Blair's gaze again fell to the floor.
"But that's all I'd give up." It was time to finish that talk they'd so clumsily stumbled through in the truck that night. "Blair, what do you fear?"
It was nearly a minute before Blair could look up. "What do I fear?" He glanced around the room quickly, then settled on Jim. "I fear this, Jim." In the kitchen, the water started to boil, but both men ignored it. "I'm an anthropologist studying a case, or at least I was for about a day." He laughed shortly. "Ever since that first case, with the Switchman, I've found myself inside the world I was supposed to study."
"You weren't supposed to study a world, Chief. You signed on to study me, remember?"
"Yeah, that's exactly my point." The teapot began a quiet whistle. "I was studying you, but then one day I looked around, and I found myself inside it all. I became part of what I was studying and I couldn't get out. I didn't want to get out. But now, I'm faced with having to give that all up just to save that very world."
"Whoa, hang on right there." The teapot's whistle grew in intensity. "If I ever do give this Sentinel thing up, that isn't going to change anything else. Look, Sentinel senses or not, Chief, I've learned to depend on you. You're not Incacha, you never will be. And he could never have been you, or done for me what you do. If I wanted Incacha, I would have returned to Peru months ago."
"The water's boiling." Blair moved to get up, but Jim reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling him back down.
"It can wait. You fear being involved in your own life, don't you? In this life, right here." Jim kept hold of Blair's arm, adding as much physical language as verbal.
Blair nodded, looking up at Jim after a moment.
"What I feared was responsibility. But I realized the best way to protect those I needed to was using my senses, not denying them." The teapot began to scream for attention. "The best way for you to deal with this new life of yours is to accept it, and learn how to live it, not run from it because it gets harder than you expected sometimes." He paused, holding his partner's gaze. "You haven't let me down, Chief."
"Jim, the pot's going to boil over."
He let go of Blair's arm and let him get the water. Watching him make the tea and set the doughnuts on a plate, Jim was struck with the truth of Blair's statement. The kid had always watched life, and observed living. Since meeting Jim, he was forced to live it, to become what he was studying. For someone raised the way he was, spending his adult years watching and taking notes, to suddenly find himself inside the subject to the point of being it, must be a hard thing to admit.
"So, what about it, Chief? You want off this rollercoaster?"
Blair stopped what he was doing and looked out at Jim. "No. No, Jim, I don't." He looked at the tea again and set the lid back on the pot. "But I don't want that rollercoaster killing anyone, either. Killing you, I mean."
"Blair, you say the word, and I'll drop the whole Sentinel thing. But that's all I'll drop. Sentinel senses or not, you're my partner and my friend. The rest is your decision."
Blair stared at the steaming cups for a minute, then shook his head and sighed. "No, you're right, Jim. There has to be another explanation for what happened." He picked up the plate of doughnuts, balanced it precariously over the two cups, and carried the load out to the coffee table. "I mean, it doesn't make any sense at all that you could be so sensitive to so many things. That bottled water was an unusual circumstance. It had to be." He handed Jim a cup. "And even if you managed to suppress your Sentinel senses, your body would still have the capability."
"And I'd still be overly sensitive to things."
"Right. So that whole idea, now that I think about it, wouldn't have worked anyway."
Jim smiled, watching his friend go from depressed and worried, to his normal, overly enthusiastic self. He'd heard some pretty deep things, absorbed them as much as he dared, and now was trying to move ahead and not let anything mess up what had just been restored. Typical. One of these days, he was going to sit that kid down, have a deep discussion, and make him talk about how it made him feel. But not today. Just keeping him around was enough for today.
"Hand me a doughnut, Chief."
Blair complied, then sat down on the opposite couch, blowing on his tea. "The doctor didn't find anything wrong with you, so whatever this was, it had to be so subtle it wasn't noticeable."
The pastry in Jim's hand was making his fingers tingle slightly, just enough to make him notice it over what Blair was saying. Cautiously, he directed a Sentinel sense of smell at the doughnut.
"Jim, what's wrong?"
"I don't know." He smelled sugar, flour, grease,
buttermilk, and almonds. Just as his mind identified each smell, his stomach knotted
up as if remembering an old illness vividly. "I think we just found our cause,
"Ellison, shouldn't you be home and in bed?" Simon burst through the swinging doors, entering the lab with a rush of wind and stale cigar odor.
"I'm fine, Simon, how about yourself?"
The Captain scowled, then looked at Blair. "What is he doing here? I thought the doctor told him to stay home for two days?"
"We think we found something, Captain," Jim interjected, saving Blair from the frown that engulfed Simon's entire face. "We're just waiting for some results."
"Found something? Like what?" Simon's tone came down several notches, entering a more conversational range as he glanced around the laboratory.
"We're not sure yet, sir. That's why we're down here."
As if on cue, Rebecca came out from around the corner, smiling. "Well, I did find traces of cyanide in the doughnut. Such a small amount, I would have missed it if I wasn't looking."
"Cyanide? On a doughnut?" Simon's scowl returned.
"A trace amount? Like if someone had been using it for something else, then touched the doughnuts?" Blair was able to ignore Simon altogether.
As was Rebecca. "Yes, that would fit. Like I said, it was such a trace amount, I'm sure anyone could have ingested this much and had no adverse reaction. Or, possibly gotten a stomach ache, or flu-like symptoms for one day. It's really large doses, or small ones over a period of time, that kill."
"Could small doses, over a period of say, a couple of weeks, kill someone and make it look like something else?" Jim thought back to the first time he noticed the baker's wife looking ill.
"Yes, definitely. A small amount, say, sprinkled over a pastry or stirred into a drink, given over many days, or weeks depending on the amount, would kill someone gradually. Probably giving the appearance of a wasting illness."
"But why, Jim?"
"Let's go find out, Chief."
He'd been going to that same bakery for three years. All that time, Mr. and Mrs. Reichmann had seemed a happy, older couple living out their later working years doing what they loved. In fact, they were planning retirement next year, already passing on the business to a younger team.
When he and Blair, along with Simon and a few other uniformed officers, arrested the kindly old baker, Jim could smell the almond-scented poison throughout the entire house. The paramedics guessed they were just in time, Mrs. Reichmann still assuring them all she was fine as they lifted the weak, shaking woman from what was intended to be her death bed.
Mr. Reichmann was brought back to the Station, where Jim quietly watched him from across the table.
"Why did you do it, Mr. Reichmann?" He kept his voice calm, questioning the man who sat, head bent and shaking, facing him.
"I thought it was the best way." Mr. Reichmann sighed, looking small and older than Jim had ever seen him before. "Her health was fading. The doctor bills were too much for what we would have after retirement. And we had to retire. My arthritis wasn't getting any better, and neither of us was getting any younger."
"Why the slow poison? If you decided to kill her, why not just do it?"
Mr. Reichmann looked up sharply. "I couldn't! It had to be slow, so she would die believing it was her health. How could I send her to heaven thinking that I'd murdered her?"
Jim shook his head and sat back. "I don't understand how you could murder your wife. Let alone worry about how she'd feel about it." He stood, motioning to the uniformed officer in the corner of the room. "I hope your wife lives, Mr. Reichmann, for her sake. Not having to share her retirement with you should help make her senior years comfortable." The officer tapped Mr. Reichmann on the shoulder and pulled him to his feet. "You'll be taken care of too, for the rest of your life."
Outside the interrogation room, Jim found Blair standing next to Simon.
"Hard to believe anyone could think that was going to be the best thing for his wife." Simon shook his head and stuffed a new cigar into his mouth as the officer and Mr. Reichmann walked down the hallway.
"He wasn't thinking about her. He wanted to make sure his twilight years were lived in comfort."
"I thought living in comfort was about being with the people you cared about." Blair looked from Simon to Jim. "I mean, wouldn't you rather end up in some nursing home with your wife, than spend the rest of your days alone and lonely?"
Jim shrugged, then put an arm over his friend's shoulders. "I don't know, Chief. Apparently Mr. Reichmann didn't think so."
Simon struck a match and puffed his cigar into life. When he had a good glow, he pulled it out and waved it toward Blair. "Sandburg, take this guy home, would you? He's supposed to be out on sick leave this week, and he still finds the energy to solve crimes."
"Always on duty, sir." Jim laughed, then pulled Blair toward the door. "Come on. If we hang out here too long we'll be sent back to work."
Back home, Jim went straight for the shower to wash off two days and nights of being away from home while Blair gathered up all of his food research and began to put it into his computer, convinced it would come in handy sometime, even though this time it had proven not to be a Sentinel related allergy.
Jim stood under the hot spray for a long time, letting the heat relax tired muscles and wash the sweat and oil off. From the living room, he could hear Blair keying in all of his research, occasionally talking to himself, and making one trip to the kitchen where he made a pot of coffee. It felt good to have him back to his usual inquisitive self. Though his moment of doubt and insecurity may have been brief, with Sandburg, it was no less upsetting. The idea that Jim needed to abandon his Sentinel senses, just because there might be a chance they had come upon an obstacle too large for Blair to handle, was both too hard to believe, and warmly comforting.
"At least there's more to this than the adrenaline." Jim turned off the water and reached out for a clean towel. The click of computer keys from the living room had stopped, and the smell of coffee wafted in from the kitchen. After drying off, Jim wrapped the towel around his waist and walked down the hall, following the smell. He found the coffeepot half full, and his partner sitting outside on the balcony, gazing out at the sunset.
Jim went upstairs and dressed warmly, then glanced down at Blair. He was wearing Jim's old sweatshirt, holding a mug of steaming coffee, almost in one of his meditative moods from the looks of it. Deciding it might be best to keep the kid company, Jim went back down, poured his own cup of coffee, and stepped outside.
"Hey, Chief, you feel like company?"
"Jim, yeah." He sat up just a bit, pushing long strands of hair away from his eyes. "I called the hospital. Mrs. Reichmann was lucky, they think she'll be okay."
"Good, that's good." Jim sat, stretching his longer legs out to rest on the table opposite his chair.
"And they ran another test on your blood samples, found the same minute trace of cyanide that Rebecca did."
Jim nodded, then sipped his coffee. "Makes sense."
"Mr. Reichmann must have just applied that stuff to his wife's cookies, then handled the doughnuts you bought." Blair shook his head. "I just don't understand why it took all day for you to react the way you did. The bottled water might have caused the cyanide to become reactive, or in some way enhanced the affect. Or it could have--"
"Sandburg, can we give this chemistry quiz a rest just for tonight?"
"Oh, sure, Jim."
They both leaned back and watched the sun sink out of sight. Before long, a bright yellow orb replaced it, rising slowly over the opposite side of Cascade. The moon was nearly full, and in just one more night, would be.
"Look at that." Jim sighed, remembering the ceremony for Incacha's son. Almost violent in its emotion, and yet oddly cathartic. Still, he'd said his goodbyes already. At least, he thought he had. Fragments of a dream tickled the back of Jim's memory, but refused to focus.
"Incredible," Blair agreed. "You know, Jim, I was jealous of Incacha. I think I always was, ever since you first told me about him."
Suppressing a smile, Jim turned and looked at his friend. "I know. I don't know why, though."
"He knew so much more than I ever could, about the Sentinel thing."
"Blair, he was a tribal shaman. And don't give me any of that Shaman of the Great City stuff." Jim pointed a finger at Blair, holding his attention. "You're the Shaman of me, kid. I'm not sharing you with the entire city."
Surprise, then humor flashed across Blair's face. He started to laugh, holding up both hands defensively. "Okay, okay. Whatever you say, Jim."
"Damn right." Jim smiled, finishing his coffee. He set the cup down, then looked back at Blair. "So, we okay again?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, we're okay, Jim."
"No more worrying yourself sick over things you can't control?"
"Well, I don't know about that."
"I thought as much." Jim reached out and cuffed Blair's head. "Just keep it down to a small mountain next time, and make sure you worry out loud, okay?"
"Now, I'm freezing out here. How about we order Chinese?"
"Sounds good." Blair stood and followed Jim inside. He found the menu Jim kept tacked to the refrigerator and reached for the phone.
"That's one thing you can't get in Peru, good Mongolian beef." Jim plopped down on the couch and dug the remote out from between the cushions, flipping on the news.
"And now another takes my place. Do not let him go, Enquiry."
"Don't worry," Jim whispered. "I won't."
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