Thanks for the Memories
by Sheila Paulson
Summary: A bust gone wrong. Where is Blair? Is Jim a crooked cop? Why doesn't Blair remember? Rated PG.
Author's Notes: Originally published in Sentry Duty 1.
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters and concepts of The Sentinel.
A high ceiling overhead and distant gunfire greeted his return to consciousness. For a long moment he lay there listening to the shooting grow further and further away, each blast resounding through his already aching head. Cautiously he turned, trying to see where he was and to understand why there were catwalks above him, with trailing ropes and chains. One eye was blurred and difficult to open, so he touched it to investigate only to pull away sticky fingers, shocked at the sight of the blood that clung to them. Dazedly he raised his sleeve and tried to mop it away. There seemed to be a lot of it, but it wasn't bleeding much now. He mopped at his eye, too confused to think of cause and effect, and took another look at his surroundings. Nothing yet made much sense and he wasn't aware enough worry about it.
At first he saw only packing crates, barrels, and cardboard boxes stacked high around him, blocking out his view of anything but the narrow aisle in which he lay, but then he looked a little further and, in between two towering piles of cardboard boxes, he saw a woman with fair hair and wide, frightened eyes, staring right at him as she crouched in the next aisle. She looked vaguely familiar--he knew her from somewhere--but he couldn't put a name to her face. He wasn't sure he could put a name to...to his own. *Omigod, I've lost my memory.*
His sheer, desperate panic must have reassured her he was harmless because she got up and edged cautiously between the boxes until she was looking down at him. Her movements were wary like a wild animal's, as if she expected danger, but she knelt at his side. "Are you hurt?" A hand stretched out doubtfully toward his forehead. She smelled vaguely of lilacs.
"I don't remember..." Suddenly he wasn't sure admitting it was a good idea, but the words came involuntarily because they filled his whole being. He needed to know who he was, what was happening, what he had...lost.
Her eyes grew huge. "What do you mean?" she asked and he wasn't sure if she were stalling to find out how much he could recall or if she had been thrown back on her heels at his unexpected words.
"I don't...recognize you." He could safely admit that much. If only he could *think*....
An emotion flashed in her eyes and was gone before his confused mind could even try to identify it. "Do you know who *you* are?"
"I...I think I'm...Blair." He dredged the name from the depths of his mind, although a last name wasn't quite ready to accompany it. Blair. He was Blair. He wasn't lost completely. He still had a self.
"Yes. Blair Sandburg," she replied instantly. "Does that sound right?"
He nodded thankfully, then winced and grabbed at his head. Moving like that had *not* been smart. Blair Sandburg. That made him feel a little more whole. He was Blair Sandburg, he was....he was... Classrooms flashed through his memory. A student? A teacher? "But it doesn't tell me what I'm doing in a...a warehouse, or who you are. What happened to me?"
"He shot you," she said. She hesitated, then she leaned down and kissed him. "I can't believe you don't remember me," she said, and when she lifted her head, her face was scared and stricken.
"Do we--are we--"
"We live together," she explained quickly. "I'm Jennie. God, Blair, don't you remember me? Jennie Martin."
"Jennie?" It sounded strangely familiar, but vague and confused, and he couldn't get it clearer no matter how hard he concentrated. "I think I've--I think I remember your name," he volunteered in hopes of easing the stricken expression on her face. "Who shot me?" he prodded.
"That cop, Ellison."
"*Ellison*!" Her words rocked him but he didn't understand quite why. The name was all through him, but he couldn't pin it down, couldn't remember. Her words were wrong, though. They had to be. He didn't know why, he didn't understand anything, but she had to be wrong. That was what mattered most as he lay there struggling to find himself. She had to be wrong.
"You *do* remember?"
"I...I can halfway remember the name. It's...I know it means something, but...but not that. Jennie, are you *sure*?"
"You bet I am. God, I thought you'd been *killed*. He finally turned on you. Blair, he's trying to kill you. Don't you remember? You've been an observer at the police department." She gestured toward his chest and he looked down in surprise to see he had a plastic ID card attached to his shirt. His vision was still slightly blurry so he didn't try to read it. That would wait until he heard the rest of this insane story.
"They paired you up with this cop, Ellison," Jennie continued hastily. "He used to be military, stiff as a board, just as different from you as possible. Everybody thought he was on the up and up, but you found out he was dirty, taking bribes, looking the other way, working with a drug dealer, taking cuts. You were going to report it to his boss today, but he found out you knew and came after us and chased us here. He wants to kill you and make it look like an accident so nobody will ever find out the truth of it."
That was *crazy*! That felt so wrong, it just couldn't be. But he couldn't remember, not for sure. He didn't remember the police department, he remembered the university, the images of classrooms suddenly coming together, blended with vague images of fieldwork with remote tribes in different jungles around the world. "I--I'm an anthropologist. Why..."
"Why are you working with the police? Something for your thesis. You didn't tell me much about it. You said you had to write it while it was fresh and if you talked about it too much, it wouldn't come right." She tugged at his arm. "Can you get up? We have to get out of here. He ran into somebody, a rival gang, I think, and took off after them, but he'll be back. He's the one who shot you, making it look like an accident, making it look like one of them did it. He's got such an in nobody would believe it was on purpose. He would have pretended to be all broken up about it but he'd be laughing inside. He's been trying to get rid of you for weeks, but you didn't realize until last night. Come on, Blair, we have to go. Now. Before he comes back."
Blair sat up very carefully, groaning. "I--I don't--no, it's not like that." He didn't remember much, just flashes, so brief they ran through his brain like water carried downstream in a flood, and he couldn't pin any of them down. Ellison? He could remember the name, but he couldn't bring anything up from the darkness in his mind except a stubborn insistence that Jennie was wrong, that Ellison wasn't like that. Maybe he'd fought against the belief for a long time before the truth came out.
"Worry about that when we're safe," she said. "We'll go to my sister's place. They won't look for us there, and Cathy's on vacation. She gave me a key before she left. Come on, Blair. I've got a car over on Bates Road. We can get away before he comes back. Please. I don't want anything to happen to you."
Her fear was contagious. Confused and not quite aware of his surroundings, Blair staggered to his feet. She dragged his arm around her shoulders to help support him. She was tiny, maybe a good five inches shorter than he was, and slightly built, but there was unexpected strength in her. "Oh, god, you scared me when you went down," she breathed. "I thought you were dead. When you woke up, I couldn't believe it. Hurry. This way. We'll go out the back."
He could feel her tension but it was no stronger than his own. This was crazy! Amnesia? He remembered a lot of things, just not everything. He didn't remember Ellison, the cop who was after him, and he didn't remember Jennie herself, yet their names were both familiar. Ellison's was the more so. Not a crooked cop, but then if Blair had just found out, he might not remember that part. Didn't amnesia focus on the time of the accident? God, he could remember *that* and not his girlfriend or the man who was trying to kill him. He could remember his office at Rainier University, too, even his Corvair, but he couldn't remember anything about the shooting, about what had brought him to the warehouse, what had led to Ellison's shooting him. And every time he thought of that, it caused a pain in his gut and in his heart even greater than the one in his head.
He must have liked this cop, must have believed him a good guy. It was the betrayal that hurt, that had to be it. Maybe it hurt so much his mind wouldn't let him face it yet. Naomi had always told him not to get too close, not to form close ties, and she'd been right. He could remember Naomi, remember all the years he was growing up; it was just the newer stuff that had gone hazy. The stuff that mattered today.
"Oh, god," he groaned.
"It's all right, Blair," Jennie soothed him gently as she helped him into the back seat of a ten year old Ford Tempo and eased him down. "I'll make sure it's all right. I promise."
With a sigh, he closed his eyes. Ellison? *Jim*? That was it, Jim Ellison. But Jim wasn't a dirty cop... Oh, god, he couldn't remember. When he tried to think, only confused images came to his mind. Being tied down and someone trying to force a drug down his throat...standing on the hood of a police car, waving a gun around... What the hell was going on? Why couldn't he remember? Why was Jim Ellison such a blur, and why did the thought he'd turned on Blair hurt so very much?
"I'll take you to Cathy's now," Jennie said soothingly. "Try not to sleep, in case you have a concussion. Once we're sure we're safe, I have to get you to a doctor."
"I don't want a doctor," he murmured fretfully. "I just want to..." *To remember? When I know it's gonna hurt like hell. Oh, man, what have I gotten into here? Why is my life falling apart? Why can't I remember anything?*
"Sandburg's gone, Captain, just disappeared." Jim Ellison paced up and down the pier as he spoke into the cell phone, staring at the warehouse while uniformed officers came in and out as they checked the place out. "We were right, Gunderson's gang was there, but they saw me and I had to defend us. We meant to wait for backup but it went down wrong. There was a firefight. God, Simon, I think he got hit. He went down and it was too sudden for him to have ducked. I couldn't get to him, so I tried to lead them away from him, then they took off and I went after them. When I got back...he just wasn't anywhere."
"If he got hit bad, he'd still be there, Jim," soothed Captain Simon Banks. "Calm down. Think it through. I'm on my way there now. I'll be there in five."
"Calm down? Calm *down*! I found the place where he fell, and there's blood there. He was hit. But he's gone. Maybe he woke up and wandered off; for all I know he fell in the harbor. There's not a trace of him anywhere." He glanced around to make sure no one was in earshot. "I used my senses to try to find him, came close to zoning out, but I couldn't hear his heartbeat or even sense him anywhere nearby. But we wound up six blocks away before I got Gunderson. By the time I got back here the place was deserted."
"So either he was able to take off on his own..."
"Take off? He didn't go back to the truck. I've looked all around. There's not a trace of him. Why would he take off on his own? That's crazy, Simon, unless he was delirious, and then anything could have happened to him."
"For all you know he went looking for you. If he was unconscious when you went after them, he wouldn't know which way you went. He could have gone in the wrong direction and just be out of range of your senses." He hesitated. "What happened with Gunderson's gang? How many of them were there?"
"You think one of them took him hostage?" Jim demanded in alarm. "Three of them ran." He cast his mind back, trying to remember the scene. "Gunderson was there with a couple of henchmen. There were three men shooting at me. I arrested Gunderson and Stark--he took a bullet in the leg and I cuffed him. There's an EMT unit with him right now. And the third man, Jack Payne, is dead. If anybody else was at the warehouse it was someone without a gun. And if the other three had them, why not a fourth man?"
"That's a good point, but maybe they had a stash there and the fourth man had to get it away. You don't know what went down yet, Jim. You're still running on adrenaline from the shooting. Wait for me. I'll be there in a few minutes. I'll have them run Gunderson and his people on the computer, see if we can get other names. The last thing we need is for Sandburg to be a hostage."
Jim groaned. "God, Simon, sometimes I think it's crazy to bring him into situations like this. He's not a cop. He doesn't have the training."
"I tell you that at least once a week," Simon reminded him but without malice.
"I know. And I'm not saying Blair doesn't have some great moves. He learns fast and he's inventive and, nine times out of ten, when he gets into danger, he gets himself out of it. It's that tenth time that scares me right now." He closed his eyes, remembering the moment Sandburg had dropped out of sight behind those crates, the memory replaying cruelly in his mind as if it were part of a feedback loop. Blair's body had jerked and he had dropped like a stone. He'd been hit. Ellison knew he had. Hit, and Jim had been compelled to leave him there. He forced away the imaginary image of Blair's body, lying silent and broken in his own blood, and reminded himself there hadn't been that much blood, and that Blair was gone. That meant he'd come to, if he'd even been unconscious. Didn't it? Any spare member of Gunderson's gang was hardly likely to remove a corpse...
With a shiver he couldn't control, he forced his eyes open and looked around the waterfront. Simon was talking to him over the phone, but he scarcely heard anything. "I'll go take another look around," he insisted. "Maybe I can pick up something, some clue...."
"Now, Jim, if you're going to try to use your senses, wait until I get there," Simon insisted. "I don't want you zoning out. You need somebody with you when you concentrate that hard, and even if I can't talk you out of it the way Sandburg can, I can give you a poke in the arm and wake you up. Promise me you won't take any crazy chances until I get there."
"Every second I wait might mean..." Jim began, but then his voice trailed off. There were people here already, the uniformed men and the forensics team. They might pick up something most people missed, but maybe Jim could see something they couldn't. He had to let them try, though. He'd look around out here. Blair hadn't been in there, after all. He would have known, would have heard his heartbeat, would have felt his presence, even if he had wandered off and fallen behind another crate or concealed himself in a crawlspace and then passed out. Since Blair had become his Guide, he'd developed a kind of sixth sense, a physical awareness of the younger man's presence, and he couldn't feel a trace of it now. If Blair had crawled away to hide and then...and then died, he didn't think the feeling would have stopped. He was sure he'd have been able to go right to the place. Besides, there was a stubborn awareness inside him, as if he were bound to Sandburg with invisible cords; as Sandburg was Guide, he was Sentinel, and that link was strong. He'd never asked Sandburg if the tribal Sentinel and Guide were also bound by ties of friendship, but the two of them were. Would that help him to find his partner? Or would the emotional angle get in the way?
Simon arrived then, his car screeching to a halt nearby, and Jim watched as the tall man unfolded himself from the driver's seat and hurried over. "I've got them checking everything we can find on Gunderson and all known members of his gang," he said as he joined Ellison. "If there were more than three of them, we'll have some names soon."
"A contact or supplier might not be in the record," Jim pointed out. "They might have been meeting with a supplier, and who knows how many of them they have. We didn't find drugs in there, at least not yet, so either there was a supplier and he made off with drugs and the money from the buy, or they were waiting for someone who was put off when the shooting started. I can't see a seller taking time to grab Sandburg, though, not when he had money and drugs to run with. We didn't find any money in there either," he added.
"And you didn't see a fourth man when you were in there, or a car that might have belonged to one?"
"No. There was a black van--that one," he added with a gesture to the vehicle pulled up alongside the warehouse. "It's registered to Dave Stark. I think they all came in that. I think it probably was a meet, but I don't think the supplier was here yet; how could he be unless he walked. There were cars parked along Bates Road over there," he said, nodding in the direction of the street, "but I didn't notice any of them in particular; it's too far away and there were a row of them."
"He could have come by boat," Simon said, pointing at the water of the bay.
"You're right. But there wasn't a boat, at least not here at this jetty," Jim remembered. "Just those tankers down there." He stabbed a finger at the ships. "I suppose he could be an international supplier off one of them."
"We'll check it out." Simon eyed him thoughtfully, then took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "Don't write Sandburg out," he said. "You said it yourself, Jim, he's good at getting himself out of trouble. Look how he handled being trapped on that elevator with a bomb." He glanced around at the assembled teams. "I'll have Brown check the tankers, though I don't think that's it. Unless Blair took shelter on one of them."
"If he was that close, I'd know," Ellison insisted stubbornly. "Just like I'd know if he was dead."
"People say that, but there's no way you could tell, Jim." Sympathy filtered into his voice. "I know you like the kid, but it isn't enough. You're a Sentinel, not a psychic."
"He's not dead," Jim insisted. "I *would* know, Simon. I'd be able to feel it. I'm still learning about the bond between a Sentinel and his Guide. It's real. I would know if Sandburg was dead."
Simon eyed him half-doubtfully. "I know you two are close, but..."
"It's not what you're thinking," Jim replied, knowing a couple of the detectives in Major Crimes had speculated about what kind of a relationship he and Blair had. He'd wondered himself where it was leading when he realized he was starting to like the Chief--a lot. But it hadn't developed into that kind of thing. He liked women and Sandburg was aggressive enough in his pursuit of them. His relationship with Sandburg wasn't sexual nor likely to be. No, it was a different kind of bond, one he couldn't explain because no matter how strong a link existed between cops and their partners, it wasn't like this. He'd thought a partner was as close as it came, closer than he had been to Carolyn in their marriage even when it had still been going well. But Sandburg had worked his way into Jim's life in such a way that although neither of them had talked about it, Jim was sure he was there to stay.
Jim thought of that now and knew that for whatever the reason, he and Sandburg had created a special kind of link and, because of it, he *knew* Blair was alive. But it also convinced him Blair was in danger, or in trouble, and needed help. And he didn't have one damned idea where to start searching for him.
Simon shook his head. "I know that. But when you get off into mystical Sentinel mumbo-jumbo I have to try to find a way to understand it that makes sense. You say you know he's alive. Okay, I've seen you do a lot of strange things. I believe you. But that leaves us with the problem of where he is and how do we find him."
"I'll call the loft and see if he went back there, if you'll have someone check the hospitals," Jim decided. He took out his cell phone and made the call, listening to the loft telephone ringing and ringing unanswered. The answering machine kicked in and Jim listened to it and spoke after the beep. "Are you there, Sandburg? Pick up. Come on, Blair, pick up." Simon beckoned Brown over and gave him instructions, gesturing in the direction of the tankers, then he punched in a call and talked urgently into his phone. When Jim gave up on the answering machine, Banks said, "I put out an APB on him. We'll find him."
"You don't think another gang member grabbed him?" Jim didn't want to believe that but he couldn't avoid the possibility.
"If so, he'd have to be pretty damn quick on his feet. If Blair was hit and went down, they'd have no way of knowing if he were alive or dead. A gang member wouldn't stay behind on the off chance he was only wounded. He'd know you had backup coming; he'd run like hell. He wouldn't stop to take Blair with him."
"Unless he thought he could use him as a shield," Jim remembered.
"True, but then he'd have dumped him as soon as he was safe. So we expand our search." He clapped Jim on the shoulder. "You know we won't give up on him. He's one of our own, and we don't let our own go hang. Let me create some order in the middle of this chaos, then we'll have a go at your Sentinel thing, if you'll trust me to substitute for Sandburg."
"What choice do I have?" Jim replied and hoped the words didn't sound as grudging to Banks as they did to him.
Blair didn't remember the drive to Jennie's sister's house with any degree of clarity. Jennie had pulled over in an alley after a few minutes and cleaned his wound as best she could, pressing a folded piece of cloth over it, making worried little clicking noises with her tongue as she worked. Her face was grave and intent as if she were concentrating fiercely, but when she saw him looking at her, she gave him a bright, reassuring smile before climbing behind the wheel again and resuming the journey.
He was aware of the vehicle's motions, the stops and starts, the decorous pace; Jennie wasn't playing games, she was trying to keep from jostling him if she could, and maybe hoping to avoid being stopped by someone who might prove to be a crooked cop.
Blair gnawed on his bottom lip. Crooked cops? He couldn't remember any such thing, but then a lot of the images in his mind were vague. The thought of Ellison was so reassuring it was hard to believe a man he'd evidently considered entirely trustworthy had turned on him. Maybe part of his amnesia was emotional rather than physical. A blow to the head could make you lose some time, but he wasn't sure how much he'd lost; there was no clear division, no way to say exactly how many days, weeks, months he'd forgotten. It was all intermixed. He could see images but they weren't focused yet. Ellison was there. Blair had a face for him now, a clean-cut man with very short hair, a body that suggested he worked out. Taller than Blair but he was used to that; hanging around taller guys had long since ceased to bug him.
Ellison wasn't an enemy, he couldn't be. Blair couldn't recall all the details, how he'd met up with Ellison in the first place, but there was nothing ominous in the shards of memories. Still, Jennie said he'd just found out. If he'd considered the guy a buddy, maybe he'd hated the realization enough to want to block it. Maybe, if he remembered, he'd see Ellison's face twist with hatred, see him raise the weapon and fire it directly at him. He must have meant to shoot him between the eyes...
Blair moaned faintly. *Oh, god, this can't be happening, he thought desperately. What am I going to do?*
"It's all right, it's all right," Jennie soothed from the front seat. "We're here. Nobody knows about Cathy. I know I never said much about her to you, and I'm pretty sure you never mentioned her to Ellison. We'll be safe here."
Blair forced himself up on one elbow and watched her guide the car between twin hedges and down a long driveway to a parking area behind the house. She helped him out, sliding her arm around his waist, and led the way to the door, where she took out a key and fitted it into the lock. They wound up in a kitchen, in a house that felt deserted, a little too dusty to be inhabited, but with the utilities still connected, the refrigerator churning away. Somehow that homey sound relaxed and reassured him and he was grateful to collapse into a chair and lean forward onto the table, his head in his folded arms.
"I'll see if I can find where Cathy keeps her first aid kit," Jennie said and vanished.
*God, Jim*, Blair thought tiredly, *I wish I could remember you better. I know you're not like this. You can't have shot me. You can't be on the take. It feels, like, wrong, you know?* Yet the more he strained after his elusive memories, the harder they resisted him and the more his head throbbed.
Jennie returned triumphantly bearing a small first aid kit and a glass of water. She held out a couple of pills. "I *think* it's safe for you to have Tylenol," she said. "But I'm not going to let you sleep except in short naps until I'm sure you're okay. After I get you cleaned up, I'll phone around and see if I can find out what's going down on the street."
He sat passively, his head throbbing, his vision not quite blurred but not quite normal either, as if everything around him was fractionally distorted, as if one wary move would bring vertigo crashing down upon him. His brain felt stuffed with cotton wool, making it hard to think, harder to pull the images that drifted in and out into a coherent pattern.
Finally, depressed, frightened and, in spite of Jennie's determined reassurance, very much alone, he gave up and let himself drift. Obediently he swallowed the pain pills she gave him, closing his eyes in hopes of cutting back on the throbbing beat behind them until the medicine kicked in. Maybe if he didn't try too hard to focus on Jim and remember, it would come back to him.
But nothing did. He was still disoriented, still clinging to pieces of memories. Would he have told anyone at the university? He tried to think of names but that was blank, too. He needed Jim, that felt like a given, but he couldn't need him, not when Jim wanted him dead. Why had he let Blair trust him, let Blair like him, if he meant to turn on him like this? It hurt all the way through to the bone, a worse pain than the grinding ache in his head. He could see glimpses of moments, warm, happy moments, simple comradeship, bantering back and forth. Yet there were insecure moments in there, the doubt that he was welcome in Jim's life, the way Jim didn't always open up to him... Specific examples eluded him but the warmer memories were stronger. *Don't do this to me, Jim,* he thought desperately.
"Jim can't be trying to kill me," he insisted to Jennie. "That's so wild, I know it can't be true."
As if she heard the thread of misery and hopelessness in his voice, she set aside the gauze and hugged him instead. "I know. We did all this last night. I never saw you so broken up about anything before." Her voice softened. "My god, Blair, you *cried*. You don't know how it tore me up. You said he was your partner, and partners didn't do that to each other."
Blair couldn't remember it, but he could believe he'd react that way. *Oh, god, it must be true. It must be*. He felt like crying now, confused, in pain, lost, without an anchor to hold him. His memories of Jim were fragmented, but his emotions were alive and hurting because his instinct was to trust, to doubt this horrible development. *Could I be that wrong about anybody? he wondered. Could I screw up that bad, trust somebody I shouldn't have trusted? Was it all for nothing?* He put his arms around Jennie and held on tight. He needed something to hold in the midst of his confusion. With the pounding of his head and the churning of his stomach, he felt so lost, so confused, that he couldn't think, couldn't reason. He didn't know what to do.
"Your memories will come back," Jennie soothed him. "I know they will. And I'll make sure you're safe till then." She jerked her head up as if that had given her an idea. Quickly she taped the gauze pad over his injury then straightened up. "Wait right here," she cried and hurried out of the kitchen.
Blair raised his hand tentatively and prodded his forehead. The bullet had grazed him; if he'd moved an inch or two in the other direction he'd be dead right now. Had he tried to duck and received a graze instead of the fatal wound intended? And why had he gone with Jim to a warehouse if he didn't trust him? That was crazy. But maybe he was *hiding* from Jim and the detective had tracked him to his place of concealment. Jim could do that. He had a way to...to... The edge of memory skittered across the surface of his mind and disappeared.
"I was so close," he moaned, clutching his head in his hands, elbows resting on the table. At least he was keeping the Tylenol down, but he didn't feel any better from it, just fuzzier around the edges, tired and groggy.
*You can't sleep, Blair, he told himself. You've probably got a concussion. You can't risk falling asleep.*
Jennie's returning footsteps roused him from a near-doze. It took a real struggle to lift his head, to focus his eyes on her. Now, instead of being too sharp and distorted, everything was a little bit fuzzy around the edges, gently blurred like an elderly woman's photograph, smoothing away the rough edges. Jennie's wide eyes were still worried, and her mouth was tight. In her hand she held a gun, and for a moment Blair's heart leaped, but then she dropped into the chair beside him and grabbed one of his hands, plopping the weapon into it. It felt wrong, terribly wrong, and he tried to pull away.
"No, Blair, I know you don't like guns," she insisted, her hand firm on his wrist. If she knew him that well--god, he hated guns. He couldn't imagine taking a life, couldn't imagine the responsibility Jim had--
The memory almost caught, but it faded again. With a shudder, he tried to let go of the weapon--it looked like a .38, a policeman's gun-- but Jennie curled his fingers over it.
"No, Blair, listen. I can't stay here. I have to go out and find out what's happening. If I'm gone from the usual places, they'll look further afield. He won't kill me, not if I stay with people all day. I'll go to work. But you'll be here alone. I don't think he'll track you, but if he does, you have to be able to protect yourself. I won't lose you." Suddenly tears flooded her eyes and she began to sob. "Oh, god, Blair, oh, god."
She'd been in such control it hadn't even occurred to him until this moment how frightened she must be. Blair was a police observer; he had the badge to prove it. But Jennie wasn't connected with the police, just with him. She was well out of her league, and she'd come through like a real trouper. He reached out and pulled her close, feeling her body jerk and twist with the depth of her misery. She didn't quite let go enough to lean against him, as if she couldn't entirely give in to the weakness, but the tears proved she was who she claimed to be. Until then, she hadn't felt quite right; the touch of her hands and her arms around him had not been as reassuring as the fleeting memories of Jim. It had felt like a stranger's touch. But as she wept, he stroked her hair, unable to deny the depth of feeling that had prompted the tears. This was no pretty weeping to win her point but an emotion that went all the way to the bone. Humbled by it, he held her close, wishing he could remember her. He'd known her less time than he'd known Jim, his memories must reach only so far.
Finally she controlled herself, knuckling away the tears like a child would, and lifted desolate eyes to him, eyes that were reddened and swollen, and intense. "You *have* to protect yourself," she insisted. "You have to. I can't lose..."
"Ssh, it's all right. I'll protect myself. But wouldn't it be better just to get away from here until we can find someone to tell the story to?"
"What makes you think he won't find you? I'm even scared to leave you here where he'd never look. You have to take the gun. You have to promise me you'll use it to save your life. To *save your life*, Blair. Not to be mean or vindictive or a killer. Defending yourself doesn't make you a killer. It means you'll stay *alive*. That's more important than anything."
"Where did you get the gun, Jennie?"
"It's my brother-in-law's. He keeps it in the bedside table upstairs. Cathy told me about it, and I remembered. It's loaded. I checked. There's a...a clip in it. See?" She pointed.
He nodded. He could remember how guns worked, in general, though he hated the feel of it in his hand. Setting it aside carefully, he checked; the safety was off. He reached out to put it on again and she stopped him. "Please, Blair. Please defend yourself." Her puffy eyes beseeched him.
"All right," he said gently. Maybe it wouldn't come to that. Besides, how could he shoot Jim? This was crazy. It felt so wrong. But Jennie's grief had not been faked. She was miserable, frightened. No one could sob like that, shed tears like that, and not mean it. Anyway, he was safe here, wasn't he, safe where he could struggle to get his memory back, to make sense out of a life that was in rubble around his feet.
She leaned in and kissed him. "I can't lose you," she said. "Not now. I'd stay, but it's not safe here. You know I have to go. If anyone checks on me, I'll be right where I belong. That's the only way. But I'll call every hour and make sure you're not asleep."
He felt desolate when she was gone. Warily he got up and headed into the living room, to explore his hiding place. From the evident tidiness of the place, its owner was house proud, so the level of dust meant the owner was away. Cathy was out of town, was that what Jennie had said? Blair hoped she didn't come back and find him here. He didn't have the energy to deal with another crisis.
When he finished a quick exploration of the house, he was exhausted. Everything felt fuzzy and his mind wouldn't function right. What if he had a serious concussion? What if he had a skull fracture? Maybe there was a subdural hematoma. Maybe he was dying.
"Come and find me, Jim, I need you."
The plea was heartfelt--and automatic. Surely he couldn't feel that way about a man who'd shot him in the head. Could a memory loss be so complete as to destroy his very instinct for self preservation. He knew he had one. He could remember field trips, expeditions to the jungle, when he had emerged with a whole skin because he knew when to be wary, when to trust his instincts, when to duck. Yet he had no such instincts about Jim Ellison. Every impulse he possessed cried out that Jim Ellison was trustworthy. But here he was on the run with a bullet wound in his head. He couldn't take the contradiction. All he wanted was to lie down and lose himself in the blanket of sleep and hope that when he awakened his life would make sense again.
He had left the gun in the kitchen. Wearily he trudged after it and returned to the living room. Placing it very carefully on the coffee table, he stretched out on the couch. He would try not to sleep, but Jennie would phone and awaken him. Oh, god, if only he could *think*. If only any of this made sense.
His mind went fuzzier and fuzzier and the darkness swallowed him up.
"Nothing, nothing, and more nothing," Jim snarled, looking around the abandoned warehouse. Even the forensics team had finished, finding a number of fingerprints and not much else in the way of clues except for a collection of footprints in the dust, too smudged to be distinctive except for a couple of markings that belonged to Gunderson's Nike's. Jim had come in after them and stood looking around but not even his Sentinel sight could make anything of the smeared patterns in the dust.
"He's not here, Jim," Simon said behind him.
"No, and he's not on either tanker." The crew of each ship had welcomed the police on board, given them guided tours, but no Sandburg. "No one in the area saw anyone, there's just nothing."
"Then we come down to it," Simon said. "Jim, you have to focus your senses on it."
"I tried that already," Jim said in disgust. "No decent footprints, no fingerprints forensics missed, I can't hear anything out of place; when I concentrated, all I got were rats scurrying around the building."
"You told me about the time Sandburg helped you remember Jack's phone message," Simon reminded him. "You focused on the memory and you were able to get it all back. Is there any way you can focus on this place right before the shooting started and see if there's anything you can pick up that's different now, or that might give you a lead?"
Jim fastened on the idea with relief, then his face fell. "Sandburg coached me through that; he knew just what to say. I can remember a lot of it, but it really needs me to concentrate. I could zone out so bad you might not be able to bring me out of it." He considered. "But it might be Sandburg's only chance. God, Simon, I can't help feeling he's in trouble, that something is wrong with him. I have to find him. You've got a great idea, but you'll have to help me with it."
"Okay, let's walk it through first," offered Banks. "You got a tip something was going down here and you called for backup. We know that much. We know you and Sandburg arrived and went inside."
"Mistake," Jim said angrily. "I used my hearing and I could hear Gunderson saying something about a big deal about to break, and I wanted to get closer because there was so much noise on the water; a freighter was just getting ready to sail and the noise kept distracting me. I told Sandburg we'd go in, but he had to stay behind me, and once we got a fix on them, I was going to tell him to go to ground and wait. There was bound to be a good hiding place with all those crates and boxes. He said he had to come because he didn't want me to do a zone out in there where Gunderson and his men could zap me, and he insisted on coming in. You know how he gets?"
"All too well," Simon replied with a wry smile.
"I should have made him wait outside. Taking him in there was just plain stupid."
"No, it was the only thing you could do. So you've got 20/20 hindsight, Jim. Good for you. So does the rest of the world. You followed procedure, at least once you decided you could do without backup."
"We weren't going to jump them then, only listen in," Jim insisted. "I intended to wait for backup. But we got inside and something happened...one of us bumped into a stack of crates and it tipped over with a godalmighty crash. Gave us clean away."
"Sandburg," Banks said knowingly.
Jim grimaced. "No, it was me. I was focused on them, trying to get closer. I wasn't paying enough attention. Damn it, Simon, if I got him killed--"
"You didn't. You know he's alive, remember?"
Jim was grateful for the timely reminder. "Anyway, they came out shooting and it went crazy. I saw Sandburg go down." His jaw tightened as he remembered. God, that had been a bad moment, and he'd been under heavy fire so he couldn't rush to check him out.
"And then the firefight moved outside," Simon prompted.
"I had to lure them away from him," Jim insisted. "All three of them came after me. I'd only heard three people talking, so I didn't think anyone else was there."
"That's what we need to find out. Come on, Jim, I've got an idea how it went down. Sit there." He gestured toward a battered desk chair with a peeling, mock-leather seat. "Sit. Close your eyes. Try to relax." Perching on the battered formica top of the metal desk, he assumed his temporary Guide responsibilities. "I want you to think, Jim, close your eyes, go on and do it. Yeah, like that. Now I want you to concentrate, remember entering the warehouse." He made his deep voice slow and soothing, not quite as good at it as Sandburg could be, but with the instinctively right note. "You can see it as clearly as when it happened. Focus on that. What you saw. What you heard. What you felt. What you smelled."
Jim grimaced, remembering the wealth of smells that had greeted him when he and Sandburg had edged through the partially-open door. Waterfront smells, diesel fuels, rotting fish, spoiled food, dust, dead mice. He let himself drift on the tide of them, realizing how lucky Simon was not to be a Sentinel at that moment. Nothing in there to help him--or was there?
Forcing himself to relax, he sank deeper into the Sentinel-induced trance, questing after the one elusive thing that had struck a wrong chord. The world narrowed around him down to a thin tunnel of concentration, closing in on him, trapping him in a tiny world that hung on one small fact, one small sensation. Determinedly he pursued it, tracked it down, hunted it...
"Jim? Jim! Damn it, Jim, *wake up*." Something gave him a hard jab on the arm and he started upright, gazing around wildly, and took an awkward swing at the sudden enemy.
"Easy, Jim." Simon held up both hands to fend off the abortive blow. "Man, is that what a zone out is like? I've been yelling at you for almost five minutes. You scared the hell out of me."
"Simon. I must have been in deep. I didn't hear you. It was when you poked me." He shook his head to clear it, to drive away the momentary disorientation. Simon's touch had felt like a threat, like an enemy's blow. His Sentinel instincts accepted Blair's coaching, Blair's prompting, as natural, but evidently took exception to anyone else.
"Did you find out anything?" Banks asked anxiously. So he was worried about Blair, too, for all his complaining about the Chief. What was also true was that Blair would have known such a thing without being told. Would have known... Oh, god, he was thinking about Sandburg in the past tense. Did that mean there was an internal knowledge he wasn't aware of on the surface? Did that mean Blair was dead?
He stomped the thought down. Worrying about something he couldn't fix wasn't helping Blair. He'd deal with that later. Ignoring the cold, tight knot of his stomach, he said, "I got something. It went right by me before, but I remembered. Simon, there was a woman here."
"A woman?" Whatever Banks had expected, it wasn't that. "Who was she?"
"I don't know, but unless one of Gunderson's guys has taken to wearing a lilac perfume, then a woman was with them. She wasn't shooting, probably didn't have a gun. What woman would likely be here, Simon?"
"God, I don't know. We never had a report of a woman involved with Gunderson's gang. But...Gunderson's married. He's got a couple of kids and his wife has a regular job. They called her at the office and she was there; she'd been there all day. Stark--I don't think we know if he was involved with anyone. I'll check my sources."
"Jack Payne had a girlfriend," Jim said thoughtfully, remembering. "When we checked him out last month, he was staying at her place. What was her name? I can't remember. Melville, Marks, something like that?"
"Martin," Simon said triumphantly after a moment of pondering. "I can't remember the first name, but the address was somewhere over on the East Side. I'll call in, get the address."
"You think Payne's girlfriend stopped and took Blair with her when she ran?" Jim asked doubtfully. "Why would she do anything like that? That's crazy."
"You got me. I haven't got a clue. We don't know that she did, but if she was here, she might know something." He took out his cell phone and called the station.
Jim thought it over. He couldn't imagine a reason why Martin would want Blair. Had Blair been with him when he'd questioned her? He was pretty sure he had been. Would she have taken him for revenge? And why would Blair go with her?
Because she made him go. She had a gun. Maybe she looked out the warehouse window and saw Payne go down and wanted revenge. For all he knew, she was tired of Payne and trying to *help* Blair, though that was probably wrong; it didn't allow for the worry that churned in Ellison's stomach. If it came to that, the woman in the warehouse didn't need to be Martin; it could have been someone else, a member of the gang none of them knew about. Why would Payne take his girlfriend along anyway?
But she was the only lead they had right now. If it hadn't been Martin in the warehouse, then she might know who it could have been. She might be able to lead them to Blair.
"Got it," Simon said, returning the phone to his pocket. "Jennie Martin. And I've got an address, 4782 Wellbeck. You were right, over on the East Side. She works at Ralston's, the cannery up at the other end of the waterfront. She might have dropped Payne off on her way to work and come in for a minute with him, though god knows why."
"I'll check it out," Jim insisted.
"Not alone, you won't. I'm coming with you."
"Simon, I'm not going to zone out again," Jim reassured him, desperate to begin his search. He'd wasted far too much time already.
"I know that. But you seem to be missing a little objectivity here. I don't want to send you out without someone to watch your back."
Jim hesitated, then he nodded in acceptance. "Come on. We'll take the truck."
She saw the truck pull up out in front; she had been watching for it since she reached the cannery. It was Ellison himself. Perfect. Jennie smiled to herself. Ever since she realized Sandburg was disoriented from the gunshot wound, this had all gone her way. She'd found the perfect way to take out Ellison, the man who had shot her Jack. She'd seen Jack fall, seen him drop like a stone, had known immediately he was dead, and there was nothing she could do about it. Helpless and despairing, she watched Ellison check him out and move on. Clenching her hands into fists, Jennie felt her hatred grow. She had to get Ellison for killing Jack, but how? She didn't have a gun and even if she did, she wouldn't know how to use it.
When she heard a moan behind her she crouched automatically and found herself face to face with Sandburg. Her instinct was to hurt him, the way Ellison had killed Jack, but as she listened to Blair's display of confusion a far better idea occurred to her. She knew about him, knew he was a police consultant, although she didn't know much about why he was that instead of a cop. Maybe it was enough.
And then all at once, the idea hit her and she began to talk fast, convincing Sandburg he'd been shot by Ellison, that Ellison was dirty, that the only safety was to defend himself. He'd fallen for it all, even better when she'd slipped him the Valium from Cathy's medicine chest and told him it was Tylenol. He was too groggy to notice, and the Valium made him even more so. She'd let herself break down and cry for Jack, and Blair had taken it for worry for him and panic over the shooting. After that he believed everything she said. He'd obey her like a zombie, he'd blow Ellison away. It was perfect. And in the last second before he died, Ellison would know who had killed him, his best friend, his partner. Or, if he defended himself and killed Blair, that would be just as good, because he'd have to live with the knowledge that he'd not only gunned down an injured, disoriented man, but that he'd killed his friend. She hugged the knowledge of her plan to herself. It wouldn't bring Jack back, but, god, it would avenge him!
Now all she had to do was find the right story to tell Ellison when he came in here to question her. With a faint smile on her face, she began to plan her strategy.
The telephone roused Blair from a vague and muddled dream in which he was wandering around the loft--the loft?--looking for Jim Ellison, calling his name, not finding him. Everyplace he looked was booby trapped with weird monsters, demons, bogeymen, jumping from closets, from under the furniture, from inside the refrigerator. He knew the loft inside out, but the harder he looked for Ellison the more terrified he became so that when the phone cut through the surge of one more ghostly attacker, he bolted upright with a horrified cry, then doubled over, clutching his stomach and biting his bottom lip hard to keep from losing his breakfast.
The sound repeated, resolving itself into the ringing phone.
Automatically he grabbed for it, nearly knocking the gun to the floor. Jerking back, he picked up the receiver and held it cautiously to his ear as if a monster was about to zip out of it and attack him.
"Blair, are you there? Blair, he's here, he's outside, I can see him talking to the boss, he's after you," Jennie wailed. "I won't tell him anything, but if he's got this far, you have to be careful. You have to use the gun."
"Use the gun," Blair echoed numbly. He stretched out a hand and curled his fingers around the weapon's handle, a sense of revulsion flowing through him but a revulsion that wasn't strong enough to cut through the hypnotic quality of her command.
"You have to. He'll kill you. I know he will. He'll make it look like an accident, oh, god, Blair, he's coming. I won't give you away, but if he's found me, he'll find Cathy's house, oh, Blair, use the gun, promise me, use the gun."
"I promise," he echoed, confused and dazed. "I promise." He'd have to use the gun, he'd have to. Monsters were coming for him, he had to fight them off. That was it, monsters.
*Jim?* He shook his head, then whimpered at the pain. Why couldn't he think? Why didn't anything make sense? Why was his life falling apart?
"Use the gun." Jennie's voice echoed desperately in the confused emptiness of his mind. He tightened his grip on it, sinking back into a corner of the couch, still barely awake in spite of the desperate voice on the telephone, in spite of the misery and panic that surged through him. He couldn't force his way through the fog. He began to drift.
"She's lying, Jim, you know she's lying," Simon Banks said as Jim slammed his foot down on the accelerator and took off.
"Hell yes, I know she's lying," Jim replied. "She took Blair to her sister's house? Because she didn't know where else to put him; she was afraid one of the gang would find him. She fell for him when the two of us questioned her last month? Give me a break!"
"We've got her in protective custody. She can't warn anybody what's going on," Simon reassured him. "Besides, why would she just give him up like that? We walk in the door, she all but throws herself at us? It doesn't fit. If she was at the warehouse and she ran--god, it's crazy."
The minute the supervisor had sent for Jennie Martin, she had flung herself at Jim, crying, "Oh, thank goodness. He's all right, I've got him. I didn't know what would happen, so I took him where he'd be safe."
"Blair? You know where Blair is? He's alive?" Jim had demanded anxiously, conscious of a skeptical Simon at his back. Her words were balm to his soul--if only he could trust them. "I didn't know if they'd win or not, but they got him--it was just a graze but he's groggy and not very well, though I think he'll be okay. He was so nice when you came out last month, and I--" She fell silent, lowering her eyes, eyes that were puffy and red with crying.
"I guess I...well, I'd never met any man who'd ever treated me so nicely before. I just couldn't forget about him. Jack's been such a prick lately, and last night he hit me. Didn't leave any marks but I always knew I wouldn't stay with any man who did that. Then he shot Blair, and you all ran. There were three of them. I did the only thing I could. I took Blair out of there, over to my sister's house where they'd never think to look for him." She clutched tightly at Jim's hands. "You've got to go over there right now. Take him to the hospital. It's safe now, if you got them."
She grabbed a pencil and pad off the supervisor's desk and jotted down the address. "Go over there quickly. He was worried sick about you."
"Not worried enough to call?" Simon said now, in the car. "I don't like her story. It's got holes in it big enough to drive a truck through. If she was that worried about him, why not take him to the nearest ER? Why hasn't he called in? He's got your cell phone number. I think it's a setup. I don't think Sandburg's there." He took out his phone and called it in, directing back-up there. "No sirens, and don't get within sight of the house, but block off the streets around it so no one can get away." Finishing his call he said, "I think she's setting us up."
"Maybe, but I could smell Blair's aftershave on her," Jim said positively. He'd known, as soon as he'd seen her, that she had been with Blair. As for anything else, he had to expect a trap, but it wouldn't stop him pulling Sandburg out of it. "I'm going in, Simon. Maybe it's a trap, but I can't leave him in a trap, you know that."
"Hell, yes, I know that. But in case you've forgotten it, I *am* your boss. We'll get him out, but we'll get him out the right way, with precautions. I don't want to lose either one of you."
"You think I'd take a crazy risk with Sandburg's life?"
Simon looked him right in the eye. "I've known you over five years, Ellison. I don't know when you didn't take crazy risks. I know you won't do anything to jeopardize him, but let's make sure of that."
Jim fumed. He wanted to rush in and grab the Chief out of there, but Simon was right. Misguided heroics might leave Blair dead. He hadn't trusted a word Jennie Martin had said. If ever he'd met a woman capable of thinking on her feet, that was the one. She was making it up as she went along, embroidering a tale that meshed beautifully in the heat of the moment. But in retrospect it had loopholes, big ones. Jim was glad Simon had insisted on sending for a squad car and leaving her under observation. She had accepted it calmly, without a sign of distress, but Jim felt a growing uneasiness in his gut.
Nearing the address, they slowed, pulled cautiously down the street until they were as close as they could get to the house in question without being seen. Jim shut off the truck and closed his eyes, focusing on Blair. He felt him almost immediately, the familiar heartbeat practically leaping out at him. It was slower than normal, but that could mean sleep. Jim keyed in his senses, concentrating on the link that existed between Sentinel and Guide, between friend and friend, but he couldn't bring it any clearer, and that wasn't right. *What the hell is wrong with you, Chief*? he thought in alarm. He could sense a difference, but he didn't know what it was.
"He's in there alone, Simon," Jim reported, shaking himself out of his focus on his own. "I could sense if anyone else was in there. I can't get any heartbeats but his, and no matter how glib Jennie Martin might be, she can't teach her backup to block their heartbeats, even if anything so unlikely would occur to her. I'm going in there." He swung himself out the truck and started off down the street in a determined long-legged stride.
"Okay, but I'm with you," Simon said, jumping out of the truck and hurrying to catch up.
No one intercepted them, no mysterious parked cars lurked on the quiet residential street. Down on the other side of the block, an elderly woman was walking a dog, and a UPS truck was just departing several houses down. It kept on going, though, and presented no hazard.
Jim's sense of Blair's presence grew stronger the closer he got. Charging up the front steps, he put his hand on the doorknob, and it opened automatically. That worried him. Something was going on here and it was more than met the eye.
Jim took out his gun. Even though he could sense no one besides Blair, he suspected a trap. A sniper across the street, a bomb planted to go off when he entered. But no distant shot rang out, and nothing exploded. He didn't find the bomb until he eased into the living room, gun gripped in his hand.
Disheveled and bandaged, blood in his hair, Blair Sandburg leaped up from the couch, registered the gun in Jim's hand with blurry eyes, and pulled up a gun of his own, leveling it at Ellison. His mouth twisted in pain and his face was so devoid of color he would have made a sheet look bright.
"Sandburg?" Jim breathed in sheer elation, then he frowned, stunned at the weapon clutched in his friend's shaking hands.
"Easy, Jim," Simon breathed in his ear. "I think he's on something. Look at his eyes."
"Get back!" bellowed Blair, wincing at the sound of his own yell. He muttered under his breath, "Use the gun. Use the gun."
"Put the gun down, Blair," Jim said in his calmest voice, though inside his stomach was doing a strange dance. "Come on, we've played this game before. The gun won't work, remember? We have to use the bat trick."
Blair stared at him as if he'd lost his mind. "What the hell..." he muttered, confused. Then louder, "Get back, I'll kill you." He fired wildly; the shot hit the ceiling overhead and spilled down a trickle of plaster across Jim's shoulders. He ducked involuntarily then straightened.
Jim hesitated, trying to read the conflicting emotions in his best friend's face. He thought Simon was wrong, it wasn't drugs. Blair wasn't tripping, there was nothing of the weird, wild look in his eyes there had been when he'd seen golden fire people coming at him after being dosed with Golden. Instead there was a squinting stare--the head injury affecting his vision?--and a terrible betrayal, all compounded by a desperate look of a man who has lost everything that matters. He was so close to the edge Jim didn't dare move because the wrong move, the wrong word, would send him tumbling over, and he'd take Jim with him as he fell. Jim didn't want to die, but he didn't want his confused and injured partner to shoot him and then have to live with it either.
"You don't have it in you to kill me," he said quietly. "You hate guns. Look how you're holding it, like you want to throw it away."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you? Distract me and this time I wouldn't duck and I'd get it right between the eyes and then nobody would ever guess you were a crooked cop."
"What?" Jim said in total confusion.
"A crooked cop?" Simon echoed in disbelief. "Come on, Sandburg, nobody walks as straight a line as Jim does, and you know it. Where did you get that nonsense?"
"He's gonna kill me, Simon. He found out I knew..." He paused, focused briefly on Banks. "Simon?" he echoed, not as if he were asking the captain a question but as if he had surprised himself by recognizing him.
Jim took a step closer, and alarm flashed on Blair's face. "Stay back. I don't want to, Jim, I don't want to, but you're gonna kill me, and I can't..." He looked lost and frightened, small and diminished. In spite of the .38 leveled at his chest, Jim felt a surge of alarm and worry for his friend. Blair didn't want to hurt him. He could see that.
"You know I wouldn't kill you, Chief," he said, modulating his voice carefully to make it as soothing as possible. "You know that. You're my partner. You're my Guide. I need you too much to hurt you. You know that." Realizing he was still holding his own weapon, he returned it to its holster, then spread his hands to prove to Blair he was unarmed.
"Guide?" Blair tested the word as if he'd never heard it before.
"I don't think he *remembers*, Jim," Simon said in an undertone. "He was hit in the head, maybe he's got some temporary amnesia."
"He thinks I'm crooked, that I mean to kill him," Jim returned, pausing to add, "Easy, Blair. It's all right."
"And where do you think he got *that* idea?" Simon demanded too quietly for Blair to hear. "Little miss fast talker, I'd bet you anything."
"Oh, man, you're in it too," Blair moaned as he tried to follow their hasty conference. "Get back. I don't want to kill you," he told Jim. "You know that, man. But you shot me. You tried to kill me. I wouldn't have done anything to hurt you, not ever, you know that."
"Yes, I know that," Jim soothed. "Because a Guide doesn't hurt a Sentinel. And a friend never hurts a friend. I didn't shoot you, Blair. Think back. You *know* that. And if you can't remember it, you know it here." He touched himself in the middle of his chest.
Blair's grip tightened convulsively on the gun and it was all Jim could do not to fling himself aside to avoid being shot. But a sudden move was sure to cause that, and he didn't dare do it.
"Think, Blair," he said in his most gentle voice. "You're Blair Sandburg, and I'm Jim Ellison." Better start with the basics. "You know me. You know me better than anyone ever did in my whole life. Don't you think you'd know inside if there was anything wrong? You're fighting it because you know in your heart that I'm telling you the truth. You know I would never do anything to hurt you. You know there's a link between us because we cut right through to the heart of it all. You know me so well you can't believe for a minute that I'm dirty. You can't."
Blair sagged, and the gun sagged, too, but he jerked it up desperately. "I don't know what to do," he moaned. "I can't think, Jim. It doesn't make any sense. I can't remember, only bits of it."
"That's because you hit your head. People forget things when they sustain head injuries. But the memories come back when you recover. You're going to be fine. It's all right. Put down the gun. You know you're safe, you know I won't hurt you."
"Jim?" It was a desperate plea for reassurance. "It felt so wrong, y'know," he whispered, his whole body shaking with reaction. She kept saying you were trying to kill me, and it felt so *wrong*. I didn't know what to do, who to trust, but trusting you felt...."
"Felt right," Jim reassured him, "because it *is* right, Sandburg. You know it is. Jennie Martin conned you, she tried to con us all. She got away with it with you because you were hurt and confused. But I think she was trying to set me up to take the fall because I had to shoot her boyfriend."
"But I'm her boyfr...." Blair blinked, confused. "I'm not her boyfriend?"
"You're my partner," Jim said. "You're an anthropologist, a student, a teacher, a police observer, a Guide."
"Guide?" Blair echoed. The gun sagged still further. "What..."
"You help me keep my senses in line. Remember? The Sentinel concept? Sir Richard Burton? Heightened senses..."
"My dissertation?" Blair's eyes grew enormous, then a gigantic shudder ran through his body. Realization slid into his eyes, and tears spilled over, helpless tears that he seemed at a loss to stop. Maybe he didn't even realize they were falling. The gun slid from his hand, and hit the carpet, discharging harmlessly into the sofa. Blair followed it down, landing on his knees, wrapping his arms around his chest as if he were cold. "Oh, my god, Jim," he moaned. "I couldn't remember you right, I couldn't remember a lot of things. She said you were trying to kill me and it felt so wrong. I remember now, I remember it all, and she lied, god, she lied, and I fell for it all. Oh my god, Jim, I almost killed you."
Jim knelt beside him and Blair flinched away as if he'd been struck. "You can't want me around," he breathed. "I didn't believe in you. I..."
"Yes, you did, Chief," Ellison told him, reaching out and gripping Sandburg's shoulders, feeling them rigid and trembling beneath his hands. "Yes you did, you never stopped. You said it yourself, it felt wrong. You knew, all along. You didn't even come close to shooting me. It's all right, Blair. It's all right." He cast a quick glance up at Simon. "Get an ambulance," he mouthed before turning back to Blair.
"I would have killed you. She made me promise...." Blair lifted his head and his eyes and Jim's locked. "She used me," he burst out. "And I nearly fell for it."
"You wouldn't have done it, I know that," Jim said. "You hate guns. You could hardly stand to touch it. You had it only because you've got a survival instinct, but even that's not strong enough to come between a Sentinel and his Guide. Or between you and me."
Blair's eyes were still leaking tears, but suddenly they warmed and he lunged at Jim impulsively and hugged him around the neck. "Oh, man," he whispered, "You don't know how it feels. You just gave me my life back." He clung tightly, still shivering with reaction.
"Don't I?" Jim asked, gathering in his partner and best friend and supporting him in a protective and reassuring grip. "You just gave me back mine."
"Well, she doped him with Valium," the Emergency Room doctor told Jim and Simon forty five minutes later. "Only a couple of pills but that's a lousy thing to do to someone with a concussion. It could have been nasty. He is one lucky man."
"Will he be all right?" Jim demanded anxiously.
"I think we can safely say yes. I'm keeping him overnight for observation because of the concussion," the doctor replied.
"What about the memory loss?" prompted Simon.
"He says it's nearly all come back. He still can't remember actually being shot, but he does remember arriving at the warehouse. He says everything else is back but those last few minutes. He may never regain that or he may wake up tomorrow and recall it, but he said everything that mattered had come back. He was extremely happy about that. If he had felt better physically I would have had to drag him down from the ceiling."
Jim couldn't hold back a smile. He hadn't been sure exactly how much Blair had remembered until now; he'd known it was enough for Sandburg to stop from shooting him, but if there had been other gaps... There had been a lot of good times; it would have hurt them both if his friend had lost them.
"You can see him now for a few minutes, if you like," the doctor offered, "but keep it a very few. His head's clear, although he's in some discomfort as a result of the concussion. Yet he's very tranquil and relaxed. I'd say that was a good sign, and not a result of the misplaced Valium, but from recalling everything the way he has. Only one of you, Ellison, you come in and see him before we send him up to a room. He asked for you and I'm not sure we can get him to rest without you."
Jim followed the doctor into the cubicle where Blair lay, clad in a hospital gown, a new dressing on his bullet wound, the blood sponged from his hair. He didn't look nearly as pale as he had when he confronted Jim over the .38. Neither did he look as lost and alone as he had when he stood there at bay. The doctor retreated, Jim was barely conscious of his fading footsteps because all his attention was focused on Blair.
Hearing Jim enter, Sandburg said without opening his eyes, "You ready to brain me for being so stupid, Jim?" There was enough contentment in his voice to indicate he didn't think the danger of such an occurrence was very great.
"I won't say I'm not tempted," Jim replied fondly. "How did you know it was me?"
"I'm your Guide. I'm supposed to know these things." Blair opened his eyes, squinting involuntarily at the glare of the overhead light.
Jim promptly moved closer and leaned over his partner, blocking the light. Blair did those kind of things for him automatically when his senses went into overload. He was glad of an opportunity to return the favor. "They're keeping you here tonight," he said. "That means I'll get at least one hot shower this week."
"And it'll be the only one," Blair returned, his spirits high. "Because when I get back I'm gonna be sore for days and nothing works better than a nice, long, hot shower."
"I asked for that one, didn't I?" "You sure did." Blair hesitated, then he said quietly, "Jim, I've been thinking about what happened. I couldn't remember very much, and I think that was why I was so willing to buy into her scam. I needed *something* and she was offering me a life. It wasn't the right life, or as anywhere near as good as the life I had but it was better than feeling so--so empty and lost. I knew there was something I was missing, something important, but I couldn't get to it." He looked up at Jim, his eyes vividly blue in the pallor of his face.
"I understand, Sandburg," Jim said. "Not only did you have some temporary amnesia but you had a concussion. You weren't thinking right. Under the circumstances, you really came out on top. You didn't have any clues but your gut instincts, but they were good instincts. You did the right thing in spite of being doped up with Valium when you felt lousy to begin with. I've gotta say I'm proud of you, Chief. You were in an impossible situation and you came out of it okay."
"I..." Blair fumbled for words, surprised at Jim's praise but warming to it like he would to the sun. "I didn't know what was going on, and she was plausible, only it didn't feel right. That's the one thing I remember, that what she said felt wrong, it felt so wrong I had to fight to believe it, to protect myself. I thought I was pretty good at self-preservation. I've worked on it for years. But when you and Simon came in, I had to *fight* to pick up that gun. I knew I needed it because she'd halfway brainwashed me, but the real me, the me inside, knew I didn't need it, and that I never would."
"And I knew that, too," Jim replied. "I knew it was all right as soon as you started talking. Before that, even. I hope you're not blaming yourself for this?"
"Blaming myself for being stupid when I had a concussion..." Blair shook his head, instantly grimacing at the motion. "No. But god, Jim, I came way too close. If I'd hit you..."
"You missed me by a good yard both times the gun went off. If that's your idea of close, I worry about you, Sandburg."
Reassured by Jim's tone, Blair relaxed. "Are you sure?" he prodded. "You're not gonna want to get rid of a roommate who has occasional homicidal urges toward you?"
"If I had one who did, I would, but since I don't, I won't."
Blair frowned. "Come on, Jim, my mind isn't tracking that well tonight. Give me a translation, please."
"It means, if you don't come home when you're let out of here, Sandburg, I'm going to track you down and I'm going to drag you back where you belong by the hair!"
"Caveman stuff," Blair said with a faint grin, looking remarkably pleased with the comment.
"If that's what it takes." He hesitated, then he put the cap on the reassurance. "Of course that doesn't mean for one minute that you've got the leeway to leave your smelly socks on the floor or your leftovers on the counter. It just means that for a day or two you can put your feet up. So is it a deal?"
Blair's whole body relaxed and his smile split his face. "Best offer I've had all week," he said.
"I thought so." Jim rested a hand on his shoulder, squeezed. "Now get some sleep. I've got something important I have to do tonight."
"What?" asked Blair, looking ever so slightly disappointed.
Jim favored him with a stern look. "Buy a bigger water heater before you get home," he said, and let himself out of the cubicle to the sound of Blair's laughter.