"Don't start with me, Jim." Blair's eyes flashed pale blue, and alien. One hand came up to ward off any reprimand he might have expected. "I'll clean it up, just don't start with me."
"Blair, what the hell happened?" Jim could see the computer now, lying amidst glass inside his room. He reached out to touch Blair's arm, but it was pulled away before he could touch it. Pulled away with a rush and another flash of those eyes.
"I just need some air."
Before Jim could stop him, Blair turned and hurried out the front door. "Wait a minute, Chief."
"I need to be alone, Jim. Just leave me alone!"
The door was slammed in his face, making Jim waste a few seconds shifting the gun from one hand to another so he could open it again. When he did, he caught sight of Blair rounding the corner at the far end, and heading down the stairs. He turned to go back inside for pants and some shoes, and heard another shout.
"I said no! What part of that didn't you understand?!"
Mrs. Walters' voice echoed from down the hall. Jim hesitated one second, then hurried back inside and upstairs for some jeans. Pulling them on quickly, he found a shirt, then ran back down and glanced out over the balcony. Blair was there, two blocks down, heading for the park. He'd be safe enough in this part of town at midnight in the park, but in his emotional state, there was no telling what might happen.
"Dammit, Marlene, put the gun away!"
Oh God. Jim picked up his gun, shoving it and the holster into the back of his pants as he rushed down the hall. "Mr. Walters?" He knocked on the door, then tried the knob. "Carl, it's Jim Ellison, open the door."
"Jim!" The Walters' door opened in a rush, revealing Carl Walters in his boxers, looking agitated. He gestured into the apartment. "Stupid bitch has my gun, says she's gonna end it all."
Jim stepped inside cautiously. "Carl, call 911, then stay out in the hall. Let me handle this."
"Fine, whatever." Surprised at the man's tone, Jim watched him walk to a table and pick up a cordless phone. "Might as well call from outside." Carl took the phone and passed Jim, leaving the apartment with a shrug.
"Great, everyone's going nuts tonight." Must be a full moon. "Mrs. Walters?" Jim stepped farther into the apartment, senses alert to any sounds. "Marlene?" She was in the far room, he heard a rapid heartbeat emanating from the side bedroom. "Marlene?"
In the room the Walters used as a spare storage area, Marlene sat atop a pile of boxes that had been draped with a large blanket, forming a rather crude, but oddly comfortable looking couch. She held a gun, but it rested in her lap, the safety on and no fingers near the trigger.
"Hey, Marlene, how's it going?" Jim relaxed slightly, making sure he appeared to be as calm as she needed him to be. "What's the gun for?"
"That jackass." She looked up at Jim, brown eyes dull and bloodshot. "I sit here all day long, taking care of his house, his bills, his life. I make him breakfast, feed him dinner, sit here waiting for him, and what does he do? He plans a vacation without me!"
Jim stepped closer, keeping one eye on the gun, and one eye on her. "Sounds to me like the two of you have some talking to do, huh?" He was a few feet away now, recalling the last time he'd done this. Mrs. Walters wasn't Blair. And as far as Jim knew, she wasn't on drugs. "Why don't you give me the gun, and the two of you can talk about this?"
Marlene gazed at her hands, then looked at Jim. "I don't want this. Here." She lifted the gun with two fingers, letting the barrel hang down. "You take it, I just want a divorce."
Jim accepted the gun, then turned to see two uniformed officers enter the apartment. One of them was a woman. "Mrs. Walters, these two officers are going to talk to you and Carl for a bit, okay? I suggest you all go down to the Station, and have a good talk. If you still feel this way, they can help you out. How's that?"
Marlene nodded numbly, allowing Jim to take her arm as she climbed off the boxes. "Fine, as long as I don't have to bring him back home."
"That's entirely up to you, Mrs. Walters." Jim saw them safely into the hands of the patrolmen, then handed over Carl's gun and let them take over. He had to find Blair.
With one quick trip back to his own apartment, Jim retrieved a light
jacket against the cooler night air, found one of Blair's, then headed out to
the park three blocks away. He let his Sentinel senses go ahead, picking out a
familiar scent and sound. The closer he got, the more pronounced it was. Around
the corner, and Blair was visible, sitting in the dark on a bench, facing the
bay, his head bent over and resting in both hands.
Jim slowed his pace, altering his attitude as he did. Whatever was wrong, whatever was driving Blair crazy these past two days, wasn't going to come out with force. He approached the bench from behind, then moved around to sit beside his partner. Wordlessly, he handed Blair the coat, which was accepted and put on without answer. He sat down, waiting silently for his friend to talk.
Cascade sparkled in the clear night air, glistening with a night life all its own. Like all cities, it led a double life. One held up in the brightness of day, clean and normal and ordered, a testament to industry and human engineering, housing everyday people doing everyday jobs and going about their everyday business. The other was shrouded in darkness, illuminated by the artificial light of flash and recreation. It was a dual life, but not an ignorant coexistence. One never encroached on the other.
After some time, Blair sighed and sat up a bit, raising his head to gaze out over the city. "I heard sirens."
"Mr. and Mrs. Walters had an argument." Jim kept his voice quiet, letting Blair lead the conversation.
"Everything okay?" Blair glanced up for a moment.
"They'll be fine. She had Carl's gun, but nothing came of it."
Blair looked at Jim, alarmed. "His gun? What was she going to do?"
"Kill herself, I think. They'd had a fight, but she wasn't threatening when I got inside."
"What's happening, Jim?" Blair sat up, shaking his head as he looked around the park. "They've always been so quiet."
"So have you." He watched Blair continue to look around. "What's going on here, Chief? What is it you won't tell me?" The silence that followed was deafening. "And don't say nothing. It wasn't nothing that sent your computer through the window."
"Jim, I...I'm just tired."
"That's not it, Chief. If you were just tired, you'd sleep." The exhaustion in his voice was plain to any ear listening, the dull aching behind his eyes visible from yards away. "Something is keeping you from sleeping, something you don't want to talk to me about, obviously."
"No, Jim, it's...I just..." Blair let his voice trail off, shaking his head. "I think I want to go to the University tonight. I can sleep on the cot in my office."
Jim sat back with a sigh. Everything inside him said no, not to allow Blair to run from whatever it was bothering him. If it was Jim, or something about them, they needed to talk about it, to work it out. If Blair was having second thoughts about their work, then he wanted to know, so he could deal with it, deal with Blair. Deal with himself. But his partner was a grown man, with his own mind to make up. Any pushing would only send him farther away. Jim would just have to let his friend figure this out, then be there when he did.
"Will you let me drive you?"
"I can drive." Blair stood, looking down at Jim still on the bench.
"No, let me give you a ride."
"Blair, you haven't slept in two nights." Jim held up a hand and got off the bench. "I'll give you a ride."
With a resigned shrug, Blair turned and walked with Jim back to the truck. They drove the few miles in silence, Jim wondering quietly if he should really start to worry about this mood swing, or let Blair work it out. Would it work out? They'd had a few misunderstandings before, some wrongly interpreted statements, unspoken fears that grew wildly out of proportion to what they deserved. And they'd all worked out.
Then again, it could all be as simple as Blair lacking sleep. His University life did sometimes keep him up all hours of the night. That, combined with the work he did with Jim, could easily have built up to a level even Blair couldn't maintain.
"Do you need anything?" Jim stopped the truck, looking at Blair.
"No, I'm fine. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
When he reached for the handle, Jim put a hand on his arm; there was no violent resistance to his touch now. "Blair, if sleep is all you need, you should let me take you to a hotel. My treat. Sleeping in your office isn't the way to go."
"Jim, I'll be fine. I've slept there before." Blair turned and tried to smile, then opened the door. "Trust me, I know my way around this place even sound asleep."
"I'm sure you do." Reluctantly, he watched his friend walk into the building housing his office, then focused on the sounds of Blair walking down the empty corridors and into his office. It wasn't until he heard the door close, then lock, that Jim pulled away from the curb and drove back home.
A home littered with broken glass. It took a half hour to clean up all the glass and clear out the broken window frame. Then Jim set about checking Blair's computer. It was pretty banged up, but once turned on, seemed to be working just fine. He checked some files, found it all in working order, much to his surprise, then closed it back up. After putting all the notebooks back into a neat stack, and double checking for missed glass, Jim went back to bed. He was asleep in minutes.
The next morning found Jim standing outside Blair's office, computer and notebooks in hand, looking much like any one of the several students making their way from one building to the next. He was about to knock when he realized there were no sounds inside the room. A quick check of the door showed it unlocked, so he went inside. The cot at the far side of the room was hidden by shelves of artifacts and piles of old musty books, but from where he stood, Jim could see the blankets and pillow in disarray.
He turned to find Blair standing in the office, damp hair being dabbed with a towel. "Hey, Chief. I thought you might need your computer and notebooks."
"Oh, thanks, man." He crossed to the desk where the items lay. "Yeah, I need those."
"Did you sleep?" There were dark rings under Blair's eyes, and a slowness about him, but he didn't have that edge to his voice any longer, and the sparkle was trying to return.
"Yeah, I did. I guess I didn't realize just how tired I was." He tossed aside the towel and pushed long, wet hair from his face. "Listen, Jim, about last night, I'm sorry. Honestly, there's nothing going on. I just...I just got overly tired and let it all get to me, I guess."
"I think there's more to it than that, Chief. You've been overworked before and haven't had this happen."
"No, I have. I've just never had anyone around to notice, or to take it out on, before. Really, man, I'm fine."
Jim glanced behind him at the cot Blair had slept on, then back to his friend. "So, you'll be sleeping at home tonight?"
"Yeah, I'll be home. I just have a few things to finish up around here, get some grades posted and such. Do you need me today?"
I need you every day, partner. "Nah, I can handle this Nielsen thing today. You just take it easy, all right? Take a day off or something, and get some sleep."
"Right. Thanks, Jim."
"No problem, Chief." Jim gave Blair a pat on the arm as he walked out, looking back once more at the doorway to see his partner opening his laptop with some trepidation. He shut the door, letting Blair realize the machine was in working order himself.
Back at the Station, Jim continued to dig through the personal files of Mr. Nielsen. It wasn't until he ran across another file, several hours later, that he took a break. It was the personnel file for one Blair Sandburg, police observer. He sat back, opening the file, and took a look inside. First to catch his eye was the start date.
"I knew it." It hadn't been 12 months at all, only 9. The computer must have spewed this out by mistake, and no one bothered to check it out. That was the way all too often these days. The computers were trusted far too much. Jim used them, he even liked them, but like any other tool, they weren't infallible. He closed the file, gathered up Mr. Nielsen's papers and stuffed them back into their box, then carried the whole mess back out to his desk.
"Jim, anything on that Nielsen case?" Simon was standing next to his desk, his hand and mouth uncharacteristically free of any cigar.
"Not much, Simon. I'm going to bring the partners in for questioning one at a time, see if I can get one of them to open up alone."
"Good idea. Put them off their well-manicured guard." Simon glanced at his watch. "Listen, I seem to recall owing you lunch. Any plans?"
"I'm all yours."
They drove several blocks towards the waterfront, then parked outside a nice cafe that served a more balanced fare than they'd had just the other day. Simon volunteered them for the non smoking section, and Jim began to smell a trap. Even with a scent his Sentinel senses couldn't pick up, he was right.
"Jim, something's been eating at you these past few days. You wanna tell me what it is?"
They had finished eating, but the cafe was quiet, so no one was antsy for them to vacate the table.
"I don't know, Simon. It's Blair, I think. He hasn't been himself lately."
"That should be a welcome relief."
Great. Jim rolled his eyes and shook his head, gazing out the window at the bay beyond. He should have known the Captain wouldn't take this as seriously as he was.
"Jim, I'm sorry. Sometimes I just can't resist when it's Sandburg we're talking about." Simon chuckled a bit then sighed. "Come on, it takes a lot to rattle your cage. Why don't you tell me what's going on?"
"I don't know what's going on. Maybe nothing. One thing I found out, it hasn't been a year after all." At least it wasn't some unconscious reaction to an anniversary of any kind. Of that Jim could be relatively certain. "I checked over his observer papers, and it's only been 9 months."
"That figures. Those computers spew out whatever they want whenever they want, and it's too easy to believe them. Even I was having a hard time with that one."
Jim shook his head and sat back, trying to distract both Simon and himself from this topic. "It's nothing, Simon. He hasn't been able to sleep these past few nights, probably all worked up over something at the University. Maybe he just needs a vacation."
"What about you? How are you sleeping these days?"
"Fine." Jim shrugged. "In fact, great."
"Well, could be that he's just all worked up about being overworked. The kid does lead two lives, after all. I gotta give him credit for that." Simon pushed his chair back and stood, shaking his head and reaching for a cigar as they walked to the door. "I don't know how he does it, myself."
"Yeah, neither do I." Jim held the door open while the Captain dug a book of matches out of his pocket. "I think the kid thrives on chaos."
"That would explain a lot." Simon chuckled all the way back to the car.
Jim returned to the life of Mr. Nielsen,
finishing the last of the dead man's personal calendars before phoning his wife.
He'd visit her tomorrow, once again going over their financial records and files
he had kept in his home office. It was beginning to look like maybe her husband
really had taken the easy way out. But Jim had a funny feeling about this one,
and he'd learned years ago to pay close attention to his feelings. One of which
told him to bring home dinner.
Blair was pacing the living room, one hand constantly running through his long hair, head shaking back and forth as he paced out each square foot in front of the balcony doors. Jim set the boxes from Wu Fung's take out down on the counter, recognizing the look on Blair's face immediately as a return to the black mood of last night. His own mood was returning to a nice state of quiet calm, and he almost hated to let Blair disrupt it again.
"Hey, Chief. What's up?"
"I can't do this anymore." Blair's eyes flashed to Jim, then looked out over the room. "I just can't."
Jim took a breath, forcing his heart back down where it would do more good. He was stressed, that's all. Just take it slow, and don't let him do anything stupid. "Can't do what, partner?"
"This!" Blair's pacing stopped on a dime, both hands came up in a wild gesture. "Professor Kinyon asked me to take her class for the rest of this week, I have my own finals to get out, the research group has a problem they expect me to solve, and here you come, wanting me to work with you again."
"Hey, hang on, Chief. I haven't asked you anything yet. Let's just sit down and take it easy, okay?" Jim crossed the room, approaching Blair quietly.
"I don't need to sit down, Jim, I need to clone myself!" Blair moved away, shaking his head.
"Okay." Jim stopped, hands raised. "So the problem here is not enough time, you're overworked. We can deal with that, Blair. It's not something to make yourself sick over." He watched his partner continue pacing, like a caged animal that knew it was trapped, unable to stop looking for an exit that wasn't there. "I can get by without you at the Station for a while."
Blair whirled around, eyes flashing anger. "You don't get it, do you? This is not about you, man!" The hand returned, pushing long dark hair from his face. Before Jim could reply, Blair took a deep breath, closing both eyes tightly while he stood there, facing the wall. "I just need some time to think."
Jim watched his friend walk to his room, half afraid he was getting a pack out to gather some clothes. When he heard Blair sit down on the bed, and no other sounds but his breathing and a slightly elevated heartbeat, he relaxed a bit. If he needed time, he could have it, as long as he took that time where Jim could keep an eye on him.
The Chinese food beckoned from the kitchen, stirring Jim's appetite. Ignoring the fact that he shouldn't be thinking of food when his friend was this upset, Jim settled in on the couch with the boxes and a pair of chopsticks. He turned on the news, but kept the volume low enough to allow him an easy survey down the hall when he needed to check Blair.
The kid was showing all the signs of stress. Not sleeping, confusing the source of his irritation, lashing out at whoever was handy. He was probably associating being at home with his problems since that's where he had the time to think about them. Maybe it was time someone took over his life for a week or so, and took him on a retreat to recharge the batteries? Jim set his Moo Shu beef down and looked around the coffee table for a brochure he'd seen the other day.
That's when he spotted the letter. It had fallen to the floor, and was ready to be kicked under the couch. He picked up the overseas envelope and glanced at the front. To Blair Sandburg. Well, that wasn't unusual. From Dr. Eli Stoddard, Borneo. Something tightened inside Jim's gut. Something irrational, maybe even immature, but there nevertheless. He resisted the urge to breach Blair's privacy, and tossed the letter back to the table. Is that his problem? He wants to go to Borneo again, and doesn't know how to break it to me?
"It's about friendship. I just didn't see that before."
Right. Then what the hell was going on? Frustrated with his own feelings of jealousy regarding Blair's former mentor and the hold he apparently still had, Jim made up his mind. He had to know if he was the cause of all these ridiculous outbursts. And if so, they had to get past it, or end it here.
"Sandburg, I--" Jim stopped at the door, trying to understand what he was seeing. Blair didn't bother looking up. He sat at the edge of the bed, rolling a small tan bottle between his hands. A bottle that held a label, hastily applied, bearing Jim's name. "What he hell are you doing?" Instinct propelled him forward to take the container from Blair's hands. The lid was off, but there were several pills still inside the bottle.
"I have a headache, Jim." Blair didn't look up, didn't protest when the pills were taken from him.
"How many did you take?"
He'd had this bottle in his room all this time. "How many did you take?!" Angry and worried, Jim pulled Blair from the bed, looking into his eyes.
"None!" Hands came up quickly, forcing Jim's grip away. Blair's eyes flashed again, fearlessly challenging. "Just leave me alone, Jim! You're not my keeper, all right?"
"Maybe if I was I'd know what the hell was wrong with you!" Jim's heart was racing now, matching the rhythm he could hear in Blair's own chest. What was he thinking? "We need to have a talk here, Chief. Right now."
"No, Jim, we don't." Blair pushed past him and out of the room, marching to the front door.
"Sandburg, where are you going?"
Jim stopped at the door, letting it slam in his face. He needed time. Time to calm himself down, time to understand what was happening. Time to count those damn pills. To the best of his understanding, there was only one, maybe two missing. What was happening here? He'd been sure he'd seen Blair in every stressful situation possible already, and could predict his reaction to anything. Tonight was proof of his mistake.
Maybe Blair had been planning a break in the routine
all this time. Maybe the only stress he was feeling was over the best way to approach
Jim with the news that he wanted to leave him, leave the Sentinel studies, the
exciting life of police work, and return to his real mentor, Dr. Eli Stoddard.
The first man to ever gain Blair's undying respect.
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