A Stranger From The Storm
Jim Ellison rolled over in bed and frowned at his alarm clock. It took several blurry seconds before he realized the noise that was sending shards of agony through his hung over head wasn’t his alarm clock but his phone. He fumbled for it, almost dropping it as he sat up then put it to his ear after checking the caller ID.
“This better be good, Simon,” he said. “I thought you said you weren’t going to let me drink so much at H’s birthday party.”
“Sorry to have to wake you, Jim.” Banks’ voice was serious and he didn’t even respond to Jim’s dig about the previous night’s drinking.
Jim grabbed the bottle of aspirin out of his bedside drawer and flipped off the cap, popping two into his mouth and swallowing them down with water from the glass on the nightstand. “I’m off duty today,” he reminded his captain.
“This isn’t a case for you,” Simon replied, “but I do need you to meet me at 1302 Mason Street.”
“Look, it might not even be him. I haven’t seen the guy myself but a call came in from some unis this morning. They were called out on a domestic disturbance call. They found a guy at the house they went to. Jim, they think it’s Blair.”
Jim felt as if his heart had literally leapt into his throat at the sound of Blair’s name. He shook his head. “No way, Simon. There’s no way Blair would have been living here in Cascade the past two years, right under our noses. Someone would have seen him. He hasn’t even contacted his mom in the past two years.” Despite his denials that it could be true Jim found himself on his feet, grabbing jeans and a tshirt and underwear from the dresser drawers then carrying them downstairs to the bathroom. “I’m just going to shower and get dressed. I’ll meet you there in an hour.”
By the time Jim got to the address Simon had given him, his heart was beating so fast he felt as if he’d just run a marathon. He parked his vehicle and climbed out then ran towards where he could see Simon waiting for him on the front lawn of the house. “Well?” he barked out as soon as he reached the captain. “Is it Blair?”
Simon put a restraining hand in the middle of Jim’s chest, forcing him to stay where he was. “It’s him,” he said gravely. Simon wiped a hand across his eyes and cleared his throat. “It’s Blair.” He held up his hand again as Jim tried to move around him. “You need to hear this first, Jim,” he said.
“All right.” Jim stopped but he couldn’t take his eyes off the front door of the house. Blair was behind that door. They hadn’t seen each other for over two years, hadn’t spoken. Jim had thought he was dead…
“When the uniforms got here they found three people in the house, all male. One man aged around fifty was dead from a single stab wound to the back. The knife was still buried in him up to the hilt. According to his neighbors he was something of a recluse-type named Charles Olsen. There was also a young boy. He tells us his name is Daniel Stockton and he’s 15 years old. And there was Blair. Blair’s hands were covered in blood. Daniel said he saw Blair kill the other man.”
“What?” Jim took his eyes away from the door and looked at Simon. “You’re kidding me? Blair killed him. Bullshit. The kid’s gotta be lying. Maybe he did it and he’s blaming Blair.”
“Jim, something else was happening here. Blair’s… Well, he’s not the Blair we remember. He’s incredibly thin, looks half-starved to tell the truth, he’s dirty and he’s got bruises and scars all over his body.” Simon took in a shaky breath. “He looks like an inmate of one of those prison camps we used to see pictures of in history class in school or… or a slave. He didn’t seem to remember me. You’ll need to go slow with him, man. He looks like a strong breeze could carry him away and he seems terrified. He’s sitting on the floor in there with his arm around the kid, hanging onto him for dear life and won’t let the paramedics near enough to check either of them out. Daniel looks scared out of his wits too. I told the cops not to go near either of them again until you got here. Go in and talk to him, convince him it’s safe to let the kid go and for them both to go to the hospital.”
Jim nodded. “I’ll do my best but do I have to remind you we didn’t exactly part on the best terms, Simon. I might be the last person he wants to see right now.”
Simon shook his head. “No matter what, this is still Blair. You’re his friend, his Sentinel, even if he doesn’t remember that. He’ll listen to you I’m sure of it. Just like when he got dusted with Golden, remember? If anyone can get through to him, it’ll be you.”
Jim nodded, took a deep breath then walked up the steps and into the house. He nodded a greeting at the uniformed officers standing in the hallway just outside what looked to be a bedroom. The body of a heavy set man lay on the floor facedown. Blood stained the back of his shirt and covered a good part of the floor around him. A knife was buried in his back. Jim swallowed hard then forced his focus onto the other two occupants of the room. Both looked up at him and Jim felt his heart miss a beat. He’d know those eyes anywhere. Blair was, as Simon had said, skinny and dirty, his hair matted and falling almost to his waist, his face stubbled with a couple days growth of beard but it was Blair. There was no mistaking it. He forced his eyes away and looked at the boy. “Hi, Daniel. My name is Jim. I’m a police officer and I’m here to help you and your friend, Blair.” He looked quickly at Blair as he said his name, hoping for some sign of recognition but there was none. “Is your friend named Blair?” Once again the quick look for a sign of acknowledgment, once again disappointed as Blair continued to stare back at Jim blankly.
Daniel, however, nodded. “He’s not really my friend though. I only met him a few days ago when the man brought me here. He told Blair he had to train me but when the man brought me into the bedroom Blair came after us. He was yelling, telling the man to let me go. That he had him and he didn’t need me too. The man pushed me down on the bed and when he climbed on top of me Blair stabbed him with the knife and pulled him off me onto the floor.” Tears were streaming down Daniel’s face now and his voice had crumbled into sobs as if he’d only just now realized what the man had planned for him. “He saved me. Please don’t lock him up.”
Jim shook his head firmly, peripherally aware now of Simon standing just behind him.
“We won’t lock him up,” Simon said, “but we need to get you both to a hospital and to notify your parents that you’ve been found.”
Jim extended a hand to Daniel and Daniel took it but he stayed where he was when Blair’s arm tightened around his shoulders.
“Blair,” Daniel said softly, “you can let me go now. They’re taking me home to my family. You can go home to your family now too.”
Blair shook his head, a tear tracking through the grime on his face. “No family,” he said, his voice rusty as if from long disuse. “All gone,” he added but he loosened his grip on Daniel’s shoulders and let the boy climb to his feet and walk across to Simon.
Jim moved forward cautiously, still on his haunches, not wanting to spook Blair. He laid a gentle hand on Blair’s arm. “Come on, Chief,” he said, “let’s get you out of here.”
An expression of something undefinable flickered across Blair’s face at the nickname. The reaction was gone as quickly as it came but Blair climbed to his feet with Jim’s help and let Jim usher him out of the house.
He balked a bit at the doors to the ambulance but Daniel was already in there, seated on the gurney, a blanket wrapped around his skinny shoulders and he smiled encouragingly at Blair and nodded and after a moment Blair climbed up the steps with Jim’s help and sat down next to Daniel. He flinched when the medic approached to take his observations, moreso when the man began to wrap a BP cuff around his arm but when the man spoke soothingly to him he held still until they were ready to leave.
“You can ride with us if you want, Detective,” the paramedic said. “There’s room seeing they’re both ambulatory.”
Jim turned to look at Simon who nodded his agreement. “Rafe will drive your car to the hospital, Jim. We’ll meet up with you there.”
Jim gave him a thumbs up then sat down on the jumpseat across from the gurney. He smiled at Blair who watched him warily but didn’t speak as the ambulance pulled out into the street and headed for the hospital.
At the hospital Daniel was taken into one curtained off cubicle and Blair and Jim into another. Jim could hear the boy asking where his parents were and the nurse replying that they were on their way. A few moments later a couple in their late thirties bustled into the cubicle and through a gap in the curtains, Jim could see them take Daniel into their arms. Daniel looked over at Jim and Blair and whispered something to his father who turned a mouthed a thank you at Jim. Jim nodded acknowledgment then turned his attention to the doctor who entered the cubicle and pulled the curtain shut behind him. Jim felt Blair stiffen and he put a soothing hand on his arm. “It’s okay. The doctor just wants to make sure you’re not injured. Let him look you over then I’ll take you home.” He injected a note of firmness into his voice and after a moment Blair nodded and submitted to the doctor’s examination though he didn’t respond to any of the man’s questions. Once the exam was done, the doctor patted Blair’s shoulder gently then motioned Jim out of the cubicle so they could talk out of Blair’s hearing.
“Stay here, Chief,” Jim said as Blair started to follow him out. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
Blair subsided back onto the bed obediently. Jim wondered a little at that. The old Blair would have demanded to know why he couldn’t hear the details of his own condition and treatment but this was, Jim reminded himself, far from the old Blair. Apart from those brief flashes of almost recognition at the house, there seemed nothing left of the Blair Jim had known before.
“Mr. Sandburg is basically uninjured though there are signs of old injuries,” the doctor began. “Bruising of varying ages, scars around his wrists and ankles that look like he may have been bound tightly at some time in the past, possibly for long periods. He also has marks on his back that are reminiscent of someone who’s been flogged.”
Jim felt bile rise up his throat and he forced the nausea down ruthlessly. He had to stay calm for Blair. “Go on,” he said as the doctor paused, “I’m all right.”
“He’s very underweight and a little dehydrated.” The doctor paused again. “I know some of the details of how he was found. Is he under arrest?”
Jim shook his head firmly. “No. From what we’ve been told and from what we saw at the crime scene it appears Mr. Sandburg was acting in defence of the boy at the scene. We’ll investigate it of course but he’ll be coming home with me, at least for now.” He smiled at the doctor’s surprised look. “Blair was my partner in Major Crime up till a couple of years ago-“
The doctor nodded. “Of course. I thought his name was familiar. He was at the center of something of a media storm over falsifying his doctoral thesis-“
“Blair didn’t falsify anything,” Jim said flatly, relieved to finally be able to say what he’d wanted to tell the world two years ago, before Blair had left.
“I see. Well, um,” the doctor seemed momentarily lost for words so Jim prompted him.
“So I can take him home now?” he asked.
“Yes, by all means. He may become more verbal in familiar safe surroundings. Try small amounts of plain food to begin with. Small frequent meals. His stomach has been deprived for some time and may take a little while to be able to digest anything rich or heavy. Soup, bland eggs, toast, that kind of thing. Water, weak tea, no coffee or alcohol. I’d suggest getting him to see a counselor who specializes in PTSD as soon as possible, perhaps even a psychologist. He may have trouble sleeping, have nightmares…”
Jim nodded. For Blair, nightmares would be nothing new. He’d had more than his share of them when he’d worked with Jim, after Lash, after the Golden after being shot by Quinn… Jim cut off his melancholy chain of thought. He’d been there for Blair then and he’d be there for him now. He’d get him through this and he’d get his friend back and then, once he was healthy and once he remembered why he’d left in the first place (and Jim had no doubt that he would eventually), if he wanted to leave again, Jim would let him go with his blessing this time and the handshake of a friend not with angry words and curses like the last time. Promise to himself made, he shook the doctor’s hand and turned to see Simon and Rafe entering the emergency department. “I’m taking him home,” he said as soon as they reached him, forestalling any possible argument from his captain but Simon just nodded his agreement.
“You want me to give you a hand with him tonight?” he asked but Jim shook his head, reaching out to take his car keys from Rafe with a smile of thanks.
“I’ll call you if there’s a problem and I’ll bring him into the station tomorrow afternoon to make a statement,” Jim replied. “Any word on the DB at the house - Olsen? Why Blair was there? How long he’d been there?”
Simon shook his head. “Not much info. Neighbors say the guy was quiet, kept to himself, rarely left the house. Forensics are searching the place now. You go home, concentrate on looking after Blair. I’ll call you if anything comes to light. You want me to call Naomi?”
Jim nodded. He wanted to focus on Blair. “If you don’t mind. You’ve got her cell number?”
“Yeah, she gave it to me last time she called to see if we’d heard from him a month or so ago.” Simon sighed. “Be nice to at least have some good news to tell her at last.”
“Yeah, look, see if she’ll hold off on coming for a day or so. I want to get him settled, and at least looking a bit more like his old self before she sees him,” Jim said.
“I’ll do my best.”
“It’s really Blair, huh?” Rafe asked, sneaking a peek through the gap in the curtains. “Man, he’s skin and bones, poor kid. Tell him hi from H and me, okay, Jim?”
“Sure, Rafe,” Jim said, not bothering to mention that Blair didn’t seem to remember anyone from his past at the moment. “Might be better if I get him out to the car on my own, sir,” he added, relieved when Simon nodded understandingly and urged Rafe ahead of him back out to the exit. “I’ll call you tonight,” he called over his shoulder.
Jim took in a shaky breath, squared his shoulders then headed back in to collect Blair. “Let’s get you cleaned up a little so I can take you home,” he said, making it more than a suggestion in case Blair balked but Blair just nodded as Jim got to work with warm water and towels from the bathroom to clean the blood of his hands. He’d have to make do with the dirty jeans and tshirt he was wearing till they got back to the loft and probably with a set of Jim’s trackpants and a sweater till Jim could buy him some new clothes but that was minor stuff, easily dealt with. Jim didn’t want to think about the harder stuff right now. All that really mattered was that Blair was coming home.