"Come on, why don't you make some tea or something, and we'll talk."
Blair sighed and nodded. "Yeah, okay." He reached out and flipped on the gas, checking to make sure there was water in the pot he kept there. Jim smiled slightly, nodding his head, and walked out to the living room to sit on one of the couches. It didn't take long for the water to boil, so Blair pulled down a pot and found his best relaxation tea, then turned off the gas and filled the pot, taking his time unintentionally.
"I had lunch with Beverly today." Jim's voice was in such a perfectly conversational tone, it took Blair a few seconds to realize what he had said.
"Really?" He carried his cup to the living room and sat down in the chair, facing the fire. He was not going to worry. He was not going to worry. "What's up?"
"Nothing new. It's going as well as she thought, with Kostov coming in tomorrow afternoon. His testimony alone will do a lot of damage."
"And the other cases? She can't use them, can she?" The Ebola virus scare, which should have kept him in prison for life, or the kidnaping of him and Jim that was supposed to have left Brackett dead at the bottom of a waterfall. None of that mattered in this case.
"No. The CIA has a black flag up." Jim took a drink, then glanced at the fire that had taken off nicely. "Don't worry about it, Chief."
"Well I am worried about it, Jim." There. He'd said it. Oh God, he said it! Maybe he should have gotten a beer, instead of tea that was still too hot to hide behind.
"I know," Jim replied, his voice quiet. "That's why I wanted to talk about it."
"Look, Jim, I'll be fine."
"I know you will."
"I just...I just wasn't ready to deal with this. Not now." Not ever. He did need a beer, after all. He got up, then motioned towards the kitchen before Jim could protest his leaving. Once there, he dumped the tea, and pulled out a bottle, discarding the cap into the trash before returning to the couch.
"Sandburg, I know it's hard. It never gets easy, and there's no such thing as a sure-fire case, no matter how prepared you, or anyone else is."
Blair took a long drink, listening to Jim. That was the first time his partner admitted that this case, as sure as it might seem, could still go horribly wrong. It wasn't what Blair wanted to hear. But, he knew it hadn't been easy for Jim to admit, either. "So there's a chance he'll get off."
Jim shook his head, and leaned forward on the couch, both arms outstretched in his explanation pose. "No, Chief, not get off. There are too many charges against him. I just want you to understand, that no matter what happens in there....No matter what they may say, or imply, you're not alone in this. I'll be right there. And Beverly will be in control. You just do what she said, keep your answers short, and to the point, and don't let anything upset you."
Blair nodded. "Thanks, Jim." He took another drink, a long one, and a little voice inside his head chastised him for using chemicals to calm his nerves. He ignored it. "When you met Beverly, did you go in?"
Jim seemed to understand what he was asking. "Yes, I saw him."
Blair nodded, raising his eyebrows as he glanced at the floor in front of him.
"It wasn't easy, Chief," he said. "But it was gratifying to watch him get his day in court. You'll be fine."
Blair nodded again, silently mouthing his agreement. He would have said something then, but the phone rang. Jim got up to answer it, and Blair leaned back on the couch, trying to force his mind into a soothing mantra. Trying to think of anything but tomorrow.
"Yeah, Mike, what have you got?"
Blair looked up for a moment, then let his eyes rest on the fire, allowing the dancing flames to serve as a focus while he blurred his thoughts. He felt his heart rate slow to an even, resting pace. Felt his breathing fall into a rhythm. He watched as the flames jumped, casting a warm glow in the darkened room. Somewhere, deep inside his mind, a numbness began to spread. Before he understood what was happening, a feeling of detachment had come over him, and he felt as though he was outside of himself, out of control, and yet oddly quiet. The flames were dancing before his eyes, and he couldn't look away. Suddenly, one of the flames stepped out of the fireplace, and to his frozen horror, walked toward him as he sat, on the couch, completely unable to move. He wanted to shout---to scream for Jim, but he couldn't move--couldn't speak. And the flame--the flame was coming closer!! The flame had a face--it was coming closer and he couldn't move! This isn't happening! This is NOT happening! God--Oh God--not again!! This can't be happening! He tried to move, tried with all his might to move his head, and look at Jim. If he could look away---look away from the flame--it would stop. The illusion would stop. There!---God, it dropped!!---It fell through the floor Jim!! Jim, they're coming!! NO! This was not real---it was NOT real!!
Blair couldn't move, couldn't scream, and two more were coming out of the fire!! Two more---coming at him! WALKING towards him! Dammit Jim!! It's a nightmare---right? Just--Just a nightmare!! He was asleep---that was it--he was asleep and this was one of the nightmares! Oh God, where did they go? The two flames---they were here---where did they go?! Down?! They went down again--just like before when they--NO! This wasn't real!! It couldn't be real!! Oh God!! Three more---three more are coming--they're coming out---JIM!!
They're coming out and going down---Just like before! Down to the street---No, the garage---No, he was home--he was home--this wasn't real!
A gun---get a gun---stop them!! Jim can't stop them---You have to be his eyes!! The gun was in his hand--squeeze it!!
A violent shake snapped his neck back and he was finally able to move, to see Jim standing over him, clutching both of his arms, shaking him out of the trance. There was something wet on his hand, and he groggily gazed down, seeing moisture mixed with blood, dripping from his left hand. They were gone---It was gone.
"Sandburg, what the hell happened to you?!" Jim was still holding his arms, his voice raised in a desperate attempt to break the hallucination.
"I'm okay....I'm okay." Blair knew his voice was shaking as much as Jim was shaking him. His eyes darted back to the fire, and Jim moved to block his view, forcing him to meet his eyes.
"What the hell was that?!"
Blair took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. The flames---they were still there! He opened them again quickly, focusing on Jim instead. "It was just...A flashback, I think."
"Your heart is racing. You were totally zoned out for nearly three minutes, Chief." Jim was still blocking his view of the fireplace, and still holding his arms. "The doctor said this would happen. Is this the first time?"
Blair nodded, unable to speak again yet. It had been so real! He knew he was to expect flashbacks, but---It had been so real! He could still see it---Still see them. If he closed his eyes, they were right there, waiting---Watching! And Jim couldn't see them---couldn't see---Stop it!
Jim let go of his arms, but stayed in-between him and the fire. "Give me your hand."
Blair looked at his left hand again, noticing the blood there and the bits of beer bottle fragments. "Oh, man, Jim I'm sorry." There was glass and blood mixed with beer on the rug beside the couch. Jim reached out and took the injured hand that Blair wasn't offering up.
"Come on, Chief, we gotta get this cleaned up." Jim pulled him off the couch and he didn't resist.
Idly, Blair thought they were going to clean up the mess, but instead, Jim led him to the table and forced him down, then went to the bathroom and retrieved the first aid kit. Blair had no energy left, and didn't even feel the cut Jim was cleaning out. He was exhausted! The visions still clear as day in his head. Visions that had been so real to him before. They were just as real---just as terrifying--the second time around. Only this time, the nightmare wasn't followed by a four day stint in intensive care. Small wonder, considering the racing heart and complete lack of strength he was now feeling.
"...scared me half to death, partner." Jim was saying. "Is that what it's like for you, when I zone out?"
"Yeah, I guess so, yeah." Only your zone outs don't scare the shit out of you. "Ow!" He was coming back to his senses, and now felt very clearly the cut Jim was rubbing salve into.
"It's not too bad. Here, hold this."
Blair took hold of the gauze Jim had placed over the cut in his palm and held it in place while he unrolled several inches of gauze strip and some tape. "I'll clean up the mess."
"No, you'll go to bed. I'll clean it up." Jim began to wrap the gauze around Blair's hand.
"Blair, you're pale, you're exhausted, and that little episode of yours was enough to give me nightmares." He finished with the gauze and applied the tape. "No arguments."
He wanted to argue. He was afraid to close his eyes now...afraid they'd still be there, waiting, watching. Was it going to be like that every time? So real? And what had triggered it? Staring at the fire? The stress he was letting himself fall victim to? Or just a random occurrence, that could repeat at any time, for any reason? God, he was tired!
"Jim, I'm sorry."
"Don't, Blair." Jim had picked up the kit and returned it, and was now gathering some cleaning materials from a cupboard in the kitchen. "It's not your fault." He walked to the living room and began to carefully gather the glass fragments. "Are you okay now? Do you need to talk about it?"
"You mean like you've been talking about your nightmares?" Blair shot back. Instantly, he regretted it. He brought up a hand and shook his head tiredly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."
Jim sighed. "Look, Chief, I was going to talk to you about it tonight, until..." He stood and walked to the kitchen with the glass, then stepped over to the table where Blair still sat. "I don't think you're taking enough of your own advice, here. Stress can do a lot to the mind and the body, and even more when you deny it's there."
Blair rolled his eyes just slightly. Those words did sound a bit familiar. It was just easier to see stress and its related problems in someone else, instead of himself. "Yeah."
"When this is all over, the nightmares will stop. For both of us." He patted Blair on the back and returned to the mess on the rug. "We'll talk about them then, okay? Now, get some sleep. If you think you can."
No. "Yeah, thanks, Jim." Blair slowly got up, glancing back once more at the mess Jim was cleaning up. He was too exhausted now to offer any more help, and the visions hadn't faded yet. Getting any closer to that fireplace wasn't something he was ready to do, so he turned and walked to his room.
"Sandburg." Jim looked up. "It'll all be over soon."
"Thanks, Jim." Blair entered his room and shut the door, rubbing his face and pushing his hair back as he did so. He was sure he wouldn't sleep, and was even afraid to try, but he was also too exhausted to do anything else. By the time he climbed out of his clothes, and reluctantly got into bed, he could hear the quiet sounds of a movie coming from the living room. Jim was obviously staying up for a while. Blair lay down and took a deep, cleansing breath, then let it out slowly and focused on the faint sounds from the television in an attempt not to see the dancing golden fire people that remained on the inside of each eyelid, looking back at him.
As convinced as he was that sleep would elude him, the next thing Blair was aware of was the sound of his alarm going off beside the bed. He rolled over and slapped it, a sensitivity to Jim's hearing had given Blair good reflexes in the morning. Realization slowly came back to him, as did the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen. Great, Jim had gotten up before him again. He climbed out of bed and took another deep breath, letting it out slowly. His visions hadn't come back, once he had fallen asleep. The last thing he could recall was listening to a commercial about aspirin, or some such thing. He did feel better, after a night's sleep he hadn't thought he'd get, and when he opened the door to walk to the bathroom, he actually felt like he could get through this with some semblance of dignity after all. Jim was upstairs, presumably getting dressed, so Blair went to the bathroom and prepared for his day. He hurried, but by the time he was dressed and coming back out of the bedroom again, Jim was standing in the kitchen, talking on the phone while pouring a cup of coffee. Blair looked at him questioningly and Jim handed him the cup and motioned with his chin to the table, then returned to his conversation with Simon.
Blair accepted the coffee and walked to the table, noticing for the first time the bakery bag there, filled with fresh bagels. How long had he been up?
"Hey, Chief." Jim set the phone down and poured himself a cup of coffee.
"How long have you been up?" Blair reached into the bag and retrieved a plain bagel.
"Just an hour. Got those down stairs, at the new bakery." Jim sat down and pulled one out. "Thought it'd be a nice change from eggs."
Blair nodded, ignoring the cream cheese and simply pulled the bagel apart with his fingers, eating it in small bites. He realized with surprise that his hands weren't shaking, but his insides seemed to be. He was not going to be a child about this. "So, you figure a couple hours of waiting, and answering some questions, then it's over?" Yes, the voice was steady!
"About that," Jim replied, smearing cream cheese liberally over his now-sliced bagel. "When's your first class today?"
Damn, he hadn't even thought about the tests he had to give today. "First one at 1:00, then one more right after that." He'd eaten about half the bagel, and was beginning to feel disinterested in it. "Can you give me a lift after the...after we're done?"
"No problem, Chief. I might even take the afternoon off, after I talk to Simon this morning. I can only take so much paperwork and reports." He smiled, then popped the last of his bagel in his mouth and checked his watch.
Blair chuckled, nodding his head. Jim had once said having a Guide around the Station was the best thing to happen to his paperwork backlog. Blair didn't mind filling in the blanks on some of the reports that Jim would rough out, or going downstairs for the forensics reports and files. And he had become quite good at forging Jim's signature in the evidence lock-up. Research was Blair's field, and doing the research for Jim helped him gain an even greater understanding of Jim's work, and even Jim himself. He was just glad, for purely selfish reasons, that during his finals, and this trial, Jim was giving his current case load to Mike Jenkins. Blair wouldn't miss anything. He'd like to miss this entire trial, but...
"You ready, Chief?" Jim had pushed away from the table and was picking up the cell phone to put in his coat pocket.
"As I'll ever be." Blair took one last drink of coffee, then stood and went for his coat. Jim seemed unconcerned that the remains of breakfast stayed on the table, and Blair knew stalling for time wouldn't work in this situation, so he followed his partner out the door and down to the truck. The trip to the courthouse was as quick as a trip to the dentist, making a twenty minute drive pass by in seconds. They parked across the street in Jim's usual spot inside the Precinct garage and walked across the street to the courthouse. Blair was convinced this was all happening too quickly. He had planned to use the ride over to work out a little calming mantra in his head, and figure out a way to walk into that courtroom, where Lee Brackett would be, and not make an ass of himself in front of Jim by bolting out the door. But there was no more time. They were almost to the courtroom door now. Blair took a deep breath and looked up at Jim. He'd have to follow his partner's lead, and rely on that to get him through.
Jim reached for the door handle and turned back
to Blair. Without a word, he placed a hand on Blair's shoulder for a moment, then
opened the door wide enough for both of them to step through quietly and find
seats in the half-filled room.
Jim made eye contact with Beverly and nodded, then ushered Blair into a bench two rows behind her. His partner seemed to be holding up well enough so far, but it was going to get harder before it got better. Jim made sure he was sitting between Blair and the isle, keeping as much of a buffer between his friend and Lee Brackett as he could. He had spent the better part of the night keeping focused on Blair's heartbeat and breathing pattern, setting his own internal alarm to go off if there was the slightest change from the room below his. Jim had half-expected Blair to have a nightmare again that night, especially after the incident in the living room. At the hospital, they had told Blair to expect flashbacks, and that was the first one according to Blair, but Jim hadn't expected it to be like that.
One minute he was discussing a case with Mike on the phone, and Blair seemed fine. The next minute his partner's heart was racing, his breathing was shallow, and he wouldn't respond to anything Jim said, or shouted. He just sat there, eyes transfixed on the fireplace, with a look of terror in his eyes. When Jim was unable to get through, even with a touch on his arm, he started to panic, himself. Then, a look of sheer hate appeared across the younger man's face, and Blair's hand clenched so tightly the bottle broke in his hand. That's when Jim knew something had to be done, now, to break the trance he was in. Blair had never said Jim's zone-outs were like that, and Jim tended to think they weren't. His partner could always bring him out with a touch, Jim had to shake Blair, several times.
Voices down a hallway perked his senses and Jim focused on the door at the side of the courtroom. They were bringing Brackett in, and the judge was also preparing to enter from the Chamber door. Jim switched focus to Blair sitting beside him, keeping track of his heart rate and breathing, without looking at him. He could almost feel Blair tense up when the door opened, and Lee Brackett stepped through, accompanied by two uniformed officers. As he approached his attorney, he glanced around the room, and quickly spotted Jim and Blair. Jim returned an icy stare, then looked away, towards the judge who was just now coming in.
"All rise," the bailiff began. "The honorable Judge Franklin Claymore presiding." Jim and Blair stood, along with everyone else, and waited for the judge to call the room to order, then they sat down. Brackett was no longer looking at them, so Jim quickly glanced at Blair. He was looking straight ahead, and wore a look of casual interest that Jim could see was faked. Outwardly, he seemed calm enough, but Jim could see the minute shaking of his hands, hear the occasional skipped beat in his heart. Blair was doing a good job hiding it from the rest of the room, but not from Jim.
They listened as the lawyers began the business of getting the trial started, and the judge made a ruling now and again. Jim knew instinctively what was important and what wasn't, having been to more of these now than he could count. Blair seemed transfixed on every word, but Jim knew from instinct, or maybe something else, that he was numb inside, and most likely wasn't hearing a single word. Jim wanted nothing more than to take the stand for his friend, keep him from having to go through any more stress. But most of all, keep him from having to sit up there and face Lee Brackett again.
"I'd like to call my first witness, your honor," Beverly was saying.
This was it, time to get the ball rolling. Jim glanced at Blair as Beverly called his name, and gave him a look of encouragement, then stood and walked to the witness box. He took the oath, then sat in the familiar seat after declaring his full name and occupation. Brackett was watching him, but Jim had no trouble keeping an even expression on his face, and his eyes on Beverly. His emotions were on automatic now, as they fell into place deep inside.
"Detective, can you tell the court where you were on the night in question?" Beverly was standing in front of the jury, glancing at them occasionally.
"I was on stakeout, at the corner of 16th and Chester, downtown."
"And was there anyone with you?"
"Yes, Captain Banks."
"Captain Simon Banks, of Major Crimes?"
Beverly nodded, then moved forward, walking slowly in front of the judge. "You received a phone call during this stakeout, did you not?"
"Yes, I did."
"And can you tell us what, if anything, was unusual about his phone call?"
"There was no voice on the other end, just a message scrolling across the display."
"And what did that message say?"
"It said 'The game has begun. You have 15 minutes to get home and make your move,' nothing more." Jim forced his eyes not to connect with Lee Brackett as he repeated the message that had sent him racing for the loft.
"That sounds pretty cryptic, Detective. What did it mean?"
"Objection, your honor." Brackett's attorney, a man Jim knew as Leroy Cutter, stood to emphasize his case. "There could be a million interpretations for a message like that."
"I'll rephrase the question, your honor."
"Go ahead," The Judge replied.
"Detective, what did that message mean to you?"
"It meant Lee Brackett was back."
"And why did you reach that conclusion?"
Jim glanced quickly at Blair as he watched Beverly pace slowly back towards the jury. "The game is an old CIA reference, and Brackett has used it before. Also, sending messages over a cellular phone like that is relatively uncommon. Something Lee Brackett would do." Jim paused, shooting Lee a quick look. "Also, my partner was uncharacteristically absent that evening, and I had been unable to contact him."
"And after the phone call, what did you do?"
"Captain Banks called for backup, to replace us at the scene, and we drove to my home."
"You left the stakeout prior to your backup arriving? Is that standard procedure, Detective?"
Jim clenched his jaw momentarily and glanced out towards his partner, whose eyes had just shot to the floor, his face flushing . "No, it's not. I was afraid for my partner's life, which seemed more immediate to me at the time. The stakeout had so far been unsuccessful, and backup was on the way." He didn't really feel the need to explain, but he understood what Beverly was getting at. Maybe it didn't sound like standard procedure, and maybe he should have been reprimanded for his actions. But he also knew, if Blair were in danger again, Jim wouldn't hesitate to take immediate action.
"You were that sure that the message you received meant your partner, Blair Sandburg, was in immediate danger?"
"Yes, I was."
"And when you reached your apartment, what did you find?"
"At first, nothing. Captain Banks and I entered the loft and searched quickly, then the television in the loft came on. A tape recording began to playback automatically."
"At tape recording of who?"
"And what was on the tape?"
"Brackett. He was holding Blair hostage. He said he had business in town, and had decided to finish the game he had started earlier. He said I had to find Blair in time, or he might die."
"Die? From what, Detective?"
Jim's jaw clenched again, tightly. "He held up a vial, and a syringe, then proceeded to explain what the drug he had was capable of." Jim paused, his eyes darting to Blair and back. His partner was keeping his eyes fixed on something near the floor, in front of where Jim was seated. "He then injected Blair with the drug."
"And then what happened?"
"He said the tape we were watching had been made 20 minutes ago, and that I had another 15 minutes to find Blair. Then the tape shut off."
"And then what did you do?"
Jim kept his eyes on Beverly, trying to force the remembered terror back down where he could control it. "I realized Blair was in the building, by the pipes I had seen on the tape. The Captain and I ran downstairs, to the basement, and found him."
"And what did you find?"
Jim took a breath. "I found Blair. He was dying." He glanced at Brackett who was watching Jim's every word with a look of complete calm. "Captain Banks and I rushed him to the hospital."
"Detective, when you were at the hospital, did Captain Banks receive word from the stakeout?"
"Yes. The man we were waiting for had been killed, along with the person he was meeting."
"What was the time frame, between yourself and Captain Banks leaving the stake out, and the relief officers' arrival?"
"No more than 10 minutes."
"So, theoretically, it would be possible for someone to make a phone call, to your cellular phone, telling you to be home in 20 minutes...then as you drove away from the stakeout, enter the house you were watching, kill the person there, as well as someone who had possibly just arrived, and be gone in less than the 10 minutes it took for your backup to arrive?"
"Objection, your honor. Calls for speculation."
"Your honor, Detective Ellison is trained in these matters. I think he could judge time frames in a simple theoretical scenario."
"Overruled. The witness will answer the question."
"Yes, it's very possible," Jim replied.
"And the death of the man you were waiting for, how did that affect the case you were working on at the time?"
Jim paused for a split second, half expecting Brackett's attorney to object. "Vince Delaney was a key witness to an extortion and money laundering case against a man named Kostov. When he died, our case at the time was ruined." He glanced at Blair and found his partner finally looking up, watching him. "We later learned that Brackett had been hired by Kostov to commit the murders."
"Objection, your honor."
There it was. Jim looked at Blair while the lawyers hashed it out, focusing in on his heartrate. He seemed outwardly to be holding up well, but Jim could still detect a fast, occasionally skipping beat, coupled with the slightest shaking of his hands.
Jim brought himself back to the subject at hand, and realized the Judge had ruled against the question.
"I have no further questions at this time, your honor, but I reserve the right to recall the witness."
Jim watched Brackett's attorney stand, remaining behind the desk.
"Detective Ellison, what happened to the supposed tape you and Captain Banks claim to have seen?"
"It was destroyed."
Jim flexed his jaw muscle. "It was apparently exposed to acid. The FBI crime lab is working on what's left."
"Expose to acid? And where did this take place?"
"In the evidence room, at the Station." Jim remained non-plused at the intimation.
"And did either you, or Captain Banks, witness in person Mr. Brackett attacking or killing anyone?"
Jim's jaw spasmed again, harder this time. He knew these games and what they were designed to do, and he knew better than to let it get to him, but it was. "No."
"Thank you, Detective. No further questions."
"The witness may step down."
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