Disclaimer: No they are not mine. They belong to Pet Fly, UPN & Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended and no money has changed hands. The lyrics to the song "Runaway Train" at the beginning of this story were written by Soul Asylum
Summary: Blair makes a decision that causes his relationship with Jim to speed out of control like a runaway train. Can the damage be repaired before they both crash and burn?
Thank you. To Bobbie, StarWatcher and Arianna for your fabulous beta help. Thanks for answering my endless questions and making the writing of this story just that little bit easier. Thanks also to wolfpup for housing my stories.
Lyrics by Soul Asylum
Jim Ellison sat, unmoving, the frosty surface of the window leaching the remaining warmth from his weary body as the train made its arduous journey across the Bitteroot Range. The vast, windswept plains of Montana were a distant memory. The events of the journey to the state of shining mountains, however, would haunt him for years to come. He stared blankly at the passing scenery, his enhanced vision aided by the moon as it sporadically peeked out from behind a curtain of clouds. With his mind awash within a sea of emotion, he passed by the beauty and majesty of the mountain range without a second glance.
Shifting in his seat in an effort to find a comfortable position, his thoughts drifted back to the events of the day gone by -- events that had shaken the very foundation of his friendship with the man he considered more important than family. How will things pan out from here? he wondered. Would things ever return to how they were before? How do you even start to forgive someone who has taken his knowledge and used it against you in blatant act of treason? The detective's eyes wandered away from the window and over to the man sleeping restlessly on the small bed. "You've really made a mess of things this time, Chief," he whispered.
Deep down, he knew it wasn't all Sandburg's fault. His own fear-based reactions had helped fuel the fire. Actions and reactions had placed them both on a runaway train, with no way of stopping until one of them found the strength to pull on the brake. He wondered which one of them would summon the courage to take the first tentative steps toward reconciliation. Which one of them would be brave enough to say, "I'm sorry"?
A rustle of blankets and a garbled word from the other side of the room brought him from his thoughts. Although not yet ready to forget or forgive, he could no longer ignore Sandburg's needs. Moving silently to the small bunk bed mounted to the wall, he freed Blair from the tangle of blankets. He picked up the pillow, which had fallen to the floor, and gently placed it back beneath Sandburg's broken wrist. His actions caused a moan of pain and words, too incoherent to decipher were mumbled. "Relax Chief," he whispered. His hand automatically stroked the top of Sandburg's head. "That's it," he encouraged as Blair settled. "Sleep; please, just sleep."
Letting out a deep sigh of relief as the younger man drifted once again to sleep, the hope that Blair would stay that way for the remaining hours of their journey wasn't exactly noble. It wasn't purely out of concern for Sandburg's health, either. It had more to do with the concern for his own emotional wellbeing. He simply wasn't ready to face Blair yet. Anger still simmered away in the pit of his stomach. There was a lid on it for now, but it wouldn't take much to bring it back to boil. Any excuses or explanations from Sandburg about what had transpired in the last twenty-four hours would only serve as a catalyst, causing his anger to erupt again like an uncapped volcano. He needed time. Time to sort out his own feelings, his own emotions. Sandburg's actions had attacked him at his weakest, most vulnerable point. The fear of being rejected, of being betrayed, had haunted him since he was a child and it was still the one emotion that had the power to cripple him in an instant. When it awoke from its slumber deep inside his psyche, it wasted no time in wreaking havoc, smashing its way through his defenses like a demolition ball, leaving him broken -- crumpled.
Slumping back into his seat, Ellison leaned his head once again on the cold, frosty window. He closed his eyes and listened to the rhythmic sound of the train as it continued on its journey toward home. God, how did this get so out of hand? How do we stop this before we crash and burn?
Blair Sandburg looked around in awe at the old railway station. Built in the eighteen hundreds, the building stood as a testament to the pioneering days of yesteryear. Ever since he was a child, he'd had a fascination with trains. He smiled at the memory of his trip to Texas with Naomi when he was five. They'd taken the train all the way from San Diego to San Antonio. They didn't have enough money for one of those fancy sleeping cars, but that hadn't dulled his excitement. He remembered asking his mother relentlessly, every time the trained slowed if they were being held up by outlaws. His disappointment came when she told him patiently, "Trains don't get robbed anymore, sweetie. That only happened in the olden days." His five-year-old imagination clicked into gear upon hearing his mother's words. Disappointment was immediately replaced by delight as make-believe scenarios were created. How exciting it would have been to live in the olden days... or even more... how exciting it would have been to be a train robber.
A whack on the side of his head brought him back to the present. "You're supposed to be paying attention," chided the man who called himself his partner.
"I am!" he replied indignantly. Rubbing his hands against the freezing cold, he asked, "What makes you think she's brought the kids here, anyway?"
"Because it's my bet she's heading for the border."
"There's quicker ways to get to Canada from Cascade than via Montana, Jim."
"I know that, Darwin, and there are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream."
"And I thought you were the smart one." Jim shook his head as if talking to a complete moron. "Look Einstein, I'm going to check out the platforms." He shoved a radio in Blair's hand. "You keep a lookout here. Any sign of Cambridge or the kids, you let me know." He gave Blair a querying glance. "You think you can handle that?"
"Yes, I can handle it," the observer replied, mimicking Jim's sarcastic tone.
Jim patted Blair on the shoulder. "Sometimes you really worry me, Chief." He turned to Detective Merrell of the Montana State Police. "Have your men been positioned at all the exits?"
"Just as you asked," confirmed the burly detective.
"Good. If we split up, we can cover more ground. You take the southbound platform, I'll take the north."
Blair watched Jim and the other detective head across the foyer and disappear down the steps leading to the platform. Feeling like more of a hindrance than a help, he pocketed the radio in his jacket and wandered around the foyer, taking a mental note of the area. He took stock of the stairs that led to what looked like a basement car-park. Seeing two officers manning the front entrance, he decided that it was worth a quick investigation. Bounding down the stairs two at a time, he reached the bottom and surveyed the area. The car-park looked as if it were fairly well enclosed. The only escape route he could see was a set of fire stairs, which led to the street, and a manned boom gate. He quickly asked the guard if he had seen a woman with two small boys coming or leaving via the stairs. Receiving a negative answer, he made his was back up to the main foyer.
He wandered around the room several times, until people started to take note of his strange behaviour. In an effort to mingle back into the crowd, he stopped at the vending machine, waiting patiently for the man ahead of him to finish his purchase. He watched with casual interest as the man bent down to retrieve his chocolate bars from the slot at the bottom -- the casual interest becoming formal when he noticed the shapely figure revealed with the action. Spurred on by suspicion, he waited until the man headed down a corridor, which led to the rest rooms. He followed, hanging back until his quarry rounded the corner. Ducking his head around to take a quick peek, he couldn't quite believe his eyes. "Melody!" he exclaimed in shock and surprise.
The woman lifted her head with a start, pushing two figures behind her as she did.
"Blair!" Her eyes were wide with the same surprise and disbelief.
Moving closer, Blair was still not believing what he was seeing.
"How are you?" she asked, trying to keep her tone casual. A small boy wound his arm tightly around her leg. "It's okay, sweetheart," she assured the youngster. "This is a friend of mine. His name is Blair."
"So, Mel," Blair began, not able to keep his eyes off the children. "It's been a while. What are you up to these days?"
"Oh, nothing much," she relied nervously. "This and that."
"'This and that' wouldn't happen to include assuming a false identity and kidnapping two little boys, would it Melody... or do you prefer to go by the name Kristy Cambridge these days?" A pixie-like face peered out from behind the young woman. Blair bent down to the boy's eye level. "Hey, Connor."
"Hi," the young boy replied shyly.
"Blair, it's not what you think."
He stood back up. "You care to tell me what it is, then?"
Spotting an 'Out of Order' sign on a disabled bathroom not too far from where they were standing, Melody ushered the boys toward it.
Blair followed suit, joining the trio in the small room, locking the door behind them. "Do you realize you have the Montana State Police, as well as Cascade's finest, after you?"
"Blair, everything's gone wrong. You have to help us."
He stood there, stunned. "Help you what? Kidnap children? I'm sorry, Mel, but I don't care to spend the rest of my life worrying every time I bend down to pick up the soap."
"Blair Sandburg, you know me better than that!" she hissed.
"I thought I did, but you gotta admit, this sure as hell doesn't look like a nanny taking the kids on a trip to the park."
"Blair, I haven't kidnapped these boys. I'm returning them to their father. He has legal custody of them. It's their mother who was the one who stole them."
She swung Connor up and settled him against her hip. "I'm involved with an organization called Odyssey. We track down children who have been taken from their legal guardians and return them home. Blair, we don't have much time. If we're going to get out of here, I'm going to need your help."
Blair was stunned. "Excuse me," he almost laughed. "You do realize what you're asking me to do, don't you?"
"Yes, I do. And I also know that the Blair Sandburg I once knew wouldn't hesitate."
Blair broke eye contact, his gaze turning on the young boy hiding behind Melody's legs. "Are you positive that the father's the legal guardian of these kids? I mean, I know the cop who's on your tail pretty well, and I can't see him overlooking a detail like this."
"Of course I'm sure," she replied with absolute certainty. "Blair, think about it. Why are the local authorities involved? If this were a straight kidnapping case, why isn't the FBI handling it? I'll tell you why -- because money talks and the boys' mother and stepfather certainly have enough of it to pay off a few cops."
Blair found himself suddenly on the defensive "No way, Mel. You're definitely barking up the wrong tree. I know Jim better than anyone. He's not a crooked cop."
"Well, somebody in the department is on the take."
The older of the two boys tugged on Melody's pants. "Kristy, when are we going? I wanna go home to my daddy."
"Soon, baby, soon," she comforted. She looked at Blair with pleading eyes. "Blair, please."
He stared back at the young woman who was perhaps his oldest friend. They had been in and out of each other's lives since they were four years old and it had always been a welcome surprise to see Melody and her mother on the fruit-picking trail, or at whatever commune they decided to call home for a few months. Even as a kid, Melody had been a fighter for the underdog and it was her ability to be able to make a right in a world full of wrongs that had him questioning his own faith and ability to do the right thing.
Pausing briefly, Blair cringed inwardly at what he was about to do -- he was about to pit his oldest friendship against the best friendship he had ever had.
"Do you have any money?" he asked, already fishing through his backpack.
"A little. We left sooner than anticipated."
Finding what he was after, he withdrew his emergency hundred-dollar bill. "Take this. It's not much, but it's all I have on me." Although the boys were dressed warmly, he could no longer ignore the shivering youngster in Melody's arms. He slipped off his jacket. "Here, take this."
"Thank you," she said, gratefully accepting the jacket and wrapping it around the child she was holding.
"Melody, this place is teeming with cops. You can't get on a train. You'll be caught right away."
"I know, but Blair this was our second choice. I don't know where else to take them."
Blair paced in the small confines of the room, his mind going through the possible options. "Brother Marcus," he suddenly muttered. "Mel, you think you can get back to Cascade? There's a monastery just outside of the city limits."
"If you think it's a safe place where we can hole up, I'll get these boys there. I've done my fair share of hitchhiking, remember."
Not daring to put the directions down on paper, he quickly briefed Melody on how to get to Saint Sebastian's. "Brother Marcus is a good man," he assured her. "They don't usually accommodate women, but you just tell him I sent you. Tell him you need sanctuary. He'll understand and he won't turn you in."
"How are we going to get out of here?"
Blair paused, trying to recall the exact layout of the train station "Okay, on the opposite side of the main foyer there's a set of stairs which lead down to the basement car park. Go to the left and you'll see a fire escape that will take you back up to the street. Once you hit street level, you need to disappear pronto."
"I always beat you at hide and seek, didn't I?" she replied with a nervous smile.
He smiled back. "I'll try and stall the police as long as I can."
With her eyes shining with appreciation and love, she leaned up and placed a kiss on Blair's cheek. "You're a good man, Blair Sandburg. I should have married you when I had the chance."
He tenderly touched her cheek, a smile touching his eyes. "Yes, you should have... considering I was the cutest ten-year-old you knew."
She cupped his hand. "You were the only ten-year-old boy I knew."
"Hey, I was cute. At least your mom thought so." He drew his hand away. "Take care of yourself, Miss Melody. I'll try and get to the monastery as soon as I can." Before the reality of what he was about to do took hold, he breathed, "Okay, let's do it."
Taking a moment to centre himself, Blair opened the door. If Jim discovered what he was up to, he knew that the full wrath of Ellison's temper would descend upon him like a swarm of locusts. A voice deep inside questioned the decision he was about to make. Should he give the detective the benefit of the doubt? Would Jim be sympathetic to Melody's quest, or would his natural instinct as a cop come to the fore? Arrest first, ask questions later. Unfortunately, time was his enemy. He didn't have the luxury to debate the finer points of the situation. He had a choice to make, and in this instance, the choice he made was to help Melody Parker.
Blair cracked open the door and peered into the corridor. "Okay, the coast is clear." He ushered Mel and the children out of the room. "Go, go," he said, urgently propelling the trio into motion. Keeping in step beside them as they left the cover of the corridor, the foursome emerged out into the open; fair game for the waiting police. "The stairwell's over there," he said, urging Melody and the boys toward the fire escape. A sudden feeling of dread hit him with the force of a freight train out of control. He didn't have to turn around to find the source of his trepidation; he could feel Jim watching his every move. He froze momentarily when he heard his name being shouted.
Melody stopped in her tracks. "Blair?"
"Keep going," he replied frantically. "Don't stop and don't look behind you. And Mel, whatever you do, do not say where you're going. Not even when you think you're out of earshot. Run, Mel!" he shouted, giving her a final push.
Blair knew he was cutting it close. Jim was now on the run. Even if Melody did make it down the stairs and out of the basement, it wouldn't take long for the sentinel to track her down. Looking around frantically, he spotted his only chance of disabling Jim. Mounted on the wall right next to him was a fire alarm. He knew Ellison would have his hearing wide open and he also knew that the piercing shriek of the alarm would render the sentinel out of action, if only for a short time. He broke the glass with his elbow to gain access to the lever. Just before pulling it down, he whispered, "I'm so very sorry, Jim. I hope you can forgive me."
Ellison crumpled to the ground as the ear-splitting sound reverberated painfully through his skull. He clutched at his ears in a futile effort to lessen the noise of the alarm. Desperately trying to work past the hellish racket, he managed to stagger to his feet, only to watch in horror as events beyond his control played out.
Blair's attention was now turned toward the two uniformed officers that were heading at a fast pace in the direction of the stairwell. With no time to formulate a plan, the grad student took the only option he could see open to him. Moving to the top of the stairwell, he grabbed a nearby luggage cart and pushed it into the path of the uniforms. Unable to stop their forward momentum in time, the two men crashed into the oncoming rolling carrier.
The force of the running officers overcame the forward momentum of the luggage cart. As they stumbled and toppled onto the platform, it reversed course and slid -- with the weight of the two men adding impetus -- across the floor and straight into Blair. He teetered at the top of the stairs momentarily, before the force that ploughed into him won. As he toppled over, he was thrown backward, tumbling out of control as his body bounced off the hard concrete steps. The cart came clattering down after him, its metal sides scraping and bending as it hit the railing. Blair's body came to a stop on the first landing with a resounding thud, the battered carrier making an abrupt halt as it smashed down on top of him.
Jim had helplessly watched it all happen with sickening clarity. The pain in his head completely forgotten, he surged forward, dodging his way through the panicked crowd, and the chaos caused by Blair's actions. He jumped over the fallen officers who had slipped off the cart from the force of the impact and now lay in a crumpled heap at the top of the stairs -- their predicament not his concern. He stopped for a split second on the top stair, scanning the scene below desperately for the sound of life. A small groan spurred him into action. "Sandburg!" he yelled, bounding down the stairs. With urgent haste, he lifted the cart off Blair's lower body and threw it out of the way, not caring as it continued its decent down the stairs with an almighty clatter.
Blair groaned again, this time trying to roll over onto his back.
"Lay still, Chief," he ordered, panicked. Frantically, he ran his hands over Blair's neck and back, praying he'd find no spinal injuries. Relief came with no evidence of broken or fractured bones, and he urged Blair to roll onto his back and continued checking for damaged ribs or any sign of concussion.
"I'm okay, Jim, just a little winded," Blair drew out. "Just help me sit up, will you?"
Still cautious, Jim supported Blair's back and helped ease him into a sitting position. "You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, just bumped and bruised. Nothing serious." Blair replied, neglecting to mention the pain that radiated from his twisted knee, or the fact that his left wrist had taken the brunt of the fall. He knew what was coming, and he knew he deserved it and he refused to hide behind his injuries.
Jim studied Blair closely. Sandburg looked surprisingly unscathed for someone who had just taken a swan dive down a flight of stairs. Apart from some cuts and scrapes, the kid appeared to be in one piece. "Think you can stand?"
Sandburg took Jim's offered hand and gingerly got to his feet.
"So, you're positive nothing's broken?" Jim wiggled his fingers in front of Blair's eyes. "Vision clear?"
"Clear as day." Blair winced as he tested his injured knee by putting a little weight on it.
"Good." Jim's voice sounded ominously controlled and Blair prepared himself for the storm that was about to hit.
"Okay then," Ellison drew out. "Since we've now established that you're fine and dandy, you might like to inform me as to what the fuck you thought you were doing? You could have broken your God damn neck, you stupid son of a bitch!" With his concern for Sandburg's wellbeing quickly being replaced by fury, Jim was unable to put a leash on the rage that tugged to get loose. He pushed Blair up against the wall, almost snarling. "Where is she?" he demanded angrily.
Blair lifted his good hand and placed it on Jim's chest. "Jim, if you'll just calm down for a minute and give me a chance to explain..."
Ellison smacked away the grad student's hand with a ferocity and hate that he didn't know existed when it came to Sandburg. "I don't want your excuses, Sandburg. I want to know where she is." His hands entwined tightly in Blair's shirtfront. "Do you have any idea what you have done?" he shouted, this time giving Blair an angry shake. He pushed Blair back again into the wall. "Would you care to explain to me why you purposely aided and abetted the escape of a suspected kidnapper?"
Wary of the eyes that were watching, Blair tried again to plead his case. "Jim, she was only trying to get the boys back to their father. He has custody and it's where they belong."
"And you know this how?" Ellison spat.
"Because she told me."
"Jesus Christ, Sandburg! Just how stupid are you?" Ellison replied in disbelief. "Of course she'd tell you that. Look at you, for God's sake, the eternal hippie with a bleeding heart. Just mention the word 'father' and you fall to pieces and totally lose your judgment."
"And what exactly is that that supposed to mean?" Blair asked, taken aback.
"It means you've got a soft spot, Chief, a weakness. Somebody just has to mention the word 'father' and your ears prick up and your nose is stuck shit deep in business that has nothing to do with you."
Blair tried, without success, to pry Jim's hands from his shirt. "What the hell are you talking about?
"You know exactly what I'm talking about. She played you Chief and you fell hook, line and sinker. You took it upon yourself to become judge and jury, simply because you felt those boys should be with their father." Jim inched impossibly close. "And this is not the first time you've done it. God knows you've interfered enough in arguments between me and my dad."
"You heard me," Ellison pushed. "You interfere, just like you're interfering now. All someone has to do is spout the word 'dad' and your brain turns to mush. Why the hell don't you just ask your mother who he is so you can get on with your life? Or are you afraid of the answer? Afraid that she's slept with so many guys you'd have a one in a million chance of finding out?"
Blair found his strength, and pushed Jim away with a shove. "You bastard."
Ellison stepped right back into Blair's personal space. "A bit like the pot calling the kettle black, don't you think, Chief?"
Blair stood rigid as a statue, not moving, not saying a word.
"Tell me where she's gone," Ellison hissed, his voice more menacing than Blair had ever heard.
Blair's eyes were cold -- cold, hard and completely void of emotion. "You're the detective. You figure it out," he replied flatly.
"Oh, I intend to, Chief. Believe me I intend to." Grabbing Blair roughly by the shoulders, Jim swung him around to face the wall. Pressing hard into the small of Blair's back, he withdrew his cuffs from his pocket. "Blair Sandburg, you are under arrest for aiding and abetting a suspected felon. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say..."
Blair flinched as the cuff snapped shut against his injured wrist. The movement of being swung around caused pain to shoot straight up his leg and into his groin. His focus on what Jim was saying was lost as he tried to get the sudden sharp stab of agony under control. He had no intention of showing any sign of weakness in front of Jim -- especially not now.
Merrell bounded down the stairs, a questioning look on his face. "Are you sure you want to arrest your own partner?" he asked.
"Associate," Jim growled. "Not partner." He pushed Blair toward the stairs to get him moving. "Can you have a couple of your men take him back to the station?"
Merrell motioned for two of his officers to escort Blair the rest of the way up the stairs. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to see if I can pick up her trail."
"Ellison, it's raining cats and dogs out there. There won't be any trail left to track."
"It doesn't hurt to look."
"What do you want me to do with your partner... I mean associate? You want me to book him?"
Jim stopped to consider Merrell's question. He hadn't intended on arresting Blair. It was just that the damn stubborn kid had pushed him too far this time. Knowing full well that any blemish on Blair's record would reflect badly with his academic standing, he shook his head. "No, I'll take care of that back in Cascade."
"Suit yourself," Merrell replied, heading back up the stairs. "I'll see if I can go and make peace with the railroad management. It'll take some fancy talking to get them to overlook the little stunt your associate pulled with the fire alarm and baggage cart."
"Did someone notify the fire department that it was a false alarm?"
"Yeah, my men were right on top of it."
A sudden thought struck. "Hey, Merrell. Don't put him in the lockup, okay? Can you keep him in one of the interrogation rooms until I get back?"
Merrell waved his understanding as he trod up the stairs.
By the time Ellison got back to the station, he was physically saturated and emotionally drowned. As expected, once he'd reached street level, the nanny and the children where long gone and the rain had erased any trace of the direction they'd headed. "Your Captain called," Merrell said, perching himself on the edge of the desk and handing Ellison a towel. "He didn't sound too happy. Wanted you to call him the minute you stepped through the door. His emphasis was on the word 'minute'. And none too quietly I might add."
Jim toweled off the moisture as best he could. "Did you tell him what happened?"
"Of sorts. Told him we lost Cambridge's trail, but didn't say how. Thought I'd leave that up to you. He doesn't come across as real friendly-like."
"You should see him when he's really pissed." Ellison dragged the towel across his hair. "Where's Sandburg?"
"In one of the interrogation rooms, just like you asked. Think the boy's feeling a little sore and sorry for himself."
"Yeah, well, he's gonna be feeling a hell of a lot sorrier when I get through with him," Ellison replied. "Hey," he said as an afterthought, "How are the guys Sandburg put out of action?"
"They're fine. Pride's more wounded than anything. I sent 'em home for the afternoon. Didn't want your boy to accidentally fall into a fist."
Jim raised his eyebrows, the look on his face suggesting that Merrell's comment had overstepped the line.
"Don't worry, Ellison. I was only pulling your chain. We ain't been nothing but neighbourly toward the boy."
"Yeah, well, just make sure it stays that way," he warned before picking up the phone and dialing Simon's number.
Banks' colourful language travelled eloquently down the line. "Run that past me again, Jim. I'm trying really hard to understand just how the both of you managed to fuck this up. No, on second thought, I'd rather see the look on your face while you explain it to me. I want your butts back in Cascade pronto. Understand?"
"Yes sir. I'll book us on the first flight I can get."
"Ah, no, you won't," Merrell interrupted. "There's a strike at the airport. No planes taking off for at least the next forty-eight hours."
"What?" Jim put his hand over the receiver. "You gotta be kidding me!"
"I swear on my granddaddy's grave."
Jim waited for a break in Simon's latest rant, before he managed to get a word in. "Um sir, there seem to be a slight problem with getting a flight. No planes in the air for at least forty-eight hours."
"Well hire a car, detective, catch a bus, hitchhike, walk for all I care. I don't want to know how you do it, but you will be back in my office tomorrow. The mayor and the commissioner are both screaming like banshees from hell, and I'll be damned if I take the heat for your screw-up. Understand?"
"Yes, sir." Jim winced at the sound of the phone being slammed down on the other end.
"Yes-sir-ee-Bob, as I said, I'm sure glad he ain't my Captain," Merrell chuckled.
"Any suggestions on how we get outta here?"
"I'm one step ahead of you, Ellison. I've managed to acquire the last two tickets out of this fine city. Your train leaves at five-thirty. Not that I'm trying to expedite your departure, mind you." He made no effort to hide the sarcasm in his voice.
"Train!" Jim moaned. "What about a rental car? Did you look into that?"
"You don't seem to understand the circumstances, my friend. Let me clarify. One major air strike equals you're damn lucky I was able to get you train tickets. Of course, you can always hang around for a few days and take in the wondrous sights this beautiful place has to offer. I'm sure you'll enjoy our company as much as we've enjoyed yours."
Jim snatched the tickets from Merrell's hands. "I'll be lucky to have a job to go back to at this rate. Can't think of a nicer way to travel than suffering twelve hours on a noisy, overcrowded train."
Merrell slapped Ellison on the shoulder. "That's what I like to see. Someone who always looks on the bright side... and Ellison, it'll be fourteen hours. There's a two-hour stopover in Spokane."
Merrell chuckled his amusement as Jim let out a loud groan. "Hey, you reckon you got much hope in getting your 'associate' to tell you where the girl took the kids?"
Jim got to his feet. "Not a chance in hell." With that, he grabbed Blair's backpack from the desk and picked up the handcuffs that had been placed next to Blair's bag. "These mine?"
"Yeah. He's in a secure room. Figured he could lose the cuffs."
Jim pocketed the cuffs and headed off down the hall toward the interrogation room, pushing the door open with a bang. "You ready to talk yet?" he asked, dumping Sandburg's bag on the table.
Blair lifted his head from the table, closing his eyes against the sudden movement. Even if he did feel like talking, he really didn't have the energy. The pounding in his head was playing a tune with his heartbeat and he suspected that his wrist was more badly damaged than he had first thought. Adrenaline had done its job keeping the pain at bay in the heat of the moment back at the train station, but it had long since worn off. It's a pity it couldn't hang around a little longer, he thought wearily.
Jim eyed Blair carefully. "You look like shit, Sandburg. You sure you don't need to see a doctor?"
"I didn't think you cared," Blair answered sarcastically. His comment was childish and petulant, but he didn't care; it was how he felt.
"I'll take that as a no." Jim sat down on the chair opposite. "Seems to me you've got two choices here, Sandburg. You either tell me where the girl went, or I haul your sorry ass all the way back to Cascade in cuffs and let Simon deal with you."
"I don't have anything to say," Blair answered tightly.
Without hesitation, Jim upended Blair's bag on the table and started riffling through the contents.
"Hey, that's my stuff!" Blair protested, Jim's unexpected actions bringing on a new-found energy.
"Where is it, Sandburg?"
"Where's what?" he asked, trying to keep the contents from spilling off the table.
"The hundred bucks you keep in here for emergencies. Where is it?"
"I guess I must have spent it," he replied flatly.
"Bullshit, you gave it to her, along with your jacket. What's with this girl, Chief? What makes her so special that you're willing to watch our friendship go down the toilet in order to help her?" Jim studied Blair closely, before continuing. "She must have something pretty good, considering what you're willing to give up for her. I mean, it's obvious that we can't work together anymore. How can I work with a partner I can't trust?"
Blair swallowed hard. "Associate," he said.
"Associate. I'm not your partner. I never have been. I'm just a ride-along, remember? An associate."
"That's right, 'associate'. It should be easy to remember, you'd think, because you're sure as hell not a partner. A partner would never do what you did to me today. You know, I'm still finding it hard to believe. I have to keep pinching myself to make sure I'm not in the middle of some nightmare. What made you do it, Sandburg? Was she such a hot babe that you thought you might be in with a chance if you helped her out? Or did she offer you something more? A quick blowjob in the john in return for your help?" Jim knew he was being unreasonable, but he couldn't stop. The angry words were the only thing keeping him from flattening Blair. He'd never been this angry with the kid before; never angry enough to actually want to hit him. What Sandburg had done to him today hurt him more than he'd ever been hurt before. Blair had taken not only their sacred relationship as Sentinel and Guide, but also their friendship, and tossed it into his face as if it was no more than a worthless piece of trash. He moved from the table to try and regain his wits.
Blair refused to look at him, as he tried, clumsily, to stuff the contents back into his pack. A silver object caught Jim's attention and he snatched it off the table before Blair could grab it. "What's this?" he asked.
Blair sprang from his chair in an effort to take the item from Jim's hand. "That's none of your goddamn business, Jim!"
The detective pushed Blair back down on the chair, not noticing the look of pain that flashed across his face. He popped open the case. "You care to tell me why you're carrying around a syringe? Why don't you just tell me you're doing drugs, Chief? Ice the cake, make my day!"
"It's for you, you stupid ape!" Blair shouted angrily. "It's epinephrine, in case you go into anaphylactic shock. I keep it just in case you ever have a serious allergic reaction."
Jim stared dumbly at the needle, then back at Blair. The words that came out of his mouth next were not what he intended to say, but he'd long past lost control of his anger and his tongue. Sandburg's actions had considerably undermined his confidence in his own ability to keep a close relationship. He needed to feel the anger, the hate, because without it, he would have to give in to what he was truly feeling -- bitterly wounded and hurt. Without any further hesitation, he turned on Blair. "You say that, but perhaps it's just another weapon in your arsenal of betrayal, huh, Chief?"
Blair didn't answer him. The look on his face said it all and Jim realised, belatedly, that he had just stepped over the line.
"Come on," Jim said, urging Blair to stand and hoping to erase the look of sharp, stunned hurt on the kid's face. "The Captain wants us back in Cascade by tomorrow and the only way outta here is by train."
Blair slowly got to his feet, trying to keep as much pressure as possible off his twisted knee. He followed Jim, limping toward the door. "What, no cuffs?" he stated. He brought his hands up and placed them together in front of him. His gesture had only one aim... to provoke the detective further. "I thought I was under arrest," he said, his voice taunted with obvious antagonism.
Jim was absurdly pleased when he heard the words. It opened the doors for a new wave of anger. At least anger was better than guilt. "You know, Sandburg," he said spinning around. "Any normal person in your situation would realise they'd done enough in one day to well and truly piss me off. But not you, you just gotta keep on pushing buttons, don't you? You are truly the most dumb ass, stubborn..."
"Oh, that's rich!" Blair butted in. "Me stubborn? You know, if you had just given me a chance to explain back at the station, none of this would be happening. If you had just reined in that caveman temper of yours for one second, we could have sorted this out calmly and rationally."
"Oh, no, you don't!" Jim retaliated. "Don't you dare turn this around. The fact is that none of this would have happened if you hadn't taken my secret, our secret, and used it deliberately and maliciously against me. You betrayed everything we once meant to each other. And I'm not just talking about our partnership," he spat. "I wonder if there's anything in the rule book that covers a just punishment for a guide who turns on his sentinel."
Jim roughly grabbed Blair and this time slapped on the cuffs. Caught up in his own frustration and anger, he didn't notice the swelling and bruising around Blair's wrist, or the sharp intake of air as the cuffs bit into already tender skin.
Blair let himself be pushed down the corridor. The strain on his knee and the nausea from the pain in his wrist were minor annoyances compared to the agony from the hole in his heart. Jim was right. What he had done was inexcusable. His actions had torn apart the very fabric of their relationship -- a tear he wasn't sure he would be able to mend.
The icy wind whipped straight through Blair's shirt as he stood on the sidewalk waiting for Jim to pay the cab driver. He hadn't spoken since they left the police station. He had nothing left to say, nothing Jim wanted to hear. Shivering against the cold, he let himself be led into the foyer. He stopped to look at the fire alarm on the wall. With the glass case still broken, it was a haunting reminder of his act of treason. Jim tugged on his sleeve and he felt himself being pulled forward. Hobbling down the stairs to the platform, he found the strain of keeping up with Jim's fast pace difficult. Relief finally came when the detective stopped and dumped their bags on the ground. "Train should be here in about fifteen."
Blair replied with a nod, not trusting his voice. As the wait on the busy platform continued, he shifted to try and take some of the pressure off his injured knee. The stares and whispers of passing commuters finally became too much for him to handle. He could only imagine what was going through their minds. A prisoner, bruised, battered and handcuffed, waiting to be transported to the nearest detention centre. He closed his eyes to block out their faces. A mistake. He lost his equilibrium and swayed dangerously to the side. He felt Jim's hand on his arm in an effort to keep him upright.
"Sorry," he whispered. He felt the word fitted the occasion in more ways than one.
"Come on." Jim encouraged him to move down the platform. They stopped in front of a wooden bench, its seat taken up entirely by a rough-looking youth and his luggage.
"Hey buddy, you want to move some of your stuff so my friend can sit down?" Jim asked.
The young man didn't bother to look up, his concentration firmly fixed on his hand-held electronic game. "Why should I?" he asked
Jim leaned down to whisper in the boy's ear. "Because I asked nicely, and more importantly, because I'm pissed and have a gun."
Ellison's menacing tone got the kid's immediate attention. His head shot up and he sized up the man towering over him. He took one look at Blair's bruised face and handcuffed wrists and wasted no time in grabbing his bags and removing himself from the bench.
As Blair lowered himself to the seat, a ball of ice settled in his gut. Move your stuff so my friend can sit down. Jim's words -- hollow words and words that at the present time bore no truth.
Jim's first perception of train travel was right on target -- overcrowded, cramped and noisy. Standing up to take off his jacket, he noticed for the first time that Blair was shivering and suddenly shame was added to his list of current frustrations. He knew full well that Sandburg had given his jacket away, but in his anger he had failed to notice that he'd dragged the kid from a heated police station out into a freezing city with only a few, inadequate layers of clothing to keep him warm. He shook his head slightly. Was he so caught up in his own stubborn and wounded world that he'd forgotten the fundamental element that drove his relationship with Sandburg? "Here," he finally said, just managing to keep the guilt out of his voice. "You may as well have this. It's too hot in here for me to wear it anyway."
Blair nodded a silent thank you, his own thoughts coming to rest on how everything had managed to get so shot to hell. Resting his head back against the seat, he closed his eyes, more to block out Jim's presence than anything else. This really had been one shit of a day, he thought.
As the train pulled away from the station and rumbled along the tracks, Blair eventually succumbed to its rhythmic rocking. Unfortunately, rest didn't come as easy for Jim. Despite telling himself that he had every right to convey a 'devil may care' attitude toward Sandburg, his senses weren't in agreement. Blair was still cold and while he didn't need the touch of skin on skin to confirm it, his hand still weaved under the jacket and came to rest upon Blair's chest.
Not happy with what he discovered, Ellison left his seat and went in search of the steward.
"Will one blanket suffice, sir?"
"Should do," Ellison replied. "By the way, is there any place on this train where I can get a cup of tea or coffee?"
"There is. Just continue up the passage and once you pass the sleeper section, you'll come to the dining car. We're not quite ready for dinner yet, but the bar is open. You'll be able to purchase your beverage there. Is there anything else I can assist you with?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact there is. You mentioned a sleeping carriage. Do you have any vacancies?"
"Not really, sir."
"And that means?" Jim questioned.
"The last vacant compartment has a broken bottom bunk."
"One bunk's all I need." Jim replied, pulling out his wallet.
"I'm not sure if I can do much of a discount on the price, Sir. I'd have to check with my supervisor."
"I don't care how much it costs. My partner's not well and he needs to lie down." Jim slipped his credit card from his wallet. "You take plastic, I assume?"
The steward nodded. "What name shall I book it under?"
"Ellison, Detective Jim Ellison."
"Where are you seated, Detective Ellison?"
Jim pulled the ticket out of his pocket and glanced at it. "Seat forty-five. Carriage D."
"The cabin will be ready by the time we reach Missoula."
"Thank you." As Jim made his way back down the passage and toward his seat, the raucous strains of a baby crying hit his already overloaded ears. "Terrific," he muttered, shaking out the blanket and laying it over Blair. The kid's colour hadn't improved and neither had his temperature and he decided to forgo the tea for the time being and let Sandburg sleep. He took his seat, attempting to keep his senses trained on Blair and not on the screaming rug rat a few rows back.
With Missoula station within sight, Ellison was relieved to find the woman with the baby pulling her bag down from the overhead locker, getting ready to depart. It would still be at least another ten minutes or so before the sleeper compartment would be ready and until that point in time, he saw no reason to wake Blair up.
As the crowd of departing passengers shuffled past, the baby chose the most inopportune moment to let out an almighty wail. Blair woke with a start and by the look on his face, hadn't connected with his surroundings quite yet. "We've just stopped at Missoula to let passengers off," Jim said, by way of explanation. "We should be going again soon."
When Blair still didn't appear to show any comprehension, Ellison turned slightly in his seat. "Sandburg, you okay?"
Blair shook his head and closed his eyes. The swelling in his wrist was now at a point where the pressure from the handcuffs was becoming too much to bear. "Cuffs," he choked out, the pain erasing his stubborn front.
Jim had honestly forgotten Blair still had them on, and as Blair's words back at the station replayed in his head, he decided that Sandburg had made his own bed and it didn't hurt for him to lay in it for a while. "Playing the rebel wearing a little thin, Chief?" he replied glibly. He pulled the jacket away, exposing Blair's wrist and suddenly the words in his head changed and he was confronted with a sickening feeling of guilt. "Jesus Christ," he swore, unable to pull his eyes away from Sandburg's wrist. He knew Blair had been hurt back at the train station, but in the heat of the moment chose to ignore it. In his own twisted way, he had justified Blair injuries... an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, Blair's pain for his.
"Sir, your cabin is ready." The steward looked past the detective's shoulder and over to the other seat, his eyes also settling on Blair's injury. "Sir, there is a doctor on board. Shall I fetch him?"
Jim shook his head. "Cabin first. He needs to lie down." Shaking out his jacket, he dug around in the inside front pocket for the keys to the cuffs. "Okay, Chief, we'll do this nice and easy."
Blair nodded, his eyes still closed and his breath coming in short, sharp pants as he tried to get a handle on the pain.
Easing the key into the lock, Jim turned it carefully until the mechanism released and the cuff snapped open. Blair bit down on his lip, the remaining colour completely draining from his face.
"Chief, you gonna be sick?" Blair's face was impossibly white, and Jim grabbed at the blanket, just in case.
It took a few minutes for Blair to answer. The pain ebbed and flowed with every beat of his heart, and he was focusing hard to work through it. "I'm fine," he finally answered.
"Fine my ass," Jim snapped, a little too harshly. His own emotions were still finally balanced and he was fully aware that the guilt he was feeling could tip them in either direction. In an attempt to defuse things, he reached out and placed his hand on Blair's knee, hoping the connection might help to him stay on even ground. "Think you can stand?"
"Why?" Blair breathed out. "I didn't think we needed to change trains until Spokane."
"We don't, but you need to lie down and I've managed to book a sleeping compartment." Jim hooked Blair's elbow, "Come on," he said.
Blair cracked open his eyes, a little surprised that Jim's indifferent attitude was being betrayed by the concerned look on his face.
"Come on," Jim said again, and when he made no great effort to move, Blair felt Jim's hand around his waist pulling him first forward, then up. He thought about protesting, calling once again upon his stubborn streak, but when push came to shove, Jim's predisposition for being stubborn was set more firmly in stone than his would ever be and at this point in time, fighting a battle that he was sure to lose, wasn't worth the energy or the added grief.
On his feet and moving slowly down the passageway, Jim's question of being sick came back to haunt him and Blair swallowed hard, praying that if nothing else, at least he could keep a modicum of dignity intact.
The room was small, but comfortable and clean and, more importantly, the top bunk had already been pulled down and made ready. Without bothering to ask for permission to help, Jim tightened his grip on Blair's waist, hoisted him off the floor and lifted him upward. When the only sound that Blair made was a grunt of pain, Jim snapped at the steward who was lingering the doorway with their bags. "Doctor," was all he needed to say to have the man on the move.
With his eyes squeezed shut and his injured wrist clutched to his chest, Blair tried to focus his thoughts and energy away from incessant throbbing in his arm. He was aware of his shoes being removed and a pile of blankets being tucked around him and also aware of Jim's concerned voice. "Doctor's on his way, Chief. Just hang in there, buddy."
Buddy, he thought. Did Jim just call me 'buddy'? Despite Jim's obvious concern, it wasn't supposed to happen like this. He wasn't ready to be Jim's 'buddy' because he wasn't done with yelling and screaming at the hardheaded Neanderthal yet. He also wasn't ready to be forgiven and certainly didn't want Ellison's pity just because he was hurt. What he'd done was wrong; he knew that and he was prepared to suffer the consequences. But he wasn't sorry he'd helped Melody. He just wished he had confided in Jim -- trusted him to help. Perhaps he had underestimated Jim's ability for understanding and compassion and with this realisation it dawned on him that maybe he was guilty of the same prejudices as Ellison. Had he labeled the man? He had taken his intimate knowledge of Jim's past and put a sign slap bang in the middle of his forehead, which read, 'Do not confide in this person because he has no ability to comprehend trust, compassion and understanding.'
Vaguely aware of the sound of muffled voices, Blair felt a tiny prick sting his arm and as his world greyed, he wondered what label Jim had placed on him and what it would say.
Awake, alone and confused, Blair blinked several times before his eyes decided to cooperate. The consoling colours of dawn's early light filtered softly through the window, filling him with a sense of peace as the train rumbled along the track. Train, the word slammed into his consciousness and the splendour of the soft pastel shades painting the sky were immediately marred. The events of the previous day descended, covering him like a heavy blanket, its darkness erasing the dawn's offering of a new day, a new beginning.
"Jim," he whispered, half hoping not to hear an answer. Easing into a sitting position, he looked around the room. Okay, definitely alone. Alone is good. I can handle alone. Lowering himself gingerly to the floor, he swayed briefly before managing to stay in sync with the rocking of the carriage. His gait became more of a stagger as he made his way into the bathroom. A morning routine that would normally have taken no more than a few minutes, turned into a momentous task as his uncoordinated fingers struggled with the simplest of jobs. Drying his face, he stared into the mirror, studying the stranger looking back at him. The close encounter with the stairwell had left an assortment of colourful cuts and bruises adorning his face. He lifted his arm and carefully probed his wrist -- a wrist that was now tightly strapped, although he couldn't exactly remember when, or by who.
Making his way out of the bathroom, he was confronted again with solitude. One glance at the bed on the wall was enough to make up his mind. Even though desperate to lie down again, the height of the bunk was too great an obstacle to overcome. The seat by the window offered a more enticing option.
As he stared out the window, he watched the fertile fields of Idaho's heartland pass by. Quaint farmhouses dotted the landscape filling his mind with an imagery he tried in vain to ignore. Images of a family, complete in their unit, brothers and sisters, a mother... a father. A completeness he had never known. A completeness he longed for.
His thoughts turned toward family. Naomi... and Jim. Why don't you ask your mother who he is? Or are you afraid of the answer? Afraid she's slept with so many guys, you'd have a one in a million chance of finding out who he is... like the pot calling the kettle black, hey, Chief? He closed his eyes and bit back the familiar sensation. It wasn't the first time he'd been called a bastard. The memory of his mother's tears were still vivid, her voice cracking as she tried to explain to him what the kids meant when they called him that. He knew it was stupid, but it was a guilt he would always carry with him -- the guilt of making her cry and the guilt of being his mother's bastard child.
Hesitating, Ellison's hand hovered indecisively over the door handle. He had no idea how to approach Sandburg. What to say, what not to say? A part of him, a substantial part, was still angry and hurt, but his concern for Blair's injuries had managed to take some of the sting from these emotions. Finally grasping the handle, he pushed the door open, deciding that the ball was in Sandburg's court and he would let himself be guided by the reaction waiting on the other side of the door. The tension hit like a brick wall, Blair's angry expression igniting the flame once again.
Pulling the table down from the wall, Jim dumped the breakfast tray down. "All I could get this time of the morning was toast."
Blair glanced at the tray, before turning his attention back to the passing scenery. "Not hungry."
"Sandburg, you haven't eaten since yesterday morning. The doctor left you some pain pills which you can't take on an empty stomach." Jim lifted the lid off the tray and slid it toward Blair. "Eat," he ordered.
Blair pushed it straight back. "I said I'm not hungry."
If anger was a physical force, Jim was certain that his would be punching a hole a in the ceiling any minute now. "Listen you stubborn son of a bitch," he snapped heatedly. "I've been up all night playing nursemaid. I'm tired and I'm not in the mood for your pissy attitude."
Jim now had Blair's full attention. "What did you just say?"
"What do you mean, what did I just say? Last time I looked your ears where still intact."
"What did you just call my mother?" Blair sprang to his feet. "A son of a bitch, I believe were your exact words."
"Oh, for God's sake, grow up, Sandburg."
"A son of a bitch," Blair repeated, coldly.
"And what of it? It's just an expression and you know damn well I didn't mean anything by it."
Out of character, Blair did something he very rarely did. He shoved Jim square in the centre of his chest. "Just like you didn't mean anything when you called her a slut?"
A little surprised at the level of animosity, Jim took a small step back. "I never said any such thing!" he stated.
Blair pushed again. "Not in so many words, but you inferred it."
Not wanting to go down this path again, Jim grabbed Blair's uninjured arm and moved him out of his personal space. He had no intention of using force, but unfortunately Blair's knee gave way, producing a momentum of its own. As Blair's body hit the seat, his arm hit the table, and the lingering effect of the pain killer was not strong enough to dull the impact.
"Chief!... Christ. Are you okay?"
Blair's eyes were dead cold. "Get out Jim. Get out and leave me alone."
With the situation and tempers steadily growing out of control once again, Jim didn't bother to argue or to try and make amends. He made for the door without a second glance, and as he closed it behind him, he was certain that fate had just turned the page on another chapter of his life. The book was coming to an end; the story was winding up and a happy ending looking more and more unlikely.
Making his way down the passageway toward the dining car, he decided he would give Blair his wish and leave him alone for the rest of their journey.
The two-hour stopover in Spokane came and went. They changed trains, with only a few necessary words being spoken, both afraid that if they opened their mouths, the only result would be more damage. As the train pulled into Cascade station, Jim stood and pulled their bags down from the overhead locker. "Are you coming home?" He held his breath, afraid of the answer he might receive.
Blair looked up from the seat. "Do I still have a home?"
"I'm not going to kick you out, Sandburg. You can stay or you can leave. Either way, it's your decision."
"I guess, right at the moment, I don't really have a choice, do I?"
"You always have a choice, Chief."
Knowing that he didn't really have any other option, right at this very moment, Blair shrugged his shoulders. "I guess home it is... for the time being at least."
Wincing at the last statement, Jim moved out of the way so Blair could stand. "Will you agree to a trip to the hospital first?"
Blair moved into the aisle. "I guess so."
Leading the way toward the exit, Jim didn't look back. He still had his pride and his pride wouldn't allow Blair to see any trace of his shame or his regret.
"You didn't tell me Sandburg was hurt."
"Nice to see you too, Captain."
"Can it, Ellison. What happened?"
"Blair broke his wrist when he took a tumble down a flight of stairs."
"And you didn't think this important enough to share with me?"
"I didn't know, Simon, alright? I knew he was a little banged up, but I was too angry to notice."
"How is he now?"
"The doctor's putting a cast on his arm. It's a clean break, so there shouldn't be any complications."
"How come you're out here? You usually stick to the kid like glue when he's hurt."
"Yeah, I do, don't I? I guess things have changed."
Simon took a seat next to the man who was not only the best detective he'd ever had the privilege to work with, but also a man he considered a good friend. Jim had already filled him in briefly on the events that occurred in Montana, but in usual Ellison style, they were Spartan at the very least. No feelings, no emotions -- just the facts.
"Well, I guess he's in the right place."
"How do you mean?" Jim had seen that look on Simon's face more times than he'd care to remember and knew exactly what was coming."
"I mean that by the time I get through with him, he's gonna need a whole team of emergency doctors to reattach the limbs I intend on tearing, single handedly, from his body. Aiding and abetting, Ellison!" Simon sprung to his feet. "I assume you've taken the time to inform your estranged partner exactly how many years on the inside he's facing?" Simon pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "I swear even if I live to be a hundred and ten, I'll still have no idea what the hell goes on in Sandburg's head at times." Deflating, Simon slumped back down into the seat. "You sure he's... you know... all there? 'Cause sometimes I really have to wonder whether or not he's firing on all cylinders."
Jim leaned his head back on the wall, suddenly very weary. "Simon, at this point you could tell me Sandburg's a mass murderer and I'd probably believe it." He looked over at his Captain. "Just when you think you know a guy!" The sadness in his voice was unmistakable.
"Maybe he's one of those idiots? You know the ones, Jim. The guys who are so smart that they've usually got a few screws loose." He grappled, trying to remember the word. "Savants... idiot savants!" he exclaimed.
Jim's huffed. "You know, if I didn't know better, I'd say you're trying to make excuses for Sandburg, Captain."
Simon waved his hand, dismissing his earlier thought. "I guess you're right." Getting to his feet he added. "He's just your average, everyday, run of the mill idiot."
The ER nurse, interrupted their conversation. "Detective Ellison, he's ready to go."
"You and the idiot need a lift home?" Simon asked.
"Yeah, if you don't mind." Jim started toward the door. "Simon, when you see Sandburg, go easy, okay? It's been a rough twenty-four hours. If you're gonna kill him, can you at least wait till he's feeling up to it."
"Yeah, I guess I should wait." Banks muttered. "Too many witnesses here anyway." He patted down his pockets in search of his keys. "Jim," he said in all seriousness. "Despite everything that's gone on, the bottom line is that there's still an active case on your desk that needs solving. How you do it is your problem. I just want you to know that I do expect it to be treated with the same reverence you give all your cases. Do I make myself clear?"
Simon patted Jim's arm. "I'll go bring the car around."
Blair's head was nodding up and down, agreeing with everything the doctor was telling him, and Jim knew that Sandburg wasn't listening; he was simply complying so he could get the hell out of there. "I'll make sure he does what he's told, doc."
"Good, because I somehow get the impression your partner's not paying attention."
The word 'partner' did get Blair's attention. "Associate," he mumbled.
The medical resident gave Jim an inquisitive look and Jim waved it off, mouthing the word, "drugs." Inwardly, however his heart sank; the angry words spoken in Montana coming back to haunt him.
"Here's a list of instructions. I've given Blair a fairly strong painkiller, so don't be surprised if he's a bit out of it for a while. Keep his arm elevated for the next few days, and try and persuade him to rest his knee as much as possible. I've strapped it for extra support, but the best thing really is for him to take it easy. As I told your partner, any undue pain, come back as soon as possible."
"Thanks, doc," Jim offered as the young resident move on to his next case and Blair struggled to put his shoes on. "You need some help?"
"I got it," Sandburg slurred, trying hard to keep his balance. To his credit, Blair managed to slip on his shoes without help. The fact that they were on the wrong feet didn't seem to concern or even occur to him. With his shoelaces still untied, he started toward the exit.
"Hold up a minute there, Darwin." Jim halted Blair in his tracks and bent down before receiving a protest. "At least let me tie your shoelaces."
"'Kay." Blair held perfectly still as Jim worked on his laces and when he continued down the hall, in mismatched shoes, he didn't utter a word of protest at the hand that was now attached to his elbow.
Nothing but silence came from the back seat of Simon's car as they headed toward the loft, until the continuous glances in the rear view mirror finally attracted Blair's attention. With his tongue feeling twice its size and his brain feeling like someone had just given him a lobotomy twice over, he concentrated very hard to form a sentence. "How come you're not yelling?" he finally managed to ask.
Simon kept his eyes forward and on the road. "Oh, I thought I'd save it up for when you're actually listening."
With the aid of the drug racing around in his system, Blair's comment came out a little more honestly than he intended. "But I never listen to what you say."
The Captain's attention was now divided between trying to concentrate on the road and giving angry glares to the perpetual pain in the ass in the back seat.
The task of getting Blair from the car and inside the loft hadn't been all that difficult, but with Sandburg's coordination deteriorating rapidly, the role of primary caregiver had once again fallen in Jim's lap. He'd manage to strip Blair down to his shorts and was now struggling with the task of getting Sandburg's feet through the leg holes of his sweat pants. "Lift your foot, Chief," Jim said, becoming a little short on patience.
Giving up, he pushed Blair, butt first onto the mattress and tossed the sweats into the corner.
"Lift foot," Blair repeated, his mind not operating in the same space-time continuum as Jim's. And just to make matters worse, an invisible force unplugged his power cord and he suddenly slumped forward, his head coming to rest against Jim's chest.
Ellison froze, his hand hovering uncomfortably in the air, hesitating. Finally, as if too impatient for his brain to make a decision, his hand took control and found its own way to rest on the back of Blair's head. "Damn you, Sandburg," he whispered.
"How is he?"
"Dead to the world."
"So you want to fill me in on all the blanks, before I head downtown to the Commissioner's office and try and save your butts?"
"Simon, doesn't this case bother you?"
"Take a look at me, Jim. Did I look this old twenty-four hours ago? Of course it bothers me!"
"No, I mean, it's not right. Something just doesn't gel. Haven't you wondered why Major Crimes was involved in the first place? Why wasn't this handed straight over to the Feds?"
"That was my first thought, but the orders came directly from the Commissioner. I questioned them, especially given the fact that the children were taken over state lines, but I was told that they needed the extra manpower."
"And you believed that?"
"Look Jim, I know you hate the politics of the department, but occasionally you need to just shut your mouth and get on with the job. Besides, I had every confidence that you and Sandburg were the best men for this investigation and would get it done quickly without any complications. I guess that even I can make a mistake," he added sarcastically.
"Simon, Blair told me that the kids' father had legal custody of them and that it was the mother who had stolen them."
"Jim, I saw the custody papers. They all seemed in order to me. Cambridge would have told Blair anything if she thought it would help her get away."
"Captain, Sandburg might be a lot of things, but stupid's not one of them. You know he's not usually wrong when it comes to working people out. Besides, I have a sneaking suspicion there's more to it than meets the eye. I've got a feeling that Blair knows more than he's saying." Jim sat down on the edge of the sofa. "How much do we know about the mother? Did you happen to run a check on her?"
"I did the usual check. It came up clean."
"I think, given the circumstances that it might be prudent to pay Mrs. Wallace a visit."
"Well, you're not going alone. You're not exactly in their good books at the moment."
Scribbling a quick note, Jim placed it on the kitchen counter. Opening up his hearing and convincing himself that Blair was down and out for the count, he grabbed his jacket. "I'll drive."
Simon tossed his keys in the air. "No, you won't."
"Julia, the police are downstairs," Jonathan Wallace shut the bedroom door firmly behind him. His wife, slim, alluring and normally immaculately dressed, was started to fray a little at the edges.
"Jonathan, what if they find out? What if they discover that I don't have legal custody of the children?"
"With the Police Commissioner on my payroll, there's no way that's going to happen. He has too much to lose."
She poured herself another scotch with trembling hands. "What happens if that woman gets them back to Michael? What then?"
"Then we take them back and I arrange a little accident for your ex, like I should have done from the start."
Being involved in a kidnapping was one thing, but talk of a murder was pushing her anxiety levels to a whole different level. "No, Jonathan, you can't."
"Listen to me," he said, wrapping his hand firmly around her forearms. "I can do anything I want. Besides, if you hadn't left those damn brats alone for three days while you went on a drunken fucking spree across the state of Nevada, then none of this would be happening, would it?" He pushed her down on the bed. "God knows, I've already spent a fortune to have your record wiped and the custody documents falsified." He jabbed his finger in a clear warning. "I'll be damned if I'll let your past ruin my political career. As far as the media and my associates are concerned, we are all one big, happy family." Moving away from the bed, he drained her glass. "Now, go clean yourself up and get rid of that smell on your breath. I want you downstairs in five minutes, playing the grieving mother. No fuck ups, understand!"
"Gentlemen. I hope you come bearing good news. My wife's just about reached the end of her rope and is frantic with worry."
"I bet she is," Jim muttered, discreetly.
"Mr. Wallace..." Simon began, before being interrupted.
"Mr. Wallace. I'm sorry for the inconvenience and the interruption, but think our visit might be a little premature. I've just received a phone call confirming a positive sighting of the boys. I'm sorry, but we have to go. I have no intention of losing the trail this time."
"Detective!" Wallace followed behind as Jim latched onto Simon's arm and ushered him towards the door. "Spotted where?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but it's too early for me to reveal any further information. But believe me, we're going to do our best to bring those boys back to where they belong."
Simon pulled his arm from Jim's grasp halfway down the drive. "You care to tell me what that was all about?"
"Just keep walking, Simon. I'll fill you in once we're in the car."
"Okay." Reaching the car, Simon yanked open the door. "I'm listening."
"The Commissioner is on the take. This whole thing was a setup, right from the start."
"Jim, that's a pretty serious allegation. I hope you can back it up."
"I will, as soon as I find Cambridge and the kids' father."
"So, what exactly did you hear?"
"Wallace has not only paid off the Commissioner, but he's paid to have his wife's record wiped and false custody documents put in place. The children were stolen all right, Simon, just not by their father. Sandburg was right."
"Jim, it doesn't make sense. Why didn't the father simply take action through the courts? If he has legal custody, then he shouldn't have had any trouble getting the kids back. I mean, it's not as if they were in hiding. Their identity was never covered up."
"I'd put money on him being too afraid to go through legal channels. I think he's been threatened in some way. Look, I need to get back to the loft. I need to talk to Sandburg. Right now, he's our best hope of finding the kids and their dad."
"And that being said, you just remember what your priority is here. Do whatever you have to do and say whatever you have to say. You need to get Sandburg to tell you where those children are, so from this point on, your disagreement with the kid has just taken a back seat."
"Understood," and he was perfectly aware that Simon was right. His feelings were inconsequential. If he were going to be successful in gaining any information from Sandburg, he knew he needed not only to tread carefully, but to restore the trust they once placed in each other.
Blair glanced up briefly as Jim opened the door. Not saying a word, he went back to the task of trying to cut his sandwich.
"How're you feeling?" Ellison asked, tossing his keys down and moving into the kitchen.
"Okay, I guess."
"Chief, we need to talk."
"Not now, Jim. We both still need time to do some serious thinking."
"I won't disagree with you on that one, Sandburg, but unfortunately, time is a luxury we don't have."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"If you'll sit down for a minute, I'll explain."
Leaving his sandwich uncut, Blair limped into the living room. "I'm listening," he said with a somewhat disinterested air.
"Chief, I was thinking about what you said back in Montana about the children's father having custody. While you were sleeping, Simon and I paid a visit to the Wallace's. It turns out you were right. The mother has the kids illegally."
"I already told you that. It's a pity you were too busy yelling and screaming to hear."
Jim bit back his temper. "Sandburg, I need you to tell me where they are."
"Why? What does it matter now? The kids are probably already back where they rightfully belong." Blair paused for a moment. "I won't turn in Melody, Jim, if that's what you're asking."
"I thought her name was Kristy?" Jim eyed Blair suspiciously. "So you do know her."
Blair's jaw tightened and Jim knew that if he continued down this line, he'd get nowhere. "Chief, I think that your friend and the kids might be in danger."
Blair didn't say a word, but Jim knew exactly what was going through his head. Sandburg was trying to decide whether or not he was telling him the truth or spinning him a line to find out the whereabouts of the kids. I guess not much has changed, he thought.
"Why do you think that?" Blair finally asked.
"Because this thing goes right to the top. The Commissioner is on the take."
"And you can prove it?"
"No, not yet I can't. That's why I need to talk to your friend and the kids' father. Apparently the mother has a dubious past and from what I can gather so far, it appears she may have had the kids taken away from her because of neglect. Her current husband obviously has connections in high places, as he's managed to have her record erased and false custody documents put in place. I overheard him telling his wife that the kids' father would be taken care of... permanently." Jim now had Blair's complete attention. "Chief, do you trust me enough to let me help?"
Blair knew that his current feeling towards Jim had to take second place. Melody and the kids needed to be his primary focus. "They're at Saint Sebastian's," he answered. "It's a monastery a couple of hours' drive outside of Cascade. I used to go there sometimes when I was a kid. I told Mel to take the kids to someone I know there, and he'd offer them sanctuary until the children's dad could pick them up."
"Can you give me directions?"
"I'm coming with you."
"You sure you feel up to it?"
Blair got up from the sofa and limped to his room. "Just give me a minute to get dressed, okay?" Closing the door, Blair leaned heavily against it. In his heart, all he wanted to do was to step back into the living room and tell Jim how sorry he was. Sorry for not trusting in him and sorry for not giving him the benefit of the doubt. And more than anything, all he wanted in return was to hear the words, 'it's okay Chief, I forgive you.' But pride wasn't on the list of the deadly seven without reason and he just couldn't bring himself to do it. He knew it was ugly and stupid and completely juvenile, and he also knew that if left to its own devices, pride would eventually turn into regret -- but unfortunately, regret was an emotion he'd already learned how to live with.
Jim watched silently as Blair hobbled to his room and closed his door. He had never felt quite so empty, so helpless. All he wanted to do was to barge into the small room and tell Blair how sorry he was. Sorry for the words spoken in anger, sorry for not giving him the chance to explain -- sorry for not giving him a reason to trust in their friendship. And more than anything, all he wanted in return was to hear the words, 'it's okay big guy. I forgive you.' But he couldn't. Blair had betrayed him, hurt him worse than he'd ever thought possible. And so he took the easy way, taking refuge in the hurt and refusing to see his own ugly pride lurking beneath the surface.
"Mr. Wallace... it's Nick."
"Did you manage to plant the bug without complications?"
"It's all been taken care of. The cop's partner was sleeping like a baby. They'll never know I was there."
"Have you managed to find out anything yet?"
"The kids are at a monastery called Saint Sebastian's. It's about a two-hour drive from here."
"You know what to do."
Disconnecting his cell phone, Nick Downer turned over the engine and pulled out into the midday traffic. What a perfect day for a trip to the country, he smiled.
Nicholas Downer's reputation as a man who 'got the job done' was justly earned. He'd been born poor, brought up in a working class family, where he'd watched his father break his back on the docks, working thirty years for a pittance, and receiving nothing more than a gold watch and a handshake for a lifetime of labour. Following in his father's footsteps was an adage he had no intention of fulfilling.
His first kill had been difficult, a husband and wife pleading for their lives on the bathroom floor in a tiny apartment in upstate New York. He nearly relented, falling victim to their harrowing tale of embezzling the money from their less than reputable employer to help their sick child. Memories of their haunting faces had disappeared quickly, as he was rewarded with a sizable sum for a job well done. After that, life, or the taking of life, had become a walk in the park.
Giving his tools of the trade a final check, he zipped up his canvas bag, shouldering it as he slammed the trunk closed. Fully aware that time was his enemy, he moved quickly through the undergrowth. He needed to find and eliminate his targets quickly and efficiently. He had at least an hour's head start on Ellison and Sandburg, but the time constraints he was forced to work within allowed no room for mistakes.
Surveying his surroundings and getting a handle on the basic layout of the monastery, he made his way to the far side of the chapel. He gave a quick word of thanks to the gods of fate; the monks were in a prayer session and would not be an obstacle. Another quick prayer was given when the delighted squeals of a small child reached his ears. "Looks like there is a god, after all," he smiled.
Downer pulled a drab, brown robe he had taken from the clothesline down over his head. His disguise was complete and now all that was needed was the academy award winning performance.
"Brother, catch." Timothy Wallace tossed the football in the monk's direction.
Downer smiled and caught the ball with ease. Holding it in his hand he waited for the youngster to close the distance between them.
"Good catch." Timothy skidded to a halt just in front of Downer, holding out his hands.
"I have a surprise for you, my child," Downer said, holding out the ball.
"A surprise? What surprise?"
"Why don't you call your dad over so he can share in the surprise as well?"
Timothy's eyes were growing wide with the excitement of anticipation. "Dad, dad," he yelled. "Come quick."
Curious to find out what had his son so excited, Michael Wallace jogged over to join his son. "What is it, Tim?"
"Well, it's not a Saturday night special," Downer drawled, pulling a custom made handgun from the sleeve of the robe. In a quick, precise movement, he grabbed Timothy by the scruff of the neck and pulled the young boy towards his body.
Driven by reaction, Michael surged forward, only to be stopped on the spot as he was pistol whipped to the ground.
"And don't you even think about it, Missy." Downer called out, tracking the young woman as she stole away toward the monastery with a young child in her arms. "Why don't you come and join us? We're terrific company." he said.
As Melody neared, Downer shoved Timothy in her direction. "Up, Dad," he said, before reaching down and yanking Warner to his feet. "Why don't we all take a little stroll in the forest, and while we're doing that, I want everyone to be very quiet -- quiet as a monk, you could say." He let out a short, sharp laugh, amused at his analogy. He then looked toward the sky, squinting as the sun hit his face. "What a perfect day to die," he said.
"The turnoff's up ahead, on the left." The uneven, dirt road on which they'd been travelling was aggravating Blair's knee and he shifted to find a more comfortable position. Taking a hold of the oh shit handle, his mind suddenly drifted back to the day it had been installed. Jim had dragged him from his bed and down to the truck early one Saturday morning, and to this day he still remembered the expression on Ellison's face as he announced. "There you go, Chief, your very own 'oh shit' handle."
The look of sheer confusion on his face had prompted Jim to explain to him, in explicit detail, the uses of an 'oh shit' handle. The sheer stupidity of the detective's explanation still rang as clear to this very day.
"Chief, you know how you're always complaining that I drive too fast, and that you're always hitting your head and bumping into the door as I skillfully round corners in pursuit of the bad guys?"
"The term 'skillfully' isn't exactly how I'd describe your driving, Jim. In fact, I'm really at a loss for words to explain your driving at all."
"My expertise in the finer points of driving is not the issue here, Chief. Your lack of coordination, however, is."
"What! My lack of coordination! How the hell do you expect me to stay coordinated when I become airborne every time you go over a hill? I mean the G-force created when you go around corners is enough to make even the most experienced fighter pilot puke on his shoes."
"My point exactly, Darwin -- hence the installation of your new 'oh shit' handle. Next time I impress not only you, but the fleeing scum-buckets, with my talented handling of a motor vehicle, instead of you trying to grab onto the glove compartment, the gear stick or my leg, you've now got your very own handle to cling to. So instead of shouting 'shit Jim,' as you normally do, all you need to do is grab hold of the 'oh shit' handle and it'll keep you steady as a rock."
"Jim, did you ever consider the fact that maybe you should slow down a little? You know -- slow and steady wins the race, man."
He still remembered clearly the answer he'd received as Jim packed up his toolbox.
"Come on, Sandburg. The only reason I became a cop was so I could drive fast. Spoil a guy's fun, why don't you? And, Chief, you might wanna put some clothes on. The neighbours are starting to stare and I'd hate to have to arrest you for indecent exposure."
Another jolt brought Blair back to the present. The truck was now creeping along the road at a snail's pace, prompting him to finally break the silence between them. "You can go faster than this you know. The sooner we get there, the sooner I'll be able to put my mind at peace."
Ellison studied Blair for a brief moment before increasing the pressure on the accelerator. "How come you know about this place?"
"Naomi used to send me here when I was a kid. She said it was a good place for me to get to know myself."
More like a case of getting you out of her hair for a while, Jim immediately thought.
Silence descended again as they continued up the dirt track, until Blair gave directions to take a left onto a gravel road, which eventually ended in the formation of a turning circle at the front steps of the monastery's main structure. As Jim pulled on the handbrake, Blair pushed open the door, immediately recognising the face of the monk descending the front stairs. "Brother Marcus," he called out
"Blair?" Brother Marcus rounded the front of the truck. "I wasn't expecting you here today." He pulled Blair into a hug. "It's been a long time, kiddo."
Jim moved forward, placing his hand on the monk's back. "Uh, sir, his arm."
Brother Marcus immediately pushed Blair back, noticing for the first time the cast on his wrist. "I'm so sorry, son. I didn't notice you were injured. Did I hurt you?"
"No, Brother, I'm fine. It hardly hurts at all anymore."
"Liar," Jim muttered before extending his hand. "Sir, I'm Detective Ellison of the Cascade PD. I'm here in relation to the young woman and two children that you have taken in."
Noting the look of uncertainty on Brother Marcus' face, Blair moved to reassure him. "It's okay. Jim's here to help. We believe that Melody and the children could be in danger. Are they still here?"
"Well, yes. The children's father arrived late last night and was planning to stay a few days to get them settled before leaving. They've been through a harrowing experience, the poor little tykes."
"Can you show us to them?" Jim was anxious not only to question the children's father, but to meet Blair's notorious 'Melody.'
Marcus flashed a look in Blair's direction and upon receiving a nod from Blair, he turned his attention back toward Jim. "They're in the field at the back, playing baseball."
Following Marcus' lead, they walked in silence.
"Huh that's strange," Marcus said, coming upon the empty field. "They must have gone inside for something to eat. If nothing else, those kids have voracious appetites." Brother Marcus turned away and headed toward the back door. "I'll go and check the kitchen," he called out, over his shoulder.
Opening up all his senses, Jim surveyed the area and without warning or an explanation, he took off and bounded toward the edge of the field.
"Jim?" Blair followed suit. "What is it? What have you found?"
"Blood -- fresh blood."
Blair paled. "Blood, as in human blood?"
"There's no way I can tell that." Jim suddenly cocked his head to the side.
"What?" Blair almost screamed.
Ellison held up his hand. "Shh." He opened up his hearing even wider, throwing it out into the surrounding forest. "Get up, you little shit. You fall again and I'll take your head off right here." A child's whimper and a father's angry shout flooded his flooded his ears, making him wince.
Blair's hand was now on his back. "Jim? Are you okay, man?"
Jim felt himself lean back, taking a moment of refuge in the familiar sensation. The touch intensified. "Jim, are you with me?"
"Yeah," he breathed out, reluctantly breaking contact. "Chief, you got your cell phone?"
"Why? What did you hear?"
"They're in the woods, headed west. Call Simon and tell him to get here as quick as he can. Tell him to organise backup."
Blair shouted at Ellison's back as he took off into the woods. "Jim, that'll take hours." His words fell on deaf ears. Jim's attention was fully attuned to whatever was going on beyond the tree line.
"There's no sign of them in the kitchen, Blair." Marcus called out from across the other side of the field.
Blair turned around, punching numbers into his cell. "I know," he called back.
By the time Marcus closed the distance between them, Blair had Simon on the other end of the line. He thrust the phone into Marcus' hand. "Brother Marcus, Simon Banks is on the other end of the line. Tell him where we are and tell him to send backup."
"Blair... what's going on?"
"Just tell him," Blair called out, taking off into the woods after Jim. "You can trust him."
Nicholas Downer pulled the party of four to halt on the banks of a trickling stream, deep within the forest's heart. "This looks like a good spot, wouldn't you agree?"
"A good spot for what?" Michael Warner cautiously asked.
"A good spot for a murder-suicide, what else."
"No!" Melody surged forward. "You'll never get away with it!"
Downer steadied his gun with casual ease, aiming it point blank at Melody's forehead. "If I only had a dollar for every time I've heard that, I might be rich enough to get out of this game." A sneer cracked his thin lips. "On second thought, maybe not. I think I'd miss the pleasure it brings me."
He flicked his gun to the side, indicating to Melody to move back. "Let me set the scene for you people. A father, distraught and angry at the prospect of losing his sons to his ex- wife, decides that the best thing for everyone is to put an end to their suffering. Simply doing her job, this poor, innocent young woman gets caught in the middle of this horrendous crime. It's a heroic act you're about to partake in young lady. Giving your life, trying to save the lives of two helpless young boys who have been entrusted to your care."
"You bastard!" she hissed, moving ever so slightly forward again.
"Tsk, tsk. Such language in front of young ears."
Desperately afraid for the lives of his two young sons, Michael Warner held up his hands in a pacifying gesture. "Look, you don't need to do this. Take the boys back to Julia. Tell her she's won. I won't try and take them again. Please," he pleaded. "They're just babies."
Downer let out a short, sharp laugh. "Now that would be a nice way to end this whole debacle, wouldn't it? Except for one, minor detail. Dear old step-dad doesn't want them back. I think his exact words were, 'eliminate the father and the girl, and knock off the brats while you're at it'. I wouldn't be surprised if his lovely new wife is so grief-stricken that she herself commits suicide in the not too distant future."
Michael dropped his hands, centering them on the small of his boys' backs, praying that they understood what he wanted them to do.
"Okay!" Downer announced rather cheerily "Who'd like to go first? Perhaps the brave young heroine?" His finger twitched on the trigger. "Don't worry, young lady, I promise you won't feel a thing."
"Run!" Michael yelled, propelling his boys forward. He gave them both a push and moved to place his own body in between them and the line of fire of the gun. Like two small rabbits frozen with terror, the boys didn't move. They stood, terrified, glued to the spot.
The assassin's gun fired -- a warning shot only -- clean, tidy but enough to send Michael Warner crumpling to the ground. And then, with a smile of pure ecstasy, he positioned the barrel of his gun against Warner's temple. "It's a shame you had to shoot him like that, young lady," he admonished. "And even more of a shame he was able to wrestle the gun from your hand and continue with his plan."
Downer's finger jerked on the trigger at the exact same moment the left side of his body erupted in pain.
The very nature of Downer's trade meant he was deft on his feet and more than capable of dealing with unexpected circumstances. His mind accessed the situation quickly and it took him no time to disengage himself from his attacker and regain his footing.
Just as agile and just as capable, Ellison recovered his composure quickly and the fight that ensued was powerful and bloody, each opponent exchanging hard-hitting blows with violent force and accuracy. Similar in stature and ability, a bookie would have been hard- pressed to lay odds on a winner, and as Blair skidded to a halt on the outskirts of the chaos, all he could see was blood. Blood covering Melody's hand as she knelt on the ground trying to stem the flow from the bullet wound in Michael Warner's shoulder. Blood covering the face of his sentinel and blood streaming from the broken nose of the assassin. With his stubborn refusal to carry a weapon coming back to bite him square on the ass, Blair desperately scanned the area for anything that could be of help. Not two feet from where he was standing, a river stone caught his eye. Smooth and round and the size of a baseball, he picked it and prayed to the heavens that the ability and accuracy of his pitcher's arm wouldn't let him down. His prays were answered and the stone found its mark, true and strong. The assassin crashed to the ground, toppling like a tree, felled deep in the heart of the forest.
Ellison turned, his face a mask of confusion and bewilderment. His eyes locked with Sandburg's and his punch drunk mind finally found the connection. "Good shot," he whispered as his legs gave out and he landed flat on his butt.
"Jim!" Blair was on the move again, reaching Ellison's side seconds before his downward descent continued and rendered him completely horizontal. Moving in to support Jim's back, Blair used his sleeve to try and wipe away some of the blood smearing the sentinel's face.
"Jesus Christ, Jim, you look like shit," he said, not even trying to cover up the concern in his voice. "Complete shit."
"Love you too, Chief," Ellison breathed heavily, before his eyes fluttered shut. "...love you too."
Wrapping his arms around Jim's chest, Blair let his chin fall to rest on the top of the sentinel's head and suddenly the events of the last few days became almost surreal. He shared a bond with this man, a union bound tight with friendship, respect and, although it was something they wouldn't freely admit -- with love. And yet, pride, standing, strong and tall, had driven their relationship into the ground and threaten to bury the very essence of what they meant to each other.
Tightening his grip, Blair briefly closed his eyes. Pride was not going to win and no matter what it took, he was determined to restore the bond.
The peace and quiet of Saint Sebastian's was a shattered dream. Ambulance, police units and practically the whole of Major Crime streamed up the driveway in a steady flow.
Refusing to sit any further in the ambulance than the very edge of the tail gate, Jim sat impatiently as his wounds were examined and patched. Blair hovered nervously. Ellison's mood wasn't exactly conducive to a 'buddy, buddy' moment and his gut told him to proceed with caution. Without even noticing, Simon's arm found its way around his shoulder. "You okay, Sandburg?"
Blair's eyes didn't stray from Jim's direction. "What's going to happen to Mel and the kids?"
Simon gave Blair's shoulder a quick squeeze, forcing him to look at him. "Well, technically she's done nothing wrong. She was only acting on the father's behalf, and since he is the boys' legal guardian, no charges will be laid against her. She's agreed to testify in the case against Wallace and will be moved to a safe house, along with the boys and their father, as soon as he's able."
Blair raised his eyebrows.
"Your friend was right, Sandburg. This goes right to the top. It turns out the commissioner has been under investigation for several months. The DA will be negotiating a deal with Downer's lawyer and they're confident that he'll come to the party. Along with the testimony of Ms. Parker and the boys' father, we should be able to put both the commissioner and Wallace away for a very long time."
"What about the boys' mother?"
"I've handed that over to the FBI. She'll be charged with kidnapping and illegally taking children across the border."
Fed up with being prodded and poked, Jim 'politely' excused himself from the EMT. The one finger salute he received from the medic bore a testament to his courteous departure.
"You look like crap, Ellison," Simon stated as Jim moved across the lawn.
"You know, if you two aren't careful, I could end up with a complex."
Simon slapped him lightly on the back. "Your head is way too big for that, my friend." But the rumor mill does have it that Downer managed to more than hold his own in your little debacle. Super hero complex becoming too much for your broad shoulders, Ellison?"
Jim kept moving, heading toward a picnic bench under an old oak tree. "Never," he ground out, as a twinge of pain radiated up his spine. "I had the situation under complete control."
Simon just rolled his eyes and took a seat on the other side of the table. Blair watched them both for a moment, before his attention was drawn in Melody's direction. "Hey," he said, moving over toward where she stood. "I hope you weren't thinking of ditching me without a goodbye?"
"Blair, I'm sorry you got hurt." Unable to keep her tears at bay any longer, they tracked a lonesome path down her cheeks. She ran her fingers lightly over the cast on his arm. "I never meant for this to happen."
"Mel, it's not the first time, I've had a broken arm." He gathered her in and held her tight. "Remember the tree in Mrs. Danbush's yard?"
"I told you not to climb that tree," she said, holding him tight.
"Got you the apple, didn't I?" Relaxing his grip, Blair pushed Melody back. He placed his fingers under her chin, and looked at her face. She was so beautiful, both inside and out. "l love you, Miss Melody," he whispered. "I was smitten the very first time I laid eyes on you."
She raised her hand to cover his. "They say that childhood love is the most cherished love you'll ever know and you know what, Blair Sandburg? I think they just might be right." Leaning up, Melody placed a kiss on the cheek of the man that had held a special place in her heart since she was a little girl. "Stay in touch?" she whispered, reluctantly breaking their connection.
As Melody was led over to the waiting police car, Blair cut a lonely figure. "I promise," was all he said.
"You and the kid had a chance to work things out yet?" Simon asked, his eyes trained in Blair's direction.
Jim shook his head, his attention on the same place as Simon's. "Things have been little hectic, Simon."
"Well, now that you're officially on sick leave, I'd say there's no time or place like the present." Simon breathed in deeply, taking in the crisp country air. "Why don't you guys hang out here for a couple of days? Who knows, the tranquility might be just what you both need."
"What -- a quiet place to contemplate how to kill each other?"
"Look, Jim, I know that what happened between you and Sandburg in Montana is a huge thing. The kid betrayed your trust and that's not an easy thing to forget, or forgive. But before you give up on the idiot, I want you to think long and hard about your next move. Friendships like the one between you and Sandburg don't come along every day. And Lord knows, every friendship comes across bumps in the road occasionally. But as old Gran used to say, it's how you handle these bumps that is the measure of what friendship is truly worth."
"Your Gran?" Ellison replied sarcastically. "If where going to get into home spun truths, Simon, I hope you're planning on giving that same profound advice to Sandburg as well, because I'm not the only one who has to forgive and forget."
Simon rose to his feet and did up the button on his jacket. "Work it out, Jim. For all our sakes."
When the cavalcade of cars finally pulled away from the monastery, Blair and Jim were the only ones left on the lawn, and despite being in the other's company, a feeling of loneliness had settled over them both.
"Ergo, the olive branch," Blair muttered before turning around and heading back toward the picnic table. "You really do look like shit," he said, coming to a standstill directly in front of Jim.
"Oh, and you don't?" Ellison replied. "Looked in the mirror lately, Romeo?"
"Hey, at least I ended up with the girl." Blair scuffed at the grass with his boot. "Jim, I'm..."
"...Chief, I'm sorry." Both sentences where blurted out in a rush, melding their apologies into one.
"How did we let this get so outta control, Jim?"
"I think I need to ask you a question before I can give you the answer to that, Chief."
A hint of nervousness graced Blair's face. "Shoot." he said. He smiled briefly. "Figuratively, Jim, not literally."
Ellison ignored Sandburg's attempt at humour. "Why didn't you trust me? Back at the train station, why didn't you tell me about Melody and the kids?"
Blair kicked at the grass again. "I guess because I was unsure of your reaction. If I had told you, Jim, what would you have done? Arrest her? Let her go?"
"Honest answer? Yeah, I would have arrested her."
"Well, I guess you've answered you own question, then."
"No, not entirely," Ellison replied. "I might have made an arrest, but I would have listened to her side of the story and I would have considered all the evidence before making a final decision. If I'd had the opportunity to know all the facts back in Montana, just maybe I could have nipped this in the bud before it went this far." He moved from the seat to sit on the table top. "What you did back in Montana, Blair, was to take your own deep-seated, misguided bigotry of police in general and tar me with the same brush. Just because I'm a cop, you automatically decided that I didn't have the ability to do the right thing." Ellison shrugged his shoulders, before looking away. "I can't believe that after all the things we've been through, you don't have a higher regard for me than that."
Blair was now finding the grass immensely interesting. "You're right," he said. "Everything you just said was a hundred percent right. I let my preconceived ideas, my own prejudices and fears, interfere with my judgment. I let myself be blinded, Jim, and there's no excuse for that."
"The fact that you didn't trust me, Sandburg, it hurt; but you know what? It was nothing compared to the betrayal of that trust. Of all the people that have come and gone from my life, I honestly thought that our friendship was beginning to mean something. That it had grown into something worthwhile and something long lasting." The look in Jim's eyes was haunting. "I let you into my life, Blair. I let you share my home, my secrets, my doubts and my fears. I let you be a part of a life I can't share with anyone else." Jim met Blair's eyes head on. "Christ, Chief, you know me better than any other man on the face of this planet and yet you took it all and threw it back in my face as if it meant nothing to you. I thought our friendship meant more to you than that. I thought I meant more to you than that."
In all his life, Blair had never felt so profoundly torn. Torn between two people who meant the world to him, and while his head told him he'd made the right decision, his heart wasn't quite so forgiving. He loved Melody, he always had, and yet his friendship with Jim had, somewhere along the way, become a greater force to contend with than that love. And for all his book smarts and his skill at knowing what made people tick, he didn't have the slightest clue how to even begin to explain his own feelings. All he could do was go back to basics and with that he looked up from his boot, his hopes pinned on honesty. "Jim, I have never been honest with you, not completely anyway. The picture I painted of my life was one filled with fantasy. A fantasy dreamed up by a stupid young kid who wanted nothing more than to have some stability, some permanence, some feeling of security in his life. Do you want to know how many times I was taken away from Naomi when I was a kid? Five times. Five times I was taken away by authorities, by police, who judged her not fit to be a mother; an authority who judged her by her appearance, not by her actions. They never looked past the clothes, or her lifestyle or her alternate ways to see who she really was. They weren't interest in seeing the real her, so they blindly snatched me away to be put in the care of good Christian people who knew how to give a young Jewish boy a strong, disciplined upbringing."
Jim was stunned by the confession. "Chief why in the hell didn't you ever tell me any of this?"
"Because it hurts."
Blair held up his hand. "Jim, I'm not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me, but I am telling you with the hope that maybe, just maybe, you can understand why I reacted the way I did. Every time I was taken away, Naomi got me back. I don't know how she did it; all I know is that she fought tooth and nail to have me returned. The very last time I was returned home, I overheard a conversation between her and my father. She was thanking him for his help. Don't you see, she knows who he is, Jim. He's not some one-night stand, not some guy in a million. To this day, I can still remember the look on her face and the sound of her voice when she spoke to my dad. She loved him -- really loved him." Blair paused, knowing what was racing through Jim's mind. "And I know you're wondering why I never asked Naomi who he was. Well I did, more times than I care to remember, but she'd never tell me. She's afraid of something, Jim, and what it is I'll probably never know, but I have to have faith in her belief that she's keeping this secret for the right reasons."
Blair took a few steps closer to the table. "When Melody told me about the boys, about their father, your assumptions were right. My brain turned to mush and I lost all judgment. All I could think of doing was helping those boys get back to their dad. I didn't want them to have the same fate that was forced upon me by misguided authorities. I felt that if I didn't help, they would be somehow lost in the system. And wrongly, I saw you as part of this system."
"I guess we've both let our past insecurities fog our judgment, Chief." It was now Jim's turn to part with the olive branch. "I'm sorry for what I said about your mother."
"It's okay, man, water under the bridge and it's not the first time I've heard it."
"No, it's not okay. I shouldn't have said what I said, under any circumstances."
"Jim we were both angry and both said a lot of things that we shouldn't have." Blair was back to fidgeting. "So how do I go about rebuilding your trust? How do I find a lost friendship?"
Jim pulled himself off the table. "The friendship was never lost, Sandburg, just waylaid for a short time."
"And the trust?" Blair asked, hopefully.
"Trust has been a skeleton in my closet for long time, Chief, and it's one that I have to shake down one bone at a time."
Blair nodded his understanding. "Jim, I know this is gonna sound ridiculous, but is there anything I can do to help?"
Jim smiled fondly -- a smile he hadn't been quite sure if he'd ever get back. "You already have, partner; you already have."
Blair's brilliant smile was back as well, and just as he was about to open his mouth, Jim's hand shot out and covered Blair's mouth, knowing exactly what the kid was about to say. "Don't say it, Sandburg," he warned, "just don't say it."
A sound he hadn't heard in what seem like a lifetime vibrated against Jim's hand as Blair burst out laughing. Feeling the warmth of friendship niggling to get a stronger foothold, Jim draped his arm around Blair's shoulder. "What do you say to hanging out here for a few days? Do some fishing maybe?"
Blair leaned into Jim's touch. "No fishing rods, at the monastery."
"What do you mean, 'no fishing rods'? Monks fish, don't they?"
"Okay, then we'll just take it easy. Catch the playoffs tomorrow night on the TV. Now, I know that the brothers must like basketball. I saw a court out back."
"Actually, Jim, they love it. It's one of their favourite pastimes. But there is a slight problem with your plan."
"Yeah, what's that?"
"You gotta be kidding!"
"Okay, we'll just hang out in our rooms, read, play cards."
"No rooms Jim, only cells"
"The rooms are called cells."
Blair pulled away from the detective. "You'll see."
"Sandburg, please tell me that there's indoor plumbing!"
"...right, Jim, sure thing. Indoor plumbing's not a problem."
Blair waited for Jim to catch up. "The only problem is that the indoor plumbing happens to be outside." An even broader smile spread over Blair's face as he reacted to Jim's expression. "Cheer up, big guy, you'll love it here." He took a deep cleansing breath. "I can already feel the stress leaving your body. Can't you feel the tranquility, Jim? The peace, the serenity?" He gave the detective a quick slap on the back. "I'm gonna go tell Brother Marcus we've decided to stay for a few days. This is gonna be so cool, man."
"Yeah, cool," Jim mumbled as he watched Sandburg's retreating figure. Looking around, Jim took in the beauty of Saint Sebastian's grounds. They had both taken the first steps to rebuilding much of what he thought they had lost and maybe their stay here was meant to be. Maybe this really was the best place to find themselves again.
From a distance, Jim watched Brother Marcus' reaction as Blair told the monk they were staying for a few days. He didn't miss the spring in Blair's step as he left the monk on the lawn and headed up the stairs into the house. Nor could he help overhearing the soft words as Brother Marcus watched the same scene. "It's good to have you back, my son."
Back to The Loft