The Value of Family
by Lynne Rogerson
See notes and disclaimer in part one.
Sunday Afternoon, 3:30 p.m.
As they pulled the old Ford pickup to a stop near Risa Landaux's parent's house, Blair wasn't sure if this scene was going to be any better than the one they had just left. After all the traffic to and from the little house on Linden Street the past few days, it was unusually absent of cars; only two vehicles rested in the driveway. Well, Sandburg, it is Easter Sunday. It still wasn't clear to him why they had to break the news to Risa Landaux's family. Of course it's clear; Jim's the primary on the case and you're his partner! He felt a huge weight settle on his chest at the thought of telling Risa Landaux's sweet-faced mother the terrible news. When he had met the family, just days ago, he had been so certain that it would turn out okay. So positive that Jim's senses would lead them to a very much alive school teacher. So ready to deliver her home. So stupid to believe he would make a difference. He risked a sideways glance at his partner, and saw Jim grimace and pinch the bridge of his nose. Blair shuddered suddenly and closed his eyes. My entire contribution has been to embarrass a police sergeant and piss him off, and to let Jim overwork his senses into a migraine. God, how pathetic!
Jim's brief touch on his arm was warm. "You ready, Chief?"
"No." Blair turned to his surprised partner. "But I guess that doesn't really matter. They need to know. They deserve to know."
"You're right." Ellison nodded, surprise giving way to approval.
"What are we gonna say?"
Jim reached for the door handle, but stopped at Blair's question. He turned back to his friend and raised an eyebrow.
"Well, how do we tell them, you know, what's happened?" Blair's heart fluttered and he chewed his lower lip nervously.
"We'll tell them the truth." At Blair's stricken look, Jim squeezed his arm. "Calm down. After all they've been through in the past week, the very least they deserve is the truth."
"Jesus, man! Are we gonna tell them everything?" (Her eyes are gone, Sandburg.) Blair reached blindly for the door and jerked it open, gulping in cool air and trying to slow his racing heart.
"We don't know everything, yet." Ellison rubbed at his face wearily, the strain of too little sleep showing in his bloodshot, blue eyes. "We're just here to let them know she isn't lost anymore."
"Lost?" Blair's laugh was more like a bark, "Is that what we call it now?"
"Listen, Blair, if this is too much for you..."
"It's all right. I'm coming."
Ellison grabbed his arm again, and gave it a slight shake, "I said, if this is too much for you, you can wait in the truck. This isn't part of the observer's job description." He held up his other hand when Blair opened his mouth to interrupt. "I know you want to help, Chief. Hell, I'd be stupid if I didn't admit that I appreciate all the help you've been giving me on this case. But, this is the part that really sucks. We have to walk up to that house, and tell them their daughter will never come home again. And that we don't know who did it. They're gonna have questions. They may get angry. They may think we're responsible. You can't afford to wear your heart on your sleeve, Blair. We still have a job to do. Our own potentially messy questions to ask. Can you stay objective?" He shook Blair's arm again, lightly. "I can't have you working against me in there."
Blair looked at the small, white house, and then back at Jim. He nodded and slid out of the passenger-side door.
Ellison had warned him.
There wasn't any screaming, or wailing or fainting. It was the sudden absence of sound that had unnerved Blair. Adelaide stood in the hallway, stiff and silent, anger and grief burning brightly in her brown eyes. Oscar Landaux held his wife, Emily, by the shoulders, his mouth closed tightly in a grim line. Samantha turned and walked into the living room, her face blanched white. Jim had been kind, and more soft-spoken than Sandburg had ever heard before. The big man just stood in the doorway and quietly explained how she had been discovered -- not HOW she had been discovered, but how Mr. Fickle's German shepherd had found their daughter's body. Blair had stood slightly behind his partner, shifting nervously, not saying anything -- not really knowing what to say.
The Landaux's neighbor, an elderly woman named Emma Sands, had been busying herself in the kitchen, determined to make the tired family eat. The poor, unfortunate woman heard the news and dropped the bowl of soup she had been carrying to the table. She covered her mouth with shaking, aged hands, and burst into tears. At a nod from the big detective, Blair hurried to help her to a chair, glad to feel useful. He made soothing noises as he crouched down in front of her, rubbing her trembling hands. She clenched his fingers and stared at him intently while the tears coursed down her weathered cheeks. He returned the grip firmly, sorrow etched on his expressive face.
"Perhaps you would like to sit down while I tell you what we know." Jim offered, gesturing towards the living room. Oscar Landaux blinked and nodded slowly, guiding his wife carefully towards the couch. Adelaide followed, but remained standing, her arms crossed protectively across her chest.
"What now, Detective Ellison?" Her voice sounded tight. "What are you going to do to find my sister's killer?"
"Addy!" Samantha Landaux sounded shocked. "'Please! Detective Ellison..."
"Owes us some answers, Sammi." Adelaide's eyes softened briefly as she looked at her youngest sister. "It's his job."
"Your sister is correct, Ms. Landaux. It is my job. And right now, I don't have very much to tell you. Only that Risa has been found. Other than the obvious, we aren't even certain of the cause or time of death yet." Jim felt his heart constrict painfully as Emily suddenly burst into tears. He schooled his features into a blank mask and stared at the wall above her silvery hair, trying to keep the interview professional, trying to quell the knot of anger growing in his chest.
"Oh, my God! My baby, my little girl!" She rocked in short jerking motions, her hands shredding the kleenex she had been holding. Oscar Landaux rubbed his wife's back uncertainly, the loss of his daughter making him clumsy. He put his other hand over his mouth to stop from sobbing out loud, as his wife settled into a heartbreaking litany of "My baby, my baby." Unshed tears made his eyes bright as he turned to Detective Ellison for direction.
Jim took a steadying breath, surprised that he was so affected. He turned briefly to see how Blair was fairing and heard the accelerated heartbeat seconds before he captured the empathetic blue eyes. Mrs. Sands was still trying to pull herself together, her breath coming in hiccuping gasps. Jim raised his eyebrows slightly, asking without actually saying, (Is she going to be okay?)
"She's pretty shook, man. Think I should walk her home?" the question came, sentinel soft.
Ellison scanned the four grieving people scattered around the living room. The ashe blond head of Risa's teenage sister was closest, so Jim leaned forward to speak to Samantha. "Is there anyone who can help Mrs. Sands? Someone who could take her home and look after her?"
His questions seemed to draw Emily from her stupor. "I'll see to her." She slowly leaned forward, away from her husband's supportive hand, and stood, brushing the tears from her reddened cheeks and absently patting his knee. Samantha stood too, and they went to the kitchen to relieve Blair of his charge.
A light, quick pressure on his back told Jim that Blair was in the livingroom. He looked up briefly at his partner, who nodded and stepped back to stand in the living room doorway. Emma Sands was in capable, resilient women's hands. She would be fine. He turned back to the father, who was now slumped forward on the couch; head drooped to his chest, hands hanging limply from his knees. Jim had a sudden urge to sit down; he felt tall and forbidding. He squatted next to Oscar Landaux, and tried to catch the man's eye. Adelaide gracefully sat down on the couch next to her father, placing herself between the two men. She grasped one of his hands, threading her fingers through his, squeezing them firmly.
"Take it easy, Dad," she said quietly, easing him back against the couch. "I'll answer the detective's questions. I'm sure I'll have all the answers he might need. Isn't that correct, Detective Ellison?" Adelaide locked gazes with Major Crimes finest and dared him to tell her that she was wrong.
Blair's eyes widened in almost comical surprise, more than a little shocked at the eldest daughter's behavior. This Adelaide was hardly the Adelaide he had met less than a week ago. They had called her down to the station three different times to answer hours worth of questions. Other than her outburst with Agent Sutton, she had been cordial and cooperative.
She seemed more hardened now, more unforgiving. She was definitely less cooperative. Not in a 'belligerent little kid' sort of way, but in a 'my family and I have been hurt enough' kind of way. The pointed glare she gave Jim spoke volumes, 'Be very careful with this man.' A viper had less venom in its bite than the warning this woman carried in her eyes.
"Yes, ma'am. If that is all right with you." Blair was sure Adelaide couldn't miss the cynicism in Jim's voice.
"Don't mind our Addy too much, Detective Ellison," her mother came back into the living room, drying her hands on a towel. "She's been our strong one this past week, our rock. She's answered the phone and the door, the reporters and the neighbors. She's carried a heavy burden." Emily stroked her daughter's hair and cupped her embarrassed face. "Sometimes her 'protection' instincts may seem a little strong, but she means well."
Addy rubbed her forehead in an unconscious mimic of Ellison's and Blair had to refrain from exploding in sudden, inappropriate laughter. God, they are so much alike it is scary. She even has his temper!
"I'm not the enemy, Ms. Landaux." Jim's voice was quiet as he visibly refrained from lashing out at her in his irritation. "I can't imagine how difficult this must be for you, and I'm sorry that we had to bring you such terrible news. But right now we need your help, and every hour, every minute counts. I want to find your sister's killer; can you help me do that?"
Adelaide tensely scrutinized her mother, standing wearily by the couch, and then her sister, as Samantha sat again on the living room rug.
"Please, Honey. It's all right." Her father's tired voice beseeched her, and Addy's stiff posture suddenly deflated. She covered her face briefly with both hands, then rose from the couch so that her mother could sit down. "Sorry," she mumbled, and turned red again. She moved slowly to the other side of the room and sat bonelessly in a wooden rocking chair.
"It's all right, Adelaide," Blair replied gallantly, "We know this can't be easy for you. Detective Ellison and I wish the circumstances could be different. We're here do to everything we can to help you through this."
Jim let Blair take over, allowing the young man's genuine nature to put the family at ease. He found it difficult to sit silently and wait while Sandburg made pleasant, small talk; more than once he opened his mouth to speak, impatient to get on with the investigation. Each time, he held both his breath and his temper; not sure what was making him so angry. Jim was aware that Blair knew how he was feeling. The anthropologist glanced over at him a number of times, a minute frown wrinkling the skin between his eyes. Fortunately, it wasn't long before the atmosphere became, not any less sad, but much less hostile. Addy even managed a tentative smile or two in his direction, which he attempted to return. Jim had to admit he was proud of the kid, and very glad that Sandburg had come into the Landaux house with him. Five minutes later, Blair relinquished the family back to his care.
"If you're ready, I think Detective Ellison has some things he needs to discuss with you."
Ellison nodded his agreement. "We need your help. I hate to intrude on your grief like this, but I will need Adelaide to come to the station to answer a few questions. Right now if possible."
"Questioning?" Emily Landaux stared at her husband with stricken eyes, "'Now'?!?"
"Does my daughter have to go...Is it necessary for her now...We have plans to make...the funeral arrangements..." Oscar blustered through his questions, assuming his place as head of the family with heartfelt but disjointed protests.
"We're sorry that it's such a bad time, Mr. Landaux. Maybe if there was another way?" Blair looked to his partner with distressed eyes. The pain in the small living room was beginning to smother him.
Ellison's posture stiffened even more and he jerked his head quickly in an irritated no. "There isn't."
"My daughter is dead, Detective! I need my family home; not my eldest dragged down to the police station like some hardened criminal! Can't this wait for just a few hours?" Emily's voice was strident with tension and grief.
"Maybe we could wait until tomorrow," Blair replied hastily, uncomfortable with her barely restrained hysteria, "if this is all too much right now." Jim stood very still in doorway to the living room, his arms folded tightly across his chest. Oops.
"Actually, we can't." Jim turned away from Blair deliberately, and addressed the parents, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. "We are investigating a homicide. As painful as this is for all of you, I don't have any choice. Adelaide was one of the last people to see your daughter alive. She needs to come to the station and fill in some blanks."
"It's all right, Ma," Adelaide rubbed her mother's arm as she reached for her purse on the coffee table. "Anything I can do to help, I will. Sammi, come upstairs with me for a minute?"
Jim opened his mouth to protest, and the space of a breadth returned the belligerent set to her face. "I promise I'm not going to plot some elaborate escape, Detective. Or concoct some wild cover-up story with my sister."
All that work to get her to relax, and Jim blows it with one look. "Jim, let her go with her sister, man. She said she'd be right back."
Ellison shot his partner a scathing look, and Blair knew he had really pissed the detective off. "Fine, Ms. Landaux. We will be waiting for you outside." The detective turned to the parents, "I am very sorry for your loss, Mr. and Mrs. Landaux. We will do everything we can to catch your daughter's killer. I'll be in touch very soon. Let's go, Sandburg."
Blair followed Jim meekly out the door, nodding self-consciously to Risa Landaux's family. Jim didn't even acknowledge him until they reached the truck. When the detective gathered a breath to address his partner, Blair flinched in anticipation. Usually, Blair would have been thrilled to read Jim so clearly. This time, he wasn't so happy to know that his instincts about the detective were right. Being on the receiving end of an Ellison tirade wasn't much different than being run over by a truck. Loud. And messy. And damned scary.
"Sandburg, just what the hell did you think you were doing in there?"
Attempting to keep the peace. "Helping?"
"Helping who?" Jim threw his arms in the air. "Certainly not me. And certainly not this case!"
"Jim," Blair protested, "she just wanted to talk with her sister. What possible harm..."
"Oh, so you know who the killer is, Chief? Because if you do, I really wish you would just tell me. It would save us all a lot of legwork! And the taxpayers a lot of unnecessary overtime pay!"
Blair felt the blood drain from his face. "That's not fair, Jim," he said quietly, "I'm doing my best here."
"If that's your best, go do it somewhere else!" As quickly as the rage had come, the dismay on his friend's face doused the fire equally as fast. Sandburg's face turned bright red, and his mouth hung open. Anguish shined from large, blue eyes but was quickly shuttered.
"Fine." Blair moved to walk around his partner, the hurt a huge ache in his chest.
Jim covered his face with one hand and opened the other to lie on Blair's chest. "Jesus, Blair," he said hoarsely, "I'm sorry. God, I didn't really mean it."
Blair backed away from the hand. "Sure you did, Jim. You asked me not to question your authority in there and I did. I guess I'm finally seeing where my place is." He looked at Ellison resignedly, "And it isn't with a detective on a murder case. Seems you don't need me for much anymore." He opened the passenger side door of the truck and climbed in, closing it firmly behind him. He leaned against the window; his back to Jim and his shoulders slumped.
Way to go, Ellison. The kid actually gets the family to open up, you and your shitty attitude set the sister off again, and you blame Blair. What are you doing? Jim looked briefly at the little white house and moved to the driver-side door of the truck. He opened it, but didn't get in. He leaned forward, resting both hands on the seat and bowed his head. "Blair, listen to me." Jim couldn't see the anthropologist face, but knew from his posture that he was listening. "You didn't do anything wrong. In fact, you're the reason we've gotten anywhere on this case at all. I'm the one with the problem. I just can't seem to keep my focus on this case."
"Or your temper." The words were muttered angrily.
"Or my temper," Jim conceded readily. "These senses haven't done jack shit worth of good to us and I'm feeling kind of frustrated." Blair shot him an incredulous look. "All right. All right. Extremely frustrated!"
"Jim, stop telling me what your senses haven't done, and use them in places you know they will work!"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Look man, I know what I did probably wasn't right in the 'policeman's code of ethics concerning a homicide,' and you can keep me out of the rest of this investigation if you want, but don't take it out on me, or that poor family, because your senses have been unpredictable and aren't pulling off miracles!"
"Sandburg..." Jim growled his name in warning, but Blair rambled on, too upset to pay it any mind.
"They just found out that their daughter, their sister is dead, Jim. Murdered, never to come home again! You just about attacked Adelaide in there, and your compassion for the family was non-existent! What is up with you? I've never seen you treat anyone like that before. No one."
"Is it your senses again? No? You haven't been having nightmares, have you? Been getting enough sleep?" Jim shook his head no to each of Blair's questions, until finally the anthropologist sighed in frustration. "Fine. If you are so worried about Adelaide, so sure that she is up there plotting some evil thing with her sister, stop yelling at me, and start listening to..."
"SANDBURG!!" Jim's voice rose to an angry shout. "I can't just 'listen in' to their conversation. I'm not some sort of peeping tom for chrissakes!" He pushed himself away from the truck, slamming the door hard enough to shake the cab, and stalked to throw himself against the back bumper. He knuckled his eyes briefly, but stopped when forgotten pain bloomed behind his eyes again. God! Sandburg is a pain in the ass, sometimes!
As soon as he had the thought, he was ashamed. He knew somewhere beyond the ringing in his ears and the pain in his head that Blair had acted exactly as his gentle nature demanded. Exactly as the detective knew he would, under the circumstances. Jim also knew he should have handled the entire episode differently, and for the life of him, he wasn't sure why he hadn't. He thought briefly of doing as Blair had suggested, and listen in on the sisters' conversation, but the idea made him nauseous. The truck shifted slightly and Jim turned to check on his friend through the back window. Sandburg's feet were propped up on the dash, his arms wrapped around jeans clad legs, curly head bobbing as he slowly bounced his forehead on his knees. Jim listened unashamedly for the sound of his friend's heartbeat, as tuned into the lifeblood pumping through those veins as his own. He took deep cleansing breaths, I am letting this go. I am letting this go. Jesus, I sound like Naomi! Blair was muttering to himself as well, but Jim was determined to give him some privacy. Ellison knew the words would be self-condemning, and truth be told, he just didn't have the energy to deal with it right now. Blair would be all right. They both would. He would talk to Blair on the way over to the station, clear the air. They would get back on track, get the case solved, and go on a much needed vacation. Fishing maybe. Or surfing. Everything that kept him sane was due to the fact that one energetic, over zealous, painfully sensitive anthropologist bothered to stay in his life. His face began to pulse in time with his heartbeat. Great, another headache.
Ellison looked at the house again, his foot tapping out an impatient beat at the delay. What the hell is taking her so long? And as suddenly as he had that thought, his hearing went dead. Jim stiffened in shocked surprise and tried desperately to hear something, anything.
Adelaide followed her sister up the stairs slowly and into Samantha's bedroom. She grasped the skinny, teenage arms briefly, before sliding her hands down to capture her sister's cool fingers.
"I have to go down to the station, again, to answer Detective Ellison's questions. I need you to do a few things while I'm gone."
Samantha stiffened in anticipation and took a step back from her older sibling.
"Look, Sammi," Adelaide said, almost desperately, "I know you don't want to do anything right now, but you've gotta! Mom and Dad can't handle this stuff, and it's important."
A nervous sigh. "What do you need me to do?"
Adelaide nodded in relief, "Good." She moved swiftly towards the desk under the front window, and rummaged through the drawers until she found a pad of paper and a pen. She handed them to her sister. "Here. Write. First, you need to get in touch with Max and Chris. They need to make arrangements to come home. They need to be here."
Samantha listened intently as her sister's list grew. "Don't let Ma or Dad answer the telephone. Those reporters have been complete assholes these past few days, and I don't want them asking any more stupid, insensitive questions. Take their name and number and I will call them when I get back to the house. Same goes for the front door. Do you want me to see if Emma is okay to come over? She could answer the door for you."
Samantha grimaced but shook her head no. The kindly old woman was now under the watchful care of her grandson. She needed to rest.
Adelaide paced to the window and looked down at the pickup waiting in front of the house. Detective Ellison was leaning against the truck bed and scowling at the house. "God, I need to go. Detective Ellison is going to strain something soon." Sam managed a small smile at the mental picture. "If you think you can, Sam, call Uncle Billy. Dad will need him. Oh, and maybe you could call Suzie Telfer. She works for that travel agency and might be able to get the boys home cheaper..."
"Addy, enough!" Samantha's outburst startled Adelaide. Her pacing faltered to a stop. "Jesus Christ, enough already! Just go! I'll do what I can, all right?"
"I'm sorry, Sam." Adelaide said, unexpected tears filling her eyes. She took several deep breaths and forced the tight feeling in her chest to go away. "I don't know how else to handle this, and I'm not sure Ma and Dad...just do what you can. I'll be back soon." She grabbed her sister in a quick, fierce hug, forcing back more tears, and rushed down the stairs and out the front door.
Samantha took a few ragged breaths of her own and picked up the telephone.
Blair sat forward, the urgent shout sending his heart into overdrive. He scrabbled for the door handle, and in his haste to exit the truck, practically fell out of the door. Jim's cry hadn't sounded angry, it had sounded frightened. He stumbled to the back of the truck, only to be halted by the steel hard grip of one panic-stricken Jim Ellison.
"Blair, I can't hear anything! What the hell is going on?!?" Jim hissed, blue eyes boring into blue.
"Calm, down, man. We'll figure it out. Just calm down." Blair patted the hands holding his arms absently, trying to keep eye contact with his friend's frantic gaze.
"Shit, Sandburg! What the hell is going on with my senses? Why is this happening? My sight... my hearing..." He gave his smaller partner a shake, "Goddammit, Blair, make this stop!"
"Jim, man, look at me...no look at me Jim! That's it. You've got to calm down and listen to me." Blair gave a nervous laugh that turned into a gasp as Ellison's grip on his arms tightened. "Ow, man! Sorry. Slip of the tongue. Sorry. It wasn't really funny. C'mon, Jim, lose the death grip."
Jim found his present situation anything but amusing. He couldn't hear shit and Sandburg was cracking jokes. Sitting in front of the Landaux house, waiting for an uncooperative daughter, an unsolvable murder Unsolved, Ellison, get a grip, a pain-in-the-ass partner who needed constant supervision, and he couldn't f**king hear. All this Sentinel bulls**t was getting to be too damn much. Jim closed his eyes tightly and wished it all to go away. In the new silence even his thoughts seemed too quiet. He opened his eyes again and saw Blair still talking, at least his lips are moving, desperation on his face. His guide was leaning away from him, pushing against his chest, his feet barely touching the ground. What the hell? And suddenly, James Ellison could smell his partner's fear. And then his heartbeat, loud and fast and surprising to ears that could unexpectedly hear again. Blair was afraid of him. Jim let go of his partner as if he were on fire, and Blair slumped briefly against the tailgate of the truck, rubbing his sore arms.
"Jesus, Chief! Are you okay? God, kid, I'm sorry."
Blair put up a hand, stopping the detective as he moved to check the younger man over. "I'm fine, Jim." He ran a shaking hand through his hair. "Man, you have got to get a handle on your temper. This whole thing is getting way out of hand!"
"I'm sorry. It's just with these senses going in and out all the time..."
"'It's just' nothing! It's your own damned fault, Ellison! If you had told me, instead of Simon having to tell me behind your back..." Blair pushed away >from the truck and stalked around his friend, heading for the passenger side door.
"Simon told you?" Jim's eyes narrowed, "When did he tell you, Chief? Did you plan on letting me know that you knew?"
"You have got huge balls, man! You should have told me, not Simon! You scared the s**t out of him last week!"
"I have it under control."
"No you don't." Blair's shoulders suddenly slumped and he turned his friend with weary, disillusioned eyes. "Don't you trust me anymore, Jim?"
"What does trust have to do with it? I'm having some problems with my senses." The detective turned distractedly towards the house. "You'll figure it out, or I'll figure a way to shut them off. Period. End of story."
"Just like that, huh?"
"Just like that."
"That's great, Jim." Blair opened his door and got in. "No pressure, Sandburg." He muttered to himself, "I fix it or you lose it. Just great."
Adelaide Landaux had followed them to the station in her red 1989 Cavalier and handed over the keys to the Forensic team with nothing more than a tightening of her jaw. Much of the fight seemed to have drained >from her body, as if the permanence of her sister's death stole away a large piece of her spirit. Jim's mercurial temper had once again swayed towards compassionate, and his tired smile was genuine as he ushered Risa's older sister into the room where she would give her statement.
Blair waited at Jim's desk, nervously tapping a pencil on a stack of reports and looking over his shoulder every few minutes at the closed door to Interrogation Room 3. The ride back to the station had been strained and silent. Jim promised the anthropologist that they would talk, at home, later. The Sentinel's admission that there was a problem thawed some of the tension between the partners. Blair was more than a little worried about his partner's health, both physical and mental. Jim's hearing seemed to have turned back on as suddenly as it had turned off. First his sight and now his hearing -- something was definitely not right. Blair blew out a nervous breath and scanned his memory for any previous sensory episodes that may have been similar. Other than the Golden incident, the police observer couldn't think of one.
Damn. I need to get home and recheck my notes. Jim shouldn't be out on the streets like this. He could get himself killed! The thought sent a shiver through the young man's body. No way in hell was that going to happen! With another glance at the room his partner was in, Blair headed towards Simon Banks' office.
Jim couldn't possibly get any angrier with him, could he?
Even before there was a knock on the door, Simon knew who was on the other side.
"C'mon in, Sandburg. Quit hovering." He smiled smugly to himself, as the young man in question quietly eased into the office, closing the door behind him. Simon eyed Blair critically as he sat in the chair and not on the desk. Jim Ellison's partner looked tired. Dark circles had taken up residence beneath red-rimmed eyes. His skin seemed almost translucent, and his body was slumped in weariness. If Simon was to guess, fear for a certain unnamed sentinel weighed heavily on the young police observer.
"Simon, I think you should pull Jim from the Landaux case."
Hmm. Straight and to the point. He's more than a little concerned. "Did you have your talk?"
"Since 10:30 last night? Not exactly, Simon." Blair crossed his arms defensively across his chest. "It's not like there's been time to sit around and chat."
"Do you think he's a threat to himself?"
Blair jumped up and began his ritualistic pacing. "I can't be sure, Simon. But his hearing turned off at the Landaux's this afternoon. Luckily we were outside by ourselves; it would have been a little difficult to explain a detective going deaf in the middle of an interview!"
"Shit." Simon swore softly and rubbed the back of his neck. "Any more zoneouts?"
"He hasn't mentioned anything. But that doesn't mean he hasn't. You know he doesn't want to tell me what's been going on."
"I know, Sandburg. I know."
"What are we going to do about it? Jim..."
The knock on the door was so unexpected, both men jumped.
"Do about what? You guys discussing the case without me?" Jim Ellison slipped into the office and closed the door, an easy grin on his face.
Blair and Simon both appeared startled, then guilty.
The grin slipped from Jim's face as he took in the red face of his partner and the grim face of his captain. Comprehension turned his eyes stormy.
"God dammit, Sandburg! You told him didn't you? Went behind my back and squealed to Simon. What? Still pissed over that dressing down I gave you at the Landaux's? Well congratulations, now you've screwed up again. Thanks."
Blair's mouth wouldn't work. He kept opening it, but nothing would come out. Jim's spiteful words had stolen away his breath.
"What?" Jim asked vengefully. "Got nothing to say, Chief?" He swung his furious gaze on Captain Banks. "So, am I suspended? Off the case? Up for psych review? I'm sure Professor Sandburg had lots of suggestions. Which one is it?"
"Ellison." Simon grated between clenched teeth. "Sit. Down. Now." When Jim made no move to sit, Simon grabbed him by the arms and shoved him into the nearest chair. "I don't know who in the hell you think you are talking to detective, but if you don't want to lose your job, I suggest you just sit there and shut. Up."
His initial rage spent, Jim sat with his arms tightly crossed over his chest.
"Blair," Simon addressed the observer gently, "Why don't you go wait at your desk." At the panic in the young man's eyes, he quickly assured him, "It'll be okay. Really. Go on."
Blair tried to make eye contact with Jim, but the big detective refused to acknowledge him. His shoulders visibly slumped, "Okay, Simon."
Simon waited until the door closed before he rounded on the still irate detective. "Ellison you are one giant a**hole. Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sounded going off like that?" Jim shifted in his seat and tried to respond. "I'm talking. Don't say a word detective. I think you've already said plenty, don't you? You realize the only reason he was in here is because he's concerned about you. Or are you just to self-absorbed to see that? Dammit, Jim! That kid cares about you more than anything in the world."
Jim's eyes were drawn involuntarily towards the door, and beyond, to the dejected police observer sitting at his desk across the room. Blair's lips were moving, and the sentinel tuned into the one-sided conversation effortlessly.
"God. I messed up again! 'How mad could he get?' Well jeez, Blair, that sounded like ballistic to me. Why doesn't he understand? He could get hurt. Man, he could get killed! I don't understand what's going on with him; I can't fix it. What'll I do if I can't fix it? If something happens to Jim because..."
But they're my senses. Why is he blaming himself? He'll figure it out. He always does. And then there won't be any problem. You always told me it's the Guide's responsibility to watch over the Sentinel. I never believed it. Except you are the only one who can get my senses on line after they crash. God, Chief. Are we a pair or what? You want to save me, and I want to save myself. I'm doing a great job so far, huh? Guess I oughta start letting you do your job.
"... listening to me, Jim? You had better not have tuned me out!"
Jim shook his head to clear it, and raised apologetic eyes to his friend. "I'm an a**hole, Simon."
The tall, black man regained his composure quickly. "Yes. Well, I'm glad we're finally on the same page."
"I gotta talk to Sandburg, sir." Ellison rose to his feet. "When I'm done apologizing, you and Blair talk this zoning thing out." He took a trembling breath, "If you want to park me at my desk until it's all sorted out, I won't argue."
Simon stepped back in surprise. "These mood swings are hard to keep up with, Jim."
The detective gave his boss a wan smile. "Try living with me."
Banks held up a hand. "I don't think so."
"He's right, you know. Something is going on with my senses. And it's driving me crazy." He headed towards the door. "Right now, I'm going to talk to my partner, grovel a little, and hope like hell he still wants to help me."
"I don't ever want to hear you talk like that to one of my men again. It happens, detective, and you'll have a written reprimand in your file. Are we clear on that?"
"Good." Simon turned his back and walked over to the large windows. "Now get out of my office and talk to Blair. He deserves your respect, Jim."
Banks nodded without turning.
Taking that as his cue to exit, Jim took increasingly heavy footsteps towards his desk and his partner. He stood quietly in front of the bowed, curly head and waited nervously, his hands in his pockets.
"I just don't want to lose you." The admission was uttered so softly Jim almost missed it. He sat down in the chair next to Blair and took a calming breath. He reached out to touch, to have physical contact with his guide, but hesitated. Dropping his arm, Jim spoke solemnly.
"I am so sorry, Blair. For today in Simon's office, for my comments at the Landaux's, for keeping it from you in the first place. For everything. I'm sorry." Jim leaned forward until their two heads were almost touching. "Chief, please help me. I know I don't have any right to ask you after all the crap that's been going on. But, you're my guide. No one else. You're the one who can help me. If you still want to."
Blair covered his face with his hands and tried not to give into the overwhelming emotions. Hurt. Anger. Disappointment. Love. He felt the light touch of a familiar, large hand on the back of his neck and couldn't help feeling warmed by its presence. Even after all the bulls**t, Jim Ellison still mattered.
"Don't push me away again." The hand on his neck tightened slightly.
"I won't. I promise."
"No more chances. I can't keep doing this. It hurts too much."
"On my life, I promise."
Blair raised his head and searched for sincerity in the icy, blue eyes of Detective James Ellison. He found worry and warmth and truth in the eyes of his friend.
Both heads turned towards their captain, and the source of the interruption.
"If you two are done whispering in each others ear, please give Ms. Landaux a ride back to her parents house."
"Sure thing, Simon." Jim said, his face bright red. He rose from his chair and slapped his partner lightly on the back. "C'mon, Chief." He grabbed two coats and tossed one to the anthropologist. "Let's get back to work."
Blair grinned at Jim. He quickly gave Simon a thumbs up and followed the big detective out of the bullpen.
Shaking his head and muttering something about daycare, Banks went back into his office and gently closed the door.
The Landaux house was a testimony to a happy family. Hell, it was practically a shrine. Every nook and cranny was filled with treasured heirlooms. If there was a table, there were pictures. Photos of family, of neighbors, and best friends. Emily took great pride in leading the two men into the family room to see 'the wall.' One whole wall in the cozy room was completely covered with pictures. Babies, first communions, proms, graduations, band trips and choral recitals. It was a wall of hope and love and radiated smiles that Blair found infectious.
He laughed out loud at a group of young people, in formal gowns and suits, surrounded by pink dogwoods and a motel parking lot, hamming it up for the camera. "Adelaide's last high school choral recital, her senior year." Emily smiled wistfully as she scanned the treasured wall. "I wasn't there. It was held in New Hampshire of all places! I believe they placed second overall. It's hard to remember, it seems so long ago. She's 25 now."
For a moment Blair was startled. The serious Adelaide seemed much older. He would have given anything to see that 16 year old smile on the face of the young lady still pacing in the living room.
"Oh, here!" Emily exclaimed and tugged on Jim's arm. "See? This group is my favorite." She touched the plain wooden frame almost reverently. Blair crowded next to Jim, trying to see around the larger man. Absently, Jim pushed Blair in front of him, gazing at the frame over his partner's curly head. He listened as Emily named each of the young people in the photograph, and couldn't help but smile.
There were four photographs in the frame, each with the same eleven people, eight young people and three adult males. The first photo showed the group in a loose huddle, the young in a laughing semi circle around the old. The second showed a human pyramid, the men and a sandy haired teen on the bottom. "That's Christopher, my sister Anne's youngest. He lives in Florida with my son, Max. They're both attending Florida State University in Tallahassee. And this," she said, pointing to a tall, lanky teen standing behind the group, "is Richard, Anne's middle child. He's a science teacher now. Such a smart young man."
"What's he doing back there?" Blair asked.
"Giving Sammi a boost, if I remember correctly. See, she is the little girl on top. Nine years old and on top of the world. There's eight years difference between Laidy and Sammi. All the kids were so much older, she had a tough time feeling included." Emily smiled softly as the young lady in question came into the family room. She hooked an arm around her daughter's waist and drew her into the conversation. "I think you fit in pretty good that day, eh daughter?"
"Sure did, Emily." Samantha replied, scrunching her nose at her mother. "Risa always did a good job of keeping me in the fold. If I remember correctly, she and Addy had a fight that day about letting me climb on top. 'Mother Addy' thought it was too high and Risa just laughed. She always laughed. You would have liked her, Detective Sandburg."
Blair took a breath to correct her, but stopped when Jim gave his shoulder a slight squeeze. I know. I know. Don't interrupt. We can correct her later.
"She was serious, but not, you know what I mean? She had the coolest eyes. They were this cornflower blue color, but if you looked really close you could see gold flecks in them. Not boring like my plain, old brown ones."
Jim could see that the teenager had beautiful coffee colored eyes, but anything he might have said was stated more eloquently by Emily Landaux's snort and rolled eyes.
"My children are insufferably unaware of how beautiful they are."
Blair sensed the beginnings of an old and comfortable family argument. He found himself agreeing with Emily's assessment. "Who else is in the pictures?"
"Yes, of course. Let's see. The bottom row. Well that is Christopher, and next to him is his father, Dick. Billy is Oscar's first cousin, actually more of a brother; they grew up together. And of course, that is my Oscar." She pointed to the next row in the human pyramid. The young lady with the big smile is Billy's only child, Kay. Max is in the middle, and Anne and Dick's oldest, Maribel is on the right. Risa and Adelaide are next, and then Sammi is on the top."
Blair snickered, "You mean she was on the top." He pointed to the last picture. The human pyramid had collapsed into a messy tangle of arms and legs and teeth. Everyone in the picture was laughing, including the fathers on the bottom of the pile.
"It was Risa's fault we fell," a quiet voice said behind them.
Jim was startled by Adelaide's sudden appearance. He frowned as the clean, herbal scent of her shampoo invaded his sensitive nostrils. Why didn't I smell that?
"She tickled Max." She pointed to the third picture. Everyone in the pyramid was holding very still and looking at the camera, except for Risa. The partners could see the devilish gleam in her eye and her left hand was reaching forward, towards her brother. "He can't stand to be tickled. He started laughing and squirming around. I started to fall forward and tried to grab Risa's hands to stop her." Adelaide gave a little smile, "Sammi grabbed onto my neck and held on for dear life. 'And all the king's horses and all the king's men...'" She shrugged and gestured towards the fourth snapshot.
"My poor dad couldn't move for three days afterwards." Samantha kissed her mother's temple and wandered out of the room.
Blair watched Adelaide trace the picture frame with a slightly trembling hand. With something that looked like pain on her face she turned to Jim, "All the fights we had now seem like time we lost. Wish I could change that." She gave the partner's a watery smile, "Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it?" Emily attempted to comfort her eldest daughter, but Adelaide raised a hand between them and shook her head, "Excuse me." She took a ragged breath and left as quietly as she had arrived.
The partners shifted uncomfortably, feeling intrusive.
"We really should get back to the station. Our captain is waiting for an update." Jim said, after another moment of strained silence.
"Thanks for listening to a proud mother ramble." Emily said softly as she ushered the two men into her spotless kitchen.
"They're nice memories, Mrs. Landaux. We're privileged that you wanted to share them with us." The gnawing ache in Jim's chest was building, the rage he felt, and the helplessness. Adelaide's quiet admission made him feel...guilty. Guilty and suddenly very afraid. All the fights he had been having lately with Sandburg, all the accusations and harsh words; Jim Ellison had a sudden need to clear the air with his partner.
Risa's mother escorted the men to the front door. She grabbed them gently by the arms and gave each a light squeeze. "I know this must be very frustrating for you, detectives." She tugged lightly on Jim's sleeve, to capture his attention. "You do the best you can, Detective Ellison. You can't expect anything more. I know that, my family knows that, your partner knows that. You need to know that too."
Jim gave her a conciliatory smile, not sure how to answer, not sure what was expected. Blair slipped out the door ahead of him, squeezing Emily's hand briefly and raising a hand to wave at Samantha, who stood on the hall stairs. Jim made to follow, but Emily's grasp remained firm. "Don't try to carry the dead. It's not a burden for the living. The people who did this will get their due. If not through our justice, then through His. You're a good man, James Ellison. My daughter is in very capable hands." She shook his arm a little, and gave him a warm grin. "Lecture over. Try to smile." She touched his jaw softly, before returning it to his arm. "Such hard lines on such a handsome face." Another light squeeze and she let him go.
Jim solemnly shook Emily Landaux's hand, "We'll get the people who did this, Emily, I swear."
"Don't swear, detective. Just do your best."
Adelaide gripped her elbows tightly and took a deep, desperate breath. There never seemed to be enough air, and she was always surprised when she found herself stopping and having to make a conscious effort to fill her lungs. It was a strange tick that had developed only recently, and it made her weary. It had never been so bad before Risa.... Addy took another breath, this one to calm her frantic heartbeat. You're a fool, she thought bitterly, as her heart finally slowed and she could no longer feel it pounding in her chest.
"Are we going in?" Sarah's quiet voice stopped Adelaide's self-condemning thoughts before they could overwhelm her. Instead, she looked up from the gravel of the parking lot and gazed instead at the large white cross that marked the entrance to Saint Mary's Church.
The short, round, yellowish brick building had been built in the 70's; its garish stained glass windows made a small ring just beneath the flat roof. Saint Mary's unusual shape did nothing to help its overall ugliness. Adelaide took hold of the arms of her two best friends and walked through the double doors that led to sanctuary. She took another deep breath and felt Delilah's hand rub her back briefly. Addy gave a wan smile, and stealing an extra breath, they went inside.
The interior of the church was dimly lit, and serenely quiet without a full congregation. Long wooden pews filled the church in a loose semi-circle. Adelaide gazed around the large open room, recognizing and dismissing the large, exposed ceiling beams with ceiling fans, the wide, curving, rug covered steps that led to the green marble altar. Eighteen years of 9am Sunday morning service made it all rather ordinary. The three young ladies walked carefully up the center aisle, choosing a pew on the right, in the middle of the fourteen rows that marked each of the eight sections. They knelt together, with practiced ease, and murmured the first heartfelt prayer each had spoken in many years. It seemed that they stayed that way for a long time. Adelaide was reluctant to say "Amen."
It was an effort to unclasp her hands, so Adelaide left them as they were and sat back awkwardly between Sarah and Delilah. Del was sniffling and scrabbling through her purse to find kleenex. Sarah gave her a watery smile and some well-crushed tissue.
"It's so quiet in here." Sarah whispered.
"It echoes." agreed Del, wiping her eyes.
Adelaide closed her eyes, and listened. She heard the same humming silence she remembered as a child, from late-night snowfalls. It soothed her nerves. She felt calm. Safe. Her eyes popped open again. "I can breathe in here!" she whispered urgently. "There's no more pressure! I can breathe!"
For a moment there was hope. For a moment there was peace. For a moment Adelaide knew that she was strong.
For a moment it was enough.
Concluded in Part Four...