A Matter of Trust
by Sheila Paulson
Summary: Blair overhears a conversation between Jim and Simon that doesn't sound good. Rated G, I guess. Originally published in The Sentry Post 1.
Disclaimer: The Sentinel, and the characters on the show do not belong to me but to Pet Fly, UPN, and Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended in their use.
"I tell you, Simon, I'm not sure I can put up with that little twerp for another week."
Blair Sandburg froze with his hand on the knob of Simon Banks' office door. He knew the tone of utter impatience in Jim Ellison's voice, that fed-up sound when he'd been pushed too far and was drowning in frustration. But what hit Blair hardest was the thought that just maybe Jim meant him. He couldn't, though. Panic raced through Blair's veins and he stood listening another moment to hear Simon's response, that had to prove Jim was talking about someone else, a suspect, anybody.
"Yeah, tell me about it," Banks replied. "And that overdone enthusiasm drives me up the walls. I don't know how you can get out of it, though, Jim. It's just a fact of life."
"But what about...you know, the senses thing?" Jim persisted. "I mean I'll have to be really careful, not use them..."
"Look, Jim, I think you've learned enough from Sandburg not to have to worry about that. Anyway, the word's come down from on high."
"Well, I suppose I can live with anything for one more week," Jim said unhappily. "But this sucks, Simon, and you know it does. He makes my skin crawl. He never lets anything alone, he pushes and pushes until I'm ready to rearrange his face."
"I know the temptation," Simon replied. "I can't stand the kid either. But grin and bear it, Jim. It won't be for much longer."
That was enough. Blair turned away and blundered across the bullpen, grateful for the fact that Simon's office blinds had been pulled and the door closed, and that neither Taggart nor Brown had been present. Both of them knew him well enough to read the horrified, crushed expression he couldn't keep off his face. He had to get out of here before anyone else noticed. He couldn't have just heard what he'd heard. It was impossible. Maybe he did bug Simon, but he'd thought Simon was starting to enjoy it. But Jim! It couldn't be. He knew Jim Ellison, knew him through and through. He'd been so sure Jim considered him his friend, even his best friend, not just a pain in the butt to be endured until he got his sensory abilities under control. That warm feeling he got when he realized he'd finally found a place where he belonged, a home, a family, couldn't have been all lies. But Jim's damning words rang in his ears as he jabbed at the elevator button. He had to get out of here. This was crazy, man. He had to get away, to process what he'd just heard and make sense of it.
The elevator doors dilated and spit out a kid about nineteen, who nearly bowled Blair over in his eagerness. Blair ducked past him and into the elevator, relieved when the doors closed over him, shutting out his view of Major Crimes and even a look of startled recognition on the young man's face. Blair didn't care, not even that the young man looked familiar to him too. "Hey," the newcomer began, as the doors came together. Blair ignored him. He scarcely saw him. He makes my skin crawl. Oh, god, Jim couldn't have said that. He couldn't have meant it. Blair's stomach swooped and lurched. He felt like he wanted to go somewhere and be sick. I can't stand the little twerp. Oh, god, oh, god. It wasn't true. It couldn't be true. But it sounded like Jim felt he had his Sentinel act together and the powers that be had given him one more week to get Blair out of his police observer position.
What am I going to do?
The panic that pumped through Blair's veins made him shiver. If Jim wanted to be rid of him, what did he have left? Oh, sure there was his profession and he was glad of it, but everything was different now. For the first time in his life he'd found a place where he wanted to stay. It wasn't just a casual, pass-by-when-it's-over kind of thing. Jim Ellison had become so important to him it was hard to imagine a life without him in it. He was Jim's partner, his guide. That was real, it was the most real thing Blair had ever known. How could it have been one-sided all this time? He thought of warm moments of camaraderie, of finding Jim sitting at his bedside after he'd been dosed with golden, the way he'd been there each time Blair had half roused. He couldn't have done that if he hated Blair, could he? He couldn't have sat there with such concern?
Unless Jim had just grown tired of him, of his enthusiasm for life and for more tests. Jim hated those tests. Maybe his hatred had spread to the man who gave them? Maybe Blair had pushed too hard, assumed too much, taken over too much of Jim's life. Jim was always complaining about the way Blair's possessions wound up trailing all over the apartment. Maybe Jim had finally reached the limit of his tolerance.
Blair headed blindly for his car and stood beside the Volvo staring at nothing, trying to collect himself. All that mattered was that he go to ground, take the time to think about it. What was worse, Jim must have known he was listening. He could tell from the sound of Blair's heartbeat that he was home even as he came up the stairs. He would have recognized the sound, the presence outside Simon's door. But he'd said it anyway. "I can't stand the little twerp. He makes my skin crawl." Oh, god.
All he knew was he had to be out of the loft with all his possessions before Jim came home. He'd leave money for his part of the rent, for those two long distance calls he'd made last night. He'd even wash the dishes. But then he'd take off, find someone who'd let him crash for a night or two until he found somewhere to stay. He drove home--no, to the loft; a place where he wasn't welcome couldn't be home, could it?--without even noticing the route.
This can't be happening. What am I going to do?
"That's odd," Jim Ellison said.
"What's odd, Jim."
"Sandburg was just outside the door, and all of a sudden his heart rate went up, and now he's gone." He opened the blind and groaned. "Oh, god, here he is," he said as he spotted the eager young man crossing the bullpen in the direction of Simon's office.
"Come on, Jim, he's the commissioner's nephew. You only have to put up with him for a week. Besides, he might get along with Blair and give you some leeway."
"I can't stand the kid," Jim insisted. "He's such a pain. Remember when he was here the last time? He nearly ruined a bust, and it was all I could do to keep him from running out into the middle of a firefight so he could take pictures. And I know the Commissioner will have a fit if he gets so much as a hangnail. Why can't he be more like Sandburg? At least Blair doesn't get so carried away he messes up busts, interferes with evidence. He might be as excited as all get out, but he's got the common sense to know when to apply the brakes. Not like Norman." He fell silent as the young man knocked on Simon's door.
"Come." Banks shared a quick grimace with Jim before Norman Engel burst in.
"This is so cool," he burst out. Why could Sandburg say that and make him want to smile but when Norman said it, Jim's teeth itched. "Detective Ellison." He pumped Jim's hand energetically. His palm was sweaty. Jim hid a wince and pulled free as soon as he could do it without being obvious about it.
"Captain Banks," cried Norman in sheer delight. "I'm really glad you let me do this. I'm just about sure I want to be a policeman like you and Detective Ellison. Now's my chance to find out. I've got a year of College in and I'm ready to specialize. I bet I'd be great at it. Everybody says I'm really good with people."
"I bet," Simon said under his breath so softly that only a Sentinel could have heard him.
"And you've got Mr. Sandburg here, too," Norman went on. "I took a class of his last year. He's really great. He makes it all come alive. I didn't know he was studying the effects of a closed community like the department, but it's a great idea. Just saw him getting on the elevator. I bet he has a class or something, but I thought it would be really cool to work with him."
"Elevator?" Jim lifted an eyebrow. "That's funny. We were supposed to go on a stakeout this morning."
"I'll go," Norman volunteered. "I'd be good at it. I've got a real eye for detail. Everybody says so. I think Mr. Sandburg might have the flu or something. He didn't look very good. No color in his face at all."
That might explain the change in his heartbeat, Jim thought, if he'd suddenly felt ill. But he would have told Jim. Maybe he'd left a message with one of the other officers. He poked his head out. "Anybody know where Sandburg went?"
Brown wandered in from a visit to the lab. "He was here when I left."
"I saw him," said the coffee lady, pushing her tray into the room. "He jumped in the elevator a minute ago. I thought he was in a big hurry. He didn't look good at all. I hope he didn't have bad news. He's such a nice guy."
Trust Sandburg to win followers everywhere in the department. Brown now looked worried. The woman's answer, combined with Norman's remarks, worried Jim. "Hey, Brown, can you take the first hour of my stakeout?" he asked. "If something's wrong with Sandburg, I want to find out what it is. Anybody know if he got a phone call?"
Headshakes were the only answer.
"Maybe he left a message on your desk, Jim," Simon said. "Check that out, then give the university a call. He might have remembered something he had to do there in a hurry. He knows where your stakeout is. I want you to take Norman with you. I want him to see what it can be like, waiting to see if anything happens. Norman, a lot of police work is grinding boredom, just like any job. Stakeouts, endless paperwork, the legwork, checking out the usual suspects. It's not glamorous shootouts."
"Come on, Captain Banks. I've read about it. I've followed Detective Ellison's career. I think it's exciting. I want to try it all. Every bit of it. I just know I'll be really good at it."
Brown shot a commiserating grimace at Ellison, who shrugged minutely. Turning away, Brown muttered to Rafe, "Spare me from well-connected kids." Norman wouldn't have been able to hear it, but Jim did.
He was still worried about Sandburg. It wasn't like him to take off like that without warning, but if ever there was a creature of impulse it was Sandburg. It made Jim's life a lot more unpredictable than it had been before. There were times when he got irritated with Blair, but they were definitely in the minority. He wouldn't go back to his old pre-Sandburg life on a bet.
Jim put through a call to Blair's office at Rainier, left a message on the loft phone. That didn't satisfy him though. He could remember the change in Blair's heart rate, even his breathing, although he hadn't been concentrating on it consciously at the time. Something was wrong, and he didn't know what it was.
"Simon, a minute?"
Banks gestured him toward his office. Norman tried to follow, but Ellison put up a hand. "Private business," he said and closed the door with the commissioner's nephew on the outside.
"Now what, Jim? You're stuck with him, I can't change that. The commissioner asked for you specifically."
"I know," Jim groaned. "I'll live with that. But something's wrong with Sandburg. We were so busy badmouthing Norman I almost didn't pick up on it. I want to run by the loft first in case he got sick and went home. I'll swing by the loft, see if he's there, see what's wrong. Then I'll be back and pick up Norman."
Simon hesitated, then nodded. "Go. Though how much of this is because you think you can pawn the kid off on Sandburg..."
"That's a part of it, but not all. I think something is wrong. Damn it, Simon I must've have been given these senses for a reason. I can't ignore them when they give me signals, and when it's about Sandburg, I simply won't. Bottom line."
"Fine. I'll tell the kid you had an errand first." He suddenly grinned. "I'll have Brown fill him in on stakeout procedures," he concluded wickedly.
Jim's smile faded as soon as he left the bullpen. Sandburg, what the hell is wrong? he thought worriedly. Why didn't you say you were taking off?
Blair threw clothes into his tote bag as fast as he could. He had to be out of here before Jim came home, especially since he wasn't wanted any longer. If Jim hated him as much as he said he did, Blair didn't mean to stay around and take it. He'd always known there was a time to get out of any relationship, and this one's time had come.
But I don't want to get out, he thought forlornly. This time, I really, really wanted to stay.
Stacking books and papers in piles to carry down to the Volvo, he made a sweep, the bathroom, then the kitchen, to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything. It felt like he was tearing up his roots, leaving trailing ends of himself behind in the place he had called home, the place he believed he belonged. His eyes stung with bitter, half-angry tears. How could Jim have lied to him like that? It had to be a mistake. It had to be.
But if he hung around, asked, Jim might confirm it to his face, and Blair knew he didn't have the courage to face Jim's direct condemnation. He makes my skin crawl. Oh, god, that hurt. Nothing that had ever happened to him before had hurt as much as that.
Just as he emerged from the kitchen, the main door was flung open and Jim burst in, nearly running. "Sandb--" he started to bellow, jerking to a stop and falling silent when he saw Blair's possessions stacked up for departure. "What the hell!" he burst out explosively with a choppy gesture at the fragments of Blair's life that were spread around him. "Damn it, Sandburg what the hell do you think you're pulling here?"
Okay, so he wanted to play it out to the end. Well, Blair didn't plan to make it easy for him. "What does it look like?" he demanded tightly, trying to edge past Ellison toward the door. "I'm leaving."
An expression flashed in Jim's eyes that almost looked like panic--but it couldn't be panic. "You can't leave," he half-shouted, planting himself in Blair's path, rigid and unmoveable. "You're not leaving, Sandburg."
"You can't keep me here against my will," Blair insisted in a voice that was flat and hard because if he didn't keep it that way, it would wobble. "I'm not staying here, man." He wasn't sure he could force himself past Jim by brute force, so he simply edged a little closer, hoping Jim would grasp the point and move. "Get out of my way."
Jim said succinctly, "No." He closed the distance between him with a decisive step and grabbed Blair by the upper arms, his fingers digging tight. "Just what's this about, Sandburg?" He shook Blair lightly. "One minute you're fine, everything's normal, the next you're packing." His face changed. "Naomi? She's in trouble? Sick?" Worry filled his face. "God, Chief, I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
"Naomi's fine," Blair replied hastily. "This is nothing to do with Naomi. It's about you, Ellison. Now get out of my way." He'd never thought Jim would play games with him, pretend he hadn't said those damning words in Simon's office. "Okay, so you're in control of your senses. Fine. I've got more than enough data for my thesis. I'll take off."
"The hell you will," Jim roared. His fingers gouged tighter. "You're not taking one step out of here until you tell me what's wrong with you?"
"You think you can manhandle me and yell at me and that makes it all right?" He pulled backward, determined to break free, but Jim had a grip of steel. "I'm not a police suspect, so get your hands off me." Increasingly frustrated that he couldn't pull free, he batted at Jim's arms in an attempt to break the grip. "I'll get my papers and books out of your way and weird foods out of your refrigerator, and you won't have to put up with dirty laundry or not enough hot water any more." His voice quavered in spite of his effort to get it steady and he avoided the taller man's eyes. "Let me go," he insisted, pulling one more time. "Let go of me, man. I don't have to take this crap from you."
Jim lifted his hands deliberately and stretched them out to show he wouldn't grab again. "Just tell me, Sandburg?" he asked more softly. "God, don't tear a hole in my life and take off without even an explanation. I thought we were closer than that." Blair winced. This was so unfair. Jim couldn't tear him down to Simon and then try to use emotional manipulation. But he was doing it. 'You owe me an explanation, damn it," Jim insisted.
"Do I? Okay, how's this," Blair cried, desperate to get out of the loft before he lost it. Even though he was afraid Jim would see too much in his eyes, he faced him head on. "I hate you, man. I hate all your lies and your pretending to put up with me so you could use me. I may not be one of your cop brothers, but I've got my self-respect and I won't take it any more. Now get out of my way." He tried to elbow past Jim, his need to end the scene pulsing through him.
"Lies? What lies?" Ellison started to reach for him again and caught himself, lifting his hands in a pacific manner, although he looked like he wanted to grab Blair's shoulders and shake him like a rag doll. "What lies, Chief? Somebody's been feeding you a lot of crap. Put up with you? My god, you're so much a part of my life I'm not sure what would be left if you went away."
Oh, god, I wish I could believe that. That's what my own Jim would say. Not a stranger who can't stand me. Squaring his shoulders he confronted Jim head on and said as coldly as he could, "Oh, that's good, man. Anybody would think you actually liked me. But I'm not staying here, not when I know you hate my guts and are only counting down the days until I'm out of your life." He edged toward the door. Just a few more steps and he'd be out of here....
Ellison's eyes grew huge. "Where did you get that crap?" he exploded, catching Blair's arm to halt him, although he let go as soon as Blair stopped walking. "It's not true. Sandburg, you know it's not true. Okay, so I don't go around getting all emotional, but you know that's not my way. That doesn't mean I don't value you."
"Sure you do, Jim. You valued my help with getting your senses in line. A nice, handy tool, about as valuable as your gun. But when you finish with a tool, you put it down." He gestured around the loft, at his stacked possessions, trying to look anywhere but at Jim's face. There were too many mixed signals to be read there. "I can't do this, man. I thought I could just walk out, but you're making it so hard for me."
"Is that what this is about, Sandburg?" Jim asked, his voice going soft and dangerous, his eyes starting to harden. For an instant Blair saw betrayal flash across the Sentinel's face as if it were Blair who had let his friend down and not the other way around. "You've got enough for your thesis, so you're gonna run?"
Sheer panic flashed through Blair. He's gonna make it seem like it's my fault. He's gonna twist it all around. What do I do now? "No," he spat, planting himself in Jim's face, glaring up at the taller man. "It's about you not being able to stand me. It's about the fact that you hate my guts and just want me out of here. You owe me the truth, man, after everything we've meant to...." No, don't go there. You don't want to go there, Blair. "You owe me not to talk about me behind my back to Simon and tell him how much you hate me and how you can put up with me for one more week." He blinked furiously because his eyes were suddenly full of moisture. Damn it, he hadn't wanted to break down in front of Jim. Abruptly he tried to circle around the taller man to the door.
Jim froze. Now he knew he was busted. Now it would all be right out there in the open. Oh, god. But Jim's mouth hung open blankly and his eyes reflected furious thought. He said tentatively as if casting back his memory, "I can't stand the little twerp."
"God, Jim," Blair cried, whirling away completely so Jim couldn't see his face. He'd thought it had hurt before, but the confirmation was like a knife to the heart.
But Jim circled around and grabbed him again, catching Blair by the upper arms, his fingers digging in so tightly there would be bruises there. When Blair struggled, Jim shifted his grip, taking hold of Blair's face with both hands, forcing his head up so Blair would focus on their confrontation. "And I can't. I've never been able to stand the commissioner's nephew, not when he's being foisted on me again." Dropping his hands to Blair's shoulders, he gave them a squeeze that held nothing but exasperated affection. "My god, Sandburg, you heard that, all that crap I dished out about old Norman, and you thought I meant you?" In spite of his earlier complaints about manhandling, Blair didn't make the slightest effort to wiggle free.
"The commissioner's nephew?" he said in a very small voice.
"Sandburg, listen to me. I'm only going to say this once because it's going to embarrass the hell out of me. Even when I'm most exasperated with you, and most fed up, and when I've gotta take an icy shower because you used up all the hot water or pick up your leftovers off the counter or make me go through one more endless test, you are still my friend." He gave Blair a gruffly affectionate swat on the side of the head. "Do you hear that? You're my partner, my best friend, my Guide--my brother. I would never, never in a million years, pull anything on you like you thought you heard."
Blair nearly lost it then, so moved was he by his partner's words. As if he knew, Jim let go, allowing Blair time to collect his emotions. Sandburg turned his back for a second, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and finger to stem the threat of relieved tears. He drew in a deep, steadying breath, a second one when he felt Jim's hand on his back between his shoulder blades, offering him time, support, affection without speaking another word.
Blair had never thought Jim could actually come out and admit his friendship like that; he was so closed up when it came to his emotions. He couldn't let that pass without an answer, so he turned and lifted a smiling face to Ellison. "That goes for me, too, man," he breathed. "That goes for me, too."
They stood there a moment longer, savoring their reborn camaraderie, knowing nothing more needed to be said. "Are you all right, Chief?" Jim asked.
Purged and new again, Blair said the first thing that came into his head. "I really blew it. I'm embarrassed as hell, man."
"You should be. When we got back from Peru you said our partnership was about friendship. But it's about something else, too. Trust. You have to trust me, just like I have to trust you every time I risk a zone-out when I try something new. You have to know I value you, because you're a man worth valuing. You have to know I care."
"Trust you, Jim? More than I trust the sun rising in the east. It was just, I heard you say it."
"Then you have to learn to trust yourself, Sandburg," Jim said, putting his hands on Blair's shoulders again. "You have to value yourself, the way I do. So next time I bad mouth somebody, you'll know I don't mean you."
Blair nodded, reborn and full of a joy that could scarcely be contained. "You called it, Jim. The way I feel now, I think I'm ten feet tall."
"Good," Jim said, an old, familiar smile lighting his face. "Because I need you on the job today. I'm stuck with this little twerp, the commissioner's nephew, and he happens to think the world of you. He was in one of your classes once and he was raving about how great it was to be able to work with you." Blair scrubbed a hand against his eyes and laughed, recalling the kid who had burst off the elevator and remembering where he'd seen him. Anthro 101 last semester. Jim was right, the kid was a pain, but he meant so well. When he toned himself down a little, he wouldn't be a bad kid at all. Maybe it was just as well Jim hadn't known him when he was nineteen. "Oh, I get it, Jim. You want backup to deal with a nineteen year old kid. I knew there was a method to your madness."
"You better believe it, Chief," Jim said, and dropped a comradely arm around his shoulders to steer him to the door.