Surviving the Siege
by Lacey McBain
Author's website: http://www.livejournal.com/users/laceymcbain/
The Sentinel belongs to Pet Fly Productions. No money is made from this. I'm just playing.
First Sentinel Fic. Thanks to everyone on LJ who offered feedback and welcomed me so warmly to The Sentinel Community, and to Blandine for getting me hooked in the first place.
Spoilers for episode "Siege." Lines at the beginning are taken directly from the episode. (At this point I've only seen 5 episodes, so if there are any errors in characterization, they're all mine.)
They stood on the rooftop, watching Garrett Kincaid being led away by Cascade's SWAT team.
"This wasn't like a typical day for you, was it?" Blair asked. Jim just laughed and walked away. "Well, is it? Come on!"
Blair chased after him, afraid what that little laugh might mean. He hadn't known Jim Ellison long enough to know when he was joking and when he wasn't. The guy seemed way too serious most of the time, and Blair wasn't sure how this partnership was going to work out. Still, it was probably his only chance to study a real live sentinel, and he'd honestly never expected to be able to. So, he'd just have to get used to having guns waved in his face by psychopathic madmen. He could do that.
Honestly, it couldn't be much worse than facing his thesis committee.
Jim dropped his bulletproof vest onto the back of his chair, and slipped on his jacket.
"Where's Sandburg?" Simon said from the door of his office, his son Daryl still close by his side.
Jim looked up. "I don't know. On his way home, I guess."
Simon patted Daryl on the shoulder, and gestured towards the door. "Daryl, can you hang on just a minute? I need to talk to Detective Ellison before we leave."
Jim followed Simon into his office and sat down. "I thought we were going to talk about this Monday."
"We are," Simon said. "But, Jim. Sandburg may not be your cousin's kid, but he's still your responsibility."
"He's fine." Through the window of Simon's office, Jim could see Blair enter the bullpen area, and sit on the edge of his desk talking to Daryl.
"So why's he still hanging around? Why didn't he go home if he's so fine?"
They watched through the blinds as Daryl poked a finger into the bullet hole in Blair's jacket. Blair laughed and punched the kid lightly on the arm, but his smile didn't seem to reach all the way to his eyes. Maybe Simon was right. It'd been kind of a rough day for all of them, and he couldn't expect Blair to be used to this kind of thing. He probably spent most of his time in libraries and labs, after all. And he was pretty damn young, even for a graduate student.
"Yeah, okay. I'll take him out for dinner, feel him out. Make sure he's okay." Jim stood up to go.
"Jim." Simon put a hand on his shoulder, and nodded towards the window. "Remember, you're the one who asked for a partner. Maybe he can help you with this sensory stuff you're going through, but all he knows about being a cop is that thin blue line crap he was spouting this morning."
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that."
"Keep an eye on him. I don't want this blowing up in our faces."
Jim nodded and followed Simon out into the bullpen area.
"Come on, Chief. Dinner's on me."
"Seriously?" Blair's whole face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. Everything he felt showed on Sandburg's face. Jim was going to have to talk to him about that--it wasn't the best quality for undercover work, although somehow he'd managed to convince Kincaid he was some kind of super-cop. Jim was still trying to figure that one out. Either Blair was a fantastic liar, or Kincaid was dumber than Jim thought.
Simon was grinning. "Better take him up on it, Sandburg. He doesn't usually offer."
"All right. I'm game. Where're we going?"
"Wonderburger," Jim said smugly. Blair raised an eyebrow at him, but didn't say anything. Jim wondered if the guy ate more than brown rice and tofu; he seemed like the type and Jim was pretty sure Wonderburger didn't cater to vegetarians. He slung an arm around Sandburg's shoulders as they headed to the elevator. "You'll learn to love it, Chief."
"That was awesome," Sandburg said as Jim put his key into the lock. "Normally I don't patronize fast-food chains, preferring to support local and organic farmers where possible, but man, that burger really hit the spot. Sometimes you just need some grease, you know?"
Jim shook his head as he tossed his jacket onto a hook by the door. "You want a beer? Since you've already put unhealthy food into your system today."
"Hey, Jim, beer's actually pretty healthy. Naturally fermented hops, after all."
As he settled onto the couch, Jim waved his hand in a sweeping gesture. "This is it. Make yourself at home."
Blair hung his jacket up beside Jim's, kicked off his shoes, and bounded over to the couch, grabbing the beer Jim held up to him. "Thanks, man. This is great."
Jim took a sip, wondering what he was supposed to do now. They'd made it through supper with chit-chat and Sandburg's running commentary on the capitalist failings of fast food restaurants. When the people sitting around them started to shift uncomfortably, Jim had changed the topic, but apparently the eating habits of pre-civilized man were too much of a draw for Sandburg and they'd inevitably driven away the family of four at the next table. Of course, Blair hadn't really noticed, waving a French fry about like it was a pointer and lecturing on the cultural significance of potatoes. Jim had never met anyone who got so excited about things like that. It was odd, but he had to admit, Sandburg's quirkiness was starting to grow on him. The guy was sharp, and it wasn't all learned from a book.
"Jim? Hey, Jim?"
It suddenly occurred to him that Sandburg was shaking his arm and looking at him with concern.
"Yeah," he said. "Sorry."
"Hey, no problem. You're probably beat after today. Pretty stressful." Blair tipped his beer back and drank. "You must've been running with your senses pretty wide open. That takes energy. A lot of energy."
"Yeah," Jim admitted. He hadn't realized how sensitive he was until that car horn had blared, almost deafening him. He still had a headache from that, and the number of different scents that had assaulted him in the building had been overwhelming, not to mention the journey through the sewer. If he never had to do that again, it would be fine by him.
"You want to talk about it?"
Blair's blue eyes were serious. His hand was solid on Jim's arm, and it occurred to him that most people didn't get in his space the way Sandburg did. Somehow it didn't really bother him, although he couldn't really say why. It still seemed strange to him that the universe figured a twenty-five year old anthropology student could be the person to teach him how to cope with his new-found abilities, but as long as Sandburg could help him, that's really all that mattered. He would put up with the weird looks from the rest of the guys at the department and Sandburg's in-your-face exuberance if it meant he could get this sentinel thing under control.
"Okay, you're obviously tired. I'm just going to go." When Jim looked up, he realized Sandburg was already heading for the door.
"No, Blair, it's--stay. I'm sorry. I'm not used to having somebody around the apartment."
"Well, I'll just head out then. No big deal."
"No!" Jim said too quickly. Sandburg shot him a curious look. "Um--maybe we should talk."
Blair stood in the middle of the room, staring at Jim as if he'd grown a second head. "You want to talk."
He said the words slowly and carefully as if he wanted Jim to be very sure of what it was he'd just proposed. Jeez, it wasn't as if he'd made a pass at the guy. All he'd said was he wanted to talk.
"Sure." Jim took a sip of beer. "Talk."
Blair walked towards the door, then back again. He put his hands on his hips, opened his mouth to say something, then stopped. Jim wasn't sure if the kid was about to have a breakdown or if he was just working up to something.
"What?" Jim asked.
"I get it. This is about today. What happened. You think I'm going to freak out or something, don't you?"
"No, Simon just thought--" Jim knew it was a mistake the moment he said it. Blair looked at him like he'd just admitted to buying clothes manufactured in Taiwanese sweatshops.
"Simon told you to baby-sit me, didn't he?"
"Well, yeah, but--"
Blair threw his hands in the air and stomped towards the door, reaching for his jacket.
"I should've known. Look, I've been shot at with poison darts in Borneo and dodged guerillas in Guatemala. Today was nothing."
If Sandburg's voice hadn't quivered on the last word, Jim might even have believed him. "Working with monkeys is one thing, Chief, but--"
"Not gorillas. Guerillas." Jim stared at him. "Never mind. Just forget it. I'm fine."
Blair snatched his coat off the hook, his finger sliding through the hole in the sleeve where the bullet had pierced it. For a moment he just stared at it, his face going suddenly white. "Guess this is my lucky jacket now, huh?"
"Hey, it's cool, man. Chicks will love it. The whole Danger Man vibe I've got going is bound to get me more dates than Blair Sandburg, researcher of pre-civilized cultures. It's all good. Thanks for dinner, but I'm fine. I'll see you around."
Before Jim could say anything else, Blair was gone.
"Dammit." He'd screwed things up big time. Sandburg was far from being okay, and he probably didn't even know it. Sooner or later it was going to hit him, how close he'd been to death today, and then he was going to need somebody there. Someone who understood, someone who cared. And right now as far as Sandburg was concerned that person wasn't Jim.
"Throwback to a pre-civilized breed of man, Ellison," he said to himself, draining his beer and grabbing his jacket. He flipped open his cell phone and called the station. "Yeah, it's Detective Ellison, Major Crimes. I need a street address for Blair Sandburg."
Anne shifted as Blair pushed her away. Again. "Blair, what is it?"
Blair leaned his head back against the arm of the couch in frustration. "I'm sorry, Anne. I just can't. Man, I don't know what I was thinking. I just want to forget what happened, and--"
She kissed his chest, not prepared for the hand in her hair that stopped her from going further. He really wasn't in the mood. Of course, it would've been nice to know that before she'd driven half-way across town for this last minute date. He'd sounded desperate to see her on the phone, and now he didn't seem to want anything to do with her. Men. She sat back on the couch and straightened her blouse.
"Blair, what happened?" she repeated, smoothing down her blonde curls.
"Nothing happened. Really, I just don't think I'm cut out for police work."
"Police work? What are you talking about?"
Blair's research was always a bit eclectic, but sometimes she wondered if he was ever going to finish what he was working on. He always seemed to have two or three other projects on the go, plus teaching. Yeah, and two or three women too. Everybody knew it, but he was so damn cute, it didn't seem to matter. Well, cute only counted for so much and this was the second disappointing date she'd had with him.
"Just a research thing I'm doing. No biggie." He kissed her. It was flat and emotionless. "I'm sorry for dragging you out here and then not ... well, can I get you a coffee or something?"
"No, I think I'd better go." She knew when she really wasn't wanted. Whatever was going on with Blair had nothing to do with her, and he didn't seem prepared to talk about it. She had better things to do.
"Blair, whatever's going on with you, work it out, okay? Before you call me again."
She kissed him once more, hard and passionate, just so he knew what he'd given up, and closed the door behind her. She didn't think she'd ever understand him. Sure Blair was attractive and funny and nice, but sometimes he just didn't seem to be able to focus long enough on anything to be involved in a relationship. Really involved. He just wasn't present.
There was a chill in the air and she gathered her coat around her while she dashed across the street to where her blue Honda was parked. There was a big green truck parked in front of her, one that hadn't been there when she'd arrived. There was a guy sitting in it, one arm leaning on the window. He seemed to be staring at the door to Blair's place. It was weird.
Maybe that was what had Blair so freaked out. Maybe the guy was some kind of stalker. He'd mentioned the police, but hadn't really gone into any details. Anne dug in her purse and pulled out her cell phone. She flipped through the stored numbers till she got to "S". She dialed and heard it ringing.
"Blair? It's Anne. Just listen. I'm at my car, but there's a guy out here--"
"Are you okay? I'll be right out."
The immediate concern in his voice made her want to forgive him on the spot. She could almost picture him reaching for his jacket, phone in one hand, coming to the rescue.
"No, Blair, it's not like that. I--I think he's watching your building."
Silence. She could tell he'd stopped his mad dash to her rescue and was thinking about what she was saying. Figuring it out.
"What's he look like?"
"It's dark. I can't really tell. He's sitting in his truck."
"A big green truck with lights on the roof?"
She peered at the colour in the dark. It could be green, and there were definitely lights on the roof. "Yeah, I think so."
There was an audible sigh on the line. "He's okay. Doesn't listen to a damn thing I say, but he's okay. You can go home, Anne. Thanks for the heads up."
"Blair, you're sure there's nothing I can do?" Maybe she'd been too hasty. Blair was a great guy, after all. Maybe she should've given him more time to relax, tell her what was going on with him.
"I'm sure. I'll see you at the grad caucus next week. `Night."
She heard the click as he hung up the phone. Well, that decided it. He really didn't want to talk to her and whatever was messing with his head, he was going to have to work it out himself. There were plenty of other fish in the Rainier University sea. She put the car in gear and drove away.
Blair turned on his stereo. Loud. Jungle music with a lot of drums. If Jim was eavesdropping, he wasn't going to be able to hear anything. Blair picked up the phone and dialed.
"Hey, Dave, it's Blair Sandburg. Yeah, can I get my usual? ... Great. And could you do me a favour? I've got a special delivery request."
The music was almost enough to make Jim turn around and decide to go home. How could Sandburg listen to that crap, anyway? And wow, was it loud. It was a wonder the guy didn't have a serious hearing problem. Or maybe he did. Jim tried to tune it out, but he still didn't have any real control over his senses, and it was hard to ignore the steady pounding beat. He could feel his headache getting worse.
Jim saw lights in his rearview mirror. A small brown car with a pizza delivery sign on the roof pulled to a stop behind him where the girl's car had been a little while ago. Anne. That had been her name. Pretty. Tall. Didn't seem like Sandburg's type at all.
The delivery guy carrying a cardboard box got out and headed, not across the street to the apartment, but over to Jim's truck. Jim laid a hand on the gun sitting on the seat beside him.
"Yes," Jim said suspiciously.
The delivery guy was grinning. Obviously, he couldn't see that Jim had his hand resting on a gun. "Sandburg said you'd be happy to pay for this."
"Why that ..." Faint laughter tickled Jim's ears even as the sound of jungle drums faded away. He shoved a twenty in the guy's hand and told him to keep the change. He'd just extract it from Sandburg's wallet when he got up there. Or maybe he'd just take it out of Sandburg's hide.
"Thanks," the delivery guy said pocketing the twenty and dashing back to his vehicle, probably before Jim could change his mind. Jim grabbed the pizza box and headed towards the building Sandburg called home. The box smelled unmistakably of anchovies. Jim's stomach rolled over.
He was going to kill Sandburg.
"Sandburg, open the damn door."
Blair did as he was told, extracting the pizza box from Jim's hands. "Jim! Hey, man, what a surprise! And you brought pizza. Terrific." Blair leaned in and sniffed. "Anchovies. My favourite."
Jim felt his stomach flip-flop again.
He shut the door and followed Blair into the apartment. It wasn't so much an apartment as a warehouse with furniture--furniture that seemed to consist mostly of papers and books. Jim didn't think he'd ever seen so many books outside of a library or a bookstore.
"Apology accepted," Sandburg said, helping himself to a piece of pizza. He sat cross-legged on the couch, the pizza box dropped onto the crates that seemed to serve as a coffee table. Jim could see there were anchovies on only half the pizza. Well, that was something.
"Apology? What do you mean, apology--" Jim sat on the opposite end of the couch and helped himself to a non-anchovy slice.
"Whatever you think, I don't need a babysitter. Simon told you to check on me. Fine, you've done your duty. Now go home and do whatever you do on a Friday night. Watch `Cops' or `Barney Miller' reruns or whatever, but leave me out of it."
Jim wondered if he could just smack the kid once. He knew he'd feel better. He'd thrown him up against the wall in his office the first day they'd met, and truthfully that had felt pretty damn good at the time. Jim wondered if he should worry that he and Sandburg were going to have a relationship based on wanting to inflict bodily harm on one another on a semi-regular basis.
"Look, Sandburg, you may think you're okay, but you're not. You couldn't cut it with little miss--"
"Whoa, whoa. Time out." Blair had put his pizza down and was motioning with his hands in a familiar "T" signal. "You were listening in? While I was with a girl? That's--that's a clear violation of our relationship, man. You can't do that."
Jim felt suddenly guilty about listening in, but he'd been focused on making sure Blair was coping. Somehow not even getting to first base really didn't seem like coping.
"I was worried about you," Jim said, surprised to realize it was true. Blair's face softened slightly, then flushed red.
"I don't care. Jim, you can't just check up on me whenever. I need to have some privacy." A pause. "And I wasn't in the mood."
Jim decided to leave the last comment alone. Sandburg didn't seem in the right frame of mind to be teased about it, and Jim really didn't know him well enough yet to take any chances. The truth had been working so far, so he opted for that.
"Look, Chief, you had a hell of a day. You took out two guards, jumped out a window, and were held at gunpoint by a psychopath. Not to mention the whole helicopter thing."
"Thought this was a normal day for you," Blair challenged, but his voice sounded a bit frayed. Yeah, it'd been a long day.
"For me, maybe, but not for you." Jim grinned at the horrified look in Blair's eyes. "Kidding. Really. It's not always going to be like this. It's okay to be--" Jim searched for the word Blair had used earlier, "--freaked out."
Jim took a minute to think about it. "Yeah, a little." He rubbed the sore spot on his chest where the bullet had caught his vest. "Caught one right in the chest. The vest keeps you alive, but it still hurts like hell. Reminds you how close it could've been."
Blair was staring at him, eyebrows furrowed, his pizza hanging limp in his hand. It was making Jim nervous. He decided to steer the conversation back to more normal things, although these days he wasn't entirely sure what those were.
"Hey, you got something to drink around here?"
It seemed to shake Blair out of his stupor. "Yeah. Beer?"
He got up and grabbed two bottles from the fridge and brought them back to the couch. Blair clinked his bottle against Jim's in a casual toast, and said, "To surviving the siege."
"I'll drink to that," Jim replied, and drank.
Blair's apartment consisted of a bunch of ramshackle furniture assembled from flea markets and friends, and a very old futon that he usually collapsed on when he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. So when Jim announced at quarter to one that he'd had too much beer to drive home, Blair scrunched up his face and stared at him as if he were insane.
"Are you out of your mind?"
"Why?" Jim's ruddy cheeks were the picture of innocence. Well, no, not really, although Blair could see that Ellison had probably been a choir boy with a sweet face and angelic blue eyes when he was young.
"You'll have to sleep on the couch!" Blair exclaimed. The couch, although in reasonably better shape than the futon, didn't look like it was big enough to contain either Jim's length or breadth. The man was big.
Jim seemed to take Blair's statement as an invitation and immediately stretched out, his feet dangling off one end. He looked as uncomfortable as a puppy in a cage.
"No, man, just take a cab. Go home." Blair knew Jim hadn't had that much to drink, and he glared at Jim suspiciously. Either the ex-Ranger couldn't hold his liquor at all, or he was conveniently hanging around to put Operation Baby-sit Sandburg into motion again. Blair was just drunk enough that he couldn't decide whether he was pleased or pissed off.
"Don't wanna," Jim said with a slur. Oh, yeah. There was no way that man was drunk. He could probably put a bullet between someone's eyes in the dark. Without a thought.
Fine, Blair thought. If Jim wanted to wreck his back by sleeping on Blair's cramped couch, it was his business. Blair would settle into his futon with all its familiar lumps and sleep like a slightly tipsy baby. He'd show Jim there was absolutely no need for him to be here. None whatsoever.
Blair grabbed an extra pillow and a blanket from a Rubbermaid container marked "Bedding," and tossed them in Jim's general direction. He caught the items neatly, not letting even the edge of the blanket hit the concrete floor.
Yup. Stone cold sober. Damn him.
Blair waved in the direction of the bathroom, pointed to the end of the warehouse where he'd set up a bamboo screen to give the illusion of privacy--women seemed to feel more comfortable that way--and bid goodnight to his self-appointed watchdog. After a quick trip to the john, Blair stripped down to boxers and a t-shirt, and crawled under the tangled sheets draped over his futon.
He decided not to give Detective Jim Ellison another thought.
One of the reasons Jim liked the loft was that it was quiet. Sleeping in a strange place on a couch that would've barely fit a reclining Sandburg, Jim was overwhelmingly aware of exactly how un-quiet this neighbourhood was. First, there were the sirens, which always made something in Jim feel he should be heading out onto the street to do something. Old habits never really got old. He tried to tune out the traffic noises, the rush of trains going by in the night, the heavy tires of semi-trucks moving their cargo through the warehouse district.
Then there were the other sounds--scratching and squeaking, the scrape of tiny claws against metal and Jim couldn't decide if they were bats or rats, but neither option made him feel better. It figured Sandburg would be a Dr. Doolittle sort. He probably fed the damn things. And named them. Yeah, Jim was pretty sure Sandburg was the type who would give names to the rodents intruding on his space. Of course, he wouldn't see it as an intrusion. Probably start in on how people had invaded the animals' natural habitats with urban sprawl and just who was the invader anyway? Jim shook his head. Sandburg was a piece of work.
Jim knew he should've gone home. He didn't even know what he was doing here. Simon had said to keep an eye on Sandburg, but Jim knew that mostly meant make sure the kid doesn't get himself killed on the job. Make sure he's not going to panic when push comes to shove. Make sure no one's going to sue us if this doesn't work out. Jim had been around long enough to be able to read between the lines, but he was pretty sure Simon hadn't meant for him to be screwing up his lower back by sleeping on a couch engineered for midgets. Little people. He was sure Sandburg would educate him about the politically correct term and its origins if he asked.
Sandburg was a liability in more ways than one, and Simon was going to take a lot of convincing before he'd see this "partnership" as anything other than a bad idea. Truthfully, Jim wasn't sure Simon was wrong. He'd always worked alone, was at his best when he worked alone. He wasn't used to needing someone along to ... well, what was Sandburg going to do for him, anyway? Keep him from zoning like he did that first day when the kid had pushed both of them under a garbage truck. Teach him how to live with these senses, or at least how not to get killed. At least Sandburg seemed to understand what Jim was going through, and that meant something. A lot, if he was honest. He didn't feel like as much of a freak around Sandburg, maybe `cause the guy was a bit weird himself.
Jim sighed and shifted on the narrow couch. It wasn't wide enough for him to lie on his back, so he was forced to sleep on his side. His chest was sore from where the bullet had bruised him, and he rubbed it and tried to make himself relax.
Sandburg's place wasn't unpleasant. The high ceiling made him feeling like he was sleeping in the open air, and the scent of incense was faint underneath the pizza and beer. Every once in a while, he could hear Sandburg shifting on his bed, the frame creaking whenever he moved. Which was often.
Jim wondered if Sandburg was always a restless sleeper, or if it was just tonight. The guy seemed to be a walking, talking ball of energy most of the time, and Jim had noticed he'd gone through twice as many beer as Jim had. He knew all about the rep college students had for hard drinking, but Sandburg seemed to be nervously reaching for something to keep him occupied. He'd talked almost non-stop once the pizza was done, and none of it even remotely touched on what had happened to him today. Every time Jim had tried to bring the conversation around to Kincaid, Blair neatly side-stepped the topic and launched into a lecture on anthropology or started in on the kinds of tests he thought they should try to test Jim's senses. Yeah, Jim was really looking forward to being blindfolded and drinking whatever concoctions Sandburg was able to come up with in a lab. Jim was going to have to keep him in check, set the pace, or Sandburg was going to run over him just like that garbage truck had.
In the darkness, Jim could hear Sandburg's restless shifting, the uneven breaths of someone in the midst of a dream. He focused his hearing as much as he could, tried to sort out his own body sounds from Sandburg's. Finally identified the racing heartbeat that thundered at him from half a warehouse away. Jim rolled off the couch, and headed for Sandburg's "bedroom."
He had no idea what he was going to do when he got there, but he was sure he'd think of something.
Blair awoke with a start. It took him a moment to get his bearings: hands tangled in the sheets, not wrapped with duct tape. The cold sweat on his face the remnants of a dream, not anything else. Definitely not fear that Kincaid was going to shoot him, or worse. He rubbed at his wrists and took a few deep breaths. There was nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. He remembered Jim sleeping on his couch, and doubled his efforts to quiet his breathing. The last thing he needed was an over-bearing Sentinel perched on the edge of his bed wanting to "talk." With any luck, Jim was fast asleep, dreaming about whatever it was cops dreamt about. Blair shook his head--he didn't want to explore that territory too closely. Not yet.
"You're fine," he murmured to himself, chanting the words under his breath like a mantra, hoping that Jim was asleep. The warehouse was absolutely quiet; it was one of the reasons Blair liked the place. He felt strangely at peace here away from the bustle of the university. "Just a dream," he whispered, and lay back down among the sheets. He closed his eyes and put everything troubling out of his mind, concentrated on the silence around him. It soothed him into sleep.
Jim stood with one hand on the bamboo divider, breathing hard. He was sure Sandburg would be able to hear him standing there, six feet away, but the guy didn't seem to notice. Thank God only one of them had Sentinel abilities `cause Jim really wasn't in great form tonight and it wasn't the three beer he'd had. He'd barely kept from crying out when he'd knocked into a plant sitting, as near as Jim could tell, in the middle of the warehouse. Just sitting there--not near anything that resembled a living space, and for a half-second Jim wondered if Sandburg had put it there as some kind of early warning system to let him know if Jim was roaming in the dark. But no, Sandburg wasn't the type, and even as Jim had tussled with the rubber tree that was damn near as tall as he was, he'd caught a glimpse of stars through the skylight overhead and realized this was probably one of the few spots that got natural light. Of course Sandburg would be more concerned with the plant than aesthetics. He'd gotten detached from the tree and made his way to Sandburg's room, listening to the increased sounds of tossing and turning, muttered words that Jim couldn't identify as English, and finally the breathless jolt of Blair waking up.
Jim could smell his fear. He didn't want to compound it by barging in and freaking the guy out. So he stood and waited, listened as Blair breathed in and out and told himself everything was fine. He wasn't very convincing, Jim thought, but decided to leave it alone. Sandburg hadn't woken up screaming, and that was something. Jim remembered nights after Peru when he'd done that. Nights where he'd woken to find Carolyn practically pounding on his chest to shake him from the nightmares. She'd looked at him with wide eyes and begged him to talk about it, and he hadn't been able to put the feelings into words, hadn't been able to do more than mutely shake his head and reach for her warm, trembling form. It hadn't done their marriage any good.
Blair seemed to be settling down to sleep again, and Jim realized his breathing had shifted to match Sandburg's. In and out, slow and even. Jim sat down on the floor and waited. He really wasn't that tired, and something inside told him not to leave Blair. It was an odd feeling, and he didn't know exactly where it came from. Sandburg brought out every protective instinct he'd ever had, and he didn't know why--maybe it was just because he wanted the privilege of killing Blair himself. Jim smiled but held his laughter. In a very short span of time, the guy had certainly learned how to push Jim's buttons. It was frustrating and oddly comforting to be known so well. Jim hadn't decided if he liked it.
The concrete was hard and cold, and he resisted the urge to go grab the blanket. He'd just make sure the kid got to sleep, and then he'd go back to the couch. A few minutes wouldn't make any difference, and maybe if Sandburg woke up again, he'd want to talk about it. Need to talk about it. It was something Jim had never been able to do, but he realized how important it was not to let the fear fester inside. He understood that, and maybe this time, he could do something about it.
They were running towards the helicopter, the beat of its rotors pushing Blair's hair back from his face. Kincaid was dragging him by the sleeve of his jacket, the rip from the bullet hole growing wider with every tug.
"I'm not a cop. I'm an anthropologist." Kincaid didn't care and Blair had the sinking feeling that it wasn't going to matter anyway. He was a hostage--he was the hostage--and they were just as likely to push him out of the helicopter when they no longer had a use for him as they were to let him go.
Blair swallowed. They weren't going to let him go. He knew that. He'd watched enough late night television and too many episodes of "Miami Vice." They never let the hostages go. Blair dragged his feet, struggled against Kincaid, but slowly he was pulled closer to the helicopter. And death. Certain death.
He had a paper he was supposed to present at a conference in Seattle in two weeks. He actually had the paper finished already--a rarity since he usually lived for the last-minute adrenaline rush of the deadline. Deadline. Blair almost laughed, but he couldn't quite catch his breath between the fear clogged in his throat and the dust being hurled towards him from the twirling rotor blades.
He hadn't even had a chance to say good-bye. He wondered who would miss him. His mother was somewhere on a mountaintop in Borneo searching for enlightenment. The women he dated were ... just that. Friends and colleagues and pretty, warm bodies that made him feel more alive for a few hours. He would miss the university, though. The musty smell of old books and dried earth, the treasures he'd assembled in the storeroom he claimed as an office, the feeling of being on the edge of a discovery. A real-live Sentinel.
Jim. He didn't know why, but he had a feeling he'd miss Jim. And maybe Jim would miss him too. They'd been so close to embarking on the great adventure together, and then ...
The helicopter rocked dangerously as it lifted into the air, and Blair felt the familiar upheaval in his stomach. He didn't like heights, and flying was kind of like the ultimate height-experience. He watched Kincaid and didn't look down. The chopper shook again, and Blair knew without a doubt that Jim had found him. That Jim wasn't going to let him go without a fight, and Blair took a breath and decided not to think about what that meant. No one had ever fought for him before. No one.
Kincaid was swearing under his breath even as he moved towards the open door of the chopper. Blair couldn't see past him, but he could imagine Jim clinging to the yellow struts. What he thought he'd be able to accomplish from there, Blair wasn't sure, but it seemed like maybe Jim hadn't had a plan other than not letting him go. Blair swallowed his fear and shifted closer to the door.
He heard Kincaid yelling, saw the silver gun poised in his hand. He was going to shoot Jim, and then he was going to shoot Blair, and Blair knew without a doubt that there was no one else who could help them now. It was up to him. Kincaid's finger was on the trigger and Blair stood up and rammed him with his shoulder, hit him with enough weight to send him tumbling through the open door, and Blair had a fleeting moment when he thought "Thank God" before he realized Kincaid was falling, falling, and the chopper rocked and spun wildly, and all Blair could see was open space in front of him, and suddenly he was falling too, and the word that sprang to his lips was Jim, Jim, Jim ...
"Sandburg, wake up."
Blair opened his eyes, blinking in the sudden darkness after the brightness of the dream. Everything had seemed so vivid, alive--the yellow helicopter, the glint of sunlight on the gun, the blue-black water streaming below them. It was so clear, although he couldn't honestly remember looking down.
He recognized the voice now, and he nodded to show Jim he understood, but he couldn't say anything yet. The world was still a blur of feeling and image and he shivered, shaking off the dream like a chill. Warm hands draped across his shoulders and kneaded him softly, and Blair let out a few unsteady breaths and nodded again. He was getting there, would get there, and he would be fine. He wasn't used to having an audience for his nightmares, wasn't even used to having nightmares at all, but the presence of a six foot shadow perched on the edge of his bed with a face that suggested Jim was more than willing to fight off any of Blair's demons was reassuring in a way Blair had never expected it to be.
Jim had come after him. Jim wouldn't let him go without a fight.
"Come on, Chief. Say something," Jim said finally, his hands still kneading Blair's shoulders. "I'm not used to you being so quiet."
Blair was surprised how easily a smile came to his face. "Isn't this taking `to protect and serve' a little far, Detective?"
Jim looked puzzled for a minute, then seemed to take stock of the fact that he was practically sitting in Blair's lap, hands eclipsing his narrow shoulders. He let go and pulled back with more speed than Blair had thought possible.
"Hey, no--" Blair reached out and grabbed Jim's disappearing arm. "Not what I meant, man. I just wasn't expecting you to be here, you know?"
Jim settled back down on the bed, futon creaking with the extra weight. "Where else would I be?"
And oh, that question delivered without a second thought in a quiet whisper while Blair's heart still thudded loudly in his chest was more than he could handle right then. He closed his eyes and willed himself to calm down. Get a grip.
"Your own bed at your own place maybe?" Blair let Jim's arm go and ran a hand through his own tangled hair. "Not sleeping on a couch that's going to require a chiropractor to put you back together."
"I wasn't really sleeping." Jim shrugged and Blair knew he was missing something significant, but he wasn't sure what.
"It was just a dream."
"It was nothing."
"Didn't sound like nothing."
With a rush of memory, Blair wondered what he'd said out loud. Had he actually called out? For Jim? He wasn't sure he'd ever be able to look Jim in the face again if that was the case.
"You're a Sentinel. Nothing sounds like nothing." Jim looked puzzled for a second, but Blair barreled ahead. "Did I say something?"
Blair didn't think Jim was lying, but then again, he wasn't sure if he'd know. The guy had spent a lot of years working on that stone-faced look, and Blair was learning pretty quickly what made Jim Ellison tick, but he knew he didn't know all his secrets yet.
"So, isn't this where you say `I told you so'?" Blair asked. Jim had been right. The whole thing with Kincaid had freaked him out, and he hadn't wanted to admit it to anyone, even himself.
"No, this is where I say `do you want to talk about it?'"
Blair just blinked. Jim was full of surprises. He didn't think Jim would pass up a chance to rub it in Blair's face that he'd been right, but the look of concern on the man's face was genuine. It totally rocked Blair's perspective; in some ways, he didn't know Jim at all.
"Thanks, but I'd rather not." Blair would deal with his fears the way he always had. Meditation. Exercise. Ignoring them until they went away.
"I think you should talk about it." Jim's voice was insistent.
"Now. You'll feel better."
"I never did." Jim's voice was low and soft, and Blair had to lean forward to hear. He laid a hand on Jim's arm, surprised how cold the skin was. He wondered exactly how long Jim had been "not sleeping." "I figured I could handle it myself, it was nobody's business, and after a while I didn't even know how to talk about it. The things that happened weren't even memories anymore, just feelings. Pictures. Regrets. You know?"
Blair nodded. Yeah, he understood the emotional connection to the past. It was hard to put it into words sometimes even when you were good with words. Which Jim really wasn't.
"So I didn't say anything. To anyone. I figured why say something when no one can change it, right? But Carolyn didn't see it that way. Couldn't live that way, and really, I couldn't blame her."
Blair squeezed Jim's arm and wished he could do more, wished he would've found him earlier, when maybe he could've helped. Maybe it would've saved Jim a lot of pain. Maybe both of them.
"So I don't want you to go through that, Chief. Stuff bottled up and tearing at your insides. I don't want you to turn out like me."
"So talk." The blue eyes didn't look like they were going to take no for an answer, and Blair sighed and pulled his knees up to his chest and decided there were worse things in life than spilling his guts at three in the morning to a tougher-than-nails cop.
He started to talk.
There were no real surprises in what Blair had to say. Jim listened to him tell the story again--the same one he'd already typed up for the report before he'd left the station. He pushed for more details in places, and knew he'd hit a sore spot when he got to the way Kincaid had talked to Sandburg. He'd told Blair he was the kind of man Kincaid could use, and Jim had felt the hair on his arms stand straight on end. Whether Kincaid meant it that way or not, the man was crazy and dangerous and there wasn't anything he wouldn't do in the name of a cause. Jim found himself shifting closer, despite the groaning bed frame. He wondered if all of Sandburg's furniture was designed for short people. He felt like Gulliver in the land of the little people. He could never remember what they were called.
"So, I tried to tell him I was just an anthropologist, but by then he already figured I was a cop and your partner--I mean, colleague--so he--"
"Partner," Jim interrupted. "You are my partner."
"But you said--"
"Well, I changed my mind." The kid was going to ride with him, and he'd certainly proven he could be counted on in the heat of things. Plus there was this weird sense of responsibility Jim felt towards him. For better or worse, Sandburg was definitely his partner.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that." Jim waited for Blair to go on.
"Okay. So, you pretty much know what happened with the helicopter. I mean, you were there, so--"
"Tell me anyway." There was something to do with what had happened on the helicopter that Blair didn't want to talk about. Jim could see it in the way his eyes shifted towards the shadows in the corner, the way his fingers tightened around his bare legs. Something that scared him more than anything else.
"I don't like heights. Not crazy about flying. It just wasn't real comfortable being in a helicopter that was tipping sideways with an open doorway. That's all."
Jim knew the routine. Tell a small truth to hide the thing you don't want to say. Act like it's hurting you to give the information, although Jim suspected even admitting his fear of heights wasn't easy for Blair. Still, there was something more. Something he really didn't want to talk about. Jim was positive.
"You did good today. Kept your head. Didn't panic. Didn't get killed."
"Yeah, I think I'm adding that to my daily to-do list. Don't get killed."
Jim remembered how he'd felt when he'd realized Sandburg wasn't with the others, that Kincaid had taken him to secure his way out of the building. Something in Jim had snapped, and before he'd realized that he had absolutely no inkling of a plan, he'd been sailing through the air on the landing skid of the helicopter. He'd thought for a minute about cuffing himself to the pipe, but if he slipped, he'd break his wrist. Of course, a broken wrist was better than a hard landing from 2000 feet, but he'd given up the thought and concentrated on trying to drag himself up closer to Kincaid, and Sandburg. He didn't know what to do, but he had to do something. At least he had to try.
"When Kincaid leaned out of the helicopter with his gun pointed at me, I thought it was all over," Jim admitted. He rubbed absently at the sore spot on his chest. The only place Kincaid had had to aim was his hand or his head, and either one was going to send him plummeting to the ground. Jim hadn't even been able to get his weapon out.
"Me too." Blair's voice was somewhere else, and Jim realized his partner was trembling slightly. He was fairly certain it wasn't from the cold.
"It was just lucky the helicopter shifted and he lost his balance," Jim said steadily, watching Blair's face. He made a disbelieving sound and closed his eyes.
"Yeah, lucky. Lucky you were there to catch him." Jim reached out and put a hand on Blair's arm, and he could feel the minute vibrations rippling through him. Fear, and Jim was pretty sure he knew now what it meant.
"Instinct. That's all. I thought about how easy it would be to let him go, how it would end all our problems with him."
Blair's blue eyes met Jim's and when he spoke his voice shook like Jim had never heard it shake before. "But you didn't drop him. You didn't do it."
"You didn't do it, but I did, Jim." Blair's blue eyes were wide and pale, his breath coming in shallow waves. "I saw him pointing a gun at you, and I didn't even think about it. It wasn't the helicopter shifting; he didn't lose his balance. I pushed him. Right out the open door. I--I didn't even think about what it meant until he was gone and there was a moment when I was looking at open space and I realized I'd just killed somebody. Except you caught him. God, you caught him, even though he was trying to kill you, and I--I was the one who pushed him. I pushed him."
Jim put his hands on Blair's shoulders, and he wasn't prepared for the angry shove that knocked his hands away.
"Dammit, Jim. Don't you get it? I almost killed somebody today."
"Someone who was trying to kill you and a whole lot of other people."
"It doesn't matter," Blair said stubbornly.
"Someone who was trying to kill me." Blair just shook his head, and Jim pushed past Blair's protests and gripped his shoulders hard. Shook him enough to get him focused on Jim again, get him back in the moment instead of floundering 2000 feet above ground. "Chief, you did what you had to do. It's instinct to do what it takes to survive. All your damn books will tell you that, and you know it. You were--" Jim stumbled over the unfamiliar words, "--protecting me, and I was trying to save you. Kincaid got caught in the middle of a ... natural imperative. There's nothing for you to feel guilty about."
"I pushed him," Blair repeated, looking into Jim's eyes as if he was confessing the worst sin he'd ever committed. Jim fought the impulse to pull the kid into his arms and never let him go. Jesus. They were in trouble if this was going to be typical of what happened to anyone who got between them. He'd leapt onto a helicopter with no plan in sight, and Blair had gone against every fibre of his moral code to prevent Jim from being shot. Jim had a feeling the whole damn world was in trouble.
"I caught him," Jim murmured, not sure what else to say. He had to make sure Blair was never in a position like that again. Jim knew sometimes he had to kill in the course of the job, but Blair didn't. Blair shouldn't have to face that, and Jim was going to do his damnedest to make sure he never had to. Not again.
"I could've killed him."
"You don't understand," Blair mumbled, but Jim really did. He put a hand on the side of Sandburg's face and forced his chin up, forced him to look Jim in the eye and listen.
"Yes, I do," he said evenly. "You never thought you could take someone's life, never thought you could be just as much a throwback to those primal urges as the rest of us. It's a hard lesson to learn, Sandburg, but you're alive and so am I, and so's Kincaid for that matter. Nobody got killed, and it's time to move on."
"It's not that, Jim." Blair took a breath and Jim waited for what he had to say. "It's that ... I would do it again. If I had to. I--I never thought I could and yet I know I'd do it in a heartbeat if it meant--if it meant you not being dead. I mean, I'm glad you're not dead--really glad--but I never thought I could do that for someone. If it came down to it, I always figured I could give up my life if it meant saving somebody else's, but I never thought I could--could kill someone if I had to."
"You didn't actually--"
"Kind of a moot point, and seriously, I'm glad you're not dead, but it's still freakin' me out. I'm not sure I can go through that again. Okay? Can we just leave it at that?"
"Okay," Jim said, and this time he ignored the voice inside that told him to get up and leave, ignored the sensible practical voice that said this would be a good time to walk away from the whole partnership thing, and instead wrapped his arms around Blair's shoulders and hugged him. Blair hugged him in return, and Jim knew without a doubt the entire world had shifted when he'd met Blair Sandburg. He had a feeling he was going to be reeling from the aftershocks for some time to come.
"Get some sleep, Chief," Jim said fondly as he turned to head back to the living room. He was halfway towards the couch, having neatly circumvented the rubber plant this time, when he heard a faint whisper.
He smiled and settled down to grab a few hours of sleep on the couch from hell.
Blair tiptoed past the living room area as quietly as he could, but the groan from the couch told him Jim was awake and feeling every muscle in his body.
"Jesus, Sandburg. This couch should be declared a dangerous weapon. I think the rack would be more comfortable to sleep on."
"I warned you," Blair said, heading towards the coffee maker and starting a pot of Colombian Dark Roast. The canister was almost empty, and he jotted a reminder on a yellow sticky note to get more coffee.
"Yeah, yeah." Jim sat up and stretched. Blair could hear things cracking as Jim moved, and he knew that probably wasn't a good sign. Well, at least he could make Jim breakfast. He pulled open the small fridge and surveyed its contents. Two cartons of leftover Chinese food, a whole lot of vegetables, and nothing at all resembling anything he could pass off as breakfast fare.
"I'll buy you breakfast."
Jim groaned loudly and glared at the couch. He looked like he was contemplating taking his gun out and shooting it. Blair wasn't sure he'd stop him if he wanted to. The couch had definitely seen better days.
"Let me guess. Nothing in the fridge but tofu and soy milk?"
"Not even that much."
"That I can do," Blair said, pouring Jim the first cup from the still percolating pot. A drop hit the warming tray with a sizzle. Jim was swallowing his first mouthful when his cell phone chirped loudly. He grabbed for his jacket pocket, extricated the phone and flipped it open.
"Ellison." Sipping his coffee, Jim leaned against the back of the couch and mouth one word in Blair's direction: Simon. "Yeah, the kid's fine." Jim grinned at him. "No, I think he's going to be just fine. ... Yes, I'm sure. See you Monday."
"Operation Baby-Sit Sandburg is officially closed," Jim said, snapping the phone shut. "Operation Partnership starts Monday."
Blair looked up from his own steaming cup of coffee, and shook his head. "Are you sure, man? I mean, all that stuff I said last night--"
"I'm more sure than I've ever been, Sandburg. Trust me, okay?"
"But, Jim, what if I can't ..." Blair trailed off. He didn't know how to say it. He wanted to be there for Jim, wanted to help him with the Sentinel thing, but coming face to face with exactly what he would do to protect Jim had scared the shit out of him, and he wasn't sure he wanted to go down that road again. At least not until he'd come to terms with how he felt about what happened.
There was a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "It'll be okay. Get dressed and let's grab some breakfast."
Blair downed his coffee and ran for the shower. He tied up his hair so it wouldn't get wet, and scrubbed quickly. In five minutes, he was toweling off to the sounds of Jim puttering around in his make-shift living area, rinsing the coffee pot, tidying up. It was kind of comforting. Blair pulled on a pair of jeans and a soft grey t-shirt. He was alive and Jim was alive, and really, that's what counted. All the rest was details.
"Hey, Jim? Just out of curiosity. What the hell happened to my rubber plant? It looked like it was mauled by wild animals."
"Casualty of war, Chief."
Blair caught the jacket Jim threw his way, and followed him out the door.
End Surviving the Siege by Lacey McBain: email@example.com
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