by sharilyn


Smoke and embers, and the gray taste of ashes, cold and harsh now in 
his mouth; it was all he could taste as he strode down the stinking, 
water-logged alley toward his partner, fear-adrenaline draining away with 
each step until he felt suddenly weak and shaky and angry, unaccountably 
and undeniably angry. 


"So, Emmett...before I rip my certifiably insane partner a new one, 
would you mind assuring me beforehand that he is indeed in decent enough 
shape to survive a bit of 'creative rearranging' of most of his body 
parts?" Jim's voice was deceptively calm, even mildly pleasant in tone, as 
he moved pantherlike upon the simultaneously comforting/disturbing 
tableau of his partner being administered to by Emmett Reilly, EMT 
extraordinaire, in the back of Emmett's ambulance. 


Shifting his attention from his task of using a sterile wipe to dab at 
Blair Sandburg's scowling, soot-grimed visage, Emmett grinned up into 
Jim Ellison's ice-chip blue eyes and shrugged with a cheerful 
insouciance that was in distinct contrast to the barely restrained tension 
vibrating between the two men he'd come to know so well over the past year. 
Ignoring the thinly veiled aura of danger emanating, laser-like, from 
Ellison's piercing perusal, Emmett gestured nonchalantly toward Blair's 
bedraggled mop of sodden, smoke-saturated hair and quipped wryly:


"Aside from a bit of smoke inhalation and minor burns, his body is in 
okay shape; the hair however...well, I'm afraid it's in dire need of 
intensive care. In fact, I can't say with any certainty that it can even 
be saved; barring the copious application of some sort of super-strength 
hair conditioning product, all-out defenstration might be the only 
option remaining in the end." 


"What IS it with you people and my hair?" Blair cut in acerbically, the 
words emerging more on the level of a harsh croak than anything 
resembling his normal vocal register. "Lay off the locks, dammit; a few 
run-throughs with my all-natural shampoo and vitamin E rinse, and the ladies 
will be fighting to run their fingers through each silky, inviting 
strand again." As Blair's vehement pronouncement dissolved into a pained 
paroxysm of choking coughs, Jim rolled his eyes heavenward and hid the 
rush of concern surging up in his chest behind a crookedly sardonic 


"You'll be lucky if you don't lose every singed and scorched strand 
down the drain the first time you stand under the shower spray, Chief," he 
retorted with a decided lack of empathy, keeping his features carefully 
neutral as Blair directed a testy frown his way. "And I do NOT want to 
spend my next precious days off work fishing charcoaled Sandburg hair 
out of the drain. For God's sake, what were you THINKING, running into 
that apartment like that? I told you to hold up, that the fire 
department was on its way, that it isn't our JOB to play super heroes--"


"Whoa, whoa! Like that isn't the pot calling the kettle black, 
Detective 'I swing from helicopters for a living' Ellison," Blair snorted 
roughly, then gave a creditable imitation of hawking up half a lung. Wet, 
stringy hair sticking to his face, Sandburg impatiently waved off Jim's 
and Emmett's combined efforts to reach out stabilizing hands as he 
teetered precariously for a moment on the side of the stretcher he was 
huddled on. Grimy hands clutching spastically at the thin sheet covering the 
stretcher, Blair regained control of both his breath and balance on his 
own and glared irately at his attentive audience. 


"Besides, when you come right down to it, it IS our job to play heroes, 
Jim," he continued stubbornly, a flicker of his usual enthusiastic 
energy briefly animating his dulled, smoke-reddened eyes. "We work in Major 
Crime, ergo it is pretty much in the job description to behave in a 
somewhat square-jawed, macho, heroic manner, right?" And as Jim's 
decidedly chiseled jaw sharpened even more in a gesture of displeasure, Blair 
absently fumbled a sodden, determinedly clingy chunk of his hair off his 
face and flung it over one shoulder as he continued his spiel with 
dogged insistence. 


"And you can't in good conscience stand there berating ME for running 
in to save the Vasquez kids when you yourself were busy directing all 
those smoke-blinded people down the outside fire escape to the 
alley...AND almost got knocked over the railing in the process by that hysterical 
man from the fourth floor. If it wasn't for those incredible reflexes 
of yours, you'd be a Jim-sized smear in the alleyway right about now." 
As Emmett patiently evaded Sandburg's dramatically gesticulating hands 
long enough to slide an oxygen mask over his reluctant patient's face, 
Jim stepped forward with a half-angry, half-worried scowl and pointed an 
admonishing finger in Blair's direction. 


"Don't start with me, Chief," he growled, his gaze moving with 
disarming thoroughness first over Sandburg's drawn, pale complexion beneath its 
outer layer of black soot, then down to the still-too-rapid skittering 
of his partner's pulse beating just beneath his jawline. "If you want 
to talk dangerous foolhardiness, what I did doesn't even begin to 
compare to the stupid stunt YOU pulled when you ran into that burning 
building. I swear by all that's holy, Sandburg, that the next time I catch 
even a hint of danger within twenty square blocks of you, I'm handcuffing 
you to the steering wheel till I can check it out for myself. How many 
times have I tried to make it clear to you that what I do--what we all 
do--out here isn't a game? You aren't just riding along with me for 
kicks, Chief; I expect you to watch, listen, and learn, NOT to go haring 
off on your own little expeditions. How many times have I told you to 
stay in the truck, to call it in and wait for the experts to show--"


"Well, gee, Jim, let's just see," Blair cut in sharply, the angry words 
muffled beneath the clear dome of the oxygen mask still covering his 
nose and mouth. "Do you want the tally for just this month, or are we 
talking the comprehensive report dating back to the first day I rode with 
you? Cause I'm not sure there's enough hours left in this day to give 
you the full count. Why don't you ask me instead how many times you've 
willingly--without complaint or bitching--blessed me with your holy 
permission to unstick my ass from the passenger seat of your truck and 
actually back you up when you need me there? That's a much lower number, 
and it won't take me all day to enumerate those instances. The other 
list, however--the 'stay in the truck and hunker down and dial' list--could 
take days to get through. And frankly, right now I'm not exactly in the 
mood to trot out my power-point presentation on anal-retentive 
detectives who think they can intimidate and terrorize unsuspecting
 anthropologists into submission with their all-purpose, steely cop 
glare. I'm tired, and my throat hurts, and I smell like the main course at 
a barbecue cook-off. So if you don't mind, I'd like to suck down a 
couple more liters of primo bottled O-2 and then present my OTHER cheek for 
Simon to chew on when he gets here." 


"Whooee...I do believe he has won this round, Detective," Emmett 
whistled low and long, a wry grin lifting the corners of his mouth as Jim 
merely stood gaping blankly at his singed-around-the-edges partner and 
roommate. "I'm not saying you aren't right to read the prof here the riot 
act concerning his crazy dash into the miniature towering inferno, 
there; but you have to admit, in the year that I've watched you two 
together on the streets, Blair has proven himself to be a useful back-up to 
you on more than one occasion. Why, I remember that drive-by not even two 
months ago, when you would have ended up shot full of holes if Blair 
hadn't somehow caught your attention just in time for you to hit the 
asphalt. I was driving just down the block that day, and you completely 
freaked me out, Detective, just standing in the street like you were 
hypnotized or something. You have to admit, that was one time I bet you were 
GLAD Blair didn't stay in the truck." 


"Thanks, Emmett," Blair croaked, casting a half-smug, half-reproving 
glare Jim's way. But before a thin-lipped Ellison could squeeze out a 
rebuttal, Emmett turned back to Blair with a suddenly disapproving frown 
and resettled the mask over the other's face with a no-nonsense economy 
of effort.


"Zip it, Sandburg," the EMT ordered tersely as he gently but firmly 
maneuvered his patient's body around till Blair was stretched out full 
length on his back on the stretcher, his head and shoulders elevated to 
help with his strained breathing. "What you did WAS stupid and in this 
particular case, probably completely unneccessary, as the fire department 
arrived post haste after your call-in and made short work of getting 
the rest of the tenants safely out of the building. By running inside, 
you just provided them with one more potential victim to have to rescue, 
which would have placed their own lives in greater danger. Comprende?" 


"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Blair mumbled from beneath the mask, and it 
seemed all the fight had gone out of him as smoke inhalation and delayed 
stress suddenly overwhelmed him, leaving him wan and exhausted in their 
aftermath. "Jim, I'm sorry, man, really," he mumbled to the figure 
standing at the back of the ambulance with one foot resting on the back 
bumper in preparation for climbing inside. "And right now I'm not feeling 
so good, you know? So I think I'm just gonna lie here a minute and 
catch my breath, and you can collect your thoughts and really ream me out 
good later. Is it a deal, man? Oh, Jim, I think I feel sick..." Body 
convulsing around a barrage of pained, wrenching coughs, Blair choked and 
gagged and then his eyes rolled up in his head as he fell back, 
semi-conscious, his dark, soot-encrusted hair straggling about his head in 
marked contrast to the pale background of the sheet beneath him.


"Sandburg!" Jim exclaimed harshly at his partner's collapse and lunged 
from the back bumper of the ambulance directly into the cramped 
interior where Emmett was working with focused efficiency over the prone man 
under his care. "Emmett, is he--?"


"He'll be okay, Jim, really," Emmett replied calmly, adroitly using his 
body to keep the frantic detective from practically flinging himself 
onto the stretcher in his anxious desperation to check on his partner. 
"He did cut it close bringing those kids down three flights of stairs, 
but most of what's wrong with him right now is just mild smoke inhalation 
and a huge adrenaline power-down. Of course he'll need to be admitted 
to the ER and thoroughly checked out, but I think what he needs 
most--aside from more oxygen and a bath--is rest. And no more lectures, at 
least not for another twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Got it?" 


"Got it," Jim replied grimly, and as his feverishly working senses 
verified the basic accuracy of Emmett's prognosis, the leanly muscular 
detective's rigid body slumped briefly under its own personal load of 
delayed stress and the numerous aches, pains, and dings incurred during his 
rescue efforts on the fire escape. "Can I ride with him to the 
hospital?" he asked now, and the quietly weary entreaty in his voice let Emmett 
know just how strong a cover for worry that Ellison's earlier diatribe 
had been. He'd seen it over and over again between these two, this 
impetuous, angry lashing out after one or the other of them had taken some 
impossibly foolish personal risk in the name of helping each other or 
someone else out of a dangerous situation; and he knew that, just as 
they'd done an uncounted number of times before, the two of them would 
work out whatever issues they might have over their latest adventure on 
the always-jumping streets of Cascade and would soon be out again 
 and wise-cracking and stirring up more business for Emmett and the 
other harried EMTs of the city. 


"Sure, you can ride with him," Emmett smiled at Jim now as he busied 
himself securely fastening Blair's unresisting form to the stretcher for 
safety. "You know the drill; hell, if you two keep this up, we may have 
to requisition a personal ambulance just for the intrepid duo of 
Ellison and Sandburg...and maybe another, smaller unit following just behind 
for poor Captain Banks, since I'm convinced your shenanigans are going 
to give him a stroke one of these days." 


"Not amused, Reilly," Jim drawled tiredly as he moved to his usual 
place alongside Blair's stretcher. "And I don't think Banks would 
appreciate the joke, either--even if all that yelling he does sometimes DOES 
make that big vein pop out on his forehead in a pretty alarming way." 
Emmett turned at this last to exchange a sardonic half-smile with the 
exhausted man settling in beside Sandburg for the short ride to the ER, and 
Jim's strained gaze briefly softened into dry humor before shifting and 
focusing with renewed intensity on the lax but breathing more easily 
body of his best friend. 


"He really IS going to be okay, Em?" Jim asked again quietly, and 
Emmett nodded, moving to briefly rest one hand on Ellison's shoulder. 


"He'll be fine, Jim; and that's another tally mark you can add to the 
'Blair's Dumb Luck' column in that crazy statistics journal you two must 
have running," the medic murmured.


"I hear that, my friend," Jim replied, one hand moving to lightly touch 
the mess that was Sandburg's hair. "I hear that." And as Emmett moved 
to close the back doors and climb up front for the ride downtown, Jim 
mentally added one more tally to the top secret list he kept in his mind 
and heart under the heading: Number of Gray Hairs Chief Has Given Me.