Virtual Reality - gena
He’d heard the old adage, “It happened in a flash”, a million times before and never given it a second thought. Now, it was too late to think - all he could do was act. Detective Jim Ellison caught the momentary glint of sunlight on glass and knew instinctively Casper Parnell had one more score to settle with the Cascade PD. “Sandburg!” His bellow caused a few heads to turn but one figure remained blissfully ignorant of his panic. Ellison sprinted forward, legs pumping, feet pounding the earth, his strides propelling him across the endless expanse of grass, passed his fellow officers and towards the only vulnerable person there. Only Blair stood alone in the open, all the officers, all the press, all the innocent bystanders had somehow congregated near the squad cars but his partner stood alone - and defenseless.
Jim pushed hard against the ground, the toes of his shoes making impressions in the grass as he ran, the material of his trousers giving a little as each thigh muscle bunched then relaxed. Each running step ate so much ground he felt he might be flying and still he knew he couldn’t make it. The snap of the bolt drawn back chambering the shell was thunder in his ears, the click of the trigger a death knell to his sensitive hearing. “Sandburg!” He shouted once more and could only watch as Blair whirled to meet him, his partner’s smile draining away into an expression of shock. He knew he couldn’t make it, not in the explosive instant firing pin struck primer, gunpowder ignited and a single bullet cleaved air. He could hear it coming, spinning across the sky, a high pitched whine in its wake as it sought one target - Sandburg. Jim threw himself forward, desperate, and something dealt him a stunning blow in the back, flinging him into Blair. He clutched his partner, relished the feel of being so close to Blair, their faces just inches apart. He looked deep into Blair’s eyes and saw the horror, the look which asked why he would do this. Light blossomed around his partner’s face, haloing him as it grew.
“For you, Chief,” Jim whispered, “for you.” The world dwindled, consumed by the light and the pain, washing out everything until only the blue of Blair’s eyes remained. Jim felt himself falling, falling into the blue. It had come in a flash, the knowledge, the reason why his life had found some kind of meaning in the last three years and now it filled him. Far away he could hear Blair calling his name, begging him not to leave but Jim couldn’t turn away, not now. He smiled, closed his eyes and dropped into the brilliant flash. It rose, mushrooming, and then - it, and he, were gone.
Not gone - changed.
Weightless. Like bobbing in an endless black ocean, Jim drifted through time and space. There was no reference point, nothing to say up or down, nothing that pointed to a beginning or an end - just a vast inky void. But even as the realization came to him, the sensation ended. With dizzying suddenness his brain seemed to realize he’d once been more, once had mass and substance, and shouldn’t be a disembodied soul. It all came back slowly, he drifted lazily, like a nebula in the endless expanse of space. And little by little comets of memory came hurtling out of the blackness and slammed into him. Jim sorted through the images, finding one face prominent and with the memory of Blair came the reality of what had happened. The weightless feeling evaporated, dropping him back into a body racked with pain. It raced through him with each breath, starting at a point somewhere in the center of his chest and streaking up to the top of his head and down to the tips of his toes. His senses adjusted slowly, one by one telling him what he already knew. He was in a hospital. The scent of disinfectant and urine hung in the air like a pall and if he’d had the strength Jim would have pulled the sheet up over his nose to keep it at bay. He realized he was lying propped on his side, thick soft pillows behind him, the inescapable pressure of an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth, he heard the constant beep of a heart monitor somewhere above him, announcing that life still remained in his body.
He lay for a long time, held prisoner by the lightning flashes of pain which seemed to be working their way through him. He could feel light on the other side of his eyelids, waiting and welcoming, but something else, something he could sense glowed even more luminous waited there. A steely pressure gripped his hand bringing the relief, like cool water dousing the flames ravaging his body, it slipped into his hand. Ellison cracked an eye open, it felt gummy and the light brought tears, but through that blurry veil he could see Blair’s face. He looked like a rumpled saint, light made a halo around his curls and the tears streaming down his cheeks looked like crystal rosary beads. As Jim watched, Blair’s lips moved in nearly silent prayer. “Don’t go,” he whispered, “don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”
Jim concentrated on that, using it as an anchor to draw himself away from the pain and the stench. He wanted to stop the tears and make Blair smile again. A voice, deep and resonate, filled the still room. Jim listened, struggling to make out the words. “Open your eyes, Jim. Give him a sign that he didn’t lose you.” Was this God, then? Some higher power? Whatever the source it seemed like good advice. Jim slowly closed his fingers, gripping Blair’s hand and opened his eyes.
“Please…….” Blair stopped, his eyes widening as his gaze dropped to their joined hands. “You’re - alive?” Fresh tears spilled down his cheeks, shimmering like crystals as he gazed into Jim’s face. Jim longed to reach out and capture one of the silvery tears but his arm seemed to weigh a ton.
“Hey,” he croaked. Ellison barely recognized his own voice, he sounded breathless and weak and could hardly hear himself over the noise of the machines. But Blair heard him. A watery smile appeared and he gently picked up Jim’s hand. “You idiot,” Blair gasped and drew Jim’s hand to his mouth, kissing his fingers. “How could you do that? I almost lost you.”
“CUT! Damnit, Jim,” the disembodied voice bellowed, “it was going so well.” Other voices joined in, grumbling. “Okay, let’s take a break. Eddie I want to relight the bed. Back in twenty everyone. We’re working until we get this scene.” The strong lights over the bed went out and Blair dropped his hand as if he had contracted a disease. Ellison looked around at more than a dozen people, they milled around his deathbed, chatting, as if he didn’t exist. One by one they ambled into the shadows and disappeared, their voices floating back in eerie echoes.
“Man, this sucks, Jim,” Blair gripped. “We’ll be here until midnight if you keep fooling around.” He reached out and punched Jim squarely in the center of the chest. Ellison gasped in pain - pain? Where was the pain? He tugged at the blanket, pulling it down to expose the bandage wrapped around his chest. Blood stained the material in an artful crescent but when he peeled that away the skin beneath was unmarked.
“Hold it a minute, Jim,” a girl wearing a green sweatshirt said and snapped his picture with a Polaroid camera. “Can’t have continuity ruined, now can we?” Waving the white square she wandered off towards a table piled with donuts.
“Great. At least I’ll get to stick around a while longer,” Blair was saying. He slumped down on the bed beside Jim, the picture of dejection. “This gig was suppose to be my ticket to the big time. The next Brad Pitt, one of People Magazines 50 Most Beautiful People, ET loved me for months - now I’m yesterday’s news!” He jumped to his feet, pacing back and forth at the foot of Jim’s bed, hair flying as he gestured with both arms.
“I think I’m confused,” Jim said.
“What else is new?” Blair said rolling his eyes. He paused, giving Jim a hard look then said, “You know the network is going to pull the plug, don’t you?” When Jim continued to stare blankly, Blair moved closer, worried.
Jim glanced at the array of pseudo medical equipment, “on me?”
“You?” Sandburg gave him a disbelieving look. “Hell no,” he snapped, “you’re the freaking star -the Sentinel. It’s me, I’m the one that’ll be pounding the pavement again. It’s not going to help to have a ground breaking role on my resume if no one will audition me. Homophobic, that’s the brass. I say it worked for Starsky and Hutch, why can’t it work for us? The first openly gay sidekick in prime time.” He gave Jim a crooked grin, “well as prime time as our little netlet gets, anyway. Now the suits are buckling under the pressure and I’m going down with the ship. The Moral Majority - ha! ”
Jim watched him a moment longer, dizzy from the non stop talking as well as the pacing. He started to sit up but the wires and tubes still tying him to the bed pulled. “Wait a sec,” a burly guy said. He wore a black t-shirt and Jim could only stare at the image of himself and Sandburg, arms around each other, beneath the logo FLINT & STEELE - NOT YOUR TYPICAL COPS. NOT YOUR TYPICAL COP SHOW! He was still gaping when the technician tugged the monitor loose. The banshee wail of the cardiac monitor brought him out of his musing leaving him completely unnerved. Had he really died? Was this some syndicated version of hell? Maybe he would spend all eternity punished for his sins between Rikki Lake and Judge Judy.
Ellison struggled for his mental footing, clutching Blair’s hand a bit tighter, he asked, “Blair, what the hell is going on? I got shot, right?”
Sandburg gave him a resigned look. “Yeah, and if you quit messing around we can have the big, angsty hospital scene.” He pulled several rolled sheets of paper from his hip pocket, reading, ‘anthropology student Rory Steele haltingly declares deeper feelings for police detective Jack Flint.’ And then Flint smiles and flatlines, fade to black. Cliffhanger,” Blair muttered, shooting Jim an angry look.
“Let me see that,” Jim said, frowning. He took the pages, scanning them quickly. The first seemed to be dialog, each scene broken into a few dozen lines with a lot of soul searching looks thrown in but when he flipped to the last page he froze. In large letters the name of the show had been printed - FLINT & STEELE and below that - starring James Ellison as Detective Jack Flint and Blair Sandburg as Rory Steele. What the hell was going on?
“Can you imagine, the fans have to wait until September to find out if Flint reciprocates.”
“I’m sure he does,” Jim reassured somewhat absently. Even in Bizarro Cascade he felt compelled to protect his partner.
“No he won’t,” Blair said quietly. “The network is going to get rid of Rory. He’ll fall down an elevator shaft going for coffee or have to donate his heart to the Mayor’s dying daughter.” He looked up at Jim and the resignation in his eyes proved too much for Ellison to take.
Free of the restraining wires, Jim sat up and pulled his partner into his arms. “Ah, Chief,” he whispered against the riot of dark curls. He could detect slight differences, Sandburg’s heart beat with a changed rhythm, and by the amount of Stetson cologne wafting off him, Blair obviously didn’t use fragrance free products in deference to a sentinel’s delicate nose, but the look of unshakable certainty that Jim was somehow larger than life, remained.
“I always loved it when Flint called Rory that,” Blair said. “It was like you were saying it, saying I was your best friend.” Ellison blinked against the sting in his eyes. Maybe Blair - his Blair felt the same way. Sandburg sniffed, “sorry. I guess I’m just a bit freaked lately. First those crank letters and now worrying about getting canned.” He shrugged. “It’s not been my season.”
“Letters? What letters, Chief?” Jim pushed Blair back enough to look into his friend’s eyes. He knew any version of Sandburg well enough to recognize worry when he saw it.
“I told you,” Blair said. He dug in his front pocket and brought out a crumpled envelope. No return address and it had Blair’s name, care of a television studio, typed across the front. Inside someone who had obviously watched way too much TV had cut out words and letters from various magazines and pasted them to a sheet of paper. It read - NO QUEERS ON TV - EVER! Ellison studied it carefully. There were no fingerprints, of course, but near one corner he could make out the faint impression of several letters that could have come from another document lying on top of it.
“There’s something here, Sandburg. Look,” he held the sheet up for Blair to look at. Sandburg’s gaze went from Jim to the letter and back.
“Ha ha, Jim. That’s real funny.” He snatched the letter back. “If you aren’t interested just say so, don’t make it all a joke.”
“I wasn’t joking!”
“Oh, right. You’ve got heightened senses, right? Wow, what a coincidence, so does Detective Flint.” He turned away. Jim watched Blair stalking across the deserted set, too annoyed to go after him. He had no idea what was going on but he didn’t like it. A sound drew his attention. At first he thought Sandburg had accidentally kicked something metal and sent it shrieking along the cement floor but as he watched his partner threading his way around through the maze-like collections of sets it came again, drawing his eye upward. High above, a tangle of walkways and catwalks criss-crossed the areas housing the series’ permanent sets. Something moved, a shadow skittered into a deeper pocket of black and the sound came again - louder now and sounding much more like metal ripping apart.
“Blair!” Jim sprang to his feet, bolting over cables and around cameras as he chased after Sandburg. He found himself racing through the bullpen one second and through his own apartment the next. It only added to the dizzying weirdness, disorienting, like the nightmare playing itself out once again - running flat out with the certain knowledge he’d be too late to save his partner. Ellison launched himself, catching Blair around the waist, his momentum driving them back and into what appeared to be a mock up of their own living room. Behind them something massive and solid crashed to the floor, rattling dishes on the counter, knocking pictures off the flimsy walls, and making Jim sick with fear. He’d landed on top of Sandburg, his arms curled protectively around Blair’s head and as he waited for his heart to stop stuttering and jumping inside his chest, Ellison could feel the other man trembling beneath him. “Blair?” he asked and rolled off his partner.
Sandburg stared up at him, face drained almost white while his eyes appeared huge and dark. His gaze swung from Jim’s face to the mangled lump that had once been a enormous fan and back again. “Y-you you saved my life,” he finally stammered, beginning to shake with reaction.
“Pay back,” Jim said quietly. He ran a hand over Sandburg’s chest, his head, checking for injuries and finding none. His touch seemed to calm his partner because the rapid pounding of Blair’s heart began to slow to something closer normal. “That was no accident,” he said and got to his feet. “Stay here, Chief.” He could hear voices coming their way and from the jarring babble he knew the noise had alerted them, but he couldn’t hang around to explain. Ellison spotted a ladder disappearing up into the shadows and made for it. He was halfway up when he heard Blair’s foot hit the first rung. “I said stay there!”
“No!” Blair had that “don’t push me” edge to his voice so Jim just kept climbing, knowing an argument would do no good. “What the hell are you doing, Jim?” Blair gasped when they reached the catwalk. “You know you’re not a real detective, right?”
Ellison didn’t bother to answer. He could see perfectly well in the near darkness and what he saw made his heart hammer against his ribs. A cable swung lazily, as if some unseen hand had just released it, its end a shiny mass of clipped wires. “Someone used bolt cutters on this,” Jim whispered.
“What? Where?” Sandburg asked from behind him. Jim turned to find his partner gingerly edging closer, one hand on the rail, the other held Frankenstein like before him. Jim grasped Blair’s wrist and placed his hand against the cable. “Feel the indentation? That’s from the cutters.” Blair fingered the ends, feeling the way the strands had been mashed together. “If this had become frayed from age or use, the ends would be ragged, not all exactly the same length.” A couple of the strands were darker on the ends and Jim smelled the faint scent of blood. Not a oozing wound, obviously, but at least a mark that might help identify whoever had done this.
“What,” Blair gulped and tried again, “what does this mean?”
“It means, Chief,” Jim caught his elbow and started towards another ladder, “we’re getting out of here.” He followed the main walkway, avoiding the well lit areas of other sets, keeping them to the shadows. Here and there he could pick out signs, scuffed footprints in the dust, or the glistening sheen of sweat on a hand rail, that said they were heading in the right direction. Several minutes quick walking brought them to another ladder. They climbed down, Jim leading, his senses wide open and jangling, Blair behind him, heart racing. The ladder brought them down on the far side of the sound stage, they found themselves just outside a heavy door. A padlock hung in the hasp and when Jim pushed the door swung open. “What’s this place?”
Blair shot him an unbelieving look but said, “props. Are you alright, Jim, ‘cause you’re actin’ a little weird.” Ellison scanned the room. Newspaper stands, road signs, potted plants, furniture, giant dice, office machines, you name it, the place was crammed with it. Jim walked down one of the crowded isles while Blair kept pace behind him. He wore only what James Ellison, the actor, had worn in the scene, pajama bottoms and the blood stained bandage around his chest, Sandburg’s boots sounded counterpoint to the slap of his own bare feet. It created a weird, heart-like sound that seemed to bounced off the walls and follow them. Jim could feel the other man’s breath on his skin as Blair edged closer still and turned to give him a reassuring smile.
“I’m fine, just stay close. Don’t touch anything and when I tell you to move - move. Got that?” Blair nodded reluctantly, still looking as if he wanted to call security but the faith his own Sandburg seemed to have in him must be universal to the species. As they passed a workbench piled with tools, Jim spotted a pair of bolt cutters - their blades were slightly tarnished as if they hadn’t been used in a long time, tarnished except for one area in the center, a space scraped shiny. Ellison bent over them, eyes picking up the microscopic fragment of steel cable still caught between the blades. He said, “get something to put these in, Chief,” and proceeded to examine the rest of the bench. There were a few slivers of paper caught between the wooden planks which made up the top of the workspace, and a smear of a thick, greasy substance left behind after a valiant attempt at cleaning. A faint scent hung in the air, something he couldn’t quite place but vaguely reminded him of - Sunday School. Jim considered it a moment, a memory swooping about at the fringes of his brain but then Blair was back holding out a baggie and it faded. “Who has access to this room?”
“The property master, the set dresser, the director, PAs, I don’t know,” Blair said and shrugged. Too many people as far as Jim was concerned. “Tell me what’s going on, Jim.”
Ellison scratched his head and looked at the other man. He was damn near identical to his own Blair, the eyes a bit lighter, the hair a bit darker, but so close Jim found himself wanting to wrap his arms around him. Blair must have sensed the need, he moved closer, placing a hand on Jim’s shoulder. “You’ve got to tell me what’s wrong.”
“Okay, Chief,” Jim whispered, “just remember you asked.” They found a seat on an oversized couch tucked into a corner. Blair drew his legs up, sitting with his arms around his knees. Jim grinned at him. “Feet on the couch, that’s breaking Rule #4.” Sandburg smiled and flipped him off but a second later his lighthearted mood shifted and he was staring at Jim with worry in his eyes. “I’m not an actor, I’m really Jim Ellison.” Blair sighed.
“Jim,” he began and released his knees to spread his hands in a placating gesture, “that comes as a real shock. You’re Jim Ellison not an actor.”
Jim frowned, clearly his point had missed it’s mark. “Sandburg, I’m not an actor and I’m not playing some detective with heightened senses - I AM a detective and I HAVE heightened senses!”
“This is because I got on People’s 50 Most Beautiful list, isn’t it? Honestly Jim, if you want to get back at me, this isn’t the way. Someone just tried to crack my skull open with a 1300 pound fan if you remember.”
“I remember,” Jim snapped. “I’m trying to tell you I don’t belong here. In my - world - I really have heightened senses.”
Sandburg considered him a moment, face grim. “Okay, I’m going to play along with you, buddy. So,” he looked around, “what’s the fine print on that sign say?” He pointed to a tin sign propped against the far wall. It looked as if it had once belong nailed to the front of a Stephen King haunted house.
“It says ‘manufactured in Greenwich’ but an ant is standing on the “w” so it’s Green’ich.” Blair gave him a doubtful look and rose. He walked to the sign, bent, took a step back and shot Jim a wide eyed look.
“How’d you do that?”
“I told you, Chief. And it’s not a trick which is what you just mumbled under your breath,” he said and waited. Blair continued to stare at him, unmoving. “I’m a sentinel, Chief, not a mind reader. You have to say something.” Sandburg’s lips moved. “It IS happening,” Ellison said a bit harsher than he’d meant to and cringed at the way Blair jumped. “Look, it’s a long story and we don’t have time for this, okay? You’re going to have to trust me.”
Sandburg crept nearer but kept just out of reach. His face had a shell shocked expression and it took him two tries before he could speak. “I just - I don’t - it’s just,” he closed his mouth, breathing fast and staring at Jim as if he were - were a freak. It hit Jim at that moment just how much Blair's, his own Blair's, reaction to him meant. Blair had looked at him from the very first as if he was something marvelous, he treated Jim like a god, like something worth any sacrifice. It had only been with Blair’s support and encouragement that Jim had finally broken free of the locks his past and his own fear had put on his natural abilities. Under Sandburg’s hand’s it had been as if he was a crumpled piece of tinfoil smoothed out to reveal goldleaf instead. So to have this Blair, one so close to his own, look at him with that look. Jim turned away unable to bear it.
“Damn,” he heard Sandburg mutter and a second later felt the warmth of his body and the hesitant touch of his hand. “Jim, I’m sorry. I-I guess me wigging out can’t be good for your self image, huh? I’m sorry. It’s just a lot to take in, you know? How long have you, uh, been like this?”
“All my life,” Jim said quietly and the grip on his shoulder tightened. He lifted his head, “but my senses only really came back online when I met you, well, my Blair.”
“Really?” Blair cocked his head to one side, looking thoughtful. “That’s the whole plot to the show. Stressed cop meets unconventional grad student who just happens to be an expert on sentinels.”
“Must be a universal concept,” Jim said with a shrug.
“So this Blair, is he cute like me?”
Ellison, hearing the familiar teasing tone, said, “well, he hasn’t gotten a call from People Magazine yet but I expect he will soon.” Blair grinned at him, brows dancing. Jim waited, the seconds ticking off inside his head. He couldn’t say what it was that made Blair trust him, but he saw it the instant it entered his blue eyes. “I don’t understand any of this,” he said, changing the subject, “but I have a feeling that I have to help you before I can go on.”
“Go on? Go where?” Blair asked. Jim shook his head, he couldn’t tell Blair what he suspected. Parnell’s bullet had hit him in the back, if he let his mind dwell on it, Jim could remember the feel of deadly metal punching a hole through him. He’d felt his heart fighting to circulate blood even as it leaked away, and his head knew the odds weren’t very good. He found the idea brought sadness, he would have liked to say goodbye to his Blair, to touch his cheek and tell him to be strong, but if he could save this Blair’s life, it didn’t matter. And that was what he imagined had drawn him here, in this world James Ellison couldn’t protect his Blair and he’d been sent to do it. It sounded crazy, even to him but so had heightened senses once upon a time.
“We better get back to the set,” Jim said instead and put an arm around Blair’s shoulders to steer him back.
It took longer to get back, weaving their way from set to set. Jim couldn’t hide how unsettling he found it to cross mockups of the places he knew, places that mattered in his life, places he loved. It was as if his life were nothing but plywood and paint and it could be dismantled at any second. “Jim, hey, it’s okay,” Blair said quietly. He slipped an arm around Ellison’s waist, leaning his head close to Jim’s and it helped. They entered the hospital set like that and found the place a madhouse. Uniformed security officers were gathered around the smashed fan and crew members huddled together talking in excited bursts. A man in a baseball cap glanced up just after Jim and Blair rounded one of the pale green walls. He motioned them over. “That’s Chad List, our director,” Blair whispered.
“Mmmm. He’s telling one of the security officers that the fan had only been delivered the night before. It’s on loan from the X-Files and now he’s going to have to explain to Chris Carter how it got creamed.” Sandburg stared at him open mouthed. “Hey, Chief, it’s what I do.”
Jim let Blair do all the talking, he seemed very good at it. Studio executives milled around, recognizable in their Armani suits and their continual use of cell phones. “….didn’t hear a thing,” Blair was saying with that guileless look he did so well. Ellison used his time to scan the crew but saw no one acting suspicious at least not in a criminal way, there were a lot of people doing suspicious things but Blair assured him it was all part of making a hit TV show. The atmosphere trembled with frantic energy and it wasn’t long before Jim found himself whisked back to the hospital set where he’d waken. Chad List droned on about motivation and tapping his inner pain while various members of the crew fussed over him, adjusting the ominous looking machines, the lights, his hair. It was all Jim could do to keep from batting their hands away especially since Blair stood just outside the circle of activity, his lips twitching with suppressed amusement. “I better get to wardrobe,” Blair said, indicating his dusty shirt. Jim caught his hand, his grip a bit tighter than necessary. Mischief danced across Sandburg’s expressive face as he leaned closer. “Ah, Jim, you keep this up and you’ll start those rumors again.” His lips were warm with the heat of promise and Jim could taste the unspoken vow like honey.
“You know,” Blair whispered, “the ones that say we’re more than just good friends.” His eyes turned incandescent and it was all Jim could do to keep from moaning. Blair gave him a wink and a jaunty wave as he walked towards the wardrobe department.
Eventually the crowd disappeared leaving Chad, still talking, and a tall, thin woman. Jim shifted self-consciously under her appraising gaze. “Hold it one second, Jim,” the woman murmured and delved into the chunky satchel slung over her shoulder. She consulted the Polaroid she’d dug out, cocked an eyebrow at him, and then artfully dabbed makeup to his cheek. “Much better!” She gave him a winning smile, and bent to smooth the blankets over his thighs. Her hands lingered and when she caught his gaze, her dark eyes smoldered.
“Great, Carole,” Chad said, “now make sure Blair looks rough. I want circles under his eyes, beard stubble, the whole nine yards. He’s got to look like death warmed over, like a lover praying for a miracle.”
“My pleasure,” Carole said. Jim settled deeper into the pillow. Chad had given up motivating him and instead turned his attentions to the crew. Voices floated over him, shadows flickered here and there, and Jim closed his eyes, shifting through the images he stored inside his head. He knew he’d seen something out of place, and it remained in his memory, hovering in that stillness Blair had taught him to find. He ran the accident over in his mind again, seeing the way the fan shattered as it hit. No, it wasn’t the accident that was bothering him but something - later. They’d found the props department and the bolt cutters and that greasy spot with the weird scent. Sunday School, it had made him think of those Sunday mornings when Sally would dress him and Stephen in suits and send them across the square of the Baptist church. For an hour they’d been trapped in a basement room with old Mrs. Albertson, learning Bible verses and making cards out of doilies their father wouldn’t bother to read. It was rumored no one had seen the old woman’s real face in fifty years, she went around town slathered in a thick layer of -
“Makeup!” Jim bolted upright pulling an IV stand over as he threw back the blanket. Wires snapped, people shouted and he ignored them all.
Ellison ran, sprinting through the chaos like an arrow loosened by his sentinel abilities. Sandburg had often told him scent remained the most vivid memory and he’d been proved right. How many years had it been since he’d sat in Mrs. Albertson’s Sunday school class, but it was the scent of makeup that made him race across the sound stage towards the little group of offices housing wardrobe, hair and makeup. He knew then that this was the moment - this Jim Ellison never would have smelled the scent of makeup in the props room and he never would have recalled the scratch that ran from the base of Carole’s left index finger to the base of her thumb. He’d been brought here to save Sandburg and by god he would. Ellison focused his hearing, finding Blair in seconds. He heard a strangled, breathless yelp, cut off quickly. The makeup trailer sat in a group of similar trailers just outside a set of hanger- like doors, Jim bolted up the metal steps and ripped the door open.
Sandburg’s lips were blue, his face mottled red. He clawed with hands made weak from lack of oxygen at the cord around his throat, his movements slowing even as Jim burst inside. “He loves me!” Carole hissed in his ear, “Flint loves me!” Jim didn’t slow, he hit her with his full weight, driving Carole into the mirrored wall. Glass exploded around them all, brilliant flashes that showed Jim a thousand times saving Blair. He could feel it coming, a kind of dark premonition speeding towards him in the silvered daggers of glass.
“Blair!” He caught Sandburg’s limp body in his arms, working the cord from his throat. A sigh of air brushed his cheek, faltered, then ceased all together. He’d failed. Grayness rushed forward, surrounding him, overwhelming him like icy water closing over his face. Jim threw his head back, above him, light seemed to hover, brilliant but unreachable and despair bubbled up from the depths of his soul. He would have given in at that moment, let himself sink into bitter black water, but for the shuddering gasp Blair gave. “Chief? Breathe, Chief, breathe,” he coaxed. Blair stirred, glazed eyes opening, rolling wildly and closing again. Jim gathered Blair into his arms, lifting him from the chair to settle him on a nearby couch. He stroked the tender flesh of Sandburg’s throat, his own breathing erratic, as the heat of bruises rose to the surface. “Get a medic!” Outside the trailer, confused face peered in at the windows, the open door, and drew back. “Ssshhh,” Jim soothed, “it’s okay now. I’ve got you.” He smoothed back a tangled curl and placed a kiss on Sandburg’s forehead, ignoring the darkness pressing closer with each second.
“J-jim?” Blair’s voice, a ragged whispered, made him draw the younger man closer.
“It’s okay. This was why I came,” Jim whispered back. “You’ll have your own Jim back soon, Chief, I promise.”
“T-too bad,” Blair said haltingly, “the b-bastard - gets paid twice - what I do.” Though his eyes were bloodshot and his throat a swollen mess, he grinned. Jim pulled him near again, resting his cheek against the soft, dark curls. Far away voices shouted, and the echo of running feet grew thunderous, but here in this tiny room, Jim felt peace. He relaxed and let the burden slip from his shoulders, he’d done what he needed to do - this Blair would live. That eerie premonition suddenly seemed wrong, out of place, as a stray shaft of sunlight darted inside, striking the shattered mirror. A flash. Jim took comfort from the steady heartbeat so close to his own, setting it as the center of his universe, letting its measured beat count the minutes of his life here. He could feel his soul bouncing, weightless but buoyed by the knowledge he’d done something important, something he’d been destined to do. He could go, he didn’t know if it would be to his own life, or to some other place but he knew now that even if he had to wait a thousand years, Blair would find him. It was destiny, it was their destiny.
“I’m going, Chief,” he said simply and pressed a kiss to Blair’s cheek, blocking out everything but the warmth of his skin. “I’d do it all again,” he whispered, “for you, Blair, in any world.” The light opened before him and Jim slipped into it, letting it enfold him.
“Jim, don’t leave me.” Blair’s voice, low, distorted, caught hold of him, reeling him in like a kite at the end of a string. “Jim, please,” Blair begged and Jim opened his eyes. He expected a hospital room in Cascade, he expected his life and his death, but he found Blair lying on the makeup trailer’s couch, an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose, eyes round with fear. “Jim,” he called again in that distorted version of his voice. Something rancid burst open, Jim took one breath and began to cough, his lungs struggling to rid themselves of the irritant. Ammonia fumes seared the inside of his nose, sending a fiery wave through his brain.
“Easy, buddy,” a voice said. “You passed out.”
“Zoned,” Jim corrected but the guy didn’t hear. He sounded hoarse and weak to his own ears but when he looked up at Sandburg, Blair’s face filled with relief.
“I’ve got an ambulance on the way.” Jim recognized Chad List’s voice and turned to see him standing in the trailer’s doorway. “I told them no lights and no sirens. God, if the tabloids get hold of this!” Just past his shoulder, Jim could see several of the burly crew members holding the makeup artist, Carole, she struggled, kicking and shouting that Detective Jack Flint loved her and had told her to kill Rory. A studio security van took her away just as the silent ambulance pulled up to the trailer. Jim didn’t want a ride to the hospital but Blair refused to go unless Jim did. The paramedics loaded Blair onto a gurney and with Jim walking beside it, they got him into the back of the ambulance.
“You scared me,” Blair whispered, “I thought you were going back.”
“So did I.” Jim sat on the gurney opposite Blair and reached out to touch his cheek. “Something stopped me. I guess I haven’t done the right thing.”
“I think I know what the thing is,” Blair said.
“Ssshhh, don’t talk, Chief.” Jim took Blair’s hand in his.
“Have to. This, Jim,” he squeezed Jim’s fingers, “you made me realize something.” Ellison frowned. “I could have died,” Blair insisted. His voice sounded gravely, rough, but his eyes glowed. “And if I had, Jim - my Jim, wouldn’t know I love him.”
“He’d know,” Jim assured him. He stared down into the beloved face, at the trust and devotion he could see in Blair’s eyes, and it was the same look his Blair wore whenever their gazes met.
“But I want to tell him,” Blair said with deliberate care, “I don’t want either of us going anywhere without knowing.” He pulled their joined hands down, resting them over his heart. “Your Blair is a lucky man.”
“So’s your Jim.” He leaned down, oblivious to the paramedic discretely not watching, and kissed Blair’s mouth. It was a light kiss, but a lingering one and it took his breath away. He could feel it moving through his body, filling him until he thought he might burst. The back of the ambulance seemed to shimmer in a golden light, it grew, dazzling him until Jim could see nothing but the set of eyes staring up at him. And then just as quickly it was gone and darkness surrounded him cold and empty. Jim stifled the small sound which threatened to break free, the disappointed, damaged sound he carried inside. They were gone and he was alone and it hurt.
“Jim? Jim , can you hear me?” He could feel the light on the other side of his closed eyelids. It felt warm, it felt like a hand closing over his. “Jim, please, come back to me.” Jim slowly opened his eyes, the flash of light dimming as a shape moved in front of it, blocking it out, but nothing could diminish the brilliant flash in Blair’s eyes as he smiled and returned the grip on his hand. “Thank god,” Blair whispered, leaning down to whisper in his ear. “I thought you were gone forever.”
“J-just visiting,” Jim said, “I had to come back - because you’re here.” He welcomed the kiss which claimed his mouth, comforted by the thought that in all the worlds that existed he and Blair were together in them, that somehow they always found each other. He smiled against Blair’s lips, and sent a silent thankful prayer to the universe at large.