|I could feel him vibrating beside me, just
humming with tension. Babbling about how that Chinese relic might be
authentic but sure as hell didnít work despite the hours of
craftsmanship and the quality of jade that they started with. He smells
of stale sweat and stale air and stale fear, his and the others. I drop
a hand onto his shoulder and steer him around a cluster of police
vehicles to the truck; it only caused a brief bubble of silence in his
"Chief, Chief!" I hold up a hand, almost touching his nose to get his attention. His mouth snaps shut on his new discourse on how many police vehicles are actually needed depending on the crisis and his hypothesized ratio of officers to cars.
"Yeah, Jim?" He stares at me, his eyes still a bit wild.
I drop my hand again and give his shoulder a squeeze this time. "Get in, Chief." I open the door and give him a gentle shove. As heís buckling in I grab the door to shut it and deadpan, "Thereís always at least half a dozen more cops and two vehicles per scene more than necessary." I close the door on his laughter and hustle around to get in.
We spend the next couple of minutes in companionable silence. Blairís obviously pondering my sense of humor and Iím pondering how in the HELL he got rid of the bomb in the elevator. My last 20 minutes of duty at Wilkenson Towers consisted of hauling Rachins downstairs, turning him over to the transporting officers and filing a brief report with Simon, who was still running the political game with Wilkenson, who had left as I started my report and as soon as I was done I saw Sandburg over Simonís shoulder. He saw my diverted attention and told me to take the kid home and come in tomorrow. All Iíve got is the memory of Brownís excited voice telling me that Sandburg was alive and to get that piece of scum downstairs.
Sandburg is starting to twitch again though and my attention snaps back to my partner. His fingers are tapping on his thigh and the windowsill and his knees are bouncing. "Are you sure youíre alright, Chief?"
His head whips around, curls flying into the glass beside him. "Oh yeah, man. Fantastic! Iím fine, you know?" Then he seemed to realize that this was perhaps a bit too enthusiastic, a little too much like protesting too much and his mouth snaps shut except for a big grin to see if I was buying it.
I snort to indicate that I wasnít.
He chuckles a little, runs a hand through his hair, as if he could tame it now, right... "Well, you know Jim," he sighs finally, "at least Iím out right?"
"Yeah, Chief. At least you are and thank God for that. Are you... do you want to, um, talk about it?" Ok, so Iím not smooth, but I got the words out, didnít I?
Sandburgís mouth sags open a little, but nothing comes out right away. Geez, is it that much of a surprise?? Iíve had a crappy day today too, people. He blinks and swallows, tries the hair thing again and gives it up as a bad idea. "Um, yeah Jim, thanks. But not right now, you know? I think Iíd like to get home first and process a bit, okay?"
"Sure. You just let me know." I pull the truck into a spot in front and we drag ourselves out and into the lobby of the building. Starting to contemplate easy and fast dinner possibilities and rating the merits of cooking versus delivery, Sandburgís suddenly pounding heartbeat takes me by complete surprise. I look around sharply to see whatís set him off and see only us, alone in the lobby Ė waiting for the elevator.
"God, Blair! Shit! Iím sorry. Come on letís go." I step over to him, noting the faint fresh sweat and pale face.
He blinks and then flushes brightly. "No, no, man. Jim, come on itís all right. Iím all right! See?" He flashes me a big easy grin, but I can see it strain at the edges.
"Uh uh, partner. This time youíre going to let me pull my Blessed Protector privileges. Come on." With a hand wrapped around his bicep, I drag/steer him toward the stairwell as vague, unformed protests still dribble out. Iíve gotten him up about four steps when I hear the elevator doors open behind me, which sets him off again. Patient tugging, grim determination or me being an irresistible force, take your pick, keeps him moving up the stairs and once the doors clang shut behind us, his resistance evaporates.
With a mostly silent sigh, he trudges up the remaining two and a half flights and into the hallway with me occasionally muttering about alpha male complexes and control freaks just to make Iím aware of his displeasure. I place a hand on his back and circle gently in apology.
I unlock the door, usher him inside and relieve him of his backpack in one smooth move. Sandburg stands there blinking for a moment before grinning at me. "So, why donít you hit the showers Chief? Do something with this..." I reach out and ruffle the curls which earns me a swat and a Ďlay off the hair, man.í
"Howís spaghetti for dinner sound?"
"Yeah, sounds good." He takes the pack from my lax grip and heads to his room. A couple of minutes later he wanders back out in his robe and tosses over his shoulder, "Iíll try to leave you some hot water."
I laugh softly to myself and yell through the closed door, "Yeah right! Go ahead Ė Iíll catch mine after dinner." I have no trouble hearing his affirmative and the usual cutting remark that accompanies it as I wander to the cupboards and pull out ingredients for the sauce and start assembling.
The sauce is starting to bubble gently when I decide to check on Sandburg. Heís been in there a while and the hot water is going to run out eventually. Over the popping of the sauce bubbles and under the hissing of the shower spray I think I hear a muffled sob and I wonder how many nights of nightmares, his and mine, this is going to produce and how Iím going to be able to help.
The idea of a shower is so good I donít even both with the token protest. Itís not that Iím dirty, I just feel as though everything that went down in the elevator is clinging. Itís starting to get to me and I need to get rid of any sort of reminder about it. I quickly strip out of my clothes and leave them piled on the area rug in my room as I take the robe off the back of the door. A piece of paper sitting harmlessly on my small desk captures my attention; itís the email asking me to take the artifact to the Wilkenson Towers for appraisal.
Squinting my eyes tight, I leave the room, toss the required comment out regarding the hot water and push the bathroom door shut behind me.
I take a deep breath. Not so bad. The episode by the elevator downstairs was embarrassing but Iíll worry about that later. Right now, the idea of hot water running down my body sounds too decadent to waste any more time reminiscing about what happened a few hours ago.
When I was going to die.
I shake my head, viciously turn on the water and wait for steam to fill the air in the small bathroom before pulling back the curtain and stepping under the spray. The first hit against my skin is scalding and harsh but I relish it. It makes me feel alive.
I grab the shampoo and immediately start to work my way through my hair. The stale air of the elevator, sweat, fear and whatever else happened to be trapped in there with us all feels equally as trapped in my curls. Once, when I was a kid, it took me long minutes to get a spitball out of my hair; the more I tried to get it, the deeper it sunk into the curls. This feels eerily similar.
Turning around so the water hits my head, I rinse out all the fragrant suds and reach for the conditioner. If I donít use it, my hands wouldnít be able to comb through it nervously, and I have to have that. Itís a trademark move of mine, canít take that away.
I notice that my hands are shaking as I replace the bottle on its appropriate spot on the shelf and I try to ignore it. Itís shock. Intelligently I know this, but emotionally? I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I viciously run my fingers through my hair, spreading the conditioner around and then repeat the rinse procedure. With my eyes still shut I grope for the soap and again Iím aware that my hand shakes. I make a fist and will the feeling to go away but it doesnít, if anything it seems to get worse.
My eyes snap open and I grab the soap and begin to wash. Thereís no way that Jim is coming in here after me. I was able to live through plummeting periodically down flights and more flights of a building Ė I can take shower. Alone. As I wipe away the grime of the day, I canít shake the memories.
The darkness of the elevator; the heavy breathing; hearing Jimís concern and his own fear through the cell phone. Feeling the floors fly by when the psycho was making a point; the screaming; everyone looking at me for the answers - - the discovery of the bomb.
I turn around and let the cascading water hit me directly in the face wiping away the tears; I bite my lip to keep from making a sound. I know Jim doesnít intentionally listen in but after today, combined with how long this shower is taking me, heís going to tune in soon and then Iím screwed. I canít stop the returning memories though. As I opened the briefcase, I flashed back to when it was left, I thought it was strange but it was already too late. We were trapped with the device with no way to get rid of it. I couldnít talk to Jim anymore as he searched for Galileo; I was on my own with three other people expecting me to do something. Expecting me to know what to do. I still donít know where the idea to blow through the floor came from, but I was grasping at straws by then and needed to do something.
What is it with me and bombs? I chuckle mirthlessly and swallow some water causing myself to choke slightly. I shake my head and then bow it under the gentle pressure of the water. Bombs. They seem to be everywhere lately, which is never good and Iím always alone. First it was the bomb on the rig. Jim was on the boat while I frantically searched for a bomb big enough to blow up an oilrig.
This is not the life of a grad student.
Kidnappings, bombs, guns, IA investigations, more bombs.
A sob escapes me without any warning. The moment I hear it I want to take it back but itís too late. I know Jim heard. I take a deep breath and turn off the water and hope that keeps him in the kitchen making noodles. I genuinely smile at that. I hurt Ė I get noodles. I wonder if Jim was given noodles as a child as comfort food, Iím sure there must be a reason why I get pasta and not something else. I begin to dry myself off and continue to think. Maybe itís something as simple as itís easy to make, quick, and hard to screw up. Not that Jim isnít a good cook, heís fine, but he can get distracted, which is ironic coming from me, I know this.
I fold the towel in thirds and hang it on the bar, where it belongs Ė no sense in causing any more stress on Jim today. I shrug into the robe, open the door and head toward my room. To my surprise Iím not interrupted. I take the unlikely behavior of an un-hovering Jim and change into comfortable sweats, t-shirt and sweatshirt before I wade into the kitchen where I assume weíll have a talk.
While Jim doesnít like to talk about feelings he canít stand not knowing what happened when he wasnít around, especially if itís centered on a case. Iím sure itís eating him up inside not knowing how the bomb wasnít in the elevator car when it exploded.
I shiver. Jim might have thought I was killed. I look at Jim as I enter the kitchen and he glances at me before returning his concentration on the meal. He doesnít say it but I know he heard me; itís in the way heís standing.
Sitting in the chair I call out, "Almost ready?"
"Good." I state. I need something to take my mind off the flashes of memory. One moment Iím fine the next Iím in the elevator, then Iím fine again sitting in the loft, then I flash on the snap and hiss of the blowtorch. I scrub my hands over my face and shake my head trying to get rid of the images.
"You ok, Chief?" Jim says as he places the plate of spaghetti in front of me.
"Fine," I say quickly and cringe as I met Jimís eyes. "Ok, not fine, but Iíll be fine."
Jim makes some non-committed sound as he sits across from me. I take a forkful of noodles and almost choke on them as I laugh and inhale. I swallow loudly, after barely chewing and see Jim raise his eyebrow at me.
"You wonít think itís funny, but this isnít the first time you gave me noodles when Iíve had a bad day. I just remembered it again, not the best timing, but I think itís funny."
"Would you rather have something else?" Thereís almost a tone to Jimís voice, but not quite. Almost like heís trying to figure out if he should be offended or not.
"No, no. Itís not that I donít like it, I do, but I never thought of noodles, or spaghetti in this case, as comfort food, but some part of you must since you keep feeding it to me. Itís fine man, tastes great."
I take a few more mouthfuls and stubbornly ignore the tremors in my hand; unfortunately Jim doesnít take my lead.
"Want to talk about it?"
I canít help the sarcastic reply. Really. "I donít know Jim, Iím shaking. You think I want to talk about it?"
Infuriatingly he says nothing and just keeps eating. I push around whatís left on my plate, suddenly not that hungry. "Sorry," I mumble as I push the plate away gently and stand to walk into the living room. I realize Iíve been standing at the double doors to the balcony for a few minutes before I even hear Jimís chair scrape against the floor. He putters around the kitchen, no doubt cleaning off the plates before he comes in and sits down. I sigh and sit on the other end of the couch and look at him.
"I suppose you want to know what happened huh?"
"It would be nice, if you feel like talking about it."
"You better remember this the next time we sit, in these exact spots, when I pressure you to talk."
"Thatís different," Jim answers with a smirk.
"íCause you always want to talk about Sentinel stuff, not feelings in general and events."
I bark out a laugh. "Really? Thatís all it will take to get you to open up and be all touchy feely?"
Itís Jimís turn to laugh. "Now Chief, I didnít say that."
"Yeah, didnít think so." I run a hand through my hair and take a breath. "Mainly things were bad. Didnít have anywhere to go and then when we found the bomb Ė well things deteriorated from there."
"You seemed to keep everyone calm."
I shrug. "Calm is a tad overstating the mood in there. But they were all looking to me for answers, I assume Ďcause I had the damn cell and was talking to you that they figured I knew something, that I could help." My hand trembles with the memory of their fear-tainted expected looks.
"You did help them."
"It was almost too late Jim, the bomb went off and it was barely out of the elevator." I see the tense way Jim is holding himself and realize that he knew how close it was.
"How did you get the bomb out? The last I knew, there was nothing that could be done, I had to find Galileo before he detonated it. As it was, I found him but lost, he pushed the button."
I watch Jim as a shiver passes through his body and he looks past me into the distance.
"Jim," I say loudly, "Iím right here. It all worked out."
"Yeah, thanks to you Ė again." After a breath he attempts a small smile. "You sure you shouldnít be in bomb school instead of grad school?"
I widen my eyes and try to look as innocent as possible. "No. Why would I want that?" I laugh then add, "Just because I keep finding a way to divert or diffuse bombs?"
It was meant to be jovial, but I missed the mark. I curse myself silently as being stupid because if anyone knows about Jim and his Ďworld of guiltí on his shoulders, itís me.
"Jim, Iím sorry. It isnít your fault."
He narrows his eyes at me as though he doesnít believe, and he probably doesnít. "No, I suppose this time it wasnít my fault."
Silence fills the loft as I have nothing to say to that. With the situation on the rig I made him leave, confront his fear of deep water and go to the other boat. Then I refused to leave the aforementioned rig when he told me about the bomb.
"Anyway. Um, the timer kept ticking down, I was told that Caitlin was in on it, before it went astray, and the minutes kept ticking away. Iím not sure where the flash of insight came from, but I tore up the rug on the floor and the bottom was metal. The workman in there with us had a blowtorch, which when you think about it seems so unlikely. But I used the torch to cut through the floor, knocked out the square, dropped the briefcase and got the hell away from the hole. It exploded, we rocked a little, but overall we were fine. Got a little hot but again, we came out of it alive."
I take a few deep breaths and hold the last one before letting it out slowly. When I look at Jim again he has a look of awe on his face and a small smile. Not quite what I thought Iíd be seeing.
"Youíre amazing you know that?"
"You kept everyone calm, relayed information to us and found a way to keep everyone alive. More than any cop was able to do today. More than me..."
"Jim, donít say stuff like that. I did what I had to do, there was no choice, and you did the best you could. You climbed on top of the elevator man! All to try and get us out safely, thatís a huge thing. In the end you delayed the psycho long enough to allow me to be brilliant and we saved the day."
Jim shakes his head a little and laughs at me. At least I think itís at me. "Even now you have no idea how courageous you were."
As the tremors run through me again I look down to the cushion. "I donít feel real courageous."
I feel the couch shift as Jim slides next to me, drapes an arm across my shoulders and squeezes. "You were and you always will be. Youíre just feeling the effects of today. Tomorrow youíll have a better outlook on things and it wonít seem so bad."
I shrug. "Maybe, but I think Iíll be hiking up the stairs to Major Crime for a while Ė and here for that matter."
"I figured as much." With another squeeze Jim lifted his arm and stood. "You want the rest of your dinner now?"
"Yeah, ok. You saved it?" He gives me an incredulous look and I grin. "Right, who am I talking to."
He places his hand on my head and drags it down through my hair as he passes by, giving my shoulder a pat. Sentinel senses... "Oh, and remember Ė no more favors involving artifacts, all right?"
I can hear the smile in his voice and I have an answering one on my face. No more favors indeed.