair had to make sure he had that support…had to make sure his friend wasn't at risk just because their partnership was ruined.
Blair spent the next hour sorting through the boxes, retrieving the journals in which he'd kept three years of notes on Sentinel behaviours, the results of all the tests, his findings and analysis of all he'd observed, studied and thought about in trying to do the best he could to help Jim sort out and control his senses. When he stood back and looked at the pile of notebooks, he shook his head, amazed to see how much knowledge he'd accumulated. Biting his lip, he stacked the notebooks into a box of their own, and after a moment's hesitation, he tossed his official PD 'observer' pass on top, then closed and relabeled it, "Capt. Simon Banks, Major Crimes Unit, Cascade PD. Personal and Confidential. To be opened by recipient only."
He swathed the box in tape, ensuring it was well sealed, then picked up the phone to call Simon. Getting only the main office answering machine, he said, trying to sound professional and distant, "Simon, it's Blair. I'm shipping a box to you that contains all of the notes I've made over the past three years. You'll need this stuff to understand what to do to help…" but he paused. Someone else might well hear this message to transcribe it for Simon. He couldn't go into details that might someday create problems for Jim. More circumspect, he continued, "Well, you know what I mean. Uh…I've also included my 'observer' pass, since it looks like I won't be needing it anymore. I…well, I just want to thank you for…for, well, everything, I guess. I'll miss you and Joel and the guys…you all made me feel like I was really a part of your team. Say 'good-bye' to them and to Daryl for me."
Finishing the painful message, he slowly settled the phone back into its cradle and ran his fingers through his hair as he took a couple of deep breaths to steady and centre himself. Then, Blair sat down to call 'Shipping' to make the arrangements to have the box picked up and delivered the next day. That was it…he'd taken care of his responsibilities and ended the relationships that had come to mean so much to him.
Finished, numb, he just sat there, his mind playing back over the past three years, his eyes misting with the memories. They'd been the best years of his life so far, no question about it. He'd had a 'permanent residence', a home for the first time in his life, a place where he'd belonged, a best friend. Someone he cared about more deeply than he'd've ever thought possible that first day when Jim had slammed him up against the wall, angry and insulting, desperate and afraid. At the time, Jim had represented 'the Holy Grail' for Sandburg, the living, breathing embodiment of everything he'd believed was possible, but had doubted he'd ever have the luck to find. Somehow, over those first few months together, the professional detachment he'd tried to sustain had slipped, and Blair had found himself really caring about and admiring this lonely, strong man who did the best he could, who didn't hesitate to risk his own life to save others.
Before Blair had quite known what was happening, his relationship with Jim had become his foundation, his own reason for being, as if he'd found a purpose greater than any he'd ever imagined his life would have. For almost three years, he'd gladly juggled his complicated life between the university and the police department, to make himself available to provide back up to his Sentinel. It had been exhausting and sometimes very dangerous, but he hadn't regretted a moment of it. It wasn't just his friendship with Jim that had so enriched his life…it was Simon and the other guys and Daryl. Somehow they'd all slipped under his defences and had become family. Sadly, he reflected that for a long time now, he had been happier and more settled than he'd ever been in his life.
Swallowing hard, he sighed. And, now, that life was over. He'd blown it bigtime, getting caught up in his researcher persona and forgetting to be the partner and friend. He'd thought he could be both. He'd been wrong…God, so terribly wrong. Pushing his hands through his hair, he wondered how he could have been so stupid. Jim didn't trust easily, and that trust was a fragile thing, given that everything in his life had only ever taught him that the only person Jim Ellison could really count on in his life was himself. And, now, that trust, so hard won, was shattered, leaving nothing behind…nothing. Too tired and hurt to apportion blame, to reflect anymore that it wasn't all his fault, Blair felt only the misery of once again being cast adrift, alone…and now more than ever before, lonely.
Blair shook his head, and tried to think past the emotion to what he'd do next. His own life was pretty much screwed by all of this. No home, no friend, no dissertation…nothing. As hard as he tried, he couldn't seem to get past the wall in his mind, as if there was no tomorrow for him, only yesterdays. It was stupid, he'd picked up the pieces before…but he just couldn't seem to focus on what to do next. The only thing he wanted to do was go back to Jim, apologize, beg even, to be allowed back into his friend's life, but he knew that was hopeless. The cold indifference in Jim's eyes and voice tonight had chilled him to his soul, worse even than the hot, hard words at the station earlier, when Jim had demanded to know what he'd done. On both sides, the trust between them had been shot to hell. It was over. He had to face it.
Hours passed without him being consciously aware of the time slipping away, the university dark and silent around him. Even when the new dawn began to lighten the sky to the east with the fragile promise of a new day, a new beginning, all Blair felt was hopeless despair.
Swallowing, blinking back futile tears, he pulled out a piece of paper and grabbed a pen from the desk drawer. Even if Jim never read this letter, even if he just tore it up, Blair had to try to find some kind of closure he could live with. Because he sure as hell couldn't live with the chaos of emotion that welled in inside of him now, a maelstrom of grief and loss, guilt and pain, sorrow and shame that tightened his chest, making it hard to breathe. And, under it all, there was only desolate emptiness…nothing. Nothing but aching pain.
'Dear Jim, I never meant to betray you, or the trust you had in me. I didn't know Alex…well, I didn't know. I'm sorry, more sorry than I will ever be able to say. I want to thank you for your friendship and support these last three years, for opening your home to me…for everything. I never meant to hurt you, never meant to screw up this bad. I understand why you never want to see me again. But, you need a guide, Jim. You need someone to help you with your senses who understands the gifts you have, so I've sent my notes to Simon. Don't try to do this alone, man. You're a Sentinel, it's who you are…the best, bravest, most decent human being I've ever been graced to know. Simon cares about you, and you know you can trust him. He'll help you when you need it. I hope someday that you'll be able to forgive me. God knows, I'll never be able to forgive myself. I will treasure the friendship you gave to me for the rest of my life and I swear I'll do all I can to make you proud to have once known me. I'm a better person for having known you. Blair'
He'd just folded and slipped the sheet of paper, labeling it with Jim's name and address, when the door to his office crashed open, startling him so that he jumped. When he saw that it was Alex, and when she pulled the gun up, his mouth dropped open and he raised his hands to signal submission, making it clear that he wouldn't fight in the hope of somehow keeping this encounter from becoming deadly.
He wanted to hate her, but he couldn't. She was a tortured soul, who'd been given the greatest gifts a human being could have to do good in this world and she had perverted them. He didn't understand her story, didn't know enough about her, and couldn't begin to imagine what horrors had driven her down this path of destruction and chaos. "Until I met you, I didn't understand what I was," she said thoughtfully, grateful to him for having shown her that it was possible to deal with, maybe even control, the senses that had come close to driving her mad. But, all Blair knew was that it was a waste, such an incredible, terrible waste to have such abilities and to use them for criminal ends, and was a little surprised to hear himself say so out loud.
"This is the one thing I never wanted to do," she said sincerely, but then lifted her gun as she added with a chill tone of pragmatism, "but I can't leave you alive."
As he looked into her eyes and listened to her words, Blair finally realized why he'd not been able to imagine any future for himself. He didn't have one. She had come to kill him. Briefly, he wondered why, and then figured that somehow he frightened her…he'd tried to help her, had come to understand her strengths and weaknesses so far as they related to her extraordinary abilities better than anyone ever had. She couldn't afford to have that knowledge used against her.
As she came closer, and cocked the gun, Blair took a deep breath and closed his eyes, waiting for oblivion. He was terrified… and tired. He didn't want to die, but he was unarmed…fighting her, trying to somehow resist seemed hopeless and futile. There was nothing he could do to stop her from shooting him now in cold blood. His muscles tightened as he waited for the bullet, swallowing against the terror that filled his chest, unconsciously courageous as he accepted his fate.
But, when the shot never came, he opened his eyes again, focusing on the gun pointed at his chest. Lifting his eyes, he saw her gaze dart around the office, a slight frown between her brows. "Not here," she murmured quietly, perhaps because 'here' was one of the few places in her life where she'd known kindness and she didn't want to defile it. Gesturing with the gun, she continued, "Stand up…we're going outside."
Cautiously, he stood and moved around the desk as she moved back to give him room to pass her without giving him the chance to jump her, to try to take the gun from her. Now that he'd been granted a reprieve, Blair found he couldn't just give up. "You don't have to do this," he said quietly. "You can just go away, disappear…."
"No," she replied coldly, pushing him forward, the cold steel of the gun's muzzle in his back, "you know too much about me…about my weaknesses. You and your Sentinel would come after me…I can't risk that. Unless…." She hesitated for a moment, feeling an unexpected desire to not be alone anymore, awash with an almost desperate awareness of what the help of this young man could mean to her. Though she knew he'd been working with Jim, she didn't really understand the bonds that exist between a guide and his sentinel…all she knew was that Ellison had kicked Blair out of his apartment. The boxes stacked in the corner of the office were mute evidence of the severing of at least that much of their partnership. If Sandburg wasn't tied to Ellison, maybe he'd consider becoming her partner. No one knew better than she did how much she still needed his help. Realizing her vain hope was almost certainly futile, she still had to try. "If you would swear your complete allegiance to me now, and forever be my Guide," she offered seductively, "I'd have a reason to let you live."
Dumbfounded by the proposal, Blair stared into space for a long moment as he wondered if this would be a way to buy time. But, he couldn't lie about something like this, couldn't encourage her trust and then betray her. Whether she understood it or not, it wasn't something a Guide could do…no matter what the risks or the costs. Swallowing, he shook his head as he murmured softly, "No…Jim Ellison is my Sentinel and I won't betray his trust. I won't work against him…and I won't lie to you. Sorry."
Tilting her head a little as she studied him, read his quiet courage and saw something of the steadfast loyalty to her counterpart, a loyalty she both envied and resented, she leaned forward a little to whisper quietly in his ear, "I'm sorry, too." Lifting her chin, she shoved him forward as she commanded harshly, "Move!"
Trying to keep himself from panicking, Blair led the way out of the office, along the deserted hall and out into the early dawn light. She nudged him again in the back with the gun, and he started down the steps, not sure where she wanted him to go. His eyes darted around the parking lot and grounds, uncertain of whether he hoped to see someone or not. Help would be more than welcome at this point, but he didn't want anyone else getting hurt.
"Keep moving," she ordered, her own gaze raking the area, a cold smile playing about her lips when she saw they were quite alone. He crossed the pavement and onto the grass, angling a little to circle the fountain, but she laid a hand on his shoulder, redirecting his steps.
"Where…what…?" he stammered, not sure what she was planning to do, other than simply shoot him and be done with it.
"Go to the fountain," she directed, again shoving the gun hard into his back.
It wasn't far, only a few steps really. Blair's mouth and throat were dry, and he knew she must be able to hear his heart hammering in his chest. "Alex, please…you don't have to do this," he tried again to reason with her, desperation ringing in his voice. Maybe he could accept that his life was about to end…but that didn't mean he wanted to die. As they got closer to the fountain, he knew he couldn't just stand there passively and let her kill him. He had to try to stop her, not only to save his own life, but also to try to stop her from hurting other people. His muscles tightened as he prepared to make his move, but she was waiting for it, having been monitoring his heart rate and breathing.
Even as he wheeled around to make a desperate grab for the gun, she lifted it and brought it down hard, grazing the side of his head, stunning him. Still, he tried to fight back, grappling with her, but she shoved him back hard against the low stone wall of the fountain and it caught him behind the knees, his momentum carrying him back into the water with a loud splash and high spray of water.
He landed hard, sinking beneath the surface. Struggling, only semiconscious, he rolled to push himself to his knees and tried to lift his head to breathe. But, she'd jumped in after him, clubbing him again with the gun and then, twisting her fingers into his hair, she forced his head down, keeping his face under the water.
Blair thrashed, trying to fight the blinding pain that blazed through his skull. He heaved and pushed, or tried, but his muscles wouldn't seem to respond. Desperate, he held his breath as he fought back, trying to roll to grab her, to pull her down. His lungs burned with their need for air, and he knew she'd straddled his back, using all her insane strength to hold him down. He tried to rear back, but his body, stunned by the blows to his head, betrayed him as his lungs screamed for air, demanding that he draw breath. Unable to resist the autonomic dictates of his body, he inhaled and water flooded into him, choking him, making him gag, forcing him to cough to clear his lungs only to drag in more water. He heaved and thrashed, desperate for life, but his struggles weakened as a lassitude took hold of him, a weird kind of peace he knew wasn't natural, but which he couldn't seem to dispel.
In the last moment of consciousness, his mind, his very soul, called out for his best friend, a cry of desperate longing and sorrow, grief and loss. 'JIM!' he cried in the silence of his mind. 'JIM!' Then the light and fear faded away, leaving him to drift motionless, until his soul gave up the struggle to remain and slipped away from the body that had once given it expression.
Alex held him a moment more, her jaw clenched, her muscles taut with effort and then she released him, standing back and away to gaze down upon the lifeless body of Blair Sandburg. She shivered, and was surprised to find herself blinking back tears. For all that she wanted to despise his weakness and innocence, she felt a guilt she'd rarely known at having stolen this life away. But, it was done. Turning, she slogged back through the water and climbed out of the fountain. Ellison might have let her go if she'd simply disappeared but that wasn't what she wanted. She'd issued him a challenge, and he was bound to follow her. Sandburg's knowledge was too dangerous…would have given the other Sentinel too great an advantage. No, Sandburg had had to die. She'd had no choice.
As she crossed the grass to the parking lot and climbed into her car, she paused a moment to look back at the body floating in the fountain. She wasn't entirely sure what she wanted of Ellison. She felt drawn to him in some irresistible, instinctive way. Alex felt she needed Ellison somehow to make herself complete…but, she knew she'd kill him if that was the only option. She had only ever been alone so the full meaning and depth of an instinctual and fundamental connection with another being was beyond her comprehension. But, she thought, maybe, she might be able to make such a connection with Ellison. There was something between them, something primal that would draw him after her, of that she was certain.
Tires squealing, she gunned the car out of the lot and onto the highway. The game was just beginning.
Blair was confused. He didn't know where he was or if he was. He could see the jungle, and a wolf was lying weakly on the ground, whimpering. Restless, the wolf staggered to its feet, and seemed to be about to leave when there was a roar in the jungle, the sound of a large cat. Blair looked around, sensing that Jim's Spirit Guide was near, and then his attention went back to the wolf, whose head had lifted at the call of the jaguar. Whimpering, the wolf seemed uncertain, skittish…and Blair suddenly understood this was his Spirit Guide. The wolf knew it should be leaving, but was reluctant to go. I know how you feel, the soul thought miserably.
Dimly, he heard the squeal of Alex's wheels, heard the engine fade into the distance, leaving only silence. Sadly, he looked down at the wolf, wishing there was something of himself left, some means of comforting the poor lost creature, but he felt formless, insubstantial, aware but not really there. It was an odd, uncomfortable feeling and he could understand why the wolf whimpered if it was feeling the same way.
He had no idea how much time had passed, but he was vaguely aware of the sound of other vehicles. What were cars doing in the jungle? Stretching his awareness, he tried to sense beyond the strange wilderness that seemed to surround him, and he began to see images, a place and people, as if they were transposed upon the jungle around him, as if he was seeing two places at once. Startled, he realized he could see Jim racing across from the parking lot up the steps to Hargrove Hall, and something in him called out, Jim…I'm over here!
As if he had heard, Ellison stopped sharply and turned. Watching him, Blair felt a poignant awareness that his friend hadn't heard him at all. Jim had caught a scent on the breeze. Watching, listening, Blair felt a great sorrow, and overwhelming despair, that he had to witness this suffering of his friends. God, why couldn't he just go? He didn't want to see their reaction to finding his body, didn't want to hear the grief. Wasn't it enough to have died? Did he have to see how much he'd hurt them?
Lost and confused, mired in his own grief and sorrow, Blair was convinced that it was all his fault. All his own fault…and he couldn't bear it.
Jim caught the scent of his partner's body, sharp with fear, overlaid with her distinctive scent, still hanging in the air around him. Blair wasn't in the building any longer, she'd taken him somewhere. He turned to scan the grounds, hoping to catch sight of them, hoping they were still nearby…and then his gaze touched on the body floating face down in the fountain, the spray glittering in the early morning sunlight.
As he registered the patterns and colours, he groaned unconsciously, "Oh my god!" and then he was racing down the steps, across the pavement and the grass, plunging into the water, not even aware of Simon calling orders for emergency back up. "H. give me a hand!" he shouted as he grabbed onto Sandburg's jacket and dragged him back to the edge of the fountain, Henri having plunged in beside him, helping him to grapple with the limp, lifeless body. Together, they heaved Sandburg out of the water, Rafe and Simon grabbing hold to help them lower Sandburg to the grass, turning him over so that his gray, blue-tinged face was visible to them all, as Simon again shouted to the uniformed cops with them to get an ambulance.
Jim felt himself spiraling into a zone out as he listened to the silence where there should have been a heartbeat. He'd felt how cold Blair's body had been, how cold the water had been.
"I don't hear a heart beat! Do you? Do you hear a heartbeat? Jim! Jim!" Simon was shouting at him, drawing him back.
Stunned, Ellison shook his head, "No…no I don't hear anything," he stammered, his face empty with shock, his eyes wide. Blair was dead. God, no…it couldn't be. There had to be some mistake. Blair couldn't be…
"Get his airway open," Simon ordered, urging him into action. "Alright, here we go, let's go."
Tipping Sandburg's head back, pinching his nose, Ellison bent to press his lips over Blair's mouth, blowing air into his partner's body, desperate to blow life back into it. But, the lips were cold, and Sandburg was so still. He was never that still. He was conscious of Simon counting off as he initiated CPR. "Come on, Chief," he called, desperate to see some response to their ministrations, but there was nothing.
Again, and again, he breathed life into his best friend's body, while Simon pumped down upon Sandburg's chest. "C'mon, Chief, c'mon," he heard himself murmur, over and over again, as if his voice, his words, would draw his friend back to him. He was unaware of everything else, his world, his focus, narrowed down to this single chilling reality. They had to get Blair breathing again, had to get his heart beating again. He couldn't be dead…couldn't have gone…couldn't have left him like this, not like this. God, Blair!
Ellison wasn't aware of the others standing around, stricken with grief and horror. Wasn't aware the emergency crew had arrived until he was almost shoved out the way and he stood back, staring down at Blair's still, silent body. For a moment, overwhelmed and afraid, he stood and watched, muttering, "This can't be happening," over and over.
It couldn't be true, it had to be a nightmare.
Blair couldn't be dead.
Not Sandburg who was so young, so full of life and energy, so compassionate and funny, brilliant, strong and sensitive, so present in every moment. Jim's actions and words of the last two days flooded back, the anger and rejection…his own actions had led to this horrible conclusion. "This can't be happening," he murmured again, overwhelmed with despair, wanting to deny the terrible reality of Blair's dead body lying on the ground at his feet.
But, it was happening…it was all too starkly real. He had to be closer, had to do something to help his best friend, so he knelt, again calling out to Sandburg to come back, to breathe. Time passed but he was unaware of it. It seemed a moment, an eternity…it didn't matter. All that mattered was getting Blair back.
When the dark-haired emergency worker stopped and looked up at them, shaking his head, knowing it was no use, but hating to be the one to say it, Jim couldn't believe the words he was hearing. "I'm sorry, guys…."
"What do you mean 'sorry'?" he heard himself shout. What were they talking about? Sandburg wasn't gone. They couldn't give up. "This isn't over!" he cried with a desperate certainty that Blair couldn't be dead. He lunged forward, kneeling to breathe life into Blair, pounding on his body, calling to him, "Come on, Sandburg, come on, dammit!" Breathing past those cold, unresponsive lips, not accepting the truth of his senses…the cold, flaccid skin, the silence within that chest, the limp lifelessness of the body under his hands and lips, ignoring Simon's soft call that Blair was gone. "Come on, buddy," he begged again as he kept up the chest compression.
"He's gone, Jim, let him go," Simon cried, his voice broken, as he and Henry hauled Jim to his feet, pulling him away from Blair's body. Jim struggled, denying Simon's words, but they held him firm, pulling him farther back.
"Don't you go! NOOOO!" he screamed then, feeling as if his heart had been ripped from his chest, "NO! He's alive!"
But Simon's anguished shout cut over his words, "HE'S GONE!"
"Oh, God, no…" he whispered brokenly while Simon and Henri held him, supported him when he thought he might collapse. He panted as he stared down into Blair's lifeless face, all animation gone, Blair's body empty of the bright soul that had brought light and warmth into his world. "NOOOOO!" he screamed again, feeling as if his soul was shredding, his mind shattering…wishing this was only a nightmare… knowing deep inside that this was his fault…and wondering how it would ever be possible to live with the guilt and grief that filled his heart and soul. "No, God, no…not now."
For a blinding moment, Jim thought he saw the image of the wolf on Blair's face, the wolf from his vision, the one he'd killed…and which had turned into his best friend's lifeless body. Then, Incacha was there, holding up his palms, as he intoned, "Use the power of your Spirit Guides…" As sharply and mysteriously as the vision appeared, it was over leaving him staring again at Blair's body. With almost superhuman strength, Ellison wrenched himself away from Simon and Henry's grip, pulling away from them as he again knelt beside Blair.
Please, buddy, come back to me, he begged silently with all that he was as he reached out to gently touch his friend's body and neck, then laid his hands along the sides of Blair's face, pushing back the damp, lank curls with a gesture that was almost a caress. There was a blinding flash of light around Blair's face, and then he was back in the jungle, where he saw the wolf turn away, as if to leave and his soul cried out, NO! Don't leave me! Suddenly, he saw his own Spirit Guide, the black jaguar racing as if its very life depended upon it toward the wolf. The wolf, compelled by love and the promise of life, turned back and then was racing toward the jaguar. Spirit Guides of Sentinel and Guide, they leaped toward one another, desperate for union, desperate not to be lost to one another…and they merged in a blinding flash of light.
In that moment, Ellison heard the most precious sound in his world…the beat of the heart in Blair's chest. Desperate to help, he again bent to blow life into his best friend's body, then pressed on Sandburg's chest, unaware that he'd called out in his need, his determined hope, "Simon, I can hear a heart beat! C'mon, Blair. C'mon, Chief!"
And, then Blair's body convulsed as his lungs protested the water and demanded air. Coughing, choking, he gagged up water and Jim quickly turned, shouting, "Hey, get those guys back over here!" as he rolled Blair over onto his side, supporting him as he gagged and sobbed in one breath and then another.
His excited colleagues called the emergency workers back, and they raced across the green, bending to secure an oxygen mask over Blair's face. Jim was pulled up, back into Simon's arms and Henri's joyous grip. "See…" he murmured, smiling with immeasurable relief. He heard Simon sob as his boss covered his mouth and looked away, his eyes bright with tears. "Alright," Jim sighed, nodding, swallowing hard, his smile unconsciously lighting his face and eyes, while H pounded on his back in hearty congratulation and wild relief.
Blair had seen the two Spirit Guides race toward one another, had seen…felt…the blinding flash of energy, and then had experienced an irresistible pull back into his body, where he could feel Jim breathe into him, feel his friend's hands pushing desperately down on his chest even as Jim called him back. The next thing he knew, he was gagging up water, sobbing for breath as his friend's strong hands supported him, and he felt the cool flow of oxygen fill his lungs. Dazed, he lay curled on the ground, cold and wet, his chest aching, lungs heaving. He felt strange hands on his body, and he winced against the light and the pain of muscles contracting as he was lifted up onto the gurney. Struggling for understanding, his eyes raked the faces around him, blurred, indistinct, until his gaze found his Sentinel's and for a moment his vision cleared, and he understood.
His Sentinel had come for him, had brought him back…Jim hadn't been willing to let him go.
Blair smiled weakly, or tried to, filled with immeasurable gratitude, then exhaustion overcame him and the blackness settled around him.
Jim rode in the ambulance with Blair, one hand clutching his partner's hand as if he'd never let go, the other stroking his friend's forehead gently as he murmured constant encouragement, "You're going to be all right, Chief…do you hear me, Sandburg? You're going to be just fine…"
But Blair remained unresponsive under his hands, his friend's skin still so cold, still too white and he felt fear again curl around his heart. How long had Sandburg been…dead? How long had he been in that damned fountain before they'd found him? How long had they worked on him until his heart had started beating again? Suddenly very frightened, he paid attention to the sound of that necessary heartbeat, registering that it was still slow, trying to hold onto the reality that it was also steady and strong. "C'mon buddy," he murmured, his heart in his voice, "Blair, please…you have to come back."
They wouldn't let him follow when they hastened the wheeled stretcher through the emergency waiting area, back down the corridors to the treatment rooms beyond. But, his hearing followed, locked onto the sound of his friend's heartbeat, nearly zoning on it, oblivious to all else.
Simon found him standing there, like a lost soul, his expression intent, and grabbed his arm, pulling him to one of the chairs as he called him back to the world around him. "Jim…Jim, don't do this now! Don't you zone on me! Blair will have my hide. C'mon, sit down and tell me what's going on. Jim!"
Jerked back to reality, more than half his mind still locked on the room down the hall, listening to the doctor and nurses as they worked, listening to that steady heart beat, which grew stronger and evened into a natural rhythm, Ellison sighed, "He's alright, Simon…they're working on him, testing reflexes, trying to determine if…." But, his voice caught, the fear closing his throat and Simon understood the flash of terror he saw in his best detective's eyes. Understood it because the same fear was wrapped around his own heart.
"He was out a long time, Jim…you have to be prepared…" Simon counseled softly, hating to say it. But, it was impossible to imagine that Sandburg would actually recover fully from this trauma…hell, it was unbelievable to know he was even breathing again.
"I know, Simon," Jim muttered, his voice tight as he strained to hear what was going on. "I know…."
The minutes dragged past, and Jim slumped in the chair, his elbows on his knees as he held his head in his hands. What had he done? What the hell had he done? His vision had shown him hunting the wolf, killing it…killing Blair. Instead of protecting his Guide, instead of keeping him close, he'd driven him away, abandoning him to danger…to death. He couldn't understand why he'd sent Blair away, why he'd felt so…crowded and threatened, his skin almost on fire with the sense of being smothered. He'd been revolted by the scent of her on Blair, had been maddened by it…but how could he have let his senses drive him to such insanity? He knew, God, he knew Blair would never betray him. Why had he driven away the one person who could have helped? The one being in his whole life he'd ever trusted with all that he was? How could he have been so wrong? How could he have said those words to Sandburg, cutting him off, driving him away, as if the kid didn't matter to him, as if their friendship had counted for nothing?
Blair's death in that fountain was his fault, his responsibility. Had he only brought his friend back to an existence of a body that lived but with a mind destroyed by the lack of air for too long?
The Sentinel and the man both swore that if he could just get Blair back, safe, whole, he'd stop at nothing to get to Alex, to make sure she could never threaten his Guide, his best friend, again. Even as he waited, struggling to hear what was going on in that treatment room, he had to war with his instinct to be gone, to hunt her, to remove the threat.
He wondered if he'd gone crazy, completely lost it. God, he needed Sandburg to steady him, to anchor him. But, his heart clenched as he wondered if he'd ever hear that warm, compassionate voice again, see those bright, intelligent, caring eyes sear into his soul, hear the laughter that never failed to lift his own spirits, lighten his moods, brightening his world with warmth and friendship. Would he ever feel that steadying touch on his back or arm again?
God…please, he prayed. Please…let him be all right. With something like surprise, Ellison realized in that moment he would gladly have given his own life if it could have restored Blair fully to health again.
But, all he could do was wait.
Blair gradually came back to consciousness, feeling people prod at his body, the discomfort of the mask on his face. He winced as someone shone a bright light in his eyes, and though they'd covered him with a blanket, he shivered a little, still feeling chilled to his core. Moaning a little, coughing, he blinked and waved a weak hand, just wishing they would leave him alone.
"Easy, there, young man," a warm voice soothed him as someone gently gripped his arm and returned it to his side. "You're in Cascade General Hospital. Can you hear me?"
His first attempt to speak sounded more like a croak, but he cleared his throat as he squinted up at the doctor, answering, "Yeah…I can hear you."
"Do you remember your name?" the doctor asked, studying him intently.
"Sure…Blair Sandburg," he replied, frowning, moaning again at the pain that blasted through his head when he coughed.
"Good," the doctor said, and Blair sent him a dirty look, not considering the hammering in his head something to rejoice over. "Do you remember what happened?" the doctor asked.
Blair had to pause a moment and think about that. As the memories cascaded back, one upon another, his eyes widened as he stammered, "I drowned…"
"Yes, you did," the doctor confirmed, then smiled gently. "And it seems you've lived to tell about it. You're a very lucky man, Mr. Sandburg…some might call it a miracle."
Speechless, Blair just nodded. Yep, that's about what he'd call it. He had the strangest memory of the black jaguar and the wolf…he knew the jaguar was Jim's Spirit Guide, and he had figured out the wolf was his. Somehow, the union of the two had brought him back. Then, he remembered the scene by the fountain, Jim's actions and words, Simon and the others, fighting to hold onto him, to not let him go. The memories, so painful at the time when he'd believed their efforts hopeless now filled him with a deep warmth that eased the chill of death that he still felt deep inside. "Jim…is Jim Ellison here?" he asked then. "I'd like to see him."
"I think that can be arranged," the doctor replied, patting him on the shoulder, then turned to leave the treatment room, the nurse following him out, understanding that the reunion to come was something to be shared by the two friends, not observed by strangers.
Jim had straightened at the sound of Blair's voice, the tension draining out of him when he realized his friend was conscious and seemed to be fine. Simon gripped his shoulder and Megan laid a hand on his arm, the three of them standing together to face the doctor coming toward them. Henri and Rafe stood away from the wall they'd been leaning on, and Joel stood, tense, waiting. They hadn't heard what Jim had heard and didn't know what news the doctor was bringing.
"Mr. Ellison?" the doctor enquired looking at the group that was so obviously worried about his young patient.
"I'm Jim Ellison," the detective replied, stepping forward.
"How is he?" Simon asked, unable to bear the suspense any longer.
"As amazing as it seems, Mr. Sandburg appears to be just fine," the doctor reassured them all, smiling gently at the universal reactions of relief. "Though, I'll want to keep an eye on him for a day or two. His lungs will have been severely traumatized by the drowning and he'll be susceptible to pneumonia, but for now…well, he's awake and alert, and would like to see you, Mr. Ellison."
Nodding, a hesitant smile flickering around his lips, Jim squeezed the doctor's shoulder in gratitude, and then he was moving past, striding quickly down the hall to see his Guide, to see with his own eyes that Blair really was all right.
As he half loped down the hall, all Jim could think about was how grateful he was to still have Blair in his life, to know Sandburg was alive, well and safe. His gratitude was roiled into the maelstrom of grief and guilt he felt for how he'd behaved during the last week, along with profound regret and confusion, not understanding what had been driving him. He needed to talk to Sandburg about it all to sort it out, and was grappling with how to express himself when he got to the doorway and found all the words had fled, leaving him tongue-tied. Blair still looked so pale and a little shaky. He didn't need to have to deal with a screwed up Sentinel at this point…he didn't need that burden on top of everything else that had just happened. God…what did it feel like to be dead and come back to life? How weird was that? The kid had more than enough of his own issues to contend with.
So, all he found himself saying was, "Sandburg, if you wanted to meet a nurse, there are easier ways." Even as the words left his lips, he wanted to cringe. What a ridiculous impersonal thing to say when what he wanted to say was 'Thank God you're alive!'
Blair laughed a little nervously at the comment, nodding in agreement, but hastened to give his own message of gratitude, thanking his partner for having saved his life. Embarrassed, to lighten the moment Ellison replied that he could hardly let Blair die when he still owed a month's back rent. Jim was Jim, uncomfortable with the weird, mushy stuff, uncertain of how to deal with something beyond the realm of the rational.
"Are you alright?" Ellison asked.
"Yeah," Blair responded, but then continued, needing to talk about it, needed to share what had happened, at least something of it with the one person who defined his world. So, he described his 'out of body' experience, of being a wolf racing toward a black jaguar and the blinding flash of light…
Something in his words connected and Jim admitted to the same experience, the same vision, that it had been Incacha who had guided him on how to bring Blair back…and Blair felt another rush of the mysterious. He found himself reeling off some quote by Einstein, and could see Jim's eyes glaze over a bit… Not now, dummy, he chastised himself. Jim doesn't need a metaphysical lecture now.
Conscious that he was doing a bit of a voodoo routine, Blair invited Jim to join in the experience, 'Come on in, man, the water's fine,' he intoned. But, when Jim looked away, a haunted look on his face, Blair could have kicked himself for using the 'water' analogy while Jim simply murmured he wasn't sure he was ready for that experience yet.
It was awkward and uncomfortable, both of them wanting to be relieved at the reconciliation and jubilant at being given a second chance, both of them very clear on the importance the other held in their lives. But, it was a half measure conversation, dancing around the fringes, backing off, finding refuge in the common place every day teasing of their respective roles. When the nurse came to hustle Jim out of the room, so that they could get Blair settled, and allow him the peace of a restful and healing sleep, more was unsaid than said. Blair vowed to himself that when he felt stronger and more rested in the morning, when the events weren't so fresh and traumatic, that he'd get Jim to talk more about what had happened, at the fountain…and in the days preceding. Before he'd…died…he'd wondered if he could ever trust Jim again. But, Ellison's actions at the fountain, his friend's determination to save his life, had quelled the doubts the anthropologist had felt.
Blair couldn't know that during the rest of that day and the night to come that Jim would have more visions that linked Alex to a weapons trader, Carl Heidegger, and then to Sierra Verde in Mexico. Nor could he know that although he wondered if he'd slipped into the 'Sandburg Zone', Simon would decide to risk trusting Jim's visions, largely because he'd just seen the miracle of Jim bringing Blair back to life, or that the Captain and Jim would be catching the first flight out to Mexico.
All Blair knew was, when he woke up, Jim was gone, without a word, without anything really resolved between them.
And he was furious.
What was it going to take for his Sentinel to get it? To understand that he needed his Guide. To let Blair in, to tell him openly what was going on, to get his perspective. How could he be a Guide to someone who continually shut him out?
The fury didn't last long…he buried it as he always did, scarcely even noticing let alone acknowledging the more personal sense of having been abandoned. God, he'd died…it wasn't as if he'd just gone to the corner store for groceries. How could Jim just walk away again as if Blair was incidental to his life? No…those feelings he just pushed down and away. Jim and Simon had a job to do, they had to find Alex and the canisters she'd taken before thousands of people died. He could understand how his own wellbeing didn't take any kind of precedence in the face of that reality.
But, his sense that Jim needed him overrode all other considerations. When Megan had arrived with the news of their departure to Mexico, it had taken Blair about thirty seconds to process it and begin to plot out how to respond. He was out of bed and hauling on the clothes that had dried over night, telling her he was going to catch the first flight out. Unprepared to let him go alone when he still looked unsteady on his feet, and especially when the staff tried to fight him on checking himself out against advice, she determined to go with him. She was angry in her own right to have been left behind. Alex was, in part at least, her case, and she'd been Jim's backup…in her mind, she should have been taken along in the first place.
As they rode down the elevator and headed toward the exit, they agreed to meet at the police station in an hour. Blair would pack and make the flight arrangements, while she cleared her actions with her superior in Australia and got the details of where to catch up with Simon and Jim. They'd circle around to her apartment so that she could pack on the way to the airport.
In less than three hours, they were in the air, heading south.
When they arrived at the hotel, both Jim and Simon were out, so they persuaded the hotel manager to allow them to wait in Jim's room. They were reluctant to get their own accommodations until they knew the game plan, knew whether they'd be staying or moving on.
When Jim burst in about half an hour later, his gun drawn because he'd sensed 'intruders', Blair knew they were a long way from 'all right', that something in fact was badly wrong. Never before had Jim failed to sense his presence. Whether it was from the subtle scents of shampoo and aftershave or from the sound of his voice or heart beat, his Sentinel always seemed to know when he was nearby. But not this time. All Jim had registered was 'intruder' and 'threat'.
Not a good sign.
It was long past time for them to have a talk, to clear the air between them, to re-establish their linkage.
But Jim dragged him off immediately to see Simon and face that rage at having simply shown up uninvited, and clearly not particularly wanted. The conversation in the sunbaked terrace bar was cut off when they had to run for their lives from a tank and automatic weapon fire, racing through the streets and finally that night taking refuge in a church, trying to sleep on the hard wooden benches. Surrounded by the others, there was no opportunity for the discussion they needed to have. Much later, just as dawn was lighting the eastern sky, still only half asleep, Blair heard Jim leave the small church and followed him, somehow knowing his partner was being drawn to the other Sentinel. Blair was afraid Jim would take too many chances, be blinded by his anger and need for revenge against the one who had murdered his Guide.
So Sandburg hastened out into the early morning light, racing against time to find his Sentinel…only to charge across the sand and see Jim and Alex in a passionate clinch, like long lost lovers, reunited finally after an interminable, desperate absence. Hungry for one another, oblivious to the world around them, they sank to their knees entwined in one another's arms, kissing and caressing with wild abandon.
Everything inside Blair rebelled at the sight. How could Jim do this? Betray him like this…hunger for the woman who'd killed him! Fighting his disgust and anguish at the spectacle before him, Blair strove for a rationale explanation. This couldn't be right. There was something going on here that was fundamentally dangerous, and very, very wrong. Desperate to break whatever spell his Sentinel was under, Sandburg cried out in alarm, "JIM! What's going on?"
At the sound of his voice, Alex pulled the gun from Jim's belt and turned it on him. Blair's steps slowed and faltered as he spread his arms wide, vulnerable and defenceless. There was no cover, nowhere to run or hide from the death she again threatened. Sandburg expected his Sentinel to erupt in a protective rage, to tear the gun away from her, but all Jim did was lay a gentle hand on her arm, softly whispering the word, "No".
Her aim faltered, her arm lowering until the gun pointed to the sand, and Jim gently took the weapon from her, again whispering, "No." Wordlessly, the two Sentinels stared at one another and then she was up and running away across the sand while the waves crashed upon the beach beyond them.
Panting, his heart pounding in his chest, Blair raced to his partner's side. "Jim, stop her!" he ordered, his tone harsh with desperate determination. How could Jim let her go…after she'd killed his partner and was even now in possession of canisters that could result in the death of countless people? But, though the Sentinel raised his gun, he couldn't fire and Jim threw the weapon onto the sand in frustration and despair.
What the hell is going on? Blair wondered, feeling as if he'd just been kicked in the gut. That woman had murdered him in cold blood…but Jim wasn't the least bit angry or protective of his Guide. No. He was so physically drawn to the other Sentinel that he seemed to be incapable of even remembering that she was dangerous or that his mission was to stop her, to capture her before the canisters she'd stolen dealt death to thousands of innocent people. What if she'd not relinquished the weapon? What if she had shot him with Jim's gun? Why had his Sentinel even risked that outcome by not acting more forcibly?
Blair shook his head…he had too many questions and far too few answers. With a grim determination, he pushed his own sense of just having been utterly betrayed into the background as he reminded himself that his Sentinel needed a Guide, now more than ever. Something was going on that was a threat to Jim, and whether he understood it or not, regardless of the cost to himself, Blair felt an irresistible impulse to do all he could to help. Dazed by what had just happened, dismayed by his lack of information, he could only wish that he didn't feel so completely out of answers or even wild ideas. All he knew was that none of this made any kind of sense.
They talked about it as they walked back along the beach, Jim explaining that he just couldn't shoot her, and Blair almost babbling in his rush to pour out the little he knew about the ancient traditions of Sentinels, and what he suspected that the visions and the irresistible attraction might all mean. Jim wanted Blair to do something, to block out the overwhelming attraction and identification he felt with Alex so that it wouldn't keep getting in the way. But Blair didn't know how…this was all well beyond anything he'd read about, or heard about, concerning Sentinel behaviours. It was far outside the boundaries of his research and he was at a complete loss as to how to help.
But Blair was increasingly convinced that something bigger than all of them was drawing these two Sentinels back to their roots, back to their atavistic beginnings, to an existence of a time long past…drawing them somehow home. When he as much as said so, Jim shook his head, striding away, impatient with Sandburg because the anthropologist make sense of it or help him control it. Ellison was impatient with the idea that some mystical force was at play, something beyond the bounds of reason… and he was afraid, more afraid than he wanted to admit even to himself, because it was beyond both their ability to control.
Rejoining the others, they collectively developed a plan to get more information from the probable buyer of the canisters in Alex's possession. They quickly packed up their few belongings, hastening out of the old church, and Sandburg didn't notice he'd left Richard Burton's book on sentinels practically in plain sight. Megan found it…and as she wondered at the title of the volume, she suddenly felt as if a good many puzzle pieces had just clicked into place.
They stayed on the move, finally engaging in a foray after darkness to gather intelligence at Aguillero's estate, and then they were racing through the rainforest to get to the isolated spot where the exchange was to take place. No time to talk, no time to stop and think about what was going on, no time to re-establish the vital link between Sentinel and Guide.
Blair felt more than a little stunned, as if it was all a little surreal. He was emotionally and physically exhausted, over-exerting himself to keep up, stressed by the need to keep his own feelings and sense of betrayal locked tightly away. His agile mind played over the information he had, knowing that either deliberately or unconsciously Alex was leading Jim back to the ancient, sacred places. Not for the first time, he damned his lack of knowledge and understanding, his complete incapacity to be the Shaman Jim needed right now, frustrated by his lack of wisdom, insight or experience. He almost ached for the opportunity to just stop for a minute, so he could have even a little time to grapple with all this…but there was no time. They arrived at the rendezvous site, taking cover behind an ancient, overgrown log even as the sound of the ATVs bearing Aguillero and one of his henchmen grew in the distance and then the sound of a helicopter filled the air around them.
The Mexicans drew up in the sandy wash and waited for the helicopter to land. When it did, Alex emerged cautiously and made her way toward them, her eyes raking the desolate area, listening, certain something wasn't right, but her senses were too unreliable for her to sort out all the impressions that were flooding her mind.
Before he knew what he was doing, Jim was shouting to Alex that it was a trap and giving her cover fire to help her beat a hasty retreat back to her helicopter. His actions drew fire upon their position and Blair ducked as bullets whistled over his head and slammed into the log between him and the bad guys.
Jim was as stunned as anyone by his behaviour. He only knew that he'd sensed the presence of the men hiding in ambush and hadn't been able to resist warning Alex of the danger. It was as if he wasn't in control of himself anymore, and though some part of him knew he ought to hate her, ought to do everything possible to stop her, his greater need to protect her, to be aligned with her overwhelmed him.
It was over as suddenly as it had started, Alex fleeing in the chopper while the others below them retreated quickly, no doubt to try to follow the flight of the mechanical bird, to bring it down or to capture and kill her once it landed. Abruptly returning to his senses, Jim turned to his companions, ensuring quickly that his Guide was unharmed. "Chief, you all right?" he demanded.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Sandburg retorted, his voice tight, his eyes flashing, "but what is wrong with you?"
Uncomfortable with having no answers, Ellison turned away wordlessly and headed down to the site of the ambush, studying the ground, seeking some sign or signal as to where she'd gone, some means of following her flight. The others followed him, keeping a wary eye out for trouble. Ellison found a trace of oil from the helicopter…it had been hit by one of the automatic rifles and was leaking the fluid before it had taken to the air. Registering the scent, understanding the helicopter must have been damaged, Jim took off into the forest, following the faint, barely discernible trail.
Frustrated, Simon decided to go back to town to get back up. Before he left, he gave Blair a GPS location transponder and sent him and Megan after Jim.
Blair and Megan plunged into the growth behind Ellison. Although he didn't understand Jim's behaviour, Blair had still covered for him when Megan demanded to know if Ellison could be trusted, saying categorically that Jim was on their side, following the plan to get the girl and the canisters. Nevertheless, he was also beginning to wonder if Jim had lost all sense of himself and was operating now on Sentinel instinct alone. He thought he might still trust Jim Ellison with his life…but a Sentinel lost in some primeval, ancient ritual was a being he didn't know and couldn't predict.
Though they'd not seen or heard anyone else in the wilderness around them, Blair and Megan both knew that others also had to be nearby, also hunting the same quarry. But, Jim seemed oblivious to everything but the need to keep tracking Alex, following her trail through the rainforest. They followed Jim's lead throughout the long day, at one point catching up with him when he seemed staggered and dazed, not knowing that he'd just had blinding visions of Alex finding the Temple of Light. He brushed off their concerns, forging onward until it became too dark to travel further and it became necessary to make a hasty camp.
As soon as he sensed that Megan had fallen asleep, Jim told Blair of his vision of the Temple of Light and, distressed by all the sensations bombarding him, Ellison confessed his conflicting emotions, not knowing which was stronger…the need to stop Alex or protect her. The admission shook Blair, and he instructed with a tight urgent voice, "You need something you can focus on, something you can control, because what happened at the river bank today cannot happen again, Jim."
Ellison nodded as he looked away, wishing that it could be that simple. The truth was, he just didn't know what would happen next, or how he'd react. Wanting to shut it all away, needing to find some balance, a moment of respite, the Sentinel laid down by the fire and forced himself to sleep.
Neither of them was aware that Conner had only been drowsing, and had come fully alert at the sound of their voices. She frowned as she thought about what they'd said…and about what it meant until she slipped back to sleep.
Finally, Blair also fell into a much needed sleep, trusting Jim's Sentinel senses to alert them to any danger that might approach. He was functioning on the thin edge of exhaustion and wouldn't be able to last much longer without decent rest.
During the night, Jim had another dream of Incacha and he woke with the driving need to follow the path he'd seen in the vision, to find Alex and the ancient, sacred Temple of Light. It was something Incacha had told him that he had to do alone and the need was urgent, so he left without a backward glance or thought for the safety of his slumbering friends.
When Blair woke early the next morning, he couldn't believe Jim had deserted them, leaving them alone, unguarded and defenceless as they'd slept. He rolled to his feet, searching the environs for his partner, but the sign he found told its own cold story. "He's gone," Blair reported as he quickly returned to camp, once again pushing away the sense of abandonment and betrayal, though it wasn't easy to do. He kept telling himself that it wasn't Jim's fault. Something was driving the Sentinel on, something irresistible was pulling him toward an unknown destiny. The only thing Blair knew for sure was that he had to follow, had to help if he could.
As he stuffed gear back into his pack, Megan's question cut across his thoughts. "Sandy, is Jim a Sentinel?" When Blair didn't reply, she stood and approached him, explaining, "I found your book, 'The Sentinels of Paraguay', and I started to put it together, all those times I couldn't understand when he knew things, saw things. That's what it is, isn't it? And, Alex Barnes, is she one, too?"
Dismayed by her insight, Blair looked up at her and then away as he stood, pulling his pack onto his shoulder. He couldn't admit it, but he also knew there was no point in lying. Megan was sharp and she'd seen too much. A fine detective, she'd put the pieces together, figuring out the puzzle she'd been challenged by for days, if not weeks. Choosing to ignore her question, he headed out, following Jim's tracks. "We have to go after them," he said quietly.
But, the fates seemed to be aligned against him, frustrating his overwhelming need to catch up with his Sentinel. They found the crashed helicopter and the dead pilot, but before they could move on, they were suddenly surrounded by the other predators in the forest, disarmed and bound, hostages to fortune in a dangerous and volatile situation. Helpless to resist, they were drawn along on the hunt, following the trail to the ancient ruined temple, both of them wondering how, or if, they would make it out of this alive.
Finally, it was over. One by one, Jim had taken out the bad guys, had saved their lives and they'd called in support from Simon and the local authorities. Alex had imploded, overwhelmed by the visions she'd seen in the pool, and having nothing to anchor her mind or spirit, she'd drifted into a place Jim could not follow or save her from.
As she was carried past him, bundled securely on a stretcher, Blair tried to sort out how he felt. Relief, that she'd never threaten them again. Sorrow at the waste of it. Worry about his Sentinel. Mostly, he just felt numb and very, very tired. When Megan threw a challenging look at him while she told Simon bluntly that Alex had 'fried her circuits, her Sentinel senses on overload', Blair had finally stopped avoiding and pretending, admitting flatly, "Basically, yes" and then had walked away. He'd gone to Jim, to make sure his partner was all right. To comfort his Sentinel, Sandburg had told Jim the difference between him and Alex was that Alex had lost her way. He'd meant it. Jim was grounded by an innate decency, and knew who he was, what his life was about and knew he still had much to do.
In his exhaustion and despair, Blair just wasn't sure he was a part of that life anymore.
The next hours were a blur of transport back to civilization, of aching hours in the local police station to give their statements, until finally he found himself sitting beside Jim on a plane back to the United States. When they'd boarded, Sandburg had noticed that Megan and Simon were sitting together a few rows ahead. For all of that time, Jim hadn't said much, no more than had been required to give his report of what had taken place, leaving out all he'd experienced himself in the sacred pool, beyond what he'd said immediately after, that it had shown him all the answers, that it was all laid out in front of him, but that it had faded away. He'd been shaken by what had happened to Alex, badly shaken…and had been almost overwhelmed by the profound, soul deep desire he'd felt to sink back into the pool and lose himself to the ecstasy it promised.
"What really happened back there, in the temple?" Blair asked quietly, knowing his Sentinel needed help to process the confusing experiences.
Sighing, Ellison rubbed his face and then the back of his neck. He didn't want to talk about it, not now, maybe not ever. "Let it go, Sandburg," he replied quietly.
"Let it go?" Blair repeated. "I don't think so, man. We need to talk about this, figure out what happened, why you left me behind and went there alone…"
"Incacha told me I had to go alone," Ellison cut in, impatience beginning to colour his voice. He was tired and he didn't want to rake over everything. It had all been too strange. He had no reference points, and no control over what had been occurring. It unnerved him and he wanted to leave it all behind.
"Incacha…" Blair murmured, shocked to hear that the spirit of the Shaman had told Jim he didn't need his guide along. God, did that mean that he'd failed so badly in his role that the right to be Jim's guide had been taken from him? Struggling to process that thought, he stammered, "Okay, fine…but…"
"Would you just leave me alone, Chief?" Ellison cut in again, this time his eyes flashing with impatient resentment that Blair wouldn't let it go.
Swallowing hard, his face devoid of expression, Blair nodded slowly, then turned his face away to stare into the empty night. "If that's what you want," he finally muttered, "you got it."
In minutes, the Sentinel let his own exhaustion claim him, grateful for the sleep that stole over him, blocking away the uncomfortable memories and feelings, giving him respite. But his Guide found sleep to be elusive. As the plane jetted through the long night, Blair stared into the darkness. Incacha had told Jim to leave him behind. Jim had abandoned him to run to Alex on the beach, had scarcely defended him when she'd threatened his life yet again…had risked all their lives to warn her of the ambush and had abandoned them again to chase after her, knowing there were other dangerous hunters in the forest, that he was leaving them alone, unprotected, in peril.
As the hours passed, Blair became aware that his chest was growing congested and that a low fever had started. It didn't really surprise him. He'd drowned, after all, not many days before and the doctor had warned him that he might be at risk of bronchitis or even pneumonia if he didn't take it easy for awhile. So, what had he done since? He'd spent his time and energy flying halfway across the continent, racing around a city and then a jungle, not getting enough rest, debilitated by the wretched heat and humidity.
Chasing around after a friend and Sentinel who scarcely seemed to even register that he was there.
The illness just seemed one more miserable burden, but hardly significant in the face of the decision he was wrestling with. Jim had asked him to leave him alone. Had abandoned him time and again to aid the woman who had murdered him. Had failed to trust him in the first place more than a week ago, kicking him out, stripping all evidence of his presence from the Sentinel's domain.
Rejection. Abandonment. Betrayal. Neither needed nor wanted. No trust. Nothing.
Sighing, Blair curled away from Jim, pressing himself against the far side of his seat, leaning tight against the hard wall of the fuselage. He ached inside, both physically and spiritually. And he was so very tired.
With uncharacteristic bitterness, born of exhaustion and hurt, he wondered why Jim had tried so hard to bring him back to life. What had been the point?
They'd all traveled light, so when the final leg of their journey had ended none of them had any bags to collect after the flight. Heading toward the exit, Simon asked Conner if she wanted to share a cab with him back downtown. As tired as he was, he wanted to check in at the office before heading home and her apartment was near the police station. She'd been watching Jim and Sandy walk silently ahead of them and shook her head. "No, thanks Captain, but I always make it a point to go home with the guy who brought me to the party. Sandy has his car here and he said he'd drop me off at home when we got back."
As they walked into the darkness of midnight in front of the taxi stand, Blair offered a ride to the others, but they all knew his small car would be overloaded with all of them and their duffel bags. "I'll share a cab with Simon, Chief," Jim replied assuming Blair would meet him back at the loft, forgetting its barrenness in the relief of finally being back in Cascade.
"Fine," Blair replied shortly with a nod at Simon and then he and Megan headed to the parking lot.
Simon frowned when he heard the barking cough that had nagged at him from somewhere back in the plane, realizing now that it had been Sandburg. "You might want to get him to the doctor later, Jim…Blair sounds like he's coming down with something."
A little startled, having been lost inside of himself, Ellison looked up and his gaze sought the retreating back of his Guide, his senses reaching out and picking up evidence of congested breathing, the choked back cough and the flare of fever. "Yeah…if he's not better after getting some sleep, I'll do that," he replied as he loaded their bags into the trunk of the cab, disturbed that he hadn't noticed Sandburg's illness himself. He needed to get a grip…no way should he have missed the signs of infection.
It was only when he got home and entered the empty apartment that Ellison recalled having moved everything out, leaving only his own sleeping bag and bare essentials for survival in the loft. Sighing, he went out onto the balcony. When Blair got back, they'd head to a hotel to get some sleep…he was just too tired to cope with moving everything back up from the basement at the moment. Once again, he wondered at the insanity that had taken hold of him, at his bizarre, extreme behaviours and profoundly regretted the things he'd said and done to his best friend.
He was startled out of his reverie by the ringing of the phone. Loping back into the loft, wincing at how the sound echoed in the empty space, he answered, "Ellison."
"Jim, it's Simon. Is Sandburg back yet?" his captain asked.
"No, not yet…why?" the detective replied, frowning, alerted by the tone of his superior's voice that something was wrong.
"There's a box in my office with all his journals and his official pass…and the transcript of a voice message from him that I didn't get before we left telling me that he sent all this stuff to me so that I can give you the proper back up. What's going on?"
Feeling suddenly cold, Jim shook his head as he answered slowly, "I don't know…but I'll sort it out."
"You do that, Ellison," Simon ordered sharply, then hung up.
Blair pulled up in front of the highrise apartment building in the centre of town and jumped out to pull Megan's bag from the trunk of his car. As she took it from him, she found herself remembering that empty loft. "You're not going back there, are you?" she asked, rhetorically, fairly certain of the answer. Sandy hadn't said a word during the trip from the airport, and he seemed to have caught a truly terrible cold. But, more than that seemed wrong…an air of infinite sorrow seemed to hover around him like a cloak.
Startled, he looked up at her then quickly away, as he answered obliquely, "Well, I know the loft didn't look like home when we last saw it, but I'll manage."
"Why do you keep going back to him? Why do you take the garbage he dishes out?" she demanded suddenly angry on behalf of this gentle young man who never criticized and evidently never gave his own wellbeing a second thought.
Blair's head dipped for a moment, long curly hair falling forward to hide his face, but then he straightened as he looked her full in the eyes. "Jim's a good man," he said, his voice strong and he hoped persuasive. "The best I've ever known. He'll risk his life without a second thought, if that's what it takes to do what's right. Sentinel abilities might be an awesome gift, but they are also a burden. None of this has been easy on him…but he keeps going, doing the best he can. Don't write him off, Megan. A lot of what happened was my fault, not his. Remember that."
Shaking her head, she sighed as she took a step back toward the entrance. "You could stay here tonight," she offered with a tentative smile.
Grinning suddenly, grateful for the offer and the friendship that motivated it, Blair nevertheless shook his head. "Don't worry about me," he replied lightly, "I'll be fine…really. Life has a habit of working out the way it should. But…thanks. I really appreciate it."
She nodded reluctantly and crossed the sidewalk, turning to watch him get back into his car and drive away into the night, his battered old car quickly swallowed up by the busy downtown traffic. As she entered the building, she found herself thinking that Jim Ellison was one lucky son of a bitch to have won the friendship and loyalty of someone as…she struggled for a moment to find the right adjective and finally decided 'pure and decent' as was Blair Sandburg.
When she opened the door to her apartment, the phone was ringing and she dropped her bag as she moved to answer it. She was surprised to hear Jim Ellison's voice on the other end of the line, asking if she knew where Blair had gone. "He's just left," she replied a bit acerbically, feeling irritated with this self-centred man who just assumed Sandy would take whatever he handed out and come back for more. "I assume he's heading back to your place…but to be honest, I don't really know where he's gone. He didn't actually say."
Ellison hung up the phone and moved back onto the balcony to watch for his partner's return. When almost an hour had passed, he had to acknowledge that wherever Blair had headed, it wasn't back to the loft. With a rising sense of anxiety, Ellison admitted to himself that he shouldn't feel surprised. There was nothing of Blair left here, nothing for him to come back to. Nothing but the memory of a friendship that had gotten badly mangled over the past couple of weeks. Turning, he left the loft, clattering down the stairs to his truck. He headed to the university knowing that Blair treated his office as almost a second home and hoped to find his friend there because he didn't have a clue as to where else to look.
As he drove into the vacant lot and loped across the pavement to the building's entrance, Ellison consciously kept his eyes averted from the fountain, not that the defensive action kept the memories from surfacing in his mind. Though he hadn't seen any signs of the old green Volvo, he headed to Sandburg's office, hoping to find his friend there, or at least something that would give him an idea of where else to look. Flicking on the office light, his gaze quickly took in the stack of boxes and rolled up sleeping bag in the corner and he sighed with relief. It was pretty clear that Blair hadn't found any other residence, not yet at least. But…where was he? Roaming the office, Jim spotted the letter in the centre of the blotter on the desk, the letter addressed to him. Frowning, he picked it up and tore it open, his eyes rapidly scanning the brief note.
He had no idea of when Blair had written those poignant lines, but his heart clenched at the finality of the message. Taken together with the journals and pass sent to Simon, it was all too painfully clear. Blair had taken him at his word…and had removed himself from Ellison's life.
"Damn it," Jim sighed softly, rubbing the back of his neck. He looked again around the office. Even if Blair had severed the connections between them, he was still part of this university and he had to come back here sometime. Ellison moved back to the office doorway and snicked off the light. Then he closed the door and moved back to sit at the desk. He'd maintained surveillance in more uncomfortable places and he wasn't about to not be here when Blair came back.
Blair drove around aimlessly wondering where to go. It was too late to call on any of his contacts from the university and after what had happened the last time he'd been in his office, he felt an aversion to returning to it. The next time he saw it, he wanted the sun to be shining and lots of other people to be around. At one point, he found himself driving by the loft and he looked up, a little hopefully much to his own self-disgust. If he'd seen a light on, or a lonely Sentinel on the balcony keeping watch for his return, his resolve might have crumbled. But it was dark. There was no one waiting patiently or hopefully for his return. Telling himself he was a fool to have expected anything else, Blair drove away into the night.
Driving until he couldn't stay awake any longer, he finally fetched up in a pullout along the coast road. Shivering with fever, he made himself as comfortable as possible and eventually fell into a troubled sleep. He woke sometime after dawn, feeling stiff and exhausted. He rubbed his gritty eyes and felt the stubble on his face, sighing wearily. It was going to be a long day. Starting up the car, Blair headed to the university. All his stuff was there, and he had to clean up before classes started.
When Blair pulled into the lot, he was surprised to see Jim's battered truck. For a moment he debated pulling out again, but he realized that trying to avoid this confrontation would only postpone it. He couldn't avoid Jim forever, couldn't avoid what needed to be said. Sighing, then holding his ribs at the violence of the coughing jag the sigh had stimulated, he had to struggle to get his breath. Damn, he really couldn't afford to get sick again, not in any sense of the word 'afford'. Feeling utterly exhausted, he got out of the car, grabbed his duffel bag from the trunk and slowly walked into Hargrove Hall. Not once did he look at the fountain.
When he opened the door to his office, Jim was just standing up and moving around the desk toward him. "Where have you been?" the detective demanded, concerned at Blair's pallor and the smudged shadows under his eyes. His partner's heart rate was up, as if he was almost afraid, and there was a flush of fever on his cheeks. The congested sound of his lungs had worsened over night.
"Good morning to you, too," Blair replied stiffly, his voice a little husky from the infection, as he crossed the office to drop his bag in the corner with his other stuff. "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you," Jim replied candidly. "When you didn't come home last night, I figured you might have come back here. I…I found all your stuff here…."
"Well, you'd so helpfully packed it all up for me," Blair replied, his voice quiet and a little bitter. "The last time we talked about the loft, you reminded me I still had rent owing. I thought I should save it up before I just blithely moved back in."
"Sandburg…I'm sorry about how crazy I was, clearing everything out of the loft, throwing you out…I didn't mean it," Ellison said, feeling as if he was standing on unsteady ground. Blair wasn't making eye contact with him and seemed restless, as if he might take flight at any moment.
"Oh, you meant it," Blair replied, his voice hollow and strained as he forced back the urge to cough. "Look, Jim…I've got to get ready for class. If there's nothing else…."
The Sentinel felt his own heart begin to hammer in his chest as his anxiety built. He'd never seen the young anthropologist so cold and aloof, not with anyone and certainly not with him. Suddenly, Ellison knew he was in major trouble here and that he'd better fix things fast. "Look, Chief, I want you to come home…"
"Why?" Blair cut in sharply, finally looking up at the taller man, his expression tight and challenging.
"Because it's your home, because this is crazy…." Jim stammered, surprised by the question. "Where else would you go?"
"I don't know yet," the anthropologist replied coolly. "I haven't had time to figure that out. But your loft is not my home. I made the mistake of thinking it was, but it wasn't, never was. You let me stay there as long as it was convenient for you, and when you didn't want me around anymore, it took you no time at all to pack up my stuff and kick me out. It wasn't my home, just a place to crash for a while. I appreciate your willingness to have me stay there while you learned how to control your senses, but…that's all over, man. You've made that pretty clear in any number of ways. I know I'm a little slow and it took me a while to catch on, but I finally got the message."
"Chief, what do I have to do to convince you I'm sorry?" Ellison asked, cutting to the chase.
Sighing, Blair half turned away, his hands gesturing as he spoke. "This isn't about being 'sorry', Jim," he said, his voice flat as he thought, We've gone 'way past that point. Stiffening his shoulders, he continued, "Besides, what's there to be 'sorry' about? You kept me around so long as you needed me and you don't need me anymore, it's as simple as that. I understood the conditions. I screwed up, alright? I know that. I know that I destroyed the trust you had in me. Look, I'm tired…"
"We need to talk about this," Ellison interjected, not willing to give up and was surprised when Blair wheeled on him, anger sparking from his fever-bright eyes.
"Oh, so now you're ready to talk about it…and I'm supposed to just drop everything, as usual, and dance to your tune. Well, forget it, man. Here's a news flash for you: I'm not ready…maybe I won't ever want to talk about it. Right now, I don't even want to look at you. So, if you wouldn't mind…would you just leave me the hell alone," Blair snapped, his tone hard and harsh.
Ellison lifted his hands in a defensive gesture as he urged, "Whoa, Chief, calm down…."
"Why should I calm down? And, by the way, my name's Blair or Sandburg, not 'Chief', not 'Darwin', not 'Einstein', not 'junior', not 'kid'…" Blair cut in again, his words tumbling over one another in his agitation, surprising himself with the resentment in his voice over nicknames he hadn't ever really minded…had, in fact, always gotten a kick out of, seeing them as signs of affection and friendship. Maybe that was it, what was annoying now…the reminder of a friendship he knew was dead. "Why can't you ever just use my name?" he finished lamely, just wanting the conversation to be over.
Jim stopped and gazed at him for a long moment, wondering how to respond. As he lowered his hands, his fingers brushed the letter in his pocket. He needed to diffuse the anger, needed to break through somehow before this got completely out of hand. Drawing the envelope from his coat pocket, he murmured, "I found this on your desk…it was addressed to me." Blair had been hurt when he'd written the letter, but not cold with anger. Maybe if they could talk about it, Sandburg would relent, let him back in.
Blair looked at the paper in Jim's hand and nodded tightly, looking away. When he didn't say anything, Jim continued, "I wondered when you'd written it…."
Swallowing, Blair looked back at him, his wide eyes deep pools of pain. "Just before Alex came for me," he replied quietly, continuing softly, as if to himself, "Before Alex murdered me." Sighing, he said more strongly, "Like I said in the note, I've sent my journals on Sentinel behaviour to Simon. If you get into trouble with your senses, he can help you figure them out."
Jim closed his eyes and turned his head away, almost as if he'd been slapped. "I thought I'd lost you," he said hoarsely, the memories of Blair dead on the wet grass beside the fountain rising again in his mind.
Blair pushed his fingers through his hair as he stared at the boxes piled in the corner. "You didn't lose me, Jim, you pushed me away," he said quietly. "And then when I thought you'd pulled me back because you wanted me in your life, you abandoned me in the hospital. When I followed you, with the mistaken notion that you might need or want my help, you didn't even 'hear' me in your room at the hotel, charging in with your gun ready to fire. You abandoned me again at the church to go to Alex on the beach, you risked Simon, Megan and I when you warned Alex of the ambush, and then abandoned the two of us again in the jungle, left us asleep and vulnerable, while you followed after Alex."
He didn't see Jim grow pale, or the tortured look in the Sentinel's eyes at those words and the hurt, bereft tone in his voice. Rendered speechless by the only too legitimate charges of abandonment and betrayal, Jim looked down and away, his fists clenched helplessly at his side. What could he say? That he'd been out of control? Sandburg knew that…didn't he?
Blair hadn't intended to go into all this now, but once he'd started, he couldn't seem to stop himself, the hurt and pain driving him on. When Jim didn't say anything, he took a breath, again stifling the urge to cough as he continued bitterly, "Yesterday on the plane, when I needed to talk to you about it, you told me to leave you alone. Hell, even Incacha knows I have no place in your life…he as much as told you that, didn't he? When he told you to go on alone? Jim, how do you think it feels to see the guy you thought was your best friend groping the woman who killed you? How do you think it feels to know that you don't matter, that you might as well be invisible or dead for all that your friend cares what happens to you? She killed me, Jim, and she was ready to kill me again on that beach. And you know what, that fact didn't even seem to register with you. You had a stronger need to protect her than to protect Megan or even Simon. You turned your back on your friends, man. You turned your back on me…too many times. I can't do this anymore, Jim. Don't you get it, man? I don't trust you anymore."
The stark words, the hollow, empty voice, the haunted eyes that turned to gaze at him chilled Ellison to his soul. "Dammit, I didn't know what I was doing!" Jim shouted, feeling helpless, having to admit to a complete loss of control that he hadn't understood. Taking a deep breath, Jim continued more softly, but his voice rang with a desperate sincerity. "I was out of control…I never meant to hurt you, you have to know that."
"I guess, sometimes, it doesn't matter what we 'meant' to do," Blair replied wearily. "I didn't mean to betray you with Alex, but you were very clear that I'd destroyed whatever trust you had in me, killed whatever our friendship meant to you. Maybe you didn't mean to lose me, Jim…but you did, time after time. Honest to God, man, I don't know why you didn't just let me go out there at the fountain. You treated me like dirt before she killed me and except for bringing me back to life, which was a really nice gesture and one for which I'm grateful, you've treated me like I'm practically invisible ever since. Maybe getting me to breathe again really was about the back rent, how should I know? Well, I'll pay you what I owe you as soon as I can," Blair replied caustically. "But don't stand there and pretend none of this happened, or that your loft is my home."
It was too much. How could Blair begin to question why he'd brought him back, done everything he could do to restore his life? Back rent? What the hell was he talking about! "Damn the rent!" Ellison snapped as he crossed the room to grab Blair by the arms to shake some sense into him, but the smaller man whipped his arms up and back, breaking the taller man's grip, then pushed Jim roughly away.
"Don't touch me!" Blair snarled, his own uncharacteristically violent reaction shocking Ellison to the core. Feeling increasingly helpless, the Sentinel grasped for some reason, any reason for his Guide to allow him to continue having contact with him. Once again, he became aware of the heat burning from Sandburg's skin and the unhealthy congestion that rattled in his lungs.
"Chi…Sandburg, you've got a fever and your lungs sound like hell. You need to see a doctor. Let's get you taken care of, and we can figure out what to do next after that," Jim soothed, deciding to take this a step at a time. The first priority was to ensure his friend was healthy, safe.
"Don't treat me like a child that you have to take care of," the younger man seethed, his emotions frayed, feeling the effects of the illness, weak, fevered…knowing Jim was right but too tired and hurt to care.
"Then stop acting like one," Jim snapped back…and immediately knew he'd made another mistake.
"Get out," Blair breathed, furious.
"Blair…" Jim entreated.
"Get the hell out," Blair cut in, turning away to stand with his back to his Sentinel. "Leave me alone."
After the sound of Jim's footsteps had faded away, Blair sagged. Brushing his tangled hair back off his forehead, he could feel the heat of the fever under his fingertips and had to bite his lip and blink hard to keep raw emotions in check before he started to cry in despair and desperation. Was this what he wanted? To drive Jim out of his life? He sighed, and that set off the coughing jag he'd been fighting off during the confrontation with Jim. Unable to catch his breath, he stumbled to the chair behind the desk and collapsed into it, struggling to breathe.
Reluctantly, he had to admit to himself that Jim was right. He needed to see a doctor…there was no way he was in any shape to teach a class that morning. Wearily, he turned to his computer and typed up a reading assignment for his class to be left in the lecture hall. While it was printing, he accessed the net to try to find someplace cheap to stay. The only money he had left was the one hundred dollar bill he kept stashed in his wallet for emergencies…he'd tapped out all his other resources to pay for the air ticket to Mexico and it was another four days before his next check came through from the university.
He'd need antibiotics, that was pretty much a given, however much he might despise the technotrash of modern civilization. That only left him about fifty dollars for a room somewhere. Good thing he wasn't hungry 'cause he couldn't afford to eat. Scrolling through various sites, he finally found what he was looking for in the electronic copy of the daily newspaper.
A cheap room in a flophouse down by the docks.
Not fancy, but it would have to do. Grabbing the phone, he punched in the number and in minutes he'd arranged a bed for the next couple of nights. After that, well, he still had his car. He could either sell it or sleep in it, depending on how he felt. He called Administration to let them know he'd be off for a few more days, claiming that he needed a bit more time for his lungs to clear after the 'incident' in the fountain. He promised to be back before the end of the week…he couldn't afford to take any more time than that off. Then he called his advisor to arrange alternate teachers for the next couple of days for his classes.
Pulling the assignment instructions from the printer, he locked up his office and headed to the lecture hall, stopping to photocopy the document on the way. He left a note on the board for his students and the stack of paper with their assignment on the corner of the desk in the empty lecture hall. Then, he headed out of the building to the student health centre on the other side of the campus. Too tired to walk the short distance, he took the car and in minutes he was waiting to see the duty physician. Less than half an hour after that, he had a prescription in hand and was on his way to get it filled, and then to the 'Sailors' Bunk' near the wharf. He figured a day or two of sleep and the medicine would take care of the infection, and then if he still couldn't face sleeping in his office, he could hit up one of his friends for a place to crash for a couple more days until his next cheque came in.
"God, twenty-eight years old, and you've got exactly nothing to your name," he grumbled to himself as he climbed the dark, dank hallway to the room he'd rented. Closing the bedroom door behind him, he looked around dejectedly at the fly-specked fading and torn wallpaper, the curtainless, grimy window and the rickety bed that looked like it might collapse when he laid down on it. There was a single straight-backed chair, a miniscule wooden square table by the bed and a lonely semi-clean plastic water glass. The facilities were down the hall. Picking up the glass, he wandered down the poorly lit hallway to the bathroom, digging his prescription out of his pocket. He washed the glass then popped a monster-sized capsule into his mouth. He wished he'd been able to afford some of his tried and true herbal remedies, but buying any more supplies was out of the question. Wearily, he remembered that there might well have been some stuff in the boxes back in his office, but he'd not been thinking clearly enough at the time to dig them out and he was too damned tired right now to go back for them.
He shuffled slowly back to his room and couldn't be bothered to get undressed. Pulling the thin blanket up around his shoulders, shivering a little from a chill, he curled onto his side and let sleep claim him.
Unable to bear the thought of returning to the loft, Ellison drove straight to the police station. He felt dazed by everything that had happened, scarcely able to believe that Sandburg had shut him out. Despite everything that had happened to them over the past three years, Blair had always been there for him, had always understood and forgiven him. Feeling physically ill with despair and anxiety, Ellison realized it had never occurred to him that Blair wouldn't always be there for him, not really. Oh, years ago, he'd wondered if the constant danger would drive the kid away, especially after the incident with Lash, but Blair had hung in, taking whatever came. The anthropologist had always put the Sentinel's needs first…in the beginning because it was a project he was thrilled to pursue and later because they'd become friends.
Sitting for a moment in his truck in the parking garage, the detective ruefully remembered that he hadn't made it easy for the kid. Sometimes surly, often discouraged and fed up, he'd had trouble coming to grips with his problems controlling his senses. But, Blair had never seemed to mind…had in fact always seemed to understand. Never took any of it personally…or hadn't seemed to. Now, Ellison wondered how he could have taken the kid so much for granted, wondered at what it had cost Blair to always put himself second.
Swallowing, Jim figured he hadn't been much of a friend, not really. He'd taken the kid for granted and had been too ready to take offense, even after three years of unconditional support and friendship, had been quick to claim distrust when he thought Sandburg had come too close, invading his personal space with the dissertation, quick to throw the kid out when he felt 'crowded', quick to deny their friendship and partnership after Blair had failed to tell him another Sentinel had appeared. Too damned quick to walk away from the one person who had given him wholehearted friendship and a kind of unconditional love and acceptance he'd never known from anyone else in his whole life.
Sitting there alone, Jim Ellison decided he was a fool who had never really understood what being a friend was, not until it was too late.
Once again, the nightmare memory of the fountain claimed his thoughts and he shuddered at how close he'd come to really losing Blair for good. He'd thought when he'd managed to bring Blair back that he'd never get past that, never again abandon his Guide, best friend and partner. But, he had…within hours. And Sandburg had been right…everything that had happened during the trip south had been a disaster. Much of it was a fog for Ellison, his memories of actions driven by instinct unclear. He rubbed his eyes as he thought about what it must have done to Blair to find him with Alex on the beach. God…how could he have behaved like that? How could he have gotten past what she had done to his best friend?
Wearily, he got out of the truck and headed to the Major Crimes Unit, oblivious of the fact that he looked like hell, his clothes rumpled and his face unshaven. He was pale with exhaustion and he moved stiffly, as if he felt unbalanced and very old.
"Ellison!" Simon called from his office doorway, waving the detective inside. Closing the door, Simon's gaze raked him as he observed, "Jim…you look like ten miles of bad road. Where's Sandburg? What's going on?"
Jim sagged into a chair and rubbed his aching forehead as he answered, "The last I saw of him, he was at the university." Pausing for a moment as he gazed blindly out the window, he continued, "Sandburg's had enough. He sent me packing."
Simon's head snapped back at that news, then he looked aside, turning to circle his desk and sit down. Absently picking up an unlit cigar, he played with it unconsciously as he asked, "So…what are you going to do to get him back?"
"I don't think I can," Ellison replied softly. "I went too far this time…I don't think he'll ever forgive me…"
"You saved his life," Simon observed, reaching for some shred of hope and reason in this mess.
Ellison frowned and shook his head. "It doesn't matter…things happened during the trip…things that shouldn't have ever happened."
"Yeah…I was there, remember? And Conner told me some of the rest of it," the Captain mused. "You really lost it for awhile. But…Sandburg must realize that you couldn't control that Sentinel stuff. Hell, he's the only one who does seem to understand that."
"I betrayed him, Simon," Jim replied quietly, sorrow and grief in his voice. "A Sentinel's first duty is to protect his Guide, and I failed to…." He sighed and ran a hand over his hair. Looking down at the floor, he went to the bottomline, "He said he's had enough. That it's finished. I…I don't know how to reach him."
"Well, he's probably exhausted. Give him a few days…he'll get over it. That kid doesn't know how to hold a grudge," Simon replied, determined to believe that this was only a passing problem.
When Jim didn't reply, Simon sighed as he decided there was no more either of them could do or say at that moment. The next move was up to the young anthropologist. If necessary, Simon decided he'd give Blair a call and try to help sort it all out. But, for now, there was work to be done. "You've got some reports to finish up from this case. Maybe if we're lucky, it will be a quiet day and we can all go home early."
"Yes sir," Ellison replied as he stood and left the office to get to work at his desk. But, the work took longer than it should have. He found it hard to concentrate, and it didn't help when one after another, his colleagues stopped by his desk to ask how Blair was recovering. He didn't know what to say…and was only too aware of the growing anxiety he felt from the knowledge that the last time he'd seen his friend, Blair had looked and sounded pretty sick. Megan stopped by the desk at one point, asking, "Did Sandy finally make it home last night?"
"No," Jim replied, his voice dry and tight. "He…uh…he says he's not coming back to the loft."
"I'm not surprised," the Australian officer observed, her eyes narrowing as she studied the man she now knew to be a Sentinel. "He said I should give you a break, that you're a good man and do the best you can. But, I'm afraid all I see when I look at you is an arrogant jerk who doesn't deserve a friend like Sandy."
Ellison sighed as he looked up at her bleakly. "When you're right, you're right," he muttered, then turned away.
When the phone jangled for attention at his elbow late in the afternoon, the detective absently reached for it and barked out his name, "Ellison."
"This time I'm going to get you, Ellison. I promise you that," a low, guttural voice growled in his ear.
"Is that right?" Jim responded, looking up quickly and snapping his fingers at Brown, mouthing the command, 'Trace this!' Turning his attention back to the caller, he tried to pick up background sounds, and heard the deep throb of a tug's horn…someplace near the docks. "Do you want to be more specific or are we playing twenty questions?"
"You won't have to wait long…the first explosion is just your invitation to the party. See you soon," the caller taunted then disconnected. Henri Brown threw up his hands to signal there'd been insufficient time for a trace and Jim just nodded as he rose to lope across the busy bullpen to Simon's office.
Rapping lightly on the open door, he said as he entered, "Captain, we've got trouble. Some joker just called in a bomb threat from somewhere down near the docks."
"What?" demanded Simon, looking up in dismay. "Who?"
"There wasn't time to get a trace…there was something familiar about the voice, but I can't place it," Ellison replied. "It's personal, though…says he's going to 'get me' this time and the first explosion won't be the end of it."
Simon reached for the phone to alert the fire department and bomb squad, and then dispatch to give a 'heads up' to the patrols in the area. Standing, he reached for his coat as he said, "Let's roll."
The concussive force of the incendiary explosion rattled buildings in a mile radius, blowing out the windows of every structure within two blocks, including those of the rundown 'Sailors' Bunk' motel.
"What the…?" yelled Blair as he came instantly awake, adrenaline surging at the horrific blast and shattering of glass. The shards had flown into the small room, and though his body had been protected by the blanket and his clothing, bits of glass had hit his right arm and forehead, slicing through his skin. "Ow!" he muttered with an aggrieved tone as he gingerly examined his arm and pulled out the small razor-sharp projectiles. He felt his head carefully, finding other slivers in his hair as well as the small chunk embedded in his forehead. He could feel warm blood streaming down the side of his face.
Flipping the glass-covered blanket back, he eased his legs over the side of the bed, shaking out his sneakers before he pulled them on and went to the window to see what had happened. Across the street and a block away, he saw the collapsed remains of an old warehouse, flames rising to the sky, a thick black cloud of acrid, greasy smoke filling the air. Already he could hear the distant sound of sirens coming closer.
"Oh great," he murmured, dabbing the blood from his face.
His heart was pounding from the shock of the blast and he started coughing, the smoke fumes adding to the congestion in his lungs, making breathing an even more difficult chore. The fever had gotten worse, and he felt disoriented, almost disembodied, shaky. "Better get cleaned up and see what's going on," he mumbled to himself, heading to the small lavatory down the hall. He carefully pulled the splinter of glass from his forehead and used a thin, ragged towel to clean up the blood on his face and arm, holding the towel and a thin washcloth over the wounds to staunch and clot the shallow wounds.
Staring into the wavery reflection in the old mirror over the sink, he rolled his eyes. God, he couldn't even find a peaceful place to crash…what was it with this city? Did every crazy bomber in America have to target it? The sirens were strident now, and he shambled over to the jagged remains of the window to look out onto the street, his eyes widening when he spotted Jim's truck and Simon's car flash past.
In that moment, Blair knew all his anger, all his sense of betrayal and righteous indignation didn't matter a damn. He was a Guide, like it or not, and his Sentinel was going into danger. For the first time, the compelling, over-riding instinct to race to Jim's side, to watch his back and help him focus his senses, to guard him while the Sentinel did what needed to be done, made Blair wonder if he wasn't every bit as genetically programmed as was his friend. It wasn't a matter of choice or reason. It simply was who and what he was.
Jim needed him and he had no choice but to go.
Tossing the soiled linen in the general direction of the filthy hamper, Sandburg headed down the hall and the narrow staircase. He was halfway down when another blast hit the building and he lurched into the wall for the support, narrowly avoiding being tumbled down the remaining steps. Good thing I only paid in advance for one night, he reflected inanely as he picked up his pace, loping along the street to where he saw the police barricade on the corner. He was moving against the flow of the crowd, most people either standing and staring at the spectacle of two warehouses being ripped apart and consumed by flames, others more sensibly heading away from the scene of the disaster as quickly as they could go.
When he got to the barrier, Blair was relieved to see a uniformed cop he recognized. There was no way he was in the mood to be shoved aside as a hippy punk. "Jarvis!" he called out, moving toward the gap between the patrol cars that blocked the street.
"Sandburg," the police officer acknowledged as he pointed down the block. "Captain Banks and your partner, Ellison, have set up operations over there."
"Thanks, man," Blair acknowledged with a wave as he jogged towards Simon's car, his gaze scanning the area for signs of his partner.
Spotting Simon standing by his vehicle, a radio in his hand, Blair moved quickly to his side. "Simon, what's going on? Where's Jim?"
Startled the Captain looked down at his disheveled former 'official observer' team member. "Sandburg, what are you doing here?" Simon demanded, noting signs of fever and exhaustion as well as the blood still oozing slowly from the superficial wounds.
"I was in the neighbourhood," Blair replied evasively with a shrug. "Where's Jim?"
"Over there," Simon indicated with a wave. "He got a call from some guy just before the first blast, letting him know that he was expected to turn up. He's using his senses to determine if the buildings are empty…this whole block is scheduled for demolition next month."
"What guy?" Sandburg asked as he stared toward Jim, reading his partner's taut body, frowning a little as he realized Ellison was trying to block out the chaos of sound, light and smell to focus his hearing.
Simon shrugged. "Jim said the voice was familiar but he couldn't place who it was…" he began to explain.
"He knows how to do that, how to link sound with memory," Blair interjected, impatient. The Sentinel was in danger here, and they didn't know who was stalking him. Sighing, he thought sarcastically that this just got better and better.
"Maybe so," Simon replied mildly, but with a slight edge in his voice. "But, his partner wasn't there to coach him through the process, and he's not functioning at peak performance today. When this is all over, I want to sort out what's going on between the two of you."
Blair cut the captain a quick look then returned his attention to Jim. Joel arrived at that point, obviously anxious. "Simon…Jim needs to pull back now. If there's another bomb primed to the same schedule, it'll go off anytime now."
While Simon spoke into his radio to order Jim back, Joel nodded to Sandburg, "Hey, Blair…you alright, man? You don't look so good."
"Just a cold, Joel, I'm fine," Blair lied, looking from Simon back to Jim who wasn't responding to the order. Squinting a little, Blair could see that Jim had pulled the earpiece of his receiver out, no doubt to better focus on the building, seeking the sound of voices, footsteps, breathing and heartbeats. "He can't hear you!" Blair snapped, anxiety mounting to panic. "God, I think he's zoning!"
Without a moment's thought or second's hesitation, Blair was racing across the concrete and pavement between him and his Sentinel, unheeding of Simon's order to get back. As he dashed along the front of an old, dilapidated building toward the scene of destruction, he cut past a half opened door, and his peripheral vision caught the glint of light on something.
Blair was already past the doorway when he realized what he'd seen. There was someone in the shadows, someone with a gun…aimed toward Jim! Yelling out a warning, "JIM! Get down!" he lunged toward his best friend, reaching for his shoulders to drag him out of the line of fire.
Blair caught his partner's shoulders, throwing his weight against the larger man to drag him down, just as he felt a blaze of fire lash through his back and chest…and then they were falling.
Whether it was the shout of his best friend, a voice he could hear anywhere, through any kind of chaos or zone, the impact of the body against him, or the soft cough of a silenced gun, something broke through the Sentinel's focused concentration. Even as he was falling, he twisted and brought his gun around and up, his sight zeroing in on the shooter in the shadows of the doorway, and blasted off several rounds. As he hit the ground, his fall broken by the body of someone under him, he saw the shooter thrown back by the force of the bullets that had found their mark...and his hearing told him the heartbeat of his assailant had been silenced. Rolling to his feet, he became aware of Simon shouting at him as he turned to see who had just saved his life, the sickening smell of blood nearly overwhelming him.
"Oh my God," he breathed as he took in Blair's crumpled form, blood on his forehead and a large stain spreading over the upper left side of his chest. Dropping to his knees, he pulled Blair's head up against his shoulder while he hastily checked the wound.
"Bomb…move back," Sandburg gasped, one hand fumbling at Jim's arm to get his attention.
Understanding the warning, Jim gathered his Guide into his arms and raced away from the building behind them, the blast that came only seconds later sending them sprawling to the pavement. Jim curled as he fell, to take the brunt of the fall on his back and shoulders, to save Blair from as much of the impact as possible.
By the time he'd rolled back to his knees, Blair still secure in his arms, Simon was there beside him. "I've called for an ambulance," he cried, kneeling to check out Blair himself. Their captain hadn't heard the shot, but he'd figured out what had happened and realized whoever had been behind this devastation had tried to ambush Jim.
Blair was panting with the effort to breathe, his chest on fire. It felt like a giant hand was crushing him, squeezing his heart. Pain ripped through him and darkness wavered on the edge of his vision. Wide eyes sought Jim's gaze as the Guide demanded, his voice weak and whispery, "You…alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, Chief…but what the hell did you think you were doing?" Ellison replied, his voice harsh with fear as he checked the exit wound and tried to staunch the river of blood that was pumping out of his best friend's body.
"Guide's job…protect…the Sentinel…" Blair whispered, trying to smile disparagingly, the expression in his eyes asking his friend what else he could have been expected to do…but then he gasped, his face twisted in pain and the effort to breathe as his fingers dug into Jim's shirt, desperate for something to hold onto. His gaze began to unfocus, and fear blossomed in them as he weakly shook his head, mumbling, "Nooo…"
"What? Blair, hang on!" Jim cried, clutching Sandburg's body tightly against his own.
"Oh man…jungle…like the…fountain…" Blair gasped, moaning with the pain, his body twisting convulsively. The smoke and noise had disappeared, the gray edifices no longer in sight as the rainforest closed around him He could feel himself fading even as he struggled to hold on to life.
"Dear God, Blair…don't you quit on me! Don't you leave me!" Jim cried, terrified by the lost look in his buddy's eyes, the blood bubbling at Blair's lips as he gasped for breath.
Simon had taken in the urgency and had ordered Joel by radio to bring his car up. There was no time to wait for an ambulance. The Captain could see blood pooling on the ground under Sandburg's body, even as it welled up, hot and thick, between Ellison's fingers as the detective tried futilely to stem the flow from the exit wound.
The kid was bleeding to death.
The car screeched to a halt beside them, and Joel jumped out to help them get Blair into the vehicle.
"Jim, give him to me and get into the back. I'll hand him in to you…Joel, take his feet," Simon ordered, almost having to pull Sandburg from Ellison's arms. "Jim…MOVE! We're losing him," he shouted to break through the Sentinel's focus on his fading Guide. Once Ellison had slipped into the car, working together, they got Blair settled in Jim's arms, the young man's body lying curled along the back seat. Simon drove while Joel manned the radio, alerting Cascade General that an officer had been shot, was badly wounded, and they were bringing him in.
Jim clutched Blair close, supporting his partner's head on his shoulder to ease Sandburg's breathing as best he could. He could feel the warmth of his best friend's blood soaking his clothing and the hot metallic smell terrified and sickened him. It took all he had to keep from zoning, his attention locked on Blair's face and the sound of his increasingly erratic, weakening and far too fast heart beat.
Blair gazed up into his best friend's eyes, his fingers tightly clutching Jim's shirt as he held on for dear life. He felt like he was drowning again, unable to draw breath, his lungs filled with liquid, as if he was spiraling into darkness. "Don't let go…" he murmured, his voice barely audible even to Jim's hyper-developed senses. "Jim…don't…" he sighed, his eyes clouding, lids drooping as he lost the battle for consciousness.
"I've got you, Blair," Jim murmured back, his voice hoarse with fear. "I won't let go, I promise…hang on, buddy…please, God, don't you die on me…."
The siren blared, lights flashed, as Simon drove like a man possessed, weaving through the traffic, aware that every second counted. Joel had twisted in his seat, looking back at Ellison and Sandburg, his expressive face grim with fear and sorrow. Closing his eyes, he sent a silent prayer winging to the heavens that this bright young spirit not be taken from them…not now, not when they'd only just gotten him back.
Simon wheeled sharply into the hospital entrance and tore along the drive, screeching to a halt in front of the emergency entrance. Attendants were waiting for them, and they efficiently transferred Blair onto the wheeled stretcher, looping an oxygen mask over his face even as they raced him inside. One of the nurses, running alongside, was tracking vital signs, calling out to the doctor, "BP 90 over 50, pulse 140, breathing shallow and rapid…"
Simon and Joel had to physically restrain Ellison from following Blair into the treatment room, dragging him forcefully back to the waiting area. "Let them do what they need to do," Simon shouted over the Sentinel's protests that he needed to be with Sandburg. "JIM! Settle down…you're not helping Blair by losing control!"
All the while, Joel was murmuring, "Easy, man, easy…they'll take care of him. C'mon, Jim…easy."
Jim's senses were locked on the voices in the room behind the closed door, scarcely even hearing what his friends were saying to him. "Cut his clothes off!" "He's crashing!" "Get an IV started…do a cutdown."
"Get me 100 cc's of epinephrine and start an O negative drip." "BP 80 over 40, pulse 160." "He's crashing." "Call Dr. Sorenson…we need to get him into surgery immediately." "Left lung has collapsed, right lung congested, respiration compromised." "Move it, move it…get him upstairs NOW!"
A moment later the doors to the treatment room burst open as the stretcher was pushed through and the attendants, doctor and nurse racing alongside, one running ahead to get the elevator. Jim tried to follow but again Simon and Joel held him back, their own faces stark with fear. Just as the elevator doors closed, Jim heard the muffled, rapid heart beat cease and he screamed out Sandburg's name, lunging toward the now shut doors, banging on them with clenched fists.
"JIM!" Simon called to him as he dragged his friend away from the elevator door, "Jim, calm down!"
"They're losing him…his heart stopped!" Ellison cried, wheeling on Simon, grabbing his arms. "Sandburg's dead!"
"Oh God, not again, not now," Joel moaned beside him.
"They'll keep him going," Simon replied, desperation in his own voice as he prayed he was right. "Come on, let's go up to the waiting room outside the OR…Jim…listen to me! All we can do right now is wait…and pray."
Shuddering, the Sentinel fought for control and finally loosened his grip on Simon's arms. Nodding, he sagged, shivering, allowing his superior to direct him into the next elevator that arrived as they followed the stretcher upstairs. Even as the elevator doors opened, Jim was focusing his hearing again, searching for the heart beat he desperately needed to hear, and he could have collapsed in relief when he found it. He rubbed a hand over his face, then turned to Simon. "They brought him back…I can hear his heart beat," he murmured, his voice hoarse with relief and continued fear.
"I'll call the other guys," Joel offered, moving away toward a bank of phones along the wall, while Simon put an arm around Jim's shoulders and guided him into the waiting area. It was just like at the fountain, Joel reflected. Somehow, Ellison seemed to be able to hear Blair's heartbeat and Simon didn't find that at all strange. Frowning in thought, Joel recalled other times when Jim had been able to hear or see what no ordinary man could and then he shrugged, only partially surprised. For a long time now, he'd known there was something different about the detective and that somehow Sandburg was a part of it all.
It was aptly named, 'waiting area'. The furniture was battered and too uncomfortable to support a long stay. Crumpled and half filled disposable coffee cups littered the surfaces of chipped tables and mindless muzac droned softly from somewhere overhead. The lighting was harsh, even garish, revealing mercilessly the pallor and stark shadows of fear that lined the faces of its occupants. Too anxious to sit, the men stood and paced sporadically, watching the clock tick off the slow minutes of one hour and then a second. The other members of the Major Crimes Unit had arrived and joined the silent vigil, each of them locked in their own thoughts and memories, desperate with hope that Blair would once again beat the odds.
At one point, his emotions on overload, his senses reeling, Jim slumped into a corner chair, his elbows on his knees, his hands over his face, hiding the tears he could no longer contain from the view of the others. Shattered memories of the last week haunted him, tormented him…harsh words, terrible acts of rejection, thoughtless cruelties. Dear God, what would he do if Blair died? How could he live with it? How could he face the empty void his life would be without his best friend? His shoulders trembled with his silent misery as the others shot him sidelong looks of commiseration. They had no words to allay his fear or his grief, and were too frightened themselves to offer empty, meaningless words of hope. They could only wait, be there to lend silent but heartfelt support…and pray as the endless minutes ticked by.
Finally the doors of the Surgical Unit opened and a man dressed in a rumpled green scrub uniform stepped out to face six faces strained with worry and fragile hope. Absentmindedly pulling the mask from around his neck, he fingered it as he introduced himself. "I'm Dr. Sorensen, the thoracic surgeon who operated on Blair Sandburg. Are any of you family?"
"All of us," Joel replied with unconscious truth.
"I'm Jim Ellison…Sandburg's partner," the detective said as he moved forward, Simon at his shoulder, "and this is Captain Simon Banks. How's Blair?"
"He's alive," Sorensen replied. "The bullet did considerable damage to his left lung, causing it to collapse, which in turn compromised his cardiac function. However, we've repaired the damage, and reinflated the lung. We had to give him four units of blood before we got the hemorrhaging under control. In addition to the traumatic injury, his lungs are severely congested, further impairing his respiration to the point where we've had to put him on a ventilator. We've got him on a full spectrum antibiotic until we can isolate the cause of the infection."
"Blair drowned a little over a week ago," Simon offered, drawing a startled, then thoughtful look from the surgeon. "We thought for a while that he was dead."
"Well, that might account for the infection," the physician allowed with a frown, wondering at the life that the young man apparently led. It would be a shame if he'd survived one fatal encounter only to succumb to another.
"What are his chances?" Jim asked, needing to know, afraid of the answer.
The doctor turned his gaze back to Ellison as he weighed his response. "Frankly, the odds aren't good. The bullet wound did severe damage and is life-threatening in its own right. But, the infection worries me more in that it seriously compromises his chances of recovery. We'll do all we can, you know that, but I can't make you any promises. His progress in the next couple of days will give us a better idea of the final prognosis."
Jim looked down, shaking his head, not wanting to accept the hesitant answer. He wanted absolutes, assurances. Swallowing, he looked back at the doctor as he asked, "When can I see him?"
"We'll be moving him up to Intensive Care in half an hour…you can spend a few minutes with him then, but I'm afraid it's unlikely that he'll be aware of your presence," the doctor advised him, then turned away, heading back into the restricted surgical zone.
Simon laid a steadying hand on Ellison's shoulder, as he said firmly, "He's alive…and you know Sandburg doesn't give up without a fight."
Ellison nodded as he rubbed a hand over his mouth and chin, but all he could think of was Blair's mumbled comments about being 'in the jungle'. They'd almost lost him again…and he wasn't out of danger yet.
Blair's still form seemed almost lost in a maze of wires and tubes, his upper chest swathed in bandages, patches over the cuts on his forehead and arm. Machines beeped and hummed, swished and pumped, monitoring the life they held in his severely damaged body. Jim paused for a moment as he entered the room, studying his friend, struck by how lifeless and vulnerable Blair seemed. He closed his eyes and trembling fingers rubbed his face, then he moved to the side of the bed and covered Blair's fevered hand with his own.
"Hey, Chief…this is getting to be too much of a habit," Jim murmured softly as he reached to lightly stroke his friend's forehead, feeling the heat emanating from Blair's body. "What is it with you and hospitals anyway? Don't you know you're scaring me…this old heart can't take much more of seeing you at death's door."
He didn't actually expect Blair to waken and give him a reassuring grin, but he ached to see his buddy return to consciousness. Studying Sandburg intently, listening to the laboured breathing and the soft, uncertain heartbeat, he swallowed with convulsive fear. He could touch Sandburg, see him…but he couldn't sense his presence. "You shouldn't have done that, Chief," he whispered, his voice breaking. "You shouldn't have gotten in the way of that bullet. Dammit, kid…what the hell were you doing there? Why did you do it? After this morning…after everything I've done to you…how could you still risk your life to save mine?"
"Your Guide was only acting true to his calling. A Sentinel protects his tribe, and the Guide protects his Sentinel. It is the way," a voice sounded softly beside him, and Jim looked up to see Incacha standing there, gazing at him with sorrow. "Why are you not with him? Do you not know he needs you now, needs your strength to guide him back to this world?"
"I don't understand," Jim replied, frustrated. Why couldn't Incacha ever say anything straight out? He was here, with Blair… what more could he do?
"Your Guide invited you to follow him…but the idea frightened you. Follow him now, or lose him. The choice is yours," Inchaca intoned, then faded from view.
"What the hell do you want from me?" Jim snarled, shaking his head as he looked back down at Blair's flushed face. "How do I 'follow' him?" He'd do anything to save Sandburg's life and Incacha's words had taken his breath away. 'Lose him'? Dear God, what did he have to do?
A nurse walked in and said quietly, "I'm sorry, but you'll have to leave now. You can come back in an hour."
But, Ellison shook his head, his grip on Sandburg's limp hand tightening. "No…I can't leave him. He needs to have me here. I know it sounds crazy, but…I can't leave him."
Sighing, the nurse touched his arm sympathetically. "There isn't anything you can do for him right now. Your friend is in a coma, unaware of what is going on around him."
Looking up at her, Ellison challenged, "You don't know that. People in comas can still hear…sometimes knowing they aren't alone is the only thing that keeps them holding on."
Simon had come to the doorway and had heard the exchange. Intervening, he tried to bargain a settlement between them. "Detective Ellison and Mr. Sandburg are partners, best friends and room-mates. If there's anyone who can get through to Blair right now, it's Jim. Please…what can it hurt to let him stay for the night? And, it might actually do the kid a lot of good."
Looking from Simon to Jim, and then down to the unconscious man in the bed, she finally nodded. The staff did not hold out much hope for the seriously ill young man. This might be the last time the detective could be with his friend and partner. "Alright, you can stay. As you say, it can't hurt and might even help."
"Thank you," Jim murmured, closing his eyes with relief. As she left, Simon moved into the room and laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "We'll be in the waiting room if you need anything, Jim," he said as he gazed down at Blair's still face. The Captain felt a deep anger at the injustice of it all, at the helplessness he felt. Sandburg was a good kid who deserved a lot better than this. He squeezed Jim's shoulder then turned and silently left the room.
Taking a deep breath, Jim looked around, hoping Incacha would show up again and give him a clue as to what he was supposed to do to help Blair, but the Shaman's spirit had apparently given all the hints he was going to give. Frustrated, frightened by his helplessness, Jim pulled a chair to the side of the bed. Sitting, he again gripped Blair's hand. "What am I supposed to do, Chief? Give me a sign, anything…God, I don't know what I'm supposed to do," he murmured quietly, desperation in his voice.
The low growl of the jaguar drew his eyes to the floor at the end of the bed. Green eyes stared unblinkingly into blue, and then the big cat leaped up and forward, plunging into the Guide's body. Ellison's lips parted and he frowned, trying to understand. "Follow," he whispered to himself. "I'm supposed to 'follow'…the jungle! That's it, isn't it, Chief? I have to follow you into the jungle!"
Hoping that he was right, Jim closed his eyes and pictured the jungle of his visions, breathing deeply as Blair had taught him to do, letting go of the sounds of the machines, focusing only on Blair's breathing and heart beat. Gradually, he became aware of the smells and sounds of the rainforest…and the whimpering of the wolf. His eyes opened and he found himself on the bank of a river, the forest crowding in around him, and at the ground at his feet, the wolf lay as if dying…and then the stricken animal morphed before his eyes into Blair, his friend lying curled and naked, just as he had in the visions. The black jaguar sat quietly a short distance away, staring at him unblinkingly, and then seemed to fade as his awareness of jungle grew stronger.
"Sandburg!" Jim breathed in relief, crouching down to pull his friend around into his arms. "Blair, can you hear me, buddy?"
Blearily, Blair blinked open his eyes, his gaze clouded with pain and fever. "Jim?" he mumbled, certain he was only dreaming.
"Yeah, I'm here, Chief. I'm not leaving you," the Sentinel said, stroking sweat-matted hair back from his friend's flushed face. "What do you need?"
Sandburg almost smiled with relief as he curled unconsciously closer to his friend's body, feeling the strong arms circle him, keeping him safe. "Thought you'd…left me," he sighed.
"Not a chance, kid," Jim affirmed, swallowing at how weak and fragile Blair felt in his arms, worried at the terrible rasping breaths as his buddy panted for air. Ellison laid a hand over the wound gaping in Blair's chest, noting that it wasn't bleeding but it looked deadly.
"I'm…sorry," Blair whispered, blinking again to clear his eyes as he looked up at Jim.
Confused, the Sentinel shook his head. "Sorry? For what? You haven't done anything to be sorry about," Jim soothed him quietly, a lump in his throat.
"For…pushing you away," his Guide murmured. "Was…wrong…."
"Oh God, Blair," Jim groaned, pulling his friend close, "You had every right to be angry. I was the one who screwed up, not you."
Sandburg laid quietly in his arms, now that he was no longer alone he felt a peace settle over him, soothing away the fear he'd felt. His Sentinel had come to watch over him. After a long moment, he asked softly, "What happened? Why are we here?"
"You were shot…saving my life," Jim replied, his voice cracking with emotion. "You were hurt bad, Blair, and you're in the hospital. And…you've got a bad lung infection that's making it hard for you to breathe, complicating the gunshot injury. They think the pneumonia is caused by the water you inhaled in the fountain…."
"No…" sighed his young friend. "Started getting sick…in Mexico…"
Ellison frowned at that. Were the medicines they were giving Blair any good against something he'd contracted in the rainforest? "Don't talk anymore, Blair. Just…save your strength. Rest. I don't want to lose you, you hear me?"
"So…tired. Hurts…" Sandburg mumbled, only semi-conscious.
"I know, buddy…I know," Ellison replied hoarsely, wishing there was something more he could do. "You need to rest, get better. Don't worry, I've got you. I won't let you go."
Blair settled against him, sinking into a sleep so deep that his harsh, ragged coughing did not rouse him. Ellison shivered with fear as he gazed down into the waxen features, listening to the rapid hammering of a weakening heart and the panting of his best friend's efforts to breathe. He didn't know how long he sat holding Blair against his chest, but dimly he became aware of Simon calling him and the jungle around him began to waver.
He was being drawn back to that other world, the real world, where Blair was unaware of his presence. "Chief…I've got to go for a while…but I'll be close by. I promise, Blair, I'm not really leaving you. Hold on until I get back, buddy…please, God, hold on…."
Jim blinked and found himself being shaken by a very frightened Simon. "Thank God," his friend sighed when he realized Ellison was responding, finally. "You zoned and I couldn't seem to bring you back," Simon explained, leaving a hand on Jim's shoulder to steady him and hold onto his attention.
"I wasn't zoning," Ellison replied, rubbing a hand over his face, "at least, not exactly. Incacha said I had to go to Blair or I'd lose him."
Simon groaned softly as he rolled his eyes. "Another vision?" he muttered.
"Yeah…the jungle. I can put myself there, kind of like going into a trance. And…Blair's there. He's so weak, Simon, it scares me. I need to be with him…I don't understand, but somehow it makes a difference," Jim explained, his eyes and voice beseeching his friend to understand.
Simon swallowed and nodded. He didn't pretend to understand all this stuff and was sure he really didn't want to, but he knew in some strange way it was all real. "You must have done some good. Blair's vital signs started to improve and a nurse came in to check on him. When she couldn't rouse you, she came to get me. I don't know if I can get them to let you stay any longer. You really unnerved her."
"I have to stay, Simon. Don't ask me how I know, but I'm sure that he'll die if I'm not with him," Ellison insisted.
But, Simon frowned as he thought it through. "If you're going somewhere else, to this jungle place, why do you have to be in this room? Couldn't you go there from anywhere?"
Ellison looked away as he thought about it. Maybe. He lifted his hand away from Blair's and stood, walking slowly to the doorway. Almost immediately the pulse of the machines shifted, showing that the injured young man was feeling new distress and Ellison could hear his Guide's heart hammering with fear. Immediately, he returned to the bedside to grab hold of Blair's hand and to lay his other hand over his friend's brow. The reaction was clear and unequivocal as Blair's heart rate slowed.
"I can't leave him, Simon," Jim muttered, looking up at his friend. "Somehow it makes a difference to have contact with him, to touch him. He needs that link with me right now. Please…you've got to convince them to let me stay and to not freak out if I don't respond to them. Tell them, hell I don't know, tell them I'm a faith healer or something. Who cares? Just don't let them force me to go."
Rubbing his mouth and chin, wondering how he got himself into the middle of this stuff, Simon finally nodded. "I'll do what I can…but when I call you, you have to come back. Otherwise they'll think you're in trouble. My God, Jim…you look like you're at death's door yourself when you're zoning like that."
"All right…but try not to call me back too often," Jim agreed just as the nurse arrived in a flurry, a doctor close behind her. "And, Simon," he added with quiet urgency, remembering suddenly, "tell them Blair got sick in Mexico…he might need different medicine than what they're giving him."
"Oh," she stopped, startled, "You're conscious."
"Yes, of course I am," Jim replied smoothly as if she'd been imagining things. "Oh…you mean you were here earlier when I was in the trance."
Numbly, she nodded and the doctor stepped forward. "I think it's time for you to get some rest, Detective Ellison. You and Mr. Sandburg have been patients here often enough for us to understand how worried you must be about him, but you can't stay here."
"I'm fine," Jim insisted, with a glance toward Simon. "Captain Banks will explain everything to you. But, I'm sure you noted that Blair is better when I'm with him, his vital signs stronger. So, you'll understand when I say I have to stay with him, that he needs me."
"But…" the doctor began to protest when Simon cut in.
"Doctor, perhaps you and I might have a word," the police captain said smoothly as he moved forward and looped a comradely arm around the physician's shoulders, guiding him out of the room. Simon flashed a disgruntled look back at Jim as he said, "I think I can explain all this to your satisfaction. And, I've suddenly remembered that Blair got sick while we were still in Mexico, so maybe we need to review the antibiotics that have been prescribed for him…hmmm?"
Jim couldn't help a relieved grin, but then he focused back on Blair as he sat and let himself slip back into the jungle.
Blair was shivering with fever, weak from the endless coughing, moaning a little from pain and from his sense of once again being abandoned. He was confused, not quite understanding why he was in the jungle, what was going on. Aware of the jaguar lying next to him, he wasn't sure if he was himself or his wolf spirit and he wondered if he was again dying in this jungle, lost and alone. He'd been sure that Jim had been here…but now wondered if he'd just been dreaming. Only partially conscious, he was unaware of the jaguar morphing back into the shape of his best friend.
Jim reached out and pulled Blair back into his arms, flinching at the heat that emanated from his partner's body. "Hey, buddy, you still with me?" he murmured as he gently stroked Blair's fevered face.
Feeling the light touch, hearing his Sentinel's voice, Blair struggled back to awareness, blinking his eyes open to gaze up into Jim's concern-filled eyes. "Jim?"
"Uh huh, I'm here," Ellison replied, smiling down at him, or trying to. "I need you to fight to get better, Chief. I can't do this without you."
Blair gazed up at him, dazed, confused. He was wracked by terrible coughs, having to pant to get his breath. "Think…I'm dying," he whispered as he struggled to stay present, to not drift away.
"NO!" Jim exclaimed. "You're going to get better, you hear me?"
But, to his alarm, Blair shook his head weakly. "No…point," he muttered. "Don't need me…Incacha said…"
Holding Blair as tightly as he could, as if by his strength alone he could hold life in that tortured body, Jim cut in, his voice desperate as he pleaded for Blair to understand, "No…don't you understand? I do need you. Incacha wouldn't let me take you to the Temple of Light because it was too dangerous for you. I had to protect you from that. God, Blair, don't you remember? You said the difference between me and Alex was that she had lost her way. I didn't…you know why? Because of you. You're 'my way'…you keep me anchored, focused. Because of you I didn't let the water in the grotto seduce me away. Do you hear me? Chief? Dammit, Sandburg, don't you quit on me! Don't you let go!"
Blair didn't say anything, too weak to respond. But, he gazed for a long moment into Jim's eyes, seeking the truth of his words, aching to believe them but unable to do so. Worse, the empty hollowness he felt inside told him that it didn't matter anymore…he just couldn't do this anymore. Sighing softly, he blinked and then his eyes closed as he drifted into unconsciousness.
Jim trembled with fear as he curled around his Guide, tightening his grip. "Blair, please…don't go," he whispered as his lips brushed his friend's forehead. "You're my best friend, my partner…my Guide. I can't bear to lose you. Please…" His voice cracked, the lump in his throat blocking further words. Blinking against the helpless tears in his eyes, Jim looked up and around the jungle, crying out, "Incacha, help me! I'm losing him…I don't know what to do."
"You care so much, you who said you could no longer trust him? Who pushed him out of your life, denying the friendship that binds you?" the old Shaman asked, materializing in front of him.
"Yes…yes, I care. You know that!" Jim shouted, frustrated by the tests, the games. "Don't take him from me."
"It is not I who threatened his life," Incacha replied sternly. "Your Guide offered up his life to protect yours. What would you offer for his?"
"Anything…I'd give anything to save Sandburg. Take my senses. God…take my life in place of his," Jim grated, his voice hoarse.
Incacha studied them both intently, with no little compassion. "A Sentinel needs his Guide to survive, and his Guide has no purpose alone. The two of you have failed to understand that you are no longer wholly separate beings, but two souls now united as one. If you can accept that, you can save his life. But, beware, Enqueri, if you reject him again, he may be lost to you forever."
The Shaman faded from sight, leaving Jim confused and shaken. He looked down at the fevered, unconscious man in his arms. Closing his eyes, he conjured up visions of Blair, so many visions of his best friend standing by him, guiding him, teaching him, anchoring him. Blair smiling brightly, or grinning like an urchin, eyes dancing with merriment. He heard his friend's voice in his mind, steady and confident, sure as he showed Jim how to control and use his senses, never wavering…heard bright laughter, rich and warm. Felt Blair's touch on his arm, shoulder, back…keeping him grounded. He let the unconditional love of his Guide wash over and through him, feeling as if his heart would break at the thought of losing all that Blair was.
Opening his eyes again, he took a deep breath as he pulled Blair closer and bent to gently kiss his brow. "You have given me all that you are, Blair Sandburg. You've shared your knowledge unstintingly, your faith in me never waivering. You have always been there for me, right from the first moment…and you've shown me how to love without expectation, even when I've hurt you. God, Chief…you've risked your life for me without hesitation. I don't deserve any of it…but I know I need you to be complete. I…I love you as I have never loved anyone in my life before. I don't know how to do this, but I swear that I accept you are my Guide, that we are one soul…I vow to you to protect you, to try to be what you see in me. I am your Sentinel and you are my Guide…now and forever. I swear it to you. Please, Blair…believe me…."
His voice cracked with intensity, and he took a deep, steadying breath as he wrapped his arms around Sandburg, bowing his head to rest on the damp curls. He couldn't control this, not any of it, and he had to finally accept that fact…accept that he needed Blair to be whole. "I surrender…" he whispered.
A blinding blaze of light erupted around them, blotting out everything else, as if they were surrounded by flaming energy. Ellison heard a wolf howl and a jaguar scream…and he felt again the perfect knowledge he'd experienced in the Temple of Light just before everything went black.
When Jim came to, he found himself on the floor beside Sandburg's bed, Simon cradling his shoulders and head, as he patted his face anxiously, calling to him, "Jim, for God's sake man, wake up!"
Pushing Simon's hand away from his face, struggling to sit up, Jim murmured, "It's alright, Simon…I'm fine."
"Damn it, Ellison, you have to stop scaring me like this! I swear, I don't know how Sandburg stands it. You about gave me a heart attack when you keeled over," Simon exclaimed, helping Jim to sit, then stand, keeping one hand on the shaky detective's arm to steady him.
"Sandburg!" Jim breathed, turning toward the bed, grabbing his buddy's hand with his own. "How's he doing?"
"Better, I think," Simon replied. "The news that the infection started in Mexico was of great interest to the doctor. It seems they were having difficulty identifying the bacteria in Sandburg's system until that point. They've changed his medication."
Jim was only barely listening as he monitored Blair's heart rate and his breathing, relaxing a fraction as he noted his friend's lungs seemed to be less congested. But, he felt his knees go weak with relief when Blair's lashes fluttered as his buddy blinked, then focused on him, frowning a little in confusion at not being able to speak.
"Easy, Chief, there's a tube in your mouth helping you to breathe," Ellison explained gently, somehow understanding the question in Blair's eyes. "It's good to see you back…you're going to be okay."
Sandburg gazed at him for a long moment, his eyes clouded with something Ellison didn't understand as his fingers lay limp and unresponsive in Jim's hand, and then he faded back to sleep.
Simon looked from the Guide to the Sentinel, feeling as if he was lost somewhere in the Sandburg zone. But, the broad smile on his face seemed to indicate that he didn't mind it a bit. So long as Blair was going to recover, he was a happy man.
But, it wasn't going to be that easy. Though the fever finally broke as the infection came under control, and Sandburg was able to breathe on his own, the young man did not regain consciousness. Jim couldn't understand it…he'd been certain that when Blair had awakened briefly that everything was going to be all right.
But, Blair remained in a coma…and the doctor's face grew ever more grim as time passed. It was clear that he wasn't at all convinced that Sandburg was going to recover.
It was another two days before Simon could persuade Jim to return to his apartment to get some much needed rest. Ellison was surprised when he let himself in to find the loft returned to normal, the furniture and wall decorations back in place.
Stunned, he turned to look at Simon, who was smiling at him gently with warm understanding. "Everyone chipped in to help," his captain explained. "We brought your stuff up from the basement and retrieved Sandburg's belongings from his office. We probably got a few things wrong, and it might take weeks to really sort out your kitchen, to find everything, but we did the best we could."
"You did great," Jim replied, smiling in gratitude. "Just great. Thanks, Simon."
"You're welcome, Jim…just don't pull any of that weird shit again, alright?" his Captain replied, slapping him on the shoulder.
"Believe me, Simon, I never want to go through anything like that ever again," Ellison assured him, shaking his head as he sighed in memory. "Never, ever again."
At the captain's insistence, Ellison showered then slept for several hours. He knew as well as Simon did that he wouldn't do Blair any good if he collapsed in exhaustion. But, he dreamed again of hunting the wolf…and of Blair, dead at his feet. Jim woke with a cry of denial on his lips. In minutes, he was dressed and on his way back to the hospital. Whatever was going on, whatever else the vision meant, one thing was only too clear…Blair was still in danger of dying.
When he got to the hospital, he found there was no change. Blair was still deeply unconscious, unresponsive to everything around him. Though he was breathing on his own, his lungs were again becoming congested and the doctor said if things didn't improve soon, he'd have to put Sandburg back on the respirator.
Dazed, frightened, Ellison sat down at his friend's side and gripped Blair's hand with one of his own. "Hey, Chief," he murmured, "Come on…you're beginning to scare me. Wake up already, okay?"
But, there was no response, just the endless droning beep of the machines monitoring Blair's heartbeat.
What was wrong? Why wasn't Blair waking up this time? Jim frowned heavily as he tried to understand what was going on. But, sitting here wasn't going to give him any answers. Reaching forward, he laid his free hand over Blair forehead and closed his eyes as he squeezed his friend's hand. Letting himself drift into the trance, Jim sought to find Blair again in the jungle.
He heard the growl of the jaguar and opened his eyes to the dim green rainforest. Blair was sitting on the bank of the stream, his back to him. If he was aware Jim had arrived, he gave no sign.
"Hey, Chief," Jim called softly as he moved to sit beside his friend, "What's going on? Why are you still here?"
Turning his head a little away, avoiding eye contact, Sandburg shrugged.
Frowning, Ellison laid a hand on Sandburg's shoulder, startled when Blair flinched away and then froze as if he'd surprised himself. Blair was still as naked as the day he'd been born, though the wounds on his body looked a lot better and there was no evidence of fever or congestion. Looking down at himself, Ellison realized he was again dressed in his old camouflage. "Blair…talk to me," he insisted softly.
Shaking his head briefly, Sandburg then cut a glance toward Ellison. "What do you want me to say?" he asked, his voice remote.
"I want to know what's going on here," Ellison responded, concern clouding his eyes.
Shrugging again, Blair replied, "How should I know? Hell, I don't even know why I'm naked and you're not." But, he was still evading eye contact. Actually, Blair was pretty sure he had figured that much out…he was naked as a symbol of his vulnerability, his complete lack of any shield or defence against whatever his Sentinel chose to do to him. But, knowing that only increased his reluctance to return to a world where it seemed he had to surrender himself so completely with no guarantees of any kind in return.
"You know I can tell when you're lying," Jim replied tightly having picked up on the accelerated heart rate and shallow breathing.
Irritated, Blair didn't respond for a long moment. Finally, turning to face Ellison, he admitted reluctantly and warily, "I don't know if I want to go back…"
"What?" Jim exclaimed, baffled and suddenly afraid. "Why not? Chief…I don't understand…"
"I know," murmured Sandburg wearily. Finally, accepting there was no avoiding this conversation, Blair shifted to face Ellison. "Jim…if I go back, I know I have to be your Guide…I know now I don't have any choice about that. But…I don't know how that's going to be possible. So much has happened…I'm not sure I can trust you again…and if I can't, then how can we be partners…friends…?"
"Oh," Ellison murmured, shocked and surprised. He'd thought when Sandburg had raced out to save his life that Blair had forgiven him. One more assumption bit the dust. Swallowing to moisten a suddenly dry throat, licking his lips, he replied softly, "I'm sorry, Chief…I really let you down. I know that. But…I promise I've learned my lesson. If you give me another chance, I swear I won't hurt you like that again. I won't doubt you or shut you out. I was wrong…I know that now. Please…give me another chance."
Dark blue eyes seemed to bore into his soul as Blair studied him and weighed his words. It was all or nothing for the Guide. He couldn't commit himself only half way. If he went back, it would be with everything he had, everything he could give. He could see the pain and regret in Jim's eyes, the sincerity and the hope of reprieve. Finally, he nodded. What else could he do? He was a guide and his sentinel needed him. But he really didn't think he could take being hurt like that again so he hoped that Jim meant to keep the promises he was making.
"All right," Blair whispered as he looked away, his face still pale and bleak. "I'll come back."
"Thank you," Ellison had time to murmur with a quaking voice before the forest faded away and he was back in the hospital room. Blair still seemed to be unconscious but his fingers suddenly twitched and clasped his own. Blowing out a long breath of relief, Ellison hung his head, blinking back tears that embarrassed him.
His Guide was coming back to him…his best friend was giving him another chance.
A week later, Sandburg was well enough to return home. Blair didn't remember much of those moments in the jungle, only scattered, shattered images and words. But, he and Jim had talked once he'd finally regained consciousness, and he'd been relieved at what Ellison had said, telling him in no uncertain terms that the loft was his home, too, and that Jim wanted him back in his life, needed him back. More than the words, which Ellison found hard to say, his natural reticence and discomfort with emotion again choking him up, Blair had heard the conviction and commitment in Jim's voice, seen it in his partner's eyes, and he believed they'd gotten past the worst, that they would be all right. Resolutely, he'd thrust his own anxieties aside and gave himself over to wholeheartedly reassuring his partner that everything was back to normal.
As Jim supported him through the door to the loft, the detective said warmly, "Welcome home, Chief."
Looking around at the restored loft, seeing his things back in place, hearing the sincerity in his best friend's voice, Blair turned to him with a broad, bright smile, light glowing from his eyes. "Thanks, Jim," he murmured, "I gotta tell you, man, it's really great to be home."
Relieved, Ellison smiled back…and promised himself that Blair would never have reason again to doubt that this was his home or that he was both needed and respected as a partner…and a friend.
Good intentions, sincerely meant…but in a few short months, the Sentinel would again be doubting the integrity of his Guide. He'd be forgetting Incacha's warning that should he reject his Guide again, betraying the bond of trust between them, he might not get another reprieve….
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