Watching for Life
Notes: Missing scenes for SenToo Parts 1 & 2.
Thanks to Annie for her stellar beta, and to Bast for being such a good mate.
He had no idea of how long he’d stood here, one hand resting splay-fingered against the glass, as though he could send his healing powers to his friend by osmosis.
His head ached from the assault of sound: the cries of the pain-stricken, the raucous, strident messages over the loudspeaker, the clattering of medical instruments. He stiffened and shuddered as the call bell from the room next door almost shattered his eardrums.
He couldn’t dial down his hearing, though he had plenty of expertise now on his side, thanks to his guide. If he did, he might miss the faintest signal that Blair was waking up, was returning from the dead.
“Jim?” He flinched away from the booming voice so close to his ear. He felt the faint press of a hand on his shoulder and tried to drag his focus back but he felt mired in his senses… drowning in the monotonous beep of the heart monitor, the soft susurration of the ventilator…
“Jim!” The voice commanded his attention and he shook himself free from his paralysis, sucking in a deep breath and staggering against the wall. A strong hand gripped his arm, leading him away from his sentry post. He resisted at first but found himself too enervated to pull away. Hands pushed on his shoulders and he felt himself sinking onto a hard plastic chair.
“Jim? You with me?” Simon’s worried face swam into view and Jim nodded slowly.
“Yeah,” he croaked. “I’m okay.”
Simon nodded, though he didn’t look convinced. He stood and indicated the man standing next to him. “This is Doctor Cameron, Blair’s doctor.”
Jim started to stand but the doctor waved him back into his seat. “You look like you’re about to keel over, Detective Ellison,” he said in a kind voice. “I don’t need two patients.”
Jim acquiesced, content to do so if it meant news about Blair’s condition would be forthcoming sooner. “How’s Blair?”
Doctor Cameron looked down at the folder he held in his hands, a small frown creasing his forehead. “His condition is serious, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
Thanks to me, a small voice said in Jim’s head. He’d been deaf to everything Blair had tried to tell him the night he’d first met Alex, waving away what he was certain were more tales of Blair’s love life, knowing even then that there was something wrong, something off kilter, but unable to put his finger on what it was. Afraid to admit, even to himself, that he felt an unreasoning jealousy over the thought of Blair dating someone else. Because, when all was said and done, he was pretty certain that Blair didn’t feel the same way about him, would never feel that way. And the way things had been between them since Alex had arrived in Cascade, since Jim had discovered there was another sentinel encroaching on his territory, he’d been content… eager, even, to accept Sandburg’s explanation of primal territoriality, and to push his feelings for Blair to the furthest part of his mind, where they belonged.
Even his vision of the spotted jaguar in the store had been glossed over, thanks mostly to his injury, he knew, but why hadn’t they discussed it all when he’d gone home? Why had they both been so blind to what was happening? Not both of them. Blair had known something was brewing and had made the decision to keep Alex’s existence from him, until it was almost too late. Jim felt another surge of irrational anger. Jesus! Next thing he’d be blaming Blair for getting drowned.
“Jim?” A hand shook his shoulder and he looked up into Simon’s concerned dark eyes.
He rubbed a hand over his face and nodded. “I’m all right.” He turned his attention back to the doctor. “Will he be okay?”
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Cameron said. “His vitals are good.”
“I sense a but in there,” Jim said wearily.
“He was without oxygen for an extended period of time.” The doctor riffled through the notes he held, running a finger along a couple of lines of text before looking back at Jim. “I’m certain the paramedic’s report of the time Blair was not breathing must be wrong. There’s no way he could have been without a heartbeat or breathing for that long and still have revived.”
“The water was pretty cold,” Jim put in, giving Simon a quick meaningful glance. He doubted telling the doctor of visions and spirit animals and a dead shaman were going to be a factor in Blair’s treatment.
“Diving reflex.” Cameron nodded thoughtfully. “It’s certainly not unheard of. Still, the good thing is that his heart now has a regular rhythm and he’s challenging the respirator. My main concern now is brain damage. Even if the paramedic’s times were out, he was without oxygen for a long time. We won’t know till he wakes up and we can perform the necessary neurological tests.”
“Can we see him?” Simon asked. “I know Jim’s anxious to sit with him for a while.”
Jim shook his head, raising a hand in protest. “He needs to rest, Simon, regain his strength.”
“Yes, he does,” Cameron said, “but I’m happy to let you sit with him for a while, Detective. Recovery is also dependent on having loved ones close by. Does he have family?”
“His mother,” Jim said.
“I’m trying to contact her,” Simon added.
“I believe Blair shares an apartment with you, Jim,” Cameron said, “and that he’s your partner at the police station.” When Jim nodded, he smiled. “Then you’re the closest thing to family he has right now. I’ll let you sit with him for half an hour then might I suggest you get some rest yourself? Blair’s going to need you fit to assist him in his recovery.”
Jim stopped at the entrance to Blair’s room, unable to go further, one arm reaching out, his hand slapping against the wall next to the door. He turned to Simon. “You go,” he said, his chest suddenly tight. “Tell him… tell him to get better soon. Tell him I’m sorry.”
Simon reached up and moved Jim’s hand from the wall, squeezing it gently before letting go. “I think he’d rather hear it from you.”
Jim shook his head vehemently. “Right now, I’m probably the last person he wants to hear from.”
“You’re the one person he listened to out there, when he was dying,” Simon said.
Dead, not dying. Dead.
Simon frowned and grasped Jim’s arm, steering them into a small alcove next to Blair’s room. “What’s going on here, Jim? Normally, if anything happens to the kid, no one can keep you away from him. When he got shot when you were chasing Quinn, you couldn’t get to the hospital fast enough.” He studied Jim for a long moment then sighed. “Please don’t tell me you’re on a guilt trip about Barnes drowning Sandburg.”
“It’s not a guilt trip, Simon,” Jim ground out. “I missed all the clues! Left him out there alone!”
“Climb down off the cross, Jim, someone else needs the wood.” Simon glared at him. “Don’t you think Blair has to shoulder some of the blame for that?” Simon asked. Jim opened his mouth to protest but Simon held up a hand. “Didn’t you tell me Sandburg kept his knowledge that Barnes was a sentinel from you?”
Simon shook his head. “No buts, Detective. Seems to me you both screwed up here – and big time. Blair’s the one suffering for both of you making errors of judgment. I suggest… No, I’m ordering you to go in there and sort it out. Make peace with each other.”
“He’s unconscious, Simon,” Jim protested. “You heard the doctor. There’s the possibility of brain damage—“
Simon reached out and punched Jim’s shoulder lightly. “I like to think I’ve come to know Sandburg pretty damn well over the past few years. He won’t give up fighting easily – and I’ll be damned disappointed in you if you do.” With that, he spun on his heel and strode away, pausing only for a brief moment to glance through the window of Blair’s room before walking down the corridor to the elevator. He turned as the doors opened and looked back at Jim. “Let me know the minute he wakes up.”
Blair was hot and exhausted and had no idea at all if he was heading in the right direction. He pushed the tree fronds away from his face and slapped at a buzzing mosquito as it alighted on his face. Sweat dribbled into his eyes, stinging, and he wished he hadn’t drunk the last of his water already.
A low, menacing growl came from the trees and he froze, his breath catching in his throat. Looking sideways warily, he saw green feline eyes watching him. “Oh man. Jim, I really wish you were here with me right now. I’m tired and lost and that damn jaguar has been stalking me ever since… well, forever.”
Cautiously, he took a step forward, then another. Not daring to look back, holding his breath in order to hear any movement behind him, any sign of attack, he ran until he could run no more. Sinking down with his back against the trunk of an enormous tree, he kept a watchful eye on the dense bushes surrounding him.
Why was he here? And where the hell was Jim?
The words were coming easier now that he was here at Blair’s side, though he wished more than anything that the kid would open his eyes and look at him. Blair had a knack of being able to draw Jim back to the present when he was zoned, and though Blair had always brushed it off as something anyone could do, Jim was certain it was an integral part of the guide within, the shaman Blair had been born to be.
Not for the first time, he wished the roles were reversed and he was the guide. Damn, if he had his way, he wished it had been him who’d ended up in that fountain rather than Blair.
“So, Chief, I know some bad stuff happened between you and me, but we’ll work that all out once you’re back on your feet. All you have to do is concentrate on getting better. How about you start with opening your eyes?”
Blair could hear the rustling of the bushes and knew without a doubt it was the jaguar. Like a cat toying with a mouse, it was letting its presence be known; frightening its prey into making a wrong move so it could pounce.
Blair’s heart pounded as he got carefully to his feet, wincing when a twig snapped under his bare foot. His eyes darted left and right. Which way?
I hate to admit this, Jim, but I’m really scared. I know when you called me a spineless goober that time, you were only joking, but I’ve got to tell you, man, I’m thinking you were right.
He looked up at the tree at his back. The trunk was smooth; the lowest branches were way above his reach. A growl came from in front of him and he looked back as the jaguar appeared, pushing its way through the dense brush effortlessly. It stared at him for a long moment then cocked its head to one side as though listening for something.
Black! It was a black jaguar!
That had to mean Jim was nearby, right?
The jaguar stepped closer and Blair couldn’t help shrinking back. Something howled behind him, a sound of menace and evil. The black jaguar’s ears went back and he launched himself straight at Blair. Blair threw his arms up, expecting the weight of the great cat to knock him to the ground, waiting for the lethal claws to rip into him, but there was only a whisper of wind and a mild electrical shock passing through him.
Jim straightened in his seat. He was certain Blair’s hand had twitched in his grasp. Leaning forward, he studied Blair’s lax, pale face. “Hey there, Chief. You coming back?”
Blair staggered back to his feet, not even aware he’d gone down. He spun at the sound of a growl and watched the black jaguar pit its might against a spotted one. Its huge teeth sank into the smaller cat’s neck and it yowled in agony before using its paws to push back, sending the black jaguar tumbling to the ground. But instead of using the advantage, the spotted jaguar stood and hissed, baring its teeth menacingly before turning and bounding off into the jungle.
Blair stood transfixed as the black cat padded a short distance away then lay down, regarding him almost casually.
Okay… Blair sat back down, leaning his back against the tree trunk and stared back at his protector. Stalemate, he supposed.
Uh, Jim? Anytime now, man.
Blair’s hand tightened in Jim’s grip and his eyelids twitched. Jim leaned forward, cautious hope causing his throat to tighten. “Blair? Come on, Sandburg. Get with the program, huh?”
Blair’s eyes snapped open. He’d tried to stay alert but he was so damned tired. The black jaguar was gone and Blair scoured the area fearfully. Had the spotted cat come back? Was it now lying in wait for him?
“Blair? Get with the program, huh?”
“Jim?” Blair staggered to his feet and looked around. “Where are you?” he called.
“Come on, Sandburg, damn it!”
That was familiar, and like the last time he’d heard it, it seemed to come from a way off, but just the sound of Jim’s voice caused a surge of warm relief.
“Jim!” he called. “Where are you? I’m over here! I’m right here!”
“Blair?” Jim studied Blair’s face closely, delighted and relieved when Blair’s eyes opened. “Hey, Chief. Welcome back.”
Blair stared blankly at him for a moment then his eyes closed again. Feeling disheartened but not yet defeated, Jim tried again. “Come on, Sandburg. Enough sleeping. It’s time to wake up.” He jiggled Blair’s hand gently.
“Come on, Sandburg, you can do it.” A thought came to mind. “You’re safe now, Chief. Alex is gone. Come on, open your eyes.”
It took a few seconds then Blair’s eyes opened and this time, stayed open. He stared at Jim then his gaze shifted to the room. His brow furrowed.
“You’re in the hospital,” Jim said, “but you’re going to be fine.”
Blair’s hand lifted, straying toward the endotracheal tube. Jim captured it and lowered it back to his side, keeping it clenched within his own grasp. “You have a tube in your throat to help your breathing. Let me call for the doctor, okay?”
Blair’s hand squeezed his and he nodded, his eyes closing once more. He looked exhausted, Jim thought, as though he’d been on a very long journey, and when Jim thought about Blair’s fight to survive, he realized he had.
A hand touched his cheek but he chose to ignore it in favor of keeping a close eye on the black jaguar that prowled back and forth in front of him. He knew it was Jim’s spirit animal, reasoned therefore it wasn’t about to eat the sentinel’s guide, but there seemed a look of… displeasure in the green eyes. He wished it could talk. Perhaps if he knew what he’d done to piss it off, it might go away and leave him to get back to where he was supposed to be.
“Blair? How about you open your eyes for me?” The hand tapped at his cheek now and he attempted to bat it away, startled when he realized his hand was captured in a tight grip. Gasping, he struggled to free it, his eyes snapping open.
“That’s it, Chief.” Jim smiled at him.
“J-Jim?” His throat felt raw and burning. He coughed then wished he hadn’t as agony sheared through his chest.
“Easy.” Jim held a spoon to his mouth and he carefully sucked on the ice chips offered, closing his eyes in relief.
“Gone,” Jim said. His hand stroked the side of Blair’s face. It felt good, comforting and welcome and Blair turned his head a little into the touch.
“Not sure yet, but we’ll get her.”
Panic gripped Blair and he reached out, grasping Jim’s hand. “Not you! It’s too dangerous, man.”
“I’m not letting her get away with what she did to you, Sandburg!” Jim sighed and leaned back in the chair as the doctor stepped forward, taking Blair’s wrist and checking his pulse.
“Don’t want you getting upset, Blair,” he counseled. “You’ve been pretty sick, and you still need some time before you’ll be back to your old self.”
Blair nodded but his gaze was still on Jim. Panic surged, knowing the danger Alex presented now she thought Blair was dead. But had he really presented any threat to her. He still hadn’t figured out why she’d chose to drown him, unless she was aware of the bond sentinel and guide shared and had come to the same conclusion as Blair had – that there was one particular guide for a sentinel. They’d discussed the idea briefly but when Blair had asked if Alex had shared the secret of her heightened senses with anyone, she’d grown quiet then changed the subject. It was a fanciful notion anyway, Blair knew. Perhaps just his way of convincing himself that being Jim’s guide held more importance than it really did. No matter the reason, Blair instinctively knew that Alex had her sights on Jim now, and she would not give up until one or the other were dead.
“No.” Jim spoke before Blair could open his mouth.
“Don’t do this, Jim. Don’t go after her without me.”
“You heard the doctor, Chief. You’re gonna be laid up for a while. I can’t make any promises. If she’s spotted, I have to go after her.”
“We need to go together,” Blair whispered. Lassitude was overwhelming him suddenly and he felt his strength fading. “Together, we can stop her. She has no guide. That’s why she wanted me.”
“She tried to kill you!” Jim replied.
“To get back at you, for having what she didn’t.” Blair felt his consciousness fading. He squeezed Jim’s hand as tightly as his limited, depleted strength allowed. “Promise me.”
Silence greeted him and then he slipped into the darkness.
Blair couldn’t remember ever feeling this lousy. Well, perhaps when he woke up in the hospital after Alex had tried to drown him… Not tried, he reminded himself. Did. Dead. I was dead. He shuddered at the thought and took a sip of his tea, willing it to take away the chill the memories brought on.
He probably never should have followed Jim to Mexico. Well, that was a massive understatement. In fact, he’d been under strict orders to go home and rest for several days. Easier said than done when you knew your best friend was chasing down a dangerous criminal who just happened to have sentinel abilities too. He’d managed to blackmail Megan into accompanying him, knowing full well that her mother hen instincts would come to the fore the minute he said he was going with or without her.
He hadn’t missed the furious look on Jim’s face when he’d discovered them in his hotel room, but he’d had little chance to let loose with a tirade of just how lame-brained Blair was… until now.
Blair sat back on the couch, cupping his hands around his mug and waited for Mount Ellison to erupt. He watched Jim pull a beer from the fridge, his nose twitching at something only he could smell.
“Something gone off in there?” Blair asked, hoping to delay the inevitable.
Jim barely glanced at him before pulling several Tupperware containers from the fridge and dumping them on the sink. “How about everything,” he grouched. “Wasn’t it your turn to clean out the fridge?”
“Sorry, I was laid up at the time –“ Blair began then wished he could swallow his tongue. From the predatory gleam in Jim’s eyes, he just knew he’d walked into his partner’s trap. Damn it! Must be more tired than I thought. I didn’t even see it coming.
Jim took a sip of his beer then set the bottle on the counter. “If you’d stayed home where you were supposed to be, instead of going against the doctor’s orders – and my express wishes, you would have had plenty of time to clean out the fridge. I doubt that little chore would have hampered your recovery quite as much as traipsing around the Mexican jungle.”
Blair leaned forward carefully, trying not to wince at the pain from his still bruised chest muscles, and placed his mug on the coffee table. “And you know damn well I couldn’t do that,” he said as calmly as he could.
“Why?” Jim responded. “Tell me why this was one time you couldn’t trust me to do the job I’ve been trained to do.”
“It had nothing to do with trust!” Blair said. Then aware his voice was rising in volume, remembering then that it had a whole lot to do with trust – on both sides, he lowered his voice. “Chasing a criminal is one thing. We’re talking about Alex Barnes, a Sentinel, and we’d already seen just what happened when she was in proximity to you.”
Jim crossed his arms over his chest but the look in his eyes was far from defensive. “And how was you being there going to fix that? Last time you tried, she damn well drowned you!”
Blair surged up from the sofa, gasping as pain sliced through him. “You think I don’t know that? That’s why I had to come. If she’d do that to someone as insignificant as me, can you imagine what she had planned for you, if she thought you were going to catch her?”
Jim sighed, his shoulders hunching as though all the fight had gone out of him. “Didn’t happen,” he said tiredly. “We got to her in time.”
“Just barely,” Blair said.
Jim walked over to him and reached out, pressing gently on Blair’s shoulders. “Sit down before you fall down, Chief. You want me to top up your tea?”
“No, thanks.” Blair did as he was told. Frankly, lying down and sleeping for a year was looking damn inviting.
“You need anything?” Jim asked. “I was going to order in a pizza.”
“Sounds good. I’ll get to the fridge tomorrow.”
Jim waved away his words. “The fridge will wait a couple days, Sandburg.” He turned away, heading for the phone but Blair reached out and grabbed his hand, pulling him to a stop.
Maybe it was his exhaustion, combined with the pain pills he’d taken when he first got home, that was frittering away what few brain cells he had left, but the question had been gnawing away at him since Mexico, since the beach…
“In Mexico… When you were on the beach with Alex…” He swallowed past the lump in his throat, his courage deserting him, but Jim was looking at him now with undisguised curiosity. Damn, he wished sometimes he would remember to put his brain in gear before engaging his mouth.
“You have to know I would never have allowed her to hurt you again.”
“But you let her go,” Blair whispered. He let his hand drop and turned away, staring at the balcony windows, at the burgeoning darkness beyond. “And before that…”
“I don’t know, Blair. Here in Cascade, we were facing off against each other, ready to do battle, in Mexico, it was like we had a bond, a connection to one another.”
The light suddenly came on in Blair’s head and he couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled forth. “And I say I’m the expert on Sentinels.” He shook his head ruefully.
Jim moved to stand in front of him. “What are you talking about, Chief?”
You’re both sentinels, Jim,” Blair replied. He reached out, grasping Jim’s arms, “but it doesn’t change who you are at a personal level. You’ve always been in the type of work where you help people. Your heightened senses, even when they were latent, might have led you to that, because you are intrinsically a protector. Alex had always been a criminal. When her senses came online, she still followed her pre-planned path, to use her abilities for her own benefit.”
“So, I was still trying to protect her, is that what you’re saying?”
“I don’t think you could help yourself.” Blair tapped a finger on Jim’s chest, over his heart. “It’s who you are.”
Jim nodded slowly, smiling. “Okay… Now we’ve got that mystery solved, Sherlock, anything else we need to figure out?”
And it had to have been the drugs this time because Blair knew if he had been in his right mind, he never would have done it, no matter how much or for how long he’d wanted to. “Just one more thing,” he said. Standing up, he raised his head and kissed Jim very gently on the mouth. He closed his eyes and steeled himself for the inevitable backlash.
Instead, Jim asked quietly, “Why’d you do that?”
Blair shrugged, his insides quaking at the same time as he felt arousal wash through him. “Must be the meds. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. I’ve wanted to do that for the longest time and now I have, I—“
Jim covered Blair’s mouth for a moment with his hand then removed it, and before Blair could take a breath, Jim’s mouth was on his, gentle yet demanding, pressing his lips open, Jim’s tongue pushing in to taste and explore.
Blair’s heart pounded and he felt lightheaded. Struggling to take a breath, he pushed on Jim’s shoulders, taking a backward step to regain his equilibrium.
“Change your mind?” Jim asked. “Or didn’t you like what you discovered after all?”
“Oh, I liked it,” Blair assured him, his words coming out in a breathless gasp. “I guess I just didn’t expect you to reciprocate.”
“Would you rather I punched your lights out?” Jim asked mildly.
“Umm, no. I just figured I should get it over with, take my hits and get the hell out.” He shook his head, wondering if he was making any sense at all to Jim, because he was having a hell of a lot of trouble understanding himself. “Like I said, must be the meds.”
“I hope not,” Jim said, taking a step forward and grabbing hold of Blair’s shoulders so he couldn’t move away.
“Why’s that?” Blair asked, his voice sounding hoarse.
“Because when they wear off, I’d like to try it again, and a whole lot more. Work for you, Chief?”
Blair lifted his face and smiled. “Yeah, Jim, works for me. But why?”
“Guess I realized back when you were in the hospital how I felt about you. That’s why I didn’t want you to come with me. I didn’t want to risk Alex hurting you again and losing out on the opportunity to discover what we both mean to one another.”
“Ditto,” Blair said. “Though my revelation came a while ago.”
“Oh yeah? When was that?” Jim draped an arm about Blair’s shoulders and led him toward the stairs leading to his loft bedroom.
“About the time you walked into my office,” Blair replied, following Jim willingly. “Though, it took me a while to recognize it for what it was.”
At the top of the stairs, he walked over and sat on the edge of Jim’s bed, waiting until Jim sat beside him. “When I was in the hospital, I had some pretty strange dreams and I felt I was on this long journey. I saw your jaguar, Jim. I guess he helped me figure out where I was going, who I was coming back to.”
Jim smiled again and pushed Blair back onto the bed, hovering over him. “Guess I owe that jaguar my thanks. He’s gonna have to wait though, I’ve got more important things on my mind.”
Blair pulled Jim down to meet him, sealing their lips together in a deep kiss. Reaching up, he stroked a hand down Jim’s cheek then trailed his fingers across Jim’s chest. “I don’t think he’ll mind, Jim. In fact, I think that was the message he was trying to give me all along.”
“Yeah.” Blair nodded. “That I should stop beating around the bush and get on the clue bus already.”
“Very wise animal,” Jim said. “Takes after me.”
“You?” Blair gave Jim a shove and when he rolled languidly onto his back, wasted no time in straddling his body, shivering as his ass came into contact with Jim’s cock. He reached out and began unbuttoning Jim’s shirt. “If I’d waited for you to make the first move, I’d be in an old folks’ home.”
“I would have got there… eventually,” Jim said. He gasped as Blair leaned down and licked one nipple then the other. Cupping Blair’s head, he pulled him closer, busying himself with getting Blair’s shirt undone, pulling it off his shoulders, down his arms then flinging onto the floor.
Blair kissed him again, languidly, taking his time. “My patience has run out, man. Are you going to make love to me or not?”
“I’m going to do more than that,” Jim replied, taking Blair’s hand in his and kissing the palm then each finger in turn. “I’m going to love you forever.”