DISCLAIMER: Ok, short and sweet: not mine, I still have writer's block on the other story, hence this one (which sort of has a plot), angst, smarm, PG-variety language. Spoilers for Dead Drop.
When the World Stands Still
If it wasn't an elevator, it wouldn't be so bad. Okay, this one's not falling, granted, but it's still small, and very dark, and there's no one here to provide any sort of, you know, distraction or anything, and it could fall. That's the thing about elevators. They go up, they go down, they stop in the middle of things with no warning, and they fall. Fast.
Jim, where are you? Shouldn't you be doing some sort of Blessed Protector thing? I mean, I know that was just a stupid, my-mouth-is-running-faster-than-my-brain comment, but you've always taken it seriously up till now, and this seems like an awfully bad time to stop, man.
Is it me, or does my luck really suck? How many people go through their entire lives without ever once getting stuck in an elevator? Me, I get stuck twice. Like my phobia wasn't bad enough as it was. Jim's gonna get a laugh out of this one--if there's anything left to laugh at, 'cause if someone doesn't get me out of here really quick, the only thing they're gonna find is a quivering blob of congealed terror huddling in the corner.
Okay, positive thoughts. Take a deep breath, think positive thoughts. The power's going to come back on in just a minute, the elevator will start back up--or down, since I was headed for the basement, and I'll get off like nothing happened, find that damn article on South American warrior initiation rites, then get the hell out of the library. By way of the stairs, thank you very much, even if it is four flights. And then, swear to whichever deities watch over accident-prone anthropologists, I AM NEVER GETTING ON AN ELEVATOR AGAIN. I don't care if Major Crimes is seven flights up from the parking garage. I don't care if we live on the third floor. I don't care if I get shot again or break my leg or end up in a body cast, this is the last elevator for me. Period, end of story.
Great, Sandburg, feel better now? How 'bout doing something constructive instead of inciting that panic attack that's lurking in your chest, huh? Like try the cellphone again, maybe there was just some machinery or something interfering last time. Come on, Jim, where are you? When the hell are they gonna invent a phone that works in the middle of a building one floor below ground level? I mean, heat-seeking missiles, sure. Stealth bomber? No problem. But stick one anthropologist in an elevator in a basement, and can he call for rescue? I'll let you figure that one out for yourself, ladies and gentlemen, but the first two guesses don't count.
Mr. Sandburg, I do believe the lack of oxygen is getting to you . . . I really wish I hadn't thought that. This thing is too old and rickety to be airtight. I think. Certainly is cold, though. Not that this basement is ever warm, but I think all the cold is concentrated in this one little room. Very little--about the size of a coffin--get a grip, Blair, you're losing it.
Okay, time to focus on something else. Not much you can do in the dark, of course, but this does seem like an appropriate time to practice those meditation techniques Naomi was talking about. Legs crossed, back against the wall because it's more comfortable, not because it makes me feel a little less like I'm sitting in a box that's dangling over open space, waiting to plunge who knows how far down . . . um, back against the wall, eyes closed--might as well--breathing deep and even. So far, so good. Now, think of a happy time--I feel like Peter Pan--concentrate, Blair, happy time.
Deep breath. Happy time--it's the little things, usually. Like a couple of weeks ago when Jim showed up at my office like he was just giving me a ride home 'cause the Volvo was in rebellion again, like he didn't have any idea it was my birthday, which wasn't a big deal or anything anyway, Naomi and I'd never really celebrated them. But then we stop at that Ethiopian place I love and he hates, and then went to that Italian film festival--certainly not on his list of top ten things to do on a Friday night--and the whole time he acted like he was having fun, not fulfilling an obligation or bored out of his mind or about to suffer two days of indigestion. God, Jim, when did I start having more fun with you than with my friends from the school?
Hey, this is working! I'm breathing, the elevator's not falling, no one's panicking, I could keep this up for at least another, say, two or three minutes before I start screaming my head off. What I wouldn't give for a psychic connection right now. Do I always move around this much? I can't sit still, if I do, I'll lose it completely, but I keep bumping into these walls and reminding myself exactly how small this elevator is. And how stuffy, and cold, and dark . . . I have got to get out of here, I think the walls are moving toward me, I know the air's getting staler, did this thing just move?
No. No, it's okay. This is just a typical reaction to being stuck in an enclosed space, nothing unusual or worth worrying about. It'll only be worse if I panic, that's what makes it feel like the air is running out. I know all of this. After all that therapy, I ought to know this. I've just got to stay in control, stay calm. Someone will come and get this thing moving eventually. They've only got two in the whole library, they're going to need this one sooner or later. I just really hope it's sooner.
Um, Jim? Ole buddy, ole pal? Hate to bother you, but could you come get me out of this thing like, now? It wouldn't be such a problem, but the walls are shrinking and for some reason it's hard to breathe when there's no light, and you know how I am about elevators and heights and things. I mean, I hate to be a wuss, but I just don't know how much more of this I can take.
Jim glared at his cellphone as if it were responsible for his partner not answering his call. He'd tried everywhere: home, Sandburg's office, Sandburg's cellphone, and finally the Anthro office, where he'd at least gotten the information that Blair had been headed for the library when last spotted, and finally the library itself, where apparently no one was answering. Sandburg knew they had tickets for the Jags, and while it wasn't beyond him to be a little late, Jim was pretty sure he'd impressed upon his partner the need to carry his cellphone--and leave it on--at all times. If there was ever an emergency, Jim wanted to know he could get a hold of Sandburg immediately. That wasn't too much to ask, was it? Not that picking Sandburg up for the Jags constituted an emergency; it was just the principle of the thing.
With a sigh, he dropped his phone into the seat, and at the entrance to the University, made a left instead of a right. The library wasn't that much further than Hargrove Hall; he'd just stop there and see if he couldn't roust his wayward partner out.
His first indication that something was wrong was the crowd gathered by the elevators, down at the far end of the hall that ran past the lobby. With an intuition honed from two years of working with Blair Sandburg that had his stomach tightening involuntarily, he headed for the commotion.
"Cascade PD, what's the problem?" He'd found that particular tone--official and just a touch impatient--got quick results.
A woman in a campus security uniform looked him over briefly, and apparently came to the conclusion that it wouldn't hurt to answer his questions.
"We've got a stalled elevator and at least one person stuck inside. The power's out in the shaft. A short in one of the wires, according to maintenance. We're working on it now. Henry, what's the prognosis now?"
A voice, which appeared to belong to the denim-clad legs hanging over the edge of the elevator shaft, yelled up, "Another ten minutes or so, Deb. I just gotta rewire this . . . ow, damn it . . . fuse."
Jim bit down on the inside of his lip, trying not to laugh. It had to be Sandburg, no way in hell it wasn't, and Sandburg stuck in another elevator was anything but funny. Still . . . He extended his hearing, focusing down the shaft until he found what he was looking for. The too-rapid heartbeat was as familiar to him as his own, and he recognized the deep-breathing exercises from far too many late nights when he really would have rather been asleep. Definitely Sandburg. Then a slightly plaintive voice, barely above a whisper, made it certain.
"I am . . . relaxed. I am . . . relaxed. I--Jim, I'm really sorry about the toothpaste, and the socks, man, even if I did laugh. Do you think you could hurry up, please?"
No, not funny at all.
"Can you speed that up any?" Jim asked sharply. Sandburg had sounded at the end of his rope--so to speak. "How long has he been trapped in there?"
"At least an hour since we've been working on it, maybe a while before that before anyone reported that the elevator wasn't working. Henry's working as fast as he can, um, officer?" Deb turned the last word into a question.
"Detective. I'm pretty sure that's my partner in there, and he's claustrophobic, so the faster you get this done, the better it'll be." That was a simpler explanation than "he's scared of elevators after being trapped in one that was being dropped five floors every ten minutes."
"Got it." Henry emerged triumphant, hauling himself up with the help of another maintenance worker. "Somebody push the button. It should work just fine now."
Jim could hear Sandburg's gasp as the lights came on, then the faint sound he made when the elevator started again. Poor kid, probably thought it was going down instead of up for a second there.
The doors came open, revealing Blair as he stood up slowly, pack in one hand, squinting against the bright light.
"Hey, Sandburg, you making a habit out of this?"
"Jim?" Blair squinted in his general direction. "Took you long enough."
Well, if he wanted to take it casual--Casper impression or not--Jim could do that.
"You know, if you didn't want to go to the Jags game, you could have just told me."
"Funny, Jim . . ." Blair looked around a bit dazedly at the crowd, gulped hard, shoved his pack at Jim, and fled, gasping, "'scuse me."
Jim tracked him to the restroom, walking a bit slowly to give him a chance to empty his stomach in peace if he needed to. It was a wise move, obviously. When Jim arrived, Blair was splashing water on his face and running his hands through his hair. His eyes flickered over to Jim and away again before Jim could read the expression, but the slight tremors going through his body and the way his hands refused to stay still--messing with his hair, rubbing on his jeans, checking his pockets, then back to the hair again--gave Jim a good idea of his general state of mind.
"Feel any better?" Jim asked.
Blair reached over and took his pack, leaning it against the sink so that he could rummage inside it.
"Thanks, man. I'm fine."
He couldn't seem to be still. His search through the pack was almost frantic, and when that didn't yield any results, he dropped it on the floor and shoved his hand in his pockets to hunt through them, pacing a tight, two-step path between the toilets and the sink. His breath was coming in sharp, quick gasps that Jim could have heard without the benefit of Sentinel abilities, and his eyes darted from one point to another, never resting on one thing for more than a second and never meeting Jim's at all.
"I'm ready to go, man. Are you ready? Have you seen my keys? You want to get some food before the game? We're gonna be late if we don't go, Jim, and I don't want to listen to you gripe all night about it. Let's go."
Jim's eyes narrowed as he watched. He'd almost thought Blair was kidding about those panic attacks; he'd certainly survived tough enough situations without having one. If this wasn't an attack, though, it was the next best thing. The kid couldn't stand still, wasn't breathing right, was just saying whatever came to mind, in whatever order it appeared. The question was, how was Jim supposed to handle it? Emotions were Sandburg's department, not his.
"I'm picking you up, remember?" He lowered his voice to its most soothing range, the one that had always worked on Carolyn's fussy niece, the one that had worked in the parking garage. "You didn't drive today."
"Oh, right, then let's get going, okay?"
"Look, man, if you gotta go, I'll just wait outside, okay? Not a problem at all, man."
It took Jim a second to realize that his partner had completely switched meanings of the word "go," then another second to control the twitch that developed around his mouth. In that time, Blair had circled around Jim and headed for the door. Jim put out a hand to grab him. Blair shied back, moving toward the interior of the room and resuming his pacing.
"Sandburg, just stand still for a minute, okay?"
He did for about a fourth of a second, looking for all the world like a deer caught in headlights. His breath caught, then he was gasping harder, rubbing his hands on his arms as if he was cold as he walked faster.
"We need to get going if we don't want to be late, Jim . . ."
Okay, what now? Tackle him and hold him down till he gets calm? That ought to work real well.
"I guess it was pretty tough in that elevator," Jim said casually, inching closer. If he could get Blair talking, or at least still for a minute, he thought he could get the kid calmed down. It was just a matter of catching him.
"No way, man, it was a piece of cake." The hands fluttered up to his hair, down to his jeans, back to rubbing his arms. His heart rate had tripled, his eyes darted to Jim's and away. As Jim moved closer, he backed up, talking faster as if the words were escaping of their own volition. "Not a problem at all, just dark . . ."
He grabbed for his throat suddenly, breath rattling and eyes pleading with Jim for help. Jim reached for him, but he jumped back, almost running into the wall.
Kid's shaking like a junkie in withdrawal. He's gonna have a heart attack if I don't get this stopped soon. Think, Ellison, what would he do?
"Dark, huh. What else?" He can't go much further without hitting the wall. Just a few more steps, Chief.
"Cold. C-couldn't breathe." Wide, frantic blue eyes locked with Jim's. "Can't breathe, Jim."
Finally, the wall. Blair pressed his back against it, hands clawing at it. Jim almost reached for him but hesitated, not sure how the kid would take it, and ended up placing one hand on the wall on either side of him, effectively pinning him in but leaving room for him to duck out if he absolutely had to.
"But you can now, Chief. Just like you tell me, slow, easy breaths. There's plenty of light, plenty of room, plenty of air. You're okay now."
"Th-the walls were getting smaller, man, I mean, I know that's stupid, but they were, Jim."
"I believe you, buddy. These walls aren't going anywhere, though. You're safe now. Just slow, easy breaths, right? It's getting better, isn't it."
"The floor--I kept waiting for the elevator to drop. I thought I could feel it shaking, getting ready to fall . . ."
That's it, kid, come back down. Blair's heart rate was slowing a bit as his breathing eased. Jim began to relax a little himself, seeing an end to the crisis.
"Not going to happen, Chief. You're on solid ground now, everything's okay."
"Then why do I feel like the world's still moving?"
Jim grinned, more out of relief at seeing his partner's sense of humor return than because he thought the remark was all that funny.
"You need something to hold on to, Sandburg? I'm not going anywhere."
With a strangled sound that was equal parts laughter and terror, Blair lunged forward and clutched, hands entwined in the back of Jim's shirt. Jim closed the embrace, rubbing his back in slow, soothing motions. Blair's heart thundered against Jim's breastbone in a slower and slower cadence, his breathing softened and deepened, and finally even the tremors eased to an occasional shiver.
"Didn't you wear a coat today, Sandburg?" Jim asked absently.
"I think I left it in the elevator."
"Are you still cold?" Without waiting for an answer, Jim loosened one arm and began slipping out of his own jacket--not the easiest thing while keeping one arm around his partner, but he managed, and draped the coat over Blair's shoulders before wrapping both arms around the kid again.
It took a while before Blair was ready to let go, but Jim was content to wait, remembering another, similar time when he'd needed this moment and hadn't taken it. Finally, Blair straightened, although he didn't pull away completely.
Jim patted his cheek lightly.
"I didn't do anything, Chief. I didn't get here until they had the thing almost fixed."
"Yeah, but you made the world stand still again. Thanks."
"Any time, Sandburg, any time." Jim looked at his partner carefully, noting the droop in his shoulders and the glassy look of exhaustion--and probably a bit of shock--in his eyes. "What do you say we return this restroom to people who need it more than we do?"
Blair blinked, processing that a little more slowly than usual.
"Oh, god, Jim, the game. We're gonna be really late, aren't we?"
"I think," Jim said gently, steering his partner toward the door, pausing to grab his pack on the way, "we should just go home, get some comfort food, maybe catch the game on TV, okay?"
If you can stay awake that long. Kid, I never thought I'd see a time when your brain was working slower than mine. I think I want to get you home before you hurt yourself.
"Okay." Blair followed obediently, clutching absently at Jim's coat as if he thought someone was going to take it away from him. "But, Jim? No more elevators, okay?"