The blue dreams that plagued him in Cascade are back again. He recoils from them, even in sleep, rejecting, denying, refusing to follow where they lead. He's learned that lesson – he'd tried to protect Blair, pushed him away, and Blair had died; what use were the dreams to him then?
But Blair sees things differently; Blair always does. What to Jim is a threat, a danger, is to Blair an opportunity. So when the dream comes again, Jim submits, reluctantly, sickened by the images while his body helplessly reacts. And when he wakes, his cock heavy, his mind dazed with equal measures of lust and humiliation, he follows the pull, compass needle to true north. Or a dog to its vomit.
Behind him in the church lie three sleeping bodies. Simon's heavy breathing transmuting occasionally into snuffling snores, Megan's steady, shallow breaths, more ladylike in sleep than she ever will be awake. And Blair. Blair with his soggy lungs and overworked heart, breathing messily, stubbornly alive. God knows, Jim's grateful to hear the sound, but it tears at him, too painful a reminder of his failures.
He hesitates at the door. Behind him is safety and the reliable presence of people he knows and loves – yes, even Megan, though he'd never admit it to her. Ahead of him is Alex. Alex, and the madness growing inside him.
The weight of his gun is comforting at his back. He'll end this, one way or another. He has to, because he can't take much more of this shit, this voodoo spiritual crap. Blair might revel in it, but Jim hates it. Hates being out of control. Fears what might happen next and doesn't, doesn't ever, want to see Blair lying dead at his feet. Not again.
Instinct takes him where he needs to go. He's never seen the beach before. Not awake, anyway. But he finds it without any difficulty, and she's there. Waiting for him. He knows with absolute certainty that she's had the same dream.
Hate, fear, disgust, all scream at him to take her. Put her away for a lifetime, put her where she can't do any more harm. Lust, instinct, need tell him he wants her in an entirely different way. Between the two, he's helpless; his mind, his will are paralysed, while his legs continue to work, carrying him towards her.
Her mouth on his is sweet, redolent of pineapple and mango and strawberry. Their hands clasp and they sink to their knees. The sound of the surf is seduction to his ears, the faint salt tang of the air the finest aphrodisiac. He feels her heartbeat, matching his. They are one.
And then, disruption.
“Jim. What's going on?”
He follows Alex, rising to his feet, confronting the danger. He sees Blair. He sees an intruder. The two images overlay each other and he can't tell where one begins and the other ends.
Alex, clearly, doesn't share his confusion. He hears a quiet snarl – hunter sighting prey – and the weight is gone from the small of his back. He sees Blair, sees the intruder, raise his hands, his face blank, his eyes sparking with fear.
Something, some impulse too strong to be denied, forces him to deny her. He clasps his hand around hers, around the gun, but he can't take it from her. “No,” he manages to say. And again, “no.”
Her hand slides out from under his. She licks his ear, slowly, lasciviously. “Then you do it.”
His eyes track back to the intruder. Some part of him understands that this man is a threat to his uniting with Alex, but still he hesitates. Then the scent reaches him, rank with fear, sour with sickness. The prey is weak, needs to be culled. Against his side, Alex rubs herself closer. “Kill him,” she whispers, almost purring. The scent of her arousal is powerful, overwhelming.
The prey's mouth is moving, the words garbled sounds, devoid of meaning. Only his name, spoken once, registers at all.
He squeezes the trigger.
The sound of the shot, the stink of gunpowder jars his senses. Jim drops the gun, his hands coming up to cover his ears. He's retching, with nothing in his stomach to lose. Whatever was holding him in thrall to Alex is gone now, and her presence is fading. He straightens, his guts still rebelling, and sees Blair, on the ground, the blood sinking scarlet-black into the sand beneath his back.
He starts to run, stumbling across the sand on legs that barely accept the signals his brain is sending them, and sinks to his knees beside Blair. Training takes over from numb incomprehension and he presses on the wound, his voice hoarse, pleading “Stay with me, Chief. Don't go.”
The brightness fades from Blair's eyes, leaving them dull, empty, as the lids slowly close.
By half way through the second day her fear is fading and anger is rising to take its place. The doctors assure her that Blair's going to recover, is out of danger now, even if he hasn't woken yet. She's not particularly impressed with the standard of care in this hospital, and wouldn't be inclined to believe them if she hadn't seen the improvement with her own eyes.
His breathing's steadier, though he still has tubes up his nostrils, as much because of his drowning in the fountain as because of the wound which, thankfully, missed his already abused lungs.
Thinking this, she smiles reluctantly and shakes her head. Who else but Sandy would manage not one, but two near death experiences in little more than a week? The smile doesn't last long. If Megan could get hold of that bitch, she'd throttle her with her own hands.
And that thought leads back to the one that's dominated her mind ever since she got to the hospital to find Jim in a state of shock, his hands and clothing smeared with Blair's blood. He'd left almost immediately, before Blair was even out of surgery, Hell bent on finding Alex Barnes. Banks had gone with him, furious, reluctant to leave Blair but not daring to let Jim do this on his own.
She understands, all too well, the madness that the desire for revenge can bring, but she can't find it in her heart to forgive him. He ought to be here. Megan knows damn well that her face isn't the one that Blair will want to see when he wakes up.
Blair's his friend, his partner – and of course she's wondered just how far that partnership extends, but she knows better than to ask Jim. Or Blair, either. He's not the type to be in the closet, so if he's not out and proud then either there's nothing to be out about, or he's protecting Ellison. She's heard him call Ellison his 'blessed protector' more than once. He always says it jokingly, but she knows who's really the protector in that relationship. She sees it every day.
Which is why Ellison's absence now is unforgivable.
She shifts restlessly in her uncomfortable plastic chair and thinks about going in search of coffee. But the swill they serve in the cafeteria is worse even than the break room coffee back at Cascade PD and decent coffee necessitates a ten-minute trip to the little diner down the road. She doesn't want to be gone that long. She doesn't want Blair waking here among strangers, or worse, alone.
Another two hours and she's actually grateful when one of the nurses brings her a cup of the swill – not made more pleasant by being barely tepid, but at least it partially dissolves the dull pain behind her eyes. Damn Yankee cops have got her addicted to caffeine; she always drank tea, or Instant, in Australia.
Blair's eyes are moving restlessly beneath bruised, fragile lids and it can't be much longer before he wakes. When his eyelashes flutter and lift slightly, she's ready with a glass of water and a straw, lifting his head gently, the words he'll want to hear tumbling too readily from her lips.
“Easy, Sandy. It's okay. Jim's gone after her… she won't be able to hurt you…”
His eyes meet hers, vague surprise changing to something unrecognisable. He chokes on the water and she withdraws it, eases him back down as he coughs roughly. She realises after a moment that it's laughter, bitter and helpless, that's shaking his body.
“Sandy? Blair?” Thoughts of brain damage, PTSD, flitter through her head, but she's more concerned right now about the physical damage he might do to his wound. She puts her hand lightly on his chest, trying to centre him, but the laughter only becomes more raucous, the shaking more violent.
Eventually, she has to call in the nurses, who sedate him. As he sinks back, limp and exhausted, she hears his whisper. “Not Alex… Jim… Jim shot me.”
A sob shakes him but then he bites his lip and falls silent, closing his eyes in reluctant submission to the sedative. She holds his hand, limp in her own, and strokes his hair and doesn't acknowledge the fat, silent tears leaking from the corners of his eyes and sliding down his temples.
Later, he'll demand that she doesn't tell anyone what he's said, and she'll agree, angry at him, at Jim Ellison, at herself for complicity in what is, after all, a crime. But by that time she'll have read the book she's already found in Blair's backpack, and she'll understand why Blair's driven to protect his sentinel. Nothing will ever make her like it, though. Nothing will ever make her forgive Ellison for what he's done to her friend.
It's the sight of Sandburg's door that stops Simon in his tracks. He stares at it with a mixture of irritation and… well, mostly irritation. He's already thrown by the idea that Sandburg rates an office. He thought he knew the kid well enough – smart, unexpectedly courageous, but a bit flaky. Simon has an office. Blair's just a grad student. Somehow the office indicates more of a substance to his status here than Simon has ever imagined.
And that door with the frosted glass design – Native American, some kind of wolf? It's a damned sight better than Simon's door, plain glass with just his name in discreet gold lettering. No way the PD would ever pay out for that kind of unnecessary decoration. It, too, speaks of a position that Simon doesn't normally associate with the kid.
He's a little ashamed when, after knocking and hearing Sandburg's voice telling him to enter, his first thought is, well at least his office is smaller than mine. His second is, shit, the kid looks bad.
It's been, what, three weeks since Sandburg got back from Sierra Verde? Connor had stayed behind with him until he was ready to travel, so Simon hasn't seen him since the hospital. Jim had returned to Cascade with Simon, because neither of them could risk staying any longer than was absolutely necessary.
In retrospect, Simon realises it was far too easy to persuade Jim to leave. He'd felt a little surprise at the time, but now it's obvious things had been bad between the two even then. And he's only just finding out about it over a month later.
Sandburg's face is wary, and Simon realises he's missed the way the kid brightened up Major Crime – always smiling, eager, talking a mile a minute. Now he's sitting behind his cluttered desk, his eyes unsmiling. Silent. Then he summons up a smile from somewhere; a polite, distant smile, totally unfamiliar on that usually expressive face.
“Simon. I wasn't expecting to see you.” Sandburg glances down at his papers. Doesn't look up again. “Uh… take a seat.”
He's obviously not going to ask what Simon's doing there. Simon clears some files off a chair and sits. Clears his throat. “I need you to talk to Jim.”
The kid stiffens, but he still doesn't look up. “I don't think I can do that,” he says to the folder laying forgotten in his hands.
Dammit, how did this happen? The two of them used to be practically joined at the hip, and since that Barnes woman… but he doesn't want to think about that and he's not going to take no for an answer. Jim's in the middle of a meltdown and he's Hell bent on taking most of Major Crime with him if he can. He's working alone again, which Simon knows damned well is dangerous, but he can't partner Jim with Connor because they can't be in the same room without snarling and sniping and neither will tell Simon the reason for the outbreak of hostilities.
It was Connor who told him – betraying it inadvertently during their 'informal talk' – that Sandburg was no longer living with Jim. After that slipped out she clammed up and wouldn't say why, though it's clearly connected to their sudden mutual antipathy.
Jim won't even give him that much, just saying that it's none of his damn business, when he's pushed. Simon's pissed that it's taken him three weeks to find this out. Jim's supposed to be a friend. Sandburg's supposed to be a friend, too. But neither of them has deigned to confide in him, even though Connor apparently knows all about it.
But the kid looks ghastly, and Simon can see he's suffering. Whatever's happened it's bad. Swallowing irritation and hurt pride, he softens his voice to a gentle rumble. “Blair, I don't know what's going down between the two of you, but you're his friend too, and he's gonna get himself killed, soon, if this isn't sorted out.”
Sandburg looks up then and there's an anguish in his eyes that shocks Simon to the core. “I just don't know how I can help. Jim… he doesn't want to see me.” His voice breaks a little, and he pauses before adding quietly “I don't want to see him.”
Jesus. Simon passes a hand that's shaking slightly over his mouth. In his worst nightmares, he's never imagined something like this. He doesn't know how he's even going to begin to fix it.
“Look, Sandburg…” he realises there's an edge to his voice that probably isn't going to help his case, but too bad. “I know you've got good reason to be angry at Jim over… things. But it's his life that's at stake here. You're his guide. You've got to fix this.” He ignores the minute shake of Blair's head. “Whatever that Barnes woman did to you, however Jim screwed up, it's eating him up inside.” And it's eating at you too, kid, he thinks.
“Is it?” Sandburg seems genuinely to doubt that. He shrugs, shaking his head. “I don't know, Simon. From where I'm standing, it doesn't seem that way. You can't tell me that he couldn't find her in the jungle – he's a sentinel, for god's sake. He let her go.”
Oh. He should have seen that one coming. It's a sign of how badly he's off his game that he didn't. He stares at the kid, not knowing how to respond other than with the truth, and he can't do that.
Sandburg smiles wryly and shrugs again. “You see? I'm sorry, Simon.” He looks down at his desk again, hesitates for a moment then picks up a pencil and starts writing. “It was good seeing you again.”
The words are a dismissal, and patently insincere. Blair didn't want to see him again. Doesn't want to see any of them again. Which is too bad, because Simon has no intention of accepting the situation. He settles himself more firmly in the chair and thinks about his options while Blair scribbles and ignores him.
In the end, he doesn't have a choice. The kid will have to know the truth. Simon just hopes that Blair won't use it to destroy both him and Jim Ellison.
“Blair, there's something I need to tell you.” He says it with heavy deliberation and sees the kid tense before he reluctantly looks up again. “Jim didn't let Barnes get away. He killed her, deliberately, and buried her body in the jungle.”
As Blair's eyes widen in disbelief, Simon closes his, remembering the expression on Jim's face as he confessed – the blank look of shock, the empty eyes. He'd made no attempt to claim self defence, obviously expecting Simon to turn him in to the authorities. Simon still isn't a hundred percent sure why he didn't. If it had happened in Cascade, he wouldn't have had a choice – it's his jurisdiction, his responsibility. Sierra Verde isn't. It's no kind of valid excuse, but it's the only one he has.
He's just admitted to being an accessory to murder. He opens his eyes and looks at Blair. Uses the only weapon he has left, however unfair, however manipulative it is. “He did it for you, Sandburg. He said it was the only way you'd ever be safe from her.”
“And what if I'm not safe from him?” It's a strange question. Stranger still the bitterness in his voice. But before Simon can ask about that, Blair shakes his head. “No, you're right. God… I can't imagine what it's doing to him.”
Simon carefully keeps the relief from his voice. “So, you'll talk to him?”
“I'll try.” Blair sighs. He doesn't look happy, or very convincing. “I don't know if it'll do any good, though.”
Well, he's got what he came here for. Simon wonders why he doesn't feel good about that.
Every landmark, every street corner he sees on the way to Jim's apartment – not their home, not his home… not any more – makes him want to turn around and run in the opposite direction. The closer he gets the worse the feeling grows. He parks around the corner, where Jim probably won't think to look, and by the time he reaches the entrance to the building his nerves are piano wire taut and he's grateful that Jim's truck isn't outside, because it if was, he'd certainly run.
He thinks about leaving anyway and telling Simon that Jim wasn't home. He could leave a message. He knows there's no way Jim would willingly return a call, even if he knows where Blair's living right now.
Oh, god… he probably does. Of course, he'd check on Blair's whereabouts, if only to maintain some illusion of control. The thought sets Blair's heart racing; his breath starts to come in shallow gasps, his hands are shaking so much he can barely manage to unlock the door. Inside, he finds sanctuary for a moment – and how ironic is that? – in the creaky old elevator, and tries to get a hold of himself as it slowly lifts him to the third floor.
He's not entirely successful, but he manages the lock on the apartment door without too much trouble. Inside – it's like nothing has changed. Almost nothing; there's a few empty spaces where some of his things were displayed. They look like open wounds. He wonders for a moment how Jim can possibly not see that, but then he realises that Jim does see it, and has kept things like that anyway. His skin goes cold. Simon was right. Jim's really in trouble here.
Putting aside the thought for now, he goes by instinct to his old room. It's completely empty, which is weird because before he moved in, it was a junk room, filled with tidy boxes, neatly labelled. It hadn't been the first indication he'd seen of Jim's neat-freakishness, but it had been the most telling.
He hesitates in the doorway. There's not a sign of dust and he can even detect a faint scent of floor polish. He tells himself that maybe Jim's getting it ready to turn into an office, or a home gym, or something; but he knows it's not true. If Jim was going to do something like that, he'd have done it by now. No; this is a shrine to Jim's failings – as a friend, as a sentinel – and all the more potent a symbol for not being shared with anyone.
The sound of a key scratching in the lock makes him freeze. He manages to turn, feeling like his heart has somehow levitated into his throat, as the door opens.
Jim doesn't look surprised. His mouth is set in a thin line and his face shows no emotion other than grim resignation, but Blair knows better. His eyes don't leave Blair's as he shrugs off his jacket and turns to hang it on the hook by the door. He's wearing his gun on the back of his belt. Blair's heart flip-flops, and his breath catches in his throat.
When Jim turns back his eyes are dark and empty. He reaches behind his back and shows Blair the gun in silence, an ironic twist to his mouth. Then he releases the clip, holding it up in one hand, the gun in the other, then places them both on the counter before moving across the room to stand beside the French doors.
“You…” Blair's voice cracks and he tries again. “You didn't have to do that.”
“I think I do.” Jim's voice is flat and expressionless. “I guess Simon got to you, huh?”
“He's worried about you.” And no wonder. The chills that Blair's feeling aren't all to do with his own issues. Simon told him there's been yelling matches at the PD, even physical fights between Jim and other cops. He's seen Jim lose it before, but this is different.
Even Jim's stillness is intimidating. Blair can't help thinking that Jim doesn't need a gun to be dangerous. He knows he's resourceful and a fast thinker, but so is Jim. He's also bigger and stronger, and trained to fight dirty. Jim could take him without even breaking into a sweat.
He sees Jim head lift and tilt in a way that he knows means that Jim is scenting his fear. He has to fight an atavistic thrill of sheer terror; he tells himself Jim isn't a wild animal, instinct-driven to attack. He almost convinces himself it's true.
But Jim's eyes go blank. “You really think I'd harm you.” It's not a question.
“Why not? You have before.” The bitter words escape before Blair has the chance to stop them. He can't even find it in himself to apologise when he sees the pain in Jim's face.
“I guess I can't blame you.” Jim looks away, his jaw working silently, and it's like the conversation's already ended before it's begun.
He wants to leave, but he promised Simon. And there's something terrible in the stillness of Jim's figure now. Suddenly Blair's more afraid for Jim than of him. “Simon said…” he raises a weak smile at the unintended joke and tries again, “Simon told me… he said, you… did you kill her?”
Because he's thought about it, and it wouldn't surprise him – not one little bit – if Jim has lied to protect Alex. Given her a chance to get away.
“Yeah. I did.” He says it like he doesn't care if Blair believes it or not, and that's what convinces Blair he really did it.
“Jesus.” Blair stumbles to the couch and sits on the arm. “What happened? You were… you…”
Jim interrupts. “Simon told you about the temple?”
Blair nods, thinking distantly that he should be excited about all the stuff Simon told him – a temple dedicated to sentinels, Alex's ability to tap into the spiritual side of her sentinel abilities in a way Jim never could. Or would. But somehow it just doesn't seem that important any more.
“When I found it, she was already there. She got the drop on me – paralysed me with a dart and put me in some kind of pool. Then she poured these herbs down my throat…” Jim's voice, almost mechanical so far, roughens into emotion. “I… I didn't tell Simon… I had these visions. Death, blood, explosions. I was going mad.” Jim chuckles, the sound devoid of humour. “Maybe I was already mad. I guess you'd think so.”
“No. Not…” He can't finish the thought. Jim killed Alex. His mind can't encompass anything else.
“When I came out of it, she was in another one of those pools.” Jim shrugs minimally. “The nerve gas was right there. I was going to take it and just go. Leave her there. I didn't… didn't want to risk what I might do if she…” He swallows audibly. “She came out of it. Whatever those herbs were, they really screwed with her mind. She wanted to release the gas; to cleanse the world, she said. She… we… I kissed her, and while we were kissing I picked up my gun and shot her in the head.”
Blair's stomach almost rebels at that. If it'd had anything in it, the next few minutes could have been really messy. He presses his hand to his mouth and concentrates on breathing slowly.
Jim's at his side when he recovers enough to notice. “Are you okay? I shouldn't have told you. I'm sorry, Blair.” He puts a hand lightly on Blair's arm. Opens his mouth to speak and shuts it again, then shrugs. “While I was having those visions… I saw you, Chief. You kept me sane. If it wasn't for you…” He breaks off, looking away again. Blair can feel him trembling.
“What I did before… you have to believe me, Blair. That wasn't me.” Jim lifts his hand to Blair's cheek, a sweetly familiar gesture that revives memories of a time when all Blair needed was Jim's attention, Jim's approval. “I could never… I would never hurt you.”
Blair looks up, shaken by the desperate tenderness in his voice. For a long moment their eyes meet, then Jim ducks his head slightly, swooping down in a move that Blair knows all too well. He's done it himself often enough.
Before their lips can touch, he's twisted away from Jim's hand on his arm, and he's halfway to the French doors. “Jesus, fuck! …the Hell… what are you doing?” He backs up until he hits the glass. He's this close to hyperventilating.
It's not as if he's never thought – fantasised – about it, but that's all it's ever been; fantasies. He's never really expected anything more. And now… he can't imagine having anything more. Blair wipes the back of his hand across his lips, although they hadn't actually touched Jim's.
It doesn't help that Jim's just standing there, watching him. No expression on his face. It's like he expected nothing else. But then Blair remembers the fleeting glimpse of warmth in Jim's face the moment before he moved. His heart begins to thud painfully against his ribs, and he's sure that Jim can detect the swirl of pheromones he must be throwing off.
Yeah, he can. Jim's chin lifts a little, but he doesn't move any closer, and Blair's thankful for that small mercy.
“Why?” he asks, his voice plaintive and shaking. “Why now, goddammit?”
Jim shrugs. “Nothing left to lose.”
It's not exactly encouraging, but Blair gets the message. Jim isn't going to beg, or even ask again. He'll take whatever decision Blair hands him, and he's not expecting it to be in his favour. And that's so fucking typical of the man that Blair doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. He feels his heart break just a little bit more.
Surely any sane man would walk out that door and never come back. By any normal standards, this is a co-dependent, if not outright abusive, relationship – except that there's nothing normal about what he has with Jim, and he can't give it up.
“Jim, I can't…” his voice trails off as he sees Jim's face change from inexpressive to frighteningly empty. He's losing him again, and he can't, he just can't take losing Jim again. “Man, you've gotta see we can't just pretend that none of this has happened. You shot me, Jim. I thought I was gonna die. Again.”
“Sandburg, I know.” Only a faint impatience shows in Jim's voice. Blair's never seen him so shut down before. “It's okay, I didn't expect anything else.”
This is the most terrifying moment of his life – not Alex drowning him, not Jim shooting him, but this – because Jim is offering him everything he's ever wanted. He wants to go to Jim so badly, but he can't. He wants to leave, but that would be worse. He doesn't know if he can survive staying, but he knows he won't survive leaving and neither will Jim.
“I'm not going anywhere, Jim.” He manages to get the words out, though his voice is shaking so badly he's not sure they're understandable. So, it's just as well, he guesses, that Jim's a sentinel. He can't look at Jim, can't bear to see his reaction, or lack of it. “I just… I don't know…”
He doesn't hear Jim move, so it comes as a surprise when he's silenced by a wall of warm, solid muscle against his cheek. He can't help tensing up in fear, but he doesn't move away. After a couple of rapid breaths – his? Jim's? – a hand cups the back of his head, holding him gently in place. He leans against Jim and listens to the rapid-fire percussion of Jim's heartbeat. He feels Jim trembling, hears the faint gasping breaths as Jim struggles to hold back tears.
Naomi always told him to detach with love; it's how he's always been with his lovers, enjoying the time they spent together and then moving on without regret. But there's no detaching from Jim, not now, not ever. And Jim? He doubts that Jim even understands the concept.
In the end, there really is no choice, and maybe that's the most frightening part of all. And yet… Blair chuckles damply, relaxing against Jim's chest and feeling like he can breathe for the first time in nearly six weeks.