Never Leave Home Without Your Guide
Many thanks to Annie for the stellar beta and encouragement over some difficult weeks.
Summary: With Blair off for a couple of days, Jim tries something he should never do without his guide around.
Sandburg was going to kill him. Jim gingerly rested his burning forehead on the cool tile of the bathroom floor. He breathed a sigh of relief as the headache that had threatened to split his skull in two eased fractionally. If he concentrated, he could hear a soft melody coming from Mrs. Willow’s apartment on the floor below. He focused on it, dialing back the god-awful pounding in his head until it felt more like an annoying toothache…
It was bearable at least, save for the tile digging into his knees that he could feel even through the denim of his jeans, and the sour taste in his mouth from vomiting, the way his eyelids felt like sandpaper against his eyeballs whenever he blinked.
“So don’t blink,” he could hear Blair saying, with infinite patience, in his head. “Close your eyes, man. Let me get you through this.”
Except Blair wasn’t here to get him through it. Jim groaned. Had he really become that dependent on Sandburg? He’d thought he’d been a basket case before Blair had come barging into his life. Blair’s theories and ideas, as far out there as some of them were, had been a blessing to Jim’s frazzled senses… and nerves. He’d been confident that it would only be a matter of time before he’d be able to handle it all himself and go back to being the good cop he knew he was.
Now, he wasn’t so sure. If he couldn’t even handle a case of over-extended senses on his own, would he always be ‘crippled’ without Blair’s presence? That wasn’t acceptable, he told himself firmly. Blair’s life had already been at risk too often since he’d become Jim’s unofficial partner, and this last case had left him as battered emotionally as he had been physically in the past. Jim wasn’t entirely sure whether Blair might even decide to just get the hell out of the partnership and find a dissertation subject that didn’t court quite as much danger and heartbreak.
He had been glad that Blair had decided to attend a two day seminar in Seattle, just to get him back to thinking about his studies and take his mind off the bad stuff they saw everyday. Now though, all he could think about, was how much he wished Blair had never left.
His headache was back full force, the tile beneath his knees feeling as though it could cut through bone. He gagged and swallowed convulsively, not daring to lift his head.
Focus! he ordered silently. You can do this….
Jim got the call to the jewelry store heist just as he was headed home after a long, exhausting day. His stomach growled as he pulled into a parking space, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. The grim look on Simon Banks’ face pushed any thought of food from his mind.
“Same guys?” Jim asked as he approached the captain.
“Looks like,” Simon replied. “I want these bastards stopped, Jim. They’re making fools of us and the Chief is not happy.”
“When is the Chief ever happy?” Jim asked but both knew it was a rhetorical question.
“If you look carefully at my face, Ellison, you’ll see I’m not smiling either.” Simon looked around the area. “Where’s your sidekick?”
“Needed a couple of days off after the last case and there was a seminar he was interested in attending in Seattle. He’ll be home tonight or tomorrow.”
Simon shook his head. “He has to learn not to get too involved.”
“If you’ll forgive me, sir, we’ve all done that a time or two in our careers. I think Blair handled himself well, considering the situation. I have to admit I was as torn up over those two murdered kids as Blair was.” Jim shrugged. “We’ve been doing it longer. We know how to hide our emotions while we’re working the case so we don’t lose focus.”
“I wonder if Sandburg will ever be able to do that, regardless of how long he hangs around you,” Simon said.
“He finds ways of coping, sir,” Jim replied.
“At the end of the day, it all worked out,” Simon agreed. “This one, though, isn’t.” He held up a hand to halt two paramedics who were wheeling out a gurney with a body bag strapped to it. Unzipping the bag, he stared down at the dead man’s blood-streaked face. “This is John Hobbs. He was my first partner on the job. He took a security guard job when his wife asked him to find something safer to do when he was shot a couple of years back.” He rested his hand briefly on the man’s chest then zipped up the bag. “Go do your thing, Ellison. Find me something that will put these guys away before they kill someone else.”
“I’ll do my best, sir,” Jim said. “I’m sorry about your friend.”
Simon nodded then strode over to one of the patrol cars.
Jim shook his head and headed inside the store to begin his search. Not for the first time, he wished Sandburg were here. Even with heightened senses, he often would have missed a clue if it were not for Sandburg’s input and ability to think outside the box.
Four hours later, Jim had their first concrete piece of evidence… and a headache the size of Texas. He waved Simon over and pointed down to the pool of blood on the floor. “This is where Hobbs was standing when he was shot,” he began. Crouching down, he pointed with one finger. “Right here, we have a palm print.”
“Could be one of the paramedics,” Simon said.
“Could be,” Jim admitted, “but I’ve gone over the security footage a few times now. It’s right on the edge of the camera range but one of the thieves took off his right glove and wiped his hand on his pants. I think he was nervous and his hand was sweating.”
“And that helps us how?”
“There was something else on the security camera footage. It’s only for a split second and it took some looking to see it.” He rubbed at his eyes. “After Hobbs was shot and while his buddy was collecting the jewels, he ran over to Hobbs and leaned down over him. There’s a chance that’s his handprint in the blood.”
Simon’s eyes narrowed. “You saying he felt guilty for shooting John?”
Jim shrugged wearily, feeling his neck and shoulder muscles ache from the tension of the day. “That’s something I can’t pick up, Simon, but whether it was remorse or fear of getting caught or even just a sadistic kick to watch a man die, let’s just hope it’s his print and it’s on file.”
“From your mouth to God’s ears, Jim.” Simon looked every bit as wiped out as Jim felt.
“I can do another search,” Jim offered though he knew that there was nothing else to find.
Simon waved off the suggestion. “Go home and get some rest. You say Sandburg is home tomorrow?”
“Bring him in with you. He’s pretty good at picking up body language. Let him take a look at the camera footage.”
“Does it matter what the perp’s motive was, Captain?” Jim asked, genuinely puzzled.
“Not to him,” Simon said grimly. He sighed and wiped a hand over his face, tears sparkling in his eyes. “I’d like to hope that the last face John saw showed some remorse for what he’d done. If I get any news on the print, I’ll call you. And when we get these guys, they’re mine.”
“Don’t worry, Jim, I’ll be taking you along to make sure the arrest sticks. I’m not letting them use some flimsy lawyer’s trick to get out of doing life for this.” He pulled a cigar from his pocket and patted Jim’s shoulder. “I need to go speak to John’s family. I didn’t want anyone else breaking the news.”
By the time Jim got home, he could barely stand. His entire world was pain and the thought of dinner had nausea roiling in his gut. He managed to stagger into the bathroom and collapsed onto his knees in front of the toilet.
Time dimmed and blurred. All Jim’s thoughts were focused within. Slowly, he began to inch his senses down, one at a time, except for his hearing, which he narrowed down until all he could hear was the hammering of his heart.
There was a voice calling him, dragging him away from the peaceful haven he’d finally managed to create, away from the chaos of his rampaging senses. He tried to ignore the summons but the lure was too strong, the voice soothing, yet commanding, and so familiar.
Jim opened eyes that felt as though they’d been sand-blasted and felt his legs give out at the same time. He had a brief glance of Sandburg’s surprised face coming up to meet his, then nothing at all.
He was warm, Jim realized. Warm and pain-free. Not entirely pain-free, he amended as he tried to stretch and his leg muscles protested. He eased his eyes open, relieved to discover they no longer felt gritty and burning. Slowly moving his head to the side, he saw Blair, sitting on a chair next to his bed, his head drooping down onto his chest. “Blair?” he husked out.
Blair almost fell off the chair and Jim reached out with a shaking arm to steady him. “Jim! Thank god! You’ve been asleep for hours. How are you feeling?” Blair rested a hand on Jim’s forehead and nodded. “Good, you’re warm.”
“Better,” Jim replied. He looked around the bedroom. “I think I remember keeling over.”
“On top of me,” Blair added. He smiled then winced and reached up to rub at a vivid bruise on his forehead.
“Sorry,” Jim said. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Blair rubbed at his chest. “You’re no lightweight, ya know.” He leaned forward and rested his forearms on the bed, giving Jim the full laser glare. “You want to tell me why I came home and found you zonked out in the bathroom, looking like death warmed over? What made you zone?”
“I worked a crime scene today. An old friend of Simon’s was the security guard at the jewelry store that was hit. He’s pretty upset and I wanted to find some evidence…”
“So you over-extended your senses.” Blair shook his head. “Jim, you can’t do that! Not all of them at once!”
“It wasn’t all at once,” Jim said defensively. “It was just that I was at it a long time… and after a while, I couldn’t seem to switch them totally off. It was like they were all merging.”
“I’m not surprised,” Blair replied. “You basically fried your wires, Jim!” Blair stood and stretched. “I’m gonna go make some tea. You want some?”
“Just water. Thanks.”
Blair headed for the stairs then stopped and turned back. “What made you zone?” he asked. “When I got here, man,” he tapped his head, “there were no lights on, nobody home, if you get my drift.”
Jim looked away, feeling a flush heat his cheeks. “My heartbeat.”
“Yeah. Look, when this has happened before and you tell me to focus on just one thing, one sense, I usually listen to your heartbeat, okay? But you weren’t here so…”
Blair nodded slowly. “Makes sense… except there was no one here to bring you out of it.” He shook an admonishing finger at Jim. “If you ever do something so stupid again—“
“I was doing my job, Sandburg!” Jim shot back. “With or without the senses, it’s what I’ve sworn to do.” Blair visibly flinched at his words and Jim vainly tried to sweep them away with a wave of his hand. “Sorry.”
Blair drew in a deep breath. “What I meant was if you ever do something so stupid as working like that without backup again, I’ll kick your ass back down these stairs… and don’t think I couldn’t, man. I’m stronger than I look.”
Jim didn’t doubt that at all. “Won’t happen again, Chief, I promise.”
“Good!” Blair didn’t look totally convinced and Jim decided to change the subject a little. “How did I get up here?”
Blair grinned. “I told you I’m stronger than I look.”
Jim shook his head. “No! No way did you carry me up the stairs and put me to bed.” He had a moment of panic and peeked beneath the bedclothes, relieved to find he was still wearing his jeans and t-shirt.
Blair just laughed and padded down the steps to the living room.
“Sandburg?” Jim could hear Blair chuckling all the way into the kitchen.
“No, Jim, I did not carry you up the stairs. I called Simon and he helped. He pulled and I kinda pushed you from behind. If it hadn’t been so freaky, it would have been kinda funny, like one of those ‘The Undead’ movies.”
Jim groaned and pulled the sheet up over his head. He was never going to live this down. There and then he made a firm promise to himself that he would never leave home without his guide.