The following is an older story that originally appeared in Sentry Duty 1, a zine edited by Mysti Frank. That fanzine, and many others, are still available from Agent With Style on their web page: http://www.agentwithstyle.com/
The really odd thing about this story is that it was written in the Expedition Days, before I saw Red Ice, or S2, both episodes dealing with the threat of other sentinels with either real or artificial powers. Some ideas are a bit inaccurate, given what we've since learned courtesy of Alex, yet I was pleased that some of it really did fit okay with what the producers eventually came up with themselves. I was also greatly influenced by the discussion lists and fanfiction which seems to go a bit deeper into implications of the Sentinel and Guide relationship than the show does.
At any rate, usual disclaimers apply. I haven't acquired Jim, Blair, or Simon since I've written this story, although I'm certainly feeling more possessive. I would be happy to take them away from UPN, but have nothing but gratitude for PetFly who created such amazing characters and situations to begin with. And I would like to thank Mysti who published my very first Sentinel fanzine story.
Hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
Winston had noticed the guy out of the corner of his eye while nursing a drink at the bar. He was drinking quite a bit these days, liquor his faithful companion on his downward spiral. The most optimistic spin he could put on the whole event was that he was bar-hopping across America, checking out the drunks in different parts of the country and trying to spend his retirement money. He didn't think he'd stay in Cascade long though - it was too cold here this time of year and it was gray and wet and rained almost constantly.
There was something about this guy though - big, tough looking, but clean-cut and obviously doing okay for himself. There was something about the way his head was turned that seemed either odd or familiar. He had been getting take out but the bag was sitting at the cash register, ignored. Winston found himself getting sleepy watching him when suddenly he pulled a gun. The waitress screamed but the man wasn't even looking her way, although he winced as if pricked with a needle. He had the drop on two guys who were apparently going to rob the place, but the thing was the guy getting ready to pull the gun had barely even gotten it out of his jacket.
"Freeze! Cascade P.D." The big guy was in control now, cuffing the suspects, reading them their rights and other familiar actions that made Winston wax nostalgic. A police car arrived and everything went back to normal. Well, normal for most people anyway. Winston continued to drink until they quit serving him and then staggered down the street to the cheap hotel he'd booked a room in.
It wasn't until he was drifting off to sleep, his mind in an alcoholic haze that he suddenly realized what he had noticed about the policeman in the bar. He jerked awake - too fast, really - and had to go to the bathroom and throw up. He lay back down, sick and spent, and tried to tell himself he was imagining things. Surely the policeman had not heard the gunmen planning to commit a crime. If that were true, it would mean there was someone who had extra-sensitive hearing, maybe even other enhanced senses...like him.
Jim Ellison lay relaxed against the back of the couch with his eyes closed, listening while Blair ordered take-out. He had forgotten the hamburgers and fries he ordered at the pool hall what with arresting bad guys and all and he was simply too tired to go out again. Besides he certainly didn't want to overhear anything else. One arrest a night was enough.
He must have dozed off for a few minutes then because the next thing he knew Sandburg was shaking his shoulder lightly. "Hey, are you okay?"
Ellison opened one eye. "Yeah, Chief, just fine. A little adrenalin rush is all. I'm resting my eyes." Jim made the last statement hoping Sandburg would take a hint. He didn't.
"What made you decide to turn your hearing up at that moment?"
Ellison opened both eyes then, suppressing a groan. Blair Sandburg, roommate, guide, best friend, and sometimes major irritant, was taking notes on a legal pad. It was stuff like this Jim hated most, the fact that he could be having a conversation with a buddy one minute and then suddenly discover it had turned into lab rat and scientist. He knew Blair didn't think of him as a lab rat, not really, but he sometimes felt that way anyhow. And Sandburg was a scientist, no doubt about it. He could turn clinical at a moment's notice.
"I don't know, I think I heard the word gun or something." Jim decided to go through it with a minimum of fuss. He was hungry and Sandburg wouldn't stop for anything as mundane as nourishment if he were pursuing a fact. Ellison just wanted to eat pizza and watch mindless violence on television, not eat pizza and get interrogated.
"Like a trigger?"
"I mean, you heard something that your unconscious picked up on and your senses followed it. A trigger."
"Oh. Yeah, I guess - something like that."
"Come on, Jim, this could be significant. This is pretty good for control - you didn't zone out and you had your senses sort of on stand-by, letting them sort of work on their own. This could --" The doorbell rang and Sandburg glanced up, irritated.
"Well, that does it," Jim said bouncing up. "Pizza's here, Chief."
Ellison busied himself with fixing drinks and plates while Blair made notes. As he made his way back to the couch he saw Blair look up and open his mouth. Jim grabbed the remote and turned the TV on handing Blair a plate of pizza. "Pre-emptive strike, kiddo. Stick that in your mouth okay? I've had a rough day."
Winston was having another one of his headaches, but he couldn't complain - he'd gone almost a whole three days without one. This one had settled in like a pile driver and even the medicinal use of liquor hadn't deadened the sounds he could hear from the parking lot, the street, every room down the hall. Closing his eyes couldn't shut out light that he could see peeking around the blinds, the car lights flashing from the highway, and he was almost choking from the smells that permeated the room. They weren't bad odors, there was simply too many of them. At least his sense of touch was behaving - two weeks ago he thought he would jump out the window because he could not touch one single thing. He had stood in the middle of the room, feeling as if his whole body had been rubbed raw. He'd pulled off his clothes, his shoes, but he could feel the carpet under his feet. He could not even stand to touch himself, his hair felt like some sort of spiked plant. I can't stand here like this forever, he thought. I won't. Probably the only thing that had kept him from jumping and ending it all right there is that he had too much dignity to die like some idiot with no clothes on and ending up on the front of a supermarket rag with a dopy headline like 'former police officer and private detective jumps nude from 6 story window.' Square to the end all right. Eventually the screaming nerves grew tired or something and let him curl up in the floor and rest. These little bouts usually didn't last but they were getting closer together and increasing in intensity. What would he do when they just showed up and stayed? Time to get your clothes on the next time you're standing in front of the window.
Winston closed his eyes tightly and tried to think of the new event that had happened in his life. Something else to concentrate on, finally. After running the incident in the pool hall through his mind a few times he was pretty sure he remembered it correctly - even drunk to the gills he was a good observer. He used to make his living at it. The cop had heard something - something no one else could hear. It seemed incredible to believe that someone else had the same (problem, curse, gift?) he did but then why not. It might be rare but it would be even stranger if he were the only person who had the 'screamers.' That was the pet name he'd given his robust nerve endings when he realized he had no control over them and that they were refusing to take in input from his brain cells, like 'I've had enough, thank you.'
Did that mean this guy could control his senses? More likely he'd just discovered he'd had them. Winston was okay for a while too - in fact, more than okay. He had been a cop too when he first noticed them and they had almost driven him crazy then but he'd had the presence of mind not to tell anyone. He was pretty good at hiding them, controlling them, and he'd had Mary. Mary had helped him when he'd thought he was going crazy by doing tests and determining he wasn't imagining things - he really could see, hear, and everything else beyond what was normal. Once he knew he wasn't crazy, he could handle things.
And handle them he did. He became the best cop on the force and when he found himself stifled by rules and regulations and the fact that even though he could use his senses he couldn't always use the information they provided him with, he decided to do something about that. He became a private detective. Now no one could tell him some sort of information was not 'usable.' He was no sleeze either - no following the unfaithful spouse or trying to break wills - he really wanted to help people who needed it. He made big money from clients who had it but he never turned down a request from someone who really needed his help, even if they couldn't afford to pay. He had people working for him, but he always took the charity cases himself. He was raised this way and he believed it. Do something good and it will come back to you. Yeah, right. So why had his life suddenly decided to take a detour through hell?
He really should have gotten professional help but he was the type that didn't do that sort of thing. He was tough after all - therapy was for wimps. And when his senses kept increasing in intensity and he started having problems distinguishing if what he heard was three blocks away or in the next room, Mary had the nerve to suggest he go somewhere, like to a university or something and get this thing checked out. They had gotten into some terrific fights over this, Mary arguing she was a Sociology major and perhaps he needed some other expertise in another field. Mostly it was yelling but as his drinking and his panic became worse, it was hitting. He'd hit Mary. Mary, who'd been married to him for ten years and would do anything for him. Who even at the last understood it was not Winston who had beat her but a good man driven to distraction by grinding pain and fear. She still loved him, would always love him but she wouldn't stay and get hit or watch him self-destruct. She'd left him and it had almost killed him but he couldn't bring himself to give her what she'd ask for - he couldn't go to strangers and tell them he was hearing and seeing what no one else could. There was no guarantee they could help him anyway and he would have given himself up to others - to doctors, researchers, but no one who could understand. Up until a day or so ago, he'd have thought no one could understand. Maybe this cop could. Or maybe it would just be a dead end. Maybe it would just come down to Winston warning him "Hey, Buddy, you think it's cool now but wait until it all gets too much and you lose your business, your friends, your wife - if I hadn't almost made myself rich, I wouldn't have enough money to drink my way across America now." Hang onto your money because that's your retirement plan.
Tracking down the cop was good for Winston. Almost like old times - a cake walk really, but it gave him something to occupy his mind. In less than 48 hours, he had his name, his address, his job description, and a pretty good idea of the kind of man he was. Remarkably like Winston, in fact. James Ellison had been an army ranger who left the service and became a cop. Not an unusual career move by any means. Winston hadn't been in the military but he understood it and a lot of the cops he worked with had seen duty. Ellison had been married and then divorced - a little trouble with the senses maybe?
Winston rented a car and spent five days following him around, most of the time anyway. Some of it he spent curled up in the seat nursing a headache or a hangover but it was good doing something again. No deadline so he could take as long as he liked.
Nothing remarkable happened in those five days. Mostly routine stuff - nothing to indicate that Ellison was special in any way but there was something. Winston had not owned one of the largest detective agencies in the country for no reason at all. There was an anomaly here, something that didn't fit and it was Ellison's 'partner.' First of all, from all the information he could find, Ellison was a loner. He'd had only one partner in his years on the force, a partner much like himself.
So who was Blair Sandburg? Winston started studying the kid, a police observer doing some kind of graduate work about the police force. What did they do, show this kid to Ellison and say "Ok, you take him around with you," and Ellison said "sure, I'd be glad to drag him along?" Not bloody likely. He knew Ellison, knew his type. He'd chew up a puppy like Sandburg and spit him out. He would not have spent five minutes on this long-haired grunge major - in real life anyway. So what was going on here? He discovered that Ellison had not only agreed to having Sandburg as a partner but was allowing him to stay in his apartment. What was wrong with this picture? Guys like Ellison just didn't have roommates. They weren't exactly big on support from others, which did often make them bad marriage partners. Winston reflected that he'd been lucky to find Mary. Guys like Winston and Ellison sometimes formed intense relationships with other guys, guys like themselves, independent cusses, the brotherhood and all that but a hippy? Or whatever they were calling themselves now. It just didn't fit. And what did the kid see in Ellison - oh, yeah, the paper - and what kind of hell paper could that be?
Winston shifted focus and started haunting the university. It didn't surprise him that the kid was staying with Ellison. Students were notorious for being broke and from what he could tell from his background check Sandburg had been living on scholarships and 'the kindness of strangers' for years. Mother out and about, no other close family. Odd jobs, odd living quarters, Ellison's apartment was probably the nicest place he'd ever snagged. If he was paying rent, it couldn't be much. So did Ellison feel sorry for the kid? Maybe he wasn't giving the guy enough credit. All ex-military types didn't have to be pitiless sons-of-bitches but they usually weren't bleeding hearts either and taking in this stray did not seem to fit the Ellison profile he'd found so far.
Following his subjects around he began to notice they spent a lot of time together, not just work time. They were friends. He dismissed the something more when it crossed his mind. Ellison never, just because, well, not that his type was never, but nigh on to never. Sandburg he could have believed but he'd seen them with women and seen them with each other. They just weren't relating that way. Cross that scenario off the list. So that left...two guys who saw each other and had so much in common everything clicked? Oh yeah, they looked liked they had tons in common. So what was the deal? What did they share, that pulled them so close, that made them almost brothers?
He began listening to what they were saying, using his hearing to pick up on their conversations in odd moments. Sometimes he would just be sitting in the parking lot with his head resting on the back of his seat. Sometimes he could be out of their sight a block away but he had learned to recognize their voices so he could them even among all the general noise. He couldn't remember exactly when he knew for a fact that it was about Ellison's senses, it was all about Ellison's senses and he was something called a 'Sentinel' and that meant if he was one so was Winston. And the kid knew - that was the project he was working on and that's the secret that had drawn them together - the kid knew what it was, he was some kind of expert and that meant, that meant...
Winston opened the car door and threw up on the street. Pedestrians looked at him distastefully - no matter - he had passed his embarrassment threshold long ago. So what now, Winston, old buddy? Walk up, introduce yourself? Did this mean it was something, well, maybe not normal, but possible to control? He lay back on his seat with his eyes closed against the sunlight. He needed more information.
Blair Sandburg was an anthropology major. Winston would have guessed psychology or medical science or something - why anthropology? He was a grad student, good grades, dedicated, not really the cast-off he looked like. He had been with Ellison for over two years. How had he known and what did the Sentinel stuff have to do with anthropology? Seemed a little dusty for this sort of information - anthropology was like history or something right? He didn't know much about this kind of thing. He needed more. Time for Plan B, as in B and E.
Getting into Sandburg's office was easy. The lock was a joke and no one seemed to even notice him. It was also a mess but he knew Sandburg's schedule - he had classes all day so he had time. But there wasn't much to be had. Mostly academic stuff, class schedules. He did find some scholarly works on Sentinels and wondered why it had never occurred to him to check out the library. Even if there wasn't much at least he would have known he wasn't some sort of freak. But then he wouldn't have known the word Sentinel - would have had no reference point. He had to give it to the kid - he apparently knew his stuff. So where would he keep his most important work - the real information? And there was no computer - wasn't that odd? He found floppy disks so he knew one existed. Probably a notebook. That way the kid could keep it with him, in his backpack, taking work home to the apartment, using it in class. A complication but not impossible to overcome.
He picked a day when both Sandburg and Ellison were at the police department. He was good at picking locks - if he could keep his mind on what he was doing, they would never know he had been there. Once again, no computer. Sandburg must be hauling it around in his backpack. He would get it later. It wasn't a waste of time though. He found tons of written notes in Sandburg's bedroom and it was good enough that for a few hours he successfully blocked out all outside interference. The kid was definitely on to something. He described in detail Ellison overloading, Ellison having 'zone-outs,' all sorts of experiments (Ellison allowed this?), and various times when Ellison's senses had saved one or both of their lives. Yes, he wanted to say. Yes, yes, I know that - I've felt that way. Sandburg's writing was infectious, full of enthusiasm and bright ideas. In spite of his less than overwhelming first impression of Sandburg, he found himself impressed with the kid's dedication and smarts. He could understand why Jim Ellison had eventually warmed to him. And in reading Blair's notes, he could tell the cop had come to mean something to Sandburg too. For one thing, he apparently thought this Sentinel discovery was pretty close to the Holy Grail. It was something that made Ellison really special. And besides that, it was evident that Blair thought Jim was some kind of hero, a sharp shooting, helicopter grabbing, hard driving Clint Eastwood come to life. He could practically hear the admiration in Blair's observations, even under all the clinical jargon.
And what Winston found even harder to believe was that Blair thought the Sentinel project was so important that he was willing to die for it. Apparently it wasn't even that big of a deal - dying that is. It was the way he dismissed certain incidents - a psychopath kidnapping him and almost killing him. Getting overdosed with a dangerous designer drug. This last incident had corresponded with a problem Jim had suffered with his eyesight - some danger of going blind or something. This incident had consumed pages and pages of furious writing and thinking about helping Jim cope with this experience - and then he'd taken the time to knock off a couple of pages about his own overdose, mostly about how it crippled him as far as being a help to Jim. And what was this Guide business? Was this something they made up between themselves? Who cared? They were working on it - they had a solution. He was so stunned he couldn't move for a while and then he realized the room was getting dark. He had to leave - they'd be home soon. And he had a lot to think about.
When Blair and Jim hit the door at 6:30, Sandburg was on his last legs. He could barely keep his eyes open. Ellison was sympathetic for once since Blair hadn't spent a late night out having a good time but had been at the university until past midnight, presumably doing something academic. Then he had come home and worked until at least 2:30 am. Jim knew this because at one point woke up for a few moments. It was usually impossible to not know when his roommate was up working because his senses sometimes kicked in even when he was asleep, but he had gotten to the point where he could usually block them out after taking inventory. Inventory being assuring himself it was Sandburg's heartbeat and that neither that or his breathing seemed odd, indicating fear or illness. This was not because he thought Sandburg might actually be in trouble in the loft but it seemed to be something his senses demanded. They wouldn't let him go to sleep until his brain had processed the information that his Guide was safe. He had noticed this some time ago but was reluctant to mention it because he knew Sandburg would be all over it and even Jim recognized that it probably did mean something, Sentinel-wise. He just didn't want to deal with it yet. "Why don't you go lie down Chief, and I'll fix something to eat."
"Thanks, Jim." Sandburg muttered and almost let his backpack drop to the floor but then seemed to suddenly remember and hauled it up to his shoulder again before bumping into the doorjamb of his room.
Jim grinned. That was a pretty good save.
Sandburg had not even realized he had made the decision to drop his backpack in the floor of his room rather than the living room. He hadn't even noticed bumping his shoulder on the door. He was exhausted. He threw his jacket on the floor next to the backpack and just flopped on the bed. He had gotten up at 5:00 am after going to sleep at 3:00 and sometime after lunch it had caught up with him like a freight train. The morning had been pretty active, but when he sat down in the afternoon to do some reports for Jim he kept making typos and just laying his head down on the keyboard seemed not only appealing but inevitable. It had been a rough week, and even though Blair was used to a lot of late night work, his body was finally saying, enough already, you're going off-line. He was asleep before he could even form a coherent thought.
Jim actually cooked. Sometimes he liked to and he thought he did okay at it, even if he did say so himself. So what if it was chili, the most popular one pot dish in America, his was the Ellison special. He even cut up chunks of cheese to put on top and slices to eat on the side. Then he added wheat crackers. That should make Sandburg happy - health food.
When he finally set the table at 7:30, he debated about whether he should wake Sandburg or not. He knew he needed his sleep but he hadn't been eating regularly either. Deciding to just check it out, he opened Sandburg's door quietly and discovered the anthropologist face down on the bed, one arm hanging off the side. He hadn't even kicked off his shoes. How does he sleep that way? Jim wondered. He stood there for a moment, thinking it over and then decided to hell with it. He pulled off the kid's shoes and covered him up with a blanket. I can't believe I'm doing this, he thought. Boy, I'd never hear the end of it if the ops guys could see me now. He couldn't explain it himself but he was having some sort of paternal emotional surge. This is ridiculous and if Sandburg were awake he'd tell you so. But it felt like something he should be doing anyway, so he decided just to go eat and forget it. Chili would be easy to heat up and Sandburg could have some when he finally woke up.
He was getting ready to close the door when he stopped suddenly, his senses on alert. There was a odd smell here, an undertone - not unpleasant and barely noticeable but new. He was used to every smell in the loft, more or less, and besides this was a 'living' smell. He and Sandburg had discovered some time ago that Jim could tell a subtle difference (in most cases) between organic and inorganic odors. He shrugged. He picked up Sandburg's backpack and sniffed it, wondering if he was picking up a grass or weed smell. Nothing. Maybe it was Sandburg but he drew the line at grabbing his sleeve and sniffing it. For all he knew Blair could have taken a nap on the grass or petted a stray dog. Knowing his roommate that wouldn't have been unusual behavior.
Blair moved in his sleep and opened his eyes lazily. It was dark and for a few seconds he couldn't remember where he was. He blinked until the clock came into focus. 9:00. He sat up, way too fast, his heart pounding and then he suddenly realized it couldn't be 9:00 in the morning because, well for one thing it was dark, and for another he suddenly remembered coming in from the police station and crashing. He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. You're losing it, he thought to himself. The blanket fell away from his chest and into his lap and he looked at it blearily. He didn't remember doing that but then he barely remembered walking into the Loft. He swung his legs out in the floor feeling roughly 50 years old.
He turned on the bedside lamp and sat there for a minute, deciding what to do next, making mental lists. Finally he got up and found some fresh clothes, grabbed his shoes, and walked out in the living room, blinking for a moment in the overheads. Jim was sitting on the couch watching...something loud and fast. Blair didn't bother to look.
"I was beginning to think you were gonna just sleep all night." Jim didn't take his eyes off the screen.
"Yeah, well - it's not because I didn't try. Gonna take a shower."
"Verbal, aren't we?" Jim flinched as the bathroom door slammed. Blair was rarely at his best after just waking up.
The shower almost made him human again. Since it was 9:00 at night there was plenty of hot water and he turned it up as far as he could without scalding himself and let it beat on tired muscles and wake him up. He had to wipe the mirror to shave and his clothes were almost soggy from steam but he felt much much better.
When he finally came out the steam followed him and Jim made a face. "It's a shower, not a steam room, Chief."
"Hey, look on the bright side. I'll be much easier to get along with. Got anything left to eat?"
"Chili's in the 'fridge. And cheese - and there's a box of crackers on the cabinet."
Blair put some chili in the microwave, turned it on and headed back to his room. Jim watched him pass the couch. "You don't have time for another nap, you know. That'll be done in about three minutes."
"I'm going to go get a book to read while I eat."
"Don't you think it might be time to take a break?"
"I'll take a break whenever I get one. Things are really hectic right now."
Jim continued to watch the movie but occasionally he could hear Blair turning pages. He decided he should definitely give his partner some down time from the station. He needed Blair as back-up but he could give him a break with the report writing and stuff. Ellison grimaced at the thought of doing paperwork but it wasn't like he didn't know how to do it. He had done it quite regularly in fact until Blair had showed up and it suddenly became something he could delegate. At first it had been just simple bullying - okay, take this crap and see how long you want to follow me around. He had to admit he was a little curious as to how far he could push Sandburg but apparently it wasn't far enough. Sandburg had taken everything he'd dished out and was still here. Not that Ellison was still pushing (well, not much anyway) but it turned out Blair was damn good at all that stuff and then suddenly he became quite valuable, both out in the field and around the station. Jim rubbed his hand across his face - if he wanted Blair to continue to be valuable he'd better give him time some time to breathe. Ellison had seen burn-out and Blair was a candidate if he ever saw one. Energy and enthusiasm could only get you so far and then it would drop you like brick.
Winston sat in the car outside the Loft with his eyes closed, listening to them. Pretty boring actually. And apparently the kid had slept most of the evening and now he was studying. Ellison was watching TV - and how he could stand it so loud, Winston couldn't phantom, unless he had pretty good control over his hearing. He'd almost gone to sleep when they began talking again - this time about scheduling. Evidently Ellison wanted Blair to cut down on some of his station time for a while and just be on call when Jim needed him. There was a little to and fro here, Blair resisted the implication that he couldn't keep up, but Ellison was adamant about how impractical it was for Blair to wear himself out when he was just hanging around the station, and then maybe being in no shape to be of any help when he was really needed. Winston smiled. He knew people well enough to see what was happening here. Ellison was letting Sandburg talk all he wanted then just shooting down his objections one by one.
"You do it, Jim"
"Yeah, but I don't have two jobs."
"What if you need me at work?"
"To do what? Annoy Simon? I like it when you do my reports, Blair and I'll want you to do them again but it's not in your job description. Your anthropology research is. When you get a little more leeway in your life, we'll get back to business as usual."
Winston smiled. He knew who would win and he was right. Blair eventually gave in probably because Ellison made sense. Even Winston could hear how exhausted the kid sounded. The fight, such as it was, was pretty much a knock-out. So they were going to spend more time apart. This was something to think about - if it helped or hurt what Winston was trying to do. And what was he trying to do? He hadn't decided yet but he couldn't just turn around and walk away from this. There was an answer here and he would find it.
The train whistle was a needle. It was a needle burrowing right through his ear and into his brain. Winston wanted to reach inside his mind and tear at it. It was one of the worst days he had ever had. Unable to even get out of bed, he had lain there for hours, unable to cover up and in a cold sweat because everything from the sheets underneath him to the sunlight burning around the edges of closed blinds, to the sounds coming from just about everywhere had worked in concert to send him over the edge. I'm really crazy, he thought. This time I'm insane. This time it's gonna kill me and I can't even get to the store to buy liquor, I can't even go out properly numb and if I ever get up from here again, the hell with being subtle, I'm going to Ellison and Sandburg and I'm going to ask them what they're doing and I'm going to find out what the secret is because they cannot keep it from me.
By 5:00 PM, he could move. By 6:00 he could get out of bed and pull on clothes and he did, not even checking to see if anything matched. He pulled out a wad of bills to make sure he had enough to get properly drunk and then proceeded to do just that by bar-hopping and acting as sober as possible and then when that wore thin by going to a liquor store. He was driving with a bottle in his hand, half hoping some cop would pull him over, or at least not caring, but as usual there was never a cop around when you needed one. Weave all over the road, fine, forget the seatbelt and get pulled. Shit, Cascade was as bad as any other crummy city he'd ever been in. Except...this one had a Sentinel. Two, in fact. They just didn't know it yet. He suddenly realized the car had stopped. Looking up he realized he was parked in front of Ellison's apartment, well one wheel was over the curb but he was off the highway. Voices came to him. Oh, I hear voices all the time, you know. Sentinel and Guide were still up but he couldn't focus on what they were talking about. He looked at his watch - 11:00. He opened the car door and almost fell out but managed to wind up on his feet and found himself walking toward the voices. Something inside told him this was a vital mistake - this was a wrong time, wrong way to be meeting these guys because they just might be his salvation but he couldn't help it. Any time now, any damn time, it might get so bad he could no longer move or function but just sit and listen and feel until his brain turned to jelly and he wasn't gonna end up that way if he could help it.
Blair was trying to explain something to Jim that was apparently so exciting, he couldn't keep it to himself. Jim was not particularly impressed. It had nothing to do with Sentinels but was something to do with anthropology, some new discovery or something and he couldn't even understand what the new discovery was replacing. What the hell had been the old discovery? Blair had apparently gotten a little of his energy back with the decreased workload and was trying to burn as much of it as possible. Ellison had wondered in the beginning if Blair was on drugs and now that he knew better he realized Blair simply didn't need them. If Sandburg ever took Speed, he'd be bouncing off the walls. He'd simply have a core meltdown.
Suddenly he stuck his hand up and Blair stopped talking knowing Jim had heard something. Jim moved for his gun and realized it was up in his room. He motioned at Sandburg to sit still and rushed up the stairs quietly. The door was bolted so Jim could make it back (and Sandburg could get out of the way) if someone started trying in earnest to get in. There was a loud banging then and Jim squinted at the noise and rushed down the last few steps to see Blair standing up now and looking at him with wide eyes. They both knew this wasn't a typical visitor - it was too late at night and the knocking was too loud, too insistent. And besides that the sound Jim had picked up was the sound of breathing outside the door...waiting for what? Jim motioned at Blair to move out of the line of sight while he leaned next to the door jam. "Who is it?"
There was an odd noise and then a voice said "It's a Sentinel."
Of the million things Jim might have expected, that wasn't it. He looked over at Blair who had apparently been rendered totally speechless for once. Jim couldn't think of anything to say either.
The voice went on. "Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg, you guys need to talk to me. I know what you are and what you're doing. I know you've got a gun Ellison but I'm unarmed. Just open the door."
Jim nodded to Blair and opened the door but kept his gun out. The smell of alcohol was so strong, Jim could almost get high on the fumes. He stepped back and allowed the visitor inside. He was a big guy, maybe in his fifties, probably would have been good-looking and fit but he had obviously fallen on bad times. He had dressed himself badly and was probably 98% smashed. Jim patted him down.
"Told you I wasn't armed." the guy growled.
"Just call me cautious." Jim said. Satisfied at last, he put his gun away. He motioned to the sofa. "Seat?"
The guy practically fell into the couch, not bothering to remove his jacket. Jim grimaced inside thinking that the whole loft would smell like alcohol for days. Jim pulled up a chair and then suddenly realized Sandburg was still just standing in the same spot staring at their visitor. "Pull up a chair, Chief."
Blair blinked as if he'd been in his own zone-out and then did as he was told. Another Sentinel. The idea was enormous and he couldn't seem to think past it. What would this mean for them? Did this mean Sentinels were more common than he had first believed? Did this guy have full sensory enhancement or just one or two heightened senses? Or was he insane? What were the chances someone totally delusional had found out about them and managed to talk his way into the loft and would do something totally berserk - say with an ax? The fact that the guy didn't have one on him and there wasn't one to be had in the loft seemed a moot point. Blair hadn't been around psychos as long as Jim but the man looked dangerous to him. He would have been intimidating due to size alone but there was something about his eyes, and this was what bothered Blair. Almost as if he didn't care, or was reckless - with his own life and anyone else's who happened to be standing around. He glanced at his partner. Couldn't Jim see it? Then on the heels of that Blair realized that he probably could but he wasn't the wimp-out Blair was and he had enough nerve to sit down across from him and have a normal conversation. Coward, Blair chastised himself. He came to attention when the guy introduced himself - which thankfully didn't involve a handshake.
"Name's Winston Conner. This isn't the way I wanted to come see you but I'm - having a bad day."
"With your senses." It wasn't a question. Jim knew how he'd been - how he'd felt and even though he could hope he wouldn't have ended up sitting drunk on someone's couch he did know that during the time in his life when his senses were careening out of control he thought he might go insane. For the first time in his life, he was at a loss, no options, no way out and betrayed by his own body. He knew now that Sandburg had saved his life or at least his sanity. As much as Jim had fought it (Blair just didn't look like someone with the answers) there came a point where he had accepted the help, the only help being offered, because he would have done anything, anything, to prevent his downward slide. And what was this guy prepared to do?
"I came to you for help."
This time Jim looked at Blair. This was out of his expertise.
Blair scrambled for a sentence. "I - uh," more information, stupid. "When did you first notice this?"
Winston shrugged. "About ten years ago. My wife (he didn't say her name that often out loud anymore) and I experimented a little - enough to discover I wasn't going nuts and that something had happened to me."
"Was there - something dramatic that happened about that time?"
"I was a cop in Chicago. There was a hostage situation involving a little Mom and Pop store in a crummy little neighborhood. Couple of guys on crack had sixteen people at gunpoint, including five women and three kids. They wanted drugs - I mean talk about not thinking beyond the moment. Talking to them was worse than useless - they just got more pissed off. Finally shot the store owner. I was at the back door when suddenly I could hear - you know, talking, when I shouldn't have been able to. But I could tell where the two crackheads were standing and I knew they were together and not actually covering the hostages right at that moment. So I kicked the door in and shot 'em both. Got decorated. The whole nine yards. After I figured out I wasn't just crazy it was kind of okay for a while - then it got worse. And suddenly I couldn't control it - there was too much of it. To make a long story short - I pissed off my wife, lost my self respect, and now I just live for the good days when I can stand to get up."
Jim nodded, horrified. He could see how that could happen. "How did you find out about us?"
"I was in the pool hall the night you stopped that robbery. I recognized what you were doing - listening to something you shouldn't have even been able to hear. As for the rest, I'm a cop. I've been following you, listening to you. But I just wanted to know, I wanted to be sure before I came to see you."
Jim nodded again. This too was understandable but he didn't like it. He didn't like being under surveillance and he didn't like the fact that he hadn't picked up on it. Maybe the guy had been a cop but now he was a drunk and Jim had never even guessed they were being watched. Then it clicked and suddenly he was angry - at himself and Winston. "You've been here - you were in Sandburg's room."
The color drained from Blair's face. When had that happened? Why had he been in his room? He felt suddenly creepy. He could see Jim's jaw practically cracking and knew all the Ellison signs of a real tantrum coming on. He could see it even if Winston couldn't.
"Nothing gave you the right to come into this apartment. If you wanted to talk to us you could have done it at any time."
Winston must have registered the fury in Ellison's voice but didn't seem to care. This guy is pretty far gone, Blair thought.
"I've long since ceased to concern myself with the niceties of good etiquette. I didn't hurt or take anything."
"That's not the point and you know it." The point being, of course, that it was an act of power. Winston was in their lives without their knowledge. Jim didn't care for the feeling of vulnerability it gave him. What if Blair had come in on this guy? What kind of shape had he been in when he was here?
"I know it's not the point. But I was desperate."
Are you still desperate? Blair asked in his head.
"And you know how to help me."
Sandburg suddenly realized Winston was speaking and looking at him. He thinks I know something - hell, I have a hard enough time keeping Jim on track and he thinks I have some kind of mini-lesson I can give him on control. His eyes must have betrayed his confusion because Winston went on with his speech. "I know you've been helping Ellison. I just need you to get me to a point where I can function."
"But I can't - I mean, it's not like something I can just tell you - "
Jim didn't hear the rest of what Sandburg said because there was a roaring in his ears. What was wrong with him? He had to concentrate - he had to watch Winston because he knew he was on the edge. Maybe he wasn't the violent type, not under ordinary circumstances, but when pushed to his limit, who knew? He was a big guy, an ex-cop, maybe a match for himself hand-to-hand and with Sandburg, it would be over in a minute and a half. He had to stay on top of this and suddenly his hearing had gone wacko. He tried breathing, trying to bring the sound under control when he was suddenly aware of Blair's hand on his arm. "Jim, you okay?"
"Yeah," he said, shrugging off the hand. Blessed silence was back.
"I was just telling Winston that I know people - others who are interested in Sentinels." Blair seemed to understand Jim had been technically deaf during the conversation. "I'll scout around, I'll find someone suitable."
Conner was shaking his head. "Uh-uh, Junior. I don't wanna be a guinea pig."
Jim shook his head still trying to clear it and snorted. "I don't know why not. I am. What do think Darwin here is doing?"
"Helping you to control it."
"And testing me twenty ways from Sunday. How hard have you been listening?"
"Enough to know that you're surviving," he looked at Sandburg. "And you know the answers."
"Hey, Man, I'm just trying to find the answers." How could he make this guy understand? And he didn't want to sound too stupid because he didn't want Jim to think he didn't know anything. "Like Jim said, we're working on this together. I do know a lot about Sentinels - in theory. But working with the real thing is different. And it's something that's ongoing. That's why you need someone that can help you full time."
"What caused it?"
"Hey, you probably had it all your life and just didn't know it. It's genetic. You just weren't using them until you were thrust into a situation in which you really needed them and suddenly they came to the surface. And once you let them out, they kept developing." Probably, Sandburg thought. But it sounds likely. And Winston seemed to be lapping it up.
What was affecting Winston was the fact that he was sitting here, after years of going nowhere, with two people who understood what he was talking about. And Sandburg made sense - it sounded so clinical, so ordinary when he spoke about it. Like being ill for a long time and suddenly finding a doctor who knew what was wrong with you and could take care of it. Blair's quiet assessment was comforting. Even his voice was relaxed and assured. No wonder Ellison keeps him around. If only I'd had someone like this in the beginning, he thought. His shoulders relaxed, releasing tension he didn't even know he'd had. Something made him want to trust Sandburg, and he couldn't figure out what - the kid looked like a throw-away. Conner didn't even nod to his kind on the street. And look where it got you.
"Listen," Sandburg continued. "Let me check on some things. Just give me a couple of days."
"But I might not have a couple days." Winston's voice was loud enough that it bothered him. "You don't understand - I'm alone when these things happen and I might not come out of it okay."
Jim didn't want to do it - his inclination was to kick the guy out. But he was remembering how he'd felt once. And he couldn't even imagine how terrifying it would be to zone-out with all your senses open and know there was no one to bring you out of it. Besides which, he wanted Conner close, where he could keep an eye on him.
"You can sleep on our couch if you want to." He almost heard Sandburg's jaw drop. "If you need help, just let one of us know, okay?"
"I would refuse to be polite but as I told you, I'm past all that. And yeah, I'll let you know." He finally stood up and took off his jacket and boots then just lay back on the couch without ceremony. "Do whatever you normally do - I have a bender to sleep off." And then his eyes closed.
Jim turned to see Sandburg staring at him as if he'd grown antlers. He halfway grinned and put a finger to his mouth and led him over to the end table where he picked up a pad of paper and a pen. He wrote down. "Don't worry - I'll be watching." Sandburg was staring at the pad as if it would reveal something else - like why this was happening.
"You don't have to write notes on my account." Conner slurred from the couch.
"Just trying to be polite." Jim returned. He swatted Blair on the arm. "Get some sleep, Chief."
Get some sleep, Chief. Yeah, sure, why not? Blair thought as he crawled into bed as quietly as possible. Two Sentinels within fifty feet and one of them might be crazy. This is the pits. He knew he was being unreasonable but he was almost afraid to think too loud. What was he going to do? And did Jim really think he could sleep when the nutty one was sacked out between his room and Jim's? I need sleep, he thought, and while I'm at it, I need to order up an idea too. He rubbed his eyes and rolled on his side, painfully aware of the sound of springs and wondering just how much noise would put Winston in a mood to slit his throat. I wonder if I snore, he thought. That's it, I'm not closing my eyes, he told himself. But somehow within the next fifteen minutes he did and he didn't open them again until his alarm clock went off.
Winston heard the alarm clock as he had heard several sounds during the night but none of them were as bad as they were before. They were all tolerable even though he hadn't had much rest. Maybe everything would be all right.
Jim stumbled out of bed wanting to give himself a good swift kick for inviting Winston to take the couch. Nothing had happened but Jim's idea - that he could leave his senses working overnight and rest too - was a bomb. He couldn't get past the idea of Conner sleeping so close to Sandburg. Even though he was pretty sure everything would be okay, Conner was an unknown and Sandburg's door didn't even have a lock. That's the last time we try this arrangement, Jim thought. I don't care how miserable he is - he's survived this many years, a couple of days won't make any difference. But he said it was getting worse. He also broke in when they weren't home and to Jim that was a major violation. Conner was right, he had handled the whole thing the wrong way, and for Jim, doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons just didn't cut it.
Sandburg was fixing breakfast when he came downstairs and even carrying on a conversation with Winston. Never mind that last night he'd been scared to death, Sandburg had bounced back as only he could, and was now adjusting to the situation. Hell, he's even excited, Jim thought, and for some reason that bothered him.
Blair was feeling well-rested for once, not even realizing that as determined he'd been to stay awake he'd actually been the only one in loft who fell asleep for any length of time. And once he woke up and discovered he hadn't had his throat cut after all, he felt a little more charitable toward Winston. It had also sunk in that what he had was, well for lack of a better word, let's call it miracle, he thought to himself. Two Sentinels - count them - two. What other current researcher had even one, much less two living breathing genetic throwbacks - and under the same roof? He was almost giddy. What happened when Sentinels came into close contact? Had there ever been more than one to a tribe? All these questions suddenly gave him an appetite and he realized he hadn't really taken time to eat much lately. He pulled out all the stops - bacon, eggs, coffee, even Danish compliments of Pillsbury. Winston had been hungry as well and had already started eating. Blair had tried some questions and the ex-cop seemed willing to discuss things, even eager. He thought Jim would be pleased at having a big breakfast and finding out Winston probably wasn't such a threat after all but if he was his face didn't show it. He seemed grumpy. Really grumpy.
"We feeding a third world country here, Chief?"
"Just thought you might be hungry. And we have a guest."
"It's not like he hasn't been here before." Jim could see Blair had been excited and he felt like a heel being such a grouch. It wasn't Sandburg who was making him angry. "Hey, it does smell good - dish me up some, will you."
Winston knew what was going on. Ellison hadn't slept because Ellison didn't trust him and maybe never would. He knew this was about the fact that he had stalked them and broken into the apartment. In a saner, other life, he would felt the same way. But in this life he didn't care - in this life, survival was all that mattered. Friendship was a luxury he was no longer even looking for. He wanted their help and screw their respect.
Jim was looking at him speculatively. "And what should we do today? Do you have a place where you can stay? You're sober now, you're senses seem to be behaving, we'll be glad to check on you but we can't hold your hand twenty-four hours, you know."
Winston smiled at him like a fellow predator. "I know that. I'm not as worried as I was. Sandburg here was just giving me some little hints that might help - I don't have anything like control but the next attack might not kill me. And besides if it gets bad, I'll have somebody to call."
"I'll give you my cell phone number." Jim said, the unspoken command being, call me instead of Blair.
Like hell, Winston thought. As if you know anything - you'd be a basket case just like me if you didn't have your own live-in expert.
"I -" Blair started but Jim cut him off with a stare. As usual Jim was taking control and apparently had been able to read Blair's mind yet again. The unspoken command being, do not give out your cell phone number. Blair was not adverse to arguing but if Jim was still being cautious about this he probably had good reason. Blair had good instincts about science, but when it came to tough guys, Ellison was the expert. And Sandburg had to admit being in the same room with Conner when he was half crazed with sensory overload was not appealing. He didn't know how reasonable Conner would be. He trusted Jim more than anyone and could talk to him when things took a turn for the worst but even that had its moments. Really bad moments.
Winston sighed and took a drink of coffee. Guess this means I have to report to the boss after all. Ellison was territorial in the extreme, doing everything to stake his piece of earth short of pissing on the borders. Ellison had Sandburg as a partner and he would allow him to help to a certain extent but he had his limits and they weren't generous. And it was no use talking to Sandburg, his loyalty and friendship lay with Ellison, something quite evident even if Winston hadn't read the notebooks. Yes indeed, life had improved but it still sucked. "Well, I guess I've worn out my welcome."
Blair just looked at his plate and Jim at least had the grace to relent a bit. "We talked about this last night. Sandburg will get you in touch with some people. Until then, do your best not to self-destruct and you just might survive. Stay away from the liquor, okay?"
"I'll do my best and that's all I can promise." Winston took a small notebook out of his pocket and scribbled inside of it then ripped the sheet out and laid it on the table. "I'm staying here. Not the best choice but it doesn't leak. See you." He stood up and let himself out.
Blair looked up from his plate. "Guy knows how to make an exit."
"I just hope it's permanent."
"Come on, Jim, I think he really needs our help. He could self-destruct. And why are you so angry anyway?"
"For one thing he broke into this apartment, for another we don't know a thing about this guy -"
"He was a cop."
"You've been with me long enough to know there's all kinds of cops out there Sandburg, and not all of them are model citizens. Besides which, last night he had you nervous as a cat and this morning, you're buddies."
"Hey, hey, man, slow down -" Blair hadn't seen Jim this agitated in a while. "You should understand what he's going through better than anybody." Blair couldn't seem to make sense of Jim's back and forth opinions on this issue. Usually he was pretty easy to read but he was jumping all over the map and Blair couldn't keep up. "What's bugging you?"
Jim leaned on the counter. "I dunno Chief - instinct maybe, but there's something - just get him some help will you, and let them take it from there. Come on - let's get to work."
"Hey, I gotta go to the university today." Jim was staring at him blankly. Blair raised his eyebrow and continued patiently. "I'm supposed to find Winston some help and last night you decided I needed some time away from the station, do you remember? You said there was nothing big going on today and you'd call me if you needed me." He waited a second for a response but nothing happened. "I won't forget my cell phone."
Jim sighed, yes of course he'd said that. But then that was before he'd known Conner was out there, watching them, coming into the apartment, doing God knows what else. He didn't know why he felt such unease. Conner didn't really seem a danger but he didn't like that he and Blair were separated with someone out there half out of their senses (for lack of a better word). But the university was full of people and Winston knew Blair was working on getting him some help. Everything was out in the open now so there shouldn't be any reason for Conner to be creeping through their lives. Nonetheless Ellison didn't like it and he'd be relieved when it was over.
Blair dropped his head on his office desk in frustration. There was a major problem in getting Winston some help and he didn't know how he'd managed to miss it before. What was he thinking about when he'd said he could call someone? Everyone he knew who was really, really good would be thrilled - and horribly suspicious. Just as he would be if they handed him a Sentinel. They were all researchers like himself, servants to the god of pure knowledge, a religion in which sharing was not a commandment. What had he done when he found Jim? Go to them to see if they might know more? Like fun. He'd done what any of them would do - kept it to himself in order to do the research, then publish. He knew exactly what they would think because he would think the same thing himself. They wouldn't give him a Sentinel for any reason - unless they already had one themselves. How could he introduce Winston to any of them without raising red flags all over the place?
How sneaky could he get? Would there be some way for Winston to get their attention so they could think they discovered him? Maybe Winston would co-operate if he explained it to him. That brought up another problem. How much could they trust Winston to keep their secret? He had to admit Jim was right - cop did not equal upstanding citizen. He hadn't met too many nasty ones but then he was mostly around Jim's friends who at least tolerated him with good grace but he knew there were some others around Major Crimes who wouldn't consider it a real tragedy if he slipped under the wheels of a truck. If he annoyed them too much they might entertain the thought of pushing him themselves. Just what kind of cop had Winston been?
Jim was finding out. He'd spent the morning, checking and double-checking and was surprised at what he'd discovered. Conner had been an excellent cop - no complaints even and that was something even Jim couldn't brag about. And he'd retired from the force and successfully operated one of the biggest detective agencies in the country. He and the agency had an impeccable reputation for respectability and thoroughness - the agency at least still did. It was operating independently from Conner who'd sold it several years ago. His wife had never remarried and still lived in Chicago. Apparently Conner had been rapidly moving from upper- middle class to rich when something had gone haywire. His senses going on tilt had caused him to divorce his wife, sell his business, and develop a love affair with the bottle. Jim shivered. If somebody like that could go nuts from sentinel input, what could have eventually happened to him? Did they just get worse? Would there ever come a time when even Blair might not be able to help him? He didn't much like these questions. But then if he were going to go nuts, it would have happened at the beginning, right? That was when it was the worst - or maybe when he thought it was the worst. He knew his senses were stronger now but he was better at controlling them. Was that the way it was going to be? A new battle for control ever so often? He rubbed his eyes. I need an aspirin, he thought. Maybe three.
Jim and Blair went out to dinner that night and then to a movie. Sandburg hadn't much wanted to go to the movie, pleading a need to study but Jim had insisted. He wasn't sure why himself. He didn't want Conner in the loft when they weren't there but he didn't want to see him either - at least not until he had time to think about all this. Several times Sandburg had tried to broach the subject and Jim had changed it each time until Blair had finally taken the hint and shut up about it. Ellison couldn't figure out why his feelings were in such conflict. Conner was no longer a cop but he'd been a good one, a brother in blue, and was now a fellow human being who needed help badly. What was so hard about this? Was it because Conner was such a mess - too close to what Jim could imagine happening to himself? Was it just the fact Conner had invaded their lives? It really didn't matter. This was something Jim couldn't leave unfinished. He had a responsibility to Conner the human, Conner the cop, and there was also the matter of Conner the complication, the outsider who knew the secret he and Sandburg shared. A secret that had to be protected.
Ellison yawned when they finally hit the door. Even while yawning he was checking - no one here but he and Sandburg. And no one had been here either. He shook himself. "Think I'll hit the sack, Chief."
Sandburg went into his room and emerged with a textbook and some spiral bound notebooks. Jim frowned. "Are you going to try and do that tonight?"
"Hey, I told you I had to study." He grinned to take the edge off, noticing Jim was looking a bit grim. "It's no big deal - I loved the movie and I won't be up that long. I just thought I'd spread out on the kitchen table if that's okay. Will it bother you?"
"No." Jim said, feeling like three kinds of heel. He had conveniently forgotten Sandburg had said something about studying. When am I going to learn this stuff matters? He chided himself for not listening to Sandburg earlier - sometimes he didn't listen to Sandburg much at all since the kid talked so darn much but he'd known him long enough that he should be picking up the important stuff. Even when it's not about you. Looking closer, he realized Sandburg still looked way too tired, looked older than he should, in fact. He still had enthusiasm in his eyes and his mood seemed fine but his eyes were heavy lidded and there were shadows under them. Good grief, how long has he looked like that?
"Come on, Jim, go to bed. I might not bother you but you'll probably bother me." He made a shooing motion with his hands and grinned. "Go on."
Jim lay in bed for a few moments listening to Sandburg turn pages quietly but apparently guilt wasn't enough to keep him awake. When he woke up next time, he still heard the pages, his guide's relaxed heartbeat and the clock said 2:00 AM. Thought you said it wouldn't be that long, Sandburg, Jim thought right before he fell back to sleep.
Jim had to go into Sandburg's room twice the next morning and physically lay hands on him to get him up. He hated waking him when he so obviously needed the rest but he knew he had at least one test and that he needed to get to the university. Blair was almost completely uncommunicative and didn't even form real words until he'd had a shower and had finally sat down to eat.
Jim shook his head. "You gotta quit this, Chief."
Blair was looking at his fork as if it might involve too much effort to pick it up. "It's one of those...really intense times, you know. Just lots of stuff to do right now. And this Winston thing isn't helping."
"Got any ideas yet?"
"Anything that doesn't get us royally screwed? No. I've got to be careful about how I approach this - I'm trying to figure out how to hand over a Sentinel to somebody without them suspecting that the reason I'm so generous is I already have one. How much do you think we can trust Conner to keep our secret?"
"I think it would be a sure thing, Chief."
Blair looked at Jim carefully. "Why do you think that today when yesterday you couldn't get him out of the door fast enough?"
"I checked on our buddy. He's a four-star hero - or was. He was a model cop, a super private eye, and almost on easy street before the bottom fell out."
"You mean he totally crashed because of his senses?"
Blair had a thoughtful look on his face and Jim waited, knowing he was going deep. No one could trace a thought to its final conclusion better than Blair. But after a moment he just shook his head. "This'll help - I'll figure something out today."
"Listen, Chief, Winston is surviving. We need to do something but don't kill yourself trying to get it done last week. Dig yourself out a little first, okay?"
"I don't know - I wanna get this out of my life, man."
Me too, Jim thought. Me too.
There was blood all over Winston's hands. He'd been banging on the wall for an hour and a half. He must not have any neighbors because the cops hadn't come, Ellison hadn't come, Sandburg hadn't come, there was no help anywhere in sight. If he'd had morphine, he'd have shot himself up - hell, if he'd had a gun, he would have shot himself period. But he'd gotten rid of the gun because he could no longer trust himself, worrying about other people as usual and not even realizing he would be the one who needed it in the future. He'd tried to dial Ellison when things had gotten bad but he couldn't touch the phone, his hands were useless and he couldn't see the numbers because he kept seeing past them to the carpet, the dirt in the carpet, the various colors that made it that boring muddy brown and he'd finally thrown it down in frustration. Then he'd beat on the floor for a while, then scrambled to his knees over to the corner where he banged the wall with a perfect slow rhythm that at least gave him something to concentrate on.
And that damn kid. It didn't work - none of it had worked. Oh sure, it had sounded great but the breathing, the concentration, it was impossible to get above the din. How could Sandburg help Ellison and not him? He couldn't let them pawn him off on someone. Someone who might not know what they're doing. Sandburg might not want to give him the time but this - this pain was unacceptable. They had to talk. And as soon as he could get his hands on his keys, they would.
Blair had fallen asleep in one of the study carrels in the library. He jerked awake and looked at his watch, cursing when he realized it was 10:00. It had been another full day - take a test, worry about Winston, plan a lecture, worry about Winston, enter notes in the computer, worry about Winston...and so on. Now he was worried about Jim - or rather worrying that Jim was worrying about him. He knew Ellison was having real problems with Conner being in the same town and while normally Blair didn't check in, it might not be a bad idea with Ellison on edge. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed and Jim picked up on the second ring. "Ellison."
"Hi, just wanted to let you know I was at the library and I'm gonna be home in a few minutes."
"I was beginning to wonder where you were. I knew you were too exhausted to be having a good time."
Blair grinned. "Never too exhausted for that." Except maybe right now.
Blair shook his head and then realized Jim couldn't see it. I'm getting awfully far gone here, he thought. "No."
"Got some Chinese for you in the refrigerator."
"Thanks Jim." Blair said and meant it. It sort of made him feel good to have someone helping him out when he was just too damn tired. Not like the old days when he would have just gone home and crashed. "I'm starving."
"Welllll. This rice has your name on it. See ya."
Winston had cruised around the loft, the university, and finally hit pay dirt at the library. The kid's car. Forget the damn phone - it was time to get personal.
Sandburg was trying to fit the key in the lock while holding books under his arm. He had parked under a light but with typically it was out. The door finally popped and he threw the books in before climbing in himself. He put the key in the ignition and then everything went terribly horribly wrong. An arm hooked around his neck and he was pulled back against the seat. He struggled for a second then the pressure increased, just as a warning, and Sandburg forced himself to be still. Find out what's going on first. But he had a suspicion, and after a second Winston breathed in his ear, "just relax," and he knew he was right.
Sandburg's eyes closed and he tried to slow his beating heart. He knew Winston could hear it and that was very different from Jim hearing it.
"Don't be afraid. I just need help - now. Right now."
Blair opened his mouth but the arm jerked. "Shhhh." Winston said fiercely. "Just listen." His voice was trembling. "You have to fix it. We have to go somewhere - somewhere quiet." The last part of the sentence had risen in volume and the arm had increased in pressure until Blair thought Winston might choke him without even realizing it. "Hey," he managed to say. Winston was still breathing heavily but the pressure eased. Blair opened his eyes partially, wondering what he could do to gage Conner's condition without throwing him into a rage. From this angle he could see something dark on Winston's hands - blood? Whose? His throat was dry suddenly but he wet his lips and said in a whisper, "I'll help you, okay. Just let me go for a minute and I promise I won't try to run."
He wasn't sure if Winston heard him but after a few seconds the arm fell away and he could hear the other man lean back in the back seat. It crossed Blair's mind that he could maybe make it if he tried to get away - he was pretty sure Winston was having trouble making sudden moves. But he had promised. Even though that hadn't always been a big deal with Blair, he couldn't help feeling some sympathy for Conner. And if he tried to get away now and failed, any chance he had of helping or controlling him would be gone. And he might be mad as hell, too. Think, Blair, think. "Can you get out of the car?"
"I think so." Conner said in something barely above a whisper.
"Okay," Blair tried to control his voice, his heartbeat, his breathing. I could pass out. "I'm going to open the door and get out - quietly. You try it too."
When they were both standing next to the car, Blair got his first good look at Winston - and wished he hadn't. His hair was mussed, his shirt buttoned wrong, and his hands were dark with blood. The light wasn't good but even in the dimness, Blair could see something unsettling in his eyes. He was also shaking imperceptibility, like his neurons were firing constantly. Suddenly Sandburg wished he'd run, now he wanted to run and couldn't. He was transfixed by the sight of a Sentinel in full sensory overload. He knew he should say something but nothing seemed to be working too well right now.
"Well?" The word came out of Winston's mouth but Sandburg could scarcely hear it.
It turned out Winston could move pretty fast after all. In an instant he had his fists knotted in Blair's shirt and had slammed him up against the side of the car. "Help me," even in his rage, he whispered.
"Hey, man, take it easy - I'm trying -" Blair had his words cut off when Winston slammed him back and forth a couple more times. Dizzy, Blair wondered if Winston's most overpowering urge was to get his senses under control or to beat him to death. Conner pushed him forward and he hit the pavement - hard. He really did think he would run then but he was pulled back up by the back of his jacket and shoved forward until he hit another car. How could he have been so stupid as to think he could get Winston to calm down? He'd thought he would try to talk him into going to his office or something and then call Jim. Yeah, right. Conner did not seem to be in a reasonable mood. "Stop." Blair managed to choke out and amazingly Winston did for a second. But he was still up against a car with nowhere to run. "I think I can help you but we need to get somewhere where we can work - quiet, like you said - and call Jim."
Winston closed his eyes as if a particularly nasty pain ran through. "I don't need Jim - you do. I need help. I told you that and told you that! Weren't you listening? Did you call anyone?"
"I haven't -" The fist connected before Blair even finished the sentence and he dropped like a rock.
At 11:00 Jim was thinking Blair had probably stopped by an all-night grocery store or something. By midnight he was mildly worried and tried to contact him on the cell phone but there was no answer. Maybe Sandburg had left it off. But he'd been using it earlier - why would he turn it off? By 1:00 he was almost frantic and by 1:30 he was standing in the parking lot at the library by Sandburg's abandoned car. Damn, damn damn! He should have seen this coming a mile away. He knew who had him, he just didn't know where he was. He'd already called Simon and there was a forensics team on the way but he took out a handkerchief to use on the door handles and tried to pick up what he could with his senses. There were books in Blair's front seat and traces of blood in the back seat and across the headrest but not much. The smell though was strong - had Winston had it all over his clothes or something? Was it Blair's?
He took out his flashlight and examined the pavement. There were traces of blood on the ground and still a faint scent in the air. He walked around for a few minutes and finally found some skid marks on the pavement on the other side of the lot as if a parked car had left in a hurry. Just then headlights and blue lights showed up and Jim had to squint to tone it all down.
Simon was shaking his head. "I can see it's a little suspicious but are you sure Sandburg was snatched? Aren't you just jumping the gun a little? I know you're a little protective Jim but he's only a few hours overdue and if this turns out to be a false alarm - say, he turns up at some party or a woman's apartment, all these people, including me I might add, are gonna be mighty pissed."
"This is not a false alarm Simon. He was on his way home, I know it. And -" Jim stopped, clenching his jaw and looking around.
"There's more to this, isn't there, Jim?" Simon reached out and took his arm. "Come on, we can talk in my car."
"Another Sentinel?" Simon's voice was so loud in the confines of the car, Jim winced. "Sorry, Jim, sorry."
"So what's the story on this guy? And why wasn't I told?"
"Well, he's not a criminal."
"But you didn't feel right about this, did you?"
Jim shook his head. "No. It felt all wrong in fact. But Sandburg was working on getting someone who knew something about Sentinels, someone who could help him. I mean I felt sorry for the guy, we both did."
"You check this Conner, out?"
"Yeah, nothing in his record to suggest violent or anti-social behavior. But he was a cop, a real good one - and then a private eye. Apparently his senses drove him away from his wife, his home - and now he's just sort of a drunk. But he's big and he knows how to take care of himself in a fight, I can tell. Sandburg's smart and he's fast but he's no match for this guy. He's not even in the best shape right now. He's overworked, tired, and he hasn't been eating right." Jim stopped, not wanting his thoughts to go any further.
"But he wouldn't hurt Sandburg, he needs him."
Jim looked grim. "I don't think he would either if he were thinking clearly. But - I don't know how to explain this Simon but all this stuff with the senses - I know what it is to be out of control. I mean in the beginning, when Blair first showed up, I was desperate. There were moments when I think I could have hurt Blair myself. It's an awful thing and if it were prolonged or if he didn't have any patience with listening to Blair - I'm not sure he'd be rational."
"Are you saying he could be crazy?"
Jim looked at him with naked worry in his eyes. "A man who's been a cop and a good man all his life decides suddenly to kidnap someone and there's blood at the scene. Yeah, I think it's very likely he's gone insane."
Someone was screaming in Blair's ear. He made an aborted attempt to bring his hands up but someone jerked him by the wrists and pulled him into a sitting position. He opened his eyes and tried to focus, remember where he was. Oh yeah, the parking lot, Winston. Only now he was in the back seat of a car, it was still dark outside, and they were stopped in the middle of the road with the lights on and the windshield wipers going. "I can't drive," Winston was saying. "You've got to drive."
"Drive?" Blair asked, as if it were a foreign word.
Winston shook him. "There's a cabin we can go to but I can't drive - I can't see properly. You haven't been able to help me, you haven't called anyone, get your butt in gear and drive this car!" Winston hauled him out and Blair tried to orient himself to get back on his feet but he was in front of the steering wheel before he even knew how he got there. He shook his head to try and clear it. Oh yeah, he was in great shape to drive. Winston got in the passenger side and slammed the door so hard the whole vehicle rocked. Sandburg thought blearily, I could have driven off. I could have gotten away from him in the parking lot. Hell, I could probably scream in his ear and immobilize him but then he looked over at Winston and decided, well, probably not. Conner was definitely looking worse.
Conner leaned back and closed his eyes. "Straight ahead, Junior."
Blair turned the key in the ignition and let the car run for a second. He just wanted to close his eyes again. He wanted his bed in the loft. He felt terrible. "Listen. Neither one of us in any shape to do this. I think I can help you but we need to get somewhere -"
"We are." Conner said without opening his eyes. "The cabin is quite, isolated. And we're only about an hour away."
"But -" Blair began then gasped as Conner casually reached over and grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled him around to face him. "I'm not going to discuss this with you. The time for discussion is over. You and Ellison thought you could feed me a bunch of bull and pawn me off on someone else but I'm not having it. We resolve this now." He threw him back against the car door. "Now drive."
Simon shook his head. The file folder lay open on his desk. "This is an impressive guy. It's hard to believe he's gone nutty enough to grab somebody out of a parking lot. Jim, how sure are you that it's him? There's other lunatics out there, you know. We don't want to be looking in one place when we should be looking somewhere else."
Jim shook his head. "It's him. His hotel room is empty, the rental car is gone. As for nutty - didn't you see those blood stains on the wall?" This little discovery had badly shaken Ellison - the repetition, the violence, the state of mind it implied. Now that he had Blair what would stop him from using a living target instead of a substitute? I should have been watching for this - I should have been more careful. I understood how this could affect Conner even more than Blair and I let the guy roam around out of my sight when I knew he could find either one of us at any time. And who would he want the most? As far as Ellison was concerned, all bets were off after this point. If he was ever face to face with Conner again, he'd beat him to a pulp. If he'd done anything to Sandburg, he'd kill him. He heard something from far away and finally realized it was Simon's voice - he'd been drifting again.
"Jim!" Simon was worried at how many times he'd had to bring Ellison back from wherever it was his mind went. Was this what Blair did? Was it worse because Blair wasn't here or was it because he was just worried? No wonder he needed the kid as back-up. "Listen, the forensics report came back too. The blood in the car is Winston's type. The blood on the pavement is Blair's." The reaction on Jim's face caused him to add quickly, "but it wasn't much - you saw that yourself. He might have just roughed him up a little."
"Try to cheer me up some more, Simon."
"Hey, I'm doing the best I can. I'm tough as nails, remember?"
That got Ellison's face to relax a bit.
"Jim, if he's really this confused, he can't be thinking clearly about covering his tracks. There's an APB out on the car, we've sent his and Sandburg's picture everywhere."
"Does that mean -"
The FBI is on its way - you know we can't keep them out of a kidnapping but I promise you - we get the information first on this one. I'll see to it myself."
"Why don't you go home and get some rest?"
"I've got a better idea, why don't I stay here and drive you and everyone else crazy."
"Thought you already did that."
"I'm trying to prefect it, Sir." It was a game and one they had played before but it helped relieve the tension and Simon was glad to see a ghost of the real Ellison. But he was still worried. This Sentinel thing was sounding more and more serious. Was Conner just more affected than Jim or was Sandburg the only thing standing between Ellison and insanity? Now that was a frightening thought.
Sandburg had had to slow down to twenty miles an hour. The rain was coming down in sheets and it was lightening every couple of minutes. Conner had doubled over and put his head down close to his knees almost five minutes ago. Blair was thinking escape again, but where would he go? He didn't know where they were and there was almost no traffic and no houses that he could see. They hadn't even passed a gas station. A thought suddenly occurred to him and he glanced down at the gage - the low fuel light was on. Should he say something? Did Conner know where there was a gas station? If he mentioned it would he let them go there? "We're almost out of gas." Blair said, barely above a whisper.
"I think we'll have enough." Conner muttered without raising his head.
But it's really low. Blair was wondering if he should go on with this when it suddenly thundered close-by and Winston jerked in his seat. The sudden movement startled Blair who didn't see the curve and when he put on the brakes, the car kept going as if it had a mind of its own. They weren't going fast but they were definitely going over the edge of something.
"What the hell!" Conner shouted.
Blair didn't say anything but he did suddenly remember neither of them had a seat belt on.
Simon had taken Jim home. He was calling it a day himself and had finally convinced Ellison that hanging around the station was not only a waste of time, it was counterproductive. The wheels were in motion and all they could do was wait until something turned up. Simon had conducted the phone interview with Mary Conner. She was obviously distressed but didn't have anything helpful to offer. Simon gave her his home and office phone and told her to call him collect if she could remember anything. Something had to break soon - it had to. He just hoped it wasn't Conner.
Jim really tried to follow Simon's orders and rest. He lay down on the bed fully clothed and he thought he was exhausted but sleep wouldn't come. His senses seemed to be out of whack too - he couldn't block the traffic noises like he should and he could smell exhaust fumes. Besides that it was taking all his energy to not imagine all the things Conner could be doing to Blair - all the damage a fist could do, not to imagine a few well-placed kicks from a guy trained to deliver maximum impact. Blair was good at talking his way out of stuff - if Conner wasn't past the point of listening. He couldn't get the blood on the wall out of his mind. He must still be somewhat rational - he'd taken Blair and not just beat him to death on sight. He'd managed to drive off so maybe it was a temporary attack like the others and he could get better again. He knew Blair was resourceful, if he could just get Conner at the right moment he could take the situation down a bit. Look at what he did with me, Ellison thought. Ellison had enough faith in Sandburg that he thought he could actually reverse the whole thing if he had a chance. The big question was, would Winston give him the chance?
Jim covered his ears and sat up in bed. The roaring was back - the same sound he'd heard the first night they'd met Winston. There was something else that had been bothering him and typically he hadn't mentioned it to Blair. He'd wanted to think about it himself first. Looks like you won't have any choice now. His reaction to Winston had been odd. He'd wanted to help him at first, at least he thought he did, but the feeling that was most predominate was, well, he wasn't sure what it was but it was extremely negative. He'd wanted Winston away from them, from both of them. Out of Cascade, out of the country preferably. And it had really bothered him when he'd come down to breakfast and had seen Blair giving him advice. For a moment, it had bordered on blind anger. But what was the reason for that? Jealously? Jealous of what? That Conner was also a Sentinel? That Blair was helping him? Logically he knew that Blair was only being nice, buying them time until he could get someone else. There was no danger of him jumping ship. But that wasn't quite it because he'd known that without a doubt.
No, this wasn't a simply human emotion question, this was a Sentinel question. Jim knew that now and the only person he could ask wasn't here. And he's not here because...because Jim had allowed another Sentinel into his...what? Apartment? No, too small - bigger than that. Territory. Jim had allowed another Sentinel into his territory and had allowed him access to his Guide. And now he was paying the price, or rather his Guide was. Something else was going on that was almost scary. Ellison wanted to fight Conner. He'd been having flashes of bad temper since the man first walked into his life and now that he'd taken Blair he was filled with the urge to just hit Conner until the blood covered his own hands. He wanted to kill him. He knew he was protective of Blair and that he had a temper but this was unlike anything he'd ever experienced. He hadn't even been this angry at Lash. He'd never had fantasies about murder like this. This was more than revenge - this was something else entirely and Jim was sure it had to do with the relationship between Guide and Sentinel. Blair hadn't been taken by some psycho, he'd been taken by someone like Jim himself and somehow it was all tied up with this territory, guide, dominance thing.
Blair was full of Sentinel information, but he seemed to ignore the Guide part, like he was just an assistant or something. Ellison knew he was much more than that - he had saved his life before, he had saved him from the nightmare of possible blindness. Blair seemed to think Jim was a rock but he would have been surprised to discover Jim had often thought the same thing about him. They now knew there was another full Sentinel in existence. Did that mean there were also other guides? Or were both extremely rare? Had he just been lucky and Conner unlucky? Jim had often thought being a guide also required special talents, maybe genetic, but every time he had thrown that at Blair he'd shrugged it off, saying he just studied them.
What had happened in the past if two Sentinels ended up in the same territory - the same tribe? And there was only one Guide? Did they fight or did the guide choose between them and the tribe kill the loser? For some reason Jim was sure that they didn't co-exist, not the way he had felt with Conner in the room, and the way he'd caught Winston looking at him. Maybe that didn't even happen often, since they seemed pretty rare, or maybe it was a territory thing. Conner had come from Chicago where he pretty much did the Sentinel thing of watching out for others, but then he'd left. Still Jim wasn't from Cascade originally either. This was definitely confusing. But he knew one thing, he and Sandburg were going to discuss this guide thing when he got back - and he would get back. He had to.
Well, this wasn't too bad - I've been in worse wrecks, Blair thought. They'd been driving slowly and even though they'd been going up a mountain, the slope where they went down was not very steep and they'd simply coasted about ten feet and ran into a tree. It had knocked Blair out for a few seconds since he banged into the steering wheel but he was awake now enough to know he was in relatively good shape - or in no worse shape than he had been anyway. Conner was lying sideways on the seat, not moving. Blair looked at him for a second then checked the pulse at his neck. He was alive and seemed to be breathing okay. It was still dark and raining outside. Well, I guess this is my big chance. But it didn't feel like one. They were in the middle of nowhere, in the driving rain, and he was freezing and starving and hurt in too many places to count. Now he was gonna have to play hero and save the jerk who'd dragged him out here. Wherever 'here' was.
He unlatched his door quietly, keeping an eye on Conner, who still hadn't moved. He put his foot down on the ground and backed out. Too late he remembered he was on a slope and it had been raining and then he was sliding down a hill on leaves and grass and doing a nice job of banging himself up on rocks and stray branches. He finally had the good, bad, whatever, luck of stumbling into a tree that at least stopped his fall. When he could catch his breath again he looked up at the car to see he'd fallen at least fifteen more feet and the slope was looking steeper every minute. The trees were keeping most of the rain out and Blair had the alarming urge just to lie down where he was for maybe five minutes, but he knew if he did it would be that much harder to get up. He did allow himself the luxury of leaning against the tree for a moment after he got to his feet. Move. Even his thoughts had been reduced to one word commands.
It seemed to take forever but he had finally reached the car. He approached it cautiously, wondering if Conner was still out. He had forgotten to look at his watch as he started up and he had no idea how long it had taken him to get this far. He couldn't really see in the windows and Conner had been below them anyway. He tried to glance under the car but it was too dark. He wanted to go further down and avoid it entirely but the terrain was trickier and he was just too damn tired to try it. He peeked around the bumper but couldn't see anything. Finally, he just went for broke and scrambled past it. He had just managed to get to the highway and was looking both ways trying to figure out the most likely direction to travel in when he heard a sound behind him, and he turned to see Conner coming up the slope, about five feet away. The rain and thunder must have covered up the sound of his door opening and Blair hadn't really been concentrating very well anyway. He knew they hadn't passed anything so he headed up the mountain, suddenly realizing he was forcing himself to go uphill when he barely had the energy to put one foot in front of the other. He glanced around to see if Conner was still coming - he was - and then managed to trip on his own two feet. He landed hard and then Conner just sort of fell on him. How could he possibly be so fast? For a moment the heavier man just lay on top of him, panting hard and holding him down with his weight. Sandburg tried to get his arm up, to maybe roll over and push Winston off when the other man suddenly got the energy to get up himself. He turned Blair over and punched him in the stomach, hard. Blair moaned and turned over on his side, all thoughts of going anywhere gone along with his breath. Winston stumbled a foot or two away then and threw up, apparently deciding Sandburg wasn't going anywhere for the moment.
Sandburg had his eyes closed wondering why a car just didn't run over him - everything else had happened - and chastised himself yet again for not being able to get away from someone who was obviously on his last legs. Winston was half out of his mind with pain and probably had a concussion too and Blair still couldn't seem to get any space between the two of them or make any head-way in getting him to calm down. Boy, that was a joke. He hits and I bleed - discussion over. The next thing he knew Winston was hauling him to his feet again and shaking him. I don't know why he thinks that's driving his point in - it's just rattling my brains. "We're only about a mile away - we can walk."
Sandburg managed to stumble away from him and choke out, "No. A mile? You're nuts man, you have a concussion. I know you're smarter than this. I'm not in any shape to help you right now. Look, it's not too late to go back - I'm still willing to help you and Jim is too." Well, maybe. "All this is just useless, man." Blair's voice was getting progressively hoarser and was actually fading by the time he delivered the last line.
Winston just reached out and shoved him. "Move. It's that way."
Blair was concentrating so hard at putting one foot in front of the other that he didn't notice when it stopped raining or even when it started to get light. They had been going uphill for what seemed like forever and it wasn't until Winston put a hand on his shoulder to stop him that he realized he'd actually gotten somewhere. There really was a cabin and it was right in front of him. It wasn't big but it looked modern and sound enough. At this point, the thought of somewhere dry was a blessing. He turned around and looked at Winston and was shocked. It was the first time he'd seen him in the light. "Oh, man."
One of Conner's eyes had turned red inside, probably from the hit in the car. He looked like a man in deep shock - but he was still moving. How can he still be moving?
Conner just shrugged and took Blair's arm, not roughly, just guiding him. He probably didn't have the strength to do much more but by this time Blair didn't have any strength either.
The door was locked but Conner kicked it in. Every time Blair thought the man had hit his limit, he managed to do whatever else he thought he had to do. It kind of made him think of Jim who amazed him with his stamina. Jim would have escaped long ago. He would never have allowed himself to be pushed around this way. Sorry Jim, I just don't have it.
The room was dusty and cluttered but it was nice clutter - friendly clutter. Blair didn't pay a lot of attention but just retreated to a corner and sat down. "I gotta sit for a minute, man. I'd advise you to do the same." Sandburg no longer cared if his talking annoyed Winston. If the guy knocked him out at least he'd get some rest. Conner did say something but Sandburg missed it.
There was an engine going somewhere. Blair heard it and thought he should wake up, should get up, something was important. He moaned and lifted his head, looking around. He was still curled up in a corner on the floor but it was now daylight. He focused on his watch and it said 7:00 AM. It had been dawn when they came so that meant - well, it meant nothing really because Blair had no idea when sunrise was. He tried to move and gasped. His body had tightened up while he'd been lying down and now he could barely move. He grabbed the back of a nearby chair and pulled himself up into a standing position. Winston was not in the room. Sandburg took in the details around him, wondering what he could get his hands on that would work as a weapon. Conner was in rough shape but Blair was too and Conner was still bigger and better trained. And at some point in the long night, Blair had decided that talking Conner down (like he'd been doing any talking) was going to take a back seat to just taking Conner out. Maybe not killing him, although Blair wasn't going to rule that out. He knew the man was suffering but enough was enough. It had become a matter of survival.
The cabin was a one-room deal but large. There was one bed in the corner under a window and several chairs and a couch. The kitchen was really a corner with cabinets and appliances. There was a front door, a back door, and a door that Blair assumed opened into the bathroom. He headed for his best bet, the kitchen. There were some steak knives but they looked pretty dull. Still they'd probably cause some bleeding. He glanced around at the exits and wondered how far Winston had gone. He couldn't be watching all of them and he might have actually gone somewhere, thinking Blair was out of it. But where would he want to go? Blair found his hand was shaking, he knew if he went after Conner with a knife there was a good chance he'd get stabbed. He couldn't let himself hesitate or blink. He remembered Jim telling him, 'don't ever hold a gun in your hand Chief unless you're ready to shoot to kill. If you hesitate or they see they've got a chance, they'll fight you for it. You don't always have to shoot but you have to always be ready to.' And Simon had showed him once (and God knows how they had even gotten on the subject) that if you had a knife you stabbed upward. If you sent your arm down they could grab it but if the knife were coming up, the blade was too.
The door opened behind him and Blair spun around, his heart hammering in his chest. Winston was standing there, filling the doorway and still looking like hell. The big man was staring at him with an unreadable look in his eyes. "What are you doing?" he asked, in an almost reasonable voice. He approached slowly. "Looking for a weapon?"
Blair had just looked at the knives. He didn't have one in his hand so he just spread his arms out. "Looking for food. I don't suppose you have any?"
Conner shrugged and walked over. "Sit down," he said, indicating one of the chairs.
Blair sat, mostly because he couldn't see any reason to argue. At least Winston seemed somewhat calm - for now. The big man was standing at the counter with his head bowed and Blair didn't know whether to say anything or not. Was he having another attack or was he just tired?
Conner picked up a dishtowel and wet it. He walked over to Blair who had to resist an urge to bolt. He tilted Blair's head up to the light and said in a horse voice that rumbled deep in his chest, "let me see." To Blair's immense surprise, Winston began wiping the wounds on his face. Sandburg allowed it, too surprised to even say much and relieved that Conner seemed inclined to do something besides beat him. But he wondered what this meant. Was Conner the all-in-one good cop, bad cop? Was he going to get him to relax and then haul off and whack him? Or was this the real Conner, feeling better finally? Could he be handled when he was like this? Blair was trying to think of something to say when Winston suddenly dropped his arm as if he were too tired to do anything else. He pointed toward the door. "The bathroom's in there. We got a water tank and a generator. I thought you might want to get cleaned up."
Blair looked at the door as if it led to a foreign country. "Why are you doing this?"
Winston sighed. "I'm not a monster, I'm sick. And I can't believe you don't understand that."
"But I -" Blair began and Winston shook his head as if he there were something annoying him.
"Go on. And don't try anything."
Well, Blair would have tried everything only there was nothing to try. The window in the bathroom was too small to climb out of and he wasn't too keen on trying to take Conner down with a razor blade, the only thing remotely resembling a weapon he could find. He did, however, shave and take a pounding hot shower which relaxed his aching muscles and almost made him too sleepy to stand. After having been cold for so long the sudden warmth was draining his adrenalin and his energy. He came of the bathroom, hair dripping wet and yawning. For a moment he almost forgot how much trouble he was in. Then he saw Winston with his eyes closed and his head reclining on the back of the couch and wondered again how far he would get down the road if he just ran. Then he started casting his eye about the room for something heavy to knock him out with so he could really make some time. But he should have known - just like Jim Winston having his eyes closed was not the same thing as Winston checking out. "Do you feel better?" he asked.
"Do you care?" Blair rubbed his eyes and walked past the couch to look out the window. Winston seemed to be trying to carry on a sane conversation and Blair knew he should respond with something other than smart ass remarks but he couldn't. Now that he actually had a few moments to think, he was angry - at himself for not having the guts to get away, and at Winston for turning out to be not much more than a common thug. And he was tired, unbelievably tired, because he would have said he was tired at 10:00 last night but that was nothing really. Because he couldn't even form a thought right now and dropping to the floor in a heap was sort of appealing. It was sheer stubbornness that was keeping him standing and he had a feeling that was all that was keeping Winston going too. So who's more stubborn? Blair almost grinned. You might be bigger but I got the market on sheer determination. I bet you couldn't face down a bunch of college students day in and day out the way I do a roomful of cops. Half of them hate me but I'm still there.
"Sit down before you fall down." Winston said.
Blair sat in a deeply cushioned chair across from Conner and said quietly. "You look like hell. Don't you think it's time to give it up?"
Conner almost grinned. "Give up what? My senses? Don't you think I would if I could?"
"No, maybe you can't give those up. But you can get us back to civilization and take what Jim and I offered you before - a chance at control. What have you got here? What's this place gonna offer that you can't get back in Cascade?"
"You lied to me - you said you were going to call someone."
"Give me a break, man. I wasn't lying - I was just being careful. I had to consider my options. I wasn't just trying to unload you on somebody - I was really trying to get you some help." Blair was feeling hopeful. Conner wasn't looking so crazy right now. "Do you feel better?"
Conner looked away for a moment, then back. "A little - but it won't last, Junior. It'll happen again. And it gets worse."
"Listen, there could -" Blair began in his best lecture voice.
"Shut up!" Conner said loudly, standing up.
Blair clammed up, thinking he wasn't gonna survive another of Winston's 'attacks' any better than Winston if last night was any indication.
Winston was holding his head but then seemed to calm a little. "I just need a chance to think, okay? And I need some aspirin. You - you just sit there a while and I'll fix something to eat and we'll talk. No promises but I want to see what you have to say. Not that I've been impressed so far," he grumbled, starting to go through the cabinets.
Blair sighed and leaned his head back, looking at the ceiling. So far, he hadn't done so well but maybe he could pull this out yet if he could just get Conner to listen to him for five minutes. He wondered if Conner owned this cabin. He must be connected to it in some way since he knew his way around pretty well. If that was so, Jim would find the connection and it would eventually lead him here. Surely he would be looking for Blair by now and he knew Conner would be his first suspect. If he could just do better - if he just wasn't so damn tired. He couldn't seem to think clearly and when he tried to talk his voice kept going in and out like a radio with a poor connection.
Conner was trying to get the gas stove to light when he heard Sandburg snoring lightly behind him. The kid was slumped in the chair, out to the world. Conner wondered at his ability to sleep but knew it was more to exhaustion and pain than anything else. And who's responsible for that? Conner wanted nothing more than to lay down himself but he wouldn't - not now. It was too important to get something resolved before his next attack. He wasn't going to spend his rational hours sleeping. And he needed food too - so did Sandburg. It was while he was outside trying to crank the generator and cursing it for its stubbornness that his senses began to calm down again and the outside world began to dip back to normal. Only things weren't so normal, not any more. He'd done what he had always thought he might do - he'd gone insane. Even though he had been aware of breaking into Sandburg's car, and of everything that happened afterward, it had been as if he were watching from outside. Watching some other person - someone more brutal than he'd ever been. He'd only wanted to confront Sandburg - to talk him into helping him, only he couldn't talk - he couldn't even listen - and then when he'd found out Sandburg hadn't even called anyone yet - he'd become blinded with rage and had quit shoving the kid around and had just given him his best roundhouse punch. From then on, everything else had just been a blur.
And now what? Like a drunk on a bender, Conner was faced with something he'd done while technically out of it, something that, the kid's protests to the contrary, couldn't be resolved by just choosing to go back and pretending it never happened. Hell, this was kidnapping in any state of the union, this was FBI, major felony, lock-up in a federal prison - and I can't do that, no way can I do that. Conner was good at cat and mouse, he could maybe evade the FBI, at least for a while but Ellison was another matter. No way would Ellison let this go - he recognized a tough cop when he saw one and anybody who spent 18 months in Peru wasn't about to stand by and let this go down. Taking Sandburg out from under his nose was like spitting in Ellison's face and you just didn't do that to guys like him and live. Maybe Sandburg was still willing to discuss things but he would bet a Ferrari that Ellison was down to talking with his fists and there wouldn't be any discussion about this at all when they came face-to-face; it would be a battleground.
And as far as the matter of Sandburg went, he'd known it was a mistake when he did it. That hadn't stopped him but now that his senses had leveled out, he couldn't avoid the problem anymore. He'd heisted a human being for God's sake, not a stereo. What had he been thinking? That he could take him home to Mary and suggest they keep him in the basement? Travel around the country with an unwilling companion? Keep them both out of sight of the FBI and Ellison? Impossible. He'd put himself in an impossible situation. And there would be no reason for Sandburg to help him - threatening only worked for so long. The kid wasn't a dummy or a wimp - as soon he felt better he'd get away. And if he kept beating him senseless it sort of made him useless as a guide - Winston couldn't do that anyway. Or at least not when he was thinking rationally.
Ellison was dozing at his desk when his phone buzzed. He jerked awake, his senses rushing open and causing a sharp pain behind his eyes. He fumbled with the phone for a moment then barked, "Ellison."
It was Simon's voice. "My office. I might have something."
"Mary Connor remembered that about five years ago, her and Winston were in this part of the country and stayed at a client's cabin. It's less than four hours from here and it's currently unoccupied. They only use it during the summer." He passed a sheet of paper over to Ellison.
Jim was already up and moving. "I'll be in touch, Simon."
"Jim, wait!" Simon had to get up to stop him, had to push the door shut before Jim was out of it.
"The FBI is not handling this. I am. I'm going right now and you can't stop me." Jim wasn't raising his voice but his gaze was steady.
"I'm not stopping you. I'm going with you."
Jim opened his mouth but Simon overrode it. "I'm your superior officer and I'm your friend and Sandburg's friend. You don't know what you're going to find out there and you may need help."
Jim nodded gratefully. "Thanks, Simon."
As he was shrugging on his jacket and rushing out the door to keep pace with Jim, Simon noticed Taggert watching them, noticing their urgency. "Sir?"
Simon put his hand flat on Taggert's desk. "If the FBI asks where we are, we've gone out for dinner and can't be reached."
Taggert nodded, knowing exactly what they were working on and why the sudden urgency. Jim was standing at the door to Major Crimes looking like he wanted to be somewhere a half an hour ago. "Good luck." Taggert said.
Blair smelled chili. He rubbed his eyes and shifted, his joints protesting. But we just had chili the other night. He blinked, realizing he wasn't in the loft. Of course, how could he forget? He was still sitting in the chair only now it was dusk and there was a bowl of chili and coffee next to him on the end table.
Winston was sitting across from him on the couch. "You missed lunch." The redness in his eye had gone down a bit and he'd cleaned up somewhat but he still looked like death warmed over. And I wonder how I look, Blair thought. He didn't want the chili, he didn't want anything from this man but just the smell of food was almost an unbearable pleasure. He couldn't remember when he'd last eaten. He picked the bowl up and the thought crossed his mind that he could throw it at Winston - the old hot stuff in the face trick - but the man had given him something to eat and right now he seemed so...human that Blair just couldn't react that way.
"It's only dried beans and dried tomatoes but there wasn't much here."
Blair almost thanked him but just settled for a nod. He hated that he was so gullible, so easily manipulated, so apparently well-mannered that his impulse was to just engage Winston in a normal conversation. The chili was a little bland and the coffee was stale but it was certainly edible. And he wasn't dead - not yet.
Conner suddenly gasped and stood up and Blair tightened his hold on the coffee mug - maybe he should consider the hot stuff in the face after all but then Conner just turned to the wall and said. "It's just my eyes right now."
Blair swallowed and worked up his courage. "What about your eyes?"
Conner just leaned against the wall. "I see too far."
After thinking for a moment, Blair put the mug down and approached Conner, slowing and trying not to get too close. "Describe it to me."
"It's like what's in front of me is blurry. I see everything past that. When I tried to use the phone before in my room, I couldn't see it because I kept seeing the carpet in such detail. It's as if there's no distance, everything is in my face."
Blair considered this for a moment. "But you know what's supposed to be in front of you, right? Intellectually, you know the difference between what is a foot away and what isn't. You just have to get your eyes to focus on one thing at a time instead of everything at once. I mean, you're like giving everything equal concentration." He could see Conner's shoulders visibly relax. Does this mean I'm getting through?
Conner pushed back from the wall but was still looking at the floor. He looked at it a long time. Finally he looked up at Blair and blinked then turned completely around and looked at the opposite wall. "Yeah," he said softly.
"Remember, you have to focus on what it is you want to see, whether it's far away or right in front of you. Normal eyes bring what's closest to us in focus and let the rest blur out. You have to make yours co-operate. What are you focusing on now?"
"That picture on the wall." Winston's voice was tinged with awe. "I can see every detail in it."
"That's - that's it!" Blair was getting excited, forgetting everything for the moment except the excitement and rush of discovery. "You can see that picture so well because it has your undivided attention. You're not trying to see everything else at the same time. You got it, man!"
Winston couldn't speak. All of a sudden he could see how his senses could be a tool - not like before when they had helped him just because they happened to exist. Before, any control he'd had was accidental - he'd listen and pick up noise and somehow manage to get something useful out of it. But this, this was awesome, powerful. He had the urge to hug Blair but suppressed it and at the same moment realized how long it had been since he'd had the simplest of human contacts. If I'd just waited - this kid does know the answers, or at least some of them. And he's not my enemy. He scrubbed his hand over his eyes.
"You okay, man?"
Winston wondered at the fact that Sandburg even still gave a damn. But it felt good that someone seemed to care or just be interested. And there was something about his voice - soothing but carrying authority. Somehow it communicated that everything would be okay, fine, this stuff could be controlled. No wonder Ellison needs him. No wonder Ellison will do anything to get him back. I'm screwed.
Simon watched Jim's speedometer ease up to fifty and decided to keep his mouth shut. Jim knew how to drive and he couldn't argue with the fact that time might be of the essence. But going this fast on a curvy mountain road was not conducive to digestion and Simon found himself regretting the greasy hamburger he'd eaten about 3:00. It had already been getting dark when they left and now it had started raining again. At least the road was mostly deserted. Who else would be crazy enough to come out here at this time of year but a kidnapper and the people chasing him?
And what am I doing here, Simon thought. He couldn't help but feel he was somehow in the middle of something mystic, primal, and certainly dangerous. There were two Sentinels, a Guide, and then him. It was like an ancient dance and he was the guy trying to butt in. He didn't understand this Sentinel stuff but it was sort of scary. Sort of? Try really scary. Ellison wasn't acting like himself - he looked driven. Simon had come along mainly because he wanted to be around when Ellison located Blair and Conner. He had been telling Jim the truth when he said he wanted to be there because there was no way of knowing what they might find. If anything had happened to Blair he didn't know what Jim might do. If Blair were fine, he didn't know what Jim might do. He trusted Jim to do the right thing but Jim didn't seem to be acting much like Jim right now and if Conner were as crazy as they suspected, all hell could break lose. Be okay, Blair. Use your head.
Ellison was going to find this cabin. It wouldn't be safe for long and Conner felt better and Blair had rested and was in better shape. He wasn't sure any longer about what he was going to do but right now the important thing was staying ahead of Ellison while he thought about it. He wished he were somewhere else, he wished he'd never done it, but he couldn't go back down that road again. No reverse order, no second chances. He watched Blair going through cabinets looking for stray paper to write on and thought the worst part was going to be taking the kid with him. He needed him, he was his salvation, but he was also Sandburg, graduate student, teacher, in possession of a life in Cascade, and of a possible brilliant future. And now that he was comparatively calmer and had gotten to know Blair, taking him somewhere he didn't want to go seemed unthinkable and cruel. Think of it as war, he told himself.
Blair barely noticed when Conner laid a hand on his arm. He'd gotten sidetracked in typical Sandburg fashion, and wanted to make some notes about Winston's worst problems so they could tackle them one at a time. Escape was still on his mind but he was thinking now that Conner was being quite reasonable, getting him back to Cascade would be a cake walk. The pressure on his arm increased and Blair looked up into unreadable eyes. "We're moving." Winston said impassively. And they were back to kidnapper and victim.
It was Jim with his Sentinel vision who saw the skid marks. No car in sight, road as black and slick as glass but Jim had seen them from fifty feet away. Incredible, Simon thought. I'm still surprised by this stuff. Sometimes it was easy to forget when he saw Jim from day to day and he was just Ellison but then the odd thing would happen and Simon would be reminded that something had changed in a fundamental way. Jim was on a different plane of awareness from everyone else and Sandburg was the only other human who could begin to understand it. He'd known they were a team but for the first time he realized how important, how symbiotic the relationship was. And how complex. Where did Sentinel, Guide, friend, partner, protector and advisor end and begin? He doubted if even they knew. But one thing was certain - they had to recover Blair alive or something would happen to Jim. Maybe a breakdown, maybe he'd go back to being plain old Jim, maybe something unthinkable, but things would change.
Jim was crawling all over the car, desperate for clues. All he wanted, needed, was the assurance that Blair was alive. The automobile hadn't rolled far off the road but it was at an awkward angle. From the dent, it looked like they hadn't been going fast. No real blood in here other the hint of it he had smelled before - it was probably mostly Winston's. But Blair had been here recently and Jim was sure he'd been alive. There would have been no reason for Winston to haul his body away so he still had Blair and they were still moving, on foot. He scrambled up to the Expedition and Simon followed knowing he had to move to or Jim would be traveling with him hanging from the door frame.
It was raining again and the trees were covering the moon. Winston was sure-footed, able to see and he kept forgetting Blair wasn't. He was often unable to tell when he was using normal vision and Sentinel vision but when the kid stumbled flat on his face for the fifth time, he finally slowed down. Sandburg was going to get badly injured at this rate and there was no reason for it. Conner was feeling horrible enough about what he was doing as it was. When he'd known they were going to have to move, he'd tied Blair's wrists together, mostly because he knew he'd try to get away and Conner wasn't going to beat him like he did before. And he knew Sandburg would be smart enough to figure that out and harsh language wasn't going to make him co-operate. But wrestling him to the ground had been almost as bad. He'd been trying not to hurt him but Blair had swung at him twice, connected once and in the end, Conner had had to sock him hard enough just to keep him still. The look in his eyes nearly killed Winston, the betrayal he'd seen there, the disillusionment. He'd thought Conner was getting better, he'd believed Conner wouldn't hurt him when he was in his right mind, and he'd helped him. But Conner had turned on him, turned on him when five minutes before they'd discovered something miraculous together. Don't worry kid, you don't hate me anymore than I hate myself.
Lightning flashed and thunder struck and he doubled over with the pain. Not now, not now, not now. But it was happening, maybe due to stress, anger, and his physical condition but it was the last thing he needed.
Blair knew Conner was having another attack - a big one by the looks of it or maybe just a temporary reaction to the light and noise. He looked around and in one lightening flash located a good size rock. His hands were tied in front of him so he picked it up - and stopped. And almost wept at his own lack of strength. He couldn't do it. Conner was not just some criminal, he was tortured beyond belief and right now Blair was the only person within range who could help him. Yeah, and the last time you thought that you ended up in the back seat of a car. But this was close up and personal injury - blood, agony, and if he stayed out here in the weather injured too long, death. How hard could you hit someone and knock them out but not kill them? Blair was beginning to think it was simpler just to hit himself in the head. Jim wouldn't have hesitated, he understood these choices, or seemed to. You did what you had to do when it was necessary. And Blair had always watched out for himself - he preferred being out of danger as a rule. He also preferred not murdering someone as a rule. Finally, he did the only thing he could make himself do at the moment, he threw the rock down and knelt next to Winston, laying his hands on a shaking shoulder, "Just try and breathe, man."
Amazingly Conner heard Blair's voice, that beautiful, calm, in charge voice, even though when he had these attacks before he could hear nothing except a stream of noise. He held his head and did what the voice said, following it through every instruction, the slowing breath, the toning down of one sound at a time, blocking them by using his mind, his will. And gradually things did get better. He took his hands away from his ears and rested them on his knees, the steady rain and a far off rumble the only sounds for the moment. He knew Blair was right next to him, had not left him. He could hear his breathing, feel his heartbeat, and he knew what he'd known all along, keeping ahead of Ellison long enough to think about it had only been a crock. There was one choice here - the only choice he could make and still be Winston Conner, the man who had once had a wife, a career, and had only wanted to help those who needed him. He settled an arm around Blair's shoulders so he could stand up. Sandburg helped him, not exactly steady on his feet himself and they leaned back against a tree.
"We're a pair, aren't we kid?" Conner growled.
Sandburg was still mostly leaning, his hair in his face and didn't answer. Frankly, he was just too tired. Fresh out of ideas. Was he supposed to say something witty? Conner put his hand under his chin and lifted Blair's face so he could see it better. He winced. One of the falls had opened up a cut on the side of his head and his bruises were coming into full color. Hell of a job. He looks like he ran face first into a truck grill but I did it. Winston Conner, decorated police officer. There was a time when I would have arrested someone for doing this. He sighed heavily when what he really wanted to do was scream and leaned over and pulled a knife out of his boot.
Blair jerked when he saw the knife, thinking he won't kill me. I don't think so, not really, I won't believe this and if I run away how far can I get before he catches me. But Winston just cut the rope around his hands, so fast that if he'd wanted to cut his throat he could have done it before Blair finished his first thought. Blair looked at the ground feeling numb, wondering what this meant, what was going to happen next but then Conner had his hands on his shoulders and was standing behind him. "Do you see that tree, the big one with the split trunk?"
Blair just nodded. He didn't trust his thoughts right now - something new was happening and he thought it was probably better if he just watched. He was starting to feel pretty uninvolved in all this anyway.
"Follow that straight to the highway. Keep it in your line of sight and as long as it is in front of you or behind you, you're headed in the right direction. When you can no longer see it, pick another focal point and follow it. As long as you head in the same direction, you should get to some help."
Blair looked back at him then, knowing suddenly what was happening. Conner had finally become himself again, the man he had once been. He was cutting him loose and condemning himself to an uncertain future. "Uhmm...what are you going to do now?" He wanted to shut up, run while there was a chance but for some reason he couldn't, he just couldn't leave, everything was too unfinished.
"I'll make it." Conner was watching him steadily. "I always make it."
"Come back with me."
"It's too late for that. Maybe I'll get some help somewhere else." He tried to look steady while he made the lie, because incredibly Sandburg seemed unwilling to leave until he received some sort of reassurance.
"Do you promise?"
"Yes." Now move, kid, right now before I change my mind or something else happens. Don't push your luck and mine. "Move," he said. Sandburg did. One minute he was there and the next, Conner was standing in the rain and dark, by himself again. And he didn't know if it was the rain blurring his vision or tears or the sound of a door closing in his face. He rubbed his hands over his eyes and started walking in the other direction.
Sandburg was thinking it had gotten darker. Was he still going in the right direction? Where was the tree? It had been there one minute and the next it was gone. He should have noticed and picked another focal point like Winston said, but he really didn't want to think about Winston, not anymore and certainly not right now. He was hopelessly lost and they hadn't even gone that far, had they? He couldn't remember when they'd left but it had been dark then too, it had been dark forever. And it had been freezing forever, he was shaking with the cold and wet, and he'd be happy if he could just find the cabin again, just to stop somewhere for a moment and then the sky lit up and there seemed to be a clearing ahead. The highway maybe? It might at least be the cabin or a spot where he could get his bearings. He headed for it and discovered when he took that first step after the trees thinned out that it was the highway, sort of, only there was a hill and the highway itself was about twenty feet down and he took that first step which was quite a dozy, it turned out. And then he was rolling down the hill - didn't I do this last night - and he didn't stop until he hit the pavement, sprawling over its hard surface, hitting his knee, slamming his face - again, and jarring his elbow hard enough to make him wonder if he'd broken his arm. He had just managed to catch his breath when he heard a noise and saw and a light and realized too late it was a car bearing down on him and he couldn't move fast enough and he reflexively threw his hands over his head knowing that was going to make no difference whatsoever. Brakes screamed in his ears and he simply checked out, not wanting to stay around for this last act after all.
Jim slowed down after his brakes squealed going around a curve. "Sorry, Simon," he said, knowing Simon had been nervous for about the last fifteen minutes over his speed. He could hear the other man's heart pounding too fast and knew he was only keeping his mouth shut out of respect for Jim's panic. For Simon to keep a lid on how he felt was quite an accomplishment. And he knew it wouldn't help Blair if they spilled the Expedition too. But after finding the car, even though it gave them reason to believe Sandburg was alive, he'd felt even worse for some reason. He wanted to find them, he had too, but he was afraid. Now that they were closer, the urge to hit Conner had lessened for some reason. Now he just wanted Blair back, breathing and in one piece. Maybe the worst hadn't happened yet when they'd wrecked but that didn't mean it couldn't happen later. Maybe it was happening right now. At this very second Conner could be out of his mind and hitting Sandburg hard enough to break bones, cause internal bleeding - don't think like that, you'll be useless - you're just losing it.
The highway stretched out then and his Sentinel vision saw something moving, maybe an animal and his foot reflexively went to the brake. But it wasn't an animal, even before the headlights picked it up, Jim could see what it was and it was Sandburg. It can't be, I'm seeing things. But the closer he got the clearer he could see that it was Blair, it really was and Simon said something really loud but by then the brakes were to the floor and the Expedition was sliding sideways, making awfully good time at an angle, and Jim was thinking stop, stop, STOP and it was slowing and he couldn't hear anything under the wheels, not yet but God, it felt like it was going to tip and it couldn't tip because he had to be right on top of Blair by now, the Expedition was still moving and Jim could feel the weight pushing, all of his senses were working and he could feel the vehicle like it was part of him and then mercifully it did stop and Jim fell out the door. He couldn't remember opening it but he was on the ground and running to the front the truck and Blair was in a heap less than two feet from the Expedition's front bumper. Not moving.
"Blair?" Jim's voice sounded funny, even to himself but even before he reached for Sandburg, there was movement and a groan. Blair uncovered his head and blinked in the light, realizing he was, remarkably, alive. And how did Jim get here?
He wondered if he were dreaming. Were Sentinels falling out of the sky now? He moved shakily, but Jim was running his hands over him, checking for broken bones, patting him down like he couldn't believe it was really him. And he wasn't saying anything. In the headlights he was white as a sheet. He looks awful, Blair thought. Simon was saying something, trying to pull Jim away for a moment. "Just sit," he said. "Just stay there for a second." Ellison sat on the ground but was still looking at Blair as if he were still in shock. Blair was halfway sitting up now and Simon had lifted his head and was looking into his eyes. "Do you have a head injury, Blair? Broken bones? How do you feel?"
"Like hell," Blair croaked. Simon grinned. He was checking him too, concentrating on his ribs. "Have any sharp pains down there?"
Blair shook his head. He was still shaking with the chills. Simon felt his forehead and said something about a fever. "Let's get you somewhere warm. Can you stand up?"
Blair nodded and got up with Simon on one side and Jim on the other. Jim had his arm around his waist and was pulling tight enough that it was painful but Blair didn't mention it. Jim seemed to need to know he was really there.
"Have you got blankets in the back, Jim?" Simon was asking and Blair was relieved to hear Jim answer, sounding more like himself. The look on his face had scared him for a few seconds.
Blair was getting in the backseat with help from Jim and the Expedition had never seemed higher off the ground. He leaned across the seat wanting nothing more than to lie down but Jim was climbing in too and he felt blankets, heavy and dry, being bundled around him. He tried leaning back in the seat but Jim was arranging things and then he was curled up with his head in Ellison's lap. I feel stupid, he thought. But he didn't really. He mostly felt safe and comfortable and although he didn't completely go to sleep, all he was aware of was road noise and movement, Ellison's big hand on his head, and his soothing voice saying something he couldn't understand. I'm just resting my eyes, he explained, but he wasn't really sure he'd said that out loud.
Simon watched the both of them in the rearview mirror, thanking every saint he'd ever heard of that everything was going to be okay after all. Ellison seemed like a different person, in the real world again, and not wired like he'd been the last couple of days. He could understand the emotions involved - he'd had many of the same ones himself (and that can stay under my hat, he thought) but the Sentinel thing seemed to have aggravated an already bad situation. When they couldn't be put to use, they were an irritant it seemed, making Ellison edgier and more aggressive. But he was once again just Jim, taking care of his best friend, and looking suddenly tired.
"Everything okay back there?"
Jim glanced up. "Fine, Sir, only Sandburg seems to be trying to push me out of the truck." But he didn't seem annoyed, he was positively happy about it. Blair was trying to make the most of the car seat but Jim was apparently in the way. Jim shifted his position pulling Sandburg closer in so the kid could stretch out a little more. Blair muttered something then settled down again. "You're gonna be okay, kid." he said, patting his shoulder. Simon had the heat up full blast and the blanket he had under Sandburg's head was a little too warm but Jim didn't care. We made it.
They stopped at the nearest hospital and waited two hours in the emergency room for a session that lasted twenty minutes. Blair was just badly bruised, exhausted, stiff, and running a slight fever. His worst injury was a sprained arm. He had however, picked up a foul mood after having to wake up when he'd been, at least in his mind, deliriously comfortable. He looked bad in the light, Jim thought, one eye almost completely shut, his cheek bruised and swollen and medicinal ointment making his whole face shiny. He was however, moving under his own power, and felt well enough to attempt to be annoying. Right now, nothing he could say or do would annoy Jim.
"Are you guys hungry?" Blair asked. Simon and Jim both turned to look at him. Blair shrugged. "I mean, I know it's 2:00 AM and all but -" he shrugged. "I look too bad, don't I?"
Simon snorted. "Last I heard it wasn't against the law to go out in public looking like you've gone six rounds with Tyson. It'll have to be Waffle House or something though because I don't think we're going to find anyplace exclusive this time of night."
Blair waved a hand. "It's okay, man. I want something really nasty - something substantial that'll like stick to my ribs until sometime next year."
Jim laughed. "You in a greasy spoon. This I gotta see, Chief."
A Waffle House at that time of the morning was probably the only place they could have gone where no one seemed particularly surprised to see two big guys and one hippie who looked as if he'd been in a roadhouse brawl. The waitress even greeted them with a cheerful hello. Blair did eat an entire meal of salad, cheeseburger, hash browns and dessert and drank enough coffee to send him to the restroom twice. Simon had pie and coffee and Jim ordered in sequence - first chili, then a grilled cheese, then another one, as his stomach realized its owner was finally feeding it. Ellison had been forgetting to eat.
They hadn't talked much. Blair seemed content to just eat and Simon decided to let Jim do any questioning, at least at first. But then he got busy eating too. He was used to silence from Ellison but in Blair it was unnerving. The only thing the kid had said so far was that Winston had released him and he had no idea where he was. He'd said that in the hospital and then dropped it, as if he were discussing the weather. Like it was no big deal. Finally the kid pushed his plate away, and just as if they were out for a normal evening, began talking about something that had come up in his anthropology discussion group. Simon blinked, wondering if Sandburg had a head injury after all.
"You about ready to go home, Blair?" Simon asked, stopping Sandburg in mid-sentence. He'd been waiting for him to take a breath to be a little polite but he'd finally realized Sandburg was in the middle of a major run-on sentence and they could be here till dawn.
Sandburg nodded. "Yeah, I'm kinda tired." And he was. He didn't know why he couldn't stop talking but once he did, he was too tired to start up again. A full stomach was making him sleepy again. Outside he bumped into the truck while trying to open the door and he hadn't even taken the medication the doctor had prescribed yet. He didn't remember the ride to the Loft, didn't remember going up the stairs, but the next time he realized anything at all he was sitting on the edge of his bed and Jim was talking to him and trying to get him to take a pill. He shook his head but Jim just muttered something, stuck it in his mouth and poured water in after it. He didn't wake up until thirteen hours later.
Ellison was snoring on the couch with his head thrown back when he heard Blair get up. About time, he thought. He'd checked on Blair several times wondering at the length of time he'd been sleeping but everything had seemed fine. Sandburg had slept heavily, barely moving but his heartbeat was steady and his breathing relaxed. He'd probably needed some of the rest before all this happened. No doubt about it - his body was collecting on several debts.
Blair wandered out of his bedroom looking a little bewildered with his hair in the most disarray Ellison had ever seen it. He looked like someone's neglected pet. He touched his hair with one hand as if orienting himself to his own body. "Uhmm...I'm gonna take a shower."
"You feel like it?" Ellison asked.
"Don't lock the door and let me know if you need anything." Ellison said and realized that sounded rather authoritarian. He was trying to think of something else to say to take the edge off but Blair just nodded.
While Sandburg was in the shower, Jim fixed them both soup, thinking that Blair was probably hungry again. When he came out of the bathroom, he seemed more awake, his eyes were bright, and Jim was thinking maybe he could get by with a couple of questions. He'd been reluctant to press Blair the other night but they would have to discuss it sometime. The FBI was searching for Conner in the woods but so far nothing. By some miracle, Simon had kept the FBI away from Blair completely, somehow giving them the impression Blair remembered nothing other than what Simon had given them, which was the location where he had come stumbling out of the woods.
Blair sat on the sofa and ate some soup and watched the sports scores on TV. Jim sat in the chair opposite, eating soup and trying to think how to ask his first question. It turned out to be a waste of time. After sitting his soup mug down on the table, Blair fell asleep in mid-sentence while trying to say something about sports. Jim hadn't even finished his own soup. He took off Blair's shoes and laid his legs on the couch and put a pillow under his wet hair. If he hadn't been so obviously heavily asleep, Ellison would have sworn he was trying to avoid talking about the issue. Blair wasn't truly Blair again until he finally woke up four hours later. But Jim never did get him to talk much about Conner. Whatever he knew about Winston was locked in his mind and even Ellison didn't have the key.
Ellison had problems with Conner being out there somewhere but Blair didn't seem to be nervous at all and eventually Jim accepted it - something had happened between Conner and Blair and it wasn't something Jim was going to find out - at least not until Sandburg was ready. Jim's unreasonable anger with Conner had dissipated somewhat, now that he had Blair back but he still wished Conner were not an unknown factor. He would, however, learn to live with it. After all, he kept his secrets from Sandburg too but there was one they were going to discuss for sure.
He was watching Blair fix dinner a week later. He looked healthier now and seemed more well-rested than he'd been in a while. Once the bruises were completely gone, Ellison was convinced Blair would look better than he did before Conner even showed up.
"Up for an experiment, Chief?"
Blair looked up and grinned. "Let me get this straight, you want to do an experiment?"
Ellison nodded sagely. "Yeah. Something different. Let's experiment on the Guide."
Sandburg laughed. "You mean me?"
Ellison looked around. "Do you see another one?"
"Come on, Jim. You're the genetic wonder. Is this like revenge?"
Ellison nodded. "If you want to think of it that way, you can. I prefer to think of it as a search for knowledge. Was it you that taught me that?"
"You're serious." Blair was really looking at him now, realizing this wasn't just an elaborate joke.
"There's some stuff I need to tell you. Get your notebook."