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China White

by Kristine Williams

Part 7

Closing his eyes, Jim pressed his head into the pillow, waiting for the worst of the pain to subside. All of his senses seemed to be under control again, and no longer adding to the headache. He tried to concentrate, and stop thinking about what had happened, but the sight of Blair on that floor, unconscious, had nearly been too much. Jim remembered it all, too clearly. He could have killed his partner. Either with the gun, or his bare hands, it wouldn't have mattered. All he could think about at the time was the pain and confusion of senses gone wild. He'd needed so desperately to make the noises, sights, and smells go away. And Blair's heartbeat had been one of those sounds. A heartbeat he normally hardly noticed, much like his own. Only it hadn't been his own that was sending him into that blind rage.

Luckily, Blair had known exactly what to do. He'd kept Jim in control and stayed far enough away to keep himself alive. Now, the sound of his friend downstairs, moving around quietly, was something Jim could cling to, and concentrate on. The fact that he was there, alive, and staying, slowly eased Jim's mind into sleep.

Blair closed the blinds against the morning sun, then went to the freezer and made a fresh ice-pack. His laptop was still on the table from the day before, so he sat down and turned it on. The keyboard was pretty quiet, but with Jim in the loft, nothing was perfectly quiet. Blair would have used pen and paper, but his right hand was too sore. At least he could key one-handed and make some progress. It might be slow, but he needed time to consider his thoughts anyway. And holding the ice pack under his shirt, pressed up against his bruised stomach, gave both his hand and his abdomen some small relief.

God, he'd been lucky! Or incredibly stupid, depending on how you looked at it. Jim could have killed him, easily, and never known what he was doing. But it never should have gotten out of control. Why hadn't he been able to help? Had he done something wrong, or did Jim not trust him? Not enough to respond to him while under such an influence. Not as much as Blair had trusted him while on the hood of that car, trying to shoot things no one else could see. He'd blown it. Plain and simple. Whatever it was Jim needed to help him through, Blair hadn't done it. All those times Jim was there for him, and when it was his turn, he blew it.

Blair sighed and pushed his hair away. If he could just concentrate on getting down this new development, work out in his head and his notes Jim's sensitivity and reaction to such minuscule amounts of a powdered drug, adding what had just happened when he'd been exposed to a larger concentration, maybe Blair could get through the day and not worry about what Jim was thinking. Had Jim expected Blair to do better? Had he expected his partner and friend to be able to talk him down, calm him down, and take care of him? Or had he expected no better than what he got? The only other time Blair had tried to talk someone down like that, he'd failed. Miserably.

The screen saver clicked on, and Blair realized he'd been sitting there doing nothing for over ten minutes. This wasn't helping. All he could do now was be there for Jim, and hope his friend wasn't too disappointed in him. His own injuries were minor compared to what could have happened to Jim if he'd been exposed under different circumstances. The cocaine had taken his already heightened senses, and magnified them to the point of overload. Any more stimulation--like from a noisy crowd or bright lights--and Jim's mind could have shut down from all the input. He'd been close to losing not just his senses, but his mind. The only price Blair had paid was a few bruises, and those were no one's fault but his own, for not being able to control Jim.

But then, the only one who could control Jim Ellison, was Jim Ellison. He could overpower Blair, and had on several occasions. But he'd always stopped short of hurting. Jim not only knew his own strength, but how to use it. The only other time he'd actually injured Blair had been out of his control as well. The subliminal effect of the radio test pattern had worked much like the cocaine, taking Jim completely by surprise. But this time Blair had some time to realize what was happening. He knew Jim had been dusted with the cocaine, and he knew no matter how dilute it was, the drug would affect his friend violently. And yet he'd done nothing.

Blair sighed and shook his head, then started typing out some observations, starting with the statue in his office. He made some progress, even one-handed, and after a few hours decided to take a break and dump the melted ice bag he was holding. He stopped in the kitchen and listened, trying in vain to hear Jim's breathing pattern from downstairs. There hadn't been a sound from his room since Blair had first left him there. He could be sleeping soundly, or still in pain and concentrating to keep his senses under control.

Blair debated the wisdom of going upstairs to check. If Jim was asleep, Blair's presence might inadvertently wake him. But, if he was just lying there, in pain, maybe he could be of some help? Although just what he could do, he wasn't sure. Jim usually scoffed at his meditation methods, and if he had to concentrate just to get past the headache, he wasn't going to want to concentrate any harder. No, what Jim really needed was to be left alone, without any outside stimuli. He needed rest, and quiet.

By the time he'd reached that conclusion, Blair found himself at the bottom of the steps. Well, I made it this far. He took the steps one at a time as quietly as he could. At the top, he could see Jim, eyes closed, in apparent slumber. Blair stood there for several minutes, making sure his mind understood. Jim was all right. The drug had worn off, there were no permanent injuries, and he had not lost his senses.

Blair had seen one mind shut off due to cocaine, he couldn't stand seeing another. Not if that other was Jim. After a few minutes he turned and walked back down as slowly and quietly as he'd come up. It was nearly noon now, and Blair was feeling the effects of a long, stressful night. Fearing he wouldn't hear Jim call from his room, he walked to the couch and got comfortable, wishing he had Sentinel hearing that could alert him to his friend waking up. As it was, his tired mind coupled with his bruised and aching body, to produce almost instant sleep.

"Chief, hand me that last statue. And be careful this time, it's valuable."

Blair turned from the crate he was examining and looked at Jim. Why he was talking about how valuable the artifacts were, Blair had no notion. But, he was right. Inside that crate was the last statue to be offered up for presentation. It was one he'd searched for all his adult life, maybe even before he'd known what it was he was searching for. It was an artifact few understood, and fewer still even believed in. It was the Watchman. A clay carving depicting one of Burton's own Sentinels. The very tribesmen he'd studied so long ago, thought to have been a myth. Some claimed what Burton observed were merely men who had learned to harness the powers of local drugs and stimulants that provided brief, intense surges in sensory awareness. But Blair, as well as Burton, had known that to be untrue. And here was some small proof of their existence. As art reflects life, this rare and valuable piece represented Blair's life.

Carefully, he reached into the crate and removed the clay figure. With skilled hands, he pulled it from the packing straw and examined it. Almost reverently, he turned the statue around in his hands, noting the skilled craftsmanship, the exquisite detail and fine work that had gone into capturing a piece of history.

"Hand it over, Chief, and we'll be all done."

Blair turned toward Jim, then carefully reached out, handing the figure to Jim. But before he could place it in his friend's waiting hands, the Watchman slipped from his grasp and fell, crashing to the floor. Blair watched in horror as the artifact broke apart before him. Smashing into a million pieces at his feet, with no one to blame for the destruction but himself.

"Oh, God! Oh, Jim. God, what have I done?!" Blair's voice was barely a whisper. He looked up, meeting Jim's eyes, and expected the worst.

"Come on, Chief. Just one more statue and we can go home." Jim gestured toward the crate with one hand, seemingly unconcerned.

Astounded, Blair looked at Jim, then down to his feet. There were no bits of clay, no powdery residue where the Watchman had just fallen. Stunned, he spun around and looked into the crate.

There it sat, looking up at him with blue-painted eyes. What?!

"Come on, Chief, let's go. I'm hungry."

"Jim, I--I can't." Blair couldn't take his eyes off the statue as it sat, whole and unharmed, at the bottom of the crate. "I'll drop it."

"No, you won't, Chief." Jim was beside him now, looking down into the crate.

"Yes, Jim. I--I've dropped it before." He didn't know how, but he had just dropped it. He had! "I can't. Jim, it's too valuable. Too rare for me to risk losing." He shook his head, and straightened up, looking at Jim. "You'd better get it."

"No, I can't." Jim shook his head, then placed a hand on Blair's shoulder. "You're the only one who knows how. You're the only one I trust with it, Chief. Pick it up, and let's go home."

Reluctantly, Blair reached in again and took hold of the statue. It felt warm in his hands, and the shape of it fit well between his fingers. Carefully, he lifted it out of the crate, then turned to hand it to Jim. Only this time, Jim wasn't waiting to take it. He was walking to the door, motioning with his hand for Blair to follow.

"Come on, partner. Let's go home."

Blair hesitated, glancing around the display room. Each of the pedestals was already occupied by one of the myriad of other artifacts he had already unpacked. There was no room for the Watchman anywhere in that room. He looked at the statue again, and allowed his fingers to run over the clay. Blair knew where it belonged.

"I'm coming, Jim."

He woke with a start, jarring sore stomach muscles as his mind registered a noise. Quickly Blair identified that sound as having come from down the hall, not upstairs. Jim stepped out of the bathroom just as Blair got off the couch, rubbing tired eyes.

"Jim, you okay, man? You feel all right?" Blair tried to blink away the sleep still lingering in his eyes, and brushed the hair from his face.

"Yeah, Chief, I'm better now." Jim walked to the table, somewhat slowly, and sat down. "Just exhausted." He looked up at Blair, then glanced at the couch. "You didn't just sleep all day on that couch, did you?"

Blair paused before entering the bathroom. "Yeah. It was as good a place as any. You hungry?"

"I think I could eat. It's after 8:00, I should call Simon."

Blair finished using the bathroom and came back out quickly. "Jim, come on, man. Simon sent you home to rest. Surely this can wait till morning?" He finished zipping up on the way back down the hall. "Narcotics is on the case now."

"That doesn't mean I'm off it, Chief," Jim countered. "But the Captain's probably home now. We'll find out soon enough what Narcotics has or hasn't learned since this morning."

Blair walked into the kitchen, noting that Jim hadn't so much as reached for the phone. "What do you feel like eating?" He opened the fridge and scanned the contents.

"I'm not picky tonight." Jim rubbed his eyes then got up. "How about some coffee?"

"Relax, Jim." Blair held out a hand and Jim stopped, then sat back down. "I'll make it." He reached out for the pot, then winced when the fingers of his right hand tried in vain to lift the container. Quickly Blair switched hands and rinsed out the pot, then made some fresh coffee. "You look tired. How's the headache?"

Jim nodded, running fingers through his short-cropped hair. "Fine. It's all gone now. And my senses all seem to be under control again."

Blair had decided on a pasta salad, and began taking out what he'd need from the refrigerator and cupboards. "Just don't push it for a while, Jim. Don't try and stretch out for a day or so, just to be on the safe side." Lifting the pot after he'd filled it with water proved to be too much for Blair's bruised abdominal muscles. He'd just dropped in back into the sink when Jim's hand came around and took the handle from him.

"Sandburg, let me help." Jim pulled the pot from the sink and placed it on a burner, then turned on the gas while Blair opened a package of fresh pasta. "You know, I thought it was bad when my hearing changed, after that exam. But this--this was too much."

"Sure it was." Blair started to wash the vegetables while Jim poured himself a cup of coffee. "You not only had sounds coming in vastly magnified, but also sights, smells, tactile sensations." He shook his head and set the carrots down next to the green pepper. "And your mind, man, it just couldn't process the information fast enough." Blair started to chop the vegetables with a sharp knife. He had to take extra care with bruised fingers that didn't want to grip anything too tightly. "I hate to imagine what might have happened, Jim. What could have happened if we'd been anywhere but in that shed, alone, and at night."

"Yeah." Jim took his coffee to the table and sat down. "Even now I can't process it all. I keep getting these flashes, glimpses of things, that I can't quite define."

"Well, don't try, Jim." Blair checked the noodles, then reached for a cup. "By the time you were getting all this input, those two who locked us in down there must have been long gone."

"Maybe." Jim took a drink of coffee then shook his head. "I dunno, Chief. There has to be something I heard, or saw, or something."

"Jim, they took us both by surprise, and before you had a chance to react, you were practically covered in a drug you knew could kill you. There was no time." The noodles were done, so Blair added the vegetables to cook for a few minutes in the boiling water. "Like you said, it's not over. You'll catch these guys." He found the strainer and put it in the sink. "And when you do, I wanna be there." Carefully, Blair lifted the pot from the burner, using both hands and his arm muscles more than his stomach, and poured the salad into the strainer. "I'd like to know who's been using University shipments to bring drugs into Cascade."

Jim stood and gathered up plates and utensils, carrying them to the table while Blair brought the salad bowl. "We will, Chief. That, I'm certain of."

Blair stabbed some pasta and a chunk of green pepper with a fork. "You still think it's one of the students involved with the function?"

"Could be." Jim stuffed a mouthful of salad into his mouth. When he finished swallowing, he continued. "Mr. Johnson and Mr. Scott are probably off the hook. Their list of references for the night of the theft was pretty impressive."

"I figured they'd have an excuse like that." Blair set down his fork and picked up his coffee cup. "Those two are really dedicated. They'll make great researchers one of these days."

"But I'm still not convinced about Mr. Albright and Ms. Swanson. Until we see if that library has them on the security camera, they could have been anywhere that night."

Blair nodded, considering all the possibilities. "You don't really think Professor Peters had anything to do with it, do you, Jim?"

"Probably not. But he's still on the list till I find out otherwise. Now, Professor Kinyon I'd have a hard time believing guilty of anything."

"Oh, no." Blair shook his head emphatically. "There's no way she's involved." He ate more pasta, thinking about the Professor and all she had done for him in the past. Sure, she was a bit hyperactive, but she came by that naturally. She was kind, an incredible teacher and researcher in her own right. In fact, if it hadn't been for the transcribed notes from her office that Blair had read several months ago, notes detailing what she and one of her students thought of Mr. Blair Sandburg, he'd have believed the Professor had a crush on Jim.

"I agree. But someone brought in several kilos of pure, uncut cocaine, and I'm going to find out who."

Blair nodded, and they ate the rest of their meal in silence. He could see how tired Jim still was, and he was getting stiffer all the time, and could use a good night's sleep in a nice, firm bed. By the time they finished dinner, they were both too tired to worry about the dishes. Blair did manage to gather them up, and even filled the sink to let the plates soak overnight, but any more than that was too much. His stomach muscles were aching, his hand throbbed, and his face hurt.

As he set the dishes into the hot water, Jim came out of the bathroom and flipped off the coffee pot. "Listen, Chief, about what happened, I--"

"No," Blair held up a hand, cutting Jim off. There was a towel on the counter and he picked it up, draping it over one shoulder, then shook his head and continued to stuff the dishes into the sink. "Jim, it wasn't your fault. There's nothing to be sorry for. You didn't know what you were doing, and I just got in the way. That's all." He looked up then, meeting Jim's eyes.

"Blair, it is my fault. I could have killed you."

"No, Jim. Don't do this to me, man." He knew it. He knew this would happen. That it was all a lie. Dammit, it couldn't be! "I don't need to hear this, Jim."

"Sandburg, what's going on?" Jim reached out to touch Blair's shoulder.

Blair turned, throwing the towel down on the opposite counter. "Jim, when I woke up in the hospital, you said it wasn't my fault. You said it was the Golden, remember? You said that I had no control over what I was doing." God, it had to be true! "You said no one would blame me for what I'd done." Blair's heart began to race as he fought back the fear of what he was hearing. "Jim, tell me that wasn't a lie."

"Chief, I've never lied to you." Jim's voice was quiet. "I meant what I said, I always have."

"Then this wasn't your fault. Any more than it was mine." Couldn't he see that?

Jim sighed, leaning against the refrigerator. "You're right, Chief." He paused, and Blair was silent also, still facing the counter but watching Jim. "Tell you what; I'll feel bad about what happened, and not guilty about how it happened. How's that?"

Blair laughed shortly, then nodded. "Sure. If that satisfies the Ellison guilt quota."

It was Jim's turn to laugh as he pushed away from the refrigerator and walked through the kitchen, slapping Blair gently on the arm as he passed. "Good enough."

"Jim." The word was out of his mouth before he had a chance to think about it. Now, as his friend stood there, looking at him, Blair had no choice but to get it over with. No choice but to find out, one way or the other. "Are you disappointed in me?" He had to force his eyes to meet Jim's.

"What? Disappointed how, Chief?"

Go on, say it. "I couldn't help you, back in the maintenance shed. I--I couldn't help you, the way you helped me off that car. I just--I didn't know what to do." Blair's courage failed him and his gaze dropped to his hands. "I couldn't get you to respond to anything, and I--"

"Sandburg, you did exactly right."

Blair looked up, meeting deep blue eyes.

"You were there for me. You never left or panicked. And you kept me from panicking, believe it or not. I was very aware of your presence, Chief. I'd have gone insane without you, and no doubt shot my way out of that shed and into--probably nothing less than sensory hell." Jim reached out and put a hand on Blair's shoulder. "I'm grateful, not disappointed."

"But I should have--" Blair cut himself off when Jim raised a hand and gave him a stern look.

"Guilt is my job, remember? Your job is to watch my back and keep me on track."

Blair closed his eyes tightly for just a moment, holding back the relief that wanted to flood out. He didn't deserve so much faith, but God, it felt good! When he opened them again, Jim pulled him closer for a brief embrace.

"Get some sleep." He ruffled Blair's hair with one hand, then walked toward the stairs. "I want to go to the University tomorrow and talk to that guy in your shipping department."

"Harry Bilks?"

"Yeah." Jim ascended the steps, looking down at Blair as he was walking to his own room. "Harry Bilks."

Blair stood in the kitchen, watching Jim as he walked up the stairs leading to his room. Relief washed over him in a flood of emotion. Blair could have handled a lot of things, but Jim's disappointment wasn't one of them. And he had every right to feel that way. Blair should have done something, anything. He should have known what to do and how to do it. But the truth of the matter was, Blair didn't always know what to do. Not right away. Jim's undying faith in Blair's ability to find the answer to any Sentinel-related problem the instant it happened could be daunting. But it was always unwavering. He only wished he deserved the credit half the time.

"God." Blair sighed, realizing just exactly what Jim's acceptance and appreciation meant. What it meant to be coming from Jim, and what it meant for Blair.

"You all right, Chief?"

The question startled Blair out of his thoughts. "Yeah, fine. Good night, Jim." He walked to his room, shaking his head at his unbelievable luck in finding Detective Jim Ellison.


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