Disclaimer: All usual disclaimers apply.
Author's Notes: Takes place during the first season.
Jim took the stairs two at a time. The thudding footsteps and gulping breaths of the dealer he was chasing marked the trail of sound for him to follow. Fear stank on the guy. Jim guessed he'd had no plan as he ran, just made a panicked dash for the nearest escape route.
The feet pounding ahead of Jim were echoed by feet pounding behind him. Blair was a flight of steps or so back, but following gamely. He should be safe enough where he was. The dealer was too terrified of Jim to turn back and fight. Or perhaps he was too afraid of the crime boss he worked for.
A lot of patient work had gone into tonight's operation to bust this particular chain of drug dealers and gang leaders, right up, hopefully, to the man at the top. Vice had already been on the case when two of Major Crimes' investigations led them in the same direction. Now in coordinated raids more than a dozen men like this one were being picked up all over Cascade, houses and labs were being searched and a large and complex money-laundering system was being unravelled.
No way was Jim's dealer going to be the only one who got away.
Jim, Rafe and Henri were on this oneand Blair, of course, was there, but even more unofficially than usual. It had been sheer bad luck that had ruined their chance of a smooth arrest. As they took up their positions in the street, a youngster hanging around on the sidewalk had recognised Henri Brown as a copand suddenly there had been a warning shouted, people in their way, and all just a moment or two too soon for them to have reached the man they wanted.
The dealer had bolted. Knowing these streets he must have hoped he could lose his pursuers, but Jim was just beginning to believe what Blair kept telling him about the senses being a gift. Anchored by Blair panting along behind, he'd let his hearing and sight range ahead and the man had had almost no chance of escape.
Tracked with unwavering accuracy, the dealer had grown more and more desperate. Finally he'd darted into this area of half empty offices and old storage buildings, and turned through a doorway in a final effort to lose them. Jim's senses told him that the elderly caretaker in the foyer was the only other person in the place. The dealer must have just dashed past him; Jim quickly showed his badge and followed. The old man blinked, bewildered rather than alarmed.
"Watch the outside!" Jim yelled to Rafe and Henri. "There might be a fire escape or another way out."
He didn't think the dealer really knew where he was going though. He was just heading on up in a panicked flight, straight for the roof. Jim smelt, maybe felt, cold air somewhere above him. He went just a bit more cautiously now that the man was trapped.
But the dealer's heartbeat was well away from the open door. Jim peered out, dialling up his sight to open the darkness to his eyes. The man was looking desperately around the roof, and a gun was shaking in his hand.
"Cascade PD!" Jim began. "Throw down your weapon and put..."
The man fired wildly, the bullet going nowhere near Jim, then scrambled up onto the parapet. One foot was on the concrete, the other on the waist-high railing, and Jim saw he was going to jump.
"Don't be a fool!" he shouted.
The man leapt.
But not to his destruction. Running to the edge of the roof Jim saw that on the building opposite, scaffolding rose to within twenty feet below them, and narrowed the gap between the buildings. The dealer had seen it and been desperate enough to jump for itand he'd made it. Now he was scrabbling onto the walkway that would lead to the ladders and down.
"Stay here!" he called back to Blair, whose presence had been a subliminal constant in his awareness of his surroundings. "Watch where he goes. Let Rafe and Henri know where he's heading."
As he spoke, he poised himself as the dealer had done. The railings weren't slipperyit was bitingly cold but the rain that had been threatening for hours still hadn't started. He hurled himself at the scaffolding and made it with something to spare, though his hands fastened onto the metal struts with convulsive relief that it had been no harder than it looked.
A hasty glance back showed him that Blair was at the railings, but standing quite still and staring down as Jim had told him. A scrabbling and rattling below was the perp, heading for the sidewalk. Had Blair got onto the others? Yes, he saw Rafe come at a run around from the back of the building. Unfortunately the dealer saw him too. He abandoned his frantic scramble and jumped the last twenty feet, firing wildly again as he rolled over on landing, then bolting into the darkness.
Jim jumped as well, and once more the chase began, but this time he could hear the man was tiring fast: his breathing was ragged to the point of no return.
"I see him," Henri called.
They were into slightly busier streets now, and it was the man's undoing. Maybe he was just too shattered to be careful, maybe he simply didn't see the car. He glanced back, and dashed out into the nonexistent gap in the traffic.
There was a horrible grinding of brakes, a scream and a messy and urgent need for an ambulance.
They still hadn't the arrest they'd hoped for, and it took another hour, in the sleety rain which had now started to fall, before they could leave the scene.
"He'll live," Rafe said, as the ambulance left.
"Two fatalities from other arrests, but basically it's gone like clockwork," Henri said. "Oh well, we'd better go and do the paperwork. Where's Hairboy?"
Jim had been wondering that himself. "He'll be in the truck," he said. "We'd have been out of sight by the time he came back down."
But Blair wasn't in the truck.
"He's probably stayed to talk to the caretaker," Jim said, refusing to sound worried in front of the other two. "Someone needed to. You two go and start the paperwork. We'll catch you up."
But as they went he looked uneasily up at the roof, not into the dimly lit foyer. He'd started to feel a slight nagging concern at Blair's absence long before this. If there was one thing he'd come to know about Blair, it was that he was harder to shake off than superglue. He'd been telling himself that it was an appalling night, and the kid just had the sense to stay out of the rain, but now an uncomfortable visual memory had come back to him.
He'd glanced back at Blair from the scaffolding, but he hadn't really looked at him. Even so, the image was imprinted on his sight. His only thought at the time had been that Blair was safely back on the other building, out of harm's way. He hadn't really noticedor not with his mind, only with his eyeshow still Blair had been. How rigid. Now that he thought about it, he could focus in on the picture in his memory and see the whiteness of Blair's knuckles as they clenched on the railings.
Hadn't Blair said something to him after the business with Kincaid? Some half-joking comment about the heights being worse than the guns.
He stared up at the roof, trying to orient himself to the correct angle from down on the sidewalk. Where had they jumped from? He had to track his sight through the darkness along the edge of the roof, the continuing sleety rain falling in his eyes and blurring the scene.
He found Blair's heartbeat before he saw him, high up there in the rain soaked darkness. His eyes followed his hearing and focused on what he'd hoped not to find: Blair exactly where he'd left him, stock still and holding stiffly to the railings, apparently unaware of the passage of time or the wind and rain.
For the second time that night Jim ran past the caretaker with a cursory wave of his ID. The old man grunted and went back to his flickering TV.
Jim's muscles were beginning to protest the night's activity, but he went up the stairs as fast as before. It wasn't just that Blair's heartbeat sounded all wrong. Now that Jim concentrated, he realised Blair was breathing far too fast as well, and muttering to himself in a voice that sounded not just panicky but very unlike him. Jim might not have known him for that long, but he'd learned to respect his resourcefulness even in dangerous situations. Blair didn't sound resourceful now; he sounded... young?
Jim ran out onto the roof and checked his instinct to shout as he emerged. Blair was standing there absolutely rigid, locked to the railings by his hands which were now white with the cold and with the pressure of his grip. Jim had seen enough people under some extreme mental stress, and Blair, soaked, staring unseeing into the dark, totally unaware of his surroundings, showed all the signs.
He was muttering hoarsely, too. Jim had been hearing it on the way up, but it hadn't made a lot of sense, except to alarm him because it held such an odd note of childish terror: "No, please, don't do it, I can't help being scared, please don't do it to me, not over the edge, no!" Blair's voice rose to a near scream and then returned to the muttering and the litany started again.
Jim was next to him now, but he might as well still have been in the street for all Blair noticed.
"Blair?" he said quietly, putting one hand over Blair's icy grasp on the railing.
Nothing. Not even a second's break in the frantic muttering. Jim could feel him shuddering, though, even through that minimal touch.
"Blair!" he said again, more forcefully.
Still nothing, not even when Jim began to unpeel his hand from its death grip on the wet metal. The kid must be completely numb there, anyway, Jim realised. His hand was icily cold, inflexible even when Jim broke his hold.
He tried to turn Blair towards him a little now one arm was free, and finally Blair reacted. With a whimper of fear he tried to grasp the railing again, but his hand bumped clumsily on it, the fingers obviously too numb to obey him. Jim moved to break the grip of his other hand, and suddenly, without warning, Blair's frozen stillness finally cracked. He began to struggle and beat at Jim with one hand and to try to huddle to the railing and hold on with the other. "No! You can't do it to me. Let me go! You can't. No! Please!"
Jim got forcibly between him and the railing then let go his hold on him.
Blair staggered back, his feet probably as numb as his hands, and his shouting died away. For a moment he was still, then he looked confusedly around him and back at Jim.
"What's going on?" he asked thickly. "Jim?"
Jim saw him sway as he spoke, and moved hastily to catch him. He was barely in time. Blair's legs gave way under him, and only Jim's hold kept him from collapsing onto the wet roof.
For a moment Jim just stood there, Blair a soaked and leaden weight in his arms. He was caught between caution and instinct. He probably ought to do something professional about this. Blair was distressed and close to hypothermic and needed... well, some sort of help, obviously, and whatever it was ER would no doubt offer it. But Jim had enough medical training, especially in survival situations, to believe he could cope with this. Every instinct he possessed wanted to get Blair back to the loft and deal with things there.
"Home or ER?" he said softly to his sodden burden. "You may think I don't pay much attention to your opinions, but I guess I know what you'd say to that."
He didn't expect a response, and he didn't get one, but he'd made his mind up anyway. "Right, home it is. There's just a matter of about twenty flights of stairs to negotiate first..."
He tilted Blair's wet, pale face up, and saw his eyes were open, if not seeing much. He was lolled against Jim's arms, but not completely limp. With help he could move. Gently, more gently than he would have thought he could do it, Jim began to ease Blair towards the door and inside.
It seemed almost warm there, out of the wind and rain. Blair started to shiver, which on balance was probably a good thing. The stairs looked endless.
They felt it, too.
Jim tried supporting Blair down at first, but trying to cooperate with his unsteady stumbles was not just difficult, it was dangerous. Then he tried to swing him up over his shoulder, but Blair panicked the moment his feet left the ground and Jim nearly dropped him. He stopped and let them both rest, dripping, while he thought.
This would be a hell of a lot easier if he could get through to Blair just a little.
"Chief?" he said quietly. "Come on, look at me a minute." He leaned Blair back on his arm a little so that he could meet his eyes. "That's right. You know I'm not going to hurt you, don't you. I need you to trust me a bit here."
Blair blinked, his eyes briefly holding something more like their normal intelligence.
"You're cold and you're wet, and we'll get somewhere warm and dry a lot more quickly if you let me carry you."
"Cold," Blair agreed faintly. "Wet."
He blinked again. "Shit," he said, and his voice no longer sounded so young. "I hate cold and wet."
"You do. So if you want a long hot shower and some soup in front of the fire, how about you let me put you over my shoulder so we get to the truck some time this week?"
Blair shuddered, not just with the cold. "Just want m' feet on the ground, man," he mumbled.
"Yeah," Jim said softly. "I got that."
He looked down to the next landing. There was a locked door there into a hallway; a hallway where there would be an elevator...
He coaxed Blair down, hindered by his reluctance ever to have either foot out of contact with the steps. Very luckily, the door had an electronic lock. Test of the week a couple of weeks back had been lock breaking. Blair had taught him how to listen. He wished there was some spark of interest in Blair's face now...
He was still wishing it as they reached the relative haven of the truck, and then 852 Prospect itself. Blair was calmer, but nothing like his usual self. He sat silently shivering in the truck, and Jim saw that his hands had fastened onto the straps of his seatbelt just as they had onto the railings.
"You going to undo that and come in the warm?" he asked.
Blair looked blankly at his hands. "Can't feel them," he said slowly.
Jim had fastened the belt for him when they got in because he'd still seemed so numb and frozen. He unclenched Blair's hand from the strap now, and to sentinel touch it was a little less cold, but obviously to Blair it still felt dead. Blair urgently needed to get out of his soaked clothes and warm up.
They went up to the loft in much the same way they'd come down from the office roof: a slow, stumbling, inefficient shuffle. Jim thought Blair might share a little of his relief when they finally made it and closed the door behind them, but Blair looked white, remote, and barely aware of his surroundings.
Jim stripped off both their dripping coats, and realised Blair's fingers would be too clumsy to deal with buttons or laces.
"Okay, let's take this in the bathroom," he suggested. "I'll start the shower and we'll dump your clothes ready for the drier."
No protest. Blair didn't even seem to realise what was happening until he was under the warm water of the shower. Jim still had a firm hold of his arm, unsure how steady he would be unsupported, and the answer seemed to be not steady at all. When he released his hold slightly, Blair wobbled dangerously. Oh well, what the hell. Jim was already soaked himself; he could hardly get wetter. He turned up the heat slightly on the water and ignored the fact it was drenching his shirt.
He wondered if he could sense Blair's core temperature. He concentrated past the rhythm of the water, the steadying heartbeat, the dilating pores of the skin...
Not so cold?
Very slowly it dawned on Blair that something in his quick-frozen world was at last changing. He could feel some warmth in the water trickling down his face; the familiar surroundings, which had seemed as remote as picture on a page, grew more bright and real. He turned his face up towards the welcome warmth of the water, and it began to release him from his cold numbness. The effort of lifting his head a little seemed ridiculously tiring, though, and he leaned back against...
Oh man, his brain hadn't thawed fast enough for this.
Now he was no longer staring at his own bare feet, he gawped at Jim, whose rock solid arm was bracing him, and whose gaze was fixed blankly on some intermediate distance.
The urgent question of why Blair's shower had become a communal experience had to take second place to the fact Jim had clearly zoned. Apart from anything else, the only one of them with an answer had to be Jim. Blair's own memory stopped somewhere at the point they were running after the drug dealer; beyond that the only thing he could summon up was being very cold and very wet, and a blankness his mind didn't seem to want to approach.
"Jim?" he said, patting the soaking sleeve of Jim's shirt. "Jim! Come on. Come back."
To his reliefhe felt a lot too tired for a long struggleit only took a moment. Jim shook himself slightly, blinked and was back with him.
"What? Shit... Blair?"
"Yeah. What's going on? What's with the douche a deux?"
"Do what? You were just about hypothermic, chief. This seemed the best way to warm you up, short of ER."
"Okay, good choice," Blair agreed, wondering why, if it was that simple, Jim sounded kind of wary, and was looking at him as if he might break. "And you zoned on the water?"
"I was trying to see if I could sense your core temperature."
"Oh. Wow. Could you, or did you zone too soon. Can you now?"
"I don't need to now; I can tell you've warmed up. How do you feel otherwise?"
That question was loaded with more than just ordinary concern, too. Blair wondered if he ought to try to clarify his fuzzy recollections, but he still felt heavily reluctant. Maybe later, when he was less tired...
"I feel more or less okay," he said truthfully. "Achy, tired, but that's normal after getting really chilled right? And we did a lot of running. My memory's kind of hazy after the chasing bit though. I was cold and wet..."
"You were waiting for me a long time in the sleet."
Maybe Jim felt guilty, Blair thought. Though that hardly explained the oddness to his manner, and it wasn't like Jim to worry too much about leaving him standing around. How come he'd let himself be left, anyway?
"Did you get the guy?" he asked, realising he had no idea.
"Yeah. Henri and Rafe are dealing with the paperwork. This water's going to run cold in a minute, chief."
It was more than time for the return of a bit of privacy, anyway, in Blair's opinion. "Okay, I can take it from here," he said hastily. "You could do with some dry clothes too."
He had to get out of the shower and wrap in a towel before he managed to shoo Jim out, and then it was only a few minutes before he was getting into the sweats Jim brought, the robe Jim brought and the thick socks Jim brought. He shuffled hastily out into the loft before Jim could dredge up a night cap.
The fire was blazing and Jim was adding pasta to a pan of hot water.
"Sounds good. You want a hand?"
"No. You sit down."
Blair sat down on the floor next to the fire. The couch might have been more comfortable given that he was still quite achy, but somehow sitting on the floor felt better.
"You going to sit up to eat?" Jim asked.
"No, I'm good down here."
He'd almost finished his bowl of pasta before it occurred to him how easily Jim had acquiesced in this. Or how oddly reluctant he felt to get up from the floor. He was tired, that was all. It was an effort to move.
"Well, if you're okay, I'm going to put our clothes in the drier," Jim said, heading for the door with a dripping basket. "I'll only be a minute. Just stay where you are, okay."
"I feel fine now," Blair said.
"Humour me, all right?"
Blair intended to, really, even when the phone rang. It was only when the answering machine picked up and he heard Henri that he decided it was worth moving and risking Jim's irritation.
For some reason, he decided to sit back down on the floor with the phone.
"Hey, Hairboy," Henri said. "Jim found you okay, then. Were you talking to the caretaker?"
"No... no, I was outside."
"As wet as us then. Heyyou didn't stay out on the roof did you? It must have been freezing up there in the open..."
Out on the roof... in the open...
Henri's voice was cut off, as Blair slowly and carefully put the receiver down, and methodically stretched out on the floor, full length, face down, making sure that every bit of his body was in contact with the solid surface.
On the roof.
He wasn't going to think about it, or worse, about the memory that might emerge from the blankness.
It was just good to feel the solidity of the floor pressing up against him. You couldn't fall anywhere when you were already lying down. Not unless the floor wasn't as solid as it looked, or there was an earthquake or something, because of course, he had to face it that this was only the floor of the loft and not actually solid ground and...
"I'm fine," he said quickly into the floor.
He didn't want Jim to roll him over, because that meant he had to struggle to grip his hands to the smooth surface, and to fight against Jim. Except that fighting against Jim was pretty much of a non-starter even when his muscles didn't feel like jelly.
"You won't fall," Jim said, with apparent clairvoyance, and providing himself as an equally solid, and warmer, substitute for the floor.
I'm not doing this, a part of Blair thought with hot embarrassment, as some more primitive instinct made him hang on for dear life. I can't be doing this. Hell, Jim's barely got used to having me around the loft and around his life. He was so cool about the Lash thing, but that was different, anyone would have been freaked by a psycho. What kind of wuss is so scared of looking over a little drop...?
"It's okay," Jim said, and the reassuring note in his voice also belonged to Blair's fuzzy memories of being unlocked from Lash's chains. "It's okay. You've no more chance of falling than flying. You, me and the floor, we're grounded."
How did Jim know what he was afraid of?
But it was true. He couldn't fall. And no one could wrench him from Jim's grasp and hold him over the drop and tell him to grow up, it wasn't far down, look at it boy, miserable little bastard...
Oh God, he'd forgotten that.
All those years he'd forgotten it, and he'd nearly locked it away in his mind again now. He would have locked it away, only there were moments, not that he'd admit to it aloud, when Jim seemed to provide a kind of stronghold from where it was safe to look even at nightmares...
"Blair? You with me here at all?"
He tried to relax his white-knuckle grip on Jim's arms. "Yeah. Sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry for."
Blair could feel his solid presence, firmer than bedrock, stabler than the ground itself.
"You weren't very old, were you?" Jim said quietly.
Blair did remember now, both the distant past and the events of the present evening. The latter weren't very clear in his mind, just enough to recall his own voice shouting, and Jim's efforts to get him away from the railings and down to the truck. The past, though, was vivid and fresh.
"I was five," he said, muffled. "He kept saying it, 'you're five, you're a big boy, you've got to stop whining and pretending'."
"Who was he?" Jim asked, and although his voice was still quiet there was a dark undertone to it. Jim would like to rip the guy's head off. Blair found that reprehensibly comforting.
"I can only remember his first name," Blair said, looking back over a lot of years. "Simmy, that's what Naomi called him. I've told you about Naomi haven't I? My mom? Anyway, we were staying with this guy for a while. I don't think he was so bad really, just not used to kids. The apartment was small, and sometimes he'd-you know, want a bit of time on his own with Naomi. I wasn't a great sleeper as a kid, and in the day I was kind of underfoot. The only place for me to go was out on the balcony, and I didn't like it. I didn't like looking down. It can't have been that far, but it looked a long way to me. And of course, Naomi didn't like me to be upset, so Simmy got kind of frustrated."
He remembered it more clearly now. The small hot room. Arguing voices. The flaking paint of the balcony rails.
"Simmy gave in to her. Until the next time he had me on his own. Then he took me out on the balcony and said he was going to cure me..."
He could remember the taste of his fear and the sound of his screams.
"It was bad enough when he was just pushing my face forward over the railings, but then he held me up and dangled me over them."
Blair wanted to stop, now. He'd had enough. But the words seemed to keep coming out on their own.
"I guess I kept on and on screaming, and Iwell, I was only a little kidI wet my shorts, and then I guess I had something kind of like a real panic attack. And I suppose he realised I wasn't just playing up, because he must have hauled me in then. I don't think he was any kind of sadist, just a bully and frustrated and probably brought up on the kind of thinking that chucks a kid in deep water to learn to swim..."
Jim made a noise that could only honestly be described as a growl. "Sorry, chief. In my book, anyone who does that to a kid is a sadist and worse, and if there was any hope of finding out who he was I know exactly what I'd like to do to him. Tell me you didn't have to stay there."
"No. I think he cleaned me up, and when Naomi got back, he just told her he wanted us out. He didn't tell her what had happened, and nor did I. I don't know why I didn't. I think I felt guilty, for being such a baby and messing up for us so we had to look for a new place to stay. And then I just forgot about it, except I hate heights still. Until I remembered tonight."
He couldn't believe how completely exhausted he felt now. Every muscle in his body seemed to have melted. He couldn't even turn his head on Jim's shoulder to see his face, but he didn't really need to because there was no mistaking the protectiveness in Jim's grasp. Sentinels were guardians; no wonder it pushed all Jim's buttons to think of a kid being hurt. Maybe it even mattered that that kid had been Blair.
Jim moved slightly, so that they were both leaned back comfortably against the couch.
"Guess it was my athletic leap off the railings that triggered the memory," he said wryly.
Blair thought, hazily, about it. It hadn't been that, or only partly. He knew now what it had been. It had been the sheer terror he felt at the thought of following Jim, rapidly followed by shame. Adult reasons this time, but the feelings had been so very close the ones he'd felt as a child. Only no one had held him then, and made him feel he wasn't a worthless little waste of time.
"My mom had no idea what had happened," he said again.
"It's surprising what kids don't tell their parents," Jim agreed.
Blair wondered, drowsily, if even Jim had things he'd rather not remember. Blair hoped he'd be there for him if he had. Least he could do. And he'd get to grips with the height thing too, now he understood where the fear was coming from. He didn't want it to stop him following Jim ever again.
"I told you to stay put," Jim said, guessing his thoughts. "You were more use there, watching where the guy went. Believe me, Blair, if I'd needed you, you'd have found a way. You did all right with Kincaid."
"That all happened so fast."
"You handled it though. I've known since day one, and that garbage truck, that you had what it takes."
It was nice to think one of them felt like that about it. Blair settled drowsily where he was, too tired to think about it except to resolve he was going to get past this particular phobia. He'd work on it 'til he could follow Jim anywhere...
"You don't ever jump out of airplanes do you?" he asked, on the edge of sleep.
"I don't think Simon would accept an airplane came into our budget," Jim said.
"I'm not sure I could do that."
Jim's laugh ruffled his drying hair. "Don't underestimate yourself, chief. And for tonight, just enjoy having your feet on the ground."
Blair thought of his feet, not exactly on the ground, but comfortably warm in the huge socks that must be a relic from Jim's army days. Who needed ground anyway? Rock might be steady, but it wasn't nearly as reliable as Jim. He was safe where he was, that was for sure.
He slept, without dreams.
Jim didn't move as his senses tracked Blair's gradual descent into sleep. He let his mind play happily over the idea of tracking down the guy Simmy and dangling him from the top of the nearest skyscraper 'til he pissed his trousers. And that was just for starters.
After a while, he considered heaving Blair onto the couch and making himself some coffee, but it seemed like a lot of effort and Blair was kind of peaceful where he was.
The kid deserved a decent night's sleep, Jim decided. Blair followed him and stayed with him whatever the situation, whatever happened, and he beat himself up mercilessly for mostly imaginary failures. Even future ones, involving the most unlikely scenariosjumping out of an airplane? Where did Blair come up with that one?
"Bet you a six pack you'd do it if you had to, chief," he said softly, though he knew Blair was too deeply asleep to hear him.
Meanwhile there was no way Blair was going to dream of falling tonight, not if Jim had anything to do with it.
He settled to spend the evening where he was, and hoped his presence would give the sense of stability, security Blair obviously needed.
Rock solid, another block of the foundation of their friendship settled into place.
~ End ~
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