Disclaimer: See home page.
Warnings: This story contains a few bad words.
Lean on Me
Jim Ellison climbed out of his truck and stretched his back muscles. After sitting at his desk all day that felt sooo good. He couldn't wait until next week when his medically imposed desk duty would be over. It really wasn't fair. Who would have guessed that that nerdy looking perp's mousy girlfriend would actually be carrying a knife and would actually try to use it against him? Well, she did do more than try. One six-inch gash across his abdomen and twenty stitches later he found himself arguing with the ER doctor that he was fine to go back on normal duty, that the cut wasn't even that deep. He couldn't believe it when Simon, his own captain for crying out loud, agreed with the doctor. He was actually smiling when he told the doctor that two full weeks of desk duty should be just about right for Jim to finally catch up on all his overdue paperwork. It was a conspiracy; he just knew that the two of them had secretly agreed to this while the nurse was bandaging his cut after the doc had stitched him up.
Oh well, he was home now and it was Friday. One week down and one more to go. And as much as he hated to admit it, his paperwork was no longer threatening to take on a life of its own. Of course a lot of it probably had to do with Sandburg's coming in everyday, after he finished at the University, and 'helping' him with it. The kid was just amazing when it came to paperwork, he could do it in less than half the time it took him and do it much better too. Too bad he hadn't come in today of all days, when Simon had asked for an end of week summary of his current cases. He thought the day would never end.
Spotting Sandburg's 'classic' Corvair Jim smiled. Blair beating him home usually meant dinner would be ready or at least in the making. His new unofficial partner hadn't been living with him very long, but they soon both agreed that Sandburg was definitely the better cook and now he had all but taken over that chore. Jim also felt that another reason was because Blair felt guilty that he couldn't contribute more financially. He had been appalled when he found out how little TAs made. Blair was constantly juggling his expenses around just to make ends meet; Jim had decided that he wouldn't add another large rent bill, like he had been paying for that old decrepit warehouse, to his roommate's worries.
As he climbed the stairs, the elevator being out again, he was pleased to note that he was barely even aware of his injury; he was, however, aware that no enticing aromas were wafting out to greet him. Pushing down his disappointment he figured Sandburg must be working his dis or something else for school. When he was in full research mode time lost all meaning to the overworked grad student. Well, after all the paperwork Blair had done for him this week, he'd spring for Chinese or pizza tonight. As he approached the loft he noticed that it was dark inside, with just a faint glow emanating from beneath the door. He listened for his guide's heartbeat, usually a good indicator of his mood. It was beating too fast for his roommate to be meditating, and... was that a sniffling sound he was also hearing? He quickly opened the door.
Inside the loft was dark, lit only by Blair's meditation candles on the coffee table. Blair himself was sitting on the floor beside the table, in front of the couch, with his legs crossed. But instead of his wrists resting on his knees and his head back with eyes closed, his usual meditation pose, he was leaning forward, hands hanging limply between his knees, head down staring at the floor. His long curly hair hid his face, obscuring his expression. Jim could just see the corner of what looked like a piece of yellow paper on the floor beside him. Entering the room quietly, he was certain that something was wrong. He slowly lowered himself onto the floor directly in front of his roommate, almost mirroring his position. He spoke softly, "Hey Chief, what's going on? Hard time meditating tonight?"
No response. Blair didn't move.
Jim was getting worried. The slight increase in Blair's heartbeat told him that he heard him; he knew that he was there. This was so different from the Blair Sandburg he was used to. He tried again. "Did something happen at the University today? Is that why you didn't come by the station?"
Slowly Blair's head came up. He wasn't crying now but his eyes were still wet and even in the dim light Jim could see the tracks on his face where his tears had been. Jim had seen Blair turn green at certain crime scenes, seen him become very disturbed by his first hand look at man's inhumanity to man, seen him rant about all the types of injustices there were in the world, but despite everything his partner had been exposed to since he started working with him, he had never seen Blair cry. He knew it was something he never wanted to see again. But more than just the tears, it was Blair's eyes that was alarming the detective. They had a haunted look, a mixture of incredible sadness and intense fear that seemed to come from his very soul.
"What happened, Chief? Are you all right?"
Instead of answering Blair turned and reached for the yellow paper Jim had seen when he first came in. He watched as Blair's hand flinched just before he picked it up, as if he were afraid to touch it, then he just held it out.
Jim hesitated. "You sure?" At Blair's small nod he carefully took the paper and turned it over. It was a Western Union telegram. He shuddered inwardly; no one ever sent good news by telegram. After a quick glance at his unnaturally silent partner he started reading. It was addressed to Blair in care of Rainier University, from a town somewhere in Arizona.
TO: BLAIR SANDBURG. STOP.
HARMONY GROVE COMMUNE AND RETREAT TOTALLY DESTROYED BY FIRE. STOP. NAMES OF FATALITIES/SURVIVORS UNAVAILABLE AT THIS TIME. STOP. SUGGEST YOU COME AT ONCE. STOP.
ANNE GREENE. STOP. AMERICIAN RED CROSS. STOP.
Jim read it again. Just three short sentences. But the impact was staggering. "You know somebody staying there?" Please don't say what I'm afraid you're going to say.
The word was barely more than a small breath; almost anyone else would have missed it. "Naomi."
Shit, no, not his mother. Jim hadn't met the intriguing Naomi yet but Blair had told him a few stories about his vagabond childhood with his free spirited mother. From what his partner had revealed he had gotten the impression that, even now, they were still very close. This had to be killing him inside. What can you say at a time like this?
"Awww, jeez, Blair, I'm so sorry." He almost hated to ask. "Have you been able to get any more, umm, information?"
Blair looked down at the floor again, then slowly shook his head. "Not much. I-I called the Red Cross. They said that due to how spread out the commune is, it's (sniff) hard to account for where everyone was when the fire started. It's been... really dry out there and it just spread so fast. They-they're having a hard time identifying all the... all the..." his voice dropped to a strained whisper, "... the bodies." The last word came out as a strangled sob. Jim watched, feeling helpless, as Blair put his face in his hands, watched the broad shoulders shake as soft muffled sobs filtered through his friend's fingers. "I'm sorry, man. I-I swore I wouldn't lose it in front of you. I think, maybe, I'll just-just go... to... my room now."
Jim didn't know what to do. He wasn't even used to dealing with crying women, never mind a man. Whenever a victim or witness started getting too emotional he would always hand them off to someone else to deal with. But this wasn't just some nameless face; this was Blair, the person who more and more had begun to mean more to him than just being that flaky grad student who knew about his senses. The grief and fear pouring off of his young friend was almost palpable. As he watched Blair's misery he felt another large part of that solid granite wall he had built around his heart start to crumble. Pieces had been unexpectedly chipping off regularly for a while now, ever since a certain anthropologist had pushed him under a garbage truck. Reaching out tentatively he put his hand on a shaking shoulder.
"I don't want you to go to your room, Chief. I think you really need to be with someone right now." You need to be with me. Whoa, where did that come from? But it was true, he wanted Blair to stay out here with him and even more surprising, especially to himself, he found that he wanted to stay with Blair. He looked at his partner. "Okay?"
Blair raised his head up from his hands. Jim had one hand on his shoulder and was holding his other arm straight out and to off to the side a little as he was talking. In his current state of mind those words and that posture that were all the invitation he needed. He launched himself at the only other person in the room.
Jim staggered a little but managed to keep from falling over backwards as he suddenly found himself with all one hundred and fifty-five solid pounds of Blair Sandburg straddling his lap. He felt two arms tighten around his neck. While Blair had already stopped crying, he was still shaking and his breathing still had little hitches in it. Okay, this isn't exactly what I had in mind. Now what? He did what he had learned in the Army and on the police force. When in an unknown situation let your instincts take over. And his instincts were telling him that he had a very distraught friend here who right now desperately needed someone to take care of him. Like Blair takes care of me when my senses go out of control. Hesitantly he brought his arms around his guide. As soon as they touched the muscular back they seemed to instinctively tighten around him. He immediately started trying to calm Blair down.
"Shhh, Blair. I know it's hard right now, I know it hurts but you're going get through this, I promise."
The arms around his neck tightened even more. Blair voice was slightly muffled as he buried his face against Jim's neck. "But Jim. It's my Mom, Jim. My Mom. What if she's... (sniff)? What if she really is... gone? What am I gonna do? It's always been just us, ever since I can remember. Even after I started at Rainier and we were both traveling around a lot, I always had a phone number to reach her. Whenever I had a problem I would call her and we'd talk, sometimes for hours. I mean, I guess, I-I'm trying to say that she's just always been there, no matter what."
Jim just listened as Blair talked. He knew that Blair needed to vent, to let some of his feelings out. He'd probably been bottling everything up inside ever since he received the telegram.
"Did-did you know that she just called me last week from the commune? She did. She was telling me how beautiful and peaceful it was there and-and how much she was enjoying being there. She said she might try to come here for Christmas. She wants to meet you. And I really want... you two... to... meet..."
Blair's voice started to falter as he realized what he was saying. He buried his face deeper into Jim's neck. "Oh God Jim. She can't be gone. She can't. I don't know what I'll do if she's... not here anymore. I can't stand this not knowing. Jim? Jim, I'm so scared. Scared for her and scared for me too. If she's gone, really gone, then it'll just be me. I-I don't want to be all alone. I don't know if I can handle that. I need to know that she's out there, just a phone call away if I need her." His voiced dropped to almost a whisper. "Why is this happening, Jim? Why? Am I being punished for something? Did I do something so awful that"
"NO!" It came a little louder and harsher than Jim had intended. He knew it was mostly the fear and grief talking but it was heart wrenching enough listening to Blair's pain over the possibility that he had lost his mother so suddenly, without also hearing him start to think that he might actually deserve to have this happen to him. It was just too much. He suddenly became aware that at some point he had started slowly rocking and that, seemingly of its own volition, one of his hands was gently rubbing Blair's back. He continued both motions. "Listen to me Blair. You didn't do anything; this is NOT a punishment for anything. It's just something, something horrible and frightening, that just happened. It was probably lighting or an electrical problem or something else that no one could have predicted. YOU had nothing to do with it. You hear me? Blair?"
There was a brief pause then a small nod against his neck. Jim breathed a sigh of relief. Then not knowing what else he could say at that moment to comfort his friend, he tightened his arms around him and just quietly held and rocked him. Soon he could hear Blair's heart rate slowing and his breathing evening out.
Jim shifted around a bit to get more comfortable. Almost as soon as he started moving Blair suddenly released his grip on the detective's neck and leaned back, his eyes wide open. "Ohmigod Jim. Your cut. I forgot all about it. Did I hurt you? I can't believe I did that. I mean jumping on you like that. I don't even know why I did it. Are you all right? Are your stitches all right? Are you bleeding? Stupid, stupid. Do you want a pain pill? Oh man, I am so sorry." He was staring at Jim's shirt as though he could see through it to examine what damage he may have caused to Jim's injury.
Jim put a hand on each of Blair's shoulders. He had never met anyone who could talk for so long on one breath. "Chief, breathe. I'm fine. You didn't do anything. It's all right. Tell you the truth, it's not the gash, it's my legs. I think they're falling asleep."
Blair quickly got off of Jim and resumed his previous position leaning against the front of the couch. He looked up at Jim with a slightly sheepish expression on his face. "I still can't believe I did that. I've never done anything like that before." He paused. "Sorry about your legs."
"Ah, so I'll never walk again, no big deal." He looked directly at his partner. "Feeling any better?"
"Actually, yeah, a little." He dropped his eyes. "Thanks for... well... letting me... you know..."
"Anytime, Pal." Jim was surprised at how much he actually meant it. Angling himself away from the couch he leaned back on his elbows. He slowly started stretching his legs out straight as an audible groan escaped. Turning his head slightly he gave Blair a meaningful glare. "No cracks about getting old or not being as limber as I used to be."
Blair looked back up as he lifted his hands in mock surrender. "Hey, I never said a word."
"Good. Keep it that way."
Neither one said another word for several long moments until Jim finally broke the silence. "Have you decided you what you're going to do yet?"
"Sort of. I spoke with the head of my department. I'm on family emergency leave as of today. The school will cover my classes. After calling the Red Cross I called Greyhound and Amtrak. Both go to Marysville, that's where the commune is. Anyway the bus is cheaper of course but it takes a lot longer to get there, it makes a lot of stops all along the way. The train will be much quicker but man it sure costs a lot more. I figure that maybe if I don't get a sleeper car, you know just sleep in a regular seat, only eat once a day and put off paying some bills until next month I should be able to make it." Blair suddenly looked embarrassed. "Um, I do need to ask for a favor though."
Jim turned his head to look at his roommate. Blair had never asked him for money before but these were obviously extenuating circumstances. He was about to ask 'how much?' when Blair started talking again. "I could really use a ride to the train station, if you don't mind. I really don't want to drive since I'm not sure how long I'll be gone..." he swallowed hard, "...and, uh, I'd rather not leave my car parked there. If you can't that's cool, I understand if it's still painful to drive, I can just catch the bus, no big deal."
That was the big favor? A ride to the train station? Jim wished that all the cops he had overheard snickering about Blair being a freeloader and somehow suckering Jim into letting the observer stay with him could be listening now. He was sure it hadn't even occurred to Sandburg to even ask him to loan him any money.
He suddenly had a vision of Blair riding alone for days on the train to the commune. Nothing to do during the day but constantly dwell on what he might be facing when he reached his destination. On the fact that his mother might be dead, burned to death while he was miles away. No chance to even say good-bye. Trying to sleep sitting upright every night. And what was that about only eating once a day? He'd be an emotional and physical wreck before he even got there. Anyone would be after several days of that. And did Blair have any idea what he would be facing when he finally got to the commune? He doubted if his partner had ever seen a burned body. He had and he knew that the sight and smell could be overwhelming. Plenty of even hardened cops had lost their lunch after viewing a burnt corpse for the first time. Blair would probably be exposed to dozens of such corpses. He might be asked to look over all the unidentified bodies and try to pick out his mother or they may show him a number of possibilities and ask him if any of them were her. Having to identify a loved one was a gut wrenching, emotional experience under the best circumstances, trying to do it in a disaster area, looking at countless partially or fully burned bodies was a horror he couldn't even imagine Blair going through, especially alone.
He was suddenly aware that there was a hand on his shoulder shaking him. A fear-tinged voice was cutting through his thoughts. "Jim? Come on Jim. Time to come back. Don't do this me man, please. Not now."
With a guilty start Jim opened his eyes to see a very worried looking guide sitting beside him. He was still lying on the floor, leaning back on his elbows. How could he have just completely tuned out his friend like that? Even if his thoughts had been about him. "I'm all right, Chief. Sorry about that, didn't mean to scare you. I wasn't zoning, just got really deep into my own thoughts for a few minutes."
Relief replaced worry. "Deep? Deep doesn't even begin to describe wherever it was you went. Try warning a guy before you decide to take off like that again, okay? You sure you're all right now?"
Jim sat up, rubbing his face. "Yeah. I'm fine." He looked directly at his roommate. "How are you doing?"
"Okay, I guess. Now that you're back with us again, I think I'll go soak in a hot bath for a little while. My muscles are kinda tense. Then I have to start packing and getting ready for tomorrow. Listen, don't worry about the ride, I'll handle it."
Jim watched as Blair got up and slowly walked towards the bathroom in the dark. He looked like a man who had the weight of the world on his shoulders. It probably felt like he did. Yeah, he would handle getting a ride to the train station if he had to. Just like he's been handling everything by himself since he got the telegram. He knew that Blair had been virtually on his own since he was sixteen; he had probably learned pretty quickly that he had only himself to rely on for everything. Even so he had managed to grow into a man with a kind and gentle soul who wouldn't hesitate to drop everything if someone needed his help. Unfortunately he had also developed a fierce streak of independence and pride that prevented him from asking for help himself, even when he really needed it. He was sure that Blair considered this his problem and fully planned on handling it entirely by himself. Seemingly out of nowhere the words from an old song from the 70's suddenly popped into Jim's head, he could only remember parts of it right now. He wished that somehow Blair could hear the whole thing, it could have been written with him in mind.
Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow.
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tomorrow.
Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on...
You just call on me brother
When you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on...
Whether or not Blair was even aware of it he had a friend, a friend who was not about to let him go through this experience alone. His headstrong partner was just going to have to accept the fact that sometimes it was all right to lean on someone else for a change. And from now on the person he wanted Blair to lean on first was him. Turning around he blew out the remaining lit candles. He turned on a few lights as he walked towards the kitchen then pulled a notepad and pen from a drawer as he reached for the phone on the wall.
Jim was sitting at the kitchen table writing when he heard Blair coming out of his room. Looking up he saw Blair enter the kitchen wearing sweat pants, a T-shirt and socks, his usual nighttime attire. His hair was still slightly damp. Watching Blair as he filled the teakettle and put it on the stove he began to quietly monitor his roommate. His heart rate was still slightly elevated but his breathing was normal. The normally bright blue eyes were a bit duller and now had tension lines around them. The bath was supposed to have relaxed him but there was a tenseness about him that revealed just how much of a mental and physical struggle it was for Blair to keep it all together. All this served to convince Jim that he had done the right thing. Now he just had to convince his friend. "You feeling any better, Chief?"
Blair sighed inwardly. He figured that Jim would be asking him questions like this a lot before he left and after he returned so he might as well get used to it. Although it actually was nice just to have someone ask. "Yeah. The hot water really helped."
Jim let the lie slide. The only thing that would make Blair feel better would be knowing that his mother was alive and all right. Seeing how much what little they did know had already affected his friend Jim knew that, at this moment, he would give his badge, his sentinel abilities and even his last breath to be able to tell Blair that he knew, as fact, that Naomi was alive and well. But he was a sentinel, not a physic, so he was only able offer what little comfort he could.
Blair carried his mug of tea over to the table and sat across from Jim. He looked at all the various pieces of paper. "What's all this?"
Okay, time to face the music, or in this case, his partner. "I made a few phone calls while you were in the bathroom. The Red Cross doesn't know much more than they did earlier today. It seems that the commune is in a rather isolated area, the news is coming out rather slowly." He cringed as he watched Blair's shoulders slump. "This is what I have done though." He picked one piece of paper. "There's a plane leaving from here tomorrow morning at 9:15 for Phoenix. They'll be a rental car and a map waiting at the Phoenix airport. Marysville is about a ninety-minute drive from the airport." He put down that piece of paper and picked up another. "I managed to reserve one of the last few rooms in the Marysville area. Seems the press and network news crews have started to arrive and are grabbing everything available. The motel promised they would hold it." He would have continued but look on Blair's face stopped him. His eyes were wide open and he almost looked like he was in shock. Jim reached over and put one hand around his wrist; his pulse was racing. "Blair? What's the matter?"
Blair's voice was barely above a whisper. "J-Jim. What did you do? You know I can barely afford the train ticket. No way I could ever cover even a small part of this. I-I'm sure you meant well and I appreciate what you tried to do but..." He waved his free hand over the pieces of paper, looking down as he shook his head. "I just can't."
"Oh..." Jim tried to keep his voice and expression casual, "...did I forget to mention that all this is already taken care of and that I'm going with you?" He waited for the inevitable reaction. It didn't take long.
Blair's head jerked up. "What! No way, Jim. This is just way too much. Besides, I'll be fine on the train. Really. Anyway, this is my problem. I didn't intend to drag you into it. I'll handle it myself. And you have to go back to work on Monday anyway. Depending on what happens down there, I-I may not be back by then. So, I guess you'll just have to call everyone back and cancel."
No way in hell, Buddy. "First off, Chief, I don't have to go back to work. I also called Simon; he was very upset to hear about your mother. I'm off this weekend anyway and as of Monday I'm on official, paid, open ended medical leave. So don't even worry about that. Second, you did not drag me into anything. I'm doing this because I want to. I want to do whatever I can to help. You've helped me so much, Chief. You're the only reason my senses are finally under control. I know that helping me is hard on you. You spend a full day working at school, then come to the station to help me. You go out to gory crime scenes just to help me focus and stay up all night on stakeouts so I don't zone. And I hear you up till all hours almost every night trying to get everything done. I'm just trying to pay you back a little for all you've done for me. Let me do this for you."
Blair still looked a bit skeptical. "I can handle this by myself you know."
"I know you can, Blair. You're one of the strongest and most resourceful people I've ever met. But no one, no one Chief, no matter how strong, should have to face something like this alone. I just want to be there for you, no matter what happens. Okay?" C'mon Chief, just this once, let someone else help you.
He watched as Blair took a deep breath as if to start a new argument, then just let it out. "Okay."
"Okay? That's it? No more arguing?"
"Yeah, that's it. I just can't fight you tonight, Jim. I just don't have it in me right now. But I do insist on helping you pay for all this later."
"No. I told you this is something I want to do. Besides when the airline heard about why we were going they gave me a discount on the plane tickets and the rental car." He would never tell Blair that they offered him the bereavement rate. "And the cost of living is so much cheaper out there that the motel isn't costing much at all. So this matter is settled and closed."
For now Jim, just for now. "So this really is happening, Jim. We're really going... there... tomorrow." Jim watched Blair's face go pale as he started to get up. "I-I guess I'd better start packing." Blair gave a small gasp as the rest of the color drained from his face. He grabbed the back of the chair. Jim reached him just as his knees started to buckle. He kept a strong arm around Blair's shoulders as he sagged against him. "It's okay Chief, I've got you. What wrong?"
"I-I'm not sure. Just suddenly got a little dizzy for a minute." He tried to push away. "I'm all right now. You can let go."
Jim kept his arm around Blair. "I think maybe everything just kind of caught up to you all at once. Let's get you over to the couch. Can you walk?"
"Yes Jim, I can walk." His tone was slightly irritated but he let Jim help him to the middle of the couch and didn't say anything when Jim sat right beside him, still keeping an arm around his shoulders. He wasn't even aware that he was leaning against Jim. But Jim noticed. He could see that the constant adrenaline surges coupled with the emotional strain of the long day were finally taking their toll on his roommate. He reached across Blair and grabbed one of couch pillows, laying it against the arm of the couch. "Hey Chief, why don't you lie down for a few minutes and take a little rest?"
"No time. Have to start packing. Don't wanna miss the plane."
Jim starting to lie his now-pliant guide down. "There's plenty of time. Take a rest, then you can pack." He lifted Blair's legs onto the couch and watched as Blair curled up with his back against the back cushions. He covered him with the afghan off the back of the couch. As he started to straighten up he felt Blair grab his wrist. He looked down into two sad and tired blue eyes. "Don't let me sleep too long, okay? I want to be already packed and ready to go first thing in the morning."
For the day you have ahead of you, I think all night sounds just about right. Out loud he just said, "Sure thing Buddy. Just try to get some sleep now." As he tried to straighten up again he felt Blair hold his wrist even tighter. Looking again into those sad blue eyes he could read the unspoken question. "How about if I just sit over here for a while? I can always go pack later too." The relief he saw there let him know that was the right answer.
Jim settled himself on the smaller couch with the newspaper. Not long afterwards his reading was interrupted by a quiet voice.
He lowered the paper. Blair was looking at him, eyes open, if somewhat unfocused. "Yeah Chief?"
"I'm glad you're coming with me."
"Well, like I told you, this is something you shouldn't have to do by yourself."
"No. You don't understand. I mean you. I'm glad you're the one coming with me, instead of somebody else. I, um, just wanted you to know that."
Jim could feel a warm glow spread over his face. Those soft words coming from Blair meant more to him than any official praise he could ever remember receiving. "Hey, that's what friends are for, right?"
He watched as Blair's eyes grew wide with surprise; then a small but genuine smile graced his lips. "Yeah. Friends." A large yawn escaped.
"That's enough talking for now. Go to sleep, Chief."
Jim watched his eyes close. A few minutes later he was hearing the strong, rhythmic breathing of someone in deep sleep. He suddenly realized that neither one of them had eaten anything all night; Blair probably hadn't eaten all day either. Even though he wouldn't feel like it, he would have to make sure that Blair ate something before their flight. As he watched his guide he wondered at what point had he started thinking of Blair not just as someone who could help him with his senses, but also as his friend. I promise you Chief, no matter how it goes tomorrow, relieved or devastated, you won't ever have to worry about being all alone again. Convinced that Blair was out for the night he quietly got up and walked towards his roommate's room to pack his bag before heading upstairs to pack his own. Unconsciously he started singing softly under his breath,
Lean on me
When you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
Till I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on.
~ End ~
Author's Additional Notes: Lean on Me was written by Bill Withers, BMI Music. No copyright infringement intended.
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Page last updated 8/15/03.