The Road Not Taken
Summary: For Blair, luckily, a path not taken.
Warnings: Brief mention of child abuse. And a few bad words.
Note: Legally ... this is just a story. I know nothing about the law.
Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, and Paramount. All stories are written with the love of the show in mind. No money is being made. All stories are property of the author.
Blair's desk was piled high with barely balanced stacks of blue books. He had other concerns and time constraints that sometimes forbade his being a little neater in his official domain, and at home too. Jim would be surprised that Blair could be neat. He could use his time and
space efficiently but there was so much else to do, his mind whirling from topic to topic, his schedule book filled to overflowing with notations of meetings, deadlines, and the myriad personal items he managed to cram into the bare spaces of his days. Today the time constraints were near to strangling him. Finals were over. Tests were graded and MUST be posted within the hour. Gathering one last great breath he flung himself out of his chair, grabbed the required grade list and took off, nearly running for the appropriate office, with a harried secretary waiting to accept his offering.
He decided to forgo the elevator, he really didn't like elevators. He really didn't like taking the stairs either. He really had to work on his acrophobia, and not just to help Jim. So, skip the elevator and take the stairs. It's better for him anyway. Get that circulation going, that heart pumping.
A startled scream greeted him followed by, “Oh Blair, you scared me to death.”
“Sorry Margaret, I'm really in a hurry. Finals are done and graded you know,” Blair grinned as he passed her on the stairs.
“I remember hearing that somewhere. All the TA's are running on caffeine or just plain running like you,” she joked as Blair continued his dash to the appropriate office.
Done. Blair was free till January. It felt great to have these weeks for other pursuits, like his sentinel research, and observing his sentinel, Jim, at the PD. But the adrenaline letdown that followed was sobering, and always left him a bit disillusioned and disenchanted. He had to remind himself how lucky he was. Where would he be without his sentinel? Well, that was easy. Without Jim's generosity he'd probably be sleeping in his basement office at Rainier. Jim had been there when he lost his warehouse apartment and his possessions when the gang-run drug lab next door exploded. Jim may have also saved his life by pushing him to the floor. He would have felt terrible if he'd also lost Larry, the little Barbary ape. If he had he would also have lost the money for the article he was writing on him. It would have been a bleak ending for the year that's for sure.
Moving more slowly now, he headed back to the stairs. Again he heard a scream, and it sounded like Margaret again. He'd better investigate just in case she had taken a header on the stairs. The thought flitted through his mind that the stairwells could be dangerous in other ways. It wasn't just physical clumsiness people had to watch out for, because darkened and little used stairwells could be the site of assaults on the unwary. Blair felt his blood run cold when he heard Margaret's struggles and the whispered hissings of her attacker.
Blair hesitated only an instant. He could never have left her alone to go for help, although it would have been a prudent thing to do. Jim would probably kill him for rushing in without help. The attacker pushed Margaret away and faced up the stairwell toward Blair. The push caused Margaret to skid down a step, lose her balance and slam onto the next landing, where she lay unmoving.
Unfortunately Blair's concerned gaze rested a second too long on her still form. Street fighting wasn't on Blair's resume but he could hold his own unless the guy had a weapon. Too late, Blair saw that the man had confronted him with a weapon in his hand. Blair wasn't far enough away to turn and run back up the stairs and not expect to get shot in the back. He also wasn't close enough to get in and under the gun. Jim's attempts at teaching him self-defense had helped a little, so right now, in this situation, he knew his best option was to wait for an opportunity. He hoped this guy wasn't too desperate, because if he had nothing to lose, Blair was way too close and too easy a target.
The attacker didn't leave him much time to wonder. “Hold it, stay right where you are,” he said, then turned his head to check on Margaret.
The door below them on Margaret's landing opened with laughter flowing into the space. The laughter was brought up short, followed by gasps and a strangled cry from two fleeing coeds.
Blair's thoughts raced. If not for Blair's presence the man could probably have escaped by just continuing on his way down the stairs and out, acting the part of a casual pedestrian. That left only one option: hostage. Margaret would have been the better choice if she was conscious, so that left Blair. He so did not want to go there again.
At the muffled screams from the two coeds the man's attention had been momentarily diverted. It was just enough to almost get Blair killed. Blair saw the opening it gave him and took a desperate chance, trying to get close enough to knock the gun to the side. The ensuing struggle lasted barely a moment. Panicked gazes locked and the attacker, in breathless shock, squeezed a round from his gun.
Blair's left hand automatically clutched his opposite side. The stress of this shock left Blair wilting against the wall, with the pain blossoming with the blood under his hand. The attacker moved to contain his one asset besides his gun, his now wounded hostage. Then he made another bad decision, he headed up the stairs dragging Blair with him.
Finals were over and many people were gone for the semester leaving many of the available hiding spaces locked tight. Now that the shot had been heard, warnings were flying about the building. The attacker could have forced his way into various offices but panic forced him on, to look for an easier path and maybe a better hostage, one that wasn't wounded and wouldn't slow him down. There was one more flight of stairs, one more opportunity.
Blair could hear sirens already. It was probably only campus cops, but the commotion on the floors below grew. One more door. Locked. The attacker kicked at it. Blair wondered why he didn't use his gun, but then thought that he was probably afraid the sound would give away his location. Of course, it was possible that the only ammunition he had was what was left in his gun.
Beyond the door was the roof. The attacker must have hoped it was either a safe haven or an avenue of escape. He pushed Blair down to lay breathing heavily on the rooftop, then he forced the door closed and blocked it as best he could. Blair watched as he ran to the fire escape, but people must have already gathered below. Blair could see him step back from the edge as a rising outcry could be heard even from where he lay on the roof. The attacker franticly scanned his 'haven'. There were no other buildings close enough to make escape possible. Blair wished there were.
“Damn,” the guy swore under his breath and turned back toward Blair. “How did I get into this mess?” he muttered to himself. Turning to his hostage, “Why 'n hell did you jump me? ... Come on kid, get up. We've got plans to make, people to talk to. If you cooperate I'll let you go.”
“Yeah, right. Do you think I'm stupid, man.” Blair worked with the police. He knew a lot of statistics about hostages. That knowledge was not very reassuring to him right now.
“Well, you could die later ... or you could die now if you piss me off. I'm not in a good mood. So get up and move ... if the cops come through that door to get me, you'll be in the crossfire. I'd think getting shot once would be enough for one day.”
Blair was agreeable with the man's instructions with things stated in those terms. But he was in pain, and shock was making him muzzy and the blood loss, though minimal, was making him nauseous and a little light headed. The move, once initiated was a slow and stumbling affair but he finally ended up behind what shelter the rooftop afforded by way of water tanks, and heating and cooling systems. Adequate to stop bullets he hoped, but then the cops would have a hard time taking this guy out. If this standoff stretched into the night .... No. Jim will come. He's probably already on his way.
Blair decided it was time to work on his captor. He looked at the guy, intending to really study his adversary. He was taken aback. This guy looked like him! Blair's hair was a little longer and a little curlier and he was a little shorter, but the attacker was about his age, his build, and he's got blue eyes too. Those eyes look way too old for someone that young. He'd have to ask Naomi if he have a twin. Hunh. Not funny Sandburg. Well all he had was his charm and his eloquence, so he'd better get started. “What's your name?”
The man looked at him like he was crazy.
“Come on just give me your first name. If we're going to be stuck here awhile I'd like to be able to talk to you.”
“Why? Why would I give you my name? Why would you want to talk to me? Ain't no way you're talking your way out of this mess. If I thought you could I'd set you talking to the cops. Just shut up,” the guy said in exasperation.
Blair just stared levelly at him, until he glared back. “Just call me Joe. What did you want to say? You might as well say it now.” The glare intensified, “There might not be a later.”
“You act pretty tough, but I think you've got this figured out. You're not getting out of here, not alive anyway, unless you give yourself up. Am I right?”
Instead of answering the question, “You're a little old to be a college kid. Are you a teacher?”
“I'm a grad student and a TA. My name's Blair Sandburg.”
Sigh, “Yeah I figured you were smart. You had it figured about as fast as I did. I really don't want to kill you, but I can't afford to hesitate if you try something funny, so don't, okay.”
“If you kill me you know they'll never let you off this roof alive, right?”
Joe didn't answer, he just turned to stare at the door. Maybe Blair was reading too much into his facial expressions, but he thought he could see despair, yes, but also grief. He started to feel for this guy. He was his age and he'd just lost his future with some really bad decisions. Can anyone say 'Stockholm Syndrome'? It didn't take twenty minutes. Blair needed more though. Who was he, how did he get to this place in his life? He had to get him to open up.
“Joe? I'm feeling kind of woozy. And I'm cold. Is it okay to lay down? I'll be out of the wind,” Blair asked weakly. No sense in appearing to be a further threat he thought. And he WAS cold.
“Sure, just don't make a stupid move,” Joe admonished.
“Joe, why did you hurt Margaret?” Blair asked carefully, not wanting to ignite the guy's anger at him.
“I didn't mean to hurt Maggie,” he protested. “She's my cousin. She always was a little leery of my side of the family and when she saw my gun she freaked. I didn't pull it on her, she grabbed for it. That was stupid! Don't you think that was a stupid thing for her to do? Do you know Margaret? She's not usually an idiot, I never thought that of her, but that was a totally stupid thing to do!” he ranted tightly.
Blair bit his lip, thinking about what Joe had said and how he'd said it. “You really care about Maggie. You're worried about her aren't you?”
Exasperated, “She's family. I never had much family and when we did see each other it was never for long. Mom and I moved around a lot.”
Blair blinked. “It was just you and your Mom? My mom and I were alone too. Naomi and I traveled all over the country, all over the world. I think that's why I wanted to study anthropology. She loved the travel and meeting new people, seeing new places.” Blair's soft smile at his remembrances was noticed by Joe.
“Showed you the world did she?” The bitterness that laced the comment brought Blair back from kinder thoughts. Again he saw Joe's expression. Maybe the grief was for more than a lost future. Was there no joy in his life at all, only bitter memories?
“My mom showed me back alleys, soup kitchens, and every rough sort of man she could attract. It was so bad I went to Maggie's parents one time and practically begged them to take me in. I can't say I blame them for turning me away. I'd become as rough looking as mom's boyfriends and I had a teenager's attitude. But I'd come begging that night. That night she'd left me with her latest boyfriend. I nearly killed him trying to get away. I knew if he caught up with me he'd kill me. But when I finally went back, he'd already gone, after beating up my mother. Then she beat me because she was so mad. Then we hit the road again.” Looking up he saw Blair watching him. “Shit, what'd I say all that for.” Rising, he yelled, “Don't look at me.”
“I'm here, Joe, if you want to talk some more. Hey, I'm not going anywhere. I'm your hostage, right? You don't need to be afraid of me.”
“Why would I be afraid of you? You don't know nothing about real life. You and your family don't know nothing about mine.”
“It was a little scary sometimes, but my family was just me and my mom, too. We were on our own, totally. She had lots of boyfriends, 'Uncles' for me. Mostly they were okay. Sometimes they were a little, shall we say, heavy handed, but not what you experienced. I remember there were times when we were hungry. Sometimes I'd pretend I ate at a friend's house because I knew Mom wouldn't eat at all. Sometimes we were taken in by friends when hard times hit and the emergency money ran out. I remember one of the best places we ever stayed was with a family that had six kids. The kids slept three in a bed. I got a pile of blankets in the hall. But they had a small farm and the kids loved it there. They worked hard but it was for family. I hated to leave but mom took me aside one day and told me that they could barely provide for themselves, and it wasn't right for us to take more than they could safely give. Mom was pretty cool.”
Blair saw Joe's gaze soften, even grow envious at Blair's story. He glanced down at Joe's gun which was now hanging slack in his hand. He didn't think Joe was the kind of man to kill someone in cold blood. He'd listened to the man's words. He didn't think Joe could kill him.
Joe's low words worried Blair, “You're a good man, a decent man. Another good person, like Margaret. Maybe there's even some decency left in me.”
Blair held his breath. He'd sensed a change in Joe. He wasn't sure what it meant. He seemed calm. Reconciled maybe? Or defeated? No, he couldn't go that way! He had to live! Margaret would be devastated. He had to make Joe believe there was still a chance for him, for his future.
“Go on Sandburg. Get yourself out of here. You're free to go” Joe spoke grimly.
“What are you going to do Joe?” Blair asked quietly.
“I can't give myself up to the cops. I can't face prison. I was in juvie a couple of times. I toed the line because I couldn't stay there one minute longer than I had to. I won't survive prison Sandburg. I'd rather die than spend the rest of my life behind bars. There's no way you can convince me that prison would be better than ending it right here.” His grim countenance was resolute.
Blair's outrage shone through on his face and in the fierceness of his words, “Death by cop? Is that it? I know some cops Joe. They're good people too. Don't you realize that you'd be making them commit murder? Don't you think they'll know that? Don't do this Joe. You can survive this. Don't give up yet .... Listen, I've been thinking about this. I need to know if you have any warrants out on you.”
Joe looked puzzled but answered readily enough, “No. I haven't been into heavy stuff but this hostage thing will get me sent away, maybe for the rest of my life. You can't ask me to accept that. That's no way to live.”
“You know you have to accept responsibility for your actions, man. But I don't think it's as bad as you think. Margaret was hurt accidentally. She's family. She'd testify to that,” reasoned Blair.
“What about you? Taking a hostage and shooting him won't get me easy time,” argued Joe hotly.
Blair had to say this carefully, “I don't think you meant to shoot me. You told me to stay put. I jumped you, remember? I thought it was an assault on Margaret not a family confrontation gone bad because of a misunderstanding. Now that I know what was going on, I understand the panic. You really didn't intend to shoot anyone today, did you?” Blair used his most persuasive voice, giving it all he had.
“That's just my bad luck kid. And maybe yours too. I know I should have left the gun, but where I was staying it wasn't safe to leave it. It isn't safe not to have one in the part of the city where I live and work. Margaret is the last person on this earth I'd want to hurt. She's a little like you, but she never had to live my kind of life. Will you make sure she's alright? She got hurt trying to help me,” Joe asked with regret.
Blair was thinking hard. Where were the cops? Where was Jim? “Come on Joe. Come with me. Leave the gun here. Let me talk to them for you. I told you I know some cops. They'll believe Margaret and me. You may not get off totally, but you're not going to spend years in prison. You made some bad decisions, starting with carrying a gun. The rest was good intentions by Margaret and misunderstandings by me. Give us a chance to help you Joe. Give yourself this chance,” begged Blair.
When Blair and Joe descended to the next floor, Jim was standing with arms crossed leaning against the wall. Simon stood close by, relief etched on his face. “Sandburg you take years off my life. Let your partner get you to the paramedics and Joe here, downtown, and get this straightened out.”
“Hey Jim,” said Blair wearily as he fought to stand steadily.
Jim reached out to grab Blair's other arm since Joe had a grip on the left one. He turned a steely glare toward Joe, “You better keep a tight hold, we don't want to give the paramedics any more to patch up, do we?”
Joe gave a silent nod of assent and returned Jim's gaze steadily. Jim had heard the conversation between Joe and Blair. His inner Blessed Protector wanted nothing more than to throw this guy in jail and throw away the key, but he knew that Blair wouldn't consider that to be justice.
Blair wouldn't move, “Jim, how's Margaret?”
Joe's gaze was intense and immediate.
Jim spoke to Joe too when he answered Blair, “She'll be fine. She said it was her fault she fell down the stairs, not Joe's. She has a concussion and a sprained knee. She'll spend the night in the hospital for observation. Joe, I'm going with Blair to the hospital. I'll tell Margaret you're all right. You've got a lot to answer for. Please tell me the gun is registered and not stolen?”
Joe stood tall and answered, “I'm not a thief and I know the law. It's legal. I even got a permit to carry it. I'm sorry for all this. It was my fault Margaret and Sandburg got hurt. I thought the safety was on. I never meant to hurt anyone. Sandburg said I had to take responsibility for the whole situation. I do. Totally. But this all got crazy so quick I didn't have time to think, and things just went from bad to worse.” He held out his hands like he expected to be cuffed.
Jim gave a slight shake of his head at the extended hands. “You're not going to run off are you?”
Joe looked confused, “No. I said I took full responsibility. Aren't you going to arrest me? Take me to jail?”
Jim relaxed, “I had your record checked. It's pretty clean. Keep it that way. Sandburg and I will have a talk with Beverly Sanchez, in the D.A.'s office. We'll do our best. By the way, Margaret wanted me to give you a message. Call her. Come see her if you can. She wants to talk to you. Don't look so scared Joe. Knowing Margaret, I think she only wants to help. Give her a chance okay?”
At that, Joe was left to Detectives Brown and Rafe to sort out.
“You heard everything Jim?”
“Got anything to say, oh Sentinel of Cascade?”
Jim thought a minute, “Naomi was a good mom wasn't she?”
“The best, Jim.”
“You were pretty lucky, Chief. Not everyone gets that lucky.”
“Amen to that my friend. Amen.”