Strength of Character
TITLE: Strength of Character
CATEGORY: Read warning
DISCLAIMERS: Not mine, wish they were.
WARNING: This is a death fic. I have never wanted to write one, but I heard something on the news today that haunted the rest of my drive home. This story wrote itself. I say again, do NOT read this if you don't want to read a fic that includes the death of a major character. Don't flame me if you don't like it - I can set fire to my own chimney.
Strength of Charcter
"No way Chief. Let me spell it out to you: N.O. And that is the end of the discussion." Jim intentionally looked away, unable to suppress a smirk at his partner's eagerness, albeit at the expense of his romantic future with Sian.
"Aw, c'mon Jim," Blair pleaded, "Where's your sense of adventure?"
"My sense of adventure is just fine, thank you, Chief. And get your feet off the dash." Sandburg obeyed before the detective could swat away his mucky boots.
"All I'm saying is that maybe you could try it, and see how it goes from there." Jim grinned at his friend's persistence and held up a warning hand.
"See this, Chief? Talk to it!"
Sandburg returned his own grin and quickly thought over a new battle plan. Five dates in and he was fairly sure that Jim and Sian could cope with a double-date scenario; even if it would mean a blind date for Sian's own housemate Kim. Besides, he needed something to think about while he and Jim froze in the cab of the Ford Truck.
"Remind me why we're freezing our butts off out here again?" He had to be careful; that very nearly sounded like a whine. Recently-arrived-out-of-the-academy detectives weren't supposed to whine.
Jim sighed. "Harper claimed it would go down here tonight; he and McKenzie would meet, transfer the papers and we could walk in and take it from there."
"And he said that would be at what time?" Blair glanced at the face of Jim's watch as it caught in the light of the flickering street lamp.
"Okay, okay." Jim checked the hands himself and acknowledged their wasted time. "We'll give him another five minu..." He cocked his head to one side in a movement that was all-to-familiar to Sandburg. A few moments later he frowned and shook his head. "Coulda sworn I heard..."
"Focus in," Blair encouraged.
"Chief. Stay in the truck while I..."
"Uh-uh," the younger man admonished as he pushed open the passenger door. "Those days are over and you know it!"
Jim shrugged in despair and tossed over his cell phone. "Do me a favor and at least call in to Simon and tell him our status."
"Which is?" Blair raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Cold, bored, hungry and wanting to go home? To eat. Decent food. Not fast food."
"Chief?" Ellison gently closed his driver's side door and moved to the front of the truck. "Tell him we've drawn a blank, we're going to take one final look around the building and call it a night."
Sandburg flipped open the phone and began to dial, muttering obscenities in the direction of Wonderburger as he did so.
"I heard that Sandburg," came the distant call, Ellison's gun drawn as he made a last cursory check of the building. He wasn't sure what he had heard; it could simply have been an animal crawling across the other end of the alleyway, but he wanted to be sure before they left. He hadn't heard any further movement and so headed towards the entrance of the closed-down warehouse.
Blair had completed his call and pocketed the cell phone when he saw Jim stiffen. With reluctance he drew his own service revolver in readiness to back up his partner. He personally hadn't heard anything but after four years he trusted his friend implicitly. Jim's head suddenly snapped up to a point behind the truck, looking towards a building on the opposite side of the alley.
Sandburg felt something akin to a bee sting in his back and moved to turn around to follow Jim's line of vision. But something seemed to be preventing his movement, and he raised his gun to track if necessary. That's when he felt the warm trickle of fluid down the front of his shirt and sweater.
Bemused, Blair dropped his weapon arm to his side and fingered his left hand across his chest in confusion. Puzzled, he drew his fingers away and stared down at the sticky red mass dripping from his hand. As realization dawned, so did the tremendous slash of pain, and a melee of iron fists pummeled into his front.
"Jim?" Blair's voice was stunned as he pushed his fingers back against the fire erupting in his chest. "Jim, I think..." The blood poured through his splayed fingers, and the young detective's legs buckled.
Ellison spun around the moment he heard his partner - he had heard a click followed by a soft sound and his stomach wrenched in horror when the pieces fell into place. He had had no time to utter a warning and could only pray that whoever had aimed with their silenced automatic had missed any intended target. Facing his loyal friend, his worst fears were confirmed as he watched the blossoming shield of crimson extending out across the damaged chest.
"Oh God, Blair, no." He raced forwards, watching helplessly as Sandburg crumpled to the ground, clutching futilely at the gushing wound.
His senses so wrapped up in hastening towards his partner, Jim didn't hear the second click; nor did he hear the third click and the recoil.
Three steps away from his fallen friend, Ellison found himself stumbling forwards, all breath robbed from his lungs. As he landed he felt the burst of agony wiping into his own chest; the burning as his skin tore apart letting loose a torrent of red. He fell within a few feet of Sandburg and reached out towards him to grasp the bloodied hand that had held the unused weapon.
Blair strained his head around to make eye contact with Ellison. He attempted to speak, but all words were lost as blood bubbled up from his steadily filling lungs. Replacing words with action he managed a feeble squeeze with his right hand.
"It's okay, Chief," Ellison rasped, his breath forced out between gritted teeth. "It's going to be okay."
Blair looked at him with pain-filled eyes and Jim knew in that contact that Sandburg was struggling. He also knew that Ellison must have been hit - his friend wasn't stupid. His friend was one of the most intelligent people he had ever had the privilege to know.
"I'm here, Chief." Jim was fighting for breath, and he could barely hold his own head up. The paralyzing pain ripping into his limbs was encroaching every sense and he could not even feel Blair's hand in his own any longer.
He took a final look at his partner, watching the blue eyes of friendship closing.
Ellison's own head flopped down onto the cold tarmac and his grip fell away from his partner's hand.
Neither man knew when the third bullet was fired.
"The Major Crimes Unit of the Cascade Police Department is today mourning one of their own and praying for the life of a second officer. Both detectives were brutally gunned down last night near the former Raynham building on Lexington Avenue. Police have issued the following photograph of this man, Darin Harper, who they would like to question in a possible connection with the shooting, and can only emphasize at this point, that it is merely to eliminate him from their inquiries. If you have any information on the whereabouts..."
A number flashed across the screen underneath the three year-old mug shot of Harper, but Simon had seen more than enough. He was sick of sitting in the waiting room being told that he would be given an update as soon as there was something to report.
He had been beating himself up over the 'what ifs' since his colleague, his detective - his friend had been brought in.
He couldn't believe that one of them had gone.
He felt sick at the horrific image that had greeted him after arriving on the scene. Jim's truck had stood abandoned with his two favorite detectives lying in a bloody heap to the side. The first two officers on the scene had already pulled the two men apart and were busy in a desperate bid at resuscitation.
Simon had edged forwards waiting for the automatic pilot to kick in - dreaded memories of that time at the fountain hurtling back to him. Both officers were fighting the puddles of blood surrounding the victims although it was clear to anyone arriving that the first of the detectives had become yet another crime statistic. Simon choked a sob as he reluctantly reached down to the blood-covered officer, and stayed his efforts.
"He's gone, Statten."
"No, sir. He's not." The blond-haired man continued the pump the chest, counting each press.
"Statten." Banks could not manage any form of authority in his constricted throat. "Statten? Son? Help Tony with the other one."
The young officer's hands trembled as he stopped working, tears running down his face as he gave up hope on the detective that he had admired. With stilted movements he had gone to assist his own partner, while Banks hunched over the victim. Simon knelt on the wet surface and lifted the limp hand of his friend; tears splashing down onto the gray skin.
"I'm sorry." He choked down a further sob, knowing that he needed to find his professional face quickly, but figured that political correctness could go to hell for a few minutes. "I'm so sorry."
The eyes were very slightly open and although he knew he was now defacing a crime scene, the large man rested a gentle hand against the soft eyelids and helped them to close on the world that had destroyed a partnership.
Simon was pulled out his tormented memories by the sight of a gray-haired surgeon, replete with green hospital scrubs.
"Are you Simon Banks?" The doctor hovered in front of the shocked police captain.
"Uh, yes. Yes I am." Simon pushed his glasses firmly up his nose and assumed an air of assuredness, which totally belied his inner turmoil. "How is he?"
The doctor sat himself down in the adjacent seat and the pit of Banks' stomach twisted and dropped. In his experience doctors never took their time or sat down with a waiting person unless the news was less than good.
"He came through the surgery," he opened and then paused. It was the pause that told Simon all he needed to know.
"Bottom line only, please."
"Your friend suffered massive injury and extensive blood loss." Simon shut his eyes against the news. "The heart was damaged by the bullet and although we have stemmed the bleeding for the time being, there could well be complications. He is on a ventilator and there is a chest drain inserted. We are monitoring..."
"Bottom line please, doctor?"
"We don't know. It could go either way. But can I recommend that any family be contacted?"
"I'll sort it." Banks hadn't intended to sound so gruff. He was a police captain. A job which wasn't given to people who were rude or who let a crime affect them so emotionally they were not capable of doing their job. His subconscious reminded him that this was not just a crime - this was the murder of a close friend, and the life-threatening condition of a second. He needed to speak to Brown and Connor. They had promised to get back to the hospital as soon as they were finished at the loft, and that had been several hours ago.
The surgeon was still speaking but Banks only caught the word 'priest'. He wasn't sure if it would be welcome by his friend but if the situation really were that dire, then perhaps it might be better.
In a maelstrom of emotion Banks was escorted towards the recovery room, where he was only allowed to glance through the window to assure himself of the detective's status. He could barely make out the dark head but it was enough for him to know that he was still alive.
He would be allowed to visit and stay for short periods once the patient was transferred to the ICU. In the meantime, it was suggested that the captain went outside to grab some air.
Banks only accepted knowing that if he were outside then he would have free access to his cell phone.
"Brown, where the hell have you been?"
"Were still at the loft, sir." Brown's voice was sounding shaky. "How is he Simon? Is he, um, is he?" The usual jovial tones were broken.
"He's just come out of surgery." Simon had to stop himself short again. Everything had become surreal and he did not know how he was meant to organize his team to become an effective force. The only thought running through his head was what to tell the patient upstairs about his partner. "Did you find it?"
"Connor found it eventually, Simon. We called Jim's father a few hours ago but he and Steven are on some kind of weekend visit, and the cell number Sally gave us is switched off." Brown was trying to pull himself together. "Megan called the number in Blair's address book and Naomi's catching the next flight out here. She thinks she could be in by 11am and we're going to meet her at the airport. Um, sir?" The detective stopped and cleared his throat. "Megan needs a little more time here, sir. She's um,..."
For once in his life Simon didnt need a woman's actions explaining to him in plain English. Like himself, Connor was struggling to cope with the situation and the easiest way for her to deal just now was to be at the loft, surrounded by the possessions and life of her friends.
Simon hung up and was surprised when the phone rang almost immediately afterwards. He was even further surprised and touched by the short conversation that followed, during which he and Major Crimes were instructed only to offer assistance in the case today if they felt capable. If not, they were to accept a day's leave to come to terms with what had happened. Vice and uniform were handling all leads, and Cascade would cope without the Unit for 24 hours.
Banks stared at the phone in blank amazement as the dial tone resumed. After all the years of having to defend his two wayward friends, the authorities must have been struck by something in the pair of them along the way.
He turned and dragged himself up to the fourth floor and towards the ICU. At some point when, and he was going to keep telling himself 'when' not 'if' his friend awoke, he would have to break the tragic news. He was dreading that moment.
Simon's concentration was broken by a sniff. He had been gazing forlornly at the ubiquitous monitors and watching the steady rise and fall of the patient's chest. The sniff startled him and he turned towards the doorway.
A distraught Naomi Sandburg was leaning against the doorjamb, all the usual self-confidence and buoyancy evaporated.
The woman who prided herself on independence fell into the strong arms offered by her son's Captain as Banks moved towards the door. "I'm sorry, Naomi. I'm so sorry." The tears flowed freely down Simon's face as his newest detective's mother cried her heart into his shirt. Neither of them could express their emotions in words, but merely clung to each other in the hope of drawing some strength to get through the day.
Eventually Naomi pulled away and stared down at the bed. "They told me, Simon."
"Henri said he would."
She walked to the far side of the bed and lowered one of the rails to clasp one of the cold, clammy hands into her own. She ignored the monitors as she settled on the edge of the bed and reached down.
"I have something to tell you," she whispered to the unconscious figure. The rhythmic pumping of the ventilator drummed a steady beat. "It has to be me that tells you." Naomi brushed her fingers across the pale forehead. "I know you can hear me, and I'm going to tell you now so you can make the decision."
Simon's stoicism crumbled and he sank into a nearby chair. He knew what Naomi was doing, and with everything he had witnessed over the years, he knew that it was no more bizarre than any other events.
She was going to give him the choice.
"Sweetie?" She grasped his hand up to her face and kissed the palm. "I know you aren't well, and the doctors have done what they can. Nobody will blame you for whichever path you choose, and there is not one person who will not support you. Before I tell you, you must know how much everyone here loves you."
The silent tears continued to stream down Simon's face as he admired this woman's strength of character - the same trait he had admired in Blair Sandburg.
Naomi's whispers continued.
"Blair's gone, Jim." She kissed the palm of his hand again as her tears fell anew. "He was with you when he went, so I know he felt you." Words failed her.
After a few moments she brushed her fingers across Ellison's forehead and waited for his answer.
copyright Xasphie 16/11/03