Thanks to Annie, Brynn, and Lyn, for the beta. Written for my April 2010 Sentinel Angst List dues. Sequel to Not Good Enough. Gen.
This Night Won’t Last Forever
By Raine Wynd
The party – a Halloween birthday celebration for the best friend of one of the assistants in the anthropology department -- was in full swing. Laughter and conversation swirled around him, rising above the eclectic mix of music someone had programmed into the stereo in the basement. Any other time, he would be in the midst of it all: loving the dynamics, the interplay of conversation, the sheer fun of getting to know everyone at the party, flirting a bit, dancing with the group occupying the front parlor.
Instead, he’d fled to the relative safety of the back porch. Huddled in his jacket against the October chill, he debated just going home, but he’d ridden in with a friend. He’d have to call a taxi to pick him up if he wanted to get home…but he had a feeling he’d be asking that cabbie to make a completely different stop than his apartment. So, Blair stayed where he was, feeling like the night was going to last forever while he waited for his friend to tire of the party.
Four months in Memphis had only served to hammer home the fact that he’d always been good at diving into his work and fabulous at forging surface relationships. Growing up with Naomi, he’d learned quickly the art of getting to know someone really well, really fast, and never expecting to sustain the relationship long-term. He’d cultivated the skill of figuring out who would be most useful to his goals without being ruthless or callous. He’d learned well the lesson that being a genius who happened to be friendly, hard working, loyal, and generous went a long way towards easing any feelings of resentment at his intelligence.
He’d been excited for the opportunity to finish Dr. Mary Kaufman’s work on Mayan epigraphy and complete teaching her classes for the semester. The job came with a full salary, benefits, a housing allowance, and the carrot of being on the short list for a professorship come next term. A car crash had taken Dr. Kaufman’s life as well as that of her senior research associate. What no one had mentioned was that both people in the car had been drunk and caught in an embarrassing position, or that her work on Mayan epigraphy was simply not up to par to what she’d become famous for years earlier. It was, unfortunately, a crap job. When he’d brought that up to his boss, his boss had told him to do what he could with it, implying that one of the reasons for Blair’s hire was that he could tell a good story.
Blair had been taken aback, but he’d done what he could while not compromising his principles. Now the research report was complete, and he’d gotten what he’d wanted: a permanent job, though as a research associate and not as a professor.
In a way, Blair didn’t care. Though Amber and her seemingly vast network of friends had welcomed him into their circle, introducing him to a wide swath of people who were connected to Amber in very much a six-degrees sort of way, Blair was lonelier than he ever could remember being. He missed the way the summer sun lit up Cascade, bringing with it an energy that pulsated through the city, even in the darkest corners; and how the perpetual drizzle of fall wouldn’t drive people away from going about life the way it seemed to do in Tennessee. He missed the way that energy translated into the rich, intense, determined hum of the bullpen as the Major Crimes team tried their best to defend the city against the chaos of crime. He hadn’t known until he’d left just how deep his friendships with those people ran – they emailed him now, called him, made sure he knew he was missed, and that he’d be welcome back anytime.
He tried to tell himself he didn’t miss living with Jim, or sharing a friendship that was the closest Blair had ever had. He knew he was lying. He’d deliberately kept his contact with Jim to a minimum, wanting to see if a little distance might help the situation. Jim had been moody all summer, even though he’d been the one who’d insisted on hiring a lawyer to negotiate some sort of restoration of Blair’s reputation. Jim had even dragged his brother into the fight, with the end result that Steven and Blair had become friends…a set up that only seemed to make Jim jealous of the time Blair spent with Steven. Blair had gotten tired of trying to figure out what would make Jim happy, especially since Blair’s decision not to accept the badge meant his access to the station was restricted.
Looking back, he realized Jim had started to withdraw from him in the month before his scheduled move to Tennessee. Caught up in his excitement at helping with what he’d thought was important work, Blair hadn’t noticed that Jim had become the perfect friend: saying and doing exactly what he thought Blair would want. He’d even grudgingly accepted a round of tests, joking that Blair wouldn’t feel good if he left without knowing what his Sentinel could do.
Now Blair could see Jim had been preparing, building up the walls against what he undoubtedly saw as another person in his life leaving him. The difference was that Blair had torn down most of those walls, wanting to know first the Sentinel, then the man, and Jim had been out of practice.
Some guide you are, Blair thought bitterly. You learned to detach with love so well that the one person in your life who needs to trust that someone will always be there doesn’t know whether he has even the right to ask you to stay.
Jim hadn’t. He’d let go. His email had been perfunctory: once a week, without fail, until Blair figured out that Jim must’ve somehow set up a repeating email that said the same thing: “Work is keeping me busy. Senses are fine. Hope you’re okay.” Blair had shaken his head and figured that if Jim really needed him, someone would call. Blair’s calls to the loft or to Jim’s cell always went to voicemail, as if Jim wasn’t willing to talk to Blair live.
Yet Blair couldn’t shake the sense that something was wrong, horribly so. He’d returned Jim’s last email, only to get a bounce email that said, “If this is a life-threatening emergency, please call 911. User account has been disabled. For immediate assistance, please contact email@example.com or call (555) 555-5555.” He’d intended to contact one of the guys in Major Crimes and find out what was going on, only to be caught up in the crush of work that was September at a university.
“Oh, there you are.” A woman’s voice he didn’t recognize broke into his thoughts. Looking up, Blair saw a young, slender mixed-race woman – Sabah, he thought her name was – step out onto the old wooden porch. She held out his cell phone. “Your phone rang. I thought you might want it.”
“Thanks,” he told her, taking the phone. “You must answer the phones for a living.”
Sabah laughed softly. “I’m a receptionist for a medical device company. I can’t stand to let a phone ring unanswered.”
He studied her a moment, seeing the colorful headscarf that denoted her religious preference. “And it’s a perfect excuse to get out of the house?”
Sabah chuckled again, touching her headgear. “My father would be furious if he knew I was at a party like this, but… Allah never said life had to be dull. Besides,” she said practically, “someone has to make sure everyone gets home safe.”
Blair smiled. “The role of the designated driver should never be undervalued.”
Sabah returned the smile then turned to slip back inside.
Blair looked at the caller ID, noting the display said the ID had been blocked. He didn’t recognize the number, but decide that any reason that caused someone to call him at nearly midnight on Halloween had to be important. Pressing the button to call the number back, he put the phone to his ear and waited.
After a moment, he heard a relieved voice exclaim, “Blair. Thank God. I wasn’t sure if this was still your number or not. It’s Steven Ellison. Jim’s in the hospital.”
Steven sighed. “Short version is that he had a seizure and lost consciousness. They’re starting to get worried, though – he’s not waking up. I’ve only been able to stall them – you’re still listed as having Jim’s medical power of attorney.”
“I am?” Blair asked, surprised. “Jim told me he was changing it to you.”
“He lied,” Steven said wearily. “He’s good at hiding things like that.” The younger Ellison paused. “I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t think he was this bad – he’s been too quiet, even for him. They made me go look in his medicine cabinet and –” Steven took a deep breath. “I found an anti-depressant, one of the ones that are on your list of medications you weren’t sure he could take.”
“Anti-depressants?” Blair was shocked. “Jim’s never let anything get him down for long.”
“I said the same thing, but the prescription was first filled four weeks ago. Maybe he thought he could handle it without you.”
“He always thinks that,” Blair snapped, unable to reconcile the man he’d known with one who was depressed. Had he missed the signs? Damn it, he wasn’t sure anymore. Suddenly, the sounds of laughter and revelry just on the other side of the wall seemed far too unfair. Shouldn’t everyone else’s world stop if his was?
“Look, I know it’s a lot to ask and you probably have work on Monday, but can you come back to Cascade? I’ll pay for the ticket – hell, I’ll pay for first class.”
Blair hesitated, but then he saw the flash of a grey wolf out of the corner of his eye. “I’ll be there,” he promised.
“How far are you from the airport now?”
“I’m not at my apartment,” Blair corrected Steven’s assumption. “I’m actually at a friend’s party.”
Steven considered that. “Give me the address and I’ll have someone pick you up, take you to the airport. Whatever clothes you need, we can buy or pick up at the loft. Jim never cleaned out your closet.”
Blair blinked at that, but he gave the address.
The late-night flight turned out to be on a corporate charter and far more comfortable than Blair had expected. Aware he’d need his energy to deal with Jim, Blair slept during most of the five-hour flight. He was met at the airport by Steven, who looked ragged despite his business attire.
“Any change?” Blair asked.
Steven shook his head. “Not really.”
“Then let’s go,” Blair said confidently. Whatever problem Jim was having, Blair knew he’d find a way to fix it.