I just had to post something Sentinel before the end of the year. This is an angsty piece that had been hanging around on my hard drive for a while, never wanting to make it past page one. So I groveled before the ol' muse and was graced with the words to finish it.
Happy New Year!
Hope you enjoy!
When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
"The same as it feels every other time, Pinky--boring," Blair said, pushing back from the computer. Jim was in Olympia. Months ago, Major Crime had been the backup for a federal raid on the Amola crime family. Nineteen-year-old Philip "Ace" Martin, a messenger/errand boy for the family, had stumbled while being led to the back of a transport vehicle, his long, thin limbs clumsy because of the handcuffs. Jim had caught him before he fell, asked if he was okay, and told the officer to be careful with him. Apparently that small show of kindness had meant a lot to the teen. A day later the Feds were calling Jim saying the young man was demanding to see him, and Jim, who still wrestled with guilt over his treatment of his brother Steven, had gone to see what the guy had to say. It was a lot, because Ace confessed that he had an eidetic memory and could remember every drug run and every correspondence he'd carried for the Amolas. That was when Jim had gone into full father-figure mode. He had sat in on every interview the Feds had with the teen, and negotiated the terms of the deal for his testimony. So of course when Ace had to testify in the federal courthouse in Olympia, Jim was at his side, despite the two federal marshals who were his official escorts.
"This might be the first time Jim's out of town, but it's not the first time I've been stuck here doing paperwork, " Blair pointed out. "I always get desk duty when Jim's in court or taking a vacation day. I'd be ticked if it wasn't for the fact the captain does the same thing to Jim when I'm away. I swear the man doesn't trust us to cross the street alone."
Brown laughed. "Poor babies. But I don't blame the captain. What would happen to the Major Crime closure rate if something happened to the two of you? And let me tell you, I'd be lost without that bonus supplement we get from the State because of our numbers."
"Yeah, that's what both Jim and I think about every time we go out in search of desperadoes: gotta make sure we keep Brown in cigars and Hawaiian shirts," Blair teased.
"If that's not enough, think about my poor partner. Rafe in polyester? The guy would die of embarrassment. You're not that cruel, are you?"
"I'd have to be capable of tearing heads off of dolls to be that cruel, H. Don't worry. Jim and I will keep you and Rafe comfortably attired, while making the streets of Cascade safe for its law-abiding citizens," Blair pledged, hand resting on his heart.
"We who have expensive girlfriends, thank you," Brown said, bowing.
"Girlfriend? You got a new woman, man? Spill," Blair demanded.
"Sandburg, my office," Simon Banks called from the doorway of the Major Crime inner sanctum.
"Coming, sir." He turned to Brown. "I'm expecting the director's cut of this story when I get back."
"That'll take a beer or two."
"You're on, man," he called, before stepping into the captain's office. "What's up? Lose another report in the computer?"
"Blair, I just got a call--"
"What's happened to Jim?" If the captain was calling him by his first name, the news wasn't good. Ever since he'd gotten the badge, Simon had taken great pains to make sure he treated him like a full-fledged cop.
"Nobody has many details at the moment, but apparently there's been an explosion at the courthouse in Olympia."
Blair took a deep breath and let it out slowly. No use in panicking yet. "What kind of explosion?" He reached out and snatched up Simon's phone, dialing Jim's cell without looking down at the numbers.
"Possibly a bomb. As I said there are few details at the moment."
Blair replaced the receiver. "It says the phone's out of order."
"Look, son, I've already arranged--"
"Captain!" Brown stood in the doorway. "You better come have a look."
All the officers were gathered around the television in the break room.
"What you are seeing is live footage of the devastating explosion that rocked the federal courthouse in Olympia this morning," a reporter was saying as a camera panned the scene of crushed concrete and twisted steel girders which used to be a building.
"Jim," Blair said in a hushed whisper.
"The numbers of dead and injured are expected to be high as court was in session today. Area hospitals are implementing emergency plans...."
"Come on, Sandburg. We have to be at the helopad in five minutes," Simon said, tugging on his detective's arm. "Taggert?"
Joel Taggert nodded. "I'll take care of stuff around here. You two go on."
With a final glance at the scene on the screen, Blair allowed himself to be led out of the room.
Jim's eyes shot open in panic and for a few wild seconds he had no memory of where or who he was. All he knew was that something was terribly wrong. Then it all came flooding back.
They'd been sitting in the hallway outside Courtroom 918. The prosecutors hadn't wanted Ace inside just yet, so he, the teen, and the two marshals, had just been killing time in the marble and tile corridor. He could feel the waves of anxiety pouring from Ace, so he'd tried to distract the young man. "So you think you're ready for boot camp, huh, kid?"
"Gonna be a slide compared to this, Det--I mean, Jim."
"You're gonna do fine--here and there," Jim had assured him. Instead of the standard Witness Protection scenario, Ace was getting a new identity and enlisting in the Army--something Ace had come up with after finding out Jim's background. "Got your new name yet?" Ace blushed. "They didn't give you something stupid, did they?" He glared at the marshals.
"No, sir. They, uh, let me pick it out myself."
"Let me guess: some actor's name, right? Or a musician's?"
Jim had smiled. "Joseph is a good name. My middle name actually."
"I know," Ace had mumbled.
"Joe. It suits you. What's the last name? Or will that remain a state secret?"
"Joseph Ellison," Ace had whispered, greenish-brown eyes looking hesitantly at Jim.
Jim froze, uncertain how he should react.
"It...it's too much, right?" Ace stuttered, his face red with embarrassment. "I didn't mean anything by it and it can be changed. I just--"
"Stop," Jim said sharply. "Just stop for a minute and let me think." He looked at the rail-thin body, pictured the hazel eyes that he couldn't see because they were staring at the floor, and glanced at the short, spiked black hair topping the whole creation. Not exactly his ideal son, but ideals were always overrated. "Hey, Ace--Joseph?"
The teen tensed. "Yeah?"
"Welcome to the family." Jim laughed at the wide-eyed look he received and he couldn't help but reach out and put his arms around the boy.
Ace was sniffing discreetly when they separated, and he'd mumbled something about going to the john before getting stuck in the courtroom. Barrows, one of the marshals, grinned at Jim and said he'd accompany the kid. They'd just gone around the corner when the world exploded.
Jim blinked, trying to figure out where he'd landed. The area was dim so he "turned up" his vision and gasped. The devastation was massive. He couldn't recognize anything other than the broken, twisted remains of the giant marble columns that had been a hallmark of the interior architecture of the building. Everything else was just irregular chunks of material and indescribable debris. God. What the hell had happened? He took a deep breath, coughing on the sediment floating in the air, but grateful when he didn't smell any smoke or dangerous gases. He tried to move, but found himself trapped beneath one of the columns. A quick check told him that it was more of a case of being wedged in rather than crushed.
He sent out his hearing and paled when he realized just how much damage had occurred. He could hear moaning and ragged breaths all around him, not to mention the groaning of the building itself. That scared him more than anything else as he remembered the disintegrating concrete at the old racetrack. But surely help was on the way. A federal building couldn't explode and no one not notice. There was probably already a circle of press outside, cops, firemen, rescue workers....
"Can anybody hear me? Please?"
Jim turned toward the sound. "I hear you."
"Thank God! I didn't-- My name is Sonya. I just wanted...someone to talk to."
Jim focused and heard a dangerous hitch in her breathing. He closed his eyes as he understood. Sonya was dying...and she didn't want to die alone. "Hi, Sonya. My name is Jim," he said as he tried to free himself. Maybe if he could-- "You a lawyer, Sonya?"
"How--how did you know?"
"We're in a courthouse. I figure lawyers outnumber the civilians here about ten to one."
"Are you--a ten or a...one?"
Jim laughed to cover up a groan as his leg spasmed. It was no use. He was thoroughly pinned. "I don't think I want to answer that one, Councilor. At least not this close to a courtroom. Once we blow this joint, we can meet at the corner bar and then you can answer your own question."
"You definitely sound like a ten, even though I think you're a civilian." A laugh turned into a cough and Jim flinched.
He waited until the pernicious attack subsided before answering. "Not quite. A cop." He tried to turn his head so that he could at least see her, but even that little movement was forbidden him.
"Tes...ti...fying?" Her breaths were weakening, shallow and hurried.
"No. I'm here with a fri--with family." He closed his eyes thinking about Ace. Had the kid survived? An Ellison for five minutes and all hell had broken loose. Typical. "You working a case?"
"Just doing...research for a senior partner. Knew I should have--" She had to stop as the coughed seized her body again. "Knew I should've made...him do his own work. But I...wanted the brownie points. Think he'll...feel guilty enough...to put up a...memorial...for me? A plaque or something?"
"Maybe a tree in a park." He debated on whether he should be telling her that she was going to be fine. He finally decided it was kinder just to accept her coming death as she had.
"That's...nice. I liked going out in the park on my lunch break. Never managed an office with a window. You believe in heaven, Jim?"
"I believe in--peace."
"I believe...heaven is a room surrounded...by windows. Some are clear and you can see...outside. Some are...colored and the sun comes through like a...rainbow."
"And some are stained glass, creating beautiful pictures," Jim added.
"Yes. Knew you were...a believer. It's...in your voice. Ah!"
Beneath the cry Jim could hear the beat of her heart falter. "Sounds like you're going to get that office with a window, Sonya. I can see you there, you know--the sun painting you in colors and the sky will be a brilliant blue. There'll even be a tree for you to sit under at lunchtime."
"But no...peanut butter...sandwiches, okay? I've hated peanut butter since...college. Mac and cheese and peanut--"
Jim gasped as the floor beneath him shuddered, then collapsed.
He screamed as he fell.
"Oh, God." Blair got out of the squad car and stared at the rubble that used to be a building. They were three blocks away and it was too much to take. What would it look like up close?
Jim, are you there?
A hand fell to his shoulder. "Come on, Blair. We need to check in."
He nodded. Check in. They were at a high school--the high school that was acting as a makeshift morgue. They'd been told it was the place to start to look for Jim because it was also a triage center. All bodies, living and dead, were brought to the school unless the injuries were so severe that even a five minute trip down the road meant the difference between life and death. Doctors and medical personnel swarmed the area and ambulances were standing by to shuttle the living to local hospitals. There were also social workers there to tag survivors and non-survivors so that relatives could be notified. Interwoven with a mixture of calm or calming voices there was the familiar squawking, crackling sound of radio chatter. If he hadn't been so terrified, Blair would have been impressed by the controlled chaos they were approaching.
But even as he continued up the walk behind Simon, his eyes were still drawn to the decimated structure.
An odd vibration beneath his feet was accompanied by a loud rumble. Open-mouthed, he watched a cloud of dust and smoke rise from the remains of the federal building. He took an instinctive step backward as part of the building sheared off and collapsed. Black-gray plumes rose to the already gray sky.
Jim, hang on, man.
The controlled chaos became uncontrolled.
"What the hell?"
"Shit! Another explosion."
Blair and Simon were spun around and out of the way as paramedics who had just dropped off victims now rushed back to the scene.
"Cut off your radios, damn it!" someone yelled. "There may be other bombs!"
The order echoed around them and suddenly the familiar chatter was replaced with an ominous silence, followed by the hiss and whine of the school's P.A. system being turned on. "Everyone, listen up! All rescue efforts are to be suspended, pending evaluation of the stability of the site and the threat of further explosions. For now, we must maintain radio silence and concentrate our efforts on those already rescued. Please see your individual supervisors for assignments."
Blair blinked as the people around him dispersed. "Simon, what just happened?"
"You know, Blair."
"No. Tell me. I need to hear it."
"Rescue efforts have been stopped. If Jim' still in there...he's in for a hell of a wait. But that's something for us to worry about after we check here, right?" Simon headed toward a person who looked like he knew what was going on.
"What?" the captain replied impatiently.
"He's not here," Blair said with certainty.
Jim, hang on. You hear me, man? Just stay with us a little while longer.
"We won't know that until we check, Sandburg. He's a cop. Even injured, he'd be easy to I.D. We'll check the hospital list first."
Blair wanted to argue. He wanted to race over to the building and start ripping it apart with his bare hands if he had to. That was what Jim would probably do if the situation was reversed. But Jim was a Sentinel. If there was a bomb, he'd know it. Blair was only a Guide--one whose conscience would be forever haunted if he broke through the cordoned off area and accidently triggered another explosion.
But you understand, don't you, Jim? And that's why you're going to wait, right? If you need my strength, it's here for you. Just get a good grip and hang on. We don't have a Sentinel to sniff out the dangers, so we have to rely on the old ways. Don't get impatient. Don't--don't slip away. Please, for God's sake--for my sake, Jim, hold on.
He gave the ruins one last glance, then silently joined his captain.
Jim knew he wasn't dead immediately, because pain ceased with death, and there was no cessation to be found. He hurt when he opened his eyes. He hurt when he tried to move. He hurt when he breathed. He hurt when he kept perfectly still.
Then he started to cough and he realized that it hadn't been pain he was feeling before. No. THIS was true pain and by the time his coughing stopped, he was kind of wishing he had woke up dead. Woke up dead. There was something wrong with that, wasn't there? Hell if he knew what it was. Blair would know. Blair knew all that grammar crap. Didn't use it all the time, but he knew it. Alliteration and similes and onama--onomap--whatever the heck that one was. Yeah, Blair would know what was wrong. Blair was smart. Blair was--thank God Blair wasn't here. Well, actually he was here, Jim thought groggily. Not here in the building, but in the city. What was Blair doing in Olympia?
Looking for you, you idiot.
Oh, yeah. The whole state probably knew what had happened by now. Blair would be frantic. He had to-- He tried to move, but the only thing that moved on him were the tears dripping from his eyes.
Hang on, Jim. That's all you have to do.
But he should be doing more, shouldn't he? People were dying all around him. He could hear-- Oh, Sonya. He remembered the dying woman. Where? Before the fall. Another explosion? Where was he? With effort, he turned up his sight. Twisted metal. And was that gasoline he smelled? Cars? Why were there cars in the federal building? His heart sped up and he gasped at the pain that caused. Damn. He was in the parking garage. The basement parking garage. No, no, no! That was impossible. How could he have--? Surely the elevators had been knocked out during the explosion, so he couldn't have--
He laughed, and when he felt something tear inside of him because of that, he didn't care. The damn panther must have nine lives like every other cat, he thought, allowing the laughter to collapse into sobs. That had to be the reason he could be in an exploding helicopter and not die, be in an exploding building and not die. But he wanted to. Oh, God, but he was tired of the pain.
Jim, hang on. Stay with us a little while longer.
But it hurts, Chief, he wanted to say. It hurts to live when everyone else dies.
Please, for my sake, hold on, Jim.
Jim sighed. He couldn't let Blair down. Not after making him become a cop. Not after--not after letting him die two years ago. He was a Sentinel. He had a duty to his Guide. He was a detective and he had a duty to his partner. He was Jim--and he had a duty to Blair.
I'm hanging on, Chief. But you better hurry.
Blair patiently read through the list of known survivors that Simon handed to him. He patiently read through the list of known dead Simon handed to him. And when the captain finally admitted Jim hadn't been rescued or recovered, Blair went out to the front steps and kept vigil by watching the building.
"They've divided the building into sectors," a supervisor was telling his people. "As each sector is evaluated, they're going to allow us to go in and do a quick extraction. Survivors first, casualties last. Understood?"
Blair watched them mount their particular rescue vehicles, then slipped inside to the small closet where he'd hidden a bright yellow hat, black rubber coat, and matching heavy rubber boots. Each had been taken from a different vehicle--the hat said Poplar Tent VFD, the coat belonged to the County Fire and Rescue Services, and the boots didn't have a stamp on them at all. He donned the items and joined the remaining rescuers. They were allowed through the yellow tape. He saw the building up close, and wept for the dead.
Jim, I'm here. You hanging on?
A whisper of a breeze caressed his left cheek. Obediently, he moved to his left.
"Hey, man. That area is still restricted," someone called out.
He heard footsteps pounding after him and he laughed. Good, he was probably going to need a couple of strong hands to reach Jim.
He found himself staring at a broken, dangling sign which read: Parking Garage.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, mister?"
Blair turned to face the angry men who had chased him. "My name is Detective Blair Sandburg, and what I'm doing is saving my partner."
He watched the anger fade from their faces when he mentioned his occupation and the word 'partner'. These men knew what that meant. What it was like to have someone at their side who was closer than a lover, and dearer than a spouse.
"Where is he?" one of them asked.
"In there." Not the building in general, but the garage. He was certain.
"How do you know?" the other questioned hesitantly.
"I just do."
The two men exchanged glances. "Then let's get to it."
Blair was glad of their company as their flashlights cut through the darkness. At first, it appeared the garage had been untouched. If only it had been the end of the day, and people had been leaving.... Then they reached the center of the garage and prayed that no one had been there. The ceiling had collapsed and tons of debris had left cars crushed beyond recognition. There were broken bits of desks and chairs...and people. The three men froze.
"I'm sorry," one of the men whispered, and Blair felt a hand land on his back.
You promised to hold on.
Sediment trickled from the large hole.
"We'd better get out of here. It can go at any minute."
Blair allowed himself to be pulled back. Something shimmered in his peripheral vision. He snatched his shoulder out of the caring man's hand and ran around the huge pile in the center of the garage, sometimes wading through the edge of it to make it to the backside.
"Jim! Answer me, dammit!"
Powder filtered down from the ceiling again.
Blair nodded, surprised to see the men had followed him. "Jim, I'm here, man. Help me find you," he said much softer.
Blair scrambled between dented metal and saw a bit of white sticking out. Jim's socks. Nothing else would have remained so clean amidst total destruction. "We're gonna need a stretcher, guys."
One of the firemen came up beside him. "We need to check--"
"He's alive," Blair said, allowing the tears he'd been holding back to spill ever so slightly. "He's alive."
The man nodded to his partner and the other left. Together Blair and the remaining man carefully removed the mangled cars until Jim's face was revealed. His eyes were closed, but his lips twitched as air puffed through them. At Blair's touch, the eyes opened.
Jim continued to breathe.
Blair smiled and pressed his lips against the grimy, bloody forehead. "You held on for me, huh? Thank you, Jim. Thank you."
Blair watched the man wearily make his way to the balcony, dragging his braced leg stoicly. It was way too early for him to be out of the hospital, much less making trips to cemeteries across the state, but Jim was stubborn--and since it was that stubbornness that had Jim here with him and not in some eternal resting place, Blair supported Jim's recklessness...and his shoulder and waist when his body faltered.
Jim hadn't spoken much. The respirator had made speech impossible in the beginning, but even when he'd been weaned off the machine, he'd been reticent, asking a few brief questions and giving even terser orders. A psychiatrist had been assigned to his team of doctors. Blair hadn't been privy to the man's session with Jim, but Blair had seen the report where the man stated Jim was a lot more sane than he had any right to be. Nothing further had been said about Jim's silence, and Blair, reading in Jim's eyes what he couldn't say, took the quiet in stride.
When Jim finally spoke it was to say he wanted to go home. Blair had had to demand the papers, but he'd gotten them. When Jim wanted to stop by the hospital's gift shop, Blair had told the orderly to push the wheelchair into the small store. And when Jim had brusquely provided the directions to a cemetery in Olympia, he had driven the truck to the grassy area, and helped Jim place a stained glass suncatcher onto a woman's grave. Noting the date of her death, Blair guided his partner back to the truck without asking any questions.
There had been one more stop before the long trip back to the loft had ended. Taking a St. Christopher's medal from the back of his wallet, Jim had draped the silver chain on a headstone which read: Philip "Joseph Ellison" Martin, A Son Of The Heart And Spirit. Jim hadn't needed to give him directions this time. He had been the one to arrange for the burial and headstone.
Ninety-eight survivors. Two hundred and seventeen dead. A militia group out of Montana in federal prison. Something about fags and niggers and chinks taking over the government. He hadn't really paid much attention to what was going on outside the hospital which had housed Jim for three weeks.
"Jim, we need to get you in bed, man."
Jim kept his casted arm tight against his damaged ribs as he turned toward his partner. "Why do I still live?"
Blair didn't have to think about it. He knew the answer by heart. "Because you're still needed. The world needs it's Sentinel. And I--I need you."
Eyes as blue as the sky beyond the balcony locked onto their darker counterparts. "I kept hanging on for you."
Blair nodded and placed his arm carefully around Jim's waist before raising his mouth to his friend's ear. "I'll do the same for you if necessary," he whispered.
A gentle, warm breeze came in from the Sound and washed over them before departing back to the sea.
Blair smiled and hung onto Jim a little tigher.