Disclaimer: The following work of fan fiction is not intended to infringe on any copyright or to make a profit. The characters, concept, setting, etc. of The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly and various others. The story, however, is mine; please don't copy, post elsewhere, or sue without permission from the author.
This story was originally posted to the Sentinel Angst list a couple of years ago. I found it on my hard drive just recently, hence the posting to my site. Feedback of all sorts appreciated; there's an email link at the bottom of the page.
Rated PG-ish for language. Missing scene for 'Sentinel Too' part two, therefore mega-spoilers for both S2 episodes and probably others.
I can't sleep.
My chest hurts. Simon's got big hands, and he wasn't exactly being gentle when he pushed down on my ribcage. It's the inside that feels the worst, though. I never thought about being able to feel my lungs, but I swear they're raw. Just like my throat and that little passage between my throat and my nose--I feel like I coughed up a swimming pool. It's almost enough to distract me from the pounding in my head.
Not that that's what's keeping me awake.
I'm tired. I can't remember ever feeling this tired, this . . . drained. And the fact that there's a sick part of my mind that finds that thought funny does not mean I'm sitting right on the border of hysteria. No, it just means I'm worn out. I mean, dying will do that to a man, right? Not that I've got any previous experience or anything. But even though I feel like the gravity around my body has increased by a factor of ten, sleep just won't come.
It doesn't help that I feel like I'm sliding down into deep, cold water every time I start to drift off.
The hospital, though, that's what's keeping me awake. The not-quite silent, not-quite dark, definitely empty hospital room that's so not what I need right now. I mean, there's this part of me that's damn near vibrating from the fact that I'm actually alive. And there's this part of me that's scared shitless that I'll look up at the door, and instead of seeing the uniform that I know is posted there, I'll see Alex with that crazy, I-want-to-kill-you smile on her face. And there's this part that feels like a scared little boy lost in a huge, crowded mall, looking for my mom but everyone I see is a stranger . . .
. . . and damn it, I want my mom, or Jim, or even Simon. Someone. I want someone here with me because I died today and I don't know how to deal with that at all. I want someone to remind me that I'm really not dead, that I'm not just lying here in some kind of afterlife limbo dreaming that I'm alive.
Crazy? Maybe. But I died today. I figure I'm entitled.
To be fair, I doubt my mom has any idea that anything happened. At least, I hope Jim had sense enough not to try to contact her. I'm fine now, aches and pains and possible pneumonia aside, and all telling her would accomplish would be that she would be even more worried about me than she normally is. She doesn't need that.
And it is nearly one a.m. The hospital closed to visitors hours ago, even if Jim hadn't taken off to work on finding Alex right after they moved me into a regular room. Not that I can gripe about that, either. I mean, she hijacked canisters of nerve gas. I'm not egotistical enough to think my partner should be paying more attention to me than to that.
So feeling abandoned is probably just a result of emotional letdown after being resuscitated. Like coming off an adrenaline high. Knowing that's where the feeling is coming from, though, doesn't help me sleep.
It would help if I knew everything was okay between Jim and me. If the only reason why he hadn't been around was that he was hunting Alex. If it had nothing to do with trust.
///I need a partner I can trust.///
He actually said that. After three years. After Tommy Juno and clearing Jack Pendergrast and watching Incacha die and jumping out of planes and off cliffs and sitting up late at night watching really stupid movies and unwinding from a tough day. After everything we've been through, he still thinks I would betray him.
I mean, okay, I should have told him about Alex from the start, sure. But I didn't know she was a criminal. I told him as soon as I figured out she might be one. I should have handled it better, granted, but how can one little mistake be bad enough to end three years of friendship?
The more I think about it--and what else do I have to do right now, besides relive the whole drowning thing, which is not really something I want to do--the more I'm sure it was Alex's presence that started this whole freaking out thing that Jim's been doing. The territoriality, the short temper . . . there's a smartass little voice at the back of my mind that's asking how I noticed a difference, but the memory of being thrown out of my own home quells it pretty effectively.
I mean, if there was one thing I never felt with Jim, it was uncertain that I had a place to stay. I might wonder if he was insane for using a civilian as backup, I might wonder if I was insane for thinking I could do anything to help him with his senses, but I never wondered if I should look for another place to stay. Not after that first week was up and he made some casual remark about it being easier to get to the station on time if we both started out from the same place. From then on, it was our home, not his.
I just hope I'm not fooling myself into thinking it was some weird "foreign Sentinel" reaction and not his true feelings.
I can't be that bad a judge of character, though.
God, moving around is so not a good idea. The doctor swore I didn't have any cracked ribs, but he isn't the one who has to live with my ribcage.
We've got to get this thing settled between us. Maybe Jim can live with ignoring problems and hoping they'll go away, but I can't. This whole trust thing . . . he's right, he needs a partner he can trust. So do I. We've got to fix it somehow.
If I knew how, I could probably sleep.
Alex is first priority, though, I get that. Anyone with the power to annihilate a large city takes precedence over the personal problems of a cop and his partner. I don't begrudge Jim going after her--hell, I've developed a personal interest in her capture recently.
But I wouldn't have minded a quick phone call to see how I was doing. I wouldn't have minded some sign that Jim's reaction to my death was more than just the natural fear one human would feel for another when the other died. That vision had to mean something, didn't it? Visions don't just happen for no reason.
It stands out clearly in my mind, even though the rest of the experience--what a word. The rest of my death--is just a jumble of fleeting impressions of cold, danger, pain. The vision, though, I can still see it as clearly as when I lived it. Being the wolf, the feeling of freedom and a strange nagging sensation that I was forgetting something, then a scream of rage and anguish and suddenly I was leaping into the jaguar and I was everywhere and everything at once. I was Jim, and the feeling of loss and denial tore at me. I was Simon, Rafe, Brown, Conner, the paramedics . . . and I was myself, water choking me as it shot up out of my lungs and I opened my eyes to see Jim's smile.
I really don't know how to deal with that.
Should I be examining it for signs of my life's purpose? Taking the melding of the wolf and jaguar as a representation of what Jim and I should become? Or maybe what we needed to go back to being? Or was it just a very strange dream brought on by lack of oxygen and a whole lot of stress? How am I supposed to understand this?
I want to sleep. I want to forget about this whole mess for a few hours. Maybe if I could rest, I could deal with it in the morning. Or maybe I couldn't, but at least I wouldn't be so tired.
I wish Jim were here.
I wish I didn't need Jim here.
I wish I could sleep.
I can't sleep.
I've been tossing and turning for hours, trying to get to sleep in spite of the roaring silence all around me. I'm not an insomniac; the Army taught me to sleep under any circumstances, even when my mind is running the Indy 500. I've got a plane to catch tomorrow, Barnes to track down, and I need my sleep. I can't afford to face her when I'm not one hundred percent. But the loft is just too empty.
Not a week before, I'd thrown Sandburg out because I needed space so badly I was afraid I'd end up hurting him to get it. It was like an itch just under my skin that kept getting worse and worse until I couldn't think of anything else but that need to be free of everyone and everything that was demanding my attention. I thought I was losing my mind.
Tonight, the loft is too empty. Sandburg's absence nags at me worse than his presence did before. I want him home, where he belongs, where I can keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't get in any more trouble.
At least, I think I do.
I know I haven't been thinking straight lately. Not since I dreamed of the wolf. I could feel danger coming, but there were too many distractions in my way to see what the threat was. I needed space, needed quiet, needed peace so I could identify the threat and eliminate it. Until I could do that, everything was a potential danger. What was worse, after my dream, I didn't know if Sandburg was part of the danger or in danger, and I couldn't seem to think straight enough to figure it out. I needed him and everyone else out of my way for awhile.
The problem is, I'm not sure "awhile" is over yet.
That itch is still there. Not as strong; I can think now. I recognize it as what it is: a feeling, not an imperative. But the danger's not completely gone, and I still don't know if Sandburg's the cause or the victim--or just an innocent bystander.
I keep thinking it should be over. Sandburg died today. I felt him, his body, with no pulse, no breath. He was gone. A part of me felt him leaving. . . and denied it with all the strength in me.
For that moment, there was nothing to come between us. No Barnes, no dissertation, no anger. No caring, doubting friends who thought they were doing me a favor by keeping me away from him. There was just us, but in a second, I'd be alone.
I couldn't let that happen.
When he started breathing again, so did I.
I have a sudden need take a deep breath now, as if my lungs aren't convinced that they will definitely be able to work. I breathe slowly, deeply, and the action reminds me uncomfortably of the empty room downstairs. Sandburg always acts like a few deep breaths will cure anything.
It's not doing much for me right now. I'm still awake, still tense, and I still feel like there's an enemy creeping up on my flank that's just out of my range of vision.
Sandburg would probably tell me to relax and let my subconscious work to figure out what the threat is. My subconscious hasn't been any too trustworthy lately, though. It keeps throwing visions of wolves at me without bothering to give me a hint on how to deal with them. I'd just barely gotten used to the jaguar; how was I supposed to cope with a wolf? Especially one that kept morphing into Sandburg?
I've got an early flight tomorrow. I can't deal with the Sandburg issue tonight . . . anymore than I could earlier today, when I nearly ran out of the hospital, telling myself it was my need to catch Barnes that was spurring me on. The edgy feeling of betrayal that had haunted me since I found out my partner had known the identity of my enemy all along had mixed with a relief so profound it bordered on joy. I couldn't--can't--deal with both emotions at once.
The anger is still there, still strong. Sandburg was my partner, my guide. He was supposed to help me, not someone else. Not another Sentinel. He was supposed to help me, but when things were at their worst, when I thought I was losing my mind, when I needed him to figure out some way to fix everything, he was off helping my enemy. In all fairness, he probably didn't know she was the enemy at the time. I have no doubt he just saw her as a fascinating addition to his dissertation, but our partnership should have come first.
And yet . . . it didn't matter. When I pulled him out of the fountain, he could have stolen that nerve gas himself, and it wouldn't have made a difference. I couldn't let him go. Now, tonight, I can't get the image of him lying face down in that fountain out of my mind, and I'd gladly give my own life to keep it from happening again.
That old saying keeps playing through my head. "Can't live with him, can't live without him." The fact is, I don't want to live without him, even if "without him" means our partnership split up and not him dead. He's my partner, my friend, my guide. I had a taste of the world without him, and it doesn't work for me. But I don't know how to deal with not knowing if I can trust him.
I could get past that, though. His betrayal was as much bad judgement as it was deliberate disloyalty, and in the face of his death, it doesn't seem all that important.
The vision, though . . . that threw me. I've sort of gotten used to having visions. I don't much like them, but I've accepted them. More or less.
But how am I supposed to deal with Sandburg having the same vision I did? And what was that whole merging thing? It meant something. They always mean something. I just don't think I'm ready to find out what.
Because if it means what I think it does, if the sudden explosion of knowing that hit me as the wolf became the jaguar was more than just a panicked reaction to Sandburg's death . . . then he is more to me than a partner, more even than a brother. He's a part of me, and I need him even to survive.
I can't have that kind of dependence one anyone. I can't. Especially not someone I don't know if I can trust.
So I left the hospital and focused on finding Barnes. Truth is, she has to be found. Nerve gas isn't something to fool around with, but that's not the only reason. She tried to kill my partner . . . but that's not all, either. There's something more between us, something that makes an itch under my skin. It has to be settled, one way or the other.
But Sandburg and I . . . that has to be settled, too. And as I'm lying here, staring at a clock that's telling me it's one a.m., way too late for any hospital visits, I know I have to settle it tonight. Or, if not settle it, I at least have to be sure Sandburg's all right before I leave in the morning.
That's why I can't sleep. I watched my partner die today, and I need to know he's all right before I can leave him. As long as he's all right, we can take care of the other problems when I get back.
Before I have time to think better of it, I roll out of bed, pull on some jeans, a sweater, and my sneakers, and grab the keys to my truck.
It's the second time in two days that I'm driving across the city in the dead of night. I find myself wondering what I would have done differently last night if I'd known what I do tonight . . . and I really don't know the answer to that. If I hadn't gone to meet Alex, would she still have gone after Sandburg? Could I have not gone after Alex and let her get away without an attempt to stop her?
I wasn't any closer to the answer when I arrived at the hospital. My senses have been on alert since this started, not out of control, but definitely cranked up. I'm able to handle the smells and sounds of the hospital, though, and as I reach Sandburg's floor, I can pick out his heartbeat, and I'm relieved to hear that it sounds normal. Sandburg was under guard on the off chance that Alex might come after him again, so all I had to do was flash my badge at the nurse and the officer outside his room to get in.
I'd pictured just sitting with him for a few minutes while he slept, just to reassure myself, but somehow it didn't surprise me to see he was awake.
His voice was, if anything, more weary than it had been when we'd talked earlier today. He didn't look like he'd slept at all since then. He sounded a little frightened, too, and it occurred to me that he probably couldn't tell for sure in the darkness if it was really me.
"Hey, Chief," I said softly, crossing over to the bed.
He blinked up at me, a slight frown of pain creasing his forehead. I know that look. I've seen it enough times. I wonder why they haven't given him anything to help him sleep, but then, with the crack on the head Barnes gave him, it might not be safe--and knowing Sandburg, he might have been stubborn and refused anything they wanted to give him anyway. He doesn't like anything that messes up his ability to think.
"Jim?" he repeated. "Isn't it kind of late to be doing the candy striper thing?"
He sounds casual enough, but his eyes are asking if something's come up, if he needs to worry.
I shrug, trying to put him at ease. "Just missed your pretty face, Sandburg. I'm leaving for Mexico in the morning. We got a lead that Barnes might have a buyer for the gas down there. I wanted to see how you were doing before I left."
A strange expression crosses his face. I'm pretty good at reading him, but I have no idea what he's thinking. For a second, though, I would almost swear I saw tears in his eyes. Must be the bad lighting.
"Sandburg?" I ask when he doesn't say anything, not sure whether I should worry or not.
"Have a seat, man," he answers finally.
I'm not sure about the emotion in his voice, either, but I get the feeling he needed me to be here as much as I needed to come. I spot a chair and pull it over to where I can sit in his line of vision. I'm close enough to touch him, but I don't. The ease I've always felt with him is not quite there, and I don't think it's just me that's holding back.
He's watching me almost warily. I don't know what to say to get him to relax, not when I'm half ready to run out of the room even now. I'm not ready to deal with all the things we need to face.
Apparently he's not, either. He looks away from me, toward the window, and sighs softly. I find myself listening for any catches in his breathing, the doctor's warning that he might have complications from the water in his lungs fresh in my mind. All I hear, though, is the soft rushing sound of his fingers picking at the bedspread.
"Shouldn't you be asleep?" I ask finally.
He makes a sound that's almost a laugh. "I'm not the only one awake here, you know."
I can't argue with that. He falls silent again, his fingers still plucking at the bedspread. The sound, now that I've noticed it, is almost as bad as fingernails on a chalkboard. I grit my teeth against the urge to tell him to quit fidgetting.
"You're not going after Alex on your own, are you?" he asks suddenly, his hand stilling for all of a second before starting up again.
"No, Simon's going with me."
"I'll be out of here in a couple of days."
I don't know if he means he'd like me to wait for him or if he's just making conversation. He's got to know he won't be in any shape to go after Barnes even if I could wait . . . and there's a small voice in the back of my mind that wonders if I could trust him to back me up when we confront her.
"How're you feeling?" Nothing like changing the subject.
"You remember that garbage truck? I feel like it hit me." There's a faint smile hiding behind his eyes, and that reassures me more than anything he could say.
"That good, huh?"
The smile actually reaches his mouth for a brief moment. He's tired, though, and it fades quickly into a yawn. His eyes are heavy, but he keeps picking at the covers like he's going to get a prize if he separates all the fibers. It's nothing but nervous energy. Half the time it's what keeps him going on that insane schedule he keeps, but now it's keeping him from some much-needed sleep. If we were home, I'd turn on the TV and we'd sit and watch it until he was involved enough to relax. I didn't think it would be enough tonight, though.
"Close your eyes, Chief," I say quietly. "I'm going to hang around for awhile, but you need some rest."
He mutters something that sounds a lot like "Easy for you to say," but doesn't argue. He lies still for about ten seconds, then his fingers are going at the bedspread again and his eyes are open.
"Sandburg," I growl, not quite faking the annoyance in my voice. I'm tired, too, and the rasp of skin against fabric is loud in my ears. "Sleep."
"I'm trying," he snaps, then frowns at me. "Who made you my mother?"
"Naomi. She named me as her stand-in while she was gone."
He smirks at me, but the effect is spoiled as his eyes start to shut of their own accord. I hold my breath, thinking he might be out this time, but then he starts with the covers again.
I have a sudden, very strong wish for my handcuffs. Since I didn't bring them with me, I do the next best thing and grab his hand to still it.
All I wanted to do was stop the noise. Before I could take my hand away, though, his turns over and his fingers curl around mine. I look at him, startled, but his eyes are closed and his breathing has already deepened. He's almost asleep, and there's no way I'm going to wake him up again.
Sighing softly, I slide down in the chair and prop my feet up against the bedrails. Maybe I can catch a quick nap too before I have to get to my plane.