Unfortunately, Jim never really got the renewal he was hoping for. An hour after their return, he tossed and thrashed on his bed, caught deep in a dream that was half pleasant memory, half dark vision. He fought for a return for consciousness, but whatever message his mind had to share had not been fully delivered and he was unable to escape from the distasteful illusions upsetting his sleep. Blair eventually rescued him.
"Jim... Jim, it's okay. Wake up, Jim. C'mon man, open your eyes..."
"What... no, don't... please... I don't understand... why... God, why..." Jim mumbled, jerking away from Sandburg's comforting touch on his forearms as his subconscious continued to spool out whatever sights were making him sound so angry and confused.
"Jim, it's me. Push it away, Jim, you can do it, I know you can. Make it stop..."
Suddenly, Jim's voice changed radically. Blair, who had been bending over his best friend, slowly dropped to the edge of the bed, taken aback at the words he was hearing and the soft, almost feminine tone in which Jim spoke them.
"I'm so sorry, J.J. I love you more than my own life... but I have to go. Someday... you'll understand. I hope so, anyway... Be a good boy for your daddy, alright? And be strong for him. He'll need you to be strong so he doesn't feel so bad... help him go on, J.J... I love you, baby boy..."
A moment later, Jim's eyes flew open. He stared around the room, finally focusing on Blair, who was silently swiping tears from his cheeks. The younger man answered his partner's confounded gaze by holding out a second tissue. Levering up onto his elbows, Jim accepted it, gradually realizing that he too had been weeping. Swiftly he destroyed the evidence of his momentary weakness and dropped the tissue in the bedside trashcan.
"I won't tell anyone, I promise. Never. You know you can trust me." Blair assured him, twisting and shredding the damp paper object in his hands.
"Trust you with what?" Ellison demurred, gruffly brushing the subject aside and sitting all the way up. "It was a dream. It didn't mean anything."
Sandburg finally met the older man's eyes.
"That's probably the biggest lie you ever told when you weren't undercover."
"If you don't feel like discussing it, that's okay, but don't try and con me, Jim. I've been there... and I know better."
"First I'm a liar, now I'm a con-man? Real nice way to wake a guy up, Chief..." Ellison retorted angrily, swinging his legs over the opposite side of the bed and tugging his boots on.
"She called you J.J."
The simple statement halted Jim mid-motion for a few very tense seconds. Once he recovered, he fumbled with the laces a little, but managed to continue his task, grinding out a few intense words as he did so.
"Don't ever say that name again."
"God, Jim... you remember her voice, you know she actually cared enough to say goodbye to you. That's so... I mean, can you even conceive of what I'd do to have that? Seeing you throw that away, watching you act like knowledge of your mother's love is crap... how am I supposed to just let that pass, huh?"
Rising, Jim grabbed his jacket off the dresser and stalked toward the door, halting and half-turning back only at the last minute. He breathed deeply and powerfully, gathering back his mutinous self-control before he spoke to Blair again. When he did, his voice was quiet, but the strain he was under could be heard in every syllable.
"She lied. Parents who love their kids don't just sneak away in the middle of the night. That's all I have to say on the subject and you are never to bring this up again."
"Wait, where are you going?"
"For a walk."
"I know. I've got my watch. I'll be back in time to clean up and dress."
THE DOJO: 90 MINUTES LATER
"Mom? You still here?"
When she heard the familiar voice, Blair's mother strode out eagerly to embrace her son and his partner. Reluctant and unyielding, Jim endured the hug, but Naomi, eternal love child and ceaseless spiritual counselor, would not let his attitude pass without comment.
"Jim? What is it? Is everything alright?"
"Fine, Naomi. Everything's fine..."
Gently she reached out and touched his forehead, frowning at whatever she found. Jim had to fight a strong urge to slap her hand away and yell at her about invading his space.
"You are certainly not alright. Blair, what happened? When you called at lunch you said you were both having a wonderful day..."
"We did. It was really awesome." Blair told her, pulling her away toward the back rooms of the dojo. "Let's go see how Pete's doing, okay? I'll tell you both about some of the things I bought and we can ask him what he wants us to bring him from the restaurant..."
"But... Jim is obviously in pain..."
"Yeah. I can't talk about it. He's dealing. Let it go, mom."
"But... alright. He is your Sentinel. I suppose you know him best..."
"I know when to make him talk and when to leave him alone so I don't get my head handed to me. That's the most important thing."
As the pair entered the large space where Peter once again lay recovering, Blair stopped just inside the door, studying the neophyte Sentinel and trying to figure out what was wrong with what he was seeing. Noting his confused expression, Naomi provided the answer.
"He can't move. Caine performed a few nerve blocks at certain key points so the young idiot will be forced to stay in one place until he's completely better. Isn't that right, Peter?"
"I will get you for this... both of you."
"Mom, nerve blocks can be dangerous if you leave them in place too long."
"Oh, he relieves them when he's here. He had to go out for a little while and he didn't trust Peter not to pull out the puppy-dog-eyes and try to con me. Therefore, he's been very effectively hobbled, haven't you, young idiot?"
"Stop calling me that!"
"I will when you stop acting like one and accept that you're barely strong enough to sit up, never mind go back to work."
"Not until your father says you are." Naomi told him firmly. Blair raised an eyebrow at a tone he'd never heard his mother use on anyone who wasn't clear-cutting trees or clubbing baby seals.
"If I were you, Pete... I'd do what she says."
"You're not me!"
"Granted, but... she's really mad this time. You don't wanna make it worse."
"So she's mad. I can take whatever she can dish out."
"You think so? The last time she got ticked off, four guys on an Oregon logging crew ended up in the hospital with, umm... personal injuries that left their wives and girlfriends real unhappy for about six weeks."
Peter paled, glanced warily at Naomi, then back to Blair. Gradually, his expression became guilty and remorseful as he remembered his ruse of the previous night.
"Look... last night was stupid, I know that. I apologize for sneakin' out like that, but... you hang with a cop, you know how it is. I put too much time, work an' energy into that stakeout to just let it go."
"And you paid the price when the noise and the lights caught you off guard. Not too pleasant, was it?"
Peter closed his eyes and winced, as if even the memory hurt.
"I thought I was dying. I've never felt pain that intense."
"I hope you never do again. This is what Jim and I were trying to tell you. You're not just joe shmo everyday-cop-on-the-street anymore. A new Sentinel can't afford to be reckless or careless, Pete. Everything they touch, everything they put in their mouth affects them like it affects noone else in the world."
"Right. Spicy food, Christmas displays, an unexpected car-horn... any of them could put you in danger if you aren't prepared."
Peter opened his eyes once more and sought out Blair's face.
"I don't have any choice, do I?"
Blair moved closer and crouched by the other man.
"Of course you do. Jim and I told you we're willing to switch things around and move down here for as long as it takes."
"Either way somebody has to spend time away from people they care about. Sucks if you do, sucks if you don't."
"Pete, don't look at it that way, man. It's a sacrifice, yeah, but it's not like we'll be locked in a jail cell or living like the Amish. You can keep in touch and so can we. It's worth it to make sure you and Naomi will be able to handle things once you're on your own."
Peter opened his mouth to reply, but abandoned the attempt when he saw his father entering the room with two cups of tea.
"I know. It is alright."
Blair smiled lightly and rose to his full height.
"C'mon. mom. Time to go to dinner."
ONE HOUR LATER:
To Blair's surprise Jim ate well, as always. He'd expected the older man to show signs of distress and end up pushing his food around the plate, but Ellison had evidently moved beyond the earlier fight and was no longer allowing it to trouble him. Far from reassuring his young partner, Jim's nonchalance saddened Blair deeply. After hearing the departing sentiments of Jim's mother, Blair had gained an insight into Jim's character and now felt he knew at least part of the reason Ellison reigned in his emotions and instinctual responses with such manic intensity. Inner strength in the face of another's need was the last request she'd ever made of him and he had written it on his soul.
"Hey, Jim. You about done? We need to get back to the room and pack up. Plane leaves at nine."
"Yeah. I'm ready."
"Okay. This time I'll get the check, you get the cab."
Jim helped Naomi on with her coat then slipped into his own and they moved outside to wait for Blair. He gazed at her briefly as they stood at the curb and could see in her eyes that she was going to make another attempt to draw him out, so he forestalled the effort before she could make it.
"Jim, you don't even know what I was going to..."
"Nothing is wrong and even if there were I wouldn't want to discuss it."
"I appreciate your concern, Naomi, really I do, but you need to back off."
"Blair knows what's going on?"
Jim hesitated, frowning at the dark street and the buildings across from where they stood.
Damn... how does she do that? Doesn't matter if I say yes or no, either way I'm admitting I lied about nothing being wrong. If I deny it again she'll just push harder. Women... I should just keep my mouth shut. It's the only way out of this box canyon she's backed me into.
Instead of answering, Jim focused on the first taxi he saw coming the right direction. Turning his back fully to Naomi, he whistled and watched as it glided up in front of them. By that point Blair had rejoined the other two. Jim climbed in first, but grabbed Blair's wrist so that he was forced into the middle position in the seat. As his mother gracefully settled into the cab and closed the door, Sandburg scowled at her.
"What did you say to Jim?"
"What makes you think I said anything?"
"I'm sitting between you. That means he wants some distance and a referee just in case."
"I'm innocent, I promise. He never gave me the chance to speak my mind."
Blair glanced back and forth between the two for a few minutes, but eventually decided there would be no assault, verbal or physical, and minutely relaxed for the rest of the ride.