When Blair got that fax from his friend in the nursing department -- and that was proof right there that it was important not to limit your dating pool -- he actually did a little dance in his storage closet office.
Vindicated! A real sentinel, alive and well, and, yes, OK, apparently a little bit wacko, but who wouldn't be? In a sense, wacko behavior was a normal response to discovering that you could hear clouds and taste individual grains of pollen. A healthy and sane reaction, albeit one that required some caution.
So, fine. He'd be cautious. He wouldn't throw everything at the guy all at once. He'd just go down to the med center, calmly explain a few key points. The guy would be so grateful to talk to someone who had some answers for a change, he'd agree to the research project right away.
He was almost cackling as he started the car. A real, live sentinel! Fame, fortune -- OK, doctorate first, fame and fortune afterwards.
His first thought when he arrived in the hospital room was that, wow, his sentinel certainly had the look of a solitary hero. Tall, built, chiseled features, piercing eyes. Shirt in his hands, extremely nice torso on display. Blair thought of himself as about eighty percent straight, but this guy was definitely speaking to his other twenty percent.
"Hello, Detective Ellison, I'm Blair Sandburg." He offered his hand.
The guy just looked at it. Right, not surprising he'd be a little wary. "You're not a doctor."
"No, no, I'm a graduate student, actually, but, uh, in, not in medicine, in anthropology, a graduate student, wait, I said that already." There was something thrilling and unnerving in the guy's steady gaze. He could probably see the capillaries in Blair's eyeballs, but it felt like he was looking into Blair's soul, which, like Blair's office, was basically sound but a little sloppy.
Blair blinked and realized he'd fallen silent. "So, right, you were in Peru, but the thing is, in villages, ancient villages, there used to be one guy who would --" Man, any minute now the guy was going to call a doctor for him, because he sounded like he'd lost his mind.
The guy had crossed his arms over his chest and was giving Blair a look that said, Talk fast, punk. Blair went on babbling who knows what. Shit, he really should have rehearsed this speech, because he was screwing up big-time. "So, then, Peru, it sort of sets you off and you begin to hear things, see things --"
"So this is your expert medical opinion? I'm seeing things?" And suddenly Blair found himself shoved up against the wall.
Man, this guy was strong. There was suddenly a definite possibility that Blair was about to get his head bashed in here. That was not a sexy thought, not at all. He really wished that rogue twenty percent would get that through its thick skull.
"Enough bullshit," the guy said, and he let Blair go and stalked out the door with his shirt still in his hand.
Blair stood there for a second catching his breath. This was so not going the way he'd hoped.
OK, fine. He had to go after the guy. He could get it together. He'd talk some more about Peru. When he'd mentioned it the first time, he thought maybe he'd seen an eyebrow move.
He took two half-running steps out the open door of the examining room. "Wait, hold on, you're gonna want to hear this, man, I guarantee it, or else you'll never --"
He almost fell over his sentinel, who was lying flat out on the floor.
Whoa! OK, whoa, doctor? Blair looked up and down the deserted corridor. Where the hell was everybody? Wasn't this place a hospital? He stared down again at the unconscious man. Geez. Hallucinations, dreams, trances, yes; falling face down on the floor, not so much. "Hey, I need a doctor over here!" he yelled, dropping to his knees. Maybe he could get the guy more comfortable, at least turn his head so --
His sentinel's eyes opened so fast that Blair nearly leapt back.
"Hey. Ow," the guy said, groaning and pushing himself up from the floor. "Jesus." He gingerly touched his forehead and looked at his fingers like he expected to see blood. "What the hell kind of establishment are you running here?"
Blair stared at him. "I'm not -- I wasn't --"
Ellison glared at him. "Do you just let your patients lie around on the floor?"
"No, I -- " Holy shit, he didn't remember Blair at all. What a stroke of luck! No, wait, scratch that, it wasn't luck if his sentinel passed out and hurt himself, even if it meant that now Blair got a second chance.
"Wait, here, come on." He put his arm out, and the guy actually put his hand on it until he could make his way back to the room on his own. "Actually, I was about to take you back to your room and tell you a bit about what my research has turned up about your case," he said. Which wasn't really a lie. "So, OK, Peru, you were in Peru, right, and now you've got, your senses are all haywire, right?"
"Senses? You're losing me, here, chief."
Chief. He liked that. He grinned at the guy, who blinked back at him, so he turned the wattage down a little.
"Senses, I said. I mean, you're hearing things too loud, you're, your tastebuds are all off the map, right, but what I'm saying is, there's a reason for this. Now I was reading a monograph on tribal cultures by Richard Burton --"
"Liz Taylor's husband?"
"No, no, same name, different guy, but, look, the senses, they're key. These ancient guys, these sentinels, I mentioned the sentinels, right? Because you, you're not like a modern cop, you're --"
"Who are you?" the guy said, and his attitude was mutating from confused to aggressive. "Who the hell let you in here?" He crowded Blair until Blair's back hit the wall. Here they went again. "Do you just go from room to room babbling at all the patients, or am I the only lucky one? Hey --" and now he was shouting, not at Blair but ahead of himself as he walked out the examining room door again, "can I get an actual doctor to talk to instead of this lunatic?"
Blair sat there and took a deep breath before following the guy out; not to ill-wish him or anything, but if he'd just hit his head one more time, Blair wouldn't waste the opportunity the third time --
This time he got all the way around the corner before he nearly tripped over the guy, lying flat out on the floor.
Yes! he thought with one part of his mind, and with the other: Man, his karma was never going to recover from this.
Maybe this was what happened with those trances that were mentioned in the literature? You ran smack into the wall? Only Blair was no forensics expert, but the hospital hallway was completely clear and the guy was just crumpled upon the floor, and Blair couldn't see any way he could have hit his head on anything unless somebody'd been here with a baseball bat, and what were the odds of that?
The guy was coming around again, looking confused; you could almost see the little cartoon canaries flying around his head. Blair got down on one knee to help him up, and the guy looked him right in the eye -- if he remembered this time, it was going to complicate matters --
Whoa. No. The guy was totally still, his breathing was shallow, and his eyes were kind of weirdly focused, like he wasn't looking at Blair's face so much as focusing in on, like, five of Blair's eyelashes -- this was one of those trance things, almost certainly.
What the heck did you do? Was it like how it was dangerous to wake a sleepwalker?
Think, think, Blair, think; Pentreath thought all the senses were shutting down in self-protection, but Benavides thought the trouble was over-involvement in a single sense, ignoring data from all the others. Which made more sense to Blair, but who could tell?
So what did you do? Maybe offer new input on another sense, right?
He laid his hand on the guy's arm, nice and firm like a good handshake. "Detective? Ellison? Jim? Listen, listen, hey, c'mon back --" He caught his voice going shrill and pulled it back down, low and authoritative: "Detective. Ellison. Jim. Listen to me."
And Ellison blinked, and sprang up in a defensive crouch, and growled, "Who the hell are you?"
"Hey, hey, easy, man, I'm here to help you." He wasn't sure how long his body could handle this kind of sustained adrenaline rush. "Hear me out. I'll make it quick. You think you're crazy, or that you have a medical problem, but you don't. You're getting really incredible amounts of extra information through your senses; that's the reason for the noises, the smells and tastes. I'm thinking your time in Peru unlocked an ability that --"
Ellison's eyes narrowed. "Just how do you know all this? Who told you about Peru? Have you had me under surveillance?"
"What? No! Look, I've got a friend in the nursing department, but that's not important. What's important here is --"
Up against the wall, for the third time today -- evidently Ellison was just hard-wired to do this in response to a threat. Some kind of throwback, and not just in the sense of the senses resurfacing out of the depths of the gene pool, either.
And another interesting thing: Evidently either adrenaline was having an effect or Blair was speaking to Ellison's twenty percent, too, because it had been some time since he'd had a guy rubbing off on him like this, but it wasn't something you forgot.
They grappled wordlessly against the hallway wall for what was probably a lot less time than it felt like, while Ellison's nostrils flared and Blair tried to decide whether he wanted to struggle to get away or just to get closer. And then the guy dropped him with a thunk and a muttered, "I don't know who's crazier, you or me," and took off back down the hall, around the corner and toward the room he'd just come out of.
And, holy shit, it wasn't trances at all but a blunt instrument, because this time Blair actually saw it whistling through the air, and -- man, was that a Peruvian tojnu? Not that he'd ever seen one in person, but it sure looked like the one from the drawing in Brockie. But that was crazy, because how could --
He saw it connect, and he ran down the hall shouting, "Hey! Stop! Security!" but by the time he got to the corner, there was nobody in the other hallway.
So it was intentional. It was almost too crazy to believe, except -- no, no, maybe not. It stood to reason that there'd be advantages to knocking off the next village's sentinel, and his sentinel was a cop, so he probably had tons of enemies. Especially given this habit he had of shoving well-meaning strangers against the wall.
Either way, if they were going to have this conversation again, they'd better have it in private. He got the guy by the armpits -- damn, but he was heavy -- and dragged him back into the examining room. What kind of hospital was this, anyway, where one person could whack a patient with a Peruvian walking stick and another could drag him around? Cascade General had better have hellacious malpractice insurance.
Ellison took a long time to return to consciousness this time, lying there with a frown between his eyebrows -- long enough that Blair was on the verge of leaving him to find a doctor three or four times, except that the first thing a doctor was going to do was throw Blair out on the street. He paced the room with increasing franticness, sticking his head out the door -- hey, man, unconscious sentinel with a possible head trauma here! Where is everybody?
At last he heard a groan, and he flung himself to the floor beside Ellison, who was sitting up and rubbing his temples.
"Listen, Jim, I need you to listen to me, because somebody really doesn't want you to hear what I've got to say, all right?"
"Who are you?" Jim was looking deeply confused, like -- well, like a guy who'd spent his afternoon alternately being lectured and hit over the head with a stick. Kind of like grad school.
"Sandburg," Blair said hastily, "not important now. What matters is that I know why some of this stuff is going on with you. You've inherited a genetic advantage that hasn't been seen since tribal times, five hyperactive senses, each of them strong enough to allow you to predict the weather, spot game, hear intruders ..."
Wow, his delivery was definitely improving with repetition. He should have rehearsed it all at home; next time he found himself in the position to pitch a project to a living research subject, he'd do that.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Jim said, and then, with increasing aggressiveness, "You don't know what you're talking about, and I'd like to know how you came to have all this private information about my case."
"It doesn't matter, man. You don't want to get hung up on irrelevancies. The point is, you won't believe how useful this stuff is going to be for you, and I'm the only one who knows how to help you get it under control."
But Jim wasn't paying attention; he had some sort of litany of insults going now. The predictable 'hippie,' none of the equally predictable gay-bashing. 'Witch doctor' -- now that was a new one ...
And this time he had to get them both up off the floor to shove Blair up against the wall, which took some effort. Blair was beginning to wonder about Jim's comfort zone; the up-against-the-wall routine was the only thing that was consistent every single time.
Probably an old threat response, cop or military, but now that his senses were online he'd be getting lots of new info that way -- man, he could probably pick up Blair's pulse, small muscle movements, maybe even smell adrenaline. Amazing!
It was totally crazy, but he'd already tried all the sensible approaches and none of them had worked, and honestly he was a little addled, with all the alternating excitement and disappointment and fear, and he was already up against the wall, and his sentinel smelled really damned good, better than anything in a hospital was supposed to smell, and his own feet were hardly even touching the floor, and --
Well, Blair kissed him.
For a second the guy froze, so still that Blair thought maybe he'd sent him into another of those trance things. And then, whoa, all right, this was great, he was really getting into it. Tongue! Man, it had really been way too long, and his sentinel was a truly fantastic kisser, and he was getting right into it, he was giving his all --
Blair's feet hit the floor hard. Jim blinked at him for a minute, said, "What the hell are you trying to pull?" and took off out the door.
"Wait! Stop! Fire!" Blair was already shouting before he even got to the door, but it was no good. This time he actually heard the sound of wood meeting flesh, and he got a glimpse of the figure retreating around the corner, a confused impression of tanned bare skin and what was, OK, yes, definitely a tojnu. For all the good that knowledge did him.
And then he was dragging his unconscious sentinel back into the exam room.
This time he figured he'd take advantage of the stunned-speechless effect -- hey, anything that worked, and if it was nice for Blair, then bonus. So the minute Jim managed to pull himself upright, Blair kissed him again.
Tongue, and then a hand on the back of his neck, and then a confused mumble of questions. "Blair Sandburg," Blair said, and licked his lower lip, "and you're not crazy," and he framed Jim's face with his hand for a better angle, "but all five of your senses are, like, a hundred times more powerful than normal," and Jim's hands were on Blair's ass, and Blair closed his eyes and all but climbed him to get closer, "and I can help you use them and control them, but in return I want to study you."
Jim's hands dug in hard, and he nibbled on Blair's lip and said, "Shut up, Sandburg," and Blair very happily did so. Man, he was totally into it, he was holding nothing back, he was --
He was on the floor even while Blair was hearing the thud of the tojnu connecting with his skull.
Blair whirled, scanning the room for a weapon, shouting already. "Don't mess with my sentinel, man, or I'll brain you one!" The only likely thing was a heavy glass jar of cotton balls, and he snatched it and threw it blindly through the open door. He heard it hit, heard the grunt, but by the time he got to the door, there was no one in the hallway.
Blair pounded down the hall -- nobody down that way, nobody over here but an old man pushing an IV pole. Nobody straight ahead.
Damn it. He'd lost him. He scooped up the cotton ball jar, which miraculously hadn't broken, and went back to the exam room.
But this time his sentinel was awake and on the defensive. "You a doctor?" he said.
"Uh, no, but --"
"I'm not talking to anybody but my doctor." He was stepping forward, crowding Blair out of the doorway.
"Wait! You do not want to leave that room, man. Somebody's trying to --
The tojnu whistled through the air, so close he could feel the breeze it stirred up, and Jim crumpled to the floor. Blair whirled in place and felt the jar connect, and then he was looking down at a guy in a loincloth, unconscious and covered with a drift of cotton balls.
OK, clearly this sentinel gig was going to be a bit more hands-on than he had anticipated.
He dragged the unconscious Peruvian down the hallway, thinking furiously. First he had to find a room with a lock on the door to throw this troublemaker into, and then he was really feeling the need to get this conversation out of the med center and into some safe place, before his sentinel got bashed once too often and came to pieces like a pinata.
And he was pretty sure that he wasn't going to get back into that examining room the next time Jim regained consciousness unless he could convincingly impersonate a doctor, which he was pretty sure was a crime, but not on a par with, say, assault with a tojnu.
He yanked open the door to a supply closet, dragged the Peruvian inside, and was about to lock the door when a flash of white caught his eye: a white coat on a hook inside the door. Excellent! Karma comes through again!
He dropped the unconscious Peruvian on the closet floor, grabbed the coat, and slammed the door shut, bracing the outside handle with the steel back of a nearby visitor's chair. One armed, loinclothed menace in cold storage. One sentinel down the hall, waiting for Take Seven.
He shrugged on the coat. Doctor Blair -- he squinted upside-down at the name tag -- McKay. It had kind of a nice ring to it.
Aha. Better still, there was a prescription pad in the coat pocket. He scribbled his name and address on it, and then adjusted the coat and pulled his hair back. If he could get Jim over to Hargrove Hall, nobody could follow him down there. He'd probably be perfectly safe as soon as Blair got him out of the building. What were they going to do, run him over with a truck?
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Back to in medias Res
July 19, 2005