Warnings: PG, h/c, almost insignificant AU (see authors note)
Synopsis: Takes place two days after Cypher. Deals with the psychological implications of the whole Lash incident on Blair, and how Jim and Blair's friendship manages to benefit from it. Rather h/c.
Author's note: Kinda AU, as in Black and White (much later in the series) it's implied that Jim hadn't known of Blair's history of panic attacks. Also, please keep in mind that this is very early in the series. I tried to keep to the early canon characters in a relatively early canon environment.
Many thanks to my betas! Mary, Nikerbits and Laura! While they only saw the first half, they gave me tons of feedback that went directly into the second half. Sorry the second half isn't betad, but this thing was starting to burn a hole in my brain. I've checked in twice.
Note to all you Jim-hurt fans: This story mostly plays Jim into the comfort role, but if you hold out there's just a little Jim angst at the end. I think I'm going to have to try a Jim-hurt story, Blair needs a break.
Anyways, please let me know what you think.
Blair sat by Jim's desk, impatiently awaiting his return. The detective had only been gone a couple minutes, but Blair was already getting fidgety; bouncing his legs and darting his eyes around the room, looking for something to catch his interest in the near-empty bullpen. Sensing Blair's eyes on him Rafe looked up, giving him a mildly annoyed look before turning back to his paperwork.
Blair sighed and forced himself to settle down. Glancing over at Jim's desk again, he picked up a file from the finished stack and glanced flipped through it.
'Nothing interesting there,' he thought; he'd read this one before, heck he'd helped type it at Jim's request. Blair shook his head and smiled at the memory of Jim asking for help with his paperwork. He hoped that it wasn't going to be a regular thing; this was one witch-doctor punk who barely had enough time for his own projects, especially now with fieldwork observing his new found Sentinel.
Blair smiled, still not 100 convinced he wasn't dreaming the last part. He looked around the room again. Maybe this cop thing had more potential then he'd originally thought- not that his car being shot up had been such a big thrill- but the chase, the danger, the adrenaline...but he'd put too much work into anthropology at this point to ever consider switching careers. Besides, now it looked like he was locked in on a one way track to one of the most significant anthropological discoveries in decades!
Throwing down the file, he chided himself for losing sight of the here and now. Here and now he had no permanent residence, his office was no more than a converted storeroom, and his holy grail incarnate was an uptight, temperamental cop who was barely handling this whole Sentinel concept himself.
He picked up another file and froze. It was the Lash case. Slowly he flipped through the photographs of the victims, surprisingly calm. He felt a strange familiarity with each of them, and while he'd never known any of the victims personally, he mourned their individual deaths and appreciated how close he'd come to joining them. Putting down the file, lost in his thoughts, he barely recognized the growing tightness in his chest.
Sitting back, Blair thought about Jim; about what elements in the man's personality that had surprised him, such as his clean-freakishness at home, and about the aspects in his life that had awed him, like his job out in the field. He thought about what he knew of the jungles in Peru and what he knew of Jim's experiences there and about the traumatic stresses that followed.
Then, he thought about Lash's lair- when he'd been bound, partially drugged and in anticipation of death, literally feeling the killer's cold hands on him. He thought about how his mind had spun in circles, screaming for a way to escape and finding none. And just when he'd begun to lose hope and started to surrender to the darkness fading into his vision, he'd heard Jim burst into the room.
The voice snapped him out of his vision. Blair took a shaky breath and looked up to meet Rafe's eyes.
"You ok?" the detective asked from where he sat at his desk, looking curiously concerned.
All of a sudden, Blair could feel his pounding heart, moving in the same quick staccato as his breathing. 'Panic,' he thought suddenly. 'Don't panic', he told himself as he stood. 'Say something,' he heard his mind say as it planned a hasty escape. "Yeah, Rafe, I'm fine. If you'll excuse me." He darted for the door, not caring how weak his voice sounded or how pale he must have looked.
Jim walked through the bullpen door, immediately startled as Sandburg buzzed by him on his way out. Taking a look around the room and seeing no immediate threat of any sort, he met his workmate's gaze. "Rafe?" he asked questioningly, thinking that maybe the detective had said something to upsetting.
Rafe raised his hands in a quick, defensive gesture. "I don't know, Jim, but you might want to go after him. It looked like he was having some sort of attack."
Jim nodded and turned to chase Blair down.
Blair sat on a crate in the corner of his shelter with his head between his knees, trying to catch his breath. He thanked the gods that he'd noticed that this utility closet was usually left unlocked. A little crude, but it was dark and quiet, and had a privacy factor the men's rooms just didn't offer. He had little desire to try to face down anyone from the bullpen right now, and even less so to try and offer explanations to Rafe and Jim for his sudden departure.
Mentally shaking himself, he tried to concentrate on breathing slowly and ignoring the tingling still present in his limbs. He tried to picture himself submerged, as if floating underwater, not hearing, not seeing, yet feeling the cool water around him on his skin. Slowly he could sense his world get darker and darker.
There was a sharp blow to the side of his face, just like when Lash had hit him back in the apartment, before he lost consciousness. Suddenly he was struggling with the villain in a shallow pond, rain pelting his face and thunder booming in his ears as he fought for life. Then Lash's hands reached out and clamped around his neck while the pounding in his chest and the dizziness in his head became overwhelming. He felt himself loosing consciousness, his mind going blank as it floated away from his body.
Simon Banks walked down the hallway toward Major Crimes, having just met the commissioner for another frustrating business lunch. After such a dreadful occasion, he took comfort in a familiar face which passed by. He called out, "Hey Jim, how are you doing?" then did a mental double take.
Simon had meant the question in a casual on-the-job manner, but now, seeing that grim expression on his detective's face he was much more interested.
Jim looked up after the second it took to break his preoccupation. "Oh, hi, Simon. I'm looking for Blair. You didn't see him pass by here, did you?"
"Sandburg's disappeared?" Simon sounded intentionally skeptical, not wanting to deal with missing anthropologists so soon after lunch.
Jim gave a dismissive wave with his hand, "Not really. He just got up and ran out of the bullpen. Rafe said he looked in rough shape."
Simon's eyebrow rose. "Maybe he just had something bad for lunch," Simon said, understanding the feeling. "Don't let me keep you from your search," he said, and kept walking.
"Ah, yes, Sir." 'Must have been one hell of a meeting,' he thought.
Jim continued his search down the hallway, trying to use his hearing to find his guide. He'd briefly debated leaving Blair alone; he really had no specific right to be interfering in the kid's business. Though their friendship was on it's way to developing, right now their relationship was mostly built on convenience. Still, he couldn't get the look on Blair's face out of his mind. He'd been pale, shaking, and scared, and that was a side to Sandburg all new to him. Blair had mostly been an excitable ball of energy since they'd met almost a month ago. This drastic contrast sat uncomfortably with him, and though he'd be reluctant to admit it openly, he was a little anxious about finding him.
As he neared the storage closet, he started to make out a racing heartbeat coming from inside. "Blair?" he called as he looked around. Thankfully the hall was mostly empty, so he wouldn't be making a scene. A soft groan answered his call, and Jim opened the door and stepped in.
The scene took a second to absorb, due to low lights and the unexpectedness of it. Blair sat hunched over in the back of the closet with his arms crossed over his chest and his head between his knees, showing severe signs of hyperventilation.
"Jesus, Chief." Jim said as he knelt beside Blair, putting a hand on his shoulder.
Blair sat up a bit and looked towards him. Jim was taken a little aback by the pallor and wide-eyed shock showing in his face. "Jim?" he said just before his eyes rolled tellingly, and he started to fall.
Jim caught his roommate as best he could in the cramped space, lowering him to the floor and pillowing his head with his jacket. He then reached behind him for one of the crates Blair had been sitting on, and used it to raise his feet. Turning back, he checked Blair's pulse and breathing, while pulling out his cell phone. By the time he'd dialed Simon's office Blair was already coming to.
"Yeah, Simon, it's Jim. I found him."
"Jim?" Blair asked weakly, starting to look confused.
"Quiet, Blair. Lie down," he said before speaking again into the phone. "He's collapsed. I think it might be some sort of drug reaction. I'm going to need to rest of the day off so that I can take him to the hospital."
"Jim, I'm fine." Blair's voice was weak but serious, both trying to attract and to diffuse his partner's attention.
"Yes, Sir, thanks." Jim stuffed his phone back into his pocket. Finally he turned to speak with Blair, and was met with a glare. "What?" As Blair looked up at him, Jim swore he heard something in the back of his mind growl.
"I'm not going to the hospital. I'm fine, thank you, but if you can do without me for the rest of the day, I think I'll drive myself home." With that he stood up, Jim ready at his side when he swayed.
"You are in no condition to be driving yourself anywhere. I'll drive you home after we go see a doctor, then you can explain what happened just now. This isn't the first time this has happened, is it? If you're into something I should know about-"
Blair shook off Jim's arm. "Jim! I'm not. I promise! And I don't want to talk about it." Blair was too tired and embarrassed to fight any further, and Jim was too stubborn to just give in. In silent discontent Blair let Jim lead him to a chair in the break room while he went to talk to Simon.
'This is so stupid', he thought to himself as he sat. He was feeling way too much like a child who was waiting while his mother signed him out of school. There was no way he could avoid the issue now, not with Jim suspecting him of drug abuse, for lack of any other explanation. How was he supposed to tell Mister Super-cop that he suffered from anxiety attacks? He would give Jim brownie points if he didn't just laugh in his face.
"All ready to go, Chief?" Jim asked as he walked through the door, trying to look relatively non-threatening for Blair's sake, planning to give him the opportunity to avoid explanations until after they got home.
The ride home was spent in silence, since somehow it managed to be more comfortable than the awkward and disjointed conversation that would have taken it's place. Jim didn't really feel it was up to him to broach any subject that wasn't really his business, and Blair seemed to have enough walls up right now to rival his own stubbornest self.
It was odd, Jim thought, to see this usually open and carefree man be so defensive. Jim hadn't seen any signs of drug-use or illnesses before, and while he couldn't yet completely in control his senses, when paired with his detective instincts he would have trusted them enough to tell him that much. This was something new, that he didn't understand, and that alone was setting off enough alarms to keep Jim as focused on Blair as he could be while still driving safely.
He looked over when Blair's heart rate almost jumped. Blair's eyes sat wide and unseeing and his breathing was gradually getting shallower. Silently, Jim pulled over.
Blair didn't move, seemingly trapped in whatever world he was projecting. Jim lowered his voice, and reached out to put a hand on his partner's shoulder. "Blair-"
"No-" Blair snapped, slapping Jim's hand away.
Watching, Jim thought he could see Blair take a second to figure out where he was.
"Sorry, man, guess I kinda zoned out myself, here. What's up, why'd you pull over?"
"Don't you 'what's-up-Jim' me. Now something is going on here, and I want you to tell me what it is." Jim's voice wasn't angry, but it wasn't tolerant either.
"Jim, it's really not important, you're getting worked up over nothing. Trust me, it's not even worth-"
"Sandburg," Jim said, finally loosing patience, "if you don't tell me what's going on I'm going to have to assume the worst, and there's no way I'm letting you live under my roof when-"
"Fine, man. Forget it. I'll have my stuff out by tomorrow." With that, Blair jumped out of the truck and stalked off into the park they'd happened to pull up beside.
'Damn,' Jim thought. He hadn't meant to set Blair off like that, but it was so frustrating to be kept in the dark. 'Not to be trusted,' he realized, 'by the person I have to trust my sanity to more and more every day.'
Sighing, Jim got out of the truck himself, starting after his partner for the second time in the hour.
"Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn," Blair chanted as a mantra as he tried to control the claustrophobic feeling threatening to take over. He'd been in no shape to face Jim in the truck, and the tension had almost sent him over the edge. Even now he was just barely holding himself together, when-
Blair thought he saw Susan Fraser in the park with a child.
He tried to clear his mind, denying the familiar surge of adrenaline but-
Blair thought he heard Lash's voice.
He continued forward, convinced he could just walk away-
Blair thought he could taste that drug, making his throat go numb.
He dropped his backpack, which was throwing off his balance-
Blair thought he couldn't breathe.
He started to shake and his hearing became jumbled-
Blair thought he heard someone behind him.
His vision blurred and he stumbled over a child's misplaced toy-
Blair thought he felt strong arms catch him.
Blair thought he heard his name called.
Blair thought he saw Jim's face.
"Sandburg! Blair, talk to me. I need you to come back." Jim shook his friend's shoulder, half supporting him on the ground. Blair's eyes were blank, his breathing was shallow and his whole body tremored, throwing Jim's brain to the subject of shock. Looking around and seeing no one to offer help, he realized it would probably be easier to drive to the hospital rather than go through the wait and hassle of an ambulance ride anyway.
Any hesitation he might have had vanished as Blair went limp under his hands.
"Alright, kid, here we go," Jim said as he gathered Blair in his arms and strode off in the direction of the truck.
'What the-' his brain asked when it started to consider what was going on. As best Blair could tell Jim was carrying him through a field. 'Now, how did we get here?' he asked himself. 'Hmm, went to the precinct to pick up Jim. Had a nice chat with Rafe, woke up in a closet- Oh yeah. That sucked. That probably meant we were on our way somewhere when... Shit.'
Blair's voice sounded loud in his ears, though he was convinced it hadn't been more than a whisper. "Relax, Blair. We're almost there."
"No. Jim? Stop, I can walk."
"Sandburg, we're all of 20 feet from the truck. Just relax for two seconds."
"Jim." Blair sounded insistent, and the more Jim considered the situation, the more he was willing to make it look like the antho. student had not needed the indignity of being carried to the truck. Putting him down, he kept a supportive hand on Blair's back the rest of the way.
After a lot of bargaining and creative manipulation on Blair's part, they ended up at a clinic on the way home. The doctor they saw didn't find anything wrong with Blair, and suggested he try to keep a more regulated sleeping pattern. Jim thanked the doctor, and debated it as they left.
"I told you so," Blair said, following Jim out.
"I don't believe it, we're getting a second opinion."
"Jim, believe it. If you make me go back in there just to get a second doctor to waste time running the exact same set of tests a second time, I swear I'll make it my business to aggravate all of your senses any way I can think of for the rest of the year, and under the convenient guise of science too. It'll be fun, we can play a game. How fast can I get you to throw me out onto the street, because that's where I'd rather be if you're not going to let up here."
"That's a little melodramatic, don't you think, Chief?"
"You're the one causing problems here."
"I just don't-"
"Well do. You've had two very reliable sources tell you otherwise. You'd better watch it, man, soon you'll be going over Simon's head to confirm all your orders."
"Two? Who, you? How am I supposed to believe you? You're the one fainting all over the place, you're judgement's probably a little skewed here. And that doctor was just reading off the sheet the lab sent him. We should have your blood tested a second time. Maybe they mixed up the samples."
"Jim, would you listen to yourself? Since when did you become my mother hen? Lay off, man!"
"No buts, Jim." Blair paused. "It's not a physical problem, ok? There really is nothing to find, believe me."
Jim stopped them both with a hand on Blair's arm. "Not physical. Are you telling me that all this is in your head?"
"Well gee, that's not the most delicate way I've heard it put, but yeah. I guess that's true enough," Blair said sarcastically as he headed again towards the car.
"Wait, Blair!" Jim's longer strides had him caught up by the time they'd made the short distance to the truck.
"Jim, I'm tired. I have a headache. I want to go home to a cup of tea and a bed, and until then I don't even want to have to think, ok? You think you can help me out here?"
One look at Blair's face and the fight left him. Jim couldn't remember ever seeing him looking so worn-out, and that really said something when it came to Blair. "Sure, Chief," he conceded, "whatever you want."
The door to the loft opened, and the pair walked through.
"If it's all the same to you, Jim, I think I'm just gonna go crash. You probably still have time to get back to the station." Blair tried to take his backpack from Jim, who had insisted on carrying it from the truck up to the loft.
"No way, Junior. Simon already gave me the afternoon off and if I show up again now it will just frustrate him." Jim used an open, joking tone. He knew that Blair would probably explain anything at this point, he just needed to be able to show a little bit of resistance first. "Besides, now that we're home, you have no excuse not to tell me what's going on." He sat down casually on the couch, consciously giving Blair any room he needed.
Blair stood where he was and stared for a second. This was the Jim that brought irrational tears to his eyes; the Jim that he could not sidestep questions from or tell half-truths to. The way that this Jim looked at him, it was like a burden was lifted from his shoulders. All his walls threatened to crumble. It seemed like it was now or never; go hide in his room and probably destroy any chance of a working relationship or even friendship, or confess, and embarrass himself terribly, possibly loosing all chance of respect from the man in front of him. The choice seemed gravely obvious. He sat down next to Jim.
"You remember the Lash case?"
"Its gonna be kinda hard to forget."
"Yeah, that it is." Blair hesitated a moment, debating again what to do. Mentally shaking himself, he decided to just to come out with it.
"Well, ever since I was a kid, I've had this problem with panic attacks. It's not usually such a big deal, I mean most times I manage to hide it until I get it under control, and I hadn't even had one in the last year or so, but today I just kept flashing back to Lash's hideout, or Susan's body, or the pond. I never even saw the pond!" Blair stopped, trying to gage some sort of reaction.
Jim sat there thinking for a while. Finally, he said, "That's it?"
Blair sat beside him, unsure what that meant. "Yeah, I guess so. Kinda stupid, hun."
"No. Actually I think its surprising it took you this long to have some sort of reaction."
"What, you mean you're not going to ridicule me for being weak and pathetic?"
"I don't see how I could, it would probably make me some kind of hypocrite."
"What? Look at what you do for a living! You've probably been through this kind of stuff dozens of times, and not once have I seen you collapse into an emotional heap."
"No. Just the opposite."
Blair's interest piqued and Jim hesitated, not really sure where to go next. Looking down at the table, he sighed. "Back when we were married, Carolyn used to say that I scared her sometimes... after a kind of gruesome case, she said I tended to shut down emotionally. I'd always written it off as a cop thing... just part of the job... but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe its more of a me thing, and its what I need to do to deal with the world sometimes. Everyone has they're own way of dealing with things, yours it just a little more self-destructive than most."
Blair smiled at the jab and leaned back next to Jim. "Man, that is the last thing I ever expected to come out of your mouth."
"Yeah, well maybe you should learn that evolutionary throwbacks have more to offer than a thesis paper."
"Yeah, I guess so."
The two sat there for a second, collecting their thoughts, then Jim sat up. "You interested in dinner before hitting the sac?"
"Oh, man, don't talk about food, I was starving before I even got to the station."
"You think you can stay up long enough for some Chinese to get here? I've got this craving for Mr. Long's chicken fried rice."
"Only if we can get some vegetable stir fry to go on the side. They always manage to put the perfect amount of ginger in," Blair said.
Jim smiled as he got up to get the phone. "Anything else you dying for?"
Blair stretched out on the couch, sighing as he closed his eyes. "Anything you want, man, as long as it's hot and tastes good."
"You sure you trust my tastes?" Jim said, not expecting an answer. His senses had told him Blair had already drifted off to sleep. He placed the order and went to start a fire in the fireplace. Food in front of a fire seemed like a good way to subtly celebrate what was probably a turning point in his and Blair's friendship. Blair could probably do with a trip or two to the precinct's shrink, but that could wait for now. For now he was just happy to sit here, watching the flames. There's really nothing like a potentially disastrous day, somehow managing to end up all right in the end that just makes things feel like they fit.