by Kristine Williams
And then there was that man. The one Jim had been beating. Killing. God, the thought sent a strange feeling through his gut. Blair was so confused by his own reactions to the memory, he didn't hear the shower turn off, or Jim getting dressed. By the time Jim passed him on his way upstairs, Blair was totally absorbed in the memory. When he came back downstairs and began to make breakfast, Blair's mind was as confused as ever.
"Where have you been?"
Blair looked up, startled to realize Jim was halfway through making breakfast. "Um, just thinking." He hardly knew where to start. Or even if he should.
"I know what you mean." Jim flipped on the coffee pot. "There's something we need to discuss, Chief."
You were going to kill that guy. Come on, say it! "What's that, Jim?"
"I think it's time we put an end to this observer work. It's gotten way out of control."
Blair froze, staring at Jim, who continued to crack eggs into the pan. The fear and uncertainty he'd been feeling about Jim's beating that man suddenly intensified into something that scared him even more. "What are you talking about, Jim?"
"You were never supposed to get hurt doing this. It's research, remember?" Jim finished with the eggs and brought the pan and two plates out to the table, then went back for the coffee.
Blair reached out for a plate and realized his hands were shaking. He managed to clutch the plate before Jim returned. "Listen, Jim..."
"No, you listen." Jim set two cups of coffee down and sat, looking Blair in the eyes. "You were suppose to help me with these Sentinel senses, not get yourself shot at, beaten, and everything else that's happened since you started working with me. That's it. It's over."
The finality in Jim's voice was like a knife through Blair's stomach. "No, no way, Jim. You're not dumping me this easily." The shaking in his voice was audible even to Blair.
"Sandburg, I'm not dumping you," Jim replied, holding his gaze. "You'll stay here, and work with me on these senses. But no more cop work. It's too dangerous, and not what you signed up for."
"No, Jim." God, it was his nightmare come to life! All this time, Jim convincing him this would never happen, and here it was, happening. "I have to be with you, I can't just phone it in or something."
"Well, it's just too dangerous, Chief. End of discussion." Jim proceeded to eat his breakfast.
"No, it's not the end, Jim. Come on, man, you need me!" His desperate plea was hampered by his inability to take deep breaths, and he realized his sudden wincing from the stabbing pain in his side wasn't helping his case much.
"That's right, Chief. I need you. But I need you alive." Jim sighed, then set his fork down. "This isn't about you, Blair. You're not a cop, and being put in these situations constantly, well, it's bound to catch up. And if and when that happens..." Jim faltered for a moment. "Well, I can't let that happen."
Oh God...Okay, just take it slow. "Jim, things happen. You were there, and it all worked out, just like it always does. It's no more dangerous for you than me."
"Seeing you in that hospital, being hurt like that...it really sucked." Jim clenched his jaw, then continued. "Besides, it's my job, Sandburg, not yours."
"No, Jim, it IS my job. I'm your Guide." Blair could feel the desperation welling up, but he had to maintain control, or Jim would never be persuaded.
"Being a Guide isn't a job, Chief, it's..." Jim faltered again and seemed to be looking at something behind Blair.
"It's not a job in the conventional sense, no." Blair ignored the far-off look that flashed across Jim's eyes and took the opening. "But there's nothing conventional about being a Sentinel either."
"Listen, I'm too tired to have this discussion. Sleeping on the couch wasn't my plan." Jim picked up his empty plate and returned it to the kitchen.
Blair sighed, somewhat relieved to hear him call it a discussion. So, maybe it wasn't a new commandment, and there was still time? Maybe if he just let Jim calm down, get past this case, they'd all just go back to life as usual, no hard feelings. After all, when Simon and Daryl were missing in Peru, Jim and he had gone through something similar. That had worked itself out. Maybe so would this. But then, why was his heart skipping so badly?
"You should get some rest, Chief." Jim returned from the kitchen and placed a hand on Blair's shoulder.
"Yeah." Blair nodded. He didn't want to say anything that might bring Jim to a final conclusion, not until he was more in shape for a fight. Jim had to see reason, but he was too tired to go up against the mountain that he'd have to face in order to convince his partner that he needed to re-think his logic. One thing Blair had learned, finally, was that you had to have proof and a good argument when you came to Jim Ellison about anything. And right now, he was too tired and too scared to come up with anything Jim might be apt to listen to. He stood slowly, grateful for Jim's supporting hand, then made his way back to the bedroom.
Jim kept a hand on his arm the entire way, and Blair let him help ease his sore body back down to the bed. If it was true, if by some freak of terror Jim was going to keep him from working with him again, he'd have to find a way to cling to whatever part of Ellison the man was left for him. He couldn't lose his Sentinel, not after going through all of this to get him, but he couldn't live without his friend, either.
"You gonna be okay for a while? I'd like to take a nap."
"Yeah, I'm fine, Jim." Blair eased his legs onto the bed. He was feeling tired all over, and thought maybe some sleep would clear his head of all these emotions hammering down on him.
"Did you take all your pills?"
Blair laughed slightly. "Yes, Jim."
"Okay. I'm gonna get some sleep upstairs this time. That couch wasn't terribly restful." Jim turned and walked out of the room, stopping just outside the door. "Listen, if you need anything, don't raise your voice. I can hear you fine."
Blair nodded, settling in against the pillows. "Thanks, Jim." He watched as Jim left, then listened to him walk up the stairs to the room right above his own. God, this wasn't going well. He just had to cling to Jim's last statement. It was still a discussion. It wasn't over, and there was still time to come up with something to convince Jim he was over-reacting. And that's all it was. Blair was sure of that. He had to be. Just overly upset at what had happened. That's all. He'd been so enraged at the time, he was killing that guy! That's all it was. He'd calm down in a few days or so, and it would all be okay.
But then, why wasn't he calming down? Blair's heart was still racing a little, and he didn't think it was due entirely to the drugs. The fluttering feeling in his stomach was still there, and kept wanting to climb up his throat. He reached a hand up and ran it through his hair, stopping himself short of exclaiming his frustration out loud. Jim would just hear him, and that might start the argument all over again. No, he needed time. Maybe if he just ignored this morning, let it all fade away with the bruises. Yes, that was probably it. Jim seeing Blair still bruised and sore was just reminding him of that entire episode. Of course! He was killing that guy. That was it. Jim had lost control, and was killing that guy, and that's what has him so upset. Blair sighed, gently so as not to elicit another stab of pain, and settled his head more deeply into the pillows. That was the problem right there. Jim was upset with himself for losing control. He'd calm down in time.
Blair's conviction, coupled with the drugs, finally led to sleep.
By the time Blair finished in the bathroom, he was exhausted all over again. He had insisted on taking a shower, alone. Four days without a shower and pulling his hair back had been more than he could stand. Moving slowly, and taking the pills Jim kept insisting he take, had made it possible to basically stand in one position while the water ran over him. It took him ten minutes and several times telling Jim he was fine to get himself toweled off. By the time he pulled on his sweat pants, and the zip-front sweatshirt jacket Jim had given him, he was nearly sweating again. Surprisingly, the pain wasn't all that bad, as long as he remembered to move slowly and not make any wide gestures or movements with his arms. He walked out to the living room and eased himself onto one of the couches, with Jim's help. His partner was on the phone, but he came over the instant Blair approached the couch, cradled the phone between his chin and shoulder, and didn't even skip a beat in his conversation while he helped Blair sit down.
It was early evening, and Blair hoped all these naps and drugs wouldn't screw up his normal sleeping pattern. Jim had slept most of the afternoon as well, but then he never seemed to have a problem adjusting. Blair had seen Jim stay awake for three days, only napping on occasion, and then return to a normal pattern after just one good sleep. Must be an army thing. He didn't see how it would be a Sentinel thing. Or maybe it was. He was too tired himself to consider it much. He got comfortable against some cushions and listened to Jim's conversation.
"No confession yet?"
It was with Simon, about the two men they had arrested. The feeling Blair had tried to overcome crept back into his gut as he listened. He wanted to talk to Jim about the case, but that might bring back the issue he had mentioned this morning, and he was not ready for that yet. If he ever would be.
"Okay. I'll expect him then."
Jim hung up the phone and Blair looked up, still afraid to bring up any subject that might set his partner off.
"Agent Mills is coming over in an hour. He's gonna need your statement to wrap up this end of the case." Blair nodded, raising his eyebrows slightly but saying nothing. "Listen, we're about out of everything, and he might as well stay for dinner, huh?" Jim crossed the room and retrieved his coat from the hanger. "Will you be okay if I go to the store?"
"Yeah, Jim. I'm fine."
"You're sure?" Jim started to put on the coat, but was obviously waiting for an answer.
Blair nodded. "I'm fine. Just leave the door unlocked, okay? In case he beats you here."
"I won't be that long, Chief." Jim picked up the cordless phone and handed it to Blair. "All right, I'll leave it unlocked."
Blair had just opened his mouth to protest when Jim agreed. "Thanks. Hey, don't forget coffee filters."
"Right." Jim picked up his keys then opened the door. "Anything else?"
Blair thought for a moment. It had been a few days since he'd even been in the kitchen. He shook his head and Jim left, shutting the door behind him. Blair listened for the locks, but Jim remembered. It was always his habit to lock everything, and since David Lash's remodeling of the livingroom, Jim had put in stronger deadbolts.
Blair set the phone down on the cushion beside him, fished the remote control out from under his butt, and flipped on the television. There wasn't anything on but news, so he settled for the weather report and tried to use that as something to focus on. Anything to keep his mind from Jim telling him it was over. No, it couldn't be. He was just upset, and needed some time to cool down. Blair couldn't picture his life back the way it had been. Sure, he could go on if he had to, go back to the research, back to the University. But he didn't want to. Hell, maybe he couldn't even if he wanted to. It just wasn't the same. He just wasn't the same. No, Jim would change his mind, given a little time. Blair just needed not to push it. It would be hard, but he'd have to play along, keep quiet for the time being.
There was a knock on the door that startled him out of his thoughts. The weather had just ended, so he couldn't have been daydreaming all that long.
"Who is it?"
"Oh, hey, come on in." Blair flipped off the television and turned to face the door as it opened, allowing the immense form of Agent Mills into the loft. "Hey, Jim said you'd be coming by. He just stepped out to the store. Come on in."
Agent Mills closed the door then turned back to face Blair. "I'm probably early. I told Captain Banks I'd stop by, to get your statement and talk to Ellison."
"Yeah, we were expecting you. Have a seat."
Mills crossed the room and got comfortable in the chair facing the couch where Blair sat. "How are you feeling?"
"Much better, thank you. Anything new with the case?" If Jim wouldn't talk about it, maybe Mills would.
He shrugged. "Not much more than we had the other day. Oh, that's right, you've been out of the loop lately, haven't you?"
Blair nodded, smiling a little. "Yeah, kind of."
"Well, those two Ellison brought in, Edwards and Patterson, they claim no connection with the other three kidnappings and murders. Of course, we expect that. But that's for the lawyers to worry about."
"What about a third man?" Blair asked. He was still convinced Jim couldn't have been blindsided by someone already in the bathroom.
Mills looked thoughtful for a moment. "You believe there was a third man too?"
Blair nodded. "There had to be, for Jim to be taken out like that."
"I agree, but unfortunately, we have no proof, no witnesses, and those two aren't talking." Mills shook his head, then ran a hand through his flaming red beard, stroking the hairs down. "Did you see anything?"
"No." Blair shook his head. "I didn't even get a look at the guy who took me out. It happened too fast."
"Well, chloroform acts quickly. You're usually out before you hit the ground."
Blair nodded, remembering the incident as well as one other. It had worked fast. So fast, Blair had no memory of the attack at all. Unless...
His thought was interrupted by someone coming through the front door.
"Ellison, can I give you a hand with anything?" Agent Mills stood, walking towards Jim as he stumbled into the loft, trying not to drop the four grocery bags.
"Ah, thanks." Jim relinquished one of the bags. "Listen, will you stay for dinner?"
Blair was relieved to hear Jim's tone as he and Mills carried the bags to the kitchen. Maybe having this case wrap up would set him right.
"Sure, if it's no trouble, I'd kill for a home cooked meal. All this travel and hotel food, really gets to you after a while."
"I know what you mean." Jim laughed. "Here, you're off duty, right?" Jim pulled a beer out of the refrigerator.
"I am now." Mills smiled and accepted the beer.
"Hey, Jim...?" If they were going to be relaxed and happy, he sure as hell wanted to join in.
"Not on those medications, Chief." Jim checked his watch. "Have you taken them recently?"
Blair rolled his eyes. God, Naomi hadn't even been this mothering. "Yes, Jim."
"Good. You want tea, or water or something?"
"No, I'm fine. Thanks, Jim." Great. Sitting on the couch, with Jim and Agent Mills towering over him, really added to the effect. "So, where are you from?" Maybe a change of subject would help.
Mills crossed the room and sat back down in the chair. "I'm assigned to LA, but I'm from Michigan originally." He took a long pull on the beer, then glanced out the windows. "It's really nice up here, though. I wouldn't mind a transfer to this area."
"Yeah, well, you've caught us in good weather," Blair replied, glancing at the evening sunlight streaming in.
They passed an hour talking about the benefits of Cascade versus Los Angeles, then about Agent Mills' family back in Michigan while Jim made dinner. Blair kept the conversation on track, seeing Jim maintaining a good mood and joining in. As long as they avoided the case, until maybe they could sneak it back in, he was willing to do anything it might take to promote Jim's good mood. By the time dinner was ready, Blair had a new respect for Agent Mills. His own niece had been the same age as the last victim killed by the kidnappers. No wonder the man looked so weary.
During dinner, Blair listened as Jim and Mills discussed the military versus the FBI for background experience. He enjoyed watching and hearing the two men good-naturedly defend their respective backgrounds as being the best place to learn. Blair was fascinated, listening to the two of them, and thinking of the men they were. He'd always been impressed with Jim, and his experience and personality. Now he was gaining more respect for Agent Mills, a man he had barely known when all this started. For such a large man, he was very soft and gentle, with a depth that spoke of emotional involvement in each and every case. He was a man who took crime as a personal attack, yet somehow maintained just enough detachment to do his job without losing his mind. How he found that balance, the balance Jim was always telling Blair about, he'd never understand. Jim was controlled, and sometimes detached when he needed to be, but he was never unfeeling. Finding that medium, that balanced point between uncaring and emotional overload, was something Blair wondered if he'd ever manage. Studying Jim and his ability to go through this life of his on such a controlled level was almost as intriguing to Blair as his Sentinel studies.
By the end of dinner, Blair was feeling tired again, and the drugs he had taken earlier were beginning to wear off. The occasional stab of pain through his side caused him to wince, and he did his best to hide the action from Jim. They'd nearly made it through the night without bringing up that morning's argument again. Of course, having Agent Mills there might have helped. Jim would never air a grievance in front of someone else. But, Mills couldn't stay until Jim changed his mind. Blair would have to do that. Somehow.
"So, you never saw who hit you?"
The agent's question brought Blair back into the conversation, and he realized he was talking to Jim.
"No. It happened too quickly, and I was focused inside the mens room. If there was a third man, and they don't turn him in, we'll probably never know." Jim set his coffee cup down and ran a hand over his short hair. "What about the money? You said it wasn't marked, so none of it has been recovered?"
Agent Mills sighed, shaking his head. "No. They knew all the ways we had of marking money, and promised to kill the victim if they detected anything. With Keller, when the family admitted they had no money, my superiors authorized a payoff with marked bills, standard operating procedure. They found every mark and trace we had, got away with the money, and killed Mr. Keller that afternoon. With Mr. Neal, we put tracers in the briefcase, but they made a switch halfway through the delivery. By the time Miss Mueller was abducted, we were taking no chances. The money was paid, and every attempt at tracing the case and the delivery was made, but like I've said, the directions given, and the many switches and changes in direction were just too hard to follow."
"What about serial numbers?" Jim asked.
"Sure, we've got those. But that only helps us if they try and spend or deposit the money in the US. If they take it out of the country, they'll have it half spent before we get wind."
"So, if none of the money was recovered, and these two you caught swear they were working alone, then there's 8 million out there waiting for someone to find it." Blair shook his head. "But if there was a third man, he'd get the money and get away with it."
"That's right, Chief. So, if there was a third man, Edwards and Patterson either figure they'll get off, and their partner will be waiting, or they've got the money stashed someplace that even he doesn't know about, and they figure 8 million is worth waiting for."
"They've got a long wait, if that's the plan. The two of them will be going up till they're both far too old to spend any of it," Mills said. "Personally, I'm getting too old for some of these guessing games." He stood, stretching his back until Blair heard it pop. "As long as we've got these two, and the kidnappings have been stopped, I think it's worth 8 million. Knowing that it isn't going to happen again." Jim stood as well, but Blair realized if he tried to move, he'd regret it. "Thanks for dinner, beats the hell out of hotel food."
"Blair, you take it easy."
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