In a full heart there is room for everything, and in an empty heart there is room for nothing.
Antonio Porchia, Voces
He recognized the scent as soon as he stepped into the elevator. Turning to his companion, he grinned. "Hey, Chief, I think you have company."
Blair Sandburg looked at his taller friend in surprise, his curly dark ponytail bouncing against his neck. "I'm not expecting anyone. Why do you think someone's here to see me?"
Jim Ellison shrugged. "I'm a detective, remember?"
Blair rolled his eyes. Jim was much more than a detective. He was a Sentinel, a person with genetic traits that caused certain senses to be heightened. In Jim's case, all five senses-- sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste-- were all enhanced. "More than likely that super sense of smell of yours has picked up on someone familiar. Who is it?"
"I'll give you a few hints. Female. Beautiful. Nice personality. And she's seen you naked."
The younger man frowned. That could describe a number of ladies. Not that he was indiscriminate, but he was a college grad student and well... "Come on, Jim. I need a little more to go on."
The elevator stopped and Jim shook his head. 'Too late, Sandburg. You'll just have to see for yourself."
Blair eagerly rounded the corner, then stopped. With a rueful glance toward his friend, he rushed forward and embraced the woman standing in front of the loft he and Jim shared. "Mom! It's good to see you. Why didn't you let me know you were coming? I could have picked you up or at least been home."
Naomi Sandburg returned the hug, patting her son on the back. She didn't look old enough to be his mother, but then, he didn't look as old as he was either. "My son talking about being at home. Who would have thought it possible. I see you still have him nicely domesticated, Jim," she said as she reached up to peck the detective on the cheek.
"I try, Naomi," he said with a laugh, opening the door and grabbing her bag. "I hope you haven't been waiting long. We had a ton of paperwork to clear up at the station."
"We, Jim?" Blair questioned dryly.
"Can I help it that you're the academic and I'm just a poor dumb cop?" He pivoted agilely out of the way as Blair swatted at him.
Naomi watched the byplay with interest. She was still amazed at the changes her child had gone through since meeting Jim Ellison. She was what they had called in the sixties, "a free spirit". She flitted from place to place, and from situation to situation, on what amounted to being sheer whim. As a child she'd taken Blair with her and when he'd gone off on his own, he had continued the "family tradition." Even his chosen career, an anthropologist, was designed to fit into such a lifestyle. He'd already ready been around the world several times studying tribal peoples and their habits. After getting his master's, he'd settled on getting his Ph.D. at Rainier University in Cascade, Washington, and it was there his life changed dramatically.
Blair was always fuzzy on the details but what it boiled down to was that he'd met the detective and somehow wrangled himself a position as a police observer. Her son-- a cop. No one in the communes he'd grown up in would ever believe that. But then who would believe that not only did he work as Jim's partner, the two men had also become roommates. Jim had opened up his loft to her rolling stone of a son and like the Hebrews upon seeing the Promised Land after forty years in the desert, Blair had planted himself firmly in the offered haven and had no intention of ever leaving. Or so it seemed to her.
She shook herself out of her reverie and nodded. "That sounds nice. Why don't you and Jim have a cup too. We need to have a little discussion."
Wanting to give mother and son privacy, Jim grabbed his keys from the tray by the door. "We're going to need some extra supplies with a guest, Chief. I'll just run out to the market--"
"No, Jim," Naomi said, stopping him. "I want you to be a part of this too. With you and Blair so close, it is bound to affect you as well."
Blair's usually animated face clouded with concern. "Something wrong, Mom?"
"It can wait until the tea is ready."
Blair exchanged glances with Jim and the older man shrugged as he reached into the cabinet for three cups.
Seated in a lotus position on the sofa, Naomi studied the two men waiting for her to talk. Even if one overlooked the physical differences, other contrasts were just as obvious. One was patiently sitting still, his concern evident but carefully contained. The other was a jumpy bundle of energy, his need for her to speak almost tangible. "I'm as surprised as you are to find myself on your doorstep," she began, blowing gently on the tea. "I really thought I could do this on my own. But suddenly I found myself on a bus to Cascade and I knew where my path lay. I had to at least see you, Blair, before..."
"Before what, Mom?" Blair blurted out anxiously.
"Easy, Chief," Jim said soothingly, even though he felt a shiver of apprehension as well. Naomi's other surprise visits had been spur of the moment ideas, typical for the ageless flower child. But this sounded like something more.
"You know I'm not a big fan of traditional medicine," she said, placing the cup on the table because it wobbled too much in her hand. "I believe in the use of herbs as our ancestors did. But there has been this sisterhood rally for the fight against breast cancer and it sounded like such a good cause."
Blair paled and jumped to his feet. "What are you trying to tell us, Mom?"
Naomi took a deep breath, wishing she could go into a calming trance instead of finishing the conversation. But what she had to say, had to be said. "I had a mammogram, Blair. It detected a small tumor in my left breast. Further testing revealed it wasn't benign. I have breast cancer."
If it had just been him and Naomi, Blair would have freaked big time. But Jim flicked him a stern look which said, "don't do this to your mother," so Blair sat and gathered himself. "So what now?" he asked with only a hint of the terror he was feeling.
Naomi knew she had been right in asking Jim to stay. He was the control her son had never had. "I check into Cascade General tomorrow night and the next morning I have surgery. From there I'll be moved to a hospice and undergo chemotherapy for the next six months or so."
Blair tried to sit still but he felt as if his bones were about to jump out of his skin. "A hospice? Isn't that where people go to die?"
"Oh, no, honey," Naomi hurried to explain. "A lot of people go to hospices to recover. They have medical personnel on staff and support groups. It's really the best place for someone like me."
"Someone like you?" Jim inquired softly.
Naomi nodded. "I don't have a strong concentrated network of family and friends. That's not a complaint or a regret, just a statement of fact."
Blair did the only thing he knew to do in such an emotional moment. "I have to get out of here," he mumbled. He was gone before the others could react.
"Damn, I thought I'd broken him of that," Jim said, giving Naomi an apologetic glance.
She shrugged. "Where do you think he got it from? At least he stayed around long enough to hear me out. Never would have happened if you weren't here. Thank you, Jim."
"He won't be gone long," he predicted, "but he probably won't want to discuss it."
Naomi smiled. "You know my son well."
Jim's blue eyes caught hers. "Yes, Naomi, I do," he said firmly, hinting at something. But suddenly she was too spent to delve further. He sensed her exhaustion immediately. "Let me get your bag and you can go crash in Blair's room for a while. We'll have dinner when he gets back."
She started toward her son's room, which was hers whenever she visited. "I didn't mean to hurt him, Jim," she said sadly.
"Learning your mother is mortal always hurts, Naomi. What happens after you learn it is what's important," Jim told her softly. "Rest now, and have faith in your son."
Jim watched Rainier University's faculty and students begin the day from his truck as he waited for his passenger to say what was on his mind. The previous evening had gone just as he feared. Blair had returned and it was as if Naomi hadn't mentioned the word cancer. It had been early when Jim had climbed the stairs to his bedroom, leaving Blair and Naomi alone to talk. But judicious eavesdropping had revealed that her condition remained a taboo subject. However, he was so attuned to Blair's feelings, he knew his friend was torn up inside.
Blair was more than his friend, partner, and roommate. He was the other half of Jim's Sentinel. According to Blair's research, Sentinels had evolved as a form of protection for ancient, often isolated tribes. They guarded their people from animal attacks, raids by warring neighbors, and even natural disasters. Since Sentinels protected the tribe, it seemed reasonable that there had to be someone to protect the Sentinel. That person was called the Guide and it was his responsibility to keep the Sentinel healthy and his senses under control. Blair argued that there was no evidence that being a Guide was a genetic trait too, but Jim knew that Blair was his Guide and that no one else could fill the role. They were too deeply connected for Blair to be merely a person willing to help him. No, the two shared an instinctual trust that had to stem from some sort of genetic or psychic bond.
And that bond was telling him the Guide was troubled about his mother and her choices. "Jim, I don't want my mother cared for by strangers."
Blair went on, not hearing Jim. "There's nothing wrong with a hospice and I'm sure she would get good care, but I'm the one who should be taking care of her. And I want to. I know the loft is small and taking care of her won't be easy, but I'll do it all by myself and--"
"No," Jim said, interrupting him.
That he heard. "Okay, I understand, Jim. I'll find somewhere for Mom and me and--"
Jim sighed, wondering why his Guide always thought the worst of him. "No, Blair, you don't understand at all. I'm not saying Naomi can't stay with us while she recovers. I'm saying you won't be taking care of her by yourself. I'll be there and depending on the situation, we'll hire outside help if we need to. A day nurse or whatever."
Blair was completely stunned. "Jim, I have no idea of what to say, man."
"What's there to say, Chief? You're my family and she's yours. That means she's mine too. Our home is hers."
Blair felt tears threatening and bailed. "I'm going to be late for class," he said quickly, gathering his backpack. He hopped out of the truck and started to lope across the parking lot. Then he stopped, turned around, and touched Jim's arm through the open window. "Thank you, Jim."
"You're welcome, Chief."
By the time Jim reached the Cascade Police Department he had made a series of calls on his cell phone and was reasonably sure of the way he wanted things to proceed. He accepted that he would be the one in charge; not because he was arrogant and demanding, but simply because he was the one most distant from the actual events. Naomi needed to focus on her recovery and Sandburg needed... Blair needed Jim to be the responsible one. That was the pattern of their existence and this wasn't the time to be changing the way things were done.
"Sir, I need to talk with you," Jim said, tapping on the door to Captain Simon Banks' office. Simon was the head of the Major Crimes unit and Jim's and Blair's boss. He alone knew of Jim's Sentinel abilities and the role Blair played. He didn't totally understand the dynamics, but he saw the results of the two working together and had sanctioned giving Blair police observer status.
"Come on in, Jim," Simon said, waving him through the door. "My cousin just got back from Jamaica and brought me some Blue Mountain coffee. Doesn't it smell absolutely wonderful? Grab a mug and get you some. Then tell me why I have the feeling I'm not going to like this conversation."
Jim smiled grimly at the bespectacled man who was even taller than he was. "Better not let Sandburg hear you say things like that. He'll have you down at the lab, testing your sixth sense." He poured the coffee and settled into the chair in front of the desk. "Actually this conversation is about Blair."
"I knew it," Simon said with a frown. "What's the kid gotten himself into this time?" Since coming to work for the police department, Sandburg had shown a definite tendency toward finding trouble. And even though he knew Jim's partner wasn't that far away from thirty, it was something about his behavior that reminded Simon of his teenage son. Hence, he called him "the kid."
"When we got home yesterday, Naomi Sandburg was there."
"His mother, right? Ditzy lady. Hung around with a psychic for a while, right?" Simon questioned, trying to recall the woman. "I'm assuming from the look on your face, she didn't drop by to merely say hi."
Jim slowly sipped the coffee, allowing his enhanced taste to savor the smooth flavor. The captain was right; a very special blend. "She has breast cancer."
"Shit," Simon said in sympathy. "How's the kid taking it? No, don't answer that. I know he must be devastated. How can I help?"
"I was hoping you'd ask that, Simon," Jim said gratefully. "She's having surgery tomorrow and is supposed to check into a hospice for the rest of her treatment. However, Blair wants her to move in with us."
"And what do you want?"
"To keep Blair sane. It's his home too, Simon. I've spent the better part of four years stressing that to him," he explained with a sigh. "He wants his mother there so he can take care of her. I can't say no."
Simon shook his head. "You could, but you won't. That's a hell of a lot of responsibility you're taking on, Jim. What are we talking about? Several months of chemo or radiation?"
"At least. I've got an appointment at the Women's Health Center in about an hour. I need to learn the basics, see what we're up against."
Simon looked knowingly at his detective. "You've made your decision then. So where do I fit in?"
"Well, as I said, I need a few hours off this morning to go by the clinic. Then I need to go by the loft and convince Naomi to stay."
"She doesn't know about this yet?"
"Blair just hit me with it in the truck this morning. But I'd been expecting it ever since I saw his face when she mentioned the hospice." Jim looked pleadingly at his captain. "I'll probably need tomorrow morning off as well, at least until we know Naomi made it through surgery okay. After that, it's going to depend on how well she makes it through chemotherapy. I know I'm asking a lot, Simon, and I know that just because Blair's mother is sick, crime isn't going to stop. But I owe it to Blair to get him through this."
Simon took off his glasses and pinched his nose. "So what I'm looking at is the total loss of one man for the next several months and another with an erratic schedule for a while."
"You don't ask for much, do you, Jim?" Simon said wearily. "If it were any other officer... But then I wouldn't have this problem, would I? With anyone else, family leave rules would apply. But you and Sandburg defy all the rules, just to make my life difficult." He made up his mind and put his glasses back on. "Okay, Jim. Do what you have to do and we'll all get through it the best that we can, even if it means I have to be a bit more hands-on than usual. I'll have to go out in the field with you anyway, with Sandburg being out." Simon was considered the back-up Guide, filling in for Blair in emergencies.
"I'll do my best to keep your involvement to a minimum, Simon, and I promise I'll be here every minute I can be."
Simon nodded. He knew how dedicated Jim was to the force. But now his first allegiance was to Sandburg. "Go on and get out of here. I'll let the guys in the bullpen know what's going on. Maybe from time to time they can distract Sandburg and give you a break."
Jim held out his hand. "Thank you, Simon. You don't know what this means to me."
"I think I do, Jim. Sandburg's a lucky man to have you in his corner."
Jim shook his head. "It depends on the perspective, Simon."
"We need to talk, Naomi."
She smiled nervously. "I know we do, Jim. I didn't think you brought me lunch just because you had nothing better to do." She brushed her fingers through her hair. "You're angry with me, aren't you? For dumping my troubles at your door like this. I guess I haven't been thinking too clearly since my diagnosis."
"On the contrary, Naomi, your thinking is very clear. You're hurting so you reach out to someone who cares. That's not irrational; that's human nature."
"Yes, but 'reaching out' is not part of Sandburg nature. Surely you know that better than anyone."
"I know Sandburgs can be stubborn," he replied with a low chuckle. "It's not wrong to reach out to your son. And it's not wrong for him to want to reach out to you."
Her nose crinkled in confusion. "Blair wants to reach out to me? How?"
"He doesn't want you to go to the hospice. He wants you to stay here so he can take care of you himself."
Naomi's eyes widened in horror. "I am so sorry, Jim. I never thought-- What was he thinking, asking that of you?"
"He was thinking I was his friend."
"But to force his sick mother on you? That's far beyond friendship. He had no right to put you in that position."
"I gave him that right years ago, Naomi. I'm actually happy he realized that." Many people thought Blair was as open as they come, his emotions appearing readily on his face. But Jim had found out, the hard way of course, that Blair let people see only what he wanted them to see. He was an expert in facade-building, putting up shams to hide the decay beneath. Jim had finally learned to tug at the brightly colored plywood Blair nailed in front of his emotions and look behind them for the real soul of his friend. Then when he found the soul, his next task was to make it listen. Sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn't.
Naomi looked at Jim, unaware of the tears rolling down her face. "I didn't come here with the intention of staying, Jim. I just wanted to see Blair, maybe go into surgery knowing someone would be waiting when I got out. I was even going to tell him the hospice restricted visitors so that his life wouldn't be totally interrupted."
"That would have been cruel. He loves you, Naomi, and love is never an interruption. How would you feel knowing he kept an illness secret from you?"
"I think I already know what that feels like." Naomi had learned to visit libraries wherever she was and go online to retrieve Cascade's local paper. She knew a lot more about her son's brushes with death than he thought.
Jim had the good graces to blush. At the beginning, he'd tried to get Blair to contact his mother when he was hospitalized. But Blair was so adamantly against the idea, he'd stopped bringing it up. "Don't cut him off, Naomi. Don't make him feel like a failure because he can't help you."
"My son has never failed at anything," she said fiercely. "You win, Jim. I'll let the staff at the hospice know Blair is welcome any time."
"I only win, Naomi, if you agree to stay here."
"What? Oh, I understand. He's angry at you for saying no, isn't he? You don't have to give in. I've seen you two together. He'll forgive you."
Jim joined her on the sofa. "I never said no, Naomi. He asked and I agreed. In fact I've already been by the Women's Clinic to find out what I need to know to help you and him. And I've arranged things at work for both Blair and me. There are a few personal questions I need to ask you and I think we'll have most things under control."
"I just want to make sure you have the care you need. If you don't want to answer them--"
She touched his arm to quiet him. "No, Jim. Why are you doing this? Why are you going out of your way to take care of me? I have lived my life believing in the goodness of people, but this is too much. What's in it for you, James Ellison?"
Jim jumped up from the sofa, his jaw clenched angrily. When had the world gotten so bad that good had to be questioned? That an ulterior motive had to be ascribed to every occurrence? Then he laughed at himself. What were the Sandburgs doing to his head? He was angry because Naomi was, probably for the first time in her life, being cynical? Angry, when in fact he was the world's biggest cynic himself. Or at least he used to be. There was a time not so long ago when in Naomi's place, he would have been as wary as a rat in a roomful of mousetraps. Nobody ever did anything for nothing. His entire life had taught him that.
So why was he doing this? Blair hadn't even begged with those baby blues of his. In fact, Jim had made the decision before Blair had even voiced the question. It had to be something with that damn Sentinel/Guide link leading him to act this way, to do whatever he could to ensure Blair was emotionally settled. Because surely hard-core, stiff-necked, stick-up-the-butt Jim Ellison wasn't mellowing, was he? "I can't tell you why, Naomi, because I'm not sure myself. But I can try to tell you what's in it for me. You and your son are connected. If you hurt, he hurts for you. If you're happy, his day is a bit brighter. Blair and I are connected the same way. If he's troubled, I know, and I do whatever I can to ease the load on his shoulders because it eases the load on my own. I'm not sure if you can understand that."
"Actually, I'm amazed that you do, Jim. I didn't have you pegged as a man in touch with his spiritual essence. When we first met and I saw the brightness of your aura I was sure I was mistaken, that maybe I was seeing it as a mere reflection of Blair's. His was always bright from the moment he was born. That's why I knew he would be okay wherever we went." She smiled as she talked about her son. "But I expected yours to be darker. I know some of your background, Jim. Some people may think I'm a bit of a flake, but I care about my son. When I learned he was living with you, I did some checking and I assure you, if I had found something I didn't like, I would have done everything in my power to get him away from you."
"I'm glad I passed," Jim said, totally convinced that if Naomi Sandburg had wanted him out of Blair's life, she would have succeeded. As powerful as the link was with his Guide, it wouldn't have a prayer against a mother's opposition.
"You almost didn't. Your life is one of violence and I've seen it touch my son. I don't like that and I'm still not sure I approve of him being your partner. But when he's with you, his aura is even brighter than usual. It's as if he gains energy from you. You're a strong man, Jim, not just physically. Your aura literally crackles with power. You walk into a room and you're noticed."
"That's because I'm usually armed," he said, embarrassed at the direction of this conversation. But if Naomi felt comfortable enough to discuss his aura, maybe she would be comfortable enough to stay.
She shook her head. "Gun or no gun, Jim Ellison, you attract attention. I can see why Blair was drawn to you, even why he tries so hard to emulate you." She saw a frown flit across his face. "You don't like being the topic of conversation, do you?" she asked insightfully. "But to understand why you would do this for my son, I need to understand you. I need to understand what attracts you to Blair."
Oh, you're going to owe me big time, Chief. There was no way he could discuss the Sentinel/ Guide business. "I guess I feel protective of Blair. I have a younger brother and because of our father who always set us against each other, we were estranged for years. Blair became that brother, Naomi. To me, he's family."
"And what happens when your real brother comes back into your life?"
"He has. Blair helped me reconnect with him and our relationship is better. But Steven hasn't, and never will, take the place of Blair in my life... or my heart."
That one admission, hesitantly given, settled the matter for Naomi. "What were the personal questions you wanted to ask me, Jim?"
He hadn't realized how tense he'd been until he felt himself relax. "How's your insurance situation?"
"I'm fully covered. When I left home at fifteen, my father swore I would come crawling back, sick and desperate. From the time I earned my first dollar, I made sure I had insurance because I never wanted to prove him right. Blair is equally covered."
Jim was sorry he'd asked. He hadn't known about her past, but he was sure she didn't need to deal with those memories at this point. "I want you to be comfortable while you recuperate. Since you've researched me, you must know I was a medic. I can take care of your post-operative needs, but if you would prefer having a nurse come in, I'll understand."
She laughed. "If I trust you with my son, Jim, surely I can trust you with me."
He breathed a bit easier. This situation was going to work out.
"By the way, Jim, my incense won't set off your smoke alarms, will it?"
As he paced the surgical waiting area, Blair could feel Jim's eyes on him but when he looked at the man sitting in a corner chair, all he saw was someone totally engrossed in the latest issue of Soldier of Fortune. Of course, Jim didn't need to use his eyes to keep track of him. He could monitor the sound of his heartbeat or trace the smell of his shampoo. Hell, he was the one who'd taught Jim, during the Golden incident, that sight was basically unnecessary.
Blair knew the nervous pacing was rubbing Jim the wrong way, but he had to keep moving. Just can the pissed vibes, man. She's not your mother. Immediately he felt bad about the thought. Jim had been nothing less than incredible since Naomi arrived. Taking care of her felt so right to Blair, he hadn't even considered the ramifications of what he was asking of Jim until later in the day. He tried to talk to his partner about it when he picked him up from campus, but Jim had waved away his concerns and told him of the plans he'd made, the stack of pamphlets waiting back at the loft, and Simon's blessings.
Blair had been overwhelmed, then angry. Who the hell did Jim think he was, taking over Naomi's care like that? He wasn't even really a friend of Naomi's. Did he think Blair incapable of caring for her? Just because Naomi felt that way, didn't mean it was true. All through his childhood he'd wanted to take care of his mother but Naomi wouldn't allow it. She would do whatever she wanted to do when she wanted to do it and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. Now he finally had the chance to actually do something for her and Jim was taking over. He wouldn't allow it! He would have eventually gone to the Women's Clinic for information and asked Naomi about her insurance and talked to Simon and...
Just as suddenly as it appeared, the anger faded. Hell, he hadn't even made arrangements at the university. And Jim was just doing what Jim did, what had been ingrained in him during military training, by being a policeman, by mere Sentinel instinct. In times of trouble, Jim took control. Blair had known that when he made the decision to care for Naomi, probably the reason he knew he wouldn't screw up and kill his mother somehow. Because Jim would be there and whatever he fucked up, Jim would make right. Just as Jim depended on him to straighten out the problems he had with the hypersenses, he depended on Jim to straighten out the messes he made in life. Quid pro quo. Tit for tat.
He flopped into the chair beside Jim and closed his eyes.
"Something bothering you, Chief?" Jim asked in concern. A still Blair was just as scary as a silent one.
"Nah. I just feel like sitting with you for a while."
"You know we've never done this before."
Jim closed the magazine and put it away. "Never done what?"
"Sat in a waiting room together. I mean, we both have personal knowledge of every waiting area in this hospital, but we've never waited together. Because it's always the other one down the hall."
Jim nodded. "That must have been the reason the nurse on duty gave a doubletake when we walked in."
Blair laughed. "You're kidding, right? She actually did a doubletake? I would have loved to have seen that." He looked at his watch. "It should be over soon, shouldn't it?"
"Yeah, Chief." Blair knew as well as he did that surgeons only made approximations, sometimes not even good ones. But apparently this one did. As they were wheeling Naomi away, Jim had gotten a good sniff of her surgeon so that he could recognize him. The scent was approaching from the hall. He tapped Blair's arm and they were both standing when the doctor arrived.
"Your mother is doing fine, Mr. Sandburg. Of course, we won't know for sure for a while, but I think the operation was quite successful. She's being moved around a bit now but I'll have someone notify you when you can see her."
"Thank you, doctor." Blair watched the man walk away. "She's okay, Jim."
"I never doubted she would be, Chief. You Sandburgs have a way of bouncing back, you know."
"We do, don't we?" Blair said, relief in his voice. "Now I have to wait to see her. They probably won't let me stay long. You've been here all morning so you're probably ready to..."
Jim sat and pulled out his magazine, flipping to the last page he remembered reading. "Go see your mother, Chief. I'll be here when you get back."
"Hey, Jim, am I ever going to be able to pay you back for all of this?"
Jim posed as in heavy thought. "No, I don't think you ever will, Chief. But I'm going to have a lot of fun while you try." Blair groaned and waited for rescue.
Jim looked up from his magazine to see the on-duty nurse standing beside his chair. Her speeding heart rate told him she wasn't going to ask if he needed coffee. Damn, don't let anything have happened to Naomi.
"Detective, someone's taken a security guard hostage in the emergency room."
"The police have been alerted?" he asked as he stood.
"Yes, sir. I just thought since you were here..."
"Call downstairs and tell them I'm on my way. No one should do anything until I get there."
He checked his weapon as he boarded the elevator. Looked like he wasn't going to lose a vacation day after all. In a way, the hostage situation was a relief. Something he was trained for. If Naomi had suddenly hemorrhaged or stroked out, he would be dealing with Blair's grief and he definitely wasn't trained for that.
The ER was crowded, even more so since one area of it had been evacuated. "What's the situation?" he asked one of the security guards as he flashed his badge.
"The man's name is Leland McMillan. His wife died yesterday and he came here to pick up her things from the desk. Suddenly he became loud and belligerent. Bobby, Bobby Hunt, one of us security guards, went to try to calm him down. That's when he grabbed Bobby and took his gun. He's holding it on him now."
"Where are they?"
"Cubicle Three." The man pointed to a curtained area.
Jim filtered out the noise of the crowd and focused on Cubicle Three. He heard two heartbeats, both rapid and erratic. He also heard mumbling. "This is the only way, Margaret. I don't want to stay here alone. I can't make it without you. It's really better this way."
Shit. Another case of suicide-by-cop: people who couldn't kill themselves setting up situations where cops would have to take them out. A damn cowardly thing to do and potentially damaging to the officer who would have to live with the death on his conscience. Good thing the nurse had recognized him. He planned on having this situation over before an unsuspecting cop got suckered into McMillan's sick deal.
He tucked his weapon firmly in his back holster and walked over to the curtain. "Mr. McMillan my name is Jim Ellison and I'm coming in now, if you have no objections." He pulled back the fabric and took a step forward, closing the drape behind him to keep all the curiosity-seekers from interfering. He faced two men, one probably about sixty and holding a gun, the other barely over twenty with the gun pressed against his head. Both looked at him nervously.
McMillan relaxed when he saw Jim's haircut, the assuming stance that he took. "You're a cop," he stated with relief. When Jim made no mention of rank, he had assumed the hospital was sending in someone from the psych ward. They didn't understand he didn't want to be talked out of this, he only wanted to die. "Where's your gun? I have mine," he said boldly, tauntingly.
Jim shrugged and held out his hands. "I'm not at the hospital as a cop today. I have a friend upstairs. She just came out of surgery."
He saw concern flash across McMillan's face. That was good. "She okay?"
"So far, according to her doctors."
The older man grew suspicious. "So why are you here in the ER and not with your friend?"
"When I'm nervous, I walk." Thank you, Sandburg. "I heard what was happening and I thought I'd stopped by and see if I could help."
"The only way you could have been of help was that you'd brought your gun."
"Why is that, sir?"
"Because someone here is going to die today. Either him," he pressed the gun closer to the young man, "or me."
Jim remembered the anguish in the man's voice when he was talking to his wife. Hope she wasn't a closet serial killer or something. "And how would Margaret feel about that?"
McMillan was startled for a moment, then he frowned. "Margaret's dead."
"Dead and forgotten? You can't remember how she would feel knowing you're threatening to kill someone, someone with a family, someone who was only trying to help you?"
The hand holding the gun trembled. "You don't understand. I don't want to kill him."
Jim reached out his hand. "Then give me the gun and let him go." He closed his palm over the weapon and felt McMillan release his grip. The security guard took a deep breath but looked to Jim before he moved. "Go on, son, and tell them we'll be out in a few minutes, okay?" The security guard nodded and flew through the curtain.
"I just didn't want to be alone," McMillan sobbed.
And what is death? Last I heard it wasn't a team sport. Jim wanted to shake the man, try to beat some sense into him, but he knew that would only be counter-productive. I'm learning, Chief. "Are you really alone, Leland? You have no children, family, friends?"
"Yes, of course. But they can't replace Margaret. She was a part of me... here." He stabbed at his heart.
Jim knew exactly what he meant. "Then she's still part of you." He took the man's hand and placed it back on McMillan's chest. "Search for her, Leland. She loved you too, remember. She wouldn't leave you, not completely. In the instant her spirit left her dying body, it came to live with you. Can't you feel it?"
McMillan nodded, a smile coming to his lips. Then he paled. "I almost killed her again, didn't I?"
Jim squeezed his shoulder and led him slowly toward the cloth partition. "Thankfully, almost only counts in horseshoes. Come on, sir. There are very anxious people waiting for us and I'm pretty sure the ER needs the space."
Hands grabbed for McMillan as Jim ushered him out, and he heard soft words of concern mixed with mild scolding. The man's family had come as quickly as they could. Jim nodded. Leland would eventually be okay.
He continued walking, ignoring the questions being sent his way as he focused on a couple of familiar-looking guys. "Just so you aren't confused, this question is for both of you: What are you doing here?"
Simon was the first to answer. "I heard there was a hostage situation at the hospital and since I knew you guys were here, I figured one or both of you would wind up in the middle of it. I was right, of course," he added smugly.
"Just remember this when you turn in my hours at the end of the month," Jim teased, recognizing that Simon's presence meant he had been worried. "And what about you, Chief?"
"The doctor said Naomi was going to be out for the next few hours so I came out to tell you to take off for a while. The nurse told me what was going on. What were you thinking, going into a situation like that without back-up?" Blair fussed.
My God, Sandburg and I are in agreement. Can the day get any worse? "I'd like to hear that explanation myself," Simon said sternly.
"He was never going to kill the security guard. He just wanted to die himself and thought Cascade P.D. would do him the favor."
Simon chomped down on his unlit cigar in disgust. "Not another one?"
Blair would never understand the appeal of suicide-by-cop either, but that was beside the point. "That was an awfully big risk you took, Jim."
His partner shrugged off his concerns. "Not really. Thanks to these ears of mine, I was well-informed. Listen, Chief, why don't you go back up to Naomi? I have to go in and make a report, but I'll be back after that."
"Yeah, okay," Blair said, suddenly feeling left out. Filling out reports had basically become his job.
Jim saw the sadness cross his face but misread the cause. "Naomi will wake up soon, Chief. You have to remember anesthesia actually works on some people." Jim was never out as long as he should have been.
Blair nodded and watched his two tall friends walk companionably out the door. Why do I feel as if I've been deserted? He shook his head and caught the next elevator.
"Hi, Mom, I'm back," Blair called to the still unconscious Naomi. She had awakened briefly before, just enough to assure everyone she wasn't overreacting to the anesthesia. When she fell back asleep, that was when he'd gone looking for Jim.
"Sorry it took so long, but Jim was off saving the world as usual and I have to track him down." He pulled up a chair next to her bed. "Ran into Simon too, which wasn't too unexpected. I think he worries about Jim as much as I do. Actually, he worries a lot less than he used to. He says I'm good for Jim, that I've made him less reckless, less driven, less prone to run headlong into danger. Hell, if this is less, I'm glad I wasn't around before. I mean, I'm not living the all-American dream here in Cascade, Mom. Jim says I'm already a better cop than a lot of the people on the force." It had been scary how proud he felt when Jim told him that. Never in his wildest imagination would he have thought being compared to a cop was cool.
Naomi stirred in her sleep. "I know this sudden turn in my life worries you, Mom. But I'm doing what I want to do. I'm not being bullied into anything. If it's any consolation to you, Jim worries more than you do. He's always warning me to stay back, keep my head down, don't look if the scene's too gruesome. He yanks my chain if he thinks I'm overworking, makes sure I take my medicine when I'm sick, bugs the hell out of me if he thinks I have a problem. He's a good mother, Mom."
He thought about how that sounded and rushed to clarify what he said. "Not that you aren't. I had an unbelievable childhood and though it wasn't by Dr. Spock's rules and regulations, I think I turned out pretty well. That's because of you, Naomi. But my relationship with Jim is so different. You see, you had me and you loved me and you wanted me with you. But you never needed me. With or without me, you would be the person you are, Naomi. Jim, however, needs me."
"You're always wondering how I stay in one place, why I don't get sick and tired of Cascade and move on. You've stopped asking me directly, but I hear it in every phone conversation and I see it in your eyes when you visit. I stay here because Jim needs me to. This is his city and he has to protect it. That's part of his nature. I've discovered that being with Jim is part of mine. We're a team joined at so many levels that I can't even count. But what it means at the deepest level is that Jim wouldn't be Jim without me and, Mom, I wouldn't be Blair without him."
He sighed and pulled his feet up in the chair. "I don't ever want to have to choose between you and Jim, but I think I just put myself in that position. I just realized by caring for you, I can't be with Jim when he needs me. He went into a potentially bad situation downstairs and I wasn't there to back him up. And because I wasn't there, no one was. You have to understand something about Jim. He's not used to having a partner, even after all these years of me tagging along. Or maybe it's because I do tag along. Anyway, he doesn't look around to see if he has back-up. He assumes I'm there and he just takes off."
"That's only one of the reasons he needs me. He's a very complicated man, Mom, but he's very smart and maybe one day he won't need me. It's probably selfish of me to say this but I hope that doesn't happen for a very long time. You see, I need Jim too. I thought I didn't. That's why I was going to go to Borneo a few years ago. Reassert my independence, my 'Sandburgness'. Hah. Before I knew it I was jumping out an airplane just to follow Jim. And for Simon and Daryl too, I guess. I've discovered when you put down roots, other plants invade your neighborhood and the next thing you know, your roots, leaves, and stems all become entangled with those around you. I didn't know it could be like that. I didn't realize you could become entangled but not choked."
"Well, I guess I've bored you enough, so I'll be quiet now and you can get your rest. According to those pamphlets of Jim's, you still have a big fight ahead of you. But we'll get you through it. Jim and I have gotten pretty good at fighting the 'big fights'. You'll see."
"Your mother is in good hands, Sandburg. Go back to having fun and don't call again." Jim hung up the phone and sighed. Convincing Blair to stay out was nearly as tiring as getting him to go out in the first place. He really did owe the guys at the station for coming over and dragging his exhausted Guide out of the loft for a few hours of entertainment (he hadn't asked what, for his own sanity). Since Naomi's surgery three weeks ago, Blair had been her constant nursemaid. Naomi took it well; when he really got on her nerves she just went into some kind of trance and ignored him. There had been several times when Jim himself had considered curling up into a lotus position and tuning him out. But knowing his partner, he would assume Jim was in the middle of a zone out and start bugging him about that.
Zone outs were among the most serious side effects of being a Sentinel, at least for a cop. Jim would concentrate on one sense so tightly, that he was aware of no other stimuli. When he'd first met Blair, he'd zoned in the middle of a street and was almost flattened by a truck. I still owe you for that one, Chief. Maybe that's why I'm trying so hard now.
"Was that Blair again?" Naomi asked as she sat gingerly on the sofa. Her surgical wounds were almost healed but she was still tender.
"Who else? I warning you, next time he calls I'm going to guilt him into staying out by telling him I thought he trusted me to take care of you. It may seem a little deceptive to you, but it's for his own good."
"You do a lot for his own good, don't you?"
"Not as much as I would like. He only lets me get away with so much," he said with a laugh. "Can I make you some tea?"
"No. In fact, I think I'm going back to bed."
Jim took her elbow as she headed back to the bedroom as if he were supporting her. But he used the contact to check her out. He felt no fever or smelled infection. But her pulse was a little fast and her breaths slightly ragged. "What is it, Naomi? Are you in pain?" He knew she barely touched the pills the doctor had prescribed for her. Instead she relied on the herbal remedies Blair bought fresh for her every day.
"I hurt, Jim, but it has nothing to do with the surgery," she said tiredly as she sat on the edge of the bed. Blair's bed had been removed in order to put in a hospital bed for Naomi's comfort.
Over the past few weeks he'd discovered where Blair had learned to cover his feelings so well. Now he was sensing another similarity between mother and son. If at this moment he pushed, she would say something meaningless and tell him to leave. If he waited patiently, she would tell him about her pain. So he leaned against the doorframe and said nothing.
His patience was finally rewarded. "How could a mother be so wrong about her son? I carried him for nine months and he was my constant companion until he was old enough to lead his own life. Yet, you know him better than I ever have or will."
Her sadness was so profound that Jim came to sit beside her on the bed. "That's not true, Naomi. You know things about Blair I'll never learn."
"About Blair, yes. But Blair himself? No. I ran away from home and kept running, taking Blair with me. I thought it was best. Maybe subconsciously I thought if he had no home, he would have no where to run from. I don't know, it's all so confusing. Blair and I didn't need anyone else. I was sure of that. When he was younger I knew he wanted a father and I was very careful that all my friends were good men, men who would give him the male influence he needed. And so Blair turned out to be this terrific young man and I told myself I'd done a very good job with him. But I was so wrong," she sobbed, hiding her face in her hands.
Jim rubbed comforting circles on her back. "How were you wrong? You didn't raise a criminal or a bum or a psychopath. Instead, you have a competent Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology who helps me catch criminals, bums and psychopaths. He's intelligent, caring, kind to women, animals, and small children. What's wrong with any of that?"
She lowered her hands and smiled at him. In return, he offered her a tissue. "He's a great person but it's thanks to who he is, not what I made him. He had needs, Jim, that I couldn't see. But you did."
"I'm not following you."
She sniffed and got comfortable on the bed. "If I had been around when his apartment blew up, I would have either helped him find a new place or convinced him to come with me. You, on the other hand, gave him a home."
"A room, Naomi. Just an empty room," Jim explained.
"I'm not looking at an empty room, Jim. And my son's presence is seen in every room in this loft. Open the refrigerator and there's his influence. Go into the bathroom and there's Blair. Not just a room, Jim, a home. And steady friends."
"Whoa. You're giving me too much credit. He made the friends all by himself."
"Oh, and he would have met these cops on his own? These cops who sent me flowers in the hospital simply because I was Blair's mother? At least one or more of them calls every day just to see how Blair's getting along. And tonight, they literally dragged him out of here because they knew he needed a break. Those are not the kinds of friends he had growing up. He met these friends through you. He's kept these friends because he has a home with you. Maybe he's needed friends and a home all his life. I didn't give it to him so he found someone who could."
"Hey," Jim said quickly. "You sound like we're in competition for Blair and we aren't. Besides, if it were a competition I would say you had the edge. Look at how quickly he gave up working with me to take care of you. Doesn't that tell you something? If you were such a bad mother, do you think he'd want to help you so eagerly?"
She shook her head. "Do you know how it pains him for you to walk out each morning without him? You don't see the pacing that occurs when you call and say you're going out on a case, the worry he goes through until he hears your key in the lock. Choosing me is breaking his heart, Jim."
"Losing you would destroy him. You can't run anymore, Naomi, not from your son," he said strongly, feeling like this was the direction she was heading in. "For his own sake, he has to see you though this."
"Back to changing the world for his own good, Jim? It's instinctive with you, isn't it?"
"Just don't leave him. We've gotten this far together and it hasn't been too bad, has it?" He smiled confidently.
"Other than having to watch my son's aura grow dimmer each time you leave without him?" she asked sadly.
Jim felt like banging his head against a wall. But according to the articles he'd read, depression and loss of self-worth often followed surgery like Naomi's. It was the caregiver's responsibility to keep her spirits up. However, he didn't think painting her toenails was going to get her out of this particular funk. "Your chemotherapy is going to be in cycles, right? How about when you're not taking the medication, I suggest Blair comes in to the station with me? You think that may help his aura?" He couldn't believe he'd actually used the word in conversation. Thankfully no one was around to hear it but Naomi.
She threw her arms around him and he hugged her gently, careful of her healing scar. "You are a remarkable person, Jim. Thank you for listening. Thank you for taking care of my son. I didn't know what he meant before, when he said despite whatever was going on, he felt safe with you. But I understand now. For the first time, I can honestly say I'm going to be okay, that I'm going to be a longtime cancer survivor. Because not only do I have my son fighting with me, I have you. And I don't think you lose too often."
"I try not to." He smiled and gestured toward the bed. "I think one of my fighters needs her rest." She obediently let him tuck her in and when he made a move to leave, she stopped him. "Stay until I fall asleep, Jim?" He nodded and sat back down on the bed.
When Blair got home, the first thing he did was check on his mother. Looking back on the scene the next morning, he wondered why he hadn't felt surprise or anger when he saw Jim's long form curled up protectively around Naomi. Maybe it was seeing the look of contentment on her face and understanding she'd just had her first taste of Sentinel comforting that had caused him to merely drape a blanket across Jim and head to his temporary bed on the sofa, thinking to himself that Jim was right; his mother was in perfectly good hands.
"How goes it in Sandburgville?" Joel Taggert asked as he sauntered into Major Crimes looking for a good cup of coffee. Down in the Bomb Squad, the coffee was supplied each week by a different member. This week's guy was cheap.
"It's been very educational," Jim said, leaning back in the chair at his desk. "I've learned to count to ten in five different languages."
"Count to ten? Oh, yeah. Simon uses that method to calm down."
"Yeah, well, I learned that counting in English doesn't take nearly long enough. I'm working on Chinese this week. May have to change over to Japanese in a few days though."
"Already prepared, huh?"
"Naomi just started another round of chemo. I have to be prepared."
"She's having a rough time?" Joel asked sympathetically.
"Actually it's hitting Blair the hardest. His mother's losing her hair, has mouth sores so bad that she can barely eat. It's getting to him and there I stand, at the bottom of the trickle down effect."
"Sounds like it's you who needs a break this time. Want us to come drag you away?"
Jim laughed. "Offer again after we get through with this kidnapping."
"The Barnhardt case, right?"
Jim nodded. A couple of days ago, the two children of wealthy businessman Arnold Barnhardt had been kidnapped. So far there hadn't been a ransom note or phone call. Everyone was getting worried, wondering if it was a simple kidnapping, if there were such a thing, or a case of revenge which would put a whole different slant on whether the children had been harmed. He was about to tell Joel his thoughts on the matter when he heard Simon slam the phone in his office. His eyes quickly shifted to the door.
"Listen up, everybody!" Simon spoke. "We may have a break on the Barnhardt kidnapping. Apparently someone left an anonymous tip saying the kids were being held at a farmhouse on Route 18. We'll coordinate with SWAT and the FBI at the site. Let's go." He watched his men move into action, his eyes narrowing when he saw Joel by Ellison. "Stay away from my coffee while I'm gone, Joel," he warned his friend as he moved out with Jim.
Joel waited until the elevator closed and eased on into Simon's office. "Probably going to be out most of the night. Coffee would be stale by the time he returned anyway," he mumbled to himself as he reached for a mug and then for the phone.
"Simon, this has gone on long enough," Jim hissed as everyone waited impatiently for something to happen. They had surrounded the farmhouse from a distance as to not alert the kidnappers of their presence. But now there was arguing about how the rest of the operation should proceed. The problem went sort of like this: were these people really the kidnappers? If they were, then were the children with them? If the children were in the house, then there was a chance the kidnappers could be spooked and murder them immediately. If they weren't, then there was the chance someone else had them at another location and would kill them if not contacted by the ones here. All in all, it seemed like a no-win situation.
"What can we do, Jim? No one wants to see the kids hurt. Not because we're all human beings," he threw a bitter glance toward the FBI's oh-so-original dark van, "but it would be political egg on everyone's faces."
"We need to know who's in the house."
"There are dark shades on every window so we can't see inside and the judge says we don't have enough evidence for a warrant."
"Then I'll have to find out my way." He looked at Simon meaningfully.
Simon nodded and started to follow, but just then someone called for the captain. "Go on, Jim, I'll be with you in a minute."
Jim moved toward the house until he reached the trees edging the property. Closing his eyes, he focused on his hearing, turning it up one level at a time until he could hear movement in the house. Once he reached that point, he knew he was going to have to concentrate to hear only what he was looking for and that meant the threat of zoning but it couldn't be helped. He tilted his head slightly and prepared himself.
A hand fell on his shoulder. "I'm here, Jim."
Jim didn't know how his Guide managed to be at his side and he didn't have time to get into it now. "Naomi?"
"Mrs. Leo from down the hall is with her. All she wanted to know was if we had cable. Now tell me what we're trying to do here, man."
"I need to know if the Barnhardt kids are in the house and where. Did I ever tell you children hearts don't sound like adult hearts?"
"No, you didn't," Blair said, making a mental note of the observation for later testing. "So can you hear inside the house yet?"
"Take each sound you hear, compare it to what you want to hear, then toss it aside if it doesn't fit, okay?"
A few minutes later, Jim used the feel of Blair's hand to guide his way back to normalcy. "The children are in the upper left bedroom."
"Where are the kidnap--" His question was interrupted by the arrival of Simon.
"What the devil are you doing here, Sandburg?"
"Cut the crap, Simon," Blair said in a harsh whisper. "Why the hell was Jim out here by himself, man? He was on the verge on zoning when I arrived and you were nowhere to be found!"
Jim and Simon were both startled by Blair's furious response but Jim reacted quickly as he felt Simon's temper flare. "We can argue guardianship of me later," he said, putting a halt to the irate glances his two friends were trading. "First, we have to rescue the children."
"They're in the house?" Simon asked, after taking a deep calming breath.
Jim nodded. "They are in the upstairs bedroom alone. There are two adults downstairs in the kitchen and another in the living room."
Simon was impressed. "You got all that?"
"Of course he did," Blair answered for Jim, annoyed at Simon for even questioning him. "What's the plan, Jim?"
"Simon, keep the LooneyTune gang back there occupied while I try to get the kids out through the window. When Sandburg returns with them, mount your attack."
"Jim, the two of you can't--"
"Any more people and someone will probably hear us, captain. There's a ladder over by the barn. I'll climb up to the room, hand the kids to Sandburg, and you call in the troops." Jim faded into the darkness before Simon could protest further, Blair right on his heels.
Jim was actually surprised at how well the plan worked and knew it must be his lucky night. Of course, he already knew that when Blair miraculously showed up in the woods. The ladder turned out to be sound, the window was unlocked, and the kids, ages two and four, were too drowsy to protest being taken from their bed. Once he saw Sandburg disappear into the woods with the children he crept out of the bedroom, intending to position himself to back up the assault team. But opportunities just popped up and by the time the battering ram crashed through the front door, Jim was seated in a recliner enjoying the popcorn the kidnappers in the kitchen had been making.
"See, guys," he said to the three men tied up at his feet, "I told you company was coming."
An hour later, they were all back at the station and Simon was beaming from ear to ear. "The kids returned unharmed without a single bullet being fired. The mayor loves you guys. And for the moment, so do I. So much so, that I'm willing to apologize. Blair was right, Jim. I was supposed to be there with you and I wasn't. So I'm sorry. And, Sandburg, I let you down too."
"It's not totally your fault, Simon," Blair said, having thought about the situation. "You're a captain, man. You're responsible for everyone. I shouldn't have, and neither should you have, assumed you could be with Jim every minute. Me, when I'm out in the field, I'm responsible for only Jim. That makes a big difference."
"So what are you saying, Sandburg?" Simon asked. "Even when your mother is well, you can't be with Jim 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The last I heard you were still a student, weren't you? If you don't trust me with Jim, what are we going to do?"
"Hey, it's not a matter of trust, man. It's a matter of priorities and your list is longer than mine. I think the best solution is to call me when you think Jim's going to get into trouble. And don't tell me you don't know when that is. I've seen your instincts, Simon."
"And I've seen evidence that you already have a network inside the station, Sandburg. You don't need me because I sure as hell didn't call you tonight. But someone did..." Blair just shrugged.
"Hey, I have another solution," Jim said. "Did it ever occur to the two of you I could be responsible for myself?"
Blair and Simon looked at each other, then back to Jim. "Nahhh," they said in unison.
Blair awoke to the sound of footsteps thundering down a staircase. "Jim?" he asked groggily, lifting his head from the sofa.
"Do it now, Chief!"
Jim sailed past him and into the bedroom. And Blair suddenly understood. Tripping over a blanket, he moved to the phone and somehow made it through the conversation with the operator without forgetting his name or address. Then he hung up and walked hesitantly to the door of his room. Peeking in, he saw Jim bent over Naomi in the middle of performing CPR. He froze in the doorway not saying a word, but he knew Jim had to hear him for even his head was aching from the sound of his heartbeat.
Jim didn't have time to worry about his partner, but he did anyway. "Put some clothes on," he ordered as he did chest compressions, "and go downstairs to flag the ambulance." He breathed for Naomi and when he looked up, Blair was still there with the same shocked expression on his face. "Sandburg, get your ass covered and down to the street!" he boomed fiercely.
Blair reacted instinctively to the Sentinel. He slipped into pants and a shirt. He went downstairs, guided the EMTs to the loft and stood back in a corner as they worked on Naomi. He was still standing there as they wheeled her out and loaded her into the ambulance. He probably would have continued to stand there if Jim, after getting dressed himself, hadn't grabbed his arm and literally tossed him into the truck to follow the ambulance.
Jim briefly wondered if this was how he appeared to people when he zoned. Blair was totally unresponsive, moving only when Jim prompted him, his eyes focused somewhere beyond sight. It was eerie and very unsettling. No wonder Simon freaked whenever it happened. "Blair," he said, emulating the tone his Guide used on him and touching his shoulder. Physical contact seemed to play a part in "unzoning" as well. "Blair, I want you to take a deep breath." He watched his friend's chest move. At least he was getting through to him. "Take another. That's good. Now come on back to me. Your Sentinel's here and he will protect you, but he needs you."
Your Sentinel needs you. The comfortable fog Blair had encased around himself blew away. "I'm here, Jim. Where are we?" It didn't take him long to figure it out or remember Naomi. "Mom? Is she...?"
Jim smiled and squeezed the shoulder beneath his hand. "You Sandburgs are pretty difficult to get rid of; I should know."
"She's alive, Blair, and breathing on her own. The doctors are still running tests but it looks like she had an acute reaction to her medication. They have it under control now."
Blair shook his head in confusion. "Why now, Jim? This is her last cycle of chemotherapy. Her hair is growing back. She eats without problems. Why is she reacting now?"
"Good question, Mr. Sandburg," Naomi's doctor said as he came up to them. "And may I say, it's good to see you functioning again. If it weren't for Det. Ellison, I would have medicated you a while ago. Anyway, the problem wasn't with your mother's medication, it was those damn herbs she insists on taking. Apparently one of them built up in her system over the past months and that's what triggered the reaction."
Blair sagged in his chair. He knew this was going to happen. "I'm the one who gave my mother the herbs, doctor. I mean, she told which ones, but I gave them to her."
"That's okay, son. The herbs did help with her nausea and other side effects. It's just that there are so many herbs used, we just don't know how each will react to the medicine. In fact, when I retire I'm going to write a book about all the reactions I've seen." He smiled encouragingly at Blair. "All that matters is that your mother is going to be fine. We're going to keep her here for observation for the next few hours, then you can take her home." He patted Blair's shoulder and walked away.
"I knew it, I knew it, I knew it," Blair muttered over and over again.
"Knew what, Chief?" Jim asked, hating to see his friend in distress.
"Knew I would fuck this up. Knew it would be up to you to save my sorry ass. But it was my mother you had to save this time. I don't think I've said thank you yet, have I? Thank you, Jim."
"You're welcome," Jim said solemnly. "But you heard the doctor, it wasn't your fault. This kind of thing happens all the time."
Blair nodded as if he agreed, but he didn't. His mother had almost died, would have surely died if Jim hadn't been monitoring her from his room, hadn't heard her sudden struggle to breathe. Man, sometimes it paid to have a superhero for a friend.
"Well, I'll be leaving tomorrow, honey," Naomi said as she and Blair sat alone on the sofa. Jim claimed he had to work tonight, but she'd gotten to know the detective during her seven-month stay and she realized he was letting her have tonight alone with her son.
"I know, Mom. I bought your bus ticket, remember? You promise to keep the doctor appointments I've set up for you, right? You have to be faithful in getting your check ups."
"I will be, Blair. You have my sacred promise and I've never broken one of those, have I?"
He remembered his childhood and the few sacred promises she'd made. They were the only things he had counted on. "No, you never broke one. I'm going to miss you, you know? And I'm going to worry about you too."
"You don't think... you don't think I'm running away from you, do you, honey?"
He shook his head and squeezed her hand. "I think you're just running, Mom. It's what you do. You've never told me why and that's okay. We're both adults and we have to live our lives as we see fit. If we didn't, they wouldn't be our lives anymore."
"You're happy here with Jim, aren't you? More happy than you've ever been with me?"
Blair shrugged, debating his answer. This was the first time she'd uttered the question directly, but it had been asked countless times. But instead of talking they had played the game they had perfected over the years; obfuscating here, dodging there, and basically ignoring the entire topic when tension threatened. That was the way of life with Naomi, but he wasn't with Naomi anymore. He'd learned from Jim that sometimes opening up hurt for a minute, but the relief lasted forever. It was time to open the wound. "That's a hard question to answer, Mom, because what does a kid know about happiness. A pair of sneakers, the latest haircut, that's happiness to a child. But an adult knows the true value of being happy. So in that instance, yes, I'm happier with Jim. I'm happier having a place I can call home, a place where I feel I belong, where on days I don't let my thoughts run wild I believe I'll stay forever."
He caught her eyes in his. "But that doesn't mean I wasn't happy with you. I'm the person I am because of you, Naomi."
She reached out to tuck a curl of his hair behind his ear, remembering when she used to do it when he was a child. "No, I think you were right before. I had nothing to do with the man before me. You wouldn't be the Blair you are without Jim."
Blair's jaw dropped. "You heard me?" He'd said all that stuff when she was supposedly unconscious after surgery.
She patted his hand. "It's okay, honey. I didn't hear everything you said, at least I don't think I did. But that managed to seep through, maybe because it was the truth. You and Jim exist on a very different plane than most of us, don't you?"
Blair was prepared to be honest, but not on the subject of his relationship with Jim. The existence of a Sentinel might one day appear in a dissertation of his, but Jim's identity would remain a secret. "We're talking about us now, Mom. I'm okay with you leaving because it means things are back to normal."
"Yes, being on the move is normal for me, but what's normal for you now, Blair?"
He gestured to the loft. "This is. And the university. And, yes, even the police station."
That was something Naomi didn't want to hear. Grown or not, she worried about her son dodging bullets and being threatened by madmen. Her son, who used to be the pacifist, who had turned talking into an art form just to get out of fighting. "Working with Jim is that important to you?"
Be honest, Chief. Jim was right; it was time he was honest with his mother, with himself. "Jim is that important to me. I know you don't understand what happened. One moment your baby boy is running around the planet gazing into other people's lives, then moving on. The next instant I'm settling down in Cascade, going to college by day and being a cop's partner at night. It happened, Mom, and I really wish you would stop analyzing it. You don't need to consult with a psychic or probe my aura for the inner meaning of this. Basically, Mom, I don't want you interfering."
"Is it wrong for me to worry, Blair?"
"About this? Yes." He sighed and laid all his cards on the table. Call or fold, Naomi. "It has only been by the skin of my teeth that I have made it this far without having to choose between you and Jim. It's not something I want to do because I do love you, Mom. Whatever mistakes you made in the past are forgiven, whatever hurts that still exist I am learning to name and thereby erase. I have the maturity to do so now. I have the strength. I also have the strength to make that choice if I'm forced to."
Naomi folded. This was not the child who picked up his things and quietly followed when she was ready to leave. This was a man who made his own decisions, who didn't run. She smiled and said a silent goodbye to the little boy whom her friends considered her shadow. "Well, at least it's easier for us to keep in contact now. We don't have to worry about letters being forwarded, lost addresses and telephone numbers. If I want to talk to you, to see you, I know where you'll be."
Blair was relieved that Naomi wasn't going to push anymore. "Yeah, you do, Mom. And if Jim ever moves, well, he's anal enough to send out change-of-address cards and all that nonsense," he said laughingly.
"Does that mean you'd move with him?"
Blair nodded. "But I wouldn't be repeating old patterns, Naomi. I wouldn't follow him because I was afraid of being left behind. And I wouldn't follow just because he assumed I would. I would go because I wanted to and because he would ask." Briefly he wondered why he was having this conversation at all. Jim wasn't going anywhere. Being Sentinel of Cascade was his destiny. And although he wasn't ready to admit it, Blair had been named Shaman of the Great City which involved destiny too. So it was all pretty much a done deal.
Naomi bent forward and kissed his cheek. "I love you, Blair. And I'm glad you're happy."
"I love you too, Mom, and I really wish you find your happiness someday too. Then maybe you can stop running." He gathered her in a close embrace. "If one day the tests show the fight isn't over, you know where to come."
Naomi smiled even as she felt the tears spill over. "I'll come home, Blair," she whispered in his ear. "I'll stop running and I'll come home to you... and Jim."
"I think that does it, Chief," Jim said as he tossed a sponge into the sink. He took a deep breath and smiled. "Yeah. Every trace of incense is gone."
"It better be," Blair groused as he collapsed onto the freshly cleaned sofa, which sat on the newly shampooed rug, and looked at the just washed, pressed, and re-hung curtains.
Jim laughed and sniffed the loft again. It was great having things back to normal, well, almost normal. He felt there were some issues Blair and he needed to discuss, including that chaotic night when Naomi nearly died because of her herbal remedies. It was strange; he and Naomi had talked and Naomi and Blair had talked, but he and Blair... well, maybe that was something they were more comfortable doing when it was only the two of them. Which meant they would get around to it in the next day or so. He had other plans for this afternoon.
He leaned over the sofa and looked down at his friend. "You appear to be quite comfortable so I guess we can delay your surprise."
Blair popped up like a jack-in-the-box. "A surprise? For me?" Jim smiled and suddenly Blair smelled a rat. "Hey, man, that's okay. I mean, I'm the one who, like, owes you, not vice versa. Just help me get my bed from the basement and I'll be a content man."
Jim's smile grew wider. "No can do, Chief."
Blair groaned. "You're the one with all the muscles, Jim. You can't expect a scrawny kid like me to haul that bed up by myself." Sometimes it paid to appear younger. And to be several inches shorter.
"Can't haul something that isn't there."
"What! But when I walked in and saw that hospital bed, you said my old one was downstairs."
Jim tried to look solemn. "I lied, Blair. Actually, I sold it. Couldn't believe I found a sucker who was willing to give me money for that piece of crap. You college students are so gullible."
"You... you sold my bed," Blair repeated slowly.
"Sure did, Chief. Glad to get rid of it too. Did you know it squeaked every time you turned over? Got so bad one time that when I couldn't sleep, I'd count the squeaks instead of those stupid sheep. You're a restless sleeper, you know."
"You sold my bed." Blair hadn't heard the squeaks, but, hey, who argued with a Sentinel? If he heard squeaks, there were squeaks. Okay. Maybe he could take the money and find a new one. There was a flea market coming up this weekend. He could take Jim with him, make him listen to each and every bed until they found one that didn't make noise. He smiled evilly. Jim would just love going to the flea market. "No problem, man. Just give me the cash and I'll see what I can do."
"Sorry, Chief. The money's gone."
"Gone where?" The bed had been his. What did you do with my money, Jim?
Jim couldn't keep up the torture. "I made a down payment on a new bedroom suit for you, Chief. Bed, chest of drawers, the works. Even a desk and a bookshelf so you don't have to hog the kitchen table anymore."
"Jim, you didn't!" Blair exclaimed with a huge grin. A bedroom suit. It sounded... so permanent. And expensive. "What else do I have to sell to pay for it?"
"It's not that bad. There's this cop who retired right before you became my partner. He makes furniture now and sells it at a discount to members of the force. Says he still wants to make his contribution to the brotherhood. We just have to go pick it up."
Blair hopped to his feet. "I'm ready to go now. But, Jim, are you sure all that stuff is gonna fit in here?"
Jim smiled and put his hand on Blair's back to propel him out the door. "Sure, Chief. If it's something you really want, there's always room for everything."