Chapter 1: Interlude: Switchman
"I've got hundreds and hundreds of documented cases over here of one or two hyperactive senses but not one single subject with all five. You could be the real thing."
"Joel." Detective Jim Ellison looked up from his desk at the burly Captain of the Bomb Squad. "Something I can do for you?"
"Just wondering where your new partner was. I haven't seen him around since you took down the Switchman."
Ellison frowned. He hadn't talked to Sandburg since the afternoon a few days ago when they'd caught Veronica Sarris. He'd had a lot of work to do tying up the loose ends of the case and he hadn't had time to call him. But then, Sandburg hadn't contacted him either. He wondered if the experience of nearly being blown to pieces had scared the kid off. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if it had. His senses seemed to have settled down in the last few days. Maybe everything was going to be okay and he wouldn't need him.
"I'm not sure where he is right now. And, uh, Joel? You know, he's not exactly my partner."
Joel Taggert raised his eyebrows. "I thought he was going to be working with you."
For a split second every sound in the bullpen was amplified and reverberated in Ellison's skull. Just as suddenly his hearing returned to normal, leaving a throbbing headache in the aftermath. Then again, he thought wearily, maybe it wasn't going to be so easy.
Ellison sighed. "Yeah. He will be working with me, but it's a bit complicated. I need to talk to Simon about it first. Were you looking for him about something in particular?"
Taggert shrugged. "Not really. I've still got his videotape. Turns out there wasn't anything useful on it about the case and I didn't want it to get lost in evidence lockup. He seemed real concerned about getting it back." He pulled an 8mm videotape out of his suit pocket and held it out.
Ellison took the tape and stared at it thoughtfully. "I'll see that he gets it. Thanks, Joel."
"You're welcome. Tell him I'll see him around, okay Jim?"
"Will do." He watched Taggert walk out of Major Crime and then pulled out his wallet. He'd stuck Sandburg's card behind his driver's license. A single telephone number was hand written on the back of the card and Jim assumed it was the kid's office number. He frowned as he realized that he only knew how to find him at Rainier University. He didn't have a clue where Sandburg lived. He shrugged and reached for the phone.
"Sandburg, this is Jim Ellison." He smiled slightly. Kid sounded even younger on the phone than he looked in person, he thought.
"Oh. Hey. Detective Ellison. How are you, man? Your senses aren't kicking up, are they?"
"I'm fine." Ellison frowned. He sounded like that was the only reason for Jim to call him. Okay, so he was calling because he'd just had a sensory spike, but couldn't he be calling for another reason?
"Oh. Um, that's good." The voice on the phone sounded uncertain.
"Look. I was just calling because I hadn't heard from you. I wanted to see if you were all right. I'm sure it's not every day that you go up against someone like the Switchman." And I'm hoping you're not going to back out of our arrangement now that you've experienced a bit of my world, he thought grimly.
"You can say that again." Sandburg chuckled nervously. "I'm fine. Really. I've just been busy the last few days here at school. You know, tests and grading and stuff. Sorry I haven't been in touch."
Well, at least he sounded sincere, Ellison thought. "No problem."
"Yeah." There was a hesitation and Ellison heard a softly in drawn breath. "So, you weren't really serious about that Police Academy thing, right? 'Cause I gotta tell you, I don't think that'll work."
So that's why he hadn't called. He shook his head. "That was a joke, Darwin. I figure what we'll do is try to set you up as a ride-along observer. That way you can tag along temporarily with me while I work."
"Uh-huh. That'd be great, man." His voice held a note of excitement. "Observing's what I'm trained to do after all, you know? And it's important that I see you work. That way I'll be able to figure out ways for you to use your senses and to learn to control them while on the job. So, when do I start this ride-along thing?"
"Hold up there, Chief. We have to get this approved by my Captain first. And then there's some paperwork for you to fill out, make sure all the legal crap is covered." Ellison breathed a silent sigh of relief. The kid wasn't going to flake out on him.
"Yeah, I understand. Um, we're not going to tell your Captain about your senses, are we?"
"No way." Ellison closed his eyes briefly against a flare of his headache. "That's just asking for trouble. No, we'll go with a story about you needing to do some police observation for your thesis. Nothing specific."
"Okay. I doubt he'd believe the real story anyway." He sounded impatient. "So, when do we start?"
"The Captain's tied up in meetings for the next few days. We won't be able to meet with him until after that. Today's Friday. How about you come down to the Station next Wednesday?"
"Sure, man, I can do that." Another hesitation, and then he said in a rush, "In the meantime, how would you feel about running some more tests on your senses? Nothing uncomfortable, just stuff to get a better baseline on what you can do now. Help you find a few more ways for control."
Reluctantly, Ellison agreed, "I guess we could do that. I'm tied up here until 5:00. How about I swing by your place tonight? I'll bring a pizza." And you can tell me just where the hell it is you live, he thought.
"Um, tonight? Yeah, I guess tonight's okay." He sounded nervous.
"If you've got something else going on, tell me." Probably has a hot date, he thought irritably.
"No, no, tonight's fine. But, tell you what. Why don't you bring that pizza over to my office at Rainier? I've still got some work to finish and I'll be here at least until seven."
"Okay. How about I get there around six, then?"
"Cool. See ya, man."
There was a faint click as Sandburg hung up the receiver. Ellison narrowed his eyes and stared at the phone. The kid was still on board with helping him, but something about the conversation wasn't sitting right. Was it his imagination, or had Sandburg just avoided telling him where he lived? Why wouldn't he want Jim to know that? He shook his head. Probably being paranoid, he thought. He'd just ask him straight out. Besides, he'd have to put down where he lived when he filled out the paperwork to be an observer.
That settled, he glanced at the clock. He had three and a half hours before he could reasonably drive over to Rainier and he might as well get some of the paperwork done that had piled up on his desk over the last few weeks while he was out chasing the Switchman. He worked diligently on the unfinished report in front of him. Idly he wondered what Sandburg would like on the pizza. He'd make it a large one; the kid didn't look like he ate regularly. Startled, he clamped down on that line of thought firmly. He'd eat whatever Jim brought over and if he didn't like it then he could order his own damn pizza.
This was a temporary situation until he got control of his senses and didn't need any more help. The less contact they had outside of actually working on the Sentinel thing, the better. He'd just have to make sure that Sandburg understood that this was strictly a business arrangement, not a partnership or a friendship. That decision firmly in mind, Jim signed the report he'd just finished, pulled another from the stack to his right and glanced again at the clock. Two and a half hours and he'd order that pizza.
Blair sat back in his chair and stared at the phone as if it were a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike. His brain kept telling him that this was a huge mistake. Why, oh why, when he'd finally found what he was looking for, had the Sentinel turned out to be not only a cop, but ex-military as well?
He really wasn't interested in having the guy poking around in his life. He shouldn't get involved with Detective Ellison. Involved. He snorted. Yeah, that was a good one. As if the uptight cop would ever try to see past the clothes and the hair to the real Blair Sandburg. And if that didn't happen, well, involvement was so far out of the picture that it wasn't even in the same studio.
No, the guy would never see Blair as anything other than a, what was it he'd called him? Oh yeah, "neo-hippie witch doctor punk." He sighed. Just as well. So long as the detective saw Blair as an eccentric college student, well, he wouldn't get real curious. And the guy really did need his help. His gut told him that he couldn't abandon Ellison. No matter how tempting it might be at the moment. And surely things wouldn't be any worse than what he'd experienced during the Switchman case. Right?
Oh yeah, keep telling yourself that Blair boy, he thought sarcastically, and maybe you'll even believe it eventually. For now, he needed Ellison as the case study for his doctoral thesis. And the cop needed his help to establish some control over his wayward senses. He'd help the man get control and then he'd get his doctorate. No harm, no foul. Surely it was a mutually beneficial arrangement?
So why did he feel so uneasy?
Chapter 2: Interlude: Post Siege
"Sandburg's in there too."
"Picked a hell of a day to get the guy his credentials."
Blair lay back on his bed and stared up into the darkness. The last few days were a blur and he wasn't sure he wanted to bring them into clearer focus. Too many things had happened. Not all of them good.
Garrett Kincaid's face swam before him in the dark. Now there was a guy who was definitely certifiable. He remembered the look in Kincaid's eyes as he'd gotten right up into Blair's face. He shuddered as his mind replayed that scene, 'I guess I could use a man like you.' Blair was afraid that he understood exactly what Kincaid had meant when he'd said that. It might not be macho to admit it, but he never wanted to be alone with Garrett Kincaid.
His gut twisted as he thought about how he'd kicked Kincaid out of the helicopter. Not his finest moment and yet he knew without hesitation that he'd do it all over again. All he'd been able to think about at the time was that that psycho was going to shoot Detective Ellison. Blair hadn't thought twice, just lifted his legs and pushed.
And just what the hell was he thinking when he'd told the pilot that he'd flown Apaches in Desert Storm? He shied away from unpleasant memories that he'd thought were long since buried. Obfuscation at its finest or worst, depending on your point of view, he supposed. Restlessly, he twisted over onto his stomach.
This situation was getting way too complicated. Maybe he ought to chuck the whole idea and tell Ellison that he'd try to help him out on his own time, but that he couldn't get involved in the police aspect of things. He shook his head. No, that wouldn't work. He'd already turned in his paperwork. What would Ellison think of him if he changed his mind now? If he quit he'd just come off as a wimp. Shit. What the hell did he care what Ellison thought of him?
Surely the takeover of the precinct had to be the worst possible thing that could happen? But hadn't he thought that after the Switchman? He'd managed to survive both incidents with only a little wear and tear. He'd just have to deal with the nightmares that he was positive would be dredged up after the last couple of weeks.
A familiar despair gripped him. God, he really didn't want to think about anything but his life as it was now. He'd made his decision to help Ellison and he wouldn't go back on his word.
He thought about their meeting with Captain Banks. If the Captain hadn't experienced some of what his detective was capable of first hand, things might be different. Banks was willing to suspend his disbelief for a while, at any rate. And the story he'd given of what Ellison had accomplished in getting into the building during the siege was nothing short of incredible.
Blair sighed into the darkness. Ellison really was a Sentinel. And working with him was going to be anything but boring. Now if he could just survive the experience unscathed.
Jim Ellison stood and stretched. He'd finished up the compilation of reports from Kincaid's takeover of the precinct. It was late, he was tired, and it was time to go home. He grabbed his jacket and headed for the elevator.
He was amazed at just how cool Sandburg had stayed through the ordeal. Imagine the kid taking out two of Kincaid's men. And one with a vending machine. He shook his head and chuckled softly. Seemed like he might just be able to hold his own. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad having him tagging along. Might be a good idea to get him checked out on a weapon, he thought. Make sure he'd be able to really be a back up if the situation called for it.
Kincaid had been truly pissed when he'd found out that Sandburg really wasn't a cop and there had been something about the way he'd reacted to the news that had made Jim's skin crawl. He'd seen the kid's relief when Kincaid had finally been led away. He'd have to assure Sandburg that he had nothing to be concerned about. Kincaid would be behind bars in maximum security for a very long time.
Jim stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the parking garage. He frowned as he watched the doors slide closed. When had he started worrying about what Sandburg thought and how he felt?
Chapter 3: Interlude: Post Killers
"Don't say it."
"Say what? That you're an arrogant, self-destructive schmuck? I say it to you I got to say it to me, too. I mean, I went along with you."
Blair paced restlessly through the open expanse of the warehouse. Stupid. The whole thing with Tommy Juno had been so damn stupid. Jim had been out of control and Blair couldn't really claim to have been any better. Why the hell hadn't he protested more strongly against the wiretapping? He stopped pacing suddenly, standing still as a statue. He'd known the wiretapping was wrong, a mistake just waiting to backfire on them. And yet, he'd gone along with it, because he'd felt that he couldn't let Jim down.
Jesus. He'd followed Ellison around, as if he, Blair, were some kind of fucking sycophant, aiding and abetting his every move. Sure he'd raised token objections, but in the end he'd done everything just the way Jim wanted. And talk about repression and the need for control. Jim might be a good detective, but he sure didn't have a clue about himself. How was Blair supposed to help the man if he couldn't even get him to admit when he hurt emotionally?
He shook his head in disgust and returned to his frantic pacing. When had he started calling him "Jim," he wondered? He was getting himself in deep and a part of him was more than willing to jump in with both feet. He had to get some distance, find some way to get his objectivity back.
What he needed was to take a break and focus on something else for awhile. There was that project he had to do for his seminar. He'd been planning to write a paper, but maybe he'd do a full blown controlled experiment instead. Something challenging that would occupy his time in a way that had nothing to do with Sentinels.
Blair slowed his steps and entered the small living space he'd created in one corner of the warehouse using stacks of wooden pallets. He flopped down on his couch. His head fell back against the cushions and he closed his eyes and sighed. In the meantime, there was Danny Choi's funeral tomorrow. Jim would be there in his dress uniform, one of the pallbearers. He hadn't asked Blair to go with him, but Blair planned to attend. He'd observe from a distance, far enough away from the funeral not to be noticed. Danny had been someone important to Jim and Blair was determined to show his respect.
Jim stared up at the night through the skylight above his bed. It had been a rough few days since Danny had been shot. Watching Danny die had hurt on so many levels, not the least of which was the dredging up of the memory of the deaths of his men in Peru. Jim had thought, at times, that the pain might be too much for him.
Sandburg had stayed with him through it all, even when Jim had done things that were completely out of line. That thought brought a small smile to his lips. He'd told the kid to either accept it or get the hell out, but Blair had just stuck closer than ever. He shook his head.
He couldn't imagine any project to be worth what Sandburg had been put through since they'd met, but he sure as hell was glad that it seemed to be that important to the kid. Jim was reluctantly coming to realize that he needed the scruffy grad student to help him with his senses, though he hated feeling like he needed someone else in order to get control. He could only hope that he'd actually have that control soon and the need would be gone. Sandburg was nice enough, but all Jim really wanted was his life back.
He smiled sadly as he thought back over the funeral. Danny would have been embarrassed by the fuss, but he'd been glad to see that just about every off duty police officer had attended. Jim hadn't needed Sentinel sight to see Sandburg standing respectfully off to the side, away from the mourners. He'd been surprised and pleased to see the kid. He'd also been a bit shocked to discover that Sandburg owned something other than flannel shirts and ripped jeans.
He closed his eyes and rolled over on his side. He'd have to make sure that he let the kid know that he appreciated him showing up. He was sorry that he never had the chance to introduce him to Danny. Jim was positive that the two of them would have gotten along. They were a lot alike in many ways. Not superficially, but deep down, where it counted. They both had a strong sense of loyalty and they made it easy to feel like you could trust them.
Trust? Did he really trust Sandburg? The way he'd trusted Danny? Yeah, he thought as he drifted off to sleep, I guess I do at that.
Chapter 4: Interlude: Post The Debt
"Jim, one week. One week, and I promise, I promise we'll be out of your hair. Come on. One week, man."
"If you think this little courtship ritual here is going to change my mind about throwing your butt out of here..."
"No, no, no, no. If Larry can survive out there without a roof over his head, I'm sure that I can, too."
Blair lowered his head onto his crossed arms on his desk. It was late, he should head to Jim's and get some sleep, but he couldn't make himself move. He hadn't had much time during the past week to look for a new place to live and every place that he could afford that he'd seen had turned out to be a dump. A couple were in neighborhoods that made him nervous just to drive through, let alone park his car.
He didn't want to leave the loft and not just because he couldn't find another decent place. Something told him that he needed to be there, close to Jim. He shook his head. He was sure that Ellison would have a completely different take on that. The man hadn't even wanted him in his home temporarily. Of course, it hadn't helped when Larry trashed the place. Blair really didn't want to hear what he'd have to say if he asked to stay longer.
He sat up and rubbed his forehead. Best to get on with the search and give the man his privacy back. First, he needed to find another place to stay so he could meet that one week deadline. Blair reached for the phone and dialed.
"Matt? It's Blair."
"Blair? Geez, where you been? I haven't seen you around in weeks."
"Been busy, man. You know how it is, working on a new project." Yeah, he thought dryly, a new project. Following a cop around and trying to keep from getting killed.
"Yeah. I know how it is. So, what's up? You gonna show at the club on Friday? Jan's been asking about you."
"Really? Well, maybe I ought to be there, then. See that her questions get answers." He smiled to himself. "Listen, why I'm calling. I'm kinda in a bind and I need a favor."
"I need a place to crash for a few days while I find a new place to live."
"No problem, man, you know you can always stay at my place. What happened to the warehouse? You finally get tired of fighting the Rodents of Unusual Size?"
"No, no. Nothing like that. Actually, it sort of, well, blew up."
"Blew up? What the hell do you mean, it blew up? What kind of project are you working on?" Matt's voice sounded worried.
"Hey, man, it had nothing to do with my project." At least not when it happened, he thought. "Turns out that a gang moved in next door and set up a drug lab. That's what blew."
"That was your place? Jesus, Blair, I saw that on the news! That was a week ago, at least. Where've you been staying?"
"The guy I've been working on my project with let me crash at his place for a week. I haven't had the time to find an apartment and I don't want to out stay my welcome, you know."
"If you say so." Blair could almost hear the shrug in his friend's voice. "When you coming over?"
"Tomorrow afternoon, if that's okay."
"Sure. I'll drop a key by your office in the morning, so you can get in. In case I'm not there when you show up, you know?"
"Thanks, Matt. I really appreciate it."
"Yeah, yeah. That's what friends are for, right? See you tomorrow, Blair."
"Yeah." Blair hung up the phone and sat back.
Now he could tell Jim that he'd be out tomorrow, just like he'd agreed. The guy could get his loft back in order and Blair would find his own place. It should be exactly what they both wanted. So why did the thought of moving out of Jim's home make him feel so damned depressed?
"You found a place?" Jim frowned. "When, exactly, in the last week did you have time to check out apartments?"
"I called a few places." Blair shrugged and looked out of the balcony windows into the night. "I haven't exactly found one that I want to move into yet. But I promised to be out of here in a week and I'm keeping my word. It was great of you to let me stay, man. Especially after Larry."
Jim shook his head impatiently. "Larry made a mess, but he really didn't do all that much damage. Look, just 'cause I said that you could stay a week, that didn't mean I was really gonna kick you out when the week was up. If you don't have a place to stay yet, there's no need for you to go." His frown deepened. "Just where the hell were you planning to sleep? Your office?"
Blair raised his eyebrows. "No, man. I called a friend and he said I could crash at his place for a few days. What's this about, Jim? I know you want your privacy back. I thought you'd be glad to be rid of me."
Jim rubbed the back of his neck. He did miss his privacy, sort of, but it had also been nice having someone else in the loft, too. Someone to share meals with and talk to in the morning and at the end of the day. Sandburg always had something to say, usually something worth listening to. And it was kind of a relief to know where he was. Not that Jim worried about him, but lately, especially after the warehouse blew up, he'd been feeling like he needed to know that the kid was okay or something. He sighed softly.
"I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that I wanted to be rid of you, Chief. Truth is, I haven't really minded having you here. And I don't want you to move out just because it's been a week and you think I'll be pissed because you haven't left."
Blair looked down at his hands. "I know I can be a little hard to take in big doses, man. I just didn't want to blow it and wear out my welcome. I've found it's better to leave on my own, while things are good, instead of waiting until I'm asked to get out, you know? I just didn't want it to come to that." He turned back to the dark windows and wrapped his arms around his torso.
Jim crossed his arms on his chest and stared at Sandburg's back. There were things buried deep there, things that had obviously hurt him. Jim didn't want to add to them and he wanted to be clear on what he was thinking. He must be crazy, he thought, but it was suddenly very important that Sandburg stay right where he was.
He made his voice light. "Well, sure you're a pain in the ass. But then, who isn't? How about this? Stay here, see how it goes. I've got that room across from the bathroom that I'm not really using for much, just storing junk that I can easily toss or move down to the storage area."
Blair's head whipped around and he studied Jim's face intently. "What are you saying?" His voice was low.
"I'm saying the room's yours if you want it. You can stay here. Not look for another place. There's no need for you to move, Chief."
"Jim, are you sure about this?" he asked, his voice a bit unsteady.
Jim smiled. "I'm sure I'd like you to stay, if you want. What do you say, Chief?"
Blair took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I say I'd really like to stay."
Jim nodded once and turned away before Sandburg could see the relief that he knew was written all over his face. "Good. That's settled then. Now for something important. What do you want for dinner? I was thinking Chinese."
Chapter 5: Interlude: Post Cypher
"You know, the Chinese believe when you save a man's life you become his blessed protector and it's your duty to do that for the rest of your life."
"Speaking of commitment, I've been thinking about getting a Cascade P.D. insignia tattooed right on my chest."
"Above the nipple ring?"
"How did you know about that?"
Jim rolled over on his back and sighed. Two a.m. and another night filled with nightmares he didn't want to remember. And Sandburg wasn't home yet. Again. The kid had been staying out until all hours every night since Jim had rescued him from David Lash. And every night Jim had had trouble sleeping until he'd heard the key in the lock and had known that Sandburg was home. He sat up, punched his pillow into submission and then flopped back down on the bed. Sandburg was an adult and he had every right to do whatever the hell he wanted, even if he was driving Jim to distraction with worry.
Whoa, he thought, where did that come from? He was not worried about Sandburg. Definitely not. No. Just because his nightmares all seemed to include some version of Jim coming to rescue him from Lash only to find that he'd been too late to save the kid, that did not mean that he worried about Sandburg. That he needed to know that he was home, safe and sound, before he could fall asleep. That was the kind of thing that parents did and he certainly didn't feel like Sandburg's father, nor did he want to.
He rubbed his forehead and sighed into the darkness. What the hell was the matter with him, he wondered? He'd been frantic when he'd seen the 911 on his pager and he'd almost lost it when he'd found the loft trashed and Blair missing. God, his gut still twisted when he thought about Blair in the hands of David Lash.
Carolyn certainly thought he'd gone crazy. She'd been giving him strange looks every time she'd seen him since the night of the shooting, especially when Sandburg was with him. He was going to have to talk to her about what happened at some point, but he didn't have a clue what he was going to say. The one thing he did know was that he wasn't going to tell her about the Sentinel thing. Funny, he hadn't hesitated to tell Simon, but he couldn't bring himself to trust Carolyn enough to tell her. Not even with all they'd once been to each other. He'd known that a lot of the responsibility for the breakup of their marriage had been his. But the thought suddenly occurred to him that maybe their breakup had more to do with his feeling, deep down inside, that he didn't trust her with himself, with who he really was, than it did with his inability to be who she wanted him to be.
Jim rolled restlessly over onto his side. He hated these late night journeys into his psyche. He wasn't any damn good at it, preferring action to analysis. This wouldn't be a problem if Sandburg would just get his ass home. Then he could get to sleep. The faint snick of a key in the front door made him freeze. He categorized the soft sounds of his roommate coming into the loft and then slowly relaxed as he realized the kid was home and that he seemed to be fine. The last thing he heard before dropping off to sleep was the faint swish of the curtain across the doorway to Sandburg's room as he brushed it out of his way.
Blair sat on his futon and stared at his feet, hoping he was tired enough to sleep undisturbed through what was left of the night. He'd gone out to the clubs and tried to dance himself into a stupor, as he had every night for the last two weeks. He'd tried alcohol, but had found out fairly quickly that drinking just made the nightmares that much worse. The only thing that seemed to help was physical exhaustion.
It wasn't so much the nightmares of Lash that bothered him, though god knew that they were bad enough. No, it was what he feared the nightmares might trigger. Nightmares of pain and fear that he'd buried as deep as he could. He'd do just about anything to keep those at bay. The only problem was that he wouldn't know if he'd been successful until he let himself fall asleep normally and see if they came.
If they did come, there'd be no way he'd be able to hide them from Jim. And if they followed their normal pattern there'd be no way that he'd be able to obfuscate and say they were about Lash. So he drove himself night after night until he was ready to drop and he'd continue to do so until he thought that maybe he'd once again laid this particular demon to rest.
He knew it had been a mistake to allow himself to get so tangled up with Jim. He snorted softly. As if he'd really had a choice. There was no way that he could conceive of that he could possibly have walked away from the man. And he was helping him. He knew he was, even if Jim didn't always acknowledge it.
It wouldn't be long, he thought, before Jim would be able to use his senses without having to think about it and without worrying about zoning out. By that time, Blair would have enough raw data to analyze for this portion of his thesis and Jim would have control and his life back. A life that didn't include the pushy grad student currently occupying his downstairs bedroom.
With a silent sigh, Blair pushed himself up off the futon and stripped down to his boxers and T-shirt. He crawled beneath the covers and sprawled on his stomach. God, he was so tired. What he wouldn't give to spend a quiet, peaceful evening in the loft with Jim. Maybe tomorrow night, he thought, as he fell deep into a dreamless sleep. Maybe.
Chapter 6: Interlude: Post Night Train
"Anybody who comes through that door without my face, you shoot them."
"You got it."
"Hey. I'm just along for the ride. And as a matter of fact, I may be reevaluating my whole situation very soon."
Blair frowned down at the essay without really seeing it, while the red pen in his hand tapped out a staccato rhythm on his desk. What he was picturing instead was Jim Ellison clinging to the bottom of a speeding train, his senses going crazy, trying to use Blair's instructions to separate sound from light. And all the while, Blair was busy screwing up by letting Wilson take Jim's gun from him.
He gave a strangled groan and stood up. He was usually more than comfortable in his cluttered office, but suddenly the walls felt as if they were closing in on him. Maybe a walk outside would clear his head.
The sun was shining and the campus gardens made for a pleasant diversion. He strolled aimlessly down a path, letting the fragrance of the flowers soothe him. There was a vacant stone bench next to the roses, so he sat down to enjoy the sunshine.
He let his mind wander, hoping to find a semblance of peace from his tranquil surroundings. It worked at first, but it wasn't long before his thoughts turned again to the train ride from hell he'd taken a few nights earlier. He felt as though he'd mishandled everything about that night, the worst of it being the gun. He refused to think about Jim being thrown from the train. He hadn't known about that until after it had happened and there hadn't been anything he could do about it. But the damn gun was different. That was something that had been entirely under his control and he'd blown it.
He knew what the detectives of Major Crime thought about him. To them he was just a kid who didn't know anything about police procedure or how to handle himself in a physical situation. They thought that he was naïve and trusting and always looking for the good in people. Sometimes he felt like it was only a matter of time before they started calling him Pollyanna. He snorted. Thank god that was one nickname he'd escaped so far.
While they weren't wrong in many of the things that they believed about him, the real truth was that he wasn't nearly as naïve and inexperienced as they thought. Oh sure, he'd never worked with cops before, nor had he been in the military, but he was familiar with guns. He might not like using them, but that didn't mean that he didn't know how. And he'd done things, seen things, that he couldn't talk about. Things that had given him experiences that he truly preferred not to think about, experiences that would no doubt surprise and shock his cop acquaintances if they ever found out.
Blair shook his head. He refused to go down that rat hole. Not now. Not when he'd finally managed to put the nightmares dredged up by his kidnapping at the hands of David Lash behind him. He wasn't going to risk having to deal with them all over again just because he couldn't keep his thoughts under control. Better that he bury it all so deep that he couldn't remember, than to keep reliving everything. So the guys in Major Crime thought him an untrained observer and a naïve kid. So what? He could live with that. He would live with that. His real fear was that his decision might, one day, get Jim killed.
No, he told himself firmly, it wouldn't. It wouldn't, because he wouldn't be around long enough for that to happen. The control Jim had exhibited over his senses on the train, even when he'd been whacked out from the cold medicine, made it clear to Blair that it wouldn't be long before Ellison no longer had a need for him. The man fascinated Blair. He admired the detective more than he wanted to admit. And because of that he wanted to do all he could to make sure that he would be able to function with his senses on his own. The man was too proud and too stubborn to remain dependent upon anyone.
Besides, Blair had his own life to live. An academic life that didn't include following a cop around, no matter whether the guy was a Sentinel or not. With a determined set to his mouth, Blair pushed his concerns about his place in Ellison's world aside and stood to return to his office to finish grading the essays from his Anthro 101 class.
Chapter 7: Interlude 1: Post Rogue
"That white-noise generator was pure CIA. But this couldn't be a sanctioned black op or you'd be long gone. So you must be rogue."
"CIA? Jim, what the hell is going on here?"
"Nice place, Jack. I hear they make an excellent seafood salad." Blair followed along behind as the maitre d' led them to a linen covered table situated next to a picture window overlooking the water.
"Glad you could join me for lunch," Kelso said as he wheeled his chair into place.
Blair shrugged and smiled. "Who am I to turn down a free meal?" He sat down opposite his friend.
They picked up their menus and shared innocuous conversation regarding food choices until their waitress arrived to take their orders. Then they both fell into an uncomfortable silence as if each was waiting for the other to speak his mind. Finally, Jack grimaced.
"I've been worried about you." Kelso fidgeted with the silverware at his place setting.
"Why?" He was honestly surprised. That wasn't at all what he was expecting to hear.
"Why?" Kelso shook his head. "You could have been killed and you know it. I don't have all the details of what happened and I'm not going to ask you for anything. But damn it, Blair, I'm your friend. I know just what this little escapade had to have cost you."
Blair sighed and briefly closed his eyes. When he looked at his friend he let the fear he felt show. "Yeah. It cost me. I was on an adrenaline rush the entire time wondering what Brackett really knew about me. I still don't know. Do you?"
Kelso frowned. "I don't think he knows anything. He's not the type to keep that kind of thing to himself, especially not if it's something that could be a bargaining chip in whatever scheme he has going. From what I've heard, if he'd known he would have used it."
He nodded. "That's pretty much what I thought, but it helps to hear you confirm it."
Kelso sat back in his wheelchair. "You haven't told Ellison, have you?"
Blair shook his head.
"Why not?" He sounded puzzled. "I'd think that of all people, that detective of yours would understand."
He barked out a short laugh. "What do you mean, that detective of mine? It's not like I own the man."
Kelso narrowed his eyes and stared at him, a shrewd expression on his face. "No? Could have fooled me. But you're avoiding the real question. Why haven't you told him?"
Blair's shoulders slumped. "You know I can't do that, man." He turned away and gazed out the window. Softly he said, "I just can't and you know why."
"Bullshit." Kelso smiled slightly at Blair when he turned from the view of the water to look at him. "That's bullshit and you know it, Blair. You didn't take an oath of secrecy when you got out of it. You're the man's partner."
He cut off Blair's attempt at denial and added impatiently, "You may not be his official partner, but you're as close as makes no difference. You need to tell the man. He deserves to know."
He shook his head slowly. "I...I let it go too long, Jack. I should have told him at the beginning, but I didn't really think I'd get in so deep, that we'd work together, you know? There's no way he'd believe me now." He snorted. "And I couldn't blame him. You should see me when I'm around him. I turn into an idiot about all kinds of things. Things you wouldn't believe. No, he'd just think I was spinning some kind of story."
"Protective coloring." At Blair's puzzled expression, he added, "You didn't want him to know, so you've sabotaged yourself at every turn. Protective coloring."
Another shrug. "Maybe. Doesn't change the situation any. Let it go, Jack. I'm trying to."
Kelso crossed his arms. "I think you're making a huge mistake here, Blair. But I'll try not to bring it up too many more times."
Blair smiled and said dryly, "Gee, thanks."
"Don't mention it." Jack flashed a smile at the waitress as she returned with their drinks.
Blair took a sip of his lemonade and waited until the waitress left. "Was that why you asked me to lunch, Jack?"
"No. Well, not entirely." Kelso hesitated, then said, "I really did want to see you, my friend. But I also wanted to make sure I warned you."
Blair set his lemonade carefully down on the table. "What about Brackett?"
"You know as well as I do that it's only a matter of time before someone decides that he could be useful and lets him out."
"I don't want to hear this, do I? Why the fuck would anyone think that letting out the man who tried to hold an entire city hostage with the Ebola virus was a good idea?"
Kelso sighed. "Because while Brackett may be a rogue, he was also a damn good agent. And there are plenty of people, just as amoral as he, who have the kind of power it takes to get him out. Someone, at some point, is going to come up with a scenario that they'll figure requires an operative of Brackett's talents and that will be that. Personally, I think we'll be lucky if he spends a year, two at the most, behind bars. More than that and I'll start believing I can actually win the lotto."
"Shit." Blair raked a hand back through his hair. "What are the odds that he'd come after Jim and me when he does get out?"
"I just don't know." Jack shook his head. "There's nothing in the dossier that I compiled on him that suggests he's into retribution or vengeance or whatever you want to call it. But then, no one's ever managed to put him in prison before, either. I just wanted to make sure you understood what was likely to happen."
Blair nodded. "Yeah. I got it. Thanks, Jack. I appreciate you looking out for me, even when I don't really want you to."
"No problem." He glanced out over the water for a moment, then turned back to Blair, a serious expression on his face. "You know that I'm here for you if you need anything, don't you?"
He nodded slowly. "Yeah. I do."
Kelso looked up to see the waitress approaching with their meals and smiled. "Good. Now, how about we forget about all this and enjoy our lunch?"
"Sounds good to me." Blair smiled. "So, tell me about this new book you're working on."
Chapter 8: Interlude 2: Post Rogue
"Wait a minute, both of us?"
"Well, you're his guide, so to speak, so I'll need you, too."
"Jim? Want to come in here for a minute?"
Jim Ellison glanced up from his desk and nodded. He stepped into Banks' office and sat down, surprised when the door was closed behind him.
"Captain? What's up?"
Simon Banks sat down behind his desk and leaned back in his chair. His expression as he scrutinized Jim was decidedly odd. "Why don't you tell me?"
"Huh?" Jim was genuinely puzzled. "I'm sorry, Sir, but I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."
Banks sighed softly. "I'm talking about this thing with Brackett, Jim. I read your, or should I say Sandburg's, report. Pretty obviously it left out a lot of things. I'd like to hear from you just what it didn't say." He raised his eyebrows and looked at Jim expectantly.
Jim rubbed his chin. "Are you sure about that, Simon? You haven't exactly been thrilled to hear some of this stuff so far, so why should this time be different?"
Banks leaned forward and placed his forearms on his desk. "Because this time the entire city could have been wiped out if that virus had been released. I need to know the truth behind why Brackett targeted you."
"Yeah. Okay." Jim still hesitated as he wondered just how much Simon really wanted to know.
"Come on, Jim. Dr. Price and the Brass might accept your line about you knowing operational procedures that Brackett needed you for, but I'm not buying. What was really going on?"
Jim took a steadying breath. "He wanted me for my Sentinel abilities."
"What!?" Banks' hands clenched into fists. "He knows about that?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah. Seems that he's been keeping track of me since Peru."
"But where did Sandburg fit in? Brackett was pretty insistent that he wanted both of you. Did he think that if he had Sandburg that you would be forced to play nice?"
"No," Jim replied softly. "He knows about Sandburg, too. He's been keeping tabs on him as well, ever since he read one of the kid's undergrad papers about Sentinels."
Banks looked shocked. "You're kidding."
"Nope. Brackett even called Sandburg my 'guide.'"
"Guide, huh? What's that supposed to mean?"
"I can only guess, Simon. The monograph by Burton that Sandburg has only mentions someone that watches the Sentinel's back, keeps him from zoning, but there are no real details in it about this person. I don't think Blair's realized it, but I'd bet that Brackett has found more Sentinel material. Something that provided information about this 'guide' that led Brackett to believe that Blair was my guide."
"Yeah?" Banks asked, a skeptical note in his voice.
Jim smiled. "Yeah. And I think he's right, Simon. I've been turning it over in my mind ever since and I think that it's a pretty apt description of what Blair does for me. He guides me in the use of my senses. You should hear some of the things he comes up with, the stuff he pulls out of thin air to help me."
There was silence between the two men and then Banks said wearily, "You're right. I didn't want to hear this." He waved a hand in the air to forestall Jim's protest. "Still, I'm glad you told me. I may not always want to hear this stuff, but something tells me that I'd better understand it." He slowly relaxed back in his chair.
"Was that all you wanted, Simon?" At the Captain's nod, Jim stood and headed for the office door. He paused with his hand on the knob and turned back. "By the way, it was a good thing that Brackett knew about this guide business, because I zoned big time out there while I was trying to listen to the electronic mines on that bridge. If it hadn't been for Blair being able to bring me out of the zone safely, well, things would be a whole lot different today." He left the office and smiled slightly as he heard Simon's muffled curse from behind the door.
Chapter 9: Interlude: Post Love and Guns
"That's great, man, but it doesn't help me out any. I'm falling in love with her, Jim."
"You do your best and if it all falls apart, then hopefully, you can find some forgiveness, and you move on 'cause that's all you can do."
Blair sat at the picnic table and studiously ignored the other people in the small park; mothers sitting on blankets with their young children, older children playing on the swings and running over the grass in the afternoon sun. They had nothing he wanted. A small corner of his mind observed his attitude and provided sarcastic comments on his current situation. That's it, it said, wallow in your little pity party. Make sure you feel just as bad as you possibly can.
"Fuck this," he muttered under his breath. He hated it, hated feeling like he'd had his heart ripped out.
Yeah, that's right. She ripped your heart out. That's 'cause you were so in love with her. You knew her for like, what? A week, tops? Yeah. That was real love, all right.
His fists rose and then dropped heavily to the table. He clenched his eyes tightly shut and stubbornly refused to acknowledge the voice. Unfortunately it wouldn't go away.
Oh, hey, it said cheerfully, she probably really loved you, too, you know. I mean, the girl was so bright. Okay, so she'd lived all her life with her father and never had a clue about the fact that he made his living by running guns, but that doesn't mean anything. Well, other than that she was used to deceiving herself about the people around her. Maybe that's why she was so easy to trick. You think?
"Shut up!" He stood up abruptly and headed for his car, ignoring the startled looks from the nearest young mothers.
Maya was gone and she wasn't coming back. He had to face the fact that whatever it was that she'd felt for him, it wasn't strong enough for her to want to try to stay and work things out. He just wasn't worth it to her. A clinical part of him understood how she felt, but a deeper, more emotional part wondered why. Why wasn't he worth the effort?
He reached the Corvair and leaned his head against the ragtop, his breath hitching. Shit. Enough with the fucking self-pity, he thought. He'd never let anyone get to him like this before, so what was so special about her? Guilt, the voice whispered.
Guilt. Sure. Tell me another one, he thought derisively.
Okay, how's this? You felt guilty for not having been up front with her about who you are and why you were getting to know her. And then she offered herself to you. If you weren't feeling guilty, why didn't you accept? Huh? Answer me that one, why don't you.
God damn it. He hauled off and smacked the flat of his hand against the roof of his car. She'd been so beautiful and giving and he'd wanted so badly to be in love, to feel something. And it had all been a fucking lie. All of it. He jerked the car door open, jumped in and peeled out of the parking lot.
After several hours of aimless driving he found himself parked in front of the loft. He hadn't meant to go there. He hadn't particularly wanted to be there. And yet there he was. He sat in his car for a long time, not thinking of anything in particular, but not ready to move, either. He was so caught up in his non-thoughts that he didn't notice Ellison detach himself from the building and walk around the Corvair to the driver's side.
"Hey Chief." Jim's voice was filled with a quiet concern.
Blair started and turned to face him. "Jim?" He was surprised to see that the man looked slightly uncomfortable.
"You've been sitting out here for over an hour, Sandburg. You're starting to make the neighbors nervous. I thought maybe you'd like to come inside before I have to intercept a call downtown." He smiled slightly.
An hour? He thought he'd just arrived. "Sorry, man." He sighed. "Guess I lost track of time." He waited for Jim to step away from the car and then he opened his door.
"No problem." Jim brushed a nervous hand back over his head. "I've got dinner ready. If you haven't eaten, that is."
Blair stared at him in bemusement. "Uh, no. No, I haven't eaten." He frowned. "Come to think of it, I don't think I've eaten all day. What's on?"
Jim shrugged. "I felt like Mexican, so I threw together some stuff for tacos. Pretty easy."
Blair raised his eyebrows and followed his roommate into the elevator. Jim didn't just 'throw stuff together' for tacos or anything else. Come to think of it, he'd been acting odd since this whole thing with Maya had blown up in Blair's face. It was almost as if Jim was trying to make him feel better. Okay, so he hadn't had a lot of experience with Jim as a comforter. Well, except for that episode with Lash and he so wasn't going there again. But then, he certainly hadn't gone through any serious relationship problems since he'd known the guy. Christine had been a pleasant diversion, but she hadn't really rated a blip on his emotional radar and they'd managed to part as friends.
So, what was up with Jim? As they headed for the door of the loft, Blair had the sinking feeling that maybe his roommate was feeling a bit of guilt of his own for asking Blair to find out about Maya. That would be just like Jim. Assume that since he hadn't spelled out the details to Blair that he wouldn't be able to figure out what was what on his own. He felt a brief flash of anger that faded just as quickly as it came. That wasn't it, he suddenly knew. No, Jim would be feeling guilty because Blair had been hurt. Because he was still hurting.
He sighed. He was still getting to know the man whose life he'd barged into so cavalierly. Blair had his own prejudices to overcome and god knew that James Ellison defied being pigeonholed. So, why was he always surprised when Jim showed that he was more than just a stereotype?
Maybe it was time to put aside his preconceptions and truly learn about the man he lived with, beyond just cataloging the Sentinel abilities. That would certainly be a better pastime than dwelling on a relationship that hadn't had a chance from the start. Blair surprised Jim with a wide smile.
"Hey, Jim? Have I ever told you about the time I lived with the Kombai Tree people of Irian Jaya?"
Chapter 10: Interlude: Post Attraction
"Don't you think your attraction to her is just a little bit off scale? I've been watching you, and..."
"Whoa, whoa. You've just crossed that line. You can study the Sentinel thing all you want, but stay out of my personal life."
Blair rubbed his hands across his eyes and put his glasses back on. He still had 35 term papers to grade and the final exam to put together for Anthro 101. If he didn't get his focus back soon he wasn't going to make it. He took a deep, steadying breath and let it out slowly. He had to get his mind off Jim.
Easier said than done, he thought sadly. Jim had been so determined to try to make him feel better after the fiasco with Maya and what did he do to return the favor? He turned right around and announced to the guy that he wasn't in love with Laura, that it was just a chemical reaction that his senses couldn't help responding to.
So it was the truth. So what? The man had been seriously hurt and confused. Blair had hated seeing him start to mistrust himself. Sure, he seemed okay about it all now, but Blair still wondered how long it would be before Jim allowed himself to try love again.
He shook his head. God, this was messed up. He should never have moved in with Jim. It was seriously screwing with his ability to maintain an objective distance. And the kicker was that it was getting harder and harder to remember just why that was so important. It seemed like just being around Jim did that to him. Made him care.
The ringing of the phone interrupted further introspection. He reached out to answer it.
"Hey Chief, it's me."
"Hi Jim. What's up?"
"You available? Simon's just handed me a nasty one and I could use your help at the scene."
Blair closed his eyes. "Just how nasty are we talking here?"
"Bad enough. It's a multiple homicide." Jim's voice held an apologetic note. "I hate to drag you into this, but there're no leads. I really need to see if I can come up with something, you know?"
"It's okay, Jim. I understand. Just let me know where and I'll meet you." Blair cradled the phone between his ear and shoulder and grabbed a pen to jot down the address. "Uh-huh, uh-huh. Got it. I should be able to be there in about 10 minutes."
"Thanks, Chief." Jim hesitated, then added, "I may be a few minutes behind you. Don't go in without me, all right?"
Blair smiled. "No problem, man. See you in a few." He hung up the phone and stood up. Even when he was dealing with his own issues, Jim still managed to be concerned about him. The introspection and the essays would have to wait awhile. For now, Jim needed him.
Chapter 11: Interlude: Post Flight
"This Sentinel thing. You know, it's more than just a research project. It's about friendship. I just didn't get it before."
Jim scrawled his name on the signature line at the bottom of his report and stacked the pages neatly into the folder. That was the last of the paperwork closing the case on the string of burglary/homicides that had been plaguing the city for the past month and a half. He picked up with the folder and headed for the Captain's office, his satisfaction showing on his face. He rapped twice on the door.
"Come in." Simon glanced up as Jim entered. "Is that the Hollender report?"
"Yep. Complete and signed."
Simon peered around Jim out into the bullpen, a puzzled expression on his face. "Where's Sandburg? Don't forget that he needs to sign this, as well."
Jim grinned. "Already done, Sir. He signed his part of the report just before lunch. He had a few things to take care of at the University this afternoon."
Simon leaned back in his chair. "Take a seat, Jim." He waited until Ellison made himself comfortable. "That was a nice piece of work, Detective. I've got Captain Randolph in Homicide fuming over the way you managed to close the case after having it only four days. Especially since they'd had it for over three weeks without being able to come up with a solid lead."
Jim shrugged. "We caught a break, Simon. That's all. If it hadn't been us, it would have happened eventually for one of the other detectives. You know how it goes."
He raised his eyebrows. "I don't mind modesty, Jim, but that was more than catching a break and you know it. And what's with this 'we' business?"
"We. Sandburg and me." He frowned. "You know that at least half of the ideas on this case, the ones that actually panned out, were his, right? If it hadn't been for Sandburg guiding me with my senses and the stuff he came up with on his own, this case would still be open."
Simon's fingers tapped softly on his desk as he stared at Jim. "You're serious about this, aren't you? What happened to cutting the kid loose as soon as you got control? Seems to me like you're pretty much there and yet the kid's still around, still living in your home. Don't get me wrong, I like Sandburg. And I owe him for Peru. But still, he's not a cop. How much longer are you going to let him tag along?"
Jim looked away, uncomfortable with the question. This was something he'd been avoiding thinking about, but now it looked like he was going to have to provide an answer that would satisfy his Captain.
"That's what I thought at the beginning of all this. That I'd get my hands around this business with my senses and send him on his way." He stood up and paced over to the window. "I wasn't sure what to make of the kid when we first hooked up. I mean, when you look at him you have to wonder, you know?"
"Uh-huh," Banks agreed softly. "What's changed?"
Jim turned to stare out the window. "I got to know Blair, for one thing. He's not at all like I thought he'd be at first. He's one of the hardest working guys I've ever run into. Do you have any idea how many hours he puts in helping me with my senses and with my casework? Then there's his work at Rainier, as well as seminars and classes that he has to take."
"Sounds like a pretty full schedule." Simon's voice was neutral, betraying nothing of what he was thinking.
"It is. There are days when I wonder just when it is that he sleeps." Jim turned back to face the Captain. "Then there's the issue of my control over my senses. Simon, it may appear like I'm in total control, but that's not true. Blair's work with me is what allows it to seem that way."
"Are you saying your control is dependent upon whether Sandburg is around to help you or not?"
Jim shrugged. "I guess you could put it that way. His presence alone seems to prevent me from zoning. I'm not exactly sure why, it's sort of like he grounds me or something. I think there really is something to that Guide business that Brackett mentioned."
Simon hesitated and then asked, "Jim, are you saying that without Sandburg that you'd fall into one of those zone things?"
"I don't know for sure, but, frankly Simon, I really don't want to find out."
Simon walked around to the front of his desk and leaned against it. "What happens when the dissertation is done and Sandburg moves on?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. I'm trying not to think about it. But I'll tell you, he turned down a serious offer from a mentor of his to go on a major expedition to Borneo. He would have been gone for a year and from the sounds of it, it would have been a major boost for his career."
"Why'd he turn it down? Is the Sentinel project worth that much?"
"He said it had to do with friendship." Jim smiled and walked to the door. "Was that all, Sir?"
"Then I'm for home. I'll see you tomorrow."
Jim closed the door behind him and headed for his desk to pick up his jacket on the way out. He was waiting for the elevator when his hearing focused in on Simon's muttered, "Friendship. Uh-huh. That's all it is, all right. And I've got some swamp land that would make him a nice retirement home."
Jim shrugged and stepped into the elevator. He wasn't sure what Simon meant, but he knew that he wasn't going to ask a lot of questions about Blair's sacrifice. They were in a groove, working well together and getting criminals off the streets. In the long run that's all that counted.
Chapter 12: Interlude: Post Iceman
"I ran it through the FBI. It came back zip. Called a friend of mine at Langley..."
"The CIA? what..."
"Thank god for that vest."
Blair knocked, opened the door and poked his head into Jack Kelso's office. His friend was behind his desk, working at his computer. He glanced up at Blair and smiled.
"Blair! I haven't seen you for awhile. Come on in and tell me what you've been up to." Kelso beckoned with his hand.
Blair entered and closed the door behind him. Jack's office hadn't changed much over the years that he'd known him. Books lined almost every wall. His desk was covered with files and papers. More papers covered the leather couch under the window, leaving an open space just wide enough for Blair to sit.
"Hi Jack. How've you been?" Blair smiled at his friend. It had been several months since they'd last gotten together for lunch.
"I've been just fine, thanks. I'm finishing up the second draft of my book and I'm about ready to submit it to my publisher." Kelso leaned back in his wheelchair and cocked his head as he regarded Blair. "What about you? You haven't been around for one of our talks in months. I guess your detective has been keeping you busy."
Blair shook his head. "There you go with that 'your detective' business again. I told you I don't own the man. I have been helping him out and between that and Rainier, sometimes it seems like I don't have a spare minute to my name. I've missed our talks, man."
"Funny, I see his name mentioned at times in the papers connected to big cases that he's solved, but I've never seen your name. Why do I get the feeling that you're as responsible for closing all those cases as he is?"
Blair frowned. "Don't start, Jack. He's the detective and he's a damn good one. He'd solve those cases whether I was around or not. So I've contributed a few ideas here and there, so what? I'm not looking for notoriety. You know that. And neither is Jim, if you're asking."
"Calm down. I'm not criticizing the man, Blair. You think too highly of him for me to do that. I trust your judgement, you know that." He rolled his chair out from behind his desk and over to the couch. "So, what brings you here today, my friend? What can I do for you?"
"Jack, I'm crushed." Blair held a hand to his heart and said mockingly, "Would I only come to see you if I wanted something from you?"
"In a flash, Blair, in a flash." Kelso grinned. "Now cut it out and tell me what you need."
Blair chuckled. "Never could fool you. Okay, here's the thing. I don't know if you heard about the Iceman case Jim just closed? The international hitman?"
"Zeller?" Kelso nodded. "Of course. I heard a bit more from some friends than was probably in the news. Why?"
Blair stared at his hands clasped between his knees. "Then I suppose your friends told you that he shot me?"
"What? No. No, they didn't." He flicked his gaze over Blair and added, puzzled, "I take it that it wasn't serious?"
"Two slugs directly to the chest at point blank range. Luckily Jim had insisted that I wear a vest."
"Thank god for kevlar." Kelso took off his glasses and passed his hand over his face.
Blair just nodded, still not meeting his friend's eyes. "The thing is... Jim mentioned having some friends at Langley."
Kelso nodded. "I expect so. He was a liaison with the CIA, worked covert ops. I'd be surprised if he didn't have some contacts. In fact, I was a little surprised that he didn't use them during the whole Brackett thing."
Blair looked up then. "I called you first. And, well, I actually suggested that he call the CIA and he said he didn't want to get involved with them. I just assumed that that meant he didn't know, that he couldn't find out..." His voice trailed off and he looked away.
"You're wondering what else he knows that he hasn't told you, aren't you?" Kelso asked softly.
He nodded, a miserable expression on his face. "Yeah. I guess I am."
Kelso chewed on his lower lip for a moment. "Do you really think Ellison is the kind of man who would keep something like that to himself? I'm sure there are a lot of things he can't talk about, things that he was involved with or did. But I seriously doubt that he wouldn't address this head on. After all, it's not a secret he has to keep, is it?"
Blair shook his head. "No," he whispered.
"Well, then. I don't think you need to be worried. If he were going to find out anything through his contacts, he'd already have done so. There aren't that many who actually know anything. And you weren't involved in the stuff that would raise a red flag."
"Maybe not, but it was bad enough, Jack. And it could be made to look even worse, depending on how it's told."
He wheeled his chair back a couple of feet from the couch, giving Blair a bit of space. "Why haven't you told him? I know we had this conversation a few months ago, but I'd have thought that by now you'd have proven yourself enough to him that it wouldn't matter. Besides, I really think you're doing the man a disservice by thinking that he wouldn't understand."
He stood and walked to the door. "You don't know, Jack. You just don't know. Jim has an amazing capacity for tolerance and forgiveness and I know that he's done things that he regrets, but he's also got a thing about trust. He doesn't give it easily and it wouldn't take a lot for him to feel betrayed." He reached out for the doorknob and stopped when Kelso spoke.
"You know he will eventually find out, right? What are you going to do when that happens?"
Without looking back, Blair said sadly, "I don't know, man. I can't let myself think about that." And with that he walked out of the office, leaving a pensive Jack Kelso behind.
Chapter 13: Interlude: Post Spare Parts
"I mean, the next thing I know you're gonna be parading around here in a blue uniform and jack boots."
"Well, you know what, Mom? If I do, that's my choice."
"Next time you come over, I'm not gonna let you hit on Jim, I'll tell you that much."
"And that's why Dominguez went after the two of them like he did," said Jim. "He was positive that they were about to rat him out and he was trying to make a pre-emptive strike before they could do it. Here's the final report, Sir." He handed the folder to Simon, who put it down on his desk.
"Good work, Jim. Tell Sandburg he did a good job, too, when you see him." He picked up an unlit cigar and rolled it between his fingers. "You get your place back to normal after his mother left?"
Jim smiled. "Oh yeah. Sandburg spent the next day putting everything back where it belonged. Half of the day he apologized for her moving everything around and the other half he told me to back off the next time we meet."
Simon raised his eyebrows. "Back off? Don't tell me you made a pass at his mother? I wouldn't have thought that she was your type."
"Not at all," Jim replied with a chuckle. "But Naomi does like to flirt and I didn't discourage her. I think he's a little sensitive about the subject."
"I bet he is." Simon frowned slightly and put his cigar down on the ashtray. "I'd be careful there, if I were you, Jim."
"Simon, it was all just harmless banter. I'm sure she knew that I wasn't serious about anything." He shook his head.
"No, I mean with Sandburg. Has he said much to you about the way he grew up?"
Jim shrugged. "I know they moved around a lot. I got the impression that Naomi tends to fall into and out of love at the drop of a hat." He hesitated for a moment. "He tried to tell me how great it was, that he got to go to so many World Series and playoff games, but I get the feeling that there's a lot there under the surface that he's uncomfortable talking about."
Simon rubbed his chin. "I talked to him a bit. He was pretty embarrassed about that little scene in my office. Oh, he didn't apologize or anything, but since I had the chance I asked him about what it was like having Naomi as a mom."
"And it was what he didn't say that made me wonder. He said he got to see a lot of places and meet a lot of people. But he didn't talk about making friends in all these places they went to. When I asked him about how he managed to keep track of all his school records, he said he never really went to regular schools very much of the time. He tested out his high school diploma and was barely 16 when he started at Rainier."
"I knew he was smart, but I had no idea," Jim muttered.
Simon stared at him. "You're missing the point, detective. He was too young to stay in the dorms. The only way Rainier would accept him at that age was if he lived at home and there's no way Naomi would have stayed tied down for a year in the same place."
"So who did he stay with?" Jim narrowed his eyes.
Simon shook his head. "He just mumbled something about a cousin and that it was no big deal."
"You think he lied?"
"I'd say so."
Simon sighed. "I don't know, Jim. But I'd say that living with you is the closest thing to a real home that the kid's ever had. Knowing his mother's predilection, well, I can see where he might not find the two of you flirting with each other very funny."
Jim slumped back in his chair. He really hadn't thought about it in those terms. He'd just seen a chance for some gentle ribbing and he'd taken it. He'd certainly never meant to make Blair feel uneasy or hurt.
"You may be right, Simon." He glanced at his friend. "I swear I wouldn't have teased him about it if I'd thought it was something that would really upset him."
"I know that, Jim. Maybe you ought to make sure Sandburg knows it, too." He picked up the file that Jim had handed him earlier and waved it at him. "Go on. Get out of here. I don't want to see you back here until Monday morning."
"Yes, Sir." Jim stood up. "Thanks, Simon."
"Yeah, yeah." He reached for his cigar.
Jim smiled as he reached his desk and heard Simon mutter, "Just call me Dr. Laura for Sentinels and Guides. Maybe I ought to hang up a shingle."
Chapter 14: Interlude: Post Second Chance
"Touch him and you're a dead man."
Blair zipped up his coat and headed out into the rain. The wind whipped at his hair, pulling it out from beneath his collar. It was a cold, blustery day, just the kind of day that he usually hated, but for some reason he didn't even notice the weather. He felt too good to allow a little bit of rain to bring him down.
He ran down the steps of Hargrove Hall and headed for his car. He might not care that it was raining, but that didn't mean that he wanted to stay out in it any longer than he had to. Luckily he'd arrived at the University early enough that morning to find a parking spot close to the campus. He reached his car in record time and tossed his backpack into the back before sliding into the driver's seat. He wiped the water off his face and grinned.
He was actually going to be early to the Precinct for the first time in weeks. Maybe he'd surprise Jim and take him out to lunch. He chuckled softly. That would be a surprise, he thought, especially if he managed to pay. Jim always seemed to work it around so that he paid for their meals, even when the invitation came from Blair. Not this time, he thought. Nope, this time he was going to make sure that lunch was on him.
He turned right when he should have turned left. The only way to ensure that he paid for their lunch would be if he picked it up before he got there. And he knew just the little deli to stop at to get sandwiches that were so good they could make you cry. He pulled the car into a parking spot in front of an unassuming storefront with the word Deli painted in an arch on the picture window.
He waited in line and ordered a lean pastrami on unseeded rye bread for Jim and a liverwurst on black bread for himself. A couple of cream sodas completed his order and he carried his sack of goodies out to his car. It was rare that he had the opportunity to do this and he felt a pleasing warmth at the idea of surprising his friend.
On the way to the Precinct he wondered just why he was in such a good mood. After all, only a few days ago he'd been kidnapped and almost killed, and the woman he'd once thought he'd been in love with had been part of the plot. So why didn't the thought of Maya do more than just make him irritated?
Maybe it was because he was over her. Or maybe, whispered that little voice in the back of his head, it's because you weren't really in love with her at all. Maybe it's because she showed you just what an idiot she really is by falling for yet another man's lies. He shrugged. It didn't seem to matter to him one way or the other. The only thing he could say for sure that he really felt was relief that she was gone.
Jim had been cautious around him when they learned that she had definitely been deported back to Chile. Blair smiled. He knew his partner had been afraid that he'd go into some kind of depression and feel guilty over this latest episode in the adventures of Maya Carasco. But that hadn't happened. Instead, Blair had just shook his head and said that he hoped that she'd learned her lesson and could find some happiness. The look on Jim's face had been priceless.
And, he admitted to himself, he'd stopped worrying about being too involved in Jim's life. It felt right to work with the man, to help him solve crimes and develop the use of his senses. Everything just seemed to be clicking along and he didn't want to do anything that would upset things.
A dark corner of his mind tried to remind him that there were things he hadn't told Jim. Things that most definitely would upset their friendship if Jim were to find out from someone other than Blair. Things might cause problems even if it were Blair that explained them. One day he was going to have to face his secrets and bring them out in the open.
Blair forced those thoughts away. One day he'd face them, that was true. But it wouldn't be today. Today he was going to leave the darkness behind for a little while longer and enjoy doing what he was doing and the friendships that he was making along the way.
Chapter 15: Interlude: Post Black and White
"Anxiety and panic attacks are a normal state of being for me."
"Well, that was an embellishment on the truth."
"You mean a lie, right? A lie."
"Oh, no. Lies, they hurt, man. This, embellishments, they help."
Blair sat at Jim's desk, waiting for the detective to return from Simon's office, and thought back over the last few days. He suddenly heard his own words whispering in his ear, "It happened to this anthropological student that I knew. He was out doing research in Nepal and an avalanche hit." And then another fragment, Joel asking, "You still know this guy?" and his reply, "Yeah, it was me."
And it had been him on that bridge in Nepal, only it hadn't gone down at all like he'd told it. Obfuscation, like he'd told Jim? No. Flat out lie. No anthropological expedition. No avalanche rescue. At least not until the sniper began to fire. He'd been exposed, in the middle of that damn bridge with no where to hide, when the shooting started. The only thing he could do was make himself as small a target as he could and pray for a miracle. It had come in the form of an avalanche.
The bullpen faded away and for a moment he was back on that slender rope bridge, suspended high over the gorge, waiting to die. He heard the sharp crack of the rifle and watched in horror as the Sherpa in front of him cried out and tumbled off the bridge. He crouched low just as he heard the next rifle crack and then he heard the ominous deep rumbling that seemed to come from high on the mountain ahead of them. The Sherpa behind him grabbed his arm and pulled, gesturing emphatically back the way they'd just come. He nodded and turned around, only to hear yet another crack and see the man clutch his shoulder and fall back.
Blair lunged for him, grabbing his waist and clinging to both the man and the bridge. They swayed precariously, but he closed his eyes and tightened his hold. Somehow he managed to crawl forward a foot at a time, dragging the unconscious Sherpa with him. The shooting had stopped, but he figured that was either because the sniper had had to flee the avalanche or because he'd been buried by it. Didn't matter. Blair knew that if they didn't make it to the other side before the avalanche struck the bridge that they were dead in any case.
He tried to hurry, but it felt like he was crawling through molasses. Still, they were only four feet from safety when the wall of snow crashed into the bridge. He held on for dear life as the bridge collapsed, only to be nearly jarred loose when they smacked into the mountain with enough velocity to break his arm. He managed to maintain his hold on both the ropes and the Sherpa. Thankfully their rescue arrived quickly, because he wasn't sure just how long he'd be able to hold out. He blacked out just as helping hands reached for him.
Suddenly he was back in the bullpen, the noise and activity nearly overwhelming. He looked up and flushed to see Joel standing in front of Jim's desk with a concerned expression on his face. He felt himself being shaken and turned to Jim, who was sitting on the corner of his desk, one hand gripping Blair's shoulder tightly.
"J-Jim?" He was shocked to hear his voice come out with a quaver.
"Jesus, Blair. Don't do that." Jim's grim expression belied the light tone of his words.
"What?" He glanced between the two men. "What happened?"
Joel took it on himself to answer. "You were sitting there and all of a sudden I thought you were going to be sick. I came over to see if you needed anything, but you didn't answer. I couldn't get you to respond to anything. Then Jim came rushing out of Simon's office." He frowned.
Blair blinked and looked at Jim, who nodded. "I just, well, I guess I was thinking about something and just got kind of lost in it." He swallowed and shrugged. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare anyone." He tried for a smile.
Joel waved a hand. "I'm just glad that's all it was. Leave it to you to get so lost in your thoughts." He smiled warmly and headed for Simon's office.
"You want to tell me what really happened here, Chief?" Jim asked quietly. He still had a tight grip on Blair's shoulder. "I heard Joel call your name and when I came out here your heart rate had skyrocketed and your eyes were dilated. What's going on?"
Blair slowly shook his head. "It really wasn't anything, man. I was just thinking about something that happened before I met you and I guess the memory was a strong one."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh." He clearly wasn't buying Blair's explanation, but he seemed willing to let it go since that's what Blair appeared to want. He dropped his hand and stood up. "Ready for lunch?"
Blair nodded. As he followed Jim out of the bullpen, he wondered how long it would be before his friend brought it up again. And he wondered just what he was going to tell him when he did.
Chapter 16: Interlude: Post Blind Man's Bluff
"What's going on?"
"You don't see them? They're coming through, through the walls and the floor, man."
Jim sipped his coffee and settled more comfortably in his chair. The golden glow that had affected his vision was finally gone and everything was back the way it should be. Or it would be as soon as his partner felt up to coming back into the station.
He knew that Blair still wasn't feeling up to par, but he had the feeling that the kid was avoiding coming back because he was embarrassed. Jim had tried to tell him that there was nothing to be embarrassed about, that he was a victim and that everyone understood that. But it was going to take awhile for him to come to grips with the whole incident.
The phone rang and Jim reached out to answer it. "Ellison."
"Jim. Hi. It's Margaret."
"Oh, hi there. How are you?" He smiled slightly.
"I'm fine, thanks. Listen, I hope you won't think less of me for doing this over the phone, but--"
Jim interrupted gently, "But you don't think we should go out?"
"Um, yeah. How did you know?" she asked curiously.
"I was there, too, remember," he said with a smile. "I really like you, Margaret, but there just weren't any, uh--"
"Well, that's a relief." She chuckled. "I was so afraid of how I was going to tell Blair that I wasn't interested in dating you if you didn't feel the same way."
"I know just what you mean," he said fervently. "So, we can all stay friends?"
"I'd like that, Jim. I'd like that a lot. Well, you tell Blair hi for me and that I'll call him soon, okay?"
"I'll do that, Margaret. You take care now. Bye-bye." He hung up the phone in relief.
He really had been wondering how he was going to tell her that he wasn't interested and still be able to keep the friendships intact. Blair had been right, it was a difficult proposition at best. Thank god she'd felt the same.
He had a sneaking suspicion that Blair was going to be as relieved about how this had turned out as he was. There'd been a strange undercurrent of something that Jim couldn't put a name to in all of Blair's protestations about Margaret and it wasn't an 'I want to date her myself' kind of thing. He shook his head. If it was important it'd come to him.
Now he just had to work on getting Blair comfortable with the idea of coming back to work. Maybe he'd start by asking him to go to a crime scene to help him. The kid was always a sucker for that kind of thing. Not that he lied about needing help, just that it was a sure-fire way to get Sandburg to do something he wanted him to do.
Jim glanced around the bullpen. Just about everyone currently on duty was there at the moment. Either it was a slow day or everyone was catching up on their paperwork. His eyes met Brown's and he smiled slightly. Maybe he'd make sure that H. was going to be in when Sandburg showed up. They always got along and H. would be sure to say something positive about Blair being back.
He blinked and looked down at his coffee. Had he really just spent the last fifteen minutes plotting how to get his partner back into the station and thinking of ways to make him feel more comfortable once he was there? Now, there's a first, he thought ruefully. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been as concerned about anyone as he was about Blair. What the hell did that mean?
He took another gulp of his coffee and tried to relax. They were close, closer than most partners were. But there was the Sentinel thing and that called for a level of trust beyond what even most cops felt for their partners. Add to that the fact that they were roommates and, well, hell he was bound to have some feelings for the kid. That's all. Nothing to worry about.
For a moment he was back in the garage when Blair collapsed in his arms from the Golden and he felt terror claw at his throat. And then sitting at his bedside, monitoring Blair's vital signs with his senses, trying to convince himself that he would be all right. Jim hadn't wanted to leave his side, but he'd wanted to nail the bastards that had put him there. So he'd left with Simon the next morning. It had taken two more days before Blair had awoken and the doctors had proclaimed the Golden was out of his system.
Even now the kid was a bit shaky. Jim knew that he was worried about the possibility of flashbacks and, truth be told, so was he. But they'd see it through together. Together. Jim smiled. He had to admit that he liked the sound of that.
Chapter 17: Interlude: Post Light My Fire
"I thought you were Mr. Outdoors. All that time spent out in the wilderness."
"Yeah. Most of it was in the jungle. The jungle's hot, remember?"
"You know, a lot of primitive tribes, they believe that fire is a living spirit."
Blair slid down the wall in the corner of his office behind his desk and tucked himself into a ball, curling up until he couldn't get any smaller. He'd put a note on his door canceling his office hours and then locked it behind him. He could tell what was coming and from all the signs he knew it'd be a bad one. He couldn't risk losing it in front of anyone, or having someone walk in on him in the middle.
Panic attack, anxiety attack, nerves, PTSD. He knew all of the terms and now he could add another to his list, drug flashback. And it didn't make a damn bit of difference which one it was. He'd learned not to ignore the warning signs that an attack was imminent and all he could do was ride it out. The only worry was whether this would be a flashback from the Golden or just one of the others. As if one of the others wouldn't be bad enough. He fought down the hysterical laughter that threatened to bubble out of his mouth.
If this were one of his panic attacks, he'd be able to recite what was about to happen to him by rote. He didn't know what would happen if it was the Golden. And the uncertainty terrified him almost as much as having the attack.
As soon as the visual flashbacks started he knew it was a Golden hallucination. Faster than he could follow, scenes from his past flew by -- a helicopter plunging to the ground, a rifle firing, a machete swinging at him and more, all wrapped in a golden haze -- causing him to gasp and whimper softly. He buried his face in his knees and wrapped his arms around himself as the shaking began.
He rocked to try to combat the shaking, but it had no affect. His hands clenched into fists and he rhythmically pounded the floor, trying to distract himself from the visions that he saw even with his eyes closed. The worst vision that came was that of Jim walking through leaping flames, being trapped and consumed by demons made of ash and fire.
Blair was too far gone in his misery to know what was happening when his office door was kicked open to reveal a wild-eyed Jim Ellison, gun at the ready. He frantically searched the room for whatever was threatening his partner. Ellison relaxed slightly and re-holstered his gun when he realized that the only person in the room was Blair. He slowly moved around the desk to see the young man's shaking form.
He rushed to Blair and dropped down to the floor at his side. "God, Chief," he muttered, "what happened?" It had to be the Golden, he thought bleakly. The doctor had warned that there might be flashbacks, but Jim hadn't realized just how bad it would be.
The movement of Blair's hands caught his attention and he realized that the kid was close to causing himself serious damage. He reached out, caught Blair's wrists and then pulled the violently shaking man into his arms, hugging him tightly to his chest.
"I'm here buddy. It's gonna be okay." He murmured reassurances over and over as he tried to still his partner's frantic movements.
After what seemed like hours, but could only have been minutes, Jim thought the shaking had lessened somewhat. He frowned and tilted his head as he thought he heard him say something. He bent his head until his lips lightly brushed Blair's ear.
"It's okay, Chief. What do you need?" he asked softly. "What can I do?"
At first he couldn't make out the mumbles, but he dialed up his hearing and finally heard, "can't know...make it stop...keep them away from Jim...gotta make it stop...fire people...burning up...can't know...can't find out..." The words were repeated over and over as if they were a mantra or a lifeline that his friend was clinging to.
"It's gonna be all right. Don't worry, Chief. No one's gonna know but me, and that's okay, right? We'll get through this together."
Jim was unprepared when Blair collapsed in his arms, the body that had just been violently shaking now suddenly still. Jim fearfully felt for a pulse and was relieved when it beat strongly beneath his fingers. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Now what was he supposed to do?
He sat with his back against the wall and gathered his friend close into his arms, trying to arrange him so that he'd feel safe and comfortable when he woke. Blair's heart was still racing, but was slowly returning to a more normal beat. Jim sighed and raised a hand to gently push back strands of the kid's hair from where it had stuck to the sweat on his face. An odd pain tugged at his heart and he rested his cheek gently atop the curly head on his chest.
He raised his head at a sound in the hallway. He wasn't sure exactly how he was going to explain just what they were doing on the floor, but at the moment he didn't really care how they appeared. All that mattered was that Blair wasn't disturbed.
"Blair? What happened to your door? Are you all right?" Jack Kelso asked as he wheeled himself into the crowded office. "Where are you?" His voice was heavy with worry.
"We're over here," Jim said softly.
Kelso rolled around the end of the desk and came to an abrupt halt. "What happened? Is he all right?"
Jim nodded. "He'll be fine."
For a long moment Kelso was silent as he assessed the two men sitting on the floor. "Was it a panic attack?"
Jim schooled the surprise from his face. Cautiously, he asked, "What do you mean?"
Kelso waved his hand impatiently. "He doesn't appear to be shot and you're not acting like he needs to go to the hospital, so I'd rule out knives and poison as well. Blair's had panic attacks for as long as I've known him. I'd say he finally collapsed on you. How long has it been?" His gaze bored into Jim, daring him to deny it.
He sighed. "Not long. Maybe five minutes or so. Just before you got here."
Jack nodded. He glanced back at the door and then looked at Ellison. "Let me guess. You got here and heard something inside. The door was locked and you couldn't get Blair to answer, so you kicked it in only to find him curled up and shaking. How'm I doing?"
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Not bad. I take it you've been through that with him before?"
He nodded. "Yeah. I'd really hoped that he was over it, though. I don't believe he's had one since he met you."
Jim looked down at his partner and said slowly, "Actually, I think he was having a flashback from the Golden overdose."
"Golden?" Jack asked, startled. "When did that happen?"
"A few weeks ago. He ate some pizza that was laced with the stuff. It had been delivered to Major Crimes, but Blair was the only one who had any of it. It nearly killed him."
"My thought exactly." Jim shifted slightly to move into a more comfortable position.
"What makes you think this was a flashback?"
"While he was hallucinating when he was dosed with the stuff he kept talking about fire people and he was mumbling something like that just before he collapsed this time."
Kelso frowned. "What was the trigger?"
Jim leaned his head back against the wall. "The doctors said they couldn't tell us what would cause one, but I figure I know why. We've been working on a pretty intense arson case. The night we closed the case I was almost killed and Blair watched me walk through a wall of fire. I was in a flame suit and that protected me, but I know Blair was pretty upset by what happened. To be honest, I guess I've sort of been expecting this to happen." He looked down at his friend and smiled sadly.
"Will he be all right?"
Jim looked up at the concern in Kelso's voice and said softly, "Yeah. I'll make sure of it. I have a feeling he may be out of it for awhile. I'll wait for him to wake up and then I'll get him home where I can keep an eye on him."
Kelso silently watched them for a few minutes and then nodded. "I'll hold you to that, Detective Ellison."
Jim smiled slightly as he watched Jack Kelso wheel himself around the desk and then listened as the man rolled down the hallway to the elevator. Blair certainly managed to bring out the protective streak in his friends, he thought with affection. He looked down at the dark head and settled back to wait for his partner to wake up, no matter how long it took.
Chapter 18: Interlude 1: Post Secret
"The doctor says none of Kelso's internal organs were hit. He should be out of the woods in a couple of days, which is more than I can say for you."
Blair gathered his foils and notes and put them into a battered expandable folder. Students slowly filed out of the lecture hall, laughing and talking. Some were even discussing his lecture. Usually, their banter would have brought a smile to his face, but he wasn't paying attention. His thoughts were far away, fixed on much darker topics.
"Mr. Sandburg? Mr. Sandburg?"
A small tug on his sleeve pulled him back to his surroundings. He turned to see one of his students regarding him with a slightly puzzled, slightly concerned expression.
"Sorry. I guess I was deep in thought, there. What did you need, Kathy?" He tried a small smile and was relieved when she shrugged.
"I was just wondering if I could talk to you about the paper that's due next week?"
He shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't have time right now, but I do have office hours tomorrow morning at 10:00."
"I can make that. Great! Thanks, Mr. Sandburg." She smiled brightly over her shoulder at him as she left the lecture hall.
Blair sighed and placed the folder in his backpack. He'd been in this gloomy mood for several days now and couldn't seem to shake it. It was getting harder and harder to hide it from the people around him. Jim was even beginning to give him odd looks and ask him if everything was all right and, god forbid, if he wanted to talk about anything.
He shuddered. Any other time and he would have been more than happy to discuss how he felt, but the last thing he wanted to do right now was talk to Jim Ellison about what was bothering him. Because that would mean that he'd have to reveal things that he'd kept hidden and that was something he just couldn't do.
He strode out of the Anthropology building, heading for his car. He'd promised to meet Jim at the station after his class was over. Still deep in his thoughts, he paid little attention to the bustle around him.
He stopped and looked back over his shoulder at the figure coming down the path behind him. "Jack. Hey, man. How are you feeling?"
Kelso wheeled his chair off to the side of the walkway next to Blair and gazed up at him. "I'm fine, Blair. I've been back at work for the last week."
Blair ducked his head and stared at the grass next to the path. "I know. I'm sorry I haven't made it over to see you. I've been spending almost every spare minute over at the police department working on a case with Jim."
Jack rubbed a finger over his eyebrow and said, exasperation in his voice, "Would you stop already with the guilt. It wasn't your fault that I got shot and you know it."
"I should have known that something might happen. They were looking for me; they'd shot at me, for chrissake! Just being around me was dangerous and I wasn't thinking. I almost got you killed, Jack. Maybe I didn't pull the trigger, but I'm as much at fault as the man who did." Blair couldn't meet his eyes.
"No, you're not," he said firmly. He reached out and grabbed Blair's wrist. "I knew just how dangerous the situation was as soon as I came across the information about Oliver. Give me some credit for knowing my field, Blair."
He sighed and nodded once. "I do. I just... It was hard watching you bleed, not knowing if you were going to be okay."
Jack squeezed his wrist and dropped his hand. "Well, I am okay. Let's get past this, huh?"
Blair lifted his head and met his friend's gaze searchingly. Amazed not to find any reproach in Jack's eyes, he nodded. "Yeah."
"Good. So, how's Ellison doing?"
He shrugged and looked away, uncomfortably. "He's all right."
"He's worried about me. Wants me to talk to him."
Kelso smiled slightly. "Well, that shouldn't be a problem for you."
Blair narrowed his eyes and glared at his friend. "What are you saying, Jack?"
He raised his eyebrows. "Nothing. Nothing at all. Wait, you're not telling me that you're not talking to him, are you?"
"There's nothing to talk about."
Kelso snorted softly. "Uh-huh. You're postponing the inevitable. You know that, don't you?"
"We're not having this conversation again, Jack. I told you before--"
Kelso made a cutting gesture with his hand. "I know what you told me. I'm just saying that maybe, if he's asking, now's the time to tell him. And that's all I'll say."
Blair shoulders slumped. "I've got to get going. I'm already late."
Kelso made a shooing motion. "Go on. By all means, don't keep your detective waiting." He grinned.
"Jack," he said warningly.
"Go on, Blair. Get going," he said in soft voice. "I'll see you later, all right?"
Blair smiled at him as he turned back down the path, feeling lighter in heart than he had for awhile. "Count on it."
Chapter 19: Interlude 2: Post Secret
"This is exactly the kind of stuff that I need to know. I mean, if pain relievers don't work, what about novocaine at the dentist? Or, for crying out loud, you're having surgery, what about anesthetics?"
"Don't you think you're overreacting a little?"
"No, I don't think I'm overreacting. We've got to do some research. We need to prepare for stuff like this."
Jim Ellison walked into the Major Crime bullpen and glanced at the clock. Eleven fifteen. Sandburg was late. He headed for his desk, only to be stopped by the burly form of Joel Taggert as he came out of Simon Bank's office.
"Jim," Taggert called out to him. "How're you doing?"
"Can't complain, Joel." He leaned against his desk and smiled.
"Listen, I just wanted to apologize to you."
"For what? I can't recall you doing anything that requires an apology."
"I just feel bad about not watching Blair more carefully. Letting him slip out on me like he did." He shook his head. "Could have got himself killed doing that, but it would've been my fault." He grimaced.
Jim shook his head. "No way. If there's one thing I've learned about Sandburg, it's that when he's determined to do something he'll find a way to do it, no matter how many obstacles are in his way."
"He can be tricky when he wants to be, that's for sure." Joel smiled slightly. "I've never seen him so focused. To be honest, I was a bit concerned about him."
"Why's that?" Jim frowned.
The big man hesitated and then said, "I may be out of line here, but I was worried about what would happen if we'd found the worst and you'd been killed."
He shook his head. "I'm not following you, Joel. I have no doubt that you'd have solved the case."
"I'm talking about Blair's state of mind. You have to know how the kid feels about you, Jim."
Jim shrugged, striving for nonchalance and knowing he'd failed miserably when Joel raised an eyebrow. "We're friends, Joel. I know he was upset, but if things had turned out badly, he'd have managed."
"Well, all I can say is, if that's his idea of what friends do to help friends, well, I sure as hell hope he considers me a friend if someone ever kidnaps me. He would have done whatever he felt he had to do in order to find you, Jim. Friendship like that is a pretty rare thing. I sure hope you appreciate it." Joel shook his head and walked out of the bullpen.
Jim took a deep breath and sat down at his desk. He'd been avoiding thinking about the whole affair with Oliver, though he had wondered just what Blair had gone through to find him. He'd sat the kid down and told him as much as he could about his history with Oliver and the feelings that seeing the Colonel had dredged up. Then he'd tried to get Blair to talk about what had happened with him, but every time he tried the kid clamed up on him saying it was all in Simon's report.
Simon had been uncharacteristically close-mouthed about it. It was almost funny, considering the little tiff that the two of them had had about working together. He'd thought that Simon would start complaining about Blair getting in his way as soon as Jim asked about it, but that hadn't happened. Instead, all Simon would say was that Blair might not be a cop, but he'd handled himself pretty well. And that if it hadn't been for Blair's insistence that Jim's disappearance had something to do with his work in covert ops that they wouldn't have had any leads on what had happened to him. And that was all that he'd say.
It was odd, really, but Jim had the funny feeling that Simon thought he was protecting Blair. But that could only mean that he thought Blair needed protection from Jim, but that didn't make any sense. Did it? He thought back over what Joel had just said and frowned. It felt like the answer was right there in front of him, but for some reason he couldn't see it.
He was about to turn the whole thing over in his mind one more time, when he heard a familiar voice coming from the elevator. He watched his partner walk into the bullpen. The bounce seemed to be back in his step and there was a smile on his face. Jim sat back and smiled to himself. Time to get to work, he thought. He could wrestle with the introspection shit later. Or not.
Chapter 20: Interlude: Dead Drop
"I can't believe Sandburg's in the middle of this. Before he started tagging around with me, the worst that could happen to him at the university was a paper cut."
"Why don't we drop you off the building and see how fast you hit the ground?"
Detective Jim Ellison paced the confines of his Captain's office with an angry energy that made Simon Banks tired just watching him. The man had been on edge since he'd arrived earlier that morning and Simon was determined to find out why.
"Think you could sit down for a minute, Jim? It's damn tiring watching you pace like a caged animal." Simon raised an eyebrow.
Without a word, Ellison dropped into one of the chairs in front of Simon's desk. He tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair and glanced around the office, looking everywhere but at the man behind the desk.
"You want to tell me what's wrong, Jim?" Simon asked softly.
Ellison stared down at his hands. "What makes you think something's wrong, Sir?"
Simon snorted. "Don't even try it, Jim. I've known you far too long not to recognize the signs. Something's bothering you and I want to know what it is. So, spill it, Detective." He smiled to himself in satisfaction when Jim's head snapped up and he stared belligerently at Simon.
"I don't know..." Ellison shook his head. "You're right, Simon. But I really don't know why I'm so upset. I mean, we caught Galileo. He's behind bars and not likely to get out any time soon. No one was killed. It should be history, but for some reason I can't get it out of my mind."
Simon rubbed his chin and regarded the man in front of him thoughtfully. "This wouldn't have anything to do with Sandburg, would it."
Ellison stiffened in his chair. "I don't know what you're talking about, Sir."
"Oh, come on, Jim. Your partner was almost squashed like a bug in a falling elevator, not to mention nearly being blown to bits. It's all right to have some residual negative feelings about that. In fact, I'd be surprised if you weren't upset about it."
Jim's hands clenched into fists and he shut his eyes. "You don't know, Simon. You just don't know. I almost lost it. I was this close to tossing Galileo out the window when I heard that bomb go off."
Simon blinked. He'd been pretty sure that something had happened between Jim and Galileo, but he hadn't expected that. Keeping his voice even, he asked, "Why didn't you?"
He sighed. "In the split second before I actually picked him up and threw him out the window, I heard Blair's heartbeat."
"What do you mean, you heard his heartbeat? Don't you mean you heard someone say he was okay? I mean, how many stories are we talking here?"
"No, Simon. I heard his heartbeat. Sentinel hearing, remember? For some reason, I find it easy to pick up Blair's heartbeat if I'm close enough." He looked away. "Just like I usually know when he's arrived in the station. By hearing his heartbeat or his voice."
Simon sat back in his chair, stunned by this revelation. "Close enough? Jesus, Jim. That's not close! I can understand you hearing his heartbeat when you're in the same room with him. That's close, for you. But several stories away?" He shook his head.
Ellison shrugged. "I know how it sounds, Simon. And it was further than I usually can hear him. But it's the truth."
"I didn't say that I don't believe you, Jim. I'm just saying... hell, I don't know what I'm saying." He took a deep breath. "So, can you hear everyone else, too? I mean, do you know when Brown or Rafe pull into the garage, for instance?"
Jim shook his head. "Nope."
"So, it's just something with Sandburg?" He frowned.
Jim nodded. "It's almost as if my senses are always looking for him, you know? Like on a subconscious level or something. When he comes in range, I know it automatically, most of the time."
"Okay, I think we're skirting the realm of too much information, now."
"Sorry, Sir." Ellison smiled slightly.
Simon shook his head. "Does it bother you? Being that, well, aware of him?"
"It's funny. If this had started happening from the beginning and you'd asked me that question, I'd probably have told you that I was freaked out by the whole thing. But, it's something that's just sort of happened along the way, if you know what I mean. And, yeah, I'm okay with it. It's sort of a relief, in a way."
"I'm not even going to go there."
Jim chuckled and stood up. "I've got a lot of work, Sir. I should probably get back to it."
Simon nodded and waited until he was in the doorway. "Jim?"
One hand on the doorknob, Ellison turned back to look at him. "Yeah?"
"I wouldn't worry too much about the incident with Galileo. I don't know any cop that wouldn't have felt the same way if they thought their partner had just been killed and they had their hands on the person who did it. Cut yourself some slack, man."
Ellison smiled. "Thanks, Simon."
Chapter 21: Interlude: Post Finkelman's Folly
"I'm pulling his ride-along authorization. Effective immediately."
Jim Ellison stood in front of the balcony windows and stared out at the night, but his thoughts were far from the view in front of him. Simon was back at work full time in his capacity as Captain of Major Crime and he'd confirmed Sandburg's continued ride-along status. But for how much longer?
The experience with Captain Finkelman had been an unwelcome dash of cold reality. For the first time in a long time he really thought about the tenuousness of Sandburg's position. What would happen when someone with enough brass demanded that the authorization be pulled for good? Would Sandburg want to stick around after that? And why should he? He'd already admitted to Jim that he had enough data for three dissertations. Friendship could only go so far.
As much as he didn't want to face it, he knew that it was only a matter of time before Blair moved on. He'd just have to get used to the idea and start thinking about how he'd cope when he was alone again. Jim shuddered. Alone. He remembered a time when he used to think that living alone was comfortable, desirable even. Now the thought of going back to the way his life was, before Sandburg invaded it, depressed him.
Shit. What was the matter with him, he wondered? He'd been alone most of his life. Even when he'd been in relationships he'd ultimately felt apart, separate from the other person. He snorted. Yeah, Carolyn would be happy to testify to that. She'd been vocal enough about how he wasn't with her even when he was physically present.
So, why didn't he feel like that with Blair? He'd let his guard down and the kid had crept inside. He hadn't even realized it was happening until it was too late. Blair was in deep and it was going to hurt like hell when he finally left.
Jim shook his head. Maybe it was time to start trying to distance himself. Start shoring up those walls that he'd let crumble into rubble. If he could work hard enough at it, maybe, just maybe, he'd be okay. Yeah. And maybe if he watched out the windows long enough he'd see some of those flying pigs. He turned with a sigh and slowly walked up the stairs to his bed.
Chapter 22: Interlude: Post Crossroads
"You know, there was a time when I lived alone. I worked on my own for years."
Simon Banks stopped his car at the curb in front of 852 Prospect and let the engine idle. He glanced over at the young man in the seat next to him. Sandburg had slept most of the drive back to Cascade, not even waking when Simon pulled into a gas station to fill up the car's tank.
After his ordeal with the toxin and chasing after Ellison, Sandburg still looked too pale for Simon's comfort. He wondered if he should head for the hospital and get the kid checked out by a doctor. Just as he was about to put that plan into motion, Sandburg groaned and opened his eyes.
"Hey, Simon. Looks like we made it one piece, huh?" Blair smiled slightly.
"Yeah. Listen, you still don't look too good. Maybe I should have a doctor check you out. Make sure you're really okay."
He shook his head. "I appreciate the thought, but I'll be all right. I got a mild dose of whatever that stuff was, right? So, there's no need to worry, man. I'm just gonna go upstairs and crawl into bed and sleep it off."
"I don't know, Sandburg. Everyone else that had it seemed to be doing fine by the time we left, but you're still looking pretty wrung out. I don't want to have to face the wrath of Ellison if he gets back and you're sicker than a dog."
Blair grabbed his bag and opened the car door. "Not to worry, Captain. I'm okay. Thanks for the concern, though."
He got out of the car and shut the door, but not quickly enough that Simon didn't hear his muttered, "Not that Jim would care, anyway." Simon frowned. This whole thing was a mess that didn't seem to be clearing up anytime soon. Especially not with Jim off by himself and the kid holed up here in the loft.
Simon got out and stood by the open car door, his voice stopping Blair just before he reached the door to the building. "You call me if you don't start feeling better. You hear me, Sandburg?"
Blair looked back and smiled slightly. "Yeah. I hear you, Simon. Thanks, man."
Simon watched him slowly disappear through the open doorway and shook his head. He suspected that there was no way that Sandburg would call him, so he'd just have to remember to check back later and make sure that the kid really was okay. He drove off thinking dark thoughts about stubborn sentinels and guides and detectives and grad students.
Blair dropped his duffel bag on the floor of his room, just inside the French doors. The truth was that he felt like shit, but he wasn't about to let Simon drag him to the emergency room. He was too warm and he'd been fighting nausea all the way home, but the last thing he'd wanted to do was ask Simon to pull over so he could puke in the bushes.
The cramping in his stomach was getting worse. He stared longingly at the futon for a moment before giving into the urging of his body to run for the bathroom. As it was, he barely made it to the toilet before he lost what little food he'd managed to force down when Simon had stopped at a diner on their way back to town. He closed his eyes and sat on the floor, leaning his head back against the wall. Maybe now his stomach would settle and he could get some sleep. He was contemplating whether it was worth the energy it would take to push himself off the floor and make it to his room or if he should just stay where he was when the phone rang.
"Shit." He forced himself to get up and walk out to the kitchen.
"A situation has arisen. I need you." The voice was definitely male and spoke with a slight accent.
Blair gripped the receiver tightly. If his stomach hadn't already been doing flip-flops, the voice on the other end of the phone would have caused them. The asshole had a lot of nerve thinking he could just waltz back into Blair's life and wreck who knew what kinds of havoc.
"Who the hell do you think you are? I'm out of that and you know it. I'm sure you have plenty of eager flunkies ready and willing to do your bidding. Give one of them a call and make his day."
"You know that I would have already done that if I could have. No, I'm afraid the situation calls for you, specifically. And for the record? I've never considered you 'out of it' no matter what you may think."
Blair dropped his free hand to his stomach and pressed against it with his fist. "Did it ever occur to you that I don't care what you think? You must be crazy if you think there's anything you could say that would make me agree to whatever it is that you want from me."
The voice chuckled. "Perhaps. However, I do think that what I have to say will be of interest. You see, the situation has to do with your...African friend. He has vital information. Information that we need. He refuses to deal with anyone but you."
He took a couple of involuntary steps backwards until he bumped into the kitchen counter. Slowly he slid down the cabinets until his butt hit the floor. He knew too well what hadn't been said. His African friend could only be Salah. And vital always meant life-and-death. Information that in the right hands could prevent someone's death. "Shit."
And that was all he said. Resentment flared. The bastard was waiting him out. He wasn't pushing or trying to convince him. He was just waiting for him to come to the only decision possible given the circumstances. After a few moments of silence he sighed.
"When, where and for how long?"
"There will be a ticket waiting for you at the United Airlines counter at the airport. Be there in one hour. Pack for warm weather and bring your passport. Shouldn't take you more than four days. You'll receive further briefings along the way." <click>
Blair dropped the phone and raised a hand to his pounding head. All he really wanted to do was crawl into bed and not come out for the next four days, but he didn't have a choice. He owed Salah. Owed him more than he could ever repay. If giving up the next four days would help him, then that's what he'd do. Looking on the bright side, he should be back well before Jim returned from his solitary vacation. He levered himself to his feet with a groan and shuffled to his bedroom to pack for his unexpected trip.
Four Days Later, Cascade
Jim dumped the last of his dirty clothes out of his bag and into the hamper. First a shower, then he'd start the laundry. He let the water heat and then stepped gratefully under the spray. The simple pleasure of scrubbing himself clean under plenty of hot water caused him to sigh. He rinsed the soap from his body and reluctantly shut off the shower. After toweling dry he slipped on the robe that hung on the back of the bathroom door.
A cold beer, then he'd get that laundry going. He twisted off the bottle cap and leaned back against the kitchen counter, prepared to take a swig of the current microbrew that Sandburg had inflicted on them when the flashing light on the answering machine caught his eye. From the speed of the flashes it looked like there were several messages recorded. Why hadn't Sandburg listened to them? Come to think of it, where was the kid, he wondered? The Volvo was parked outside, but Jim hadn't given a thought to the fact that Blair wasn't in the loft. He reached over and pressed play. The timestamp on the first message was from four days ago.
"Blair? It's Jack Kelso. Listen, I need to talk to you about something. Give me a call right away, okay? Thanks." <click>
Jim frowned. It wasn't like Sandburg not to listen to any messages on the machine right away. The next timestamp was only a few hours later than the first one.
"Jack Kelso again. Blair, I really need to talk to you." <pause> "I've got some news about a, um, mutual acquaintance. Call me." <click>
His frown deepened. Kelso's voice sounded strained. What was this all about? The next message was timestamped three days ago.
"It's Jack. Blair, I've left messages here and at your office. Look, I've got to go out of town. In fact, I'm leaving in a couple of hours. Call me. If I don't hear from you before I leave I'll call you from my hotel. It's...urgent that I talk to you, Blair." <click>
The concern that had begun to bounce around in Ellison's head had just grown into full-fledged worry. What could have Jack Kelso so upset that he felt he had to contact Blair and make sure he knew about it? And where the hell was the kid? Jim let the recorder play the rest of the messages and jogged up the stairs to his bedroom to throw on some clothes. The laundry could wait. He needed to find his partner.
The remaining messages did nothing to alleviate his concern. A couple were from Simon, checking to see that Blair was feeling better, but the majority were from an increasingly agitated Jack Kelso. Jack's last message, left that morning, basically stated that he was on his way back to Cascade and that he'd call as soon as he arrived and if he still hadn't gotten an answer he'd be coming over in person, with the police.
Jim returned downstairs and pushed the erase button on the machine. The first thing to do would be to head over to Major Crime and see if Simon had heard from Blair. The sound of the elevator caught his ear and he paused to see who it was. Jim heard the distinctive sound of his partner muttering under his breath and he closed his eyes in relief. He retreated into the kitchen and waited.
Blair entered the loft and at first didn't notice Jim standing in the kitchen. His movements were stiff as he dropped a small gym bag on the floor next to the door. Jim crossed his arms over his chest, the slight movement enough to alert Blair to his presence. The kid's eyes flew open and darted around until coming to rest on Jim, shock reflected in their depths. As Jim watched he could almost see the shutters come down in those eyes, keeping whatever Blair was thinking and feeling to himself.
"Where've you been, Chief?" He kept his voice neutral. No sense giving anything away, he thought.
Blair swallowed hard. "J-Jim. Hey. Didn't see you there. You're home early. When'd you get back?"
Jim narrowed his eyes. "I asked you first, Chief. Where've you been? Jack Kelso's been trying to reach you for days."
Blair's gaze shifted to the living room, but not before Ellison had seen the panic in the depths of his eyes. What the fuck was going on?
Blair cleared his throat. "W-What did he want?"
"Don't know. He wouldn't say, other than to say he had some news about a mutual acquaintance and needed to talk to you. Said it was urgent." Jim could see the relief settle into his partner's body as his words sank in. Something had definitely happened that Sandburg didn't want him to know. Before he could probe further, the phone rang. Without taking his eyes off the kid, Jim snagged it with one hand.
"Thank god someone's finally home! Detective Ellison, it's Jack Kelso. Is Blair there?"
"Hello, Jack. Yeah, he's standing right here. Hold on." Jim held out the phone. "It's Kelso for you."
"Oh. Thanks." Blair took the phone, turned and slowly walked to his room, shutting the French doors behind him and speaking low.
Usually, Jim would respect his roommate's unspoken request for privacy and would have dialed his hearing down so as to not overhear his conversation. But not this time. Everything in him screamed that something strange was going on and that he needed to know what it was. So he dialed up just high enough to clearly hear both sides speak.
"Hey Jack. Guess you've been trying to get in touch with me, huh? Sorry I haven't been around."
"I've been worried about you, Blair. I have some news you're not going to like hearing. It's about Cr-"
Blair interrupted before Kelso could finish his sentence. "I know what you're going to say, Jack. I already spoke to him."
There was a long pause of silence. When Jack spoke, his voice was heavy with concern. "Tell me that's not why I couldn't reach you. Tell me you didn't agree to whatever he wanted."
"I can't talk about it right now. Look, it was only for a few days. It's over. I'm back. I'm okay. A little sore, but otherwise okay."
From the rustling of the bedclothes and the slight creak of the frame, Jim knew that Sandburg was sitting on the futon. He could hear his partner's soft sigh.
"I didn't have a choice in the matter, Jack. Can we leave it at that for now? I just got in and I'd like to get some sleep."
"I suppose you haven't gotten much of that in the last few days," Kelso said softly. "I won't keep you. That doesn't mean you're off the hook about this with me. We will talk about it."
"Yeah, Jack. I know we will. You can take me out to lunch and I'll spill my guts, just like always."
"It's a deal. I'll give you a call tomorrow and set it up. Sleep well, my friend." <click>
Jim dialed his hearing back down to normal, but not before he heard Blair mutter 'not likely' under his breath. He puzzled over the conversation he'd just heard. What the hell was going on? Who was this mysterious acquaintance they were talking about? And what was it that Blair had agreed to do that Jack was so upset about? Jim had a lot of questions and not a single answer, something that didn't sit well at all.
He looked up as Blair came out of his room to return the phone. The Sentinel took a few seconds to catalogue him with his senses. Sandburg had dark circles under his eyes and his nose was sunburned. Now that he was aware of it, Jim could see the fatigue etched in every line of his roommate's body. Blair was holding his left arm tight against his ribs. As if he were sore? And an air of sadness surrounded him like a palpable cloud.
"Get everything straightened out with Jack?"
"Yeah. Turns out I'd already heard the news he had and it wasn't a big thing." He started to turn away and head back to his room. "If it's all the same to you, I'm gonna go lie down."
"You never answered my question, Chief. Where've you been?" Jim watched in surprise as Blair whirled around, anger blazing in his eyes.
"I didn't know I had to account for every minute of my day to you, Ellison. You needed your time alone. I admit I was stupid to allow Simon to talk me into barging into that and I'm sorry." His voice was sharp and the words furious. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe I got to thinking that a little time to myself away from here might not be such a bad thing either? Just back off. Okay?"
Jim raised his hands in surrender. "Whoa, Chief. I'm sorry. I was concerned, that's all. I only got in a little while ago myself and the answering machine was full of calls from Jack Kelso. Calls that were getting progressively more worried about you, I might add. I was just about to start a search for you when you walked in the door." He hadn't seen the kid that pissed in a long time. He must have really struck a nerve.
Blair's shoulders sagged. "I'm sorry you were worried, but here I am. So, just drop it, all right?"
"Thanks, man." He turned away. "Like I said, I'm beat. I'll see you later, Jim. Much later." The doors of his room closed with a soft snick.
Jim shook his head and frowned. What was Blair so angry about? His eyes narrowed as he thought back over the little outburst he'd just witnessed. Another obfuscation. Damn, the kid was good at that. He'd managed to deflect Jim's questions and get him to back off without revealing a single thing about what he'd been doing or where he'd been. Jim would abide by his wishes and drop the subject. Besides, it was obvious that a frontal assault would be fruitless. He'd just have to keep his eyes and ears open and hope the answers would present themselves.