When the Other Man’s Shoes Don’t Fit
By Gil Hale – email@example.com
Disclaimer: All usual disclaimers apply.
Author’s Notes: A SentinelAngst List Themefic for Enola, who wanted stories of Blair having heightened senses.
It was a toss up which was louder or more violent the crash of thunder that reverberated from the electrical storm overhead, or the slam of the truck door as Jim got angrily out. Blair bounced out of his own side, and closed the passenger door with an exaggerated care that did nothing to disguise the fact that he was at least as fed up as his partner. The blue-lit splitting of the skies, and the continual thunder lent their own crackling fury to the scene. And somewhere, in the jumble of old storage sheds and piles of scrap metal that filled the deserted site where they had stopped, were the two criminals they had just managed to lose.
“Any suggestions, Darwin?” Jim asked, in the one particular tone of voice that was calculated to stoke Blair’s already burning indignation – the tone that managed to imply that they wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for Blair, and that on Jim’s personal evolutionary scale he currently rated well below a cockroach.
“I could wait in the truck,” Blair said snidely. He wouldn’t have minded. A heavy rain had started falling and already his hair was dripping uncomfortably down the back of his soaked jacket.
“Oh no you don’t,” Jim said. “We’d be booking these two in the dry if you hadn’t decided to listen to Harry’s sob story about his old granny.”
“We’d be booking these two in the dry if you’d paid some attention when I said you’d better dial everything down because a storm was coming,” Blair pointed out.
Standing there glaring at each other wasn’t really making them feel any better about the fact they’d shown all the finesse of a pair of rookies in letting the men get away. It wasn’t that Harrya fat, balding very minor criminalor his current ‘assistant’ Marco, were important in themselves. But Major Crimes had been struggling for some time to get a break on the origins of a sudden influx of counterfeit dollars, and a tip off had them watching Harry and Marco as two of the men who were passing the money.
With the sort of subtlety that characterised his record, it appeared that Harry had spent most of it in his local grocery store. Jim was on the job because the bills weren’t that easy to detect with the naked eye, but had apparently been stored somewhere, or near something, that smelt of fish, and he could pick up the odour even at a distance. He and Blair had waited until Harry went in, then drifted unobtrusively to positions just inside the door. It took a while. Harry and Marco laboriously filled two trolleys with everything from oats to nappies. When they got to the checkout though, it was payoff timethe bills they drew out were, literally, fishy ones.
Jim and Blair had picked them up in mid-transaction. It was a nice bust. Or it had been, for about two and a half minutes.
They’d taken them outside, and Jim had done the cop stuff, and that was when the trouble had started. Before he’d finished, Harry had started to beg and plead. He was shopping for his grandmother. She was old; she was alone; she was nearly blind. Marco was shopping for his sister who had three small children and whose husband had run away with a girl from the south. They were innocent women. They needed their groceries…
To Blair, who had read through the men’s details on file, it had sounded all too plausible. “Look, Jim,” he’d said. “We could just leave the goods in the store, to be picked up or delivered or something.”
“Those goods have just been paid for with fake dollar bills,” Jim pointed out curtly.
Blair had turned to him trying to marshal an argument which satisfied justice while still feeding hypothetical old women and babies. Jim had turned to Blair, ready to grab said argument by the scruff of its neck and bang it up against the wall of common sense. At that point the storm, which had been hanging ominously over Cascade all day… the storm which Blair had mentioned to Jim at least three times in the past hour… had burst with an explosion of sound and light. Jim had doubled over in sudden agony; Blair, caught off balance had tried to steady him. They’d both lost their footing and ended up sitting down, silent comedy style, on the wet pavement. Harry and Marco, and who could really blame them, had bolted for their battered Ford and taken off.
They’d taken the shopping with them too, which Blair felt really proved his point.
After ten minutes of steadily losing the chase to Jim’s death-or-glory driving, Harry had turned abruptly down a side road. Jim, taken by surprise, had overshot. By the time he’d swerved and screeched back into pursuit, the Ford stood hastily parked by the gates to this old site and Harry and Marco were disappearing.
The rain redoubled in intensity. Blair remembered one of his trainers leaked. Jim was prowling ahead of him looking like a predator that had just had its dinner snatched away. If he ever wanted to go home and get dry he would have to adopt an attitude of mature cooperation… and kick his goddammed stubborn sentinel’s butt into action.
“Try scent,” he said shortly. “You can afford to dial that up even in this storm.”
Every line of Jim’s back said he didn’t want to do it, he didn’t want the sentinel thing, he didn’t want to be guided, and oh, most certainly, he didn’t want Blair guiding him. Blair could agree with that, in spades. Only, looming rather more ominously than the black clouds of the storm, was the thought of going back to Simon and telling him how they’d lost his only promising lead to the counterfeiters. He could guess that Jim was even less keen to do that than he was, so he wasn’t surprised when the growl came back, “What the hell am I supposed to find.”
“I don’t know. You’re the one who should have noticed anything distinctive about them. After-shave? Indian food? The smell of those bills?”
Jim didn’t answer, but Blair knew from the way he stood there that he was trying to pick something up. There was something about his stance when he was using his senses which was unmistakable. Blair was ready when Jim set off at a splashing run for one corner of the site.
The storm was more or less overhead now. Jim must have finally got the dials right down, because neither thunder nor lightning seemed to be bothering him. Blair swiped wet hair out of his face and tried to keep up. He was soaked through every layer of his clothing, and the wind whipped his hair into his mouth and made his clothes flap clammily. Worse than that was the violence of the storm. Strange scenes from the lightning flashes imprinted on the back of his eyeballs and there was something menacing in the almost continuous thunder.
Jim stopped at a shed near the largest pile of scrap metal Blair had ever seen. He flung it open. “Cascade PD,” he yelled above the storm. “Come out with your hands up.”
He sounded as thoroughly fed up as Blair felt, and Marco and Harry, not terminally stupid, promptly came out. Jim motioned them to start walking back towards the exit, giving the appropriate cautions for a second time as he did so. Blair swung round with him, and noticed him pause with sudden unease.
“Jim?” he asked, and as he did so the whole of the yard behind them seemed to explode, or that was his brief, almost instantly obliterated, impression. He was aware of light and a feeling of being slammed by some force that flattened him. Then for an indeterminate length of time, he was aware of nothing at all.
Consciousness came back to him in a painful rush and a jumble of thoughts and impressions. Lightning, he realised in that first moment of awareness. They’d been near that huge pile of metal, and lightning must have struck it. That first coherent thought, though, was soon swamped by new and alarming sensations. Even as he stirred and turned to look for Jim, they began to torment him. It was the rain first. The drops suddenly felt like sharp needles, piercing the cells of his skin. He could feel every strand of his hair, and it sliced round his face like wire. The storm was abruptly unbearable, the noise driving him to smother his ears with his arms. He had to clench his eyes tightly shut against the lightning, and when that wasn’t enough he pulled his jacket up over his head. It smelled like a field of wet sheep. Everything was bombarding him at once and it was unendurable.
Jim tried to lift his head from the wet concrete, completely confused for a moment as to where he was and what had happened, and aware of something wrong that for a moment he couldn’t define. Then lightning flashed again overhead, and memory returned. Blair! Instinctively he reached out with his senses, and found only a blank that sent him rolling desperately over and somehow dragging himself to his knees. To his enormous relief he saw Blair hunching himself over, moving and alive. Why couldn’t he sense him? Thunder rolled again overhead and lightning flashed and he realised they were oddly muted; the whole world seemed more distant and drab. Maybe he’d somehow got all the dials too low. He reached for them, and understanding finally hit him. No dials. No senses. He would never have believed it, but it felt as disabling as if he’d lost a limb.
He was still coping fuzzily with this, when an odd noise from Blair jolted him still further. It was a strange almost keening sound, and it made him drag himself scraping across the wet concrete to the younger man’s side. He had to try to check him out without being able to hear his heartbeat or breathing, without the sensitivity in his fingers to find hidden injuries, and all the time he was trying to coax him to uncurl he was aware of how he could no longer map his surroundings and the others’ movements with his hearing. He did look round to see fat Harry and Marco stirring, and even then it seemed odd to be able to take in so little in his glance.
Blair refused to straighten up. He pushed desperately at Jim’s hands, and fought to keep his jacket pulled smotheringly over his head. He flinched from Jim as if his touch stung. His eyes, when Jim caught a glimpse of them, were tight shut.
It reminded him of something.
Thunder rolled close by again. Jim, his concentration entirely on Blair, only noticed it absently. Blair jumped painfully, made that unwelcome keening noise again and tried to bury his head between his knees. Jim knew that feeling… He looked at his own hands, that hardly felt the rain, and at Blair’s, which seemed to flinch from every drop. He saw Blair’s frantic efforts to muffle his hearing.
This wasn’t possible, right?
He really hated it when reality took a sidestep and sucker punched him. Why wouldn’t Simon’s policy of total denial work for him? He looked at what he could see of Sandburg. He was miserable, wet and bedraggled and showing all the signs of hypersensitivity, and he definitely needed some sort of help. So, if Sandburg had the senses, did that mean Jim had to…
He took a deep breath. He really didn’t have the right voice, or perhaps the right level of patience for this, but he’d have to try. “Blair,” he said, with an effort at a soothing tone, though he had the feeling it was the one that had always annoyed Caroline more when he tried it on her. “Blair, I think you need to find those dials you tell me about, okay? Find them and turn them right down.”
“Can’t,” Blair said briefly, not emerging from the hedgehog position. “Hurts.”
“Yes you can,” Jim said. “Come on, Sandburg, don’t I always listen to you? Find those dials.”
Even this outrageous claim didn’t get much response though. Before Jim could think of another approach he noticed that fat Harry was now on his feet, and struggling to help Marco up.
“You work on it a minute, Chief,” he said gently. “We can’t lose these two again.”
“I’m trying,” Blair said miserably, but he went on rocking himself with his head buried.
Jim turned to the two criminals, and it was then that he discovered the other side to what he had thought was already a bizarre enough problem. He was a reasonably intelligent man; he understood the whole concept of shades of grey or he’d never have survived in covert ops. But normally in these situations, he was aware of his course of action as a reasonably straight line from crime to justice. Now his straight line had suddenly developed a multitude of branches, twisting, turning, spiralling in a hundred hypothetical directions. It was as if his perps had abruptly acquired a whole new dimension. He could envision their possible pasts, their possible futures, the thousands of millions of tiny events and decisions and choices that brought them to this point. For a moment the sheer complexity of it paralysed him.
Instead of arresting them, he stood and gaped.
Lightning flashed overhead and brought its simultaneous drum roll of thunder. Blair rolled over and yelped. Fat Harry said audibly, “I don’t believe they’re real cops at all.”
Jim glared at him and pulled out both badge and gun. “Cascade PD,” he said again, threateningly. “Stand still.”
He was struggling to ignore the multitude of options his mind was presenting, the unexpected lateral quirks, and the ramifications for a whole community of relatives of the arrest of this dismal pair. He felt as if he was trying to navigate with unknown symbols on the map, and he really missed his guide.
“Blair,” he said softly. “Could really do with you right now, Chief. You had any luck with those dials yet?”
Blair had sometimes, daydreaming, envied Jim the things he must be able to perceive. Often he’d wished he could experience them for a while in a spirit of scientific enquiry. Hell, he’d even though Jim focussed too much on the negative side. Now, struggling with a pounding headache and violent stimuli assaulting him on all sides, his one thought was to find the damn dials and turn the things off.
He wasn’t finding it easy. It didn’t help that he was aware of the dials as a metaphor he’d thought of. It seemed to detract from finding them. The sheer discomfort urged him on, and then he was aware of Jim, sounding as if he really needed him. It provided the final bit of will power. He thought of a dial, grabbed it and gave it a good wrench.
For a minute or two, things were slightly crazy. He did some desperate mental adjusting. Then although he could still feel too much and hear rather too little, he was able to come out from under his jacket and haul himself up to lean on Jim’s arm.
“Man, this is weird,” he muttered.
“You said it,” Jim agreed.
Blair wondered why Jim was simply standing there keeping the two men in place, instead of marching them off to the PD. He stared through the rain at them. With a bit of effort he could see minute details of their faces, even the tiny muscle twitching under Marco’s eye. But somehow he’d lost his sense of understanding them. He tried to remember how he’d seen where they were coming from, had had a feel for them as individuals , but all there was now was fat Harry and Marco, a couple of petty criminals who’d been passing counterfeit money.
Even as he groped for an understanding of what was going on, sensations distracted him. He could smell scents from a hot dog stall miles away; even with his efforts to mute it his hearing was acute on levels outside normal perception. He could almost see the molecular structure of a raindrop falling into a puddle. It ought to have been wonderful, but he couldn’t enjoy it. He’d seen strange and wonderful >things all over the world, and appreciated them enormously, but then he’d still had that element of >observation and analysis along with the wonder. The senses were just too demanding. Each one battled for attention, and left him no room for thought. His whole way of comprehending the world seemed to have been thrown into chaos.
He felt as if he was trying to navigate with the wrong symbols on the map.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said abruptly.
Jim started and nodded. Blair had never seen him so lacking in focus, but he couldn’t concentrate on why it was happening. Jim gestured to the men to get moving and Blair also turned towards the exit. Suddenly his skin tingled, as if he had brushed against something static with the whole of his body. He wasn’t sure but…
“Jim!” he said sharply. “There’s something….”
He should have known with the sort of day they’d been having he wouldn’t even get the words out before it happened. He felt it in every cell of his body this time. It felt like enough light and noise and power for the end of the world. Just before it could overwhelm him he went spinning down once again into the darkness.
Awareness came back to Jim painfully, attacking from many directions. He felt the rain creeping down his skin; acrid tangs of wet wool and scorched metal made him gag; he could hear the crashing of raindrops and loud, slow breathing. An explosion. Lightning. Blair!
He took it all in in seconds, spinning the dials down, and mapping the whereabouts of Blair and the criminals even before he had opened his eyes. His body somehow felt restless and sluggish at once, but he dragged himself up enough to take in the rest of the scene. No one else was stirring but he could hear all the heartbeats were steady, and the storm at last seemed to be moving away.
As he stumbled over to Blair, suddenly other, really strange recollections flooded in. Hadn’t he done this already, or had it been some sort of half dream while he was unconscious? He hauled Blair up into his arms, moving a little so that he could shelter him from the unending rain.
“Come on, Chief,” he encouraged. “Open those eyes for me.”
He was checking the limp body over with every sense. Heartbeat strong, with no stutter in the rhythm; breathing a bit fast, and he could hear the faintest hint of the effect of lying in the wet; damp curls on his shoulder smelling of mud and metallic water but no blood. His guide would be fine.
Thunder rumbled, more distant now but still loud. Again he was troubled by a haunting half-memory, this time of Blair doubled over trying to blot out the noise. It had an odd sort of clarity for a delusion.
He pushed the thought aside as Blair shifted a little against his arm and began to cough. Jim eased him up and he opened his eyes. “What…?”
“Lightning, I think,” Jim said, sticking with the scientifically provable. His eyes were on the slight tinge of colour returning to Blair’s face, but with his hearing he was monitoring the signs of regaining consciousness in Harry and Marco. “Think you can move in a minute? I’d like to be away from all this metal in case the storm rolls back.”
“Head hurts,” Blair complained.
Jim ran a hand over it to check for injuries. Drenched curls stuck to his fingers, but he could find no real harm. Probably just a headache from being so close to the strike. Or from experiencing hyperactive senses during a storm, his mind whispered treacherously, but he ignored it.
“I think I’d better go and check on the others,” he said, feeling Blair taking his own weight now.
Blair looked startled and a little guilty. “Oh man, I wasn’t even thinking… My mind’s a total jumble. They’re not…”
“They’re fine,” Jim said hastily. “I’d just like to get them safely booked in.”
“I’m with that. I’ve really had enough of today.”
Jim gave him a reassuring pat on the head and was slightly worried not to get any smart remarks about needing a dog. Harry and Marco, on their feet now, were disoriented but not apparently in need of any medical attention beyond what was available at the PD. Neither they nor Blair said a word as they all trailed back to the exit.
Jim paused when he got to the vehicles. He wasn’t sure what motivated him, but he asked curtly, “Have you got anyone honest who would pick up your car and your shopping?”
Everyone looked at him as if he’d grown a second head.
“Father Antonio,” said Marco, recovering first. “I give you his number and you can speak to him, and you will know he’s a good man.”
Jim thought this might be one of the least rational things he’d ever done, especially in view of the fact his conscience demanded the store be reimbursed with genuine money, but Father Antonio did seem to be just that. And he was aware of the slightest trace of bounce returning to his bedraggled guide.
He felt marginally better about what he’d done when it quickly transpired that Harry and Marco were not working for some major gang of counterfeiters after all. The notes had been someone’s stash, maybe someone who was picked up for other crimes before being able to pass them. Harry only knew that his second cousin had found them, they’d all watched for a while until they were sure they weren’t going to provoke violent retaliation from some big time player, and then they’d started to spend them. He and Marco were as cooperative as even Simon could have asked. Jim left them to sort out the details, though it didn’t sound too ominous for Harry and Marco by the time they’d handed over the rest of the notes and answered all the questions. He was still bothered by the conviction he could hear a trace of congestion in Sandburg’s lungs, he’d had a long and trying day, and he reckoned he was entitled to go home.
The drive back to the loft was characterised by its unnatural silence.
Jim glanced uneasily at his passenger from time to time. Blair would have been happy enough about the way things had gone at Major Crimes; that wasn’t why he was so subdued. He might just be too wet and cold and miserable to chat of course, but nothing usually stopped him. Jim thought back over the day.
“Listen, Chief, I’m sorry for jumping down your throat about the store goods. You’re the people personI should have listened to you.”
Blair looked startled. “Hell, I was way out of line. Anyway, you’re the one who arranged for the bambinos to get their nappies after all.”
Okay, so it wasn’t that. Jim hadn’t really thought it would be. That level of argument was their equivalent of a best friends’ playground squabble, all forgotten by teatime. Maybe it was just a physical thing after all.
But even when Blair had had a hot shower, and was sitting warm and dry with a cup of tea in his hand, he still looked… well, depressed, if that didn’t seem an absurd word to use about someone with such an enthusiasm for life. Jim wondered if he’d been altogether too cavalier about the after effects of being briefly stunned by the nearby lightning strike, but all his senses told him Blair was fine, and he was hardly likely to be cheered up by an unnecessary visit to ER.
He sat down on the couch. Blair was sitting cross-legged on the floor leaning against it, and all Jim could see was the top of his head, and a little steam rising round his damp hair from the hot tea he was making love to.
“Your head still aching?” he asked, looking for an opening.
“You going to tell me what’s bothering you?”
“After a day like this? You going to tell me you enjoyed it?”
Jim thought about it. They’d closed the case. Neither of them had come to any lasting harm. They were warm and dry and Chinese food would be arriving shortly. Maybe on a cosmic scale it was pretty small stuff, but he’d known worse.
“We did all right in the end,” he said.
“You did,” Blair said into his teacup. “I don’t remember contributing anything except a very badly timed argument.”
He wondered if he was the only person who ever saw the insecurity that lurked behind Blair’s bouncy self-confidence. Since the chances of Blair joining him on the couch seemed minimal, he slid down to floor level beside him, though he couldn’t actually see him any better between the mug and the loose drying hair.
“That’s a very warped view of the day, chief. Want to hear mine? You saw people not units in an equation. You were right and I was wrong about whether they were telling the truth. You helped me use my senses to find them. You’ve taught me to use my senses so well that they’ve become my way of mapping the world now. If I haven’t got them it’s like losing a limb…”
Some more of those probably-not-real memories halted him, and at his side he could feel Blair stiffen rather than relax.
“I had this… I don’t know… hallucination before I came round from the lightning strike,” Blair said tightly. “It’s really bugging me.”
Jim wondered why ‘it didn’t happen’ and ‘I don’t want to know’ always worked for Simon and never for him.
“It was like I’d got your senses,” Blair went on softly, self-contempt much too audible in his voice. “Man I was a wuss. Worse than you at your worst. I hated them. I didn’t even think of using them. I realised I could never in a million years do what you do…”
“You never saw me at my worst,” Jim said.
No response at all. He could see defeat in every line of Blair’s hunched-over shoulders. It was obviously time to give up on denial and do the sharing thing. Only for you, Sandburg…
“I had the same… hallucination, if that’s what it was,” he said. “But you know what, Sandburg, in mine you weren’t a wuss at all, and I did a lousy job of helping you.”
Blair’s head finally came up. Blue eyes looked at him with a mixture of doubt and disbelief and a tiny dawning of sparkling interest. Jim had found it a lot easier to pull himself over the last mile of assault courses, but he pushed on. “I got something too. My senses were gone, but I had, hell I don’t know what you’d call ita kind of lateral thinking, and an understanding of the way people work, only more complicated than that. I realised what a complex world you live in all the time, and… I could never in a million years do what you do either.”
Hell he hated doing this stuff, worse than having teeth pulled. But no pain, no gain, and he was definitely winning. The slump had gone out of Blair’s shoulders and the interest was bright now and vibrant on his face.
“Cool. I can’t believe this, Jim. Do you think it actually happened or we were somehow sharing a dream? Of course, the details might not have been the same…”
“I told you I always listened to you,” Jim said. He reckoned if anything had remained clear in Blair’s memory that would have done.
“Yes!” Blair punched the air as if they’d just scored a winner. “This is amazing. You know we could do some tests with electric fields, or maybe if it was a sort of joint hallucination…”
“Definitely the hallucination,” Jim interrupted hastily. He actually had no opinion either way about that, but he had strong opinions about experiments with electric fields.
He leaned over and took the half-empty mug from Blair’s hand before he could gesture with it. Blair was visibly doing that thing Jim would have hated to do, considering a myriad possibilities and all their divergent paths. “It must be meant to teach us something you know,” he said. “I mean, something as way out as this couldn’t just be random chance.”
Jim had been allowing his sense of smell to range, and it detected the Chinese food a street away and closing. It inspired him to find words for something that had only gradually been taking shape as a thought.
“Way I see it, chief, we’d been arguing because we were each concentrating on our own way of viewing the world. Our map, if you like. Well, we got a taste of each others. Made us appreciate our own, made us realise where the other person was coming from.”
Blair stared at him, obviously unaware of the inspiring effects of dinner drawing near. “Hell, Jim, that’s really profound.”
“I can do profound,” Jim said, cuffing him lightly for >looking so unflatteringly astonished. “Anyway, that’s more than my week’s quota for the weird and for talking about things. Our dinner just came up the stairs.”
During the meal he heard an awful lot more than he really wanted to know about dreams and traditions and shared minds, but he could live with it, especially when Blair was eating while he talked, with an enthusiasm that hadn’t looked possible when Jim put the order in. Later, after a couple of beers each, when Blair was sleepy and he could get a word in edgeways, he’d tell him the rest of his theory.
The two maps worked on their own, but only so far. Put them together, overlay them, and that’s when you got the real goods. That’s when it all came clear; the hidden ways showed up and you found someone to go the extra mile with.
He watched Blair waving a chopstick and telling him a little known fact about the Celts. He was full of animation now, full of everything that made him more uniquely valuable than he’d ever believe.
Put the maps together and you found the treasure.
That’s what Jim had done.
~ End ~