New Arrivals
Author-Vision
Titles

Synchronicity
by Vision

Summary: Written in answer to the Groundhog Day challenge on CascadeTimes. NOT a death story.

Disclaimer: Canon characters do not belong to me. They are the property of Pet Fly and Paramount. I don't make any money etc., etc.

Note: Part 3 was written for Iris Wilde.

Part One

Jim drained the last drop of coffee in his mug, and smiled good-naturedly at his partner. "Thanks, Chief, it was worth the wait."

"I told you, man, good things come to those who wait. Not everything in life is explosions and gunfire you know. Sometimes you got to just slow down and smell the flowers."

"This coming from the man who pulled three all nighters in a row last week. And who are you to tell me about how to smell flowers?" Jim teased, placing the mug in the sink beside him.

"Okay fine, maybe that was the wrong choice of words. The point is, you gotta relax a bit. It's Saturday, Jim. You're off duty and it's a beautiful day -- why not take advantage of it?"

"I intend to." Jim remarked, using his hands to mimic a golf swing. "Rafe and I are teeing off in an hour."

"You're kidding me? I can't believe it. James Ellison is actually taking a day off, now there's a concept." Blair smiled as a large hand gave him a playful shove against the counter.

The shrill ringing of Jim's cell phone cut short Jim's rebuttal. The two men glanced at one another, neither one quite willing to reach for the phone on the counter. Sighing in unison, both men reached for the phone at the same time. As their hands met, Jim shrugged. "There's always next weekend."

Shaking his head, Blair released his hold on the object. "Yeah, right." Crossing his arms, he leaned against the island, watching as the light hearted expression on his partner's face quickly faded.

"Yes, sir. I'll be there in less than an hour."

Pocketing the phone, Jim turned his attention back to Blair. "Don't even say it, Chief. They found a body in a dumpster over on Ormond. They're having a hard time collecting evidence. Simon thought maybe I could come up with something."

Remaining silent, Blair watched as Jim strode over to the door, quickly retrieving his shoes, keys and jacket. Pausing in the open doorway, Jim smiled weakly. "I won't be long. Thanks for the coffee."

Rolling his eyes in the direction of the doorway, Blair remarked, "I won't hold my breath. Do you want me to call Rafe?"

"Why don't you go with him? No sense in both of us wasting such a beautiful day."

Waving Jim off, Blair busied himself stacking the breakfast dishes. "Fine. Now get out of here."

"See you soon."

"Bye Jim."

As Jim closed the door behind him, a sudden chill ran the length of his spine. Tightening his grip on the doorknob, he focused his hearing on the sound of Blair's movements within the loft. The clanging of dishes, the steady stream of running water, the swooshing of air flowing from his partner's lungs, and the steady rhythm of Blair's heartbeat. The sounds echoed in his brain, drumming together in a pounding, incessant thunder-like noise. Jim tried to force down the feelings of uneasiness, and made a conscious effort to release his hold on the door. Shaking his head to clear the remnants of instability, he made his way towards the elevator.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim knelt beside the body, snapping the latex gloves into place. Simon stood beside him, staring at a small evidence bag. "I'm sorry I had to ruin your day off like this, Jim."

"No problem, sir. So what do we know so far?"

"Thirty-five-year-old male, no ID. We got an anonymous call about two hours ago. We weren't able to trace the call. He was shot twice in the head. You just missed Serena; she should have her report in by noon tomorrow."

Scanning the body and the surrounding area with his senses, Jim found himself drawn to a number of pungent smells. "I'm not sure about this, it could be the dumpster, I don't know."

"You getting something?"

Cringing at the aroma, Jim moved to a standing position. "Blair brought home this new kind of coffee today. It was one of those fancy Columbian types. I swear I can smell it on the guy. There's something else too. Some kind of cologne. Bug spray smells better."

Reaching in his pocket, Simon retrieved his ringing cell phone.

"Banks... What?"

Jim watched as Simon's eyes met his, seeing, and yet not seeing the man before him. Nodding, Simon whispered a few barely audible instructions to the man on the other end of the line. As the conversation came to a close, Simon slowly lowered the phone from his ear. His eyes never left that of his friend as his hand reached out to grasp Jim's shoulder. "Jim."

"Simon, what is it? What's going on?"

"There's been a shooting at the loft. Blair's... Blair's dead, Jim."

A clap of thunder rose in Jim's head, lightning scorching his senses with piercing intensity. Rain fell, flooding his mind with tears of drowning sorrow. Jim shook his head briefly, his mind and body disconnected from Simon's words. Even as he was led to a waiting car, his automated motions took over. It was as if he were outside himself, some type of remote controlled being moving and thinking only what he was programmed to. He could feel his body temperature falling, his limbs taking on the frigid unresponsive detachment of shock.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Simon's hands rested heavily on Jim's shoulders, as another wave of nausea overtook the grieving detective. Tightening his grip on the porcelain bowl, Jim heaved against the memories of the tragic scenes in the loft. He tried to close his mind and heart to the smells and sights of Blair's lifeless body haphazardly tossed in the middle of the living room floor. A far off voice called to him, gently reassuring him with promises of support.

"Rafe, call an ambulance!" Simon yelled, gently easing Jim to the floor.

Jim's last conscious thought as he drifted towards the darkness, was that January 11, 2001 had never happened...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Part Two

Jim inhaled deeply, savoring the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee. The morning sun streamed through his window, warming his face and tickling his fluttering lashes. Not yet ready to become fully awake, Jim basked in the peaceful serenity of the moment, snuggling deeper into the cocoon of blankets. It was Saturday morning, the first Saturday morning in over two months that he had entirely to himself. A tiny smile played on his lips as he went over the blissfully simple itinerary of the day's coming events. Leisurely breakfast with Blair, eighteen holes with Rafe, lunch at the golf club, a good book, take-out and a movie with Blair. The list seemed so oddly simple...

Opening his eyes, Jim replayed the list in his head, trying desperately to squelch the sudden urge to change his plans. Stress, he repeated to himself as he dressed and headed down the stairs. It had been so long since he had had a day off that he'd forgotten how to relax. That was it. That had to be it.

Blair greeted him warmly, handing him a mug full of coffee as he entered the kitchen. Jim accepted the mug gratefully, taking a slow swallow of the warm brew. Blair had taken a detour last night to his favorite coffee shop to drop off a 35th birthday card for his friend Paul. Knowing that Jim had a day off the following day, Blair had treated them both to an expensive brand of coffee exclusive to his friend Paul's shop. Although Jim had never met the man, he instantly appreciated the man's taste in good coffee.

"I'm sorry it took me so long. Paul's got this list of tips for making the perfect cup of coffee," Blair remarked, eyeing the pleasured expression on Jim's face.

Draining the last drop of coffee in his mug, Jim smiled good-naturedly at his partner. "Thanks, Chief, it was worth the wait."

"I told you, man, good things come to those who wait. Not everything in life is explosions and gunfire you know. Sometimes you got to just slow down and smell the flowers."

"This coming from the man who pulled three all nighters in a row last week. And who are you to tell me about how to smell flowers?" Jim teased, placing the mug in the sink beside him.

"Okay, fine, maybe that was the wrong choice of words. The point is, you gotta relax a bit. It's Saturday, Jim. You're off duty and it's a beautiful day -- why not take advantage of it?"

"I intend to." Jim remarked, using his hands to mimic a golf swing. "Rafe and I are teeing off in an hour."

"You're kidding me? I can't believe it. James Ellison is actually taking a day off, now there's a concept." Blair smiled as a large hand gave him a playful shove against the counter.

The shrill ringing of Jim's cell phone cut short Jim's rebuttal. The two men glanced at one another, neither one quite willing to reach for the phone on the counter. Sighing in unison, both men reached for the phone at the same time. As their hands met, Jim shrugged. "There's always next weekend."

Blair tugged the cell phone from Jim's grasp. "Hello? Yeah Simon, it's Blair... Actually, he just left."

Shaking his head, Jim gestured for Blair to hand over the phone. "Nice try, Chief."

"Can't blame a guy for trying."

Crossing his arms, Blair leaned against the island, watching as the light-hearted expression on his partner's face quickly faded.

"Yes, sir. I'll be there in less than an hour."

Pocketing the phone, Jim turned his attention back to Blair. "Don't even say it, Chief. They found a body in a dumpster over on Ormond. They're having a hard time collecting evidence. Simon thought maybe I could come up with something."

Remaining silent, Blair watched as Jim strode over to the door, quickly retrieving his shoes, keys and jacket. Pausing in the open doorway, Jim smiled weakly. "I won't be long. Thanks for the coffee."

Rolling his eyes in the direction of the doorway, Blair remarked, "I won't hold my breath. Do you want me to call Rafe?"

"Why don't you go with him? No sense in both of us wasting such a beautiful day."

Waving Jim off, Blair busied himself stacking the breakfast dishes. "Fine. Now get out of here."

"See you soon."

"Bye Jim."

As Jim closed the door behind him, a sudden chill ran the length of his spine. Tightening his grip on the doorknob, he focused his hearing on the sound of Blair's movements within the loft. The clanging of dishes, the steady stream of running water, the swooshing of air flowing from his partner's lungs, and the steady rhythm of Blair's heartbeat. The sounds echoed in his brain, drumming together in a pounding, incessant thunder-like noise. Jim tried to force down the feelings of uneasiness, and made a conscious effort to release his hold on the door.

He had almost made it to the elevator, when the persistent pounding in his head forced him to turn around. Standing outside the door, Jim gripped the knob and gently eased the door open.

Blair looked up from his task, startled by Jim's reappearance. "You scared me, man, you forget something?"

Feeling rather embarrassed, Jim stammered, "No, I.. um... I just think you should lock the door."

"On a Saturday morning? You really do need a holiday, are you sure you're okay?" The concern in Blair's eyes elicited a slight blush from his partner.

"I'm fine. I'll see you later."

"Okay, take it easy."

"Right."

Closing the door, Jim made his way back to the elevator.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim knelt beside the body, snapping the latex gloves into place. Simon stood beside him, staring at a small evidence bag. "I'm sorry I had to ruin your day off like this, Jim."

"No problem, sir. So what do we know so far?"

"Thirty-five-year-old male, no ID. We got an anonymous call about two hours ago. We weren't able to trace the call. He was shot twice in the head. You just missed Serena; she should have her report in by noon tomorrow."

Scanning the body and the surrounding area with his senses, Jim found himself drawn to a number of pungent smells. "I'm not sure about this, it could be the dumpster, I don't know."

"You getting something?"

Cringing at the aroma, Jim moved to a standing position. "Blair brought home this new kind of coffee today. It was one of those fancy Columbian types. I swear I can smell it on the guy. There's something else too. Some kind of cologne. Bug spray smells better."

"There's one thing we did find on him." Handing Jim a birthday card, Simon began reading the text. "Happy 35th birthday to the java king, it's signed with a single letter 'B.'"

Taking a closer look at the card, Jim whispered, "This is Blair's handwriting. Oh man, this guy's Blair's friend, Paul Dwyer."

"I'll be dammed," Simon muttered, reaching in his pocket for his ringing cell phone. "Banks... What?"

Jim watched as Simon's eyes met his, seeing, and yet not seeing the man before him. Nodding, Simon whispered a few barely audible instructions to the man on the other end of the line. As the conversation came to a close, Simon slowly lowered the phone from his ear. His eyes never left that of his friend as his hand reached out to grasp Jim's shoulder. "Jim."

"Simon, what is it? What's going on?"

"There's been a shooting at the loft. Blair's... Blair's dead, Jim."

A clap of thunder rose in Jim's head, lightning scorching his senses with piercing intensity. Rain fell, flooding his mind with tears of drowning sorrow. Jim shook his head briefly, his mind and body disconnected from Simon's words. Even as he was led to a waiting car, his automated motions took over. It was as if he were outside himself, some type of remote controlled being moving and thinking only what he was programmed to. He could feel his body temperature falling, his limbs taking on the frigid unresponsive detachment of shock.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Simon's hands rested heavily on Jim's shoulders, as another wave of nausea overtook the grieving detective. Tightening his grip on the porcelain bowl, Jim heaved against the memories of the tragic scenes in the loft. He tried to close his mind and heart to the smells and sights of Blair's lifeless body haphazardly tossed in the middle of the living room floor. A far off voice called to him, gently reassuring him with promises of support.

"Rafe, call an ambulance!" Simon yelled, gently easing Jim to the floor.

The cold tiles underneath his body only managed to add to his pain. He could feel his senses starting to spiral out of control, and with one last half-hearted attempt, he stretched his sense of smell across the loft. The stench of blood and sweat, the smell of rich coffee, and... something else. Cologne? The same cologne the other victim had been in contact with. Jim's stomach rolled as the vile smells intensified. He only hoped that his last word would somehow make it to Simon's ears. Summoning all of his strength, Jim pushed past the lump in his throat. "Free... Freeeman."

Jim's last conscious thought as he drifted towards the darkness, was that January 11, 2001 had never happened...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Part Three

Blair's dead.

The words lay heavy on his chest, like some giant boulder, pinning him to the bed. He could feel his lungs barely inflating, his heart pounding wildly against the unseen force that mercilessly held him in place.

He wanted to open his eyes, to somehow dismiss this horrible nightmare that seemed to have engulfed both his mind and body, but what if it were true? What if, when he opened his eyes, the pressing memories somehow emerged from the shadows and revealed themselves to be true.

He couldn't do it...

Instead, he allowed his mind to quiver in the space between wakefulness and slumber, to hang suspended in the blissful denial of clamped eyelids.

He turned on his side, the cool feeling of the sheets beneath him causing him to draw his knees up closer to his chest. He had to remember, must remember, what it was that his mind was so willing to forget.

Blair had taught him to listen to the soft spoken whispers of the night, to slink among the demons that never slept. He had fought with valiant effort to cast aside the monsters that lurked in his subconscious, but had only managed to create an even more inviting lair for their existence. Even with Blair's insistence, dreams and visions were not always shared. There were parts of Jim that even he could not divulge to himself, locked doors for which there were no keys. If Blair really were dead, then the secret room that housed this nightmare would be visited nightly, the welcome mat smeared with both their footsteps. If Blair were alive, then Jim would secure the lock on his fears, making sure that no locksmith could enter.

For a moment he allowed his senses to drift experimentally from within himself. Carefully, he inched his sensitive hearing to the stairway, descending the steps in a painfully slow manner. The thought of nothingness terrified him, the deafeningly loud silence that screamed absence. If Blair were gone, if the voice, the rhythm were left undetected, Jim would hear no more. He would close himself off to the world, hushing the harmony that he and Blair had once shared.

He almost didn't hear it, almost missed the soothing tone of his friend's voice, the quick, spontaneous free flowing movements that could only be that of Blair Sandburg's.

With cautious hope, he pushed hard against the constricting hands that bound his chest, drawing a deep yet shuddering breath. Jim reached for Blair's scent, hoping that the air was not tainted with the stench of his partner's blood. He held the inhalation, wanting to remember the feeling of relief that his combined senses had gifted him with.

After a moment, Jim found himself staring at the ceiling, now grateful for the distance between he and his partner. Tears flowed freely now, tracing a slow path down the side of his face and landing in small pools on his pillow. He couldn't remember the last time he had cried, and he shuddered at the thought of how empty he still felt. The tears did nothing to cleanse the fear that still tainted his heart.

Sitting up in bed, Jim quickly swiped a hand across his face, and took a moment to compose himself. It was only a dream, and yet, a strange feeling of deja vu still nagged at the inner recesses of his mind. Tiny fragments of memory lingered just beyond his reach, and Jim shook his head to dispel the uneasiness that went along with them.

Throwing back the covers, Jim swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. Pushing aside his fears, Jim dressed quickly and made his way down the stairs.

Blair greeted him warmly, handing him a mug full of coffee as he entered the kitchen. Despite all of his efforts, Jim found it difficult to meet his partner's gaze.

"Thanks Chief."

Taking a tentative sip of the warm liquid, Jim allowed the bitter sweet taste to skim along his palate. Suddenly, the warm, welcoming flavor ignited into a raging explosion of seering toxins. Jim clamped his hand over his mouth, and stumbled towards the kitchen sink. Fighting the urge to swallow, Jim spat the contents of his mouth into the sink. An unseen hand splashed water on his face and lips, and pressed a clean glass into one of his hands. Jim downed the contents of the glass greedily, and handed the glass in the direction of the hand.

"Oh god, Jim, I'm so sorry. I stopped by Paul's coffee shop last night. I thought it would be nice if we had something special this morning. I figured it would be a nice change from the usual stuff. Oh, man, I'm so sorry."

"Not your fault." Jim rasped, accepting the outstretched towel from his friend.

"I should have known better. I'm really sorry. What do you say I make it up to you?"

Despite the rawness in his throat, Jim managed a brief smile. He found himself staring into the eyes of his guide, forcing himself to stay present. This was not a dream, Blair was alive, everything was just fine...

"How do you propose to do that?"

Using his hands to mimic a golf swing, Blair smiled warmly. "Good things come to those who wait. Not everything in life is explosions and gunfire you know. Sometimes you got to just slow down and smell the flowers."

"This coming from the man who pulled three all nighters in a row last week. And who are you to tell me about how to smell flowers?" Jim teased, doing his best to add a bit of levity to the situation.

"Okay, fine, maybe that was the wrong choice of words. The point is, you gotta relax a bit. It's Saturday, Jim. You're off duty and it's a beautiful day -- why not take advantage of it?"

"I intend to." Jim remarked casually, tossing the towel on the counter beside him.

"What would you say if I told you that you and Rafe were teeing off in an hour?"

The words barely registered in Jim's mind as a sudden feeling of dread blanketed his world in shadow. He tried to speak, tried to keep the sense of urgency that threatened to consume him at bay. Blair continued to press on, stating the importance of down time, and the need for balance in his life. He rambled on about how his friend Paul had turned thirty-five yesterday, and hadn't taken a vacation in years.

Blair's ramblings quickly faded as the shrill ringing of Jim's cell phone interrupted his tirade. Beads of sweat began to form on Jim's brow as he met Blair's eyes.

"Jim? Hey, aren't you gonna get that? Jim?." Shaking his head, Jim quickly grasped Blair's hand as he reached for the phone. "Don't."

Blair stared into the wild eyes of his partner, unsure of exactly what it was he saw there.

"Are you okay? You look like you've seen a ghost or something. Tell me it's not the coffee."

"Just... Just leave it... Don't answer it."

Tightening his grip on Blair's hand, Jim pulled him gently away from the counter. Blair allowed himself to be guided towards his partner. The pain, the needy desperation that tinged Jim's voice was more powerful than any restraining hand. The fear that blazed through Jim's body quickly ignited a sense of urgency in Blair's heart. As Jim held him, holding onto him as if his very life hung in the balance, Blair found himself returning the embrace with equal intensity. It wasn't until the cell phone stopped ringing and the home phone began ringing in its place that Blair broke free of Jim's hold.

"I think we really have to get that, Jim. Are you okay? You're scaring me, man. What can I do? Maybe we should take you to the hospital. Let me get this call and we'll talk about it, okay?"

Relinquishing his hold on Blair, Jim nodded weakly. Keeping a watchful eye on his partner, Blair answered the phone and began talking to Simon. Jim listened in on the conversation, wordlessly mouthing Simon's exact words even before the police Captain had uttered them. He shook his head in disbelief at what seemed to him to be some sort of new sentinel ability. Maybe it was the coffee, maybe for some odd reason the mixture had played so heavily on his senses that he was capable of tapping into some deeper recesses of his mind. But what about the dream, the bizarre feelings that accompanied his waking moments? How could he explain away the anxiety ridden nightmares that left him so lost and alone?

Without realizing it, he became aware of that he had missed half of what Blair had said on the phone. The receiver was put back in place, and Blair was again at his side.

"Simon needs you at a crime scene. They found a body in a dumpster over on Ormond. They're having trouble collecting evidence. I told him you weren't feeling well, but he's really desperate. Are you feeling any better? Tell me what to do, Jim. Do you want to skip this thing with Simon, or do you want me to go with you? It's your call, big guy. I tell you one thing -- you're not leaving here without me."

"Not leaving here without you." Jim repeated the words out loud, and again repeated them silently in his head. The words seemed to hold some type of hidden magic, some wonderful healing power. Within moments, he felt more like himself again, more like the confident, strong Jim Ellison that he was noted for.

"I feel better, Chief. Must have been the coffee or something. I'd actually like the company though, if you don't mind."

"Like I said, you're not going anywhere without me. I'll call Simon back and let Rafe know that you may have to cancel, okay?"

"Thanks."

After a few short minutes, both men exited the loft and headed for the truck. The horrible feelings had all but left Jim's mind by the time he and Blair pulled up to the crime scene.

Jim would never forget the look of horror on Blair's face as he identified the unknown corpse as his friend from the coffee shop. He would also not soon forget the pungent odor that seemed to radiate from the body itself. It was an oddly familiar scent, one that he knew that he had smelled before.

Blair leaned heavily against the truck, lightly fingering the evidence bag that held the birthday card that he had given Paul the night before. Leaving Jim's side, Simon joined Blair beside the vehicle.

"You okay, son?"

"Yeah, I guess. Look, Simon, I want to go home and make a few calls. I don't want Paul's family to find out about this from a stranger, you know? They live out of town, and I'd rather it come from me. I'm gonna head back. You think you can keep an eye on Jim for me? He seems fine, but I just want to make sure he's okay."

"Sure thing. I'll let you know if we find out anything."

"Thanks."

Jim spent the next hour entirely absorbed in his work. He wanted to be sure that nothing remained undetected, no stone unturned. This man was a friend of Blair's, and because of that, he would have his undivided attention. It wasn't until he had exhausted every angle that he tore his eyes away from the scene and began searching out his partner. His eyes darted around the area frantically in search of the younger man. He could feel the match in his heart strike against the flint of anxiety in his head. The fire burned again, the kindling of fear combusting into an out of control inferno. Mustering up what little self-control he had left, Jim approached Simon.

"Where's Sandburg?"

"He left over an hour ago. Wanted to get a hold of Paul's family to tell them what happened. There a problem?"

"Oh god, how'd he get home?"

"Brown drove him, why?"

"Get Brown on the radio. Tell him to go to the loft. Blair's in trouble." Jim's last words were tossed over his shoulder as he ran towards the truck.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Simon's hands rested heavily on Jim's shoulders as another wave of nausea overtook the grieving detective. Tightening his grip on the porcelain bowl, Jim heaved against the memories of the tragic scenes in the loft. He tried to close his mind and heart to the smells and sights of Blair's lifeless body haphazardly tossed in the middle of the living room floor. A far off voice called to him, gently reassuring him with promises of support.

"Rafe, call an ambulance!" Simon yelled, gently easing Jim to the floor.

The cold tiles underneath his body only managed to add to his pain. He could feel his senses starting to spiral out of control, and with one last half-hearted attempt, he stretched his sense of smell across the loft. The stench of blood and sweat, the smell of rich coffee, and... something else. Cologne? The same cologne the other victim had been in contact with. Jim's stomach rolled as the vile smells intensified. He only hoped that his words would somehow make it to Simon's ears. Summoning all of his strength, Jim pushed past the lump in his throat. "Free... Freeman."

"Just take it easy, Jim. Help's on the way."

Jim fought against the grip of darkness, trying desperately to stay present. He knew, but how? How could he have known? How could he have known that Blair was in trouble? How could he know that this morning would be the last morning he would spend with Blair Sandburg? It was like some cruel joke, some ridiculous riddle that needed solving. He had been here before, laying in this very spot, cradled in the icy hands of imminent death. He had to stop this, somehow he had to make Simon understand. He couldn't sleep, that much he knew. With sleep came the nightmare, the one that he could not wake up from. The one that both woke and slept with him for this day and always.

He heard the sirens, and what seemed only seconds later, the unfamiliar voices and faces of the paramedics. It wasn't until he saw the needle, heard the faint voice telling him to relax, that he knew he must stop this insanity. With more strength than he thought possible, he pushed himself free of the restraining hands and strong armed his way towards the living room.

"Jim! Let them help you. Come on Jim. I don't want to hurt you." Simon's voice boomed in his ear.

Jim stumbled towards the staircase, his legs betraying the weight of his body. He crawled on hands and knees up the first six or seven steps, his mind fixed on only one task. He felt strong arms dragging him backwards, and he dug his fingernails into the stairs with brute force. Please, God, he begged, let me get there. Let me stop this.

Thrashing and kicking his legs free of the hands that held him, Jim crawled up the rest of the stairs and flung himself towards the bed. Collapsing on the mattress, Jim fumbled for the alarm clock, just as Simon's hands wrapped tightly around his wrists.

"It's okay, Jim."

"Please Simon. You have to do this. Please don't let this happen again. You have to tell me. When did Paul die? What time? What time?!"

Simon's own heart broke at the sight of his friend's grief. Tears sparkled at the edges of Jim's eyes, as Simon helped to hold Jim flat against the mattress. Slowly the rigid body in his arms began to relax, and Simon released his hold. Jim's eyes fluttered under the weight of the drug, his voice barely recognizable.

"Set the alarm. Please, Simon. What time?"

"He died about two in the morning, Jim. Just relax now."

"Set if for midnight. Please, Simon. Please." Jim's eyes slid closed, his last coherent thought that January 11, 2001 had never happened...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Part Four

Jim swam through the layers of consciousness, thrashing in the pool of restless slumber. His head broke the surface of wakefulnnes, and he gulped in mouthfuls of life-giving air. The hands on his shoulders tightened in response to the violent shaking of his body, and he found himself grasping for the life preserver that could only be Blair Sandburg.

"Jim? It's okay now; it was just a dream. You're okay. I'm right here." The voice although somewhat shaky, spoke of trust and concern. Jim blinked against the tears that glistened in his eyes and nodded weakly.

Just a dream. Only a dream. Not real.

The words moved along his tongue, and yet remained unspoken. Blair smiled tightly, brushing a hand across Jim's sweat-streaked forehead and then returning the hand to Jim's shoulder.

"You scared me, man. That must have been some dream. I've been trying to wake you for almost ten minutes."

Clearing his throat, Jim leaned forward, craving the physical contact that Blair offered.

Not dead. still here.

Jim's throat felt raw, his voice rusty with use. He felt as if he had been screaming for hours, caught in the grip of some deaf nightmare. "Yeah, Chief, it was some dream."

"You want to talk about it?"

It was at that moment that Jim began to process the entire scene. It was night. Blair had just come home m an evening out, and was still clad in his jacket and shoes. He caught the unmistakable smell of coffee, and turned his head towards a small bag that sat tipped on its side on his night stand. Blair gestured towards the bag, shrugging in response to Jim's glances.

"Paul turned thirty-five today. I stopped by his shop tonight to give him a card. I decided I'd get us a little treat since you have tomorrow off. Thought we could celebrate. It's not every day you get a Saturday off, is it, Jim? I was gonna put it away, but I kind of got sidetracked."

An alarm went off in Jim's head, not the kind of alarm that brings help, but the type that rouses a person m slumber. He wanted to believe that he was still asleep, that at any moment his bedside clock would wake him, save him m what he knew to be real. His eyes darted to the clock , in silent hope that a new day would not come. That tomorrow's tomorrow was not the day he buried his friend.

He almost slipped beneath the waves again, his head bobbing just above the water. It was midnight, the hour of death, the moment of departure into nothingness. He could barely stay afloat, in the sea of uncertainty.

"Where's Paul?" The words held a sense of detachment, almost as if someone else had spoken them.

"He had some work to do at the shop. He said he wouldn't be leaving for awhile. What's going on? God, Jim, you look terrible."

Jim fumbled for Blair's hand, gripping it as if he too was about to slide beneath the waves. "He's in trouble. Don't ask me how I know, just trust me. I can't explain it; all I know is that I've got to get to him. I have to stop this." Releasing Blair's hand, Jim threw back the covers and quickly reached for his clothes.

"I'm going with you." Making a move to stand, Blair felt a strong arm rest on his shoulder.

"No! You can't. I mean, you just can't. I don't know. Try to get a hold of him. Tell him to stay at the shop, lock the doors."

"You're spooking me, man. Why don't I just call the station?"

Staring at Blair squarely in the eye, Jim shook his head. "No, I don't think I can do that. I can't take the chance that he'll get away."

"Who'll get away? Jim, this is crazy. Why don't you just lie back down..."

Blair's last remark fell on deaf ears as Jim rushed down the stairs to the living room. Hurrying to keep up, Blair watched Jim getting ready to leave. Anticipating Jim's next move, Blair reached for Jim's gun and held it firmly in his hand. Their eyes met, both zen in a state of determination.

"Give me the gun, Chief." There was a flatness to Jim's tone, the unmistakable edge of a man with a mission.

Unphased by the sharp words, Blair stood his ground. "Take me with you."

"No."

"I'm not giving you the gun, Jim. You're not leaving this place without me. Make a choice."

I have made a choce. I've chosen to throw it all away. I don't care about anything but the next twenty- four hours.

Blair moved towards the living room, standing in the very spot where Jim knew he would find him dead a few short hours m now.

"Just give me the gun, Blair. Please... Fine. You win. Just please give me the gun."

"Not this time."

Tucking the weapon into his jacket, Blair walked towards the door, Jim close at his heels.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They drove in almost complete silence, Jim concentrating all of his efforts on the road, and Blair studying Jim. More then once, Blair's hand reached for the radio, only to have it swatted away by the older man. His pleas to call for help were ignored, and Blair feared the worst. Was this some type of sensory spike? Some kind of unknown Sentinel weirdness that had yet to be explained?

If nothing else, he knew that Jim was incapable of rational thought, a walking time bomb of incredible proportions. The gun lay safely tucked within the confines of his coat, and despite Jim's best efforts, would remain there. He had spent almost the last hour trying to raise Paul on the cell phone, but to no avail. To Blair, Jim seemed like a man possessed, a man with deadly intent to rid the world of some unknown evil

Jim pulled the truck to a stop in a small convenience store parking lot next to Ormond Street. Blair watched as Jim exited the vehicle and motioned for him to join him. As the two partners walked side by side, Blair felt the anxious pangs of terror rising in his mind.

Jim's arm flung out m his side as he halted to a stop, abruptly stopping Blair's movements. Closing his eyes, Jim inhaled deeply, using the warmth of the body beneath his hand as a link to reality.

"He's here. Stay behind me."

"Who, Jim, who's here?"

"Freeman. Dan Freeman."

"Freeman?"

Jim moved away, and Blair had to hurry to catch up to him. Jim trudged on, oblivious to Blair's running monologue, but painfully aware of the accelerated heart rate of his Guide.

After a few heartstopping moments, Jim snatched roughly at Blair's jacket and pulled him into a shadowed alley way. Peering out m the darkness, the men caught sight of Paul walking towards them. Suddenly, without warning, a man moved stealthily m behind a parked car and approached Paul. Jim whirled his head around to look at his partner, whispering with as much emphasis as he dared without being heard. "Sandburg, give me the gun. Only you can stop this. Please."

Blair reached in his pocket as he heard the voices of the men growing louder. He fingered the gun gingerly, as he swam alongside Jim in the depths of Jim's eyes.

"Trust me, Chief."

The words were spoken so softly, and yet with such conviction, that Blair felt compelled to comply. The gun wavered in his hand, for another heartbeat, and then emerged as a token of trust between two souls.

Jim snatched the gun m his hand and darted out into the street. Freeman turned at the unexpected sound and quickly snaked an arm around Paul's neck. A look of shock registered on Freeman's face as Jim moved to stand beneath a street light not twenty feet away.

"How the hell did you find me? "

"Luck, I guess."

"Well, yours is about to run out, Ellison. Get back."

"Not a chance," Jim said, taking another step towards the two men. "This is my lucky day."

Zeroing in with his site, Jim blocked out everything around him. For a moment he almost felt lost in the haze, bordering close to a zone-out. It was at that point in time, the point where time stops and time begins, that Jim found what he had been looking for -- a second, one single breath when random and planned collide. It was in that breath that he found his moment of opportunity. The ability to change the unchangeable, to be powerful instead of powerless.

As Freeman dropped to the ground, Jim smiled at fortune, turning a blind eye to destiny...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The delicate scent of herbal tea roused him m a dreamless sleep. His senses welcomed him to the dawning of a new day. There was no hesitation to his movements, no ominous feelings of foreshadowing.

The rain drizzled down the window panes, and he smiled to himself at the thought of spending an entire day with his partner. With calm certainty, he descended the stairs and joined Blair in the kitchen. A mug of steaming liquid was pressed into his hands, as he leaned against the counter.

"Morning, Jim."

"Hey, Chief."

"Jim...I...We need to talk." Blair stammered, avoiding Jim's eyes.

"I know." Jim replied softly, a tiny smile touching his lips. "But it can wait."

Gesturing to the balcony, Blair met the clear, contented eyes of his partner. "Sorry about the golf game. Guess your day off is a wash-out."

Jim's smile widened. "Nope. I've got plans for today."

"Really? Like what?"

"Life isn't all explosion and gunfire, Chief Sometimes you got to just slow down and smell the flowers."

Blair grinned. "Now there's a concept."

Placing the cup on the counter, Jim moved to within a few feet of his friend. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"Being here, Chief, just being here..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They spent the day in blissful harmony, and as the shadows of evening lengthened and the day came quickly to a close, they went their separate ways. Stretching out on his bed, Jim listened to the familiar heartbeat of his friend. He watched as the faint glow of the numbers of his clock announced the beginning of a new day. It was over. The nightmare was over.

January 11, 2001 was over, but it was one day that James Ellison would never forget...

~the end~