Rated: PG-13, I guess, for some bad language. Just can't keep those boys in line.
Date: August 1998, copyright to Red Soprano
Disclaimer: The Sentinel and all related characters are the property of UPN, Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is being made. I promise, I'll warm the little guy up and send him on back to you.
NOTE: Blair-angst, Jim-angst, all God's children got angst. Thank heavens for Simon. Since this is my first fanfic and I'm a little new at this whole hurt/comfort quotient thingy, I thought I'd play it safe and actually feature a real comforter in a prominent role in this story. You know, the kind you use for a cover. Honest.
This story is un-beta'd. I did try to be careful, but if you find any mistakes, they're all mine. The first half of my "real" first fanfic, the one that supposed to be my premiere contribution to the world of TS fanfic is being beta'd even as we speak. I just had to set that one aside for the time being so I could take care of this doggone dark cloud over my head called Sentinel Too. You know what I'm talking about, especially those of you who resisted responding to that heartbreaking episode until you just couldn't stand it any more and wrote your own fanfic answer.
Warning: S2 spoiler.
2002 BURTON AWARD WINNER FOR MOST OUTSTANDING EPILOGUE
HOW TO WARM UP A SLIGHTLY DAMP GUPPY
Part 1 of 2
by Red Soprano
Captain Simon Banks' quirky circadian rhythm was a source of great pride to him. He never missed an opportunity to brag about how his body could be fooled into thinking it had had a full eight hours of sleep, regardless of how late he hit the sack. It just had to be dark when he did so. Early morning calls still really ticked him off, but he was blessed with the ability to snap awake at the first ring of the telephone, get up, do what was required of him, and fall asleep the minute his head hit the pillow again. If he got back to bed before the sun peeked over the horizon, he'd be as fresh as a daisy when his alarm went off. If he didn't make it to bed before dawn, however, his body punished him mercilessly for his lack of consideration.
His body was going to spend the whole day being majorly pissed as a result of the urgent phone call he received in the wee hours of this particular morning.
In the second and a half it took for the first ring to sound, he came wide awake, snaked his long arm from under his blanket, snatched the phone off its cradle on his nightstand and barked, "Banks!" into the receiver.
"Simon?" came a choked voice from the other end of the line.
"Who is this?" he demanded gruffly.
"Simon, I need your help. Something's really wrong here with Sandburg. I can't ... I can't --" the voice broke off into a sob.
"Jim?' Simon tossed his covers aside and swung his legs over to sit on the edge of his bed. "Jim, calm down. What's going on? What's happened to Sandburg?"
"He needs help, Simon, but I can't get near him," Jim's voice broke again. Simon heard him take a deep shuddering breath before he continued, "Something is really, really wrong here and I don't know what to do."
Simon's blood ran cold at the sound of frantic despair in James Ellison's voice. Listening to the tough-as-nails detective lose control for the second time in as many weeks was disconcerting, to say the least. As worried as Simon was about Sandburg at that moment, he knew that Ellison was in trouble, too. Jim sounded as if he was as close to the edge as was humanly possible without completely toppling over it.
"Jim. Listen to me," Simon tried to keep his voice steady and calm, "does he need to go to the hospital? Have you called an ambulance?"
"No, dammit!" Jim shouted into the phone. "He doesn't need a doctor's help, he needs mine!"
"All right, Jim, all right, just try to calm down, okay?" Simon got up from his bed and retrieved a pair of trousers from the armchair he'd tossed them over the night before. Tucking the cordless phone between his ear and shoulder, he balanced awkwardly on one leg and began yanking the pants on.
"Jim, tell me what's happened. Is he with you there at the loft?"
"Yes, he's here, Simon, but something's wrong and I'm trying to help him, but.... Damn him!"
Simon heard a loud "thunk," which he suspected was Jim's fist making contact with something hard. He hoped it was something inanimate.
Jim continued more quietly, but with a voice still infused with desperate frustration, "Damn, him, Simon. He won't let me help him. He won't let me near him."
Simon finished pulling up his trousers. "Jim, I'm on my way, all right? I'll be there as soon as I can."
There was no answer from the other end of the line.
"Jim! Did you hear me? I said I'm on my way."
"Yeah, Simon, I hear you." Jim sounded slightly calmer.
"Now, I want you to sit tight. Don't do anything until I get there, you understand?"
"Jim, are you sure you don't need an ambulance? You don't have to call one yourself. I will, and I'll meet it at the loft."
"No, Simon, really," Jim reassured him, his voice still unsteady, but sounding a little more in control, "I don't think a hospital is a good idea. Just hurry, please?"
"Don't worry, Jim, I'll be there as soon as I can."
Not bothering to put on another shirt over the T-shirt he'd been sleeping in, Simon rushed out of his house to make good on his promise.
Jim replaced the phone in its cradle and, with a painful hitch of his breath, leaned heavily against the wall behind him and slid down until he was sitting on his haunches on the floor. The soft, whimpering sounds coming from the bathroom provided a delicate counterpoint to his own ragged breathing. He squeezed his eyes shut and a single tear spilled over onto a bruised cheek. He let his head fall back until it hit the wall behind him with a dull thump.
"Dammit, Sandburg, I can't stand this. Please let me help you." Burying his head in his hands, he tried to dial down the sound of his partner's distress. "Just hang on, Chief. Simon's on his way. Just hang on."
Simon sped through the streets of Cascade. At three in the morning, he was able to do this with a fair degree of safety. Even so, he turned on his flashing lights and emitted a warning "buwheehp" of his siren as he approached each intersection.
"I knew it was too good to be true," he muttered as he raced to his friends' loft. "It was just too damn good to be true."
Sandburg had astonished everyone with his remarkable recovery from near-drowning. He'd spent only three days in the hospital and two days resting at the loft when Simon got the "Head's up! He wants to come in today" call from Jim. No one had expected him back so soon, but thanks to some quick thinking and a trip to the local bakery by Rhonda, Simon's administrative assistant, Blair had been met on his arrival in the bullpen by an impromptu, but no-less impressive, welcome-back celebration.
The men and women of Major Crimes made it abundantly clear that day that they had been deeply affected by the near-loss of this particular police observer. The exact nature of his involvement with the Cascade P.D. had been a constant source of speculation since he came on board three years ago, and the apparent indefinite continuation of his "ride-along" status with Detective James Ellison, of all people, raised more than a few eyebrows. Sometimes, if Simon were feeling magnanimous, he would politely deflect questions about this unusual partnering by offering an ambiguous comment about a research project sanctioned by the university and the C.P.D. More often than not, however, such queries were met with an impatient scowl and a curt dismissal by the gruff captain. The speculation continued, but somewhere along the line, the people of Major Crimes had stopped fretting over the presence of this gregarious little anthropologist and had accepted him as one of their own.
They had given him a hero's welcome on his first day back. In addition to the huge cake Rhonda was able to rustle up at the bakery, they had presented him with a beautiful and very expensive leather jacket that Megan and Jim had picked out the day before. Simon had felt a little twinge of jealousy at all the brouhaha. He himself had only rated a pen set and a cupcake with a sparkler when he returned to the job after being shot. The jealousy had passed quickly, however, when he realized that, after all, he had only been shot. Blair had died.
The memory of that morning by the fountain would haunt Simon Banks for a very long time to come, he was sure of it. They had given up. They had decided the young man was gone -- based on what? The word of two paramedics who didn't know Blair, who didn't realize that his slight frame housed a stubborn, annoying, courageous, irrepressible and irreplaceable spirit. How could they have known that it wasn't over?
Jim knew. Even as he was being pulled away from his friend's still and lifeless form, he had screamed at them that, no, this wasn't over, Sandburg wasn't dead. And he was right. Jim had stood, sadly compliant, for only a moment before tearing away from his well-meaning friends and kneeling again at the young man's side, shaking him, pleading with him, grabbing the front of his sodden jacket and lifting his limp torso off the ground so he could shake him harder. They had all watched in shocked disbelief as the young man's eyes fluttered open and he fought his way back to life with a tortured cough. Jim had let out a harsh cry of triumph and pulled his friend close to his chest where Blair promptly vomited onto the front of his coat.
There had been five members of Major Crimes present at the fountain where Blair almost died. Five people who knew they had witnessed a miracle that morning. Five people who came within a breath, literally, of losing their good friend forever. This shared experience made them members of a select club. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but Simon couldn't help but think that he detected something special in the way the members of this club, with one notable exception, welcomed Blair back. They just couldn't seem to stop touching the kid.
To be sure, there were others who were physically demonstrative in their welcomes. The ladies, in particular, were not at all shy about expressing their delight at his return with hugs and kisses. An unabashedly tearful Joel Taggert had engulfed the pale and somewhat shaky young man in a bear hug so intense, Simon had feared that CPR might be needed again. But for the people who had been present that morning when Blair had opened his eyes, coughed, and gloriously vomited all over his partner, the act of touch took on a deeper meaning. It was a rite of affirmation, a way of grounding themselves in the truth of the miracle they had witnessed when Blair had cheated death. They performed this rite over and over again on the day of his return to the bullpen.
Brown was the most exuberant, of course, laughing and clapping the poor boy on the back every time he passed within an arm's length until finally, Jim had gently reminded him that Blair might not be up to full-contact sports just yet. Rafe was more reserved, but Simon noticed how even this shy detective would lightly touch his hand to Blair's shoulder whenever he walked by. Megan couldn't seem to take her eyes off of the kid and favored him with a fond smile and a light tousle of his hair at the least provocation. Even Simon, not normally a touchy-feely kind of guy, had found himself giving in to the urge to drape his arm around Blair's shoulder at odd moments during the day and grinning foolishly down at the young man.
Only Jim had remained strangely distant from all this. That was odd, considering the fact that, before this happened, touch was a wholly unselfconscious method of communication for Jim Ellison when it came to his partner. He was always cuffing the anthropologist affectionately on the head or resting his hand on the smaller man's shoulder as he spoke to him.
Jim's joy at having his partner back was clearly evident in his eyes, but Simon hadn't seen him touch Blair since that day at the fountain. In fact, as far as Simon could see, Jim assiduously avoided invading the young man's personal space at all. People who didn't know them well probably didn't notice anything was amiss, but Simon found it very disturbing, the way Jim avoided physical contact with his young friend.
Come to think of it, when had he first noticed the disappearance of that easy, relaxed form of non-verbal communication between Sentinel and Guide? Simon couldn't be sure, but he suspected it had been around the same time Jim had begun to sense the presence of another sentinel in the city. A delicate balance had shifted when Alex Barnes invaded Jim's territory, and a terrible rift had grown between Sentinel and Guide. A rift that had healed considerably since Blair's heart began to beat again and since the disappearance of Alex. It was still there, though. Subtle and insidious.
Even so, life had resumed some semblance of normalcy. While Blair was still in intensive care, but it was clear that he was going to survive, Megan had approached Simon and quietly asked if the anthropologist had a place to stay when he was released. Since Jim was on the other side of the hospital waiting room at the time, she must have assumed that he wouldn't be able to hear her. She had looked embarrassed and surprised when he turned to them and snapped, "He lives at the loft, of course he has a place to stay." Then, his look of irritation gave way to one of vague disorientation. The loft was empty. Three days before, Jim had dumped all of Blair's things into boxes and ordered the bewildered graduate student to get out. Jim had then moved all of his own things out of the loft when his confused mind couldn't deal with even the necessary clutter of furniture.
Megan, God love her, had taken one look at Jim's lost expression and took matters into her own hands. By the time Blair was ready to be released from the hospital, she, with the help of Rafe, Brown and Taggert, had retrieved all of the boxes Blair had stashed at his office and the motel where he had been staying and had brought them back to the loft. They also moved Jim's furniture back upstairs from the storage room in his basement.
Strangely enough, Blair didn't seem to remember having been kicked out of the loft. This, despite the fact that he was able to tell Simon and Jim about other things he recalled that happened between that night and the morning his friends found him face-down in the fountain. He remembered meeting with Alex and helping her with the headaches that came with her sensory spikes. He remembered accompanying Jim to Alex's apartment where they confronted her with what they knew about her. He even remembered trying to apologize to Jim about the whole Alex fiasco just hours before he nearly died in the cold fountain in front of Hargrove Hall. All the same, from the way he related these recollections to his captain and his partner, it was obvious that his memory was stubbornly selective when it came to recalling his living situation at the time he had told Jim, "You know where to find me."
At Jim's somewhat shame-faced request, Simon had accompanied him when he collected his roommate from the hospital and brought him home. Simon shared Jim's apprehension over how Blair might react when he returned to the loft. The two older men braced themselves, certain that the moment the anthropologist stepped through the door, he would recall with bitter and sudden clarity the other night when he had come home to find his irrational roommate unceremoniously dumping his belongings into cardboard boxes. But Blair had remained seemingly amnestic of that whole event; the only evidence that he noticed anything amiss was his mildly perplexed look when he saw that some of his things weren't in their usual places. As far as Simon could tell, Jim was willing to allow Blair the illusion that he had never been forced from his home in the loft.
Simon found that particular gap in Blair's memory no less disconcerting than the other thing the anthropologist couldn't remember. Blair couldn't recall the attack, he couldn't tell them who it was who'd tried to kill him. They all assumed it was Alex, but Blair wasn't able to confirm that for them. He remembered being in his office, with a vague notion of waiting there for Jim for some reason, but that was all he remembered. The next thing he knew, he was waking up in the hospital. His tired partner was sprawled uncomfortably in a chair next to his bed, sound asleep and sporting a two-day's growth of beard.
That had been over a week ago. As Simon raced the last few blocks to the loft, he chastised himself for having missed the tell-tale signs that should have clued him in to the fact that things were not as they seemed on the surface. Blair's stunningly quick recovery, along with his and Jim's ability to resume their partnership right where they left off, was just too damn good to be true. Because it wasn't true.
Blair hadn't recovered, despite his apparent eagerness to throw himself back into his work. Simon had noticed, but had chosen to ignore, the fleeting look of terror, quickly and deftly replaced with one of detached interest, whenever the subject of the ongoing manhunt for Alex was mentioned. Then, there was Jim's continued lack of ease around his partner, despite his obvious and profound relief at having him back safe and sound. This had bothered Simon, but he had chalked it up to the fact that Jim was wrestling with his guilt about his own role in what had happened to Blair.
Now, things had come to a head. His two best friends and the two best men under his command were in desperate trouble and Simon didn't have the faintest idea how he was going to help them.
Jim was waiting for him in the open doorway to the loft when he got to the top of the stairs. There was a fresh and painful-looking contusion on the detective's left cheekbone. Simon regarded his friend's haggard face for a moment, then, giving the detective's shoulder a light squeeze, he guided him back into the loft.
"Where is he, Jim?" he asked gently.
"He's in the bathroom. He sounds a little calmer now, but he still won't let me get close," Jim said quietly.
Jim shook his head and ran a shaky hand through his short-cropped hair, "He had a nightmare or something, captain. Then he just went ballistic."
Simon nodded slightly, wondering for a moment if Jim's use of his formal title was the detective's way of relinquishing control of the situation to him. He gave Jim a light pat on the shoulder then started toward the bathroom.
Simon stopped at the bathroom door, which stood slightly ajar, and looked back at Jim.
"Approach with caution, sir." Jim attempted a crooked smile and pointed to his bruised cheek. "Let's just say he's not his normal, peaceable self."
Simon heard a quiet sob coming from inside the bathroom. He knocked lightly on the door and cautiously pushed it inward. Something on the other side kept it from opening very far.
He was answered by another soft whimper from inside the room. He leaned around the door and saw Blair huddled in the corner where the side of the bathtub met the wall, crouched next to an overturned laundry hamper. It was the hamper that blocked the door from opening all the way. Simon eased through the narrow entrance, reached down and carefully righted the hamper. After briefly reconsidering the cramped quarters inside the small room, he picked up the hamper and placed it just outside the door.
Blair gave no indication of being aware of his presence. The small man's arms were wrapped tightly around his abdomen and his knees were drawn up toward his chin, almost touching it. He was wearing only his boxers and a T-shirt and was shivering on the cold tile of the bathroom floor. Dark, curly hair fell in wild disarray around his shoulders and partially obscured his face.
"Blair?" Simon leaned in to look at him more closely.
Blair didn't respond. His glazed, red-rimmed eyes stared without focus at some point ahead of him; his forehead was creased in an intent, confused frown. Simon listened with concern to the young man's uneven respirations. Each shaky exhalation gave voice to a sibilant murmur through lips that moved just perceptibly. Blair appeared to be engaged in some sort of hushed, tormented monologue.
"Blair, it's Simon."
Still, the huddled figure showed no sign of having heard him. The lips continued their inaudible litany.
Simon kneeled down beside the young man and reached out, lightly touching his arm. Blair responded as if he had been touched by a hot poker. He uttered a sharp, incoherent cry as he tried to scramble further into the corner, his hands grappling frantically at the slick surfaces of the bathtub and wall. He kicked out blindly, catching Simon smartly on the shin with his heel and causing the big man to fall backwards against the hard porcelain of the toilet.
"Ouch!" Simon hissed, and scooted back away from the flailing legs and arms. "Jeez, kid," he muttered, rubbing his sore shin, "can't say your roommate didn't warn me, huh?"
Simon resisted the urge to try to subdue Blair. Within a few moments, the young man became still on his own, but it was obvious from the taut way he held himself pushed back into the corner that his quiet did not denote calm. He had drawn his legs up even more tightly against his body, with the heels of his feet pulled back to rest against his buttocks. His arms were braced tensely into the angle formed by the wall on one side of him and the bathtub on the other. He stared at Simon with the wide-eyed terror of a cornered animal.
Simon was struck with the absurd and disorienting notion that a certain mild-mannered anthropologist he knew might be interested in studying this feral creature in front of him. The wild-eyed human crouching in the corner of the bathroom looked for all the world like some pre-civilized savage. Only the Cascade P.D. T-shirt and the plaid boxers spoiled this illusion.
Slowly, and as quietly as he could, Simon stood from the floor, lowered the toilet seat and sat down on it. Blair's frightened eyes never left the captain's face. Simon forced himself to calmly return that fixed gaze for several long moments. Finally, Blair blinked and shifted his scrutiny to Simon's shoes. He appeared to relax somewhat, allowing both arms to slide down until his hands rested on the floor. His lips began to move again in the same unnerving, silent discourse as before.
"Blair?" Simon spoke softly, "What's wrong, son?"
Blair's eyes snapped back to Simon's face. "Simon?" he asked timidly.
"In the flesh, kid."
Blair blinked a couple of times and said simply, "Cold."
"I'll bet. Bathroom floors tend to be that way. Maybe you'd be more comfortable in your bed?"
Blair didn't answer.
"Why don't you let me help you up. We'll get you back in your room where it's warmer." Simon leaned forward and held his hand out to Blair.
Blair pushed back into the corner and looked around frantically as if searching for a means of escape, "No. No. No." He squeezed his eyes shut and whispered, "Cold."
Simon let out a frustrated sigh. He sat for a moment, studying the young man trembling in the corner.
"You know what, Blair?" he said brightly, "I just might be able to do something about that." He stood carefully from his seat on the toilet and, mindful not to make any sudden moves, stepped to the bathroom door. "Don't go away, okay?"
Blair answered with a sharp nod of his head, but kept his eyes squeezed shut.
Simon walked the short distance to Blair's room and grabbed the comforter from off his bed. On the way back to the bathroom, he glanced into the dining area where Jim sat at the end of the table, watching him expectantly.
"How you doing, Jim?"
"Hanging in there, sir."
"Good. Uh, Jim, I could use a cup of coffee. This might take a little while."
"Sure thing, Simon," Jim said, quickly getting up from his seat as if eager to be doing something, "I'll make a fresh pot."
Simon went back into the bathroom. Blair had not moved from his position in the corner and had resumed talking to himself in a hushed tone.
Simon leaned forward to place the comforter over him. Blair flinched but showed no indication of reacting as violently as before.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Blair," Simon said gently, "I just want to help you get warm. Can you lean forward a little? I'll tuck this behind your shoulders."
Blair continued his whispered murmurings but allowed Simon to pull him forward and slide the comforter between his back and the cold wall.
"Who were you talking to, Simon?"
Blair's abrupt question startled the police captain. He smiled ruefully at the huddled figure before settling the comforter securely around his shoulders.
"I was just going to ask you the same question," he said, resuming his seat on the toilet.
Blair's brow knitted in a perplexed frown.
"Never mind," Simon said. He leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. "Jim. I was talking to Jim."
"Did I hurt Jim?" Blair asked softly.
Simon considered for a moment how he should answer this. "Just a little bruise, Blair. He's not mad. He's just worried about you right now. Do you want to talk to him?"
"NO!" Blair's eyes opened wide in alarm, and he clutched the comforter tightly around himself. "No, please Simon, I can't let him see me."
"Okay, Blair," Simon said soothingly, "it's okay, we can just you and me talk for a while."
"Blair, what happened tonight? You think you can talk about it?"
"Just snuggle under the blanket for a bit, you'll get warm. Can you answer my question, kid? What's up?"
"So cold," Blair muttered, pulling the comforter up over his ears and burrowing into its depths.
Blair didn't answer.
"Sandburg, I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I wouldn't mind a little bit of your trademark verbosity right about now."
Blair lifted his head and peered sadly at him from the soft folds of the comforter. Simon's heart caught in his throat and he felt his mouth go instantly dry at the unexpected impact of that steady gaze. Blair Sandburg had undeniably expressive eyes and, at that moment, Simon Banks cursed their eloquence. They communicated such a frank, raw mix of anguish and bewildered sorrow that Simon thought his heart would break when, once again, Blair uttered the one plaintive word that seemed to define him at that moment.
Simon found he couldn't speak, he couldn't move under the crushing weight of that mournful gaze. "Oh, God," he thought, "I don't think I'm up to this, Jim, old boy, I think you're on your own here, 'cause nowhere in my job description does it say anything about wading into the pools of suffering I see in that boy's eyes to try to make everything right here."
Mercifully, Blair lowered his head again and buried his face in the comforter.
Simon let out a long, shaky sigh and reached out tentatively to pat Blair's head.
"Tell you what," he said, surprised when he could only manage a hoarse whisper. He cleared his throat and tried again, "Tell you what. I could use some coffee right now. Do you want some hot tea?"
Blair mumbled something Simon couldn't make out.
"Chamomile," he said, his voice muffled by the comforter, "chamomile's good."
Jim was standing right outside the door when Simon stepped out of the bathroom. The large man fought to keep his face impassive as he brushed past the anxious sentinel and started toward the kitchen.
"That coffee ready yet?"
Jim hesitantly stepped toward the bathroom door, but Simon's firm command stopped him. "No, Jim."
"Simon, I feel so helpless here."
"You're not helpless. You made my coffee, didn't you?"
Simon strode into the open kitchen area and got two mugs from the cabinet. "Where's Sandburg keep his tea?"
Jim reluctantly followed him into the kitchen. He pushed the big man gently aside and reached into the cupboard to get the tin where Blair kept his teabags. "Are you all right, Simon?" he asked. "I mean, I was mostly focused in on Sandburg but I could hear your heart rate really jump up there for a while."
Simon took a deep breath. "I'm fine," he said, leaning heavily against the kitchen counter, "so long as I don't look at him."
Jim nodded knowingly, "He's doing that thing with the eyes, huh?"
"What, you mean he does that on purpose?"
"No," Jim shook his head sadly, "it's just that with Sandburg, I think the eyes really are the windows to the soul. It can catch you off-guard sometimes."
"Yeah, tell me about it."
Simon filled the teakettle with water and set it on the stove. "We both had to know this was coming, Jim. Blair was going to have to deal with what happened to him at some point. I just didn't expect it to hit him this hard or this suddenly." He glanced over at his friend, "What do you think, Jim? Did something happen, anything in particular that set him off?"
Jim didn't answer right away. When he did, his voice was weary and rough with emotion. "He remembered, Simon. He remembered that I threw him out."
"Yeah. It was weird. One minute, everything was fine. I was watching TV and he was doing some work on his laptop computer. He got up to look for something in his room, a book, I think. I heard him in there muttering about people not putting things back the way they were. Then he came back out of his room with this strange look on his face and said, "I don't live here anymore, do I?'"
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him that wasn't true, that this was his home for as long as he wanted it to be."
"And what did he say to that?"
"He said that I had been right to ask him to leave, that I needed my space." Jim shook his head and let out a short, humorless laugh. "Ask him to leave. He made it sound as though it was a perfectly civilized exchange. I didn't give him the courtesy of asking, Simon, I just tossed his stuff in some boxes and kicked him out onto the streets."
"You weren't thinking straight at the time, Jim. He knows that."
"Does he?" Jim swallowed hard and continued, "Anyway, I tried to apologize, but it really took me by surprise, his remembering and all. I didn't have the right words to say to him just then. I guess he didn't know what to say, either, because he ... he just said, 'We'll talk about it in the morning,' and then he went to bed."
The teakettle began to whistle faintly. Simon took it off the stove and filled Blair's mug with hot water. He plucked one of the teabags out of the tin. "This chamomile?"
Jim sniffed lightly. "Yeah."
"What about the nightmare?" Simon asked, dunking the teabag into the mug.
"I woke up a little after two o'clock in the morning and could hear him downstairs. He wasn't calling out or anything, but I could hear his heart pounding, racing, and he was breathing funny, in short gasps like he was scared or in pain. I knew he must be having a bad dream, so I got up and was coming down so I could wake him up. I was halfway down the stairs when I heard him make this awful choking noise. When I ran into his bedroom he was --"
Jim paused and blinked back against threatening tears, his brow furrowing and his jaw muscles clenching with the effort.
"He looked like he was choking. He was staring up at the ceiling and making these sick, gurgling noises in his throat. Oh, God, Simon, I knew right then what was happening. It was horrible. I knew he was dreaming about the fountain ... and I think he was drowning in his sleep."
"Jesus," Simon whispered.
"So, anyway, I try to wake him up, Simon, but he just keeps choking. And then all of a sudden he stops breathing. I swear, I thought I was going to lose him all over again. So I grab him by the shoulders and I haul him up off the bed and I shake him really hard. And he won't WAKE UP, dammit! And I keep shaking him and shaking him and finally he gives this weird cough, just like that morning at the fountain, and he starts breathing, and I make some stupid crack like, 'So, you gonna barf on me again?' and he takes one look at me and he goes nuts, man. He starts hitting me and shoving me away -- and you would not believe how strong that kid is, Simon -- and I try to calm him down, try to keep him from hurting himself but nothing I say, nothing I do seems to get through to him."
Jim's words had been rushing out in a steady, urgent stream. He stopped, panting slightly as if winded from the effort of reliving his earlier struggle with his roommate.
"I can't forget the look on his face, Simon," he continued shakily. "He was terrified of me. I wanted to help him, but I was just making things worse." Jim rubbed at his eyes with the pads of his fingers. "I'm sorry, captain." Jim looked up at his old friend, his apology clear in his exhausted face. "I felt bad bothering you in the middle of the night, making you come out here to help me clean up this mess. I just didn't know what else to do."
"Excuse me?!" Simon's eyes widened with astonishment and anger. "Excuse me? Bothering me with your mess? Oh, for the love of --" The big man threw up his hands in exasperation, and Jim flinched away in surprise.
"Ellison, you're my best friend in the world and I love you like a brother but, I swear, one of these days when you're not hurting so bad, I'm gonna tell you what an arrogant son-of-a-bitch you are. Did it ever occur to you that that kid in there is my friend, too? That I have a personal stake in his well-being and I would be extremely pissed off if you didn't let me help him?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to imply --"
"And it's not just you that's got me ticked off," Simon cut him off, "I'm madder than hell at him, too."
Simon jerked the coffee pot off the warmer and poured himself a cup, sloshing a generous amount onto the counter in his exasperation. "Maybe, just maybe, if one of you had come to me before the lines of communication broke down between you two, I could have helped. I'm your captain, I'm your friend and I'm the only other person you can talk to about this sentinel thing, so why the hell didn't you? Why do you two insist on keeping me out of the loop?"
"C'mon, Simon, that's not fair. I thought you preferred that Blair and I deal with all this sentinel stuff on our own and leave you out of it."
"Not when it comes to my two best men self-destructing right in front of me!"
These last words came out with more force than he'd intended and a startled gasp could be heard from the bathroom.
Jim moved to go to Blair, but Simon reached out and caught his arm. "It's all right, kid," the captain called over his shoulder, "I'm just getting your tea and I'll be right in, okay?"
Simon continued in a gentler tone, "Look, Jim, I'll be the first to admit that I don't understand your abilities, certainly not the way Sandburg does. And I really don't understand all these jaguar, spirit-guide, dream-vision things you've been having. I guess when I don't understand something, I just push it away. I'm the polar opposite of Sandburg, he embraces that kind of stuff. I'd have made a lousy academic, and a really lousy sentinel's guide."
Jim had been studiously examining a small flaw in the counter during Simon's speech, but brought his eyes up to meet his friend's compassionate gaze when the captain lay a large, gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Jim, I know that the relationship between you two is unique, very special and I can only play a peripheral role. Just, please, Jim, don't forget that, as your captain and as your friend, I do play some part in this, even if it is a minor one."
"It's not so minor, Simon. Right now, you're the only one holding things together."
"Well, I'm not so sure about that." With a resigned sigh, Simon picked up the coffee and tea. "I'd better get back in there," he said, heading toward the bathroom.
"Sir? About that arrogant son-of-a-bitch thing?'
"Thanks for holding off on telling me about that until I was feeling better."
"Don't mention it."
Blair was in the same position as he had been when Simon had left him. His head was still buried in the comforter, but Simon could still make out the faint mumbling that told him that Blair had resumed his odd, private discourse.
Simon set his coffee on the back of the toilet and sat down. "Blair, you still with me, son?"
Blair raised his head and Simon steeled himself for another encounter with those pain-filled eyes. To his relief, the intense agony that had been there earlier had diminished to a dull and weary malaise.
"'zat my tea?" Blair asked sleepily.
Blair extricated his arms from the cocoon of thick fabric surrounding him and reached for the mug Simon held out to him. Grasping the soothing beverage in both hands, he brought it to his lips. "Mmmm, that's good. Thanks, Simon."
"You feeling a little better now?" Simon picked up his coffee and took a sip.
"I think so. If I could just get warm." Blair shivered and took another drink, slurping noisily.
"The tea should help."
Blair took another, less noisy sip. "You were yelling at Jim," he said, his tone faintly accusatory.
"Yeah, I know. I feel bad about that. I'll apologize to him later, I promise."
"Apologize to him now. He can hear you." Blair didn't sound put out by this. It came out as a simple statement of fact.
"Does it bother you that he can hear what we're saying? If it does, Blair, you can ask him to dial it down. He won't eavesdrop if you ask him not to."
"I know that." Blair hunkered down in the comforter a little, sloshing some of the tea onto the fabric as he did. "It's okay if he listens. I need to apologize to him, too. But I don't want him to see me right now."
"Why don't you want him to see you, Blair?"
Another shiver passed through the young man's slight frame. "Simon, I can't get warm," he said anxiously.
"The tea's not helping?"
"No." Blair's shivering became more pronounced and he frowned up at Simon, "I don't think this is going to work."
"Well, Sandburg, I don't know what to tell you. I don't think you have any choice but to get back into your bed."
Blair hesitated a moment before answering, "You're prob'ly right."
"Do you need some help up?" Simon asked, taking Blair's tea from him and setting it and his own mug on the back of the toilet.
"Yeah, yeah, just give me your shoulder," said Blair, reaching up with one arm.
Simon felt a strange tug at his heart as this brought to mind the last time he had heard those exact words from Blair. The anxious tone in Blair's voice now was eerily reminiscent of the time last year when Jim and Simon had dragged the wounded police observer through a darkened mine tunnel in the wilderness north of Cascade. Blair had risked his life that day to help Jim rescue Simon from an escaped convict, and he had gotten shot in the leg by a survivalist and air-lifted out of the mountains for his trouble. Simon wondered if he had ever really thanked Blair properly for that selfless act of friendship.
"Pay-back time, Banks," he thought as he leaned down to help his friend up from the cold bathroom floor.
When Blair reached up to put his arm around Simon's shoulder, the comforter fell away on that side, and his body was racked by a particularly vicious fit of shivering.
"Simon? Why am I so cold?" he asked plaintively.
Simon slid his arm under the comforter, hooking it around Blair's waist, and was shocked to find just how cold the kid really was. The skin underneath Blair's thin T-shirt felt unnaturally chilled.
"Jesus, Blair," Simon hissed, "you're freezing!"
"You know I never listen to you, Sandburg,"
Blair chuckled softly at Simon's feeble attempt at humor.
Simon reached up with his free hand and grabbed hold of the icy one grasping his shoulder. "You're going to be okay. Let's just get you into a nice, warm bed."
Simon tried to maneuver Blair past the toilet but the young man's body began to shudder violently and his legs gave way.
"My legs aren't working, Simon," Blair said between chattering teeth.
"Yeah, I noticed that, kid." Simon tried to keep his mounting alarm from showing in his voice. He lowered Blair onto the toilet seat, "Here, just sit on the john for a second and let me get the door all the way open.
"Simon?'' came Jim's voice from just outside the partly-open door, "you guys okay in there?"
"Go 'way, Jim," Blair said, stretching one leg awkwardly past Simon and kicking the door shut with his foot. "Please, I don't want you to see me."
"It's all right, Jim. I've got it covered. Just not a lot of room to maneuver in here is all."
Blair hunched over miserably and clutched the comforter around his trembling shoulders. "Cold. Shouldn't be cold in the jungle, Simon."
"You're not in the jungle, Sandburg, you're at the loft."
"I know that," Blair said, a bit peevishly, "I'm just saying it shouldn't be cold in the jungle."
Simon studied the shivering man before him with growing concern. "Jim, I'm getting a little worried here," he said in a low voice he knew Jim would hear from the hallway. "Sandburg's disoriented and he's way too cold. We've got to get him warmed up somehow."
"Quit talking about me like I'm not in the room," Blair said irritably.
"Sorry, Blair." Simon placed a hand on either side of Blair's face, grimacing at the unpleasant feel of the clammy skin under his fingers. "Look, I don't know how it's possible, but I think you may be hypothermic. We really should get you to the hospital."
"No, Simon, please," Blair pleaded, "I promise I'll do better. I promise I'll try to get warm."
"Simon?' Jim's voice sounded surprisingly calm from the other side of the door. "Look, Simon, I'm not sure he's that bad. I mean, he's colder'n hell, I can hear his teeth chattering from out here, but his heartbeat is strong. Kind of fast, but steady and strong."
"Thanks, Jim," Blair said gratefully.
"No problem, Chief," Jim answered gently. "How's his color, Simon? Are his lips blue?"
Simon reached under Blair's chin and lifted his face for inspection. "He's pretty pale, but no, his lips aren't blue."
"Okay," Jim said, "I've got an idea how to help get him warmed up. Reach into the cabinet over the toilet and grab me a handful of towels."
Simon steadied Blair to make sure he didn't fall off the toilet, then opened the cabinet and grabbed a large stack of towels from the bottom shelf.
"Make him stand away from the door," Blair said quietly when Simon went to hand the towels out to Jim.
Simon smiled sympathetically at Jim, who took the towels without comment and headed into the kitchen.
"Is he gone?" asked Blair.
Impatiently, Simon turned back to his younger friend, "Blair, c'mon, give the poor guy a br --" He stopped mid-chastisement when he caught sight of the fretful blue eyes staring up at him. They were trusting and utterly guileless. "Yeah, Blair," he said more gently, opening the door a bit so that Blair could see, "he's gone."
Simon placed a steadying hand on Blair's trembling shoulder and gazed thoughtfully around the small bathroom. "Oh, for Pete's sake, why didn't I think of this before?' He called out to Ellison. "I've got an idea, too, Jim."
Stepping past Blair to the bathtub, he shoved the shower curtain aside. "Sit tight, kid, we'll have you warmed up in no time." He closed the drain in the tub and turned on the tap, adjusting the temperature so that it was hot, but not uncomfortably so.
"What are you doing, Simon?" Blair asked apprehensively.
"What's it look like I'm doing, Sandburg? I'm running you a nice, hot bath."
"No, Simon, I don't want a nice b-bath," Blair said, a touch of panic in his voice.
"Simon?" came Jim's concerned voice from the kitchen.
"It's okay, Blair," Simon soothed, "it'll be nice and warm. They'd probably do this at the hospital anyway."
"No, Simon, water's cold," Blair insisted.
"No, it isn't, Blair. See," Simon gestured to the steam rising from the rapidly filling tub, "nice and toasty."
"Water's cold, Simon. It's cold!"
"Simon, this isn't such a good idea," Jim warned from where he stood in the open doorway.
"DAMMIT, JIM, GO AWAY! GO AWAY!" Blair shouted, tears spilling onto his cheeks. He lunged toward the bathroom door to shove it closed again but his arms and legs became entangled in the folds of the comforter, pitching him awkwardly off the toilet seat. Simon dove forward to grab him before he fell to the floor, but only managed to snag a handful of comforter. On the way down, Blair's forehead made contact with the edge of the lavatory with a solid "THUNK."
"Jesus, Blair!" Simon exclaimed, bending down on one knee and placing his hand on the dazed man's head to support it as he tried to ease him into a sitting position.
Blair twisted away from his grasp, and, turning the full force of his fear and anger on the startled police captain, he shouted, "Water's COLD , Simon! It's TOO COLD! It's just TOO! GOD-DAMNED! COLD!!!"
Simon abruptly released him and stared at the distraught face for a brief, stunned moment. Then, leaning back and reaching a long arm into the tub, he silenced the running tap with two fierce yanks. Pulling his sobbing friend close, he whispered, "Shh, shh, Blair, it's okay, it's okay. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I wasn't thinking."
For some time, the only sounds in the small room, other than Blair's quiet sobs, were the gentle shushing noises from the captain and the slow drip of the tap onto the still bath water.
"Jim," Simon finally said, "you still out there?"
"Yeah." Jim's voice came from somewhere just to the left of the open door.
"I guess I really screwed up, huh? I'm sorry, I don't think I'm doing this right."
"You're doing fine, Simon. We just need to tread softly around Blair's demons right now."
Blair continued to shiver but his sobs had subsided. Simon patted him on the back and asked, "Well, kid, you want to try again? What's say we give this another go?"
He tried to stand, bringing Blair up with him, but the comforter caught under his foot and pulled against him as he tried to lift the small man from the floor. He kicked at the stubborn folds that entangled his feet but only managed to stumble and drop clumsily back to one knee.
"Sorry, Sandburg, but this thing's really getting in the way."
He kept his firm grasp around Blair's shoulders with one hand and tried to pry the comforter loose from the young's man's cold fingers with the other. Blair stubbornly held on to the comforter.
"C'mon, Blair, I know you're cold., but let go of this thing just long enough for me to get you back to your bed, all right?"
Blair merely clutched the cover closer to his chest.
"Please, Blair, just let go and put your arm around my shoulder again, okay?"
That seemed to have been the right thing to say, because, without hesitation, Blair let go of the comforter with one hand and reached his arm up to hook around the large man's neck.
"Now we're getting somewhere," Simon smiled encouragingly. He adjusted his grip so that he was supporting Blair with an arm across his chest and gently tugged the comforter from under his own knees and away from Blair's feet. "There we go, that's much better," he said, pulling the cover away from Blair's back and legs and pushing it off to one side.
He got up and guided his shivering friend into a standing position. Blair's legs trembled and his knees threatened to buckle again, so Simon scooped him up into his arms to carry him.
"We're coming out, Jim. You might want to, uh, er ... make yourself scarce," Simon said apologetically to his friend standing just out of sight beyond the bathroom door.
"Okay, Simon. You sure you're all right?"
"Yeah, as long as I don't fall and break my neck." He frowned slightly at the small man cradled in his arms. Blair was still clutching an edge of the comforter to his chest with one hand.
"Sandburg, let that go, okay? I'm going to trip over it trying to get through the door."
Blair didn't appear to be listening to him. His eyes were barely open, and, to Simon's dismay, he had resumed his peculiar whispering.
"Blair, let go of the blanket and put that arm around my neck, like your other one."
Blair released his hold on the comforter and put his arm up around Simon's neck, nestling against the big man's shoulder.
"Well what d'ya know," Simon drawled as he carried Blair into his bedroom, "think I'm gettin' the hang o' this surr'gate blesid pertecter thang."
To Part 2