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This is a random fic...I wrote it for a 'zine, then learned of another 'zine fic with a similar theme. But I figured it wouldn't hurt to have a bit new fic out there—hope you enjoy! =)
He didn't realize it at first, so gradually did the sensation creep up on him, the slow relaxation of muscles and mind. The face before him began to waver, blue eyes blurring into pale skin and dark hair.
Blinking, he tried to sit up, only for his body to betray him. What the—he'd only had a couple glasses of wine at dinner, and two drinks couldn't affect him this strongly even if they had been two hundred proof. Yet he found himself paralyzed.
Fuzzily he protested, but his tongue was too thick to twist properly around the words. The candle flickered and dimmed, or maybe it was his view of it darkening. He caught the faintest whiff of its sweet incense and suddenly realized what might be wrong, only by then it was too late, he was tumbling down into shadows.
The face loomed close over him, a quiet voice murmured, "Don't worry, you'll be fine, Jim," and then everything was lost in a black and silent roar.
Simon Banks muzzily regarded at the clock. Nine A.M. No wonder he felt so rested; rarely did he get a chance to sleep in, even on Saturdays. But for once he had nothing scheduled; an empty weekend stretched out before him. In college the idea would have been heart-breakingly lonely, but for an overworked police captain one couldn't imagine a more succinct paradise.
Pushing himself out of bed, he headed for the shower, turned the hot water on all the way and stood under it, letting the steam rise up around him as the spray beat down. Just low enough that it didn't burn, hot enough to boil away all the stress and frustrations of the past week. That damn murder case solved, the guy put away, and now it was gone and he could forget it had ever happened. Internal Affairs again demanding why they still had a civilian observer working in Major Crimes, the proper forms filled out, delaying them for another month. The observer himself, home with his partner for the next two days—Sentinels, Guides, city protectors, not his jurisdiction for two whole days. The weekend was his, all his. Maybe he could get up to Huevalmans Lake and see if the trout fishing there was as good as it was supposed to be.
The moment he turned off the water he heard the doorbell, followed by a thumping on the door, and then the bell again. Sounded like a cycle that had been going for a couple of minutes at least. With a sigh of premonition he acknowledged that the trout were safe for another week at least, threw on his bathrobe and plodded to the door.
Blair was so involved in his knocking that he only just managed to miss hitting his captain's chest when Banks opened the door. Without even a good morning he charged into the apartment, muttering, "I gotta talk to you—"
Once inside, however, the observer lost his drive, halted in the middle of the room and stood there, rocking back on his heels and running a hand agitatedly through his curls. "Sorry, Simon, didn't mean to barge in, it's just, just, I mean, it happened so suddenly, I don't even know what happened—"
Simon frowned. While Blair Sandburg at times could be a bit confusing, he rarely was this incoherent. For him to completely forget all social niceties...for him not even to comment on Simon's pristine white bathrobe, which he had assumed would get some reaction—all was not right with Blair's world.
From experience the captain knew of only one thing that would bring him here in such a state. Trying to swallow his own concerns, "What's happened to Jim?"
"That's just it, man, I don't know, but I had to go to someone, and you're the only one I could think of, I mean, I don't know if it has anything to do with you-know-what, but it might—" Blair's babbled attempts at explanation only muddled the issue farther. "I only just found out like half an hour ago, and I tried to call you, but you weren't answering only I knew you were home so I thought I'd come over—"
Belatedly Simon glanced at his answering machine, saw the red number four blinking on the display. He made an educated guess that all the messages were from the figure pacing in front of him now.
Pacing, wildly striding back and forth, which in itself was somewhat unusual. Blair was nothing if not active, but when speaking he usually tended to ground himself, restrict his motions to extravagant hand gestures. Now he was wearing a hole in Simon's wall-to-wall, arms waving about. Combining his own expressions with his partner's standard indication of worry. No, this was not good. "Okay, Blair," using Sandburg's given name was just unusual enough to win his momentary attention, "I want you to take a deep breath and explain, in order of occurrence, what's up. Got it?"
Gulping for air, the observer nodded. "On second thought," Simon added, glancing down at himself, "why don't you organize yourself while I go change." Reasoning that this was going to take a while, and knowing that he'd get a protest if it truly was that urgent.
But Blair agreed to it, even went so far as to take a seat on the captain's sofa. "Sorry, Simon," he added. "I'm just a little panicked, I don't know exactly what's up—"
Simon held up his hand. "Wait and tell me everything. In five minutes. And I want it to make sense, right, Sandburg?"
Once back in his bedroom he sighed, looking longingly at his fishing hat before considering the problem at hand. Blair was the excitable sort, but he didn't panic, not without reason. If he thought something was up with Jim, was this disturbed by it...
Growling threats to whatever devil consistently cursed any and all of his vacation times, Simon hurriedly dressed. On the one hand he didn't want to get involved—
On the other, being who he was, if it concerned his friends than it concerned him too. He couldn't help that, it was part of his personality that came up at the most inconvenient times. And he owed these associates. Big time. Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg were personal friends and also his two best men in Major Crimes. They had done as much for Cascade as practically the rest of the force combined. On top of that they had helped their captain personally on several occasions, even saved his son's life. So there was no possible way he could turn Blair's plea down. No way he'd even want to.
He returned to the living room. Sandburg leapt to his feet, not out of respect for his captain—Banks technically had no rank over him as it was, since he was a civilian, since they were both off duty, and since Blair didn't follow such ordinary rules anyway—but to resume his pacing. It exhausted Simon just watching him move.
At least when he talked now it halfway made sense. "Jim went out yesterday—"
"On a date?"
Blair rolled his eyes. "Yes, on a date, with a woman at that. I set them up." Simon discerned he wasn't going off on a tangent; this was somehow important.
He knew he shouldn't be surprised. Sandburg might have picked up the pacing, but he had rubbed off on Ellison as well, mostly in positive ways. Jim wasn't generally the dating sort, and after his divorce Simon had wondered if he'd ever get into a relationship again. Then his senses began acting up, Blair Sandburg, grad student extraordinaire and expert on Sentinel abilities entered his life, and three years later Jim was laughing, cracking jokes, and generally acting like a likable human being, not to mention solving crimes with the benefit of heightened sensory abilities. All this and women too.
"Her name's Patricia Cole," Jim's partner now explained. "I've known her for a few years—she used to be a neuropsych professor at Rainier, but they turned her down for tenure and she went to UC Berkeley, right around the time they hired me. We used to talk about our work, she studied perception so it was connected to my Sentinel stuff, you know?
"Anyway she's been in town visiting for the past couple weeks and stopped by my office a few days ago, and we got to talking, anyway—she's a couple years older than me, good looking, dark auburn hair, and smart in a nice way—Jim's type, right? She mentioned how she was free, maybe looking around, and I mentioned I had a roommate also available—"
"And you set them up." Simon tried to hold onto his patience. "Sandburg, where's this going?"
Blair caught his breath. The captain realized abruptly how quickly he was breathing, panting as if he'd been running, though he'd been relatively still for at least a quarter of an hour now. He wondered how fast his pulse would be, if like Jim he could hear such things... Calming himself for the observer's benefit, "It's all right, Blair, I just need to know what this is about."
"I know, I know," he nodded vigorously, pushing aside the tangled hair falling into his eyes. "I'm getting to it, you wanted the whole story. Well, last night they had a date, just dinner, maybe a movie—you know, not a formal affair, just a meeting thing. Tricia was happy about it, Jim didn't sound like he minded, just one blind date after all, and I had a picture of her so he had an idea what he was getting into. She showed up outside right on time, they hit it off just walking to the car—and that's the last I saw Jim."
Simon rubbed his eyes. "Sandburg, if that's all than I'm going to—"
"That's not all," Blair stated forcefully. "I know, I know, so he probably went home with her. And it's only ten A.M. now. But you know Jim, man. He's compulsive about reporting his location, some army thing, I don't know. He gets mad at me if I spend a night out without checking in, he always calls or something. Usually early in the morning if he didn't get a chance the night before. I checked the machine, no messages, and it's working fine, I called it just to be sure."
And he termed Jim compulsive? "So he's sleeping in." Putting it bluntly to avoid a misunderstanding, "He's a healthy grown man who was out with who sounds like a great woman, he went home with her, and he'll come back this afternoon with one of those big shit-eating grins he gets sometime." Get a grip, he wanted to admonish Sandburg, but the kid looked more worried than a wife with a philandering husband—don't go there, Simon. You know it's not the case with them—
And Blair's head was whipping back and forth in an adamant negative. "I called the hotel Tricia's staying at. Turns out she checked out late last night. I caught the night clerk just before her shift ended, and she said that she saw her leaving with a man, sounded like Jim—they got in a taxi."
Not even noon and he could feel the headache welling up behind his eyes. "And I thought Jim was the overprotective one..." He had seen Ellison pulling his big-brother routine with his partner before, even going so far as checking the criminals records of Blair's own dates. He had had less of an opportunity to witness the reverse.
Sandburg didn't even hear the comment; he was narrating his story but clearly his mind was as distant as Jim's body was. "I know, invading privacy, all that stuff, but this didn't feel right, Simon. I can't explain it, I still can't, but I knew something was wrong. I made the clerk get the doorman, and he said that the woman had called for a taxi to Cascade Airport. He also said the man looked, 'out of it,' in his words. Like he was half-asleep or something, the guy thought he was drunk."
At that Simon frowned. Jim was a former Army Ranger; he could hold his alcohol—hell, he could drink most of Major Crimes under the table if he chose, but he rarely over-indulged. Very unlikely that he'd do so on the first date. And what was that bit about the airport?
Blair of course had the answer. "I called the airport, found out that Patricia had bought two tickets back to San Francisco. One way. They left around two o'clock this morning."
The captain stood so quickly he suspected he wrenched his spine. "What?!" Didn't bother asking how Blair had connived that information out of the airline; if police credentials were involved he didn't want to know. Nor did he call Blair on his general paranoia—apparently it had been warranted.
It was for the kid's sake that he composed himself. "Okay, it's probably not that big a thing. It could have been a spur-of-the-moment decision, and they got in so late Jim hasn't been awake to call. One-way was probably cheaper, that's all. Look on the bright side—they didn't go to Vegas."
If he heard the joke he didn't find it funny enough to smile. "Jim, Mr. Anal-retentive himself, hightails it off and doesn't buy a route back? We got work this Monday! Besides, we had a camping trip planned, up to Lake Huevalmans. He'd let me know if it was called off—I'm pretty sure he would."
"Pretty damn sure," Simon seconded in a mutter. Jim wouldn't let anyone else pull Blair around; he certainly wouldn't do it himself. You'd've thought the kid's ego was made of glass the way Ellison treated him sometimes; now and then he could be rough, but snubbing his partner so completely was not his style.
For whatever reasons, Simon found that little datum the most frightening of all.
He made a show of checking his watch, arguing reasonably, "It's not even quarter past ten. I say we give Jim until evening at least to phone and let us know what's up. No reason to call in the cavalry if he's just oversleeping with a woman." Also, he added privately, if he has gotten tangled in something bad it might give him the chance to get unsnarled by himself. The man was a Sentinel, after all; there wasn't much he couldn't handle.
"Until three o'clock," Blair said suddenly. "If he hasn't contacted anyone in five hours, that's almost long enough to put out an APB, right?"
When he hasn't been missing even twenty-four? Not in this precinct, Sandburg...sorry... "All right," he agreed before he even realized he was giving in. "We'll start searching at three."
Some relief in Blair's blue eyes, but still a great deal of worry. "He's not going to check in," he murmured, and inside himself Simon shivered at the absolute conviction in the voice of Jim's partner. He own certainty was shaken by it.
You better be okay, Ellison, he admonished. But meeting Blair's bleak gaze, he knew it was not the case.
He cracked his eyelids, only for an errant beam of sunlight to burst through them, piercing to the very base of his skull like a golden needle. Weakly he groaned, clamping his eyes shut again, though the ambient red glow burned in the painful aftermath.
Someone was at his side, attentive to his pain. "I'm sorry," murmured a gentle voice, "if I had known you were this sensitive..." A warm presence moving away, rustles accompanied by the plastic shriek of a shade being drawn, and the scorching light darkened, cooled. Then the voice was beside him once more, soft touch brushing his arm. "Is that better?"
"Mmm," he agreed noncommittally. Hard to frame words, easier to simply flow with his perceptions, bask in the relief of the pain. Every sense felt muffled, hazy, but the sensation was not unpleasant. At least not until he tried to move his head; then a sharp agony lanced through his brain, enough that he couldn't help but cry out again.
Instantly he felt a light pressure on his temples, a soothing whisper in his ear, "Shhh, it's all right, let me help." Strange, that the sound was not abrasive but calming, the fingertips not exacerbating the ache but smoothing it away as they slid systematically over his skin, massaging the throbbing nerves.
He risked opening his eyes again, through the dimness made out vivid blue watching him, a concerned familiar gaze. Content he closed them again, sinking into the offered comfort. Unconsciously he extended his hearing, reached for the signal by which he always could stabilize himself, the unforgettable cadence of his Guide's heartbeat.
And didn't find it. The only pulse present other than his own was wrong, faster, the rhythm slightly irregular. There was no mistaking it, and he struggled, tried to push away this stranger in the wrong place, seeking his absent partner. "...Blair?"
"Shhh," the voice assured him quietly. "He's not here right now, he's fine, you don't need to worry about him anymore." Honesty in the unknown pulse, truth, and he relaxed. "Forget about him," very low and gentle, "I can help you now, I can give you what you need." Hands still warm against his head. For an instant they paused and he felt the pain threatening, protested it.
The touch resumed as if it had never stopped, continued to tenderly knead away the headache, and he submitted to the ministrations, could not help but grateful for them. The voice began to speak again, soft and kind, and he listened, allowing the gentle tone while ignoring the words, for the moment simply absorbing them inside himself, understanding them without trying to find their meaning.
Simon was not surprised when his doorbell rang at precisely three o'clock P.M. Not even bothering to sigh he opened the door.
Sandburg didn't charge in; instead he stayed on the doorstep, rocking back and forth on his heels. He looked terrible, the captain admitted to himself with a bit of concern. Exhausted, as if he were starting to deplete even his almost-bottomless energy reserves. Probably hadn't stopped moving the entire five hours, pacing around the phone. Or pursuing his own investigation; Simon supposed he should be grateful the observer had come back at all.
"I take it you haven't heard anything?"
Blair shook his head rapidly. "Nothing. Is there anything—"
"I can put out an APB," Simon told him. "But it's not going to be taken too seriously with what little we have so far. Unless you can find evidence of foul play, they're going to suspect it's just a private tryst. If he's still missing on Monday, that'll be one thing, but as he has no obligations now... Maybe we know Jim Ellison better than that, but the Frisco PD aren't going to be especially inclined to listen to your hunches." Gently, to take the sting out of his words.
Not that Blair was paying much attention. His eyes were very wide, even for him. "I called Patricia's home," he related, "no answer. Called the super of her apartment but they don't know if she's there or not and refused to check. If she's not too loud, what she does there is her private business. But their plane got in before dawn—they're there, Simon, they have to be."
"I know." Hard to deny the kid's determined sincerity. Impossible to ignore it. "But Blair, do you have any idea what's going on? Did she actually kidnap him? How? Why?"
He shook his head again. "I don't know, I keep trying to figure it out, but I don't know, I don't understand. I just know something's wrong, I can feel it..." He sighed, shoulders drooping as if he were physically deflating, murmured, "I don't know what, I just know that it is."
And he was bound, by a rule or tradition or vow that Simon never clearly understood but nonetheless must acknowledge existed. Sentinel and Guide, tied together in some solidly ephemeral way, required to help and preserve and sustain one another. Both Jim and Blair took the commitment seriously. Apparently the bond took them equally seriously.
"It's okay," the captain said, "I get it. But it's not something we can legally go on."
"No," Blair conceded quietly. Hesitated only a moment before mentioning, "She could know he's a Sentinel."
"What?" He had to fight back a sudden burst of panic. Dammit, how was he supposed to stay on top of this when the kid kept throwing these curve balls? "Is that why she might have taken him?"
"I don't know. I don't know if she does know." Rocking forward onto his toes he yanked his fingers through his hair, pulling it back. "We used to talk, you know? She knew the Sentinel theory, I never could tell if she even believed it, but she knew it. She read my articles and stuff like I said. I never said Jim was one, of course, but she knew I was studying the police, particularly him, and I don't know if she bought the cover story. She could've put it together. Tricia's bright, like I said."
"What about her own studies?" Simon asked, remembering Blair had alluded to them previously. "Didn't you say she was researching sensation? Could she have wanted Jim..."
"As a subject?" Blair frowned. "No. No, I don't think so, her area of investigation was perception, in particular illusions, hallucinations—she wouldn't need someone with heightened senses. Mostly she worked with former addicts and whatnot, people who 'experimented' in the sixties with LSD. Or putting people under hypnosis and having them imagine sensations—bridging the gap between reality and fantasy, she called it. She read my articles because she knew me, not because she was really interested in them."
"Maybe she changed her mind," Simon suggested.
"No, you don't get it." Blair rubbed his face. "I know her, man. I can't see Patricia doing this, she's really a nice person, you know? She likes people, cares about them, likes making friends. She wasn't looking for a research subject, she just wanted a date, she was a little lonely. She got married once and he left her, and she's been a little wary since then, because she was committed and it busted anyway." He almost smiled, wearily. "That's why she never asked me out, man, she knew I'm not the tied-down sort, but she wasn't looking for a husband right away, just a date, and Jim's the same way, you know? He kind of would like marrying again, if he thought it would last, but he's not in a hurry.
"You see, though? Tricia's not the type to go home with a guy after one night, and Jim isn't either, with a girl I mean, not usually. This is all wrong, everything about it, and it's scaring me, Simon."
I noticed, the captain commented, but not aloud. With Sandburg's fears further clarified, he couldn't help but feel more than a little concerned himself. Even disregarding the nebulous anxiety Blair seemed to be experiencing he had to admit that the logic was unflawed; something abnormal was definitely going on. So was it Jim, or Patricia Cole, or a third unknown factor?
The trouble was, in any case, they still didn't have anything solid to go on. No sign of a crime thus far, behavior out of character but far from illegal or even particularly uncommon are far as general statistics went. In short, they had nothing to build a case on, and Simon had no choice but tell Blair this.
To his surprise he got no more than a token argument before the observer said, "Monday, then?" turned and started to walk away.
"Hold on," Simon called. "Sandburg, where are you going?"
He almost said 'Back to the Loft' but stopped himself, seeing that the captain had spotted the lie in his eyes. Instead he took a ticket from his pocket. "To the airport."
Simon inspected it, slightly annoyed but far from unprepared. Cascade to San Francisco, one way, he noted. Couldn't have been that cheap to get an evening flight on the same day, but Sandburg was pretty good at saving his pennies.
And his own credit card could probably afford the debt as well. "Wait a couple minutes," he said, "I'll give you a ride. There better be a seat left on that plane."
"I reserved one for you," Blair admitted, and Simon didn't know whether he should thank or glare at him for it.
Sooner or later he shifted to wakefulness, opened his eyes and found his vision cleared, at last got a view of the dimly lit apartment. Unfamiliar, a stranger's home, but tastefully decorated and tranquil. The couch he reclined on was comfortable without being too soft, and the lamps cast golden circles of light on the dark oriental rug, curtains blocking the sun from shining through the wide windows.
"Ah, you're awake," said a voice he almost recognized. Turning he saw the woman, blue-eyed, wavy dark hair falling free around her face. She smiled under his regard. "You've been asleep for a while, how do you feel?"
"Fine." Startled to find it was true. He brought his hand to his head, realized it no longer hurt. "Great, actually."
"Glad to hear it. You hungry?"
He nodded. "A little." Smelling the aroma of food wafting from her direction, "A lot, actually."
She laughed lightly. "I've got dinner on the stove, that'll be done in a few minutes. Want an appetizer, fruit, crackers?"
"Good as it smells, I think I'll wait for the main course. If you don't mind."
That brilliant smile again. "Not at all." She strode across the room, sat beside him on the couch. "So you're okay, headache all gone?"
"Yes, only..." He frowned. "Where am I again?"
"You're in my apartment. It's not surprising you don't remember, we got in pretty late last night and you collapsed on the sofa and haven't hardly moved since." Her smile brightened her face, now touched with slight remonstration. "You should watch your drinking, Jim."
"I do." He corrected himself in the face of the evidence and her slightest frown, "I will." On another level grateful for her more subconscious reminder. Jim. An anchor for himself. Identification that he hadn't realized he had lost until that moment.
Steeling himself for an unpleasant moment, he said, "Look, I'm very sorry about this, but do I know you? Who are you?"
Remarkably her expression was not angry but understanding. "Don't worry, you aren't forgetting too much. We haven't known each other very long." Graciously she extended her hand. "I'm Patricia."
He shook it, felt her skin warm against his. Familiar, her touch, and her blue eyes. He had a sudden memory of staring into them across a table, candle flame in between—"We had dinner together..?"
"Yes, last night." She was watching him intently, as if waiting for something. He didn't know what. Her eyes, growing blurry—he had drunk too much, that was what she had told him. Then gone home with her...he couldn't have forgotten more, could he have? He would surely remember if he had...
She grinned mischievously, interpreting his scrutiny. "Don't worry, my 'feminine honor' remains intact. You were pretty far gone."
"Good," he said. Still uncomfortable under her regard. Scenting a faint change in the air—"Is something burning?"
"Oh God!" She leapt up, ran to the kitchen. He stood, unsure whether he should follow her. "It's all right," her voice called back to him. "Stay there, I'll be back in a moment."
Several minutes later she returned, bearing two loaded plates and silverware. Relieving her of her burden he put them on the coffee table, and she disappeared back into the kitchen, emerged again with a bottle and two wine glasses. "Here we go." She took a moment to set everything up, then sat down across from the couch. "It might not be five-star Chinese, but I've been told my chicken's edible."
He tasted it, agreed. Patricia smiled. "Thanks to you. You caught it before it turned black. Guess those senses have their uses after all."
"What?" Everything except her last phrase had been easy to grasp. But her final words—they should make sense, he knew, but something in them eluded him, something obvious...
She put down her spoon, subjected him to another long uninterpretable gaze. Then, "Taste this." Indicating one of the jalapeno peppers from the salad, untouched on the edge of his bowl.
When he forked it up she cautioned, "Not the whole thing, just a seed. Easy, now."
Carefully he selected one of the seeds, touched it to his tongue. The moment it contacted he felt it burn, grabbed for his wineglass and downed its contents, trying to wash away the fire. Panted, "What was that?"
"You remember when you woke up before," she said slowly, "and the sun hurt your eyes?"
Wordlessly he nodded.
"Well..." She took a breath. "It's because of your condition. It's genetic, your senses are—hypersensitive, for lack of a better word. Extreme, beyond normal human thresholds. They've been this way for several years now, and you've learned to deal with them in a fashion. It isn't particularly surprising that you'd forget them now, though, given the chance to..."
He coughed slightly, tried to ignore his still-fiery taste buds. "How do I live with this normally?"
She raised her eyebrow as if daring him to recall. Desperately he shook his head, "I know, I don't know what's wrong, but I don't remember." It frightened him, deep in his core that he refused to show her, that gap in his mind. Something missing, some massive understanding, how could he have lost it with merely a few too many? "What happened to me?"
"Nothing," she assured him quietly. "Like I said...you probably just don't want to remember. It'll come back to you in a little while, I wouldn't worry about it yet. For now you just need to know you dealt with it." Patricia rose, changed position so she sat next to him, looking closely into his eyes. "But that's why I'm here now. I can help you, Jim. I'm willing to, if you're willing to let me. I'm a scientist; I've studied sensation and perception in people, I know how the brain and the mind work. And I think I know how to tame your senses, I can show you how to control them, if you'll let me. If you'd allow me to guide you."
"Guide me?" Something all too familiar in that way of saying it.
"Teach you, show you the way," she explained softly. "I want to help, I know I can, but it's up to you."
"It sounds like I could use some help," he remarked. Wondering how this could simultaneously feel so right and so wrong.
But she was pleased, almost joyful, excitedly springing to her feet. "Thank you," she said, "this is important to both of us, and you've made the right decision. I hope you think so, too. I have some ideas, but we don't need to try them right away. Why don't we finish dinner, I have a desert..." She prattled on, not saying all that much and not too quickly, but the stream of words never quite broke off. As if she were nervous, why he couldn't guess.
At any rate he was willing to let her speak, interjecting comments when he thought appropriate. He knew how to respond to this, enjoyed the familiarity of it. After all he had been married—
No. He had had a wife, the moment the thought occurred to him he knew it was true, and could recall her name, her career, the details of their decayed marriage. But he hadn't been thinking of Carolyn there; it had been something else, something more recent and dearer. What, though. Who?
Before it slipped from his mind entirely he addressed it. "Patricia," breaking into her singular conversation, "Where do I usually live? Where do I work?" All bound up together, if he could get a handle on part of it...
"You're a police detective," she told him easily enough. "You live in Cascade, Washington, for God knows what reason—with your sensitivity you'd be a lot more comfortable here in San Franciso, warmer temperatures, better climate."
"But..." It began to permeate how bizarre this was, how much he had forgotten, and this strange woman here telling him about his life, not in the least concerned that he didn't know it himself. "Why am I here? Why am I with you at all? Where am I supposed to be?" He had had an obligation, something he was supposed to be doing, someone he was supposed to be with...
"Calm down," she said reassuringly. "If you did have a commitment it's taken care of, don't worry. Listen to me. Just relax, finish your wine."
He glanced down at the glass in his hand, the second of the evening. She had poured it a few minutes before to accompany the desert pudding. Now he frowned into its amber depths. "It doesn't taste right." Realizing the truth as he said it, that acrid aftertaste. He had experienced it before...yesterday? Last night, the second glass then as well, something odd he noticed only after drinking it. A flavor not normally detectable, but his heightened sense found it and cried warning—"What'd you put in this?" Not angry yet, not upset, controlling his concern.
And she didn't deny it. "It's nothing major. Something that will help you, a relaxant, that's all. It will tone down your senses for a time. And help put you in a light trance—I know some hypnosis techniques."
"The power of suggestion?" Unsure if he was joking or serious.
"It will help," she told him earnestly. "If you listen to me. If you trust me."
He looked at the drugged wine again. "You can trust me," she murmured, almost pleading. "Just drink it, you'll be fine."
He had heard those words before. Had heard her say them, though he couldn't completely recall the circumstances. But so far everything had turned out all right. And her blue eyes were bright as they stared into his, kind and accepting. He knew that look. He had trusted it before.
Obediently he swallowed the last of the glass's contents, leaned back into the cushions. It didn't take too long before his limbs began to feel weighted, his mind drifting as she talked on. Hard to focus on anything in particular, but he had a sudden image of a different apartment, one he called home, and another voice speaking, a man's voice with that same excited, energetic edge.
Inwardly he protested the lethargy, tried to fight it, tried to shout the name suddenly clear in his mind, but his lips would barely even mouth the word. Patricia was quiet, suddenly standing before him examining him closely, with her eyes the wrong shade of blue and her pulse hammering an incorrect rhythm, but he was in her hands and he couldn't help but hear her voice, "Listen to me, Jim, trust me, believe me. You need me, you need someone and that's me, no one else, there is no one else. Forget about that, I'm all you need now, you're all I need. We have each other, Jim, and if you stay and trust me that's all we'll ever need."
No way to ignore her words, no way to deny them, as they guided him down inside himself, ushering in a peaceful, empty darkness.
Blair fidgeted the entire flight, then stood in the airport waiting for Simon to find his bag bouncing anxiously on his toes. This manic display of suppressed energy was at odds with the dark rings beneath his eyes, the grayness of those eyes. The captain had suggested he nap on the plane but he had refused, perhaps nervous of flying, perhaps because his mind was too occupied with larger concerns. Had he slept the night before? Simon was beginning to doubt it. You better turn up fast, Jim, he again addressed the missing man. Before your partner goes off the deep end.
Or at least before he drives me off it. "Is that all your luggage?"
Blair glanced at his backpack. "Yeah, that's it, you ready?" He took off before Simon even had time to answer. The larger man sighed and pursued him through the wide corridors of the airport, lugging his suitcase and wondering how the kid could get by with so little. Must be certain this would be a short trip. Well, he was an anthropologist, he had probably picked up some spartan travel practices on his various expeditions.
Maybe that was where he had learned his eating habits as well. "Sandburg, why don't we grab a bite, since we luckily missed the airline supper?"
A couple seconds of delay before the response, as if he were processing each word separately, then his head bobbed, "Okay, get take-out, I want to find Tricia's place tonight." He impatiently waited for the captain to purchase some hamburgers and set off the moment Simon paid the girl at the register. Longer legs or no, he had to hustle to keep up with the anthropologist, nearly forgetting his bag in the process.
"You can slow down a little, we'll probably have a wait for a cab anyway," the captain berated him upon catching up. "Here, swallow as you go."
Blair stared at the hamburger as if it were a foil-wrapped fungus. His pace never wavered. "You know I don't take that fastfood crap, Simon."
"Make an exception. Eat something. If you collapse on the streets I'm not carrying you to Jim." Not unless it really was necessary.
Still eyeing it with great suspicion, Sandburg ripped off the wrapper and wolfed down the burger in two bites as he walked. He didn't even chew. Simon glanced at the other sandwich in his hands and wordlessly passed it to him, observed as it too vanished. If the kid was that hungry..."When did you start to get the feeling something was up?"
"I don't know." One shoulder shrugged in a way that suggested embarrassment more than ignorance. "Last night, I guess. Don't know what it was, Tricia looked great, like I said she and Jim hit it off right away. He gave me a thumbs-up as he walked out, he was actually happy with it, even if he'd been a little pissed with me at first for setting him up. I thought he'd be back around midnight, waited up, not really expecting anything, just wondering how it would go, thought he's like to talk about it, you know?
"And then...it was before midnight, actually, maybe around eleven—" Only Sandburg, Simon couldn't help but comment to himself; he could keep track of details better than a federal witness—"A little after that, I began to get worried. Didn't even know why, and I wrote it off, I mean, come on, when I was fifteen I didn't get back from dates at eleven! Mom was lucky if she saw me before two...but anyway. It got later, and I just stayed awake, kept expecting him to walk in any minute and getting more and more worked up when he didn't..." Lost in thought, his strides finally slowed to a slightly more reasonable speed.
"Sandburg, did you sleep at all last night?" Not surprised when after a moment Blair confirmed his suspicions. Wonderful; he had followed an exhausted man to San Francisco on the basis of a hunch and a wayward plane ticket. He halfway wished his common sense would assert itself and remove him from this insanity, dismiss all this as nonsense.
Unfortunately his common sense knew damn well that it wasn't. And he couldn't simply abandon Blair and Jim now, not until they got to the bottom of whatever this was. Wearily he took a cab with the observer to Patricia Cole's most recent listed address.
The landlord let them in and even lead them to her apartment once Simon showed his badge, but was uncooperative when banging on the door brought no response. "Do you have a warrant?" he demanded, peering at the unlikely pair through his thick glasses, obviously not convinced they actually were with the police.
"No," Simon was forced to admit. "We don't want to search the place; we just need to know if she's home."
The man coughed slightly, "I'm afraid in that case there's nothing—"
"No, man," Blair protested, "there's got to be a way, if she's doing this then it's illegal, my partner's in trouble—"
His panicked appeal only flustered the landlord, whose look grew even more doubtful as he eyed the anthropologist. Simon put a large hand on Sandburg's shoulder, silencing him momentarily, and addressed the man, "I'm sorry, sir, but he's right, this is important. A policeman might be endangered. We need to know at least if she's here and not answering, or if she's gone."
"Ah." The man stared up at the police captain looming over him, at his side the long-haired partner quivering like a live wire. "In that case..." He cleared his throat and rapped on her door, "Ms. Cole? It's Mr. Hong, please come to the door."
Of course there was no response. The landlord shrugged apologetically. "Without a warrant, I can do nothing more, gentlemen. But," he added quickly when he saw Simon and Blair exchanging glances, "I suppose I can tell you that unless she arrived this afternoon and hasn't taken in her mail yet, she's not there."
"What if she arrived last night, early this morning?" Blair pressed.
The landlord shook his head. "There's a camera in the lobby, it records whoever comes through the main door after dark. We had some security issues several years ago—"
"I don't think he's here, Simon." Blair spun on his heel and headed toward the stairs. Simon hurriedly thanked Hong and followed him, feeling uncomfortably like a sidekick.
"Sandburg," he said exasperatedly when they reached the darkened streets, "will you get a grip?" When Blair turned desperate graying eyes toward him, the captain took a deep breath and forced himself to be patient. "I know you're worried, Blair. Hell, I'd be more concerned if you weren't." He saw the observer's eyebrows go up a hair at the word 'concerned' and inwardly sighed, went on, "but this isn't helping Jim, running around like a lunatic and making like—well, making like a cop. You're not a cop, Sandburg. You're an anthropologist; why don't you use some of those people skills you've got all that education with?"
The faintest glimmer of a smile told him that his words hadn't all slipped through the man's fatigued brain. "Guess I've sort of been going off half-cocked," he admitted.
"Sort of," Simon muttered. "Half. Yeah. That's right," raising his voice to an audible level. "I think the best thing now would be to find a cheap hotel, get some sleep, and find Jim tomorrow." We better find him tomorrow. We all have work Monday.
He wasn't going to consider, even in the privacy of his own mind, what it could mean if Jim were still missing after three days. Not that his silence helped Sandburg. Judging from the shadows in his expression, the kid's imagination was supplying far too many possibilities on its own.
That, more than his undefinable instinct, was probably what was keeping him up. They managed to find a room with two beds for fairly low, but though Simon sank gratefully onto his mattress, Blair was as unwilling as ever to settle. The captain considered sticking his head under his pillow and ignoring him, but he knew the effort would be futile. "Sandburg, lie down, sleep," he ordered at last. "Before I have to arrest you for disturbing the peace." Did he really have to pace on a wooden floor in hiking boots?
He kicked off his shoes but of course didn't stop. Simon watched him complete another lap around the room in dismay. "What does Jim do usually, sedate you?"
"Oh God." Blair stopped dead in his tracks. For a moment the captain thought he had made a serious error simply stating his partner's name, but the observer was on another tangent entirely. "I must be tired—" No kidding—"why didn't I think of that before?"
If he got any paler he'd make snow look pink. "Sit down," Simon commanded him in no uncertain terms, and was gratified to finally be obeyed. "Now, what'd you think of?"
"Patricia's drugging him, right?" Blair gasped hurriedly. "I mean, that's the obvious thing, we knew it already, it's the only way she could have handled him. But what I wasn't thinking—she's a neuropsychologist, I told you that, didn't I?"
"And she deals with drug addicts..." Simon prompted slowly, not in the least liking where this was going.
"Well, yeah, that's a piece of it, but the thing is, she also did some government work with drugs. Narcotics, nerve gases, tranquilizers—I forgot, she only mentioned it offhand once, a while ago, that she had been contracted on part of this major project, top-secret garbage type of thing. But it meant she had a couple things in her medicine drawer that weren't on the legal market, some sedatives, and I think she was using one regularly as a trance aid. You know, putting people under hypnosis. Truth-drug kind of stuff. God, she told me that years ago, why didn't I remember? It's been in the back of my mind, I knew there was something...
"Simon, we gotta find her, and Jim, if she's using any of that—she doesn't know how Jim can react to drugs. Remember just the cold medicine? Even if she knows he's a Sentinel, she doesn't know about that, if he has a reaction, or had one, or if there's a delayed side-effect—" If he breathed any faster he was going to have a reaction himself to the lack of oxygen.
"Easy, Blair." Simon put his hands on his shoulders, looked him straight in the eye. "You're hyperventilating, you have to stay calm. Jim's all right, as far as we know, don't assume the worse without evidence. There's no reason why Cole would want to hurt him, right? And if she's a scientist who's studied this stuff, she should know about reactions. She would have been careful. She might be crazy—" they had no proof yet, but he was gradually becoming as convinced as Sandburg of her involvement—"but she's not stupid, you've said yourself."
"No." Blair shook his head. "She's not, that's all I'm sure of now. I don't believe this..." At least he was mostly rational again, and breathing more regularly. But his voice shook a little, "I don't believe this. God, you think you know a person, you think someone's your friend, and they turn out...what happened to her? Why is she doing this, what's going on? I thought I knew criminals, psychotics even, and I thought I knew Tricia, and I never guessed, she always seemed so normal. That's what they always say, isn't it, the friends and family, 'he was such a nice boy, he'd never do anything like that'. Only he did. Only she has, and I let her, and Jim's paying for it..."
"He's fine, Sandburg," Simon assured him, hoping his conviction sounded honest enough. "He'll be fine." He better be. Or else Patricia Cole would have even more to answer for. And looking at Blair's expression now, Simon Banks and the law would be the least of her problems.
It was so dark when first he opened his eyes that he thought he had been blinded. He would have called out but years of training made him clamp his jaw instead, and another instinct commanded him to use his vision, widen his range of sight.
For a moment it seemed like nothing would happen, his eyes disobeying his directive, and then his pupils dilated and the dim glow from the streetlights outside was enough for him to make out the shadowy interior. An apartment.
Patricia's apartment. When he listened he could hear her in the other room, breathing slow and regular. Everything still and quiet, the sounds of the night streets muffled. There was no danger here, no reason for him to be so tense. He was not threatened, Patricia was safe, protected—
His universe spun on its ear, shifted, and everything fell into a different place, its correct place. Except he was in the wrong position, the wrong city, the wrong home, and the person in the bedroom was not the right one. Where was he, what had happened to him, why was he not here where he belonged?
He shoved himself off the couch, stumbled toward the door, seeking his partner, his Guide out there alone. The room tipped dizzily around him, or maybe he was falling, and then someone was supporting him, giving him a hand as someone always did, only it wasn't the right man.
He was too weak to push her away, going limp as she lead back him to the couch. But he stared into her eyes, demanded, "Where's Blair?"
The slightest crease marring her forehead. "He's in Cascade. Nothing's happened to him. You don't need to worry about him anymore; you don't need him anymore. You have me, remember, Jim?" She massaged his shoulders gently. "I'm your Guide now."
Soothing, her voice; calming, her touch. "No!" he shoved both off. "Patricia, I don't know what's going on—"
"It's late, you're tired—"
"But I know this is wrong! Whatever the hell you're doing, whatever you did to him—"
"Jim!" She grabbed his hand, pressed it to her chest. "Feel if you won't listen, feel my heart. Hear my words. Blair Sandburg is fine; I've done nothing to him." And indeed her pulse did not waver. Her blue eyes bored into his, cutting through the darkness to plumb his soul. "He's safe, and you can stop worrying about him; he's outside your sphere of protection now. You have a new city, a new home, a new Guide..."
Warm her fingers on his shoulder, her skin through the cloth under his hand. But her voice was crystalline, sharp edges slicing through his mind. "Go back to sleep, Jim, and forget about him. Remember me, remember the life we'll have here, together. I'm your Guide now, I'm yours, and you're mine..."
Had he been able to speak he would have objected; he would have cast the false Guide aside and found his partner. But he was powerless under the spell she had already woven around him, and could not stop himself from consenting.
He was all right. She had spoken honestly of that at least; his true Guide was safe, and that knowledge was strong enough in its own way that he could bear this, could give in to her insanity knowing that essential part of his self was still secure.
Perhaps, Simon reflected with the clarity of hindsight, forcing Sandburg to rest and recuperate hadn't been such a bright idea after all.
Because now there wasn't a chance in hell that anything would stop him. Once more he was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to beat down a brick wall with his bare hands for his partner's sake, if that's what the situation called for. Unlike Jim would be in similar circumstances, however, Blair was equally willing to perform the necessary legwork, opening more productive lines of inquiry.
Which meant that at six A.M. sharp the captain was dragged out of bed, and next thing he knew they were on a bus heading to Berkeley.
Blair's electricity imitation had toned down a bit; he no longer buzzed but merely hummed, mentally speeding the bus along but at least sitting relatively still. For once he wasn't in a talkative mood, to Simon's relief; the captain had no interest in discussing last night. Either the lengths he had to take to finally force Sandburg to sleep...
Or later in the night, when the kid had shouted in his dreams. Simon had listened to him whimper for half a minute and then got out of bed, went over and shook his temporary roommate awake. Blair had gasped and sat up, but obviously his wide eyes weren't seeing anything and his breathing was going a mile a minute. Unsure of what else to do, Simon had resorted to treating him like his son, when Daryl had had a nightmare, wrapping his arms around him and rocking him gently.
It didn't take long before Blair froze, becoming conscious of where he was, and Simon quietly released him and went back to bed before he could embarrass him further. Sandburg remembered the incident, Simon was pretty sure. There wasn't much that escaped his notice. Uncharacteristically he made no mention of it, however.
Why, kid? Simon asked him silently, watching him staring out the window. You think I think less of you because of it? If Blair had nightmares, Simon would bet that ninety-nine out of a hundred of them stemmed directly from his work with the Cascade police. Lash, Golden, Garrett Kincaid. But Sandburg still came to the station with Jim every day, never a protest out of him, eager as any rookie to do his part and with far more confidence and competence than most beginning officers.
And now he was on this crazy quest to find Jim, not about to let anything dissuade him from his path, neither nightmares nor landlords nor stubborn police captains. Good thing Ellison already knew what a damn fine partner he had. It saved Simon the trouble of having to tell him outright.
The psychology department at UC Berkeley was deserted, as one would expect early on a Sunday morning. Sandburg wasted no time seeking out the few individuals present. They confronted a professor in his office, Simon stepping back and allowing Blair to take the floor. Universities were his turf.
"Do you know Patricia Cole?"
The man blinked at them, knowing they weren't students and confused as to their presence, but responding to Blair's reasonable tone. "Yes, she's a colleague of mine."
"Is she here?" No wasting time when he could cut right to the chase.
"No," answered the professor, "she's on sabbatical this semester. Working on some projects for the government," his frown hinting at what he thought of one of his fellows selling out to the Establishment.
"Is she working here, does she have any offices around here, or a summer place or something?"
"Ms. Cole lives in San Francisco," the man stated, rising. "I won't say more than that until you give me a good reason why you're prying into her affairs."
Blair cast a pleading look in Simon's direction. Without much misgivings the captain withdrew his shield. "We're with the police," he said, letting the professor scrutinize it long enough to ascertain the badge's validity but before he got around to checking the city it was issued from. "We're conducting an investigation."
"Of what?" The last remnants of the man's willingness to communicate vanished the moment Simon's identification appeared. He eyed them now with increasing suspicion.
Sandburg flashed back into action. "Drugs, but it's not what you think. I'm not a police officer, I'm an anthropology professor from Rainier U, up in Washington. Recently there's been an influx of illegal substances on campus, only no one's been able to pinpoint the pipeline. I witnessed an exchange, and I might—only might now—have evidence that the government's involved. Illegal testing, man, some of these chemicals are precisely engineered, the next wave of warfare after biological. Nerve gas and toxins that'll make Agent Orange look like a fertilizer spray."
"And Cole's involved with this how?" asked the professor. Something had changed in his expression, for the better or the worse Simon couldn't tell.
"We're not sure." Blair's lie came instantly. "She could be working for them, but she's probably just a pawn. But we haven't been able to find her, and we can't call on other resources, you-know-who might be listening..." He gestured to indicate omniscient federal eyes. "Please, man, we got to find her and see if she knows what's what. The captain here is going against orders to do this, and me..." he laughed self-consciously, "well, you know, too young to have protested the war so I'm trying to be a hero now."
Simon waited with bated breath for the man to chuckle, smirk, and throw them out on their asses. Instead the professor leaned over his desk and said in an undertone, "Don't underestimate what a couple of good men can do." His smile clearly included Simon. "Patricia's got a friend out of town for the year, she's been using her apartment. It's pretty close, big complex downtown." Quickly he scribbled down the address and handed Blair the slip of paper. "And I don't care if you use my name, given the cause," he added.
A quick thanks and then they got out of there. Simon waited until they had walked off campus before shaking his head. "Good God, Sandburg, the truth would have been more convincing than that load of—"
"Hey, man, it worked, right?" Blair fingered the address. "Quickest way to do it, convince 'em we're on their side."
"By making up an entire government conspiracy—"
"We needed an ally. 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend', did you see the photos on the walls? That guy was in every major rally of the '60s from the look of it. He probably knew my mother." The observer grinned. "No way he'd tell a couple of pigs anything, but a fellow professor going mano a mano against Big Brother?"
"Sandburg," Simon growled, "next time you obfuscate to get your way, I don't want to know about it."
"No problem, man, I wasn't planning on telling you anyway." Without giving Simon a chance for a comeback he waved the slip of paper, "Come on, we got to see if any cabbies can find this place."
The sunlight streamed over his closed eyes and he awakened by degrees. It occurred to him that his life had fragmented, was now composed of bits of lucidity divided by stretches of unconscious oblivion. He supposed this should disturb him, but it was difficult to muster the effort to care.
And Patricia was there, warmly sympathetic, with her soothing touch and cajoling words. Did he need anyone beside her?
Was that his own thought, or hers that she had posed to him now absorbed into himself? He had no way of differentiating what she told him from what he knew, from what the truth was. Frame of reference, remarked a voice he couldn't quite recognize, you need an objective viewpoint. Who else spoke to him?
No one, Patricia assured him in his memory, there was no one else he need care for, no one else that cared for him in return. He raised his hand, watched his fingers sluggishly move at his behest. Too slow a response, or maybe he saw it wrongly; was it related to the fog in his mind, a thick blanket obscuring all but the loudest and most pressing concerns?
She caught his hand in her own quick fingers, smiled down at him. "Rise and shine! Feel better than last night?"
"I feel fine." Better than what?
"Good. Good! A little tired still?" When he nodded, "That'll pass. I won't lie, it's because of what I gave you, but it's to help you, you see. I'll decrease the dose, in a couple of weeks it won't be necessary, when you're more fully in control. When we're closer and can trust each other completely, then we can stop this. You'll still need me for those senses, you always will, but it won't be so pressing as it was."
He forced himself to ask, barely interested in the answer, "What are you doing?"
"Nothing big," she assured him, "only therapy—" A harsh noise interrupted her. He winced as it sounded again; she grabbed the phone off the coffee table. The ringing stopped. "Yes? Hello?"
Holding the receiver Patricia retreated to the far corner of the room, facing away from him but he could still hear her voice, and if he listened harder, pushed his ears beyond their natural limits, he could make out the speaker at the other end. A man, a younger man, though how he could know that or hear him..."Tricia, I don't know what you're up to—"
"None of your business."
"Whoa, hey, I don't care. Just thought you'd be interested, Max was paid a visit this morning by two guys who might have been with the police, looking for you. They fed him some crap about government conspiracies and he told them where you're staying."
"What men? Gerald, did he say who it was?" The urgency in her tone made him focus all the harder, suddenly finding a cause for concern.
"I dunno, but I saw them walk out. Strange couple—really big black guy in a suit and this short white hippy kid with nice hair—he practically bowled me over on his way by, didn't even apologize. Real LA-type attitude."
"And they know where I am?" Her tension was triggering unconscious alarms inside him, raising his hackles at the thought of a threat to her, to them—but the man's words brought a different feeling, something halfway familiar. He reached for the memory—
She hung up, broke the connection and his train of thought. When she spoke her tone was steady, but he could clearly make out the anxiety, even the fear underlying it. "Jim, we're going to have to leave here for a while, something's come up..."
He heard it then, outside, but obvious as if he were standing on the street, a vehicle pull up to the curb, the grumble of its engine shifting as it idled for a moment, then its tires screeching as it drove away. Two sets of footsteps on the pavement, one heavy, the other somewhat lighter, change in tempo as they climbed the steps of the apartment building. He could hear as well the low hum of voices, almost could he make out the words, the familiar tone—
"Jim!" Her voice brought him back to himself, inside her flat. "What were you listening to?" she asked. "What'd you hear?"
"Outside..." He vaguely indicated the window.
She cautiously lifted the shade, looked out. "Damn," very softly, under her breath. Then, "Jim, we have to go now, you have to follow me. You'll come with me, won't you? You'll follow me?"
"Yes," he agreed, of course; what choice did he have? With a brief smile she took his arm, lead him to the door. Peeked out before stepping into the hall and pulling him along; then she stopped. "Jim, do you hear anyone on the stairs? Or in the elevator?" When he didn't immediately respond she reached up, held his face in her hands and forced him to look down into her eyes. "Listen carefully," she directed, "Tell me what you hear, who you hear."
He listened. Hiss of breathing in the first elevator, "There's a man there," he pointed, "an old man." The other was empty. The flight of stairs, irregular pattern of footsteps—he concentrated, separated them. "A woman going down, and two men..." A louder, heavier tread, and ahead of it a rapid quick-step, both approaching. Strange, how their proximity did not strike the same chords of apprehension in him as her nervous voice. He almost felt like waiting for them, welcoming when they reached him—
Under her breath but not below his hearing range, Patricia was murmuring a catalogue of oaths. Suddenly she grabbed his hand, almost dragging him down the hall, punching both elevator keys repeatedly. A pair of doors slid open and she shoved him inside. Stared in dismay at the direction panel for a moment, muttering to herself, "Too soon, too soon, why'd they come so quickly? Can't go down, they might have someone in the lobby..." She pressed the button for the roof. The doors quietly closed and the box bore them upwards, away from the strangers' fading steps.
Sandburg didn't even bother waiting the requisite fifteen seconds for the elevator to come; he headed straight for the stairs and started up. Simon couldn't really blame him, between his previous experiences with elevators and his ever-increasing anxiety. He did wish that Cole's friend could have lived on the first floor rather than the sixth; by the time he reached her level he was panting a bit.
Blair wasted no time catching his breath but immediately dodged down the hall and started hammering his fist on the correct door. The woman living across from her peeked out briefly and immediately closed her own door, locking it behind her, but there was no answer at the targeted apartment.
Simon tried the knob, found it unlocked and pushed in the door. "Have a warrant?" Sandburg inquired, and then zipped inside before the captain could respond. Proceeding at a slightly calmer pace, the captain found him standing in the center of the room, arms crossed, staring at nothing. "He was here, Simon."
"How—" but of course Blair had no answer. As Simon began checking for more evident evidence, the observer turned a slow circle, finding his own signs of his partner.
"He's still here," Blair murmured. "He's close, they were right here..."
That was correct, at least—two eggs out in the kitchen and a frying pan on the burner acquiring a blackened bottom. "We just missed them," Simon said quietly. Not wanting to think of how easy—or difficult—it would be to find them again. He found something else of interest on the counter and brought it back for Blair's inspection. "Any ideas on this? It doesn't look like an ingredient in any of my omelets."
Sandburg barely glanced at the label on the little bottle, rattling off the long chemical name without a stutter. "Standard tranquilizer," he added. "I think Tricia used it to relax subjects for hypnosis. It's related to sodium pentathol, the truth drug, that kind of thing."
The vial was half-empty. "What effect would it have on Jim?" Simon asked carefully.
"No idea." He regarded the rest of the room with despair. "Dammit, he was right here, if we were only a couple minutes earlier—"
"Easy," Simon told him with confidence he wasn't feeling. "They couldn't have gotten far, we'll find them."
Blair nodded without really hearing the words, his head cocked, focusing on an internal message. Suddenly he ran for the door, calling over his shoulder, "Up, they are still here, they're on the roof!"
"What the..." Swearing, the captain took off after him, trying to stay on the younger man's heels as he flew up the five flights of stairs. Damn it all, Ellison was the one with the senses, where was Blair getting his inspiration from? A little invisible bird? His imaginary friend? Whatever it was, Simon wondered with a degree of self-pity, why was he invariably left out of the loop?
At any rate, he wasn't about to let Blair out of his sight.
They emerged on the roof, he blinking at the sudden influx of sunlight, unshielded by curtain or shadow. The cityscape spreading out panoramically around them, guarded only by the low cement ridge at the edge of the building. He stared up at the blue sky arcing overhead, squinting in its uniform brilliance.
Patricia closed the door behind them, swore when she realized it couldn't be locked from the outside. "They're still coming? Jim, are they still coming?"
He listened. "They're on the stairs again."
"Damn! Why?" Not asking him but the thin air. "Why can't they leave us alone?" She closed her eyes, drew a deep breath and steadied herself. When her lids lifted her eyes were sapphires in the sun, clear and hard. "Jim, you're going to need to protect us, do you understand? They'll try to take me away, if you let them."
"No," he denied; wrong, wrong to separate him from the Guide.
"I know," she calmed him, "I know, but you can stop it." Stepping close she took both his hands in her own, placed something between them. Smooth, hard metal, a contoured form his fingers easily curled around. Looked down at the silver barrel, knowing what he'd see. His gun.
"It's yours," she assured him, "you know how to use it, you're a policeman, remember? You had it with you, I kept it safe. I didn't think we'd need it, but we do now. You understand, Jim? We can make them leave, or let us go. You can do that?"
"Yes," he agreed. Shifting his grip on the weapon so it fitted naturally in his hands, automatically cocking it as he raised his arms, aimed the barrel at the door.
"That's right," and Patricia's smile had returned, more subdued but still pleased. "That's it, back up now. Quietly, if they don't come it will be okay, but if they do we're ready now." She drew him farther out on the roof, and he moved to put himself between the woman and the door, shielding her from the nearing danger. He could hear the footsteps still approaching, prepared himself for the door to open. Behind him she repeated, "We're ready," and then was silent.
Simon caught up with Blair as they began climbing the final staircase leading to the roof. "Okay, Sandburg, what's the deal? Are you sure they're up there?"
"They have to be," the observer affirmed. "Tricia's cautious, she wouldn't know that we're alone, so going down to the lobby would be too risky. And hiding in the apartment would be even worse, especially if what I'm thinking is true, and Jim saw me—"
"Hold on," Simon frowned. "I thought she was keeping him sedated."
"Not exactly..." Blair paused mid-step.
"What, exactly, is going—" Simon began, only to have Sandburg cut him off with a sharp gesture.
"They're up there," he whispered. "I swear I just heard Jim."
Simon kept his own voice low but reminded him, "If you did, then he's definitely already heard us."
Blair nodded vigorously, cocked his head and pointed upwards, silently asserting, Keep going. Rolling his eyes, Simon followed.
Sandburg paused at the top of the stairs, hand on the doorknob. Throwing out his fingers in a classic academy countdown—probably something he picked up from a cop movie—he indicated one, two...
On three he swung the door wide open. Nothing happened. Cautiously, before Simon could stop him, he proceeded onto the roof.
He had taken three steps when he froze, and the captain almost fell trying to avoid striding into him. Not that he blamed the kid. Not when he saw what Blair had.
Jim Ellison, looking definitely the worse for wear, pale and sweating in the cool morning sun, stood partly hunched over, not ten feet in front of them. He had his gun in his hands, and to Simon's dismay the muzzle was pointed directly at Blair's heart.
Behind his detective, a tall red-haired woman—quite attractive, as Sandburg had noted— stared at them steadily with cold blue eyes. She was the first to speak, her voice level and light. "Please go, we don't need you."
Yeah, right. "Jim, what the—" He had started to reach for his own piece, aborted the motion when the woman shook her head warningly.
Evidently Jim was beyond hearing him. His eyes, from Simon's distance at least, looked glazed, pupils dilated widely even for the Sentinel; and his face was blank. Either drugged or starting to zone—but the gun in his grasp didn't waver.
And Blair, his partner, the one who always could guide him out of these sensory zones, was just as paralyzed. Sandburg, this is not the time to suddenly take a vow of silence... Simon cleared his throat, wondering if he dared nudge the observer.
The woman spoke again, just as coolly, "Shoot him, Jim."
What the hell? Simon had to physically bite his tongue to keep from shouting. Of all the crazy-ass, stupid, insane—
Except Jim wasn't putting the gun down, or better yet aiming it where he more appropriately should. He wasn't firing, either, but to say he was behaving abnormally would be understating the matter. Threatening Blair?
Behind the Sentinel, Patricia Cole rested her hand on his shoulder and whispered, "Jim, pull the trigger."
The command finally galvanized Sandburg into action. So quietly it was almost a whisper itself he contradicted her, "No, don't."
Jim's head whipped around, pinned him with his patented Ellison glare. Icier than usual, because there was no friendship, no recognition in his eyes. But Blair was as always unintimidated. He continued speaking, calmly, as if he hadn't a care in the world, "It'd be a bad idea, Jim, because I know you wouldn't live with yourself if you ever remembered." Not to mention Sandburg probably couldn't live with himself if he had had a couple of holes put in him at his partner's hand, but of course that wasn't the kid's major concern.
"Jim—" the woman behind him began, "Listen—"
Sandburg cut her off, echoing her words, "Jim, listen to me here for a minute, man. I don't know what Patricia's told you, what she's done to you," and the tremor in his voice was not fear but anger. "I'm not going to say it was all lies, or any of it was, because I don't know. I just want to remind you that I'm here, man. I'm still your partner. We, Simon and I, we've been looking for you. We were worried, we had to see if you were all right."
He swallowed, the smallest hint of nerves starting to show, when Jim's gaze only bored through him without response. "And now we know...I'm staying. Until I find out what's up and make sure you're okay, I'm here. You can pick either way, your choice, Jim, but until you do I'm still your partner, and I'm not leaving you."
Patricia Cole was speaking over him, softly intoning, "Ignore him, forget him, listen to me, don't listen to him, ignore him..." A constant chant, one that set Simon's teeth on edge, the singsong monotony of it as much as what it implied. Jim's head was cocked, an ear focused on either Guide. Two pairs of blue eyes on him but it was the words he absorbed, almost seemed to be considering, as if there actually was a choice.
And then Blair simply lost it, the anticipation must have been too much, or maybe after this long his irregular patience had been expended. At any rate he raised his arms and said, "Come on, Jim, you need one of us, decide."
Simon could've hit him. The last way in the world to win Jim Ellison's affections, to remind him that he was indeed reliant on others, shove his face in his dependence and contradict his self-sufficiency. No man is an island, but Jim tried his best to maintain islandic ideals, and having a partner at all had always grated on him a bit, let alone a pushy one who would not deny his own necessity—
Except at Blair's words the Sentinel heaved a great sigh, the gun lowering and his head dropping. When it lifted, Simon thought he saw a flicker of something in the tired eyes, something finally recognizable as Jim Ellison.
And certainly there was no mistaking his voice, hoarse as it was. "It took you long enough to get here, Chief."
Simon thought he'd pull a cheek muscle grinning, and the slightest smile played across Jim's lips. Blair only shook his head, "Man, you—"
Whatever he was about to say was interrupted by a scream that would have done a banshee proud. "NO!" cried Patricia Cole.
Jim whirled, but he was definitely moving slower, still partially under the influence of whatever the hell she had exposed him to. She sprinted, not past them for the door, but the opposite direction, to the edge of the roof. With a graceful spring she was astride the cement rim, balanced on the corner and staring down at them from the precarious ledge.
"No," she repeated, quieter and more reasonably. "Jim, listen to me, you know you need me, what I can do for you."
Jim shook his head, not so much a negative but as if clearing it. Blair reached out, gripped his shoulder. With that support the Sentinel straightened, met her insane gaze. "No, Patricia, I don't need you. But I can help you, if you'll let me." He extended his hand toward her, not daring to walk any closer. "Come back down here, come to me and I'll help you."
Perhaps tears made her eyes flash. "No, you don't understand, I can help you. They're using you, Jim, they're using what you can do. I don't care about that, I just want you, to help you."
"They're not using me." Jim looked briefly at his partner and captain. "They know what I can do, but I'm a Sentinel. I choose to use my abilities, it's what I'm supposed to do. And Blair helps me with that, he helps me use them. I don't need to suppress them, not with him guiding me to do so much more."
"But he's not!" she insisted. "He doesn't want to guide you, he just wants to study you, you're his research, that's all. He doesn't care about you, Jim, only the Sentinel matters—"
"Why?" Blair stepped forward, putting himself between his partner and his former friend. "Why'd you do this, Patricia, why do you want Jim so badly?" Simon didn't think it was such a wise idea to push the woman any farther, especially not considering her unstable position, literally as well as mentally—but glancing at the observer's face, he decided it wasn't the time to point this out. "If you're not using him, then why?"
"Blair." She shook her head. "I never understood you, not when I read your paper. The last one, the one you didn't publish, the one on Guides. I didn't understand why you never submitted it, and then you told me you had started working with the police, who you were studying now, and I knew. It was so obvious, your partner, he had to be—and he is, isn't he?" She looked back at Jim. "He's a Sentinel exactly as you wrote, you must have been thrilled to finally find one.
"But I never knew why you became his partner. Not when you knew what being a Guide meant. 'Love them and leave them' Blair Sandburg, the original ladies' man—you never wanted a real relationship, you never wanted commitment, what would hold you down. I never minded that in you, it was just a part of you, it wasn't what I wanted but I didn't care, you were just a friend. But why would you ever want to be a Guide? You could have studied him, done your tests, found everything you wanted to know about Sentinels without getting involved. Like a real scientist, staying objective, right, Blair?
"Me, though, I was everything, everything a Guide should be, I had all the knowledge, the skills, and I could take the commitment. I wanted it, I thought I had it when I married Greg, but I was wrong, I found that out, he didn't care even though I did. He was like you, Blair. He didn't need me, eventually he didn't even want me any more, and that was over. But I remembered, I remembered what I had read in your paper. About how Sentinels need Guides, how they depend on one another in the wild, as they work, all their lives. I could do that. I could make that commitment even if you couldn't, and that's what he needs, isn't it?" Again she turned to Jim. "He needs someone he can depend on."
"Patricia." Ellison's tone was unnaturally mild, slow and patient. "I have someone already. I have a partner. I didn't need another. I'm sorry." The sincerity in his apology was beyond disbelieving.
"No!" she protested like an obstinate child, all but stamping her foot. "You need a Guide, a real one, someone you can always rely on—"
"He has a Guide," Blair announced, at the same time Jim said, "I have a Guide," their words overlapping, intermingling into one clear assertion.
Patricia stared from one man to the other, her mouth open but saying nothing. Something subtle altered in her look and Simon tensed, prepared to leap for her if she tried to jump.
Instead she reached into the depths of her coat, withdrew a small sleek vial of dark glass. "Sentinel," she called to Jim. "The life of a friend, or the life of a Guide. You decide." And before he could interpret that statement she acted.
It was one of those fleeting moments in which everything happens instantly, and only in the aftermath does one have any chance of sorting out the precise sequence of events. The woman stepped backwards, deliberately walking into empty air and a ten-story fall. At the same time she flung her prize toward Simon; he saw the dark flask expanding in his vision, the details on its miniature label becoming clear as it hurtled toward him.
Blair moved. Jim moved.
The Sentinel lunged in front of his captain, pinpointing the tiny vial in his enhanced vision to catch it in his hands. He fell clutching it, curling his body around the bottle to keep it from shattering. Simon blinked, trying to process what he had just witnessed, not clear on all the facts but suspecting that Jim might have saved his life—
Sandburg's stressed voice suddenly shouted, "I could use some help!"
He was hanging half-off the building, not a happy situation for an acrophobe. Hanging onto him in turn, their hands desperately clasped and starting to slip, was Patricia. Simon and Jim hastened to his side, helped pull the woman up and set her down firmly on the rooftop.
"Patricia Cole," Simon announced with great satisfaction, marred only by the lack of handcuffs to snap around her wrists, "you are under arrest for the abduction of police detective James Ellison."
She wasn't paying him the least attention. Her only focus was on Jim, lips barely moving as she whispered, "You didn't, you didn't save me, I'm a Guide, and you didn't..."
Jim's answer was quiet as before, remarkably untouched by malice. He sounded almost sympathetic. "I already have a Guide, Patricia. More than that, I have a partner. One who does as much for me as I do for him, if not more. I knew what he could manage, and I knew what I could handle—and together, we can do anything."
She didn't struggle. They took her to the precinct station themselves, identified themselves, the situation, and turned her over to the responsibility of the surprised desk sergeant. She most likely wouldn't go to court; pending evaluation, Patricia Cole would be checked into the nearest mental ward. Jim wasn't interested in pressing charges, not when her state of mind had been so clearly displayed.
Next was a trip to the hospital, where under Blair's watchful eye they drew what Ellison insisted to be about a quart of blood for multiple tests and analyses—the Guide wasn't taking any chances with whatever drugs Patricia might have used on his Sentinel. They also examined the contents of the flask she had thrown at Simon.
The results of that did not please the captain. A highly toxic chemical, potentially fatal through simple skin contact. If it had broken and any had seeped through his clothes, or for that matter gotten onto Jim's sensitive hands...
Not to mention the fact that it was one of several substances found in minute quantities in Jim's veins. "Probably the first thing she dosed you with," Blair confided in low tones as they conversed in one of the waiting rooms. "It's a nerve toxin, and in such a tiny amount it might suppress your senses. You having any problems with them?" he anxiously inquired of his partner.
Jim shook his head. "Maybe they're a little off, but not enough that it affects me normally. How long will this last?" Not daring to suggest it might be permanent.
Blair quickly dispelled that unspoken notion. "Should be out of your system in a couple days, along with everything else. We go home, you sleep for a day—just like any vacation—and everything'll be back to normal."
"Thank God for that," Jim agreed with unusual fervency. "I'd soon enough just forget every single thing that woman did and said."
"I know!" Blair seconded. "I mean, me, 'love them and leave them'?"
"Actually," his partner interjected, "I was thinking that was the one part that she actually got right."
"Coming from a man who's never actually dated the same woman two consecutive times.."
"Considering who I've been set up with—"
Simon knew that such give-and-take was simply a way to handle the stress of the past forty-eight hours, a coping mechanism practiced by all cops. But he couldn't help but worry occasionally about what could be lost under the teasing and jibes. "Give the kid a little credit," he interrupted the partners, before they thought of the ramifications of their last words, "he did find you, Jim."
One of their typically impenetrable glances was exchanged and then they turned their attention to their captain. "We found you," Blair corrected. "About that, sir—I wanted to thank you. For putting up with me, and, you know, for listening to me at all."
"It's not a big deal, Sandburg," Simon gruffly accepted the gratitude. "I only gave you the benefit of the doubt that I'd give the instincts of any of officer." Any one he trusted as much as he did Blair. Which were few and far between.
"I know, Captain." His eyes had that peculiarly sincere, unreserved quality that always made Simon squirm. "Thanks."
As usual Jim could be counted on to counteract his partner's profound effect. "'Captain'? 'Sir'? Did you two bond with me gone?"
"It was a matter of survival," Simon growled, gratefully moving back to more comfortable territory.
"My survival," Blair added. "You think I'd last a minute in Cascade without a Sentinel watching my back, front, and both sides?"
"So you're not planning on quitting any time soon—or maybe you're just planning to skip town?" Jim's tone was teasing but his look obliquely suggested any of a number of the issues Patricia Cole had so bluntly raised.
"No way, I'm not done that diss yet," Sandburg returned immediately. Then caught Jim's eye. "Man, you know I'm not leaving. Anytime soon or anytime at all. We're partners. I think we proved that."
"Several times over," Jim agreed. He hesitated only a moment before going on, "Chief, what she said there, about you staying objective..."
"She didn't know what she was talking about," Blair said. "This about more than my studies. A lot more, it always has been. You know that. She didn't understand. Of course I didn't either in the beginning, but I caught on..."
"Eventually..." But Jim was smiling, a small, expressive version of his occasional broad grin, and his partner reflected it. Simon wondered if they even remembered he was there. Only difference between the look Blair had given him and the one the Guide was giving Jim now was that the Sentinel didn't look uncomfortable under it. More like basking in its light.
"So," Sandburg broke the spell, "does this mean I get the deeded the loft in your will?"
"Not a chance—I'm taking that to my grave. You can have the Santana albums, though."
"Why, because you know they'd never allow them in any afterlife you'd actually want?" Both grinning behind mock annoyance. They covered the majority of their valued possessions in like manner, than somehow made it back to the real center of their discussion. What had happened in the last couple days, both of their sides.
Simon added what he could to Blair's observations, listened closely to Jim's story. Beginning to dislike Cole all the more, though at the same time understanding why the Sentinel felt this odd sort of pity for her. Still, what she had thought she could accomplish...
Of course Blair had answers, lots of them, his encounter with a second Guide—even a false one—only fueling his scholarly passion once the danger was gone. Patricia might have viewed him as a threat to the perfect little world she had thought she was creating, but he didn't even see her as a challenge. Just another point of interest, not worrying about what she tried to do. Because he knew as well as Jim that she couldn't have succeeded; it wasn't possible. Some things were not to be changed, no matter what else came along.
Simon shook his head, watched the observer chatter on about the instinctual drives of Guides and subconscious threat/identification displays, Jim amiably nodding his head, attending to if not entirely understanding every word.
As if anyone would even want to take the place of Blair Sandburg.
As if anyone ever could.
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