It had started to rain. But it wasn't cold. Blair wasn't nearly
as cold outside as he felt inside. Damn Jim and his prying! Why couldn't
he leave well enough alone? Why couldn't he have left Blair to his internal demons?
He'd have worked them out eventually. He was pretty sure. He'd never taken Dr.
Stoddard's offer seriously, after all. But now...now it was beginning to look
like his only option. Blair had managed to talk himself out of these feelings
today, but now they were back, strong as ever.
He thought he was being paranoid,
thinking Jim didn't want him around anymore, that he was keeping him on out of
some misguided sense of obligation. Jim hated his Sentinel senses, and would just
as soon set them aside. He never understood what that meant to Blair. He never
realized how it hurt to have your entire life's work, your thesis, first embodied,
then rejected by its owner. What he wouldn't give for five minutes' worth of Jim's
abilities! What he'd been through, all these years---the ridicule, the scorn,
the rejection---only to find what he alone knew to exist. And to have that very
find reject itself out of scorn. Contempt of itself. Contempt of Blair.
his dazed wanderings, Blair found himself in the park again, standing on the sidewalk
gazing out over the bay. His head was pounding along with the rain, keeping time
with the rush of blood surging through his ears. It was so loud, he didn't hear
Jim until the man was standing beside him.
"What the hell's going on here,
"I don't know, Jim." He couldn't meet Jim's eyes for
fear of what he'd see. All his past worries, all that paranoid apprehension that
he'd some day piss this man off, had finally come to fruition.
trying to end this?"
No! "I'm not sure."
if you are, this is one hell of a way to go about it."
Blair risked a
glance, and his fears became stone. Cold, hard, and just as dangerous as the blue
eyes gazing anywhere but at him.
"If you want out, Sandburg, then I can't
stop you. You won't talk to me, you won't talk to anyone else as far as I know.
You've shut me out, and I can't help you."
No, no, this was all so wrong!
It never should have gone this far. Blair sank to the curb, heedless of the damp
cement. The cold, hard surface matched the piercing pain in his chest that made
inhaling an aching chore. His heart had fallen through one of his shoes to mingle
with the drainage water flowing quietly out to sea. Just as well, his life had
ended today. Three days ago, technically. It had been a slow, lingering death.
And now it was over. Dear God, it was over! "Jim..."
I've had enough." His voice held finality. His words cold and hard.
let his head sink to meet the hands required to hold it up. Long, damp hair fell
forward, hiding his eyes from the man who stood beside him. Jim's own eyes, still
cold blue fire, looked right over Blair. They hadn't focused on him since he stormed
out. Blair knew, the instant those eyes bored through his soul, it was over. No
greater weapon could ever be invented than Jim Ellison's cold blue eyes. No sharper
blade cut as deeply as the words Jim said. The truth known only to him, but so
obvious now, was painfully bright.
Knowing it was finished, Blair waited for
tears, but nothing came. What kind of animal was he? He was too exhausted
to mourn the loss. He couldn't even cry. There was no effort, no running nose
or heaving chest, no tightening in his throat. Not even tears. As if to some degree,
it was a release. Fear, having been realized, could only cause pain now, not the
slow, lingering suffering of worry. Maybe this was a good thing in some way. The
inevitable parting that was a staple of his life. It was best he do the leaving,
"I'm sorry, Jim."
"So am I, Chief." Jim stepped
off the curb and into a puddle. "So am I."
The feet Blair could see
remained in front of him. After a few minutes, he glanced up.
going to leave you out here. Do you want a hotel room, or will you stay in the
loft until you figure this out?"
Blair sighed deeply, forcing himself
off the wet ground. He'd lost it. He'd lost everything that ever mattered. Somehow,
where he slept no longer meant a thing. "I'll stay at the University. I can
find a dorm room next week."
"I won't ask you to move, Blair. But
if you stay, you'll have to talk."
He laughed slightly, then pushed soaking
hair from his eyes. "I think I've said enough, don't you?" It was ironic,
really, when you thought about it. Ironic that in trying so hard to prove everyone
wrong, he ended up proving them all right. The cops who said he didn't belong
there. The professors who said he didn't belong here. And Naomi, who said he'd
never be happy staying anywhere for too long.
As they neared the loft doors,
Blair dug into his pocket and pulled out his car keys. "I'll come by tomorrow
night, to get some things."
"Fine. Call me, if you need anything."
He couldn't look up, couldn't see those eyes again, even if the voice was reflecting
concern and regret. Blair knew the eyes would be cold, and very painful. As quickly
as he could, he got to his car, started it up, and pulled away, not even checking
the rearview mirror. He was sure Jim was standing there, and would stand there,
until his Sentinel vision could no longer see Blair's black car in the rain. Blair
was grateful then for his own limited vision.
At his office, the cot lay unused.
Blair gazed over the campus, wondering if he'd ever be able to go back. There
had never been any place he called home before. Not since being on his own. The
great American dream realized! A place to hang your hat, kick off your shoes,
grab a beer and unwind. A place you could count on to always be there. A place...Hell.
He knew it was never the loft. A two bedroom renovation over shops on a busy street
with some half-assed view of the city's backside? No. That was never home. Jim
He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, trying in vain to force
out the anger and betrayal. What the hell were you thinking, Sandburg?
What on earth made you think this man wanted you in his life? You move in, take
over his life, lay claim on his God-given gift and presume to instruct him, and
all this time you thought he wanted you here? Embarrassment and regret
battled for first place inside his gut, while confusion and the deep need to take
a flying leap out the second floor window fought for control of his mind.
God oh God oh God! What had he done? The University, Borneo, Dr. Stoddard,
suddenly nothing mattered any longer. Blair's entire life had flushed out to sea
with that rain water in the park. Nothing else mattered anymore.
in time he'd recover. Maybe when hell froze over, he'd get over this. For now,
all he had to hold onto was a deep, echoing empty feeling inside. The sun was
coming up before Blair realized he'd been standing at the window for hours. Numbly,
he crossed the room and flipped on the radio, trying to flood his consciousness
with some mundane news or sports report. What he heard stopped his heart cold.
"We return to our breaking news story. Police report a shooting in a residence
on the 800 block of Prospect Avenue. We have at least one man dead, and an unconfirmed
rumor of police involvement. Whether or not the dead man is in fact the police
officer reported to live in the building is not officially known at this time."
Blair pushed his way through the small crowd, fear pounding his chest like
a hammer. Two more people in his way. Once past them he be able to see. He'd know
for sure if...if it was Jim who had died. If his friend had been killed with no
one to watch his back. If he'd zoned out and never had a chance, because there
was no one there...because Blair wasn't there. Please, don't let it be Jim.
Anyone but Jim! Simon, Brown, Jenkins...just anyone but Jim! He didn't care
at this point that someone was dead, only that it not be Jim.
we found another round in the living room."
Blair stopped, his entire
body feeling the release. Breathless from panic, he could only sigh heavily as
his eyes found Jim standing...alive! He was several yards away, near a plastic-covered
body and two uniformed officers standing on the steps of their building. The crowd
was moving, milling around with boredom as they slowly began to disperse. Air
was finally reaching Blair's lungs after several gasping attempts to revive himself.
Suddenly his situation became apparent, and as badly as he needed to see Jim,
to know he was alive, he now needed to get away. No one had seen him yet, there
was time to get out and get himself together before...
He looked up one last
time..and found Jim's eyes. They held his as if waiting there all this time, perfectly
level, knowing just when Blair would look up, and at what height he'd be. Knowing
even before Blair did that he was there in the crowd looking for Jim. But that
height wasn't going to last. His knees threatened to buckle as his exhausted body
demanded an explanation for the anxiety level. Desperate to move away before his
legs could give out and make a scene, Blair backed away, unable for a moment to
pull his eyes from the gaze holding them. When he finally did break the connection,
he turned and hurried several feet back. Dropping to the curb with little grace,
he sat down hard, letting his head fall forward. With elbows on knees, Blair held
his own head to keep from falling over.
Breathe, you idiot! You'll only
pass out if you don't breathe! Blair inhaled shakily, rubbing his forehead
with his fingers as he fought to return his heart rate to something closer to
normal. It took some doing, getting his breathing under control, getting his adrenaline
level back down. His heart pounded, but now it was deep inside his chest, not
bursting through his throat. Slowly he became aware of his surroundings again,
and the fact that someone was sitting next to him on the sidewalk. The crowd had
dispersed completely now, leaving only one or two passersby to glance at the commotion
in the entryway. His heart took a leap when he allowed himself to realize who
it was. And just how long Jim had been sitting there beside him.
was it?" Blair stared at the ground, lowering his hands but still unable
to look up.
"Mrs. Walters killed her husband."
Blair sighed, letting
out more of the pent up fear and frustration that had carried him all the way
from the University in less than five minutes. He'd liked the Walters well enough,
but all he felt now was the lingering relief that Jim was sitting beside him,
not being placed into the coroner's van. "I was so scared, man. I heard about
the shooting on the radio and I thought..." Blair sighed again, shaking his
head. "I can't do this. I can't even get through the day without..."
His heart jumped again, in fear this time. Fear that he had truly gone too far.
Fear that he had no right at all to ask what he so desperately needed to ask.
"Jim." Blair looked up, meeting blue eyes that looked deeply into his.
"Can't we just black out these past few days and start over? I can't live
like this. Not in Cascade, anyway. I can't listen to news like that and wonder
if...I just can't."
Jim took a deep breath, gazing out over Blair's head
somewhere. "No, Chief. We can't just black it out."
sank once again to the ground. How he could go through this kind of death twice
and survive, he didn't know. "Jim..." A hand on his shoulder stopped
the plea mid-throat. That arm quickly came around his shoulders and pulled him
closer as Jim looked down.
"Blair, this isn't something we can black out.
It's something we have to figure out."
Confused, and just a little hopeful,
Blair looked up, seeing the softer blue eyes he needed so badly to see. Eyes that
saw right into you, without looking straight out the back. Eyes that wanted to
know you, not distance themselves.
"Listen, Chief, there's something wrong
here. Something that neither one of us could control, or even see, until now."
Jim shook his head. "I should have seen it earlier. I could have prevented
this. Carl and Marlene had fights before, but never like this."
don't get it." As desperate as he was to believe there was some hope in this
situation, Blair still didn't understand what the situation was.
do I, yet." Jim gave Blair's shoulders a gentle squeeze, hugging him to his
side for a moment before he let go. He stood, looking down at Blair. "I talked
to Simon. He's sending a HazMat team out here to go over the building. Whatever
is going on, it's going on in there."
Blair stood slowly, still not willing
to trust his legs. "What, like something in the air inside the building?
But Jim, if anything was in there, you'd be affected."
"I don't know,
Chief. I don't know." Cars approached then, Simon's patrol car and two large
white HazMat vans. "Just hang out here for a minute, I'll be right back."
Blair nodded, slightly dazed by the adrenaline overdose. His head was spinning,
and his knees threatened collapse, so he sat back down on the curb and watched
as Jim spoke with the men from the van and Captain Banks. Every time he tried
to think about what Jim had said, about the building being the cause of all that
had happened these past three days, all he came back to was his friend telling
him they'd figure it out. Whatever it was, they'd figure it out.
too late. God, he was tired!
"Blair, come on, let's go."
Blair looked up to find Jim standing beside him, reaching down for his arm.
"I'm taking you to the hospital, first. Then a hotel."
"Jim, I'm ..."
"Don't argue. We're both getting examined.
Then you're getting some sleep." Jim had Blair by the left arm, and took
no resistance seriously. "It could take them days to get results back, Chief.
Until then, we stay out."
He didn't resist. He couldn't. Exhaustion was
creeping in again, threatening to send him into blissful sleep even when the doctor
was drawing yet another vial of blood. He'd just been examined thoroughly. Very
thoroughly, giving samples of fluids, having x-rays and even a cat-scan. Five
hours later he was given the results.
"Well, Mr. Sandburg, the only difference
we can see between the pair of you, other than being very healthy men, is that
you have a slight irritation in your inner ear. Possibly due to an infection,
but more likely the result of using stereo headphones a bit too often, and a bit
Blair rolled his eyes at the look Jim awarded him. If it
weren't for his roommate, Blair wouldn't need the headphones in the first place.
"Other than that, you do appear to be suffering from a serious lack of
sleep, which I recommend you remedy as soon as possible."
you, doctor." Jim motioned toward the door. "Come on, Chief, let's go
remedy that situation."
Blair agreed, following Jim out to the parking
lot. There were things he wanted to say, things he needed to ask, but he was too
tired to do more than get into the truck and buckle up. Just staying awake during
the cat-scan had taken all his reserve energy. He was afraid if he fell asleep,
he'd move and they'd have to start again. So he held perfectly still, nearly sweating
with the effort to stay awake, concentrating on the fact that Jim was still with
him, and in control.
They were in the hotel room before Blair even registered
getting out of the truck. "Jim, wait, what time is it?" All thoughts
of the University, of his classes and Professor Kinyon's lecture had vanished
the moment he'd turned on that radio.
"Don't worry, Chief. I called the
University when we were at the hospital. Your classes were covered, and you're
free for the rest of the week." Jim ushered Blair by the arm to one of the
beds, not letting go until he sat down. "You need sleep, Blair. Until you
can catch up, nothing is going to make any sense."
agreed, and kicked his shoes off wearily. The small voice inside his head, the
one he'd been shutting up all this time, was nagging at him again, urging him
to pay attention. Jim was in the bathroom, washing his face, when it all came
flooding back. What he'd said, what he'd wanted to say but didn't. And the pills!
He had taken one, and wanted to take the rest. He'd really wanted to take the
rest! And what if there wasn't anything wrong at the loft? What if the HazMat
people found nothing? What would that prove, that Blair had meant what he'd said?
That he'd really wanted to end it all, whether that meant leaving Jim or killing
"Jim?" Blair's hands began to shake. His heart was racing,
he couldn't catch his breath. What if it was real? What if he really meant it
Oh God, what if he was losing his mind?
"Jim!" Hands clutched him, taking him by the arms, lifting him to his
feet. All Blair saw was a shirt, a chest, a body in front of him. He grabbed the
man in front of him, desperate to hold on, to stop his hands from shaking so violently.
Fear pressed his face into Jim's chest, fear and a deep need not to let go of
the one thing that stood between him and insanity.
Jim's arms wrapped tightly around Blair's body, pulling them closer together.
"It's all right, Blair."
"No, no, it isn't." Blair pressed
his face in close, leaving just enough room to speak and breathe, but he couldn't
get his lungs to relax. His heart continued to race out of control, his breath
coming in spasms. He couldn't accept the fact that he'd nearly thrown his life
away. That he'd tried to push Jim away. He held on to Jim as if his life depended
on it, feeling the arms around his back holding him just as desperately. Blair's
mind couldn't accept what he'd nearly done, what he'd come so close to losing.
He thought at least now, if the nightmare returned, it would have to drag him
away kicking and screaming. As long as he just held on.
And he did. He held
on for dear life, trying to convey a fear he couldn't voice, trying to take comfort
in that fear being diminished. Trying desperately to hold on, for fear Jim would
simply vanish if he let go.
After some time, Blair's heart rate returned to
something closer to normal. His breathing stopped its uncontrolled rushes, and
his body's shaking reduced somewhat. Jim made no move to let go, so Blair remained
there a bit longer, willing the grip he maintained on his friend's shirt to strengthen
any cracks he'd created in their bond over these past few days.
When he felt
he could control his voice, Blair pulled back just enough to speak, not ready
to let go. "Is this what it felt like, when you thought you were losing your
"You're not losing your mind, Chief." Jim's hands moved
to the top of Blair's shoulders, giving a gentle squeeze. "Any more than
The blue eyes that met his when he looked up were soft, full of
sympathy and understanding. Forgiveness. There was no more hint of the blue ice
that had stung so badly the night before. "But I remember it all, Jim. Everything
I said, everything I..." His voice gave out for a moment, recalling the pain
he'd felt in the park when those eyes looked right through him.
I remember it too. Neither of us was in our right minds, Blair. If I had been,
I'd have seen what was happening. Before you had those pills. Before Mrs. Walters
killed her husband." He stopped, jaw clenching for a moment. "You weren't
acting normal, I should have seen that, but I didn't."
Blair started to
shake his head, but the hands on his shoulders pressed him down to the bed. His
own hands let go of Jim's shirt with great reluctance.
"Come on, Chief,
you need to sleep."
He nodded, not wanting to admit that his little emotional
display had just cost him what little reserve he had. His body and mind were demanding
a break from the hell they'd been through. In fact, they both conspired against
him and started to shut down even before he remembered taking off his clothes.
Blair woke slowly, realizing as he did so where he was, and why. And the fact
that his ears were ringing, almost painfully. The sound of running water alleviated
a sudden fear that he was alone, giving him the courage he needed to roll over
and look for Jim.
"Good morning." He was coming out of the bathroom,
dressed and drying his hands on a towel.
"Jim, what time is it?"
"Don't worry about the time, Chief." Jim tossed the towel over the
back of a chair. "I have to go in to the Station for a little while. I want
you to stay here, get some rest. I shouldn't be too long."
Blair shoved the blankets off his legs, fleetingly hoping he had his shorts on
at least, since he still didn't remember getting into bed last night. He did.
"I'll come with you."
"No." Jim crossed the room and stood
next to Blair. "Sandburg, you've been awake for 72 hours. Whatever has been
going on, it's kept you awake and let me sleep like a baby."
a hand through his hair, nodding slightly. He was still exhausted, but right now
he didn't like the idea of Jim leaving, even if it was just to the Station.
I want you to rest up. The maid won't be in till this evening. Use room service
when you get hungry and just take it easy." Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder,
giving a gentle squeeze. "I'll be back this afternoon, and we'll figure this
out. All right?"
Blair looked up, resisting the urge to hold on to Jim's
shirt and insist he either stay there or let him go to work too. "Yeah."
"Okay." He gave Blair's shoulder a pat then turned and gathered his
gun and cellphone from the bed. "Call me if you need anything."
watched Jim leave, then used the bathroom and went back to bed, suddenly too tired
again to worry about what they had to figure out. Blair hadn't taken note of the
time when he fell back onto the bed, but the next time he woke up felt like days
later. It was probably only a few hours, judging by the sun still in the sky and
the slight dampness of the towel Jim had used.
There was a new toothbrush at
the sink, still in its packaging, and toothpaste as well as other morning necessities.
After brushing his teeth, Blair's stomach demanded attention, even before he could
shave. He gave in, phoning room service for breakfast only after he checked the
time. Technically, it was still morning, and the menu said this hotel served breakfast
until 1:00. He ordered, then shaved, promising his growling stomach it was being
taken care of next. The shower could wait. His jeans from last night were on a
chair, along with Jim's Cascade PD sweatshirt. Blair didn't think he'd been wearing
that yesterday, and when he picked it up, noting how clean it was, he was sure
he hadn't. Someone must have collected a few clothes for them during the HazMat
sweep. Or Jim had brought these out sometime yesterday.
Either way, Blair pulled
on the sweatshirt, grateful for the warmth. He sat on the large, overstuffed chair
beside his bed and hugged himself, pulling both feet up to the seat cushion while
he waited for breakfast, trying to push out all memories of the past three days.
When room service came, Jim was right behind.
"Jim, did you find something?"
"Yes and no." Jim signed for the food, then set it down on the table
and walked to the bathroom.
"What does that mean?" Blair had to wait
until his partner returned, then he offered to share breakfast, but Jim shook
his head and sat down in the chair opposite the table.
"I spoke to Mrs.
Nielsen this morning, she added a new twist to her husband's death dive."
Nielsen? "Oh, right, that suicide? I forgot about that."
Blair swallowed back against the feeling that he'd let Jim down on a case. What
normally would have been interesting for him had seemed that day like fingernails
on a chalkboard.
"His wife admitted this morning that she'd been seeing
someone else, and that her husband caught them together." Jim reached out
and snagged a piece of toast, then sat back in the chair again. "If he committed
suicide, she'd get only half of what he was worth. Some kind of insurance stipulation
with the company. But if he'd been murdered, she'd not only get his entire estate,
but a share in the company."
"So, he did jump?"
that way. As shady as those partners seemed, I couldn't find anything to prove
Blair nodded, returning to his breakfast.
us just one mystery to solve."
His appetite was rapidly waning.
HazMat team found nothing inside, Chief. They tested the air, the water, everything
they could think of and then some. They even inspected the new boiler for toxins.
Blair let his fork drop to the plate. It landed about the same
time his heart hit the floor, making much the same sound. "Jim, that means..."
"That means there's something there they couldn't find." Jim's voice
was soft but commanding. "Blair, whatever was happening affected me as well.
And the Walters."
"No, Jim, it didn't affect you." Blair looked
up, meeting his partner's eyes. "You said yourself you were sleeping at night.
And if there was anything in that building, anything that could affect me or the
Walters, you would have sensed it."
"It did affect me, Chief. You
were going crazy and I didn't care."
Blair searched Jim's eyes.
if I'd been in my right mind, and you pulled a stunt like that--storming out and
threatening to leave--I never would have stood there and let you go."
didn't mean any of that, Jim."
"I know. Just eat your breakfast,
we'll figure this out."
Blair returned to the eggs and toast, finishing
them even though he was sure he wasn't hungry. When he finished, he excused himself
for a quick shower, promising he could think clearly once done.
Jim was on
the phone to Simon when he shrugged out of his clothes and stepped into the large
shower stall. As he unconsciously braced himself for an expected squeak of the
cold water knob, he couldn't help musing about the ability a piercing, high-pitched
sound had to set your entire nervous system on edge. Prolonged exposure could
be just like Chinese...