Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. I use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.

Spoilers: Prisoner X

The Freeing



"Jim? Jim? Ah, come on, man, you've got to come out sometime, and I'm freezing here!" Blair Sandburg hunched against the November nighttime air and with his fist thudding against the rear door of the blue sedan, driver's side, he mumbled something about Sentinels who didn't know what was good for them.

"What's good for me?" was the whisper behind the Guide's ear, and Jim Ellison was rewarded with a spectacular pirouette from his chilly ridealong, his heart ticking like an introductory drum roll.

'Give a guy a...' died before the air left Blair's lips and instead there was a hushed groan. "Oh, God, Jim, just look at you."

There was extensive bruising on the left side of Ellison's face, a bump rising on his forehead, cuts here and there, and red rawness all about his eyes.

The Sentinel didn't bat an eyelid. He stared frostily, distantly, into his Guide's eyes and said absolutely nothing.

Blair blinked hard, the first time to get over the shock of his best friend's sudden appearance, the second to weigh and catalogue Jim's injuries, and the third to get past Jim's hostility.

"Okay," Blair jerked out, with hands measuring an invisible boundary, "okay, okay. Jim, you gotta let me look at that. You, you need some help, you know? I need to clean that up. God, man, what did they do to you?" The last burst out loud and heartfelt and an octave higher than the first soothing tones.

He got a shrug for his answer, the flint-blue eyes never leaving his own blue velvet ones. Blair looked his partner over carefully. "Jim? Jim?"

His hesitation resulted in some quality of change in the Sentinel's gaze, an impatience, almost a hatred.

"Oh, God, Jim," Blair said, pulling himself together as he realised just how badly Jim Ellison had been hurt, had been razed, had been brought close to death. Pain in Jim's soul he had expected, the injuries he prepared for as soon as he learned of them, but he had never expected Jim's spirit to be so... imprisoned.

Slowly, his large hands spread wide, he let them settle with great delicacy on the big detective's shoulders, watching Jim's eyes every second for any hint of rejection.

But Jim looked at the hands as they approached, and never flinched, as if his body were not his own, and the gentle hands never touched him.

Blair swallowed hard. "Jim, I know what—we have to do," he started, sudden misgivings about his careful plan assailing him, causing the break in the flow of his speech.

"You know." How could the phrase be at once flat and poisonously insulting?

Blair closed his eyes, his hands still on his friend's shoulders, and shuddered once before going on with the ritual, ducking his head briefly. When he raised his eyes again there was new assurance in them. "Yes, I know. First, we need to get you undressed, Jim. Forensics needs the clothes." He gestured towards the milling throng a few thousand feet away from where he had pulled the car up, to allow for their privacy

The Sentinel started unbuttoning his blue shirt without a second's pause, and handed it and every other article of clothing to his Guide one by one, no fuss, no bother.

It was Sandburg who was bothered by the silent strip, almost more than he was by the number of injuries those clothes had hidden. But all he did was gasp, grab each piece of inner and outerwear and shove it into a separate Evidence envelope, then make the necessary chain of evidence notations, hardly keeping up with Ellison's no-nonsense celerity. When Jim was naked, Blair doffed his own long leather jacket to pull around him, with hands and eyes and movements reverent, his voice low with a slight quaver. "I didn't know, man, I'm sorry, I had no idea, I wasn't prepared, but we'll get through it, just, just wear this for now, I have more clothes for you, but we've gotta get you cleaned up first and those cuts and bruises taken care of and I need to take this stuff to Forensics..."

Some quality of the air must have changed then, because Blair stopped to breathe, his eyes pinned by the never-wavering gaze of his silent partner.

Thrusting the pen at Ellison for his scribble on each envelope as first possessor, Blair swiped it back when he was done and hoisted the double armful of envelopes. "Wait in the car, Jim, while I run these over to Forensics, okay? I'll be as quick as I can. The car's warm."

Jim opened the rear door of the sedan and slid in. Blair's eyes grew wide and round and sick. "Oh, shit," he breathed or thought, he didn't know which, as he had to close the door, because Jim wasn't moving.

Then he took to his heels and ran.

Jim sat in the backseat of the car and did his best to zone out. His point of concentration was the feeling of Blair's coat caught around him. Blair's shoulders were as wide as Jim's own, and the jacket fit better across the chest than anyone would have expected though it fit not fall long enough to cover Jim's genitals. But it was not an expensive coat, though it was warm, and Jim's senses pinpointed the warmth rather than the harsh acrylic lining scratching his skin. He wrapped his arms tightly around himself to hold onto the warmth, force it as deeply inside as he could, never realising it was the phantom hug of his best friend that he was craving in the tattered vestiges of his spirit.

Sandburg was back as quickly as humanly possible, which was not as soon as he would have liked, having had words with Serena and words with Simon Banks. Banks knew full well he'd be hearing from Sandburg again, and that he deserved it, and the loss of a ride home, for letting Jim run around loose in that get-up after being battered. He had promised the observer a three-day weekend, and that Jim could give his statement at the loft as soon as Blair would let Joel inside the door. Blair promised that that would be as soon as Jim was fit to give his statement. Both men stared fixedly at the other, then nodded as one, and Sandburg had wings on his heels this time.

"Jim? Jim? You okay there?" Breathless and worried, the words puffed out on cold night air.

>From the warm interior of the car there was the slightest change of the position of Detective James Ellison's head, and Blair wasn't sure if it was an acknowledgement or an attempt to see him better. He hoped that it was the former. But Jim had been assaulted with pepper spray, and it might have been the latter.

Normally, Jim's peripheral vision always had his partner under a beneficent surveillance. But not tonight.

"Okay, okay," Blair started again, rubbing his cold hands together, trying to heat them up for Jim's sake. "We've got some work to do here, buddy. You willing to try?"

There was absolutely no answer of any sort.

"Please, Jim, I have to treat those. And your eyes. You were maced. Your eyes must be... Oh, Jim, please let me help!"

The huge head swivelled to the side to stab his frantic partner with a glare as edged as steel.

Blair took this as a yes.

"Hey, then, I'm going to get some stuff from the front seat and I'll let down the seat so I can reach over, okay with you?"

The head swivelled back.

Blair took this as a yes.

He suited actions to words, hauling a crate of bottled spring water, some towels, a thermos and a bunch of first aid items onto the driver's seat, then crawling halfway over the bridged gap and dabbing with a soaked towel at Jim's face.

"Hey, Jim, let's get the stuff off your skin first. Then I want you to lie back and I'll rinse out your eyes with the pure water. That okay with you?"

Again all that answered was Jim's failure to do anything at all.

So Blair carefully but thoroughly wiped Jim's skin clean of the pepper spray, sweat and blood delicately, respectful of the bruises and abraded areas. "Is that okay, Jim? Did I get it all?"

Jim again raked his best friend with a metallic gaze.

Blair drew in a shaky breath from the shock of his Sentinel's all-but-repudiation of him. A couple of seconds later, he asked, hushed, "Do you want to do it, Jim? Do you want to wash your eyes out yourself?"

But the Sentinel failed to speak, and instead, turned his rigid body and lay back, his knees bent, head flat against the back seat, a few inches from his Guide's tender hands.

Again, the behaviour was so atypical of James Joseph Ellison, one-time Captain in the Rangers, then Detective with Major Crimes and Officer of the Year, finally Sentinel of the Great City of Cascade, that Blair Sandburg, ABD in anthropology and very unofficial partner to the gifted man, was filled with terror.

What had happened to Jim's spirit?

That had to be left for later. Now, Jim needed very obvious ministrations, obvious to his Shaman, that is. He poured the pure water into Jim's eyes, wiping it away with a clean towel, until Jim shook his head once and began to blink.

"That done it, Jim? There's lots more water if you need it." Blair watched for any sign of communication. All he saw was Jim blinking more and more slowly until he stopped and let his gaze fall on his Guide's face again, searching as if for a solution to a crime. But then he turned his head to the ceiling and stared at the material above.

Sandburg went cold through and through.

"Jim? There... Um, I need... See, I think..." the observer proffered haltingly.

"Spit it out."

The first words Jim had spoken were filled with venom, and Blair was at one and the same time sick at heart and filled with hope.

"Okay, see, here's what I figure. You can't bring this home with you, Jim. None of it. None of him. So you gotta leave it here. I'm gonna help you leave it all here."

Ellison's face was as stony as ever, but he held his breath for an instant, and then gave a sideways bob to his chin as if to say, I'm considering it.

Blair beamed at him, and the detective's facial muscles relaxed infinitesimally. Sandburg couldn't see it, but the magic was working.

"So first things first, I want to wash your hair. Okay?"

Jim closed his eyes again.

"Fine, fine," Blair enthused. "Here, I've got tons of water, and towels, and your brand of shampoo. All your personal stuff is in the trunk. I'm just going to go get it, okay?"

There wasn't any kind of movement from his best friend, so Blair made a lightning trip to the back of the car and slung a jam-packed duffelbag into the space under the glovebox. He knelt on the passenger's seat and bent forward over Jim.

"Here, let's get the towel under you," and a thick, folded towel was slipped under Jim's head, "now to wet you down," and a third bottle of spring water was sluiced over Jim's short hair," "and here's the shampoo," and foam was rubbed up over the whole of Jim's scalp by strong, sure fingers, skull cradled as tenderly as if made of eggshell.

Suddenly Jim inhaled deeply. Blair froze for a moment, but a smile trailed across his face and he went back to the task of cleansing Jim Ellison.

He put a single drop of his own conditioner in the bottle of water he used to rinse Jim's hair free of the soap. That was all the Sentinel would need.

Jim inhaled deeply again, and while Blair was drying his hair, massaging his scalp and temples and neck as well, his muscles gave a little more, enough for Blair to see it this time.

Blair was so overjoyed that he could not even smile. It was too much for a mere smile. He finished the task and then used the antiseptics and bandages and a witch hazel and Vitamin E lotion (all that Dr. Wilson had that the sensitive Sentinel could tolerate) on the facial injuries.

"Okay, that's done, then," he said finally. "Can you sit up, Jim? We're gonna have to get you clean all over. Take off the coat?"

Jim sat slowly, stiffly, compacted on the back seat of the car. He slipped the coat off his shoulders with the least of shrugs, leaving it puddled beneath him.

Blair could not have cared less about the coat. It was the bruising of the ribs and the thighs and the calves, the abrasions all over Jim's hands, arms and shoulders, that had all his attention.

He soaked a towel with three or four more bottles of water, and rooted around for Jim's brand of soap. When he had both, he lathered his best friend from neck to groin.

"Jim?" he asked permission.

The Sentinel nodded, silent as stone.

So the Guide kept lathering the entire length of Jim's body, crawling into the driver's seat to hang over it's back and reach the feet, the toes, all their crevices.

A fresh towel was drenched with spring water and Blair got rid of all the lather he could see. "Is that it, Jim? Did I get it all?" he asked anxiously.

Jim pointed to a spot by his right knee, and Blair's heart skipped a beat. It was working at last.

"Okay, there, that's got it, right?"

Jim nodded.

The smile on his partner's face couldn't be held back. The car interior was filled with more than moonlight. He spread lotion on the bruised ribs and legs with a light touch.

"Wouldja turn over so I can get your back, Jim?"

Without words, Jim turned onto his front and let Blair continue with his cleaning, anointing and massage therapy patented for use on maxed-out Sentinels. He was as careful and as reverent with Jim when he reached the small of the back as before, waiting for permission until a quick nod gave it.

By the time he was done, seven towels were pitched at the roadside beside an empty lotion bottle, and an eighth was being used to rub some warmth into Jim Ellison's body, top to toe.

"Okay, I'll bet that feels better, right?" Blair asked.

Jim turned to look at him evenly and nodded again. His gaze seemed curious, but no longer hostile. It was Blair who nodded now.

"I've got some sweats and boxers and socks and tennies here for you, Jim. Not your own, I'm sorry, but new ones, I washed everything before I brought them, so they're clean and I hope you find them comfortable. But I wanted stuff you could ditch once we're back at the Loft so there're no reminders at all of this place—or of him." Blair held out the clothes, but Jim made no move to take them.

This was worse than Blair had realised. He gulped and started to dress his Sentinel like a servitor would a King.

Jim gave him no help, save for raising up when the boxers and sweatpants were pulled up to his waist.

"Okay, now that that's done, I bet you'd like to brush your teeth," Blair said with a slight tone of encouragement that said, You can do it, Jim, I know you can do it.

He held out a new toothbrush, Jim's brand of toothpaste and a bottle of spring water.

Jim went so far as to open a fist. Blair put the brush in it and the fist closed again.

Blair sighed to himself and uncapped the toothpaste, spreading it on the brush as Jim watched silently, wetting it down. Jim was motionless.

"Come on, man," Blair finally urged, tapping the underside of Jim's fist with his fingers. "I draw the line at cleaning your own teeth for you. Just up and down, okay?" He pulled back into the front passenger seat and busied himself with the thermos. When he looked around again, Jim was brushing the inside of his mouth so furiously, the palate, the tongue, the gums, as well as the teeth, that flecks of blood were beginning to appear.

"Hey, hey, hold it, man!" Blair flailed about trying to catch the demon-driven arm. He finally managed to grab Jim's elbow and it took all his strength to stop the movement.

Jim's eyes were murderous.

"Too much, man," Blair crooned, Guide-like. "Too hard. Don't want to hurt yourself. Wanna be good to yourself tonight, okay, Jim?" He handed over the bottle of water and as Jim took a mouthful, he hopped out of the front passenger's seat and opened the back door so his partner could twist and spit out the residue. Jim spat again and again and again, until all the water was gone.

As he looked up and met Blair's eyes, it was with a kind of thankfulness, which disappeared as Jim righted himself and sat up behind the driver's seat, facing forward. He was an Easter Island statue once more.

"Okay," Blair said, "just wait a minute while I tidy up here." He crammed everything he had used so far—towels, soap, shampoo, brush, toothpaste, waterbottles, everything—into garbage bags. "We're not gonna keep any of these."

Jim actually looked interested at that. As Blair quick-stepped his way to the nearest trash can, the Sentinel watched every move.

But his mask was back in place by the time Blair returned. The thermos was opened, and a hot cup of cocoa was held out for Jim to take.

Jim had to reach for the cup if he wanted it. Blair was not disappointed.

"Like it?" he asked. "I changed the recipe a little. Can you tell what I did?"

Jim finished his drink and held his hand out for more.

"Huh-uh. Not till I know you appreciate the chef's new recipe," Blair joked for the first time.

The smile was a mere apparition, but Blair was sure he saw it.

"Cocoa, whole milk, sugar, vanilla, salt, and a touch of Grand Marnier," Jim challenged his Guide.

"Way to go!" Blair crowed as he filled the cup again. "So do you like it with Grand Marnier?"

"It's okay," Jim said, his voice creaking. "Now and again, maybe."

Oh, God, that was a promise of a future! Blair had to blink hard.

"Hey, buddy," Blair said, "wanna join me up front?"

Jim looked at him, puzzled.

Blair stopped and thought. Finally, he popped a CD into the deck and strains of a classical piece floated through the car.

It took a few minutes, but finally Jim burst free from his prison, and became himself once again.

"What the hell's that, Chief?" he protested.

Blair could have kissed him. "It's Bach. Try it, I think you'll like it. Very mathematical use of music. If you really got into it, into the patterns, you'd probably zone. Don't zone, Jim."

"Okay, then, turn it off and put some real music on."

Jim was complaining.

Good old Jim!

"Why don't you come up here and do it for yourself?" Blair grinned.

"Geez," Jim groused, "haveta do everything for myself." But he opened the door to get out and Blair stopped him with a tap on the shoulder.

"Yeah, you haveta do everything for yourself, man. Like tie your shoelaces. The one thing I couldn't reach over far enough to do. Okay?"

Jim stared at his shoelaces and automatically started tying them. Then he sat, half in and half out of the car with a frown. "What just happened here, Chief?" he demanded to know, pivoting to place his hand on the driver's headrest.

Blair reached up to take Jim's beloved face in his two hands. "An execution, an exorcism, a resurrection, maybe all three. We just buried Curtis, Jim. You couldn't survive in that... circus and be who you really are, so Curtis took over. All his hatefulness, his brutality, his dangerousness. And Curtis is a lifer, Jim. A permanent member of the herd, and he tried to turn you invisible so you'd survive. He's never coming back. You're never doing this again. Undercover, maybe, but not as Curtis. Never again. You are not an invisible man. Not to me. I see you."

Jim covered his Shaman's hands with his own palms and squeezed tightly. "Why didn't you come for me?" he asked quietly.

"What do you mean?" Blair was at a total loss. "We did come for you. Simon and I got worried when my class was cancelled and there was no way to contact you, and we came early."

"You came late," the Sentinel replied. "What about my note?"

"Oh, God, Jim, you sent a note to get pulled out before the fight happened?" Blair tumbled to the explanation. At his partner's acquiescence, Blair affirmed, "We only got one that said you were making progress. We didn't know it wasn't from you."

"Must have been Miller, everyone's favourite forger," Jim sighed.

"Block capitals. We made it easy for him, didn't we?" Blair mourned. "Shit. I'm so sorry, Jim. You didn't have to go through any of that!"

But Jim transferred his hands to his Guide's face, cradling the cheeks as lovingly as Blair had his own. "Maybe not. But I guess I did have to go through all of this." He looked from the sweatsuit to the duffelbag to the trash bin. "Thank you."

Blair went red and would have pulled back, but Jim had put his arms on Blair's shoulders and wouldn't let him. "Aw, shoot, Jim, I just knew you'd need it. I mean, you're a Sentinel, and I didn't want you to have to come home straight from prison with the chemicals and the clothes scratching your body and the stink of the place in your nostrils and throat, y'know."

"Yeah, I know," Jim said, and smiled that billion-dollar smile that was so infrequently seen and never given to anyone but Blair Sandburg.

He cuffed his Guide lovingly on the head and lunged out of the back seat. Blair popped out of the driver's seat and they argued about who was going to drive (Jim) and where they were going next (Wonderburger) and what music they would be listening to (Santana) and then as Blair was circling the car to get into the passenger's side, Jim drove off and left him for a full minute while Blair shouted imprecations and learned curses at his Sentinel—because his jacket was still in the backseat of the car and he was cold, having no Sentinel dials to turn down—until Jim backed up and got his half-frozen best friend into the car again.

Once Blair was huddled in the front passenger seat and about to bite Jim's head off, the Sentinel put the car in park, and turned to his Guide. At the look on Jim's face, Blair caught his tongue. Jim reached into the backseat and filched the coat that had warmed him earlier in the evening.

"Here, Chief, take this," he said, and helped Blair slide his arms into the sleeves.

And somewhere in there, the Sentinel took the opportunity to slip his own arms around his Guide and turn the phantom hug into a real one.

~ End ~

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Page last updated 8/15/03.