Sequel to This Night Won’t Last Forever. Thanks to Mab and Julia_here for the beta. Written for my second quarter 2010 Sentinel Angst Dues.
Need You Now
By Raine Wynd
To Blair’s surprise, Jim wasn’t alone in the hospital room. His visitor was a slender, tanned woman with what looked like a mile of neatly braided black hair. At the sound of footsteps, she turned, half-rising in the chair. She had striking green eyes in an otherwise merely attractive face. She was dressed neatly in a gray skirt suit and flats. Fear flashed across her face, then she relaxed as she saw Steven behind Blair. Her eyes reflected the welcoming smile on her lips. Yet Blair couldn’t ignore the way his spirit wolf pressed against him, preventing him from coming closer to her.
“Hello,” she greeted as she stood upright, revealing she was the same height as Blair. She offered her hand in introduction, then dropped it when she realized Blair wasn’t moving forward. Her smile faltered a bit. “I’m Eva Hughes, Jim’s girlfriend. Are you Blair? Steven said something about calling you? Are you a doctor?”
Feeling a low growl vibrate against his leg, Blair reached for his wolf. “No,” he told her easily. “Jim’s my best friend. I’ve been out of town for a while.”
She pursed her lips, trying to process this information. “Oh, so you’re not Blair?”
“Yes, I’m Blair.”
Abruptly, she brightened. “Oh, Jim mentioned you! He said you were in Egypt.”
Blair stared at her. “Not recently,” he said cautiously. “I’ve been in Memphis, Tennessee.”
“There’s a Memphis in Tennessee? I thought there was only the one in Egypt.” Eva frowned. “It’s gone now.”
“Obviously, you’re not an Elvis fan,” Blair said, glancing at Steven in time to see the other man roll his eyes. “So how long have you been with Jim?”
“We just started dating three weeks ago.” Pride filled her voice and straightened her shoulders.
“And what do you do?” Blair asked politely. He knew if his wolf hadn’t shown up, he would be more willing to accept her at face value. Wolf or not, Blair wanted to form his own decisions.
“I’m a sales representative for a web hosting company,” she told him. Looking at her watch, she said apologetically, “I have to get to work.”
Blair glanced at his watch, surprised to find it was nearly seven-thirty in the morning now. With a slight shake, he reminded himself that it had taken most of Sunday to fly back to Cascade, and even with the corporate charter, Steven hadn’t been able to get Blair on a flight that left Memphis until late Sunday evening.
“Do you work far?” Blair asked.
Eva shook her head. “About twenty minutes, but I have to catch a bus.” Almost fleeing, she hurried out of the room before Blair could say anything else.
Blair turned to Steven. “You didn’t say anything about a girlfriend.”
Steven sighed. “I was hoping she wouldn’t be here, given how early it is,” he said. “She seems nice, but….” He shot Blair a sheepish look. “She gets on my nerves.”
“Oh, how so? Besides not knowing the biggest city named Memphis.”
Steven shook his head. “Jim says I’m just being picky.”
Blair raised an eyebrow at that, but let it go. He knew Steven well enough to know that Steven had become more suspicious of women after the disaster with Pat Reynolds. “How did Jim meet her, or do you know?”
“At the hardware store,” Steven told him. “Jim and I were getting some stuff to upgrade my bathroom in my townhouse and she was standing in the plumbing section, looking lost. Jim beat me to the punch and asked her if she needed help. Never seen my brother move so fast – he had her number and a date in less than ten minutes.”
Blair smothered a chuckle. “Well, she doesn’t look like the DIY type, so I’m not surprised that worked as a pickup line. Simon said anything about her?”
Looking confused, Steven asked, “Simon who?”
“Simon Banks, Jim’s boss. You remember him from the racetrack, don’t you?”
“Yes, but why would he care who Jim is dating?”
“Because Jim’s track record for finding the worst possible women to date is almost as bad as mine,” Blair admitted. “Simon started running background checks on all our dates. He called it ‘preventative policing’…just in case we ran into some chick on America’s Most Wanted.”
Horrified, Steven stared at Blair. “No wonder my dad was muttering he needed to call Simon. I convinced him not to. Figured it was too embarrassing to ask.”
Blair eyed Steven a moment. “Jim’s not a cop anymore, is he?”
Steven hesitated. “He’s been on family leave,” the younger Ellison finally admitted. “Dad had a heart attack three weeks after you left, and I was out of town. Jim’s been handling things for Dad until the doctor said it was okay for Dad to go back to work. Dad’s been…reluctant to let go of the notion that Jim will take over for him. He’s been making up excuses as to why Jim still has to keep running things, even when I’ve shown I can help. Damn stubborn old man. He’s still comparing us and finding us both failures.”
Blair sighed. “Forcing Jim to be a businessman isn’t going to make him want to be one any faster.”
Steven snorted. “I know that. Hell, I was the one who suggested we look for a new CEO. I’d never seen Jim look so relieved at the idea.” He sighed again. “We did final interviews last week; the new CEO is supposed to start in two weeks. Jim was looking forward to getting back on the force.” Steven sighed. “Dad finally caved when Jim and I threatened to sell the company.”
Blair blinked. “You could do that?”
Steve shrugged. “Dad gave Jim the majority share of the company when he was twenty-one. I think he had the crazy notion that if he did that, Jim would come home from the Army. Didn’t work, so Dad had to scramble and give me proxy. I didn’t want it either, so he had to rewrite it all over again so that it became a ‘in the event of William Ellison’s death or incapacitation’ sort of scenario.” Steven shrugged again. “Bottom line, Dad was incapacitated for six weeks, he’s recovering, and his doctor won’t release him for the kind of high stress running a multi-million dollar company entails. Ergo, Jim and I have control of the company.”
“But you don’t want to run the company forever,” Blair surmised.
“Not alone,” Steven corrected. “It’s too much for one person. You need a CEO to handle some of the decisions so you don’t get lost in the details.”
“Any chance Jim’s seizure is related to that work?” Blair asked seriously.
“Not likely. He was fine when he left work on Friday. I had to attend to the corporate Halloween party; he bowed out because he had a date with Eva.” Steven shook his head, leaving Blair with the definite impression that there was a story he wasn’t hearing. “Doctors think it’s yet another allergic reaction, but they’ve been running tests to be sure. He’s down to one family of antibiotics now – that’s why they’re letting him sleep this one off.”
Blair swore. Steven had called him at just past midnight; it was now Monday morning. From what Steven had said before Blair had gotten on his flight, Jim had been in the hospital since late Friday night. “His senses must be spiking again, just like when we met. Damn it.” He took a deep breath, then sat down in the chair Eva had vacated. “Guess I’m going to be a here a while.”
“I’ll get you some coffee,” Steven said with a nod, exiting the room.
Alone with Jim, Blair studied him. Saline dripped from an IV and a heart rate monitor had been hooked up as well. Jim looked exhausted, as if he’d been on a marathon stakeout; fatigue and pain had left their mark on his face. For a moment, Blair remembered that incredible rush of finding a Sentinel all those years before, followed by the shock of discovering said Sentinel was a man with a hair-trigger temper, a lifetime of reasons to distrust people, and a desperate need only Blair could fill. Blair shook his head at the depth of his naiveté and thanked his mother for teaching him how to think on his feet.
Now, all Blair could see was how desperate Jim had been for Blair to accept the position at the CPD. Jim had done everything he could short of a public declaration on TV to ensure that Blair’s ability to testify in front of a jury would never be in question. He’d hired a lawyer, used his contacts, and executed a plan that ensured that Blair’s credentials as an anthropologist and as a credible person were restored. He’d even tried to get Blair to work out with him more, going so far as to challenge Blair on the minimum physical fitness requirements for entrance to the police academy – a challenge that quickly ended when Blair passed out after running half a mile.
Blair had argued the effort was fruitless, but then the offers of work started to trickle in, proving Jim’s point. Jim hadn’t even been surprised that, given the choice between being the anthropologist he’d trained to be or having to spend the next six months learning to be something else, Blair had chosen not to be an officer of the law.
Looking back, Blair saw how wonderfully supportive Jim had been. Caught up in the excitement of his new career prospects, Blair hadn’t taken the time to notice just how perfect Jim had become as a friend and roommate. In hindsight, Blair saw that Jim had been playing a role – just the right combination of moody Sentinel, work-driven cop, teasing friend, and long-suffering roommate. The fact that Jim had started spending more time away from Blair had been easily excused – covering for another detective on emergency leave, dating again, spending time with his family or some work-related reason, stuff Blair would never question. If Jim came home and slept long hours, Blair put it down to the many commitments Jim seemed to have.
Now Blair wondered if he’d just missed the signs of depression. With a sigh, Blair reminded himself that the past was done. Jim needed help, and sitting here staring at him without saying anything wasn’t contributing. Yet he found himself strangely at a loss for words.
What could he say that he hadn’t said a million times before? Half a year ago, the words would’ve come easy, the urgency to get Jim awake again driven by Blair’s fear that if he didn’t, his place in the world he’d come to treasure would be lost. Yet if the last several months had proven anything, Blair still had value to someone, somewhere…even if it felt hollow and empty. Steven’s call, combined with the flash of Blair’s spirit wolf, had jarred Blair into life again. Now, though, Blair could only stare at Jim, wondering if words were going to be enough.
Briefly, Blair closed his eyes. Inhaling a breath, he held it for a moment, then let it go slowly. I can do this, he reminded himself. “Hey, Jim, you want to quit playing Sleeping Beauty for a while?” he managed. “You’re scaring the natives.”
Abruptly, Jim woke, in a way that reminded Blair of the first time he raced upstairs to find Jim in the throes of a flashback to a mission Jim wouldn’t name, much less talk about. Blair hadn’t known then that the worst thing he could do in that situation was shake the ex-Ranger – he’d found himself thrown against the bed, Jim’s arm against his throat.
Speaking quickly, Blair said, “Jim. You’re in the hospital. You had a seizure. Everything’s all right now; you’re safe.”
Jim snorted. “Nowhere’s safe,” he muttered, then groaned. “Shit, my head hurts.”
“You want the nurse?” Blair asked.
“No,” Jim said, closing his eyes. “Better pain than fog.” Fumbling, he reached awkwardly for Blair’s hand, grasping it with an obvious relief. Letting go of a shuddering breath, he said, “You changed your shampoo.”
“Cascade Soap Company doesn’t ship its products,” Blair told him, amused and grateful that Jim remembered such a detail. From previous occasions, Blair knew that Jim was taking the time to reorient himself on his Guide, and in doing so, ground himself in the familiar. “I’ve been experimenting with different products, trying to find something close.”
“Go back,” Jim said, “this one smells like you’re been through a tar pit.”
Blair chuckled. “Only if you’re smelling me,” he countered. “Nobody else would notice.” Without asking, Blair leaned over the bed, reaching for the button that would raise the head slightly. “Better?”
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure which button was which.”
Blair laughed softly again. “Your sense of touch is either the first one to reset or the last,” he reminded Jim. “Come on, listen to my heart beat and tune everything else out for a minute. Breathe deep. See if you can see the panther sitting at the end of the bed.”
Jim rolled his eyes, not even bothering to check. “He’s not there, Sandburg. You’re just trying to make sure I’m seeing you.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not exactly at my best here,” Blair replied with a grin. “Figured you might want to look at something else.”
“Trust me, you’re a better sight than that damned spirit,” Jim grumbled. “Steven called you.”
Blair nodded as he felt Jim’s grip on his hand ease. “How are the dials?”
“Better,” was the grudging reply. “You didn’t need to come.”
“I’m here,” Blair countered. “Doctor will want to check on you since you’re awake.”
Jim sighed. “It’s just another allergic reaction. I don’t know why everyone fusses.”
“Jim, from what I understand, you had a seizure and lost consciousness.”
“I feel fine now. Can’t you get them to release me?”
“Awake and already demanding to be released, hmm?” A new male voice joined them. “I see you’re being your usual self, Jim.”
Blair turned, recognizing the internist who’d treated them over the years at this hospital. “Dr. Farkas,” he greeted.
The stocky man smiled as he flipped through the pages of a report. “Good to see you, Blair. Jim, you were doing better a year ago, controlling your allergies. We’ve gone backward. You usually don’t have a problem with capsaicin. You also shouldn’t be drinking red wine with your anti-depressant medication.”
Jim stared at the ceiling. “Eva said it wasn’t too spicy, and I stopped taking the drugs because they kept making me throw up.”
“We found traces of Prozac in your blood,” Dr. Farkas told him. “How long ago did you stop taking your medication?”
“A week and half ago,” Jim said. “It wasn’t working.” More clearly, he added, “They never have, but I thought maybe this time was different.” He shrugged, looking sheepish. “I must’ve forgot I took a dose.”
“I see,” Dr. Farkas said, not sounding one bit fooled by the excuse. “And Eva is who?”
“My girlfriend,” Jim said.
“Well, you need to impress upon her how sensitive your allergies can be,” Dr. Farkas said sternly. “As to your discharge, we need to run a few neurological tests, and based on those, you’ll be free to go.”
Jim sighed. “I’m fine,” he insisted. “You know I do better at home.”
Dr. Farkas studied him. “One CAT scan, a quick run-through here now, then I’ll make my decision,” he told Jim.
“Fine,” Jim said impatiently.
Taking the agreement, Dr. Farkas proceeded to test Jim’s motor reflexes, quizzing him on his memory. Satisfied with the results, the doctor then left the room.
Alone again, Blair looked at Jim. “Did you tell your girlfriend about your allergies?”
“It was an accident, Chief. I wasn’t paying attention. Besides, Eva was experimenting with a new recipe.”
Blair didn’t like the sound of that. Living in the loft, Blair learned that while Jim liked a variety of food, new recipes were never a good idea when Jim’s senses were off. Given what Steven had explained, the emotional stress had to be taking its toll on Jim. That explained the extreme reaction – but it didn’t excuse Jim, who by now knew what would set off such an event.
As if sensing Blair’s disbelief, Jim added, “She’s a good cook, really into some of that exotic stuff you like.” He shrugged awkwardly. “She was really excited about sharing it with me.”
Blair sighed. “Don’t let it happen again,” he admonished. “You scared me.”
“Steven worries too much,” Jim said, shaking his head. “I’m okay.”
Blair stared at him. “So okay you’re taking anti-depressants?”
“Not everyone can just meditate it all away,” Jim shot back.
“I never said –” Blair stopped himself, then let out a breath. “Arguing with me to make me leave isn't going to work, Jim. I was thinking about coming back anyway; there's nothing in Memphis I want."
For a long moment, Jim just stared at Blair. "Don't fuck up another career for me, Chief."
"Nothing to fuck up," Blair corrected. "Any half-trained monkey could do the data entry I'm doing. Besides, at the rate I suspect you're going, you're going undo all the hard work we did together to control your sensitivities. You really want to go there, Jim?"
"No," Jim bit off. "But I can't ask you --"
"You didn't," Blair interrupted. "I'm volunteering. As for my job -- I left a message on my boss's voicemail saying I had a family emergency. I'll deal with any problems that come up because of that; you focus on getting your dials straight."
Jim closed his eyes briefly, clearly reluctant to accept what Blair was offering. Finally, he said, "Forty-eight hours, then you go back and get whatever you need to done so you can be back here for good. Maybe then you can explain to Eva what she's doing wrong."
Blair smiled, but even without the press of his spirit wolf against his side, he knew he was in for a rough near future.
Two weeks later
“When were you leaving?” Steven asked without preamble.
“Not again,” Blair groaned. He looked around his apartment, abruptly grateful that he’d rented a furnished unit. “I was going to leave tomorrow,” he told Steven. “My car’s packed; I already have the route mapped out. I have to drop off the keys to the unit at the rental office, and they don’t open until nine am tomorrow.”
Steven bit back a disappointed sigh. “Jim’s in the hospital again, as you probably guessed. Food poisoning, this time; Eva was sick too, so it might just be the restaurant.”
“You don’t think so,” Blair noted dryly.
“I may not be the detective my brother is, but when I told Simon, he looked alarmed. Jim was supposed to start back at the station on Monday.”
Blair swore. “Awfully convenient, don’t you think?”
“That’s what Simon said. He wanted to know what you think, and from the way he looked when he said it, I think he expects me to put you on a plane again.”
Blair shook his head as he said into the phone, “Not if I want to get my deposit back.”
“How much is it?”
“Fifteen hundred dollars.”
There was a pause as Steven considered options. “Just how much stuff are we talking? A full car?”
Wryly, Blair said, “Yeah.”
“You’re not still driving that Volvo, are you?”
Blair chuckled. “Yes, but your brother insisted on a complete overhaul before I left. It’s been fine.” He paused and shuffled the few papers left on the coffee table until he found the AAA road map. “According to the maps I got, it’ll take about two days to get there from Memphis, especially since the passes are closed and I have to go the southern route. That’s if I drive straight through, and I’m not sure I can drive that much in one period. It’s probably closer to four days, three if I push it. Much as I’d love to be right there, Steven, I really do need what I’m taking with me. For one thing, I ran through the extent of the wardrobe I had left in the loft the last time I was there. The other part is I have a few things in my medical kit that I don’t feel like explaining to airport security.”
“Such as? No, wait, don’t answer. Simon’s shaking his head at me and indicating I don’t want to know.”
Blair heard the two men discussing the topic briefly in the background before Steven returned and asked, “You mentioned something about seeing a local naturopath before you left Memphis. I take you’re taking some recommended ingredients with you?”
“Stuff I can’t get in Cascade because it doesn’t grow there, yes.”
Steven let out a breath, clearly unhappy with the compromise. “Jim’s not in a coma this time, just having a hard time controlling his pain. He’s miserable.”
“All the more reason for me to bring what I have with me,” Blair said coaxingly. “Steven, I have a car charger for my cell phone. I can talk him through the worst parts. So can Simon, but he gets too impatient and frustrated to do it for long.”
Another unhappy sigh met his words. “Just don’t get so distracted you have an accident,” Steven said warningly. “And Simon says he can probably arrange an escort once you hit the state border.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Blair promised.
By nine-thirty the following morning, Blair was on the road. He had a stash of snacks, plenty of water, and his cell phone was charged.
Steven answered Jim’s cell phone on the first ring. “Please tell me you’re not delayed,” the younger Ellison pleaded.
“Not yet,” Blair said cheerfully. “How’s Jim?”
“Sleeping, finally. Dr. Farkas was off duty when we came in earlier; he took over Jim’s care and prescribed him some medication.”
“That’s good to hear,” Blair said, relieved. “Let me know if anything changes. I’m probably going to stop somewhere in New Mexico for the night. Is Simon there, by any chance?”
“No, but he stopped in on his way into work. He said to tell you that he wants regular check-ins, every three hours, just so we know you’ve made it.”
“Got it,” Blair said. “Man, Naomi never made me check in that much.”
Steven chuckled. “I’ll let him know you said that.”
Blair groaned. “He’s met my mother. Multiple times. That just means Simon will say that I shouldn’t follow my mother’s example, but the one he’s trying to set for his son.”
“And will you?” Steven asked, curious.
“I like his son; he’s a good kid. Looks at me like I’m a good example.”
“Guess that means you’re stuck if you want to keep being one,” Steven said, sounding amused. “Talk to you in a few hours, Blair.”
Roughly eighteen hours later, every muscle in his body ached and he knew he was going to dream of the road as Blair wearily made his way to the room the motel clerk had assigned him. He felt the press of his wolf beside him, as if the spirit was a solid presence, nudging him along.
“I just want to keep going,” Blair said, leaning against the door to his room a moment.
The wolf growled.
“You could drive,” Blair suggested, turning to look at it, and discovering it was gone. Blair laughed softly at himself, then unlocked the door. “Yeah, I need sleep.”
Realistically, he knew he’d pushed himself as far as he dared. He’d made stops for rest breaks and gas, and one stop for dinner. He wasn’t as used to long-distance driving as he’d once been, and knew he would have to make another stop in California before finishing the trip. Still, he felt compelled to keep going: his Sentinel needed him.
As if hearing his thoughts, the wolf appeared again, and nudged him towards the bed. Chuckling softly, Blair took the hint.
“How’d you sleep?” Steven asked the following morning, waking Blair.
Blair scrubbed his eyes and yawned. “Weird dreams, man.”
“Yeah. I think I saw the same red Corvette once too many times yesterday – I dreamed I was still on the road, chasing after it.”
“You know I could still fly you –”
“I’m not leaving my car here, man. This isn’t exactly a no-tell motel, but it’s not the Hilton, either.”
Steven sighed. “Had to try. Anyway, Jim’s getting released this morning; I’m on my way to pick him up now.”
“Who’s looking after him?”
“Sally,” Steven said, sounding smug.
“Should I be worried?”
Steven chuckled. “No. Sally won’t let him get away with much. I’d do it, but if I don’t go into the office, Dad will – and that’s the last thing I need.”
“Have you tried talking to him?” Blair suggested, getting out of bed.
An amused chuckle met his words. “Sure. Dad just can’t believe that I actually inherited his business sense, and is convinced that Jim’s better.” Steven grinned. “Thank God I actually have gotten to know Jim in the last few years. Otherwise, I’d still be in therapy. My brother may be a brilliant detective, but he has no patience for people.”
Blair smothered a chuckle. “He called me a neo-hippie witchdoctor punk the first time we met.”
Laughing, Steven said, “Oh, that’s Jimmy all right. Listen, I’ll be out of touch until after work, but I’ll call you if something comes up.”
“Got it. I’ll call Simon when I’m on the road again,” Blair promised.
“Drive carefully, Blair.”
Three hours later, Blair caught the flash of his wolf in the passenger seat and knew Jim hadn’t stayed out of the hospital long. The phone call from Simon a heartbeat later, confirming what Blair had already guessed, was almost anticlimactic.
“Don’t push it, Sandburg,” Simon advised. “Jim had us all fooled. Trust Sally to figure out he just was faking it.”
“Give him the phone; I want to yell at him,” Blair demanded.
“Sorry, but they’re not allowing cell phones in the patient rooms,” Simon countered, sounding tired. “New rule – something about they’re worried about them interfering with the monitoring machines.”
“That is not going to help Jim.” Annoyed, Blair blew out a breath.
“Sandburg, you getting a speeding ticket or worse is also not going to help Jim. Dr. Farkas has him sedated anyway. I’ll see what I can do later, when Jim’s awake. If I manage to do so, I’ll call you. Until then, your job is to get here in one piece, and with that special stuff Steven said you were bringing. Understood?”
Blair sighed, hating the situation. “Understood. I’ll probably stop off in Sacramento tonight, get some sleep, and check the weather. With any luck, it’ll stay dry the rest of the way.”
Simon snorted. “This time of year, Sandburg?”
Blair grinned faintly. “Man can hope. I’ll check back in with you in a few hours.”
“Talk to you then.”
“Where have you been?” Blair demanded, sinking into the bed of the hotel in Sacramento later that day. “I’ve been trying to reach you and Steven all day.”
“Sorry, Sandburg, but it’s been crazy here. Some idiot held his four-year-old hostage and –”
“Wait, don’t tell me: somehow Jim got out of the hospital and rescued the kid?”
“No, it was just as Jim was leaving. Steven was running late, so I was there to pick Jim up. He said he heard someone screaming down in ER, and…” Simon sighed.
“Everyone all right?”
“Kid’s with his mother,” Simon said. “Dad’s in jail.”
“Any idea why he held his kid hostage?”
“I guess being bumped because his kid wasn’t running a fever or bleeding to death got to him.” Simon made a sound of disgust. “Especially since the staff doing the patient check-in were suspicious he might be using the kid to score drugs.”
“Oh, geez. That’s –”
“Save the lecture on how we need to do better as a community some other time, Sandburg,” Simon said tiredly. “Here’s Jim.”
Blair heard the sound of the phone being switched over before he heard, “Hope you’re not driving straight through, Chief.”
“Only if you promise me you quit eating whatever crap that’s been making you sick,” Blair said.
“I had no idea I was allergic to shellfish,” Jim protested.
“Uh huh, and why didn’t you check that notebook I left you? The one listing all of your allergies, and the ones I suspected you might be more prone to?”
Jim swallowed and cleared his throat. “I ate shellfish when you were here.”
“And did you ask what it was cooked in?” Blair asked knowingly.
“The menu said steamed. Didn’t say anything about…” Jim cut himself off, and Blair knew the older man had remembered the trace spices he’d tasted. “Damn it, come home, Sandburg. I’m tired of watching what I eat.” Then, roughly, Jim added, “You’d better still have a key to the loft and no plans to move again.”
Blair chuckled. “Another day’s driving, Jim. I’m in Sacramento now. And you wouldn’t take my key back, remember?”
“I told you the loft is your home,” Jim said almost angrily.
“So you did,” Blair replied as calmly as he could. Somehow, he’d been afraid that despite everything, Jim would have changed his mind. “What about Eva? Does she live with you?”
“Whatever the fuck gave you the idea she is?” Jim demanded, bewildered.
“She’s your girlfriend,” Blair countered. “The longest I’ve ever known you to be with anyone was less than a week, save for Carolyn. Three weeks and my girlfriends would have ideas.”
“No, they’d have you married,” Jim chuckled, clearly relaxing. “Besides, I’m not willing to give up this place. If I couldn’t give it up for Carolyn, I doubt anyone else could make me.”
Blair said nothing, aware from previous conversations with Jim that part of the reason the marriage had failed was that Carolyn had expected Jim to sell the loft in order to buy a house out in the suburbs – a move that Jim had resisted, unwilling to risk the little equity he had, especially when the loft had been purchased using money Jim had risked his life to earn.
“Eva is special to you, though,” Blair pressed.
“I like her,” Jim said pointedly. “The rest…I’m still trying to figure out.” He paused. “Don’t worry about me, okay? It was the stuff for the nausea that I reacted to the second time; I really was feeling better when they discharged me this morning. I’ll be better by the time you get here. Listen, I gotta go fill out more paperwork.”
“Oh, I see, the real reason you want me back emerges,” Blair teased.
“Of course. You type faster and more accurately than I ever will,” Jim said cheerfully. “Drive safe, Chief. I’ll see you soon.”
Jim hung up before Blair could ask anything further. Shaking his head, Blair hoped the time he’d spent talking to Jim would be enough. Instinctively, Blair knew that his friend hadn’t told him everything. It would be at least another day or two before Jim was truly well enough to be on his feet, especially once the adrenalin of the hostage situation had finished rushing through his body.
Hold on, Jim, Blair thought. Just a little while longer.
“Oh, come on,” Blair groaned, fighting the steering wheel as the Volvo shuddered and tried to pull left. Turning off the radio, he heard the distinctive slap of shredded rubber, and sighed. “I do not need this now.” Still, he eased the vehicle to the shoulder of the road.
Silently, he berated himself for not checking the tire pressure at the last stop for gas in Portland, but the Oregon state law that disallowed anyone other than a gas station owner, operator or employee to pump gas had thrown him off his stride. He’d tried engaging the attendant in some friendly conversation, but the attendant had walked away in mid-sentence, more intent on the apparently complex task of putting gas into the Volvo’s tank than Blair’s need for conversation.
Cascade was less than three hours away now; he’d hoped to be there before ten PM. Vancouver, Washington, was just in his rearview mirror. He’d used up the last of his cell phone battery just minutes before, letting Simon know he’d left Portland, but the battery hadn’t yet begun to take a charge from the cigarette lighter adapter. It would be at least another hour before his cell phone had even fifteen minutes’ worth of battery.
Yet Blair knew he couldn’t drive three hours on a donut – not at freeway speeds, and especially not in the rain. Blair wasn’t even sure he could pull his donut out; his trunk was as packed as he could have made it. With a sigh, Blair pulled up his hood; with any luck, some good Samaritan would stop.
Out of a reluctance to get wet more than any other precaution, he stayed in the car. When the state police cruiser pulled up behind him nearly two hours later, lights flashing, Blair froze for a moment, wondering what possible infraction he could have committed.
The officer didn’t take long to exit her cruiser and tap on the driver’s side glass. Cracking the window a fraction, Blair said, “Man, I’m glad to see you.”
She smiled, pointing her flashlight at him in a way that didn’t blind him. “Pretty bad flat you’ve got there. Can I see your license and registration, please?”
Surprised by the question, Blair nonetheless produced the requested items in short order.
She took the items and vanished into her patrol car. A few minutes went by while she verified the information, then she returned.
“Sorry about that, Mr. Sandburg. Wanted to be sure I had the right person and the right car. Captain Banks of the Cascade PD asked us to be on the lookout for you, make sure you got home safely. I’d ask if you had a spare, but judging from the way this car’s packed, I wouldn’t feel right in unpacking it just to find out. You waiting on a tow truck?”
“My cell phone died,” Blair said. “I wasn’t sure how long I’d be out here, so I’ve been trying to conserve the car battery, which means the phone hasn’t been getting charged. I have AAA,” he offered. “If you could get a tow truck for me that’s willing to go to Cascade…”
The trooper nodded, understanding. “I’ll see what I can do. Just sit tight and don’t rock the car – you’re not exactly stable on that back rear tire.”
Within an hour, Blair and the backpack he was using as his bag of “absolute necessities” was in the passenger seat of a flatbed truck, getting acquainted with the tow truck driver as he barreled down the freeway, the Volvo secured in the flatbed.
“Sorry to make you go all the way to Cascade,” Blair apologized, noting the driver’s name tag said ‘Hank.’
“Ah, it’s all right. Would be headed there anyway,” Hank said cheerfully. “My in-laws live in Cascade. My wife went there for Thanksgiving with her sister, but I had to work. Now Anna wants to come home before her family drives her crazy. At least this way I’m not wasting the entire trip.”
“Don’t care for the in-laws?” Blair asked, curious.
Hank snorted. “Bunch of yuppie snobs,” he said derisively. “All of them think Anna’s crazy for marrying some blue-collar redneck like me. But I tell you what: I know I help folks, and that’s more than any of them can say, typing away on those computers and whatnot.” Hank risked a glance at his passenger. “You a student?”
“No, but I’m considering an offer with the Cascade PD to work for them as a researcher.” Silently, Blair hoped that Simon would forgive him for saying that. It wasn’t yet even a pipe dream – but as soon as Blair got Jim’s senses back in order, Blair hoped to present the idea to Simon.
“Research? Like on what?”
“Patterns of criminal behavior, among other things,” Blair told him. “I did work with them as a consultant.”
“Must’ve impressed them,” Hank said, rough admiration in his voice. “Last time I had cops tailing me like this, I was hauling evidence for an investigation.”
“You might say that. I helped them close a few cases.”
Hank glanced over his passenger again. “What did you say your name was again?”
“Blair. Blair Sandburg.”
Hank considered this for a moment. “I remember you,” he said at last. “You were on the news earlier this year, being honored for your contributions to the Cascade PD.” He glanced back in his rearview, seeing the police cruiser. “Man, if I’d been kidnapped, shot at, held hostage, and gone up against a bunch of crazy-ass militant terrorists, I’d be dead. You…you really kept your cool through all of that?”
Blair chuckled richly. “No. I’m not a cop. But some things do get easier to deal with over time.”
Hank glanced at the police cruiser again, then at Blair. Jerking a thumb back at the cruiser, he said, “All the same, I’m with them: with luck like yours, I wouldn’t take any chances either.”
Dumbfounded by the comment, Blair could only stare at Hank.
Defensively, Hank added, “That area you pulled off at? Last year, two women were lured off the freeway in the same place by some supposedly stranded motorist. He raped and killed them. Dumped their bodies in the trunk of his car and stole theirs. Man, I so did not want to be on the job that day. Cops haven’t found him yet, either. If they have, they aren’t sayin’.”
Blair swallowed, hard, and decided to change the subject. “I see. So, if you try to skip out on Thanksgiving, do you and your wife do anything for the holidays?”
Hank latched onto the topic like a starving man, and Blair spent the next few hours happily discussing world holiday traditions.
“Oh!” Eva stepped into the loft, clearly surprised by Blair’s presence in the kitchen three days later. “I didn’t know you were here.” Looking completely disconcerted, she set a grocery bag on the counter. “I was going to cook Jim dinner.”
Feeling his spirit wolf brush against his leg, Blair eyed her warily as he added chopped ginger to the onions and garlic in the heated wok. “Jim didn’t mention I was moving back?” he asked easily.
“Well, he said we’d be having dinner to celebrate. Since he isn’t up to going out again, I thought that meant he wanted me to bring something to cook, so I did.”
Blair peered into the bag, catching the flash of a family-size frozen dinner before Eva swept it away from him. Granted, the brand name was known for being organic, gluten-free and vegetarian, but it didn’t qualify as ‘cooking’ in Blair’s mind.
“I don’t know how you can stand to cut all those vegetables,” Eva said with a nod towards the array of snow peas, green beans, carrots, bell peppers, and celery he had prepped. All the vegetables sat in small bowls, waiting to be added to the pan.
“I’m not planning on cutting the snow peas,” Blair noted mildly.
“But you have to trim the tops,” Eva said, puzzled.
Blair shot her an incredulous look. “Already done,” he said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve made this.” Turning back to his prep area, he picked up a bottle of oyster sauce and added that to the pan. A moment later, he added the vegetables.
“You should add chili sauce,” Eva declared brightly.
Blair raised an eyebrow. “Everyone makes stir fry differently,” he said evenly. “A friend of mine taught me this recipe. It doesn’t need chili sauce.”
“I’ll get it,” Eva volunteered, moving to the cupboard that served as their pantry.
“I said no, Eva,” Blair said.
Eva rummaged through the pantry. “I know there’s a half full bottle here. It was just here last week. Huh.” She closed the cupboard door and immediately rummaged in her purse. “I have Trixie’s Toreador Sauce,” she said triumphantly, moving towards the pan.
“Touch that pan with that sauce and I swear you will regret it,” Blair growled, grabbing the chef’s knife he’d used on the vegetables.
Eva froze, bottle cap in her left hand, open bottle in her right. “But it’ll taste better with it,” she managed shakily, her voice betraying her fear.
“You want to kill Jim, you do it on your time, in your kitchen, not mine,” Blair growled back. “He’s having problems with capsaicin and you want to put in something with an estimated Scoville rating of 500,000 units, minimum? Are you nuts? He just got over food poisoning three days ago.”
“It doesn’t have capsaicin in it,” Eva protested. “It’s just a really spicy tomato sauce.”
Blair stared at her, incredulous. “You have no idea, do you, really?” he asked conversationally. Belatedly, he realized he’d armed himself. Exhaling deeply, he set the knife down and turned off the heat on the stove. Turning to her, he easily removed the offending sauce from her hands, pouring the contents down the sink.
“But that was a gift from the owner of Trixie’s,” Eva cried, indignant. “Do you know how much that costs?”
“More than my life, apparently,” Jim said grimly. “Get out, Eva.”
Eva turned. “But Jim, he pulled a knife on me!”
“Out, Eva. I wondered where you were getting the hot sauce to add to my food when you thought I wasn’t looking.”
Eva pouted, looking up at Jim with the most earnest expression Blair had ever seen a woman use. “You liked it,” she said, sounding completely lost. “I liked helping you when you were sick.”
Jim’s eyes flashed hard and the muscle in his jaw twitched. “You nearly killed me, Eva.”
“He was threatening me with a knife!” Eva protested, pointing her finger at Blair.
“Only because you’re too much of an idiot to use one,” Blair retorted. “What did you hope to accomplish by making Jim ill all the time?”
Looking extremely put out, Eva said, “He was going to marry me and make me rich.”
“You’re pretty and good in bed, Eva, but not that pretty,” Jim said cuttingly.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Simon declared, stepping into the kitchen and moving neatly around Jim. “Eva Hughes, you’re under arrest for attempted murder of a police officer. Come on, let’s go down to the station so we can do this by the book.”
“But I wasn’t trying to murder anyone! I just was trying to make him sick,” Eva protested. “I didn’t want him to die until after we got married!”
Simon glared at her. Meekly, she rose and went with him, exiting the loft.
Jim looked ruefully across the kitchen to Blair. “I didn’t want to believe you.”
Blair blew out a breath. “I know,” he said gently. “You never do, at least the first time.”
A self-depreciating snort met his words. “Once is an accident, twice is coincidence, and three times is enemy action.” Jim closed his eyes and let out a breath. “I’m getting rusty.”
“Rusty? In what?” Blair asked, puzzled.
“Used to be more paranoid,” Jim explained. “Used to be better at suspecting people.”
“Yeah, and you used to be alone, too,” Blair pointed out. “I wasn’t expecting dinner to turn out this way, either. I just figured I ought to thank Simon for the police escort into Cascade.”
Jim rolled his eyes. “I’m surprised your luck held out until you got to Washington. Thank God it was only a flat tire and not something worse. I can’t believe you didn’t notice a railroad spike in your tire.”
“Tire shop said it hit at the right angle,” Blair replied, “for it to not blow right away, so there’s no telling where or when I might’ve picked it up. Speaking of unexpected….did you go out with Eva because she smelled sexy and looked pretty?”
Jim glared at him, clearly uncomfortable at the on-target assessment. “So?”
“So, didn’t we determine that when you’re hopped up on pheromones, your judgment goes out the window?” More gently, Blair added, “Simon told me about your attempt to resign a few months ago. Way he tells it, you’d gone back to ‘Hard Ass Ellison’ – but everyone noticed you were sucking at it, and was trying to get you to call me. Then your dad had his heart attack, and suddenly you were juggling two careers….” Blair moved to stand closer to Jim, who turned away. Stubbornly, Blair countered by moving around him. “Jim, nobody can do both and not think they’re not sucking at everything. You’re not Superman. You may be the Sentinel of the Great City, but you’re still a guy. Isn’t that the lesson you tried to pound into my brain for three years? That you’re just human like everyone else? When did you stop believing that?”
Jim looked away briefly, then let out a slow breath. “So much of the Sentinel stuff…I believed it because you did,” he admitted quietly, meeting Blair’s gaze. “Then you got a job elsewhere and I…”
“…thought you were doing the right thing by letting me go?” Blair finished.
“Idiot,” Blair chided him. “Did you know, the closer I got to Cascade, the better I felt? I’m not sure I can live elsewhere now --- not unless you’re there, too.”
Blair felt his wolf press against his leg. He looked down to see Jim’s panther doing the same to Jim, blocking them from moving.
“Okay, so I’m an idiot, too,” Blair said with a wry chuckle. “Spirit merge. You gave me half of your soul so I’d live. Knowing you, you gave me the part that’s a pissed-off, determined son of a bitch who wouldn’t give up for anyone or anything. Without that, you have a hard time coping.”
Jim said nothing for a moment, but he reached down to pet his spirit animal reassuringly. “Wasn’t until you’d crossed the city limits that I realized that’s what happened,” he admitted reluctantly. He clasped Blair’s shoulder affectionately, then said, “We’d better get going to the station to fill out the paperwork.”
Blair smiled. “Only if you help me clean this up before we go, else it’ll stink,” he said, gesturing to the kitchen.
Jim looked affronted, then smiled mischievously. “Okay, who are you and what did you do with my Guide? You know, the one who found cleaning up the kitchen his least favorite duty?”
Blair glared at him. “I’m the one and the same. Which, by the way, means that I don’t want to hear you bitching about the way it smells in here later.” Shaking his head, Blair smiled inwardly, assured that life was once more on track.
The End 4.28.10