Summary: Set after TSbyBS. Not everyone reacted as expected in the wake of the dissertation disaster...unfortunately... Part of A New Direction series.
Author's Note: Don’t have a beta - all mistakes belong to the author. Spelling is Australian English (if that’s not a contradiction in terms LOL) Feedback always welcome
Disclaimer: Jim, Blair, Simon, et al, and The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, UPN, and Paramount and no copyright infringement is intended
It had been a frenzied time, working on finishing the backup dissertation and defending it, but it was finally done. No longer was he ‘all but dissertation’. As from the graduation ceremony to be held at the end of the current semester in a little over two months, he would officially be Doctor Blair Jacob Sandburg. Blair Jacob Sandburg, Ph.D. (Anthro). Doctor Sandburg. Sinking into the cushion of the couch, he couldn’t help the goofy grin that split his face. Finally. He’d finally made it. The smile slipped slightly when he considered the fact that he hadn’t achieved his doctorate with the dissertation on Sentinels like he’d dreamed. Shaking the thought away impatiently, he reminded himself that he’d still made it, and with Honours, no less. Not something to be overlooked, and certainly something to be proud of.
He looked around the empty loft, disappointed that Jim wasn’t here to help him savour his victory over the University in general, and Chancellor Edwards in particular. Still, there’d been no mistaking the pride and pleasure in Jim’s voice when they’d spoken over the ‘phone shortly after the committee had handed down their decision on his dissertation. Jim had promised that they would celebrate in style as soon as he got back from the Forensic Investigation course that Simon had sent him on. It was a sixteen week intensive course at the FBI training facility at Quantico, offered to police officers from anywhere in the world. The live-in course was gruelling, with lectures and lab work six days a week for the entire three months, but the end result was a Masters in Forensic Science that was respected worldwide. When Jim had expressed an interest in it several months ago, Simon had been somewhat less than supportive, obviously not wanting to be without Jim’s talents for that long, and pointing out that he wasn’t sure that his budget would stretch to covering the costs of the course as well as the cost of pulling in another detective to cover for Ellison during his absence. It had been a pleasant surprise, then, when he’d dropped by the loft on his way home a little over nine weeks ago to advise Jim that he’d managed to get him into the next course, which was scheduled to start the following week. What had followed had been a whirlwind of activity as Jim worked long hours to close as many of his open cases as he could, and to ensure that the DA was able to take the course into consideration as far as scheduling any court appearances Ellison would need to make in regard to cases that had already been closed. Blair had felt guilty that he hadn’t been able to help him at all – the schedule that he’d been told he had to meet in order to complete his doctorate was murderous. When he’d tried to apologise to Jim, and had offered to take time out from working on his dissertation to help, he’d been told in no uncertain terms that he had nothing to be sorry for, and gently reminded that after all that they’d gone through to get him the chance to complete his doctorate, he’d be a fool to waste the opportunity.
Jim had been right, he knew that, but it had still made him feel guilty as he watched the detective stagger home wearily each night, with barely the energy to have a shower before falling into bed, exhausted, then drag himself up out of bed early each morning to do it all again. He’d allowed it to go on for eight days before going over Jim’s head to Simon, demanding that he give Jim the two days off before he flew out so that he wouldn’t be a burnt out wreck when he arrived at Quantico. The ‘phone call had been brief but fiery – Simon hadn’t wanted to admit how close to burning out Ellison was. What had clinched it had been the detective’s near collapse when he went to pick up a pile of closed case folders and completed reports to move them to the filing basket. Simon had broken off in the middle of his tirade, dropping the ‘phone and just barely making it in time to steady Ellison before he hit the floor. He’d only returned to the ‘phone long enough to inform Blair that he and Jim would be at the loft in twenty minutes before hanging up.
Once he’d driven Jim home in his truck, he’d helped Blair put the shattered Sentinel to bed and called himself a cab to get back to the station to pick up his own car, mumbling an apology as he slipped quietly through the door to go and wait outside for the cab.
Jim had slept for nearly twenty-four hours, only stirring long enough to go to the bathroom before stumbling back to bed. When he’d finally surfaced, he’d sheepishly thanked Blair for looking after him before tucking into the meal he’d prepared like a man who hadn’t seen food for days, which hadn’t been far from the truth, Blair decided, recalling how thin and pale Jim had looked.
At least while Jim was on the course, Blair knew that he was eating and sleeping regularly. Jim had laughingly told him that their FBI minders were strict about attendance at meals and had placed a curfew on their students, stating firmly that they had no intention of wasting their time trying to impart their valuable knowledge to people who were too hungry or tired to learn..
“Like boot camp, then,” Blair had teased his friend.
“No, Chief, more like live-in day care, complete with overbearing nannies,” had been Ellison’s laughing rejoinder.
Finally the wait was over and Blair bounced into the airport arrival area a few minutes after Jim’s plane had touched down.
He quickly spotted Jim’s tall figure among the other disembarking passengers and waved to attract his attention.
“Why, Doctor Sandburg, what a pleasure to see you here!” Jim’s face split into a huge grin as he gave Blair a quick one-armed hug.
“Hey man, great to see you, too!” Blair laughed as they headed off to collect Jim’s luggage. “It’s all arranged, Big Guy. We head off at seven tomorrow morning for a week of camping, fishing, and communing with nature. I’ve already packed most of your stuff, so we’re pretty much good to go.”
“Can’t wait, Chief. It will be so good to just get away from everything and kick back, you know?”
“Oh, yeah, man, I am totally down with that.” He’d spent the time after defending his dissertation cleaning out his office at Rainier, filling in teaching classes for two friends who had been in a car accident, proctoring exams, and finishing polishing up the dissertation before it was sent for publication.
They’d both returned from their week away tanned, fit, and relaxed, and ready to get back to work.
Jim had been very quiet, even for him, as they ate breakfast and got ready to head into the station for the first time in a little over four months. Blair allowed him his silence, putting it down to Jim worrying about the backlog of paperwork he’d be facing after so long away. When he’d teased him about it, Jim had merely smiled and shrugged.
“Well, it’s certainly not something I’m looking forward to,” he’d said as he grabbed his jacket and held the door for Sandburg to pass through.
“Hey, man, don’t sweat it. Even though I’m now a consultant and you’re just a lowly detective, I’ll still help you with all that stuff,” Blair backhanded him lightly in the middle of the chest and grinned.
“You’re too kind, Chief,” Jim laughed as he locked the door and followed Blair down the stairs.
Ellison visibly flinched, his whole body tensing with pain, as he walked into the bullpen, his eyes unerringly seeking out Connor, who smirked as she removed the dog whistle from her mouth and casually dropped it back onto her desk.
Blair, several steps behind, could only watch in shocked silence, completely dumbfounded, as Jim said nothing, merely continuing on to his desk, which had been ‘decorated’ with scraps of foul-smelling decomposing food. Wrinkling his nose in discomfort and obviously fighting the urge to gag, Ellison used an empty folder to scrape the detritus off the desk and into his wastebasket, which he then nudged as far away as possible with his foot. Reaching out, he opened his top drawer, obviously intending to grab one of the sterile antiseptic wipes that he occasionally used to clean his ‘phone if someone with strong aftershave or perfume had used it when he’d been away from his desk.
There was an aerosol hissing sound, and Ellison jerked away instinctively, but was unable to avoid the mace that had been rigged to release when the drawer was opened. Gagging, he clutched at his throat with one hand while the fingers of the other scratched frantically at his eyes, even as he reeled blindly away from his desk.
“Jim!” Blair rushed to his friend’s side, but didn’t make it in time.
Ellison collapsed suddenly, striking his head – hard – on the corner of his desk as he went down.
“Call an ambulance! Now!” Blair yelled as he dropped to his knees beside Ellison.
“What the hell is going on here?” Banks bellowed from the entrance to the bullpen. He’d arrived just as Ellison collapsed. Sprinting over to join Sandburg beside the fallen detective, he spared the time to glare at Brown and the others. “Get that ambulance here NOW!”
“Oh God, Simon, he’s not breathing!”
The waiting room was deserted except for Simon and Blair. The Captain had made it quite clear that the other detectives of Major Crime would not be welcome at the hospital before he’d followed in the wake of Blair and the paramedics as they moved Jim out of the bullpen on a gurney.
“I should have seen what was happening and put a stop to it,” Banks muttered as he dragged a hand wearily down his face.
“Simon? I don’t understand?” Blair looked at Simon in confusion.
Banks sighed and leaned back in his seat. “It all started with the media crap that was going on. The others started hazing Jim – mostly little things, like Superman comics left on his desk. You know what they’re like. I thought it was all pretty harmless, and Jim seemed to just go with it – he even laughed himself at a couple of the things they did. After Connor and I got shot and you publicly recanted on the dissertation, things started to get a little uglier. I wasn’t there, but I heard about a couple of things that happened when Jim returned to work on light duties, and then when I got back, I thought things had settled down, but it all started to escalate again after you stopped coming in so you could concentrate on your dissertation.” He shook his head, remembering. “When the course came up, it seemed like the perfect solution. It got Jim away from the bullpen for four months, and I thought that would be more than enough time for things to settle down and return to normal. There were a few grumblings about Ellison being allowed to go on the course rather than anyone else, but, honestly, no one else had indicated they were even interested in it, and I really believe that Jim had more than earned the right to go.”
“It’s not your fault, Simon,” Blair laid a comforting hand on the Captain’s shoulder.
“Maybe, but it’s not yours, either, Blair,” Banks knew that Sandburg would blame himself.
The discussion was shelved when a doctor in surgical scrubs came into the waiting room. “I’m Doctor Edelston. Are you here for James Ellison?”
“That’s right, doctor. How’s Jim?” Blair was quickly on his feet, anxious for news.
“Well, he gave us quite a run for our money, and I think we’ve found several more allergies to add to his file, but I’m hopeful that he’ll make a full recovery. We’ve cleaned up the emergency tracheotomy, and he’s on a respirator at the moment, The head wound is relatively minor. We’ve stitched it closed, and we won’t really be able to assess his concussion until he regains consciousness. To be honest, our main concern is his eyes. He had what can only be described as a hyper acute allergic response to the mace, and, unfortunately, he also reacted unfavourably to the medications we had to use to clean the mace away.”
“His eyes?” Blair whispered, his face pale. “Is – is the damage permanent?”
“I don’t believe so. I already called in the head of our ophthalmic department for a consultation. She’s confident that there won’t be any permanent impairment, but it will be several weeks before we can expect his sight to be fully recovered.”
“Thank you, doctor. May we see him?” Banks asked as Sandburg tried to process what they’d been told.
“Certainly. He’s in the ICU, of course, so visiting time will be restricted to ten minutes every hour. Just bear in mind that his body has been through a major shock and he needs time to rebuild his resources. I honestly wouldn’t expect him to regain consciousness for at least a day, possibly two.”
Ellison was unconscious for two days. During that time, Sandburg never left the hospital and was by his friend’s side every second that he was allowed to be. Simon visited regularly, and brought Blair food and changes of clothing.
When Blair detected the first signs that Jim was waking up he immediately notified one of the nurses. The doctor was just entering Jim’s cubicle as the Sentinel’s eyes flickered open. There was no mistaking the panicked expression on Jim’s face when he realised that he couldn’t see.
“Easy, Big Guy,” Blair immediately grabbed hold of his right hand to let him know he was there. “It’s okay. The mace did some damage to your eyes, but nothing permanent, okay?”
Ellison nodded his head slightly in acknowledgement. His left hand drifted up almost lazily to his throat, the sensitive fingers immediately allowing him to understand why he couldn’t speak.
“We should be able to remove the respirator a little later in the day, Mr Ellison,” Edelston told him quickly. “Your throat and lungs have had a chance to recover from the initial shock, and everything is looking very positive as far as your complete recovery is concerned.”
Once again Ellison nodded slightly in response even as his eyelids slowly closed and he faded into sleep.
In the days that followed, Jim was quiet and despondent, withdrawing into himself as he contemplated what the people he’d thought of as his friends had done. Nothing Blair or Simon could say seemed to help.
For his part, Banks was determined to find out exactly what had been going on before Jim had gone to Quantico. Blair was equally determined, and the two men finally double teamed Ellison and forced him to tell them all the details the day before he was due to be released from the hospital.
While he tried to downplay the seriousness of it, it became obvious that Ellison had been subjected to weeks of abuse and derision before he’d gone on the course. Not just from the other detectives in Major Crimes, but they had been by far the most active.
“I’m so sorry, Jim,” Banks told his friend sadly. “I didn’t realise that things had gotten so bad for you. I let you down, and I’m sorry.”
“Not your fault, Simon,” Jim’s voice was still barely above a painful whisper. “But I’m not going back. I’ll have my resignation to you as soon as I can get it typed up.”
“But, Jim – ”
“No, Simon. Can’t stay. Won’t stay where I’m not wanted,” Ellison was adamant. “Cascade doesn’t feel like home anymore, either.”
Blair entered the bullpen slowly, his flinty gaze resting on each of the assembled detectives in turn as he made his way over to Ellison’s desk.
“Sandy – ” Connor tried to approach him, but he waved her off.
“Don’t. Just don’t.” He ignored them completely as he began to methodically pack up the contents of Jim’s desk, sorting out the few personal items from those that belonged to the department. He paused, expression hard, when he came to the picture that had graced one corner of the desk. It had been taken at the department picnic; one of those rare days when they had all been able to take the time to enjoy a relaxing afternoon together. One of the uniforms had taken the picture for them, so that they could all be in it. With great deliberation, he reached out his arm and opened his hand, allowing the picture frame to drop into the wastebasket.
“We just meant to teach him a lesson, Blair,” Joel Taggart said quietly. “No one was supposed to get hurt.”
“A lesson?” Blair looked at the man he’d considered to be a close friend in disbelief. “In God’s name, why would Jim need to be taught a lesson?”
“Because he lied to us. He never told us about what he could do. Because he thinks that he’s better than us. Because he treated you like shit when the media got a hold of your dissertation,” Brown snapped angrily.
“Don’t you dare try to tell me that you did that to him for me, you asshole,” Blair hissed viciously. “Don’t you dare!”
He finished packing everything up in silence. After clearing the drawers and the desktop, he put all the work related items in a neat pile on Rhonda’s desk for her to return them to wherever they needed to go when she arrived for work later in the morning. Returning to what had been Jim’s desk, he paused, turning to lean against it while he once again looked at the people who Jim had once considered to be his friends. He couldn’t just leave without being sure they understood exactly what they’d done. What they’d lost.
“You know,” he began, speaking softly, but capturing their attention immediately, “Jim jokingly told me that he doubted whether the whole Sentinel thing would be news to any of you. He said that you were all too good at piecing clues together not to know something was different about him, and he realised he hadn’t exactly been all that diligent over the years in trying to hide what he could do from you. He didn’t think he had to, really, because he trusted that you would keep his secret.” Blair laughed without humour. “Did you know that his father knew about what Jim could do even when he was a child? Did you know that he told him he was a freak, forced him to repress his abilities so that everyone around him wouldn’t know how much of a freak he was? William Ellison went out of his way to tell him over and over again that if anyone ever found out what he could do, they’d know he was a freak. That they’d shun him and hate him. And you wonder why he never told you? Why he didn’t just throw off years of negative reinforcement throughout his childhood and just bare his soul to you?”
“We didn’t know,” Rafe hung his head, ashamed.
“Did Jim ever turn any of you down when you asked for help with a case? Did he ever ask for or expect any credit when he gave you that help? Did he ever betray a confidence? Let you down when you needed his help? Fail to back you up when things got dangerous?” Blair stared at them in disgust. “Thinks he’s better than you? What a joke! He worried constantly that he was letting you down, that because he sometimes lost control of his senses that he’d put you in danger. The man has been betrayed at almost every turn throughout his life – by his family, by the Army, by Colonel Oliver, even by me – and yet he still struggles to do the right thing. To protect the innocent. To do his job. And then you do this to him.”
“You never betrayed him, Sandy,” Connor said softly, tears spilling from her eyes.
“Yes, I did.” There were tears in Blair’s eyes now, but his voice remained soft and steady. “Twice, in fact. The first time with Alex Barnes, going behind his back to help her, not telling him about her even when I knew that something was wrong. And the second time with my dissertation. I promised him that I’d keep it secure, that I’d remove his name before I submitted it or let anyone else see it. Instead, I made it possible for Naomi to access it before I’d made the changes.” He shook his head, the guilt obvious on his face. “Do you even begin to understand how badly I let him down? And after everything that happened, he apologised to me for the way he’d acted, and then he made sure that I got the chance to finish my doctorate, that I got my reputation back. That I’d have choices beyond taking the badge if I wanted them. Who do you think threatened Rainier with legal action if they didn’t admit they’d been wrong to dismiss me, given that I’d never actually submitted the dissertation in the first place? Who do you think convinced the Police Commissioner and the Mayor to make their statements about how what I’d said to the press was necessary in order to allow the police to do their jobs without interference from the media? Who do you think threatened to sue Sid Graham and his publishing company and got me an out of court settlement that pretty much set me up for life financially?”
“C’mon, Sandy, we never meant – ”
“Don’t lie to me on top of everything else,” Blair spat back at her before she could finish. “I know exactly what you meant. Do you think he hasn’t heard what you’ve all been saying about him since the whole dissertation disaster? He told me what you’ve been saying, and no, he didn’t run to me with tales. Simon and I had to force it out of him because we needed to know what he’d been dealing with, what you’ve been saying about him when you didn’t think he could hear you. You people have no idea what he’s really capable of! What the range of his senses is! And now you’ll never find out.” With that, Blair picked up the small box with Jim’s personal items in it and strode purposefully from the bullpen, passing Simon with a weary nod as he went.
Banks stood in the bullpen doorway and studied his people silently for a moment, his gaze coming finally to rest on Ellison’s now empty desk.
“I don’t think that it’s possible for me to express how disappointed I am in all of you,” he said quietly. “Up until seven days ago, I was proud to be the Captain of Major Crimes, proud to have all of you on my team. Now I’m not sure that I can even stand to be in the same room as any of you.”
“How’s Jim, Simon? No one at the hospital would tell us anything.” Taggart asked with unaccustomed timidity.
“He regained consciousness four days ago and they removed the respirator the day after that, once he was able to breathe on his own. He’s still having trouble speaking because of the damage the mace did to his throat and larynx when he inhaled it. It took eight stitches to close the gash on his head from where he hit the desk, and he ended up with a grade two concussion from the impact. He’s being released this afternoon, and they’re hoping that his sight will be completely back to normal in a week or so, but he currently can only distinguish light and dark, no shapes or colours. The problem is a combination of an acute allergic reaction to the mace and complications from further allergic reactions to the medication they had to use to clean the mace out of his eyes,” Simon informed them all, his voice expressionless, eyes hard and flat.
“No one was supposed to get hurt,” Connor whispered, her face pale.
Banks just stared at her silently.
“He’s not coming back to work, is he?” Rafe asked in a small voice.
Once again, Banks’ only response was a silent, hard, stare.
“So what happens now?” Brown asked finally.
“Given how acute his senses are, what you people did to Ellison is tantamount to attempted murder, but I can’t even convince him to file assault charges against you, and believe me, I tried.” Banks told them, beginning to lose what little control he’d had on his temper.
“Do you want us to resign, Captain? Would that bring Jim back?” Taggart voiced the questions the others had thought.
“You can do whatever you want, but there’s not much point in resigning,” Banks was suddenly overcome with weariness. Even in his worst nightmares, he’d never imagined this situation. “Jim has already told me that he won’t be staying in Cascade. And Blair has indicated that wherever Jim goes, he’s going, too.” Hell, maybe I’ll join them, he thought fleetingly to himself as he moved into his office, closing the door behind him.
Blair helped Jim out of the truck and through the door into the foyer of 852 Prospect. Since the elevator was out of service yet again, they carefully made their way up the stairs and into the loft.
Once he had Jim settled comfortably on the couch, Blair set about making coffee.
“I’m sorry, Chief.”
The quietly spoken words nevertheless shocked Blair to his core. “God, Jim, what on earth do you have to be sorry for?”
“Knowing me hasn’t exactly been beneficial to you, has it, Blair?” Ellison’s head was down, so Blair couldn’t read his expression, but he could guess. No one did guilt quite as thoroughly as Jim.
“Oh, Jim,” Blair set his coffee mug down on the table and moved to sit beside Jim, resting his hand on the bigger man’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t have missed this ride for anything, man. Not for anything in the world. I’ve been a spectator, an observer, all my life, never stopping in one place long enough to really become a part of anything, or to really belong anywhere. Since I’ve met you, I’ve been a participant, man. You’ve shown me that sitting back and observing isn’t living, and it sure as hell doesn’t achieve anything. If that isn’t beneficial, I don’t know what is!”
“I got you killed, Blair.”
“You brought me back, Jim,” Blair said forcefully. “It’s done and gone, man. Ancient history. We both screwed up. We survived. We moved on. Let it go.”
“But what the hell will we do now? Where can we go that we won’t be followed by all the fallout from the media crap?” Jim asked miserably.
Both men jumped when they heard the knock on the door. Even Jim had been so focussed on what Blair was saying that he hadn’t sensed anyone approaching.
Blair moved quickly over to the door, only opening it as far as the safety chain would allow. “Can I help you?” He didn’t recognise the tall man on the other side of the door, but there was no mistaking the military bearing. He seemed friendly enough, though.
“My name is O’Neill – Jack O’Neill. Is JJ at home?”