As the promise of caffeine began to wake him, he remembered the past two days. More importantly, he remembered the solution that had practically slapped him in the face while laying on the exam table in the emergency room. Gingerly he rolled onto his left side, keeping one arm wrapped protectively over his injured ribs. Easing into a sitting position, he noticed the glass of water and two prescription bottles on the night stand. Propped against the glass was a note in Jim's handwriting. He picked up the note, squinting in the morning light.
That was all the note said. Quick, simple, to the point. Jim. Blair smiled and reached for the bottles. He didn't like chemicals, didn't really care for modern drugs, but he liked pain even less. He took the required amount and stood slowly, realizing then he was in his sweats and barefoot. He couldn't remember getting home that afternoon. He remembered the hospital, remembered they wanted him to stay, but that was when he understood what he had to do, and in his excitement, convinced the doctor to let him go home that same day. But that was it.
"Jim." He called out, cleared his throat, and tried again as he made his way slowly toward the bedroom door. "Jim..?"
No answer. He had just reached the door when he noticed the blanket draped over the chair near the door, and the half cup of cold coffee on the table. Blair ran a hand through his hair and continued slowly down the hall. "Jim?"
In the kitchen he saw coffee dripping into the pot, then spotted Jim, half standing half leaning against the counter.
"Jim?" Blair raised his voice just enough to startle his friend awake.
"What?" Jim jumped awake, suddenly alert, looking around.
"Good morning..?" Blair raised his eyebrows, smiling. "Jim, did you sleep? You look awful."
Jim inhaled deeply, forcing tired eyes wide, "Sure, I slept." he replied, reaching for the pot of coffee. "Just had to get up early, to meet your friend."
Blair stopped, leaning into a stool for support and reached for the cup Jim was offering. "What? My friend? What are you talking about?"
Jim smiled and moved to the couch, rubbing his hair and stretching. "You don't remember any of that night, do you Chief?"
"Well, not much I guess. No." Blair admitted, trying to remember anything after the hospital, and failing.
"You slept in the truck all the way back. Then when I got you up here you perked right up and started insisting that I call your friend at the University, Charlie something."
Blair nodded, recognizing the name, if not the incident. "Charlie Jackson..." suddenly he remembered the significance. "Oh man, you mean I told you about him, about the radio station? I can't believe it." He shook his head, "I don't remember anything. Except that I wanted to tell you."
"Well you did." Jim was smiling. "In fact, until I promised to call him, and drive over there for the tape, you wouldn't shut up."
"So, did you?"
"Yes, Sandburg, I got it." Jim produced a cassette tape from his back pocket. "I got you to lie still long enough to fall asleep, and called him. I drove over there at six this morning to pick it up." He tossed the tape down on the coffee table. "I'm still not sure how a tape recording of a sound that turned me into raging zombie is going to help stop it from happening again."
Blair laughed at Jim's description, then moved, slowly, over to the easy chair next to the couch. "It's simple." he said as he sat down. "That sound was a stimulus to your subconscious, and you unwittingly reacted in an automatic response."
"Yeah..." Jim was still skeptical, but he seemed willing to listen.
"So we have to work on your subconscious. We have to change the patterned response, give you some way to react that is positive, and just as instinctual"
Blair shrugged, "I dunno, something. Anything other than..."
"Other than 'go kick the crap out of Blair'?" Jim offered.
Blair's face flushed and he nodded sheepishly. "Yeah, anything other than that."
Jim stood, "Okay, let's get this over with." He walked past Blair and started up the steps to his room.
"Whoa, where are you going?"
"Just get the tape ready, Chief, I'll be right there."
Blair set his cup down and reached for the tape recorder on the floor next to the couch. He quickly slipped the tape in, and had to stop himself from automatically wanting to check the recording. Even with the volume all the way down, he was sure Jim would hear it. "Okay, Jim, I'm going to need to..." he began, then stopped, glancing up the stairs. "Or did I already explain this last night?"
Jim had found what he seemed to be looking for and was coming back down. "No, Sandburg. You were rambling. I barely understood what you wanted from the University radio station." He returned to the living room and sat in a chair opposite Blair. "That's why I stayed up with you all night."
Blair looked up from the tape recorder, startled. "You stayed up?" he asked.
Jim nodded, looking away for a moment. "Yeah, I stayed up." he replied matter-of-factly. "The doc said you shouldn't be left alone, and those pain pills had you coming and going. I slept in the chair, in your room."
Blair wanted to say something but knew anything he said would just make Jim uncomfortable. "Okay, well. I need to get you relaxed, very relaxed, so I can plant a suggestion in your subconscious." Jim was nodding, but had a very skeptical look in his eyes. "No, Jim, this will work." Blair insisted. "Trust me."
Jim inhaled deeply, then looked at Blair. "I do, Chief. I do."
"Okay, now, just get relaxed." Blair motioned to the couch.
"No, we do this my way." Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out two sets of handcuffs.
"What are you doing?"
"Keeping you alive, Sandburg." He put one set on his right wrist, securing his hand to the arm of the chair, then tossed the other set to Blair. "Come on, we do it my way, or not at all."
"Jim..." Blair began to protest.
"No." Jim nearly shouted, then took a breath. "Blair, it's safer this way. If this works, fine. But if not...You know I could snap your neck in sixty seconds and still have time for coffee."
Blair stood slowly and reluctantly picked up the handcuffs. "Yeah, I know." he said. "Okay, we'll play it your way." He attached the cuffs to Jim's free hand and secured it to the chair. "But it's gonna work."
Jim tested the cuffs, then eased back into the chair. "Okay Chief, let's do it."
Blair sat back down on the edge of the couch, just out of reach of Jim's longer legs, he hoped. "Okay, remember the breathing...you're relaxing, letting all the tension flow from your body. That's right. You're safe, alone, quiet. The only sound you hear is the sound of my voice." Blair paused, trying to judge if his friend was truly relaxing or just faking it. "The only sound you hear is the sound of my voice. You're safe. You're relaxed." He paused, picking up the recorder. "Now, there's another sound, a sound other than my voice. I need you to listen to that sound, and tell me how it makes you feel. But you have to remember, that sound can't hurt you. You're safe here, and that sound can't hurt you here. Do you understand?"
Jim nodded slowly, "Yes, I understand."
"How do you feel right now?"
"Fine. Just fine." Jim replied.
"Now, I'm going to let you hear the sound, but you must stay calm, because it can't hurt you here. I just want you to tell me how the sound makes you feel." Blair braced himself, willing his own nerves to calm down. He knew how dangerous it could be if he lost control of Jim while in this suggestive state. And keeping control of Jim meant keeping control of himself.
"Okay, I'm going to let you hear the sound, just for a moment, then it will be gone."
Blair hit 'play' and slowly turned the volume up so he could hear it as well as Jim.
The very instant the tape began Jim's entire body tensed, straining against the handcuffs that held him to a chair Blair suddenly realized could be smashed easily by a man of Jim's strength. Seconds after turning the tape on, Blair shut it off.
"It's okay, your safe...the sound is gone. Only my voice is here now. You're relaxed again."
Jim physically relaxed in the chair.
"Okay, now, the sound is gone, it can't hurt you here. I need to know what you felt when the sound was here. What did it make you want to do?"
Jim's eyebrows furrowed and he shook his head. "Survive." he said. "Defend." he paused. "Kill."
That startled Blair for a moment, but he quickly recovered. "Okay, okay. So you feel threatened?" Jim nodded. "You feel threatened and need to protect...yourself?"
"Survive." Jim replied.
"Okay. You need to survive." Blair moved closer out of habit. "You have survived, Jim. You have survived, and you are safe here. There's no more need to attack intruders and defend yourself." Blair realized Jim's reaction was on a very basic, almost animal response to intrusion. "You have survived, you are safe, no one can hurt you or take anything away." he continued. "Now, knowing that, there is no more need to attack. You are on top, there is no competition." Fleetingly Blair realized he was only going to add to Jim's ego if he continued in this manner. He had to replace the response, but with what?
"Okay, Jim, listen to my voice." he said, smiling now. "Since there is no more need to fight, no more need to survive...the sound doesn't make you feel threatened anymore. You have no enemy, and the sound no longer makes you feel bad. In fact, you feel good. When you hear the sound, you feel relaxed, happy." Blair paused, wondering if he should continue with his current train of thinking, then decided to go ahead. "Now Jim, when you hear the sound, you feel very happy, very relaxed. It makes you laugh. It's the funniest thing you've heard in a long time."
"I'm going to play the sound again, and it's going to make you feel very good. The sound can no longer hurt you." Or me, he thought. "Are you ready?"
Jim nodded, still smiling.
Blair flipped the switch again, bracing himself. For an instant, Jim tensed in the chair. Blair was ready to shut it off and had nearly done so when he saw his friend relax, then begin to laugh. Blair smiled,
"Jim, how do you feel?"
Jim was laughing now, "Great. I feel great."
Blair nearly began to laugh as well, but the effort started his ribs to ache. "Okay, I'm going to stop the sound now. You're relaxed. You're at home, everything's fine. I'm going to count to ten, and you're going to wake up feeling fine." Blair paused as Jim's laughter subsided. "And every time you hear that sound again, you're going to feel just as happy and relaxed as you just did."
Blair counted to ten slowly, then waited for his friend to open his eyes.
"Well?" Jim asked, looking around the room in mild surprise. "Did it work?"
Blair was grinning, "I think so." he replied. "I need to test it now that you're awake again."
Jim took a deep breath, once again testing the strength of the handcuffs on each wrist. "Before you do..." Jim dropped his eyes to the floor momentarily, then looked Blair in the eyes. "I just wanted to--about the other day when I...."
Blair waved a hand in the air to stop him. "It's okay." he said. Jim had just apologized in the only way he could, Blair knew. It was more than he ever expected to hear from his friend. It was enough.
Jim nodded and looked away, accepting that Blair forgave him without having to say so. "Let's do it."
Blair rewound the tape, then slowly and deliberately hit play. As the sound of the emergency broadcast system could be heard from the tape player, Jim began to smile. Within seconds, the smile became laughter.
"Jim?" Blair asked, eyebrows raised. "Jim, how do you feel?"
Jim couldn't respond through the laughter, and soon Blair joined in, holding his side. "It worked!" he couldn't believe it himself. It worked! He shut the tape off, and immediately Jim's laughter died off.
Blair was grinning ear to ear.
"What? What happened?" Jim demanded. "What did I do? Did it work?"
Blair started to smile, still holding his side . "Oh yeah man, it worked."
Jim looked skeptically at the younger man, sitting on the couch with the biggest grin on his face. "What did I do, Sandburg?"
"It's what you didn't do that matters." Blair replied, still grinning. "Jim, you didn't even try to get up. It worked. I replaced your territorial aggression with something else, and it worked."
"Territorial aggression?" Jim inquired. "Is that what I was doing?"
Blair nodded, "Yeah, I think so." he nodded. "The need to survive, to protect your territory." Blair indicated the apartment with a wave of his hand. "It's basic behavior. But on a more instinctual level, one that most of us have overcome in society. But your Sentinel abilities allow you to work on a level more like instinct instead of learned reactions."
"So, you fixed it?" Jim still sounded skeptical, but there was an unmistakable note of relief in his voice.
Blair nodded, trying not to laugh again. "Yeah, I replaced it. Now, when you hear the tone, that behavior has been replaced with another."
Jim eyed the younger man for a full minute, waiting. When Blair didn't respond, he raised his eyebrows. "Okay, what? What did you replace it with?'
Blair just grinned.
"Sandburg, what?!" Jim tried to get up, then remembered he was still cuffed to the chair. "I could still snap your neck, Chief. Let's not forget that."
Blair reacted with mock fear, then smiled. "Relax, Jim. I just suggested that you feel very happy, very relaxed." he replied, standing up. "So, where are the keys?"
Jim eyed him for a moment longer, then pointed with his head. "Up there, on the dresser."
Blair glanced up the steps that led to Jim's room. "Up there?" he asked, "All the way up there?" He held both arms around his ribcage, feigning a dizzy spell.
"Okay, okay. Up there." Blair smiled again, getting up slowly and making his way leisurely up the steps. "I dunno Jim, maybe we should go over this a few more times. Make sure it took hold...?"
"Hurry up, Sandburg." Jim replied. "I'll be late for work."
Blair stopped halfway up the steps. "Jim, it's Monday. Three day weekend, remember?"
This time it was Jim's turn to smile, "That was yesterday, Chief. Today's Tuesday." He laughed lightly at Blair's surprise. "You slept, more or less, all the way through."
Blair reached the top of the steps, shaking his head in wonder. He didn't remember anything after leaving the hospital, and yet he had been home for over a day. And Jim had slept in the chair in his room. Whether out of guilt, or friendship, Blair didn't know. But either way, Jim had obviously cared for him, even if he could never admit it. He found the keys on the night stand and grabbed them, turning back to make his way gingerly down the stairs. For a moment, as he descended, he felt a little guilty about the reaction he had suggested to Jim. He knew at some point in his friend's life, he would hear that tone again, and burst into uncontrolled laughter for no apparent reason. It could prove embarrassing. It could cause some questions. Maybe he should do it again?
"Here," Blair uncuffed Jim's right hand, then gave him the keys. "I have to get dressed."
"Hold on there Chief, you're not going anywhere."
Blair turned, ready for an argument, but Jim held up a hand.
"I promised the doctor, you stay home and rest for a week." Blair had opened his mouth to protest but Jim stood, placing a hand on his shoulder. "No arguments." he said, tossing the handcuffs to the coffee table. "If anything exciting happens, I'll call you. I promise." He smiled. "You're my partner, remember?"
Blair stopped the protest forming on his lips.
"Besides, how am I supposed to explain that?" Jim lightly touched the blackened mark on Blair's cheek.
Blair smiled sheepishly. "Oh, yeah." he admitted. "Okay, I'll stay. Maybe I can get some work done. This subliminal stuff is fantastic. I'm gonna have to think it over awhile, but it's fantastic."
Jim laughed at the younger man's enthusiastic response to paperwork as he put on his coat.
Blair picked up the tape recorder and another cup of coffee on his way back down the hall. As he heard the door shut behind Jim he was popping the tape out of the machine, ready to toss it in the wastebasket.
He smiled, and put the tape back in. "Nah, I think I'll just hold on to you for awhile." he said. After all, if Jim was going to make him stay home all week, the least he could do, was enjoy his evenings.
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