The number of people I have to thank on this one is phenomenal, and I wouldn't trade any of them for the world. Steph, and Linda... you both put up with my screaming fits of writers block so calmly, and offered your help once I truly looked desperate -- and Daydreamer, the ego boosts and the writing help were what I needed. Without the three of you, I think this would still be on the hard drive somewhere, languishing. There are some scenes that might never have been written. Also, I have to thank the wonderful people who previewed a couple of scenes for me -- it helped! Thanks also to my psych professor, whose style of teaching and love of her subject got me to get into the degree program... and her prowling about the room in a fit of pretended paranoia got one scene started, which became the subplot. ;-D The one who has to go through this to post it naturally deserves some credit (hi, wolfpup!). And, of course, my wonderful beta, Lyn -- who put up with my ellipses *G* and all, just to be able to let me keep one Australianism. And the turnaround time was amazing.
Warnings: Angst be ahead! Devoted Carolyn haters might want to skip this one; I played nice with her. Sort of. Define nice.
She had come up two flights of stairs, despite the fact that the elevator was working, because she remembered days when it didn't. She'd walked down the hallway, noting that the creaky board halfway to the apartment door had been fixed. Furthermore, apartment 307 had once read "07" because the three had fallen off, and everyone knew that since it was the third floor, it had to be 307.
And now, she'd come back.
Carolyn Plummer had remained friends with her ex-husband since their divorce, but she hadn't been back to the loft they'd lived in. She had hated the place, despised the quiet, despised his need for perfect order. But he'd been happy there, and he owned the place, so there they stayed. When they'd gotten together after their divorce, they'd met in other places -- restaurants, her apartment - - but this was the first time she'd come back here.
Carolyn wondered if she would recognize the place. When she'd left, it had contained all the personality of an expensive hotel room.
She raised her hand to knock on the door -- it swung open, and she ended up hitting her ex in the center of his chest. "Jim! How the hell did you..." Best not to ask, she decided after a second's thought.
Jim Ellison grinned. "Carolyn, what the hell are you...? It's great to see you, but when did you get in from California?"
"Last night," she replied. "I thought I'd surprise you."
"That you did. Come on in." Jim motioned her into the apartment.
Carolyn took in the surroundings, amazed by the homey feel of the living room alone. That was what she'd really hated about the loft, before -- its total lack of a lived-in quality. It had that now, with tribal knick-knacks sitting on shelves next to photos -- and the lump of blankets on the couch that had a few stray curly locks of dark hair sticking out of the top. "Is he asleep?"
Jim nodded, tightening his bathrobe around himself. It was noon, but he was still wearing his bathrobe. He HAD relaxed. "Yeah -- he fell asleep there, and I was too tired to drag his ass into the bedroom. He's heavier than he looks."
Carolyn chuckled to herself. She liked this Jim Ellison a lot better than the one she'd married. And she liked simply being his friend. "You know, I really have missed Cascade."
"Who says you can't go home again?" Jim pulled her into a quick, friendly hug. "It really is nice seeing you."
Carolyn smiled, accepting the hug. "It's good to see you again, too." She looked around the living room, specifically at Jim's sleeping roommate. "Did you want to go into the kitchen, or...?"
Jim shrugged. "Nah, it's okay. Sit down on the couch somewhere; just not on Sandburg. He's not a really light sleeper or anything; we won't bother him."
Carolyn assessed Jim, who looked like he hadn't been up for very long himself. "Late night last night?"
"Yeah." Jim nodded. "Stakeout -- we didn't get back 'til nearly five this morning." He raised an eyebrow, looking contemplative. "It wouldn't have been so bad if something had actually happened."
Some things would never change, Carolyn noted with a small smile. Jim had hated inaction as long as she'd known him. He knew how to wait patiently for something to happen, but that didn't mean he actually liked doing it. "So, he's still riding with you?" she asked, a bit hopefully. She knew that Sandburg's presence had done wonders for Jim's attitude even in the first few months they'd worked together. And now, since that whole Sentinel thing had gotten into the news, she wasn't sure just how the kid figured into things, but no regular researcher would commit career suicide for a subject the way Sandburg had at that press conference. She'd caught the end of the newscast; it had been enough.
Jim nodded. "Yeah. Things are a little... crazy lately, but..." It was obvious that he was debating how much to tell her, wondering how much she knew.
She decided to help him out a little. "Jim, I saw that press conference."
"Oh." Was that a flash of guilt she saw in his eyes? "I wish it hadn't come to that. It was bad enough when that book got accidentally released, but then when they thought it was the thesis..."
"Jim." Carolyn wanted to laugh, but she knew he'd take it the wrong way. "With eyes like that, how can you possibly be so blind?"
"What?" Genuine surprise crossed his features.
Carolyn reached out to set one hand on his wrist. "I know he was lying. At the press conference. I knew something was different about you. I just didn't know what to call it before. I probably should have suspected something when he started asking me about you for that paper of his, but I had no idea what he was really studying about you..."
Jim nodded. "Things got really crazy once that got out. Those damn reporters. They were everywhere. I couldn't do my job, Carolyn. They even called my father, my brother..."
"Me," Carolyn supplied. Off his look, she added, "Don't worry; I didn't tell them anything. Nothing they could have printed, anyway."
"I wish there could have been a better way out of it," Jim sighed. "I never meant for Blair to sacrifice himself like that. The official story is that it was a novel, and it was mistaken for the thesis. In the insanity of the moment, there wasn't any other way to make it public except to call that press conference, but..." He shook his head. "It's not fair to him. I mean, there's some negotiations going on with the school and the publishing company, but that's looking like it's going to go on forever. Most of his friends have figured out the truth, or they've figured out their own reasons for why he did what he did. Still, it's so hard for him. The people who don't know him -- even at the station, there are still a few jerks who hound him. I do what I can, but I can't protect him from the whole world. I'd like to, but he's not a kid."
Carolyn nodded, smiling to herself as she realized that this was one of the longest string of sentences she'd heard from him at one time. His partner was one of the few subjects that could get him talking like this. "Sounds like you've found yourself a hell of a friend." That was an understatement. She was a bit jealous, but she could admit it now. She was jealous that Blair had been able to do for Jim what she never could. But she was glad for Jim's sake that it had happened.
"Yeah, he's something else, all right." Jim smiled. He had such a beautiful smile, if it was genuine. This one was. "I just never realized it until I almost lost him."
"What, with Lash?" Carolyn asked. That had been only a couple of months after Blair had come along. "That soon?"
Jim shook his head. "No. Lash scared the hell out of both of us, but there was this woman, Alex Barnes..."
The name triggered a memory for Carolyn; she'd seen something on the news about stolen VX nerve gas... "What, that woman who took off with the nerve gas for Mexico?" She was really beginning to wonder why everything seemed to happen or originate in Cascade. "You were on that case?"
"Yeah." Jim nodded. "He met her before I did; she played him pretty well. He thought she was just someone who needed his help."
"Alex..." Jim paused, faltering as he searched for the right words. "She was like me, Carolyn."
Carolyn's eyes widened. "You mean the heightened sensory awareness thing?" A criminal with an edge like that was a frightening prospect.
"Uh-huh." Jim bit his lip. "We figured her out, but she decided she had to get rid of Blair because he knew her secrets."
Carolyn frowned. "What happened?" Judging by the vaguely haunted look on Jim's face, she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to know. This was obviously a very bad memory for him.
"She drowned him," Jim said, his voice flat. The emotions were warring in his eyes, though -- his eyes always were so expressive. "We got there too late to stop her. He was clinically dead for several minutes. It's a miracle he survived, especially without brain damage. His lungs were still damaged, but it could have been so much worse."
"Oh, my." Carolyn wasn't sure what else to say. She had thought at first that Blair would have been gone after the first rough case, but he stayed, even after Lash -- and even after dying, apparently. What was it about that relationship that made him keep coming back? That would have tested the limits of even the best of friendships. Was there something about the Sentinel thing, or was it just a friendship so deep and so close that nothing could tear them apart?
"I don't know what exactly keeps him here," Jim replied. What, had he learned to read minds, too? "I'm just glad he stays. I need him, Carolyn. I mean, not all the time, but... It's kind of like a safety net, you know? You don't need it every time, but the one time you do..." He shook his head again. "I don't know why he puts up with me; I guess I should just be grateful he does. It can't all be the Sentinel thing. I mean, if that was all, any sane human being would have gotten the hell away from me a long time ago."
Ah, so he did still have those old abandonment issues. She couldn't exactly argue in this case - - with all Sandburg had been through, leaving probably would have been a wise decision for his continued well being. But so many people had left Jim over the years -- and she knew that she had been one, even though the divorce had been amicable. Not everyone's leaving Jim had been voluntary, like when his team had died in Peru, but the end result was pretty much the same. Jim was afraid to trust people, because they always left. He tried to push people away from him -- hurt them before they could hurt him. That had been the final straw in their marriage; Carolyn idly wondered how many times Jim had done it to Blair. And how many times Blair had ignored it and stayed anyway. She opted for the humorous response; it was a trait she'd picked up from him years before. "Well, 'sane' isn't exactly a word I'd have applied to him in the first place..."
Jim chuckled, his expression communicating to her that he understood and appreciated the attempt. His expression sobered, however, and he regarded Blair -- who was still asleep -- for a long moment. "I don't deserve him, Carolyn."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," Carolyn advised. "I mean, he wouldn't stay around if there weren't something there."
"Is this going to be that 'human nature' lecture again?" Jim teased. He grew serious again in a moment, however. "I've been a real ass to him sometimes."
Carolyn shrugged slightly. "Jim, I could turn this into another human nature lecture if you really wanted. I mean, it happens. You're not exactly living a low-stress life. Everyone has a few bad days."
"No, this went beyond that..." Jim sighed, heavily. "I don't know if it was these Sentinel instincts he's always talking about kicking up, or maybe I am just that territorial. When he first started working with Alex, I went nuts. I don't know why. I really did want to protect him, and I thought that the best way to do that was to send him away. I packed his stuff up for him -- and if that wasn't enough, I accused him of betraying me."
Carolyn didn't know what to say. She might have had a few words (something along the lines of "wake up" might have been as nice as it would have gotten) for Jim at the time if she'd been around... but it was in the past; nothing could be done to change that. And it was obvious Jim regretted the way things had gone. "Well, he came back, so it obviously didn't break things permanently."
"I know," Jim said, "and I'm just grateful he was so damn understanding in the end. I know I hurt him, and I don't think I could ever apologize enough for what happened. But he came back, even after everything with Alex in Mexico, on the beach..."
Carolyn didn't ask. She wasn't sure she wanted to know.
Jim continued. "All I could think about, while we were doing CPR on him at that fountain, was the last time we'd talked. Or I talked anyway. The last thing I told him was that I didn't need him; he should find someone else to study. Maybe that's part of why I was so desperate -- I didn't want him to die thinking I really felt that way."
"Maybe you were desperate because he's your best friend and you didn't want to lose him." Carolyn smiled. "Sometimes, it's that simple. I'm no psychologist, but I know you, Jim. Better than you think. I know the tough Army training doesn't let you get desperate just because someone might die..."
"Hell, it can be a daily occurrence," Jim muttered.
Carolyn went on, "But sometimes you just have to screw the training. Don't try to explain all your emotions -- just... oh, hell, I sound like Dr. Laura." She smiled, both at the realization -- and the memory of trying to have similar conversations with Jim, and how obstinate he used to get about it. My, things had changed, and the reason was only about three feet away from them.
Jim nodded, conceding the point. "Yeah, but then when the diss got leaked, I turned around and did it again. I didn't kick him out, but I might as well have. I thought he'd betrayed me -- just decided that the money and the glory must have been too tempting." He gave her a pointed look. "He must be a real masochist down deep -- I keep rejecting him, and he keeps coming back."
Carolyn had to admit that it didn't sound like either of the mentioned incidents had been among Jim's better moments, but at least he admitted it. Before the "Sandburg Revolution", as she'd heard it called once, that kind of thing had been par for the course with Jim Ellison. "Maybe he forgave you, Jim. Someone had to, since it doesn't sound like you plan on letting up on yourself anytime soon." Guilt had been one of Jim's more long-standing traits -- once he decided that something was his fault, heaven help anyone who tried to persuade him to believe otherwise. "And he's human, too. I'm sure there are a few times that he's thought he screwed up, but you let it go later. We're not perfect creatures. Life would be too boring if we were." Sometimes, her pragmatic approach to life paid off. And sometimes, Jim's more intuitive view of things worked better. Perhaps that was another reason their romantic relationship had never worked out. They hadn't figured how to coordinate their opposite methodologies. Some people really WERE better friends than lovers.
If Carolyn were to be completely honest, she would have had to admit that she had listened to a rumor or two about the exact nature of the Ellison-Sandburg relationship; theories on why the formerly lone wolf detective had taken in an eclectic flower child who might have benefited from the use of Ritalin. People wondered if they were partners in strictly the cop sense of the term, or if something else was going on. Carolyn didn't know if she'd have put it past Jim; with as cold as he had been toward her at times while they were married, she did wonder for awhile, early on. She had no problems with the whole concept personally. People's private lives were their business, as far as she was concerned. But time had led her to see the friendship for what it was -- a friendship, but one much more profound than most human beings shared.
Jim looked up, an inquisitive expression on his face. "Coffee's ready."
Prior to everything that had happened with the Sentinel paper, Carolyn would have demanded to know how he knew. She was able to smell the coffee from their position, of course, but she couldn't hear the machine to know whether it was working or stopped. But now she was able to relax, and simply accept that he DID know. "Good. You're not still drinking that high-octane version, are you?"
"Yes," Jim answered, standing up to make his way to the kitchen. Her face must have showed her reaction, because he laughed. "I'm kidding. Ever since this whole sensory thing came online, I haven't been able to make it that strong anymore."
"That's probably for the better." Carolyn smiled as she pulled a couple of mugs from the cabinets. She should have known that everything would still be where it had been when she'd left. If nothing else, Jim was predictable. "I never could stand it in the first place." They sat down at the kitchen table, and she finally got the courage to ask the question she'd been wondering about for awhile. She wasn't sure how Jim would react to it if the news weren't good. "Jim, about Blair..." Somewhere along the line, she had become comfortable with his first name.
"What about him?" Jim asked.
"What's he doing now?"
Jim picked up the coffee mug, contemplating it for a moment as though it might answer for him. "He's working with us. We couldn't just throw him to the wolves -- so to speak, anyway."
"Oh, so he's a consultant now?" Carolyn asked.
"Actually..." Jim inclined his head slightly in that 'what can I say' gesture of his. "He's a detective. Just finished at the Academy a couple of months ago. He had experience working with us for those years before, and his Master's, we were able to get him in. People will still talk, but it's nothing any other civilian couldn't have done, given the opportunity."
Carolyn nodded; she'd seen similar cases before. Well -- not exactly similar, but... "Yeah, it's not a necessarily new concept. This dissertation thing, though. How's that affecting everything?"
Jim took a sip of coffee. "Not too much at the station -- except those few idiots that crop up now and then, but they were the same idiots who gave him crap when he was an observer. Simon already knew about the Sentinel thing, and we sort of had to tell the chief the truth eventually. Since the department's official story is that it was a novel and the chief knows the truth about me now too, it wasn't a big problem to get him into the Academy. I just wonder about its effect on Blair. I know there are probably other things he'd rather be doing with his life right now. I guess I worry that we didn't give him any other choice."
"He could have signed on as a consultant," Carolyn reminded him.
Jim had the grace to look abashed, if only for a moment. "Actually, the only position open at the time was in Support Services, and I wouldn't have seen him much at all during the day. We mentioned it, but..."
"You wanted him to stay your partner." Carolyn understood. "It makes sense. But you know Blair. He's not the type to do something that he's completely against. Talk to him if it's bothering you."
"He's fine," Jim replied, a bit mockingly. "He's always fine. Hell, he could be half-dead, but he's fine."
"Didn't anyone ever tell you what 'fine' stood for?" Carolyn asked.
Carolyn chuckled; she'd heard this from a friend a few weeks before and thought immediately of Jim. "Feeling Irrational, Neurotic, and Entirely overwhelmed."
Jim laughed softly. "That's about it some days. I worry that it's a little too true for him, though. He's been really keyed up lately."
"It's probably stress. A lot's happened."
"Yeah, you can say that again." Jim got up to pour another cup of coffee as Blair began to stir on the couch. He looked over his shoulder to call into the living room. "Nice of you to join us, Sleeping Beauty."
"Funny." Blair, still bleary-eyed and only half-awake, managed a half smile and ran a hand through his hair in a vain attempt to tame the wild curls. "Wait a minute. Us?" He squinted, then grabbed his glasses from the coffee table. "Carolyn?!"
Carolyn waved. "Hi."
Blair shrugged, then shook his head. "Okay. Nice to see you again. One of you can explain this to me when I'm more coherent."
Jim raised both of his eyebrows playfully. "So, should we schedule a date for sometime next year?"
"Don't give up your day job, Ellison." Blair shook his head as he headed toward the French doors of his bedroom. "Come to think of it, don't give up your night job, either."
Blair shivered dramatically as he came into the bullpen a few days later, shaking a few stubborn small, white flakes from his hair and coat. They melted within moments, though, and Blair cast a contemptuous glance at the door, as though he could change the weather by an act of will alone. "Well, guys, I've got bad news and I've got worse news. The bad news is, it's snowing. The worse news is -- it's snowing."
"Just makes your world a little colder and wetter, eh, Chief?" Jim teased.
"Laugh it up all you want." Blair took off his coat and laid it over his desk chair. "I hate snow."
Jim smiled and handed his partner a file folder. "So, you've never thrown a snowball, or made a snowman, or--"
Blair held up a hand. "Snow's pretty, and it's got a few limited uses, okay? I'll admit THAT. But that's it. I wouldn't mind snow if it weren't so cold."
"That's kind of the point, Chief."
"Whatever." Blair began to flip through the file Jim had given him. "So, Kurt Alexander... looks like your random run-of-the-mill nut. He was arrested a couple of times for stalking -- didn't physically hurt anyone. Why's he our concern?"
"It's a little more off-the-record," Jim replied, shrugging. He nodded for Blair to sit down. "Check out where he was stalking those women."
Blair looked up, surprise written all over his expressive face. "San Francisco. Jim, this is way out of our... wait, you don't think he's got anything to do with Carolyn, do you?"
It was obvious to Jim that Blair was trying to follow Jim's line of reasoning, and Jim opted to make Blair's job a little easier. "I didn't think anything about it at first. But I've been seeing a guy who looks a hell of a lot like that around the loft the past couple days."
"How'd you get this file, though?" Blair asked, frowning. "Did you have a sketch made and run it through the database or something? That's paranoid, even for you."
Jim chuckled softly. "You know, someone once said that paranoia is nothing more than a heightened awareness of the senses... and we know all about THAT. But, no, I didn't. Carolyn had a case file with her; she accidentally left it in the kitchen. I saw the picture and recognized the face. THEN I ran the search."
"Oh." Blair nodded. "That actually kind of makes sense." He dug around in his desk drawer for a moment, finally producing a hair tie, and began to pull his hair back into a ponytail. "So, tell me. What are your instincts telling you about this? Do you think this guy's stalking Carolyn? Does he know about her being with the police?" Blair frowned again, then looked up, concern tinging his tone when he spoke. "Jim, do you think she came to Cascade to get away from his guy, and he followed her?"
"I don't know," Jim admitted, trying not to let his frustration show, "but I'm trying to figure it out." He stood, then reached out, automatically tucking a rebellious curl behind Blair's ear. "Grab your coat; I've got a meeting with one of my snitches in twenty minutes."
Blair stood up as well, and began to pull his coat on. "You think they'd really know anything about this Alexander guy?"
"It can't hurt to ask while we're there." Jim shrugged. "But this is actually about the jewelry heist. You know -- the real case we're supposed to be investigating."
Blair smiled. "Fine by me, but warn me before you switch topics like that again. I'm gonna get whiplash one of these days."
Jim opened his mouth to remind Blair that they'd had conversations where Blair had changed the subject mid-sentence, but then opted against it. He shook his head slowly, and patted his partner's shoulder. "Sure, Sandburg, whatever makes you happy."
That earned him a throaty chuckle. "It's gonna take more than that, man; let me tell you."
"I'll throw in some Prozac, and we'll call it a deal," Jim teased, with a saccharine grin.
"Yeah, man," Blair replied, "sounds great -- everyone's favorite one-eyed happy pill." He shrugged, and the smile on his face wasn't a true smile anymore, but instead his 'I'm smiling so you won't try to cheer me up' smile. Before Jim could ask what was wrong, Blair steered the discussion in another direction.
"So, what's this guy of yours know about the jewel thieves?"
Jim bit the corner of his lip for a second, puzzling over his partner's original reaction, then answered the question. "I don't know. Guess we'll find out." But he did know that he and Blair were going to have a talk soon -- Blair had seemed far too troubled for far too long, and Jim wanted to put an end to that as soon as possible.
The meeting with Jim's snitch had been rather uneventful. Griff, as he liked to be called, didn't really have much to tell, except that the thieves seemed to have a definite preference for emeralds -- which was a trend that the detectives were beginning to notice, so confirmation was nice, but it gave them little to go on. Now there was just the write-up, more paperwork, and entertaining themselves until they did find a decent lead to follow.
"So, tell us, Megan," Blair began, "how was the club last night?"
Megan looked up, an innocent expression on her face. "How would I know?"
Blair chuckled, leaning forward across his desk. "Come on, now. I saw you dancing at the Christmas party." He looked to Jim. "You were a bit occupied with that cute investigator from Homicide, but let me tell you, Megan can dance." He shrugged at Megan, standing up to come around the desk and perch on a clear corner. "Besides, I heard you mentioning it to Rhonda yesterday."
Megan rolled her eyes and gathered up some papers on her own desk. "Oh, Sandy. It's all in fun."
"Now, this is interesting." Jim came to stand beside his partner, grinning widely. "So, how about a little demonstration, Ginger?"
"Ginger," Megan muttered, shaking her head. "You boys have entirely too little to amuse yourselves with."
"On the contrary," Henri Brown contributed, strolling over, "we're quite easily amused. Hey, Rafe will dance with you! Won't you, Brian?"
Rafe made a non-committal noise, and went back to his paperwork. A moment later, he spoke. "I'm with Connor. You all haven't got enough to do with your lives."
"The boy can dance," Henri insisted. He glanced at Jim. "And Sandburg's right, so can Megan."
Jim chuckled. "This, I've got to see."
"Will it shut you all up?" Megan asked, peeking at them over the top of her computer.
"Probably not permanently," Blair admitted, "but we'll be happy."
Megan turned a long-suffering look to Rafe. "Well?"
Rafe laughed softly. "I guess we can take one for the team." He stood up, grinning roguishly, and extended an arm to Megan. She rose as well, taking his hand.
"Oh, now we need music," Henri said, turning to his computer and calling up a file. A jazzy beat began to play, and he stepped back to join Jim and Blair. "This is gonna be good."
The song wasn't very long, only a minute or so, but "Walking in Memphis" was the next song in the computer's queue.
Jim raised an eyebrow, and looked at Henri. "Cher's version?"
Brown shrugged. "I like the beat better."
As the song began to climax, the two dancers really started to get into it. Rafe spun Megan against him, and released her quickly. Almost effortlessly, she ducked and twisted so that she was facing him again.
He said, "Tell me, are you a Christian child?"
And I said, "Man, I am tonight!"
Blair chuckled, idly tapping the beat against his desk top with one finger. "See? I told you."
"They're good," Jim agreed. "Not that I doubted you, of course..."
"Of course not," Blair replied dryly.
No one noticed Simon Banks coming out of his office. He stepped into the bullpen, then stopped, watching the scene before him. Megan and Rafe were still dancing, with a small crowd either gathered or in the process of gathering. After staring for a moment, he shook his head and turned to the group. "Okay, come on now, people. That's very cute, but you can knock it off any time now. What do you think this is, the Copacabana?!"
Megan turned, tossing a grin to Simon, and waved as she went back to her desk. Rafe shrugged blithely, and returned to his paperwork, as Henri went to turn off the music on the computer.
Blair grinned at the captain. "Ah, yes, the Copacabana. Where music and passion were always the fashion..."
Jim shook his head. "I cannot believe you actually know the WORDS to that song, Chief."
"Hey, not intentionally," Blair defended, hopping down from his desk so he could sit behind it again. "But that and 'Friends in Low Places' are, like, the ultimate songs for people to do karaoke with at college events. Usually the same group doing both, too -- more than once if they're drunk."
Simon shared a glance with Jim. "And to think we've been missing out on these things all these years since we got out of school."
"Depressing, isn't it?" Jim replied wryly.
Now it was Blair's turn to roll his eyes. "If you're upset about THAT, you really DO need to get a life, man."
Simon just shook his head again, and dropped a file folder on Jim's desk. "There's more for your unofficial background check on this Alexander character. Dare I ask what you want with a Frisco stalker?" He suddenly frowned. "This wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that your ex-wife lives in San Francisco -- would it? Or would it involve the fact that Carolyn has recently dropped into Cascade without warning?"
"We think he might be after her," Jim replied, not looking up from the file as he flipped through it. "He hasn't done anything overly threatening yet, but he's been lurking around the loft, I think. I just wanted to keep an eye on him. If he makes one move, though..."
"We'll be all over it," Simon assured him. Not only was it one of their own, not only was Carolyn a friend, but if this guy had committed crimes in California and then started in Washington, Simon could likely convince the mayor that the matter of crossing state lines could qualify the case for Major Crimes to work on rather than another division.
Jim nodded. "Thank you, sir."
"Don't mention it," Simon said, then picked up a crime scene photo that was teetering on the edge of Blair's desk. "You guys found anything more on these emerald thieves?"
Blair sighed, shaking his head. "Nothing. These guys are good. I hate smart criminals. If we're right, the next heist should be tomorrow, downtown, but there are about ten jewelry stores downtown, not counting the ones that have already been hit. We're trying to narrow the field, but it may come down to a wild guess."
"Then make it a damn good guess," Simon advised, walking off.
Blair nodded, then turned to his partner. "Jim? Is it just me or have our lives been completely insane lately?"
"You're just NOW noticing this, Chief?"
"It's still snowing," Blair complained, looking out the window. "And it's actually sticking this time!" Snow flurries -- sometimes called 'white rain' -- weren't uncommon in Cascade, but accumulation tended to be a rarer scenario.
"Ooh." Megan hopped up and joined them at the window. "It IS sticking!"
Blair raised an eyebrow. "And you're quite welcome to it. I hear Sydney doesn't get snow. Hey, it's summer there now, isn't it? I think I'll go to Sydney."
Jim just chuckled, shaking his head. "Now, that's not a bad idea; we could probably scare up a lot of fun down in Oz. But, really, Chief, if it makes you feel any better, most of this snow will have turned to slush by tomorrow."
"And ice." Blair sank into the chair behind his desk. "I don't know why I ever decided to live in Washington. I should have gone someplace warmer -- like Aruba."
"On the beach with the babes, eh, Chief?" Jim teased.
"Damn straight." Blair nodded, and then looked over Jim's shoulder at the bullpen's door. "Carolyn's here. She's talking to Rhonda, over by the door."
Jim smiled condescendingly. "I know." His back was to the door, so he must have been listening.
"Smart aleck Sentinels." Blair shoved his partner's shoulder playfully.
"Damn straight." Jim echoed Blair's earlier words. He checked his watch. "It's just past four; I'd better go pick up those files from Records."
"All right," Blair agreed. "I could go; if you wanted."
Jim shook his head. "No, that's okay. I've got it." He stood up and left, pausing at the door to greet Carolyn.
Megan and Blair watched the interaction between the two for a brief moment. Megan frowned slightly. "Who is she?"
"Oh, that's Carolyn Plummer," Blair answered. "She lives in San Francisco now, but she used to head up our Technical Support division."
"She seemed pretty friendly with Jim," Megan observed.
Blair grinned. "They used to be married."
Megan raised an eyebrow. "Really? You were right; he DOES have a thing for redheads. How long were they married?"
"Two years or so, I think."
Megan's other eyebrow joined the first. "Wow. Woman must be a saint."
Henri, standing nearby, just chuckled. "Ah, Carolyn's a nice gal, but you've gotta be careful. She can be a real hellcat when she gets angry."
"I like her already," Megan mused.
Carolyn came over to join them. "Hi, guys." She looked at Megan, and smiled. "I don't believe we've met. I'm Carolyn Plummer."
Megan stood up. "Megan Connor. I guess you could say I'm a fairly new fixture around here."
"Fixture is right." Blair grinned at her teasingly. "Weren't we originally only supposed to have you for a couple weeks?"
"Well, as I recall hearing, Sandy, your original contract with this place was only for ninety days," Megan responded, pushing him gently. "Now look at you."
Blair inclined his head slightly, conceding the point. "Touche."
"So," Carolyn asked Megan, "adjusted to working in the middle of the boy's club yet?"
Megan shrugged. "It wasn't hard; I've got four brothers. Besides, these guys know that if they mess with me, I'll kick their asses."
Carolyn laughed. "Oh, I think you and I could get along really well."
Henri grinned at Blair, patting the younger man's shoulder. "I'll tell you something, Hairboy. I think we've just witnessed the beginning of what could be a beautiful friendship."
"So what's the fuss out there?" Simon asked casually as Jim entered his office with a small stack of files. He'd heard a little bit of commotion, but hadn't seen it as anything he really needed to investigate at the moment.
Jim smiled, setting two of the folders on the chair nearest Simon's desk. "Carolyn's here."
"Hmm?" Simon looked up in surprise, then peered out through the blinds of his office. "Well, I'll be damned. Where'd she come from?"
"San Francisco," Jim replied dryly.
"Cute, Jim. I know THAT. I mean, when did she come up HERE?"
Jim shrugged. "Ten minutes ago, maybe? It was right before I went down to Records. Frankly, the longer I leave her and Connor together, the more worried I'm getting."
"Two of a kind, I suppose." It was Simon's turn to shrug. "I thought I was going to have to hunt her down while she was in town. Tell her to come in here, will you?"
Jim exited the office briefly, and returned with Carolyn following. She grinned at the captain. "Been awhile, hasn't it, Simon?"
"Yeah, it has," Simon agreed. "What's California got that we don't?"
"More earthquakes," Simon countered, teasingly.
"Well, we've got those here, too, now and then," Carolyn answered. "But the job offer was too tempting to refuse."
Simon nodded. "That's usually the way it goes."
"Serena's taking good care of you boys, though, right?" Carolyn asked.
"Absolutely. But we still miss you."
That got a soft laugh out of her. "It's so nice to be loved."
A knock on the door drew their attention, and Blair stuck his head into the office. "Hate to interrupt, but there's a guy from the mayor's office who wants to talk to you, Simon."
"Tell him to call back," Simon told him. He didn't want to deal with anyone from the mayor's office right then -- or, ever, really.
"He's kind of right here now." Blair shrugged apologetically.
"Okay, okay." Simon gave in with a resigned sigh. "Send him in."
Carolyn waved as she turned to the door. "See you later."
"Yeah, don't make yourself scarce." Simon waited until she left, but stopped Jim before the detective could make an exit as well. "Jim."
Simon frowned. "Is Sandburg all right? He hasn't exactly been himself lately."
Jim nodded. "Yeah, I've noticed it, too. He's been off. I think he's getting a bit stressed out. He won't talk to me about it, though. All I can really do when he gets like this is wait until he's ready. Otherwise, I'm just wasting my breath."
"True," Simon allowed. "It's not exactly a cushy job, is it?"
"Well, hopefully, he'll come around soon." Simon took a sip of coffee from the mug in front of him. "Now, go on. The sooner I deal with this guy the mayor sent, the sooner he can leave."
Finally, a few blessed moments of peace. Blair slipped into the driver's seat of his Volvo, shut the door, and let his forehead fall against the steering wheel. When had life become so exhausting? He was tired -- not sleepy-tired, just that mind-numbing exhaustion that had seemed to be his constant companion lately.
Everything had been so crazy recently. Their caseloads had been more difficult, money had been tight, and then there were always the lasting issues from the dissertation. Blair sighed heavily. He didn't regret what he'd done for Jim; there hadn't been any other way out at the time. The cost had been high, though. It wasn't the main problem in his life, not anymore, but it still lurked in the background. And, if Blair were to be entirely honest with himself, the thing that really bothered him about it was Jim's initial reaction. He had been so sure that he'd been betrayed. Talking about it wouldn't help, though -- it hadn't then, and Jim certainly didn't want to talk about it now. Blair supposed he'd just learn to deal with it, like he'd been dealing with everything else.
And now Carolyn was back in Cascade, with stalker problems. One more thing to deal with. Blair didn't blame her -- frankly, if he'd had a problem like that, he'd have gone to Jim, too. Blair considered Carolyn to be a friend as well, and honestly wanted to help. It was just that the timing could certainly have been better.
When it rained, it poured. And it seemed that it was always raining (or snowing) in Cascade.
When had it come down to this? When had things become such a mess? He'd been happy once. Now, Blair's world was filled with a sense of hopelessness and confusion. He hated it.
He wanted his life back.
Carolyn smiled, reminiscent, as she walked into the parking garage. It had been nice to go back to the station -- visiting one of her old haunts and seeing friends had been just the thing to get her mind off the reason she had really come to Cascade. She'd felt constantly uneasy at "home" in San Francisco lately; every time she had looked out her window, she'd seen someone hiding in the dark alleys. Somehow, somewhere, she had picked up someone and he followed her everywhere. Even to Washington, apparently.
Carolyn had decided she needed to leave town, thinking maybe that would grant her a reprieve from her 'shadow'. Cascade had seemed the logical place. It hadn't mattered in the end, though; she'd still been followed.
A hint of movement off to her right caused Carolyn to jump. She looked, and cursed softly. She shouldn't have been that jumpy! It was just someone in their car. But closer examination revealed it to be Blair Sandburg's car; he was slouched over with his head on the steering wheel. Concerned, Carolyn walked over, and tapped the window lightly, not wanting to startle him. "Blair?"
He looked up, his expression weary. "Hi."
"Are you okay?"
Blair nodded. "Fine. Just tired."
"Long day?" she guessed.
"That's an understatement," Blair replied, opening the car door. He got out, and crossed around to sit on the hood. "Everything okay with you?"
"As good as it gets," Carolyn said, shrugging. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Just ducky," Blair answered, a touch sarcastically. He was about to say more when a car drove by, the radio a bit too loud. The news was on, and as the car passed, the two were able to hear a snatch of a broadcast about something that was going on at Rainier. Blair's expression changed abruptly, and he turned back to Carolyn. "You know, that's what really drives me nuts about the whole thing."
"The whole business with that paper. You know, I changed my topic a couple months before I ever finished that Sentinel paper. It just wasn't going to work. I mean, yeah, I could have done a closed defense, and only the committee would have known everything. But the school's gonna be after me to publish, right? Especially with something that ground-breaking. So, I change names to protect the innocent -- but anyone who knows me would figure it out! I got to thinking about that, though, and the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I got. Then it hit me. I'd kept notes about that whole closed society of law enforcement thing. The thin blue line crap, right?"
"Yeah?" Carolyn recalled something about that being the explanation for Blair's presence at the station in the early days.
"So... I write my thesis on the boys in blue, and everyone's happy! The committee gets a look at something they haven't seen much of before, Jim's identity is safe because it's common knowledge he's a freaking detective... and I get my doctorate! Everybody wins." Blair paused for a breath. "But then I just HAD to finish the Sentinel paper. I mean, it WAS only my life's work. So I figured, I'd finish that and then do the last couple of chapters on the thin blue line spiel. But my mother just HAD to be in town -- you know, I do love her; she just has horrible timing. Then, I guess if she didn't, I wouldn't be here, so it all works out."
Carolyn wasn't quite sure if he even knew she was there anymore, or if he was simply venting his frustrations. Either way, she simply nodded sympathetically, and let him go on.
Blair's gestures were getting progressively more pronounced with the more worked up he got. Carolyn briefly wondered if he could have talked with his hands tied. "I TOLD her not to touch it. I locked it up, for heaven's sake! I suppose I should have just passworded the whole damn computer, but I thought everything would be fine. It wasn't like I left it around like coffee-table reading! So she sends it to the publisher, and everything blows up in my face. Next thing I know, everyone's decided it's my real paper. I mean, before I could even explain, it's all over the news. And then people are getting shot and Jim's pissed at me. What the hell else could I have done?!" After pausing for another deep breath, he continued. "And then, before I can explain anything, THAT'S blowing up in my face, too. Because, you know, they can't get rid of a fraud quick enough. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised; Edwards always hated me. Oh, forget it! That's not what started all this, but it sure as hell doesn't help. I mean, I should be happy, right? Someone cared enough to get me this job. I could be on the streets right now. Why shouldn't I be happy to have what I do?"
"You lost a lot," Carolyn told him gently. "You've got a right to be upset over that."
"You know, I could tell everyone about this, but they're all going to assume it's JUST because of the diss thing. It's not. That sure as hell didn't cheer me up, but this whole thing started awhile before that, thanks. It's just gotten insanely difficult lately. Guess that's what the meds are for. I hate it. I really hate it. But when you compare taking a couple of pills everyday to -- oh, say, not feeling like doing a damn thing more difficult than breathing. Sometimes I'm not even sold on that one."
He'd lost her, but Carolyn was getting worried. "Not sold on it?"
"No, I'm not planning to kill myself," Blair sighed. "But my life sucks, and I've just come to accept that. Maybe if I give this crap a little more time, it'll perk me up. But, you know, I HATE those people who are all like, 'Just cheer up. It'll be okay.' I just want to do something to them, you know? I can't! If I could, I would -- but I can't, so I won't." He jumped down from the car, and a prescription bottle fell from his pocket. He didn't notice, however, and simply got into the car. After a second, Blair seemed to calm and rolled down the window. "Well, at least I've got the energy to drive home now. I needed that; thanks."
She wasn't sure what he was thanking her for. "Sure. Listen, if you need--"
"Yeah, I've heard that one. Really, though, thanks. I'll be fine. I have to be, right?" Shrugging again, this time more blithely, he started up the car, and drove away.
It was after he was gone that Carolyn noticed the orange bottle lying at her feet. Frowning curiously, she bent down and picked it up. It was Blair's, and she slipped it into her purse. It probably wouldn't be long before she saw him again, and she'd return it then.
The next day was ridiculously long, despite the fact that she was officially on vacation, and the best thing Carolyn could find to say about it was that it was almost over. She hated looking over her shoulder every minute, wondering if she'd see someone lurking in the shadows. Finally arriving at the loft, Carolyn knocked on the door. "Jim?"
The door opened a second later, and Jim stepped aside to let her in. He smiled. "Hey there. You ought to be careful -- you're starting to look comfortable here. I thought you hated the place."
She chuckled. "Well, the jury's decided to reconvene for a second verdict. Happy?"
"Possibly," Jim allowed, playing along. "I'm glad you're here, actually. I've been getting more information on this Alexander guy, and I'm frankly worried for you. He's damn persistent if he's followed you this far -- and I doubt that he just happens to be in Cascade at the same time as you."
Carolyn sighed; she really didn't feel like discussing the matter. "Yeah." Now it was time to employ an old Ellison trick and change the subject entirely. "So, how'd your day go?"
Jim shrugged, closing the door and returning to whatever he was cooking in the kitchen. "Same story, pretty much. Except for the stuff about Alexander, there hasn't been anything really exceptional, just that same jewelry heist we've been working on. Well, that, and Sandburg's been a bit higher strung than usual, but..."
"Than usual?" Carolyn asked, frowning. She figured Jim must know about the problems Blair had told her about last night. She didn't know him quite well enough to know what was more high strung for him.
Jim looked distinctly uncomfortable for a few seconds, as though he didn't want to discuss his partner's behavior with someone who DIDN'T know him that well. He shrugged again after a moment. "Maybe I'm reading too much into it. He gets like this sometimes. I think it's the stress he's been under."
Carolyn nodded. "Well, if you're sure he's okay."
Jim didn't look at her, but instead reached for a spoon to stir the pot on the stove. "Yeah. I'm sure he just needs some time away from something."
Carolyn looked away to hide her small smile. That was Jim, all right, immediately finding a way to avoid further discussing 'emotional BS.' "Okay." She reached into her purse. "Oh, before I forget..." Carolyn found the prescription bottle she was looking for, and handed it to Jim. "Give this to him for me, would you? I haven't seen him today."
Jim frowned at the bottle in his hand. "What's this?"
"Blair left it behind yesterday," Carolyn explained. "He was kind of upset when he left. I was going to give it to him, but we haven't run into each other."
Jim only looked further perplexed. "Why on Earth would he be taking Prozac?!"
Carolyn's jaw dropped slightly as realization began to dawn on her. Oh, this isn't good. "You didn't know?"
"Hell, no." Jim tossed the spoon he'd just been using aside and read the prescription label yet again before looking back at Carolyn. "What did he say to you?"
"Not a lot," Carolyn told him. "I'm not entirely sure he really knew I was there; he just sort of needed someone he could rant at for a bit. He was pretty worked up; I happened to be there."
"Damn," Jim sighed, half-heartedly checking the sauce on the stove, then turning off the heat.
Carolyn had known this man far too long to believe that Jim was going anywhere with this except to make it his fault. Even in his iciest days, he'd still had frequent flier miles on guilt trips. "Jim, I seriously doubt that it was caused by something you did."
Powder-blue eyes suddenly met hers, reflecting the self-blame Jim was feeling. "How about something I SHOULD have done? Or should have known? Caro, I--"
She cut him off, placing a hand on his upper arm gently. "Jim. Listen to me for a minute. I'm concerned about him, too. But thousands of people in this country are dealing with depression, and you had nothing to do with it. So why--"
Now it was his turn to cut her off. "I get that, Carolyn. But this isn't thousands of people."
"I know," she assured him. "He's your partner -- your friend. But that doesn't make this your fault."
Jim pulled away from her, and paced the living room for a few moments, reminding Carolyn of a caged lion. He spoke as he walked. "Okay, so maybe it's not directly related to anything I did, but why didn't I notice this? I work with him every day. He lives here, for God's sake!"
"I don't know," Carolyn admitted, coming around to the front of the kitchen island and leaning against it. "I haven't been here, but he strikes me as the type who'd be good at hiding things when he wanted to."
"Yeah, he's good at that," Jim muttered, almost absent-mindedly.
"You said you'd noticed that he was a little off lately. Maybe that's all he was going to let you see."
Jim stopped pacing, and leveled a glance at her. "I notice when he leaves hair in the shower drain. Why didn't I notice THIS?"
Carolyn shook her head. It always seemed to come back to this. He wanted answers she didn't have. "You might be too close to the problem."
"Right." Jim nodded. His expression said it all.
Rolling her eyes would really have been the wrong move at that point, but she certainly wanted to. "Jim! I meant that you're not objective, not that you had something to do with it!"
Jim sighed again, returning to the kitchen. "Can't see the forest for the trees, I guess."
"Well, it's not like he has multiple personalities, or something a little more obvious," Carolyn replied. "It's a common thing for even doctors to miss."
If he'd heard her, Jim gave no sign. "Well, I'll tell you what -- when he gets home, we're having a talk. That's all there is to it."
Blair looked up casually from the table as Jim came through the front door. He had gotten home about thirty minutes earlier, but Jim had been out. Blair's guess was that Jim had taken Carolyn back to her hotel, since it was dark already. "Oh, hi, Jim. What's up?"
Jim crossed his arms over his chest, glaring. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Blair frowned, confused. "Hmm? Oh -- yeah, I got back later than I thought I would. Sorry. I'll call next time, but the cell phone died."
"That's not what I meant," Jim replied coolly. "I think you know what I mean. How could you keep something like this from me? Why the hell don't you trust me after all this time?"
"I trust you just fine," Blair insisted, not in the mood to deal with Jim when the Sentinel was in a snit over something. "And, no, I haven't got the first clue what you mean."
Jim threw up his arms, obviously frustrated. "THE ANTIDEPRESSANTS, Sandburg! That's what I meant! How long have you been taking them? WHY couldn't you TELL me? Didn't you trust me enough to understand?"
"What?!" Blair demanded, shocked. How had Jim found out? Furthermore, why was Jim turning it into a trust issue? "That's got nothing to do with trust! It's my personal issue, all right?"
"Since when?" Jim asked. "Sandburg... Blair. If you're unhappy, you've got to let me know so I can help you. That's what friends are for. But I can't do anything if you're not gonna tell me. I had to find out from someone else that my own roommate -- my best friend -- was on Prozac! Do you know how much it hurts that you'd tell Carolyn before you'd tell me? How can you say it's NOT about trust?"
"I didn't mean to tell her!" Blair sighed, pushing his laptop aside. It was clear that this was going to require more of an explanation than he'd wanted to provide, but if it would calm Jim down... "I'd had a bad day, all right? Really bad day. I would have been talking to the wall if she hadn't been right there -- it was either that or have a total breakdown. Hell, I'd have told you if you'd been around!"
"Don't do me any favors, Sandburg!" Jim snapped. He took a deep breath, calming down somewhat. "Look, you're my friend and I care about you. I don't like to see you hurting. And I especially don't like it if you don't tell me so I can help you."
"I knew you'd just freak," Blair said, shaking his head. "That's why I didn't tell you. Besides, what was I supposed to say? How do I just bring that up in casual conversation -- oh, hi, how was your day, by the way, I think I've got some issues with depression!"
"No," Jim answered, "but you could've told me you were having problems. I mean, what's a Blessed Protector for, after all?" He smiled.
"I didn't want you to worry," Blair whispered. He walked into the living room and sank onto the couch.
"And I didn't." Jim crossed the room to sit beside Blair. "But now I AM worried. So deal with it and tell me what's wrong."
"I don't know what's wrong." Blair let his head fall against the back of the couch, half closing his eyes. "It's everything -- my life's just a mess right now."
Jim sighed, and put a hand on Blair's shoulder, rubbing it idly. "I know, buddy. You've given up an awful lot recently. I wish I knew what I could say to make you feel better. You're better at this stuff than I am, but you've gotta know I'll be there for you. Please don't keep something like this from me again."
"I just--" Blair looked up, meeting Jim's eyes. "I didn't want you to go overboard in that Blessed Protector mode." He struggled for a small smile. "They've diagnosed it as clinical depression, and I figured if I told you how I was really feeling, you'd get all over-protective. I didn't really think I could handle that."
Jim sort of smiled in return. "You're probably right; I would've. You'd have snapped at me and we'd be arguing now over something completely different. But at least I'd feel like I was helping somewhat. Not just standing by while you fall apart."
"Hey, it's a little better now," Blair assured him. "I mean, the drugs are working pretty well, even if they weren't my first treatment choice. I'm functional, which is actually a decent improvement." He sighed, heavily, as he came to a realization. "I'm actually kinda glad you do know now."
"Me too." Jim nodded. "And no more secrets like this, okay?"
"Okay." Blair paused. "It's easier, not having to hide it from you. I was worried you wouldn't... I knew you'd care, but I thought you might see it as a liability or something."
"I've never considered you a liability, Chief," Jim said seriously, meeting Blair's eyes. He laughed softly. "You're a pain in the ass sometimes, but not a liability."
"You mean that?" Blair asked, his smile becoming much more genuine. "I mean, even after all the trouble the diss caused, and everything?"
"Yes, I mean it," Jim promised. "You ARE a pain in the ass sometimes."
Blair laughed, understanding what Jim didn't want to -- or maybe didn't know how to -- express in words. "I... Thanks."
"Sure, Chief. Anytime."
Over the next week, the more Jim found out about Alexander, the more suspicious he was getting -- and he wasn't the only one. They decided that it was best to have someone with Carolyn when she was out about town, especially at night. Carolyn had taken an open-ended leave from her position in San Francisco, citing personal reasons, and it had been determined that she'd probably be safest staying in Cascade until the problem was resolved.
Blair had volunteered to keep her company this particular night, and they were walking from her hotel to the loft; it was only about two blocks. "I know I've got a job and a life there," Carolyn admitted, "and I really do like San Francisco, but I miss Cascade. It's tempting to stay here. I don't know. Maybe it's because I grew up here. Does that make sense to you?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. You spent a lot of time here as an adult, too. You might live in California, but Cascade's still home to you. That's not weird; it's human nature."
Carolyn laughed softly, pulling her coat more tightly around her. "Guess sometimes it's handy to have an anthropologist around, huh?"
Blair smiled, catching the tease, and then shrugged evenly. "Well, I was a student of human nature for years before I even went to college. It's not hard to keep that up."
"You miss it, don't you?" Carolyn asked, reaching out to set a hand lightly on his shoulder.
Blair considered the question for a long moment. "I miss parts of it. I was starting to get a bit... oh, I don't know. I guess disenchanted is the word I'm looking for. I mean, with the way things were run -- students who could get away with anything because their parents put money into the school, professors who were willing to look the other way. Stuff like that really annoyed me. It's like Sidney said, there are a lot of shades of gray. Way too many for me. But..."
"The actual anthro stuff -- teaching, seeing the 'light' go on when a student suddenly got something." He sighed. "Yeah, I miss that. But this isn't any better or worse; it's just different." He bit his lip, thinking. "The heart of anthropology, though, is understanding people and how they got where they are."
Carolyn nodded. "You do a lot of that every day." She paused for a moment, and then looked up to meet Blair's eyes. "I wanted to thank you."
Blair frowned, confused. "For what?" He felt he should be thanking her, for lending a sympathetic ear. And even though her telling Jim about the problem had been accidental, assuming Jim already knew... Once the original confrontation was past, it really helped to not have to hide things anymore. And Jim had been pretty supportive once he'd found out.
"For taking care of Jim," Carolyn replied. "You've done so much for him, and he appreciates it, but you know how he is. That macho thing about emotions."
Blair chuckled. "Yeah, I know about that." He flashed a grin. "I'm used to it; I work on it when I can." He rubbed his hands together; even with the gloves, his hands were beginning to tingle from the cold. "C'mon, let's get inside; it's freezing out here."
Carolyn nodded. "Yeah, sounds like a plan."
Just as they turned to head inside, Blair noticed a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned to look, wishing for a brief moment that he had Jim's vision. He caught a glimpse of the coat Kurt Alexander had been wearing the times they'd seen him around the loft, and was going to simply hurry Carolyn inside. But then, across the street, he saw the glint of the street lamp's light reflecting off silver metal. "Dammit!"
Both training and adrenaline were wonderful things; Blair reacted without thinking. He dove for the ground, pulling Carolyn down with him as a shot rang out. Blair cursed as his left shoulder collided with the ground rather gracelessly. He pulled himself to his feet, reaching for his gun -- and praying, as he did every time he took the weapon from its holster, that he wouldn't actually have to fire it. There was no one else around anymore; Alexander (he assumed that was who it was) must've beat a retreat. Swearing softly, Blair put the gun away and grabbed his cell phone to call for backup. He could have gone after the shooter himself, but that would have meant leaving Carolyn unprotected. Besides, his shoulder was aching from where it had hit the ground. He knelt beside Carolyn, who was sitting on the ground near a melting pool of once-solid ice, looking startled but otherwise unharmed. "You okay?"
"Yeah," she assured him. "Thanks. You?"
"I'm all right." Blair gasped softly and flinched as he rotated his sore shoulder, but waved off her concern. "It's okay; I just jammed my shoulder when we went down. I'll be fine. Come on, let's go upstairs and wait." He didn't want to be standing out on the street any longer than necessary.
Carolyn watched Blair with large measures of both concern and gratitude as they walked into the loft. It was obvious that he was in pain, though he tried to hide it. "Blair, maybe you should have that looked at."
He sighed. "I'm sure it's all right, but if you want to -- oh, that's just great!"
Confused by the sudden shift, Carolyn frowned and turned her head to look over her shoulder. "Huh?"
"My jacket!" Blair exclaimed, his annoyance apparent. "It ripped!" Another sigh followed. "Oh, well, I was going to get rid of this one eventually anyway."
Carolyn smiled at him, crossing the living room to stand beside him in the kitchen. She laid a hand on his left shoulder gently, mindful of the possible injury. "Come sit down. I may not have Jim's touch, but I'm pretty good at figuring out when something might be broken."
"Oh, all right," Blair agreed. "If it makes you feel better. I suppose it's either going to be you or him. And you're prettier," he added with a mischievous grin.
Satisfied, Carolyn began to walk back into the living room, assuming he'd follow. She stopped to grab a towel to wipe her hand; it was wet from the damp spot on Blair's jacket, and she discovered a smear of blood across her palm. "Blair!" Carolyn hurried back over to him. "You're bleeding." She began to help him take the jacket off, putting the details together in her mind. The rip on the jacket, the blood... "Bullet must've nicked your shoulder." She knew from personal experience that if it were much more than a flesh wound, he wouldn't have had nearly as much functionality with the shoulder as he did. That, at least, was some relief. "Let me look."
"Oh, damn." Blair shrugged off the flannel shirt he was wearing, angling his head to inspect the damage personally. "Hey, that doesn't look so bad -- ow! Don't do that!" He pulled away from Carolyn's hands. "It burns like hell, but I've been hurt worse."
Carolyn winced in sympathy; it certainly looked painful. A large piece of the skin had been torn away. From the slow oozing of blood, she could tell that there were likely no important blood vessels damaged, but this was going to need to be evaluated by someone with more medical training than she had. "Well, I can clean it up a little here, but you'll probably have to go to the emergency room to get that looked at. It's a little more than what the average Band-Aid is gonna fix."
Jim checked his watch as he hit the button for the elevator. He'd just gotten back from the store; he hoped Carolyn and Blair would be back by now. He dialed up his hearing, hoping to hear voices -- or at least heartbeats, if they weren't talking -- in the loft.
"Carolyn! Stop that! I thought you said this wouldn't hurt!"
Jim raised an eyebrow, now curious. What was going on up there? The elevator door slid open, and he stepped inside, listening for Carolyn's reply.
"I said it shouldn't hurt if you held still -- which you haven't been."
"You said you'd be gentle." Blair's tone sounded almost accusing.
"I'm trying. It's not as though neither of us has ever done this kind of thing before. Now, it'll go a lot easier if you just lay back and relax..."
"Can you go a little slower?"
"I can, but do you want Jim to come home and find out about this?"
"Damn elevator," Jim muttered; it was old and slow, and his curiosity was overwhelming.
"Okay," Blair admitted, "good point. By the way, what'd you do with my shirt?"
Of course, it was also good to remember that curiosity killed the cat -- always a handy thing to keep in mind when one's spirit animal was a very large feline. Jim was beginning to figure out what it sounded like to him -- and though he didn't think that was what it was, he didn't want to just walk in if it were.
Finally, the elevator stopped at the third floor, and the doors opened. Jim frowned at a speck of something on the floor; something most people might not have noticed. He'd have missed it, too, if he weren't looking at the floor as he debated what to do next. Intrigued, Jim crouched on the floor next to the spot. It looks like... His sense of smell confirmed a second later that it was indeed blood. In the next instant, Jim had dialed up his senses to focus on Blair's vital signs. Somewhere along the line, his immediate reaction to finding his Guide's blood in any place had become to find out what Blair's heartbeat and respiration sounded like, even before he consciously recognized the source of the blood. Before, he'd had to concentrate on the smell before he found specific scent markers that would tell him where it had come from, provided he knew the person well enough. The reaction only seemed to work with Blair, however -- Jim supposed it must be some sort of developed 'Guide protection system'. When he'd told Blair about it, Blair had likened the response to that of a mother instantly knowing her baby's cry. Jim wasn't sure that was the best allusion ever, but he couldn't think of a better one -- the metaphor of a dog owner knowing his own dog's bark seemed too demeaning.
Though Blair's heartbeat and respiration were both in acceptable ranges, if slightly elevated, Jim went into a sort of auto-pilot mode the moment he recognized who the blood belonged to. He jumped to his feet, racing down the hall to the apartment, and burst through the door. He looked around wildly, preparing himself for whatever disaster might await.
He was able to calm once he saw for himself that there was, in fact, no disaster -- only Blair, sitting shirtless at the kitchen table, whining as Carolyn attempted to clean a nasty-looking scrape on his shoulder with hydrogen peroxide.
Composed now, Jim casually walked over to the table, ignoring the looks of surprise Carolyn and Blair both gave at Jim's sudden entrance.
"Um, Jim?" Blair ventured. "What the hell was that?"
Jim shrugged casually, ignoring the question. "Ouch! That's gotta hurt."
"It does," Blair insisted. Then he seemed to put it all together. "Aw, Jim. Don't tell me you hauled off and ended up doing your primal overreaction bit again!"
They both knew the answer to that question, so Jim decided not to bother responding to it. With an expertise born of experience, Jim took a couple of gauze pads from Carolyn, poured some of the peroxide on them, and began to clean the wound. He placed his hand on Blair's good shoulder to steady him, and tossed a grin at Carolyn. "You've just gotta know how to handle him, that's all."
"Just gotta show me up, don'tcha, Jimmy?" she teased.
Jim grabbed a couple of more gauze pads, thankful that he'd decided to keep a package of them in the first aid kit in the bathroom. Those and butterfly bandages were popular commodities, given the various scrapes that Jim and Blair both seemed to get themselves into. He put the clean gauze over the injury, motioning with his free hand for Carolyn to rip off a couple of pieces of tape for him. Using those tape strips, he taped the gauze in place. With that accomplished, he finally sat back, shaking his head in an affectionately tolerant way. "Okay, Chief, I'm gonna ask, but I'm not sure I want to know. Who or what took a chunk out of your shoulder like that?"
Right before Blair answered, Jim's attention was diverted as a couple of police cars pulled up outside. He'd heard the sirens earlier, but hadn't thought that they were headed to Prospect Avenue. "Don't tell me -- this is connected, right?"
"We'll explain everything soon enough. Lemme get decent first." Blair stood up, and headed into his bedroom.
While Blair was in the bedroom, Jim glanced over to Carolyn. "Should I even ask?" The question was rhetorical, but he looked back over his shoulder for her reaction as he went to answer the door. Her expression gave away nothing, but Jim's Sentinel hearing caught her soft chuckle. "And to think you used to complain about how quiet things were around here..."
"He did WHAT?"
Blair winced as he shifted position, holding pressure against his shoulder to brace the injury. "He shot at us, Jim."
"I know," Jim snapped, then shook his head. He rolled his eyes. "I am calm. I am calm. Who the hell am I kidding?! I want this guy."
Mark Richards, the officer who had responded to the call simply nodded. He was fortunate enough to have met the pair on another case before, and had learned not to question things when it came to Ellison and Sandburg. And, he'd learned the cardinal rule: never get between the two of them.
Jim stalked about, looking rather cat-like for a moment, then spun to face Carolyn, who was standing nearby. "Did you see him? Was it Alexander?"
"I saw his coat," Carolyn replied. "Like I told them already -- I'm not sure, because I didn't see his face, but it was the same coat. And he was the right build."
"Great." He turned on his heel again, eyeing his partner critically. "We'd better get you to the ER and get that shoulder looked at. Carolyn, are you sure you're not hurt?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I'm all right."
Jim glanced over at Richards. "Do you need anything else right now?"
"No, that's okay -- I think we've got what we need," Richards said. "You can go on ahead; if we need more, we know where to find you."
Jim smiled at him. "Thanks. Come on, Chief -- let's go ahead and get this over with. You, too, Caro -- I'm NOT leaving you here alone with that nut running around."
"Yes, Dad," Carolyn said, offering a cheeky grin.
"Hey, he's always like this," Blair pointed out. "You just don't have to deal with it all the time."
Jim shook his head as he turned and headed for the driver's side of the old Ford. "I can't take you two anywhere. Just get in the damn truck."
None of them were particularly surprised when the ER visit took several hours; Blair actually caught a nap while they were waiting though the pain in his shoulder didn't make it an easy task. It had been a busy night, with a lot of accidents, and a flesh wound that wasn't actively bleeding didn't top the list of priorities.
Once they did get looked at, the doctor pretty much confirmed what they'd already suspected -- no major blood vessels were damaged; the wound simply had to heal on its own. They cleaned and dressed it again, and gave Blair a prescription for some painkillers, as well as a few supplies and instructions to change the dressing daily. Carolyn was sleeping in the waiting room when they came out, and Jim roused her gently. "C'mon, we're going home."
"Home?" she asked, frowning as she sat up.
"The loft," he clarified. "I'll sleep on the couch, but I want to keep you close, at least until we figure something out. No telling what he might do if you're alone at that hotel."
Carolyn seemed about to protest, but nodded after a moment. "All right, thanks. But I'll take the couch. No need for you to--"
Jim raised a hand, cutting her off. "Don't worry about it."
Carolyn looked at the two men, and shook her head slowly. "You guys, really... well... Just, thank you. For everything."
Jim winked at her, and laughed at the expression he got in response. "All part of the job, ma'am."
"So you're saying you'd take home every damsel in distress you came across?" Carolyn teased.
"I wouldn't put it past him if she were pretty enough," Blair joked.
Jim nudged Blair toward the exit with a hand at the small of his partner's back. "You just watch it, Junior. If you weren't already hurt, I'd have to hurt you myself."
Jim appeared to consider it. "No, you're right. I wouldn't. But I have to admit, it's tempting sometimes."
"You know I'm just getting your heart started in the mornings." If he hadn't been in pain and completely exhausted, Blair thought, that might have actually come off as light as he'd intended it.
Jim swatted Blair's good shoulder lightly. "My heart starts fine without your help, thanks, Sandburg."
"Not if you keep up with all those WonderBurgers, it won't."
Carolyn broke in before the debate could go any further. "Boys, I'm tired. Why don't we just get home, get some sleep, and you can continue this fascinating discussion in the morning?"
Blair nodded. "Good plan."
Simon stood next to Jim's desk, glancing over the profile Jim had just handed him. "Yeah, looks good. I just contacted the San Francisco PD to see what they've got; they're faxing some stuff over. The mayor just called, too -- we're officially working on this case now. Even if that WAS just some random nut, it looks too suspicious now not to focus on Alexander. Especially since one of our detectives was injured. How's Sandburg, anyway?"
Jim put the profile back into the folder on his desk. "All right, considering. He's sore as hell, but the painkillers help -- when he takes them. I'm just glad it wasn't worse."
"Yeah, no kidding." Simon nodded. "Where's he at?"
"He went downstairs to personally bug the computer gurus. His computer's been doing goofy things all day, he can't figure it out, and they keep telling him it must be something he's doing when he calls..."
Simon chuckled. "Just not his week, is it?"
"Doesn't seem to be. He's already a bit overloaded as it is -- I just hope things will ease up soon."
"Yeah," Simon agreed. "There's a safe house in the Red Fox development that they've arranged for Carolyn to stay at, if she agrees. We can keep someone with her there. Megan's already volunteered to be over there at least part of the time; those two really do get along. Carolyn should be all right."
Jim smiled. "Good. Thanks, Simon."
"No problem. Oh, by the way, when you see Sandburg, tell him I want to see him."
"Sure. Everything okay?" Jim asked.
"Fine," Simon assured him. "I just want to talk to him for a few minutes."
About a half-hour later, Blair shuffled into the office, and sank into a chair at Simon's nod. He was bone-tired, and not particularly ready for any sort of confrontation. "You rang?"
"Just a couple of things," Simon began, rolling a pen between his fingers like the cigar he knew he would probably need by the end of the conversation. Personal talks like this were difficult for him, because it made work relationships more complicated than he felt they needed to be. The fact that he considered the person slouched in front of him a friend just muddied the river further. Deciding to buffer the talk with a little male emotional avoidance BS first, he cleared his throat and asked, "So, what do you think the Jags' chances are for their next game?"
Sandburg blinked at him, mildly confused by the question. Not so much the question itself, actually, as by the questioner. The captain wasn't one for initial chit-chat, unless he wanted something. And Jim wasn't here to field the request, so it had to be something Simon didn't want his partner to know.
Casting about for possible topics, he replied, "Um, okay, I guess. Austin's moving better after that knee surgery, and the new passing trick Clark used against Stewart might take them by surprise. Why, what's the pool this time?"
"You'd have to see Thompson for the update, but the last I heard it was Pistons by 6. Their defense squad's been pretty hot this season."
Blair shrugged. "Maybe, but defense doesn't get you points." He waited a beat, then ventured a question. "Speaking of points, can I ask...?"
The soft hiss of his coffee maker shutting down its heating element gave Simon an excuse to delay what he knew was coming. "Oh, sorry. Coffee?"
"Ah -- sure, thanks." Blair started to rise and head for the counter, but the larger man waved him back.
"No, I'll get it. Just stay where you are." Simon turned his chair around and grabbed a mug, filling it and handing it over without hesitation. "It's Sumatra something or other. Some of the artsy types special-order it, my cousin says." Blair accepted the beverage, but didn't taste it, staring at the dark liquid as if trying to scry some deeper mysteries from it than the processing of hot caffeine drinks.
Simon watched his junior detective study the cup for several long seconds, then realized a possible cause for the hesitation. "Damn, I forgot about your medications." Blair glanced up at him with a startled, wary light in his eyes, but Simon failed to notice. "Can you drink coffee, with what you're taking for your shoulder?"
Blair relaxed, almost laughing at the question. "Yeah, it's fine. Coffee's on the 'safe' list."
Simon nodded. "Good. So, how is the shoulder, anyway?"
"'Bout the same as last night. Little less stiff, maybe." A sudden thought as to this uncharacteristic solicitude brought an unpleasant twist to his stomach. "Is there something wrong, Captain? I mean, is it about Jim, or something I'VE done...?" Or Naomi. Please don't let it be bad news about Naomi...
"No, it's not Jim, and it's nothing you've done. Well, that I know about." The attempt at teasing hit an unresponsive wall and lay there, twitching uncomfortably, between them. Simon let the smile fall away and replaced it with a guarded expression. "You doing okay, Sandburg?"
Blue eyes, faded by the shadowed circles under them, targeted the captain suspiciously. "Fine," was his slow reply. "Why do you ask?"
Simon feigned a nonchalant shrug. "Just noticed you looking more wrung out than I remember. Ellison's not running you ragged, is he?"
Blair snorted. "No more than he has in the last four years. And before you ask again, my shoulder is fine." The almost-growl in the last four words floated above the bad joke for five seconds, then deflated with a more subdued admission. "Just stress, that's all. Comes with the job, right?"
"Comes with a lot of jobs, but we seem to get a bigger share. Especially when the case isn't moving as fast as you'd like. That the problem?"
"Uh, yeah, that's pretty much it." He set the cup on the desk and pinched the bridge of his nose with two fingers. He looked as though he wanted to be out of the office, out of the building, just out.
Simon's 'bluff' alarm was going off like a fire truck's siren, but he couldn't call Blair on it directly. If anyone was better than Ellison at avoiding questions, it was Sandburg. If Rainier gave degrees for it, he'd have had his doctorate long ago. But four years of watching the younger man at work gave Simon a sense of the body language that revealed Blair's true feelings.
And what the captain was reading was far worse than simple stress. The grayed complexion, the tremors in the eyes, the distracted attitude toward things Blair normally found fascinating. It wasn't a breakdown yet, but Simon thought he could see the beginnings of hairline fractures. He had a fair idea of the source -- it had been lurking in the shadows for some time -- but it was something the partners would have to work out between themselves. Imposing himself at this point would only do more damage.
An oblique approach, however...
"Okay, it's stress. Happens to all of us at some time or another. Thing is, you're handling it, right?" He didn't wait for a confirmation, certain it would be a lie. "Because if you're not, I need you to tell me. I don't have one of those spirit animal things to warn me when the shit's about to land. You have a problem, you come and tell me. That's part of my job, after all."
Blair leaned back in the chair, hand falling back onto the armrest. "And that's why they pay you the big bucks, right?" The humor was weakly offered, although more sincere this time.
Simon knew the improved mood wouldn't last, but so long as it was still evocable, there was hope for a turnaround.
"Damn straight," he shot back, grinning around a fresh cigar.
"Look, Blair," he said after a moment, his tone soft, "I just want to know what's going on." He paused and ran his hand over his hair. "Is there something I can help with?"
"No," Blair replied, shrugging somewhat. "Thanks, but there's really nothing you can do. I've got a lot going on right now."
"Do you need some time off?" Simon asked. "Would a reduced case load help?"
Blair shook his head. "Probably not much. I'd find something else to get buried in." He chuckled, self-deprecatingly. "I'm a little stressed, but I'll be okay eventually. Hell, like you said, it happens to us all."
Simon sighed. He'd never been good with this kind of thing and he could tell he was striking out. "It's the nature of the job. I'm here for you to talk to if you need it. Or talk to your partner. Or a counselor -- no shame in that and it's totally confidential. I just don't want to see you get to a point where it becomes a problem -- understand?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah. Thanks. I think I can handle this, though."
Simon didn't like the 'think' in that, the doubt he heard in Sandburg's voice and saw in his face. He was seeing in front of him a man who was almost completely burnt out, and barely keeping himself in one piece. The captain had seen that look before, and he'd never liked what happened next. But Blair had Jim, so maybe things would be different this time. Maybe Jim could pry loose the secrets that his partner was clinging to so closely. "All right. But if you ever start to think you're not handling it, I want you to talk to someone, okay? Me, Jim, a counselor, anybody." He smiled, chuckling softly to himself. "I know, they taught you all that crap at the Academy, 'it's not your emergency'..." Simon shrugged. "It's not. And, no, this isn't another lecture about separating yourself. I know you, and you probably never will, not totally. Humanity's not a bad thing, though." He grinned. "We need at least one person around here who isn't cynical as hell. But you'll get your heart ripped to shreds if you don't watch it; I've seen it happen before. So, just remember, you've got a support system. Don't be afraid to use it."
A shadow of a smile played upon Sandburg's face. "I'll keep that in mind."
"And," Simon pointed out, "if it's something you're worried about Jim knowing, I can keep him out of it." He sort of suspected that might be the case, from the edginess between the two lately. Or maybe he was just seeing an amplification of the tension that had been lingering between them since Mexico.
"As long as I keep the weird Sentinel stuff out of it, right?" Blair joked weakly.
Simon found the attempt at levity encouraging. The situation, whatever it was, wasn't totally bleak just yet. "I'd prefer that; yes."
The next few days were uneventful, both at work and at home. But, by week's end, the friction between the partners was almost palpable, especially when they were at the loft. Jim had been dealing with Blair's touchy mood for most of the day, and he was finally tired of it. Exasperated, he turned to Blair, who was sitting at the kitchen table, staring at a book but not really reading it. "All right, I'm tired of this little game. Will you TELL me what's bugging you already?"
"You're not my mother," Blair snapped.
"No, I'm not, Sandburg!" Jim replied, throwing up his arms in frustration. He was feeling a bit snappish himself, and Blair's equally bad mood certainly didn't help. "I'm actually HERE!"
Blair turned, glaring. "Don't EVEN go there."
"I'm sorry!" Jim apologized. That crack about Naomi HAD been a little callous. "But WHAT is WRONG with you?"
"Nothing," Blair countered. "I'm fine! What's wrong with you?!"
"You're the one that snapped at me and you're asking me what's wrong with ME?" Jim demanded. He knew now about Blair's depression, and could sympathize to some extent, but he still didn't get why Blair had been so difficult to get along with all day.
Blair rolled his eyes. "I'm sick and tired of you hovering, all right? I'm not a kid!"
"Then stop acting like one!" Jim told him.
"You know what?" Blair asked, his tone snappish. "I'm tired of this -- like I have to watch myself around you every second."
Now it was Jim's turn to roll his eyes. "Well, forgive me for caring! You don't want me around, fine. I'm out of here!" He turned to walk out the front door, but Blair jumped up from the table and moved to block him.
"Don't do this." Blair crossed his arms over his chest. "You ALWAYS walk away when things get too tough for you to handle, emotionally. You just don't want to deal with it, so you leave."
"Well, I don't know what you want me to do," Jim said. He really wanted to help his friend, but he had no idea how, especially when Blair was in a mood like this. "Tell me, Blair. What do you want me to do here?"
Blair sighed, looking defeated as he crossed to collapse onto the couch. "I don't know. I just wish we could... Hell, things are never going back to the way they were, so why do I even bother?"
"No, they're not going back," Jim agreed. "Sometimes -- a lot of times -- I wish they could too, but they're not. We just have to deal with what's going on in the here and now."
"Here and now..." Blair looked up, shaking his head. "I don't know which end is up anymore, Jim." After a long pause, he continued, as if something had suddenly occurred to him. "You know, it wasn't the diss. That's not when everything changed. It was Sierra Verde. It was Alex."
"Blair..." Jim began, not wanting to go there.
Blair suddenly jumped up, going from defeat to anger. "Jim, what the hell was I supposed to think?! SHE KILLED ME, and you were out there on the beach about to frickin' jump her! You know, maybe I should have just left you two alone, and you could have created your little race of uber-Sentinels together. Maybe you should have just let her shoot me -- you didn't look like you were trying real hard to STOP her!"
"That's not fair..." Jim protested.
"Well, what was I supposed to think?" Blair repeated. "You tell me. Tell me, Jim. I thought maybe, just maybe, you might have wanted to do something to help me out. But you were..."
Jim cut him off. "I was out of control. Is that what you want me to say? Because I was! I don't know what it was. All I know was I couldn't... I mean... I... Oh, forget it! Just forget it! I THOUGHT we were past all this!" Why was Blair throwing the past in his face like this?
"I'm not!" Blair exclaimed. "You know what? We NEVER dealt with it! YOU walked away every damn time I tried."
"Sandburg, you DIED!" Jim had thought his feelings on the matter were obvious. Apparently not. "Because of me! You were dead, and it was my fault. How the hell am I SUPPOSED to deal with that?"
"Yeah, and what am I supposed to do?" Blair asked. "You know, death isn't exactly the best experience I ever had. It scared the HELL out of me; I just wanted to talk about it -- and you just wouldn't let me! Every time I tried, it was 'let it go, it's over'. I can't just let it go like you can!"
What, Blair thought it was simply that easy for him? Jim shot him an annoyed look. "Who says I can? When something bothers me -- I avoid it. After all these years, you should know that about me. It's usually a lot easier that way." He'd thought they'd known each other so much better than this.
"For you!" Blair insisted. "I've had to do that for years, let it go so it's easier for you. I NEED to talk about things sometimes. And, you know, it would have been really nice to know I could have at least talked to my best friend." He hissed the last words as though they were a curse.
Jim was rapidly losing what little patience he had left. "Sandburg, you knew what I was like a long time ago. You should know I'm not gonna change just like that!"
"One time," Blair said. "ONE DAMN TIME, Jim. That's ALL I asked! But, whatever. Go withdraw, or whatever the hell it is you have to do." He turned to retreat into his bedroom, but stopped and looked back at Jim. "You know, maybe it would have been a lot easier on both of us if you had just let them give up on me."
Many possibilities ran through Jim's mind in that moment, none of which he liked. That hurt. He stood in shock for a moment, remembering those horrible moments when he had thought he'd lost Blair forever. As soon as he'd regained some coherent thought, Jim strode angrily over to Blair, grabbing him by the shoulders. "Don't say that! Don't you EVER say that! You can't die. I couldn't have handled that. That's all there is to it."
Blair looked shocked for a moment, but it quickly gave way to annoyance. "So that's what it's about, you? Fine. Guess I shouldn't be surprised. It always is. Even when the paper got out, you thought I'd betrayed you for that money they offered. You keep saying I don't know you -- well, don't you know me well enough?! I'd never have done that! I wouldn't have just sold you, but you couldn't just accept that shit had happened. It had to be MY fault!" At Jim's shocked look, he continued. "Truth hurts, doesn't it?"
Jim wanted to protest that it wasn't like that at all, but his defenses quickly rose. It was like it was happening all over again. "The damn thing was published! What the hell was I supposed to think? I knew I hadn't sent it to the publisher and I didn't know Naomi had seen it, so..."
"So I turned you in because I was bored with my life and needed a few thrills?" Blair shook his head in disgust and slammed the door to his bedroom shut rather than going in. "I TRIED to explain, but YOU wouldn't listen!"
Jim opened his mouth, then shut it. Throttling his partner was not an option, but if he didn't get out of there, he didn't know what might happen. "Look, you can call it running away or whatever the hell you want, but I gotta get outta here before one of us does something he regrets."
"Fine." Blair waved a hand dismissively. "Go."
"This isn't over," Jim snarled as he grabbed his jacket and stormed out. He let the door slam shut behind him. Damn kid knows exactly what buttons to push!
The door slammed shut, and Blair scowled at it. "Dammit, Jim," he whispered. "Why do we always do this?" They'd been a little irritated; it had been blown out of proportion. It always came back to this, didn't it? Jim always withdrew, Blair let him, and the problem was never solved. "This is so screwed up."
'I don't need you, or anyone else...' Memories came back to Blair full force, and he drew in a sharp breath. 'I'm my own person; you got that?' Did Jim really feel that way? Or were Blair's old self-esteem issues just reasserting themselves now that his defenses were down?
Exhausted, Blair let himself collapse to his knees, a maelstrom of emotions vying for control. They'd really done it this time. Blair felt alone, like he had when Jim had thrown him out during that whole mess with Alex. Like he had when Jim had accused him of betrayal, and even like he had when he'd given that press conference. He'd known it was the only way out, but it had nearly torn his heart out to see his life's work go up in flames -- and know that he was holding the match. And now where was he? A stressed-out detective relying on the crutch of medication to get him through the day. He couldn't even keep the best friendship of his life in one piece. Well, he thought darkly, at least things couldn't possibly get any worse. It's even raining.
Overwhelmed. That was definitely the word to describe how he was feeling. Absolutely overwhelmed. Confused. Lonely. It was too much. It was just too damn much. He couldn't take it anymore.
A tear slipped down his cheek, quickly followed by another. Blair fought them at first -- he had never subscribed to the theory that real men didn't cry, but he wanted to believe that he was stronger than this. But he soon gave in, and let his feelings take over. It certainly wasn't as though he had any better plans at the moment.
Jim was about halfway down the second flight of stairs when his sensitive ears detected a slight scuffling sound from the loft, followed by the soft 'thump' of something hitting the floor. A few moments later, the sobs started. Jim frowned, confused -- then everything became clear. Blair was crying. And it wasn't just tears, it was a broken-hearted sobbing, from someone who had finally hit bottom and could go no further. He turned to head back to the loft, but froze. This was his fault, or at least a large part of it was. Jim wanted to comfort Blair, but would his presence only cause Blair more pain? That was the last thing Jim wanted to do. He'd already hurt his friend enough.
Finally, Jim decided to go back to the loft. Their relationship was broken -- but Jim knew that if he didn't walk back through that door now, that the damage likely couldn't be undone. This was it. And, after a moment's reflection, Jim acknowledged to himself that this relationship was probably the one thing in his life that he couldn't just 'let go'.
When Jim walked back into the loft, he wasn't sure what to expect. What he found was Blair on his knees in the living room, in the same spot he'd been standing when Jim had left. Jim went to him instantly, and pulled Blair into an embrace. "Oh, Chief. I'm sorry. Geez, here I go, hurting you again." Words weren't what Blair really needed at the moment, though, so Jim just held his Guide for a long moment, until he trusted himself to speak and NOT say something monumentally stupid. "It's all right, Blair." He began to rub Blair's back gently, holding him as the sobs began to subside. It might have been a few hours or maybe just a few minutes; Jim lost track of time. "I am so sorry, Chief. I never wanted to hurt you. I... I need you."
Blair looked up, his eyes red, his expression one of wary hope. "Do you really mean that?"
Jim sighed. So many times, he'd rejected Blair. Could he really have ever made Blair doubt that fact? Apparently so. He looked into the other man's face, still wet with tears and said, "Of course I do. I've always needed you. Why would you think I didn't?"
Blair shook his head slowly. "I don't know. I think I'm just tired, and..."
And I've told you I didn't need anyone too many times. Jim patted Blair's shoulder. "I do need you. I guess I was just too focused on myself to realize it before."
"I'm sorry," Blair whispered. "I shouldn't try to change the way you are."
"Sandburg -- Blair," Jim paused, struggling for words. "You have NOTHING to be sorry for here. Aw, shit, there's just so much that I screwed up. And if I can change, and I can keep that from happening again, then I'm all for change."
"We both screwed up." Blair stood up with Jim as they moved to sit on the couch. "But I like you the way you are. I... I just... I shouldn't have said some of that stuff. A lot of it."
Jim let one hand rest lightly against his partner's shoulder. "We both said some things we shouldn't have -- but maybe we needed to clear the air." He leaned back a little, wanting to see Blair's face. "Maybe we can really put this stuff behind us, and move forward now."
Blair sighed heavily. "I hope so. I know you didn't mean that stuff on the beach with Alex. I was just surprised... confused."
Damn! How could he explain that to Sandburg when he didn't even understand it himself? Jim shifted, pulling Blair closer to him in a friendly hug. "Nothing I did -- for whatever reason I did it -- was done to hurt you. I would NEVER deliberately hurt you, Blair. You have to believe me."
"I... I do." Blair angled his head so that he could see Jim's face. "I know. I just... I've got a lot of stuff right now I need to work on."
"Your issues are my issues, Chief." Jim was feeling on somewhat firmer ground now. "We're a team, remember?"
Blair didn't respond right away; it seemed the Sentinel wasn't the only tactile-oriented one in the relationship. He was quiet for awhile, just running his hand over the arm around his shoulders. "I... I know. But, Jim, just a month ago, I used to wonder why I bothered to get out of bed. The meds help, but I'm definitely not over this, not yet... Maybe not for awhile. Everything's really messed up right now. I don't want you to have to deal with all this because of me."
"Oh, Chief," Jim sighed, his hand lightly rubbing Blair's upper arm, "don't you understand yet? This -- thing -- you're dealing with, this depression... It's partly because of me, what you gave up for me." He paused for a long moment. "How can I NOT help you deal with it?"
"It probably would have happened anyway, even if we'd never met -- kinda runs in my family." Blair shook his head. "Don't beat yourself up over it."
"I'm not," Jim said firmly, stilling Blair's hand by taking it in his own. "But you're not going to go through this alone. Not anymore." Jim looked down, then touched Blair's chin, turning Blair's head so he could look into Blair's eyes.
"Not ever again," Jim finished quietly.
Blair cracked a smile. "Isn't this the part where I'm supposed to tell you to take me away from all this?"
Jim laughed, but then his expression grew serious. "If that's what you want. Because, Chief, I gotta tell you, that works for me." He grinned devilishly. "I hear Aruba's nice this time of year."
Blair raised an eyebrow. "Might start a few rumors." He leaned against Jim casually. "This is so hard to explain to people..."
"It's nobody's business." Jim patted the younger man's back. "You -- WE -- have nothing to explain."
"I don't need your ears to hear what they say about us," Blair confided. "Stuff about how we're screwing around, literally. They all talk about partners being close, and then we are -- closer than I've ever felt to anyone -- and they have to make it sexual, because they think it's dirty..." He sighed. "It's stupid. I shouldn't let it bother me. But you deserve better than that from them."
Jim frowned as he wondered what exactly his partner had heard. Whatever it was, it hadn't been said in his earshot, so it was probably aimed deliberately at Blair. He made a note to listen around the station a little more closely. But for now, he needed words again. The right words. "There is nothing dirty or perverse about us, Blair," he said softly. "It's the best thing in my life, the closest relationship I've ever had. The closest one I'm sure I ever will have. It goes beyond the Sentinel/Guide thing, beyond the partner thing. It's a gift, and I regret everything I've done that's damaged it." He hardened his voice, his teeth clenching as he added, "And I'm not about to let anyone else sully it, or demean it, or..." His hands fisted. He was out of words. He just had to hope it had been enough.
Suddenly, though, he began to realize the real reason Blair was upset over it. 'You deserve better than that...' Blair was worried about him. Jim squeezed Blair's hand. "I'm not going to let those idiots win, all right? And even if we WERE having that kind of relationship, they'd just have to get over it, because it would be our business and no one else's."
Blair nodded. "There's nothing wrong with that, if two people feel that way, but I just DON'T have those feelings for you. I love you, but it's totally platonic and it scares me sometimes. A lot of times, actually." He gave a small smile. "I know why you push me away, and it comes down to years of crap that I can't undo. So many people have hurt you so many times, and you want to get away before you can get hurt again. But, Jim, I wouldn't ever try to hurt you; you've gotta know that."
"Yeah, Chief," Jim sighed and dropped his head to rest against his partner's for a brief moment. The night had been emotionally exhausting, and it wasn't finished yet. "I know. And I know I push people away. You're the only one won't let me -- who always stays no matter what shit I dish out." He lifted a hand and rubbed his face. For some reason, he felt like he was screwing this up, or -- something. He dropped his hand and let it rest on the other man's shoulder, steadying Blair -- steadying himself, too. "I love you, too, Blair. And that isn't going to change. Whatever else changes -- that's gonna be the same. You're my compass. You guide me, in more ways than one. And, Chief? I want to be your safe harbor -- the place you go when things get bad." He shifted position and added his free hand to Blair's other shoulder, holding Sandburg in place. "I want you to come to me when you need help. And I'll do everything I can to give you what you need."
"Compass, safe harbor... boat stuff... you missed your calling, man. You should have been in the Navy." A long pause followed, as if Blair didn't know what to say. "I... thanks. That means a lot -- but you know what? I want you to know the same thing, too. You pull away when something bugs you, and I can't help you like that...."
Jim stiffened. "It's just the way I am," he began, but then he shook his head violently. "No, dammit! It's the way I was. But, you're right, Sandburg, it doesn't work. So, when I pull away, you work a little of that Sandburg magic and make me come back, okay?" He smiled gently as he watched his friend take in the words.
"I'm an anthropologist, not a miracle worker." Blair chuckled, then grew serious. "Jim? You've gotta promise me something. You've got to promise me that you'd be okay if something happened to me. "
Jim sobered and he looked down into the earnest face that was staring up at him. This was where they always got bogged down. Sandburg didn't want to live without him, and Jim didn't think he could go on without Sandburg. It wasn't just the senses -- they were a small part of it. Blair had said it best. It was about friendship. And yet, the younger man could stand there and try an extract a promise from him as if...
Jim's eyes narrowed as a new thought crossed his mind. "Blair -- you're not trying to, uh, tell me something, are you? This depression -- how severe is it? There isn't any reason for me to think I might have to get along without you, is there?"
"No," Blair replied. "A few weeks ago... It was pretty bad for awhile. I'm doing better now. But I'm just thinking, it's not exactly a safe life we live."
"So we'll be careful. We'll eat right, and lock the doors and maybe -- just maybe -- you could stay out of harm's way every now and then?" Jim smiled as he spoke. "I don't like thinking about death, Sandburg," he said gruffly, "but I NEED you. As my friend, in my life. It's hard enough for me to accept. You've got to accept it, too."
"Jim, it's not some genetic bond thing we have. It's friendship, man, pure and simple -- well, not simple, but..." Blair sighed. "You're stronger than you think." His eyes shone brightly, from the tears and emotion.
Jim sighed again. He knew he could survive Blair's death physically -- what concerned him was if he would be able to cope emotionally. "Okay, Sandburg, okay. How's this? If something ever happens to you, I'll TRY to deal with it. That's the best I can promise, all right?"
"All right," Blair conceded. "Fair enough." He shook his head. "I don't plan on checking out soon, but I worry about you."
Frankly, Jim worried about himself, too. He could clearly remember how absolutely terrified he had been when he thought Blair was dead at the fountain. And how willing he was to do ANYTHING to get Blair back. No, what they had might not be physical, it might not be genetic, but it sure as hell was REAL. It was very real. And it went far deeper than any friendship he'd ever experienced. But Sandburg didn't need the pressure of that right now; he was dealing with enough issues as it was. So he pasted on a smile that quickly became real as he looked at his partner, watching him so earnestly and waiting for him to speak. "All right, Sandburg," he replied. "I'll definitely try. And in the meantime, if you can worry about me, then let me worry a little over you and this depression thing, okay?" He stretched his legs, then settled back onto the couch again. "What can I do? How can I help?"
Blair shook his head. "I... I don't know. I guess... THIS... Just us talking, it helps."
"So keep talking," Jim suggested. "Blair, how long as this been going on?"
"With me?" Blair asked. "The past few months. My aunt used to get really bad; I guess that's what finally drove me to get help."
Jim reached out and touched the other man's face. "I'm glad you did -- glad you got help before something happened. And," he grinned crookedly, "contrary to popular opinion, I will not implode with prolonged conversation. I can do talking. Some," he amended at Sandburg's doubtful look.
Blair sighed. Heavily. "All right, but don't say I didn't warn you."
"I'll keep that in mind. So, about your aunt?" Jim frowned as he heard Blair's heart rate suddenly increase. "Chief? What happened to your aunt?" He met Blair's eyes with his own. "I'm sure you don't want to talk about it -- and I might wish I hadn't heard it in the end -- but maybe getting it out in the open will help?"
Blair shook his head. "I haven't told anyone this yet. My aunt, Gail, she killed herself." He sighed. "I was maybe seven or eight? Yeah, I was eight...."
Ah, shit. Jim mentally smacked himself on the head. Sandburg had mentioned the aunt -- family -- with depression before, and Jim had neglected to follow up. How did these conversations always end up being about him? Because Blair always put him first, he answered his own question. But, now -- he needed to focus on Sandburg. It had to have been hard for the younger man to offer this information. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, not quite sure what was the appropriate thing to say. He really wanted to ask if Blair was afraid he was going to do the same thing. But instead, he said, "Were you close to her, Chief?" and hoped it would draw him out.
"Sorta," Blair answered. "Not as close as Naomi was. We moved in with Aunt Gail for awhile. I was seven then." Blair cuddled up next to Jim, seeking support, and Jim was happy to offer it. "She overdosed a couple of months after I turned eight, on some pills. Sleeping pills, I think..."
"And she was depressed? Like you?" Jim knew that depression could run in families, knew there was a genetic predisposition. It worried him even more to learn that it had fatal effects for Blair's aunt.
"I don't know if it was exactly like me," Blair said. "I mean, treatment wasn't as good then. But, yeah, she'd had issues with it." He looked reminiscent for a few seconds. "It wasn't bloody or anything -- she looked almost peaceful. Naomi kept trying to tell me she was somewhere better, but I didn't get it then. I mean, I knew Gail was dead, but I didn't get how whatever she was living with could have been worse than, you know, dying."
Jim breathed a silent sigh of relief. Just keep thinking that way, kid. "Must have been hard for you, eh?"
"Yeah. Especially when Mom took off."
Jim's head jerked up sharply. How could she? How could Naomi take off at a time like that, leaving her son to deal with something like that on his own? Sure, Blair had mentioned that Naomi had been close to her sister -- at least, Jim presumed it was her sister -- but, still...
Blair patted Jim's arm sort of idly, as though to calm Jim. "It's not what you think, Jim. I was pretty hurt then, too -- she left me with her friend Windsong for a couple of months that time -- but she had a pretty rough time with it. Gail was her little sister." Blair shook his head, leaning against Jim. "I found out later -- like last year -- that she had checked herself into a hospital. It was an old one that kind of specialized in treating mental issues. That's where she was for those couple months. I guess she'd been fighting it, too -- she still does now and then -- and it scared her when Gail died. That's how she got into meditation, to relax herself. You know, endorphins and all."
So Naomi had fought depression, too. Apparently it was all through Sandburg's family. And hadn't Blair been saying that before? Jim just hadn't wanted to hear it. No wonder Blair was having a hard time, especially with all the fallout from the last year. "How about you?" he asked. "Meditation help you at all?"
"Sometimes." Blair shrugged. "Not all the time. Naomi's a lot more relaxed; it's easier for her."
"So what does work for you? What can I do?" Jim asked. He hated to see Blair struggling with this and having only antidepressants to rely on.
Blair shrugged. "I'm still experimenting."
Jim frowned, but quickly covered it. Blair wasn't even that big on antibiotics -- what had made him decide to get himself on antidepressants, rather than something more natural? "Why'd you go for the drugs?" He tried to keep his tone casual; the last thing he wanted was to sound accusing right now. If those medications were helping Blair even one bit, Jim was all for them.
"I don't come from the most mentally stable of families," Blair explained, "and that's why I finally went to see someone." He sighed. "I used some herbs for awhile, but they weren't doing a whole lot except to get me out of bed in the morning. But... I thought about it, for a little while, one night, just getting it all over with...." He stopped at Jim's expression. "I didn't get as far as trying anything. I... I just thought about Gail, you know, and how confused I was over it when it happened and I called someone, got help."
Jim was silent. The enormity of what Blair had just said didn't want to sink in. '...getting it all over with...' Jim felt sick to his stomach. One part of him wanted to immediately buy a gun safe and make sure that temptation was never available. But then, he'd have to get rid of the razors and the knives, and scissors, and any drugs -- including the antidepressants; people overdosed on them all the time -- and, damn! Blair's hair dryer and the toaster... Because, you know, water and electrical appliances.
Jim sighed. There was just no way to make the loft completely safe. And even if he could, Blair would still be out in the world, where he could get whatever he wanted, to do whatever he wanted, if he wanted. Jim shook his head, his own train of thought dizzying, and settled for saying, "If you feel that way again, Chief -- EVER -- will you please come talk to me? Call me, come to me, wake me -- whatever you need, but promise me you won't do anything permanent without talking to me." His face was stricken as he thought of coming home and finding Blair...
God, he was going to be sick. "Blair," he breathed desperately, "promise me! Please."
Blair pulled Jim into a hug -- not hard, given Jim's state. "I promise, Jim. I couldn't do that to you. That's what stopped me." He sighed. "I didn't want to scare you; I just thought... I haven't told anyone that, either, and..."
Jim dropped his head to rest against the couch. "No, no, it's okay. I WANT you to talk to me. I just... Well, that's all. I want you to talk to me." He swallowed hard, then returned Blair's hug. "Just let me help."
Blair nodded. "You know, Jim, you were right in a way."
"What you said before you left," Blair replied. "'This isn't over.'"
"I didn't mean--" Jim began to protest, but Blair cut him off.
"No, Jim. I meant it; you're right. This is NOT over." Blair shook his head slowly. "We both screwed a lot of things up, big time. And we'd be kidding ourselves if we thought the problems were finished just because we managed to make up after one fight."
"It was a hell of a fight, Chief," Jim pointed out, teasing.
Blair almost smiled, but covered it in time. "Yeah, it was. But, maybe we got a lot of crap in the open, and we can heal now. We haven't fixed all our problems yet, but I think we've made a decent start."
"Yeah," Jim agreed, smiling -- a genuine smile now. It wasn't over. Blair was right; they hadn't solved everything. But they'd salvaged their friendship, and that was the important thing. The friendship wasn't over, either. Old habits died hard, though, and he was starting to feel uncomfortable with the sheer emotional energy hanging between them at the moment. So he changed the subject. "Hey, you think we could still catch the end of that Jags game? What'd you do with the remote?"
It had been a grueling night, emotionally, and Jim and Blair both fell asleep not much more than ten minutes into the basketball game's final quarter. They were still on the couch in the morning -- as Jim discovered when he awoke to find that he had a stiff neck and about 150 pounds of dead weight leaning against him. The television was still on, and Cascade's local news anchor was brightly reporting on the weather. Blearily, Jim searched for the remote, and -- upon discovering that it was under Blair -- used his free arm to throw a small pillow at the TV set. He didn't particularly care for Marissa Grimes on the best of mornings.
Footsteps approached, and a knock on the door soon followed. Jim looked at the door. "Yeah, who is it?" Judging from the scent of cigar smoke, it was probably Simon, but Jim figured he might as well ask.
Score another one for the Sentinel senses. Jim would later deal with the fact that his Guide's weight was cutting off most of the circulation to Jim's left arm. "Oh, yeah, c'mon in."
Simon looked amused as he opened the door and strode into the loft, then surveyed the scene in front of him. "Gee, hope I didn't wake you." His tone wasn't the least bit apologetic.
"No, I was awake," Jim replied. Okay, so only barely. "Don't tell me you have a case. It's our day off." They both really needed this day off.
Simon shook his head. "No, because it's my day off, too, remember? I actually came by to drop this off." He took the file folder he'd been holding under his arm and dropped it onto the kitchen island's countertop. "Now, dare I ask?"
Jim tried to shrug, but found it difficult. "We were tired -- can you turn the TV off while you're over there? It should be illegal for anyone to be that perky. Sandburg's not even that perky."
Simon chuckled, and turned the TV off, then looked Blair over. "I'd say not."
"Sandburg on pep pills wouldn't be that perky!"
"Okay, Jim," Simon said, holding up his hands, "I got the point. Why don't you just wake him up, anyway?"
"Because then the blood's going to come back to my arm," Jim answered, "and I like to delay that tingly feeling crap as long as possible. It's hell on my sense of touch. Besides, he can use the sleep."
"I'm guessing you were both up pretty late last night?" Simon asked, taking a seat on the smaller sofa.
Jim shook his head. "Yeah, we wanted to catch the end of the Jags game."
"Jim, that game was over by nine-thirty."
"Oh, was it?" It must have just seemed later because of everything else that had happened.
"Yes," Simon confirmed, "and it's just past nine now. You slept on the couch?"
"Fell asleep," Jim clarified. He knew Simon would never listen to the rumors around the department, or likely even mention this incident except among friends, but he somehow felt the need to make the distinction. "It was... Let's just say it was a really long night."
"Everything okay?" Simon asked, frowning slightly.
"It's better now," Jim assured him. "We just had some issues."
"I'll say," Simon kidded.
Jim laughed softly. "I meant in addition to the normal issues." Isn't that kind of a contradiction in terms, normal issues? "There's been a lot of crap building up, and we finally started to deal with it."
Simon smiled. "It's about time."
That caught Jim off-guard. "What?"
"Nothing's been the same between you two since Sierra Verde, Jim," Simon explained. "Everyone noticed it. You're still closer friends than most people ever will be, but it was like something was missing, I guess."
Jim nodded thoughtfully. "I think we found that something last night."
"Well, I'm glad." Simon motioned to the folder he'd brought. "We managed to dig up a little more on Kurt Alexander."
"Good." Jim looked over to the folder, then to his partner, and finally pulled his arm free from underneath Blair so that he could stand up. Blair made a noise of protest, but then laid down on the couch, reaching out sleepily with one hand to pull the Navajo blanket on the couch around him. Within seconds, he was asleep again. Jim smiled affectionately and pulled the blanket the rest of the way over the sleeping man. He massaged his tingling arm with the other hand as he made his way to the counter to retrieve the folder. "Anything particularly interesting?"
"Just a little more information on his previous stalking victims." Simon shrugged. "He's continuing his trend with Carolyn... All of the others were professionals, too, about her age. He seems to like a science background... Heaven knows why. There's next to nothing on his past."
"Have you talked to Carolyn recently?" Jim asked. "I was going to last night, but then, nothing went like planned last night."
"Does life ever? Actually, I did talk to her yesterday. She's all right -- a little impatient, but we all are. How's Sandburg?"
"His shoulder?" Jim asked. At Simon's nod, he continued. "It's healing. Fortunately, this doesn't impair his function much; it just drives him crazy." Jim reached out to tousle Blair's dark curls playfully. "Not a far trip, eh, Chief?"
"Mmmf." Blair, waking up, groaned and opened one eye. He looked around cautiously before opening the other eye as well and sitting up. He winced and rubbed lightly at his sore shoulder, then glanced over to Jim. "What trip?"
"Well, good morning, Sunshine," Jim teased. "And never mind what trip. It's not important."
"'Kay." Blair rubbed his eyes, then frowned suddenly. "Simon?"
"You were expecting maybe Denzel Washington?" Simon asked dryly.
"We've got some more stuff on Alexander," Jim said, sitting down on the couch next to Blair. "His other victims were a lot like Carolyn -- but he never made any attempt to hurt any of them before; he was just a nuisance. Why change now?"
"Maybe he has a thing for redheads, too?" Blair joked.
Jim grinned. "I happen to know that Carolyn's a natural brunette. I don't know; it could be anything at this point. We've just got to make sure she's safe until we figure it out and catch him."
"Well, we've got the 'safe' part covered for now," Simon contributed, waving an unlit cigar as he spoke, "but as for catching him, I'm open to suggestions."
Blair looked contemplative for a little while, then looked up, inspiration written on his face. "I've got an idea."
Simon's eyebrows rose, his expression becoming curious. "What is it, Sandburg?"
Blair's grin grew almost devilish. "Live bait."
"I mean a decoy." Blair nodded enthusiastically. "Like... I don't know. I'd do it."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "What are you going to do, put a red rinse in your hair and go in drag?"
"In a word? No." Blair looked around, and then picked up his jacket, which had been draped over the sofa. He pulled a copied photograph from the pocket. "Look at this."
Jim shrugged. "It's Laura Trouchesett."
"The first woman Alexander stalked?" Simon asked.
"Yeah." Blair nodded. "She was his science teacher his junior year in high school."
"And how's this relate?" Simon asked.
"Well, other than her having red hair? She left about halfway through that year, I found, to work for the local police department. As a forensic technician. Now, that doesn't mean anything alone, right? We already know he likes science types. But he had this huge crush on her, and he started stalking her AFTER she left." Blair grinned. "He also kept after her fiancee -- occasionally injuring him, though nothing that couldn't look accidental. Now, Alexander's seen both of us with Carolyn. With the exception of the shooting, he's followed the same plan exactly that he used with Laura Trouchesett and her fiancee. So, unless we found a woman who could distract him -- he's been easily distracted by random women, even when he was seriously stalking someone -- one of us could probably at least get his attention. Why not me?"
"Because I don't want you getting hurt," Jim insisted. "He's already taken a shot at you."
"Maybe he'll underestimate me."
"Maybe you'll underestimate him," Jim countered.
Simon held up his hands. "I don't want to put either of you in danger unless I absolutely have to. Right now, Alexander's just been watching the house from a few houses down. We don't have a positive ID for the shooting, or we'd have him. We're keeping an eye on him; the moment he makes one wrong move, we'll nail him. Right now, he hasn't made any threatening moves. We'll wait and see."
"Seems we're doing a lot of that lately," Blair mused. "The jewelry heist, this case."
Jim chuckled. "I think it's called waiting for the next explosion."
Jim and Simon were walking across the lobby of Jim's apartment building, when Jim's cell phone rang. He retrieved the phone from his pocket, and flipped it open. "Hello?"
"Jim?" It was Carolyn. "He's back."
"What?" That wasn't what he wanted to hear. Alexander had disappeared, and they hadn't seen or heard anything from him for the past two days. They'd thought maybe he'd given up, but they hadn't gotten overly optimistic about that possibility yet. Good thing, too.
"Alexander," Carolyn answered. "He's back -- right outside. Not a ways down, like before. He's been there for about five minutes. This is really getting kind of unnerving, you know."
"For all of us," Jim assured her. "Are you and Connor all right?"
"Yeah, we're fine," she said. "He's just sitting there, looking through the window, I guess, with a pair of binoculars." There was a pause. "Wait, now he's leaving."
"Good." Jim sighed, wishing the elevator would hurry up and arrive. He noticed Simon's curious expression, and motioned to the captain that he would explain shortly.
"I don't know if that's such a good thing."
"Why not?" Jim and Simon stepped into the open elevator once it arrived, and Jim hit the button for the third floor.
"He was watching us. What if he knew I was calling you?"
"What about it?"
She took a little while to answer, as though she were debating revealing her reason to Jim. The elevator stopped at the third floor, and Jim stepped out, Simon following.
"He knows where you live. What if that's where he's going?"
Jim barked a little laugh, arriving in front of the door to the loft. "Try not to worry, Caro," he said. "I don't think he can take me." He closed the phone, sliding it into his pocket as he slid the key into the door. It pushed open as soon as he touched it, and he froze, extending his senses into the loft.
Blair was lying in the middle of the living room floor, unconscious, near the kitchen table.
"Simon, call an ambulance."
Simon nodded, but frowned at his cell phone. "I'm not getting a signal; I'm going down the hall."
Jim nodded -- hearing, but not really listening. A million thoughts assaulted him at once. Had someone been here? Had they hurt Blair? Or had Blair...? No. He'd promised. Jim reached out with his senses to assess his partner. He heard a steady heartbeat -- and thank God it was beating. Jim kicked the door shut as he raced across the room, dropping to his knees beside Blair.
Blair's breathing was muffled by his position, but he WAS breathing. He moaned softly, but didn't stir.
Jim mentally reviewed -- ABC's... Airway, Breathing... What was C? For a second, he blanked -- but then mentally slapped himself. Circulation, of course. Well, it didn't matter. Sandburg was breathing. He had a pulse. D was for Disability... Blair was unconscious, so that was the answer for the level of consciousness. The soft moans told Jim that Blair was, at least, responsive to pain. E -- Expose? It depended on how bad the injuries were. Jim would try his sense of touch first, and then decide. "Blair," he said quietly as he reached out and ran his hand, Sentinel-soft, over the man, looking for injuries. Satisfied that there were no injuries to Blair's back, Jim gently turned him over.
Once Blair was on his back, his breathing eased, but it also revealed a nasty bruise and small laceration on his forehead. The wound was too high-placed and at the wrong angle to be self-inflicted, except by accidental causes, and in the middle of the living room, there were no viable ones.
"C'mon, Chief," he urged, as he lightly slapped the other man's face. "You've gotta wake up and tell me what happened." He carefully straightened Blair's limbs, trying to make him as comfortable as possible, before he jumped up to get a rag to wipe the blood from the head wound.
Simon had returned by the time Jim got back to his partner's side. "Jim? Is he all right?"
Jim shrugged. "Looks like someone hit him pretty hard. I don't think he's too badly off, though."
"Well, that's good."
Blair slowly began to stir. "Jim?" he called softly, moaning again as he blinked against the light and pain.
"Shh -- I'm here." Jim touched Blair's arm. "Don't try to move yet." He reached out and gently sponged at the blood on his partner's face, wincing in concert with the other man.
"I was hoping you could tell me, Chief," Jim replied with a smile. He reached out and brushed a stray piece of hair away from Blair's face. "I came home, the loft was unlocked and the door not quite shut, and you were lying unconscious in the living room."
"My head hurts." Blair lifted his hands to touch his head, but Jim caught Blair's wrists and gently lowered them.
"You've got quite a bump." Jim shifted from his knees to his feet, squatting now. "Here," he said, reaching out, "do you think you could get up with my help? Maybe move to the couch?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah." He sat up slowly. "Oh, man. I don't know what happened. I just got a few things from that corner store. I brought them in, and I thought I heard someone behind me..."
"Did you see who it was?" Jim asked, easing Blair to his feet and helping him stagger to the couch.
Blair shook his head, wincing. "No. I turned around, and something hit me. Then you were here..."
The sirens outside were now audible to even normal hearing, and Blair groaned. "Not again. Tell them to go away. I don't need paramedics."
"Just let them look over you," Jim suggested. "I'd feel a lot better." Given Carolyn's phone call, Jim was starting to suspect who might have been behind this. But he didn't want to say anything until he was sure.
"They're probably hearing our address and going, 'Not them again!'" Blair moaned.
"I don't doubt it, Sandburg," Simon contributed, keeping his tone light. "Just let them check you out."
"I've had about enough of this shit," Blair insisted, sitting up despite Jim's attempts to ease him back against the couch. "I need to leave a memo. I'm NOT allowed to be used as the world's punching bag anymore!"
"I'm all for that, Chief," Jim agreed, patting Blair's good shoulder before he got up to let the medics in. They didn't know this pair, and Blair relaxed somewhat upon seeing that.
"What's the problem?" one of the medics, whose tag read Trisha Vincent, asked.
Blair grinned at her. "My roommate wants me checked out... I'd really appreciate this if you could make it quick. I don't think I have a concussion this time. I'd know."
"How would you know?" she asked, casting a doubtful look at her partner.
"I've had enough of them." Blair turned his head so that they could examine the laceration. "Actually, I hate to bring you out here for nothing, but I didn't have a choice. Um, maybe if you could just give me a couple of gauze pads for this?"
"Sandburg!" Jim protested. He turned to Trisha. "You'll have to ignore him; he just doesn't want to go to the hospital. I walked in, and I found him out cold. Could you please just look him over? If he needs to go, I'll take him -- the fight's probably not worth it for you."
The female paramedic looked no less weirded out by the situation, but she nodded, and held out a hand to her partner. "Jack, could you hand me a penlight? Thanks." She looked into Blair's eyes. "Well, both pupils are equal and reactive." With a gloved hand, she gently probed the forehead injury. "I don't feel anything broken." She continued with her assessment, turning to the partners when she was done. "Okay. Here's the way I see it. I can't tell in the field if he has a concussion or not. If he does, you probably don't want to completely ignore it -- especially if it's happened to him before. I would absolutely tell you to take him to the hospital. We'd be glad to do it, but--"
"I'll go with him," Blair sighed, obviously resigning himself to the fact that he was going to the hospital one way or another. "Thanks for everything. Where do I sign?"
Simon went out to check on Carolyn and Megan while Jim took Blair by Mercy General's emergency room. Amazingly, it only took them three hours to get in and out; the gauze pad taped to Blair's forehead might have helped, along with the fact that the blood was beginning to drain and give him a black eye. The doctors had declared that -- while Jim should keep an eye on Blair for any sudden changes -- they didn't see evidence of a concussion; any concussion he might have that they'd missed would have been a very mild one. He looked terrible. But, as long as Blair was okay, Jim didn't care how his partner looked.
Blair cared, however, and he was still fussing as he climbed into the truck after leaving the hospital. "This is not going to go over well with Sam."
"I thought you two were history," Jim said, surprised.
"History repeats itself, Jim." Blair sighed, leaning back against the truck's seat. "I haven't been seeing her as much since all the mess started with the depression stuff; I just wasn't motivated. But we're not exactly through. I sent her flowers a couple days ago. She seemed to like that."
"Do me a favor and don't marry this woman, Chief."
"Oh, no." Blair shook his head. "NOT a problem. I don't know; if we were married... That's just not a thought I want to entertain now. Or ever." He re-examined himself in the rearview mirror. "Do you think I could play this up for the sympathy factor?"
"You're hopeless." Jim chuckled. "If I were you, I'd just move on. There are plenty of fish in the sea. But, yeah, if you want to go for the sympathy angle, go ahead."
"You may have a point," Blair mused. "I'm getting tired of this off and on again game. I'd really like something more permanent, but that would actually require finding the right woman, which I haven't done yet. So I guess I take what I can, where I can, huh?"
"I suppose." Jim paused. "Something more permanent, huh? Are you saying you want to get married?"
"If I found the right woman, yeah." Blair nodded. "I think so."
Jim shrugged. "I suppose you've got to try it at least once."
"Jim, that's terrible. Marriage is a--"
"Concept I've tried," Jim finished. "And, frankly, I discovered -- as you well know -- that Carolyn and I would have been better just staying friends. I'm an avid supporter of the catch and release program now."
"Yeah, I've noticed." Blair gave him a look. "But, really, Jim. Let's suppose I did find someone, and I did want to marry her. What would you think of that?"
Jim didn't particularly want to think of it; that would mean he'd have to take a backseat in Blair's life to someone else. It was petty and jealous, but he didn't want to. On the other hand, Jim wanted Blair to be happy. He supposed they would cross that bridge when and if they came to it, but he still had to answer the question. "Well, I'm all for weddings, Chief, as long as they're not mine."
The pair met up with Simon, Carolyn, and Megan over at the safe house, and -- after assuring the women that Blair was really all right, despite appearances -- the group began to formulate a plan.
"If it's okay with you two, I'm going to give that jewelry heist case to Rafe and Brown," Simon told Jim and Blair. "I think you need to focus your energies on getting this guy, and soon."
"I'm all for that," Jim agreed. "That okay with you, Sandburg?"
"Fine." Blair nodded. "But the question is, what do we do about him?"
"Your 'live bait' scheme may work," Megan reflected. "And, no, I'm not suggesting any of you boys go undercover in drag."
"Then where do we get...?" Jim began.
"Hello?" Megan threw up her hands. "While I'm quite happy playing guardian over here, you could do that just as effectively. I, however, actually look like a woman -- and I have genuine female parts. Water balloons just don't cut it, boys."
Ignoring Carolyn's snickering, Jim nodded slowly. "It could work. If we could get him interested in you, only for a few minutes..."
"I daresay I could keep his attention longer than that."
"I'm sure you could," Simon replied. "But that's all we'd need." He looked over at Jim. "We could leave you here, and I'll take Sandburg with me, and Connor, but how do we get her into the picture without looking too obvious? If she's sitting in the car when we pull up..."
"Yeah," Blair said. "He'd probably know it was a trap, no matter how well she played it." He glanced at Megan. "How do we sneak you in?"
Megan grinned brightly at Simon. "Well, sir, how much room is there in the boot of your car?"
"You're kidding." Simon stared at her for a moment. "You're not kidding."
"Not that I was aware of," she said.
Blair laughed to himself. "Oh, this is gonna be interesting."
"There was blood and a single gunshot, but who shot who?" Blair almost murmured the question, leaning against the passenger-side window of Simon's sedan.
"Sandburg," Simon warned, "if you're going to spend the night quoting those damn Copacabana lyrics to me..."
"No, no." Blair shook his head. "I was just thinking. About Jim. I mean, say he were a block away or so, and someone shot someone else. I mean, granted, he wouldn't see who shot who until he got there, unless he had some psychic vision. I don't know the exact ranges on all of his senses. I really should find out."
"Yeah, I'd love to see how you'd talk him into letting you test that one." Simon chuckled softly. "But it might be helpful."
"Hey, I remember when you just wanted the senses to go away so everything would be normal."
Simon shrugged nonchalantly. "My dad was a cop in LA County in the sixties and seventies. He saw some of the strangest things. I moved to Washington so I could achieve some sense of normalcy -- and, instead, I get stuff that's even weirder. Why me?"
Simon was about to protest, but then he considered that there really wasn't any good way to respond to that question, and he glanced at his watch instead. "Okay, it's almost time." He handed Blair the car's keys. "You'd probably better let Megan out of the trunk." Well, there was one more thing to add to the list of things he'd never thought he would hear himself say.
They were only parked about a block away from the safe house, so Megan decided to just walk from where the car was parked and see if she ran into Alexander. She had a carefully crafted story to tell him to explain her association with the police department, and Blair was staying close, but out of sight if she needed him. If all else failed, she had her cell phone clipped to her belt and her gun in her purse.
"Oh, hello." Finding their suspect in his car, returning to the house, she approached, waving at him.
Alexander stopped the car, eyeing her curiously. "Have we met?"
"Oh, I don't believe so, not formally." Megan hated playing a ditz, but she'd do what she had to. "See, I hang out with the police, and I know that you've been watching that one house we're kind of living in right now. So I guess you saw me."
At the mention of police, his eyes narrowed, but he didn't appear to perceive her as a threat. "How are you involved with them?"
"It's this witness protection thing," Megan explained smoothly. "See, I'm supposed to pretend I'm with them."
"I see." He shut off the engine of the car, and got out, then leaned against the vehicle. "So, why did you come out to talk to me?"
"I got curious. You left. Where'd you go?"
"Just to take care of some business." Alexander shrugged.
"Okay." Megan loved toying with him, though she highly suspected she knew what his business had been, and wanted to hurt him for that. Jim wasn't the only one protective of Blair Sandburg. "So why are you watching the house? My friend Carolyn says you're scaring her."
"I don't mean to. I know her from San Francisco." He smiled, obviously trying to charm her. It didn't work, but Megan didn't let on. "I want to ask her out, but I'm too shy. So I watch her."
"Oh, okay." Megan nodded. She shrugged. "Well, see you later."
"Yeah, see you."
The 'distraction' theory was apparently right; he hadn't paid the least bit of attention to the house in the time he and Megan had been talking. Megan also believed that his explanation of being too shy to ask Carolyn out was pretty much true. He just didn't realize how warped his way of approaching the matter was. She headed back to the house, a bit surprised when he actually followed her. "Where are you going?"
"I thought you could introduce me to your friend," Alexander said.
This was almost too good. Megan had to suppress a smile. If he made one move, they would have him. She saw Blair behind her in her peripheral vision, and motioned behind her back that he should go around to the back of the house like they'd planned should they need him there. Simon was still waiting in the parked car, with a radio; Blair carried one as well, and there was one in the house. "Sure, I guess so." She continued walking up the sidewalk to the front door, and opened it. "Wait here. I'll get her." Megan carefully closed the door behind her.
He nodded, and Carolyn walked into the front room, her expression hopeful but wary. Jim was leaning against the kitchen doorway, casually -- but ready to spring into action any moment.
But, in the next moment, all hell broke loose. Alexander threw open the front door in the next moment, which automatically triggered the alarm. Jim winced, his hands immediately going to his ears as his knees buckled. Megan gasped softly; he must have had his hearing up to listen to Alexander on the other side of the door, and been caught off-guard by the sudden, loud noise.
Carolyn ran over to Jim's side, so Megan reached into her purse for her gun -- but Alexander reached out and grabbed her wrist, twisting it until she involuntarily whimpered in pain.
"Witness protection program, huh?" he growled, pulling her close enough for her to feel his breath on her neck. "I'll teach you to screw with me." He pushed her away, and Megan stumbled backwards over the coffee table. She lay on the ground for a moment, the wind knocked out of her, wondering what they were going to do. Jim was still trying to shake off the effects of the alarm that hadn't yet shut off, and Alexander could likely snatch Carolyn from his side before Megan could get up. She struggled to her feet, fighting soreness that she knew would be bruises in the morning.
"Don't even think about it," another voice warned, as Alexander stepped toward Carolyn.
Megan smiled, instantly recognizing the voice. "Sandy," she said softly. Thank God she'd told him to go around.
Blair took a deep breath, training his gun on Alexander. "You touch her, and I'll take you down before you can even do anything. And, Megan, shut that damn alarm off, will you? It's giving ME a headache!"
Megan nodded, and went about doing so. Jim didn't seem to respond right away, but Megan had seen him take a few minutes to recover from an overload before, even after the source was removed. It took longer when he was doing it on his own, without guidance.
"I thought I took care of you," Alexander said, simply. He believed he had. Megan shook her head, going to the radio in the house. She turned it on, and tapped in the code that would signal Simon.
Blair shook his head. "I may look like hell, but it takes more to take care of me." He tightened his grip on the gun visibly. "Don't make me use this."
Megan knew the threat was more of a plea. He really didn't want to use it. She smiled as she saw Simon's sedan pulling up outside. The cavalry had arrived, and she knew that he would at least be cautious and not storm in with guns blazing. That might just spook Alexander -- who seemed held at bay for the moment by the threat of being shot.
Jim shook his head, and finally straightened up a little bit. Accepting Carolyn's help, he stood. Alexander was a few feet away from them, but Jim stepped between the stalker and Carolyn -- and also, in Blair's way. Megan smiled, recognizing the tactic. Blair wouldn't shoot if there was a remote chance of injuring Jim. Jim was sparing his partner having to make that decision and also making sure that Alexander would have to go through him to get to anyone else.
In short order, once Simon came in, with backup enroute, they had taken Alexander down. Simon came at him from behind and Jim from the front. The man never stood a chance.
Once Alexander was in cuffs and being taken care of by the arriving officers and Simon outside, Blair took a deep breath and collapsed onto the nearest couch. "It's over."
Carolyn nodded, sinking down beside him. "I'll say."
Blair looked at the weapon in his hand for a long moment before putting it back into the holster. "I... Thanks, Jim."
"Don't mention it." Jim smiled, likely guessing that Blair had been on to his plan. Well, Megan thought, it had only been obvious to anyone who knew the pair.
"How's your head?" Blair asked.
"A couple of aspirin and I'll be okay." Jim shook his head again, as though clearing it.
Carolyn frowned. "Does that happen often?"
Jim glanced at his partner. "Not nearly as often since he came around."
"You live and learn, Jim." Blair shrugged.
"Oh, come on, Sandy," Megan contributed. "You can take some credit."
"Yeah." Carolyn grinned. "He's sure a hell of a lot easier to live with since you two met."
A small smile crossed Sandburg's face. "Hey, I just...." He glanced over out the front window, as one of the officers put Alexander into the back of a squad car, and drove off. "He's gone."
Carolyn sighed deeply. "It's really over. Thank God."
"You can say that again," Blair agreed. But Megan saw something else in his eyes, something she'd seen for awhile now, that wasn't 'over'. And she frankly wished it were.
He'd thought he was past this. He should have known better; it never simply went away. This wasn't a problem that could be solved overnight. A hug wasn't going to make it all better. He couldn't simply take two pills and call someone in the morning. Living with this sort of depression meant getting it to manageable levels, getting a support system -- and using it -- and, well, the medication helped. Still, there were times when things just got overwhelming anyway.
The relief of knowing the stalker case was over, even the paperwork now, was tinged with the overwhelming sense of melancholy that seemed to permeate his existence. Why did he bother? Would things ever improve?
Blair had thought he was well on his way to recovery after that fight with Jim; they'd brought so many issues into the open. But there were more issues, personal issues that had been part and parcel of who Blair Sandburg was for years, before Jim had ever come into his life.
Jim was so much stronger than he gave himself credit for. He could survive without Blair if he had to. He'd survived much worse. And, Naomi... Blair knew she would feel the loss, but she didn't NEED him. She would go on with her life. And, as for the job, the city of Cascade had done just fine on its own for quite some time without him. So, really, there was nothing stopping him from just ending it all. This cycle was so tiring -- feeling okay one day and desperate the next.
He couldn't do it in the loft, though. Blair couldn't leave Jim with that guilt trip. Maybe Rainier would be the right place. After all, the symbolism was perfect -- his life had ended there once before. He'd committed academic suicide there only a few months ago; why not go for the whole package?
The more Blair thought about it, the more appealing the idea sounded. Now, what to do? Walking in front of vehicles was out -- with his luck, he'd survive and be paralyzed. Drugs? He'd been there and done that, and didn't want to take the chance that his brain might somehow connect any overdosed state with Golden Fire People and rehash those memories. Why make this any more difficult than it had to be?
He felt the weight of the weapon in the holster at the small of his back. Once, that gun had been the total antithesis of who he was. But, now? Well, there were supposedly a thousand ways to kill someone with one shot, and he'd learned most of them during his years with the police department. At least it would be quick.
Slowly, calculatingly, Blair pulled a notepad out of the desk drawer in his room. He smiled at it darkly. The top of each sheet read, 'Great Ideas That Will Probably Be Ignored'. How many times had he felt that way? Too many.
Now, what to say? He couldn't not leave something behind, but how did one say goodbye to their best friend? Perhaps he should let his confusion lead him.
Well, that was a start.
Blair paused, sighing as he looked over the note, and started to write again.
I don't know what to say, and I know nothing I can say will be likely to make you feel any better right away. I don't know how to say goodbye to you. You're my best friend, and I'm so grateful for everything. I know leaving a note is sort of cliche, but I just had to do this. I couldn't not say goodbye. And, now, I can't say it either. So, well... um, yeah. I'm sure we'll find each other again in some realm somewhere -- but it better NOT be too soon. I mean that, too. You have way too much to do in this life, and this city needs its Sentinel. You've got a greater destiny, Jim. I just hope you find someone who can help you see it -- I guess I haven't done much good in that regard.
Everything I have left from the Sentinel project is in that box under my bed. The key is in one of the books on the third shelf of my bookcase -- yeah, it's one of those hollow book things. There are a few files on my laptop, too. I'm sure you can guess the password. I think we at least know each other that well.
This was going much longer than he'd intended, but there was a lot that needed to be said.
There's so much that I can't even put into words, and I'm going to have to trust that you can understand it the way I do. It's an unspoken thing I think we've always had between us. Maybe I'm just deluding myself. Hell, I don't know. There's so much I don't understand right now. I'm confusing myself, but that's not exactly a new state of affairs.
I love you, Jim. Take that for what it's worth, however you may want to interpret it. I know how I feel, at least. You've meant so much to me, more than you'll ever know. I'm really gonna miss you. But, if there's some way -- and I have to believe there is -- you can bet that I'll be keeping an eye on you.
Take care of yourself.
This was as good as it was going to get. Blair took the note, and folded it in half. He dropped it onto the table, and headed for the door, grabbing his jacket on the way out. This wasn't the best way to solve things, but it was the only plan he had.
In the hall outside the loft, Carolyn gave Jim a quick hug. "I guess I'll be seeing you."
"Don't be a stranger." Jim rested a hand on her shoulder. There were times -- like now -- that it was obvious to him why he'd fallen in love with this woman, but he realized that they were better off as friends. He liked that, too; he actually liked it better than marriage, because now he was free to screw up and be human. And she had the same freedom. They'd expected too much perfection from their marriage, and it had failed as a result. There seemed to be a reason two perfectionists should never be allowed to marry.
"Yeah, back to sunny California." Carolyn laughed softly. "I hear it's in the 70's there today."
Jim grinned. "Sandburg would love it. Watch out; he might go with you."
"Yeah, like you'd let him," Carolyn replied, returning the grin. "Take care of yourself, Jimmy. And if you're ever in Frisco, look me up."
"All right." He nodded. "You be careful, too."
After a final hug, she was gone. Jim didn't feel nearly as unsettled by this goodbye as he had over her previous departure to San Francisco. He'd felt at the time that she was trying to escape him, or possibly get away from having to see his developing relationship with Blair. That had taken everyone a lot of time to accept -- Jim included. They had dealt with a lot of old issues, and fixed some of the problems. He chuckled to himself as he unlocked the door, and let himself into the loft. "Chief? You home?" He listened. No response and no heartbeat. Jim didn't recall seeing Blair's Volvo in the lot, so he shrugged, wondering where Blair had gotten off to, and tossed his keys on the table. A folded piece of paper fluttered to the floor. "What's this?"
Jim bent down to pick the paper up, and unfolded it, curious. He could almost feel his world beginning to crumble as he read the letter; each word practically screamed with Blair's anguish. It took Jim a long moment to process everything, and understand what he'd just seen. He was holding a suicide note in his hands. Blair was going to kill himself. "Oh, shit."
But how old was the note? What if he'd already done it?
He promised me! Jim thought desperately, trying to make sense of something he might never understand. Sure, he'd been at that point once in his own life, after returning from Peru -- confused, feeling alone in the world, just wanting it all to be over -- but Blair had people there for him! He promised me he wouldn't do this!
And, slowly, the shock began to wear off and real emotion set in. Panic was the first among them. Blair's bedroom was across the way from the kitchen table, and Jim raced over to the door, flinging it open. He scanned the room quickly -- no Blair. Blair wasn't in the living room. The bathroom door was open, and he wasn't there either. Jim raced upstairs to his bedroom, and glanced around. Well, it was certain now that Blair wasn't actually in the loft -- the missing coat and car pretty much confirmed it. That just left... the rest... of... Cascade. Shit.
Jim rushed down the two flights of stairs to the lobby, and practically leapt into his truck. Once there, he realized that he had no clue where he was actually going to go.
He ran a hand over his face, trying to calm himself enough to think. He'd be no use to Blair like this. Get a grip, Ellison! Try to think like Blair, dammit. Where would he go?
Rainier? It was the obvious first choice, but Jim had to figure that Blair wouldn't go for the obvious. He'd probably go someplace Jim wouldn't think to find him. So where would that be?
Maybe the reservoir, where they'd lost Lisa Hughes at the start of the Golden case. Jim tended to go there as infrequently as possible, not wanting to bring up old memories. That case had been hell on both him and Blair. Especially Blair.
But would Blair really go there? Maybe, if he'd thought it would be the last place Jim would look. It was the only idea Jim had, and he was going to act on it. But he couldn't search the whole city at once. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed.
"Simon, I think Blair's going to do something stupid." Jim had no time for pleasantries.
"Huh? What makes you say that?" Simon asked.
"He left me a suicide note."
"You heard me." Jim was getting slightly impatient. "He left me a suicide note!"
"Do you know where he went?" Simon asked, concern in his tone.
Jim rolled his eyes, frustrated. "If I knew that, would I be calling you?! I'd be there with him! God, I don't know where he is! I don't even know how old that note was!"
"Well, where do you think he'd go? Maybe the university?"
Jim shook his head. "No, it's too obvious. He'd know I'd look there..."
"Are you sure? Maybe he wanted you to find him."
Wanted. Past tense. "Don't talk like that! He's still alive. I'd know if he were dead." At least he hoped he would. "Simon, we've got to find him."
"Yeah, Jim, that would be a good idea. Listen, I'm still at the station. I'll head over to the school. I'm probably closer than you are."
"Okay." Jim nodded. The more he thought about it, the more likely Rainier seemed. "I'll meet you there."
The flower garden on Rainier's campus was actually very pretty in the late evening hours -- many of the night-blooming flowers were out. Even in the winter, there was always something growing; the groundskeeper was quite particular about that.
Blair sighed, pulling the gun from its holster. He used a sleeve to brush the snow from one of the benches, and sat down, examining the weapon in his hands for a long moment. This was it.
It was cold, but not unbearably so, and Blair looked around at the garden surrounding him. The flowers were beautiful, and in the late evening, the campus seemed almost peaceful. The fountain was nearby, half frozen over from the cold, and Blair shook his head. He'd considered doing this there, simply because it was closer to the parking lot he'd come in from, but he wanted someplace to sit and think for a few minutes, and the garden had never let him down in that regard before. In fact, it had been there that he'd been sitting -- on a much nicer day, in terms of weather -- when he'd considered his options regarding the dissertation mess.
Blair reached out to touch one of the flowers, but pricked his finger on a hidden thorn. A drop of blood fell from his fingertip, staining the pure white snow below.
Nobody came to this garden much in this sort of weather. But he had come, and he supposed it was time to get on with things.
But his eyes remained fixated on the ruby red droplet against the white of the snow. His finger had stopped bleeding; the puncture had been tiny. But that wasn't going to be the only blood on the snow by the night's end.
"I'm sorry, Jim." It was now or never. Blair took the gun's safety off, and readied it. He raised the weapon, but then stopped, a memory halting him. Jim. He had promised Jim he wouldn't do this; he'd even told himself before that he couldn't do this to Jim. This was not about him. If he did this, there wasn't going to be a second chance. There wasn't any hope of a better day. Perhaps... if he held on for one more day... It might get better. There was always that chance.
Closing his eyes to fight the threatening tears, Blair set the gun down beside him and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. He hit one of the speed dial buttons, praying it would ring.
Jim snatched his phone up as soon as it started to ring, and flipped it open with one wrist. He kept the other hand firmly on the steering wheel. "Simon?! Did you find him?"
"No. It's me."
"Blair!" Jim nearly drove off the road, but recovered in time. Blair was alive. That was all that mattered at the moment. "Are you all right? Where are you?!"
"Rainier. The garden..." Blair replied slowly, his voice shaky -- and Jim had a feeling it wasn't just from the cold. "Jim, please..."
"Just hang on, Chief," Jim instructed, desperately wishing he were closer to the campus than he already was. "I'm on my way. Don't go anywhere; don't do anything. I'm coming."
"Okay." He sounded defeated. "Just get here."
Simon spotted Blair's car in the parking lot, and pulled up beside it. He had come in through Rainier's main entrance, but now where was Blair? There were a lot of footprints in the snow, so that was nothing to go on. He shrugged, and followed the main pathway, hoping he'd come across... something.
Simon was just passing the flower garden when he took a few steps back, suddenly noticing the huddled figure shivering on one of the benches. If the jacket wasn't a clue, the mass of dark curls would have been. The captain sighed. He'd been trained to handle suicidal people before, but none of them had ever been a personal friend of his. What the hell was he supposed to do?
Well, doing something was certainly better than doing nothing. Simon took a cautious step down the path leading to the garden. "Blair?" Surprising the kid would probably not be a good thing at this point.
There was no verbal response, just a shuddering sigh, and Simon closed the gap between them, relieved to see that Blair's service revolver was lying next to him and not in his hand. Simon carefully set a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Blair? You with me, here?"
"Yeah." It was barely more than a whisper. He was still visibly shaking, and Simon reached up to touch Blair's forehead.
Simon frowned. "Jeez, you're cold as ice. How long have you been out here, kid?"
"Well, let's go inside," Simon suggested. "You need to warm up."
"No place here for me to go," Blair sighed, pulling his coat tighter around him -- as though he were finally noticing the ambient temperature.
Simon was about to point out that they could surely duck inside one of the buildings for a few minutes, but thought better of it. That was only bound to churn up old memories, and upset Blair even further. "How about my car? I just got the heater fixed."
Blair shook his head. "Can't. I called Jim. He's coming. He'll look here."
"Thank God," Simon whispered. If Blair had actually called Jim, it was a definite sign that he was rethinking the whole situation. But, still, the less hypothermic Jim found his partner, the better. Simon thought for a moment; his coat had a thin fleecy inner lining that snapped out to become its own jacket and make the outer coat lighter. He shrugged off his coat, removing the lining, and wrapped the outer coat around Blair before putting the inner layer back on. "There, at least you'll be a little warmer."
"Thanks," Blair murmured, his eyes meeting Simon's for a brief moment.
Simon patted Blair's back lightly. "Sure, Blair." He sighed, hoping Jim would get there soon.
Jim jumped out of his truck almost before it had stopped, and rushed across the university campus. He had to find Blair.
Jim stopped a few feet away from the garden, not wanting to startle Blair. Simon was there, though... that was a good sign. He approached slowly. "Chief? It's me..."
Blair raised his head slowly, and Jim took that as a sign that it was safe to come closer. He knelt down as he came up next to Blair, and found himself quickly pulled into a crushing hug.
"I'm sorry, Jim..." Blair was hanging on for dear life. "I'm so sorry..."
Jim held him tightly. "It's okay, Blair. I'm just glad you're all right. Don't ever scare me like that again, okay?"
Simon touched Jim's shoulder lightly. "You two gonna be okay here?" he asked softly.
Jim nodded. "Yeah, I think so. Thanks, Simon."
Simon nodded as well, and slipped off, leaving Jim and Blair alone.
Silent tears streaked down Blair's cheeks, and he gripped Jim's jacket desperately as he fought to pull himself together. "Jim... I... I almost..."
Jim hugged him again, and rested his chin against Blair's head. One of Jim's arms was wrapped around Blair's back, supporting him, and the other hand rubbed the back of Blair's neck soothingly. "I know, Chief. But you didn't. That's the important thing." It was getting even colder, and Jim lifted Blair's chin to look into his eyes. "Come on. We'll go to the truck, okay? It's cold out here." He picked up the gun from the bench, replaced the safety, and tucked it inside his jacket pocket for the moment.
"Okay," Blair agreed. He wiped at his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket, still keeping close to Jim as they rose.
Jim kept an arm over Blair's shoulders as they walked to the truck. "C'mon, Blair, let's get you home."
Once back at the loft, Jim wrapped Blair in a blanket to help warm him up, and left him sitting on the couch while he went to retrieve a towel to dry Blair's hair, which was damp because of the wet snow that still fell. When he returned, Blair had fallen asleep.
Jim hated to do it, but his partner was going to be awfully stiff in the morning if he slept like that. He reached out and shook Blair's uninjured shoulder gently. "Hey, Chief? Come on, wake up... we'll get you into bed."
"Mmmkay," Blair murmured.
Jim smiled affectionately, and eased Blair to his feet. He was going to take Blair into the downstairs bedroom, but then had a thought. What if Blair needed him in the middle of the night? What if Blair woke up, and rethought...? No, Jim didn't think that would happen. Still, the nagging concern was enough for him to guide Blair towards the stairs. "You think you can make it upstairs?"
Blair nodded, and Jim helped him to the loft bedroom. In a few minutes, Jim had settled Blair in bed. "Hey, don't get too used to this, Sandburg, all right?" He tried to lighten the moment, but it didn't matter; Blair was already asleep again.
Jim retreated to the chair in his room, and relaxed into it, thinking about his options. Downstairs, a prescription bottle was lying on the counter of the kitchen island. Struck with sudden inspiration, Jim dialed up his sight and read the label. The senses were really quite handy sometimes. As he'd suspected, it was the Prozac, and the doctor's name and number were on the label, too. Jim picked up the pen and sticky pad that were on his bedside table, and wrote down the information. He turned to get the cordless phone, then realized he'd left it downstairs. Not wanting to leave Blair alone, Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket, and dialed the phone number he'd jotted down.
"Hello, you have reached Dr. Warner's office. Our normal hours are 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM."
"That's nice," Jim sighed. "Care to tell me what I'm supposed to do NOW?"
"If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911. If you are a new patient, press 1. If you are calling for directions to the office, press 2. If you would like to know more about our specialties, press 3."
Jim raised an eyebrow. What did one do if calling about one's roommate, who had been suicidal, only an hour before? He pressed three for the hell of it.
"Thank you for your interest in our office. For Pediatrics, press 1."
Well, as much as they might have referred to Blair as a kid, that wasn't exactly an option.
"For Family Practice, Press 2. For Internal Medicine, press 3."
Jim felt his frustration growing, as there were no more options. Technically, Blair could have counted as a Family Practice patient; it was an all-inclusive category. However, shouldn't he have been getting Prozac from a psychiatrist? Or, at least, seeing a psychologist. Jim rolled his eyes, and hung up. Suddenly inspired, he dialed a number he had once known quite well. Those first few months after returning from Peru hadn't been easy; returning to society was harder than he'd thought it would be. Captain Ellison had been happy to get home, but Enqueri -- even with the senses suppressed -- hadn't been so sure about the abrupt change of scenery. Now, Jim could be comfortable at most times with his multi-faceted nature, but it had nearly driven him crazy then.
"Hello, and thank you for calling the Woodburn Center. We're closed right now, but if you need to speak with one of our professionals, please stay on the line."
Jim still found himself amazed by the tact of it all. The Woodburn Center was more-or-less a psychological emergency room. It ran as a mental health clinic from seven in the morning until eight at night, but kept a skeleton crew for the remaining hours to handle any crisis that might come up. They also had a 24-hour phone line staffed and open. A friend had urged Jim to seek out their help, especially since it was totally confidential. Plus, saying you were going to the Woodburn Center sounded so much more pleasant than telling someone you were going to visit a psychologist.
"Hello, my name's Pam. What can I do for you tonight?"
Jim smiled. It was nice talking to a real person without having to wait or push a lot of buttons. "I need to know what to do with my roommate."
"Oh, have you two been arguing?"
"No... Actually, yes, but we've been working on that. My real problem is, he's depressed," Jim explained.
"Has he seen someone about this?"
"Yeah," Jim replied, "but I'm thinking it was a family practice doc, because that's the name on his prescription."
"So what's the problem, other than this depression?" Pam asked.
"He nearly tried to kill himself tonight," Jim said.
"Oh, dear." All those staffing the phone lines, Jim knew, were licensed psychologists, but that didn't mean that they were immune to being surprised. He heard it in her voice -- and, typically, he supposed, the roommate of a suicidal patient was not the one on the line. "Have you talked to him?"
"Yes." Jim nodded. "I took him home, but I'd really like to know what I'm supposed to do. Or get him to do."
"What's he doing right now?"
Jim shrugged. "He's sleeping." He anticipated the next question. "And, no, he didn't take any pills that I'm aware of. He was going to use a gun."
"Do you know where he got the gun?"
"He's a police detective." Jim sighed. "Standard issue. And I have it right now. What do I do with him? Should I bring him there? The ER? Somewhere?"
"Well, I'd check his responsiveness level, and see if he took any pills. He'll probably be pretty honest about it at this point. Then I suppose just let him sleep, and bring him here or to see someone in the morning."
"If he's asleep, he's not a danger to himself or anyone else. It's probably best to let him sleep. If he wakes up, and he's still planning to hurt himself, absolutely bring him in. But, other than that, he can probably wait to be seen in the morning. He probably isn't going to change his 'plan' too drastically, so if you've got the gun, that's likely going to be the best thing you can do to protect him right now. It's good that you called, though. And, yes, he does need to be seen."
"You just don't think it's an emergency," Jim finished for her.
"I'd say it's urgent, but if he's calm right now and not still planning to attempt anything -- as best as you can guess -- he can wait a little while. But it's not something you should take lightly, by any means."
"Okay. Thanks." Jim looked over at his sleeping friend. He knew where they'd be first thing in the morning. Jim would pay for it if he had to, but the Center was state-funded, so they based their fees on the patient's income and financial situation; he was sure that it wouldn't be anything Blair couldn't afford.
"Sure; that's what we're here for."
After hanging up from Pam, Jim shook Blair again to wake him. He hadn't really thought about pills; at least there was something he could do to feel that he was helping. Besides, it wouldn't be a good idea to let Blair sleep if he'd taken anything. "Blair?"
"Yeah?" Blair asked sleepily. "Huh?"
"Listen to me; this is important, Chief. Did you take anything? Any pills?"
Blair shook his head, then snuggled deeper under the blankets. "Nah. Nothing. Just the one..."
"The Prozac?" Jim guessed.
"Yup. G'nite, Jim."
"Goodnight," Jim replied, relieved. Blair's heart rate was strong and steady, and it had remained even, which was a sign that Blair was telling him the truth. Besides, if Blair HAD taken anything, it would have probably shown its effects before then; it had been over an hour since Jim had found Blair at Rainier. He settled back into the chair, content for the moment to watch Sandburg sleep.
Jim snatched up his cell phone as soon as it rang, not wanting the noise to wake Blair. "Ellison."
"Jim, it's Simon. How's the kid?"
Jim smiled. "Asleep." His voice was at a stage-whisper volume; he figured Simon would understand. "I called someone; they said to let him sleep and get him checked out in the morning."
"Good." A long pause followed. "I knew he was having problems, but I never guessed it was that bad. I thought he was getting better."
"I think he did, too." Jim sighed. "But I don't think he's seeing anyone professionally. I think he's just getting antidepressants from his regular doctor..."
"Who assumes he's seeking therapy elsewhere..." Simon guessed. "I've heard that happens a lot."
"Doesn't fix the problem now," Jim sighed. "But it's going to get taken care of. He scared a few years off my life..."
"You're not the only one."
"I think he scared himself, too," Jim mused. "I mean, normally, he'd have babbled all the way home about nothing, just trying to keep occupied or whatever -- but he was so quiet. It was unnerving."
"I can imagine," Simon sympathized. "Try to hang in there. Call me if you need anything."
"Sure. Thanks again, Simon."
Jim hung up, setting the phone to vibrate before he slid it back into his pocket. He was close enough to Blair to rest a hand lightly on his friend's shoulder, allowing the touch to tell the Sentinel in him that the Guide was safe and to reassure man that his friend was still there. Jim leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, knowing his senses would wake him if he was needed.
"Blair, what are you reading?"
Blair held up the magazine he was browsing as they waited in the lobby of Dr. Murphy's office to get his prescription. Jim had seen the man a couple of times, and genuinely liked him; Murphy was one of the few psychiatrists Jim knew that he would trust Blair with. "Psychology Today. I don't feel so crazy anymore, even if I do have a therapy date twice a month. Actually, when I look at some of these cases, I almost feel normal."
"Most people just watch Jerry Springer to get that effect, Chief," Jim answered dryly.
Blair nodded. "Yeah, well, I'm not most people." He paused. "Jim. Thanks for coming."
"No problem," Jim assured him, meaning it. "I just want to see you get better."
"Yeah, well, the med change should help," Blair said. "He said sometimes, you really have to experiment and see what works. Guess it's not an exact science."
"No, it isn't," Jim agreed. "This guy's good, though. Did you like him?"
Blair nodded again. "Yeah, he's great. I don't know what I worried about. I mean, I saw a psychiatrist before, when I still used to have panic attacks. That was ages ago, geez. I hadn't even been at Rainier for two years. I feel old now. Anyway, I guess I just felt like a lab rat, like I was just gonna be another case study in anxiety disorders. Murphy's more... human."
"I always liked that about him." Jim glanced over at his friend. "So, what'd he put you on now?"
"He said he wanted to try Paxil," Blair responded. "Hopefully, this will work a little better. I mean, the other stuff worked a little bit. I WAS actually functional for longer periods of time, but..."
"I want you to be functional all the time." Jim reached out to ruffle Sandburg's hair playfully. "After all, you're my partner."
Blair chuckled, patting Jim's hand. "Always, man. Always."
"I'm standing sentinel, like a guardian for the tribe." Jim had heard the line in a song somewhere, a few years before, and it had amused Blair at the time. Once, "the kid" had been that easily amused. Now, they were both changed. And not just due to "adapting" to changing times. They were changed people.
Blair had settled down considerably since their first meeting. He was still hyperactive -- at least, he had been before he'd started battling this depression -- but nowhere near the level he'd been at first. He'd grown a bit less impulsive and a bit more world-wise. Blair had never been exactly naive, but he'd always looked to the best in human nature. Now, there was a hint of cynicism in his make-up. Jim hated to see it, but knew it also afforded Blair some protection. At the heart of it all, Blair was still Blair. But he was a slightly different Blair Sandburg than the one that had bounced around a cluttered storage room, rambling on about heightened senses and something called a 'Sentinel'.
Jim was different, too, and he knew it. He had been somewhat bitter over everything that had happened to him in his life. That resentment had bled over into his personality; he'd been able to make a few friends, but he hadn't been extremely close to any of them. He had been a lone wolf by choice, having decided that getting close to anyone only seemed to be inviting trouble. After losing Jack, he hadn't wanted another partner. He had tried to resist Carolyn's attempts at deepening their friendship; keeping it casual was, in his opinion, the best way to keep them from repeating their mistakes. Time -- and Blair -- had led Jim to see the error of his ways. Jim had loosened up considerably, even by his own admission. He still feared abandonment, but not to the degree he had before. Contrary to what some thought, Jim was not totally unfeeling before Blair -- he was just afraid to let those feelings show. The friendships he had managed to keep back then, he had strengthened. He had renewed his relationships with his father and his brother, something that might never have happened without Blair's gentle urging. And, perhaps most importantly, Jim had come to accept himself for who he was.
Their relationship had changed, too. At the start, it had been a friendship born of mutual need. Blair needed a research subject; Jim needed help. Then, it had been more of a hero-worshipping younger brother, and an affectionate older one. Things had grown almost adversarial for a brief, troubled time. And, then, things began to change dramatically. After Sierra Verde, Blair began to realize that the great man could stumble. His 'Holy Grail' lost some of its shine. As far as Jim was concerned, he hadn't changed any -- and, really, he hadn't; Blair had just realized how fallible 'his Sentinel' really was. There had been a lot of tension during the following months, as Jim wondered what the hell was up with Sandburg, and Blair had tried to accept his new discovery. Everything had come together and blown up quite royally with The Great Sentinel Fiasco. After Blair's graduation from the Academy, it had become what Jim liked to consider a partnership of equals. They needed each other, and while they still called Blair 'the kid' affectionately, it wasn't meant to demean. It was simply a nickname he and Simon had come to like. There was still residual anxiety from issues they had never resolved, but they were working on that. Ultimately, the huge fight they'd had the week before might have been the best thing that could have happened to either of them. Everything was out in the open; it could be dealt with.
In a way, Jim missed the hyperactive hippie he'd met in 1996. But he knew that aspect of Blair's personality might resurface for brief periods of time now and then, just to annoy him. It might not be such an annoyance. Of course, it was only fair that he drag his knuckles on the ground a bit occasionally -- if only to see THAT look on Blair's face, the 'I-can't-believe-you're-doing-this-to-me' look he did so well.
Jim shook his head as he powered up his computer. It was a lot to think about. He needed something lighter. He needed to check his email.
A message from one his father's lawyers caught Jim's attention, so he opened it.
I'm still researching angles to go at this suit. Copyright issues are one thing, since your friend's paper was exploited without his permission. However, he never turned the paper in as an actual presentation, so we could possibly use a wrongful termination suit. It would be the equivalent of a student writing a novel in their spare time, someone taking it from their dorm room, and then the student having to leave because the school insisted that it was intended to be their term paper. It's pretty much the same thing, actually -- wasn't this a novel? Or some sort of pseudo-research papers, like they do on those websites intended to catch students who are honestly trying to rip someone off? The press conference can be easily explained; there was no other option at the time for your friend. Discuss the options with Sandburg, and see what angle you want to come at it from. Either way, the publisher and Rainier's administration don't have a leg to stand on. It's looking good. If this all works out as I think it may, he'll get a chance to turn in his real thesis (on law enforcement, you said?) and quite possibly get a little money for his trouble. I'll talk to you later. Let me know what you decide. And, if you want to be really nasty, YOU might have some legitimate invasion of privacy suits against some of those reporters, but that's another story.
Jim chuckled. "Hey, Chief."
"Yeah?" Blair answered, coming upstairs, where Jim was sitting on the bed with his laptop.
"I just heard from Durkheim... we're in business now."
"Durkheim?" Blair asked, making a face. "He was an anthropologist... They call him the Father of Structuralism sometimes. He did this really great comparative study with Australian aborigines..."
Jim held up a hand to cut off the flow of information. "No, Darwin, JEFF Durkheim. One of my dad's lawyers? Head shark, actually."
"Oh." Blair brightened, and sat on the edge of the bed. "What'd he have to say?"
"We've got a hell of a case." Jim grinned. "Now, we just have to decide how to come at it. Either way, I'm pretty damn sure we can't lose."
"Wow." Blair's eyes lit up. "That's great, Jim!"
"We'll be calling you Dr. Sandburg before you know it, buddy."
Blair's smile was the most genuinely happy one Jim had seen from him in a long time. It was long overdue, but Jim felt a sense of calm settling over him. Despite the odds stacked against them, they had come this far. They were going to be all right.
Author's Notes: The title -- and parts of the story -- were inspired by the song, Crash and Burn... no song lyrics in the story, but the lyrics are below for those interested.
When you feel all alone
And the world has turned its back on you
Give me a moment, please,
To tame your wild, wild heart
I know you feel like the walls are closing in on you
It's hard to find relief
And people can be so cold
When darkness is upon your door
And you feel like you can't take anymore...
Let me be the one you call
If you jump, I'll break your fall
Lift you up and fly away with you into the night
If you need to fall apart
I can mend your broken heart
If you need to crash, then crash and burn
You're not alone
When you feel all alone
And a loyal friend is hard to find
You're caught on a one-way street
With the monsters in your head
When hopes and dreams are far away
And you feel like you can't face the day...
Let me be the one you call
If you jump, I'll break your fall
Lift you up and fly away with you into the night
If you need to fall apart
I can mend your broken heart
If you need to crash, then crash and burn
You're not alone
Cause there has always been heartache and pain
And when it's over, you'll breathe again.
You'll breathe again.
When you feel all alone and the world has turned its back on you...
Give me a moment, please, to tame your wild, wild heart...
Let me be the one you call
If you jump, I'll break your fall
Lift you up and fly away with you into the night
If you need to fall apart
I can mend your broken heart
If you need to crash, then crash and burn
You're not alone
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