"This is great, three days with nothin' to worry about but catching dinner." Jim was grinning as Blair entered the kitchen, still bare foot and yawning. "Come on Chief, breakfast will be ready in a few, then we hit the road."
Blair tried to nod his compliance and yawned again, "I know, just didn't sleep much last night. I'm coming." He forced his eyes wide open and cleared his throat, waving a hand towards the stove-top. "What's this?"
"Eggs." Jim replied. "You know, breakfast."
"Yeah, I know breakfast." Blair replied somewhat sardonically, "But I thought that was my job."
Jim poured water into the coffee pot and flipped the switch. "Yeah, well. You weren't up yet, I was." He glanced at Blair and shook his head. "You gotta sleep more. This work all day, write papers all night, can't be good for you." Jim took Blair by the arm and physically pushed him towards the bathroom. "Let's go, Chief. The fish are biting." He propelled the younger man down the hallway and returned to the kitchen, flipping on the radio as he passed by. "I took the liberty of marking the map last night, so no more 40 miles in the wrong direction."
"Funny." Blair replied as he entered the bathroom. "Real...funny." He yawned again and stared at his image in the mirror. He did have to agree, these all nighters in front of the computer were getting harder. His paper was humming right along, but there was just so much to get down. Some days he considered staying home and working during the day, but he just knew the one day he missed with Jim would be the one day he was needed. Not that he felt too needed anymore, not like before. He shook his head, more to banish those thoughts than clear the lingering desire to close tired eyes. From down the hall he could smell the coffee, and the thought of a full three days of camping and relaxation began to perk him up.
It was then Blair remembered that he, too, had taken the map out late last night, and had better make darn sure it was packed. He swung the door open and had taken two steps into the hallway when Jim's fist contacted his cheek with such force he was thrown to the floor. Stunned, Blair's first instinct was to call out for Jim. But even as he fell, he realized it was Jim who had just hit him.
"What?!" was all he managed to cry out before he felt Jim's hands on his back, lifting him up. This isn't happening, he thought. This isn't happening! In the next instant Jim's knee came up and slammed into Blair's ribcage, knocking him back and into the bathroom again. He gasped for air and looked up at Jim, and saw a stranger. Jim was there, but he wasn't. Somehow, through the pain that threatened to make him sick to his stomach, Blair registered the vacant look in his friend's eyes. Then, just as suddenly as the attack had begun, Jim turned and walked away. Blair instinctively slammed the bathroom door shut, knowing as he did that a man of Jim's build could take the door down with one swift kick. Just like the one that was making it hard for him to breathe.
"Hurry up in there, your eggs are getting cold." Jim called from the kitchen.
Blair's head was swimming, as was his stomach. What just happened? He tried to straighten up and had to lean on the counter for support. What just happened?! Jim's eyes had been vacant, as though he wasn't there, not in control. Not aware. Was that possible? The desire to vomit passed and Blair tried to stand, shakily. What now?
"Come on Chief, did you fall asleep in there?" Jim knocked on the door, "You okay?" he asked.
"Just a minute." Blair tried to answer back, but his voice cracked and the effort to speak made him wince. He saw the handle turn and jumped as Jim opened the door.
"What's wrong...?" Jim's worried expression turned to shock as he looked at Blair, grasping his stomach, large purple bruise already forming on his right cheek. "What the hell...?"
Blair pulled back instinctively when Jim reached out for him, trying but failing to hide the look of fear that crossed his sometimes too expressive face. "Nothing, I'm okay." He hurried to say, turning away from his friend. He needed time, more time. "I just need a minute." His head was still spinning. Obviously Jim had no idea what had just happened, and he didn't either.
Jim reached out and grabbed Blair's shoulder, forcing him around. He opened his mouth to speak but his eyes settled on his own hand. The hand on Blair's shoulder, or more importantly, the large bruise beginning to take shape there. He pulled his hand away and examined the mark more closely. "What the hell happened, Sandburg?" He asked, feeling the now sore knuckles with the fingers of his other hand.
Blair's face flushed and he couldn't look at his friend. "I don't know." he admitted. "You tell me."
"What the hell happened?!" Jim's voice took on an edge of panic. He reached out, intending to shake Blair, make him start talking sense, but the hurt in the younger man's eyes, the pain and fear he wasn't quick enough to hide, tore at his heart. "Oh my God." He said slowly, realizing, though still not understanding, that somehow he and he alone was the cause of Blair's pain.
Jim opened his mouth to speak again, but changed his mind. Turning, he hurried out of the tiny room and into the kitchen, where he busied himself with making an ice pack. Blair let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding and let himself sink down to sit on the edge of the tub. His hands were shaking. His right side hurt with each inhalation. And his mind was suddenly numb. Something had set Jim off. Something that sent him into a blind rage, and left no memory of the occurrence. But what?
"Okay, you can handle this. There IS an explanation." He said, mostly to reassure himself. With great effort, Blair stood, and slowly, very slowly, made his way down the hallway. Jim was there, still standing beside the freezer, with ice in his hand and more wrapped in a towel on the counter. Blair paused, then forced himself to enter the kitchen. He was scared, for the first time in their acquaintance, and he didn't know what to do. Ten minutes ago he would have trusted Jim with his life, but right now, right then, he was scared.
"Here, put this on that bruise." Jim pushed the iced towel across the counter, towards his friend. He started to say more, then looked away.
"Jim..." Blair began, but was cut off as Jim marched from the kitchen and picked the truck keys up from the table. "Jim, wait a minute, we have to talk about what just happened." He moved towards the door, but Jim was already there, grabbing a jacket.
"Stay here." Jim replied, gruffly.
"Wait, we need to talk about this." Blair tried to reach out, but a sudden piercing jolt from his injured side stopped him short.
Jim saw him grab his side, wincing, and turned red-faced. "Stay here." he demanded, then slammed the door behind him.
"Dammit, Jim. I need to talk
about this." he said, but the already closed door didn't answer. "I need to
know." Blair stared at the door, willing Jim to turn around in the hallway
and come back. At the same time, he was glad Jim was gone, at least for now. He
needed to think, needed to calm down. There was a logical explanation, there had
to be, and he needed to find it. He needed to know what Jim had felt, what he
remembered, what he was doing just before...He needed to sit down.
Jim hurried out to the truck, his thoughts in turmoil. He didn't understand what had happened, but the bruise on his hand, the slow throbbing of his right knee, made it plan to him that he had--somehow--hurt Blair. And had no memory of it. He reached the truck and climbed in, but shoved the keys in his pocket instead of the ignition. Shaking hands grabbed the steering wheel in an effort to gain control. Jim closed his eyes, tried to breathe like Blair had shown him, tried to remember the last twenty minutes.
He was cooking, ok...so that was unusual lately, but he was, none the less. Blair came out of his room, not dressed yet. He teased him, something about the eggs, then went to the bathroom. No, not went, Jim corrected himself automatically, he had pushed Blair down the hall. That's right, then went back to the kitchen. The weather report was on the radio, he had just turned it on. The eggs were done, the coffee nearly so. He told Blair to hurry, heard a noise--what was it? Blair said something, that was it, Blair said something and he sounded sick, or hurt, something wasn't right. He remembered knocking on the door, and opening it, and seeing Blair.
"Nothing." Jim opened his eyes. "Dammit Sandburg, I can never make this work by myself." He was torn with the need to go back upstairs, talk to Blair, make him explain what had happened, and the fear that what ever it was would happen again. My God, I could have killed him. Could have killed him and gone back to making eggs. "This is insanity." he said out loud. Taking a deep breath he removed his hands from the steering wheel, checking their steadiness. Control. It was always about control. Jim couldn't stand being out of control in any way. His Sentinel abilities sometimes made him feel like he had no control, like he was being taken outside of himself. Blair had taught him how to stay in charge, stay focused, but he needed the younger man beside him in order to feel truly in control. He couldn't admit it, couldn't really understand it, but he needed Blair more than he knew sometimes. And now this.
Resolutely, he climbed out of the truck and slowly walked back to the loft, pausing for a moment before opening the door. Once inside he quickly scanned the living room for any sign of his housemate. There were bags sitting beside the coffee table, and for a second Jim panicked, then recognized them as their camping gear.
"Jim, are you ok?" Blair was walking slowly, right arm held close to his side, but the enthusiasm that often exhausted his older friend was back in his eyes, replacing that look of so few minutes ago that had caused Jim's chest to almost physically tighten. "I was afraid you left. Jim, this is incredible...."
"Wait a minute, Chief." Jim held up both hands to quiet his friend. "First of all, this is not incredible. It's anything but incredible." He backed away so that the couch was between him and Blair. "Do you know what happened? Do you realize what could have happened?"
Blair stopped, nodding his head in an effort to make his friend understand. "Yes, I know what happened. Well, almost. Maybe not exactly but in theory, yes."
Jim stared at him, incredulous. "If you know, then spit it out Sandburg. What the hell happened?" He gestured to his own face, "I did that, didn't I? Somehow between one second and the next, I tried to kill you, and can't remember doing it."
Blair smiled the way he always did when he'd just made a discovery, or found a new aspect of Jim's own actions. "That's the key, that you don't remember." Blair took a step closer and Jim instinctively stepped back. "Don't you see, somehow, something must have affected you on some sort of--" he waved his hands in the air, but winced a little with the action. "some sort of subliminal way. I tell you, man, the look in your eyes--you just weren't there. One minute you're...." his voice faltered, unable to say it out loud. "then the next minute, you just walked away. Like a zombie or something." His enthusiasm level, which always seemed to Jim to be inexhaustible, visibly increased.
"So what exactly are you saying, Sandburg? That something made me loose complete control of myself? And if so, what was it? Why did I..." he too faltered, unable, or unwilling to confirm the truth by speaking it. "And how do we stop it?"
He saw the younger mans eyes drop, "I don't know. Not yet. But I will, Jim, if you'll just work with me on this and stop running out."
Jim shook his head, unable to look Blair in the eyes for a moment. "So, what do we do? I don't want to, do that again."
"Ok, neither do I." Blair admitted. "But the only way to stop it is to find out what happened and get control."
"I need fresh air." Jim said suddenly. "How about you stay here, rest up. I'll go camping and come back, and you'll have this all worked out." Jim moved to pick up his gear.
"Wait, no. How am I supposed to solve this without you here?" Blair reached out to grab Jim's arm, "We'll both go, like we planned. What ever happened, it happened here. Maybe it's something to do with--I don't know--just don't fix me breakfast out there."
Jim's face flushed with a moment of guilt, then he shook his head. "I don't think so Sandburg." What he wanted to say, what he couldn't say, was that he was afraid. Afraid of what he might do, afraid of hurting Blair again. He was afraid for his friend. He could protect him from the police work, most of the time. He could protect him from just about anything. But how could he protect him from what had just happened? What might happen again? Blair wasn't just a guide, wasn't just a housemate. He was a friend. One of few. He had come to depend on the younger man for support. Sometimes he wondered which one of them was really in control, even on the job. Blair was his balance, the annoying kid brother he never had. He could no longer imagine his life without Blair somewhere around, somehow a part of it.
"Look, Jim." Blair tried his quieter voice, the one Jim seemed to respond to more. "We've been together for months now, this has never happened before. We'll be fine."
We'll be fine, Jim thought. "It's not me I'm worried about, Chief." he said.
"Hey," Blair smiled, "At least if you turn around and find me dead, you can be pretty sure who did it."
"That is NOT funny." Jim felt his anger flare. "I could kill you and not know it. You really want to take that chance?"
That was it. Just yes. Yes, and that look in his eyes that spoke volumes. "Okay, let's go. You solve this thing by the time we get back or..."
"We'll talk about that when we get back." If we get back, he thought.
"Yes!" Blair said in triumph, though he said it quietly. "Let's go." He had reached out for his bag but Jim stopped him.
"I've got it, just lock the door behind us. Oh and grab the radio, I don't want to get caught in another storm like last time. We're checking the weather every night this trip." Blair's expression did much to cheer him then. He could handle the kid's enthusiasm, sometimes. He could handle his almost childlike excitement when making a discovery. But he knew he never again wanted to see the hurt, the pain, the betrayal, that he had seen in those eyes that morning.
The three hour drive to the river past without incident. Of that, Jim was grateful. He had forced Blair to listen to his Santana tapes all the way there, using the music to deter conversation. He was also grateful, in a selfish way, that the now purple bruise on his friends face was on his right side, and he didn't have to see it during the drive. He did notice though, the occasional shifting in the seat, the sudden intake of breath that he tried so hard to suppress. More than once Jim had been tempted to turn the truck around and drive to the nearest hospital. He should have checked Blair's ribs, he should have said more. Hell, he should have said something. He never could say what he knew should be said. It just wasn't his nature, never had been. Blair was different, more open, more expressive. But he knew when they were together, Blair tried to be more in control of his own emotions. Maybe he was having too much influence on the younger man's attitude. Maybe he should be the one changing. Why didn't a Sentinel have better emotional capacity?
Those thoughts kept him company the entire drive. Blair seemed to understand his silence, and responded in kind. He busied himself with his notebook, reading over old notes, adding new. Jim hoped when they arrived at the river they could just fall into a nice fishing trip routine, keep the conversation light, enjoy the time away from work. But he knew that wouldn't happen. This weekend could very well spell the end of their relationship, and that thought tore at his heart in a way that surprised him. If there was something outside of himself, something environmental, that could cause him to loose control like that in public, maybe go on some shooting spree. He couldn't let that happen. If Blair couldn't find the cause, and a solution, he would have to take drastic measures to insure not just his friend's safety, but everyone's.
"Left here Jim." Blair had looked up from his notebook just in time to see the old logging road they needed to take.
Surprised out of his revere, Jim quickly braked and turned sharply to the left, just making the dirt road that would lead them to the campsite. The sudden jerking of the truck caused Blair to grab at his injured side.
"I'm sorry." Jim said, "I didn't see it. I'm sorry." He was blubbering and suddenly clamped down, not saying anything more.
Blair just nodded, glancing at him with those damn eyes.
They reached the river an hour later, and Jim felt some of the tension flow out of him. The trees, the water, the sounds of a bald eagle flying above them, seemed to bring his mind back into a rhythm of familiarity. Jim instructed Blair to ready the fishing gear while he set about putting up the tent they would share and unloading the heavier gear from the truck. He considered for a moment putting his own sleeping bag in the back of the truck, but changed his mind. They had been camping before, like Blair said, and had nothing go wrong, other than the occasional missed turn or crucial camping item not getting packed. Jim truly enjoyed these trips with his friend, it was good to have at least one thing in common that they didn't argue about.
It wasn't long before they were both standing peacefully in the river, casting for dinner. Jim stayed focused on his casting, refusing any thoughts other than fish to enter his mind, for now. After his third catch he noticed Blair staring at him, a look of complete disgust on his expressive face.
"You're cheating." Blair replied, pointing down the river where Jim had just cast his fly. "You can see them in there, can't you?"
Jim smiled innocently and raised his arms "I don't know what you mean, Chief."
"Fine, just fine." Blair replied, pulling in his line. "You catch the fish superman, I'm going for a walk."
Jim laughed out loud, watching his friend leave the water and dismantle his pole. He was cheating, in a way, casting his line into the direct path of the fish he could easily see swimming several yards away, under the shimmering waters. But what good is Sentinel eyesight if you didn't use it? He stopped laughing and went back to work, but the smile stayed on his face.
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