Disclaimer: No they are not mine. They belong to Pet Fly, UPN & Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended and no money has changed hands.
Authors Note: There is one part in this story that Stargate fans (count me in as a huge one) might recognize. Although I have changed the words, the concept is the same. I couldn't help myself, it just seemed to fit so perfectly. *g*
This story was written for SA dues, which needs to have some kind of h/c or angst. Poor Jim coped it this time.
Thank you: To the wonderful and talented, Bobbie, StarWatcher and Arianna. You are my life savers. Thanks also to wolfpup for letting me post at Wolfpup's Den
Feedback: Is always appreciated: firstname.lastname@example.org
The first thing Blair Sandburg noticed when he opened the door to his recently acquired place of residence was the shoe. Not unusual under normal circumstances but, considering that he now cohabitated in an apartment with a man who could easily be mistaken as the progeny of Felix Unger, the shoe was, indeed, unusual.
Tossing his keys in the basket by the door -- a basket which, he'd been duly informed, was 'for keys only' -- Blair ventured further into the apartment. "Jim!" he called out. "Why is your shoe lying in the middle of the floor?"
It didn't take him long to notice that, not far from the single, lone shoe was another, and not far from that was a shirt, accompanied by a pair of slacks, the same slacks that Jim had worn to work this morning. His quizzical thoughts transpired quickly into an, 'oh shit', when he spotted Jim's boxers lying at the bottom of the stairs. "Hey man," he said urgently, retrieving his keys. "You know, we gotta get some kind of sign or signal happening here." Backing up, he called up to the first floor bedroom. "I hope I didn't interrupt anything important." Stupid comment, Sandburg, he thought, regretting the words as soon as they left his mouth. The man's getting laid and you ask if you're interrupting anything important. "Um... I guess I'll just go to the movies or something. There's a double playing down at the Rialto." Bumping into the door with his back, Blair felt for the handle. "I'll be seeing you later, then... Oh, um, nice to meet you... I think," Blair stumbled, his comment directed at Jim's mystery guest.
Finally locating the handle, Blair hesitated for a split second. It suddenly occurred to him that, from the moment he'd walked through the door, he hadn't heard a single sound. At the very least, he would have expected an annoyed "Sandburg!" to explode violently from the bedroom above. But no, not a sound was to be heard. No quiet whispers, no rustling of sheets, not even the sound of bodies moving on a mattress. Without giving himself time to question the insanity of his next act, Blair called out again. "Jim, you up there, man, or have I been talking to myself for the past five minutes?"
Met with only silence, Blair moved back into the middle of the room. "Jim?"
Okay, he thought, bending down to gather up Jim's clothes. Maybe the hot date is elsewhere. Dumping the items on the sofa, he walked over to the stairs. "If you're up there, man, you better speak up now, otherwise I'm here for the duration."
Still no answer.
"Jim?" Knowing that he shouldn't, but also knowing that there was no way he could stay in the apartment if Jim was upstairs entertaining a friend, Blair toyed with the idea of venturing up to the forbidden zone. The common sense part of his brain told him that if he truly valued keeping his limbs attached to his body, he'd stay put, but the other part, the part that always got him in trouble, told him that he wouldn't be able to relax until he was certain. Before his bravery had a chance to metamorphose into the less admirable title of 'chicken shit', he planted his foot on the bottom stair. Please don't let me get up there and get an eyeful of Jim doing the horizontal tango.
Sandburg's foot hit the landing and the sight that greeted him brought with it an instant sense of relief. The room, and more importantly the bed, were blessedly empty. A smile drifted across his face as he took in the blankets and sheets that were strewn over the floor. "Way to go, big guy." Turning on his heals, Blair bounded back down the stairs. "I wonder where he went?" he mused. "Maybe he's earning some extra brownie points by wining and dining his mystery lady."
Heading toward his own room, Blair pushed back the curtain that separated his personal space from the rest of the loft. Jim had been promising to put up a door but, for the past few weeks, things had been kind of hectic for the detective, and he didn't want to cause any friction by pushing the point. He was happy with his new living arrangements, and not just for the fact it gave him more access to his study subject. He genuinely liked Jim and was enjoying his company.
As the curtain drifted closed behind him, Blair's senses were attacked. The pungent odour of stale perspiration hit him hard in the face, leaving him confused and perplexed, but the sight of the naked, sweat-slicked body huddled on the edge of his bed knocked him completely out of the ring.
"Jesus Christ!" he swore, finally pulling himself out of his stupor. Staggering forward like a punch-drunk fighter, Blair dropped to his knees. "God, Jim, what the hell happened?"
Blood, sweat and tears wept from the sentinel's body. Tiny droplets of ruby red blood waited patiently on hard, taut muscles in anticipation of being swept away with the next wave of fevered sweat. Tears pushed themselves out from behind closed lids, making a river of their own.
Blair stood, floundering helplessly like a fish on dry land. He was at a loss to make sense of what he was seeing. A thousand questions flooded his mind; a thousand questions, all without answers. His eyes traveled quickly over every inch of Jim's stricken body. Long, angry scratch marks zigzagged their way across a previously flawless landscape of flesh, while bloody, torn fingernails testified to their origin.
Without thinking, Blair reached out, offering Jim the simple comfort of touch and the reassurance of the spoken word. The sentence for this crime of ignorance was delivered hard and fast. The Sentinel's muscles tensed, reacting as if the smooth, mellow tones were agonizingly sharp, and the softly spoken words were unbearably loud.
Blair was horrified as Jim drew back, letting out a guttural, pain-filled cry, the response indicating that the innocent touch felt like a burning brand. Jim curled his body into a tight ball, as if trying desperately to shield himself from an onslaught of sensations that were attacking his senses. Blair jerked his hand away from the sentinel's shoulder, but it was too late; the damage was done.
The Sentinel's breathing became heavy and erratic as he tried to quell the pain and nausea that assaulted him. He turned his face away from the onslaught, sucking in deep, hard, breaths, trying to fill his abused lungs with air. More, I need more, his mind screamed. His body reacted and his face turned to press into the pillow. A scent drifted across his abused senses, bringing with it a vague recollection. As it permeated his senses, the pain of the outside world slowly began to release its grip. The Sentinel finally began to recognize the one thing that would keep him from falling off the edge. A scent. Blair's scent would be his lifeline.
Sandburg sprang to his feet and hovered by the bed in total and utter bewilderment. The hand that had caused so much damage was now clutched tightly to his chest. His eyes flashed back and forth with quick, irregular movements as they tried to keep up with the deluge of theories that raced through his mind. A sickening feeling of helplessness and fear swept over him. "I don't know what to do," he admitted out loud. "Jim, tell me what I should do?"
Oh Christ, you fucking idiot! Blair screamed silently. Those few, short spoken words had caused a devastating effect. Jim writhed in pain, his hand shooting up to clamp over his ears, his fingers clawing at the side of his face.
Action and reaction. A spark of a theory ignited. Okay, we know that every action has a reaction, so therefore, every single action that occurs has a reaction upon our senses. Blair's eyes swept over Jim's naked form. And in a Sentinel's case, these reactions are multiplied by who knows how many times. He shifted silently from foot to foot; standing still while thinking wasn't something that came naturally to him. The problem is, how do I work out what action caused Jim to react like this -- and how the hell do I fix it? Blair scrubbed his hand through his hair in frustration. Think, Sandburg, think, he urged. Okay, he reasoned. Jim's obviously experiencing some kind of major sensory overload. Question is, how do I stop it?
Blair finally moved. Inching closer, he knelt down quietly. Resisting the urge to speak, he went over his options. Speech and touch were definitely out and, with the way Jim had his face buried into the downy softness of the pillow, reaching the Sentinel with sight wasn't going to be an option either. I guess that leaves smell, big guy, Blair surmised. But how do I reach you with smell?
Thinking back to when he'd first entered the apartment, Blair reconstructed the scene. Jim's clothes had been thrown haphazardly all over the loft, his skin obviously too sensitive to withstand the irritating feel of the material against his flesh. Tracking Jim's movement visually in his mind, Blair deduced that the Sentinel's next stop was upstairs and, judging by the conditions of the sheets, Jim had gone to bed. But why did he choose to come back downstairs to my room? Blair looked around the small room, taking note of the late afternoon sun streaming through the window. At this time of the day, his room wasn't really that much darker than Jim's, so it had nothing to do with the light coming through the skylight upstairs.
Intense eyes studied Jim's pained actions. No, it couldn't be -- could it? Taking care to keep his movements slight and silent, Blair stripped off his over-shirt. Bunching it up, he lowered it to the pillow, ensuring that the soft, flannelled texture came into contact with Jim's skin.
The reaction was instantaneous. The Sentinel sought out the shirt, like a mare's instinctual need to scent her newborn foal. He took hold of the garment, drawing it next to his body and deeply breathing in the scent.
Blair's eye's widened. No way!
With the patience of a saint, he watched and waited, letting Jim's body be the guide. Finally, after what seem like several lifetimes, a fragile word was spoken. "Hurts," was all that was said.
Fighting an ever burgeoning need to offer tactile comfort, Blair fought to keep his hands still. The wince that Jim had displayed at his own voice hadn't gone unnoticed. Neither had the effect. The Sentinel's own voice hadn't caused the deluge of pain that came with the previous stimuli.
Drawing in a deep breath, Blair prayed he was doing the right thing. "Jim," he said, softly.
Jim swallowed hard, but he didn't recoil.
Confident he was headed in the right direction, Blair upped the ante. "Jim, I need you to listen to me. Do you think you can do that?"
With no answer forthcoming, Sandburg tried again. "Okay, big guy, you're gonna have to help me out. I'm kinda flying blind here." But, hey, I guess that's better than not flying at all, he added, silently. Blair gave a nervous laugh. "Actually, forget I thought that... stupid simile really," he muttered quietly. Flying blind kinda equates with crash and burn and we do not want to go there, man. Blair fell back on his haunches. He really was flying blind. He'd never come across anything like this before. His studies had only skimmed the surface of what Burton had referred to as a 'sensory overload'. All he had to go on was instinct.
"Okay, big guy," he tried again. "I know this is hard, but I need you to talk to me. I need to try and work out what's going on here. You think you can answer some questions?"
After a few seconds of silence, Jim finally managed an answer. "...try," he ground out painfully.
"I promise I'll keep it short and simple." Blair knew the first thing he needed to establish was how just high each one of Jim's senses were tuned. If he could work out at what level the sentinel's senses were sitting, then he'd have a far better chance of bringing them back down to within normal range. From his observations so far he suspected that most of Jim's senses were either in the high or extreme range. This is not what I had in mind when I talked about tests, big guy, he thought sadly. "Okay, Jim," he started. "I need your help, buddy. I need to find out just how high your senses have spiked. I want you to try and concentrate on each one of your senses and tell me where they're sitting."
Jim squeezed his eyes tighter, fighting off another wave of pain. "Can't," he ground out.
"Yes, you can. I know you can." Still resisting the urge to reach out and add the comfort of touch, Blair continued. "Just think of some levels. Imagine a scale from one to five," he said, his voice barely above a whisper, "five being the highest and one being the lowest."
With no response forthcoming, Blair pushed again. "Jim, you got it?"
Finally, Jim nodded his head slightly.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Blair continued. "Good, that's real good, man. What number are your senses currently on?"
"Four... some five." Jim swallowed hard, fighting against the next wave of pain.
"Okay, we need to work on bringing them down, but first you need to try and relax." Blair sucked in a deep lungful of air and breathed it out slowly. "Breathe with me, Jim. Deep, steady breaths."
With his eyes still clamped shut, Jim tried in vain to follow Blair's instructions, but with each breath brought a new onslaught of agony. The air around him was scolding hot, burning his lungs each time he inhaled. "Can't breathe," he cried out.
"Sshh, sshh, it's okay. I'm sorry, buddy. No more deeps breaths, I promise."
Blair clenched his fists in frustration. His approach to finding a solution had been hit and miss and so far it had been more 'miss' than 'hit.' Biting back the guilt, he waited until Jim's harsh pants abated, before pressing on.
"Jim, I'm going to say the numbers out loud and I want you to imagine sliding a lever down the scale, number by number. We're gonna work on your hearing first. When I say the numbers I want you to concentrate on bringing the level for your hearing down. You got all that?"
Breathing a little easier, Jim nodded that he understood.
"I'm starting at five, Jim, remember five being the highest part of the scale. Now I want you to slide the scale down to four."
Jim followed the instructions. Aided by the encouraging tones of Blair's low voice, he slid the imaginary scale down to four.
"Okay, we're leaving four and we're sliding down to three."
Once again Jim followed the instructions, sliding the scale down to three.
"You on three, Jim?"
The Sentinel let out a harsh, "Yes!"
"Good work, man," Blair reassured. "Is the sound level becoming more bearable?"
"That's great," Blair replied, a little too loudly. The pitch of his voice caused Jim to draw back.
"Oh God, I'm sorry, Jim," Blair apologized, this time lowering the volume of his voice considerably. He paused for a moment before speaking again. "Alright, buddy, we're nearly there. I want you to try for two. Bring the level down to two."
Blair could see Jim concentrating hard. Tiny speckles of sweat had broken out on Jim's cooling brow.
"I can't... won't move any further," Jim panted.
"Shhh, it's okay, it's okay," Blair comforted. "Let's take a break for a few minutes, okay?"
"Tired," Jim whispered.
"I know. You just relax for a bit. Just rest, breathe slowly and relax, Jim." Blair watched silently as Jim's face started to slacken. The Sentinel's furrowed brow became less intense as Jim started to drift toward a fitful sleep. Sandburg debated whether or not to continue. It was plain to see that Jim was exhausted. Maybe if he let him rest for a while, the symptoms might not be so intense when he woke.
"Just rest," Blair said quietly, working the kinks out of his knees as he stood. Rounding the bottom of the bed, he untangled the sheet from the comforter and draped it loosely over Jim's lower torso.
The reaction was instantaneous and violent. Jim lashed out wildly with his feet, trying to dislodge the sheet. "Shit!" Blair swore, removing it immediately.
Curled back into a tight ball, Jim started to pant. He reached blindly for Blair's shirt, once again sucking in lungfuls of the comforting scent.
Guilt and remorse once again swept over the grad student. He was supposed to be the so-called 'Sentinel expert', and once again his lack of knowledge was severely hindering their progress. Sure, he might have managed to bring Jim's hearing down to a tolerable level, but one out of five senses wasn't what he considered a notable achievement.
Praying that he hadn't undone all the hard work, Blair spoke softly to Jim. "I'm sorry, Jim. I'm so very sorry." With no adverse reaction to his voice, Blair kept up his quiet barrage of soft murmurings until Jim finally relaxed into sleep once more. With a final, silent apology, Blair crept out of the room.
Blair hardly noticed the knock on the front door. He'd fired up his laptop and was surfing the 'Net, trying to find out as much information as he could on sensory overload. There was plenty of information relating to autism, but nothing that was going to be of much use to Jim. His head snapped up when the knocking turned into a forceful 'bang'.
"I was starting to think you guys were trying to give me the brush off," Simon commented briskly. Without waiting for an invitation, he pushed past Blair. "What kind of pizza do you like, Sandburg?" Simon perused the apartment. "Jim gone out to get the beer?"
"Beer, pizza? Am I missing something here, Captain?"
"You will be if Jim doesn't get back soon. Kickoff's in half an hour." Simon stripped off his jacket and hung it by the front door. "And you can call me Simon when we're not at the station, Sandburg." He looked around again. "Where did you say Jim was?"
"Um, Captain... I mean, Simon. I don't think that now is a particularly good time."
Simon looked at Blair as if he'd grown two heads. "And pray tell why not?"
"Because Jim's not feeling all that well at the moment."
"Well he was fine when he left the station... aside from bitching about me making him go get a tetanus shot."
"A tetanus shot? Why did Jim need a tetanus shot?"
"Nothing serious, just tore himself up a little on a rusty nail when he was chasing Danny Sabrana over a back alley fence." Simon loosened his tie. "Don't know why he bothered, really. The little punk's uncle's a lawyer and he hasn't failed yet to get the kid out. There's something to be said about the apple not falling too far from the tree."
Blair hadn't heard a single thing Simon had said after the words 'tetanus shot.'
Simon glanced at Sandburg's dazed expression. "Geez, Sandburg, it's not like he was shot or anything. It was hardly more than a scratch." Simon patted Blair's shoulder on the way to the fridge. "If you're gonna hang out with the big boys, kid, you better get used to a little rough play."
"Tetanus," Blair repeated, his fingers now flying over his laptop keyboard. He opened a relevant site, scanning down the page with the cursor. "Side effects... what are the side effects?" he mumbled. "Bingo," he shouted giving Simon a start. "The side effects of a tetanus shot can include 'allergic reactions, anaphylaxis, generalised itching, and lightheadedness. In very rare instances, death can result.'" Blair pushed down the panic before it had a chance to erupt. Jim is simply having a few adverse reactions to the shot, he told himself. The allergic reaction and the itching were all just symptoms of the vaccine, symptoms that were being exaggerated by Jim's enhanced senses. "He's not having trouble breathing and he's not going to die," Blair stated forcefully.
Simon, now with beer in hand, was standing shaking his head. "Sandburg, what on earth are you babbling about? Of course Jim's not going to die. It was a simple tetanus shot for crying out loud." He took a swig from the bottle, making a mental note to take a closer look at the kid's psych evaluation.
"Simon, no medication is simple when it comes to Jim. That simple shot he had this afternoon sent his senses skyrocketing off the charts."
"What?" Simon's eyes drifted toward the stairs. "Has he been checked out by a doctor?" He placed his beer on the coffee table. "Maybe I should go up and see how he is?"
"He's not upstairs. He's in my bed."
Without asking for permission to enter Blair's room, Simon pushed through the curtain. The same scene that had stopped Blair in his tracks earlier that day also pulled the police captain up short.
Simon turned on Blair. "What the hell is going on?" The huddled figure of his best detective, lying exposed and totally out of control in Sandburg's bed sent all kinds of irrational thoughts flooding through his mind. He wasn't used to seeing Ellison vulnerable, and he certainty wasn't used to seeing him naked in another man's bed. His immediate shock turned quickly to anger. Unfounded anger aimed at a longhaired hippie who he really didn't know all that well. Surging forward, he pulled the sheet up to cover Jim, more for his own sense of decency than for Jim's. Before he had a change to lower the sheet, it was snatched out of his hand.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Blair hissed, angrily.
"Giving him a modicum of dignity." Simon's eyes flashed with anger. "What the fuck is going on here, Sandburg?"
A small moan emanated from the bed. "Will you keep your voice down?" Blair tossed the sheet into the corner and moved to kneel by the bed. "It's okay, Jim. Just relax." Blair shot an annoyed look in Simon's direction, before turning his attention back towards the Sentinel. "Is the level coming down, any further Jim?"
"No," Jim's voice was rough and harsh.
"Try and get some more sleep, big guy. We'll try again when you're more rested."
Jim turned his face back into Blair's shirt and, within seconds, had drifted back off to sleep.
Grabbing Simon forcibly by the arm, Blair dragged the larger man from the room. "What the hell was that all about?"
Simon yanked his arm from Blair's grasp. "Why don't you tell me?" It suddenly occurred to Simon that he really didn't know who Blair Sandburg was. The kid had shown up only a few month's ago and, in that short time, had managed quite aptly to weasel his way into Jim's life. On more than one occasion, Sandburg had displayed his ability to stretch the truth, and who was to say that he wasn't lying now? Simon eyed Blair suspiciously. What's really on your agenda, kid? he wondered. Is all this crap about tetanus founded in fact, or did you do something to Jim in order to gather more information for your dissertation? "What did you do to him, Sandburg?" Simon spat. "What the fuck did you do to my detective?"
Blair was stunned at the accusation. "What have I done to him?" he asked in disbelief. A spark of resentment flared within Blair, and he angrily met Simon's allegation head on. "Shouldn't the question be what have you done to him, Captain? What in God's name were you thinking, sending him off to get a tetanus shot without contacting me first? Didn't you even consider how that vaccine could have affected him? You know his system isn't the same as your average person."
"That's a total load of bullshit, Sandburg," Simon yelled, not prepared to listen to any of Blair's offbeat theories and lies. "I don't know how you've done it, but you've managed to fill Jim's head with so much Sentinel bullshit that he doesn't know whether he's coming or going." Simon jabbed his finger hard into Blair's chest. "Are you that desperate to finish your dissertation that you have to turn Jim into a walking cripple in the process?" With his anger reaching the boiling point, Simon shoved Blair hard up against the wall. "Listen up, you neo-hippie, flower-child, punk. You might have Jim fooled with all this sentinel crap, but it's gonna be a cold day in hell before you pull the wool over my eyes." Simon shook Blair by the front of his shirt. "Fact of the matter is that you're in the perfect position to play Jim like a puppet." Simon shook Blair again, hard. "What fucking string did you pull to make him end up like this, you little bastard?"
Blair's head hit the wall with a forceful bang. Wincing at the pain, he ground out, "What is it with cops and walls?" Bracing himself, Blair wrenched Simon's hands from the front of his shirt. "No, you listen, you stupid, bigoted, halfwit. I don't give a damn what you think about me, my theories, or anything else for that matter. The only reason that Jim is in there flat on his back is because of your order, Captain. If that mind of yours wasn't so narrow, then maybe there'd be enough room to consider the possibility that I might know what I'm talking about."
"Well, if you know what you're talking about, tell me why Jim is in there acting like he should be auditioning for a part in the Exorcist. I'll tell you why, Sandburg. Because for all of your fancy theories and ideas about Sentinels, you don't have a clue, do you? Truth is, you're actually about as useless as tits on a bull."
Simon's words hit hard, perhaps harder than Blair wanted to admit. Despite the harshness of everything that was just said, there was no denying that the Captain was dead on target. For all his research and study, he really didn't know squat when it came to Sentinels. Jim had been the first living embodiment of the famous legend he'd ever come across, and Simon was right, he was as useless as 'tits on a bull'.
A crash and the sound of breaking glass brought the argument to an unresolved end. With one last, hard stare at Simon Banks, Blair pushed away and headed toward the bedroom. With his back to Simon, he made one final comment. "If you want to stay and help, that's fine. If not, you know where the door is."
"Oh god... Jim no!" The room was darker than before. Dusk had settled over the city and the last rays of afternoon light filtered feebly through the window. Jim had changed positions. He was now on his back, his spine arching painfully as his fingernails ripped into his already abused skin.
"Jim, stop." Blair pleaded, but the Sentinel was well past the point where anything from the outside world registered -- anything besides pain.
"I'm sorry, Jim." Blair whispered a quiet apology, knowing that what he was about to do would be excruciating, but he was out of options. He had to stop Jim from inflicting any more damage upon himself.
Jim arched off the bed, screaming as soon as his skin felt the contact with Blair's.
"Sandburg, let him go," Simon yelled, moving to intervene.
"Back off, Simon," Blair warned. "I have to try and get him to turn his senses down." Finding it difficult to keep hold of both Jim's hands, Blair shot the Captain a pleading look. "Simon, you have to help me... please."
Any reservations that Simon had vanished when Jim broke free from Sandburg's hold and started to drag his bloody nails over his already abused skin. Surging forward, his hands joined Blair's, and together they worked to pin Jim down.
Jim thrashed his head from side to side as the pain of the abrasive touches overwhelmed him. His chest heaved heavily with the exertion of trying to draw air into his burning lungs. "Don't touch... don't touch," he screamed.
Leaving Simon to keep Jim restrained, Blair's strong, nimble fingers found the pressure points on Jim's wrist and at the base of his ribcage. Both points were specifically for relieving skin rashes, and not necessarily targeted at Jim's condition, but at this point in time, Blair was ready to grasp at straws. Clearing his throat, he spoke firmly. "Find the levels, Jim," he ordered.
Jim continued to thrash his head from side to side.
"Jim, concentrate on the levels!" Blair shouted with urgency.
"Damn it, Jim!" he hissed when the Sentinel paid no attention.
"Simon, I need you to place you fingers here... and here." Blair swapped positions with the Captain. "Press down firmly, but not too hard. Count to thirty and then release the pressure for a few seconds, before pressing down again." As soon as he was satisfied that Simon understood, Blair released Jim's hands and took the side of the Sentinel's face determinedly in his hands. Stopping the sideways movement, he massaged Jim's temple with his thumb. "Listen to me, Jim... you have to find the levels."
"Can't," Jim cried out. "Your hands.... both of you, you're killing me."
"Find them," Blair ordered, applying pressure to the point on Jim's forehead known as the third eye. "Look within, Jim. The levels are there, man. You just gotta find 'em."
Jim couldn't concentrate anymore on Blair's voice. Pain was overwhelming him. He was clutched within its razor sharp jaws, was helpless against its consuming hunger. The scent, which had previously given him a safe port in which to harbour, grew intense and unbearable. His stomach revolted just before his world faded to black. He was lost in the void -- lost in a dark place that would shield his pain.
Blair reacted quickly, recognizing the potentially dangerous position Jim was now in. Ignoring the vomit that covered his hands, he turned the Sentinel's head to the side in an effort to stop Jim from choking. Simon's reactions were just as decisive. He knelt on the bed, sliding his hands under Jim's back and lower body. With one quick movement, he shifted Jim onto his side.
Jim's body convulsed once more, spilling the last remaining contents of his stomach onto the pillow. Blair wiped his hand on the sheet before placing it on Jim's diaphragm. The rhythm was still steady and even. "He's okay," he blurted out in relief. "He's okay," he repeated again, to reassure himself.
"I'm calling an ambulance," Simon stated, pushing himself from the bed. "He needs to be in the hospital."
"Captain, no!" Blair exclaimed. "You can't... it'll kill him." Although Blair was now on his feet, he didn't break his connection with Jim. "He's barely coping with the amount of stimuli in this room; imagine what the sounds and smells of the hospital will do to him." Blair tightened the grip he had on Jim's hand. "The first thing they'll do is pump him full of drugs. Simon, his body won't cope. If he ends up in the emergency room, he will die."
Locking eyes with those of the younger man in front of him, Simon saw what his grandmother once would have described as 'sacred eyes' -- eyes that led straight to the soul... and this soul was scared. But behind the worry and uncertainty, and the fear, Simon also saw fierce determination and loyalty. He realised it was his turn to get control over the unreasoning fears that were fuelling his responses to this whole situation. Although he still didn't trust Sandburg, he had to admit that the kid's theory did make sense. If it was the tetanus shot that was having this effect on Jim's senses, then pumping him full of more drugs could prove to be fatal. Jim appeared to be stable at the moment and he wasn't about to risk the life of his friend because he was too damn stubborn to listen to the options available. For the sake of his detective, Simon knew he needed to put his resentment and distrust on the back burner. He needed to take a step outside of the circle and start doing his job. It was about time he started acting like the capable investigator that he was.
Scrubbing a hand over his face, Simon wrestled with the decision he knew he needed to make. His eyes drifted down to the link between the two men. Even in his unconscious state, Jim had somehow managed to wrap his fingers tightly around Sandburg's hand -- a grip that was equally returned. "Okay, Sandburg, if the hospital's out of the question, what do you suggest? This can't go on much longer."
Blair released a breath that he hadn't even realized he was holding. He couldn't quite believe Simon was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Alright," he said, knowing he'd only get one shot. "The first thing I need to do is to help Jim bring his levels down to a normal range."
"And how do you propose to do that?"
"Visually, I hope." Blair replied, adding his other hand to cover Jim's knuckles. "I have to find a way to get him to concentrate long enough to visualise the levels and bring them down. Before you arrived, I had his sense of hearing back down in the lower range of the scale, but I can't seem to find a way to keep it there. Every time one of his other senses spikes, it's like a catalyst for the rest of them to go spiraling out of control."
"Okay, so what we need to do is take what we already know and join the pieces together until we get an overall picture," Simon surmised.
"Right," Blair agreed, his brow furrowed in concentration.
"Is there any one sense that appears to be worse than the others?" Simon asked.
"His tactile sense, I guess. At least that's the one that seems to be causing him the most amount of pain."
"Okay then, his sense of touch is where we start?"
"Right," Blair agreed again.
"So we..." Simon encouraged, in the hope that the kid would start to formulate some type of plan.
"We stabilize his worst affected sense -- that being touch -- and then hopefully this will allow him enough respite from the pain to enable him to work on his other senses."
"And we do this how?"
"By minimizing the amount of contact that Jim has with stimuli." Blair started to bounce, the wheels in his head whirring into motion. "Captain... I mean Simon. I'm sure Jim's got some silk sheets stashed away in the back of the linen cupboard. They'll be softer on his skin than these cotton ones. And towels, I'll need soft towels... oh and a bowl of lukewarm water... not too hot."
"Silk sheets, towels and water... lukewarm," Simon repeated. As he went to retrieve the items, he hoped and prayed that Sandburg was right, because if this didn't work, Jim was out of options.
By the time Simon returned to the room, Ellison was hovering in and out of consciousness. Noting that the position of both men's hands had not changed, Simon commented. "He seems to be tolerating touch a little better." Rounding the bed Simon patted Jim's shoulder. "Hey, buddy."
"Oh God," Jim cried, pulling away abruptly. "No, not again... not again." Jim's eyes glazed before rolling back. The Sentinel blacked out again.
This time it was Simon's turn to stand in bewilderment. "What happened?" he asked, stunned and confused. "I barely touched him."
"He's passed out again." Blair checked Jim's pulse. "We should do this quick, before he comes round. Can you strip the sheets off that side of the futon?" Taking a soft, terrycloth towel from the bowl and wringing out the excess water, he started to wipe the vomit from Jim's face and neck, as well as from his own hands.
"Okay, what next?" Simon had one side of the bed striped, the sheets bunching up behind Ellison's back.
"Now, I roll him over and we do the same on this side."
"Should I help?"
"No. I don't think you should touch him just yet." Blair glanced at Simon's questioning expression, but didn't offer an explanation. He knew what was going through the police captain's mind. Why was it that his touch was the only one that Jim seemed to be able to tolerate? He had an idea, but it was one he wasn't quite ready to share yet. Simon's opinion of him was already dangerously close to rock bottom, and he had no intention of unleashing another wild theory upon the man. Bank's tolerant side didn't appear to run that deep.
Still, the scientist inside of the grad student pressed to be let out of the cage. Why is it that when your senses are at their highest you can't cope with any sensations at all, but as they inch down you can tolerate me? But why just me, Jim? What makes me different from Simon or anyone else for that matter?
"Sandburg." Simon's impatient tone bought Blair from his musing. "Shouldn't we get on with this?"
Reversing the procedure, it wasn't long before the bed was stripped and remade and Jim was settled on top of soft, silk sheets.
Bloodshot, eyes fluttered open and Blair knelt down so he'd be in Jim's line of vision. "Hey, there, big guy," he exclaimed softly.
The Sentinel blinked sluggishly, not yet able to decipher what was going on around him.
"Jim, can you hear me?"
Ellison squeezed his eyes closed and Blair suspected that Jim's senses were once again on the rise. He repositioned his hands, cradling Jim's face and one hand applied pressure to the middle of the forehead, while the other softly stroked Jim's temple. "We're not doing this again, big guy," he stated. "Find the levels, buddy... find the levels. We'll take it one at a time, nice and slow. Bring the number down, Jim. Just focus on your hearing for now."
Slowly, but surely, Jim responded to Blair's instructions. He sought out the numbers, inching the imaginary slider down bit by bit. Blair kept up his massage and encouraged. "That's it Jim... that's it, keep bringing it down."
"...skin, hurts." A tear leaked out from behind Jim's closed lids. "Burning up."
"I know, I know," Blair comforted. "Try and concentrate on your sense of touch and lower the number, Jim. Bring it down, nice and slow."
Tears continued to escape as Jim tried to concentrate on what Blair was talking about. Like a blind man running through the forest, he pushed through the thick undergrowth that kept him from reaching his target. He stumbled and fell, but every time he hit the ground, Blair's voice was there to help guide him back to the path. Finally he broke through, finding the guiding light that would lead him home.
The feel of the hands on his skin cooled, no longer causing the burning sensation that threatened once again to push him over the edge. He relaxed into the light touches on his temples, savoring every delicate stroke. "What number?" he heard Blair ask.
Drawing in a deep breath, Jim drew strength from Sandburg's scent. His taste buds tingled as a deep, familiar flavour settled in his mouth. Too exhausted and wrung out to contemplate why this smell was having this effect on him, he was content to linger in its presence, drinking greedily the comfort it offered.
"Jim," he heard Blair press again. "What number?"
"Two... I think... maybe one," he answered, roughly.
A sweaty forehead was suddenly pressed against his and a hot breath warmed his face. "You did good, Jim." A tired sigh followed. "You did real good."
Suddenly the forehead was gone and so were the hands. Jim felt the soft, smooth texture of a sheet as it was draped over his body. A hand touched his shoulder, giving a gentle squeeze. "Think you can sleep?"
"Yeah," Jim replied, his voice still rough and patchy. Feeling a sudden, grieving loss as the hand left his shoulder, Jim reached out with his own. Immediately the touch was back, flooding over his fingertips. "I'm still here," Blair comforted. "I'm not going anywhere." Blair kept up his gentle touches as Jim drifted toward sleep.
Simon hovered in the doorway, uncomfortably watching the interaction between the two men. "So, what now?" he asked, breaking the silence.
Blair sat down on the edge of the bed, his hand still entwined with Jim's. "When he's fully asleep, I'd like to try and dress the worst of the scratch marks with antibacterial cream. Last thing he needs right now is his body fighting an infection."
"What about the effects of the medication on his skin? You just got through telling me that it was drugs that got him this way in the first place." Simon's voice was harsher than he intended it to be.
"I'm hoping that if I use natural remedies, they'll be mild enough to put on Jim's skin without causing a reaction."
"And what if you're wrong?"
Blair felt his hackles go up, guarding against the accusatory tone in Simon's voice. "Look Captain, I'm doing the best I can here. I'm not stupid enough to go and liberally spread the stuff all over his body. Like everything else I've done, I'll take it one step at a time."
Simon thought about Blair's statement. "So," he finally relented slightly. "Where do I get this stuff?"
Blair twisted, pulling his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans. "The health food store on Draper sells a mild, thyme-based antibacterial cream." He fished around with his free hand, pulling out a hundred dollar bill that was stashed behind his license. "They also have a sandalwood rub." Blair held out the money for Simon to take. "It'll help if his fever spikes again."
Simon waved away the money. "I got it covered." He pushed himself off the doorframe. "I'll be back in fifteen."
As the latch on the front door closed, a disturbing feeling of unease settled over Simon. He couldn't quiet come to terms with how dependent Jim had become over the course of the past few months, and it frightened him. It frightened him to watch Ellison's character being eroded away by a tree-hugging hippie who once would have been considered little more than pond scrum by the detective. He punched the button on the elevator in frustration. Jim Ellison was not a man who needed anybody. His individuality and strength of character had earned him a reputation within the department that unequivocally said, "Stay outta my face unless it's important." Coworkers were regarded as simply that -- coworkers. Months, Simon thought mutely as the lift door slid open. It took me three years to breach the Ellison stronghold, and in the space of a couple of lousy months I've been replaced by a silence-retarded upstart whose persistent bouts of verbal diarrhea are enough to have even Helen Keller begging for the cone of silence.
Simon's inner voice of reason came to the fore just as the lift 'dinged' his arrival on the ground floor. Give the kid a break and stop sounding like a jealous girlfriend, Banks, it said sharply. Sandburg's been good for Ellison and if you were half the detective you profess to be, you'd be the first to admit it.
"When I want you're opinion, I'll ask for it," Simon barked at his moral conscience. He stuffed the list he'd scribbled into his jacket pocket. "Sandalwood and thyme." Simon turned his jacket collar up against the cold, still muttering his disapproval. "Next thing he'll have Ellison wearing rosemary-scented aftershave."
Textbooks and papers were scattered across the kitchen table. A multicoloured array of Post-It notes protruded from pages that, after all this time, bought Blair no closer to unlocking the puzzle that surrounded the mystery of sentinel senses. There were so many avenues and roads that needed to be explored. A brief passage in a monogram that had been written so many years ago provided the beginnings of his hypothesis, but with it laid a path fraught with a multitude of questions. And with each question came a barrage of possible answers.
The traits and characteristics that made a sentinel were instinctual, Blair was fairly certain of that. Burton had speculated that a sentinel was chosen because of a unique genetic advantage, a sensory awareness that was developed beyond that of normal humans. In ancient and tribal cultures, sentinels used this ability to patrol the borders, track the movement of game and even act as an early warning system to alert the approach of rival tribes. A village's survival often depended on the proficiency of its sentinel. Trouble was -- that was then. A place and time where sentinels were meant to exist. What if a true sentinel, a sentinel that was the embodiment of Burton's legend, wasn't meant to function in the modern day world? What if evolution's master plan was to give birth to a new race of sentinels: a race of men and women who were less proficient than their ancient counterparts. Members of such a race might be expected to display only one or two heightened senses... and, what if evolution had neglected to inform one Jim Ellison of its plan?
Blair clicked on the right hand side of his computer, maximizing one of the sites he'd briefly visited earlier. A disturbing thought came to him as images of Jim's behaviour played through his mind. He read, with complete thoroughness this time, the list of discerning behaviours that categorized various forms of autistic syndromes. A theory surfaced; a theory that could be so widespread in its implications that he felt completely overwhelmed. What would happen to a sentinel who became besieged in the sights and sounds of the modern world? Was autism the fate of the undiagnosed sentinel?
The clock on the wall chimed softly, welcoming the arrival of the midnight hour. The coffee maker gurgled and hissed, spitting the remnants of the fresh brew into the coffee pot below. Blair took off his glasses and scrubbed his hands over his tired face. The importance of finding a way to help Jim cope with his senses had just grown tenfold. He had no intention of letting this Sentinel, his Sentinel, slip into a world of solitary exile.
Blair eyes wandered across the room, coming to rest on Simon, who was slumped in an awkward position. It crossed his mind briefly to wake the sleeping man, if only to ward off the inevitable kinked neck. But it also crossed his mind that one should never wake a sleeping giant, especially a giant who had a major bug up his butt. Deciding to go with the second option, he left the police captain to his nap and pushed back his chair. It was time to check on Jim.
A tall floor lamp in the corner cast an eerie shadow on the bedroom ceiling. The light was soft and unobtrusive. Blair had often thought about changing the bulb so as the lamp would have been serviceable to read by, but there were times when he simply enjoyed bathing in its gentle glow.
"Hey there," Blair said when he saw two bleary, bloodshot eyes staring at him. The Sentinel had remained on his side, his hand still entwined in the flannel over-shirt. Blair crouched down by the bed. "You're hot." Rewetting the cloth in the bowl on the bedside table, he began to sponge Jim's fevered body. "Why didn't you call out?"
"Thirsty," Jim croaked.
With a speed and efficiency that would have made any nurse proud, Blair had Jim on his back and arranged upright against a pile of pillows. "Just short sips to start," he instructed holding the straw against Jim's cracked lips.
Swallowing was difficult and the water left a metallic taste in his mouth, but nonetheless, Jim managed to empty the glass.
"How are the levels, Jim? I'm not hurting you, am I?" Blair lightly patted the cloth over Jim's brow.
"Blair, I can't do this." Jim's voice cracked.
"Yes, you can. You're doing great," Blair encouraged reassuringly, despite being captured and held prisoner by the forlorn sound of the sick man's voice.
"Turn them off. Please, Blair, just turn them off." Desperate, pleading blue eyes blazed, increasing the intensity of the words.
A knife wound to the gut would have caused Sandburg less pain than the hurt he received from that one look. He averted his eyes. He couldn't afford to let Jim draw him in. He needed to stay strong and he needed to stay in control. "Jim, your senses are not something you can just turn on and off at a whim. Even if they were, I have no idea how to do it." The cloth crossed the smooth planes of Jim's chest. "I know you're hurting, but this won't last; with every hour that's passing you're gaining more control. I know the pain's been excruciating, but it won't last. I promise you."
"No," Jim shook his head. "You don't understand. It's not the pain," Jim conveyed, despite the white clenched knuckles that were now entangled in the bed sheets. "It's the control. I can't lose control. I need... I have to be in control."
"Jim, I know it's hard for you to feel so helpless, and I know that being in control of your life is important to you, but sometimes, you just have to let go of the reins. And when you do have to let go, I promise that I'll be there to pick them up. It's not a sin or a failing to have to accept help, big guy." Blair continued to sponge down Jim's arms. "There's a word that pretty much covers what I'm talking about, Jim. It's called a friend."
Jim remained quiet, silently taking in what Blair had said. Friends, he thought, his grip on the sheets easing as the pain abated slightly. What friend would be prepared to put up with the mess of a man that he now was? The answer came with one word -- Blair.
"...I'm sorry." Jim whispered
Blair replaced the cloth on the bedside table and took Jim's hand within his own. "Sorry for what? You have nothing to be sorry for."
"...puked on you, for one thing."
"Hey, man, it's not the first time someone's done a 'Linda Blair' on me. I'm a college student remember? Parties and puke are my world."
A hint of a smile appeared on Jim's lips. "...not a good thing to admit... to your lan'lor', Jun'r. 'mind me to send you a... 'viction notice... w'n I'm feelin' be'er."
Blair laughed softly. "Sure thing, Jim. I'll put it with the correspondence you sent me about the rent."
Jim's eye's drifted closed. "I guess... haven' qui' got 'round to tha'... either, have I?"
"Nope," Blair said, his broad hand reaching up to dust over Jim's brow. "I'm starting to feel like a kept man."
Jim let Blair's last comment waft over him as he drifted off to sleep. He was perfectly aware that he hadn't discussed rent with Blair. Somehow it just didn't feel right to charge the grad student rent for such a small room. He didn't have any money owing on the loft. The mortgage had been paid in full with the compensation he'd received from the army. Sandburg was pitching in with the food and utilities, and charging rent on top of that would seem like he was ripping the kid off.
"Sleep well, Jim," Blair said as Jim's breathing deepened.
Simon slipped quietly into Sandburg's bedroom, not surprised at what he saw. Sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, Blair was sound asleep. The kid's head hung heavily to one side, but Simon suspected that his neck wouldn't be the only part of his anatomy that ached when he woke. His arm was fully stretched across the mattress, Jim's chest lying under the open palm. "I'll leave you in good hands, my friend," Simon whispered before turning to leave the room.
With a quick note scribbled with the promise to return after his meeting downtown, Simon let himself out of the loft.
Jim Ellison hovered just below the realms of consciousness. His mind was happy to stay suspended in the blissful, dreamlike state, his body not as willing to cooperate. As the push on his bladder became more intense, his eyes fluttered open. Lying quietly for a few minutes, he mentally assessed his condition. The soft tapping of computer keys from the living room told him that his hearing was back within the normal range, but the burning sensation he still felt on every inch of his body made it perfectly clear that he still needed to work on his tactile sense. "First things first," he muttered, as his bladder gave another push. "Sandburg," he called out.
The anxious face of his roommate appeared immediately. "Hey, Jim, you're awake."
"Boy, you're good, Chief. Might make a detective out of you yet."
"And obviously starting to feel better," Blair responded with a relieved grin.
"Chief, you think you could go up my room and bring me a pair of boxers?" Jim adjusted the sheet to try and alleviate the pressure of the material against his skin. They're in the second drawer of my dresser."
"Boxers!" Blair didn't move toward the doorway; instead, he inched closer into the room. "You realize what this means, don't you?"
"That I'm tired of lying here with my ass swaying in the breeze," Jim muttered.
"No, man. It means that you're getting control back. Either the affect of the vaccine has stabilised, or your body is finally adjusting to the introduction of a foreign substance. Or it could mean that you're gaining better control of your senses... or it could..."
"Vaccine?" Jim interrupted. "What has vaccine got to do with anything?" Jim scratched his leg though the sheet.
"Well, you see, Jim, I have this theory..."
"Sandburg," Jim butted in. He could feel the beginnings of a headache, and the chances of embarrassing himself with a major bladder explosion were becoming a very real possibility. "Boxers now, theories later."
"Alright, alright, I'm going." Blair pushed the curtain aside. "Hey, I guess this puts a whole new meaning to the phrase 'coming to your senses'."
Jim scowled. "You are so lucky I'm currently incapacitated, Chief."
A laugh could be heard as the younger man bounded up the stairs.
It didn't take Blair long to complete his mission. "Hey, I found these at the back of your drawer," he said, holding up a pair of black, satin boxers. "You know, I used to have a pair just like these. Called 'em my 'lucky strike' boxers. It was a sad, sad, day when they fell apart from over washing." Blair held out the underwear to Jim. "Looks like yours are in pristine condition, though." A grin cracked over his face. "Guess they haven't had much of a workout, hey big guy?"
Jim snatched the boxers out of Blair's hand, giving him a dirty look. "Keep you nose outta my love life, short stuff, and spare me the sordid details of yours. My stomach's nauseous enough as it is."
Blair's smile disappeared immediately. "Maybe some tea, or soup... or something light might help."
"Yeah, maybe," Jim agreed. "But right now, what I need the most is a trip to the bathroom." Kicking off the sheet, Jim swung his legs over the side of the mattress. He fell forward slightly as he attempted to slide the boxers over his feet.
Blair reached out with a steadying hand. "Give me those." He snatched the boxers away and slipped them over Jim's feet and pulled them up. "Now all you need to do is lift up your butt and you're home free, big guy."
With clumsy actions, Jim battered away the extra pair of hands that were attached to his underwear. "I got it," he groused. Planting his feet firmly on the ground, he made the attempt to stand.
"Jim, I really don't think completely vertical would be such a good idea at the moment. Balance is something that is finely attuned to your other senses." Blair's hand stopped Jim from gaining upward momentum. "I'm serious man, you try and get up and chances are good that you'll land flat on your butt." He patted the sentinel's knee gently. "Look, just give me a second to work something out."
Ducking out of the room, Blair, returned with an old juice container he'd plucked out of the recycling bin. He handed it to Jim.
"Sandburg, if you think I'm gonna pee into an orange juice bottle, you're crazier than you look."
"What's wrong?" Blair asked. "I rinsed it out, and besides, it was the only thing I could find."
Jim stubbornly swung his legs over the side of the mattress. "I'm going to the bathroom."
"Jim, I really don't think--" Blair started, but Jim wasn't listening.
The Sentinel planted his feet on the floor and stood. The moment he was upright, the effects of vertigo took hold, causing the room to spin and the floor to tilt. He swayed dangerously to the side, before completely losing his balance.
"You really are one stubborn, son of bitch," Blair hissed, catching the falling man and guiding him back down to the bed. With Jim's backside now on the mattress, it wasn't hard for Blair to lift the sentinel's legs back onto the futon. As soon as Jim's dizziness abated, Sandburg once again handed over the juice container. "Pee," he said.
This time Jim accepted his fate. He took the bottle from Sandburg with a look that reminded the grad student of a disgruntled child who had just been told 'no dessert' until the dinner plate was clean. "The hole's too small," Jim grumbled.
Blair eyed the opening. "It's plenty big enough. A smirk spread across his face. "And then some," he added.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jim asked, indignantly.
"Pee," Blair said, leaving the room. "I'll be back in five minutes."
Jim lifted his cup, hesitantly tasting the concoction the kid had brewed. He was dying for a cup of coffee, but the coffee beans had conveniently disappeared, replaced with a foul smelling herbal mixture, and an excuse that his system wasn't ready to handle stimulants such as caffeine. Opting for the peace and quiet that came with compliance, Ellison was content with the fact that at least now he could stand without falling head over heels.
Apart from the unintelligible words of John Rambo as he grunted and shot his way across the mountain range, the only other sound to break the silence was the scratching of pen against paper. "What are you writing in that thing?" Jim asked, muting the television.
"Just stuff," Blair responded, not looking up from his task.
"What kinda stuff?" Jim made a grab for the journal, missing by several inches as Blair tucked the book tightly against his chest.
"Jim, lay off, man. This is important."
"It's about me, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's about you."
"Well, if it's about me, then I have a right to know what you're writing."
"It's just some notes on a couple of theories I have."
"What, more theories about me being a behavioural throwback to a pre-civilized breed of man?"
"Oh man, are you still harping about that? I've apologized already and besides, I can't seem to recall any apologizes forthcoming about me being a neo-hippie witchdoctor punk."
"There's no need to apologize for that. I'm just calling 'em as I see 'em, Chief."
Throwing Jim a less than amused look, Blair opened his journal and jotted down a few more notes.
"Now what are you writing?"
"Oh, just some observations on basic sentinel behaviour and their inability to apologize when they're in the wrong."
Jim leaned over and gave Blair a playful swat on the head. This action caused Blair to hastily scribble more notes, this time, sharing them with Jim. "And a sentinel seems to be easily provoked and reacts by lashing out with physical violence."
Jim pulled back. "So, Darwin, what is this amazing theory you've formulated?"
"You really want to hear?" Blair asked, tucking his feet under him.
"May as well, while my hearing is still on the fritz. That way I've got an excuse if you ask me twenty questions."
Blair ignored Jim's comment, enthusiastically delving into his theory. "Do you remember the first time you came to my office and I was telling you about how every sentinel had a companion to watch their back?"
"Well I think that this companion is more than just a companion. I think he's more like a guide."
Jim raised his eyebrows. "What, like an attendant, or tour guide?"
"No, Jim," Blair drew out. "The guide is someone who is capable of leading the sentinel out of the maze when they get lost in sensory overloads."
"So you do mean a tour guide?"
"Look," Blair said, shifting his position on the sofa to face Jim. "Think of sentinel senses as being like electrical wiring, a series of circuits, and fuses that are designed to carry and transfer electrical current of a specific intensity. But what happens when the electrical wire is asked to carry more electrical information than it can handle? It burns out and blows the fuse in the process, hence, in sentinel terms you have a zone out. Now what I think happened to you was the initial stage before the burnout. When your body or wires, for want of a better example, broke down with the increased wattage. Now before the wire had the chance to completely burn out, water is added to the equation and I don't have to tell you the result of that. I think in your case, the vaccine was the same as mixing electricity and water."
"Okay, Chief, nice little theory, but what has this got to do with guides?"
"Well, in an electrical system that's burned out, it's just a case of replacing a couple of fuses and maybe some wires, but it's not so easy with the human brain. I think a guide is someone who has the capability to replace the 'fuse' within the sentinel. Kind of like getting him back online, or basically, just get the system working again."
"Okay, so now we're talking repairman?"
Blair snapped his journal shut and dumped it down on the coffee table. "You know what, I don't know why I bother sometimes."
"Hey, what did I do?" Jim asked, a look of complete innocence plastered over his face.
"You want some more tea?" Blair asked, retrieving the cups.
Jim's expression of distaste at the idea of being forced to drink more of the kid's 'witch's brew' disappeared when a new smell wafted over his nostrils. "You smell that?"
Blair sniffed. "What? I don't smell anything."
"Pepperoni, double cheese, olives, and mushrooms... thick crust, extra large." Jim sighed. "Simon, you're a godsend."
"Man, that's amazing," Blair replied, wide eyed.
"It's only pepperoni, Chief, not real hard to distinguish," Jim shrugged.
"No... no... I'm not talking about what's on the pizza, Jim. I'm talking about the fact that you are able to tell the size. How did you work that out?" Blair bounced as it came to him. "I know, you're using the intensity of the smell not only to identify the ingredients but also estimate the amount per square inch that they're covering."
"Yeah, something like that I guess," Jim replied seriously. "Or it could be that Simon called while you were in your room and asked what size pizza I wanted."
Blair rolled his eyes, and turned his back on the laughing man. "Real funny, big guy... real funny," he shot back.
"You gonna let him in?" Jim asked, still amused at himself.
Blair pulled the door open before Simon had a change to knock. "Captain," he said, curtly.
"Sandburg," Simon replied, hovering in the doorway. "I bought pizza."
Moving aside to let the man enter, Blair mumbled, "What was it my mom used to say? Something about 'beware of cops bearing pizza'." As Simon moved past him Blair announced, "I'm going to grab a shower."
"Don't you want pizza?" Jim asked.
"Nah, I'm good. Don't let me stop you though. You guys pig out... no pun intended."
"Were we just insulted?" asked Simon, as he grabbed a couple of plates from the cupboard above the sink.
"Yep, think so." Jim already had the box open and was savouring the mouthwatering sensations.
"I see you have your appetite back," Simon commented, handing Jim a plate. "How's the senses thing going?"
"I'm getting there. Hearing and touch are still fairly numb, but I'll take numb over intense any day. Sandburg seems to think they've kinda bottomed out and it'll take a few days for them to return to normal."
"Well, whatever Sandburg thinks, I still don't want you back at work until you've had a complete physical." Simon interrupted Jim before a complaint could be made. "Look on the bright side, detective. I bought you a get well present." He handed Jim a bag that contained colouring books, pencils and the Walt Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.
"Cute sir, real cute." Jim flipped the video over and raised his eyebrows. "Beauty and the Beast?"
"Yeah, well it was on sale." Simon settled on the other sofa.
"So," Jim asked, catching a long strand of dripping cheese before it fell onto his sweat pants. "What's up with you and Sandburg?" His senses might have been dull, but it wasn't hard to miss the air of tension that lingered in the room.
"What makes you think something's up?"
"Well aside from the fact that he's avoiding you like Typhoid Mary, let's just put it down to a gut feeling." Jim worked on winding the cheese around his finger. "What happened between you two, anyway?"
"Let's just say we had a difference of opinion over your well being."
"What kind of difference?" Jim asked, knowing full well what it was like being on the receiving end of Simon's temper.
"Nothing major," Simon replied, sensing a change in Jim's mood. "I just didn't feel the kid knew what he was doing and I let him know it."
"Simon, if it wasn't for Blair, you'd be visiting me in the nut house right about now."
"That's just a little dramatic don't you think, Jim?"
"No, it's not. Look, I can't explain it and I'm not really sure I even want to, but Blair held me together. I can't even begin to describe the pain I was in. God, even the air made my skin feel like someone had taken a blowtorch to it. But, Blair... well Sandburg somehow made the pain more bearable."
"Why?" Simon asked, his feeling of resentment toward the kid resurfacing. "Why was Sandburg the only one who you responded to?"
"I'm not sure, but Blair's got this theory about guides. I think it has something to do with that."
"What, guides as in handbooks?" Simon questioned.
"No, guide as in a person who is capable of showing a sentinel how to get back."
"Showing you the way back from where, Jim?" Simon's resentment was now mingled with frustration. "Look, Jim. I know that you've become fond of the kid, and on the surface he seems pretty harmless, but are you totally sure that he's not manipulating you, controlling you in some way to gain more information for his dissertation?"
"Simon, I understand where you're going with this, and I'll admit that I was skeptical at first, but give me some credit, Captain. I do know one or two things about human nature. Blair doesn't have a second agenda. Yes, he wants to gather as much information as he can for his dissertation, but he wouldn't do it at my expense." Jim could tell that Banks was still wasn't completely convinced. "Give him a chance, Simon. I know that he can come across as a little screwy at times, but in the months he's been working alongside me, has he ever displayed anything but total loyalty? And not just to me, either. I can't think of too many civilians that would have taken on someone like Kincaid. Whether you want to admit it or not, sir, he bought us valuable minutes that day... minutes that probably saved Daryl's life."
The mention of his son's name bought back a flood of memories from that day. Jim was right. Blair did buy them time. If the kid hadn't had been in Kincaid's face, spouting off a whole lot of bullshit, and wasting precious time, they very well might not have made it to the seventh floor before the mass murder took place. "I guess I've got some apologizing to do," Simon relented. "I said some pretty severe things to the kid, and flung around some fairly heavy accusations."
"Hey, I'm sure a few hostile words are not going to cause Sandburg life-long trauma," Jim reassured. "One thing I've already learned about Blair is that he's got a thick skin and he can also be very forgiving."
"Even about walls?" Simon wiped his hands on a napkin. "I kinda gave him a decent shove into your living room wall. Somehow I don't think that little stunt has gone a long way toward cementing our relationship."
"I'm sure it's not the first time that Sandburg's made an acquaintance with a wall," Jim intervened.
Simon read the expression on Jim's face and the penny dropped. "Don't tell me... you didn't... did you?"
"Yep, second time we met. Straight, smack bang into the wall. Gotta give him credit though. He's tougher than he looks."
Blair emerged from the bathroom, his presence bringing the conversation to a halt. Adjusting the towel around his waist, he wordlessly made his way into his room.
"No time like the present, I guess," Simon said pushing himself to stand.
"I guess so," Jim replied straight-faced. "I mean apologizing is really the only decent thing to do under the circumstances. You really can't just go throwing people up against walls and not take any responsibility for it."
"I know, I know." Simon waved down Jim's comment and knocked on the doorframe outside Blair's room. "Sandburg, mind if I come in?"
Blair had pulled on a pair of sweat pants, and was toweling the moisture from his hair, when the Captain entered.
Not knowing how or where to begin, Simon attempted to make idle conversation. "You know, I just don't understand how anyone could do that to themselves," he said, indicting Blair's nipple ring.
"Guess there's a lot of things you don't easily understand, Captain," Blair replied, finding a shirt and slipping it over his head.
This is not going as I planned, Simon thought. "Look, Sandburg," he attempted again. "I've come in here to apologize. I guess the whole situation with Jim and seeing him so outta control kinda threw me for a loop. I said a lot of things that I didn't mean and I'm sorry about the wall incident." Simon held out his hand. "Will you accept my apology?"
Blair looked at the outstretched hand. "What is it about me that makes you feel so threatened, Captain? Is it the clothes, the hair... the earrings maybe?" He tossed his wet towel in the corner of the room. "Or does it run deeper than surface appearances?"
Simon lowered his hand. Sandburg wanted more than an apology, he wanted an explanation and as much as he hated to admit it to himself, at the very least he owed the kid that much. "Okay, you want an explanation," he began, cringing at what he was about to admit. "I was jealous. Simple as that."
"I'm not a threat, Simon," Blair responded. "There's no rule to say that a person can't have more than one friend. I know we might have had a fundamental disagreement about what was the best for Jim, but our intentions were the same." Blair thought for a moment before holding out his hand. "You know, I'd say the big doofus out there is a pretty lucky guy to have you looking out for him. Apology accepted." Blair smiled. "At least it's nice to know that one cop in the place is willing to apologize for throwing me into walls."
Simon's eyes narrowed. "What, you mean Ellison hasn't?"
"Yeah, right; I don't think Jim knows how to apologize."
"Ellison, you're a bastard," Simon called out.
Blair slapped Simon on the back as he passed, smiling at the laughter coming from the living room. "And he loves every minute of it."
"Hey, Chief, grab a plate. I saved you some pizza," Jim said, trying hard to keep the smirk off his face as the two men emerged from the bedroom.
A finger jabbed the air. "You'll keep," Simon threatened.
"What's this?" Blair asked picking up the video from the table.
"It's Simon's idea of a get well present."
"Hey, this is a good cartoon." Blair flipped the video over and studied the back of the case "Aside from the fact that Belle's pretty hot it's also got some pretty intense moral values. You know, like not judging a book by its cover, being able to move beyond surface appearances to discover that people are not always what they seem" Blair looked over at the two men. "You know, one of life's greatest gifts is the ability to walk in another man's shoes."
Simon looked over at Jim, who returned the look. "Jim, did we just get a lecture?"
"Sure sounded like one to me."
"Huh... that's what I thought. You know, I haven't had one of those since I left home."
"Well, get used it, Simon. I think it's gonna be a regular occurrence from now on."
They both watched as Blair slotted the video into the player. "You guys should really get a kick out of this," the younger man said, settling on the sofa next to Jim. A smile lingered on his face as he pressed the play button and placed his feet on the coffee table, smug in the knowledge that Jim would let the misdemeanor slide.
"So," Blair asked as soon as he heard the bathroom door click closed behind Simon. "You really think I could be onto something with this 'guide' theory?"
"What makes you think that, Junior?"
"Well by what you were saying to Simon, I kinda figured that you might be at least considering it."
Jim raised his eyebrows. "I hope you're not referring to the private conversation Simon and I were having while you were in the shower, are you?"
"Well it couldn't have been too private. You were both talking loud enough. Besides you should have been able to tell that I wasn't in the shower yet."
"Deaf as a door post at the moment, remember, professor." Jim said, tapping his ear. "And whether or not I was talking loudly does not give you an excuse to eavesdrop."
"Hey, I wasn't eavesdropping; I was just, kinda listening in."
"Snooping," Jim drew out, turning his attention back to the TV.
"So," Blair pressed again. "You didn't mean what you said about guides?"
Sighing, Jim resigned himself to the fact that Blair would continue to nag until he heard what he wanted to hear. "Alright, Peter Pan, I'll admit it. Yes, I do believe in guides and hopefully now hundreds of little guides all around the world will live another day because I believe."
A despondent expression cast over Blair's face.
"But you know what else I believe?" Jim added, noticing the look Blair was now sporting. "I also believe that there's some kind of unique connection between a Sentinel and Guide." Jim turned his eyes back to the television. "I know I feel one."
"You okay, Sandburg?" Simon asked coming back into the room. "You look kinda dumbfounded."
"Yeah, it's a pretty scary sight," Jim added. "Blair Sandburg with nothing to say."
"You know," Simon said, popping the video out from the machine, "the kid's right. Belle is hot, in an animated kinda way of course."
"So," Jim asked, "did you learn something from that?"
Simon chuckled. "Nope... you?"
"Not a thing," Jim laughed.
"Bet you wouldn't dare say that if he were awake."
"Probably not," Jim agreed. The Sandman had finally managed to capture the kid and, by the evidence of Blair's deep breathing, had managed to throw a ton of sleeping dust in his face.
"I think I might head off and leave you to deal with sleeping beauty." Simon gathered up the plates and put them in the sink. "You want me to get you anything before I go."
"No, thanks, I'm fine," Jim replied, unconsciously patting Blair's feet, which rested lightly against his thigh.
Simon pulled on his jacket. "I'll give you a call tomorrow to see how you're doing."
"Simon," Jim interjected. "You know me well enough to know that I don't make friends easily, but you also know that I don't take the ones I do have for granted." He picked at a loose thread on his sweats. "I guess what I'm trying to say is thanks for sticking by me through all of this. I know it must have been tough to give control over to Sandburg, especially given the way he can sometimes come across, but the bottom line is that you were willing to take a step back for my sake. So for that, thank you."
Simon nodded, deeply appreciating Jim's sincerity. "You know, maybe the kid's right. Maybe it would serve us well to walk in his shoes for a while." Simon pulled his keys out of his pocket. "I doubt that it'll ever reach the stage where he won't annoy the crap outta me, but at least now I know he has good intentions."
With goodbyes said and a friendship reaffirmed, Jim locked the door behind his Captain. Still a little unsteady on his feet, he tracked his way back to the sofa. Picking up Blair's journal from the table, he opened it to the page where Blair had left off. Not really caring about what Blair had written, he didn't bother to read the notes Blair had scrawled on the page; his only intention was to add a passage of his own. Picking up the kid's pen, he wrote, with slow, careful strokes, keeping his script as neat as his numb fingers would allow. Thank you for finding me and guiding me home, he penned.
With a feeling of contentment that he couldn't remember ever being so intense, Jim reclaimed his seat on the sofa. He could have quite easily shifted to the other couch, but the need to be near Sandburg right now was still too strong to ignore. Without so much as causing a glitch in Blair's sleep pattern, he settled the kid's feet on his lap. "I have a Guide," he whispered.
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