This is a Family/Watcher story so you know the drill about reading the previous ones first. The visit to Harrod's was in Errand of Mercy. There are also very brief references to the episodes Blind Man's Bluff and Warriors. You'll also recognize this is an AU because the NBA is not on strike. :-)
There was supposed to be much more discord in this story than you're going to find, but, gosh darn it, the love just wouldn't let the anger take over. I think I warned you before that Family stories have their own master plan and the muses haven't deemed me fit to know it in its entirety. Anyway, there are a several underlying plot points in this story which will hopefully be addressed in future stories.
Oh, this story was originally planned to end with Christmas but since I'm running late, I moved it to New Year's.
"You know, Adam," Dr. Amanda Cuthbertson was saying as she brushed her hair sitting at the vanity in her bedroom, "you'll be a big help with the file I'm building on Jim. His reactions to medications are so unique. But then, he is too. Have you noticed..."
Concentrating on what she was doing, Mandy never noticed the reaction of the man reclining in her bed. Adam Black had frozen as she started the conversation, then began getting dressed. The first moment she sensed something was wrong was when he quietly lay the key to her apartment beside her. At first, she thought he was giving her something, then she recognized it and looked up in alarm. "Adam?" she asked her lover in confusion.
His fingertips gently traced the curve of her face, then he stepped back. "You are asking me for something I will never give." With that, he walked out of the apartment and her life.
"What the hell?" she muttered to herself and looked around the empty room. Adam had flown into Cascade this evening. They had gone to dinner, come back here and made love. The covers were still rumpled from the earlier activity, activity she hoped to get back to as soon as she took care of her nightly toilette. What had gone wrong? It wasn't that she had left their bed to do her hair. She always did and he had admitted that he found the sight of her brushing her hair provocative.
"What was I asking for, Adam?" She could barely remember the conversation of five minutes ago. What had she said that had him walking out? She had mentioned something about Jim, right? She paled as she put two and two together. He thought... But she really hadn't meant... Damn. Adam thought she was asking him to betray Jim's confidences.
And that, she knew, was the one thing he would never do.
"He didn't have to be a Sentinel to see that was a foul," Jim Ellison groused as he cut the television off and picked up the bottles and bowls from where he and his roommate, Blair Sandburg, had watched their local basketball team, the Cascade Jaguars, get beat by the Lakers.
"It was definitely a bad call," Blair agreed as he stretched wearily. "But remind me, man, never to have you ref a game. With those eyes of yours, there would be more penalties than playing time." Jim was a Sentinel, a man with a genetic advantage that left him with five heightened senses. Which apparently were coming into play, he thought, as Jim's head cocked familiarly to one side. "What do you hear, Jim?" he asked in concern. He was Jim's Guide, a companion to the Sentinel.
"Adam?" He walked over to the door and opened it. His brother stood on the other side.
"Can I borrow your couch for the night, James?"
No explanation. Just the simple question. Jim wasn't at all surprised. "Of course, Adam. Come on in."
"I'll get the bedding," Blair offered, exchanging glances with his partner. Jim merely shrugged.
"I don't want to be in your way," Adam said, indicating the party-like residue.
"Just cleaning up after watching the Jags lose. So the sofa is yours." Jim lightly touched Adam's arm as he went past him to pick up a rogue kernel of popcorn. "As long as you want it."
Adam smiled. No request for an explanation. Just a quiet offer. Now he knew why he hadn't gone to a hotel or to the airport. "Thank you, James. And you too, Blair," he added as the anthropologist returned with bedding and pillows.
"No sweat, man. Uh, Jim..." He indicated the soft brown teddybear on the sofa. Without so much as a smirk, Jim picked up the toy and cradled it carefully in his left arm. He looked at it, then nodded before scooting up the stairs to deposit it on his bed. Blair watched Adam carefully for his reaction, but there was none. Man, talk about a good soldier. When Jim returned, he gave an exaggerated yawn. "I'm wiped. See you guys in the morning." He hurried off to his room.
Jim shook his head. "I'm really trying to work on his subtlety, but as you can see, it's going to be a challenge," he said with a grin."So now that we have been granted this moment of privacy, I guess I should ask if this has anything to do with Mandy."
Adam nodded. "I didn't harm her."
"I didn't ask you that, did I?" Jim chastised softly.
Adam dropped his head, ashamed that he had made the assumption. It hadn't even crossed James' mind that he would harm her... Perhaps that was why it had never crossed his mind. "I don't want to talk about this," he said, making his preference known. But if his Elder asked him directly, he would tell all.
But Jim just looked at him and shrugged. "I can personally vouch that the sofa isn't too bad for sleeping. Good night, Adam."
He gave a relieved sigh that only a Sentinel could have perceived. "Good night, James."
"So?" Blair asked eagerly as he and Jim rode the elevator to the parking lot the next morning.
"So what, Chief?" Jim asked, patting his pockets for the keys to the Jag which Adam had driven over from Mandy's.
"What happened between Adam and Mandy?" A cool blue gaze speared him. "I'm not asking you to betray a confidence, Jim. I just wanted to..." He shrugged. "I just wanted to know that everything was cool."
"Can't help you there, Chief. I have no idea of what happened between Adam and Mandy."
"He wouldn't tell you?" Blair asked in disbelief. He'd never seen Adam say no to Jim.
"I didn't ask him."
"You didn't ask... Why not, man? If it was me showing up in the middle of the night asking to sleep on the sofa--"
"I would ask you why not your own bed," Jim teased.
Blair rolled his eyes. "You are just so funny in your own mind, aren't you, man? I'm serious about this, Jim. It's obvious Adam is upset." He paused and considered what he said. Actually, it wasn't obvious at all. Adam had seemed like Adam last night and this morning as well. He was on his cell phone to the East Coast doing business as usual as soon as he knew his fellow loft dwellers were awake. "Why aren't you trying to figure out what's going on?"
"The man deserves his privacy, Chief. If he wants to talk to me, he'll let me know."
"So I'm the only one you browbeat on a regular basis," he griped.
"Always said you were special, Chief," Jim agreed and stopped at the Jag while Blair went on to his car.
Then he realized Jim wasn't following him to where the old Volvo and the pick up truck sat side by side. "No, man," he groaned when he saw Jim slip the key in the door. "Don't tell me the one day I'm not riding with you, you're taking the Jag."
"I figured if anyone asked, I'll just say Adam is visiting." Although the Jaguar was his, Jim had never driven it to the station because he didn't want anyone alerted to the fact he was far richer than his Cascade City paycheck would suggest. So on occasion, he and Blair took the car for a spin to the mountains or the coast, but lately he'd let Adam use it when he was in town.
"Let me drive when we meet for lunch?" Blair asked hopefully.
"Only if I get to choose the restaurant," Jim bargained.
Oh, swell. Drive a Jag to Wonder Burger. "Sure, Jim."
"Have a good day, Chief."
"You too, man."
"What's this word, man?" Brown asked, shoving a handful of Ellison's notes in his face as he tried to transcribe them.
"Vehicle," Jim said, gazing up from the Police Essentials Catalog. He was merely browsing; like a good little boy he had already completed his Christmas shopping. "And be a bit more careful, Henri. Don't want the captain to catch us, do you?" he added as he sensed Simon's imminent arrival. For some reason, he didn't think Simon would appreciate his paperwork being done by other detectives in exchange for a chance to borrow his "brother's car."
"I'll be careful, Jim. You remember the date I want, right?"
Jim consulted a notepad. "The nineteenth. See, I have you penciled in."
"That's what friends are for," Jim said amiably and went back to reading. Only when he heard Simon leave the elevator did he put up the catalog and pretend to flip through a file.
"Why," Simon asked as he leaned across Jim's desk, "is there a Jaguar and not a truck parked in the garage?" He knew the car was Jim's, but also knew the reason why he didn't want anyone else to know it.
"Adam's staying with me for a few days and my dear brother is allowing me to borrow his car," he answered rather loudly.
Simon frowned. "He's at the loft? He usually makes other arrangements when he's in town, doesn't he?" Adam made the captain uncomfortable. In his eyes, he saw the same chill he'd seen in dozens of others staring from the other side of the table in the interrogation room.
"I think he and Mandy had a disagreement last night."
"You think? You didn't ask?"
"Why does everyone expect me to interrogate Adam?" Jim muttered in frustration. "If he had a fight with his lady then that's his business."
Simon looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "What is this? The way James behaves? Give me Jim any day. At least he cares," the captain said and turned away.
"I care," Jim asserted. "But why do you, captain? You don't even like Adam. Why does it matter to you if someone's broken his heart?"
"It doesn't," Simon said softly. "But it should matter to you. And that's what's worrying me." He walked into his office.
Jim fought the urge to bash his head against the desk, mainly because it would hurt. What was the matter with Blair and Simon? Why were they mad at him for not questioning Adam? Why were both of them accusing him of not caring because he didn't bully the man into talking? Fine. That was the thanks he got for trying to be sensitive. His head jerked around as he sensed a familiar presence approaching. Through the windows of the bullpen he saw Mandy walking down the hall. Great. What was she going to accuse him of?
"Mandy," he acknowledged, standing as she entered.
"Jim, is Adam with you?"
"Yes. I mean, he's staying at the loft."
"Thank God," she said as she collapsed into Blair's chair. "I was afraid he'd gone back to Virginia, although I couldn't imagine him doing so without reporting to the Elder first."
And that meant what? "What can I do for you, Mandy?"
"He told you, didn't he? He's wrong. I mean, I didn't mean it like that. I--"
Jim through up his hands. "Whoa. I have no idea what you're talking about," he informed her before she unwittingly spilled her guts.
"He wouldn't tell you? Damn. It's worse than I thought. For him not to answer you..."
"He didn't answer me because I didn't ask," he explained for what seemed like the fiftieth time that morning.
"Why? Are you angry with him?"
Bashing his head seemed more and more appealing. "Look. You and Adam had a disagreement. Am I wrong in assuming you are both adults and can work this out without interference from me?"
"Is that what he told you? That we argued? Hardly. I said something he didn't like so he walked out."
Jim nodded. "That's Adam. He doesn't argue; he either acts or walks away."
"Because he was told his opinion was of little value, so he feels voicing it is a waste of time."
"And you haven't convinced him otherwise?"
Maybe the smallest of taps wouldn't hurt all that much and the jarring would perhaps give him a clue as to why everyone was blaming everything on him. "I taught him to walk away. Isn't that enough?" he asked dryly. Adam "acting" really caused problems.
"No, it's not," Mandy replied angrily. "I can't believe how you're treating him. I didn't mind him loving you so much because I thought you deserved it. Now I'm not so sure." She stood and slung her purse across her arm. "I'm so disappointed in you, Jim."
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!
Blair found him minutes later, slowly banging his forehead against the desk. "Rough day, big guy?"
Jim raised his head and kept it up. "Yeah, but I'm sure it's going to get better. Ready for lunch?"
"Sure. Where are the keys?" Jim reached into his jacket pocket and dropped them into the outstretched hand. "Was that Mandy I spied leaving as I was coming in?"
"Good. So I'm assuming you called Adam and asked what was going on and then you called Mandy and now everything is okay, right?"
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!
A kind hand fell on his shoulder and he looked up gratefully. "Uh, Jim? Is this word 'criminal' or 'cinnamon'?" Brown laughed and tossed the paper down. "Must be lunchtime, huh? Wanna go with me to that cinnamon bun place in the mall, Hair Boy?"
"Sure, Brown. Coming, Jim?"
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!
"Guess that's a no, Brown. Doesn't matter. I have the keys to the Jag. Let's go burn some rubber and pick up some women."
"Sounds like a plan. Damn. Isn't that hurting him?"
"Probably not. He's pretty thick-headed." Laughter trailed them down the hall.
Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!
"James?" Adam looked at the pale figure that entered through the door of the loft and immediately went to his Elder's side. "There was an incident at work?" he inquired when he saw the bruise on James' head.
"No. I just felt like banging my head against a desk all day," Jim replied and grabbed an iced gelpak from the freezer. Given the loft's occupants' propensity for injury, there was always one or two in the refrigerator.
"Oh." Adam didn't think much of the joke but it was obvious James was in pain. "Go rest. Would you like me to order in something for dinner? Or I could cook?"
"I've had your cooking, Adam, and believe me, I'm already feeling bad enough." Jim slumped into his favorite yellow chair and placed the ice pack on the tender spot in the center of his forehead, moaning as the cold collided with his flesh. "Just do what you want. Eating is the last thing on my mind. Just whatever you do, be quiet doing it, okay?"
Adam nodded. The Elder had apparently had a very trying day. Once again he worried about the danger the man was in on a constant basis. People shooting him, running him down with cars, assaulting him.... James was too important to be taken out by these two-bit hoods he 'policed'. He needed to be under guard but James would never go for the idea and he was just too good at his job for Adam to try guarding him without his permission. Maybe if he got Father on his side, then the two of them could talk some sense into the Elder. He would even include Raleigh, knowing how much James respected the elderly man. Of course, the easiest way to get James to do anything lately was to have Blair on your side, but that was going to be a stretch in this situation; both men had a tendency to ignore the danger that surrounded them.
"Adam!" Blair said as he popped through the door as if on cue. "How was your day?"
"Shh!" Adam said quickly, pointing to James slumped in the chair.
"Jim's home?" Blair bounced over to stand in front of his partner. "Where's my car, man? You didn't wreck it, did you?"
"You wouldn't have to worry about that if you hadn't left in the Jag and stayed out all afternoon," Jim said without opening his eyes. "Not to mention taking Brown and Rafe with you. I spent all day taking their calls, by the way."
"We were just checking out some leads, man. Simon approved."
"Simon wanted to punish me."
That sounded interesting. "For what?" Blair asked eagerly.
"For the same reason you're punishing me."
"Oh. So did you tell him? Hey, Adam, did Jim tell you Mandy came by to see him?"
"No," Adam said stiffly. "What did she tell you, James?"
"That whatever happened between the two of you was a misunderstanding on your part. That she didn't mean what you thought she meant." Well, that sentence made his head hurt even worse. He sneaked a peek at his watch. Still too soon to take more aspirin.
Adam considered the statement for a moment. "Maybe I should allow her to tell me what she really meant."
"Maybe you should," Jim agreed. Then maybe everyone would get off his back.
"Did she say anything else?"
A sharp pain distracted Jim as he answered. "Other than the fact that I'm not worthy of your devotion and that she's disappointed in me? No, that was about all." In the instant silence falling after he finished, he realized his mistake. Some things should have remained unspoken. He removed the gelpak and sat up and was startled to see the same fierce look in both the black eyes staring at him and the blue ones. Way to go Ellison. "She was upset, guys. I'm sure she needed to vent and since you didn't hang around, Adam, I was convenient...." That wasn't smart either. Maybe if I dig myself a deeper hole, I can escape to China. With a sigh, he stood up. "I'm going to bed where I can't cause myself or anyone else anymore damage."
"Jim, wake up," a voice called to him gently. Then a delicious scent tickled his nose, so he opened his eyes and found Blair perched on the edge of his bed with a tray.
"Room service?" he asked, raising his eyebrows questioningly and wincing as his forehead protested the movement.
"Still hurts?" Blair asked worriedly and placed his hand gently against the bruise.
Jim sighed in relief. Blair's touch always seemed to melt his pain away. "Not anymore. What did I do to rate this kindness, Chief?" He indicated the tray.
Blair shrugged. "We were supposed to have lunch together and I screwed that up. Then, thanks to my big mouth, you came up here and slept through dinner. What kind of Guide lets his Sentinel go hungry?"
"Thanks, Chief. Where's Adam?" He had immediately sensed his brother's absence.
"He said he needed to get out for a while. But he'll be back since he took your truck."
Jim laughed. "Adam in his Armani suit in my truck? What a sight!"
"Uh, actually, he borrowed one of your sweaters. Said he felt like blending in for a change. I didn't think you would mind. Or is it only sisters who borrow each other's clothes?"
"I don't know, Sandburg. Why don't you look in your closet and tell me?"
Blair smiled. "Didn't think you had noticed, man."
Jim placed his hand on the arm closest to him. "I notice everything about you, Chief."
"Is that a statement or a warning?" he asked with mock nervousness.
"Just a fact." Jim dug into the stew Blair had brought him. He was sure it had some complicated name, but he'd given up trying to remember them all. Stew seemed to fit the majority of his roommate's concoctions. Tasty fit as well.
"So you're probably noticing I want to say something and I don't know where to start."
"Probably." Jim sipped the fruit juice on the tray.
"Jumping on you about Adam, as well as taking the Jag and staying out all afternoon, were very childish actions, Jim," Blair admitted hesitantly. "How you handle Adam is your business. In fact, you're probably the only one who can handle him and I had no right to question your methods."
"Adam comes from a bad place, Chief. When I met him, his self-worth level was about as low as it could get without someone resorting to suicide. But his spirit was too strong for that and so it learned to look out for number one. What you see, what Simon sees, in his eyes is a defense mechanism, a survival skill."
"But you don't see it, do you, Jim? When you look at Adam, you see beyond that. You always have. He told me a little about your OCS days. Says you just decided to take him on, then take him in."
Jim nodded, trying to put words to the feelings he had when he met Adam. "He was...lost, Chief. And I knew that was wrong, that he should have been somewhere."
"His own tribe had banished him unfairly and you took him into yours," Blair said with complete understanding. "Just because you repressed your Sentinel abilities, Jim, didn't mean the instincts weren't there. Adam is very lucky you came along."
"Just like I'm lucky that you came along, Chief."
Blair ducked his head. "Okay, so obviously you've also picked up on the jealousy I'm feeling. I told you I was over my fear of losing you to the Family and I am. But...I was an only child, Jim. I haven't gotten the hang of sharing the people I care about."
"But you share me all the time, Chief."
Blair got up and paced the room. "This really shouldn't be so hard, you know. I mean the things we have discussed, the secrets we have confessed... Okay, I can do this." He sat back down on the bed and Jim placed the now empty tray on the floor so Blair could have his undivided attention. "I don't share you, Jim. I loan you out to people in trouble. I watch indulgently as the women come and go in your life. I know that despite outward appearances, your dad and Steven are tucked away in corners of your heart. I also know the Family has ownership of part of that precious property as well. And yes, there is a portion for your friends and especially Simon. But the majority of that organ in your chest belongs to me. I own it. It's mine and all the time we've been together, Jim, I have never had to share that. But then, in walks Adam....
"He's everything you should have in a brother, man. You have so much in common. You were soldiers together. He's your right hand in the Family. Hell, he knew the Family existed and that along with Jim, there was a James and an Elder. That was bad enough-- that he knew so much more than I did-- but then underneath the bickering you two did when he came to Cascade to take you back to Virginia, I heard genuine warmth and even when you were threatening him, I saw that look in your eyes that you get when you threaten me.... Suddenly, I felt like the kid whose parents just brought home the new baby from the hospital. But with the danger to Father and then to myself, I pushed aside those feelings. Found myself liking Adam, even feeling a little brotherly toward him myself. So when Adam had this problem, I arrogantly thought I knew what you would do to help him. Then you do just the opposite and I'm suddenly thinking you don't love us equally and I start worrying which of us you love more; the squeaky wheel-- me, or the quiet wheel-- Adam."
"And what did you conclude, Chief?" Jim asked softly.
"That you love us both the way we need to be loved. Adam and I aren't the same. The way you express yourself to us will be different. I knew that, of course. It just took an evening of thinking about you up here with your headache to make it clear."
"I have the pain and you learn the lesson, huh? Sounds fair enough," Jim said, smiling at his partner. "Just so we don't have any more misunderstandings, you do know exactly how much you mean to me, right? No doubts. No what ifs. Because if I have to say the words, Blair, I will."
"That's not necessary, big guy. You and me-- we're good."
"And you and Adam?"
"We're good too."
"That's great...because me and Adam are not so good."
Blair stared at his partner. "I don't understand. If he's mad at anyone, it should be Mandy. She had no business saying you weren't worthy of Adam or anyone," he said angrily in defense of his partner, friend, brother, Elder, Sentinel.
"But she was right. And so were you and Simon. I've been cheating Adam. I've been holding back when I should have been pushing. And I know why. His...loyalty makes me uncomfortable. I shouldn't have that much control over one person, Chief," Jim tried to explain. "He's put his life into my hands and that's a lot of responsibility."
"Have you always felt this way?"
Jim closed his eyes and gave the question some thought. "No. It was something I just took for granted."
"In the beginning, who started this? Did Adam just hand over his life to you or did you request it?"
Blue eyes stared off into the faint light given by the bedside lamp. "I just...just took it. It's like I said before-- he was lost and I acted to rectify the problem."
"He believes in you."
"But you don't believe in yourself."
"That's not what I said, Sandburg!"
"But this is what you're saying, Jim. At one point you believed enough in yourself to take Adam's life and mold it to your liking," Blair pointed out bluntly. "But now, you not only doubt your right to do this, but also your ability. Adam's faith has not wavered; yours has. Why is that?"
"I don't know."
"I do." Jim raised an eyebrow at his partner. "It's me."
"You don't make me doubt myself, Chief. In fact, you strengthen my belief in what I can do," Jim asserted, remembering the times Blair made him believe he could do things like reconnect his eyesight when he lost it after exposure to Golden or regain his extraordinary senses when they disappeared after shooting the guard and losing Incacha.
"I gave you faith in the Sentinel but I took it away from James. As the Elder, you knew all the answers; as the Sentinel, you had to look to me for them. You lost control, Jim, and I only gave it back to you partially." Jim looked at him skeptically. "Okay, man. We're going to put everything on the line here. Both of us have redefined ourselves because you are a Sentinel. We accepted those changes, you and I together. I became the Guide to the Sentinel, the partner to the detective, and the best friend of Jim. I thought that took care of you, man. But you were hiding the Elder and so we never faced his doubts, we never defined my boundaries with him or my duties to him.
"Well, guess what, Jim? I don't have any duties to him,other than those of any Family member. Adam is your right hand in this, not me. That's why you're uncomfortable with him; you look at him and you think you should see me. But you shouldn't. If the Elder needs answers, Adam provides them. He is your balance in the Family, not me."
"I have never confused the two of you," Jim said adamantly.
"No, but you have gotten so used to seeing me beside you, that you're uneasy when I'm not there." Jim had to nod at that one. "Hell, I'm uneasy when I'm not there," Blair added with a denigrating grin. "But I don't want to be the Elder's right hand, James. I'm not supposed to be. That's Adam's place. Just as you and I stumbled upon each other, so did you and Adam. Am I occasionally jealous? Yes. Should I be? No. Maybe my place in the Family is not at your right hand, but I do have a place and I will fill that position, whatever it turns out to be, to the best of my ability. It's not the place I have in the rest of your life, but I can live with that and so can you."
"You can. Just look at it this way, Jim: if and when I get my doctorate and I'm this famous professor, I'll still want you as everything you are to me, but... in the classroom, I'd rather have a TA."
Jim laughed. "Don't even trust me to hand out a test, Sandburg? That hurts, teach."
"Honesty usually does, Jim, as well as banging your head against a desk. See how much you've learned today," Blair said cheerily as he stood and grabbed the tray.
"Yeah. Hey, Professor," Jim called as Blair headed back down the stairs. "Thanks."
Blair nodded, then remembered to ask an important question. "Where is my car, man?"
Jim laughed and refused to answer. "Wanna go somewhere tomorrow? I had scheduled the day off a few weeks ago, thinking I'd need it to catch up on my Christmas shopping. But I'm done and since the university is closed for the holidays..."
"I'm game, man," Blair said excitedly. "Where are we going to go?"
Jim shrugged. "Does it matter?"
Eyes met and thoughts were exchanged. "No, Jim. It never has."
The loft was dark except for the lamp next to the sofa where a very still Elder sat. "Waiting up for me, James?" Adam said lightly as he stepped into the loft.
"As a matter of fact, I was. For some reason I don't remember giving you a key to this place."
"I needed to get inside when Quinlan had you shot."
Jim smiled. Slick, Adam. Don't mention how long you've had a key, just note the last time you used it. Probably had it since I moved in. "Oh," he said benignly. "Come and talk to me, bro."
Adam hesitated slightly. Something was up and he wasn't sure he was going to like it. "Talk about what, James? It's rather late, you know. Don't you have to get up and go to work tomorrow?"
"Oh. Then we can talk tomorrow," he tried.
Jim shook his head. "Blair and I are going to spend the day in the mountains. Drive up, see some snow, take in the fresh air. It's a good way to center ourselves."
"That's nice." Adam dawdled around, hanging up his coat.
One word; one warning. Adam sat on the loveseat and looked at James expectantly. "And what is the topic under discussion?"
Jim shrugged. "Boy talk."
"Yeah, like girl talk. We shoot the breeze about things that interest us," Jim explained.
"Okay," Adam said obediently. "What interests you, James?"
"You and Mandy. What was the misunderstanding about?" Silence. "That was an actual question, Adam, not a rhetorical one," the Elder clarified.
Jim nodded. That was what he had figured. Another reason why he had avoided this topic. "What about me?"
"She said she had a file on you and wanted me to help her with it."
"Did you find out what kind of file?"
"No. I assumed--"
"We don't assume anything, Adam," the Elder lectured. "For all you knew, this could have been something I needed to know about, something that needed to be stopped. Maybe she was taking notes for a competitor--"
"Mandy wouldn't sell you out, James. She's your friend!" Adam nearly shouted.
"Gotcha!" Jim exclaimed triumphantly. "If you know that, why were you so quick to condemn her?"
Dark eyes looked away from blue ones, ashamed at his behavior. Years of military training, years of handling the Family... all out the window. "I screwed up," he said simply.
"Yeah. But why, Adam?" The man shrugged. "Then I'll tell you why."
"Fine, James. You know everything anyway."
"I do, don't I?" Jim replied with a chuckle, knowing just how grossly wrong that statement was. "You've been waiting for Mandy to betray you, Adam, and you seized this incident as proof that no one could love you without there being something in it for them. Mandy wanted info on me so she pretended to love you. Isn't that what your mind has been telling you? Haven't you been waiting for her to make her demands?"
Adam sighed. James was right as usual. "People want something, James. They always do."
"Yeah, maybe that's right, Adam. Maybe Mandy did want something from you. Maybe she wanted your love. It's all I require, you know."
"I know," he mumbled.
"Do you, Adam? Do you know that being my right hand, being the head of North American operations, is just secondary in my book? Do you realize if you suddenly up and leave the Family that you will still be my brother? That I will be here for you regardless of where you are or what you are doing? What we are, Adam, has nothing to do with the Family."
"You took me in before the Family. I remember that, James. I have always remembered that."
"Good. According to Blair, I have redefined myself due to changes in my life, but there are some things that can't be redefined. That's you and me, Adam. Understand?" He nodded. "So even if you can't put your whole trust in Mandy right now, don't pull away prematurely. I told you I didn't want you to be hurt, but that's a risk we all take and you need to take it too. Amanda is a fine person and I think she's good for you. She's also loyal. I know about her file on me. I don't react 'normally' to certain drugs--"
"You never have," Adam interrupted.
"You have never reacted to drugs the way others have. The doctors all shook their heads at you while we took counter-interrogation instruction. Everyone else spent hours learning to fight the truth drugs they injected in us. You merely bit your lip for maybe thirty minutes, then it was out of your system."
"Why don't I remember any of this?" Jim asked bewilderedly.
"You intentionally ignored it and shrugged it off. And when we were hit with knock-out gas... You only needed a whiff of it and you were out. Hell, you were better than a canary in a mine. If Ellison hit the dirt, better get out your gas mask."
"Shit," Jim mumbled, his face flushing with embarrassment. "No wonder I was always sent in first." He'd thought it an honor. To find out.... Hell, that meant even though his Sentinel senses weren't on-line, they were affecting him even then. Blair was going to have a field day with the information.
Adam hadn't meant to make the Elder feel inadequate, because that was far from the truth, and he hurried to tell the other side of the story. "But the couple of times we did get gassed, you were always the first one to come out of it. Do you remember Nicaragua? We were on separate teams on that one. You and your guys went in first and I headed the back-up unit. Faulty intel got you captured and by the time I was able to mount a rescue, you had taken out the camp while your men were still unconscious. That's why the doctors backed off on studying you. The brass wanted you out in the field, not in the lab."
Jim looked at Adam in wonderment. "How do you know all this?"
"I made it known that whatever was happening with you, I wanted to know. Somebody needed to watch your back, James. As strong as you are, you have vulnerabilities. Because you picked me out, I concluded you meant for that to be my job. It's the one thing I've always been sure of. It's the one thing I know I can do," he said honestly.
Jim couldn't believe it. All this time he had been bitching and moaning about how his life changed when he became the Sentinel, how he had trouble accepting that he needed someone else, how he'd always been able to make it on his own before. What a load of crap. His being a loner had been pure bullshit. Had he known Adam was there and like his brother said about the drug thing, that he had intentionally ignored it? Or had he truly deluded himself? Redefining, hell, Chief. The whole book of James "Jim" Ellison is being rewritten.
He came out of his self-inflicted zone to find dark eyes watching him. "Thank you, Adam. Don't ever stop looking out for me, brother."
"I won't. I can't." Adam closed his eyes and rubbed his face. "Seems I have some apologizing to do tomorrow, huh?"
"Oh, yeah. Take it from me, bro: eating crow isn't all that bad, although the first bite can be hard to swallow."
"You've developed strange tastes, James."
"Comes from living with an anthropologist," he quipped. "Now, since I've done enough stupid things for one day, I'm going to bed. I know you're still on East Coast time, so I won't worry about waking you in the morning."
Adam laughed. "When was the last time you worried about waking me?"
Jim grinned. "Still don't. I'm just learning to be polite, that's all."
"More of that redefining?"
"Get used to it, Adam. Between Blair and Mandy, you're going to be doing a lot of it yourself," Jim warned.
"Me? You haven't forgotten to whom you're speaking, have you?"
"Ah, such naivete. I remember when I still had it," Jim said laughingly. "Sorry, Adam. There's no hope for you."
Adam bowed to James' evidently superior knowledge. "But you won't let them change me too much, will you, Elder?"
Jim shook his head. "I happen to like you too much as you are."
"Man, this was a great idea," Blair said as the truck began its journey back to Cascade. "The air, the snow--"
"The gifts you bought," Jim completed with a laugh.
"Just because you completed your shopping early, man, doesn't mean we're all so organized...or is the word 'anal'?"
"If you're having trouble with the definition of 'anal', Chief, I can help you out," Jim threatened.
Blair held up his hands in surrender. "That's okay. I don't need to know that badly." He glanced out the window at the lightly falling snow. "I've always thought the phrase 'pretty as a postcard' was trite, but, man, it's so true up here. Look at the snow sprinkled on the pines."
"And that loooong drop down," Jim teased as they crossed over a bridge high above a mountain valley.
"Merry Christmas to you too, Scrooge," Blair complained good-naturedly.
"No, I'm not the Scrooge, Chief. This fool coming up the road is. He's going way too fast." A second later, Blair saw the low-slung sportscar Jim had heard. He was moving too fast for both the curving road and the conditions. Although the snow wasn't too heavy on the road, care needed to be taken. Which the driver wasn't doing.
"Jim," Blair began nervously, but before he could finish, the driver lost control and the sportscar ploughed into the truck. Both vehicles spun crazily and metal screamed as it succumbed to superior forces. Then there was silence.
"Blair, you okay?"
Blair opened his eyes and looked quickly to his partner. "Yeah, man. You?" Jim nodded. "Can't believe neither of us was hurt."
"Yet," Jim added ominously.
"What is it?" Blair looked around anxiously, but couldn't see anything to warrant Jim's response. Of course, he wasn't seeing much. Being winter, the sun had set early and it was pitch dark outside the windshield and windows.
"Don't panic, Chief."
"Too late. Just tell me, Jim."
"The truck went through the guardrail. There's just the thinnest strip of metal keeping the truck from rolling forward over the bridge."
An audible gulp. "How do you know this, Jim?"
"I can hear the metal straining. So whatever you do, don't make any sudden movements."
"Prayer can be made with no movement at all, man," Blair muttered. "I'm assuming you have a plan. No, forget assuming. I'm hoping."
Jim nodded. He carefully pulled out his gloves and slipped them on. "Watch your eyes!" Then he turned slightly and punched out the back window of the truck. When all the glass was safely out of the way, he told Blair to crawl out.
"You go first," his partner argued. "You're heavier and I think we'd both prefer more weight on the back end instead of the front."
Flawless logic as usual, but it didn't make Jim feel any better about crawling out into the back of the truck while Blair sat alone in the cab. He squirmed through as delicately as he could manage, then moved to the very back to provide as much counterbalance as possible. "Your turn, Chief." Blair didn't move. Damn. He'd been afraid of that. Apparently his partner had visualized their predicament and realized just how high up he was...and now his fear of heights had frozen him.
"Blair," Jim called calmly. "I'm not going to insult either of us by asking if you trust me. I know you do, partner. That's why you're going to turn slowly." He waited until he was obeyed. "Now, look at me. Just at me, Chief. That's it. Now crawl out. You don't have to hurry." Jim heard the stressing metal and knew he lied, but it was for the right reasons. "You're halfway there. Now, tuck and roll on out. Good. Don't look around. Focus on me. That's it. Just a few more steps. Okay, we're going to jump down together. On three, Chief. One, two, three!"
They both landed on their feet but then Blair stumbled and would have fallen if Jim hadn't caught him. Then Jim heard a sound and instinctively held Blair's face against his shoulder as the truck groaned once, then sailed out and over. Many seconds later, there came a faint crash to Blair, but a louder and heartbreaking one to Jim. He'd really loved the old vehicle. "Rest well, sweetheart," he murmured softly.
"Death Escape #2," Blair observed nervously. "I'm getting really tired of this game, Jim. Can't we stop and pick it up again another day?"
"You've got my vote, Chief. Let's see about getting out of here."
"I love you, man," Blair responded impishly, almost giddy with relief. The next time Jim suggested they get away for the day, he was going to suggest something safe. Like locking the door to the loft and pulling all the blinds.
Jim put his arm around his shoulder. "I bet you say that to all the guys," he teased, sharing some of that relief. Good thing they didn't have a robot running around warning them of danger like Will Robinson; the thing would be worn out within a week.
"But I really mean it with you, Jim," Blair crooned. "You're my one and only."
"Does that mean you'll go to the prom with me?"
A shift in wind direction had a shiver running along his spine and he was glad he had on his heavy jacket and gloves. "As long as it's heated, Jim, you can take me anywhere."
"You're so easy," Jim complained laughingly, tugging Blair's hat more firmly onto the silky curls. Thank goodness both of them were wearing hats. Body heat escaped more from the head than any other region of the body. They started off down the road when Jim suddenly stopped.
"Jim?" Blair pulled away to see Jim's head cock to one side. "What do you hear?"
"A heartbeat." He jogged to the side of the road and saw the remains of the sportscar resting in a ravine. Quite frankly, in the midst of saving himself and his partner, he had forgotten about the other car. "Someone's alive."
He ran down the bank, Blair following a bit more cautiously because of his acrophobia. Which meant that he was a good deal behind Jim when the explosion occurred.
The deliverymen worked silently, every so often glancing back at the dark eyes that watched their every movement. The man was making their skin crawl but they weren't about to complain. Being in the hospital or dead this close to Christmas wasn't in their plans.
"What the hell?"
Simon stood in the open doorway of the loft and looked at the new addition. Where Jim's old television had sat was now the beginning of some kind of shelving. Made of some space-age looking material, the charcoal pieces were being turned into.... He turned to the man obviously responsible for the construction. "What the hell is that, Mr. Black?"
"An entertainment center among other things. It's to hold the television and speakers I got them for Christmas. You don't think they'll like it?" he asked hesitantly.
Simon's eyes went to the huge boxes he'd failed to notice in the corner. How the hell had he not noticed them? His eyes bulged as he read the television box. It was one of those high-definition thingies with a gigantic screen. And the other boxes claimed to be speakers with woofers and tweeters and other assorted accessories. Visions of boxing matches and basketball games danced in his head before the anxiety in Adam's voice reached him. The man was worried that the gift wouldn't be appreciated? The entire Major Crimes Unit would bow at his feet if necessary. Hey, wait a minute. Forget that he was worried about the gift. Adam Black was actually caring? "Oh, they'll love it."
"It's not too much? I had the center designed to give Blair extra spaces for all the artifacts that he likes to collect."
"That was thoughtful of you." Thoughtful? Adam Black? This is going to take some getting used to. "Where are the lucky stiffs, by the way?"
"Out," Adam replied with a shrug. "They hopped into the truck early and said they would be back sometime tonight. That's why I thought this was the perfect time to arrange this surprise."
"Any definite plans other than 'out'?"
Something in Simon's voice warned Adam this wasn't just a casual visit. "Captain, is there a problem?"
"Uh, no. I was just looking for them that's all. They didn't tell you anything, huh?"
"James said something about driving to the mountains to see some snow and centering themselves?"
Simon nodded. The Sentinel and Guide were connected to the earth and when stressed, found comfort in the great outdoors. Damn. He wished they had been a bit more specific. Okay. Jim is a creature of habit. If Sandburg didn't influence him, there are only a handful of places he would go. Maybe if I put out an APB for those highways.... A shiver of fear crept along his spine, more powerful than the one which had sent him scurrying to the loft. What? I'm running out of time already? He glanced anxiously at the dark-eyed man standing in front of him. "Just between the two of us, you wouldn't happen to have your Elder under surveillance, would you?"
"If I had thought I could get away with it, I would have," Adam admitted, then looked sternly at James' boss. "What is it, captain? Are they in danger? Has someone made a threat?"
"No, nothing like that. It's just.... It's nothing." He turned to leave.
"Captain Banks, if the Elder is in danger I need to know," Adam demanded. Then when he noticed Simon stiffen, he added a soft, "Please."
If it hadn't been for that last word, Simon would have kept walking but he kept hearing things from Adam he didn't think were possible. First, there had been that note of anxiety when he asked about the gift. Now, there was just the tiniest hint of desperation in his latest request. "I don't actually know that he, they, are in danger. It's just a...a...a feeling I have." How the hell was he going to explain that his Watcher alert had gone off?
"Cops often rely on instincts," Adam said, giving him an out. He whipped out his cellphone and tapped in a quick-dial digit. "I need a statewide bulletin on the Elder. He and Blair Sandburg are in his truck. They were last seen at approximately 6:00 A.M. heading for parts unknown...No, they were planning to return to Cascade tonight so they wouldn't be that far out... Just a minute," he ordered as Simon signaled him and rattled off what he considered were the best possibilities for destinations. Adam passed on the information, then hung up.
"I assume it would be redundant for me to put out my own APB?" Simon inquired dryly.
Adam shrugged. "Do what you think is best, captain. It is, of course, going to take some time to canvass the areas you mentioned."
"I know, but..."
"Captain, I apologize if you think I'm being rude, but can we dispense with your reluctance to confide in me? I assure you that whatever you tell me in regard to the Elder's welfare will be accepted and never repeated. I don't care how you know what you know. I just want you to tell me whatever it is. James and Blair mean as much to me as they obviously do to you," Adam said, deciding that the captain would respond to his honesty.
Simon nodded. He was being ridiculous. Jim trusted this man. So should he. "We're running out of time. They need to be found, now."
Dark eyes regarded him solemnly, and once again the phone was dialed.
Blair's first thought was that it was snowing harder. His second thought was that it was snowing harder than what? Then he remembered the reason he was supine with snow blowing up his nose. The sportscar had exploded...and Jim had been close to it! He scrambled to his feet and looked around frantically. He'd been right about the snowing. It was falling faster and thicker...and colder, he added as he shivered. "Jim!" he called into the wind as he stumbled toward the faint embers which were the remains of the car.
He found his partner in a drift about two hundred yards from the wreckage, which meant the explosion had thrown him quite a distance. A quite exam revealed Jim was unconscious, but that was to be expected. What wasn't was the blood coloring the snow at the back of his head. Great. Jim had landed in a snowbank, but on top on a rock. "Death Escape #3, Jim? I thought we were through playing this game," he muttered anxiously.
"Sorry, Chief. I guess I forgot," Jim replied weakly, his eyes fluttering open. "They say the third time's the charm. So, what exactly did I do this time to get myself in this predicament?"
"Ran toward an exploding car."
Eyes closed trying to remember. Then it all returned. "You okay?" he asked anxiously. Blair had been right on his heels.
"I'm fine. Just had the wind knocked out of me for a couple of seconds," Blair said, relieved that Jim had remembered so quickly. Maybe his concussion wasn't too bad. Still, he wished the truck hadn't gone over the side. The extra clothes and blanket Jim kept behind the seat would feel pretty good about now.
"Good. Then you're capable of going to get help."
"You feel like moving, Jim?"
A crooked smile. "You don't want to know what I feel like, Chief. You're going to have to go on your own. Just follow the road. I know we passed a couple of towns on the drive up."
"And leave you here? No way, man."
"Maybe you haven't noticed, but it's starting to get a bit blizzardy out here, partner. Maybe using your Sentinel sight we might make it, but on my own I'd end up walking right off this mountain. I've avoided that two times already and I don't feel like pushing my luck."
"It's that bad?"
"Look around, Jim! Our footsteps have already been covered up."
"Blair." A hand raised feebly and was quickly grasped. "I can't see."
"You can't--" Blair made himself shut up. It was bad enough Jim had to be feeling the jump in his pulse rate. No use in going into a full-fledged panic. Blind. "Let me take a look, Jim." He had to get close to see clearly, but he knew these eyes so well that the unevenness of the pupils literally jumped out at him. This was bad. This wasn't a drug reaction or a psychological side-effect. The blindness was a result of a serious head injury. And that meant Jim needed help badly. But he knew, without a doubt, that leaving him would only make things worse. If he was going to end up a popsicle in the woods, he'd rather do it with a friend. "It'll be okay, Jim. We've been through it before, remember?"
"I remember." But he too knew the circumstances were different. "You're positive you can't go on your own?"
"You know my sense of direction under the best of conditions," Blair reminded him gently.
"Then maybe we should try moving closer to the road."
"You think someone may pass by?" He hadn't heard a car since the accident, making him wonder if the highway patrol had already closed the road.
Blair smiled and felt a modicum of hope. Their Watcher had worked larger miracles before.
Simon was studying a map when someone knocked on the loft door. He opened it to discover Mandy, who was just as surprised to see him as he was to see her. "Dr. Cuthbertson!"
"Captain Banks! Is Adam here? He left a message that I should stop by," Mandy began, disappointed to see the captain. She had been hoping that Adam's call meant he was ready to talk.
"Mandy," Adam said as Simon stepped back to let her into the loft. "We have an emergency situation. The Elder and Blair are in trouble."
"My bag is in the trunk," she said quickly, turning to go back out and bumping into one of the suited personnel she'd learned to associate with Adam.
"Sir, the preparations are ready," the man reported as he politely stepped around the doctor.
"Good. Meet us at the limo, Mandy. Captain, let's go."
"Where?" Simon asked belatedly as they thundered down the stairs.
"I have a helicopter waiting. A search will be quicker by air."
"But we can't take a helicopter into the mountains. It may cause an avalanche."
"Not this helicopter," Adam replied mysteriously, tapping on the window to signal the driver as Mandy joined them in the back of the limo.
The car let them out on the upper level of one of Cascade's parking decks. Simon looked around in confusion, then nearly jumped out of his skin as a bright light appeared directly overhead and a helicopter descended. "I'll be damned," he muttered.
"Something the Family's been working on," Adam explained as he ushered Mandy onto the chopper. He turned to one of the men following them. "Are we in contact with all ground personnel?"
"Okay. I'll coordinate from the air-- frequency delta."
"Aye, sir." The door was closed firmly behind them and Simon felt the change in altitude as the chopper lifted but never heard a change in the low hum of the engine. Remarkable.
"Heading, sir?" the pilot asked Adam.
Adam nodded toward Simon. "You will receive all directions from Captain Banks. You are to follow them without question. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir. Captain Banks, sir?"
Simon experienced a moment of panic. How the hell was he supposed to find Jim and Blair without so much as a sighting of the truck or the men? He flicked his eyes to Adam angrily, furious that the man had assumed so much just because he knew they were in danger. Just because he knew that they were in trouble didn't necessarily mean he knew where they were, damn it. But his anger was met with warm confidence. Well, hell. Is this how Jim felt when he and Blair looked at him, expecting some enhanced-sensory miracle? He took a deep breath, remembering all the times he'd heard Sandburg coach Jim though some hinky-dinky rigamarole. Everything would be okay. Because he wasn't just a captain looking for his men, relying on cop instinct like Adam had said. He was the Watcher searching for his Sentinel and Guide and he didn't have to find them; they would lead him to them, if he just let them. So he did.
"East," he said firmly.
Adam nodded and notified the ground units.
Blair knew he was in danger when his felt a warm, languidness ooze along his body. It beckoned him to sleep, a sleep from which he probably wouldn't awaken. But he didn't care. That sleep, or another, had already taken Jim. They had only made it a few yards before nausea had hit the larger man, followed by sharp pains that had him crying tears that froze upon his face. The only thing Blair had known to do was cradle the precious head and whisper words of encouragement, of turning down the pain dial until he couldn't feel anything. Then he'd told his friend that it was all right to go to sleep, to go to wherever the pain wasn't.
And now he was going to join him. He curled his body around Jim's, making sure his head rested on his arm. Then he kissed his forehead and went to sleep.
"No!" Simon cried and everyone in the helicopter looked at him. Too agitated to be embarrassed, he motioned to the pilot. "Go lower. We should be over them."
"Lights," Adam ordered. Beams of light played over the snow as he made the call to his people on the ground. "What do you mean that road is closed? Open it! The Elder is along it somewhere. Look for the helicopter when the authorities are dealt with."
"Set us down," Simon demanded and as the chopper descended, someone annoyingly poked him in the side. He glanced around and saw Mandy holding out a suit of insulated coveralls.
"Bundle up, captain. I'm going to have my hands full with the two of them. I do not need another patient."
He nodded and obediently prepared for the frigid mountain clime. Although worry preoccupied his mind, he still managed to marvel at how the helicopter had lit on the covered road without stirring so much as a flake of snow. Lights caught his attention as three four-wheel drive vehicles converged on the site. One of the men pointed out the broken guardrail.
"Captain?" Adam asked.
"No. This way." He followed a trail only his mind could see, wary of what was leading him but glad for it nevertheless.
They were almost hidden by the snow and their skin was so cold to the touch when he bent over them, that he was afraid he was too late. But he was quickly displaced as the Family rescue team took over, zipping the men into bags that resembled the insulated clothing he was wearing, strapping them onto stretchers, and bearing them into the helicopter.
The next thing Simon was truly aware of was sitting in the waiting room of a strange hospital and taking the coffee that was being handed to him. He blinked slowly as if coming out of a daze. He looked down at himself and found he was once again dressed in his suit, although his shoes and socks had been removed, leaving his feet encased in...booties?
"How you doing, captain?"
He looked into the hazel eyes regarding him anxiously. "Don't waste your time with me, doctor. How are my men?"
Mandy patted his hand comfortingly. "We're getting their body temperatures up into range. This material Adam provided is incredible. Not only didn't we feel any cold when we were outside, but it's really helping regulate Jim and Blair."
Simon nodded, not letting on at the relief he felt at her words. Their temperatures were going up. That meant they were alive. He hadn't been sure. "And after they've been stabilized?"
"Blair will be monitored for frostbite and pneumonia."
The patting hand suddenly squeezed his. "His condition is critical, Simon. There are signs of severe head trauma, but we can't take any action until his vitals have improved. When that happens, we'll be taking him to surgery. Adam is having a specialist and a team sent in. Jim will be in the best of hands."
"He already is."
She smiled and started to stand. Then a nurse ran in. "Doctor! You'd better hurry!"
Simon followed her into an emergency room cubicle where a hundred alarms seemed to be going off at once. Mandy went around pulling electrical cords and Simon did the same. "I distinctly told the technicians not to set the monitors to alarm status!" she said angrily as she disconnected the last cord and ran over to her patient.
"It's standard operating procedure, doctor," the nurse explained.
"I don't care what the hell it is! I want everyone of them disengaged immediately!" She pulled out her stethoscope. "Damn it, Jim! Don't you crash on me!"
"Where's Sandburg?" Simon asked suddenly.
"He's in another cubicle," the nurse answered.
"Get him in here now," he ordered.
"I don't give a rat's ass about regulations, miss!" Simon said abruptly and stomped off looking for the anthropologist. When he found him, he looked around for help and found several of the Family's force had invaded the E.R. Together, they pushed Sandburg and his attached machinery toward Jim.
"Where the hell is Security!" someone yelled.
"Security won't be coming," a soft voice informed them.
Any reply quickly faded away as they looked at Adam, standing calmly in the middle of the E.R., looking as if he didn't have a care in the world. "Now, either carry on with your duties or be escorted out," he continued. "The choice is entirely yours."
While his presence and words held most of his listening audience enthralled, one particular corner was ignoring him. "Jim, Sandburg's right here!" Simon whispered furiously as everyone arranged all the machinery to fit the two men into the room. "Can't you hear him? Tell him you're here, Blair!" He looked up at Mandy.
She shook her head and looked at the monitors which were back on but silent. "He's going into defib, captain. I need a crash cart STAT!"
"Damn stubborn fools," Simon muttered as he shoved monitors out of the way in order to fit between the beds. "Do you know what I had to go through to find you? So if you're thinking about dying on me, you better think again. Listen up, Ellison!" He grabbed Jim's arm, careful of all the tubes running from it. "This is your partner, right beside you." He made contact with Blair. "He needs you to--" He stopped suddenly as strange sensations began flowing through him. For just a second his knees threatened to buckle as he realized what was happening. Then his legs locked and the Watcher became a living conduit between Sentinel and Guide, bridging a distance far greater than that which separated the two beds.
"Crash cart, doctor!"
"It's no longer needed," Mandy said with relief. "It worked, captain! We have a steady rhythm. Captain?" She turned to see him standing between the two men, his eyes closed, his respiration matching theirs perfectly. "Oh," she mumbled softly. Well, that was a new twist.
She turned toward the love of her life. "Adam, the captain needs a chair."
"Of course." He motioned to one of his men. Then he wrapped his arms around her, supporting her as she gave in to her exhaustion. "Someone else needs a chair as well."
She shook her head. "The Elder is still critical. I need to arrange a PET scan and see if the surgical team has arrived."
"They are being driven in from the airport as we speak."
"Good." She looked at the monitors. "You do know I would no more betray him than you?"
"I know." Mandy looked at him curiously. "The Elder explained that there were certain parts of me which would have to be redefined. So please, be patient with me."
"My pleasure," she responded with a smile. "I knew he would get through to you."
"That's another thing," Adam said with just a hint of a warning. "Never question his worthiness again."
She nodded. "By the way, the Family is not just a security company, is it?"
He kissed her cheek as one of the suited women beckoned to him. "No, we aren't. Your surgical team is here. I'll see to their comfort."
Mandy let him walk away without explaining, knowing he would do so in his own time. She glanced at the monitors again, pleased with what she was seeing. "Captain, we need to get the detective scanned and prepped for surgery. Is that possible?"
Sandburg, your partner needs his head examined...again. Tell him to behave himself, okay? Yes, Jim, I'll make sure he behaves as well. Simon wearily raised his head. "You can take him, doctor. By the way, Jim can't see."
Mandy looked at her two still unconscious patients and wondered how the captain knew. Then she wondered why she was bothering to wonder. She should be used to the impossible with them by now. "Thanks for the information, captain." She motioned for the attending staff to prepare Jim for moving.
"I've noticed the hospital staff seems a little more accommodating. What the hell did Adam do?" Simon asked bewilderedly, belatedly wondering if he should have asked at all considering he was a cop.
"He bought the hospital."
"You know, you just had brain surgery. The least you can do is look like hell," Simon commented as he climbed the stairs to Jim's room.
"My surgery was two weeks ago, Simon."
"Isn't that what I said? By all rights, you should still be in the hospital, but oh no, when you own the hospital, you can make your own rules. Remind me to stay the hell out of Black's way."
"He was just doing like I taught him; spend money first and if that doesn't work, then spill blood."
Simon wasn't sure whether Jim was kidding or not. "Then maybe I better stay out of your way too."
"Does that go for staying out of my head as well?" Jim asked cautiously.
"That's such a big screen. Even I can see it very clearly from up here," Simon commented strongly. Jim's bed had been turned around so the Elder could watch the New Year's games from the bed he was strictly forbidden to leave. "Which I probably couldn't do from down there. Who invited the whole Major Crimes Unit?"
"Oh. I knew how disappointed you and Sandburg were about spending Christmas in the hospital. Thought a New Year's get-together would lift your spirits."
"You charged them ten bucks apiece."
"Adam arranged for a catered buffet. I had to 'cover' the cost some way," Simon explained rationally.
Jim recognized some of his partner's logic in that. "I really should separate you and Sandburg for a while," he said with an air of long-suffering.
"You won't get an argument from me," Simon mumbled.
"Simon," Jim tried again.
"That's a nice gift you got for the kid." He angled his head toward the corner of the loft where Blair held court around a huge and complicated conglomeration of train tracks. Through mountains, over lakes, under towns, the two trains sped merrily along, crashing only on occasion when their operators didn't bother to slow down for curves. "I had a train set when I was younger. Nothing like that though. You're spoiling him."
Jim shrugged. "He's earned it. So have you, my friend. What can Santa get for you?" he added, deciding the discussion about what had happened at the hospital could wait for the end of a long day coupled with a beer or two. Under those conditions, the Guide would crack the Watcher like a nut.
"Let's see. I can come to the loft to watch widescreen TV, borrow your Jag when I need to show off, bum the season tickets to the Jags games that Sandburg managed to wrangle you for Christmas, and call you anytime of the day or night when I need a case solved. Sounds like I got what I need, Jim."
"Sounds like you have me and Sandburg."
Simon studied the scene below him. "Isn't that what I said? Brain damage doesn't become you, Jim. Good thing you're going to recover completely. Brown is wrecking the train as often as you wreck your cars. Better go down and show both him and Sandburg how to be engineers. You need anything before I go?"
Jim smiled. "No, I'm like you, Simon. I have everything I need."
"Oh well, here comes Adam if you change your mind. He's all yours, Adam."
"Good luck in convincing Brown to hand over the controls to you, Simon," Adam advised.
"Oh, I have my ways." He looked at Adam oddly. "So do you."
"Yes, but Blair told me I had to play nicely."
Simon patted him on the shoulder as he passed. "I have my ways with Sandburg too."
Jim resisted the urge to scratch the back of his head where the stitches were starting to itch. "He calls you Adam. You call him Simon. Something tells me I slept through more than just a surgery."
"Let's just say your accident was a redefining moment for both the captain and me," Adam explained serenely. "It's time for your medicine." Jim opened his mouth to protest but Adam shook his head. "I promised Mandy before she left."
He refused to rise to the bait. "Flexible, James. You taught me the benefit of that. Now, swallow the pills."
With a grimace, Jim obeyed. "I'm glad about you and Simon. It's time you two discovered you have common interests."
"Namely, covering your ass, James. And what we've concluded about that common interest is that the task may prove to be too much for even capable men such as ourselves. We're considering the possibility that a team may be necessary."
"You are not putting me under surveillance," Jim said adamantly.
"Of course not, James," Adam said, too easily for Jim's liking. "By the way, should I have Sam prepare Family credentials for the captain?"
Jim looked at Adam in amusement. "You like him that much, do you?"
Adam sighed. Apparently the Elder was feeling better. "It's obvious he belongs."
"To us maybe. But Simon has been sort of stretched to his limits lately. We'll have to give him a little more time to get used to us. Besides, we still have Blair to entrench into our enterprise."
"Father is working on that."
Jim closed his eyes as the medicine started taking effect. "I'm sorry the weather kept him and Raleigh from flying out here. And I'm sorry you didn't get to go home to them. At least we had Thanksgiving...."
Adam heard the even breathing and knew he'd fallen asleep. "We're all where we're supposed to be, James. For the first time in too many years," he said softly as he adjusted the covers and headed back downstairs to join the rest of the Elder's collection of lost souls, of which he had been the first. What had Father told him on the phone the other night? "The concept of the Family may have been mine, but the Family belongs to James."
He belonged to James. There were, indeed, worse fates. But as far as better went.... He was definitely content with what he had.
"Hey, Jim. You awake?"
"Yeah. Those pills only work so long. Where is everybody?" the ever-vigilant detective inquired as he sent his hearing through the loft.
Blair plopped down on the bed, making himself comfortable on Jim's spare pillow. "As soon as the last game was over, Simon kicked everyone out, himself included. And Adam went to see Mandy, but he'll be back sometime tonight. I don't think he trusts me to watch you by myself."
"You're recovering too, you know," Jim reminded him, and himself. "You doing okay?"
"Fine. My hands and feet occasionally ache without warning and I'm dying to scratch my feet as I shed all that dead skin."
"Don't remind me," Jim warned, his feet twitching beneath the covers.
"Man, it has to be ten times worse for you. Why didn't you say anything? We'll have to work on your touch, dial down the sensitivity for a while," Blair said quickly.
"I'm handling it at the moment, Chief. No need to panic just yet," he assured his partner. He felt Blair relax beside him. "You like your Christmas present?" he asked, already knowing the answer. The large television had been virtually ignored in favor of the trains.
Excitement thrummed through the other figure on the bed. "How did you know, man? I never had a set as a kid because you just can't throw a train and its entire track into a bag and move on. But I would see them in store windows and.... Harrod's!" he said suddenly and pointed at the bear perched on the foot of the bed, overlooking the entire loft. "Where you bought that thing and Jamie Lin's panther! They're the same trains, aren't they?" Jim nodded. "You had the trains shipped overseas just for me?"
"I wanted you to have them, Chief."
"Aw, man. And here I was thinking such terrible thoughts about you," Blair chastised himself.
"Terrible thoughts? Why?" Jim asked, confused.
Blair sighed. "This may be the wrong time to ask this, Jim, but I have to know-- where is my car?"
Jim stared at him blankly and Blair was afraid that maybe the information had been lost to the concussion. Then Jim started to laugh and laugh and laugh until his head started to hurt. For the next couple of minutes, Blair had to massage his temples and murmur quiet instructions before he could speak. "I'm sorry, Chief. It just struck me as funny."
"Yeah, I could tell. So how many pieces is my car in? It is-- was-- our remaining vehicle. I guess it's rentals and relying on the kindness of our friends for a while, huh?" Blair blinked back sadness. It was bad enough that they had lost the truck. He'd bitched about it, but had gotten used to Jim's "sweetheart". And now, his Volvo was gone too. Maybe they were parked side by side in car heaven as they had been in front of the loft.
"Stop mourning, Sandburg. Your car is fine, better than fine, actually. Your engine was pinging when I drove it that day and I noticed one of your tires was bald, so I took it into Joe's to get everything tuned and/or replaced. Just a little Christmas present. You can go pick it up tomorrow," Jim told him.
"I thought I already had my Christmas present."
"Not your Christmas present. Mine," Jim explained. "I need to know that when you're away from me, you aren't stuck on the side of the road somewhere, prey to every psycho that comes driving by. And since you rarely remember to charge your cellphone..."
A hand on a shoulder. "You worry a lot about me, don't you?"
"It comes with the job."
"A friend...a brother."
They both leaned back against the pillows. "Merry Christmas, Jim."
"Happy New Year, Chief."