OK. I should be more careful when I refer to unfinished stories in the notes of finished ones. Sometimes my brain just seems to go into high gear, well, in my case it's more like warp speed. My poor fingers just cannot keep up with my brain. I'm currently working on three different stories (actively, that means they all are partially on disk), with at least half a dozen spinning out of control in my brain. Sigh. It would be so much easier if I dreamed. Instead, I plot stories in the darkest hours of the night. Oh, well. This one has been stewing ever since De-tec-a-tive. It had to happen. I'm surprised that it hasn't happened before now (like on the show;)) Of course, the standard disclaimers apply. They aren't mine (well, except for Mable, that is), I make no money at this, I mean no harm. If I don't write, people email me with 'where's the next one?'. Not that I mind, although I think that writing two to three stories a week gets a little tiring, you know? (If you're Canadian, substitute 'eh?' for that last bit.) That's OK. Come the end of May I'll be gone for ten days or so on Wagon Train. Just a little one, less than 100 miles. As soon as the weather clears (that means the water going down in the levee by the stables), I'll be spending my weekends on horseback, getting ready for the train. I love my vacation. Where else can you go on a horseback adventure for less than $100.00? That includes fees, insurance and the groceries. Not bad. I hope it stays clear this weekend, I want to go outside and fly a kite and go for a ride. Not necessarily in that order. ;) R.I.Eaton Time to get back to typing.
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"It was the strangest thing, baby." Joel told his wife, Mable, over dinner that night. "I know that Blair and Simon told us about it, but it was the first time I ever saw it for myself." Shaking his head worriedly.
"I'd been down in forensics, trying to explain to Cassie how to tell from gun powder residue whether the person had been the one holding the gun, she was arguing with me." Annoyed surprise in his voice. "I finally found the corroboration in one of her texts and was heading back to the bullpen. When I got there, the only one around was Jim. He was sitting at his computer, staring at the screen. I said something to him, but he didn't answer me. It was kinda strange, you know?"
She nodded, her silence encouraging him to continue.
"He was staring, eyes glazed over, breathing so shallow that I had to look hard to make sure he was still breathing. It was scary." He shook his head at the memory.
"What did you do?" a little anxious.
"Well, Blair wasn't there, he had classes. Simon was in a meeting with the Mayor's office. That left me. I remembered how Sandburg said to talk to him, call him back. So I started calling him. He didn't respond. So I reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder, kept talking to him, saying 'Jim. Jim. C'mon back, Jim.' After a few minutes, he finally took a real deep breath and blinked. Then he looked up at me with the most puzzled expression on his face. If I hadn't been so scared, I think I would have laughed. Thinking back on it now, maybe it is pretty funny; but at the time, it scared the crap out of me."
"But now that you've experienced one?" she encouraged.
"Now that I've seen one, it's not so bad. He snapped right out of it, back to normal like nothing had ever happened. He even told me what he had zoned out on." He chuckled at that.
"What's so funny? What did cause the zone out?"
"An email. It was one of those weird silly cards, lots of flashing colours? He zoned on the blinking lights." He laughed again.
"Sounds like it's a good thing that he doesn't go to the dance clubs, the strobes could kill him." Concern in her voice.
"Nah. He said it was the surprise of it that made him zone. When he knows what he's going into, he prepares for it. He just never expected to have his computer turn into a kaleidoscope on him."
"So, how'd it happen?" They had finished eating and begun cleaning up.
"Sandburg." Carrying their dishes to the kitchen and bringing back containers for the leftovers.
"Blair? How? Why?" Consternation in her voice. That young man hadn't struck her as the sort who would endanger his friend that way.
"It was one of those electronic cards that you can get on the Internet. One of those 'cheer up' kinda things. I think he was apologizing for one of his little tests that had backfired. Something Jim was allergic to, I think." He hadn't pried too deeply into the background of the incident. Jim was often a little sensitive when it came to his enhanced senses and Blair's little tests. In fact Jim seemed to try to avoid the tests whenever possible.
"Anyway, he had checked his email and pulled up this card thing. It started flashing and before he knew what was happening, he had zoned. He made me promise to not tell Blair about it." He gave his wife a worried look. "I think he's afraid it would just upset Blair even more."
"Or make the boy worry about him. As I recall, Jim has a little problem with not being in control."
"That's an understatement." Joel laughed. "He only asked me not to tell Blair or Simon. He didn't say a word about not telling you."
She heard the question in his voice. Was this something that Blair and/or Simon needed to know about? Probably. Flashing coloured lights sending him into la-la land could be dangerous. Funny that the flashing lights of emergency vehicles never seemed to affect him, or did they? "I'll talk to Simon. He can decide about Blair." She told her worried husband with a smile. "I just hope Jim still trusts us after this."
Joel sighed. "Maybe we should just talk to Jim, first. Maybe we can convince him to 'fess up to it. I'd sure feel a lot better about it."
"OK. I'll talk to Jim. Do you suppose he's home now?"
Jim was late getting home. He'd stuck around the station long after his shift, just to avoid it. When he did finally get home, he found Blair asleep on the couch and his dinner waiting for him in the microwave. He heated it up and managed to eat it without waking his roommate. He finished eating and was washing up his dishes when Blair finally stirred.
"Oh. Hi, Jim. You're late." He mumbled, looking at his watch. "Something come up?"
"Uh, no. Just finished up some paperwork." Not meeting his Guide's eyes.
Uh-huh. OK. Something's up. "Since when do you do paperwork? I thought you liked to leave that for me to do?"
"What happened?" Concerned. Knowing there was something Jim wasn't telling him.
"It's nothing, Chief. Just got a little distracted, is all."
Distracted. Distracted? "Distracted, like in zoned?" He stood and approached his friend, peering up into his face with concern. Reaching out a hand to touch Jim's arm.
"Uh, yeah." Looking away from the worried blue eyes. "Any messages?" Trying to change the subject.
"Yeah. Mable called..."
Even without looking directly at his Guide, he could see him making his connections.
"Who brought you out of the zone, Jim?"
"Joel." He sighed. He should have known better than to try and hide anything from his Guide, after all, this was his job. Not job. Field of expertise. That was a better term.
"That's why you're so late getting home?" Annoyed, he started pacing. Hands gesticulating with his agitation. "You, what, figured that if I was asleep when you got home that I'd never find out?! What is wrong with you, man?! What..." He stopped when he saw the look on Jim's face. He stood still, looking up into the closed face of his Sentinel. "Oh." He took a deep breath. "You were afraid I'd do what I'm doing, weren't you?" His voice dropping. "OK. I'm calm. You want to tell me about it?" Will you tell me about it? He continued staring up into the shuttered blue eyes of his partner.
Jim sighed, slumping a little from the stiff military stance he had unconsciously assumed when Blair blew up at him. Breaking away from Blair's concerned gaze, he turned to the refrigerator and took out two bottles of beer. Using the time to try to compose what he was going to say, he took his time opening them and carefully placed the caps in the trash. He turned and handed one bottle to his partner, moved past him and went into the living room, where he slouched down on one couch. He sipped his beer and then leaned back, resting his head against the back of the couch. Eyes closed.
"Jim?" Blair sat down beside him, still worried.
"It was silly." Softly.
"What was silly?" Matching Jim's tone of voice.
"The zone out. It was the computer."
Huh?! "The computer?" Astounded. "How did the computer make you zone out, man?" Voice rising, just a little.
Jim winced at the tone of voice. This was hard enough, trying to explain the embarrassment of zoning out over some flickering lights on a screen, without his Guide making it any worse.
"It was the email."
This was like trying to take a bone from a pit bull. "C'mon, man. Stop pussyfooting and just tell me, why don't you?!"
"It was that card you sent. OK? That damned card." Plaintive. "I pulled it up and the damned screen started flashing bright colours, then patterns and the next thing I knew, Joel Taggart was shaking me and calling my name. I nearly scared the shit out of him, all right?!" Voice raising in volume until he was nearly shouting. "I had been zoned for almost an hour, Sandburg. An entire G--damned hour!" The fear and panic of the incident obvious in his voice. Unable to maintain control, he carefully set the still nearly full bottle down on the table and stood. Without another word, he grabbed his coat and left.
"Jim! Wait a minute. We need to..." The slamming of the door cut him off. What had just happened here? Jim had zoned. OK. Why was he so upset? He looked at the clock, it was nearly eleven. Why...? An hour. AN HOUR? Oh, man. He'd been zoned for an hour and nobody noticed? Wait, that didn't make any sense, unless he was the only one there? He needed to talk to Joel. Ask him what happened. It was too late to call. Damn. Where could Jim have gone? He went downstairs to check. The truck was not in it's space. Where would he go? He trudged back upstairs, hurrying the last few steps and running into the loft when he heard the phone ringing.
"Hello?" He gasped, out of breath.
"Oh, hi, Mable. Sorry. I was outside and had to run to get the phone."
"Oh, that's all right. I was afraid that as late as it is, you boys would be asleep. Is Jim there?"
"Uh, no. He just left a few minutes ago."
"And you ran down the stairs to try and stop him." Not a question, just a very insightful statement.
Blair sighed. "Yeah. I really blew it. He zoned out today. He was really upset about it. I was, well let's just say I was less than understanding."
"Ouch. Poor baby. Joel told me about it. Would you like to talk to him?"
He loved this woman. She was such a dear lady. Always thinking of others. "Yes, please. And Mable? Thanks."
"You're welcome, dear. Hold on, here he is."
"Hi, Blair. You talked to Jim yet?" uncertainty in his tone.
"Yeah. I didn't handle it very well. Can you tell me what happened?"
"Sure. It was about twelve-thirty, I had just gotten back from dealing with Cassie, down in forensics. The bullpen was empty except for Jim. He was sitting at his desk, zoned out on the computer screen. It was flashing all kinds of colours and patterns. He was just, well, I guess you'd know better than I would what a zone out looks like. I gotta tell you, it scared me pretty bad. He was breathing so shallowly, that I could barely tell he was breathing at all. Simon was at the Mayor's office, you were at school, and I wasn't sure what to do. I know you told me what to do, and I did talk to him. When that didn't work, I grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him. He finally took a deep breath, blinked a couple of times, and it was like nothing had happened. He was a little upset over zoning out on that card you sent him, the flashing lights and colours, but he seemed OK. He...He asked me not to tell you or Simon about it." Blair could hear the smile when Joel added: "He didn't say anything about telling Mable or her talking to you. But since he did talk to you, I guess it's OK. Isn't it?" Suddenly worried again.
"Well, it's not real good right now. Jim stayed late at the station, then came home about an hour ago, I guess. I'd fallen asleep on the couch. He snuck in and heated up and ate his dinner before I woke up. I..." He paused, "I wasn't very understanding, I'm afraid. He seemed a lot more upset than just having a zone out. I need to talk to him. There must be something else going on besides just the zone. He said he'd been out for almost an hour?"
"I wouldn't know about that. I know it took me more than five minutes to bring him back." They were silent for several moments, each man going over what they knew and trying to figure it out.
"Uh, Yeah, Joel?"
"I was wondering. Those flashing colours and patterns on the computer, well, maybe this is silly, but..."
"But what, Joel? Nothing that may help explain what happened is silly, man." Curious.
"Well, I remember reading about epilepsy a while back, my sister is epileptic." He added by way of explanation. "Anyway, I was reading this article that said something about strobe lights causing seizures. Even people who aren't epileptic may have problems. I was wondering if maybe the frequency, or the colours, or the patterns might have been close to Jim's natural cycle and caused the zone. That would..."
"That would explain why he was so upset about it. Oh, man. I really blew it. I was so busy telling him off that I wasn't listening to what he was really trying to tell me. He was scared, Joel, and I just jumped on his case for not telling me. When all the time he was afraid I'd do exactly what I did do. I've got to find him, man. I..."
"Did you try calling him on his cell?"
"Blair? I said..."
"I heard you. No. I did not try his cell. Sometimes I can be such an idiot. What if he doesn't want to talk to me, come home?"
"You can convince him. He needs you. You really think that flashing light frequency thing has anything to do with it?"
"I don't know. Maybe. If it does, we need to run some tests, find out what causes it, how to combat it. Thanks, Joel. You've been a big help. A good friend. Thanks. Mable, too."
"You're welcome. Let us know, OK?"
"Sure, and Joel?"
"Let's not tell Simon anything about this until we know for sure, OK?"
"You got it. Simon'd go off the deep end for sure if he thought there was any chance of Jim having a seizure. I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Bet on it. Maybe we can all get together to help Jim through this, OK?"
"You know it. Just a sec..." Blair could hear Mable in the background, "Mable says you two come for dinner tomorrow night. No excuses. We can all hash it out here. I, uh, I think maybe we need to include Simon, Blair."
Blair sighed. "Yeah. I know. You're right. Will you talk to him tomorrow? That'll give me more time to try and figure this thing out, OK?"
"Sure. You call Jim now and get him home. We'll get through this. You'll see."
"Yes, we will. Thanks again, Joel."
"You're welcome, Blair. I'll see you tomorrow. Take care."
As soon as he disconnected, he immediately dialed Jim's cell number. On the sixth ring, just as Blair started to dispair of Jim ever answering, he did.
"Jim, come home. Now. Please."
"Jim, I talked to Joel."
"Jim, please. We have to talk. I may know what caused the zone, man. We really need to talk. Now. Tonight. Please come home."
"You don't understand, Chief. I...it wasn't like any zone out I've ever had before. I mean, I was aware sort of, I just couldn't ... I don't know how to explain it."
"I understand. Come home. Please." He heard the exhaustion in Jim's voice, when he heard him sigh, he knew he was winning.
"I'm here for you, man. Joel made a suggestion that may have bearing on this. I need you here. Please." Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease.
"OK. I'll be there in a few." The exhaustion tinged with relief.
Blair had a fresh beer waiting when Jim came in. Once he was again ensconced on the couch, drinking his beer, Blair asked: "Tell me how this zone out was different from the others."
Jim didn't look surprised that Blair had figured it out. "It was like being half asleep. I was aware of the computer, the lights flashing, the colours and patterns. I just couldn't seem to move. I felt like...I don't know, like a tuning fork, I guess. I felt like my whole body was humming, only I couldn't hear anything. It scared me. I didn't know what to do. When Joel brought me back, I tried to convince myself that it was a normal zone out. As the day passed, I kept going back over it and realized that it had been different from any zone out I've ever had."
"OK. I think Joel may have come up with the answer to this one. We need to run some tests." At Jim's wince at the word, he hurried on. "Yes, Jim. Tests. If I'm right about this, it could be life threatening if we don't find out for sure. We really, really need to run tests on this. I want Simon to be there, and Joel and Mable. It's important."
Jim could tell from Blair's tone of voice and body language that he wasn't going to be able to get out of it, so he gave in. "When?"
"Tomorrow night. Dinner at the Taggarts. Simon's going to be there, too."
Jim sighed, relieved, in spite of the idea of tests hanging over his head. "OK."
The entire next day, Blair hovered over his partner, when he had to go to the University for some equipment for that evening, he left Joel in charge of his partner. Much to Jim's chagrin.
"I do not need a baby sitter, Sandburg."
"Not a baby sitter, Jim. More of a..."
"Mother hen." Simon broke in with a grin. "You want to tell me what's going on? What happened yesterday?"
"Jim zoned. I think it had something to do with the frequency of the lights on the computer. I need to go get some equipment at the U, and don't want to leave him alone, so I asked Joel to keep an eye on him." Bouncing impatiently. The sooner he got going, the sooner he'd be back.
"Sounds reasonable. Go ahead. No arguments, Ellison."
Amazing how he could make that word sound like a curse, Simon grinned and returned to his office.
Dinner at the Taggarts was a fairly solemn affair that evening. Jim was stressing over the tests, and the others were worried about him. Especially after Blair, Joel, and Simon had a meeting about it, without Jim. The idea that flashing lights could cause seizures frightened them all. With Jim's enhanced senses, the risks could be greater for him than for most people. They had to find out how bad it could be.
Blair set up the strobe in the living room. Jim was sitting stiffly in Joel's recliner. Tense, frightened. The old mask in place. Mable parked her wheelchair beside him and reached out and took his hand in hers. He jumped, almost pulling his hand away from her. She held on, tight. Waiting patiently until he finally looked her in the eye. Knowing how frightened he must be. Knowing that the wrong results could end his career.
"It will be all right, Jim. We'll find out how bad it is and handle it. You've gone this long, maybe we can figure out some kind of preventive measures, like, maybe if you practiced with the frequencies that bother you, you can become desensitized to it." Squeezing his hand, comforting, caring, supportive.
"OK." Blair announced when he finished setting up the strobe. "This has a variable frequency control. It'll let us know what the frequencies are that affect you, Jim." He was in 'Researcher' mode. The scientist in control, seeking data, perhaps forgetting that the subject was a human being, with feelings and fears. Fortunately, Jim had other friends to offer support.
"Blair." Mable said, testily, "This is Jim, not some lab animal for you to experiment on. If this is how you run your tests, no wonder he tries to avoid them whenever possible."
Blair froze. His brows drew down perplexed. He glanced at Jim. Realized just how frightened his friend was. Realized that he hadn't explained what he was doing, how, or why. Shit.
"Oh, man. I'm sorry, Jim." He came over to his friend and crouched in front of him, bracing himself against the seated man's knees. "OK. Look, we think that the strobe effect on the computer may have been near your natural resonance frequency. That's kind of like harmonics. Like a crystal vase shattering when a perfect high C is sung. The resonance sets up the harmonics, causing the glass to vibrate, as the vibration intensifies, the glass shatters. Well, with people, strobes can have a similar affect. Some people can have a seizure if they see a strobe light flashing. Everyone is different, some people may not be affected at all, others will feel ill, or dizzy, or even have muscle spasms. You zoned on a flashing light. I don't know if the colours had anything to do with it. It doesn't really make any difference. It should be connected to the flashing, not the colour. You admitted that the zone out was different from anything you had experienced before. We're going to test you with this strobe set up. We're going to try to discover what frequencies affect you, how they affect you, maybe, like Mable said, have you practice, get you desensitized to the point that you won't zone out again. OK?" Gripping his friend's knees, gently rubbing his thumbs along the ridge of Jim's kneecaps.
Jim's expression wasn't as stiff. He'd listened closely to Blair's explanation. He understood the concept. He just wasn't sure about the mechanics of the whole thing. If it turned out that the problem was severe; if he couldn't be desensitized; if he couldn't control his reactions; his career would be over, and he knew it.
"Let's do it." He spoke hoarsely. The fear only perceptible in his voice. His body tense. He was unaware how tightly he was holding Mable's hand. She gently rubbed his white knuckles with her free hand, slowly loosening his grip. Soothing him with her touch. Joel, ever sensitive to his wife, moved behind Jim and started to rub his neck and shoulders. Unsurprised by the rocklike tension in the man. Between the two of them, they managed to get Jim to relax, just a bit. Simon circled around to Jim's other side, offering his support as well.
Blair waited until Joel looked up and nodded. "Ready, Jim?" At Jim's nod, he signaled Simon to dim the room lights and turned on the strobe. At first, it was just a steady beam of light, bright, but not painful.
"OK, Jim. We'll take this one step at a time. First, I want you to dial down your sensitivity to the light, bring it down so it's just comfortable, not blinding." He waited until he could see Jim relax a bit, eyes no longer squinting. "OK. Now, I'm going to make it flash." He adjusted the dial on the machine, the light started blinking. After a minute, with no reaction from Jim, he continued. "OK, good. Now I'm going to change the rate." They proceeded through the frequencies, spending one minute on each frequency. It took hours. Finally, they reached a fast enough cycle that Jim flinched. He didn't zone, but it was obviously causing him pain.
"Talk to me, Jim. What's it doing? How does it make you feel?"
"Gives me a headache." Through gritted teeth.
"OK. Where is the pain centred? Your temples? OK. I want you to turn down the dial some more... Better?"
"A little. Still hurts."
"Did you turn down your sight, or your pain receptors?"
"OK. Try to turn down your sight some more, just until it stops hurting."
It took a couple of minutes, but finally: "OK. It's better now, just a vague annoyance."
"I want you to look around the room, how well can you see at this sensitivity level?"
"It's fine. Lost some definition and colour, but otherwise, it's fine."
"Uh, does that mean that I would probably fall over something in a similar lighting situation?"
"OK. I'm going to change the frequency again. Bring up your sensitivity, again, just keep it comfortable."
On and on it went, far into the night. Simon and Joel dozed off on the couch. Mable kept holding Jim's hand. Keeping contact, giving comfort and reassurance.
There were several times Jim zoned, none of them severe, he was able after a few times practicing, to prevent them. Finally, at about three in the morning, they hit the right (wrong) frequency. Jim twitched once and froze. Mable noted the faint tremors.
"Blair. I think this is it." Joel and Simon snapped awake at her tone of voice. Rising and coming over to hover over their friend. Blair left the strobe on and joined them. He again knelt before his Sentinel and took the hand Mable wasn't holding. He could feel it, as well.
"Joel, when you brought him out of his zone, how did you touch him?"
"I grabbed his shoulder."
"Do it again, now. The same way, only don't shake him." Joel complied, Simon watched worriedly.
"OK. Now what?"
"Does he feel the same as when you brought him out of the zone?"
Joel closed his eyes, trying to remember. "Yes. There's this faint, vibration, almost."
"OK. Good. Simon, turn off the strobe for a minute, will you?" Simon jumped to comply.
"How bad is it?" Simon asked as, the moment the strobe stopped, Jim blinked and looked at them.
Jim looked at his friends. Tightening up with fear, again. Not knowing what had happened. How he'd been brought out of the zone.
"How do you feel, Jim?" Blair asked softly.
"Tired. It happened again, didn't it." Already knowing the answer.
"Yeah. But you came out of it yourself the moment we turned it off. That's good."
"What's the bad news?"
"I'm going to have Simon turn it back on. I want you to talk to me. Tell me what's happening. Can you do that for me?"
Jim nodded. "I can try. What if..."
"We're not worrying about 'what if's right now, man. We're still gathering data, OK? Good." He nodded to Simon, who turned the machine on again.
"It's like a mild electrical shock, only constant. A faint tingle, all over. Inside and out." He had to struggle to maintain control. "That's all, Chief. What do I do, now?" Unable to control the minute muscle spasms in his back, legs, and arms. His fingers twitching. Suddenly, his body spasmed once, hard.
"Shit! What the hell was that?" Jim shouted in terror. He looked down into his Guide's eyes, frightened of what the answer might be. Trembling slightly, still.
"OK, Jim. Tell me what just happened. Tell me..."
Jim took a deep breath, trying to steady his fear. "OK. I...it was like the electrical current was centered in my lower back; then when the current got strong enough, it let go, and I jerked."
"You could feel it building up?"
"That's great. Now, look back at the strobe."
"Why? I don't want to." Afraid of repeating his actions, afraid of losing control.
"It's OK. Just do it. ... OK. Can you feel the current building up again?"
"OK. Can you feel when it's about to..." Jim spasmed again.
Jim closed his eyes, pulling into himself, drawing his feet up onto the seat of the chair, releasing the hands holding his and wrapping his arms around his knees. Hiding his face.
"Jim. It's OK. Could you tell when the current was about to release?"
"Yes." Barely audible.
"That's great. Now, I want you to do it again, only this time I want you to control the release. Just before the current reaches critical mass, I want you to release it yourself, OK? Can you do that for me?" Taking Jim's clenched hands in his own and lifting them, freeing Jim's legs and letting his feet slide back down to the floor. "It's OK, Jim. It'll be all right." Reassuring. Jim cast doubtful glances at the other three concerned people around them. He took a deep breath and nodded. Forcing his fear down. He gazed once more into the strobe. When he could feel the spasm coming on, he lifted his feet from the floor. It was just enough to break the pattern. He waited. Still looking at the flashing light. He could still feel the tingle, but it was no longer a problem. By moving on his own, he had short-circuited his body's reaction. He turned his eyes to his Guide.
"Yeah, Chief. It's OK." He took a deep breath, holding it for a moment before releasing it, noticing the effect on the tingling feeling.
"OK, then. I'm going to change the frequency again. If you have any problems, let me know, OK?"
The three observers managed to stay awake throughout the rest of the test. Except for causing instant headaches, no other frequencies even remotely affected Jim the way that the one had. Blair tried to explain the zone out to the others.
"That one frequency resonates with Jim's body. If he's seeing it, he can zone out if he's not careful. It causes his body to spasm, like you saw. If he remains zoned for more than a few seconds, he stiffens up, the way you found him, Joel. He was sort of aware of what was happening around him, but couldn't control it. We kept working on that frequency, desensitizing him to it. It still affects him, just that now he has some control over it." He looked at the faces of his friends, settling on Jim's exhausted countenance. "Now. For the good news?" Still bouncing with enthusiasm after being up for nearly twenty-four hours.
"There's good news?" Simon asked. If Jim was prone to these fits from flashing lights, how was it going to affect his ability to do his job, to drive, even? "Oh, yeah. That particular frequency is pretty unusual. Just about the only place you'll find it is on the computer." He look again at his partner, reaching over to touch his arm. "I'm sorry. I promise that I'll never use that particular service again. It's unlikely that that frequency is used anywhere else. The odds are pretty astronomical. But since we've practiced with it, you should be able to prevent any serious complications. As for the ones that caused the mini-zones, you desensitized to them really fast. I've made notes of all the ones that affect you, the ones that cause headaches, the mini-zones, the muscle spasms. I doubt if we can stop the headaches, but they aren't enough to prevent you from functioning. We'll practice with them all from time to time, to keep your sensitivity under control." He smiled at them all. "Any questions?"
"Yeah." Jim replied. "Can I have today off to get some sleep?" He looked at Simon, who chuckled dryly.
"I guess I'll have to give it to you. Can't have you sleeping at your desk all day. Go home. Get some sleep, and when you wake up, if you feel like it, come on in." He looked at Joel. "You and I, on the other hand did get some sleep, at least a couple of hours worth."
"I take it that that means I have to go to work. I'll be in about nine." He smiled up at his friend. "It'll take me that long to get myself together."
Simon looked at his watch. "Yeah, me, too. It's only four-thirty. I've got time for a couple of hours sleep before going in." He stood. "I'll see you all, later. Thank you Mable, for letting us do this here." His eyes expressing his realization of what the alternatives might have been.
Mable smiled up at him. "Don't worry, Simon. It was my pleasure. Are we having the poker game here Friday?" The four men exchanged looks, Joel smiled benignly, Simon raised his eyebrows in surprise, Blair started to bounce in anticipation, and Jim just sat there, too weary to care.
"If you want to." Simon answered for them. Meeting Mable's smile.
"Good. What would you boys like for dinner that night?" Pleased to have the game back home where it belonged.
"Anything you make." Blair jumped in, delighted grin on his face.
"Works for me." Simon concurred.
Joel only smiled at his beloved. Jim remained aloof, still trying to deal with the stress of the situation. She reached out to touch his hand, causing him to slowly turn his head to look at her. She looked closely at the haggard face and tortured eyes. She held her arms open, inviting.
Jim glanced at Joel, who continued to smile and gave an almost imperceptible nod of permission. Jim slid forward and leaned into the offered hug, burying his face against her, his arms sliding behind her shoulders, her hands stroking the broad, trembling back of the exhausted man. Whispering softly in his ear, rocking slightly, soothing, comforting. The other men watched, a little embarrassed, a little uncomfortable. Realizing that this test had involved an ordinary human being. Not Superman. Not an unfeeling animal. Just a man. Their friend. Sometimes, because of the strength of James Ellison, they all tended to forget that he was still just a man. Mortal, fallible, human. He so often hid his feelings, and did it so well, they would forget that he had any. Watching him soaking up comfort from the motherly woman in the wheelchair, they realized that they had misjudged him, his strength, his courage.
Blair was the first to move, he came up beside the embracing couple, bent down and added his own hug. Joel and Simon followed his lead. Touching their friend, offering comfort, acceptance. Patiently waiting until he was ready to come back to them.
His senses were reeling. The warmth and comfort of his friends; touching him, holding him. The silent voices. The softly whispered words of comfort. The acceptance. He soaked up their caring like a sponge, drawing strength from the warmth of their touch, the sound of their heartbeats, their breathing. Eventually, he felt strong enough to withdraw from them and stand on his own. He was too embarrassed to look at any of them.
Simon straightened up, recognized the emotions Jim was fighting. "Come on, Jim. Let's get you home." Helping his detective stand, placing an arm around the still hunched shoulders, supportive, encouraging. He smiled his goodbyes to Joel and Mable, motioned Blair to follow him. Leading the exhausted Sentinel to his truck, taking the keys and opening the passenger door, guiding the silent man into the seat and belting him in. Closing the door and handing the keys to Blair with the admonition to take care of him. Blair nodded, circled the truck, opened the door and slid behind the wheel. Shifted forward in the seat to reach without having to adjust anything. He started the truck and drove them home.
Jim was asleep by the time they got back to the loft. Blair had little trouble getting him out of the truck and up the stairs. He was like an automaton. A zombie. Barely aware of anything, in his exhaustion. Once inside, Blair, still silent, gently pushed his friend toward the stairs.
"Go to bed, Jim. We'll talk whenever you wake up. I'll be writing up my notes, OK?" Watching closely to see the faint nod of agreement. Jim dragged himself up the stairs and Blair heard the sound of Jim's body falling on the bed. He waited a few minutes, listening to hear if he was getting undressed. At the absolute silence, he quietly climbed up to the loft, finding his exhausted test subject sprawled face down on the bed, feet hanging over the edge. He hadn't even managed to take off his shoes and jacket.
Shaking his head, Blair went to his friend and, first, removed his shoes and socks, then he shook him awake enough to get him to sit up and let him take off his jacket and shirt. Finally pulling him to his feet and helping him remove his jeans. Blair then let him fall back down on the bed, but only after pulling back the covers. He even had to help Jim get his long legs under the covers. Jim was asleep before Blair even had a chance to pull the blankets over him.
Blair looked at his exhausted Sentinel, realizing just how difficult the test had been for him. Understanding that his career could have been over, the fear and uncertainty of his future. The 'what if's'. He gently tucked in his exhausted friend. Even remembering to fold the clothes he'd been wearing and setting them neatly on the chair, before going back downstairs to work on his notes.
He didn't dream. He was so exhausted from the stress that he didn't even have one single dream. When he finally awoke, it was afternoon. He listened, hearing the sound of Blair's fingers tapping away at his laptop keyboard. He couldn't help wondering if Blair had gotten any sleep at all. He stretched, slowly, feeling the residual tension in his muscles protest and then relax. Joints popping in release. He looked at his clock. Two-fifteen. If he got up now, he could be at the station by three, well, maybe three-thirty. He felt like he was starving. He moved to slide out of bed and discovered that he'd been tightly tucked in. He grinned, not even remembering getting up the stairs, let alone undressing and getting into bed. He had to move away from the edge to release the covers. Blair really knew how to tuck someone in, he reflected with a grin. Finally getting up and going downstairs. Blair never noticed him. He made it to the bathroom, had a nice, hot, shower, shaved, and then made it back upstairs without being seen. He came back down a few minutes later, dressed. He watched his young partner, slaving away at his keyboard, oblivious to the world around him. Grinning, Jim went to the kitchen. Finding sludge, he dumped out the pot and started fresh coffee. He then rummaged in the refrigerator for breakfast. They needed to go shopping again. Oh. It was his turn. He checked the list held to the side of the refrigerator with a magnet, adding a few items with the pen on the counter. While he was writing, he noticed the bakery bag on the counter. Opening it, he found half a dozen buttermilk donuts. Smiling at the consideration of his roommate, he took a plate out of the cupboard, placed two donuts on it, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table.
As he ate, he watched Blair. It amazed him how Blair could concentrate to the exclusion of everything else around him. It was kind of funny, actually. Now, if he made a sudden noise, what would Blair do? He finished his donuts, picked up his plate and went back for another cup of coffee. He noticed Blair's cup on the counter. He filled it as well and headed for the living room. Coming up behind his friend, he reached over his shoulder and offered him his cup. Blair absently took it, brought it to his lips and sipped. He then held it up for Jim to take. With a smirk, Jim took the offered cup, circled the couch and sat down beside Blair, setting both cups on the coffee table.
Blair jumped, startled. "Oh, man. Warn a guy, will you?"
"Chief, what do you taste?"
"When did you last have any?"
"Uh," He looked at the clock on the VCR. "About four hours ago."
"Uh-huh. Then how come you can still taste it? Feel the warmth from it?"
Blair stared at him. Then noticed the two steaming cups on the table. Frowning in concentration, he finally realized, "Oh. Oh, man. I guess I was pretty well zoned, myself, huh?"
"Yeah, professor. You were." He paused to pick up his cup and take a sip. "Have you been to bed at all?"
"Oh, yeah. I got you tucked in and came down here to get started on my notes, only I fell asleep, instead. I woke up about ten, showered, dressed, went over to the Taggart's to pick up the equipment and returned it, got back here about noon and I've been at this ever since." He looked closely at his partner, searching his friend's face for any signs of the stress and tension of the past two days. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm still a little tired."
"You want to talk about it?"
He looked, unseeingly into the distance. "Yeah, I guess so. Sure."
Blair waited. Jim wasn't looking at him, but at something only he could see, like a speck of dust floating in the air.
"Jim? Are you OK?"
"What's the bottom line, Chief?" He turned his still frightened blue eyes to his Guide, seeking reassurance, affirmation that he could continue his work, his life.
"Bottom line?" Realizing that Jim hadn't been in any condition after the test to understand anything about the results. "Oh. Well, there's this strobe frequency that that internet card service uses. It's matches your natural resonance frequency. It caused muscle spasms, which in turn caused your zone out. If Joel had known to turn off your monitor, you would have come out of the zone on your own. Of course, no one knew. I know I didn't. Not until after the test."
Jim flinched at the word. "I guess I wasn't very kind to you. I'm sorry, man. I guess I can understand why you're always trying to avoid tests. Do I always go into that mad scientist act whenever I get you into the lab?"
"You mean when you treat me like a lab rat that doesn't have any feelings or enough intelligence to not be afraid?" Blair winced, but nodded. "Yeah. You do. It's like you become...I don't know. Like just now. You were concentrating so hard on what you were doing that you never even noticed me. I mean, I came downstairs, used the bathroom, took a shower, went back upstairs, dressed, came back down, made a fresh pot of coffee, sat at the table and ate. Thanks for the donuts, by the way. Got up for a second cup of coffee, put my plate in the sink, came over here, handed you your cup, you took it, drank some, handed it back; and you never noticed anything until I sat down."
"And then I went off about you scaring me. Man. Am I oblivious, or what?"
"You don't want me to answer that, Darwin."
Blair looked closely into the still tired eyes of his Sentinel, his friend. "I'm sorry, Jim. I never realized what I do to you every time I get you to take a test." He waited for some sign from his best friend. He noticed the faint shrug of acceptance. "I need you to do something for me. Will you?"
"What do you need, Chief?"
"I need you to tell me when I start acting like a jerk. When working with your senses, I need you to tell me to back off, to take it easy, whatever you need to say to get me to treat you right. I never realized how hard I make it for you. I'm sorry. Will you do this?"
Jim looked at his Guide for a long time. Saw the earnestness, the concern for him, the worry.
"I think I can do that, Chief." He was rewarded with Blair's spotlight strength smile.
"Great, man. Now, about the results from last night's test..."
Jim smiled softly and leaned back. He would wait until tomorrow to go back to work. He still had a lot to do today, not the least of which involved communicating with his roommate, Guide, and best friend.
Friday. The end of the work week. The weekly poker game was at the Taggart's, an occurrence that was becoming regular. When they met for the game, Mable, as usual, had prepared a feast for them. After dinner, as they cleared the table for the game, a wrapped package appeared at Jim's place. Looking curiously from the package to his friends, he realized that they were as much in the dark about it as he was. He looked at Joel, their host, who glanced quickly at his wife, met Jim's eyes and shrugged.
Jim looked at Mable, returned her smile and then tore the wrappings from the box. Inside was an antique, brass kaleidoscope. He reverently took it from its packing. It was a large one, with replaceable disks and mounted on a beautiful mahogany base. Setting it down on the table, he pointed it toward the light and peered into it. Fascinated by the colours, and setting the disk in motion, he watched it for a few moments, then withdrew and smiled in delight at his hostess.
"It's beautiful. What's the occasion?" Not used to gifts for no reason.
"I went to that nice Mr. Sing's shop. He was unpacking it. I took one look at it and it screamed to me that it belonged to you."
Jim moved away so the others could look. He went to Mable and crouched down beside her. Reaching out, he impulsively engulfed her in a hug, which she returned. Whispering in her ear. "Thank you."
Her musical laugh answered him. "You're more than welcome, my dear."
K. I. Ka-lie-d-o-scope
Love is another colour from hope
Pain is a separate colour from joy
How many colours there are to enjoy
As usual, this didn't go quite the direction I thought it would. The information about the strobe lights is true. It can also happen with certain sound frequencies. The old "Emergency Broadcasting System" tones are very close to my resonance frequency. If it lasts for more than about ten seconds, my muscles start to twitch in my legs and back.
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