Blair woke with a gasp, breath hitching in his chest. The image faded quickly as he came awake, twisting away into the ether as if it had never been. But even though he couldn’t remember what had haunted his sleep, he knew.
God, he hadn’t had a dream like that in over a year, maybe even more.
Blair swallowed. His mouth felt dry and furry, as if he had slept with it open. He hoped he hadn’t been snoring and even more that he hadn’t made a sound. He really didn’t want to deal with a pissed off Jim right now.
Any hope of rolling over and going back to sleep died as the need to take a drink increased and the dull sing of adrenaline in his veins tensed his muscles. What the hell, he had some reading to do anyway.
Throwing off the covers, Blair quietly padded out of his small room and into the kitchen area. He took a bottle of water from the fridge and broke the seal. The liquid was icy and sharp against his tongue. Yawning, he walked over to the sofa and settled down, picking up his laptop from the coffee table and booting up.
As the computer chattered softly to itself, he went and grabbed a shirt and trousers to put on, rather than start a fire and risk waking Jim. As he dressed, he idled with what just happened.
It didn’t take a genius to know why the dreams were back. And as long as he didn’t flash during the day, and he hadn’t for a good few years, he could handle it. Jill Gordon’s confessions of her own date rape had brought back the raging anger that he’d been left with after his experience with Michael Korrigan. He had been annoyed by the bought term paper, wound up yes, but still in control. When Rick had told him about Jill…it had festered into deep, biting anger.
Blair hated watching yet another arrogant, rich undergrad get away with destroying a life, just as Korrigan had escaped with the most minimal of sentences after the DA and Korrigan’s lawyer sold him out. They’d cut a deal, deducing the charges to reckless endangerment in exchange for a guilty plea on this lesser charge, thus saving the wealthy Korrigan family the shame of a long drawn out trial. While Blair was relieved he wouldn’t have to face testifying, he’d been unable to let go of the anger at seeing Korrigan skip off with a light sentence.
He’d been violated. And no one had paid the price.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs behind him and he turned. Damn.
Jim looked just as pissed at being woken as Blair had thought he would. The detective had been working late, writing up the reports on the Dennis Chung case, making sure everything was uber-correct, knowing Blair would be on his back if it wasn’t.
“Sandburg, how many times have I told you not to turn that thing on in the middle of the night?”
“Jim, man, I’m sorry. I couldn’t sleep you know?”
“You’re not still spitting over this Ventris kid are you? You got your man, Chief. Be happy with that.”
“Jill told me she’s not gonna re-file charges.”
Jim went to the fridge and helped himself to some water. “Chief, she’s already changed her statement once.”
Blair’s head snapped up. “So that’s it? She’s lying?”
“Now I didn’t say that, Chief!” Jim made a ‘hold up’ gesture and took a breath, visibly calming himself. “I just meant that the DA wouldn’t touch charges like that. Date rape isn’t the easiest thing to prove, add to that a witness who can’t keep her story straight…It’d never make it in court, Chief.”
“How do you know that? You should let a jury decide!”
Jim rubbed his eyes. “Let it go, Sandburg. The guy’s going down for murder. One less charge isn’t going to make any difference.”
“How can you say that?” He demanded. “It makes a difference to Jill. It makes a difference to me!”
Jim sighed. “Sandburg…”
But Blair slammed his laptop shut and scooped it up. Jim watched as he grabbed his backpack, shoved it in and made out the door.
But the door slammed behind him.
Jim put his water down. “What the hell just happened?”
“Hell, Jim, did you even go home last night?”
Jim looked up at his captain, as the larger man walked into the department looking fresh and relaxed. Simon had enjoyed getting one over on Brad and Susanne’s parents the day before and it was obvious the glow still hadn’t worn off. It had helped immeasurably to be proven right about the kids in face of the mayor’s disapproval.
The detective chose to ignore that comment and waved the morning paper at Simon. “I saw the press releases from the mayor’s office.”
“Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?” Simon smiled then looked around. “Where’s Sandburg?”
“At the university.” There was a surprising amount of heat in the words.
Simon frowned. “The kid still got a bug in his ass over this Brad Ventris thing?”
“He’s angry that Jill Gordon won’t change her statement again.”
“I tried to tell him, even if she did, it’s pretty much useless to the case. The DA’s not gonna touch it.”
Simon frowned. “That was a charge of date rape, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. Cases like that are hard enough to prove at the best of times without the victim constantly contradicting herself.”
There was a long pause. “You tell Sandburg that?”
“Yeah…can’t guarantee he was listening thought.”
“Damn…” Simon muttered. “That’s when he blew up?”
“Stalked right out of the loft.”
Jim’s phone choose that moment to ring and with an ‘excuse me’ to Simon, he picked up. “Ellison…”
Simon sighed and walked into his office. He shut the door and sat down at his desk. The day had started so well…
And now he had a choice to make…
Blair rolled up at the station at half past two that afternoon. His mood wasn’t really that much improved, but he and Jim worked together well. They were both tired so Jim let the undercurrent of tension slide. Blair wasn’t one of nature’s brooders and he guessed when the dust settled a bit, the sunshine would be back. His friend had come within a hair’s breath of loosing his job permanently and without the fellowship, his doctorate too.
The slack he’d cut reached the end though when Blair snapped, if only a little, over an old lady’s statement. He didn’t yell, he was still polite, but it really didn’t sound like Blair when he told her that her mugging hardly constituted a ‘major crime’ and to take her case downstairs. It did sound like him when he apologised two seconds later. Jim tossed Conner in the old lady’s direction, snagged his partner and pulled the kid into an empty interview room.
Simon watched all this through the blinds in his office, frustrated. He might have thought…hoped…that Blair’s behaviour was just the kid letting off steam over school. He knew students and teachers alike loathed the corruption rife on most campuses, even ones as respected as Rainer. Had found the kid in the men’s room, staring at the bruises on his face like the sight of them sickened him. Sandburg had jumped at the intrusion, but he hadn’t been quick enough to hide the wetness in his eyes. And then Simon had heard about Jill Gordon and that moment had suddenly had a different meaning.
Just a few lines in Jim’s report and the moment he’d read them, Simon had rubbed his face and felt every one of his years.
He’d wanted to say something, right then, just assume Jim knew and barrel in. Tell him to keep Sandburg out of this as much as possible. But he didn’t. He couldn’t - wouldn’t – because it was obvious that if Jim knew that would all be done. The issue wouldn’t even be there.
Simon closed the blinds and sat at his desk, weighing friendship silently in his heart.
It wasn’t his place to decide which secrets Blair kept and which he didn’t. Which is why he’d kept silent all these years, sometimes biting his tongue when the words danced just on the edge of being spoken.
Simon had only come close once, when Korrigan had come back to Cascade and Blair’s distraction had affected his role in keeping Jim’s senses manageable. Standing by, knowing who the man was had been the hardest thing he’d ever had to do.
If Naomi had not been there...
Simon let the memory play out. Blair had been out of line that day and Simon had ordered him to leave. Blair’s jaw had set, hands on hips. Then he’d turned and left Simon’s office. Jim had followed, a not too subtle show of where he thought his loyalty belonged over this. If only he’d known...
Only Naomi remained and the silence between them was deafening. Then she too had turned to leave. At the door he called her name.
She had looked back at him, face as open and expressive as Blair’s was.
“Blair…” He hadn’t known how to say this. “Its Korrigan, isn’t it?”
He had watched her face pale, watched her swallow back – words? Tears? He didn’t know.
“Blair told you?” Her voice betrayed her doubt over that.
“I saw the police report.”
“Forget you saw it.” She’d demanded. “It’s private.”
Simon had looked past her, to Jim’s desk; saw Sandburg shrugging his backpack on his shoulder, getting ready to leave. Saw the chase of shivers along his small frame.
“I hear that.” He’d murmured, half smilingly.
Privacy was privacy, and Simon respected that.
And hell, he respected Sandburg, even if the kid annoyed the hell out of him.
But he remembered how that incident had played out, how it had ended, what it had almost cost Jim, and he’d sworn he wouldn’t stand back again if Korrigan returned or the demons in Blair danced a little to close to the surface.
Like they were now…
In many ways, he wished he could unlearn what he’d learnt, nearly three years ago now, in a dusty files room. Back then, Simon had resented Sandburg’s intrusion into Jim’s life, necessary or not. The kid treated the department like his own personal playground, mixing with the big kids then skipping off to loaf in class. Soon as he’d learned Blair wasn’t Jim’s relative, and all this crap about Sentinels, Simon had done a little digging.
The kid had a few arrests against his name, mainly during environmental protests, but no charges or convictions. No whisper even of any experiments with ‘illegal substances’ Simon had been expecting. There was nothing out of the ordinary; the kid didn’t even get so much as a parking ticket.
Perhaps he should have left it there, given up on whole thing. Blair wasn’t a threat; he’d proved that to himself, and maybe if it wasn’t for the Lash case, that might have been it. But with the suspected leak in the department, he’d bandied the kids name about. Finally Ray Collins had recognised Blair’s name and sent him in search of a file.
“Might not be the same kid.” He’d said, sipping coffee. “It was a good few years ago.”
Simon had frowned. “Korrigan? There’s no mention of that on the computer files.”
And Collins had shrugged, caring not a whit. “Wouldn’t be. He was the victim.”
Simon wished now he had left it there. After all, he couldn’t be guilty of anything as the victim, but he hadn’t; morbid curiosity compelled him on. The records room had been overly warm and the air was cloying, sticky with dust. Simon pulled the file himself holding to the last shred of his own decency by protecting that much of Blair’s privacy.
Simon had felt sick when opened the dusty file and was confronted by the photos of a much younger Blair, battered and bruised. The kids’ eyes were blank, pulled away from the moment, as some nameless cop snapped pictures of his injuries.
Maybe he should have closed the file then and there, but he didn’t. Instead, he tugged out the report sheets and began to read. Bile rose in his throat and he found his eyes drawing more and more towards the pictures. In them, Blair was just a few years older than Daryl…
The kid who’d done it had served less than a third of a six months sentence before being paroled. And while the cop in Simon agreed with the DA’s decision to reduce the charges to secure a conviction, the father in him raged at the betrayal of a man who’d been brave enough to come forward.
Some of the anger was directed at himself. Sandburg didn’t deserve someone digging through his life, no matter how annoying he was. This…This was more than a person should ever know about another, unless that person confided in them themselves.
It had been a violation of the kid’s privacy.
Later that day, Jim and the kid had been in his office. He’d given Jim a cup of coffee, just like he always did, then offered one to Blair. The kid had taken it with a big grin, pleased to be included at last even in this small ceremony. The Anthropologist in him would probably say it wasn’t so small.
Either way, the kid’s smile… It had felt like forgiveness.
And the next night, he’d sent Jim to pick up Derek Wilson and bring him back to Cascade by train. Simon told him to take Sandburg.
They were partners after all…
“OK, what the hell was that about, Chief?”
Blair pushed his hair back. “Look, I’m sorry all right?” He began pacing the tiny room.
Jim watched him, concern starting to bleed just a little into the anger he felt. The old lady had immediately forgiven the young man after all. “Sandburg, what’s going on with you?”
“I apologised. I was way outta line.”
“Damn right you were outta line.” Jim took a breath. “That wasn’t like you. That’s the only reason I’m not hauling your ass out of here right now.”
Blair’s shoulders slumped and he rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Jim, man, my head is killing me, all right?”
The detective immediately reached up to study the fading bruise around Blair’s eye. “Maybe you should see the doc.”
“Nothing a tribal remedy won’t cure. Maybe some candles…”
The smile was reluctant, but Jim felt it creep across his face just the same. “Just don’t burn any sage, Chief…”
Simon watched the kid exit the interview room and make his way across the bullpen to the door. Tossing half hearted goodbyes over his shoulder as he went, Sandburg disappeared out the door. Simon turned back to see Jim working his way back to his desk, frowning. Not for the first time, he wished for Sentinel hearing. So he could have eavesdropped on what went on in there a few moments ago. Didn’t the CIA bug all its offices? Maybe he should try that, even up the playing field.
Jim settled at his desk and began tapping away at his keyboard. Simon frowned. On the one hand, he had his reverence to privacy, even after all these years of being a cop, sifting through peoples lives. On the other…
On the other, he had a kid who his best detective relied on to keep him stable and grounded; a kid who was great help to the department on many other points - dammit, a kid he liked – who was maybe hurting over something that happened years ago.
Maybe… Hell, he didn’t know. He just knew that Blair had been acting crazy this last week. It wasn’t until he’d seen the case file, and learned the kid Blair had fixated on had been investigated over a charge of date rape, that he’d started to understand the kid’s actions.
And feel not just a little sympathy.
Which was why he’d backed off with Blair.
And maybe why the Chancellor Edwards had been persuaded to cut Blair some slack. Simon remembered the woman’s shock at his visit.
“If you’d looked at Sandburg’s record, I’m sure you’d see…you’d see why this hasn’t been easy on him.”
“Captain, I’ve known Blair for nearly seven years… There really isn’t any need.”
Simon had smiled, trying to be polite. “Humour me.” He’d said. “I’m sure it’ll give you a clearer picture of what’s been going on with him.”
“Yes…” She’d agreed, standing up, making sure he knew the conversation was over. “But, as part of his job, its Blair’s responsibility to put aside his own prejudices. That’s where Blair failed.”
But Sandburg had got his position back anyway. Maybe Simon had softened the way a bit, maybe it was all Blair; he didn’t know. But he’d been led there by justification.
Simon wanted Edwards to have all the facts and he’d reconciled that with the knowledge that the information was already there at Rainer, as probably a few careless words on Blair’s student file. The chancellor could have found that out at any time.
And he hadn’t felt guilty about it.
He took a breath. But this… This was going to cost him a bucket load of guilt. And the hell of it was, it wasn’t going to stop him.
Simon reached for the phone, pressed the button for records. He had a file to pull.
And after all, Jim could’ve read it at any time. He was a cop. He just needed to know it was there…
Simon looked up as Jim entered his office.
“Sir?” The frown on Jim’s face gave away his concern. He knew this wasn’t normal business. Simon wondered idly what Sentinel sense was giving that one away, or whether it was just obvious.
“Sit down, Jim.” Simon said, and held up his carafe. “Coffee?”
The detective sat, accepting the mug offered to him. “What’s this about, sir?”
“Jim as a cop you can look at any police file, can’t you? I mean, we respect privacy but pretty much it’s a free reign to poke into anyone’s life.”
The rhetorical questions made him frown. “Pretty much…”
Simon reached down behind his desk, opened a drawer. “No matter how old, open, shut…you just have a reason to look.”
“If this is about Sandburg… Look, I already talked-”
A file slapped down on Simon’s desk; quite a few years old by the looks of it.
Simon stood up. “I’m going out for a while.” He announced suddenly. Jim went to stand, confused. Simon waved him back down into his seat. “Enjoy the coffee.”
The door closed behind the captain. Jim stared after him, and then slumped back into the chair. His eyes came to rest on the file Simon had left behind, old and a little dog-eared.
The meaning was suddenly clear.
Jim swallowed the last of his coffee and reached out, snagging the file. The papers inside slid loosely and the motion sent a couple fluttering to the ground. Jim bent to pick them up.
And lying on the floor, staring back at him, was a photo of a young Blair.
Beaten and bruised…
Jim shoved the last page back into the file, his movements jerky with anger. He couldn’t believe Blair had never told him, not even indicated once. This was… This was important.
And the perp…
God…the perp looked familiar.
He’d met this man. He knew he had.
Jim felt numb.
Simon returned nearly an hour later. His shoulders felt heavy, not lifted of the burden of confidence. He had thought that maybe, just maybe, telling Jim would ease the knot in his chest.
But it hadn’t. It was worse.
He’d betrayed a friend…
Simon found his office door ajar; left open in the hurry to get through it.
Damn. He’d wanted to talk to Jim first. Explain.
Simon sat down with a sigh. A half empty coffee mug sat in the centre of his desk. Alone. Solitary.
And that was when he noticed.
The file was gone too…
Blair wasn’t at home when Jim called on his cell phone so he headed for the university, knowing that when Blair had spare hours during the day, he often spent them in his lab. Pulling the truck up outside Hargrove House, Jim felt his skin crawl, almost like the sensation of being watched. Then his stomach flipped at the sight of the fountain and the odd feeling clicked into place. The last time he’d hurried to the university, he’d found Blair dead...
Pushing away that thought as he got out of the truck, Jim tucked the police file under his arm and started towards the building. He jogged up the steps and into the high corridors of the Anthropology section. Students and faculty milled about, and he found himself unconsciously scanning for something, a flash of hair here, a glimpse of plaid there.
But, when he caught himself doing it, he realised he wasn’t looking for Blair. There cold knot of anger inside him was seeking Korrigan. Was he still here? Did Blair have to see him on a daily basis?
He heard a gentle chuckle a long way down the corridor, instantly recognising his friend’s laughter. A girl’s voice broke through the sound, asking a question. Blair answered, explaining in that calm and soothing way of his. Funny but Jim had never realised it came from all those classes he’d given. Unwillingly, Jim listened in. They were chatting enthusiastically about longburrows and the burial rituals of early man. Blair sounded relaxed, a million miles away from the tension in the department earlier.
He should leave…
Jim’s fingers tightened around the file and the terrible, terrible pictures it contained.
No… This was something he had to do.
He started down the corridor, following the voices. At the door, he put his hand on the handle and went to just enter, as he usually did, but stopped just in time. Sandburg was with a student. That called for formality so he knocked.
Jim entered to see Blair sitting on his desk next to a kid not much older than Daryl. The girl eyed him curiously.
“Jim.” Blair got up and collected up the books on his desk. “Give me a minute, OK?” Then the anthropologist turned his attention back to the young woman. “I think I’d go with instincts on this.”
“Well, yeah, but everyone’s gonna go ‘well, hello?’ over this.” She grinned. “I really need to get an A over this, Mr Sandburg.”
“Your theories are sound. Back it up with some good hard evidence and everyone’s going to take notice.”
She looked doubtful. “Maybe I should just write something safer.”
“If you were just in it for the grade, Tasha, but you’re better than that.”
Jim was surprised by the look of pleasure that flooded the girl’s face. “Yeah?” She asked.
“Yeah. Ninety percent of the students that go through 102 are just in it for a pass.” He smiled at her, offering out the books in his hands. “You look for answers, man.”
The girl took the books, flushing a little. “Thanks, Mr Sandburg.”
She went to the door and Blair followed, opening the door for her. “You know where I am if you need help.”
Blair closed the door behind her and turned back to Jim.
The detective had moved around the room and Blair came back to his desk.
“Jim, man, what’s up?”
“Thought you had a headache, Chief.”
Caught off guard by Jim’s anger, the young man grinned. “The drums are great for that.”
“Great…” Jim paced to the side. “Just great…”
“Jim, you sure you’re OK, man?”
Jim took the file from under his arm and opened it. He turned it round. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me about this, Chief?”
Blair went pale at the sight of photos paper-clipped to the top. Korrigan’s mug shots, frighteningly young and fresh; the kid had looked so innocent. Was it any wonder Ryan and Collins had had such a hard time with the case? And beside it, Blair’s own face, pale and battered… a portrait of the hippy gypsy as a young man…
“You should have told me, chief!” Jim yelled. “There was no way you should’ve been working on this case.” That was true, but then Jim had never questioned why his friend was so pumped up over this Ventris kid. “You could have jeopardised everything!”
Blair quietly reached out and took the file from his friend. He’d probably never seen that before. He skimmed the pages as if it were just any other file.
In the face of no response to his anger, Jim found sadness was rapidly overtaking. “Chief…why didn’t you tell me about this?” He asked gruffly.
But Blair continued reading, looking for all the world like he was grading a paper. Maybe he was. Ryan and Collins work on this case had been decidedly sloppy.
Then he handed it back.
Jim took it. And Blair headed for the door. Surprised, Jim went to grab him.
“Don’t touch me!”
Jim immediately pulled back, reacting to the bitterness in his friend’s voice. But the gesture stopped Blair anyway.
“It was private, Jim!” Blair’s hands stabbed the air. “Don’t you get that, man?”
“We’re partners, Sandburg. I tell you stuff, you tell me stuff. That’s how it works.”
He brandished the file. “That’s not how this works.” He threw it down, papers and photos scattering, fluttering to the floor. “This. Was. Private!”
Blair pushed around him and Jim made another attempt to stop him. Blair bodily shoved his friend away, and this time Jim let him.
They stood in silence for a long moment. The pages of Blair’s life quite literally scattered between them.
Then Blair turned and left.
After leaving the university, Jim was called to a 2-11 and the grittier side of police work took over, bringing welcome distraction. This was something he could deal with, something he could fight.
Something to do other than think about the picture of Blair and the ugly words on the statement he'd made all those years ago.
Afterwards, he headed to the department to file his report. Simon was waiting, face drawn and dark.
Jim walked into Simon’s office and the captain was surprised to see the old Jim back – the asshole version who had first joined the department. It was only in the way he walked, the set of his shoulders, but the sight was so familiar. Simon hadn’t expected that.
But what had he expected? He’d wanted the pair of them to talk it out, so he’d never have to witness the pain in Sandburg’s eyes again. Not like that day Korrigan had come back, or he’d found the kid in the men’s room, transfixed by the black eye Ventris’ goons had given him, trapped in the memory of the last rapist to mark him like that.
But he should have known. This was Jim.
But he’d thought… Maybe Blair needed to talk, needed Jim to understand.
Damn…that’s what you get for deciding people’s lives for them.
As soon as the door closed, Simon crossed his arms. “You have city property.” And he held out his hand.
Jim gave the file back. The tension in his face quite plain and Simon relented a little. “You read it?”
Jim began pacing. “Can’t believe he never told me, Simon.” He said. “He lives in my house, we work together…”
“Jim… give the kid a break. It probably isn’t the easiest thing to talk about.”
“This is Sandburg we’re talking about.”
“He was raped, Jim.”
“Don’t you think I don’t know that!”
“Damn it, Jim, you know what I mean!”
“He could have blown this case for us.”
“I needed to know about this. I could have kept him outta this.”
“Sandburg’s old enough to make that decision for himself.” Simon sighed. “Look, Jim, if I’d thought the kid was gonna do something stupid I would have pulled his credentials over this. I was watching him. He did all right.”
“And that’s another thing, Simon; I want to know why you kept this from me.”
“It wasn’t my story to tell.”
“Damn it, I’m your friend. I’m Sandburg’s friend!”
“Look, I’m not going to argue with you. Just keep a lid on this with Sandburg until you calm down.”
Jim snorted. “Too late for that, sir.”
“Jim, tell me you didn’t…”
“I needed to talk to him, all right?”
The captain slumped back in his chair. “What did he say?”
“I won’t be expecting any birthday cards this year.”
The loft was empty and cold when Jim finally got home. Everything was just as they had left it this morning. Sandburg’s books still open on the coffee table, Jim’s mail unopened on the kitchen counter. Just as it was before the proverbial rug had been pulled from under Jim and the world had tilted.
His view of Sandburg tilted…forever changed.
They needed to talk. There were things he had to say.
Jim switched on the TV and settled down to wait.
Time passed and the broadcast ended. Jim’s head began to loll. His last thought before he tumbled into sleep was that Blair wasn’t coming home…
Blair had intended to go home, straighten things out with Jim, but he found himself in the student union anyway. He liked being there; it was part of his world. Cops and criminals, the department…Jim… They had no place here. When things got tough, he headed here.
The night wore on; some of it spent alone, the rest with friends. As the hours passed, he felt an angry thread twist his innards - a need. He knew what it was, a need to validate, to feel normal, but let the feeling drive him anyway. When the union closed, he’d picked up a German undergrad. Her blonde hair smelt fresh and real and she’d softly murmured “du bist sehr schoen” into his mouth as he entered her, but he found he couldn’t come. Afterwards, he’d held her, feeling the rise and fall of her chest as she slept and realised that for the first time in so very long, he felt dirty.
In the morning, he’d left her side, saying he’d call, both of them knowing he wouldn’t. The air was cold and had the static feel of an approaching storm. The drive back to Rainer unhampered by traffic and he knew he’d have to return to the loft to pick up his notes for today’s classes. He could only hope Jim wasn’t there, or if he was that the Sentinel was fast asleep and he could sneak past.
Jim was sleeping when he entered the loft, lying across the sofa in yesterdays’ clothes. Blair watched him from the door, unsurprised when his friend shifted and rolled, coming awake at this tiny noise. He sat up, rubbed his hands over his face. A man that tall shouldn’t sleep on the sofa.
Blair watched as Jim’s back stiffened and he turned, looking around at Blair. The young man wondered what gave his presence away. His breathing? Heartbeat? His smell?
Maybe he could smell the girl on Blair. Maybe he even knew why.
Blair closed the door behind him and softly padded into his room, ignoring the questioning look from his friend. He scooped up his binders and books, shoved them in his rucksack and quickly changed his clothes.
When he left his bedroom, Jim was making coffee, strong and black. The aroma made him realise he was hungry.
Jim held up his mug. “Coffee?”
So that was how Jim was going to play it – like it never happened. For once, Blair was down with that. “No, thanks.”
“Blair…” Or maybe not. The sound of his own name, so rarely spoken, hiked his heartbeat. This was not the time to change a habit of a lifetime. And it was way too early in the morning to be coping this kind of crap.
“Jim, look, ah… I’m sorry, all right?” He pushed back the snags of hair falling over his face. “I dunno what you want me to say, man.”
But the detective looked down, away from Blair’s gaze, his knuckles turning white around the coffee mug.
Now he gets silent, when Blair could talk? Didn’t want too, but found he could.
Blair shrugged the backpack onto his shoulder. “See you later, Jim.”
Simon paired Jim with Megan Conner and sent them out to murder scene, hoping the friction between them would help burn off some of the anger stewing inside Jim. He hadn’t known what to expect when he’d made the decision to show Jim that case file, but it hadn’t been this. Jim had worked Vice, for God’s sake. He knew about this stuff. He knew what it could drive someone too.
And hadn’t Blair taught him anything in the last three years?
But that was the problem, wasn’t it?
Simon looked up as Jim walked into Major Crimes, trailing a thoroughly pissed off looking Megan. Jim’s face was set in granite, deeply lined, but Simon could see some of the tension in his body had bled away.
Nothing like an argument with a woman…
Simon got up and opened his office door to bellow out. “Ellison!”
Jim tossed his jacket down and headed towards the office, entering without knocking and sitting down.
Simon wasn’t up to any crap and came straight to the point. “You talk to Sandburg?”
“I tried. I don’t think it did any good.”
“OK, so how about you talk to me about this?”
“With all due respect, sir, this has nothing to do with you. Its between me and Sandburg.”
“The hell it isn’t. You’re a member of my team. Hell, Sandburg’s a member of my team! You got problems; it could screw with the whole department.”
“This has nothing to do with the department.”
“If you two aren’t working together like you should then it does concern the department and it sure as hell is my problem!”
“Talk to me, Jim.” Concern coloured the angry words. “If you can’t talk to Sandburg, talk to me.”
Jim sighed, got up. Simon watched him walk to the window; stare out through the blinds at the sullen city.
He turned back. “I can’t believe this, Simon.”
“That he never told you? Or that I didn’t tell you?”
he shook his head. “That this is happening.” Jim walked back to his chair. “This is Sandburg…”
“Jim, this happened a long time ago for him. He’s over it.”
“Oh come on, Simon, if this Brad Ventris thing proved anything, it’s that he’s not over it.” He sat back down. “he could’ve endangered a lot of lives over this.”
“Is that what you’re worried about? That you can’t rely on the kid?”
“No…maybe…I don’t know.”
“Look, I may not be Sandburg’s biggest fan, but I don’t think this changes anything.” Simon settled on the edge of his desk. “We all have things that’ll get under our skins. A certain case, certain crime… this is just Sandburg’s.”
“Simon, I have to trust him.”
“And because he was raped when he was 19, all of a sudden you can’t trust him?”
“I didn’t say that, Simon!”
“Well, it sure the hell sounds like it!”
“I need to know he’s not lying to me.”
“Jim, I don’t think that kid has ever lied to you.”
His immediate chuckle sounded bitter. “Only wish that was true.”
Simon looked at him questioningly.
“That chapter of his dissertation with my life all over it?” Jim reminded him. “Not telling me about Alex.”
“Jim, most of that was bad judgement call. And the kid nearly paid with his life.”
Jim didn’t answer, face made of stone. Simon sighed.
“You know, Jim, when something like this happens to a cop’s partner, you have to go through mandatory sessions.”
“This happened a long time ago, captain.”
“Maybe,” he replied. “But not for you. This has just happened for you.”
“Simon, I’m not seeing the counsellor over this.”
“You want my honest opinion, Jim?”
“I think you need to talk to someone about this.”
Jim was silent for a moment. Then he stood. “You know, I think you’re right.”
“Good. I’ll give the doc a call and-”
“I don’t mean that.” Jim went to the door. “I need to talk to this Detective Ryan…”
Rain was pelting down as Jim slipped from his truck and hurried to the car he’d parked behind. Tapping on the window to get attention, Jim watched the man in the driving seat leaned forward and popped the locks on the passenger side door. Jim opened the car and got in.
Detective Mick Ryan was Jim’s age, maybe a couple of years older, with thinning sandy hair and a face with too much left over puppy fat to ever be called handsome. He smiled at Jim and held out a hand.
“Ellison, isn’t it?”
“Nice work on the Jefferson case. Gives ya a warm glow when one of those go away.”
“Thanks. Actually it was my partner who did most of the work on that one.” He said. “It’s my partner I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Not getting himself in with the Vice crowd, is he?”
“No, his name’s Blair Sandburg. He’s not even a cop, he’s just an observer.”
“Tough shit. Well don’t go thinkin’ of off loading him in Vice, OK?”
Jim ignored the jibe. “He was part of one of your cases.”
“He was raped. DA reduced the charge to reckless endangerment.”
“Sandburg…” Ryan frowned, sorting through years of police work in his head.
Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out the picture he’d snagged from his desk. He held the photo out and pointed to Blair, standing between himself and Simon, swamped by the huge fishing waders he wore. “This guy.”
Ryan squinted at the small figure. “Jewish kid?”
Jim was about to say no, but stopped. Who knows, maybe Blair was more religious back then. “Well, he had a bar mitzvah.” But he sure didn’t keep to Kosher laws…
“Half bald?” He asked.
“I don’t think you’re thinking of the right kid.” Jim tapped the mass of hair around Blair’s face. “Look at the picture.”
“Well maybe not now. Sure was then. Chopped it all off.”
“Yeah. Did a real number on himself. Cut through to his scalp too.”
Jim stared at the picture of Blair and his throat tightened. Suddenly all the question he wanted to ask were gone. And there didn’t seem to be anything left to say.
“So what did you want to ask? About this kid.”
Jim swallowed. “The charges…” He finally said. “Korrigan… what happened there?”
“Ellison, the kid knew the perp. They were friends, good friends by all accounts. He went willingly into Korrigan’s dorm room and Korrigan never once denied having sex with the kid.”
“I read the report.”
“So you know the hope of conviction for rape was so low it wasn’t worth mentioning.”
“He had bruises. His…he was torn…”
“Korrigan admitted they played rough.” Ryan took a deep breath. “We were lucky to get any kind of conviction at all.”
“Yeah. Do you know how many incidents there are like this on campus?”
Jim didn’t answer.
“Too many. Now d’you want me to tell you how many of ‘em lead to convictions?” Ryan’s voice was terse. “Wanna know why I’m working Vice now? Cause it’s the kids who fell outside of Sandburg’s tiny percentage that started to get to me. So yeah, he was lucky. His perp got put away. Hundreds of others didn’t.”
“You sold out my partner.”
“I did what I had too,” his voice was unrepentant, “to get a conviction.”
Jim got out the car.
Ryan watched him go. “You’d’ve done the same.” He called after him.
As Jim walked back to the car, he knew that was probably true.
It was getting dark by the time Jim finished work and got back to the loft. He saw Blair’s Volvo parked outside and when he got into the loft that the lights were on in Blair’s room. There was no sign of the young man though. Hanging up his coat, Jim noticed that the doors to the fire escape were open and he could see Blair’s shadow on the glass.
He went outside. A sharp wind whistled around the corner of the building. Jim shivered.
Blair looked round. “Hey.” He greeted and took a swallow of the beer he was holding.
“How’s your head?”
Jim rested his hands on the rail. Was this how Blair had felt when he refused to talk?
A silence fell, interrupted only but the soft swallows Blair made as he drank.
Jim was working up to say something – anything – when his friend spoke. “In Java, they say the sky has seven layers. Did you know that?”
“No… no, I didn’t.”
Blair turned, went to go inside.
“I’m trying to deal with this, Chief.”
His friend froze. Blair turned back to face him. “You’re dealing with this?” He echoed. “That’s great for you, Jim.”
“I just mean-”
“Jim, let it go, all right?”
And all of sudden it occurred to him that maybe Blair was just as angry about this as he was.
He caught his friend’s arm. “Blair…” The name always tasted funny on his tongue.
“Jim, I…ah…I can’t talk about this, I’m sorry.”
“You should have told me.”
Blair didn’t answer.
“I need to know you’re in the game, Chief.” He said. “I need to know you’re focused. Hellva lot lives, mine included, is gonna be depending on that.”
“I can handle it.”
“No you couldn’t Sandburg. Your anger had you all over the place with Ventris. If I’d known…we could’ve played things different.”
“Which is precisely why I didn’t tell you.” Blair stated. “Jim, this is me, all right? This is my life, that’s what I’m about. But you have to take that at face value, man, not treat me differently because of something that happened nearly ten years ago.”
“I gotta be able to trust you, Chief.”
“You can. You know that.”
“You’re not trained for this. You get distracted by something…you make a mistake… who’ll end up paying?”
“Jim, I’ve been riding with you for three years, man.” Blair tilted his head back, looking right at Jim. “In all that time, I haven’t flaked out on you.”
“Those situations were different, chief.” Jim told him. “You were way off base with Ventris. What happens the next time something like that comes along?”
“You won’t notice!”
The words stung.
“Mickey turned up two years ago, I handled that just fine.”
“Mickey…?” Realisation dawned. “Michael Korrigan?”
“And just when were you planning on telling me about that, Chief?”
“I wasn’t, Jim.” His hand punctuated his next words. “It was private.”
“Then our friendship’s worth nothing.” Jim didn’t meet Blair’s eyes. “I need someone I can trust, Chief. I can’t work without trust.”
Blair stood in stunned silence for a moment. “OK…Fine. I’ll hand my credentials back to Simon in the morning.”
“If you can’t work with me over this…” He spread his hands. “That’s it, man.”
Jim tensed in alarm. “What about my senses?”
“I think you’ve got it covered. And I’ll still be around if you get weirded out.”
“Wh-What about your dissertation? Your doctorate?”
“I had more than enough data six months after we met. I can still finish it.”
The silence wore on. Blair turned to go. Jim snagged his arm.
“Blair.” His name again.
His friend waited for him to finish, but when no words were forth coming, Blair turned and went back inside.
The ride to the station the next morning was tense. Jim could sense the tension in Blair as something real, like the smell of the shampoo he’d used on his hair, the balm he’d used to shave with. A part of him was screaming what was wrong with him? This was Blair. And this wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t meant for this to happen. He’d just been angry. He didn’t want to split up the partnership.
But dammit, the kid lied to him. Again.
And he knew it was irrational to doubt the young man’s abilities over this – even knew that response was a natural, if unfair reaction – but he still felt…unsafe. Like he couldn’t count on Blair to back him up but hell, when had he ever needed anyone to back him up? He worked alone.
Liked working alone.
Maybe this was for the best. Wasn’t like this Sentinel thing was new to him anymore, and he’d always known he’d be going solo on this some time soon. No, he could handle this without Blair.
He was sure of it.
Pulling up at the station, he and Blair got out and rode up to Major Crimes in silence. Half way up, Jim’s hearing zoned in on the bullpen.
Blair frowned. “What is it?”
Jim drew his gun. “Trouble.”
When the lift opened, they stepped out into chaos. A large man was standing wild eyed in the centre of the bullpen. They watched in horror as he grabbed Rafe and twisted the detective around to cover him. Big meaty hands clawed at Rafe’s neck and tightened. He made a gurgling sound as all around cops drew there weapons.
“Drop ‘em or I swear to God, I’ll snap his neck!”
Brown made a calming gesture with his hand. “All right, all right. Just be cool.” He lowered his gun, but didn’t drop it. All around the cops in the bullpen followed suit.
Jim tensed as his hearing focused on Rafe. The young man’s breathing was just a pained rasp and his heart beat laboured to keep oxygen flowing to his brain.
Jim stepped forward slowly. “Let him go.”
“Not until I’m outta here! Walls are coming in!” The man’s eyes were wild. “Can’t you see them coming in?”
“Yeah.” Jim agreed. “I can see them.” He stepped forward another couple of feet. “We’ve all gotta get out of here.”
Rafe’s head began to loll, unconsciousness beginning to creep in. His lips tinting blue.
“Let me help you.” Jim continued. “He’s heavy. Let me help you get out of here.” He made a gesture to everyone in the bullpen. “We can get everyone out, right?”
The big man looked doubtful. “The walls…”
“There’s no walls outside.” He made a beckoning motion. “Come on, we can go outside…”
The man shuffled forward, loosening his grip on Rafe, who slumped to the floor. Jim saw Blair catch him on the way down and place him in the recovery position. The man lumbered after Jim and as soon as he was clear, Brown and Taggart wrestled the man to the floor. As they cuffed the man securely, Jim went over to Rafe, who was groaning in response to Blair’s questions.
“I think he’s OK.” Blair said.
Half an hour later, excitement over, Blair unclipped his police ID from his waist and headed towards Simon’s office. He didn’t know if it was just his paranoia working, but he felt the itch of Jim’s eyes on his back all the way across the room.
Simon surprised him by coming out of his office just as he was about to knock.
“Whatever it is, it can wait, Sandburg.” He started across to Jim. “Jim, with Rafe in the emergency room, we a man short on the Rickson lobby.”
“Peter Rickson?” Blair grinned.
Jim frowned. “That’s the environmental campaigner from DC isn’t it?”
“Jim, this man is like…he is the whole environmental movement for the Northwest.” Blair’s face was lit with something Jim hadn’t seen in a long time.
“Bottom line is, he pisses a lot a people off.” Simon clarified.
“Anyone made any threats?”
“Not that he takes any seriously.” Simon said. “I want you and Sandburg to take Rafe’s place.”
Blair’s hands tightened around his credentials. “Simon-”
Jim grabbed his jacket, stopping the words. “Let’s go, chief.”
There was a huge mass of people crowding around the podium by the time Jim and Blair got there. Placards ranged from anti war banners to personal comments about Rickman. Blair scanned the crowd, smiling at some of the faces he knew. He didn’t protest anymore, knowing it could be embarrassing to Jim and maybe even risky to his position in the department, but that didn’t stop him supporting causes like this.
His mother had once told him she’d demonstrated at dawn, picked apples at noon, danced by the commune fire at dusk and given birth at midnight. It was just in his blood.
He stayed at Jim heels, knowing from the far off look in his eyes that his hearing was elsewhere, listening for the tell tale clicks and scrapes of a long range rifle being prepared. He wasn’t completely sure what his presence did to ground the Sentinel, several good theories, but nothing concrete. But he knew it did. Jim hadn’t zoned in a while.
Jim’s head turned. Blair followed his line of sight and saw Rickman immerge from his campaign wagon to the delighted roar of the crowd. Press moved forward, cameras ready.
The distinct shush-click of a gun being cocked filled Jim’s ears. His head snapped around, vision beginning to sharpen, zeroing in on the sound without conscious effort. “Get down!” He yelled. And at that moment, a camera’s flash went off beside him. Light exploded across his heightened vision and he curled in on himself, protecting his eyes.
He felt Blair grab his arm. “Jim? Jim? Are you all right?”
Blair looked up as uniform cops bustled around Rickman in response to Jim’s cry. A shot cracked through the air and screams erupted as the crowd around them panicked. Blair saw Rickman hurried away by the police as more shots thudded into the podium. Blair grabbed Jim and pulled him behind a car, making sure he was down. The detective was still blinking blindly, tears streaking down his cheeks as his body reacted to the damage.
A scream caught Blair’s attention, rising above the others, and he saw a mother helplessly carried away by the panicking crowds. She was reaching empty hands towards her child, trying to reach the little girl as the tide of people swept her away. The little girl stood still, crying. Bullets pock marked the ground all around her and she wailed in terror.
Without a thought, Blair left cover and began pushing through the masses. He raced over and snatched the child up. More shots whizzed past his ears and he threw himself over the child, covering her body. Something struck him with the force of a sledgehammer and his head rang and rang and rang until he was almost sobbing, choking on his own vomit. It was only the sound of the child crying beneath him that kept him present.
Hands tugged him up but he didn’t relinquish his grip on the child. The token attempt to remove her abruptly conceded and he found himself propelled away from the crowds.
The screams and shouts around him began to fade and white out.
Then there was nothing.
Lights danced in front of Jim’s vision and everywhere around him sounds were ultra sharp, like vivid, vivid colour. He felt a hand on his shoulder as he rubbed and rubbed at his eyes. He knew from the scent that it wasn’t Blair.
Hands took his wrists, pulled them away from his face.
“You OK, sir?” Someone asked. “Did you get Mace-d?”
Jim blinked rapidly, felt tears dribble down his cheeks as his eyes tried to wash away the sensory overload. Behind the blur, he saw the kind face of a uniform cop swim. A familiar face appeared beside that one and an even more familiar Aussie lilt asked, “Jim, are you all right?”
“Yeah. Damn camera flashed in my face.”
“Uniform have got the crowd under control but the gun man got away.” She told him. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
Jim nodded; the dance of lights had begun to fade. “Sandburg?” His head snapped up. “I lost him in the crowd.”
“I’ll find him.” She promised, worry in her voice now. She looked at the cop beside her. “Get him to a medic.” She told him and then touched Jim’s shoulder. “Someone should check your eyes.”
Megan scanned the crowds, heart skipping when she saw a medic half dragging Sandburg along. He had something clutched to his chest and blood was pouring copiously down his face.
She broke into a run, reaching his side just as his legs gave way and he crumpled to the floor. But she found herself with an armful of bloody child rather than an armful of Blair. The little girl was bawling, making more noise than seemed possible for such small lungs. She was pretty sure all the blood on the kid was Blair’s but she checked anyway, trying not to let the motions of the medic working on Blair distract her.
“Are you OK, sweetie?” She asked.
The blonde head nodded, “uh-huh.”
“What’s your name?”
Her bottom lip quivered. “I want my mommy!” She wailed.
Yelling and crying sounded behind them and Megan turned just in time to be swept aside by 150 pounds of distraught mother. The woman scooped up her child and hung on as if she’d never let go.
Megan ignored them, kneeling beside Blair. There was so much blood on his face and in his hair that she didn’t know where to touch him. She took his hand instead; fingers reassuringly warm between her own.
“Looks like a bullet nicked him.” The medic said. “Half a millimetre to the right and he’d’ve been toast. Your friend is a lucky man.”
She brushed back Blair’s curls. “We’re the lucky ones.” She murmured softly.
A wolf raced across the prairie, the sound of its panting harsh and echoing. The sun beat down, low in the sky, reflecting on the deep yellow scrub land. The wolf’s pace never slowed, its shadow long, always there at the edge of the creature’s sight. The movement of the animal was fluid and graceful; the shadow just a hollow reflection.
On and on it ran, never tiring, never escaping the darkness at its heels. The scrub land became dust and the precipice of a mesa loomed ahead.
A groan sounded and the wolf slowed to a stop.
Sitting at the edge of the mesa was a large cat. The jaguar rose up at the wolf’s approach, padding soundlessly forwards. The wolf did not move.
The jaguar paced in front of the wolf, its body cast into silhouette by the sun, yet casting no shadow of its own. Not here, on the prairie. The wolf knew the jaguar’s shadow waited for it in the jungle.
The big cat came closer still, almost touching, and the wolf lifted its head to scent the creature. The animal leaned in, allowing the wolf to explore the jaguar’s smell. Then it opened its jaws.
The wolf howled as its shadow twisted and pulled, moving of its own accord. It was an ugly thing, crawling between them, moving with its own life.
Then the jaguar swallowed it…
Jim looked up as the door behind him opened softly. Simon entered the warm hospital room, looking tired and grim. He went over to the bed and looked down at the young man tucked under the covers. Blair lay unconscious, the gash in his head stitched and cleaned. An IV line snaked into his arm, dripping softly.
“How’s he doing?”
“Doctor said he should be waking up some time soon.”
Simon looked around. “I saw the news broadcast.” He said.
Jim frowned, “news broadcast?”
“KCEI news.” He stared down at the young man in the bed. “That kid would be dead if it wasn’t for Sandburg.”
Jim’s head snapped up, eyes dark.
Simon almost smiled. “The tapes in my office. I thought you might want to see it.”
A murmur from the bed interrupted them, and they both looked over to see Blair’s eyelids flicker, but not open.
Jim reached out and took his friend’s hand. “Hey, Chief.”
Blair moaned softly. “Oh man…”
His eyes opened, a half smile playing on his lips. “Man…I gotta stop dreaming I’m a wolf…”
And he promptly fell asleep.
The images on the screen played out again. At the end, Jim pressed the rewind and watched the backwards hiss of pictures until he pressed play. On the television, a camera zoomed shakily in on a small blonde girl crying as hoards of people fled around her. Bullets zinged on the pavement beneath her feet, sending up little clouds of dust. A figure ran over to her, distinguishable only by the mass of curls and protected her with his own body. As they fell, Jim could see Blair jerk and a few frames later, red stained the image.
He pressed rewind again.
“If he were a cop, he’d get a commendation for that.”
Jim actually jumped at the voice. It had been a long time since someone had snuck up on him. He guessed he’d been a little zoned on the TV.
“’Cept he’s not a cop.” He rubbed his eyes, trying to press away the dull ache behind them. “He won’t even be an observer when he gets outta the hospital.”
Simon tensed. “What?”
“He told me he was going to hand in his credentials.”
“And you agreed with that?”
“It’s his decision.”
“And you acting like a jackass has got nothing to do with it?”
Jim didn’t answer.
Simon sighed. “Jim, I’m your friend. Why don’t you tell me what this is really about?”
He didn’t think he’d answer, but then the words came out. “Someone raped him, Simon.” Jim threw the remote down and got up, the movement giving him something to do with all the frustration and anger buzzing through his veins. “And I’m just so God damn mad!”
“I can understand that.” He told him. “Just don’t take it out on the kid.”
“Aren’t you?” Then he sighed. “Look, Jim, I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you here. This Korrigan kid isn’t here to be angry at, and its gotta go somewhere.”
“And you think I’m aiming it at Sandburg.”
“You’ve gone to the same seminars as I have, Jim. You know it happens.”
“This is such a mess, Simon.”
“Then fix it.”
Megan was perched on the edge of Blair’s bed when Jim entered the little hospital room. Blair was sitting up and the pair were sharing the contents of a fruit basket. Jim smiled but he was aware that the conversation suddenly stopped at his entrance.
“Chief, how you feeling?”
“Good. They’re…er…they’re letting me out tomorrow.”
Megan looked from on to the other, then stood up. “Look, um, I’ve got some reports to write.”
Blair smiled at her. “Thanks.”
She touched his shoulder. “Feel better, Sandy.”
The door closed behind her. Jim watched her go and then turned back to Blair. Someone had washed the blood from his curls and the shine of moisture drew his attention. He’d never known Blair without the hair, but he now knew there had been a time when his friend had hardly any.
Jim felt a dull ache in his gut as he remembered Ryan’s words. Did a real number on himself. Cut through to his scalp too. He hadn’t known that. Hadn’t known anything other the cold harsh words in the case file, just Blair’s statement, the medical report... Nothing about how Blair had felt back then, what he’d done to cope...
How he’d healed…
And suddenly knowing that mattered; mattered more than breathing.
“You wanna talk about it, Chief?” He sat down. “Korrigan, I mean.”
Blair’s head fell back. “It’s all been said, man.”
“No, I did a lot of talking there. You didn’t.”
“Its over, Jim.”
“I saw what you did, Chief.” He said firmly. “At the rally. You saved that girl’s life. So it’s not over. Because I need you backing me up, Chief. That kid’d be dead if you hadn’t been there.”
Blair watched him intently.
Jim laid a hand on his shoulder. “If anyone was jeopardising this case over Korrigan, it was me.”
Blair looked away. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that.”
“I should be sorry; I was way outta line, chief. You were right. It isn’t any of my business.”
He looked up and Jim saw the boy he’d been in his friends face. “I wanted to tell you, man. It’s just…hard to talk about, you know?”
“You don’t want me to give you your lecture on letting stuff out, do you?”
Blair grinned. “Man, there is no way you could do that better than me.”
“Oh yeah? Well, let’s give a try.” He coughed and did an appalling impression of Blair. “’Hey Jim, let’s talk about this, man’…”
“I do not sound like that.”
“Yeah you do…”