Blair shoved the computer aside, turning it off, and let the lid slap shut. He listened for the complaint from above, but nothing rang out. Just the fact that he expected to be reprimanded started to irritate him. About as much as this headache was. It was too late for tea if he wanted to get any sleep, so he settled for some valerian tablets and dropped into bed. Where he stayed, staring at the ceiling, the left wall, the bookcase, the light fixture, a bit of paint wanting to peel from the top corner of the far wall.
It was hopeless. He could not sleep. And his head continued to pound. By the time Blair resigned himself to getting up and looking for aspirin, it was nearly time for the alarm to go off. And he'd slept all of 30 minutes.
"Damn." He sighed, pushing the hair from his face as he swung both legs out from under the covers. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Blair contemplated his morning. He'd already promised Jim they'd be working together today, and those students didn't deserve their grades posted early after giving answers they had. Might as well follow Jim around all day.
But he didn't even want to do that. God, I need a vacation! He could practically feel the walls around him closing in, pushing the very air against his pounding skull. With great reluctance, Blair got off the bed and walked to the bathroom, rubbing his forehead as he stumbled across the hallway. Maybe that was it, he'd just gone too long without a break in the routine? Normally he'd have taken some kind of expedition or research laden trip somewhere during the summer, when classes were slow and his commitments fewer. But he'd skipped Borneo, his once in a lifetime opportunity to really make a name for himself in association with Dr. Stoddard. Get over it already! He tossed his boxers aside and stepped into the shower, bracing himself against the squealing cold water handle. Water slapped into his chest with stinging force, then into his face as he leaned forward into the onslaught. Blair let the spray slam into the top of his head, hoping it could pound the aching right out, and stood there for a long moment trying to force out all thoughts of Borneo, the letter Dr. Stoddard had sent him the other day asking once more for Blair to reconsider, and Jim.
Some days Blair was afraid to even think loudly, figuring his Sentinel roommate would hear and tell him to keep it down. Damn him and his prying!
"All right, calm down." He spoke to the tiles, gazing at his watery reflection while steam built up around his head. This was getting him nowhere fast. What on earth had him thinking he'd made the wrong choice? This was where he wanted to be, right here, with Jim. No doubts. "It's just stress, and maybe the headache." It wasn't him doubting his choices, or regretting them either. No, just a bad aura or something. And if he didn't get a handle on his attitude, he'd have Jim yelling back soon enough.
"You gonna be all morning, Chief?"
With a start, Blair realized Jim was right outside the shower, flushing the toilet. How long had he been standing there letting the water just run down his head? "I'm coming." Quickly, Blair shampooed and soaped up, then rinsed off in one soaking wash of foam. For however long he'd stood under that spray, with the water hitting his head in a rush of pressure and ear-ringing thunder, he'd been able to forget about the pounding behind both temples. But the minute he wrapped a towel around his dripping body, the headache announced its continued presence.
Irritated at the break in his temporary peace, Blair grabbed another towel for his wet hair, ignoring the clean one that fell to the damp floor. The boxers he'd tossed in the corner were missing, probably placed in the hamper by Mr. Perfect. Steam clouded the mirror, then misted into rivers when he tried to wipe it away. Maybe he should skip shaving this morning? The way his luck was running, he'd bleed to death.
Before the mirror even cleared a spot to see in, he knew he'd have to shave, like it or not. Blair was one who showed five o'clock shadow quite well, and if he skipped so much as one day, it was all too obvious. Jim didn't appreciate that when they were working. Camping was one thing, but at work, he had appearances to maintain, and he preferred Blair to at least make the attempt himself.
"Ow!" Dammit! Blood trickled freely down Blair's chin, mixing with the shaving cream that hadn't provided enough of a buffer between a new blade, and his face. "Great." With a sigh, he ignored the carnage and continued, then washed his face and examined the wound more closely. Perfect, just perfect. Could the day get any worse? Skipping the usual toilet paper bandage, Blair left the bathroom, blood still dripping over his chin in the humid air, and went to his room to finish drying his hair and get dressed while Jim used the bathroom.
The first pair of clean boxers Blair pulled from the drawer had torn elastic. Why they had been folded and put away, he couldn't recall. The second pair had a sock stuck to them by a stray bit of string that was so tightly entangling them both, he tossed the whole mass to the floor and tried a third time, finally pulling out a pair he could use. His jeans were clean at least, and he had no trouble finding a shirt. Small miracle. As he turned to walk out of the room, his luck ended in an explosion of pain.
"Shit!" Blair fell to the floor, landing hard on his butt as he tried to grab the toe he'd just smashed into the corner of the bed. For a few seconds, he actually thought he might pass out, then the first wave passed and he was left with a throbbing, pounding foot to match the pounding still maintaining a hold between his ears.
"What happened?" Jim filled his doorway, face half covered in shaving cream, eyebrows creased with concern.
"Nothing!" he snapped. After a deep breath and a shake of his head, Blair was able to add a curse under his breath. "I just hit the bed."
"You okay?" Jim remained in the door, looking down at Blair.
"Fine." Man, that hurt! That should teach him to figure the morning had topped out when he cut himself shaving. It was another minute before Jim believed him and went back to the bathroom. It was another two before he could let go of his foot and examine the toe. It wasn't turning blue yet, and still moved, so his first fears were alleviated. Maybe he should get his socks and shoes on quickly, in case it swelled?
Or maybe he should just get out of these clothes, shut the door, climb back into bed, and stay there for the rest of the day? Jim was in the kitchen, pouring a cup of coffee, when Blair hobbled out of his room. He was smiling again, damn him, having a wonderful morning while Blair hadn't even had so much as two hours of sleep!
"Hey, Chief, you sure you're okay?"
"Yes, Jim, I'm fine." His voice sounded sharp even to his own ears. With some effort, Blair took a deep, cleansing breath, then pushed the wet hair from his forehead and turned around to face Jim. "I'm fine, man, just smashed my toe." Turning back toward the refrigerator, Blair took another half step closer to the cupboard and found a clean mug.
"You want me to take a look at it?"
"No, I don't want you to take a look at it." I just want this day to straighten out, is that too much to ask? "It's just a bruise. Do you want breakfast?" Of course Jim would want breakfast, he always wanted breakfast, only he rarely ever made it.
"Nah, let's grab some bagels downstairs on the way out." Jim refilled his cup and took it upstairs, coming back down a few minutes later with shoes and socks in hand.
Blair had to ease his own on over the throbbing toe, but once on, the limp was reduced. Now if he could just ditch the headache, maybe he'd get through the day? Halfway down the hall, a door swung open with a swish, expelling Mr. Walters in a huffing rage.
"I just don't care! You got that?!"
Blair had to stop short to keep from running straight into their neighbor as he stormed out of his own apartment and down the hall ahead of Jim.
"Just don't bother coming home tonight, you louse!" Mrs. Walters' voice carried her threat out from deep within the apartment.
Jim continued on, shaking his head as he glanced back at Blair. When they got to the truck, they watched Mr. Walters driving down the road, heading in his usual morning direction.
"Must be something in the water."
Jim's comment had been under his breath, but Blair heard well enough. "Sounds to me like a normal dispute. Not everyone is as well-balanced as you, Jim." That remark gained him a puzzled look, then a shake of Jim's head.
"Maybe we need to do some rearranging of the furniture in your room. This is the second morning in a row you found the wrong side of that bed to get off."
Blair exhaled sharply through his nose, listening for once to that small voice inside his head telling him to shut the hell up. He was five seconds away from saying something he was sure to regret, but Jim's attitude lately was really rubbing him wrong, and he couldn't take much more. And he didn't know why! The city was moving by in a blur of cement and glass, dotted now and again by pedestrians, shoppers, and early morning joggers out to get a good sweat before putting on their suits and sitting behind desks for the rest of the day. Exactly what he'd be doing, minus the sweat. No car chasing, no suspect grilling or crime scene investigating. Jim had told him last night that today they'd be going over the records of one Mr. Nielsen, deceased lawyer and partner of Murgenstein, Nielsen and Tuft.
Joy. Eight hours of reading over the public and private life of some man who'd had all the stress he could handle, and decided to end it with a very public display of his aerial talents. Eight hours of looking for something that probably wasn't there, and Blair probably wouldn't recognize if it was. He rubbed his forehead with the fingers of his right hand, wondering if there was any aspirin in Jim's desk at the Station, and just how much crap he'd be subjected to if anyone saw him taking the pills he'd always shunned.
When they pulled into the parking garage, the worst of the throbbing seemed to have dissipated. By the time they were both sitting down at the long table in the conference room, surrounded by several boxes of files, papers and appointment calenders, he thought it was finally going away. Jim was quiet, either respecting Blair's irritation, or too absorbed in his own good mood to care.
After the fourth court transcript file, Blair sighed, beginning to feel like a human again, but still not completely over the headache. "So, what are we looking for again here?"
"Anything, Chief." Jim handed him another box, this one brimming with old appointment calendars. "Anything that would make a fifty-four year old man, in good health and enjoying prosperity, end it all with an attempt at burrowing into the sidewalk." Jim pulled out two of the books and opened one.
"What makes you think he didn't just kill himself?" Blair retrieved a thick book marked April and opened the cover. "People do that, you know."
"Yes, they do." Jim glanced at his coffee cup, then pushed it aside. "But most of them have a reason, leave a note, give some indication they're thinking about ending it all. Mr. Nielsen had three weeks to go before setting off on a month-long cruise he'd paid for five months ago. He was looking at a new house, and his wife just bought him a new car for their anniversary."
"Well, that's reason enough right there, Jim. Anniversaries can be turning points in a lot of people's lives. It's a time when you look back on your life and wonder if you've made all the right choices up until then." Blair was looking at Jim while he spoke, and didn't miss the change in his partner's expression when he finished that sentence.
"Yeah, well, they can also be good things, Chief. Anniversaries mark the start of positive turning points, times of change."
Blair shrugged, then looked back down at the book in front of him.
"I need more coffee. You?"
"Yes, please." His headache was nearly gone now, but if he kept reading about depositions and estate settlements, it was sure to return.
Jim picked up both cups and left, leaving Blair alone with Mr. Nielsen's life. "You were probably bored to death, huh?" He turned the pages of the appointment book, noticing the painful similarity of each entry. "Bored with your life, used by your partners, probably taking this cruise to try and save your marriage." Where was that coming from? Man, he needed a break. Slapping the calendar closed, Blair set his head down over the leather case and sighed. His eyes closed quickly of their own volition, a welcome response to the lack of a headache for the first time since yesterday evening. When the door opened, it was like a shot through his head. Blair jumped up, seeing Jim step through the door, coffee cups in hand and a file clenched between his teeth. God, another file!
He set the cups down, then looked at Blair, eyebrows arched while he removed the file and set it aside. "Hey, Chief, I think maybe you don't need coffee as much as you need some sleep. Were you up all night again?"
Blair blinked, exaggerating the motion to try and force himself aware. "I just couldn't sleep, again." The coffee reached his nose, but his stomach didn't like the idea of being fed more of the black stimulant without anything other than the bagel he'd forced it to accept three hours ago to keep it company.
"Come on, let me take you home." Jim reached out and took Blair by the arm, receiving no resistance. "You're no good to anyone like this."
"Yeah, maybe you're right." Blair was only too willing to separate himself from the boxes of Mr. Nielsen's life story.
He could have taken the bus, or maybe even driven himself, but Jim insisted he give Blair a ride home, since he was on his way to meet his snitch about last week's robbery anyway. And Blair was now too tired to argue. He nearly fell asleep in the truck, and when they pulled up outside the building, he had just enough energy to get out and walk upstairs, promising Jim he'd be in a better mood by that night, and he'd have dinner waiting. It was the least he could do, after being such a jerk these past two mornings.
The Walters were quiet, probably because Mr. Walters was at work, and his wife had some peace and quiet. Blair dug the keys out of his pocket, and winced against the sudden jolt between his eyes. Damn, the headache was back, with a vengeance! This time, he wasn't waiting. Blair headed straight for the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. The top shelf was where Jim kept aspirin and some other pills and ointments. Blair reached up blindly and pulled down the first round bottle he felt. One glance told him he had the wrong thing, this was a prescription bottle. He took a closer look at the amber vial, reading the label that was a bit cracked where it had been hastily applied by a pharmacy assistant who just didn't understand the need for perfection in her work. It was for pain, to be taken as needed, dated three months ago. It took Blair a minute to realize that was when Jim had pulled the muscle in his shoulder, and was trying everything buttalking to Blair about it. So why was he keeping these? Was he still...No, the bottle was mostly full, so he wasn't still taking them.
Blair's head pounded again, reminding him what he was supposed to be looking for. He shoved the bottle back on the shelf, and felt around some more until he found the aspirin. Two tablets didn't seem to be enough, but he stopped himself short of four. Surely, since he never took the things, they'd work well on his system? He didn't really know, and he didn't really care. He just needed some peace, and some sleep!
He got neither.
Two hours later, abandoning all hope of sleep, Blair sat once again at the table, poring over the tests he needed to grade, wondering how he'd ended up here. These students obviously didn't care about the class, maybe he shouldn't either? No one seemed to share his enthusiasm about the subject. No one ever seemed to. Jim sure as hell didn't. All he cared about was his work, and making his Sentinel senses work when he wanted them to. Never mind the fact that they were a permanent fact of life. Never mind that Blair needed to work with him, to develop them, to learn from them.
No, with Jim it was cop work or no work. He didn't care to help Blair further his studies, or help him out any. He just liked having Blair around to do the grunt work, the research, the boring crap that came with his job.
"God, stop this!" Blair shook his head, trying to free it of the thoughts plaguing him. This was nonsense and he knew it. Just all the stress of no sleep and a pounding headache building up, combined with the letter from Dr. Stoddard yesterday, once again tempting him to break away and come to Borneo for "just a few weeks, at least." No, this wasn't getting him anywhere.
Back to the tests. Back to the tenth person to entirely miss the point of the day's lecture. After the fifteenth, it was back to the bathroom for more aspirin. When he came back from the bathroom, Blair heard a door slam down the hall, followed by some shouting. Mr. Walters must be home, which meant Jim would be home in another hour, and he had to get something made for dinner. A dinner he didn't feel the least bit inspired to make, or eat. But he said he'd have it ready, and Jim had taken him out last night.
It took some effort, and lots of convincing, but he finally got enough energy lumped together to get spaghetti sauce made, leaving it to simmer while he started water for noodles. The slow, thick bubbling of the sauce as it simmered and belched looked much like Blair's head felt. Staring at it seemed to bring that thought to the forefront of his mind, reminding him yet again that he hadn't slept in two nights.
Or was it something else? He'd been feeling restless lately, uneasy. That letter from Borneo was no help, reminding him how long it had been since he'd left the country and done some field research. In fact, he'd been right here with Jim for...for how long?
Blair jumped at his partner's sudden entry, then watched as Jim tossed the mail on the table and removed his gun and cell phone.
"Did you sleep?" Jim was looking at the pile of notebooks and papers strewn about the table, backlit by the glow of the laptop.
"No, I didn't." Blair felt his irritation level increase as he watched his smiling partner move around the loft, then plop down on the couch as if he hadn't a care in the world.
"Do you feel all right, Chief?"
Jim was looking at him from the couch, eyebrows knit in that damn brotherly, I know more than you attitude. "I'm fine, would you please just drop it, Jim?" Oh shit, here he comes. Blair had known that was the wrong thing to say: then why had it come out?
Standing on the other side of the counter, Jim looked down at Blair. "Hey, what's going on here partner? You've been acting strange for two days now. And don't tell me nothing, all right? If there's something wrong, tell me about it."
Just can't leave well enough alone, huh? "I don't know, Jim. It's nothing, it's everything, I don't know." Blair flipped off the stove and grabbed the pot of noodles roughly by the handle, spilling hot water on the counter when he turned to the sink. With little grace, he dumped the noodles into the colander and rinsed them out, all the while painfully aware that Jim was standing there, boring little holes in the back of his head with cold blue eyes.
"Well it has to be something." Jim's voice was quiet, not the harsh reprimand Blair expected. "When you're ready to try and figure it out, Chief, I'm here."
Blair had to force himself to nod, then mumble something Jim could interpret as affirmative. He finished preparing dinner, then cleared off enough of the table to eat at. He wasn't hungry, but in order to avoid Jim's stern scrutiny, he made a show of attempting. After all that aspirin, he knew it would be best to have something in his stomach. Especially with the headache still there. He asked a few questions about the case, listening with little interest as Jim recalled what he hadn't found in Mr. Nielsen's files, again glad he'd been spared an entire day of that research. Not that he'd gotten any of the intended sleep back here.
Jim volunteered to do the dishes, giving Blair more time to drudge through the rest of the test papers. He'd much rather toss the whole pile off the balcony, then sell the laptop for a plane ticket to anywhere. Anywhere but here, in Jim's loft, doing Jim's work, and working so hard to be the kind of partner Jim wanted to keep around.
"I'm going to bed, Chief. I suggest you do the same." Jim flipped off the TV and walked to the bathroom.
"Yeah, well I'd love to, Jim, but I have too much to do." Blair was talking to the bathroom door, but he knew Jim could hear. Jim could always hear. He was always listening, watching, keeping a Sentinel sense on Blair no matter where he was or what he was doing. "You aren't going to be any good to yourself if you don't get some sleep." Jim came out of the bathroom and paused at the table, looking down at Blair. "Is there anything I can do here to help?"
Other than leaving me alone? Blair rubbed his forehead, sighing. "No, Jim. I just have to finish these papers." It took all his reserve to be civil. He hoped Jim took the hint.
With a shake of his head and a glance around the loft, Jim nodded. "All right. I guess you'll fall asleep when you reach the end." At that, he went upstairs.
Blair heard him walking around a bit, then the movement stopped and his light went out. After two more aspirin, he returned to the papers. When he finished the last paper, he was sure he'd just spent more time grading it than the student had in thinking about it. It was midnight, time to plug the grades into the computer, shut it all down, and get some much needed sleep.
Only the computer was frozen on one screen. It refused to accept another entry, insisting that the keyboard strokes were unrecognized input.
what now?" He hit any key to continue, and got nowhere. Shit! This
wasn't what he needed, not now! "Not now, damn you!" In a rush of motion
and flaming red anger, Blair hefted the computer in both hands. As if in a dream,
half-blinded by his own irrationality, he watched the briefcase-size machine fly
into--and then through--the window that peered into his bedroom. Glass shattered,
some following the computer into his room and onto the floor, some bursting into
dust that rained and sparkled around the air for a moment, before drifting with
slow crystal grace to the floor on both sides of the thin wall.
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